Zimbabwe goes to the polls Saturday to see if it can manage to democratically oust 28-year despot Robert Mugabe. I say "manage" because Mugabe can't win a fair election, but he can rig it so that he wins, as he is widely suspected of having done in the past. Opposition candidate Simba Makoni presents a stronger challenge than any Mugabe has seen recently, but suspicions about the election have already been raised.
To understand what 200,000 percent inflation means, a journalist friend I was traveling with, N., said that on Friday, he had lunch at a hotel in Harare , where a local beer cost 2 million Zimbabwean dollars (less than $1). He passed by the hotel after work the same day and the same beer was going for more than 4 million.
Earlier this month, the AP reported that $1US was worth 25,000,000 Zimbabwe dollars.
It is 3 a.m., and the stillness of the White House night is shattered by the ringing of the red phone. President John McCain, rousing himself from a deep sleep, turns on the light and picks up the receiver. A U.S. embassy in a Middle Eastern country, he is told, has been blown up, and al-Qaeda is taking credit.
McCain takes a deep breath. "Character counts, my friend," he says. "Bomb Iran. Bomb, bomb Iran."
There is a rustling of blankets, and, brushing aside Cindy McCain, a concerned Joe Lieberman rises from the bed. "Not Iran, Mr. President," he says. "They hate al-Qaeda."
"That's right," the president says. "I remember now." He sighs with relief. "Good thing you're here every night, Joe."
McCain's initial mention of the fictional Iran/al Qaeda axis wasn't a slip; it was part of pattern that raises questions about McCain's claims of foreign policy expertise. (Example of such claims, from a speech in Keene, NH: "My friends, I know how to handle the Iranians. And I'll handle 'em.")
Actually, if McCain does take the White House, perhaps Democrats can get Lieberman a post as his National Security Adviser or butler. At least he'll be out of the Senate.
Should we start counting the days before John McCain has anything real to say about the current financial crises? In a speech on Tuesday, he offered not a single concrete proposal. Today, as Barack Obama was delivering a speech on the financial crisis, McCain issued the following statement:
On Tuesday, I addressed the housing crisis and its devastating impact on our financial markets and the household budgets of millions of hardworking Americans. The fact is that there are about 4 million homeowners in danger of losing their homes. We have a responsibility to take action to help those among them who are deserving homeowners, and as I said this week, I am committed to considering any and all proposals to do so. Any action must further look to the future to make certain this never happens again.
As I said on Tuesday, I believe the role of government is to help the truly needy, prevent systemic economic risk, and enact reforms that prevent the kind of crisis we are currently experiencing from ever happening again. Those reforms should focus on improving transparency and accountability in our capital markets -- both of which were lacking in the lead-up to the current situation.
However, what is not necessary is a multi-billion dollar bailout for big banks and speculators, as Senators Clinton and Obama have proposed. There is a tendency for liberals to seek big government programs that sock it to American taxpayers while failing to solve the very real problems we face.
This is a complex problem that deserves a careful, balanced approach that helps the homeowners in trouble, not big banks and speculators that acted irresponsibly. I again call on our lending institutions, where possible, to step up and help Americans who are hurting in this crisis.
Again, not one specific proactive idea. McCain is quick with the usual anti-Democratic rhetoric. And he has a populist point about no bailouts for irresponsible corporate actors rings. But does he intend to spend the next seven months campaigning as Mr. No? McCain notes that he is willing to consider proposals placed before him. He's apparently not interested in coming up with any of his own. Is that a model of economic leadership that will play well in the fall?
All joking aside, age is a serious issue that John McCain is going to have to overcome this fall. According to a new NBC/WSJ survey, 29 percent of respondents feel this country isn't ready for a president over 70. McCain, who was born August 29, 1936 at the Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone, is currently 71 and will be 72 by election day. If elected, he would be the oldest first-term president in American history. If he runs against Obama, the 25-year age difference between the two will be the largest-ever difference between major party candidates.
By contrast, the same survey showed that 20 percent of respondents said the country is not ready for a female president and 18 percent said it is not ready for an African American one. This is consistent with an early 2007 poll that showed being 72-years-old on election day is as much of a disadvantage as being homosexual. No joke.
That is, of course, a rhetorical question. But if you needed any additional proof of the obvious answer, The New York Times provides it in a fine example of front-page investigative reporting that shows how a fledgling firm run by a 22-year old and by a licensed masseur has been the American military's lead supplier of arms--and shoddy and ineffective arms, at that--to the Afghan army. It's a tale of incompetence and absurdity. Due to the Times' probing, the company has been suspended by the military. But the real question is, will anyone in the military lose their job because of this massive foul-up? From Iraq to Walter Reed to this, Bush's adventures overseas have revealed how screwed up the military can be. That ain't a surprise. But heads ought to roll. Paging Congressman Waxman.
Update: That didn't take long. Waxman's House Oversight Committee has called the company's top brass, plus officials from State and Defense, to come testify.
I'm always stoked when artists put out a capellas from their songs (for easier DJ tricks and mashupping), and it's even more fun when you get the individual instrument tracks, all split up for your amateur-song-rearranger pleasure. This "here, take it all" attitude is still kind of rare, weirdly enough: you'd think every artist out there would take advantage of the free "wikimixers" out there on the off chance of coming up with an even more awesome version of their song.
Well, at least Spanish-French singer Manu Chao gets it. He's sponsoring a remix contest for his latest song, "Politik Kills," which in its original version is a loping reggae number, complete with Chao's typically hypnotic guitar work, although the first thing I might do is take down the level of the vocals which are a bit on the polemical-lecture side for me. But no biggie. Eighteen new versions have already been posted on his website, including dubby ones from Chris Blackwell and Prince Fatty, as well as a shuffly south-of-the-border style mix from Mexican Dubweiser & Kinky. Watch a fan-made video for the original after the jump, and check out the remixes and download the individual tracks here.
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user thetripwirenyc.
The shadow world of intelligence portrayed in the movies bears little resemblance to reality. Need proof? Just reference the third annual Intelligence Community Employee Climate Survey (.pdf) released Tuesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). If the halls of the CIA really are full of Jack Ryans, you'd think the survey results would be a little more positive. Instead, they show that the nation's spooks aren't that different from you and me—they suffer the same office politics and bureaucratic inflexibility that have bedeviled workers since time began.
The ODNI puts a positive spin on the survey results, highlighting that some 88 percent of respondents agreed with the statement "the work I do is important," and 81 percent acknowledged "I like the kind of work I do." But lest we are overly encouraged by such statements (after all, many people like the kind of work they do even if they hate their jobs), a deeper look at the survey results shows serious issues with how intelligence employees perceive things like performance incentives, job training, recruitment, and the competence of their colleagues.
Some choice data points:
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from ford.
John McCain has still not had to deal with his Rod Parsley problem. One reason he's been able to avoid controversy about his campaign connection to a megachurch pastor who has called for the eradication of the "false religion" of Islam is that major media outlets have not covered this story.
Media Matters, a liberal news-watching outfit, reports that a March 25 search of the Nexis database shows that
The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, NBC, ABC, and The Wall Street Journal have not reported on Parsley or noted his comments in the context of McCain's campaign. A March 17 USA Today article reported only that Parsley was "accused of urging war on Muslims."
MM adds, "The media have devoted extensive coverage to Obama's supporters, but have failed to report the controversial comments of supporters of McCain." And McCain's campaign press office refuses to take my calls regarding Parsley. On this matter, the Not-So-Straight Talk Express has so far gotten a free ride.
In Pennsylvania Tuesday, Hillary Clinton spent the day personally fanning the flames of the Obama-Wright fire. "He would not have been my pastor," Clinton said. "You don't choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend."
That's a fair point, but the the logical follow-up is, who would Hillary have chosen as her pastor? Kathryn Joyce and Jeff Sharlet delved into that question in our September/October 2007 issue:
When Clinton first came to Washington in 1993, one of her first steps was to join a Bible study group. For the next eight years, she regularly met with a Christian "cell" whose members included Susan Baker, wife of Bush consigliere James Baker; Joanne Kemp, wife of conservative icon Jack Kemp; Eileen Bakke, wife of Dennis Bakke, a leader in the anti-union Christian management movement; and Grace Nelson, the wife of Senator Bill Nelson, a conservative Florida Democrat.
Clinton's prayer group was part of the Fellowship (or "the Family"), a network of sex-segregated cells of political, business, and military leaders dedicated to "spiritual war" on behalf of Christ, many of them recruited at the Fellowship's only public event, the annual National Prayer Breakfast. (Aside from the breakfast, the group has "made a fetish of being invisible," former Republican Senator William Armstrong has said.) The Fellowship believes that the elite win power by the will of God, who uses them for his purposes. Its mission is to help the powerful understand their role in God's plan. ...
That's how it works: The Fellowship isn't out to turn liberals into conservatives; rather, it convinces politicians they can transcend left and right with an ecumenical faith that rises above politics. Only the faith is always evangelical, and the politics always move rightward.