August 26, 2008
Michelle Obama may have wowed her fellow Democrats with her poised and impassioned speech to the Democratic National Convention on Monday night.
But she left much to be done in what has become the central obstacle to Barack Obama’s winning the presidency: reassuring the country that she and her family understand ordinary Americans.
The first task for Mrs Obama was to shed a reputation for acerbity and bitterness which has clung to her since the early months of the year.
Michelle Obama, wife of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama
She has yet to live down her remark that her husband’s campaign marked the first time in her adult life when she was ‘proud of my country’.
Critics have labelled her yet another haughty liberal, ungrateful for her opportunities and dismissive of anyone who disagrees with her.
If she could only be proud of America when her husband was vying for the Presidency, did she really deserve to be First Lady?
Hence the theme of her speech: A profound love of family and country. She spoke of growing up poor in Chicago and watching her father, who spent 30 years working for the city’s water treatment plant, stoically coping with MS.
She said she shared an understanding of the American dream with ‘people who work the day shift, kiss their kids goodnight, and head out for the night shift’. She was tearful as she spoke of how she and her husband were driven by ‘a simple belief that the world as it is just won’t do’.
Her message of triumph against the odds and her smooth delivery was worthy of the Obamas’ close friend and supporter Oprah Winfrey.
Michelle with daughters Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10 at the Democratic Convention
But what was left out was just as telling: Any mention by name of the universities she attended, Princeton and Harvard, and her highly paid career as a corporate lawyer.
The last thing the Obama campaign wants is for the couple to come across as ‘Clinton Lite’, another over-educated pair of liberal lawyers planning to run the White House as a team. Last night’s speech was part of a broader strategy to counter the perception that Obama is an elitist.
During the primary race against Hillary Clinton, Obama struggled to win over blue-collar and middleclass white voters. His Kenyan father, his upbringing by a single mother in Hawaii and his Ivy-League education seemed odd to voters who prefer a more conventional story for their politicians. John McCain’s war hero-turned-politician was instantly recognisable.
Michelle Obama’s speech, which rooted her in the black working-class of Chicago, was intended to anchor her husband in a tale of hard work, honesty and upward mobility through education.
Chat show host Oprah Winfrey is a supporter of Barack Obama
When Barack appeared on a large video screen at the end of the speech, he was sitting with a white family in that whitest of places, Kansas City, Missouri.
He has given up the stadium speeches which marked his primary campaign. He tells voters how he and his wife struggled to pay off their student loans and fretted about childcare.
It is an attempt to make a distinction between the self-made Obamas and Republican candidate John McCain, and his wife who inherited a large fortune.
Last week’s poll by U.S.A Today newspaper found 52 per cent of voters believed the candidates’ spouses were important in deciding who to vote for. In a tight contest the performance of Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain will be critical.
For a candidate who remains as mysterious as Obama, Michelle’s role will be vital. Hence the effort which has gone into softening her image - appearing on magazine covers, and discussing everything from shopping for toilet paper to raising her daughters Malia, ten, and Sasha, seven.
It is a maddening fact for Democrats that true American aristocrat President Bush managed to appear down-to-earth in his two election campaigns.
Yet the Obamas, a black couple who did genuinely work their way up the system, are struggling to rid themselves of the elitist tag.
Michelle did some sterling work at the convention, but the Obamas’ challenge remains a huge one.
The Democratic party will whip up some euphoria in Denver this week. But a dark cloud of anxiety hovers over the party convention.
A horrible truth is beginning to dawn on the Democrats. Barack Obama is not the “once in a generation” political genius they thought they had discovered. On the contrary, he is a weak candidate for the presidency.
With a feeble economy, an unpopular war and the Republicans in disarray, the Democrats should win the presidential election in a canter. But Mr Obama, the Democratic nominee, is neck and neck with John McCain, his Republican rival. For sure, Mr Obama has some real assets – intelligence, grace, good looks, star quality. But history suggests that he is a very risky candidate.
Since 1968, the Democrats have won just three out of 10 presidential races. Their two successful candidates – Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton – were both white, centrist governors from the southern US. Whenever the Democrats nominated a liberal from outside the South – George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry – they lost.
Mr Obama is a northerner. He is a liberal. He is a former college professor. And he is black. A bold choice, under the circumstances.
Mr Obama’s unusual personal history – the son of a black Kenyan and a white American, brought up partly in Indonesia – allowed him to write a fascinating, introspective autobiography, Dreams from My Father. But his life story may seem a little exotic to most American voters. Mr McCain’s early life could easily be made into a Hollywood movie.Mr Obama’s youth is more of an off-Broadway play.
Mr McCain can tell tales of heroism as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Mr Obama was a student at elite universities on a voyage of self-discovery. He writes: “To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists … We discussed neo-colonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism and patriarchy.” Even allowing for the self-mocking tone, this is not exactly mainstream America.
It is clear that Mr Obama lacks experience. But that, in itself, need not be a bar to the White House. The same was true of other Democrats who won the presidency – John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton.
Race, however, is a bigger problem. So far, the fact that Mr Obama is an African-American may actually have helped him. As Shelby Steele, an academic, writes: “When you can credibly run for the presidency only two years out of the Illinois state legislature … then something in the society is drawing you forward.”
But Democratic primaries – with a high proportion of black and white liberal voters – are one thing. A general election is quite another matter. And notoriously, even in the Democratic contest, Mr Obama struggled to pick up the votes of the white working class in key states such as Pennsylvania. A recent New York Times poll hinted at just how high a barrier Mr Obama may have to hurdle. Whilst only 5 per cent of American voters said they would not vote for a black candidate, 27 per cent said they thought the US was not yet ready for a black president.
Mr Obama has campaigned as a candidate who happens to be black, rather than as a black candidate. In doing so, he has offered white voters the reassurance that he is not one of those African-Americans who talks endlessly about race and tries to make them feel bad. On the contrary, voting for Mr Obama can make you feel good about yourself and about race relations in America.
So there was a certain, cynical brilliance in the McCain campaign’s accusation that it is Mr Obama who is “playing the race card”. This challenged the idea that Mr Obama is a “post-racial” candidate – and it played to white resentments about what some regard as special treatment for black people. The New York Times poll showed that 26 per cent of American whites believe they have been the victim of discrimination.
The special sensitivity of the racial issue places the Obama campaign in a dilemma when it comes to responding to attacks. It is conventional wisdom among Democrats that previous candidates – in particular, Mr Dukakis and Mr Kerry – lost because they were too slow to respond to negative campaigning by the Republicans.
But if the Obama campaign suspects the Republicans of appealing to racism, they will have to think twice about levelling the accusation. Any such charge will be leapt upon by a controversy-hungry media – placing race at the centre of the election campaign. And that can only help the McCain campaign.
Of course, Mr McCain has his own vulnerabilities. He is about to turn 72 – and some opinion polls suggest that voters are even more reluctant to vote for a pensioner than they are to vote for a black person. His inability to remember how many houses he owns suggests that he is either extraordinarily rich or slightly senile – neither idea is helpful to his cause.
The structural factors that the Democrats think favour them this year certainly exist. Americans are in a morose mood about the economy and the country in general. The unpopularity of President George W. Bush will act as a drag on Republicans. Mr Obama has raised an awful lot of money, run a skilful campaign that beat the formidable Clinton machine and has an army of highly enthusiastic supporters.
But he is still a very vulnerable candidate. Can he lose? Yes he can.
August 26, 2008
A former student from Iran was sentenced to up to 33 years in prison for plowing his sport utility vehicle into a crowd at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in a self-professed bid to avenge Muslim deaths overseas.
Mohammed Taheri-Azar, 25, pleaded guilty earlier this month to nine counts of attempted murder for the March 2006 attack at a popular outdoor gathering spot known as The Pit.
One person had a head injury and several were cut and bruised from jumping out of the SUV’s path, but no one stayed in the hospital overnight, Orange County District Attorney James Woodall said.
Taheri-Azar is a naturalised citizen from Iran who grew up near Charlotte and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill.
Victim Karen Harman said in court on Tuesday that when she saw a Jeep coming toward her, she assumed it was headed to The Pit to do work.
“But the driver hit the gas, and I mean, he hit the gas. In the next instant, I was on the ground, clutching my knee in pain,” she said.
The original charges were consolidated into two counts of attempted murder for sentencing purposes. Taheri-Azar was sentenced to between 13 and 16 years in prison on each count.
The guilty plea comes after a tumultuous court process. Taheri-Azar initially tried to represent himself, then tried to fire his lawyer. After an outburst in court in 2007, a judge ordered a mental evaluation.
Authorities said Taheri-Azar was travelling between 16-48kph when he drove onto campus and through The Pit.
Afterward, he waited in his vehicle for police for about 15 minutes and told them he was the man they were looking for. Police found a letter in his apartment that he had written them because he thought he would be killed during the attack.
The letter said he wanted revenge for the deaths of Muslims overseas that he said were caused by the US He has said he rented a Jeep Cherokee because it was better equipped for what he planned to do.
August 26, 2008
Yesterday in Denver, the Democrats kicked off their 45th national convention, where Senator Barack Obama will officially become the party’s presidential nominee. When it comes time for Mr. Obama to deliver his acceptance speech before 70,000 people at Invesco Field on Thursday, he will have the challenge — and it is certainly no small one– of seeming to be two things at once: the overwhelming enthusiastic choice of a united party and someone with depth and substance–not just a celebrity with a huge, unthinking following.
On one hand, Mr. Obama must show that, after a bitter primary battle, he has brought Hillary Clinton’s supporters around to his cause. On the other hand, speaking in a football stadium filled to capacity with cheering fans won’t make it easy for him to rebut the criticisms coming from Republican John McCain’s camp (not to mention right-wing commentators, such as Rush Limbaugh) that he is an empty messiah figure, good at generating adulation but not ready to lead the country.
Is there a solution? On some levels, Mr. Obama’s choice of Senator Joe Biden as a running mate may help. If you happen to believe that Mr. Obama is more style than substance — and this, thanks to Mr. McCain’s TV ad, is a notion that seems to have struck a chord with Americans — then you will probably be comforted by the idea of having a veteran pol like Mr. Biden on side. If you believe that Ms. Clinton should have been the nominee, you were probably not going to be swayed by Mr. Obama’s choice of anyone but the former first lady anyway.
Things are far from settled for Mr. Obama. Even if he can pull off a delicate balancing act this week (and avoid being dragged down by bitter Clinton supporters), he’s going to have to convince Americans that they can trust him to see them through the United State’s growing foreign policy and economic problems. His wishy-washy reaction to Russia’s military incursion in to Georgia did not serve him well in that regard, underscoring instead the reality-deprived nature of most of his solutions. Mr. McCain, in contrast, came across as hard-nosed and pragmatic.
On the economic front, Mr. Obama has been confusing: waffling on free trade and sounding like a protectionist one day and David Ricardo the next. Even though Mr. McCain has admitted he “doesn’t really understand economics,” he has at least been more decisive than his opponent, consistently favouring free trade (though many Republicans will never forgive him for voting against President George W. Bush’s tax cuts).
On the whole, the Democrats’ “saviour” is running just slightly ahead of Mr. McCain in what should, by most accounts, have been a cakewalk for the Democrats. Unless Mr. Obama can address these problems in the next several days, people who thought winning the 2008 election would be child’s play for the Democratic Party will be in for a surprise.
August 26, 2008
That didn’t take long.
News flash: the Democrats will not be wasting any time at their Denver Convention apologizing for slavery — or segregation either. They aren’t even ashamed enough to apologize for giving a double thumbs-up to lynching African-Americans.
Tennessee Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen, the sponsor of the recently passed House Resolution that voiced an apology for slavery and segregation on behalf of the U.S. government, says he will not be pushing for an apology on any of these issues from his fellow Democrats. He labeled the idea a “red herring.”
On a recent appearance on the Comcast Network’s “It’s Your Call with Lynn Doyle” (shown on CN8) with, among others, your humble correspondent, Congressman Cohen was going on with great delight about the kumbaya-ness of his recently passed House Resolution. A voice vote. Democrats and Republicans together. Just wonderful, don’t ya know? Until, that is, I pointed out to the considerable television audience that the terrible things cited in his resolution were relentlessly championed for almost two centuries by his own political party. Cohen lists them specifically in his Resolution as follows: “racism, lynchings, disenfranchisement, Black Codes, and racial segregation laws that imposed a rigid system of officially sanctioned racial segregation in virtually all areas of life.”
Well, now. That’s a pretty good list of evil to accuse someone of when asking for an apology. And I had used the word “evil” in my opening remarks with what I assumed was the Congressman’s agreement. So, I did the obvious, wondering aloud whether Cohen had any plans to get a similar apology from his fellow Democrats since it was they who were in fact responsible for the racist history he listed.
With the Congressman in his Memphis district and myself in a Philadelphia studio, the Congressman broke into the discussion the moment we returned from a commercial break to challenge me indignantly. The very idea of asking Democrats to apologize for their support for slavery and segregation and, well, all the rest he had personally cited in his House Resolution, was now a “red herring.” Worse, he said when the point was picked up by another guest, Horace Cooper of the conservative American Civil Rights Union, to demand any sort of apology from the people who did these things was a “rabbit trail.” In other words, a request for Democrats to apologize for their considerably racist history would go nowhere.
Would the Democrats be considering an apology at their Denver Convention, I asked sweetly? I brought up the fact that the Democratic National Committee had eliminated from the “Party History” section of their website 52 years worth of history from 1848 until the beginning of the 20th century. The site, presided over by and prominently featuring DNC Chairman Howard Dean, deliberately skips over no-big deal moments like the Civil War and the Democrats’ opposition to such small things as the 13th Amendment to the Constitution banning slavery. It also skips mention of the opposition by Democrats to the 14th and 15th Amendments overriding the Dred Scott decision to provide both legal and voting rights for black Americans. There is nary a whisper of the fact that Democrats opposed the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875, legislation that was actually enacted but effectively eviscerated by Democrats until re-enacted in 1964 and 1965 — a hundred years later. I also pointed out to Congressman Cohen that the Democrats had spent 165 years from the party founding in 1800 to about 1965 benefiting politically, socially and financially from support for both slavery and segregation, establishing Jim Crow laws and refusing to support anti-lynching legislation. Wasn’t all of this worthy of a formal apology from the Democrats on the eve of nominating the first African-American in history for the presidency?
Congressman Cohen was not a happy camper. As mentioned, at the very beginning of the show he had seemed to agree with me that slavery was “evil” and “a crime against humanity.” But the man who personally wrote an entire House Resolution word for word insisting it was important that: “Whereas the story of the enslavement and de jure segregation of African-Americans and the dehumanizing atrocities committed against them should not be purged from or minimized in the telling of American history” — that man disappeared right on live television. Congressman Cohen was suddenly seized with a need to purge and minimize his own party’s very distinctive, very lengthy, unbelievably violent and deeply disturbing history when it came to the accurate telling of American history.
As to his Resolution’s pledge that, “Whereas an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot erase the past, but confession of the wrongs committed can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help Americans confront the ghosts of their past,” Congressman Cohen was suddenly in no mood whatsoever for any kind of on-the record confession leading to racial healing in the Democratic platform, much less an apology from his party of racial culprits. Stung by the realization his resolution was backfiring on his own party, on live TV no less, out came the spluttering talk of a “red herring” and a “rabbit trail.” He also responded by heatedly (if wrongly) asserting that Alabama Governor George Wallace, a Democrat, was a Republican.
Cohen’s on-air refusal to insist on a formal apology from the Denver Democrats (or any other Democrats anywhere) is, this week of Barack Obama’s nomination, not simply one more TV soundbite. It goes straight to the heart of the way Democrats — or as I call them “the Party of Race” — will be dealing with the race issue this fall — and beyond.
Once again, let me recommend my former Reagan colleague Bruce Bartlett’s outstanding chronology of the Democrats’ historical behavior on racial issues, Wrong On Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past. It is a great primer on both the history and psychology behind the Democrats for those who, were they just listening to Congressman Cohen, would think that the history of race in American politics began with the 1960s. Since the Congressman himself appears to think this, I personally recommend Mr. Bartlett’s book to him.
HERE’S WHY COHEN’S refusal to have the Democrats formally apologize for their unbelievably vivid history of racial hatred is important. It simply is not possible to spend almost 200 years playing the worst kind of race-baiting politics — enthusiastically issuing official party pronouncements supporting slavery, making segregation the norm in everyday American life and benefiting, as mentioned, politically, socially and financially from the fact — and not adapt the politics of race as a permanent feature of the party’s political psychology.
Playing the race card, as we say these days, is at the very core of the modern Democrats and the way they address any number of issues. They do it all day, every day — playing off blacks against whites, whites against blacks, blacks against Asians, Latinos against whites and blacks and on and on in every conceivable combination. Here are but a few examples from just this year of how the Party of Race employs its inheritance of racial politics:
* January 26 — Former President Bill Clinton, campaigning in South Carolina for wife Hillary, dismisses an impending Obama win in the South Carolina Democratic primary by playing the race card and implying that Obama is nothing more than a black candidate with no mainstream support. The Clinton quote: “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in ’84 and ’88…. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here.”
* March 13 — The remarks of Obama pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, begin to surface. They include (but famously are not limited to) a reference to America as “white America, the U.S. of KKKA,” mocks Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as racial sellouts, calling them “Clarence Colon” and “Con-damn-nesia.”
* June 15 — The New York Post reports exclusively that the Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network charity (NAN) is being investigated by the Brooklyn US Attorney’s office. The story says Sharpton, a past candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, is accused of threatening CEOs of some 50 companies with negative racial publicity or consumer boycotts if they do not hire him as a consultant on race relations or write checks to NAN. The Post says Anheuser-Busch has made a “six-figure” contribution to Sharpton, Colgate-Palmolive has given $50,000, and “Macy’s and Pfizer have contributed thousands” to Sharpton’s charity.
* June 20 — Senator Barack Obama invokes both racism and sexism as he campaigns, saying of Republicans: “We know what kind of campaign they’re going to run. They’re going to try to make you afraid,” Obama said at the fundraiser. “They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black? He’s got a feisty wife.”
* July 13 — A federal government investigation of Princeton University is revealed.
Reason? An allegation that Princeton University (not run by any known outlaw clique of on-the-record conservative Republicans) discriminates against Asian-American applicants by accepting black and Hispanic students with lower entrance scores. Princeton officials deny the charge.
* July 16– Fox News reveals that the Reverend Jesse Jackson is caught on videotape whispering to a fellow TV guest that “Barack…he’s talking down to black people…telling n—–s how to behave.” All of America watches as Jackson also says he wants to cut Obama’s “nuts” off, making a quick cutting motion with his right hand. Jackson had previously called for a boycott of a newly released DVD of the Seinfeld TV shows in response to Seinfeld cast member Michael Richards’ use of the “N-word” in a comedy routine.
* July 31 — Senator Barack Obama says Republicans will campaign against him by saying he “”doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.”
* August 15 – “If you look at folks of color, even women, they’re more successful in the Democratic Party than they are in the white, uh, excuse me, in the Republican Party…” said DNC Chairman Howard Dean in an interview on NPR. A DNC spokesperson later said Dean “misspoke.”
* October , 2005 — This one goes back to the post-Katrina days in New Orleans. The speaker is the Democratic Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin. He was addressing the fears of local black contractors: “I can plainly see in your eyes that you want to know, ‘How do I take advantage of this incredible opportunity?’ How do I make sure New Orleans is not overrun with Mexicans?”
* Last, but certainly not least, is the rejection of Congressman Cohen himself, the only white man in the House who represents a majority black district, by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). In the words of Caucus member Congressman William Lacy Clay, a black Missouri Democrat: “Quite simply, Rep. Cohen will have to accept what the rest of the country will have to accept — there has been an unofficial Congressional White Caucus for over 200 years, and now it’s our turn to say who can join ‘the club.’ He does not, and cannot, meet the membership criteria, unless he can change his skin color. Primarily, we are concerned with the needs and concerns of the black population, and we will not allow white America to infringe on those objectives.”
If you like your racism straight up, Bull Connor, that sterling member of both the Ku Klux Klan and the Democratic National Committee, could not have said it better than Congressman Clay to Congressman Cohen. It is Connor, of course, who is infamous in history for turning police dogs and fire hoses on civil rights protesters in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was not only a leading Democrat but the Public Safety Commissioner. Interestingly, Mr. Cooper of the ACRU brought up this issue of being barred from the CBC to Cohen on air during the Doyle show. Cohen fell silent and chose not to respond.
THE HARD FACT of political life in America is — and if Congressman Cohen and his party get their way it will apparently always be — that Democrats cannot help themselves when it comes to playing the race card. They have played it every day of their party’s existence. It could be 1808 or 1908 or 2008. It could be the deepest parts of Alabama or the middle of Harlem. The topic could be Mexicans getting contracts to rebuild New Orleans or a white membership in the Black Caucus. It can surface with Jesse Jackson as he waits for a television interview, Al Sharpton as he allegedly shakes down major corporations, or Barack Obama as he works the presidential campaign trail. In every and all instances the bottom line for Democrats is always the same: race, race and race again. How to make it pay off financially, how to gain from it politically, how to scare with it or how to ruin someone’s career with it.
Congressman Cohen calls the idea of an apology for all of this kind of thing a “red herring.” What is a “red herring”? It’s Democrat-speak for having absolutely no intention of officially apologizing for slavery, segregation, lynching or their addiction to race-baiting politics. It is also the Democrats’ way of seeing to it that America never reaches the goal of Dr. Martin Luther King, a color-blind America where Americans are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Ever.
As always, they have too much to gain.
August 26, 2008
Birds do it, bees do it, and so, apparently, do . . . cows?
No, it’s not that. We’re talking about sensing the Earth’s magnetic field. Asked whether he had ever observed such behavior in cows, dairy farmer Rob Fletcher of Tulare, Calif., said, “Absolutely not.” But, he added, “I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about stuff like that.”
Similar results were found in field studies of 2,974 red and roe deer in the Czech Republic, the researchers reported today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers had been studying magnetism in smaller animals and were looking for a way to extend their work to larger species.
Cows are known to align their bodies facing uphill, facing into a strong wind to minimize heat loss or broadside to the sun on cold mornings to absorb heat, but the fact that the pictures were taken at many locations, at different times of day and in generally calm weather minimized the effect of environmental factors, the researchers said.
Researchers have long known that certain bacteria, birds, fish, whales and even rodents have minute organs in their brains containing particles of magnetite that can act like a compass.
But the new results are the first hint that larger land-based mammals may also have such organs, said biologist Kenneth J. Lohmann of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who was not involved in the research.
The findings are “very interesting and not at all implausible,” said Caltech geobiologist Joseph Kirschvink, who was also not involved in the research. “We have to remember that whales are descended from a common ancestor of [cows], so this is not a surprise given what we know about whales.”
And, he added, “this is an incredibly neat use of Google Earth. This is a study we would not have dreamed about doing five years ago.”
Bats, birds, bees and whales all use their magnetic sense to help navigate. Kirschvink recently reported, for example, that if a pulsing magnetic field is applied to bats perpendi- cular to the Earth’s field, the animals will change the direction of their flight by 90 degrees.
What the benefit could be for cows, however, remains a mystery. It might help them find their way home, experts said, or perhaps it is simply a vestigial sense that is no longer used for any purpose.
Furthermore, the authors noted, no one has examined cows or deer to determine whether their brains contain magnetic particles.
Experts acknowledged that the research almost certain- ly has no practical applications.
German scientists using satellite images posted online by the Google Earth software program have observed something that has escaped the notice of farmers, herders and hunters for thousands of years: Cattle grazing or at rest tend to orient their bodies in a north-south direction just like a compass needle.
Studying photographs of 8,510 cattle in 308 herds from around the world, zoologists Sabine Begall and Hynek Burda of the University of Duisburg-Essen and their colleagues found that two out of every three animals in the pictures were oriented in a direction roughly pointing to magnetic north.
The resolution of the images was not sufficient to tell which ends of the cows were pointing north, however.
August 26, 2008
In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Georgia, the United States and its trans-Atlantic allies have rightly focused on two urgent and immediate tasks: getting Russian soldiers out, and humanitarian aid in.
But having just returned from Georgia, Ukraine and Poland, where we met with leaders of these countries, we believe it is imperative for the West to look beyond the day-to-day management of this crisis. The longer-term strategic consequences, some of which are already being felt far beyond the Caucasus, have to be addressed.
Russia’s aggression is not just a threat to a tiny democracy on the edge of Europe. It is a challenge to the political order and values at the heart of the continent.
For more than 60 years, from World War II through the Cold War to our intervention in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the U.S. has fostered and fought for the creation of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. This stands as one of the greatest strategic achievements of the 20th century: the gradual transformation of a continent, once the scene of the most violent and destructive wars ever waged, into an oasis of peace and prosperity where borders are open and uncontested and aggression unthinkable.
Russia’s invasion of Georgia represents the most serious challenge to this political order since Slobodan Milosevic unleashed the demons of ethnic nationalism in the Balkans. What is happening in Georgia today, therefore, is not simply a territorial dispute. It is a struggle about whether a new dividing line is drawn across Europe: between nations that are free to determine their own destinies, and nations that are consigned to the Kremlin’s autocratic orbit.
That is the reason countries like Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic States are watching what happens in the Caucasus so closely. We heard that last week in Warsaw, Kiev and Tbilisi. There is no doubt in the minds of leaders in Ukraine and Poland — if Moscow succeeds in Georgia, they may be next.
There is disturbing evidence Russia is already laying the groundwork to apply the same arguments used to justify its intervention in Georgia to other parts of its near abroad — most ominously in Crimea. This strategically important peninsula is part of Ukraine, but with a large ethnic Russian population and the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol.
The first priority of America and Europe must be to prevent the Kremlin from achieving its strategic objectives in Georgia. Having been deterred from marching on Tbilisi and militarily overthrowing the democratically elected government there, Russian forces spent last week destroying the country’s infrastructure, including roads, bridges, port and security facilities. This was more than random looting. It was a deliberate campaign to collapse the economy of Georgia, in the hope of taking the government down with it.
The humanitarian supplies the U.S. military is now ferrying to Georgia are critically important to the innocent men, women and children displaced by the fighting, some of whom we saw last week. Also needed, immediately, is a joint commitment by the U.S. and the European Union to fund a large-scale, comprehensive reconstruction plan — developed by the Georgian government, in consultation with the World Bank, IMF and other international authorities — and for the U.S. Congress to support this plan as soon as it returns to session in September.
Any assistance plan must also include the rebuilding of Georgia’s security forces. Our past aid to the Georgian military focused on supporting the light, counterterrorism-oriented forces that facilitate Tbilisi’s contribution to coalition operations in Iraq. We avoided giving the types of security aid that could have been used to blunt Russia’s conventional onslaught. It is time for that to change.
Specifically, the Georgian military should be given the antiaircraft and antiarmor systems necessary to deter any renewed Russian aggression. These defensive capabilities will help to prevent this conflict from erupting again, and make clear we will not allow the Russians to forcibly redraw the boundaries of sovereign nations.
Our response to the invasion of Georgia must include regional actions to reassure Russia’s rattled neighbors and strengthen trans-Atlantic solidarity. This means reinvigorating NATO as a military alliance, not just a political one. Contingency planning for the defense of all member states against conventional and unconventional attack, including cyber warfare, needs to be revived. The credibility of Article Five of the NATO Charter — that an attack against one really can and will be treated as an attack against all — needs to be bolstered.
The U.S. must also reaffirm its commitment to allies that have been the targets of Russian bullying because of their willingness to work with Washington. The recent missile-defense agreement between Poland and the U.S., for instance, is not aimed at Russia. But this has not stopped senior Russian officials from speaking openly about military retaliation against Warsaw. Irrespective of our political differences over missile defense, Democrats and Republicans should join together in Congress to pledge solidarity with Poland, along with the Czech Republic, against these outrageous Russian threats.
Finally, the U.S. and Europe need a new trans-Atlantic energy alliance. In recent years, Russia has proven all too willing to use its oil and gas resources as a weapon, and to try to consolidate control over the strategic energy corridors to the West. By working together, an alliance can frustrate these designs and diminish our dependence on the foreign oil that is responsible for the higher energy prices here at home.
In crafting a response to the Georgia crisis, we must above all reaffirm our conviction that Russia need not be a competitor or an adversary. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Democratic and Republican administrations have engaged Russia, sending billions of dollars to speed its economic recovery and welcoming its integration into the flagship institutions of the international community. We did this because we believed that a strong, prosperous Russia can be a strategic partner and a friend. We still do.
But Russia’s leaders have made a different choice. While we stand ready to rebuild relations with Moscow and work together on shared challenges, Russia’s current course will only alienate and isolate it from the rest of the world.
We believe history will judge the Russian invasion of Georgia as a serious strategic miscalculation. Although it is for the moment flush with oil wealth, Russia’s political elite remains kleptocratic, and its aggression exposed as much weakness as strength. The invasion of Georgia will not only have a unifying effect on the West, it also made clear that Russia — unlike the Soviet Union — has few real allies of strategic worth. To date, the only countries to defend Russia’s actions in the Caucasus have been Cuba and Belarus — and the latter, only after the Kremlin publicly complained about its silence.
In the long run, a Russia that tries to define its greatness in terms of spheres of influence, client states and forced fealty to Moscow will fail — impoverishing its citizens in the process. The question is only how long until Russia’s leaders rediscover this lesson from their own history.
Until they do, the watchword of the West must be solidarity: solidarity with the people of Georgia and its democratically elected government, solidarity with our allies throughout the region, and above all, solidarity with the values that have given meaning to our trans-Atlantic community of democracies and our vision of a European continent that is whole, free and at peace.
August 26, 2008
Tonight on stage in Denver Hillary Clinton, one of the most accomplished practitioners of the fine art of political deception, will pull off the biggest stunt of her career so far.
In her speech to the Democratic convention Mrs Clinton will have warm words for Barack Obama. She will pledge herself to work for his election in November. She will urge her campaign supporters and the millions who voted for her in the primary to bury their differences and throw their support behind the nominee. She will, no doubt, describe herself as humbled.
Don’t believe a word of it. There may be strenuous efforts to keep the tensions between the Clinton and Obama camps below the surface here in Denver, but they are as raw and powerful as they have ever been.
There has been loud grumbling among the Clinton team about the way that Mr Obama went about picking his vice-presidential nominee last weekend. They think that it was disrespectful of him not to have considered Mrs Clinton more seriously for the job. They are furious that he failed to consult Bill Clinton, the man who ran twice successfully for the presidency, for advice on the pick.
But most of all, many of them still have not come to terms with the arithmetical reality that they lost.
To be fair, it is not simply naked personal ambition that lies behind the rancour. The Clinton people have armfuls of polling evidence now that Mr Obama is failing to appeal to many of the voters that Mrs Clinton won in the primary campaign.
A CNN poll conducted at the weekend indicated that 27 per cent of Mrs Clinton’s supporters in the primary would vote not for Mr Obama in November but for John McCain, the Republican candidate. That figure is up from 16 per cent a month ago.
This number is causing alarm within the Obama camp. They know that it is almost impossible for him to win the presidency without those voters. That explains why the candidate’s team have swallowed their fears of turning the convention into a Clinton show and agreed to such a prominent role for the First Family of the Democratic Party.
Tonight, before she addresses the convention, Mrs Clinton will be the subject of a short biopic, a soft-focus documentary account of her many virtues – the sort of thing reserved usually only for the presidential nominee or for some party grandee in ebbing years.
Tomorrow, the night that should be dominated by Joe Biden, the vice–presidential nominee, will surely be overshadowed by another barnstorming performance by Mr Clinton. Expect, by the way, the former President, unlike his wife, to be somewhat less than generous about Mr Obama. Aides say that he continues to smoulder more pungently about what he perceives to be the slights on him from the Obama campaign. He is miffed about the way he believes that Mr Obama’s folk implicitly accused him of racism and he is really angry about the way the Democrat campaigned without paying much credit to the Clinton presidency.
The formal roll-call vote for the presidential nomination is also tomorrow. Mrs Clinton is making a very public effort to downplay this event – magnanimously releasing her delegates to vote for Mr Obama if they wish. But if it goes ahead it could still provide an opportunity for Clinton hardliners to express their raw feelings.
The trick, of course, for the Clintons this week is to appear to be doing all they can to support the Democratic nominee, while secretly hoping and praying that he loses. Nothing that Mrs Clinton says in the next few days must be allowed to be interpreted as undermining Mr Obama.
There is a growing conviction among some of her key supporters that their contention in the primary campaign – that Mr Obama could not win in November – is being underlined in Republican red ink every day.
They – and the Clintons – would like nothing better than to be proved right the day after the November election: the day that the next Clinton campaign for the presidency begins in earnest.
Something Else Obama Is Hiding: Iranian Background Of Senior Advisor And Her Long Time Connection To Chicago Democrat Machine
August 26, 2008
One advantage of a big, media-focused convention is that so many shadowy campaign “insiders” seek the spotlight. In Denver, one of Sen. Barack Obama’s closest advisers has been making the media rounds: Valerie Jarrett. Jarrett has been part of Obama’s inner circle since his days as an Illinois state senator. She identifies herself as a Chicago businesswoman, but according to Obama campaign advisers, she is much more than that.
She is Iranian-American, for one thing, and the Obama campaign has sought to keep her ties to Iran from press views, as it has also sought to keep her political background and deep and tangled business and personal relationship to the Obama family from sight. For example, while it’s true that Jarrett is a business executive, she also has been a well-known political operative for Chicago Democrats back to her days working in the background as an adviser to late Chicago mayor Harold Washington, as well as the Daley family.
“She knows where are all the bodies have been buried in the past 30 or so years of Chicago politics and she knows all the tricks,” says one longtime Democrat political consultant in Chicago. “If Obama had a political and financial godmother, it would be Valerie.“
Jarrett, according to friends, gave Michelle Obama professional advice before she married Obama, and helped her with jobs. But more important, say Chicago Democrats who know Jarrett and Obama’s history, and why the Obama campaign has desperately sought to keep Jarrett’s role in the campaign under wraps, Jarrett may be to Obama what James McDougal was to Bill and Hillary Clinton. McDougall, a central figure in the Clinton’s Whitewater Scandal, gave the Clintons the financial wherewithal to raise their national political visibility. “Jarrett has done that for Barack and Michelle three or four times over,” says one insider, noting that Jarrett served as the CEO of a housing development company.
And Obama has returned the favor:
Jarrett is the chief executive of Habitat Co., which developed and managed large housing projects in and around Chicago — and in Obama’s state legislative district — that were subsidized by federal and state housing dollars, and which were ultimately seized by federal authorities for what were unlivable conditions. While overseeing the company that managed these housing facilities, Jarrett also worked with long-time Obama friend and convicted felon Tony Rezko in raising money for Obama’s political career.
Obama campaign advisers have sought to have Jarrett fully vetted by the campaign to prepare for opposition research from the McCain campaign, fearing that she may have deeper and longstanding ties to financial entities associated with the subprime mortgage scandal.
“That and her ties to Chicago politicians and her Iranian background, and you have a potential nightmare,” says a Democrat media consultant who worked for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Say what you want about Hillary, but she didn’t have that kind of a triple threat on her team.”
Obama Camp: Hillary Supporters Like “Japanese soldiers in the South Pacific still fighting after the war is over”
August 26, 2008
The four-day Democratic Convention opened last night amid evidence that there is still deep unease in the party about the choice of Barack Obama as its presidential candidate.
A majority of the 18 million voters who backed Hillary Clinton for the nomination are still not prepared to support the Obama ticket in November’s election, according to a new poll.
Behind the scenes there was also an ugly clash between top associates of Mrs Clinton and the Obama camp at the way she was overlooked for the party’s vice-presidential nomination. Mrs Clinton’s advisers were described by a top Obama supporter as acting like “Japanese soldiers in the South Pacific still fighting after the war is over”.
Democratic apparatchiks are now wringing their hands that Mr Obama has yet to close the deal with millions of Democrats who did not support him in the primaries. A Gallup/USA Today poll revealed that only 47 per cent of Clinton supporters will back the Obama ticket, and that another 23 per cent say they may jump ship for the Republican, John McCain, or the independent Ralph Nader before the election.
This is deeply worrying for Senator Obama, who has seen Mr McCain gain steadily in the polls, to a point where they are in a dead heat.
“He has still got to get to the meat-and-potato, blue-collar workers,” the veteran Democratic operative Joe Trippi said. “This [week] is a big opportunity for him.”
The convention was beginning last night with a soft-focus, primetime speech by Michelle Obama that was expected to do little to quell the bickering between the two camps.
As the row simmered, Mrs Clinton’s advisers complained about her exclusion from the vetting process for consideration as the vice-presidential nomination.
But she herself was reluctant to submit her financial records for scrutiny unless she was assured of being a serious candidate. The Obama camp suspect that Bill and Hillary Clinton deliberately encouraged reports that she was slighted.
Bill Clinton is also said to be angry that Mr Obama talked down his own successes in running a thriving US economy. The former president, who speaks tomorrow, is said to be furious that his assigned topic is to argue that Mr Obama will be a more effective commander-in-chief than his rival, a view Mr Clinton does not necessarily share.
But the week of speeches has been carefully choreographed to build momentum behind Mr Obama before his triumphant arrival in Denver on Thursday to accept the nomination.
Mr Clinton is expected to contrast his golden years in the White House with President George Bush’s dismal record to show that Democrats are better at running the economy. An Obama backer described some in the Clinton camp as “bitter-enders” who cannot accept their loss of power.
But Mrs Clinton is widely expected to make a gracious call for unity when she takes to the podium later today to enthusiastically endorse her former rival. Her address will be accompanied by a glowing biopic and she is fully expected to appeal to the 18 million voters who backed her in the primary to vote for Mr Obama in November.
As a gesture, some of Mrs Clinton’s delegates may be allowed to cast their votes for the former first lady. Terry McAuliffe, one of her chief advisers, told The Independent there would be “some kind of roll call, but not all the states”.
In Denver yesterday, there was lots of raw emotion on display from the Clinton delegates.
Terri Holland, 60, a New Mexico delegate, gave vent to her feelings. “I’m expecting to vote for Hillary on Wednesday,” she said, before adding, “then in November, I expect to vote for the Democratic Party nominee, because I am a good Democrat.”
Asked if she finds it difficult even to say Mr Obama’s name she does not deny it, but chuckles. However, she felt fairly sure that most Hillary supporters would support Mr Obama in the general election. “I really only know one person in New Mexico who has said he will not vote for Obama.”
Another Clinton delegate, Frieda Wilcox, 69, from Oklahoma, said she was “disappointed that Obama didn’t pick Hillary as his running mate”.
She expects the Democrats to win in November, but believes that with Hillary on the ticket Mr Obama would have won with a much greater margin: “I have been a friend of Hillary’s for a very long time – I joined her fan club four years ago. I will vote for Hillary here this week and then I will support Obama. I don’t want to, but I will. I don’t think he has been very respectful to Hillary.”
Other Clinton supporters said they were disappointed because they may not now see a woman president in their lifetime. “I am sad because Hillary’s campaign was so good for women everywhere,” said Kooch Jacobus, 61, from New Mexico. “But I am a good Democrat and, of course, I will support whoever the Democrats nominate for anything.”