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.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Random Thought of Week

·         Sometimes you have to take a minute and be thankful for what you have instead of constantly shooting for something bigger.

Rockford Police: Go West Collect $100?

I rarely talk about my hometown on the blog, but the negotiations occurring between the police union and the city of Rockford have compelled me to post this blog.
The city of Rockford is considering implementing a geo-policing model where instead of one centralized police station, there will be several spread throughout the city.
The police union argues that there are not enough officers to cover the switch to a geo-policing model. Most controversially, the police union is requesting $100 dollars in hazard pay for working on the west side of the city, a higher crime area.
Rockford has a lengthy history of racial tensions, including a discrimination lawsuit, and a series of police shootings where white officers shot black suspects. Having hazard pay for officers who work the west side—where the majority of African Americans live is not going to help matters.
While I agree that the department is under-staffed, I’m insulted by the notion of hazard pay for officers just because the area they work has more crime.
I live on the west side of Rockford 24-7 and nobody offers me money for living there. If I made such a demand, people would think I suffered a blow to the head.
Police officers swore to protect the citizens of Rockford regardless of geography or skin color.
I suggest they focus on the very real issue of staffing within the ranks of the police force, rather than hazard pay for their undersized department.

The Neighborhood Drone

Given the success of drone strikes against Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan and Yeman among other places, apparently the government may be looking to deploy similar technology throughout Main Street America.
Although the thought of the neighborhood drug house being obliterated by a thousand plus pound smart bomb holds a certain appeal, these would be drones of a surveillance variety that could perhaps be a tool of local law enforcement officials, who are being stretched pretty thin with the rising crime rate and mediocre economy.
There is a question of privacy vs. the benefits drones could provide to a beleaguered law enforcement community.
We live in a society where our privacy is being increasingly infringed upon with the increasing prevalence of the cyber world. But on the other hand, there’s an increasing crime wave in America’s inner cities that an increasingly stressed police force is struggling to combat.
While I’m sensitive to the plight of law enforcement, I don’t personally want a governmental entity taking an even bigger bite out of my privacy.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

It’s Okay in Small Town America

The picture in the United States isn’t all that encouraging right now.
We have elevated unemployment, trillions of dollars in debt, and a political establishment that seems more concerned with petty and moronic election year politics than actually doing anything to help the American people. 
Add in a scorching heat wave that has turned crops to dust and made the air conditioner a twenty four hour accessory and one is tempted to conclude that things suck in America right now.
I went to a 4th of July celebration last night in Kirkland IL. Amid the carnival rides and carny food trailers there were people, laughing, smiling, and having a great time of it.
Now, either all of those people are real good at plastering on smiles or just maybe things aren’t quite as bad as the media portray them.
 Based on what I saw last night, small town America, may be hurt, but they are not defeated. It is in these small town celebrations that I find the greatest hope for America’s future because as America’s shallow corporate culture quakes with uncertainty, small town American values never flinch.
It is by rediscovering our values as a people and a country that we will ultimately weather this storm. Not through fancy bailout packages and political rhetoric.

Al Qaeda Plane Theory

Despite recent losses in key leadership positions, Al Qaeda is still said to be consumed with the notion of using an airplane to attack the United States.
 Looking at things from the Al Qaeda perspective, they achieved their greatest operational success on September 11th 2001, more than 3,000 people were killed and the United States sense of invulnerability was shattered forever.
This one action compelled the United States into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that appeared to turn Al Qaeda’s rhetoric about America being a crusader bent on conquering the Islamic world into prophecy. Why wouldn’t you want to repeat that success?
Al Qaeda has had some near misses with the underwear bomber and the printer bomb, showing us that they will continue to invent new ways to attack the United States.
 We are not going to have every answer for everything that terrorists can possibly throw at us. We’ve been blessed with some incredible good fortune and the ineptitude of terrorists.
 I think as Americans, we need to remember just how close Al Qaeda has come to attacking us before we dismiss their ambitions.

Al Qaeda Goes Norwegian

Anti-terror officials are warning citizens to be vigilant in the face of the latest potential Al Qaeda plot.
Al Qaeda has apparently recruited and trained a Norwegian citizen to carry out an attack on an airliner.
Al Qaeda leaders understand that counter-terrorism officials have a stereotype of the typical Al Qaeda member: Middle Eastern male between the ages of twenty and thirty with a lower to middle class background.
That Al Qaeda has sought to break the mold is not surprising, and is merely part of the human chess match that occurs between terrorists and counter-terrorism officials.
I worry that there isn’t so much an imminent attack, as it is Al Qaeda sending out some chatter just to see how the international security establishment will react.
By changing the type of person that security officials are looking for, Al Qaeda has planted the seed of doubt because we now have two types of terrorist to look for.
Maybe Al Qaeda is hoping to provoke an overreaction by the security establishment that will potentially land Al Qaeda more recruits from the Scandinavian region.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

When Suicide Eclipses Combat Deaths

Suicides among American troops are averaging nearly one a day this year. 154 active-duty soldiers have committed suicide in the first 155 days of 2012.
This reflects an 18% increase from the same time period last year and a 25% increase from 2010. Military suicides have even eclipsed combat deaths in Afghanistan during the same period.
The reasons for this increase are uncertain though the increased stress placed on troops subjected to repeated tours of duty could play a role, coupled with the stigma attached with seeking mental health treatment among members of the military.
I am very much afraid that the United States may win the combat portion of the war, while being woefully unprepared for the aftermath of war.
War does not end with the last bullet fired, or the last convey out of town.
Thousands of soldiers may find themselves unable to leave the war behind. Incidence of PTSD and suicidal veterans threaten to overwhelm the mental healthcare system that is already overburdened in many states.
If America is unequipped for the consequences of war, we need to reconsider the conduct of war.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Julian Assange Seeks Asylum in Ecuador

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has decided to seek political asylum in Ecuador in an effort to avoid being extradited to Sweden for questioning in a sexual misconduct case.
Assange has published classified diplomatic cables as being in the interests of the publics right to know. Yet, is seeking refuge in a country with one of the worst freedom of press records in Latin America.
Since taking office five years ago, Rafael Correa has engaged in a coordinated and calculated campaign to restrict freedom of the press.
Correa has sued journalists and clamped down on the media with new laws, while expanding state media outlets. Correa claims that he is merely demanding fairness from a sensational industry.
Of course, a crackdown on media outlets benefits President Correa because the media has been one of Correa’s harshest critics.
Though the erosion of press freedom in Ecuador is distressing, this decision to seek asylum in Ecuador may tell us something revealing about Julian Assange.
Despite all his rhetoric about the publics right to know and freedom of expression, Assange has proven himself to be just another hypocrite, more interested in saving his own behind.
A sad day for Assange supporters indeed.

Stolen Valor: There’s a Difference between Legal and Moral

While much of the national media focusses on the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare, the Supreme Court handed down another ruling that angered many Veterans.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court declared that the “Stolen Valor Act”, which made it illegal to wear or claim to have won military ribbons or medals that were not earned, violated the First Amendment’s free speech clause—in essence, the right to lie.
In many judgments, the justices criticized the broad nature of the law and not addressing those who reap material benefit from lying about their military service.
The Supreme Court has a lengthy history of airing on the side of free speech during First Amendment cases. As a general statement, one has to prove that some grave physical or psychological injury has occurred as a result of a speech act.
The Court made waves last year in Snyder v. Phelps when it ruled that controversial Kansas pastor Fred Phelps could picket the funerals of fallen service members with anti-abortion and anti-gay signs that may be deemed offensive.
The rationale was essentially that we cannot restrict freedom of speech simply because the majority find it distasteful. Such behavior could amount to censorship of unpopular minority opinions, the justices reasoned.
The case of the Stolen Valor law follows similar principles.
With that said, just because the Supreme Court declared that lying about military service and/or honors received is legal, does not make it morally acceptable.
Thousands of men and women have come back from war with physical and psychological injuries. Thousands more are resting in graveyards throughout this country, forever alive in the memories they left behind.
 Lying about military service because it makes you a big shot is morally reprehensible and spits in the face of the thousands of soldiers who have served and died, just so pieces of crap like you can have the privilege of lying about it. Just doesn’t seem right.

The Chicago-Afghanistan Paradox

There’s an old axiom in television news that says “If it bleeds, it leads.” Apparently this notion is limited to blood spilled in warzones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A recent article that appeared in the Huffington Post seems to argue that Americans stand a better chance of being killed in Chicago Illinois than Afghanistan.
At the time the article was published, 228 people in Chicago had been killed compared to 144 in Afghanistan this year.
You stand a better chance of being killed in Chicago than Afghanistan—a warzone.
Yet, many Americans outside of Chicago have heard little about the urban war that is going on in Chicago. I think if people were dying at a rate of 2-3 a day in a major American city, I’d like to know about it.
I think it’s great that we make a point of honoring the sacrifices of men and women who fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan, but what makes the 144+ soldiers who died in Afghanistan this year any more important than the moms, dads, and children that were killed within their own neighborhoods?
Where’s the national outrage over the 5,000 Chicagoans killed since 2001 versus the 2,000 soldiers in Afghanistan? Does death somehow mean more, if your soldier?