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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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Say what you will about the contest to see which presidential candidate (and which presidential candidate’s wife) is more patriotic. At least it managed to knock Bill Clinton back out of the headlines. The economy, the war, fuel prices, none of that stands much of a chance of seeing much airtime anyway between now and November.

I nearly fell down laughing when I heard someone on CNN talk about how the patriotism debate switched the topic of most news away from the economy, etc., an alleged switch that apparently benefits John McCain. I just don’t remember hearing much about those other issues. But I do recall heated exchanges over the motives and whereabouts of Bill Clinton in the aftermath of the Democratic primary.

I can’t quite understand the media’s fascination with the Clinton-Obama story line. Well, no. I can, given the obvious drama. But it seems that health care, the housing crisis, the war in Iraq all offer plenty of drama, too. They’re just more complicated and require a little more digging outside the beltway. Just don’t expect anyone to pick up a shovel.

In the meantime, I suspect Barack Obama is going to start taking a real beating from the netroots, given his penchant for announcements like this and this. But I suspect the campaign must believe it will help Obama appear more centrist if he is consistently under attack from the left. After all, the same strategy works for McCain, only with attacks coming from the right.

Obama’s decision to spurn public financing and the resulting storm, I first put down as some inside-the-beltway issue that wouldn’t much resonate. But the more I think about it, the more I think he made a mistake there. You don’t jettison systems or principles you supposedly believe in just because they’re inconvenient. Isn’t that the lesson of the last seven-plus years?

Under increasing pressure, John McCain today released a detailed plan outlining how he would pay for the United States’ continued military presence in Iraq.

The Republican presidential candidate has come under fire recently for proposing expensive foreign-policy solutions but not offering a way to pay for them.

You’ll immediately note how absurd that sounds. Who’s asking McCain to come up with a way to pay for foreign military adventures? No one. It’s a given that we pay for them, even if we have to borrow every last penny from China and Japan. Don’t expect Barack Obama to get the same pass when the question of health care, mortgage assistance, unemployment benefits or any other sort of domestic program comes up.

Military adventures, no matter how worthwhile or necessary to public safety they may be, cost money. Why don’t reporters and voters ask how we pay for those with the same intensity and knee-jerk persistence with which they demand comprehensive plans for domestic spending?

Asking how you pay for something isn’t the same as questioning whether it’s worth having, although our elected leaders often try to make people think they are.

It’s an interesting double standard, no?

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.

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.