Friday, February 29, 2008

IN-FLUMP! Lose money seek out prophets!

Interest rates declined and home prices rose so what happened?. Four things happened.

People speculated in housing instead of the stock market and became home investors and flippers - then the music stopped. Second, Congress encouraged lending institutions to make loans to those politicians wanted to own homes but who could not afford to do so because their income stream was marginal. Third,lending practices became speculative so banks could keep up their income growth and meet competition from other lending sources. These loans were packaged and resold to buyers who never knew what they were buying.

The Dutch did it a long time ago with tulip bulbs. More things "change" the more they stay the same and what goes round comes round. Still see the stock market going lower as financial unwinding courses through the economy. Fed can cushion but not stop the pain of unwinding by reducing short rates but mortgage rates are rising in the face of Fed action so that should tell you something. Furthermore, reduced rates are driving the dollar lower, increasing the price of oil and other commodities so inflation is becoming rampant. Not sustainable over the longer term but going higher in the near term. I call it in-flump, ie inflation and economic slump.

Just as Obama has become the political Messiah the market awaits Warren Buffet's annual letter to stockholders. When people lose money and become desperate they often turn to prophets! History has shown these inflection points can result in ominous and irrational actions.

Daughter getting married so doubt will be publishing. Have a nice weekend.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Middle East - a volcano "in heat" and ready to blow?

As I have been writing matters are heating up and like a volcano "in heat" are ready to blow? (See 1 and 2 below.)

I have met Rosner and he is well versed in American politics. He sees the "win vs defeat" debate coming to a head and discusses the implications for Israel and the region. I have maintained all along Obama's greatest vulnerability is his naive view of what can be accomplished with talking to terrorists bent on dying in pursuit of a cause that is unacceptable unless we are ready to declare defeat. You may recall I reviewed Norman Podhoretz' and John Bolton's latest books in earlier memos.(See 3 below.)

Herb Keinon makes a good point - Barak must contain the shelling and regain some semblance of order or his chances of becoming PM are doomed. While Israel is attacked they are always being counseled by others on "disproportionality." My response would be that of Bill Clinton's - you do what you gotta do!

A flare up in the Middle East right now, in my humble opinion, when viewed strictly through a "political prism" favors McCain versus Obama and highlights the latter's lack of military experience and immaturity in matters relating to the strategic war against terrorists. (See 4 below.)

Michael Hirsh suggests the looming "war vs talk" debate between Obama and McCain reflects divisions within the Pentagon. (see 5 below.)


1) US warships move into E. Mediterranean in case Gaza escalation spills over into Lebanon

Egypt’s intelligence minister Omar Suleiman canceled his visit to Israel because of estimates in Cairo that hectic preparations current in Israel and the Gaza Strip augur a steep escalation of cross-border violence.

Officials in Cairo expect Israel redouble its air bombardment and armored raids against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, and Hamas to intensify and broaden the scope of its missile and rocket attacks on Israeli towns and villages.

Both sides are convinced that a further ratcheting-up of the war will generate indirect truce talks through a third party.

The US has meanwhile posted naval and marine vessels opposite the shores of Israel and Lebanon in case the fighting spreads to a second front. US and Israeli military sources remain skeptical of the chances that prime minister Ehud Olmert and defense minister Ehud Barak will secure a ceasefire. The Gaza conflagration is more likely, they believe, to stir Hizballah to ignite a fresh assault from South Lebanon.

These sources point to four significant developments to watch for:

1. Hizballah is adamant about avenging the death of its military commander Imad Mughniyeh by border strikes against Israel and terrorist attacks inside the country. This Iranian front group is also committed to helping Hamas. The end of the 40 days of mourning for Mughniyeh on March 22-23 is anxiously awaited.

2. Israel is braced for this eventuality and in mid-preparation for its army to turn the tables on a Hizballah assault and carry the war into Lebanon.

US intelligence sources note that last week, the IDF deployed Patriot missile defense batteries around Haifa in case Hizballah unleashes a rocket offensive on the North as in 2005.

Our sources also report that local authorities and private security firms responsible for public safety in northern Israel were instructed to inspect bomb shelters and ascertain they were ready for use by March 10.

3. The quarrel between Saudi King Abdullah and Syrian president Bashar Assad, which is nearing boiling point, threatens to be fought out in Lebanon, their main bone of contention. Both are sending quantities of arms and ammo to the Lebanese militias under their respective wings.

4. This week, Abdullah persuaded Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s Abdullah to boycott the forthcoming Arab League summit in Damascus. Assad is unlikely to take this slap in the face lying down. There are indications he is ready to stir up Palestinian terrorist groups for attacks on Saudi, American and Israeli interests in the region.

Standing close by for immediate action off the troubled Mediterranean shores of Lebanon, Israel and Gaza is the USS Cole guided missile destroyer opposite Lebanon. It was joined Monday by the USS Nassau amphibious warship and its strike group of six vessels carrying 2,800 marines, flight crews and sailors. US naval sources report that a third group will join them shortly.

The Nassau is accompanied by the amphibious transport dock ship USS Nashville , the guided missile destroyers USS Ross and USS Bulkeley and the fast nuclear strike submarine USS Albany SSN 753.

While cruising off the Lebanese coast, this formidable US naval force is close enough to the shores of Israel and Gaza to respond to developing emergencies.

2) Israeli leaders approach mediators for a ceasefire with Hamas

Sources say Hamas would claim it had came out ahead of this round after the Israeli Air Force and army failed to stop its two-day barrage of 105 missiles and rockets.

Ashkelon, brought firmly into the Palestinian rocket cycle Wednesday, Feb. 27, was hit by a dozen Grad (Katyusha) rockets Thursday, injuring three people and sending 55 to hospital in a state of shock. The damage to the town of more than 120,000 was extensive. Thursday night, defense minister Barak finally approved the Red Color alert system which gives victims seconds to run for shelter from an incoming Qassam missile or rocket.

Our military sources report that some 20 Israeli air strikes over the Gaza Strip against Palestinian missile teams and Hamas command centers, which left 14 dead, including four children, there was no perceptible easing off on the missile fire, especially against Ashkelon.

Those sources add that, despite the defense minister’s assurances that effective military to terminate the missile and rocket attacks was coming soon, no immediate preparations are in sight for a large-scale military action in the Gaza Strip. Members of the Olmert government have been focusing on leaning hard on Hamas to accept a truce by targeted air strikes aimed at reducing the volume of missile fire. This strategy failed for lack of ground action. The more frequent the air raids, the heavier the missile barrages and the broader the scope of their targets. Hamas topped Wednesday’s score of 50 missiles and rockets by shooting more than 60 Thursday – most aimed at Ashkelon and Sderot.

Israeli officers reported signs that the Palestinian terrorists were planning to expand their offensive Friday and over the weekend; their Katyushas may now be aimed at the southern districts of Ashdod, north of Ashkelon.

3) When McCain and Obama face off, Israel may find itself in the eye of the storm
By Shmuel Rosner

The Republican contender is counting on the American voters' hatred for anything that reeks of defeat.

Republican contender John McCain's campaign team is preparing files with incriminating information about Democratic candidate Barack Obama. McCain's advisers are eagerly looking forward to the great debate between these two candidates. They believe McCain's agenda, while perhaps less rosy, is more convincing than Obama's. Israel may find itself in the eye of the storm, for McCain's people have no intention of backpedaling from their claim that Obama's policy endangers Israel. This will not be easy for Jerusalem, whose diplomats will have to maneuver carefully in a political minefield. Obama will now have to decide whether to use the endorsement he got Thursday from former secretary of state James Baker against McCain, the way Robert Malley and Zbigniew Brzezinski were used against Obama regarding Israel.

McCain is counting on the American voters' hatred for anything that reeks of defeat. "I will not surrender," he said on Wednesday in a campaign rally.

In other words, the other candidate is going to offer to surrender in Iraq. I offer victory. Iraq will be the focus of the candidates' debate, which will also cover a number of foreign policy differences - from Iran to Cuba, Venezuela to Pakistan.

It will also be an interesting test for the American voter. A clash between the loathing many feel toward the war in Iraq and the part of the American ethos that seeks victory. The power of the "winner" factor versus the fear of becoming a "loser."

If McCain could only persuade the voters that such a victory were still possible, if he could ignite the spark of hope, perhaps he would, in turn, sway public opinion. That would be a fascinating development as well as an insult of sorts to President Bush, who failed in his own efforts to win over the public.

But McCain will offer not only the hope of victory but a rational argument for the need not to withdraw. "If we left, they wouldn't be establishing a base, they'd be taking a country and I'm not going to allow that to happen," he said. "I will not surrender to Al-Qaida."

At a debate last Tuesday, Obama and Clinton were asked about this possibility: "If this scenario plays out and the Americans get out in total and Al-Qaida resurges and Iraq goes to hell, do you hold the right, in your mind as American president, to re-invade, to go back into Iraq to stabilize it?" asked moderator Tim Russert.

It was a question neither Clinton nor Obama felt comfortable with. "I will always reserve the right to make sure that we are looking out for American interests," Obama replied. McCain's people filed that answer as well. They believe their candidate has a much better answer - the U.S. will not leave before ensuring stability, therefore it won't have to return.

Obama responded at a campaign gathering of his own two days ago: "I have some news for John McCain, and that is that there was no such thing as Al-Qaida in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq."

These exchanges are seen in Washington as a prelude to the real election show. Hillary Clinton is becoming increasingly less relevant as the McCain-Obama battle captures most of the attention. Obama and Hillary have one more round, next Tuesday, before she will have to concede defeat - unless she manages to surprise everyone yet again.

In any case, McCain's political future depends on a military rather than a political figure - General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, who is due to submit his report on the progress to stabilize Iraq in Washington this April.

The Democrats, asked to explain the American troops' success in reducing the violence level in Iraq, have repeatedly said the army is winning, but the political process is stuck, so that the military reinforcement Bush initiated and McCain pushed for was unnecessary.

But McCain argues that the political process is progressing as well. The Iraqi parliament has managed to surprise even him and pass important legislation. In any case, Obama, who wants to withdraw, will have to prove otherwise. Obama has an answer: the fear of imminent withdrawal finally got the Iraqis moving. If McCain is elected, thus ensuring an American presence in Iraq for generations, will bring the opposite results. It will calm the Iraqis and roll back the political progress.

4) Analysis: When the country feels vulnerable, the gov't acts

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will return from Japan on Friday to a country feeling increasingly insecure and vulnerable as a result of the Kassam and Grad barrages that have now squarely placed Ashkelon inside the daily rocket attack equation.

And in this small country, when the nation feels insecure and vulnerable, the government often has little choice but to act.

The country felt insecure and vulnerable after the suicide bombings of 2001 and 2002, and the government okayed Operation Defensive Shield, as well as the construction of the security barrier.

The country felt insecure and vulnerable following the wave of kidnappings in the summer of 2006 that included the attempted kidnapping of two girls north of Jerusalem, the kidnapping and murder of Eliahu Asheri, the kidnapping of Gilad Schalit and then two weeks later of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.

As a result, the government acted and launched a war against Hizbullah.

A return now of that sense of insecurity following the attacks on Ashkelon, and no longer "only" on Sderot and neighboring kibbutzim, will make restraint more difficult for Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. More so, in fact, for Barak than Olmert.

Olmert, in meetings with his senior ministers, is likely to take a more "measured" approach, still stinging from public criticism following the Second Lebanon War that he acted impulsively and without proper planning or consultations.

He will not want to repeat the same mistakes.

Also, Olmert - more than Barak - is hearing US and European officials calling for Israel not to "overreact" and not to launch a "disproportionate" reprisal.

With US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice due here on Tuesday, he will not want to greet her with a mini-war raging in the Gaza Strip.

But Barak, who is in a very precarious political position, is carrying different baggage. In the final analysis, the goal of the political comeback he launched last year was not to serve as defense minister under Olmert, but rather to sit again one day soon in the prime minister's chair.

One of his hopes in taking the Defense Ministry portfolio was that it would enable him to prove himself and thereby win the next election.

The polls, however, are showing that things are not necessarily going as planned, and he continues to lag far behind Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu. His time to prove himself is now, and he must be concerned that the public will ask how they are benefiting from having him in the Defense Ministry if Hamas can fire with impunity on Sderot and Ashkelon.

Barak knows that every day that passes in this situation sets his political ambitions back, and that if he ever again wants to be prime minister, he will need to provide the residents of the South with a sense of security.

One thing he is unlikely to do is play into Hamas's hands and initiate a large-scale ground invasion to reoccupy Gaza. While there is a need to secure the border between Egypt and Gaza, and while he may penetrate into Gaza in order to send a message and more effectively strike out at Hamas's infrastructure and institutions, there is little enthusiasm in either the defense establishment or the Prime Minister's Office about going in to reoccupy Gaza.

Indeed, a decision by the government to reoccupy Gaza would be tantamount to admitting that disengagement from Gaza in 2005 was a bad mistake and miscalculation, something neither Kadima nor Labor has ever done, nor something they will likely do with the possibility of elections looming in the not-too-distant future.

Ironically, the party at this moment most eager to see the IDF march back into Gaza is Fatah, which would like nothing more than for Israel to do its dirty work: smash Hamas and then hand Gaza to Fatah on a silver platter.

The Israeli public, however, will have little stomach for losing the lives of its soldiers in order to deliver Gaza to PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

This too is a political consideration that will weigh on Barak's mind when deciding exactly what tactics, short of an all-out invasion and reoccupation, will bring a modicum of normality back to the South.

5) Proxy War
By Michael Hirsh

The spat between John McCain and Barack Obama over Iraq reflects tensions within the military itself.

Many in the commentariat pounced on Wednesday's sharp exchange over Iraq between John McCain and Barack Obama as a preview of the general election debate, should the Illinois senator get the Democratic nomination. But the dustup between the two leading candidates also gave us a glimpse into the growing divide within the U.S. military over how to split resources between Iraq and Afghanistan.

Indeed, the presidential campaign this year could also become a Pentagon proxy war, with Sen. McCain largely taking the side of Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, and Obama more representing the interests of the Army chief of staff, Gen. George Casey, who opposed the Bush-Petraeus "surge" and has openly worried about an Army that's "out of balance."

McCain and Obama fired at each other from two separate events Wednesday. Campaigning in Texas, McCain mocked Obama for suggesting that he would send troops back into Iraq "if Al Qaeda is forming a base there," as debate moderator Tim Russert put it. The Arizona Republican, assuming his already patented posture of the steady statesman correcting the bumbling upstart, said, "I have some news for Sen. Obama. Al Qaeda is in Iraq."

Hearing those remarks while stumping in Ohio, Obama was plainly intent on showing that he will brook no such treatment. "I have some news for John McCain," he shot back, "and that is that there was no such thing as Al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade … They took their eye off the people who were responsible for 9/11, and that would be Al Qaeda in Afghanistan that is stronger now than at any time since 2001."

As ammunition for their candidate's position, Obama's campaign is pointing to comments by Casey and other generals. A senior Obama adviser argued to me Thursday that his candidate, contrary to misunderstanding the challenge, is using a "wider lens" than McCain. "We don't have the luxury in this dangerous world to look solely at Iraq, and keep doubling down there," he said. "You've got to match strategy to resources."

The grim truth is that Al Qaeda is still flourishing in both Iraq and Afghanistan, with no end in sight, and the Pentagon currently does not have sufficient troops to deal with both crises. Even President Bush appeared to acknowledge the clash of priorities at a White House news conference Thursday morning. Asked about Obama's comment on Iraq, Bush remarked that Al Qaeda had been securing a base in Iraq for four years. But the president declined an opportunity to join McCain in directly criticizing or mocking Obama, and said, "One of the challenges we face is denying Al Qaeda a safe haven anywhere."

As Army Secretary Pete Geren summed it up before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, "Today we are an army long at war, in our seventh year in Afghanistan; next month, March, will be five years in Iraq. This is the third-longest war in American history, behind the Revolutionary War and the Vietnam War. And it is the longest war we've ever fought with an all-volunteer force." Both Geren and Casey said the army is badly stretched.

The debate between McCain and Obama—with Sen. Hillary Clinton on the sidelines for now—reflects serious behind-the-scenes tensions inside the military. In part because of the terrible strains on an army that has pushed its overseas deployments from the standard 12 months to a brutally long 15 months, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and senior Pentagon officials like Casey have been pressing to continue the drawdown in Iraq beyond the July cutoff date. That's when, under current plans, the United States will "pause" with 140,000 troops remaining there. (Petraeus announced last fall that he would withdraw five out of 20 Army brigades by July, reducing the U.S. presence from about 170,000 troops.)

But the Pentagon brass is also aware that the U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan appear to be losing ground to the resurgent Taliban/Al Qaeda forces there—or at best holding them to a stalemate. That all but guarantees the extremists a "safe haven" from which to attack U.S. interests around the world. A senior U.S. official, in remarks this week, said NATO was now in an "existential" crisis over Afghanistan and that he hoped the French, of all people, would pull Washington out of the crisis with additional deployments. But French President Nicolas Sarkozy is hesitating over such a move, and U.S. commanders on the ground in Afghanistan say they need more troops now. In addition, Afghanistan may be descending into a political crisis that is almost as serious as Iraq's; President Hamid Karzai is weaker than ever, confined to Kabul, and increasingly resentful of Western interference.

Obama says that if elected he would deploy an additional two brigades to Afghanistan. Sen. Joe Biden, a former Democratic contender who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—and also a potential secretary of state in an Obama or Clinton administration—told reporters this week that on a recent visit to Afghanistan he was informed by the U.S. commander of the international force there that he needed another two brigades, or about 10,000 U.S. troops, to take back Helmand and other provinces now controlled by the Taliban. "But he said, 'But I can't get 10,000 troops'," Biden said. Casey told the Armed Services Committee he hasn't even examined whether keeping 15 brigades in Iraq and adding two to Afghanistan is feasible.

Dan Senor, the former spokesman for the U.S. occupation in Iraq who now talks with various Republican candidates, including McCain, says McCain has to take the Obama critique seriously and move beyond mocking his younger, less experienced adversary. "McCain does have to walk through this," Senor told me. "He has to frame the debate to say that no matter how bad Afghanistan gets, if Iraq goes nothing else matters. A failed state in Iraq at this point is a far greater threat to American security interests around the world and of far greater urgency than pre-empting a possible failed state again in Afghanistan. That's the reality." Perhaps it is, or maybe it isn't. If McCain and Obama are nominated, it's a point that is certainly going to be debated until the fall.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Gloves will soon be coming off against Hamas!

I do not buy all that what is written below suggests. It is quite harsh. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating insightful piece that says the coming of the messiah, when a nation is down, makes for an interesting and susceptible mixture. We are currently sinking, the national mood is negative, one of uncertainty and any life saving apparition, even a political one, can appear virtuous. Spengler calls to mind Lewis' Elmer Gantry and I have been substituting Wilson's The Music Man. Both seem appropriate.

Certainly Spengler calls it as he sees it in this "excerpted article."(See 1 below.)

Has Russia really changed its mind regarding Iranian nuclear development? (See 2 below.)

Even a "leader" as weak, confused and inept as Olmert cannot, much longer, tolerate his country being assaulted daily. Perhaps when he returns from Japan and the weather clears he will come to his senses and tell the IDF, go settle the score with Hamas. If he does not, then frustration will mount and the mood in Israel will either turn ugly or desperate. The gloves will have to be coming off soon if I read between the lines correctly.

And the rockets keep acoming!(See 3 and 4a and 4b below.)

America is attacked by illegals daily as they breach our borders to engage in gainful work. Some subsequently commit crimes, some enter for the explicit purpose of drug dealing but, as bad as that may be, it is not comparable to having a town in a border state indiscriminately rocketed each day.

No person cannot escape their background because it colors their thinking, it shapes their view of what is right and wrong and can and often does determine their course of action and response to challenges. Varied experiences and living do matter.

There is no job comparable to being president therefore, a certain amount of OJT is to be expected. Even something as simple as turning on the light switches in a new home and where you put your clothes in a new closet is a new learning experience. Building a team of advisors you trust and will listen to and who will demonstrate loyalty but also be willing to candidly speak their minds is even more complex. Then coping with the entrenched bureaucracy, which always has its own agenda and will be around long after two terms, adds more overburden to the learning curve. By the time most presidents have been in office two years they are just beginning to govern and then they must start campaigning. This is reality - maybe not a wise way to govern ourselves, but that is another matter.

World events do not wait for a new president to get comfortable and, in fact, they often get challenged rather early on in order to test their mettle.

Several critical and revealing matters are swiftly coming to a head: The pursuit of nuclear arms by Iran, the threat of more sanctions and escalating attacks on Israel's sovereignty and their potential response; the U.S. elections and aftermath should either Clinton or Obama win and carry out their pledge to withdraw from Iraq, stalled negotiations with N Korea and the war in Afghanistan post the Pakistan election. Add to these the question of whether we are sliding into a recession, are already in one and whether the Fed will continue to sacrifice the dollar and abandon its commitment to fight inflation in an attempt to soften any economic decline and/or landing. A pretty full plate for both investors and an incoming president to contemplate and deal with, wouldn't you say?.

Might be wise to keep that in ind when you go to vote in November.

Burton and Stewart discuss the metamorphosis that has taken place in al Qaeda since 9/11 and it has now become a more personalized grassroots jihadist threat and our first line of defense has become our local police departments. (See 5 below.)


1) There is nothing mysterious about Obama's methods. "A demagogue tries to sound as stupid as his audience so that they will think they are as clever as he is," wrote Karl Krauss. Americans are the world's biggest suckers, and laugh at this weakness in their popular culture. Listening to Obama speak, Sinclair Lewis' cynical tent-revivalist Elmer Gantry comes to mind, or, even better, Tyrone Power's portrayal of a carnival mentalist in the 1947 film noire Nightmare Alley. The latter is available for instant viewing at Netflix, and highly recommended as an antidote to having felt uplifted by an Obama speech.

America has the great misfortune to have encountered Obama at the peak of his powers at its worst moment of vulnerability in a generation. With malice aforethought, he has sought out their sore point.

Since the Ronald Reagan boom began in 1984, the year the American stock market doubled, Americans have enjoyed a quarter-century of rising wealth. Even the collapse of the Internet bubble in 2000 did not interrupt the upward trajectory of household assets, as the housing price boom eclipsed the effect of equity market weakness. America's success made it a magnet for the world's savings, and Americans came to believe that they were riding a boom that would last forever, as I wrote recently [1].

Americans regard upward mobility as a God-given right. America had a double founding, as David Hackett Fischer showed in his 1989 study, Albion's Seed . Two kinds of immigrants founded America: religious dissidents seeking a new Promised Land, and economic opportunists looking to get rich quick. Both elements still are present, but the course of the past quarter-century has made wealth-creation the sine qua non of American life. Now for the first time in a generation Americans have become poorer, and many of them have become much poorer due to the collapse of home prices. Unlike the Reagan years, when cutting the top tax rate from a punitive 70% to a more tolerable 40% was sufficient to start an economic boom, no lever of economic policy is available to fix the problem. Americans have no choice but to work harder, retire later, save more and retrench.

This reversal has provoked a national mood of existential crisis. In Europe, economic downturns do not inspire this kind of soul-searching, for richer are poorer, remain what they always have been. But Americans are what they make of themselves, and the slim makings of 2008 shake their sense of identity. Americans have no institutionalized culture to fall back on. Their national religion has consisted of waves of enthusiasm - "Great Awakenings" – every second generation or so, followed by an interim of apathy. In times of stress they have a baleful susceptibility to hucksters and conmen.

Be afraid - be very afraid. America is at a low point in its fortunes, and feeling sorry for itself. When Barack utters the word "hope", they instead hear, "handout". A cynic might translate the national motto, E pluribus unum, as "something for nothing". Now that the stock market and the housing market have failed to give Americans something for nothing, they want something for nothing from the government. The trouble is that he who gets something for nothing will earn every penny of it, twice over.

The George W Bush administration has squandered a great strategic advantage in a sorry lampoon of nation-building in the Muslim world, and has made enemies out of countries that might have been friendly rivals, notably Russia. Americans question the premise of America's standing as a global superpower, and of the promise of upward mobility and wealth-creation. If elected, Barack Obama will do his utmost to destroy the dual premises of America's standing. It might take the country another generation to recover.

"Evil will oft evil mars", J R R Tolkien wrote. It is conceivable that Barack Obama, if elected, will destroy himself before he destroys the country. Hatred is a toxic diet even for someone with as strong a stomach as Obama. As he recalled in his 1995 autobiography, Dreams From My Father, Obama idealized the Kenyan economist who had married and dumped his mother, and was saddened to learn that Barack Hussein Obama, Sr, was a sullen, drunken polygamist. The elder Obama became a senior official of the government of Kenya after earning a PhD at Harvard. He was an abusive drunk and philanderer whose temper soured his career.

The senior Obama died in a 1982 car crash. Kenyan government officials in those days normally spent their nights drinking themselves stupid at the Pan-Afrique Hotel. Two or three of them would be found with their Mercedes wrapped around a palm tree every morning. During the 1970s I came to know a number of them, mostly British-educated hollow men dying inside of their own hypocrisy and corruption.

Both Obama and the American public should be very careful of what they wish for. As the horrible example of Obama's father shows, there is nothing worse for an embittered outsider manipulating the system from within than to achieve his goals - and nothing can be more terrible for the system. Even those who despise America for its blunders of the past few years should ask themselves whether the world will be a safer place if America retreats into a self-pitying shell.

2) PM: Iran nukes not inevitable; Russia: We may back sanctions

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday it was not inevitable that Iran would produce a nuclear bomb, while Russia warned Iran that it may sanctions against the Islamic Republic if it does not stop uranium enrichment.

"I think there is time," said Olmert, asked by reporters during a visit to Japan whether Iran could be stopped from achieving nuclear weapons capability.

"The time is not unlimited but it is defined by more than months," he added.

Iran has consistently said it is pursuing its nuclear program to generate electricity, not to make weapons. However, it has also repeatedly flaunted United Nations nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency demands for full disclosure of its nuclear activity, prompting the UN to draft stricter sanctions against it.

Russia said it would support these new sanctions unless Tehran stops uranium enrichment in the next few days.

"If Iran in the next few days does not stop the enrichment activities of its heavy water project then yes, Russia ... has taken upon itself certain commitments... to support the resolution that has been drafted in the past month," Interfax news agency quoted Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin as saying.

Olmert, who ends a four-day visit to Japan on Thursday, was speaking after Israel's military intelligence chief told a parliamentary committee in Jerusalem that Iran could have a nuclear capabilities by 2010.

Israel has called a nuclear Iran a threat to its existence and has called for tougher international sanctions to press the Islamic Republic to halt uranium enrichment.

3) Ashkelon Mayor joins calls for tough military action against Gaza

The mayor, Ronnie Mahtzari, called on the government to remove the gloves for a tough military operation against the savage Palestinian missile offensive on Israeli locations bordering on the Gaza Strip. He said the town is willing to take more missiles, as long as the IDF is allowed to take effective action against the terrorists.

In recent weeks, all parts of Ashkelon, a thriving city of more than 103,000 with a big oil port, have joined the cycle of Hamas missile targets from Gaza. Wednesday, Feb. 27, its Barzilai hospital which serves the entire region was taking in the wounded from Sderot, the Sapir College and the Off Kor factory, when an extended-range Grad missile landed outside its doors. By sheer good luck, it did not explode and was finally defused after several hours. Another missile knocked out electrical power in some parts of the city.

Military sources report that the targeting of Hamas leaders and operatives evokes further missile violence against civilians without solving the essential security threat which Hamas-ruled Gaza poses southern Israel. Hamas and its allies are free to calibrate their missile attacks at will only because the Israeli government and IDF command desist from striking at strategic terrorist infrastructure deep inside the Gaza Strip.

This week, the infiltration of scores of al Qaeda jihadis to the Gaza Strip was confirmed by Israeli military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, the Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the UN Secretary-General’s office. Yet nothing is done.

4a) Israel vows unprecedented response to deadly Qassam barrage
By Amos Harel and Barak Ravid

A senior defense official said Wednesday night that the Israeli response to the rocket fire on Sderot and Ashkelon is expected to be particularly harsh, and that Israel does not intend to let pass Hamas' decision to escalate its offensive measures.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday morning, however, that Israel will not change its overall policy in the Gaza Strip. "What is happening today happened a week ago, and is likely to happen in the near future," he said.

The prime minister made the comments during a visit to a Nisan factory in Tokyo.

Olmert added: "We are in a war which sometimes exacts a high cost, and sometimes does not. We will continue fighting in order for the danger to the residents of the south to end. This is a long process, and a painful one, and we haven't any magic formulas to solve this today. We are suffering painful blows, but are returning more painful blows."

Late Wednesday night, Israeli jets blasted a government building in Gaza. Palestinian health officials said a baby was killed in the attack, and 30 people were injured. Witnesses said the building was empty. The IDF said all targets that were attacked were centers of terrorist activity.

Military sources told Haaretz that in the next few weeks the IDF will complete its preparations for a major ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. However, they added that the final decision on a wide-scale incursion is in the hands of the government, and no decision has been made yet.

Discussion over entering Gaza ratcheted up Wednesday following the death of a 47-year-old Israeli civilian who was killed by a Qassam rocket in Sderot Wednesday. Hamas fired some 50 rockets at Israel on the worst day of fighting the Gaza Strip border has seen in more than two weeks. Several rockets hit Ashkelon.

Also on Wednesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak went to Sderot to meet with the heads of communities in the area.

Olmert said on Wednesday during his visit to Japan that there is a war going on in the south of Israel and the Gaza Strip.

"No one in Hamas, neither among the low ranks nor among the senior ranks, will be immune to that war," Olmert threatened.

The prime minister added that the Palestinians are "testing Israel's patience" to its limit.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for the rocket attacks on Israel to stop and blamed Hamas for the situation in Gaza, speaking after a meeting with Olmert in Tokyo on Thursday.

Rice is set to visit Israel and the West Bank next week to try to push along U.S.-brokered peace talks complicated by the growing violence.

The secretary of state also voiced concern about Palestinian civilians killed in IDF operations in the Gaza Strip, but stopped short of an explicit call for Israel to exercise restraint.

Asked if she had urged Olmert not to use disproportionate force in responding to rocket attacks from Gaza, Rice told reporters: "I think that's not a good way to address this issue. The issue is that the attacks - rocket attacks need to stop."

She said she had reiterated to Olmert U.S. concerns for the humanitarian situation.

"I am concerned about the humanitarian condition there and innocent people in the Gaza who are being hurt. We have to remember that the Hamas activities there are responsible for what has happened in Gaza ... But, of course, we are concerned about innocent people and we are concerned about the humanitarian situation," she said after the one-hour breakfast meeting.

Sources in Olmert's entourage said that he was briefed by the military secretary on the rocket fire against Sderot and the Israeli civilian killed there. The prime minister was informed that the Hamas was responsible for that attack, and the assessment was that it came in response to the killing of six members of Hamas during IDF operations in the morning.

However, regarding the possibility of an offensive in the Gaza Strip, Olmert said: "I do not recall speaking even once about a ground operation in the Strip."

Earlier, Olmert said that he had not received any concrete offer from Hamas for a cease-fire with Israel.

4b)Thirteen Palestinian missiles explode on Israeli side of Gaza border Thursday

The last four landed in Sderot’s main square and near its banking center. Several shock victims were taken to hospital.

As Israeli air force continued its strikes against terrorist targets in Gaza, local authorities on the Israeli side of the border tried to organize the towns and villages battered by more than 50 missiles Wednesday for a fresh Palestinian assault. Schools opened Thursday morning for classes, although children were not permitted to play outside. Studies resumed at the Sapir College along with the registration of students for the next academic year. In the afternoon, students and faculty will attend the funeral of the student Ronnie Yihya, who died on campus from a direct missile hit. He will be buried at Moshav Bitcha, where he lived with his wife and four children.

As clamor rises for a massive Israeli ground action to finish off the terror-by-missile plaguing the Southwest from Gaza, the Air Force again struck armed Palestinian bands in the Sejaya district, early Thursday, killing three gunmen, after five overnight air raids which left three Palestinians dead, including a baby.

5) Grassroots Jihadists and the Thin Blue Line
By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart

As Stratfor has observed for some years now, the global response to the 9/11 attacks has resulted in the transformation of the jihadist threat. Whereas six and a half years ago, the threat came from “al Qaeda the organization,” today it emanates from “al Qaeda the movement.” In other words, jihadism has devolved into a broader global phenomenon loosely guided by the original al Qaeda core group’s theology and operational philosophy. We refer to the people involved in the widespread movement as grassroots operatives.

In analyzing this metamorphosis over the years, we have noted the strengths of the grassroots jihadist movement, such as the fact that this model, by its very nature, is difficult for intelligence and law enforcement agencies to quantify and combat. We also have said it has a broader operational and geographic reach than the core al Qaeda group, and we have discussed its weaknesses; mainly that this larger group of dispersed actors lacks the operational depth and expertise of the core group. This means the grassroots movement poses a wider, though less severe, threat — one that, to borrow an expression, is a mile wide and an inch deep. In the big picture, the movement does not pose the imminent strategic threat that the core al Qaeda group once did.

It is important to recognize that this metamorphosis has changed the operational profile of the actors plotting terrorist attacks. This change, in turn, has altered the way operatives are most likely to be encountered and identified by law enforcement and intelligence officials. As grassroots operatives become more important to the jihadist movement, local police departments will become an even more critical force in the effort to keep the United States safe from attacks. In short, local police serve as a critical line of defense against grassroots jihadists.
Grassroots Operatives

The operatives involved in the 9/11 attacks attended al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, received thousands of dollars from the group via wire transfers and were in regular contact with al Qaeda operational managers. Grassroots operatives have a different operational profile. While some grassroots operatives — such as Mohammed Siddique Khan, the ringleader of the July 7, 2005, London bombings — have had some degree of contact with the al Qaeda organization, others have had no discernable contact with the group. This lack of contact makes it difficult for law enforcement and intelligence officials to identify grassroots operatives because efforts to identify these militants have been designed to focus on such things as personal contact, travel, financial links and operational communication.

U.S. security agencies have made great efforts since 9/11 to recruit human intelligence sources within communities that are likely to harbor militants. Such sources are invaluable, but they can only report on what they observe within their limited areas of operation. It is simply impossible to recruit enough sources to cover every potential jihadist operative within a given city or even within a given neighborhood or large mosque. Human intelligence sources are scarce and valuable, and they must be used wisely and efficiently. Intelligence pertaining to militant activity and planned terrorist attacks is only obtained if a source has had an opportunity to develop a relationship of trust with the people involved in planning the attack. Such information is closely guarded, and, in most cases, a source must have an intimate relationship with the target to gain access to it. Such relationships take a large investment of a source’s time and efforts because they are not est abolished quickly and cannot be established with too many individuals at any one time. This means that the people charged with recruiting and running human intelligence sources generally point them toward known or suspected militants — people who have been identified as having connections with known militant actors or groups. They cannot waste their limited resources on fishing expeditions.

Moreover, in places such as London, Houston and New York, there are so many individuals with some sort of link to Hezbollah, Hamas, al Qaeda or another militant group that it is almost impossible to sort through them all. There is precious little intelligence or surveillance capacity left to focus on finding unknown individuals. The problem is that these unknown individuals many times are the ones involved in grassroots militant plots. For example, Khan came to the attention of British authorities during the course of an investigation that did not directly involve him. After briefly checking him out, however, authorities determined that he did not pose enough of a threat to warrant diverting resources from more pressing cases. Although that assessment proved to be wrong, it is not hard to understand how and why the British authorities reached their conclusion, given the circumstances confronting them at the time.

The strength of U.S. intelligence has long been its signals intelligence capability. The vast array of American terrestrial, airborne and space-based signals intelligence platforms can collect an unimaginable amount of data from a wide variety of sources. The utility of signals intelligence is limited, however; it does not work well when suspects practice careful operational security. In the case of grassroots operatives, escaping scrutiny can be as simple as not using certain buzzwords in their communications or not communicating with known members of militant groups.

In the end, most counter-terrorism intelligence efforts have been designed to identify and track people with links to known militant groups, and in that regard, they are fairly effective. However, they are largely ineffective in identifying grassroots militants. This is understandable, given that operatives connected to groups such as Hezbollah have access to much better training and far greater resources than their grassroots counterparts. In general, militants linked to organizations pose a more severe threat than do most grassroots militants, and thus federal agencies focus much of their effort on countering the larger threat.

That said, grassroots groups can and do kill people. Although they tend to focus on softer targets than operatives connected to larger groups, some grassroots attacks have been quite successful. The London bombings, for example, killed 52 people and injured hundreds.
Grassroots Defenders

As we have said, grassroots militants pose a threat that is unlikely to be picked up by federal authorities unless the militants self-identify or make glaring operational security blunders. All things considered, however, most operational security blunders are far more likely to be picked up by an alert local cop than by an FBI agent. The primary reason for this is statistics. There are fewer than 13,000 FBI agents in the entire United States, and less than a quarter of them are dedicated to counter-terrorism investigations. By comparison, the New York City Police Department alone has nearly 38,000 officers, including a counter-terrorism division consisting of some 1,200 officers and analysts. Moreover, there are some 800,000 local and state police in other jurisdictions across the country. Granted, most of these cops are not dedicated to counter-terrorism investigations, though a larger percentage of them are in a good position to encounter grassroots jihadists who make operational security errors or are in the process of committing crimes in advance of an attack, such as document fraud, illegally obtaining weapons and illegal fund raising activities.

Many terrorist plots have been thwarted and dangerous criminals captured by alert officers doing their jobs. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, for example, was not captured by some terrorism taskforce or elite FBI team; McVeigh was arrested shortly after the bombing by an Oklahoma state trooper who noticed McVeigh was driving his vehicle on Interstate 35 without a license plate. A large federal taskforce unsuccessfully hunted Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph for more than five years, but Rudolph ultimately was arrested by a rookie cop in Murphy, N.C., who found him Dumpster diving for food behind a grocery store. Yu Kikumura, the Japanese Red Army’s master bombmaker, was arrested on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1988 by an alert New Jersey state trooper. Additionally, Hezbollah’s multimillion-dollar cigarette smuggling network was uncovered when a sharp North Carolina sheriff’s depu ty found the group’s activities suspicious and tipped off the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, thus launching the large “Operation Smokescreen” investigation.

Local traffic cops also have identified several potential grassroots jihadists. In August 2007, two Middle Eastern men stopped by a sheriff’s deputy for speeding near Goose Creek, S.C., were charged with possession of a destructive device. The deputy reported that the men’s behavior and their Florida license plates led him to believe they were involved in drug smuggling. A search of the car, however, turned up bombmaking materials rather than dope. Likewise, a traffic stop by a police officer in Alexandria, Va., in September 2001 led to an investigation that uncovered the Virginia Jihad Network. In that case, network member Randall Royer was found to have an AK-47-type rifle with 219 rounds of ammunition in the trunk of his car. However, at least one notorious militant was able to slip through a crack in the system. At the time of the 9/11 attacks, there was an outstanding bench warrant for the operation’s leader, Mohamed Atta, for failure to appear in court after driving without a license.

In July 2005, police in Torrance, Calif., thwarted a grassroots plot that came to light during an investigation of a string of armed robberies. After arresting one suspect, Levar Haney Washington, police searching his apartment uncovered material indicating that Washington was part of a militant jihadist group that was planning to attack a number of targets, including the El Al Israel Airlines ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport; synagogues in the Westside area of Los Angeles; California National Guard armories in western Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach and Torrance; and U.S. Army recruiting centers in Long Beach, Torrance and Harbor City.

Cases such as this highlight the fact that grassroots operatives are more likely to indulge in petty crimes such as credit card theft, cargo theft or armed robbery than they are to have telephone conversations with Osama bin Laden. When these operatives do commit such crimes, local cops — rather than the National Security Agency, FBI or CIA — have the first interaction with them. In fact, because of the lack of federal interaction, any records checks run on these individuals through the FBI or CIA most likely would turn up negative. Indeed, even Atta had no CIA 201 file until after Sept. 11, 2001. Therefore, it is important for local cops to trust their instincts and hunches, even if a suspect has no record.

Also, since jihadism is a radical Islamist concept, when we discuss fighting grassroots jihadists, we are talking about militant Islamists, including converts to Islam. With that in mind, there are certain crimes that, when perpetrated by Muslims, warrant thorough investigation. Most observant Muslims are excellent law-abiding citizens. However, it should be a red flag to law enforcement when an otherwise-observant Muslim is found engaging in document fraud or financial frauds such as bank fraud, credit card fraud, interstate transportation of stolen property, fencing stolen property, cigarette smuggling, selling pirated goods (such as software or designer handbags) or even dope smuggling. These crimes are especially significant if the perpetrator has made millions of dollars and yet still lives modestly, raising questions about where the proceeds from such crimes have gone. Obviously, not every Muslim who commits such crimes is a terrorist, but these crimes are an indication that further investigation is required. Of course, this follow-on investigation could prove difficult — getting leads run in Pakistan or Lebanon can be tough — but it can be successful if the officer has determination and the proper mindset. An officer with such a mindset will look at such crimes and consider whether they could have been perpetrated for some purpose beyond self-enrichment — such as terrorism.

Like in the cases of Operation Smokescreen and the Virginia Jihad Network, the instincts and observations of an experienced street cop can launch an investigation with far-reaching implications. This fact makes local cops a critical line of defense against grassroots operatives.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Experience shmerience as long as he's good to his mother!

This from a fellow memo reader. From time to time I publish what Frank Gaffney writes. This is not surprising. We are vulnerable because there are those who take advantage of the freedoms granted our citizens to destroy us. It has always been so. The Communists tried it. German Bund members tried it. Skinheads and Klan members have tried it. Vigilance, education in our own values and a willingness to defend them are our best weapons. (See 1 below.)

An Israeli friend of mine has been told by his government he must avoid large crowds when possible and not visit any place of a Muslim or Arab nature, even in our country. (See 2 below.)

Newt repeats what others have been saying about Speaker Pelosi's despicable action to prevent a vote on protecting companies who co-operate in our war against terrorism from being sued by plaintiff attorneys interested in earnings large fees and who are generally large Democrat campaign contributors.

Her action is truly a magnificent display of contempt for the people! (See 3 below.)

Lest there be any doubts about Iran's ambitions to obtain a nuclear weapon capability. (See 4 and 5 below.)

A new slant - I can't! Disappointment with GW has greased the tracks for America's new boomer generation! (See 6 below.)

Does experience matter? You decide!

Modern presidents (Since FDR) with little experience beyond being Senators:

Truman (also V. president), Kennedy, Johnson (also Senate Leader),Ford and Nixon.

Modern Presidents who were governors:

Carter, Reagan, George W Bush and Clinton.

Modern Presidents with experience beyond politics:

Eisenhower and George H Bush.


1) The Mapping Sharia in America Project, sponsored by the Washington-based Center for Security Policy, has trained former counterintelligence and counter-terrorism agents from the FBI, CIA and U.S. military, who are skilled in Arabic and Urdu, conducting undercover reconnaissance at some 2,300 mosques and Islamic centers and schools across the country.

"So far of 100 mapped, 75 should be on a watch list," an official familiar with the project said.

Many of the Islamic centers are operating under the auspices of the Saudi
Arabian government and U.S. front groups for the radical Muslim Brotherhood
based in Egypt.

Frank Gaffney, a former Pentagon official who runs the Center for Security
Policy, says the results of the survey have not yet been published. But he
confirmed that "the vast majority" are inciting insurrection and jihad
through sermons by Saudi-trained imams and anti-Western literature, videos
and textbooks.

2) Taking Out Mughniyah, Taking Out Terrorism
By Yisrael Ne'eman

The elimination of Hezbollah’s military chief of staff and arch terrorist, Imad Mughniyah, on Feb. 12 was fully justified. Many are claiming Israel was behind his removal by car bomb in one of the most heavily guarded neighborhoods in Damascus despite official denials from Jerusalem. The Hezbollah is threatening revenge not only against Israel but against all Jewish targets abroad thereby making clear not only its objective of obliterating the Jewish State but also its enmity against all Jews.

Due to such threats many are doubting the wisdom of any Israeli action against terrorist leaders. Mughniyah was responsible for hijacking an American airliner to Beirut in 1986 and in the unprovoked bombings of the American Marine headquarters and US embassy in Beirut in 1983. Let us recall that the Marines came as a peace keeping force in the wake of the Lebanese civil war and Israel’s First War in Lebanon. Hezbollah’s previous leader before Hassan Nasrallah was Issad Mussouwi who was killed by Israeli helicopter gun ships in 1992. Hezbollah, in alliance with Iran, reacted by bombing the Israeli embassy and Jewish community center in Buenos Aires Argentina causing a heavy loss of life. Many fear a similar reaction(s) somewhere world-wide as a result of Mughniyah’s death.

Since then Mughniyah worked with the Hamas to increase terror activity while pursuing Hezbollah’s 2006 summer war (Second War in Lebanon) against Israel. Recently he was rebuilding Hezbollah’s Iranian trained and outfitted militia with new recruits and rocket acquisitions. He was responsible for planning terror attacks and initiating the next war against Israel. Sec. Gen. Nasrallah on Friday declared that the war with Israel will continue, “Destroying Israel is an inevitable outcome, a historic law, a divine doctrine,” and he insisted it will culminate in open conflict within the next few months.

Israel and the West must continue their full court press against terrorism regardless of who was responsible for Mughniyah’s death. All terrorists must be under unbearable pressure knowing that at any moment they may die. Anyone making the claim that terrorists should not be eliminated for fear of retaliation is living in a fantasy world since Islamic terrorists have every intent of attacking civilians (Jewish, Israeli or otherwise) to achieve political gain. They need no “provocation”. All must be on guard while the terrorists are made to pay with their lives for their deeds. It should also be recalled that the same fears arose after Hamas leaders Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Sheikh Abdul Aziz Rantisi were taken out by Israel in 2004 and nothing happened. 2004 was the year Israel broke the back of the Palestinian Low Intensity Conflict/Terror Offensive (2000 – 04). Taking out Yassin and Rantisi were part of the success.

There are those who speak of a hudna (Islamic cease-fire). But the definition of a hudna is a cease-fire whose purpose is to allow the Islamic side to rearm, retrain and re-initiate the conflict until total victory and world Islamization. Furthermore, a hudna can be violated by the Islamic side when they are ready for an offensive. So what’s the point? It is best to continue the anti-terror offensive beyond the breaking point of the Islamists, never allowing them to breathe. The battle must be waged by everyone who has democracy at heart, whether one identifies with the Left, Right, religious, secular, liberal or conservative perspectives.

The only lesson from the Mughniyah liquidation is that such actions must be multiplied as much as possible. The political and terror leadership of Hezbollah, Hamas and certain other Islamist organizations are one and the same. A terrorist who doubles as a politician should not be immune to the anti-terror counter offensive. In practical terms this means eliminating Hassan Nasrallah, Ismail Haniyah, Khalid Mashal and anyone else who targets and attacks civilians for political gain. Simultaneously Israel and world Jewry must guard against a resurgence of the terror offensive.

It is a zero sum game war where Mughniyah and his ilk must be awarded the zero.

3) Terrorists Still Have the Advantage
By Newt Gingrich

America, by the inaction of the U.S. House of Representatives, has been weakened substantially in fighting terrorism.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) and her left-wing allies decided to leave Washington without voting on the bipartisan Senate bill that would have extended key provisions of the Protect America Act, a bill that is essential for America's ability to quickly and deftly track terrorist communications overseas.

This abdication of responsibility by such a high-ranking member of our government has been the most amazing anti-national security action by Congress in decades.

This is not a partisan analysis.

The vote in the House Democratic caucus reportedly had some 20 moderate votes opposed to leaving without voting on the Senate bipartisan anti-terrorism bill.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), the Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has said this failure to act has weakened our ability to intercept and stop terrorists.

Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell (a career military officer) and Atty. Gen. Michael Mukasey, in a letter to Rep. Silvestre Reyes (Tex.), the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, stated plainly, "We have lost intelligence information this past week as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Congress' failure to act."

I urge you call your representative today and demand that they pass the Senate bipartisan Protect America Act bill (which got a filibuster-proof 68 votes in the Senate) immediately. Every day that passes is a day that America is more vulnerable.

4) Iran’s supreme ruler solidly backs Ahmadinejad’s drive for a nuclear weapon

Iranian sources report that, 18 days before parliamentary elections to the majlis, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for the first time threw all his weight and authority behind his country’s nuclear program and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His words clearly celebrated the failure of the United States, the West at large and Israel to stall Tehran’s nuclear ambitions - whether by military force or sanctions.

Tuesday, Feb 26, the supreme ruler told Iranian officials:

“One example of an advance by the Islamic system has been the nuclear issue, in which the Iranian nation has honestly and seriously won a great victory.” For the first time, he echoed Ahmadinejad’s intransigent position and praised his role in advancing the nuclear issue as “outstanding.”

In the face of the nuclear watchdog’s latest report that questions about Iran’s possible weaponization of nuclear materials remain unanswered, Khamenei backed to the hilt the hard-line positions taken by the president and the Revolutionary Guards and their drive for a nuclear bomb and nuclear-capable missiles.

Transparently pouring scorn on the US and Israel, the supreme ruler said: “Those people who used to say Iran’s nuclear activity must be dismantled are now saying we are ready to accept your advances, on condition that it will not continue indefinitely. This was achieved by perseverance.”

The ayatollah was referring obliquely to certain Western powers including Germany which have discreetly engaged Tehran for a deal to acknowledge Iran’s nuclear achievements provided it put its military option on ice for some years.

Khamenei treated this concession, which would leave the Islamic Republic free to invoke its option at will, as a “great victory.” He was clearly crowing over US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s call for a third round of sanctions and Ehud Olmert’s reliance on the international community.

Khamenei’s lavish praise for the president ahead of the majlis vote was a setback for the theory held by US and Israeli policy-makers that the supreme ruler and his faction are more amenable to reason that Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guards and, if confronted with a military showdown with the US and Israel, they would prefer to deal. Khamenei’s rhetoric Tuesday put paid to this illusion.

In fact, domestically, his latest statement will strengthen the radical president’s parliamentary support in the March 18 election, as well as his call to wipe Israel off the map.

5)Iran should have a nuclear weapon by 2010, says Israel’s military intelligence chief

This estimate was put before the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee by Israel’s military intelligence AMAN chief, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, in his briefing Tuesday, Feb. 26.

He also predicted that Hizballah would time its reprisals for the 40th day of mourning for its military commander Imad Mughniyeh – that is March 22-23, forty days after he was blown up in Damascus. The Lebanese Shiite terrorists, Gen. Yadlin warned, was also planning to kidnap another Israeli soldier.

In the month since Hamas flattened Gaza’s border wall for free Palestinian access to Egyptian Sinai, scores of al Qaeda operatives have used the opportunity to steal into the Gaza Strip, he reported, along with large numbers of Palestinian terrorists returning from special courses in Iran and Syria. There, they acquired special skills in the fabrication of explosive devices and missiles. Among them too were trained snipers, of the type which have begun plaguing Israel farmers tilling their fields close to the Gaza border.

6) Yes, We Can’t: From Ralph Waldo Emerson to Deval Patrick, the politics of hope have been a bust.
By Fred Siegel

Aging baby boomers see in Barack Obama’s down-the-line liberal voting record the promise of a left-wing revival. The college students and twentysomethings of the Millennial Generation see in him a way of pushing the quarrelsome, narcissistic baby boomers off the stage. Someone is bound to be disappointed by this extraordinary performance artist. But what both the boomers and the Millennials share is a desire to be part of what Ralph Waldo Emerson, writing in the 1840s, called “the politics of hope.” Emerson wrote during a time of numerous experiments in utopian living. Obama—whose candidacy rests upon a standard utopian dichotomy between the earthly evils of poverty, injustice, war, and partisanship, and the promise of the world to come if we allow him to rescue us—appeals to the same Elysian strain in American and Western political life, largely in remission since 1980, when the 1960s truly ended.

America’s founding fathers were a famously hard-headed lot; they understood that government had to be structured to remedy the “defects of better motives.” Since self-serving interest groups—or factions, as Federalist 10 calls them—were an unavoidable element of liberty, interest could only be checked by competing interest. But while this insight is the main stem of our political tradition, there is another, albeit punctuated, branch—a utopianism that derives from the millenarianism of the sects that emerged from the Protestant Reformation and eventually populated America. “Utopian . . . ideas,” notes Daniel Flynn in his new history of the American Left, are as “American as Plymouth Rock.” This is why, as Sixties activist Bo Burlingham put it, “the Left bobs up and down in American history, a battered and leaky craft which often disappears beneath the tide, but somehow never sinks.”

In the wake of bloody utopian experiments in 1930s Europe, a slew of erudite authors launched compelling attacks on them. Jacob Talmon, Karl Popper, Raymond Aaron, Czeslaw Milosz, and Hannah Arendt laid waste to the historical, philosophical, sociological, and literary assumptions that supported communism and fascism. But their arguments didn’t endure, despite their power. By the mid-1960s, utopianism had again taken hold, and its lure was such that even Arendt, once a vocal opponent, found herself drawn to the religion of politics. Propelled by her disdain for America in general and the Vietnam War in particular, as well as the promise, as she saw it, of worker-control experiments in Europe, she effectively reversed much of her earlier writings.

She wasn’t alone. In 1949, Arthur Schlesinger had published The Vital Center, the canonical statement of disillusioned, empirical, and anti-utopian post–World War II liberalism. Schlesinger praised “the empirical temper” and a realistic sense of man’s limitations that recognized that “freedom means conflict.” Tracing the shared assumptions behind Brook Farm—the famous American utopian experiment of the 1840s—and the Soviet Union, he distanced liberalism from an optimism born of eighteenth-century rationalism and a nineteenth-century romanticism about progress, which left “too many unprepared for the mid-twentieth century.” Democracy, he wrote, “brooks no worship” of great leaders because “it knows that no man is that good.” And Schlesinger rebuked the leftists who, admiring the USSR, couldn’t believe that “ugly facts underlie fair words.” It was an intellectual tour de force.

But a little more than a decade later, Schlesinger—romanced by John F. Kennedy—walked away from these arguments. His admiration for the liberalism of a “moderate pessimism about man” was replaced by hero-worship and a sense of the dashing, aristocratic, articulate Kennedy as someone who could transcend standard political categories. Kennedy’s untimely death canonized the hard-nosed Massachusetts pol—with a mixed record at best as our first celebrity president—as JFK, a Lincoln-like martyr to civil rights, the King of Camelot who, if he had lived, would have made all right with the world. This Kennedy passed into Democratic Party legend and still inspires some today: remember Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign ads, featuring a picture of the young Clinton visiting the White House with a group of young student leaders and shaking hands with Kennedy. Kennedy, the ads implied, was passing the torch.

Obama, the celebrity-like candidate drawing on his generational appeal and noble bearing, fits better into Kennedy’s robes than Clinton did. Unlike Kennedy, who didn’t think of himself in messianic terms, Obama seems short on irony. Still, for lovelorn boomers and for youngsters who’ve known only the failures of the Bush years, Obama promises a Camelot-like reenchantment with politics. “I’ve been following politics since I was about five,” says TV host Chris Mathews. “I’ve never seen anything like this. This is bigger than Kennedy. [Obama] comes along, and he seems to have the answers, he’s the New Testament.” In this view, just as Kennedy’s victory in 1960 brought the country out of its Eisenhower-era stupor and put the Catholic question to bed for good, so an Obama victory will reenergize our politics and bring an end to poverty and racial division.

Hillary Clinton has searched in vain for a way to combat Obama’s appeal. In the recent Austin debate, she criticized Obama for borrowing generously from the speeches of his good friend and coeval Deval Patrick, the first African-American governor of Massachusetts. “Lifting whole passages from someone else’s speeches,” she challenged in the debate’s one charged moment, “is not change you can believe in, it’s change you can Xerox.” Clinton’s arrow here was not aimed so much at plagiarism—all candidates borrow heavily from each other and from past campaigns—as at Obama’s claim to authenticity. But with the press, on both left and right, all but openly rooting for Obama, little came of her attack; more important, the press missed the true importance of the Patrick comparison.

Bay State journalist Rick Holmes describes Obama and Patrick, fellow Harvard Law School graduates, as “peas in a pod.” Patrick is the Obama campaign’s national cochair. Obama’s presidential campaign has modeled itself on Patrick’s gubernatorial campaign. Patrick’s 2006 campaign slogan was “Together we can,” while Obama’s is “Yes we can.” The brilliant Chicago political operative David Axelrod has managed both men’s campaigns. Both candidates have made persistent appeals to “the politics of hope.”

So Clinton’s criticism seems an opportune moment to ask how Patrick’s inspirational rhetoric has translated into governing a state where Democrats control both houses of the legislature—the likely scenario for Obama, too, should he take office. Patrick’s governorship is the closest thing we have to a preview of the “politics of hope”—and that governorship has been a failure to date. As Joan Vennochi observes in the Boston Globe, “Democrats who control the Legislature ignored virtually every major budget and policy initiative presented by a fellow Democrat.” Patrick’s record in office, Vennochi concludes, “shows that it can be hard to get beyond being the face of change, to actually changing politics.” His stock has sunk so markedly that Hillary Clinton carried the state handily against Obama in the Democratic primary despite, or perhaps because of, Patrick’s support for his political doppelgänger.

In one area, however, Patrick has achieved some of his goals. In thrall to the state’s teachers’ unions, he has partly rolled back the most successful educational reforms in the country. Most states gamed the federal testing requirements that were part of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. But Massachusetts, thanks to Republican governors William Weld and Mitt Romney, created the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability to ensure that the state’s testing methods conformed closely to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—federal tests that are the gold standard for measuring educational outcomes. In 2007, Massachusetts became the first state to achieve top marks in all four categories of student achievement. One of Patrick’s first efforts as governor was to eliminate the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability.

Patrick hasn’t delivered reform, much less the transformation that both he and Obama promise. This should come as no surprise. Obama’s utopian vision of transcending the interests that make up the fabric of our democracy is unlikely to fare any better than the “politics of hope” did in Emerson’s time. The key question at hand is whether Obama’s Edenic bubble bursts before or after the election.

Monday, February 25, 2008

"To Thine Own Self Be True..."

Is Sarkozy becoming a French version of Putin by flexing France's military muscle? I would not be a bit surprised if France assisted Israel should Israel decide to take on Iran. (See 1 below.)

Meanwhile, there is something deliciously perverse about watching liberals willingly embrace Obama's candidacy along with Louis Farrakhan. These are the same liberals who find nothing wrong with Clinton's unctuous "indiscretions" yet viciously attack GW for his own youthful peccadilloes, inarticulateness and government service and,to this day, cannot cut him any slack. Obama can smoke pot and tell about it to young children in a schoolhouse setting and they deem this as a charming act of contrition but these same voters become sanctimonious when it comes to comparable immoral conduct by Conservatives. They are no less slaves to the Democrat Party than the Far Right they self-righteously condemn.

Everyone has a right to vote as they choose but is it asking too much of them to at least be intellectually honest about their vote and defense of their selected candidate when they obviously engage in obnoxious duplicity?

They defend Senator Kennedy yet find untold fault with Newt Gingrich. They adore Ms. Clinton for standing by her man but attack Barbara Bush for defending her husband who was falsely accused of amorous affairs. The New York Times continues to print sleaze and they eat it up while the stock slides into oblivion because of declining readership due, in part, to an editorial staff more interested in making "news unfit to print" than reporting that which is.

Sen. Clinton lied in public about ill gotten cattle trading gains and hiding documents and now claims years of hands on experience experience because she attended some Senate Intelligence briefings. Did she ever serve in the military? Was she ever a POW? No, she was busy protesting the Viet Nam War and can't wait to bring the troops home so history can document we willingly lost another war. GW served as an effective Governor of one of the nation's largest states and all liberals can say is he was a failure in everything he did, yet their own precious candidates have no executive experience but are somehow deemed very talented and experienced.

Obama is so full "of hope" after serving three years in the Senate he has the "chutzpah" to believe he is qualified to lead the nation and "can." His voting record is sporadic and spotty yet he considers himself qualified on foreign affairs and other serious executive matters and he too pledges to bring the troops home even faster than his Democrat opponent.

Ronald Reagan was mocked as a movie simpleton yet served as an effective governor of an enormous state, negotiated with tough movie moguls as a labor representative. He understood our national sport and could eat a hot dog with the best of them. He loved life, was a wonderful communicator and was not maudlin in his outlook. He did not campaign on our nation's negatives.

It appears to this observer what I see is all smoke and mirrors and the sound of mighty fury but if that is what the nation wants, I willingly will go along though I will cast my vote elsewhere and at least try and be honest what I am about and why. I have no illusions about the problems this nation faces, the questionable paths our society has chosen to follow and have no answers or solutions to offer other than we are likely to accomplish more being truthful to ourselves than to continue to wantonly defend our bias - "To thine own self be true and thou canst be false to any man!"

Stephen Hayes believes otherwise regarding Obama. He finds substance not shallow words. (See 2 below.)

Then there is Carrie Brown. (See 3 below.)

As Olmert lands in Japan he responds to Abbas. Yes, peace between the Palestinians and Israel is possible in '08, if Olmert is willing to meet Abbas' every demand and then more after Abbas proves either unwilling and/or incapable of delivering on his promises. Yes, peace can be obtained quickly if Olmert is willing to sell out his nation's security but if he is serious about standing firm, on matters legitimate, peace is nowhere in sight.

Olmert is in a difficult position because he is negotiating with a partner who cannot deliver anything dependable even if he wants to because he represents only a part of the loaf and is too weak to enforce his own agreements. Hamas has no desire to offer Israel anything resembling a fig leaf. Hamas is still bent on eliminating Israel and that is not the basis upon which to build anything secure and believable.

Progress is more likely achievable when your adversary has had a bankable epiphany or is on his knees. Hamas is not there yet.

Meanwhile, Olmert apparently was more interested in Soccer than Palestinians being driven by Hamas to penetrate Israel's borders.

Olmert seems clueless and incompetent enough to be a candidate to run our own nation.(See 4 and 5 below.)

Sec. Rice reaffirms a pledge not to press for a U.N. vote regarding Taiwan for China's renewed statement regarding N Korea. (See 6 below.)


1)France, the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia secretly launch their first joint war game

Military sources report exclusively that the first Persian Gulf exercise without the US in many years began Feb. 24. It will last ten days. It is also the first time the United Arab Emirates and France have invoked their 19-year old military pact. France has contributed 1,500 navy marine and air force personnel to the exercise; the UAE, 1,500 and Qatar 3,000 troops. Our military sources report that a number of the advanced French Rafale B and naval units are deployed in the exercise.

While Iran is not explicitly targeted, the objectives of the maneuver are to practice repulsing marine landings by sea on the Gulf participants’ shores and missile attacks from the east, i.e. Iran. The joint force is also drilling tactics to defend their oil and gas fields and oil ports.

While the Saudi army is not directly participating in the maneuver, King Abdullah has permitted some of the air and naval movements to take place in the kingdom’s territorial waters and over its air space.

Some of the participating French units will stay on as the vanguard of the 400-strong contingent to permanently man the new French base under construction in Abu Dhabi opposite the Strait of Hormuz.

It will be France’s first military foothold in the Persian Gulf region. French president Nicolas Sarkozy and the UAE government agreed to establish this base with the approval of US president George W. Bush during their respective Gulf tours last month.

2) Obama and the Power of Words

These are words that move and uplift, that give hope to the hopeless. These words inspired millions of voters nationwide to join the grand experiment called democracy, casting votes for their candidate, their country, their destiny:

"More than anything else, I want my candidacy to unify our country, to renew the American spirit and sense of purpose. I want to carry our message to every American, regardless of party affiliation, who is a member of this community of shared values . . . For those who have abandoned hope, we'll restore hope and we'll welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again!"

So Ronald Reagan proclaimed on July 17, 1980, as he accepted his party's nomination for president at the Republican National Convention in Detroit, Mich.
[Ronald Reagan]

Earlier that day, the New York Times ran a long profile of Reagan on its front page. The author, Howell Raines, lamented that the news media had been unsuccessful in getting Reagan to speak in anything other than "sweeping generalities about economic and military policy." Mr. Raines further noted: "political critics who characterize him as banal and shallow, a mouther of right-wing platitudes, delight in recalling that he co-starred with a chimpanzee in 'Bedtime for Bonzo.'"

Throughout his campaign, Reagan fought off charges that his candidacy was built more on optimism than policies. The charges came from reporters and opponents. John Anderson, a rival in the Republican primary who ran as an independent in the general election, complained that Reagan offered little more than "old platitudes and old generalities."

Conservatives understood that this Reagan-as-a-simpleton view was a caricature (something made even clearer in several recent books, particularly Reagan's own diaries). That his opponents never got this is what led to their undoing. Those critics who giggled about his turn alongside a chimp were considerably less delighted when Reagan won 44 states and 489 electoral votes in November.

One Reagan adviser had predicted such a win shortly after Reagan had become the de facto nominee the previous spring. In a memo about the coming general election contest with Jimmy Carter, Richard Whalen wrote Reagan's "secret weapon" was that "Democrats fail to take him very seriously."

Are Republicans making the same mistake with Barack Obama?
[Hillary Rodham Clinton]

For months now, Hillary Clinton has suggested that Mr. Obama is all rhetoric, no substance. This claim, or some version of it, has been at the center of her campaign since November. One day after losing to him in Wisconsin and Hawaii -- her ninth and tenth consecutive defeats -- she rather incredibly went back to it again. "It's time we moved from good words to good works, from sound bites to sound solutions," she said -- a formulation that could be mistaken for a sound bite.

As she complained about his lack of substance, tens of thousands of people lined up in city after city, sometimes in subfreezing temperatures, for a chance to get a shot of some Mr. Obama hopemongering. Plainly, her critique is not working.

And yet, Republicans are picking it up. In just the past week, conservative commentators have accused Mr. Obama of speaking in "Sesame Street platitudes," of giving speeches that are "almost content free," of "saying nothing." He has been likened to Chance the Gardner, the clueless mope in Jerzy Koscinski's "Being There," whose banal utterances are taken as brilliant by a gullible political class. Others complain that his campaign is "messianic," too self-aggrandizing and too self-referential.

John McCain has joined the fray. In a speech after he won primaries in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland, Mr. McCain said: "To encourage a country with only rhetoric rather than sound and proven ideas that trust in the strength and courage of free people is not a promise of hope. It is a platitude." After Wisconsin, he sharpened the attack, warning that he would expose Mr. Obama's "eloquent but empty call for change."

The assumption behind much of this criticism is that because Mr. Obama gives a good speech he cannot do substance. This is wrong. Mr. Obama has done well in most of the Democratic debates because he has consistently shown himself able to think on his feet. Even on health care, a complicated national issue that should be Mrs. Clinton's strength, Mr. Obama has regularly fought her to a draw by displaying a grasp of the details that rivals hers, and talking about it in ways Americans can understand.
[Obama and the Power of Words]

In Iowa, long before the race became the national campaign it is today, Mr. Obama spent much of his time at town halls in which he took questions from the audience. His answers in such settings were often as good or better than the rhetoric in his stump speech, and usually more substantive. He spoke about issues like immigration and national service in a thoughtful manner -- not wonky, not pedantic, but in a way that suggested he'd spent some time thinking about them before.

More important for the race ahead, Mr. Obama has the unique ability to offer doctrinaire liberal positions in a way that avoids the stridency of many recent Democratic candidates. That he managed to do this in the days before the Iowa caucuses -- at a time when he might have been expected to be at his most liberal -- was quite striking.

His rhetorical gimmick is simple. When he addresses a contentious issue, Mr. Obama almost always begins his answer with a respectful nod in the direction of the view he is rejecting -- a line or two that suggests he understands or perhaps even sympathizes with the concerns of a conservative.

At Cornell College on Dec. 5, for example, a student asked Mr. Obama how his administration would view the Second Amendment. He replied: "There's a Supreme Court case that's going to be decided fairly soon about what the Second Amendment means. I taught Constitutional Law for 10 years, so I've got my opinion. And my opinion is that the Second Amendment is probably -- it is an individual right and not just a right of the militia. That's what I expect the Supreme Court to rule. I think that's a fair reading of the text of the Constitution. And so I respect the right of lawful gun owners to hunt, fish, protect their families."

Then came the pivot:

"Like all rights, though, they are constrained and bound by the needs of the community . . . So when I look at Chicago and 34 Chicago public school students gunned down in a single school year, then I don't think the Second Amendment prohibits us from taking action and making sure that, for example, ATF can share tracing information about illegal handguns that are used on the streets and track them to the gun dealers to find out -- what are you doing?"

In conclusion:

"There is a tradition of gun ownership in this country that can be respected that is not mutually exclusive with making sure that we are shutting down gun traffic that is killing kids on our streets. The argument I have with the NRA is not whether people have the right to bear arms. The problem is they believe any constraint or regulation whatsoever is something that they have to beat back. And I don't think that's how most lawful firearms owners think."

In the end, Mr. Obama is simply campaigning for office in the same way he says he would operate if he were elected. "We're not looking for a chief operating officer when we select a president," he said during a question and answer session at Google headquarters back in December.

"What we're looking for is somebody who will chart a course and say: Here is where America needs to go -- here is how to solve our energy crisis, here's how we need to revamp our education system -- and then gather the talent together and then mobilize that talent to achieve that goal. And to inspire a sense of hope and possibility."

Like Ronald Reagan did.

3) Obama stiffs, stifles national press
By: Carrie Budoff Brown

EDINBURG, Texas - For all the positive press Barack Obama receives, as he moves closer to clinching the Democratic nomination he is establishing himself as the candidate who keeps the most distance from the national media.

Reporters covering Obama can no longer move freely among the thousands of zealous supporters at his events — unless the reporter receives a staff escort through the security gates. (In one city, that meant using a port-o-potty outside because the route to the indoor plumbing ran through the crowd.)

And the traveling press corps has been shut out of monitoring Obama's satellite interviews with local media outlets, which is a normal practice on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign.

On top of that, the traveling media has been tussling with Obama aides to keep conversations with the candidate on his campaign plane on the record.

In any other campaign year, the media strategy might not raise eyebrows since it is standard practice for a frontrunner. But this is a year when the likely Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, has set a new standard for press accessibility, creating a potentially stark general election contrast between a reticent Democrat and the most accessible GOP nominee in decades.

McCain sits with reporters on his campaign bus. He jokes with them on the plane. He talks until they have no more questions to ask. The open-book policy creates a rapport that works to his advantage: A reporter who knows a candidate is more likely to give the benefit of the doubt.

Even after McCain went into crisis mode over a potentially lethal story in the New York Times last week, the Arizona senator did not retreat entirely from the media.

Obama is gregarious on the occasions when he interacts with the traveling press corps. But he largely remains a distant figure to most reporters, appearing more removed from the national media than Clinton—who has never been noted for her coziness with the press.

Indeed, after losing Iowa, Clinton upended her approach. Once reluctant to engage the traveling press corps, Clinton began holding availabilities roughly every other day. She dined with reporters at off-the-record gatherings, and chatted with them on her plane almost daily until they insisted the conversations be placed on the record. The frequency of the plane visits has since tapered off.

The Obama campaign, on the other hand, is mimicking the 2004 campaign playbooks of President Bush and Democrat John Kerry, who often bypassed the national press in favor of local media, which tended to focus on local issues and yield more favorable headlines.

Obama does between six and a dozen local interviews a day, according to the campaign. By contrast, he usually meets with the national media twice a week.

This past week, however, was unusual. Following a press conference last Monday, he answered 10 minutes worth of questions Saturday in Ohio - the same amount of time reserved earlier in the day for an unthreatening interview with Entertainment Tonight - to respond to harsh criticism from Clinton about one of his mailers. He went back for more questioning Sunday.

But in general, the candidate's time is better spent with the local press, said Robert Gibbs, Obama's communications director.

"The truth is, in a lot of these little communities, most people are going to get information from their most local media source," Gibbs said.

It's also true that press conferences with national media tend to veer into areas that do not necessarily underscore the campaign's message of the day. The focus is often not on issues like the economy or health care, but on process and punditry, which campaigns loathe.

"The questions that seem to dominate now are superdelegates, pledged delegates, Florida and Michigan," Gibbs said. "I just don't know that they provide a tremendous insight into the type of president" he would be

4) Olmert: I'm unsure peace deal with PA possible in 2008
By Barak Ravid

TOKYO - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday that he is not certain Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be able to reach a peace agreement by the end of 2008, as they committed themselves to doing in the November U.S.-sponsored Annapolis conference.

"We have a desire to reach an agreement within the year 2008," Olmert told a business conference in Tokyo, where he is making his first visit as prime minister. "I am not sure we will make it, but we are determined to make a giant step forward to end this dispute once and for all."

The prime minister said he would make every effort to reach an agreement with Palestinians that would lead to a two-state solution to a decades-old conflict.

"In these days we are making exceptional efforts to conclude all differences with our neighbors and to resolve outstanding disputes with our Palestinian neighbors," he said.

Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met last week and agreed to accelerate the peace talks.

The prime minister is due to meet U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Tokyo on Thursday to update her on the peace talks and growing tensions between Israel and the Gaza Strip's Hamas leaders.

"There will be no better opportunity, and we want to make every possible effort to seize this opportunity," said Olmert, who is to meet Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda on Wednesday.

5) Olmert aides: insignificant that Olmert was clueless about Gaza challenge he left for Barak and Livni to handle.

Mental gymnastics by Olmert's aides and Winograd Committee member Yehezkel Dror notwithstanding, the fact that Prime Minister Olmert was clueless about a critical security and diplomatic challenge as he boarded his flight for Tokyo speaks volumes about the absence of a true change in Olmert's operating procedures since the Second Lebanon War.

The Gaza challenge didn't end the way it did because of luck. It ended in a
whimper because while Olmert and his wife were discussing sushi, there were
people in Israel who had the intestinal fortitude to make it clear that if
the choice is going to be between the bad PR of a Palestinian bloodbath and
a Palestinians invasion Israel will, without hesitation, opt for the bad

Olmert sat on a seat at the end of the plane and started asking questions.
He already knew the results (2:0 to Beitar) but wanted to hear details. "I
heard Gal Alberman scored a great goal," he told the reporters.

"Sir, what about the warnings that a Palestinian mass could breach the
border in the Gaza Strip," asked Channel 2 reporter Udi Segal.

"I know of no such warnings," Olmert replied curtly, reluctant to answer

A few minutes later he pulled himself together and added, "we must remember
that in the Middle East every scenario is possible, and therefore we must
prepare accordingly."

Only after landing did Olmert, his advisers and the reporters realize what a
commotion had taken place in Israel while they were in the air.

At first the entourage grumbled about Livni and Barak's "hasty" statement,
which had been issued without consulting Olmert. Then, realizing that this
would spark another spat in the media, they changed their tone. "Hamas
announced its intentions after we had taken off and Livni and Barak thought
it wasn't sufficiently dramatic to bother the prime minister on his flight,
and that's okay," an Olmert aide said.

"They did what they had to do," he said. "Their statement was blown up by
the media although it was quite moderate."

Olmert's people were all business-as-usual. Military secretary Meir Kalifi
was briefed from Israel, but the morning was devoted to a tour of Tokyo and
the atmosphere was amazingly pastoral.

In the early evening, after it transpired that the Gazans had stayed home,
Olmert's people announced that altogether it had been "much ado about
nothing." Olmert knew that more people came to Teddy Stadium to see Alberman
score than participated in the demonstration in Gaza.

6) Rice wins Chinese help on NKorea nukes

BEIJING - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice won a verbal assurance Tuesday from China to use its influence to jump-start the stalled process of dismantling North Korea's nuclear programs. Yet it was unclear when or how the Chinese would follow through.

In broad discussions with Chinese officials, Rice also won an agreement from China to resume an on-again, off-again human rights dialogue with the United States and she pleased her Chinese hosts by restating firm U.S. opposition to a Taiwanese referendum on United Nations entry that has infuriated Beijing.

But North Korea dominated the talks and Rice urged China, which has considerable leverage with its Stalinist neighbor, along with others n the six-nation denuclearization effort, to "use all influence possible" with Pyongyang to meet its pledges to the group.

"I believe that all of the parties to the six-party talks have both an obligation and an interest to make certain that the obligations of the first phase are carried out," Rice told reporters at a news conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

"We are the cusp of something very special here," she said, referring to the shutdown and continuing disablement of North Korea's main nuclear facility in Yongbyon. "Now it is time to move on because the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is in everyone's interest."

"What I am expecting from China is what I am expecting from others: Use all influence possible with the North Koreans to convince them that it is time to move forward," Rice said.

Yang said China was "consistently committed to the six-party talks and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula" and would continue to work on the matter. But he also made clear that Beijing had already pressed the North hard on the matter.

"The Chinese side hopes that the parties will treasure the results we have already produced, which have not come easily," he said through an interpreter at Beijing's Diaoyutai State Guesthouse.

Yang added that China wanted all members of process — the United States, China, Japan, Russia, North and South Korea — to "create favorable conditions to overcome the current difficulties and move forward the six-party process as soon as possible."

Although progress has been made in disabling Yongbyon, the United States says North Korea has not yet produced a full declaration of its nuclear programs, including details on the transfer of technology and know-how that could be used to develop atomic weapons.

The declaration was due almost two months ago, and the North says it has already met the requirement but the Bush administration rejects the claim, which has slowed progress on the process aimed at restoring stability in North Asia and bringing a final end to the Korean War.

Yang said China was eager to see the second phase of the denuclearization process — the complete dismantlement of Yongbyon, the production of the declaration and in return the provision of fuel oil to North Korea — completed quickly.

Rice is in China on the second leg of a three-nation tour of Asia that has already taken her to South Korea and ends in Japan on Thursday.

The trip coincides with an historic performance in North Korea by the New York Philharmonic later Tuesday in an unprecedented cultural exchange that some have dubbed "violin diplomacy."

But the classically trained pianist has steered clear of the topic, ignoring it entirely on Monday in Seoul where she attended the inauguration of new South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and lauded his intent to hold North Korea to its promise to abandon nuclear weapons.

Rice has previously played down the possible impact of the concert noting that North Korea's reclusive and authoritarian leadership is unlikely to be influenced by it.

She has ruled out talks with North Korean officials while in China, saying such a meeting was neither warranted nor could be of any use in the current circumstances.

In Beijing, Rice said she had also raised human rights issues, along with intellectual property protections, product safety, efforts to impose new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program and the upcoming referendum in Taiwan — an island Beijing sees as a breakaway province.

Yang said China had agreed to resume the human rights dialogue with the United States that it had broken off in 2004 when the Bush administration unsuccessfully sponsored a resolution censuring China before the U.N. Human Rights Commission. He did not, however, give a date.

China bristles at criticism of its human rights record, which it regards as meddling in its internal affairs, and groups have accused the administration of playing down its lapses to win Beijing's help in dealing with North Korea, Iran and the war on terrorism.

Rice said she approached the matter with "respect" for the Chinese but stressed that civil liberties and religious freedoms are "very near and dear to American values."

A senior State Department official said Rice raised specific cases of concern with Yang, but gave no details.

On Iran, Rice said the United States was seeking Chinese support for new U.N. Security Council sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear programs. China and Russia, veto-wielding permanent members of the council, have been resisting the effort.

Yang did not directly address how China would vote but called for all sides "to work creatively" to resolve the matter.

The foreign minister also said Beijing "appreciated" Washington's outspoken opposition to the Taiwanese referendum, which Rice restated on Tuesday.

"We believe this referendum is not going to help anyone," she said. "In fact, it should not be held.