May 28, 2008

Energy Efficiency and Better Transportation

After the American Century

Energy should be a key issue of this presidential campaign. The US has had a failed energy policy under Bush. Consumption of all forms of energy has risen. Imports of oil, in particular, have burdened the economy and made the nation increasingly dependent on uncertain suppliers. Undemocratic regimes control much of the world's oil, notably in Venezuela, Nigeria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, while one could discuss whether there really is democracy in Russia or Iraq. Americans are pumping billions of dollars into these economies every time they tank up.

The only solution seriously advanced by the Bush Administration has been that of substituting alcohol for some of that gasoline. This has pleased farmers, as they can grow more corn that before and get higher prices for it, too. But the diversion of agricultural production to providing oil substitutes is not a wise choice, for world agricultural prices are rising so fast that millions of people are now on the brink of starvation.

Fortunately, there are other solutions. Unfortunately, Americans have been slow to embrace them. Least glamorous, but most effecive, is conservation. I drive a car that gets about 43 miles to the gallon, double the US average. (I should have bought one that is even more efficient.) If all Americans purchased such automobiles, their vast consumption of oil would drop by 50%. Furthermore, I have chosen to live relatively near to my place of work, so my round trip is less than 10 miles. Few Americans live that close. Better yet, the Danish government has built a comprehensive system of cycle trails, including traffic lights, that makes it safe and convenient to bike to work. It takes me no more than 20 minutes each way, while driving is only 5 to 8 minutes faster. Few places in the US have provided such an infrastructure, so Americans drive even short distances because that is often the only safe alternative when going to buy milk or a newspaper. By my rough estimate, compared to Europeans, Americans drive twice as far using cars that are only half as efficient. In short, if Americans switched to more efficient cars they would import much less oil. By reducing demand, they might also push down the price at the pump.

But buying the right kinds of cars is only the beginning. Let me be blunt. My fellow Americans, you have been squandering billions of dollars driving cars that are larger than you need. You have devoted half the land in your cities to roads, driveways, and parking lots. You have imprisoned yourselves in an inefficient and individualistic transportation system that is now choking the nation almost to death. You once had a comprehensive system of mass transit, in the form of light-rail, that existed in every major city and most towns until c. 1930. You have abandoned that system in most places and almost destroyed the passenger railroad network as well. You should be demanding its reconstruction.

In 2008 it is long past time for a change. It is time to demand from presidential candidates the construction of high-speed railroads, of the sort long used successfully in Japan and France. These trains routinely go 200 miles an hour - or faster. It is 190 miles from Boston to New York, 225 miles from New York to Washington. Each trip would be about an hour on such a train. It could be possible to go from Chicago to Minneapolis in about two hours, or from St. Louis to Chicago even less. Flying should be for distances of at least 500 miles. It is idiotic to drive or to fly shorter distances, because the time and hassle needed to go to the airport, get through all the security arrangements, board, fly, disembark, collect bags and then travel to the city center, is hours longer than the time needed to take a good train for the same distance. Likewise, it is foolish to drive several hundred miles because it is tiring, expensive, and environmentally damaging. On the train (in Europe) you can sleep, relax, read a book, or surf the net.

In 2008 it is time to wake up to the pleasures of not driving and to discover the relief of not standing in lines at airports. Instead of bankrolling autocratic regimes that happen to have oil supplies, instead of pumping out exhaust and causing global warming, instead of spending billions of dollars in Iraq, ostensibly to build democracy, but also to protect access to oil, it is time to rebuild the US into a more efficient and competitive nation that does not need so much oil in the first place.

May 25, 2008

The Forgotten Issues

After the American Century

The endless Obama-Clinton duel has now devolved into a contest of errors. Hillary made a huge one recently, by talking about the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968 as an example of how campaigns may be decided in June. Was she saying, stay in the race, because your opponent might get whacked? Surely not, everyone agreed, after she apologized, saying she "misspoke." Perhaps the worst part of such episodes is that they take attention away from the issues. Why talk about the people dying in Iraq or the soaring price of gasoline or the thousands of foreclosures, when you can discuss pratfalls and stupid remarks?

There are real issues in this campaign, however, even if the media often reduce it to a popularity contest that focuses on who is the best bowler or who said something idiotic last week.

Will the US stay in Iraq until at least 2013 (McCain's plan) or for as short a time as possible (Obama's plan)?

Will the Bush tax cuts for the rich become permanent (McCain's plan), or will the US return to something like the tax arrangements of the 1990s? To put this another way, will the US again start to pay off its national debt, or will it assume it can keep borrowing money from foreign creditors forever? Also indirectly involved in this issue is whether the dollar will be backed by a government that lives within its means and that can protect the dollar from falling further?

Huge balance of payment problems are not a good long-term economic policy, either. Will the US continue its massive oil imports, or will government force automakers to produce more fuel efficient cars? Students have built experimental cars that can run an astonishing 300 kilometers to a single liter, roughly 600 miles to a gallon! But neither the American SUV mad consumer nor Detroit is going to get there without some leadership. The Republicans have had eight years to provide it and failed.

Will the next appointments to the Supreme Court further tip the balance in a conservative direction? McCain is now on record as being a firm opponent of all forms of abortion, and if elected would likely be able to tip the balance on this issue.

Will the US really embrace efforts to curb global warming? McCain is better on this issue that Bush, rhetorically, but the Republican Party is not. The only real chance for the US to take a responsible role on this issue is if there is a Democratic Congress and President.

Will the next president be beholden to lobbyists who have donated to his campaign (McCain) or will he only have received support from ordinary voters (Obama)? This has implications on a host of issues.

Will the next president try to solve world problems by using the military (McCain) or by "soft-power" and diplomacy (Obama)? McCain evidently agrees with Bush that negotiating with an enemy is a bad thing, a sign of weakness. Obama does not want to be another cowboy president.

Finally, McCain now backs the use of some forms of torture, which is quite astonishing in his case, because he was tortured himself while held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Obama unequivocably rejects the use of torture. This is a serious issue, because recent news reports indicate that the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture have been more widespread that previously disclosed. The American military appears to be infected with this undemocratic practice, which is appropriate for sixtenth century witchhunts but not for any civilized nation today. McCain's treason to his own earlier convictions on this issue makes him a deeply problematic candidate. If he can reverse himself on torture, one can only ask, does he believe in anything?

Of course, none of this is as much fun as hearing about a tactical mistake or silly remark made by a candidate. But these and other issues are what the campaign should be about. Looking at these contrasts between McCain and Obama, I find no reason to support the Senator from Arizona. I am not aware of a single issue where his positions appear to be the wise choice. On the contrary, McCain's election could easily be a disaster even greater than the Bush Presidency. It may be hard to believe that something worse is possible. But it is.

May 22, 2008

Why Hillary Keeps Running

After the American Century

Hillary Clinton has persisted as a candidate beyond the point most people expected. She is spending millions of dollars of her own money at this point, seeking a nomination that almost no one else thinks she has any chance of winning. Yet this is not a quixotic quest. There are a number of reasons why she might continue, which I will list in a moment. I do not claim that these reasons are a coherent explanation, and it is quite possible that only one or two come close to the mark.

1. Hillary continues because, like Mike Huckabee, she wants to get her message across and to position herself as a certain kind of candidate. The goal is not actually to win the nomination in 2008, but to imprint one's image on the electorate for the future. The goal is to become an icon for at least part of the electorate.

2. Hillary keeps running because she genuinely believes what she is saying, that she can be the nominee this year. Often candidates are so surrounded by admirers who encourage them, that they just don't give credence to any nay-sayers. The "truth" is the crowds of well-wishers at every campagin stop. The "truth" is the victories in West Virginia and Kentucky. Just keep at it until the media buys into the gritty determination and the dream.

3. Hillary keeps running because she believes that Obama cannot beat McCain, regardless of what she does. She wants the voters to remember her as the lost alternative, as the one who could have taken back the White House, so she can come roaring back in 2012.

4. Hillary keeps running because psychologically she cannot give it up, because the excitement and the competition are just too much a part of her identity. She keeps going because as long as she is a candidate she is the center of attention, a phenomena, like a marathon dancer who should have collapsed hours ago but keeps on regardless. There may also be a dynamic here with her husband, who must play second fiddle to her as long as she has not given up.

5. Hillary keeps running because she is determined to be the vice-presidential nominee if she cannot get the top spot. By dividing the party and keeping it divided as long as possible, she becomes the only one who can put the Democratic party back together again. If the convention is divided at the end of the summer, then Obama will have to select her as his running mate in order to have any chance of victory.

These five explanations are by no means mutually exclusive. She might even believe them all, or some combination of them, or even different explanations at different times. My point is that there are rational grounds to keep going. Or to put this another way, what should she do with her time instead of run for the preisdency? What could be more galvanizing or more historically important for women? By running, she shows she has grit, determination, heart, stamina, staying-power, popular appeal, and guts. By comparison, dropping out of the race has far less to offer.

So, if she is willing to go go go further and further into debt, Hillary might just keep this marathon going as long as there is any statistical possibility that she can win.

May 17, 2008

McBush and Appeasement

After the American Century

Senator McCain has endorsed George Bush's attack on the Democrats for "appeasement." I will return to this, but only after looking at the many absurdies in this attack. Bush chose to go after the Democrats while making a state visit to Israel to mark the 60th anniversary of that nation's independence. Partisan attacks are to be expected from now on until the election, but it is poor form to go to another nation and distract attention from their celebrations to engage in electoral politics. However, where Bush made his statement had a special resonance when he chose to compare the Democrats to those who appeased Hitler. The implication was that if Americans elect Obama, they will be responsible for another holocaust. But there is no historical sense to these assertions.

It was the Republicans far, far more than FDR's Democrats, who were in the appeasement camp. In the 1930s many Americans, especially Republicans, wanted the nation to remain neutral. It was Roosevelt and the Democrats who have the more honorable record. Who wanted to negotiate with Hitler? Republican Senator Borah! Yes, that wonderful party leader who also helped to sabotage Wilson's League of Nations. He was from Bush's party.

And another thing. Just which leader or which nation today can realistically be compared to Hitler? Iran's leaders deny the Holocaust. They sponsor terrorist groups. Democrats and Republicans would all agree aboout these things. But Iran simply does not have the geopolitical clout that Germany had in the 1930s. Because we are talking about a nation, not an amorphous group of terrorists, they could conceivably be negotiated with. The Neo-Conservative Republicans seem to have forgotten that the Cold War was won not by arms, but by a much slower process of dialogue, trade, cultural interchange, and, yes, negotiation. The Berlin Wall came down without a shot being fired. Bush's continual refusal to talk to Iran's leaders has pushed them into the willing arms of the Russians, who are happy to help them build oil and gas pipelines and trade with them. Furthermore, many in Washington, even some Republicans, have come to recognize that it will be impossible to forge a peace in Iraq without somehow involving the Iranians.

Leaving aside historical analogies, Bush himself has at times been a negotiator, so that must make him "an appeaser." At almost the very moment the President was declaring one should never negotiate with terrorists, his administration announced that it was sending massive food aid to North Korea. This is part of the complex negotiations that have, with some success, sought to turn that nation away from its nuclear program. Thus Bush's own administration has been doing the very thing for which he criticized the Democrats.

Bush is trying to distract attention from his foreign policy failures. But his shoot-first-preemptive-strike-cowboy approach to the world has not yielded success in Afghanistan or Iraq. His administration arrogantly refused to listen to its allies. France and Germany both tried to dissuade him from invading Iraq, but Bush told the world that US intelligence information was more reliable than theirs and charged ahead. However, the French and the Germans got it right. There was no pressing national security reason to rush into that war. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found. Bush either lied or his intelligence services were incompetent. Either way, it was an expensive mistake that has cost hundreds of billions of dollars and led to the deaths of more than 100,000 people, the vast majority civilians. The Iraq War has increased instability in the Middle East and served as a training ground for terrorists. Bush's interventionism has also indirectly driven up the cost of oil, because the Iraqui oil fields are not producing as much as they might. Anyone who thinks the US is more secure or better off economically than it was before the invasion of Iraq has not been paying attention.

John McCain had an oportunity to show he was not like the President, but he has endorsed Bush's attack on the Democrats. So much for his claims to represent "straight talk." Perhaps the fall ballots should read "McBush" so voters will know what he represents. For McCain's remarks show once again that he is a throwback from another age, living in the mental universe of the Cold War where he was trained as a military man. McCain by temperment and education is not prepared to be a negotiator or to understand the world as a complex place. He is the candidate who thought it was funny to sing "Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran" to a Beach Boys tune. He is unfit to be President precisely because he has all that Cold War and Vietnam military experience. The world is a different place now.

Finally, suppose we were to evaluate Bush by his own Rambo standards. Seven years after the 9/11 attacks, he has been unable to find Osama bin Laden. By any measure, he has been a miserable failure.

May 13, 2008

American Sonics

After the American Century

Public space in United States does not sound like Scandinavian public space. Take Logan Airport as an example. The passenger waiting in its international terminal is subjected to a soundscape that is quite unlike that one finds in the airports of Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, or Amsterdam. I name these because I travel frequently enough through them to feel certain that I can generalize. Boston's Logan is all about commerce and cacophony. There are frequent loudspeaker announcements about flights, delays, and the like. There are TV stations hanging from the ceiling that all broadcast CNN the last few times I was there. And there is a third sound, a airport radio station bombarding the trapped passengers with music and advertisements.

They have arrived hours early, as required for security, and for several hours they must negotiate waves of sound. In certain locations they can hear CNN fairly well, but move a few steps and the airport "radio" sets up an interference pattern. The three layers of sound – announcements, radio, and television – further compete with the hundreds of cell phone conversations (often annoying loud), plus there is the tintinnabulation of tiny headsets chipping away at the brain cells of younger travelers. Conversation can then only take place at a higher decibel level, producing a roaring cacophony in the departure zone. After several hours in the maelstrom of sound, the already weary passenger climbs into a plane. By then one may have decided to buy one of those special headphones that cancels out background noise.

The comparison between these American soundscapes and those in Scandinavia and Holland could not be more striking. In Copenhagen or Oslo, where I sit as I write this, all three of the sounds amplified in Logan are absent. I hear only human voices, of people who are nearby. If I close my eyes, I can hear the sound of luggage being wheeled past or the laughter of a woman behind me. I can hear myself think because most people speak softly and apparently think that others have what might be called sonic rights.

Is Logan airport an exception or a typical case? Compare it to an American sports stadium, and it seems rather typical. In the stands one hears continual announcements, organ music, the radios of fans who want to hear the sportscaster tell them more about what they are seeing, and most important of all, there is a giant scoreboard, showing instant replays and producing pyrotechnic displays as needed in response to the game. If a fan goes to buy a hotdog down behind the seats, small televisions are positioned so that the game is still visible.

The American public soundscape is multivocal and competitive. It is commercialized, and the sales pitch is seldom far away. It is loud. It demands concentration. And it forces my fellow Americans to speak loudly. Many develop a vocal range from forte to fortissimo. Meanwhile, Scandinavians are sotto voce. They can spot an American without looking, from their sonic voice print. Yesterday I heard every boring word of a conversation between two American men, who were seated at least 20 meters (yards) away in an Oslo restaurant. They were not boors. But they were loud, having been conditioned by tens of thousands of hours in the American soundscape.

In Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman declared he would sound his "barbaric yawp" over the rooftops of the world. That was in 1855. He knew then that Americans as a tribe did not go quietly about. That was before the loudspeaker or the radio, back when a singer or a speaker needed a room with good acoustics, and just as importantly, the audience had to know how to restrain itself or no one would hear. Whitman's audience also could communicate back to the stage far more easily than one canm today in the electrified soundscape. For as sound was electrified and broadcast, the communication changed. But I begin to digress. If the historical background for American sonics might sound like it needs to be researched more fully, the book is already out. Get hold of a copy of Emily Thompson's The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933 (MIT Press, 2002). Please do not try to read it in Logan Airport.

The American today is not only a multitasker, but adept at hearing many things simultaneously and filtering out all of it except a single conversational thread. It is also a kind of skill to block out everything entirely, in order to concentrate on a laptop while sitting in a coffee shop. Or, in my case, sitting on a train, as I am now in Denmark. But train has a "quiet car" where talking and cell phone conversations are banned. American concentration, Scandinavian sonics.

May 08, 2008

The Democrats Move Toward Closure

After the American Century

Yesterday we had heard only that Hillary Clinton had loaned some money to her campaign. Today it has become clear that she has put $6 million of her own cash into what now appears a lost cause. Generally, American voters do not like to hear that candidates are trying to buy their way to power. Romney also was pumping his own wealth into his bid for the presidency. In hard times, voters cannot help but think that Clinton's wealth puts a barrier between her and the vast majority of Americans. Her claims to emphasize with their hardships ring a little hollow when they realize that she has so much money.  More importantly, potential donors begin to head for the exits. As noted here yesterday and confirmed by more reports since, many of Clinton's donors have maxed out on what they can give her, and it is hard to find true believers in her candidacy now. 

In terms of delegates, the primaries two days ago increased Obama's lead by 13. Many analysts have concluded that Hillary has no mathematical chance of winning the nomination, even if somehow Florida and Michigan delegations are allowed in. Significantly, in the last 24 hours one superdelegate dropped Hillary and announced for Barack, and three more also decided to back him. So she has fallen further behind, with fewer places to make up the difference  She has not had any new superdelegate endorsements. 

Meanwhile, some party figures are asking her to go gracefully. One of the most prominent calls for her to give up the fight came from former Senator George McGovern, the 1972 presidential candidate. It is also an open secret that Jimmy Carter has been leaning toward Obama for some time. He might choose this moment to throw his prestige behind him. 

Meanwhile, Obama has conspicuously taken a day off in Chicago, while Hillary is out stumping in West Virginia. She is presumably doing this mostly to keep getting her picture in the paper and to show that she is fighting on. But everyone expects her to win there anyway. Perhaps she wants  a victory there, and depart from the race as a winner. Presumably Obama wants that scenario too, because it would embarrass him if she dropped out and still won West Virginia. So a possible scenario is that she is given only token opposition this week, has the pleasure of a final face-saving victory, and then drops out for financial reasons.

Of course, Clinton can just keep spending her own money and drag the battle out for another month. But at some point, the loss of all the money will begin to hurt. Her advisors may suggest that to preserve some good will in the party that might be needed to fight for the nomination another day, it might be time to think about an exit strategy.

Significantly, Clinton stopped attacking Obama yesterday, and he has also been careful to say nothing derogatory about her. He asked his supporters to refrain from calling for her to give up. Rhetorically, this was a good move. In effect, he said that it was time for her to depart, and yet he did not say that at all. He stressed that this is her call. But make no mistake, the Democrats are moving toward an earnestly desired closure. 

May 07, 2008

Candidate Strategies after North Carolina and Indiana

After the American Century

The pre-election predictions I posted on Monday were so accurate that you can go back and read it now as a report of what happened. Obama did win North Carolina by a wide margin, and he did make it quite close in Indiana. Each did well where I predicted they would. The results can be read in several ways.

1. Obama's lead in delegates has increased again, because North Carolina has more of them to give him, and he won it by more than 14 points. He will likely get close to the same number of delegates as Hillary in Indiana. On the whole, he has come out of the election better than many expected after all the media hype about Rev. Wright.

2. Hillary will stay in the race, she announced, even though the New York Times reports that her campaign is broke again. Since there is a ceiling on how much any individual can give a candidate, she will need to find some new donors. This is not easy for her now.

3. While the results in the two states differ, the pattern is the same. Black voters are 90% for Obama. He also wins all the large urban areas, often by margins of 20-30%. But Hillary wins by equal margins in rural areas. She attracts poor whites, the less educated. old people, pensioners, and women. Barack continues to win decisively among the most support from the young, the educated, and those who make higher incomes. It's McDonalds vs. Starbucks.

What does this mean for the immediate future - the West Virginia primary? It will likely be a strong win for Hillary on May 13. Look at the counties that are most like West Virginia in rural North Carolina. She won them by huge margins. The same is true for the Ohio counties just across the Ohio River from West Virginia. There are few Black people in Appalachia, where plantation slavery never existed, and it is not exactly a highly educated state either. I once spent some days in its back country riding around in a jeep with a vet, Doc Weiner. He was very popular up i the hills and hollows as he made his rounds, mostly to treat dogs and horses. I heard several people ask him if he would treat their children as well. (He would not. ) Doc Weiner told me that often a man did not call a physician if one of the (usually many) children got sick, but he always called his office if a hunting dog fell ill. Admittedly this was years ago, and possibly the Internet and globalization has transformed the people I saw then, but I doubt it. These are mountain people in a poor state. This is not Obama-land.

So expect Hillary to proclaim herself the underdog, battling against tremendous odds. She has been comparing herself to Rocky Balboa of late. Expect her to keep on talking about her bogus plan for tax-relief on gasoline (see my earlier blog on this). Expect her to trumpet her poverty - shucks, she's down on her luck just like those mountaineers - and to keep painting Obama (poor family, single mother) as an elitist who is out of touch with the ordinary people like herself. It is astonishing to see how she has managed to bury her own elite education at Wellsley and Yale, not to mention her personal fortune.

What will Obama do? He probably will not campaign too hard in West Virginia, but spend time wooing the super-delegates, make a major speech attacking John McCain, and focus on the two primaries on May 20. As usual, he has been better at raising money and more disciplined in using it than Hillary, so he can afford to go all out for the primaries in Kentucky and Oregon. In short, his best strategy is probably to campaign in West Virginia just enough to pin Hillary down, spending money she does not have, while making sure he wins in the following week. It is not over yet, her chances are dwindling, but anything can happen in American politics.

May 05, 2008

Standoff in Indiana and North Carolina Primaries

After the American Century

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have just completed two weeks of frantic campaigning in Indiana and North Carolina. The polls suggest they will split these two states, with Clinton the likely winner in Indiana and Obama in North Carolina. It appears that North Carolina, with a large black population voting overwhelmingly for Obama, is likely to give him a much needed victory. The scenario seems to be that he will win the cities, she will take the rural counties (though not in the northeast where there is a rural black majority), and the victory likely will go to whoever carries the suburbs. Average out the polls, and Obama is leading by 7%.

There is a small chance that Obama could make it close in Indiana, where Clinton has a 5% lead. When I was living in that state for half of 2003, I was surprised to find a sizable peace movement there trying to stop President Bush from invading Iraq. However, the Black population is not large in Indiana, whose voters share many characteristics with Ohio, right next door. They are struggling economically more than many states. It depends on how well Obama does with those groups Hillary has been so good at winning over: blue collar voters, Catholics, older women, people without a college education, and pensioners. There are quite a few people that fit into those categories in Indiana, which is a rather conservative state, taking both parties into consideration. Normally, Obama would get some mileage out of being from neighboring Illinois. But Clinton can also claim midwestern roots. The state has many college students, who nationally tend to be pro-Obama. Finally while it may seem trivial, he does play basketball well, and that is Indiana's favorite winter sport. However, he has been hurt by Rev. Wright's public statements, which came at the worst possible time. Overall, expect him to do well in the largest city, Indianapolis, in Bloomington and Brown County, to struggle in the small industrial cities like Ft. Wayne, Muncie, and Anderson, and to have great difficulties with rural voters, with the exception of the Quaker population, who will likely support him. As for the many Mennonites in Indiana, I suspect that not many of them will vote. Taken all around, Hillary should win that one, balancing off an Obama victory in North Carolina.

Whatever happens tomorrow, Obama will still have the lead in total delegates on Wednesday morning. But will he have regained some momentum? Clinton has been on the comeback trail now for well over a month, since her victories in Texas and Ohio, reinforced by her victory in Pennsylvania. If nothing else, she has shown grit and determination. 

Clinton has also called for dropping the federal tax on gasoline for the summer, to help out ordinary Americans. This proposal was surely crafted after looking at a Gallup Poll which showed that of all the problems faced by the US right now, high gas prices are perceived as the worst. It certainly does sound nice to suggest that the federal tax be dropped, and that instead the oil companies ought to be taxed directly. Silly idea, however. It is rather like a card sharp moving the queen of spades around the table. The taxes are still going to be collected on gasoline, just at a different location. Raise the cost of doing business for oil companies and they will shortly pass it on to the consumers. 

Moreover, making gas cheaper will send American consumers the wrong message. It will say: no need to trade down to a smaller, fuel efficient car; no need to cut back on smog and pollution; no need to reduce oil imports; no need for consumers to change their wasteful ways. Clinton no doubt expects to win some needed votes through this irresponsible proposal, and to strengthen her grip on her core constituency. For the Gallup polls show that the poorer an American is, the more gas prices loom as the most important problem the nation faces. (not the war in Iraq.) Were Mrs. Clinton thinking about the long term, she would try to move the electorate toward reduced energy use. That would be good for the environment and good for the economy. Her proposal has been attacked by many economists, and rejected by Mr. Obama. McCain, on the other hand, has put forward a similar proposal. Once again, it would seem that Hillary has adopted the dangerous strategy of becoming McClinton, a female clone of the Republican candidate. As the campaign chugs on toward what may be the bitter end of the primaries in early June, it appears that serious discussion of economic policy has all but disappeared. 

May 04, 2008

May 4 and the Memory of World War II

After the American Century

World War II ended in Denmark on May 4, 1945. On that night, and ever since, Danes have quietly put candles in their windows. The first time it was spontaneous, but now it is a tradition, a silent witness to the end of their occupation by Hitler and the return to a democratic society. But tonight, as I walked the streets here, I saw few windows with candles. There were some in every block, but less than a third of the apartments and the homes upheld the tradition. 

I cannot help but link this to a news story last week, in the wake of the recent Italian election. The new mayor of Rome is a leader in the New Fascist Party. There was a picture in the newspaper showing his supporters on the steps of a Roman building giving the stiff-armed Nazi salute. Such a thing would not have been possible a generation ago.

Two different nations, at opposite ends of the European Union, both seem to have forgotten the horrors of the past. Time does not heal wounds that are forgotten or denied but only covered up to fester. It is important to remember. It seems quite a few Italian voters and Danish homeowners do not. 

I was not yet born in 1945, but I will be lighting candles on the evening of May 4, 2009.