Attack on the Mackenzie Brothers

Posted May 30, 2007 on 10:44 am | In the category Europe, Germany, Russia | by Jeff

An email from a Prague-based American journalist has raised several
issues regarding the Mackenzie Brothers comments in their blog posting, “The New Europe takes Shape”

That email is below – followed by the Mackenzie Brother’s response.

“Who the hell are the Mackenzie Brothers? Make sure someone buys them a spell checker for Christmas, and a German-English dictionary on their name day, would ya? I guess I can overlook the typos and
misspellings, but tell them that the German word “Tone” means “tone,”
not “notes,” which is “notizen.” What Dummkopfs. And when they write
this:

“Putin and Merkel speak German together and don’t need an interpreter.
In the past they have gotten along much better than any important
European leader…”

Which makes me wonder how much they’re following European politics.
For one thing, Merkel and Putin have never gotten along well at all.
And the second statement, that they got along more than any other
European leaders is really silly. I mean, Schroeder and Putin had to
break off their talks once every hour so they could go bang each
other. Schroeder and Chirac were nearly as close. And Blair got along
very, very well with Berlusconi; and, Silvio and Putin continue to be
incredibly close. All of those relationships are far, far closer than
the very cold connection that Merkel and Putin have.”

Returning from their annual pilgrimage to Munich’s Biergartens,
the Mackenzie Brothers respond:

“Fortunately the Mackenzies spent their youths in Bavarian lumber
camps, but, ok let’s see what the Cassell’s dictionary lists under Ton
(plural Töne, there is no German word Tone – or Dummkopfs). Ah, hah –
“Sound”, “note”, now there’s a surprise. However I’m glad your pal
points out that the correct back translation of “notes” would be
“Notizen (or rather notizen)”. This reminds me of the immortal Sarah
Bink’s translation of Heine’s Lorelei “und ruhig fliesst der Rhein” –
“and quietly flows the clean”. As for the second part, it would have
been more compelling if he had quoted the entire sentence, not just
the first half, which says something completely different from what he
seems to think it says. Is this the level of analysts working in the
Prague organization or doesn’t he know English or German?

In any case this blog of the Mackenzies has also drawn some sparkling
criticism, like the following;

Yes Mackenzies, only in France is there a monastery for water skiing
and a monastery for virtue. But don’t worry, it’s not just France.
The whole world’s gone to hell since the Dodgers left Brooklyn.

Preacher Roe

Such commentary does keep us on our toes and my brother Doug promises
to make a last minute spell check before pushing that old submit
button.”

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The New Europe Takes Shape

Posted May 22, 2007 on 1:22 am | In the category Germany, Russia, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

The photo chosen to dominate the first page of the weekend edition of the Süddeutsche Zeitung speaks volumes. Beneath a blazing headline – “Scharfe Töne zwischen Merkel und Putin (Sharp notes between Merkel and Putin)” – is a satisfied-looking couple. They are about the same height, the woman appears friendly and relatively self-assured, but she looks rather frumpy and certainly does not exude power. The man next to her, however, does. He is dressed in a perfect suit, his legs spread apart in the pose of a colossus, his eyes hidden by mysterious sunglasses, and behind him, in what the Süddeutsche calls “a beloved backdrop”, the Volga River flows down to the sea. We are in Samara, until 1942 the centre of German-Russia where the Volga Germans had their own republic in the Soviet Union. The Russians, represented by Wladimir Putin, are meeting with the European Union and his partner is German Kanzlerin Angela Merkel.
Putin and Merkel speak German together and don’t need an interpreter. In the past they have gotten along much better than any important European leader other than Tony Blair has been able to get along with George Bush. But the constellation of the new Europe, with Russia taking on an increadingly central and potentially threatening role as keeper of the natural resources that Europe so desperately needs, is no longer as comfortable as it was when Putin came to power seven years ago. The alpha male of Europe, with its black-belt leader, has concluded that it has reached the point in its return to economic stability where it can display its teeth and claws for the perusal of its much smaller European neighbours. So far it has been the smallest of them – Georgia, Latvia and especially Estonia – which have gotten the clearest signals that the wolf has left its lair, but Germany, the only other European power that could seriously imagine itself in the alpha male role, learned its lesson sixty years ago and is unlikely to put a male with sunglasses back in power. Tony Blair’s farcical attempt to fill the position by acting as Bush’s lackey in Iraq – Germany. France and Canada said no thanks – only confirmed the world view that the illusion of former power cripples the UK in all its foreign endeavours. The next in line, Nicolas Sarkozy, upon becoming French President said he was going to meditate in a monestary for a few days. He was then caught by the press vacationing on a yacht belonging to a millionaire friend near Malta, as the French suburbs once again erupted in violent protest Cynics are waiting with baited breath for the results of his first meeting with Putin, which will occur in June in Baltic Germany at the annual meeting of the eight leading industrial powers. No one is betting that the French will impress Russia with their latest entry into the Judo ring, where Putin holds that black belt.

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The War on Drugs: Nonsense and Insensibilities

Posted May 14, 2007 on 3:18 pm | In the category Canada, Immigration, Terrorism, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Jeff

A short item in the NY Times today tells of a Canadian psychotherapist who was stopped at the border by U.S. immigration officials who searched his name on the Internet and learned that he had written in an academic journal about his experiences with psychedelic drugs in the  1960’s. The article continues:

He was asked by a border guard whether he was the author of the article and whether it was true. Yes, he replied. And yes.

Mr. Feldmar was held for four hours, fingerprinted and, after signing a statement conceding the long-ago drug use, sent home.

Mike Milne, a spokesman for the Customs and Border Protection agency in Seattle, said he could not discuss individual cases for reasons of privacy. But the law is clear, Mr. Milne said. People who have used drugs are not welcome here.

“If you are or have been a drug user,” he said, “that’s one of the many things that can make you inadmissible to the United States.”

Since the psychotherapist gave up drugs in 1974 he could hardly be deemed any more of a threat than – oh let’s say, the border guard who did a random and arbitrary internet search and added one more nail in the twin coffins of a sane immigration policy and an effective war on terror.

The good news is that this raises the possibility of extraditing known cocaine user George W. Bush to whoever would take him – maybe Iraq? Not Canada certainly.

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IRAQ UPDATE: Good Money After Bad

Posted May 12, 2007 on 2:52 pm | In the category Iraq, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

As we enter the fifth year of the Bush Iraq Fiasco, there continue to be amazing stories of rampant corruption, mind-boggling incompetence and a pig-headed obstinate inability to face reality.

The country has been entertained for five months as President Bush resists the congressional majority’s calls for “deadlines” in its funding bill for Iraq. Refusing to accept the inevitable, Bush continues to dream of an as yet undefined “victory” in Iraq while the Congress searches for a veto proof funding bill that will set a timetable for the U.S. to begin to move troops out of Iraq.

The latest move in this political dance macabre is away from “deadlines” to “benchmarks” – apparently a less inflammatory word for Bush but still not acceptable if there are any specific dates applied. This in spite of – or maybe because of – a lack of evidence that the “surge” will be effective in anything other than raising the American death toll while merely delaying the inevitable.

However, one group that is moving toward deadlines is the Iraq Parliament, with a majority of its members signing on to the principle of deadlines for American troops to leave – but agreeing with the American view that the withdrawal should not be precipitous and should be timed to the readiness of Iraqi troops to maintain security. While this might not satisfy either Bush or the Congress, (it is, after all, their country) they are moving toward reality at a faster pace than Bush. Meanwhile the death toll mounts, ca. 100 Americans per month and ca. 100 Iraqis a day.

Another development in Iraq is reminiscent of Paul Wolfowitz’s comment in 2003 that Iraqi oil would pay the costs of reconstruction after a brief victorious battle. That has turned out to be as good an idea as Wolfowitz’s handing his girlfriend a $60G raise and foisting her on the State Department. Turns out that having paid for destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure we are now paying for its reconstruction as well and it is not going well. Iraq oil production is not close to the predicted levels and the NY Times reports today that a draft report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office describes a situation in which from $5 to $15 million a day of Iraqi oil is disappearing – either through government corruption, smugglers or – worse yet – insurgent theft. The latter translates into an oil production program that in effect is bankrolling the insurgents who are killing American troops.

The press cannot seem to come to grips with all of this – choosing to argue about the when and how of withdrawal without ever coming out and saying that withdrawal is inevitable. Defeat is in the air and is a tough pill for politicians and bloviating journalists to swallow with their pride in their throat. It looks an awful lot as though the day is coming and it would seem to be a good idea to start thinking about the future and how we can undo the damage of the miserable mistakes made by Bush and his band of fools. Bush predicted a new world after Iraq and he is going to get it and would be well advised to start thinking about how to interact with that new world.

Finally, it seemed somehow appropriate to have Dick Cheney threatening Iran on a aircraft carrier deck just four years after Bush got into his costume and declared “mission accomplished” – also on a carrier deck. Fact is that Cheney and Bush are in many ways headed for the kind of irrelevance that Tony Blair faced and at least had the sense to resign from office.

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Censoring the Troops

Posted May 11, 2007 on 5:44 pm | In the category Iraq, Press | by Jeff

Two recent news items indicate the lack of respect this administration holds for the soldiers and marines it sends to Iraq to fight and sometimes to die for the Bush-Cheney Fiasco.

While much of the American press remains huddled in the Green Zone, blogs managed by U.S. servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan have been interesting and useful sources of information for those wishing to understand what life is like for them. While some blogs – or at least some entries on some blogs – have been critical of American strategies and tactics (and rightly so), most have been attempts to communicate reality to readers back home and to share thoughts among themselves.  And there is evidence that the blogs have provided a morale lift for the troops. But, alas, the was is not going so well and since “war is hell” is more than just a slogan the Defense Department has determined that all blogs must be approved by commanding officers.  That is, each entry must be approved. What insulting arrogance!

At almost the same time, a Defense Department official announced this week that servicemen and women below a certain rank would not be allowed to testify before Congressional committees.  Never mind that this regulation will probably not stand (assuming the Congress locates its backbone). It is just one more indication of how this administration really feels about its troops. Insufficient armor, insufficient numbers, lousy medical care at home, extended tours, an incoherent strategy, reduced VA funding and now, an attempt to shut them up.

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The Air India Fiasco Turns Brutal

Posted May 11, 2007 on 2:08 am | In the category Canada, Terrorism | by Mackenzie Brothers

Before the Sept 11 attacks on New York and Washington, the single most deadly terrorist attack in North America happened when an Air India flight originating in Vancouver blew up over the Irish Sea killing all 321 people on board. Simultaneously a bomb blew up in the Tokyo Airport killing some baggage handlers It exploded at the wrong time and failed to bring down its target, another Air India flight. Both of these bombs had been placed on the planes at Vancouver Airport and the RCMP has spent many millions of dollars and more than a decade failing to convict the men who had planted them, Sikh proponents of an independent Sikh state in the Punjab. Police in India subsequently shot down one of them and another pleaded guilty to a minor charge in Vancouver, but the ringleaders continue to escape punishment.

Now evidence has been growing that the RCMP and CSIS, the Canadian security service, actually knew much more about these plans at the time than they have been willing to admit. The bombers had been followed, their conversations taped, and the RCMP ordered to send out a bomb-sniffing dog to the plane when it made a stop in Montreal. The Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario last week announced that at the time he was working on security matters and by chance came across a message warning of a plot to blow up an Air India flight on the weekend it really happened. When he drew it to the attention of the RCMP they dismissed him abruptly, informing him that they were on top of the case. When the officer with the sniff dog went to the Montreal airport he discovered that the plane had just left and the dog could only sniff 3 suitcases left behind. Such shocking revelations, coming to light so many years after the events, have left the large East Indian community, which provided most of the victims on the flight, in disbelief. The former premier of British Columbia, the moderate Sikh Ussal Dossingh, who himself had been beaten to a pulp decades before by Sikh extremists, wondered openly whether he didn’t have to conclude that they had discovered evidence of a cover-up by the RCMP, and that such lax handling of a deadly threat could only be explained when one considered that the plane was full of East Indians, most of whom were Canadian citizens, and that the RCMP simply didn’t consider a threat against such an Air India flight in the same manner it would have employed if it had been a bomb threat against an Air Canada flight. These are dark conclusions by a distinguished level-headed man, and suggest a very dark side of the Canadian mosaic, much different from the one normally displayed.

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Rice’s Bungled Attempt to Bring Democracy to Iran

Posted May 3, 2007 on 5:04 pm | In the category International Broadcasting, Iran, Public Diplomacy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

A few years ago, after reporting on the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal, Seymour Hersh commented that he viewed Condoleezza Rice as the most incompetent of all National Security Advisors in the history of that position. Obviously there was competition for that title (e.g. H. Kissinger) but new evidence indicates that Ms. Rice has taken her incompetence to new levels as Secretary of State.

The United States has been funding efforts to support a movement toward democratization in Iran for many years. Radio Azadi was started by Radio Free Europe in that late 90s and it became a successful broadcaster of solid news, analysis and culture into Iran with a significant audience among the elites in the reform movement. This effort was emasculated shortly after the Bush election when it was changed to Radio Farda, and turned into a broadcaster of American rock and roll. This was representative of the dumbing down of American culture and was based on the belief that a larger audience of teenagers listening to music was somehow more important than an audience of mature members of the reform movement listening to serious and credible news.

Add to that the recent report that the U.S. has committed $75 million to promote democracy in Iran and that Secretary Rice has announced this to some fanfare in the U.S. and considerable angst in Iran. The problem is not that the money is being spent – it is that Ms. Rice was not smart enough to understand that by announcing it – in the context of Bush’s “axis of evil” and “regime change” blathering – she would put all possible recipients of support from the U.S. in jeopardy. It is the kind of program that you play close to the chest with the hope that your support can facilitate reformers in their pro-democracy efforts. Rice’s play for publicity has had the opposite effect with Iranian intellectuals, writers, journalists, human rights activists, etc. in increased jeopardy.

According to a Washington Post piece on April 28:

“…The money is a persistent focus during interrogations, say Iranians who have been questioned or detained. “If you look at the crackdown on non-government organizations and human rights defenders over the past six months, one common facet is that they were all suspected of receiving foreign funds,” said Zahir Janmohamed, Amnesty International USA’s advocacy director for the Middle East. “It’s not just the funding but the rhetoric around the funding about ‘regime change’ and the ‘axis of evil.’ ”

The National Iranian American Council said it had warned the State Department “that the mere idea of sending money with this language would make the work of pro-democracy activists in Iran all the more difficult. It has turned out to be worse than what many people feared. The mere fact that the United States has been talking about using NGOs has made Iran’s thriving civil society a main suspect of trying to do change inside Iran,” said the council president, Trita Parsi….”

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