Today's top news, Monday, Sept. 28.
RIGHT TURN | Moderates lose ground to free-marketers as weakened Merkel returned to power. Chancellor's centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) retain plurality but with fewer seats than 2005 vote. Big winner in Sunday's election is business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), which confounds pollsters with surge in popularity. As Merkel's new coalition partner, FDP will have significant governing influence. Implications for world's third-largest economy in Der Spiegel columnist Claus Christian Malzahn's essay "Welcome to the New Germany."
AFGHAN TURNING POINT | Bob Woodward's inside report on WH rethinking of Afghan strategy. As earlier noted here, Obama, like JFK during Cuban Missile Crisis and early phase of Vietnam involvement, is daring to question his generals on the likelihood of military success. Vietnam experience and Afghans' repulse of Soviets (and Alexander the Great, and the British) now informing a likely strategy shift. Biden's early, rejected, call for only a minimal military "footprint" now back on the table. As Frank Rich notes, question now is, once al-Qaeda is swept from Afghanistan, what's to stop it from setting up in Yemen, Sudan, Syria? Besides, al-Qaeda is not based in Afghanistan, but in al-Qaeda-friendly Pakistani border regions. (WaPo now calling it the "AfPak war.") Which makes a two-decade war against the Taliban, costly in blood and treasure (Iraq cost $1 trillion), pointless in a war on terrorism. Reuters analysis of drawbacks of an Obama course correction. Disturbing WaPo report on effective "fall" of Kandahar, where Canadian forces concentrated, here. (Photo: Vehicle explosions in Kandahar on Aug. 26 killed 41 civilians. Allauddin Kahn, AP.)
HEALTHCARE REFORM | Japan and France are each struggling with soaring costs and aging population. Their vaunted systems are models for the world in universality and quality of health outcomes. But demographic shifts are pushing up healthcare spending as portion of total government budgets, and search for economies is becoming as intense as it is in U.S.
TOUGH CHOICES AT RIM | Shift into consumer market has lowered its traditionally high margins. In Apple and Nokia, RIM is up against industry's most aggressive players in pricing, design and rapid pace of new-product development. And in its original business-market stronghold, RIM is facing viable competition for the first time.
ALBERTA ECONOMIC MAINSTAY JEOPARDIZED | Rival sources of cheaper natural gas emerging. Alberta looks to gas royalties for a quarter of its provincial budget, long ago eclipsing oil. But newly discovered shale gas in B.C., Texas and elsewhere helps account for this year's plummeting gas price. And technological advances make unconventional shale gas profitably extracted at $5 (Cdn) or less per thousand cubic feet, compared with $7/tcf or more for conventional gas, which could price Alberta out of the market.
SPUTNIK II | Chinese see competitive advantage in zealous pursuit of green-technology R&D. "The view of China in the U.S. Congress — that China is going to try to leapfrog us by out-polluting us — is out of date," says NYT columnist Tom Friedman. "It’s going to try to out-green us." To keep up, America needs another Sputnik moment, when Soviets' 1957 success in putting world's first Earth-orbiting satellite into space shocked the U.S. into rapidly upgrading education.
WILLIAM SAFIRE (1929-2009) | Nixon speechwriter, author, renowned language maven, dead at 79.
DETAINED | Film director Roman Polanski (Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown) arrested by Swiss police. Not clear if 76-year-old filmmaker will be extradicted to U.S. to face sentencing after fleeing U.S. in 1978 having pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with an underage girl. Anger in France and Poland after Polanski arrest.
THROWBACK | Time's latest faux fad is hula-hooping for fitness. Slate media critic Jack Shafer will be along in a moment to debunk it. (Watch this space). Funny, only a few weeks ago Time devoted a cover to why fitness basically is bunk, and that weight loss is achieved only by eating less often and consuming smaller portions. I think they were much closer to the mark the first time.
QUOTE OF THE DAY | "I took one of those aptitude tests in the seventh grade, and they said, 'You're not much good at anything, so why don't you go into business?'" -Willard Marriott, U.S. hotelier, in Fortune in 1986.
Steve Benson, The Arizona Republic.