Here’s a bottom line to keep you up at night: The economy is falling faster than Washington can get moving. President Obama says his stimulus plan will save or create four million jobs in two years. In the last four months of 2008 alone, employment fell by 1.9 million. Do the math.
The abyss is widening. Of the 30 companies in the Dow Jones industrial index, 22 have announced job cuts since October. Unemployment is up in all 50 states, with layoffs at both high-tech companies (Microsoft) and low (Caterpillar). The December job loss in retailing is the worst since at least 1939. The new-home sales rate has fallen to its all-time low since record-keeping began in 1963.
What are Americans still buying? Big Macs, Campbell’s soup, Hershey’s chocolate and Spam — the four food groups of the apocalypse.
The crisis is at least as grave as the one that confronted us — and, for a time, united us — after 9/11. Which is why the antics among Republicans on Capitol Hill seem so surreal. These are the same politicians who only yesterday smeared the patriotism of any dissenters from Bush’s “war on terror.” Where is their own patriotism now that economic terror is inflicting far more harm on their constituents than Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent W.M.D.? [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — Writing from New York, Frank Rich probably feels obliged to say a crisis “as grave” as the one that confronted us on 9/11 — but he really shouldn’t have pulled his punch.
This is a crisis whose scale looks like it might turn 9/11 into what with hindsight we discover was a catastrophic distraction.
Think of it as like being stung by a yellow jacket while you’re driving down the highway and then, when you’ve only just finished saying “ouch”, you slam head-on into a truck.
We are here today to talk about how we as Americans and how the United States of America as part of the global community should address the dangerous and growing threat of the climate crisis.
We have arrived at a moment of decision. Our home – Earth – is in grave danger. What is at risk of being destroyed is not the planet itself, of course, but the conditions that have made it hospitable for human beings.
Moreover, we must face up to this urgent and unprecedented threat to the existence of our civilization at a time when our country must simultaneously solve two other worsening crises. Our economy is in its deepest recession since the 1930s. And our national security is endangered by a vicious terrorist network and the complex challenge of ending the war in Iraq honorably while winning the military and political struggle in Afghanistan.
As we search for solutions to all three of these challenges, it is becoming clearer that they are linked by a common thread – our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels. As long as we continue to send hundreds of billions of dollars for foreign oil – year after year – to the most dangerous and unstable regions of the world, our national security will continue to be at risk. [continued…]
Fighter reconnaissance pilots possess steely resolve. Having served his time flying Strikemasters during Britain’s “secret war” in Oman in the 1970s and a Jaguar reconnaissance aircraft during the cold war, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, now chief of the defence staff, knows something about steering a difficult course into hostile territory. Indeed, he’s still doing it today. He is described by many in the services as “Gordon’s favourite defence chief” – and it is not meant as a compliment.
At a time when the armed forces are stuck in two unpopular wars, Stirrup has come under heavy fire for his willingness to work with his political masters. Typically, he brushes aside suggestions that the defence budget is in trouble. There is “serious pressure” he admits, but “we have to adjust our programme so that we can live within the available resources”. It is not hard to see why this frustrates troops waiting on the ground in Afghanistan for a helicopter that may or may not arrive to deliver supplies. [continued…]
The CIA’s secret prisons are being shuttered. Harsh interrogation techniques are off-limits. And Guantanamo Bay will eventually go back to being a wind-swept naval base on the southeastern corner of Cuba.
But even while dismantling these programs, President Obama left intact an equally controversial counter-terrorism tool.
Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States. [continued…]
On his first day in office, President Obama kept his most important campaign promise and began the process of closing Guantanamo. But this eliminates only the most visible part of the U.S. torture bureaucracy. In order to ensure that the atrocities of Guantanamo aren’t visited upon the world by future administrations, Obama must also eviscerate the structures that enabled and supported torture. At the top of a long list is the U.S. military’s secretive torture school, known as SERE, which stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. [continued…]
Iraqis across the country voted Saturday in provincial elections that will help shape their future, but regardless of the outcome it is clear that the Americans are already drifting offstage — and that most Iraqis are ready to see them go.
The signs of mutual disengagement are everywhere. In the days leading up to the elections, it was possible to drive safely from near the Turkish border in the north to Baghdad and on south to Basra, just a few miles from the Persian Gulf — without seeing an American convoy. In the Green Zone — once host to the American occupation government, and now the seat of the Iraqi government — the primary PX is set to close, and the Americans have retreated to their vast, garrisoned new embassy compound. Iraqi soldiers now handle all Green Zone checkpoints.
American helicopters and drones may be in the sky, but Iraqi boots are on the ground. The Americans are already worried about securing the road to Kuwait because soon they will have to start hauling out much of the infrastructure they have built on bases across Iraq. [continued…]
In Iraq’s receding but still entrenched sectarian struggle, perhaps the most important votes in the provincial elections Saturday were cast in Diyala, a sometimes picturesque province known for its orange groves and its killing fields.
American officials have insisted the vote Saturday must prove credible — that is, relatively free of fraud, with its results acceptable to most of its participants — if elections are to begin taking root as a mechanism to transfer power in a country that has begun bracing for the intangibles of a U.S. withdrawal.
In Diyala, credibility would mark a watershed moment, both for this troubled province and for Iraq itself, where power has long been monopolized by a party or man. [continued…]