Thursday, July 31, 2008

McCain ahead?

Barack Obama conceded yesterday that US voters were nervous about making him their next president as fresh polls showed him in an increasingly tight race against John McCain, his Republican rival. The Democratic candidate sought to explain why he has not seen a significant bounce in the polls after his international tour last week - with a new survey showing Mr McCain taking a lead for the first time since Mr Obama secured his party's nomination. Mr Obama's aides say that it is relatively early in the general election cycle, but there is a growing anxiousness about why he is not doing better against Mr McCain, who has so far run an unimpressive, disjointed and at times shambolic campaign.

The Democrat said that voters were still sizing him up and that his candidacy was "new for them, new for us as a country. "This is going to be a close election for a long time because I'm new on the national scene and people sort of like what they see but they're still not sure." But he added: "The odds of us winning are very good."

Most recent surveys show Mr Obama about six points ahead, but stuck several points below the 50 per cent threshold. A USA Today/Gallup poll yesterday showed the Republican four points ahead - 49 per cent to 45 per cent - among likely voters, in the first poll taken since the Democrat's overseas tour. It showed a surge since last month among likely Republican voters, suggesting that the trip might have galvanised them.

What concerns Mr Obama's supporters is that by every measure he should be doing much better. In generic polls, voters overwhelmingly want a Democrat in the White House next year and a record number believe that the country is on the wrong track.

The Illinois senator is running a sharp, disciplined campaign - often setting the day's agenda - with Mr McCain appearing slow-footed and reactive. Yet in recent polls the message is clear: voters may want change, but they are uneasy about Mr Obama. Both campaigns admit that the election is becoming a referendum on Mr Obama, testing the willingness of voters to overcome their doubts about a 46-year-old African-American with little political experience, to whom many find it hard to relate.

In a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll last week, half of those questioned said that they were focused on what sort of president Mr Obama would be, with just a quarter focused on what kind of leader Mr McCain would be. Asked who was the riskier choice, 55per cent said Mr Obama, to just 35per cent who said the same of his rival.

In a private conference call with supporters last week, Steve Schmidt, Mr McCain's chief strategist, vowed to sharpen attacks on Mr Obama and to try to increase the perception that he is a risk.

Mr McCain, who at 71 is the oldest US presidential candidate in history, said last week: "They need a steady hand on the tiller. That's what I'm going to convince them of."

He has also begun to attack Mr Obama's patriotism. In a new advertisement the Republican campaign pounced on Mr Obama's decision to call off a visit to wounded US troops in Germany. "He made time to go to the gym, but cancelled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras," the narrator says. The Obama camp countered that the visit had been scrapped amid concerns that it would appear too political.

Nagging at Mr Obama are memories of his big defeats to Hillary Clinton in the later stages of their primary battle, when white, working-class voters turned their backs on him.


Hope? Change? Yes! Hope Obama Changes!

By Prof. Barry Rubin

Barack Obama has been to the Middle East. He said he supported Israel and wanted peace. So I guess everything's ok, right? Well, if he's elected president and follows through on these words that'll be just fine. But concern about an Obama presidency is hardly dispelled, except in the media systematically ignoring the real issues. Without getting into the debate over Iraq strategy, here are the serious problems:

Obama claims there is a "window of opportunity" for successful Israel-Palestinian negotiations. That's nonsense. But won't Obama pretend progress and "prove" he's right: by demanding unilateral Israeli concessions? Equally, Palestinian intransigence won't prompt him to admit they're responsible for failure. This isn't a window of opportunity but a doorway to disaster. Consider this simple question: If Israel withdrew from all the West Bank would anything really change? Would the Palestinians reciprocate, alter their line, stop terrorism, and accept the conflict's end? No.

In this context, Obama's emerging campaign theme is especially worrisome. He criticizes Bush for not jumping into a peace process from his term's start. The reason, of course, was President Bill Clinton's discovery that Palestinian leaders weren't interested in peace. Obama doesn't understand why the 1990s' process failed or that you don't commit the president's prestige unless there's a real chance for progress.

Obama thinks it "pro-Israel" to argue that Israel desperately needs peace with the Palestinians above all and that he'd do Israel a favor by pressuring it into concessions. But Israel only benefits from an agreement producing stability, the conflict's end, no cross-border terrorism, and a moderate Palestinian state. Obama's approach seems likely to turn into a peace-at-any-price scenario on the pretext of saving Israel in spite of itself. Obama thinks he knows best about Israel's security needs.

Obama remarked that Israel's government is weak and "the Palestinians are divided between Fatah and Hamas. And so it's difficult for either side to make the bold move needed" for peace. He believes there's no problem with Fatah being eager for peace whereas its own radicalism--not divisions--is the roadblock. Even if one believes his thesis, since Obama can't solve Palestinian or Israeli political divisions, which he equates as the equal barriers to progress, how's he possibly going to advance peace?

Meanwhile, he totally misstates--and presumably misunderstands--Israeli politics. If the Palestinians were willing, Israel's government could easily move ahead. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's alleged corruption is a big issue but the coalition agrees on peace steps. Far from shrinking back, Olmert and his government see making progress as the key to popularity and survival. In contrast, the PA knows that the actions needed to make a deal would be its downfall. That's the critical difference.

Does Obama really understand that the region's central issue is a war with radical forces who seek to overthrow every regime and seize control of the area? He emphasizes al-Qaida as the threat thus neglecting Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, and the Muslim Brothers? Are they potential allies if only treated nicely?

His new gimmick--I'm for fighting harder in Afghanistan and less in Iraq--is foolish. Whatever one thinks of Iraq, Afghanistan is far harder. U.S. policy has a chance to help create a stable regime in Iraq but not in Afghanistan. And does Obama really intend to be a hawk on the Afghan front or is this a cheap trick to show him as being tough? I'll bet on the latter explanation.

There's no indication Obama understands the need to defend Lebanon against a takeover by Hizballah, Iran, and Syria. Obama's last statement on Lebanon actually endorsed Hizballah's position, due either to ignorance or his philosophy of avoiding confrontation at all costs.

If Obama wants to make the United States and the West more independent of Middle East instability or radical blackmail, at least in the long term, he'd favor extensive oil drilling on U.S. territory, which he doesn't.

The real issue is not that he wants to talk to Iran and Syria but what he'll offer them and what he'll conclude when they reject or sabotage his efforts? Obama says his "willingness to negotiate" would expose Tehran by stripping "away whatever excuses they may have, [and] whatever rationales may exist in the international community for not ratcheting up sanctions and taking serious action." Isn't that what the Bush administration did last week and Europeans have been doing for years? Do we really believe Obama just wants to have talks as a trap so he then can get tough?

Obama says the right things on Iran nuclear but can he actually be counted on to stop Tehran? Asked about an Israel attack he replies, "My goal is to avoid being confronted with that hypothetical."? Yet his more likely avoidance strategy would be to block the attack, not force Iran to back down. He claims U.S. policy failed because it didn't "follow through with the kinds of both carrots and sticks that might change the calculus of the Iranian regime." Clearly, he's not familiar with the history which contradicts that assertion.

Won't radicals conclude he's so weak (or even sympathetic) that they can walk all over him and get away with it? Do we think they're wrong? Does he really understand the use of force, deterrence, the stick as well as the carrot? That doesn't fit his record and ideology.

It comes down to this: Do you really believe Obama has the understanding, toughness, and worldview needed to deal with the extremists or that they will eat his poor allies for lunch and him for dinner? There are thus two options:

Option A: Obama becomes president and hope he does a good job, perhaps after a three-year, possibly costly, learning process.

Option B: We won't have to find out whether the previous sentence will come true.


President Obama Continues Hectic Victory Tour

Barack Obama has long been his party's presumptive nominee. Now he's becoming its presumptuous nominee.

Fresh from his presidential-style world tour, during which foreign leaders and American generals lined up to show him affection, Obama settled down to some presidential-style business in Washington yesterday. He ordered up a teleconference with the (current president's) Treasury secretary, granted an audience to the Pakistani prime minister and had his staff arrange for the chairman of the Federal Reserve to give him a briefing. Then, he went up to Capitol Hill to be adored by House Democrats in a presidential-style pep rally.

Along the way, he traveled in a bubble more insulating than the actual president's. Traffic was shut down for him as he zoomed about town in a long, presidential-style motorcade, while the public and most of the press were kept in the dark about his activities, which included a fundraiser at the Mayflower where donors paid $10,000 or more to have photos taken with him. His schedule for the day, announced Monday night, would have made Dick Cheney envious:

11:00 a.m.: En route TBA.
12:05 p.m.: En route TBA.
1:45 p.m.: En route TBA.
2:55 p.m.: En route TBA.
5:20 p.m.: En route TBA.

The 5:20 TBA turned out to be his adoration session with lawmakers in the Cannon Caucus Room, where even committee chairmen arrived early, as if for the State of the Union. Capitol Police cleared the halls -- just as they do for the actual president. The Secret Service hustled him in through a side door -- just as they do for the actual president.

Inside, according to a witness, he told the House members, "This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for," adding: "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions."

As he marches toward Inauguration Day (Election Day is but a milestone on that path), Obama's biggest challenger may not be Republican John McCain but rather his own hubris.

Some say the supremely confident Obama -- nearly 100 days from the election, he pronounces that "the odds of us winning are very good" -- has become a president-in-waiting. But in truth, he doesn't need to wait: He has already amassed the trappings of the office, without those pesky decisions.

More here

The Debate McCain Must Force

Have you noticed a change in Barack Obama's campaign? Instead of avoiding controversies over values, religion and race, he seems to welcome them and wade into the debates with an increasing enthusiasm. Characterizing how the Republicans will attack him, he predicted that they would criticize his "funny name" and add "and by the way, did you notice that he's black?" Obama used to go out of his way to avoid this kind of reference, but now he brings it on. Deliberately. Why?

Obama and the conservative right are mutually trying to keep the debate about his candidacy on the existential level -- is he the hope for America's future or a Manchurian Candidate, a kind of sleeper agent sent to destroy our democracy? That debate, which pits Obama's rhetoric against the Rev. Wright's rantings, is a contest that could go on all day, and Obama would win it. It is simply a bridge too far to believe that Obama is that evil and that invidious. But the more the debate covers such fundamental questions, the more it ignores the details -- details which could bring Obama down.

Quite simply, Obama would rather address his religious views and his optimism about America and his embrace of diversity than talk about his plans to raise taxes, let gasoline prices soar and socialize healthcare. In our new book, Fleeced, we try to bring the debate back down to earth, focusing on the specific plans that Obama has announced during his presidential primary campaign and discussing the consequences. This is the debate Barack Obama hopes he can avoid. Consider his proposals:

In effect, he would legislate a 60 percent tax bracket for upper-income Americans, killing all initiative and innovation. He'd raise the top bracket to 40 percent. He'd apply FICA taxes to all income, not just that under $100,000 as at present. So add 40 percent plus FICA's 12.5 percent plus Medicare's 2 percent plus state and local taxes averaging, after deduction, at 5-6 percent, and you have a 60 percent bracket.

He would double the capital gains tax, saddling the 50 percent of Americans who own stock with dramatically higher taxes. He'd double the dividend tax, hitting elderly coupon-clippers now retired and depending on fixed incomes.

He wants to cover 12 million illegal immigrants with federally subsidized health insurance, dramatically driving up costs and forcing federal rationing of healthcare. As in the U.K. and Canada, you will not be permitted certain medical procedures if the bureaucrats decide you are not worth it.

He proposes requiring Homeland Security operatives to notify terror suspects that they are under investigation within seven days of starting the investigation. He says that unless they can establish that there is "probable cause to believe that a certain individual is linked to a specific terrorist group," Homeland Security cannot seize his documents and search his business. The current standard is only that the search be "relevant" to a terror investigation.

He does not oppose $5-per-gallon gasoline but only says that he wishes there had been a more "gradual adjustment" to the higher prices.

Obama can talk about the Rev. Wright and flag lapel pins and his wife's love of America all day long. But what he resists is a specific discussion of his own plans for our country. That's the discussion he fears and he avoids. And it's the discussion John McCain must force upon him if he is to have any realistic chance of winning the election.


What Has Obama Accomplished?

By Richard Cohen

"Just tell me one thing Barack Obama has done that you admire," I asked a prominent Democrat. He paused and then said that he admired Obama's speech to the Democratic convention in 2004. I agreed. It was a hell of a speech, but it was just a speech.

On the other hand, I continued, I could cite four or five actions -- not speeches -- that John McCain has taken that elicit my admiration, even my awe. First, of course, is his decision as a Vietnam War POW to refuse freedom out of concern that he would be exploited for propaganda purposes. To paraphrase what Kipling said about Gunga Din, John McCain is a better man than most.

But I would not stop there. I would include campaign finance reform, which infuriated so many in his own party; opposition to earmarks, which won him no friends; his politically imprudent opposition to the Medicare prescription drug bill (Medicare has about $35 trillion in unfunded obligations); and, last but not least, his very early call for additional troops in Iraq. His was a lonely position, virtually suicidal for an all-but-certain presidential candidate, and no help when his campaign nearly expired last summer. In all these cases, McCain stuck to his guns.

Obama argues that he himself stuck to the biggest gun of all: opposition to the war. He took that position back when the war was enormously popular, the president who initiated it was even more popular, and critics of both were slandered as unpatriotic. But at the time, Obama was a mere Illinois state senator, representing the (very) liberal Hyde Park area of Chicago. He either voiced his conscience or his district's leanings or (lucky fella) both. We will never know.

And we will never know, either, how Obama might have conducted himself had he served in Congress as long as McCain has. Possibly he would have earned a reputation for furious, maybe even sanctimonious, integrity of the sort that often drove McCain's colleagues to dark thoughts of senatorcide, but the record -- scant as it is -- suggests otherwise. Obama is not noted for sticking to a position or a person once it (or he) becomes a political liability. (Names available upon request.)

All politicians change their positions, sometimes even because they have changed their mind. McCain must have suffered excruciating whiplash from totally reversing himself on George Bush's tax cuts. He has denounced preachers he later embraced and then, to his chagrin, has had to denounce them all over again. This plasticity has a label: Pandering. McCain knows how it's done.

But Obama has shown that in this area, youth is no handicap. He has been for and against gun control, against and for the recent domestic surveillance legislation and, in almost a single day, for a united Jerusalem under Israeli control and then, when apprised of U.S. policy and Palestinian chagrin, against it. He is an accomplished pol -- a statement of both admiration and a bit of regret.

Obama is often likened to John F. Kennedy. It makes sense. He has the requisite physical qualities -- handsome, lean, etc. -- plus wit, intelligence, awesome speaking abilities and a literary bent. He also might be compared to Franklin D. Roosevelt for many of those same qualities. Both FDR and JFK were disparaged early on by their contemporaries for, I think, doing the difficult and making it look easy. Eleanor Roosevelt, playing off the title of Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, airily dismissed him as more profile than courage. Similarly, it was Walter Lippmann's enduring misfortune to size up FDR and belittle him: Roosevelt, he wrote, was "a pleasant man who, without any important qualifications for office, would very much like to be president." Lippmann later recognized that he had underestimated Roosevelt.

My guess is that Obama will make a fool of anyone who issues such a judgment about him. Still, the record now, while tissue thin, is troubling. The next president will have to be something of a political Superman, a man of steel who can tell the American people that they will have to pay more for less -- higher taxes, lower benefits of all kinds -- and deal in an ugly way when nuclear weapons seize the imagination of madmen.

The question I posed to that prominent Democrat was just my way of thinking out loud. I know that Barack Obama is a near-perfect political package. I'm still not sure, though, what's in it.


Obama and the Affirmative Action Media

By James Lewis

Sometimes it's important to state the obvious, as George Orwell urged in another era of big lies and Political Correctness. It's obvious that the media are in the bag for Obama for one big reason, and one reason only: his race. The media have adopted liberal race bias as it is practiced on hundreds of campuses, in newsrooms all over, and in corporations galore. It's "affirmative" race discrimination, but it's still completely arbitrary favoritism based on skin color.

There's something profoundly wrong with that. It offends our sense of fair play. When governments behave this way it's a flagrant violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Every time normal people get a chance to vote, they vote against it. Even leftwing Supreme Court justices say that affirmative action is only a "temporary" fix for a history of discrimination against blacks.

But that's a lie. The race industry will never let go; on the contrary, they are including ever-more victim groups. The gender industry came in on top of the civil rights movement, and the sexual minority establishment rode in on the back of feminism. Hispanics and illegals are going to be the next big victim groups. From anti-black discrimination to anti-white discrimination -- where's the progress?

"To the victor belong the spoils" said the ancient Romans, and today, we have a political spoils system again. The Left hands out all the loot wherever it takes power. An Obama presidency will build up that race-and-gender spoils system, not pahes it out.

Divide-and-conquer is the basic Leftist strategy. Divide by race, gender, sexual habits, and anything else you can talk people into. That's what "identity politics" is all about. So the Left will inevitably dig in more deeply if Barack and Michelle get into power. It's going to be race politics forever -- only the victim class has changed.

The year 2008 is therefore an historic moment in the downward slide of race relations. Yes, it would be fine to elect a black president -- if he were well qualified. But Barack Obama is so unqualified compared to John McCain that we have a clear case of affirmative action of the worst kind, the kind that selects your brain surgeon on the basis of race rather than performance. Do you think a wartime president needs any less experience, talent, training, character and commitment than a surgeon? If the doctor blows an operation, somebody could die. But if the next president blows it, we all could.

The media are dominated by the Left. They contribute to the Left on a 100-to-1 basis. It's not news any more when a Clinton operative like George Stephanopoulos becomes a TV "news" anchor for a major network. Such corruption is now taken for granted. We expect it. And yet the revolving door between the Democrats and the media constitutes the worst kind of influence peddling, just like stacking the judiciary with Leftist ideologues.

When the Sixties Left took over American culture, it institutionalized ideological favoritism. "Affirmative action" has now created a race/gender/sexual minority spoils system, as bad as the spoils system that used to flourish In government jobs. In the 19th century it used to be the party in power that appointed all the bureaucrats during its term. That was pretty bad, but at least the voters could throw the rascals out and a new set of job-seekers would get their chance. Today it's almost exclusively liberal blacks, women, gays, and Hispanics who are favored in education, hiring and promotion. That is why universities practice speech censorship, why Global Frauding is pushed by corrupt "scientists," and why Dr. Larry Summers was fired as President of Harvard just for telling the truth about young mathematics geniuses. The gay lobby insists on its Divine right to infiltrate the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church is wallowing in priestly pedophile scandals, and all sources of duly constituted authority have been rendered helpless.

That is the real meaning of the media's one-sided propaganda for Obama. The Berlin Victory Celebration would be impossible in a free media market. But the newsies don't even care that they're caught stealing from the cookie jar. Nobody is going to fire the media apparatchiks for supporting Obama.

The New York Times' profit margins are crashing, but the NYT is just a prestige item owned by the Sulzberger family. They don't seem to care if it loses money. If the Sulzbergers sold out, George Soros or someone like him could buy it and run it at a loss, just to jack up his ample ego. The Politically Correct establishment is locked into power just as much as the hereditary aristocracy was during the reign of King George III.

The Left has no interest in transcending race and gender, or solving racism and sexism, as Barack Obama likes to boast when he's not playing the race card. It's just the opposite; Obama and his media suck-ups represent the corruption of racial politics -- or even more broadly, the corrupt rise of the Leftwing elites chosen just for their race, gender, and sexual habits.

That is why Obama was cheered by thousands of indoctrinated Germans, who have been steeped in anti-American hatred during the Bush years. The Euroleft controls the media, the universities, the bureaucracies. They can easily rustle up a big crowd on demand. They don't bother with the appearance of electoral democracy any more, because they don't have to. The elites have lifetime jobs without elections. That's what socialist Europe wants to see in America. Socialism is just modern European imperialism, and Obama is their hero, down to his Leninist iconography.

And yet, the American dream of equality before the law, equality of opportunity -- but not equality by government coercion -- is still alive in our hearts. It is a human fundamental. But we have slipped far, far down the slope toward racial socialism. Perhaps we are beyond recovery.

Let's just keep those facts in mind. Hold on to your sense of outrage. Keep your sense of fairness. Vote for blacks and women when they are qualified, but not when they are not. Don't lose sight of the fact that Barack Obama isn't remotely qualified for the most important and hardest job in the world -- the one that we all depend upon for simple survival in the age of nuclear proliferation to madmen.

Don't lose your bearings. Obama might win, but Leftist corruption must not. Meanwhile, we must keep fighting for what's right. If we give up, the bad guys win. Don't surrender to them.



Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Obama wants more Haitians in America

Voodoo immigration?

Last year, when Sen. Barack Obama was making the circuit of conventions for journalists of color, the question was whether the prospective candidate was black enough. This year, when he appeared before the UNITY: Journalists of Color convention in Chicago, the presumptive Democratic nominee joked, "I'm too black."

Obama appeared Sunday at the close of the convention in a session aired live on CNN to talk about his observations from his trip to the Middle East and Europe, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. economy and questions from the journalists about faith, affirmative action, immigration and apologies for slavery and to Native Americans.

Asked whether he thought too many immigrants had been allowed into the U.S. and "who should be allowed" into the country, Obama said the issue wasn't whether to let immigrants in but to develop an official policy that makes it easier to become legal and discourages illegal immigration and penalizes employers who use illegal immigrants to avoid paying fair wages. He also said there should be greater equity across the board for immigrants as well, pointing out that "it's much harder for Haitians to immigrate, despite similar circumstances in need" as other groups that have been admitted legally.


Obama’s Trip: No Bounce, Flags, or Wounded Soldiers

Sen. Barack Obama’s international globe-hopping to the Mideast and Europe was meant to burnish his credentials as a foreign policy and potential military leader – the strong suit of his Republican rival Sen. John McCain. Despite the media love fest over the political junket, Obama has yet to pull away from McCain in the polls. His campaign had expected a minimum eight-point lead after Obama clinched the Democratic nomination back in June, with even more momentum moving his way as the campaign progressed.

Both the most recent Real Clear Politics rolling average and the Rasmussen tracking poll that coincided with the end of Obama’s trip this weekend show Obama with just a five-point lead over McCain -- consistent with his numbers for the past two months. [Press reports this weekend have almost completely ignored the Rasmussen poll to only report on a Gallup poll, which showed Obama with a nine-point lead. Not as good as the Newsweek poll from June, which had Obama 15 points ahead of McCain.]

With President Bush suffering low approval ratings, the economy moving into a recession as gas prices surge above $4 a gallon, and growing resentment about the unending war in Iraq, Obama should be pulling away in the polls. But he isn’t. The Obama campaign has been quick to be out front on the bad news, claiming -- at the end of the trip -- it never expected a poll bounce from Obama’s trip anyway. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe told Politico’s Mike Allen: “We wouldn’t expect any sort of -- I guess the term people use is ‘bounce.’”

In fact, during Obama’s global meet-and-greet tour, McCain’s poll numbers have risen in key battleground states like Ohio. As crowds cheered Obama globally, Americans here on the homefront were left wondering if the Illinois senator wants to be their president -- or the president of some other country. [And whether the major U.S. media would at least offer the pretense of objectivity. An MSNBC poll from last week found that 47 percent of the public thought the coverage of Obama’s trip was “excessive.”]

After Obama’s speech to an estimated 200,000 Germans in Berlin, a columnist for Britain’s Guardian newspaper began his review this way: “Barack Obama has found his people. But, unfortunately for his election prospects, they're German, not American.”

Obama's speech to the Germans left much to be desired, from an American’s perspective. For starters, the crowd’s size was beefed up by the fact that the event was billed as a free rock concert for German citizens, with popular musical performers helping to draw the big crowd. Scant U.S. media even noted the warm-up rock draws of reggae artist Patrice and rock band Reamonn.

Then there was the simple stage, with the podium surrounded by three potted plants. Missing was the American flag -- nowhere to be seen. Perhaps Obama’s staff might consider the U.S. flag offensive. And then there was his speech, in which he proudly proclaimed he was in Germany as a “a fellow citizen of the world.”

And there was the spectacle of the presidential wannabe going to a foreign land to apologize about the United States. Obama told his German audience he was sorry about his country because “I know my country has not perfected itself.” [This comment was made in the former seat of Nazi power. A letter to editor published in Obama’s hometown Chicago Tribune noted the irony: “While America may not be perfect, there is no reason to apologize to the Germans, architects of the Holocaust.”]

As for America’s role in saving Germany from the onslaught of Stalinist communism and the subsequent Cold War, there was nothing. There was a rhetorical flourish about the Berlin Wall coming down, but nothing about the great American sacrifice, not to mention how our military might made President Reagan’s call -- “Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev” -- a reality.

There was a fleeting mention of the famous Berlin airlift of 1948 that President Truman ordered to thwart the Soviet blockade that sought to starve West Berlin. As Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby wrote, “Obama seemed to go out of his way not to say plainly that what saved Berlin in that dark time was America's military might. “Save for a solitary reference to ‘the first American plane,’ he never described one of the greatest American operations of the postwar period as an American operation at all. He spoke only of ‘the airlift,’ ‘the planes,’ ‘those pilots.’ Perhaps their American identity wasn't something he cared to stress amid all his ‘people of the world’ salutations and talk of ‘global citizenship.’”

The Hollywood-staged Obama event for a man who has yet to ascend to the presidency didn’t sit well with all the Germans. Germany’s Stern magazine carried the headline "Barack Kant Saves the World." One of their columnists, Florian Guessgen, wrote: "The man is perfect, impeccable, slick. Almost too slick … Obama's speech was often vague, sometimes banal and more reminiscent of John Lennon's feel good song 'Imagine' than of a foreign policy agenda."

Slickness without substance seemed to be the enduring theme of his trip. Among the little hiccups covered up by the major media, there were several gaffes on the global coronation trip. Perhaps the most notable -- and reprehensible -- was Obama’s decision to cancel a visit to wounded American soldiers at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in southern Germany. Apparently, the Pentagon informed Obama that since his visit was a political one, the hospital visit would be only open to him and his official Senate staff. This excluded the press and campaign officials. The Pentagon did offer to allow Obama’s campaign plane to land at the nearby U.S. air base at Ramstein. The media also was to be accommodated there.

Without the photo opportunity and his press entourage, Obama declined to meet the wounded soldiers. At first, Obama’s campaign claimed to the press he decided to cancel the trip to visit the troops because it was "a trip funded by the campaign," and therefore somehow inappropriate. [What is inappropriate about a presidential candidate visiting wounded troops?] But the Obama story belies the fact it was only after the Pentagon closed the event to his traveling press, that Obama’s campaign nixed the event.

Rightfully, McCain noted that it is never inappropriate for a candidate or official to visit U.S. troops. "If I had been told by the Pentagon that I couldn't visit those troops, and I was there and wanted to be there, I guarantee you, there would have been a seismic event," McCain said. McCain continued the attack on ABC News Sunday show “This Week”: “Those troops would have loved to see him, and I know of no Pentagon regulation that would’ve prevented him from going there” without the news media.

The McCain campaign has been quick to pounce on Obama’s obvious slight to the troops and double-talk, airing a new commercial this weekend. “And now, he made time to go to the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops,” the ad says. “Seems the Pentagon wouldn’t allow him to bring cameras. John McCain is always there for our troops.” McCain added that Obama “certainly found time to do other things."

One of those other things Obama did was visit Paris and hold a joint press conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, typical of an American president visiting the French capital. Interestingly, The New York Times quoted Elysee officials that “Obama aides insisted that an American flag not be displayed alongside the French flag because Mr. Obama is only a visiting senator and not the president.”

There is no protocol preventing an American official from having the flag displayed when abroad. America snubbed once again by a lame excuse.


Obamanomics Is a Recipe for Recession

What if I told you that a prominent global political figure in recent months has proposed: abrogating key features of his government's contracts with energy companies; unilaterally renegotiating his country's international economic treaties; dramatically raising marginal tax rates on the "rich" to levels not seen in his country in three decades (which would make them among the highest in the world); and changing his country's social insurance system into explicit welfare by severing the link between taxes and benefits?

The first name that came to mind would probably not be Barack Obama, possibly our nation's next president. Yet despite his obvious general intelligence, and uplifting and motivational eloquence, Sen. Obama reveals this startling economic illiteracy in his policy proposals and economic pronouncements. From the property rights and rule of (contract) law foundations of a successful market economy to the specifics of tax, spending, energy, regulatory and trade policy, if the proposals espoused by candidate Obama ever became law, the American economy would suffer a serious setback.

To be sure, Mr. Obama has been clouding these positions as he heads into the general election and, once elected, presidents sometimes see the world differently than when they are running. Some cite Bill Clinton's move to the economic policy center following his Hillary health-care and 1994 Congressional election debacles as a possible Obama model. But candidate Obama starts much further left on spending, taxes, trade and regulation than candidate Clinton. A move as large as Mr. Clinton's toward the center would still leave Mr. Obama on the economic left.

Also, by 1995 the country had a Republican Congress to limit President Clinton's big government agenda, whereas most political pundits predict strengthened Democratic majorities in both Houses in 2009. Because newly elected presidents usually try to implement the policies they campaigned on, Mr. Obama's proposals are worth exploring in some depth. I'll discuss taxes and trade, although the story on his other proposals is similar.

First, taxes. The table nearby demonstrates what could happen to marginal tax rates in an Obama administration. Mr. Obama would raise the top marginal rates on earnings, dividends and capital gains passed in 2001 and 2003, and phase out itemized deductions for high income taxpayers. He would uncap Social Security taxes, which currently are levied on the first $102,000 of earnings. The result is a remarkable reduction in work incentives for our most economically productive citizens.

The top 35% marginal income tax rate rises to 39.6%; adding the state income tax, the Medicare tax, the effect of the deduction phase-out and Mr. Obama's new Social Security tax (of up to 12.4%) increases the total combined marginal tax rate on additional labor earnings (or small business income) from 44.6% to a whopping 62.8%. People respond to what they get to keep after tax, which the Obama plan reduces from 55.4 cents on the dollar to 37.2 cents -- a reduction of one-third in the after-tax wage!

Despite the rhetoric, that's not just on "rich" individuals. It's also on a lot of small businesses and two-earner middle-aged middle-class couples in their peak earnings years in high cost-of-living areas. (His large increase in energy taxes, not documented here, would disproportionately harm low-income Americans. And, while he says he will not raise taxes on the middle class, he'll need many more tax hikes to pay for his big increase in spending.)

On dividends the story is about as bad, with rates rising from 50.4% to 65.6%, and after-tax returns falling over 30%. Even a small response of work and investment to these lower returns means such tax rates, sooner or later, would seriously damage the economy.

On economic policy, the president proposes and Congress disposes, so presidents often wind up getting the favorite policy of powerful senators or congressmen. Thus, while Mr. Obama also proposes an alternative minimum tax (AMT) patch, he could instead wind up with the permanent abolition plan for the AMT proposed by the Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D., N.Y.) -- a 4.6% additional hike in the marginal rate with no deductibility of state income taxes. Marginal tax rates would then approach 70%, levels not seen since the 1970s and among the highest in the world. The after-tax return to work -- the take-home wage for more time or effort -- would be cut by more than 40%.

Now trade. In the primaries, Sen. Obama was famously protectionist, claiming he would rip up and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta). Since its passage (for which former President Bill Clinton ran a brave anchor leg, given opposition to trade liberalization in his party), Nafta has risen to almost mythological proportions as a metaphor for the alleged harm done by trade, globalization and the pace of technological change.

Yet since Nafta was passed (relative to the comparable period before passage), U.S. manufacturing output grew more rapidly and reached an all-time high last year; the average unemployment rate declined as employment grew 24%; real hourly compensation in the business sector grew twice as fast as before; agricultural exports destined for Canada and Mexico have grown substantially and trade among the three nations has tripled; Mexican wages have risen each year since the peso crisis of 1994; and the two binational Nafta environmental institutions have provided nearly $1 billion for 135 environmental infrastructure projects along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In short, it would be hard, on balance, for any objective person to argue that Nafta has injured the U.S. economy, reduced U.S. wages, destroyed American manufacturing, harmed our agriculture, damaged Mexican labor, failed to expand trade, or worsened the border environment. But perhaps I am not objective, since Nafta originated in meetings James Baker and I had early in the Bush 41 administration with Pepe Cordoba, chief of staff to Mexico's President Carlos Salinas.

Mr. Obama has also opposed other important free-trade agreements, including those with Colombia, South Korea and Central America. He has spoken eloquently about America's responsibility to help alleviate global poverty -- even to the point of saying it would help defeat terrorism -- but he has yet to endorse, let alone forcefully advocate, the single most potent policy for doing so: a successful completion of the Doha round of global trade liberalization. Worse yet, he wants to put restrictions into trade treaties that would damage the ability of poor countries to compete. And he seems to see no inconsistency in his desire to improve America's standing in the eyes of the rest of the world and turning his back on more than six decades of bipartisan American presidential leadership on global trade expansion. When trade rules are not being improved, nontariff barriers develop to offset the liberalization from the current rules. So no trade liberalization means creeping protectionism.

History teaches us that high taxes and protectionism are not conducive to a thriving economy, the extreme case being the higher taxes and tariffs that deepened the Great Depression. While such a policy mix would be a real change, as philosophers remind us, change is not always progress.


Obama may benefit from the surge

Post below recycled from Taranto. See the original for links

Back in 2005-06, we argued:
With the mainstream media facing a skeptical public and competition from those with other viewpoints, it seems unlikely that Iraq will turn out to be another Vietnam--a war lost in large part because of the media's opposition. Certainly President Bush is determined to stay the course. And it's quite possible that if U.S. troops are still in Iraq in large numbers by 2008, the presidential nominees for both major parties will promise to bring them home--and the winner, once in office, will find he cannot do so.

In the event, John McCain's and Barack Obama's views have been converging, but toward a more moderate position than we anticipated. Even Obama now advocates less-than-total withdrawal. The contrast between the two candidates' past positions, however, is striking. Whereas McCain was ahead even of President Bush in advocating an increase in troop strength, Obama opposed the "surge" and favored a policy that would have led to American defeat. The Times, in its story on the progress against the Madhi Army, credits McCain for his prescience but glosses over Obama's lack of same:
It is part of a general decline in violence that is resonating in American as well as Iraqi politics: Senator John McCain argues that the advances in Iraq would have been impossible without the increase in American troops known as the surge, while Senator Barack Obama, who opposed the increase, says the security improvements should allow a faster withdrawal of combat troops.

In an interview with Katie Couric last week, Obama acknowledged that "U.S. troops have contributed to a reduction of violence in Iraq," but repeatedly refused to say that this meant the surge had worked. Commentary blogress Jennifer Rubin notes a hilarious Obama comment from the Los Angeles Times:
"Sen. Barack Obama acknowledged today that he had failed to understand how much violence would decrease this year in Iraq, but he contended that President Bush and Sen. John McCain, the Republicans' presumptive presidential candidate, had made the same mistake." Well, the difference would be that the surge was even more successful than McCain anticipated. Not really the "same mistake" as trying to do everything to prevent implementation and completion of a successful strategy.

Obama seems to lack the humility and wisdom to admit that he has been wrong. Some would argue that this makes him ill-suited for the presidency, but it isn't clear that the voters will agree. They may be persuaded that the surge's success has reduced the risk of an Obama presidency, and they may be right.

There is something to be said for the idea that a presidential campaign should be about the future, not the past. The notion that Obama deserves to be the next president because he was "right" in opposing the war in 2002--a stand that required no political courage whatever in his ultraliberal Chicago state Senate district--always was ludicrous.

On the other hand, it is to McCain's credit that he backed the surge at a time when public opinion across the country had turned against the war effort. "I would rather lose an election than lose a war," McCain has said. He may get his wish.

The Thrill Is Gone

That was a brief fling, even by European romantic standards. One day after his speech before an adulating Berlin crowd last week, Barack Obama said more NATO troops would allow the U.S. to cut its presence in Afghanistan. The "billions of dollars" saved, he told CNN on Friday, could "finance lower taxes for middle-class families."

Ah, not so fast. On Sunday the Secretary General of the opposition German Free Democrats, Dieter Niebel, responded to Mr. Obama by telling the Bild am Sonntag that "Under no circumstances will the German taxpayer pay with more money and more troops for Afghanistan for tax cuts in the U.S."

Erwin Huber, chairman of the center-right Christian Social Union of Bavaria, called Mr. Obama's statement "a disappointment for Europe and Germany." Mr. Huber, who belongs to the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, also said that "it is the opposite of solidarity and partnership when one side is to make more sacrifices and the other gains an advantage from it."

Welcome to President Bush's world, Senator Obama. The myth is that Mr. Bush's "unilateralism" has so antagonized America's allies that they will rush to share more of the war burden once the Texan is back in Crawford. But Europeans have long enjoyed the free ride of U.S. military protection while enjoying even more their freedom to criticize how that protection is provided. Mr. Obama's attempt to link European security commitments to American tax cuts was the kind of "unilateral" political faux pas that won't make European defense burden-sharing any more likely.


Sins Of Commission And Omission By The Mainstream Media

Post below recycled from Discriminations. See the original for links

I have just reported (see post immediately below) that Barack Obama said over the weekend that he supports quotas - more specifically, that he supports affirmative action "when it is properly structured, so that it is not just a quota...."

He will, of course, deny that he said that, but since there is a CNN video confirming it he will no doubt fall back on clarifications and emendations to the effect that he misspoke, or that somehow the CNN video recorder misrecorded what he actually meant.

In this effort of clarification he will be able to point to, and in all likelihood receive confirmation from, mainstream press reporters who can, in this one clear instance, be shown to have heard what they wanted to hear rather than what their subject actually said.

I documented in my previous post that the New York Times and USA Today quoted Obama's "properly structured" obfuscation but neglected to quote his so long as it's "not just a quota" line. Others, however, actually had him saying the opposite of what he said. A few, but only a few, examples:

Houston Chronicle: "I am a strong supporter of affirmative action when properly structured so there it is not a quota...."

Kansas City Star: "I am a strong supporter of affirmative action when properly structured so there it is not a quota...."

Detroit Free Press: "Obama also reiterated that he is a supporter of affirmative action programs if they are properly executed. He said he does not approve of quotas...."

Interesting that both the Houston Chronicle and the Kansas City Star had the same typo ("... so there it is not a quota"). I'm reminded of the student cheater who got caught when the smart student next to him wrote "I don't know this answer" in response to one question, and the not too bright cheater answered that question by writing "I don't know the answer either."

In my previous post I commended the Associated Press and the Chicago Sun Times for quoting Obama correctly. Further research reveals that the Boston Globe and the National Journal also got the "not just a quota" remark just right.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Obama's Missing Thesis

Yet more of the documentation of Obama's past is "missing"

The latest report on Obama's missing thesis comes from MSNBC. Written his senior year at Columbia University, Obama's thesis was about Soviet nuclear disarmament. It's only natural to wonder what the budding socialist turned presidential candidate thought of nuclear proliferation in the early 1980s.

The Obama campaign, proving every bit as secretive as the Office of the Vice President, has been less than forthcoming with details. "Spokesman Ben LaBolt wouldn't even say whether Sen. Obama threw out his copy or lost it." At an earlier date, an aide actually told the New Republic the junior senator couldn't recall what he had written about, but as that editor notes, "who doesn't remember their senior thesis?" To get the inside scoop, MSNBC contacted the former professor who taught Obama's senior seminar and who recalls the content of the paper better than Obama himself.
His former professor, Michael Baron, recalled in an interview with NBC News that Obama easily aced the year-long class. Baron described the paper as a "thesis" or "senior thesis" in several interviews, and said that Obama spent a year working on it. Baron recalls that the topic was nuclear negotiations with the Soviet Union.

"My recollection is that the paper was an analysis of the evolution of the arms reduction negotiations between the Soviet Union and the United States," Baron said in an e-mail. "At that time, a hot topic in foreign policy circles was finding a way in which each country could safely reduce the large arsenal of nuclear weapons pointed at the other . For U.S. policy makers in both political parties, the aim was not disarmament, but achieving deep reductions in the Soviet nuclear arsenal and keeping a substantial and permanent American advantage. As I remember it, the paper was about those negotiations, their tactics and chances for success. Barack got an A."

What MSNBC doesn't report is that Baron, or at least a Michael Baron who also happens to run an electronics company in Florida, has given $1,250 to Obama. Maybe if the Obama campaign would release the thesis and Obama's college transcript like a normal presidential campaign, we could all decide for ourselves whether Obama deserves an A.


Obama Promises WHAT?

Barack Obama at Meet the Press, July 27, 2008:
"Our Campaign has been based on the idea we need to fundamentally change the way we do business both domestically and internationally that we should have a different kind of foreign policy where we are deploying all of America's power not just our military but also our diplomatic, economic, cultural and political power. That domestically we've got to promote not just "trickle down" economics but bottom up economic growth and reinvest for example in the clean energy sector. All those things, any time you're bringing about big change, there are some risks involved."

Rhetoric like this indicates the man thinks he can part the waters while gingerly walking on them. However, he has hidden in this pronouncement "from on high" the phrase "promote not only trickle down economics". By implication Obama is saying that trickle down economics has not only worked but that he plans to promote it. This is not only an acknowledgment of the success of capitalism but his endorsement of it. Needless to say this is a departure from the beliefs of his socialist friends and mentors and those of the folks at and the Daily Kos.

Obama, of course, follows up that phrase with the caveat that we "need to promote.. bottom up economic growth". Here Obama runs into one of the massive contradictions in his political philosophy. His website's only solution to generate "bottom up growth" is to tax the rich and redistribute those monies to the middle-class (the poor have been left behind in his campaign). Well when you tax the rich you take money out of the capital pool that keeps America creating businesses and jobs thus diverting it from investment to consumption. Taxes are the socialist's punishments for the capitalist's success. You can't have it both ways. The way to growth is not taxation but investment by individuals.

Everyone knows that the Democrats and their entitlement industry will be thrilled with Obama. He is going to tax the rich unmercifully and add more programs to that burgeoning industry. However, hidden from sight is the fact that entitlements have never delivered "bottom up growth" - they have never made the poor richer just more dependent on their socialist handlers in Washington that keep the bandages of poverty clean while lying about their promises of a cure.

Right now Obama is hitting all the right notes to get elected in what is a "Democrat election year". The question is whether or not he can go from the soft education of socialism to the hard education of capitalism. Will he remain an undergrad or use the hard education of capitalism to get his masters. He recently became a multi-millionaire selling his books - hopefully that will mute this street organizer's fellow travelers and bring him into the sunlight. On Meet the Press he didn't have teleprompters to read and did a creditable job of handling some very tough questions.

His leftisy street creds took a beating by saying that trickle down worked and he will promote it - now let's see if that was just another Marxian trick.


Obama's Social Security Fine Print

Last week, Barack Obama revealed his plan to shore up Social Security's shaky finances by raising the income level on which the payroll tax is applied. Currently, incomes above $102,000 are exempt, with that threshold rising every year indexed to wage inflation. Mr. Obama would keep that limit in place, but then assess payroll taxes on incomes above $250,000, which his campaign claims would apply to only the richest 3% of Americans.

Mr. Obama angered liberals last year when he admitted that there was a "Social Security crisis." But at least Mr. Obama's base should be appeased now that his solution to the "crisis" is to soak the rich. One liberal columnist actually noted with glee the fact that this would take us back to top tax rates not seen since the 1970s.

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, Mr. Obama's new tax would siphon off 0.4% of gross domestic product annually. Combined with Mr. Obama's other tax-hike initiatives, "the total tax on labor would be close to 60 percent. In high-tax states like California and New York, the top rate would be even higher."

Would it help Social Security's financing problems? Mr. Obama has no idea. One of his senior economic advisers admitted to me that no one on the campaign has run any detailed models or performed any rigorous analysis. When one proposes an enormous tax increase, shouldn't there at least be a spreadsheet somewhere?

But the most alarming thing about Mr. Obama's proposal is that the $250,000 threshold, above which the payroll tax would be applied, refers to household income, not individual income. So it's quite deceptive when he claims that the $250,000 threshold will "ensure that lifting the payroll tax cap does not ensnare any middle class Americans."

Suppose your household consists of you and your spouse, each earning wages of $150,000 per year. Currently, you are each subject to the payroll tax up to $102,000 of wages, so together you are taxed on $204,000. Under the Obama plan, you'd be taxed again on another $50,000 of wages. At the current payroll tax rate of 12.4% - 6.2% from wage-earners and 6.2% from their employers - your household would be looking at a tax hike of $6,200 per year. You probably didn't consider yourself rich before, and you certainly won't after paying that tax bill.

But that tax bill could be higher still. While the payroll tax has always been calculated just on wages from labor, Mr. Obama hasn't decided yet what forms of income will be included in the $250,000 threshold. It's an open question whether it might include interest on savings and capital gains income.

And neither has Mr. Obama said whether the rich - and, truth be told, the middle class - paying his new higher taxes will get correspondingly higher Social Security benefits when they retire. Throughout the history of the Social Security program, there has always been a connection between what you contribute in taxes and what you get back in benefits. If Mr. Obama uncaps the wages subject to tax, but doesn't uncap benefits, then he has severed the link between them. Social Security would stand revealed not as a work-related contributory retirement system, but simply as a tax-funded welfare and income-redistribution program.

And for all that, Mr. Obama's proposal won't help Social Security's long-run solvency problems. According to the Social Security Administration actuaries, uncapping all wages subject to the payroll tax (not just those above $250,000) doesn't make much difference to the system's long-run solvency. If the increased payroll tax payments earn increased benefits, then only about one third of the system's 75-year shortfall is addressed. Even if there is no corresponding benefit increase, only about half the shortfall is addressed.

Remember, that inadequate result is what you get when all wages are subject to payroll taxes. Mr. Obama's plan - even with his household definition of $250,000 income - would collect far less than that. No wonder Mr. Obama's economic advisers aren't interested in doing any detailed analysis.

Worst of all, even the small contribution to Social Security solvency that Mr. Obama's plan might make is entirely illusory. In fact, the more taxes his plan collects, the worse Social Security's long-term situation gets. That's because all plans based on collecting taxes and saving them in the Social Security Trust Fund for future benefit payments rely on the U.S. government being able to redeem the Treasury bonds that trust fund holds.

There's only one place that the money to redeem those bonds can come from: taxes. So ironically, any tax dollars collected today will have to be collected all over again - plus interest. You like the idea of paying more taxes today for Mr. Obama's Social Security plan? Then just wait 20 years or so, because you'll get to pay more taxes all over again.


Monsieur Obama's Tax Rates

Celebrity chef Alain Ducasse insists that his change of citizenship this week from high-tax France to no-income-tax Monaco wasn't a financial decision but an "affair of the heart." Right. But even if he's being sincere, plenty of other Frenchmen have moved abroad to escape their country's confiscatory taxes.

Americans should be so lucky: Theirs is the only industrialized country that taxes its people even if they live overseas. That hasn't been a big problem as long as U.S. tax rates have been relatively low. But with Barack Obama promising to lift rates to French-like levels, this taxman-cometh policy could turn Americans into the world's foremost fiscal prisoners.

And make no mistake, taxes under a President Obama could be truly a la francaise. The top marginal tax rate, including federal, state and local levies, could approach 60% for self-employed New Yorkers and Californians. Not even France's taxes are that high now that President Nicolas Sarkozy has capped the total that high-earning Frenchmen like Mr. Ducasse can pay in income, social and wealth taxes at 50% of earnings.

Mr. Sarkozy set this "fiscal shield" because he knows that tax rates affect behavior. When he visited London this year, he observed that the British capital is now home to so many French bankers and other professionals seeking tax relief that it's the seventh-largest French city. Those expatriates choose not to use their creativity and investment capital to benefit France and its economy.

Senator Obama's plans to raise income, Social Security and capital-gains taxes amount to a belief that people don't react to punitive tax rates. If so, he needn't worry about people leaving the country and could let them pay taxes in whichever part of the globe they choose to live in. Once Americans are paying French-style tax rates, they ought to have the same freedom to move as Alain Ducasse.


Obama's old and discredited economics

In an election campaign in which not only young liberals, but also some people who are neither young nor liberals, seem absolutely mesmerized by the skilled rhetoric of Barack Obama, facts have receded even further into the background than usual. As the hypnotic mantra of "change" is repeated endlessly, few people even raise the question of whether what few specifics we hear represent any real change, much less a change for the better.

Raising taxes, increasing government spending and demonizing business? That is straight out of the New Deal of the 1930s. The New Deal was new then but it is not new now. Moreover, increasing numbers of economists and historians have concluded that New Deal policies are what prolonged the Great Depression.

Putting new restrictions of international trade, in order to save American jobs? That was done by Herbert Hoover, when he signed the Hawley-Smoot tariff when the unemployment rate was 9 percent. The next year the unemployment rate was 16 percent and, before the Great Depression was over, unemployment hit 25 percent.

One of the most naive notions is that politicians are trying to solve the country's problems, just because they say so-- or say so loudly or inspiringly. Politicians' top priority is to solve their own problem, which is how to get elected and then re-elected. Barack Obama is a politician through and through, even though pretending that he is not is his special strategy to get elected.

Some of his more trusting followers are belatedly discovering that, as he "refines" his position on various issues, now that he has gotten their votes in the Democratic primaries and needs the votes of others in the coming general election.

Perhaps a defining moment in showing Senator Obama's priorities was his declaring, in answer to a question from Charles Gibson, that he was for raising the capital gains tax rate. When Gibson reminded him of the well-documented fact that lower tax rates on capital gains had produced more actual revenue collected from that tax than the higher tax rates had, Obama was unmoved.

The question of how to raise more revenue may be the economic issue but the political issue is whether socking it to "the rich" in the name of "fairness" gains more votes.

Since about half the people in the United States own stocks-- either directly or because their pension funds buy stocks-- socking it to people who earn capital gains is by no means socking it just to "the rich." But, again, that is one of the many facts that don't matter politically.

What matters politically is the image of coming out on the side of "the people" against "the privileged."

If you are a nurse or mechanic who will be depending on your pension to take care of you when you retire-- as Social Security is unlikely to do-- you may not think of yourself as one of the privileged. But unless you connect the dots between capital gains tax rates and your retirement income, you may fall under the spell of the well-honed Obama rhetoric.

Obama is for higher minimum wage rates. Does anyone care what actually happens in countries with higher minimum wage rates? Of course not. Economists may point to studies done in countries around the world, showing that higher minimum wage rates usually mean higher unemployment rates among lower skilled and less experienced workers. That's their problem. A politician's problem is how to look like he is for "the poor" and against those who are "exploiting" them. The facts are irrelevant to maintaining that political image.

Nowhere do facts matter less than in foreign policy issues. Nothing is more popular than the notion that you can deal with dangers from other nations by talking with their leaders.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain became enormously popular in the 1930s by sitting down and talking with Hitler, and announcing that their agreement had produced "peace in our time"-- just one year before the most catastrophic war in history began.

Senator Obama may gain similar popularity by advocating similar policies today-- and his political popularity is what it's all about. The consequences for the country come later


McCain and Obama differ on colorblind equality!

In an interview with George Stephanopoulus finally stepped away from ("abandoned" might be too strong) his ridiculous refusal to endorse colorblind equality and announced that, after all, and his previous reluctance to the contrary, he really does believe the state should treat its citizens without regard to race, ethnicity, or sex.
STEPHANOPOULOS: "Opponents of affirmative action are trying to get a referendum on the ballot here that would do away with affirmative action. Do you support that?"

MCCAIN: "Yes, I do. I do not believe in quotas. But I have not seen the details of some of the proposals. But I've always opposed quotas."

STEPHANOPOULOS: "But the one here in Arizona you support?"

McCAIN: "I support it, yes."

Obama, predictably, continues to attack the requirement that everyone be treated without regard to race as "divisive." Speaking to "journalists of color" in Chicago, Obama said:
"I think in the past he [McCain] had been opposed to these kinds of Ward Connerly referenda or initiatives as divisive. And I think he's right. You know, the truth of the matter is, these are not designed to solve a big problem, but they're all too often designed to drive a wedge between people" Obama said to a question asked from an audience of journalists.

So, treating everyone without regard to race, ethnicity, or sex is to "drive a wedge between people." Welcome to Obamaland.


Another comment on the above matter:

Senator John McCain said today that he supports the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, which would ban preferences based on race, ethnicity, and sex in the state's public contracting, education (including university admissions), and employment programs. Essentially identical initiatives will be before voters this fall in Colorado and Nebraska, and have been enacted in California, Washington, and most recently Michigan.

Disappointingly, Senator Barack Obama immediately criticized McCain: "I think in the past he'd been opposed to these Ward Connerly initiatives as divisive. And I think he's right. These are not designed to solve a big problem, but they're all too often designed to drive a wedge between people."

Obama's criticism is wrongheaded for at least three reasons: (1) it is obviously preferential policies that are divisive, not their abolition; (2) the "big problem" of helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds can be addressed by helping people of all colors who are disadvantaged, rather than crudely and unfairly using race as a proxy for disadvantage; and (3) Obama himself has recognized as much, albeit fitfully and inconsistently, in his own statements-for instance, acknowledging the divisiveness of preferential treatment (in his Philadelphia speech), and the fact that his own daughters, for starters, come from privileged backgrounds and thus are "probably" not deserving of preferential treatment.

Kudos to John McCain! This is a solid, important commitment by him to the principle of E pluribus unum, and Americans across the political spectrum, but especially conservatives, should applaud him. As for Barack Obama: This is a critical moment in his campaign. Is he a candidate of change who will transcend race and bring us all together, rejecting divisive policies he knows in his heart are outdated and irrelevant-or just another Democratic pol who lacks the courage to stand up to powerful but aging interests in his own party, which remain hopelessly infatuated with identity politics and insist on perpetuating a set of policies that have always been unfair and divisive and are now outmoded to boot?



Monday, July 28, 2008

You must be kidding: Obama says residual troop levels in Iraq are "entirely conditions-based"

I wrote about this a few days ago when he ducked Katie Couric's question by torturing the distinction between tactics and strategy. According to The One, the president sets the strategy: Most troops out in 16 months but some left behind for various missions. The generals supply the tactics: To carry out those missions responsibly, we need X number of troops. What does X equal? Why, it's . "entirely conditions-based":
In Iraq, it's not new that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has wanted to take control of his own country. But there's always been this gap between his assessment of his abilities and American commanders' saying he's not up to it. As president, faced with that difference between what he says he can do and what the commanders say he can do, how would you choose between them?

Iraq is a sovereign country. Not just according to me, but according to George Bush and John McCain. So ultimately our presence there is at their invitation, and their policy decisions have to be taken into account. I also think that Maliki recognizes that they're going to need our help for some time to come, as our commanders insist, but that the help is of the sort that is consistent with the kind of phased withdrawal that I have promoted. We're going to have to provide them with logistical support, intelligence support. We're going to have to have a very capable counterterrorism strike force. We're going to have to continue to train their Army and police to make them more effective.

You've been talking about those limited missions for a long time. Having gone there and talked to both diplomatic and military folks, do you have a clearer idea of how big a force you'd need to leave behind to fulfill all those functions?

I do think that's entirely conditions-based. It's hard to anticipate where we may be six months from now, or a year from now, or a year and a half from now.

Team McCain points to Bob Novak's column this week citing unnamed Obama advisors as saying this could mean leaving as many as 50,000 troops in place. According to a recent essay by Colin Kahl, who runs Obama's working group on Iraq, in the "near term" they might keep as many as 12 brigades there for "overwatch," i.e. support, duties.

If Obama's top priority really is withdrawal, his Iraq policy should begin by setting the number of troops he's comfortable leaving in the field and then asking for recommendations on which missions are feasible given that number. The fact that he's going about it the other way, starting with the missions and then building any drawdown around them, is a decidedly McCain-esque (i.e. conditions-based, i.e. responsible) approach. He tweaked McCain this morning for having lately come around to so many of his own positions, but in light of this, he and Maverick are almost mirror images on Iraq now: McCain thinks troop levels should depend on conditions but concedes that 16 months is a "pretty good timetable" whereas Obama thinks 16 months is a pretty good timetable but concedes that, er, troop levels should depend on conditions. Nuance. Predictably, the McCain camp is crowing about it. Here's their statement, hot off the presses:
"Today Barack Obama finally abandoned his dangerous insistence on an unconditional withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by making clear that for the foreseeable future, troop levels in Iraq will be `entirely conditions based.' We welcome this latest shift in Senator Obama's position, but it is obvious that it was only a lack of experience and judgment that kept him from arriving at this position sooner.

"John McCain has always held the position that any withdrawal from Iraq must be based on conditions on the ground. With the incredible success of the surge, which John McCain advocated, it is increasingly likely that U.S. troops will be able to withdraw with victory in hand. John McCain had long urged Barack Obama, who opposed the surge, to return to Iraq in order to see the immense changes in the security situation there since his last visit. Now that Obama has finally met with General Petraeus, it appears that he has also come to the conclusion that troop levels in Iraq must be based on the conditions on the ground."

The key remaining conceptual difference between them is, of course, the type of missions they have in mind for residual troops. McCain surely imagines something more ambitious, Obama something more limited and support-oriented. Watch for the debate to shift to that subject next, especially in light of the big AP story this afternoon talking about troops in the field already shifting to peacekeeper roles (which they've had for awhile in some parts of Iraq) and reconstruction support. Are U.S. peacekeepers out of the question for President Obama? We'll see.

Update: Per the last paragraph and the evolving scope of the mission, a reader notes that Obama's residual force would theoretically contain no combat troops. Big difference with McCain, to be sure, but again - read the AP story. There's not much combat going on in Iraq anymore that would require combat troops anyway. The issue now is peacekeepers, troops who are going to walk the beat, see sporadic action, and reassure Iraqis that there's a strong security presence available to deal with contingencies while the IA gets up to speed. How about it, BO?


Obama overseas: The people were less impressed than the media

While Barack Obama was wowing the crowds in Berlin, his Republican opponent was at Schmidt's Restaurant and Sausage Haus in Columbus, Ohio, trying to live up to its slogan about making "the best of the Wurst". Trying to get a little love and attention seemed a stubbornly hopeless task for John McCain, the Vietnam war hero who, only a few months ago, had been politely welcomed in the same capitals as Obama, but without the mania. Most media commentators regarded his tour of the diners and supermarkets of Middle America as pitiful. "I'm not making that up. Senator `National Security' went from the cheese aisle to the fudge house and ordered a box of cream puffs," television presenter Keith Olbermann scoffed.

The voters did not seem to mind in the least, however. "We love him," said Diane Woods, from Columbus. "I don't know why Obama is getting all this attention. McCain is right where he should be - in America."

Some aspects of McCain's tour did appear comical at the time. The 71-year-old husband of a multi-millionaire heiress was in a grocery store in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, bemoaning the high price of milk while Obama was discussing the future of the Middle East with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Or he was running radio ads in tiny hamlets called Berlin blasting Obama's foreign policy, while the Democrat was smiling and patting Chancellor Angela Merkel on the shoulder in the genuine German capital.

It was cornball politics but, it transpired, none the worse for that. McCain's picture made the front pages of newspapers in the heartlands of America while Obama's aides wondered nervously whether it was really desirable to attract a 200,000 crowd in Berlin when his biggest rally in America had drawn only 70,000 - and that was in Oregon, the home of hippies and latte drinkers.

Initially, the polls showed McCain gaining on Obama. By the end of the week there was a "baby bounce" for the Democrat. On Friday Gallup and Rasmussen's tracking polls showed that he had opened up a 5-6 point national lead over the Arizona senator.

Will that last? Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader, still rues the moment when, high in the polls, he punched the air triumphantly at the party's 1992 Sheffield rally and shouted: "We're all right." To this day he believes that his premature victory lap cost him the election. Could Obama look back on his heady overseas tour with similar regret?

Lanny Davis, a former White House official under Bill Clinton, believes Obama must make the economy his priority from now on. "`The economy, stupid' is more relevant than ever. When he returns, he should not utter one more word on foreign policy and confront John McCain on what he intends to do about the semi-depression we are in."

The gulf between fashionable East and West Coast opinion and the views of residents of the "flyover states" of Middle America rarely seemed more pronounced than last week. Obama's tour seemed to be going so well, as far as the liberal commentariat was concerned.

Eugene Robinson, a columnist in The Washington Post, gushed about the "extraordinary luck that has followed Obama's new Boeing 757 around the globe like an escort plane". Others looked at the Obama '08/President stitched on to the back of the pilot's chair on his O-Force One campaign jet and shuddered at his presumption.

When Obama cancelled a proposed visit to injured US servicemen at Landstuhl, in Germany, after the Pentagon reminded him that he could come as a senator but not as a political campaigner, yet found time to go to the gym in the Berlin Ritz-Carlton, the Republicans' picture of him as a phoney-baloney speechifier was complete "If you want to remember one thing about this trip it is that Barack Obama chose to work out rather than see the wounded troops because he couldn't bring [television anchors] Katie Couric, Charlie Gibson and Brian Williams with him," said Sean Hannity, a conservative talk show host.



Barack Obama had ample reason to recall the Berlin Airlift of 1948 during his dramatic speech in the German capital last week. The airlift was an early and critical success for the West in the Cold War, with clear relevance to our own time, the war in Iraq, and the free world's conflict with radical Islam. But having reached back 60 years to that pivotal hour of American leadership, Obama proceeded to draw from it exactly the wrong lessons.

The Soviet Union had blockaded western Berlin on June 24, 1948, choking off access to the city by land and water and threatening 2.5 million people with starvation. Moscow was determined to force the United States and its allies out of Berlin. To capitulate to Soviet pressure, as Obama rightly noted, "would have allowed Communism to march across Europe." Yet many in the West advocated retreat, fearing that the only way to keep the city open was to use the atomic bomb -- and launch World War III.

But for President Truman, retreat was unthinkable. "We stay in Berlin, period," he decreed. Overriding the doubts of senior advisers, including Secretary of State George C. Marshall and General Omar Bradley, the Army Chief of Staff, Truman ordered the Armed Forces to begin supplying Berlin by air.

Military planners initially thought that with a "very big operation," they might be able to get 700 tons of food to Berlin. Within weeks, the Air Force was flying in twice that amount every day, as well as supplies of coal.

"Pilots and crew were making heroic efforts," David McCullough recorded in his sweeping biography of Truman. "At times planes were landing as often as every four minutes -- British Yorks and Dakotas, America C-47s and the newer, much larger, four-engine C-54s . . . Ground crews worked round the clock. `We were proud of our Air Force during the war. We're prouder of it today,' said The New York Times."

Yet the pressure to abandon Berlin persisted. The CIA argued that the airlift had worsened matters by "making Berlin a major test of US-Soviet strength" and affirming "direct US responsibility" for West Berlin. The airlift was bound to fail, the intelligence analysts warned. Truman didn't waver. "We'll stay in Berlin -- come what may," he wrote in his diary on July 19. "I don't pass the buck, nor do I alibi out of any decision I make."

It would take nearly a year and more than 277,000 flights, but in the end it was the Soviets who backed down. On May 12, 1949, the blockade ended -- a triumph of American prowess and perseverance, and a momentous vindication for Truman.

But not once in his Berlin speech did Obama acknowledge Truman's fortitude, or even mention his name. Nor did he mention the US Air Force, or the 31 American pilots who died during the airlift. Indeed, Obama seemed to go out of his way not to say plainly that what saved Berlin in that dark time was America's military might. Save for a solitary reference to "the first American plane," he never described one of the greatest American operations of the postwar period as an American operation at all. He spoke only of "the airlift," "the planes," "those pilots." Perhaps their American identity wasn't something he cared to stress amid all his "people of the world" salutations and talk of "global citizenship."

"People of the world," Obama declaimed, "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." But the world *didn't* stand as one during the Cold War; it was riven by an Iron Curtain. For more than four decades, America and the West confronted an implacable enemy on the other side of that divide. What finally defeated that enemy and ended the Cold War was not harmony and goodwill, but American strength and resolve.

Obama's speech was a paean to international cooperation and unity. "Now is the time to join together," he said. "It was this spirit that led airlift planes to appear in the sky above our heads." No -- it was a Democratic president named Truman, who had the audacity to order an airlift when others counseled retreat, and the grit to see it through when others were ready to withdraw.

Sixty years later, it is a very different kind of Democrat who is running for president. Obama may have wowed 'em in Berlin, but he's no Harry Truman.


What Did Obama Learn in Iraq? The senator hasn't shown us much yet

Barack Obama's trip to Iraq was so presidential that at moments, he sounded like our current White House resident. When Karen Tumulty of Time asked Obama what he'd learned on his trip, he said, "It confirmed a lot of my beliefs." Lara Logan of CBS asked him if he was ever in doubt that he could lead the country in war as commander in chief, and he answered, "Never."

After seven and a half years of George Bush, we should pause when a man auditioning for president says that the facts confirmed his beliefs and that he's never in doubt. As Obama himself has warned us at other moments, these are signs that a fearless leader may be letting ideology or rigidity steer him in the wrong direction. We know, of course, that Barack Obama, in fact, goes through life thinking in subtle, nuanced, and interesting ways. He's probably got lots of complex input from his visit to Iraq that he's dissecting and analyzing. But he's not sharing much. And what he has shared on the occasion of his big trip hasn't been very nourishing.

Before Obama flew to Baghdad, I asked his top foreign-policy adviser, Susan Rice, what kinds of questions he'd asked of his advisers over the months to test whether his Iraq withdrawal plan still matched the realities on the ground in Iraq. Rice gave me no examples. And now that the trip is over, we have no better sense of how Sen. Obama thinks about Iraq. It's not that I expect grand revelations. But Obama still holds the same policy views he did more than a year and a half ago, even though a lot has changed since then in Iraq, and a lot of those events appear to contradict his earlier views. We know that Obama hasn't moved, but we don't know, really, why that's so.

The main complexity Obama has to confront in Iraq is the apparent success of the most recent phase of U.S. military strategy, of which the troop surge was a key part. Violence has come down from stratospheric heights. The success is relative (violence is still at 2005 levels), but the situation is far better than Obama predicted. When he voted against the surge in January 2007, he claimed on more than one occasion that it would lead to increased casualties and sectarian violence. It didn't. How'd he get that one wrong? In January 2007, Obama claimed that the Iraqi government would make no hard choices if the United States stayed. But they have made hard choices. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched incursions into Basra and confronted cleric Muqtada Sadr, both of which helped pave the way for the Sunni faction's return to the government. This is not enough progress to suggest Iraq is anywhere near stable, but like the drop in violence, it's more than Obama predicted.

These are not academic questions. Some people would say the vote on the surge was one of Obama's most important as a senator. As Obama pointed out regularly during the Democratic primaries with Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, both of whom voted to authorize the Iraq war, a person's past vote tells you something about his or her judgment. Obama has talked a lot about the clarity of his judgment in opposing the Iraq war. He also once suggested that if he'd been forced to cast an actual vote for or against the Iraq war as a senator, his view might have been complicated. On the surge, we get a chance to watch Obama grapple with similar complexities in real time. Or, at least, we should.

Obama's take on the surge also tells us how he processes information about Iraq. This has direct bearing on how he shapes his policy for the country today. The same choices are in play-will military tactics or withdrawal get the Iraqis to make political progress? If Obama was wrong about the tactical gains that would be made by the new strategy and wrong about how the Iraqi political leaders would react, can his larger theory about how Iraqis will respond to a troop pullout remain intact? Perhaps, but he has the burden of explanation. Does he elide contradictions, claim they're irrelevant, and generally spin? In his interview with NBC's Brian Williams, he suggested that he'd always said the surge would decrease violence in Iraq. That's not just spin. It's not true. At the time Bush announced the surge, Obama said: "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse."

The surge that Obama opposed had two parts to it: an increase in troops and a bet on a new military strategy. Obama opposed the additional troops; he also opposed a host of other new tactics Gen. Petraeus tried, arguing they would not lead to political improvement. Even if you agree with the argument that the additional brigades didn't change much in Iraq on their own, you still have to account for whether the overall Petraeus strategy shift worked to assist the positive developments among Sunnis and Sadr's Shiite militia. Obama suggests the military had almost no role in the Anbar Awakening and the decision by Sadr's militia to stand down-that the two sets of events merely happened "at the same time." Military leaders think they had a role in bringing about these improvements. (This might be a bigger dis of the brass than his conflict with them over a timeline for withdrawal.) What did he learn on his trip that suggests he's right and the generals are wrong? Did nothing on the trip shade his view?

These questions are linked to the big looming problem in Iraq-the slow pace of political reform-and how U.S. policy fixes that problem. Obama maintains that whatever gains the new strategy has produced on the political front, they haven't been enough. Only by setting his timetable for withdrawal will Iraqis shape up and make hard choices. This has always been at the heart of his policy, and when asked about the success of the surge, Obama doubled down on the idea that only withdrawal could get the Iraqis moving. Terry Moran of ABC asked if he would vote for the surge knowing what he knows now. He said he would not. He suggested withdrawal might have yielded the same or better results as the Petraeus strategy. Did he get any new evidence on his trip to support this theory?

Obama once argued that the Anbar Awakening of September 20006, in which Sunni tribesmen turned against al-Qaida, started because Democrats took control of Congress. (The awakening started months before the 2006 election, but never mind, McCain also mangled the timeline this week.) Obama's theory was that since Democrats had promised to withdraw troops, Sunnis started taking their affairs into their own hands. But given that Congress never made good on its promise to reduce funding or troop levels, and in fact troop levels increased, why didn't Sunni violence go up? What did Obama learn on his trip that's relevant here?

Will Obama expand on his thinking about these Iraq specifics in the coming days? Politically, it would probably be a bad idea for him to do so. Obama looks like he's on the right side of the moment. The Iraqi prime minister has validated his plan for a 16-month withdrawal timeline, and the Bush administration is talking in a similar way. For months, Obama has called for engagement with Iran and now that's what the administration is doing. So, too, on Afghanistan, which he's been focusing on for months. Though he deftly used his Democratic opponents' past votes during the primaries to argue he had better judgment, he'll now seek to take advantage of voters' preference for thinking about the future. "Let's not re-fight the past," said former Sen. Bob Kerrey in an Obama campaign statement criticizing McCain for his obsession over Obama's position on the surge.

Perhaps Obama doesn't want to share his views because his inquisitive mind sometimes takes him to contradictory places. In his book The Audacity of Hope, he writes about pulling aside reporters who were living in Iraq to get their views about the war. He expected them to agree with his call for a troop reduction. They didn't. They said a troop reduction would start a civil war. Obama called for a troop reduction anyway, but we know his mind is alive enough to capture and remember a piece of data that didn't fit with his pre-existing views. Are contradictory observations fine for a book but off-limits when you're a political candidate? Admitting you're wrong, or even that your thinking has evolved, is risky for a politician. Maybe too risky. That's certainly what George Bush believes.


Obamessiah who makes Paris Hilton look reclusive

And verily he came among us. The Obamessiah was too modest to perform any actual miracles on the steps of No10 Downing Street, but yesterday he did speak to a man who thinks he's God (Tony Blair), a man in need of resurrection (Gordon Brown) and a man leading an exiled people out of the wilderness (David Cameron).

What an almighty fuss, if you'll forgive the pun, about a junior Senator who's still only a contender for the White House. You'd think he had already got his bottom on the President's seat in the Oval Office.

After the Obamania that has spread with the speed of a biblical plague across America and much of mainland Europe, it was finally Britain's turn. But following eight countries in seven days and a carbon footprint of 10,000 air miles, Barack Obama had to persuade us he was here to do more than just change planes on the way home.

And that was always going to be tricky, because this visit was conducted mainly behind closed doors. There was no address to the masses as there had been in Berlin (but then, the Germans do like a mass rally...) and no double-handed Press conference with the Premier, as there was with President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris. As one of his accompanying Press corps was overheard saying to colleagues: `Hey, guys, another three handshakes and we're home.'

So what did we get? Um, not much. The first glimpse came outside his London hotel, where he had breakfast with Middle East envoy Tony Blair. As Mr Blair's car fell into an unstatesmanlike convoy with a laundry truck, Obama emerged before the media scrum with almost presidential composure. He wore a smile as white as his box-fresh shirt, a dark suit and a deep-red tie, all accessorised with a kind of bullet-proof confidence.

Half an hour later, when he appeared in the Downing Street garden alongside Gordon Brown, it was obvious they were wearing matching outfits, but they could not have looked more different - the energy and freshness of Obama contrasting painfully against the exhausted perma-crumple of our own Premier.

Then there was a Press conference on the steps of No10. But where was Obama's soaring rhetoric, the compelling, charismatic oratory that has come to define his Presidential campaign? Perhaps it was still going around a luggage carousel at Heathrow, because he'd certainly left it somewhere.

His preamble was a bit moth-eaten, although that is unsurprising since it had been well used at other points on the world stage in previous days. He'd had a wonderful visit and had talked to Gordon Brown about the transatlantic alliance, climate change, international terrorism and the world's wobbly finances. Well, whoopdy-doo. That's what most of us are discussing, too, but we're not running for President.

His Q&A with the assembled 150-strong Press pack was a little better. He was measured and thoughtful, and even managed a couple of jokes, especially about his own success, pointing out: `You are always more popular before you're in charge.'

Afterwards it was off to see David Cameron at the House of Commons, enabling commentators to speculate on his meeting with past, current and future Prime Ministers. And then he was gone. It was a pretty low-key visit for a man who admitted, `I'm so overexposed I make Paris Hilton look like a recluse.' He's exposed, yes, but he leaves this shore without us really knowing any more about him.

In Berlin, Obama couldn't wait to tell the 200,000 crowd that his father had been a goatherd in Kenya and his grandfather a cook for the British during colonial rule. A cook? I wonder if he passed on his recipe for souffl‚s, those tricky dishes that look fantastic in the rarefied atmosphere of the oven but collapse with a phhht of hot air when they come into contact with the real world. I suppose we'll find out after America's elections in November.


Obama is all talk

It is an extraordinary sight to walk into a basic two-room house under a mango tree in rural east Africa and discover what is essentially a shrine to Barack Obama.

The small brick house with no running water, a tin roof and roving chickens, goats and cows is owned by Sarah Obama, Barack's 86-year-old step-grandmother. Inside, the walls are decorated with a 2008 Obama election sticker, an old "Barack Obama for Senate" poster on which he has written "Mama Sarah Habai [how are you?]", a 2005 calendar that says "The Kenyan Wonder Boy in the US", and more than a dozen family photos.

But this bucolic scene in his father's village of Kogelo near the Equator in western Kenya conceals a troubling reality that, until now, has never been spoken about. Barack Obama, the Evening Standard can reveal, after we went to the village earlier this month, has failed to honour the pledges of assistance that he made to a school named in his honour when he visited here amid great fanfare two years ago.

At that historic homecoming in August 2006 Obama was greeted as a hero with thousands lining the dirt streets of Kogelo. He visited the Senator Obama Kogelo Secondary School built on land donated by his paternal grandfather. After addressing the pupils, a third of whom are orphans, and dancing with them as they sang songs in his honour, he was shown a school with four dilapidated classrooms that lacked even basic resources such as water, sanitation and electricity.

He told the assembled press, local politicians (who included current Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga), and students: "Hopefully I can provide some assistance in the future to this school and all that it can be." He then turned to the school's principal, Yuanita Obiero, and assured her and her teachers: "I know you are working very hard and struggling to bring up this school, but I have said I will assist the school and I will do so."

Obiero says that although Obama did not explicitly use the word "financial" to qualify the nature of the assistance he was offering, "there was no doubt among us [teachers] that is what he meant. We interpreted his words as meaning he would help fund the school, either personally or by raising sponsors or both, in order to give our school desperately-needed modern facilities and a facelift". She added that 10 of the school's 144 pupils are Obama's relatives.