Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shanah Tovah!

We're going on won't be reading the "Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008"--which after watching Secretary of the Treasury Paulson's embarrassing sales pitch on 60 Minutes tonight might better be called "There's a Sucker Born Every Minute Act of 2008." If you want to read it, here's the link:

Hope it doesn't pass.

With constitutent calls running 100-1 against it, you'd think someone in Congress or the Senate would realize that stopping this bill doesn't even require political courage. As Gillis Long used to say, when he wanted to stop legislation: "This is a bad bill."

You don't even have to read it to know it--because no one can explain it clearly.

Congressmen Rahm Emannuel and Barney Frank will have a lot to atone for, come Yom Kippur, should it pass, IMHO. It might even cost Obama the election...

I wish Obama would announce, instead of praising this bill: "The era of bipartisanship is over. We are going to throw the bums out, make them pay, and put those responsible for this criminal mess in jail..."

The way things have been going, that sentiment more likely to come from Sarah Palin! And she'll win the White House, riding voter anger all the way, if McCain ends up filibustering...

UPDATE: The bill failed to pass the House due to bipartisan opposition, which restores one's faith in democracy!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Vladimir Sinelnikov to Present WORLD WAR III: “The Terror Casino”

And I'm on the panel discussing the film on Friday, believe it or not. Here's the press release:

Vladimir Sinelnikov will present World War III:“The Terror Casino” in the Peter Zenger room of the National Press Club on Friday, September 26th from 4-6 pm. Sinelnikov’s new one-hour documentary presents a challenging Russian perspective on the origins and ideology of international terror, one seldom seen in the West. Following the screening, blogger (laurencejarvikonline) and filmmaker Laurence Jarvik (Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die?) will moderate a panel discussion with the filmmaker and Novoye Russkoye Slovo critic Oleg Sulkin.

Sinelnikov is a leading Russian filmmaker, having written, directed, and/or produced over 100 films for television including Tetralogy The Bell of Chernobyl (“shelved” by Soviet censors), about nuclear disaster; The Academician Sakharov – a Man for all Times, about Russia’s Nobel Prize-winning dissident; and Oh, Russia, My Russia...People and Power, Artist and Power, about the return of emigre producer Yuri Lubimov to complete his production of Boris Godunov in the Taganka Theatre—a rehearsal interrupted by Lubimov’s flight from the USSR ten years earlier; and Mirages and Hopes, about Russian emigration to Israel.

Among Sinelnikov’s subjects in World War III:“The Terror Casino” are politicians, religious leaders, scholars, secret service agents, as well as family members of terror victims and those struggling with terror in Muslim nations. It features interviews with Russians such as Mikhail Gorbachev and Alexander Yakovlev (his last interview), Kyrgyz author Chingiz Aitmatov, and Palestinian leaders including Sami Abu-Zuchri, press-secretary of HAMAS. In addition there are interviews with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Rudolph Giuliani, Henry Kissinger, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Nathan Sharansky. Finally, there is testimony from family members of terror victims.

The filmmaker will present, introduce and discuss World War III:“The Terror Casino” with the audience and panel from 4pm to 6pm. Light refreshments will be served. Audio and video recording is permitted.

The National Press Club is located at 529 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20004, at the corner of 14th & F Street, NW, at Metro Center. Seating is limited. To reserve a seat, please email with the subject line “RSVP Sinelnikov,” before noon Friday, September 26th.

This event is presented in cooperation with Clotho Studio and the Russian-American Arts Foundation.

Leah Shamalov (NY)
Russian-American Arts Foundation
(212) 687-6118

Laurence Jarvik (DC)
(202) 390-8676

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Memo to Obama: Stop Wall Street Bailout to Win November Election

No links today, this is my own thought.

Obama must show that he is not part of the bipartisan establishment consensus in Washington that got the US economy into the mess it is now in by opposing any bailout legislation the Bush administration attempts to rush through Congress. No problem supporting some sort of temporary quick-fix to tide things over until after the election--but that 700 billion to 1 trillion from Secretary of the Treasury Paulson is a poison pill for the Obama campaign.

The time for bipartisanship is over. What people want now is a choice--change or more of the same. That means a partisan campaign. It is not up to Obama to fix the problem UNTIL HE IS ELECTED. He should not help Bush--and therefore McCain--fix the problem before the elections.

IMHO, if he agrees to any bailout package, he will lose in November. Because he undercuts his campaign message of change.

Further, he may even have to pull the Mr. Smith Goes To Washington tactic and threaten to filibuster any more attempts by Bush (and McCain) to shovel US taxpayers' cash into their pockets on the way out the door.

He can come up with a plan to save the economy--but the deal must be that Obama has to be elected first. Don't let Bush/McCain squirm through an opening of the emergency bailout. There has been far too much use of "emergency" legislation from 9/11 to the present. The era of "emergency" is over. Now we're going to have some rational planning.

As far as McCain goes--he can join Obama in opposition, which supports Obama's leadership credentials, or he can side with Bush. It is a lose-lose choice for McCain.

However, Obama cannot afford to be another compromising, bipartisan, establishment, go-along get-along Washington politician. Whatever short term gain or payoff to Democratic cronies is in the Bush bill, it is not worth passing. This is Obama's "moment of truth," where the American public can see whether he has what it takes to be President.

He may have to stand up to his own party to filibuster the bill--that's good, too. But he must beat Bush, beat Paulson, beat Wall Street, and beat McCain in order to win this November.

Americans want a leader who takes the time to get things right, not another Bush rush job that ends in disaster--like handing out credit cards after Hurricane Katrina...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Christopher Hitchens on Bernard Henri-Levy

From today's NY Times Book Review:
One or two of his chapters can be described as almost an interior monologue or stream of consciousness, where the son of a man who fought for the Spanish Republic is having trouble with a redefinition of what the verses of the “Internationale” call “the wretched of the earth.” Not everyone will share in the historic misery of this experience, of having seen Cambodia or Zimbabwe, say, turn into something rather worse than a negation of the liberating dream.

But for those who have, as well as for those who haven’t, Lévy provides a good register of what it felt like. And then there is this:

“I’m convinced that the collapse of the Communist house almost everywhere has even, in certain cases, had the unexpected side effect of wiping out the traces of its crimes, the visible signs of its failure, allowing certain people to start dreaming once again of an unsullied Communism, uncompromised and happy.”

If this is not precisely true, even of those nostalgic for “Fidel,” apologetic about Hugo Chávez, credulous about how “secular” the Baath Party was, or prone to sympathize with Vladimir Putin concerning the “encircling” of his country by aggressive titans like Estonia and Kosovo and Georgia, still it does contain a truth. One could actually have gone further and argued that the totalitarian temptation now extends to an endorsement of Islam ism as the last, best hope of humanity against the American empire. I could without difficulty name some prominent leftists, from George Galloway to Michael Moore, who have used the same glowing terms to describe “resistance” in, say, Iraq as they would once have employed for the Red Army or the Vietcong. Trawling the intellectual history of Europe, as he is able to do with some skill, Lévy comes across an ancestor of this sinister convergence in a yearning remark confided to his journal by the fascist writer Paul Claudel on May 21, 1935: “Hitler’s speech; a kind of Islamism is being created at the center of Europe.”

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Christopher Hitchens on Pakistan

From Slate:
The very name Pakistan inscribes the nature of the problem. It is not a real country or nation but an acronym devised in the 1930s by a Muslim propagandist for partition named Chaudhary Rahmat Ali. It stands for Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, and Indus-Sind. The stan suffix merely means "land." In the Urdu language, the resulting acronym means "land of the pure." It can be easily seen that this very name expresses expansionist tendencies and also conceals discriminatory ones. Kashmir, for example, is part of India. The Afghans are Muslim but not part of Pakistan. Most of Punjab is also in India. Interestingly, too, there is no B in this cobbled-together name, despite the fact that the country originally included the eastern part of Bengal (now Bangladesh, after fighting a war of independence against genocidal Pakistani repression) and still includes Baluchistan, a restive and neglected province that has been fighting a low-level secessionist struggle for decades. The P comes first only because Pakistan is essentially the property of the Punjabi military caste (which hated Benazir Bhutto, for example, because she came from Sind). As I once wrote, the country's name "might as easily be rendered as 'Akpistan' or 'Kapistan,' depending on whether the battle to take over Afghanistan or Kashmir is to the fore."

I could have phrased that a bit more tightly, since the original Pakistani motive for annexing and controlling Afghanistan is precisely the acquisition of "strategic depth" for its never-ending confrontation with India over Kashmir. And that dispute became latently thermonuclear while we simply looked on. One of the most creditable (and neglected) foreign-policy shifts of the Bush administration after 9/11 was away from our dangerous regional dependence on the untrustworthy and ramshackle Pakistan and toward a much more generous rapprochement with India, the world's other great federal, democratic, and multiethnic state.

Recent accounts of murderous violence in the capital cities of two of our allies, India and Afghanistan, make it appear overwhelmingly probable that the bombs were not the work of local or homegrown "insurgents" but were orchestrated by agents of the Pakistani ISI. This is a fantastically unacceptable state of affairs, which needs to be given its right name of state-sponsored terrorism. Meanwhile, and on Pakistani soil and under the very noses of its army and the ISI, the city of Quetta and the so-called Federally Administered Tribal Areas are becoming the incubating ground of a reorganized and protected al-Qaida. Sen. Barack Obama has, if anything, been the more militant of the two presidential candidates in stressing the danger here and the need to act without too much sentiment about our so-called Islamabad ally. He began using this rhetoric when it was much simpler to counterpose the "good" war in Afghanistan with the "bad" one in Iraq. Never mind that now; he is committed in advance to a serious projection of American power into the heartland of our deadliest enemy. And that, I think, is another reason why so many people are reluctant to employ truthful descriptions for the emerging Afghan-Pakistan confrontation: American liberals can't quite face the fact that if their man does win in November, and if he has meant a single serious word he's ever said, it means more war, and more bitter and protracted war at that—not less.

Bernard Henri-Levy on Afghanistan

Discussing a controversy over photographs of dead French troops published in Paris Match, in a column from Gulf News:
First, the Taliban's state of mind: the fact that they hate the French only a little less than they hate the Americans, and that the clever minds who thought they might get into the Taliban's good graces by keeping a low profile and being discreet and ingratiating - even collaborating with them - were sadly mistaken.

Then there is the fact that they are not "resistance fighters", "religious students" or anything of the sort. Instead they are motivated by cynicism, choosing to celebrate a recent military success by displaying trophies and parading around as in ancient times.

We also learn - and this is hardly without importance - that they are what we call these days good communicators, able to stage their own photographs, posing for the camera (especially since the photographer says that is exactly what happened, and there is no reason to doubt her word).

Finally, those of us who wanted it neither heard nor said, or who considered it a state secret, are reminded that for years and years, the French have had elite commandos fighting shoulder to shoulder with the American Special Forces in the Afghan mountains.

The report reminds these people - and this is key - that France is fighting a war over there, a real war that also happens to be as undeclared as the war it fought in Algeria 50 years ago.
BHL will speak again in Washington at the French Embassy's La Maison Francaise on September 20th at 8 pm. The event is sold out, more information here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Inside Eastern State Penitentiary

Last weekend, someone I know and this blogger visited Eastern State Penitentiary in Philaldelphia, Pennsylvania--not for the "Terror Behind the Walls" haunted house experience, but for the daytime tour of America's oldest penal institution. It was here that among the most progressive of America's founding fathers conducted the first experiment to improve human behavior by eliminating torture and beatings of prisoners.

Instead, Benjamin Franklin, Dr. Benjamin Rush, and a group of Pennsylvania Quakers decided to use isolation in solitary confinement to induce reflection, repentenance, and a new way of life for inmates. The experiment began in 1790 in the Philadelphia's Walnut Street Jail. In 1821, the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons succeeding in persuading the Legislature to fund the Eastern State Penitentary for 250 prisoners. Architect William Strickland, a namesake of someone I went to college with, was fired from the job in 1822, replaced by John Haviland. In 1826, the Marquis de La Fayette, one of my favorite historical characters, visited the construction site. In 1829, the prison finally opened.
Many leaders believe that crime is the result of environment, and that solitude will make the criminal regretful and penitent (hence the new word, Penitentiary). This correctional theory, as practiced in Philadelphia, will become known as the Pennsylvania System.

Plans are finalized to prohibit all contact between prisoners at Eastern State, the world's most ambitious Penitentiary, now nearly ready for its first inmates.

Masks are fabricated to keep the inmates from communicating during rare trips outside their cells. Cells are equipped with feed doors and individual exercise yards to prevent contact between inmates, and minimize contact between inmates and guards.
Prisoners were permitted to read only one book--the Bible--by the light from a single round skylight designed to resemble the eye of God looking down on the person in the cell below, a porthole through which one could observe heaven--and repent.

In 1832, the prison was visited by a French delegation that included Alexis de Tocqueville. The so-called "Pennyslvania System" became a model for European penology, leading to the construction of similar buildings across the world. But one foreign visitor was appalled by what he saw in the supposedly humane and progressive institution--Charles Dickens. He wrote in his American Notes:"The System is rigid, strict and hopeless solitary confinement, and I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong...."

In 1913, Eastern State officially ended the "Pennsylvania System." Later prisoners included Al Capone, who spent eight months in a luxurious "single" furnished with rugs, lamps, and a radio (ordinary prisoners shared cells after 1913). Riots caused by overcrowding and poor conditions gave the model prison a bad name in the 1930s, it was closed in 1970.

Now, with funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the William Penn Foundation, among other sponsors, the prison is run as a museum and night-time Disney-style attraction. It is well worth a visit...a living example of how the road to hell is sometimes indeed paved with the very best of intentions.

Happy Ramadan!

It's a month of prayer and fasting. Wikipedia has the full story of the holiday, here.

Parag Khanna's Second World

A little bird told me that Wired magazine will run an article on Parag Khanna, author of .

Like Fareed Zakaria, Khanna is a former insider at the Council on Foreign Relations, so his views tend to reflect those of the Eastern Establishment, which makes them significant. The bird told me about Khanna because Khanna thinks we are entering a new Middle Ages, rather than Fukuyama's End of History. And if this is the Middle Ages, that makes Central Asia very important again--no doubt because it was named as such by Sir Halford Mackinder, author of the "Pivot Point" theory of world history, where control over center of the Eurasian landmass would lead to control of the world. And Khanna seems to think that control is headed towards--China, as he explained in an excerpt from his book published in The Guardian (UK):
It is difficult to find a westerner who does not intuitively support the idea of a free Tibet. But would Americans ever let go of Texas or California? For China, the Anglo-Russian great game for control of central Asia was neither inconclusive nor fruitless, something that cannot be said for Russia or Britain. Indeed, China was the big winner.

Boundary agreements in 1895 and 1907 gave Russia the Pamir mountains and established the Wakhan Corridor - the slender eastern tongue of Afghanistan that borders China - as a buffer to Britain. But rather than cede East Turkestan (Uighurstan) to the Russians, the British financed China's recapture of the territory, which it organised into Xinjiang (which means "New Dominions"). While West Turkestan was splintered into the hermetic Soviet Stans, China reasserted its traditional dominance over Xinjiang and Tibet, today its largest - and least stable - provinces. (Beijing has now accused the Dalai Lama of colluding with Muslim Uighur separatists in Xinjiang.) But without them, the country would be like America without all territory west of the Rockies: denied its continental majesty and status.

Every backpacker who has visited Tibet and Xinjiang in the past decade knows that the Chinese empire is painfully real: the western region's going concern is undoubtedly Chinese Manifest Destiny. With the end of the civil war in 1949, China endeavoured immediately to overcome the "tyranny of terrain" and tame the interminable mountain and desert landscapes with the aim of exploiting vast natural assets, establishing penal colonies and military bases, and expand the Lebensraum for its exploding population.

Both Tibet and Xinjiang have the misfortune of possessing resources China wants and of being situated on the path to resources China needs: Tibet has vast amounts of timber, uranium and gold, and the two territories constitute China's geographic gateway for trade flow outward - and energy flow inward - with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Decades of labour by the army and swarms of workers have paved the way for unchallenged Chinese dominance. The high-altitude train linking Shanghai and Lhasa that began service in 2006 represents not the beginning of Chinese hegemony, but its culmination.

Tibet and Xinjiang today set the stage for the birth of a multi-ethnic empire in ways that resemble nothing so much as America's frontier expansion nearly two centuries ago. Chinese think about their mission civilatrice much as American settlers did: they are bringing development and modernity. Asiatic, Buddhist Tibetans and Turkic, Muslim Uighurs are being lifted out of the third world - whether they like it or not.

They are getting roads, telephone lines, hospitals and jobs. School fees are being reduced or abolished to promote basic education and Chineseness. Unlike those Europeans who seek to define the EU as a Christian club, there are no Chinese inhibitions about incorporating Muslim territories. The new mythology of Chinese nationalism is based not on expunging minorities but granting them a common status in the paternalistic state: Uighurs and Tibetans, though not Han, are told they are Chinese.

"The Soviet Union collapsed because they experimented with glasnost prematurely, before the achieved unity among the peoples," explains a Chinese intellectual in Shanghai who studies central Asia. Large empires are maintained through a combination of force and law; and as recent weeks illustrate, China is determined not to waver.

Haunted Screens

Wired Magazine's New York Editor (and my college roommate at UC Berkeley--go Bears!) has a blog called Haunted Screens. No, it's not about which Horror pix to download from Netflix, at least not yet...(full disclosure, it links to this blog)

Attention all Wall Street Moguls. The site is real! It exists! Here's the link:

If only Lehman Brothers had known about this, they might have ended up like AIG...

British-Russian Diplomatic F-Word Controversy Continues...

Speaking of international crises, using clips from a BBC radio interview with Foreign Secretary David Milliband, Russia Today puts its own spin on whether Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov used the F-word in diplomatic communication... (I think he may have done):

Putin Speaks on Russian-Georgian War

On Russia Today, Russia's version of the Voice of America, Putin told a French journalist from Le Figaro that he blames the US for the Georgian war:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bernard Henri-Levy Goes to Washington

His new book, Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism is in American bookstores, and BHL is on a book tour of the USA. Last night, I saw him at the Johns Hopkins Nitze School of International Affairs, on a panel entitled "Existential Threat or Historical Footnote? What Our Obession with Islam is Costing Us." Perhaps to dull Levy's message (why not give him a solo gig?), BHL had been plonked onto a panel of experts who pooh-poohed his theme of an existential threat to freedom from Islamist fundamentalist extremism allied with anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, and Red-Brown neo-fascism. The panelists were: Ohio State University's Woody Hayes Professor John Mueller (BHL declined to sit next to him), who sounded like a spokesman for the Council on Islamic American Relations, who made fun of both existentialism and transcendentalism, while arguing that 9/11 was Overblown; Hopkins' Bernard L. Schwartz Professor Francis Fukuyama, a friend of BHL, who extended the invitation, yet apparently couldn't take Islamism seriously himself; and Adam Garfinkle, Colin Powell's former speechwriter--now editor of The American Interest magazine--whose explanation of the origins of Arab anti-semitism were immediately contradicted, and whose expertise was thus expertly undermined, by BHL. With so many contradictory voices on the program, no wonder that BHL didn't talk about Islamism, except by indirection, concentrating on the bankruptcy of the Left in the face of Islamism, the newest totalitarian threat, and the dangers of anti-Semitism. So uninterested was the audience in BHL's philosophy, with the exception of one self-identified Pashtun from Pakistan and one self-identifed American grandson of a Holocaust survivor, they primarily directed their questions to John Mueller and Francis Fukuyama--an audience beyond denial, into a "I don't want to know" willfull blindness towards what is going on in the world...

BHL made the point, in reference to a scenario sketched out by Fukuyama, that in any conflict between a Muslim woman confronting her family over a love match with a man of whom her family may disapprove, it is the obligation of progressives and the West to side with the individual over the community. This romantic notion, of love conquering all, is anathema to traditional Islamist thought--and takes a strong stand for individual freedom. When BHL made the statement, it was greeted by silence--punctuated by the sound of one person clapping. I turned around and saw a middle-aged Asian woman applauding--surrounded by dumb, silent, and disapproving students and Washingtonians.

I thought to myself: BHL may have a hard sell with this one...

So, I'm going to request an interview with BHL from his Random House publicist (his editor was there, and I did shake BHL's hand, since practically no one else was around him after the talk). I hope I'll have a chance to ask him some questions about his book while he's in the nation's capital. In the meantime, I did at least get a few photos with my cell phone of the French nouvelle philosophe. You can buy a copy of the book from here: NY Sun review here. You can read an excerpt here. On Kojo Nnamdi's WAMU-FM radio show, here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin

Russia's New National History Standards

Leon Aron's New Republic article
reminded this reader of Lynne Cheney's failed attempt to standardize a pro-American History curriculum during the her chairmanship of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Luckily, it didn't work here--although Cheney-ism under Putin, like Ford-ism under Stalin, seems to have found its truest adherents in the highest levels of the Kremlin:
In fact, the clearest expression of the Kremlin's goodwill toward the textbook came two months earlier, with an invitation to the conference participants to visit President Putin at his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo, outside Moscow. In a long introduction to the discussion that ensued, Putin complained that there was "mishmash" (kasha) in the heads of teachers of history and social sciences, and that this dire situation in the teaching of Russian history needed to be corrected by the introduction of "common standards. " (Four days later, a new law, introduced in the Duma and passed with record speed in eleven days, authorized the ministry of education and science to determine which textbooks be "recommended" for school use and to determine which publishers would print them.) There followed some instructive exchanges:

"A conference participant: In 1990-1991 we disarmed ideologically. [We adopted] a very uncertain, abstract ideology of all-human values. . . . It is as if we were back in school, or even kindergarten. We were told [by the West]: you have rejected communism and are building democracy, and we will judge when and how you have done. . . . In exchange for our disarming ideologically we have received this abstract recipe: you become democrats and capitalists and we will control you.

Putin: Your remark about someone who assumes the posture of teacher and begins to lecture us is of course absolutely correct. But I would like to add that this, undoubtedly, is also an instrument of influencing our country. This is a tried and true trick. If someone from the outside is getting ready to grade us, this means that he arrogates the right to manage [us] and is keen to continue to do so.

Participant: In the past two decades, our youth have been subjected to a torrent of the most diverse information about our historical past. This information [contains] different conceptual approaches, interpretations, or value judgments, and even chronologies. In such circumstances, the teacher is likely to . . .

Putin (interrupting): Oh, they will write, all right. You see, many textbooks are written by those who are paid in foreign grants. And naturally they are dancing the polka ordered by those who pay them. Do you understand? And unfortunately [such textbooks] find their way to schools and colleges."

And later, concluding the session, Putin declared:

"As to some problematic pages in our history--yes, we've had them. But what state hasn't? And we've had fewer of such pages than some other [states]. And ours were not as horrible as those of some others. Yes, we have had some terrible pages: let us remember the events beginning in 1937, let us not forget about them. But other countries have had no less, and even more. In any case, we did not pour chemicals over thousands of kilometers or drop on a small country seven times more bombs than during the entire World War II, as it was in Vietnam, for instance. Nor did we have other black pages, such as Nazism, for instance. All sorts of things happen in the history of every state. And we cannot allow ourselves to be saddled with guilt--they'd better think of themselves."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Crisis Communications for Diplomats

The Daily Mail (UK) today has an account of a telephone conversation between British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that may explain why diplomatic communication is often kept secret:
At one point Sergei Lavrov, the colourful Russian foreign minister, became so incensed that he reportedly barked: 'Who the f*** are you to lecture me?'

Mr Lavrov, who is seen as the fearsome face of Russia's new aggressive foreign policy, objected to what he believed was Mr Miliband's condescending tone.

He used full-strength industrial language to suggest to the Foreign Secretary that he knew little, if anything, of Russia's history - perhaps unaware that Mr Miliband's grandfather Samuel served in the Red Army and his father Ralph was a leading Marxist theoretician.

Such was the repeated use of the F-word that it was difficult to draft a readable note of the exchange, according to one insider who has seen the transcript.

A Whitehall source said: 'It was effing this and effing that.

'It was not what you would call diplomatic language. It was rather shocking.'

Mr Miliband was 'surprised' by the ferocity of the verbal attack and the nature of the language, an insider close to the Foreign Secretary added...

The Art Museum of Tunis

Thanks to a notice from a Facebook friend, I learned about this new museum--The Art Museum of Tunis:
Chers Amis des arts,

L’idée de créer un Musée d’art à Tunis est un projet ambitieux auquel je m’attaque et je reste conscient que je ne peux le réaliser sans la participation d’autres personnes. Il est évident que des énergies différentes doivent s’associer pour mettre au monde une telle institution.

Le but est de permettre aux visiteurs de la Tunisie d’admirer les créations des artistes de ce pays, de donner l’occasion aux étudiants de mettre des couleurs sur les noms dont ils entendent parler, de savoir à quoi ressemble un « Aly Ben Salem » en vrai. Car en l’absence de musée dédié à la peinture dans notre pays, comment les gens peuvent-ils avoir une éducation artistique ? Je ressens ce manque comme beaucoup d’autres et j’essaye d’y remédier.

C’est pourquoi j’ai besoin de votre contribution, n’hésitez pas à écrire vos idées et propositions, elles seront étudiées avec toute l’attention du monde.
Je suis curieux de savoir ce que le spectateur voudrait voir comme œuvre dans ce musée, alors envoyez moi les noms de vos artistes Tunisiens préférés et montrez ce group à vos connaissances pour que ce cercle s’agrandisse et que les amis des arts nous rejoignent.

L’objectif étant que Le Musée d’art de Tunis appartienne au public, il est naturel donc de faire participer tout le monde.

Je compte sur vous.

Amar Ben Belgacem
Président fondateur du musée d’art de Tunis

Dear friends,

Setting up an Art Museum in Tunis is an ambitious project that I am starting up, though I’m aware of the fact that I can’t do it without other people’s contribution. And to give birth to such an institution, it is obvious that we need to gather various forces/talents.

The aim is to allow visitors of Tunisia to admire creations of artists from this country, to give students the opportunity to associate colours with the artists they’ve heard about, to see what Aly Ben Salem’s artwork looks like in real life. How could people increase their knowledge of art without any museum featuring paintings of our country? As many, I feel this lack and want to make up for it.

That’s why I need your contribution: do not hesitate to submit your ideas and proposals, they will be examined with the best care you can imagine.
As I look forward to knowing what kind of work a visitor would like to see in this museum, please send me a list of your favourite Tunisian Artists and show this group to your acquaintances to make this circle grow and encourage many friends of art join the project.

As this Art Museum of Tunisia being is intended to belong to the public, it’s obvious that everybody should be encouraged to participate.

I rely on you.

Amar Ben Belgacem
President and Fondator of The Art Museum of Tunis.

Ann Coulter on George Bush

In today's column, Ann says the President is like Gary Cooper in High Noon:
George Bush is Gary Cooper in the classic western "High Noon." The sheriff is about to leave office when a marauding gang is coming to town. He could leave, but he waits to face the killers as all his friends and all the townspeople, who supported him during his years of keeping them safe, slowly abandon him. In the end, he walks alone to meet the killers, because someone has to.

That's Bush. Name one other person in Washington who would be willing to stand alone if he had to, because someone had to.

OK, there is one, but she's not in Washington yet. Appropriately, at the end of "High Noon," Cooper is surrounded by the last two highwaymen when, suddenly, his wife (Grace Kelly) appears out of nowhere and blows away one of the killers! The aging sheriff is saved by a beautiful, gun-toting woman.

Washington Post: Cindy McCain Broke Federal Law

Today's Washington Post runs a story alleging that Cindy McCain broke federal drug laws, reportedly committing fraud to feed her addiction:
Her charity, AVMT, kept a ready supply of antibiotics and over-the-counter pain medications needed to fulfill its medical mission. It also secured prescriptions for the narcotic painkillers Vicodin, Percocet and Tylenol 3 in quantities of 100 to 400 pills, the county report shows.

McCain started taking narcotics for herself, the report shows. To get them, she asked the charity's medical director, John Max Johnson, to make out prescriptions for the charity in the names of three AVMT employees.

The employees did not know their names were being used. And under DEA regulations, Johnson was supposed to use a form to notify federal officials that he was ordering the narcotics for the charity. It is illegal for an organization to use personal prescriptions to fill its drug needs.
How come the potentially future First Lady didn't do jail time? The Post explains:
The DEA questioned the charity's doctors, and McCain hired John Dowd, a powerhouse Washington lawyer, to represent AVMT. Dowd had defended John McCain in the Keating Five scandal, helping the senator win the mildest sanction of the five senators involved. Dowd declined to comment for this article.

Soon, the DEA began looking at Cindy McCain. Dowd informed Johnson, the physician, that "there's been further investigation and Cindy's got a drug problem," Johnson told county investigators.

The DEA pursued the matter for 11 months. Dowd kept tabs on the investigation from Washington, writing letters and making frequent phone calls to the agency, according to sources close to the investigation.

McCain's conduct left her facing federal charges of obtaining "a controlled substance by misrepresenting, fraud, forgery, deception or subterfuge." Experts say she could have faced a 20-year prison sentence.

Dowd negotiated a deal with the U.S. attorney's office allowing McCain, as a first-time offender, to avoid charges and enter a diversion program that required community service, drug treatment and reimbursement to the DEA for investigative costs.

Ali Alyami: What the Saudis Want in Lebanon

Ali Alyami, of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, has emailed this analysis:
...the Saudis feel threatened by Iran and that’s why they would like to see Hezbollah take over Lebanon. They know if Hezbollah control all of Lebanon, the Israelis will destroy them, hit Syria if it interferes and takes out Iran’s nuclear installations. All of this works to the benefit of the absolute and theocratic Saudi princes and their religious extremist allies. After all this is cleared up, the Saudis will go back and build Lebanon’s infrastructure and implement the Shariah law. The biggest losers in all of this are the defenseless Lebanese Christians most, if not all, of whom will leave the country instead of being enslaved by the Wahhabis. This is a tragedy in the making. The West will either give lip service or look the other way. In the long run, Israel will not benefit from this scenario either.

In the mean time, the Saudis are working closely with the Iranians now to unite all Muslims against the West.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Memo to Dick Cheney: Maybe "Spheres of Influence" Aren't Such a Bad Idea?

More fallout from the Russian-Georgian war--and Dick Cheney's anti-Russian saber-rattling. Drudge tipped this item:
Two Tu-160 Russian strategic bombers landed Wednesday at an airbase in Venezuela to take part in military exercises, Russian news agencies reported, citing the Russian defence ministry.
Here's what Wikipedia has to say about the planes:
The Tupolev Tu-160 (NATO reporting name Blackjack) is a supersonic, variable-geometry heavy bomber designed by the Soviet Union. Similar to the B-1 Lancer but with far greater speed, range and payload, it is one of the heaviest combat aircraft ever built.

Introduced in 1987, it was the last Soviet strategic bomber designed, but production of the aircraft still continues, with at least 16 currently in service with the Russian Air Force.

Its pilots call the Tu-160 the “White Swan”, due to the surprising maneuverability and antiflash white finish of the aircraft.
It looks like the Bush administration is being hoisted upon the petard of its own rhetoric. If "spheres of influence" are a bad idea, then has Bush cancelled the Monroe Doctrine? That seems to be what the Russians are testing here. And if the Monroe Doctrine is still valid--it defines an American sphere of influence--what principle is there behind the statement that Russia is not permitted a sphere around its borders? And if not a matter of principle, rather of power, then it looks like Russia means to test American power.

So, it looks like either Dick Cheney backs down--or there is a new power struggle with Russia, maybe even a new Cuban missile crisis, this time in Venezuela. Which, ironically, may help John McCain--unless the Kremlin is in close touch with David Axelrod about what is going on in Latin America...

Fouad Ajami: Obama Really Means Change

Ajami calls Obama a "cosmopolitan" in today's Wall Street Journal:
So the Obama candidacy must be judged on its own merits, and it can be reckoned as the sharpest break yet with the national consensus over American foreign policy after World War II. This is not only a matter of Sen. Obama's own sensibility; the break with the consensus over American exceptionalism and America's claims and burdens abroad is the choice of the activists and elites of the Democratic Party who propelled Mr. Obama's rise.

Though the staging in Denver was the obligatory attempt to present the Obama Democrats as men and women of the political center, the Illinois senator and his devotees are disaffected with American power. In their view, we can make our way in the world without the encumbrance of "hard" power. We would offer other nations apologies for the way we carried ourselves in the aftermath of 9/11, and the foreign world would be glad for a reprieve from the time of American certitude.

The starkness of the choice now before the country is fully understood when compared to that other allegedly seminal election of 1960. But the legend of Camelot and of the New Frontier exaggerates the differences between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy. A bare difference of four years separated the two men (Nixon had been born in 1913, Kennedy in 1917). Both men had seen service in the Navy in World War II. Both were avowed Cold Warriors. After all, Kennedy had campaigned on the missile gap -- in other words the challenger had promised a tougher stance against the Soviet Union. (Never mind the irony: There was a missile gap; the U.S. had 2,000 missiles, the Soviet Union a mere 67.)

The national consensus on America's role abroad, and on the great threats facing it, was firmly implanted. No great cultural gaps had opened in it, arugula was not on the menu, and the elites partook of the dominant culture of the land; the universities were then at one with the dominant national ethos. The "disuniting of America" was years away. American liberalism was still unabashedly tethered to American nationalism.

We are at a great remove from that time and place. Globalization worked its way through the land, postmodernism took hold of the country's intellectual life. The belief in America's "differentness" began to give way, and American liberalism set itself free from the call of nationalism. American identity itself began to mutate.

The celebrated political scientist Samuel Huntington, in "Who Are We?," a controversial book that took up this delicate question of American identity, put forth three big conceptions of America: national, imperial and cosmopolitan. In the first, America remains America. In the second, America remakes the world. In the third, the world remakes America. Back and forth, America oscillated between the nationalist and imperial callings. The standoff between these two ideas now yields to the strength and the claims of cosmopolitanism. It is out of this new conception of America that the Obama phenomenon emerges.
Here's a definition of cosmopolitanism from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
The word ‘cosmopolitan’, which derives from the Greek word kosmopolitês (‘citizen of the world’), has been used to describe a wide variety of important views in moral and socio-political philosophy. The nebulous core shared by all cosmopolitan views is the idea that all human beings, regardless of their political affiliation, do (or at least can) belong to a single community, and that this community should be cultivated. Different versions of cosmopolitanism envision this community in different ways, some focusing on political institutions, others on moral norms or relationships, and still others focusing on shared markets or forms of cultural expression. The philosophical interest in cosmopolitanism lies in its challenge to commonly recognized attachments to fellow-citizens, the local state, parochially shared cultures, and the like.
For more on this concept's relevance to contemporary politics, see Kwame Anthony Appiah's book Cosmopolitanism:

Leon Aron: Today, Georgia--Tomorrow, Ukraine

From today's Wall Street Journal:
Still, there is no better place to cause a political crisis in Ukraine and force a change in the country's leadership, already locked in a bitter internecine struggle, than the Crimean peninsula. It was wrestled by Catherine the Great from the Ottoman Turks at the end of the 18th century. Less than a quarter of the Crimeans are ethnic Ukrainians, while Russians make up over half the inhabitants (the pro-Ukrainian Crimean Tatars, one-fifth).

Ever since the 1997 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between Russia and Ukraine, signed by President Boris Yeltsin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, a solid majority of the Russian parliament has opposed the recognition of the Crimea as Ukrainian territory. Russian nationalists have been especially adamant about the city of Sevastopol, the base for Russia's Black Sea fleet and the site of some of the most spectacular feats of Russian military valor and sacrifice in World War II and the Crimean War of 1854-55.

Nationalist politicians, including Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, have repeatedly traveled to Crimea to show the flag and support the Russian irredentists -- many of them retired Russian military officers who periodically mount raucous demonstrations. In 2006, their protests forced the cancellation of the joint Ukraine-NATO Sea Breeze military exercises. Sevastopol was and should again be a Russian city," Mr. Luzhkov declared this past May, and the Moscow City Hall has appropriated $34 million for "the support of compatriots abroad" over the next three years. On Sept. 5, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Vladimir Ogryzko accused the Russian consulate in the Crimean capital of Simferopol of distributing Russian passports to the inhabitants of the peninsula.

With almost three-quarters of Sevastopol's 340,000 residents ethnically Russian, and 14,000 Russian Navy personnel already "on the inside" (they've been known to don civilian clothes and participate in demonstrations by Russian Crimean irredentists), an early morning operation in which the Ukrainian mayor and officials are deposed and arrested and the Russian flag hoisted over the city should not be especially hard to accomplish. Once established, Russian sovereignty over Sevastopol would be impossible to reverse without a large-scale war, which Ukraine will be most reluctant to initiate and its Western supporters would strongly discourage.

A potentially bolder (and likely bloodier) scenario might involve a provocation by the Moscow-funded, and perhaps armed, Russian nationalists (or the Russian special forces, spetznaz, posing as irredentists). They could declare Russian sovereignty over a smaller city (Alushta, Evpatoria, Anapa) or a stretch of inland territory. In response, Ukrainian armed forces based in the Crimea outside Sevastopol would likely counterattack. The ensuing bloodshed would provide Moscow with the interventionist excuse of protecting its compatriots -- this time, unlike in South Ossetia, ethnic Russians.

Whatever the operational specifics, the Russian political barometer seems to augur storms ahead.

Lipstick on a Pig

Maybe Barack Obama was talking about Republican press secretary Torie Clark's book Lipstick on a Pig: Winning In the No-Spin Era by Someone Who Knows the Game? Clarke's first sentence, excerpted on the Amazon website, seems to have a reverberation with John McCain:"If you could only know one thing about Charles Keating-the man who came to personify the savings-and-loan crisis of the late eighties-the thing to know is that he never, not once that I ever saw, carried his own briefcase..."
From Booklist: Clarke is a former communications director with the Pentagon in the early years of the Bush administration and a former advisor to Senator John McCain. From her years of experience, she offers broad principles on effective communication--most notably, that honesty is better than spin--and illustrates her advice with stories of how the powerful have suffered for their hubris. She begins each chapter with sound recommendations (e.g., admit to errors as soon as possible) and then offers a behind-the-scenes look at several instances where the powerful have either handled news events well or bungled them, from the decision to invade Iraq to the savings-and-loan scandal. The advice is useful for businesspeople and public figures, but readers interested in the intersection of public relations and public policy will also enjoy this book. Vanessa Bush.
Wonder why so far no one seems to have made the connection?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

What's Happening In Afghanistan?

You can find out at The Afghanistan Analyst, put together by Christian Bleuer, a graduate student in Australia. Here's his mission statement:
The goal of The Afghanistan Analyst is to provide an online research resource for scholars, students, journalists, policy-makers, NGO/humanitarian workers, and others who want to better understand Afghanistan.

This website is, by our own admission, biased towards the study of conflict and development. Subjects such as linguistics, art, ethnomusicology, ancient history, etc... will be poorly served by this website. Current events, recent history, war, ethnicity, development, government, etc... will be the focus.

The Afghanistan Analyst first appeared online in December 2006. The author of this website is Christian Bleuer, a PhD student at The Australian National University's Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, The Middle East and Central Asia. There is no organizational affiliation for this website.

Send your suggestions for improving this website to: contact at

Monday, September 08, 2008

McClatchy Newspapers Raises McCain's MIA Problem

The Huffington Post highlighted this story of an embarrassing confrontation with MIA activists outside McCain's office:
Back in Washington, families of POW-MIAs said they have seen McCain's wrath repeatedly. Some families charged that McCain hadn't been aggressive enough about pursuing their lost relatives and has been reluctant to release relevant documents. McCain himself was a prisoner of war for five-and-a-half years during the Vietnam War.

In 1992, McCain sparred with Dolores Alfond, the chairwoman of the National Alliance of Families for the Return of America's Missing Servicemen and Women, at a Senate hearing. McCain's prosecutor-like questioning of Alfond — available on YouTube — left her in tears.

Four years later, at her group's Washington conference, about 25 members went to a Senate office building, hoping to meet with McCain. As they stood in the hall, McCain and an aide walked by.

Six people present have written statements describing what they saw. According to the accounts, McCain waved his hand to shoo away Jeannette Jenkins, whose cousin was last seen in South Vietnam in 1970, causing her to hit a wall.

As McCain continued walking, Jane Duke Gaylor, the mother of another missing serviceman, approached the senator. Gaylor, in a wheelchair equipped with portable oxygen, stretched her arms toward McCain.

"McCain stopped, glared at her, raised his left arm ready to strike her, composed himself and pushed the wheelchair away from him," according to Eleanor Apodaca, the sister of an Air Force captain missing since 1967.

McCain's staff wouldn't respond to requests for comment about specific incidents.
Here's the testimony mentioned in the article:

Arianna Huffington on Sarah Palin

From the Huffington Post:
Her critics like to say that Palin hasn't accomplished anything. I disagree: in the space of ten days she's succeeded in distracting the entire country from the horrific Bush record -- and McCain's complicity in it. My friends, that's accomplishment we can believe in.

Just look at the problem John McCain faced. George Bush has a disastrous record, and the country knows it. John McCain -- the current one, not the one who vanished eight years ago -- has no major disagreements with George Bush (and I'm sorry, wanting to fire Donald Rumsfeld a bit sooner doesn't qualify) and wants to continue his incredibly unpopular policies for another four years. The solution? Enter Sarah Palin, a Trojan Moose carrying four more years of disaster.

And the plan has worked beautifully. Just look at what's being discussed just 57 days before the election. Is it the highest unemployment rate in five years? The bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? The suicide bombing yesterday in Iraq that killed six people and wounded 54 -- in the same market where last month a bomb killed 28 people and wounded 72? That the political reconciliation that was supposedly the point of "the surge" is nowhere near happening? That Iraq's Shiite government is now rounding up the American-backed Sunni leaders of the Awakening? That the reason 8,000 soldiers may be leaving Iraq soon is so more can be deployed to Afghanistan where the Taliban is steadily retaking the country?

No. We're talking about whether Sarah Palin was or was not a good mayor, whether she was or was not a good mother, whether her skirts are too short and her zingers too sarcastic.

Contrary to what we're hearing 24/7 in the media, the next few weeks are not a test of Sarah Palin. The next few weeks are a test of Barack Obama.

He needs to dramatically redirect this election back to a discussion over the issues that really matter -- the issues that will impact the future of this country. A presidential campaign is a battle and this is the time for Obama to show some commander-in-chief skills. I'm not talking about calling Palin out for lying about his record and demeaning community organizing. I'm talking about grabbing the political debate by the throat. The country is already angry about what's happened over the last seven-plus years -- he shouldn't be afraid to give voice to that anger. Obama has spent years adopting a non-threatening persona; but he can't let his fear that appearing like an "angry Black man" (a stereotype not-too-subtly fueled by Fox News) will turn off swing voters keep him from channeling the disgust and outrage felt by so many voters --swing and otherwise.

McCain's team, in an effort to distract, is going to keep doing what they're doing -- diverting voters and the media with a tantalizing combination of personal trivia and small lies. It doesn't matter if they're caught in them -- in fact, all the better. Because they know there is no way in hell they can win if this election is about the big truth of the Bush years.

McCain's real running mate is George Bush and the failed policies of the Republican Party. Even if they are dressed up in a skirt, lipstick, and Tina Fey glasses.

Portraits or Self-Portraits?

Thanks to Ann Althouse for pointing out Simon Abraham's essay explaining that portraits of the rich and famous are also self-portraits of the artist.

Carl Holzman at Katie Gingrass Gallery

A plug for a friend's exhibition of floral paintings at a Milwaukee art gallery: The artist's statement:
My recent series of paintings was inspired by the arresting effects created by the macro lens in close-up photography, and my desire to translate these effects into the medium of oil painting. Under certain conditions of light and aperture setting, the macro lens isolates the subject from its surroundings, creating a vivid, highly textured subject dissolving into a radiantly blurred, prismatic background. Known among photographers as bokeh, the diffused colors of the background and edges often confer a soft, mesmerizing quality to the entire image, one not visible to the naked eye. Also, the rapid fall-off in focus creates a dramatic, often mysterious sense of depth within the image frame. Using my own macro photographs of flowers – from the lowly marigold to the exotic orchid – I have tried to capture in paint this beautiful and transforming interplay between highly resolved and refracted image elements.

Since last April, my macro lens and I have spent at least three days a week, in the early morning hours, photographing flowers and other botanical subjects. This journey has taken us to the glorious Chicago Botanic Gardens in Highland Park, the hidden jewel of the Fernwood Botanic Gardens in Michigan, the five acres of greenhouses at Hauserman Orchids in Villa Park, the Morton Arboretum, the Indian Dunes, and the gardens of friends who live in Harbert and Lakeside, Michigan. Spending so much time outdoors in the heart of nature has been an extraordinary revelation to me. I hope that some of the beauty I have experienced is communicated in my paintings.

Apart from the emotional allure of the subject matter, this project poses a number of technical challenges. I employ several techniques – including underpainting, glazing, scumbling, layering and blurring – in an effort to solve them and, with luck, to communicate the powerfully affecting bokeh quality in my paintings.

Moscow Times: Cheney Trip a Failure

Something I haven't seen in US newspapers--The Moscow Times reports Vice President Dick Cheney's trip to Azerbaijan failed:
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney has failed to win Azerbaijan's support for the construction of a new gas pipeline from the Caspian that would bypass Russia.

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev indicated to Cheney during talks in Baku on Wednesday that he did not want to anger Russia in the wake of its invasion of neighboring Georgia, Kommersant reported, citing an official in Aliyev's administration. Cheney was so disappointed that he did not attend an official dinner in his honor, the report said.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

What the Russian-Georgian War Means

Rein Mullerson explains why the Chinese may be the winners, on
By formally recognising the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia acted as rashly as those western states which recognised Kosovo; both sides thus further opened the Pandora's box of territorial disputes. The Kremlin's decision involved two big mistakes. First, Moscow cannot now expect support from many of the states which otherwise would have understood or even welcomed Russia's grandstanding against Nato. China, India and a host of other states are extremely nervous about any encouragement their "own" minorities may have for independence claims.

In this light, vacuous claims by some politicians that the recognition of new states - Kosovo, Abkhazia and South Ossetia for example - is both completely different in each case and doesn't create precedents are wrong in the Caucasus and the Balkans alike. Differences, or parallels for that matter, are in the eye of the beholder. The tepid support given to Russia at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Bishkek only proves that, if any proof was needed.

Second, having recognised these entities the Kremlin has played its trump- cards. It would have been in Russia's interest to keep these cards close, threaten to use them, but never actually throw them on the table. This may sound rather Machiavellian but it is both a better and a more honest assessment of the situation than believing in the crocodile-tears the Kremlin is shedding over the plight of the Ossetians or Abkhazians or Washington over the fate of the Georgians or Ukrainians.

What is needed now is that all the sides have to tone down the rhetoric. After that, small practical steps may be beneficial. Russia's actions have to be reciprocated by the west. It is clear that Nato cannot immediately revert over its policy of enlargement to Georgia and Ukraine. However, putting brakes on this process instead of precipitating it would be wise. Russia understands that it doesn't need these breakaway republics; what it needs is a friendly Georgia. However, such a Georgia can evolve only if Washington ceases to use this country for the purpose of encirclement and containment of Russia.

In facing global challenges Russia - even one that pursues her own interests, which sometimes inevitably differ from western preferences - is a much more important partner for the west than Georgia. This is especially true if the global "war on terror" were indeed one of the most crucial issues. Georgia, or Ukraine for that matter, are more important partners than Russia only if Russia is seen as an enemy (or at least a potential one) and not as a partner (at least a potential one).

This in no way means that the west has to sacrifice these or other small, states for the sake of the partnership with Russia. These nations would only benefit from cooperative relationships between Russia and western democracies as well as from their own cooperation with both Russia and the west. To force or encourage smaller Russian neighbours to take sides - you are either with us or against us - is a policy that is highly detrimental for such states. Moreover, it doesn't matter whether the culprit is Russia (which too actively supports so-called pro-Russian politicians) or the west (which sponsors pro-western leaders). In either case, the people suffer even if their leaders may flourish.

As one of the immediate measures, Georgia should be persuaded to sign "non-use-of-force" agreements with its breakaway territories. Later, other cooperative steps may be possible. If Georgia is ever to regain its these territories it would be only through establishing lasting friendly relations with Russia. Neither will not happen soon. Therefore, patience is needed. Here, once again, more may be learned from the Chinese than from the Georgians, Russians or Americans.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Obama-Palin v. McCain-Biden

Now that the conventions are over it seems that each party has one charismatic, attractive, articulate, youthful minority candidate--Obama for the Democrats, Palin for the Republicans--who deviates from the party line--Obama stresses reponsibility, Palin runs a welfare-state and is anything but a stay-at-home Mom. Likewise, each party has an old Washington hand--Biden for the Democrats, McCain for the Republicans--pretending to run as a reformer.

To win, Obama's going to have to run a stronger campaign, really hold John McCain responsible for all the bad news coming from the Bush administration. He's also going to have to attack John McCain from the right, as weak on national security, pursuing dangerous and irresponsible policies like "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran" and encouraging Georgia to get into a war with Russia. Finally, he may have to do some of his own "Swift-boating"--allying his campaign with Vietnam veterans like John LeBoutillier unhappy with McCain's record on the MIA issue as well as conservatives like George Will who felt McCain-Feingold's campaign finance reform bill was un-American and unconstitutional. Will he break with party orthodoxy, and paint McCain as un-American and irresponsible, to win the White House? It's what he has to do, IMHO. The Daisy ad...

Likewise, while McCain's pick of Palin has rallied the Republican base (who threatened to stay home on Election Day, giving the White House to Obama), he has not reached out to actual Democrats. Will he pick up on Palin's pro-union rhetoric? Will he call for an end to outsourcing, contracting out, and the use of temporary employees? How about going after hedge fund managers, Wall Street, and mortgage lenders? He cited Teddy Roosevelt, but there has not been any "trust-busting" or economic populism from John McCain so far. He said he stands for reform, he's talked the talk, but so far he has not "walked the walk." As a Senator, he can pick a bill and filibuster it to make a point. If he doesn't force Congress to grind to a halt on a reform point of principle before Election Day, Obama can say that McCain is really just another Texan with an Arizona driver's license: All hat, and no cattle. In other words, he's going to have to do something rather than say something. Like "I paid for this microphone..."

Actions, not words, will determine the outcome of this election. Obama has to prove he loves his country more than John McCain. John McCain has to prove he can not only talk about being a different kind of Republican, but actually do it.

And then there's the wild card of events--Bush bombing Iran, changing tides in Iraq and Afghanistan, and "the economy, stupid."

It looks like it might be an interesting couple of months...

Barbara Amiel: Sarah Palin May Be America's Margaret Thatcher

Meanwhile, in today's Wall Street Journal, Mrs. Conrad Black, points out similarities between the legendary British Prime Minister and John McCain's running-mate:
Sarah Palin has put the flim-flam nature of America feminism sharply into focus, revealing the not-so-secret hypocrisy of its code and, whatever her future, this alone is an accomplishment. As she emerged into the nation's consciousness, a shudder went through the feminist left—a political movement not restricted to females. She is a mother refusing to stay at home (good) who had made a success out in the workplace (excellent) whose marriage nevertheless is a rip-roaring success and whose views are unspeakable—those of a red-blooded, right-wing principled pragmatist.

The metaphorical hair stood up on the back of every licensed member of the feminist movement who could immediately see she was a monster out of a nightmare landscape by Hieronymus Bosch. Pro-life. Pro-oil exploration in Alaska, home of the nation's polar bears for heaven's sake. Smaller government. Lower taxes. And that family of hers: Next to the Clintons with their dysfunctional marriage, her fertility and sexually robust life could only emphasize the shriveled nature of the one-child family of the former Queen Bee of political female accomplishment.

Mrs. Palin's emergence caused a spasm in American feminism. Caste and class have always been ammunition in the very Eastern seaboard women's movement, and now they were (so to speak) loading for bear. Sally Quinn felt a mother of five had no business being vice president. Andrea Mitchell remarked that "only the uneducated" would vote for Mrs. Palin. "Choose a woman but this woman?" wrote Baltimore Sun columnist Susan Reimer, accusing Sen. McCain of using a Down's syndrome child as qualification for the VP spot.

The hypocrisy was breathtaking. Only nanoseconds before the choice of Mrs. Palin as VP put her a geriatric heartbeat away from the presidency, a woman's right to have a career and children was a shibboleth of feminism. One always knew that women with views that opposed those of official feminism were to be treated as nonwomen. To see it now out in the open was the real shocker.

The fact that this mom had been governor of a state was dismissed because it was a "small state," as was the city of which she had been mayor. Her acceptance speech, which knowledgeable left-wing critics feared would be effective, was dismissed before being delivered. She would be reading from a teleprompter. The speech would be good, no doubt, but written for her.

Had she been a man with similar political views, the left's opposition would have been strong but less personally vicious: It would have focused neither on a daughter's pregnancy, nor on the candidate's inability to be a good parent if the job was landed. In its panic, the left was indicating that to be a female running for office these days is no hindrance but an advantage, and admitting that there is indeed a difference between mothers and fathers that cannot necessarily be resolved by having daddy doing the diaper run.

All the shrapnel has so far been counterproductive. The mudslinging tabloid journalism—is Mrs. Palin the mother or grandmother of her Down's baby?—only raised her profile to a point where viewers who would never dream of watching a Republican vice-presidential acceptance speech tuned in.

Watching the frenzied reaction was déjà vu from my years as a political columnist in Margaret Thatcher's Britain. Modern history's titan of female political life suffered a similar hatred, fuelled to a large extent by her gender. Mrs. Thatcher overcame it magnificently, but in the end, the fact was that she was female and not one of "them"—a member of the old boys' club of the Tory establishment—played a significant role in bringing her down.

Eugene Robinson: Cross-Dressing Republicans Play Democrats on TV

In today's Washington Post, columnist Eugene Robinson says that Palin's speech marks a role-reversal for America's political parties:
I guess I didn't drink enough Kool-Aid before Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's convention speech, which was received inside the Xcel Energy Center here as if Ronald Reagan had returned from the great beyond. I heard criticism of the Democratic ticket, demonization of the media, praise of John McCain's war record, characterization of Washington as an evil place, promises of lower taxes and a firm but nonspecific pledge to enact thoroughgoing reform.

None of that is exactly groundbreaking at a Republican convention. But the point wasn't the speech. It was the speaker. Palin told the nation very little about what she stands for or even what she has accomplished. Instead, her aim was to show the nation who she is.

The reason for framing her introduction to the American people this way is obvious. Palin, unlike most Americans, would like to see abortion banned even in cases of rape or incest. Her record as a mayor and a governor is that of a talented rising star, but it's a politician's record, full of reversals and compromises. And nothing we know about her suggests that a rhetorical stroll through the minefields of foreign policy would have been a good idea.

Instead, she offered one message: Here's who I am. Career woman, mother (specifically, lipstick-wearing hockey mom), loving wife, avid hunter, caring daughter, fierce fighter, product of her own spunk and determination. After the speech, Republican strategists were rapturous over her potential appeal to female voters who perform similar feats of multitasking every day without complaint or recognition. The hope was not that these women would agree with Palin's views but that they would see their lives reflected in hers.

Until Palin's star turn, this convention had been primarily about another biography -- McCain's. Again and again, speakers have reminded us of his military service and the torture he endured as a prisoner of war. Perhaps because McCain is still not fully in line with the Republican Party's activist base on a number of issues, praise of his record in Washington has pretty much been confined to national security issues and his newly appreciated status as a "maverick."

Delegates to this convention, by the way, seem to have convinced themselves that they are all mavericks. Whatever happened to the old truism about how Democrats fall in love while Republicans fall in line? And if everyone in the party becomes a maverick, then aren't they all just conforming to a new "maverick" norm? But I digress.
He didn't even mention that Alaska's "first dude" Mr. Sarah Palin was introduced as a proud member of the United Steelworkers of America--Union, Yes!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ann Coulter on Sarah Palin

Within the first few hours after Palin's name was announced, McCain raised $4 million in campaign donations online, reaching $10 million within the next two days. Which shortlist vice presidential pick could have beaten that?

The media hysterically denounced Palin as "inexperienced." But then people started to notice that she has more executive experience than B. Hussein Obama -- the guy at the top of the Democrats' ticket.

They tried to create a "Troopergate" for Palin, indignantly demanding to know why she wanted to get her ex-brother-in-law removed as a state trooper. Again, public corruption is not a good issue for someone like Obama, Chicago pol and noted friend of Syrian National/convicted felon Antonin Rezko.

For the cherry on top, then we found out Palin's ex-brother-in-law had Tasered his own 10-year-old stepson. Defend that, Democrats.

The bien-pensant criticized Palin, saying it's irresponsible for a woman with five children to run for vice president. Liberals' new talking point: Sarah Palin: Only five abortions away from the presidency.

They claimed her newborn wasn't her child, but the child of her 17-year-old daughter. That turned out to be a lie.

Then they attacked her daughter, who actually is pregnant now, for being unmarried. When liberals start acting like they're opposed to pre-marital sex and mothers having careers, you know McCain's vice presidential choice has knocked them back on their heels.

But at least liberal reporters had finally found someone their own size to pick on: a 17-year-old girl.

Speaking of Democrats with newborn children, the media weren't particularly concerned about John Edwards running for president despite his having a mistress with a newborn child.

While the difficult circumstances of Palin's pregnant daughter are being covered like a terrorist attack on the nation, with leering accounts of the 18-year-old father, the media remain resolutely uninterested in the parentage of Edwards' mistress's love child. Except, that is, the hardworking reporters at the National Enquirer, who say Edwards is the father.

As this goes to press, the latest media-invented scandal about Palin is that McCain didn't know her well before choosing her as his running mate. He knew her well enough, though admittedly, not as well as Obama knows William Ayers.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

My Thoughts on the Russian-Georgian Crisis

In response to a friend's emailed article on the Russian-Georgian Crisis, I sent him some thoughts, including this one:
IMHO, Russia holds an ace (maybe even a Joker) in this poker game, through control of supply lines to Afghanistan from the north. I haven't yet heard public threats from anyone to cut them off--but think NATO must be aware that the loss of Afghanistan would put the western alliance in the same position as the Warsaw Pact, especially at a time of economic crisis and collapse of banks, etc. That, more than oil and gas pipelines, is a geopolitical reality that must be somewhere in people's minds. Ås far as doing Russia's "dirty work," Russia survived a Taliban-led Afghanistan before, and probably could survive it again. However, the prestige of the West would suffer major damage.

I really don't think ordinary citizens realize the extent to which NATO victories in Afghanistan depended--and still rely--upon Russian support...

Reporters Without Borders Protests Arrests at Republican Convention

This was in my inbox today:

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the way Amy Goodman, the host of the nationally-syndicated radio and TV programme Democracy Now!, and two of her producers, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, were manhandled and arrested by police while covering demonstrations yesterday outside the Republican Party convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The press freedom organisation calls for an investigation into the circumstances of their arrest and the immediate withdrawal of the charges brought against them. Although quickly released, Goodman was charged with obstructing a legal process and interfering with a police officer, while her two producers were charged with "felony riot."

"The violence used by the police when arresting these three journalists, who identified themselves as such, was an unacceptable abuse of authority, a violence of the First Amendment and a clear demonstration of a desire to intimidate them and their news organisation," Reporters Without Borders said.

"Democracy Now! has done a lot of very critical reporting about the war in Iraq and it is no coincidence that three of its representatives were treated like this," the press freedom organisation added. "The confirmation of the charges against them compounds the original injustice with another one. The police should be investigating their own ranks."

The three journalists were arrested at about 5 p.m. during anti-war demonstrations being staged by veterans and relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq near the convention centre where the Republican Party is due to confirm Sen. John McCain as its candidate for November's presidential election.

Kouddous and Salazar were the first to be arrested by baton-wielding police. Kouddous was slammed against a wall and then pinned to the ground. Salazar was slammed to the ground. Kouddous sustained injuries to the chest and back. Salazar sustained injuries to her face.

Goodman was arrested when she asked the police why they had arrested her colleagues. Although she identified herself as a journalist, her hands were handcuffed behind her back and then she was led away, as can be seen in a video sequence shot by a bystander.

An Associated Press photographer, Matt Rourke, was also arrested at the same time as several hundred demonstrators.
A committed journalist who is very critical of the Republican government and especially the war in Iraq, Goodman launched her Democracy Now! in 1996. Produced in New York by a team of independent journalists, it is syndicated to more than 700 radio and TV stations in the United States and abroad.

Robert Sacheli on the Brideshead Revisited Remake

The screenplay finds its focus in the sins committed in the guise of familial love, and it’s the players who portray the older generation who come to dominate the movie. Emma Thompson, wearing her steel-gray hair as if it were a royal tiara, suggests a note of desperation beneath Lady Marchmain’s armor of piety and manipulativeness. Michael Gambon taps into the veiled Byronic swagger that Waugh ascribes to Lord Marchmain’s appetites and anger. Instead of Gielgud’s delightful old loon, Patrick Malahide brings out the malevolence in Ned Ryder’s obliviousness, underscoring the emotional lure of the Marchmain clan for poor Charles.

Will some viewers be disappointed that this is not their cherished vision of “Brideshead”? Certainly. But then again, the strength of that that personal vision certainly ought to endure assaults more egregious than a commercial film.

As for me, I finally made it to Brideshead. My pilgrimage to Castle Howard took place more than a decade after I’d first seen the series, and though it was my first visit it had a the feeling of a return. The rooms, the art and the grounds — particularly the fountain — were suitably impressive when liberated from the proportions of a television screen. But part of me was strangely let down. I expected a gift shop stocked with Fair Isle pullovers and antique stud boxes. I found teddy-bear key chains, refrigerator magnets and frisbees. In the end, it didn’t matter. I still had my memories of “Brideshead,” distilled as they were through Evelyn Waugh and Charles Ryder and Jeremy Irons.

But now I had my own remembrance of the place to add to them. I also had something more, a powerful talisman of memory that neither the story’s author nor his characters could have imagined.

I had the refrigerator magnet.

The New Invisible College: Science for Development

Caroline Wagner, a cousin of someone I know, has published a new book about the importance of science policy in development, The New Invisible College: Science for Development. The forward is by Francis Fukuyama, last seen giving a eulogy for my high school friend Kevin E. Lewis at the RAND Corporation. I haven't read it yet, but from the description, it looks to be influential in policy circles. Here's the blurb:
The twentieth century was the era of "big science." Driven by strategic rivalries and fierce economic competition, wealthy governments invested heavily in national science establishments. Direct funding for institutions like the National Science Foundation and high-visibility projects, such as the race to the moon, fueled innovation, growth, and national prestige. But the big science model left poorer countries out in the cold.

Today the organization of science is undergoing a fundamental transformation. In The New Invisible College, Caroline Wagner combines quantitative data and extensive interviews to map the emergence of global science networks and trace the dynamics driving their growth. She argues that the shift from big science to global networks creates unprecedented opportunities for developing countries to tap science's potential. Rather than squander resources in vain efforts to mimic the scientific establishments of the twentieth century, developing country governments can leverage networks by creating incentives for top-notch scientists to focus on research that addresses their concerns and by finding ways to tie knowledge to local problem solving. The New Invisible College offers both a guidebook and a playbook for policymakers confronting these tasks.

Caroline S. Wagner is lead research scientist at the Center for International Science and Technology Policy, George Washington University, and senior policy analyst at SRI International. She previously worked at the RAND Corporation and as a staff member for the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, she has served as a member of the United Nations Millennium Task Force on Science, Technology, and Innovation and on the Advisory Board of Canada's Research on Knowledge Systems Program.
Sample chapter here.