Afghanistan: Malia & Sasha’s New Adopted Sibling

December 5, 2009

More and more a cost-benefit analysis reasons in favor of leaving Afghanistan. Now, each month, the war costs around $3.6 billion dollars, and that excludes the costs of the troop increase. In face of an economic crisis the costs of staying in Afghanistan in addition to the national security benefits (which, for now,  seem limited to the inability of Al Qaeda to launch attacks that particular country alone) have to be weighed against the financial benefits of moving out and the national security implications of such a decision. How much longer can the US pour money into a venture that, actually, decreases national security by taking appropriations away from more broad-range threats like biological weapons or anti-terrorism preparedness at home ? Money is finite and, in reality, increasing the debt and spending more when you are in a quagmire actually decreases your national security standing, and the terrorists know that all too well (ever thought why they attacked the World Trade Center and not the Empire State Building?). And all of this is even without taking into consideration the costs in manpower (i.e. casualties) and the morality of supporting a hardly legitimate government in Kabul.

All these arguments make sense in a world in which Obama’s decisions can somehow be stripped from reality – but they are not. That is why, even though the real benefits of pulling out are bigger than the costs of staying, the political reality of him not yet being a lame duck president, his willingness not to alienate Republicans and many Democrats, and the force of the commitment to the NATO allies there prevails. In other words, pulling out of Afghanistan at the present time, even though desirable, is not an option.

Obama should create a framework for eventually pulling out of Afghanistan by minimizing the risks associated with abandoning NATO allies and completely alienating conservatives and many moderates at home. The timeframe Obama announced at West Point is the best indicator that such a policy can be implemented. However, his speech created more questions than it answered. What are these conditions under which the US would start withdrawing by 2011 ? What will be that pressure on the Karzai government that would eventually lead to reforms ? In my opinion, the timeframe should be more flexible setting specific goals for the Kabul government. Training an army and police would take at least 1 year. Implementing a strategy for that training would take a month. Rather than setting an arbitrary deadline by which some goals should be attained, the US should pressure Kabul into implementing certain changes in the next month or two. Otherwise, Obama is literally dependent on Karzai’s goodwill and, indeed, it would be Karzai who would be dictating the rules, not the US president. The timeframe is good, because it would give Obama a good excuse to pull out if the Karzai government would fail to produce results, conveniently at a time just during the start of the 2012 election campaign season.

A common objection to it is that it would give Al Qaeda a hint to stay low until the US pullout from the region. This is based on a false assumption that somehow Al Qaeda only operates in Afghanistan, when in fact it has its cells in countries like Somalia and Indonesia. Maybe it does send that sign to the 100-or-so Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan, but this does not pose a serious threat to the organization so spread anyway. This touches on a crucial point : the US, even if it would stay in Afghanistan for the next 10 years, would not destroy Al Qaeda. The only way to combat organizations like that is through international security community means, like Interpol. This lie that Al Qaeda can be at all defeated by just staying in Afghanistan is a convenient ploy of casting this as a conventional conflict by those, especially in the military, who have little sympathy for or understanding of  irregular concepts of warfare. As to the Taliban, they too can only be suppressed but not defeated. They hardly recognize if they are fighting against the British, the Soviets or Americans, and they cannot be eliminated because what gives them the will to fight is not an ideological war with the US, but more simply nationalism that will not die out in the next 10 or 100 years.

One sometimes wonders why are the US and NATO still there at all. Unfortunately, the reasons for staying in Afghanistan are becoming more and more, what rhetoricians I believe call, heuristic. They are about the mission itself, rather than about achieving anything. These include “showing resolve in the fight against terrorism” or “preventing a loss that would damage American prestige”. If politicians start using phrases like that, you know that the conflict at hand has become meaningless and the war itself purely political.

The 30,000 troop increase is at best an attempt to placate hawks at home as well as generals in the field, and at worst a mistake. Among the most ludicrous claims out there is that a troop increase would allow for an Iraqi-style surge. For that goal 30,000 troops is too little. Just as 300,000 is. US should not commit itself further to a conflict in which it does not dictate the rules. My opposition to the troop increase should not be misconstrued as absolute, but it is solid in the present circumstances. There is a much more overlooked problem with the troop increase, something that conditions much of the opposition to that increase. It is true that Obama already increased the troops in Afghanistan shortly after taking office, but the weight and prestige put in creating the West Point speech decidedly makes this Obama’s war. From this time on, he will not be able to blame his predecessor on any failings there as he has decided to refresh Bush’s ideas (Bush wanted an identical increase). Without sending these troops he might still have divorced himself from this war, but now, as he adopted it, it effectively became Obama’s war. This is a tough gamble to take.

Last, the importance of dealing with Pakistan cannot be overemphasized. Islamabad is the key to the American policy in the region. The US should do whatever it takes to cooperate with the regime. If the cooperation is anything but full, the entire US venture in the region can be abandoned.

In short, after making these faithful decisions, Obama should concentrate on three things: demanding more from Kabul (and indeed the US can do that – the very existence of the regime is conditioned under American support), cooperation with Islamabad (without which any venture is futile), and more broad-range non-Afghanistan measures with the help of NATO or even UN (which currently are seriously under-financed because of Afghanistan).

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Sunday Musings

November 1, 2009

Well, some sort of healthcare bill will pass, most likely with a watered down opt-out provision. Obama is miscalculating the benefits when he pushes Reid for a trigger provision (even less effectual than the opt-out). It is not difficult to divine the main reason for that: his courtship of Olypia Snowe. She has already stated she will not vote for the bill if it has an opt-out provision, though she might support a trigger. However, the apparent bipartisanship that would come along with her vote is illusory. Most rank-and-file conservatives do not even see her as Republican, so it is hard to imagine even a shred of the historical acknowledgement of Obama’s bill after it passes from either the the Republican caucus, or conservative Americans. It is uncertain on how the moderates will view it. On the one side they are not so dogmatic in their opposition to the liberal agenda, on the other, more and more of them are tuning to Fox News. The only thing that is certain is that the Democratic in-fighting between moderates and liberals is good for the party. It shows Americans that the debate is already focused within the Democratic party, further making the G.O.P. irrelevant to the debate. We must not forget that this was Lyndon B. Johnson’s strategy in the period before and during the 1964 elections. As conservatives liked to complain, he was everywhere: on the left, in the center, and on the right. As a result, the Democrats won their biggest landslide in the 20th century after that. Ultimately, passing the strongest healthcare bill will confuse a portion of right-wing leaning moderates as the benefits of bigger coverage will not be contingent on someone’s political orientation.

Afghanistan is not Vietnam. More and more pundits seem to invoke the most destructive conflict of the Cold War for America in talking about present course in Vietnam. There exist similarities, but they are indeed more of the general any-type-of-war ones like “Win the hearts of locals”. Obama should either provide the 40,000 troops required by the military, but only if he is able to push enough for a revaluation of objectives, or he should decrease the involvement there. It is laughable to hear some analysts say that the McChrystal’s request will allow for an Iraqi-style surge there. For that to happen, Obama would have to send 500,000 troops, not 40,000. If there is one thing that cannot be stressed enough: this war cannot be won militarily, only politically and economically. Abdullah Abdullah withdrew from the elections and it seems that Karzai will win no matter what, despite the fact that the rerun was ordered precisely because of his malfeasance. Al Qaeda has no role in Afghanistan anymore and efforts should be made at economic development and bribing the more moderate Taliban warlords. Any decision Obama will make is virtually bad because of the nature of the conflict and because of the “dithering” during the Bush/Cheney years. The best way, I think, would be to create sort of a limited Marshall Plan there, funded largely by national security funding (saving money from everything but procurement), and spend it on schools, hospitals, infrastructure, and most importantly, Afghanistan’s police and military force. No troop increase. If successful, such a strategy could allow the U.S. to leave the country in 1-3 years. Whatever scenario is taken, the US will probably stay there for another 2-8 years, largely due to the previous 8 years of Bushian disinterest and focus on Iraq.

Obama is being criticized for his lackluster efforts in repealing DADT (Don’t ask, don’t tell). While this criticism is well deserved, there is an often overlooked element that is good about the ages it takes to repeal DADT, namely the growing discussion within the military about it propelled by the media’s interest in the topic. In real terms, what that means, is that once DADT is repealed (either right after healthcare passes, or summer next year so that the promise to repeal it is fulfilled and yet DADT does not come too close to the midterms) there will hopefully be real action to actually implement the non-discriminatory provisions of the bill. Many liberals are rightly outraged at the policy, but they fail to acknowledge that in most countries there exists a de facto discrimination because of the lack of equal rights implementation mechanisms even though there does not exist a DADT-like law. Who cares if DADT is repealed if there will be no mechanisms to enforce it in local military chains of command. In other words, the wait is good. In the end it will produce a sound policy with robust implementation tools. Furthermore, we should be wary of efforts of many pleading Obama to sign an executive order to stop the implementation of DADT. Many are enticed by the rule-by-decree governance, yet we should not forget that this practice broke the American government during the Bush years and corrupted executive power, even if this time it would be used in a right cause.

“The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

August 26, 2009

President Kennedy said in his inaugural almost 50 years ago that the battle for a just and better world may not end in the first 100 or 1000 days, in the life of his administration, or perhaps even in the lifetime of this generation. Indeed, that goal has not yet been accomplished.

However, the testimony that is the life of Senator Edward Moore Kennedy shines as an example that there is hope for a better tomorrow, a chance of a brighter day. The world has lost today a great fighter in that twilight struggle for the ideals that many of us share: democracy, justice, freedom, and equality. His story tells us not only that it is possible to change the world for better, but also that we can start doing that at any point in our lives, including responding to the call of the trumpet with a burden of many personal demons that we may have.

Senator Kennedy is known for issues like healthcare as a fundamental right, rights of immigrants, workers welfare, or protection of civil liberties. Unfortunately, little is known to the general public about the other accomplishments of Senator Kennedy. His involvement in helping to resolve a myriad of international crises around the world, for example, in helping his beloved Ireland find peace, or fighting with the Bengali people for independence of their own country. Or perhaps his pioneering impact on virtually every environmental bill coming out from the Senate that was created in the last 40 years assuring the health of our redwoods, and the purity of our air.

Those of us privileged and beckoned by the moral call to action to continue fighting for his ideals actively in our lives have lost a great symbol of tenacity and courage. I personally can feel in my own heart tremendous sorrow from his passing as he was the only person I ever really wanted to meet that was still alive. Even though I specialize in his brother’s career (Robert’s), I cannot think of a single issue on which I disagreed with him. The same cannot be said about Robert. Those of us lucky to be considering a political or activist career in the future can devote ourselves to what he once said after suffering a defeat in assuring the nomination of the Democratic Party in the 1980 election:

“For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

We should took today at what he said then and keep in mind his words that even at times of defeat, here on this planet, we are responsible for answering the call to action, be it from our own moral convictions, or from the word of God.

Senator Kennedy was not a saint. His critics like to recall the Chappaquiddick incident in which, while drunk driving, he was responsible for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. No one says it was not his fault. However, Senator Kennedy did everything he could to apologize, including a possibility of resignation if his voters deemed that necessary and to be the correct course of action after the events. He said his actions were, and I quote, “indefensible”, particularly his not reporting of the accident immediately to the police.

His right-wing critics, rather than honorably opposing his liberal policies on principle, pinpoint to this incident as something that inadvertently disabled his redemption and return to public life. What else would they have him do? It seems that, in their eyes, only suicide was the viable option for him, or a secluded life in permanent shame. In his statement he said he was overwhelmed by “a jumble of emotions—grief, fear, doubt, exhaustion, panic, confusion and shock.”

Those of us, like myself, who witnessed ourselves issues like death or suicide from the front row, this Molotov cocktail of emotions seems to capture the state of confusion in the situation of shock. It remains his fault and I am sure he never forgave himself, and that sorrow, at least in part, allowed him to fight for his ideals in the years after 1969.

The disgusting and deleterious rhetoric of his “Chappaquiddick critics” reveals more about its authors, potentially their envy for his subsequent successes at home and around the world, than about Senator Kennedy himself.

I will allow myself to finish with an already spoken line from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.

“When he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars; and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night, and pay no worship to the garish sun.”

Edward Moore Kennedy, 1932 – 2009.

The (Liberal) Silent Majority

January 10, 2009

From the early stages of the 2008 presidential campaign we have heard voices from various political analysts, conservative and liberal alike, warning the Democratic candidates not to be too liberal and urging Republicans to not stray from the party line. Many liberal pundits were horrified when Obama won the nomination of the party due to their morbidly pessimistic outlook on assessing their own country’s ability to select “one of the most liberal members of the chamber” as the next commander-in-chief. Jon Meacham of Newsweek, drawing from half-conclusive historic examples of the Reagan era and the “silent majority” of Nixon, warned the readers that,

Should Obama win, he will have to govern a nation that is more instinctively conservative than it is liberal—a perennial reality that past Democratic presidents have ignored at their peril.

My previous readers know that even I was swayed by that logic. Obama’s victory would not happen said even the most ardent supporters of Obama I know. And yet it did. I think this development of events requires further analysis, analysis not of historic patters, from which many historians falsely draw a clear correlation between the nation’s elected officials and the voters’ own convictions forgetting the other variables, but of clear demographic data and evidence. We all know that it is a paradox of the American party system that enables the election of Democratic majorities in Congress and the election of Republican presidents in the majority of our elections in the 20th century, but is there any other method we can find to look into “Joe the Plumber’s” psyche?

Statue of Liberty

I recently came upon two very interesting reports. One, “Pulse of Equality” by Harris Interactive, was published on December 2, 2008. The other, a bit older, from June 2007, named “The Progressive Majority” made by Media Matters for America. I read both of them and they both point at the same fact: it is easier being blue in America than you might think. Below I present a handful of interesting statistics from the two reports.

Indeed, in the US more people identify themselves as conservatives than liberals. 32% call themselves conservative, 23% call themselves liberal, and 26% call themselves moderates. One of the grave errors of political analysts is putting these moderates in one group with the conservatives. Let’s examine the issues specifically to assess whether this common practice is correct.

60% of Americans favor big, strong, and active government, even if it means expanded spending. A staggering 84% of Americans support the raise of minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25, a trend that is strong and irrelevant of election year changes, etc. An interesting anecdote is that 53% of Americans think the Bush tax cuts were not worth it, while only 39% think they were.

Getting to the hottest issues, 62% of Americans wish to protect Roe vs. Wade, while only 29% want it overturned. An interesting observation is that the support or the lack of it for legal abortion does not change much since 1994, as opposed to views on homosexuality. There is a clear and straight (no pun intended) line of rising support for some sort of legal marriages and unions (38% support for each of these, and only 22% of the will to grant any sort of recognition for these contracts). 69% of Americans oppose any measures that would disable qualified same-sex couples from adopting children.

Americans generally favor tougher gun control laws with 58% supporting and 39% opposing. Since 1997, the percentage of Americans favoring the death penalty has gone down by 15% and now the issue splits the nation in half. 83% of Americans support stricter environmental regulations and laws. 75% of Americans would be willing to pay more for electricity if it were generated by solar or wind energy. Only 33% of Americans think illegal immigrants should be deported back to their respective countries, with the clear majority favoring legalizing their statuses. 69% of Americans think that providing healthcare to all Americans is the job of the government.

Both reports have much more statistics and percentages amassed from Gallup and Pew polls going back to the 1970s so they cannot be very mistaken. More Americans indeed call themselves conservatives than liberals, but the biggest group are the moderates. These two surveys show that moderates in the US lean toward liberal values, and that trend continues to grow – in no graph showing the changing opinion across the years of any issue does the number of conservative opinions increase.

“Joe the Plumber” seems to be favoring a strong government, he is pro-choice, pro-gun control and is tolerant of gay rights. That puts a few things in perspective.

The GOP should rethink it’s Palin, as well as the Jindal, card in the next elections if it wants to win. John McCain lost this election but he was most likely the best candidate the Republicans could put. Any other nominee and this election would resemble even more the 1964 LBJ showdown. If Republicans want to beat the Democrats in 2012 they need to take into account that their conservative nation is largely a myth perpetuated by themselves, a myth that just starts to show it does not work. If they want to win they need to put moderates in elections, forsaking the evangelicals. Democrats should also not attempt to buy evangelicals and concentrate on the moderates. I do not wish to purposefully alienate the evangelicals from politics, but just like the socialists and communists in the US they need to understand that a two-party system disables radical positions. They, not the Democrats, are the ones who can give the death blows to the party they cherished so much in the last 8 years.

The GOP needs to remember that many Republican presidents before Reagan were pro-choice (Ford), and that Nixon, should he had not been “Watergated”, would most likely bring universal health care to the US 40 years ago.

Both parties have to wake up.

The European Question

November 24, 2008

What the European Union faces now is not a crisis over the issue of its very existence – the  EU had learned how to steer safe of dangerous waters of controversial issues. However, such navigation will not take it to meet the challenge across the Atlantic. What the European Union faces now is a crisis of legitimacy, best reflected in the lack of democratic rules in the Union’s endeavors. I argue that the best, and indeed, only way for the EU to play an important role in the world is to adopt the concept of two-speed Europe.

The European Union

On the surface the EU looks democratic. The members of the Parliament are elected in equal elections throughout the EU, chosen in varying numbers in accordance to the given country’s population. There is an independent judiciary (surprisingly independent given the often-cited Franco-German pressures), which in matters regulated or overseen by the EU, maintains the final voice for European citizens who feel that their rights are either abridged or denied. There is no clear executive, with power oscillating between the commissioners, presidency countries, and other officers, yet it seems to work fine even in these conditions.

Where does the crisis of the EU finds its roots? The single most critical impediment to the development of the Union stems from the gargantuan number of opinions, ideals, and views clashing each day in Brussels and Strasbourg, some questioning the simplest issues of the day, and some the core foundations of the Union. The Founding Fathers in America understood they could not attain political stability and effective leadership with so much, what they referred to as, “faction”. In order to prevent that they did the only thing they could to preserve the Union: they deferred much power to the states, with just a few areas where the federal government was to take lead, namely, for example in common defense, interstate commerce, and making sure Americans in every state are protected like citizens in other states (later especially, equal rights).

How is that relevant to the EU? “Faction” and unclear responsibilities cloud and distort the image of the EU in minds of most Europeans who see EU responsible only for cheaper abroad text messaging and restrictions to the shapes of cucumbers.

The only way to re-legitimize the EU and make it move forward is to adopt the two-speed Europe concept. It holds that Europe should have its “core”, which will be integrating faster than the other countries, which for one reason or another would not like to integrate further. Now we have a situation in which one country can block the decision of all the other 24 states, as was shown with the rejection of the Constitution by France and Belgium, and more recently, by failing to ratify the new treaty by Ireland. This is probably the most undemocratic measure of seemingly democratic governmental action in the world. All precedents in history where unanimity was the manner of business failed miserably. Now we have a situation where citizens of Spain suffer from the decisions of the Irish, who do not wish to integrate. It is as absurd for the other side – why would the Irish integrate just because Spain is integrating? This blade cuts both ways, the willing and unwilling, in the end leaving both disgruntled (Ireland is repeatedly being pushed to integrate). It is almost authoritarian. No wonder conservatives see the EU as another Soviet Union, there are reasons for that.

It has to be established that Ireland is free to stay at the right lane of integration if she wants, there has to be liberty for her, as for the states who wish to come together more effectively. Two-speed Europe means democracy. Freedom to select in which lane the country is going to go on is a inalienable right of its elected leaders. If a “core” Europe develops, it’s going to be able to address critical issues of energy independence, in order to be free to make good foreign policy, and of a European army, an area where Europe will continue to lag behind the US and be disregarded as a less important partner if it does consolidate its military budget. In my opinion, these are the most important issues facing the EU. The core will have an independent budget of the other nations, and the countries in it will receive a more generous share of each other’s money, while the “outlying” countries will have to do with what they themselves contribute. No one if forced to anything, there is no tyranny. Each member state integrates at a level it finds necessary. In a long run, the “core” Europe, if successful, will be able to lure other of its members into its “core”, thus expanding more naturally than it does not where many countries admitted are hardly ready to be in the EU (the issue of deputies in Brussels who are staunchly against the EU, and at the same time take out generous pensions and privileges is a philosophical conundrum).

The Union has to be legitimate in order to establish its position in a world that is calling for international unity by being an exemplar of cooperation. In order for that to happen, though, it has to become democratic first. Without democracy, there is no legitimacy.

The Making of History

November 5, 2008

Today is not the end of racism, but yet another day of the struggle for equal rights. It is unlikely that the choosing of an African-American will alter in any major way the views of people on affirmative action. Harlem is the same today as it was 2 days ago, so is east DC.

Unfavorable political commentators like to pinpoint the mass effect of Obamamania and attribute it to this sweeping victory. No doubt the main cause of Obama’s victory was his perfectly planned political campaign. It is, however, foolish to say that all these Obama supporters crying the tears of joy have no idea about his stance on issues or that they “don’t know who Obama really is” (whatever that means). Even the less gladiatorial voters who decided to vote for Obama voted for him not because of Obama girl or because of the aggressive mass media campaign. These small-town voters, just like the ones who voted for McCain, gathered what limited knowledge of the candidates they had and cast their votes. In addition, it is aggravating to hear from cynical pundits that Obama supporters see him as a Messiah, or that they know he will heal all the plagues that roam between the marble buildings of the Mall. These people know that tough times are ahead of America and know there will be setbacks, just as Obama admitted in his first speech as president-elect. Obama’s force does not come from his nebulous message for hope, but rather from his strikingly clear honesty and moderation, qualities without which even the biggest number of leaflets would not mean anything. Hope is just a buzzword for these qualities that landed in the dirt during the last decade.

What do these elections resonate with around the world? The most remarkable feature is the elevation of an ethnic minority representative to the highest office in the land. America has proved that it stands by its ideals. Can anyone imagine an Arab as the president of France? Or, a Hindu as the PM of United Kingdom? I thought so. Here lies the the real measure of the often cited European liberalism – Europe is lagging possibly decades in such a development bringing to mind the question whether racism in Europe is not more prominent than in the States.

I do not think Europe is “racist”, but I do think that the American sense of the opposite revolves around the framework of a different semantic field. “Tolerant” in the States connotes not only “tolerance” – cohabitation, mutual respect, or judicial protection. In America, it also means shared responsibilities, working together, and, above all, being equally American – things European leaders are silent if not hostile to. European political elites have to start acknowledging that difference and looking at America as a guide. It can be said that African-Americans played an important role since day one of the Union, in a more or less favorable context, and that in Europe it was not so. Not until the 1950s and 1960s did European countries receive an influx of ethnic minorities after the respective empires shattered to pieces. That is all true, the context is different, but I do believe that in the XXI century context becomes less important to the political discourse than in the past due to the relativization of borders and regions and to the culture of information. The only way for a great paradigmatic shift to take place in Europe is to start looking at the US as a ground for not only of equal opportunity, but of cooperation in advancing the state’s interests. The stereotype of the US as a racist place is delusional at best. Sure, many Americans would not elect a president because of his race, but is that really better than the situation where ethnic minorities across the Atlantic are held under a glass ceiling to even enter the political arena of representation, even if proportionate to their numbers?

I wish Obama good luck and I am sure the American people will do everything to help him in office. As to McCain, I applaud him for the very sincere and generous post-defeat speech. McCain remains a person of great personal standards and I deeply believe that all the controversies he cause during the election were faults of his campaign managers and his not so deferential VP pick.

Acid, Humor & Endorsement

October 17, 2008

The last presidential debate was indeed unlike the previous ones. It is as difficult to assess. I agree with the view that for the first 30 minutes McCain had the upper hand, which came as an all too big of a surprise to Obama. Yet my surprise at Obama’s weakness in the first 30 minutes was nothing to what happened with McCain for the rest of the debate. His face expressions of bizarre derision and difficult-to-restrain anger made this debate a gold mine for spin doctors analyzing the behavior of candidates in these elections. Yet that is the extent of its positive influence. Obama did not win because he was good, but because McCain played a risky game of ACORN/Bill Ayers accusations, which frankly, I don’t think interest many voters. Those who think he’s a terrorist will still think he is a terrorist, and these who don’t want to believe what the other side says won’t anyway. This debate was not Obama’s clear victory. As a viewer I could see his eloquence and intellect, but the fact that both candidates were sitting during the debate, oddly enough, I think made Obama even more professorial and accounted for a certain disadvantage. It is Obama “in motion” performance that serves him best.

A nice break from all the election conflict was undoubtedly the Al Smith Foundation’s charity in which both McCain and Obama had to come up with humorous speeches. They were both successful, McCain perhaps a little bit funnier than Obama, but both of them did a good job, well, as good as an adult man aspiring to the highest office on a long campaign drawing to its end can do. I recommend watching these, especially if you haven’t seen a lot of laughter from the candidates thus far. Yes, they can laugh pretty hard. Here is McCain’s speech and here is Obama’s.

There has been some speculation lately that Colin Powell, the “lion of the Republican establishment”, might announce his endorsement of Barack Obama, yes, the Democratic candidate. Apparently, we will know by this Sunday. The political ramifications of this can surely shake foundations of this election.  Being a centrist and still pretty popular individual (if compared to other Bush government officials), yet also a representative of the military “elite” under three presidents, he might just be Obama’s Trojan Horse in getting the votes of the moderates. Nevertheless, it might also do the exact opposite, and alienate moderates from Obama who don’t know much of Powell’s negative opinion about the more conservative elements of his party. His possible support of McCain can also help the Republican ticket but surely not to such a degree as in the former case.

So what do you think, tell me in the poll below.

The AmeriCain Variance

October 11, 2008

There are a few things I want to touch on today. First, the debate. Result? As often as I like to criticize both candidates, this time I must say Obama impressed me with his eloquence, which I think was even higher than usual. McCain, one could sense, often times resorted to humor which gave an odd impression of nervousness rather than calmness. The questions were much better than in the first debate, however, again neither candidate really addressed them specifically, but rather lost the audience in a flow of rosy verbiage. Nevertheless, I must say Obama won this one (I think we’ve all grown to admit that the candidates rarely answer questions anyway, regardless of party) due not only to his oratory skills but also to his impressive self control. After McCain questioned his judgement and understanding, he simply gave one sharp response and did not pursue to embarrass or intimidate the Republican pick more, but quickly came to the other matters at hand.

Recent polls show Obama’s clear lead in the polls.

Barack Obama leads John McCain by 46 percent to 39 percent, according to a FOX News national registered voter poll released Friday. Two weeks ago Obama led by 45 percent to 39 percent (Sept. 22-23).

And that is a FOX News poll. I have been getting statements that my first real entry on this blog about the inevitable defeat of Obama now turns out to be a false projection. It is true I have (like most observers) not foreseen the economic calamity because at that moment in time it was simply recession. Undoubtedly, an opposition party gains while the party in power loses support in time of a moribund economic reality. However, there is still a lot of time to the election and anything can happen.

Anything? How about martial law introduced on election day by Bush to cancel the elections and organize a country-wide curfew? Some believe it may be so.

A lot of conspiracy theorists recently like to talk about the National Security Presidential Directive 51 (NSPD-51). The NSPD-51 allows the president to do pretty much anything in case of a “catastrophic emergency” in order for the “continuity of government” to happen. It is said Bush will invoke this directive to counter panic of the economic crisis before the elections or, in case Obama loses, after the elections to stop the “inevitable mass riots” all across America. Accordingly, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) already prepared plastic coffins in order to be ready for the “mass casualties”.

I am a big skeptic when it comes to conspiracy theories and there are so many things to comment on the aforementioned case that I will not even attempt to list them, but one thing is sure: this election is important and it is going to get more and more intense, with possibly “any” scenario taking place.

McCain’s fall in the polls has caused his campaign to adopt a different strategy. While Palin’s attacks become more and more “dirty”, McCain tries to distant himself from all of it even at the cost of booing from his own supporters, as you can see here.

If McCain really speaks what he thinks then he has just gained a great deal of respect in my eyes. Yet this might as well be another high-risk strategy aimed at independents and perhaps even disgruntled Democrats.

Obama attacked McCain personally publishing the Keating Economics video, which you can look up. The video explains McCain’s ties to Charles Keating, the main persona of a very convoluted 1989 Keating Five corruption scandal. Personally, I don’t think Obama campaign’s accusations are true. The people interviewed in the video already sued the Democraic campaign for “being led” to answer in specific ways. But that is not the reason why I don’t believe it. I just don’t think any sane individual would run for election of the highest office in the country having played a clandestine role in a really shocking scandal (this scandal implies parallels to the subprime mortgage crisis of today) and subsequently lying about it in Congress (McCain is directly involved in it no doubt, but it is the extent of his involvement that is the issue). It is obvious for any candidate that the media will dig up any, even the most benign, inconsistency in the candidate’s life, and John McCain understands that. So, in a way, my refusal to believe the Obama campaign comes not from the actual accusations but rather from the logic of publishing such a video just now and from the assumption McCain is not delusional. It might be my naïveté, but I am always skeptical towards any revelations dug up for the purpose of winning elections.

“Maverick He Is Not”

October 4, 2008

It is said that 70 million people watched the debate. This one memorable phrase is the high point of the entire debate, and probably we are going to hear references to it until election day. Who won the debate? Yet again, both parties claimed victory. In my opinion, there was no clear winner, with Biden going a bit ahead in the presentation part. I think both candidates exceeded expectations in any case.

Biden did not make any blunders and he was prepared to present the Obama platform well. Commentators point out his condescending smile, but really, his few broad smiles were nothing in this debate compared to face expressions of Palin who also had her own smirk when Biden was talking. Any questions of sexism here are unfounded and, in any case, it was Palin who tried to look more “know-it-all” than him.

People who believe Palin won are not wrong, yet there is an important underlying matter here that has to be pointed out. Palin exceeded expectations beyond measure and you could see she got a few good lessons in FP and in pronouncing the names of foreign leaders, and I think in that way she was better.  Nevertheless, Biden was in the position of superiority before that, he did not activate his mental steamroller and was more reserved than Palin, but as a more experienced politician he did not have to go to such lengths to prove himself better. That is why even though Biden, I think, won the debate, it was Palin who was better in the light of expetations set for her. Certainly, people wanted to see a reprise of the Couric interview, which I attach here along with a more-strong-than-usual Cafferty comment, in case you have not seen it yet.

Palin’s appeal to independents was notorious throughout the debate, as she juggled words like “tolerance”, “equal rights” or “woman’s rights”. Even the “definition of marriage” thing she handled pretty well for a Republican, not to alienate too many voters. Biden, besides creating the Maverick phrase, also created probably the most intense single second of the debate when he choked up while telling how it is being a single dad, a moment probably immensly adding to his appeal with the, informally speaking, effect of “aww”.

The repetition of the “preconditions (for meeting leaders of Iran, etc.) issue” was simply dull and not necessary, as we had to listen to alot of it during the previous debate. Palin, notedly, called herself a maverick as well. Biden used his usual third person spiel. Both of them employed a range of interesting statistics, yet their effect most likely confused many viewers trying to reason who is right. In any case, the finale of the debate again belonged to Biden who literally “stole” the chieftly Republican “blessing the troops” thing, yet being the last in any debate often allows that person to exploit the things omitted by the former speaker.

Bears in Montana, Miss Congeniality & Three Inch Taller South Koreans

September 27, 2008

Well, the first debate is history. Initial reactions? Contrary to many news agencies I found the debate very dull and predictable. Both candidates said what they wanted to say (did anyone else realize the sheer number of instances in which the senators used the exact same phrases and statements took from the campaign trail?), attacked each other, then refuted what the attacker has just said, and so on ad infinitum. As a result, a common citizen who does not follow the campaign closely might not have seen many major differences between them. The issue on starting the war in Iraq was just pointless and bizarre. Not many people are interested who voted for what or what should/could have been done, but rather what can be done now. Luckily, later they switched to a more present day approach. Jim Lehrer had to ask 3 times the same question about the bailout to get any coherent answer from either candidate, in the end not looking satisfied anyway. There was alot of fake smiles and condescending animosity (Obama addressed McCain as John many times, but I do not remember McCain saying Barack, an interesting point, but I might have missed an instance of the contrary). On a good note, the debate was very useful to people who are just tuning into the race and want to know what the candidates think and not want to spend more than hour and a half on it.

Who won? Some say it was a tie, some it was Obama. I think Obama won, but not by a lot. McCain had strong offense, though his defense could use some polishing. Obama kept his style and remained calm, which served him well. I await to see the post-debate polls.

On a similar note, I am involved in a joint project called The Moderometer (now available at http://themoderometer.blogspot.com/, but soon to be at http://www.moderometer.com/). We take what the candidates say and then allocate a percentage depending on how “moderate” is the statement. I welcome you to check on that, and as we progress I will mention major updates on this blog.

The real thing everyone is waiting for is coming with the next debate: the Palin vs. Biden showdown. I am looking forward to reading someone’s post with the drinking game rules for that debate.