Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Play the Bailout Game

Think you've got what it takes to be a Master of the Universe, save the economy and affect the world distribution of Jell-o? Play The Bailout Game and find out!
Let the introduction spool through, and have at it. The financial system depends on you! Glory and wealth as a respected pundit, presidential advisor, friend of Oprah, or ex-cabinet member awaits! Yes, it's the big time, or else an unpleasant exile in cheap hotels with your bored mistress and hangers-on, fliting from country to country fleeing subpoenas and journalists. Good luck!
Hat tip: Belmont Club.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama's Second Oath

Obama's second oath is going to get the conspiracy theorists working overtime.
The second-oath is not unprecedented (Chester Arthur took one) and it's debatable whether it was actually needed, despite the script-flub during the inauguration. But the manner in which this was handled was, at a minimum, tactless.
The fact that President Obama did not use a Bible for this second oath does not render it in any way deficient, but given the pre-existing rumors and questions about Obama's religious convictions, Obama's failure to use a Bible for the mulligan oath was monumentally stupid. The President has needlessly offended millions and provided gratuitous fodder for rumor and scandal mongers.
I have no emotional investment in Obama, so it's all machts nichts to me, but I wonder just how good this man's political instincts really are. Can he function without handlers and a script?

Blog Business

Readers may notice that the Kingdom needs some work.
In particular, the Blogroll has some issues: many of them occasioned by the apparent death of Blogrolling, provider of the widget that operates the Blogroll. Also, I want to use tags, but that necessitates actually tagging the posts, and since there are over 1100 posts on this blog, that process might take a while. Finally, the template needs a bit of updating, which I have so far been reluctant to do because a template update will affect some of the Blog's widgets and attachments.
In any case, El Jefe hopes to get to this soon, but the Kingdom -- with the exceptions of the happy peasants toiling in their fields, the workers slaving over their machines in the Kingdom's many arms factories, the devoted palace servants, the royal mistress, the ever-loyal regiments of Goomba guards, the prelates of the State church and Bingo parlors, the vigilant Organs of State Security, and the accountants in the Off Track Betting Ministry -- is a one-man band. In any case, the matter has been referred to the urgent attention of the Ministry of Procrastination.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Book Review: The 47th Samurai

El Jefe recently finished Stephen Hunter's The 47th Samurai.

47th Samurai is the latest addition to the Bob Lee Swagger/Earl Swagger saga (Bob Lee appearing as the main character in one set: Point of Impact, Black Light and Time to Hunt; and his father Earl in Hot Springs, Pale Horse Coming, and Havana). Point of Impact, an excellent book, was bowdlerized into the thoroughly boring film Shooter (2007) with Mark Wahlberg completely miscast as Bob Lee Swagger. (Of the bunch, I'd recommend Point of Impact, Hot Springs and Black Light most strongly). There are several other Hunter books, in which various Swaggers, Swagger relatives and assorted hangers-on common to the books sometimes make appearances

Bob Lee’s appearance in 47th Samurai is possibly the book’s great defect. You see, Bob Lee (a somewhat worse-for-wear super-sniper Vietnam Marine) -- has already wrecked a Russian spy ring in Time to Hunt; solved the mystery of his Dad’s murder while going up against the Southern mob and rogue CIA/DOD contractors in Black Light; and foiled a tricky assassination plot in Point of Impact while beating a bunch of other super-snipers. Bob Lee’s also an alcoholic who periodically falls off the wagon, gets more time away from his beautiful and very tolerant wife than anybody I’ve ever met, and during all this carrying-on somehow gets very rich, and owns a ginormous ranch in Idaho.

Bob Lee’s has clearly had a busy life, and you’d think that he’d want to stack arms and get on down the road. But no! Clearly, Stephen Hunter got a call from his literary agent with an Idea that He Couldn't Refuse – I’m visualizing this scene with a cigar-chomping agent screaming at Hunter through his cell phone: “Stephen! Let's send Bob Lee to Japan!”

Stephen does, and Bob Lee goes to Nippon to return a long lost samurai sword, captured by his Dad (Marine war hero Earl Swagger) during the Battle of Iwo Jima. The sword is returned, but a Yakuza crime lord has plans of his own, and makes the serious, serious mistake of chopping up some of Bob Lee’s Japanese friends, and the story’s off to the kendo ring.

As usual, Bob Lee takes things personally, and even though he speaks no Japanese, he manages to find a Sancho Panza or two (well, 46 rōnin maybe) to enlist in his crusade for justice. Almost overnight Bob Lee becomes the first redneck samurai super swordsman (you saw this episode of Pokémon right?) which is more than a little unbelievable. Say, doesn’t Bob Lee have any cousins?

We find out about the bad guys and their evil plans (truly bad, truly evil, but with a somewhat underwhelming strategic objective). We learn a little about the samurai culture, about Yakuza, and probably more than we wanted to know about sword play and cutting with a katana. Spies and gangsters with their own agendas and various interesting sinister and shadowy types make their appearances.

The story is well paced, lots of dramatic confrontation and swordplay, building towards the inevitable bloody showdown with the bad guys. As usual with a Hunter novel, much of the enjoyment is the reader’s understanding that, no matter how strong or many the bad guys might be -- against Bob Lee, (redneck polymath that he his) who figures out all the bad guy moves before they do -- the no-goodniks just don’t have a chance.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a fun, fun book, and if you like violent thrillers with bad guys you can really hate, or have liked previous Hunter books, buy it! I burned through it in two days. Enjoy it in the manner of one of those afternoon Samurai movies, where the hero faces impossible numbers and does amazing sword tricks, comes away victorious, gets the girl and there’s a big fiesta at the end. Fun, as long as you make the popcorn, have a spare afternoon, and suspend disbelief a little.

Hillary Clinton Confirmed

By a vote of 94-2, the Senate has confirmed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.
As I have written, I think this appointment is extrordinarily ill-advised, and that Mrs. Clinton is in general a poor fit for this position. But that's water under the bridge now: Obama is President and a know-nothing on foreign affairs. But the choice, and the responsibilty, is his. Too much is going on in the world to have the State Department left rudderless (of all departments, this is the one least to be trusted on its own) while the Senate shilly-shallies over an appointment that was going to be confirmed anyway.
Similarly, I hope the Senate moves immediately to confirm Mr. Timothy Geithner over at the Treasury Department. I don't see why this man doesn't think he has to pay taxes, but he and his lawyers can square matters with the IRS and their lawyers on Mr. Geithner's own time. The banks are crumbling, the President is in dire need of professional advice on this subject too and Mr. Geithner, (the president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank) fills this bill.
Senator Roberts of Kansas has told Mr. Geithner that he will be confirmed. This is obvious, so why fool around?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Someone Else's Party

The dread day is finally here, Obama becomes God-Emperor.
I opened the front page of my local newspaper, the Houston Chronicle this morning and immediately wanted to vomit. The paper version features a giant picture of the Supreme Leader, with the headline "A Day for Change," with the Presidential oath from the Constitution in script below -- the oath highlighted by tiny pictures of Obama's predecessors. The accompanying article by "Chronicle News Services" tells us that:
The inauguration of the youthful and popular new president -- and the departure of the incumbent, George W. Bush -- will set off a potentially dramatic shift in direction on policies, from the wars abroad to the role of the federal government at home, and a change in tone, with the rise of a new generation more prone to problem solving than to ideological conflict.
Gee. am I reading the Houston Chronicle published in Houston, Texas, USA, or is this from Pravda or Izvestia in Soviet times, or from the Völkischer Beobachter? The fawning, gushing, breathless tone of all the coverage; the pictures of the Leader everywhere, the kitschy souvenirs we are assured will be sentimental treasures in the future. Are we getting a new public official, or is Obama God? Do people know the difference?
We have no choice but to accept the people's verdict. Obama is going to get his chance, but that doesn't mean some of us have to like it. The Obamaites should enjoy their party: they earned it. But they can keep their change, and their Kool-Aid, thank you.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pardons Anyone?

Josh Gerstein in Politico speculates today on possible Presidential pardons by President Bush in his last hours in office, before the Supreme Leader takes power. Most of these possible pardons are uninteresting, at least to El Jefe, but Mr. Gerstein says a mouthful when he notes:
. . .Bush could quickly leap back into the spotlight in the next two days if he issues a blanket pardon immunizing CIA and military interrogators, as well as their bosses, from criminal prosecution over harsh treatment of prisoners from the war on terror . . .

Mr. Gerstein is referring to possible prosecutions of military personnel and intelligence officers for interrogations of terror suspects (mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan) following 9/11. Mr. Gerstein notes that Eric Holder, the Attorney-General designate, seems "open to the idea" of prosecutions.

In a sane world, such prosecutions would not even be a remote possibility, avoiding the need for the dreadful precedent of a pardon. As blogger Tigerhawk notes, "the best result" would be "no pardon, and no prosecution."

Considering the stripe of those coming into power, and their hunger for investigations and "war crimes" prosecutions, action by Bush is called for. Doing nothing is not only unwise, but a real disservice to officers, soldiers and other public servants doing their duty, as they saw it, under extraordinary circumstances. So, I hope that President Bush finds a way, and unfolds the blanket pardon.

Besides, it would drive the Left absolutely bonkers. . .

Friday, January 16, 2009

President Bush Says Good-Bye

. . .But we must reject isolationism and its companion, protectionism. Retreating behind our borders would only invite danger. In the 21st century, security and prosperity at home depend on the expansion of liberty abroad. If America does not lead the cause of freedom, that cause will not be led. . .
President Bush short farewell speech last night was a dignified ending to his White House tenure. The President made some mistakes, and at a more appropriate time, and after time for some perspective, these can be discussed.
President Bush was right on all the big things, and in the long term his presidency will receive better reviews from historians than it has from pundits and the bi-coastal media. With the possible exception of Governor Palin, no figure in modern American politics has been so maligned: the vitriol and relish with which his detractors have attacked his reputation and policies has actually obscured legitimate criticism and critique of his administration.
In any case, I expect that his administration is going to seem like a golden age compared to what is likely to follow. I was proud to support President Bush, I have no regrets, and I would vote for him again.

The Loser Gives the Winner Terms

The chairman of the Hamas Politburo, Mr. Khalid Mish'al -- away from his usual home in a Syrian bunker, but still (in Doha, Qatar) far, far away from any fighting -- says that, no, Hamas will not accept Israeli conditions for a cease-fire. Not only will Hamas not accept Israel's conditions, Mr. Mish'al demands that the Israelis quit pounding Gaza to rubble, let his terrorists off the hook, and open the Gaza Strip's borders.
What a lively sense of humor Mr. Mish'al has. Why doesn't he just ask the Israelis for a fresh supply of rockets and mortar bombs to shoot at them, or for Israel to provide a few thousand more civilians for Hamas gunmen to hide behind? Only in the never-never world of the modern media, international lawyers and the United Nations would piratical losers of conflicts -- which they themselves provoked -- actually think they could get away with dictating the terms on which the fighting might end. Here's hoping the Israelis, (via tanks and artillery in Gaza) deliver Hamas an appropriate response.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Palestina Irredenta (reprise)

I had another post on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in mind, but decided that I said what needed to be said, better, in 2006. The comments were very good. In lieu of a post, then, here's a link.

But I'm Okay With Waterboarding KSM

Obama's Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder, has done the expected at his auto-da-fé in the Senate and declared waterboarding is torture.
And mean people suck.
You know, we're not talking about sellers of Girl Scout Cookies here. I'm really okay with them waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I have no problem with Bush giving the order to waterboard KSM. Hell, if it were up to me, the interrogators could bleed KSM dry, give him some 9mm due process and toss his rotting carcass in a ditch someplace.
But the World Trade Center fell an awful long time ago, at least to some people. For the moment, Mr. Holder assures us that waterboarding is torture, and so it will remain. Until next time.

The Coming of Obama, the Going of the System

He's coming, he's coming. Presto! He's here!
The cult surrounding Obama just gets bigger and bigger. I was in the downtown mall in Cuidad El Jefe yesterday, looking for an ATM. The place was plastered with a new line of Pepsi advertising that looked suspiciously like Obama ads from the campaign. A few seconds with Google showed that I wasn't imagining the similarity. Walked into the bookstore, and everyplace I turned, I was greeted by an advertising display hawking a new gushy pro-Obama tome.
Shook myself, making sure I wasn't in Stalin's Russia, or Castro's Cuba. Still, if you want to see the future, watch the sales clerk give you dirty looks when you buy Corsi's Obama Nation or Freddoso's The Case Against Barack Obama. If you're smart, you'll perform those transactions in cash only. No, I'm really not kidding. The people who called Bush a dictator are now in the saddle, and they can dispense with pretence: perhaps we'll find all the ragging on Bush the Tyrant these several years past was just a projection of their own attitudes.
You can't get away from Obama: he's everyplace. Obama's bringing change and here to save us, as your kids will soon be telling you; and if you like your job, best just agree and say nothing more.
It's almost beside the point whether Obama as president succeeds or fails. Obama's not going to fail, by the way. Anything that goes wrong with Obama will be Bush's fault; and when that gets old Hillary's or his advisers, or the "right wing conspiracy" or (add name of despised group here). But nothing will be Obama's fault, ever. Like Citigroup, he's Too Big To Fail.
Speaking of Citigroup, the impending inaugural party is, perhaps fortunately, somewhat masking the continued implosion of the financial system. Obama wants Congress to give him the second $350 billion of the "Troubled Asset Relief Program" (TARP) -- or rather, he wants Congress not to block his using it. If that's not enough, the Democrats are preparing an $850 billion "stimulus package" ($300 billion in tax cuts, $500 billion in domestic spending) -- in addition to the TARP 2's $350 billion, and the $350 billion already advanced . . .
This is in addition to the government's already considerable spending on everything from the wars to snail-darter research. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the 2009 federal budget deficit will be $1.2 trillion.
We should be so lucky. Try doubling that. The $1.2 trillion figure is the deficit -- not the budget -- it's the part of the Federal budget that is not being covered by the government's income from taxes. Total spending is supposed to be about $3.5 trillion for Fiscal Year 2009, which seems to me to be an underestimate. For comparison, when President Bush took office in 2000, the entire spending of the US government totaled about $1.5 trillion -- or just a little more than the projected deficit for this year.
We're not going to service the deficits and the consequent growth of the debt with taxes -- Obama's promising tax cuts, and he'll have no problem finding bipartisan support for that. If the government will not tax to cover its bills, it can try borrowing: but one wonders how long the Chinese and everybody else are going to keep buying the Treasury's debt -- surely it's occurring to them that they haven't a prayer in hell of ever being paid.
The government's last alternative is to just print the money. Can you say "banana republic?" The dollar will collapse, and when you go shopping you can take your cash to Kroger in the grocery basket, and bring home your groceries in your wallet. Wonder how the Chinese will enjoy us settling our debts to them with toilet paper dollars?
Messiah-Elect Obama is evoking Lincoln themes with his inauguration, which is understandable, it's the bicentennial year of Lincoln's birth, and (quite aside from the first Black president thing) every President thinks he's Lincoln. On cue, the talking heads are all solemnly proclaiming that Obama faces Lincoln-style problems.
Maybe. Or maybe Lincoln had it easier. When Lincoln got to Washington, he was taking charge of a rich country that could really afford to fight a war to force the southern states to stay in the Union. Money, factories, people, even without the South -- you name it, the Union had it. Lincoln had some huge problems: he was facing a war, but he had a giant storehouse of real assets to face it with.
So what's Obama got, exactly, to face our problems with? Oh yeah, Hope, Change etc. Well, platitudes and $1.2 trillion dollars will buy you a vente Starbucks.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gaza: Talks in Egypt

The Israelis are sending an official from their Defense Ministry to talk to the Egyptians about a cease fire in Gaza. Depending on the outcome of the talks, the Israelis, so goes the AP story, will decide whether to "move towards" a cease-fire, or intensify their offensive.
Meanwhile, there's street fighting in Gaza, within a mile and a half of the center of town, where the criminal Hamas leaders are believed to be holed-up (under a hospital). (Hamas bosses are clearly not cast in the George Patton mold of leadership, eh? Hitler, Stalin and Saddam are more their speed). Haaretz reports that Hamas rockets are still going into Israel from Gaza.
Jerusalem Post reports that the Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, says that the offensive will continue while Israel "monitors" diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. Commentary in the J Post by Yaakov Katz indicates that the Israelis don't think that they have engaged the major Hamas forces yet -- Hamas is apparently dug-in deeper into Gaza City.
Clearly the Israeli Defense Ministry official visiting Cairo has been instructed not to hurry too much. That's to the good, but the Israeli ground forces may want to pick up the pace. Bush will give the Israelis the diplomatic cover they need. However, his successor is going to be another story.

This Post Brought to You By the Letter C. . .

Momma over at The Kitchen (in common with some other blogs) is playing the Alphabet Super Game, where you list ten favorite things beginning with the assigned letter. This sounded interesting, I said, and lo and behold, she assigned me the letter C. So, here goes. . .
1. Cats. Of course! Where would life be without the Feline High Patronesses of this blog, FLNKY, MILO and SUNSHINE (“SHINY”) who would in any case shred me into little pieces if I didn’t mention them first.

2. Cheesecake. One of my favorite desserts (well, one of them anyway) particularly when you put cherries all over it.

3. Coffee. Lately I can’t start the morning without coffee -- LOTS of coffee. Preferred very black and very hot.

4. Camping. I really like to camp, for a couple of days anyway. . .as long as I can make camp when I can still see. But getting back to civilization is always welcome.

5. Crunching. Yes, I like it when food goes crunch, crunch, crunch! Crackers, Croutons, Chips (lots of “C” things too, I’m hoping I don’t have to promote them to separate list items.

6. Craziness. I do like to do wacko things from time to time, such as drive through my very conservative, very quiet neighborhood with the windows rolled down, the Mexican music radio station on (Hey, XM Radio: bring back 92 aguila!) and the volume cranked up. Hip Hop or German march music works too. Okay, there are other crazy things, but I'm busy today, and don't have time to research Statutes of Limitations.

7. Chaos. I must really love Chaos, since I named this blog for it, and since my desk and closets always look rather chaotic at the best of times. Go figure.

8. Cannons. Generally I like things that go boom: I have several firearms and love to shoot the things, to fool with and clean them and I enjoy learning about them. (In one of the Buzz Lightyear cartoons, Emperor Zurg, when his minions are scurrying around, gets exasperated and says: “can we just shoot the big gun?” That’s me). I’d have artillery if they’d let me, but possibly the neighbors would get alarmed.

9. Cars. I love mine, a black Lexus ES-350, very much. Generally I prefer overpowered and somewhat sporty, but with enough room to haul all my hangers-on and such around. If it irritates the Greenie Weenies, so much the better.

10. Cash. In God El Jefe trusts, all others pay cash. Cash is always a good thing, and you can never have enough of it. . .sometimes El Jefe forgets to carry any at all, which frustrates SWMBO no end. But wads of it falling out of the sky are always appreciated. (Well, duh).
Well, today's post has been brought to you by the letter C. Didn't Big Bird or somebody do that on Sesame Street?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Review of Gran Torino

Friday night, El Jefe and SWMBO went and saw Clint Eastwood's new film Gran Torino. This is a great film, but viewers looking for Dirty Harry Callahan will possibly be disappointed.
In Gran Torino, Eastwood stars as Walt Kowalski, a recently widowed, irascible Korean War veteran, still hanging on in a neighborhood of Detroit post-World War II houses being rapidly taken over by Hmong immigrants from Laos and Vietnam. Walt is unhappy about his new "slope," and "zipperhead" neighbors; can’t relate to his forty-something children; and resents the efforts of his children and his deceased wife’s very young Catholic priest (Father Janovich) to “look after” him in the manner they think appropriate. Besides his dog, his barber and some old cronies at the neighborhood bar, the only thing Walt (an ex-auto worker) really seems to care about is his green 1972 Gran Torino.
Walt unwillingly meets his Hmong neighbors when their teenage son Thao falls in with bad companions. The local gangsters find out that Walt and his ever-present Colt M1911 .45 pistol are not to be trifled with. Walt winds up befriending Thao and his family, and tries to keep Thao out of gang trouble, while dodging the efforts of Father Janovich to make Walt confess his sins and get right with God. Meanwhile Walt’s kids occasionally visit from another planet, making Walt realize he’s got more in common with some of his “different” Hmong neighbors than he thought.
The gang bangers aren't going to put up with Thao walking the straight and narrow. Walt isn’t going to express repentance for living his life as he thought necessary. Finally, Walt isn’t going to refrain from doing what’s necessary either. . .
See this movie! It’s not Dirty Harry; it’s more of an epistle on doing what you have to in life without regretting it, accepting where the cards come down, and standing up for yourself and for your friends. I’m good for the video when it comes out, and I’d go see it again.

Hiding Behind Children

The Hamas devils have deliberately and with malice aforethought put civilians in the middle of their war; hiding in the homes and under the skirts and beds of children. The Euros and the idiots at the UN talking shop on Turtle Bay are busily trying to cobble together one of their patented no-cease-fire cease-fires.
The talkers and their "peace-process" cannot be allowed to succeed: letting Hamas off the hook licenses the tactic of using human shields, ensuring that the same thing will be repeated again and again, possibly on a larger scale. As Col. Peters says:
It's time to smash the lies. The lies of Hamas. The UN lies. And the save-the-terrorists lies of the global media.

There is no moral equivalence between Hamas terrorists and Israeli soldiers. There is no gray area. There is no point in negotiations.
No cease-fires please, Israelis: just tell the UN to stuff it and that they can have their precious cease-fire when the last of the Hamas criminals are stone-cold dead.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Men Are Stupid. . .

Was wandering through the book store this evening, and noticed that Joan Rivers has a new book: Men Are Stupid . . . And They Like Big Boobs. But you knew that, right?

Ms. Rivers has a deeper understanding of the real world than armies of social scientists, teachers and historians. How much of the history of just about everything is summed-up in her rather vulgar title?

Obama and His BlackBerry

President-Elect Obama is resisting his handlers' determination that he will have to give up his BlackBerry and E-mail. "I'm still clinging to my BlackBerry. . .They're going to have to pry it out of my hands."
I find his position emotionally understandable, but in practical terms, extremely disturbing. I haven't joined the BlackBerry world, but I'd sure miss my e-mail and cellaphone. But just what world does Mr. Obama live in, that he thinks he can keep his private communications?
This is not a university faculty he's joining: Obama is becoming President of the United States. Every utterance, every scribbled note, everything the Man Who Can Begin Nuclear War says will be scrutinized; open to subpoenas; fodder for questions by reporters; to being misconstued and taken out of context by the public, by head-shrinks for foreign intelligence services and everybody but Santa Claus. The president's communications are (with very narrow exceptions) public property, destined to wind up in a library someplace with a catalogue number. For God's sake, the Secret Service spies on the man in his bathroom. The whole idea that a sitting president - or even an ex-president- could (if he's prudent and careful) have access to forms of communication beyond the reach of advisors is, today, ludicrous, and crazy for Obama to want.
Who IS this man? Does Obama not understand what he's gotten himself into? Just why does Obama think the presidents all age so much in their photographs? Does Obama have the mental discipline to be our president? We're all going to find out, aren't we?

Gaza: General Comments

Hoping to have time to comment further on Gaza, but pretty pinned-down at work catching up after over a week off between Christmas and New Years.
With the Gaza Strip bisected and Gaza City itself effectively surrounded by the better part of two Israeli mechanized divisions (and the Israeli Navy on the sea side) one wonders what the Israeli end-game is? They've only got certain cover in the UN until the 20th or so, when Obama takes over, so if the Israelis mean to wreck Hamas, they had better be about it. Yes, this will mean fighting in built-up areas, but that's inherent in dealing with Hamas on its own ground, and the Israelis knew this from the beginning.
The Israelis have done a generally splendid job with the media this time around: in contrast to their performance in the Hezbollah War of 2006. They're mostly keeping the reporters away from the battle zone, mounting their own information operations on the Web, and they appear to be acting against Hamas's ability to get its own story out electronically, also. It is simply not possible to make war in the modern era without an organized and planned effort to use information and media power as simply a different kind of artillery.
Speaking of communications: it's apparently very dangerous for persons on the Israelis' Hamas target list to use cell-phones, it seems that the Israeli Air Force, or Israeli artillery, has been reaching out and touching them.
The attitude of the Arab states is interesting: the usual criticism, the usual pictures of howling mobs of protesters, but overall much more muted than I expected. Predictable on the part of the governments: the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Saudi governments all no doubt want Hamas crushed, but probably wish the Israelis would hurry up about it.
Hamas's only truly reliable friend is Iran. Iran's why Hamas has the 122 mm Grad rockets, in addition to its homemade Qassams, to fire at Israeli cities. But Iran now has problems of its own: its leadership is probably preoccupied with finishing its bomb, trying to keep discontent over its failing economy under control, and is hurting now that oil prices are low. . .
Israel has a window to really hurt Hamas. . .and conditions for the moment are in its favor. But the Israelis need to hurry.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Ukraine's Gas Crisis

Watch the Ukraine, people. Vlad Putin and company are getting ready to cook-up quite a stew for St. Barack when he ascends to the rule of the world later this month.
The (latest) natural gas crisis between Gazprom (the Russian gas-export company -- that croaks "ribbet!" when Vlad shouts "frog!") and Ukraine could get pretty serious, pretty quickly.
Find your atlas. Look up the Crimea. South part of Ukraine, right on the Black Sea. A lovely place I'm told (well, the German Army didn't think so in the last war), that produces some interesting wines. The big cities are Simferopol (about 340,000, capital of the "Autonomous Republic of Crimea" within Ukraine) and Sevastopol (population 350,000 or so) -- which has a giant Russian/Ukranian joint naval base, and used to be the home port of the Soviet Red Banner Black Sea Fleet. The place is well known to military historians: besides the great battles of the Second World War at Kerch, Sevastopol and other places, long ago, Crimea was the venue of -- yes, the Crimean War (see Charge of Light Brigade, et al).
Among other things, the Crimea is full of ethnic Russians who don't much like being Ukrainians, and who (as the Sudeten Germans did once) want to return Home to the Motherland. As recently as last September, the Russians were giving out Russian passports to "Ukranian" citizens of the Crimea, over Ukranian protests.
Mr. Putin (and most Russians with an interest in foreign policy) wants to rebuild Russia's control in its near abroad, and possibly bring portions of the former Soviet Union back under effective Russian control. Georgia was a step in this direction, but there are going to be others.
With the world financial crisis, and a dovish US administration taking power, an opportunity is opening for Russia to assert itself again. Georgia was an unmitigated success for a more aggressive Russian policy: why should Putin not push in Ukraine, also? Watch the Ukraine -- and particularly the Crimea. If you start hearing reports of pro-Russian agitation in the Crimea, in addition to problems with Russia over natural gas, you'll know Putin's reading the tea-leaves the same way.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Burris Appointment

It has been mildly entertaining watching the Democrats get all crosswise over Roland Burris, appointed by Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich to fill St. Barack's place in the US Senate. In the latest twist to this deliciously sordid mess: the Democrat controlled Senate is apparently going to slow-walk Burris, giving his credentials to the Senate Rules Committee (also Democrat controlled) to "review."
Probably the review will take as long as is required for the Illinois legislature to figure out how to rid the Illinois governor's mansion of the suddenly loathsome Blagojevich. Now, Blago was a perfectly okay guy with the Democrats until the US Attorney got all that vulgar audio, but that was then, and this is now. Anyway, once Blago is given the deep six, the Rules Committee (busily reviewing Burris's senatorial credentials) will, lo and behold, discover irregularities, and dear old "Senator" Burris will be on the next plane, train, or automobile back to Illinois.
The Democrats created the mess because they didn't want to give the Republicans a chance to pick up a seat in a special election. True, it would have taken legislation, but it was doable. What the Democrats want is for the seat to remain vacant until Lieutenant-Governor Pat Quinn can be popped into Blago's place, maybe next week.
Quite frankly, it's difficult to see what the Democrats are complaining about. Blago is still the Governor of Illinois, there is a vacancy in Illinois's representation to the US Senate, and the Governor, whatever we might think of him, appears to have legally appointed Mr. Burris. Mr. Burris certainly seems qualified: a former State attorney general, former State comptroller, former bank vice-president, and former candidate for Mayor of Chicago. He's certainly has as good a set of senatorial credentials as Caroline Kennedy, or for that matter, Barack Obama.
If they wanted to block Governor Blagojevich from appointing Mr. Burris, then the Democrats in Illinois should have gotten their act together and impeached him, or arranged via legislation for a special election. But they did not, and Blago did, and here we are. Mr. Burris has his appointment, and the option that involves the least violence to the Constitution would be to recognize it.
Nevertheless, it appears that Mr. Burris will not be permitted to take his seat. One wonders if the Democrats are going to take such a hard line, now, on Mr. Burris so that they might be permitted to take an easy line later on, say, Al Franken?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Day? Or Is That The 20th?

Yes, 2008 is fini-bye-bye, oh thank God.
Something called 2009 has started, but does it really matter? He who comes to save and rule over us begins His reign on the 20th. He will be crowned with many crowns, and a New Age then begins.