Thursday, August 14, 2008

Obama chooses a foreigner to record his theme song

No Americans good enough? How about Ludacris?

The British soul singer Joss Stone is recording a theme-song for Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Mr Obama is said to have approached the 21-year-old from Devon personally to ask her to write a one-off track, partly because he believes her music has cross-racial appeal. Stone, who spends up to nine months a year in the US, was said to be "honoured" to have been asked and is now in a recording studio working on the song.

Alicia Keys and Jay-Z have also dedicated songs to Mr Obama in the lead up to his November election battle with the Republican senator John McCain.

Miss Stone is well-known in the US, where her third album, Introducing Joss Stone, debuted at number two in the Billboard album chart - the highest new entry by a British female artist in US chart history.


The doubts starting to rein back Obama

Even Andrew Sullivan has doubts. He says that Obama has stalled in the polls as voters start to fear handing both the presidency and Congress to the left. See below

Why is it so close? That's been the chatter after these past two weeks in the three-month run of the Obama-McCain smackdown. The Obamaphiles are nervous that their man has stalled in the polls after what, objectively, was a successful trip overseas. The McCainites, terrified of a Democratic wave, are taking solace in the failure of Barack Obama to break away. The straggling Clintonites are busy preparing their told-you-sos.

There are any number of theories offered for the tightness. One is that Obama is too temperamentally aloof for most Americans. According to the columnist Maureen Dowd, he is the Mr Darcy of American politics, too proud, while Americans are still a little too prejudiced. Or maybe Obama is too popular with Germans for his own domestic good (he's lucky he didn't hold a rally on the Champs Elys‚es). Or is his orthodox liberalism in many areas seeping through, while America remains a centre-right country? Others posit that the only halfway normal Americans who focus on the campaign in early August are the elderly, and they are demographically more in tune with John McCain.

Who knows for sure? My view is that McCain was always the most appealing Republican in the current atmosphere and Obama is, for many people, a less well-known and riskier bet. But two factors are undervalued. The first is Iraq. It's easily forgotten but Obama's candidacy would never have gained the slightest traction were it not for his opposition to the war from the start. It's what distinguished him from Hillary Clinton and, in the midst of apparent chaos and drift in Mesopotamia, his campaign gave voice to those who simply wanted to cut American losses and move on.

However, there's a difference between Iraq in mid2006 and Iraq in mid2008. The swift decline in violence and the growing confidence of the government of Nouri al-Maliki have changed the debate from how to leave as quickly as feasible to the costs and benefits of staying longer or leaving sooner, and the tactics of each option. The catastrophe endures, of course; the political progress in Baghdad remains fitful, as the Iraqis' failure last week to compromise on plans for provincial elections this autumn demonstrates; and the financial costs grow all the time. However, the sharp decline in American deaths has rescued the neo-imperial project from universal obloquy. McCain can rightly claim that he was more right about General David Petraeus's tactical shift than Obama was. In some respects, he was more right than even Petraeus was.

To be sure, Maliki's endorsement of Obama's withdrawal timetable was a big blow to the McCain effort to describe the Democrat's policy as surrender or betrayal. However, any news that takes the edge off Iraq as a total fiasco helps the Republican. Americans don't like to admit defeat and the face-saving qualities of the surge give McCain an opening to end the war with less disgrace than might have been the case. McCain's position, after all, was to hang in while Iraq burnt because the alternative was worse. His new position is to hang in and somehow turn a strategic blunder into a strategic success. This is a much, much better place for McCain to be than he was just five months ago. Still not great; but no longer awful.

The second factor, I'd argue, is, paradoxically, Democratic strength. The shift away from the Republicans is pronounced everywhere and few doubt that the Democrats could make big gains in both House and Senate this autumn. This is partly behind the worries about Obama: he's trailing his party by a significant margin. However, it may be that the margin is precisely what's giving voters pause. The threat of the kind of Republican agenda that propelled George Bush from 2002 to 2006 is, after all, much diminished. McCain, moreover, is not so bad a figure to deal with a Democratic Congress from the perspective of many independent voters, especially since Congress is pretty much reviled as well.

The choice has evolved to that between an all-Democratic government, headed by a senator whose newness is still one of the most striking things about him, and an old, familiar warhorse who irritated all the right Republicans at one point or another and has a record of bipartisan achievement. Seen in that light, the voters' reluctance to swing behind Obama in landslide numbers is understandable.

Obama has huge liabilities. He has never held real executive office and has been in Washington barely for a single senatorial term. He came out of nowhere to dominate the scene in ways that many Americans are still trying to process. He has been criticised as a far-left extremist, a prissy elitist, a cynical centrist and a secretly Muslim fraud. Examining this figure who is asking to be president at the tender age of 47, watching him adapt and move on the national state, is a sensible precaution. Americans are a prudently cautious lot and it speaks well of them that many are reserving final judgment.

And, as we learnt all too brutally in 2000, the US election is decided by the electoral college, not the national vote. There, a small advantage can translate into big wins, as the system is first past the post. Obama is now ahead by only two points or so in several key states: Colorado, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia. If he were merely to maintain his lead, he would snag 322 electoral votes to McCain's 216. That's a bigger victory than anyone since Bill Clinton's second term and bigger than Jimmy Carter's victory in 1976.

Put like that, and considering the racial Rubicon that Obama is hoping to cross, perhaps what's striking is that a young black liberal Democrat is still the clear favourite. Nationally, McCain has yet to get much more than 44% of the vote, while Obama hasn't sunk below 46% since May. Moreover, McCain has never led Obama in two months of a national match-up. That's why it's still Obama's to lose. There will be some swings ahead, if the past is any guide, but so far the basic dynamic hasn't really changed. And it's McCain who has to change it. And soon.


Don't Barack for Georgia

WE have just had a lesson in how the next president of the US would react to a real menace to the world's peace. Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain were set a test with Russia's invasion of Georgia. The results? Be terrified that Obama leads in the polls.

Russia has driven deep into Georgia on the excuse of defending separatists in the Georgian territory of South Ossetia - a pro-Russian statelet that Georgia has tried to bring back under its control. But the truth is Georgia is being punished for its sins against Russian pride and power. Those sins? Let me count them.

Georgia is such an ally of the United States that it even sent troops to Iraq. It is also pro-European, seeking to join NATO - the military alliance between the United States and Europe. And it is an economic irritant to the new Russian empire, having pipelines that carry oil and gas from the Caspian to Western markets -- pipelines that challenge Russia's stranglehold on exports. And on Europe's heating.

But Georgia, Stalin's birthplace and a former Soviet satellite, represents a wider threat to Russia, too. If it manages to break free of Russian domination and join Europe, it may inspire other former Soviet satellites to look West, too - just when Russia is dreaming of buffing up again as a superpower. That's why the presidents of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania - all once "captive nations" of the Soviet Union - pleaded this week for Europe and NATO to help defend Georgia from "imperialist" Russia. They know how this war threatens them, too.

Those are the high stakes, so how did the two men vying to become president of the United States - and leader of the free world - respond? Here's McCain: "Tensions and hostilities between Georgians and Ossetians are in no way justification for Russian troops crossing an internationally recognised border." Russia had "to immediately and unconditionally withdraw its forces". NATO should swiftly accept Georgia as a member, which would oblige Europe and the US to come to its aid.

Now here's Obama's camp: "It's both sides' fault -- both have been somewhat provocative with each other." The United Nations should step in and send a peacekeeping force under "an appropriate UN mandate".

Knock, knock. Excuse me, Mr Obama, sir. But Russia is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and would veto any UN move in Georgia it didn't like. And, sir, why do you treat invaded Georgia as just as guilty as invading Russia? That's blaming the victim.

It's true that, stung by criticism of his stand, Obama later toughened his rhetoric against Russia. But take stock. McCain instinctively supported an American ally against a Russian aggressor and rallied to its defence. Obama instinctively palmed off the problem to an international talkshop guaranteed to do nothing but sit on its hands while Russia brought a pro-Western nation to heel.

One of these two men will next year take charge of the US - the greatest guarantor of freedom in a world increasingly threatened by freedom's enemies. Pray the right man wins.


McCain, Obama Respond To NAACP

Roger Clegg points to the very revealing responses from McCain and Obama to a questionnaire from the NAACP. McCain was refreshingly straightforward, direct, and hard-hitting. Noting that "[t]he affirmative action remedies designed forty years ago should be re-examined," he identified himself completely not only with the philosophy of "without regard" colorblind equality but also with the actual language of the pending anti-preference state initiatives:
I believe that government should "not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, and individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting."

"Obama's answer," as Clegg drily noted, was, "as usual, anything but categorical." Actually, as usual, Clegg was too kind. Obama's answer was actually what one scold has variously characterized in other contexts as "waffling obfuscation, muddled, lacking any commitment to his own announced vision." He said, in part:
Affirmative action programs, when properly structured, can open up opportunities otherwise closed to qualified minorities without having an adverse impact on the opportunities for whites. Given the dearth of black and Latino Ph.D. candidates in mathematics and the sciences, for example, a scholarship program for minorities interested in getting advanced degrees in these fields won't keep white students out of such programs, but can broaden the pool of talent that need to prosper in the new economy. To suggest that our racial attitudes play no part in the socio-economic disparities that we often observe turns a blind eye to both our history and our experience - and relieves us of the responsibility to make things right.

If this tripe sounds familiar, it's because you've heard virtually these same words before, quoted here. And after quoting them, I posed a series a questions about what he meant, questions that are still unanswered and hence still relevant. Two of them:
How can affirmative action programs that treat race in a preferential manner be "properly structured" so that they give additional opportunities to blacks without "without diminishing opportunities for white [or Asian] students"?

How would "a scholarship program for minorities interested in getting advanced degrees in these fields ... broaden the pool of talent that we need to prosper in the new economy" more than a scholarship program that was not racially restrictive? If such a program were racially restrictive, why would it not "keep white [and Asian] students out of such programs" who could not attend without a scholarship?

Obama still hasn't explained how it is possible to discriminate in favor of blacks and Hispanics without discriminating against whites, but in addition he appears oblivious to the fact that the main victims of the racial preference policies he supports are not whites but Asians. His position might also be more credible if he could identify any "opportunities" that would be "closed to qualified minorities" in the absence of race preferences for them.

It is of course true that "qualified" applicants of all races are quite often rejected ... in favor of applicants who are deemed more qualified. Since Obama obviously believes that less qualified black and Hispanic applicants should be preferred over more qualified Asian, white, Arab, Indian, Pakistani, etc., applicants, he should have the courage to say so.

But that is about as likely to happen as some journalist from the mainstream media pressing him to explain exactly which race preferences he supports and to identify some, if there are any, he opposes.


Obama's $1000 Rebate Plan Won't Work

Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama has proposed a plan to ease the pain of high gas prices by granting an "emergency" $1000 tax rebate to consumers. Intending to finance it with a "windfall profits" tax on oil companies, Senator Obama's plan may be astute politics, but it is bad economics.

Obama's proposal was designed to counter Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain's plan to expand offshore drilling. He has criticized the McCain plan, which would ultimately increase the amount of oil available and therefore reduce gas prices. In contrast, basic supply and demand analysis shows that Obama's plan is likely to have little if any effect on the burden of high prices. In fact, demand for gas after the rebate will lead to a price increase, all other things equal, which is the opposite of what Obama is intending to achieve.

As our take-home pay increases, our demand for certain goods and services will increase while our demand for others will decrease. People tend to drive and consume more when they have additional money, so gas is one of those goods for which demand is likely to rise. When taken at face value, Obama's plan to offer a $1000 tax rebate is not necessarily objectionable, but it will only increase our demand for gas. And of course, it will increase gas prices.

With the federal government facing a half-trillion dollar deficit, there is little room for further entitlements. The tax rebates have to be "financed" either through spending cuts or tax increases. Curiously, Obama proposes fixing high gas prices by making it more expensive to supply gasoline. He proposes taxing oil producers, who are precisely the people you don't want to tax if your end goal is to lower gas prices. On net, Obama's plan will subsidize gas consumption by taxing gas production. This plan will not reduce gas prices. All other things equal, it is a recipe for higher gas prices and greater "pain at the pump."

This is not the first time in this election season that a presidential candidate has proposed a "solution" to high gas prices bound to be ineffective at best. During the primaries, Hillary Clinton and John McCain independently proposed suspending the federal tax on gasoline between Memorial Day and Labor Day in order to ease consumers' fuel cost burdens.

Economists of all ideological persuasions went on record to correctly point out that because the supply of and demand for gasoline are inelastic in the summers-meaning that they are relatively unresponsive to price changes-the tax rebates would not translate into lower prices. When pressed on the issue, Clinton chose to disparage these economists instead of reexamining her proposal. While Obama's ideas on oil have drawn similar criticism from economists, how he will respond remains to be seen.

Perhaps more importantly than basic supply and demand, policies like those proposed by Obama create an institutional climate in which investment is less attractive than it otherwise would be. Such proposals reduce the expected profitability for people entering industries such as oil and gasoline. In the long run, they will result in less economic development and higher prices, as firms are less willing to invest in extra production.

As economic historian Robert Higgs argues, anti-market, anti-business rhetoric created the "regime uncertainty" that facilitated the unnecessarily long lasting Great Depression. If we aren't careful, we may allow similar rhetoric to guide our decisions and stifle our economy. Quite obviously, proposing policies that will make us all poorer is no way to promote economic growth.

Inadvertently, Senator Obama has inspired a homework assignment and a test question for Econ 101 this fall: "Using appropriate diagrams, show how a tax on gasoline production and a subsidy for gasoline consumption will affect gas prices." Here's a hint: the answer isn't "prices will go down."


Obama's Non-Plan for Ending the War in Iraq

Comment from a Leftist source

Over the last month, Barack Obama's comments about withdrawal have raised major questions about the U.S. commitment to occupying Iraq. The statements Obama has made over the past year, when taken in total, leave no doubt that he is a master of ambiguity and deception.

Obama has made wonderful rhetorical statements aimed at placating the majority of Americans, who have viewed the Iraq war as "not worth it" since late 2004, and supported a timetable for withdrawal since mid-to-late 2005. Obama recently promised: "Let me be as clear as I can be. I intend to end this war. My first day in office I will bring the Joint Chiefs of Staff in, and I will give them a new mission, and that is to end this war - responsibly, deliberately, but decisively." This statement was made in response to media complaints about Obama's perceived flip-flopping on the Iraq issue. It's not difficult to see why this confusion has arisen. Obama has claimed that he is open to "refine[ing]" his policies on Iraq after meeting with military commanders, should he win the presidency. The New York Times described Obama's posturing as driven by his desire "to retain flexibilitiy as violence declines [in Iraq] without abandoning a central promise of his campaign: that if elected, he would end the war."

But has Obama really promised to end the Iraq war? The evidence is not very convincing. Obama has vaguely stated that "the pace of withdrawal would be dictated by the safety and security of our troops and the need to maintain stability." It is true that in the past Obama introduced the "Iraq War De-Escalation Act of 2007." That plan, however, was precisely what its name suggested, a blueprint for de-escalation, not for withdrawal or for ending the war. The bill promised only to remove all "combat" troops by March of 2008. It did not promise to remove all troops from Iraq, or prohibit plans for permanent military bases - requirements that Democrats have refused to demand. Rather, the plan has always been to retain an extended troop presence in Iraq (perhaps permanently), allegedly in order to train Iraq forces and "fight terrorism."

Opposition on the part of Obama to a full withdrawal was also reflected in the admission (during a primary debate) that he could not guarantee a full withdrawal from Iraq by 2013. This claim demonstrates the full extent of Obama's commitment to misrepresenting his views to the American public. His promise to "end this war now" amounts to little more than propaganda in light of claims that U.S. combat operations will continue for at least the next five years, perhaps indefinitely. It is difficult to see how substantively different this is from Republican presidential front-runner John McCain, who recently claimed he would remove most troops by 2013 as well.

It is true that Obama recently announced a 16 month timetable for the withdrawal of "combat" troops (presumably, sometime in 2010). However, this promise has again been tempered by fuzzy claims that withdrawal is contingent upon conditions on the ground in Iraq - as they are perceived by American political elites. Obama repeated (following the 16 month announcement) that there were "deep concerns" about a timetable "that doesn't take into account what they [military leaders] anticipate might be some sort of change in conditions." Presumably, changing assessments on the part of military leaders would lead to more revisions regarding the prospects for a concrete timetable for withdrawal.



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