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Monthly Archives: December 2012

The Greatest Subversive of Our Times

December 29th, 2012 - 2:47 pm

December 30th is Vladimir Bukovsky’s seventieth birthday.  He is the only Russian barred by special law from running for president, a tribute to his immense popularity and force of character. Among the great generation of democratic dissidents–the generation that punctured the monstrous Soviet bubble and produced the celebrated sucking sound that ended the Soviet Empire and gutted the world Communist movement–Bukovsky is arguably the most important.

Otherwise that law wouldn’t be necessary.

Bukovsky has a rare combination of toughness, common sense, and good humor.  He never compromised with his oppressors, even though he was subjected to the KGB’s infamous psychological and biochemical torments during his years in prison and the camps.  His unrivaled courage and tenacity inspired a generation, and his standing was dramatically demonstrated when the Kremlin traded him for the Chilean Communist leader Luis Corvalan in 1976.

His memoir, To Build a Castle,  is one of the masterpieces of the period, and his subsequent works document the crimes of the Soviet state, the complicity of Western leaders who played useful idiots to the evil empire, and the survival of the Soviet vision in the European Union.

He organized an effective international organization, Resistance International, whose members ranged from German Greens to French “new philosophers,” a New York diamond merchant of blessed memory by the name of Bert Jolis, and the celebrated Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco.  Whenever Brezhnev or Chernenko or Gorbachev or Gromyko set foot in the West, Resistance International was there, filling the streets, denouncing the Soviets, warning Western diplomats against going wobbly.

In the final year of the Soviet Empire, Bukovsky organized five of us to write a novel, The Golden Convoy, that predicted the internal fission of the Soviet Union.  It was an ambitious project, but he convinced me, Irina Ratushinskaya, her husband Igor, and “Viktor Suvarov” to meet every 2-3 months to consume considerable quantities of vodka and herring and black bread, and outline the next few chapters.  The book, which culminates in a military coup in Moscow, was published in Russian a few weeks before the failed military coup.  As the regime came tumbling down, The Golden Train was read on Moscow radio, to the great delight of the listeners, and it sold out in record time.  Typically, no English-language publisher was willing to print it (too hard on Gorbachev, who is removed from office in the last chapter), nor could Bukovsky find an American or British publisher for his subsequent blockbuster Judgment in Moscow based on hitherto-secret documents from the Politburo archives.  We’d equipped him with a laptop and a hand-held scanner, and during the brief period when Soviet archives were open to scholars, he scanned thousands of pages.  Eventually the archivists figured out what he was doing, and he headed for the airport.

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The CIA Goes to the Movies

December 26th, 2012 - 11:15 am

In case anybody doubted that the United States is in the grips of collective idiocy, consider that the head of our “secret intelligence service” has just issued a movie review of a new film about the operation that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.  In that review–nominally written for all CIA employees but quickly distributed to all manner of media around the world–we are given  Acting Director Michael Morell’s heads-up that Zero Dark Thirty is not a documentary, that the film compresses years of hard work into a couple of hours on the screen, that it “takes liberties” describing some CIA personnel (including some who died in the effort), and that “enhanced interrogations” (waterboarding, sleep deprivation, etcetera) of captured terrorists were not the only source of the information that led to the operation.

It’s embarrassing.  Everybody knows that feature films are not documentaries, and that when you dramatize a decade in a few hours of on-screen action, it’s not going to be the whole truth.  We don’t need the CIA to tell us that.  Indeed, we shouldn’t be hearing from him at all.  It’s supposed to be a secret organization.  If some journalist asks about such a subject, the CIA spokesperson (if there should even be such a thing) should say:  “We don’t do movie reviews.  We do espionage.”

But in this loony town, everybody’s angling for good press, lest they suffer death-by-media-scandal.  And everybody’s worried to death about the last big thing, which in this case is Benghazi, which you’ll recall was originally presented as having begun with angry riots on the Arab Street, provoked by a video trailer.  Mr. Morell is clearly worried that there will be riots protesting the “enhanced interrogation” scenes, so he gives us an example of tortured prose:

the film creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding Bin Ladin.  That impression is false.  As we have said before, the truth is that multiple streams of intelligence led CIA analysts to conclude that Bin Ladin was hiding in Abbottabad.  Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well.  And, importantly, whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved.

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Saving Souls, the Amazing Musicorps

December 19th, 2012 - 6:39 pm
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This is the latest video about Musicorps, a program that gives (often very severely) wounded combat veterans the opportunity to play music.  It’s the creation of a wunderkind in Washington DC named Arthur Bloom, a Juliard prodigy who has performed with some very famous musicians and written some very successful compositions, including movie scores.  He took his profits and put them into Musicorps, which maybe, just maybe, is beginning to attract the attention it deserves.

A few years ago a nasty Washington Post journalist won a Pulitzer for writing about the things that go wrong at Walter Reed Hospital.  I called it a classic example of reportage in which the facts are correct, but the story is false.  Yes, things certainly go wrong at Walter Reed.  Hell, they even go wrong at the Post.  But miracles are performed at Walter Reed, where lives are saved, limbs are replaced, and, as in Musicorps, sometimes souls are freed from conditions that might very easily enslave them.

There’s a substantial literature about the curative power of music, but mostly it’s about listening to music.  Arthur Bloom knows more:  that playing music can truly liberate the suffering, and transform their lives.  Some of these guys play rock, or country and western, or heavy metal.  Others play the classics.  Arthur has one  guy who fell in love with Beethoven, and spends hours a day at the piano playing Beethoven, despite injuries that make the enterprise amazing.  That guy was in a very dark depression.  Playing Beethoven at Walter Reed brought him back to us.

Bach, too.

Watch the video.  It will inspire you, I know.  And there are plenty more.  Before the Feds get all your spare change, send a bit to Musicorps.  It’s soul music.

Bob Bork

December 19th, 2012 - 7:00 am

Others more qualified than I will tell you about his monumental contribution to the law, and there is no doubt he will be remembered for a very long time.  My favorite measurement of a man’s significance is the number of enemies he stimulates and the desperate measures to which they resort in order to destroy him.  By this measure, Bork was a giant.  The vulgar campaign against his nomination to the Supreme Court–spearheaded by Senator Ted Kennedy and embraced by Senator Joseph Biden–was so intense that it produced a new verb “to bork,” to describe the actions of political lynch mobs.

Bob was one of the great public intellectuals, but unlike most deep thinkers he had a fabulous sense of humor, featuring timing so perfect that I once told him that he’d missed his calling.  Instead of wasting his time with issues of Constitutional Law, he should have been a stand-up nightclub comedian.  He presented the annual AEI award to Justice Thomas one year, and the introduction/presentation was the equal of any Hollywood roast.  That sparkling wit stayed with him to the end, even as his body gave way and he was increasingly immobile.

He loved good movies, especially detective films, and happily watched the tv series about Nero Wolfe, based on the great Rex Stout novels.  He was delighted when we gave him a copy of “The Usual Suspects,” which he had somehow missed.

Like many great legal thinkers, he had an uncanny ability to get to the heart of complicated moral and philosophical issues, which you can see on display in his books about the degeneration of American culture.  They are so unrelentingly gloomy that I once asked him if there wasn’t at least one central ingredient in our culture that he thought worth saving.  There was!  “Absolutely,” he replied instantly…”the martini.”  He knew a lot about martinis, and if you had the time he’d explain its history, its mystery, and its proper handling and shaking.  But of course he was often horrified by the “barbaric” additions of unworthy fruits and veggies to his favorite drink.  No doubt the worst of his afflictions was the requirement he abandon the martini.  Second worst was having to give up the inhalation of burning tobacco leaves.

He took great pride in his service in the Marine Corps.  Hardly anybody knows that he was a tanker, but he regaled us with stories about his time curled up inside the armored tin can, as with his skill on the tuba.  Yes.  If only he’d given Senator Kennedy a few good oompahs…

The good news is that there will be 16 Marines at graveside Saturday, which will please him.

He bore his long illness with a mixture of self-deprecation, anger, and wit, he delighted in good food always, he maintained his fabulous intellect to the end, and we always came away from visits with the knowledge that we had been in the presence of a great American. It would not have been possible for him to bear his burdens as well as he did without his deep faith and his great love, both of which flowed from Mary Ellen, a truly remarkable woman, and the kids.  I have a special bond with Ellen, who was working with me while her dad was being tortured by the Senate Judiciary Committee…

Lucky man. And lucky us, to have known him.

****

See also Roger Kimball’s tribute.

‘We Knew Exactly Who We Had to Go Get’

December 10th, 2012 - 7:20 pm

I’ve been getting a lot of fascinating correspondence about the presidential election, much of it dealing with the technology used by the Obama campaign.  It documents a remarkable degree of precision that the Obama foot soldiers and cyberwarriors brought to bear on the American electorate, right down to identifying potential voters who might, if approached in the proper way, go to a voting booth and support their candidate.

Much of this technology was developed by the same nerds and geeks that have given us the social networks, and the tools upon which they depend. The process is a familiar one — we know all about it in the commercial marketplace. See, for example, the helpful analysis in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal.

Merchants routinely send us lots of material about products they know will tempt us.  They know this because of the very detailed information they have about our buying habits, our peer groups, our tastes, and our beliefs.

The same methods apply to  selling candidates, and the Obama organizations were far more effective than Romney’s at exploiting their understanding of our habits and desires.  They had a great deal of specific information about voters, and were able to target individuals with a degree of accuracy that was vastly superior to the Republicans’ methods.  Listen to one of my favorite commentators, Debra Saunders:

Team Obama conducted nightly surveys of 9,000 likely voters in 10 battleground states. Because of those surveys, campaign manager Jim Messina told the gathering, “We thought we knew exactly where the electorate was.” The campaign’s targeting was so tight that national field director Jeremy Bird was able to see support slacken at Ohio State University and respond by multiplying the campaign’s presence. Messina claimed, “We knew exactly who we had to go get.”

That last quotation grabs me by the throat and drags me to the question of digital communications, including email, texting, Facebook, and Twitter, in the global turmoil on whose outcome our own destiny now depends.

“We knew exactly who we had to go get.”  Instead of an American political manager,  put those words in the mouth of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, or Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, and you get to the heart of a very big question.  The same sort of detailed, granular information about the Iranian and Syrian people can be used by their oppressors.  To go get them.

The insurrections against the tyrants, in the Middle East today as in the Soviet Empire in the revolutionary eighties, desperately need good communications.  They are certainly not going to get reliable information from the official state media.  Where will they get accurate reports?  Only from trusted sources.  During the Cold War, the fax machine was the revolutionary source of choice, along with Western radio broadcasts.  During the Iranian uprisings in 2009-2010, the social networks (Facebook and Twitter) and some Western broadcasts (more often televsion than radio, some of which was “official” like the BBC, while some was private, including Iranian-American broadcasts from southern California) played a big role.  Indeed, when the Iranian regime shut down Internet, the outside broadcasters “triangulated” information:  street fighters called a Western TV station with real-time information, which was then broadcast into Iran via satellite.

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Dictators and Double Standards

December 6th, 2012 - 7:33 pm

As we watch the Syrian dictator struggle to survive, and the Egyptian would-be dictator run from an angry mob, and as we think back to the many fallen dictators of the recent past – Gorbachev, Ceausescu, Pinochet,  and their numerous ilk– we might well ask ourselves two questions:

Why does that job look so good?

And why do so many intellectuals cozy up to the dictators?

Machiavelli knew that tyrannies were the most unstable form of government, while republics were the longest-lived. Anyone who has lived through this age of Revolution must be impressed with the spectacular number of fallen tyrants.  But most leaders know less and less history, and Machiavelli died a long time ago, so dictators continue to exercise a certain fascination. They inspire mass movements and strike down their enemies with abandon.  Democratic political leaders envy them, because the tyrants can just DO things;  they don’t have to negotiate, wheel and deal, split the differences, or look for middle ground.  They don’t have to run for reelection.  They wave their scepter, and that’s that.  Until the scepter doesn’t work any more…

Tyrants fall at a much faster rate, and usually in a much less pleasant manner, than democratic leaders. George W. Bush did not end up hiding in a hole in the ground like Saddam Hussein, and Nicolas Sarkozy was not raped and slaughtered as Muammar Qaddafi was.  To be sure, the French nation did not cry oceans of tears for Sarkozy, as the Russians did for Stalin, but the French Republic still stands, while the Soviet Union has been dumped in history’s dustbin.

Maybe it is not altogether good to be king, although the power to just DO things sure looks good to lots of folks in the free worlds.  Think  back a few years, when the Israelis were turning over territory to the likes of Yasir Arafat.  At the time, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres convinced themselves that things would now go better in Palestine because the new rulers would not have to worry about legal niceties or international criticism for ugly human rights violations.  President Obama is sometimes given to complaining about the existence of a political opposition to his designs, and you can be sure that tyrant envy seizes democratic leaders everywhere, even if only momentarily.

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Going to War?

December 3rd, 2012 - 4:09 pm

Fellow PJM columnist Jonathan Spyer, one of the best reporters on things Syrian, now believes that the tide of battle has turned against President Assad, and that the regime may be forced to retreat to a rump state in the western coastal region sometime in the next several months. If that happens, it would be a stunning defeat for Assad and his allies in Moscow, Beijing, and Teheran, even though the regime might well live on in an amputated form for many years.

The Russians and the Iranians have been arming and funding the regime’s Army.  We’ve read recently about Iranian airplanes exploiting Iraqi airspace to smuggle weapons, and there’s a busy ground traffic as well.  The Iranians have also been doing a good deal of the killing. You’ll recall that they started by sending snipers and advisers at the beginning of the uprising–figuring that the same methods they used in the streets of Iran would succeed in Syria as well–and today there are abundant Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the battlefields, thereby violating the regime’s strong preference for sending others (preferably Arabs) to fight and die for the Islamic Republic.  They are losing a considerable number of them; in the last 10 days alone, more than 45 RGs have been killed by opposition forces, and this does not take into account a significant number of Hezbollahis.

The strategic importance of Syria is demonstrated by the surprising fact that supreme leader Ali Khamenei has given Assad a blank check. The Syrian tyrant has been promised all the money, all the weapons, and all the manpower he needs to survive.   The Russians are acting with similar resolve.

It isn’t very difficult to figure out why the Russians and the Iranians are going all in: Syria provides the Russians with their only reliable ally in the region, as well as that warm water port the czars always coveted, while for the Iranians Assad’s country has provided the operational base for Hezbollah, and a training center for terrorists who killed so many Americans in Iraq.

So when you hear stories about the misery Western sanctions are inflicting on the Iranian people, remember that the regime is dispersing a lot of hard currency and a lot of bodies to the Syrian war.  And that comes on top of all the money going to Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and various terrorists and supporters of the Islamic Republic all over Africa and the Middle East, most notably Jordan of late.

The misery of the Iranians, which is real and getting worse, is the result of strategic decisions made by the Iranian tyrants, and their Russian (and often also their Chinese) allies, to arm the mass murderers from Syria to Nigeria.

But few things go according to plan in this life, and in recent weeks some of the most effective Russian weapons have ended up in the hands of Assad’s enemies in the Free Syrian Army.  Last month the opposition forces conquered “Base 46″ in the north, and “liberated” some valuable Russian antiaircraft missiles, the SA-16s, known as “Gimlets.”  Already, one helicopter and one jet fighter have been destroyed by Gimlets.

The FSA are so pleased they are bragging about their ability to create a “no-fly zone” even if the United States continues to withhold effective military training and support.

But don’t forget Khamenei’s (and presumably Putin’s) blank check:  Assad is entitled to use any and all methods to win.  No  surprise, then, when we learn that even the Obama Administration is “concerned” about the possibility that Assad will deploy chemical weapons against the FSA if push comes to shove.  Hillary is warning that the United States might be forced to act (imagine!) if that occurs.  Here she is in her finest stern schoolmarmish mode:

I’m not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people, but sufficing to say that we’re certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur…

I know what you’re thinking, and I quite agree:  what?  Obama is going to war in the Middle East on the basis of “credible information” of the use of weapons of mass destruction?  Do Sy Hersh and his loyal followers at Code Pink know about this?

Hard to believe, and I doubt Assad, Putin and Khamenei take it very seriously.  After all, this is the same American president who bravely intoned “Assad must go” on August 12th, 2011, and subsequently has done virtually nothing to advance the dictator’s departure.

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