Saturday, July 26, 2008

200,000 cheer on Obama, but will it help him?

Germans still like the Fascist "unity" message: "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer", as they used to say in the 1930s

Barack Obama took his presidential road trip to Berlin today for a bold set-piece evoking the ghosts of past presidents - but again leaving himself open to accusations that he is all style and no substance. Senator Obama gave a speech in front of a staggering crowd of 200,000 people in front of Berlin's Victory Monument, near where the Berlin Wall once stood. Decades ago, president John F. Kennedy stood nearby and proclaimed "Ich Bin Ein Berliner" - but today was more a chance for Europeans to say "Ich Bin Ein Obama".

("I am not Bush")

In what is being billed as an "unprecedented" overseas campaign speech, Senator Obama also referenced Republican president Ronald Reagan in another attempt to show the bipartisan politics he says his campaign is all about. But Senator Obama's Republican rivals say his campaign is really all about putting on a spectacle at the expense of concrete ideas for the future - and reports on the speech suggest it will heavy on rhetoric and light on detail.

Senator Obama told the crowd that Americans and Europeans must tear down walls between estranged allies, races and faiths, in a soaring challenge to a new political generation. He warned that humanity must build "a world that stands as one". "The greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another,"he said. "The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand," he said, referring to festering divisions between Europe and the United States opened up by the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand," said Senator Obama, in an address beamed live on US and German television channels and to viewers around the world. "The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down," Senator Obama said, drawing cheers and applause. This echoed former president Reagan's call to then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Berlin in 1987 to "tear down this wall," before the fall of communism.

Senator Obama's strikingly audacious speech, in a fevered atmosphere in Berlin's famed Tiergarten, took the White House race abroad in a way never seen before, and confirmed Senator Obama as a global political phenomenon. But despite crowd chants of his slogan "Yes, we can" and its soaring cadences, the speech was short on specifics, and Senator Obama's foes will likely accuse him of empty rhetoric.

Its impact on American voters will also be closely watched, as huge crowds in Europe are no guarantee of success in US battleground states. Opinion polls since Senator Obama left home are yet to show him breaking out of a tight race with Senator McCain.

The crowd was put at more than 200,000 people by Michael Bengsch, media relations officer of Berlin Police. The Illinois senator's previous record crowd figure was 75,000, in Oregon during the primary campaign.

Senator Obama, who trails Republican candidate John McCain when voters are asked who would be the most credible commander in chief, used Berlin's triumph over division and totalitarianism as a metaphor for the world he hoped to forge. "People of the world - look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one," Senator Obama said.

In a speech that risked being seen as presumptuous, considering Senator Obama will not even face US voters for another three months, he warned of a world where partnership was not a choice but the only means of survival. "We cannot afford to be divided. No one nation, no matter how large or powerful, can defeat such challenges alone," he said. He promised America under his watch would be serious about tackling global warning, a huge concern in Europe and a cause of rifts between the continent and the United States during the Bush administration.

But Europe must live up to its side of the bargain, he said, asking for more help in the struggle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.


He ventured forth to bring light to the world

The anointed one's pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a miracle in action - and a blessing to all his faithful followers

By Gerard Baker of the London "Times"

And it came to pass, in the eighth year of the reign of the evil Bush the Younger (The Ignorant), when the whole land from the Arabian desert to the shores of the Great Lakes had been laid barren, that a Child appeared in the wilderness. The Child was blessed in looks and intellect. Scion of a simple family, offspring of a miraculous union, grandson of a typical white person and an African peasant. And yea, as he grew, the Child walked in the path of righteousness, with only the occasional detour into the odd weed and a little blow.

When he was twelve years old, they found him in the temple in the City of Chicago, arguing the finer points of community organisation with the Prophet Jeremiah and the Elders. And the Elders were astonished at what they heard and said among themselves: "Verily, who is this Child that he opens our hearts and minds to the audacity of hope?"

In the great Battles of Caucus and Primary he smote the conniving Hillary, wife of the deposed King Bill the Priapic and their barbarian hordes of Working Class Whites. And so it was, in the fullness of time, before the harvest month of the appointed year, the Child ventured forth - for the first time - to bring the light unto all the world.

He travelled fleet of foot and light of camel, with a small retinue that consisted only of his loyal disciples from the tribe of the Media. He ventured first to the land of the Hindu Kush, where the Taleban had harboured the viper of al-Qaeda in their bosom, raining terror on all the world. And the Child spake and the tribes of Nato immediately loosed the Caveats that had previously bound them. And in the great battle that ensued the forces of the light were triumphant. For as long as the Child stood with his arms raised aloft, the enemy suffered great blows and the threat of terror was no more.

From there he went forth to Mesopotamia where he was received by the great ruler al-Maliki, and al-Maliki spake unto him and blessed his Sixteen Month Troop Withdrawal Plan even as the imperial warrior Petraeus tried to destroy it. And lo, in Mesopotamia, a miracle occurred. Even though the Great Surge of Armour that the evil Bush had ordered had been a terrible mistake, a waste of vital military resources and doomed to end in disaster, the Child's very presence suddenly brought forth a great victory for the forces of the light.

And the Persians, who saw all this and were greatly fearful, longed to speak with the Child and saw that the Child was the bringer of peace. At the mention of his name they quickly laid aside their intrigues and beat their uranium swords into civil nuclear energy ploughshares.

From there the Child went up to the city of Jerusalem, and entered through the gate seated on an ass. The crowds of network anchors who had followed him from afar cheered "Hosanna" and waved great palm fronds and strewed them at his feet. In Jerusalem and in surrounding Palestine, the Child spake to the Hebrews and the Arabs, as the Scripture had foretold. And in an instant, the lion lay down with the lamb, and the Israelites and Ishmaelites ended their long enmity and lived for ever after in peace. As word spread throughout the land about the Child's wondrous works, peoples from all over flocked to hear him; Hittites and Abbasids; Obamacons and McCainiacs; Cameroonians and Blairites.

And they told of strange and wondrous things that greeted the news of the Child's journey. Around the world, global temperatures began to decline, and the ocean levels fell and the great warming was over. The Great Prophet Algore of Nobel and Oscar, who many had believed was the anointed one, smiled and told his followers that the Child was the one generations had been waiting for.

And there were other wonderful signs. In the city of the Street at the Wall, spreads on interbank interest rates dropped like manna from Heaven and rates on credit default swaps fell to the ground as dead birds from the almond tree, and the people who had lived in foreclosure were able to borrow again. Black gold gushed from the ground at prices well below $140 per barrel. In hospitals across the land the sick were cured even though they were uninsured. And all because the Child had pronounced it.

And this is the testimony of one who speaks the truth and bears witness to the truth so that you might believe. And he knows it is the truth for he saw it all on CNN and the BBC and in the pages of The New York Times. Then the Child ventured forth from Israel and Palestine and stepped onto the shores of the Old Continent. In the land of Queen Angela of Merkel, vast multitudes gathered to hear his voice, and he preached to them at length.

But when he had finished speaking his disciples told him the crowd was hungry, for they had had nothing to eat all the hours they had waited for him. And so the Child told his disciples to fetch some food but all they had was five loaves and a couple of frankfurters. So he took the bread and the frankfurters and blessed them and told his disciples to feed the multitudes. And when all had eaten their fill, the scraps filled twelve baskets.

Thence he travelled west to Mount Sarkozy. Even the beauteous Princess Carla of the tribe of the Bruni was struck by awe and she was great in love with the Child, but he was tempted not. On the Seventh Day he walked across the Channel of the Angles to the ancient land of the hooligans. There he was welcomed with open arms by the once great prophet Blair and his successor, Gordon the Leper, and his successor, David the Golden One. And suddenly, with the men appeared the archangel Gabriel and the whole host of the heavenly choir, ranks of cherubim and seraphim, all praising God and singing: "Yes, We Can."


Obama's Ego Trip: Will the candidate's European progress backfire?

Presidential candidates traditionally visit foreign parts in order to impress on voters back home that they have a sure grasp of international affairs. Barack Obama's European expedition, however, is more of a premature celebration: part royal progress, part rock and roll tour. It will give him a chance to thank Europeans in advance for their support if he becomes president, while reassuring them that he has taken their views on board.

There is little doubt that Europeans would overwhelmingly vote for Obama if given the chance. The Guardian reported last week that the British, who turned on Tony Blair after he tied himself to President Bush's mast and who generally disapprove of the Iraq War, prefer Obama over John McCain by 53 percent to 11. (The remaining 36 percent expressed no opinion.) In Germany, according to the Telegraph, the figures are even more stark, with Obama attracting 67 percent support to McCain's 6.

Part of Obama's popularity has to do with Europe's intense antipathy toward Bush. The president has made little effort to woo the Europeans over the last seven years, and he studiously ignored their leaders' efforts, through the United Nations, to postpone the invasion of Iraq. Unlike his father, he was unable to assemble a grand coalition of Western allies, and he has paid a price for his independence. As so often happens in politics, the unpopularity of an incumbent heightens regard for his likely successor. (When Kenneth Clarke, a minister in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet, was asked who would succeed the Iron Lady if a bus were inadvertently to run her over, he responded, "Why, the bus driver, of course.") Obama's popularity largely rests on his not being Bush.

But Obama is treading a dangerous path. It would be rash to take a November victory for granted; if he has learned nothing else from his slim victory over Hillary Clinton, he should have learned that nothing is inevitable. He would not be the first front-runner to fall victim to hubris. Rather than revel in the adulation of adoring crowds, he would do better to confirm to skeptical American voters that he will not value the well-being of foreigners ahead of the interests of Americans. Only by stressing that as president he would, like his predecessors, put America first-thereby disillusioning the Europeans-will he be able to convince voters at home that he has his priorities right.

But it seems the Europeans are in no mood to be distracted from their Obamamania. The continent is considerably to the left of America, and its people are generally more liberal on such matters as abortion, the death penalty, and gun control. On all three issues, Obama has shown himself prepared to shift to more conservative positions in order to be more electable. If the Europeans have noticed this pragmatic change of tack, they have put it out of their minds. Further, Obama's early and long-standing opposition to the Iraq War has made him a standard bearer for an anti-Americanism that is now rife throughout the European Union. Many Europeans see his unusual family background and his mixed ethnicity as confirmation of their belief that he is not quite wholly American-that he is even, perhaps, un-American.

Much has been made about the scale of the American press circus accompanying Obama, and it is generally thought that pictures of him acknowledging the crowds' good wishes will boost his popularity at home. But if the coverage even hints at the un-American spirit in which he is being greeted as a prophet and a hero, his triumphant tour of European capitals will surely backfire.


Obama trip press frenzy backfires

Many observers considered the press frenzy over the Senator Obama trip as one more data point of evidence about media bias in favor of Obama. The shear number of references to the"historic" or "unprecedented" trip have been sickening considering that the "unprecedented" trip to Iraq was proceeded by multiple trips over the last several years by Senator McCain.

However, despite the media attempt to keep the presidential race coverage one-sided, an odd thing happened on Barak's trip to Baghdad. A lot of Americans realized we are winning the war on terror.

Many have made note that as the surge succeeded and the bad news blissfully began to ebb, media coverage of Iraq thinned to a trickle. We knew it, but we couldn't measure the effects of the media callousness towards our military until now. It now appears indisputable that for many Americans who don't follow the news regularly there was a serious gap in what they believed was happening in Iraq and the reality of it.

Coinciding with the "Obama goes to Iraq" coverage comes a poll update by Rasmussen and released on July 23rd. And it shows that a very interesting thing happened last Monday. The number of respondent in this reoccurring poll who answered that we are winning against terrorists jumped to levels not seen in four years, to 51% - now a majority. Conversely, the number who considered al Qaeda and their ilk the victors dropped to a threadbare 16% of respondents, a new low by a wide margin. And it just so happened that this poll was conducted the same day that Obama and his media entourage hit Baghdad.

Although it is not definitive, it is a strong indication that all the media hype and attention on this trip refocused the media lens on Iraq and that Americans saw a new picture there. Ironically for Obama that new picture helps McCain by decreasing the common feeling of urgency which created the mood for immediate withdrawal at any price that Obama rode to the nomination.

For many who were afraid to read news about Iraq in 2008 (if they could find it) after the desperation felt in 2007, this new coverage opened their eyes. And these newly opened eyes just might be attached to ears that heard McCain claiming success and Obama dismissing our efforts in Iraq. The media attention has shown to an entirely new - admittedly previously disengaged - audience that McCain made the right call.

Some portray the success of the surge in McCain's case in political terms of winning the battle but losing the war. They claim he will be a victim of his own success. They claim that his surge strategy and success in Iraq reduced the threat to our nation which negates his advantage on security issues. They might have a point.

But a counter balance to that is that many Americans genuinely did not know that we have essentially won in Iraq until now. They thought that Obama was delivering the straight truth to them on Iraq. But now they know he was being less than candid. The Independents and conservative Democrats now might see that he was not telling them the truth.

A picture says a thousand words and those pictures of Obama in Iraq with no body armor are telling a different story than what he has been selling to the American people. And it was a fawning media brazenly trying to tip the scales in his favor that made it happen.


A Tale of Two Flip-Floppers


John McCain and Barack Obama have both changed positions in this campaign. That's OK. Voters understand that politicians can and, sometimes, should change their views. After all, voters do. Witness the wide swings in their answers to opinion polls. But before accepting the changes, voters typically ask themselves three questions: Does the candidate admit he's shifting? What's the new information that altered his thinking? Does the change seem reasonable and not calculating?

Sen. McCain has changed his position on drilling for oil on the outer continental shelf. But because he explained this change by saying that $4-a-gallon gasoline caused him to re-evaluate his position, voters are likely to accept it. Of course, Mr. McCain doesn't explain why prices at the pump haven't also forced him to re-evaluate his opposition to drilling on 2000 acres in the 19.2-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But, then, what politician is always consistent?

Mr. McCain flip-flopped on the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. He'd voted against them at the time, saying in 2001 that he'd "like to see more of this tax cut shared by working Americans." Now he supports their continuation because, he says, letting them expire would increase taxes and he opposes tax hikes. Besides, he recognizes that the tax cuts have helped the economy.

At least Mr. McCain fesses up to and explains his changes. Sen. Obama has shifted recently on public financing, free trade, Nafta, welfare reform, the D.C. gun ban, whether the Iranian Quds Force is a terrorist group, immunity for telecom companies participating in the Terrorist Surveillance Program, the status of Jerusalem, flag lapel pins, and disavowing Rev. Jeremiah Wright. And not only does he refuse to explain these flip-flops, he acts as if they never occurred.

Then there is Iraq. Throughout 2006 and early 2007, Mr. Obama pledged to remove all U.S. troops, even voting to immediately cut off funds for the troops while they were in combat. Then, in July 2007, he started talking about leaving a residual U.S. force, in Kuwait and elsewhere in the region, able to go back into Iraq if needed. By October, he shifted again, pledging to station the residual U.S. troops inside Iraq with two "limited missions of protecting our diplomats and carrying out targeted strikes on al Qaeda." Last week, writing in the New York Times, Mr. Obama changed again. He increased the missions his residual force would perform to three: "going after any remnants of al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security forces." That's not all that different from what U.S. troops are doing now.

And just how many U.S. troops would Mr. Obama leave in Iraq? Colin Kahl, an Obama adviser on Iraq, has said the senator wants to have "perhaps 60,000-80,000 forces" in Iraq by December 2010. So much for withdrawing all combat troops.

It's dizzying. Yet, Mr. Obama acts as if he is a paradigm of consistency. He told a Georgia rally this month that "the people who say [I've been changing] apparently haven't been listening to me." In a PBS interview last week he said, "this notion that somehow we've had wild shifts in my positions is simply inaccurate."

Compounding all this is Mr. Obama's stubborn refusal to admit the surge was right and that he was wrong to oppose it. On MSNBC in January 2007, he said more U.S. troops would not "solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse." Later that month he said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that the new strategy would "not prove to be one that changes the dynamics significantly." In fact, the surge has done far more than its advocates hoped in a much shorter period.

Yet Mr. Obama told ABC's Terry Moran this week that even in retrospect, he would oppose the surge. He also told CBS's Katie Couric that he had "no idea what would have happened" without the new strategy. And he still declares, in the New York Times last week, "The same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true." Given all that has happened, it's hard to understand how Mr. Obama can say, as he did Tuesday in a story on NBC Nightly News, that "I don't have doubts about my ability to apply sound judgment to the major national security problems that we face."

Americans have seen both candidates flip-flop. Mr. McCain at least has a record of being a gutsy leader willing to take unpopular stands who admits his shifts and explains the new information that caused them. Mr. Obama has detached himself from past positions at record speed. And in doing so he runs the risk of being seen as a cynical politician, not an inspiring leader. If this happens, voters in large numbers may ask -- despite his rhetorical acrobatics -- if he is the change they've been waiting for.


Swooning over Princess Obama

Comment from Melanie Phillips in Britain

There's been nothing like it since Beatlemania. As the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama arrives in Britain tomorrow on the last leg of his world tour, Obamania seems to be sweeping across the Atlantic and carrying all before it. In giant rallies across the U.S., Obama induces hysteria among his adoring multitude, with women fainting from the effects of his soaring oratory and rock-star charisma. On both sides of the Atlantic the media are swooning over him. Like Berlin and Paris, he is expected to receive a rapturous reception here. Labour MPs are urging Gordon Brown to emulate him, while a third of Tory MPs are said to support him rather than his Republican opponent, John McCain.

The U.S. election may not take place until November, but in Europe Obama has already won by a landslide. Nor does he do anything to disabuse people of the view that he is `the One'. He is going to win the war in Iraq. He's going to break the deadlock in the Middle East. In the U.S., he declared his presidency would be seen as `the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal'. Doubtless as the water recedes he will walk on it. His tour is supposed to be merely a fact-finding exercise for an election candidate - but it is being treated as a cross between a coronation and the Second Coming.

So at the risk of being a party pooper, may I pose the question: might not a junior senator with less than four years' experience on Capitol Hill be advised to show just a smidgen of humility? Significantly, on his first foreign foray he has achieved the feat of upsetting one of his country's key allies, the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel. She took a decidedly dim view of his intention to hold an electioneering rally today at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate - traditionally used as a backdrop only for non-partisan speeches of global significance. Faced with this rebuff, Obama chose the city's Victory Column as an alternative venue. How darkly ironic that the column was moved to its present position by Adolf Hitler as a symbol of Germany's superiority and its victories against Denmark, Austria and France. Oh, dear. Is this what Obama means by `change we can believe in'?

Of course, in many respects the enthusiasm for this charismatic man is understandable. Obama preaches a seductive message of change for an America which is terminally disaffected with President Bush - not just over the Iraq war, but over the handling of such catastrophes as Hurricane Katrina and, above all, the dive in the U.S. economy. All this spells failure, depression and cynicism. Obama by contrast embodies success, optimism and idealism. Sprinkled with glitter like a latter-day JFK, he is seen as the representative of a new kind of politics that repudiates the sordid failures of the past.

Americans are, after all, the most optimistic of people. They just don't do doom and gloom. So a politician who tells them `Yes we can', and says he stands for `the audacity of hope' gets them whooping and hollering for more.

But such Obamania should worry us all, for it is based on emotion and, where the Democrat candidate is concerned, the normal faculties of judgment appear to have been suspended. Important questions about Obama's judgment, consistency and honesty are not being asked, let alone answered. He has got away with the fact that for 20 years he belonged to a church which preaches black power racism against white people. He disavowed his long-time mentor, pastor Jeremiah Wright, only when his extreme views could no longer be ignored - despite the fact that Wright is a supporter of Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the black power Nation of Islam.

The media brush all this aside as `personal details' which are of no interest to voters. But if, say, John McCain's pastor and mentor had turned out to support the Ku Klux Klan and his church was found to be sympathetic to its philosophy, his candidacy would have been defenestrated and rightly so.

Equally troubling is the way Obama has flip-flopped on issue after issue. From his brief Senate voting record, he appears to be the most Left-wing presidential candidate America has ever had. Yet once he clinched the nomination, he repositioned himself as a Centrist to win the election. So while once he was for a ban on handguns, he is now against it. Once for safeguards on wiretaps, he is now against them. Once he was for a fixed timetable for withdrawal from Iraq - but now that the acclaimed U.S. commander General Petraeus has said this would be deeply unwise, Obama claims he proposes no `rigid' adherence to a timetable. This is just more of the same old politics of dissembling.

And yet this is the man - so similar to the early Blair - who is supposed to represent an end to opportunism, replaced by the politics of integrity. What is even more disturbing, however, is that these matters are being brushed aside or ignored -because so many people want desperately to believe in him. Such a suspension of disbelief calls to mind someone else closer to home: Princess Diana, who also inspired hysterical adoration because she, too, became an icon of idealism - challenging the established order.

A deeply attractive figure, she seemed to embody hope for a better universe by appealing to emotion rather than reason. Love, as embodied by `the queen of people's hearts', was held to be the key to a better, kinder, gentler world. There was even a sense that her mere touch was sufficient to heal the afflicted. It was, of course, all pure fantasy. People had fallen for a carefully spun image which bore little relation to the manipulative and unstable woman who was the real Diana, but which spoke to something deep inside them.

So it is with Obama. Americans' natural optimism makes them want to believe that, as a black man with a Muslim background (another thing he has cleverly obfuscated), he can heal all wounds, including the U.S.'s history of racism, and bring peace to the world just by being who he is. They see in his attractiveness a flattering reflection of themselves. He doesn't embarrass them; he makes them feel proud...

To be fair, there are signs that light may be beginning to dawn in America. Despite - or perhaps because of - the saturation media coverage of Obama's world tour, his poll numbers are showing no bounce. This may be because people are beginning to see the media manipulation, with Obama refusing to answer journalists' questions and participating only in `faked' interviews by the military in Iraq. While America may be wising up, however, Britain is about to have its Princess Obama moment. Get out the smelling salts and prepare to swoon.



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