Saturday, March 25, 2006

Thoughts on McCain

The Arizona Senator is probably in as powerful position as he could be. He occupies a unique position in that he holds a lot of Republican support because, well, because he is a Republican and he gets considerable popular support from Democrats and Independents because he isn't afraid of taking pot-shots at the party establishment. The trouble is that if he were elected President, he would be the party establishment. He would no longer be able to snipe at the administration or party leadership who he would need in order to get anything done. At this point his support on the left side of the aisle is likely to fade. Add to this fading support from the left the fact that his support on the right lacks a lot of depth, and you see a situation where McCain actually has more political power as long as he isn't in the White House.

In order for McCain to build a sturdy base of support that can weather his entering the position he has so often criticized, he would need to build support in the Republican base. I believe that any large effort aimed at wooing the more conservative elements would further alienate him from the more liberal elements that have represented a good portion of his popularity. He would find himself no longer the media darling he is now. I believe his popular support would erode very quickly upon taking office as President.

I believe that Rudy Giuliani has a better shot of maintaining his political support after an election and would also draw a large number of cross-over votes from moderate Democrats. Recent polls show him beating Hillary in head to head polls but it is still early. Neither candidate is actively campaigning and neither has managed to put their foot in their mouth so far, though Hillary might have recently come close with her Jesus comments.

My basic gut instinct is that I can't take a McCain run for President seriously. He will be 70 years old this August while Rudy will be 62 in May. Rudy has a track record of being a popular executive who was cool and effective in a crisis. McCain in public office is untested in both that position and condition but overall, I believe it will be a melting away of his pre-election support that would make him ineffective. His approval ratings in his first time might rival Bush's second term numbers if he is unable to keep the moderate Democrats in the fold. That might be hard to do when he is no longer sniping at fellow Republicans and targets the opposition Democrats instead.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Al Qaeda and Israel

Lately there has been a flurry of news reports speculating about an increased Al Qaeda focus on Israel. If this is the case then, in my opinion, it indicates that Al Qaeda is growing ever more desperate to gain support of the Muslim masses. As it has managed to rack up failure after failure in other areas and the broad rally of support they hoped for never materialized, they are forced to fall back on the one issue that they think all Muslims can agree on. By shifting their remaining resources to Israel, they possibly hope to finally gain some support but even that seems to be backfiring. Hamas has dismissed Al Qaeda's overtures of support in a very vocal and public way. Neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan have recently undertaken operations against Al Qaeda cells. Al Qaeda's methods in Iraq continue to disgust Muslims and in even the tribal regions of Pakistan, many tribal leaders are unconvinced and are taking a "wait and see" approach in the latest government initiatives to root out terrorists rather than giving their full support to extremist elements.

So I see the latest reports of Al Qaeda aiming their operations at Israel as an indication of our success. They are apparently leaving Iraq in droves, the Sunni population in Iraq is turning against them, they are losing their support in the tribal regions of Pakistan, Muslims all over the world are turning their backs on them and refusing to join their brand of jihad. Using the Palestine - Israel conflict as a means to gain legitimacy has to be near to a last ditch effort to. As even the more militant groups in the conflict reject Al Qaeda's offers of support, one can only imagine that whatever leadership is left must be laying awake at night wondering what went wrong.

I believe this summer we will see the undoing of a great amount, if not the bulk of what remains of their networks and skilled operators. I would equate the installation of the final elected government of Iraq with the end of the battle of Guadalcanal in the Pacific in 1943. It will mark the definitive turning point and be the second concrete failure of Al Qaeda and their associated fanatics. Rather than have masses of Muslims running to them and overturning existing governments in order to build a sharia-based caliphate, they will be seen as on the run again, scrambling for support, and sticking their noses into other people's battles.

Hey, Osama ... you are failing ... globally.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Ports Mess

Here we have yet another case of the media creating a tempest by playing on people's emotions rather than presenting real data and providing real analysis. The Dubai ports deal was a non-issue that was used to whip up all kinds of emotional knee-jerk reactions from politicians and the public. Lets look at some facts.

What we are talking about here is a company operating a shipping terminal. A terminal loads and unloads ships. The people doing the loading and unloading are American longshoremen no matter who owns the terminal. Dubai isn't going to ship a colony of Arabs here in order to unload ships. Secondly, like an airline operating a passenger terminal, the operator of the shipping terminal is not responsible for port security or customs. In fact, our greatest worry shouldn't be here where the ships are unloaded, but at the port where the cargo is loaded. Who runs the terminal here has no bearing on what was loaded at the originating port.

In many news stories, it was presented as if the government approved transfer of ports to Dubai under some sort of secrecy. In fact, the US didn't "transfer" control of anything to anyone. A British terminal operator was bought by a UAE terminal operator. The same people would still show up to work every day at the US port to actually unload the ships. These would be Americans that live right here and work at the port for the terminal operator.

Having an American company operate the terminals here in the US does nothing to improve security where the cargo is loaded nor does it in any way improve security of the containers while they are in transit. If security were the real issue, we would be more worried about port operators in other countries than here where the cargo is unloaded.

The US is practically out of the global shipping business. There are practically no US flagged cargo ships left compared to what we had in the 1950's and 1960's. The US Merchant Marine is barely even a skeleton of it's former self. Very few ships are US flagged and crewed so having the cargo in foreign "hands" when it is loaded and while it is in transit is a much greater security threat that who unloads the container at the end of the line.

Nobody complains that China runs Long Beach harbor or that other foreign companies run other harbors. Again, they are terminal operators, not owners of the ports. The port operations are generally the responsibility of various oganizations called the Port Authority for the jurisdictions involved. Customs and Border Patrol are responsible for the goods and people that come through the ports no matter what company operates the terminal just as they are at airports no matter which airline runs a particular terminal.

In general, the media stories presented the issue as if the US Government was handing over 6 US ports to an Arab country. This is deliberate mis-information and designed to provoke an emotional response from the people which then causes a response by politicians that plays on those emotions rather than actually thinking through what is actually happening.

Here is what *I* think will happen: Some US port operator will begin to operate the ports. They will lose money or the port will lose traffic and some foreign operator will then buy the operations from them just as the British company did before. The simple fact is our port operations are being bought by foreign companies all the time. Placing the operations of the terminal into the hands of a US company doesn't mean it will be profitable. If the US company can not operate the port at rates that are competitive with other ports, the traffic will move to the lower cost ports. Take Long Beach. It handles a lot of cargo that is loaded in China by a Chinese company, sails on a Chinese ship, and is unloaded here by a Chinese company. This keeps the costs down. If the Chinese company is forced out and a US company took over, you might see cargo arrive in Mexico instead of Long Beach if the US company couldn't compete in price.

What we are really talking about here is economics. Once again the media has managed to distort the issue and make it into something that it isn't. Personally, I don't care who runs the port terminals. In fact, if it were in my power, I would mandate that at least two different companies operate in each port but we probably don't currently have the facilities to do that. Long Beach, the largest port on the US West coast is operated by the government of China. Bill Clinton signed and executive order transferring operations to China in January 1998 and we had no media blitz. I wonder why.

All this latest tempest in a teapot has done is reinforce with me the fact that 50% of the US population is below the median intelligence level (by definition, in fact). Having a crane operated by a foreign company that moves a container from a ship to a rail car is a lot less of a security threat to me than who crews the ship and who loaded the containers at the other end.