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Der Spiegel – the German weekly news magazine, comparable to Time or Newsweek here in the USA – has just posted a story praising the remarkable progress that has been made in Iraq.

This is the equivalent of the New York Times praising President Bush for his leadership and communication skills and his masterly command of US foreign policy.

How long will it be before the US media must finally admit that the surge has succeeded? And further that Bush’s foreign policy in Iraq has actually worked?

I’m not holding my breath, but if Der Spiegel is forced to admit the truth . . . then anything is possible.

presidentsHow many two-term Presidents have had the luxury of party control of BOTH houses of Congress?

Answer: Only four (Jefferson, Madison, Teddy Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt)

We have a new product to offer to students of American History. As part of my own fascination with politics, I did quite a bit of background research for the 2006 elections. It’s the silly season once again, and I’ve updated the chart. Lot’s of folks locally have seen me referring to it as I have talked or done political commentary, so I’ve decided to make it available to a wider audience. This is an information rich chart. On three landscape pages, it shows the composition of both houses of Congress by party and all 43 Presidents of the US, with official photographs, terms of office, and vice presidents. The information is laid out chronologically and will print on three sheets of paper.

The chart can be read in a number of interesting ways. The left hand column shows the total number of members of the House of Representatives. Watching that number grow from 65 in 1789 to 435 now is a great way to get a feel for the expansion of the US. At the same time, the count of Senators grows from 26 to 100.

The two columns showing party totals always have the majority party’s number highlighted in red. Watching the red numbers flip from one column to the other let’s you read at a glance when political parties have suffered a reversal of fortune and lost (or gained) control of the House or the Senate.

The right hand columns depict the terms of the presidents. The brilliance of the American Republic’s achievement in providing for the orderly, peaceful transfer of power from one President to another every four or eight years is much more vivid when laid next to the simultaneous congressional history. You can also see which Presidents enjoyed the backing of Congress and which were at odds with it.

What you are buying is a 3-page eBook (PDF). Printing is allowed for personal use (not for sale or distribution). A color printer is recommended. The cost is $8.00 and the product can be purchased and downloaded from Greenleaf.

Chart painstakingly compiled by Rob Shearer, Publisher, Greenleaf Press
and Director of the Schaeffer Study Center

and that will be the first time this has been true since . . . class? anyone? Bueller?

Try 1952. That’s right, its been 56 years since we held a presidential election in which neither of the nominees for president was an incumbent in the executive branch.

What does that mean? Not sure. The powers of incumbency are formidable. Media attention, staff assistance, executive travel perks, just to name a few. The prestige of being President or Vice-President is intangible, but obviously significant. Only three incumbent presidents lost (Ford in 1976, Carter in 1980, Bush 41 in 1992). Six won. But of the four vice presidents who ran, only one succeeded in being elected president (Bush 41).

Here’s the list (from memory):

1952 Eisenhower vs. Stevenson
1956 Eisenhower (President) vs. Stevenson
1960 Nixon (Vice President) vs. Kennedy
1964 Johnson (President) vs. Goldwater
1968 Humphrey (Vice President) vs. Nixon
1972 Nixon (President) vs. McGovern
1976 Ford (President) vs. Carter
1980 Carter (President) vs. Reagan
1984 Reagan (President) vs. Mondale
1988 Bush 41 (Vice President) vs. Dukakis
1992 Bush 41 (President) vs. Clinton
1996 Clinton (President) vs. Dole
2000 Gore (Vice President) vs. Bush 43
2004 Bush 43 (President) vs. Kerry
2008 Clinton? vs. Thompson?

I can do the list from memory, because, with the exception of the 1952 and 1956 elections, I have memories of all these campaigns. My political memories are sharp and clear. My belief that there are political solutions to our problems is growing increasingly dim.

-Rob Shearer
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center

FearNoEviland why is he important?

Last week, I wrote about President Bush’s speech in Prague at the invitation of José María Aznar of Spain, Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, and Natan Sharansky of Israel (formerly the USSR). The President’s speech was magnificent. He made specific reference to the “defiance of Sakharov and Sharansky.” The events he was referencing occured almost thirty years ago. There are, undoubtedly, many who don’t know anything about the men the President was referring to – or anything about their “defiance.”

 Bear with me. This is a tale worth telling.

Anatoly Sharansky was a mathematics prodigy from the Ukraine. Because of his outstanding talent and ability, he was admitted to the Moscow Physical Technical Institute, where he studied mathematics and computer science. Upon graduation in 1972 he took a position as a computer scientist at the state-run Oil and Gas Research Institute. Shortly afterwards, at the age of 25, he and his future wife Natalia Stieglitz (Avital) decided to emigrate to Israel and requested exit visas. Sharansky’s family had never forgotten their jewish heritage, and Anatoly was increasingly disenchanted with the failures of the Soviet Union. But emmigation from the Soviet Union was strictly controlled. Only a few hundred Jews were allowed to leave each year. 

Avital’s request was approved, but Sharansky was denied permission to leave. The Soviet government informed him that he knew too many state secrets from his work at the Oil and Gas Research Institute. In 1974, the day before Avital left forever for Israel, she and Anatoly got married. Anatoly promised he would join her in Israel.

In 1975, the Soviet Union signed the Helsinki Accords. The Soviet Union signed it, because it guaranteed the current borders of all the states of Europe. But one of the ten points also committed all signatory nations to “Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.” This clause, the Soviet Union had no intention of honoring.

In 1976, Andrei Sakharov and Yuri Orlov announced the foundation of a group called the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group. Along with them, among the eleven founders, was the 28 year old computer programmer, Anatoly Sharansky. The group’s purpose was to independently monitor the Soviet Union’s compliance with Article VII of the Helsinki Accords.

Sakharov and Orlov were famous scientists in Russia. Sakharov was known as the “father of the Russian atomic bomb.”

Because Sharansky was fluent in english, he quickly became the spokesman for the group.

The Soviet Union reacted immediately to crush the dissidents. Sakharov was too famous to be imprisoned immediately. He was eventually arrested and sent into internal exile, far away from Moscow, in the city of Gorky – which was closed to all foreign visitors and thus served the purpose of isolating Sakharov from contract with the western press.

Some of the other members of the Helsinki Watch Group were incarcerated for psychiatric evaluation and treatment. Orlov and Sharansky were arrested and charged with treason. Orlov received a ten year sentence. Sharansky was sentenced to 13 years.

 In his final statement to the court in 1978, Sharansky said:

“Five years ago, I submitted my application for exit to Israel. Now I am further than ever from my dream. It would seem to be cause for regret. But it is absolutely the other way around. I am happy. I am happy that I lived honorably, at peace with my conscience. I never compromised my soul, even under the threat of death.

“I am happy that I helped people. I am proud that I knew and worked with such honorable, brave and courageous people as Sakharov, Orlov, Ginzburg, who are carrying on the traditions of the Russian intelligentsia [in defending human rights in the Soviet Union]. I am fortunate to have been witness to the process of the liberation of Jews of the USSR.

“I hope that the absurd accusation against me and the entire Jewish emigration movement will not hinder the liberation of my people. My near ones and friends know how I wanted to exchange activity in the emigration movement for a life with my wife Avital, in Israel.

“For more that two thousand years the Jewish people, my people, have been dispersed. But wherever they are, wherever Jews are found, every year they have repeated,‘Next year in Jerusalem.‘ Now, when I am further than ever from my people, from Avital, facing many arduous years of imprisonment, I say, turning to my people, my Avital, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’

Due to the persecution of its members by the Soviet government, the Moscow Helsinki Group was silenced. It announced its own dissolution in September of 1982

Sharansky was to serve almost ten years in the gulag under terrible conditions. He was freed in 1986, due to the tireless efforts of his wife to organize support around the world and keep the pressure on the Soviet government. In the United States a large number of scientists voiced their support for Sharansky by joining a boycott of Soviet scientific exchanges and conferences. SOS (Scientists for Sakharov, Orlov, Sharansky), founded by Andrew Sessler and Morris Pripstein of the Lawrence Livermore labs eventually recruited 10,000 scientists who pledged to join the boycott.

In 1985, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met for the first time in Geneva, Switzerland. Following that meeting, the Soviets agreed to release Sharansky, although they insisted that he be included as part of an exchange of convicted spies. On February 11, 1986 Sharansky walked across a bridge from East Berlin and West Berlin. He was met by the Israeli ambassador and immediately handed an Israeli passport. When he reached Israel later that day, (after apologizing for being late!), he and his wife spoke by telephone with President Reagan and thanked him for interceding on their behalf.

Sharansky went on to become active in Israeli politics. He was elected to the Israeli parliament and served in the cabinets of both Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak.

And of course, in 1989 – three years after Reagan secured the release of Sharansky – the Soviet Union collapsed.

In 2006, Sharansky wrote an eloquent endorsement of President Bush for the Wall Street Journal, calling Bush the “Dissident President.”

I’ll indulge myself by referring readers to one final anecdote that reveals much about Sharansky’s character – both his integrity and his faith. Sharansky insisted on celebrating Hannakuh, even in the Gulag. When the camp commandant confiscated his menorrah and candles, he declared a hunger strike – which was only resolved when the commandment allowed him to finish his celebration in the commandant’s office – with Sharansky insisting that the commandant join in by saying “amen” at the conclusion of the prayers. Read the full account here.

For a reasonably complete biography of Sharansky, those interested can start with the entry at

FearNoEvilAnd for those who want to read a stirring account of perserverance and courage in the face of persecution, I highly recommend Sharansky’s memoir of his time in the gulag, called Fear No Evil: The Classic Memoir of One Man’s Triumph over a Police State.

-Rob Shearer
  Director, Schaeffer Study Center

And, predictably, its being ignored by the mainstream media. Before he went to the G8 summit, he spoke to a conference in Prague organized by President Havel and Natan Scharansky (more on them in another post).

One blogger, at the Jewish Review, named Bush our most eloquent president ever, based on this speech.

That blog entry is worth reading.

And so is Bush’s speech, which you will find in full on the White House web site.

Commit an act of rebellion. Read Bush’s speech for yourself.

Read it slowly.

Imagine it being delivered out loud. Imagine how it must have reverberated with men and women who had been imprisoned and tortured for years in the cause of freedom.

And then, give thanks to God that he appointed George Bush to be president for eight years.

-Rob Shearer
   Director, Schaeffer Study Center

“Freedom is the non-negotiable right of every man, woman, and child, and the path to lasting peace in our world is liberty.” – George W. Bush

PS: Do I detect the hand of Tony Snow in the text of the president’s speech?


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