Friday, September 28, 2012

Mona Eltahawy successful attack on free speech in NYC

Yesterday, the NYC MTA voted to restrict the application of the First Amendment on their network. This comes in response to a current advertisement campaign which calls on subway users to 'defeat Jihad'. In a stunningly stupid 8-0 vote, the MTA has decided to prohibit future adverts that it 'reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace'. The MTA seemingly believe that in passing this restriction, they remain in compliance with First Amendment case law. They are wrong. 

If (and I assume they did) the MTA consulted an lawyer in coming to the conclusion that their new approach was legally compliant, then they urgently need to put out a job ad for a new attorney. Brandenburg V Ohio, the operating US Supreme Court case that defines free speech vs incitement boundaries, is clear in its prescription. Under Brandenburg, only speech which intends to create a condition of 'imminent lawless action' can be restricted by public authority. The 'defeat Jihad' advert does not meet this burden. The advert does not pursue imminent lawless action, it simply advocates a political position (albeit from my view a stupid one). Indeed, the Roberts Court has upheld this type of speech as owed the highest protection under law. As Roberts put it, the Government must protect 'even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate'. Cognizant of the law, it should have been manifestly obvious to the MTA that in attempting to restrict speech which lacks an intention to cause imminent lawless action, they have exceeded their authority under the Constitution. That this advert pursues a sensitive topic is irrelevant. Justice Scalia recently noted the obvious (apparently complex for some) fact that where we restrict speech in fear of angering those in opposition to that speech, the First Amendment suffers serious injury. Undue restrictions on speech restrict individual opinion. Undue restrictions of individual opinion chill societal debate. Chilled societal debate inhibits effective discussion and policy formulation on issues of public concern. An example of the detrimental impact of the 'chilling effect' was seen on last night's episode of the BBC's flagship domestic political debate program, 'Question Time'. Here, the normally articulate Steve Coogan hesitatingly rambled out an opinion on an obvious issue of UK public concern. Why? Because of his concern that he would be labeled a racist. Coogan's irrationally rational fear of being labeled, weakened an important debate.

The pursuit of sensitivity might be the finest (short term) ally of civility, but in the long term, the objectified pursuit of sensitive speech is a terrible enemy of freedom.

For New Yorkers, this is a terrible decision. The MTA are trying to claim that their 'disclaimers' will protect future 'viewpoint' based adverts. However, the new rules seem deliberately designed to restrict adverts like the recent 'Defeat Jihad' ad. It appears that free speech opponents like Mona Eltahawy,  who think that they have the right to destroy speech, have won out. Eltahawy is unashamedly claiming as much on twitter.

While I am confident that the courts will ultimately overturn the MTA ruling, until then, In New York, intimidation has won out.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thoughts on Netanyahu speech at UN

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has just delivered his speech at the UN General Assembly.

Specifically noting the theological foundation of the 12th Imam (the Mahdi), Netanyahu explained why he believes that there's a fundamental difference between the former Soviet Union and the Iranian theocracy. One believes in life as a construct that defines its own existential purpose. The other believes in life as inherently subject to the larger service of God's existence. For Netanyahu, this means that Iran's leadership cannot be codified as rational by traditional notions of analysis. To some degree at least, he has a point here. The centrality of 'the sacrifice of the self for the service of the faith' is crucial to Shia Islamists like the Lebanese Hizballah and the Iranian regime. This is an ideology which finds physical representation each year at the day of 'Ashura'. Netanyahu's great fear? In pursuit of eliminating Israel and 'liberating' Jerusalem, Iran's leaders would embrace death as the successful culmination of their human existence.

Having articulated the ideological underpinnings of the Iranian regime, Netanyahu passionately argued why he believed a 'red line' would be necessary to prevent Iran's continued nuclear pursuit. Using a deliberately simple diagram, Netanyahu affirmed that he would take action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. This was a message designed for an unmistakable translation- Israel will use military force if diplomacy fails.

Whatever one thinks of Netanyahu's policy or his understanding of the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon, in political terms, this was foreign policy messaging at its best - Compelling and determined.

AJE's Tony Harris response to my Obama UN post

In response to my piece on President Obama's UN speech, Al Jazeera-English Anchor, Tony Harris, kindly posted a reply with his thoughts. See below-

Hey Tom, I enjoy reading your blog. We see eye to eye on the positives of the speech, but I'll push back a bit on your speech negatives. It is, in my view, the right and smart thing to do for the president to weigh in on the video before the world body. Because he has been willing to be, rightfully, critical of the video, he has given space to leaders and opinion makers in the muslim world to capture an important moment for this region that I now call home and reframe the discussion of what is Islam? And more importantly, point out what isn't Islam. What's happening in Benghazi, with people standing up to militias and brigades would have taken much longer to happen without the horrible events at the consulate and Obama and Clinton's, especially Clinton's strong statements. Check out Tom Friedman's most recent piece in the NYT.

As for Afghanistan, there is no feel good exit strategy for coalition forces in Afghanistan. No way to claim a victory there. To see success there as leaving behind institutions of good governance and a national Afghan identity as coalition soldiers throw packs over their backs and stride off into the sunset with waving Afghans seeing them off is out of the hollywood dream factory. Afghanistan has always been too fractious for that. From the point of view of everyone our people (AJE) talk to on all sides of this, 2014 can't come soon enough. What happens after forces leave should give everyone the cold sweats, but that day has to come. It has to.

You can follow Tony on twitter -

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

President Obama's Speech to UN

President Obama has just given his speech at the UN General Assembly.

I felt the President made a generally good speech. As an American, when any President speaks to the UN as our representative and leader, I always think it's important to listen with an open mind. That being said, I didn't think the speech was perfect.

First, the POSITIVES.

 I liked the tribute to Chris Stevens - though perhaps unsurprising, it was important to pay tribute to Chris's sacrifice and the tremendous work that the men and women of the Department of State/AID do for America.

With caveats (see negatives below) I liked the way the President articulated the case for free speech. This was an especially strong line-  'True democracy demands that citizens cannot be thrown in jail because of what they believe, and businesses can be opened without paying a bribe. It depends on the freedom of citizens to speak their minds and assemble without fear; on the rule of law and due process that guarantees the rights of all people.'   Words that bear interesting similarities with those of a former President...

I also like that the President specifically articulated the US legal foundation for free speech - 'I know there are some who ask why we don't just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws: our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech. Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense.' The President should have made this point a couple of weeks ago.

Again - Enjoyed this quote (a message that reflects my own point of view) - 'We do so not because we support hateful speech, but because our Founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views, and practice their own faith, may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can become a tool to silence critics, or oppress minorities. We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech – the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.'

I thought the President was correct to note the fact that most victims of violent Islamist extremism are in fact Muslims - 'Let us remember that Muslims have suffered the most at the hands of extremism. On the same day our civilians were killed in Benghazi, a Turkish police officer was murdered in Istanbul only days before his wedding; more than ten Yemenis were killed in a car bomb in Sana'a; and several Afghan children were mourned by their parents just days after they were killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul.' This is the great hypocrisy of groups like Al Qa'ida and the Taliban, their only root to power is intimidation and murder. 

I liked the President's call for the international community 'to marginalize those who – even when not resorting to violence – use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel as a central principle of politics. For that only gives cover, and sometimes makes excuses, for those who resort to violence.' This use of hatred as a distraction from internal societal/governmental challenges, is a major obstacle to international peace, stability and individual empowerment. 

I thought the President's condemnation of Assad was powerful - 'In Syria, the future must not belong to a dictator who massacres his people. If there is a cause that cries out for protest in the world today, it is a regime that tortures children and shoots rockets at apartment buildings.' With this quote, as well as attacking Assad, Obama was clearly making an implied challenge to Islamic populations to consider the hypocrisy of their relative lack of concern for the moral crisis in Syria.

I liked the President's attack on the Iranian theocrats - 'In Iran, we see where the path of a violent and unaccountable ideology leads. The Iranian people have a remarkable and ancient history, and many Iranians wish to enjoy peace and prosperity alongside their neighbors. But just as it restricts the rights of its own people, the Iranian government props up a dictator in Damascus and supports terrorist groups abroad.' I haven't previously heard this President make such a strong rebuke of the repellent authoritarian ideology that guides Iran's rulers. Drawing international attention to the hypocrisy of Iran (and Hezbollah's) liberation narrative was also deeply important.

Finally, I liked the President's final line - '... so long as we work for it justice will be done; that history is on our side; and that a rising tide of liberty will never be reversed.' Again, note the unmistakable comparisons of this narrative to that of President George W Bush. It is my personal opinion that the Arab Spring has transformed Obama from a realist into a confused realist idealist at least in narrative, in the model of  Bush.

I did not like the President's reference to the 'Innocence of Muslims' as 'a crude and disgusting video' and his statement that 'its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity.' I don't disagree that the video is crude and disgusting, but I do disagree with the President when he uses his office to condemn it and to demand its rejection. The US Government should not be making subject based prescriptions on the  lawful speech of US citizens. An affirmation that the US Government had no role in the video's production would have been sufficient. 

On Syria, the President did not (and does not) offer any substantive plans to speed up Assad's fall. His words on this issue were strong. But words will not liberate the Syrian people. Here's what I think we should do.

On Iran, the President's threat to '... do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon' was hesitant and at least to me, simply not convincing. This was a major failing on the part of the President. In order to bring Iran to a serious negotiating position, he must persuade Iran that America will ultimately be willing to use force. He hasn't.

Finally, on Afghanistan. The President's statement that '
America and our allies will end our war on schedule in 2014' was utterly absurd. For me, this was by far the worst moment of the speech. It perfectly illustrated the ad-hoc approach towards Afghanistan that has typified Obama's Presidency. Sadly, the President is ignoring the positive news and is giving up on our Afghanistan mission too early.

Conclusion - A generally good speech. But as I have pointed out above, I have major issues with the practical conception of this President's foreign policy.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Innocence of Muslims and Free Speech

The Pakistani Railways Minister has offered $100,000 USD to anyone who murders the man responsible for producing 'The Innocence of Muslims'. 

         As Mr. Bilour put it, "I will pay whoever kills the makers of this video $100,000. If someone else makes other similar blasphemous material in the future, I will also pay his killers $100,000." Mr. Bilour states that he supports free speech (with one minor caveat). "I call upon these countries and say: Yes, freedom of expression is there, but you should make laws regarding people insulting our Prophet. And if you don't, then the future will be extremely dangerous."

The Pakistani Government's current position is that Mr. Bilour will be able to "stay in his post for now".

Let's be clear, this is a solicitation to murder and a threat of terrorism. Bilour's actions are inexcusable, morally foul and representative of the utter dysfunction of the Pakistani Government. Sadly, as the recent protests have indicated, Bilour is far from alone in his opinion. In states where the predominant religion is Islam, a vocal minority of citizens subscribe to the notion that while their free speech is absolute, their right to not be insulted is also absolute. For example, these individuals feel that they have the right to burn American flags (and greatly insult the American people) but not to suffer similar challenge. They are wrong and we should be unafraid to tell them so.

The stakes in this protest crisis are considerable. Free speech relies upon a vigorous and open exchange of ideas. Where we restrict speech to words that do not offend, we chill all speech and drive discussion into the intellectual abyss of political correctness. America's success resides on our free speech. We must never apologize for our values. I know that President Obama has had the best intentions with his international outreach during this crisis. However, by appearing to apologize, Obama has made America appear weak. He has also  unjustly qualified the moral authority of the purest American value.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Romney Tax Returns

My computer destroyed itself a few days ago so I was unable to blog until now. 
Romney's release of his tax returns was long overdue - I never understood his hesitation, as it seemed obvious that at some point the information would be released. Anyway... The media are understandably focussing on the fact that Romney paid an effective rax rate of 14.1% in 2011. However, there are some other considerations that must be noted. First, the IRS has stated that there is no evidence of any 'aggressive tax planning' on the part of Romney. Second, over the years, the Romneys have made significant donations to charity - they haven't simply horded their wealth in an underground cellar. Third, President Obama paid an effective 20.5% rate in 2011 - the difference between the two candidates tax bills is not significant. In addition, where Romney's income largely came via Capital Gains, Obama's was the result of direct income from his book sales. Capital Gains are deliberately taxed at lower levels in order to induce investment in the economy. Though he probably thinks otherwise, Obama's books do not stimulate economic activity.

Fourth, the entire premise of Romney's tax plan (largely developed by Paul Ryan) is to reduce rates, while also simultaneously closing the loopholes which allow taxpayers to substantially reduce their tax payments to the Federal Government. In essence - reduce rates and reduce avoidance, in order to increase revenue but reduce tax distortions on the economy. In contrast, President Obama wants to reinforce the personal income tax code with more deductions and higher rates. This election should be about the bold discussion of compelling alternatives. Sadly, President Obama's economic policies are exceptionally weak
PS - Paul Ryan earns the least out of all 4 candidates.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

DADT - One year after repeal

Today's New York Times carries an article that discusses the impact of the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) on the US Military (the repeal allows homosexual personnel to serve openly). Clearly, the looming disaster that social conservatives suggested* the repeal would instigate has not occurred. Homosexuality has no bearing on military efficacy. We should not prevent skilled individuals from contributing to the national defense simply because of their sexual preferences. My Grandfather (career US Military) has often spoken of the prejudices that black service personnel suffered in the past. That dynamic has since changed for the better and now, so has the treatment of homosexual personnel. Our military exists to protect the United States and our interests from harm. That objective should always be foremost in our minds as we develop and implement our recruiting and retention posture.
* - Chris Wallace, the Fox News Anchor interviewing Santorum is an exceptional journalist. Tough, fair and intelligent. He goes for the facts rather than the spin.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The two faces of President Obama

In accusing Romney of being unworthy of the Oval Office, once again the President has jumped on his rocking horse of faux moralism. Cue the standard 'look away from the camera, pensive, this is serious' posture. This is a major league political hypocrisy in which President Obama is the political Josh Hamilton. Sadly, when it comes to Obama's hypocrisy, there is nothing new here. After the successful Bin Laden operation, the President claimed that he wanted the event to be a moment of national unity devoid of partisanship. And then... he did exactly the opposite and unashamedly decided to use the operation to attack Romney. Another example? Consider candidate Obama in 2008. After stating in his book (supposedly written to foster bi-partisanship) that President Bush was too stupid to hold his office, in response, Bush then used his last press conference to speak highly of Obama, expressing his wish that the new President would be respected. What a difference. Of course, 2008 was also the year in which Obama (speaking to a fundraising audience...) proclaimed middle Americans to be racist and their values delusional.
          In fact, Obama the constitutional law professor is so convinced of his own moral omnipotence, that he finds no qualms even in attacking the Supreme Court* when they dare to disagree with his personal opinion. Who cares that this kind of action cuts at the crucial foundation of our country's separation of powers?
         It is sad that much of the media have no interest in pointing out these profound  and obvious contradictions. But hey, President Obama is perfect so what do I know?
Maybe President Obama was asleep during his first week at Harvard Law?

* -  As well as deliberately misrepresenting the Citizens United decision by falsely claiming that it authorized foreign spending in US elections.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Romney Video 2

I am not going to comment on the second Romney video -concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict, until Mother Jones releases the rest of the video recording. Their editing has been astoundingly biased. For those who haven't seen it (I have linked  below), just as Romney is talking about the opportunities for peace in the future, Mother Jones decides to end the released video. Pathetic journalism.

UPDATE - Mother Jones has finally released the full footage. Romney does qualify his statement by mentioning opportunities for peace in the future. His suggestion, in the context of the next round of Palestinian elections, that the Palestinian people may one day be amenable to peace, seems to indicate that Romney regards peace as a long term possibility. While I am more optimistic than Romney about the medium-long term prospects for peace, it should be evident to all that with HAMAS still in power in Gaza, the short term prospects for a peace deal are inherently limited. It must be noted that HAMAS ideology resides on embedded anti-Semitism and that the group still does not accept Israel's right to exist. Contrary to the self imposed delusion of left wing commentators, that ideational dynamic does not make for a fantastic starting point for possible negotiations. The focus of the US Government should be the continued provision of support to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the increased isolation of HAMAS in Gaza.

Romney Video

Mother Jones have hit the jackpot for left wing spin. Case in point - the absurd haze atmospherics that they have edited into their video. Suddenly, a standard fundraising event becomes a gathering of evil. 
         But let's consider the facts. What Romney said was largely true. The highest earning top 10% of taxpayers are responsible for over 70% of Federal Government tax revenue. AND as Romney pointed out, 49.5% Americans pay NO federal tax. 49.5%. Indeed, when tax related credits/grants are taken into consideration many of these individuals actually make money from the Federal Government. It is in this sense that there are many voters who have no interest in the Republican agenda. This is not a shocker - there is little personal interest in voting for a party that wants to end the free rider train. Why vote against Obama when he will give you everything for nothing.

Of course, there are broader issues at stake here. One of the big debates in this campaign concerns the question of the Federal  Government. IE - What the Federal Government should do and what it should not do. We Republicans do not believe that the Federal Government should exist as a replicant of EU style social welfare models. For us, a balanced but real appreciation for Personal responsibility is critical. For example, I accept the need for Government led reforms to our health care system that (unlike Obamacare's cost inflationary health reforms) will bring down costs and expand coverage. But, I do not believe that the Government should provide a cradle to grave system of state management over individual lives. Instead, I believe that personal responsibility and its inherent corollary- personal opportunity are critical elements of a dynamic American society and of the high living standards that Americans enjoy.
       Another issue. The federal budget is out of control. Federal spending has increased dramatically over the last 50 years. If the President is re-elected the spending curve will probably continue on the road to bankruptcy. Re- Romney's comments - There is a major problem when a large element of the population gains generous benefits without holding an effective personal stake in the broader budget game. In essence, these individuals feed the President's spending ambitions because they believe that they will have nothing to sacrifice as a result. Resolving America's debt crisis will require tough, honest debate. Unfortunately, the President has zero interest* in such a discussion. This largely explains why left wing outlets like Mother Jones are trying to paint Romney as a Ferengi. Obama has no plan and no ideas, so spin and scare tactics are the left's only option. This President's slogan should be 'Change which takes effort to believe in'.

As a final point, because they cannot face the truth of his words, Romney is attracting Democratic screams that his latest comments should end his campaign. I have a question for those Democrats. Where were their screams when in 2008, Obama attacked the personal values of 'small town America' while casually labelling these citizens as racists?

* - The $4 trillion 'savings' are the same that Obama referred to in his DNC acceptance speech. He is being dishonest.

Note- The Heritage Foundation charts linked above are both built upon IRS data. They do not represent Republican spin.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Romney's opportunity

The Democrats are presenting Romney-Ryan with a huge electoral opportunity. With even greater glee than normal, the Democratic Party is currently engaged in a full scale effort to protect the avarice of big unions. In Chicago, after a week of ignoring the children of that city, the teachers strike continues. Continuing, even though Mayor 'Rahmbo' aka Mayor Dumbo is offering to shower the union with more money. In Wisconsin, after previously attempting to sabotage democracy in order to stop Gov. Walker's union law from taking effect, then trying to end Walker's term early, the Democrats are now relying on absurd petitions to the courts. In New York, the Democrat-Union alliance has proudly prevented poor New Yorkers from taking advantage of cheaper food and household goods (the store, its jobs and cheap prices will now go to Christie's New Jersey). As if these actions weren't enough, the Democratic campaign platform goes even further - declaring total, unrepentant support for the big union agenda. An agenda that rests on intimidation, theft and the restriction of free speech

GOP candidates across America should take notice. Alongside their support for the job killing union agenda, the Democrats broader economic position is equally vulnerable. The economy remains weak and Obama's economic record (and economic strategy) are  devoid of value. Americans do not like the kind of left-wing special interests fetishism currently being practised by the Democrats. They understand that these policies destroy jobs, weaken the economy and add seemingly endless amounts of debt to the federal accounts. There is now a clear path for Romney to take the electoral fight to the President. Romney must wage a campaign with absolute focus on the economy (and Obama's foreign policy weakness).

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Taliban and Afghanistan

The Taliban worship death. They believe in a totalitarian vision of society in which adherence to an immoral religious orthodoxy is central. We must stay the course in Afghanistan and defeat the insurgents. Counter to the standard consensus, securing a relatively peaceful, democratic Afghan future is possible.

Nakoula police detention

Nakoula (the film maker) has been interviewed by police. It may well be true that he has broken the terms of his parole agreement. However, seeing as this event is centrally focussed on the ideal of free speech, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office must ensure that they either revoke his probation or quickly release him. The imagery of police detaining an individual because of his or her speech is one that should be deeply concerning to all Americans.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Violent protests - What America should do

Sadly it appears that the 'film protests' are continuing unabated. The US Embassy in Yemen is currently under attack and protests are continuing outside our embassy in Cairo. The United States is now being directly challenged. Iran, Assad, Hizballah, Al Qa'ida and every other group that hates America are now watching to see what we do. Here's what we should do.

1) The President should order the deployment of military reinforcements to secure our diplomatic facilities in the region. He has currently sent FAST units, however, this may not be sufficient. The US has considerable military assets in the EUCOM and CENTCOM areas of operation. We should not be afraid to utilize these assets as necessary.Our response should also involve tightening security procedures at diplomatic facilities in states like Indonesia and Pakistan - which may face protests after tomorrow's Friday prayers. The key is that we ensure we are able to protect our diplomats and our facilities. Secretary of State Clinton must require that host nation security forces are provided to defend our diplomats. 

2) The President should unequivocally (and angrily) condemn the violent reaction that has followed reporting on this film. His speech yesterday was not sufficient. There is no excuse for the kind of violence that we have seen. This film was produced by a private group of individuals in the conduct of free speech. Free speech defines America. We must stand up for this right while emphasizing that the US govt. had nothing to do with the film. Where there is positive regard for the United States in the Middle East, in large part this feeling stems from a high regard for our freedoms. The President must condemn those who violently protest as morally pathetic human beings. They need to be called out for their repellent ideology.

3) The President should take substantive action to bring to justice those responsible for the Benghazi bombing. This should include the application of military force if targets can be identified (for example in the Libyan desert). The US is currently appearing impotent and weak in the Middle East. From my perspective, this is in part a result of the President's appearance of timidity on Iran. Whether this is a fair perception or not, appearance is as, if not more important than reality when it comes to Middle Eastern political dynamics.

This is somewhat personal to me, my father was a diplomat with State and my grandfather was a US Marine. We need to make sure we protect our citizens.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cario and Benghazi - thoughts

In addition to my US politics focus, I have an MSc in Middle East Politics from SOAS, London. The area is one where I maintain a more analytical interest.
The actions that took place yesterday at the US Embassy in Cairo and the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya were disgusting. In Cairo, the US flag was ripped down, set on fire and then replaced with a black flag representative to that adopted by Al Qa'ida. In Benghazi, an armed mob attacked the US Consulate and murdered the US Ambassador as well as three other staffers. Why did this happen? Because some individuals are upset about a video. Yes, a video. In this case, the video is one apparently being produced by moronic Florida pastor Terry Jones and a number of Egyptian Copts who live in the United States. Jones is the same guy who threatened to burn Korans a while back. There are a number of comments that I want to make here.

1) There is absolutely no excuse for the violence we saw yesterday. Freedom of speech is an inherent right. If Terry Jones wants to be a moron then he has that right under the 1st amendment. Those who are upset by his film have every right to protest, but must do so in a peaceful way. Anyone who thinks that the appropriate reaction is to resort to violence and murder innocent diplomats is a pathetic human being. Religious leaders across the Islamic world must assert this point. There is a profound example of where this guidance has previously occurred - Ayatollah Sistani. In post-2003 Iraq, Sistani played a major role in persuading Iraqi Shia to engage with the political process and to reject the sectarian war that AQI and Sadr sought.

2) The US State Department public reaction to this incident was not good. Although Hillary Clinton has offered a tougher statement of condemnation this morning, the decision by the US Embassy in Cairo to condemn free speech was a grave error. Instead, the Embassy should have noted the US legal position on free speech while distancing themselves from Jones's idiocy. Relinquishing free speech in face of violent intimidation is always the wrong choice.

3) These incidents indicate the broader tensions that are still cooking in the region. In Egypt, the Copt community has long faced sustained persecution (including violence since President Morsi was elected). It would appear that the Salafist extremists who made up at least part of yesterday's Cairo protest, were to a degree, motivated by their natural hatred for the Copts. In Libya, political fractures remain a key challenge for the provisional government. The key is that regional political dynamics remain fundamentally unstable.

4) The USMC Embassy Security Detachment did a superb job in Cairo. They were calm, professional and allowed the crowd's fury to burn itself out. What happened in Benghazi is less clear.

UPDATE - It appears that two US Marines were killed while attempting to protect diplomatic personnel in Benghazi. The US Military has initiated a Crisis Action Team and is in the process of deploying a FAST unit to reinforce US security capabilities in Libya. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My new Daily Caller op/ed - In the service of their union masters, Democrats are waging war on the middle class

Romney V Obama - What Romney must do to win

The latest ABC News-Washington Post polling data shows a closer race (likely voters are the key) than Nate Silver had suggested. To be honest, I am surprised that Romney is not 1-2 points ahead of the President after last week's terrible jobless numbers - I expect this is for the reasons I mention below. The polls will fluctuate as the next few weeks pass by. The really important data will start coming in after the Presidential debates. However, there is some useful information below the surface of this latest poll.
            First, the poll shows a deep dissatisfaction with Obama's handling of the economy. 53% of voters oppose of his handling of the economy. The majority of these voters believe that the issue is rooted in the President's policy failings, rather than in his purported need for more time to remedy the situation. In addition, a statistically relevant ten point majority of voters (43%-32%) believe that the economy has become worst since the President took office. There is a division between voters who blame the President for the bad economy and those who do not. Mitt Romney also holds an advantage in terms of being viewed as someone who understands small business needs. Interestingly, a clear majority of voters believe that government programs do more to harm small businesses than help them (53%-35%).
           Second, the poll shows that most voters do not believe that Mitt Romney has given them enough clarity on what policies he would pursue as President. Further, the President holds significant advantages in terms of his polling on whether he or Romney would do a better job for the middle class or women's issues. 

           So what do these results mean? First- the election remains close and most certainly winnable by Romney. As I noted earlier this week, Romney must do more to boost his personal appeal numbers. I don't think that this will be too difficult to accomplish, Romney must simply get out on TV more. He needs to do more late night tv interviews (shows that have a comedic edge) and he needs to show the American people his life story - a committed husband and successful businessman. Second, Romney also needs to take much greater advantage of the President's weakness on the economy. The polling data shows that many voters are looking for a reason to abandon the President. Romney must take the fight to Obama. Romney should be aggressive and bold in articulating why the President's economic policy continues to be an abysmal failure and why in specific terms, he (Romney) would do a better job. Romney should also be unafraid to assert the conservative message as to why government is not the solution to America's problems. America is not Europe and attacking government spending will not alienate independent voters. Romney should attack the President for his proposed American Jobs Act (which Obama frequently touts on the campaign trail) by pointing (as I have) to the Chicago teacher's strike, as an example of how Obama serves Union vested interests rather than the interests of the private sector. Specifically, Romney should root this argument in a broader narrative that explains why the President is no friend of the middle class nor of small businesses. This shouldn't be too hard - Obama has showed his own disregard for hard work and business risk takers. Third, Romney must show American women that he is not with the fringe Republican goon squad when it comes to issues that concern them. These fringe morons have been able to shape public perceptions of the GOP on social issues for far too long - Romney must ensure this changes. Romney should openly condemn Republicans like Todd Akin, while asserting that the economy rather than abortion will be the key for his Presidency. If Romney is unable to attract a larger percentage of women voters, he will lose the election. James Boys recently wrote about this important concern.
             But again, the key is the economy. Romney should engage with Paul Ryan in a collective attack on Obama's failed economic record. Failure on the economy, failure on the debt. This is not a difficult argument to articulate. With reference to the economy, perhaps Romney should adopt the line-
  'Failure only the President believes in'.
GOP ad - Illustrates the message that Romney should relentlessly present

T-Mobile update

Re- my issue with T-Mobile UK. This has now been resolved. T-Mobile's complaints department were timely and effective in helping me resolve the concern. I will happily consider taking a new contract out with the firm at some point in the future.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Chicago teachers strike

Chicago teachers are currently on strike. They are taking this action even though on average, they make around $76,000 a year + benefits (health care plans etc). This benefits package is the most generous teacher compensation of any major American city. 

Chicago's mayor, Rahm Emanuel, wants to make mild reforms to Chicago's rotting education system - seeking improved teacher quality control and trying to ensure that bad teachers lose the right to a lifetime job. Except, the union isn't willing to play ball. Instead, they believe that their members are entitled to unaffordable benefits, lack of standards and the absence of any responsibility to teach well. Put simply, the teacher's union doesn't give a $$$$ about Chicago children. Instead, they care about maintaining their never ending ride on the greed train. 

As if these facts didn't make the situation bad enough, Chicago also faces a severe budgetary crisis. Without any changes, this year's education budget will be around $1 billion in the red. As a 'compromise', Emanuel offered the teachers union an effective 16% rise over 4 years. Yes, you read it right. The teachers are already the best paid of any American city, the education budget is already $1 billion short and the teachers already get 3 months paid holiday each year - but according to Emanuel, a 16% rise is still justifiable. Yet, as absurdly generous as this offer is, the union refuses to accept a deal that requires higher teaching standards. Improved responsibility is something that this particular union will never stand for that.

The teacher's union is unapologetic. But they should be. Many of the children they're supposed to be educating already have to deal with terrible crime rates. Now they can't even go to school.

For some other thoughts on teacher's unions, read my piece on Philadelphia school unions.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Nate Silver on the election

Nate Silver has an interesting piece in his NYTimes column that analyzes polling results post the DNC and RNC conventions. Silver concludes that Obama currently has a 79% chance of winning the general election. Now... I believe that Silver is a fantastic analyst, but I have some major issues with the polling conclusions in this case. My concern is that the conclusions do not take into account some critical data.

 First, the terrible jobless numbers that were released on Friday, the day after Obama's speech, will not have been accurately reflected in the polling sets. While Bill Clinton has received a lot of praise for his speech endorsing Obama - and the polls reflect that the public responded positively- the jobless numbers essentially rebut Obama's argument that the economy is picking up steam. The economy is struggling. I expect that many Americans who regarded the Democratic convention positively will see the latest jobless numbers as evidence that Obama's strong talk is not matched up with reality. I expect that the polling data released next week will reflect this hypothesis.

Second, Romney spent the week of the Democratic Convention preparing for the Presidential debates. He was out of the news. In essence, while Obama and the Democrats launched a full assault on Romney, he was nowhere to be seen. This undoubtedly caused a degradation in his polling numbers V the President. Again, when Romney starts campaigning next week I expect his numbers will improve. 

Third, a lot of voters still don't have a good feel for Romney. As we approach November, it will crucial for Romney to show voters that he is a decent, intelligent and ultimately moderate-conservative Republican. The debates will be incredibly important. Though I am of course biased, I expect that Romney will generate substantially improved personal appeal numbers over the next few weeks. I also expect that he will be able to win the debate with the President on the economy. As I expect Ryan will win the debate with Biden.

This will be a very close election. With its fun moments - See below.

Poor Service from T-Mobile UK

Update: T-Mobile resolved my concerns. I was happy with the follow up service that I received in response to my complaints.

I wanted to write about a little contract law scenario I am currently having with T-Mobile. I know that there are a few American and British lawyers who follow this blog, so I thought they might enjoy this one! In early August, I called T-Mobile to provide them with the required 30 day notice period that I intended to end my contract. The customer service representative was helpful and friendly - while he attempted to persuade me to stay with T-Mobile, he was not rude. The representative gave me notice that my contract would terminate around September 3. 

All was well. 

In later August I called T-Mobile again, in order to request my PAC code (the code that allows UK cell phone users to transfer their number to a different network). The representative on this call provided me with the code and told me that I would have 30 days (up to Sept.20) to post the number onto another network, or it would no longer be usable. This representative made no mention of a variance of my contract end date - agreed at  around September 3.  All remained well. From my perspective, on September 3rd my T-Mobile contract would end. I expected the interim period between September 3 - 20 to be a dead period where my PAC code would remain reserved but my T-Mobile contract would be finished. 

In late August I travelled to the US for one week. I arrived back in the UK on Sept 8th, expecting that my mobile contract would have ended. To my surprise, when I turned the phone on, the T-Mobile network ID was still showing and I started to receive text messages. I have just finished a phone call with T-Mobile. After speaking to a representative who was polite but unable to assist me, I asked to be put in contact with a supervisor. The supervisor was rude and sarcastic (perhaps hungover?). He informed me that even though I had not been given notice of a contract variance (to extend the contract end date from Sept 3 to Sept 20), post my original PAC request phone call, the generic letter/text confirmation message that T-Mobile had sent me had given me effective notice. He did not seem to understand that simply telling someone a contract has been varied does not constitute a new contract. We had a discussion about contract law. He essentially told me that I didn't know what I was talking about. I decided to end the call rather than waste time.

The PAC letter notice states the following - 

'Your terms and conditions say that you have to give us 30 days' notice to end your contract with us. That notice started when you called us to request this PAC code and it will end 30 days later, so your final bill for that number will include your price plan charge for the 30 day notice period.'

According to the supervisor - this closes the case. Not a chance.

I complied with the 30 day notice period requirement. From my position, because the PAC request phone call representative did not explicitly mention the contract extension, that extension was never agreed. My understanding of the PAC code letter notice is that it is a generic template sent to all T-Mobile customers who request their PAC code. There was no recognition of my personal situation in the letter that was sent to me. Again, from my perspective, T-Mobile made no effort to seek my agreement for the contract extension. 

One party's provision to another party of notice of a varied contract, does not itself constitute a valid contract variation. Agreement is always necessary. In this case where because of the generic letter, the 'notice' was far from legitimate, I have no belief that I have either varied my contract with T-Mobile and/or that T-Mobile's letter provided T'Mobile's notice of their understanding of a variation.

All in all - pathetic service from a major communications firm. This kind of business model will be a disaster in the United States. In the US, customer service is valued as integral to successful business interactions, rather than regarded a flexible notion subject to the whims of the individual representative in question. I will let you know if T-Mobile responds to this.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Obama's Speech and the final stretch

In his speech last night, the President said that his re-election 'leads [America] to a better place'. My response is pretty simple - the first four years have certainly not lead to a better place. The great challenges that we face - uncontrolled deficits, soaring debt, uncontrolled health care inflation, 8%+ unemployment are all sustained. President Obama simply has not addressed these issues.

And the President still has no compunction about misrepresenting un-truths as truths. Here is the Washington Post's fact checker on the $4 trillion deficit reduction claim - he basically says that it is complete bs. As did Paul Ryan in a memorable encounter with Obama's budget chief. (I can't wait for the VP debate).

I agree with the President in one regard. Like him, I believe that this election is offering Americans a clear choice. However, I believe that the President offers a future of uncontrolled debt, ever expanding spending (and deficits) and higher taxes. I believe his policies serve the short term interests of Unions rather than the long term economic interests of our country. Today's figures show that unemployment in America remains terribly high and that many Americans have effectively given up looking for work. Less jobs are now being added than in 2011. The President's policies have failed. I will be voting for Mitt Romney. This earlier post of mine basically sums up why.

Soaring rhetoric of hope and promise might sound good, but it doesn't create jobs or pay the bills.