Friday, August 29, 2008

Ames: We don't understand S. Ossetia

South Ossetia: The War We Don't Know

By Mark Ames

Five days after Georgia invaded and seized the breakaway separatist region of South Ossetia, sparking a larger-scale Russian invasion to drive Georgian forces back and punish their leaders, Russia surprised its Western detractors by calling a halt to the country's offensive. After all, the mainstream media, egged on by hawkish neocon pundits and their candidate John McCain, had everyone believing that Russia was hellbent on the full-scale annihilation and annexation of democratic Georgia.

But then came Tuesday's cease-fire announcement–and we're now forced to ask ourselves serious questions about the recent conflict: what really started it, how dangerous was it and what, with serious careful consideration, could be done to prevent it from turning into a worst-case scenario?

Up until now, this war was framed as a simple tale of Good Helpless Democratic Guy Georgia versus Bad Savage Fascist Guy Russia. In fact, it is far more complex than this, morally and historically. Then there are two concentric David and Goliath narratives here. The initial war pitted the Goliath Georgia–a nation of 4.4 million, with vastly superior numbers, equipment and training thanks to US and Israeli advisers–against David-Ossetia, with a population of between 50,000-70,000 and a local militia force that is barely battalion strength. Reports coming out of South Ossetia tell of Georgian rockets and artillery leveling every building in the capital city, Tskhinvali, and of Georgian troops lobbing grenades into bomb shelters and basements sheltering women and children. Although true casualty figures are hard to come by, reports that up to 2,000 Ossetians, mostly civilians, were killed are certainly believable, given the intensity of the initial Georgian bombardment, the wanton destruction of the city and surrounding regions and the generally savage nature of Caucasus warfare, a very personal game where old rules apply.

But you don't hear about this story from the Western media. Indeed, you hear little if anything about the Ossetians, who seem to hardly exist in the West's eyes, even though their grievance is the root cause of this war.

While Russia and America see the conflict in abstract terms about spheres of influence and protecting allies, for Ossetians, who still recall the centuries of massacres Georgians committed against them, it is highly personal. They will still recall the Georgian massacres in the early 1920s, when Georgia was briefly independent, which exterminated up to 8 percent of the Ossetian population. In 1990, when Georgia was again moving towards independence, the ultranationalist leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia abolished Ossetia's limited autonomy, leading to another Ossetian rebellion that was only quelled by a peace agreement signed by Georgia, Russia and the Ossetians. Gamsakhurdia was subsequently deposed, and Georgia's ethnic chauvinism was shelved until the rise of current president Mikhail Saakashvili in 2003.

Ossetians have traditionally relied on their powerful northern neighbor Russia for protection against Georgia. The Georgians, in turn, have tried to counter Russian hegemony, for which they are no match, by aligning closely with the United States, finding friendly ears among old cold warriors and Bush-era neocons.

When he first rose to prominence, the American-educated Saakashvili was often referred to as "Georgia's Vladimir Zhirinovsky"–the Russian ultranationalist firebrand who once promised to retake Alaska. Although Saakashvili was subsequently rebranded as a Euro-democrat, he promised to reunite Georgia and bring his separatist regions to heel, by force if necessary, whether the aggrieved ethnic groups liked it or not.

At the root of this conflict is a clash of two twentieth-century guiding principles in international relations. Georgia, backed by the West, is claiming its right as a sovereign nation to control the territory within its borders, a guiding principle since World War II. The Ossetians are claiming their right to self-determination, a guiding principle since World War I.

These two guiding concepts for international relations–national sovereignty and the right to self-determination–are locked in a zero-sum battle in Georgia. Sometimes, the West takes the side of national sovereignty, as it is in the current war; other times, it sides with self-determination and redrawing of national borders, such as with Kosovo.

In that 1999 war, the United States led a nearly three-month bombing campaign of Serbia in order to rescue a beleaguered minority, the Albanians, and carve out a new nation. Self-determination trumped national sovereignty, over the objections of Russia, China and numerous other countries.

Why, Russians and Ossetians (not to mention separatist Abkhazians in Georgia's western region) ask, should the same principle not be applied to them?

The answer is clear: because we say so. That sort of logic, in an era of colossal American decline and simultaneous Russian resurgence, no longer works on the field.

But sadly, this news hasn't been conveyed to neocon hawks like Robert Kagan or to John McCain, who seem to still be living in 2002, when American military power was seen as the answer to all the world's problems. There is even evidence to suggest that America encouraged Saakashvili to think he could solve this conflict by war. Ever since 2002, when American Green Berets dropped into Georgia to train its troops against phantom Al Qaeda cells, the Bush Administration has drawn the former Soviet nation closer into what appeared to be a military alliance, culminating in Georgia's 2,000-man contribution to the Iraq coalition forces (the third-largest contingent), and American joint training exercises in July, just a few weeks before Georgia's blitzkrieg attack on South Ossetia. In the UN, Russian attempts in the early hours of the war to pass a resolution calling for a cease-fire were shot down by American and British diplomats, who objected to the clause calling on both sides to "renounce violence"–exactly Saakashvili's position.

The question we must ask is: Are we willing to risk war, including nuclear holocaust, in order to fulfill the aspirations of Mikhail Saakashvili? While Bush and McCain speak of Saakashvili as if he's a combination of Thomas Jefferson and Nelson Mandela, he's seen by his own people as increasingly authoritarian and unbalanced. Last year, Saakashvili sent in his special forces to violently disperse opposition protesters in the capital city, followed by a declaration of martial law. He sacked the opposition television station (partly owned by Rupert Murdoch), exiled or jailed his political opponents, and stacked the courts with his own judges while removing neutral observers, leaving even onetime neocon cheerleaders like Bruce Jackson and Anne Applebaum feeling queasy. Hardly the image of the "small democratic nation" that everyone today touts.

The Russian response has, of course, been disproportionate and heavy-handed–exactly what's to be expected of them ever since Boris Yeltsin first showed the world how post-Soviet Russia fights its wars, starting with Chechnya in 1994. Georgia has been terrorized by indiscriminate aerial bombing and the constant threat of invasion by a vastly superior Russian force–eerily reminiscent of NATO's campaign against Serbia in 1999. Indeed, many observers believe that the current Russian response is a direct blowback of the Kosovo campaign, which is why there are so many similarities.

But what is the best way to respond? The neocons and even CNN reports talk about exploring military options, which is absurd given the consequences of war with nuclear-armed Russia. Woofing loudly like John McCain is likely to prove as effective as Bush's woofing did with North Korea, before he was forced to crawl back to the negotiating table.

In fact, one of the most effective ways America could respond to this crisis is by rethinking its entire geopolitical approach of the past two decades, which has been hegemonic, arrogant, hypocritical and reckless. If we set a better example, then we could at least reclaim the moral authority, or "soft power," that we once had.

Instead, we've left the world other more brutal lessons about geopolitical power and how to use it, and the Russians are showing they've learned from us well. One lesson they learned from Kosovo is that when you bomb a petty nationalist leader like Saakashvili or Milosevic, eventually – when the cease-fire is called and the sense of defeat settles in – the nationalist firebrand who brought them to defeat pays with his seat in power.

McCain told false POW tales?

I know it's political heresy in the U.S. to question McCain's war record, but... Not only is McCain playing the POW card at every opportune and inopportune moment -- as a tortured veteran, I guess that's his right -- but now he's embellishing his record with stories and details nobody has ever heard before.  Is he a liar, or in his ripe old age, is he happening to recall these rousing, audience-specific tales from 'Nam at just the right political moment? 

Sorry, may I be tarred and feathered and death-threatened for even mentioning it....


Moldy Dick

John McCain's fraudulent legend

By Allan Uthman

September 2008  |  The Beast


I know we're supposed to be used to this stuff by now, but this recent rash of "faith and values" presidential campaign events is still freaking me out. It was bad enough listening to Republican Senators lie about how often they pray, but now I've got to watch Democrats prostrate themselves before the one demographic that despises them the most, evangelical Christians. At least John McCain had the good sense to pass up an audience with the NAACP. When you're beat, you're beat.


It's not surprising McCain got a better response from the audience at squishy Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church. He gave short, decisive answers that pushed all the right fundamentalist buttons, while Obama stammered his way through more complex explanations of why he basically disagrees with everything the audience believes, except the Jesus part. Perhaps Obama was wise to show up and make an effort, but it was McCain's show on Friday, and the pres agreed he had won the day.


That doesn't necessarily mean he cheated, except he probably did. It also doesn't necessarily mean he lied—except he definitely did. In fact, McCain's performance at Saddleback was so dense with dishonesty it's really something of an achievement, something to be cataloged for posterity.


Of course, there is the "Cone of Silence." As Warren introduced Obama at Saddleback, already an obviously tilted forum for a secret Muslim, he assured the audience that McCain was "safely placed ... in a cone of silence." When McCain's segment began, Warren, unable to resist his own wit, asked McCain he was comfortable in the Cone. McCain joked that he was "trying to hear through the wall." polite chuckles all around.


But the real joke is that it was entirely false. McCain arrived a half hour late, well into Obama's interview. The well-worn excuse was that his motorcade was "stuck in traffic." Whether that's true or not, it doesn't change the fact that he and a staff replete with high tech wireless devices had every opportunity to monitor the live event and prepare accordingly. In addition, Pastor Warren, in defending himself on "Hannity & Colmes" on Monday, explained that the monitor in McCain's green room had been "totally disconnected from the source" by an associate. Details on the disconnection's totality were not forthcoming, but we can pray, I suppose, that Warren meant more than just unplugging a cable that could simply be reconnected.


And then there's this: McCain referenced a question that hadn't been asked yet. After fielding a question on abortion and then one on gay marriage with blunt, immediate, no-nonsense answers, McCain asks to "get back to" a question about Supreme Court justices that had as yet only been asked of Obama:


    WARREN: Define marriage.


    MCCAIN: A union — a union between man and woman, between one man and one woman. That's my definition of marriage. Could I — are we going to get back to the importance of Supreme Court Justices or should I mention –


Again, there had been no mention of Supreme Court Justices until that point in McCain's interview. He seems to be referring to a question given only to Obama at that point ("Which existing Supreme Court Justice would you not have nominated?")


And then, immediately, this exchange:


    WARREN: We will get to that.


    MCCAIN: OK. All right. OK.


    WARREN: You're jumping ahead. You got all my questions, good.


Altogether, it's suspicious at best. But unfairly prepared or not, McCain still managed to pack an amazing amount of self-aggrandizing bullshit into his clipped, rehearsed responses.


In response to the question, "Who are the three wisest people that you know that you would rely on heavily in an administration?" McCain went for absurd choices: David Petraeus, laughably calling him "one of the greatest military leaders in American history," E-Bay CEO Meg Whitman (this, McCain's hat tip to the ladies, would almost certainly have been Carly Fiorina if she hadn't said that thing about health insurers paying for Viagra but not birth control last month), and, in an awkward gesture to minorities, Democratic Representative and civil rights icon John Lewis.


McCain, who opposed recognizing Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday as a holiday until 1990, has been name-checking Lewis quite a bit this year, citing him as a potential advisor. But after 22 years that they've both been in Congress, they have no relationship whatsoever. As Lewis told Mother Jones, "Sen. McCain and I are colleagues in the US Congress, not confidantes. He does not consult me. And I do not consult him." And yet McCain names him as one of the top three people he expects to "rely on heavily"?  That, my friends, is not straight talk.


And then there's the touchy subject, the place no reporter dares to tread: McCain's POW stories. I wrote recently about how McCain inexplicably switched the Green Bay Packers for the Pittsburgh Steelers in one of his stories about giving false names to his interrogators in Vietnam, a strange embellishment that calls the story itself into question. But McCain has another, even better story, one that ties his War Hero backstory to the Lord God himself: The "Cross in the sand." You've probably heard it. Here it is from Friday:


    MCCAIN: One night, I was being punished in that fashion. All of sudden the door of the cell opened and the guard came in. The guy who was just -- what we call the gun guard -- just walked around the camp with the gun on his shoulder. He went like this and loosened the ropes. He came back about four hours later and tightened them up again and left.


    The following Christmas, because it was Christmas day, we were allowed to stand outside of our cell for a few minutes. In those days we were not allowed to see or communicate with each other, although we certainly did. And I was standing outside, for my few minutes outside at my cell. He came walking up. He stood there for a minute, and with his sandal on the dirt in the courtyard, he drew a cross and he stood there. And a minute later, he rubbed it out, and walked away.


    For a minute there, there was just two Christians worshiping together. I'll never forget that moment.


For some reason, there is no record of McCain ever relating this tale prior to 1999, despite the fact that author Robert Timberg interviewed McCain specifically about three of his Christmases in captivity, including 1969, the year McCain now claims the story to have occurred on. McCain gave accounts for each year, which became an entire chapter of Timberg's book The Nightingale's Song, but no mention of a cross in the sand. In 2000, Mcain told the story again during his "agents of intolerance" speech, but this time it was a third-person fable: "Many years ago a scared American prisoner of war in Vietnam..."


Then the story goes back to starring McCain. In some iterations, as it was at Saddleback, the cross-drawing guard's first scene comes in May of the same year, as he mercifully loosens the "torture ropes" McCain is bound with. But McCain was moved to a new prison camp in December of 1969, so how can it be the same guard?


But the real kicker is this: McCain's "cross in the sand" story is nearly identical to another prisoner's tale—Alexander Solzhenitsyn's, from his time in the Soviet Gulag. The great Russian author told of an episode in the Gulag when, his spirits dimming, a fellow inmate drew a cross in the dirt, giving Solzhenitsyn the strength to carry on. It's also notable that McCain is a big fan of Solzhenitsyn, having written about him in Why Courage Matters: The Way to a Braver Life (coauthored by longtime collaborator Mark Salter) in 2004.


The only person to recall McCain telling this story prior to 1999 is—are you ready?—Orson Swindle, a fellow POW to McCain who is now a Washington lobbyist and Republican advocate, and is actively campaigning for McCain. Despite having told Politico in May of this year, "I don't recall us talking specifically about our faith," He now begrudges to National Review Online: "I vaguely recall that story being told, among other stories."  Of course.


You may think all this is very sordid. I don't care. McCain vowed to run a clean, serious campaign and has completely ignored that promise. He has decided to get down with the shit-sniffers who sullied Kerry's war record, and accused McCain himself of having an illegitimate black baby in South Carolina in 2000. I don't care if he's been pressed into acquiescence by major Republican donors or if the whole revolting "celebrity/antichrist" strategy against Obama is entirely his idea. Every Democratic candidate in recent memory has had their reputations mercilessly assaulted—affairs exposed, lies about their past incessantly repeated, while the Republicans enjoyed a strange kind of deference. Bush was a deserter, a cocaine user, a drunk until 40, but those truths just slid right off of him, while GOP strategists used surrogates and their numerous friendlies in the press to turn Democratic candidates' strengths against them.


McCain has two strengths, aside from his lack of pigmentation: His POW ordeal, and his largely unearned reputation as a straight-talking maverick. Both of these strengths are vulnerable to revelations that McCain is embellishing his POW stories.


The thrall of Obama's unlikely primary victory over, I think we can all sense that this election isn't going to be easy, not easy at all. The numbers are closer than they should be, and as election day approaches, many fence-sitters are likely to jump to McCain as the "safe" choice, as idiotic as that truly is.


This election will not be won through civility; they never are. I am not, however, suggesting that people should lie about McCain. Negative political attacks are just fine with me, as long as they are true. And there are plenty of underreported negative truths about McCain to feed a full-scale assault on his reputation until November, which is precisely what needs to happen. The "cross in the sand" and "Steelers defensive line" stories need to become the "I invented the internet" of this election season.  It's long past time to stop playing footsie with these sons of bitches.


If you want to understand why McCain's "can't touch this, I'm a War Hero" defense must be eradicated, consider that he has already been revealed by The New York Times as having had an affair with a lobbyist, for Christ's sake, cheating on the wife he was cheating on his first wife with, and nobody seems to give a damn, while John Edwards, a man not running for dogcatcher at the moment, has captivated public outrage for over a week now for a plain vanilla affair with a woman his age.


Or consider the McCain camp's reflexive response to the allegations that he broke the Cone of Silence: "The insinuation from the Obama campaign that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, cheated is outrageous."


What the hell being a POW has to with the matter is anyone's guess, but it's a perfect illustration of why it's a wrongheaded strategy to shy away from scrutinizing McCain's legend. As long as his heroic confabulations persist in their immunity to criticism, this formula works for anything: "The insinuation from X that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, did Y is outrageous."  While Obama stands accused of playing the "race card" any time he obliquely refers to his ancestry in any way, McCain gets to play the victim at will, for any reason, his pockets bulging with "how can you be mean to me after all I've been through" cards.


The only way to pierce McCain's media Kevlar is to show him for the phony fabulist he really is. This is no time to go wobbly. There can be no doubt that the attacks on Obama will only grow uglier and more dishonest. The Republicans will not hold back; they will not let their consciences interfere with their mission, which is simply to win, no matter what. Refraining from heavy combat is how Democrats lose; we've seen enough examples of that by now. Just calling him "McBush" isn't going to do it, people. So grab a harpoon and start jabbing. It's time to take this white whale down.

You will love this / You will hate this / This will simply make you uncomfortable

F--k Bill Clinton

Bridging the Partisan Divide of Hate and Disgust

By Matt Cale

September 2008  |  The Beast


In the time it took for Bill Clinton to issue a self-serving, unenthusiastic, half-hearted, typically narcissistic response to the question of whether or not Barack Obama was prepared to be president, any and all gains—real and perceived—of the Clinton White House years disappeared into the ether. Any good feeling the man had engendered over eight years of calm, triangulating moderation and a relatively low-key post-presidency was in danger of being forever lost after a primary season full of sniping, veiled bigotry, and a near-suffocating sense of entitlement, but now he's gone too far. With mere weeks to go before the Democratic convention, and Obama's campaign inconceivably deadlocked with the worst major party candidate in 100 years, the absolute minimum we should expect from the party faithful is the appearance of unity. Fake enthusiasm if you must—hell, even lie—and get behind the nominee with the force of a hurricane. Make bold comparisons to long-dead heroes. Invoke well-loved martyrs, or shining lights from a distant past. Bow at the fucking ankles, if that's what it takes. But here, now, with the election already slipping away to a pasty zombie who loses large chunks of his face on a daily basis, all while retaining the rhetorical skills of a dementia-ridden rest home casualty, the word on the street must be that Obama is the man of the hour; a champion not only ready to lead, but one who is cocksure, confident, and all but bestowed with the nation's highest honor. Instead, we get assorted hems and haws, twists and evasions, and the typical egomaniacal ravings we've come to expect from the 20th century's most overrated chief executive.


So, despite being an avid supporter since the very beginning, I've turned the corner. Fuck Bill Clinton as a man, yes, but fuck him as a president. Obviously, his impeachment was a ridiculous, hypocritical affair that smacked of a bloodless coup, but at long last, it can be said that everything his critics said about him was true. And then some. Bill Clinton is a fundamentally dishonest man, not so much a liar as a sociopath with full-tilt delusions of grandeur. We've seen swelled heads before in Washington—LBJ, for one—but at least Johnson used his powers to bring about ambitious changes to the party and the country he led. LBJ did as much for his own manhood as he did America, but no one did it better, and when he grabbed you by the lapels or poked his oversized digits into your chest, he had grand schemes at the end of such intimidation. War ended his utopian swagger (as it always will), but he had no less than the continuation of FDR's revolution as his end goal. Clinton, on the other hand, came to destroy the very party he claimed to love, forever consigning it to the scrap heap of retreat and accommodation; a party that flexed its muscle by co-opting conservatism and recasting it with a less aggressive posture. But conservatism it remained, and the Clinton years, for all of their assumed glory, were as much a rightward tilt as the previous decade-plus of Reaganism. Clinton's relative success at the polls also created the expectation that whenever a Democrat runs for higher office, he must abstain from any real form of liberalism.  "The era of big government is over," he once said, which may as well have been submitted on a post-it from Newt Gingrich himself.


Yes, fuck Bill Clinton. From the signature affixed to the heinous Telecommunications Act of 1996 to his Defense of Marriage Act love fest, Clinton proved over eight years that elections do matter, so long as you don't mind uninterrupted Republican rule regardless of party label. His appointments to the Supreme Court were, needless to say, far better than would have been installed by a second term of Bush the Elder (or maybe not, given Souter), but for all their leftist leanings, both Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer are, as a New York Times piece pointed out a few months ago, unapologetic corporatists. They'll defend porn and abortion and affirmative action, but in matters of business, their philosophies differ little from the more reactionary members of the Court. Breyer is no Scalia, but this only goes so far. After all, there's a reason both appointees received near-unanimous approval from the Senate. The same aw-shucks affection would not have been given to someone from the William O. Douglas school of judicial activism, though it's hard to imagine anyone of that ilk ever making it to the federal bench again. But Clinton could have had the world in those two years before the worm turned, and he went to the center as usual. Perhaps we're better for it, but it's the sort of reptilian compromise that defines the boy wonder's political life.


And now, at what should be a moment of historical transition, Bill has seen fit to slap his prick on the counter once again and make the election a referendum on his relevance. In his mind, he saved the Democrats from oblivion, when he merely made them a less fascistic version of pure evil. In the pure light of reality, the 1990s were a madhouse of illusion and, in the words of then-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, "irrational exuberance," and the correction of 2001-2002 was less a shockwave than the expected chickens coming home to roost. It was a decade entirely on paper; no real money to back it up, and the wild fiction that we could have it all, forever and a day, if possible. Without even bothering to check the ticker, it is no exaggeration to say that for every lasting job created in those years, twenty-five others appeared that had no possibility of surviving close scrutiny.  Titles were carved out of thin air and assigned to any nitwit willing to borrow a few million for a silly dream. The dot-com economy, then, was the culmination of a decade's worth of schizophrenia writ large, whereby a people infected with the very greed they claimed belonged to a slicked-back decade prior used the proverbial shoeshines and smiles to bring everyone into a limitless tent of expansion. It was Clinton's love-in, and it helped foster the more damaging illusion of recent years that just-off-the-boat flunkies could in fact pay mortgages swallowing 80% of their take-home pay, or that starry-eyed newlyweds, often in possession of little more than unmarketable degrees, should inhabit that airless plane of the above and beyond. The money will come. Bill said so.


Clinton gave us guns and butter to be sure, only the guns were to our own heads. We bought the whole stinking lie, and he leaned back for his trailer park hummers while convincing us all that the ride would never end. And while lying about a blowjob—even while under oath—will never rise to the level of forced removal, it should be said that his reckless behavior at a time of bitter partisanship and pathological surveillance gives us an insight into his motivations far more than anything ever could. He didn't give a shit then, and he doesn't now, except to further his own needs and sense of self. I'm no scold, but if a party leader can't see fit to retreat to the shadows at a time when no one has asked for his advice or input, then he deserves to have his legacy remain forever tarnished and stigmatized by such ill-considered actions. We always get the leaders we deserve, and while Bush I would have been re-elected without Perot's spoiler role, it still stands that in 1992, we wanted to have a little fun again, and cared little who was picking up the tab. Clinton was as militaristic, cynical, and exploitive as anyone who came before or since, and it takes little by way of imagination to envision his own Rose Garden ceremony celebrating the virtues of the Patriot Act had 9/11 occurred on his watch. He too repeated the bullshit of Saddam's apparitional WMD, and his own wife enthusiastically voted for the invasion of Iraq.  It's impossible to imagine that he pushed her to consider the opposite view.


Fuck Bill Clinton. My instinct to come to his defense is no more, and I want nothing more to do with him. Respect and admiration came readily in the past, and now they flee with similar ease. No wonder Bill and Hillary formed such a formidable alliance: both are razor-lipped power junkies who would step on a gaggle of grandmothers to rise a sliver of a percentage point in the polls. They seek advice not to gain a further understanding, but to test the winds of political expediency. They lack any real courage or grit, and would change on a dime for a solitary vote. Hillary's easier to hate, of course, because she's little more than a shrill, shrieking cunt in a pantsuit, but Bill has proven to be just as despicable in the end. The naysayers understood after all: no core, no principles, no conviction not up for sale to any bidder, high or low.  All of it to stuff down his pants and leave the rest to chance. No liberal, he's not even a friend to liberals, and is so racked by jealousy and childishness that he can't stand the thought of a party being held in his absence. Admittedly, the charges of racism are ridiculous on their face, because racism requires a stand, and I'm not sure Bill wants to go on the record with anything definitive. And while he didn't blatantly ruin the country like the frat boy fuck-up extraordinaire who followed in his footsteps, he did so rock the nation to sleep that we didn't seem to mind when the Constitution withered away under a relentless assault of excrement. After the Clinton years, we were primed and ready for a comforting idiot to pilot our Hindenburg, and we gave him the keys with apathy and indifference. And now Bill is back, trying to kill a candidacy in its crib lest it outshine his own compromised years in power. So fuck you, Bill Clinton. Hard, sans lube. And when the crypt opens before you, grab the hand of the missus and go quietly. For once.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Letter to Kyiv Post: Ukraine-NATO

The Kyiv Post published my letter, but they cut out the best part: my alternative to NATO's or Russia's absorption of Ukraine into their sphere of influence. The full, original text is below.

Dear Editor,

In response to your paper's monolithic "pro" stance for Ukraine's NATO entry, which you say is required immediately because of Russia's overly aggressive response in Georgia, let me offer a different view.

First, let's remember: Ukraine is not Georgia. The two countries' fates are not necessarily intertwined -- not unless President Yushchenko chooses to meddle in the Russia-Georgia conflict, at Ukraine's peril. Let's hope Yushchenko knows the difference between expressing words of solidarity, and committing national suicide.

As an American, and a patriot, my first concern is whether Ukraine's admission into NATO is in America's interest. The answer is: No. NATO and the U.S. would gain little from Ukraine. As the Kyiv Post noted, Ukraine's conscript army is small, outdated, with terrible morale; and Ukraine cannot afford to fund its NATO commitments. Ukraine has offered radar listening stations to NATO, but they are not of much defensive value. With all of their current satellites and listening stations, America and NATO can already see and hear what is happening in Russia. These stations are not about defense, they are about reducing Russia's nuclear first-strike capability. This means eliminating the principal of mutually assured destruction (MAD), the terrible yet terribly effective foundation for nuclear peace for the past 40 years. After attacking Iraq and Iran, this is U.S. neocons' greatest mad dream. Naturally, this worries Russia, as it should worry any unbiased observer. Renewing a nuclear arms race with Russia is not in America's, or the world's, interest. Unfortunately, the fate of the world still depends on MAD.

More importantly to your readers, NATO expansion is not in Ukraine's interest. Ukraine could gain some side advantages, yes, like some international prestige and perhaps eventual EU membership. But overall, Ukraine is more likely to suffer badly as a result.

A majority of the Ukrainian parliament and population opposes Ukraine's membership in NATO. Moreover, the emotional intensity of the anti-NATO majority far exceeds the pro-NATO minority's, as violent anti-NATO demonstrations in Ukraine have recently shown. If Ukraine is a real democracy, public opinion -- especially on such an important question -- cannot be defied by one man or his cabal. Most Ukrainians recognize that Russia is very, very close, and America is very far away, and all the rational implications.

Russia is Ukraine's #1 trading partner; and it provides most of Ukraine's oil and natural gas. NATO can't change that. NATO membership would leave Ukraine just as vulnerable to all kinds of Russian meddling, not the least of which would be turning off Ukraine's gas supply in the middle of winter. NATO can't stop Russia from actively fomenting separatism in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, openly and in secret. NATO can't stop Russia from cracking down on the millions of legal and illegal Ukrainians living in Russia; and NATO can't stop Russia from refusing entry to the millions more who travel to Russia each year on business or to visit family. NATO can't stop Russia from imposing crippling tariffs on Ukrainian imports, or dreaming up pretexts to declare Ukrainian products "unsafe" for consumption. Russia can afford to do all this, and take some losses, because it is swimming in Western cash from oil and gas profits. Ukraine does not enjoy the same luxury. In summary, NATO can guarantee only helplessness in the face of Russia's escalation of non-military interference in Ukraine's affairs.

But what about Crimea, your readers ask? (Let's leave that contentious sandbar Tuzla aside for now.) Again, as a U.S. patriot, I have to question seriously the wisdom of admitting into my defensive alliance a militarily weak country with a potentially dangerous territorial dispute with a nuclear behemoth. (And that goes doubly -- no, squared -- for Georgia!) Yet as a grateful guest of Ukraine who greatly values Ukraine's independence, I must ask myself: Is there an alternative to NATO? An answer that precludes putting Ukraine in the middle of a tug-of-war between Great Powers? There is. The U.S. should exert its diplomatic muscle, gather its allies, and issue a clear and unequivocal statement along these lines:

The free world has no interest in controlling Ukraine, a sovereign and independent country, or in occupying its territory with foreign military personnel against Ukraine's wishes. The free world does have an interest in preserving Ukraine's freedom and territorial integrity along its current borders. The free world will not tolerate any diminution of Ukraine.

The U.S. could even say this in a UN Security Council Resolution. If Russia vetoed such a resolution, it would have a lot of awkward explaining to do, and risk international pariah status. (Russia's expulsion from the G-8 would be a good first response).
Let America (and Ukraine) first take more moderate steps to preserve the status quo, without seeking to give one side an advantage in Ukraine that could upset the balance of peace, or move America and Russia toward a nuclear hair-trigger.

Finally, NATO or no NATO, we in the West should have enough gumption, and faith in our values and principles to say, publicly and privately, that we will not tolerate the worst-case scenario: Russia's full or partial annexation of Ukraine. Let me offer some perspective... Like Ukraine, Finland is a free and democratic European country which cooperates with NATO, but is not a NATO member. Russia has invaded both countries in the past. Yet nobody doubts that American and the West would fight a Russian attack on Finland, NATO or no NATO. The same tacit, universal understanding must exist regarding Ukraine's inviolability: Never again; not here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Buchanan: If we isolate Russia, what then?

Where have all the grownups gone when it comes to U.S. foreign policy? For too long it's been transform this country, bomb that country, invade another country. 

What about ensuring the safety and security of the U.S., and the world, first? "Serious" U.S. foreign policy makers have taken their eye off the ball; they've lost interest in Russia and the former Soviet space and gone chasing after bearded loonies. As usual, Pat is the only one thinking about what matters, always figuring one or two steps ahead. And for that, he's called a "nut."

Even I have gone on record in favor of threatening to isolate Russia. But Pat correctly asks, what then? Besides being smugly self-satisfied and assured of our moral superiority, how does an isolated Russia make America, and the world, safer? Do we really want a rich country with a million-man, nuclear army
forced to lurk on the fringes of the civilized world?

Pushing Russia Into the Cold
By Patrick J. Buchanan
August 26, 2008 | Human Events

A year after taking power, in June 1934, Adolf Hitler made his first visit abroad -- to his idol Benito Mussolini in Venice.

Babbling on incessantly about "Mein Kampf "and the Negroid strain in Mediterranean peoples, the Fuhrer made a dismal impression.

"What a clown this Hitler is," Mussolini told an aide.

Two weeks later, Hitler executed the Roehm purge and murdered scores of old Stormtrooper comrades. In late July, Austrian Nazis, attempting a coup, assassinated Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, a friend of Mussolini whose wife and child were then his guests.

Il Duce ordered four divisions to the Brenner Pass and flew to Vienna to vent his rage and disgust with Hitler. He called a summit at Stresa with Britain and France to agree on military action should Hitler make any new move in violation of Versailles.

At the time, however, Il Duce was also plotting revenge on Abyssinia for a bloody border clash with Italian Somaliland.

Mussolini thought his Allies would understand if he invaded the Ogaden to add an African colony to his new Roman Empire, just as the British and French had so often done in previous decades.

Mussolini miscalculated. Morally outraged, Britain and France went before the League of Nations and had sanctions imposed on Italy that were too weak to defeat her but punitive enough to insult her.

Friendless, isolated and condemned as an aggressor by Europe, Italy and Mussolini had nowhere to turn now but Hitler's Germany.

Thus, over the fate of an Abyssinian slave empire, Britain drove her faithful World War I ally into the arms of a Nazi dictator Mussolini loathed and had wished to confront beside Britain. And Abyssinia was overrun.

Are we making the same mistake in the Caucasus?

Mikheil Saakashvili started this war with his barrage attack and occupation of South Ossetia. Russia's war of retribution was far less violent or excessive than the U.S. bombing of Serbia for 78 days over Kosovo, or our unprovoked war on Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which has brought death to scores of thousands, or Israel's 35 days of bombing of Lebanon for a border skirmish with Hezbollah.

Yet, declared John McCain of Russia, "In the 21st century, nations don't invade other nations." Even Dick Cheney must have guffawed.

Russia must get out now, adds Bush, for South Ossetia and Abkhazia belong to a sovereign Georgia. But when did Bush demand that Israel get off the Golan Heights or withdraw from the birthplace of Jesus, which Israelis have occupied for 41 years, as he demands that Russia get out of the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, which Russia has occupied for two weeks?

As Israel was provoked in 1967, so, too, was Russia provoked.

Russians died in Saakashvili's attack, as American died in Pancho Villa's raid on New Mexico in 1916. We sent "Black Jack" Pershing, future Gen. George Patton and a U.S. army 300 miles into Mexico to kill Villa. Was this proportionate?

If we proceed on a course of isolating Russia from the West, keeping her out of the World Trade Organization, throwing her out of the G-8 and ending cooperation with NATO, where do we think Russia will go? Where did Il Duce go, when he was excommunicated from the West?

Condi Rice compares Vladimir Putin's action in Georgia to Leonid Brezhnev's crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968. She raced to Warsaw to ink a deal to put 10 anti-missile missiles and U.S. Patriot missiles manned by Americans into Poland.

Does the Stanford provost have any idea where the end of this road lies, upon which she and Bush have started the United States?

What do we do if Russia responds to our Patriots in Poland with the Russian S-300 anti-aircraft system in Iran and Syria?

If the United States intends to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and arm them to fight Russia, why should Russia not dissolve the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe and move her tank armies into Belarus and up to the borders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania?

Would we send U.S. troops into the Baltic republics to signal that we will fight Russia to honor our NATO war guarantees? Which NATO allies would fight alongside us against a nuclear-armed Russia?

If we bring Ukraine into NATO, what do we do if Russified east Ukraine secedes and Russia sends troops to back the rebels? Do we send warships into Russia's bathtub, the Black Sea, and commit to fight as long as it takes to restore Ukraine's territorial integrity?

In March 1939, Britain pledged to declare war and fight Germany to the death to guarantee the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Poland. How did that one turn out for Britain and Poland?

Before we start down the road of isolating and encircling Russia with weak NATO allies, let us think through Gen. Petraeus' question in 2003 about Iraq, "Tell me, how does this thing end?"

But, then, these folks never seem to think anything through.

Stratfor: Kosovo set the stage for Georgia

Georgia and Kosovo: A Single Intertwined Crisis
By George Friedman
August 25, 2008 |

The Russo-Georgian war was rooted in broad geopolitical processes. In large part it was simply the result of the cyclical reassertion of Russian power. The Russian empire — czarist and Soviet — expanded to its borders in the 17th and 19th centuries. It collapsed in 1992. The Western powers wanted to make the disintegration permanent. It was inevitable that Russia would, in due course, want to reassert its claims. That it happened in Georgia was simply the result of circumstance.

There is, however, another context within which to view this, the context of Russian perceptions of U.S. and European intentions and of U.S. and European perceptions of Russian capabilities. This context shaped the policies that led to the Russo-Georgian war. And those attitudes can only be understood if we trace the question of Kosovo, because the Russo-Georgian war was forged over the last decade over the Kosovo question.

Yugoslavia broke up into its component republics in the early 1990s. The borders of the republics did not cohere to the distribution of nationalities. Many — Serbs, Croats, Bosnians and so on — found themselves citizens of republics where the majorities were not of their ethnicities and disliked the minorities intensely for historical reasons. Wars were fought between Croatia and Serbia (still calling itself Yugoslavia because Montenegro was part of it), Bosnia and Serbia and Bosnia and Croatia. Other countries in the region became involved as well.

One conflict became particularly brutal. Bosnia had a large area dominated by Serbs. This region wanted to secede from Bosnia and rejoin Serbia. The Bosnians objected and an internal war in Bosnia took place, with the Serbian government involved. This war involved the single greatest bloodletting of the bloody Balkan wars, the mass murder by Serbs of Bosnians.

Here we must pause and define some terms that are very casually thrown around. Genocide is the crime of trying to annihilate an entire people. War crimes are actions that violate the rules of war. If a soldier shoots a prisoner, he has committed a war crime. Then there is a class called "crimes against humanity." It is intended to denote those crimes that are too vast to be included in normal charges of murder or rape. They may not involve genocide, in that the annihilation of a race or nation is not at stake, but they may also go well beyond war crimes, which are much lesser offenses. The events in Bosnia were reasonably deemed crimes against humanity. They did not constitute genocide and they were more than war crimes.

At the time, the Americans and Europeans did nothing about these crimes, which became an internal political issue as the magnitude of the Serbian crimes became clear. In this context, the Clinton administration helped negotiate the Dayton Accords, which were intended to end the Balkan wars and indeed managed to go quite far in achieving this. The Dayton Accords were built around the principle that there could be no adjustment in the borders of the former Yugoslav republics. Ethnic Serbs would live under Bosnian rule. The principle that existing borders were sacrosanct was embedded in the Dayton Accords.

In the late 1990s, a crisis began to develop in the Serbian province of Kosovo. Over the years, Albanians had moved into the province in a broad migration. By 1997, the province was overwhelmingly Albanian, although it had not only been historically part of Serbia but also its historical foundation. Nevertheless, the Albanians showed significant intentions of moving toward either a separate state or unification with Albania. Serbia moved to resist this, increasing its military forces and indicating an intention to crush the Albanian resistance.

There were many claims that the Serbians were repeating the crimes against humanity that were committed in Bosnia. The Americans and Europeans, burned by Bosnia, were eager to demonstrate their will. Arguing that something between crimes against humanity and genocide was under way — and citing reports that between 10,000 and 100,000 Kosovo Albanians were missing or had been killed — NATO launched a campaign designed to stop the killings. In fact, while some killings had taken place, the claims by NATO of the number already killed were false. NATO might have prevented mass murder in Kosovo. That is not provable. They did not, however, find that mass murder on the order of the numbers claimed had taken place. The war could be defended as a preventive measure, but the atmosphere under which the war was carried out overstated what had happened.

The campaign was carried out without U.N. sanction because of Russian and Chinese opposition. The Russians were particularly opposed, arguing that major crimes were not being committed and that Serbia was an ally of Russia and that the air assault was not warranted by the evidence. The United States and other European powers disregarded the Russian position. Far more important, they established the precedent that U.N. sanction was not needed to launch a war (a precedent used by George W. Bush in Iraq). Rather — and this is the vital point — they argued that NATO support legitimized the war.

This transformed NATO from a military alliance into a quasi-United Nations. What happened in Kosovo was that NATO took on the role of peacemaker, empowered to determine if intervention was necessary, allowed to make the military intervention, and empowered to determine the outcome. Conceptually, NATO was transformed from a military force into a regional multinational grouping with responsibility for maintenance of regional order, even within the borders of states that are not members. If the United Nations wouldn't support the action, the NATO Council was sufficient.

Since Russia was not a member of NATO, and since Russia denied the urgency of war, and since Russia was overruled, the bombing campaign against Kosovo created a crisis in relations with Russia. The Russians saw the attack as a unilateral attack by an anti-Russian alliance on a Russian ally, without sound justification.

Then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin was not prepared to make this into a major confrontation, nor was he in a position to. The Russians did not so much acquiesce as concede they had no options.

The war did not go as well as history records. The bombing campaign did not force capitulation and NATO was not prepared to invade Kosovo. The air campaign continued inconclusively as the West turned to the Russians to negotiate an end. The Russians sent an envoy who negotiated an agreement consisting of three parts. First, the West would halt the bombing campaign. Second, Serbian army forces would withdraw and be replaced by a multinational force including Russian troops. Third, implicit in the agreement, the Russian troops would be there to guarantee Serbian interests and sovereignty.

As soon as the agreement was signed, the Russians rushed troops to the Pristina airport to take up their duties in the multinational force — as they had in the Bosnian peacekeeping force. In part because of deliberate maneuvers and in part because no one took the Russians seriously, the Russians never played the role they believed had been negotiated. They were never seen as part of the peacekeeping operation or as part of the decision-making system over Kosovo. The Russians felt doubly betrayed, first by the war itself, then by the peace arrangements.

The Kosovo war directly effected the fall of Yeltsin and the rise of Vladimir Putin. The faction around Putin saw Yeltsin as an incompetent bungler who allowed Russia to be doubly betrayed. The Russian perception of the war directly led to the massive reversal in Russian policy we see today. The installation of Putin and Russian nationalists from the former KGB had a number of roots. But fundamentally it was rooted in the events in Kosovo. Most of all it was driven by the perception that NATO had now shifted from being a military alliance to seeing itself as a substitute for the United Nations, arbitrating regional politics. Russia had no vote or say in NATO decisions, so NATO's new role was seen as a direct challenge to Russian interests.

Thus, the ongoing expansion of NATO into the former Soviet Union and the promise to include Ukraine and Georgia into NATO were seen in terms of the Kosovo war. From the Russian point of view, NATO expansion meant a further exclusion of Russia from decision-making, and implied that NATO reserved the right to repeat Kosovo if it felt that human rights or political issues required it. The United Nations was no longer the prime multinational peacekeeping entity. NATO assumed that role in the region and now it was going to expand all around Russia.

Then came Kosovo's independence. Yugoslavia broke apart into its constituent entities, but the borders of its nations didn't change. Then, for the first time since World War II, the decision was made to change Serbia's borders, in opposition to Serbian and Russian wishes, with the authorizing body, in effect, being NATO. It was a decision avidly supported by the Americans.

The initial attempt to resolve Kosovo's status was the round of negotiations led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari that officially began in February 2006 but had been in the works since 2005. This round of negotiations was actually started under U.S. urging and closely supervised from Washington. In charge of keeping Ahtisaari's negotiations running smoothly was Frank G. Wisner, a diplomat during the Clinton administration. Also very important to the U.S. effort was Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried, another leftover from the Clinton administration and a specialist in Soviet and Polish affairs.

In the summer of 2007, when it was obvious that the negotiations were going nowhere, the Bush administration decided the talks were over and that it was time for independence. On June 10, 2007, Bush said that the end result of negotiations must be "certain independence." In July 2007, Daniel Fried said that independence was "inevitable" even if the talks failed. Finally, in September 2007, Condoleezza Rice put it succinctly: "There's going to be an independent Kosovo. We're dedicated to that." Europeans took cues from this line.

How and when independence was brought about was really a European problem. The Americans set the debate and the Europeans implemented it. Among Europeans, the most enthusiastic about Kosovo independence were the British and the French. The British followed the American line while the French were led by their foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, who had also served as the U.N. Kosovo administrator. The Germans were more cautiously supportive.

On Feb. 17, 2008, Kosovo declared independence and was recognized rapidly by a small number of European states and countries allied with the United States. Even before the declaration, the Europeans had created an administrative body to administer Kosovo. The Europeans, through the European Union, micromanaged the date of the declaration.

On May 15, during a conference in Ekaterinburg, the foreign ministers of India, Russia and China made a joint statement regarding Kosovo. It was read by the Russian host minister, Sergei Lavrov, and it said: "In our statement, we recorded our fundamental position that the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo contradicts Resolution 1244. Russia, India and China encourage Belgrade and Pristina to resume talks within the framework of international law and hope they reach an agreement on all problems of that Serbian territory."

The Europeans and Americans rejected this request as they had rejected all Russian arguments on Kosovo. The argument here was that the Kosovo situation was one of a kind because of atrocities that had been committed. The Russians argued that the level of atrocity was unclear and that, in any case, the government that committed them was long gone from Belgrade. More to the point, the Russians let it be clearly known that they would not accept the idea that Kosovo independence was a one-of-a-kind situation and that they would regard it, instead, as a new precedent for all to follow.

The problem was not that the Europeans and the Americans didn't hear the Russians. The problem was that they simply didn't believe them — they didn't take the Russians seriously. They had heard the Russians say things for many years. They did not understand three things. First, that the Russians had reached the end of their rope. Second, that Russian military capability was not what it had been in 1999. Third, and most important, NATO, the Americans and the Europeans did not recognize that they were making political decisions that they could not support militarily.

For the Russians, the transformation of NATO from a military alliance into a regional United Nations was the problem. The West argued that NATO was no longer just a military alliance but a political arbitrator for the region. If NATO does not like Serbian policies in Kosovo, it can — at its option and in opposition to U.N. rulings — intervene. It could intervene in Serbia and it intended to expand deep into the former Soviet Union. NATO thought that because it was now a political arbiter encouraging regimes to reform and not just a war-fighting system, Russian fears would actually be assuaged. To the contrary, it was Russia's worst nightmare. Compensating for all this was the fact that NATO had neglected its own military power. Now, Russia could do something about it.

At the beginning of this discourse, we explained that the underlying issues behind the Russo-Georgian war went deep into geopolitics and that it could not be understood without understanding Kosovo. It wasn't everything, but it was the single most significant event behind all of this. The war of 1999 was the framework that created the war of 2008.

The problem for NATO was that it was expanding its political reach and claims while contracting its military muscle. The Russians were expanding their military capability (after 1999 they had no place to go but up) and the West didn't notice. In 1999, the Americans and Europeans made political decisions backed by military force. In 2008, in Kosovo, they made political decisions without sufficient military force to stop a Russian response. Either they underestimated their adversary or — even more amazingly — they did not see the Russians as adversaries despite absolutely clear statements the Russians had made. No matter what warning the Russians gave, or what the history of the situation was, the West couldn't take the Russians seriously.

It began in 1999 with war in Kosovo and it ended in 2008 with the independence of Kosovo. When we study the history of the coming period, the war in Kosovo will stand out as a turning point. Whatever the humanitarian justification and the apparent ease of victory, it set the stage for the rise of Putin and the current and future crises.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Buchanan: McCain's top foreign policy adviser also $$ lobbyist for Georgia !!

And None Dare Call It Treason
By Patrick J. Buchanan
August 22, 2008 |

Who is Randy Scheunemann?

He is the principal foreign policy adviser to John McCain and potential successor to Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski as national security adviser to the president of the United States.

But Randy Scheunemann has another identity, another role.

He is a dual loyalist, a foreign agent whose assignment is to get America committed to spilling the blood of her sons for client regimes who have made this moral mercenary a rich man.

From January 2007 to March 2008, the McCain campaign paid Scheunemann $70,000 -- pocket change compared to the $290,000 his Orion Strategies banked in those same 15 months from the Georgian regime of Mikheil Saakashvili.

What were Mikheil's marching orders to Tbilisi's man in Washington? Get Georgia a NATO war guarantee. Get America committed to fight Russia, if necessary, on behalf of Georgia.

Scheunemann came close to succeeding.

Had he done so, U.S. soldiers and Marines from Idaho and West Virginia would be killing Russians in the Caucasus, and dying to protect Scheunemann's client, who launched this idiotic war the night of Aug. 7. That people like Scheunemann hire themselves out to put American lives on the line for their clients is a classic corruption of American democracy.

U.S. backing for his campaign to retrieve his lost provinces is what Saakashvili paid Scheunemann to produce. But why should Americans fight Russians to force 70,000 South Ossetians back into the custody of a regime they detest? Why not let the South Ossetians decide their own future in free elections?

Not only is the folly of the Bush interventionist policy on display in the Caucasus, so, too, is its manifest incoherence.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says we have sought for 45 years to stay out of a shooting war with Russia and we are not going to get into one now. President Bush assured us there will be no U.S. military response to the Russian move into Georgia.

That is a recognition of, and a bowing to, reality -- namely, that Russia's control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and occupation of a strip of Georgia cannot be a casus belli for the United States. We may deplore it, but it cannot justify war with Russia.

If that be true, and it transparently is, what are McCain, Barack Obama, Bush, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel doing committing the United States and Germany to bringing Georgia into NATO? For that would commit us to war for a cause we have already conceded, by our paralysis, does not justify a war.

Not only did Scheunemann's two-man lobbying firm receive $730,000 since 2001 to get Georgia a NATO war guarantee, he was paid by Romania and Latvia to do the same. And he succeeded.

Latvia, a tiny Baltic republic annexed by Joseph Stalin in June 1940 during his pact with Adolf Hitler, was set free at the end of the Cold War. Yet hundreds of thousands of Russians had been moved into Latvia by Stalin, and as Riga served as a base of the Baltic Sea fleet, many Russian naval officers retired there.

The children and grandchildren of these Russians are Latvian citizens. They are a cause of constant tension with ethnic Letts and of strife with Moscow, which has assumed the role of protector of Russians left behind in the "near abroad" when the Soviet Union broke apart.

Thanks to the lobbying of Scheunemann and friends, Latvia has been brought into NATO and given a U.S. war guarantee. If Russia intervenes to halt some nasty ethnic violence in Riga, the United States is committed to come in and drive the Russians out.

This is the situation in which the interventionists have placed our country: committed to go to war for countries and causes that do not justify war, against a Russia that is re-emerging as a great power only to find NATO squatting on her doorstep.

Scheunemann's resume as a War Party apparatchik is lengthy. He signed the PNAC (Project for the New American Century) letter to President Clinton urging war on Iraq, four years before 9-11. He signed the PNAC ultimatum to Bush, nine days after 9-11, threatening him with political reprisal if he did not go to war against Iraq. He was executive director of the "Committee for the Liberation of Iraq," a propaganda front for Ahmad Chalabi and his pack of liars who deceived us into war.

Now Scheunemann is the neocon agent in place in McCain's camp.

The neocons got their war with Iraq. They are pushing for war on Iran. And they are now baiting the Russian Bear.

Is this what McCain has on offer? Endless war?

Why would McCain seek foreign policy counsel from the same discredited crowd that has all but destroyed the presidency of George Bush?

"Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence ... a free people ought to be constantly awake," Washington warned in his Farewell Address. Our Founding Father was warning against the Randy Scheunemanns among us, agents hired by foreign powers to deceive Americans into fighting their wars. And none dare call it treason.

Krugman: Who's middle class, & why won't Obama tax them?

Now That's Rich
By Paul Krugman
August 22, 2008 | New York Times

Last weekend, Pastor Rick Warren asked both presidential candidates to define the income at which "you move from middle class to rich." The context of the question was, of course, the difference in the candidates' tax policies. Barack Obama wants to put tax rates on higher-income Americans more or less back to what they were under Bill Clinton; John McCain, who was against the Bush tax cuts before he was for them, says that means raising taxes on the middle class.

Mr. Obama answered the question seriously, defining middle class as meaning an income below $150,000. Mr. McCain, at first, made it into a joke, saying "how about $5 million?" Then he declared that it didn't matter because he wouldn't raise anyone's taxes. That wasn't just an evasion, it was a falsehood: Mr. McCain's health care plan, by limiting the deductibility of employer-paid insurance premiums, would effectively raise taxes on a number of people.

The real problem, however, was with the question itself.

When we think about the middle class, we tend to think of Americans whose lives are decent but not luxurious: they have houses, cars and health insurance, but they still worry about making ends meet, especially when the time comes to send the kids to college.

Meanwhile, when we think about the rich, we tend to think about the handful of people who are really, really rich — people with servants, people with so much money that, like Mr. McCain, they don't know how many houses they own. (Remember how Republicans jeered at John Kerry for being too rich?)

The trouble with Mr. Warren's question was that it seemed to imply that everyone except the poor belongs to one of these two categories: either you're clearly rich, or you're an ordinary member of the middle class. And that's just wrong.

In his entertaining book "Richistan," Robert Frank of The Wall Street Journal declares that the rich aren't just different from you and me, they live in a different, parallel country. But that country is divided into levels, and only the inhabitants of upper Richistan live like aristocrats; the inhabitants of middle Richistan lead ample but not gilded lives; and lower Richistanis live in McMansions, drive around in S.U.V.'s, and are likely to think of themselves as "affluent" rather than rich.

Even these arguably not-rich, however, live in a different financial universe from that inhabited by ordinary members of the middle class: they have lots of disposable income after paying for the essentials, and they don't lose sleep over expenses, like insurance co-pays and tuition bills, that can seem daunting to many working American families.

Which brings us to the dispute about tax policy.

Mr. McCain wants to preserve almost all the Bush tax cuts, and add to them by cutting taxes on corporations. Mr. Obama wants to roll back the high-end Bush tax cuts — the cuts in tax rates on the top two income brackets and the cuts in tax rates on income from dividends and capital gains — and use some of that money to reduce taxes lower down the scale.

According to estimates prepared by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, those Obama tax increases would fall overwhelmingly on people with incomes of more than $200,000 a year. Are such people rich? Well, maybe not: some of those Mr. Obama proposes taxing are only denizens of lower Richistan, although the really big tax increases would fall on upper Richistan. But one thing's for sure: Mr. Obama isn't planning to raise taxes on the middle class, by any reasonable definition — even that of the Bush administration.

O.K., the Bush administration hasn't actually offered a definition of "middle class." But in May, the Treasury Department — which used to do serious tax studies, but these days just churns out Bush administration propaganda — released a report purporting to show, by looking at the tax bills of four hypothetical families, how the middle and working class would be hurt if the Bush tax cuts aren't made permanent.

And when the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities looked at the report, it made an interesting catch. It turns out that Treasury's hypothetical families got all their gains from the so-called middle-class provisions of the Bush tax cuts: the Child Tax Credit, the reduced tax bracket for lower incomes and marriage penalty relief.

These all happen to be provisions that Mr. Obama proposes leaving in place. In other words, the Bush administration itself implicitly defines the middle class as consisting of people making too little to end up paying additional taxes under the Obama plan.

Of course, all the evidence in the world won't stop Republicans from claiming, as they always do, that Democrats are going to impose a crippling tax burden on ordinary hard-working Americans. But it just ain't so.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Re: to Mom: Chile's pension system bad model

Yeah, right, Social Security is "steamrolling toward bankruptcy" in 30-40 years if we don't raise taxes, cut benefits, or grow the economy at more than 3% per year in the meantime.

As for the Chilean private pension system, according to a NYT article in 2006:
Other studies, including one conducted by the World Bank, indicate that pension funds retain between a quarter and a third of workers' contributions in the form of commissions, insurance and other administrative fees.
But skeptics point to another developing problem: many young people, who should be enrolling in the system early to accrue maximum benefit, are staying out or paying in very little. Some cannot afford to contribute beyond the obligatory minimum payment, which is 10 percent of wages, while others are either self-employed or have been hired by companies as low-paid independent contract workers and therefore do not have to contribute at all.
Here's what an economist had to say in 2008 about Chile's system:
The myth that switching to private pensions relieves the state from their financial burden holds no water. [Chile's] 2008 budget sets aside U$ 5.6 bn in pension expenses. Of this no less than U$ 2 bn are for ‘Recognition Bonds’, the sums that the state transfers to private pension funds on behalf of beneficiaries who are making the transition from the old state system.
According to him, competition among private pension funds has decreased over time, fees have not gone down, abuse and stealing of employees' pension contributions by employers (who are supposed to collect and forward them) is common, and still after 26 years only about half of Chileans participate in the voluntary private pensions. Moreover, the very poor are guaranteed the same minimum pension ($150) whether they contribute to the system or not, hence there is no incentive for them to participate and put aside part of their precious wages.

Finally, here's what your AARP has to say about Chile's private pension annuities:

If you don't like SS and you think people should invest in private accounts, then you should advocate setting a cut-off date for current contributors, and ending SS altogether. But don't try to fit the square peg of private investments in the round hole of government bureaucracy. That's neither liberal nor conservative. Personally, I think of SS as a social safety net, not a pension system. I'm not making my work & investment decisions based on any anticipated SS retirement income. I think most younger people think the same.

Social Security SOS
By Matt Hadro
August 8, 2007 | Townhall