The New York Times Correctly Tackles General Barry McCaffrey

This front page story on General Barry McCaffrey is very troubling, and brings into focus how military commerce is in need of some house-cleaning and ethical reforms. I also must add it is imperative that networks, such as NBC, do a better job of alerting viewers to the background business interests of military men like McCaffrey, who are used as network analysts and policy proponents.

Through seven years of war an exclusive club has quietly flourished at the intersection of network news and wartime commerce. Its members, mostly retired generals, have had a foot in both camps as influential network military analysts and defense industry rainmakers. It is a deeply opaque world, a place of privileged access to senior government officials, where war commentary can fit hand in glove with undisclosed commercial interests and network executives are sometimes oblivious to possible conflicts of interest.

Few illustrate the submerged complexities of this world better than Barry McCaffrey.

The consulting company he started after leaving the government in 2001, BR McCaffrey Associates, promises to “build linkages” between government officials and contractors like Defense Solutions for up to $10,000 a month. He has also earned at least $500,000 from his work for Veritas Capital, a private equity firm in New York that has grown into a defense industry powerhouse by buying contractors whose profits soared from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, he is the chairman of HNTB Federal Services, an engineering and construction management company that often competes for national security contracts.

Many retired officers hold a perch in the world of military contracting, but General McCaffrey is among a select few who also command platforms in the news media and as government advisers on military matters. These overlapping roles offer them an array of opportunities to advance policy goals as well as business objectives. But with their business ties left undisclosed, it can be difficult for policy makers and the public to fully understand their interests.

On NBC and in other public forums, General McCaffrey has consistently advocated wartime policies and spending priorities that are in line with his corporate interests. But those interests are not described to NBC’s viewers. He is held out as a dispassionate expert, not someone who helps companies win contracts related to the wars he discusses on television.

Southern Wisconsin Weather Radar

I tend to have lots of radar sites in my weather file.  Each has a unique look and feel.  I tend to think that one can’t have too many radar sites, or pairs of shoes.  This one from WISN has a nice look, especially when a winter storm is bearing down on southern Wisconsin.  Enjoy the radar site…….and the snow!

How President Bush and al-Qaeda Are Alike

Now before anyone gets all freaky on me based on the headline to this post, let me say this is a serious argument.  As I was reading a book review this afternoon I agreed with the plausible view from an author about the state of affairs as it relates to the Middle East over the past many years.  This argument is not new, (many of us have argued the same geo-political aspect about past policy but never wrote a book) but according to the review is written in such a fashion that it may garner a larger audience.  That is a good start as most of the complexities in the world are often misunderstood based on lack of background knowledge.  If we are truly working to resolve the issues ahead of us, we must accept the history that has brought us to this point.

In Gilles Kepel’s telling, it is not only Mr Bush whose strategy failed after September 11th. Osama bin Laden’s strategy failed too. The Bush administration’s “global war on terror” encompassed not only the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq but also a project to spread democracy to the Arabs and remake the dysfunctional Middle East in America’s image. It was, in Mr Kepel’s phrase, “a vision of global rectification through violent means”. That was precisely al-Qaeda’s project as well. Mr bin Laden did not intend only to inflict pain on America and force its armies out of the Middle East. Martyrdom was also supposed to lead the Muslim masses to identify with al-Qaeda, to hasten a general uprising against “apostate” governments like Saudi Arabia’s, to precipitate the establishment of an Islamic state and destroy Israel.

In the event, as Mr Kepel demonstrates, both of these grand, transformative narratives “crashed against a wall of reality within the Muslim world”. Instead of throttling jihadism, the American occupation of Iraq recruited an army of new martyrs to the cause. But far from rallying the Muslim world at large to its banner, the murderous jihad in Iraq—and al-Qaeda’s killing of many Muslims in other Muslim lands—ended up repelling the very audience this epic struggle was intended to attract. Indeed, to the extent that radical Islam grew stronger during this encounter, it was not the Sunni zealots of al-Qaeda who benefited but their rival pretenders to leadership of the Muslim world: notably the Shia leaders of Iran and, after the 33-day war with Israel in 2006, Iran’s Hizbullah co-religionists in Lebanon.

Although Mr Kepel is by no means the first person to mark this ironic and reciprocal tragedy of unintended consequences, he has a rare ability to tell a tale in a way that is easy to follow and yet does justice to the granular complexities of the Muslim world. And his argument has a third leg, one that is more original, more optimistic but also more controversial. This holds that Europe—which both the jihadists and some of Europe’s American detractors (remember “Eurabia”) see as the West’s softest underbelly—is in fact the one place where experiments in cultural integration are flourishing and promise to create “a unique deterrent to the logic of terrorism”.

Saturday Song: Charlie Louvin “Will You Visit Me On Sunday?”

As promised last week here is the final of what I consider to be the top five country and western songs.  Subjective to be sure, but based on what I consider to be the foundations of the genre taking into consideration the lyrics, chords, and presentation.  The other four are listed here.

Today’s song is performed by one of the Opry legends, Charlie Louvin.  It was a real treat to have a long chat with Charlie backstage about two years ago.  While using my pen to sign some autographs for others, we chatted about his traveling time with his brother Ira, and his memories of working with Elvis Presley on the Louisiana Hayride.  There is so much to admire about these ‘old-timers’, as they paved the way for the singers that today garner so much money and fame.  In the days of the Louvin Brothers, it was not uncommon for performers to sing on the back of a pickup truck in a parking lot, and then sell their own records from the truck after the show.  They traveled endless miles over beat up roads, in even more beat up vehicles.  They were gone from home too much, and the toil of the travels took a toll.  There was no slick PR, air-conditioned buses, or fruit bowls with bottled water waiting before the show.  It was much different world.

From 1960 here is “Will You Visit Me On Sunday?” by Charlie Louvin.

Free Nighttime Sky Show Worth A View

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The picture above is from Weikersheim, Germany and can be found here at SpaceWeather. 

The other night as we were driving home from a family Thanksgiving I looked up and saw a most remarkable sight.  It was obvious that both objects were planets…but which ones?  For a short time in the twilight sky you too can see what has been described ‘as the best sky’ show for 2008.  Try and do so before December 1st.

When the sun goes down, step outside and look southwest. Venus and Jupiter are lined up beautifully close together in the twilight sky.  The best is yet to comes however when the crescent moon starts to join the pair. 

Remember this show is free and can’t be seen anywhere other than in the nighttime sky now playing at all backyards near you.  Talking is allowed during this show, and feel free to use cellphones to call others to your backyard.  Popcorn served inside after the show where it is warmer.

Chris Matthews To Run For U.S. Senate In Pennsylvania?

If so, where can I send my check?   There have been rumors (hopes) for a few months about this Senate race, but it seems that some substance is starting to grow to the rumors. 

I have been accused by readers here of having a ‘man-crush’ on Chris Matthews.  If respecting a person’s mind, verbal skills, political philosophy, resume, writing skills, and overall temperament fits that label, then it must be true.  All I know is that I very much want Chris Matthews to be a part of the United States Senate.  Though it means I will not hear his take on the issues from MSNBC on a daily basis anymore, I know that he will have a bigger platform to both inform the public, and turn his views into policy.

I suspect if this story is true that shortly after the Holidays Matthews will make an announcement.

“According to multiple sources, who confirmed the Tip O’Neill staffer-cum-MSNBC host has negotiated with veteran Obama staffers to enlist in his campaign, Chris Matthews will run for United States Senate in Pennsylvania in 2010. Matthews, 62, will run as a Democrat. Arlen Specter, the aging Republican incumbent, will be 80 if he chooses to run for re-election.”

New “Meet The Press” Anchor To Be Announced By December 7

We still all wish there was no need to have a new full-time host for Sunday morning’s famed “Meet The Press”.  If only it could be like it once was.  Tim Russert is still very much missed.

But there is a list of names that I find perfect for the role of his replacement, and three of them are among my favorites on television today.  The announcement of a new host will  be made by December 7th.

Barring a last-minute surprise, network insiders and television news observers expect the new moderator — or moderators — will be drawn from a short list of candidates that include NBC chief White House correspondent David Gregory, PBS anchor Gwen Ifill, NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell and NBC political director Chuck Todd.

I love Gwen Ifill and once hoped that she could have been lured to CBS to fill the anchor role of Dan Rather.  She is steeped in Washington knowledge, and the political process.   Andrea Mitchell has a warm television presence with a keen mind regarding international affairs.  Chuck Todd is a walking storehouse of political acumen, and is perhaps the one that best resembles the mind of Tim Russert.  David Gregory is great at asking questions and demanding an answer, but I wonder if he is the ‘fit’ for the Sunday role as host.

This long serving public affairs program is one that has a proud tradition in our political and journalistic world.  The selection has to be the correct one.

Barack Obama Sets Record For Press Conferences

I think that it is vital Barack Obama have a continuous conversation with the American public over the next many months.  The radio chats by FDR in 1933 were very important during the Great Depression, and Obama can take a lesson from that time as he enters office with another economic calamity bearing down on the nation.  The public is mighty concerned about the state of the economy, and will want to understand what the government is doing to start the process of correcting the situation.  It is important that Obama make strides to use his communication skills to remove fears among the electorate about the future. 

One way for Obama to connect with the public, and address the needs of the press, is to hold press conferences.  I have long chided Presidents who fear the press, and who can’t handle random questions.  But since Obama is an effective communicator I am pleased his aides are already putting him in front of the press often.  So far they have done so at a record pace.  (BTW, this is the type of trivia that makes politics so much fun.)

“Obama beats record for press conferences: In the 22 days since winning the White House, President-elect Barack Obama has taken 22 questions from reporters and has done two sit-down television interviews. The Democrat held his fourth press conference since Nov. 4 in Chicago Wednesday morning — his third in as many days — an unprecedented bit of access for reporters who have grown accustomed to President Bush’s infrequent moments taking questions and already surpassing the last four presidents-in-waiting. Mr. Obama has beat his four predecessors in number of post-election, pre-inauguration press conferences, and is inheriting a troubled nation. With one Cabinet post officially named, he is working at a faster clip than former President Bill Clinton.

“In 2000, Mr. Bush gave one press conference as president-elect, and not until Dec. 19, because the results of his victory over Vice President Al Gore were so long in dispute. As president-elect in 1992, Mr. Clinton held three pre-inauguration press conferences. George H.W. Bush held one press conference as president-elect, on Nov. 11, 1988. Ronald Reagan also held one press conference before his 1981 inauguration. He called the major press conference to trot out his Cabinet nominees, but didn’t show up himself.