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Sunday, September 28, 2008

"The difference between a tactic and a strategy..."

James Fallows notes that while McCain claimed in Friday's debate that "Senator Obama doesn't understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy," it's Obama who's run the more strategically savvy campaign. Fallows might have added that Obama also take a more strategic approach to fashioning policy.

Hard as it is to fathom in our celebrity-death-match political arena, Obama has got as far as he has because alone of all the candidates in both parties, he has consistently explained how his proposed domestic and foreign policies advance clearly-articulated goals -- in other words, how they advance a strategy.
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Domestically, Obama's core goal is to reverse the last thirty years' rise in income inequality and risk transfer. The key tools: shift the tax burden, put a workable plan for universal healthcare in place, and jump start an alternative energy industry. Politically, the strategy is to cast this agenda as a return to core American values of shared prosperity and fairness -- to move the political center back to the left after a thirty years' rightward lurch.

In contrast, McCain's all-tactics-no-strategy orientation is extreme on the domestic front. What could be more absurd than to obsess about cutting out earmarks as a panacea for our economic ills? That's like coping with a ballooning jumbo mortgage by giving up your HBO subscription.

In foreign affairs, Obama's simplest and most-reiterated strategic point is that Iraq is not "the central front in the war on terror" -- Afghanistan/Pakistan is. More broadly, it's to a) return to realist diplomatic engagement and b) work on multiple fronts to boost the U.S. soft power arsenal.

That last is hard to deliver on. But Obama understands the magnitude and dimensions of the challenge. In March, he gave a remarkable speech, far too little noticed, that laid out, as he did in the debate Friday, the full range of strategic costs of our entanglement in Iraq -- but also articulated, as he didn't do on Friday, the interconnectedness of foreign and domestic policy:

In addition to freeing up resources to take the fight to al Qaeda, ending the war in Iraq will allow us to more effectively confront other threats in the world - threats that cannot be conquered with an occupying army or dispatched with a single decision in the middle of the night. What lies in the heart of a child in Pakistan matters as much as the airplanes we sell her government. What's in the head of a scientist from Russia can be as lethal as a plutonium reactor in Yongbyon. What's whispered in refugee camps in Chad can be as dangerous as a dictator's bluster. These are the neglected landscapes of the 21st century, where technology and extremism empower individuals just as they give governments the ability to repress them; where the ancient divides of region and religion wash into the swift currents of globalization.

Without American leadership, these threats will fester. With strong American leadership, we can shape them into opportunities to protect our common security and advance our common humanity – for it has always been the genius of American leadership to find opportunity embedded in adversity; to focus on a source of fear, and confront it with hope.

Here are just five ways in which a shift in strategy away from Iraq will help us address the critical challenges of the 21st century.

First, in addressing global terror and violent extremism, we need the kind of comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy I called for last August. We need to strengthen security partnerships to take out terrorist networks, while investing in education and opportunity. We need to give our national security agencies the tools they need, while restoring the adherence to rule of law that helps us win the battle for hearts and minds. This means closing Guantanamo, restoring habeas corpus, and respecting civil liberties. And we need to support the forces of moderation in the Islamic world, so that alliances of convenience mature into friendships of conviction.

Second, the threat of nuclear proliferation must serve as a call to action. I have worked across the aisle with Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel in the Senate to secure dangerous weapons and loose nuclear materials. And as President, I will secure all loose nuclear materials around the world in my first term, seek deep cuts in global nuclear arsenals, strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and once more seek a world without nuclear weapons.

Third, the danger of weak and failed states risks spreading poverty and refugees; genocide and disease. Now is the time to meet the goal of cutting extreme poverty in half, in part by doubling our foreign assistance while demanding more from those who receive it. And now is the time to build the capacity of regional partners in conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and the reconstruction of ravaged societies.

Fourth, the catastrophic consequences of the global climate crisis are matched by the promise of collective action. Now is the time for America to lead, because if we take action, others will act as well. Through our own cap and trade system and investments in new sources of energy, we can end our dependence on foreign oil and gas, and free ourselves from the tyranny of oil-rich states from Saudi Arabia to Russia to Venezuela. We can create millions of new jobs here in America. And we can secure our planet for our children and grandchildren.

And fifth, America's sluggish economy risks ceding our economic prominence to a rising China. Competition has always been a catalyst for American innovation, and now should be no different. We must invest in the education of our children, renew our leadership in science, and advance trade that is not just free, but fair for our workers. We must ensure that America is the economic engine in the 21st century just as we were in the 20th.

And what about McCain? What's his foreign policy strategy? Obama caught it on Friday:

We have weakened our capacity to project power around the world becauuse we have viewed everything through this single lens....

The "single lens" in this context was Iraq. But the mindset that made McCain a cheerleader for the Iraq expedition is also a "single lens". For McCain, every conflict and stress point has the same cast of characters: Hitler (Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong-il, Saddam, Milosevic), Chamberlain (Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, even, in a muted allusion re North Korea, George W.), and Churchill (McCain). McCain is almost as Manichean as W. -- maybe, by this point, more so.

Which brings us back full cycle to campaign strategy. McCain belittles and insults Obama as he belittled and insulted Romney (who deserved it), and Bill Clinton, and doubtless the various rivals he's defeated in his own political career. The narrative is hero vs. venal mortals, Country First vs. Me First. The irony, of course, is that Mr. Country First is at the center of every narrative.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Primates' Debates, '96 and '08

All the talk of McCain's refusal to make eye contact last night takes me back to Maureen Dowd on Clinton v. Dole, 1996. Was Dowd the first to frame a Presidential debate as a contest of primate primacy?

There was a moment, in the San Diego debate, when Bob Dole actually looked as if he wanted to run and hide behind Jim Lehrer's chair.

All night, Bill Clinton had been playing alpha male, throwing gorilla dust at Mr. Dole, hoping to distract his opponent from attacking on character and ethics. In a campaign that choreographs every move for maximum public approval, right down to body language, Mr. Clinton was following his strategists' in-your-face script: You lookin' at me, Bobster? Come over here and say that.

The President kept sidling out from behind his lectern, bearing down on Bob Dole and looking as if he were getting ready to give him a good clip from the side.

Answering a question on welfare, Mr. Clinton crowded poor Mr. Dole so much that the Republican backed away from his own lectern, apologetically murmuring, ''I'm going to get out of your way here.'' [snip]

The Dole camp had hoped its man could get the President to lose his temper. But it was Bill Clinton, the man of many faces, who unnerved Bob Dole. Behind that smarmy, feel-your-pain game face, the big fella looked menacing.
At first blush, there was no such obvious dominance play in the Obama-McCain contest last night. But compare a couple of professionally informed reader comments cited by Josh Marshall:
I think people really are missing the point about McCain's failure to look at Obama. McCain was afraid of Obama. It was really clear--look at how much McCain blinked in the first half hour. I study monkey behavior--low ranking monkeys don't look at high ranking monkeys. In a physical, instinctive sense, Obama owned McCain tonight and I think the instant polling reflects that.
and
As a psychotherapist and someone who treats people with anger management problems, we typically try to educate people that anger is often an emotion that masks other emotions. I think it's significant that McCain didn't make much, if any, eye contact because it suggests one of two things to me; he doesn't want to make eye contact because he is prone to losing control of his emotions if he deals directly with the other person, or, his anger masks fear and the eye contact may increase or substantiate the fear.
Wishful thinking from Democrats? Not according to the fact-based post-mortem of Nate Silver on FiveThirtyEight:
TPM has the internals of the CNN poll of debate-watchers, which had Obama winning overall by a margin of 51-38. The poll suggests that Obama is opening up a gap on connectedness, while closing a gap on readiness.

Specifically, by a 62-32 margin, voters thought that Obama was “more in touch with the needs and problems of people like you”....Obama’s eye contact was directly with the camera, i.e. the voters at home. McCain seemed to be speaking literally to the people in the room in Mississippi, but figuratively to the punditry.

Meanwhile, voters thought that Obama “seemed to be the stronger leader” by a 49-43 margin, reversing a traditional area of McCain strength. And voters thought that the candidates were equally likely to be able to handle the job of president if elected.

This is not to suggest that Obama pulled an Alpha Gorilla Dance a la Clinton. His mastery was subtler. He looked at McCain. He addressed McCain by name. And he responded with direct effective rebuttals to what McCain was saying, rather than relying on canned political talking points. Not to mention that he showed a superior strategic grasp of where we've gone and where we need to go.

Obama's wide-angle lens

In post-debate commentary, I heard many versions of the verdict, "this was a draw." On one level that seems the intuitive reaction. Neither candidate made a fool of himself. Neither failed to articulate his core positions on foreign policy. Neither scored the stereotypical knockout punch.

But this debate was no draw. Throughout, Obama displayed a broader strategic vision, the ability to put his position on a particular issue in the context of his broader goals. Above all, he returned over and over to the misallocation of our resources in Iraq, and how it's fixated and distorted and enervated our engagement with the world. Near the end, he summed up masterfully the full extent of this strategic disaster (as he's done repeatedly since March, but few have been listening), and in the process he also summed up McCain:
Look, over the last eight years, this administration, along with Senator McCain, have been solely focused on Iraq. That has been their priority. That has been where all our resources have gone.

In the meantime, bin Laden is still out there. He is not captured. He is not killed. Al Qaeda is resurgent.

In the meantime, we've got challenges, for example, with China, where we are borrowing billions of dollars. They now hold a trillion dollars' worth of our debt. And they are active in countries like -- in regions like Latin America, and Asia, and Africa. They are -- the conspicuousness of their presence is only matched by our absence, because we've been focused on Iraq.

We have weakened our capacity to project power around the world because we have viewed everything through this single lens, not to mention, look at our economy. We are now spending $10 billion or more every month.

And that means we can't provide health care to people who need it. We can't invest in science and technology, which will determine whether or not we are going to be competitive in the long term.

There has never been a country on Earth that saw its economy decline and yet maintained its military superiority. So this is a national security issue.

We haven't adequately funded veterans' care. I sit on the Veterans Affairs Committee, and we've got -- I meet veterans all across the country who are trying to figure out, "How can I get disability payments? I've got post-traumatic stress disorder, and yet I can't get treatment."

So we have put all chips in, right there, and nobody is talking about losing this war. What we are talking about is recognizing that the next president has to have a broader strategic vision about all the challenges that we face.

That's been missing over the last eight years. That sense is something that I want to restore.

We have viewed everything through this single lens. That is McCain in a nutshell. In fact, it's McCain at his best, because if he still believes in anything but his own right to power, it's that we must win in Iraq. In that coda above, though Obama didn't personalize the diagnosis, he was literally describing the McCain we had just seen, the McCain who reiterated and reiterated:

This strategy has succeeded. And we are winning in Iraq. And we will come home with victory and with honor. And that withdrawal is the result of every counterinsurgency that succeeds.

And I want to tell you that now that we will succeed and our troops will come home, and not in defeat, that we will see a stable ally in the region and a fledgling democracy.

The consequences of defeat would have been increased Iranian influence. It would have been increase in sectarian violence. It would have been a wider war, which the United States of America might have had to come back.

So there was a lot at stake there. And thanks to this great general, David Petraeus, and the troops who serve under him, they have succeeded. And we are winning in Iraq, and we will come home. And we will come home as we have when we have won other wars and not in defeat.

This is not to say that McCain was not right about the surge, or about the terrible price of leaving total chaos in Iraq. But the reason he was right on that point is embedded in a world view that led us headlong in the disaster of invading the wrong enemy -- a one-size-fits-all Churchillian pose for every foreign policy challenge we face. McCain is more invested than anyone except Bush in the monomania of our Iraq entanglement. His insistence that a 100-year presence in Iraq would be acceptable was an almost poetic expression of the extent of his own investment. It's as if the possibility of victory there is so sweet that it encompasses his vision of the United States' place in the world.

Throughout the debate, Obama showed that he has a wider lens, a fuller grasp of the interconnection between economics and energy and security and America's place in the community of nations. He was in command of his facts, he was in command of his emotions, he was in command of the terms of the debate. I think polls will show that for a significant segment of independent voters, tonight he crossed the commander-in-chief threshold.

p.s. One caveat: since McCain kept insisting that Obama was bent on failure in Iraq, Obama might have mentioned that the Iraqi government has basically endorsed his timetable, and even Bush has essentially acceded to it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Palin's moment of exquisite clarity with Couric

While the world is naturally agape at the incoherence of Sarah Palin in her interview with Katie Couric, there was one moment in which Palin laid bare with bracing clarity McCain's political strategy in the bailout negotiations. Here it is:
Palin: I'm all about the position that America is in and that we have to look at a $700 billion bailout. And as Sen. McCain has said unless this nearly trillion dollar bailout is what it may end up to be, unless there are amendments in Paulson's proposal, really I don't believe that Americans are going to support this and we will not support this. The interesting thing in the last couple of days that I have seen is that Americans are waiting to see what John McCain will do on this proposal. They're not waiting to see what Barack Obama is going to do. Is he going to do this and see what way the political wind's blowing? They're waiting to see if John McCain will be able to see these amendments implemented in Paulson's proposal (my emphasis).
Of course, Congressional Democrats -- and some Republicans -- have won Administration assent to major 'amendments' in Paulson's proposal this week, to the point where the original proposal is almost unrecognizable. Concessions include breaking the fund allotment into installments, installing an oversight board, equity warrants for the government, curbs on executive compensation for firms participating, and possibly even bankruptcy law reform that would give judges the power to change mortgage terms.

But "Americans are waiting" -- breath bated -- "to see what John McCain is going to do." The bailout will be fatally flawed if the new Sheriff of Wall Street does not put his stamp on it!

Sarah Palin, the fantasy candidate, has given exquisitely articulate voice to the fantasy narrative of the McCain campaign.

And Chris Dodd, weary in the wake of this afternoon's failed White House meeting after House and Senate leaders had earlier announced that they had the essentials of a deal, gave the reality-based translation. According to the Times, Dodd complained that late complications were making the episode sound more like “a rescue plan for John McCain."

Palin on border patrol

Okay, it's shooting fish in a barrel to point out absurdities in Sarah Palin's foreign policy gyrations (this moment with Katie Couric has to be seen to be believed -- think Diane Keaton in Annie Hall). Still, a Palin comment at Ground Zero in New York today, reported by the AP, deserves to be parsed:

Palin was asked if she thought the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan was helping to mitigate terrorism

"I think our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan will lead to further security for our nation. We can never again let them onto our soil," she said.

Barreled fish, hold still:
1) How does our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan keep "them" off our soil?
2) Who exactly are "they"? Iraqis? Afghanis? The 9/11 terrorists, who hailed mainly from Saudi Arabia?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Obama gets in the gutter in Michigan

Having just vociferously defended Obama's ad linking McCain's proposal to allow purchase of health insurance across state lines to his passion to his passion for bank deregulation, I think it's only fair to say that Obama's Michigan ad villifying McCain for owning three foreign cars is a repulsive bit of demagoguery, worthy of McCain himself (only three of his thirteen cars are foreign? What kind of consumer is McCain, anyway?). Obama, get out of the gutter. Don't spend that moral capital you've built up on subprime smears.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Factcheck.org carries water for McCain

In a display of false even-handedness, a new Factcheck.org article, "Out of Context on Health Care," falsely accuses a new Obama ad of distorting McCain's healthcare proposals.

The ad in question seizes on a proposal in a just-published article under McCain's byline to "[open] up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done in banking." Factcheck complains that the ad
claims that McCain said he would "reduce oversight of the health insurance industry ... just 'as we have done over the last decade in banking.' " But the ad takes the comments out of context, failing to explain what exactly McCain meant by the comparison to banking. He was talking specifically about allowing the sale and purchase of health insurance plans across state lines.
In fact, Factcheck makes its own unwarranted inferences as to "what exactly McCain meant"--not to mention what gutting state insurance mandates might mean. Here's the McCain passage in question:
I would also allow individuals to choose to purchase health insurance across state lines, when they can find more affordable and attractive products elsewhere that they prefer. Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.
What phase of bank deregulation was McCain referring to? Factcheck cites competing interpretations from the two campaigns cited in The Wall Street Journal, then delivers a completely unwarranted judgment. Here's the WSJ:
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Sen. McCain's chief economic adviser, said the banking regulations referenced in that magazine article were common-sense provisions approved in 1995 that allowed people to bank across state lines. Obama adviser Jason Furman said Sen. McCain appeared to be referencing 2004 rules that pre-empted state banking regulations and that, he argues, helped bring on the current financial meltdown.
And here's Factcheck:
McCain did not cite specific legislation. But it is clear he was comparing such regulations to his proposal to allow the sale of health insurance across state lines.
Now just what are "such regulations" -- and why assume that "allowing the sale of health insurance across state lines" is some kind of neutral, inherently harmless proposal? As the Journal exchange indicates, the weakening of states' control over banking was a multi-stage process, with a relatively benign phase and a malignant phase.

In the Journal passage above, Holtz-Eakin seems to claim that McCain was alluding to the Riegel-Neal Interstate Banking Act passed by a Democratic Congress in 1994 (not in "the last decade," per the McCain passage"), which removed prohibitions against interstate banking. It's true that Riegel-Neal left consumer protections in place. But the Bush Administration took care of that with the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACT), which restricted states from enacting future laws to protect consumers in the credit markets. Then, in 2004,
a previously obscure federal banking regulator -- the little noticed Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC)--eliminated application of all state consumer protection and predatory lending laws, as well as state enforcement authority, over national banks, even when no federal law protected consumers at all...The OCC asserted it had authority to take the field over virtually all matters pertaining to national banks, even when no federal law protected consumers from unfair or predatory financial practices (Edmund Meirzwinski, U.S. Pirg) .
The states fought back against the Federal power grab. In August 2003, 35 attorneys general, supported by 43 state bank commissioners, filed an amicus brief in support of the Connecticut banking commissioner in defense against a Wachovia lawsuit that challenged the state's right to license and supervise Wachovia Mortgage Corporation, a state-chartered mortgage lender. In a release announcing the amicus filing, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller warned:
The breadth of preemption through regulation that the OCC is pursuing through court decisions is dangerous for both consumers and financial institutions. The check on abusive practices that state law and state law enforcement have provided has created a confidence in our financial system that has allowed that system to thrive.
Alaska Attorney General Gregg Renkes added:
As a matter of law as well as of public policy, the Comptroller of the Currency is on shaky ground. We hope that this court turns the tide of excessively deferential decisions in favor of OCC interpretations of federal law. Otherwise, we fear that a void is being created that could provide a breeding ground for consumer abuses.
Chief among those preempted state checks on abusive practices: curbs on predatory lending.

Why should we assume that McCain, or rather whoever ghosted the article, was referring with clarity and purity of purpose to the unnamed Riegel-Neal? Everything we know about John McCain indicates otherwise -- that a) he didn't mean anything precise, and b) he's "always for less regulation"--in 1994, 1997, 2003, 2004 and today.

McCain is indeed itching to do "the same" to health insurance as the Bush Administration did to banking regulation (hard though it is to believe that our current system could open the door to even more discriminatory pricing, restricted and often illusory coverage, or minefields of coverage exclusions). McCain wants to enable the purchase of insurance across state lines because many state insurance schemes prohibit a wide range of coverage restrictions and provide rating protections that make small group insurance more affordable to older and sicker workers. By giving individuals the "freedom" to buy health insurance in any state, McCain would trigger a regulatory race to the bottom in which health insurers charter in states with the weakest regulation. As it is, almost as many Americans are underinsured as uninsured, stuck in plans with low benefit caps, high co-pays, and a maze of coverage exclusions. If you think that health insurance is melting down now, just wait till John McCain gets through with it.

Factcheck rightly points out that McCain's article "was not 'an article praising Wall Street deregulation,' as the ad says. Wall Street itself is never mentioned..." Foot fault -- the banking industry does not equal Wall Street. On the main point, though, the ad is dead-on. McCain would shred consumer protections in health insurance - what little we have - as thoroughly as the Bush Administration destroyed consumer protection in banking.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Three-point shot: Obama hits McCain on healthcare, social security, Wall Street

Obama sank a three-point shot against McCain's claim to be an effective economic reformer today. Speaking first at Bethune-Cookman University and then at an outdoor rally in Jacksonville, he simultaneously hit McCain on three closely linked fronts - wanting to privatize social security, being a longtime advocate of bank deregulation, and proposing further deregulation of our chaotic health insurance system. He exposed as completely bogus McCain's newfound zeal for tough regulation.

Here's ABC's account of the healthcare-banking connection:

At the end of a week of Wall Street bailouts and government negotiations to take over hundreds of billions in bad loans, Obama contends McCain is a newcomer to government regulation of Wall Street.

Speaking before a crowd of 2,500 at an event focused on women’s issues – Obama called McCain out for once suggesting deregulation of the health care industry like the banking industry.

Obama used McCain’s words – and the financial crisis against him – reading a quote from McCain which was published in "Contingencies" magazine last year.

"Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation, McCain said in the magazine in their September/.October 2007 issue.

Today, Obama read back the quote to the crowd and in astonishment said, “So let me get this straight – he wants to run health care like they’ve been running Wall Street. Well, Senator, I know some folks on Main Street who aren’t going to think that’s such a good idea.”

And here is Reuters on the banking-social security connection:

[Obama] attacked McCain for supporting some privatization of Social Security retirement funds, a proposal President George W. Bush made a centerpiece of his 2004 White House campaign but was unable to push through Congress.

"I know Senator McCain is talking about a 'casino culture' on Wall Street -- but the fact is, he's the one who wants to gamble with your life savings," Obama said at a rally in Daytona Beach in Florida, a state with a large population of seniors and retired workers.

"That is not going to happen when I'm president," the Illinois senator said, asking the crowd to imagine the fears of retirees who found their Social Security funds tied to the current market.

The common thread, of course, was deregulatory zeal:

"There's only one candidate who's called himself 'fundamentally a deregulator' when deregulation is part of the problem," Obama said.

These thrusts are going to sink deep into McCain's reformer posture. Democrats have long run on claims that Republicans want to destroy Medicare and Social Security, and sometimes those claims have had a demagogic edge. But Obama's claim that McCain wants to do to healthcare and social security what Phil Gramm (a.k.a. Dereg) and his wrecking crew did to banking has the advantage of being true. McCain was zealous for bank deregulation; McCain himself has drawn the analogy between bank deregulation and unfettering insurers from state healthcare mandates; McCain's ridiculous healthcare plan would indeed free insurers to riddle health insurance with ever more coverage restrictions and exclusions. As for Social Security, McCain has been pushing privatization since the late '90's; he supported Bush's privatization proposal; and as recently as March he disavowed the plan on his own website to establish private accounts separately from the existing system, insisting that the privatization should be built into a portion of each person's current social security set-aside.

At the darkest hour of McCain's post-Convention bump, I confess to worrying that McCain might win -- as I still do. But I never lost my faith that Obama and his chief campaign architects understood better than all his critics -- better than anyone -- how to conduct an effective campaign. That faith is redoubled now. Obama has brilliantly, patiently, meticulously positioned himself for full frontal attack -- now, when the nation's attention is riveted. He has seized and held the high moral ground, nurturing the meme that the McCain campaign has set new standards for viciousness and dishonesty and letting it take hold before concentrating his fiercest fire.

Now, as he binds McCain ever-tighter to discredited policies (more tax cuts for the wealthy) and bankrupt ideas ("I'm always for more deregulation"), he maintains the moral contrast by continuing to make clear that he is faulting McCain on policy and outlook rather than on character. At the convention, Obama's keynote was, "it's not because John McCain doesn't care, it's because John McCain doesn't get it." This fleshed out his months-old claim that McCain would continue the failed policies of the last eight years. It also contrasted pointedly with McCain's scurrilous character attacks on Obama. The party heavies followed his lead, collectively killing McCain with kindness.

As the market tsunami broke last week, Obama continued the two-step, making the gesture of fairness before launching a pinpoint strike on McCain's approach to economics:
I certainly don’t fault Senator McCain for these problems, but I do fault the economic philosophy he subscribes to. It’s a philosophy we’ve had for the last eight years – one that says we should give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. It’s a philosophy that says even common-sense regulations are unnecessary and unwise, and one that says we should just stick our heads in the sand and ignore economic problems until they spiral into crises. Well now, instead of prosperity trickling down, the pain has trickled up – from the struggles of hardworking Americans on Main Street to the largest firms of Wall Street.
Again, the attack has the supreme virtue of being true -- and giving the lie to McCain's vociferous promises to reform Wall Street. These calm, precise charges contrast beautifully with McCain's ridiculous charges that Obama was closely tied to former Fannie Mae CEOs Johnson and Raines and somehow personally responsible for the market meltdown.

McCain's chickens are coming home to roost. The more he flails at Obama with charges of being vapid, all talk, unpatriotic, and motivated solely by ambition, the more gravitas he lends to Obama's attacks on McCain's governing philosophy and support of Bush policies. The debate that Obama has always said he's eager to have -- over policy -- will play out on his terms.

Related posts:
Killing McCain with Kindness
Obama does it with integrity

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Jeffrey Goldberg retails the Bobbit Fallacy

Is Jeffrey Goldberg, in an attempt to expose a fallacy, falling victim to a fallacy? Goldberg relays a report by Steven Coll of a John Kerry dinner party where Brent Scowcroft assered, "Saddam, in fact, was quite well contained. And we had a big problem following 9/11 in dealing with this greater threat of terrorism." Goldberg demurs:
It is an open question, however, whether Saddam was in fact "contained." The sanctions regime was crumbling; the world was tired of keeping Saddam in a box. And as John Kerry himself said in October of 2002, "It would be naive to the point of grave danger not to believe that left to his own devices, Saddam Hussein will provoke, misjudge, or stumble into a future, more dangerous confrontation with the civilized world. He has as much as promised it."

But let's assume it was true that Saddam was actually contained in early 2003. Does this mean that he would have remained contained in 2004? Here, Scowcroft falls victim to Parmenide's Fallacy, which occurs when a policymaker considers the merits of a particular proposal by judging it against its current context, rather than by what might occur in the future if the proposal isn't acted upon. In the words of Phillip Bobbitt, "indefinitely extending the present is never a realistic option." Just because Saddam was contained in 2003 (assuming he was) has no bearing on whether he would have been contained in 2004 or 2005.
Is it true that "indefinitely extending the present is never a realistic option"? Depends, I guess, on what your definition of "present" is. The U.S. contained Soviet expansion for forty years until the Soviet Union imploded, relatively peacefully; conditions, tasks and tactics changed many times within that space. Saddam had maybe five-fifteen years to go. And "containment" does not necessarily mean "indefinitely extending the present." The pressure Bush applied to Saddam and to the world in fall 2002 was effective; renewing invasive inspections was a terrific idea. But the case against "indefinitely extending the present" does not amount to a case for invading every country where we consider the status quo unsustainable.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Monegan outs Palin on ABC; Stonewall may be breached already

No matter how thoroughly Sarah Palin stonewalls the Alaskan legislature's investigation of Troopergate, it looks to me like Walt Monegan, the security chief Palin fired, has already handed over a smoking gun to investigators. This from Monegan's interview with ABC today:

Monegan, who gave sworn testimony behind closed doors for nearly eight hours last week, said he also provided the State's investigator with copies of e-mails he received from the Governor in which she referred in disparaging terms to her former brother-in-law.

"This is not a 'he said she said' situation. Others were contacted by Todd and Sarah as well," according to Monegan, who said he was confident the investigation would find adequate documentation to corroborate his testimony.

Palin has already admitted that her office made two dozen contacts with public safety officials about Michael Wooten, her estranged ex-brother-in-law. Looks to me like special counsel Stephen Branchflower has already got the goods he needs.

On ABC, Monegan also accused Palin of lying on multiple fronts. For example:

The former Public Safety Commissioner also strongly defended his job performance in response to Palin's complaints about his work to ABC's Gibson.

"After two years he wasn't meeting the goals I wanted met in that area of public service, there were a lot of things we were lacking and a lot of goals weren't being met." Palin said on 20/20.

"No goals were conveyed to me by the Governor at any time," said Monegan.

"All of the Commissioners who worked for the Governor would say the same. She was preoccupied with her pipeline proposal," Monegan said. "All of us were waiting to hear what goals she would set for our departments."

Monegan said the Governor never sat down to talk with him about public safety priorities. "She met with us perhaps four times," he said, "and half the time the Governor was busy on her Blackberry. In one meeting she took a phone call and left the room, directing us to talk to her aide."

Even if Monegan's emails show clear pressure to fire Wooten, the Palin camp is set to argue that they fired him for "insubordination"; they claim to have the evidence. If she did pressure Wooten but can claim other reasons for firing him, what does Alaska law say? How serious an infraction, in itself, is that interference?

The Wall Street Journal calls out Palin on earmarks...kind of

The WSJ is revisiting the subject of Sarah Palin's earmarks today.

Background: Last week, Daily Kos blogger Paul Anderson called out the WSJ for disappearing some crucial context from a report on Sarah Palin's earmark requests. Originally, the article by Elizabeth Holmes and Laura Meckler ended thus:
At a rally today, Sen. McCain again asserted that Sen. Obama has requested nearly a billion in earmarks. In fact, the Illinois senator requested $311 million last year, according to the Associated Press, and none this year. In comparison, Gov. Palin has requested $750 million in her two years as governor -- which the AP says is the largest per-capita request in the nation.
Hours later, the closer had morphed to this:
"The only people 'lying' about spending are the Obama campaign. The only explanation for their hysterical attacks is that they're afraid that when John McCain and Sarah Palin are in the White House, Barack Obama's nearly $1 billion in earmark spending will stop dead in its tracks," Mr. Rogers said.
The WSJ claimed that the initial stat comparison was incomplete and misleading; late in the day they posted this:

Gov. Sarah Palin has requested $453 million in federal earmarks in her two years in office, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. That total doesn't include any requests made by the Alaska Railroad or the University of Alaska. Sen. Barack Obama has requested $860 million in earmarks during his four years in office, excluding $78 million for projects that were of national interest and requested by many lawmakers, according to the group. He requested no earmarks for fiscal year 2009.
As Paul pointed out, the do-over left out the most important part - the closing clause: which the AP says is the largest per-capita request in the nation.

Today, Meckler (with colleague John R. Wilke) is back with a followup detailing Palin's earmark requests. It's not bad; it highlights McCain's lies, e.g. his claim on The View that Palin never sought earmarks as governor, and his lame responses to being called out. It also gets across the bogus nature of the McCain-Palin earmark smears on Obama:
On the campaign trail, Gov. Palin has repeatedly attacked Sen. Obama on earmarks. "Our opponent has requested nearly one billion dollars in earmarks in three years. That's about a million for every working day," she said at a rally in Albuquerque, N.M.

Sen. Barack Obama requested a total of $860 million in earmarks in his Senate years, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. That doesn't include $78 million for projects that were national in scope and had been requested by many lawmakers. Sen. Obama halted all earmark requests in fiscal 2009.

It is difficult to compare Sen. Obama's earmark record with Gov. Palin's -- their states differ in size, for instance, and the two candidates play different roles in the process. But using the same calculation that the McCain campaign uses, the total amount of earmarked dollars divided by the number of working days while each held office (assuming a five-day workweek, every week, for both), Gov. Palin sought $980,000 per workday, compared with roughly $893,000 for Sen. Obama.
Still MIA, though: the per capita comparison. Alaska has 600,000 people, Illinois 13 million. Not to mentionthat Alaska is flush with petrodollars. -- which Meckler and Wilke do point out.

Of course the whole conversation is ridiculous; demonizing earmarks is McCain's smokescreen for radically cutting taxes without substantively cutting spending. What governor or Senator worth her salt wouldn't get all the appropriate appropriations she could for her state?

I'd like to hear Obama say clearly: McCain obsesses about earmarks because he has no clue how he'll cut spending to offset the $1.5 trillion in new tax cuts for the wealthy he's proposing. More distractions, more phony attacks.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

World War III, anyone? Palin echoes McCain

Sarah Palin suggested in her first public discussion of world affairs on ABC with Charlie Gibson tonight that the U.S. should quickly make Georgia a NATO ally and then be prepared to go to war with Russia in case of further Russian-Georgian conflict:

GIBSON: And under the NATO treaty, wouldn't we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?

PALIN: Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you're going to be expected to be called upon and help.
This simple syllogism needs to be viewed in the context of McCain's longstanding adventurism and provocation in Georgia.

McCain has for years urged that Georgia's membership in NATO be fast-tracked, notwithstanding that NATO's rules call for aspiring members to settle territorial disputes before they can be provided with membership "action plans." Since its civil war in 1991-1992, Georgia has insisted that full sovereignty over South Ossetia and Abkhazia is essential to its territorial integrity, though vast majorities in both regions do not want to be part of Georgia. McCain, schooled by his lobbyist-advisor Randy Scheunemann, who has taken over $800,000 in lobbying fees from the Georgian government since 2001, has offered unequivocal support for Georgia's claims to complete sovereignty over those regions.

In August 2006, McCain visited Georgia and added a visit to South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoiti. He was disappointed to hear from Kokoiti that "The people of South Ossetia see their future within the Russian Federation." Back in Tbilisi, McCain proclaimed, "Your country is a friend of America, and is worthy to become a NATO member," adding "Putin will never be president on Georgian territory" -- a statement literally true now that Putin is prime minister rather than President, but essentially belied today by South Ossetia's eager move into the Russian bear's embrace. On the same trip, McCain and other senators flew in a helicopter with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili over South Ossetian airspace -- and were fired upon by the South Ossetians.

In Georgia as in other global hot spots, McCain has been more aggressive and confrontational than the Bush Administration. Anatol Lieven Lieven, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, noted McCain's provocative role in his prescient essay "War in the Caucasus?" -- published in October 2006:
The Bush administration has repeatedly assured the Kremlin that it is putting heavy pressure on Saakashvili’s government not to attack the breakaway regions. Yet Moscow can’t help but see a contradiction. Exhibit A is the fact that the United States continues to arm and train Georgian forces. Moreover, Russians see Georgian adventurism as encouraged by less restrained U.S. politicians, such as John McCain and other senators who visited Georgia in recent months and expressed strong support for Georgian aspirations. McCain’s helicopter allegedly came under fire as it flew over South Ossetia.
Vladimir Putin's recent assertion that the Bush Administration urged Saakashivili to invade South Ossetia in order to help John McCain get elected was doubtless a cynical and paranoid overstatement. But McCain's constant provocations fuel Russian paranoia; his election would bring that paranoia to fever pitch. In February 2008, Interfax relayed Russian official thinking in the voice of one Sergei Markov:
The U.S. and Russian political analysts wonder why McCain hates Russia so much. There are different assumptions here. Some believe he cannot come over his wounds suffered in Vietnam, for which he blames the Soviet Union. McCain is the last Cold War warrior. Despite the fact that neither the USSR nor this war exist any longer, he is continuing it.
One does not have to condone Russia's disproportionate force in Georgia or its continuing effort to unseat Saakashvili to recognize that there were two sides to that conflict -- and that the idiotic Saakashvili gave the Russians rhetorical and moral cover by attacking first. But McCain recognizes no such nuance. In his telling, Georgia is simply "a wonderful little country...one of the earliest Christian nations" -- now "suffering terribly" under unprovoked Russian aggression. Palin echoed this simplified morality play today, asserting, "For Russia to have exerted such pressure in terms of invading a smaller democratic country, unprovoked, is unacceptable."

Was Russia's deep incursion into Georgian territory "unacceptable"? Yes. Was it "unprovoked"? No. Did Russia provoke the provocation? Probably. But it's McCain's way in this election cycle to keep things comic-book simple -- in fact to lie relentlessly to make things simple.

Georgia is not the only theater in which McCain has exceeded all other public figures in belligerence. On multiple occasions, he's advocated risking war in North Korea. In 1999, he criticized Clinton's "prevent defense" even as he acknowledged that the "firmer response" he called for "might have triggered a war." In 2003, he urged the Bush Administration to impose strict sanctions and a blockade -- again stating openly that he was ready for all-out war:
But if we fail to achieve the international cooperation necessary to end this threat, then the countries int he region should know with certainty that while they may risk their own populations, the United States will do whatever it must to guarantee the security of the American people. And spare us the usual lectures about American unilateralism. We would prefer the company of North Korea's neighbors, but we will make do without it if we must ("Rogue State Rollback, January 20, 2003 - recently removed from McCain's Senate website).
McCain may in fact prove a grave risk to world peace. In addition to coming out in favor of war with Iraq within weeks of 9/11, he has advocated providing Taiwan with a missile shield, blockading North Korea, bombing Iran (in jest, right?), and imposing an investment blockade on Russia after Putin jailed oligarch Khodorkovsky in 2003.

Sarah Palin, if she accepts her pastor's teaching, believes literally in Armageddon. John McCain seems willing, even eager, to risk it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

p.s. he talked about education

Today, Obama prefaced a talk about education with an attack on the McCain campaign for trying to distract the American people by raising phony issues in Rovian attacks.

No complaints about CNN's coverage of this call-out. Here's the lede:
Sen. Barack Obama on Wednesday accused Sen. John McCain's campaign of engaging in "lies" and "swift boat politics" in regard to his comment about "lipstick on a pig."

"Spare me the phony outrage. Spare me the phony talk about change," Obama said at the start of an education event in Norfolk, Virginia.
However, my funny bone was struck when deep in the article I came to this:
Meanwhile, after Obama made his remarks criticizing Republicans, he moved on to discussing his plan for the education system. At the Virginia event, Obama repeated proposals he laid out Tuesday, which included doubling funding for charter schools and investing in early-childhood education. Read more about Obama's plan for public education
That paragraph began, approximately, at Word # 600.

Before then, it was all stroke-counterstroke about the lip-schtick and other charges and countercharges (McCain's "Palin truth squad" vs. Obama's "Alaska mythbusters"). And CNN was right to lead with Obama's denunciation. McCain's decision over the summer to go nuclear with smears, lies and insults deserves to be called out, spotlighted, debunked, denounced.

But we're left with Obama's dilemma. After 600 words about the mud-wrestling, who's inclined to read more about Obama's plan for public education? Breaking through the noise is like jumping off your shadow.

McCain's Integrity: two views from Sullivan

On November 26, 2007, Andrew Sullivan, in a post titled The Real McCain, indulged an earnest wish:
I find myself wanting him to be the nominee more and more. He's deserved it. And he is the one Republican who won't needlessly exacerbate polarization. Imagine an Obama-McCain race: adult, graceful, necessary, and good for us.
Sullivan is never so eloquent as when disillusionment sets in. Today, his eloquence is on fire as he reviews the Rovian hell into which McCain has descended. His prosecutor's brief should be read in full by every American. Here's the lede:

For me, this surreal moment - like the entire surrealism of the past ten days - is not really about Sarah Palin or Barack Obama or pigs or fish or lipstick. It's about John McCain. The one thing I always thought I knew about him is that he is a decent and honest person. When he knows, as every sane person must, that Obama did not in any conceivable sense mean that Sarah Palin is a pig, what did he do? Did he come out and say so and end this charade? Or did he acquiesce in and thereby enable the mindless Rovianism that is now the core feature of his campaign?

So far, he has let us all down. My guess is he will continue to do so.
Read the whole thing. Pass it on.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Another abrupt Palin firing -- August 2002

Sarah Palin's penchant for abruptly firing subordinates is positively bizarre. Here's a particularly gratuitous one -- firing the Deputy Administrator of Wasilla John Cramer, a loyal ally (whose position she'd created in her rocky first year), seven weeks before her final term ended and days before his scheduled summer vacation. Her justification - that firing her "right-hand man" would ease the next mayor's transition -- makes no sense whatsoever. From Wasilla's Frontiersman:

Palin sends right-hand man home

By SCOTT CHRISTIANSEN-Frontiersman reporter
Published on Saturday, August 24, 2002 9:20 PM AKDT

WASILLA -- With seven weeks left before the end of her administration, Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin sent Deputy Administrator John Cramer home for good. The dismissal came on Aug. 9, just 18 days before Alaska's statewide primary election in which Palin is running for the Republican Party's nomination for lieutenant governor.

Cramer said he had a previously scheduled vacation the week of Aug. 12-16. Sometime during the week prior to his vacation he received a notice dismissing him as of 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9. He sent a farewell e-mail to an unknown number of city employees on Saturday, Aug. 10. The "To:" field in a copy of the e-mail forwarded to the Frontiersman has hidden addresses and simply says "Everyone.".. [Snip]

"I wasn't anticipating coming off of vacation and then not being employed by the city of Wasilla," Cramer said. "But certainly, that's her prerogative as mayor, and I understand that." [snip]

A week after his dismissal, Cramer said he thought he would have been able to assist in the upcoming transition, that he had been dismissed sooner than he expected, and that he wasn't given an explicit reason for his dismissal.

"My departure was ahead of when I would have liked to have made that decision," Cramer said, but added that political appointees are hired with the expectation of being dismissed at any time. Still, Cramer thinks he would have been valuable during the transition.

"Based on my experience over the last six years with the city, I certainly felt that I would have been valuable to the next person, whoever that may be," Cramer said.
Palin's explanation:
Palin said Cramer was leaving specifically to make the transition to the next administration smoother.

"The last thing I want to do is have the next administration go through what I had to go through," Palin said, referring to the transition from the administration of former mayor John Stein to her own administration six years ago.

"We worked wonderfully together, but that doesn't mean the next mayor is going to have the same experience," Palin said....

Both Cramer and Palin mentioned the rough transition six years ago.

"I think there's a little chaos if everything was done on the same day. I don't want to see that for my community," Palin said.

Asked if there were any recent issues that might have brought about his dismissal, Cramer couldn't come up with any.

"Not that I'm aware of. No. Not that I can put my finger on. I honestly can't say what it would be," Cramer said.
Palin claims that she acted to spare the next administration having to "go through what I had to go through." But the situations are not comparable. When Palin first ran for mayor, the town's six department heads supported the incumbent. When she took office, she demanded that all of them resign and re-apply for their jobs “in order to test their loyalty to her administration” (one had already resigned upon her election). She also issued a gag order, requiring them to obtain her approval before talking to reporters (ADN 10/26/96). She then fired two of them - police chief Irl Stambaugh, who sued for wrongful termination, and librarian Mary Ellen Emmons, whom Palin was forced to rehire after a public outcry and a threatened recall vote. Palin's successor Dianne Keller, in contrast, was a political ally who took office with Palin's best wishes. How exactly would keeping on her deputy administrator until her term expired have caused Keller any difficulties?

There seems to be an element of sadism in Palin's firings. John Bitney, a childhood friend and close aide whom she fired after he confessed to an affair with the wife of her husband's business partner, found out that he was out of a job when his Blackberry stopped working. As for Walt Monegan, Alaska's director of public security who claims he was fired because he refused to fire Palin's estranged ex brother-in-law, he told the Anchorage Daily News (reported 7/13/08) that the news of his firing "out of the blue," adding,"If the governor was upset with me for one thing or another, it had never been communicated to me."

Palin makes the "midnight basketball" case

Here, courtesy of CBS News, is Sarah Palin's justification in a 2001 email to city department heads, for raising the Wasilla sales tax 25% to build a $14.7 million hockey rink and sports complex:
“…as I look at the money that government [spends] on projects, programs, personnel and facilities to ‘fix’ societies ills and I realize that it’s [be]come more politically correct and accepted for government to throw money towards ‘after-the-fact [services]’, instead of preventive measures that a community could take to support and promote…family oriented, positive, constructive activities and lifestyles. Even on the local level we [spend] hundreds of thousands of dollars on our Police Dept., Youth Court, DARE Program, etc... ‘after the fact’ fixes for juvenile problems. We are in a position to help prevent (Palin’s emphasis) the [problems] that we are now forced to pay to attempt to remedy.”
Midnight basketball, anyone? Criticism.com recalls the Gingrich-led conservative attack on such programs:
In late 1994, conservative Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, the Speaker of the House from Georgia, tendered a plan to reduce crime prevention spending by $5 billion, starting a conflict that polarized the Republican Party along conservative-moderate lines. Conservatives maintained that such spending is wasteful, while the moderates in the party favored crime prevention spending, arguing that it is cheaper than building prisons. Conservative Gingrich, in particular, has called crime prevention proposals "pork." The proposals include such programs as the establishment of "drug courts" that obtain treatment for addicts and midnight basketball leagues that give teenagers an alternative to hanging out on city streets.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Another national security election?

These numbers from the USA Today/Gallup poll (as relayed by the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza) gave me a really sick feeling:
McCain has a ten-point edge on which of the two nominees is better equipped to handle the situation in Iraq and a 17-point bulge on terrorism.
That's the way it was with Kerry-Bush, too. Why does a candidate who was talking about invading Iraq days after 9/11, who promised Iraq would be a cakewalk, who said that we could invade with less than 100,000 troops, who thought we were doing just fine in Afghanistan three years ago, who has been the chief cheerleader for Georgia's reckless Mikheil Saakashvili, who advocated risking all-out war with North Korean in 1999 and 2002, who holds out the fantasy that the U.S. can cut the emerging powers out of world decision-making with a U.S.-dominated League of Democracies, and who chose a running mate who has never concerned herself with foreign policy issues in any position or forum get high marks on national security?

To be fair, McCain was right about the surge, and voters may feel that Iraq may come unglued if the U.S. pulls out too quickly. Then there's the eternal credit McCain gets for his combat and POW experience. Voters are right to credit this; having been tested under fire and torture is a powerful qualification for the highest-pressure office on earth. But it's not dispositive: a leader needs courage, but judgment too. And McCain's foreign policy prescriptions since at least 1999 have been hair-trigger, ill-informed and ham-handed. He's recommended giving Taiwan a nuclear shield, blockading North Korea, bombing Iran (is a jest about such matters really a jest?). He's been Chalabi's dupe, Saakashvili's enabler, and Russia's perceived public enemy #1.

The Dem mantra this year has been "it's the economy, stupid" squared. Post-9/11, despite appearances, I suspect that won't fly. Obama will have to convince voters, probably in the debates, that he is has the steadier hand and superior strategic mind on matters of foreign policy and national security. It's true -- will that help?

Palin's gas pipeline power play: Wasilla rink redux?

Alaska political gadfly Andrew Halcro, who ran for governor as an independent against Sarah Palin, has the goods on Palin's inept attempts to strong-arm the oil companies into developing a major Alaska gas field (Point Thomson) on terms that are not economically viable. (Building the proposed gas pipeline across Alaska is not viable without developing Point Thomson.) Having stonewalled the Exxon et al and rejected their offer to go to mediation over the terms of development, Palin is now requesting (demanding?) a meeting with oil company heads. Question: what kinds of pressure and/or bribery will the national Republican machine employ to get the oil chiefs to deal and hand Palin a real or apparent victory, enabling her to boast that she got the oil companies to end forty years of stalling and start developing? (According to Halcro, gas prices did not rise high enough to consider building the pipeline until 2002).

Palin's dealings with the oil companies seem to recall her dealings with the developer who bought the land on which she wanted to develop Wasilla's hockey rink: refuse to negotiate in good faith, litigate, attempt to create "facts on the ground" by moving forward without resolving the conflict, then continue to litigate. The result: Wasilla has paid over $1.3 million in legal fees, interest and inflated land prices for land the town could have had for $126,0000, had it accepted the Nature Conservancy's initial offer.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Palin unprepared for questions, 2006 edition

Postponing exposure to probing questions while she bones up on campaign issues is a familiar experience for Sarah Palin.

Back on October 8 2006, four weeks before Palin was elected Governor of Alaska, an Anchorage Daily News feature called "Alaska Ear" reported:
CAN'T KNOW EVERYTHING ... Ear couldn't miss the grumbling about Sarah Palin canceling campaign appointments last week, and the explanations offered for why. Overbooked, etc. A note to the organization of Native corporation presidents, who Ear hears were quite miffed at being stood up Tuesday, has Palin campaign aide John Bitney falling on his sword for "the error of canceling this meeting."

A list of questions sent to Palin the Friday before the meeting "appeared to be very in depth issues of state, federal and tribal Indian law," John wrote. "As her issues coordinator I felt we needed more time for the complicated tribal issues if that was who the audience was to be. ... On Monday afternoon, I recommended to Sarah that we cancel the appointment since there was no way we could do justice to the serious issues raised ..."

Hopefully, there will be "further opportunities to meet with the regional corporations and open up a meaningful dialogue," said John.
"John," btw, is the childhood friend whom Sarah Palin axed abruptly in July 2007, after it emerged that he had had an affair with the wife of Todd Palin's business partner. Too bad he's not around to promise us a "meaningful dialogue" with the national media after Sarah studies up.

Kroon may be Crazy, but he's not Wright

Some are plucking out of this sermon by Larry Kroon, Sarah Palin's pastor, a promise that America will be destroyed in God's "day of wrath" and holding it up as a Reverend Wright moment:

And what Zephaniah says—‘Listen, He is going to remove everyone from the earth. He is gonna deal with all the inhabitants; so, as a result, understand He is going to deal with you, Jerusalem and Judah. There’s no exceptions here.’ And if Zephaniah were here today he’d be saying, ‘Listen, He is gonna deal with all the inhabitants of the earth. He is gonna strike out His hand against, yes, Wasilla; and Alaska; and the United States of America. There’s no exceptions here—there’s none.
These scare-the-children ravings about the end of all things are not going to pack a toxic wallop for millions of Americans, as Wright's fulminations did. Wright, fancying himself truly a second Jeremiah, mimics the Jewish prophetic practice of promising destruction to his own nation for its own specific sins. Kroon's thesis isn't particularly anti-American. It's merely garden variety fundamentalism: God will destroy the world, motivated by his personal wrath at human sin, then he will raise up a remnant of the faithful. Nothing special about the U.S. (or Alaska, or Wasilla) in Kroon's view -- it's destroyed in the general destruction, and its faithful remnant is presumably a proportionate part of the faithful remnant from all nations. .

Like tens of millions of Americans, Sarah Palin professes, with her pastor, to take the fever dreams of the Jewish and Christian Bibles literally: God will end the world out of personal wrath. According to Kroon, there can be no Christianity without belief in this end:

What we’ve talked about today...what we’ve talked about today is one of the most defining things in the Christian worldview. It’s at this one point of teaching that you’ll probably decide whether you’ll accept Christianity or reject it, whether you’ll take it seriously or not. If there is no great final day of the Lord there’s really no reason to take Jesus seriously. If there is such a day and God has taken your sin very personally, then it’s absolutely essential that you take Jesus seriously. This is the issue you gotta respond to. If you choose to respond you make it personal. You call out to Jesus and you simply say, “Save me. Save me.”

Personally, I find it alarming that a person who might have her finger on the nuclear trigger could view, say, a full-scale nuclear exchange as a fulfillment of prophecy. We profess to worry that Iran's leaders view mass destruction with this kind of equanimity. But I don't see how Obama, who has accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior, could object to Kroon's sermon. If asked whether he believes in this "teaching" he would probably give a nuanced answer, something to the effect that visions of apocalypse frame in symbolic and moral terms the inevitable eventual end of our world or universe, along with a faith that spirit or soul is eternal. Such a view might be in sync with even more Americans than the straight-up Left Behind vision of apocalypse.

In short: no blood drawn by exposing this sermon.

Friday, September 05, 2008

McCain's non-tribute to Obama

James Fallows found McCain's hat-tip to Obama last night classy; Andrew Sullivan found it graceful. I thought it noteworthy chiefly for what was left unsaid:
Finally, a word to Senator Obama and his supporters. We'll go at it over the next two months. That's the nature of these contests, and there are big differences between us. But you have my respect and admiration. Despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us. We are fellow Americans, an association that means more to me than any other.
The natural followup would have been: "I know you love this country and want to do what you think best for it" (cf. Obama's "it's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because he doesn't get it.") But that would have contradicted the convention theme, captured in Sarah Palin's disgusting smear:
This is a man who can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting and never use the word "victory," except when he's talking about his own campaign.
That, of course, was an echo of John McCain's oft-repeated, "he'd rather lose a war than lose a campaign." To acknowledge Obama's patriotism would have been to undermine McCain's core campaign message.

As articulated by a party in intellectual meltdown, "Country First" means "only we love our country."

That's all McCain has. Look at the bankruptcy of his diagnosis of the country's ills. When he acknowledged that his own party had lost its way while in power, it seemed for a moment that things might get interesting. When he said, "the constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving these problems isn't a cause. It's a symptom," I perked up, primed for some analysis of how the conditions under which our politicians operate have changed, and how we might "change our politics." Here's what followed:

It's what happens when people go to Washington to work for themselves and not for you.

Okay -- do politicians come to Washington with worse motives than they did in eras past? If not, what tempts them, corrupts them, when they get there now? How can we change the rules, the incentives, the pressures? By running a scurrilous, Rovian, impugn-your-opponent's-patriotism campaign such as McCain has run?

The irony is that in the past, McCain has indeed thought hard about systemic flaws in our political system and worked hard to do something about them. One result was McCain-Feingold, which did indeed "change our politics," perhaps for the better. But McCain is not now taking that argument forward. In fact his campaign exemplifies the partisan rancor he decries. And his policy is shaped almost entirely by lobbyists and Rovian political operatives.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Obama and Gates in sync on Pakistan

Reporting today on a U.S. raid inside Pakistani territory, the Times noted this major point of congruence between Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Obama: (hat tip, Sullivan):
But the commando raid by the American forces signaled what top American officials said could be the opening salvo in a much broader campaign by Special Operations forces against the Taliban and Al Qaeda inside Pakistan, a secret plan that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has been advocating for months within President Bush’s war council.
As noted at the time in this blog, Gates in fact signaled his wish to move inside Pakistan with a very pointed "invitation" to Pakistani leadership back in January (reported in the FT, Jan. 25):

The US would consider conducting joint military operations against extremists inside Pakistan if requested by Islamabad, Robert Gates, US defence secretary, said on Thursday.

“We remain ready, willing and able to assist the Pakistanis and to partner with them to provide additional training, to conduct joint operations, should they desire to do so,” Mr Gates said.

He said Pakistan had not asked for US forces to help conduct operations with Pakistani forces. But he said Washington and Islamabad were discussing ways in which the US might help Pakistani forces better deal with growing internal threat from Islamic militant groups affiliated with al-Qaeda.

“This is clearly an evolving issue. And what we have tried to communicate to the Pakistanis is we are prepared to look at a range of co-operation with them in a number of different areas.
Further evidence that Gates and Obama are in major respects on the same page (though Gates has likely been worried about Obama's withdrawal timetable). Here's hoping that if Obama is elected he asks Gates to stay on, and Gates accepts.

Palin learns quick: torture is American

On genteel PBS, the talk after Sarah Palin's convention speech was all about her skilled punchline delivery, and her poise, and her hockey mom persona. How low we've sunk.

Palin's run through her own resume was fine. Her tributes to McCain were pro forma. Her showcasing of her own family was a bit over the top, but they're a political asset you can't blame her for exploiting.

Her self-branding joke - what's the difference between a hockey Mom and a pit bull? A hockey Mom wears lipstick -- was appropriate, as the latter part of the speech demonstrated.

Her attack on Obama was despicable -- a shameless catalogue of lies and distortions.

The worst first:

Al Qaida terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America, and he's worried that someone won't read them their rights.

Won't read them their rights. That's Republican-speak -- now at last adopted with full throat by the McCain campaign -- for "will stop inflicting on suspected terrorists every torture that was inflicted on John McCain by the North Vietnamese" and/or "will not seek to hold suspects indefinitely without trial or without the right to challenge their imprisonment. " This in a convention in which every major speaker has rehashed those tortures that McCain suffered -- while none until Mike Huckabee last night dared use the word "torture" to describe the litany of stress positions, caging, temperature extremes, beatings and mental torments they catalogued (Palin used the oddly tortuous phrase "torturous interrogations").

As late as last February, McCain was still better than his opponents on this issue of issues. While Romney boasted that he would "double Guantanamo" and Giuliani dismissed sleep deprivation and long standing as minor discomforts, McCain -- who had suffered those tortures -- still said that Americans must not torture. True, by that point he had brokered compromises that left the CIA free to continue tortures prohibited to military personnel, and voted against a bill that would end their exemption. Then, this June, he excoriated the Supreme Court for upholding terrorist suspects' habeas rights in Boumediene. But he had not yet sunk so low as to taunt those who want to restore America's honor by rolling back the Bush torture regime. Now, his henchmen are handing that fascist red meat to his top surrogate. And she, Christian paragon, is happy to mouth the slurs.

Equally defamatory was this:
This is a man who can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting and never use the word "victory," except when he's talking about his own campaign.
Obama has laid out a very clear set of military priorities -- drawing down troops in Iraq, diverting some to Afghanistan, and concentrating our energies there and in Pakistan to "finish the fight against al Qaeda" -- that is, to achieve "victory" against that terrorist network. Obama has contrasted his policy clearly with McCain's, claiming, with evidence, that McCain went to sleep over Afghanistan while al Qaeda and the Taliban regrouped.

But Obama has never suggested that McCain did not want "victory" against any adversary, or that he put his personal political fortunes ahead of national security. That disgusting charge is of course embedded in the smear above.

Indeed, the theme that Obama "would rather lose a war than lose a campaign" -- as McCain has asserted repeatedly -- is literally the theme of the Republican Convention. "Country First" is meant to signal that Obama puts himself first. The vapid celebrity charge meshes with portrayal of Obama as a vain, self-serving cad who does not love his country. McCain's response to Obama's challenge to ban attacks on patriotism from the contest has been to double down.

Nor is this mode of attack a departure for McCain. He spent the Clinton years impugning Clinton's patriotism, charging repeatedly that Clinton put personal political gain ahead of the national interest. Assuming such motives in other politicians outside a core of chosen friends seems to be a McCain reflex.

Back to Palin. Those who have seen her in action affirm that she's a quick study. Charlie Black envisions her training for foreign policy leadership by "sitting at the feet of the master." Unfortunately, the masters she'll be studying from this fall are expert chiefly in Rovian campaigning, military adventurism, tax cutting to the point of national ruin, and destruction of civil liberties.

Related Posts:
Barracuda Watch
Sarah Palin: No Dan Quayle

Thrilla in Wasilla: Patin wrestles with city officials

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Russian Empire without Tanks?

Two weeks ago Paul Berman warned in TNR that Russia's invasion of Georgia would strengthen autocracy and weaken democracy on multiple fronts, including the internal politics of Russia's "near abroad":
The vast and irreversible effects of the invasion of Georgia will be felt everywhere in the ex-Soviet bloc, and not just there. Each of the ex-bloc countries has what could be called its own pro-Russia party, which is hostile to the democratic revolutions. The pro-Russia parties stand on several solid and distinct foundations: ethnic Russian minorities in the countries bordering on Russia; a variety of business interests linked to Russia, based either on Russian gas and raw materials, or on networks descended from the Soviet-era military and police agencies; nationalist groupings in the old Slavophilic style; and some (not all) of the heirs to the old Communist political tradition.

From atop those several foundations, the pro-Russia parties derive strength from a variety of physical threats: a threat of cyber-attack (already waged against Estonia on behalf of the Russian ethnic minority there, and, shortly before the invasion, against Georgia); a threat of a cut-off in gas supplies, which Russia has already wielded against Ukraine; and, more vaguely, a threat of murky political tension. Today, the pro-Russia parties in each of Russia's immediate neighbors and in some of the more distant neighbors can add to those the ultimate threat. The one involving tanks. The pro-Russia parties in every country have therefore emerged from last week's events massively reinforced, and they will remain so for years to come even if every one of those Russian tanks were to exit Georgia tomorrow.

Looks like this process is already playing out in Ukraine. From today's FT:

Ukraine’s pro-western coalition descended into chaos on Wednesday even as western leaders sought to demonstrate their support for Kiev following Russia’s intervention in Georgia.

Ministers backing President Victor Yushchenko walked out of a cabinet meeting on Wednesday after their Our Ukraine party threatened to quit a coalition with the bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko, the prime minister.

Addressing the nation, President Yushchenko accused Ms Tymoshenko’s bloc of plotting an ”anti-constitutional coup” by voting in tandem with communists and the Moscow-leaning Regions party in favour of legislation to cut the president’s authority. “Without a doubt, the collapse of the coalition was a well-planned action,” he said. He threatened to dissolve parliament unless politicians agreed a new coalition. Andriy Portnov, a lawmaker backing Ms Tymoshenko, said the coalition could be saved if Mr Yushchenko’s camp apologised for ”systematically trying to sabotage” the government. The partners still have up to 40 days to try to reconcile their differences....

Moscow has denied suggestions it could challenge Ukraine’s territorial integrity, but has openly protested against the speedy westward integration drive adopted by Mr Yushchenko, including plans to join Nato.
McCain used to like to talk about "rogue state rollback." Today, it looks like Western Alliance rollback is gaining momentum. Putin has already started working rhetorically to pin that process on McCain, suggesting that the Bush Administration triggered Georgia's invasion of Ossetia to help his candidacy. Russia, with good reason, considers McCain its most inveterate enemy in the U.S.. If he's elected, count on Cold War II.

Barracuda watch

An Alaskan friend of Christopher Orr reinforces my vibe that Sarah Palin is no Dan Quayle. If Troopergate or some as-yet unknown scandal or the sheer near-impossibility of prepping for a national campaign from scratch don't fell her (okay, a lot of ifs), she's going to be trouble for Democrats:
What the Republicans missed about Sarah Palin then--and what the Democrats seem poised to miss now--is that she is a true political savant; a candidate with a knack for identifying the key gripes of the populace and packaging herself as the solution. That keen political nose has enabled her to routinely outperform her resume. Nearly two years into her administration, she still racks up approval ratings of 80 per cent or better.
She also won some three quarters of the vote in her reelection as Mayor of Wasilla. Many local observers of her performance in both offices cast her as authoritarian, ill-informed and politically opportunistic. But the mass of voters think otherwise.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Sarah Palin: cream of the Mat-Su crop?

If major-party Presidential candidates were obligated to choose their veeps from a pool of mayors from Alaska's Mat-Su area, it appears at first glance that Sarah Palin might be the odds-on favorite. Judges, to your posts:
Anchorage Daily News, August 17, 2001: Three Mat-Su-area mayors have signed an initiative petition that, if approved by voters, would require the Legislature to hold sessions in the Valley instead of Juneau. But while their names are on the measure, that doesn't necessarily mean they all support it.

The three mayors signed the petition at a kickoff ceremony Wednesday as a television news crew recorded the event at the Best Western Lake Lucille Inn near Wasilla.

But Thursday, Palmer Mayor Henry Guinotte said he is ''neither opposed nor for'' the measure.

''I did sign it, I did,'' he said in a phone interview. ''But I want to wait and see what the voters decide.''

Mat-Su Borough Mayor Tim Anderson signed the initiative at the same ceremony but said he hadn't read it. Supporters of the measure told him it was a ceremonial signing, he said, and he felt he should sign because he was there on behalf of the Mat-Su Borough government, which has endorsed the move.

''It was a ceremony. I thought it was the thing to do,'' he said Thursday. ''You get caught up in it.''

Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin had no qualms about signing the measure. ''Our arms are wide open for the Legislature to meet here,'' she said.
Guinotte and Anderson said they went to the kickoff expecting to sign a resolution in support of giving residents a chance to vote on the move question, not the petition itself. They said they were surprised when they were handed the initiative instead.

But officials with Alaskans for Efficient Government, which is sponsoring the petition drive and held the kickoff, said the mayors were told they would be signing the initiative.

''The whole idea was that this was the official ceremony to kick off the initiative drive,'' said Uwe Kalenka, the group's president.
But perhaps decisive Sarah decided a bit too fast. Six months later she was having second thoughts:
ADN 2/27/02: Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin, who signed the initiative and had been an early supporter, now says she has concerns about it, mostly dealing with the cost of such a move.

She also said the initiative doesn't seem to be a high priority among residents.

''We don't hear anybody talking about it,'' she said. ''Maybe it's because they voted on it before and it hasn't happened.''

Palin, who was among three Mat-Su mayors who signed the petition, said she was concerned because the measure repeals a portion of the FRANK initiative.

The FRANK initiative mandates that the state provide estimates of the cost of moving the capital or the Legislature and requires voter approval of those costs before anything can happen. The new measure would repeal the part that applies to moving the Legislature.

I don't know, maybe McCain should have picked Guinotte or Anderson as a running mate. One didn't know what he was signing, neither knew why they were signing it. But they're not flip-floppers.

P.S. the measure, which failed in the 2002 elections, was co-sponsored by Mark Chryson, then head of the notorious secessionist Alaskan Independent Party, of which Sarah's husband Todd Palin, the future alleged shadow governor, was a member when this initiative was pending. Chryson suggested (in the 8/17/01 article above) that "
legislators could hold court in the Cottonwood Creek Mall, a partially vacant strip mall off the Parks Highway near Wasilla that is home to a pizza joint, an arcade and occasional rabbit and guinea pig shows. ''Why not?'' he said.

Why not indeed?
But there's no evidence In the Anchorage Daily News archives, at least) that Sarah Palin aligned herself with Chryson on this or any other measure.