31 August 2010

Trouble in Tehran

This is an interesting article from Michael Ledeen. He explains that the Iranian regime is showing new signs of vulnerability. I love this story:

A few weeks ago, according to official and private reports, the Iranian air force shot down three drones near the southwestern city of Bushehr, where a
Russian-supplied nuclear reactor has just started up. When the Revolutionary
Guards inspected the debris, they expected to find proof of high-altitude spying. Instead, the Guards had to report to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that the air force had blasted Iran's own unmanned aircraft out of the sky.
Apparently, according to official Iranian press accounts, the Iranian military had created a special unit to deploy the drones—some for surveillance and others, as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad bragged on Sunday, to carry bombs—but hadn't informed the air force.

A turning point?

Not really. That happened back in 2007 when the Bush administration implemented, against great opposition, the surge strategy. For more see the piece from Stephen Hadley (Bush's national security advivor) on the Iraq War.

The President's speech was okay. Most of his speeches are. But they also turn out to be empty in their execution. He talks about harmony but is highly divisive in practice. I could actually sit through this whole speech though, which is the first time I've done that since...the Inauguration.

He should have given some credit to President Bush for leaving Iraq on a solidly upward trajectory. That is all I have to say about that.

A little history-

28 August 2010

26 August 2010

A Must-read on Afghanistan

The Weekly Standard is a conservative magazine, but regardless of your leanings it would be worthwhile to read this article from P.J. O'Rourke. It is a fascinating look at the complexities we face in our involvement in Afghanistan. There are some digs at the Dems (deserved in my opinion) but the piece is about much more than that.

We need to learn more about what is really going on there. The traditional media is not doing a good enough job. Here are some excerpts (some long) from O'Rourke's piece.

On the relative longevity of the Taliban:

The Taliban offers bad law—chopping off hands, stoning desperate housewives, the usual things. Perhaps you have to live in a place that has had no law for a long time—since the Soviets invaded 31 years ago—before you welcome bad law as an improvement.
An Afghan civil society activist, whose work has put him under threat from the Taliban, admitted, “People picked Taliban as the lesser of evils.” He explained that lesser of evils with one word, “stability.”
A woman member of the Afghan parliament said that it was simply a fact that the Taliban insurgency was strongest “where the government is not providing services.” Rule of law being the first service a government must provide.

On why Afghans sometimes choose to support the Taliban and not American (or NATO) outsiders:
The Pashtun tribal leader said, “I tell my own tribesmen to not support the Taliban, but they don’t listen. They see the Taliban as fighting invaders.”
The Radio Azadi journalist said, “When people felt they were dishonored, they needed revenge. The Taliban gave them revenge.”
To fully sympathize with the dishonor an Afghan might feel, foreign government, U.N. and NGO aid agencies must be considered. Myriad of them operate in Afghanistan, staffed by people from around the globe. So it’s not just that you’ve got Highland Scots marching in hairy-kneed formations up and down your cul-de-sac.
Many of the most ordinary functions of your society have been taken over by weird strangers. When you need a flu shot or a dog license or a permit to burn leaves, you have to go see Bulgarians and Bolivians and Nigerians and Fiji Islanders.

On bribery:
If Americans claim not to understand Afghan corruption, we’re lying. Bribery has been a dominant part of our foreign policy in Afghanistan, the way it’s been
a dominant part of everyone’s foreign policy in Afghanistan including al Qaeda’s. What we Americans don’t understand about Afghan corruption is why it’s so transparent, just a matter of openly taking money. Don’t the Afghans know that you should take bribes indirectly—by collecting publicity, popularity, public recognition, prestige, influence, and, most of all, power? Then big corporations put you on their boards of directors and that’s when you get the money. Meanwhile you’ve been riding in government cars, flying on government planes, eating out of the government pork barrel (lamb barrel in Afghanistan), so why worry about payoffs up front?
Afghans have failed to move their corruption from the Rod Blagojevich model, which we all deplore, to the Barack Obama model, which we all admire.

On something we are doing right:
There must be something in Afghanistan that we’ve got right. There is. Radio Azadi, the Afghan bureau of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, is on the air 12
hours a day, seven days a week, half the time in Pashto, half the time in Dari.
What Radio Azadi does is known as “surrogate broadcasting,” meaning the content is Afghan-produced as a way for Afghans to get news and views in a place where
otherwise they have to be delivered mostly face-to-face. And there is no agenda except to be factual (although facts are an agenda item if you care about freedom, which is what Azadi means in Dari).

An excellent story to end his article:

There was one other point that people in Kabul agreed on. Whatever it is that America does in Afghanistan, America should proceed with wisdom. The governor told a story about wisdom.
There was a student who had been studying for many years at a madrassa. He had memorized the Koran and learned all the lessons his teacher taught. One day he went to his teacher and said, “I am ready to leave and go be a mullah.”
His teacher said, “I think you should stay here for a few more years.”
“Why?” asked the student. “Is there some additional degree or higher certificate that I will get?”
“No,” said the teacher, “all you will get is wisdom.”
“But I’m ready to be a mullah now,” said the student. And he left the madrassa and wandered from village to village looking for a mosque where he could be the prayer-leader.
Finally the student came to a village where a corrupt old mullah was using the mosque as a stall for his cow. The student was outraged. He gathered the villagers together and told them, “I have studied at a madrassa. I have memorized the Koran. It is a great sacrilege for your mullah to use the mosque as a stall for his cow.”
The villagers beat him up.

The student limped back to the madrassa and told his teacher what had happened. The teacher said, “Follow me.” They went back to the village where the mullah was using the mosque as a stall.
The teacher gathered the villagers together and told them, “I see you have a beautiful cow being kept in your mosque. It must be a very blessed animal. And I hear the cow belongs to your mullah. He must be a very holy man. In fact, I think that this cow is so blessed and your mullah is so holy that if you were to take one hair from the cow’s hide and one hair from the mullah’s beard and rub them together, you would be assured of paradise.”
The villagers ran into the mosque and began plucking hairs from the cow’s hide. The cow started to buck and kick and it bolted from the mosque and disappeared. Then the villagers ran to the mullah’s house and began plucking hairs from the corrupt old mullah’s beard. And they tugged and they yanked so hard at the mullah’s beard that he had a heart attack and died.
“You see,” said the teacher to the student, “no cow in the mosque and a need for a new mullah—that is wisdom.”

A Loss of Connection (cont'd)

Even David Letterman seems to think that the President's behavior has led to a disconnect with the people. About the President's 6 vacation in the last 18 months, Letterman said the following: "He’ll have plenty of time for vacations after his one term is up."

The economy has not been responsive to the stimulus or the various "reforms" that have made their way through Congress. If anything the regulatory environment has made the economic recovery more difficult. Comments from the head of Intel mirror those of other companies:

I think this group does not understand what it takes to create jobs. And I think they're flummoxed by their experiment in Keynesian economics not working."
Last year, he said: "I am not a Keyensian. I don't necessarily think that all this spending by the government is what will save the economy. My opinion. I do think that it was essential to do some significant short-term spending to put confidence back into the system. Notice I said confidence, not money.
As Obama's vacation continues, the following was reported by ABC's Jake Tapper:

As the president walked around the restaurant, some cordoned-off reporters shouted out to him questions, including one about the war in Iraq. Next Tuesday night, the president will deliver an Oval Office address at 8 pm ET, in which he will mark the occasion of the withdrawal of US combat troops from the country.
But the president was in no mood today to discuss the issue with reporters in that setting. He ignored questions for a bit, then turned to the reporters.
"We're buying shrimp, guys,” he said, smiling. “Come on."

I don't begrudge the man some time off with his family, but Obama is the CEO of the United States. This is not a 9-5 occupation. His attitude toward the question does not promote a sense of confidence (in my admittedly biased mind).

23 August 2010

A Loss of Connection

It seems clear that frustrations with Obama are not unique the Tea Party or very conservative voters. He has lost a lot of mainstream support, and it seems linked to his inability to connect with voters on an emotional level. His political choices have played a role, but the emotional angle can be critical. This post from The Anchoress makes a good point for why George Bush is becoming a figure of some affection when compared to the current POTUS:

One of my husband’s friends–hated Bush, loved Obama and defended him vociferously for the first year, less passionately the second–told him over lunch this week that he’s done with Obama and “I never thought I’d say this but I miss Bush. We knew that he said what he meant, even if we didn’t want to hear it. We knew who he was, even if we didn’t like him. And we never had to wonder whether he liked us. He always did.”
And that is it, in a nutshell. Bush is missable, because we miss having a president whose affection for his country and its people–even the ones who hated him–was never in doubt.
We miss Bush because he never lectured us or harangued us, and when people disagreed with him, they were not immediately called names in an attempt to simply shut up debate.

Obama's success in 2008, driven by an emotional connection to his persona and background, seems a distant memory.

21 August 2010

Awesome Video Saturday CXL

This is an interesting trailer for a documentary about Drew Struzan, an excellent artist whose work is known (maybe unknowingly) by anyone who has been to the movies in the last 4 decades.

I think his posters are as emotionally resonant as any art that has been done over this span of time.

20 August 2010

Writer's Revenge

This was an amusing article from the Wall Street Journal about the ability of the TV writer to use his craft to settle scores.

19 August 2010

BYU going for it?

I did not grow up a big fan of BYU football. My father is an alum of the school, but my love and allegiance was with my hometown Hurricanes. When Miami played (and lost) to BYU in 1990, I was grieved.

All that changed when I became a Cougar in 1997. It wasn't that I disliked the Cougars, I was just a bit indifferent until that point. I was sure that games played in the WAC (stands for "We Ain't Credible) didn't matter much in the National Title discussion. For someone born and raised in Florida, home of three of the strongest programs in the country (at the time), BYU's win-loss record didn't matter that much.

Like I said, that changed. As a freshman I committed fully to the Cougs, and that has been the case ever since. The move to the Mountain West was a good one for us, but Utah's departure to the Pac-10, which did not invite BYU, changed the complexion of the league dramatically. Boise State's addition was a good one, but seeing Utah go just made this Cougar feel a little sick. They were called up to play in the big leagues and we were left behind.

This was especially painful because Ute fans HATE BYU. I don't know why there is such a visceral dislike for the Cougars. As an out-of-stater I was shocked by how deep it went, given the low national stakes of the rivalry. LaVell Edwards largely owned the Utes, so it is possible that years of frustration added to the dislike. For them to have something like this, to crow over, was pretty bad.

So now the news emerges yesterday that BYU is considering leaving the Mountain West and going independent in football. The easiest comparison is to Notre Dame, but any reasonable Cougar will admit that we are not in the same league in terms of fan base and the ability to earn revenue. Just the same, BYU is in a better position than almost any other school, as explained here by Dick Harmon of the Deseret News, to go the indendent route. We do have a national fan base, albeit smaller than the Irish. We have excellent television infrastructure. We can also draw a lot more money than we are getting right now.

What are the potential problems? Stewart Mandel talks about them here, but it includes the difficulty of scheduling quality opponents and possibility that a BCS berth might be even harder to attain. I think these challenges can be overcome. I became resigned to the fact that BYU was probably going to be an 11-1 or 10-2 team most years. It is hard to go undefeated in any conference, and having a loss in a non-BCS league means you are probably not going to a big bowl. But that is the case if we STAY in the Mountain West. We already have trouble scheduling quality opponents because of our conference, and importing Fresno State and Nevada doesn't change that. These are still non-BCS schools from a non-BCS conference.

Affiliating with the WAC to play 4 or 5 games means that the remaining 7 or 8 could be against BCS teams. They don't all have to be top-25 opponents either, just 3 or 4, and we would have a schedule that, if we managed a one-loss year or even better, went undefeated, would put us square in the at-large BCS mix. The loss of Fresno State and Nevada does put the WAC in jeopardy and I'm not sure how it comes out of this looking very good.

BYU could make it work (I like what Greg Wrubell of Deseret News had to say about BYU's uniqueness). As Harmon said in today's column, among the benefits of BYU's independence could be great recognition and awareness of its sponsoring entity (and my Church), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

Nothing may happen in the end. The Mountain West is better (on paper) than it was yesterday, and the prospect of a BYU defection has certainly been fun for this Florida-based fan to consider.
I hope they do it, but if not, we still have a chance to improve our program and compete nationally. In the end, you have to win, wherever you are.

16 August 2010

No Hire No Cry

The article I am going to refer to was written last week and is a perfect, albeit anecdotal, explanation of why unemployment continues to be high in the U.S. Michael Fleischer is a business owner in New Jersey, and he breaks down the high cost of maintaining and increasing his employees:

Employing Sally costs plenty too. My company has to write checks for $74,000 so Sally can receive her nominal $59,000 in base pay. Health insurance is a big, added cost: While Sally pays nearly $2,400 for coverage, my company pays the rest—9,561 for employee/spouse medical and dental. We also provide company-paid life and other insurance premiums amounting to $153. Altogether, company-paid benefits add $9,714 to the cost of employing Sally.
Then the federal and state governments want a little something extra. They take $56 for federal unemployment coverage, $149 for disability insurance, $300 for workers' comp and $505 for state unemployment insurance. Finally, the feds make we pay $856 for Sally's Medicare and $3,661 for her Social Security.
When you add it all up, it costs $74,000 to put $44,000 in Sally's pocket and to give her $12,000 in benefits. Bottom line: Governments impose a 33% surtax on Sally's job each year.
This is a real dilemma for business owners in a high uncertain environment. I find his closing comments compelling:
And even if the economic outlook were more encouraging, increasing revenues is always uncertain and expensive. As much as I might want to hire new salespeople, engineers and marketing staff in an effort to grow, I would be increasing my company's vulnerability to government decisions to raise taxes, to policies that make health insurance more expensive, and to the difficulties of this economic environment.
A life in business is filled with uncertainties, but I can be quite sure that every time I hire someone my obligations to the government go up. From where I sit, the government's message is unmistakable: Creating a new job carries a punishing price.

13 August 2010

Haitian Situation

I had an interesting conversation the other day with some Haitian friends. I asked them what they thought about Wyclef Jean running for president. Their answers illustrated how my American media-fed perspective differed from that of the people with something at stake in Haiti.

When I first heard about Wyclef's plan I thought it was fun. I am a fan of his music, but it seems that Wyclef's musical background could be a serious detriment to his ability to govern.

According to my expatriate sources, Wyclef plans to give positions of responsibility to prominent members of the Haitian rap community. It makes Wyclef appear unserious at a time when Haiti is in dire need of serious solutions.

I've had trouble finding independent news on the issue, so some of what I have written may prove inaccurate. With dozens of candidates running, in a country where educated and qualified people have fled in droves, the likely outcome is not good for Haiti's recovery.

It's unlikely that we will get the kind of information on the elections that would provide a real view of what is happening there. Haiti continues to be dangerous, and the mass media has earned a reputation for gathering news from the hotel lobby.

We should pay attention. Haiti has security implications, but more important than that, there are millions of people who need help.

07 August 2010

Awesome Video Saturday CXXXIX

Relive your dramatic childhood memories of THE OREGON TRAIL!

04 August 2010

Cool Toy Alert

Joseph got this Star Wars Blaster Rifle from one of his friends for his birthday. I think I may like it even more than he does.

I remember that most of my toy guns provided noises of the strictly imaginary variety. The motorized laser guns and water guns never lasted that long, sounded so cool, or were so darn huge.

It's fun to be a Dad.

Obamacare- Why we don't like it

I am going to take some quotes from a WSJ article of a few weeks ago, featuring law professor Randy Barnett. Barnett is a libertarian, and has a dramatically different view of how the Constitution should be interpreted:

Since the New Deal, Supreme Court justices have generally assumed a law is constitutional and overruled it only when it infringes on an individual right that is enumerated in the Constitution (free speech) or not (privacy). "If you're talking about the regulation of economic activity, the presumption of constitutionality is for all practical purposes irrebuttable," Mr. Barnett says.
Instead, Mr. Barnett would have the court adopt a "presumption of liberty," placing the burden on the government to show that a law has a clear basis in
Congress's constitutional powers. "The easiest way to explain it is, it would basically apply to all liberty the same basic protection we now apply to speech," he says.
He is quick to say that this is not usually how cases are decided, and does not expect the Supreme Court to treat Obamacare this way. This is a long quote, but worth your time:
Mr. Barnett's own view of the Commerce Clause is extremely narrow. If he had his way, ObamaCare would be struck down on the ground that Congress has no authority to regulate the insurance business. When the Constitution was written, Mr. Barnett says, commerce was understood to mean "trade in things—goods. . . . The Commerce Clause was really put there, essentially, to create a free-trade zone for the United States," not to give Congress power over all economic activity. "Not only was insurance not thought to be a part of the original meaning; in fact, it was held by the Supreme Court for 100 years that it was not something within the commerce power to reach."
Today, however, Mr. Barnett acknowledges that is a losing argument. The court reversed itself in the 1944 case of U.S. v. South-Eastern Underwriters, holding that the Commerce Clause does authorize federal regulation of the insurance business.
So would "any constitutional law professor" be right to scoff at the case against ObamaCare? Not according to this law professor. "The challenges to ObamaCare are serious legal challenges within the existing doctrinal framework," Mr. Barnett says. "They are not an attempt to restore the lost Constitution."
That's why the "individual mandate"—the requirement that all Americans purchase medical insurance or pay a fine—has been the focus of the lawsuits by state attorneys general seeking to overturn ObamaCare. (Mr. Barnett wrote a friend-of-the-court brief with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, in support of the Virginia attorney general's lawsuit.)
Such a mandate is unprecedented: "This is the first time in American history that Congress has claimed to use its power over interstate commerce to mandate, or require, that every person enter into a commercial relationship with a private company," Mr. Barnett notes. "As a judicial matter, it's also unprecedented. There's never been a court case which said Congress can do this." That doesn't establish that Congress can't do it, but the high court could reach that conclusion without undoing existing law.
Enough with the legal aspects- why do people have a visceral and negative reaction?

"What is the individual mandate?" Mr. Barnett says. "I'll tell you what the individual mandate, in reality, is. It is a commandeering of the people. . . . Now, is there a rule of law preventing that? No. Why isn't there a rule of law preventing that? Because it's never been done before. What's bothering people about the mandate? This fact. It's intuitive to them. People don't even know how to explain it, but there's something different about this, because it's a commandeering of the people as a whole. . . . We commandeer people to serve in the military, to serve on juries, and to file a return and pay their taxes. That's all we commandeer the people to do. This is a new kind of commandeering, and it's offensive to a lot of people."

A case challenging the individual mandate is continuing to proceed through the judicial system. It will be a landmark moment for the nation. I hope there is some of Barnett's judicial philosophy in their decision.

03 August 2010

Fleshing it Out

A while ago I wrote about Shirley Sherrod. A few things have happened since then to flesh out the matter. I wrote about how she had been treated unfairly in the way that her speech had been cut up and posted, and then in the response by the media and White House.

Some more has emerged since then that is unflattering about Sherrod, but this time of her own doing:

  • She has stated her intent to sue Andrew Breitbart over his role in posting the video. I'm not sure if he edited the clips or if he passed them along. The latter seems to be the case. Still, no one has contended that he altered her words in any material way. She claims racism. I think that is absurd. It was politically, but not racially motivated. I don't think she has a case.
  • Sherrod's story may not be as rosy as it seemed. This is an article, also detailing events well in the past, that may indicate whether initial impressions had some validity.