Friday, February 27, 2009

Bill Moyers Confesses He Asked FBI To Spy

In Slate, in response to Jack Shafer's articles about FBI investigations of Jack Valenti's sexuality (ht Edge):
More "tips" from the FBI followed. We in the White House were walking a very delicate line. Here was the director of the FBI, who at the time was lionized by the public, the press, and both political parties, informing the president of potentially explosive allegations from "anonymous informants" concerning members of his staff and administration. If we ignored them, we were leaving ourselves open to blackmail or possibly reprisals from Hoover himself, or both. We certainly could not afford another incident like the one with Walter. And so, yes, we did ask the FBI to follow up on a handful of these reports.

Bomb Damages Caracas Synagogue

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports:
(JTA) -- A Caracas synagogue was damaged by a bomb.

The homemade grenade, tossed late Thursday night into the Orthodox Beit Shmuel synagogue, damaged windows and a car; no injuries were reported.

It was the second such attack this year on a Jewish site in Caracas. Eleven people, including eight policemen, are under arrest for vandalizing a Caracas synagogue last month. In that attack, the walls were painted with anti-Semitic slogans, religious objects were damaged and thieves stole a database listing Venezuela's Jews.

Jewish leaders in Venezuela and overseas accused President Hugo Chavez of stoking tensions with rhetoric comparing Israel's actions in the Gaza Strip to Nazi oppression.

The Chess Players (1977)

The Oscar success of Slumdog Millionaire--IMHO, a manipulative phony British exploitation film about boarding school sadism pretending to be Indian--reminded me to write about Satayajit Ray's 1977 classic, The Chess Players (Shatranj Ke Khilari). It is a parable of British Imperialism and Indian weakness in the year before the Siege of Lucknow became the Mutiny that drove the British East India Company out. Sanjeev Kumar and Saeed Jaffrey co-star as two chess-playing Indian notables, Mir and Mirza, who try to escape from reality through a game of strategy. Meanwhile, the British East India Company man, played by Richard Attenborough (director of Ghandi), plots a regime change in Lucknow--overthrowing a loyal but ineffectual king, Wazid Ali Shah, apparently just because he could. The film is set in the year is 1856. Indian viewers would have known that on July 11th, 1857, the Indian sepoys at Lucknow mutineed, turning on the British. The chess game went on, and on, and goes on still today...

For a genuine Indian film, it's The Chess Players over Slumdog every time....

The Iraq War Is Over

I've seen this movie before, when President Nixon began troop withdrawals from Vietnam. It doesn't end prettily, IMHO. On the other hand, no one has come up with a better idea, so it may be inevitable. Defeat in Vietnam led to a collapsed American economy that didn't recover until Ronald Reagan decided to win the Cold War. I believe the economy is linked to the war. When America is losing wars, our economy suffers. When we won the Cold War, the economy benefitted.

So, if Obama reprises the Nixon and Carter eras, it's going to be a long four years. He might get away with losing Iraq if he really wins Afghanistan...but if America is driven out of Kabul in disgrace, IMHO it means a Republican landslide in 2010, and a Republican in the White House in 2012.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Russian View of America's Financial Crisis

Sergei Karaganov's "The World Crisis – A Time for Creation" reads a bit like it might have been penned by Henry Kissinger, IMHO:
Back in late August it seemed that the political semi-farcical Cold War – unleashed by the United States and its allies and clients in Eastern Europe and in Britain and which many Old Europeans met with caution but also with sympathy – would be the main political trend for the next two to three years.

But then the global financial crisis broke out, which is now being followed by a global economic crisis. I think the United States and the Old West will now have other things on their minds than conducting a Cold War.

The acute crisis has forced countries to start correcting the entire system of global economic governance. The United States and its ideas of the superiority of liberal capitalism and the limited role of the state in the economy have been dealt a severe blow. Faced with a possible severe depression, comparable to the crisis of the late 1920s-1930s, Washington has decided to nationalize failed system-forming financial companies and banks and to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in the economy. This policy is directly opposite to the Washington Consensus ideology, which was so confidently imposed in recent decades on other countries, including Russia. True liberals should have let bankrupt enterprises and the bankrupt policy fail completely and should have made room for the sprouts of a new economy. The U.S. has been followed by other countries in resorting to “socialist” methods to save failed companies and banks.

Reasonable apprehensions have already been expressed that the retreat from the former ideology of super-liberalism may go too far toward an increased state interference and may make the Western economy even less competitive. (I wish these warnings were first heeded by Russia, which is successfully destroying its competitiveness by quasi-socialist and reckless increases of labor costs and by the massive interference of corrupt state capitalism.)

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and even the financial G7 remain silent, although the crisis had been ripening for quite some time. Only Europeans are trying to act jointly, albeit inconsistently and with unknown results.


It is clear that the global crisis is only beginning and will affect everyone. But it is not clear how and when all countries will jointly start overcoming it.

But we should already sum up the preliminary results of the recent developments.

The period from August to October 2008 will likely go down in history as the start of the fourth stage in the world’s development over the past century, which began – really, not according to the calendar – in August 1914, closing the door on the splendid 19th century and ushering in the savage and revolutionary 20th century. Actually, the 21st century is beginning right now. (This idea is not mine, but that of Thierry de Montbrial, the founder of the Evian Forum and an outstanding French political thinker.)

This crisis and this new period in world history threaten to inflict inevitable hardships on billions of people, including Russians. Coupled with the aforementioned rapid geopolitical changes, with the collapse of the former system of international law and security systems, and with attempts by the weakening “elders” to stop the redistribution of forces not in their favor, this period may bring a dramatic destabilization of the international situation and an increased risk of conflicts. I would have dared to describe it as a pre-war situation and compare it with August 1914, but for one factor: huge arsenals of nuclear weapons remain, along with their deterrent factor, which makes politicians more civilized. Yet one must keep in mind the objective growth of military danger anyway.

The world economic crisis will fix the new redistribution of forces. But it can also change its speed. When the U.S. overcomes the crisis, it will end up with even less moral and political capital. I do not think that Barack Obama, now viewed as a ray of hope for America, would be able to quickly restore this capital as president. Quite possibly, the crisis will inflict even more economic damage on new industrial giants, especially at first. External markets, on which their growth largely depends, will shrink. The super-fat years will come to an end for oil producing countries, as well, including Russia, which has proved reluctant or unable to switch to a new economy and renovate its infrastructure.

The matter at hand is not just a deep financial and economic crisis. This is an overall crisis of the entire system of global governance; a crisis of ideas on which global development was based; and a crisis of international institutions.

Overcoming this overall crisis will require a new round of reforms, the construction of international institutions and systems for governing the world economy and finance, and a new philosophy for global development.

This crisis will clear out what has been artificially preserved or not reformed since the end of the Cold War. A new global governance system will have to be built on the ruins of the old one.

The time will come for creation.

When this overall crisis is over, its relative beneficiaries will include not only countries that will have been less affected by it, but also those that will have seized the initiative in building a new world order and new institutions. They will have to correspond to the emerging balance of forces and effectively respond to new challenges.

One must be morally and politically ready for that period of creation, and already now, despite the crisis, one must start building up one’s intellectual potential so that in a year or several years one could be ready to put forward one’s own, well-grounded proposals for rebuilding the international governance system on a more just and stable basis.

Russia has so far proposed a very modest plan for rebuilding the European security system and supported, at last, the idea to establish a new Concert of Nations as an association of not seven to eight old countries, but 14 to 20 of the most powerful and responsible states capable of assuming responsibility for global governance.

We need to go further and start thinking about the future already now – however difficult this might be during a crisis.

I would propose for discussion some principles for building the future system:

– Not boundless and irresponsible liberalism, but support for free trade and a liberal economic order coupled with basically stricter international regulation.
– Joint elaboration and coordination of policies by the most powerful and responsible countries, rather than attempts to establish hegemony by one country, or a struggle of all against all.
– Collective efforts to fill the security vacuum, rather than create new dividing lines and sources of conflict.
– Joint solution of energy problems, rather than artificial politicization of the energy security problem.
– Renunciation of the recognition of a nation’s right to self-determination up to secession if this is done by force. (The wave of fragmenting countries, which began in the 1950s and which received a fresh impetus with the recognition of the independence of Kosovo, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, must be stopped.)
– Russia and the European Union must strive not for a strategic partnership in their relations, but for a strategic alliance.
– The goal of development must be progress, not democracy. Democracy is a consequence and an instrument of progress.

Surely, many of the proposed principles will be objected to and rejected. But the habitual politically correct cliches will not help to improve the situation and build a new world. Meanwhile, the time is coming for creation.

John LeBoutillier on Obama's Speech to Congress

From Boot's Blasts:
• Our new President is a nice guy. The more he loosens up and relaxes himself - and smiles that huge and friendly and sincere smile - the more time he buys himself to cope with these cascading fiscal and banking problems;

• Because he fought for the Stimulus Plan and the Republicans did not join him, the economy now becomes Obama’s sooner than if the GOP was a part of it. In other words, Obama took ownership once his own prescription and protocols were implemented; blaming G.W. Bush won’t last much past this year.

• That is not to say that the Republicans escape the consequences of the ongoing financial meltdown; in fact, they have the blame painted all over them. And this taint will last for years to come.

• The GOP brand has lost its one-time luster as the party better able to cope with fiscal and national security matters. It will take years to get that special mantle back - if we can ever get it back.

• The Obama Administration is going to have more trouble with their fellow Democrats up on the Hill than they are with the Republicans. Yes, that is true. The GOP is - for the next 2 years anyway - almost completely inconsequential; but the leftist Democrats are feeling their oats and will soon want to move ever farther to the Left than Obama.

• Thus a new tension will soon arise - between these long-time House and Senate bulls who have been waiting for years to have un-checked power - and the Obama Administration which will soon realize their agenda is too much, too soon.

• Barack Obama is spending all his political capital now; he is speaking and travelling at a furious rate for a new president. Indeed, he does risk wearing out his welcome and suffering overexposure. At some point the public gets sick of the same speech over and over again and they begin to tune it out.

• Already the polling shows his numbers among Republicans falling quickly (to be expected) and among Independents to be slightly eroding (somewhat worrisome for Team Obama). And the markets tank after every big speech he makes!

• After a month it is clear that Obama fancies himself as the Salesman-in-Chief - much more than a hands-on administrator who is on top of everything in the Executive Branch. We have already seen break-downs in this model in the Daschle, Richardson and Geithner vetting procedures and the lard inside the Stimulus Bill, which Obama should have written instead of having Nancy Pelosi do it.

• Everything - EVERYTHING - for the Obama Administration depends on solving the ongoing banking problem.
• It is startling that so far neither Obama nor Geithner has come up with a bold, innovative plan to fix this mess and get people feeling better about it.

• Nor has the GOP offered up anything but Nays.

• Why not this simple, bold plan: the US Government - acting as a surgeon operating on a deteriorating patient - goes to the heart of the problem: the toxic, cancerous tumors in each bank - these securitized (bad) mortgages - and cuts them out of the patients’ balance sheets. All these cancerous tumors are gathered up into one federal bank - in the model of the S&L mess of 20 years ago - and held there until their value increases.

• Presto, the banks’ balance sheets are free and clear of the debts that were inhibiting lending - (their MRIs are suddenly clean of cancer now!)

• The Federal Government holds these toxic assets for as long as it takes for the housing market to recover - which it will because there will be pent-up demand for housing in the long run. We are a growing, now-over-300 million people population - and the demand for housing will eventually drive home values up again - although maybe not back to where they have been.

• We need a bold plan like this. Instead, Team Obama is following Team Bush’s approach - and it isn’t working.

Obama's Speech & Budget Plans: Another Double

This photo on the White House website makes it look like the President is praying for something to turn up...

President Obama's Tuesday night address to the Joint Session of Congress, like his first press conference, was a solid double. He didn't strike out, he got on base, but he didn't hit the ball out of the park. He wasn't Reaganesque, or even Clintonesque...he was Obamaesque. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but not quite a good thing, either.

Basically, Obama read a laundry list of government programs and promises. I liked that he said he would end no-bid contracts and stop torture, but didn't like that he didn't say he would get our money back from the no-bid contractors and demand punishment for the torturers. The problem is that while talked about holding people accountable in the future, he stayed away from holding anyone to account for creating the mess we are in now. IMHO, that's a significant problem.

Obama needs to say, not "Tell it to Joe!" but "Disgorge your ill-gotten gains!" and "Pay for your crimes!" Maybe if the perpetrators are truly contrite he could pardon them--but first, at least they need to show some remorse...for the sake of rebuilding confidence, they can't be allowed to keep laughing after they have gone to the bank with the loot--or gotten away with murder.

Why would anyone give a dime to people who haven't gone after the people who have stolen literally billions of dollars? What is needed is not bipartisanship, rather what is needed is a good house-cleaning. He might begin by ordering the SEC to re-open at once every single securities investigation closed or dropped without resolution during the Bush administration.

Unfortunately, the President talks about the need to restore confidence yet appointed a Treasury Secretary who does not, and IMHO cannot. No wonder the market continued to fall after Obama's speech. Last night's TV interview with Jim Lehrer made Geithner look like a complete dope...if it had been a job interview, Geither would have quickly heard, "Next!" The Treasury secretary couldn't give a straight answer to a single question, plus he had a supercilious smirk on his face, like he was pleased to be pulling one over on Jim Lehrer. If Obama is serious about restoring confidence, Geithner might want to decide the what he really wants to do is spend more time with his family, asap. The administration needs someone who personally inspires confidence, who has real achievements and a reputation for honesty--not a tax cheat who sounds like a C student squeaking by in an oral exam. Someone with gravitas like Paul Volcker.

Finally, Obama did not paint a "big picture" in his speech. He can't inspire without one. All the ditches and bridges and teachers and firemen and computerized medical records and tax credits in the world won't make up for it. At this point "Yes, we can" is not good enough. We already did...he's the President. Now, Obama needs some specific mission for the nation. JFK rallied America around a Mission to the Moon; Ronald Reagan, the High Frontier and Winning the Cold War; Bill Clinton, a Bridge to the 21st Century. Each stimulated the economy...the Space Race led to the communications satellites and fiber optics that made the computer age possible, as well as deterring the USSR; the defeat of the USSR led to a new birth of freedom and economic growth around the country and the world; and Clinton's high-tech revolution and commercialization of the internet (yes, spearheaded by Al Gore) created opportunities for technologies such as Google and Blogger and Twitter and iPhones and all the rest. Digging ditches and volunteering in soup kitchens and windmills isn't going to cut it, I'm afraid.

One acquaintance noted that Obama didn't even mention the space program in his talk. Yet at this moment, we are faced with challenges as great as Sputnik from China's moon shot, India's moon shot, and Iran's satellite launch. Even if these countries don't use the new technology to attack the US directly, they certainly are set up to challenge American satellite and IT dominance in war as well as peace. IMHO, Obama needs to look up into the heavens, inspiring us to reach for the stars--in addition to promoting "shovel ready" construction projects here on earth.

Unsuccessful Presidents, such as Bush 41 & 43, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter, have asked us to lower our expectations preying on our fears. Successful Presidents such as JFK, Reagan, and Clinton, have led us into a brighter future, inspired by our hopes. If he wants a second term, Obama needs to give us some really big picture hopes, that create jobs and stimulate new dreams.

In the meantime, here's a link to, official website of the stimulus package. And here's a link to an ACLU petition demanding that President Obama open Guantanamo Bay prison to independent public inspection.

Mary Eberstadt: Is Food the New Sex?

George Will discussed this article from Policy Review in his column today. Her conclusion:
When Friedrich Nietzsche wrote longingly of the “transvaluation of all values,” he meant the hoped-for restoration of sexuality to its proper place as a celebrated, morally neutral life force. He could not possibly have foreseen our world: one in which sex would indeed become “morally neutral” in the eyes of a great many people — even as food would come to replace it as source of moral authority.4

Nevertheless, events have proven Nietzsche wrong about his wider hope that men and women of the future would simply enjoy the benefits of free sex without any attendant seismic shifts. For there may in fact be no such thing as a destigmatization of sex simplicitur, as the events outlined in this essay suggest. The rise of a recognizably Kantian, morally universalizable code concerning food — beginning with the international vegetarian movement of the last century and proceeding with increasing moral fervor into our own times via macrobiotics, veganism/vegetarianism, and European codes of terroir — has paralleled exactly the waning of a universally accepted sexual code in the Western world during these same years.

Who can doubt that the two trends are related? Unable or unwilling (or both) to impose rules on sex at a time when it is easier to pursue it than ever before, yet equally unwilling to dispense altogether with a universal moral code that he would have bind society against the problems created by exactly that pursuit, modern man (and woman) has apparently performed his own act of transubstantiation. He has taken longstanding morality about sex, and substituted it onto food. The all-you-can-eat buffet is now stigmatized; the sexual smorgasbord is not.

In the end, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the rules being drawn around food receive some force from the fact that people are uncomfortable with how far the sexual revolution has gone — and not knowing what to do about it, they turn for increasing consolation to mining morality out of what they eat.

So what does it finally mean to have a civilization puritanical about food, and licentious about sex? In this sense, Nietzsche’s fabled madman came not too late, but too early — too early to have seen the empirical library that would be amassed from the mid- twenty-first century on, testifying to the problematic social, emotional, and even financial nature of exactly the solution he sought.

It is a curious coda that this transvaluation should not be applauded by the liberationist heirs of Nietzsche, even as their day in the sun seems to have come. According to them, after all, consensual sex is simply what comes naturally, and ought therefore to be judged value-free. But as the contemporary history outlined in this essay goes to show, the same can be said of overeating — and overeating is something that today’s society is manifestly embarked on re-stigmatizing. It may be doing so for very different reasons than the condemnations of gluttony outlined by the likes of Gregory the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas. But if indiscriminate sex can also have a negative impact — and not just in the obvious sense of disease, but in the other aspects of psyche and well-being now being written into the empirical record of the sexual revolution — then indiscriminate sex may be judged to need reining in, too.

So if there is a moral to this curious transvaluation, it would seem to be that the norms society imposes on itself in pursuit of its own self-protection do not wholly disappear, but rather mutate and move on, sometimes in curious guises. Far-fetched though it seems at the moment, where mindless food is today, mindless sex — in light of the growing empirical record of its own unleashing — may yet again be tomorrow.

Monday, February 23, 2009

David Forsmark: Save King of the Hill!

From National Review Online:
King of the Hill, unlike The Simpsons, has not suffered a creative decline, nor have its ratings plunged. Fox’s official statement attributes the decision to nothing more than a desire to “freshen up” its “Animation Domination” Sunday-night schedule.

The “solution”? In the course of 2009, Fox will add two shows to Animation Domination. One is called Sit Down, Shut Up. The other is a spinoff of the foul-mouthed Family Guy, whose creator, Seth MacFarlane, already has a second Animation Domination show, American Dad. So Fox Sunday nights will rise from 50 to 60 percent MacFarlane. Right, how fresh.

It’s been a long time since King was a ratings champ, but viewership is still solid and comparable to the rest of the Fox Sunday lineup. The show has beaten the odds, in fact: It was frequently the victim of Fox’s Sunday football schedule, so first-run episodes sometimes were pre-empted or aired only in part. Despite my diligence, there were some I never saw until the DVD release. King was even on the cancellation block once before, but it was saved by the ratings bump that followed the announcement.

Perhaps even more intriguing, however, is the fact that Judge is creating a series for ABC that could be called the flip side of King. Judge’s animated The Goode Family follows the misadventures of an ultra-liberal vegan family that tries too hard to be politically correct in all things, particularly the environmental (even their dog is not allowed to eat meat products).

Historically, animated shows have performed better when paired. A late ratings rally for King might make ABC consider that strategy — especially since King regularly outperforms ABC’s Life on Mars, Homeland Security USA, and Wife Swap by considerable margins. It even draws more viewers than the venerable 20/20.

However, the real reason to watch King of the Hill on Sunday nights is the same as it’s always been: It’s a really good show.

While I don’t want to go back to the days when three TV networks battled for about 90 percent of the viewing audience, there is something to be said for the shared common experience of, say, a Mary Tyler Moore Show farewell episode. It would seem that a fourteen-season show deserves that kind of sendoff.

Though if there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that King of the Hill will not end with a group hug. Not if Hank has anything to say about it.
Here's a promo for The Goode Family from YouTube:

One Oscar Pick That Seems OK

James Marsh's documentary Oscar for Man on a Wire, about Phillip Petit's walk between the Twin Towers... to remind people that once upon a time there was a World Trade Center in New York City.

Socks, 20

According to the LA Times, the Clinton administration's "First Kitty" was 20 years old. He had been taken care of by former Presidential secretary, Betty Currie.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

TPM Muckraker: Stanford Wooed Washington Power-Brokers

TPM Mucraker has posted some photos of Allen Stanford meeting with members of the Congressional Caribbean Caucus at a Washington, DC meeting, to illustrate an interesting article by Zachary Roth:
By now, we've all seen those pictures of Allen Stanford hobnobbing with lawmakers in Antigua. But, with the exception of one trip by Sen. John Cornyn, it wasn't Stanford himself who picked up the tab for these jaunts -- it was an obscure outfit called the Inter-American Economic Council.

And taking a closer look at the IAEC, and its ties to Stanford, sheds some light on how the Texas billionaire gained access to all those members of Congress -- and what he hoped to gain by doing so.

The IAEC's website says that the Washington-based group was founded in 1999 and that it aims to "provide senior Government Officials, leading Business Executives, and Academic Professionals the opportunity to engage in a dialogue about current and future economic strategies in the Hemisphere." And in 2003, the Associated Press reported (via Nexis) that, according to IAEC president Barry Featherman, the organization "relies mostly on contributions from U.S. corporations."

But the group appears to have remarkably close ties to Stanford himself. In this 2006 report, Bloomberg described Stanford as a "principal backer" of the organization. And Stanford Financial told Bloomberg that it had "donated the use of its aircraft" to the IAEC for one 2006 trip to Jamaica that four Democratic lawmakers went on.

That same year, the IAEC gave Stanford its "Excellence in Leadership" award. A press release put out by the group (since removed from its website) declared that Stanford "has strongly supported the work that the IAEC is doing in Latin America and the Caribbean."

Stanford also appears to have taken advantage of IAEC-funded events by showing up personally to schmooze lawmakers. We already posted these shots of current or former lawmakers including Katherine Harris, Pete Sessions, Tom Feeney, James Clyburn, and John Sweeney chilling with Stanford and Caribbean dignitaries in Antigua in 2005.

And The Oscar Goes To...

My hopes (not predictions) for tonight:

BEST PICTURE: ""Frost/Nixon"

BEST ACTRESS: Meryl Streep, "Doubt"

BEST ACTOR: Frank Langella, "Frost/Nixon"


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt"

BEST DIRECTOR: Ron Howard, "Frost/Nixon"

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Andrew Stanton, and Jim Reardon; original story by Stanton and Pete Docter"WALL-E"

Saturday, February 21, 2009

One More Question: Who Protected Allen Stanford?

The tremendous news coverage of the Allen Stanford scandal reminded someone I know that after we first saw his large bank buildings next to the VC Bird airport on a trip some years back (we have been going to Antigua for over 30 years)--and subsequently learned from local residents that Stanford had displaced the Hadeed family as the richest man in town--she had conducted an internet search on Stanford...and come up with almost nothing. Which perhaps was because not only was he a big man in Antigua, he had a enjoyed widespread reputation as an alleged money-launderer for international drug dealers.

So, until this story broke in the US, we had thought he was pretty much a local phenomenon, keeping his head low. Perhaps his ego got the better of his caution, for it was a surprise to read that he had descended from a helicopter onto Lord's Cricket Ground in London, that he had American operations, and that he had a Washington office paying out millions in campaign contributions and fees to political insiders. Which made one wonder...did Stanford become bolder because he may have thought he had been buying protection? And did his protection end after the 2008 election results became clear? For according to press reports, despite long-standing complaints, action only was taken in the Stanford case in December, 2008.

Which makes one wonder precisely which "unnamed agency" asked the SEC to lay off Stanford, and why? And how high Stanford's protection, if there had been protection, may have extended.

We arrived in Washington during the BCCI scandal, known informally as the "Bank of Crooks and Criminals International"--which turned out to have reputed protection from the US government as a pass-through for unsavory activities, including accusations of CIA-money laundering. Was Stanford's bank a 21st-century version of BCCI? From Wikipedia:
BCCI was not shy about dealing with questionable elements, like many other international banks as well as Swiss private banks. It frequently handled money for various purposes, and was the banker for such dictators as Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega, Hussain Mohammad Ershad and Samuel Doe, all of whom were explicitly connected to the United States government at various points in time. Preferential treatment by some of the world's moneyed leaders to BCCI led to it being nicknamed by some of its rivals as "the Bank of Crooks and Criminals International."

In 1988, BCCI was implicated in a drug-money-laundering scheme based in Tampa, Florida: the C-Chase case. BCCI was called many names, including the CIA’s money-laundering facility, an allegation that once again was never proven to be true. BCCI, under immense pressure from US authorities, pleaded guilty in 1990, but only on the grounds of respondeat superior. While federal regulators took no action, Florida regulators forced BCCI to pull out of the state.

We'll have to see what Congressional investigations turn up. Now that the likes of Johnny Damon are involved, there may be some "curb appeal" for politicians to pursue the matter...all the way to Houston, Texas.

Andrew Ferguson on Bill Moyers' FBI Spying

From The Weekly Standard:
The most surprising thing about the recent revelations concerning Bill Moyers is that anyone should be surprised. For those of us who care--and those of us who care, care deeply--detailed accounts of Moyers's career as a political bottom-feeder have been publicly available since the mid-1970s.

Yet even Moyers watchers will find the new information juicy, if perfectly in keeping with the Moyers we have come to know. The Washington Post reported last week that in 1964, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI investigated Jack Valenti, a close aide to President Lyndon Johnson, chasing rumors that Valenti was gay. He wasn't, but homosexuality was a sore subject in the Johnson White House in 1964. The same month that the FBI launched its investigation into Valenti, the president's most trusted adviser, a fellow Texan named Walter Jenkins, was arrested in a Washington YMCA on what was then quaintly called a "morals charge." The presidential election was a few weeks away. The timing could have been better.

With Johnson's reluctant approval, the FBI followed an anonymous tip that Valenti was (another quaint phrase) "a sex pervert." Hoover's men came up with nothing, aside from a remark from a closeted gay photographer that Valenti was a "very charming and intelligent individual." He was certainly right about that. After he left government Valenti became a lobbyist for Hollywood and a Washington fixture, impossible to miss at a black tie dinner or in the gossip column of the Post or zipping down H Street in his silver Mercedes. He was the size of a leprechaun and accented his mysteriously deep permatan with a gleaming semi-pompadour. His fathomless store of gossip, his gift for profanity, and, perhaps most of all, his clothes--high collars, billowing ties, Burberry two-buttoned, double-vented suits with lapels as sharp as an X-Acto knife--marked him as a creature otherwise unseen in the natural world. Valenti was the Washington lounge lizard.

Another trait of his, one he shared with many veterans of the Johnson White House, was a deep antagonism to Bill Moyers, who had also served Johnson as an aide/confidant/sycophant. (Johnson required his staff to multitask.) The FBI memos that the Post uncovered give a hint why Moyers's former colleagues disliked him so. "Even Bill Moyers," the Post reporter writes, "is described in the records as seeking information on the sexual preferences of White House staff members." Even Bill Moyers! Forty years of bogus reputation-building prop up that even. Valenti knew better. When he was in government, seeking information about sexual preferences was the kind of thing Moyers did.

What Did Bill Moyers' Know About FBI Spying, and When Did He Know It?

From today's Wall Street Journal editorial page:
J. Edgar Moyers
The TV moralist's government record.

One of the darker periods of modern American history was J. Edgar Hoover's long reign over the FBI, as we have learned since he died in 1972. So it is more than a historical footnote to discover new records showing that prominent public television broadcaster Bill Moyers participated in Hoover's exploits.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Washington Post has obtained a few of the former FBI director's secret files. According to a Thursday front-page story, Hoover was "consumed" with exposing a (nonexistent) relationship between a gay photographer and Jack Valenti, the late film industry lobbyist who was then an aide to Lyndon Johnson. Hoover's M.O. was to amass incriminating personal information as political blackmail.

But as the Post reports in passing, the dossier also reveals that Mr. Moyers -- then a special assistant to LBJ -- requested in 1964 that Hoover's G-men "investigate two other administration figures who were 'suspected as having homosexual tendencies.'"

This isn't the first time Mr. Moyers's name has come up in connection with Hoover's abuse of office. When Laurence Silberman, now a federal appeals judge, was acting Attorney General in 1975, he was obliged to read Hoover's secret files in their entirety in preparation for testimony before Congress -- and as far as we know remains one of the only living officials to have done so. "It was the single worst experience of my long governmental service," he wrote in these pages in 2005.

Amid "bits of dirt on figures such as Martin Luther King," Judge Silberman found a 1964 memo from Mr. Moyers directing Hoover's agents to investigate Barry Goldwater's campaign staff for evidence of homosexual activity. A few weeks before, an LBJ aide named Walter Jenkins had been arrested in a men's bathroom, and Mr. Silberman wrote that Mr. Moyers and his boss evidently wanted leverage in the event Goldwater tried to use the liaison against them. (He didn't, as it happened.)

When that episode became public after Mr. Silberman testified, an irate Mr. Moyers called him and, with typical delicacy, accused him of falling for forged CIA memos. Mr. Silberman offered to study the matter and, should Mr. Moyers's allegations pan out, he would publicly exonerate him. "There was a pause on the line and then he said, 'I was very young. How will I explain this to my children?' And then he rang off."

Memories are short in Washington, and Mr. Moyers has gone on to promote himself as a political moralist, routinely sermonizing about what he claims are abuses of power by his ideological enemies. Since 9/11, he has been particularly intense in criticizing President Bush for his antiterror policies, such as warrantless wiretapping against al Qaeda.

Yet the historical record suggests that when Mr. Moyers was in a position of actual power, he was complicit in FBI dirt-digging against U.S. citizens solely for political purposes. As Judge Silberman put it in 2005, "I have always thought that the most heinous act in which a democratic government can engage is to use its law enforcement machinery for political ends."

Mr. Moyers told us through a spokeswoman that he "never heard of the Valenti matter until this story and had nothing to add to it." He also pointed to a 1975 Newsweek article in which he wrote that he learned of the LBJ-Hoover relationship in "the quickly fading days of my innocence." In the Nixon days, this was called a nondenial denial.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Obama's Russia Policy: "Turn Down The Temperature"

That's the bottom-line, as far as I can figure it out from yesterday's Brookings Institution coming-out party for Steven Pifer's policy paper Reversing the Decline: An Agenda for US-Russian Relations in 2009. The panel consisted of Pifer, former US Ambassador to the Ukraine; Daniel Benjamin, former Clinton official; Robert Kagan, leading neo-conservative Russia-basher; German ambassador Klaus Scharloth, representing the EU and NATO; and Strobe Talbott, Brookings headman and intimate of the Clintons. Benjamin announced at the start that Pifer's paper was currently being read in buildings all over Washington. I read it, and didn't find too much "smart" or "creative" diplomacy...but I did at least find a little bit of common sense. Pifer wants to ratchet down the rhetoric and confrontation between the US and Russia. A very good idea, considering what is going on in Iran and the Ummah these days. Strobe Talbott said the answers were, "No, and No," to Russia's desire for a sphere of influence or an end to NATO expansion. Too bad the USA promised Russia when the Berlin Wall came down that no NATO troops would be on her borders. The German ambassador felt expansion was necessary. Well, I hope it doesn't turn out to be Russian expansion. Turning down the heat is a good first step, but when I thought I heard Talbott threatening to unleash more Chechen, Ingueshetian, and Dagestani separtist attacks in order to break up the Russian Federation if Putin and Medvedev don't accept the US position, I had to wonder if these guys realize that the US has already been burned by the Islamist extremist fire that the world has been playing with since, say, 1979? (This was the theme of Vladimir Sinelnikov's Russian documentary film, The Terror Casino: World War III.) Threatening more Islamist extremist terrorism backed by the US against Russia, while the US is fighting the same phenomenon in Afghanistan, strikes me as a misreading of the nature of the current Clash of Civilizations. Those 20th Century tricks are unlikely to work again, and Tablott's stridency in saying "No" reminded me of a joke I heard somewhere in the post-Soviet space, though I don't remember who told it to me: "The conservatives hate Russia because it was once Communist--and the liberals hate Russia because it no longer is..." That's what seemed to unite Kagan and Talbott and the German ambassador.

What is needed, during the simmering phase, is for someone to come up with a new recipe entirely that doesn't include the toxic ingredient of Russia-hatred. When I was at the Heritage Foundation in 1991, Amb. Charles Lichtenstein told me that NATO should be disbanded immediately, that it had served its purpose and would only cause problems looking for a role in a changed world. Time has confirmed his prediction.

What was missing from this presentation, IMHO, was a Russian voice. Maybe a first step to developing "smart" and "creative" ideas would be for Brookings to set up a Center for the Study of the US and Russia to balance their Center for the Study of the US and Europe? Hire some Russians and Russian emigres. Ask them to work with Americans on a totally new framework. And yes, Gazprom could pay for it...

Glenn Garvin on Bill Moyers' FBI Spy Reports

From the Miami Herald:
Bill Moyers' Journal, gay-bashing edition

Of all the second acts in American public life, none has amazed me more than that of Bill Moyers. He spent the first decade of his adult life as one of Lyndon Johnson's dirtiest henchmen. His work on Johnson's viciously dirty 1964 presidential campaign is probably worth an entire book by itself: Moyers helped thwart the seating of an integrated delegation from Mississippi at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, and asked the FBI to investigate 15 members of the Senate staff of Johnson's opponent, Barry Goldwater. Other lowlights include Moyers giving the FBI the okay to spread dirty stories about Martin Luther King's sex life, and his ongoing role spinning fanciful stories about the war in Vietnam as Johnson's press secretary from 1965 to 1967.

Yet somehow none of that has stopped Moyers from posing as the conscience of the American press for most of the past four decades, mostly in various screechy PBS shows. Without any apparent sense of irony, he viciously excoriates the U.S. press for its supposed subservience to the White House on Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terror. Amazingly, when Moyers is ranting that the Bush administration fabricated everything about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, nobody ever asks him about the Johnson administration's fanciful account of the imaginary 1964 attack in the Tonkin Gulf that became the excuse for the Vietnam war, an account he helped to construct.Everything about Moyers' years with Johnson has somehow vanished down the memory hole.

Now another load of Moyers' dirty laundry has appeared on the clothesline. On Thursday, the Washington Post published a story based on newly revealed documents that show that the FBI investigated rumors that Johnson aide Jack Valenti (later the head of the Motion Picture Association of America) was gay. The documents also show that Moyers asked the FBI to investigate two other Johnson administration figures who were "suspected as having homosexual tendencies."

Moyers, questioned about the documents by Post reporters, replied that his memory was hazy. Don't worry, Bill; if past history is any indication, pretty soon our memories will be hazy, too.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Christopher Hitchens v Syrian Nazis

A brawl in Beirut shows Hitchens isn't just talk when it comes to confronting evil...From Ace of Spades HQ:(ht Michelle Malkin)
Update: I got it a bit wrong on how much Hitchens had been roughed up and the exact sequence here.

He had underplayed it, I guess. From another witness I got that he'd been roughed up more than he let on.

First of all, there weren't ten goons, but around six.

Second, the goon squad, and not just the look-out man, did in fact get to Hitchens. They knocked him down to the ground, kicked him while he was down, and stamped on his writing hand (which I'd known). I had thought they escaped the gang, but they didn't, not quite; they got roughed up by them before a cabbie got them away.

Oh, and the errand they were on: Well, they were on their way to a bar. But they hadn't gotten there yet. It was about, oh, 3 or so in the afternoon. We had downtime between events (which were scheduled around the clock pretty much) and I guess they just wanted to check out a local watering hole.

Here's what I know word-of-mouth about the Syrian Nazis: They're actual Nazis, first of all, having taken inspiration from Hitler and sporting a modified swastika on their posters and flags. They're a small party, I'm told. They had been banned years ago but are back, but not in force. There are about 300 of them (again, this is what I am told) and are more of a street-gang of bullyboys than an actual party. However, they have the backing of Syria, and they do, when called upon, murder people.
Guardian story, here. Beirut Daily Star story, here.

What Was Bill Moyers' Role in FBI Spying on Jack Valenti?

The more you learn about Bill Moyers, the more you wonder how his reputation could get any worse. I often wondered why Jack Valenti gave me a long interview for my PBS book. Now I think I understand why he had his own reasons to distrust Bill Moyers. From today's Washington Post article on FBI investigations of allegations of homosexuality:
Even Bill Moyers, a White House aide now best known as a liberal television commentator, is described in the records as seeking information on the sexual preferences of White House staff members. Moyers said by e-mail yesterday that his memory is unclear after so many years but that he may have been simply looking for details of allegations first brought to the president by Hoover.

In Valenti's case, agents located the photographer and he confirmed that he had attended parties with Valenti and stayed at his apartment on two occasions. But he stressed that Valenti was strictly a platonic friend, records show. Historians have suggested that Hoover himself may have been gay and that the bureau's fascination with the sex lives of others was a manifestation of deeper currents in his psychology. Hoover never married and was a constant companion of his longtime FBI aide Clyde Tolson.

Valenti was a successful Texas businessman before joining Johnson in the White House in the hours after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. After three years in Washington, Valenti was named head of the Motion Picture Association, where he served as Hollywood's chief lobbyist from 1966 to 2004. His tanned face became a fixture on the annual Academy Awards broadcast.

The FBI file shows that a routine background check performed when Valenti joined the Johnson administration in 1963 turned up a series of picayune concerns. The file noted that Valenti's father and father-in-law had spent time in prison for embezzlement, and that his father-in-law had an "undesirable credit record" and had once been arrested for "being drunk."

A number of informants alleged that Valenti was good friends with a "top hoodlum and prominent gambler" in Houston, and agents suspected that the underworld figure had underwritten the cost of Valenti's wedding and a honeymoon suite at the Tropicana hotel in Las Vegas.

Most people interviewed praised Valenti, his morals and his social skills; one described him as "smiley" and "able to charm the horns off a billy goat."

Agents asked about Valenti's dating habits and quizzed his friends about whether they thought he had been faithful since he married Johnson's personal secretary the previous year.

One informant told agents that when Valenti was a bachelor, "he always dated extremely attractive women" and that "his only trouble with his female acquaintances was 'they all wanted to marry him.' "

The informant said Valenti told him he was waiting for the "real thing." When he met the woman who would become his wife in 1962, he was "very much in love." The informant added that all of "Valenti's relations with the opposite sex were moral in all respects."

Nothing discovered during the background check was solid enough to endanger Valenti's position as a special assistant to the president.

Then, in October 1964, a man whose name has been redacted from the records called an FBI official in New York. The caller encouraged the FBI to investigate Valenti "as a sex pervert," files show. "He based this request on the fact that he had read in the newspapers that Valenti swims in the nude in the White House pool."

A month later, the bureau found out that the Republican Party had hired a retired FBI agent to look into rumors that Valenti was attracted to men. The agents then focused on Valenti's relationship with the photographer, whose connections with Valenti had enabled him to photograph Johnson two years earlier, the memo said.

The agents learned that Valenti was a frequent party host in Houston, and the photographer often attended. An FBI memo dated Nov. 12, 1964, stated that the photographer "has the reputation of being a homosexual." The photographer and "Valenti have allegedly been having an affair for a number of years," the memo said.

Six days later, Hoover reported the allegations to the president. Johnson spoke to Hoover lieutenant Cartha D. DeLoach and asserted that "Valenti was all right; however, his judgment was faulty inasmuch as he felt Jenkins had been all right," files show.

DeLoach advised Johnson to have Valenti submit a sworn affidavit regarding his association with "this homosexual." Johnson demurred, saying Valenti had no need to defend himself.

"The President indicated that if I were to ask him if 'Lady Bird' were virtuous he would feel it would be unnecessary to reply, inasmuch as he knew 'Lady Bird' was virtuous," DeLoach wrote in a note. "The President stated that Valenti was attracted to the women and not to the men. The President also stated that in his opinion the FBI should not interview the photographer."

Seven days later, DeLoach pressed Johnson again and he relented. In the same conversation, a memo shows, they discussed a request from Moyers, then a special assistant to Johnson, that the FBI investigate two other administration figures who were "suspected as having homosexual tendencies."

On Dec. 1, 1964, the FBI interviewed the photographer. He said that he had "homosexual tendencies" and that he "engaged in homosexual activities on a 'discreet' basis." He added that he had once been arrested on a sex charge, but was so drunk at the time that he could not remember the circumstances.

The photographer said that he had known Valenti for about 15 years and that they had attended parties together, along with their female dates. The photographer told the agents that Valenti had "never engaged in homosexual activities and he does not have these tendencies," according to an FBI memo sent to Moyers.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now?

Ann Althouse posted this video of Hillary Clinton with her husband and President Obama, it's too good to pass up...Free Image Hosting at

QuickPost Quickpost this image to Myspace, Digg, Facebook, and others!

Does Wes Anderson Make Documentaries?

Today's New York Times obituary of Leila Hadley by William Grimes (IMHO the best writer on the paper), reads like The Darjeeling Limited, Life Acquatic, and Royal Tennenbaums rolled into one:
In 1978 her daughter Victoria invited her to visit India. Victoria, from whom she had been estranged for years, was translating Sanskrit texts into Tibetan near Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile. Mrs. Hadley saw the invitation as a chance to re-establish ties, and she and her daughter traveled from New Delhi to Dharamsala. Mrs. Hadley described the trip in “A Journey With Elsa Cloud,” a blend of autobiography, family saga and travel book whose title came from Victoria’s childhood wish to be “the sea, the jungle, or else a cloud.”

Along the way, Mrs. Hadley developed a lifelong interest in Tibet. In 1979 she wrote “Tibet 20 Years After the Chinese Takeover.” She was a board member of Tibet House for many years and endowed the Leila Hadley Luce Chair for Modern Tibetan Studies at Columbia University.

Trouble lay just over the horizon after the journey of reconciliation. Victoria denounced the book and later contributed family letters and her own diaries to support her sister Caroline’s lawsuit, whose details were reported in The New York Post and Vanity Fair.

Caroline Nicholson said that Mr. Luce had repeatedly tried to rape her and that she had been invited into bed by her mother and Mr. Luce. The case was dismissed in 2004 when the judge ruled that New York’s 30-year statute of limitations for the complaint had expired. Faith Nicholson said that Mrs. Hadley had attempted to assault her sexually and had intentionally inflicted emotional distress.

As charges and countercharges flew back and forth, Mrs. Hadley revealed, in her deposition, that she had been pursued ardently by Marlon Brando when he was performing on Broadway in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and had had a passionate affair with the cartoonist Charles Addams.

Matthew Eliott (who changed his last name in the 1970s) conceded that his mother was mentally troubled but challenged his sisters’ version of events, which painted a picture of their mother as a narcissist obsessed with money, social connections and her weight.

During the turmoil Mrs. Hadley produced a serene book, “A Garden by the Sea” (2005), about the pleasures of tending marigolds and irises on Fishers Island.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Joshua Foust on What's Gone Wrong In Afghanistan

Another perspective, from
“You know what, though?” He said, his voice rising a bit. “People die in war. It sucks, but it has to happen to get things done.” I was a bit taken aback. Even though I’ve spent years in military contracting, I’m not used to hearing people talk like this. He was right—basic tenets of counterinsurgency, like what I call “the lie of force protection” (i.e. force protection makes you less safe), actually do put people at risk and make them more likely to die. Effective counterinsurgency is a dangerous business. But then the LTC dropped a bombshell that got me to thinking.

“No one has ever gotten a 15-6 for losing a village in Afghanistan,” he said. “But if he loses a soldier defending that village from the Taliban, he gets investigated.”

As soon as he said it, we both paused for a second and looked at each other.

“I think you just explained why we’re losing,” I said, meaning every word. As of late, I’ve been fighting this nagging feeling that, from command on down, there is no concerted desire to accomplish the mission, just a desire to finish one’s tour and head home and screw whoever has to pick up the pieces later.

After another pause, he looked at me and said, his mouth twisting ever so slightly, “You know, I think you’re right.”

We didn’t say much for the rest of dinner.

Holland v. UK War of Words Over Free Speech Rights

Britain's ban and deportation of Netherlands MP Geert Wilders, on his way to the House of Lords, has led Holland to call for anti-British sanctions in the EU according to The Telegraph:
The matter could be raised as soon as next week at the European Parliament.

Thijs Berman, a Dutch EU Socialist Parliamentarian, said he will discuss the case during Tuesday's socialist EU Parliamentarians meeting in Brussels.

He said he was keen to obtain an "official rebuke" to Britain because the country had made a "totally wrong decision" by banning Mr Wilders.

He said: "We fought four wars against Britain and Mr Wilder's case will certainly not bring us to starting another one, but Freedom of Speech must be defended..."
BTW, I have not seen many other public references to wars between Britain and Holland in recent times. As a New York City native, I am of course aware of my native city was formerly Nieuw Amsterdam.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Philip Johnston: UK Abandons Freedom of Speech

From The Telegraph:
The arrest and possible prosecution of Rowan Laxton, a Foreign Office diplomat, for railing at the Israeli invasion of Gaza from his exercise bike in the gym, is the latest example of an equally sinister development – the denunciation of opinions expressed in private, as with Carol Thatcher's "golliwog" comments. Free speech is about understanding that some people hold a different view from you, whether you like it or not. When we start to alert the "authorities" to thought crimes we really are one step away from the dystopian world that Orwell invented as a warning, not a prophecy.

The Government that has treated our liberties in such a cavalier way is having none of this, of course. David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said the film made by Wilders was "full of hate" and therefore fell foul of British laws, though he admitted that he had not seen it and therefore could not judge. But, in any case, is he right? Is it against the law?

People have always been free under the criminal law to speak their minds, provided they did not, in doing so, incite others to commit violence or infringe public order. Rabble-rousers trying to whip up the mob have never been the beneficiaries of this latitude: there is, in other words, a difference between license and liberty. However, it is necessary to demonstrate that the words complained of are likely to stir up hatred and public disorder, not merely to complain that they are unpleasant or objectionable to some. Imams have been allowed to continue preaching in mosques when it could be argued that they have overstepped this mark, as when they have called for the death of homosexuals or Jews.

Wilders is no advertisement for free speech. After all, he wants the Koran to be banned. But that is not the point. It is what this affair says about us, not him, that matters. Is Britain now adopting a position where people who support suicide bombers and jihad are able to make known their opinions without legal challenge, whereas those who oppose them cannot?

The very people who in 1989 were demanding the murder of Salman Rushdie for writing a book are today leading the charge against a Dutch MP for making a film. The fundamental difference is that 20 years ago, the government supported free speech; today, it has cravenly surrendered. It is simply not good enough to say that Wilders should not be heard because he might provoke a backlash from those who do not like him or his views. That is not upholding the law. That is appeasement.

Águas de Março

Unable to get the catchy tune out of my head after watching the (unauthorized?) Trader Joe's ad posted earlier, by spinning a whole bunch of Euro-Pop LPs purchased at Rizzolis in the last century, someone I know identified the soundtrack on an old LP we used to listen to some 30 years ago in our Upper West Side aerie in New York City-- Frutta & Verdura, on which Mina she sang it as "La pioggia di marzo." As "Águas de Março" (Waters of March), the song had been recorded in 1974 by its composer Antonio Carlos Jobim and Elis Regina...who can be heard singing it on this YouTube video...

Mina also sings it on YouTube, here:

And here it is in a 1985 Coca-Cola ad:

White House Blogs Lincoln's Birthday

The Great Emancipator would have been 200 years old today, and President Obama is marking the occasion in several ways. This morning he spoke at the Lincoln bicentennial celebration on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and tonight he’ll address the 102nd Abraham Lincoln Association Annual Banquet Dinner.

Last night he appeared at the Re-Opening of Ford’s Theatre, the site of the April 14, 1865, assassination of President Lincoln. Big names like Katie Couric, James Earl Jones, and Jeffrey Wright, appeared, and there performances by the President’s Own Marine Band, violinist Joshua Bell, and Audra McDonald, among others.

The 44th President commended the 16th’s many accomplishments, but made particular note of his commitment to the future, even amid the upheaval of the Civil War.

"When President Lincoln was finally told of all the metal being used at the Capitol, his response was short and clear: That is as it should be," President Obama said in his remarks. "The American people needed to be reminded, he believed, that even in a time of war, the work would go on; that even when the nation itself was in doubt, the future was being secured; and that on that distant day when the guns fell silent, a national capitol would stand, with a statue of freedom at its peak, as a symbol of unity in the land still mending its divisions."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Frederick Douglass!

Just got back from a terrific visit to the Frederick Douglass house in Washington, DC. They are having a birthday party for the first African-American to have his name placed in nomination for the Presidency of the United States (at the Republican Convention of 1888), publisher of the Northern Star, and author of "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave" (1845) on Saturday, February 14th:
Frederick Douglass Birthday Celebration
Date: February 14, 2009
Time: 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM

Celebrate the birth of famed orator, activist and author, Frederick Douglass at Cedar Hill in Historic Anacostia, Washington, D.C. The day`s events begin with an opening ceremony followed by a lecture on the Freedman`s Bank and Freedman`s Bureau by Reginald Washington, an historian from the National Archives and a talk on Douglass by "Giants" author Dr. John Stuaffer. In addition, there will be special house tours, music, children`s activities and a guest appearance by Douglass himself, played by actor Kevin McIlvaine. Refreshments and books will be available for sale on-site.

No on-site parking will be available for this event.
If President Obama isn't too busy, maybe he'd drop by?

More on Frederick Douglas at the Library of Congress website.

An (unauthorized?) Trader Joe's Ad

(ht Althouse) "Unauthorized commercial for Trader Joe's shot on my Palm Treo before I accidentally ran over it with my car. Please watch in high quality. See more spots at"

President Obama's Press Conference

I heard the first part of the Presidential press conference on the radio driving home from work, watched the rest of the Q & A on TV, first PBS, then NBC because the PBS picture was too small and squeezed for my non-HDTV. Overall, a double rather than a home-run. But he did get on base, not bad.

Some initial thoughts:

1. As someone I know pointed out, Obama needs to take some Alexander Technique classes or find a good Drama coach, asap. He can talk the talk, but he can't walk the walk. Literally, his stroll to and from the podium in Ronald Reagan's corridor didn't come across too well. He needs to hold himself erect and stride purposefully, rather than just bopping along. One's posture reflects a great deal, when President it reflects the National Posture towards whatever. Before his next press conference, he really needs to work on his walk. in the meantime, and until he gets it right, it might be a good idea to use a different briefing room where he doesn't have to stride to and from the podium.

2. He showed some flashes of anger and resolve, which was nice to see, but it didn't seem as focused and controlled as it might be. What is the precise target of his emotions? That was unclear.

3. He didn't seem to be particularly well-briefed. A question about showing the arrival of war dead on TV seemed to take him by surprise, as did a question (pretty clearly intended as a friendly one) about steroids in baseball. He needs better staff work, and better answers worked out in advance. He should have been able make a decision on the air, to answer something like: "Yes, I will allow cameras to show the arrival of Americans who have died in the service of their country. There is nothing shameful about it. I join all Americans in saluting the fallen."

4. The stimulus message is still not clear. He said that he didn't pick $800 million "out of a hat," which immediately suggested (at least to me) that he did. The number is too close to the number of the TARP bailout not to look like a deal--$800 million for the banks, $800 million for the working stiffs. The rationale to do anything and worry about it later simply didn't compute. Better to know where you are going. We've just spent trillions of dollars under Bush and have little to show for it--other than defeat staring us in the face around the world and a collapsed economy. As someone I know suggested, he might "recalculate" his strategy and divide his bills into specific purpose-driven proposals: a health care bill, a highway bill, a jobs bill, and education bill, and so forth. Panic and hysterical threats of catastrophe were the Bush administration M.O. Americans voted for change. Even if he gets this through without Republican support, it looks like a setback--because he promised bipartisanship. His off-the-cuff remark about a different negotiation strategy vis-a-vis the Republican leadership at least shows he's thinking about this problem. Perhaps he should take out all the tax cuts in conference, if he's going to pass the bill without Republican support, just to show them who's boss?

5. The press was being tough, but fair. My guess is to show they don't work for him, and also to answer the challenge Obama laid down when he complained that Washingtonians were wimps because they wanted to take the day off when it snowed, unlike Chicagoans. There was a lot of grousing about that, in my opinion, perfectly honest remark. A friend told me that it is a mistake to upset the permanent bureaucracy in DC, that Carter suffered because he eliminated free parking. A suggestion to make nice from someone I know: Obama could announce the he will issue an executive order to make Lincoln's Birthday and Washington's Birthday federal holidays once more (in an economic slowdown, people don't have to work as hard). That's two paid vacation days instead of President's Day. He could announce it on February 12th, paying tribute to Lincoln, making a statement about himself and where he plans to take the country. And giving a make-up gift to disgruntled Washingtonians and civil servants at the same time..

6. Finally, the rhetoric about looking forward and not looking backward sounds too much like Bush. How do we know where we are going if we don't look back to see if we are on the right track? And if our navigators are no good, they need to be replaced. In a way, the stimulus package is suffering because Geithner was connected with the last bailout bill. A different Treasury secretary might have more "oomph." Obama was begging for people to pay attention to Geithner--bad. People should want to know what Geithner has to say on his own. IMHO, we have a crisis of confidence in leadership at all levels: financial, political, and military. There probably needs to be a serious house-cleaning, and yes, heads must roll and some people from Wall Street must go to jail to set an example. The sooner Obama accepts this and takes care of it, the better off he will be. Ronald Reagan's most important move was to fire striking air traffic controllers--who had endorsed him. Obama needs to do something similar to show he's his own man.

7. He should try to announce something completely new at a press conference, to move the ball forward and show he's controlling the agenda rather than that events are controlling him.

8. He should not have abruptly ended with: "All right. Thank you, guys," and then walked away. It looked like he couldn't stand the heat, so got out of the kitchen. He would to better use the conventional format of a friendly reporter asking, as the last question: "Thank you, Mr. President."

In conclusion, Obama needs to grow into the job. Given his growth as a candidate, there is no reason to doubt that "yes, he can" improve his performance in televised press conferences...

Monday, February 09, 2009

Well, At Least Now We Know What The British Foreign Office Really Thinks...

From The Daily Mail (ht LGF):
A high-ranking diplomat at the Foreign Office has been arrested after allegations that he launched a foul-mouthed anti-Semitic tirade.

Middle East expert Rowan Laxton, 47, was watching TV reports of the Israeli attack on Gaza as he used an exercise bike in a gym. Stunned staff and gym members allegedly heard him shout: 'F**king Israelis, f**king Jews'. It is alleged he also said Israeli soldiers should be 'wiped off the face of the earth'.

His rant reportedly continued even after he was approached by other gym users.

After a complaint was made to police, Mr Laxton was arrested for inciting religious hatred through threatening words and behaviour and bailed until late next month.

The maximum penalty for inciting religious hatred is a seven-year prison term or a fine or both.

Mr Laxton, who is still working normally, is head of the South Asia Group at the Foreign Office, on a salary of around £70,000.
Times of London story, here.

And Melanie Phillips links the story to the premier of Caryl Churchill's new play at the Royal Court Theatre.

Mark H. Teeter: How to "Reset" Russian-American Relations

From the Moscow Times:
Just who should "press the reset button," as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden aptly put in Munich on Saturday? Here are a half-dozen Americans, the tip of a modest iceberg, who spent significant time in the 1970s as either U.S.-subsidized exchange students at Soviet universities or USIA exhibit guides -- or both -- and have stayed conversant with things Russian ever since: Harley Balzer, professor of Russian studies at Georgetown; Blair Ruble, director of Washington's Kennan Institute; Laura Kennedy, deputy commandant and international affairs adviser at the National War College; Thomas Robertson, former Russia director at the National Security Council and ambassador to Slovenia; Rose Gottemoeller, previous director of the Carnegie Moscow Center; and John Beyrle, U.S. ambassador to Russia.

This group's expertise was developed first in U.S. schools and then in Russia's school of hard knocks, before perestroika. The resulting specialists are neither emigres nor ideologues, and their book-learning plus in-country tenure and honest-broker mentality distinguish them from less well-rounded peers. They represent a unique generation of new "old Russia hands" who bring with them more experience than baggage -- and understand the difference.

The extent to which the Obama administration takes their advice and uses their skills may dictate how much the U.S.-Russian relationship improves on multiple fronts. Or doesn't.

Even before Munich, things were warming up in several areas. Gottemoeller, a former Rand Corporation analyst, was named point person for breaking the U.S.-Russian nuclear negotiations logjam. Muscovites who have seen her in action call the appointment a boon to both sides. Beyrle, moreover, went on Vladimir Pozner's national television program recently and inspired myriad viewers to reconsider the United States and U.S. intentions. One veteran of Russia's "surveillance organs" wrote that he "listened to [Beyrle] for a few minutes and came to believe an entire country." Now that's "your tax dollars at work."
BTW, Beyrle was number two at the US Embassy when I taught in Moscow, not only did he seem smart but the Russian press lionized his father, Joseph Beyrle--"the American Comrade" who fought in both the US Army and the Soviet Army against the Nazis during World War II....

Friday, February 06, 2009

Your Bailout Tax Dollars At Work...

From today's Huffington Post:
Wall street lawyers, investment bankers, CEOs and media executives often used corporate credit cards to pay for $2,000 an hour prostitutes, according to the madam who ran one of New York's biggest and most expensive escort services until it was busted last year.

But prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney's office chose not to pursue any of the corporate titans, says Kristin Davis, who pleaded guilty last year to charges of running a prostitution business that used more than a hundred women...

"Some of these guys, I was invoicing on corporate credit cards," she said. "I was writing up monthly bills for computer consulting, construction expenses, all of these things, I was invoicing them monthly so they could get it by their accountants," Davis said.

Raccoons Invade White House!

The other night a raccoon opened the window on our third-floor bathroom to get out of the cold night weather--"thud." When I went up, the intruder scampered out, leaving an open window that he had managed to unlatch. The next day, I took myself to Strossnider's Hardware to buy a couple of sliding hook latches that were supposedly more raccoon resistant (can't say "proof" with raccoons).

So, it was reassuring to read in this morning's paper that the White House is facing its own version of our problem. Today's paper failed to note that it is against the law to kill a raccoon, which means that each time a trapper relocates a critter to Rock Creek Park for a fee of a couple of hundred bucks, the animal just needs to wander back to generate another service call, and another fee. Our friends from Chicago told us that when a neighbor of his once found a family of raccoons living in the attic, he killed them all with a baseball bat...another difference between Chicagoans and Washingtonians:
President Obama mocked the Washington area's Defcon 1 response to a few snowflakes last week. Let's see how the flinty Chicagoan does with the latest living-in-Washington challenge: critters.

With permission from the Secret Service, the National Park Service has been in hot pursuit of a pack of raccoons spotted roaming the manicured grounds near the White House, a spokesman said.

Masked bandits scurrying through Washington aren't news to the seasoned trappers who have made a handsome living relocating varmints from attics, crawl spaces and chimneys in homes.

"One time, in an apartment complex, I got called to look into something going up a crawl-space vent," said Karl Kaifes, who has been catching small beasts for 40 years. "I trapped two or three raccoons, a possum, a skunk and five cats. That's city living."

There is a joke at every turn here, and bipartisan humor abounds.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Live, from London:

I used to own this domain name, but unfortunately never was able to come up the financing to go with it in order to set up my own alternative to PBS--so a few months ago I sold it to a British entrepreneur who found me through an agent living a couple of blocks away, who had located me through a WHOIS search.


A phone call yesterday called attention to the fact that is now on the air, webcasting La Boheme from the English National Opera, among other things...(you'll need Microsoft Silverlight to watch, btw).

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Pancreatic Cancer

Not good news. Having just lost the aunt of someone I know, and not so long ago having lost an old friend, all I can say is that my thoughts and prayers are with the Ginsburg family. The only silver lining I can think of is that this may finally persuade Congress to pass the Pancreatic Cancer Research & Education Act (HR 745) and direct more funding to Pancreatic Cancer research. You can find out more about the disease at the PanCan website, here.

End Bergson Ban, Rabbis Petition Yad Vashem

According to the Jerusalem Post (ht Wyman Institute), some four hundred rabbis have asked Yad Vashem to include Peter Bergson (aka Hillel Kook) in exhibits devoted to rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust. Until now, mention of Bergson--protagonist of my film Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die--has been banned.
In a rare display of Jewish unity, more than 400 rabbis from every major stream of Judaism have signed a petition urging Yad Vashem to include a display about a World War II rescue organization known as the Bergson Group.

The rabbis' appeal to add information about the Bergson Group to Jerusalem's Holocaust museum came months after Yad Vashem rebuffed earlier requests to do so by a group of Holocaust scholars as well as by a cross-section of political and cultural figures.

The Bergson Group was a maverick activist group in the US in the 1940s that sought to raise public awareness of the Holocaust and campaigned for US action to save European Jews.

American Jewish leaders at the time viewed the organization - led by Hillel Kook, a nephew of Israel's first chief rabbi, who worked under the alias "Peter Bergson" - as too direct in its criticism of the Roosevelt administration's failure to rescue Jewish refugees. The group actively campaigned to save the doomed Jews of Europe through theatrical pageants, lobbying on Capitol Hill, newspapers advertisements and organizing a march in Washington by 400 Rabbis, which was the only rally for rescue held in the nation's capital during the Holocaust.

The Bergson Group is credited with helping to persuade Roosevelt in 1944 to establish the War Refugee Board, which ultimately saved 200,000 Jewish lives. For decades after the war, information about the Bergson Group was routinely left out of textbooks, encyclopedias, and museums, but in recent years most Jewish leaders and Holocaust scholars have come to recognize the group's crucial contribution to the infamously belated rescue effort.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Arianna: Make Wall Street Pay

From today's Huffington Post:
Capping executive pay at companies that are being bailed out is a good step. But Obama and Geithner can't stop there.

As Niall Ferguson writes on HuffPost: "Existing shareholders will have to face that they have lost their money. Too bad; they should have kept a more vigilant eye on the people running their banks... Financial history is, after all, an evolutionary process. When old banks die, new banks swiftly take their place."

That's called capitalism, Mark. I missed the chapter in Adam Smith -- or Ayn Rand for that matter -- where it says that equity holders in insolvent banks need to be paid taxpayer-funded dividends. Did you say "clueless"?

Capitalism comes with great rewards -- and commensurate risks.

Allowing stockholders to reap the benefits during the good times... and to keep reaping them in the very bad times -- at taxpayers' expense -- isn't capitalism. It's lunacy. And only people like Mark Haines, their vision limited by Wall Street blinders, can utter the nonsense he uttered this morning.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Protester Throws Shoe at Chinese Premier in Cambridge, England

The shoe-thrower was arrested by British police...

What I Saw at the Inauguration...

A friend emailed me to ask what I saw at the Inauguration.

We were waaaay in the back, behind the Washington Monument, so mostly saw the crowd. The ceremony was on a Jumbotron, but it wasn't very close, either. The sound went in and out, as the wind shifted, the loudspeakers were more like softspeakers. So we missed almost everything, including the Chief Justice's botched Oath of Office. But, on the other hand, we were there, with the crowd. It was a very nice, happy crowd. Some people, especially it seemed older African-American women, had tears running down their cheeks. The crowd was about 1/2 black and 1/2 white. Everyone was smiling and very friendly. Despite the obstacles placed by Department of Homeland Stupidity crowd control--concrete barriers in the middle of where the crowd needed to walk, cyclone fencing where the crowd needed to exit--people took it all in good humor...storming the barricades where necessary, but without any apparent irritation.

We saw the puffs of smoke from the 21-gun salute in the distance, which was exciting. Otherwise, just looked at the Capitol dome, and said, that's where it is happening.

While the new President had his lunch, we went to the National Press Club to get out of the cold (our friends were from Chicago, so we were warmly dressed in long johns, double wool socks, Thinsulate (R) hats, etc. which was fine at 19 degrees. The Press Club bar was packed, and they had installed new flat-screen TVs for the occasion, so we watched the coverage on a number of channels. It was a shock when Senator Kennedy collapsed, luckily he didn't die. When the parade started, we craned and peeked at an angle through the window towards Pennsylvania avenue, where we couldn't see very much, but did see all the security and the crowd. When Obama approached 14th street, I went downstairs with one of my Chicago friends, but we couldn't get near because of the riot fences and barriers.

We saw the top of Rosa Parks's bus, and heard some cheers as the President walked (or rode?) by--like a scene in a Fellini film. After Obama passed, things got easier. The barriers opened up, and the Cook County Sheriff's Police detailed to our street let everyone watch the Inaugural Parade.

The parade was the best part! It looked just like 19th-century engravings. There were American Indian chiefs wearing headdresses, carrying tomahawks, dressed in leggings, riding Palomino ponies. There was the Navy Band, the Marine Corps Band, a whole lot of high school and college bands from every state. There were Medal of Honor winners riding in carriages. There were baton-twirlers, and drummers, and floats from different states. We left as it grew dark, but the parade went on and on and on. A memory for a lifetime.

The night before the inauguration, we had attended (thanks to our Chicago friends) the "Big Shoulders Ball" (unofficial) at the Black Cat Nightclub, organized by and for Chicagoans from "The Hideout"--a Chicago nightspot. Lots of different acts, all from Chicago. Our favorite: Honeyboy Edwards, a 93-year old blues singer who told me he still tours to some 75 cities a year. Crowd was 30-ish, not too young, not too different from college rathskeller crowds of our youth. The times, they are NOT least not yet.

Following the inauguration, we went to two unofficial balls. One at the Louise-Dickson-Hurt home for the aged, where the district residents seemed happy. The other at the Bethesda Unitarian meeting house, a really big congregation, dancing the night away (I didn't know Unitarians danced) until the close--which featured the choir singing "America the Beautiful"...all the stanzas. It was very moving, being with descendants of Abolitionists from Boston at this moment. These words of Katherine Lee Bates' poem seemed particularly apt:

America! America!
God mend thy ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

O beautiful for heroes prov'd
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life.

America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine...