Saturday, August 30, 2008

Obama's Acceptance Speech Ends With A Fizzle

It was certainly historic. Obama can speak for 45 minutes and make himself understood (I actually wished it had been longer) and I'm glad someone I know and I watched. It was a nice change from the current occupant of the Oval Office.

But something was missing. And there were some noticeable problems that need fixing, ASAP:

*First, Obama uses "YOU" and "THEY" more readily than "WE" and "US". That's a problem. His separation from people, both visually from high podium, and linguistically in his speeches, indicates a certain distance that needs to be closed for him to make it all the way to the White House. Not only is the USA Barack Obama's country--we are his people. He has to be seen to feel that, and right now, he still looked a bit to me like an outsider, uncomfortable at some level with the ordinary people he needs. If I were his consultants, I'd get a lot more group activities for him--with those "ordinary folks" from North Carolina, Ohio and Indiana who spoke at the convention.

*Second, although the middle of the speech was the best part for me, when Obama took on McCain directly, the conclusion, where he seemed to try to channel Martin Luther King, even quoting scripture (Hebrews 10:23), didn't work quite so well for me. I was surprised he didn't mention Dr. King's name. He isn't King, he's Obama. The confusion of roles seemed to undercut the solid impression from earlier--maybe because Obama is a lawyer, not a minister. He seemed to be verging on the edge of Elmer Gantry-ism. At times, I wondered if the set was really intended to look like Joel O'Steen's TV evangelist's mega-church. At other times, I wondered if it had been based on the set of the West Wing. You don't want such confusion. Better to have it look like a Democratic National Convention. Less pretending, more realism.

*Finally, At the end of the show, an explosion of confetti left the set looking more like a t.p.'d fraternity house after a wild college beer bust (someone I know thought it looked worse, like Gone With The Wind's ruins of Tara after the burning of Atlanta--spot it at 8:12 on this YouTube clip). A bad omen, seeming to display a lack of control, tackiness, even dangerous disorder--did they even rehearse the ending? Everyone seemed surprised and confused wandering around, Joe Biden finally came out and some of his family. But it would have been nicer to have a big crowd join Obama--everybody getting into the act. I think that's what the Clinton's did. It creates a better feeling than the isolation. He may be more comfortable alone in the spotlight, but he needs to learn to share it, now that he's running for president of ALL the people. He's not at Harvard Law School or in the Daley machine anymore. Obama needs to draw outsiders to him--including the elderly and middle-aged. The youth vote can be pocketed, and his campaign must learn to MoveOn to the general population for the general election, IMHO.

He literally needs to get down off his pedestal. Time for a new act, like when Dylan went electric...

Russia's Goals in Georgia Crisis

Reuters correspondent Oleg Shchedrov explains what Russia may be up to in South Ossetia:
Top Russian officials have complained that Moscow's cooperation with the West on key international issues like the fight against terrorism, Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea have failed to translate into a qualitative change in relations.

"There is a feeling that the West treats Russia merely as a loser in the Cold War, which has to play by the winners' rules," Vladimir Putin, Russia's president for eight years until this May, once told reporters.

NEW REALITIES

In the 1990s, when Russia's economy was in ruins, Moscow hid its pride. But in the last eight years an economic boom has allowed a resurgent Russia to play a more assertive role in the global economy and international diplomacy.

Russia, a vital energy supplier for Europe and a lucrative investment location, decided it had sufficient levers and resources to speak in a different tone of voice.

The West failed to notice the change.

Putin and his successor Dmitry Medvedev have urged the West to treat Russia as an equal partner in a broader European context and review security arrangements that take account of its interests.

But Russian protests were waved aside again, Moscow says, when Washington decided to station elements of its missile defence system in Eastern Europe.

The move was seen by Moscow as a direct threat to its security despite U.S. insistence that the project is design to repel any potential attack by Iran and represents neither a political nor military threat to Russia.

The United States has also pushed heavily for NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine -- something anathema to Russia because of its deep historical ties with these countries with whom it shares direct borders.

Russia has sent many signals that its patience was running out but the West dismissed as a rhetoric a tough speech by Putin in Munich in 2007.

Similarly, the West failed to react to other warning shots by Moscow, such as resuming flights by its strategic bombers over the Atlantic and the freezing of Russia's obligations under a key pact limiting conventional arms in Europe.

Russia's intervention in Georgia has clear signaled that Moscow has finally drawn a red line.

"The 'entente cordiale' did not work," Russia's NATO ambassador Dmitry Rogozin has said, referring to accords between Britain and France signed in the early 20th century that put a line under centuries of hostility and conflict.

"Relations should now be pragmatic," he said.

"The good performance of our army in Ossetia has already impressed our partners," he added. "We should do everything to uphold this impression and end once and forever any temptation by our partners to resolve any problems by force.."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Who is Sarah Palin?

At least McCain picked a fresh face...although how many Democratic women would cross party lines to vote for Sarah Palin is unclear. Ironic that Obama seems to be targeting the bitter white working class clinging to their guns, while McCain appears to be going after feminists. Here's the link to Wikipedia's entry for Sarah Palin. And here's the Draft Sarah Palin for VP website.

Bill Clinton's Endorsement of Barack Obama

I thought Bill Clinton gave a good speech when I heard it on the car radio driving back from my vacation. So here's the text:
I am honored to be here tonight to support Barack Obama. And to warm up the crowd for Joe Biden, though as you’ll soon see, he doesn’t need any help from me. I love Joe Biden, and America will too.

What a year we Democrats have had. The primary began with an all-star line up and came down to two remarkable Americans locked in a hard fought contest to the very end. The campaign generated so much heat it increased global warming.

In the end, my candidate didn’t win. But I’m very proud of the campaign she ran: she never quit on the people she stood up for, on the changes she pushed for, on the future she wants for all our children. And I’m grateful for the chance Chelsea and I had to tell Americans about the person we know and love.

I’m not so grateful for the chance to speak in the wake of her magnificent address last night. But I’ll do my best.

Hillary told us in no uncertain terms that she’ll do everything she can to elect Barack Obama.

That makes two of us.

Actually that makes 18 million of us – because, like Hillary, I want all of you who supported her to vote for Barack Obama in November.

Here’s why.

Our nation is in trouble on two fronts: The American Dream is under siege at home, and America’s leadership in the world has been weakened.

Middle class and low-income Americans are hurting, with incomes declining; job losses, poverty and inequality rising; mortgage foreclosures and credit card debt increasing; health care coverage disappearing; and a big spike in the cost of food, utilities, and gasoline.

Our position in the world has been weakened by too much unilateralism and too little cooperation; a perilous dependence on imported oil; a refusal to lead on global warming; a growing indebtedness and a dependence on foreign lenders; a severely burdened military; a backsliding on global non-proliferation and arms control agreements; and a failure to consistently use the power of diplomacy, from the Middle East to Africa to Latin America to Central and Eastern Europe.

Clearly, the job of the next President is to rebuild the American Dream and restore America’s standing in the world.

Everything I learned in my eight years as President and in the work I’ve done since, in America and across the globe, has convinced me that Barack Obama is the man for this job.

He has a remarkable ability to inspire people, to raise our hopes and rally us to high purpose. He has the intelligence and curiosity every successful President needs. His policies on the economy, taxes, health care and energy are far superior to the Republican alternatives. He has shown a clear grasp of our foreign policy and national security challenges, and a firm commitment to repair our badly strained military. His family heritage and life experiences have given him a unique capacity to lead our increasingly diverse nation and to restore our leadership in an ever more interdependent world. The long, hard primary tested and strengthened him. And in his first presidential decision, the selection of a running mate, he hit it out of the park.

With Joe Biden’s experience and wisdom, supporting Barack Obama’s proven understanding, insight, and good instincts, America will have the national security leadership we need.

Barack Obama is ready to lead America and restore American leadership in the world. Ready to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. Barack Obama is ready to be President of the United States.

He will work for an America with more partners and fewer adversaries. He will rebuild our frayed alliances and revitalize the international institutions which help to share the costs of the world’s problems and to leverage our power and influence. He will put us back in the forefront of the world’s fight to reduce nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and to stop global warming. He will continue and enhance our nation’s global leadership in an area in which I am deeply involved, the fight against AIDS, TB and malaria, including a renewal of the battle against HIV/AIDS here at home. He will choose diplomacy first and military force as a last resort. But in a world troubled by terror; by trafficking in weapons, drugs and people; by human rights abuses; by other threats to our security, our interests, and our values, when he cannot convert adversaries into partners, he will stand up to them.

Barack Obama also will not allow the world’s problems to obscure its opportunities. Everywhere, in rich and poor countries alike, hardworking people need good jobs; secure, affordable healthcare, food, and energy; quality education for their children; and economically beneficial ways to fight global warming. These challenges cry out for American ideas and American innovation. When Barack Obama unleashes them, America will save lives, win new allies, open new markets, and create new jobs for our people.

Most important, Barack Obama knows that America cannot be strong abroad unless we are strong at home. People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.

Look at the example the Republicans have set: American workers have given us consistently rising productivity. They’ve worked harder and produced more. What did they get in return? Declining wages, less than ¼ as many new jobs as in the previous eight years, smaller health care and pension benefits, rising poverty and the biggest increase in income inequality since the 1920s. American families by the millions are struggling with soaring health care costs and declining coverage. I will never forget the parents of children with autism and other severe conditions who told me on the campaign trail that they couldn’t afford health care and couldn’t qualify their kids for Medicaid unless they quit work or got a divorce. Are these the family values the Republicans are so proud of? What about the military families pushed to the breaking point by unprecedented multiple deployments? What about the assault on science and the defense of torture? What about the war on unions and the unlimited favors for the well connected? What about Katrina and cronyism?

America can do better than that. And Barack Obama will.

But first we have to elect him.

The choice is clear. The Republicans will nominate a good man who served our country heroically and suffered terribly in Vietnam. He loves our country every bit as much as we all do. As a Senator, he has shown his independence on several issues. But on the two great questions of this election, how to rebuild the American Dream and how to restore America’s leadership in the world, he still embraces the extreme philosophy which has defined his party for more than 25 years, a philosophy we never had a real chance to see in action until 2001, when the Republicans finally gained control of both the White House and Congress. Then we saw what would happen to America if the policies they had talked about for decades were implemented.

They took us from record surpluses to an exploding national debt; from over 22 million new jobs down to 5 million; from an increase in working family incomes of $7,500 to a decline of more than $2,000; from almost 8 million Americans moving out of poverty to more than 5 and a half million falling into poverty – and millions more losing their health insurance.

Now, in spite of all the evidence, their candidate is promising more of the same: More tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that will swell the deficit, increase inequality, and weaken the economy. More band-aids for health care that will enrich insurance companies, impoverish families and increase the number of uninsured. More going it alone in the world, instead of building the shared responsibilities and shared opportunities necessary to advance our security and restore our influence.

They actually want us to reward them for the last eight years by giving them four more. Let’s send them a message that will echo from the Rockies all across America: Thanks, but no thanks. In this case, the third time is not the charm.

My fellow Democrats, sixteen years ago, you gave me the profound honor to lead our party to victory and to lead our nation to a new era of peace and broadly shared prosperity.

Together, we prevailed in a campaign in which the Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be Commander-in-Chief. Sound familiar? It didn’t work in 1992, because we were on the right side of history. And it won’t work in 2008, because Barack Obama is on the right side of history.

His life is a 21st Century incarnation of the American Dream. His achievements are proof of our continuing progress toward the “more perfect union” of our founders’ dreams. The values of freedom and equal opportunity which have given him his historic chance will drive him as president to give all Americans, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability, their chance to build a decent life, and to show our humanity, as well as our strength, to the world.

We see that humanity, that strength, and our future in Barack and Michelle Obama and their beautiful children. We see them reinforced by the partnership with Joe Biden, his wife Jill, a dedicated teacher, and their family.

Barack Obama will lead us away from division and fear of the last eight years back to unity and hope. If, like me, you still believe America must always be a place called Hope, then join Hillary, Chelsea and me in making Senator Barack Obama the next President of the United States.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Rafael Medoff on "The Wyman Aliya"

In the Jerusalem Post, Rafael Medoff explains how David Wyman's book inspired the 1985 airlift for Ethiopian Jews
On February 22, the day after the [Sen. Alan] Cranston letter was delivered to the White House, Blazer and Sloane met with vice president Bush, his senior aides Craig Fuller and Dodd Gregg, and Marshall Breger, the White House liaison to the Jewish community. Blazer presented Bush with a copy of The Abandonment of the Jews. "Mr. Vice President, we can do now what we didn't do then," he pleaded.

The Jewish activists were not the only ones who saw the link between the book and the refugee crisis. "By one of those amazing and fortunate coincidences of history, it was just at that time that David Wyman's book was gaining nationwide public attention," said John Miller, then a freshman Republican congressman. "There were feature stories about it in the newspapers, and he was on radio and television shows. It seemed like everyone was talking about Wyman's book. It was must reading. And I read it. The powerful impact that The Abandonment of the Jews had on me became a major reason that I took a special interest in the plight of the Ethiopian Jews."

Learning that Bush was scheduled to visit Sudan on diplomatic business in March, Miller went to see him. "I spoke to the vice president and his top aides," he said. "I gave them a copy of the book, and I told them that this was a chance to write a very different history than the history of America's response to the Holocaust."

Sudan might refuse to let the Israelis land on its soil, "but Sudan would not be able to say no to the United States - if our government insisted," Miller contended.

Nobody knows exactly what Bush told Sudanese president Jafar Numairy when they met the following week, but the results spoke for themselves. On March 22, a fleet of US Air Force C-130 Hercules transport planes airlifted Moshe, Ami and 800 other refugees from Sudan to Israel.

"My memories of the flight are a blur," says Ami. "I remember how the plane was so crowded that we all had to sit on the floor. I was too young to know whether the soldiers taking us were Israelis or Americans. All I knew was that I would finally get to see my mother and brothers and sisters again."

Congressman Miller said that he later spoke with Bush about the airlift, and the vice president "confirmed that his staff members had read Abandonment and discussed it with him, and that was a major influence in his decision to order the airlift." Bush subsequently sent Wyman a handwritten note of thanks, which is still proudly displayed in Wyman's home in western Massachusetts.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Apple Now Bigger Than Google

From The Guardian (UK):
The sleek, touchscreen iPhone has proved so lucrative for Apple that the electronic gadgets manufacturer has unseated Google to become the most valuable company in America's cradle of technological innovation, Silicon Valley.

Queues outside Apple's stores are commonplace since the phone's launch a year ago as shoppers line up to get their hands on the prized device.

On Wall Street, the phenomenal popularity of the phone has fuelled a 44% surge in Apple's share price in 12 months. By the close of trading on Wednesday, Apple's market value had edged up to $158.8bn - a shade ahead of Google's $157.2bn.

Apple's predominance amounts to a shift in the balance of power in the hi-tech world. The company has repeatedly been able to eclipse rivals with its distinctive, easy-to-use designs. The iMac and the iPod continue to be firm favourites among laptop computer buyers and music fans.

Meanwhile, Google's once dazzling star has waned slightly as America's economic slowdown has eaten into online advertising and investors have wondered how the company can produce solid profits from expensive ventures such as the video-sharing website YouTube.

Scott Kessler, an equities analyst specialising in technology at Standard & Poor's in New York, said the twin fortunes of Apple and Google were central to the technological landscape: "These are the two companies most currently identified with the notion of innovation - not just in Silicon Valley or in this country but arguably in the world."

Where's My Netflix?

Maybe the world is coming to an end--Netflix is all messed up.
IMPORTANT: Your DVD Shipments Have Likely Been Delayed
We’re sorry to report that since Tuesday we’ve been experiencing issues with our shipping system, so many of you have not received DVDs in a timely manner and many of you have not received emails letting you know we got a DVD back from you.

We pride ourselves in delighting you, and we’ve let you down. We apologize and are working around the clock to restore normal operations. To all of you whose shipments have been delayed, we’ll be automatically applying a credit to your next billing statement. Or, if you are new to Netflix and your first shipments have been delayed, we recognize that this is not a good way to begin your Netflix membership and we’ll automatically extend your free trial.

Our goal is to ship DVDs as soon as possible and to keep you updated. Again, we are sorry for the inconvenience we’ve caused you and thank you for your patience.

The Netflix Team
That's a bad sign...

Nepalese Elect Maoist Guerrilla Prime Minister

Is this Nepalese terrorist's (Maoist guerrillas killed some 10,000 people) victory a victory for President Bush's "democracy-buliding"? From the BBC:
The Maoists' deputy leader, Baburam Bhattarai, said: "Today is a day of pride and it will be written with golden letters in the history of the nation." He predicted earlier that Prachanda would be a leader "for a new era", comparable to Lenin or Napoleon.

Friday's ballot ends months of political deadlock that had followed the sacking of the unpopular King Gyanendra and the abolition of the 240-year-old monarchy.

Our correspondent says that Prachanda's elevation had long seemed inevitable after his party scored its convincing win in April.
Prachanda was almost guaranteed victory because he had the support of three parties - his own, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) and the MJF (Madheshi Janadhikar Forum).

The Maoists' Congress Party rivals accused them before the vote of plotting to set up a totalitarian communist regime, a suggestion they strongly denied.

A former agricultural science teacher-turned-revolutionary, Prachanda was originally named Pushpa Kamal Dahal, but he still uses his guerrilla nom de guerre.

Raymond Lloyd Questions Georgia's Celebration of Stalin


Attention John McCain: Did you know that Georgia still worships Stalin and has a large statue of the dictator on display in Gori? I didn't, until Raymond Lloyd emailed this question he asks of President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia
Apart from sending the Georgian military into South Ossetia on 8 August, the opening day of the Beijing Olympics and the Olympic Truce period, and the subsequent devastation of its capital Tskhinvali, democratic Georgia may have lost some sympathy by the sight in the centre of Gori of a statue of Stalin (and the portrayal of Josif Dzugasvili on a 500 lari gold coin of 1995), despite this tyrant being responsible for 42.6 million non-war dead, according to conservative estimates made by Rudolp Rummel in Death by Government ISBN 978-1-56000-927-6, democide by Stalin and his fellow Georgian Lavrenti Pavles dze Beria, head of the OGPU/NKVD/MVD predecessors of the KGB, which so traumatized the Russian people that few persons over the age of 65 have tried to stem the current slide into ex-KGB-dominated authoritarianism;

while the longterm guarantor of Georgia' democratic prosperity may be admission to the European Union, somewhat as Ireland's membership transcended five hundred years of British oppression, could not Georgia meanwhile claim some higher moral ground, beginning, say, on 9 April 2009, your 20th Day of National Unity, itself commemorating the massacre of 20 women by the soviet army in 1989, when you might consider making compensation payments for some of the crimes against humanity initiated personally by Stalin, such as to needy 80-90-year-old Ukrainian survivors of the worst genocidal famine in European history, when 6 000 000 persons were starved or beaten to death in 1932/1933; or to needy widows and orphans of the 22 000 Polish officers shot in Katyn, Kalinin (now Tver) and Kharkiv on the orders of Stalin and Beria of 5 March 1940, compensation which would not be expected to match that of democratic Germany to nazi victims, but more like independent Montenegro's decision in 2006 to make reparations for damage to Dubrovnik after it was shelled by the Montenegrin military in 1991/92?

Raymond LLOYD
Editor & Publisher
The Parity Democrat Westminster
www.shequality.org

Walid Phares: Confrontation With Russia Aids Jihadists

From The American Thinker (ht JihadWatch):
Jihadi Dual agenda

The world Salafists' ultimate wish is to see the two infidel superpowers at odds with each other again; and that is happening. The combat-Jihadists want bloodshed both in Moscow and in Washington now and in the future. The long-term Wahabis likes the idea of an American demobilization against Jihadism and a re-mobilization against Russia. Ending the War on Terror and reigniting the Cold war is the ultimate fantasy of the oil producing fundamentalist powers.

On the other hand, the Iranian regime and its allies in Syria and Lebanon have clearly opted for privileged strategic relations with Russia as a way to counterbalance the US and its allies in the region. The flow of petro cash from Iranian oil revenues can ensure a good business and military relationship with Moscow. Some in the latter city -- still recalling Cold War feelings -- like the idea of client states (or so they think) counterbalancing American presence in the Middle East.

In the final analysis, the two main trees of Jihadism are playing West against East to ensure the weakening and ultimately the collapse of their grand foes. The Wahabis wants to bring Russia down via the establishment of several Wahabi emirates in its midst --from Chechnya to Central Asia. And the Khomeinists want the US out of the region so that they can establish their own dominance instead.

Moscow and Washington (and Brussels as well) should not be manipulated by oil fundamentalist powers against each other. The Cold War should not be brought back at the expense of winning the conflict against Jihadi Terrorism. In clear terms: no wars should be waged outside the international campaign against the terrorists, should it be an ethnic or economic one. These, including the current Caucasus conflict, are wrong wars as they would profit the global Jihadi forces, both political and military.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

BBC Analyst Agrees--Georgia Crisis Parallels Cyprus Crisis

From Paul Reynolds' report at BBC World News:
There are some clear winners and losers in the conflict over South Ossetia - and the crisis has shown the need for a fresh start in relations between Russia and the West.

First, the balance sheet:

Winners
Russia: It has emerged strongly, able to impose its will in South Ossetia and sending a clear signal about its readiness to assert itself.

It agreed to a ceasefire plan when its objective - control of South Ossetia - was achieved. The plan basically calls for no further use of force and some kind of return to the position before the conflict. However, Russia's foreign minister said Georgian troops would "never again" be allowed to resume their role as part of the joint peacekeeping force agreed with Russia in 1992. It is not clear whether Russian forces will be reduced to the battalion-sized unit allowed for in that agreement.

This is unlikely. Think more of Cyprus in 1974, when the Turks intervened, making similar claims about protecting their kith and kin. They are still there.
Since then, someone I know mentioned Bush 41's invasion of Panama to depose Manuel Noriega (and put him on trial) as another precedent for Moscow's actions. And there was President Clinton's invasion of Haiti,as well as President Reagan's invasion of Grenada to protect American medical students. Even without invoking the "Kosovo precedent," Russia's actions are not unprecedented: Turkey recently raided Iraq's Kurdish provinces, Israel raided Lebanon, and so forth and so on...

John McCain: We Are All Georgians

Hmm. From today's Wall Street Journal:
We should work toward the establishment of an independent, international peacekeeping force in the separatist regions, and stand ready to help our Georgian partners put their country back together. This will entail reviewing anew our relations with both Georgia and Russia. As the NATO secretary general has said, Georgia remains in line for alliance membership, and I hope NATO will move ahead with a membership track for both Georgia and Ukraine.

At the same time, we must make clear to Russia's leaders that the benefits they enjoy from being part of the civilized world require their respect for the values, stability and peace of that world. The U.S. has cancelled a planned joint military exercise with Russia, an important step in this direction.

The Georgian people have suffered before, and they suffer today. We must help them through this tragedy, and they should know that the thoughts, prayers and support of the American people are with them. This small democracy, far away from our shores, is an inspiration to all those who cherish our deepest ideals. As I told President Saakashvili on the day the cease-fire was declared, today we are all Georgians. We mustn't forget it.
And The New York Times ran this item about McCain foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, who reportedly has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the government of Georgia (I wonder if any of that was skimmed from US aid?):
Since the Russian invasion of Georgia, Mr. Scheunemann has drawn attention for his lobbying efforts on behalf of the Georgian government, for which he lobbied until March. Mr. McCain has been outspoken in his support of Georgia. During a flight on Tuesday on the McCain campaign plane, Mr. Scheunemann told reporters that Mr. McCain has known the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, for more than a decade.

Craig Holman, the governmental affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization, said Mr. Scheunemann’s dual role — sometimes advising Mr. McCain as a candidate, and sometimes advising private clients on their interactions with him as a senator — raised potential red flags. “This is a serious revolving door problem: a person who keeps fluctuating between being a lobbyist, and advising candidates,” Mr. Holman said.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Russian Analyst Blames McCain for Georgian-Russian War

I saw this in today's Johnson's Russia List:
#26
Izvestia
Auguste 13, 2008
WHEN WE SAY SAAKASHVILI, WE MEAN MCCAIN
Republican Party neo-cons ordered Georgia to start the war
Author: Sergei Markov, director, Political Studies Institute
[Neo-conservatives in the Bush Administration and John McCain's
campaign team have decided to arrange a virtual Cold War between
the West and Russia. Thousands of Ossetians, along with dozens of
Russians and Georgians, have already sacrificed their lives on the
altar of McCain's election campaign.
So, I read on. One thing is indisputably true. Russians have a different view of the conflict:
The neo-cons will make Saakashvili throw the Georgians into
the furnace of McCain's election campaign, but they seem to be
promising that after the victory, the USA will help him establish
full control over Abkhazia and Ossetia, and remain in power for a
long time as president of Georgia. And Ukrainian President Viktor
Yushchenko will take Ukraine to the brink of a split - apparently
in exchange for promises to admit Ukraine into NATO and support
widespread repression against Russians in Ukraine.

Some may read this article and call it a conspiracy theory.
Yes, there is a conspiracy. It's a conspiracy by the neo-cons with
the aim of retaining their control over the world's leading
country and carrying out their plan to establish global hegemony;
they make no secret of this. The neo-cons regard Obama as weak -
incapable of establishing American hegemony worldwide, and thus a
potential traitor to US national interests. So anything goes in
their battle against Obama - up to and including a Cold War with a
nuclear-armed Russia. Everyone remembers the huge international
media campaign launched by the neo-cons in the lead-up to the war
in Iraq. Now the neo-cons are launching a similar campaign against
Russia in the international media and the United Nations. The aim
of the media campaign surrounding South Ossetia is to start a new
pseudo-Cold War with Russia.

The European Union is our potential ally in this political
battle, since it has no interest in a new Cold War with Russia or
a victory for the miltarist neo-cons; President McCain would mean
a de facto third term for Bush. Another potential ally for Russia
is public opinion in the United States; most American voters hate
the neo-cons and their high-risk military adventures, and want
them out of power. Dick Cheney is America's most hated politician.

Thousands of Ossetians, along with dozens of Russians and
Georgians, have already sacrificed their lives on the altar of
McCain's election campaign - following hundreds of thousands of
Iraqis. We must not allow Cheney and McCain to kill thousands more
Ukrainians and Russians. Europe must use its combined efforts to
stop the mad neo-cons and prevent them from plunging our continent
into a new Cold War.

Everyone has been asking why the war started on the first day
of the Olympic Games. There's a simple explanation for that. The
order to start the war didn't come from Saakashvili, whose
attitude to China is neutral or positive. It came from Cheney and
the neo-cons, who hate China: thus, they also disrupted the
media's celebration of the Beijing Olympics.

The Turkistan Legion


A brief mention of the Turkistan Legion over dinner last night led me to a Google search that turned up some surprisingly contemporary reverberations from Hitler's use of Islamist troops during World War II. I think it may explain the failure of US policy in Central Asia. It seems that some US attempts to foster anti-Russian and anti-Chinese sentiment among Chechens, Uighurs, and the like may have been taken from an old German playbook.

No wonder it hasn't worked...

Here are some references:

1. Gates of Vienna
Our Flemish correspondent VH has done some research on the role played by the Muslims of Central Asia in World War 2, in collaboration with the Nazis:

When trying to find out a bit more about the Turkistan Muslims in Xinjiang, I stumbled upon this photo.

Though Muslim Nazi collaboration is mostly known for the notorious Muslim Handschar (Sword) SS division, the Turkistan Muslims were incorporated into the volunteer Östtürkischer Waffen-Verband der SS and fought mainly in France, North Italy, and — like the Handschar — in Yugoslavia. They were involved in the killing of over 800,000 Yugoslav citizens — 750,000 Serbs, 60,000 Jews and 26,000 Roma, with the help of Muslims in Bosnia (Bosnian 13th Waffen Handschar), Kosovo and Albania (Albanian Skanderbeg 21st Waffen SS division).

The first “Turkistan Legion” was mobilized in May 1942, originally consisting of only one battalion but having been expanded to 16 battalions and 16,000 soldiers by 1943 (Öst Battalions).

The all-Muslim “Turkistanische Legion” wore a badge picturing a mosque and the text “BiZ ALLA Bilen, TURKISTAN”: “Allah is with us, Turkistan,” equivalent of Gott mit uns (God with us), which was the German Army motto).
- - - - - - - - -
There is also a film of this Muslim-National Socialists alliance, “Uyghur's army and German troops (Turkistanische legion)”:
2. Wikipedia:
The Turkestan Legion (German: Turkistanische Legion) was the name for the military units comprised of the "freiwillige" Turkic peoples who fought in the German Army during World War II. Most of these troops were Red Army POWs, who opted to fight for the Nazis in the hopes of establishing an independent state in Central Asia after the war.
Although Turkic peoples had been perceived initially as "racially inferior", this attitude officially already changed in the Autumn 1941, when the Nazis attempted to harness the anti-Russian sentiment of Turkic peoples in Russia for political gain. The first "Turkistan Legion" was mobilized in May 1942, originally consisting of only one battalion but having been expanded to 16 battalions and 16,000 soldiers by 1943. Under the Wehrmacht's command, these units were mobilized exclusively on the Western front, isolating them from the Red Army, on the war fronts of France and north Italy.
Much of the Turkestan Legion was ultimately imprisoned by British forces and repatriated into Russia, where they would face persecution and reprisals by the Russian government in the wake of the conflict, for having fought alongside the fascist forces.
Notable members of the legion include Baymirza Hayit, who after the war, settled in Germany and became a historian of the history of Central Asia and Turkestan, and Turkestani nationalist leader Mustafa Chokaev.
3.Axis & Legion Militaria
Turkistan & Eastern SS Insignia

The Germans formed "Ost" (Eastern) Battalions from recruited prisoners of war and deserters. These Ost Battalions were fitted among the German Regiments and Divisions. The volunteers from the Ost Battalions were used as rear-area police duties.

Most of these Legions were used to fight anti-partisan operations in Russia and later in Yugoslavia.

One of the most distinguishing combat formations were members of the Turkistan Legion. The Legion was formed in the spring of 1942 as part of the German 162nd Infantry Division, referred as the "Turkoman Division." It saw extensive action in Yugoslavia and Italy.
In November 1943, the "Ostmanische SS-Division" was formed comprising of three separate eastern groups: Turkistan, Idel-ural and Crimea.

Reichsführer Himmler was very interested in this Eastern SS formation because his intent was to utilize some of the cadre personal for a training unit with the hope of raising further Eastern volunteer units. Because of volunteer shortages the unit was later designated as "1. Ostmusselmanisches SS-Regiment" in July 1944.

Finaly by October 1944, with more volunteers and conscriptions it was re-named as the "Osttürkischer Waffen-Verband der SS.

By March 1945 the Azerbaijan legion was added.

Below is a sample of insignias worn by members of the Turkistan Legion and Waffen-SS.

On top is a Wolf's Head collar tab with enlisted rank. It was intended to be worn by Crimean Tartar and Volga Tartar volunteers, one of four formations to be used in the creation of the "30. Waffen-Grenadier Division der SS (Westruthenische Nr. 1)."

Another interesting insignia is the German made cuffband with the green color, which represented the ethnic muslims.
The BeVo woven cuffband is made of bright green rayon with white Latin script "Osttürkischer Waffen-Verband der SS." The cuffband is border at both top and bottom edges in vertically woven white thread. The reverse shows the typical salt & pepper patterned found on these BeVo style bands.

Below on your left is a very rare early first pattern Turkistan shield. Oval grey-green backing with a light-grey border; depicting a white mosque with a center coupola in white and blue, two side spires and a large entry gate, all outlined in yellow with light blue shadows. Below the mosque is the inscription "TURKISTAN" and arched above the inscription "BIZ ALLA BILEN." (God with us)

The Germans appear to have believed that "Biz Alla Bilen" was the Arabic equivalent of "Got mit uns" (God with us), which was the German Army motto.

NOTE: Correctly this should have been "Allah biz bilen. There may have been some objection to this both as a grammatical error and to the fact that although five languages "Kazakh, Kirgiz, Turkmen, Uzbeck and Tajik" are spoken in the Turkistan region of what was formerly the USSR, Arabic is not one of them!

On your right is the second pattern shield, issued in September 1943. The angular shape shield has a red and blue horizontal stripes bordered in black with a black field at the top with the inscription "TURKISTAN" in light blue. In the center of the shield is the Legion's emblem a white bow and arrow.

Above is the gold Eastern Peoples first class with swords badge that was awarded for bravery. If you want to find out more information please visit my Eastern People's Awards web page.

Memo to Obama II: Run as a Winner


It's time for Barack Obama to use the race issue to his advantage in the 2008 election, by associating himself in the public's mind with African-American winners like Tiger Woods and Venus and Serena Williams. (He may have to fine-tune some tax policies...) It would be nice if he could get some endorsements to use in TV ads with working titles like: "Winner" and "Twice as Good." The message would be clear--like the champions who endorse him, Barack Obama is a winner, and the nation needs to elect a Winner, after eight years of losing...

The Wild Duck

Our Netflix BBC DVD had two Ibsen plays on it, and the other night someone I know and this blogger took a look at the 1971 television adaptation of The Wild Duck, starring a young Denholm Elliott and Jenny Agutter. It was really good, too, a nice compantion to the BBC production of An Enemy of the People.. One can see why Eugene O'Neill paid frequent homage to Ibsen. The themes of pipe dreams, alcoholism, destructive family tensions, crusading politics, and crushing social pressures on the individual were clearly evident in the no-frills production. The death of the wild duck, as the end of childhood, was particularly poignant. The symbolic doctor and preacher reminded me of John Ford (was that where he got the idea for symbolic characters in his Westerns?). Five stars.

Sarko the Peacemaker...


Looks like Nicholas Sarkozy has done it again. The Moscow Times reports:
Sarkozy said Europe was ready to send peacekeepers to Georgia if all involved parties agreed. "Could Europe get involved in a peacekeeping mission? Europe is available to do that, of course," he said.

Sarkozy took pains to be seen as a fair arbiter, saying he sent his Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to meet refugees in North Ossetia. Before his visit to Moscow, Sarkozy met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and he said the two of them see eye to eye. Medvedev is scheduled to meet with Merkel later this week in Sochi, where he is scheduled to go on a working vacation.

Medvedev said the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be allowed to decide themselves whether they want to be part of Georgia. "The Ossetians and the Abkhaz must respond to that question taking their history into consideration, including what happened in the past few days," he said.

Sarkozy and Medvedev had been scheduled to address reporters after two hours of talks, but a Kremlin spokesman announced that it had been delayed because the talks were continuing. A member of the French delegation said soon after that Putin had arrived for lunch with Medvedev and Sarkozy. The two presidents addressed reporters two hours later, while Putin chose not to attend.

When asked why the talks went so long, a senior Russian diplomat who participated in the meeting said only that the leaders had agreed on everything long before they emerged to speak with reporters and had in the remaining time "told jokes about women." The diplomat did not smile as he spoke, and it was unclear whether he was joking.

From the Kremlin, Sarkozy headed for Tbilisi where he was prepared to spend the night talking to Saakashvili. "The night is young," he said.

France holds the European Union's rotating presidency and is leading mediation efforts between Russia and Georgia. Shortly before meeting Sarkozy, Medvedev ordered a halt to fighting by Russian troops.

France is well-positioned for the mediation effort because it was of the countries that resisted U.S. calls to put Georgia and Ukraine on track to join NATO by giving them a Membership Action Plan in April.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Today's Georgian Crisis and the 1974 Cyprus Crisis


American pundits have their knickers in a twist about Russia. The Wall Street Journal called Putin Vladimir Bonaparte today while in today's Washington Post, George Will compared the invasion of Georgia with the outbreak of World War I. Yesterday, Robert Kagan compared Putin's raid on Georgia to Hitler's march into the Sudetenland.

As Bart Simpson might say, "Don't have a cow, man..." It's serious, but not the end of the world, nor the start of World War III.

IMHO, the current Georgian-Russian war has a lot more in common with the 1974 Cyprus crisis. Then, Turkey (a NATO member) invaded Cyprus (supported by Greece, also a NATO member) to protect Turkish Cypriots from Greek Cypriots. In the end, the island was divided into Greek and Turkish zones, under a cease-fire. In the case of Georgia, the Ossetians can be seen as equivalent to the Turkish Cypriots, in this case protected by Russia.

Here's a link to the Wikipedia entry for the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Nabi Abdullaev on the Georgian-Russian War

From the Moscow Times:
Having forcefully reclaimed South Ossetia for its loyal separatist regime, Moscow has sent the strongest possible signal of how far it is ready to go to retain influence in other former Soviet republics.

The conflict is unlikely to escalate into a war by proxy with the West, however, and the situation will eventually return to the pre-conflict status quo, political analysts said Sunday.

President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have labeled Georgia's attack on the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, as "genocide" and said Tbilisi has lost the right to ever govern the separatist region.

Major Western powers have strongly urged Moscow to respect Georgia's territorial integrity and to avoid the excessive use of force -- which analysts said suggests that after a lengthy period of gradual military disengagement and negotiations, Georgia will have to accept continued Moscow-backed separatism on its territory.

The South Ossetian conflict was a foreign policy trap for Russia from the start, and the trap slammed shut after the Georgian troops started shelling Tskhinvali late last week and its residents pleaded for Moscow to intervene, said Alexander Khramchikhin, a senior researcher with the Institute of Political and Military Analysis.

"Russia was left with the choice of either becoming a traitor or an aggressor," he said.

This apparently was a tough choice for a country that feels encircled and humiliated as former vassal regimes turn to the West. The fact that Georgia is a close ally of the United States, which strongly backs its bid to join NATO, promises to further complicate the bigger, geopolitical ramifications of the violence in South Ossetia.

Washington and West European governments criticized Russia for its overwhelming use of force but did not place the full blame for the conflict on it.

The main reason for this was probably because Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili attempted to reintegrate South Ossetia by force without first winning approval from the West, said Alexei Malashenko, a Caucasus analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Larisa Alexandrovna on the Georgian-Russian War

From AtLargely.com:
Russia's attack on Georgia is illegal and immoral. On that we can all agree. But, because our voice of reason and diplomacy has long been sold off to military defense contractors, our leaders criticizing Russia is irrelevant and worse, hypocritical because we attacked Iraq, illegally. I have been trying to explain this very problem to the far-right, but it is like trying to explain the basics of math to a flea.

Here is what our beloved leader said:

U.S. President George Bush said he told Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that the violence in the region was "unacceptable," and that Russia's response was "disproportionate."

Guess what Vladamir Putin (no matter who the Russian President is, Putin is the leader) will likely do in response to this stern warning? Putin will do whatever he wants to because the US cannot counter militarily, financially, or in any other way. We have lost the moral high ground through our total disregard for international law, treaties, and the basic decency of honoring human rights. That my friends is the exact problem with playing the "we are the greatest country in the world" game, with no serious understanding of reality.

Consider that Georgia is our ally and we can do nothing for them. That is how much power the US now has thanks to this administration. And consider too, that Putin will not stop at Georgia as he has always pined for the return of the former Soviet Union.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

How Bush "restored honor and dignity to the White House..."




During the 2000 Presidential contest, George W. Bush repeatedly promised to "restore honor and dignity to the White House." Here's how he's doing it at the Beijing Olympics, by patting the back of a member of the US Women's Volleyball Team--around the same time Todd Bachman, father-in-law of men's volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon was stabbed to death, and his wife Barbara critically injured in Beijing by a suicide attacker...

Glenn Greenwald Finds More Holes in FBI's Anthrax Case

Salon's Glenn Greenwald is looking at FBI "evidence" somewhat critically...
The fastest one can drive from Frederick, Maryland to Princeton, New Jersey is 3 hours, which would mean that Ivins would have had to have dropped the anthrax letters in the New Jersey mailbox on September 17 by 1 p.m. or -- at the latest -- 2 p.m. in order to be able to attend a 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. meeting back at Ft. Detrick. But had he dropped the letters in the mailbox before 5:00 p.m. on September 17, the letters would have borne a September 17 postmark, rather than the September 18 postmark they bore (letters picked up from that Princeton mailbox before 5 p.m. bear the postmark from that day; letters picked up after 5 p.m. bear the postmark of the next day). That's why the Search Warrant Affidavit (.pdf) released by the FBI on Friday said this (page 8):

If the Post's reporting about Ivins' September 17 activities is accurate -- that he "return[ed to Fort Detrick] for an appointment in the early evening, about 4 or 5 p.m." -- then that would constitute an alibi, not, as the Post breathlessly described it, "a key clue into how he could have pulled off an elaborate crime," since any letter he mailed that way would have a September 17 -- not a September 18 -- postmark. Just compare the FBI's own definition of "window of opportunity" to its September 17 timeline for Ivins to see how glaring that contradiction is.
In theory (and there is no evidence for this at all), Ivins could have left Fort Detrick that night after work and driven to New Jersey, but then the leaked information reported by the Post about Ivins' September 17 morning "administrative leave" would be completely irrelevant, and according to the Post, that isn't what the FBI believes occurred ("Authorities assume that he drove to Princeton immediately after" he took administrative leave in the morning). The FBI's theory as to how and when Ivins traveled to New Jersey on September 17 and mailed the letters is simply impossible, given the statement in their own Probable Cause Affidavit as to "the window of opportunity" the anthrax attacker had to mail the letters in order to have them bear a September 18 postmark. Marcy Wheeler and Larisa Alexandrovna have now noted the same discrepancy. That is a pretty enormous contradiction in the FBI's case.
* * * * *
The FBI's total failure to point to a shred of evidence placing Ivins in New Jersey on either of the two days the anthrax letters were sent is a very conspicuous deficiency in its case. It's possible that Ivins was able to travel to Princeton on two occasions in three weeks without leaving the slightest trace of having done so (not a credit card purchase, ATM withdrawal, unusual gas purchases, nothing), but that relies on a depiction of Ivins as a cunning and extremely foresightful criminal, an image squarely at odds with most of the FBI's circumstantial evidence that suggests Ivins was actually quite careless, even reckless, in how he perpetrated this crime (spending unusual amounts of time in his lab before the attacks despite knowing that there would be a paper trail; taking an "administrative leave" from work to go mail the anthrax letters rather than just doing it on the weekend when no paper trail of his absence would be created; using his own anthrax strain rather than any of the other strains to which he had access at Fort Detrick; keeping that strain in its same molecular form for years rather than altering it, etc.).

The FBI dumped a large number of uncorroborated conclusions at once on Wednesday, carefully assembled to create the most compelling case they could make, and many people -- as intended -- jumped to proclaim that it was convincing. But the more that case is digested and assessed, the more questions and the more skepticism seem to arise among virtually everyone...

Joshua Foust on the Georgian-Russian War

On Registan.net:
As the fighting in South Ossetia heats up, it’s interesting to see the rush by all the bloggers to do the biggest, grandest roundups. By looking at this, you see those who think they’re clever by either stating the obvious (Russia wants to split Georgia, Abkhazia is getting involved), the conventional wisdom (Russia wants to disrupt the Georgia energy corridor), or the plain old wrong (Russia wants to annex Georgia). The examples are countless, and while not necessarily wrong, none are really saying anything those who are knowledgable of the situation haven’t been saying for months or years. You also notice that the same four or five stories from the New York Times, CNN, or the BBC all get linked and excerpted, as people play arm-chair correspondents and try to track every bombing, explosion, artillery strike, and troop movement.

Basically, ignore all of that. We will not have a useful picture of the minutae of the fighting for at least several days (really? Russia will own Georgian airspace just like that?), until some good correspondents get on the scene and we’re not left hearing only what the various foreign ministries say. If you can read Russian or Georgian, there are many blogs posting pictures and personal accounts that can provide much better data (Yerevan-based reporter Onnik Krikorian is a notable exception and his collections of local blogger-journalism are absolutely necessary reading). Far more interesting than the minutae of the tactical aspects of this fight, at least to me, is the political aspect. Blake Hounshell did an admirable job of rounding up some of these, including the very salient point that Russia has refused a cease-fire.

But even that is just conventional wisdom. Who cares? It’s called conventional wisdom because everyone already knows it. Finding something new or interesting about this conflict is tough, and the blogosphere is being more hurtful than helpful in offering anything of value. There is very little attention being paid, for example, to Russia’s diplomatic moves, which seem curiously centered in Brussels, and not Tskhinvali, Tblisi, or Moscow. Why Brussels? This escalation happened right before Georgia was scheduled for its ascension into NATO, and Russian would love nothing more than to scuttle Georgia’s chances. Pretending that the South Ossetian shadow government makes any of its own decision is about as useful as pretending the shadow government in Abkhazia does. They got violent because Moscow told them to, and it has been that way for a good fifteen years now (the Abkhaz government is a bit more autonomous, but they remain fatally reliant on Russian support).

Friday, August 08, 2008

Memo to Obama: Pick Caroline Kennedy for VP


As the VP selection process enters its final days, someone I know made what seems to me to be a very shrewd suggestion--that Barack Obama pick Carolline Kennedy as his running mate.

This does several important things at once:

1) It takes McCain's absurd celebrity attacks and turns them into an advantage. "You want to run against celebrities? Make my day..."

2) It reinforces Obama's patriotism. No one is more beloved by America than the daughter of our slain ex-President, John F. Kennedy

3) It allows Ted Kennedy to give his own "Win one for the Gipper speech..." from his sickbed, if need be

4) Caroline is obviously a woman, so it demonstrates that Obama is no anti-feminist

5) It brings the Irish-American vote (some 40 million Americans at last estimate) into the Obama camp. Being from Chicago, he must realize the importance of the Irish vote. That helps to neutralize the abortion issue.

6) Caroline is a lawyer from New York, so who needs Hillary?

To those who might argue that it would be inappropriate for someone on the VP selection committee to pick herself--Dick Cheney did exactly that with George W. Bush in 2000, and afterwards the team enjoyed eight years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Science Magazine: FBI Gagged Anthrax Scientists

The journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science wonders if the FBI's handling of the anthrax case may have harmed scientific research:
The FBI, which had little microbial forensic experience back in 2001, relied on a network of labs--including Ivins's at USAMRIID--to aid its investigation. (The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Maryland, not only sequenced many anthrax strains but worked on the case before it was integrated into JCVI, says Venter.) The bureau has ordered researchers not to discuss or publish that work. "As a scientist, I hope I'll be able to do that now," says Geisbert, who in his previous job at USAMRIID produced electron micrographs of the spores used in the letters sent to the Senate.

Many believe that the case is bound to have wider ramifications for the biodefense field. Before 2001, such research was largely confined to USAMRIID and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. The anthrax letters, which plunged a nation reeling from 9/11 into further anxiety, helped spur a massive increase in the biodefense budget--now some $5.4 billion a year--and a construction boom in biosafety labs. "The entire rationale for that expansion was fraudulent," says Richard Ebright, a prominent biodefense critic at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, because it assumed a threat from outside the country. The boom has made the country less safe, Ebright maintains: "The spigot needs to be closed."

Others say the threat remains real. "It would be unfortunate if people take away the message that the only individuals we should be concerned about are deranged biodefense scientists," says biosecurity expert Gerald Epstein of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. But he acknowledges that the debate about how much biodefense is enough will likely reignite.

There may be other consequences, says Paul Keim, an expert in microbial fingerprinting at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff who has also been recruited by the FBI. After the anthrax attacks, Congress passed legislation to limit access to bioterror agents to licensed researchers and imposed strict rules on where and how they can be used. Although researchers have decried them as overly cumbersome, the anthrax case may renew pressure to stiffen them further, Keim says. Additional measures could include cameras in virtually every lab, speculates Alan Pearson of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C. "The solution may well be if you work with pathogens like smallpox and anthrax, be prepared to be watched," he says.

The involvement of a U.S. scientist would also give new ammunition to local groups that have tried to stop construction of new biosafety labs. At BU, now a major academic biodefense hub, "we have had a lot of opposition--and this is not going to help," Geisbert says.

Walter Russell Mead: Why Americans Support Israel

I had been meaning to post something about Walter Russell Mead's essay in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs for some time. It is well worth reading in its entirety. Mead's history lesson reminded me of Barbara Tuchman's Bible and Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour. which is about Britain's long historical involvement vis-a-vis Israel. Likewise, Mead provides valuable historical context that helps to discredit crackpot conspiracy theories presented by the likes of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer.

An excerpt:
In the United States, a pro-Israel foreign policy does not represent the triumph of a small lobby over the public will. It represents the power of public opinion to shape foreign policy in the face of concerns by foreign policy professionals. Like the war on drugs and the fence along the Mexican border, support for Israel is a U.S. foreign policy that makes some experts and specialists uneasy but commands broad public support. This does not mean that an "Israel lobby" does not exist or does not help shape U.S. policy in the Middle East. Nor does it mean that Americans ought to feel as they do. (It remains my view that everyone, Americans and Israelis included, would benefit if Americans developed a more sympathetic and comprehensive understanding of the wants and needs of the Palestinians.) But it does mean that the ultimate sources of the United States' Middle East policy lie outside the Beltway and outside the Jewish community. To understand why U.S. policy is pro-Israel rather than neutral or pro-Palestinian, one must study the sources of nonelite, non-Jewish support for the Jewish state.

THE CHILDREN OF DAVID

The story of U.S. support for a Jewish state in the Middle East begins early. John Adams could not have been more explicit. "I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation," he said, after his presidency. From the early nineteenth century on, gentile Zionists fell into two main camps in the United States. Prophetic Zionists saw the return of the Jews to the Promised Land as the realization of a literal interpretation of biblical prophecy, often connected to the return of Christ and the end of the world. Based on his interpretation of Chapter 18 of the prophecies of Isaiah, for example, the Albany Presbyterian pastor John McDonald predicted in 1814 that Americans would assist the Jews in restoring their ancient state. Mormon voices shared this view; the return of the Jews to the Holy Land was under way, said Elder Orson Hyde in 1841: "The great wheel is unquestionably in motion, and the word of the Almighty has declared that it shall roll."

Other, less literal and less prophetic Christians developed a progressive Zionism that would resonate down through the decades among both religious and secular gentiles. In the nineteenth century, liberal Christians often believed that God was building a better world through human progress. They saw the democratic and (relatively) egalitarian United States as both an example of the new world God was making and a powerful instrument to further his grand design. Some American Protestants believed that God was moving to restore what they considered the degraded and oppressed Jews of the world to the Promised Land, just as God was uplifting and improving the lives of other ignorant and unbelieving people through the advance of Protestant and liberal principles. They wanted the Jews to establish their own state because they believed that this would both shelter the Jews from persecution and, through the redemptive powers of liberty and honest agricultural labor, uplift and improve what they perceived to be the squalid morals and deplorable hygiene of contemporary Ottoman and eastern European Jews. As Adams put it, "Once restored to an independent government and no longer persecuted they would soon wear away some of the asperities and peculiarities of their character and possibly in time become liberal Unitarian Christians." For such Christians, American Zionism was part of a broader program of transforming the world by promoting the ideals of the United States.

Not all progressive Zionists couched their arguments in religious terms. As early as 1816, Niles' Weekly Register, the leading American news and opinion periodical through much of the first half of the nineteenth century, predicted and welcomed the impending return of the Jews to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital. The magazine projected that the restoration of the Jews would further enlightenment and progress -- and this, clearly, would be good for the United States as well as for the Jews.

Prophetic Zionists, for their part, became more numerous after the American Civil War, and their views of the role a restored Jewish state might play in the events leading up to the apocalypse became more highly developed. Books and pamphlets highlighting the predicted restoration of the Jews and speculating on the identity and the return of the "lost tribes" of the ancient Hebrews were perennial bestsellers, and the association between Dwight Moody, the country's leading evangelist, and Cyrus Scofield, the important Bible scholar, put the future history of Israel firmly at the center of the imagination of conservative American Protestantism.

These groups of gentile Zionists found new, if sometimes unsavory, allies after 1880, when a mass immigration of Russian Jews to the United States began. Some of them and some assimilated German American Jews hoped that Palestine would replace the United States as the future home of what was an unusually unpopular group of immigrants at the time. For anti-Semites, the establishment of a Jewish state might or might not "cure" Jews of the characteristics many gentiles attributed to them, but in any case the establishment of such a state would reduce Jewish immigration to the United States.

In 1891, these strands of gentile Zionists came together. The Methodist lay leader William Blackstone presented a petition to President Benjamin Harrison calling on the United States to use its good offices to convene a congress of European powers so that they could induce the Ottoman Empire to turn Palestine over to the Jews. The 400 signatories were overwhelmingly non-Jewish and included the chief justice of the Supreme Court; the Speaker of the House of Representatives; the chairs of the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee; the future president William McKinley; the mayors of Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington; the editors or proprietors of the leading East Coast and Chicago newspapers; and an impressive array of Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic clergy. Business leaders who signed the petition included Cyrus McCormick, John Rockefeller, and J. P. Morgan. At a time when the American Jewish community was neither large nor powerful, and no such thing as an Israel lobby existed, the pillars of the American gentile establishment went on record supporting a U.S. diplomatic effort to create a Jewish state in the lands of the Bible.

SHARED COMMANDMENTS

Any discussion of U.S. attitudes toward Israel must begin with the Bible...

Pakistan's War on Afghanistan

Fraser Nelson explains the conflict in The Spectator (UK):
At a recent dinner party in the British embassy in Kabul, one of the guests referred to ‘the Afghan-Pakistan war’. The rest of the table fell silent. This is the truth that dare not speak its name. Even mentioning it in private in the Afghan capital’s green zone is enough to solicit murmurs of disapproval. Few want to accept that the war is widening; that it now involves Pakistan, a country with an unstable government and nuclear weapons.

But in fact the military commanders know that they are dealing with far more than just a domestic insurgency. Weapons, men and suicide bombers are flooding in from Pakistan every day. Like it or not, war is being waged on Afghanistan from Pakistan.

Consider the evidence: British forces in Helmand have achieved striking success in repelling the Taleban, but they can never eliminate the enemy entirely because of the constant stream of new recruits flowing over the border from the Pakistani town of Quetta. To Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, head of Taskforce Helmand, it is a source of deep frustration. ‘When pushed out of Helmand, the opportunities are there for the Taleban to recruit, equip and retrain on the other side of the border,’ he told me when I visited two months ago.

In theory, the Pakistani government has signed up to the war on terror and is trying as best it can to help us. But in practice, it is playing a dangerous double game. The Pakistani government, army and intelligence services all have their own distinct reasons for keeping the Taleban in business. The Pakistan army effectively ceded Quetta to the Taleban six years ago, for example, hoping their brutal methods would deal with local Baluchistan separatists...

An Enemy of the People

Last night someone I know and I watched a 1971 production of Henrik Ibsen's drama, An Enemy of the People, now on Netflix. It was pretty good, despite being rated 2.6 stars. I'd give it 4-5 stars, myself. It seemed especially relevant today, when there seems to be a lynch mob mentality abroad in the land on all sides of the political spectrum. Ibsen's play defends an individualist--Dr. Stockman (Robert Urqhart)--who confronts a town about its poisoned spa waters. The entire town turns against him, but he stands firm. His business and family are destroyed. He is persecuted by his own brother. In the BBC version, the location has been moved to Scotland, and there are digs at the 70s-era Labour party as well as the Tories. The hero looks and acts like a member of the Social Democrats, today called Liberal Democrats--traditionally the party of Britain's Chattering Classes. Anyhow, it is an interesting adaptation, especially given the tremendous pressures for everyone to fall into party lines in America these days...

Watching the show reminded me how I had been surprised not long ago, along these lines, while teaching a class about films of the 1950s, when my students overwhelmingly declared they thought Gary Cooper was "stupid" to oppose the mob in Fred Zinneman's classic Western, High Noon. I suppose it may be a result of all the "team-building" and "critical thinking" that American youth have been exposed to, but it made me wonder: What ever happened to American individualism?

Ibsen's play shows that Norwegians faced similar problems a century ago--and Ibsen understood the Quisling mentality well before Quisling.

One other thought, I was lucky to study under producer/director George Schaefer at UCLA film school. He also produced and directed an outstanding 1978 production of An Enemy of the People, starring Steve McQueen. More about that version of the play can be found on The Stop Button.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Glenn Greenwald on the FBI's Anthrax Case

He's not very impressed by the "evidence" released today:
What happened today with this selective document release is akin to a criminal trial where only the Prosecutor is allowed to see the relevant evidence, only the Prosecutor is allowed to select which evidence is presented, and only the Prosecutor speaks. Such a distorted, one-sided process doesn't even happen at Guantanamo, which should, by itself, indicate how much skepticism is warranted here until the FBI makes the actual evidence available so that its claims can be subjected to critical scrutiny.
Meanwhile, Ft. Detrick scientists paid tribute to Bruce Ivins at a memorial service:
"I don’t understand how 250 scientists and soldiers, including the base commander and the commanding general, could be here eulogizing Bruce and the FBI seriously consider him a suspect," Paul Kemp, the suspect's lawyer, says in an e-mail following the service. "In the words of his commander, he was open, sharing, funny and scientifically brilliant."
This is beginning to remind me of the Army-McCarthy hearings. I can just imagine someone like Joseph Welch asking the FBI on national television: "Have you no decency?"

My New Facebook Friend's Book Party

I received this email from Eleanor Herman, a new Facebook Friend:

Hi Everybody!

I wanted to remind you of my DC-area book debut on Tuesday, August 26, at 6:30 pm [at the National Press Club]...
For hundreds of years, the Catholic Church has excluded women from leadership positions . . .

. . . now Eleanor Herman debunks the very core of the Church’s justifications

Mistress of the Vatican
The True Story of Olimpia Maidalchini: The Secret Female Pope
by Eleanor Herman

For a decade in the seventeenth century, a woman ran the Catholic Church. For almost four centuries, this astonishing story of a woman’s rise to absolute power over the Vatican has been successfully covered up - until now.

Her name was Olimpia Maidalchini, and through her brother-in-law --and reputed lover-- Pope Innocent X (reigned 1644-1655) she governed the most powerful institution on the face of the Earth. Cardinals and royalty bowed down to her as she made international policy, waged war, patronized Rome’s greatest baroque artists, and stuffed her pockets with Vatican gold.

History at its most exciting, MISTRESS OF THE VATICAN is full of eccentric characters, outrageous situations, and the magnificence and brutality of a bygone age. It brings to life shocking Church traditions – nepotism; corruption; conclaves that leaked like sieves; and servants who routinely plundered the rooms of a dying pontiff, sometimes leaving him naked and decomposing on the floor.

Eleanor Herman – the bestselling author of Sex With the Queen and Sex With Kings - is an engaging, entertaining, and authoritative writer who has hosted shows for The History Channel and National Geographic. To research MISTRESS OF THE VATICAN, she delved into Italian archives for original letters and diplomatic dispatches, discovered Olimpia’s birthplace, and visited her numerous palaces.

What she discovered was fascinating. The widowed sister-in-law of the indecisive Pope Innocent X Olimpia was presumed to be the pope’s mistress. Regardless of whether or not this was true, she certainly was mistress of the Vatican, appointing cardinals, negotiating with foreign powers, and raking in immense sums from the papal treasury. In a church that firmly excludes women from officiating as priests, and even from marrying priests, Olimpia’s story is clearly an uncomfortable one for the Vatican.

Most historical sources disliked Olimpia’s interference in Vatican affairs – she was far smarter than almost all the men in her environment, and it hurt. But some fair-minded ambassadors praised her for her intelligence, dignity, and financial acumen. The French ambassador Bali de Valençais admired Olimpia, informing Louis XIV that she was, without doubt, a “great lady.” Even Cardinal Pallavicino, who despised Olimpia, gave her grudging approval for her “intellect of great worth in economic government” and her “capacity for the highest affairs.”

Envied, admired, and despised, Olimpia was a baroque rock star, belting out her song loudly on a stage of epic exaggeration. But by the end of the seventeenth century, with new popes and new hopes, the scandal of Olimpia, which had gripped all Europe, faded and disappeared. Long forgotten now is her bittersweet tale of power, greed, and the glory of God.

About the author:

Author Eleanor Herman is related to most of the royal houses of Europe. With the blood of kings flowing in her veins, she has spent most of her free time since childhood studying their lives and traveling to their palaces. Herman graduated with a degree in Journalism from Towson State University in Baltimore in 1981. After studying languages in Europe and writing for numerous publications, she worked for German-based Monch Publishing as Associate Publisher of Nato’s Nations and Partners for Peace from 1989-2002. She has interviewed numerous foreign leaders and spoken at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. A member of the National Press Club’s Book and Author Committee, currently her full-time job is researching and writing women’s history.

Mistress of the Vatican:
The True Story of Olimpia Maidalchini: The Secret Female Pope
by Eleanor Herman
William Morrow / On Sale August 12, 2008
$25.95 / Hardcover / ISBN: 978-0-06-124555-8
Contact: Adam Rochkind / 212-207-7034 / adam.rochkind@harpercollins.com

Ali Alyami: Ban Saudi Arabia From Olympics

Ali Alyami wants the Saudi team banned from the Beijing Olympics, for violation of the Olympic spirit:
The Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia condemns the Saudi government's decision to deny the Saudi women the right to be full citizens at home and full members of the international community. The Saudi government is practicing an Apartheid-like system for which South Africa was barred form global events, boycotted, and declared a pariah government. The international community, especially Western democracies, should treat the Saudi government as they treated the segregationist Apartheid government in South Africa.

Paris Hilton's Answer to John McCain

Before seeing this video (ht Drudge), I had no idea Paris Hilton was such a serious person...
See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Did FBI Torture Ft. Detrick Anthrax Researcher to Death?

If news accounts are true, then based on definitions found on a memorandum at the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel Website, I think one could reasonably conclude that allegations of FBI harrassment of Bruce Ivins and his family fit the legal definition of "torture":
Section 2340A provides that "[w]hoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life." (9) Section 2340(1) defines "torture" as "an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control."(10)
Driving a suspect to commit suicide through the infliction of mental pain and suffering in no way promotes equal justice or rule of law.

Instead of arranging a photo-op with anthrax victims' families (actually families of innocent bystanders, since the intended victims were people like Tom Brokaw, Senator Daschle, and Senator Leahy), perhaps Attorney General Mukasey might begin a torture investigation of the FBI agents involved in this fiasco...and if there is evidence of torture, prosecute the FBI agents involved to the full extent of the law.

IMHO, the death of Bruce Ivins--guilty or not--before he had a chance to face his accusers in a courtroom, makes a mockery of American claims to fight human rights abuses around the world--and of Mukasey's oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. (BTW, where is the Human Rights Watch press release on this case?)

More updates from Glenn Greenwald on Salon.com, at Meryl Nass's blog and Larisa Alexandrovna's blog..

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

WSJ: Bruce Ivins Not Anthrax Killer

Richard Spertzel explains his skepticism over recent FBI reports in today's Wall Street Journal:
In short, the potential lethality of anthrax in this case far exceeds that of any powdered product found in the now extinct U.S. Biological Warfare Program. In meetings held on the cleanup of the anthrax spores in Washington, the product was described by an official at the Department of Homeland Security as "according to the Russian recipes" -- apparently referring to the use of the weak electric charge.

The latest line of speculation asserts that the anthrax's DNA, obtained from some of the victims, initially led investigators to the laboratory where Ivins worked. But the FBI stated a few years ago that a complete DNA analysis was not helpful in identifying what laboratory might have made the product.

Furthermore, the anthrax in this case, the "Ames strain," is one of the most common strains in the world. Early in the investigations, the FBI said it was similar to strains found in Haiti and Sri Lanka. The strain at the institute was isolated originally from an animal in west Texas and can be found from Texas to Montana following the old cattle trails. Samples of the strain were also supplied to at least eight laboratories including three foreign laboratories. Four French government laboratories reported on studies with the Ames strain, citing the Pasteur Institute in Paris as the source of the strain they used. Organism DNA is not a very reliable way to make a case against a scientist.

The FBI has not officially released information on why it focused on Ivins, and whether he was about to be charged or arrested. And when the FBI does release this information, we should all remember that the case needs to be firmly based on solid information that would conclusively prove that a lone scientist could make such a sophisticated product.

From what we know so far, Bruce Ivins, although potentially a brilliant scientist, was not that man. The multiple disciplines and technologies required to make the anthrax in this case do not exist at Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Inhalation studies are conducted at the institute, but they are done using liquid preparations, not powdered products.

The FBI spent between 12 and 18 months trying "to reverse engineer" (make a replica of) the anthrax in the letters sent to Messrs. Daschle and Leahy without success, according to FBI news releases. So why should federal investigators or the news media or the American public believe that a lone scientist would be able to do so?

Monday, August 04, 2008

Wolf Blitzer Questions America's Top Propagandist

From a transcript of Sunday's CNN Late Edition interview of Jim Glassman (author of Dow 36,000) with Wolf Blitzer:
BLITZER: There is little doubt right now that the image of the United States has taken a serious hit around the world in recent years. But are there inroads in the effort to try to win the hearts and minds of people around the world, especially in the Middle East?

BLITZER: Let's discuss with the man in charge of this mission, Jim Glassman is the U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.

GLASSMAN: Great to be here.

BLITZER: You've got a tough assignment, as we know. Karen Hughes used to do what you're doing. She had a tough assignment. The Pew Research Center poll that came out earlier in the year said that the favorable opinion in the United States in friendly countries in the Muslim world like Pakistan, only 19 percent. Jordan, only 19 percent. Egypt, only 22 percent. Not very high given U.S. support for those countries over the years.

GLASSMAN: It's true. But things are looking up.

BLITZER: What do you base that on?

GLASSMAN: Well, I base it on the latest Pew Research Poll in June where they looked at 21 countries in '07 and '08 and our ratings increased in 16 of them. But also, this is a very complicated issue. And to reduce it down to a few numbers, I don't think really does anybody --

BLITZER: All right, so let's talk about some of the problems that have impacted negatively on the U.S. image, especially, in the Muslim and Arab world. Senator McCain said this on June 20th and I'll get your reaction, because he's very worried about this. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: It happens that I also regard the prison at Guantanamo as a liability in the cause against violent radical extremism. And as president of the United States, I would close it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: How much does an issue like that, the prison at Guantanamo Bay affect the negative U.S. image in the Muslim world?

GLASSMAN: There's no doubt that Guantanamo has hurt our image. The president, though, two years ago said he would close Guantanamo. Of the 750 people that have gone through Guantanamo, 500 of them have been released. The big problem right now, we care about what happens to the 260 or so people who are there now who we would like to release. The question is, what will happen when they get back to their home countries? Will they be properly treated there? So we're working on this question. There's no doubt that that's important. But I think when we talk about the popularity of the United States, let's put it in the right perspective. Our objective in foreign policy is to reduce the threat to the United States and the promote freedom. It is not to win some kind of "American Idol" contest.


BLITZER: Because you've written extensively about the so-called war of ideas that is unfolding right now in this battle, if you will, for the hearts and minds of these young, largely men in the Muslim and Arab world, who potentially represent a significant threat. Is that what you're talking about?

GLASSMAN: Exactly, Wolf. And no matter what people feel about particular policies that the United States has, what we found is that in the Middle East, and in Europe, we've had tremendous cooperation from governments and from individuals in doing in the war of ideas. Really, there are two things we're doing. One is pushing back against the ideology of the terrorists and the second is diverting young people from taking a path that leads to violence extremism.

BLITZER: Because if they're unemployed, they have nothing to do, a lot of idle time. That sort of creates an opening. But let me read to you what Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist wrote on this issue back on June 11th. "It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Democrats' nomination of Barack Obama as their candidate for president has done more to improve America's image abroad, an image dented by the Iraq war, President Bush's invocation of a post-9/11 'crusade,' Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the xenophobic opposition to Dubai Ports World managing U.S. harbors -- than the entire Bush public diplomacy effort for seven years."

GLASSMAN: Well, there's no doubt that there's a lot of excitement in the world about the election that's coming up, and it's not just Barack Obama. And that's very important to people. You know, first African-American. Also, we almost had a woman nominated. We've got John McCain, who is a true war hero, spent five and a half years in a prison in Vietnam.

So the world is very excited about the American election. We're doing a lot, actually, to bring people to the United States to have them observe this election. But it's a lot more than that. It is the success that we've had in Al Anbar. It is the fact that al Qaeda has shown itself to be a bunch of wanton, violent extremists. The world is turning against al Qaeda and that kind of extremism. You talk about polls about the United States.

What's important to us, in fact, is the fact that support for suicide bombing, for example, in Jordan, in Morocco, throughout the Middle East that be dropping. Support for Osama bin Laden has been dropping. Support for al Qaeda has been dropping. Now, we're not out of the woods. Terrorism is a serious, serious problem, was we've done a lot of things in public diplomacy that has ameliorated the situation.

BLITZER: Here's what Robert Gates, the defense secretary said on July 15th. "The solution is not to be found in some slick PR campaign or by trying to out-propagandize al Qaeda, but through the steady accumulation of actions and results that built trust and credibility over a time."

GLASSMAN: He is absolutely right and I think the American people should understand that, for example, this year, we are bringing 50,000 exchange people to the United States. Students, experts in many --

BLITZER: Who pays for that?

GLASSMAN: The American taxpayers pay for it and it's a terrific investment. For example, in Iran, we are now -- we've brought 200 people on exchanges to the United States --

BLITZER: Iranians?

GLASSMAN: Iranians, from Iran. We just had the Iranian basketball team here playing in Utah. And it was a fantastic thing. The Iranian basketball team are throwing roses --

BLITZER: So do you think this is going to lead to an improvement in U.S./Iranian relationship?

GLASSMAN: U.S./Iranian relations, as far as individuals, as far as Iranians and Americans are quite good and we would like to improve them. The problem we have is with the regime.

BLITZER: Let me ask you to explain something that you wrote on July 15th. And because it sort of raises some questions in my mind. "Whether Osama bin Laden himself is killed or captured, I think is not of great consequence. It would have some importance in the war of ideas, but I think if he were killed or if his number two Ayman al- Zawahiri were killed, the ideology would certainly continue to survive."

Because most Americans, they say, it's very important to catch these two guys, to bring them to justice, or to kill them.

GLASSMAN: I think it is important to bring them to justice or to kill them. What I'm saying is that this is a powerful ideology. We're coming up on the 10th anniversary of the bombings by al Qaeda at our embassies in of Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. Al Qaeda is killing Muslims. Al Qaeda has longevity, they have perseverance, they're tough, their ideology is the base of what they're doing. And we need to fight back against that ideology, and that's what we're trying to do right now in the war of ideas.


BLITZER: Good luck. Jim Glassman, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. Thanks for coming in.

GLASSMAN: Thank you, Wolf.