Sunday, August 31, 2008

Modern journalism

For those who think today’s j-schools are graduating the brightest and the best ever, read this from the NY Times: Correction: August 16, 2008 An article on Friday about the planned construction of two large solar power installations in California described incorrectly the operation of the solar panels in one, to be built by SunPower. Its panels pivot from east to west to follow the sun over the course of a day — not west to east.

Uplifting words of an outcaste

In case you missed it, Saturday’s New York Times carries this interview of Chandra Bhan Prasad, a reporter for an English language newspaper in India. It is about the positive effects India’s liberalized economy have had in breaking down India’s caste system. Prasad is a Dalit, the caste formerly referred to as untouchables, and he is leading the charge to eliminate discrimination based on caste. It is an uplifting story.

His latest crusade is to argue that India’s economic liberalization is about to do the unthinkable: destroy the caste system. The last 17 years of new capitalism have already allowed his people, or Dalits, as they call themselves, to “escape hunger and humiliation,” he says, if not residual prejudice.

His take on government’s current efforts to address the problem is interesting and reflects current differences in the US of addressing our racial problems.

Mr. Prasad is a contrarian. He calls government welfare programs patronizing. He dismisses the countryside as a cesspool. Affirmative action is fine, in his view, but only to advance a small slice into the middle class, who can then act as role models. He calls English “the Dalit goddess,” able to liberate Dalits.

This one gave me a chuckle. I am surprised it got by the Times’ editors.

Along with India’s economic policies, once grounded in socialist ideals, Mr. Prasad has moved to the right. He is openly and mischievously contemptuous of leftists. “They have a hatred for those who are happy,” he said.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The unfairness of Fairness

On Wednesday evening Stanley Kurtz, an investigative reporter for National Review, appeared with host Milt Rosenberg on Chicago’s WGN, for a two hour of talk discussing the Obama/Ayers relationship. The switchboard lit up with hundreds of calls orchestrated by the Obama campaign attempting to shut the interview down. The following is from show producer Zack Christenson:

It’s interesting to see what lengths the Obama campaign is willing to reach to stifle dissenting voices. Kurtz said it best at the end of the show- If a respected conservative who writes for mainstream conservative publications like the Weekly Standard and National Review can’t speak his mind, then what dissenting opinion can be voiced? Did we see a preview of the fairness doctrine tonight?

This is just one more desperate effort to keep any discussion of the Obama/Ayers connection from “getting legs.” Obama supporters have bombarded TV stations carrying American Issues Project commercials with over 90,000 emails and tried to bully their advertisers. They have filed complaints with the FEC seeking to have the commercials banned. They have urged the Justice department to investigate AIP’s officers, directors and contributors. It is a thuggish effort to stifle free speech. But it is just dancing in the daisies compared to what Democrats really want. They want the Fairness Doctrine back. They want Rush off the air. The Fairness Doctrine is doublethink for a system that will eliminate political discourse on radio. That’s what Democrats want.

The Fairness Doctrine began in the late 1940s when radio was king. The rule applied only to radio and not TV. It held that with the scarcity of frequency spectrum, radio stations were obligated present opposing views. It is not the “equal time provision,” and doesn’t require equal time. Equal Time is a different rule affecting election time political attacks on radio and TV, and is no longer in effect.

While its purpose is admirable, Fairness in reality places an inordinate burden on broadcasters, chilling political discourse. You have to understand the mindset of the broadcaster. Protecting the broadcast license is the top, top priority, nothing else even comes second. They live in daily fear of the FCC yanking it. It is their livelihood. In the old days (pre-deregulation) license renewal came up every three years. When that time came, a station would prepare a summary of its public interest programming and community involvement showing they were in compliance with FCC guidelines. From thousands and thousands of pages of records showing religious broadcasting, community access, public affairs and news, they would cull the information into a report showing they had satisfied the public interest programming goals.

But the most important issue to be addressed at license renewal was, and still is, showing that every programming complaint from the public has been noted, addressed and resolved. Currently most, but not all complaints involve sexually explicit content, But that will change under Fairness. Based the recent Obama/Ayers commercial and WGN flap, it is not unreasonable for a station to expect several hundred partisan emails a day complaining about the fairness of Rush or Hannity. No station can respond to that kind of volume to the satisfaction of the FCC. AM stations that have brought us the most vibrant political discourse for the past 21 years, will revert to 50’s rock or go dark as many did in the 1980s under Fairness.

How will Fairness be reimposed? If there is a Democrat president, it most likely will be done under the rulemaking authority of the FCC, though it can be legislated. But that needs a filibuster proof Democrat Senate, a Democrat majority in the House and a Democrat president. Already Democrat FCC commissioners are trying to increase bureaucratic strictures on broadcast stations. They want to reduce the current 8 year license period to the former 3, and add vastly more detailed public interest programming reporting requirements. They just want to bring back the rule of fear the old system brought us. The advantage for having the FCC to do the dirty work of bringing back Fairness, instead of congress, is they can simply reimpose the old rule, avoiding debate on the issue of excluding the TV spectrum. Under no circumstances will Fairness be applied to TV. It will harm Democrats best friends, and bring a firestorm from the National Association of Broadcasters. Radio is only a small part of the broadcast money pie. TV is the pie. But it is this selectivity is that will ultimately kill Fairness in the courts.

It’s difficult to rationalize how the 6 mHz of an HDTV channel is somehow less important than 10 kHz of an AM station 1/600th the size. In fact the entire AM radio spectrum would fit into less than 20% of a single HDTV channel. Fairness was once upheld by the Supreme Court in 1969 (Red Lion), in an era before deregulation and before the internet and other media opened up massive new channels for political discussion. Ultimately any decision will be based on the First Amendment issue of whether the Fairness Doctrine encourages freedom of speech or chills it. The anwer is obvious. Fairness will be deemed unfair

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Long live mediocrity

This AP story ran in a several hundred papers today. Pitcher banned…he’s too good 9-year-old boy told he's too good to pitch 

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Nine-year-old Jericho Scott is a good baseball player -- too good, it turns out. The right-hander has a fastball that tops out at about 40 mph. He throws so hard that the Youth Baseball League of New Haven told his coach that the boy could not pitch any more. When Jericho took the mound anyway last week, the opposing team forfeited the game, packed its gear and left, his coach said.

This is one more example of narrow minded efforts to marginalize those who excel. We sometimes forget most of us in America are descended from those who left their home countries because of the lack of opportunity. Yet whether it is doing away with valedictorians or playing scoreless soccer, we are reverting to what we tried to escape. In ten years I hope we see Jericho pitching for the Yankees.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Responsible drinking

A group of college and university chancellors and presidents have formed an organization to reduce the drinking age from 21 to 18. The Amethyst Initiative outlines the realities of the current age requirement that was forced on the states by a congressional mandate that withholds 10% of federal highway funds for non-compliance. The group believes the 21 age requirement actually promotes alcohol abuse. Here is their statement:

A culture of dangerous, clandestine “binge-drinking”—often conducted off-campus—has developed. Alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students. Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer. By choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law. How many times must we relearn the lessons of prohibition? We call upon our elected officials: To support an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21 year-old drinking age. To consider whether the 10% highway fund “incentive” encourages or inhibits that debate. To invite new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol. We pledge ourselves and our institutions to playing a vigorous, constructive role as these critical discussions unfold.

I agree that an 18 year old should be able to have a drink. Not because they can vote and fight for our country, but because it is right. If anyone thinks their kids abstain when off at college, let me assure him/her they don't. Making it illegal just gives them a rationale to disrespect other laws, not just the drinking age law. This country tried an experiment with Prohibition in the 1920’s and early 30’s. Not only did it encourage lawlessness in so many forms, it fostered one of the wildest and most alcohol abusive generations ever. Both my wife and I had a parent who became an alcoholic during the "Roaring Twenties." Theirs was a culture of bathtub gin, speakeasys (illegal taverns) and bootleggers.

Yet we decided to serve a glass of wine to our children at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner starting at 14 or 15. We did it to show our acceptance for it in a social setting and that it wasn’t a “forbidden fruit.” All are now responsible drinkers. Did they ever over indulge when they were younger? Of course. But they knew there was a history of alcohol abuse in their families and it tempered their behavior, as it had tempered ours.

Those promoting strict anti drinking laws are the same “drys” that brought us Prohibition, the greatest social experiment disaster this country has seen. They just have different faces now. It was done with the best of intentions but gave us the worst of results.

Monday, August 25, 2008

NY Times public editor Clark Hoyt, a joke

Clark Hoyt is the New York Times’ third public editor and by far its worst.

The position of public editor was created after the Jayson Blair scandal, where a minority reporter was coddled and criticism of his questionable stories ignored. The scandal exploded in 2003 when a former coworker complained he had plagiarized her stories. She was proven correct and a subsequent investigation showed almost half of Blair’s most recent stories were fraudulent. The two top editors of the Times resigned and the committee investigating the breakdown recommended the position of public editor be established to prevent further journalistic lapses. The first was Daniel Okrent who did a decent job but never fully felt his oats until his final column which was his best, including tidbits such as these:

Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults. Maureen Dowd was still writing that Alberto R. Gonzales "called the Geneva Conventions 'quaint' " nearly two months after a correction in the news pages noted that Gonzales had specifically applied the term to Geneva provisions about commissary privileges, athletic uniforms and scientific instruments. And this: Last July, when I slapped the headline "Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?" atop my column and opened the piece with the catchy one-liner "Of course it is," I wasn't doing anyone - the paper, its serious critics, myself - any favors. I'd reduced a complex issue to a sound bite. And this: Reader Steven L. Carter of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., asks, If "Tucker Carlson is identified as a conservative" in The Times, then why is "Bill Moyers just, well, plain old Bill Moyers"? Good question.

Byron Calame, was the next and a true professional. As his two year stint went on, he became even better. He publicly called Publisher Sulzberger and XE Keller to task when they refused to discuss the timing of the Risen and Lichtblau story on warrantless eavesdropping. He eventually deemed the Times wrong for its story (buried it at the end of his article) exposing the sharing of European SWIFT banking data with the US. But his best was the evisceration of a NY Times Magazine pro-abortion piece accusing El Salvador’s courts of sentencing a woman to 30 years in prison for having had an abortion. She was in reality convicted and sentenced for infanticide of a fully born and breathing infant, which testimony and the court’s decision sustained. And a fact the Magazine editors missed.

While Calame was doing his digging on this story, rumors began to circulate inside and outside of the Times’ newsroom that he would be fired and/or the public editor’s position eliminated. You can sense the hostility he encountered by reading his description of the stonewalling and denial from senior editors. But he survived to complete his term. 

Then came Clark Hoyt. His almost weekly columns are filled with interviews with senior editors justifying all sorts of controversial stories. There are puff pieces on the Times’ fairness in the number of stories given to the different political candidates. On occasion he will plead guilty for the Times for an inconsequential faux pas, such as the Times having been duped, along with hundreds of other papers, by a photographer who claimed to have taken the famous picture of John John Kennedy saluting his father’s casket.

But when it comes to the more substantive items, such as publishing the name of Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s interrogator, despite pleas from the CIA Director for his safety, the Times is always right.

Two recent ones got my blood boiling. They were the Times’ justification for publishing photos the bodies of Marines killed in combat and rationalizing the lack of interest and coverage of the John Edward’s affair. On these two I wrote him to disagree, but my letters weren’t published. I really didn’t expect them to be. I’ll share them here.

I have to take exception to your analysis of this story and here’s why. As you know death is faced daily by combat troops in Iraq. These folks know the risks. But they do it with the hope that in death, they will be treated with respect. Marines have a saying, “Marines always come home.” By that, they mean they don’t leave their dead on the battlefield as other services do. Often under fire and at great risk, they will bring back a fallen buddy to do honor to him.

At the time of the Zoriah Miller story, we had a police officer killed in the line of duty here in Fort Myers, Florida. He was killed breaking up a fight between a young man and his girlfriend. The killer pointed a revolver in the policeman’s face and pulled the trigger. The paper described the scene as grisly and bloody. No pictures were taken, no pictures appeared in the paper. No pictures were posted on anyone’s website. Common decency prevented it. This begs the question. Does the New York Times routinely print pictures of dead New York City policemen? What would happen if you did? There is an analogy here.

 Part of the Times’ problem is the perception our forces have of your paper. That is, it is anti-war, anti-military and wants to undermine their efforts. They simply don’t trust you not to use their dead to dishonor their mission. That is why there was such a visceral reaction to Miller’s postings. At some date you may regain their trust. Until then you should use common decency.

 Crosby Boyd

In the second Hoyt claimed there was no bias in the decision not to pursue the John Edwards story.

“I do not think liberal bias had anything to do with it.” Surely you jest. If you could run the McCain “lobbyist” story and bring up the infidelity angle, you could certainly dig a bit on the Edwards story. Why not contact the National Enquirer to see what you could get. They did answer questions. When asked why no photos in the July story, they gave an ominous answer. They said it was part of a much larger story. The long and short of it is, the story proved out and you blew it. You can rationalize Edwards’ lack of standing, but others said he was on the short list for VP, or barring that, AG in an Obama administration. He was scheduled to speak at the convention and he still has a bargaining chip of 24.5 delegates.

The new bias at the Times is its failure to cover stories that don’t fit the Democrat game plan. Yes I know, these stories really are of no interest. But here’s one that’s hard to argue: On Tuesday November 29, 2005 Joe Lieberman ran an Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Our troops Must Stay.” It ran totally counter to the Democrats’ carefully crafted strategy of withdrawing from Iraq by a date certain, the Murtha Plan. The story was a blockbuster. But for one solid week, November 29 through December 5 there wasn’t a peep from the Times. Not until Democrats started talking about drumming him out of the party, did Lieberman’s name appear in the paper on December 6.

The story ran in the other NYC papers and the Washington Post. It was available to the Times from wire services, but it didn’t run. Perhaps the Times was “too squeamish” to tackle that one too. The Times should admit its bias.

Crosby Boyd

Clark Hoyt is strictly window dressing.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Party unity the Clinton way

During the most recent gulf war, SecDef Rumsfeld described enemy combatants who continued to fight to the bitter end, knowing their cause was lost, as “dead enders.”

That term could describe the Clinton camp’s efforts to derail Obama’s nomination next week. I mentioned in an earlier post there was a surprise leak to ABC News on August 6 that she might have her name placed in nomination at the convention. That has now happened. It’s all for party unity of course, so her supporters can be heard. Yeah. The press is referring to it as a symbolic vote, but it’s about as symbolic as a lighting a fuse on a stick of dynamite. If the vote goes her way, bang, Obama’s out. It’s that simple.

Would the Clintons stoop to devious measures at this point in the campaign? Well, the Clintons are the Clintons and nothing’s beyond the pale. They do play for keeps. Here are a couple of items. From the Moderate Voice blog:

"August 20th, 2008 by JOE GANDELMAN, Editor-In-Chief Scripps Howard News Service reports that there’s a new email campaign underway by some Hillary Clinton supporters to derail the nomination of Democratic Senator Barack Obama, who is now starting to seriously sag in various national polls: ‘A massive e-mail and Internet campaign is under way aimed at derailing the nomination of Barack Obama and making Hillary Clinton the party’s standard bearer next week at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. ‘ ‘It’s downright nasty,’ said Memphis, Tenn., superdelegate and city council member Myron Lowery, who has shared dozens of the messages he’s received with The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal newspaper.’ "

And this is reported today via America’s Right:

“A prominent Philadelphia attorney and Hillary Clinton supporter filed suit this afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic National Committee and the Federal Election Commission. The action seeks an injunction preventing the senator from continuing his candidacy and a court order enjoining the DNC from nominating him next week, all on grounds that Sen. Obama is constitutionally ineligible to run for and hold the office of President of the United States.”

If Obama is so naïve he would trust the Clintons in the interest of party unity, how will he do with Ahmadinejad or Putin? Now everyone knows the Clintons are tougher and less trustworthy than those two, so he might do OK. But it sure looks like Hillary is trying to destroy Obama either for the nomination or in the presidential election.

Some party unifier!

The Poles and Old Europe.

In an article yesterday uncharacteristic of it, the New York Times points out the dramatic change of attitude Russia’s invasion Georgia has had on the Poles. From reluctance to accept a missile shield on their territory, they have instantly reversed positions and signed an agreement to allow it. The article points out the lack of faith Poles have in “Old Europe,” and the need to tie themselves to the US. "

But since the Georgia crisis, this largest of post-Communist European Union members has moved to cement its relationship to action-oriented America and not just the tentative bureaucracies of Europe and NATO. " "The Russian invasion reminded Poles once again how quickly and dangerously Eastern Europe can divide. Poland is struggling to show that it will not fall behind the faint old lines of the cold war, which may have seemed foggily forgotten in the West since the Berlin Wall fell but are remembered all too well here. "

The article goes on to explain Poland’s memories go beyond the cold war era, but back to their invasion by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939 when they were left to defend themselves, despite a treaty with Great Britain and France. They fell in 4 weeks, and lived 50 years under the subjugation of a foreign power.

"It is not a cold war mindset that drives Poland, Mr. Sikorski said, but one that harks all the way back to World War II, when, despite alliances with Britain and France, Poland fought Nazi Germany alone, and lost. " "It was “the defining moment for us in the 20th century,” Mr. Sikorski said. 'Then we were stabbed in the back by the Soviet Union, and that determined our fate for 50 years.' " 

"As a result, Poland’s foreign policy is stamped by mistrust not only for Russia’s ambitions but also for hollow assurances from its own allies."

The last comment (bold) is a zinger directed at France and Germany. You have to remember France pulled its military out of NATO in the 1960’s, knowing that any Soviet attack would have to come through Germany and be fought there primarily by Americans and Germans. During the cold war France played footsie with the Soviets with the dream of establishing a French and Soviet hegemony from the Urals to the Atlantic. Germany, likewise, now feels the comfort of a Polish buffer. Both have gone soft.

There is nothing like recent memories to reinforce the fears of Russian domination when you are on the front lines, as Poland now is. For those who believe doing away with anti-missile technology and cutting our military to the bone is the way to make other nations love and respect us, think again. For those who believe our military prowess doesn’t make friends, think again.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Exploring The Great Calusa Blueway

This was written for the Sanibel-Captiva Sail and Power Squadron Soundings a short time ago. I wanted to hold it until our squadron members had a chance to read it first. Life here is more than just hurricanes and politics. It’s also living life to its fullest with my beautiful and delightful wife Julie.

Julie and I love to canoe. We have done it together since we were first married and living in the Washington DC area. We would rent a canoe from Fletcher’s Landing about two miles upstream of the Watergate, where the National Park Service put on summer evening concerts from a floating band shell. While most folks would sit on the steps leading down from the Lincoln Memorial, the best seats were in the gap between the shell and the seawall, where you could park your canoe and listen to the music. A bottle of Blue Nun, some cheese and crackers and you had yourself a delightful (and inexpensive) evening.

Over the years we have tried kayaks, but we still prefer canoes. They are a bit faster when passage making, hold bulky items better (like backpacks or a mother-in-law) and they’re what we’re used to. We had read about The Great Calusa Blueway and wanted to experience it.

The Blueway is a series of paddling trails in Lee County waters. There are three distinct areas: 1. Estero Bay and rivers; 2. Pine Island Sound and Matlacha Pass and; 3. The Caloosahatchee and its tributaries. The first two have marked trails along the shore line. The Caloosahatchee is unmarked but the brochure shows the tributaries to explore and provides their latitude and longitude so you can find the entrances with a GPS. While the river itself is considered part of the Blueway, it is heavily trafficked with high speed boats. The brochure warns you to stay away from the channel to avoid damaging wakes. It’s best to launch near the area you want to explore and limit the time spent in the river unless you are with a large and highly visible group.

So we decided to get our feet wet. We have done Sanibel’s Tarpon Bay so often the birds know us. We wanted something different and we chose Estero Bay Outfitters. They are located on the east side of US 41 on the Estero River. They have a good variety of fresh kayaks and canoes. The canoes are fiberglass Indian Rivers which I prefer to the softer, heavier plastic ones. Prices are reasonable, $22.50 for 3 hours and $5.00 more for the full day. We wanted to get an early start so we arrived a bit before 8 am. Early departures are called for in the summer when winds are light, temperatures moderate and skies clear. You definitely want to time your return to avoid any afternoon thunderstorms.

We didn’t know what to expect and we were pleasantly surprised. The first three quarters of a mile was reminiscent of the St John’s River and waterways in Georgia, with Spanish moss covered low hanging trees. There were large stands of bamboo. We passed the Koreshan Village which has a boat landing if you want to stop and explore. We didn’t. We wanted to see if we could make it to the mouth of the river, about 4½ miles from the start counting all the squiggles. The next mile and a half was scenic on one side of the river and built up on the other, mostly mobile home parks with docks. Fortunately this was summer and boat traffic was light. We stopped at times to take pictures of flowers. Bird life in the upper part of the river was spotty, not unusual for this time of year. We finally reached the State Buffer Preserve where civilization stopped and the shoreline became all mangroves. This is the Florida we are used to on Sanibel. The outfitter had suggested this should be our turnaround point in order to make it back in 3 hours. We had reached it in about an hour so we continued on. The deadline wasn’t that important anyway.

As we made our way downstream the current picked up. The tide table predicted the low tide at 9:43 am at nearby Coconut Point and we figured we would arrive at the mouth around 10:15. That would give us a following current upriver. We reached an area called the Bottleneck, where the river narrows and the current flow increased substantially to around 1½ knots, even 2 in spots. It made paddling easy. Along the shoreline we spotted old Calusa Indian shell mounds, and marked them on our map for a photo shoot on our return. Bird life improved as we neared Estero Bay and my new camera got a workout.

We rested for a moment or two and started our return. The tide hadn’t turned as expected and we had to dig hard to fight the current. We reached our shell mound, an 8 footer, and began taking pictures. There were about two dozen wasps darting around the mound. While they never appeared to threaten us, they did act very, very angry. Julie protested my idea of using her as a visual reference close to the mound, so we used more distant photography. Next we encountered a more modern pest, a jet ski. This one passed us at high speed about 40 feet away. Our shouts to slow down only angered him and he returned, this time to soak us down from about 15 feet. It was intentional. Fortunately our cameras were stowed in waterproof containers and survived.

The rest of the trip was delightful. After getting above the Bottleneck, the current slowed and we made great time. About a mile from our destination we spotted a green heron. It flitted from tree to tree, always staying 50 to 100 yards ahead of us. It seemed to act as a guide, welcoming us home.

Monday, August 18, 2008

What is Putin's next move?

I am not optimistic the Georgia situation will be resolved successfully. Here's why. Already successive deadlines have passed for Russia to remove their troops, as agreed. They haven’t budged. It appears to be the big stall. And they aren’t stalling because they’re waiting to top off their tanks to return to the motherland. Already there are reports of surface to surface missile installations in South Ossetia capable of hitting Georgia’s capital Tbilisi. Their troops are digging in within artillery range of Tbilisi and they still hold Gori. Fox News reports troops near Gori are demanding western media show Russian press credentials, meaning the Russians are now free from prying eyes. But it’s more than just that.

It’s just not in Putin’s nature to give in. Putin sees himself as the person who will lead his country superpower status again, following in Stalin’s footsteps. He has resumed provocative Tu-95 Bear overflights of NATO exercises, a relic of the cold war. He wants the sovereign republics that were part of the Soviet Union back in the fold by any means. He rigged elections in Ukraine and Georgia only to see them undone in popular uprisings and legitimate elections. In Ukraine’s follow-up election, Russian agents poisoned the popular candidate Victor Yuschenko with a massive dose of dioxin, but failed to eliminate him. He won convincingly in a major defeat of Putin’s agenda.

Putin has eliminated political and media opposition. Too many writers critical of Putin have been murdered for it to be accidental, the best known, Anna Politovskaya. She had written a series of highly critical articles on Russia’s brutality in Chechnya. All TV networks are now in government hands. Newspapers have been shut down for hostile reporting and state advertising withheld. A new extremism law is being used to curb criticism of public officials.

Anyone who models himself after Stalin won’t exhibit weakness. Truces are for rearming. Most likely we will see a massive swift assault on Tbilisi to remove the vestiges of Saakashvili’s government. Count on it.

Sanibel in the crosshairs

One of the joys of living in Florida is logging on, daily, to the National Hurricane Center’s website during summer and early fall. It comes as second nature. We follow tropical weather like others listen to traffic reports. Most of the tropical storms and hurricanes meander around the Atlantic or the Caribbean. When landfall is predicted it is usually in some remote area of Mexico. But not this one.

Last Friday a disturbance that had formed in the mid-Atlantic was declared a tropical storm, named Fay. At that point the NHC publishes a predicted path. And I was in the crosshairs. Not to worry, the track always changes. Well it hasn’t. Over three days the track has moved westward about 20 miles, but now it’s back. Even the different computer models are in close agreement. Seven of the 15 model tracks, including the NHC’s, go right over my house. Land fall is predicted on Sanibel around 9am Tuesday.

The track is almost a duplicate of Charley (2004), a Cat. 4 monster. This one is predicted to be a weak 1. We’ve already pulled in the outdoor furniture and locked all the windows. We have hurricane glass so storm shutters aren’t needed. The sweaty and time consuming job (20 minutes) is installing the reinforcing bars on the garage door (rated for 135 mph) which we’ll do late tonight. Then we’ll decide whether to evacuate or not. We have accommodations available just off the island if we need it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Strobe Talbott, now a voice of reason

Strobe Talbott, was a correspondent for Time Magazine during the 1980’s. He was an apologist for the Soviet regime and is considered by some to have been a willing dupe of Soviet intelligence, or even worse. In the May 21, 1984 issue of Time he wrote this:

“The Reagan Administration has made a bad situation worse in two ways: first, by convincing the Soviet leaders that the U.S. no longer accepts military parity as the basis for relations with Moscow; second, by challenging the legitimacy of the Soviet regime, calling the U.S.S.R. an ‘evil empire’ doomed to fail.”

He missed the mark about the “evil empire” as subsequent events would prove. It failed when Boris Yeltsin, standing atop a tank in front of the Russian White House (Parliament building) put down a military coup intended to perpetuate the old order. Now in a stunning reversal, Strobe Talbott thoroughly dissects Russia’s reasoning for invading Georgia in today’s Washington Post. The Russians are trying to equate it to NATO’s intervention in Serbia and the establishment of a separate state of Kosovo.

“Russia has been justifying its rampage through Georgia as a ‘peacekeeping’ operation to end the Tbilisi government's "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" of South Ossetia. That terminology deliberately echoes U.S. and NATO language during their 1999 bombing campaign against Serbia, which resulted in the independence of Kosovo.”

He goes on.

This analogy turns reality, and history, upside down. Only after exhausting every attempt at diplomacy did NATO go to war over Kosovo. It did so because the formerly "autonomous" province of Serbia was under the heel of Belgrade and the Milosevic regime was running amok there, killing ethnic Albanians and throwing them out of their homes. By contrast, South Ossetia -- even though it is on Georgian territory -- has long been a Russian protectorate, beyond the reach of Saakashvili's government.”

And finally.

“Yet it now appears that beyond the undisguised animosity that Putin bears toward Saakashvili, he and his government regard Georgia's pro-Western bent and its aspiration to join two Western institutions, NATO and the European Union, as, literally, a casus belli. If that is the case, the next U.S. administration -- the fourth to deal with post-Soviet Russia -- will have to reexamine the underlying basis for the whole idea of partnership with that country and its continuing integration into a rule-based international community.”

Read it all.

More Polish courage

Yesterday Poland spat in Putin’s face.

They announced the acceptance of an American missile defense system on their soil at a time of Russian aggression in Georgia. They totally turned the tables on him. Putin expected a harsh reaction from the US, but he didn’t expect it from the Poles. Once again the gutsy Poles stood their ground against the bear. This missile system is designed to intercept ballistic missiles from a rogue power (currently Iran and N. Korea) aimed at our European allies. The system has no offensive capabilities at all and is not a threat to Russia. The missile’s warhead is a non-explosive kinetic kill vehicle. It destroys an incoming missile with small tungsten cubes on an umbrella shaped net that’s deployed in flight.

When these cubes, on the 3-4,000 mph interceptor, collide with a 5,000+ mph incoming missile they penetrate the warhead and prevent a successful nuclear detonation. The limited number (10) of interceptor missiles can be “war gamed” to death by the Russians if they want. If they launch 11 missiles against the 10, the eleventh and any others that follow will get through. Russia has plenty of missiles to play this game, the rogue states do not. Russia’s greatest fear is they and their rogue friends will lose the ability to intimidate Europe with nuclear blackmail. Likewise the radar system presents no threat to the Russians.

The FBX-T system is “soft,” meaning it cannot survive a nuclear near miss or even a well directed conventional one. But it is mobile which makes targeting it very difficult for a nation without real time intelligence capabilities, meaning the rogue states. Only 4 of these radars are being built. The first is already deployed to Japan (to defend against N.Korea), one probably for Turkey, one for Israel and one for the Czech Republic.

The Poles were the first to successfully challenge the established communist order in Eastern Europe. Their resistance to Soviet Communism springs from the well of their Catholic faith and the courage of a few leaders, especially Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa. Lech Walesa led the Solidarity movement in the early 1980’s. He carried out a strike at the Gdansk Shipyard and backed the communist authorities down. Strikes spread to the rest of the country and demonstrated the impotence of Russian rule and eventually emasculated it.

The Poles don’t play dead. God bless the Poles.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Russia's ultimate weapon

President Bush has castigated the Russians for their invasion of Georgia. It is now obvious that Russia, despite assurances to the West, wants total control over the entire country, not just the disputed territory of South Ossetia. This fits with predictions Putin would continue his efforts to rebuild the Russian empire to include the republics lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Already the southern tier, the “stans,” (Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have been brought into the fold through Russia’s gas pipeline monopoly and political intrigue.

The two remaining thorns in Putin’s side are the former Soviet republics Georgia and Ukraine. The Russians rigged elections in both countries but failed when popular uprisings invalidated them and resulted in pro-Western democracies. The Ukrainian election was particularly nasty with the unsuccessful poisoning of now President Viktor Yushchenko with dioxin. As we have seen, the current Russian regime will stop at nothing to eliminate its political enemies and critics.

Despite Bush’s protestations, there isn’t a lot we can do to change the outcome. Geographically Georgia is remote, on the eastern end of the Black Sea. Aircraft carriers are banned entry by the Montreaux Convention, not that we would want to conduct naval operations there. There just isn’t enough sea room. The only contiguous friendly country is Turkey and the distance from Istanbul to Tbilisi is over 800 miles.

But the most serious problem is our European allies. Never known for their backbone when it comes to facing down enemies, their overwhelming reliance on Russian natural gas has added to their timidity. Fifty years of American protection has allowed continental military forces to atrophy and grow soft. Even the British have lost their zeal for combat. In Iraq, they cut deals with al Sadr’s militias, abandoned their base in Basra and retreated to the exurban safety of the airport. The highly criticized Iraqi Army cleaned house in a few days, a job the Brits wouldn’t and couldn’t handle.

How bad is Europe’s reliance on Russian gas? Enough that people will freeze if they play tough. Here’s how dependant they are (2005 figures): Germany 30-39% France 20-25% Poland 62% Italy 25-28% Bulgaria 97% Czech Republic 79%

The thought of chilly winters no doubt colored Germany’s Angela Merkel’s decision last week to veto NATO membership for Georgia. And it sent a signal of weakness to the Russians. Unless Europe can diversify their gas suppliers, they will forever be beholden to the Russians. Who would ever have thought Russia’s economic might would be more potent then their 50,000 tanks during the cold war in their quest to subdue Europe?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hillary resurrected?

There has been a spate of articles disparaging Barak Obama from unlikely sources. With the convention three weeks away and the general acceptance that Obama is the almost certain nominee, this goes against the grain.

The Washington Post, reliably in the Democratic camp, has carried two editorials here and here castigating his Iraq policy and a biting piece by Dana Milbank entitled “President Obama Continues Hectic Victory Tour.” Adam Nagourney, political correspondent of the New Your Times wrote a story that Obama had not succeeded in closing the racial divide, which earned him the emnity of Obama’s staff and got him kicked off the campaign plane. Two weeks later he followed that up with “Where’s the Bounce?” another less than positive story about declining poll numbers following Obama’s trip. The most damning portrayal was published on a pro-Hillary website, It quotes a letter to the Treasurer of the DNC from a mega contributor and Hillary supporter who refuses to contribute to this year’s DNC fundraising campaign. He considers Obama a flawed candidate. Why all this negativity from a well disciplined party and supporters who normally close ranks behind the presumptive nominee?

Well, never count the Clintons out. Normally the party’s Presidential candidate becomes the party leader, yet neither Al Gore nor John Kerry ever earned that mantle. The Clinton’s still hold the reins. And they play politics for keeps. But if the Clintons are ever to live in the White House again, they have only two options. Get the nomination in 2008 or failing that, have Obama lose the election. Should Obama win, he will, no doubt, last two terms.

By 2016, no amount of Botox or plastic surgery could make Hillary look youthful. Would the Clintons welcome falling poll numbers for Obama? Would they be happy with the perception Obama can’t win? Would they use their press contacts to perpetuate that meme? You would think not. But then this comes along from ABC News yesterday (August 6):

Sen. Hillary Clinton told a gathering of supporters last week that she's looking for a "strategy" for her delegates to have their voices heard and "respected" at the Democratic National Convention -- and did not rule out the possibility of having her name placed into nomination at the convention alongside Sen. Barack Obama's.

Perhaps it’s for leverage to be keynote speaker, or perhaps even the Vice Presidential nod. Perhaps not. Relations between the two camps have become chilly. No, icy. Obama won’t help in paying off Clinton’s campaign debts, despite his pledge. If you are a political junkie, don’t turn your TV off after the Olympics. It could be the most exciting convention ever.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Strategic Reserve release, a vey bad idea

Barak Obama has proposed the release of 70 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to alleviate prices. This represents about 10% of the entire reserve and three years of accumulation. It is a very bad idea.

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was authorized after the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973-74, when Arab countries cut off oil to Western Europe, Japan and the United States for their support of the Israelis in the Yom Kippur war. The purpose of the reserve was and is to mitigate supply disruptions or shortages that would jeopardize our national security. We simply do not want to be blackmailed by our enemies. The conditions for the release of oil must come from “a severe energy supply disruption” and satisfy three conditions according to the 2006 CRS Report to Congress:

The Energy Policy and Conservation Act authorizes drawdown of the Reserve upon a finding by the President that there is a “severe energy supply interruption.” This is deemed by the statute to exist if three conditions are joined: If “(a) an emergency situation exists and there is a significant reduction in supply which is of significant scope and duration; (b) a severe increase in the price of petroleum products has resulted from such emergency situation; and (c) such price increase is likely to cause a major adverse impact on the national economy.”

 Additionally in 1990, allowance was made to release small amounts to make up for limited supply disruptions such as harbor entrance closures, ship groundings and the like. Two releases stand out as violating this principal, both under the Clinton administration, and both in election years. In 1996, 28 million barrels were sold to “balance the budget.” And in 2000, in the two months prior to the election, 30 million barrels were released to alleviate home heating oil shortages in the politically important New England states.

Outside of the legalities, the country and the world will be faced with real shortages if there is a conflict between Israel and Iran. The Straits of Hormuz will be mined and closed by Iran, cutting off a major portion of Persian Gulf oil. It is an easy, cheap and effective retaliatory strategy. If we diminish our supplies now, we will run out sooner. And be weaker.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Anrhrax killer a suicide?

The LA Times reports this shocker today:

“A top government scientist who helped the FBI analyze samples from the 2001 anthrax attacks has died in Maryland from an apparent suicide, just as the Justice Department was about to file criminal charges against him for the attacks, the Los Angeles Times has learned. Bruce E. Ivins, 62, who for the last 18 years worked at the government's elite biodefense research laboratories at Ft. Detrick, Md., had been informed of his impending prosecution, said people familiar with Ivins, his suspicious death and the FBI investigation.”

The entire anthrax case is a sordid example of shoddy journalism abetted by a malicious FBI and Justice Department that ruined the career of Dr. Steven Hatfill, a research scientist at Fort Detrick. At the settlement of Hatfill’s libel case against the government in late June, US District Judge Reggie Walton declared, "There is not a scintilla of evidence that would indicate that Dr. Hatfill had anything to do with this."

It appears the settlement gave Hatfill little more than his legal expenses and missed salary for the next 20 years. Even more outrageous is the government knew at the time they were close to solving the case; information Hatfill’s lawyers didn’t have at settlement. It put them at a severe disadvantage in negotiations.

The myopic investigation that focused on only a single suspect, Hatfill, is a repeat of the Atlanta Olympics bombing investigation twelve years ago. There the FBI fingered Richard Jewell, a security guard, naming him “a person of interest” when there was no evidence to support it. Eric Rudolf was eventually convicted and Jewell exonerated, but not after having been destroyed by the media.