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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama Berlin Speech: Reagan, Kennedy Comparisons; More Media Reactions

Major news organizations are drawing comparisons between Barack Obama's speech in Berlin today and those of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. (They were helped along by Obama, whose remarks made several references to the words of the former presidents.) See video and photos from the speech here.

Time magazine:

Saying he had come to Berlin "not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen -- a proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world," presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama on Thursday night gave a soaring address that invoked echoes of the famous speeches in this city in which John F. Kennedy made common cause with Berliners against communist oppression in 1963 and Ronald Reagan called nearly 20 years ago to tear down the Berlin Wall.

ABC News: Headline:

Obama Echoes Reagan in Call for Global Unity: Democratic Contender Calls for Troop Support in Victory Column Address in Berlin

CNN:

Asked whether he looked to Reagan's and Kennedy's Berlin speeches for inspiration, Obama said, "They were presidents. I am a citizen."


"But obviously, Berlin is representative of the extraordinary success of post-World War II effort to bring a continent together, to bring the West together -- East and West together," he said.

Nonetheless, as a youthful Democratic presidential hopeful who has promised change if elected and invoked comparisons with Kennedy, Obama's strategists hope a warm welcome from Germans will play well with voters.

More reactions to Obama's speech:

The UK Times noted that despite a buildup in the German press, which had already hailed Obama as a "political Messiah," the speech met expectations and succeeded in winning over attendees.

If the intended message was to show American voters that he could restore the tarnished image of the US abroad, then the rally - the only such event in his overseas tour - succeeded. Young girls dyed their hair red, white and blue, hand-scrawled placards declaring" President B.O" - most banners were removed by security guards - were held aloft and a few enthusiasts hung vertigously from the lampposts first erected by Nazi town planner Albert Speer.

The response to Mr. Obama has been so warm that the coordinator for German-American relations in the foreign ministry here, Karsten D. Voigt, has tried to scale back expectations. He reminded Germans in interview after interview that Mr. Obama would have to support positions unpopular with the German public, like a stronger presence engaged in more fighting for the Bundeswehr, the German army, in Afghanistan.


First and foremost, Mr. Obama is popular because he is not Mr. Bush, who is wildly unpopular in Germany. Asked why they support Mr. Obama, his opposition to the Iraq War usually comes up first.

When reached for comment on the campaign trail, John McCain offered a somewhat rambling criticism of the speech:

"I'd love to give a speech in Germany ... a political speech or a speech that maybe the German people would be interested in, but I'd much prefer to do it as president of the United States rather than as a candidate ... for the office of presidency," McCain told reporters in Ohio.

McCain later said that he'd prefer to wait until he was elected president before speaking in another country, another odd criticism given that McCain spoke in Canada as recently as June. A spokesman for the McCain campaign later issued a more lucid criticism of the speech.

"While Barack Obama took a premature victory lap today in the heart of Berlin, proclaiming himself a 'citizen of the world,' John McCain continued to make his case to the American citizens who will decide this election," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said in a statement. "Barack Obama offered eloquent praise for this country, but the contrast is clear. John McCain has dedicated his life to serving, improving and protecting America. Barack Obama spent an afternoon talking about it."

However, as The New York Observer points out, Obama's trip has been a boon for him in the polls.

Still, perception of a trip has been the cause of some hand wringing on the web. Noam Scheiber at The New Rupublic's "The Stump" blog wondered how the speech will be received by swing voters.

I worry that the combination of the visual and some of the rhetoric--"Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen--a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world"--was a little too post-nationalist for the typical American swing-voter. I'm not sure you win the presidency without being seen as an unambiguous nationalist.


It wasn't the speech per se--which, as I say, was perfectly calibrated. It was the impression a voter might get from a stray line or two, against the backdrop of a hundred thousand adoring Germans, that makes me slightly queasy.

Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic defended the speech, however, as have others.

What's so bad about Germans cheering an American, especially when the visuals were stunning. Hundreds of American flags, waving. 200,000 Berliners cheering an American presidential candidate.


A short speech, mostly, carrying the message that animates Obama's presidency:

The message of the speech was the common values that unite the citizens of the world. Obama's Berlin is a shining beacon of hope to the world, "where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is so challenge too great for a world that stands as one."

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza summarized the speech nicely.

It shouldn't be terribly surprising that Obama delivered a powerful speech on the world stage. After all, this is a guy whose candidacy was launched by his address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 and propelled at crucial times (particularly his address on race after the Rev. Wright scandal) by his oratorical abilities. Obama's gift for public speaking, however, should not take away from the degree of difficulty of the speech he just delivered. While there appears to be some early criticism of Obama's decision to re-use his "this is our moment" line, the Illinois senator seemed to generally dodge the various problems that the speech posed without breaking a sweat (although he did awkwardly wipe his brow at one point.) The speech was neither a dry foreign policy address nor a campaign-centric talk -- either of which would have left Obama open to criticism. It was serious without being stultifyingly boring and global in view and without being overly solicitous of Europe.

Like many commentators, Talking Points Memo found that the speech had the right balance of patriotism and humility.

"I know my country has not perfected itself." The line, again, has a hint of a plea; he's asking Europe to forgive America the sins of the Bush years, while insisting that there's nothing incompatible whatsoever between patriotic love of America and caring what the rest of the world thinks of us.

And really, this brings us right back to his candidacy. In a sense, the message of his very presence in Berlin is this: If slavery is the ultimate national sin, then the fact that he's running for president, and very well may win, and is promising the rest of the world a better America if he does win -- well, then all of this would achieve some sort of movement in the direction of that perfection that stubbornly continues to elude us.

Original here

Veterans Respond to McCain's "Obama Wants to Lose" Remark

While Barack Obama spends the week in Afghanistan and Iraq, speaking to throngs of cheering troops and diplomats, John McCain is accusing the likely Democratic nominee of wanting to "lose" the war in Iraq. Here's what he said today:

MCCAIN: It seems to me that Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.

It looks to me like desperation brought on by Maliki's endorsement of Obama's plan is starting to settle in -- especially considering that not many Americans and even fewer Iraqis look at Iraq in terms of winning and losing anymore.

But the question, then, becomes this: If McCain thinks Obama wants to lose in Iraq, and thousands of troops support Obama's policies, does this mean that McCain thinks those troops want to lose in Iraq?

Let's take a look at some math we all learned in first-year algebra for a possible answer:

The Transitive Property: If a = b and b = c, then a = c.

Of course, I know this might be an "unsound application" of the mathematical property, but still. What's McCain really saying here? Personally, I fought with everything I had in Iraq and Afghanistan -- to win. And based on my experiences, I believe Barack Obama has proposed the most prudent policies on Iraq so far -- as evidenced by the support he's getting from the American people and the Iraqi government. So for John McCain to disparage Senator Obama by saying he wants to lose is to imply that I wanted to lose as well. And, frankly, that's insulting. I would expect more from a fellow combat veteran like John McCain.

Anyway, as an "unsound application" of algebra or not, I'm not the only Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who's feeling insulted by John McCain's remarks today. Here's how some of our members at VoteVets.org feel:

As a veteran of a fifteen-month combat tour in Iraq at the height of the surge, it is incredibly offensive to see John McCain make off color remarks about Senator Obama's view on Iraq, claiming he "wants to lose" there. By bolstering his political rhetoric, he forgets that many veterans of the war in Iraq would like to see a reallocation of forces to Afghanistan to combat genuine threats to our national security. Would John McCain be so cavalier to say that I want to lose in Iraq, a place where many of my friends left their lives and limbs?

Alex Horton
Austin, TX
Iraq veteran
Army
2006-07

Senator McCain's comments represent the radical anti-troop, anti-veteran rhetoric his campaign has become known for. I went to combat, and I saw first-hand the damage the failed policies of George W. Bush and John McCain have caused to our American troops. I wonder if this eye-witness knowledge means that I want to lose as well.

Richard Smith
Huntsville, AL
Afghanistan veteran
Army
2007-08

The message of "losing" being offered by Senator McCain is a lie. There is no compelling United States interest in Iraq that is worth the treasure and time that our nation has been asked to pay. The police action in Iraq has done nothing other than to show the world that America is weak and afraid--of admitting mistakes. In this case, over 4,000 men and women have died because of the cowardice and lack of integrity of our political leadership.

Senator McCain has to stop following this folly. He has to show strength and admit that the strength of America is in its willingness to champion reason over fear. There is no possible cost-benefit analysis that can justify the abandonment of the War on Terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to police a sovereign state that no longer desires our presence.

George Zubaty
Louisville, KY
Iraq and Afghanistan veteran
Army
2001-02 and 2003-04

To suggest that Senator Obama wants to "lose" in Iraq is outlandish, thought I can't help but notice that Senator McCain has no problem with the fact that we continue to lose ground every day in Afghanistan--the real War on Terror.

Brian McGough
Ashburn, VA
Iraq and Afghanistan veteran
Army
2001-02 and 2003

To say that Barack Obama wants to "lose" in Iraq is completely beyond acceptable standards of political discourse. For Senator McCain to impugn the loyalty and patriotism of a sitting United States Senator while he is overseas to gain some short-term political leverage is beneath the dignity of the office which he holds. This is an act of political desperation and moral cowardice. John McCain should be ashamed of himself and immediately apologize.

Terence O'Rourke
Portsmouth, NH
Iraq veteran
Army
2006-07

I am very disappointed to hear another combat veteran like Senator McCain say that Senator Obama wants to "lose" the war. When I served in Afghanistan and Iraq, our objective was to win the War on Terror and we always gave it 100 percent. His statement today is very insulting to me and all the others who continue fighting the war today.

Peter O'Brien
Boston, MA
Iraq and Afghanistan veteran
Army
2001-02 and 2003-04

I served proudly for 15 months in George Bush and John McCain's war of aggression. By saying that my preferred candidate for president, Barack Obama, is somehow treasonous by supporting the Iraqi people's desire for us to leave, Senator McCain is saying that I am as well. I guess the only other way to be a good American in McCain's eyes would be to stay in Iraq for 100 years so we can "win."

Rick Hegdahl
Bellevue, WA
OEF and OIF veteran
Navy
2002-03 and 2005-06

I don't know what Senator McCain is talking about. How is staying in Iraq for 100 years winning, while responsibly removing our military from a sovereign country--at their request--losing? Wasn't leaving the whole point?

Ernesto Estrada
San Francisco, CA
Iraq veteran
Marine Corps
2003

Leaving aside for a moment the fact that Senator McCain has yet to clearly define what victory in Iraq looks like for the United States, it is extremely discouraging to hear such divisive rhetoric coming out of what Senator McCain promised would be a campaign "on the issues." During my time as a soldier and now as a civilian, I have never doubted that anyone on either side of the political spectrum has wanted anything less than the complete success for our troops. It is so unfortunate to see Senator McCain adapt the old tactic of baselessly calling a political opponent's patriotism into question as a campaign tool.

Neil Riley
Ashburn, VA
Iraq and Afghanistan veteran
Army
2002-03 and 2004-05

Lose in Iraq? It seems to me that the more the U.S. and Iraq discuss withdrawal, the more the violence subsides. And that's not losing. To be honest, there's only one place we're truly at risk of "losing," and that's Afghanistan--a place to which John McCain refuses to devote proper attention.

Peter Granato
Washington, DC
Iraq veteran
Army
2003-04

To say that Senator Obama wants to lose in Iraq is, in fact, saying that the majority of this country wants to lose. To suggest that every person who has been critical of the Bush-McCain policy favors losing the war is beyond reprehensible and absurd.

David Brignac
Baton Rouge, LA
Afghanistan veteran
Army
2006-07

This type of insulting nonsense will not go unnoticed or unchallenged by the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who've fought in both John McCain's war in Iraq, and in the other war in Afghanistan. Either way, something tells me that John McCain would never say the same thing to any of our faces.

Original here

Another John McCain Gaffe -- Iraq Was the First Major Conflict After 9/11

There is one more John McCain gaffe that the media missed from the now famous CBS interview with Katie Couric.

This is the same interview in which McCain claimed the surge led to the Anbar Awakening, which is demonstrably false. But watch below for another gaffe when McCain says Iraq was the first major conflict after 9/11.

Was Afghanistan not major enough for him? It almost reminds you of when Don Rumsfeld was not impressed with invading Afghanistan because it did not provide a rich enough target environment. He needed something more major.

In all likelihood, this was a simple mental mistake for McCain, among a litany of others recently. But it does go toward state of mind. They never saw Afghanistan as a priority.

Original here

House Republicans Fire Off Letter To New York Times

By Patrick O'Connor

(The Politico) In a move reminiscent of past flaps over the perception of liberal bias among mainstream media outlets, House Republicans distributed a letter on Wednesday formally "urging" The New York Times to allow a third party to take out a full-page ad featuring a rejected opinion piece by their party's presidential candidate, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Calling the decision not to run McCain's op-ed "unfortunate" and "alarming," Republicans in the House asked the paper "to permit a third partythe purchase of ad space" in the Times "as a second-best means of responding" to an op-ed by Sen. Barack Obama the Times published recently.

The GOP has taken issue with national media coverage - particularly in the Times - many times in the past. Last year, Republicans seized on MoveOn's full-page Petraeus/"Betray Us" ad as a sign of the paper's liberal sympathies.

"A national publication such as the Times has a clear obligation to provide equal access to its op-ed page to both candidates," the Republicans wrote, "to convey fairness by the paper and to help further the national debate."

"In his op-ed, Senator Obama addresses the differences between his position and Senator McCain's position on Iraq, and responds to the criticisms leveled by the McCain campaign," the letter continues. "The Times readership, and indeed the public, deserves an equal chance to read Senator McCain's response on the same editorial page."

GOP lawmakers also complain that an e-mail sent to the McCain campaign explaining the decision presents a clear editorial bias "by presuming to tell Senator McCain how and what to write in his submission in order to win the favor of the Times' Op-Ed editors."

The Republicans play on a perception that members of the national media clearly favor Obama over their own candidate, citing a Rasmussen poll that shows 49 percent of the respondents believe members of the media "will actively attempt to assist Senator Obama's campaign" - a narrative that has taken root on cable news and the late-night comedy circuit as well.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 96 House Republicans had signed the letter.

The text of the letter is after the jump; we'll post a response from The Times when we get one.
Continue reading post...

Original here

The Mother of All Messes

By PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS

Republicans are sending around the Internet a photo of a cute little boy whose T-shirt reads: “The mess in my pants is nothing compared to the mess Democrats will make of this country if they win Nov. 2nd.”

One can only wonder at the insouciance of this message. Are Republicans unaware of the amazing mess the Bush regime has made?

It is impossible to imagine a bigger mess. Republicans have us at war in two countries as a result of Republican lies and deceptions, and we might be in two more wars--Iran and Pakistan--by November. We have alienated the entire Muslim world and most of the rest.

The dollar has lost 60% of its value against the euro, and the once mighty dollar is losing its reserve currency role.

The Republicans’ policies have driven up the price of both oil and gold by 400%.

Inflation is in double digits. Employment is falling.

The Republican economy in the 21st century has been unable to create net new jobs for Americans except for low wage domestic services such as waitresses, bartenders, retail clerks and hospital orderlies.

Republican deregulation brought about fraud in mortgage lending and dangerous financial instruments which have collapsed the housing market, leaving a million or more homeowners facing foreclosure. The financial system is in disarray and might collapse from insolvency.

The trade and budget deficits have exploded. The US trade deficit is larger than the combined trade deficits of every deficit country in the world.

The US can no longer finance its wars or its own government and relies on foreign loans to function day to day. To pay for its consumption, the US sells its existing assets--companies, real estate, toll roads, whatever it can offer--to foreigners.

Republicans have run roughshod over the US Constitution, Congress, the courts and civil liberties. Republicans have made it perfectly clear that they believe that our civil liberties make us unsafe--precisely the opposite view of our Founding Fathers. Yet, Republicans regard themselves as the Patriotic Party.

The Republicans have violated the Nuremberg prohibitions against war crimes, and they have violated the Geneva Conventions against torture and abuse of prisoners. Republican disregard for human rights ranks with that of history’s great tyrants.

The Republicans have put in place the foundation for a police state.

I am confident that the Democrats, too, will make a mess. But can they beat this record?

We must get the Republicans totally out of power, or we will have no country left for the Democrats to mess up.

I say this as a person who has done as much for the Republican Party as anyone. I helped to devise and to get implemented an economic policy that cured stagflation and that brought Republicans back into political competition after Watergate. If I could have looked into a crystal ball and seen that under a free trade banner, Republicans would enable corporate executives to pay themselves millions of dollars in “performance pay” for deserting their American work forces and hiring foreigners in their place, thus destroying the aspirations and careers of millions of Americans, I never would have helped the Republicans. If a crystal ball had revealed that a neoconned Republican Party would launch wars of naked aggression against countries that posed no threat to the United States, I would have shouted my warnings even earlier.

The neoconned Republican Party is the greatest threat America has ever faced. Let me tell you why.

How many Republicans can you name who respect and honor the Constitution? There are Ron Paul, Bob Barr, and who? The ranks of Republican constitutional supporters quickly grow thin.

The reason is that Republicans view the Constitution as a coddling device for criminals and terrorists. Republicans think the Constitution can be set aside for evil-doers and kept in place for everyone else. But without the Constitution we only have the government’s word as to who is an evil-doer.

This would be the word of the same infallible government that told us that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction that were on the verge of being used against America, the same infallible government that told us that Guantanamo prison held “770 of the most dangerous persons alive” and then, after stealing 5 years of their lives, quietly released 500 of them as mistaken identities.

Republicans think the United States is the salt of the earth and that American hegemony over the rest of the world is not only justified by our great virtue but necessary to our safety. People this full of hubris are incapable of judgment. People incapable of judgment should never be given power.

Republicans have no sympathy for anyone but their own kind. How many Republicans do you know who care a hoot about the plight of the poor, the jobless, the medically uninsured? The government programs that Republicans are always adamant to cut are the ones that help people who need help.

I have yet to hear any of my Republican friends express any concern whatsoever for the 1.2 million Iraqis who have died, and the 4 million who have been displaced, as a result of Bush’s gratuitous invasion. Many tell me that the five- and six-year long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are due to wimpy Americans “who don’t have the balls it takes” to win. Killing and displacing a quarter of the Iraqi population is just a wimpy result of a population that lacks testosterone. Real Americans would have killed them all by now.

Macho patriotic Republicans are perfectly content for US foreign policy to be controlled by Israel. Republican evangelical “christian” churches teach their congregations that America’s purpose in the world is to serve Israel. And these are the flag-wavers.

Those of us who think America is the Constitution, and that loyalty means loyalty to the Constitution, not to office holders or to a political party or to a foreign country, are regarded by Republicans as “anti-American.”

Neoconservatives, such as Billy Kristol, insist that loyalty to the country means loyalty to the government. Thus, criticizing the government for launching wars of aggression and for violating constitutionally protected civil liberties is, according to neoconservatives, a disloyal act.

In the neoconservative view, there is no place for the voices of citizens: the government makes the decisions, and loyal citizens support the government’s decisions.

In the neocon political system there is no liberty, no democracy, no debate. Dissenters are traitors.

The neoconservative magazine, Commentary, wants the New York Times indicted for telling Americans that the Bush regime was caught violating US law, specifically the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, by spying on Americans without obtaining warrants as required by law. Note that neoconservatives think it is a criminal act for a newspaper to tell its readers that their government is spying on them illegally.

Judging by their behavior, a number of Democrats go along with the neocon view. Thus, the Democrats don’t offer a greatly different profile. They went along with the views that corporate profits and the war on terror take precedence over everything else. They have not used the congressional power that the electorate gave them in the 2006 elections.

However, Democrats, or at least some of them, do care about the Constitution. If it were not for Democratic appointees to the federal courts and the ACLU (essentially a Democratic organization), the Bush regime would have completely destroyed our civil liberties.

Some Democrats are “bleeding hearts,” who actually care about suffering people they don’t know, and who think that we have obligations to others. Have you ever heard of a bleeding heart Republican?

Traditionally, Democrats objected whenever policies resulted in a handful of rich people capturing all of the income gains from the economy. There might still be a few such Democrats left.

Looking at the Republican mess, I doubt that Democrats, try as they may, can equal it.

Original here

Al Gore's Doomsday Clock

By BRET STEPHENS

Al Gore gave a speech last week "challenging" America to run "on 100% zero-carbon electricity in 10 years" -- though that's just the first step on his road to "ending our reliance on carbon-based fuels." Serious people understand this is absurd. Maybe other people will start drawing the same conclusion about the man proposing it.

The former vice president has also recently disavowed any intention of returning to politics. This is wise. As America's leading peddler of both doom and salvation, Mr. Gore has moved beyond the constraints and obligations of reality. His job is to serve as a Prophet of Truth.

[Al Gore's Doomsday Clock]
Ken Fallin

In Mr. Gore's prophecy, a transition to carbon-free electricity generation in a decade is "achievable, affordable and transformative." He believes that the goal can be achieved almost entirely through the use of "renewables" alone, meaning solar, geothermal, wind power and biofuels.

And he doesn't think we really have any other good options: "The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk," he says, with his usual gift for understatement. "And even more -- if more should be required -- the future of human civilization is at stake."

What manner the catastrophe might take isn't yet clear, but the scenarios are grim: The climate crisis is getting worse faster than anticipated; global warming will cause refugee crises and destabilize entire nations; an "energy tsunami" is headed our way. And so on.

Here, however, is an inconvenient fact. In 1995, the U.S. got about 2.2% of its net electricity generation from "renewable" sources, according to the Energy Information Administration. By 2000, the last full year of the Clinton administration, that percentage had dropped to 2.1%. By contrast, the combined share of coal, petroleum and natural gas rose to 70% from 68% during the same time frame.

Now the share of renewables is up slightly, to about 2.3% as of 2006 (the latest year for which the EIA provides figures). The EIA thinks the use of renewables (minus hydropower) could rise to 201 billion kilowatt hours per year in 2018 from the current 65 billion. But the EIA also projects total net generation in 2018 to be 4.4 trillion kilowatt hours per year. That would put the total share of renewables at just over four percent of our electricity needs.

Mr. Gore's argument would be helped if he were also willing to propose huge investments in nuclear power, which emits no carbon dioxide and currently supplies about one-fifth of U.S. electricity needs, and about three-quarters of France's. Britain has just approved eight new nuclear plants, and the German government of Angela Merkel is working to do away with a plan by the previous government to go nuclear-free.

But Mr. Gore makes no mention of nuclear power in his speech, nor of the equally carbon-free hydroelectric power. These are proven technologies -- and useful reminders of what happens when environmentalists get what they wished for.

Mr. Gore's case would also be helped if our experience of renewable sources were a positive one. It isn't. In his useful book "Gusher of Lies," Robert Bryce notes that "in July 2006, wind turbines in California produced power at only about 10% of their capacity; in Texas, one of the most promising states for wind energy, the windmills produced electricity at about 17% of their rated capacity." Like wind power, solar power also suffers from the problem of intermittency, which means that it has to be backed up by conventional sources in order to avoid disruptions. This is especially true of hot summers when the wind doesn't blow and cold winters when the sun doesn't shine.

And then there are biofuels, whose recent vogue, the World Bank believes, may have been responsible for up to 75% of the recent rise in world food prices. Save the planet; starve the poor.

None of this seems to trouble Mr. Gore. He thinks that simply by declaring an emergency he can help achieve Stakhanovite results. He might recall what the Stakhanovite myth (about the man who mined 14 times his quota of coal in six hours) actually did to the Soviet economy.

A more interesting question is why Mr. Gore remains believable. Perhaps people think that facts ought not to count against a man whose task is to raise our sights, or play Cassandra to unbelieving mortals.

Or maybe he is believed simply because people want something in which to believe. "The readiness for self-sacrifice," wrote Eric Hoffer in "The True Believer," "is contingent on an imperviousness to the realities of life. . . . All active mass movements strive, therefore, to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it. . . . To rely on the evidence of the senses and of reason is heresy and treason. It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible."

Original here

Obama Berlin Speech: US Foreign Service Workers Instructed Not To Attend

Although it appears most of Berlin is heading to Obama's speech today, US Foreign Service personnel will be banned from the event. And they are not happy. The American Foreign Service Association, a union of Foreign Service workers are opposing the rule. Read more from The Washington Post. And watch the speech live here.

The U.S. Embassy in Berlin has instructed Foreign Service personnel stationed there not to attend Sen. Barack Obama's public rally today, which the State Department this week labeled a "partisan political activity" prohibited under its regulations for those serving overseas.

Government employees serving in the United States are permitted to attend such events under the Hatch Act, which bars other partisan activity, such as contributing money or working in behalf of a candidate...

...The American Foreign Service Association, the union of the diplomatic corps, objected to the ruling, calling it an "unnecessarily narrow interpretation" of the Foreign Affairs Manual. "The fact that you are working for the U.S. government overseas should not preclude political activity that you could engage in in the United States," one retired senior Foreign Service officer said.

HuffPost blogger Jacob Heilbrunn looks into the political connections around the rule:

Indeed, the administration has a long and tawdry record of trying to browbeat government agencies into submission, whether it's the CIA or the Centers for Disease Control. The State Department is perhaps highest on the list of conservatives and neocons who see it as the center of disloyalty and treachery. But this latest action represents a new low. If it's going to these lengths, the Bush administration must be really worried about Sen. John McCain's prospects.

Original here

GOP Insider Eviscerates Bush And Party: Just "Phenomenal Arrogance"

There is wide-spread acknowledgment, even within the party itself, that the Republican brand is currently poisonous. Faced with massive losses in November, GOP leadership has green-lighted a save-yourself mentality, allowing its endangered members to go against the party line if it means helping their electoral chances.

But if the situation seems bad on the electoral level, insiders warn that it's even worse when you get down to infrastructure and machinery. Facing an avalanche of losses, the GOP is stuck with an antiquated system of fundraising, a tired leadership, and a president many Americans loathe.

"There is a phenomenal arrogance like a fog that has clouded people's thinking and ability to see what is real," said Nicole Sexton, a longtime Republican fundraiser and former Director of Finance for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "We have to go down in history as some of the worst messengers. And President Bush has been horrible. Everything he does deems calculated and insincere. The same was true with Bill Clinton but he at least had the ability to seem sincere. With Bush, people are throwing stones and tomatoes at him [and he hasn't changed]."

Sexton, the author of the new book, "Party Favors" (a fictionalized look at the life of a GOP fundraiser), offered a fairly dire assessment of the party in which she used to be a major figure. A native of New Orleans, much of her scorn was saved for Bush, who she derided for his ignorance of the scope Hurricane Katrina's devastation.

"He should have been in a row boat in the middle of the 9th ward, helping families," she said before adding, when prompted, "like Sean Penn... Instead, there were all these resources put to his press conference."

As the chief financial officer for the NRSC, Sexton did not put the blame for the GOP's current problems strictly at Bush's doorstep. She talked openly (later admitting that her former colleagues weren't too pleased with her frankness) about how political figures she had once admired had become consumed by the prospect of reelection.

"We need some new blood in the party," she said. "But the problem is that the younger candidates, like John Sununu, are real in danger of losing their seats."

The GOP's outreach is also aging. "We are a direct marketing and a direct mail party and that's a dinosaur in the fundraising world," she said. "Just look at our presidential candidates [this cycle]. Huckabee was the only one that came close to have an Internet presence like Obama. All his money came from the web and he was able to stay in the race till the final hour. Giuliani, I don't know if he was seeing straight... For McCain to literally have imploded twice and still be the candidate is a phenomenal statement about the party."

If anyone should know about the intersection of money and politics it is Sexton. Starting as an intern for the White House Office of National Service she quickly rose to prominence within the sometimes-sordid world of political fundraising. At her post at the NRSC from 2002 through 2005, she played an instrumental role in helping the GOP regain control of the Senate, only to grow disillusioned. "I realized I really didn't know these people," she said. "I was a cog in the machine and hadn't connected with any of the candidates I was helping elect."

She also grew wary of the role that fundraising played. Noting that politicians were spending disproportionate amounts of time raising cash, she called for the system to be scrapped in favor of caps on the amount candidates could raise as a whole (not to be confused with a cap on the size of the individual donations) and restrictions on the time period during which they could raise cash.

Now employed by the ONE Campaign, Sexton still is connected to, and eagerly following, the GOP. Before ending the interview she predicted that her party would lose five seats in the Senate this cycle -- an optimistic estimate in a down year. She also projected that McCain would eventually best Obama though her admiration for the latter's political prowess were clearly evident.

"Usually the youth will go to politically rallies and concerts and never show up and vote and they certainly never contributed" she said of the Illinois Democrat's appeal to younger voters. "These people now are leaving college and giving to Obama. It is phenomenal. If you are giving up your beer money for three nights it means you are invested in the guy."

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Obama Berlin Speech: See Video, Photos, Full Speech Transcript

Before the largest crowd of his campaign, Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama on Thursday summoned Europeans and Americans together to "defeat terror and dry up the well of extremism that supports it" as surely as they conquered communism a generation ago.

"The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand," Obama said, speaking not far from where the Berlin Wall once divided the city.

"The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand," he said.

Obama said he was speaking as a citizen, not as a president, but the evening was awash in politics. His remarks inevitably invited comparison to historic speeches in the same city by Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, and he borrowed rhetoric from his own appeals to campaign audiences in the likes of Berlin, N.H., when he addressed a crowd in one of the great cities of Europe.

"People of Berlin, people of the world, this is our moment. This is our time," he said.

Watch video -- full speech transcript and photos are below:

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OBAMA SPEECH TRANSCRIPT:
Remarks of Senator Barack Obama (as prepared for delivery)

"A World that Stands as One"

July 24th, 2008

Berlin, Germany

Thank you to the citizens of Berlin and to the people of Germany. Let me thank Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Steinmeier for welcoming me earlier today. Thank you Mayor Wowereit, the Berlin Senate, the police, and most of all thank you for this welcome.

I come to Berlin as so many of my countrymen have come before. Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen - a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world.

I know that I don't look like the Americans who've previously spoken in this great city. The journey that led me here is improbable. My mother was born in the heartland of America, but my father grew up herding goats in Kenya. His father - my grandfather - was a cook, a domestic servant to the British.

At the height of the Cold War, my father decided, like so many others in the forgotten corners of the world, that his yearning - his dream - required the freedom and opportunity promised by the West. And so he wrote letter after letter to universities all across America until somebody, somewhere answered his prayer for a better life.

That is why I'm here. And you are here because you too know that yearning. This city, of all cities, knows the dream of freedom. And you know that the only reason we stand here tonight is because men and women from both of our nations came together to work, and struggle, and sacrifice for that better life.

Ours is a partnership that truly began sixty years ago this summer, on the day when the first American plane touched down at Templehof.

On that day, much of this continent still lay in ruin. The rubble of this city had yet to be built into a wall. The Soviet shadow had swept across Eastern Europe, while in the West, America, Britain, and France took stock of their losses, and pondered how the world might be remade.

This is where the two sides met. And on the twenty-fourth of June, 1948, the Communists chose to blockade the western part of the city. They cut off food and supplies to more than two million Germans in an effort to extinguish the last flame of freedom in Berlin.

The size of our forces was no match for the much larger Soviet Army. And yet retreat would have allowed Communism to march across Europe. Where the last war had ended, another World War could have easily begun. All that stood in the way was Berlin.

And that's when the airlift began - when the largest and most unlikely rescue in history brought food and hope to the people of this city.

The odds were stacked against success. In the winter, a heavy fog filled the sky above, and many planes were forced to turn back without dropping off the needed supplies. The streets where we stand were filled with hungry families who had no comfort from the cold.

But in the darkest hours, the people of Berlin kept the flame of hope burning. The people of Berlin refused to give up. And on one fall day, hundreds of thousands of Berliners came here, to the Tiergarten, and heard the city's mayor implore the world not to give up on freedom. "There is only one possibility," he said. "For us to stand together united until this battle is won...The people of Berlin have spoken. We have done our duty, and we will keep on doing our duty. People of the world: now do your duty...People of the world, look at Berlin!"

People of the world - look at Berlin!

Look at Berlin, where Germans and Americans learned to work together and trust each other less than three years after facing each other on the field of battle.

Look at Berlin, where the determination of a people met the generosity of the Marshall Plan and created a German miracle; where a victory over tyranny gave rise to NATO, the greatest alliance ever formed to defend our common security.

Look at Berlin, where the bullet holes in the buildings and the somber stones and pillars near the Brandenburg Gate insist that we never forget our common humanity.

People of the world - look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one.

Sixty years after the airlift, we are called upon again. History has led us to a new crossroad, with new promise and new peril. When you, the German people, tore down that wall - a wall that divided East and West; freedom and tyranny; fear and hope - walls came tumbling down around the world. From Kiev to Cape Town, prison camps were closed, and the doors of democracy were opened. Markets opened too, and the spread of information and technology reduced barriers to opportunity and prosperity. While the 20th century taught us that we share a common destiny, the 21st has revealed a world more intertwined than at any time in human history.

The fall of the Berlin Wall brought new hope. But that very closeness has given rise to new dangers - dangers that cannot be contained within the borders of a country or by the distance of an ocean.

The terrorists of September 11th plotted in Hamburg and trained in Kandahar and Karachi before killing thousands from all over the globe on American soil.

As we speak, cars in Boston and factories in Beijing are melting the ice caps in the Arctic, shrinking coastlines in the Atlantic, and bringing drought to farms from Kansas to Kenya.

Poorly secured nuclear material in the former Soviet Union, or secrets from a scientist in Pakistan could help build a bomb that detonates in Paris. The poppies in Afghanistan become the heroin in Berlin. The poverty and violence in Somalia breeds the terror of tomorrow. The genocide in Darfur shames the conscience of us all.

In this new world, such dangerous currents have swept along faster than our efforts to contain them. That is why we cannot afford to be divided. No one nation, no matter how large or powerful, can defeat such challenges alone. None of us can deny these threats, or escape responsibility in meeting them. Yet, in the absence of Soviet tanks and a terrible wall, it has become easy to forget this truth. And if we're honest with each other, we know that sometimes, on both sides of the Atlantic, we have drifted apart, and forgotten our shared destiny.

In Europe, the view that America is part of what has gone wrong in our world, rather than a force to help make it right, has become all too common. In America, there are voices that deride and deny the importance of Europe's role in our security and our future. Both views miss the truth - that Europeans today are bearing new burdens and taking more responsibility in critical parts of the world; and that just as American bases built in the last century still help to defend the security of this continent, so does our country still sacrifice greatly for freedom around the globe.

Yes, there have been differences between America and Europe. No doubt, there will be differences in the future. But the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together. A change of leadership in Washington will not lift this burden. In this new century, Americans and Europeans alike will be required to do more - not less. Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice; it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity.

That is why the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another.

The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.

We know they have fallen before. After centuries of strife, the people of Europe have formed a Union of promise and prosperity. Here, at the base of a column built to mark victory in war, we meet in the center of a Europe at peace. Not only have walls come down in Berlin, but they have come down in Belfast, where Protestant and Catholic found a way to live together; in the Balkans, where our Atlantic alliance ended wars and brought savage war criminals to justice; and in South Africa, where the struggle of a courageous people defeated apartheid.

So history reminds us that walls can be torn down. But the task is never easy. True partnership and true progress requires constant work and sustained sacrifice. They require sharing the burdens of development and diplomacy; of progress and peace. They require allies who will listen to each other, learn from each other and, most of all, trust each other.

That is why America cannot turn inward. That is why Europe cannot turn inward. America has no better partner than Europe. Now is the time to build new bridges across the globe as strong as the one that bound us across the Atlantic. Now is the time to join together, through constant cooperation, strong institutions, shared sacrifice, and a global commitment to progress, to meet the challenges of the 21st century. It was this spirit that led airlift planes to appear in the sky above our heads, and people to assemble where we stand today. And this is the moment when our nations - and all nations - must summon that spirit anew.

This is the moment when we must defeat terror and dry up the well of extremism that supports it. This threat is real and we cannot shrink from our responsibility to combat it. If we could create NATO to face down the Soviet Union, we can join in a new and global partnership to dismantle the networks that have struck in Madrid and Amman; in London and Bali; in Washington and New York. If we could win a battle of ideas against the communists, we can stand with the vast majority of Muslims who reject the extremism that leads to hate instead of hope.

This is the moment when we must renew our resolve to rout the terrorists who threaten our security in Afghanistan, and the traffickers who sell drugs on your streets. No one welcomes war. I recognize the enormous difficulties in Afghanistan. But my country and yours have a stake in seeing that NATO's first mission beyond Europe's borders is a success. For the people of Afghanistan, and for our shared security, the work must be done. America cannot do this alone. The Afghan people need our troops and your troops; our support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, to develop their economy, and to help them rebuild their nation. We have too much at stake to turn back now.

This is the moment when we must renew the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. The two superpowers that faced each other across the wall of this city came too close too often to destroying all we have built and all that we love. With that wall gone, we need not stand idly by and watch the further spread of the deadly atom. It is time to secure all loose nuclear materials; to stop the spread of nuclear weapons; and to reduce the arsenals from another era. This is the moment to begin the work of seeking the peace of a world without nuclear weapons.

This is the moment when every nation in Europe must have the chance to choose its own tomorrow free from the shadows of yesterday. In this century, we need a strong European Union that deepens the security and prosperity of this continent, while extending a hand abroad. In this century - in this city of all cities - we must reject the Cold War mind-set of the past, and resolve to work with Russia when we can, to stand up for our values when we must, and to seek a partnership that extends across this entire continent.

This is the moment when we must build on the wealth that open markets have created, and share its benefits more equitably. Trade has been a cornerstone of our growth and global development. But we will not be able to sustain this growth if it favors the few, and not the many. Together, we must forge trade that truly rewards the work that creates wealth, with meaningful protections for our people and our planet. This is the moment for trade that is free and fair for all.

This is the moment we must help answer the call for a new dawn in the Middle East. My country must stand with yours and with Europe in sending a direct message to Iran that it must abandon its nuclear ambitions. We must support the Lebanese who have marched and bled for democracy, and the Israelis and Palestinians who seek a secure and lasting peace. And despite past differences, this is the moment when the world should support the millions of Iraqis who seek to rebuild their lives, even as we pass responsibility to the Iraqi government and finally bring this war to a close.

This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet. Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands. Let us resolve that all nations - including my own - will act with the same seriousness of purpose as has your nation, and reduce the carbon we send into our atmosphere. This is the moment to give our children back their future. This is the moment to stand as one.

And this is the moment when we must give hope to those left behind in a globalized world. We must remember that the Cold War born in this city was not a battle for land or treasure. Sixty years ago, the planes that flew over Berlin did not drop bombs; instead they delivered food, and coal, and candy to grateful children. And in that show of solidarity, those pilots won more than a military victory. They won hearts and minds; love and loyalty and trust - not just from the people in this city, but from all those who heard the story of what they did here.

Now the world will watch and remember what we do here - what we do with this moment. Will we extend our hand to the people in the forgotten corners of this world who yearn for lives marked by dignity and opportunity; by security and justice? Will we lift the child in Bangladesh from poverty, shelter the refugee in Chad, and banish the scourge of AIDS in our time?

Will we stand for the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe? Will we give meaning to the words "never again" in Darfur?

Will we acknowledge that there is no more powerful example than the one each of our nations projects to the world? Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law? Will we welcome immigrants from different lands, and shun discrimination against those who don't look like us or worship like we do, and keep the promise of equality and opportunity for all of our people?

People of Berlin - people of the world - this is our moment. This is our time.

I know my country has not perfected itself. At times, we've struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people. We've made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.

But I also know how much I love America. I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived - at great cost and great sacrifice - to form a more perfect union; to seek, with other nations, a more hopeful world. Our allegiance has never been to any particular tribe or kingdom - indeed, every language is spoken in our country; every culture has left its imprint on ours; every point of view is expressed in our public squares. What has always united us - what has always driven our people; what drew my father to America's shores - is a set of ideals that speak to aspirations shared by all people: that we can live free from fear and free from want; that we can speak our minds and assemble with whomever we choose and worship as we please.

These are the aspirations that joined the fates of all nations in this city. These aspirations are bigger than anything that drives us apart. It is because of these aspirations that the airlift began. It is because of these aspirations that all free people - everywhere - became citizens of Berlin. It is in pursuit of these aspirations that a new generation - our generation - must make our mark on the world.

People of Berlin - and people of the world - the scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people of improbable hope. With an eye toward the future, with resolve in our hearts, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.

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Rapper Nas Delivers Fox News Petition, Says Network Is "Scared" (VIDEO)


Rolling Stone reports on the Color Of Change/MoveOn/Brave New Films petition that rapper Nas brought to the offices of Fox News today:

About four hours after the announcement that his controversial, politically charged ninth album was number one in the country, Nas was on a small podium in front of Fox News headquarters in New York City protesting what he sees as racist attacks against Black Americans and presidential candidate Barack Obama. In a brief prepared statement, the multi-platinum rapper pointed out examples of what he and ColorOfChange see as a long racist smear campaign against the Obama family: The onscreen graphic that referred to Michelle Obama as the Senator's "baby mama"; Bill O'Reilly casually using the phrase "lynching party" to refer to attacks on the Senator's wife; referencing to the couple's infamous fist thump as a "terrorist fist jab." Said Nas, "Fox poisons this country every time they air racist propaganda and try to call it news. This should outrage every American that Fox uses hateful language to talk about the person that may be the first black president."


The rapper stood next to 19 neatly stacked cardboard boxes, with the number 620,127 taped to the side of each one -- over 600,000 signatures gathered by ColorOfChange demanding that network president Roger Ailes "find a solution to address racial stereotyping and hate-mongering before it hits the airwaves." Fox rejected the petitions, but Brave New Films says that Comedy Central's The Colbert Report will accept them instead.

Watch video of the scene from Color of Change:

UPDATE: Via the comments section, here's the music video for Sly Fox, Nas's takedown of Fox News (some explicit lyrics):

UPDATE II: Fox News wouldn't accept Nas' petition, but Stephen Colbert did. Take a look (scroll to 8:45):

Original here

Call the Cable Guy. Again.

By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer

Kenneth Bayes's request to Comcast was routine. He was moving his family from Fairfax to a new townhouse in Haymarket and wanted to transfer his bundled television, Internet and phone services.

A specialist for customers moving to new homes took the order and said all systems were go and everything would be up and running the day after his move in April.

After five weeks, 20 calls, a day off work and three visits that ended without any idea why Bayes couldn't get service, Comcast found the solution to this head-scratcher of a problem: The company hadn't run cable lines to Bayes's house.

Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator, has enjoyed explosive growth in recent years as households clamor for broadband Internet and high-definition television that will allow them to exchange family videos over the Web, talk via instant message and order movies on demand.

Even with the housing downturn, Comcast's revenue last year rose 24 percent, to $30.9 billion, and it had 24.7 million cable subscribers.

That growth has come at a price for customers, public interest groups say. As the company races to add subscribers, many of whom pay more than $100 a month to use phone, Internet, wireless and video services, Comcast has not focused on funding and fixing problems with its customer service, the critics say.

"They bit off more than they could chew, and the victims of their overweening ambition is us," said Bob Garfield, a radio host and creator of Web site ComcastMustDie.com, one of several sites created in recent years as an outlet for customer complaints of all kinds.

Comcast said it is has poured "billions of dollars" into improving its network, customer service and sales operations. Spokeswoman Jenni Moyer declined to say how much the company has spent on such improvements, but in the Washington region, Comcast has put $290 million into laying down more fiber between neighborhoods and its technology centers. The company has also created a customer-service call center in Largo that will eventually have 500 employees.

Yet Comcast officials acknowledge that the company is struggling to keep up with its own growth.

"We are a victim of our own success, to a degree," said Rick Germano, senior vice president of customer operations. That expansion has been lucrative: Chief executive Brian L. Roberts took home $20.8 million last year, and the company is putting the finishing touches on a $435 million office skyscraper in downtown Philadelphia.

Many cable, telephone and Internet service companies have struggled to keep pace with customer service as they have gone through a recent period of rapid growth. Washington area residents last year complained to the Better Business Bureau about their cable, Internet and phone more than about other services, including home contractors, auto repair shops and car dealers.

In the Washington area, Comcast serves 1.1 million customers and competes against Verizon Communications in suburban markets for all three services, although Verizon has yet to roll out its fiber network for District residents. Comcast also competes with smaller cable providers such as Cox Communications, which provides video and Internet services in the region.

In a recent national survey on customer satisfaction conducted by the University of Michigan, Comcast was tied for last among cable, satellite and television providers and was last in fixed-line telephone service.

Verizon scored barely above Comcast in satisfying phone and Internet customers, according to the survey.

Moyer said the solution to a service problem was sometimes difficult to determine -- a faulty Internet connection could be caused by anything from weather-worn cable lines to outdated community nodes that act as the central access point for dozens of homes in the neighborhood, she said.

That was the company's response to Charles Gati's complaint of persistent connection and quality problems with the television, Internet and phone "triple play" service he's had for the past two years. The Johns Hopkins University professor often works from his Dupont Circle townhouse and relies on the Internet for research and writing papers.

Since he signed up for the services, he's had eight visits by technicians. His neighbors have complained about similar problems, he said, and one technician said the neighborhood node hasn't been upgraded in years and is overburdened by the number of new customers in the area, who are doing far more on the network than they did when Comcast was providing only cable television.

"Don't advertise something you can't deliver. That's the heart of the problem here," said Gati, who said he was switching carriers.

Public advocacy groups such as Free Press have argued in filings with the Federal Communications Commission that Comcast should spend more money to upgrade its technology by expanding its neighborhood shared capacity -- the part of its networks used by more than one household. On the shared network, too much use at a given time can slow or degrade service.

The company said it suffers from congestion and slower Internet service when too many people in the same neighborhood are using the Web. Or when one user directly transfers large Internet files such as video clips to other users. Comcast has delayed the exchange of large files to alleviate congestion, a practice that has sparked additional criticism that the company is acting as a gatekeeper of Internet content.

The company wouldn't specify how much investment has been put into upgrading technology on the shared neighborhood network. Tony G. Werner, the chief technology officer, said the company doubled capacity at 10,000 of its 115,000 nodes in the past year through a technique called splitting nodes.

Yet Comcast will need to ramp up such improvements if it wants to stay ahead of the technological demands that are bound to strain its networks in the future, said Phil Doriot, a program director for the consulting firm CFI Group. Internet bandwidth has doubled every two years and is expected to continue to increase as video becomes more common on the Web.

"That puts more snow on the snowball that's already heading downhill," Doriot said.

Bayes, a membership specialist for the National Rifle Association, said his problem began before the first service agent came to his home. The new-home specialist should have been able to tell Bayes there was no service to his new home from the first call, he said. None of the many other service representatives caught that error for weeks.

Comcast installed a line from the neighborhood hub to his home almost six weeks after his first call.

"We went above and beyond for him," Moyer said.

But that wasn't enough for Bayes. Last week, he switched providers.

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