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Providing Unique Commentary and Insight into Politics, History and Society since 2005

Monday, March 16, 2009

CNBC is Dangerous

My colleague Scott Gaillard penned a very instructive piece about Jim Cramer the other day. I agree with his sentiments entirely on Cramer. But I want to thank Jon Stewart for his willingness to take on this fight: for several years now I have complained about CNBC outward bias to anyone who was interested in listening. I had even said to many that I believe CNBC to be a bigger threat to progressive causes than Fox News. This was often met with laughter or a simple, "you're crazy" from whomever I was speaking to.

Here is why:

CNBC is a network of the intelligentsia. The average CNBC viewer unlike the average FOX News viewer has the resources and the capability to shape opinion. CNBC is also a network staffed by intelligent, sometimes witty people unlike FOX which is staffed by talking heads and glorified news readers who parrot the same arguments over and over. Perhaps most importantly FOX talks about divisive social issues which have little bearing on our everyday life while CNBC talks about basic economics and the markets which affect everything we do regularly.

CNBC has popular show hosts like Cramer, and Mario Bartiromo whose job it appears is simply to pump up the market and the profits of the Wall Street tycoons that patron the network. Rick Santelli's outburst at President Obama a few weeks ago was far from an isolated incident, but just the letting out of entitlement CNBC's personalities have towards protecting lenders, investors and corporations from what they perceive as the heavy hand of Government.

Cramer is actually much more likable and objective than the average CNBC host on after 11 am ET. Bartiromo pushes anything that may help pump the market upwards while Larry Kudlow advocates cutting taxes almost every day. The Afternoon show "Power Lunch" features a round table discussion which inevitably leads to taxes and government spending and interference in the economy.

Jack Welch, the former head of GE which owns NBC Universal, and thus CNBC is a very market driven conservative. Welch is given credit for turning GE around but also likely had his impact on CNBC's editorial content. Prior to the launch of FOX Business Channel, The Wall Street Journal signed a long term partnership with CNBC and their editorial content seems to make its way into the minds of CNBC's personalities.

CNBC unlike rival Business network, Bloomberg News is determined to pump up certain stock or commodity prices quickly to ensure profits for certain investors and viewers. Using an entertaining backdrop, and knowledgeable anchors the network's personalities all make rational arguments for why certain investments are stronger than others.

That's not to say all of CNBC is bad. The very objective and credible David Faber as well as the worldly Erin Burnett, and cynical Mark Haines anchor the morning program which tends to be more focused on long term trends than short term profits. But the rest of the network with few exceptions have become the chattering bug for the capitalist class. Faber especially seems more concerned about objective journalism than simply protecting Wall Street investors.

While FOX News may speak for red state America, CNBC speaks for those Wall Street and anti Tax crusaders who want President Obama or any liberal to fail. The network unlike FOX uses intelligent arguments made by exceptional people, not parroted arguments made by college dropouts to make its case.

Jon Stewart has learned what I have known for years: CNBC is the TV network which represents the biggest threat to the progressive movement in the America.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Iraq: The British Should Have Led the Coalition

The Iraq War was a complete debacle from the beginning of the insurgency in May 2003 until mid 2007. The United States and its civilian planners were completely out of their depth in understanding the causes of the insurgency and how to combat it. While Afghanistan and Pakistan were the central fronts in the war on terror, Iraq in the Rumsfeld/Bremer years became a dangerous sideshow.

But one must ask the question. Why was Baghdad so dangerous while Basra, Iraq’s second largest city was relatively speaking calm? Simple: The British occupied Basra, the Americans Baghdad.

The United Kingdom is a mature country with a mature understanding of diplomacy, war, and economics. The United States on the other hand is a highly reactionary country that gets caught up in the moment and the quest for vengeance. Even when the US has had mature leadership in the form of Woodrow Wilson, Dwight Eisenhower or Richard Nixon, the unsophisticated whims of domestic politics have always undermined their greater goals.

Additionally, thanks to years of combating the terrorist Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Belfast and even on the streets and in the train stations of London itself, the British understand how to stamp out an insurgency and how not to alienate a local population. The British patrolled the streets of Basra on foot working with the locals to stamp out any Shiite groups that were working with Iran or with Moktada al-Sadr. It is also worth mentioning that British troops are generally more disciplined than American troops in urban settings.

By contrast, Paul Bremer alienated the local population and shut down the Shiites leading paper, Al-Hawza whose editors had actually welcomed the US led overthrow of Saddam Hussien. Americans patrolled in Humvees and armored tanks setting up the look of an armed occupation, or even worse a war for conquest.

Of course nobody knows more about wars of conquest than the British. A Hundred Years ago the British Empire was the largest in human history, and had been more or less conquered through disgraceful means. So the British knew if you are “liberating” a population how to appear: it’s distinctly different than if you are “conquering” a nation.

Tony Blair may have alienated many on the left in the UK and US but he remained a credible worldwide voice and an inspirational figure throughout his Premiership. Had Blair taken the public worldwide lead instead of the bombastic, unrefined George W. Bush, world opinion towards the US led invasion of Iraq probably would have been different.

Blair could have been the spokesperson while his Government did the military planning in consultation with the Americans. Troops commitments did not need to change from either ally: in fact had it been done the British way, aka the right way, less troops may have been needed and less causalities would have ensued.

In the forthcoming, almost inevitable conflict with either Iran or the Taliban, President Obama would be wise to consult with the British about strategy and public relations. The world hopes that the west will not have to militarily disarm Iran, but in all honesty time is not on our sides.

While diplomacy may eventually work with Iran, it will never work with the Taliban. Winning the war in Afghanistan and helping Pakistan stabilize itself while keeping India from lashing out militarily at Pakistan or the Taliban is now the key. India may believe they have the right to strike at Pakistan due to the almost constant threat of terrorism on Indian soil. Perhaps India is right: but an Indian attack on Pakistan could launch us into the biggest armed conflict since World War II, and it is incumbent on all parties to diffuse the situation.

If the US and UK are forced to engage in another massive military conflict, allowing the UK to leverage its immense soft power and formulate the military strategy would be a good idea.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Adams Dynasty: A Historical Look

John Adams has now been immortalized for a new generation by an HBO series based on the revisionist work of David McCullough. Adams, the temperamental founding father who was least suited to leadership now become a cult hero of sorts to younger fans of history who are unaware of Adams shortcomings thanks to McCullough's glossing over of these realities in his work. While the HBO series shows some of Adams troubles it still does a poor job of conveying his insecurities and ineffectiveness while in high office.

Richard Brookhiser is a conservative commentator and historian who wrote an insightful work on the Adams family, America's First Dynasty, a few years ago. I've always been dubious about reading anything written by Brookhiser. A longtime writer and editor for the National Review, his writing and commentary has always been at the extreme right of American political discourse. His biography of Alexander Hamilton, while well researched and written was tremendously biased towards Hamilton who modern day conservatives have tried to claim as one of their own. His denunciations of Jefferson are equally biased because modern day liberals claim Jefferson, although a strong argument can be made that with the current Northeastern/urban elitist emphasis of the Democratic Party, Hamilton should be claimed by liberals and since the GOP's emphasis has drifted south and to small town America, Jefferson should be the Conservative hero.

My reservations about Brookhiser aside, his work on the Adams family is a must read. Unlike McCullough and HBO he does not gloss over John Adams obvious flaws. He also puts Adams actions in the proper context of someone who was partriotic to a fault but also vain and insecure. The book then continues to cover the career of Adams son John Quincy Adams. Putting a great emphasis on the younger Adams experience abroad, he demonstrates how J.Q. Adams was more practical and ultimately more effective as a politician than his father.

The work then continues to focus on Charles Francis Adams and his son Henry Adams. Four generations of Adams are covered in the book, with the constant theme of dynasty and the evolution of America. I am a fan of Henry Adams who was perhaps the best historian the United States has ever produced. Henry Adams like his grandfather and father (but unlike his great grandfather, the second president) was shaped by experiences abroad at a young age and was thus able to put American policies in its proper international context. Henry Adams favorite subject was non other than his great grandfather's great rival, Thomas Jefferson.

Gary Wills, who ironically taught Brookhiser at Yale is a liberal historian. But Wills draws a similar conclusion about Henry Adams in his recent work, Henry Adams and the Making of America. Wills spends a great deal of time in the book describing Henry Adams fascination with the South and with Jefferson in particular. Wills also picks apart areas of the history where he disagrees with Henry Adams, most notably on Jefferson's embargo act and on the treason trial of Aaron Burr. Wills is among the group of historians who in the last ten years have subtly tried to rehabilitate the image of Aaron Burr. Wills engaged in similar defenses of Burr in his recent study of Jefferson, something not apparent in his earlier books about Jefferson.

Both Brookhiser and Wills books are must reads for anyone interested in American History. They are easy reads which give a quick overview of important historical figures while drawing some important and valid conclusions.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Clinton's Conflicts Worrying in the Context of History

All Americans should take note, not just those with partisan motivations on the right. Former President's Bill Clinton whose wife has been nominated to be the new Secretary of State has numerous conflicts of interest that could affect American foreign policy adversely.

Their is no precedence for this in American history. Some previous Secretaries of State have had pre-disposed biases towards foreign nations and thus did not serve in the position well. Thomas Jefferson was a notorious Francophile whose bias towards the French Revolution put him on a collision course with President George Washington and his closest confidante Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury. James Monroe's similar bias towards the French precluded the Madison administration from truly staying neutral in the Napoleonic Wars and as Henry Adams correctly surmised in his masterpiece History, this had a clear bearing on our Declaration of War on Great Britain in 1812.

It's no small irony Henry Adams close friend John Hay became perhaps the model Secretary of State in American history. Hay was not predisposed towards any great power and had come of age as Lincoln's private secretary during the Civil War. Hay helped position the US as an arbitrator of disputes and ultimately as a defender of liberty despite the disgraceful American actions in the Philippines.

Today we have a situation where a former President has sought individual fame and perhaps self realization by cozening up to interests abroad. This former President's wife has been nominated for Secretary of State. This is the same President who broke countless Campaign Finance rules in his 1996 re-election campaign by taking money from foreign interests and even allegedly involving his administration in a quid pro quo to use American forces militarily based on receiving campaign funds.

While I do not believe President Bill Clinton compromised American security with his illegal fund raising he certainly allowed access to the White House for arms dealers and in the case of James Riady and the Lippo Group, may have been close to giving the Chinese Intelligence service unfathomable access to American officials. Clinton did not want to help the Chinese. He wanted to help himself raise money: once again the Clinton's ambition to raise money and keep power met national security head on and the power of ambition won. In other words, we as Americans should be thankful Riady, Charlie Trie, and John Huang among others were caught before national security was in fact compromised.

But this is the problem. Clinton's need to be admired and to raise money now for his Global Initiative could compromise his wife's work as Secretary of State. According to Bloomberg News, "Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Brunei all contributed between $1 million and $5 million, as did the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office. An Irish government aid program gave at least $500,000."

The first four nations on that list are all oil producing states who firstly would probably like to see the price of oil stabilized with American cooperation and would love to see the US continue its dependence on petroleum, be it domestic or foreign. Taiwan is a nation the US does not even diplomatically recognize and one of President Bush's few accomplishments in office has been the remarkable fusion of American and Chinese interests he has helped to create. Should Hillary Clinton show any deference to Taiwan in the future, America's most strategic partnership abroad with the world's other great power could be threatened.

Bill Clinton has never exercised proper discretion since becoming a national political figure in 1988. That year he rambled on at the Democratic convention even as the red lights were buzzing to try and get him to stop speaking. Since then he has had an unknown number of affairs with women, and skirted the law many times. He has has absolutely no reservations about taking money for whatever cause promotes him personally from anybody willing to contribute. This is very dangerous with America's foreign policy hanging in the balance.

We can only hope Hillary Clinton has the proper discretion to avoid being influenced by her husbands numerous conflicts of interest that could undermine American security abroad. I have no problem with Senator Clinton personally, but her husband the former President who helped to polarize America in the 1990s needs to be kept as far away from President Obama and his national security team as possible.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Indian Hypocrisy

The western world's eyes were glued on Mumbai last week as Islamic terrorists took over strategic locations within the city and held many of them for several days. Post incident analysis in the west has focused on radical Islam, but not on India's own role in fostering these radicals. Additionally little emphasis has been put on the hypocrisy of many leaders in India who have attacked the west for imperialism and yet conduct its own imperialistic policies in its region.

Many an Indian commentator and political leader have attacked the United States wars in the Middle East, the Balkans and Vietnam as signs of western imperialism. This issue is certainly up for debate, but it should be noted the United States has not tried to blatantly conquer or hold territory since the unfortunate war in the Philippines in the late 1800s.

Yet India's policies in Kashmir can be called nothing but imperialism. The area north of Jammu what I consider Kashmir proper is 95% Muslim and 4% Hindu. (This area excludes Jammu which should remain in India and has not seen much of the insurgency.) India itself is 83% Hindu 11% Muslim and 2% Christian. A typical Indian including most members of my family will retort that Kashmir has always been part of India and then give some convoluted explanation of the 1947 partition. The reality is Kashmir was often part of Muslim kingdoms in India and happened to have a Hindu maharajah who acceded to India in 1947 probably against the wishes of his population.

Whatever the legal case is, the results have been disastrous. Just like American engagement in the Middle East, Indian efforts to quell dissent and separatism in Kashmir have helped to radicalize a generation of young Muslims not only in India but also in Pakistan and Afghanistan. India prides itself on being the world's largest democracy. But this Democracy ends when you arrive in Muslim majority Kashmir where elections are often suspended or fixed. Since the Kashmiri insurgency began in 1989, 47,000 Kashmiris have died. This is a startling number for an area under military occupation, much like the shocking numbers coming from Iraq under American occupation. (a chief difference though is that the US has actually kept its word about when elections would be held in Iraq: India has not in Kashmir.)

Why a country of over one billion people feels the need to control an area of less than 6,000,000 people whose ethnic makeup is not compatible with the rest of the country is mind boggling for the neutral observer. This comes at a time when the BJP, an extremist Hindu nationalist party has incredible powers of persuasion over the Indian media. The BJP who was in power nationally from 1998-2004 have made helped to turn a previously secular democracy into a religious semi-theocracy that marginalizes Muslims and to a lesser extent Christians as "un-Indian." The always secular Congress party has been forced to abandon its Nehruite tradition of tolerance and cow tow to the lowest common denomonator in Indian politics. The leadership of Sonia Gandhi put Congress back in power in 2004, but since the party has been unable to control the winds of intolerance the BJP ushered in the 1990s and are likely to lose the next national election which must be held before May.

India's selfish and irresponsible actions have been exploited by Pakistan, the world's largest supporter of international terrorism. Pakistan, which has always been a rogue state, even when supported by the United States during the Cold War is now the center of international terrorism as it has been since the mid 1990s. The Pakistani Government exists to a large extent in name only as successive leaders have shown an inability or an unwillingness to actually reign in terrorism and disparate factions within the country supporting terrorism. Pakistan is not a nation: it is a hodgepodge of different groups thrown into a nation-state without a distinct identity. Instead of attempting to forge a national identity as Tito did in Yugoslavia, Pakistan's leadership has for sixty years decided to use India and at times Russia/Soviet Union as the enemy to rally the populace. I hear concerns about Pakistan becoming a failed state in the west: it's always been a failed state. The country exists in name only and at this point serves little purpose unless some strong man with a greater will than Pervez Musharaf comes to power.

The actions of India are not under the western microscope the way they should be. When Israel engages in less aggressive actions in the occupied West Bank, half of the west is up in arms. But the Arab-Israeli dispute has less impact on international terrorism than does the Indo-Pakistani dispute. Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden used the Kashmir dispute and targeted India long before Israel or the United States were his targets. Israel and the US were always in the crossfire from Hamas and Hezbollah, but neither group has the logistic capability to pull off large terrorist attacks globally as do the terrorist groups radicalized in South Asia.

India's behavior needs to change. The United States needs to deliver this message loud and clear. Pakistan's behavior will not change, and thus the state needs to be worked around and marginalized as we move forward in a very dangerous time.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Public Works New Deal Needed

America's transportation infrastructure is crumbling. Bridges much like the one in Minnesota that collapsed in 2007 teeter on the edge of failure. Roads are more and more congested and Mass Transit isn't working the way it should.

Barack Obama has an opportunity when he takes office. He can make rebuilding America's crumbling infrastructure a priority and also put millions of Americans to work on repairing bridges, building roads and other public works projects. President Clinton had a similar idea but it was sidetracked by Democratic Congressional Appropriators who were not going to be bossed around by someone who had barely received 43% of the national popular vote in a moderate turnout election. Now Obama having received close to 53% in a huge turnout election has the onus and less entrenched appropriators to deal with to try and push this agenda.

Under the GOP, widening and rebuilding interstate highways between cities that ran through rural areas were often a priority. Pushing funding for new interstates in the South was also a priority. (intrestingly though Florida, a key swing state has gotten less federalhighway money per capita than any other southern state as it did under the Democrats leaving the state and local governments to build and manage highways with little or no federal help.) Under the Democrats repairing urban roads and pushing urban mass transit must be a priority.

I'll have some specific proposals for highway and bridge funding as we approach the swearing in of the new congress in January.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Florida Election History: Discrimination is Nothing New

This past Tuesday, Florida voters sent a historic message by electing Barack Obama statewide. At the same time worrying signs were apparent in Florida's election results which reminded us of Florida's dubious history. Areas of the original Florida or what many in our state's capitol refer to as the "real Florida" voted for John McCain by much bigger margins than they had supported George W. Bush. The only counties in the state where McCain won by a much bigger margin than Bush were west of Tallahassee: in an area traditionally very Jeffersonian and Segregationist. Counties such as Liberty, Calhoun and Jackson had actually given Democrat Bill McBride substantial victories over Jeb Bush in 2002. McBride got only 43% statewide when compared to Obama's 51% yet these formerly segregationist counties showed many whites willing to vote for a weak and possibly unqualified Democratic candidate for Governor were unwilling to vote for a winning African-American candidate for President. Many elected Democrats in the state legislature had felt focusing on this area of the state was more important than focusing on the I-4 corridor in the early part of this decade. That can explain why in 2002 McBride was routed in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Orange and Volusia counties, urban Central Florida areas Obama carried in 2008 by a large margin. The 2008 results should show beyond a reasonable doubt as did the 2002 results, that these counties don't matter in Florida elections if you can win along the I-4 corridor.

Statewide however, Amendment 2, an effort by far right conservatives to legislate the definition of marriage into the Florida Constitution was passed statewide with 62.5% of the vote. The same conservatives who decry judges who "legislate from the bench" like the great Earl Warren or Thurgood Marshall are willing to attack moral codes and legislation to the state's constitution. This once again demonstrates the rampant hypocrisy of most conservatives. But we digress: the issue here is that Amendment 2 continues Florida's pattern of discrimination. A pattern we saw rise up in the 1970s when Anita Bryant came to Florida to protest Dade County's then revolutionary gay rights statute.

Bryant's campaign came just a few short years after George Wallace carried 66 of Florida's 67 counties in the Florida Democratic Primary. Wallace running on a campaign opposing school busing and using code words which meant "I'll keep the blacks in their place." was a hit statewide. The northern elite media who had many friends and perhaps family that lived in Florida had mischarecterized the state as being "less Southern than Northern" in the lead up to the primary. Thus primary night, a shock ran through liberal precincts of the North when Florida decisively made Wallace the victor.

Florida is a state that had more per capita lynchings than any other in the 1910s and 1920s, even though Mississippi had a Governor James K. Vardamann that openly advocated the murder of blacks. The Rosewood Massacre outside Orlando took place in this period of time as well. The state around the same time elected a Governor, Sidney Catts whose entire platform was based on discrimination, particularly against Catholics who were populating Northern cities and may move South. Despite being part of the previously "solid south" for the Democratic Party, Florida cast its electoral votes in 1928 for Herbert Hoover against Catholic Al Smith. The same thing happened in 1960 when Richard Nixon carried his only southern state running against the Catholic John Kennedy. When the Democrats nominated a die in the wool segregationist like Woodrow Wilson, the state's voters proudly cast their ballots for the party that ruled the south. But when a northern liberal like Adlai Stevenson or worse yet a Catholic like Al Smith was nominated by the party that dominated the state, Floridians crossed over and voted Republican.

This may seem like a remarkable set of coincidences but chances are they are not. While Florida took one giant step forward with the victory of Barack Obama in the state, we are reminded of Florida's not so proud history with the passage of Amendment 2 and the votes of many North Florida counties against Obama.

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I am the host of the Major League Soccer Talk and EPL Talk Podcasts and am frequent guest on other (world) football shows. I am also the publisher of various other websites including this one. I work in public/government relations in addition to my soccer work and have a keen interest in history, politics, aviation, travel,and the world around us.