Archive for August, 2008

August 30, 2008

Cartoon for August 30

Pakistan impeached their dictator. Why can’t we do the same to ours?

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August 29, 2008

Barack’s Big Night

Obama’s acceptance speech, like all good speeches, started slowly out of the gate. The second third was a barn burner, going after McCain and Bush the way he should have from the start. The last was a well-intentioned misfire, trying to address critics (like me) who chide him for a lack of specifics. He enumerated his platform planks, but they were so tepid, so woefully short of what we need on a range of important issues, that they fell flat. Nice try, anyway.

There was one galling moment, though. Obama said:

For — for while — while Senator McCain was turning his sights to Iraq just days after 9/11, I stood up and opposed this war, knowing that it would distract us from the real threats that we face.

When John McCain said we could just muddle through in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights.

You know, John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the gates of Hell, but he won’t even follow him to the cave where he lives.

First of all, Obama didn’t actually oppose the Iraq War. He voted to fund it. Over and over and over. All he did was talk about how the war was a bad idea, before voting to waste more money and lives on it.

Second, “the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11” weren’t in Afghanistan. They were dead, or in Pakistan. Some of their financiers were in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, too. Obama’s desire to seem tough because he’s willing to kill Muslims in Afghanistan is as misguided as Bush’s Iraq misadventure.

Third, I’m betting Osama lives in a nice house.

August 28, 2008

Cartoon for August 28

I know this is kind of stupid. But I’m sure the Republicans are already printing up the posters.

August 27, 2008

THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: THE MUDDLE IS THE MESSAGE

Obama on the Ropes

Democrats are fired up about Obama. Belying Will Rogers’ adage that as a Democrat he didn’t belong to any organized political party, this year finds the DNC uncharacteristically well funded and startlingly organized. Running against an incumbent likely to go down as this country’s worst leader in history, Democrats couldn’t ask for a more favorable political climate. “Watergate is the last time things were so overwhelmingly tilted against the Republicans,” Duke University political scientist David Rohde tells the Bloomberg wire service.

McCain ought to be a pushover. At a time when Americans are tired of Iraq as well as the “good war” against Afghanistan, the GOP standard bearer’s narrative is military: career Navy, POW, wants to send more young men and women to Iraq.

Yet the latest Gallup poll (conducted August 22-24) has Obama neck and neck with McCain, with 45 percent each, with a two percent margin of error. CNN (August 21-23) yields identical results, a 47-47 tie with a 3.5 percent margin of error. What’s up?

This year’s presidential race, as I’ve been saying for months, is Barack Obama’s to lose. And though he hasn’t committed any major gaffes–no joy rides in any tanks or senior moments when asked how many houses he owns–he hasn’t taken the swings he needs to wallop this thing out of the park.

Obama leaves nothing to chance, coolly hugging every twist and turn of the campaign trail with pre-2000 Rovian efficiency. His campaign’s professionalism is a welcome departure from the witless incompetence that has characterized the last eight years of federal governance. But it comes at a price–the same joylessness of inevitability that killed Hillary in the primaries.

Joe Biden is yet another sacrifice to the gods of pragmatism, a chance to boldly seize the moment squandered. Memo to future campaign managers: don’t con millions of saps into telling you their cellphone numbers so they can get a personalized spam telling them about your VP pick an hour after it’s announced on TV. Even better, don’t make a big deal about your VP unless your VP is a big deal.

In 1996 Bob Dole enjoyed a nine-point bump in the polls after announcing Jack Kemp as his running mate. Bush and Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004 picked up between three and five percentage points after naming their veeps. The Biden bump was zero. Amazing but true–Joe Lieberman was a bigger asset than Biden. In Biden’s defense, big announcements don’t get much news traction when they break on a Saturday in late August.

Maybe Biden can deliver Delaware.

Obama and his advisers, probably still a little amazed that they got this far with what would normally have been a test candidacy designed to lay the groundwork for a later race, have apparently forgotten how their guy first broke out. Back in December, before the Iowa caucus, Obama was the guy who reminded Americans of a time when politicians knew how to talk and inspire them. He was young at a time when old guys like Dick Cheney were screwing up the world. He was optimistic when voters’ confidence was all but non-existent.

Remember hope? Audacity? Change? Platitudes all, and wonderful marketing for a country that was anything but post-partisan, much less post-political.

Audacity has been in short supply since Obama collected his 2118th delegate on June 3rd. Pandering to racist whites who think black guys are a bunch of child-abandoning layabouts, he delivered a speech slagging them as deadbeat dads. He flip-flopped on domestic spying, voting to grant immunity to telecommunications companies that illegally let the NSA listen to your phone calls. He even changed his mind about offshore oil drilling, which will crap up beaches while prices at the pump remain exactly the same.

There’s nothing wrong with Joe Biden. He’s a safe pick–experienced and smart, he offers foreign policy cred to make up for Obama’s short resume. Biden will be a good attack dog, assuming the campaign decides to use him as such. But he’s an uninspired and uninspiring choice.

Personally, I’m glad Obama didn’t pick Hillary. She would have overshadowed him. John Edwards, my pick for president in the primaries and for veep after he dropped out, has been hobbled by the revelation that he had an affair (with the apparent consent of his wife, but whatever). But either Clinton or Edwards would have been a better choice than Joe Biden. They’re different, they’re controversial, they’re…a change. Unlike Biden, people would have talked about them.

Obama’s politics are neither complex nor internally inconsistent. They are opportunist. Whatever works with voters is good. “His philosophy is ambition,” Cooper Union historian Fred Siegel told the New York Times. “I see him as having a rhetoric rather than a philosophy.”

Obama’s campaign relies on imagery, not ideology. He has fans, not supporters. He won the Democratic nomination by acting like a rock star, not a politician. Turning to traditional politics (as he did by picking Biden) will expose his weaknesses on a playing field on which he has little experience–and could cost him the presidency.

(C) 2008 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

August 25, 2008

Cartoon for August 25

It took me a while to get around to commenting on McCain’s plan for reducing oil prices–offshore drilling that might make a tiny dent in a decade or more, probably none at all.

By the way, there are serious articles discussing the possibility of drilling for oil on the moon or on other planets.

August 24, 2008

Early Warning

Stay tuned…I’m rolling out my first ever animated cartoon in a week or two.

August 23, 2008

Biden? Zzzzzzzzz

This isn’t as bad as 2000, when someone told me on a bus in Kyrgyzstan that Al Gore had picked Lieberman, the world’s least telegenic politician and America’s least Democratic Democrat, as his running mate. But Barack Obama’s pick for VP is a disappointment.

Following the Clintonian policy of deliberately squandering every opportunity, the Obama campaign seems to know their choice is a disaster. Why else break the news so that it would emerge on a Saturday in late August, one of the deadest news days of the year?

The big question is why. Of course, we know Obama felt he needed some foreign policy cred. But others could have provided that. The trouble with Biden is, well, he ain’t change we can believe in, is he? He’s the same old, same old–and, as a fellow senator, redundant at that.

John Edwards would have been a better a choice. So would Hillary. At least people would be talking about them.

I’m boning up on my McCain caricature. Looks like I’ll need it.

August 23, 2008

Cartoon for August 23

John McCain’s inability to remember his number of residences (or, more accurately, Cindy’s) certainly exposes his inability to relate to ordinary Americans. Of course, the same is true of Obama, though to a less extreme extent.

August 22, 2008

Cartoon for August 21

Barack Obama’s text message announcement of his vice presidential running mate made an irresistible target for this cartoon.

August 21, 2008

THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: 13 DAYS IN AUGUST

The Polish Missile Crisis: Bush’s Last War?

The Cold War is over,” Condi Rice said last week. This may be true. She and her lame duck boss seem to be starting up a hot one instead.

Imagine Russian or Chinese military bases in Tijuana or Ciudad Juárez, across the Mexican border from El Paso. Add some more in Toronto and Vancouver. Now imagine that Russia managed to persuade Canada and Mexico to join it in some weird new Eastern bloc military alliance whose purpose was to “contain” the U.S., and then placed a battery of long-range missiles in one or both countries. How long would it take before we went to war?

Of course, you don’t need an imagination. The U.S. didn’t tolerate Soviet missiles in Cuba, and is still trying to overthrow its government.

Given America’s refusal to accept an unfriendly regime in its neighborhood–remember Grenada?–you’d think it would know enough to stay out of Russia’s hair. You’d be wrong.

Driven by its twin original sins of greed and arrogance, the United States began nibbling at Russia’s edges soon after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Clinton Administration wooed oil-rich ex-Soviet states such as Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. It’s as if Florida were to declare independence, and crawled into bed with Iran.

Efforts to de-Russify the old Soviet sphere of influence accelerated under Bush, who used 9/11 and the “war on terror” as a pretext to establish permanent military bases in the Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Bush’s CIA even funded a coup d’état in Kyrgyzstan, which overthrew Central Asia’s only democratically elected president.

Central Asia, under Russia’s sphere of influence for more than 150 years, began playing host to CIA “black sites” and other U.S. torture facilities.

The U.S. invited ex-Soviet bloc states–the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, the Baltic states–to join NATO, the Cold War-era anti-Russian military alliance. Recently, it even encouraged the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia to apply for membership, emboldening Georgia in its recent conflict with Russia.

Now the Bush Administration has convinced Poland to base ten RIM-161 Standard Interceptor Missiles (SM-3) along Russia’s western border.

Republics that were once part of or fell under the influence of the Soviet Union are sovereign states. They are legally and morally permitted to form alliances with any other nation they choose, including the U.S. Still, you have to wonder: Don’t these guys own a map? Doesn’t it make more sense to suck up to the superpower next door than the one an ocean away?

From our perspective: Why would the U.S. think provoking Russia by encroaching on its traditional sphere of influence is a good idea?

For Russia, using newfound oil wealth to rebuild its military, the Polish-American missile deal is the line in the sand. Annual defense budget increases of 20 percent or more, which should bring at least half of its hardware up to modern standards by 2015, have transformed the dying dog of Yeltsin-era “shock economics” back into a growling bear.

“Poland, by deploying [U.S. missiles] is exposing itself to a [nuclear] strike–100 percent,” says top Russian general Anatoly Nogovitsyn. The Russian government stood by his threat.

The U.S. claims the Russians have nothing to fear. “It [the missile system] is not aimed in any way at Russia,” says Condi. Indeed, interceptor missiles are designed to shoot down other missiles, not launch attacks. But the Russians don’t want to see their ability to strike first–a right also reserved by the U.S.–degraded by an anti-missile system. They also worry about the slippery slope: what new weapons will the U.S. place in Eastern Europe later on?

Russia’s concerns are no different than ours would be if they were the ones arming Canada against us. But Condi’s reassurances are too cute by half.

Shortly before signing the missile deal with Poland, she commented: “This will help us to deal with the new threats of the 21st century, of long-range missile threats from countries like Iran or from North Korea.” Sounds reasonable–except for geography.

Nearly 2000 miles separates Iran and Poland. North Korea is nearly 5000 miles away from Poland. But Iran’s longest-range missile, the Shahab-3, can only go 1200 miles–about the same as North Korea’s equivalent. When you factor in the fact that America’s Poland-based SM-3s only travel about 300 miles, it is mathematically impossible for them to intercept anything launched by Iran or North Korea.

The U.S. is occupying two of the largest nations bordering Iran–Afghanistan and Iraq. Wouldn’t building a missile shield there make a zillion times more sense? As for North Korea, well, we have a base in Okinawa, not to mention 25,000 troops in South Korea.

Meanwhile, Condi is trying to recruit more former Soviet republics for NATO. “We are going to help rebuild Georgia into a strong Georgian state,” Rice told Fox News. “The Russians will have failed in their effort to undermine Georgia. And we will be looking at what we can do with the states around that region as well.”

Are the Bushies trying to create a “national emergency” pretext for canceling the presidential election? Are they crazy Christians lusting for the end times? Or are they just nuts? No one knows their motives. But it’s hard to escape the conclusion that, after lying us into two losing wars, Cheney & Co. are using their closing months to try to provoke the mother of them all.

COPYRIGHT 2008 TED RALL