Tuesday, January 31, 2006


There was a very good TV piece on CBS Good Morning’s show that showcased billionaire scion Kurt Timken, the fifth-generation heir who quit his job at the eponymous Timken Corp a few years ago to become a policeman on a beat.

I googled Kurt Timken and found him on an Oprah site. His story is compelling in that with a Harvard MBA and after years working for Timken and Rockwell International, he stopped climbing the pre-ordained corporate ladder and made a decision to enter law enforcement.

The FBI turned him down as being overqualified [and perhaps because he is lacking a law degree] and other police agencies followed suit.

Eventually, a widely-admired police department in El Monte, CA accepted him and he began to earn his stripes.

Now, years later, Timken has logged enough hours and gotten involved in anti-gang police operations to the point that he got his family to finance an tattooing clinic where provocative gang tattoos are lasered off to help rehab gangsta types wanting to turn around their lives.

Timken is becoming an expert in the gang underworld which I commented in a post yesterday is fast becoming a sort of haven for cultural dissidents and could eventually produce suicide-bombers, if the precedent of worst-case nightmares coming true continues to be operational.

I suspect that a fellow with Timken’s obvious dedication and smarts might eventually consider a political career, if he wants to broaden his effect on the seedy underworld culture he has become an expert at combating.

It happens that his father is now U.S. Ambassador to Germany and an Austrian expatriate is now Governor of the state where Timken is employed.

Arnold might consider Timken for an appointment to a senior law enforcement position in the state prison and rehabilitation system, which appears to be stuck on stupid, if several TV documentaries I’ve recently watched are anywhere near being accurate.

In any event, if more heirs were like Timken and less like the Hiltons, the USA would be a much better place.


Foreign Policy On-line has an interesting little entry from David Rothkopf’s Davos Diary:

"An old Davos hand with whom I had breakfast pronounced the theme of this year’s meeting to be Europe’s growing irrelevance. I mentioned this to a former senior Bush Administration official and his response, “That’s a comment only a European would make, because only a European would even care. The only people more irrelevant than Europeans are Canadians."

"But the old Davos hand had a point. The steady drumbeat of events at this meeting underscored the growing sense that Europe is behind the power curve and falling further and further back. It’s not just that the theme of this year’s Davos has ostensibly centered on China and India.. Nor is it just that the Chinese hardly bothered to attend which sends a strong message about just how important they think this “institution” is to their prospects for future growth. (Certainly they view the announcement of a WEF representative office in China more as a sign that the WEF needs them rather than the other way around.) The mournful tolling for Europe could be heard in countless ways throughout the event. It could be heard in the warnings German Chancellor Angela Merkel got in her side meetings about her country becoming too dependent on Russian oil. It could be seen in the cover story of Time Magazine that depicted a Germany divided not by a wall but by economic and social divisions. It could be heard in the comments of a French minister that Europe’s lack of growth for the past decade has been unacceptable. It could be seen in the cancellation of the session scheduled for this afternoon called “Does Europe Have a Foreign Policy?” It was a rhetorical question obviously. It doesn’t. But worse, no one seemed to care. (Though there was some unease expressed by Iran experts with whom I spoke about Europe’s lack of resolve and reports Merkel said she does not want to confront the Iranians...that she would rather “engage” them.)"

"Perhaps in the most practically resonant way it has been seen in the mini-drama that has taken place in and around the WTO related discussions between the EU’s Peter Mandelson, the U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman and others over trying to break the impasse over agricultural subsidies that is currently stagnating progress on the Doha Round of global trade negotiations. You would think that the fact that the EU position was what the pivot point of the round was a sign of the continent’s relevance. Rather, their intransigence on the issue, their clinging to a Common Agricultural Policy that is widely regarded as among the most protectionist trade measures in force anywhere in the world, is really a sign of the desire among powerful political groups in Europe (such as farmers) to cling to an artificially competition-light past that is unsustainable and also a sign that the EU’s Brussels leaders are unable to act over the opposition of strong members such as France. The French, of course, can’t embrace or even seriously consider real near term reform because a move in that direction would have their farmers in the streets while the memory of the rioting of frustrated immigrants in the Paris suburbs was still redolent. So the world waits, frustrated at the inability of the leading voice for community and fair play (the EU stance when they thought it leveled the playing field between them and the dominant U.S.) now adopts a stance that is very much akin to "the rest of the world be damned." And of course, they complain that it is the rest of the world that is being unreasonable."

"In the end, a key problem for Europe is that even were they willing to act on critical issues like Iran (where their stance has been anything but helpful) is that they have in their structure traded flexibility and speed for union (and its unwieldy nature). Whether they learn and adapt will ultimately determine whether they can regain relevance globally...and as a distant corollary of tertiary significance at best, whether the World Economic Forum can be hosted year after year in the Swiss Alps when the economic center of gravity of the planet is moving ever more rapidly eastward."

As if to prove the point about metaphorical gravitional shifts, in the French case, it is southward in almost every respect. The FT has the following story on its front page Jan 31st:

France would remember the "indelible stain" of slavery in a national day of commemoration on May 10, Jacques Chirac said on Monday. The anniversary will be the first of its kind in Europe.

The preternaturally flatulent Chirac really surpassed the Guinness world-mark gasbag records he has amassed in the past with the following emission:

The president described the date, which marks the day in 2001 that the French senate passed a law recognising slavery as a crime against humanity, as a chance to "show the way" to other countries by exhibiting France’s "glory and strength".

This terminal case of political fatuity and cowardice should "show the way" and exhibit "glory and strength" by letting go of the Common Agricultural Policy threatening to ruin the Doha Round, but that won’t happen.

"The grandeur of a country is to assume all its history. With its glorious pages but also its more shady parts," said Mr Chirac in a speech designed to cool the racial tensions caused by last year’s riots and defuse a bitter debate over French colonial history.
He promised to fight modern forms of slavery by allowing companies that knowingly used forced labour in any country to be prosecuted in France. He also proposed a European or international initiative to force companies to respect basic worker rights in poorer countries.
Slavery is a thorny issue for many rich countries. African states and African-American groups in the US have long pushed for a formal apology. Although George W.?Bush, US president, during a 2003 visit to Senegal, called slavery "one of the greatest crimes of history" he stopped short of apologising.
Tony Blair, UK prime minister, has promised a memorial day next year commemorating the bi-centenary of the abolition of the slave trade in British colonies on 25 March 1807, as demanded by the New Nation newspaper and Anti-Slavery International, the London-based pressure group. Slavery was not fully abolished in the British empire until 1834.
Mr Chirac recalled France’s role in banning slavery – it ended in 1794, was re-introduced by Napoleon in 1802 and outlawed for good in 1848 – declaring: "The [French] Republic can be proud of the battles it has won against this ignominy"

Christiane Taubira, the Guyanese MP behind the 2001 law, said she was happy May 10 would become a symbolic date. But she called for the anniversary to be made “an essential event” that would write itself "into the French memory". Not everyone in France welcomed the move. Historians are upset about the government’s repeated attempts to dictate how history should be taught in schools.

The "French memory" is very selective, of course and recent history demonstrates French selectivity in choosing its battles. It's a safe bet we won't see China dragged into French courts because of its well-documented forced-labor factories.

Monday, January 30, 2006


Michelle Malkin has an apt reprise of Ted Kennedy's performance in his latest exhibition of losing gracelessly.

But she and other members of the conservative commentariat have not thanked enough the aging 34-year veteran of the Senate from Massachusetts for almost single-handedly driven the Democratic Party into minority status. His decades-long string of personal indiscretions and political mistakes have made a singular contribution to the downfall and, with the loss of the last bastion of liberal obstructionism in the SCOTUS, the complete ruin of his party.

The decision to run against a sitting Democratic president in 1980 coupled with his chronic drunkenness to destroy lives and, with the election of Reagan, eventually maim an entire political party.

Kennedy's misfortunes might steel the backbone of a person of stronger character, but ever since his schooldays, Edward Moore Kennedy has demonstrated that character and integrity are not his strong suits. He paid a student to take an exam for him at Harvard, drove off a bridge and left a drowning girl in his car to die, and finally flunked his examination in front of the U.S. Senate to become the Majority Leader. His colleagues knew him better than his constituents, and the Democrats selected another leader to lead them back to the White House.

Today was symbolic of this chronic failure's fecklessness. Rather than cede gracefully to reality, Kennedy tilted at one more windmill in his wandering about the political landscape. His inability to explain to Roger Mudd in 1980 even rudimentarily why he was running against a Democratic incumbent amply demonstrated that his alcoholic habits made him damaged goods in a national election.

As paterfamilias of the Kennedy clan, his lack of discipline and ridiculous personal habits gave his brothers' children opportunities to slack off and become largely a brood of pampered failures when they did not succumb to drugs and alcohol.

But an entire generation of Democrats should remember that this is the man who damaged Jimmy Carter enough to make Ronald Reagan possible. At his interrment, his epitaph should reflect his disregard for common sense and the values that his parents failed to instill in him. Something like "If hell exists, I deserve to be there."


Kausfiles stimulated this blogpost with his ironically entitled "Worst Beltway incest yet?" piece which linked Fannie Mae and James A. Johnson to pretty obvious Washington corruption, conflict of interest, and special pleading.

Well, sort of. Actually the title referred to pauper Tim Russert and his son who got a job in the media! But Mickey Kaus unintentionally put his finger on the biggest heist being perpetrated by the traditional purveyors of special interest goodies to big labor and giga-power mega-rich fat-cat Democrats like Sens. Mark Dayton and Jay Rockefeller.

Is there a conflict of interest between Wal-mart and the Democratic Party, as represented perhaps by its cats-paw Target?

Wal-mart's being targeted by Target Corporation allied with big labor is probably the brainstorm of long-time Target board member James A. Johnson and trusty sidekick Richard Holbrooke, who have long records of yeoman service to the cause of the Democratic Party and the enrichment of the wealthy do-gooders populating the summit of that not-so-grand, but very old party.

Matthew Cooper, now a Time correspondent recently involved in the Judy Miller imbroglio concerning First Amendment issues, wrote presciently in 1997 about Johnson’s burgeoning power inside the Beltway.

Preserving its government subsidy is Fannie Mae's central mission, which helps to explain why a fellow like Jim Johnson is the CEO of this $325 billion company. Johnson has only a modest business background. A Minnesota native, he was a longtime aide to Walter Mondale, the senator and later vice president. When Mondale lost the vice presidency in 1980, Johnson and Richard Holbrooke, the diplomat, founded Public Strategies, a Washington consulting firm that gave advice to business clients. Later he performed similar services for Shearson Lehman. When Mondale ran for president in 1984, Johnson was the chairman of his campaign. Maxine Isaacs, who later became his wife, was the campaign's press secretary. Considered likable and charming, Johnson and Isaacs were, in a small way, the Carville and Matalin of that period: the hot political couple. Johnson joined Fannie Mae in 1990 and became its chairman a year later.

Left unsaid in Cooper’s piece was Johnson’s stint with Target before he got the Fannie Mae job. Target, of course, is owned by the family of Sen. Mark Dayton, Minnesota Senator for the Democratic Farmer/Labor Party and brother-in-law to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Democratic Senator for West Virginia. Who, as his name indicates, is also independently wealthy, but could always use more.

Target was founded in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1902. It is the sixth largest retailer in the United States behind Wal-Mart, The Home Depot, Kroger, Sears Holdings Corporation, and Costco, and is ranked 27th on the2005 Fortune 500. It sells more gift cards than any other retailer in the United States and is also the third-largest seller of music in the United States.

According to one Wal-mart critic:

Target allegedly engages in many practices that rival Wal-Mart faces criticism for engaging in; however, because of Target's smaller size in comparison to Wal-Mart, Target often escapes criticism. In addition, many people may overlook Target's practices because of its successful marketing to differentiate itself as being more upscale. Some questionable practices, like Wal-Mart, that Target allegedly engages in include: low hourly wages (lack of living wage), opposition to labor unions, and its contribution to urban sprawl Liza Featherstone, author of Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers' Rights at Wal-Mart, stated in an interview, "Aesthetically, we all like Target better, but their wages are in many places low or just as low, and they all represent the Wal-Martization of our economy, which is the exchange of low prices for poor work conditions.

Who controls "aesthetics" in the American marketplace? Not Walmart.

There are other reasons to suspect Target’s malign influence in the culture war against Wal-mart. Target conspicuously banned the Christian Salvation Army, from its stores last Christmas. Wal-mart in turn gave millions of dollars in contributions to The Salvation Army. The secularists behind the war against Walmart are pulling out all stops, including marshalling a recent PBS Frontline which purports to show how Walmart is hurting the US economy.

It’s a pretty safe bet that strategic planners for a Democratic comeback like Richard Holbrooke and James A. Johnson, who incidentally is now head of the Brookings Institute and The Kennedy Center and one of the top Mandarins of the MSM, may have revisited their Shearson Lehman mode a while back and have mapped out a way to construct the architecture of a full-scale offensive against Walmart.

Who DOES control aesthetics, or at least the frontal lobes of the lobotomized useful idiots on the American left. Perhaps it’s the bellwether of the American ultra-left, the ideological leader of the blame-America crowd, the Nation. Even veteran of the ultra-left Christopher Hitchens found the Nation too hysterically rabid an environment in which to work.

After all, it's partly about money & power and partly about payback. The Nation pointed out the guideposts to follow:

According to the November 21, 2005 issue of The Nation, recently both the Arkansas-based company and the
Walton family
have elevated their charitable giving. To wit, Alice Walton donated $2.6 million to the Progress for America PAC, which supported the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. From 1998 through 2003, the WFF contributed $25,000 to the Heritage Foundation, $15,000 to the Cato Institute, $125,000 to the Hudson Institute, $155,000 to the Goldwater Institute, $70,000 to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, $300,000 to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, $185,000 to the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, and $350,000 to the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.

Oops, the aesthetics of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth just doesn't fit into the Feng Shui of progressive mythologizing.

So perhaps we are looking at a case of payback for poor John Kerry’s miserable 2004 effort, pitting pit-bulls of the Democratic left such as Nancy Pelosi and Typhoid Mary-land Senator Barbara Mikulski as well as the hyper-rich Brahmins like Mark Dayton and Jay Rockefeller against Walmart.

As a straw man, the Mandarinate is employing the widely discredited---not even Target allows them---labor unions in a fool’s errand against Walmart in Maryland to begin with and who knows where to follow. The big-city MSM drumbeat continues to fault Walmart's "aesthetics."

Predictably, the courts will have the final say on whether a state can discriminate against an employer of an arbitrary number of employees. And soon, the SCOTUS may have one more member who is not ambiguous about issues which hurt the pocketbook of the American consumer.

SYRIANA STYLE DEAL in India and Saudi/Pak/Iran chess moves?

India has a new oil minister in a cabinet shake-up that Reuters reports:

The appointment of Deora was one of the biggest changes in a cabinet reshuffle announced by Singh on Sunday. The new minister took over from Mani Shankar Aiyar, who had sometimes been seen as at odds with the foreign ministry on issues such as pipelines to Iran.

The Financial Times expands in an offline article in its Monday morning paper:

Aiyar's dismissal removes a powerful supporter of the controversial Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project and his replacement by Mr Deora, a long-time Congress Party figure from Maharashtra and familiar figure in Washington, could signal a shift in focus.

"The U.S. Administration has opposed the Iran-Pak-India pipeline, preferring a route that sidelines Iran" says Petrowatch in Mumbai.

In a possibly related development, India and Saudi Arabia signed a comprehensive energy agreement over the weekend which could include alternative energy sources to the IPI pipeline that appears ready to be shelved.

Saudi Arabia accounts for a quarter of India’s crude oil imports and has said in the past that it was keen to enter the refining and retailing sector in India. India, which imports 70 percent of the oil it consumes, has signed a series of preliminary agreements, hoping to get help from foreign partners to win access to oil and gas fields abroad.

The new Indian oil minister Deora is from a business family in Mumbai and well-versed with the political and business complications of foreign downstream investments in the Indian private sector.

In countervailing [?] moves to US interests, India rebuffed US objections to its own investments upstream in Syria [hence the title of this piece] and promised to abstain on the IAEA vote on sanctions against Iran for its nuclear infractions.

The complexity of the Indian situation in South Asia is daunting, and another piece of the puzzle just made things more complicated with the unexpected victory of the

Hindu nationalist BJP party was set to take control of the key southern Indian state of Karnataka after the collapse over the weekend of the Congress-led government there. According to The Financial Times

The loss of Karnataka, whose capital is the high- technology hub of Bangalore, dealt a further serious blow to India's ruling Congress party, which was forced to hand power to the BJP in the northern state of Bihar in November.

Control of Karnataka would mark the first time the BJP has taken power in a southern state. Events there are likely to be closely watched since Bangalore accounts for some 65 per cent of the $17bn in annual revenues generated by India's IT and outsourcing industries.

The BJP won late last year in another important province, Bihar, and now PM Manomohan Singh must feel the warm breath of a competitor close on the heels of the ruling Congress Party.

The US Ambassador David Mulford was a former squash opponent of mine in Saudi Arabia and must be exercising his present energies to the full making sure India recognizes that in the long run, its best ally and friend in the region is the USA.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Woodruff victim of Vargas proximity?

I read the WashPost piece on the new ABC Evening News team by Howie Kurtz and reflected on the irony of the situation. David Westin’s idea of a team very engaged with following the hottest stories fit the legacy of Peter Jennings, but today’s world remains pock-marked with vicious situations like Iraq, Darfur, Chechnya, Afghanistan, even Lebanon where journalists are either wrong-place-wrong-time casualties or have crosshairs put on them by terrorist groups or intelligence agencies.

After speculating about Woodruff’s projected absence from the Evening News format, mediabistro puts forward a horrific scenario where Woodruff is mentally and talent-wise okay, but badly disfigured. The media watchers are already positing Gibson from Good Morning America as a stand-in for Woodruff while he recovers.

From KIA’s Michael Kelly of Atlantic Monthly and David Bloom to casualties like Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt to MIAs like Jill Carroll, the profession of Iraq reporter remains fraught with ironic danger. The insanity of all this violence might be addictive or contagious.

Just like the suicide-bombers might have migrated from the Hezbollah crazies in Lebanon of the '80s to frequent use elsewhere, we can foresee that IEDs are sooner or later predictably going to appear in bad neighborhoods in the USA to punish patrolling police. No-Go areas in US cities like LA are proliferating and narco-gangs are taking on the aura of indigenous insurgency movements, as the ascendancy of Evo Morales in Bolivia might portend.

And to end on a totally inappropriate aside on poor Vargas. Does she have some sort of a kiss-of-death curse dogging her footsteps?

First her singer-husband gets shot in the head late last year in Denver.

Then her co-anchor gets shrapnel in the head in Iraq.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Attacks by ultra-left blogs on the moderate middle of the Democratic Party are beginning to get the attention of the Washington Post, which is also drifting centerward according to the hyperbolic prose of the far-left fringe of the blogosphere.

Jim VanDeHei chronicles the most recent developments, including the 2008 candidate John Kerry’s capitulation to the most delirious blogs like Daily Kos, in his effort to woo the Howard Dean wingnuts as well as some Cindy Sheehan moonbats.

VanDeHei does not mention recent incandescent assaults on MSM stalwarts Chris Matthews and Tim Russert, who are part of NBC’s perceived penchant for moderation.

Here are some excerpts from VanDeHei’s fearful and respectful genuflection toward the leftist bloggers:

Democrats are getting an early glimpse of an intraparty rift that could complicate efforts to win back the White House: fiery liberals raising their voices on Web sites and in interest groups vs. elected officials trying to appeal to a much broader audience.

These activists -- spearheaded by battle-ready bloggers and making their influence felt through relentless e-mail campaigns -- have denounced what they regard as a flaccid Democratic response to the Supreme Court fight, President Bush's upcoming State of the Union address and the Iraq war. In every case, they have portrayed party leaders as gutless sellouts.

First, liberal Web logs went after Democrats for selecting Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to deliver the response to Bush's speech next Tuesday. Kaine's political sins: He was too willing to drape his candidacy in references to religion and too unwilling to speak out aggressively against Bush on the Iraq war. Kaine has been lauded by party officials for finding a victory formula in Bush country by running on faith, values and fiscal discipline.

Many Web commentators wanted Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), a leading critic of the Iraq war who advocates a speedy withdrawal, to be the opposition voice on the State of the Union night. Most Democratic lawmakers have distanced themselves from the Murtha position. "What the hell are they thinking?" was the title of liberal blogger Arianna Huffington's column blasting the Kaine selection.

"Blogs can take up a lot of time if you're on them," Kaine said to reporters Thursday. "You can get a lot done if you're not bitterly partisan."

The Virginia Democrat said he will not adjust his speech to placate the party's base. "I'm not anybody's mouthpiece or shill or poster boy for that matter. I'm going to say what I think needs to be said and they seem very comfortable with that."

But the ultra-left partisans have shifted their attempts to expand their zone of influence to the flatulent heart of slippery ambiguity, the gaseous left in the U.S. Senate:

Liberal activists seemed to have slightly more influence with their campaign to persuade Senate Democrats to filibuster the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr. Despite several polls showing that the public opposes the effort, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) on Thursday strongly advocated the filibuster plan -- and wrote about his choice on the Daily Kos, a Web site popular with liberals. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), a leading liberal and critic of the Iraq war, told reporters Kerry's viewpoint is not shared by most in a culturally conservative swing state such as West Virginia. Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) also opposes the filibuster.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is another frequent target of the Internet attacks. Code Pink, an antiwar women's group with a flashy Web site, plans to protest one of Clinton's weekend fundraisers and is using the Web site to rally people against the New York Democrat. The critics say Clinton has not challenged Bush aggressively enough on Iraq.

"The bloggers and online donors represent an important resource for the party, but they are not representative of the majority you need to win elections," said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic lobbyist who advised Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. "The trick will be to harness their energy and their money without looking like you are a captive of the activist left."

The blogs-vs.-establishment fight represents the latest version of a familiar Democratic dispute. It boils down to how much national candidates should compromise on what are considered core Democratic values -- such as abortion rights, gun control and opposition to conservative judges -- to win national elections.

Many Democrats say the only way to win nationally is for the party to become stronger on the economy and promote a centrist image on cultural values, as Kaine did in Virginia and as Bill Clinton did in two successful presidential campaigns.

The new twist in this debate is the Web, which in recent election cycles emerged as a powerful political force, one expected to figure even more prominently as more people get high-speed connections and turn to the Internet for news and commentary. Unlike the past, the "pressure is conveyed through a faster, better organized, more insistent medium," said Jim Jordan, a Democratic strategist.

VanDeHei draws an interesting historical analogy which might apply:
The closest historic parallel would be the talk-radio phenomenon of the early 1980s, when conservatives -- like liberals now -- felt powerless and certain they did not have a way to voice their views because the mainstream media and many of their own leaders considered them out of touch. Through talk radio, often aired in rural parts of the country on the AM dial, conservatives pushed the party to the right on social issues and tax cuts.

But this “parallel” limps in two respects. Liberal radio never did catch on, as Air America is the latest failed attempt demonstrates. There is an interesting discussion on how Conservatives have a double-barrel approach, with The Volokh Conspiracy making more or less the point that talk-radio and conservative bloggers work in tandem, whereas the liberal lack of a talk-radio arm confines it to narrowcasting on huge forums like Kos or HuffnPuff.

There are millions of conservative internet bloggers whose importance may be underrated by VanDeHei since their opposition to the WaPo is relatively muted compared to recent over-the-top assaults by leftist crazies, such as the meltdown over Ombudsman Deborah Howell.

VanDeHei may be tempering the wind to the hysterical ultra-left shorn lamb in this article, to avoid the flaming that left-wing arsonists are capable of or

Even if they disagree with their positions, Democratic candidates recognize from the Dean experience the power of the activists to raise money and infuse a campaign with their energy. On the flip side, the Alito and Kaine episodes serve as a cautionary tales of what can happen to politicians when they spurn the blogs.

"John Kerry is beginning to bring the traditional Democratic leadership in Washington together with the untraditional netroots activists of the country," James Boyce wrote on the Huffington Post. "A man often accused of being the ultimate Washington insider looked outside of the beltway and saw the concern, in fact, the distress among literally millions of online Democrats."

Other Democrats, Boyce wrote, "triangulated, fabricated, postulated and capitulated."

Of course, these other Democrats, such as perhaps Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, are probably going to win the 2008 nomination, and Kerry will most likely be out there with Al Gore chasing rainbows in the Shangri-La-La-Land of the far left.

Friday, January 27, 2006


There is a short article on the web from the New Republic [you have to subscribe, so I’m printing it in full] concerning the denial of the African Union chairmanship to Sudan after the summit this last week in Khartoum. It has been the invariable custom of the AU to grant the chair to the host country of its annual meeting.

But before the celebration gets out of control….. The following article indicates the downside to come next year, when Sudan gets the AU chair, but the article neglects to mention that Sudan will also host the Arab League shortly. The election of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority makes the AL meeting in Khartoum more ominous in that Sudan is not only ruled by a Sharia-based government, but has a conflict with the Christian/animist south of the country that is beginning to heat up again, as the article indicates.

I have read little commentary by the western press about the invisible 25% Christian minority after the election of an Islamist government in Palestine. I wonder if the western press will cover the resurrection of the Sudanese Islamists’ anti-Christian crusade in the country’s south? The article follows in full:

"The African Union made a noteworthy decision yesterday: For the first time in its brief history, the organization denied the AU chairmanship to the government hosting its annual summit--in this case, the genocidal Sudanese regime. The National Islamic Front, which dominates Sudan's nominal "government of national unity," was initially the only announced candidate for the position; but in the end Congo Republic President Denis Sassou Nguessou received the nod."

"The United States and Nguesso both praised this development effusively. "I think it is really great because it affirms that the AU has standards and principles," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer. For his part, Nguesso immodestly declared that his selection represented an "important and relevant decision, and our proceedings bear witness to this. Our summit has been a tremendous success." But such unstinting praise was hard to find elsewhere, and for good reason."

"For one thing, the move hardly signals a new commitment to human rights by African leaders. Nguesso isn't exactly a model democrat (like the National Islamic Front, he came to power via a coup). And the fact remains that Sudan should never have been the site of an AU summit: This in itself did far too much to legitimize the Khartoum regime."

"Moreover, the news from the AU summit could prove ominous for the long-suffering people of Darfur. There may now be a temptation towards complacency on the part of the African Union and the West: Having momentarily highlighted Khartoum's destructive conduct in Darfur, African leaders may conclude that a chastened National Islamic Front will settle down and stop the genocide. This interpretation will be convenient for European and American politicians, who desperately want to believe the Darfur crisis can be solved without the involvement of Western troops."

"Unfortunately, it will take a lot more than modest diplomatic reprimands to stop the NIF--and this would be a dangerous time to conclude otherwise, as the regime appears increasingly determined to flex its muscle throughout the country. The United Nations has just reported that Khartoum's recent military offensive in the Hamesh Koreb area in eastern Sudan constitutes the first major violation of the ceasefire that came into force as part of last year's peace agreement with southern rebels. Meanwhile, Khartoum has been militarily active in West Darfur and may be on the verge of a war with neighboring Chad. The potential for such a conflict has gone largely unnoticed by the international community, but its implications would be serious. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons, on both sides of the border, are acutely vulnerable; these civilians would almost certainly lose access to humanitarian assistance in the event of open hostilities. None of these on-the-ground developments are likely to be ameliorated by the AU's symbolic decision. If the AU and the West conclude otherwise, they will have done Darfur a disservice."

"Worst of all, the deal that gave Nguesso the chairmanship also promised the position to Khartoum in 2007; and this promise could have disastrous consequences. Perversely, the NIF may view the gap year before its coming chairmanship as an opportunity to finish the active phase of its destruction in Darfur. After all, if the genocide is complete by late 2006, the NIF will be able to wipe its hands clean by the start of the next AU summit and say--in some sense, truthfully--that the "war" in Darfur is over. If the NIF does opt for this strategy, then it will probably try to stall negotiations currently taking place in Nigeria aimed at ending the crisis. This shouldn't be too hard to pull off: The rebel leadership that is negotiating with the NIF is both weak and lacking in diplomatic skill; and the talks have produced only scant progress so far. If the NIF can obstruct progress at those talks, while accelerating its nasty work in Darfur, it could be well positioned to assume the AU chairmanship next January. Yesterday's compromise offers Khartoum a disturbing incentive to proceed along this track."

"Of course, this analysis involves guesswork about how the NIF will interpret the result of the AU summit. But the regime is vicious in its practice of realpolitik, and its leaders have shown a penchant for similarly shrewd strategies in the past. If Khartoum's genocidaires are thinking along these lines, then yesterday's AU achievement will prove a very modest one indeed. But even if they are not, the AU compromise can hardly be described as an "outstanding outcome," as America's assistant secretary of state has called it. After all, the only "outstanding outcome" for the people of Darfur would be an end to genocide. And yesterday's deal isn't going to make that happen."


Not satisfied with chastising President Bush for excessive zeal in protecting the U.S. from terrorists, the former VEEP now chastises Premier-elect Stephen Harper for being a dupe of big Canadian oil

With his customary blend of leftist hysteria, hyperbole, and sheer ignorance, former U.S. vice-president Al Gore has accused the oil industry of financially backing the Tories and their "ultra-conservative leader" to protect its stake in Alberta's lucrative oilsands. The hyper-ventilating contender for the far left [where he is matched against Howard Dean] leadership in the Democratic Party warned that prime minister-designate Stephen Harper because he has a pro-oil agenda and wants to pull out of the Kyoto accord .

Gore has made the baseless accusations that are his trademark since his coming-out party as a far-left leadership candidate recently at Constitution Hall in DC, where he castigated President Bush for defending the U.S. from terrorism by eavesdropping on overseas phone calls.

In an article in the Calgary Herald, his intemperate and ill-considered remarks were reported thus:

"The election in Canada was partly about the tar sands projects in Alberta," Gore said Wednesday while attending the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

"And the financial interests behind the tar sands project poured a lot of money and support behind an ultra-conservative leader in order to win the election . . . and to protect their interests."

Darcie Park, spokeswoman for oilsands giant Suncor Energy, said she's taken aback by Gore's remarks and hopes they don't resonate with Canadians.

"Our company just doesn't do business that way. We're really puzzled about where these comments came from," she said.

"Canadians understand how elections work in Canada and understand there are these very tight restrictions around what individuals and companies can contribute to individual parties or campaigns."

The federal Elections Act limits how much money individuals, corporations and unions can donate to political parties. Individuals are allowed to give as much as $5,000 a year, while companies and unions are capped at $1,000 a year.

In their election platform, the Conservatives promised to further limit individual donations to a maximum of $1,000 and ban all donations from corporations, unions and organizations.

Parties and candidates are required to make public any contributions exceeding $200.

Gore believes that the reason the Canadian press did not realize that there was a huge conspiracy afoot to promote big oil was because of yet another conspiracy:
Gore believes the issue of the oilsands and the sway he contends the industry holds with Harper didn't garner news coverage during the election because "media concentration has taken a toll on democratic principles around the world, and Canada is no exception."

Luckily, the Canadians are extremists only in their moderation, as the saying goes, and comments from American politicians about Canadian politics are disdained by the average Canadian, just as Americans discount comments from north of the border concerning U.S. policy.

Gore appears as clueless as former Canadian PM Chretien about the effect of words across borders.

Or perhaps gasbag Gore was speaking to an American audience without regard to facts or regard for what Canadians might think about his accusations?

I presume it’s the latter.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Two days ago, in my January 24th website posting entitled SLOUCHING TOWARD BETHLEHEM, I wrote the following:

Hamas is going to be a major player, barring a miracle As the WSJ article ends:

"Palestinians wonder why decision-makers elsewhere want them to vote for the same old regime that robs people of a decent, secure life. Why, they ask, must they vote for the very men they long to punish?"
Unconsciously or not, the writer ends on a revealing note, employing the word "punish" rather than "vote out" or "evict" or "fire."

Having lived in the region for half a decade, I have always felt that there does exist an undercurrent of vengeance and violence that manifests itself in such varied ways as so-called "honor-killings" and suicide bombers. There seems to be an anarchist streak, or a tradition "a rebours" at loose in the region which single-mindedly pursues goals contrary to all acceptable canons of human behavior.

On January 25th, the "Reality Field Distortion" which is the Middle East prevailed and the Palestinian voters were able to "punish" the PLO kleptocrats who kept them impoverished while banking billions in Oslo Agreement monies in European banks.

Now the PLO nouveaux-riches bandits can move in next to Arafat’s widow in the Georges Cinq Hotel on the Champs Elysee in Paris while their erstwhile countrymen languish in the new political paradigm they have just erected.

What are the results of yesterday’s polling?

First, the PLO are duly punished and are now resigning their posts in government, except for Mahmoud Abbas aka Abu Mazen who is the elected President of the PA. The Fatah will predictably remain as a much-diminished minority party, but are no longer even a major player on the new political scene.

Second, the “moderate-middle” of the Palestinian people have demonstrated their lack of moderation. They have elected a government which is the sworn enemy of Israel’s right to exist. As a result, the foreign assistance from the Oslo Accords that had been coming into the West Bank and Gaza, although partly siphoned off by PLO corruption, will now cease.

Third, the Israeli “moderate-middle” will now have nowhere to go and Ehud Olmert will be forced to the right. This means that the Israeli government will continue erecting their Berlin Wall and forego any real attempt at a negotiated settlement for the foreseeable future.

Fourth, the irreconciliables in Lebanon, such as Hezbollah, and Iran and in the Iraqi insurgency will all be heartened by this display of religiosity and rejection of moderation.

Also, the Quartet in Europe and other players in the international arena must resist the temptation to resume payments to the PA unless Hamas renounces the use of force and the destruction of Israel. Russia has its own insurgency with the Chechens and will be disinclined to meddle, but wobblies in certain quarters will begin to mince and dither about cutting off the Hamas stipends.

Of course, the Saudis and Gulfies are going to have to decide once more whether to allow their citizens to give financial support to Hamas. Ditto for the Egyptians, whose own Muslim Brotherhood will want to support Hamas and the efforts of the Mubarak government to restrain their assistance will not promote democracy in that country.

The most recent Economist has a long article on democracy and what it produces. The Economist quotes Richard Haass in his recent book, The Opportunity, where Haass warns against confusing "democracy" with "electocracy," where an Islamist government is chosen that is unlikely to allow a free follow-on election. Or certifiable disasters such as Hugo Chavez or Evo Morales ride a populist wave that could result in a permanent "revolution" ala the disasters in North Korea and Cuba, to name two unelected autocracies.

And dictatorships like Belarus and Myanmar and Zimbabwe might take solace from the disaster of the Hamas election, even while wet-eyed ninnies like Jimmy Carter will find some sort of silver lining in what is at least a level-2 hurricane.

Getting elected can lead to happy conclusions or, as Europe learned in 1933, Enabling Acts which perpetuate an electoral disaster.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Saudis and China

The Wall Street Journal has an opinion piece which is critical of the burgeoning Saudi relationship with China. In a piece entitled Oil For Missiles, and subtitled Our friends the Saudis make friends with the Chinese National Defense University Prof. Richard Russell frets over a Saudi-Chinese “strategic relationship” inaugurated by King Abdullah on his first official trip outside the Middle East.

With five agreements signed during the visit, including a pact for closer cooperation in oil, natural gas and minerals, the two countries are laying the foundations for a strategic relationship that challenges U.S. interests.

Oil, natural gas and minerals agreements are about all the Saudis can deliver or engage in trade with, so what is the challenge. How does that situation challenge U.S. interests? But it seems Prof. Russell has an old bone to pick.

Humiliated by their dependence on Washington for survival in the wake of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the Saudi royal family has long been seeking to forge closer ties with Beijing in the hope of reducing their dependence on the U.S. The Saudis began moving in this direction even before the first Gulf War, secretly negotiating a deal with China in the mid-'80s to purchase CSS-2 ballistic missiles. That was an affront to the Reagan administration and its policy of preventing the proliferation of ballistic missiles. But the Saudis risked American ire because they saw Iran, Iraq and Israel all armed with ballistic missiles and did not want to be left out. In return, China won hard currency for the missile sale, as well as diplomatic relations with Riyadh in a snub to Taiwan.

Prof. Russell is incensed about the Saudi "affront," but he leaves unsaid the fact that the CSS-2 Chinese missiles were equipped with American ballistic systems, supplied by a third-country which served as an intermediary.

For all the headlines about the agreements he signed with President Hu Jintao on issues such as energy cooperation and double taxation, it's a safe assumption that strategic issues were also on the agenda away from the bright lights of the media. Saudi Arabia's CSS-2 missiles are now obsolescent and Riyadh would welcome modern Chinese models as replacements. For Beijing, that offers a useful tit-for-tat should Washington agree to further large arms sales to Taiwan. But it would come at the price of violating China's commitment to adhere to the Missile Technology Control Regime, which seeks to control international transfers of ballistic missile technology.

That horse left the barn a very long time ago, as American missile technology has now become the operational engineering on Chinese systems which in turn have already been sold to the Saudis in their earlier models and there is evidence that the US supplied China with missile tech in the '90s long after the CSS-2 episode. This is an open secret in Washington, and Russell ignores the fact that on missile technology the United States is an Emperor without any clothes. But Russell keeps seeing a yellow peril.
The danger is that these developments will pass largely unnoticed in Washington, as they fall between bureaucratic cracks in the national-security apparatus. In the National Security Council, as well as at the Departments of State and Defense, separate sections still focus on the Middle East and Asia (despite Condoleezza Rice's recent reforms). No one seems to be looking at the bigger picture in terms of the emerging strategic relationship between two regions so important to American national interests.
In the old days of the Cold War, the U.S. viewed the security relationships in the Middle East through the prism of its rivalry with the Soviet Union. Today, Russian power in the Middle East has withdrawn as Moscow grapples with getting its domestic house in order. But China's power in the Middle East, especially in the Persian Gulf, is increasing, a dimension of world politics that American policy makers need to begin focusing attention on.

So the answer is a reorganization of the cumbersome and ineffective foreign policy bureaucracy? Actually, Prof. Russell confuses focusing attention on a problem with doing something about it.

For example, Venezuela and Nigeria are two examples of areas outside the two regions Prof Russell is concerned about. The US has done little and can do little about these two oil suppliers [and in Venezuela, coal is also a big trade item]. Why doesn’t Prof Russell suggest that the US supply the missiles to Saudi Arabia that China is going to supply in any event?

Might as well recycle those petrodollars, as they used to say once upon a time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Before the insane assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, there was actually a very short period when the world believed that all sides would pull together over a long and testy series of negotiations to achieve a two-state solution to the intractable conflict.

An Israeli right-wing Settler-supporter put an end to these hopes with a fusillade of bullets into Rabin’s back.

Rabin joined Sadat as martyrs for peace.

After another lurch peaceward at the end of the Millenium, the situation again fell apart, and the intifada began again.

Now, for the third time in a dozen years, two elections promise to prepare conditions to make another stab at some sort of ultimate solution. There is an interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal entitled: A vote for Hamas isn't necessarily a vote for genocide. The author is Khaled Abu Toameh, Palestinian affairs writer for the Jerusalem Post. After the death of Arafat, his old-guard cronies still infest the top reaches of Fatah, but
most candidates who are running in the January 25th elections have focused on ethical, not political, issues. They have promised voters that they will fight financial corruption and lawlessness, and create a transparent government. Most importantly, the candidates promise to use international aid for the welfare of the people, and not plonk it in secret bank accounts.
Hamas has already laid down a good track record of corruption-free, efficient governanace
Proof of growing support for Hamas was provided in the past year by the results of municipal elections held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Over a million Palestinians now live in jurisdictions run by Hamas mayors and municipal councils.

The election campaign has avoided the elephant in the living room:
Hamas's decision to focus on financial corruption, nepotism and anarchy is regarded by many Palestinians as wise. Had the Islamic movement put the destruction of Israel and the continuation of suicide bombings at the top of its platform, it would not have attracted such support: The majority of Palestinians are either exhausted by the intifada or simply don't believe that the elimination of Israel is realistic. And many who cast their ballots for Hamas in the municipal elections were quick to explain that this should be seen as a vote of protest against the Palestinian Authority rather than affiliation with fundamentalists and suicide attacks. Even some Christians in Bethlehem and Ramallah are not afraid to admit that they voted for Hamas.

Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, has been unable to clean house. But the problem of Fatah’s own internal gang wars deprives him of even a fig leaf of authority :

The majority of the Palestinians (more than 65%) were prepared to give Abu Mazen a chance to bring about real change; that's why they voted for him in the last presidential election. He ran on a platform that called for ending corruption, and told the voters that he wanted to dismantle the armed gangs, including his own supporters in the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and create a democratic order. But ever since he took over, the situation has deteriorated to a point where even his top aides admit that they are no longer in control. The ruling Fatah is witnessing a bitter power struggle between two generations--the local grass-roots "Young Guard" and the "Old Guard," which consists of Arafat cronies. Many Palestinians don't see this conflict as a power struggle between reformists and corrupt old-timers, but as a plain fight between bad guys.

These gang lords are now running things in a lot of places.

Many communities are controlled by armed thugs. These gangs, which consist mostly of Fatah militiamen and dissident security officers, have discovered that in order to get a job or money, all you need do is kidnap a foreigner or occupy a ministry building. When a group of Fatah militiamen recently seized Bethlehem City Hall and kicked out all the workers, Abu Mazen personally phoned the group's leader and promised to recruit him and his cohorts as officers in the Palestinian security forces.

Hamas is going to be a major player, barring a miracle:

Sources close to Abu Mazen say he'd have preferred to see the elections postponed to avoid a humiliating defeat. Yet he is under massive pressure from the U.S. to proceed, and does not want to be seen as having delayed the election out of fear that Hamas might win. U.S., Israeli and European threats to punish the Palestinians if Hamas takes over the authority have only boosted Hamas's appeal. Palestinians wonder why decision-makers elsewhere want them to vote for the same old regime that robs people of a decent, secure life. Why, they ask, must they vote for the very men they long to punish?

Unconsciously or not, the writer ends on a revealing note, employing the word "punish" rather than "vote out" or "evict" or "fire."

Having lived in the region for half a decade, I have always felt that there does exist an undercurrent of vengeance and violence that manifests itself in such varied ways as so-called "honor-killings" and suicide bombers. There seems to be an anarchist streak, or a tradition "a rebours" at loose in the region which single-mindedly pursues goals contrary to all acceptable canons of human behavior.

I felt it once when a military officer held a pistol to my head when I parked outside the American Embassy in Beirut reserved for diplomatic parking, a privilege I had at the time. The military had commandeered the spaces for security purposes, but characteristically had only put a rock in my space with no other indication of parking restrictions. I spent an hour being interrogated, even with diplomatic ID. The Embassy finally rescued me.

The scorpion and the frog, or as in Japan, the chysanthemum and the sword, can co-exist in the same person, as Dr. Jekyll displays in a literary context. But although that officer in Beirut might have been a fine typically Lebanese fellow, and might have "bought me right many a nipperkin, had we met some other place" what if he had fired the gun?

So I can understand why the Israelis don't want Iran or any near neighbor to possess nuclear weapons. Any country which is waiting for a hidden imam whose occultation occurred over a thousand years ago to return and deliver the Iranian nation, is not a nation whose feet are firmly planted in the new millenium.

And, I might add, not ready for prime-time nuclear status.

There is another point I am getting to:

One must remember that after the Israelis kicked the PLO leadership out of Lebanon to Tunis twenty-some years ago, the Israelis briefly cultivated the relatively apolitical Hamas as a possible successor to the PLO. Before long, Hamas’ growing radical religiosity had replaced the PLO’s socialist regimen with an equivalent level of threat and the Israelis attempt to choose their enemy fell apart.

There is little chance that Hamas can again change its stripes, but an elected Hamas faction in the PA parliament may challenge Mahmoud Abbas’s Presidency in a disciplined fashion and evolve into a political party.

Every party starts out as a movement, and perhaps tomorrow is Hamas’ time to party.

Hopefully, there will be no nasty hangover.

But get the Red Bull and raw eggs ready!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

American Vertigo, or French "Projections"

There is a very interesting WSJ op-ed in Saturday's edition concerning an interview with a typical hyperbolic French intellectual named
Bernard-Henri L?vy
entitled "Bernard-Henri Levy hates the Iraq war, but loves America." The interviewer is WSJ Op-Ed chief TUNKU VARADARAJAN.

The article makes the obligatory references to the long love/hate relationship between France and the US. Tunku's stylistic quirks are a bit annoying. For example, the little patty-cake session:

"There are five other prominent French Amerophiles, by my reckoning, giving us a grand total of seven. Guessing identities would make an amusing parlor game. (Answers on a postcard, with a bottle of Calvados for the first all-correct missive. Hint: There are no women.)"

Okay, maybe I'm spoiled by The Economist and the Financial Times, but the WSJ is impish without the charm.

After running through M. Levy's eccentricities of manner, Tunku explains his new book, which sounds like an interesting expedition through the neuro-ruts of the somewhat typically autistic French intellectual:

His latest project has been to follow in the footsteps of Alexis de Tocqueville and travel through the United States in the manner of the author of "Democracy in America." The world being what it is, the result was never likely to be an update of Tocqueville. Instead, we have what might fairly be described as "Bernard-Henri L?vy in America."
The author has called it "American Vertigo"--not a bad name, as it speaks to America's vertigo, as well as to his own--and the literary poobahs in Paris have their culottes in a twist over his decision to bypass France and publish it in America first, in English. Much harrumphing has happened in Paris, much talk of betrayal; but Mr. L?vy--who in a conversation with New York magazine this week laid out his love for America in terms that were almost pornographic--regards the book as his gift to this country: "It had to be published here first," he says, with an upward tilt of a nose so aquiline one might hang a hat on it. "Unquestionably."

Contrarian to his toenails, the French sage expounds on his philosophy of America:

"In France, with the nation based on roots, on the idea of soil, on a common memory . . . the very existence of America is a mystery and a scandal." This is a particular source of pain, Mr. L?vy says, for "the right." Contrary to what is thought generally, he insists, anti-Americanism "migrated to the left, to the Communist Party, but its origins are on the extreme right." America gives the French right "nightmares," as the country is based on "a social contract. America proves that people can gather at a given moment and decide to form a nation, even if they come from different places." The "ghost that has haunted Europe for two centuries"--and which gives fuel, to this day, to anti-Americanism there--"is America's coming together as an act of will, of creed. It shows that there is an alternative to organic nations."

Tunku comes close to sticking a pin in M. Levy's gaseous balloon:
These are important insights, and surely gratifying to an American. But is this the whole picture, I ask. Isn't today's French gauche--and the European left as embodied by Gerhard Schr?der and Spain's Zapatero, to name but two leading offenders--more than just a passive inheritor of a right-wing anti-Americanism? Why this insistence--and Mr. L?vy does, sometimes, protest too much--on anti-Americanism as a sort of rightist Original Sin? Here, Mr. L?vy is evasive: "It is true of the left," he concedes, nodding his head in accord, but then checks himself: "It is partly true. . . . But you must see that in France you have the Gaullist tradition, which is strongly anti-American."

After calling Chirac a cynical "pragmatist," M. Levy laments the fall of ideologies which in turn were based on the "dream" of revolution:

When did the dream of revolution die? "With Cambodia," Mr. L?vy answers. This was an event "much more important than the fall of the Berlin Wall. When the Hegel of modern times will write this history, he will say that the real crucial event was Cambodia." Why? "Because till Cambodia all the revolutionaries in the world believed that revolution had failed because it didn't go far enough, because it wasn't radical enough." And then Cambodia happened--"the first revolution in history to be really radical. . . . And what did we discover, all of us? Instead of paradise, revolution gives absolute hell."

So the new Hegel would say that Stalin killing more or less fifty million Soviet citizens or Mao killing perhaps seventy million were not the "tipping point," to employ the latest mindless "Hegelian" analogy, but it was killing half the population in an Asian backwater? Tunku has even more fun in store for us:
So would Mr. L?vy say, improving on Francis Fukuyama, that Cambodia, and not the fall of the Berlin Wall, was "the end of history"? "No, not history. The end of revolution. The end of the desirability of revolution." Mr. L?vy has this disagreement, and others, with Mr. Fukuyama. "I do not believe that with the death of communism we entered into an age in which there will be no more radical contradiction, dialectical war, and so on. I don't believe that."

Whew! So who will the "radical contradiction, dialectical war" be between? M. Levy doesn't say, but he does say who it won't be between.
If Mr. Levy's debate with Mr. Fukuyama is benign, his differences with another American sage, Samuel Huntington, are positively acrimonious. ("I met him once, and he . . . maybe he drank too much wine, but at the end of the lunch he was so strange. I told about my thoughts on America as a nation based on a creed, and that this was not very different from the foundation of Israel. There is an American creed, and there is an Israeli creed--and this idea, of America having to share its concept of creed with Israel, did put him in a very strange anger. He was furious at this idea. 'You cannot compare,' he told me, 'the creed of Israel, which is an ethnic creed, with the creed of America.'")

So the Constitution is a religion? And the clash won't be between civilizations? How about between creeds? M. Levy dodges and weaves and jukes the minuette that the seizieme arrondissement requires when cornered, first discharging a colossal broadside against Huntington:

Mr. L?vy describes Mr. Huntington's last book, "Who Are We?" as "racist," and rejects the notion that there is in the world, or has been, a clash of civilizations: "We are engaged in a war against terrorism, but the war is a political one, not a religious one, not a civilizational one. It is, I stress, a political war." I press him on this point: How does he make the distinction?--these concepts, surely, are all intertwined. "Of course," he replies, unimpressed. "But I make the distinction because I believe that you have some Muslims who do not hate the West. Being an enemy of the West is not a necessary condition of being Muslim, of adoring the God of Islam." I persist: Isn't his preference for the description of this war as "political" itself a political decision? "It is suicide to say that this is a civilizational war, because if it is such, it is an endless war, bloc against bloc. If you say 'political' you make a bet on the outcome."

So it is a "political" war. Although Tunku left aside the unexplained problem of a "dialectical war" being possible, but a "civilizational" war impossible because it would be "endless," la ronde continues:

Does he have something in common, therefore, with American neoconservatives, who also believe that we are engaged in a political war, who believe, after all, that Islamic societies are capable of practicing democracy? "I have a lot in common with them--our history is in common, as are our reflexes. What is not are our conclusions, the way of transforming our ethics into politics." Mr. L?vy is an acknowledged critic of the war in Iraq, but here, not for the first time in our conversation, he is unpersuasive.

Because the Iraq was not justified, or rather was morally justified, but politically a disaster. Because we should have done that old British trick, waiting for something to turn up and, well, as Tunku says, this old-timer just keeps on ticking:

Was the Iraq war justified? "No," he says, almost gruffly, and then elaborates: "I think it was morally justified and politically a disaster." Mr. L?vy's complaint is that the Bush administration did not exhaust all "political" options before going to war. "Politics . . . more politics . . ." he said, wagging a finger. But with Messrs. Chirac and Schr?der such adamant opponents, what more, I ask, should have been done? Mr. L?vy's response was as follows, and chivalry prevents me from making a public judgment of it: "America supported Saddam for years and years. You could have waited a few months more for him to die, of natural or nonnatural causes . . . or for an opposition movement to grow up . . ." Besides, he added, referring to the Iraqis, "you cannot liberate un peuple somnambule"--a people sleepwalking.

So liberty, equality and fraternity for all the hyper-caffeinated, but if you are a zombie, forget about your claim to human rights!

Mr. L?vy regards his own criticism of America not as anti-Americanism, but as tough love. He is an assiduous believer in America's "manifest destiny," and expects this country, clearly, to uphold the highest standards--as he sees them. Some of these standards he would prescribe to France, in particular the American approach to citizenship. He contrasts the "model of Dearborn"--the Detroit suburb, home to significant numbers of contented Arab-Americans--with the "model of St. Denis," the Parisian banlieu where discontented Arab immigrants (never referred to as Arab-Frenchman) ran riot late last year. "What is good about America is that in order to be a citizen, you are not asked to resign from your former identity. You cannot tell Varadarajan or L?vy, 'You have to erase from your mind the ancestors you had.' In France, we erase."
America, Mr. L?vy concludes, "is a factory of citizens, which has some defects, some problems, but the country works, not too badly. Better, I think, than mine."

So a citizenship factory is based on a contract where you don't have to shed your former identity, but the US is a nation founded on a creed. Plus, we have a lower unemployment rate! And no thirty-five hour workweek! Is that why we work better?
Oh well, never mind.........

I'll take yes to "all of the above" for an answer!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Roger Ailes on Media Elites and Media Bias

If there are two people who have turned the TV media upside down over the last decade or so, they are Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, and today The Wall Street Journal has an op-ed article by Ailes on the five best books on the media over the last forty years.

I have read all but the Fallows book and had the privilege of talking to Ken Auletta long ago at a Long Island garden party for a few minutes about the media. I notice Ailes left David Halberstam's The Powers That Be off the list. Coincidentally, I had lunch with a fellow named Blair Clark [who was Eugene McCarthy's campaign manager in '68] at the time I was in the middle of Halberstam's book and Clark denied that any of the five statements Halberstam made about him in The Powers That Be were true. So I guess Ailes' judgment about books is as acute as his amazing skill in the production of TV News.

Here are the top five in Ailes' all-time great-book list:

1. "The Medium Is the Message" by Marshall McLuhan (Bantam, 1967).

"The book also comes titled "The Medium Is the Massage," a typesetter's error that amused McLuhan so much, he decided to keep it. I was just starting in the television business when I read this book and recognized immediately the nerve it struck. In those days, we were still filming in black and white. There were no satellite hook-ups. But it was already clear to me that people who knew how to use television had enormous power at their disposal. McLuhan proposed that the collective way we watch television has created a "global village," one that is more affected by the nature of the medium than by the content of the message. I'd only add this to the formula: Never underestimate the influence of dominant TV news personalities, like Walter Cronkite in his day and those who have followed."

2. "The Kingdom and the Power" by Gay Talese (World Publishing, 1969).

"Compared with the troubled New York Times of today, the newspaper Mr. Talese describes here--in his inside history of the Times from the postwar years through the 1960s--seems to exist in a golden age. Yes, we see the clash of giant egos and the infighting over everything from the coverage of the Kennedys to the appointment of a theater critic. But who, back then, could have imagined the Jayson Blair scandal or a deteriorating Times culture that allowed it to happen? When I was growing up, people thought: If it's in the Times, then it must be true. Who thinks that now? Reading Mr. Talese's hugely enjoyable, exquisitely detailed book in 2006 has to be a bittersweet experience."

3. "Breaking the News" by James Fallows (Pantheon, 1996).

"This book stands out for how directly it addresses the arrogance and negativism of the press, which run counter to the way Americans feel about their country. Consider the media's current obsession with the wiretapping story. If an al Qaeda member is phoning somebody in the U.S., what are we supposed to believe--that he's looking for travel tips? Americans know better. On other matters, they can be more susceptible to media persuasion. Decrying the development of "attitude" journalism as a desperate attempt to hold onto audiences, Mr. Fallows says that leading journalists in the 1990s (the period under discussion) presented views of public life and public figures much bleaker than the ones they held themselves. The condition he describes so well has not changed."

4. "Three Blind Mice" by Ken Auletta (Random House, 1991).

"Mr. Auletta's tremendous access to sources was the making of this entertaining book, subtitled "How the TV Networks Lost Their Way." Among other things, it shows how network people spend their lives sucking up, stabbing each other in the back and then going to corporate meetings promoting teamwork. I remember, from my own experience at NBC, the endless seminars on the subject of integrity. Chronicling the networks' struggles under new managers as audiences declined, Mr. Auletta draws on a vast reservoir of anecdotes. Some of them are familiar, like the one about Dan Rather's angrily marching off the "CBS Evening News" set, leaving the screen blank for six minutes. Most of the stories, though, come as insider intelligence of a high order."

5. "Bias" by Bernard Goldberg (Regnery, 2001).

"This breakthrough book says: Let's stop pretending, let's finally acknowledge the elephant in the room--the fact that the media, composed largely of liberals, view the world through the prism of leftist politics and report the news accordingly. The subtitle of this best seller is "A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News," but Mr. Goldberg quickly became an outsider at the network after he first spoke out publicly on media bias. This treatment by CBS surprised the veteran newsman, because he had once been a liberal himself. But Mr. Goldberg also happened to believe in keeping an open mind. That's what made him unacceptable to his liberal colleagues."

I have also read Goldberg's latest book, America's Hundred Most Dangerous People and although Goldberg's objective news instincts still prevail, his sense of betrayal at the hands of the liberal media elite is still very strong.

In case there was the slightest doubt that the MSM top-twenty are not biased to the left, the UCLA/U.ofMissouri three year study erases all doubts except for the truest leftest believers about the strong tilt of US print and electronic media. The Study can be summarized as follows:

While the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal is conservative, the newspaper's news pages are liberal, even more liberal than The New York Times. The Drudge Report may have a right-wing reputation, but it leans left. Coverage by public television and radio is conservative compared to the rest of the mainstream media. Meanwhile, almost all major media outlets tilt to the left.

These are just a few of the surprising findings from a UCLA-led study, which is believed to be the first successful attempt at objectively quantifying bias in a range of media outlets and ranking them accordingly.

"I suspected that many media outlets would tilt to the left because surveys have shown that reporters tend to vote more Democrat than Republican," said Tim Groseclose, a UCLA political scientist and the study's lead author. "But I was surprised at just how pronounced the distinctions are."

"Overall, the major media outlets are quite moderate compared to members of Congress, but even so, there is a quantifiable and significant bias in that nearly all of them lean to the left," said co-author Jeffrey Milyo, University of Missouri economist and public policy scholar.

The results appear in the latest issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, which will become available in mid-December.

Groseclose and Milyo based their research on a standard gauge of a lawmaker's support for liberal causes. Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) tracks the percentage of times that each lawmaker votes on the liberal side of an issue. Based on these votes, the ADA assigns a numerical score to each lawmaker, where "100" is the most liberal and "0" is the most conservative. After adjustments to compensate for disproportionate representation that the Senate gives to low-population states and the lack of representation for the District of Columbia, the average ADA score in Congress (50.1) was assumed to represent the political position of the average U.S. voter.

Groseclose and Milyo then directed 21 research assistants — most of them college students — to scour U.S. media coverage of the past 10 years. They tallied the number of times each media outlet referred to think tanks and policy groups, such as the left-leaning NAACP or the right-leaning Heritage Foundation.

Of the 20 major media outlets studied, 18 scored left of center, with CBS' "Evening News," The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times ranking second, third and fourth most liberal behind the news pages of The Wall Street Journal.

Only Fox News' "Special Report With Brit Hume" and The Washington Times scored right of the average U.S. voter.

The most centrist outlet proved to be the "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer." CNN's "NewsNight With Aaron Brown" and ABC's "Good Morning America" were a close second and third.

"Our estimates for these outlets, we feel, give particular credibility to our efforts, as three of the four moderators for the 2004 presidential and vice-presidential debates came from these three news outlets — Jim Lehrer, Charlie Gibson and Gwen Ifill," Groseclose said.

Not surprisingly, the MSM virtually ignored the UCLA Study when it was published in December.


One of life’s chronic losers, a crank and crackpot named William Blum is having his fifteen minutes at the trough of destiny.

Al-Qaeda’s answer to Oprah recommended Blum's book from his nook in the caves of Wajiristan the other day and both Oprah and Michael Moore now have a new mentor to learn from. OsamaBL, Moore’s mentor in anti-Americanism, now has given the morbidly obese oaf more guidance so he can catch up on his reading between snacks.

You can bet the talk-show bookers are crawling all over each other like worms in a can to get Blum, a cast-off from government personnel lists, on their mindless babble-fests. What a coup to get another Bush hater out there in the TV asteroid belt!

True to leftist tradition, Blum has never had a real sustained job, but after leaving the State Department computer corps because of Vietnam, or more likely, screened out because of a faulty work ethic or an attitude problem, he devoted his life to gnawing at the hand that had so briefly fed him.

But this American life had a greatly belated Second Act. Now he can cruise the campuses with the likes of Richard Clarke and ex-Amb. Wilson in a search for money and that bitch-goddess that has eluded him so far. Can Valerie Plame be far behind?


The legislative elections for the Palestinian Authority on January 25th will determine the vexing question on whether the Fatah PLO group can withstand the Hamas election campaign wherein Hamas is trying to shed its outsider status in the search for a resolution of the conflict.

The Israelis in turn a have March 28th vote which will determine the successor to Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister.

The Churches for Middle East Peace
website has an updates on this highly controversial election. There is also a short note on Jordan and the Christian minority.

Suffice it to say about the elections that a large majority of both Israelis and Palestinians in two separate polls now favor some sort of permanent peaceful status, although the configuration of that status will predictably have to skirt political shoals that extremists on both sides have used in the past to prevent an agreement.

But don’t celebrate yet. While the Kadima Party now headed by Acting PM Ehud Olmert
appears ready for a solution to the perpetual conflict and has adopted a middle-of-the-road position, a possible victory by Hamas on Jan 25th could cause serious problems.

An opinion piece by M J Rosenberg spells out the conundrum clearly.

Mahmoud Abbas succeeded the late unlamented Yasir Arafat as head of the PLO Fatah, but has been unable to root out the deeply corrupt political culture that enabled Arafat’s misgovernance for over thirty years. Hamas proclaims itself a new broom that will be disciplined and incorruptible and is projected to win a majority of seats in the legislature. The problem lies in a projected Hamas majority in the PA legislature’s leading to a hardening of PA attitudes, now surprisingly pliant under the Presidency of Mahmoud Abbas, toward accepting peace with the state of Israel, to which Hamas has in the pre-campaign past sworn eternal enmity and hopeful destruction.

Rosenberg’s useful and even hopeful opinion piece evades grasping the nettle. In the event of a Hamas victory this week, will the Party, now quiet about the issue, resurrect its hardline stance toward a final settlement with Israel? And even if Hamas wisely keeps its present silence, will the far-right Netanyahu demagogue the peace issue in the two months leading up to the end-of-March Israeli vote?

At present, Kadima has a wide lead in the polls over Netanyahu’s remnant of the Likud.
Even if Hamas, who will still be accountable to the Presidency of Mahmoud Abbas, does not misbehave, will the Israelis wisely select Olmert, who promises to continue Sharon and partner Shimon Peres’ peacemaking?

Given the probability of a Hamas victory, there will be three actors in power in the hopeful event of a Kadima win this March in Israel. Abbas, Hamas, and Olmert.

But will elements on the extreme, like Hamas heretofore and Netanyahu and his settler supporters, restrain their impulse to anarchy?

Friday, January 20, 2006


The exempt-from-reality-media paragon NYT deems not newsworthy the front-page top-of-the-fold Financial Times headline that French President Jacques Chiracthreatens nuclear weapons against any state that supported terrorism against his country or considered using weapons of mass destruction.

The semi-exempt from reality Washington Post buries the story on page 12, though not in the Style section. Also, the Post manages to quote the same fellow quoted by the FT, so copycat is good in this instance.

While the Post deems Hilary Clinton’s outburst on Iran as big news, where has the Post buried the bigger story on the IAEA refusal of a European demand to respond to Iran’s flouting the UN non-proliferation agreement. IAEA ElBaradei, fresh from a Peace Nobel, showed his true allegiance by taking the UN bureaucratic hedgehog mode, saying the report will not be due until next March.

But NONE OF THIS IS NEWS AT ALL IN THE NYT? Is Pinch incommunicado on one of his Harleys and Buffalo Bill Keller unable to make a judgment call on what is news?

The American MSM is silly and shallow and wilfully prejudiced [to the left] compared with the British examples of the Financial Times, which last year supplanted the NYT as the most influential in the world, and the Economist, which is packed with news that is relevant to people who live outside the US East and Left Coasts.

And to M. Chirac, thank you for a wake-up call.

The FT story follows, in case the links on this blog fail:

In a high-profile speech on Thursday to update military officers on France’s strategic doctrine, Mr Chirac said the end of the cold war had removed neither the threats to peace nor the justification for a nuclear deterrent.

Citing the dangers of regional instability, growing extremism and the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, Mr Chirac said France’s nuclear deterrence remained the fundamental guarantee of its security.

Although Mr Chirac conceded that the country’s nuclear arsenal could not deter fanatical terrorists, he said it could help prevent states sponsoring those terrorists.

“The leaders of states who use terrorist means against us, as well as those who would consider using, in one way or another, weapons of mass destruction, must understand that they would lay themselves open to a firm and adapted response on our part,” he said. “This response could be a conventional one. It could also be of a different kind.”

Mr Chirac’s comments come in the midst of deteriorating European and American relations with Iran, which last week indicated it would restart research into a nuclear programme. Analysts said Mr Chirac’s comments could directly affect the ability to negotiate a settlement with an increasingly belligerent Tehran.

“It expands the role of nuclear weapons and it makes it more difficult to argue against an Iranian nuclear weapons programme,” said John Wolfsthal, a nuclear arms expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It reaffirms the discriminatory nature of the current system.” Opposition politicians in France denounced Mr Chirac’s comments as irresponsible.

France, which acquired an autonomous nuclear deterrent in 1964, spends almost ?3bn ($3.6bn, £2bn) a year, or just under 10 per cent of its defence budget, to maintain its nuclear deterrent, including about 350 warheads. However, some politicians have questioned its relevance and complained about its cost in a post-cold war world.

Fran?ois Heisbourg, director of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, said Mr Chirac was signalling that France’s nuclear weapons were now aimed at political rather than demographic targets, the objective being to deter the command and control capacity of rogue states rather than to threaten to annihilate cities in the old Soviet bloc.

“This is a significant shift of emphasis that is made possible by the enhanced accuracy of nuclear weapons,” he said. “It also pulls together the nuclear deterrent with the issue of state-sponsored terrorism. That is a departure from the traditional French stance, which has been to emphasise the general nature of its vital interests.”

However, Mr Heisbourg said the new doctrine could raise a potential credibility problem – what yardstick would be used to measure a response to a terrorist attack? He said the president’s speech could also influence the international debate surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme. “It is rather difficult to persuade someone to renounce the acquisition of nuclear weapons when you are explaining how wonderful they can be,” he said.

Mr Chirac said France’s nuclear deterrent also formed a “core element in the security of the European continent” as the 25 members of the European Union developed a common security and defence policy.

His warning that nuclear weapons could be used against terrorist states puts him more in line with the US’s new controversial nuclear posture, unveiled in 2002, which also cites nuclear arms as a credible deterrent to rogue states armed with non-conventional weapons.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


This afternoon a blond White House reporter who appears on the Washington Week show on PBS asked at the White House briefing: "Why can’t we find Bin Laden?" . Jim Lehrer later in the day asked the same question on the PBS Evening News.

Mahmoud Fandi, a very perceptive Fellow at the Baker Institute at Rice in Houston told the uncomprehending Jim the truth.

The Arab World believes that the all-powerful USA cannot find Bin Laden because IT DOESN’T WANT TO!

The Arabs are under the impression, at least at the level of the Arab Street, that the US runs the world employing unbelievable cunning and implacable strength of will to achieve ruthless goals. The hunt for Bin Laden is simply a sham affair, designed to allow Americans to invade Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere to grab power and wield influence. We want him scampering, or limping, over the Bora Bora Mountains for as long as it takes to conquer the Middle East.

You can find people in the White House Press Corps like Helen Thomas, who believe it. And even Al Gore sounds like he believes it. But anyone who has worked for a while in the "world’s unipolar government" understands how feckless, hapless, and self-defeating most attempts to establish policy in the Middle East, for instance, become in the implementation stage.

Lefty moonbats and political smoke-blowers can have a field day with our policies in the region and elsewhere, but trial and error, especially error, are the rules of the game.

I hark back to when in the day[Spoiler: interesting and true anecdote with possibly little relevance follows:]

During the several years I lived in the Middle East employed by the State Department, even the Arab elites believed in the Machiavellian misdirection and subtlety of the American government.

Once, when I was in the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia, the hapless Jimmy Carter left his personal briefing book in his official government palatial residence. A follow-up squad by the Embassy discovered the Eyes Only Briefing Book and began a long and hazardous trip through excessive security to the Airport where Air Force One was just ready to leave for a stop in Aswan, as I recall, with Anwar Sadat. The Briefing Book, which presumably also contained materials for the Egyptian stop, got to the plane through feats of derring-do that only an old Saudi Hand could understand, especially because in addition to the clueless mindless Saudi Royal Protocol Security, there was a clueless, mindless Secret Service android-roboto security who were also impeding those from the Embassy from reaching Air Force One.

Afterwards, however, the Embassy Staff did a thought-experiment on how Saudi senior government officials would have regarded the Briefing Book had the documents fallen into their hands.

First, the only way that the book was left behind was on purpose, since the US doesn’t make mistakes.

Second, the "planted" briefing book would be read as a cynical and duplicitous attempt to mislead the Saudis into believing our good intentions were real. The Saudis would have read the bland innocent language of the Briefing Book as though it were a cover for a second set of books that contained our real agenda for the funny folks in the Muddled East.

Finally, since the book would be regarded as a deliberate deception, the Saudis would base policy initiatives [although the listless Saudis rarely initiate more than pan-Islamic talk fests] and specific objectives on the premise that the Briefing Book was a sort of Malleus Maleficarum in reverse, directly contrary or at least misleading as to America’s real policy goals in the region.

The Arab governments now understand that the US is misguided [in their eyes] but sincere in wanting to install Democracy throughout the region. They believe it will lead to more Islamic Republic replications, but they believe we are sincere.

Only the Arab Man in the Arab Street, and a few delusional types [like a lot Europeans, many Democrats & the moonbat international press, and maybe half the other people on the planet] still believe that there are two sets of books the US is playing by.


Or maybe not.

Maybe it’s reading too much into today’s interesting demarche by French President Chiraq when he made a public declarationto answer terrorist attacks with a nuclear response. But the timing of Chiraq's over-the-transom statement may have been aimed at Damascus and Iraq.

The meeting of French [and US] nemesis Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad with Iranian President Ahmedinejad today in Damascus resulted in a joint statement that does not bode well for regional stability.

Syria and Iran both risk showdowns with the U.N. Security Council — Damascus over a U.N. inquiry into the murder of a Lebanese ex-prime minister and Tehran over its nuclear plans. "We support the right of Iran and any state in the world to acquire peaceful technology," Assad told a joint news conference after the talks. "Countries who oppose this gave no convincing reason, regardless of whether it is legitimate or not."
The United States and the European Union's three biggest powers, Britain, France and Germany, said this month Iran's resumption of nuclear research meant it should be referred to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

French threat of nuclear retaliation for terrorist acts could be seen as being made with the concurrence of the other EU powers and the United States as well. But these partners with the French on opposing Iranian nuclear development are not expected to publically support Chirac’s unilateral declaration.

The background of the Syrian/Iranian Entente is tangled in history and Syrian domestic politics.

Syria is Iran’s closest Arab ally. The two
countries have had close relations since 1980 when Arab Syria sided with Persian Iran against Iraq, a fellow Arab nation, in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq border war. However, preponderantly Sunni Arab Syria is ruled by a clan-based 12% Alawite Arab minority which has close Shi’ite ties both historically and theologically. Similarly, the Hezbollah of South Lebanon supported by Syria are Shi'ite in origin. Assad is looking for foreign support as his popularity diminishes inside Syria. Assad was the first head of a foreign state to visit Iran after
, a religious conservative, took office.
Iran's new president seized that opportunity to vow closer cooperation in the face of U.S. pressure and is returning the visit at a time when Assad finds himself particularly isolated.
Both accused by Washington of sponsoring terrorism, Syria and Iran are the main backers of Lebanon's Hizbollah group, itself under pressure to disarm under a 2004 U.N. resolution.

Another aspect of this tight Al-Assad/Ahmedinejad alliance is that Syria sits on the 35-nation Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which meets on February 2 for a vote to refer Tehran to the Security Council. Its support of Tehran is sure to bolster the ranks of countries opposed to the decision to refer Iran to the Security Council over its nuclear activities.

Al-Assad is under siege at home where he is being abandoned by many top officials of the Baath party which has ruled the country for over three decades. He has had to contend with several high-profile defections, most notably former vice-president
Abdel Halim Khaddam
who, from his exile in Paris, has implicated the Syrian leader in Hariri's killing.

More worrying for the president is the growing dissent from elements within the powerful and feared Mukhabarat secret services and the military which have propped up both Bashar's and his father Hafez al-Assad's regimes. Some experts predict that the security apparatus is plotting to dethrone Bashar who they regard as young and inexperienced.

Finally, Bashar is trying to gain support from a previously persecuted sector of the Syrian political scene by releasing several opposition activists from detention.

As the Washington Post reports:

The release of the activists was seen by many as an attempt to rally Syrians behind a beleaguered government that has come under intense international pressure over a U.N. investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri almost a year ago. Many Lebanese and other foreign leaders have blamed Hariri's killing on Syria, which subsequently withdrew thousands of troops that had been stationed in Lebanon since 1976.
Seif, 60, could become a unifying presence in Syria's fragmented political opposition. In October, while in prison, he signed his name to the Damascus Declaration, a statement released by various opposition figures, including religious leaders, demanding broad democratic change. And unlike Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam, who announced this month that he would form an opposition government-in-exile, Seif is not tainted by accusations of corruption but rather is known on the streets of Damascus as an honest businessman who treats employees with unusual generosity.

The bizarre nuclear threat by Chiraq appears to escalate the already complex Levantine thriller as the nuclear bid by Iran ups the ante in this deadly high-stakes game.

And Assad’s simultaneous opening toward domestic democracy and strengthening of ties to Iran makes the chessboard in the Middle East more three-dimensional.

And have the brainboxes in the State Department and CIA figured out what happens if the Alawite minority Ba'athists in Syria somehow fall from power? Do the Sunni Arab majority take over and repudiate the Hezbollah Shi'ites in Lebanon. Do they revamp Syria's relations with the Sunni minority in Iraq for better or for worse?