Friday, March 30, 2012

Paul Ryan on Military Spending

Paul Ryan is great for the Republican Party and great for Congress. I hope that one day he runs for President. However, when it comes to the current debate on military spending he is wrong. If Republicans are to be seen as serious about the need to cut the deficit and the debt, we need to be honest about the necessity of cuts to military spending. Obama's proposal to cut around $450/ten year money from the defense budget is proportionate in level and effect. Such cuts will allow the US Military to retain its power projection capabilities in an environment of austerity. We can't demand cuts to govt. spending that we dislike and then claim the mantle of fiscal conservatism while ignoring reforms to military spending. Ryan should support the President's DOD budget as a realistic contribution towards reducing the deficit.

US-UK Extradition Treaty

I fundamentally disagree with the position of Parliament's Home Affairs Select Committee. As I have previously suggested, the extradition of Christopher Tappin was necessary and fair (as will his trial be). The US-UK extradition treaty is just and proportionate.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Obama and Boehner Debt Negotiations

A good article in the NYTimes magazine on the Obama/Boehner debt negotiations. 

Two points stand out for me.. 

1) Obama unilaterally changed the previously agreed framework of $800 bn/10 yr new revenue to  instead demand $1.16 tn/10 yr revenue. In doing so he ambushed Boehner and showed that he was not willing to engage in realistic negotiations.

2) Compared to the looming medicare cost curve explosion, the medicare savings that Obama was offering were extremely low - $1.05tn/20 yr savings. From my perspective, a serious deal would have required at least 50% more savings on that time frame and more realistically, probably double that amount. Democrats can try and claim that the President was offering terribly hard ideological sacrifices, but the state of medicare's finances demand that real, substantial savings can be found.

It is true that elements of the Republican Party lack a realistic attitude that accepts the need for compromise. However, Obama and Boehner had a deal and Obama reneged on it. The suggestion that even after the President's antics, Boehner considered the possibility of offering higher revenues, should be taken as an indication of how serious the Speaker was in his desire to reach a deal. 

In the end though, it is pretty hard to deal with someone who doesn't accept fair and honest negotiation.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Netanyahu's mind

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is ultimately the man who will decide if and when Israel bombs Iran.

Today, the NYTimes carries an article on Netanyahu's relationship with the Israeli Defense Minister (and former Israeli PM), Ehud Barak. The NYT piece has some value - it outlines the differing political backgrounds of the two men. 

Still, it concludes with a seriously silly quote... an Israeli columnist's statement that Netanyahu is ''a coward''.

Let's be clear, whatever one thinks of Netanyahu's politics, labeling him a coward is absurd. Netanyahu is a former Tier One special forces soldier. Paying heed to this military service provides a critical insight into Netanyahu's personality. Specifically, it helps us to understand how he frames the Iran issue- through a character that is aggressive, clinical and comfortable with risk.

As analysis of the Israel-Iran showdown continues, it is important that this analysis be rooted in pragmatic assessment of fact and not born of emotionally charged ideology. Astute leadership assessments are of paramount relevance.

Related writings.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Incitement to Racial Hatred law

This guy is a bone head but he should not have been sent to jail. The incitement to racial hatred law is an overly broad assault on freedom of speech. The law lacks a mens rea requirement of intention and in doing so, forces the speaker to consider any prospective listener's contemplation of his words before he speaks. This inevitably has a chilling effect on speech. True freedom of speech requires a robust exchange and contest of thoughts (even if some thoughts are far outside the mainstream of views). Racists are morons. They are best defeated by challenge and debate. Restricting speech in the way that this law does, chills debate and fuels the martyrdom complex from which groups like the KKK and BNP source their power. Forcing these groups to contest their ideas in open debate serves to expose them for their intellectual deficiencies.

US domestic support for Afghanistan mission

Polling suggests decreasing American support for the US presence in Afghanistan. This is fine, but it should not be a cue for a change of policy in Afghanistan. ISAF can succeed by continuing to develop Afghan security forces, continuing to exert pressure on the middle/upper ranks of the Taliban and by continuing to develop local governance and empowerment. If polling data set the course of America's foreign military operations, Iraq would still be plagued by sectarian warfare and used as an operating base by Al Qa'ida for attacks against the west. Politicians are elected to make good policy. They are not elected to make popular policy.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Obamacare Constitutional?

The Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of Obama's new health care law. In my opinion, the President's health care law is a bad law. I do not believe that it will reduce America's absurd annual inflation in health care costs and it imposes new financial concerns onto already struggling businesses. HOWEVER, I do believe that the law is constitutional. Health Care in America accounts for around 18% of the US economy. With increased personal mobility in the 21st century, individuals increasingly seek health care in different states and rely upon health care services/companies that are based in different states. Case law suggests that the Constitution grants Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce if there is a rational basis for that regulation. If an individual does not buy health insurance, he risks imposing costs on society at a later date (in the case of requiring expensive medical services in the future and being unable to afford those services). Nearly everyone will require health care services at some point in their lives.

Interpretation of the law requires analysis of the Constitution/case law applied to facts. Personal political ideology should be irrelevant. As such, in my opinion, requiring Americans to buy insurance falls under the orbit of Congressional authority to regulate the health care industry. 

At a political level, I believe that Obamacare should be repealed and replaced with reforms to cut health care cost inflation while improving coverage.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Race Relations in America

I like this photo a lot. The hand of a white Secret Service agent moves protectively behind the President as he greets a predominantly black crowd. The photo shows that the US has come along way since terrible acts like this. When it comes to supporting or opposing politicians, for the vast majority of Americans, race is now irrelevant.

Friday, March 23, 2012

President Obama and Trayvon Martin

How the hell did the President become editor of the Harvard Law Review. 

By engaging so personally with the Trayvon Martin incident he has injected huge amounts of new emotion into an already emotionally overloaded situation. A situation in which the facts are not yet clear and in which incredibly serious criminal charges might follow. The job of the President is to stand above the fray and generate good policy. So.. Obama was absolutely right to suggest that the Govt. may need to look at the law etc.. but as President, he was absolutely wrong to engage race into the debate. The effective function of the law requires the accumulation of facts and calm analysis. This function is harmed by emotional outbursts from the Chief Executive.

Obama has a record for this kind of judicial interference. In 2010, he launched a highly partisan attack on the Supreme Court. And of course... when he threw himself into the Gates situation.

Santorum destroys his campaign

Santorum just destroyed his own campaign. Comparing Romney's politics to that of Obama is absurd.

Trayvon Martin and 'Stand Your Ground'

The death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, raises concerns about the conduct of the shooter. However, in my opinion the 'Stand your Ground' (SYG) law is not to blame. If George Zimmerman approached Mr. Martin and then engaged in a fight with him, the law will clearly preference the position that Mr. Martin was the innocent party - the SYG law doesn't change this. I think the issue here is that the relevant phone call did not come out until the aftermath of the incident. In the aftermath of that evidence, the Justice Department have opened their own investigation and that is appropriate. The key point here is that members of a neighborhood watch are supposed to 'stand and report'. In the absence of compelling evidence of imminent/actual criminal activity, they are not supposed to challenge members of the public on the street.   The SYG law was designed to rid Florida of the idiotic 'responsibility to retreat' rule and empower the natural right of self-defense. It was not designed to make everyone a sheriff's deputy. If Mr. Zimmerman breached Mr. Martin's rights, Mr. Zimmerman is looking at a very serious jail term.

While living in Florida in 2010 I worked on a nightclub security team. While doing this job I felt that I had the power to protect myself with the backing of the law. I would not feel the same way in the UK. Perception of an ability (or inability) to defend oneself is an exceptionally important part of individual freedom.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spring Breakers on Politics

This video goes some way to explaining what is wrong with America at the moment. We are intellectually lazy and we think that it's cool. We should praise intellectual success alongside praising sports stars. The world doesn't begin and end with gas prices and boob jobs. Put simply, we need a kick in the ass.

France Crisis Resolved

The French did a great job in bringing the lone wolf gunman to justice. RAID, the French Special Forces group that killed the gunman is a highly capable unit.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rick Santorum's base

Rick Santorum's base. And.. why I would never, ever vote for him (and... why he was crushed in Illinois last night). I'm a Christian, but this kind of rhetoric is neither Christian nor Republican. It is arrogance, authoritarianism and prejudice.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Republican Budget

Paul Ryan's budget shows that House Republicans are focused on advancing serious plans to resolve the extraordinarily high federal deficit/debt. The Democrats will scream that the Ryan budget will hurt the poor, but the simple fact is that Ryan has offered a plan that resolves America's fiscal crisis and preserves medicare/social security for the benefit of future generations. 

As the NY Times notes, 

'Under the House plan, the current $1.18 trillion deficit would fall to $797 billion in the coming fiscal year, compared with $977 billion under Mr. Obama’s plan. By 2016, the deficit would fall to $241 billion by Republican estimates. The Congressional Budget Office estimated last week that Mr. Obama’s budget would still have a $529 billion deficit in 2016.
The Ryan plan would accumulate $3.1 trillion in additional debt through 2022. The president’s would add $6.4 trillion, more than twice that total. The Republican budget cuts spending by $5 trillion more than the president’s plan.' [5.3 trillion/10 yrs]
Ezra Klein at the WPost argues that the Ryan plan resolves the debt on the backs of the poor. I challenge that premise.  49% of Americans don't even pay federal income taxes. In addition, the Ryan plan cuts tax rates to just two rates (25% and 10%) by ridding the system of the tax loopholes/inefficiencies that are used by the rich and that lose the Government huge amounts of revenue each year. At the same time, Ryan adopts the bi-partisan medicare proposal that Democrat Ros Wyden helped author. The Democrats have offered no solutions to the looming medicare bankruptcy. The US should not be a something for nothing society.  Klein suggests that the $5.3 trillion reduction is unnecessarily high..  My response? Not when our interest payments are this high.
Obama and the Democrats in Congress have abdicated the responsibility of governing. They are in full election mode. Look for more political scare tactics like this. There is no question that the GOP is taking substantial political risk in proposing this plan. Pain is rarely popular but sometimes it is necessary. Republicans are gambling that Americans will prefer a future in which medicare and social security are preserved for those who will need it, taxes are low and personal responsibility remains part of the American way of life. The Democrats want to drag America towards a European style social welfare system..  with high taxes and big government. There's nothing wrong with this (in a democracy people should be able to chose to live in whatever kind of system they want and many Europeans are v. happy with their system), but the Democrats are lying to the American people when they pretend that the rich alone can pay off the debt. 
The Republicans now have a plan in which the sums add up. Democrats have a joke.

Illinois Primary

Romney needs to have a good night in Illinois if he wants to put the Republican race to bed soon. If Santorum wins, Santorum will be emboldened to continue towards his ultimate objective - a brokered convention. The Republican party leadership are desperate to avoid this outcome and while it is unlikely, it is not beyond the range of possibility. Romney knows more about economics than Obama but when he criticises the President for 'high' gas prices - he is being unfair and disingenuous. America's national security and future economic security require higher gas taxes.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Obama's Afghanistan policy

Karzai is a corrupt egotist. But.. Romney and McCain are absolutely right to slam the President for his Afghanistan policy. Obama took far too long in deciding to approve McChrystal's counter-insurgency plan back at the end of 2009 and then made the idiotic decision to announce the US withdrawal date from Afghanistan. This has pushed Afghans into a position in which many feel they must 'hedge' their bets when it comes towards supporting the Afghan govt/ISAF counter-insurgency effort versus the Taliban. The Taliban reside on a base of fear. It takes guts to stand with the US when the US has announced an intention to leave. This fear of the fluctuating commitment of the US is a major source of instability at both political levels (Karzai) and ground levels (settlements across Afghanistan). The President has put America in a terrible catch 22. A situation in which America is supposedly committed to securing Afghanistan's long term internal security and at the same time, is perceived as running for the exits. The President needs to alter this perception.

We need to focus on continuing to build security/governance at the local level as well as improving the professionalism of the Afghan national army and police. This will take a few more years and more patience, but we cannot allow Afghanistan to slip back into the hands of the Taliban (a group that contrary to western popular opinion has little credibility for the vast majority of Afghans). 
       We have expended too much blood and treasure to fail to avoid the absolutely avoidable outcome of failure.

Secret Service have a tough job.

This is why you need route security for political VIP motorcades. I am assuming that Obama was not in the motorcade as filmed in the video and that the vehicles were simply being moved to a staging area. However, imagine that he had been in the motorcade and the Chinese had refused to shut down the highway. The guy playing this prank would probably (and justifiably) have been rammed off the road. The job that the Secret Service have to do to balance the needs of protection versus freedom of speech/movement is not at all easy. Whether in domestic or foreign operations, the consequences of a false judgement are potentially catastrophic. Look at this incident with Romney last week.

I wrote a piece for the guardian a while back- arguing that David Cameron was making a mistake in getting rid of his police escort.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Supreme Court- Insurance Mandate

Great piece in the Washington Post on the Supreme Court and Obama's insurance mandate. 

My view- constitutional

Friday, March 16, 2012

Santorum's latest comments show why I could never vote for him.

For those who are newcomers to the blog I am a Republican.

Rick Santorum's latest comments on pornography show why Obama would destroy him in the general election. The key concerns for Americans are - the economy, jobs and rising health care costs. Very few people really care if the guy next door wants to watch porn. In a free society the boundary between the private choices of an adult and the encroaching reach of the government must be strictly defined and from a Republican point of view - strictly limited. As a Republican, I cannot support a candidate who believes that two consenting gay men should not be left in privacy in their own home, or that contraception should be banned, or that (all stage) abortion doctors should face criminal charges. These policy proposals are the product of a mindset that begins and ends with the strict contours of a personal religious interpretation and is rendered absurd by its natural hypocrisy... Santorum opposes the catholic contraception mandate (freedom of religious beliefs*) but supports banning contraception all together (no freedom of individual beliefs). 

In the end, the critical point is that Santorum believes that his views must actively and absolutely trump the perspective of all others, even when the debate concerns the most intimate of issues (sexual conduct) and the most private of areas (the home). Waging this kind of a war on individual freedom is fundamentally incompatible with conservative values of freedom.

* - I oppose Obama's mandatory contraception coverage requirement. My reasoning - Contraception is a personal choice and is cheap to acquire. If made mandatory in health care plans, the mandate would serve to retrench private health care into an increasingly rigid system. An industry with a focus that goes far beyond that of critical health care coverage. It's evidently incompatible with the Catholic faith that their institutions be forced to provide contraception as part of their health care plans. Nothing prevents their employees from private purchases.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Santorum Southern Wins

Rick Santorum's victories in Mississippi and Alabama are not unexpected. Part of the Republican base is still uncomfortable with Mitt Romney and this won't change until the inevitability of Romney's candidacy becomes clear. But Romney's nomination is inevitable. Only Romney can challenge the President effectively on the economy. At the same time, Santorum's social views are way outside of the mainstream - from my perspective his beliefs in this area are incompatible with the traditional libertarian foundation of the Republican Party. There are enough Republicans who may not be fully satisfied with Romney that know that if Santorum were to be the nominee, Obama would landslide the election. Romney will still win this nomination fight.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Release of Guantanamo prisoners?

I hope the reports that the US is about to release a number of senior Taliban officials from Gitmo aren't true. If they are, the Obama Administration is being extraordinarily dumb. Releasing these guys would send a terrible message of weakness to the Taliban. Especially at a time when America needs to show more resolve. We cannot negotiate with the Taliban if they believe that all we care about is getting out of Afghanistan as soon as possible.

This reminds me of when the Administration stated that the US contribution to the removal of Gaddafi did not amount to hostilities. The President's team seem to think that they are always right.

Radio Tomorrow

For UK readers - if interested, I will be on LBC 97.3 tomorrow morning (around 08.45) talking about Cameron trip to US/UK-US extradition treaty.

The upside down flag incident was a breach of diplomatic protocol but not a serious one. Pretty hard to see which way up is the right way! But I'm sure the state department protocol officer will apologise to the British ambassador.

The extradition approval order for 
Richard O'Dwyer is a good thing.

New Guardian Piece on Gas Prices

New Guardian Piece -

The Republican case for higher gas taxes

Just to clarify one point that I may not have made clear-

re-Iraq My position is not one of actual opposition to the war (I supported it) but opposition to the fact that America's reliance on oil stability made us unwilling to aggressively confront Iranian abuses of the Iraqi people (by Iranian supported groups like the Jaish al-Mahdi) and Iranian attacks on US forces (through weapons like EFP's)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Afghanistan Withdrawal?

ISAF operations in Afghanistan have made huge advances over the last 18 months. Large areas of Kandahar and Helmand provinces (the heartlands of the insurgency) have been removed from Taliban control and civilian economic/social vitality is returning to these areas. Huge losses have been inflicted on the Taliban's senior/middle leadership and Afghan Security forces are advancing in capability, professionalism and operational reach.

 These successes have come at significant cost- both human and treasure. To abandon Afghanistan now would be a catastrophic error of strategic judgement. The President made a major error in announcing a deadline for the US withdrawal, but we can still achieve some semblance of lasting stability/democracy in Afghanistan if we decide to remain committed to the task. It is morally foul that many who formerly supported the war are now deciding (for US domestic political purposes*) that the effort should be abandoned.

We owe the injured and the dead much more than a skewed strategy born of partisan analysis. 

* - While I disagree with them, I absolutely respect those who argue that the ISAF effort cannot succeed and that as such should be ended. My issue is with those using the conflict as a political pawn.

Afghanistan Shooting

This could not have come at a worst time for the US effort in Afghanistan. In the aftermath of the recent Koran protests, tensions are high. Actions like the latest serve only to escalate tensions even further and deeper into US-Afghan relationship. Sadly, aside from training NCOs to spot and report the signs of serious mental instability, there is little that can be done to prevent things like this from happening. Every day across Afghanistan thousands of American, British and other ISAF soldiers put their lives on the line to try and build a better, safer future for the people of Afghanistan. This is moral and heroic work. But.. as with any act like this latest one, this sacrifice will now have less credibility in the eyes of Afghans. 

This incident will have real strategic consequences as well as more obvious human consequences.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Rush Limbaugh Defamation Lawsuit?

Rush Limbaugh's comments towards Sandra Fluke were stupid. However, Gloria Allred's argument that he should face a defamation suit for those words is even more stupid. Whatever one thinks of Limbaugh's speech, when Fluke entered the political debate surrounding Obama's contraception coverage requirement, she also entered the political domain as a public figure (at least for this particular issue). Limbaugh was expressing political opinion (the type of speech that receives the highest level of constitutional protection). Allred knows that Limbaugh's speech is protected, she just wants to attract attention to herself. Another bs celebrity lawyer.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Failed Rescue - Nigeria

The SBS are one of the finest special forces units in the world. Successful rescue operations require luck just as much as intelligence support, logistics and skill. Sometimes luck isn't on side. Sometimes it is. Regardless, hostage rescue operations are inherently risky.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Syria Intervention

The exchanges in the Senate today draw attention the debate surrounding the possibility of open western military intervention in Syria. As I have previously argued, such an operation would be risky and complex AND would draw assets away from other critical national security objectives - such as in Afghanistan. 

The following quote from the above linked article is particularly note worthy:

'But Dempsey [Chairman of Joint Chiefs] said that the attacks necessary to destroy Syrian air defenses would be long, complicated and risky because Syria has air defenses that five times more sophisticated than those attacked by the NATO-led coalition in Libya last year.
“It would take an extended period of time and a great number of aircraft,” Dempsey said. Because most Syrian air defenses are located in the heavily-populated eastern part of the country, where most of the violence against opposition strongholds is taking place, civilian casualties and other collateral damage would be high, he said.'
If Europe wants to engage in foreign military interventions then European states must spend more on their militaries. Especially with regards to building their power projection capabilities. It is intolerable to me that the United States receives European scorn for our military spending most of the time and then.. during situations like that currently ongoing in Syria, receives scorn for being unwilling to risk our pilots, our assets and our money in an operational environment that is far closer to Europe. In Libya, European states took most of the credit and yet, most of the ammunition, logistics and intelligence targeting material was American produce. European responsibilities for international security cannot begin and end with screams for intervention and token deployments of force. These responsibilities and commitments must be real and shared.

Why Israel WILL bomb Iran

Netanyahu does not believe that in the context of the American election (for fear of raising US domestic gas prices) that Obama will be willing to increase sanctions against Iran to the degree the Israelis believe is necessary. Therefore, from the Israeli perspective, the international diplomatic pressure that would be necessary to force Iran's leadership to abandon their decision to pursue nuclear technology will not be forthcoming. If one believes that the Israeli standpoint is that a nuclear Iran is intolerable, then the military option is the only option left.

While the military complexities inherent in the action of any Israeli strike would be profound, for Israel, these complexities pale into insignificance when compared alongside the perceived alternative of a nuclear Iran. For Israel, preventing Iran from attaining nuclear power is a necessity that supersedes all other priorities (including the relationship with the US). If Israel's best military outcome would be to delay Iran's nuclear program by 2 years, the Israelis will accept this outcome on the understanding that they may have to repeat air strikes at some future point. Israel likely believes that it can carry out a successful action against Iran by initiating a high intensity, short duration operation. This will require some explicit or implicit over flight rights. Unless Israel decides to cross Iraq (which has no effective air defense network).

Romney Wins Big

With his wins last night, Mitt Romney successfully consolidated his position as the confident front runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Gingrich is finished - he only won Georgia. Santorum's three wins were all in v. conservative states. Santorum cannot appeal to moderates and as last night's results show, he is limited in terms of his appeal to Republicans. Mitt Romney now needs to begin to wage an adapted campaign that is specifically targeted at centrist Republicans and independents, rather than at conservative primary voters. The especially aggressive nature of this primary season has damaged Romney's general election appeal but is still absolutely reversible. Romney's campaign needs to focus on two big issues - economic plans and debt reforms. His proposals should be more realistic and bold. Promising massive increases in DOD spending and limited cost saving reforms to medicare are not realistic in an environment in which we have to cut/raise revenue at $5 trillion from projected 10 year spending (and continue those cuts into the future).

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Super Tuesday

Romney needs to lock this up. Santorum is an intelligent, passionate man who cares deeply about 'value' issues. But.... Santorum fails to connect with voters who have core concerns that go beyond gay marriage, abortion and condoms. We NEED to nominate a candidate who can challenge the President on the economy, on foreign policy and on the debt. Santorum's views alienate far too many people where as Romney's views (especially with his willingness to think outside the Republican box - his MA health care program for example, offer a real chance to bring people together. Romney is the only option we have. An imperfect candidate for sure, but a candidate who can beat Obama and carry out sensible, intellectual (non-palin), bi-partisan reforms.

For UK readers - I will be going on BBC News at around 2.30-2.45PM to talk about STuesday. Watch! For US readers - you (might) be able to find this online via BBC World Service or something. It would be at 0930 EST.

Also - great piece on the Red Sox. (Kev- the Yankees are going down)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Why politics matters

During the course of each Presidential campaign there are moments that depart from the usual spin and stupidity of campaigning. These moments remind us why elections are important and why we are lucky to be citizens of a country that invests ultimate power in the people.

One of these moments happened yesterday.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

BP Settlement

At $7.8 billion, the BP settlement is obviously large. However, it is important to note that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a catastrophe for the Gulf Coast area. The size of this settlement was always going to be huge. Corporate responsibility is a contingent element of any high risk operation and to put it bluntly, BP screwed up. I agree that tort damages in the US are often too high but in this case, in the context of the damage that was done, the number seems about right.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Apache attack in Iraq

This is a video of an Apache taking out IED Emplacement team in Iraq. Notice how long it takes for the authorisation to come in. Three to four minutes could have lead to these guys escaping but reflects the need to be cautious to avoid civilian casualties. A need that is born of both moral and strategic calculations.