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Archive for November, 2008|Monthly archive page

Bush’s Last Days: The Lamest Duck

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2008 at 5:11 pm

Lame DUck

We have “only one President at a time,” Barack Obama said in his debut press conference as President-elect. Normally, that would be a safe assumption – but we’re learning not to assume anything as the charcoal-dreary economic winter approaches. By mid-November, with the financial crisis growing worse by the day, it had become obvious that one President was no longer enough (at least not the President we had). So, in the days before Thanksgiving, Obama began to move – if not to take charge outright, then at least to preview what things will be like when he does take over in January. He became a more public presence, taking questions from the press three days in a row. He named his economic team. He promised an enormous stimulus package that would somehow create 2.5 million new jobs, and began to maneuver the new Congress toward having the bill ready for him to sign – in a dramatic ceremony, no doubt – as soon as he assumes office.

That we have slightly more than one President for the moment is mostly a consequence of the extraordinary economic times. Even if George Washington were the incumbent, the markets would want to know what John Adams was planning to do after his Inauguration. And yet this final humiliation seems particularly appropriate for George W. Bush. At the end of a presidency of stupefying ineptitude, he has become the lamest of all possible ducks. (See TIME’s best pictures of Barack Obama.)

It is in the nature of mainstream journalism to attempt to be kind to Presidents when they are coming and going but to be fiercely skeptical in between. I’ve been feeling sorry for Bush lately, a feeling partly induced by recent fictional depictions of the President as an amiable lunkhead in Oliver Stone‘s W. and in Curtis Sittenfeld‘s terrific novel American Wife. There was a photo in the New York Times that seemed to sum up his current circumstance: Bush in Peru, dressed in an alpaca poncho, standing alone just after the photo op at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, with various Asian leaders departing the stage, none of them making eye contact with him. Bush has that forlorn what-the-hell-happened? expression on his face, the one that has marked his presidency at difficult times. You never want to see the President of the United States looking like that.

So I’ve been searching for valedictory encomiums. His position on immigration was admirable and courageous; he was right about the Dubai Ports deal and about free trade in general. He spoke well, in the abstract, about the importance of freedom. He is an impeccable classicist when it comes to baseball. And that just about does it for me. I’d add the bracing moment of Bush with the bullhorn in the ruins of the World Trade Center, but that was neutered in my memory by his ridiculous, preening appearance in a flight suit on the deck of the aircraft carrier beneath the “Mission Accomplished” sign. The flight-suit image is one of the two defining moments of the Bush failure. The other is the photo of Bush staring out the window of Air Force One, helplessly viewing the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina. This is a presidency that has wobbled between those two poles – overweening arrogance and paralytic incompetence.(President Bush in the Middle East.)

The latter has held sway these past few months as the economy has crumbled. It is too early to rate the performance of Bush’s economic team, but we have more than enough evidence to say, definitively, that at a moment when there was a vast national need for reassurance, the President himself was a cipher. Yes, he’s a lame duck with an Antarctic approval rating – but can you imagine Bill Clinton going so gently into the night? There are substantive gestures available to a President that do not involve the use of force or photo ops. For example, Bush could have boosted the public spirit – and the auto industry – by announcing that he was scrapping the entire federal automotive fleet, including the presidential limousine, and replacing it with hybrids made in Detroit. He could have jump-started – and he still could – the Obama plan by releasing funds for a green-jobs program to insulate public buildings. He could start funding the transit projects already approved by Congress.

In the end, though, it will not be the creative paralysis that defines Bush. It will be his intellectual laziness, at home and abroad. Bush never understood, or cared about, the delicate balance between freedom and regulation that was necessary to make markets work. He never understood, or cared about, the delicate balance between freedom and equity that was necessary to maintain the strong middle class required for both prosperity and democracy. He never considered the complexities of the cultures he was invading. He never understood that faith, unaccompanied by rigorous skepticism, is a recipe for myopia and foolishness. He is less than President now, and that is appropriate. He was never very much of one.

Gunmen kill at least 78 in attacks across Mumbai

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2008 at 5:06 pm

MUMBAI, India – Teams of heavily armed gunmen stormed luxury hotels, a popular restaurant and a crowded train station in coordinated attacks across India’s financial capital Wednesday night, killing at least 78 people and taking Westerners hostage, police said. A group of suspected Muslim militants claimed responsibility.

An explosion followed by a raging fire struck one of the hotels, the landmark Taj Mahal, early Thursday. Screams could be heard and enormous clouds of black smoke rose from the at the century-old edifice on Mumbai’s waterfront. Firefighters were spraying water at the blaze.

The attackers specifically targeted Britons and Americans, witnesses said. Fires burned and gunfire was heard for hours. Officials said at least 200 people were wounded.

State home secretary Bipin Shrimali said four suspects had been killed in two incidents when they tried to flee in cars, and state Home Minister R.R. Patil said nine more were captured. They declined to provide any further details.

The motive for the onslaught was not immediately clear, but Mumbai has frequently been targeted in terrorist attacks blamed on Islamic extremists, including a series of bombings in July 2007 that killed 187 people.

An Indian media report said a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen had claimed responsibility for the attacks in e-mails to several media outlets.

Police reported hostages being held at the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, two of the best-known upscale destinations in this crowded but wealthy city.

Gunmen who burst into the Taj “were targeting foreigners. They kept shouting: `Who has U.S. or U.K. passports?'” said Ashok Patel, a British citizen who fled from the hotel.

Authorities believed seven to 15 foreigners were prisoners at the Taj Mahal, but it was not immediately clear if hostages at the Oberoi were Indians or foreigners, said Anees Ahmed, a top state official. It was also unclear where the hostages were in the Taj Mahal, which is divided into an older wing, which was in flames, and a modern tower that was not on fire.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood said U.S. officials were not aware of any American casualties, but were still checking. He said he could not address reports that Westerners might be among the hostages.

“We condemn these attacks and the loss of innocent life,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

Johnny Joseph, chief secretary for Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, said 78 people had been killed and 200 had been wounded.

Officials at Bombay Hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a Japanese man had died there and nine Europeans were admitted, three of them in critical condition with gunshot wounds. All were brought in from the Taj Mahal, the officials said.

At least three top Indian police officers — including the chief of the anti-terror squad — were among those killed, a senior police official, A.N. Roy, said.

Blood smeared the floor of the Chhatrapati Shivaji rail station, where attackers sprayed bullets into the crowded terminal. Press Trust of India quoted the chief of the Mumbai railway police, A.K. Sharma, as saying several men armed with rifles and grenades were holed up at the station.

Other gunmen attacked Leopold’s restaurant, a landmark popular with foreigners, and the police headquarters in southern Mumbai, the area where most of the attacks took place. The restaurant was riddled with bullet holes and there were blood on the floor and shoes left by fleeing customers.

A British citizen who was dining at the Oberoi hotel told Sky News television that the gunmen who struck there singled out Britons and Americans.

Alex Chamberlain said a gunman, a young man of 22 or 23, ushered 30 or 40 people from the restaurant into a stairway and ordered everyone to put up their hands. He said the gunman spoke in Hindi or Urdu.

“They were talking about British and Americans specifically. There was an Italian guy, who, you know, they said: ‘Where are you from?” and he said he’s from Italy and they said ‘fine’ and they left him alone. And I thought: ‘Fine, they’re going to shoot me if they ask me anything — and thank God they didn’t,” he said.

Chamberlain said he managed to slip away as the patrons were forced to walk up stairs, but he thought much of the group was being held hostage.

Early Thursday, several European lawmakers were among people who barricaded themselves inside the Taj, a century-old seaside hotel complex and one of the city’s best-known destinations.

“I was in the main lobby and there was all of a sudden a lot of firing outside,” said Sajjad Karim, part of a delegation of European lawmakers visiting Mumbai ahead of a European UnionIndia summit.

As he turned to get away, “all of a sudden another gunmen appeared in front of us, carrying machine gun-type weapons. And he just started firing at us … I just turned and ran in the opposite direction,” he told The Associated Press over his mobile phone.

Hours later, Karim remained holed up in a hotel restaurant, unsure if it was safe to come out.

The British Foreign Office said it was advising all British citizens in Mumbai to stay indoors.

Britain’s foreign secretary, David Miliband, strongly condemned the attacks. “Today’s attacks in Mumbai which have claimed many innocent victims remind us, yet again, of the threat we face from violent extremists,” Miliband said in a statement.

India has been wracked by bomb attacks the past three years, which police blame on Muslim militants intent on destabilizing this largely Hindu country. Nearly 700 people have died.

Since May a militant group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen has taken credit for a string of blasts that killed more than 130 people. The most recent was in September, when a series of explosions struck a park and crowded shopping areas in the capital, New Delhi, killing 21 people and wounding about 100.

Mumbai has been hit repeatedly by terror attacks since March 1993, when Muslim underworld figures tied to Pakistani militants allegedly carried out a series of bombings on Mumbai‘s stock exchange, trains, hotels and gas stations. Authorities say those attacks, which killed 257 people and wounded more than 1,100, were carried out to avenge the deaths of hundreds of Muslims in religious riots that had swept India.

Ten years later, in 2003, 52 people were killed in Mumbai bombings blamed on Muslim militants and in July 2007 a series of seven blasts on railway trains and at commuter rail stations killed at least 187.

Relations between Hindus, who make up more than 80 percent of India’s 1 billion population, and Muslims, who make up about 14 percent, have sporadically erupted into bouts of sectarian violence since British-ruled India was split into independent India and Pakistan in 1947.

Apple gears up for Black Friday sale

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2008 at 4:40 pm

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Apple Inc, facing a tight U.S. consumer spending environment, is gearing up for a one-day sale on Friday and at least one analyst expects the company to offer discounts of up to 15 percent.

The day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, is the traditional kickoff to the U.S. holiday shopping season and one of the biggest buying days of the year for consumers.

The outlook for the computer and consumer electronics industry is universally grim, with shoppers widely expected to cut back on purchases as a recession looms.

An announcement on Apple’s website said the online store is holding a “one-day-only holiday shopping event. You’ll find dozens of great iPod, iPhone, and Mac gift ideas.”

An Apple spokesman declined to provide details.

Apple products are typically more expensive than those of competitors, and it doesn’t offer price reductions very often.

Kaufman Bros analyst Shaw Wu said in a research note that he expects Apple’s Black Friday promotions to be “a little more aggressive than usual.”

Wu expects Mac computers, iPod digital media players and accessories to be discounted up to 15 percent, but said it was unclear whether the iPhone would also be on sale. In years past, Apple has cut prices by 5 percent to 10 percent.

Retailers, including Best Buy Co Inc and Amazon.com Inc, are already discounting Apple products. The Best Buy website is currently offering $100 to $150 off certain MacBook laptops.

Wu also said many Apple stores are electing to match the price discounts of resellers.

Apple shares rose 2.7 percent to $93.23 on Tuesday, in line with other technology issues on Nasdaq.

(Reporting by Gabriel Madway; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)