Barack Obama’s interview with ABC News’ Charlie Gibson last night can be viewed as standard fare in what we’ve come to know of the Obama candidacy. But what might now seem familiar is something that should neither be taken for granted nor simply labeled as the well-polished performance of a seasoned candidate.
Obama is pitch-perfect and knows how to set exactly the right tone. This level of poise is no small feat when for months and months, your opponents have been flinging the wildest accusations in your direction.
More importantly, it sets the Obama presidency on a clear trajectory upon which if we might not now know many of the policy details or the circumstances in which they will get fleshed out, we do at least know the style with which Obama will handle executive power.
His will be measured, respectful, open and pragmatic. That’s an all-important contrast from a presidency that has been forceful, condescending, secretive and ideological.
This is a change in tone that truly matters.
In an era during which style has come to be regarded as a form of deceit — we invariably expect not to get what we see — Obama’s performance is viewed by skeptics as simply that: performance.
Well, if the polls are any indication, the performance worked. The postulation of an Obama presidency is likely to soon become the practice of President Obama.
We all get to find out: Did the majority of voters get hoodwinked by a slick performance? Or, was a secret fear behind the opposition one that none dare speak: that if Obama turned out to be the real deal, then his ability to function as an agent of change might be impossible to thwart?
U.S. diplomacy has been paralyzed by the rhetoric of “the war on terror” — a struggle against “evil,” in which other actors are “with us or with the terrorists.” Such rhetoric thwarts sound strategic thinking by assimilating opponents into a homogenous “terrorist” enemy. Only a political and diplomatic initiative that distinguishes political opponents of the United States — including violent ones — from global terrorists such as al Qaeda can reduce the threat faced by the Afghan and Pakistani states and secure the rest of the international community from the international terrorist groups based there. Such an initiative would have two elements. It would seek a political solution with as much of the Afghan and Pakistani insurgencies as possible, offering political inclusion, the integration of Pakistan’s indirectly ruled Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) into the mainstream political and administrative institutions of Pakistan, and an end to hostile action by international troops in return for cooperation against al Qaeda. And it would include a major diplomatic and development initiative addressing the vast array of regional and global issues that have become intertwined with the crisis — and that serve to stimulate, intensify, and prolong conflict in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Afghanistan has been at war for three decades — a period longer than the one that started with World War I and ended with the Normandy landings on D-day in World War II — and now that war is spreading to Pakistan and beyond. This war and the attendant terrorism could well continue and spread, even to other continents — as on 9/11 — or lead to the collapse of a nuclear-armed state. The regional crisis is of that magnitude, and yet so far there is no international framework to address it other than the underresourced and poorly coordinated operations in Afghanistan and some attacks in the FATA. The next U.S. administration should launch an effort, initially based on a contact group authorized by the UN Security Council, to put an end to the increasingly destructive dynamics of the Great Game in the region. The game has become too deadly and has attracted too many players; it now resembles less a chess match than the Afghan game of buzkashi, with Afghanistan playing the role of the goat carcass fought over by innumerable teams. Washington must seize the opportunity now to replace this Great Game with a new grand bargain for the region. [continued…]
The world is heading for an “ecological credit crunch” far worse than the current financial crisis because humans are over-using the natural resources of the planet, an international study warns today.
The Living Planet report calculates that humans are using 30% more resources than the Earth can replenish each year, which is leading to deforestation, degraded soils, polluted air and water, and dramatic declines in numbers of fish and other species. As a result, we are running up an ecological debt of $4tr (£2.5tr) to $4.5tr every year – double the estimated losses made by the world’s financial institutions as a result of the credit crisis – say the report’s authors, led by the conservation group WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund. The figure is based on a UN report which calculated the economic value of services provided by ecosystems destroyed annually, such as diminished rainfall for crops or reduced flood protection.
The problem is also getting worse as populations and consumption keep growing faster than technology finds new ways of expanding what can be produced from the natural world. This had led the report to predict that by 2030, if nothing changes, mankind would need two planets to sustain its lifestyle. “The recent downturn in the global economy is a stark reminder of the consequences of living beyond our means,” says James Leape, WWF International’s director general. “But the possibility of financial recession pales in comparison to the looming ecological credit crunch.” [continued…]
Back in January, I argued that four major forces would lead to a risk of deflation– or “stag-deflation,” where a recession would be associated with deflationary forces–rather than the inflation that mainstream analysts have worried about.
They were: (1) a slack in goods markets, (2) a re-coupling of the rest of the world with the U.S. recession, (3) a slack in labor markets, and (4) a sharp fall in commodity prices following such U.S. and global contraction, which would reduce inflationary forces and lead to deflationary forces in the global economy.
How has such argument fared over time? And will the U.S. and global economies soon face sharp deflationary pressures? The answer: Deflation and stag-deflation will, in six months, become the main concern of policy authorities. [continued…]
The global financial system as it is currently constituted is characterised by a pernicious asymmetry. The financial authorities of the developed countries are in charge and they will do whatever it takes to prevent the system from collapsing. They are, however, less concerned with the fate of countries at the periphery. As a result, the system provides less stability and protection for those countries than for the countries at the centre. This asymmetry – which is enshrined in the veto rights the US enjoys in the International Monetary Fund, explains why the US has been able to run up an ever-increasing current account deficit over the past quarter of a century. The so-called Washington consensus imposed strict market discipline on other countries but the US was exempt from it. [continued…]
The view is widely held, particularly in the US, that the world needs a big purge of past excesses. Recessions, on this line of argument, are good. People who hold this view also argue that governments caused all the mistakes. The market would, they insist, be incapable of the errors we have seen. To them, Alan Greenspan’s confession last week that “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interest of organisations, specifically banks and others, was such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders” was about as welcome as Brutus’s knife was to Caesar.
Intriguingly, the Bank’s Financial Stability Report provides some support for this view: back in 1900, US banks had four times as much capital, relative to assets, as they do today. Similarly, the liquidity of the assets held by UK banks has collapsed over the past half-century. Implicit and explicit guarantees from governments have indeed made the financial system more dangerous than before. The combination of such guarantees with deregulation has proved lethal. Moral hazard is far from meaningless.
Yet the idea that a quick recession would purge the world of past excesses is ludicrous. The danger is, instead, of a slump, as a mountain of private debt – in the US, equal to three times GDP – topples over into mass bankruptcy. The downward spiral would begin with further decay of financial systems and proceed via pervasive mistrust, the vanishing of credit, closure of vast numbers of businesses, soaring unemployment, tumbling commodity prices, cascading declines in asset prices and soaring repossessions. Globalisation would spread the catastrophe everywhere.
Many of the victims would be innocent of past excesses, while many of the most guilty would retain their ill-gotten gains. This would be a recipe not for a revival of 19th-century laisser faire, but for xenophobia, nationalism and revolution. As it is, such outcomes are conceivable. Choosing to risk such an outcome would be like deciding to let a city burn in order to punish someone who smoked in bed. Risking huge damage now in the hope of lowering moral hazard later is mad. [continued…]
John McCain’s campaign is looking for a scapegoat. It is looking for someone to blame if McCain loses on Tuesday.
And it has decided on Sarah Palin.
In recent days, a McCain “adviser” told Dana Bash of CNN: “She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone.”
Imagine not taking advice from the geniuses at the McCain campaign. What could Palin be thinking?
Also, a “top McCain adviser” told Mike Allen of Politico that Palin is “a whack job.”
Maybe she is. But who chose to put this “whack job” on the ticket? Wasn’t it John McCain? And wasn’t it his first presidential-level decision? [continued…]