Randy's Corner Deli Library

31 August 2008

McCain's Lili Von Schtupp

More musings on Ms. Palin:

I know you remember the great 1974 Mel Brooks classic "Blazing Saddles". Who could forget the campfire scene with Mongo (Alex Karras, former Detroit Lions offensive lineman) and the rest of the hapless gang rooting and tooting after a whole lotta pork and beans. Mainly beans.

Then there was Hedley LaMarr, played with hysterical overacting and mustache-twitching by the late Harvey Korman, whose muse in the saloon theater is the incomparable Lili Von Schtupp, who is utterly perfect when she says "Oh Hedwey, it's twue, it's twue, it's weawy twue!" And look up and instead of Madeline Kahn's face, it's...Sawah Paywin! Phew! I feel wefweshed!

Skit script to follow.

Randy Shiner

30 August 2008

What is McCain Thinking? One Alaskan’s Perspective

What is McCain Thinking? One Alaskan’s Perspective.

29 08 2008

Lovely Downtown Wasilla, Alaska

“Is this a joke?” That seemed to be the question du jour when my phone started ringing off the hook at 6:45am here in Alaska. I mean, we’re sort of excited that our humble state has gotten some kind of national ‘nod’….but seriously? Sarah Palin for Vice President? Yes, she’s a popular governor. Her all time high approval rating hovered around 90% at one point. But bear in mind that the 90% approval rating came from one of the most conservative, and reddest-of-the-red states out there. And that approval rating came before a series of events that have lead many Alaskans to question the governor’s once pristine image.

There is no doubt in my mind that many Alaskans are feeling pretty excited about this. But we live in our own little bubble up here, and most of the attention we get is because of The Bridge to Nowhere, polar bears, the indictment of Ted Stevens, and the ongoing investigation and conviction of the string of legislators and oil executives who literally called themselves “The Corrupt Bastards Club”.

So seeing our governor out there in the national spotlight accepting the nomination for Vice Presidential candidate is just downright surreal. Just months ago, when rumors surfaced that she was on the long version of the short list, she was questioned if she’d be interested in the position. She said she couldn’t answer “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. We want to make sure that that VP slot would be a fruitful type of position, especially for Alaskans and for the things that we’re trying to accomplish up here….”

There is no doubt that Palin has fierce territorial loyalties. When elected governor there was much concern because she came right out and said she would favor her own home town of Wasilla (where she was mayor) and its surrounding environs collectively known as “the Valley” while leading the state. And it’s obvious from her statement that Alaska was on her mind when accepting the VP nod (see my emphasis above).

So what is it that we’re “trying to accomplish up here”?

  • Palin is currently in the middle of a controversial gas pipeline project in Alaska. She’s favored the ‘Trans Canada’ proposal that will run the pipeline through Canada, in effect shipping US jobs over the border. Many Alaskans, including former governors, have favored the “All Alaska Route”.
  • She is also sueing the federal government over listing the polar bears as a threatened species. The science was even compelling enough to convince the Secretery of the Interior that the bears needed to be listed. But acknowlegement of this issue, and the potential disruption to development on Alaska’s oil-rich north slope spurred Palin to attempt to stop the listing.
  • Does she want to open ANWR? Yes. Every politician in Alaska wants to open ANWR. It’s basically a requirement if you ever hope to get elected for anything. Even Mark Begich, the progressive Democrat running against the indicted Senator and Alaskan institution Ted Stevens, is pro-drilling. That’s the sea we swim in up here. There are a few anti-drilling folks, but you have to look hard to find them, and work hard to have them admit it.

Will all this wash with voters in the ‘Lower 48′? Time will tell.

18 Million Cracks in the Glass Ceiling

It was obvious anyway, but became beat-you-over-the-head-with-a-two-by-four obvious when Palin referenced the ‘glass ceiling’ line, that this choice is a blatant pander to women. I would like to believe that women will actually feel insulted by this. Yes, it would have been historic if Hillary had gotten the nomination. It was historic that she made it as far as she did. Yes, it would be great to have a woman in the oval office, or in the VP slot if they are the right woman…a woman who got there with her own drive, grit, determination, intelligence, skill and merits. When you’re hand-picked by a man to win votes simply because you are a woman, that doesn’t count, and it doesn’t break any kind of ceiling. Would we have had a Stan Palin as our VP pick? No. So choosing a woman because you think her gender will get votes is insulting.

Governor “Squeakyclean”….or not.

Another focus of Palin’s introduction today was her reform image. Listen to John McCain and you’ll hear about a maverick reformer who took on big oil, took on corrupt Alaska politicians, and whose ethics are unquestioned.

Alaskans really want to like Sarah Palin. In a state where corruption is the rule, and the same faces keep recycling over and over and over again like a bad dream, a new face, with a promise of reform seemed like a breath of fresh air. Palin defeated incumbent governor Frank Murkowski (father of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski who he appointed to his own Senate seat when he was elected governor) because he was such an obnoxious, bloviating, downright BAD politician. This staunchly republican state voted with relief, not having to cross over and vote Democratic, but still able to get Murkowski the hell out of office. In the general election Palin swept into office running against a former Democratic governor, Tony Knowles, who was capable but came with baggage. And he represented to Alaskans more of the same, tired old-style politics, and special interests that we have come to loathe.

So, if McCain had made his selection six months ago, the squeaky-clean governor meme would have made a little more sense. But, Sarah Palin is currently under an ethics investigation by the Alaska state legislature. The details of this investigation read like a trashy novel, and I suspect that the players will soon have newfound celebrity on the national stage. I’ll try to explain for all you non-Alaskans who suddenly have good reason to want to know more about Sarah Palin. For those of you not interested in trashy novels, feel free to skip ahead. Here it is…what we in Alaska call “TrooperGate”.

Sarah Palin’s sister Molly married a guy named Mike Wooten who is an Alaska State Trooper. Mike and Molly had a rocky marriage. When the marriage broke up, there was a bitter custody fight that is still ongoing. During the custody investigation, all sorts of things were brought up about Wooten including the fact that he had illegally shot a moose (yes folks this is Alaska), driven drunk, and used a taser (on the test setting, he reminds us) on his 11-year old stepson, who supposedly had asked to see what it felt like. While Wooten has turned out to be a less than stellar figure, the fact that Palin’s father accompanied him on the infamous moose hunt, and that many of the dozens of charges brought up by the Palin family happened long before they were ever reported smacked of desperate custody fight. Wooten’s story is that he was basically stalked by the family.

After all this, Wooten was investigated and disciplined on two counts and allowed to kept his position with the troopers. Enter Walt Monegan, Palin’s appointed new chief of the Department of Public Safety and head of the troopers. Monegan was beloved by the troopers, did a bang-up job with minimal funding and suddenly got axed. Palin was out of town and Monegan got “offered another job” (aka fired) with no explanation to Alaskans. Pressure was put on the governor to give details, because rumors started to swirl around the fact that the highly respected Monegan was fired because he refused to fire the aforementioned Mike Wooten. Palin vehemently denied ever talking to Monegan or pressuring Monegan in any way to fire Wooten, or that anyone on her staff did. Over the weeks it has come out that not only was pressure applied, there were literally dozens of conversations in which pressure was applied to fire him. Monegan has testified to this fact, spurring an ongoing investigation by the Alaska state legislature. But, before this investigation got underway, Palin sent the Alaska State Attorney General out to do some investigative work of his own so she could find out in advance what the real investigation was going to find. (No, I’m not making this up). The AG interviewed several people, unbeknownst to the actual appointed investigator or the Legislature! Palin’s investigation of herself uncovered a recorded phone call retained by the Alaska State Troopers from Frank Bailey, a Palin underling, putting pressure on a trooper about the Wooten non-firing. Todd Palin (governor’s husband) even talked to Monegan himself in Palin’s office while she was away. Bailey is now on paid administrative leave.

As if this weren’t enough, Monegan’s appointed replacement Chuck Kopp, turns out to have been the center of his own little scandal. He received a letter of reprimand and was reassigned after sexual harrassment allegations by a former coworker who didn’t like all the unwanted kissing and hugging in the office. Was he vetted? Obviously not. When he was questioned about all this, his comment was that no one had asked him and he thought they all knew. Kopp, defiant, still claimed to have done nothing wrong and said to the press that there was no way he was stepping down from his new position. Twenty four hours later, he stepped down. Later it was uncovered that he received a $10,000 severance package for his two weeks on the job from Palin. Monegan got nothing.

After extensive news coverage about all this nasty behind-the-scenes scandal, which is definitely NOT squeaky clean, Palin’s approval ratings fell to 67%, still high, but a far cry from the 90% number that’s being thrown around so glibly by the Republicans today. Alaskans are quickly becoming disillusioned once again.

“Executive Experience”

Before her meteoric rise to political success as governor, just two short years ago Sarah Palin was the mayor of Wasilla. I had a good chuckle at MSN.com’s claim that she had been the mayor of “Wasilla City”. It is not a city. Just Wasilla. Wasilla is the heart of the Alaska “Bible belt” and Sarah was raised amongst the tribe that believes creationism should be taught in our public schools, homosexuality is a sin, and life begins at conception. She’s a gun-toting, hang ‘em high conservative. Remember…this is where her approval ratings come from. There is no doubt that McCain again is making a strategic choice to appeal to a particular demographic - fundamentalist right-wing gun-owning Christians. And Republican bloggers are already gushing about how she has ‘more executive experience’ than Obama does! Above is a picture of lovely downtown Wasilla, for those of you unfamiliar with the area. Behind the Mug-Shot Saloon (the first bar I visited when I moved to Alaska long ago) is a little strip mall. There are street signs in Wasilla with bullet holes in them. Wasilla has a population of about 5500 people, and 1979 occupied housing units. This is where your potential Vice President was two short years ago. Can you imagine her negotiating a nuclear non-proliferation treaty? Discussing foreign policy? Understanding non-Alaskan issues? Frankly, I don’t even know if she’s ever been out of the country. She may ‘get’ Alaska, but there are only a half a million people here. Don’t get me wrong….I love Alaska with all my heart. I’m just saying.

I, and all Alaskans will be interested to see how this whole process unfolds. This is definitely a gamble for McCain, and in my humble opinion, a gift to Obama and to Joe Biden who just got thrown a big hunk of red meat for the vice presidential debate.

This is the wedge-issue, desperate ’Hail Sarah’ pass of the McCain campaign.

Now I’m off to get some Jiffy Pop.

29 August 2008

Democrats Say Bush and McCain Endanger Israel

View from a booth:

The Democrats are correct. If it were not for George Bush and Condi Rice, et al, Hamas would not have been on the ballot in the 2006 P.A. territorial elections. But Bush, in his role as 21st century Woodrow Wilson, would not have anything other than "democracy", even where at least one of the parties was and remains completely repugnant to the very notions that undergird democracy. Every rocket that falls on Sderot and environs is the result of an idiotic, ideologic foriegn policy that has only within the past few months come back to reality. Israelis cannot afford to be ideologues. They are worried about physical survival, something the Bushes have never had to concern themselves with. Obama and Biden are not going to make Israel do anything that is contrary to its national self interest as THEY define it, not as the US defines it. Israel and Israelis hopefully know best what's good for Israel. Tzipi Livni and Barack Obama will come to a quick understanding on that score.

Randy Shiner

Democrats Say Bush and McCain Endanger Israel

by Gil Ronen

(IsraelNN.com) Several speakers at the Pepsi Center in Denver, where the Democratic convention is being held, argued that Israel's enemies have been emboldened by Republican missteps. JTA reports that the speeches reflect a strategic decision by the Democrats to go on the attack against the Bush administration over Israel, after years of simply insisting both they and the Republicans were equally supportive of the Jewish state.

Alan Solomont, a top fund raiser for John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004 and for Obama's this year, said that four years ago it was the "belief of the Kerry campaign that [Israel] was not a point of differentiation, and therefore the campaign did focus on other issues."

'Hamas and Hizbullah are on the March'
This year was different. One of those who used his speech to deliver the new talking points was Senator Kerry, who said: "George Bush, with John McCain at his side, promised to spread freedom, but delivered the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. They misread the threat and misled the country. Instead of freedom, it’s Hamas, Hizbullah, the Taliban and dictators everywhere that are on the march."

Indiana Senator Evan Bayh claimed: "Under George Bush, the Middle East has become more troubled. That hurts America and endangers our ally, Israel, which has been forced to confront a resurgent Hamas, an emboldened Hizbullah and an Iran determined to get nuclear weapons. That is not the change we need."

Florida Representative Robert Wexler said: "We entered into an unnecessary war and remain bogged down in Iraq as Afghanistan backslides and the architects of Sept. 11 remain free. On Bush and McCain’s watch, we have witnessed the growing influence of a belligerent Iran that has destabilized the Middle East and threatens our ally, Israel."

During his speech, Wexler – who boasts of being the first Jewish congressman to back Obama's presidential bid – described the nominee as a staunch supporter of Israel.

Obama 'Stands with Israel' - and Supports Two-State Solution
"In his heart, in his gut, Barack Obama stands with Israel," Wexler said, adding that the candidate "understands the threats Israel faces from Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria and Iran. And as President, Barack Obama will strongly support Israel’s right and capability to defend itself, and finally make progress toward the goal of a two-state solution that preserves Israel’s security as a Jewish state."

President Bill Clinton and Obama's running mate, Joseph Biden, did not directly reference Hamas and Hizbullah but focused on the harm done by what they described as the Bush administration's failure to utilize diplomacy.

Clinton argued that America's "position in the world has been weakened by," among other things, "a failure to consistently use the power of diplomacy, from the Middle East to Africa to Latin America to Center and Eastern Europe."

Biden Blasts Bush
As for Biden, he pointed to Iran as a hot spot where the United States has failed diplomatically.

"Should we trust John McCain’s judgment when he rejected talking with Iran and then asked: What is there to talk about? Or Barack Obama, who said we must talk and make it clear to Iran that its conduct must change," Biden said. "Now, after seven years of denial, even the Bush administration recognizes that we should talk to Iran, because that’s the best way to advance our security. Again, John McCain was wrong. Barack Obama was right."

RJC fires back
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), fired back on Thursday, noting that Bush had "redefined" the U.S. relationship with the "Palestinians," marginalized Yasser Arafat and supported Israel's construction of the Judea and Samaria security fence. In addition, he said, Bush had been described as the most pro-Israel president by two Israeli prime ministers.

"I don't know how an appeasement policy being advocated by Sen. Obama and Sen. Biden makes Israel any more safe and secure," Brooks said.

Brooks criticized as "absolutely ludicrous" the Democrats' argument describing the war in Iraq as a disaster that threatened Israel's security. "At the end of the day, we took out one of the most despotic dictators and destabilizing regimes in Iraq that was paying $25,000 to families of suicide bombers sent to kill Israeli civilians," he explained.

Republicans, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani earlier this week, have been painting Obama as naïve and undependable when it comes to safeguarding Israel. And, in recent days, they have also attempted to challenge Biden's pro-Israel bona fides. The Republican Jewish Coalition issued a statement Wednesday citing a 1982 clash that Biden had with Israel's then-prime minister, Menachem Begin, in which the Delaware senator criticized Israeli expansion of settlement in Judea, Samaria and Gaza and reportedly raised the possibility of cutting U.S. aid to Israel over the issue. In addition, the RJC cited several pro-Israel congressional letters and resolution that Biden did not sign on to.

Biden, who has worked closely with Israel and Jewish groups on many issues, was praised by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee upon being tapped by Obama.

My Mexican Shivah

Movie Review

My Mexican Shivah (2006)

My Mexican Shivah
Springall Pictures/Emerging Pictures

From top, Raquel Pankowsky, David Ostrosky and Emilio Savinni in "My Mexican Shivah."

August 29, 2008

Jewish Ritual and Mariachi Bands

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Published: August 29, 2008

Any comedy that can combine death, abortion, Jewish ritual and a mariachi band without curdling into complete lunacy deserves a modicum of respect. In the case of “My Mexican Shivah,” more would be pushing it.

What raises this uninhibited hybrid above C level is a director, Alejandro Springall, with a flair for the surreal and a cast that knows its way around a stereotype. Set in a Jewish section of Mexico City, the movie participates in the disastrous mourning of a pleasure-loving paterfamilias (Sergio Kleiner) who has keeled over at a party after one too many horahs. While multiple plotlines and myriad dysfunctions jostle for our attention — the obligatory shiksa mistress being only the least of them — a pair of wizened Jewish angels tally the deceased’s moral ledger with the creativity of an Enron accountant.

To the incorrigible Mr. Springall — who likes his jokes broad and his broads impudent — religion is best viewed as an all-purpose super glue for families severed by human weakness. Repurposing clichés as springboards to deeper issues (what price orthodoxy when it’s been embraced as an escape from justice?), he reminds us that ritual can ease reconciliation, and that sometimes even meat and dairy can get along.


Opens on Friday in Manhattan.

Directed by Alejandro Springall; written (in Spanish, Hebrew and Yiddish, with English subtitles) by Jorge Goldenberg and Mr. Springall, based on a story by Ilán Stavans; director of photography, Celiana Cárdenas; edited by Madeleine Gavin; music by Jacobo Lieberman, performed by the Klezmatics; art director, Luisa Guala; produced by Mr. Springall and Maite Argüelles; released by Emerging Pictures. At the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. This film is not rated.

WITH: Raquel Pankowsky (Esther), Blanca Guerra (Julia Palafox), Sergio Kleiner (Moishe), Martín Lasalle (Isaac), David Ostrosky (Ricardo), Emilio Savinni (Nicolás) and Sharon Zundel (Galia).

Sarah Palin?

This answers the question of whether John McCain was watching the Democratic National Convention. Clearly he was so moved by the major speakers there, especially Mr. Biden, his long-time friend and Senate colleague, that he wanted to just raise the white flag then and there, and so picked the 44 year old governor of the State of Alaska, whose only other representative office to which she had been elected was as the Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, population 5,000. I haven't checked Google Earth to see exactly where that is as it doesn't matter.

McCain has turned this election into a referendum on Mr. Obama - solely. He is going to measure just how much people distrust a young Black man to lead their country. To the extent that Ms. Palin is a completely unknown quantity, she is truly irrelevant to the McCain campaign. She is nothing of what McCain himself has said are the qualifications to be President: not ready to lead on day one, no experience in being the leader of anything larger than a state the population of which is the size of San Bernardino, never mind commander-in-chief of the US Armed Forces, and no other relevant experience that would otherwise qualify her to be President. That is, unless Mr. McCain is going to tell the country, "look, I nominated the only other person in the world older than 35 that is even less qualified to be President that Barack Obama. So vote for me."

If this is the strategy by his crack campaign staff, it will be an abysmal failure. Abysmal. I fell in love with that word - abysmal - during Joe Biden's speech Tuesday night as he described the last eight years of the Bush administration. Abysmal is the most apt word to describe the Bush administration's policies on nearly everything, that is, up until the last couple of months when it has come around to the Obama view of the world which he, Bush, categorized only last May before the Israeli Knesset as "appeasement", by talking to Iran and setting a timetable for the orderly withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Regardless of those things, Bush has left the country on the edge of an abyss from which, if McCain is elected, the country will fall into. We are not in just a ditch. We are, again, on the edge of an abyss.

Who would you rather have one heartbeat (or lack of it) away from the Presidency of the United States? A guy whose 72nd birthday is today, August 29? Who has none of the "maverick" from his 2000 campaign left in him? Who arguably still suffers from PTSD? Who has sold his soul to special interests and the Republican base (or what is left of it)? Or would you rather have Joe Biden, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who knows how to communicate broad themes as well as policy minutiae? I am confident that Sarah Palin has her good points: she is the devoted mother of a Down's Syndrome child, so she undoubtedly has the patience of Job and her heart in the right place. But Presidential timber? Not a chance.

I have to believe that Mr. McCain watched and listened to the positions of the Democrats, listened to the collective howl that went up among people who do not own 11 homes, and said to himself: "Let's see. Between me and Mitt Romney, we'll have 24 homes between us; that ain't gonna play well in Peoria, Detroit or Cleveland, where people are trying to hang on to their only homes. Mitt's probably not a good choice to keep up the charade that I've been playing to try to appear to understand what problems ordinary Americans are facing. So let's get someone whom no-one knows anything about, other than her recent election to one of our least populated states to keep the focus away from me and on Obama."

If McCain's staff is so stupid to think that angry Hillary supporters who can't get past her defeat will vote for John McCain because of the fact that they might share the same sex organ and other features as Ms. Palin, I hope that those Hillary supporters are smart enough to realize that they are being shamelessly pandered to, if indeed that is the point of this nomination.

Regardless of the point behind it, this pick dooms the McCain ticket. Even before this VP pick, I could not think of a single reason to vote for McCain as opposed to reasons not to vote for Obama. Not one. Why would anyone want John McCain, who turns 72 today, to be President at this point in American history?

As a Jew, I know that a strong America is essential to peace in the world. A strong American economy is necessary to the safety of minorities in the United States, including, sadly, Jews. We are the first ones to be gone after when economies go to hell; 2000 years of history tells me that we are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. And this economy has gone to hell. It is de rigueur to blame "the Israel lobby" for the world's ills. This is transparently anti-Semitic. If that is not your perspective, I'd suggest that you do some more reading and research to confirm for yourself that that is the case. An economically strong America is essential because strength is a necessity in this globalized, interconnected and increasingly morally and politically unstable world to ensure that the rest of the freedom-loving world, including Israel, is safe, too. Without a strong America, the rest of the world and her inhabitants suffer. Just ask the Georgians.

If America does not reassert herself economically and morally, and soon, this country will have fallen into an abyss from which there is no return. That is what is at stake in this election. Nothing less. A McCain/Palin ticket is a sick joke on the American people at a time that it needs true vision and true leadership. In my view, only the Obama/Biden ticket is worth even considering as qualified to meet the challenges that we all face.

28 August 2008

Joe Biden's Acceptance Speech August 27, 2008

This was one of the best speeches I think I have ever heard. I had the privilege of watching it with my son; we were both wowed at its content and delivery. Outstanding political theater.

Randy Shiner

26 August 2008

Obama's Hillbilly Half-Brother Threatening To Derail Campaign

August 13, 2008 | Issue 44•33

Cooter Obama welcomes his brother's supporters with a jug of "white lightning" before whipping up a steaming vat of flat-possum stew.

BOONEVILLE, KY—Barack Obama's once-commanding lead in the polls slipped to two points Monday, continuing a month-long slide that many credit to the recent appearance of the Democratic candidate's heretofore unknown half-brother, Cooter Obama.

Long kept a family secret, the overalls-clad, straw-chewing Kentuckian first entered the public spotlight in July, when he drove his 1982 Ford flatbed pickup through the press corps at an Obama rally in order to inform his brother that he caught the skunk that had been living under his front porch. According to witnesses, Cooter's skunk proceeded to spray Washington Post political reporter Michael D. Shear in the face.

Enlarge Image Cooter chases pig

Cooter Obama attempted to pay for damages to the Capitol lawn with homemade jerky.

"Sorry 'bout that, mister! Some tomater juice'll take care of the stank," Cooter said as his mortified younger brother led him off the stage. "Shoot, Barack, you didn't tell me you was runnin' for president!"

Since Cooter's emergence on the national scene, the Obama campaign has downplayed the brothers' relationship. A statement issued last week by Obama's top adviser, David Axelrod, claimed that the two lived together only for a brief period in 1981, shortly before Barack left to attend Columbia University and Cooter had to drop out of chicken-killing school because an air conditioner fell on his head.

Nonetheless, political experts said Cooter's increased visibility in recent weeks has hurt Obama's polling among urban, upper-middle-class, non-straw-hat-wearing voters. The Obama camp has scrambled to control the damage caused by Cooter's penchants for loudly practicing his banjo during Obama's speeches, repeatedly referring to Barack by his childhood nickname, "Ol' Jelly Legs," and chasing his troublemaking pig, Mbogo, in the nude in the background of Obama's CNN interview on the importance of education.

The problem came to a head last week, advisers said, when Cooter arrived unannounced at a $100-a-plate fundraiser, slipped past security, and proffered a jug of moonshine to the high-society donors, claiming it would "straighten their curlies." In addition, dozens of would-be attendees at a Cedar Rapids, IA town-hall meeting Sunday were turned away at the door by the elder Obama, who was sitting at the entrance in a rocking chair and brandishing a double-barreled shotgun.

"What Sen. Obama's half-brother meant to communicate was that he was pleased that the candidate's message of change is fostering vigorous dialogue," Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said following the incident. "In no way was his proposal to 'fill y'all's backsides with rock salt' intended to be taken in any other way."

In the past two weeks, Obama has lost support from such groups as PETA, which withdrew its endorsement when Cooter punched a swan in the face, claiming it was "one of them mean ones"; the Clean Energy Group, which protested Cooter's recent attempt to fry a squirrel in a flaming 20-gallon barrel of diesel fuel; and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), whom Cooter mistook for an outhouse Monday and urinated on for 35 seconds.

"I thought we would be able to escape controversy by leaving the country for a week and visiting Iraq and Europe," an unnamed source in the Obama camp told reporters. "Little did we know that Cooter would command just as much attention back home by getting drunk with the Russian ambassador, lighting off fireworks, and crashing Obama's campaign limo into a creek in the Ozark Mountains."

Despite the setbacks he has caused, Cooter has secured a small but devoted following, and has occasionally managed to reflect well on the campaign. At a speaking engagement to which Obama arrived two hours late, Cooter kept the crowd's spirits up by breaking out a washtub string bass and a washboard and holding an impromptu hoedown.

Although his primary focus has been to support his brother, Cooter Obama said he is not without political aspirations of his own.

"Shoot, I'm helpin' because I love my brother," Cooter said. "Maybe if he gets elected he can make me Secretary of Moonshine. Course, that don't mean I ain't votin' for the other fella. Ol' Jelly Legs wants to take my guns away."

22 August 2008

The Official TPM Tally: The McCains Own Eight To Eleven Houses

View from a booth:

I have absolutely nothing against wealthy people. Nothing. But if it's your campaign mantra that you are not a latte sipping, arugula-eating, pencil-headed intellectual, in touch with Joe Lunchbucket, and you are running for President of the United States, somebody ought to give a clue to Mr. McCain that you should be able to know the number of homes he owns. The answer is embarrassing for him, and illuminates the fact that there are two different economies at work in the US: the one for people who are above the vicissitudes of the economy and those of us who have to ride it out like holding onto an angry bull. That would describe most people that I know.

Sadly, there is no Friday night news dump today. Mr. Obama has not announced his VP choice. I'm betting on Biden, as I have from the beginning. He brings closure to Obama's "experience" issue and will stuff both John McCain and Mitt Romney (McCain's eventual choice, I am guessing) like Michael Jordan did a basketball, flying in from the free-throw line.

Randy Shiner

The Official TPM Tally: The McCains Own Eight To Eleven Houses

Here it is: The official TPM tally of precisely how many homes the McCains own. Everyone -- apparently including McCain himself -- has been working feverishly since yesterday to nail down this elusive number, with varying results.

And the grand total of houses the McCains own is...

...anywhere from eight to eleven homes, depending on how you count it.

The McCain campaign claims the Arizona Senator has four residences: Condos in Arlington, VA., and Coronado, CA., the main McCain residence in Phoenix, AZ., and a ranch in Sedona, AZ. A McCain adviser says the rest of the McCain properties are "some investment properties and things like that."

Not so much.

Here's our official list:

Arlington, VA: The McCains have a three-bedroom condo in Arlington, Virginia, for when McCain is in the DC area. It is valued at nearly $850,000. Total: One.

Arizona: Here's an example of how hard it is to keep track of how many houses McCain owns: The Arizona Republic reported in 2006 that the McCains bought two adjacent condominiums for $4.66 million, so they could combine them into a single mega-condo of over 6,000 square feet, for use as their main residence in Arizona. That's either one or two more. Total: Two to three.

Arizona: Cindy's corporation later bought another condo in the same building as the mega-condo, only on a different floor. Total: Three to four.

Coronado, CA: Then there are the two vacation condos they own in Coronado, California, which total $4.7 million. They initially just bought the first one, but Cindy decided to buy a second when her children began using the first one much more frequently. "So I bought another one," Cindy told Vogue. Total: Five to six.

Sedona, AZ: The McCains own a lot of three houses in their "Hidden Valley Ranch" area of Sedona, totaling over $1,081,000 in value, according to county records. This is the rustic location where McCain often entertains reporters and other guests. You can count this as anywhere from one to three houses -- one of them is a main residence, and the others are for guests and servants. Total: Six to nine.

La Jolla, CA: There's also their property in La Jolla, California, valued at over $1 million, where Cindy's aunt reportedly lives. (Fun fact: This is the same property for which the McCains were delinquent on their property taxes.) Total: Seven to 10.

Phoenix, AZ: Cindy's family trust also owns a $700,000 loft in Phoenix, which was purchased for use by their daughter Meghan after she graduated from college. As GQ put it, "the interior looks like a spaceship furnished by West Elm." Total: Eight to 11.

As it happens, there's still more. Cindy also owns other properties through her family corporations. But many of these are rental properties for homes and businesses. We've decided to take the conservative road, and not count rental properties towards the total, as they aren't really homes -- they're investments or sources of income.

So, depending on how you count it, the grand total of homes owned by the McCains is...

Eight to 11. At a combined value of $12,991,000.

From the Feuilletons


From the Feuilletons

From the Feuilletons is a weekly overview of what's been happening in the German-language cultural pages and appears every Friday at 3 pm. CET.. Here a key to the German newspapers.

Berliner Zeitung 16.08.2008

Diedrich Diederichsen casts his mind back to 1982 when he met a 24-year-old waitress in New York who, for all her New Wave crow's nest hairdo and extreme coolness, occasionally deigned to speak to the customers: "As she did to me when I pushed my miserable dollar over to her for my barely- affordable drink. 'I'll tell you how it works in here. You have to give me a tip. And that means double what you pay, or more. Then you only have to pay for every third drink, and we're both happy.' I though this was a very decent suggestion, it showed understanding for my provincial idiocy (and poverty) and of course she stood to gain by training this guest. Because he went back every night. The waitress was Madonna."

Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Chinese author Jiang Rong talks in an interview about his novel, "Wolf Totem", which has sold over 2.5 million copies in China, and about the Chinese fear of freedom which he explains as a symptom of the country's agricultural culture: "People never need to leave their village. Everyone owns a bit of land. Perspectives are very limited. When I lived in the steppes, I often wondered why so few people could dominate a country the size of China. So I started to research the differences between Mongolian and Han culture. Then I expanded on my theories in my novel. Chinese culture is basically a slave culture, a sheep-like culture, a pet culture. The underlying problem of Confucian culture is unconditional obedience. Opposition is a foreign concept in China. This character makes striving for freedom and democracy very difficult."

Die Welt 18.08.2008

Director Volker Schlöndorff has just published his memoirs. In conversation with Peter Zander, he also voices self-criticism with respect to New German Cinema. "It is always good to start off by proclaiming Daddy's cinema dead. But having done that, we should have called a ceasefire immediately, like the Nouvelle Vague did in France. New German Cinema's real mistake was to try to do everything single-handedly, from own kitchens, so to speak. I don't mean the fact that these were auteur filmmakers, or that they were telling their own stories, no. What we lacked was the reality principle of experienced producers, people who were strictly focussed on the financial side of things, but who also provided security."

Süddeutsche Zeitung 18.08.2008

Michel Houellebecq presented his directorial debut in Locarno with the film of his novel "The Possibility of an Island". In the interview he gave Barbara Gärtner, he didn't give away much, but he did explain why the film has no explicit sex: "If you show sex, you always have a problem with the men. Male genitals are just not pretty. I have made an erotic film before, which only showed women having sex. But it would be boring to only show women in a longer film. You can't film sex; at most you can write about it."

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Oliver Jungen was at the music and pop culture festival in Cologne, "c/o pop", and arrived at the following conclusion. "The industry has changed, quite fundamentally. At last people have woken up to the reality of the situation and this has engendered pragmatism rather than resignation. The internet can only generate limited money. Most importantly, the lifeblood of music industry has run dry: copyright no longer plays a real role... And people also now see that Web 3.0 is not the solution. What we need is a return to aura and that means abandoning technical distance. The concert is the new cash cow."

Die Welt 21.08.2008

In an interview with Kai Luehrs-Kaiser, the organist and Dieterich Buxtehude specialist, Ton Koopman, casts aspersions on Bach's son, Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach: "I believe that Carl Philipp Emanuel embezzled the missing end of the 'Art of Fugue' in order to feed the Bach myth. I am convinced that the 'Art of Fugue' was completed. After all Bach only had to work on the notation. Later he began composing the High Mass. I know music experts who - even if they'd never admit it - are secretly scouring the archives to find the end of the 'Art of Fugue'. And they will find it eventually!"


Die Welt 16.08.2008

The young Georgian writer Nino Haratichvili defends himself, in conversation with Jenni Roth, against the accusation that Georgians are racist. "Until the nineties, there were never any problems, which is why this accusation is absurd. And the Russians spent the last 15 years handing out Russian passports in Abkhazia and Ossetia, so that they can now turn round and say that they are protecting their citizens. That's not fair."

Die Tageszeitung 16.08.2008

Ossetian literature academic, Shanna Chochiyeva, who teaches in Moscow, has harsh words for the politics of Georgian President Saakashvili: "How could we have known that the Georgians would suddenly take leave of their senses like this? Although the signs had been around for some time. For example, Saakashvili uses former dictator Sviad Gamsachurdia's book, titled "Georgia's Spiritual Mission", as a teaching aid for the seminars he gives to his crazy chauvinists. This contains sentences such as: "There will come a time when the whole world speaks the Georgian language." And in meetings Saakashvili ensures his followers that Georgia will save European civilisation. As far as I see it, these people are Nazis."

Süddeutsche Zeitung 16.08.2008

Ukrainian writer Yuri Andrukhovych declares his solidarity for Georgia and is concerned for the future: "'Freedom' plays an immense role in Georgian culture, whereas the key Russian concept is 'superpower'." And the West's illusions that Russia will henceforth act as a peacekeeper, are not something Eastern Europe has ever believed. "Since 1991, there has been a growing fear that Russia will 'rise again' sometime. I suspect that we are now experiencing the first acute phase of this 'rising'." Read more articles by Yuri Andrukhovych here

Die Tageszeitung 21.08.2008

Czech playwright Pavel Kohout talks in an interview about the parallels and differences between the Caucasus conflict and the Russian invasion of Prague in 1968. "The Czechs and Slovaks never shot anyone, they also had no territorial disputes and they had never sent a tank into anywhere. The only thing which connects the invasion of Georgia with that of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was that both involved a Russian attack. This is the nature of Russian politics... What the Russians need is something like a French Revolution. Which ultimately brought democracy. If you look at the Russian Revolution and Russian history, it is clear that we have to give them time, but we should not let them out of our sight."

17 August 2008

Jerry Wexler, famed record producer, dies at 91

Aug 15, 6:04 PM EDT

Jerry Wexler, famed record producer, dies at 91

AP Music Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- Jerry Wexler not only coined the phrase rhythm and blues, the legendary music producer was one of the key architects of the genre. He revolutionized popular music with seminal, superstar-making recordings of acts such as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and others.

But the genius of Wexler, who died Friday at his Sarasota, Fla., home at 91, was not limited to just one style of music. Over his decades-long career, he would create varied soundscapes that touched just about every kind of listener, from his work with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson to his masterful recording of Dusty Springfield to his work with pop and rock acts like George Michael and Dire Straits.

He also helped build one of the most influential labels in pop, Atlantic Records, which was the home of Franklin, Charles, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. He was named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

"Jerry was truly one of the great record men of all time," Franklin told The Associated Press Friday. "I salute him today."

Jerry Wexler's son Paul said the record producer died at home, where he was under hospice care, about 3:45 a.m. Friday of heart disease; the death was first confirmed by David Ritz, co-author of Wexler's 1993 memoir, "Rhythm and the Blues."

Both his son and daughter Lisa were present at the time of his death. Paul Wexler told the AP his father's death was "a tremendous loss."

"The number of artists that he was involved with and helped significantly or just made great records with, the list is almost unbelievable," Paul Wexler added. "And many of them are gone now."

Wexler earned his reputation as a music industry giant while a partner at Atlantic Records with another legendary music figure, the late Ahmet Ertegun. Atlantic provided an outlet for the groundbreaking work of African-American performers in the 1950s and '60s.

Wexler helped boost the careers of both the "King of Soul," Charles, and the "Queen of Soul," Franklin. Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke and Percy Sledge were among the other R&B greats who benefited from Wexler's deft recording touch. Among the standards produced by Wexler: Franklin's "Respect," a dazzling, feminist reworking of an Otis Redding song; Sledge's deep ballad "When A Man Loves A Woman" and Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour," with a horn vamp inspired by Wexler's admittedly rhythmless dancing.

He also produced Dusty Springfield's classic "Dusty in Memphis," which would become a benchmark of "blue-eyed" soul, as well as key recordings for the Memphis-based soul label Stax Records; Wexler created a partnership where Atlantic distributed Stax records and eventually took control of their master recordings.

Burke said Wexler was the ultimate music man.

"He loved black music, R&B music and rhythm and blues was his foundation. He had a feeling for it, he had the knack to keep it going in his heart and recognize the talent that he felt was real," Burke said after learning of his death. "Jerry Wexler didn't change the sound of America, he put the sound to the public. He open the doors and windows to the radio stations ... and made everybody listen."

In the studio, Wexler was a hands-on producer. Once, during a session with Charles, the tambourine player was off the beat. Wexler, in his award-winning autobiography, recalled grabbing the instrument and playing it himself.

"Who's that?" asked Charles.

"Me," Wexler told the blind singer.

"You got it, baby!" Charles said.

When asked what made Wexler such an astute producer, Franklin told the AP: "He knew what he was doing, that's the first thing. ... We sat for long hours listening to music before we decided what we would do, and selecting various things."

But she also stressed his easygoing nature and sense of humor with helping create the right musical vibe.

"He was very, very easy to work with," she said. "He knew how to keep the mood light and keep it fun."

The son of Polish immigrants and a music buff since his teens, Wexler, a New York City native, landed a job writing for Billboard magazine in the late 1940s after serving in World War II and studying journalism at Kansas State University. He coined the term "rhythm and blues" for the magazine's black music charts; previously, they were listed under "race records."

While working at Billboard, Wexler befriended Ertegun - a life-altering friendship for both. Ertegun and a partner had started Atlantic, then a small R&B label in New York. In 1953, when Ertegun's partner left for a two-year military hitch, Wexler stepped in as the label's co-director.

He never left.

"In the early sessions, I just sat there watching (Ertegun) while I was cowering in fright," Wexler told the AP in 2001. "But as time went on, we proved to be a very successful team. ... We went on the road together, we hung out together."

He recalled that Ertegun "wrote many of the songs in the early days, and he drew upon his knowledge of jazz and the blues, because songs always have to have a source. ... This is not to say that there is not great originality."

While Ertegun enjoyed the more bohemian aspects of the music business, Wexler was a working partner. Wexler produced 16 albums and numerous hit singles for Franklin, who switched to Atlantic in the mid-1960s and rediscovered her gospel roots after several unhappy years singing show tunes for Columbia. "When it came to the studio, you could say the two of us were joined at the hip," he once said.

Franklin noted that Wexler produced her first platinum album, the classic 1972 gospel recording "Amazing Grace."

"I think the things that we produced absolutely brought soul to the forefront as evidenced by my having the cover of Time magazine," she said Friday. "There had definitely been a musical revolution there, revolutionary change in music, and soul came into prominence."

In 1967, Wexler and Ertegun sold Atlantic to Warner Bros. for $17.5 million. Although they stayed on to run the company, the pair began moving in different directions.

Wexler began working with a collection of Southern musicians in the 1970s, including guitar genius Duane Allman, Dr. John, and Delaney & Bonnie. He also produced albums for Willie Nelson.

In the 1980s, Wexler worked with Dire Straits, Carlos Santana and George Michael. In April 1988, Atlantic marked its 40th anniversary with an 11-hour concert at Madison Square Garden, with the stage shared by performers from Crosby, Stills & Nash to the Bee Gees to Ben E. King.

Franklin said she had spoken to him in the last few weeks, and while he said he was in ill health, "his voice sounded very strong, and his laughter, his spirit was great."

Paul Wexler said a private service will take place in the coming weeks in Sarasota, and his father's tombstone will read: "He changed the world."

"I don't think I'm overreaching," he said.

14 August 2008

Jane Mayer: 'The Dark Side'

Jane Mayer: 'The Dark Side'
Reviewed by Jennifer Schuessler

Wednesday, July 23, 2008
The Dark Side The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals By Jane Mayer 392 pages. $27.50. Doubleday.

'The Dark Side," Jane Mayer's gripping new account of the war on terror, is really the story of two wars: the far-flung battle against Islamic radicalism, and the bitter, closed-doors domestic struggle over whether the president should have limitless power to wage it.

The euphemistically named but often grisly particulars of the fight against al-Qaida - the "extraordinary renditions" by hooded agents in unmarked planes, the secret "black site" prisons across the globe, the "enhanced" interrogation techniques, the "reverse rendition" of detainees lucky enough to be found innocent and dumped blindfolded at remote borders - are harrowingly recounted here, complete with fresh revelations. But in Mayer's hands the story of bureaucratic jockeying in well-upholstered offices and in the fine print of legal documents makes for an equally absorbing and disturbing story. It's a cage match between the U.S. Constitution and a cabal of ideological extremists, and the Constitution goes down.

The war on terror, according to Mayer, a staff writer at The New Yorker, was a "political battle cloaked in legal strategy, an ideological trench war" waged by a small group of true believers whose expansive views of executive power she traces from the Nixon administration through the Iran-contra scandal to the panicked days after 9/11. Mayer's prime movers and main villains are Vice President Dick Cheney and his legal counsel (now chief of staff) David Addington, who after the terrorist attacks moved to establish "a policy of deliberate cruelty that would've been unthinkable on Sept. 10."

As the leader of the self-styled "war council," a group of lawyers who took the lead in making the rules for the war on terror, Addington startled many colleagues with the depth of his fervor and the reach of his power.

"How did this lunatic end up running the country?" an unnamed "high ranking and very conservative" administration lawyer quoted by Mayer recalls asking himself in meetings. "Even his admirers," Mayer writes, "tended to invoke metaphors involving knives." "Cheney's Cheney" was known to carry a dog-eared copy of the Constitution in his pocket - a detail that in another story might suggest a steadfast devotion but in Mayer's comes off as just a way of breaking it down before swallowing it whole.

The original copy of the Geneva Conventions rests in the vaults of the State Department, but Mayer describes how Cheney, Addington and their allies made sure this was less a place of honor than an oubliette. The war council settled on a "pre-emptive criminal model," in which suspects would be used - more or less indefinitely - to gather evidence of future crimes rather than held accountable for previous ones. There would be minimal oversight from Congress. The CIA would take the lead, developing aggressive new interrogation methods that would be described as "enhanced," "robust," "special." What they were not, a series of secret memos issued by John Yoo and others at the Office of Legal Council would attempt to certify, was "torture."

Mayer pieces together detailed case histories for several prisoners, beginning with "detainee 001," the so-called American Taliban, John Walker Lindh, whose botched prosecution led the administration to decide, in Mayer's words, that "open criminal trials under the strict rules of the American legal system were not worth the risk." But even as such trials were largely abandoned, evidence gathering was stepped up, using increasingly exotic means.

SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) was a program developed by the military to train soldiers to resist torture or other rough treatment if captured. After 9/11, as Mayer first reported in The New Yorker, it was "reverse-engineered" into an offensive weapon. Under the influence of James Mitchell, a former military psychologist hired to supervise the project despite his lack of experience with either interrogations or Islamic extremism, the black sites, Guantánamo and eventually Abu Ghraib became a bizarre world where detainees were kept on dog leashes and bombarded with intolerable sounds, including "meows from cat food commercials, Yoko Ono singing and Eminem rapping about America."

The elaborately plotted interrogations - Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, accused of being the mastermind of the 9/11 plot, was subjected to "hundreds of different techniques in just a two-week period soon after his capture" in 2003 - were authorized and tracked at the highest levels, with officials in Washington, including George Tenet, at the time the director of central intelligence, approving any deviations from the "treatment" plans in what one source calls "top-down quality control" and Mayer calls a twisted version of Mother, May I? A secret Red Cross report given to the CIA last year and described to Mayer said some of these techniques were categorically torture. (An internal CIA review, she writes, was on its way to reaching the same conclusion in 2004 before Cheney derailed it.)

While waterboarding has drawn the most public criticism, a former government official familiar with the program told Mayer, the real brutality lay in the sheer number and duration of the different "procedures." "The totality is just staggering," this official said.

The early months of the rendition program, a CIA officer told Mayer, was the "Camelot of counterterrorism," with volunteers turned away. But as the harsh interrogations became "routinized," second thoughts - and fear of legal exposure - began to mount. As the CIA officer put it, "Do you really want to be building these skill sets?"

Meanwhile some in Washington were having doubts as well. In the last third of the book, Mayer shifts focus to the heroes of her story, the government lawyers - often hard-line conservatives - who tried to fight back against a program whose existence and scope they only belatedly grasped. There is a particularly fine chapter on Alberto Mora, then the general counsel of the Navy, who in early 2003 mounted a futile challenge to the interrogation policy, which he feared might result in war crimes charges. Mora reportedly warned Donald Rumsfeld's chief counsel, William Haynes, to "protect your client!" Haynes did - by getting another secret opinion from Yoo, superseding Mora's.

Mayer also gives a gripping account of the standoff between Addington and Jack Goldsmith, who after being named head of the Office of Legal Counsel in 2003 moved to revoke Yoo's memos. And she recounts how another group of administration lawyers met in secret in June 2005 to formulate "the Big Bang," a plan to shut down the black sites and bring the interrogations in line with international law by doing an end run around Cheney and going straight to President Bush, whom they believed to be sympathetic.

In reality, Mayer writes, "there is no record that Bush ever objected to the methods employed by the CIA in its black sites or insisted on any outside review of the CIA's claims that their approach was working." She vigorously argues that the approach did not work, and in fact did tremendous damage to national security by unleashing a flood of false and even dangerously misleading intelligence, including some used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

"What does that mean? 'Outrages upon human dignity'?" President Bush said at a news conference in 2006, after the Supreme Court ruled that the Geneva Conventions applied even to "enemy combatants." In "The Dark Side" Mayer provides a chilling answer, along with the most vivid and comprehensive account we have had so far of how a government founded on checks and balances and respect for individual rights could have been turned against those ideals.

More Updates on China's Authoritarian State

13 August 2008

A Synopsys of Baghdad

View from a booth:

This is must-see material. Every American/Western kid, and especially Jewish and Israeli kids, need to see this movie. Click on the title to this post to go to the HBO Documentaries website and check out the trailer and the other great material that they have there. There is a companion study guide provided by the Tribeca Film Festival (Robert DeNiro) for teachers who should absolutely make this an assignment for all students.

Randy Shiner

** 2008 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL - OFFICIAL SELECTION **Baghdad High views the current war in Iraq through the eyes of four Iraqi teens as they enter their senior year of high school.

Filmed by the boys themselves, the documentary follows their friendships during the entire academic year and offers unique insight into ordinary adolescent Iraqi lives. "The daily news about Iraq was so relentlessly depressing for so many years," says Ivan O'Mahoney, who directed and produced the film with Laura Winter.

"It was therefore fantastic to realize while making this film that there is normality amidst all the violence, and that people do lead normal lives, despite the mayhem around them. It gave me a lot of hope to see kids be kids."

Collectively, the teens recorded more than 300 hours of tape, which were woven into the final project by the supervising producers. A mix of religious and ethnic backgrounds, the young men featured in BAGHDAD HIGH include: Hayder, who yearns to be a singer-songwriter; Anmar, who thinks he is a stud with girls and plays soccer like David Beckham; Ali, who dreams of being an architect; and his best friend Mohammed, who doesn't yet know what he wants to be, and is content being the joker of the bunch.

They could be teens in any city around the world, talking about celebrities like Britney Spears, debating who has the best-ripped jeans and discussing whose hair is a disaster.

But their lives are actually very different: Every day, they are surrounded by suicide bombings, mortar attacks, kidnappings and citywide curfews.

Notes co-director and co-producer Laura Winter, "One of the things I was struck by was that all these documentaries coming out of Iraq were done for, or by, adults. Iraqi children had not been more than a UN statistic about the dead, kidnapped or injured." The first day of school - Oct. 1, 2006 - marks the beginning of the most violent month since America invaded Iraq. That month, 2,722 men, women and children die, many because of their religion. However, the boys don't let religious, ethnic or economic differences come between them. They often miss school because leaving the house is too dangerous.

They debate whether they can hang out with each other after school, because the short journey home afterward means running the risk of being injured by a roadside bomb or a stray bullet. Even if they want to study, concentration is difficult in a war zone, and the electricity often goes out unexpectedly for hours or days at a time. As the city is torn apart by sectarian violence, each of the 17-year-olds and his family struggle to make a critical decision - stay in Baghdad and risk their lives, or flee to safer areas.

Every day, nearly 2,000 Baghdad residents leave, joining some four million refugees who are already relocated around the country or live in Jordan and Syria. "The fact that the kids are all from different backgrounds, and yet remained friends as their city was torn to bits by sectarian violence, was one of the most satisfying parts of making BAGHDAD HIGH," states Laura Winter. "It filled us with great hope for Iraq's future - and maybe ours, too."

BAGHDAD HIGH is a Renegade Pictures and StoryLabTV Production for HBO, BBC & ARTE; produced and directed by Ivan O'Mahoney & Laura Winter; editors, Richard Guard & Johnny Burke; executive producers, Alan Hayling, Karen O'Connor (for BBC), Hans Robert Eisenhauer (for ARTE); co-producer, Alex Cooke; associate producers, Fallah Al Rubaie & Zaid H. Fahmi (Baghdad). For HBO: consulting editors, Victoria Ford and Geof Bartz, A.C.E.; supervising producer, Lisa Heller; executive producer, Sheila Nevins

Say It Ain't Jew, Joe

View from a booth:

Why I love Joe Lieberman. He makes such good fodder for other Jews to point out the fact that he, Lieberman, is a shondeh fun der goyim.

Randy Shiner

Ever since their diaspora, Jews have been accused of putting something else -- themselves, the dispersed Israelite people, then Israel itself -- ahead of their own country. Jewish citizens of Russia, Germany and America, to pick just a few, have been slandered (and sometimes killed) for allegedly putting their allegiances to the Hebrew nation ahead of their patriotism toward the motherland, the fatherland or the homeland. This is vintage Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

And yet what do we hear today from Orthodox Jew Joe Lieberman?

"In my opinion, the choice could not be more clear: between one candidate, John McCain, who's had experience, been tested in war and tried in peace, another candidate who has not. Between one candidate, John McCain, who has always put the country first, worked across party lines to get things done, and one candidate who has not."

And just in case the media failed to notice, the McCain campaign -- whose slogans include "Country First" -- has now sent Lieberman's remarks to the entire political press corps.

What is to be made of this? Does Joe Lieberman not realize that he is using one of the oldest anti-semitic tricks in the book to accuse Obama of being the Islamic candidate?

12 August 2008

Russian Cyber Attacks Shut Down Georgian Websites

Can you imagine what would happen if the US State Department got hacked and the only way it could function was by opening an account on Blogspot.com? Assuming that the Georgian IT people have more than the equivalent of a fifth grade education, this represents a new kind of warfare. Imagine the consequences of what happened to Georgia with those of the United States under similar circumstances. I can only hope that the US' IT security department is a bit more sophisticated than its Georgian counterpart apparently is. Those cwafty Wussians.....!

Randy Shiner

Russian Cyber Attacks Shut Down Georgian Websites
By Stefanie Hoffman, ChannelWeb

7:22 PM EDT Tue. Aug. 12, 2008

Following just six days after the initiation of the Georgia-Russian conflict, the Georgian Internet became the target of a coordinated cyber attack, which compromised several government Websites with defacement and Denial of Service attacks, crippling the nation's ability to disseminate information.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's site was defaced, integrating his image with those of Hitler. The sabotage was followed by a DDoS attack that left the presidential site inaccessible.

Denial of service attacks are conducted when a coordinated network of computers sends multiple requests to a given server or computer at exactly the same time, which subsequently shuts down the targeted computer under the barrage of incoming requests.

Meanwhile, Georgian news sites and other popular information forums were also blocked during the attack.

"As more government services move toward the Internet, you end up with more exposure to these types of attack, whether it was an organization and executed by government or criminal elements acting at somebody's direction," said Kevin Newmeyer, worldwide principal for strategic security and counter terrorism for security company Unisys (NYSE:UIS). "It's hard to prove it was a government-directed operation."

The attacks ultimately prompted the Georgian governmental sites to switch to U.S. based hosts, while Georgia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs moved to a blogspot account.

The exact sources of the attacks are yet unknown. Experts say that some ISPs appear to be sourced in Russia, and some speculate that the Russian government had used its resources to fund the attack, which was launched the day before Russia drove tanks into South Ossetia.

Other unconfirmed reports suggest that members of the cybercrime organization Russian Business Network are responsible for the coordinated sabotage of the Georgian Websites.

"It looks like it was coming from Russia, or is it a co-opted server that wasn't properly patched, with people taking over the computer and doing things with it?" said Newmeyer. "With the Russian Business Network, you can rent out a server or a botnet for a number of hours. You pay your cyber gold and these transactions happen offshore. That's one of the challenges that governments face."

Other experts, such as Paul Ferguson, advanced threats researchers for Trend Micro, maintained that the actual RBN ISP has long been shut down, disbanding into less obvious activity spread all over the globe.

The first of the coordinated cyber attacks against Georgia was detected in July, weeks before Russia launched its military intervention. Experts say that attacks launched in tandem with military conflict will likely increase as more global infrastructure is controlled by the Internet.

While experts hesitate to call the Georgia attack an act of cyber terrorism, most agree that it was part of a strategic campaign to eliminate Georgia's ability to disseminate information.

"It's a brute force attack, one that goes all the way back to the Mafiaboy attacks of 2000," said David Perry, global director of education for Trend Micro. "This is not a verifiable cyber war, but it is clearly a step in that direction."

The attacks recall a similar cyber attack in Estonia in April of 2007, when government, parliament, and newspaper sites, as well as numerous online banking operations were shut down after a conflict that resulted in the removal of several Russian World War II monuments. However, experts contend that the recent information attack on Georgian Websites was more coordinated, professional and sophisticated in nature than last year's attack on Estonia infrastructure.

"The Estonia incident was more what I would call hactivism, more of an attack by impassioned amateurs," said

11 August 2008

Olbermann's "Worst Persons in the World" for Today

I try to keep some distance from Olbermann's ratings, but these specimens for "worst persons of the world" are candidates for a hall of fame, somewhere.

Randy Shiner

Good for John McCain's Speech?

John McCain said the right thing in his speech. This is an attack on democracy in the region. We will see what actual steps are taken as Putin replaces Shlakishashvili. We cannot do anything. Nothing. So yes, bluster, because there is no meat on the bones any more. What have we become as a country? A toothless paper tiger.

There is a criminal amount of negligence on the part of the entire state department not to understand what has been happening in Georgia for the last five years and more importantly, just how willing Putin is evidently able to act unilaterally. The problem with honesty is that we are, for the first time in history, unable to affect the rise of authoritarianism, both in China and in Russia.

This is a sad truth that we must face intelligently or not at all. And all the bluster and bluff is so much national self-delusion.

But for the want of a nail, a kingdom was lost.

Randy Shiner

10 August 2008

The Chinese Can Never Manufacture A Decent Point Guard: On China, the Olympics and Freedom and their Future

We have to take note, it being start of the first full week of the "Beijing Olympics" (emphasis on "Beijing", by design) of the slaughtering today of the mens Chinese Basketball Team by Team USA 101-70.

Frankly, most of the players on the Chinese National Team looked very much like they walked off the night shift at my local Chinese restaurant with the notable exceptions of Messrs. Yao and Yi, both of whom had to come to the United States for the full personal fulfillment of their need for and excellence in playing basketball at its highest consistent levels. (I mean no mean-spirited offense to anyone.)

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I was able to experience the joy of "being there" for the game via the NBC website. The video is done in real-time, with no commercials and no announcer chit-chat and analysis we've come to expect from televised basketball here in the United States. So watching on my PC surround sound system was just like being there.

I have to say: if this is the first game they play, I would not want to be in the shoes of the remaining seven victim-teams who will be left by the side of the international basketball road to gold that has been paved by the young men of this year's US team and their coaches, who have done an obviously exceptional job of preparing them. They knew this game would be big, but could never understand how big it was in Beijing. It was to an American, a "playoff atmosphere". To a Chinese, nothing less than the honor of their nation at stake. And it was at stake on the floor of the gym.

Let there be no doubt that these are Beijing's coming out, as it were, as an "official" alternative to the capitalist road to gold. There is a reason why the "place" of the Olympics means more than the Olympics itself. What athletes? This is a big corporate sales job done by the Chinese Communist Party in cooperation with the world, including NBC. Witness the "partnership" between the Beijing Olympic Games Organizing Committee and NBC, which paid through the nose for the privilege of broadcasting these Olympics for profit. Every remark, every utterance by anyone associated with the NBC Olympics announcing teams(s) is the result of being told to watch what they say about anything other than the sport, a posture which is in direct contradiction to how the sports have been in fact used: as a means to stir up nationalist pride, as the Chinese Communist Party has realized that it is bankrupt of any raison d'etre other than the assurance of the maintanance of its own power.

That an authoritarian regime, considered by many China-watchers to be without a purpose other than the maintenance of its own power and therefore existence, can make people truly happy - by giving or allowing its citizens all of the benefits and none of the responsibilities and consequences that come with Democracy - is not possible. It defies the human need for self-control that comes naturally with the first inkling of freedom, whatever its source. China is tasting economic freedom and likes it very much. Sooner or later, those same tastes that have developed for 7-Series BMWs will naturally wander into self-government.

Certainly China is in an explosive growth mode in every sense of the word. Economically, they are of vital import to the continued existence of the United States, and if not existentially then certainly economically. The biggest foreign policy issue that China faces at this point, is that of Taiwan, according to Richard Holbrooke in a recent article in "Foreign Affairs". The West is being relentless in hounding China for its human rights abuses, but will the West stop a potential invasion of China's biggest perceived foreign policy threat? Will we go to war with China over Taiwan in the name of Democracy? What is the US doing about the situation in Georgia? About Russia's sudden need to exhibit its military might in support of ethno-nationalist tension in Georgia among two areas that were not excited of life without "Mother Russia" when Georgia declared its independence in the 1990s after recognition of Kosovo, something the Russians did not encourage the United States to do for reasons that are now obvious. An independent Georgia is at stake. The answer on the latter issue is entirely dependent upon the willingness of the Bush administration to guard Democracy even if that means foregoing the help of Russia in denying Iran the atomic bomb.

We are seeing what ethnicity and nationalism mean in China and to the Kosovars, Georgians and Russians. China had, until 1949, been under the proverbial Western Whip (and, ever present, the very still-public, tragic and brutal Japanese one) for most of the past several hundred years. Now we are witness to what passes for "progress" a mere 42 years - a blink in the eye of "China-time" - after Mao's Cultural Revolution began (which wiped out China's entire "bourgeois element", in a sum, I am guessing, is in total of in excess of 50 million people; Mao himself is responsible for the deaths of 70 million people.). Now China is under its own whip, literally and figuratively.

So let us not delude ourselves at the type of people we are dealing with in China. They have a huge energy, but it can get put into some strange goings-on, as the experiment in Maoism showed the world. I think that a free people, a truly free people, will in the end come to a self-understanding that they are not, and take action accordingly. I am certain that some Chinese iconoclast has already thought these ideas.

I hope the struggle to open China to the West waged by Mr. Kissinger and Mr. Nixon starting in 1972 when the latter was the first President of the United States to visit "Red China" continues unabated under the next President. But that struggle to understand the Chinese mind and intermingling of economies cannot come between freedom of conscience and its people. The United States has, in my view, a rational foreign interest in keeping Taiwan a Democracy despite its inadequacies, real and perceived. Georgia is a different question.

We should not ever forget the main principle under which this nation was borne and to which we continue to this day to strive to achieve: that every individual is and should be entitled to the same basic human rights as any other. To deny individuality is to deny man's very existence.

The questions for the Chinese and American people might be shaped as: What is the price a people has to be willing to surrender its soul, its collective individuality? How much is it worth in exchange for having been given, as I noted before, all the financial and social benefits of Democracy and none of the responsibilities that a decent person would want, out of appreciation, to undertake for himself, grateful as he is to that "thing" that got that same people to be what and who it is: freedom.

Freedom of choice, freedom to meet to discuss alternative political structures, freedom to express one's religion - did you know that China actually has a "state" Chinese religion? - a constitutional protection over the contents of one's mind, so that it cannot be used against its owner in a criminal trial? Freedom of conscience. And all the other freedoms that Americans like me take for granted and are grateful for every day. Freedom is a fundamental human condition. The key is to control that condition in a way that does not unduly interfere with the very thing it is you are trying so hard to protect, to wit: freedom itself. The Chinese will, just as the Sunnis in Anbar, have an "awakening" and figure out that all the "order" and "prosperity" in the world will never bring a people true happiness who are unwilling to die for the ability to pursue it.

Let us not forget our own history: when this country was established, the question now under discussion was not resolved by even those renaissance men: the question of freedom for all that they, some would argue hypocritically, said they based the foundation of this country upon. This country went to war over it between 1861-65 and we have been struggling with the subject ever since. But no-one will say it was not worth dying over. It still is.

Imagine that you have a local police which goes through your garbage for signs of used feminine hygiene products to see if there is a baby on the way or not. Imagine someone scanning every email you send regardless of who you are as an individual. Imagine that you watch television that is propaganda, as we are witnessing and subjected to with these Olympics. Imagine a country that rounds people up and puts them in jail for attempting to organize democratic institutions or even a "club" and continues to do so even as the "Beijing Olympics" are taking place.

Imagine a country where the government cloaks itself with "notions of freedom" such as "elections" but which are cynically and knowingly used as a way for the present system to maintain itself as itself: a pseudo-communist authoritarian pseudo-capitalist system that will, in my longer view, ultimately fail. When the United States and the West are convinced of this in principle, we can act accordingly. And we are. The biggest internal problem facing China, according to Mr. Holbrooke, is how Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao will attempt to transfer power. Will the "masses" awaken and take control of themselves from their current domestic masters? Or will the parties be still high on the money that the Chinese Communist Party is putting in Average Chinese Yang's (no offense to anyone with that surname) bank account and the nationalist fervor of this moment in self-made international sunshine?

And while we are on the subject of the "Beijing Olympics" and sports in general, let us not forget the truly huge role played by the sport of table-tennis that preceded Mr. Nixon's historic trip in 1972. We discovered the fact China has great table-tennis players. But out of ALL those people, they do not have anything near even a single, one, decent point guard. Thankfully, there are some things in this world that are truly American. You can keep table tennis. Thank you.

Randy Shiner

Obama Leads Better Than 3:1 in Field Offices

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Obama Leads Better Than 3:1 in Field Offices

As Sean has been writing in recent days, it has become increasingly apparent that the McCain campaign has no intention of matching the Obama campaign's formidable presence on the ground. This becomes especially clear upon reviewing the status of field operations in each state.

The table below represents my best estimate of the number of field offices that each campaign presently has open in each state, or plans to open in the immediate future. I say "estimate" because there is no hard-and-fast source for this information. Each campaign has listing of its field offices on the respective state-by-state pages within its website (Obama example) (McCain example), however, in certain cases, the offices appear to be relics of the primary campaign that have since shut down. In states where the number of offices appeared to be dubious, or the listing did not appear to have been updated recently, I spot-checked the numbers by randomly calling a couple of offices in each state. It appears that all or almost all of the McCain campaign's offices in California are inactive. But this was a larger problem for Obama, where offices in a large number of states that were important in the primaries, like Kentucky or any number of Super Tuesday states, have long since been shut down.My best estimate of the current state of the ground game follows. States are ordered by their current rankings in the Tipping Point metric: Overall, I count 336 offices for Obama and 101 for McCain.

(Click on picture to see data)

What's more, the overwhelming majority of McCain offices aren't really branded as McCain offices. Rather, they are so-called 'Victory Offices' that are operated by the local Republican party in that state and which serve all Republican candidates in that state. Some fairly substantial degree of coordination between the national campaign and the state party apparatuses is inevitable in any Presidential campaign. But in Obama's case, it is Chicago that is driving the bus (to the extent that we'll probably begin to hear some complaints from local party officials), whereas the McCain campaign is effectively competing for resources and attention with other Republican candidates.

The state-by-state distributions are also interesting. McCain, who has spent almost nothing on advertising in Florida, is instead very heavily invested on the ground there with 35 offices, perhaps reflecting the fact that Florida has one of the nation's best and most effective state Republican party operations. The other states where McCain has multiple offices open are: Michigan (11), Ohio (9), Minnesota (7), Missouri (7), Wisconsin (6), Virginia (6), Iowa (6) and New Hampshire (3). By contrast, the McCain campaign has just one office open in key states like Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and (somewhat shockingly) Pennsylvania, and no offices open in some second-tier swing states like Indiana and Montana.

The Obama campaign is not really running a 50-state campaign. Instead, they appear to be running an active operation in 22 states: Ohio (33 offices open), Virginia (28), Missouri (27), Florida (25), Wisconsin (23), Iowa (23), Michigan (22), New Mexico (18), Pennsylvania (18), Washington (18), New Hampshire (14), Indiana (14), North Carolina (11), Georgia (11), Colorado (10), Minnesota (9), Nevada (6), Oregon (6), Maine (6), Montana (6), North Dakota (4) and Alaska (4). For my money, the large number of offices open in states like Washington and Maine are unnecessarily defensive -- and in Georgia, hopelessly offensive. But generally speaking, the Obama campaign's distribution does a much better job of matching the Tipping Point map.
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