Less Debates? Yes, Please!

Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich

Republican presidential candidates during one of many debates that were
part of the 2012 campaign.
Flickr photo credit: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, Pool

Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus made news this past week when he threatened to prevent NBC and CNN from hosting any Republican presidential primary debates in 2016 if they refuse to cancel planned Hillary Clinton-themed projects.  As he said on the MSNBC program Morning Joe, “I cannot have companies that are in the business of making what I consider to be promotional movies about the life of Hillary Clinton . . . depose the candidates for president on the Republican side of the aisle”  Take that, mainstream media!

I’m not going to attempt to suggest that the people at NBC and CNN aren’t dying for Hillary to run in 2016.  I mean, just imagine a primary race in which Joe Biden is the presumptive frontrunner: it might provide plenty of fodder for comedians, but it wouldn’t do much to capture the public’s imagination.  The Clintons, on the other hand, have true star power.  Even the producers at Fox News must be secretly hoping for her to run so that they can reap the benefits of an anti-Hillary campaign.   Continue reading

Insert Cold War Pun/Analogy Here

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White House photo by Pete Souza

When writing about tensions between the U.S. and Russia, it’s all too tempting to choose a headline that brings to mind the Cold War.  I could have gone for, “New cold front hits U.S.-Russian relations”, “U.S.-Russia relationship enters deep freeze”, or “The Cold War is over, but it still feels frosty!”  Yet, in doing so, I think I would not have demonstrated personal creativity so much as a dependence on overused journalistic metaphors.  Instead, I’m going to go the smart Alec route and tell you to come up with your own headline.

All kidding aside, relations between the U.S. and Russia do appear to be on the downswing, although they may not have reached an all-time nadir. (Please note my impressive use of the word “nadir”, which is a much better testament to my creativity than a corny headline.) President Obama just canceled a planned bilateral summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, and he has decided not to meet with his Russian counterpart on the sidelines of the upcoming G20 gathering in St. Petersburg. Continue reading

Let’s Party Like It’s 1588!

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Photo uploaded to Wikipedia by Prioryman, attributed to “Steve”

History has seen its share of monumental rocks.  There was the stone that killed Goliath, the Hope Diamond, the star of films such as Fast and Furious 6, and the renaming of Simon as “Peter”, a.k.a. the rock on which Christ’s church would be built.  But only one rock is currently causing a diplomatic crisis….Well, actually  the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem could be a second, but just forget about that for now.  The rock of which I speak is the Rock of Gibraltar.

Ah, Gibraltar: It only has 2.6 square miles of real estate (that picture above is of the whole thing, plus part of Spain), but a very strategically located 2.6 square miles.  The small peninsula sticks out into the narrow channel connecting the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, making it a perfect location for anyone engaged in either international trade or international warfare.  If it didn’t already exist, the guys who made those palm islands in Dubai would have been forced to create it. Continue reading

In Defense of American Ignorance

I’m going to do something today that might shock even myself.  I’m going to defend the ignorance of my fellow Americans in several areas.  In general, I’m opposed to ignorance.  In fact, I will have to overlook several perfectly valid counterpoints in order to play this role of devil’s advocate.  What you are about to witness is something which may not happen again, but for the sake of argument, it is happening right now.

It is all too easy to point out the deficiencies in the average American’s knowledge about our world, and if it’s easy for me, it’s even easier for foreigners.  Most Americans are more likely to know about the exploits of Kim Kardashian than Angela Merkel (the Chancellor of Germany and current champion on Forbes’s “100 Most Powerful Women” list).  But as I’m about to show, there are perfectly understandable reasons for this state of affairs beyond simple stupidity. Continue reading

Rep. Tom Cole’s Civil War Analogy

With the House Republicans having voted dozens of times to repeal Obamacare (a.k.a. The Affordable Care Act), only to have each of those proposals die upon arrival in the Senate, Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), Sen. Marco Rubio (Florida), and Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) are making a new push to simply defund the program, thus killing it in every sense that matters.

There is some reason to believe that Republicans might have more luck with this approach, since they are clearly more successful at preventing something from passing than ensuring that it gets passed.  However, one Republican isn’t so sure that this strategy can achieve the desired result. Continue reading

Sochi Blues

Friendly mascots prepare to welcome the world to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi - but will they be welcoming the U.S.?

Friendly mascots prepare to welcome the world to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi – but will they be welcoming the United States?

What was meant to be an example of international cooperation is once again a cause for international bickering.

Since the Russian city of Sochi was awarded the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, there have been concerns in some circles that this would give the spotlight to a country with a poor civil rights record, not to mention a city located very close to the tense Caucasus region.  However, it wasn’t until a certain NSA whistleblower decided to take shelter in a Moscow airport that we had a prominent senator suggest that the U.S. should boycott the games.

In an interview with The Hill (a local D.C. paper), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was asked if the U.S. ought to consider a boycott of the Sochi Olympics if Russia grants asylum to Edward Snowden.  Graham agreed that such an action might be in the cards.

“I would. I would just send the Russians the most unequivocal signal I could send them,” Graham (R-S.C.) said when asked about the possibility of a boycott.

“It might help, because what they’re doing is outrageous,” he said. “We certainly haven’t reset our relationship with Russia in a positive way. At the end of the day, if they grant this guy asylum it’s a breach of the rule of law as we know it and is a slap in the face to the United States.”  Continue reading

Ten Pressing Issues for Egypt

Photo by Lilian Wagdy

Photo by Lilian Wagdy

If you have been watching the news at all over the past few weeks, you’ve probably noticed that things aren’t going too well in Egypt.  President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist with close connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, was ousted by the military just one year into his term after massive protests accusing him of authoritarian tactics and a failure to address many of the biggest problems facing the country.  That has led to a counter reaction in which Morsi’s supporters are taking to the streets as well, demanding a return to “legitimacy” and the restoration of the country’s first freely elected president.  It is difficult to predict whether the interim government introduced by the military – which is strikingly free of Islamists – will be able to bring some kind of stability before new elections.  As all of this is happening, the country is also teetering on the brink of complete economic collapse.

Keeping track of all the different factions vying for power in Egypt can be difficult enough for those who study the Middle East, let alone the average observer.  However, there is no question that this is an issue of great importance for the United States.  Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. aid, with a particularly large amount going to the same military that just pulled off what some are calling a “coup” (though others insist that it does not share the same characteristics as a typical military takeover).  It is also the most populous country in the Arab world and a historic leader in the region.  Equally important for many Americans is the fact that Egypt has the longest standing peace treaty with Israel of any Arab country, and its border with both Israel and the Gaza Strip mean that it will always be an important player in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Continue reading

Ironic Prophets

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Tourists inspecting the interior of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Sometimes the wrong person says the right thing – and humanity is better for it.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  These words are familiar to most Americans, despite the fact that they may fail to remember whether they come from a) the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, b) the Bill of Rights, or c) the Declaration of Independence. (If you guessed “c”, you’re right.) Whenever an American feels their rights are being violated, they’re likely to make some mention of this universal claim to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, the holy trilogy that tends to define our sense of individual dignity.

Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, was a true believer in the philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment.  Historians debate the primary inspirations for Jefferson’s text, but one person commonly mentioned is the English writer John Locke.  In his classic work, Two Treatises of Government, Locke argued that government exists to protect the individual’s “life, liberty and estate”, or more generally “property”.

Similar language also existed in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, authored by George Mason, which was adopted a few weeks before the Declaration of Independence and seems to draw heavily on Locke’s themes.  It spoke of a person’s “inherent right”, which it specified as “the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety”.  It seems likely that one or both of these documents influenced Jefferson, though we may never know for sure why he chose not to emphasize “property” or “estate”, opting instead for the “pursuit of happiness”. Continue reading

Jay-Z vs. British History

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An article by Bloomberg caught my eye this morning which compares Jay-Z’s new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, to the original Magna Carta.  For those who need a quick brush up on their history, the Magna Carta (Latin for “Great Charter”) was a thirteenth century document outlining the rights of the English barons in relation to their king.  It is seen by many as a precursor for the kind of personal rights citizens enjoy today, though in reality the pledges contained in the Magna Carta were at times flouted by power hungry English kings.  Jay-Z’s new album, on the other hand, is more grandstanding than history lesson.  Check out the article here.

Was Mohamed Morsi Doomed to Fail?

The New York Times carried an interesting article yesterday noting the sudden improvements that have occurred in Egypt since President Morsi was ousted last week.  Gas lines have disappeared, electricity outages have decreased, and police are back patrolling the streets.  Is this proof of Morsi’s incompetence, or could it be a sign of something more sinister?  The article, written by Ben Hubbard and David Kirkpatrick, seems to lean toward one of those interpretations.

The apparently miraculous end to the crippling energy shortages, and the re-emergence of the police, seems to show that the legions of personnel left in place after former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011 played a significant role — intentionally or not — in undermining the overall quality of life under the Islamist administration of Mr. Morsi.

Continue reading