Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Rudy, Rudy !!!!!

No, I'm not talking about the sappy movie about a too small, too slow walk-on to Notre Dame's football team that generated a screenplay and a hobbit-starring movie, but rather the potential presidential aspirations of the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani. He is considered a potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, albeit one with plenty of warts. Here's some of my random thoughts:

If megalomania as an important qualification for president, Rudy is without peer (and mind you that's no small win when you consider the egos of the folks that run for president). That said, he is not without some credibility as a leader.

His most notable claim to fame is his admirable actions during and following the attacks of 9/11. Moreover, his efforts to improve the quality of life within New York City, while often controversial, are appropriately credited with returning much of NYC to its past glory including iconic areas like Time Square. At the same time, it's worthy to note that prior to the 9/11 attacks, Rudy's approval ratings were at a nadir. His arrogance and mean-spiritedness exhausted the body politic.

He sought unsuccessfully to extend his mayoral term following the 9/11 attacks.

Before becoming Mayor of NYC, he was a prominent, publicity seeking U.S. District Attorney in NYC, leading at least for press purposes, a number of prosecutions of New York crime bosses.

Since 9/11 he's made a fortune parlaying his high profile consulting and as a speaker.

He has enjoyed decidedly less success in the areas of personal relationships. While currently married, he is the veteran of two failed marriages.

He is a polarizing character to say the least. Former associates alternatively love or hate him

His handpicked choice for New York City Police Commissioner, Bernie Kerik, later imploded after being selected to succeed Tom Ridge as Director of Homeland Security. President Bush ignored standard vetting protocol and incautiously named Kerik as Ridge's successor based solely on Rudy's endorsement. The press did the vetting for the President and less than a week later "Lawbreakin'" Bernie requesting his nomination be withdrawn (note that Bernie Kerik is definitely worthy of a post of his own). Rudy has been persona non grata with the Bush White House ever since.

I don't think his chances in '08 are very good. My view is that he has a "puncher's chance." Should the country sustain a significant terrorist attack between now and 4/08, I think he becomes the odds on favorite to not only get nominated by the Republicans (the real battle), but he wins the Presidency in a walk.

The Enemy - Redefined

Based upon the President's news conference this morning it appears that GWOT, The Global War on Terror, has gone the way of "Stay the Course" and least for the moment.

The terminology was imprecise and not particularly additive to discussion or debate. Moreover, definitionally, the "war" was interminable and thus, unwinable. The enemy (at least in Iraq) are now described as "extremists." Is this change in nomenclature a positive sign? Perhaps.

Uh oh, btw switchgrass is back (GWB mentioned it again today). I for one can't wait to go cruisin' in my switchgrass powered Hundai.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I'm Gonna Listen to My Generals . . .except . . .

when they have the audacity to speak their mind. The well-worn claim by the President that he was following the advice of his generals as it relates to Iraq has been exposed for what it is/was - horse shit.

According to multiple reports, including today's lead in the WaPo, the Joint Chiefs is unanimous in its opposition to President Bush's apparent intent to increase forces in Iraq by 20,000 or more. The Joint Chiefs, seemingly buoyed by the sacking of Donald Rumsfeld, apparently are strenuously opposing the plan to increase US forces in Iraq. Note that Tony Snow deftly attempted to dismiss the story, but he did not go as far as to say the underpinnings of the story were untrue.

The Joint Chiefs' failure to stand up to the authoritarian rule of Rumsfeld has been well documented in books like, State of Denial, Hubris, Chaos and Cobra II. They seem, at least momentarily, empowered by Rummy's sacking. Bush is desperate to prove that despite all data to the contrary, Iraq isn't a lost cause in the short term.

The fact is not only is GWB intellectually lazy, he's intellectually dishonest.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Tom Friedman - Sartorial Train Wreck

Tom Friedman, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist of the New York Times, appeared on Meet the Press today primarily to discuss Iraq. While Tom took the time to get his nails done, apparently with polish - not a mere buffing, his tie was, beyond troubling. A multi-colored number that he must have acquired in 1982 at the Ford City Mall Chess King, it's safe to say that no animals were harmed in the manufacture of that tie.

On the same show, fellow NYT columnist, David Brooks was the other round table guest. I enjoy reading and listening to David's ideas. That said, is there another talking head more uncomfortable on television? Admittedly, he is operating outside his chosen medium, but he's been doing it for years now with no discernible improvement of his carriage.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Delay in Bush Iraq Policy Speech - My Take

Official and unofficial sources have squelched the notion that Pres. Bush will issue a major speech prior to Christmas to signal changes to policy in Iraq. The aforementioned speech is now expected early in the new year. My read is that the speech is being delayed for practical political and policy reasons. I expect Bush to accede to the McCain approach, ignored by the Iraqi Strategy Group (because they were told that such an approach was practically a non-starter), and call for a significant increase in troop levels in Iraq. I expect that he may also propose a significant increase in the number of active military personnel.

The President will cite Iraq, Afghanistan and the worldwide threat of terror, but perhaps he could just skip that and offer more succinctly "and you know, yada, yada, yada." Expect to hear the catchphrase of the moment "surrender is not an option," sandwiched with nonsensical claims that leaving Iraq dishonors those soldiers that have died in Iraq, a none to subtle, and well-worn attack on the patriotism of those that may disagree.

Arguments certainly exist as to why out troops should continue to operate in harm's way, but the President is either unwilling or incapable putting forward a compelling and/or honest argument to the American electorate. Instead he continues to petulantly offer the intellectual equivalent of "I fuckin' know better than you - don't you realize I'm the President."

Anyone expecting a more dramatic change in direction are either deluded or simply not paying attention.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Thwarting Terrorists or Encouraging Knuckleheads?

While I take some comfort from the fact that there hasn't been a terrorist attack in the US since 9/11/01, today's arrest of a guy who was entertaining the notion of attacking a Rockford, IL mall before Christmas does not make me feel appreciably safer. The devil it seems is in the details. The case only became public today so all the details are not yet available, but intriguing facts lurk behind the SUPERCALIFRAGILISTIC HEADLINES. Two other "thwarted" domestic terrorist plots similarly, upon closer inspection, may not represent the grave threat to Americans that was initially claimed.

Before exploring the details I think the "fault" sits with a variety of players. Firstly, the FBI, stung by its well-documented failures in following up on information that may have resulted in stopping the 9/11 attacks, has rabidly investigated any and all potential threats. Secondly, the desire to play up the fruits of the substantial resources dedicated to the anti-terrorism effort virtually ensure that any and all arrests are announced with grave seriousness and unflinching sincerity. Finally, there is the press that absolutely loves to front reports of foiled terrorist plots. The reports are framed grandly and seldom address the bald reality behind the grandiose headlines.

The Rockford arrest and the Miami case share at least one significant element, a confidential informant that penetrated the plot. Closer reflection in the Miami case reveals the terrorist plotters as extreme slackers, it was the confidential informant who forcefully lambasted the group for its in transience, going so far as to threatening to quit if they didn't blow something up soon. The public was also informed that the group considered both the FBI HQ in Miami and
the Sears Tower in Chicago. Closer scrutiny reveals that the informer bought the digital camera and encouraged group members to take pictures of the FBI HQ. The Sears Tower threat was even more attenuated, the only apparent connection was that one of the group used to work or make deliveries to the Sears Tower. These guys weren't zealots, they were a running joke in the neighborhood they were based in. Unfortunately for these unclever lads they are screwed. Not admittedly, these guys aren't model citizens and weren't likely to making significant contributions to society - but those things were not crimes serious enough to land these jokers in super-max jails for most if not all of their remaining lives.

In the Rockford the government informer reportedly encouraged this naer-do-well to focus his efforts on waging jihad upon shoppers at a local mall. He likely encouraged the two recent trips to the mall ostensibly to case the target. The informer then set up a meeting where the perp was to exchange audio speakers for hand grenades. Is that normal operating procedures for weapon merchants, I mean really did the guy first try to offer his Pez holder collection for the grenades. We have also been informed that the terrorism plotter only weapon during this time was a pocket knife.

I'm not trying to be excessively glib, but I admit to becoming a bit circumspect when I see reports exhorting another grave threat thwarted. The charges brought against the former Chicago gang member initially accused of planning to explode a nuclear "dirty" bomb are perplexing. He faces charges that have nothing to do with the supposed plot that was strewn across the front pages of newspapers just prior to the 2002 congressional midterm elections. These facts garner precious little attention today because the press has moved on. Similarities also exist with regard to the London plot to blow up airlines. Again the reality behind the splashy headlines raises numerous questions regarding the extent of the threat. A number of people initially detained have been released. Many of those detained hadn't even applied for a passport and enabling the explosive that was proposed was an incredibly difficult and delicate job.

I am not suggesting that the FBI or Scotland Yard be any less vigilant in tracking potential threats, but citizens should better understand the reality behind the headlines. There is a line where the benefits of added security are outweighed by the cost - liberty. I believe there is a balance, I do expect and desire security for my person and my loved ones, but risk is a fact of life.

I think these issues are worthy of a vigorous and open debate and that reasonable people will differ on where the lines should be drawn. My concern is that the issues are not being actively debated. Moreover, dampening or extinguishing discussion by dismissing advocates of personal liberties and constitutional protections as weak or unpatriotic is disingenuous and does our republic a great disservice.