Saturday, August 18, 2012

Romney Picks Ryan: Another Sarah Palin Moment?

You’ll forgive me if Saturday morning I was more concerned with the Olympics and the raccoon we captured in the attic than Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate.
Some have asked the question rather hopefully: Is Paul Ryan as bad a pick as Sarah Palin was for John McCain four years ago. Brace yourselves, I’m about to give a very confused answer…
Paul Ryan has more experience than Sarah Palin having served in Congress for six terms. So give experience to Mr. Ryan.
Mr. Ryan can also articulate his position on any number of issues, which should prevent a replay of the Palin-Biden debate where she kept cycling back to energy policy, which turned off a Republican friend of mine.
On these two scores, Paul Ryan is no Sarah Palin.
But Ryan does have one potentially ominous thing in common with Sarah Palin. He has inspired a great amount of excitement and energy among the conservative base. Romney perhaps needed to shore up his support among conservatives, so mission accomplished.
Trouble is, there’s really no in-between with the Ryan budget plan, your either madly in love with it, or it stirs feelings of contempt within your soul. Much like Sarah Palin.
Base picks are great for the base, not so great when they create a fury among 30-40% of the population. It will be interesting to see how the Romney campaign deals with the Paul Ryan effect.
 


Mitt Romney: Man in Shadows

My understanding of the 2012 Presidential Election was that it was supposed to be a contest between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.
With the selection of Paul Ryan, it feels as though Romney has perhaps unintentionally pushed himself into the shadows of his own presidential campaign, which is never a good sign.
I get that both sides are excited about Paul Ryan for good or bad, but I’m almost expecting Romney to raise his hands up as if to say “I’m right here.”
Again, its’ never a great sign when the VP overshadows the candidate.
As a matter of fact, it would probably help Romney to be out-front because he wants people to vote for Mitt Romney and his policies, rather than against Paul Ryan.
Paul Ryan only becomes president in the event something happens to Mitt Romney. People don’t vote for vice presidents, but they can cause them to vote against presidents and presidential candidates.

Linda McMahon: Political Force or Political Farce?

Former professional wrestling executive Linda McMahon won the Republican Senate Primary in Connecticut on Tuesday night. Does this victory indicate the political strength of Linda McMahon or the relative weakness of the Republican Party in Connecticut?
The Republican Party in Connecticut is in sad shape, if they are willing to give Linda McMahon another shot at a political office.
Sure, she has business expieriance having been the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), but the problem is that she was the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment.
WWE is a lightning rod because of its’ perceived nature as a low brow and carny form of entertainment. Years’ worth of tasteless WWE skits featuring nudity and crude humor combined with the out of ring scandals that have plagued the company.
The Democratic opponent will have a ready made campaign ad in five minutes.
The likely outcome here is a double digit Linda McMahon loss and a pile of wrestling fans praying she never tries again.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Romney VP pick: Putting States in Play

Come back tomorrow for discussion of Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan, This was written before the selection was made.

There has been some discussion that Mitt Romney would pick a Rob Portman, Marco Rubio, or Paul Ryan in order to put the states of Ohio, Florida, and Wisconsin into play.

While all three figures enjoy great popularity within their home states, Romney has to be that he doesn’t make a pick that puts a state out of play. He doesn’t have far to go for a blue print on how to accomplish that feat…SEE PALIN, SARAH 2008.

I’d be particularly worried about picking Paul Ryan because of the coverage he’s gotten for his budget plans.

There aren’t a ton of states in play. Making a safe pick like Rob Portman may be the better way to go instead of a firebrand like Paul Ryan because he could provide a boost in the state of Ohio and has unquestioned experience as a law-maker.

He may not be as exciting as a Rubio or Ryan, but excitement isn’t necessarily what Romney needs.Romney needs to coherently explain how his policy is different from President Obama. Who the VP is should be the least of Romney’s problems.

Image vs. Hype: An Olympic Debate

Lolo Jones has been the subject of a great deal of hype in the lead up to and during the Olympic Games. Without a doubt, she’s a very beautiful, strong, and accomplished young woman. She has a compelling story---growing up in poverty, star track athlete at LSU, and heartbreakingly lost a gold medal four years previous. She’s even made headlines for her decision to wait until marriage for sex.

If I had a daughter, I’d want her to be like Lolo Jones—with principles and an unrelenting work ethic. But this post-Olympic debate that has erupted following her Olympic performance is bordering on ridiculous.

Jones finished fourth in the 100 meter hurdles the other night, behind two much less hyped athletes. Then the firestorm started.

Her teammates who finished second and third were much less hyped and seemed to take a shot at Jones. While this was headline news for some, I don’t see the big deal. How would you feel if you won an Olympic medal and all anyone wanted to talk about was the person who finished forth?

Yet we can’t entirely blame Lolo Jones either. America is a very photogenic society—. Media, sponsors’, and the like gravitate to certain athletes who they think will help sell their products or embody certain images that they find desirable.

Should we vilify an athlete because they have big sponsorship and don’t have to have bake sales and car washes just to make the trip to the Olympics?

Call it another media flame up.

Why Hasn’t The Sikh Temple Shooting Gotten More Coverage?

I was reluctant to take on this post because no one ever wants to get into the business of comparing mass shooting episodes, but it feels like the Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek Wisconsin has gotten far less coverage than the Aurora Colorado Theatre shooting or even the plea of the Tucson shooter and I’m at a loss to explain why.

No one is going to sit here and tell me that the six people who died were less important than anyone who died in Colorado or Arizona. Yet, the Sikh Temple shooting seems to be treated like an afterthought.

Is it simply because there’s more stuff going on? The Olympics, Syria, wild weather, economic woe, etc.?

Or is it because it’s harder to identify with the Sikh faith than a bunch of people sitting in a movie theatre?

Sorry to say, but there is a need for a compelling narrative, if the news media is going to shine a spotlight on an event.

Personally, I think the Sikh Temple shooting provides an amazing opportunity to discuss religious tolerance in America and teach about respecting people of different faiths.

Sadly, I don’t think we’ll get there.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

An Angle for Russian Intervention in Syria?

The Russian government has rejected the notion of international intervention because the conflict in Syria is a domestic matter to be handled internally.
 It is far from classified information that the two countries have been friendly since the heydays of the Soviet Union in the 1960’s and 1970’s but recent developments may make Russian intervention more likely.
First, Assad is having money issues and is looking towards his large friends in Moscow for help. The more damning scenario for Russian intervention is that Al Qaeda fighters in Syria are reported to have arrived in the country from Chechnya—where a Russian backed strongman has suppressed most attacks against the Kremlin.
Russia could use this as an entry point because the Chechen arm of Al Qaeda has been blamed for several attacks within Russia, and its’ entirely possible that the Putin government would want to take the fight to any Chechen member of Al Qaeda in an attempt to repair his own weakened domestic image.
 Of course, its also likely that Putin will say goodbye and good riddance to Chechen fighters because if they are in Syria, than they can cause Putin problems in Russia.

The Syrian Al Qaeda Dilemma: U.S. Style

Now that we covered the Al Qaeda dilemma from the Syrian rebels perspective, what does the United States say about it?
 I would have to believe that the United States is deeply concerned about the Al Qaeda presence in Syria, but what options are truly available?
Sure, you could increase weapons to the rebels, but who knows how many are going to be left by the time the resources are marshaled together? Meanwhile, there is no appetite for US troops on the ground in Syria---either in Congress or Main Street.
The best that the United States may be able to hope for is that this finally galvanizes the international community to act in some sort of concerted action.
Absent this awakening, I fear the United States may have to be bitterly content with the Al Qaeda presence in Syria because the current American political realities make it impossible to do anything meaningful.
No politician is going to send troops in an election year—and sending more weapons implies a time element that we don’t have.

The Syrian Al Qaeda Dilemma

Syrian rebels may soon be faced with an interesting choice. They are obviously outmanned and outgunned by forces loyal to Bashir Al-Assad and are struggling just to hold on in the city of Alepo.
Al Qaeda fighters from Chechnya and elsewhere have begun to infiltrate Syria and offer assistance to the rebels in the form of cash, weapons, and much needed bodies.
So far, rebel leaders have been reluctant to accept help, fearing that Al Qaeda will attempt to hijack the movement. The question is: Do you accept Al Qaeda’s’ help?
We’re dealing with a situation where rebel leaders may not be alive next week, if the shelling continues. Would you rather die with your principles intact or live perhaps being beholden to Al Qaeda?
 It’s a thorny issue, but I don’t think the Syrian rebels have the time to be playing morality chess. If Al Qaeda is offering them help, they should take it, along with anything the international community can provide. Hey! It’s far from the first time people have served two sides in war.
One has to be alive in order to have a post Assad Syria. Right now on that score, Syrian rebels need any help they can get.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Review of Must Win: A Season of Survival for a Town and Its Team by Drew Jubera

This has been described by some as the Georgia version of Friday Night Lights, regrettably I haven’t read Friday Night Lights to offer a meaningful comparison of the two, but there are definite similarities between the two stories.
Two small towns where Friday Night high school football is king, where championships are the expectation and losing is unacceptable.
Valdosta Georgia is the winningest high school football program in the United States, but the last few decades have not been kind to the historic football power or the town that feels the teams success or failure down into their bone marrow.
 Any coach who dares take on the challenge of coaching in Valdosta is stepping into the shadows of two still god-like figures August Wright Bazemore and Nick Hyder.
On many levels though, this book isn’t a football story, but a story about life. New coach Rance Gillespie is viewed as the last chance to save Valdosta from football irrelevance. The story of Valdosta football parallels the story of the town itself as the traditional American values (excellence, God, and football) are being challenged by a new generation of teenagers who live on social media and face challenges like teen pregnancy, foster homes, and gun violence.
These are the forces Gillespie must fight against in bringing back the winning tradition. Drew Jubera uses a short episodic type format to take the reader through the trials and tribulations of a Southern football powerhouse.
Its’ perfect for football fans looking for something to read between games, but it also works well for the non-football fan because Jubera paints the coaches, team, and townspeople in such a light that the reader finds themselves invested in the Wildcats success down to the final page.
Just Win is a Must Read

Review of Guests of the Ayatollah by Mark Bowden

I’ve been on a major Iran kick this summer for some reason.
Guests of the Ayatollah is a fairly lengthy 650-700 page look at the Iranian hostage crisis. Perhaps due to Bowden’s background as a former sports reporter in Baltimore, the text is fairly easy to read and actually reads like a lengthy novel.
Bowden tries to tackle the crisis from all sides: the Iranian hostage takers, the embassy hostages, the President and his key advisors, the military role in the ill-fated rescue operation, and even the reaction of the American public as we move towards the 1980 election and beyond.
Much of the book is spent inside the embassy through the collective recollections of the hostages however. Overall, I thought Bowden struck a pretty good balance between all these different narratives, but individual opinions will vary of course.
When you’re trying to string together as many different perspectives as exist in the Iranian hostage crisis, the reader is bound to be left wanting in one area or another. I thought Bowden did a fantastic job capturing the dynamics between the hostages themselves, rather than merely bouncing them off their Iranian captors.
Would make an interesting companion piece to the new David Crist book The Twilight War, which provides a comprehensive treatment of U.S.-Iran relations from 1979-2011

The Chemical Option in Syria

The international community has been worried about the Syrian arsenal of chemical weapons in the event the regime of Bashir Al-Assad starts to quake. But are chemical weapons really the cataclysmic threat that some international media are making it out to be?
Without question, the Assad regime is a dictatorship. It’s really difficult to expect rational behavior from a dictatorship because they are not accountable to the people, excepting show elections that dictators often win with eighty-ninety percent of a rigged vote.
All the Assad regime knows is power and if Assad is not rendered stupefied byhumanity, then yes chemical weapons are a real threat.
Assad must’ve seen what went down in Libya. To think that he’d want to be taken from a hiding place and shot through the head while his corpse is driven through the streets is insane.
 Everyone knows the saying about desperate men doing desperate things. I’m thoroughly convinced that Assad will do anything he can to avoid being Gadhafi, unfortunately that includes chemical weapons.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

For the Love of Badminton!

Every Olympic Gamesis known for something. Previous games have been known for performance enhancing drug use, terrorist attacks, and even losing the keys to Olympic venues.
The London Olympics stand out because of a scandal in the highly competitive, engrossing, sport of badminton.
Three teams from Singapore, Indonesia, and China were dismissed from the Olympic Games for intentionally trying to lose their pool matches, in order to get easier matches in the next round of the tournament.
In the China case, losing would’ve separated their two teams, giving them an opportunity to win two medals instead of one.
I put this on the blog because it is an open question whether a government could condone such behavior.
There is unquestioned prestige in the winning of an Olympic gold medal.
For the athletes, there’s the added perk of fame and notoriety, particularly in some of these Southeast Asian countries. There have certainly been allegations of athletes in Communist countries doing everything to get ahead.
But isn’t the prospect of being caught, a far greater embarrassment than any potential gain?

Two Koreas Meet at The Pong Table

A notable event occurred at the Olympics last week when the North and South Korean ping pong teams met over the ping pong table.
The match won by South Korea is unlikely to have the same effect as the historical U.S.- China ping pong diplomacy during the 1970’s because the countries have grown further apart since the death of Kim Jong IL, though to be fair relations have never been spectacular in the years since one Korea, became two.
Not sure whether this speaks to the sad state of relations between the two Koreas, or the true glory of the Olympics that we can get a moment that probably won’t be repeated anytime soon.
 The two countries are far apart economically and socially and a series of weapons launches and military exercises would seem to indicate that the two sides will not be meeting for tea anytime soon.
It’s really quite sad that the two Koreas can only meet at the business end of a ping pong table.

Kofi Annan Quits Syria

United Nations Special Envoy Kofi Annan has quit his diplomatic mission to Syria in the midst of the increasingly desperate civil war between rebels and forces loyal to Bashir-al Assad.
Does this mean that diplomacy is dead?
Kofi Annan for all his faults is a highly skilled and capable diplomat, but the situation in Syria has moved beyond diplomacy at present.
Assad is a dictator clinging to power battling an insurgency that knows laying down their weapons isn’t a option.
Though all civil wars eventually end with some sort of diplomatic settlement, I believe the international community may have to wait for the violence to cease before diplomacy can take hold.
The cost of this approach is thousands more lives, so its unpalatable to the international community, but this isn’t a video game either. There isn’t a reset button…the status quo in Syria is broken beyond repair.
To say diplomacy is hopeless is wrong, but there’s a time for diplomacy and a time for war…
Right now, the war is on.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Romney vs. Cameron: Olympic Smackdown

Mitt Romney ran the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 and is apparently an avid fan of the Olympics.
He raised the ire of our British friends recently when he questioned the readiness of the city of London to put on the Games. This prompted British Prime Minister David Cameron to quip “Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”
It should be noted that since this incident the London Games have endured a badminton scandal and someone lost the keys to Wimbley Stadium. Not exactly sterling silver material.
The Olympics is a difficult event to secure, out of sheer size if nothing else. The challenges facing London and Salt Lake City are different, and I’m not sure that we can equalize the expieriances.
Call it draw between the Prime Minister and the Republican Nominee.

What Politics Can’t Do

I love the Olympic Games because they bring the entire world together the way that no politician no matter how skilled or powerful can.
There has been great fanfare over political figures like Barack Obama and Boris Yeltsin in early 1990’s post-Soviet Russia. Often times, the political reality on the ground overwhelms this fanfare leaving these great figures fighting against a divided society.
With the Olympic Games though, it feels like the world is united in this common spirit and we can seek solace in our favorite sports.
I’ve often wondered just what we could accomplish as a civilization if we channeled the Olympic spirit 24-7-365 instead of once every four years. Maybe we could accomplish a big goal like a cure for cancer or malaria.
Politics will never accomplish what the Olympics do because there’s so many emotionally charged issues in politics like immigration and abortion. I mean last time I checked Missy Franklin and Michael Phelps were not swimming across the border.
Even non-sports fans are drawn to the Olympics because of the pomp and artistry of the event.
We need more Olympics not less.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

In the event of an emergency…

I always chuckle when after a crisis, the media is absolutely shocked that people were able to remain calm. Apparently, if you work for network news, your supposed to run around like Chicken Little screaming the sky is falling in a crisis.

The Subjective Terrorists: The Curious Case of MEK

Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) is a State Department designated terrorist organization that has murdered Americans and sought to create an amalgam of Islam and Marxism to take over Iran since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979.
Why then, does the MEK have such high level support among many former government officials? They count among their supporters Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Howard Dean, and Lee Hamilton, among others. 
The MEK has often paid money to these high ranking officials to make speeches on the groups behalf. Some even see the group as a suitable alternative to the current Islamic regime—despite their lack of domestic support within Iran.
There’s now an active probe to determine whether these officials can be charged under the Federal Agents Registration Act that requires U.S. citizens lobbying on behalf of foreign powers within the U.S. to disclose their roles and officially register with the government.
Don’t get your hopes up for government action as rules for officials outside government are selectively enforced.
Do we hate the regime in Iran so much that we’re willing to support any dubious crackpot organization that may be better than the Islamic regime?  
But some former U.S. officials love them. Lord knows why…

Mitt Romney’s Tax Problem

Can Mitt Romney help himself at all?
 Before the Colorado shooting diverted everyone’s attention, Romney was being peppered to release more than the two years of tax returns that he’s make available.
The Romney campaign cites this as the standard of the 2008 campaign. While this may be true, Romney just looks like a man with something to hide by not doing it.
Just release the returns, Mr. Romney and the story goes away, unless it doesn’t.
My personal guess is that Romney’s tax returns from previous years would show that he’s had money spread in all kinds of offshore bank accounts and holdings. Romney certainly wouldn’t want that to get out since it would mean that part of the Obama campaigns big attack is true.
These accusations could be damaging to the Romney campaign given the Obama campaigns efforts to paint him as a big business elitist whose out of touch with the middle class.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sudan: Protests You Don’t See

Sudan is not without its own problems.
The twin action of South Sudan severing its’ oil lifeline in January and international economic sanctions have done damage to the economic might of the regime of Omar al-Bashir.
 Bashir’s government appears bound and determined to continue the regimes various unpopular wars throughout the country, including the conflict in Darfur.
To continue these wars,  the Sudanese government has instituted austerity measures. This is occurring while the cost of living for the Sudanese civilian rises.
So why no media coverage? A number of ideas have been proposed including revolution fatigue, the complexity of the Sudanese conflict, and the vilification in the press of Sudan for its’ actions in Darfur.
 I’d like to propose another option: a lack of American involvement.
 In Syria, the United States has released several statements and attempted to rouse the international community at the United Nations.
 There has been no such outrage over the ongoing events of Sudan. The stories featured on the network news revolve around some type of American interest. Without an American interest, the media simply won’t care.

South Sudan: Meeting Expectations

Last year, I welcomed South Sudan to nationhood. This year, I’m surprised they made it through the first year. South Sudan is a landlocked country with tremendous oil wealth that has been in a bitter conflict with Sudan over how much money it should pay Sudan to pump its’ oil to international markets.
Both nations have toyed with the idea of war as Sudan has bombed villages inside South Sudan. Meanwhile, South Sudan has taken control of Sudan’s largest oil producing town Heglig.
The international community should’ve known that separating the two Sudan’s wasn’t going to be pretty.
 The two countries have been involved in a bitter war for over twenty years on some level. It would be crazy to believe that Sudan would give up all that oil wealth without a fight and the leadership of South Sudan fought for the liberation of South Sudan with their blood and sweat.
 They’d rather die than cede anything to the hated Sudan.
 Ultimately, it was probably what we expected out of South Sudan in the first year.

Cleaning Out the Blog Closet

I’m cleaning out the blog closet ahead of Friday’s opening ceremonies at the London Olympics. What will be posted over the next few days is a collection of commentaries that I just haven’t gotten to over the last few days and weeks, but are still relevant.

Gun Controls Missed Reality

This is an edited and updated version of a repost from last summer.
 Advocates of tighter gun control standards that inevitably emerge following an tragedy like the one that occurred in Aurora Colorado fail to grasp a fundamental reality. By making it more difficult for law abiding citizens to possess guns, they are creating free crime zones where only criminals have guns.
This missed reality occurs because advocates of tighter gun control often ignore the black or underground market that exists for handguns and firearms that criminal elements and those with the right connections can easily tap into.  
Anyone wishing to commit an attack like the Aurora Theater shooting will figure out a way. If they can’t do it with a gun, then they’ll rig a truck bomb or IED.  We’re not going to legalize our way to a safe society.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Home and Away: Two Portraits of Venezuela

President Obama and Mitt Romney have been recently sparring over the relevance of Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela on the international stage.
President Obama argues that Chavez has been marginalized and his influence in waning. Romney meanwhile, cites Chavez’s friendship with Iran and his ties to terrorist and criminal groups such as Hezbollah as reason to view Chavez as a threat.
While Obama and Romney haggle over whether Chavez is a threat to national security, the domestic situation in Venezuela may be instructive.
The murder rate in Venezuela is truly staggering. Through the first six month of 2012, 9,510 murders took place, an average of 52 murders per day.
That is four times higher than Mexico.
Venezuelans and their neighbors are worried about the constant threat of violence and weapons spilling across the border.
Chavez can’t even secure his own people and we’re supposed to think he’s a national security threat? Chavez should worry about his own political survival.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Colorado Theater Massacre: Thoughts From A Day After

I was shocked to learn of the Colorado Theater Massacre when I checked my Facebook and found a friends status.
I’ve been watching the news coverage for a day now. The stories from the survivors and those who knew people who died are heartbreaking.
It’s okay be sad, but if all we manage to get out of this tragedy is a few moments of sadness than we’re really a screwed up country.
I believe that there’s something deeper and more meaningful that we can take from this tragedy than being sad or outraged.
Now is a time for personal reflection.
Life is a fragile thing that can be gone at a moments notice. I’ve been taking the last twenty four hours and reflecting on what exactly I’ve been doing with the life that I’ve been given.
It is my hope through personal reflection and reexamining life, that some good can come out of such tremendous tragedy.

The Colorado Theater Massacre: A No Politics Zone?

Absent President Obama’s statement on the Aurora Colorado theater massacre to a crowd gathered for a campaign rally in Fort Lauderdale that  came across on television as insensitive, the political campaigns have been largely muted minus the statements of condolence and sympathy from both campaigns.
This is a refreshing development because there are things in life greater than politics. The last thing anybody wants is to hear when thousands of people had their lives ruined is what an ass the other candidate is.
This the way things should work in the face of a national tragedy. There should be nothing political about death. There is nothing to be gained from playing politics at a time like this.
I’m sure we’ll get back to debating the economy, gun control, and Romney’s role at Bain Capital, sooner rather than later, but it felt good to know that we can still come together in a time of crisis.

The Domestic IED

It seems cruel yet appropriate that I’m writing about the Pentagon warning about the risk of domestic improvised explosive devices (IED’s) on a day when police in Colorado are trying to break in to the bobby trapped apartment of America’s latest mass murderer.
I think the Pentagon is spot on about the dangers of IEDs domestically because they worked so well against U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
 If they can work so well in the middle of a warzone, why can’t they be used by some domestic lone wolf against armed forces and first responders domestically?
IED’s aren’t something that requires a high degree of technical sophistication or intellect. I venture to say that one could make a crude device out of things that can be bought at Home Depot.
The ease of procurement coupled with the growing fury against institutions representing government make IED’s perhaps the ideal weapon of the disaffected.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Review of Why Nations Fail

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have teamed up to write a broad reaching work that combines political science, history, and economics in order to attempt to explain why nations fail.

Rather than relying on tired, outdated, and offensive theories such as geography, culture, or outright ignorance of impoverished populations. The theory advanced in this book is far more simpler, and in my view much more plausible.

The theory states that poor societies are poor because political power is narrowly concentrated in the hands of elites who are more concerned with their own power rather than society at large. Prosperous societies have widely distributed political and economic rights throughout levels of society rather than on a narrow elite.

The authors than go about providing a plethora of evidence for their theory. Thus, the theory is well supported. However, the history tends to wander and shoot off in random directions at points that make it difficult to follow--in spite of the many engaging and occasionally humorous anecdotes.

 But it doesn't detract from the overall message of the book that exploitive political and economic institutions are a cause of poor societies. Blending information from different disciplines can be difficult, but I praise the authors for creating a readable, yet comprehensive book that is my favorite of 2012, so far.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Olympic Security: The Private Contractor Uproar

British lawmakers are in a lather as a private security contractor who had previously promised some 10,000 bodies admitted they will only be able to provide roughly half of that amount. It’s another blow in a bad week for a country desperately trying to ensure security ahead of the Olympic Games.
To compensate, the British government has called up more troops from the various branches of the British armed forces. The government could’ve saved hours of time and aggravation by just doing this in the first place.
 What would compel a private security contractor to make such promises and then fail so dismally? Logically, one could argue that this was just another private contractor looking to make some easy $ off the government dole.
 Before accepting this simple explanation though, one must ask themselves “Why would a company want to look incompetent during the biggest sporting event in the world”? Such incompetence could destroy a company.
If I was a lawmaker in Brittan, I’d be wondering how many other contractors have promised something big for these Olympics, only to fail when the time comes.

Terror is okay in London

I was struck dumbfounded this weekend, when a report published in the Observer claimed that persons on the Terror Watch List were allowed to board airplanes with no questions asked. That should make those Olympic spectators feel real secure.
The enormous job of securing the Olympics has required the reliance on many part-time and temporary employees, who may lack the training and expertise of regular airport security personal.
That and the crush of spectators and athletes headed towards to the London Games creates a tremendous amount of pressure on screeners to get people through security as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The drawback is that the need for speed could allow criminals and terrorists to slip through the cracks of an over-stressed security system.
While security officials are urging the public not to worry, the mathematics of the problem favor the terrorists. If even one of the persons who boarded a plane in London commits an act of terrorism, than the counter-terror measures will be hailed as a disaster.
 Even if British officials are right, do we really want to be playing the hope card here? These people were obviously flagged for the terror watch list for some reason. It wasn’t because of their auto club membership.

Argentina: Dirty War Justice

Argentina is in a  race against time to bring to justice members of the former military government who committed crimes during the countries Dirty War years (1976-83).
The advancing age of the perpetrators coupled with lengthy prosecutions that often involved mountains of evidence and multiple testimonies from victims, have made justice an elusive prospect. An estimated 30,000 people were disappeared under the former military dictatorship.
The Kirchner government has been particularly aggressive in speeding up the process.
The quest for justice after atrocities is nothing new. The ICC trials on the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia illustrate a desire for justice. Many of the above mentioned societies have used the trials to shine on a light on the nation’s past misdeeds. These trials are a vital step for the youthful democracy.
If Argentina doesn’t complete these trials, they may viewed as suspiciously as Japan, who many still feel have not properly owned up to their role in World War II.
Without these trials, Argentina will appear to be condoning the actions of military dictatorship. A key first step in building democracy in Argentina will be repudiating the actions of a past that most people would like to forget.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Review of Scandal and Silence: Media Responses to Presidential Misconduct

Be warned up front Robert M. Entman’s Scandal and Silence: Media Responses to Presidential Misconduct is not for the faint of vocabulary.
The start of the book reads like the introduction to a graduate paper, which could scare off the average reader. The writing seems to become less dense once the introductory chapter ends though.
Assuming that the reader doesn’t fear the discussion of methods, a few tables, and the multiple hypotheses, what the book eventually settles down into is a challenging of the conventional wisdom that depicts the print and broadcast media as scandal hawks that media crave and actively pursue scandals whenever they sense corruption. Entman’s thesis breaks down into four main points:
           Media neglect most corruption, providing too little, not too much, scandal coverage.
           Scandals arise from rational controlled processes, not emotional frenzies- and when scandals occur it’s not media but government and political parties that drive the process.
           Significant scandals are difficult for news organizations to initiate, sustain, and bring to closure.
           For these reasons cover ups and lying often work, while truth remains unrecorded and unremembered.
The period covered by the study is 1988-2008, though Iran-Contra and the grandfather of modern political scandal, Watergate, is covered. These earlier scandals in spite of their magnitude serve to support the Entman thesis.
It’s a difficult thesis to accept because its such a contrast to what we see every day in our newspapers and television. The image of the corruption infested politician is part of American culture. But Entman does a solid job of laying out this challenging thesis in a rational way without jarring the reader.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Review of The New Geography of Jobs by Enrico Moretti

Enrico Moretti doesn’t present a complicated thesis in The New Geography of Jobs. At its’ core, its’ quite simple actually: Communities that have become innovative, have plentiful job openings and are looking for people, while the old manufacturing belt failed to innovate and is in a decline.
 The thesis is a challenge to the conventional wisdom that manufacturing is the key to job growth. He’s found that innovation actually creates more jobs than manufacturing, yet he admits that not every community is going to be or can be Silicon Valley or Seattle.
I also appreciate that Moretti doesn’t come across as a “wonderboy” economist telling city leaders “Do x and you’ll have prosperity.” He states quite openly he doesn’t have an absolute answer.
My concerns with Moretti are more practical. In several places, he talks about increasing government expenditures on education and innovation, under the premise that the investment will come back several times.
Let’s say we accept the premise. In an era of budget deficits that are necessitating deep cuts in many states, how do you convince politicians, who are more worried about their next elections to undertake such a course?  While these investments may prove valuable long term, they won’t offer much bounce to a politician’s poll numbers.
Overall though, an interesting take to the never ending problem of jobs.

The Outsource Olympics: United States Uniforms Made in China

Democrats and Republicans came together this week to be outraged over the fact that the United States Olympic Team uniforms for the opening ceremonies are made in China.
Part of me isn’t sure whether to be more surprised over the first part of that sentence or the second.
 It is an outrage that Team USA gear is not made in the United States, but where has all this outrage been over the last ten or fifteen years when a majority of the clothes that were made in the United States began to be made in the Chinas, Vietnams, and Honduras of the world, sending Americans to the unemployment line?
That our political leaders have chosen to be outraged over this brand of outsourcing foretells a rather hypocritical stance.

Factory workers and garment makers represent America 365 days a year instead of once every four years, yet because they’re not going to have the glare of an Olympic spotlight on them in two weeks, we apparently don’t have to care about them.

I love our Olympians, this isn’t anything personal, but there’s something really messed up in this country when it takes the Olympics to stimulate an outrage over a decades old practice.

London Terror Arrests: An Olympic Boom

Seven men were arrested in Brittan last week on suspicion of terrorist activities ahead of the London Olympic Games.
While security chiefs have repeatedly said that they have no evidence that the Olympics themselves are being targeted, one cannot deny that the Olympics are playing a role in the quick action by the British police forces.
Brittan has spent millions of dollars on security for the Olympic Games. The Olympics themselves are an event undertaken at a great financial cost to host countries. They don’t want anything to create an atmosphere of terror over the festivities.
 Terrorists may have their eyes on a so called soft target near the Olympics, but officials may not be willing to admit this out of fear that it will cause people to stay at home. 
This in turn requires counter-terrorism officials to make arrests earlier in the evolution of terrorist plots than perhaps they would.
Officials may claim that the Olympics are not being targeted, but they sure are the reason that British Intelligence has suddenly turned into counter-terrorisms version of the Flash.

Libya: Hope After Qaddafi

Last weekend, the Libyan people went to vote in the first election since dictator Muammer Qaddafi was killed last year.
Despite a hodgepodge of 142 parties and 2,500 individual candidates coupled with concerns about the political clout of Tripoli relative to the Eastern and Southern portions of the country, the overarching feeling of many voters throughout the country has been one of hope and optimism for the future.
Many analysts are not exactly sure what might come out of these elections, though Islamists are expected to do well.
The reason for such uncertainty is because many voters voted for local candidates unaffiliated with a political party. This is a sound strategy in the first election after a repressive dictatorship. Voters hope by choosing local candidates that they know, they can prevent the creation of another Qaddafi.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Barclays: Too Big to Fail Poster child

The recent British uproar over the actions of Barclays—the second largest bank in the Brittan seems to indicate that these large “too big to fail” banks have failed to learn anything from the 2008 financial crisis. A disconcerting reality indeed for those of us on Main Street.
 Barclays was fined $453 million by British and American banking authorities for attempting to manipulate the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), this measures lending rates between banks, and operates as a benchmark to price trillions of dollars in derivatives, mortgages, and bonds.
The bank admitted that it lied about the interest rate at which it was borrowing to create the impression that it was a low risk borrower by its peers. While at other times, it lied to manipulate the value of derivatives tied to Libor to generate short term trading profits. 
If the second largest bank in Brittan can still engage in such shady tactics four years after major global financial crisis, what are the other “too big to fail” banks up to?
As reprehensible as the behavior of the big banks is, we need to blame governments as well for failing to punish the big fish of the banking industry while providing huge bailouts.
 This combination of actions sent the message that its’ okay to be risky because the government    will bail us out.”Congratulations governments, call me in two or three years when the financial system melts down again.

Review of The Unfair Trade: How our Broken Financial System Destroys the Middle Class by Michael J. Casey

Michael J. Casey does something few economists have endeavored to do by going beyond America to capture the truly global nature of the economy.
Moving beyond America’s shores, Casey travels to such diverse locales as Juarez Mexico, Iceland, the mines of Southern Australia and Peru, and the cattle ranches of Argentina to illustrate how the inequality of the global financial system with its’ inequalities enriches one group of people in one location, while making localized populations impoverished. These sections usually end with a lens turned on China.
But its far from a China bash-fest. China is just one very large actor in a system that spreads inequality throughout the world.
The people Casey profiles throughout the book include those who benefited from the unbalanced global financial system and whose lives came crashing down when the bubble went burst. Casey is sympathetic with these people, yet does not pardon them from their questionable misdeeds.
I thought the case study approach was interesting because it allows the reader to put a human face on the global inequalities of the financial system. It is also perhaps the only way Casey could’ve pursued such a wide-reaching project.
Producing a complicated statistical study would not have achieved the same purpose. The disadvantage is that the case study approach doesn’t exactly lend itself to a conventional, testable, thesis. Casey’s evidence is subjective and your view is likely predicated on your view of the global financial crisis.
Casey has produced a really readable and engaging book that truly puts the global into global financial crisis. I highly recommend you snag a copy.

The China Word

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have spoken about getting tough with China over its’ unfair trade policies such as artificially undervaluing its’ currency the Yuan relative to the U.S. dollar, which gives it an unfair advantage in the dog eat dog global economy.
But I am forced to wonder whether such harsh rhetoric will actually lead to meaningful action when the heat of electoral politics has faded. I have my doubts.
Presidents can say whatever they want on the campaign trail, but Congress ultimately makes the laws in this country. It would be na├»ve to believe that there isn’t a pro-China lobby somewhere on Capitol Hill that is pressuring our legislators into not turning either candidates’ rhetoric into meaningful action.
 Sure, Congress may produce some watered down bill on trade with China, but it will be largely fangless out of fear of upsetting our great Chinese lender.

Municipal Governments: Can You Spare a Dollar?

Two municipal governments made news yesterday by announcing drastic steps because of their inability to deal with their ever-mounting debts.

 San Bernardino California became the latest American city to declare bankruptcy. Meanwhile the mayor in Scranton Pennsylvania has defied a court order and vowed that all municipal employees will have their pay slashed down to minimum wage.

 The political elites may not dare to admit this publicly, but these dramatic actions are a continuation of the 2008 financial crisis.

The 2008 financial crises has proven unique because it has struck in various waves. The original wave revolved around the banking and financial sectors. This crisis then extended itself over the housing market, and has now spread to municipal governments.

 These crises are bound together by the commonality of a lack of capital.

The banks couldn’t weather the financial crisis because they didn’t have enough capital and needed bailouts, homeowners were underwater when mortgage rates adjusted because they didn’t have the income to make the adjusted pavement, and now governments made these big promises to employees when everything was good, but find themselves into draconian cuts because the good times died.

Yet neither presidential candidate would dare to admit that the 2008 financial crises is still going on because they want to talk about recoveries or what we need to do to speed up said recovery.
 I don’t know how were supposed to recover when we have unusually high foreclosure rates and municipal governments are slipping further into the toilet.
Perhaps Obama and Romney should focus less on this dubious recovery thing and focus more on how they propose to get us out of this great four year financial crisis.

Monday, July 9, 2012

For Life, Liberty, and Failed States

Foreign Policy Magazine in conjunction with the Fund for Peace has released the 2012 Failed States Index.
 This information is typically useful for scholars of terrorism because failed states can be fertile recruiting grounds for terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda.
Others use the index as a rallying cry to pressure their governments to do something about the abject human misery that is spawned by malfunctioning and broken states.
This years list is headlined by
·         Somalia
·         The Democratic Republic of Congo
·         North Sudan
·         South Sudan (NOT RATED)
·         Chad
·         Zimbabwe
My larger point in writing this blog is to question whether we should even be ranking failed states at all.
 The notion of ranking failed states does seem quite subjective and heavy handed. It makes it sound like the problems in Zimbabwe are somehow worse than that of Afghanistan and Haiti, who finished sixth and seventh respectively.
I venture to say that the average Afghan or Haitian would find common cause with Zimbabwean.
Further, state failure in my view, cannot be measured through some magical set of calculations and reduced to a numerical value.
There are people on the end of these numbers who are suffering from everything from autocratic governance to little affordable food and water.
 Many suffer from several ailments. I think this index would be more helpful, if it came with explanatory country by country data that explained the numbers.

Mexico: Return of the PRI

Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ruled Mexico for seventy-one years until they were voted out of office in 2000, accused of large scale corruption.
Twelve years later, the PRI is back in power after a victory by Enrique Pena Nieto in last Sunday’s presidential election. So what has changed?
The Mexican people have had twelve years of governance by the National Action Party (PAN). In those twelve years, Mexico has been caught in the grasp of an increasingly aggressive insurgency launched by drug cartels that the central government has failed in its’ efforts to defeat.
While there is unease at voting the party who ruled Mexico as a dictatorship for seventy years back into power, the PRI party has shown an unquestioned ability to govern.
The logical Mexican voter probably reasons “When the PRI was in power, I didn’t have to worry so much about being gunned down by a drug cartel.
I’m not sure that the PRI will be able to repeat its’ past success in the face of an increasingly aggressive drug cartel, but it will be interesting to see how the PRI deals with the drug cartels south of the border.

Mexico’s Drug-Free Election

The Mexican presidential election last Sunday passed largely without the violent influence of any of Mexico’s numerous drug cartels.
While some analysts have questioned whether the return of the PRI party to the presidency could mean a decrease in drug cartel violence. I think such thinking is rather shallow and simplistic.
Drug cartels have shown an amazingly perverse ability to adapt and invent new ways to conduct their trade, regardless of what the Mexican government has thrown into the countries war on drugs.
Why should we believe that people who were ingenious enough to have thousands of miles of underground tunnels constructed that led into the United States are suddenly going to be scared off by an acronym?
The more likely explanation was that Mexico’s drug cartels were acting strategically. Mexico’s drug cartels already had a sizeable hand in deciding this election.
 Previous administrations were judged for better or worse, by their failures in stemming the tide of drug related violence without Mexico. That failure plus the sluggish economy was more than enough to doom the incumbent party.
By not acting, the drug cartels were merely playing a waiting game that is likely to end with a violent crescendo.