NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: October 8

For the new contagion, the same old prescriptions

Against a backdrop of an unfolding meltdown in global financial markets and the near-certainty of a U.S. recession, the two candidates for president used the occasion of a much-anticipated town hall meeting last night to repeat all the talking points they were making long before the recent bank failures, the free fall of stock prices and the federal government’s expensive rescue efforts.

A televised national debate is hardly the ideal place to lay out a 10-point program for containing the credit crisis or for rebuilding and redesigning the world’s financial infrastructure. But neither did either candidate see it as an opportunity to lay out the broad principles he would follow in managing the current crisis or to sketch the outlines of a new form of capitalism that might replace the current model, which many Americans are coming to conclude provides too little in the way of fairness and economic security.

Asked by an Internet questioner what sacrifices they were prepared to ask Americans to make to get us out of the economic mess, both Barack Obama and John McCain sidestepped the question, with McCain resorting to his familiar promises to cut back on pork-barrel spending and Obama pitching a easy-to-swallow plea for everyone to turn down the thermostat.

Rather than talking about sacrifices, the candidates got into their most spirited exchanges while trying to outdo each other in proving that he would be the most aggressive and committed in cutting taxes for most households. [continued…]

It is time for comprehensive rescues of financial systems

As John Maynard Keynes is alleged to have said: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” I have changed my mind, as the panic has grown. Investors and lenders have moved from trusting anybody to trusting nobody. The fear driving today’s breakdown in financial markets is as exaggerated as the greed that drove the opposite behaviour a little while ago. But unjustified panic also causes devastation. It must be halted, not next week, but right now.

The time for a higgledy-piggledy, institution-by-institution and country-by-country approach is over. It took me a while – arguably, too long – to realise the full dangers. Maybe it was errors at the US Treasury, particularly the decision to let Lehman fail, that triggered today’s panic. So what should be done? In a word, “everything”. The affected economies account for more than half of global output. This makes the crisis much the most significant since the 1930s. [continued…]

The Palins’ un-American activities

“My government is my worst enemy. I’m going to fight them with any means at hand.”

This was former revolutionary terrorist Bill Ayers back in his old Weather Underground days, right? Imagine what Sarah Palin is going to do with this incendiary quote as she tears into Barack Obama this week.

Only one problem. The quote is from Joe Vogler, the raging anti-American who founded the Alaska Independence Party. Inconveniently for Palin, that’s the very same secessionist party that her husband, Todd, belonged to for seven years and that she sent a shout-out to as Alaska governor earlier this year. (“Keep up the good work,” Palin told AIP members. “And God bless you.”) [continued…]

Voting the fate of the nation

In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama called the forthcoming presidential election a “defining moment” in this country’s history. It is conceivable that he is right. There are precedents in American history for an election inaugurating a period of reform and political realignment.

Such a development, however, is extremely rare and surrounded by contingencies normally beyond the control of the advocates of reform. So let me speculate about whether the 2008 election might set in motion a political reconfiguration — and even a political renaissance — in the United States, restoring a modicum of democracy to the country’s political system, while ending our march toward imperialism, perpetual warfare, and bankruptcy that began with the Cold War. [continued…]

Spying on the future

The year is 2010 and, yes, Saddam Hussein is gone and there are no American troops in Iraq, but, as the report suggests, “the challenge will be to see whether a modern, secular successor government emerges that does not threaten its neighbors” — especially since those dogged Iraqis are back at work on their nuclear weapons program. Meanwhile, the national security agenda of American policymakers, who face no conventional military challenges, is dominated by five questions: “whether to intervene, when, with whom, with what tools, and to what end?”

Surveying the world in 2010, we find a Russia irredeemably in economic decline, a China beset by too many internal problems to hope for military dominance in Asia, and a North Korea so transformed that military tensions have vanished from the Korean peninsula (along, evidently, with the North Korean nuclear program). Oh, and those food riots that swept the globe recently, they never happened. After all, it’s well known that food production has kept up with population pressures, and energy production has been more than a match for global energy needs. As for global warming? Never heard of it. On the bright side, the key to the future is “international cooperation,” led, of course, by us truly. [continued…]

Judge orders 17 detainees at Guantánamo freed

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the Bush administration to release 17 detainees at Guantánamo Bay by the end of the week, the first such ruling in nearly seven years of legal disputes over the administration’s detention policies.

The judge, Ricardo M. Urbina of Federal District Court, ordered that the 17 men be brought to his courtroom on Friday from the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where they have been held since 2002. He indicated that he would release the men, members of the restive Uighur Muslim minority in western China, into the care of supporters in the United States, initially in the Washington area.

“I think the moment has arrived for the court to shine the light of constitutionality on the reasons for detention,” Judge Urbina said.

Saying the men had never fought the United States and were not a security threat, he tersely rejected Bush administration claims that he lacked the power to order the men set free in the United States and government requests that he stay his order to permit an immediate appeal.

The ruling was a sharp setback for the administration, which has waged a long legal battle to defend its policies of detention at the naval base at Guantánamo Bay, arguing a broad executive power in waging war. Federal courts up to the Supreme Court have waded through detention questions and in several major cases the courts have rejected administration contentions. [continued…]

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