President Clinton Grades President Obama

This morning on ABC's Good Morning America, former President Clinton graded current White House occupant, President Barack Obama, an "A" but noted that the President needs to put on a more positive face when speaking to the American people about the economy.

Regarding Obama's bleak warnings that "the economy could get worse before it gets better," and that the economic stimulus program is only the beginning of the end of the economic crisis, Clinton said, "I like the fact that he didn't come in and give us a bunch of happy talk. I'm glad he shot straight with us."

But he added, "I just want the American people to know that he's confident that we are gonna get out of this and he feels good about the long run."

Clinton thinks Obama should talk to the public in greater depth about the economy.

"I like trying to educate the American people about the dimensions and scope of this economic crisis," Clinton said. "I just would like him to end by saying that he is hopeful and completely convinced we're gonna come through this."

Well, the President should tell it like it is and President Clinton is right that the President should talk to the public in greater detail about the economy and the President should never fail in assigning blame for the mess we face and that means placing some of it on Bill Clinton's shoulders though obviously this is largely on the GOP. We're in for a bitter pill and to be frank the worse is yet to come. This is a systemic crisis. It is not an inventory recession nor is it like any economic downturn since the Second World War. We're likely in or headed for a depression.  The other point to keep in mind is that this financial crisis has already taken down entire economies, Iceland and Estonia so far but Eastern Europe, Spain, Ireland and the United Kingdom loom large. Japan's most recent GDP report showed an annual decline of ovwer 12%. These are not insignificant numbers.

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Iran and the Virtual Bomb

The Financial Times is reporting that the  International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear watchdog, believes that Iran has has built up a stockpile of enough enriched uranium for one nuclear bomb.

In a development that comes as the Obama administration is drawing up its policy on negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear programme, UN officials said Iran had produced more nuclear material than previously thought.

They said Iran had accumulated more than one tonne of low enriched uranium hexafluoride at a facility in Natanz.

If such a quantity were further enriched it could produce more than 20kg of fissile material - enough for a bomb.

"It appears that Iran has walked right up to the threshold of having enough low enriched uranium to provide enough raw material for a single bomb," said Peter Zimmerman, a former chief scientist of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

Chalk up another failure for the Bush Administration whose unwillingness to have even back channel communications played right into Iranian hands. Let's face it, the mullahs know their geo-political poker and they have been nothing but coy and ambiguous. Iran's goal, according to a number of analysts, is not a bomb but a virtual bomb. That is, Iran wants the capability to build one on short notice if need be. David Albright, the head of the Institute for Science and International Security finds that if Iran does decide to build a nuclear weapon, "it has reached a point in which it could do so quickly."

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Rick Santelli and the Revival of White Ethnic Politics

After watching the above, I first had to check my calendar. Somehow I felt I traveled back in time to the early 1970s to witness first hand Richard Nixon's "northern strategy," his pursuit of white ethnic voters who were so deeply disaffected over Great Society programs ranging from desegregation (remember the Boston busing madness?) to affirmative action among others that they would desert the Democratic Party becoming "Nixon's silent majority" and "Reagan Democrats". As historian Joe Merton noted "Nixon possessed a keen awareness of the `ethnic revival' of the early 1970s and engaged with specifically ethnic issues such as parochial school aid and ethnic heritage studies, and also shaped much of his early substantive policy to appeal to ethnics, culminating in the publication of the Rosow Report on blue-collar workers in May 1970."

Rick Santelli is heir to this legacy laced with racist overtones. Note the promo before the rant in the video link at CNBC. CNBC has an upcoming special entitled The Rise of America's New Black Overclass.  Fear mongering, it's worked before so let's try it again. It's back to the 1970s for the GOP and their rabid white ethnics.

I spent a decade on Wall Street working for Alex. Brown & Sons, Deutsche Banc Securities and Goldman Sachs. I found Wall Street a largely liberal environment with one major exception, the trading floor. In my experience I found traders, who are largely white ethnics -Irish, Italian, Greek, Polish or Slovak among others- and graduates of the Seton Halls, the Boston Colleges, the Notre Dames, the Penn States were the most rabid conservative and foul mouthed people on the planet. Nor could any of them ever get my name right. "My name is Charles, not Chuckie" was something I would repeat whenever I had the misfortune to have to interact with them. Some of these folks made William Buckley appear moderate.

Whatever my own views on traders and their culture, it appears that Rick Santelli is their patron saint. In his five minute rant, Mr. Santelli went on to compare Barack Obama's America to Castro's Cuba and to suggest a kind of modern day "Boston Tea Party" - a call for a Chicago Tea Party as  an anti-spending revolt. Mr. Santelli's "I'm mad as hell and I am not going to take it" tirade on CNBC brought cheers and applause on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade not to mention accolades from across the conservative blogs.

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Accountability in Afghanistan

Near Kabul City, in the village of Qalai Qazi, Afghanistan, stood a bright yellow health clinic built by American contractor The Louis Berger Group. It is one of 81 clinics Berger was hired to build -- in addition to roads, dams, schools and other infrastructure -- in exchange for $665 million in American aid money the company has received in federal contracts.

The problem was, the clinic was falling apart. The ceiling had rotted away in patches; the plumbing, when it worked, leaked and shuddered; the chimney, made of flimsy metal, threatened to set the roof on fire; the sinks had no running water; and the place smelled of sewage.

The above is from a 2006 news report by New American Media, an independent news service. Now here is a report from today's UK Guardian:

Chronic mismanagement and profligacy are blighting reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, international aid officials have warned, wasting up to a third of the $15bn (£10.55bn) in funding already delivered and deepening local resentment towards foreign troops stationed there.

Senior British, US and local aid workers have described a number of problems including bribery, profiteering, poor planning and incompetence. The overall effect has been to cripple the development effort structured under the Bush administration's insistence on an unregulated and profit-driven approach to reconstruction.

"The major donor agencies operate on the mistaken assumption that it's more efficient and profitable to do things through market mechanisms," a senior American contractor working in Afghanistan told the Guardian on condition of anonymity. "The notion of big government is a spectre for American conservatives and this [the reconstruction process] is an American conservative project."

The contractor said the "original plan was to get in, prop up Karzai, kill al-Qaida, privatise all government-owned enterprises and get out. It wasn't a development project, that wasn't a concern. Development was an afterthought.

Development cannot be afterthought nor can corruption at any level be tolerated. The stakes are too high and we no longer have a margin for error nor the luxury of time.

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Smart Power in Indonesia

"When the United States is absent, people believe that we are not interested and that can create a vacuum that destructive forces can fill. We don't want to be absent. We want to be present." - Secretary of State Clinton in Jakarta

This is change. This is such a dramatic departure from the unilateralism of the Bush Administration in which SE Asia was solely viewed through the prism of a "war on terror". Engagement, imagine that. Partnership on a set of comprehensive issues, imagine that. Following her meeting with Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, Secretary Clinton noted that the partnership would be "comprehensive" covering such global and regional topics as environmental protection and climate change, trade and investment, democracy promotion, health, education, regional security, and counter-terrorism. This is a serious application of the smart power that Mrs. Clinton spoke of during her confirmation hearings.

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The Sad State of American Journalism

This is Joe Klein of Time magazine writing in his blog, Swampland on Pakistan's capitulation in Swat Valley:
This is terrible news. The Pakistani government has essentially given control of the Swat Valley to the Taliban. It means that the Taliban are now 100 miles from Islamabad and the military center of Rawalpindi. It also means that Pakistan's Northwest Province is well on its way to becoming what Afghanistan used to be--a sanctuary for Al Qaeda and related terrorists.

As if this happened yesterday or as if the Pakistani government had much of a choice in matter. The Pakistani government did not give "control" of Swat to the Taliban, the Taliban took control of Swat months ago. This is just the best deal the Pakistani authorities could strike with the Tehrik-e-Nifaz Shariat Muhammadi which is the group that controls the Swat Valley. It's de jure recognition of a de facto condition. As for the rest of that inane paragraph, elements of the Taliban are in Islamabad. Check the local madrassas. You'll find them there. That last sentence is simply laughable. Time pays for this? Where has Joe Klein been? Pakistan has been a sanctuary for "Al-Qaeda and related terrorists" for over two decades. 

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Kathleen Sebelius at HHS

Via the New York Times:

President Obama has settled on Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, a key ally with a record of working across party lines, as his top choice for secretary of health and human services, advisers said Wednesday.

Should she be nominated, Ms. Sebelius would bring eight years of experience as her state's insurance commissioner as well as six years as a governor running a state Medicaid program. But with Mr. Obama about to begin a drive to expand health coverage -- an issue on which the parties have deep ideological divisions -- her strongest asset in the White House view may be her record of navigating partisan politics as a Democrat in one of the country's most Republican states.

Your thoughts?

Update [2009-2-18 20:18:45 by Jonathan Singer]: To tack on, as you can see from the article, the actual reporting on the story seems to be less strong than the article's lede; that is to say while the first graf says that the President has "settled on" Kathleen Sebelius to be his Health and Human Services Secretary, the subsequent grafs suggest that the decision hasn't necessarily been "settled" yet. (See: "It remained unclear whether the White House would finish vetting Ms. Sebelius in time to finalize her nomination by next week. Advisers described her as “the leading candidate” and said there were no others to mention, although they emphasized no final decision has been made.")

That said, this report does seem more solid that the initial reporting a week and a half ago that Sebelius was a very possible HHS pick. And if she can bring to bear on President Obama's behalf anywhere close to the skills she brought to the 2008 campaign on then-candidate Obama's behalf, as well as those that she applied in Kansas to great effect, she would be a very positive addition to the cabinet.

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Senator Sanders: 'Our Values Are the Majority Values'

"Our values are the majority values. It is our job as progressives to rally the nation around the progressive agenda." - Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont

Senator Bernie Sanders came to San Francisco tonight and spoke before a capacity 400+ crowd at the Unitarian Universalist Church. The first part of his address focused on the necessity of the progressive movement to come together and "raise up a New America." The Senator noted that progressive movement is too often focused on single issues and not sufficiently engaged in the hard work that is electoral politics. To succeed in seeing our ideas triumph, Senator Sanders urged progressives to focus on our commonalities and not our areas of difference. He touched on his own experience in Burlington in building a progressive coalition on the city council. He noted that "politics is what happens 365 days a year" and that we as progressives needed to engage our neighbors in changing the political culture.

Senator Sanders also touched on the economy. He began by noting wryly and thankfully he was speaking on a day that George W. Bush is no longer the President. He noted that we all should derive joy from that fact but then it was also important to remember that the damage wrought to the country was "incalculable." The Senator cited statistics that in the "boom" Bush years, that is before the financial meltdown, that the average median income in the country fell by $2,000, that 7 million Americans lost their health care coverage, that 6 million Americans fell out of the middle class and into poverty and that 3 million lost their pension benefits. Those were the "good times." The Senator spoke forcefully that progressives stand for a different path. That ours are the majority values and that those start with fairness and equality of opportunity.

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The Cost of Strategic Distraction

The  New York Times is reporting that the President has approved an increase of 17,000 troops in Afghanistan. The increase to start this Spring and Summer would come on top of 36,000 U.S. troops now there, an increase of almost 50%.

President Obama will send an additional 17,000 American troops to Afghanistan this spring and summer in the first major military move of his presidency, White House officials said on Tuesday.

The increase would come on top of 36,000 American troops already there, making for an increase of nearly 50 percent. In issuing the order, Mr. Obama is choosing a middle ground, addressing urgent requests from commanders who have been pressing for reinforcements while postponing a more difficult judgment on a much larger increase in personnel that the commanders have been seeking.

White House officials said that 8,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., will deploy in the next few weeks, aiming to be on the ground in Afghanistan by late spring, while an Army brigade from Fort Lewis, Wash., composed of 4,000 soldiers, will deploy in the summer.

An additional 5,000 Army support troops and so-called "enablers" will also be deploying in the summer, administration officials said, which will bring the number of troops deployed as part of this presidential order to 17,000. The decision does carries some political risks for Mr. Obama, whose election was interpreted by many Americans as a mandate to bring troops home from Iraq. But Mr. Obama has now announced additional American troops are headed to Afghanistan before he has withdrawn any troops from Iraq.

But White House officials said both of the units being sent to Afghanistan were originally supposed to be going to Iraq.

"We have the ability to do this because we will be drawing down in Iraq," a senior White House official said.

Mr. Obama is under pressure from his military commanders in Afghanistan, who have been pressing for reinforcements of about 30,000 soldiers, almost twice as many as the president has so far decided to send. The commanders hope to have additional forces in place by late spring or early summer as part to help counter growing violence and chaos in the country, particularly in advance of the upcoming presidential elections, which are expected to take place in August.

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Pashtunistan and the Politics of the Anti-India

Call it the central front of the global "war on terror", the fulcrum of the "arc of crisis", Pashtunistan or simply, in the most recent neologism, "AfPak", no one doubts that this is the biggest foreign policy headache for Obama's new team.

"The situation there grows more perilous every day," Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the American joint chiefs of staff, told journalists earlier this month. Holbrooke reaches for the ultimate comparison: "It's tougher than Iraq."

Forget Barack Obama, suddenly it is Richard Holbrooke who might be the most important person in the world for on his shoulders rests the onus of finding a solution to the problem that is Afghanistan, Pakistan and in particular a subset of each called Pashtunistan. It is, I hope, self-evident to the US foreign policy establishment that in Afghanistan and Pakistan we have a failed state and a failing state. Part of the problem is that both states are artificial states. Afghanistan was the rump that neither the British nor Russians could fully dominate. Pakistan was created as a home for Muslims in the British Raj, it was the anti-India.

In 1893,  Sir Mortimer Durand negotiated with Abdur Rahman Khan - the Amir of Kabul, the frontier between British India and Afghanistan. This frontier is known as the Durand Line, named after him and the line remains the international boundary between Afghanistan and modern-day Pakistan but it runs through the heartland of Pashtunistan, the homeland of the Pashtuns.

The Durand Line exists on maps and in the minds of Western policy makers. But in the harsh terrain that is the Hindu Kush range, it does not exist. Neither the British in their day nor the Pakistanis or the Afghans have ever been in control of this frontier. It is, however, controlled by the Pashtuns and has been for centuries.

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