Obama to preempt McCain assault

Branding his opponent as “erratic in a crisis,” Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is preempting plans by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to portray him as having sinister connections to controversial Chicagoans.

Obama officials call it political jujitsu – turning the attacks back on the attacker.

McCain officials had said early in the weekend that they plan to begin advertising after Tuesday’s debate that will tie Obama to convicted money launderer Tony Rezko and former Weathermen radical William Ayers.

But Obama isn’t waiting to respond. His campaign is going up Monday on national cable stations with a scathing ad saying: “Three quarters of a million jobs lost this year. Our financial system in turmoil. And John McCain? Erratic in a crisis. Out of touch on the economy. No wonder his campaign wants to change the subject. [continued…]

Palin hits Obama for ‘terrorist’ connection

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on Saturday slammed Sen. Barack Obama’s political relationship with a former anti-war radical, accusing him of associating “with terrorists who targeted their own country.”

Palin’s attack delivered on the McCain campaign’s announcement that it would step up attacks on the Democratic presidential candidate with just a month left before the November general election. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — The McCain campaign is clearly getting desperate. The election is a whole month away and they’re already unleashing what they hope will be political weapons of mass destruction.

But the name that McCain and Palin need to keep in mind is not William Ayers — it’s José María Aznar López.

There was a man convinced that terrorism, as a political issue, was a reliable ally and yet it destroyed his chance to continue governing Spain.

Americans aren’t that stupid. When the issue is the economy and the GOP shouts “terrorism”, instead of provoking fear, they are more likely to churn up disgust.

The real Americans

As Sarah Palin “aw-shucks-ed” her way through Thursday’s debate, she repeatedly played the one card that has become her stock in trade: She is a real American. Her rural roots, her lack of sophistication and worldliness, her bare bones education, her plain-spokenness, her moose hunting — all of these seemed to brand her as a typical American, one of us us. She has even taken to calling herself Jane Sixpack.

This characterization, ludicrous as it may be in a country as diverse as ours, is more than a matter of political aesthetics. One of the most important components of our recent presidential elections is the redefinition — actually the narrowing of the definition — of what constitutes an American. Since 2000 at least, we’ve been asking ourselves which candidate is the one we’d rather belly up to the bar with for a beer. Never mind George W. Bush’s Brahmin pedigree and Yale education; he reinvented himself as a cowboy. By comparison, Al Gore was ridiculed as a Harvard stiff and John Kerry as Frenchified. Now Barack Obama is being subjected to the same mockery.

It is tempting to attribute this sort of demagoguery entirely to Republican calculation. By constantly promoting the notion that Republicans are just a bunch of NASCAR fans and that Democrats are effete, the GOP has successfully divided the country not between red and blue politics but between one version of America and another, between the allegedly authentic and the allegedly inauthentic. But in reality, Republicans have only been exploiting a vein deep within the American consciousness. And who can blame them? What Republicans realize is that most Americans always have been desperately afraid of being seen as phony, and they are actively hostile toward anyone with airs. In fact, liberty is only one foundation of America. The nation rests just as securely on fear and resentment. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — In the political contest over who can make the most authentic claim on American identity, a core American value that gets glossed over is self-reliance. Sure, the goal of ending this country’s dependence on foreign oil pays lip service to the notion of self-reliance (even while tapping into bipartisan xenophobia), but historically and inherently, self-reliance means being able to tame ones appetites and find contentment in knowing that what is sufficient is enough.

The America that can never have enough is an America that has lost touch with its roots.

9/11 was big. This is bigger.

Two September shocks will define the presidency of George W. Bush. Stunningly enough, it already seems clear that the second — the financial crisis that has only begun to unfold — may well have far greater and more lasting ramifications than the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

That’s because while 9/11 changed the way we view the world, the current financial crisis has changed the way the world views us. And it will also change, in some very fundamental ways, the way the world works.

Of course, the Sept. 11 attacks left a deep scar on the soul of the country and caused immense tragedy. Beyond human losses, they also revealed that being the sole superpower did not make us safe. But the attacks themselves were not, in a real sense, as significant a turning point in world history as they may have seemed at the time. (Remember, it was actually Bush’s father who had first been put in charge of an American “war on terror” during the 1980s when he was Ronald Reagan’s vice president.)

The current economic debacle is far more likely to be seen by historians as a true global watershed: the end of one period and the beginning of another. The financial chaos has brought down the curtain on a wide range of basic and enduring tenets also closely linked with the Reagan era, those associated with neoliberal economics, the system that the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has called “that grab-bag of ideas based on the fundamentalist notion that markets are self-correcting, allocate resources efficiently and serve the public interest well.” Already this crisis has seen not just our enemies but even some of our closest allies wondering whether we are at the beginning of the end of both American-style capitalism and of American supremacy. [continued…]

He told us to go shopping. Now the bill is due.

It’s widely thought that the biggest gamble President Bush ever took was deciding to invade Iraq in 2003. It wasn’t. His riskiest move was actually one made right after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when he chose not to mobilize the country or summon his fellow citizens to any wartime economic sacrifice. Bush tried to remake the world on the cheap, and as the bill grew larger, he still refused to ask Americans to pay up. During this past week, that gamble collapsed, leaving the rest of us to sort through the wreckage.

To understand this link between today’s financial crisis and Bush’s wider national security decisions, we need to go back to 9/11 itself. From the very outset, the president described the “war on terror” as a vast undertaking of paramount importance. But he simultaneously urged Americans to carry on as if there were no war. “Get down to Disney World in Florida,” he urged just over two weeks after 9/11. “Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.” Bush certainly wanted citizens to support his war — he just wasn’t going to require them actually to do anything. The support he sought was not active but passive. It entailed not popular engagement but popular deference. Bush simply wanted citizens (and Congress) to go along without asking too many questions.

So his administration’s policies reflected an oddly business-as-usual approach. Senior officials routinely described the war as global in scope and likely to last decades, but the administration made no effort to expand the armed forces. It sought no additional revenue to cover the costs of waging a protracted conflict. It left the nation’s economic priorities unchanged. Instead of sacrifices, it offered tax cuts. So as the American soldier fought, the American consumer binged, encouraged by American banks offering easy credit. [continued…]

Pitbull Palin mauls McCain

Sarah Palin’s post-Couric/Fey comeback at last week’s vice presidential debate was a turning point in the campaign. But if she “won,” as her indulgent partisans and press claque would have it, the loser was not Joe Biden. It was her running mate. With a month to go, the 2008 election is now an Obama-Palin race — about “the future,” as Palin kept saying Thursday night — and the only person who doesn’t seem to know it is Mr. Past, poor old John McCain.

To understand the meaning of Palin’s “victory,” it must be seen in the context of two ominous developments that directly preceded it. Just hours before the debate began, the McCain campaign pulled out of Michigan. That state is ground zero for the collapsed Main Street economy and for so-called Reagan Democrats, those white working-class voters who keep being told by the right that Barack Obama is a Muslim who hung with bomb-throwing radicals during his childhood in the late 1960s.

McCain surrendered Michigan despite having outspent his opponent on television advertising and despite Obama’s twin local handicaps, an unpopular Democratic governor and a felonious, now former, black Democratic Detroit mayor. If McCain can’t make it there, can he make it anywhere in the Rust Belt?

Not without an economic message. McCain’s most persistent attempt, his self-righteous crusade against earmarks, collapsed with his poll numbers. Next to a $700 billion bailout package, his incessant promise to eliminate all Washington pork — by comparison, a puny grand total of $16.5 billion in the 2008 federal budget — doesn’t bring home the bacon. Nor can McCain reconcile his I-will-veto-government-waste mantra with his support, however tardy, of the bailout bill. That bill’s $150 billion in fresh pork includes a boondoggle inserted by the Congressman Don Young, an Alaskan Republican no less. [continued…]

Relax, Captain Ali: the USS Washington is sinking fast

As the world economy creaked slowly over the edge of the abyss last week, business was booming in the East African seaside village of Hobyo. There, a local entrepreneur called Sugule Ali worked the international media by sat-phone as he pondered the gains from his latest hostile takeover – of the freighter Faina.

Ali could be called a captain of industry in what’s left of Somalia. His business is piracy, and business is booming: pirates have attacked 62 ships this year, exchanging the vessels and their crews for ransoms estimated at $30 million.

That infusion of cash has jump-started the local economy in nearby towns such as Eyl, sparking a boom in construction and support industries like restaurants to feed the hostage crews while pirate “accountants” carrying laptops and sat-phones negotiate with shipping companies (who usually pay). Ali initially set his ransom for the Faina at $30 million, expecting to make as much as the whole industry had taken this year for just the one ship – because of its cargo. The Ukrainian vessel, flying the flag of Belize, was carrying 33 Russian T-72 tanks, a large number of RPGs and other armaments. He soon dropped his price to $20 million, and lower – maybe because the US Navy had sailed a warship to within spitting distance of the pirate camp, and a Russian frigate was on its way.

The urgency of America’s response to the Faina’s hijacking was driven by its primary strategic objective in the region – pursuing al Qa’eda and all who would associate with it. The danger of a shipload of heavy weapons falling into the hands of radical Islamists needed to be nipped in the bud. [continued…]

Jewish terrorism threatens Israel

Professor Zeev Sternhell knows as much as anyone about the current threat from Jewish terrorism.

His right leg is recovering from shrapnel caused when a bomb, believed to have been the work of right-wing Jewish extremists, exploded outside the front door of his Jerusalem apartment last week.

While Arab-Jewish violence is common, the attack on the 73-year-old historian has shocked public opinion in Israel because all the evidence points to it being intra-Jewish.

“I consider it an act of Jewish terrorism,” he said in an interview from the modest apartment where the bomb exploded. [continued…]

A schizophrenic state

The West Bank separation fence divides Israeli society into two worlds utterly different in their perceptions of reality and of the problems that affect them. On one side are those disturbed by the crisis on Wall Street, by the lack of leadership and the Iranian threat. Few worry about what is happening in the West Bank, and certainly no one visits there. The Palestinians are forgotten when there are no suicide bombings, the settlers are viewed as a strange society, and the peace talks pursued by Ehud Olmert seem like irrelevant spin.

On the other side of the fence, in Settlers’ Country, things look quite different. There, no one worries about Wall Street or Ahmadinejad, but about survival. The settlers are angry with the state that evacuated the Gush Katif settlements in the Gaza Strip, at the army and the Supreme Court and the leftist media. They take seriously Olmert’s declarations of support for withdrawing from nearly all of the West Bank, prepare for the coming withdrawal and make pilgrimages to abandoned outposts like Homesh.

This schizophrenia, convenient for both sides, has been nurtured by the Olmert government. Despite the prime minister announcing his backing for the evacuation of settlements beyond the fence, he essentially gave the settlers free rein after the destruction of the Amona outpost. Defense Minister Ehud Barak refused to wrestle with the settlers in the government’s name and consistently sought ways to negotiate with them, claiming he is unwilling to solve problems created by his predecessors over 40 years ago all by himself. Barak was supported by the unwillingness of the army and police to deploy forces to evacuate unauthorized outposts by force. [continued…]

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