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.