Study shows that Fox News is more powerful than we ever imagined

Vox reports: Fox News is, by far, America’s dominant TV news channel; in the second quarter of 2017, Fox posted 2.35 million total viewers in primetime versus 1.64 million for MSNBC and 1.06 million for CNN. Given that Fox was founded by a longtime Republican Party operative and has almost exclusively hired conservative commentators, talk radio hosts, and the like to host its shows, it would stand to reason that its dominance on basic cable could influence how Americans vote, perhaps even tipping elections.

A new study in the American Economic Review (the discipline’s flagship journal), with an intriguing and persuasive methodology, finds exactly that. Emory University political scientist Gregory Martin and Stanford economist Ali Yurukoglu estimate that watching Fox News directly causes a substantial rightward shift in viewers’ attitudes, which translates into a significantly greater willingness to vote for Republican candidates.

They estimate that if Fox News hadn’t existed, the Republican presidential candidate’s share of the two-party vote would have been 3.59 points lower in 2004 and 6.34 points lower in 2008.

For context, that would’ve made John Kerry the 2004 popular vote winner, and turned Barack Obama’s 2008 victory into a landslide where he got 60 percent of the two-party vote.

“There is a non-trivial amount of uncertainty” about those estimates, Yurukoglu cautions. “I personally don’t think it’s totally implausible, but it is higher than I would have guessed prior to the research.” And even if the effect were half as large as estimated, that’d still mean that Fox News is having a very real, sizable effect on elections. [Continue reading…]


Birtherism has always been a race-baiting fabrication — it still is

Amy Davidson writes: On Sunday, Governor Chris Christie, of New Jersey, appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” saying things that weren’t true about Donald Trump’s birtherist lies. “After the President presented his birth certificate, Donald has said, ‘You know, he was born in the United States and that’s the end of the issue.’ It was a contentious issue,” Christie said. Jake Tapper, the host, corrected him. “As a point of fact, Donald Trump did not accept when Barack Obama released his birth certificate in 2011. He kept up this whole birther thing until Friday.” Tapper was right to call Christie on that falsehood; some of Trump’s lowest insinuations about the President’s citizenship have occurred not only in the past few years but in recent months. Efforts to deal with that fallacy, however, have somehow, in the past few days, allowed another Trump lie to solidify: the idea that the President somehow didn’t release his birth certificate until 2011. In fact, Obama released his birth certificate in June, 2008. His campaign posted it online. Reporters were allowed to hold it and examine its embossed state seal and signature stamp. It showed that he had been born in Honolulu, on August 4, 1961, at 7:24 p.m. Hawaiian officials attested to its accuracy. That there were any questions after that point is, in itself, a scandal. Indeed, that there were any questions before that point is outrageous. Candidates who say that they were born in the United States are generally not faced with nervous glances and requests to prove it. But Obama was, and, in 2008, he did prove it.

And yet, two and a half years after Obama released his birth certificate, Donald Trump began pushing the case that the birth certificate was not a birth certificate. In part, this was because instead of saying “birth certificate” on top, it said “certification of live birth” and it was a printout of a computer record, rather than something bearing the scrawl of an obstetrician. That is what Hawaiian birth certificates look like; this was, unambiguously, a Hawaiian state birth certificate. If Obama’s document didn’t offer actual proof of his birth, then pretty much anyone born in Hawaii who had used a birth certificate to obtain a driver’s license or passport had done so under false pretenses. But in Donald Trump’s world, anything that doesn’t look the way you would expect it to in a cartoon is open to doubt. He managed to animate conspiracy theories about the “real” birth certificate — the documentation, pasted into a bound volume in the Hawaiian state archives, that is the basis for the state certificate and that, under state law, is not released — and about how either it didn’t exist or else revealed some secret about Obama. “Maybe it says he is a Muslim,” Trump said on Fox News, in March, 2011, as if the doctor who delivered the infant future President might have detected some religious leanings in his first baby noises.

It is worth noting that for there to have been any sort of discrepancy between the certification and the certificate, multiple Hawaiian officials would have to have been involved in a fraud. (So would the editors of the two Hawaiian newspapers in which Obama’s birth was announced, in 1961, a move that would have required not only conspiring journalists but ones equipped with psychic powers or a time machine — and probably both.) Then again, polls in 2011 showed that a certain number of birthers accepted that Obama was born in Hawaii; they just didn’t believe that Hawaii was part of the United States. And who can believe what foreign bureaucrats certify? [Continue reading…]


White voters hope Trump will restore the racial hierarchy upended by Barack Obama

Jamelle Bouie writes: In a nation shaped and defined by a rigid racial hierarchy, [Barack Obama’] election was very much a radical event, in which a man from one of the nation’s lowest castes ascended to the summit of its political landscape. And he did so with heavy support from minorities: Asian Americans and Latinos were an important part of Obama’s coalition, and black Americans turned out at their highest numbers ever in 2008.

For liberal observers, this heralded a new, rising electorate, and — in theory — a durable majority. “The future in American politics belongs to the party that can win a more racially diverse, better educated, more metropolitan electorate,” wrote Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post after the 2008 election. “It belongs to Barack Obama’s Democrats.”

For millions of white Americans who weren’t attuned to growing diversity and cosmopolitanism, however, Obama was a shock, a figure who appeared out of nowhere to dominate the country’s political life. And with talk of an “emerging Democratic majority,” he presaged a time when their votes—which had elected George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan—would no longer matter. More than simply “change,” Obama’s election felt like an inversion. When coupled with the broad decline in incomes and living standards caused by the Great Recession, it seemed to signal the end of a hierarchy that had always placed white Americans at the top, delivering status even when it couldn’t give material benefits.

In a 2011 paper, Robin DiAngelo — a professor of multicultural education at Westfield State University — described a phenomenon she called “white fragility.” “White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves,” she writes. “These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.”

DiAngelo was describing private behavior in the context of workplace diversity training, but her diagnosis holds insight for politics. You can read the rise of Obama and the projected future of a majority nonwhite America as a racial stress that produced a reaction from a number of white Americans — and forced them into a defensive crouch. You can see the maneuvering DiAngelo describes in the persistent belief that Obama is a Muslim — as recently as last fall, 29 percent of Americans held this view, against all evidence. It is a way to mark Obama as “other” in a society where explicit anti-black prejudice is publicly unacceptable. Consistent with this racialized fear and anxiety is the degree to which white Americans now see “reverse discrimination” as a serious problem in national life. For its American Values Survey, the Public Religion Research Institute asks respondents whether “discrimination against whites is a significant problem.” In last year’s survey, 43 percent of Americans — including 60 percent of working-class whites — said discrimination against whites had become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.

The anxieties DiAngelo describes, and the fears cataloged by the American Values Survey, have real political impact. In a 2014 study, political scientists Maureen Craig and Jennifer Richeson tried to measure “perceived status threat” from a shift in racial demographics, surveying how people responded when informed that California is now home to more blacks, Hispanics, and Asians than non-Hispanic whites. In other words, how do white Americans react to unrelated political questions when exposed to news of a “majority-minority” future? The results were clear. “Making the majority-minority shift in California salient led politically unaffiliated white Americans to lean more toward the Republican Party,” wrote Craig and Richeson. Likewise, “making the changing national racial demographics salient led white Americans (regardless of political party affiliation) to endorse both race-related and relatively race-neutral conservative policy positions more strongly.”

The Obama era didn’t herald a post-racial America as much as it did a racialized one, where millions of whites were hyperaware of and newly anxious about their racial status. [Continue reading…]


America’s historic choice

Barack Obama’s victory speech

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America. [continued…]

The 44th President

This is one of those moments in history when it is worth pausing and reflecting on the basic facts:

An American with the name Barack Hussein Obama, the son of a white woman and a black man he barely knew, raised by his grandparents far outside the stream of American power and wealth, has been elected the 44th president of the United States.

Showing extraordinary focus and quiet certainty, Mr. Obama defeated first Hillary Clinton, who wanted to be president so badly that she lost her bearings, and then John McCain, who forsook his principles for a campaign built on anger and fear.

Mr. Obama won the election because he saw what is wrong with this country: the utter failure of government to protect its citizens. He promised to lead a government that does not try to solve every problem but will do those things beyond the power of individual citizens: to regulate the economy fairly, keep the air clean and the food safe, ensure that the sick have access to health care, and educate children to compete in a globalized world.

Mr. Obama spoke candidly of the failure of Republican economic policies that promised to lift all Americans but left so many millions far behind. He committed himself to ending a bloody and pointless war. He promised to restore Americans’ civil liberties and this country’s tattered reputation around the world. With a message of hope and competence he drew in legions of voters who had been disengaged and voiceless. [continued…]

President Obama

They did it. They really did it. So often crudely caricatured by others, the American people yesterday stood in the eye of history and made an emphatic choice for change for themselves and the world. Though bombarded by a blizzard of last-minute negative advertising that should shame the Republican party, American voters held their nerve and elected Barack Obama as their new president to succeed George Bush. Elected him, what is more, by a clearer majority than one of those bitter narrow margins that marked the last two elections. [continued…]


Election Day – November 4, 2008

Live election coverage on MSNBC:

Turning the page

In a world where a person like Barack Hussein Obama can appear from nowhere and advance within a few years to the highest levels of world politics, nothing is predictable, and therefore everything is possible.

Today, it seems at the moment, the incredible will happen: the most important “white” country in the world will elect a black president.

One hundred forty-three years after the assassination of Abe Lincoln, the man who freed the slaves, and 40 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, the dreamer of the Dream, a black family will occupy the White House.

This will have huge implications in many directions. One of them is an electrifying message to a worldwide order to which I belong: the Order of the Optimists.

How does an optimist differ from a realist? My definition is: a realist sees reality as it is. An optimist sees reality as it could be. [continued…]



Marathon man: for McCain, a final burst of enthusiasm

It seems fitting that John McCain woke up Sunday morning in a hotel populated with lanky runners getting ready to run the city’s marathon. This weekend was the very last mile of the presidential marathon, a race we’ve all been running so long we can’t remember what it feels like to walk.

To hear the senator’s campaign tell it, McCain is precisely where he wants to be in the final stretch. Never mind that Barack Obama is up ahead and sprinting.

“We think we can catch this guy,” said McCain adviser Mark Salter, sipping coffee during a smallish rally Saturday in Perkasie, Pa. He described his boss as upbeat.

“At the very end of the marathon, you get your second wind,” said McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, in one of the campaign’s two comedic appearances this weekend — the unplanned one. (McCain appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” while Palin was punk’d by a Canadian comedian pretending in a phone call to be French President Nicolas Sarkozy.) [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — John McCain’s willingness to fight a dirty campaign has been taken as indicative of his ruthless determination to win, but to my eye that determination has never been clearly evident. The tactics he has employed seem to say less about his core drives than they do about the lack of imagination in those around him.

When McCain says he’s exactly where he wants to be — fighting from behind — I take him at his word. He is far more comfortable as the underdog and the maverick than he is in coming out on top. When it came to being the scrappy fighter, McCain played the role while Hillary Clinton was the real thing.

Look at McCain on Saturday Night Live. He is more at ease standing next to Tina Fey than he is with his actual running mate.

Is this a man fighting for his political life? Far from it. It seems much more like a man who is quietly comfortable about returning to the Senate. Having given up on the sprint, his attention rests on the possibility of his post-defeat political resurrection.

Obamacon Jeffrey Hart

TDR: Is the Obamacon movement a product of the perceived failures of the Republican Party among certain conservatives?

JH: Yes.

TDR: Then Obama is in the right place at the right time?

JH: Yes. I had a discussion with Milton Friedman once. Milton always liked to start up arguments, and he almost never won them. We got to the pure food and drug act: too much regulation was his take, if you put out a bad product people won’t buy it, but what about if someone sells ketchup that has botulism in it? Milton says you can sue. But not if you’re dead of course. So that’s an argument he didn’t win. This is the position the Republican Party finds itself in.

TDR: When did you start supporting Senator Obama?

JH: He first attracted my attention, and everybody’s attention, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, where he made a speech that was really stirring. Then I began to pay attention to him; this guy was a comer. The way Harold Ford of Tennessee is a comer too; he was beaten by the Republican slime machine in Tennessee. They used a racist ad about him, but he is as smart as Obama is.

As the race for president developed, I saw Obama down in Lebanon; he has both a charismatic personality and high intelligence. We face complicated problems particularly with the economy and foreign policy. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very complicated, relations everywhere are complicated: you have to be smart to figure this stuff out, and he’s smart. He’s much smarter than McCain, and McCain also has the Bush ideology. So it was no contest for me between Obama and McCain…

TDR: Do you think that Iraq is the most important issue in this election?

JH: Well, all the assumptions that inform the Iraq invasion are typical of misunderstood social realities, I think. Look at Iraq, at National Review or The Weekly Standard or all those papers that promoted the invasion—I never heard the word Sunni, Shiite, or Kurd in their editorials. It is tough to reconcile these factions in Iraq, if not impossible. I don’t think you have to be as vicious as Saddam, he was running a Sunni government, but to represent a minority in a country is difficult. You probably need a strong leader to rule Iraq, but until they have a looser federation, real problems will continue to plague the country.

TDR: So considering the importance of Iraq, how would you respond to those who suggest that Barack Obama lacks the military credentials that McCain possesses?

JH: You don’t need a military background. Lincoln had only sketchy experience of military action, in a war against the Crow Indians. But he was a great war leader, he was a very bright and very eloquent man, highly intelligent. McCain’s war experience is not a foreign policy credential: he bombed North Vietnam, and the only North Vietnamese he saw was when he was in prison. I don’t see that, as you know, war experience. It’s parachuting into a lake and flying a plane. [continued…]

The opening Obama saw

A good politician triumphs by adapting to the times and taking advantage of opportunities as they come. A great politician anticipates openings others don’t see and creates possibilities that were not there before.

John McCain might have been the second kind of politician, tried to be the first and enters Election Day at a steep disadvantage. Barack Obama certainly seized the opportunities created by President Bush’s failures and the country’s profound discontent, which only deepened after the economic crash. But by creating a new social movement, new forms of political organization, and a sense of excitement and possibility not felt in politics for three decades, he is bidding to become one of the country’s most consequential leaders. [continued…]

The test

In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Frances Perkins, his Secretary of Labor, to draft a plan that might help Americans escape poverty in old age. “Keep it simple,” he told her. “So simple that everybody will understand it.” On August 14, 1935, after bargaining in Congress, Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act at a White House ceremony. The law “represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete,” the President said. He continued:

    It is a structure intended to lessen the force of possible future depressions. . . . It is, in short, a law that will take care of human needs and at the same time provide the United States an economic structure of vastly greater soundness.

Roosevelt hoped that the elderly would also receive health insurance; Congress balked. It took thirty years—until July 30, 1965, when Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare bill—to protect older Americans from the ravages of sickness as well as poverty. These were Democratic initiatives, but they gradually became national compacts: Ronald Reagan defended Social Security, and George W. Bush expanded Medicare. They, too, came to recognize that a sound system of social insurance enabled by government makes capitalism and its splendid innovations (the iPhone, the Cartoon Network, the Ultimate Fishing Tool, etc.) more balanced and sustainable.

Last week, the Department of Commerce reported that the economy is shrinking. Almost certainly, the United States has entered its twelfth official recession since Roosevelt’s death. Most of the past eleven recessions have been short and mild, in part because of the “automatic stabilizers,” as economists call them, created by New Deal-inspired insurance and regulatory regimes. The current financial crisis, however, has already proved so severe and so volatile that it has smashed or bypassed a number of important shock absorbers. Some economists fear that this downturn may therefore be atypically long and painful.

The country is fortunate in one respect: the sudden buckling of financial safeguards has put just about everyone in touch with his inner New Dealer. [continued…]

America’s outcast Muslims

American Muslims have been called the “outcasts” of this presidential election. Muslims themselves have told the media that Islam is being treated as “political leprosy”, a “scarlet letter”, or the “kiss of death”. In Pittsburgh, a city with a large Muslim population, the Guardian team heard sentiments like these when we attended a lecture by the writer and political analyst Raeed Tayeh titled Are Americans Obsessed with Islam?, followed by a panel discussion involving local community leaders and advocates.

One of the few comprehensive surveys (pdf) of Muslim voters in the United States was produced two years ago by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). While they are a diverse community, American Muslims overall tend to be young, well educated, professional, middle-class, and family-oriented, and differ in their degree of religious observance. Muslims are also somewhat more likely than Americans in general to vote regularly, fly the US flag and do volunteer work.

Most importantly for this election, CAIR’s demographic research found that American Muslims were concentrated in 12 states, including the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Michigan, where they ran from about 3 to 7% of the population. In the survey, 42% of respondents said they were Democrats and just 17% identified themselves as Republicans, while 28% said they did not belong to a political party. This reflects a dramatic turnaround in the past decade: in 2000, George Bush won an astonishing 72% of the Muslim vote, based on some combination of his social and fiscal conservatism, perceived openness on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and deliberate outreach to the Muslim community. By 2004, with the “war on terror” and the war in Iraq under way and civil liberties in a shambles, the numbers were more than reversed, with some 90% of Muslim voters choosing Kerry. [continued…]

Why we need to call a pig a pig (with or without lipstick)

In 1944, a young British writer named Eric Blair sent the publisher Jonathan Cape a manuscript for a novel-length parable about the rise of Stalin. The book had already been rejected by one editor for its inflammatory content. Cape also declined. While he personally enjoyed the manuscript, he wrote, he believed it was “highly ill-advised to publish at the present time.” Perhaps Blair might have better luck were he to change the identity of the main characters? “It would be less offensive if the predominate caste in the fable were not pigs,” he wrote. Blair finally found a publisher, and the book, “Animal Farm,” released under Blair’s pseudonym, George Orwell, became a bestseller. But the experience proved instructive. The next year, in the essay “Politics and the English Language,” he wrote that degraded, unclear language was both symptom and cause of the decline of contemporary culture and political thought. “One ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end,” he wrote. In other words, it’s important to call a pig a pig.

Since its publication in 1945, “Animal Farm” has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, and become a standard text for schoolchildren, along with Orwell’s other dystopian vision of the future, “1984.” But it is the writer’s essays on the importance of clear language and independent thought that make him relevant. Consider this, from “Politics and the English Language”: “The word Fascism has now no meaning except insofar as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’ The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice, have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another … Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way.” Substitute “anti-American” for “Fascism,” and you’ve summarized the tenor of much of the public conversation regarding the current election and the war in Iraq. “We’re so saturated in media today that anyone who is following it is bound to think, ‘This is terrible language; what are the effects of these clichés on my mind?’ ” says George Packer, a staff writer at The New Yorker who has edited two new collections of Orwell’s essays, “Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays” and “All Art Is Propaganda: Critical Essays.” “God knows, I’ve wanted to use that essay as a purgative. Orwell tells you how to cut through the vapor and get the truth and write about it in a way that is vigorous and clear. Those skills are particularly necessary right now.” [continued…]



Moving beyond opposition

In any presidential contest between two candidates there are essentially six ways in which each ballot can be cast. In the current election, this means you can vote in one of the following ways.

  • Vote for Obama because of who he is and what you hope he will do.
  • Vote for McCain because of who he is and what you hope he will do.
  • Vote for Obama because of who he is and what you hope he will do and because of who McCain is and what you fear he will do.
  • Vote for McCain because of who he is and what you hope he will do and because of who Obama is and what you fear he will do.
  • Vote for Obama for the simple reason that you do not want McCain to become president.
  • Vote for McCain for the simple reason that you do not want Obama to become president.

Just suppose that having received their party’s nomination, each candidate had declared: “If you genuinely want me to become president, I want your vote, but if you have any other reason for voting for me, don’t vote.”

Under such terms, John McCain might as well have withdrawn from the race in early September.

On the other side, the idea that support for Obama has been driven above all by antipathy for George Bush has been greatly overstated. Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul each made as strong a claim as did Obama for having opposed Bush, yet neither won a fraction of the support.

When 100,000 people have showed up for an Obama rally, they have been drawn by attraction, not reaction. This is what distinguishes the strength of Obama’s candidacy in 2008 from the weakness of John Kerry’s in 2004.

Whereas a McCain victory hinges on the McCain-Palin campaign’s ability to fuel and harness fear of and opposition to Obama, an Obama victory will reflect the depth of his support more than the breadth of opposition to John McCain or Sarah Palin.

This then is what will mark the end of the Bush era: the end of the notion that victory depends on destroying ones opponents; that we can move beyond defining who we are in terms of what we oppose.

The next president and the Global War on Terror

A week ago, I had a long conversation with a four-star U.S. military officer who, until his recent retirement, had played a central role in directing the global war on terror. I asked him: what exactly is the strategy that guides the Bush administration’s conduct of this war? His dismaying, if not exactly surprising, answer: there is none.

President Bush will bequeath to his successor the ultimate self-licking ice cream cone. To defense contractors, lobbyists, think-tankers, ambitious military officers, the hosts of Sunday morning talk shows, and the Douglas Feith-like creatures who maneuver to become players in the ultimate power game, the Global War on Terror is a boon, an enterprise redolent with opportunity and promising to extend decades into the future.

Yet, to a considerable extent, that very enterprise has become a fiction, a gimmicky phrase employed to lend an appearance of cohesion to a panoply of activities that, in reality, are contradictory, counterproductive, or at the very least beside the point. In this sense, the global war on terror relates to terrorism precisely as the war on drugs relates to drug abuse and dependence: declaring a state of permanent “war” sustains the pretense of actually dealing with a serious problem, even as policymakers pay lip-service to the problem’s actual sources. The war on drugs is a very expensive fraud. So, too, is the Global War on Terror. [continued…]

Petraeus wants to go to Syria; Bush administration says no

A pparently Gen. David Petraeus does not agree with the Bush administration that the road to Damascus is a dead end.

ABC News has learned, Petraeus proposed visiting Syria shortly after taking over as the top U.S. commander for the Middle East.

The idea was swiftly rejected by Bush administration officials at the White House, State Department and the Pentagon.

Petraeus, who becomes the commander of U.S. Central Command (Centcom) Friday, had hoped to meet in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Petraeus proposed the trip, and senior officials objected, before the covert U.S. strike earlier this week on a target inside Syria’s border with Iraq.

Officials familiar with Petraeus’ thinking on the subject say he wants to engage Syria in part because he believes that U.S. diplomacy can be used to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran. He plans to continue pushing the idea. [continued…]

High risk, limited payoff

The Oct. 26 air raid in which U.S. special-operations pilots flew two dozen Black Hawk helicopters across Iraq’s border and killed eight people on Syrian territory marks a new phase in the Bush administration’s war on terror—a phase rife with limited payoffs and astonishingly high risks.

U.S. officials say the cross-border attack was aimed at, and killed, a high-level al-Qaida agent known as Abu Ghadiyah, who has long been smuggling jihadists and arms into western Iraq.

However, Syrian officials say the strikes killed civilians, including a woman and children. They filed a complaint with the U. N. Security Council, closed down the American School in Damascus, and canceled their participation in the upcoming regional conference on Iraqi security.

Even the Iraqi government has joined the Syrians in condemning the airstrikes and is now insisting that a new Status of Forces Agreement—the treaty that permits U.S. troops to remain in Iraq—must include a clause forbidding those troops from using Iraq as a base for attacking other countries. [continued…]

A last push to deregulate

The White House is working to enact a wide array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken government rules aimed at protecting consumers and the environment, before President Bush leaves office in January.

The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo. Some would ease or lift constraints on private industry, including power plants, mines and farms.

Those and other regulations would help clear obstacles to some commercial ocean-fishing activities, ease controls on emissions of pollutants that contribute to global warming, relax drinking-water standards and lift a key restriction on mountaintop coal mining. [continued…]

Scandal of six held in Guantanamo even after Bush plot claim is dropped

In the dying days of the Bush administration, yet another presidential claim in the “war on terror” has been proved false by the withdrawal of the main charge against six Algerians held without trial for nearly seven years at Guantanamo prison camp.

George Bush’s assertion in his 2002 State of the Union address – the same speech in which he wrongly claimed that Saddam Hussein had tried to import aluminium tubes from Niger – was that “our soldiers, working with the Bosnian government, seized terrorists who were plotting to bomb our embassy [in Sarajevo].” Not only has the US government withdrawn that charge against the six Algerians, all of whom had taken citizenship or residence in Bosnia, but lawyers defending the Arabs – who had already been acquitted of such a plot in a Sarajevo court – have found that the US threatened to pull its troops out of the Nato peacekeeping force in Bosnia if the men were not handed over. According to testimony presented by the Bosnian Prime Minister, Alija Behman, the deputy US ambassador to Bosnia in 2001, Christopher Hoh, told him that if he did not hand the men to the Americans, “then let God protect Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

That such a threat should be made – and the international High Representative to Bosnia at the time, Wolfgang Petritsch, has also told lawyers it was – shows for the first time just how ruthless and unprincipled US foreign policy had become in Mr Bush’s “war on terror”. By withdrawing their military and diplomatic support for the Bosnian peace process, the Americans would have backed out of the Dayton accord which they themselves had negotiated. Then the Bosnian government would have lost its legitimacy and the country might have collapsed back into a civil war which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians and involved mass rape as well as massacre. The people of Bosnia might then have endured “terror” on a scale far greater than the attacks of al-Qa’ida against the United States. [continued…]

The co-president at work

When George W. Bush testified before the 9/11 Commission, Dick Cheney was with him in the Oval Office. What was said there remains a secret, but throughout the double session, it appears, Cheney deferred to Bush. Aides to the President afterward explained that the two men had to sit together for people to see how fully Bush was in control. A likelier motive was the obvious one: they had long exercised joint command but neither knew exactly how much the other knew, or what the other would say in response to particular questions. Bush also brought Cheney for the reason that a witness under oath before a congressional committee may bring along his lawyer. He could not risk an answer that his adviser might prefer to correct. Yet Bush would scarcely have changed the public understanding of their relationship had he sent in Cheney alone. “When you’re talking to Dick Cheney,” the President said in 2003, “you’re talking to me.”

The shallowest charge against Cheney is that he somehow inserted himself into the vice-presidency by heading the team that examined other candidates for the job. He used the position deviously, so the story goes, to sell himself to the susceptible younger Bush. The truth is both simpler and more strange. Since 1999, Cheney had been one of a group of political tutors of Bush, including Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz; in this company, Bush found Cheney especially congenial—not least his way of asserting his influence without ever stealing a scene. Bush, too, resembled Cheney in preferring to let others speak, but he lacked the mind and patience for discussions: virtues that Cheney possessed in abundance.
New York Review Books Children

As early as March 2000, Bush asked him whether he would consider taking the second slot. Cheney at first said no. Later, he agreed to serve as Bush’s inspector of the qualifications of others; his lieutenants were David Addington and his daughter Liz. Some way into that work, Bush asked Cheney again, and this time he said yes. The understanding was concluded before any of the lesser candidates were interviewed. It was perhaps the first public deception that they worked at together: a lie of omission—and a trespass against probity—to give an air of legitimacy to the search for a nominee. But their concurrence in the stratagem, and the way each saw the other hold to its terms, signaled an equality in manipulation as no formal contract could have done. It is hardly likely that an exchange of words was necessary. [continued…]



A change of tone

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?

From Great Game to Grand Bargain

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…]

World is facing a natural resources crisis worse than financial crunch

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…]

Get ready for ‘stag-deflation’

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…]

America must lead a rescue of emerging economies

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…]

Preventing a global slump must be the priority

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…]

McCain camp trying to scapegoat Palin

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…]



Like, socialism

Back when the polls were nip and tuck and the leaves had not yet begun to turn, Barack Obama had already been accused of betraying the troops, wanting to teach kindergartners all about sex, favoring infanticide, and being a friend of terrorists and terrorism. What was left? The anticlimactic answer came as the long Presidential march of 2008 staggered toward its final week: Senator Obama is a socialist.

“This campaign in the next couple of weeks is about one thing,” Todd Akin, a Republican congressman from Missouri, told a McCain rally outside St. Louis. “It’s a referendum on socialism.” “With all due respect,” Senator George Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, said, “the man is a socialist.” At an airport rally in Roswell, New Mexico, a well-known landing spot for space aliens, Governor Palin warned against Obama’s tax proposals. “Friends,” she said, “now is no time to experiment with socialism.” And McCain, discussing those proposals, agreed that they sounded “a lot like socialism.” There hasn’t been so much talk of socialism in an American election since 1920, when Eugene Victor Debs, candidate of the Socialist Party, made his fifth run for President from a cell in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, where he was serving a ten-year sentence for opposing the First World War. (Debs got a million votes and was freed the following year by the new Republican President, Warren G. Harding, who immediately invited him to the White House for a friendly visit.)

As a buzzword, “socialism” had mostly good connotations in most of the world for most of the twentieth century. That’s why the Nazis called themselves national socialists. That’s why the Bolsheviks called their regime the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, obliging the socialist and social democratic parties of Europe (and America, for what it was worth) to make rescuing the “good name” of socialism one of their central missions. Socialists—one thinks of men like George Orwell, Willy Brandt, and Aneurin Bevan—were among Communism’s most passionate and effective enemies.

The United States is a special case. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — In America, even though socialism is afforded about as much respect as cannibalism, it’s not quite as damaged a brand as the Right would have us believe.

Secretly, everyone knows that there are limits to how hard socialism can be knocked. For good reason, there is not and never will be an anti-socialist movement. Anyone dumb enough to call themselves an anti-socialist might as well just declare that they are in their heart of hearts a mean, selfish bastard.

We do in fact all subscribe to some form of socialism even if it’s a word that some find strangely unpalatable.

No one in their right mind would want a road system that exists and is maintained on the basis of charitable donations. No one in their right mind would want an exclusively private education system that would result in large sections of society receiving no education whatsoever — a modern economy with a mass of minimum-wage workers who were illiterate would struggle to survive. No one in their right mind would prefer to have private security services replace publicly employed police forces — unless of course they think it’s preferable to be living somewhere like Beirut.

To serve common needs we need common wealth — we need to spread the wealth around. Our social needs have to be addressed collectively because we live in a society whose collective strength demands a broader perspective than individual profit and loss.

To say, “I am an American,” is to say, “I am not one — I am many.” And that’s why we are now participating in the grandest of collectivist enterprises of all: a democratic election.

Why Obama has to stay above 50 percent

As his campaign manager has described it, John McCain is now looking at a “narrow-victory scenario.” “The fact that we’re in the race at all,” added Steve Schmidt, “is a miracle. Because the environment is so bad and the head wind is so strong.”

But talk of miracles and head winds aside, I think John McCain really does have a decent shot at winning, and that’s not just because I’m a longtime Republican political operative. Despite what the polls seem to be saying, a closer look at the numbers shows that a Democratic victory is not a foregone conclusion. Why? Because if history is any guide, Barack Obama, as an African-American candidate for political office, needs to be polling consistently above 50 percent to win. And in crucial battleground states, he isn’t. [continued…]

Call it ‘The Obama Effect’

As Election Day draws near, people are wondering if the presidential race will tighten. Will the undecideds swing to McCain, or will Obama continue to maintain his 4 to 11 point lead?

Some point to a “Bradley effect” suggesting that voters are hiding their true feelings from pollsters because of Obama’s race, while others say the Bradley effect either never existed or no longer exists. People who think there is a Bradley effect believe that the substantial majority of undecideds are likely to vote for McCain, enabling him to close some of the gap.

McCain should win a larger share of undecided voters than Obama, but it has little to do with race.

With Obama outspending McCain by upwards of 4 to 1, getting enormous traction with newspaper editorial boards, generating the enthusiasm to bring out crowds measured in the tens of thousands, and with Palin treated as more of a punch line than a candidate by the press–it seems likely that if voters are not ready to tell a pollster that they are with Obama, they are unlikely to get there. [continued…]

Fourteen Words that spell racism

Daniel Cowart and Paul Schlesselman, the two Tennessee neo-Nazis arrested for plotting to kill 102 African-American schoolchildren and then assassinate Barack Obama, clearly drew inspiration from a violent white nationalist group called the Order. In the 1980s, members of the Order carried out a crime spree that included several high-profile murders.

The connection to the Order is evident in the numbers the two men scrawled on their car on Saturday shortly before they were arrested: 14 and 88. The so-called Fourteen Words is a slogan – “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” – coined by Order member David Lane, who also wrote an essay called 88 Precepts. In white supremacist circles, 14-88 is a shorthand expression of allegiance to the beliefs put forth by Lane and the Order, who wanted to found a white homeland where they could preserve the “Aryan race” from being polluted by non-whites and enslaved by the “Zionist-occupied government” of the US. Lane also advocated polygamy and a kind of European paganism he called Wotanism.

The plot by the two Tennessee men, grotesque as it may be, seems not to have got beyond the half-baked stage. But in the early 1980s, the Order – also known as the Brüder Schweigen or Silent Brotherhood – was active, violent, and deadly. [continued…]

The Jewish extremists behind “Obsession”

I‘ve only watched the 12-minute version of “Obsession,” the film sent to more than 28 million people in various swing states, apparently by associates and partisans of the Jewish movement known as Aish HaTorah, or “Fire of the Torah,” but it was enough for to understand that it is the work of hysterics. One of my favorite hysterics, the Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick, is featured prominently, pieces of the sky falling about her head as she rants about the End of Days.

Aish HaTorah denies any direct connection to the film, which is designed to make naive Americans believe that B-52s filled with radical jihadists are about to carpet-bomb their churches, and are only awaiting Barack Obama’s ascension to launch the attack. But the manifold connections, as laid out in this article, among others, make it clear that high-level officials of Aish are up to their chins in this project. The most disreputable flack in New York, Ronn Torossian, who represents Aish, makes an appearance in this story, which was to be expected: Torossian last made the news when he employed sock-puppetry in defense of one of his many indefensible clients, Agriprocessors, Inc., the Luvavitch-owned kosher slaughterhouse that treats its employees nearly as badly as it treats its animals, which is saying something, because Agriprocessor slaughterers have been filmed ripping out the tracheas of living cattle. [continued…]

An Israeli looks at Obama

A neighbor in Jerusalem asked me to write to his American father-in-law, who has been showering him with emails attacking Barack Obama. At a local bakery, the owner suggested in a whisper that I might talk sense to the tourist proclaiming in a New York accent, between sips of strong Israeli latte, that she was voting for John McCain. Old friends in California worry to me that elderly Jews in Miami think that McCain is better for Israel. “Remember 2000,” they tell me darkly. Every vote counts.

I suspect that something even more emotionally powerful than electoral math is at stake. My friends are frightened of the shame of a mother or uncle staining the family, or the tribe, with the wrong vote — a vote purportedly cast out of concern for Israel. From where I sit, this would be a shame, because the reasons Obama is better for Israel’s security are the same reasons he is better for American security.

Start with McCain’s claim to greater foreign-policy experience. Despite that experience, he supported invading Iraq. Obama, of course, opposed it. Conventional wisdom notwithstanding, the war has had strongly negative consequences for Israel. [continued…]

Sarah Palin’s war on science

In an election that has been fought on an astoundingly low cultural and intellectual level, with both candidates pretending that tax cuts can go like peaches and cream with the staggering new levels of federal deficit, and paltry charges being traded in petty ways, and with Joe the Plumber becoming the emblematic stupidity of the campaign, it didn’t seem possible that things could go any lower or get any dumber. But they did last Friday, when, at a speech in Pittsburgh, Gov. Sarah Palin denounced wasteful expenditure on fruit-fly research, adding for good xenophobic and anti-elitist measure that some of this research took place “in Paris, France” and winding up with a folksy “I kid you not.”

It was in 1933 that Thomas Hunt Morgan won a Nobel Prize for showing that genes are passed on by way of chromosomes. The experimental creature that he employed in the making of this great discovery was the Drosophila melanogaster, or fruit fly. Scientists of various sorts continue to find it a very useful resource, since it can be easily and plentifully “cultured” in a laboratory, has a very short generation time, and displays a great variety of mutation. This makes it useful in studying disease, and since Gov. Palin was in Pittsburgh to talk about her signature “issue” of disability and special needs, she might even have had some researcher tell her that there is a Drosophila-based center for research into autism at the University of North Carolina. The fruit fly can also be a menace to American agriculture, so any financing of research into its habits and mutations is money well-spent. It’s especially ridiculous and unfortunate that the governor chose to make such a fool of herself in Pittsburgh, a great city that remade itself after the decline of coal and steel into a center of high-tech medical research. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — I don’t know whether Christopher Hitchens is someone who is more pro-science than interested in science, but he should have mentioned that beyond its reproductive virtues, the main reason why the fruit fly is so useful for research is that we and this humble organism have so much in common.

Perhaps the most glaring contradiction between the articles of faith subscribed to by the science skeptics and the worldview that seemingly everyone in this country accepts is that virtually no one is a DNA skeptic. In other words, there’s no anti-DNA movement. It’s use in criminal proceedings is universally accepted. You hear people say that God created the world in six days, that humans have a divine origin and that evolution is an unproven theory, but you don’t hear people say there’s no such thing as DNA.

But since the science skeptics seem to accept the reality of DNA more than that of the causes of global warming, the issue they need to address is to explain what DNA is. Understand what DNA is and the stack of creationist cards comes tumbling down. If you say you don’t understand what DNA is, then instead of posturing as a science skeptic you should have the humility to acknowledge your ignorance. It’s not a sin and there is a remedy.

The next New Deal

On a bright, brisk, fat-pumpkin morning in mid-October—the kind of morning you would call glorious were the economy not cratering, the financial system not imploding, the Dow not tumbling at this very moment to its lowest depths in more than five years—Barack Obama is on the courthouse steps in Chillicothe, Ohio, calmly and coolly enlisting the past in the service of claiming the future. “The American story has never been about things coming easy,” Obama declares. “It’s been about rising to the moment when the moment is hard … about rejecting panicked division for purposeful unity; about seeing a mountaintop from the deepest valley. That’s why we remember that some of the most famous words ever spoken by an American came from a president who took office in a time of turmoil: ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ ”

Obama had been toying with vague FDR allusions for the past three days, but now he’s decided to lay his cards on the table and seize the mantle explicitly. With the specter of a full-blown depression looming, the Age of Roosevelt—the campaign he ran in 1932, the challenges he faced upon assuming office, the “bold, persistent experimentation” he called for and the New Deal edifice he erected in response—is much on the minds of the nominee and his inner circle. “A lot of people around Barack are reading books about FDR’s first hundred days,” says a member of Obama’s kitchen cabinet. “It’s a sign of the shift that’s going on emotionally: from being on this improbable mission to believing, Hey, we’re going to win.”

Until recently, talk like that would have brought forth invocations of unhatched chickens from countless Democrats. From the moment it became clear last spring that Obama would be the party’s standard-bearer, the excitement over what he represented has been twinned with a gnawing dread that his astonishing ride would somehow come to a crashing end a few yards short of the White House. That America would prove unready to elect a black president. That the Republicans would once again work their voodoo on the electorate. Or that Obama would choke in the clutch—that, far from being the next FDR or JFK, he would turn out to be the reincarnation of George McGovern or Mike Dukakis or John Kerry.

But as the outcome of the race has begun to seem more certain with each passing day—with Obama’s lead in the polls healthy and showing few signs of diminishing, with John McCain’s campaign listing aimlessly and lapsing into rank self-parody, with Sarah Palin devolving into a human punch line—Democrats are slowly, haltingly allowing themselves to believe that victory is truly within their grasp, and hence to contemplate what comes next. [continued…]

The Age of Triumphalism is over

All but lost amid the hullabaloo of the presidential campaign, the State Department recently dropped North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Kim Jong Il pocketed a concession that even a year ago would have seemed unimaginable. The American people — feeling more threatened by Wall Street than by Pyongyang — managed barely a shrug.

Seldom has a historic turning point received such little notice. By cutting a deal with a charter member of the “axis of evil,” President Bush has definitively abandoned the principles that he staked out in the wake of 9/11. The president who once defined America’s purpose as “ending tyranny” is now accommodating the world’s last authentically Stalinist regime. Although Bush still inhabits the White House, the Bush era has effectively ended.

Of greater significance, so too has the latest in a series of American psychodramas. In the last year or so, the nation’s collective mind-set has shifted, and with that shift have come dramatic changes in the way we see ourselves and the world beyond our borders.

The American preference for packaging history as a sequence of great events directed by great men tends to overlook the role played by mass psychology and by the powerful impulses contained within what we commonly call public opinion. The reality is that when it comes to statecraft, policies devised in Washington frequently express not so much the carefully calculated intentions of the nation’s leaders as the people’s frame of mind. [continued…]

We should talk to our enemies

One of the sharpest and most telling differences on foreign policy between Barack Obama and John McCain is whether the United States should talk to difficult and disreputable leaders like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. In each of the three presidential debates, McCain belittled Obama as naive for arguing that America should be willing to negotiate with such adversaries. In the vice presidential debate, Sarah Palin went even further, accusing Obama of “bad judgment … that is dangerous,” an ironic charge given her own very modest foreign-policy credentials.

Are McCain and Palin correct that America should stonewall its foes? I lived this issue for 27 years as a career diplomat, serving both Republican and Democratic administrations. Maybe that’s why I’ve been struggling to find the real wisdom and logic in this Republican assault against Obama. I’ll bet that a poll of senior diplomats who have served presidents from Carter to Bush would reveal an overwhelming majority who agree with the following position: of course we should talk to difficult adversaries—when it is in our interest and at a time of our choosing.

The more challenging and pertinent question, especially for the McCain-Palin ticket, is the reverse: Is it really smart to declare we will never talk to such leaders? Is it really in our long-term national interest to shut ourselves off from one of the most important and powerful states in the Middle East—Iran—or one of our major suppliers of oil, Venezuela? [continued…]

Are theological tensions distancing Taliban from Al-Qaeda?

The Taliban and Al-Qaeda have enjoyed a long alliance in Afghanistan. Their relationship, based on a seemingly shared brand of severe and militant Islam, even survived the U.S.-led toppling of the Taliban in 2001, which came after leader Mullah Omar famously refused to turn over to the Americans his Al-Qaeda ally, Osama bin Laden.

To this day, that relationship endures. But will it last? Rifts and tensions between the Taliban and Arab Al-Qaeda, as well as vastly different Islamic traditions, suggest that a basis for separation exists. Whether it occurs could determine whether peace negotiations between the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Taliban foes ever get off the ground.

Afghan Muslim traditions, including the Taliban, are culturally and historically distinct from Al-Qaeda’s Saudi-rooted Salafist Islam, says Francesco Zannini, an expert on modern Islam. In that sense, the two Sunni movements have always been awkward bedfellows. [continued…]

Tea with the Taliban?

As U.S. and European officials ponder what to do about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, they are coming to a perhaps surprising conclusion: The simplest way to stabilize the country may be to negotiate a truce with the Taliban fundamentalists who were driven from power by the United States in 2001.

The question policymakers are pondering, in fact, isn’t whether to negotiate with the Taliban but when. There’s a widespread view among Bush administration officials and U.S. military commanders that it’s too soon for serious talks, because any negotiation now would be from a position of weakness. Some argue for a U.S. troop buildup and an aggressive military campaign next year to secure Afghan population centers, followed by negotiations. [continued…]

The endorsement from hell

During the cold war, the American ideological fear of communism led us to mistake every muddle-headed leftist for a Soviet pawn. Our myopia helped lead to catastrophe in Vietnam.

In the same way today, an exaggerated fear of “Islamofascism” elides a complex reality and leads us to overreact and damage our own interests. Perhaps the best example is one of the least-known failures in Bush administration foreign policy: Somalia.

Today, Somalia is the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster, worse even than Darfur or Congo. The crisis has complex roots, and Somali warlords bear primary blame. But Bush administration paranoia about Islamic radicals contributed to the disaster. [continued…]

CIA led mystery Syria raid that killed terrorist leader

A CIA-led raid on a compound in eastern Syria killed an al Qaida in Iraq commander who oversaw the smuggling into Iraq of foreign fighters whose attacks claimed thousands of Iraqi and American lives, three U.S. officials said Monday.

The body of Badran Turki Hishan al Mazidih, an Iraqi national who used the nom de guerre Abu Ghadiya, was flown out of Syria on a U.S. helicopter at the end of the operation Sunday by CIA paramilitary officers and special forces, one U.S. official said.

“It was a successful operation,” a second U.S. official told McClatchy. “The bottom line: This was a significant blow to the foreign fighter pipeline between Syria and Iraq.”

A senior U.S. military officer said the raid was launched after human and technical intelligence confirmed that al Mazidih was present at the compound close to Syria’s border with Iraq. “The situation finally presented itself,” he said….

It wasn’t immediately clear whether an order that President Bush signed in July allowing U.S. commandos from Afghanistan to attack a suspected terrorist base in Pakistan also authorized cross-border operations in other countries. [continued…]


CAMPAIGN 08: Why I won’t vote for John McCain and why I believe you shouldn’t

Why I won’t vote for John McCain and why I believe you shouldn’t

The economy has become the priority issue for voters. But my principal reason for refusing to vote for John McCain has nothing to do with his admitted lack of knowledge of economics, although I did not realize the extent of his ignorance prior to his comments regarding the re-distribution of income. Since presidents encounter considerable constraints on their freedom to control economic programs and policies, this shortcoming is not critical.

It is, rather, the fields of foreign and national security policies, generally regarded as Senator McCain’s strengths, that in my view are his disqualifying weaknesses; and a president has considerable leeway to operate in these areas to the detriment, or benefit, of the United States.

I deeply respect John McCain’s service to our country; and I admire his bravery as a prisoner of war, described by a fellow prisoner as similar to that demonstrated by hundreds of other U.S. prisoners in North Vietnam who also obeyed the code of declining release before those captured earlier.

Unfortunately, however, Senator McCain has demonstrated clearly that he is a dedicated ideologue in the foreign/security policy area, unwilling to consider opinions or even credible evidence contrary to his preconceived notions. In addition, his temperament, marked not only by impatience but also by rude and sometimes hostile behavior, would discourage advisers from bringing to his attention views that might not be consistent with his preconceptions. A president with this combination of significant shortcomings would be a dangerous commander-in-chief, posing an unacceptable risk to the security of the nation.

Senator McCain has adopted, promoted and sustained the position of the so-called neo-conservatives and ultra-nationalists who believed that the United States should capitalize on American military superiority to spread democracy abroad. Overthrowing the Iraqi government was seen as the first step in transforming the politics of the Middle East by converting governments in the region to democracies friendly to the United States and its interests. Senator McCain reportedly has bragged in private conversations that he was the first neocon.

Since Senator McCain has made his positions on U.S. policy and military operations in Iraq a central theme in his campaign, it is useful illustratively to examine his stated views on this central national security issue.

Iraq and Related Matters

  • Consistent with the Project for a New American Century’s open letter to the President, Senator McCain co-sponsored the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act that changed the policy of the U.S. government from containing Iraq to overthrowing its regime. The Act also provided funds to Iraqi exile groups seeking regime change in Iraq.
  • In September 2000, the Project for the New American Century published a manifesto entitled Rebuilding America’s Defenses. It advocated expanding democracy in seven countries in a five-year period: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and Sudan. Randy Scheunemann, then a director of the Project, is Republican candidate McCain’s chief foreign/national security adviser.
  • Immediately following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack, well in advance of the Bush administration’s campaign to sell the American public on the invasion of Iraq, Senator McCain began a repetitive drumbeat promoting that course of action.
  • On the day of the 9/11 attack, during an interview with Dan Rather of CBS, he said: “I don’t think there’s any doubt that there are other countries — Iraq, Iran, — who … involve themselves in state-sponsored terrorism.”
  • The next day, 12 September 2001, he said “It isn’t just Afghanistan; we’re talking about Syria, Iraq, Iran, … and others.” He added: “There’s a network [of states sponsoring terrorism] that is going to have to be attacked.”
  • Six days later, he said: “I think very obviously Iraq is the first country, but there are others – Syria, Iran, … who have continued to harbor terrorist organizations and actually assist them.”
  • On 20 September 2001, the Project for a New American Century sent a letter to the President, signed by Randy Scheunemann, urging expansion of the war on terrorism beyond Al Qaeda to Iraq, Iran, Syria and other countries. It stated that failure to make a determined effort remove Saddam Hussein would be “the equivalent of decisive surrender.”
  • On 3 October ’01, less than a month after 9/11, while speaking of military operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan on the Letterman Late Show, Senator McCain declared: “The second phase is Iraq.”
  • Senator McCain advanced misleading and even false assertions not only on Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction but also Iraqi ties to international terrorists, including those who committed the 9/11 attacks. On 29 October, he stated: “The evidence is very clear” that the claim made by “Curveball,” an exile discredited by U.S. intelligence, was valid: the alleged meeting of an Iraqi intelligence agent with Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 attack.
  • In December 2001, Senator McCain joined five other senators in signing an open letter to the White House stating: “In the interest of our own national security, Saddam Hussein must be removed from power.”
  • Addressing the crew of a U.S. warship on 2 January 2002, he said: “Next up, Baghdad;” the following month, he warned: “A terrorist resides in Baghdad. A day of reckoning is approaching.”
  • Along with Senator Joseph Lieberman, he agreed to serve as honorary co-chair of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a lobbying organization formed in 2002 by the chair of the Project for a New American Century to promote the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by military force. The president of the Committee was Randy Scheunemann.
  • Senator McCain actively supported Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress exile group, who had been exposed as a charlatan not only by the CIA but also the Defense Intelligence Agency.
  • In voting for the use of force against Iraq, he called Saddam Hussein “a threat of the first order.” He spoke in favor of removing all members of the Baath party from the Iraqi government and the Iraqi military, decisions generally recognized as disastrous errors. Demonstrating a simplistic misunderstanding of the profound differences, he went so far as to predict that the U.S. occupation of Iraq would be remembered in much the same way as the liberation and rebuilding of Germany and Japan after World War II.
  • Speaking of the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Senator McCain said: “There is no doubt in my mind … that we will be welcomed as liberators.” This despite dire warnings to the contrary from the National Intelligence Council and reports from the CIA, the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and even from organizations within the Department of Defense: the National Defense University and the Army War College, both having held conferences of experts on the likely results of an invasion. He had “no doubt,” because he was unwilling to give any weight to evidence that did not support his ideological commitment. He assured Wolf Blitzer during an interview on CNN: “We’re not going to get into house-to-house fighting;” a flat assertion, without any reservation or qualification of probability, despite authoritative opinions of the likelihood of an insurgency.
  • Underscoring his ideological commitment, Senator McCain said in retrospect that even had there been no claims of Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction or of Iraqi connection to Al Qaeda, “there’s no question” that he would have voted to authorize the use of military force against Iraq.

This nation cannot run the risk of electing a commander-in-chief who won’t listen and is unwilling to consider persuasive evidence that is contrary to his ideological preconceptions.

  • Senator McCain has highlighted his credentials to deal with national security in general, as well as the conflict in Iraq. Yet his public statements reveal that he does not understand the basic nature of counter-insurgency operations, that he lacks knowledge of critical elements of the conflict in Iraq, and that he does not comprehend the basic precept that military force has its own grammar but not its own logic.
  • He has said that we did not prevail in the Vietnam war because “we lost the will to fight.” Yet we had U.S. troops in South Vietnam from the late 1950’s until the early 1970’s, for some 15 years. He apparently does not understand that there are some conflicts that American military power cannot resolve.
  • As recently as 17 March 2007, Senator McCain walked through a Baghdad market while being guarded by some 100 American troops, with three Blackhawk helicopters and two Apache gunships overhead. He declared: “The neighborhood is safe. We walked down the streets with no body armor on.” He stated that General Petraeus went out every day “in an unarmed Humvee.” A television film showed that the Senator was wearing an armored vest during his tour, and General Petraeus’ staff responded that the general always rode in an especially armored Humvee vehicle.
  • On three occasions, Senator McCain asserted that members of Al Qaeda in Iraq were being trained in Iran. After being coached by Senator Lieberman, he finally corrected that basic misunderstanding of the political realities in the region.
  • In 2008, Senator McCain claimed that the surge of U.S. combat forces in the late winter and spring of 2007 “began the Anbar awakening” of Sunni tribesmen turning against Al Qaeda in Iraq. This, he said, is “a matter of history.” Yet in January 2007, he had referenced the awakening that had its beginnings in the summer of 2006 as a justification for the decision to surge.
  • The purpose of the surge, as announced by the President in January 2007, was to provide breathing space for political accommodation between and among contending Iraqi factions. There indeed has been a reduction in violence in Iraq due to a combination of factors, including the presence of U.S. troops in Baghdad. Yet military operations are not an end in themselves, but are conducted to achieve a political outcome. The purpose of the surge, political accommodation, has not been achieved; in fact, the surge has widened the split among political factions. The some 100,000 Sons of Iraq, mostly Sunnis, armed and paid by the U.S. to provide security, do not support the central government led by a Shiite consortium. Also, the surge of U.S. troops in Baghdad resulted in a substantial increase, estimated at 500,000, in the number of Iraqis displaced into segregated neighborhoods.
  • Yet on the 21st of July 2008, Senator McCain declared “We’ve succeeded” in Iraq, apparently failing to understand what all U.S. senior military commanders in Iraq have stated: there is no military solution to the conflict in the complicated and insecure situation in that devastated country. Without a government that earns the loyalty of the majority of Iraqis, and resultant public cohesion, the reduction in violence will continue to be “fragile and reversible,” in the words of Ambassador Crocker, General Petraeus and even the President.
  • Senator McCain has expressed his determination to sustain the U.S. military presence in Iraq until we achieve “victory.” As recently as September 2008, President Bush repeated his ambitious current goal for Iraq as a unified, democratic and stable society that could defend, sustain and govern itself, while becoming a reliable ally in the global war on terrorism. Senator McCain has declined recently to define what he means by “victory;” but in the spring of 2008, he related victory to an Iraq that is “a peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic state,” clearly decades away at best.
  • Senator McCain, along with others fixed on regime change in Iraq, did not object when the administration fought the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan without the commitment of U.S. ground troops, other than special forces, and turned its attention prematurely to the invasion of Iraq while allowing the majority of the Taliban and the Al Qaeda cadre to escape across the border into the tribal areas of Pakistan. Despite the deterioration of security in Afghanistan, on 2 March 2005 Senator McCain said on CNN: “So far it’s a remarkable success.” The following October, while speaking on Afghanistan, he stated on the Charlie Rose show: “It’s succeeded.”
  • Before mid-July 2008, there was no mention of Afghanistan on Senator McCain’s campaign web site. As late as 15 July 2008, however, after having argued that no additional forces were needed in Afghanistan because we had succeeded there, he finally recognized the deteriorating situation and advocated sending 15,000 more troops to Afghanistan. He did not specify how the additional troops might be generated, given his advocacy of maintaining current U.S. troop levels in Iraq. Not long before, he had stated: “Afghanistan is not in trouble because of our diversion to Iraq.”
  • In April 2007, when asked by a voter at a town-hall meeting about U.S. policy toward Iran, Senator McCain responded by singing “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” which would place U.S. troops in Iraq in jeopardy as well as inciting attacks against U.S. interests in the region and probably elsewhere.

Senator McCain has been a consistent advocate of employing military force, as well as diplomatic and economic measures, to overthrow the governments of non-democratic states. In his 2000 presidential primary campaign, he promoted a strategy of “rogue state rollback.” He has served as a long-term chair of the Republican Institute, an organization dedicated to promoting democracy in closed societies, even though most experts agree that viable democratic reforms cannot be imposed but must be generated locally.

Consistent with his ideological predispositions, Senator McCain also has suggested establishing a League of Democracies to coordinate foreign policies. He has gone so far as to advocate expelling Russia from the G-8, an organization of leading industrial nations established to coordinate international economic policies, in order “to improve their behavior,” while adding Brazil and India to the organization but excluding China. This obviously would result in the alienation of China and Russia, resulting in a confrontational foreign policy rather than encouraging their cooperation on vital issues of international security and their integration into the international community.


  • The importance of Senator McCain’s temperament, should he become President, is apparently regarded as too politically incorrect to discuss. By his own admission, however, Senator McCain has “a temper, to state the obvious, which I have tried to control with varying degrees of success because it does not always serve my interest or the public’s.” Of greater significance, he also has written: “Often my haste is a mistake, but I live with the consequences without complaint.”

In matters of national security and foreign policy, however, it is the nation that will have to live with the consequences of Senator McCain’s temper and haste should he be elected President of the United States.

The issue of a president’s temperament cannot be ignored because of its relevance to the national security of the United States. James A. Thurber, director for Congressional and Presidential Studies, has observed: “sometimes somebody’s temperament can get in the way of aides telling him the truth, which happened [during the Vietnam war] with LBJ. His temper scared some away, which was not good for anyone…. that’s part of the risk with a strong temper… and so it’s always relevant.”

For the purposes of credibility, the evidence below on Senator McCain’s temperament is from only fellow Republicans or other normally supportive sources, some of whom have endorsed Senator McCain for the presidency.

  • John Heintz, executive director of the Arizona Republican Party, reflected on Senator McCain’s outburst following arrangements for a broadcast in 1986, by asking: “What happens if he gets angry in crises” as president? “It’s the president’s job to negotiate and stay calm. I don’t see that he has that quality. That temper, the intolerance: it worries me.”
  • Senator McCain has admitted that during his first term as a senator in 1989, he strongly berated Senator Shelby for failing to vote for the confirmation of John Tower as Secretary of defense. He wrote that he brought “my nose within an inch of his as I screamed out my intense displeasure ….”
  • In 1992, during a subcommittee gathering, Senator McCain employed profanity to admonish Senator Grassley and refused to apologize. Some shouting and shoving resulted.
  • Former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson has said that he thought Senator McCain was “in the area of being unstable.”
  • As recently as 2007, during a closed-door meeting on immigration, Senator McCain shouted a profanity at Senator John Cornyn (R- TX) in the presence of about 40 other people.
  • Karl Rove said of Senator McCain: “Things are personal with him. He sometimes lets his emotions overrule his judgment.”
  • Speaking of Senator McCain, Senator Domenici (R-NM) said he doesn’t “want this guy anywhere near a trigger.”
  • Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss) has said: “The thought of McCain as president “sends a cold chill down my spine He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.”
  • Former Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire has observed: “I’ve witnessed a lot of his [Senator McCain’s] temper outbursts. It raises questions about stability…. It’s more than just temper – a sneering, condescending attitude. I’ve seen it up close. His temper would place this country at risk in international affairs, and the world perhaps in danger. In my mind, it should disqualify him” from the presidency.
  • On 23 September 2008, conservative columnist George F. Will wrote: “It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency.”

While it is even more politically incorrect to mention, there is also the question of Senator McCain’s age and health.

  • Should he be elected president, at age 72 he would be the oldest person to assume the office. At age 72, I was in at least as good health as Senator McCain is now. Now that I have passed my 80th birthday, Senator McCain’s age should he complete a second term as president, I can attest that one’s stamina recedes during this eight year period. Should Senator McCain as president have to pick up the phone at 3:00 am at the beginning of a prolonged crisis, there is a legitimate question as to whether he could remain sufficiently vigorous, alert and focused for a sustained period to deal effectively with it.
  • While Senator McCain currently appears healthy, the life expectancy of Vietnam era prisoners of war is below the national average. Moreover, he has suffered three invasions of melanoma cancer, and the possibility of a recurrence with swift and fatal consequences cannot be ignored.

As Senator McCain has warned us repeatedly, the nation is at war. Under these circumstances, one would expect that a candidate who professes to put the country first would select a vice presidential running mate already well qualified to step into the roles of commander- in-chief and leader in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Instead, Senator McCain selected Governor Palin, obviously for her appeal to the conservative base of voters and women disenchanted over Senator Clinton’s defeat as the nominee of the Democratic Party. Whatever her other attributes, it is evident that Governor Palin is not prepared to lead the foreign and security policies of the United States. So much for Senator McCain’s claim to put country ahead of politics.

No president can be conversant with all the problems and issues he or she will face. More important than a specific set of experiences are high intelligence, good judgment, a steady and even temperament, and a willingness to consider options presented by advisors who have been selected for their expertise.

A few months ago, I met in a small group with Senator Obama in his office to discuss a contentious security issue. People with different, even opposite, views had been invited to attend. Senator Obama listened carefully and asked penetrating questions, confirming my observations concerning his intelligence and temperament.

Despite his relative lack of experience in the field national security, I believe that Senator Obama possesses the requisite qualifications to serve far more effectively as President of the United States and commander-in-chief of the U.S. military than his opponent, Senator McCain.

– – –

* Lt. General Robert G. Gard, Jr. is Chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation where his policy work focuses on nuclear nonproliferation, missile defense, Iraq, Iran, military policy, nuclear terrorism, and other national security issues.

During his military career, Gard saw combat in both the Korea and Vietnam wars, and served a three year tour in Germany. He also served as Executive Assistant to two secretaries of defense; the first Director of Human Resources Development for the U.S. Army; Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs; and President of National Defense University (NDU).

After retiring from the U.S. Army in 1981, after 31 years of distinguished service, Gard served for five years as director of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies Center in Bologna, Italy, and then as President of the Monterey Institute of International Studies from 1987 to 1998. Since 1998, he has been an active consultant in Washington, D.C., on national security issues, including the international campaign to ban anti-personnel land mines.


CAMPAIGN 08 EDITORIAL: The McCain-Qaeda connection

The McCain-Qaeda connection

With less than two weeks until election day, if you still haven’t decided how to vote, the McCain campaign has some advice: base your choice on al Qaeda’s choice.

If you’re convinced al Qa’eda wants McCain to win, vote Obama. If you think they want Obama, vote McCain.

That, it would seem, is the thinking that forced Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s top foreign-policy adviser, and James Woolsey to push back so vigorously against a Washington Post report that al Qaeda supports McCain.

No, no, no! Scheunemann and Woolsey protest. Muhammad Haafid (who the Post quoted) is a jihadist maverick who should not be regarded as a spokesman for al Qaeda. Indeed, if al Qaeda really wanted to see McCain elected, they would surely have the good sense to keep quiet about it. Clearly, this faux declaration of support is an attempt to undermine McCain and if al Qaeda wants to undermine McCain, it must favor Obama — except of course, as the McCain campaign points out, there’s no reason to think that Haafid speaks for al Qaeda. Is that clear? Maybe not.

The question Scheunemann and Woolsey failed to address is this: Is there any reason why American voters should be influenced by al Qaeda’s presidential preferences?

We already know that al Qaeda sees elections as opportunities for grabbing headlines, but whether we let al Qaeda steer our political judgments is up to us — unless we prefer to surrender to terrorism.

Who cares who bin Laden is rooting for? Apparently the McCain campaign cares. Otherwise they would not protest too much.


CAMPAIGN 08: The Great Schlep and a lame retort

Fair and balanced: Sarah Silverman vs. Jackie Mason

Just remember, if you belong to the target audience for Sarah Silverman’s video, make sure it’s the message — not the video, absolutely not the video — that you pass along to your Floridian relatives 😉

Readers should note, this video contains strong language.

Readers should note, this video contains pretty weak language.


CAMPAIGN 08 & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: Be careful what you wish for…

Free Sarah Palin

Maybe John McCain should fire the advisers who won’t let Sarah Palin do more interviews. The Alaska Governor has faced two major campaign challenges — her acceptance speech and last night’s debate — and each time she’s shown herself worthy of the national stage. Let Mrs. Palin be herself, and then when she makes a mistake, as every candidate does, it won’t be treated like some epic judgment on her fitness to be Vice President. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — Sarah Palin’s performance against Joe Biden was everything the McCain campaign could have hoped for — but therein lies the campaign’s problem. Her success has nulified the argument for keeping her under wraps.

A last-minute effort by Palin supporters to paint debate-moderator Gwen Ifill as being in the tank with Obama may well have had its desired effect by making Ifill pull a few punches. Why, for instance, did Ifill not ask Palin a question that so many observers would like answered:

John McCain said this week he has turned to you for advice on foreign policy issues, and I quote: “many times in the past.” Would you tell us about a few of the foreign policy issues on which you’ve advised Mr McCain?

Since Ifill didn’t ask it, the question’s still out there.

Palin’s answer seems somewhat predictable: “We’ve talked a lot about energy policy.”

OK. Since energy policy is Palin’s silver bullet on foreign policy, national security, the economy — and who knows, maybe she can even work in an angle on health care — it’s time she gave an in-depth interview on the issue where Sarah Palin is supposedly a national expert. How about she does a segment on 60 Minutes or Face the Nation or Charlie Rose, and let’s see how she does in clearly articulating the nature of the problem and her vision of a solution when it comes to crafting an energy policy for the US.

At the end of the debate, Palin put in a request for unmediated contact with the American people:

I like being able to answer these tough questions without the filter, even, of the mainstream media kind of telling viewers what they’ve just heard. I’d rather be able to just speak to the American people like we just did.

Sorry, but that was the one and only vice-presidential debate. So, she’ll either have to rely on stump speeches, handshakes, and John McCain’s bald-faced lies about how he relies on her advice, or, she’ll need to find the courage to face the media.

A candidate who isn’t ready to deal with the press, isn’t ready to campaign — let alone hold office.

Hail Mary vs. Cool Barry

Krauthammer’s Hail Mary Rule: You get only two per game. John McCain, unfortunately, has already thrown three. The first was his bet on the surge, a deep pass to David Petraeus who miraculously ran it all the way into the end zone.

Then, seeking a game-changer after the Democratic convention, McCain threw blind into the end zone to a waiting Sarah Palin. She caught the ball. Her subsequent fumbles have taken the sheen off of that play, but she nonetheless invaluably solidifies his Republican base.

When the financial crisis hit, McCain went razzle-dazzle again, suspending his campaign and declaring that he’d stay away from the first presidential debate until the financial crisis was solved.

He tempted fate one time too many. After climbing up on his high horse, McCain had to climb down. The crisis unresolved, he showed up at the debate regardless, rather abjectly conceding Obama’s mocking retort that presidential candidates should be able to do “more than one thing at once.” (Although McCain might have pointed out that while he was trying to do two things, Obama was sitting on the sidelines doing one thing only: campaigning.)

You can’t blame McCain. In an election in which all the fundamentals are working for the opposition, he feels he has to keep throwing long in order to keep hope alive. Nonetheless, his frenetic improvisation has perversely (for him) framed the rookie challenger favorably as calm, steady and cool.

In the primary campaign, Obama was cool as in hip. Now Obama is cool as in collected. He has the discipline to let slow and steady carry him to victory. He has not at all distinguished himself in this economic crisis — nor, one might add, in any other during his national career — but detachment has served him well. He understands that this election, like the election of 1980, demands only one thing of the challenger: Make yourself acceptable. Once Ronald Reagan convinced America that he was not menacing, he won in a landslide. If Obama convinces the electorate that he is not too exotic or green or unprepared, he wins as well. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — Charles Krauthammer can be credited as a neocon who isn’t willing to even pretend he’s started drinking the Kool-Aid. And the McCain campaign’s belief that hitching their candidates to the slogan “Maverick” is a pathway to victory, merely underlines the degree to which the word “Republican” has become toxic.

In a time of crisis, will most Americans decide they want to place a bet on Mr Unpredictable? I don’t think so. Indeed, the more McCain slides in the polls, the more unpredictable he’s likely to become. He won’t be able to persuade others to see him differently than the way he sees himself.

The voters are looking for a leader, not a loner.


CAMPAIGN 08: The McCain smirk

The smirk: Could McCain’s facial gestures define debate?

As the spin of Friday night’s debate settled in and both sides staked a claim to victory, one media narrative began to take hold: while Obama may have been over-complimentary of McCain, the GOP nominee was grumpy, mean, and downright contemptuous of Obama, much to his detriment.

A clip circulated by Democrats showed the McCain demonstrating all of those traits: smirking when Obama gave his answers, eyes blinking, unwilling to even look at his opponent.

It was a small visual, but one that seemed to be getting traction among the punditry. Charlie Gibson on ABC and David Brooks on PBS both noted that McCain didn’t look at Obama once. The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder wrote that McCain sounded “angry and passionate”; MSNBC’s Chris Matthews described the GOP nominee as “troll-like” and “grouchy.”


Editor’s Comment — As George Bush has demonstrated, in and of itself, a smirk does not necessarily result in a political handicap. But with McCain what the smirk reveals — in combination with his unwillingness to make eye-contact with his adversary — is his fear of Obama.

The indispensable knack of “looking presidential” absolutely requires that you do not appear to fear your opponent. While some voters are weighing up the issues and making a purely personal judgment about the candidates, many more are engaged in a form of group behavior that hinges on being able to successfully predict who the winner will be – it’s all about the gravitational pull of power and the fear of social isolation.

Obama passed the looking-presidential test; McCain did not. Little else matters… Until Thursday that is, when — barring some dreadful gaffe by Biden — Sarah Palin will merely reinforce the impression that this is not a team that truly believes in its capacity to govern.


CAMPAIGN 08: Reforming the regulatory system for America’s financial markets

Regulation vs. deregulation

John (“I am a deregulator“) McCain can’t completely turn his back on the bedrock of his faith (“I believe in deregulation”) so instead of denouncing deregulation, he’s opting to blame the regulators — hence his silver bullet for dealing with the financial crisis would be to fire Bush-appointee Christopher Cox from his position as SEC chairman.

The financial crisis has forced the economy into the center of the presidential campaign. But as the candidates currently joust through the simplistic and emotive language of TV ads, there’s no better way of contrasting where McCain and Obama actually stand than to look back to March this year and see how they responded to the collapse of Bear Stearns.

This is what McCain had to say on the issue of regulating the financial markets:

Our financial market approach should include encouraging increased capital in financial institutions by removing regulatory, accounting and tax impediments to raising capital.

That comes from a speech McCain gave on March 25 addressing the housing crisis. In that speech he made no other reference to regulation or deregulation.

Two days later at Cooper Union in New York, Obama spoke on “Renewing the American economy.” Much of the speech was on reforming the regulatory system, but the following is a key passage:

…the American experiment has worked in large part because we guided the market’s invisible hand with a higher principle. A free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it. That’s why we’ve put in place rules of the road: to make competition fair and open, and honest. We’ve done this not to stifle but rather to advance prosperity and liberty. As I said at Nasdaq last September, the core of our economic success is the fundamental truth that each American does better when all Americans do better; that the well-being of American business, its capital markets and its American people are aligned. I think that all of us here today would acknowledge that we’ve lost some of that sense of shared prosperity. Now, this loss has not happened by accident. It’s because of decisions made in board rooms, on trading floors and in Washington. Under Republican and Democratic administrations, we’ve failed to guard against practices that all too often rewarded financial manipulation instead of productivity and sound business practice. We let the special interests put their thumbs on the economic scales. The result has been a distorted market that creates bubbles instead of steady, sustainable growth; a market that favors Wall Street over Main Street, but ends up hurting both. Nor is this trend new. The concentrations of economic power and the failures of our political system to protect the American economy and American consumers from its worst excesses have been a staple of our past: most famously in the 1920s, when such excesses ultimately plunged the country into the Great Depression. That is when government stepped in to create a series of regulatory structures, from FDIC to the Glass-Steagall Act, to serve as a corrective, to protect the American people and American business.

Ironically, it was in reaction to the high taxes and some of the outmoded structures of the New Deal that both individuals and institutions in the ’80s and ’90s began pushing for changes to this regulatory structure. But instead of sensible reform that rewarded success and freed the creative forces of the market, too often we’ve excused and even embraced an ethic of greed, corner cutting, insider dealing, things that have always threatened the long-term stability of our economic system. Too often we’ve lost that common stake in each other’s prosperity. Now, let me be clear. The American economy does not stand still and neither should the rules that govern it. The evolution of industries often warrants regulatory reform to foster competition, lower prices or replace outdated oversight structures. Old institutions cannot adequately oversee new practices. Old rules may not fit the roads where our economy is leading. So there were good arguments for changing the rules of the road in the 1990s. Our economy was undergoing a fundamental shift, carried along by the swift currents of technological change and globalization. For the sake of our common prosperity, we needed to adapt to keep markets competitive and fair. Unfortunately, instead of establishing a 21st century regulatory framework, we simply dismantled the old one, aided by a legal but corrupt bargain in which campaign money all too often shaped policy and watered down oversight. In doing so we encouraged a winner take all, anything goes environment that helped foster devastating dislocations in our economy. Deregulation of the telecommunications sector, for example, fostered competition, but also contributed to massive over-investment.

Partial deregulation of the electricity sector enabled (inaudible). Companies like Enron and WorldCom took advantage of the new regulatory environment to push the envelope, pump up earnings, disguise losses and otherwise engage in accounting fraud to make their profits look better, a practice that led investors to question the balance sheets of all companies and severely damaged public trust in capital markets. This was not the invisible hand at work. Instead, it was the hand of industry lobbyists tilting the playing field in Washington as well as an accounting industry that had developed powerful conflicts of interest and a financial sector that had fueled over-investment. A decade later we have deregulated the financial sector and we face another crisis. A regulatory structure set up for banks in the 1930s needed to change, because the nature of business had changed. But by the time the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed in 1999, the $300 million lobbying effort that drove deregulation was more about facilitating mergers than creating an efficient regulatory framework. And since then we’ve overseen 21st century innovation, including the aggressive introduction of new and complex financial instruments like hedge funds and non-bank financial companies, with outdated 20th century regulatory tools. New conflicts of interest recalled the worst excesses of the past, like the outrageous news that we learned just yesterday of KPMG allowing a lender to report profits instead of losses so that both parties could make a quick buck. Not surprisingly, the regulatory environment failed to keep pace. When subprime mortgage lending took a reckless and unsustainable turn, a patchwork of regulators were unable or unwilling to protect the American people. Now, the policies of the Bush administration threw the economy further out of balance. Tax cuts without end for the wealthiest Americans. A trillion dollar war in Iraq that didn’t need to be fought, paid for with deficit spending and borrowing from foreign creditors like China. A complete…


A complete disdain for pay-as-you-go budgeting, coupled with a generally scornful attitude toward oversight and enforcement, allowed far too many to put short-term gain ahead of long-term consequences. The American economy was bound to suffer a painful correction, and policy-makers found themselves with fewer resources to deal with the consequences. Today those consequences are clear. I see them in every corner of our great country as families face foreclosure and rising costs. I see them in towns across America, where a credit crisis threatens the ability of students to get loans and states can’t finance infrastructure projects. I see them here in Manhattan, where one of our biggest investment banks had to be bailed out and the Fed opened its discount window to a host of new institutions with unprecedented implications that we have yet to appreciate. When all is said and done, losses will be in the many hundreds of billions. What was bad for Main Street turned out to be bad for Wall Street. Pain trickled up. And that…


… and that’s why — that’s why the principle that I spoke about at NASDAQ last September is even more urgently true today. In our 21st century economy, there is no dividing line between Main Street and Wall Street.

The decisions made in New York’s high rises have consequences for Americans across the country. And whether those Americans can make their house payments, whether they keep their jobs or spend confidentially without falling into debt, that has consequences for the entire market. The future cannot be shaped by the best-connected lobbyists with the best record of raising money for campaigns. This…


This thinking is wrong for the financial sector and it’s wrong for our country. I do not believe the government should stand in the way of innovation or turn back the clock on an older era of regulation. But I do believe that government has a role to play in advancing our common prosperity, by providing stable macroeconomic and financial conditions for sustained growth, by demanding transparency and by ensuring fair competition in the marketplace. Our history should give us confidence that we don’t have to choose between an oppressive government-run economy and a chaotic, unforgiving capitalism. It tells us we can emerge from great economic upheavals stronger, not weaker. But we can only do so if we restore confidence in our markets, only if we rebuild trust between investors and lenders, and only if we renew that common interest between Wall Street and Main street that is the key to our long-term success. Now, as most experts agree, our economy is in a recession. To renew our economy and to ensure that we are not doomed to repeat a cycle of bubble and bust again and again and again, we need to address not only the immediate crisis in the housing market, we also need to create a 21st-century regulatory framework and we need to pursue a bold opportunity agenda for the American people.


CAMPAIGN 08 & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Popularity breeds popularity

In Iraq, mixed feelings about Obama and his troop proposal

A tough Iraqi general, a former special operations officer with a baritone voice and a barrel chest, melted into smiles when asked about Senator Barack Obama.

“Everyone in Iraq likes him,” said the general, Nassir al-Hiti. “I like him. He’s young. Very active. We would be very happy if he was elected president.”

But mention Mr. Obama’s plan for withdrawing American soldiers, and the general stiffens.

“Very difficult,” he said, shaking his head. “Any army would love to work without any help, but let me be honest: for now, we don’t have that ability.”

Thus in a few brisk sentences, the general summed up the conflicting emotions about Mr. Obama in Iraq, the place outside America with perhaps the most riding on its relationship with him.

There was, as Mr. Obama prepared to visit here, excitement over a man who is the anti-Bush in almost every way: a Democrat who opposed a war that many Iraqis feel devastated their nation. And many in the political elite recognize that Mr. Obama shares their hope for a more rapid withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.

But his support for troop withdrawal cuts both ways, reflecting a deep internal quandary in Iraq: for many middle-class Iraqis, affection for Mr. Obama is tempered by worry that his proposal could lead to chaos in a nation already devastated by war. Many Iraqis also acknowledge that security gains in recent months were achieved partly by the buildup of American troops, which Mr. Obama opposed and his presumptive Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, supported. [complete article]

Obama faces his overseas audition

Even though the details remain sketchy, it’s clear that Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to the Middle East and Europe is an audition on the world stage. But the most important critics will not be the foreign leaders who will be sizing him up as a potential member of their ranks, or the cheering throngs that are likely to greet him at every stop. The audience that matters most will be the voters back home, where many Americans have yet to be convinced that this young man of relatively little experience is the right person to fill the role of their commander-in-chief. “This,” says Ken Duberstein, who was Ronald Reagan’s White House Chief of Staff, “is an absolute opportunity to get over the acceptability threshold.”

Polling suggests that Obama still has a way to go in that regard. In the latest Washington Post/ABC News survey, only 48% of registered voters said Obama would make a good commander in chief, with an equal percentage saying he wouldn’t. By comparison, 72% said John McCain would be a good one.

The campaign has thus far provided only the barest outline of his itinerary. On Monday, Obama will be in Amman, Jordan; on Tuesday and Wednesday, Israel and the Palestinian territory of the West Bank. Thursday, Friday and Saturday will be a sprint across Europe, with stops planned for Berlin, Paris and London. And somewhere in all this, Obama plans to make a much-anticipated visit to Iraq and Afghanistan with two Senate colleagues, Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — It might sound like the most obvious of truisms, but victory in the presidential election will go to the most popular candidate. Which is to say — and let’s assume it’s Obama — the more popular he appears, the more popular he will become.

Many people who read (as opposed to simply watching) the news, probably already know that Obama is hugely popular outside America, but that’s not something that most Americans know yet. It’s conceivable that nightly news images of Obama receiving effusive greetings and being hailed by cheering crowds of foreigners might fuel the Machuria-candidate suspicions of a few Americans, but I think the more likely deduction that most people will make is that if the rest of the world likes America’s next president, that affection will also extend towards the whole nation.

Barely concealed behind America’s need to elevate itself and be seen as a “shining beacon on the hill”, America has a much simpler and more deeply-rooted need — a need that amounts to a form of national insecurity: the need to be liked.

If Obama is able to channel his own popularity into a broader image of American revival, the effect may snowball in such a way that McCain simply has no way of competing.


CAMPAIGN 08 & EDITOR’S COMMENT: The New Yorker has its head stuck up its umlaut

‘Scare tactic’ — Obama slams Muslim portrayal

The Obama campaign is condemning as “tasteless and offensive” a New Yorker magazine cover that depicts Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in a turban, fist-bumping his gun-slinging wife.

An American flag burns in their fireplace.

The New Yorker says it’s satire. It certainly will be candy for cable news. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — No doubt the editors of a magazine that requires the word “cooperative” to have an umlaut (¨) over the second “o”, have a hard time understanding the everyday truth that a picture is worth a thousand words. The words in The New Yorker are far too precious to be applied to that equation. And when the magazine’s smug editors think about the liberal intelligentsia that populates their intended audience, they choose to ignore that most of the New Yorker‘s readers don’t buy the magazine — they read it with a mix of boredom and anxiety that accompanies the wait in a doctors’ office. There — and across the Internet of course — the message that has much more insidious power is subliminal rather than satirical. It’s conveyed to the person who sees the image and doesn’t even pay attention to the title of the magazine. And it reinforces rather than challenges the misconceptions that it intended to mock.

The mistake was not the artist’s — it was the editors’. What could have been smart on the inside pages was totally dumb for a cover. What the editors of The New Yorker don’t seem to get, but have perfectly demonstrated, is that it’s very easy to be clever and stupid at the same time.

In addition, whether it’s at The New Yorker or NPR or PBS, any time satire has to be labeled (inside the cover of this issue, the magazine explains that the cover is satire), it has failed. The sad truth is that we live in an irony-challenged country and there’s no point pretending otherwise.


CAMPAIGN 08 EDITORIAL: Obama pays his AIPAC dues — again

Obama pays his AIPAC dues — again

Barak Obama gave a little pep talk to George Bush this week. The Washington press corps either never heard about it or possibly thought it was too thin on substance to bother reporting. My guess is they never heard. Even so, when a presidential candidate feels driven to write a letter to the president, it’s curious that his campaign would not have done a conference call (again, it’s my assumption that they didn’t) or posted his letter to the president on the campaign web site or at least issued a press release. Maybe this is another case of the Obama campaign having what they have elsewhere referred to as “a very tightly wrapped message.”

The message this time seemed to have had two target audiences: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and the Israeli press.

Obama’s letter to Bush was reported in Yedioth Ahronoth yesterday and the Jerusalem Post today. The letter itself has been posted on the AIPAC web site.

The Democratic candidate says:

I am deeply concerned that Israel’s security has been put at greater risk, both because of renewed threats from implacable enemies like Iran, Hizbollah, and Hamas, and because of policy choices by the United States.

Obama doesn’t spell out which particular policy choices he’s referring to and he rounds off his appeal to Bush by saying:

I close by urging you to redouble your efforts to help Israelis and Palestinians achieve success in their peace efforts; to stand up for Israel’s right of self-defense; to press the Arab states to do more to advance the peace process; and to support the Israeli-Syrian talks. All of these steps will advance the interests of the United States and the security of our ally, Israel.

Most of what he says is the kind of boilerplate that might have come straight out of Condoleezza Rice’s mouth or from Bush himself. The Bush team might have refrained from chastising friendly Middle Eastern autocratic leaders, but when Obama says, “the Arab states should support the Palestinians and prepare their own people for peace by making gestures of normalization toward Israel,” he sounds pretty disingenuous. He ignores the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and he ignores the fact that Israel continues its relentless expansion of settlements in the West Bank. He doesn’t even echo the administration’s timid rebuke in saying that settlement expansion is “unhelpful.”

The subtext here — at least I assume this was what camp Obama thought AIPAC would want to hear — was that the ceasefire with Hamas constitutes a greater threat to Israel than the threat from Qassam rockets.

If the ceasefire takes hold and gets past its bumpy start, there is a real risk that Hamas could acquire some hard sought political legitimacy. The dam that’s been holding back all those unreliable European governments who’ve never had the balls to defy Bush, might finally break. So, the message to reassure AIPAC was that just because there’s going to be a new administration in a few months, everyone can be confident that it will be just as intransigent (“Israel-friendly”) as the present one.

The one small glimmer of hope comes from Obama’s nod of approval towards the Israel-Syria negotiations. Does it count for much? Not if Obama insists on continuing to make himself a tool of AIPAC.