Monday, July 31, 2006


To readers who have been puzzled for lack of posts from me over the past weekend, especially on days that proved to be most noteworthy I offer the explanation: I have been moving.

A process that the majority of adults loath, I have moved out of the apartment that I called home for two years into a slightly smaller one-bedroom loft. In the process, my access to internet and therefore ability to write was encumbered. This is the case until Thursday when I receive my internet/TV activation. Until then, Bear Rock Cafe and Starbucks have become my home away from new home. To friends reading this who have heard this story I beg your patience.

Call it a miracle, I would like to think of the whole process as excellent crisis management skills. In twenty-four hours I found a new apartment and over the next forty-eight hours I moved into my new space. Yes, it has been stressful, and with professional and personal obligations, I am exhausted. However, this quick process does point to the ability to make something happen if one follows a timeline and is committed to that timeline.

Using this background information I have mentioned my thoughts turn to the Middle East. Only now with gross negligence in bombing, has Israel joined a cease-fire. This action is good, needed, and long overdue after the failed response by the US (and that is what it has been) to mediate this crisis, in particular the mockery of personal diplomacy that has been Secretary Rice's performance.

Peace in the Middle East is possible, a cease-fire, prisoner exchange, and other components of diplomacy to end this particular cycle of violence can occur. The individual groups intimately involved in this crisis and the US must be committed to a realistic timeline.

Diplomacy, like filling moving boxes is often a slow and laborious process. However, it can be done efficiently. This is what has been lacking from the US and Israel in dealing with this crisis and it is exactly what needs to change.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


It is impossible not to be biased in the evolving story of the Middle East. Whether you are a Jew or an Arab or a friend of one or both, emotions and tempers are high. So I inform visitors and consistent readers of this blog once more of bias.

For people looking for good news from the Middle East, specifically any news that might end the fighting, today’s glimmer of hope came from an unexpected source. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas says a deal could be "imminent" to free an Israeli soldier held for more than a month by militants in the Gaza Strip. This statement was made in Rome at a news conference with the Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

As quoted by the BBC, Mr. Abbas said, "I told the prime minister that as far as the question of the abducted Israeli soldier is concerned efforts are undergoing continuously that lead us to believe that the solution will be imminent."

This is good news, though not reality. A spokesman for the armed wing of Hamas, the faction that dominates the Palestinian legislature, said: "Nothing has changed in the case of the Israeli soldier," Reuters news agency reported and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat also played down Mr. Abbas' comments, suggesting that they had been taken out of context.

To believe that Hamas is willing to make a deal, to think there is hope that a cease-fire with Hezbollah is possible soon, if somebody or some nation would step forward to lead, and sadly, to believe that the United States is willing to pressure Israel to stop its military campaigns in the north and south is nothing short than denial.
Public support for such military operations is high in Israel, currently around 80 to 90 percent. Add to this an anemic United Nations (the death of four personal and the UN response is proof positive) and complacent United States and the current recipe of disaster continues to unfold unabated.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


A warning to readers; this blog will be biased.

I will not dispense the motivational language usually reserved for the word leadership. It is as tiring to repeat as the recent lack of leadership from the US in the Middle East crisis has been.

When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went to Rome she faced an impossible task in trying to sell the Arab world on the U.S. policy of delaying a cease-fire on the grounds that "whatever we do, we have to be certain that we're pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old Middle East.”

Having the talks fail in producing an outcome this should not then be a real surprise. However, I ask this simple question: what were such talks supposed to do?

The most tangible and immediate result could have been a cease-fire. An end to the civilian deaths that mount each day, an end to violence that is emboldening moderate Lebanese to side with Hezbollah and for the Palestinians, a respite from daily chaos.

We, the United States have failed to be a leader. This failure began when we did not immediately respond a week and a half ago to Israel’s reciprocity and though such inaction might have been explained, failure in Rome cannot. We have failed to be the leader of the free world, which if the definition fits, includes Israel.

It is shameful. There is no other word for this failure. It is difficult to think of the next course of action, a real plan for peace. Since President Bush seems content to leave such thinking to his man or in this case woman on the ground, Secretary Rice, the mission I spoke in a prior post seems to be over, not that the mission was really defined for real success in the first place.

Where is Jimmy Carter or, dare I say the name, Bill Clinton?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Violation Of The Constitution

According to an American Bar Association task force, which includes a one-time FBI director and former federal appeals court judge, has said that President Bush's penchant for writing exceptions to laws he has just signed violates the Constitution

In short, the president overstepped his authority in attaching challenges to hundreds of new laws. These attachments, known as bill-signing statements, reserves a right to revise, interpret or disregard measures on national security and constitutional grounds.

The separation of powers between the branches of government has been integral to the success of this experiment we call the American democracy. The practice, if unchecked, harms the separation of powers doctrine.

Noel J. Francisco, a former Bush administration attorney who practices law in Washington, said the president is doing nothing unusual or inappropriate. In a statement on, Mr. Francisco says, "Presidents have always issued signing statements, this administration believes that it should make clear ... when the Congress is getting close to the lines that our Constitution draws." This is a nice answer, decisive, and snappy. However, when one looks at the record and discovers that President Bush has had more than 800 signing statement challenges, compared with about 600 signing statements combined for all other presidents, eyebrows should be raised.

President Reagan was the first to use the statements as a strategic weapon, and that is what President Bush is attempting to use it as, though it should be said that other means can and should be used, instead. In effect, using such attachments is paramount to a line-item veto, and on the important issues of national security and the constitution, using such attachments to “get your way” when the Courts or Congress has a difference of opinion invalidates the purpose and the INTENT of the separation of powers doctrine.

The framers of the Constitution did not see the Executive branch becoming as important as it has become. In their experience, a combination of historical memory and prior professional duties indicated a strong legislative body, such as Parliament, when Congress was created. Political parties and presidential personality has molded the Executive into what we know it as today. At the heart is a healthy, if spirited, dialogue between the branches of our federal government, where the separation of powers are observed and each branch checks and balances the power of the other. The current practice utilized by President Bush undercuts this very sacred tradition, removing a key check, with no valid replacement.

Monday, July 24, 2006

What is Rice's Mission?

Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, under President Clinton calls the current series of events occurring around the world the "perfect storm" of foreign policy: dark clouds closing in on Washington from every direction. Current world events is a testament to this statement.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on a mission to the Middle East to seek a "lasting solution" to the crisis between Israel and Lebanon. She is meeting regional leaders in Beirut and Jerusalem before heading to Rome later in the week. She stopped first in Lebanon's capital, where she met with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Nabih Berri, Lebanon's parliament speaker, who has close ties with Hezbollah and Syria. In her press statement she said how, "President Bush wanted this to be my first stop -- here in Lebanon -- to express our desire to urgently find conditions in which we can end the violence and make life better for the Lebanese people." Nice sound bite, but her actual meeting was nothing short of a disaster. Lebanese Minister of Social Affairs Nayla Muawwad said the discussion wound up serving more to inform Rice than for her to inform the other participants according to a report by the BBC.

Amid the arrival of Rice, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said today that, "there is no conflict between Israel and the people of Lebanon. But Israel has no higher responsibility than to defend its citizens." This should be remembered as Israeli military strategy has displaced an estimated 800,000 Lebanese according to U.N.'s relief coordinator, Jan Egeland with civilians suffering in northern Israel and in Lebanon. Livni also called for the release of the abducted Israeli soldiers and for Lebanon to exercise sovereignty over its territory by carrying out U.N. Resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of militias. This might be the rationale, but the logic of military operations in the very area Israel demands Lebanon to control is impractical as it is impossible.

Rice is now in Israel, where she is to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem. She was also expected to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. It is hoped that Rice, now “on the ground” will be more engaged and bring the sides together, particularly later this week when she is to meet with Arab leaders and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. On that agenda is the possibility of a multinational force for southern Lebanon.

Meanwhile, the Hezbollah guerrillas traded more attacks with Israeli forces Monday and the general consensus is that a cease-fire not expected immediately. So, what is Rice’s mission? It should be two fold: one to reassert US presence in the dialogue for peace and second to call for a cease-fire. Hopefully it will not be only a lengthy briefing.

Real World Trade Lost

Trade ministers from six key countries have reached an impasse in Geneva after marathon negotiations failed to make headway. This is not only unfortunate, but considering whom this impasse effects it is CRIMINAL. Such a failure jeopardizes the four-year effort to liberalize world trade.

The world has been trying to reach a new deal to expand free trade, with a special emphasis on helping poor countries. Talks have been going on since 2001, but predictably, progress has been very slow. A key meeting in Hong Kong in December 2005 failed to make a breakthrough.

In brief, advocates of a trade deal say it would help end poverty in developing countries, while rich countries could also benefit if they can sell more goods and services abroad.
Moreover, a deal would boost global growth and increase jobs, though critics say it would cost jobs in developing countries and hurt poor people.

Why have the talks broken down? The key issue is how far the US and the European Union will reduce their barriers to agricultural exports from developing countries, including both subsidies and tariffs. In return for this the rich countries want larger developing countries like Brazil and India to lower their barriers to imports of manufactured goods. This sounds reasonable, but after four years of talking, it appears that none of the key parties is prepared to compromise enough to push the talks to a conclusion. In particular, the US and the European Union are both facing strong pressure from their domestic farm lobbies not to go too far in reducing protection for the agricultural sector.

As the prospects for a deal have receded, each side has sought to blame the other.
The EU saying that the US has been too ambitious and has not shown enough flexibility to reach agreement, while the US blames protectionist pressures around the EU Common Agricultural Policy. There is validity to both claims but the best complaint comes from the developing countries who say that the rich nations were never serious about opening up their markets, and until they do, they are in no hurry to open their own. This is the truth, this is the hurdle and must be overcome.

The key problem has been that free trade in agriculture, the centerpiece of this trade round. Although small, the agricultural lobbies are powerful, and the industrial lobbies in rich countries have not exercised much leverage to push through a trade deal. Until then, the talks are facing a major obstacle in the US, since "fast track" negotiating authority by Congress expires in July 2007. This means that Congress must vote the deal up or down as a whole, otherwise opponents could add wrecking amendments and force the US to renegotiate the whole deal.

In the current political climate mid-term elections and with trade deals already unpopular because of the huge trade deficit, an extension is unlikely to be agreed and any trade deal without the participation of the world's largest economy would be meaningless.

The main losers would be the larger developing countries like Brazil, India, and South Africa, who have many agricultural products they would like to export to rich countries.
The poorest countries who have been offered free market access as part of any trade deal, have less capacity to benefit from any market opening. It is this reason that some
NGOs say that no deal is better than a bad deal for the poor, and that it would be better to start from scratch to redesign the world trading system in a fairer way.

The fact that negotiations of this magnitude has gone on for so long and now have effectively been stalled indefinitely is truly sad. The opportunity to help has been lost.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


Israeli troops moved across the border into southern Lebanon on Saturday, blazing past a UN observation post and engaging Hezbollah militants as part of a limited ground campaign.
Backed by artillery and tank fire, Israeli troops knocked down a border fence and moved past the observation post before assuming control of the large village of Maroun al-Ras, Israeli military officials said.

Much of this news as it develops, is slowly adding to a universal consensus: this has to stop. More importantly, the question of further Israeli action (full-invasion of Lebanon?) and lack of response by the United States (Secretary of State Rice will leave for the Middle East sometime next week) makes all concerned observers of this crisis very uncertain of the future. This might sound redundant, but for many, shaking heads has grown old, replaced by a deep sense of hopelessness.

When does retaliation turn into belligerence? This is not a simple question with a simple answer. Nothing is ever simple in the Middle East. It is very complex, but in this very simple question is the answer to our hopelessness.

Friday, July 21, 2006

A Very Bad Decision

Thousands of Israeli troops massed on the Lebanese border today as Lebanon's president said his army would defend the country if Israel launches a full-scale ground invasion.

The Israel Defense Forces has called up roughly 6,000 reservists as reinforcements along the border. Leaflets urging residents in southern Lebanon to leave their homes and move north of the Litani River, 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the Israeli border, have been dropped in the region, the IDF said, according to CNN.

It is the opinion of many international observers that this would be the wrong decision. Such an action would create a situation that Israel had not intended. The Lebanese Army would join with Hezbollah to fight the invasion, uniting the two, when the intention of current Israeli military operations is to divide the two groups. This blooger agrees.

Public opinion, in particular, would turn against Israel and in the short term this is something that Israel and its ally, America, cannot afford, or ignore. In the long term, good public opinion is what both America and Israel will need in order to create a peace plan.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

No Clear Direction

Commentators have noted that Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, with America's acquiescence, wants to prolong the military assault for perhaps another two weeks—perhaps until he can point to some specific success, such as Hezbollah giving up its captive soldiers. However, doubts have arise over the effectiveness of Israel's campaign, since it seems that Hezbollah's guerrilla fighters are as eager to continue the conflict, in the hope of bolstering their own reputation.

To date, over 300 Lebanese have been killed by Israel's airstrikes, the vast majority of them victims. Some 29 Israelis have been killed. The Israeli government claims to have destroyed half of Hezbollah's military capacity, but where is the evidence? The Shia group denies that any of its leaders were hurt in the bunker bombing on Wednesday and suggested that Israeli planes had actually flattened a half-built mosque. As if to add insult to injury, Hezbollah continues to fire rockets into Israel and is riding a wave of popularity in the Arab world. And, to the chagrin of Western politicians, it is abundantly clear that the Lebanonese government is unable (even if it were willing) to rein in the Hezbollah.
A reason to doubt that Israel's assault over its northern border will prove effective soon is that a similar campaign, in Palestinian territory, seems to be getting nowhere. Back, in Gaza, where Palestinian militants are holding a soldier they captured late last month, Israel has adopted a similar military strategy, simultaneously trying to secure his release and stamp out the firing of homemade rockets into Israel. It has attacked militant leaders, shelled areas where rockets were launched, and bombed what little public infrastructure and government buildings the Palestinian’s have, in an attempt to put pressure on the Hamas-run government. It has not worked. 110 Palestinians have been killed, more rockets fall, the Israeli soldier remains in captivity, public support for Hamas is growing, and the government (or what is left of it after a wave of arrests in the West Bank) remains defiant.

The pictures from both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border have been unremittingly familiar: buildings bombed to rubble, corpses and grief, refugees fleeing to safer areas. The scenes of chaos and suffering prompted Tony Blair, Britain's prime minister, and Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations, to propose sending a multinational force to the area. America, always sceptical with ideas coming from the UN, said that there is already a 1,990-strong UN peacekeeping force on the border that has failed to curb the fighting. Today, Kofi Annan called for an immediate end to the fighting between Israeli and Hezbollah forces.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton maintained that a cease-fire was a "simplistic" solution to the current problem between Israel and the Lebanese militia.
"As we've said repeatedly, what we seek is a long-term cessation of hostilities that is part of a comprehensive change in the region and a part of a real foundation for peace," Bolton said and reported by CNN. "But, still, no one has explained how you conduct the cease-fire with a group of terrorists."

Mr. Bolton and the United States foreign policy regarding this current crisis are off the mark. The fact that you are fighting terrorists is not the issue. Stopping the escalating violence and curbing the severe humanitarian crisis IS. It is this type of rationale that prevented decades of peace in Northern Ireland. It is this exact muddled and confusing disagreement between the UN, EU members, and the United States over language and semantics that allowed the genocide in the Balkans to continue unabated for three years as well as millions killed, displaced, and starving currently in Darfur, Sudan.

Pick up the phone, contact the ambassadors, or use the known intermediaries for the parties involved, and call a cease-fire. What is so difficult to comprehend?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Today's news held many topics that I found interesting and wanted to write on.

However, errands and chores and work, all of which occupy a large part of my day interfered. Moreover, I was struggling with what topic to write on. The elections in Georgia where Ralph Reed lost the lieutenant governorship or President Bush dusting off his veto pen to write his name on stem-cell legislation that his Party, in control of the Senate, had passed. There was the latest news from the Middle East, where the term developing story, really means that as Israel and Hamas and Hezbollah are fighting each other, while the ordinary civilians are killed, tourists flee on cruise ships, temporarily converted to transport vessels, and the collective leadership in the UN, EU, and in Moscow at the G8 summit all seem rather pleased to scratch their heads and talk amongst themselves all the while providing NO leadership on a solution least of all action. Violence, not the least of which, reported today, was the rising civilian death toll in Iraq. More bombings, suicide and remote detonated from cars point to what? More death, sectarian strife, and an America unable to control situations of their choosing. And I have not yet mentioned Afghanistan.

So, my readers, I was prevented from writing today on a topic of substance because I was, frankly, overwhelmed. My humble apology and an oath to do better tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Where Is The American President?

There has been conflict in the Middle East for centuries over land, religion, and periphery issues, causing the sand from Jerusalem to Damascus to be sowed with blood. In the late twentieth century, after the State of Israel was created and the early victories that carved out more land for Israel and created buffer zones between Arab and Jew, American presidents have become increasingly interested in the region. The rationale might be termed differently by Administration and individual “peace-plans” have different names, but the general intent is the same: solve the violence.

It is with this understanding that there is puzzlement at the slow reaction by President Bush. There are many factors that may explain his, let us say, restraint, however, silence should not be one of them. There are complex issues—it has never been solely a kidnapping—with ramifications largely unseen that might have made the president take pause before responding.

The trouble is that the response is to late and has not come from the United States. Neither confirming nor denying reports that Secretary of State Rice will be flying to the region in the coming days, a “hands-off” response to Israeli heavy-handiness, and a trite frustrated response, caught on a microphone in Moscow this weekend, is NOT the image the United States of America should be showing the world.

Secretary of State Kissenger invented the term shuttle diplomacy, setting the new standard for American response to crisis around the world during his tenure under President Richard Nixon. It was President Reagan and President Clinton who were known to call international leaders on the Oval Office phone, though much credit to this practice should be given to President Bush, Sr. whose phone calls and personal relationships during the build-up to the First Gulf War was masterly.

So, with this knowledge of the past and the knowledge of the present, with the U.S. militarily engaged in Iraq, diplomatically engaged with North Korea, Iran and the nations in each region, the question is what is the president doing?

Why did he not call President Bashar Al-Assad (Syria) Prime Minister Fouad Siniora (Lebanon) and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (Israel)? Why has Secretary of State Rice not been sent to the Middle East? Why did the American president not call for a cease-fire? And why in Moscow was it Prime Minister Blair and not President Bush who prodded G8 leaders into making their joint statement?

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has called for urgent action from the international community to stop the violence between Israel and Lebanon. This is a reiteration on a call for an international force to be deployed in the border region. This will happen, but where is the input from President Bush and his ORIGINAL idea to solve the current crisis?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Discovery Back On Earth

With continued violence in the Middle East, that changes minute by minute, it was a huge relief to watch the Space Shuttle Discovery successfully land back on Earth.

Officials had been concerned about rain showers and clouds north of the landing site and did not make the decision to land until about 10 minutes before Discovery was scheduled to fire its engines and begin its return to Earth. Such concern with the weather also prompted Discovery to use a different runway because of a last-minute change in the weather.

The landing comes after a successful 13-day mission to the international space station where the Discovery astronauts delivered supplies, dropped off German astronaut Thomas Reiter at the station and performed three spacewalks to conduct maintenance on the station's mobile transporter and to test shuttle tile repair techniques. For NASA, a collective sigh of relief, as too for the rest of us watching.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Lies And Web-Video

As I sat down this morning, to drink my morning coffee and read the morning news and watch the Sunday morning political talk shows a report on CNN caught my attention. I must warn my readers that I am about to bend my rules on having a non-biased opinion.

Democratic Reps. Chet Edwards (Texas) and John Spratt (S.C.) have called on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to pull down a controversial web video that uses images of flag-draped coffins and a grave of a fallen soldier. These two Democrats sent letters to DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Illinois) asking him to remove the video, "America Needs a New Direction," from its website after Republicans accused Democrats of trying to gain politically from the pictures. Emanuel urged political supporters in a fundraising e-mail sent Tuesday to view the video on the DCCC's website.

The video has raised new questions about how the Iraq war can be discussed in the November elections. Democrats acknowledge, privately, that Spratt and Edwards must condemn the video because they represent Republican districts. Edwards Waco-based district, re-elected him in 2004 by a 51 percent to 47 percent margin. Edwards is favored to win re-election again this year, but his GOP opponent Van Taylor is an Iraq war veteran and he is trying to capitalize on the DCCC video. In South Carolina, Spratt is also coming under fire from his GOP opponent, state Rep. Ralph Norman.

The question is how does images of flag-draped coffins and a grave of a fallen soldier become so offensive for politics? The media shows such images and in our recent holiday celebrations such images were used as remembrances of the cost of freedom. If a political party or particular candidate displays such images to reinforce a position on policy this should be allowed, least it be forgotten that our Commander-in-Chief, who as a politician, staged an elaborate celebration on an American aircraft carrier to conclude military operations in Iraq three years ago.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Russia's Party

Since Vladimir Putin became president in 2000, Russia has in many ways been a remarkable success. Thanks largely to high oil prices, its economy has grown by an average of 6.5% a year. Living standards have improved and a sizeable middle class has emerged. The stockmarket has boomed. Russia is running a huge current-account surplus, it is paying off the last of its debt and the ruble has just been made fully convertible. At the summit Russia also hopes to surmount the last hurdles to its joining the World Trade Organization.

Russians are grateful for these things. They like the stability that Mr Putin has brought in place of the chaos under his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. They welcome their country's bounceback from the dark days of August 1998, when it defaulted and devalued. They are proud that, as the summit demonstrates, Russia once more counts for something in the world. No wonder Mr Putin has a popularity rating in the 70% range—an achievement that none of his guests can match, notably President Bush and Prime Minister Blair.

In Mr Putin's early years optimists hoped that stability and prosperity would not come at the expense of liberty and democracy. Before blogging came into existence, a lone op-ed writer for a school newspaper shared in this sentiment (though looking into his eyes, through the television to get a glimpse of his soul, did not change my lack of trust). Western leaders gave him the benefit of their doubts over such matters as the war in Chechnya or curbs on the media. But as The Economist notes in its feature Leader acticle, Russia is moving in the wrong direction. Greater state control of the economy, especially in the energy industry, has bred corruption and inefficiency. Any serious political opposition has been crushed. The broadcast media have been shut down or taken over by the government and its allies. Regional governors have been squashed—one of the last elected governors was arrested recently—and parliament has been emasculated, continuing the Kremlin's drive not merely to centralise, but to monopolise, political power.

There is much debate over when Mr. Putin started to go wrong, the truth is that there was no particular moment when Mr. Putin started to go wrong. Mr. Putin was determined from the outset to control the television channels and to stamp out political opposition. This reflects Putin's background as a KGB officer, not any domestic or international incedent. To him, restoring order, staying in charge and reviving Russia's influence has what matter—not democracy and human rights.

What to say to Putin, then at the G8 meeting or for that matter any time in the future?The short answer is, not a lot. It is no longer the 1990s when an economically enfeebled Russia needed help from abroad. With the Kremlin firmly in control, Russia will almost certainly change only from within, if at all.

There is agreement with The Economist’s point, that is not to say that the West has no influence. Mr. Putin, like other Russian leaders before him, is sensitive to outside criticism. Western leaders should speak out against Mr. Putin's moves away from democracy, against his policy in Chechnya, or against Russian use of energy to bully its neighbours (many west European countries have been too timid in their criticism, but considering that the West conducts similar tatics with different commodities can such criticism be taken seriously?). Western countries should continue to help NGOs and others who are trying to establish a civil society that may, provide an alternative to the dead weight of the Kremlin. As the next presidential election of March 2008 nears, they should insist that any move to amend the constitution so that Mr Putin can run again is unacceptable—and would result in Russia's expulsion from the G8 (this is a good idea, but one in which will ring hallow in the ears of the world and privately be laughed at in Kremlin hallways). Finally, the West should press for free and fair elections, even if the Kremlin's chosen candidate will win.

Of course, there are things the West should not do, as well. Russia's eventual membership of the G8 should not be throw it out since it would only push Russia farther out of the West's orbit. Americans and Europeans are right to assist countries in Russia's “sphere of influence. However, for Ukraine or Georgia, to join NATO before each were ready would serve no good purpose. Most importantly, Western leaders should avoid giving the impression that what they object to is a strong and rich Russia. All this leads to the course of action currently being pursused with other “tricky” countries democratic or not, an engagement policy that is not stern nor loose, but rather wary.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Conflict And Context

In every crisis there is a message and a sub-text.

Thus a crisis that at first sight pits Israel against Hamas and Hezbollah, inevitably reaches out to involve Syria and Iran, both strong supporters of the Lebanese-based Shia movement. Sectarian violence escalates in Iraq due in part between Shia, who support Lebanon and the Sunni’s, who do not.

Events in the Middle East have pushed themselves onto the G8 summit agenda in St Petersburg, making this crisis so difficult to resolve. It also underlines how dangerous its ramifications could be unless the fighting is halted.

On display are the traditional differences that pit the big international players with stakes in the region against each other. America, Russia, the European powers like the French, the Germans and the British; and China, a key UN Security Council member, is making a guest appearance. However, the traditional differences emphasize how little any of the G8 countries can do to actually influence events on the ground. For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin set out his country's position, saying: "No hostage-takings are acceptable," adding that neither was "the use of full-scale force" as reported by the BBC. The American response has been strained. Typically, a conflict that every second-term President of the United States tries to solve, President Bush was non-committal during a press conference in Germany two days ago. This left real response language up to U.S. Secretary of State Rice who called Israel’s actions justified, but in the same response called for restraint and eluded to a cease-fire request.

The Europeans, like the Russians, have expressed their concern that the Israeli attacks have been disproportionate in nature. The French, with their historical ties to Lebanon, have expressed particular anguish at the Israeli attacks. But all have called for the three captured Israeli soldiers at the heart of this crisis to be released.

There is also hopelessness. There is the essential sense of hopelessness of the Palestinians with no diplomatic opening in sight. The leadership of the Palestinians is contested, its own leaders are split between Gaza and Damascus, and many paramilitary and militant groups linked to it, often act on their own or at the bidding of outside forces. In many ways it is the very weakness of Hamas that makes the crisis in the Gaza Strip so intractable, notwithstanding Israel and Washington's antipathy towards the Hamas government. This situation is mirrored in Lebanon, where Hezbollah, whom regards itself as a resistance movement, has effectively set up its own institutions and infrastructure in the south of the country. Add to all this the undoubted meddling of countries like Iran which are caught up in a wider power-play with Washington, linked both to Tehran's nuclear ambitions and to events on the ground in Iraq. Given these complex linkages, there is uncertainty on who and where exactly to bring its diplomatic weight to bear.

The G8 meeting risks appearing powerless, for the Palestinian and Israeli children and families displaced, wounded, hungry, and tried, let us hope leadership, rather than indecision prevail.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Acts Of War

Israel continued to subject Lebanon to strikes by land, sea and air, following the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah militants. More than 50 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the attacks. Soon after nightfall Israeli forces fired at Beirut's airport for a second time, setting fuel tanks on fire.

Hezbollah has responded with rocket attacks on Israeli towns, and Israeli sources said it had fired on the northern port city of Haifa. Israeli police have also said two rockets had fallen on a Christian area of Haifa called Stella Maris. Hezbollah has fired dozens of rockets into Israel in the past two days, killing at least two Israelis and injuring dozens.

International calls for calm are growing, with Russia, France and the EU saying Israel's response to the capture of two soldiers was disproportionate. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Israel to exercise restraint but also demanded that Syria put pressure on Hezbollah to stop attacks on Israel. Secretary’s Rice call is more appropriate. It must be remembered that Israel did only react after being attacked by Hezbollah and in the South, Hamas. Both areas where Israeli soldiers now are fighting, had been land ceded by Israel in the past decade in an attempt at peace.

The pressure now is on Mr Olmert, an inexperienced leader (no military background) in his first big crisis. With the United States focus in Iraq, Israel has some time to react. The question is what Mr. Olmert will do, how both Hamas and Hezbollah will act and what the Palestinian Authority and Syrian government will do about them.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Israel's Summer Wars

Israeli forces battled Muslim militants on two fronts on Thursday, destroying the office of the Palestinian foreign minister in Gaza, where fighting continues while Hamas holds an Israeli soldier, while also exchanging blows with Lebanon's Hizbollah guerrillas to the north.

Israel launched night air strikes on bridges and roads in southern Lebanon, as the search goes on for two soldiers seized by Hezbollah militants. The strikes occurred as an urgent session of the Israeli cabinet endorsed a strong response against the militants.
Israeli PM Ehud Olmert said the capture was an "act of war", but Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah insisted the two would only be returned via talks. This is unlikely, since the Israeli retaliation is set to increase domestic pressure on Hizbollah, which has refused to disarm in line with a 2004 U.N. resolution, and boost international pressure on the Lebanese government, led by an anti-Syrian coalition, to take action

Mr Olmert said he held Beirut responsible, but Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora denied any knowledge of the Hezbollah operation and refused to take responsibility for the soldiers' capture. In total, at least eight Israeli soldiers and two Lebanese civilians have been killed since the troops were captured. Three Israeli troops were killed in Hezbollah's cross-border raid and four more died when a tank blew up in the subsequent offensive, Israel's first since 2000. The eighth soldier died in the ensuing battle.

Any peace or at least a cease-fire either in the north or south is not forthcoming. The international press, condemns the actions, while international governments sit on their hands, America without enough clout to bring the parties to the negotiating table, Europe, impotent of clout, while fellow Arab governments are hopelessly befuddled as to the right course of action.

It has been a very hot summer. The actions in the Middle East indicate it will not become cooler anytime soon.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Geneva Rights At Guantanamo Bay

All US military detainees, including those at Guantanamo Bay, are to be treated in line with the minimum standards of the Geneva Conventions. The White House announced the shift in policy almost two weeks after the US Supreme Court ruled that the conventions applied to detainees.

President Bush had long fought the idea that US detainees were prisoners of war entitled to Geneva Convention rights. When the detention center was established in 2002, President Bush ordered that detainees be treated "humanely, and to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva". They have lost this round, and with Congressional hearings this issue, indeed, Guantanamo Bay's future is at stake.

The Pentagon outlined the new standards to the military in a 7 July memo. The directive says all military detainees are entitled to humane treatment and to certain basic legal standards when they come to trial, as required by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. The military has been using the site to house hundreds of detainees, many believed to have been picked up off battlefields in Afghanistan.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said that the Pentagon directive did not represent a change: "It is not really a reversal of policy. Humane treatment has always been the standard," according to the BBC. What is more ludicrous, the fact that it has taken over four years for detainees to receive “rights” under the Geneva Convention? Or that the White House is so deluded with the idea that the Pentagon, i.e. military had been treating the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay humanely? I leave the answer to the reader, as I shake my head.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Death Of A Warlord

The Chechen warlord who took responsibility for a series of attacks in Russia that claimed the lives of hundreds of people is dead.

Shamil Basayev was killed in an overnight raid, reportedly killed while accompanying a truck carrying hundreds of kilograms of explosives that blew up in an Ingush village. Basayev first came to prominence in 1991, when he hijacked a Russian passenger jet and forced it to land in Ankara, Turkey. Russia had offered a $10 million reward for his capture.

It is difficult to put into context the good that Basayev did. A freedom fighter for his country, long arguing that Russian civilians were a legitimate target in the fight for Chechen independence, he was also believed responsible for the stadium-bomb assassination in 2004 of Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov. His responsibility for some of the most notorious attacks in Russia, including the seizure of some 800 hostages in a Moscow theatre in 2002, the 2004 school hostage-taking in Beslan that killed 331 and the 1995 seizure of about 1,000 hostages at a hospital in Budyonnovsk that led to the death of more than 100 people have many Russian’s, President Putin, one of them saying Basayev's killing was deserved retribution. Putin is most likely also heaving a sigh of relief, no longer having to worry about a man who could have potentially disrupted the G8 summit in Moscow this year.

Chechen’s will mourn Basayev’s death. This is guaranteed, but what is not so certain is the next step. Basayev most likely has a successor the question is will that person follow the footsteps of the predecessor or distinguish himself in other ways?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Italy Wins World Cup

It was a game for the history books, one of three previous World Cup finals that pitted countries that shared a border with each other. Italy beat France 5-3 in a penalty shoot-out to win the World Cup after an absorbing 1-1 draw in Berlin.

What truly can be said about soccer or football, as the rest of the world knows it, is that this game really was a World Championship. Every country had a chance to play and the best teams made it to the final round. For both Italy and France it was an opportunity to make up for lost time. The last time Italy had made it to the finals and won was in 1982. France won in 1998 after the superb leadership and sportsmanship of Zinedine Zidane, and many will admit that France’s poor performance in 2002 was due to the fact that Zinedine was plagued with injuries.

Playing his last game before retiring, Zinedine Zidane's career ended in disgrace after he was sent off for crazily head butting Marco Materazzi. Only Zidane knows why he chose to shove his head into Materazzi's chest after the two had exchanged words with 10 minutes left of extra-time, an act that cost him a second World Cup title, and probably haunting him for the rest of his life.

It had been Zidane had put France ahead early on with a coolly taken chipped penalty, a goal after six minutes that meant Zidane, who scored twice in the 1998 final, became the fourth man to score in two World Cup finals after Brazilians Vava and Pele and Germany's Paul Breitner. Italy recovered well from their unfortunate start and the industrious Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso quickly began to set the tempo of the game, before Materazzi leveled with a header from an Andrea Pirlo corner. Through Pirlo's dead-ball delivery, the AC Milan midfield maestro whipped over a corner from the right and Materazzi thumped a header past Fabien Barthez.

Fabio Grosso scored the winning goal after France's David Trezeguet missed. The result caps an incredible period for Italian football, with the domestic game embroiled in a corruption scandal similar to 1982 when they last won the World Cup. They have now won the competition four times, one fewer than Brazil, and it was the first time they managed to win a World Cup match on penalties after three failed attempts. For a complete break-down of the game and Italian World Cup history see the link below:

The World Cup has a long and illustrious past. The players, coaches, fans, and countries that have participated over the years have shown a sporting event, much like the Olympics, that for a brief moment allows people across social-economic, ethnic, religious, and gender lines to unite. Political differences are set aside and pure athleticism is praised. It is sad the world must wait four years for its reoccurrence.

Statistics provided by the BBC:

Italy: Buffon, Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Materazzi, Grosso, Camoranesi (Del Piero 86), Pirlo, Gattuso, Perrotta (Iaquinta 61), Totti (De Rossi 61), Toni.Subs Not Used: Amelia, Barone, Barzagli, Gilardino, Inzaghi, Nesta, Oddo, Peruzzi, Zaccardo.
Booked: Zambrotta.
Goals: Materazzi 19.
France: Barthez, Sagnol, Thuram, Gallas, Abidal, Ribery (Trezeguet 100), Vieira (Diarra 56), Makelele, Zidane, Malouda, Henry (Wiltord 107).Subs Not Used: Boumsong, Chimbonda, Coupet, Dhorasoo, Givet, Govou, Landreau, Silvestre.
Sent Off: Zidane (110).
Booked: Sagnol, Diarra, Malouda.
Goals: Zidane 7 pen.
Italy win 5-3 on penalties.
Att: 69,000.
Ref: Horacio Marcelo Elizondo (Argentina).
Fifa man of the match: Andrea Pirlo

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Call For A Ceasefire

Israel has rejected a call by the head of the Hamas-led Palestinian government for a ceasefire to end several days of fierce fighting in the Gaza Strip. Ismail Haniya had said the only way out of the current crisis was for all parties to restore calm through a mutual cessation of hostilities. However, officials in the Israeli PM's office said there would be no truce until a captured Israeli soldier was free.

This is one of those moments when both sides are staring each other in the eye waiting for the other to blink. Israel has shown resolve in getting its soldier back and resolve in defending its citizens and borders against acts of terrorism. What it needs to show now, to the Palestinians, and to the world, is that it is humane too.

That means blinking, but the consequences are different than what is normally thought. By showing that after exertion, it can also show restraint, the ceasefire, and the follow-up action is actually up to Hamas. In essence, the “ball is in Hamas’s court” and since Hamas as a Party can not decide what to do and the Palestinian government is split on how to react, such an action by Israel should be reflected positively in the eyes of the media and the diplomats trying to free the soldier, supported by international pressure on Hamas.

Israel has dealt with act of violence before. It is hoped that with such sad experience comes maturity.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

State Courts Violate Human Dignity

This blog will be biased today. Advocates of gay marriage have lost court battles in two of the largest US states, New York and Georgia. New York's Court of Appeals ruled in a 4-2 decision that the state constitution does not grant a right to gay marriage, but left open the option for a change in the law. Governor Pataki, a Republican, said how satisfied he was at the highest court’s decision to uphold the position that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The New York case combined four different suits brought by more than 40 same-sex couples who had spent two years fighting their case through the New York courts.
Three judges ruled that the state constitution did not require New York to recognize same-sex marriages. A fourth judge concurred, according to the BBC, though she added that it may be time "for the Legislature to address the needs of same-sex couples and their families". This is too little too late in my opinion, similar to treating a child with a black eye for the eleventh time before mentioning such an assault to the authorities.

Georgia's Supreme Court decided its case on narrower grounds than New York's - where the plaintiffs claimed the ban on gay marriage was discriminatory. The Georgia case concerned whether the state ban on gay marriage was imposed properly when it was approved by more than three in four voters state-wide in 2004. A lower court ruled the ballot was improper, but the Supreme Court disagreed, thus reinstating the ban.

The New York decision Thursday said lawmakers have a legitimate interest in protecting children by limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. It also said the law does not deny homosexual couples any "fundamental right" since same-sex marriages are not "deeply rooted in the nation's history and tradition. There are many points of repute with this particular statement but two have been chosen here.

What does the Court say to the fundamental rights of dignity and sanctity?
Marriage, period, is, and has been without definition, what is deeply rooted in our nation’s history and tradition. Those who believe in equal rights need to see this issue for this very reason. Marriage is about love and commitment, yes, but by denying people the right to marry, their human dignity is violated.

Mexican Election Prt. 3

It was very close, but after a recount and six days after the official election, Felipe Calderon has been declared the winner in the Mexican presidential election. Leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who lost the Mexican presidential race by about 235,000 votes, vowed Thursday to fight on. He urged his supporters to protest the official result in Mexico City on Saturday. Lopez Obrador also says he will appeal to the Federal Electoral Tribunal, which announced Felipe Calderon the winner after a recount of ballot tally sheets.

There has been reports of voter fraud and considering the terrible history of Mexican elections there is more fact to this allegation than fiction. With this understanding, appealing to the Federal Electoral Tribunal is not a bad decision and Mr. Lopez Obrador should not be considered a sore loser for requesting it. The people, citizens, of Mexico deserve this.

However, if the FET decides not to grant the appeal or instead chooses to manually recount the votes, which would be a lengthy process, and still declare Mr. Calderon the president, Mr. Lopez Obrador should drop further disputes.

The simple fact is this: no matter who the winner is or was, the percentage of victory forces cooperation between the parties, which means that Mr. Calderon and Mr. Lopez Obrador will be seeing a lot more of each other. The one thing that is not for certain is the involvement of the United States. The U.S. has a tendency to become involved in Latin American politics, especially Mexican politics. Though the Bush Administration might publicly hope, privately pray for a Calderon win, this dispute can and should not be influenced by the U.S. in anyway.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Missile Misfire

Japan has called for "swift, strong" U.N. action in response to North Korea's missile tests, and U.S. chief U.S. negotiator, Christopher Hill, warned the tests would not give North Korea a better bargaining position over its nuclear program, which is the focus of stalled six-party talks involving the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia and the United States.
However, the tests did do one thing. It has created "unprecedented" international unity on the issue.

Stock markets around the world closed lower after the tests, while oil closed in New York Wednesday at a record high above $75 a barrel, which should was expected and across the way at the United Nations, Security Council members discussed a draft resolution proposed by Japan, backed by the United States and Britain, demanding countries cut off any money or materials that could be used for North Korea's missile program, diplomats said.

According to CNN, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said, "No member defended what the North Koreans had done." Japan's ambassador, Kenzo Oshima, said, "We hope the response from the council will be swift, strong and resolute."

An announcement on Pyongyang's Korean Central Broadcasting Station said North Korea's "strong war deterrent" had kept the country at peace and that it was prepared to respond to any moves by Washington, The Associated Press reported.
The broadcast did not mention the missile tests, but said, "Now, our military and people are fully prepared to cope with any provocation and challenge by U.S. imperialists.”

North Korea fired seven missiles Wednesday, one long-range and five shorter-range missiles beginning shortly after 3:30 a.m. (2:30 p.m. Tuesday ET) and a seventh missile around 5:20 p.m. (4:20 a.m. ET) Wednesday.

The missile causing the most concern, the Taepodong-2, which some analysts say is capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, was fired in the morning. It failed after about 40 seconds and landed in the sea about 200 miles (321 kilometers) west of Japan. The United States and Japan had urged Pyongyang to stick with the moratorium on long-range missile tests it declared in 1999, after it fired a Taepodong-1 missile over Japan in 1998.

Now, it is up to the diplomats. The six-party talks have stalled in recent months as North Korea has insisted on direct talks with Washington. Direct talks might be perceived by North Korea as being one of the “big boys around the table “ and in a small degree they are correct. However, sitting around the table with six nations is bigger, and actually gives Pyongyang more creditability. Let us hope North Korea understands this.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Fourth of July

Happy Fourth of July!

In prior holiday posts I have spoke on the issue of over-commercialism. Independence Day is no different. As we celebrate with fireworks, drinks and food, most American's have lost the historical guidepost that launched this celebration.

In the ever-changing, highly technological, and globalization world, American's nowadays speak in ambiguous terms on the meaning of liberty, freedom, and patriotism. The final term, in particular, the troublesome sibling to the often coined talkshow and governmental word, unpatriotic. With social issues, international issues, those who have disagreed loudly enough to be heard and/or noticed have been declared unpatriotic. This is hypocritical to the fundamental cause that gentlemen from Massachusetts and Virginia, New York, Maine, Georgia , and South Carolina faced in the heat of July in 1776.

Dissent is Patriotic. It is not only a bumper sticker but an action rooted in this nation's founding. Something our politicians have forgotten and our newsmedia more often than not refuse to do.

Remember this and remember too that the freedoms we have taken for granted, have been paid in blood by countless generations of families and soldiers. Remember them and honor them as you raise your glass today and watch the fireworks.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Gettysburg July 3rd

The last day of battle. Pickett's Charge. Historians and Civil War enthusiasts have hotly debated this last day, the decisions that were made by Lee in the early morning hours, and the actual charge by Pickett's Division. A recent book, Lost Triumph: Lee's Real Plan at Gettysburg--And Why It Failed by Tom Carhart, postulates that the attack upon the Union center was part of a coordinated, three-pronged attack. The plan included a frontal assault against the Union right on Culp's Hill and, most critically, a rear assault on Union lines led by Jeb Stuart's cavalry. Of course, both of these attacks failed, dooming the third prong. In this reinterpretation, the real "hero" of Gettysburg was the oft-maligned "boy general" George Armstrong Custer, who thwarted Stuart with repeated gallant charges. You may find the book at the link below:

The final day at Gettysburg has morphed from historical fact into part legend and part folklore. It was indeed the highwater mark for the Confederacy and for the Union Army in the East a sorely needed battlefield morale boost--though at a horrible price of human life.

Here is the timeline:

Friday, July 3, about 3:45 A.M. - Lee's timetable was undermined as Union cannons pounded the Rebels holding a lodgement at the lower end of Culp's Hill to drive them from the trenches. The Rebels did not withdraw, but instead attacked the Federals around 8 A.M. Thus began a vicious three hour struggle with the Rebels charging time after time up the hill only to be beaten back. The Federals finally counter attacked and drove the Rebels off the hill and east across Rock Creek. Around 11 A.M. the fighting on Culp's Hill stopped.

Throughout the morning and early afternoon amid 90° heat and stifling humidity the Rebels moved into position in the woods opposite Cemetery Ridge for the coming charge. Some Union troops were moved away from Cemetery Ridge on Meade's orders because he thought Lee would attack again in the south. At the conference the night before, Meade had correctly predicted Lee would attack the center, but now thought otherwise. He had left only 5,700 infantrymen stretched out along the half-mile front to initially face the 12,500 man Rebel charge centered on the fresh troops of General George Pickett's Virginians.

1:07 P.M. - 140 Confederate cannons -- the greatest concentration of artillery ever assembled for one purpose in North America -- opened fire on the Union position at the center of Cemetery Ridge. It was "indescribably grand. All the batteries were soon covered with smoke, through which the flames were incessant, whilst the air seemed filled with shells, whose sharp exlosions, with the hurtling of their fragments, formed a running accompaniment to the deep roar of the guns." On the recieving end, it was "the most infernal pandemonium it has ever been my fortune to look upon." Amid all this, Union General Hancock, his orderly displaying the Corps guidon, slowly rode the full length of the line under the hail of shells. His men cheered him lustily from behind whatever cover they had found.

Around 2:45 P.M. the Federal artillery slowed their return fire, then ceased, to conserve ammunition and to fool the Rebels into thinking the cannons were knocked out. The ruse worked. 3:00 P.M. - "Up,men, and to your posts! Don't forget today that you are from Old Virginia!" yelled Pickett as the Rebels formed an orderly line that stretched a mile from flank to flank. In deliberate silence and with military pageantry, they slowly headed toward the Union Army a mile away on Cemetery Ridge. Within minutes, the Federal artillery was back in action, tearing great gaps in the Confederate line. The Rebels advanced at about a hundred yards a minute and, as they got within closer range, Federal cannons switched to using grapeshot, a shell containing iron balls that flew apart when fired. The Federal Infantry ripped into the Rebels with deadly accurate rifle volleys killing many and wounding more.The fierce battle raged for an hour with much brutal hand to hand fighting, shooting at close range and stabbing with bayonets.

For a brief moment, the Rebels nearly had their chosen objective, a small clump of oak trees atop Cemetery Ridge. Some of the attackers had made a small penetration there and just to the south, a Mississippi regiment managed to take it's colors to within arms reach of the Union line. A North Carolina sergeant and color-bearer actually stepped over the wall -- the only two of that entire regiment to make it that far. But Union reinforcements and regrouped Union infantry units swarmed in and opened fire on the Rebel ranks.

4:00 P.M. - The battered, outnumbered Rebels finally began to give way and this great human wave that had been Pickett's Charge began to recede, leaving 7,500 men lying on the field of battle. The Union troops chanted "Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg" in a taunt reminding the Confederates of the failed Federal charge at Fredericksburg, VA the previous winter. As the tattered survivors reached the Confederate line Lee rode out to meet them. He took all the blame for the failed attack and rallied and reassured them. "All this has been my fault. It is I who have lost this fight, and you must help me out the best way you can."

Saturday, July 4 - Confederate wounded were loaded aboard wagons to begin the journey back toward the South in a long slow withdrawal of the army back to Virginia. Union commander Meade, out of fatigue and caution, did not immediately pursue Lee.

July 10 - Meade pins Lee in his defensive works along the crossing point on the rain-swollen Potomac, but does not immediately attack him. By July 14, the Army of Northern Virginia is back across the river. Meade crossed on July 17 - 19.

August 4 - Both armies are back at the original starting point where the campaign had begun sixty days before.

November 19 - President Lincoln went to the battlefield to dedicate it as a military cemetery. Confederate causalities in dead, wounded and missing were 28,000 out of 75,000. Union casualties were 23,000 out of 88,000. It was the most costly battle ever fought in the United States. For the remainder of the war the South will not have the strength to mount another offensive into the North.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Too Close to Call in Mexican Presidential Election

The attached link explains the current situation better than I possible could.

Though I expected this, I am still a bit awed, and worried.

Gettysburg July 2nd

I have always thought that the second day of the battle was the most significant. Though most historians look to the third day, and try to answer the daunting question why Confederate General Lee ordered General Longstreet's division under General Pickett to attack the Union center, I would rather look to the second day. It is not because of the famous 20th Maine and its stand on Little Round Top, though to be sure this was very important. Rather, I look to that second day, as the maturing of the Union officer corps. It is most unfortunate (this happened in many wars in the nineteenth century) that the Union Army suffered two years under inadeqate leadership. I single out no individual general, this is only a broad statement, but it underlines the fact that by the summer of 1863, the soldiers of the Union Army, fighting in the east, primarily in Virginia, had had enough.

Gettysburg was the battle that saw tactical minds, now in higher leadership positions, affect change. Iniative, a word needed and wished by Union soldier and President Lincoln alike since the start of the war; an action that Southern soldiers had not lacked, finally settle among the Union officer corps. Like Generals Buford and Reynolds on July 1st, General Sickles and Colonels Vance and Chamberlain took the iniative, defined the fight on that second day and wrote their name into the legend books. In short, if the Union Army's commanding generals did not wish to seize the iniative, Union soldiers: privates to Colonels decided they would. Thus, on that second day of battle, the Confederate Army witnessed first hand, the advent of their battlefield equal.

Here is the timeline:

Thursday, July 2 - 1 A.M. - Meade and his staff ride through the moonlit night the twelve miles to Gettysburg, arriving at 3 A.M. just as Lee, across the way, is rising from a three hour nap and having breakfast in the dark.
9 A. M. - Lee has worked out the overall plan for the attack that day. Gen. Longstreet was ordered by Lee to attack at the left of the Union line. Meanwhile Ewell was to threaten the other end of the line on Culp's Hill. But, when Lee returned to headquarters at 11 A.M. Longstreet had still not moved into position. Lee ordered him to move forward but Longstreet was too slow in getting his troops into position and didn't attack until 4 p.m. giving the Union Army even more time to strengthen its position.
3:00 P.M. - Union General Sickles advances his Corps a half a mile or more in front of the main line into the Peach Orchard and smack in the line of Longstreet's attack. Some of the most bitter fighting of the Civil War now erupted at places that are part of American military folklore -- the Peach Orchard, Devil's Den, the Wheat Field and Little Round Top.
J.E.B. Stuart at long last reports to Lee. "General Stuart, where have you been?" Lee asked. "I have not heard a word from you in days, and you are the eyes and ears of my army."
4:00 P.M. - Just as Longstreet's attack finally gets underway an officer on Meade's staff inspects Little Round Top. Meade at last orders Union troops to the unoccupied hill. A brigade of Sykes Corps, including 20th Maine, arrive on the heights barely fifteen minutes before the Texans and Alabamians came howling up the slope. The fighting was especially heavy on the far left of the line where the 20th Maine, under a former minister and college professor Joshua Chamberlain, opposed the 15th Alabama. Under no less than five charges "the edge of the fight swayed back and forward like a wave." Losses were heavy on both sides, particularly among Federal officers. One recalled later that "The blood stood in puddles in some places on the rocks." Finally, exausted and nearly out of amunition, Chamberlain led his men in a bayonet attack that drove the Confederates from the hill.
7:00 P.M. - General Ewell attacked the Union line from the north and east at Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill. Since Meade had been shifting units to meet the threat on the left and center, Ewell's attack had a chance for success. Despite fierce fighting at close range, the final Confederate attack of that second day was repulsed as the battlefield slipped into the uneasy quiet of darkness. The Federals had lost some ground during the Rebel onslaughts but still held a strong defensive position along Cemetery Ridge.10:30 P.M. - As the day's fighting came to an end Lee decided to gamble to win the Battle of Gettysburg and in effect win the Civil War. He would attack the next day at the center of the Union line along Cemetery Ridge where it would be least expected. Lee thought the battered Union soldiers were nearly beaten and would collapse under one final push. His plan for tomorrow completed, Lee finally retired for some sleep at midnight. At the same time Meade's council of war with his Corps commanders was breaking up. The Federals would fight it out where they stood.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Gettysburg July 1st

At certain moments during the days of July 1st—July 3rd every year, I find myself in a trance. As a historian and Civil War buff I cannot help but think to the Battle of Gettysburg fought over the course of three days in the Pennsylvania countryside. As a child I went to re-enactments and was enthralled with the idea that men and boys would dress in period clothing and fight such historic battles. As I grew older, my most memorable family trip was driving South to visit family in Georgia and Florida, stopping at Civil War battlefields such as Stone’s River and Chickamauga and Chattanooga along the way.

For readers who are Civil War enthusiasts, I hope this post is gladly accepted. To those readers not acquainted with the American Civil War and what you know of Gettysburg is only the Address that President Lincoln gave there in November of 1863, and we all had to memorize in school, I ask, humbly, for your indulgence.

Below is a small timeline of the day’s unfolding events. What is interesting to note, and not often mentioned, is the fact that Gettysburg was not Confederate General Lee’s intended target. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital was. Also, Confederate General Pettigrew’s men went into Gettysburg to find rumored shoes.

The timeline:

Union General Buford is recorded as making a dire prediction there as he peered eastward toward the rolling hills in the direction of Gettysburg, where he was ordered to march to scout the enemy: "Within forty-eight hours a great battle will take place on a field within view."

A Union cavalry squadron spotted the advance guard of Brig. Gen. Johnston Pettigrew's Confederate infantry brigade to the west on the Cashtown Pike. Buford's elaborate network of videttes covered all roads leading to Gettysburg from the west, north and east, serving as an early warning system of any approach by the Rebels. It soon worked for Heth's Confederate division leading the march of A.P. Hill's Third Corps toward Gettysburg from Cashtown was observed.

Wednesday, July 1 - 8 A.M. - Two divisions of Confederates headed back to Gettysburg. They run into Buford's Federal cavalry west of the town at Willoughby Run and the skirmish began. Events would quickly escalate. Lee rushed 25,000 men to the scene. The Union had less than 20,000. Reynold's Federal I Corps begins to arrive at 10 A.M., just in the nick of time. Directing his men into battle, Reynolds is killed by a rebel sniper.

July 1 - 2:30 P.M. - Lee arrives on the battlefield just in time to witness his converging units drive the Federals to the rear. The Federals were pushed back through Gettysburg and regrouped south of the town along the high ground near the cemetery.

At 4:30 P.M. Lee ordered Confederate General R.S. Ewell to seize the high ground from the battle weary Federals but Ewell hesitated to attack. The Union troops have a chance to dig in along Cemetery Ridge and bring in more reinforcements and their artillery. 4:00 P.M. - Hancock arrives at the battlefield to assume command of I Corps. He orders the fortification of the line from Culp's Hill through Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top. Little Round Top is not occupied in any strength however -- only some signal men are on the hill for most of the next day. There are too few Union soldiers on the battlefield and they are exausted from the first day's fighting -- but more are arriving every hour.

5:30 P.M. - Confederate General James Longstreet argues that Lee should move east between the Union Army and Washington and build a defensive position. Lee overrules him. "No," he said. "The enemy is there, and I'm going to attack him there.... They are there in position, and I am going to whip them or they are going to whip me. "

9:30 P.M - Meade orders all Union forces to converge on Gettysburg -- Seven corps in all, more than 80,000 troops.

Mexican Election Prt. 2

A rally held in the middle of the Zocalo, Mexico City’s central square, seems to announce the inevitable. Mr. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the city’s former mayor, will win the Mexican Presidential election. As the report in The Economist, “The square, one the world’s largest, is filled with his supporters attending his last campaign rally. His image is everywhere, in picture and caricature. The crowd seems to be unstoppable.”

Mr. Obrador’s principal opponent, Felipe Calderón, also drew tens of thousands to his last rally in Mexico City, held at a sports stadium, but Mr. López Obrador who held the slightest lead in the last polls to be published, more than a week before the election. And running under an alliance of left-wing parties, pre-eminent among them the centre-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Mr López Obrador has led in the polls for nearly three years, until a few months before the election.

Mr. Calderón ran a dogged campaign, coming from behind to establish himself as Mr. López Obrador’s main challenger. And he made it clear that he was the “candidate of jobs”. Since, the main battleground in this election has been the economy, it was smart thing to do. Mexicans broadly agree on social issues and public security. But divisions exist on how to make the country less poor and, in particular, on how to raise the standard of living of the lower and middle classes. This has reprecussions across the border, here in the US, as immigration is an issue in the fall Congressional elections, though interesting enough, or maybe not, the Mexican election has received little commentary in the American media. This is a shame, the issues, how they are addressed, and programs implemented will affect US policy as well.

Mr. López Obrador has tried gain popularity with a promise of “putting the poor first,” specifically wanting to cut government salaries which, for top officials are among the highest in the world, and attack the privileges of the few who benefit from what he calls a corrupt system. Mr. Obrador also has proposed instituting broad-based pensions, though he has not been specific on its implementation. He has spouted catchphrases about “turning inward”, suggesting that “the best foreign policy is a good domestic policy,” which is good nationalism though with either party in a majority, the Mexican Congress will likely to be divided roughly into thirds between PAN, PRD and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) meaning any program will be difficult to pass.
Though, technically, both Mr. López Obrador and Mr. Calderón are in a statestical tie, and I have fancied a mirror US 2000 election tie pitting López Obrador v. Calderón in the Mexican courts, I am sure this will not happen. Prediction: López Obrador by 2 points.