The Democrats play trivial pursuit

In The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama tells an amusing story about his first tour through downstate Illinois, when he had the audacity to order Dijon mustard on his cheeseburger at a TGI Friday’s. His political aide hastily informed the waitress that Obama didn’t want Dijon at all, and thrust a yellow bottle of ordinary-American heartland-values mustard at him instead. The perplexed waitress informed Obama that she had Dijon if he wanted. He smiled and said thanks. “As the waitress walked away, I leaned over and whispered that I didn’t think there were any photographers around,” Obama recalled.

Obama’s memoir dripped with contempt for modern gotcha politics, for a campaign culture obsessed with substantively irrelevant but supposedly symbolic gaffes like John Kerry ordering Swiss cheese or Al Gore sighing or George H.W. Bush checking his watch or Michael Dukakis looking dorky in a tank. “What’s troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics—the ease with which we are distracted by the petty and trivial,” he wrote.

Last night at the National Constitution Center, at a Democratic debate that was hyped by ABC as a discussion of serious constitutional issues, America got to see exactly what Obama was complaining about. At a time of foreign wars, economic collapse and environmental peril, the cringe-worthy first half of the debate focused on such crucial matters as Senator Obama’s comments about rural bitterness, his former pastor, an obscure sixties radical with whom he was allegedly “friendly,” and the burning constitutional question of why he doesn’t wear an American flag pin on his lapel — with a single detour into Senator Hillary Clinton’s yarn about sniper fire in Tuzla. Apparently, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos ran out of time before they could ask Obama why he’s such a lousy bowler.

Jimmy Carter, Hamas, and the media

Jimmy Carter is, predictably, being savaged for meeting with officials from Hamas during his current visit to the Middle East. “It’s bad enough that Carter…will be putting a stamp of legitimacy on a gang of cutthroats who’ve never hesitated to include Americans in their growing body count,” said the New York Post in its typically measured style. “The saddest thing about this get-together is that it comes as no real surprise. Indeed, it’s entirely in keeping with Carter’s recent embrace of Palestinian extremism–to the point where, in his latest published anti-Israel screed, he all but gave his blessing to attacks on Israel.”

Carter’s general position on the need for the U.S. to engage Hamas receives little support elsewhere in the media, including the liberal blogosphere. “Since Syria and Hamas will have to be involved in a final peace agreement,” he said yesterday, “they will have to be involved in discussions that lead to final peace.”

No peace without Hamas

Our movement fights on because we cannot allow the foundational crime at the core of the Jewish state — the violent expulsion from our lands and villages that made us refugees — to slip out of world consciousness, forgotten or negotiated away. Judaism — which gave so much to human culture in the contributions of its ancient lawgivers and modern proponents of tikkun olam — has corrupted itself in the detour into Zionism, nationalism and apartheid.

A “peace process” with Palestinians cannot take even its first tiny step until Israel first withdraws to the borders of 1967; dismantles all settlements; removes all soldiers from Gaza and the West Bank; repudiates its illegal annexation of Jerusalem; releases all prisoners; and ends its blockade of our international borders, our coastline and our airspace permanently. This would provide the starting point for just negotiations and would lay the groundwork for the return of millions of refugees. Given what we have lost, it is the only basis by which we can start to be whole again.

Israel’s deputy prime minister to Carter: Tell Meshal that I want to discuss prisoner swap

Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai asked former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to tell Hamas leaders, including Khaled Meshal, that he would like to meet in order to expedite a prisoner exchange that would bring home kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

Yishai relayed his message to Carter during a meeting on Monday. The meeting was held at the request of the former president, who wanted to meet with Israeli political leaders from across the political spectrum. The meeting was arranged through the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Yishai’s bureau said he did not ask Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for permission to hold the meeting, nor did he tell Olmert what he discussed. Yishai said other Israeli officials erred in boycotting Carter.

My militia is more untouchable than yours

In a make-believe world where the green, green grass of the “surge” is alive with the sound of music, the George W Bush administration and US counterinsurgency ace General David Petraeus – not to mention presidential candidate Senator John McCain – keep assuring American public opinion the “surge” (now reconverted into a “pause”) is working.

But back in real life, an Iraq transfixed by no less than 28 militias is burning – again – all over, even in “invisible” (at least for Western media) places. Couple that with the relentless Bush administration narrative of “blame, blame Iran” and we have American public opinion strangled by a formidable disinformation octopus.

Washington keeps spinning the success of a “war on terror” narrative in northern Iraq against “al-Qaeda”. This is false. The US is basically fighting indigenous Sunni Arab guerrilla groups – some with Islamic overtones, some neo-Ba’athists. These are no terrorists. Their agenda is unmistakable: occupation out.

What will they really do about Iraq?

As they’ve campaigned for president, John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have staked out their positions on the war. But remarkably, even this far into the campaign their plans have largely escaped close scrutiny by the press.

Salon spoke recently with a half dozen national security advisors to presidential candidates from both parties, as well as with independent military experts, about the daunting Iraq issue. In private conversations, all agreed that a political solution among Iraq’s bitterly divided sects was the only road to some version of success in that country. And all agreed that certain outcomes, such as a regional war, would be unacceptable from the standpoint of U.S. interests in the crucial oil-rich area.

But even in off-the-record conversations, it was difficult to nail down what the three candidates consider to be an acceptable, and attainable, end state in Iraq. And there is little evidence that the broader plans and tactics espoused by the candidates would result in such an outcome.

The end of the world as you know it

Oil at $110 a barrel. Gasoline at $3.35 (or more) per gallon. Diesel fuel at $4 per gallon. Independent truckers forced off the road. Home heating oil rising to unconscionable price levels. Jet fuel so expensive that three low-cost airlines stopped flying in the past few weeks. This is just a taste of the latest energy news, signaling a profound change in how all of us, in this country and around the world, are going to live — trends that, so far as anyone can predict, will only become more pronounced as energy supplies dwindle and the global struggle over their allocation intensifies.

Energy of all sorts was once hugely abundant, making possible the worldwide economic expansion of the past six decades. This expansion benefited the United States above all — along with its “First World” allies in Europe and the Pacific. Recently, however, a select group of former “Third World” countries — China and India in particular — have sought to participate in this energy bonanza by industrializing their economies and selling a wide range of goods to international markets. This, in turn, has led to an unprecedented spurt in global energy consumption — a 47% rise in the past 20 years alone, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE).

An increase of this sort would not be a matter of deep anxiety if the world’s primary energy suppliers were capable of producing the needed additional fuels. Instead, we face a frightening reality: a marked slowdown in the expansion of global energy supplies just as demand rises precipitously. These supplies are not exactly disappearing — though that will occur sooner or later — but they are not growing fast enough to satisfy soaring global demand.

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