Monday, October 27, 2008

Nicholas Burns Endorses Barack Obama

R. Nicholas Burns is a retired American diplomat. His last position was United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs within the Department of State in the Bush administration. He oversaw U.S. policy in each region of the world and served in the senior career Foreign Service position at the Department. He retired on February 29, 2008, to become Professor of the Practice of Public Diplomacy and International Politics at Harvard Kennedy School.

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?

During the five decades of the cold war, when Americans had a more Manichaean view of the world, we did, from time to time, cut off relations with particularly odious leaders such as North Korea's Kim Il Sung or Albania's bloodthirsty and maniacal strongman, Enver Hoxha. But for the most part even our most ardent cold-war presidents—Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, none of whom was often accused of being weak or naive—decided that sitting down with our adversaries made good sense for America. They all talked to Soviet leaders—men vastly more threatening to America's survival than Ahmadinejad or Chávez are now. JFK negotiated a nuclear Test-Ban Treaty with his mortal adversary, Nikita Khrushchev, just one year after the two narrowly avoided a nuclear holocaust during the Cuban missile crisis. Perhaps more dramatically, Nixon, the greatest anticommunist crusader of his time, went to China in 1972 to repair a more than 20-year rupture with Mao Zedong that he believed no longer worked for America.

All of these cold-war presidents embraced a foreign-policy maxim memorialized by one of the toughest and most experienced leaders of our time, Israel's Yitzhak Rabin, who defended his discussions with Yasir Arafat by declaring, "You don't make peace with friends, you make peace with very unsavory enemies." Why should the United States approach the world any differently now? Especially now?

As Americans learned all too dramatically on 9/11 and again during the financial crisis this autumn, we inhabit a rapidly integrating planet where dangers can strike at any time and from great distances. And when others—China, India, Brazil—are rising to share power in the world with us, America needs to spend more time, not less, talking and listening to friends and foes alike.
The real truth Americans need to embrace is that nearly all of the most urgent global challenges—the quaking financial markets, climate change, terrorism—cannot be resolved by America's acting alone in the world. Rather than retreat into isolationism, as we have often done in our history, or go it alone as the unilateralists advocated disastrously in the past decade, we need to commit ourselves to a national strategy of smart engagement with the rest of the world.

Simply put, we need all the friends we can get. And we need to think more creatively about how to blunt the power of opponents through smart diplomacy, not just the force of arms.
Talking to our adversaries is no one's idea of fun, and it is not a sure prescription for success in every crisis. But it is crude, simplistic and wrong to charge that negotiations reflect weakness or appeasement. More often than not, they are evidence of a strong and self-confident country. One of America's greatest but often neglected strengths is, in fact, our diplomatic power.

Condoleezza Rice's visit to Libya in September—the first by a U.S. secretary of state in five decades—was the culmination of years of careful, deliberate diplomacy to maneuver the Libyan leadership to give up its weapons of mass destruction and renounce terrorism. She would not have achieved that victory had she refused to talk to the Libyans.

For sure, a successful diplomacy needs to be backed up by strong military and intelligence services to fight our wars and terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. We should constantly remind our adversaries that we have other options, including the possible use of force, if talks fail. But we have put too many of the world's problems on the shoulders of our generals and intelligence officers when diplomacy—our ability to persuade, cajole or threaten an opponent—is sometimes the better and more effective way to proceed. We need to trust our ability to outmaneuver dangerous regimes at the negotiating table and in the high court of international public opinion.

Iran is a case in point. Its hard-line, theocratic government poses the greatest threat to peace in the Middle East today. It is funding and arming most of the region's terrorist groups shooting at us, Israel and our moderate Arab friends. It has complicated our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most alarming, Iran is seeking a nuclear-weapons capability that would change the balance of power in the Middle East. Rather than default to the idea of using U.S. military force against Iran, wouldn't it make more sense for the next American president to offer to negotiate with the Iranian leadership? Here's the logic. If the talks end up succeeding, we will have prevented a third, and potentially catastrophic, war for the United States in the volatile area linking the Middle East and South Asia. If the talks fail, we will have a far better chance of persuading Russia and China to sign on to tougher sanctions against Iran. I think war with Iran would be unconscionable if we refuse even to try diplomacy first.

I'm not saying the next president should sit down immediately with Ahmadinejad. We should initiate contact at a lower level to investigate whether it's worth putting the president's prestige on the line. We should leave the threat of military action on the table to give us greater leverage as we talk to the Iranian government. And ultimately we'd want other countries with influence—like Russia and China—to sit on our side of the table in order to bring maximum pressure to bear against Tehran.

But the United States hasn't had a meaningful set of talks with Iran on all the critical issues that separate us in 30 years, since the Khomeini revolution.

To illustrate how far we have isolated ourselves, think about this: I served as the Bush administration's point person on Iran for three years but was never permitted to meet an Iranian. To her immense credit, Secretary Rice arranged for my successor to participate in a multilateral meeting with Iranian officials this past summer. That is a good first step, but the next American president should initiate a more sustained discussion with senior Iranians.
If we aren't willing to talk to Iran, we may leave ourselves with only one option—military action. The next U.S. president will have little chance of securing peace in the Middle East if he doesn't determine Iran's bottom line on the nuclear issue through talks. Similarly, there will be no peace treaty between Syria and Israel if we don't support the talks underway between those countries.

In Afghanistan, the new president will face a very difficult set of choices roughly similar to those in Iraq before the surge. The brilliance of Gen. David Petraeus's strategy in Iraq was, in part, to build bridges to formerly bitter foes in the Sunni militias and to cajole and entice them to switch sides. Some are now suggesting that we should deploy a similar strategy with the Taliban rank and file. While we should have absolutely no interest in sitting down with Qaeda fanatics or the Taliban leadership, does it make sense to try to persuade lower-ranking Taliban supporters to give up the armed struggle and commit to a democratic Afghanistan? While that's a seemingly logical goal, it would be highly problematic in the short term. We would be better served if we first built up a position of much greater military and political strength, and increased security for Afghan villagers.

Talking to our adversaries is not always the answer to all our problems, especially in a highly complex environment such as Afghanistan. We have a long way to go before it might be part of a long-term solution there.

America faces a complex and difficult geopolitical landscape. The next president needs to act more creatively and boldly to defend our interests by revalidating diplomacy as a key weapon in our national arsenal and rebuilding our understaffed and underfunded diplomatic corps. Of course he will need to reserve the right to use force against the most vicious and implacable of our foes.

More often than not, however, he will find that dialogue and discussion, talking and listening, are the smarter ways to defend our country, end crises and sometimes even sow the seeds of an ultimate peace.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

McCain Endorses Powell

Powell is a man that McCain has tremendous respect and admiration for. He once said he respected Powell more than any man in the world. In the New York Times Magazine this summer McCain said, "Colin Powell, a man who I admire as much as any man in the world, person in the world..." McCain called Powell one of the most "credible" and "respected men in America. Politico reported in August that McCain was even considering asking Powell to be his running mate. McCain has repeatedly said in the past that if elected he would have asked Powell to serve in his administration. Powell and McCain know each other well and have worked closely together. His public endorsement of Obama is a huge validation of Obama and a tremendous repudiation of McCain.

McCain said, "Colin Powell, a man who I admire as much as any man in the world, person in the world..." [NY Times interview with John McCain, 7/13/08]

McCain considered Powell for a running mate.
"Retired Gen. Colin Powell is among the potential running mates who have been considered by John McCain, campaign advisers told Politico. Powell was among the possible vice presidential choices the Arizona Republican senator was thinking of when he said he would not rule out a supporter of abortion rights, a key adviser said." [Politico, 8/23/08]

McCain said President Bush was "blessed" to have Powell working for him. McCain said, "I think the president is blessed to have two extremely talented people (Powell and Rumsfeld), experienced people, working for him, and others, but particularly those two." [MSNBC Hardball, 4/23/03]

McCain called Powell one of the most "credible" and "respected men in America.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) praised Powell as one of the "most credible" and "most respected" men in America. [LA Times, 2/6/03]

McCain said he admired and respected Powell, said he was one of most "honest" men he had "ever known."
"Sen. McCain: Well, Colin Powell's one of the most honest men that I've ever known and I admire and respect him enormously, and so obviously I'd take his word for it." [CNBC 4/20/04]

McCain was "exuberant" over Powell's selection as Secretary of State.
After it was announced that Powell had been nominated by Bush for Secretary of State, McCain said, "I'm exuberant over the prospect of his [Colin Powell] stewardship of American foreign policy. There's a lot of very dangerous places in the world due to the fecklessness of the Clinton administration." [NBC Nightly News, 12/15/00]

McCain lauds Powell's selection as Secretary of State. Senator John McCain "I think his credentials and his charisma will have a significant effect, a beneficial effect, on the conduct of American foreign policy." [NBC Nightly News, 12/16/00]

McCain said if elected in 2000 he would have appointed Powell to his cabinet. On Larry King in 2001, McCain was asked whether he would have named Mr. Rumsfeld and Colin L. Powell to a McCain cabinet. 'Oh, yes." [CNN Larry King, 11/28/01]

As leader of the International Republican Institute, John McCain gave Colin Powell the Freedom Award.
"As Senator John McCain waited to speak at the annual awards dinner of the International Republican Institute, a democracy-building group he has led for 15 years," "Mr. McCain could use the chairman's [of the institute] perch to score points with important Republican figures -- he presented Freedom Awards to President Bush, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and, in 2003, the incoming Senate majority leader, Bill Frist." [NY Times, 7/28/08]

Huffington Post (19-Oct-08)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Waving the Bloody Shirt

Thomas Franks in the Wall Street Journal:

"Waving the bloody shirt"was the phrase once used to describe the standard demagogic tactic of the late 19th century, when memories of the Civil War were still vivid and loyalists of both parties could be moved to "vote as they shot."

In 1896 the Democrats chose William Jennings Bryan as their leader, a man who was born in 1860 and had thus missed the Civil War, but who seemed to threaten the consensus politics of the time. In response, Republican campaign masterminds organized a speaking tour of the Midwest by a handful of surviving Union generals. The veterans advanced through the battleground states in a special train adorned with patriotic bunting, pictures of their candidate, William McKinley, and a sign declaring, "We are Opposed to Anarchy and Repudiation."

The culture wars are the familiar demagogic tactic of our own time, building monstrous offenses out of the tiniest slights. The fading rancor that each grievance is meant to revive, of course, dates to the 1960s and the antiwar protests, urban riots and annoying youth culture that originally triggered our great turn to the right.

This year the Democrats chose Barack Obama as their leader, a man who was born in 1961 and who largely missed our cultural civil war. In response, Republican campaign masterminds have sought to plunge him back into it in the most desperate and grotesque manner yet.

For days on end, the Republican presidential campaign has put nearly all of its remaining political capital on emphasizing Mr. Obama's time on various foundation boards with Bill Ayers, a former member of the Weathermen, which planted bombs and issued preposterous statements in the Vietnam era. Some on the right seem to believe Mr. Ayers is Mr. Obama's puppet-master, while others are content merely to insist that the association proves Mr. Obama to be soft on terrorism. Maybe he's soft on anarchy and repudiation, too.

I can personally attest to the idiocy of it all because I am a friend of Mr. Ayers. In fact, I met him in the same way Mr. Obama says he did: 10 years ago, Mr. Ayers was a guy in my neighborhood in Chicago who knew something about fundraising. I knew nothing about it, I needed to learn, and a friend referred me to Bill.

Bill's got lots of friends, and that's because he is today a dedicated servant of those less fortunate than himself; because he is unfailingly generous to people who ask for his help; and because he is kind and affable and even humble. Moral qualities which, by the way, were celebrated boisterously on day one of the GOP convention in September.

Mr. Ayers is a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where his work is esteemed by colleagues of different political viewpoints. Herbert Walberg, an advocate of school vouchers who is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, told me he remembers Mr. Ayers as "a responsible colleague, in the professional sense of the word." Bill Schubert, who served as the chairman of UIC's Department of Curriculum and Instruction for many years, thinks so highly of Mr. Ayers that, in response to the current allegations, he compiled a lengthy résumé of the man's books, journal articles, guest lectures and keynote speeches. Mr. Ayers has been involved with countless foundation efforts and has received various awards. He volunteers for everything. He may once have been wanted by the FBI, but in the intervening years the man has become such a good citizen he ought to be an honorary Eagle Scout.

I do not defend the things Mr. Ayers did in his Weatherman days. Nor will I quibble with those who find Mr. Ayers wanting in contrition. His 2001 memoir is shot through with regret, but it lacks the abject style our culture prefers.

Instead I want to note that, in its haste to convict a man merely for associating with Mr. Ayers, the GOP is effectively proposing to make the upcoming election into the largest mass trial in history, with all those professors and all those do-gooders on the hook for someone else's deeds four decades ago. Also in the dock: the demonic city (Chicago) that once named Mr. Ayers its "Citizen of the Year." Fire up Hurricane Katrina and point it toward Lake Michigan!

The McCain campaign has made much of its leader's honor and bravery, but now it has chosen to mount its greatest attack against a man who poses no conceivable threat to the country, who has nothing to do with this year's issues, and who cannot or will not defend himself. Apparently this makes him an irresistible target.

There are a lot of things to call this tactic, but "country first" isn't one of them. The nation wants its hope and confidence restored, and Republican leaders have chosen instead to wave the bloody shirt. This is their vilest hour.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Economists Rate the Candidates

The conservative British journal, Economist, conducts a survey of economists of Bush and his successors. On a scale of 1-5, five being best, the score is:
  • Bush 2.0
  • McCain 2.2
  • Obama 3.3
As thefinancial crisis pushes the economy back to the top of voters’ concerns, Barack Obama is starting to open up a clear lead over John McCain in the opinion polls. But among those who study economics for a living, Mr Obama’s lead is much more commanding. A survey of academic economists by The Economist finds the majority—at times by overwhelming margins—believe Mr Obama has the superior economic plan, a firmer grasp of economics and will appoint better economic advisers.

Our survey is not, by any means, a scientific poll of all economists. We e-mailed a questionnaire to 683 research associates, all we could track down, of the National Bureau of Economic Research, America’s premier association of applied academic economists, though the NBER itself played no role in the survey. A total of 142 responded, of whom 46% identified themselves as Democrats, 10% as Republicans and 44% as neither. This skewed party breakdown may reflect academia’s Democratic tilt, or possibly Democrats’ greater propensity to respond. Still, even if we exclude respondents with a party identification, Mr Obama retains a strong edge—though the McCain campaign should be buoyed by the fact that 530 economists have signed a statement endorsing his plans.

Does their opinion matter? Economics is just one of the many things the next president will have to worry about; voters still seem to prefer Mr McCain on foreign policy. And even on the economy, economists may not have the same priorities as the population at large. Arguably, what a president says about economics on the campaign trail is less important than how he responds to the unexpected challenges that inevitably arise once he is in office.

Yet economists’ opinions should count for something because irrespective of any party affiliation, most of them approach policy decisions with the same basic tool kit. Their assessment of the candidates’ economic credentials and plans represents an informed judgment on how well they will handle difficult trade-offs between efficiency, equity, growth and consensus-building.

Regardless of party affiliation, our respondents generally agree
  • the economy is in bad shape,
  • that the election is important to the course of economic policy and
  • that the housing and financial crisis is the most critical economic issue facing America.
The detailed responses are bad news for Mr McCain. Eighty per cent of respondents and no fewer than 71% of those who do not cleave to either main party say Mr Obama has a better grasp of economics.

Even among Republicans Mr Obama has the edge: 46% versus 23% say Mr Obama has the better grasp of the subject. “I take McCain’s word on this one,” comments James Harrigan at the University of Virginia, a reference to Mr McCain’s infamous confession that he does not know as much about economics as he should. In fairness, Mr McCain’s lower grade may in part reflect greater candour about his weaknesses. Mr Obama’s more tightly managed image leaves fewer opportunities for such unvarnished introspection.

A candidate’s economic expertise may matter rather less if he surrounds himself with clever advisers. Unfortunately for Mr McCain, 81% of all respondents reckon Mr Obama is more likely to do that; among unaffiliated respondents, 71% say so. That is despite praise across party lines for the excellent Doug Holtz-Eakin, Mr McCain’s most prominent economic adviser and a former head of the Congressional Budget Office. “Although I have tended to vote Republican,” one reply says, “the Democrats have a deep pool of talented, moderate economists.”

There is an apparent contradiction between most economists’ support for free trade, low taxes and less intervention in the market and the low marks many give to Mr McCain, who is generally more supportive of those things than Mr Obama. It probably reflects a perception that the Republican Party under George Bush has subverted many of those ideals for ideology and political gain. Indeed, the majority of respondents rate Mr Bush’s economic record as very bad, and Republican respondents are only slightly less critical.

Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, says
John McCain has professed disdain for ‘so-called economists’, and for some the feeling has become mutual. Obama’s team is mainstream and non-ideological but extremely talented.
On our one-to-five scale, economists on average give Mr Obama’s economic programme a 3.3 and Mr McCain’s a 2.2. Mr Obama, says Jonathan Parker, a non-aligned professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, “is a pragmatist not an ideologue. I expect Clintonian economic policies.” If, that is, crushing federal debt does not derail his taxing and spending plans.

On his plans to fix the financial crisis, Mr Obama averages 3.1, a point higher than Mr McCain. Still, some said they didn’t quite know what they were rating—reasonably enough, since neither candidate has produced clear plans of his own.

Where the candidates’ positions are more clearly articulated, Mr Obama scores better on nearly every issue:
  • promoting fiscal discipline,
  • energy policy,
  • reducing the number of people without health insurance,
  • controlling health-care costs,
  • reforming financial regulation and boosting long-run economic growth.
Twice as many economists think Mr McCain’s plan would be bad or very bad for long-run growth as Mr Obama’s. Given how much focus Mr McCain has put on his plan’s benefits for growth, this last is quite a repudiation.

Mr McCain gets his highest mark, an average of 3.5 and a clear advantage over Mr Obama, for his position on free trade and globalisation. If Mr Obama “would wake up on free trade”, one respondent says, “I could get behind the plans much more.” Perhaps surprisingly, the economists rated trade low in priority compared with the other issues listed. Only 53% say it is important or very important. Neither candidate scored at all well on dealing with the burgeoning cost of entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security.

The economists also prefer Mr Obama’s tax plans. Republicans and respondents who do not identify with either political party see Mr McCain’s tax policies as more efficient but less equitable. But the former prefer Mr McCain’s plans—43% of Republicans say they are good or very good—and the latter Mr Obama’s. Of non-affiliated respondents, 31% say Mr Obama’s are good or very good.

Either way, according to the economists, it would be difficult to do much worse than George Bush. The respondents give Mr Bush a dismal average of 1.7 on our five-point scale for his economic management. Eighty-two per cent thought Mr Bush’s record was bad or very bad; only 1% thought it was very good.

The Democrats were overwhelmingly negative, but nearly every respondent viewed Mr Bush’s record unfavourably. Half of Republican respondents thought Mr Bush deserves only a 2. “The minimum rating of one severely overestimates the quality of Bush’s economic policies,” says one non-aligned economist.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Mad Money:

A Broke America Can't Afford Wars, Tax Cuts

Credit has dried up. The stock market is disintegrating. Unless someone pours money into capital markets, everyone agrees, we could wind up like people in Baghdad, fondly remembering the day five years ago when they pushed the handle and their toilets still flushed. Only one "someone" has enough cash to fix the problem: the U.S. government.

The Bush Administration and Congressional Democrats want taxpayers to pay $700 billion to bail out failing banks. Progressives would prefer to bail out homeowners facing the imminent foreclosure of their homes, as well as those in danger of being foreclosed upon during 2009, at a cost of $1.3 trillion.

Never mind which approach is better. Where will the government find the money?

There are two elephants in the room: war and Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. We can't afford either. Yet, to abuse the animal metaphor, everyone acts like they're sacred cows.

When you think about it, it's sheer madness. The city marshal is at the door, brandishing a shotgun, ready to evict you and your family for nonpayment of rent. But while your kids are screaming in terror, you're at the computer, wasting thousands on online gambling. You could pay off your landlord instead. You could make the marshal go away. All you have to do is stop. But you keep on keeping on. Click, click. More money squandered.

What the hell is wrong with you? What the hell is wrong with us?

In 2007 the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the final cost of our biggest national compulsion, the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, could total $2.4 trillion, or $8,000 per man, woman and child in the country. That's twice as much as the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf Wars combined. It's also two-thirds the cost of World War II. Yet no one--not the Republicans, not the Democrats, not the media, not even the left--insists that we get out.

To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, I've studied World War II. World War II was a worthwhile war, one that freed millions from tyranny and set the stage for the U.S. to dominate he global economy and become the wealthiest nation in history. Iraq and Afghanistan? They're no World War II. As wars go, they're not as worthwhile as the invasion of Grenada.

"The CBO estimates assume that 75,000 troops will remain in both countries through 2017, including roughly 50,000 in Iraq," reported USA Today. If anything, that's a low-ball estimate. More than a half century after the fighting ceased, we still have 37,000 troops in one tiny country, South Korea. And both McCain and Obama promise to send more troops to Afghanistan. That means more taxpayer money.

Nearly two out of three Americans think invading Iraq--where the lion's share of war funding is being spent--was a mistake. The Afghan resistance is kicking our butts. Both wars have been a complete, total waste of money, effort and lives. As surely as the sun will rise in the east, we will lose both. At a total cost of at least $2.4 trillion. Ridiculous.

$2.4 trillion is nearly twice the $1.3 trillion it would take to save every home in danger of foreclosure. That would keep many banks afloat, and act as the biggest economic stimulus in history. Can anyone sane tell us why we shouldn't bring our troops back home? Can anyone justify wasting $2.4 trillion at a time when the U.S. economy is staring into the abyss of total collapse?

The other national obsession is the tax cuts Bush pushed through in 2001 and 2003. "The surplus is not the government's money," Bush said at the time, apparently unaware that the economy was already in a recession. "The surplus is the people's money." Remember surpluses? Such a Clintonian word. Anyway, Democrats in Congress--still in full-on wuss mode following 9/11--went along with Bush's tax cuts. But, bless their wimpy little heads, they did manage to extract a concession: In 2011, tax rates would revert to what they'd been in 2001.

Believe a Republican once, shame on you. Believe a Republican twice, what were you thinking? Now so-called conservatives are complaining that "the largest tax increase in history" will occur in 2011 if Bush's tax cuts are allowed to expire.

Making the Bush tax cuts permanent would codify the most regressive tax change in history. "After-tax income would increase by more than six percent for households in the top one percent of the nation's income distribution, two percent for households in the middle 60 percent, and only 0.3 percent for households in the bottom 20 percent," found a Brookings Institution study.

Making the rich richer will cost the Treasury an arm, a leg, and the better part of a torso.

"Combined with a minimal but necessary fix to the government's Alternative Minimum Tax, making the tax cuts permanent would reduce federal revenues by almost $1.8 trillion over 10 years--and that's in addition to the $1.7 trillion of revenue losses already locked into law."

$1.8 trillion. Again, allow me to remind you: $1.3 trillion is the amount we need to stave off imminent financial catastrophe.

That sound you hear is the door breaking down. The marshal is coming down the hall. Get off the computer. Fix the problem. Get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Let the tax cuts expire.

Now a syndicated columnist and editorial cartoonist, Ted Rall was a trader at Bear, Stearns & Co. and a loan officer at the Industrial Bank of Japan during the 1980s. Rall is the author of the new book "Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?," an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bring back Keynes

The best way out of the economic crisis is to cut interest rates, create jobs and raise incomes!

o Ann Pettifor
o The Guardian,
o Tuesday September 30 2008

Anglo-American finance ministers and central bankers, like little Dutch boys, try desperately to plug leaks in the bursting dyke that is the international financial system. In the US, treasury secretary Hank Paulson hoped for $700bn to plug the gaping hole in Wall Street's banks. In the UK, the government is not just plugging holes, but setting aside competition rules to encourage the monopolisation of finance. Alistair Darling suspended competition rules to allow the Lloyds Bank takeover of HBOS because of the crisis. This is like suspending the law during hurricanes. The demise of another independent bank, Bradford & Bingley, and the transfer of its savings business to Santander, will increasingly monopolise finance.

Will these plugs and private-sector fixes work? No, because
  • they are not system-wide fixes and
  • they are based on the same flawed economic policies that spurred this crisis in the first place.
Some of these policies, attributable to Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, are already discredited. Contempt for government is no longer acceptable. Using fiscal policies to bail out banks is now sanctioned by all political parties. To refuse to use fiscal policies to bail out taxpayers who lose pensions, homes and jobs, will make political parties unelectable.

But there are other orthodox economic policies that remain intact and are as yet unchallenged by any political party. The most damaging is orthodox monetary policy. This is based on the assumption that money is a commodity, and that its "price" - the rate of interest - must be set by supply and demand for money in private markets for capital - just as the price of oil is set by supply and demand for oil.

This is a nonsense. We do not dig capital out of the ground, nor does it grow on trees. Money is man-made. Interest rates are a social construct. And as such, unlike oil or soya beans, "there are no intrinsic reasons for the scarcity of capital", as Keynes argued in the General Theory. Because there is no reason for the scarcity of capital, there is no reason for the price of capital to be high.

And yet the private finance sector has succeeded in creating a shortage of capital, the credit crunch, and - at the height of a debt crisis - ratchets its price ever upwards. The rate for private inter-bank loans (Libor) continues to move upwards as the crisis worsens.

The private finance sector also requires that central banks maintain official, or base rates at current levels by adhering to a policy esoterically named "inflation targeting". In fact these high rates, by making debts unpayable, lead to rapid de-leveraging of debts (think bank failures) and assets (think property price falls) and are dangerously deflationary.

Flawed monetary policies are turning a crisis into a catastrophe. They must be challenged. Keynes's cool, rational voice on monetary theory and monetary policy must once again be heeded. Central banks must once again take control over all rates - short and long, safe and risky.

But a system-wide fix would go further. It would challenge the orthodoxy that unemployment helps keep wages low and is a good thing; and that wage rises are always inflationary. It is this orthodoxy that has caused wages and other forms of compensation to fall as a share of GDP in all OECD countries over the past three decades. This fall in compensation has forced people to supplement incomes by borrowing more.

Creating jobs and raising incomes as a share of GDP is vital if we want people to repay debts, salvage banks and return to the high street. If we fail to adopt such system-wide fixes, and if we persist with economic orthodoxy, then look forward to a prolonged period of global economic failure.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Nancy Pelosi's "Partisan" Speech

Madam Speaker, when was the last time someone asked you for $700 billion? It is a number that is staggering, but tells us only the costs of the Bush Administration's failed economic policies -- policies built on budgetary recklessness, on an anything goes mentality, with no regulation, no supervision, and no discipline in the system.

Democrats believe in the free market, which can and does create jobs, wealth, and capital, but left to its own devices it has created chaos.

That chaos is the dismal picture painted by Treasury Secretary Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke a week and a half ago in the Capitol. As they pointed out, we confront a crisis of historic magnitude that has the ability to do serious injury not simply to our economy, but to the American people: not just to Wall Street, but to everyday Americans on Main Street.

It is our responsibility today, to help avert that catastrophic outcome. Let us be clear: This is a crisis caused on Wall Street. But it is a crisis that reaches to Main Street in every city and town of the United States.

It is a crisis that freezes credit, causes families to lose their homes, cripples small businesses, and makes it harder to find jobs.

It is a crisis that never had to happen.

It is now the duty of every Member of this body to recognize that the failure to act responsibly, with full protections for the American taxpayer, would compound the damage already done to the financial security of millions of American families.

Over the past several days, we have worked with our Republican colleagues to fashion an alternative to the original plan of the Bush Administration.

I must recognize the outstanding leadership provided by Chairman Barney Frank, whose enormous intellectual and strategic abilities have never before been so urgently needed, or so widely admired.

I also want to recognize Rahm Emanuel, who combined his deep knowledge of financial institutions with his pragmatic policy experience, to resolve key disagreements.

Secretary Paulson deserves credit for working day and night to help reach an agreement and for his flexibility in negotiating changes to his original proposal.

Democrats insisted that legislation responding to this crisis must protect the American people and Main Street from the meltdown on Wall Street.

The American people did not decide to dangerously weaken our regulatory and oversight policies. They did not make unwise and risky financial deals. They did not jeopardize the economic security of the nation. And they must not pay the cost of this emergency recovery and stabilization bill.

So we insisted that this bill contain several key provisions:

This legislation must contain independent and ongoing oversight to ensure that the recovery program is managed with full transparency and strict accountability.

The legislation must do everything possible to allow as many people to stay in their homes rather than face foreclosure.

The corporate CEOs whose companies will benefit from the public's participation in this recovery must not benefit by exorbitant salaries and golden parachute retirement bonuses.

Our message to Wall Street is this: the party is over. The era of golden parachutes for high-flying Wall Street operators is over. No longer will the U.S. taxpayer bailout the recklessness of Wall Street.

The taxpayers who bear the risk in this recovery must share in the upside as the economy recovers.

And should this program not pay for itself, the financial institutions that benefited, not the taxpayers, must bear responsibility for making up the difference.

These were the Democratic demands to safeguard the American taxpayer, to help the economy recover, and to impose tough accountability as a central component of this recovery effort.

This legislation is not the end of congressional activity on this crisis. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will continue to hold investigative and oversight hearings to find out how the crisis developed, where mistakes were made, and how the recovery must be managed to protect the middle class and the American taxpayer.

With passage of this legislation today, we can begin the difficult job of turning our economy around, of helping those who depend on a growing economy and stable financial institutions for a secure retirement, for the education of their children, for jobs and small business credit.

Today we must act for those Americans, for Main Street, and we must act now, with the bipartisan spirit of cooperation which allowed us to fashion this legislation.

This not enough. We are also working to restore our nation's economic strength by passing a new economic recovery stimulus package -- a robust, job creating bill -- that will help Americans struggling with high prices, get our economy back on track, and renew the American Dream.

Today, we will act to avert this crisis, but informed by our experience of the past eight years with the failed economic leadership that has left us left capable of meeting the challenges of the future. We choose a different path. In the new year, with a new Congress and a new president, we will break free with a failed past and take America in a New Direction to a better future.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

41 Things You Have To Believe To Be A Republican Today

  1. Being a drug addict is a moral failing and a crime, unless you’re a conservative radio host. Then it’s an illness and you need our prayers for your recovery.
  2. The United States should get out of the United Nations, and our highest national priority is enforcing U.N. resolutions against Iraq.
  3. Government should relax regulation of Big Business and Big Money but crack down on individuals who use marijuana to relieve the pain of illness.
  4. “Standing Tall for America” means firing your workers and moving their jobs to India.
  5. A woman can’t be trusted with decisions about her own body, but multinational corporations can make decisions affecting all humankind without regulation.
  6. Jesus loves you, and shares your hatred of homosexuals and Hillary Clinton.
  7. The best way to improve military morale is to praise the troops in speeches while slashing veterans’ benefits and combat pay.
  8. Group sex and drug use are degenerate sins unless you someday run for governor of California as a Republican.
  9. If condoms are kept out of schools, adolescents won’t have sex.
  10. A good way to fight terrorism is to belittle our longtime allies, then demand their cooperation and money.
  11. HMOs and insurance companies have the interest of the public at heart.
  12. Providing health care to all Iraqis is sound policy. Providing health care to all Americans is socialism.
  13. Global warming and tobacco’s link to cancer are junk science, but creationism should be taught in schools.
  14. Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him, a bad guy when Bush’s daddy made war on him, a good guy when Cheney did business with him and a bad guy when Bush needed a “we can’t find Bin Laden” diversion.
  15. A president lying about an extramarital affair is an impeachable offense. A president lying to enlist support for a war in which thousands die is a solid defense policy.
  16. Government should limit itself to the powers named in the Constitution, which include banning gay marriages and censoring the Internet.
  17. The public has a right to know about Hillary’s cattle trades, but George Bush’s driving record is none of our business.
  18. You support states’ rights, which means Attorney General John Ashcroft can tell states what local voter initiatives they have a right to adopt.
  19. What Bill Clinton did in the s is of vital national interest, but what Bush did in the s is irrelevant.
  20. Trade with Cuba is wrong because the country is communist; but trade with China and Vietnam is vital to a spirit of international harmony.
  21. Be like Dick Cheney, who recently called the new Miss America unpatriotic - For wishing for world peace.
  22. Be like Tom Delay [The Hammer!] - Doesn’t he look like a big, fat Adolf Hitler without the mustache?
  23. With great power comes great responsibility — unless you’re Republican.
  24. Republicans believe that if you enjoy sex, you are doing it wrong.
  25. American justice should be blind, but Republicans prefer her deaf and mute.
  26. Republicans believe that politics is only dirty if you do it right.
  27. Republicans love deficits like Clinton loves sex.
  28. The voter always wins — unless Republicans have their way.
  29. The only time Republicans talk to blacks is when they challenge them at the polls.
  30. Jesus loves you, and shares your hatred of homosexuals, Hillary Clinton and IMMIGRANTS.
  31. Lou Dobbs is a saint!
  32. Immigrants are contaminating America with Leprosy.
  33. There is an urgent need to keep the ‘Cradle of the Confederacy‘ safe from leprosy, pedophiles, Spanish and rampant godlessness.
  34. Bilingualism is killing America. Kill the INVADERS! — Tom Tancredo
  35. Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity of Fox News are the most FAIR & BALANCED newscasters in the world.
  36. Miami a ‘Third World country‘ — Tom Tancredo
  37. Ann Coulter is the reincarnation of Mother Teresa. She is also a Tadpole.
  38. You have to be “cockamamie” like Newt Gingrich: In a glimpse of what his candidacy might look like, he said he would shut down public schools that aren’t performing and offer a $ billion reward for the first private company that successfully completes a Mars mission — Reported by the AP
  39. Sen. Barack Obama is a dangerous “Madrassa” trained Terrorist, his real name is “Obama Osama,” according to Rush Limbaugh — The drug addicted radio talk show host most Republicans listen to.
  40. Draft-Dodging makes you a tougher patriot. and it is “Godly” to do anything and everything to get elected — this includes cross-dressing to appeal to liberal New York of Flip-Flop like a Yo-Yo regarding a woman’s right to abortion.
  41. Finally, you ought to be like Ronald Reagan, the president of “sunny optimism

Monday, September 1, 2008

What Bush Got Right? Newsweek's Bait n' Switch

You can't tell a cover story by its cover!
Fareed Zakaria writes:
.... A broad shift in America's approach to the world is justified and overdue. Bush's basic conception of a "global War on Terror," to take but the most obvious example, has been poorly thought-through, badly implemented, and has produced many unintended costs that will linger for years if not decades.

.... The foreign policies that aroused the greatest anger and opposition were mostly pursued in Bush's first term: the invasion of Iraq, the rejection of treaties, diplomacy and multilateralism.

.... Change has not extended to all areas, and in many places it's been too little, too late. But that there has been a shift to the center in many crucial areas of foreign policy is simply undeniable.

Zakaria offers rubric of a dozen points for his report card.

  • World Bank appointments:Bush followed his first appointment of the under-qualified Paul Wolfowitz, "an arch neoconservative with little background in economics" with Robert Zoellick.
  • Policy point man/woman: poster child Dick Cheney has been replaced by pragmatists Condoleezza Rice, Robert Gates, Stephen Hadley and Hank Paulson..
  • Iraq: with too few troops; without support of neighboring Arab states or ; dismantled Iraq's Army; bureaucracy and state-owned factories, arrests tens of thousands of Iraqis, mistreated and tortured some of them, use of overwhelming military force against all perceived threats.
  • Afghanistan: American attention, energy, troops and resources were wrongly diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq-is devastating and hard to dispute.
  • On North Korea: Within months of entering the Oval Office, Bush publicly repudiated his secretary of State, Colin Powell, for even suggesting that the administration would continue Bill Clinton's efforts to negotiate with Kim Jong Il.
  • On Iran, Forget the muttering of various proponents of military action, periodically leaked to newspapers.. The general thrust of Bush administration policies has now evolved into the correct one.
  • The same could be said for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Bush began his term in office vowing that he would not involve himself in Clinton-style efforts at peacemaking. His administration adopted a hands-off approach, allowing resentments to build and conditions to worsen.
  • Lebanon: It gave free rein to irresponsible policies from all parties, encouraging, for example, a thoughtless and ill-planned Israeli attack on Lebanon that ended up weakening Israel, devastating Lebanon and empowering Hizbullah.
  • Global HIV projects, treating AIDS patients, billions more than Clinton did
  • Darfur: admittedly a tough nut to crack. Bush has totally fucked up Somalia, but he had the consent of Euopean members of the Security Council on this one.
  • China: Changed from Clinton theme of "strategic partnership" to competitor and back again when , a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft collided with a Chinese fighter plane four months into his administration. Now Bush is present at the opening of the Chinese Olympics and blind to China's role in Burma, Darfur, and Tibet.
  • India: Bush broke the deadlock by accepting, in large measure, that India would have to be treated as an exception and be brought into the nuclear nonproliferation regime as a nuclear power, not a renegade.
Zakaria's conclusions:

All this is not meant as a defense of George W. Bush. The administration made monumental errors in its first few years, ones that have cost the United States enormously. The shift in impressions about America's intentions across important sections of the globe, the sense in much of the Islamic world that America is anti-Muslim, the vast and counterproductive apparatus of homeland security-visa restrictions, arrests and interrogations-are lasting legacies of the Bush administration. Its dysfunction and incompetence have left a trail of misery in countries like Iraq and Lebanon, which have been destabilized for decades. The embrace of torture and other extralegal methods has violated America's noblest traditions and provided little in return.

. . . . . Bush 43 has surely been the most fiscally irresponsible president in American history, taking surpluses that equaled 2.5 percent of GDP and turning them into deficits that are 3 percent. This is a $4 trillion hit on the country's balance sheet. On the central issue of energy policy-the greatest economic challenge and opportunity of our times-Bush has been utterly obstructionist, recycling the self-serving arguments of industry lobbyists. On the whole, Bush's record remains one of failure and missed opportunities....

A sorry tale....

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Are Political Blogs Predictive?

Published by Kevin J. Dooley in Managing Technology

2008 will be remembered for the classic battles between Obama and Clinton and McCain and Obama, but political wonks will also note the historical nature of this presidential campaign because of the profound impact that the Internet and social media have had on the dynamics of the race.

From Barack Obama's grassroots fundraising to Ron Paul's "Revolution," bloggers have advocated and vetted candidates in a public manner not seen in any previous campaigns. Involvement in social media allows voters to influence and be influenced.

A reasonable question is: Are political blogs predictive? Specifically, do blogs process and spread information more rapidly than mainstream media (MSM)? Is the blogosphere a "first mover" or "early adopter"? Do blogs create buzz around something that would otherwise go unreported by MSM? In other words, are they a "buzz creator"?

Blogs and nascent stories

From the perspective of the consumer world, we have numerous examples where the blogosphere, or the Internet in general, kept a story alive until MSM could get around to reporting it.

Perhaps the most famous example involved the Intel Pentium chip flaw. When small computational errors were found in the chip and made public in discussion board forums, Intel (and MSM) ignored it. But because of the compounding concern about the flaw, other industry discussion boards and magazines began to pick up the story, until eventually the story broke in the mainstream. It is interesting to note that many execs at Intel, including supposedly Andy Grove himself, were not aware of the issue until it hit MSM.

In these cases, blogs have the potential to give a worthy story legs and sustenance until it "matures," and is ready for diffusion in MSM.

The second situation is one where bloggers take a more active role in actually uncovering news and making it public. The Dan Rather-Bush draft story is an example where bloggers quickly vetted and rejected Rather's story as untrue, and the backlash from the embarrassing event led to the "death" of the Dan Rather brand.

Another example is the August 2006 banning of Coca-Cola and Pepsi by two Indian states after the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi said it found pesticide residues in product samples that were 24 times above the limits set by the Bureau of Indian Standards.

Most people in the U.S. heard about the ban on August 10 by reading their local newspapers. The story had hit large U.S. MSMs (USA Today, BBC, ABC) two days earlier. The New York Times led the second-wave of MSM with an August 7 report. A first wave of MSM coverage had passed by ignored around August 3, with reports from BBC, Reuters, and the Toronto Sun.

But the Indian blogosphere had been discussing this as early as mid-June. Blogs such as World Prout Assembly and Mission and Justice were carrying information a month before the court ruled against Coke and Pepsi. Finally, if you had been tracking Indian blogs all year long, you would have known that Indian citizens in certain towns were furious with Coke for "stealing" the water from their aquifers, and that trouble was brewing as early as March 2006.

So in the consumer world at least, bloggers can break news, keep news alive until the bulk of MSM gets around to paying attention, and help news spread faster than it otherwise would. How have political bloggers acted as disseminators and creators of news? In my experiences of managing and blogging about Wonkosphere, a web site which tracks the candidate's buzz using patented natural language processing technology, I have noticed the following about the political blogs we track.

Blogs and the political process

First, political blogs are important to the political process because they surface more news and opinion, and disseminate it more rapidly, than MSM. This can be both a threat and an opportunity. Second, campaigns use the political blogosphere as a laboratory to test the stickiness of the candidate's messages, about themselves and the opponents. Finally, MSM looks to the political blogosphere as an "early adopter," and thus the political blogs, by paying attention to certain things and ignoring others, drive a part of MSM's agenda.

In order to understand the role of bloggers as early adopters, I turn to the work of Everett Rogers and his classic book "Diffusion of Innovations", which is the bible concerning how both tangible innovations (like a product) and intangible innovations (like an idea) diffuse in a society.

He identified that there are different "types" of people per when they adopt: first the innovators adopt the new entity, then early adopters, followed by the early majority, late majority, and finally laggards. In Rogers' theory, early adopters are the most important group in terms of the likelihood of broad diffusion, as they take the bold ideas from the innovators and mold them for adoption by the pragmatic early majority.

In a political context, Roger's model implies that political ideology is first adopted, or not, by political bloggers who act as both innovators and early adopters. In turn the rest of the voting public reads and is influenced by bloggers’ opinions, thus bloggers become a secondary communication medium for the candidates, either supplementing or competing against the candidate’s own communications.

Will bloggers vote in the same way that the general populace does? According to Roger's theory, the answer would be yes. As people at the front-end of the adoption curve, bloggers have to "adopt" before the general populace does.

Not all bloggers adopt the same idea -- as ideological leaders, their views are going to tend to be more intense and diverse, and more ideological and less pragmatic. Nevertheless, bloggers in the aggregate will tend to move ahead of the curve and thus be predictive. Indeed, statistical analysis of the Wonkosphere Primary Campaign data indicated that changes in buzz share in both the conservative and liberal blogospheres were predictive of changes in voter polls two weeks later.

Imagine a funnel of political ideas. At the front-end of the funnel, many ideas exist in an ideological soup. The campaigns first use bloggers as innovators, listening to their feedback to hone their messages and frames, and then other bloggers in turn act as early adopters and help select and shape those ideological innovations in such a way that they are attractive to the early majority, i.e. the primary voter.

Supplements rather than substitutes

Finally, how are political blogs the same or different from MSM? Through Wonkosphere, we have noticed that political blogs are consumed in much the same manner as mainstream media is, which indicates that readers treat political blogs not as separate from, but rather as part of, mainstream media. Wonkosphere traffic is greatest on Monday, and tends to peak before breakfast, lunch and dinner, i.e. when people are cruising on the net to end a portion of their work day. Blogs act as newspapers for most.

Second, very few blogs break stories. From our data, the vast majority of bloggers still rely on mainstream media for the content they comment on. In fact, a blogger is just as likely to cite mainstream media as they are another blogger. Thus, bloggers are primarily amplifiers rather than sources of news.

Third, the popularity of political blogs tends to follow a Pareto (power) law, meaning that there are a few blogs that have hundreds of thousands of readers while most blogs only have a handful of readers. This means that the influence of blogs is distributed in the same way, leading to the development of elite blogs (MyDD, Townhall), in the same way we have elite mainstream media sources (New York Times, Newsweek).

Put together, these patterns imply that political blogs are acting as supplements to mainstream media, rather than substitutes for it. Their impact on the system is to increase volatility: blogs make most news spread faster, but sometimes they slow it down. Blogs spread fact, opinion, truth, and slander more rapidly -- it is not biased in that regard. Only a few blogs influence opinion most of the time, but any single blog has the potential to impact everyone. That’s why this year’s race is particularly exciting—will something break in the blogs that ends up being the tipping point?

-- Kevin Dooley, a professor of supply chain management in the W. P. Carey School of Business, is a world-known expert in the application of complexity science to organizations. He has co-authored two patents concerning Centering Resonance Analysis, a novel form of network text analysis, and is Chief Executive Officer of Crawdad Technologies, LLC. Crawdad provides text mining software and services for applications in marketing and academic research.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Russo-Georgia Conflict - Who's trying to start Cold War II?

Patrick J. Buchanan Asks Why Joe Biden isn't conducting public hearings to find out who caused this U.S. humiliation.
Truman refused to use force to break Stalin's Berlin blockade. Ike refused to intervene when the Butcher of Budapest drowned the Hungarian Revolution in blood. LBJ sat impotent as Leonid Brezhnev's tanks crushed the Prague Spring. Jimmy Carter's response to Brezhnev's invasion of Afghanistan was to boycott the Moscow Olympics. When Brezhnev ordered his Warsaw satraps to crush Solidarity and shot down a South Korean airliner killing scores of U.S. citizens, including a congressman, Reagan did – nothing.

These presidents were not cowards. They simply would not go to war when no vital U.S. interest was at risk to justify a war. Yet, had George W. Bush prevailed and were Georgia in NATO, U.S. Marines could be fighting Russian troops over whose flag should fly over a province of 70,000 South Ossetians who prefer Russians to Georgians.

The arrogant folly of the architects of U.S. post-Cold War policy is today on display. By bringing three ex-Soviet republics into NATO, we have moved the U.S. red line for war from the Elbe almost to within artillery range of the old Leningrad.

Should America admit Ukraine into NATO, Yalta, vacation resort of the czars, will be a NATO port and Sevastopol, traditional home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, will become a naval base for the U.S. Sixth Fleet. This is altogether a bridge too far.

And can we not understand how a Russian patriot like Vladimir Putin would be incensed by this U.S. encirclement after Russia shed its empire and sought our friendship?

.....The swift and decisive action of Putin's army in running the Georgian forces out of South Ossetia in 24 hours after Saakashvili began his barrage and invasion suggests Putin knew exactly what Saakashvili was up to and dropped the hammer on him.

What did we know? Did we know Georgia was about to walk into Putin's trap? Did we not see the Russians lying in wait north of the border? Did we give Saakashvili a green light?

.....The war in Georgia has exposed the dangerous overextension of U.S. power. There is no way America can fight a war with Russia in the Caucasus with our army tied down in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nor should we. Hence, it is demented to be offering, as John McCain and Barack Obama are, NATO membership to Tbilisi.

The United States must decide whether it wants a partner in a flawed Russia or a second Cold War. For if we want another Cold War, we are, by cutting Russia out of the oil of the Caspian and pushing NATO into her face, going about it exactly the right way.

Vladimir Putin is no Stalin. He is a nationalist determined, as ruler of a proud and powerful country, to assert his nation's primacy in its own sphere, just as U.S. presidents from James Monroe to Bush have done on our side of the Atlantic.

.....Who rules Abkhazia and South Ossetia is none of our business. And after this madcap adventure of Saakashvili, why not let the people of these provinces decide their own future in plebiscites conducted by the United Nations or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe?

As for Saakashvili, he's probably toast in Tbilisi after this stunt. Let the neocons find him an endowed chair at the American Enterprise Institute.
I have to ask: We partitioned Ex-Yugoslavia? Why not Ex-Georgia?

World Net Daily

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The McGraham Crackers!

I'm staking my entire reputation as a pundit that this will be the Republican Ticket!Don't they look good together?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Pentagon Wants to Sanitize Bush's War

Zoriah Miller, the freelance photographer who took the image below and others of marines killed in a June 26 suicide attack and posted them on his Web site, was subsequently forbidden to work in Marine Corps-controlled areas of Iraq. Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the Marine Corps commander in Iraq, is now seeking to have Mr. Miller barred from all United States military facilities throughout the world. Mr. Miller has since left Iraq.

In November 2004, Stefan Zaklin, a photographer then working for the European Pressphoto Agency, was embedded with a United States Army company. Mr. Zaklin photographed this soldier, who was shot and killed in Falluja, in a house used as a base by insurgents. The photograph ran in several European publications, and Mr. Zaklin was immediately banned from working with the unit.

Two New York Times journalists were disembedded in January, 2007, after the newspaper published this photo of a mortally wounded soldier. Though the soldier was shot through the head and died hours after the photo was taken, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno argued that The Times had broken "embed" rules by not getting written permission from the soldier.

After Michael Kamber, on assignment for The New York Times, took photos of wounded American soldiers in Latifiya in 2007, he was told by military public affairs officers that the images could not be published. Though embed regulations prohibit only publishing photos of identifiable wounded soldiers without their permission, Lt. Col. Josslyn Aberle insisted in a phone conversation with Mr. Kamber that no photos could be published that showed faces of non-wounded soldiers. Later the same day she further tightened the rules, saying that any photos that showed division shoulder patches could not be used.

You are looking at the blood of a “gravely wounded soldier at the Ibn Sina Hospital” in the Green Zone 2007.

Chris Hondros of Getty Images was with an army unit in Tal Afar on January 18, 2005, when its soldiers killed the parents of this blood-spattered girl at a checkpoint, and his photo was published around the world. Mr. Hondros was kicked out of the unit, though he soon became embedded with a unit in another city.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sheldon Adelson: GOP's Answer To George Soros?

Sheldon Adelson, the 72-year-old casino billionaire who has become the third richest man in America. Past evidence suggests that Adelson will capitalize on his ascent to the top of the Republican money elite to try to build opposition in America to any Middle East peace settlement calling for the division of Israel into two states, one Jewish, the other Palestinian.

In the past, Adelson has shown a substantial interest in Israeli politics as well as in American elections. He is a strong backer of Benjamin 'Bibi' Netanyahu, former Prime Minister of Israel and current Likud Party chair. Adelson has financed the creation of an Israeli newspaper, Israel Hayom, so outspoken and aggressive in backing Netanyahu that it has become known as "Bibi-ton".

In the current election cycle, Adelson has surpassed such past financial mainstays of conservative causes and of the GOP as oilman-corporate raider T. Boone Pickens ($4.6 million 2003-4), Houston real estate magnate Bob Perry ($18.5 million 2003-6) and former Univision CEO Jerry Perenchio ($9.1 million 2003-6).

According to some estimates, Adelson has put over $30 million in the 2007-8 cycle and has now even surpassed George Soros, the Democratic financier who in 2003-4 and 2005-6 broke all records by investing $27 million in liberal get-out-the-vote and media campaigns.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki's Interview with Spiegel

Maliki disses McCain's 50-year German occupation model in favor of Barack Obama's timeline.

SPIEGEL: Germany, after World War II, was also liberated from a tyrant by a US-led coalition. That was 63 years ago, and today there are still American military bases and soldiers in Germany. How do you feel about this model?

Iraq can learn from Germany's experiences, but the situation is not truly comparable. Back then Germany waged a war that changed the world. Today, we in Iraq want to establish a timeframe for the withdrawal of international troops -- and it should be short .... However, I wish to re-emphasize that our security agreement should remain in effect in the short term.

.....So far the Americans have had trouble agreeing to a concrete timetable for withdrawal, because they feel it would appear tantamount to an admission of defeat. But that isn't the case at all. If we come to an agreement, it is not evidence of a defeat, but of a victory, of a severe blow we have inflicted on al-Qaida and the militias.

.....As soon as possible, as far as we're concerned. US presidential candidate Barack Obama is right when he talks about 16 months. Assuming that positive developments continue, this is about the same time period that corresponds to our wishes.

.....Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic. Artificially prolonging the tenure of US troops in Iraq would cause problems. Of course, this is by no means an election endorsement. Who they choose as their president is the Americans' business. But it's the business of Iraqis to say what they want. And that's where the people and the government are in general agreement: The tenure of the coalition troops in Iraq should be limited.
Der Spiegel

From Saturday's Spiegel:
A Baghdad government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said in a statement that SPIEGEL had "misunderstood and mistranslated" the Iraqi prime minister, but didn't point to where the misunderstanding or mistranslation might have occurred. Al-Dabbagh said Maliki's comments "should not be understood as support to any US presidential candidates." The statement was sent out by the press desk of the US-led Multinational Force in Iraq.

A number of media outlets likewise professed to being confused by the statement from Maliki's office. The New York Times pointed out that al-Dabbagh's statement "did not address a specific error." CBS likewise expressed disbelief pointing out that Maliki mentions a timeframe for withdrawal three times in the interview and then asks, "how likely is it that SPIEGEL mistranslated three separate comments? Matthew Yglesias, a blogger for the Atlantic Monthly, was astonished by "how little effort was made" to make the Baghdad denial convincing. And the influential blog IraqSlogger also pointed out the lack of specifics in the government statement.

SPIEGEL sticks to its version of the conversation.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Nelson Mandela

Happy Birthday (90th)!

27 years in prison.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Jesse Jackson on Fox

How the Jesse Jackson Episode Should Instruct Us:
  • Fox (Faux) News (Noise) is not an authentic channel for informing the public on current events.
  • Faux Noise is a propaganda-driven business. They are only in it for the Gotcha's.
  • Only second-class liberals, in dire need of a 2nd income, appear on this conduit: the likes of Jesse Jackson and Dick Morris. (Who did I leave out?)
  • Faux Noise should be boycotted by Democratic Party campaigns this year. No interviews. No debates. Nothing.
End of story.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Who Was Jesse Gordon?

And what became of him?

Jesse was the one who wrote (almost) eight years ago, 9-August-2000:
My view of Gore overall is that he'd be a good president, as would Bush. Neither one will destroy the country -- in that sense I think the political process works well. I might have had some reservations making that statement about McCain or Bradley, and certainly would have a real concern about Buchanan or Nader -- hence the process of selecting a "safe" leader works pretty well.
The Answer is, he's still involved in bloggery and punditry.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

There was another speech made yesterday!

Listen to this address from the next president of the United States (for the next 13 minutes) while you read the following from
Frank Rich of The New York Times!

One Historic Night, Two Americas

WHEN Barack Obama achieved his historic victory on Tuesday night, the battle was joined between two Americas. Not John Edwards’s two Americas, divided between rich and poor. Not the Americas split by race, gender, party or ideology. What looms instead is an epic showdown between two wildly different visions of the country, from the ground up.

On one side stands Mr. Obama’s resolutely cheerful embrace of the future. His vision is inseparable from his identity, both as a rookie with a slim Washington résumé and as a black American whose triumph was regarded as improbable by voters of all races only months ago. On the other is John McCain’s promise of a wise warrior’s vigilant conservation of the past. His vision, too, is inseparable from his identity — as a government lifer who has spent his entire career in service, whether in the Navy or Washington.

Given the dividing line separating the two Americas of 2008, a ticket uniting Mr. McCain and Hillary Clinton might actually be a better fit than the Obama-Clinton “dream ticket,” despite their differences on the issues . . . . Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain both completely misread a one-of-a-kind historical moment as they tried to cling to the prerogatives of the 20th century’s old guard.

All presidential candidates, Mr. Obama certainly included, are egomaniacs. But Washington’s faith in hierarchical status adds a thick layer of pomposity to politicians who linger there too long. Mrs. Clinton referred to herself by the first-person pronoun 64 times in her speech, and Mr. McCain did so 60 times in his. Mr. Obama settled for 30.

Remarkably, neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. McCain had the grace to offer a salute to Mr. Obama’s epochal political breakthrough, which reverberated so powerfully across the country and throughout the world. By being so small and ungenerous, they made him look taller. Their inability to pivot even briefly from partisan self-interest could not be a more telling symptom of the dysfunctional Washington culture Mr. Obama aspires to mend.

Yet even as the two establishment candidates huffed and puffed to assert their authority, they seemed terrified by Mr. Obama’s insurgency ... Mrs. Clinton held her nonconcession speech in a Manhattan bunker ... Mr. McCain, laboring under the misapprehension that he was wittily skewering his opponent, compulsively invoked the Obama-patented mantra of “change” 33 times in his speech.

Mr. McCain only reminded voters that he, like Mrs. Clinton, thinks that change is nothing more than a marketing gimmick. He has no idea what it means. “No matter who wins this election, the direction of this country is going to change dramatically,” he said on Tuesday. He then grimly regurgitated Goldwater and Reagan government-bashing talking points from the 1960s and ’70s even as he presumed to accuse Mr. Obama of looking “to the 1960s and ’70s for answers.”

Mr. Obama is a liberal, but it’s not your boomer parents’ liberalism that is at the heart of his appeal. He never rattles off a Clinton laundry list of big federal programs; he supports abortion rights and gay civil rights with a sunny bonhomie that makes the right’s cultural scolds look like rabid mastodons. He is not refighting either side of the domestic civil war over Vietnam that exploded in his hometown of Chicago 40 years ago this summer, long before he arrived there.

He has never deviated from his much-quoted formulation in “The Audacity of Hope,” where he described himself as aloof from “the psychodrama of the baby boom generation” with its “old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago.” His vocabulary is so different from that of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain that they often find it as baffling as a foreign language, even as they try to rip it off.

The selling point of Mr. Obama’s vision of change is not doctrinaire liberalism or Bush-bashing but an inclusiveness that he believes can start to relieve Washington’s gridlock much as it animated his campaign. Some of that inclusiveness is racial, ethnic and generational, in the casual, what’s-the-big-deal manner of post-boomer Americans already swimming in our country’s rapidly expanding demographic pool. Some of it is post-partisan: he acknowledges that Republicans, Ronald Reagan included, can have ideas.

Opponents who dismiss this as wussy naïveté do so at their own risk. They at once call attention to the expiring shelf life of their own Clinton-Bush-vintage panaceas and lull themselves into underestimating Mr. Obama’s political killer instincts.

The Obama forces out-organized the most ruthless machine in Democratic politics because the medium of their campaign mirrored its inclusive message. They empowered adherents in every state rather than depending on a Beltway campaign hierarchy .....

You could learn a ton about the Clinton campaign’s cultural tone-deafness from its stodgy generic Web site. A similar torpor afflicts, which last week gave its graphics a face-lift that unabashedly mimics and devoted prime home page real estate to hawking “McCain Golf Gear.” (No joke.) The blogs, video and social networking are static and sparse, the apt reflection of a candidate who re- peatedly invokes “I” as he boasts of his humility.

Mr. Obama’s deep- rooted worldliness — in philosophy as well as itinerant background — is his other crucial de- parture from the McCain template. As more and more Americans feel the pain of spiraling gas prices and lost jobs, they are also coming to recognize, as Mr. Obama does, that the globally reviled American image forged by an endless war in Iraq and its accompanying torture scandals is inflicting economic as well as foreign-policy havoc.

Six out of 10 Americans do want their president to talk to Iran’s president, according to the most-recent Gallup poll. Americans are sick of a national identity defined by arrogant saber-rattling abroad and manipulative fear-mongering at home. Mr. Obama closed his speech on Tuesday by telling Americans they “don’t deserve” another election “that’s governed by fear.” Of the three candidates, he was the only one who did not mention 9/11 that night.

Mr. Obama isn’t flawless. But it’s hard to see him hitching up with Mrs. Clinton, who would contradict his message, unite the right, and pass along her husband’s still unpacked post-presidency baggage. A larger trap for Mr. Obama is his cockiness. His own tendency to preen and to coast could be encouraged by recent events rocking the Straight Talk Express: Mr. McCain is so far proving an exceptionally clumsy candidate prone to accentuating everything that’s out-of-touch about his American vision.

Mr. McCain’s speech in a New Orleans suburb on Tuesday night spawned a cottage industry of ridicule, even among Republicans. The halting delivery, sickly green backdrop and spastic, inappropriate smiles, presumably mandated by some consultant hoping to mask his anger, left the impression that Mr. McCain isn’t yet ready for prime-time radio.


Anything can happen in politics, and there are five months to go. But Tuesday night’s McCain pratfall — three weeks in the planning by his campaign, according to Fox News — should be a clear indication that Mr. Obama must accept Mr. McCain’s invitation to weekly debates at once .....

Mr. Obama must also heed Mr. McCain’s directive that he visit Iraq — as long as he avoids Baghdad markets and hits other foreign capitals on route. When the world gets a firsthand look at the new America Mr. Obama offers as an alternative to Mr. McCain’s truculent stay-the-course, the public pandemonium may make J.F.K.’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” visit to the Berlin Wall look like a warm-up act.