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3DHS / Prominent Republicans Desert McCain, but Polls Tighten
« on: October 31, 2008, 04:31:21 PM »
More Republicans desert McCain


Republican solidarity appears to be at stake as more prominent Republicans have lent their support to Democrat Senator Barack Obama in the campaign.

Former Senator Charles Mathias of Maryland is the latest to throw his weight behind the Democratic nominee.

He joins former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, and former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan.

The selection of Sarah Palin is one factor turning off some Republicans.

Former Senator Mathias told The Washington Post:

"For me, the decision is based on the long-range needs of our country and which of these two candidates I feel is better suited to recharge America's economic health, restore its prestige abroad and inspire anew all people who cherish freedom and equality.

"For me, that person is Barack Obama."

The economy is a major consideration for voters in this election. A Gallup poll found that not only is the economy perceived as the most important issue in the election, but the percentage who rate it as extremely important to their vote is the highest since 1996.

The poll found that although the economy was the top-rated issue for all voters, Republicans gave more importance to terrorism and moral values than did Democrats.

These results came after former secretary of state Colin Powell's public endorsement of Mr Obama last week.

'Alienated' the middle

Mr McCain said he was not surprised by Mr Powell's move, and highlighted the secretaries of state who do back him.

"I'm also very pleased to have the endorsement of four former secretaries of state, Secretaries [Henry] Kissinger, [James] Baker, [Lawrence] Eagleburger and [Alexander] Haig. And I'm proud to have the endorsement of well over 200 retired Army generals and admirals", Mr McCain said.

Most recently, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, who supported Mr Romney during the primaries, announced his endorsement of the Democratic candidate.

President Bush's former speechwriter David Frum indicated that Mr McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate, could be a reason for Republican disunity.

"The very same campaign strategy that has belatedly mobilized the Republican core has alienated and offended the great national middle, which was the only place where the 2008 election could have been won", Mr Frum said.

Race tightening

Republican Congressman Christopher Shays, who is the co-chairman of the McCain campaign in Connecticut, told the Yale Daily News that Mr McCain "did not live up to his pledge to fight a clean campaign."

And Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, once considered a possible vice-presidential choice for John McCain, said that Obama "has a pretty good advantage in Minnesota right now."

Republican leaders are not alone in crossing over party lines to support the Democrat.

Some traditionally conservative newspapers have turned their backs on Mr McCain. The Chicago Tribune and The Denver Post, which endorsed President George W. Bush in 2004, threw their support at Mr Obama.

The Los Angeles Times, who backed Mr McCain during the Republican primaries, also endorsed Mr Obama for president.

But how much influence such endorsements have on the final outcome is not clear.

The latest opinion polls show the race tightening. A Rasmussen poll has Mr McCain narrowing the gap to within three points of Mr Obama, at 47% to 50%.

3DHS / Refugee Camps Burned in Congo
« on: October 31, 2008, 04:18:20 PM »
DR Congo refugee camps 'burned'


Congo refugees struggle for aid

The UN says it has credible reports that camps sheltering 50,000 displaced people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have been destroyed.

Reports suggest the camps were forcibly emptied and looted before being burned, the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, said.

Aid groups say they are struggling to reach an estimated 250,000 people in the region fleeing fierce fighting between government and rebel forces.

Intense diplomatic efforts are under way to end the crisis.

A ceasefire is holding in and around Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, but aid agency chiefs say the situation remains highly volatile.


Food and water are terribly scarce, and aid agencies have all but stopped work.

The BBC's Orla Guerin witnessed scenes of chaos at a refugee camp in Kibati on the outskirts as Goma, as desperately hungry people stampeded.

Children were trampled underfoot and panicked aid staff were forced to beat back the heaving crowd.

Our correspondent managed to pluck to safety one little girl who was knocked over in the melee and reunite her with her father.

Rebel leader General Laurent Nkunda's forces are positioned some 15km (nine miles) from Goma.

The origin of the ongoing conflict in eastern DR Congo is the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda.

Gen Nkunda says he is fighting to protect his Tutsi community from attack by Rwandan Hutu rebels, some of whom are accused of taking part in the genocide.

The Congolese government has often promised to stop Hutu forces from using its territory, but has not done so.

There have also been accusations of collusion between DR Congo's army and Hutu guerrillas.

The Congolese government, for its part, has accused Rwanda of backing Gen Nkunda.

Rwanda denies this, but it has twice invaded its much larger neighbour in recent years.

'Extremely unsafe'

The UNHCR said it was very concerned at reports that the camps in Rutshuru, 90km (56 miles) north of Goma, had been destroyed.

"There are some 50,000 people who were in those camps. We don't know where they would be, we're afraid that they may have just dispersed off into the bush," spokesman Ron Redmond said.

Meanwhile, shortages of food and water in Goma are leading thousands of people who sought refuge there to leave, heading to the village of Kibati, about 12km (7 miles) to the north.

The BBC's Peter Greste in Goma says the road from the city is choked with human misery.

For mile after mile, it is full of families bent forward with their lives on their backs: stoves, food, clothes, bedding and children.

"The whole population in Goma, and around Goma are feeling extremely unsafe," Red Cross spokesman Marcal Izard told the BBC.

A Congolese aid worker based in Goma, Godefroid Marhenge, told the BBC that some displaced people were "in desperate need of humanitarian assistance".

Gen Nkunda said on Thursday that he was opening a "humanitarian corridor" for people to return to their homes.

Our correspondent said that instead of an open corridor, he found people hurrying back to Goma.

"Someone has been shooting at us," one breathless woman said. "We can't go any further."

But those who did reach Kibati told the BBC that they had more chance of getting food in the forests and bushes around the village than inside Goma.

Aid workers have begun to distribute water to the new arrivals.

Overstretched peacekeepers

Gen Nkunda has threatened to take Goma unless UN peacekeepers guarantee the ceasefire and security there.

The UN has more than 17,000 peacekeeping troops in DR Congo - the largest UN force in the world - but correspondents say it is struggling to cope with the crisis.

Looting, killings and rapes were reported in the city on Thursday, much of it blamed on retreating Congolese troops.

Meanwhile, intense diplomatic efforts are going on in a bid to maintain the ceasefire:

• The parliament in DR Congo has called on the government to negotiate with Gen Nkunda, although President Joseph Kabila has previously refused to do so

• UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said he is "deeply concerned" about the situation

• EU diplomats meeting in Brussels failed to agree on whether to send troops to back up UN peacekeepers. French FM Bernard Kouchner and his British counterpart, David Miliband, are preparing to travel to the country

• An African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council is to hold crisis talks at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa

3DHS / Pointing Fingers
« on: October 28, 2008, 02:51:58 PM »
Rift Cracks 'Demoralized' McCain Campaign
McCain Staffers Blame Palin's Lack of Readiness; Palin Loyalists Blame Over-Managing By McCain Handlers

Oct. 27, 2008

The McCain campaign is definitely demoralized right now. The blame game has begun.

There is no question that there is a rift between Sarah Palin's camp and that of John McCain inside the Republican campaign, sources tell ABC News.

And you are seeing people within the McCain campaign starting to look to the future.

Not only Palin, but many of the McCain staffers, as well, are circulating their resumes and pointing the finger.

Whenever people in the campaign are starting to worry more about their own reputations rather than whether they're going to win in seven days, there is a significant problem.

GOP Rift Between McCain and Palin Camps

Palin is going to be the most vivid chapter of the McCain campaign's post-mortem.

McCain argued Monday that he "couldn't be more proud" of his running mate.

However, there is a significant rift inside the McCain campaign.

Those loyal to McCain believe they have been unfairly blamed for over-handling Palin. They say they did the best they could with what they got.

They point to the bounce in the polls McCain got when he announced Palin as his running mate, her Republican convention speech, and her first interview with ABC's Charles Gibson.

What didn't work were the limited, subsequent media interviews, most notably between Palin and CBS anchor Katie Couric.

But some McCain camp insiders tell ABC News they simply couldn't put Palin out in front of the media any more than they did because she wasn't ready.

The Palin camp is fighting back, arguing that if the McCain campaign had just let Sarah Palin be Sarah Palin, she would have done just fine on her own.

The Alaska governor herself has been pushing out on her own against McCain's handlers.

In recent days she has been speaking her own mind about what she thought of McCain's strategy in Michigan, and what she thought of his decision not to go after Rev. Jeremiah Wright. And we're seeing more and more of that in the closing days of the campaign.

Obama Tries to Boost Turnout, Momentum

Officials from both the Obama and McCain campaigns tell ABC News they believe there is very little that either candidate can do to change the trajectory of the race.

Unless one of them makes a major mistake, nothing they can say or do will affect them one way or the other.

Now, it's all about turnout and momentum.

Barack Obama is leading McCain 52-45 in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.

The only thing the Obama campaign is worried about right now is voter complacency, over-confidence, or that the idea that Obama is winning somehow energizes and mobilizes Republican voters.

McCain Looks to Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is the only big Democratic-leaning state than McCain has a chance of turning around now, although he trails Obama 53-40 in the latest Pennsylvania poll by Morning Call/Muhlenberg College.

If McCain doesn't win Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes, he would have to run the table and win all eight of the competitive states that were held by President Bush in 2004, including Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Missouri, Indiana, North Carolina, and Nevada.

That's very, very tough for McCain to do.

The only way he has more paths to 270 electoral votes is if he can flip Pennsylvania and turn it around -- that would give him more leeway.

If you take all four of these states that will be decided relatively early on Election Night next Tuesday -- Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, and Florida -- McCain has to win three out of four of those states to even have a chance of getting to 270 electoral votes.

Even that is a necessary but not sufficient condition for him. That shows what he's up against because he's behind in all four of these key battleground states right now.

Even more dire for McCain, the Republicans even started to advertise this week in Montana, which should be a solid Republican state.

Copyright © 2008 ABC News Internet Ventures

Sports / NBA Fantasy League
« on: October 28, 2008, 12:31:09 PM »
Does anyone play NBA fantasy teams?

3DHS / The Berlin Wall of Laissez-Faire has Fallen
« on: October 24, 2008, 04:48:04 PM »
Hard times: The myth of public v private has now been exposed

Private companies have often vilified the state for causing dependency. Now the boot is on the other foot, it's time to focus on public service values, says Peter Beresford

The Guardian

Enron's collapse in 2001 proved that private companies were equally as prone to inefficiency as the state. Photograph: Martin Godwin

For a generation now, the received wisdom has been: "Market good, state bad." But how do we square this equation with the collapse of the market economy and the idea that only the state can bail it out?

For those of us concerned with the public sector, these issues are raised with particular intensity. Where does this leave the market-driven values we've been taught to internalise? What will it mean for public policy and the public service ethic?

From Thatcher onwards, we have been told how hopeless public welfare is and how damaging state intervention has been. Welfare claimants have been held up as figures to despise and suspect. The state has been cast as wasteful, bureaucratic, inefficient and dependency-creating. Welfare claimants have been stereotyped as draining the wealth which the market has generated, their dependency presented as a burden on the rest of us through their cost in high taxation.

Where once we heard that the welfare state would put an end to social evils, more recently we have been encouraged to believe that it's the cause of social breakdown, and "benefit scroungers." The market and the private sector, we are told, alone have the competence, expertise and experience to provide efficient goods and services. They can convert us from clients and claimants patronised by the state to public consumers with choice and control.

Yet now, without apparent embarrassment or hesitation, state intervention is advanced as all that stands between us and economic meltdown.

The banks, we are told, so distrust each other that only unprecedented injections of state money may make it possible for them to do business together again. For years the Daily Mail and the Sun have run poisonous campaigns against asylum seekers and people on income support to reclaim an imagined few millions. Governments promote campaigns to snoop on welfare claimants. These campaigns rarely generate enough money even to pay for themselves. Yet now we are encouraged to spend hundreds of billions of public money to bail out the banks and private sector that preached the mantra of independence and individual responsibility.

Are we really going to pretend that all this hasn't happened, carrying on as before as if the market hasn't now faced its equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall? Will we still be looking to bright young management consultants at £1,000 plus a day, few of whom have even run a corner shop, to teach central government, local authorities and primary care trusts to be 'business-like'?

What about the big voluntary organisations who tell us they must pay their chief executives the salary packages of the private sector if they are to get the brightest and the best? Many such charities have increasingly divested themselves of services as their metropolitan offices and fundraising departments have got larger and glitzier.

What will go into the large organisational hole now filled with the "visioning", team-bonding babble lapped up from the commercial sector? This is the same private sector that has now for years been featherbedded by profit-taking from public utilities, government sell-offs, wasteful PFI schemes and government tax credit subsidies for low wages, operating within a globalised economy that exploits the majority world and its people and damages the environment.

From Enron onwards, we have all known that the private sector bore no relation to the lean and efficient paragon we were told it was. No one's saying the private sector is all bad, just that it has been grossly oversold. Meanwhile the merits of public service values have been treated as, at best, worthy but dull. The current economic crisis should remind us of what we can gain from enduring values of collectivity and mutuality. Our energies must now be spent on updating them to match the challenges of the future.

• Peter Beresford is professor of social policy at Brunel University
Peter Beresford Posted by Peter Beresford Friday October 17 2008 00.03 BST

* © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

3DHS / Austrian Far Right Party Shocked Twice
« on: October 23, 2008, 03:05:58 PM »
Interesting story, the Austrian far-right lost their charismatic leader Joerg Haider in a car accident and then discovered this:

Haider 'was the man of my life'

The new leader of the party previously headed by Austrian far-right politician Joerg Haider has admitted the two men had a "special relationship".

Stefan Petzner told Austrian radio that Mr Haider, whom he met five years ago, was "the man of my life".

Mr Haider, 58, died in a high-speed car crash earlier this month. He had a high blood alcohol level.

His party, the Alliance for Austria's Future, insisted on Thursday that Mr Petzner "wasn't his lover".

"He was a very good friend, it wasn't love," party spokesman Heimo Lepuschitz told the BBC, commenting on Mr Petzner's remarks.

The Alliance for Austria's Future is best known for taking a tough line on immigration and EU policies.

Mr Petzner took over as head of the party following his leader's sudden death.

Mr Haider had said frequently that he would like his 27-year-old protege, and party deputy to take his place one day.

But Mr Petzner, while remaining overall party leader, is now deputy to hotelier Josef Bucher in the party's parliamentary group.

The party spokesman said Mr Petzner had not been criticised in the party for his comments and that it was Mr Petzner's suggestion to put Mr Bucher in charge of the parliamentary group.

Mr Petzner "will look after strategy as head of the party," Mr Lepuschitz told the BBC.

It has been widely reported in Austria that on the night of his death, Mr Haider left a bar where he had been drinking with Mr Petzner after they had argued.

' I loved him'

Mr Petzner has described feeling a magnetic attraction to Mr Haider.

"We had a special relationship that went far beyond friendship," Mr Petzner said in an emotional interview on Austrian national radio.

"Joerg and I were connected by something truly special. He was the man of my life," he added. "I loved him as a best friend."

There has been no comment from the Haider family. He was married with two children.

Joerg Haider became a potent force in Austria in the 1980s and 90s, championing what he called traditional family values and an end to immigration.

More recently his Alliance for Austria's Future enjoyed success at the polls, gaining more than 10% of the votes in September's general election.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/10/23 15:34:36 GMT


Matters of Faith / How Did Christianity Fail?
« on: October 17, 2008, 03:20:09 PM »
Nowadays there is a great deal of discussion around the amazing early success of Islam. It was, from an objective viewpoint, a brilliant success of both military might and religious conversion. Over time there was some syncretism, which almost always takes place with any religion that overtakes new people. Eventually, all of those lands taken in the 7th century converted primarily to the Islamic faith and remained so with the exception of the Iberian Peninsula.

My question is not one of military or economic consideration and you'll see why in a moment. The question is this: why did Christianity fail to keep a strong independent presence in the Middle East and North Africa? Was there something inherent in the faith itself that caused Christians to convert?

A little background: there were Jews who converted to Islam for certain (one of the first Muslims was a Jewish slave). Yet, Jewish communities fared rather well for many centuries under Islamic rule. The initial wave of expansion and success did not "break the back" of Judaism in the Middle East or North Africa. Many famous Jewish philosophers and leaders would come out of this area as well as Iberia including arguably the most famous Middle Ages Jewish philosopher: Maimonides.

The same was not true for the Christian churches of the region. North Africa was home to the African Theologians such as Tertullian and Saint Augustine. Two of New Rome's great Patriarch's were residents of this region: Alexandria and Jerusalem. This was not just an area of Christian influence - this was the solid foundation of Christianity, the bedrock. These were the original churches founded by the original Apostles of Christ. Yet, they offered little resistance as well as quick converts to Islam. The Coptic Christians, the primary Christian culture that remained in the Middle East after the Islamic expansion, actually fought alongside the Muslims. They were monophysites and had long been on the outside of the official Patriarch of Alexandria's good list.

The Christians had more means: more military power and economic might than the Jews, yet the Jewish culture survived and even thrived in some locations. So why did Christianity fail?

One quick note on Zoroastrianism. This is also a monotheistic faith, but I did not include it as it had already begun to decline even before Islam's expansion. That particular expansion into Persia is interesting of its own, but is not parallel to the Christian and Jewish cultures in North Africa and the Middle East.

3DHS / Conscience
« on: September 24, 2008, 12:02:24 PM »
I was a little short with Plane on a different topic and I apologize. I want to try a different tactic for helping to understand something that is important.

An easy question, it shouldn't require any Internet searches and isn't a trick question in any way. Anyone may answer.

What is conscience?

Note "conscience" is very different from "consciousness" so please try not to confuse the two.

3DHS / No Need to Bother with the Party Platform
« on: September 24, 2008, 11:16:11 AM »
We do not support government bailouts of private institutions. Government interference in the markets exacerbates problems in the marketplace and causes the free market to take longer to correct itself. We believe in the free market as the best tool to sustained prosperity and opportunity for all.

From the 2008 GOP Party Platform.

Fun while it lasted I suppose.

3DHS / How We Became France w/o the Benefits
« on: September 23, 2008, 05:43:07 PM »
Sunday, Sep. 21, 2008
How We Became the United States of France
By Bill Saporito

This is the state of our great republic: We've nationalized the financial system, taking control from Wall Street bankers we no longer trust. We're about to quasi-nationalize the Detroit auto companies via massive loans because they're a source of American pride, and too many jobs — and votes — are at stake. Our Social Security system is going broke as we head for a future in which too many retirees will be supported by too few workers. How long before we have national health care? Put it all together, and the America that emerges is a cartoonish version of the country most despised by red-meat red-state patriots: France. Only with worse food.

Admit it, mes amis, the rugged individualism and cutthroat capitalism that made America the land of unlimited opportunity has been shrink-wrapped by half a dozen short sellers in Greenwich, Conn., and FedExed to Washington, D.C., to be spoon-fed back to life by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. We're now no different from any of those Western European semi-socialist welfare states that we love to deride. Italy? Sure, it's had four governments since last Thursday, but none of them would have allowed this to go on; the Italians know how to rig an economy.

You just know the Frogs have only increased their disdain for us, if that is indeed possible. And why shouldn't they? The average American is working two and a half jobs, gets two weeks off and has all the employment security of a one-armed trapeze artist. The Bush Administration has preached the "ownership society" to America: own your house, own your retirement account; you don't need the government in your way. So Americans mortgaged themselves to the hilt to buy overpriced houses they can no longer afford and signed up for 401(k) programs that put money — where, exactly? In the stock market! Where rich Republicans fleeced them.

Now our laissez-faire (hey, a French word) regulation-averse Administration has made France's only Socialist President, François Mitterrand, look like Adam Smith by comparison. All Mitterrand did was nationalize France's big banks and insurance companies in 1982; he didn't have to deal with bankers who didn't want to lend money, as Paulson does. When the state runs the banks, they are merely cows to be milked in the service of la patrie. France doesn't have the mortgage crisis that we do, either. In bailing out mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, our government has basically turned America into the largest subsidized housing project in the world. Sure, France has its banlieues, where it likes to warehouse people who aren't French enough (meaning, immigrants and Algerians) in huge apartment blocks. But the bulk of French homeowners are curiously free of subprime mortgages foisted on them by fellow citizens, and they aren't over their heads in personal debt.

We've always dismissed the French as exquisitely fed wards of their welfare state. They work, what, 27 hours in a good week, have 19 holidays a month, go on strike for two days and enjoy a glass of wine every day with lunch — except for the 25% of the population working for the government, who have an even sweeter deal. They retire before their kids finish high school, and they don't have to save for $45,000-a-year college tuition, because college is free. For this, they pay a tax rate of about 103%, and their labor laws are so restrictive that they haven't had a net gain in jobs since Napoleon. There is no way the French government can pay for this lifestyle forever, except that it somehow does.

Mitterrand tried to create both job growth and wage growth by nationalizing huge swaths of the economy, including some big industries — automaker Renault, for instance. You haven't driven a Renault lately because Renault couldn't sell them here. Imagine that: an auto company that couldn't compete with a Dodge Colt. But the Renault takeover ultimately proved successful, and Renault became a private company again in 1996, although the government retains about 15% of its shares.

Now the U.S. is faced with the same prospect in the auto industry. GM and Ford need money to develop greener cars that can compete with Toyota and Honda. And they're looking to Uncle Sam for investment — an investment that could have been avoided had Washington imposed more stringent mileage standards years earlier. But we don't want to interfere with market forces like the French do — until we do.

Mitterrand's nationalization program and other economic reforms failed, as the development of the European Market made a centrally planned economy obsolete. The Rothschilds got their bank back, a little worse for the wear. These days, France sashays around the issue of protectionism in a supposedly unfettered EU by proclaiming some industries to be national champions worthy of extra consideration — you know, special-needs kids. And we're not talking about pastry chefs, but the likes of GDF Suez, a major utility. I never thought of the stocks and junk securities sold by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley as unique, but clearly Washington does. Morgan's John Mack calls SEC boss Chris Cox to whine about short sellers, and bingo, the government obliges. The élite serve the élite. How French is that?

Even in the strongest sectors in the U.S., there's no getting away from the French influence. Nothing is more sacred to France than its farmers. They get whatever they demand, and they demand a lot. And if there are any issues about price supports, or feed costs being too high, or actual competition from other countries, French farmers simply shut down the country by marching their livestock up the Champs Elysées and piling up wheat on the highways. U.S. farmers would never resort to such behavior. They don't have to; they're the most coddled special-interest group in U.S. history, lavished with $180 billion in subsidies by both parties, even when their products are fetching record prices. One consequence: U.S. consumers pay twice what the French pay for sugar, because of price guarantees. We're more French than France.

So yes, while we're still willing to work ourselves to death for the privilege of paying off our usurious credit cards, we can no longer look contemptuously at the land of 246 cheeses. Kraft Foods has replaced American International Group in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the insurance company having been added to Paulson's nationalized portfolio. Macaroni and cheese has supplanted credit-default swaps at the fulcrum of capitalism. And one more thing: the food-snob French love McDonalds, which does a fantastic business there. They know a good freedom fry when they taste one.

3DHS / The Trillion Dollar Question
« on: September 22, 2008, 03:58:42 PM »
The trillion-dollar questions
Given the scale of the crisis on Wall Street, America deserves answers. But it won't get any from George Bush

The Guardian

How many billions of dollars do you need to squander before someone has to hold a proper press conference in Washington DC?

I only ask, because after a week in which increasing amounts of taxpayers' money was pledged to prop up the US financial system, not one of the major actors in the US administration could drag themselves in front of a podium to fully answer questions on the subject. It hardly seems value for money, does it?

It's extraordinary: a blank cheque is being written, for perhaps $700bn or more, and no-one involved in writing that cheque has been prepared to go into a room full of journalists, stare into the TV cameras, and say: "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sure you've all got many questions to ask…."

One example was last Thursday, after the US government had bailed out the AIG insurance company through an $85bn loan, and word was circulating of a further huge rescue package being readied. President Bush, at that moment of national peril, stirred himself to read a statement of 260 words, lasting exactly two minutes – that's not an exaggeration, that is the length of time he spoke for: from 10.15am to 10.17am – of such banality that it doesn't bear repeating. (The highlight? "Our financial markets continue to deal with serious challenges.")

In those two minutes President Bush neither sought nor answered a single question, as the stock market see-sawed, and hundreds of billions of dollars were being thrust into the markets by the Federal Reserve. The following day, however, President Bush did speak to the press – alongside the championship-winning Boston Celtics basketball team, for whom he found time to say more than 1,200 words. (But even that simple task he managed to screw up, of course, when he at one point referred to the team as the Boston Red Sox.)

Hank Paulson, the Treasury secretary, did hold what was billed as a press conference last Friday, in which he read out a statement and took precisely three questions before stalking out. He avoided answering any of the three in any detail, other than this one:

    Q: You said this seems to be of significant size. Are we talking hundreds of billions, a trillion dollars?
    Secretary Paulson: No, we're talking hundreds of billions. This needs to be big enough to make a real difference and get at the heart of the problem.

One ancient US senator is alleged to have observed: "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money." He obviously never met Hank Paulson, to whom talking hundreds of billions only merits a sentence or two.

To be fair, Secretary Paulson only had to explain the meltdown on Wall Street and justify why hundreds of billions worth of government funds were being exposed in this way. So three questions would probably cover everything.

By the end of the weekend Paulson had done the rounds of the Sunday morning TV talk shows, in which he managed to say very little indeed, and the hosts were content to look grave rather than ask questions on subjects they knew nothing about. None of this stage-managed journalism is a good substitute for actually holding an open-ended press conference.

No one should be surprised. This is the Bush administration we're talking about, upon whose tombstone history will write three place-names: Iraq, New Orleans, and now Wall Street. In each of these three events we can pick out the same pattern – initial incomprehension, a long period of stasis during which conditions got worse, an inability to adopt appropriate policies because of objections based on ideology, until finally, at vast expense, a resolution of some sort is stumbled upon. And in none of these instances has answering questions about the administration's conduct been a strong point.

Indeed, the combined Wall Street bailouts are now matching the treasure spent on the war in Iraq. As Iraq showed, Wall Street will eventual improve, since there are few problems in the world that can't be helped by throwing hundreds of billions of dollars at them. (New Orleans is still waiting, though.)

While George Bush doesn't want to hold any press conferences to discuss the crisis, plenty of other Republicans do. One senator, Jim Bunning, made a statement worth reading on several levels:

    "Instead of celebrating the Fourth of July next year Americans will be celebrating Bastille Day; the free market for all intents and purposes is dead in America," said Bunning. "The action proposed today by the Treasury department will take away the free market and institute socialism in America. The American taxpayer has been mislead throughout this economic crisis. The government on all fronts has failed the American people miserably. My great-grandchildren will be saddled with the estimated $1 trillion debt left in the wake of this proposal. We have gotten to this point because nobody has been minding the store. Both Secretary Paulson and Chairmen [Ben] Bernanke should be held accountable for their inaction – and now because of that inaction – the American taxpayer is left with bill."

The last time he ran for re-election Bunning was forced to assure voters that he was mentally fit to hold office. But even so, let me make clear: Bunning is a Republican senator from Kentucky.

It can't be much fun being an incumbent Republican running in November. You have your president betraying your dearly-held free market beliefs, while your presidential candidate is roaming the country painting you as part of the corrupt swamp in Washington that caused the problem.

And if no one from the administration is willing to turn up for a once-in-a-lifetime market meltdown, then who can blame Sarah Palin for avoiding anything resembling a press conference – she's only running for vice president.

3DHS / The Economics of John McCain
« on: August 29, 2008, 06:57:28 PM »
The Economics Of John McCain
Organizing much of his campaign around gas prices has forced McCain into a series of indefensible economic positions.

Saturday, Aug. 30, 2008
by Clive Crook

Since the start of the campaign, John McCain's economic proposals have come in for plenty of criticism, much of it justified. Lately, though, he has seemed to go out of his way to earn the complaints. Despite his thin credentials -- he admits that economics is not his subject -- one can well imagine that McCain might be a more successful president than Barack Obama on economic affairs. But it does get harder to imagine, the more he speaks out on the subject.

McCain's economic instincts are mostly right, it seems to me, and more to be trusted than Obama's. McCain is pro-business and pro-trade. He prefers low taxes and low government spending, and he worries about persistent budget deficits. He would be a more effective brake on the spending plans of the next Congress. He wants to get employers out of the health insurance business. He understands the link between immigration and economic vitality. Like his Democratic opponents, he wants to curb greenhouse gases; unlike them, he sees that this will likely require a big expansion of nuclear power.

All of this, to my mind, is good -- and these preferences hang together reasonably well, adding up to a moderate and pragmatic kind of economic conservatism. It should have been no great challenge to build a convincing policy program on this foundation.

Such a thing is nowhere to be found, and McCain's instincts are still all that we have. Crucially, his fiscal arithmetic fails to add up.

He promises to lower taxes, and to balance the budget in four years, but he will not say where he would cut spending. In area after area, McCain has failed to say exactly, or even approximately, what he wants to happen. He will reform this and improve that, he insists, but he rarely says how. Perhaps to make up for his silence, on the issues where he feels he has a political advantage -- gas prices and offshore drilling, for instance -- he has brazenly substituted simple-minded populism for honest economics.

The first item in his "Economic Plan" is "immediate relief for American families." Relief from what? First and foremost, from high gas prices. Promising oil producers and speculators that he intends to reduce American dependence on foreign oil, he says, will cut prices at the pump. His policies will strengthen the dollar, as well, he says, which will also make gas cheaper. He has continued to press the idea of a gas-tax holiday.

None of these ideas makes sense. The gas-tax holiday has been universally, and rightly, panned as a pointless gimmick. (Even McCain implicitly acknowledges this: If the idea made sense, why not call for the gas tax to be cut permanently?) Reducing American dependence on foreign oil, partly by offshore drilling, is a good idea, but not because it would make gas cheaper. (Whether it would exert much influence on the world price of oil even in the long term is debatable; in the short term, forget it.)

A stronger dollar might indeed make foreign oil cheaper in the United States, as McCain says, and reduce prices at the pump; though if it did, it would make the country more dependent on imported oil, not less. Meanwhile a stronger dollar would also make American exports more expensive, and thus weaken one of the few forces helping to sustain the country's economic growth. How, in any case, is the McCain administration proposing to drive up the dollar's value? Curbing the budget deficit might have that effect -- but, as noted, McCain has no credible plan of action on this, either. Taken together, his main tax and spending proposals actually point to a bigger deficit.

Perhaps it was a shrewd political calculation to organize much of his campaign around gas prices. On that, time will tell. But whatever the tactical virtues, this decision has forced the campaign into a series of indefensible economic positions, undermining whatever claim to competence in that area McCain could make. In the end, it is preposterous to couple a promise to curb greenhouse-gas emissions with a promise to make gas cheap, and you do not need to be an economist at the University of Chicago to see why. The cap-and-trade plan that McCain says he supports would make gas and other carbon-based forms of energy more expensive. That is why it might work. On McCain's own reasoning, gas needs to stay expensive -- and if people need help adjusting to dearer fuels, they should be assisted in ways that do not kill the incentive to economize on energy.

But there is worse. McCain's populist fixation on making gas cheaper has made it impossible for him to advocate an explicit carbon tax as the best way to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. This has two bad consequences. First, a carbon tax really is the best way to do it. This method avoids the complexities and opportunities for gaming that a cap-and-trade system is apt to create, and it makes the cost of action on global warming clear for all to see. (Admittedly, I am assuming that treating voters like adults is a good thing, even if not always the politically expedient thing.) It would also make international action on climate change easier to orchestrate, and such cooperation is going to be essential.

Second, if McCain had owned up to the fiscal consequences of a serious carbon-abatement regime, he would have had a clear source of extra revenue to set against the cost of his proposed tax cuts. That would have helped him balance his books. Granted, the revenues from auctioning emission permits under cap-and-trade could be used in the same way. But if you are intent on concealing the burden that climate-change policies would put on consumers, you can hardly draw attention to these revenues. The energy part of his "Economic Plan" does not so much as mention the cap-and-trade proposal. In choosing to campaign on the slogan "If you want cheap gas, vote for me," he has denied himself the best and most plausible way of making his fiscal plans add up.

Now and then, McCain is willing to be as brave and straightforward as I once supposed him to be. So far, at least, he has given no ground on liberal trade -- in marked contrast to Obama's laborious triangulations. He promises to cut corporate taxes -- a difficult idea to sell, but one that makes good economic sense provided the revenue loss can be made up. His fervent support for nuclear power was not without risk. He says he would repeal the tariff on sugar-based ethanol (again, he says, because it would lower the price of gas; but never mind). And unlike Obama he promises to roll back mandates on corn-based ethanol -- a lose-lose policy that has contributed to higher global food prices and has done less than nothing to reduce carbon emissions.

But all roads lead back to the hole at the center of McCain's fiscal policy. To preserve the Bush tax cuts, which he unaccountably intends to do, cut corporate taxes, and also balance the budget in four years would demand deep cuts in spending -- deeper and more sudden than would be desirable. Yet, aside from promising to block earmarks -- a worthy promise but one that yields meager savings -- he offers almost no specific proposals.

"After the completion of a comprehensive review of all programs, projects, and activities of the federal government, we will propose a plan to modernize, streamline, consolidate, reprioritize, and, where needed, terminate individual programs." After 25 years in Congress, he can be no more precise than this? What about Social Security, for instance? McCain keeps saying it is in bad shape and urgently needs repair. His proposal in full: "Americans have the right to know the truth, and John McCain will not leave office without fixing the problems that threatens [sic] our future prosperity and power." So it goes on.

It all reminds me of Monty Python's "Recipe for Rat Pie." 1) Get a rat; 2) Bake it in a pie.

Whatever one thinks of Obama's economic platform -- and there's plenty to dislike, in my view -- McCain has failed to develop an economic agenda of his own worthy of serious attention. He boasts that he has the support of more than 300 economists, and the list includes some very distinguished names. But I cannot believe that his academic supporters are endorsing the details of his plan, because his plan does not have any details to endorse. The reason they believe that President McCain would be better for the economy than President Obama, I am sure, is that McCain would resist rather than collaborate in the surge of spending to be expected from a strident new Democratic Congress.

They may be right. So far as the economy is concerned, the blocking powers of divided government may be the best reason to prefer McCain. But what a pity that he has done so little to advance a more positive case.

Copyright ©2008 by National Journal Group Inc. The Watergate 600 New Hampshire Ave., NW Washington, DC 20037
202-739-8400 • fax 202-833-8069 is an Atlantic Media publication.

Putin blames US for Georgia role

BBC Link

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has accused the US of provoking the conflict in Georgia, possibly for domestic election purposes.

Mr Putin told CNN US citizens were "in the area" during the conflict over South Ossetia and were "taking direct orders from their leaders".

He said his defence officials had told him the provocation was to benefit one of the US presidential candidates.

The White House dismissed the allegations as "not rational".

Georgia tried to retake the Russian-backed separatist region of South Ossetia this month by force after a series of clashes.

Russian forces subsequently launched a counter-attack and the conflict ended with the ejection of Georgian troops from both South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia, and an EU-brokered ceasefire.

Diplomatic wrangling

Mr Putin said in the interview: "The fact is that US citizens were indeed in the area in conflict during the hostilities.

"It should be admitted that they would do so only following direct orders from their leaders."

Mr Putin added: "The American side in effect armed and trained the Georgian army.

"Why... seek a difficult compromise solution in the peacekeeping process? It is easier to arm one of the sides and provoke it into killing another side. And the job is done.

"The suspicion arises that someone in the United States especially created this conflict with the aim of making the situation more tense and creating a competitive advantage for one of the candidates fighting for the post of US president."

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino rejected the allegation.

"To suggest that the United States orchestrated this on behalf of a political candidate - it sounds not rational," she said.

"Those claims first and foremost are patently false, but it also sounds like his defence officials who said they believed this to be true are giving him really bad advice."

Diplomatic wrangling over Russia's actions in Georgia continued on Thursday with the Georgian parliament urging its government to cut diplomatic ties with Moscow.

Earlier, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner suggested some EU countries were considering sanctions against Russia.

Mr Kouchner insisted France had made no proposals for sanctions itself but, as current president of the EU, would aim to get consensus among all 27 countries of the bloc if sanctions were envisaged.

France has called an emergency EU summit on Monday to reassess relations with Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described talk of sanctions as the working of "a sick imagination".

Such talk was an emotional response that demonstrated Western confusion over the situation, he said.

The US has said it is now considering scrapping a US-Russia civilian nuclear co-operation pact in response to the conflict.

"I don't think there's anything to announce yet, but I know that that is under discussion," Mr Perino said.

The White House has also announced that up to $5.75m (£3.1m) will be freed to help Georgia meet "unexpected and urgent refugee and migration needs".

Rocket test

Earlier on Thursday Russia failed to get strong backing from its Asian allies over the Georgia conflict.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), comprising Russia, China and Central Asian nations, met in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and spoke of its deep concern.

The group did not follow Russia in recognising the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev insisted he had the backing of the nations over Moscow's actions.

Amid the rising tension, Russia announced on Thursday it had successfully tested its long-range Topol ballistic missile from a launch site in Kamchatka in the far east of the country.

Russia says the rocket is capable of penetrating the proposed US missile defence.

3DHS / The Happiest People on Earth
« on: August 22, 2008, 03:13:56 PM »
Why Danes Are the World's Happiest People
By Matt Mabe[/b]

Two recent studies found Danes to be the world's happiest people. The new reputation and media attention have led to a national discussion.

A windmill rises over farmland on the Danish island of Samso.

Three years ago, if you had asked a person from Denmark the secret to happiness, you probably would have gotten back a blank stare. The same question today, however, likely would be answered with knowing laughter and any one of several explanations.

Being recognized as the world's happiest people simply takes some getting used to.

Since 2006, Denmark, a largely homogeneous country of 5 million people on Europe's stormy northern coast, has been anointed the happiest place on earth by two very different surveys. The studies' findings have upended dated international perceptions of Denmark as a quaint but chilly dairy exporter with a high suicide rate, recasting the country instead as a model of social harmony that is thriving in an era of globalization.

The country's improbable new standing -- and the significant media attention it has engendered -- may have had an even more profound effect on the Danes themselves by prompting a national conversation about how they live their lives. "It has given us a chance to reflect on how well-balanced a country we really are," says Dorte Kiilerich, the managing director of VisitDenmark, Denmark's official tourism organization.

In early 2006, Denmark was what it had been for ages: a quiet, stable country, better known as the home of Hans Christian Andersen, Tivoli Gardens, and the setting for Shakespeare's Hamlet than for being an epicenter of bliss. Tourism had been in decline for a decade, and an international controversy was raging over a series of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, which months before had been printed in a Danish newspaper.

Social Safety Net

Then in July of that year, a researcher at England's University of Leicester released a ranking of the world's happiest countries after analyzing data from various sources. The report concluded that economic factors related to health care, standards of living, and access to basic education were determining characteristics of a nation's overall attitude. Denmark, with its free universal health care, one of the highest per-capita GDPs in the world, and first-rate schools, came in first.

The news spread quickly. Niels Martiny, a 26-year-old social anthropology student at the University of Aarhus in Denmark's second-largest city, spent last year in Peru doing research. Even there, word about the survey had gotten around to locals. "They were quite surprised," Martiny says with a laugh. "They had this idea about Nordic people being very reserved and very serious."

Foreigners weren't the only ones scratching their heads at the results. Danes were equally confounded. "A lot of my friends were surprised," says Martiny, who considers himself quite happy in his own life but thought that the study must have made some mistake. Danes, he says, tend not to express their emotions outwardly the way people in some other cultures do.

Achieving the Right Balance

But the results were no fluke. Earlier this summer, the Stockholm-based World Values Survey, which uses a very different methodology, reported that it also found Danish people to be the world's most contented. That study concluded that the surest measures of a country's well-being are the freedom to choose how to live one's life, encouragement of gender equality, and tolerance for minorities. Once again, on every count, Denmark took top prize.

What is it about Denmark that the rest of us have failed to grasp?

Achieving the right balance is probably what most sets the country apart, suggests VisitDenmark's Kiilerich. Happiness in most Nordic societies, all of which ranked high on both studies' lists of happiest countries, hinges on an ineffable combination of economic strength and social programs. Denmark's approach relies on high taxes and aggressive redistribution of wealth --anathema to many free-market Americans -- which results in a broad range of social services like health care, retirement pensions, and quality public schools. Yet remarkably, the country has managed to make this model work without crushing economic growth or incentives to succeed. "Denmark has a head and a heart," Kiilerich says.

The strong social safety nets that cradle Danish citizens from birth until death are welcoming to foreigners, too. Kate Vial, a 55-year-old American expat who has lived and worked in Denmark for more than 30 years, passed up opportunities over the years to return to the U.S., choosing instead to raise her three children in Denmark. Vial knows she will never be rich, but says that she valued family, the ability to travel, and simple economic security above all else. "I just chose a simpler lifestyle, one where I could ride my bike all over and where I don't have to make a great living to survive," she says.

Some people attribute the prevailing attitude among Danes to something less tangible, called hygge (pronounced "hooga"). Danes say the word is difficult to translate -- and to comprehend -- but that it describes a cozy, convivial sentiment that involves strong family bonds. "The gist of it is that you don't have to do anything except let go," says Vial. "It's a combination of relaxing, eating, drinking, partying, spending time with family."

Whatever the reasons for Denmark's apparent happiness, the two studies clearly indicate it must be doing something right. Economic strength and social support aside, Kiilerich says that there is just something in the blood of the country that other Scandinavian countries are missing. "Our neighbors love us for it, but they just can't get it," she says.


LA Times
Georgia-Russia conflict a blow to Bush foreign policy
The president's reliance on diplomacy based on personal relations with leaders such as Putin and his push to establish democracies from the top down has proved not so viable.
By Julian E. Barnes
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

August 18, 2008

WASHINGTON — In the last week, two major pillars of President Bush's approach to foreign policy have crumbled, jeopardizing eight years of work and sending the administration scrambling for new strategies in the waning months of its term.

From the earliest days of his presidency, Bush had said spreading democracy was a centerpiece of his foreign policy. At the same time, he sought to develop a more productive relationship with Russia, seeking Moscow's cooperation on issues such as terrorism, Iran's nuclear program and expansion of global energy supplies.

And in pursuing both these major goals, Bush relied heavily on developing what he saw as strong personal relationships with foreign leaders.

The recent setbacks to the president's approach were all the more unsettling because Georgia had appeared to be one of the few success stories in the administration's effort to nurture new democracies that could advance U.S. interests.

Efforts to create multi-ethnic, democratic regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan have run into repeated difficulties. And the American push for Palestinian elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip ended in victory for the radical group Hamas, complicating an already formidable task of reaching a Middle East peace accord.

Since the Georgia conflict erupted, Bush has repeatedly cited that nation's progress toward democracy as he promised American support. "The people of Georgia have cast their lot with the free world, and we will not cast them aside," he said.

Faced with a massive deployment of Russian military power, however, the U.S. response was confined to condemning Moscow's actions, pushing for humanitarian aid and pressing Georgia to accept a cease-fire agreement brokered by France that would leave Russian troops still inside Georgia's two breakaway enclaves.

"What freedom strategy?" asked David L. Phillips, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and author of a report on Georgia. "It is scorned worldwide. Afghanistan is backsliding. The bar has been set low in Iraq. Georgia is in ruins."

The damage may not be confined to Georgia, many analysts believe.

The U.S. had intended to renew its push for expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into Georgia and Ukraine in December. But with its military action, Russia has signaled its categorical opposition to further expansion.

And several Western European nations are likely to be reluctant to expand the alliance, though German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday during a visit to Georgia that the path to membership was still open to the former Soviet republic.

"This action is a real challenge to the idea of building a Europe whole, free and at peace," said Stephen Flanagan of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

And Moscow's violent intervention in Georgia may put democratic movements in Ukraine and other nearby countries at risk, in the view of Leslie H. Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Bush administration should not "jeopardize these nascent democracies by letting them think that they can put themselves in this kind of situation and survive," Gelb said. "You are not just putting democracy on the line in Georgia, you are putting all of these places in that neighborhood on the line."

Although U.S. officials say they repeatedly warned Georgia not to give Russia an excuse to attack, many observers believe the warm embrace that the Bush administration gave President Mikheil Saakashvili gave him a false sense of support and a mistaken view that his friendship with the U.S. would deter a large-scale Russian invasion.

James J. Townsend Jr., a former Pentagon official now with the Atlantic Council, said emerging democracies and democratic movements often assume the U.S. can or will do more to back them.

But the realities of international affairs mean American cheerleading may be simply that.

"I have seen it over and over again be misconstrued by nations not used to dealing with us," Townsend said. "I think they misunderstand our eagerness and enthusiasm and think we are going to be behind them for anything.

The United States was not wrong to encourage democratic movements in Georgia and other nations, experts argue. But along the fringes of the former Soviet Union the task is sensitive, especially since the Bush administration coupled support for democracy with efforts to forge new security alliances there.

And rather than focusing on individual leaders, critics say, the administration should have put more effort into building up a middle class and bolstering civil institutions, a slower process.

"Every president has to stand for democracy," Gelb said. "But the notion of force-feeding democracy into societies that have never practiced it is a mistake. And in most cases we pay some price for trying to do it."

Bush rejected the evolutionary approach, hoping to create democratic governments where they had not existed before and relying on individual leaders who demonstrated charisma and espoused noble goals.

Many of those leaders have struggled. Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in Iraq and President Mahmoud Abbas in the Palestinian territories did not marshal enough public support. President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan has so far failed to build an effective government. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf came to power in a coup, has undercut democracy in his country and is on the brink being impeached. And Saakashvili badly miscalculated Russia's tolerance.

But perhaps in no case did Bush rely on a warm individual relationship with a charismatic leader more than with Russia itself. To a significant extent, Bush built U.S. policy on his individual rapport with Vladimir Putin, rather than on more traditional and impersonal diplomacy. Early in his term, Bush famously said that he got a "sense of his soul" after a meeting with Putin, who after eight years as Russia's president stepped down this year and became prime minister.

"I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy," Bush said.

Yet Putin has consolidated power and ruled with an authoritarian might that has sharply diminished Russian democracy.

"Bush's notion was that his and Putin's personal chemistry would be enough to manage the relationship and deal with Russia's concerns," Flanagan said. "And that proved not to be the case."

Officials from an older school of international relations have long shied away from making policy decisions based on the personality of leaders.

"I have never believed that one should make national security policy on the basis of trust," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Thursday when asked whether he trusted Putin. "I think you make national security policy based on interests and policies."

Gates has advocated engaging with Russia in meaningful strategic dialogues. But meaningful negotiations with Moscow will be difficult in the wake of the Georgia conflict, analysts agree.

On Thursday, Gates said Russia's military action had "called into question the entire premise of that dialogue and has profound implications for our security relationship going forward," Gates said.

Still, many experts believe that Washington must try to talk to Russia on a broad number of issues, including U.S. plans to install a missile defense system in Europe and Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"Russia is more dangerous if it is marginalized," Flanagan said. "Its potential for mischief and disruption is even greater."

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