Blogs

Obama's Ideal Focus for the Homestretch: Trade and Taxes

| Wed Aug. 6, 2008 7:51 AM EDT

Yesterday we cobbled together a strategy for John McCain — paint himself as the more experienced of two "reform" candidates (best not to use "change," it's too obviously owned by the other guy), ignore all issues where he mirrors Bush, and allow third party attacks to keep hammering away at Obama's character and otherness. Today, in the Washington Post, Harold Meyerson has a prescription for Obama:

One key contrast Obama has been reluctant to draw is over globalization and investment. On these issues (and most others), McCain is a standard-issue Republican. He's never met a trade deal he didn't like, and his formula for boosting the American economy is to preserve tax cuts for the very rich and slash taxes on corporations. Obama, by contrast, acknowledges the costs as well as the benefits of trade and argues that globalization requires strengthening the safety net for American workers at home and putting enforceable labor standards into any future trade deals. Unlike McCain, he favors a domestic investment policy that designates tax dollars and tax credits for building a greener economy.
But these are contrasts that Obama has yet to draw in a compelling way. In a speech on the economy Friday in St. Petersburg, Fla., he talked about investing in infrastructure projects and green jobs without contrasting his stances with those of McCain, or of George W. Bush, whose economic policies are essentially indistinguishable from McCain's.

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Here Be Arctic Dragons

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 11:56 PM EDT

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One year ago Russia planted a flag of ownership on the seabed underneath the North Pole.

Now, with the ice melting before our eyes, the 21st century's first gold rush is on.

Want to know just who's after the Arctic's virgin oil, gas, and minerals? A new map shows the disputed territories that states might lay claim to in the future...

(Not So) Great Moments in Gear Theft History

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 6:40 PM EDT

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News has emerged from Canada that legendary rockers The Stooges had all their gear stolen yesterday from in front of their hotel in Montreal. The equipment, including guitars, pedals, amps, and drums, was packed into a rented truck outside the Embassy Suites hotel, and was taken sometime around the rock-stars-are-sleeping hour of 7:00 a.m. Bassist Mike Watt's original Gibson guitar, which he's used since playing with the Minutemen in the '80s, is among the missing. [Update 8/6: Idolator says they have found the truck, but no gear.] The band have appealed for any information leading to the recovery of the instruments, but history isn't on their side: bands who lose their stuff rarely get it back, although sometimes, the trauma leads to creative breakthroughs. Here's some recent episodes of gear theft and how it turned out for the artists.

McCain Re-Embraces "the Maverick"

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 3:57 PM EDT

After months of mixed messages or no message at all, the McCain campaign has finally hit on something that I think might get some traction. For starters, it's actually about McCain, and not simply slamming Obama.

The thing is, this election is tailor-made for the John McCain of eight years ago. A Republican has spent eight years screwing up the country — only a Republican that was willing to embrace moderate or liberal solutions and to shoot straight about his own party's failures would have a chance to earn the GOP another term.

I acknowledge that McCain couldn't do this in the primary. But as soon as he had won it (or maybe after a short, graceful transition), he should have begun saying the sorts of things you find at the beginning of this ad: "Washington's broken. John McCain knows it. We're worse off than we were four years ago." No mention of Iraq, no mention of tax policy, no mention of free trade — issues where he echoes the president.

If McCain had done this since March, the choice placed between the American people would be two reformers, two change candidates — except one with a track record and experience. Instead, he spent several months saying nothing much at all, or attacking Barack Obama for being too well liked.

That said, I don't think it's too late. If McCain can maintain a laser-like focus on message and hammer the point that he is the reformer with results... throw in some really nasty third party attacks on Obama in September and October... maybe this election stops being Obama's to lose and becomes McCain's to win.

For the record, here's what McCain was saying in the primary.

Study: One-Fifth of UK Public "Frustrated Musicians"

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 3:55 PM EDT

mojo-photo-subwaymusicians.jpgDoes that include Oasis? Oh, sorry, I thought they said "frustrating." A poll commissioned by O2 Undiscovered has found that 20 percent of people questioned consider themselves "frustrated musicians," i.e., they wish they could toss aside their current job choice for an exciting music industry career. Respondents indicating that music was their true love included 11 percent of construction workers and 10 percent of doctors. Does anyone else feel a bit anxious knowing that the people building your house or slicing open your belly are daydreaming of landing in the Billboard charts? Actually, maybe they just want to be rich: 25 percent of respondents in the survey said The Beatles would be "the ideal band to forge a career in" if they could pick any band in history. What, not The Rutles?

The study did return one serious finding: three quarters of respondents felt they "had not been encouraged" to pursue a career in music at school or at home, and half felt schools should provide more of a musical education. I'll support that, although as Obama says, some of you might be the next Lil Wayne, but most of you won't. Now back to taking out my appendix, dammit!

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user NYCArthur.

Journalist Martin Bashir Calls Female Writers 'Asian Babes'

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 2:54 PM EDT

UK journalist Martin Bashir, son of Pakistani immigrants, is best-known for wringing titillating stories from celebs like Princess Diana and Michael Jackson. He's also kind of a doofus when it comes to racial comments.

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GAO: Iraq Amassing Oil Profits, But Not Paying For Reconstruction

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 2:38 PM EDT

According to a GAO report (.pdf) released today, the Iraqi government is doing just fine, at least financially. It already has a cumulative budget surplus of $29 billion, and GAO anticipates a surplus of up to $50.3 billion for the current fiscal year. Oil revenues account for most of this, of course. The price of gas is certainly not hurting Baghdad. But with all that money lying around, very little of it is being spent on the reconstruction of Iraq's shattered infrastructure—a tab the Iraqi government seems more than willing to let the United States pick up. (In their defense, the Iraqis weren't the ones who broke it. But Paul Wolfowitz's claim that reconstruction would be paid for with oil revenue is just another of the pre-war promises that has gone unfulfilled.)

From the GAO:

From 2005 through 2007, the Iraqi government spent an estimated $67 billion on operating and investment activities. Ninety percent was spent on operating expenses, such as salaries and goods and services, the remaining 10 percent on investments, such as structures and vehicles. The Iraqi government spent only percent of total expenditures to maintain Iraq- and U.S.-funded investments such as buildings, water and electricity installations, and weapons...
Since fiscal year 2003, the United States appropriated about $48 billion for stabilization and reconstruction efforts in Iraq; it had obligated about $42 billion of that amount as of June 2008. U.S. agencies spent about $23.2 billion on the critical security, oil, electricity, and water sectors. From 2005 through April 2008, Iraq spent about $3.9 billion on these sectors.

Iraq's failure to spend money on its own reconstruction has more to do with the government ineptitude and the political situation than anything else, says the GAO. Although the U.S. government has pumped billions of dollars into strengthening Iraqi civilian and security ministries, the Iraqi government still suffers from a "shortage of trained staff, weak procurement and budgeting systems, and violence and sectarian strife."

In Election's Racial Divide, Battered Clintons Side with McCain

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 2:35 PM EDT

It certainly didn't take long. With weeks to go before either party's political convention, and neither candidate having selected a running mate, the issue of race has already become a theme of the just-begun general election. Sens. Obama and McCain are now accusing one another of using race as a political tool. Obama, apparently unprovoked on the issue, suggested McCain would use Obama's "funny name" and appearance to scare voters. McCain's campaign accused Obama of playing the race card "from the bottom of the deck."

Some Democrats may expect the Clintons, who enjoyed tremendous support from African Americans for many years but have lost some due to insensitive remarks about race during the primary, to step in and defend Obama, but no such luck. The Clintons have remained silent and some suggest that members of Sen. Clinton's presidential campaign, after bearing similar accusations from Obama during the Democratic primary, may be quietly celebrating Obama's difficulty with the issue.

Politico reports anonymous Clinton aides declaring "I feel slightly vindicated" and that "the chickens have come home to roost." One stated, "We were being considered a racist campaign ... so there aren't a lot of people rushing to inoculate [Obama] on that account." In an interview yesterday, a visibly angry Bill Clinton chastised a reporter for asking about race, stating "I am not a racist." Video of the interview—and why Democratic infighting still defines this election—after the jump.

Hey, Oregon GOP: Just Fold Already

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 2:06 PM EDT

It's the Grand Obama Party out there in the Beaver State.

Potential VP Evan Bayh: Better Than Expected, But Not Good Enough

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 1:14 PM EDT

evan_bayh.jpg When I put together my primer on Obama's VP options (sadly leaving off Tim Kaine, a current frontrunner), I described Indiana Senator Evan Bayh as a moderate and a milquetoast. It wasn't a radical description — read any description of Bayh and "boring" and "centrist" are bound to come up. As a result, a lot of progressives are growing worried as Bayh emerges as a frontrunner.

But Nate Silver over at fivethirtyeight.com disagrees, at least on the "centrist" part. He created a chart to examine how well the voting habits of sitting senators (liberal, moderate, or conservative) matches the political persuasions of the states they are from. Turns out that Bayh, a Democrat from conservative Indiana, is more liberal that Ben Nelson, for example, a Democrat from conservative Nebraska. He's also more liberal than Tim Johnson, a Democrat from conservative South Dakota. In fact, says Silver, "there is no senator more liberal than Bayh in any state more conservative than Indiana."