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Archives for 2008 Election

Baked Alaska?

Sep
4
2008

Cosi Fan Tutte – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

It was a wonderful week for women and it more than made up for the fact that Hillary Clinton is neither the Democrats’ presidential nor vice-presidential candidate. Both events took place on the Republican side of the aisle. It is hard to decide which was more significant so I shall relate them chronologically.

In a brilliant move that contrasted sharply with the activities of Michelle Obama during the week of the Democratic convention, Cindy McCain, a major shareholder in a $300 million-a-year beer distributing company started by her father went off to Georgia (the one that used to be in Russia) on her first foreign policy mission. While Michelle Obama was giving her Monday night speech in the safety of Denver’s Pepsi Center, Cindy was flying to Georgia where she planned to meet with Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili and visit soldiers wounded in that country’s war with Russia that had ended – sort of – just a few days earlier. Although reports do not indicate what she intended to talk to Saakashvili about it is safe to say this was a diplomatic mission and that Cindy McCain assured the Georgian president that he would enjoy the same level of support from a McCain administration that it has received from the Bush administration.

For John to send Cindy off on her first diplomatic mission less than a week before the beginning of the Republican convention was a stroke of genius diverting attention, as it did, from the Democrats’ activities in Denver. Cindy said that the trip was really part of the U.N. World Food Program in which she has been active, but her plans to visit the president and wounded soldiers hints that her mission was nothing more than a cover-up for real purpose of the trip.

Indeed, Cindy told Time magazine that she had wanted to visit Georgia for some time and told the magazine that that kind of a trip is “an important part of what I’m about, what makes me tick.” As Nicolle Wallace, a McCain adviser told Time: “While she’s on the phone with the World Food Program, he’s on the phone with Saakashvili. It’s like this great picture of what they’ll be like in the White House.” I got quite a few goose bumps when I read that.

The other great news pertained to Senator McCain’s brilliant choice of a vice-presidential running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Sarah, like Cindy, has quite a bit of foreign policy experience. She comes from Wasilla, Alaska, a town that is not much more than 1,500 miles from Russia as the crow flies. Being in such proximity to Russia has given Sarah a unique perspective and sensitivity to the relations between the United States and that country.

And Sarah is a fast learner.

Politico.com reports that as recently as a month ago Sarah told an interviewer that she didn’t know what the job of vice-president entailed. “As for that VP talk all the time, I’ll tell you, I still can’t answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day? I’m used to being very productive and working real hard in an administration,” Palin was quoted as saying.

Presumably she was comparing the vice president’s job to the important kinds of things she did as mayor of Wasilla, a town with a population of less than 8,000 and an annual budget of approximately $20 million. Or perhaps she was thinking of her short tenure as governor. My guess is in the interim between first hearing of the job – and its lack of productivity and becoming McCain’s running mate, Sarah had a chance to interview current Vice President Dick Cheney. In his case, he ran the country although George Bush got most of the credit, being president. Sarah no doubt understands that she’d not have quite the same authority being unable to match Dick’s knowledge of how a vice president can make government do what he wants it to do rather than what the framers intended.

Nevertheless, Sarah’s selection is a stroke of genius and provides everyone the opportunity to see the kind of leadership choices John McCain will make if elected. And Sarah will certainly attract many – if not all – of the women who were supporting Hillary Clinton. The only real differences between them, after all, are their positions on abortion, Supreme Court appointees, oil drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, gun control, the death penalty, same-sex marriage and whether to teach intelligent design in the classroom. Those differences – the two women agree on none of these issues – are insignificant given the fact that what they have in common is that they are both women.

If you don’t believe me, ask the Hillary supporters who plan to vote for John and Sarah. If you can find them.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 5:00 AM | Permalink

Sex, Politics and Economics

Apr
24
2008

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,And burnt the topless towers of Ilium? Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss. Her lips suck forth my soul; see, where it flies! -Christopher Marlowe, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus [1604]

Lowest common denominator.

That’s the group to whom George Stephanopolous and Charles Gibson of ABC news were appealing during the first half of the April 16 presidential debate for which they served as moderators. That explains the reason for the really dumb questions they posed and pursued with remarkable, if mindless, persistency, about lapel pins, helicopter landings, bitter people and sermons. Nonehas the slightest relevance to determining which of the debaters would be a better president.

George Bush never appears in public without his American flag lapel pin and few believe he was a good president. Hillary Clinton never appears in public with a lapel pin and that does not suggest she would be a bad president. Since appealing to the lowest common denominator was the goal of Messrs. Gibson and Stephanopolous, I have a suggestion for a future program that will draw even more viewers than did the debate and will appeal to an even lower common denominator.

They should interview Ashley Youmans for an hour and a half. Ashley Youmans, now known as Ashley Alexandra Dupré is the woman whose face, metaphorically speaking, brought down an empire. Or at least a governorship. Ashley is the young woman at the center of the Eliot Spitzer scandal.

Without casting aspersions on either of the two presidential candidates who debated (each of whom is well dressed and attractive) all would agree that to the extent anything interesting was elicited from the candidates by their inquisitors, it was unrelated to what they were wearing. It is safe to assume, on the other hand, that no matter how pathetic the questioning, Ashley would have made a better visual impression than either of the candidates, especially if she had been counseled to attire herself in such a way as to display the attributes that make her both interesting and successful.Furthermore, she could provide information that would be of interest to lots of viewers, especially those with mildly prurient interests – a group larger than the viewers would like to admit.

Since the economy is undeniably in a slump, she could have explained how competitive pricing works in the industry in which she is employed, thus introducing transparency to a profession that frequently operates in the dark. It would almost certainly be of interest to the viewer to know and understand why, for example, radio executive, Tom Athans, of Michigan, who is married to U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow and was recently arrested in a Residence Inn near Big Beaver and Interstate 75 (no double entendre intended and apologies to Kurt Vonnegut) paid a woman engaged in Ashley’s line of work only $150 whereas Mr. Spitzer reportedly paid Ashley $4300.

It is not adequate to attribute the difference in price to depressed economic conditions in Michigan nor can it be attributed solely to the length of the encounter. As an examination of the rate structure of Ashley’s company set out below demonstrates, for $150 at her employer one would get little more than a cup of water with which to down a Viagra pill.

It would be interesting to hear Ashley explain, in response to questions from the ABC team, the details of the price list formerly displayed on the Emperors Club Website. (The site uses the apostrophe sparingly and inconsistently.)

The quality of the services are, as restrooms at gas stations were in days gone by, measured by diamonds and, conveniently, (as gas stations were not) in dollars, euros and pounds so that prospective customers know what to expect. The rates are either hourly or by the day. A three-diamond encounter of one hour’s duration costs $1,000 or 700 Euros whereas a 7-diamond encounter of the same length costs $3,100 or 2200 Euros. (Based on today’s exchange rates it makes more sense to pay in dollars.) Day rates that are described as “dawn to dawn” range from $10,000 to $31,000.

Ashley could have discussed competitive pricing, variation in pricing depending on locales, and how income is shared between Emperors and its subjects. There will be readers who suggest that such a program would be a waste of time since only those of prurient interest would want to watch.

To them I can only say Gibson and Stephanopolous offered so little worthwhile in their one and a half hours that any subject, no matter how trivial, would be an improvement. Would it were otherwise.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 5:40 AM | Permalink

A Vote From The Grave

Apr
3
2008

Drink a health to the wonders of the Western world, the pirates, preachers, poteen-makers. . . .John Millington Synge, The Playboy of the Western World

John McCain has two advantages over Barack Obama. Whereas Barack has only one spiritual advisor, John has three – one of whom is dead and two of whom say nuttier things than Obama’s pastor Jeremiah Wright. McCain’s three advisors, are, however, supporting a Republican and thus, based on the silence from the right, one can only conclude their comments need no explanation. That may be because their sort of nuttiness is indigenous to a party whose biggest present to the United States in the 21st Century is George W. Bush.

John Hagee is the most prominent supporter and where the Lord has led him was explored here earlier. John McCain’s statement that he was “very proud to have pastor Hagee’s support” tells you more about McCain than an 800-word column can. So does McCain’s acceptance of Rod Parsley as his religious advisor.

Rod is a bible-college drop out who began preaching to small crowds some 20 years ago. Today he is the chief pastor of the World Harvest Church of Columbus, an organization that has 12,000 members.

One week before the Ohio primary, Senator McCain appeared with Rod Parsley at a campaign rally in Cincinnati in which Rod described McCain as a “strong, true, consistent conservative.” Accepting the description and with Rod standing next to him the senator described Rod as a “spiritual guide.” That occupation does not, however, enable Rod to live up to his full potential. Rod would make an excellent Secretary of State since he knows a fair amount about foreign policy as his writings show. Mother Jones writer David Corn describes some of the things Rod has written that lend weight to my suggestion.

In his book 2005 Silent No More Rod describes the fact that there is a war between “Islam and Christian civilization.” As quoted by Mr. Corn, Rod writes: “The fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed and I believe September 11, 2001, was a generational call to arms that we can no longer ignore.”

Of course a Secretary of State has to understand history as well as current events in order to be effective, and Rod has the appropriate background for that as well. In his book, Rod says Columbus: “dreamed of defeating the armies of Islam with the armies of Europe made mighty by the wealth of the New World. It was this dream that, in part, began America.”

Rod’s dislike of Muslims is not irrational. Rod has discovered, he says, that “Islam is responsible for more pain, more bloodshed, and more devastation than nearly any other force on earth at this moment.” (Lest he appear naïve it should be observed that the book was written before Mr. Bush trumped Islam by invading Iraq.) Furthermore, Rod continues, Islam is not simply evil. It is actually the “anti-Christ religion.” Muhammad “received revelations from demons and not from the true God. Allah was a ‘demon spirit’.”

In his book Rod calls himself a “Christocrat”, wants to prosecute folks who commit adultery (but probably not for past offenses since that would include Senator McCain if Bernard Shaw’s uncontradicted statement to Mr. McCain during a 1999 CNN interview that the senator had an affair while married, is to be believed) and compares Planned Parenthood to Nazis. There are no reports that McCain has disavowed anything Rod has said.

The third endorsement comes from a corpse and one is forced to rely on a blog called BuzzFlash for the report of that endorsement.

According to the blog, shortly after the primary season voting started, the McCain campaign announced that the senator had been endorsed by Jerry Falwell. When a reporter asked how that news had been imparted since Jerry had gone on to his great reward some months earlier, the spokesman said the endorsement was a matter of controversy “you know, like global warming . . .. following Senator Brownback’s lead, and indeed that of Gov. Huckabee, about what counts in life, we take the Falwell endorsement on faith.”

It’s not surprising that the campaign welcomes the endorsement. A corpse is considerably less likely to say things publicly that embarrass John McCain than either of the two self-proclaimed representatives of the Lord he has adopted as spiritual advisors. Of course, John being elderly, may not even notice.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 6:32 AM | Permalink

Preacher Politics

Mar
30
2008

Longhaired preachers come out every night; Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right. – Joe Hill, The Preacher and the Slave

As John McCain and his presumptive vice-presidential running mate, Joe Lieberman, toured the Middle East together (Joe to remind John of who is on first in Iraq so as to correct gaffs born of John’s ignorance or old age, and John to demonstrate that notwithstanding his occasional gaffes, he still has the intellectual ability to be president of the United States) it was useful to keep in mind the words of one of John’s recently announced supporters, John Hagee.

It was especially useful since instead of hunting and exposing the fox as responsible media should do when in pursuit of truth, the media has been docilely led and influenced by the fox in the fox’s unceasing attempts to savage Barack Obama because of the words of his friend and pastor, Jeremiah Wright. A reading of the sermon that inspired the fox’s incessant diatribe reveals that the sermon is no worse than, and in many respects considerably more thoughtful than, the hatred expressed by John McCain supporter, John Hagee (Hagee) over the years.

Hagee’s calumny has made anything even hinted at by Reverend Wright seem bland. He has explanations for just about everything bad that has ever happened and, amazingly, and as MediaMatters, the press watchdog site has noted, they all relate back to God’s and Hagee’s view of current events.

Interviewed by Terry Gross on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air on September 18, 2006 Hagee explained his and God’s thinking. About Hurricane Katrina he said that on the day of Katrina’s arrival, a homosexual parade had been planned in that city. As a result of that and a generally dissolute life style pervasive in that city, he explained: “I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they are-were- recipients of the judgment of God for that. . . . And I believe that the Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans.” Asked by Ms. Gross whether Muslims have a mandate to kill Christians and Jews he replied that the Quran “teaches that very clearly.” Muslims and gays are not the only groups that have received the benefit of the Lord’s thinking as explicated by Hagee.

On February 28, 2008, Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League For Religious and Civil Rights, commented on the Hagee’s endorsement of John McCain the preceding day saying: “[F]or the past few decades, he [Hagee] has waged an unrelenting war against the Catholic Church. For example, he likes calling it ‘The Great Whore,’ an ‘apostate church,’ the ‘anti-Christ,’ and a ‘false cult system.’ . . . In Hagee’s latest book, Jerusalem Countdown he calls Hitler a Catholic who murdered Jews while the Catholic Church did nothing. ‘The sell-out of Catholicism to Hitler began not with the people but with the Vatican itself’ he writes.” Of course Mr. Donohue is not totally objective. He’s a Roman Catholic.

Hagee also knows how to raise money. On July 27, 2006, in a longer profile of the minister, the Wall Street Journal reported on a fund-raiser sponsored by Hagee’s 16,000 member Cornerstone Church. In the church bulletin, “The Cluster”, the fundraiser was announced with a catchy lead-in. It said: “Slavery in America is returning to Cornerstone.” The teaser ended with the sentence “Make plans to come and go home with a slave.”

John McCain was delighted to be endorsed by Hagee. Following the endorsement he said: “All I can tell you is I’m very proud to have pastor Hagee’s support.” He was not asked to explain whether that meant he, too, shares that John’s feelings about Muslims, Catholics, and the joys of slavery. A few days after the endorsement and told of Hagee’s comments about Catholics, John McCain partially followed Barack Obama’s lead and repudiated any of Hagee’s comments if they were “anti-catholic or offensive to Catholics.

John McCain’s acceptance of the endorsement by the other John may well have been influenced by his mentor, Joe Lieberman. Joe is a big fan of both Johns. He hangs out with the John who’s running for president. He admires the other John.

In July 2007, Lieberman was a speaker at a convention of “Christians United for Israel,” a group of which the other John is founder and national chairman. In thanking the other John for inviting him, Joe said: “I would describe Pastor Hagee with the words the Torah uses to described Moses, he is an “Eesh Elo Kim,” a man of God because those words fit him; and, like Moses he has become the leader of a mighty multitude in pursuit of and defense of Israel. . . . If ever there was a man who will be blessed because he has blessed Israel, Pastor Hagee, it is you. . . .”

Whether John McCain is blessed because John Hagee blessed him – only time will tell.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 2:54 PM | Permalink

Voting Early and Often?

Mar
15
2008

As long as I count the votes, what are you going to do about it? – William Marcy “Boss” Tweed, 1871

How is the Democratic party to re-enfranchise the voters in Michigan and Florida?

They have been disenfranchised through the wrong-headed actions of their fellow party-member with the result – unless corrected – that their delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Denver will attend in a mute state destined to create such chaos as to insure the election of Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

The most frequently heard solution to enfranchisement of the disenfranchised is that there be another primary in those states, either through the caucus system, a mail-in vote or an actual election. In any of those scenarios Senators Clinton and Obama would have an opportunity to campaign in Florida and Michigan on an equal footing and the voters would have an opportunity to make their wishes known. The downside, we are solemnly told, is that some of those who voted earlier may, for a variety of reasons such as death, be unable to vote in a second election thus rendering meaningless their earlier votes, votes which the entire debate already demonstrates was meaningless.

Since the only way the errors of the past can be corrected and a Democratic debacle avoided is through a second election, the question the average citizen is asking is simple: Why the delay in setting the date? The answer, not surprisingly, is money. Since money is the answer, the next question is where can the money be found? And herewith the suggestion (not original with the writer) and the consequences (that are).

There is no reason to burden the taxpayers of Michigan and Florida with the cost of the election nor is there any reason to burden the Democratic party establishment with the cost. According to the Associated Press, Michigan Democratic chairman Mark Brewer, said it would cost the state party $8 million to $12 million to set up party-run election sites and allow voting by mail or over the Internet. The same report quoted Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida as saying that conducting a primary in Florida would cost between $22 million and $24 million whereas voting by mail would cost approximately $8 million and a caucus process about $4 million.

Whichever method is decided upon, the best solution is to permit the two campaigns to share the cost equally, a cost they can well afford. In February alone, Hillary Clinton raised $35 million and Barack Obama raised $55 million. The total cost of new elections in both states would cost somewhere between $36 million and $48 million, depending on what kind of an election is held. If the campaigns pay for the two elections, the Clinton campaign would have $11 million left from its February winnings and the Obama campaign would have $31 million left.

Here are the happy consequences of that outcome.

The candidates would have $18 million and perhaps as much as $24 million less to pay for television advertising. This would free Democrat and Republican alike from thousands, if not, indeed, hundreds of thousands of hours of perfectly meaningless television ads that benefit none but the candidates – if them – and the television stations who profit thereby.

Without the need to produce so many ads, those whose job it is to compose the ads could devote more of their time to polishing their skills and making sure that the ads they still have money to produce are grammatically correct. As a result, viewers would not be subject to the incessant question of “Who” we’d like to have answering the telephone in the event of an emergency. (That usage, sponsored by the campaign of a Wellesley College graduate, almost certainly confirms in the minds of many, that “who” is the correct word to use in that particular sentence structure thus guaranteeing its infliction on the rest of us for years to come.)

Of course, deflecting the $48 million televised assault on our senses is but a temporary reprieve. If the campaigns continue their successful fund raising, in the next four months they will raise between them close to half a billion dollars, more than enough to pay for other assaults on our senses and rendering the reprieve brief at best.

A brief reprieve, however, coupled with the enfranchisement of the citizens of Florida and Michigan is not something at which to sneer.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 4:21 PM | Permalink

Open Borders, Closed Hearts

Mar
7
2008

See the conquering hero comes;
Sound the trumpet, beat the drums. — Thomas Morrell,
Joshua

Iraq is a sovereign and free country. That means it gets to decide whom to invite for dinner and sleepovers. It was made free by George W. Bush. That means he gets to decide who can invade Iraq. He made the first decision before Iraq was a free and sovereign country and that decision is what turned it into a free and sovereign country. That was back in 2003.

Having nothing much else to do in 2003, Mr. Bush decided an invasion of Iraq would be one way of creating the kind of legacy every president is searching for. A good war seemed like an insurance policy for his reputation. Accordingly, he fabricated some facts that if believed by others, he believed, would justify an invasion of Iraq. He presented them to the legislative bodies that needed to approve war and, the approval in hand, he proudly sent his armies to conquer Iraq and install a government that would be to his liking.

The war did not turn out exactly as he had hoped although he kept telling his people that it was going really well and that democracy was being installed in a country that had been subject to the whims of another ruthless ruler, Saddam Hussein. The war is still going on and no one knows how it will end but its ending is not what concerns Mr. Bush who is only concerned about his reputation. What is important to him, as to a small child pretending to be a great warrior, is that he be remembered as the president who led the country in a time of war even though it was a conflict he had created.

With Mr. Bush’s invasion of Iraq completed, Mr. Bush approved an invasion of that country by another foreign power, even though Iraq in fact has its very own leaders who probably thought that since they were in charge, they would get to decide when, if ever, another power would be given permission to invade.

The Kurdish Workers Party or PKK that lives in the northern part of Iraq has long been an annoyance to the Turkish government since it keeps crossing the border of Iraq to enter Turkey and engage in combat with Turkish troops. Since the Iraqis have been unable to halt the incursions, Turkey undertook to do that on its own.

Crossing the border with troops into a foreign country would under normal circumstances be defined as an invasion of that country even if the invaders said they had only a limited purpose. In this case it was not an invasion. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan personally told George Bush of his plans to invade before the invasion took place. Mr. Bush did not object. Mr. Erdogan also let Mr. al-Maliki know. Mr. al-Maliki was less understanding. According to his spokesman he telephoned Mr. Erdogan and informed him of the “need to respect Iraq sovereign authority.” Mr. al-Maliki may have forgotten that George Bush said the invasion was OK. Scott Stanzel, White House spokesman said that: “We were notified and we urged the Turkish government to limit their operations to precise targeting of the PKK to limit the scope and duration of their operations . . . .”

The Iraqis may be surprised that Mr. Bush is the one who gets to give another country permission to invade Iraq. They shouldn’t be. As was explained by one “senior U.S. official” in a CNN broadcast in August 2007, “any country with 160,000 foreigners fighting for it sacrifices some sovereignty.” He got that right. The Iraqis still have some rights although they’re not quite as good as deciding who gets to invade it. They get to decide who gets to come on state visits aside from Americans and that’s how they happened to invite Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to pay them a visit. Mr. Ahmadinejad was able to freely travel around. He got to drive from the airport to the green zone (unlike George Bush who, being a bit of a ‘fraidy cat notwithstanding his bravado, always goes in by helicopter). It is rumored that Mr. Ahmadinejad will be bringing $1 billion in loans to Iraq to enable it to rebuild its infrastructure, something Mr. Bush has been trying unsuccessfully to do for many years.

Not everyone in the U.S. administration was happy with the visit. One senior Bush administration official told Reuters the U.S. was concerned Iraq could cozy up too much to Iran. This official said: “There is still significant evidence of Iran’s illicit meddling in Iraq. . . This has to stop.” Nonetheless, said the same official: It ” is important to remember that this is a sovereign Iraqi decision and we have faith that the Iraqis will be able to deal with his visit.” They were. They would probably have preferred to have the power to deal with the visit from the Turkish army. They didn’t.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 7:51 AM | Permalink

Corrupt Dictators and Their Friends

Feb
28
2008

People have got to know whether their president is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook.
– Richard Nixon,
Press Conference 11/11/1973

Herewith an introduction to Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan.

Mr. Nazarbayev was elected president of Kazakhstan by the Supreme Soviet on April 24, 1990. On December 1, 1991, Kazakhstan being on the verge of independence, he was elected by Kazakh citizens with 95 percent of the vote and most recently was elected in 2005 with 91 percent of the vote. The 2005 election was only slightly marred by the observation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), an organization he now chairs, that there were “numerous and persistent examples of intimidation by the authorities” and an “overall media bias in favor of the incumbent.” One month before the election Zamanbek Nurkadilov, an opposition leader, was said by authorities to have committed suicide. He did it by shooting himself once in the head and twice in the chest. Two months after the election, Altynbek Sarsenbayev, one of the opposition leaders was killed, reportedly by state security officials.

In May 2007, satisfied with the way he’d been performing, President Nazarbayev signed a constitutional amendment that permits him (and only him) to seek re-election indefinitely beginning in 2012 when his current term expires.

Mr. Nazarbayev presides over what has been called one of the most corrupt regimes in central Asia. He has closed newspapers, banned or refused to register opposition parties and permitted harassment of advocacy groups. Miklos Marschall, the regional director of Transparency International, an anti-corruption organization said of the president: “You don’t have free elections, and the press is pretty much controlled by his family and a significant portion of assets in Kazakhstan are directly or indirectly controlled by his family.” Marschall told the Washington Post in August, 2006. Although he went on to say that the president was making some step-by-step reforms, on the Transparency International Scale of corrupt countries, Kazakhstan is ranked 2.6, 1 being the most corrupt and 10 being least corrupt.

In 2006, Mr. Nazarbayev was a guest of Mr. Bush at the White House. Welcoming Mr. Nazarbayev 9 months after Mr. Nazarbayev had been reelected with 91 percent of the vote, a slightly envious Mr. Bush said: “I have watched very carefully the development of this important country from one that was in the Soviet sphere to one that now is a free nation . . . . And I welcome you here to the White House, and I’m looking forward to buying you lunch.” After lunch Mr. Nazarbayev went to Kennebunkport to visit the first President Bush.

The visit to the White House was preceded by a visit to Kazakhstan in 2006 by Vice President Dick Cheney who in response to Mr. Nazarbayev’s welcome said: “I think all Americans are tremendously impressed with the progress that you’ve made. . . in the last 15 years. . . . I’m delighted to have the opportunity to spend some time with you here in Astana. We met 10 years ago. . . and it’s a pleasure to renew our friendship.”

An even more prominent visitor than Mr. Cheney, however, was Bill Clinton who visited Mr. Nazarbayev in 2005. He arrived in a private jet owned by Frank Giustra of Canada who accompanied Mr. Clinton on the trip. All that happened when Dick Cheney visited was a friendship renewed. According to a story in the New York Times, three important things happened as a result of Mr. Clinton’s visit.

The first was that Mr. Clinton voiced support for Mr. Nazarbayev’s bid to lead OSCE (that had been critical of the 2005 election) notwithstanding the Bush administration’s lack of support for that bid, saying: “I think it’s time for that to happen, it’s an important step, and I’m glad you’re willing to undertake it.” Then the next important thing happened.

Mr. Giustra’s small company, newly interested in uranium mining, signed agreements enabling it to become partners in three state-owned uranium projects, agreements that are described as worth tens of millions of dollars. Then the last good thing happened.

The William J. Clinton Foundation got a $31.3 million gift from Mr. Giustra. That gift was only publicly disclosed in December 2007. More recently the foundation received another $100 million from Mr. Giustra.

When interviewed on Fox News and asked about her husband’s visit to Kazakhstan and praise for Mr. Nazarbayev, Sen. Hillary Clinton said: “He went to Kazakhstan to sign an agreement with the government to provide low cost drugs for HIV/AIDS, a growing problem in Central Asia. . . .” Asked about the former president’s praise for Mr. Nazarbayev she said that Dick Cheney also had good words for Mr. Nazarbayev when he visited the country.

This is one of the few times any Democrat has used Dick Cheney as justification for a bad decision. Should she become president one can only hope Sen. Clinton doesn’t use Mr. Cheney as a role model for other bad decisions. That would bode ill for us all.

Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 9:26 AM | Permalink

Presidential Picks in the Middle East

Feb
7
2008

Here in the Middle East, a region where politics, conspiracies and skullduggery are national pastimes, the American presidential race is keenly observed, if not always understood. Still, there’s a great deal of interest among Israelis and Arabs about who the nominees will be and what that person’s election will mean for the region.

So, let’s take a look at some of the regional attitudes toward the Big Three candidates.

John McCain

The senator from Arizona isn’t widely known here in the region, but what little opinion there is has settled on a single narrative: he’s no different from President George W. Bush, a staunch ally – Arabs might call him blindly so – to Israel, a hothead and the candidate most likely to get into a shooting war with Iran.

Given their druthers, most Arabs on the street would prefer not to see McCain in office.

“I think there is an instinctive aversion to any Republican candidate,” said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. But she made it clear she was speaking about the so-called “Arab street” and not the governments of the region.

“There’s a substantial difference between the Arab street’s opinion and the Arab regimes,” she added. “I think for Arab regimes, perhaps they’d be uncomfortable with a Democratic candidate.”

The Lebanese are certainly uncomfortable with the Democrats, as evidenced by the unease that met Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Damascus last year.

Hillary Clinton

When it comes to Sen. Hillary Clinton, there’s a sense of relief in the region. Her presidency is seen as a return to her husband’s policies – although that harms her in some circles because of President Clinton’s support for Iraq sanctions throughout the 1990s. Others remember the Clinton presidency fondly for its efforts – though flawed – to hammer out a real peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

No matter; she’s considered a strong supporter of Israel – New York City’s large Jewish population and her Hollywood ties are often darkly fretted over – and her support for Israel during the July 2006 war between the Jewish state and Hezbollah hasn’t won her any friends among the so-called “Axis of Resistance”: Syria, Iran and its proxy militias such as Hezbollah and Hamas. For them, Hillary Clinton is seen as a hawk. Her vote in 2002 authorizing the Iraq war still angers many in the region.

The best thing about Clinton, from an Arab perspective, is that she’s a known quality. But between Clinton and McCain, most observers see little difference.

Barack Obama

The one candidate that elicits any kind of excitement is Sen. Barack Obama. An African-American who speaks in soaring rhetoric and who is (wrongly) assumed to have some Muslim ties is irresistible to many.

“I would say there’s a cautious optimism about Obama,” Saad-Ghorayeb said. “First of all, they (Arabs) expect a Democratic candidate to adopt a different policy, different means. They’re quite aware that the Democratic Party doesn’t endorse Bush’s methods.”

That said, no one thinks the Obama is going to abandon Israel any time soon. “Arabs know the constraints on every president,” she said.

Nonetheless, some circles in Israel are freaking out over the idea of an Obama presidency. Why? Because last year, in an off-the-cuff remark, he mentioned that “nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.” This led David Adelman, a member of AIPAC, the Israeli lobby, to write a letter asking for clarification on this “deeply troubling” remark of Obama’s.

Obama explained in a debate last year that he was talking about the consequences of Palestinians’ failed leadership, but that hasn’t stopped the “Israel First” crowd from coming out of the woodwork.

He has also surrounded himself with, shall we say, “interesting” advisors – when it comes to Israel:

  • Samantha Power, a human rights activist and Harvard University professor sometimes accused of supporting the Walt-Mearsheimer view of American foreign policy – that the U.S. is hostage to Israel’s view of the region.
  • Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Obama’s pastor at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ and who has ties to Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam. Farrakhan likes to toss out raging anti-Jewish statements and Obama has not seen fit to distance himself from Wright, whose church magazine last year gave Farrakhan an award.
  • George Soros, the philanthropic (and Jewish) billionaire, who is often accused as being hostile to Israel.
  • Robert Malley, a former Clinton administration official who the Jerusalem Post called a “Palestinian apologist.”
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski and Mark Brzezinski, who are assumed to be foes of Israel.
  • In each of these cases, his opponents are happily ginning up smear tactics against the Obama, seen in the region as the only person who might make significant policy changes for the U.S. policy. Significantly, the “Obama’s-a-Muslim” meme will not die. Look for it to reappear in a virulent form come the summer if he’s the nominee. When Arab media pick it up – it’s only a matter of time – the fictional association will become a reason for Arabs to support Obama and “proof” for Israel’s allies on the right that Obama is not presidential material.

    In the end, Obama’s voting record and more recent statements show him to be — like Clinton and McCain — a steadfast ally to the Jewish state. And Arab expectations and hope for the junior senator from Illinois are likely to be dashed on the rocky cliffs of reality should he find himself in the Oval Office.

    “There’s always the sense that African-Americans would be more sympathetic (to Arabs), because they’re oppressed too,” Saad-Ghorayeb said. “But that wasn’t really the case with Colin Powell or Condi Rice, was it?”

    Posted by Christopher Allbritton at 7:08 PM | Permalink

    Scrambling for A Tip

    Nov
    18
    2007

    Gossip is mischievous, light and easy to raise, but grievous to bear and hard to get rid of. No gossip ever dies away entirely, if many people voice it; it too is a kind of divinity. – Hesiod, Works and Days

    Most United States voters spend hours each day contemplating things like taxes, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the trade deficit, and other weighty matters. Fascinated by the complexity of these and endlessly in search of enlightenment, they are grateful that there are presently 19 Democrats who have announced their intentions to seek the presidency and 74 Republicans who have done the same, each of whom explains complex issues in a manner that enlightens. (Included among the Democrats are such well-known figures as Christine Gerasimos Billings-Elias and Emperor Caesar, and among the Republicans people like Jedidiah Elijah Wendell Kennedy Banks and Freddy Irwin Sitnick.

    According to Project Vote Smart “announced” candidates are those who have formed or announced a Presidential exploratory or campaign committee with the Federal Election Commission or filed a statement of candidacy). Elucidation of complex issues by the candidates in debates and on the stump is done with such oratorical flourish that any day now one expects William Jennings Bryan to rise up from the grave and cry out in pleasure at the skill demonstrated by those seeking the office to which he thrice aspired.

    Notwithstanding the pleasure the voter derives from the reasoned discussion by the candidates of serious issues, occasionally, exhausted by consideration of the substantive issues, the voter longs for a bit of fluff as a diversion that may also be useful in selecting a favorite candidate. And that is where some of the sites on the Internet come in.

    In the 2004 election a group of know-nothings was supporting the Republican ticket, led by a man who was a deserter during the Vietnam War and whose sidekick avoided military service by staying in school. They created rumors about John Kerry’s war record by spreading lies on their website that, nurtured by the the nature of the Internet and ignored by the Kerry campaign were quickly disseminated world-wide. Faster than you could say “jack rabbit” the lies had been picked up and commented on by newspapers and television stations around the country. They were eventually accepted as true by some of the voters who had long labored to understand all the truly significant issues then confronting the country and had looked forward to casting votes informed by knowledge. Seduced by untruths, they voted on the basis of the lies.

    In recent days we have once again been momentarily excused from our assigned task of studying issues by a bit of trivia.

    On November 8 it was reported that Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, may have left a restaurant without leaving a tip. During the election of 1940 this would not have been reported on any radio station nor would it have been mentioned in the New York Times. Thanks to modern technology, however, this became really big news. Here’s what happened.

    Clinton dined at a Maid-Rite diner in central Iowa. At the conclusion of the meal she and her retinue left the restaurant and may or may not have left a tip. That news was told to NPR’s David Greene by Anita Esterday, a waitress at the restaurant. Mr. Greene included it in an 8-minute report broadcast on Morning Edition on November 8.

    No sooner was the tale told, than bloggers flashed the very important news all over the world. This very important news was then responded to by Ms. Clinton’s staff. It contacted news organizations to let them know that in fact a generous tip had been left and other news organizations then rushed to the Maid-Rite to interview people to see who was telling the truth. NPR then broadcast a much longer piece describing exactly what all the parties to this event had to say about it and the New York Times, not wanting to deprive its readers of this important news, published a 581-word piece describing the event and the campaign’s response.

    In the meantime, sites opposed to Clinton’s candidate, led by long-time Clinton critic Matt Drudge, unearthed a 2000 Washington Times report adding the important news that in 2000 Hillary Clinton left a Village House Restaurant in Albion, N.Y. without leaving a tip. After that event was reported Ms. Clinton called the server to apologize and sent the server a $100 savings bond. In the Iowa event a staffer returned and although stating a tip had been left gave Ms. Esterday and another waitress $20 each. Momentarily, this incident erased from the mind of the thoughtful American public all concerns about weightier issues.

    Asked about the affair, the affronted waitress said to an inquiring reporter: “You people are really nuts. There’s kids dying in the war, the price of oil right now-there’s better things in this world to be thinking about than who served Hillary Clinton at Maid-Rite and who got a tip and who didn’t get a tip.” Ignoring the fact that her complaint started the brouhaha, she has a point.

    Posted by Christopher Brauchli at 11:31 AM | Permalink

    Do They All Sound Alike, Too?

    Nov
    6
    2007

    Not just once, but twice in the same debate, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney got potential Democratic opponent Sen. Barack Obama mixed up with terrorist Osama bin Laden.

    At worst, Romney was being devious, suggesting that a Democratic presidential candidate is a terrorist. Perhaps he’s carrying on a silly “slip of the tongue” game that Republicans and Democrats tried playing earlier in this campaign, pointing out that Obama’s middle name is Hussein and wrongly tried to associate his candidacy — and religion — with being Muslim and, as a result, anti-American.

    Still, even if you give Romney the benefit of the doubt, his slip goes a long way to confirm that he is one of the same-old-white-guys-in-suits that make up the GOP lineup.

    This was the gang whose front-runners wimped out of a scheduled GOP debate before a predominantly black audience at Morgan State University in Baltimore. Are Romney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain and former Sen. Fred Thompson scared of spending 90 televised minutes in an auditorium with hundreds of black folk? Are front-runners like Giuliani terrified because they will have utter sentences with more than a “Noun, a verb and 9/11″? And if so, well, what are they going to do if they have to confront real enemies with even more unusual names?

    But it’s not just the Republicans giving Obama trouble. Big foot political pundits looking at the Democratic field need remedial help in getting a few facts and theories straight about the junior Senator from Illinois. Obama’s captured the imagination of young, optimistic voters. His blackness is non-threatening to many whites and authentic to most blacks. In fact, last summer’s inane refrains, “is he black enough?” were mostly lazy questions from faux militants and political hacks.

    Still, so-called experts try to marginalize the senator. A repeated campaign narrative is that Obama is not experienced, like Democratic competitor and frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton, the U.S. Senator from New York.

    Excuse me? Clinton has been a U.S. Senator for six years, since 2001. Obama has been senator two years, since 2005. But he has he has more legislative experience than Clinton; he served seven years from 1997-2004 in the Illinois senate.

    Don’t you dare dismiss state experience. Fifteen years ago, political pros said Clinton’s husband, then the governor of a small Southwestern state, did not have the proper credentials to be president. He completed two terms in the White House, right?

    Anyway, the cries for experience are overrated. Examined the resume of “the decider,” the U.S. Commander-in-Chief President George W. Bush? As governor of Texas, Bush was a weak executive. That wasn’t his fault; state law made the office soft. The Texas governor is the third most-powerful position, after lieutenant governor and speaker of the house, Roland S. Martin, a former resident of the Lone Star, familiar with its politics, informed me.

    There are voters who made a terrible mistake and chose Bush over Gore in 2000 because these voters assumed the “play Texan,” as the late Molly Ivins loved to tag Bush, would hold office under “adult” supervision with former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s counsel and the experience of White House hands Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in the respective roles of vice president and defense secretary.

    That’s why Obama likes to remind anyone who will listen that Cheney, Rumsfeld and company had experience, but also had bad judgment. When I met the senator last August, he reminded me and two dozen colleagues of all the disasterous foreign policy decisions experienced hands such as Cheney, Rumsfeld and company made.

    An Obama flaw could be his campaign style. Last week he promised to go after front-runner Clinton at the debate, but in realty, he mildly scolded her. Democratic contender former Sen. John Edwards was on the attack with a lot more to prove; he’s almost a second-tier Democratic presidential candidate at this point in the race.

    Obama has lost a little ground to Hillary Clinton yet he still looks like a viable presidential candidate as we approach the prime-time campaign season.

    Posted by Wayne Dawkins at 8:43 AM | Permalink

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