Sunday, February 17, 2013

GOP: It will take more than rebranding to win

Tiger can’t change its stripes, a leopard can’t change its spots, if it looks like a duck and swims like a duck…  In addition to be animal-related idioms, they also relate to the GOP’s current predicament.

The GOP is looking to rebrand itself after  doing the math from the November election.  While Republicans are not known for their math skills, some pollsters and strategists recognized that the party of angry white guys, business special interests, and the 1% was in danger of irrelevance in the face changing demographics.   Now I am no marketing expert, but I am aware of the 4-Ps of Product, Place, Price and Promotion which dovetails into my simpler analysis of: Product, Message, and Messenger.  The PPM model may actually be more applicable to the GOP’s problem and opportunity.

Let’s start with the product.  What is the GOP offering and what does it stand for?  Bobby Jindal says that the GOP needs to stop being the stupid party which referenced the Todd Akin ‘legitimate rape’ comment as well as comments from Joe Walsh, Richard Mourdock, Allen West, and pretty much just about everything said during the Republican Primary Debates.  And while some in the party want to distance themselves from the Tea Party, but that won’t be so easy.  Brigitte Nacos, a political science professor at Columbia University says “The fact of the matter is when you look at the basic agenda of the Republican ticket, it’s pretty much what the Tea Party likes.”  Yes the GOP has been co-opted by the very insurrection that led the GOP back to House control in 2010.  Frankenstein’s monster.

The problem the GOP has is the Tea Party Caucus is not a monolithic entity.  It contains social conservatives, deficit hawks, defense hawks, isolationists, and opportunists.  It also has strong social media backing and following Speaker Boehner’s purging of four key Tea Party members, the war within the GOP was underway.  Most recently Karl Rove is mobilizing his political action committee to make sure weak Tea Party candidates do not threaten establishment Republicans.  Yes the battle on the right is far from over.

But what will be the message as we approach the 2014 mid-term and 2016 presidential elections?  If the social conservatives insist on opposing social progress and attacking contraception, woman’s healthcare, and minorities the GOP’s fall will continue.  If the party rallies around new leader such as Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Susanna Martinez, or others it is possible that a more centrist approach could develop.  Unfortunately for the GOP, it seems unable to get on message and when the primary season starts in two short years I see a repeat of the 2012 tack to the right.

Now the GOP seems to be putting stock in this collection of new emerging stars. But, the GOP doesn’t have a monopoly on rising stars.  For every Marco Rubio there is a Julian Castro, for every Chris Christie there is a Martin O’Malley or Andrew Cuomo, for every Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan, there is a Cory Booker, Gavin Newsom, and Elizabeth Warren.  Yes both sides will be promoting new fresh faces in 2016 and watching the GOP trying so hard to promote Rubio at this early stage could lead to over exposure and scrutiny.  Then again, the GOP also could roll out Bachmann, Rand and Ron Paul, Santorum, Gingrich and John Schnatter (continuing the tradition of Conservative CEO’s of shitty pizza companies) and in the process could a moderate like Christie refrain from getting pulled to the right?

So unless the GOP can come up with a new message that isn’t a repackage of the tired privatization, tax cuts, anti-social programs, anti-labor, state’s rights amalgam it is unlikely to make significant headway in reclaiming the White House without a legitimate messenger who can expand the base beyond the limited 2012 coalition.  Then again in politics, the right messenger at the right time can still win with an inferior product. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Recap #Rubio #Education #Hagel


1.       How can you expect to convince a creationist about climate change if they think the earth is only 6,000 years old.

2.       Still can’t figure out how Silver Linings Playbook garnered all of those Oscar acting nominations.  Further putting Bradley Cooper in there with Daniel Day Lewis is pink slime to filet mignon.

3.       Memo to Frank Luntz and GOP: you can’t call it rebranding and then roll out the same tired message.  And using young Marco Rubio is like polishing a turd.  It’s still a turd.

4.       Rumor in AZ is retired astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Gabby Giffords, is considering a run in 2016 against John McCain.  Let’s hope so.

5.       A Bieber-free and Gaga-free Grammy Awards was very special.  Now if we can keep Taylor Swift away.

6.       I really want to enjoy SNL, but the writing is so bad it’s getting harder and harder.  And please stick a fork in that awful Californians sketch.

7.       Left leaning media loves to single out Israel for its blockade and isolation of Gaza.  Yet it was the Muslim Brotherhood led government in Cairo that flooded the smuggling tunnels linking Gaza to Egypt’s Sinai.  This rift between the allegedly close Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood highlights how dangerous Gazan militants remain.

8.       According to a recent Gallup poll the five most religious states in America are Mississippi, Utah, Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas.  According to the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) report on American Education ranking of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Mississippi ranks 48th, Utah 41st, Alabama 34th, Louisiana 49th, and Arkansas 45th.  Conversely, the most nonreligious  states and their respective education rankings are Vermont (2nd), New Hampshire (9th), Maine (14th), Massachusetts (1st), and Rhode Island (6th).  By the way, there is a direct correlation between education and ranking and median income. 

9.       Want to know why the Chuck Hagel SecDef nomination was filibustered?  Here it is straight from the horses’ ass, John McCain:  But to be honest with you, Neil, it goes back to there’s a lot of ill will towards Senator Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly and say he was the worst President since Herbert Hoover and said the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War, which was nonsense. He was anti-his own party and people — people don’t forget that. You can disagree but if you’re disagreeable, then people don’t forget that.”  Yes the GOP blocked the nomination of a FELLOW Republican because he spoke out against the party.

10.   From the editorial page of the Financial Times: “As the Financial Times has long argued, austerity is necessary for countries with record high deficits and reliant on mobile investors.  But economies with relative fiscal space, such as the large euro members, or those with captive bond markets – the U.S. and Japan – should relax the tightening.”  Logic that seems to be incomprehensible to deficit hawks.

11.   Republicans oppose spending money on cyber security because there is no photo op potential.  Now building another unnecessary aircraft carrier….

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ethics: Right versus Right

John Brennan, President Obama’s choice for CIA chief, faced questioning this week from the Senate Intelligence Committee on the administration’s drone program.  This coming soon after the release of the Department of Justice’s memo establishing the legality of drone strikes against American citizens linked to terror organizations like al-Qaeda, has raised a great deal of awareness about the administration’s anti-terror program.  The debate has stirred a lot emotion, confliction, and conversation; a national dialogue that is important and necessary.  I have seen liberal vs. liberal arguments in the media, social and otherwise, and there seems to be some debate, to a lesser extent, amongst those on the right.

Yes the debate is good.  When people question the legality, effectiveness, and ethics of a policy, we are better off.  This week I have seen multiple versions of the following opinions:

·         Drones keep our soldiers out of harm’s way

·         If you’re an American and join al-Qaeda you give up your rights to due process

·         Drones strikes are OK under President Obama because he can be trusted

·         We need to have checks and balances and Congress should have oversight

·         Why does the CIA have its own opaque drone program apart from the DoD?

·         Americans support the use of drones

·         Sure we may have killed a few civilians, but that is the cost of war, and things would be worse if we had to send in troops

The courts can decide the legality of the administration’s position.  But when it comes to the effectiveness, I believe we will soon go beyond the point of diminishing returns to the point of negative impacts.  If we thought that Gitmo and Abu Ghraib were recruiting tools for al-Qaeda, what do you think will be the result of the hundreds of drone strikes and the constant threat of Hellfire missiles?  While we may be decimating al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan, we are now in the middle of a dangerous game of Whac-A-Mole as terror organizations pop up across North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Africa, and Southeast Asia. 

The DoJ memo does create some serious questions and provides insight how an executive branch may rationalize its powers.  The definitions of ‘associate’ and ‘imminent’ are awfully loose in the DoJ memo:

We are finding increasing recognition in the international community that a more flexible understanding of "imminence" may be appropriate when dealing with terrorist groups, in part because threats posed by non-state actors do not present themselves in the ways that evidenced imminence in more traditional conflicts.

We could play hypotheticals and ask questions all day long:

·         What if there is a US-based al-Qaeda organization and it fits the category?

·         Is this any different than launching cruise missiles at the Sudan in the 1990’s?

·         Would US citizens accept a foreign nation firing missiles at its citizens?

We are talking about some very evil men here and yes innocents have been killed in our war against terror.  And often ethical decisions come down to right vs right, and not right vs wrong.  Is it wrong to want to save US citizens?  How do you choose between liberty and security?  Is one American life worth more than a Pakistani life?  Is it unethical to not take extreme action if lives of Americans are at stake? 

At the end of the day, an expansive executive branch with increasing powers is not in our nation’s best interests.  On the other hand, I have seen very little from the legislative branch to instill any confidence that those on Capitol Hill have with ability to get anything done.  That leaves the judicial branch to determine the legality of the executive’s actions and that is critical to the survival of the Republic. 

At the end of the day, it is never easy to  choose between undesirable options, but that’s what our leaders are required to do.  And it is up to us to question those decisions if we are to call ourselves free.  I do support the drone program, and I do so after serious assessment.  Further, I do not vilify or resent those that may have a different opinion, after all, that’s what Democracy looks like.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Highlights From Another Trip to Israel

Another post from 40,000 feet above the Atlantic on my way back from Israel, and like every previous visit there was plenty of news, experiences, fun, hard work, and observations.  And of course wherever there’s an election, there is election analysis.

Over a week ago, 64% of Israelis went to the polls to elect a new government after the current government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for early elections.  Netanyahu’s Likud party and its coalition partners assumed an easy go of it and that the electorate would deliver a mandate of four more years of lip service concerning a two state solution, bellicose relations with the US, increased isolation from Europe, and more settlement building.  Well a funny thing happened on the way to the polls, of the 120 Knesset (Parliament) seats up for grabs, 60 seats when to left or center-left parties, and 60 seats when to right or center-right parties. Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party (Likud merged with Yisrael Beiteinu) did end up with the most seats, 31, but that was a significant loss compared to the 45 Likud received in the previous elections.  President Peres will set a deadline for Netanyahu to form a new coalition and early indications Bibi will form a more centrist government by bringing in the upstart Yair Lapid, the TV news anchor turned politician, whose Yesh Atid party garnered the second most votes.  The next four weeks will be very interesting to see the makeup of the next Israeli government and its domestic and Palestinian policies.

This visit to Israel included another trip to Jerusalem to explore the old city; a tour I never get sick of as we included a trip through the excavation tunnels along the western wall underneath the Muslim Quarter, literally a trip through time.  Of course the excavation is not without controversy as Arabs believed the Israeli excavation was a plot to set off explosives under the Dome on the Rock at the Temple Mount and destroy the third holiest site in Islam.  Of course it would also destroy Zion, the holiest site in Judaism where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac and when the Temple of Solomon once stood.  Yes, looking for rationality in politics and religion is like looking for a needle in a haystack on the dark side of the moon without a flashlight.

The visit was also highlighted by a little military action as Israeli jets attacked, depending on who you believe, a convoy carrying Russian-made SA-17 missile batteries and/or a ‘research center’.  The attack took place in three sorties late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning, less than 12 hours after we heard a pair of jets fly at full military power over us in the Galilee in northern Israel.  Immediately after the attack, the usual condemnations were issued by the Iran, Syria, Hezbollah Russia, and the Arab League.  Missing from that list was Jordan.  Israel’s moderate neighbor has been working with the Jewish State in securing Syria’s chemical weapons as the al-Assad government implodes.  Once again the Arabs leave it to Israel to do the dirty work in the region.  The other striking observation from the aftermath of the aerial attack was the sustained normalcy of Israelis as they went about their normal routines and the media hype of impending retaliation from Iran.  I can honestly say that I was never concerned about safety; the Israeli mindset is to deal with adversity and threats and carry on.

This week, the farcical United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) issued yet another condemnation of Israel over settlement building.  The  council went as far as to threaten Israel with charges before the International Criminal Court (ICC).  Now, I have been critical of the current Israeli government and its opposition to a lasting peace accord, but the UNHRC is a joke:

·         40% of the group’s condemnations are aimed at Israel

·         The latest report did not include any actual visits to the settlement areas

·         This austere body has recently added Sudan as a member.  Yes the home of Darfur has been approved as a member.

So another visit is in the books and while the region sinks further into civil breakdown, Israel remains the sole, albeit imperfect, democratically elected free state.  I look forward to my next visit.