Archive for July, 2008

Oliver Stone’s “W” Trailer

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

To be released just in time for the election…

Obama World Tour Round-up

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Even Obama’s supposed private moments on his world tour ended up generating positive headlines.

There was this supposedly private exchange between Obama and Conservative party leader, David Cameron, in London caught by ABC News:

“These guys just chalk your diary up,” said Cameron, referring to a packed schedule.

“Right,” Obama said. “In 15 minute increments …”

“We call it the dentist’s waiting room,” Cameron said. “You have to scrap that because you’ve got to have time.”

“And, well, and you start making mistakes,” Obama said, “or you lose the big picture. Or you lose a sense of, I think you lose a feel- ”

“Your feeling,” interrupted Cameron. “And that is exactly what politics is all about. The judgment you bring to make decisions.”

And then there was the prayer note Obama placed in the Western Wall in Jerusalem which was taken out by a student and published on the front page of the Israeli paper Maariv:

Lord,

Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins and help me guard against pride and despair.

Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just.

And make me an instrument of your will.

The student later apologized and replaced the note in the wall.

Meanwhile, after McCain make Obama’s trip more and more newsworthy by challenging him to go to Iraq and around the world, he was left in America whining about the media’s “love affair” with Obama – even as a new survey came out showing that though Obama received more coverage than McCain, a larger percentage of the stories were critical of Obama.

Despite this overwhelming media bias in favor of McCain, Obama is leading in virtually every poll.  And if – as has traditionally happened – the media closes ranks with the Democrats come late October, this bodes well for Obama.

Quote of the Day

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Liberty grows from the ground – it cannot be dropped from the air by an unmanned drone.

David Cameron, Conservative Party leader in Great Britain on September 11, 2006.

The amusing town of Dildo, Newfoundland

Monday, July 28th, 2008

[Picture by KVL used under a Creative Commons license.]

The unfortunate residents of Dildo, Newfoundland (all 272 of them) have been trying to change their town’s name for years to no avail.  While the town’s name was taken in the late 1700s – the source of the name is shrouded in mystery.  The best explanation I have come across is that some early explorer thought that the local peninsula resembled a…dildo.  Today, some residents have embraced the name though.  While in this small fishing town, you can visit the Dildo Dory Grill and stay in the Dildo Cottages.

H/t Frink.

Explaining Away McCain’s Foreign Policy Gaffes

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Fred Kaplan asks a serious question that comes up again and again among those who pay attention to foreign policy: How Much Does John McCain Really Know About Foreign Policy?

He frames the issues by asking the question that was echoed by pundits all over America in the days before Barack Obama’s foreign trip:

Would Obama, the first-term senator and foreign-policy newbie, utter an irrevocably damaging gaffe?

Kaplan then gives examples of gaffes that might hurt Obama’s foreign policy credibility seriously:

The nightmare scenarios were endless. Maybe he would refer to “the Iraq-Pakistan border,” or call the Czech Republic “Czechoslovakia” (three times), or confuse Sunni with Shiite, or say that the U.S. troop surge preceded (and therefore caused) the Sunni Awakening in Anbar province.

The kicker, of course, is that it was John McCain who made all of these gaffes, errors, other non-truths:

But, of course, it was Obama’s opponent, John McCain—the war hero and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee—who uttered these eyebrow-raisers. “Czechoslovakia” was clearly a gaffe, and understandable for anyone who was sentient during the Cold War years. What about the others, though? Were they gaffes—slips of the tongue, blips of momentary fatigue? Or did they reflect lazy thinking, conceptual confusion, a mind frame clouded by clichéd abstractions?

And therein lies the question that anyone supporting McCain must ask – why is this “expert” on foreign policy making so many mistakes in discussing it?

So far this meme hasn’t gotten much traction – because it doesn’t fit into the established media caricature of this race – between the new and inexperienced Obama and the old and knowledgeable McCain.  But at some point, you have to figure the sheer amount of these gaffes will have a public impact.

A World That Stands As One

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

[Photo of poster by brian.glanz.]

Obama’s much-anticipated Berlin speech has now leaked. To watch the live feed for the next few minutes, check out the Raw Story.

Thank you to the citizens of Berlin and to the people of Germany. Let me thank Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Steinmeier for welcoming me earlier today. Thank you Mayor Wowereit, the Berlin Senate, the police, and most of all thank you for this welcome.

I come to Berlin as so many of my countrymen have come before. Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen – a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world.

I know that I don’t look like the Americans who’ve previously spoken in this great city. The journey that led me here is improbable. My mother was born in the heartland of America, but my father grew up herding goats in Kenya. His father – my grandfather – was a cook, a domestic servant to the British.

At the height of the Cold War, my father decided, like so many others in the forgotten corners of the world, that his yearning – his dream – required the freedom and opportunity promised by the West. And so he wrote letter after letter to universities all across America until somebody, somewhere answered his prayer for a better life.

That is why I’m here. And you are here because you too know that yearning. This city, of all cities, knows the dream of freedom. And you know that the only reason we stand here tonight is because men and women from both of our nations came together to work, and struggle, and sacrifice for that better life.

Ours is a partnership that truly began sixty years ago this summer, on the day when the first American plane touched down at Templehof.

On that day, much of this continent still lay in ruin. The rubble of this city had yet to be built into a wall. The Soviet shadow had swept across Eastern Europe, while in the West, America, Britain, and France took stock of their losses, and pondered how the world might be remade.

This is where the two sides met. And on the twenty-fourth of June, 1948, the Communists chose to blockade the western part of the city. They cut off food and supplies to more than two million Germans in an effort to extinguish the last flame of freedom in Berlin.

The size of our forces was no match for the much larger Soviet Army. And yet retreat would have allowed Communism to march across Europe. Where the last war had ended, another World War could have easily begun. All that stood in the way was Berlin.

Ê And that’s when the airlift began – when the largest and most unlikely rescue in history brought food and hope to the people of this city.

The odds were stacked against success. In the winter, a heavy fog filled the sky above, and many planes were forced to turn back without dropping off the needed supplies. The streets where we stand were filled with hungry families who had no comfort from the cold.

But in the darkest hours, the people of Berlin kept the flame of hope burning. The people of Berlin refused to give up. And on one fall day, hundreds of thousands of Berliners came here, to the Tiergarten, and heard the city’s mayor implore the world not to give up on freedom. “There is only one possibility,” he said. “For us to stand together united until this battle is won The people of Berlin have spoken. We have done our duty, and we will keep on doing our duty. People of the world: now do your duty People of the world, look at Berlin!”

People of the world – look at Berlin!

Look at Berlin, where Germans and Americans learned to work together and trust each other less than three years after facing each other on the field of battle.

Look at Berlin, where the determination of a people met the generosity of the Marshall Plan and created a German miracle; where a victory over tyranny gave rise to NATO, the greatest alliance ever formed to defend our common security.

Look at Berlin, where the bullet holes in the buildings and the somber stones and pillars near the Brandenburg Gate insist that we never forget our common humanity.

People of the world – look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one.

Sixty years after the airlift, we are called upon again. History has led us to a new crossroad, with new promise and new peril. When you, the German people, tore down that wall — a wall that divided East and West; freedom and tyranny; fear and hope — walls came tumbling down around the world. From Kiev to Cape Town, prison camps were closed, and the doors of democracy were opened. Markets opened too, and the spread of information and technology reduced barriers to opportunity and prosperity. While the 20th century taught us that we share a common destiny, the 21st has revealed a world more intertwined than at any time in human history.

The fall of the Berlin Wall brought new hope. But that very closeness has given rise to new dangers – dangers that cannot be contained within the borders of a country or by the distance of an ocean.

The terrorists of September 11th plotted in Hamburg and trained in Kandahar and Karachi before killing thousands from all over the globe on American soil.

As we speak, cars in Boston and factories in Beijing are melting the ice caps in the Arctic, shrinking coastlines in the Atlantic, and bringing drought to farms from Kansas to Kenya.

Poorly secured nuclear material in the former Soviet Union, or secrets from a scientist in Pakistan could help build a bomb that detonates in Paris. The poppies in Afghanistan become the heroin in Berlin. The poverty and violence in Somalia breeds the terror of tomorrow. The genocide in Darfur shames the conscience of us all.

In this new world, such dangerous currents have swept along faster than our efforts to contain them. That is why we cannot afford to be divided. No one nation, no matter how large or powerful, can defeat such challenges alone. None of us can deny these threats, or escape responsibility in meeting them. Yet, in the absence of Soviet tanks and a terrible wall, it has become easy to forget this truth. And if we’re honest with each other, we know that sometimes, on both sides of the Atlantic, we have drifted apart, and forgotten our shared destiny.

In Europe, the view that America is part of what has gone wrong in our world, rather than a force to help make it right, has become all too common. In America, there are voices that deride and deny the importance of Europe’s role in our security and our future. Both views miss the truth – that Europeans today are bearing new burdens and taking more responsibility in critical parts of the world; and that just as American bases built in the last century still help to defend the security of this continent, so does our country still sacrifice greatly for freedom around the globe.

Yes, there have been differences between America and Europe. No doubt, there will be differences in the future. But the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together. A change of leadership in Washington will not lift this burden. In this new century, Americans and Europeans alike will be required to do more – not less. Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice; it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity.

That is why the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another. The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.

We know they have fallen before. After centuries of strife, the people of Europe have formed a Union of promise and prosperity. Here, at the base of a column built to mark victory in war, we meet in the center of a Europe at peace. Not only have walls come down in Berlin, but they have come down in Belfast, where Protestant and Catholic found a way to live together; in the Balkans, where our Atlantic alliance ended wars and brought savage war criminals to justice; and in South Africa, where the struggle of a courageous people defeated apartheid.  So history reminds us that walls can be torn down. But the task is never easy. True partnership and true progress requires constant work and sustained sacrifice. They require sharing the burdens of development and diplomacy; of progress and peace. They require allies who will listen to each other, learn from each other and, most of all, trust each other.

That is why America cannot turn inward. That is why Europe cannot turn inward. America has no better partner than Europe. Now is the time to build new bridges across the globe as strong as the one that bound us across the Atlantic. Now is the time to join together, through constant cooperation, strong institutions, shared sacrifice, and a global commitment to progress, to meet the challenges of the 21st century. It was this spirit that led airlift planes to appear in the sky above our heads, and people to assemble where we stand today. And this is the moment when our nations – and all nations – must summon that spirit anew.

This is the moment when we must defeat terror and dry up the well of extremism that supports it. This threat is real and we cannot shrink from our responsibility to combat it. If we could create NATO to face down the Soviet Union, we can join in a new and global partnership to dismantle the networks that have struck in Madrid and Amman; in London and Bali; in Washington and New York. If we could win a battle of ideas against the communists, we can stand with the vast majority of Muslims who reject the extremism that leads to hate instead of hope.

This is the moment when we must renew our resolve to rout the terrorists who threaten our security in Afghanistan, and the traffickers who sell drugs on your streets. No one welcomes war. I recognize the enormous difficulties in Afghanistan. But my country and yours have a stake in seeing that NATO’s first mission beyond Europe’s borders is a success. For the people of Afghanistan, and for our shared security, the work must be done. America cannot do this alone. The Afghan people need our troops and your troops; our support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, to develop their economy, and to help them rebuild their nation. We have too much at stake to turn back now.

This is the moment when we must renew the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. The two superpowers that faced each other across the wall of this city came too close too often to destroying all we have built and all that we love. With that wall gone, we need not stand idly by and watch the further spread of the deadly atom. It is time to secure all loose nuclear materials; to stop the spread of nuclear weapons; and to reduce the arsenals from another era. This is the moment to begin the work of seeking the peace of a world without nuclear weapons.

This is the moment when every nation in Europe must have the chance to choose its own tomorrow free from the shadows of yesterday. In this century, we need a strong European Union that deepens the security and prosperity of this continent, while extending a hand abroad. In this century — in this city of all cities — we must reject the Cold War mind-set of the past, and resolve to work with Russia when we can, to stand up for our values when we must, and to seek a partnership that extends across this entire continent.

This is the moment when we must build on the wealth that open markets have created, and share its benefits more equitably. Trade has been a cornerstone of our growth and global development. But we will not be able to sustain this growth if it favors the few, and not the many. Together, we must forge trade that truly rewards the work that creates wealth, with meaningful protections for our people and our planet. This is the moment for trade that is free and fair for all.

This is the moment we must help answer the call for a new dawn in the Middle East. My country must stand with yours and with Europe in sending a direct message to Iran that it must abandon its nuclear ambitions. We must support the Lebanese who have marched and bled for democracy, and the Israelis and Palestinians who seek a secure and lasting peace. And despite past differences, this is the moment when the world should support the millions of Iraqis who seek to rebuild their lives, even as we pass responsibility to the Iraqi government and finally bring this war to a close.

This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet. Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands. Let us resolve that all nations – including my own – will act with the same seriousness of purpose as has your nation, and reduce the carbon we send into our atmosphere. This is the moment to give our children back their future. This is the moment to stand as one.

And this is the moment when we must give hope to those left behind in a globalized world. We must remember that the Cold War born in this city was not a battle for land or treasure. Sixty years ago, the planes that flew over Berlin did not drop bombs; instead they delivered food, and coal, and candy to grateful children. And in that show of solidarity, those pilots won more than a military victory. They won hearts and minds; love and loyalty and trust – not just from the people in this city, but from all those who heard the story of what they did here.

Now the world will watch and remember what we do here – what we do with this moment. Will we extend our hand to the people in the forgotten corners of this world who yearn for lives marked by dignity and opportunity; by security and justice? Will we lift the child in Bangladesh from poverty, shelter the refugee in Chad, and banish the scourge of AIDS in our time?

Will we stand for the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe? Will we give meaning to the words “never again” in Darfur?

Will we acknowledge that there is no more powerful example than the one each of our nations projects to the world? Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law? Will we welcome immigrants from different lands, and shun discrimination against those who don’t look like us or worship like we do, and keep the promise of equality and opportunity for all of our people?

People of Berlin – people of the world – this is our moment. This is our time.

I know my country has not perfected itself. At times, we’ve struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people. We’ve made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.

But I also know how much I love America. I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived – at great cost and great sacrifice – to form a more perfect union; to seek, with other nations, a more hopeful world. Our allegiance has never been to any particular tribe or kingdom – indeed, every language is spoken in our country; every culture has left its imprint on ours; every point of view is expressed in our public squares. What has always united us — what has always driven our people; what drew my father to America’s shores – is a set of ideals that speak to aspirations shared by all people: that we can live free from fear and free from want; that we can speak our minds and assemble with whomever we choose and worship as we please.

Those are the aspirations that joined the fates of all nations in this city. Those aspirations are bigger than anything that drives us apart. It is because of those aspirations that the airlift began. It is because of those aspirations that all free people – everywhere – became citizens of Berlin. It is in pursuit of those aspirations that a new generation – our generation – must make our mark on history.

People of Berlin – and people of the world – the scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people of improbable hope. Let us build on our common history, and seize our common destiny, and once again engage in that noble struggle to bring justice and peace to our world.

Omar al-Bashir kills a dove

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

From today’s Times, describing the “charm offensive” by Omar Hassan al-Bashir who is expected to be indicted soon on charges of genocide:

The minute he stepped off the plane here, a white dove was thrust into his hands.

Mr. Bashir threw the bird toward the sky. It flapped its wings a few times, but did not really fly.

No bother. Mr. Bashir beamed and strutted down the runway.

Am I to take it from this glancing reference that the dove that was thrown towards the sky then plummeted back to the earth, perhaps to it’s death?

Setting America Up to Fail

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Putting aside the controversy over whether the New York Times should have published John McCain’s op-ed piece – his piece itself illustrates the lose-lose strategy McCain is putting forward.

This line in particular from his unpublished op-ed struck me:

…if we don’t win the war, our enemies will.

What interests me about both McCain’s and Obama’s positions is that both have stuck to their general idea about what the next step would be despite the changing situation on the ground.

McCain was in favor of troops staying longer in Iraq when things were bad and getting worse; now that things are improving, he is still in favor of keeping our forces there.  Obama was in favor of pulling out of Iraq while the situation was deteriorating; and now that the situation is improving, he still is in favor of ending the occupation.  McCain’s editorial tries to hit Obama on this point, unconvincingly in light of McCain’s own seeming intransigence.

But it isn’t entirely accurate to call Obama’s and McCain’s fixed goals in spite of the changing circumstances “intransigence”.  The crux of the disagreement between the candidates is not the contrast that McCain sets up in his op-ed:

I have also said that any draw-downs must be based on a realistic assessment of conditions on the ground, not on an artificial timetable crafted for domestic political reasons.

Rather, the crux of their disagreement is about the wisdom of the Iraq adventure and the overall strategy of establishing some kind of neo-empire in the Middle East.  McCain believes that the Iraq War was necessary and strategically sound – and that although he may not call it an empire or neo-empire – he believes America must have an established military presence in the Middle East as a matter of policy.  Obama is suspicious of this view – believing that any form of imperial influence exerted over the Middle East will cause a backlash greater than the benefits – and he specifically pointed out before the war, and has kept pointing out, that the Iraq adventure was strategically “dumb” and that it was benefited our enemies in the Middle East even as it has undermined our friends.  By taking out Iraq, we removed Iran’s regional foil – and we set up an Iraqi regime that has become a regional ally of Iran.

There are two competing sets of suppositions here:

First:

  • If our invasion of Iraq was ill-conceived.
  • If the invasion of Iraq was the right decision but poorly executed.

Second:

  • If our continued presence there continues to create problems both for our military and for the Iraqi government.
  • If our continued presence could help stabilize the country.

On the first question, the country and the world have overwhelmingly come to believe the first option.

On the second, the answer is less clear. What is clear is that:

  • We do not have enough of a military presence to stabilize the entire country – only relatively small portions of it.
  • We have been acting as a buffer between some of the ethnic groups composing Iraq (even as our invasion and the aftermath hypercharged tensions between the groups.)
  • We are degrading our entire military and investing exorbitant amounts of money in the the country (at a time when our government is testing the limits of the world’s tolerance for our fiscal insolvency.)
  • We are inspiring more extremists than we are killing – as even Don Rumsfeld admitted.
  • Our presence in Iraq has made us more vulnerable to Iran and less able to take any necessary actions against Iran.

These commonly accepted facts demonstrate our short-term tactical limits and our tactical utility – but most of all, they demonstrate that our long-term strategy is underming our position.  From the Iraqi perspective, Maliki clearly thinks that it is best for Iraq if America leaves as soon as possible.  Analyzing what we know about Iraq leads to the same conclusion.

The only possible long-term salvation that could come from this debacle is if Iraq becomes an American-friendly, stable democracy.  Which is possible, but not the most likely conclusion based on the facts as they are now.  It is a possiblity based on a desperate hope.  But even this long-term possibility would necessitate that we demonstrate that we are intent to leave Iraq as soon as possible – and certainly as soon as we are asked.

McCain – by focusing on our short-term tactical successes (and ignoring our tactical limits and our strategic errors) – is bringing America down the wrong path – and setting us up to fail.  By saying, “if we don’t win the war, our enemies will,” McCain is attempting to impose a framework on Iraq that does not apply.  The Iraqis themselves defeated Al Qaeda and the extremists after they became tired of their extremism – with our troops playing a supporting role.  One of our primary functions in Iraq is preventing a civil war between the Iraqi ethnic groups.

The question is: Is McCain himself so deluded as to see Iraq as simply a battle between us and our enemies – like World War II – or is he merely using this framework to allow him to use Iraq as a political weapon and to paint his opponent as a “weak-kneed liberal”?

And they were worried about Mitt Romney…

Monday, July 21st, 2008

So, John McCain was almost a polygamist:

Although McCain suggested in his autobiography that months passed between his divorce and remarriage, the divorce was granted April 2, 1980, and he wed Hensley in a private ceremony five weeks later. McCain obtained an Arizona marriage license on March 6, 1980, while still legally married to his first wife.

There’s no larger point I’m trying to make about this.  You can be a scumbag and still be a good president. (See Clinton, Bill).  But as John McCain wants to make this election about character instead of issues (probably because most of his stands on issues are unpopular – and on virtually no issues can he appease both the Republican base and the general electorate) tawdry details like this becomes more relevant.

Iraq Leader Maliki Supports Obama’s Withdrawal Plans

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

Der Spiegel is headlining this over their interview of al-Maliki.  Haven’t read the whole interview yet, but the key passage seems to be:

US presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes. Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans’ business.  Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic. Artificially prolonging the tenure of US troops in Iraq would cause problems.

(I actually had this story ready to post before Drudge ran with it as his weekend headline and before every other news source picked it up – as my reddit submission suggests.  Unfortunately, my WordPress account wouldn’t let me post anything and I wasn’t able to fix it until today.)

Since this interview has been making headlines, an official spokesperson for al-Maliki has explained that there was a translation error.  The generally understood explanation for this backtracking is that the White House put a great deal of pressure on al-Maliki to walk it back – which so many news sources are still leading with a variant on headline above.