Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Poison patriotism??

Barack Obama declared that exploiting patriotism "too often poisons our political debates" as he sought yesterday to answer doubts about his love for America and distance himself from supporters who have demeaned John McCain's military service.

In a speech in Independence, Missouri, the Democratic nominee said: "I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign. And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine." His remarks came a day after General Wesley Clark told a Sunday talk show that Mr McCain - despite his much-decorated service as a tortured prisoner of war in Vietnam - had never commanded the military in battle. "I don't think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president," he said. The Republican nominee's "truth squad" swiftly seized upon the comments to accuse Mr Obama of hypocrisy that undermined promises of "a new type of politics". Mr McCain, speaking after his campaign unveiled a new TV advert with the slogan of "putting country first", told a press conference yesterday: "I'm proud of my record of service."

He pointed out that the criticism of his military record by General Clark - who has been mentioned as a possible vice-presidential running mate for Mr Obama - was "not an isolated incident". Liberal websites have begun detailing allegations that Mr McCain was responsible for war crimes by bombing civilians in Hanoi during the 1960s, or even that he collaborated with the enemy by appearing in propaganda films after his torture.

But Mr Obama went out of his way to praise his presidential rival, saying Mr McCain "endured physical torment in service to our country", adding: "No one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters on both sides." The venue for his speech, the city of Independence, was designed to reinforce his patriotism message before the July 4 celebrations. He is seen as vulnerable to attacks on his patriotism, not least because of a background as the son of a Kenyan goatherder and the stepson of an Indonesian. Yesterday he said: "At certain times over the last 16 months I have found, for the first time, my patriotism challenged - at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears about who I am and what I stand for.

"Surely we can agree that no party or political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism. And surely we can arrive at a definition of patriotism that, however rough and imperfect, captures the best of America's common spirit." Mr Obama said his "deep and abiding love" for America had come to define his life and was an ideal which "wove its way throughout the lessons my family taught me as a child". He sought to define his patriotism in the context of a generational change, or healing some of the divisions that have scarred American politics over the past 40 years - and on which Mr McCain remains focused.

"What is striking about today's patriotism debate is the degree to which it remains rooted in the culture wars of the 1960s." But he added: "Most Americans understood that dissent does not make one unpatriotic, and that there is nothing smart or sophisticated about a cynical disregard for America's traditions and institutions. And yet the anger and turmoil of that period never entirely drained away. All too often our politics still seems trapped in these old, threadbare arguments."


Is It Okay To Question a Candidate's Speech on Patriotism?

There are many (typically) eloquent passages in Obama's speech on patriotism, and it's interesting how much the theme echoes Peter Beinart's essay in Time last week. Beinart, assessing how the left and right see patriotism, got a few points wrong but some big things right. In particular, he noted that "liberals are more comfortable thinking about America that way: as a nation that must earn its citizens' devotion by making good on its ideals. For conservatives, the devotion must come first; politics is secondary. But for liberals, patriotic devotion without political struggle is often empty." I noted that
If all of your love is for "America the not-yet-realized ideal", sparing none for the country that is actually around you, then yes, I think it is okay to question your patriotism. If you loved your spouse, child, family member or friend for what they could be, as opposed to what they are, I think they would doubt whether you truly loved them at all.

Today Obama made a similar point: "I believe those who attack America's flaws without acknowledging the singular greatness of our ideals, and their proven capacity to inspire a better world, do not truly understand America."

In light of all this, Obama makes some nice gestures toward criticizing rhetorical excesses his own side. But they're in a strange rhetorical no-man's land - specific enough so that everyone knows who he's talking about, but oddly hesitant about naming names:
All too often our politics still seems trapped in these old, threadbare arguments - a fact most evident during our recent debates about the war in Iraq, when those who opposed administration policy were tagged by some as unpatriotic, and a general providing his best counsel on how to move forward in Iraq was accused of betrayal.

If everybody knows which general Obama is talking about... why not mention If you're going to have a Sister Souljah moment, why go halfway? Is it that it's not as easy to find a clear, obvious example of an administration critic being called "unpatriotic"? Then this sentence:
For those who have fought under the flag of this nation - for the young veterans I meet when I visit Walter Reed; for those like John McCain who have endured physical torment in service to our country - no further proof of such sacrifice is necessary. And let me also add that no one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters on both sides.

Good for Obama, but presuming the intent is to rebuke of Wesley Clark's comments from yesterday, why not come out and say it? He didn't mind calling out Geraldine Ferraro by name in his speech on racism.

Many conservatives will probably applaud this section: "The loss of quality civic education from so many of our classrooms has left too many young Americans without the most basic knowledge of who our forefathers are, or what they did, or the significance of the founding documents that bear their names. Too many children are ignorant of the sheer effort, the risks and sacrifices made by previous generations, to ensure that this country survived war and depression; through the great struggles for civil, and social, and worker's rights."

But who removed civic education from the curriculum? Who waged war on "dead white males" and who sought to ensure that the defining characteristic of Thomas Jefferson was his ownership of slaves? These changes to the education system didn't just happen. Again, while the sentiment is nice, the problem is better solved when those who helped create the situation are identified.


New Threat: The 'Obama Market'

That's what I heard over the weekend from a veteran investment adviser, Charles Allmon. "Political ramifications represent a significant added market risk that should not be ignored," he says. Initial polling suggests that Senator Obama will be the next president, a view Mr. Allmon shares. An Obama presidency is certain to mean a big tax increase, he says. He also points to the likelihood that the senator will seek to raise the marginal tax rate to 52% from 39.6% and hike the capital gains tax rate to at least 25% from 15%. "He'll cause more damage to the stock market and even make Jimmy Carter look good," Mr. Allmon says. "Senator Obama is leading a children's brigade, but the problem is children shouldn't be leading this country."

Wall Street, they say, is a young man's game. Try telling that to our 87-year-old worrywart, who has been doggedly tracking the stock market for more than half a century and who offers a compelling argument that money managers in their golden years still have the brain power and analytical savvy to strike gold. Mr. Allmon, who manages about $200 million of assets - individual, pension, and profit-sharing money - is outperforming this year's crummy market, with a modest gain, he says, of between 1% and 2%. He attributes this showing to a conservative investment strategy, notably huge cash reserves (currently at 80%). "You have to be crazy not to be conservative in this kind of market unless you're willing to take a bath," he says.

Further, the veteran adviser, who publishes a 46-year-old monthly investment newsletter, the Growth Stock Outlook, out of Bethesda, Md., made a marvelous market call last July with the Dow Jones Industrials hovering around 14,000 and bullish sentiment rampant. In an ominous warning to subscribers, he urged extreme caution, predicting the Dow was on its way to 8,500 to 9,000, which he noted was a forecast that "could be on the high side." With the index having plummeted more than 2,500 points since then, his crystal-ball gazing talent is not to be taken lightly.

At the time of his forecast, Mr. Allmon recalls, some subscribers rang him up and told him, "You're nuts." But now, he says, "They're beginning to recognize something is really wrong in this country, and an 8,500 to 9,000 Dow is very possible." Thursday and Friday's wicked two-day Dow decline of 465 points, or nearly 4%, he says, may be a prelude to that drop. Why a further decline? "Because there's quicksand all around us," Mr. Allmon says. "We're in an economy that's tanking, we're looking at the most significant economic downturn since the 1930s, and the dollar is going to hell."

All of this means that the Federal Reserve will have to raise interest rates to protect it and to stem inflation, he says. Another of his worries is profit deterioration, evident by a 25% drop in the S&P 500's first-quarter earnings.

Mr. Allmon, who believes we've actually entered a period of stagflation (a mixture of rising prices and slowing business activity), is also alarmed at the deteriorating housing market, which, he expects, will get a lot worse. "Close to 20% of this country's homes are under water," he says, a figure he believes will eventually rise to 25% to 30%. In this context, he's especially critical of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for making loans at 105% of equity. "They're encouraging deadbeats to become homeowners, which is a stupid thing to do," he says. "It's like trying to buy a car with no money down. It just won't happen." Mr. Allmon is convinced that home prices are headed down for at least the next three to four years. As a result, he says, "people will see the biggest asset they own decimated, which means they're going to cut back like crazy on their spending."

Given his glum market view, it's incomprehensible to him that Wall Street is pushing people to buy stocks. "They live on commissions, so maybe what else would you expect them to do," he says.

Although bearish, Mr. Allmon favors a select number of stocks he feels can buck a falling market. In particular, he likes gold shares Barrick Gold and Newmont Mining, Philip Morris International, Altria, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Schlumberger, and Nestle. His favored strategy at this point: a boring four-letter word spelled c-a-s-h. He also likes Treasury bills, namely six months, and nothing more than two years, because interest rates have to go up, he says. Mr. Allmon's parting words: "We're in a bear market that's got more to go; don't get sucked in."


Clark Marks the Seventh Democrat to Go After McCain's Wartime Service

Three points to note about Wes Clark's statement on Face the Nation about John McCain that "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president."

1) "Riding" in a fighter jet? Clark makes it sound like a carpool. (Another transcript suggests Clark said "getting" in a fighter plane. Either one is a strange, passive metaphor for piloting said fighter jet.) This wouldn't be the first time Wes Clark's familiarity and judgment in the use of aircraft during wartime was doubted however:
Clark's system of having himself, an army general, managing the air campaign [over Kosovo] broke dramatically from the American system in other previous conflicts. In the Bosnia campaign in 1995, then-SACEUR Army Gen. George Joulwan left the day-to-day responsibilities for the air campaign to Navy Adm. Leighton Smith in order to focus on diplomatic duties. Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, on the eve of Desert Storm, put his faith in the air campaign strategy drawn up in the Air Force's then-Lt. Gen. Charles Horner's.

After weeks of seemingly fruitless bombing, the Clark strategy of focusing on Serbian forces in the field ("tank-plinking") was dropped and the campaign focused on targets in Belgrade important to Milosevic. The RAND report concluded, "The majority of the combat sorties that SACEUR [Clark] insisted be devoted to finding and attacking enemy forces in the [Kosovo Engagement Zone] arguably entailed a waste of munitions and other valuable assets."

2) After statements by a half-dozen high-profile Democrats and Obama surrogates, you cannot persuade me that there is not a concerted effort on the part of Obama Democrats to criticize McCain on his war record. George McGovern, Jay Rockefeller, Tom Harkin, Democratic congressional candidate Bill Gillespie, Ed Schultz, Tony McPeak, and now Clark. Way too many to be coincidence. We're seeing a lot more derisive comments about McCain's wartime service than we are about Obama's race.

3) From one of my favorite articles, a profile of Clark: "Interviews with a wide variety of current and retired military officials reveal that Clark was disliked by only three groups: Those whom ranked above him in the chain of command whom he ignored, his peers at the same rank whom he lied to, and those serving beneath him whom he micromanaged. Other than that, everyone liked him."


Mr unequal pay

I laughed when Obama said: "Women still earn only 77› for every dollar earned by men." Where, I wondered, would that be? Little did I know he was talking about his own Senate office.

Cybercast News Service reported: "The average pay for all 36 male employees on Obama's staff was $55,962; and the average pay for all 31 female employees was $48,729." That works out to 87› for every $1 a man is paid.

But what about Republican Sen. John McCain, huh? Huh? What about him? CNS: "After excluding interns, the average pay for the 30 women on McCain's staff was $59,104.51. The 16 non-intern males in McCain's office, by comparison, were paid an average of $56,628.83." That works out to $1.04 for every $1 a man makes.

Oh and Obama's staff appears to be 50% larger than McCain's.


OBAMA: CAMPAIGN CHANGE! A lie you can beLieve in...

Obama lies much the way most folks breathe, often. I received my thrice daily Obama email from Obamessiah HQ beseeching me to send him moe moe money to fund his obscenely fat coffers. I had to laugh at the opening lie on this email:
On Monday, everyone will be watching our fundraising totals to see if we can compete with the McCain campaign. This month is the first test of our grassroots fundraising strategy since we declared our independence from the broken campaign finance system.

Independence my ass. But get the opening: "to see if we can compete with the McCain campaign." The " undershtupper" is way ahead of McCain. McCain has raised more than $110 million since the start of his campaign last year - but that that is still less than half of the nearly $260 million Barack Obama raised through April 30. (FOX News) And according to Business Week: John McCain Is Way Behind Online
Obama spent $27 million in May. Meanwhile, McCain spent just $12 million.

Just sayin. Obama clearly thinks his constinuency is ill-informed and stoopid. Wait it gets better - talkin' shady
Midnight tonight is the crucial financial reporting deadline for June. Right now is the time to step up and own a piece of this campaign. I need your help to take on John McCain, the Republican National Committee, and the shady so-called 527 groups that are dedicated to attacking this campaign using millions of dollars in unregulated contributions.



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