McCain can run, but Bush won’t hide

The biggest gift President Bush has given his party this year was to keep his daughter’s wedding nearly as private as Connie Corleone’s. Now that his disapproval rating has reached the Nixon nadir of negativity, even a joyous familial ritual isn’t enough to make the country glad to see him. The G.O.P.’s best hope would be for both the president and Dick Cheney to lock themselves in a closet until the morning after Election Day.

Republicans finally recognized the gravity of their situation three days after Jenna Bush took her vows in Crawford. As Hillary Clinton romped in West Virginia, voters in Mississippi elected a Democrat in a Congressional district that went for Bush-Cheney by 25 percentage points just four years ago. It’s the third “safe” Republican House seat to fall in a special election since March.

Party leaders have been haplessly trying to identify possible remedies ever since. It didn’t help that their recent stab at an Obamaesque national Congressional campaign slogan, “The Change You Deserve,” was humiliatingly identified as the advertising pitch for the anti-depressant Effexor. (If they’re going to go the pharmaceutical route, “Viva Viagra” might be more to the point.) Yet for all the Republican self-flagellation, it’s still not clear that the party even understands the particular dimensions of its latest defeat and its full implications for both Congressional races and John McCain in November.

A campaign without the ‘gotchas’

… gaffe-hunting makes up a substantial slice of contemporary campaign journalism. It is certainly the part that candidates fear most. And it is poisonous to our polity. You often hear that the media are too liberal or too conservative, too corporate or too effete. But to politicians, they are something else altogether: too trivializing and too intent on ferreting out moments of humiliation. They rob politicians of their ability to campaign in an honorable or spontaneous way.

A study by Indiana University telecommunications professors Erik Bucy and Maria Grabe found that from 1968 to 1992, the clips of presidential candidates speaking on network news were cut from an average of one minute to about 10 seconds. Since 1992, that’s dropped to eight seconds. Which means that politicians are being filtered through the media lens more than ever. Only a third of those eight-second clips addressed substantive issues of policy. Ask yourself: How much substantive policy do you think you could communicate in eight seconds?

Shaping a nuclear Iran

As President Bush addressed the Israeli parliament last week, denouncing negotiations with recalcitrant regimes as the “false comfort of appeasement,” his diplomats, in conjunction with their European counterparts, offered Iran another incentive package to stop enriching uranium. Even though they are making another effort to disarm Iran through mediation, the administration’s approach is hopelessly defective. Beyond insisting on onerous conditions that are unlikely to be met by any Iranian government, the United States and its allies still hope that Tehran will trade its enrichment rights for inducements. If Washington is going to mitigate the Iranian nuclear danger, it must discard the formula of exchanging commercial contracts for nuclear rights and seek more imaginative solutions.

Although Iran’s theocratic regime is perennially divided against itself, it has sustained a remarkable consensus on the nuclear issue. In today’s political climate, neither Western sanctions nor offers of incentives will fracture state unity. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has rejected any compromise, saying that “we will forcefully continue on our path and will not allow the oppressors to step on our rights.” In a rare note of agreement, Hashemi Rafsanjani, Khamenei’s rival and a politician known for his pragmatism, has similarly claimed, “It is our natural right; if we retreat on this path, we will allow the enemy to interfere with every issue of our country.”

The old titans all collapsed. Is the U.S. next?

More than 80 percent of Americans now say that we are on the wrong track, but many if not most still believe that the history of other nations is irrelevant — that the United States is unique, chosen by God. So did all the previous world economic powers: Rome, Spain, the Netherlands (in the maritime glory days of the 17th century, when New York was New Amsterdam) and 19th-century Britain. Their early strength was also their later weakness, not unlike the United States since the 1980s.

There is a considerable literature on these earlier illusions and declines. Reading it, one can argue that imperial Spain, maritime Holland and industrial Britain shared a half-dozen vulnerabilities as they peaked and declined: a sense of things no longer being on the right track, intolerant or missionary religion, military or imperial overreach, economic polarization, the rise of finance (displacing industry) and excessive debt. So too for today’s United States.

Famine looms as wars rend Horn of Africa

Somalia — and much of the volatile Horn of Africa, for that matter — was about the last place on earth that needed a food crisis. Even before commodity prices started shooting up around the globe, civil war, displacement and imperiled aid operations had pushed many people here to the brink of famine.

But now with food costs spiraling out of reach and the livestock that people live off of dropping dead in the sand, villagers across this sun-blasted landscape say hundreds of people are dying of hunger and thirst.

This is what happens, economists say, when the global food crisis meets local chaos.

“We’re really in the perfect storm,” said Jeffrey D. Sachs, a Columbia economist and top United Nations adviser, who recently visited neighboring Kenya.

There has been a collision of troubles throughout the region: skimpy rainfall, disastrous harvests, soaring food prices, dying livestock, escalating violence, out-of-control inflation, and shrinking food aid because of many of these factors.

One country’s table scraps, another country’s meal

Grocery bills are rising through the roof. Food banks are running short of donations. And food shortages are causing sporadic riots in poor countries through the world.

You’d never know it if you saw what was ending up in your landfill. As it turns out, Americans waste an astounding amount of food — an estimated 27 percent of the food available for consumption, according to a government study — and it happens at the supermarket, in restaurants and cafeterias and in your very own kitchen. It works out to about a pound of food every day for every American.

Grocery stores discard products because of spoilage or minor cosmetic blemishes. Restaurants throw away what they don’t use. And consumers toss out everything from bananas that have turned brown to last week’s Chinese leftovers. In 1997, in one of the few studies of food waste, the Department of Agriculture estimated that two years before, 96.4 billion pounds of the 356 billion pounds of edible food in the United States was never eaten. Fresh produce, milk, grain products and sweeteners made up two-thirds of the waste. An update is under way.

U.S. planning big new prison in Afghanistan

The Pentagon is moving forward with plans to build a new, 40-acre detention complex on the main American military base in Afghanistan, officials said, in a stark acknowledgment that the United States is likely to continue to hold prisoners overseas for years to come.

The proposed detention center would replace the cavernous, makeshift American prison on the Bagram military base north of Kabul, which is now typically packed with about 630 prisoners, compared with the 270 held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Until now, the Bush administration had signaled that it intended to scale back American involvement in detention operations in Afghanistan. It had planned to transfer a large majority of the prisoners to Afghan custody, in an American-financed, high-security prison outside Kabul to be guarded by Afghan soldiers.

But American officials now concede that the new Afghan-run prison cannot absorb all the Afghans now detained by the United States, much less the waves of new prisoners from the escalating fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Bounties a bust in hunt for Al-Qaeda

Jaber Elbaneh is one of the world’s most-wanted terrorism suspects. In 2003, the U.S. government indicted him, posted a $5 million reward for his capture and distributed posters bearing photos of him around the globe.

None of it worked. Elbaneh remains at large, as wanted as ever. The al-Qaeda operative, however, isn’t very hard to find.

One day last month, he shuffled down a busy street here in the Yemeni capital, past several indifferent policemen. Then he disappeared inside a building, though not before accidentally stepping on a reporter’s toes.

Elbaneh, 41, is one of two dozen al-Qaeda members listed under a U.S. program that offers enormous sums of cash for information leading to their capture. For years, the Bush administration has touted the bounties as a powerful tool in its fight against terrorism. But in the hunt for al-Qaeda, it has proved a bust.

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