Thursday, July 31, 2008

Trip Report Card (Part One)

Of course we couldn't let the Obama-thon World Tour go without analyzing just a little bit... So we officially present to you:

The Obama World Tour Report Card

In the interest of not re-hashing everything that has been on every cable-news channel and news report for the past two weeks this will be a quick strike report card. Quick, clear, and fair. What did Senator Barack Obama want out of his destination, what he got, where that got him, and a Grade. An overall grade is given at the end.


What was the objective: Land the plane somewhere "safe", Visit the troops, feign watchers into thinking he was going to Iraq
What actually happened
: Visited troops, didn't play basketball because he was hurt
: Low media reporting (in part due to clamping down on information about his next destination), not a lot of coverage of him with the troops (besides the picture above and a few more)
: C-, people barely even know he was there.. or that he visited the troops there.


What was the objective: Face time with President Hamid Karzai; Talk about importance of "original" War on Terror
What actually happened: Superb photo-op of Obama (walking with Karzai) looking presidential (above); Obama appears to be brave arriving days after 9 US troops are killed in Afghanistan;
visits Bagram Airbase
: Not a lot of face time with troops or commanders; only stays in safest part of Kabul;
email about his alleged disrespect on his visit to Bagram sets the blogosphere on fire
: B+/A-, First real coverage and pictures broadcast in the US show a confident Obama, followed by Sen. Hagel (R-NE) and Sen. Reed (D-R.I.) talking with President Karzai and looking very much at home

What was the objective: Prove his plan on Iraq is based on facts on the ground, meet with US Generals, meet with the Iraqi Prime Minister (and have him agree with the 16-month plan); battle McCain ads bringing up his two-year absence from Iraq
What actually happened
: Picture perfect. Another Superb Photo of Obama, Gen. Petraeus , and Hagel in a copter over Baghdad; Iraqi PM al-Maliki basically endorsed Obama again.. (this time accompanied by a press conference)
Problems: Sticks around the Green Zone
: A-/A, sticks to his message and seems genuinely Presidential while chatting with Gen. Petraeus and Iraqi PM

What was the objective: Visit an Arab Ally in the region, Meet with the King of Jordan - Abdullah II, Talk about Mid-East Peace
What actually happened
: Met with the King (another great Photo-Op), got Chauffeured by the King (in his Mercedes S600 S-Guard), got lectured on the history and imperatives of Middle-East Peace, visited the ancient Amman Citadel (pictured above - Hagel on right, Reed on Left)
: Getting told what to do by a King without actually being President sort-of hurt, talking about democracy and then visiting and commending a Monarchy is a bit ironic
: B+, not very high-publicity visit but looked very comfortable in the Royal setting and fluent in Middle-East concerns.

What was the objective: Calm American Jewish concerns that he is not Pro-Israel enough, appear interested in solving the Israeli-Palestinian question
What actually happened: Met with PM Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak (pictured above - on left), and FM Tzipi Livini
(pictured above - on right); visits a Holocaust Museum (and looks moved); goes to the West Wall wearing a Yarmulke
Problems: Had conflicting messages about his view for Jerusalem, his youth creates the impression that he is not fully aware of the long painful history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Grade: C, meh.. he didn't do too bad but it seemed too formulaic without much real substance.

To be continued...

Please leave comments! Part II is coming withing a couple days.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Karadzic On his way to The Hague

CNN Reports:

BELGRADE, Serbia (CNN) — Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was en route to The Hague on Wednesday to answer war crimes charges, Serbian court officials said.

Karadzic faces charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the law of war. The charges stem from the 1992-95 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, when Karadzic was president of a breakaway Serb republic.

The onetime psychiatrist and aspiring poet was arrested last week after more than a decade as a fugitive.

All I can say is that I hope this ruthless, heartless villain and War Criminal gets whats coming for him. Although human justice can never truly make this man pay for all the pain and suffering that he enjoyed causing... I hope he is punished in full accordance to the law and is dealt with accordingly. I hope you are afraid of death Mr. Karadzic, because there will only be worse punishment for your crimes thereafter.

Links: Full CNN Story

P.S. I am currently working on a longer piece on the Obama World Tour, keep a look out for it!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Who owns us?

Recently I read an interesting post on which lead me to this very interesting article titled How much oil it'd take to buy the US by Scott Burns of MSN Money. [Part of this post was a response to that post and entry]

He argues that basically the United States is worth 400 Billion barrels of oil or so.. which is approximately the amount of oil that Saudi Arabia and Iran have combined. So basically both of those countries "own" us and he believes that oil has basically become an international currency that is more powerful and telling than Dollars, Euros, or overall buying power.

I, however, still think China "owns" us. First off, they along with foreign nations hold about 44% of US public debt. As of the latest data released (April 2005), China owns 502 Billion Dollars worth of debt, that is 20% of the total debt held by other nations, the 2nd most of any single country (Japan is 1st). So why is it that China is the one I've singled out? Because with so many of the countries on the loooong list of creditors holding US debt, China is the most independent - they don't import very much from the US besides boatloads of cash. Considering we both run a yearly trade deficit of over 60 Billion Dollars (and that number keeps increasing by a few billion every year) and the Chinese Central Bank keeps is aggressively buying US debt, you should be concerned. The more debt that they own the more sway they hold over US policy towards themselves and soon towards others within areas they wish to influence.

What about all those Oil states and the sway they hold with their oil money? Couldn't they organize and influence the US in a far stronger fashion? Nope, because the Gulf states and most other oil producing countries are socio-political messes already under the control/influence of the US, Russia or China.

Furthermore, the two countries picked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iran can agree on only one thing: they hate each other. So no chance of them two getting ahead.

The big blaring flaw with Mr. Burns' argument about oil currency is that it can only be used one way and only once. Unlike Gold or a precious metal which can be hoarded then sold later once oil is used.. it is gone. So the oil currency is not a zero-sum game.. but a negative-sum game. In addition to natural resources like oil the true "currency" of nations lies in things like geography, human workforce, innovation, and governments. I don't mean to detract from the absolutely enormous value and importance that sweet crude oil has on nations but to think of it as a "currency" is dangerous and economically unsound.

So until something radically changes make out all checks to "People's Republic of China".

Strong Moderate

Feel free to comment! Just stay respectful.


International Monetary Fund - US Economic Data
Brillig - Debt Clock
Burea of Economic Analysis, US Dept of Commerce - US International Transactions Account Data

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Enter The Slippery Slope...

As Banks are apparently lining up at the cliff's edge to fall into the chasm of defaulted sub-prime mortgages and unpaid loans the Treasury Department as arrived - a Knight atop his Noble Steed, the Congress at the call of the noble King, George W Bush, the Treasury will dole out approximately $300 Billion (yes, that is US Dollars) to rescue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Aunt Fannie and Uncle Freddie are just too important to lose.. they are close to all of our hearts..

Now, wait a second.. did someone just say THREE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS? Yup, actually the Treasury will be authorized to use unlimited funds to keep the two giants afloat according to a plan that has passed the House of Representatives, waiting for Senate approval - which is very probable, and President Bush has promised to sign. So, how did the $300 Billion dollar figure come up? It is just an estimate generated by the Congressional Budget Office.

You are probably thinking.. well there must be SOME kind of maximum or cap to their ability to "save" failed banks. There isn't. All that we have to go on is a "Trust Me!" from Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and a "Go Get 'Em Tiger!" from the Democratic leadership in Congress. That makes me nervous.. VERY nervous.

The bill that was passed in the House is over 700 pages! The Bill (which after a little digging seems to be H.R.3221) is wide-ranging and is riddled with flowery ambiguous language, problems - for average citizens, bailouts - for banks, rules-changes, and huge latitude for the Treasury Department to "fix" the problem. The bill is very expansive and seems to not be very well-researched or thought out. Example: The bill would allow the government to extend mortgage loans and it allows state governments to buy up foreclosed properties. This will help lenders who would basically get full (or inflated) payments from the government during this time of recession while the families forced out of housing.. get nothing. Furthermore, the Bill creates a slippery slope that opens the door for other banks who are failing (and even those who are not) to get money to stay afloat even with their unfair practices and idiotic sub-prime loans. The flaws to this Bill are so numerous that it really boggles the mind how a Congress would be so irresponsible in an effort to just so it can say it is doing 'something'. How Despicable.

Please call your Senator and encourage them to not this broken irresponsible bill. The Senate Bill name (it apparently does not have a number yet) is "American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008." I know, I know.. hard to be opposed to a Bill with a name like that.. but Titles are deceiving. If you don't know your Senator's office phone number simply call (202) 224-3121 and the Capitol switchboard operator will transfer you to the correct office. Please report back here on what your Senators think of this bill!

Link: House OKs mortgage rescue - CNN Money

Link: Text and Status of H.R.3221 -, the Library of Congress website

McCain VP Pick This Week? Call it Bad Timing

Unless John McCain has the most groundbreaking, remarkable, out of this world Vice Presidential pick I would suggest he keep it under his hat. According to sources around the McCain campaign, Sen. McCain has reduced the options and is ready, as early as THIS WEEK, to announce his running mate.

Why would McCain do such a thing? Is it a terribly slow week in political news and he feels that and his running mate could dominate the airwaves for a few days? Is his communications director on leave and he wants to try his hand at a little PR fun? Is he completely insane? Is his running mate Karl Rove or a fictional super-hero brought to life?

Either John McCain has a very smart communications director.. or he has the absolute worst political team put together for a presidential race since... John Kerry. If John McCain's team is seriously thinking about announcing their VP pick against the torrent of photos, stories, exclusive TV interviews, and appearances by Sen. Barack Obama on his Iraq- Afghanistan- Israel- Palestine- Jordan- England- Germany- Mars trip then the entire team should be fired and replaced by mannequins. The VP pick would drown in the coverage of the Obama trip and wouldn't stand a chance against a month-long attack from Democrats until Obama reveals his shiny rockstar VP. If he's serious about this... WORST. TIMING. EVER.

If he is bluffing to build up some hype about possible picks in order to sort of use the media to vet his possibilities and see what people think of the options.. then he is a pretty smart guy. By the way, the option currently look like: Louisiana Governor, Rich Guy, Government Reform Specialist, and minority Bobby "Token" Jindal, Republican in a crazy Blue/Purple state - Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former rival and Massachusetts ex-Governor Mitt "Mormon Olympics" Romney, America's Mayor and former rival Rudy "9/11 9/11 9/11" Guliani, Florida Governor and friend of the Hispanic voters Charlie "Swing State" C(h)rist. There are a few more.. but those were the big names mentioned and before I get a million email from Hucksters, I left Mike Huckabee off the list because he is a pretty long shot at this point.

The thing that really makes this election interesting is that both sides are so unique that they can really surprise you with their decisions and timing. John McCain is an independent spirit who knows how to get himself out of a political jam - his perseversance. Face it folks, John McCain should have logically quit in the middle of July 2007 with his staff in taters and his finances dwindling into sub-Ron Paul territory, he was SIXTH out of a possible seven or eight big names! He persevered and pulled out win after win with his style of straight talk and direct voter involvement - holding Q&A sessions and open Town Halls at a rate only previously registered by George W Bush's greatest nightmares. Then there is Obama, who is trying out his whole "post-partisan" politics things by driving every political pundit and veteran off the wall. Well.. It is going to be fun! I'll have a full review of the Obama trip later this week.

Link: Story about VP picks with Analysis - CNN

UPDATE 7/23/08 12:00PM Bobby Jindal has ruled himself out of the running for a position serving as John McCain's Vice President, saying that he "has the job I want" as Louisiana's Governor. John McCain is still meeting with him at a privately this week, followed by a meeting with potential picks, Gov. Charlie Crist and ex-Gov. Mitt Romney.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

When The Wrong People Like You...

This friend is nothing to boast about...

I am talking of course about Senator Obama's recent semi-endorsement by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki this week in Der Speigel, a German Newspaper.

You may hear from the Obama campaign that a semi-endorsement by al-Maliki is a true triumph of Obama's international appeal and a show of his foreign policy prowess.. those statements are wrong. Flat out wrong. The withdrawal plan Obama has been talking about for the past.. year or two seems like a pretty good idea.. until you get an endorsement on it from al-Maliki. Why my change of opinion on the plan? The endorsement.

Which leads to the question: Is Al-Maliki really that bad?

Simple Answer: Yes.

More complicated answer: Propping up and promoting PM Nour Al-Maliki is perhaps the one of the biggest mistakes of this Bush Administration. Now it seems natural for the Bush Administration in their simple-mindedness to take a Shi'ite to head the government.. but obviously beyond that fact they didn't do any vetting or research. This man LIVES for Iran and a united Shi'ite front of Persians (Iranians) and Arabs (Iraqis). He is only glad to see US troops getting out of the country because it will mean he will have more latitude and freedom in the targeted killing of Sunnis all in the name of the War on Terror and battling Al-Qaeda.

His power base comes mostly from Shi'ite clerics like Moqtada al-Sadr and al-Sistani who are very clear that they wish Iraq to be a nation for Shi'ites and Shi'ites ONLY. This kind of political alignment is hardly a testament to good will, political reconciliation or national unity.

Furthermore, you cannot trust this man any further than you can throw a dozen used car salesmen. He'll say anything to stay in power and keep international aid money coming his way. That aid money.. mostly goes to pad his and his cronies pockets and as much as 70% of arms bought "for the Iraqi National Army" in fact find their ways to militias run by his Shi'ite thug friends. Sure, he puts on a show every now and then to prove he's actually 'tough' on these militia criminals but in fact every time the outcome is the same, a 'truce' is announced and back to the status quo they go!

Well, I would hate to just rant and demolsih on al-Maliki, as I just did, for too long.. I should probably conserve some energy to spend on offering solutions. (I know, I know.. typical political bloggers and pundits are just suppose to whine without giving alternatives or solutions.. but I'm not your typical political enthusiast)

Solution(s): According to the Obama website, Sen. Obama's plan is basically two movements at once: combat troops out in 16 months, political pressure up to push progress. Instead Obama should focus on a series of benchmarks and goals to remove troops at varying speeds from differing areas depending on the political progress of his "diplomatic surge." The quick removal of troops is not exactly going to ratchet up the pressure on a government whose Interior Ministry basically exists to send out death squads and then protect them as government employees. It is Barack Obama's goal to "end the war" as soon as he is elected but instead taking a page out of this Bush Administration's book by blindly trying to do that, he should direct the military leaders on the ground there of his intentions to begin the removal of all non-essential combat troops and reserves and then listen to where from and when to remove them. The US needs to have a strong presence in the Iraq in order to at least slow down the total influence of Iranian politics on the Iraqi government.

Remember Barack, what this nation needs is a change of politics not just a change of policy.

Link: Original Article about Al-Maliki's Endorsement of the Obama plan - Der Speigel

Link: Analysis of Al-Maliki's Comments to Der Speigel - CNN

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Green Cars: Part Three

Yikes, last time I did this there were some pretty nasty email and a few unhappy comments but the show must go on. It is my responsibility, I feel, to rip off those rosy lenses off the collective eyes of the world and show what kind of improvement so-called "green" cars are really making.

Day Three: Hydrogen Vehicles

Hydrogen makes me think of things like.. the number one, the letter "H", wonderful days of High School and College Chemistry, and of course, the Hindenburg. As it turns out Aluminum had more to do with the Hindenburg accident than Hydrogen so we'll leave it off the list. So how exactly is Hydrogen going to be the next magical substance to make rainbows and make Al Gore smile?

The idea behind Hydrogen powered vehicles is that either 1) they use Hydrogen for combustion alongside gasoline (petrol, for those in the UK) or 2) Hydrogen be used in fuel cells, forced to react with Oxygen which would create a water byproduct and generate electricity to run an engine. [Forgive me if I've oversimplified the processes, these are just description for the Average Joe (or Jane)]

The first method, the gasoline/hydrogen combustion engine, is being used in the beautiful, new BMW Hydrogen 7 (pictured above). This seems to be a pretty good idea, creating a true hybrid vehicle however there are some issues in the realities of this method. First, a passable infrastructure for the mass manufacture and distribution of Hydrogen is about 15 to 20 years away. Second, the hydrogen tank is normally under pressure however, if the car is not used for 17 hours the tank begins to lose pressure and leak out the hydrogen - meaning that if you don't use your car for about 4 or 5 days in a row, your tank will be empty. Thirdly, the process to create and distribute Hydrogen to fueling stations is itself very inefficient. In fact, according to experts in the field it is about 1/4th as efficient as using battery technology and a little less efficient than the current hydrogen fuel cell technology. Overall, I like the idea but unless a major breakthrough happens in the storage and infrastructure of hydrogen fueling stations.. it will remain an Al Gore fantasy not reality.

The second method is using Hydrogen in a fuel cell, react it with Oxygen and water leaks out the tail pipe as electricity runs your motor. This is the more popular vein of hydrogen technology automakers are trying to adapt (such as the Honda FCX pictured above).

Again, most problems with Hydrogen fuel cells is that the technology just isn't caught up to reality. 1) The fuel cell technology is currently prohibitively expensive (they contain platinum and other rare metals) in exchange for comparative performance to most of today's autos. 2) The hydrogen fuel cells are very brittle and weak and cannot handle even the normal bumps and vibrations of an average road. 3) The fuel cells can't stand up to cold weather especially freezing conditions because that impedes their start-up process and the byproduct of the process is water.. which freezes causing some problems in exhaust. 4) The infrastructure is neither in place nor is there a comprehensive plan to implement to get hydrogen stations allover the country. 5) Other fuel cell technologies are far more efficient in a comparison done by MIT's Technology Review in 2007 of grid-to-motor efficiency electric hybrids were 86% efficient in comparison to 25% for the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Ouch... There we go. More than a few reasons why "green" cars are not quite what they are portrayed as, instant band-aids to the world-wide crunch. What is the solution then? Well, until technology and innovation catch up with the dreams of the automobile industry there are a few steps that we can take to curb both pollution and the dependence on oil. You can: ride public transport, drive slower.. you get more MPGs, buy a vehicle that actually fits your lifestyle - no SUVs for Soccer moms and no enormous trucks for guys who will never haul anything, stay smart make less trips with your vehicle by combing them and planning them out. There are plenty more tips I'm sure floating around in the interwebs and if you care to scratch the surface.. you will be flooded.

Link: The Last Car You Would Ever Buy -- Literally - MIT's Technology Review

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Toyota Prius hits 8-yr old boy, Officials worried about Car Noise Levels

[This post is totally unrelated to my previous criticisms of the Toyota Prius as an Hybrid-Electric Vehicle.]

The Story: An 8 year old boy, doesn't look both ways on his bike, rides out into the street and gets hit by a car. The boy isn't seriously injured but does end up on the car's hood with some nasty cuts and bumps. Sounds like an everyday near tragedy...

The Controversy: The car that hit him was a Toyota Prius. The reason he rode into the street is that he claimed he never even heard it coming. This brings up a long brewing controversy about minimum noise levels for vehicles. In the days that cars were first produced it was believed that a vehicle's noise was so loud and harmful to the ears neighborhoods and cities passed laws on when and where a car could be driven. Now, however, vehicles are getting better and better sound damping technologies and can even run silently (on batteries) which is cause the health hazard described above, people not hearing vehicles approaching and putting themselves at risk.


Left Lane News: News Story Here
Left Lane News: Fisker Karma Uses Speakers to produce engine sound
USA Today: Blind People Complain about threats from Silent "Hybrids"

Back from the Brink

Hello All!

We here at the Strong Moderate Blog are back and my, oh my, we have missed a lot! While traveling any connection to the internet was scarce and the quickest speed was 56k dailup. So needless to say there as a slight Political/World news starvation issue.

Anyways, glad to be back. So much has happened since we went offline.. a democratic candidate was chosen that wasn't 100% evil, a few political commentators and figures passed away (may they rest in peace), someone won American Idol, Sen. McCain misspoke, Sen. Obama misspoke, Sen. Hagel is keeping pundits guessing about his next move, the President is alternating between lying low and sounding the charge, July 4th - Happy Birthday America, and sooo soo sooo much more.

We are here to resume coverage. Feel free to leave your comments!

Strong Moderate