Archive for May 2013

What One Sees

May 30, 2013

Yesterday I took the subway to South Philadelphia to see the Phillies-Red Sox game.  Safe, clean, and efficient.  Once in the stadium area, I had a beer at a “sports entertainment complex” directly across from the ball field.  At 6:45pm, I entered the Stadium and took my seat in section 423, row 7, seat 17.  Everything seemed in order.  Except…

I kept thinking what was unusual.  The game was a little long but well played with lots of home runs.  Sadly my Red Sox lost but it was just a game.  The beer and hot dogs were outrageously expensive (at least by my standards).  But the cost didn’t seem to be slowing anyone.  What was unusual?

Then it dawned on me.  Everyplace I had been, including in the Stadium during live action plays, all around me were people staring down at their cell phones, texting or reading emails or messages.  Some were facebooking but with everyone, two thumbs seemed to be flying.

I could sort of understand the subway.  What else is there to do?  The sports entertainment center (featuring well built young ladies dispensing beer) seemed totally incongruous with texting.  The world (people, and a million TV screens) was right in front of everyone, why play with the phone?

Cell phones in the ball park was even more mind blowing.  Everyone had paid good money for tickets.  The field was beautiful.  Win or lose the athletes were skilled and the action was fast.  Why do something else?

On my way home (again by subway), I thought about this.  I concluded that the social media found on these cell phones was in fact the”real world” for so many of our youth, young adults, and a growing number of adults.  These messages are what’s happening.  These bright screens confirm to their owner that they are alive.

I suspect, however, that too many cell phone users are kidding themselves.  They appear to think what they are doing is important.  Instant messaging requires no thought, no thinking.  Most messages are superficial if at all relevant.

With respect to the ball game, forget about anyone studying the managers strategy or guessing whether the pitcher will throw a change up or go with heat, low and outside.

For sure, there is no reason for anyone to study baseball (even though many have in the past).  But in this case, the baseball game is a metaphor for life.  Life is taking place right in from of 38,000 people and so many are not absorbed in the game but incessantly searching for some friend’s message.

No wonder so few people care about what politicians do or how our government functions.

The Way Of The Dodo?

May 29, 2013

It is just to difficult to pass over today’s announcement that US Representative Michelle Bachmann will not stand for reelection in 2014.  For someone who has made such a slash in political theater,especially on Fox News, it just seems strange that Saturday Night Live will be without a soft target to ridicule.  I wonder why she is retiring?

There are reports that she has assessed her reelection chances and come up wanting.  Other reports say that any chance of winning would require huge gobs of money and those prospects are slim.  Still others hint that an IRS investigation into possibly misspent campaign funds may be the reason.  Time will tell.

I would offer an alternative idea that her time came and has passed.  Bachmann became a household name just about the time the Tea Party was blossoming.  She quickly co-mingled and for a while became a Tea Party-Right Wing poster child.  Her advocacy for pro-life and anti-taxes endeared her to many conservative voters.  She became intoxicated with the public spotlight, in many cases got ahead of her facts, and tried to obtain the GOP 2012 Presidential nomination.  She laid it all out and the public said hmmm.

Bachmann is now seen as a past fad.  She has been replaced with much more articulate (although not necessarily more helpful) spokespersons.  While there are no rules she must retire, Ms Bachmann must have listened to political advisers who warned her that her political career was like the Dodo…  dead.

Sliding Into War?

May 28, 2013

The slippery slope is a well known phrase.  It involves taking a small act into an area previously free of involvement.  While looking relatively innocent, the small act is then followed up with more similar small acts, each justified incrementally, until “no involvement” becomes “total involvement”.  When total involvement goes wrong, there is no way to put things back the way they were.

Those who recommend taking the “small act” have an ethical responsibility to considered the possibility of where a slippery slope might lead and what the consequences could be.  These potential consequences must be weighed against the justification for initiating the first “small act” in the first place.

There are few people who would praise Saddam Hussein as an enlightened and benevolent leader.  Never the less, when the Bush Administration drew the line in the sand over proving Iraq had no WMD (even though UN inspectors continually said they had found none), was the small act that lead eventually to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.  The resulting civil war was not predicted and despite spending the better part of a trillion dollars on Iraq post Hussein, the country is on the verge of another civil war today.

The Iraq mess is not a result of what the US did.  That is, invading and occupying did not cause Shiites to kill Sunnis and vice versa.  Rather, the US invasion and occupation allowed conditions to arise where it was possible for Shiites to get “pay back time” by killing Sunnis.  Sunnis, without power, then felt the need (and right) to reclaim their former power and kill Shiites.

Currently Syria presents the US with another slippery slope opportunity.  The Syrian civil war has been going on for about two years.  Its costs have been estimated at 80,000 deaths and over 2 million displaced persons.  This is a tragic situation that most everyone would want to end.  But at what cost?

Senator John McCain, who championed the Iraq invasion and occupation, and wanted the US keep an Iraq presence even until today, made an unannounced secret visit to Syria over the weekend.  One might understand this act if the President was seeking war powers, and McCain was interested in fact finding to guide Senator deliberations.

Instead, Americans are very leery of more “troops on the ground”.  It seems that every day we are reading about the tragic legacies following US Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.  Veteran claims for VA services takes over one year to be processed.  And Senator McCain is ready to put more US forces again into battle?

The ugly truth about Syria is that no one knows how the future will unfold whether the US intervenes or stands on the side lines.  Syria may collapse and Iran may gain greater influence.  It is also possible that Sunni groups aligned with al Qaeda may find space to operate and create instability well beyond Syria’s borders.  Few believe that a post Assad period will bring a flowering of democracy.

So… with no benefits obvious for US national interests, President Obama’s wisest course of action may be to encourage Europe (which lies much closer) to undertake the “meddling”.  In the interim, the US ought to keep its powder dry, remain prepared while looking for totally unanticipated developments.

Following the lead of Russia and China, the US would do well to stand back and save its resources this time around.

Memorial Day, Other People’s Children, Friends Money

May 27, 2013

Over the weekend, GOP heavies shared their views of President Obama’s recent speeches on security.  Declaring “war on terror” and “Guantanamo” passe, the President reminded Americans that it was time to move on.  “Not so”, said GOP luminaries such as Lindsay Graham and John McCain.

In various ways, Republican critics described the President’s approach as dangerous and not recognizing global threats.  John McCain said the President needed to “Lead, L-E-A-D” and Graham said if the President wanted Congress’ support on closing Guantanamo, he needed a “Plan”.  This was a big week for four letter words.

Trying to understand all this, one is forced to pick between traditional partisanship or the potential that the President is really seeing the world incorrectly.   Hmmm.

Consider.  The US is deadlocked with a budget quandary.  Many politicians (as well as economists) tell us that the US is on a dangerous path if it allows large deficits to continue.  But the big problem which arises immediately are “no new taxes” and “what should be cut”?

The McCain/Graham crowd sees no conflict.  Security spending should be a given.  America should be the world’s policeman.  Cut the budget elsewhere but keep the military strong.  Hmmm.

It is often dangerous to question other’s reasoning or motives.  Why would Graham and McCain continue to beat this same drum when history has shown how disastrous the Iraq invasion and occupation, which they championed, was (Iraq had no WMD nor was it in anyway connected with al Qaeda at the time of 9/11).

What we do know, however, is that McCain and Graham will have no children involved in any conflicts that their aggressive military policies risk.  We also can be sure that their friends in the greater military-industrial complex will reward both generously.

Hmmm.  Other people’s children, friends money…   A great way to celebrate Memorial Day.

The Oklahoma Way

May 24, 2013

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn was interviewed yesterday on whether Federal tornado relief funds should be offset with cuts elsewhere in the budget.  His statement drew interest because he had objected to the size of the relief package New Jersey and New York received following Hurricane Sandy.  The media was looking for an “I gotcha” moment.  Instead they got, if they were listening, a dose of common sense.

Coburn remained consistant on emergency relief.  Natural disasters occur regularly and as such ought to be a budget item.  With a central fund, the government could release necessary funds quickly without any chance for politicians to get involved.  But there was more.

Senator Coburn made clear that his objection to the NJ/NY relief was in part that the legislation contained a lot of “pork”.  He claimed that most of the funds would not be spent within two years.  Hmmm.  (Of course one man’s pork is another man’s meat and potatoes.)

The most important message, in my opinion, was the Senator’s description of Oklahomans.  He said Oklahomans knew the risks and took prior steps to mitigate.   He predicted that most of the residents of Moore had home insurance.  Policy payoffs coupled with help from neighbors would cover most of the estimated $2 billion loss.  He predicted $200 million would be all that was needed.   Hmmm.

Consider.  Hurricane Sandy was a surprise late season storm.  Many of the costal cities had rejected recommendations for building protective ocean dunes.  Hmmm.  New York   City had studies calling for protective dikes to guard against flooding subways and tunnels for several years.  Hmmm.  Yet, in the end, the Federal Government sent $50 billion to the area.

For sure there is a difference in population density between Oklahoma City and the New Jersey/New York coastal area.  Never the less, Senator Coburn’s words make sense and underscore the possibility that big government bail outs breed further dependency rather than simply rehabilitate.

Too Close To Home

May 22, 2013

I continue to be both amazed and amused at the reaction of the broader news media over the Associated Press subpoena.  I am very supportive of the rights of a free press and the value it brings.  I just wonder why these talking heads do not take a time out, think for a moment, and then speak again more rationally.  The media seems so excited that they are not hearing what they are saying.

The traditional free press story goes like this.  A newspaper prints a story quoting some named or unnamed source.  The government objects and asks for the press to identify their source.  The press refuses and then the food fight begins.  If the case gets to court, most are thrown out or end in acquittal.  In the end, the Court weighs the alleged damage against the right to publish and decides if the government is justified in its position.   Overwhelmingly the Court sides with the press.

So, what is the big deal with the AP?

Naturally it could be simply “knee jerk reaction”.  If there isn’t a dramatic rebuke, then the press reasons, the government will overstep the first Amendment again and even possibly more severely.

Another view might be that rather than an attack on the first Amendment, the AP subpoena was an attack on a 7/24 business model.  The news media has always been a “for profit” business.  Today, however, with the expansion of cable and the internet, making money presents new challenges.  Most news agencies have found that cutting on the ground reporting, especially in distant lands, and replacing with information provided by the military and other government sources can be effective in developing a story with “appeal”.

More “appeal”, more viewers.  More viewers, more advertising income.  Hmmm.

Consider the Sunday morning talk shows.  How many new faces do you see compared with the dozen or so ever present ones?  Without a doubt this arrangement is a win-win.  The news programs obtain quotable moments with trusted sources.    With attribution, any news agency can also use the quotes.  The guests, on the other hand, get TV (and maybe print) face time which polishes their egos and helps their electability.  Where is the real news value?

Its time to stop whining, prepare for a trial if charges are preferred, and get back to real reporting.


A Free Press

May 21, 2013

The first Amendment speaks to freedom of the Press.  I wonder what that means?  One would think it would be illegal to publish classified design details for a top secret weapon, or would it?  Although probably not wise, the news media might believe they had a legal right to report details of such a weapon if their informations was based upon independent knowledge, like that found in scientific departments of major universities.

What if a newspaper or magazine reported the detailed formula for an amazing new drug?  Suppose the magazine had paid an independent source who in fact had stolen the information?  Dealing in stolen goods?   Hmmm.

The 7/24 news media has become a tough competitive business.  Success standards seem to hinge upon the most “first to report” and most “classified” information.  Claiming one or both of these is intended to mark that news organization as special and worthy of continued viewing.  (Oh, and advertisers to buy more ad time too.)  Hmmm.

The Obama Administration is experiencing a bumpy road with revelations about a secret subpoena for a lot of telephone information concerning Associated Press employees.  The implications are that someone in the government was passing classified information to  someone in the AP.  The reaction by the rest of the press corp and its management has been enlightening.

“How can a reporter be wrong doing what he does for a living”, one executive asked.

Of course, even this issue is not black or white.  Whistle blower revelation are widely regarded as valuable first Amendment benefits.  So this AP issue will grind along with arguments and counter arguments, one side trumping and the other counter trumping.

So, is this about “principle” or “substance”.  Is the leaking of confidential information concerning a foiled airplane bomber defensible on “principle” or is it defensible on the basis that this was important information for the public to know?  Hmmm.

There are plenty of examples in modern history where leaks exposed secret (classified) government actions which had the potential to involve the country in war.  While the same questions can be asked, most would agree that those revelations was a public service even if the information was obtained through someone not authorized to release the information.  But, do covert operations intended to protect the US fall into the same category?

What amazes me, however, is that the press gets its back up over the “principle” and basically claims carte blanche for freedom of the press.  No discussion of substance and why the public had a need to know.

Yet if the government is the target, why are there not more exposes about wealth accumulation of Congress members?  Why are there not more descriptions of the inefficiencies or ineffectiveness of certain (or all) government agencies, in other words why government is not delivering what it is there to deliver?

I do not know the answer to those questions.  I suspect, however, these subjects are too complex and involved to “sell” on the 7/24 media.  I also suspect they strike to close to home.  An effective investigative news media might find a lot more government investigations (and new rules) if the press decided to look under the official dealings of Congress and government agencies.

Lastly, I think the press realizes that this issue is “bi-partisan”.    Both Democrats and Republicans can agree to keep the Press looking other places.