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It takes an economist to move me to write. I’m listening to NPR this morning after dropping the kids with their grandparents and on comes a Bank of America economist. He begins to bemoan the largest deficits this country has ever run in peacetime.

Get it? Peacetime. 

Last I checked, the US military was active in two countries that, while few people prefer to use the term “at war,” can not be described as peaceful: Iraq and Afghanistan.

I guess they fed the kool-aid to the “economists” as well as the risk managers at BofA. Maybe they should check back into the reality-based community once in a while.

But what’s equally maddening is that the NPR reporter seemed to let the “peacetime” comment pass without, uh, comment. Journos love to bring on the experts when they need perspective, but they don’t always like to ask the experts tough questions. That would just complicate things.

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A friend of mine in a state that voted before PA warned me that I’d be burned out on the presidential race after the primary. He was right. It’s not worth following right now. It’s all about the horse race and the strategery, and I guess it will be for the next six months. Barack Obama has failed, in some respects, to move the media conversation off its sinking foundation in poll numbers, public gaffes and explosive preachers. Oh well.

I can’t complain too much, since I engaged in a little horse-racery myself. But we seem to have suffused the entire presidential process in a cynical brew. When John McCain denounces a negative ad, he’s seen as employing a backhanded trick to keep the ad in the news while keeping his own distance from it.

It’s probably ever been thus. Politicians are human and humans aren’t exactly the noblest of breeds, though we fight pretty hard sometimes to do good things. However, the crises do seem to be piling up pretty thick at the moment, from high fuel prices to food shortages to global warming to an unfinished war to nuclear terrorism (this site graciously lets you imagine the consequences of a bomb in your own hometown!).

Maybe it would be too much to ask people to pay significant attention to the bad stuff. Still, it’s no accident that the stories dominating headlines before 9/11 were about shark attacks and Gary Condit. We want to hear about a disaster only as long as it’s happening to other people, not to ourselves. The major media, safe in their NY/DC bubbles, are as insulated as our politicians, but not any more prone to seeking insulation than the rest of us.

I doubt that people whose homes have been hit by a tornado turn on the TV news to watch the aftermath — at least for now.

If I were Barack Obama there’s one thing I’d be worried about from last night’s debate in Philadelphia. Yes, he deflected questions about Pastor Wright and “bitter-gate” with dexterity and he was relatively forthright in addressing them. Obama’s been fairly successful at insisting on a new kind of politics that doesn’t tar people with guilt by association. It’s an admirable stand and it’s been effective.

But, to my mind (and I can’t be the only one who noticed), he seemed far less confident, and even appeared to stumble, in addressing questions about Iran.

Now, I was assembling a child’s wagon while I watched the debate, so take this with a grain of salt. But Obama’s response to the Iran question caught my attention. He didn’t seem as forthright or as together in his answer as did Hillary Clinton. Sure, there were holes in her logic (we could barely get France under the security umbrella of NATO. How will we ever convince Iran and countries like it to do anything similar?). But she at least seemed to have a coherent, well-considered position.  No one doubts John McCain will offer the same . I didn’t get the same impression from Obama from last night’s debate.

Why does this even matter? Isn’t this election about the economy, about the war in Iraq, about change, blah blah blab? I guess. But unforeseen foreign-policy crises are often what define a presidency. Hardly anyone was discussing Iraq or terrorism in 2000 but they’ve dominated the last seven years and affected practically everything else we do.

Iran might not present a crisis for the next president, but Obama’s stumble on it tells me he either isn’t thinking seriously about foreign policy or doesn’t have very good advisers on those issues. It’s one area where a short, largely domestic resume, might haunt him.

Can someone explain to me why, in a time of war, a defense contractor needs a state grant? Here is the story. BAE Systems, maker of various military vehicles used in Iraq, stands to get a $2.5 million grant and tax credits valued at $1.8 million from the generous commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Sadly, the company’s latest order is for a measly $715 million. Lord knows how it’s making ends meet in these tough times.

UPDATE: You can sound off here.

I hope everyone blows out the candles and gets what they wish for on this, the 5th anniversary of the Iraq war.

I’m hoping we end the myth that debate about the war serves any real purpose. All it does is distract Americans from debate over other issues that might affect them more (not to diminish the terrible sacrifices made by many Americans during the war itself) and over which they might exercise greater control.

A war unleashes forces that no one can hope to tame, let alone predict. This one has been no exception.

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