Is Obama Fighting without Fighting?

30 03 2008

Recent poll numbers suggest a real stalemate among Obama and Clinton supporters, if their respective candidate does not win the Democratic nomination. A recent Gallup poll says 28 percent of Clinton supports will vote for McCain if Madame Inevitable does not get the nomination, compared to 19 percent of Obama supporters who would do the same if the Hope Peddler is not at the top of the Democratic ticket.


Worried that bitterness between the two camps may endanger hopes of capturing the White House in the fall, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, an Obama supporter, has urged Hillary Clinton to drop out.

Leahy implied that the sheer unlikelihood of catching Obama in the popular vote and number of pledged delegates along with the impossibility of actual states won makes it all real long shot for Senator Clinton. Discouraged by the tone of the campaign Leahy added, ““I think [Clinton’s] criticism is hurting him more than anything John McCain has said.” Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, another Obama supporter, also recommended that Hillary step aside too.

The Clinton campaign then retorted that she and her supporters will not be bullied by “the big boys” in the party to drop out. Hillary Clinton herself told the Associated Press, “Nobody’s talking about wrecking the party. Everywhere I go, all these working people say: ‘Don’t you dare let her drop out. Don’t listen to those people in Washington, they don’t represent us.”

Fair enough.

On Saturday, Obama himself was asked about whether or not Hillary Clinton should stay in or drop out and he said:

“You know, there’s no doubt that among some of my supporters or some of her supporters, there’s probably been some irritation created,” he said. “You can’t tell me that some of my supporters are going to say, well, we’d rather have the guy who may want to stay in Iraq for a hundred years because we’re mad that Senator Clinton ran a negative ad against Senator Obama. And I think the converse is true as well.”

This might just be the smartest response to the question so far. After all, if he says she should drop out, her supporters will see him as another male bully trying to illegitimately secure the nomination. But if she says she should stay in for as long as she wants it gives people the impression that he is not intimated by a protracted bitterly fought campaign. It also gives Clinton an excuse to bow out gracefully if she choose to do so after say an unexpected loss in Pennslyvania.

In this regard, Obama is emulating Bruce Lee’s technique of Fighting without Fighting. What is the art of Fighting without Fighting?

Well, check out the following clip from Enter the Dragon, and you’ll find out.


On McCain’s Embrace of the Bush Doctrine

29 03 2008

Eager to look presidential amidst the Democratic squabbling, Republican presidential nominee John McCain in a speech in Los Angles on Wednesday, provided the country a glimpse of how sell his Commander and Chief persona to the American people during the next few months.

Clearly, McCain sought to reassure those who were perhaps disturbed by the “Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran” talk and the causally suggesting that U.S. could be in Iraq for 50 to 100 years, by informing us that he “detested war.” On nuclear nonproliferation, McCain said, “We should work to reduce nuclear arsenals all around the world, starting with our own.”

He also rhetorically distanced himself from the reckless unilateralism of the Bush administration in saying, “Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed.”

McCain reaffirmed his somewhat comprised stance on banning torture too. “We can’t torture or treat inhumanely suspected terrorists we have captured. I believe we should close Guantanamo and work with our allies to forge a new international understanding on the disposition of dangerous detainees under our control,” he urged the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

On global warming, he tried to impress Americans as a reasonable sober thinking conservative. He admitted that modern advances can “produce a global industrialization that can in time threaten our planet.”

At first glance, all of this makes John McCain sound like a centrist Democrat. But a closer examination of his previous statements and of the speech itself reveals an unwillingness to shed some of the vestiges of the Bush doctrine.

For instance, in September of 2006, President Bush invoked the then 5-year anniversary of the 9/11 calamity to justify a misbegotten war in Iraq and another poorly executed one in Afghanistan.

We’re determined to deny terrorists the support of outlaw regimes. After September the 11th, I laid out a clear doctrine: America makes no distinction between those who commit acts of terror, and those that harbor and support them, because they’re equally guilty of murder….Afghanistan and Iraq have been transformed from terrorist states into allies in the war on terror.

Witnessing its effects, few people were persuaded by the logic of the Bush doctrine then and even more are skeptical about it now. But John McCain has been an unwavering adherent. After emphasizing how radical Islamic terrorism is the transcendent challenge of our time in his speech, McCain warns:

We learned through the tragic experience of September 11 that passive defense alone cannot protect us. We must protect our borders. But we must also have an aggressive strategy of confronting and rooting out the terrorists wherever they seek to operate, and deny them bases in failed or failing states. Today al Qaeda and other terrorist networks operate across the globe, seeking out opportunities in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Africa, and in the Middle East.

Though McCain does note that such an effort will require more than just military instruments, most of his pro-war advocacy has focused on achieving ill defined notion of “victory” in Iraq.

And while it is true that security threats exist in a variety of places, it is not clear that the U.S. was passive in confronting them either before or after September 11th. President Bill Clinton did bomb Afghanistan and Sudan to root out Osama bin Laden in 1998. President Bush did initiate two poorly prosecuted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of 9/11.

So we are left wondering to what extent are we to expect these efforts to root out terrorists will lead to open ended war in various parts of the globe. That unanswered question leads to the same dead end that making “no distinction between those who harbor” them does which either, is or comes close dangerously to, perpetual war.

And when a war is predicated on a number of confusing premises, as is the case with Iraq, claiming victory is difficult to define in concrete terms. McCain asserted:

Many people ask, how should we define success? Success in Iraq and Afghanistan is the establishment of peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic states that pose no threat to neighbors and contribute to the defeat of terrorists. It is the triumph of religious tolerance over violent radicalism.

Somehow that does not clear things up for me. And I suspect many other people will have the same problem. Of course, not President Bush who said in the 2007 State of the Union address, “Our goal is a democratic Iraq that upholds the rule of law, respects the rights of its people, provides them security, and is an ally in the war on terror.”

Could that take 50 to 100 years?

But an equally baffling point made by both Bush and McCain is the framing for why the U.S. should not withdraw in the near future. McCain said in his speech this week that “Iran will also view our premature withdrawal as a victory, and the biggest state supporter of terrorists, a country with nuclear ambitions and a stated desire to destroy the State of Israel, will see its influence in the Middle East grow significantly.”

And on March 19, Bush said, “Iran would be emboldened as well — with a renewed determination to develop nuclear weapons and impose its brand of hegemony across the Middle East. Our enemies would see an America — an American failure in Iraq as evidence of weakness and a lack of resolve.” Thus, not only are Bush and McCain of the same mind on Iran, but the unmeasured hawkishness toward the Shiite dominated country has contributed to conflating the Sunni dominated global terrorist network of radical Islamists.

Its the “but if we leave now then Iran will talk about us and call us punks” argument.

It should also be noted that the most definitive U.S. intelligence document, the NIE, concluded that Iran halted it’s program in 2003 and decided to do so because “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs,” as opposed to being a rouge nation acting irrationally. That means diplomacy works when give a chance and explored exhaustively. Interestingly enough, McCain 6 page speech mentions the word “diplomacy” only twice.

All of which puts McCain’s so-called gaffe regarding which country is training what terrorists where and for what reason in context.

Vandalsim and Crime Linked to Foreclosures

28 03 2008

News of foreclosures so far have focused largely on the affects of financial markets and individual families, and deservedly so. But there is another dimension to the mortgage crisis that thus far is getting scant attention – vandalism and crime. Low to middle-income areas, particularly in new developments, with high foreclosure rates create pockets of unoccupied homes vulnerable to vandalism, theft, and other types of petty and even violent crime.

Consider North Carolina. A Charlotte Observer investigation found the following:

“While the crime rate citywide held steady, the rate in the heart of Charlotte’s 10 highest-foreclosure areas rose 33 percent between 2003 and 2006, an Observer analysis found. All of them are suburban areas filled with starter-home subdivisions. They were built since 1997 with homes valued at $150,000 or less.”
The Charlotee Observer, Dec. 09, 2007

“In Peachtree Hills, police are summoned nearly 300 times a year, mostly for property crimes in the 147 homes. But the 4-year-old neighborhood, near Sunset Road, has also seen robberies, shootings and gang displays more commonly associated with violent urban areas — not new subdivisions.”
-The Charlotee Observer, Dec 09, 2007

“In 13 neighborhoods at the heart of Charlotte’s most concentrated foreclosure areas, police recorded 52 violent crimes and 395 property crimes last year. That’s not as high as troubled inner-city areas, but it’s up 33 percent in three years and it’s surprising in new suburbs.”
-The Charlotee Observer, Dec. 09, 2007

As a result, another little known industry is thriving. Property maintainers are being called upon by banks to keep up appearances, as it were. Lost Pond Construction Inc in Ohio is a typical example:

The most common job is simple: An exterior inspection to make sure someone is still living in the house after the owner starts missing mortgage payments. If the owner is still there, the contractor does nothing more. Safeguard commissioned 4.8 million of those inspections last year – about 12,000 in Northeast Ohio just during September and October, the latest months for which local numbers are available.

In the fraction of cases where the home goes into the foreclosure process, a contractor like Lost Pond is sent by Safeguard to make sure the house is secure by doing things like changing the locks and boarding up any broken windows.

Once the foreclosure process is complete and the lender takes ownership of the house, Safeguard offers a range of services to the lender – including remodeling, repair and cleaning services. Safeguard did about 2,000 of those jobs in Northeast Ohio in September and October.

Perhaps, this is proof that markets do have a certain magic to them.

By spotting these vulnerable areas ahead of time and working jointly with local police forces, lenders, municipalities, and the federal government, we can find a way to curb the depreciation of these newly developed properties and reduce crime. That way these neighborhoods can still be attractive to future home buyers once the mortgage industry rebounds.

But, of course, the main focus should be on preventing foreclosures from spreading in the first place.

NYT Editorial on Obama, Clinton and Foreclosures

27 03 2008

Interesting observations:

Mr. Obama has endorsed the best idea currently on the table to prevent foreclosure: amending the law so that troubled borrowers can have their mortgages modified in bankruptcy court. That would give lenders a big incentive to work with borrowers — reducing interest or lowering principal balances — before they opted for bankruptcy protection. Mrs. Clinton has not endorsed bankruptcy reform. She has called for $30 billion in federal funds to bolster state and local foreclosure-prevention efforts and has proposed a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures and a rate freeze on subprime adjustable mortgages. Those measures also could help, but as the crisis has developed, the problem has become less one of resetting interest rates and more one of borrowers owing more than their homes are worth. Bankruptcy reform is a better way to deal with that problem.

Monster Mistake

27 03 2008

When the Obama campaign decided to fire its foreign policy guru Samantha Power for calling Hillary Clinton “a monster,” I immediately thought it was a big mistake. In my mind, it made Obama appear weak and over reactive. Hendrick Hertzberg at the New Yorker apparently felt the same way and even devoted a part of a recent post on the controversy to what the statement from the Obama campaign should have been as soon as the story broke. I wholeheartedly agree with Hertzberg’s fictious press release below.

My friend and adviser Samantha Power made a serious mistake when she shot her mouth off in such an unpleasant manner. What she said was rude and thoughtless. I know she regrets it. She has apologized to me and to Senator Clinton, whom she admires and respects. On behalf of my campaign, I apologize to Senator Clinton as well.

Samantha believed she was what journalists call “off the record” when she made that angry remark. She is a scholar who is fairly new to the political arena and apparently didn’t realize that according to the rules of the game you have to say clearly that a conversation with a journalist is “off the record” ahead of time. You can’t say something first and then put it “off the record” afterwards, even in the next breath. Samantha is an academic, but she has traveled the world as a foreign correspondent and she should have known better.

People in the Clinton campaign are demanding that I fire her. I’m not going to do that. Samantha Power is a passionate witness and advocate for some of the most miserable and persecuted people on earth. Before people judge her I suggest they take a look at her book “‘A Problem from Hell’: America and the Age of Genocide.” It deserved the prizes it won—the Pulitzer, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Arthur Ross Prize for the best book in U.S. foreign policy. You can’t read her firsthand reports on the horrors in Darfur without realizing that this is a woman of great moral and physical courage. She may be quick to anger, but here’s a news flash: nobody’s perfect. Samantha’s skills and expertise are a potentially valuable resource not just for this campaign but for our country. I’m not about to cast her into the outer darkness because of a single naïve and stupid instance of bad judgment.

Samantha said what she said in anger and she said it in what she thought was a private conversation. That mitigates her behavior. It doesn’t excuse it. I’ve suspended her from my campaign. I’ve reprimanded her and given her a month-long time out. I’ve told her to go back to her campus, calm down, and come back after she’s thought about what she did.

But let’s keep this in perspective. If saying something dumb and ugly in a supposedly private conversation were automatically a firing offense, the unemployment rate would quickly reach 100 per cent.

On second thought, I think I would have eliminated that last paragraph.

At any rate, check out Samantha Power provide a nuanced take on the inadequacies and even counterproductive strategy of American democracy promotion in the video clip below.

Watch it.

And click here to read her blog.

Words of Wisdom

25 03 2008

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo on spinning the facts.

Spin is one thing. And it’s not a bad thing. But to have utility it must be tethered to some relevant facts, some kind of reality. Otherwise it just descends into ridiculousness.

Hitchens, Obama, the War in Iraq and Dave Chappelle Satire

25 03 2008

With the 5th anniversary of the disastrous invasion of Iraq still hanging in the air, Christopher Hitchens in a piece entitled “Blind Faith” claims Barack Obama delivered opportunistic and politically calculating speech race to deflect attention away from Rev. Wright controversy.

In his piece, Hitchens, who usually is a probing writer, neither engaged in a substantive examination of the speech nor did he prove that Obama’s views were in any way identical to those of Rev. Wright’s. Instead the British contrarian registered his disgust with Obama’s reference to his own grandmother to illustrate the subtle interplay between public expressions of vitriol and private utterances of intolerance.

You often hear it said, of some political or other opportunist, that he would sell his own grandmother if it would suit his interests. But you seldom, if ever, see this notorious transaction actually being performed, which is why I am slightly surprised that Obama got away with it so easily. (Yet why do I say I am surprised? He still gets away with absolutely everything.)

Hitchens has never been known to minced words. But he has been one known to misread events as they unfold, such as the war in Iraq, but more on that later. In this instance he is so caught up in his own self-righteousness that he fails to acknowledge the immense risk Obama took and is still bearing in his campaign by not denouncing both Rev. Wright and his controversial remarks. To say that Obama threw his grandmother under the bus for sheer opportunistic gain is to diminish the larger point regarding the very visceral nature of racial prejudice in the America experience. It also fails to acknowledge that Obama indeed took the more difficult route in in giving a nuanced speech that will almost certainly be used against him by soundbite by soundbite.

But Hitchens main beef is not with Obama per se. It’s with religious leaders and religion itself. The author of such awe inspiring works as God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and scornful attacks on Mother Teresa asked his readers yesterday, “Is it conceivable that such repellent dolts would be allowed into public life if they were not in tax-free clerical garb? How true it is that religion poisons everything.”

A cheap and unsophisticated squawk like that does not merit a response.

But, interestingly enough, while he railed against Obama for giving a speech in bad faith, Hitchens has yet to come clean for his support for a real dangerous enterprise, namely the war in Iraq, perpetuated by a far more powerful “dolt,” namely President George W. Bush. Five years later, despite the flawed war planning, the strategic blunders made along the way, and the thousands of dead Americans and Iraqis, Hitchens is still intent on pushing the notion that invading was a good idea, its just that White House screwed it all up.

As recently as last Monday, Hitchens wrote in Slate:

The past years have seen us both shamed and threatened by the implications of the Berkeleyan attitude, from Burma to Rwanda to Darfur. Had we decided to attempt the right thing in those cases (you will notice that I say “attempt” rather than “do,” which cannot be known in advance), we could as glibly have been accused of embarking on “a war of choice.” But the thing to remember about Iraq is that all or most choice had already been forfeited. We were already deeply involved in the life-and-death struggle of that country, and March 2003 happens to mark the only time that we ever decided to intervene, after a protracted and open public debate, on the right side and for the right reasons.

Spoken like a true believer. Only someone of Hitchens’ outsized sense of piety could blur the differences between a war of choice and the responsibility to protect the actual victims of a genocidal campaign. And at the same time, he conveniently ignores the fact that the sanctions were working, since they weaken Sadaam’s military and forced him to accept weapons inspectors. History did create the war in Iraq, people in the White House did.

Hitchens also astonishingly suggests with the full confidence of a confused Hegalian that the American invasion of Iraq was an inevitable outcome of its involvement with that country’s affairs. Again, that formulation nearly absolves the Bush administration of all responsibility.

More importantly, it is appalling to hear Hitchens castigate clergy men, many of whom opposed the war, while he asserts his own blind faith in asserting that the war was waged “on the right side and for the right reasons” despite so much evidence to the contrary.

At times moments like these, I think only satire can convey the sheer absurdity of some of the pro-war arguments. And in spirit, I present to you Dave Chappelle’s skit spoofing the variety of preposterous justifications used by the Bush White House in the run up to the war in Iraq.