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So maybe it’s doom after all for the US economy. At any rate, I was mentally tossing around various causal factors for the mess and I settled on one possible psychological motivation — and it has something to do with Sept. 11, 2001.

It’s probably no accident that financial excess followed the tragedy of 9/11. Imagine traders walking past the visible scar of that day and wondering why some died, some survived. They drowned themselves in a sea of speculative trading. They took risks that make sense only if you’re heedless of the consequences.

It’s the reaction you might have if your best friend died in some senseless, horrible accident that might have claimed you as well. But you went on living anyway. And drank — or gambled or sky-dived or high-speed raced — yourself into oblivion. Either looking for a reason why you survived — or, more aptly, trying to avoid looking. Financial types, known more for speculation than introspection, probably opted for the latter.

What’s also interesting is the flight to Greenwich you (or at least I) read about lately. That is, all the money now is being made by hedge funds in Greenwich. It’s the high-finance version of cocooning with the family in the suburbs.

I may be wrong, or not wholly right. But it makes just as much sense as ascribing it all to greed, pure and simple. Greed has been around for eons, yet it doesn’t cause financial panics every day. And it may not be the thing that drove every last soul on Wall Street. Greed is just the easiest and least controversial straw to grasp.

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The terrible loss of innocent life is still the saddest part of this anniversary. Coming close, however, is the opportunities we’ve wasted to make anything good out of it.

After the Holocaust, people said “Never again” and they meant it to apply to all people of every stripe all around the world. Reality has fallen short of the ideal. But the ideal is still there. After 9/11, we have pretty much settled on “Never again to us.” Too often that has meant little more than concern for our own safety and security as Americans rather than the safety and security of all human beings.

At any rate, I now know why people still write letters to editors when newspapers fail to make mention of D-Day or Pearl Harbor. The emotional impact never truly goes away and it needs to be recognized each and every year.

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.

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