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Extremism at the Gates

October 19, 2010 Leave a comment

The Hutaree Militia: faces of the new extremism.

This morning, the news that shots were fired at the Pentagon broke. I want to direct towards you to my immediate reaction: “Man, that is one step closer to a cataclysmic attack by right wing extremists. Nut jobs.” Then I stopped myself. Was that really my first reaction? WHEN did we get to a point in this country that my mind instantaneously went there? It is probably part fear-mongering media. Oh, and part political sensationalism. It is possible, though, that another part of it might actually be realistic fear? Disturbingly, I think that might just be the case.

Right-wing anger and fringe extremism began its resurgent crescendo during the lead-up to the 2008 election. President Obama received Secret Service protection earlier than anyone else in history during an election cycle. That was just the beginning. Then came threats against Democratic lawmakers during Healthcare reform. Then the Huturee Militia. Then James von Brunn and the Holocaust Museum shooting. So what’s next? A shooting at the Pentagon? It really does not seem so off-kilter when you put the last two years in context. It’s really shocking. This is not what America is about. Clearly, fringe elements are creeping closer and closer to the middle of society.

If we broaden our scope (to include nonviolent extremism), that point becomes even more pointedly clear. Look no further than the candidacies Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell. Sharron Angle, taking on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada, has suggested agitated Americans could take up arms against the government, told Hispanic students that they “look more Asian” and lambasted the idea of mandated maternity leave and care for autistic childern. Christine O’Donnell, running against Chris Coons in Delaware, has discussed her dabbling in witchcraft, faltered at naming one  (ONE!!!) Supreme Court decision she did not agree with in the past two years and, just today, questioned the validity of the separation of church and state.

Sharron Angle leads Sen. Reid 50%-47%. Christine O’Donnell (mercifully) now trails Mr. Coons 51%-40%.*

No matter where your political allegiances lie, I hope we can all admit that the mere contention of these candidates in Senate races signifies a shift to the more polarized ends of the political spectrum. It would not have even been conceivable 10 years ago. But these candidates, and their chances, are real. The anger that has propelled them to prominence is real. What does it all mean? I am not entirely sure. But I do know this: extremism, of all kinds, is closer to the gates of our society and political system than any other time in the past 50 years.

We should all, Democrats and Republicans, be on notice.

*It is important to note that Delaware is much more consistently a “blue” state than Nevada.

Mining for Reform

October 18, 2010 Leave a comment

The safe, dramatic and successful rescue of all 33 Chilean miners this past weekend can be summed up in one word: miraculous. The images of the rescued miners, most of which are now iconic, ascending from the bowels of the Earth moved hearts across the globe. Your own blogger choked up for a minute. Or possibly even two. It was a breathtaking display of teamwork and determination between countries (the rescue plan was devised by a company from Kansas), companies (Oakley donated the sunglasses miners used to transition back to sea level) and average citizens. It was all a joyous sight to behold.

Mining: A deadly industry.

Now rack your brain. When was the last mining accident, before Chile, that you remember with a happy ending? The only one that comes to my mind is the Quecreek Rescue in 2002. In a triumphant display, nine miners were pulled to safety after being trapped for days underground in Pennsylvania. A happy ending; much like those brave men in Chile.

But let’s not try to fool anyone here. That was a long time ago. That was eight years ago.

In 2005, an earthquake triggered a gas explosion in a coalmine in Northern China killing over 200 miners. It was, at the time, the country’s worst mining disaster. In Siberia in 2007, over 70 lives were lost when a buildup of methane reached its breaking point and took the mine with it. In 2009, in Heilongjiang, again in Northern China, there was another mine explosion; it ended the lives of over 100 workers. This April, in West Virginia, 29 miners lost their lives to an accident in the Upper Big Branch mine. It was the worst mining disaster in the United States since the 1950s. In May, 90 Russians lost their lives in another mining calamity in Siberia. This list could go on and on and on…and on… well, you get the picture. The happy ending for the Chilean miners and their families is the exception; not the rule.

I raise these, admittedly morbid, incidents because they illustrate the lack of international mining oversight that is needed to safeguard the lives of workers that keep this world running. Too often facts about accidents are swept under the rug by governments. Too often corners are cut at the expense of safety to bolster productivity. Too often people are dying. The worst accidents, unsurprisingly, are happening in developing nations where oversight and regulation are the least stringent and populations, straddling impoverishment, are willing to work in life threatening situations. These are the places that need substantial reform swiftly.*

I am not naive when speaking to the subject of international implementation of norms. Global mining law would inevitably put restrictions on some free market activities and could be called an infringement on sovereignty by countries that are mostly mined by state run/affiliated entities. (I.e. China & Russia.) Understanding this, it will be near impossible (no, definitely impossibe) to set in place codified safety rules that are internationally enforceable. Maybe even a “pipe dream.” But we have to try. We owe it to all 33 Chilean miners. More importantly, we owe it to all of those who have lost their lives in the depths of the Earth.

Until then, though, we will still be hearing the same old disheartening stories. Like we did this week. This time from Ecuador and China.

*I’m not suggesting that the United States does not need urgent reform as well. I believe it does. But on the scale of need, these other locales take priority.

The Afghan-Pakistan Conundrum

October 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Pakistan: the regional powder keg.

Our armed forces and their NATO allies are now plodding into the tenth year of the War in Afghanistan. After a decade fighting in remote, inhospitable terrain against a foe that is constantly bolstered by widespread public discontent in the civilian government; a policy tipping point is fast approaching. Since June, the Obama Administration has publicly confirmed that it will tentatively begin the draw-down of troops in Afghanistan in the Summer of 2011. (I will quantify this by saying that 10 months is a long time; the Administration and the Department of Defense are not soothsayers and have no idea if the timeline will be adhered to.) But as that political line-in-the-sand creeps closer, constituents, policy wonks, talking heads and law makers will be scrutinizing the gains made in Afghanistan in the past ten years and the prospects of the war succeeding in its goals. The consensus will likely follow the views of the general public: that the war cannot succeed based on an opposition to American involvement and disillusionment with the mission.

A quick analysis of the War in Afghanistan will reveal a myriad of facts that will establish one truth: that Afghanistan is almost unwinnable because of truly impassable terrain, a civilian government racked by corruption, a continually active insurgency and a lugubrious economy. The facts leave little doubt in this conclusion. These seemingly insurmountable developmental challenges are inextricably linked by a common factor that has been, until last week, missing from the collective American consciousness: Pakistan.

Realistically, I cannot sit here and claim Pakistan is an actual “lost factor” in America’s discussion of the war. We have, for a year(s), heard about the Pakistani Taliban, cross-border drone strikes and the country’s shady, if obviously visible, links with Islamist extremism. However, these negative topics about our strategic ally have always been brought to light by independent organizations, pundits and policy groups. That is to say, US government officials are not usually the derivation of maligning conversations about Pakistan. This has been the case since the Bush Administration’s buddy-buddy relationship with ex-Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf (yes, strongman) to the Obama Administration’s working friendship with the venerable Benazir Bhutto‘s corrupt widower Asif Ali Zardari. That is, until last week.

Last Wednesday, the White House produced a report on Pakistan and delivered it to Congress. The game changing factor of the report comes in the frank language the Administration uses to describe the very real, lack of veracity that permeates the Pakistani Government’s attempts to tackle Islamist groups within its borders. This is the first time that a recent American administration has charged the Pakistani authorities with not actively combating extremist groups that it can, in most likely scenarios, handle. So why does Pakistan do this? Why has it not throttled the groups that are detrimental to Afghanistan’s and its own security? Ironically, it has nothing to do tacit religious complacency or desired influence in Afghanistan. It has everything to with its looming neighbor of 1.1 billion.

India, the unseen influence in Afghanistan.

Understanding this, I want to draw your attention to the one integral issue that will be the eternal hurdle to winning the War in Afghanistan: Pakistani-Indian relations, more specifically, Kashmir.

Now, you may ask, “how does that perpetual conflict affect the Taliban and Afghanistan?” Unfortunately, the two are much more closely linked than any official of the United States, Pakistan or India would likely admit. Pakistan, since the beginning of the decades long conflict, has been fighting a proxy war with the Indian administrators of Kashmir through the training of Kashmiri (doubling as Islamic) extremist groups. Pakistan’s secret police, the ISI, have been involved in the preparation of militants aligned with Lashkar-e-Taiba (which gained international notoriety for their attacks on Mumbai) and a myriad of other jihadi groups. Mr. Musharraf, just this past week, confirmed this oft debated fact. Because of the volatility of relations between the two regional powers, Pakistan decided that it would be in their best self-interest to promote these independent, violent actors (mostly in the Federally Administered Tribal Regions) in case any conflict were to combust. The result has been better than intended. Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore; all have experienced violence committed by groups linked to the lawless tribal regions. The infamous Wazirstans, the stronghold of every group from the Pakistani Taliban to al-Qaeda, are now in the grip of extremism that is dauntingly difficult to loosen. In bolstering supranational organizations, the Pakistani authorities unintentionally (maybe intentionally unintentionally?) created the forces successfully hindering NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Now this is all fairly rudimentary knowledge for any one who has studied the region; most have not, however. What I want to stress is that all of these policies were introduced and acted upon under the auspices of competing with India; it was unequivocally the motivating factor. THIS is the part of the Pakistan conversation that is missing in the American media though is integral in understanding Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan.

We cannot discuss all the intricacies of Pakistani-Indian relations here; there is just too much to cover. We can say, however, that since partition, India and Pakistan have used one another for justification of dangerous land disputes (Kashmir), nuclear pursuits and regional power brokering. It has been 63 years. Religious tensions, power politics, bitter history and pure hate (for some, sadly) divide the two powerful nations. Until there is a normalization and warming between the two neighbors, the one-upsmanship and twisted reasoning for shady dealings will absolutely continue. We all have to hope that the day will come soon. If not, Afghanistan may be the least of the international community’s worries in South-East Asia.

The Week in Fodder

July 30, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s Friday… and what’s this… a Week in Fodder posted on the correct day?!!! WEIRD. Well, we did it, got it out in time. A lot of good stuff in this week’s edition… Hezbollah and Lebanon, Catalonian independence, the ESB, Warren Jeffs, mandatory minimums, alcohol and arthritis, crazy Philly fans and SO much more. Enjoy!

World Views:

Hezbollah: Creating tension in Lebanon.

Pakistan Air Blue Crash: Early Wednesday morning an Air Blue flight from Karachi to Islamabad crashed in the hills of Northern Pakistan just minutes before landing. Sadly, all 146 passengers along with 6 crew members perished in the accident. In a remote area, the crash site is near unreachable due to a lack of any form or roads and rough jungle terrain. Rescue workers immediately found a flight recorder; officials are hoping that the recorder will provide insight into the cause of the crash; beyond the weather that was the most likely cause.

Favela Makeover: On Tuesday, Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes announced that slums (favelas) surrounding the city will be receiving a facelift before the 2016 Summer Olympics. Affecting over 200,000 households, the renovations and clearing of the favelas will cost over $4.5 billion. With over 600 communities receiving the “facelift,” the action-plan is audacious. The 13,000 families from the 123 communities that will be displaced by the actual destruction of the most decrepit areas will be relocated. This is the latest move in the ongoing struggle between the Brazilian government and the favela residents. After deadly landslides killed over 200 in April, the Rio government signed a decree into law that would allow the forcible eviction of favela residents. In May, a report by a non-governmental group found the official justification to be standing on shaky legal ground. The bottom line is that the Rio government sees the favelas as a hinderance to modernization for a handful of different reasons. The Olympics provide the municipal powers with the perfect rationalization to make a significant change. It all smacks, disturbingly, of Beijing’s attitude and tactics in the days and months leading up to the 2008 Games.

KGB Redux?: Thursday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed into law a bill that will expand the powers of the ESB; the descendant of the Soviet KGB. The bill passed both houses of Parliament but sparked major debate. In a country where dissent in relation to the Kremlin’s preferred policies is – let’s say – frowned upon, the fact this bill has been so strongly opposed raises red flags about the danger of the new law. The controversy revolves around specific language in the new law. ESB agents will now have the power to “warn officially an individual about the inadmissibility of actions that create the conditions for the commission of crimes.” That is terribly vague and dangerously usable language. In country where freedoms are shrinking, opposition journalists are murdered and Vladimir Putin casts a ever-present shadow, the ESB’s new powers are a disturbing development.

Bullfighting Ban: The Parliament of Catalonia, the semi-autonomous southern region of Spain, voted to ban bullfighting this week. With the vote, Catalonia becomes the first region of Spain to outlaw the historic national pastime. The measure made it to Parliament on the back of a petition signed by over 180,000 persons. While the decision can be seen within the scope of an animal rights campaign, many Spanish political experts believe that this was a power move by Catalonian nationalists to separate themselves from the rest of Spain; proof of a different historical identity. If it was, it was tactfully done. Keep an eye on this story.

Lebanese Tension: After a round of groundbreaking talk between Lebanese, Saudi and Syrian officials in Beirut, there has been a united call for maintained stability and piece in the volatile Mediterranean country. There are signs of a renewed conflict within its borders. After years of turmoil following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005, a unity government was finally formed in 2008. This, of course, included the politically powerful Hezbollah. As the UN investigation into Mr. Hariri’s death wraps up and it becomes more and more likely that it will condemn Hezbollah members, tension is rising. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, stated in a television interview this week that he would not stand for the defamation of his organization; a warning shot across the bow of the UN. After the 2006 War with Israel, Lebanon cannot handle another step backwards. Keep an eye on this story when the UN report comes out.

American Matters:

As his followers stay true, Warren Jeffs gets a new trial in Utah.

SB 1070 Blocked: On Wednesday, Federal District Court Judge Susan Bolton struck down some of the most controversial aspects – the ability of police officers to detain persons the believe to be “removable,” the pressing of all officers to determine immigration status in any kind of routine encounter with citizens and the requirement for all legal and illegal residents to carry proof of residency/legal immigration – of Arizona’s hot-button immigration law. Issuing an injunction against those facets, Judge Bolton cited the laws usurpation of the Federal Government’s sole right to make immigration law in the United States. Arizona immediately launched an appeal. Reaction has been varied. (Here is a little sampling.) SB 1070 is undoubtedly on a fast-track to the Supreme Court.

Jeffs’ Verdict Overturned: The 2007 conviction of Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophetical leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints*** (FLDS), was overturned this week by the Utah Supreme Court. Found guilty of facilitating the rape of a 14 year old FLDS member, Mr. Jeffs was sentenced to two concurrent 5 to life terms in prison. Citing a misrepresentation of legal facts by the judge in the 2007 case, a unanimous decision by the Utah Supreme Court means that further legal action against Mr. Jeffs in Utah is highly unlikely. Luckily, there are charges pending in Texas and on the Federal level against the FLDS leader. Mr. Jeffs ideology and church are immoral, dangerous and unacceptable in our modern United States; I only hope that he stays in prison where he belongs.

***This link is to the FLDS website run by the FLDS. Take it for what you will. OR, as they say, with a grain of salt.

Mandatory Minimum Victory: On Wednesday, after almost 25 years of injustice, Congress finally passed legislation to change the disparity in crack cocaine-powder cocaine mandatory sentencing on a national level. Since 1986, in the midst of the crack scare, Congress passed a law that put the mandatory minimum sentence of a first time crack cocaine offense at a level of 100 to 1 to the same first time offense of powder cocaine. Because of the cheapness of crack compared to powder, the issue quickly became socioeconomic; this inevitably led to a racial disparity. I won’t get into a lecture here. All I will say is this: it’s about damn time Congress.

Blago Trial: Illinois is officially on verdict watch in the Rod Blagojevich trial. After a controversy over Mr. Blagojevich’s lawyer’s closing argument, the jury started deliberation on Thursday. Facing over 20 criminal charges, Mr. Blagojevich is in the midst of one of the most prolific political corruption trial in recent memory. As in all high profile cases, the jury will most likely pontificate for a longer period of time before returning a verdict. Look for one early next week. Until then, however, you can place your bets on when they will come back, here, on Chicagoist.com.

Arlington Controversy: Earlier this year, John Melzer – the former superintendent of the Arlington National Cemetery – was forced to retire over a scandal involving the mislabeling and lack of labeling of at least 600 graves in the national resting place. Yesterday, Mr. Melzer and his right-hand man, Thurman Higginbotham, testified to a hostile Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), citing her own investigation, stated that the errors in labeling, in reality, affected somewhere between 4,000-7,000 graves. Senators on both sides of the aisle attacked Mr. Melzer and Mr. Higginbotham’s handling of the situation. The latter ended up pleading the 5th in response to a myriad of questions; the former blamed most of the errors on his staff. Let’s hope this unfortunate disrespect of our nation’s heros can be fixed sooner rather than later.

Off the Beaten Path:

Feeling arthritic? Drink it down, baby.

Alcohol and Arthritis: A study by the University of Sheffield released this week has found a direct link between drinking alcohol and rheumatoid arthritis relief. The study concludes, using two different test groups, that people who frequently drink alcohol, on whole, have less joint pain and swelling. It’s a victory for all college students, winos and arthritis suffers all over the world. I can already see it. A cop walks up to a car in a suspected DUI stop… “Have you been drinking tonight?” “Sory ociffer, my artritis was flaring up today…(insert hiccup).”

Paul the Octopus… the Great Satan Incarnate?: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave Islamist groups everywhere another reason to hate the West this week: Paul the Octopus. Claiming the octopus represents “decadence” and “decay” among his Western enemies, Ahmadinejad stated that people who believed in soothsaying octopi could not possibly aspire to the “human perfection” that the Islamic Republic does. Let’s call a spade a spade here… Ahmadinejad is a hater. Pure Haterade. He’s just jealous Paulie Boy didn’t pick Iran to win the World Cup. I’ll raise a drink to Paul the Octopus tonight. Will anyone else join me?

Apache on Main Street: This week, an Apache helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing on a street in Kershaw, S.C. due to mechanical problems. The Apache landed on the nearest, safest road when the crew decided it was too dangerous to continue on. The Army left it parked on the street overnight until it could send a truck to pick it up. I can only imagine that AAA call. “What kind of car is it?”…. “It’s actually a $56.25 million Apache…” “You know we only cover the first 20 miles of towing… right?”

The Northwest Passage: Over 150 years ago, the HMS Investigator traveled toward the Arctic searching for the legendary Northwest Passage and a quick link to the Indian silk routes. After getting marooned on the Arctic ice, the crew abandoned the ship. This week, an archaeological team found the ship’s remains. There may be some controversy over this discovery, however. Since the Investigator was found in Canada’s Western Arctic, there will probably be a turf war between Canadian and British authorities as to where the ship’s final resting place will be. I, personally, think it should stay where it is. It’s a testament to the explorers that opened this world for the rest of us; let it sit!

Vomit and the Phillies: Anyone who knows sports knows that Philadelphia fans are a special breed; intense, passionate and mostly crazy. Well this story – and what a story it is – would only happen at a Phillies game. Last Friday, Matthew Clemmens – a native of the Dirty Jerz, that’s a whole different story – intentionally vomited on a spectator and his daughter as the Phillies played the Washington Nationals. That spectator was actually an off-duty police officer; talk about karma. Anyway, Clemmens was sentenced to three months in jail and two years of probation. I mean, are we serious here? When was the last time you went to a sporting even, heckled the person in front of you for an hour and then pulled the trigger and puked on them? Oh right, never. Get better Matthew Clemmens.

Oh, and here’s some Phillies fan action for you…

Quotes of the Week:

LOVING the yacht controversy...

“If you guys think that John Kerry doesn’t have enough sense of either propriety or common sense, that I’m going to be sailing my boat around Massachusetts where I’m highly recognizable but it’s going to somehow stay in Rhode Island and I’m going to avoid a tax . . . I’d be crazy to think that I’m going to be doing that, and that was never our long-term intention here.’’ – Sen. John Kerry in a Boston Globe interview concerning the controversy surrounding his new yacht. New $7 million yacht and referring to himself in the third person? NBD.

“I’m working every day to clear this black mark from me and my family. Give me the opportunity to show you who I am and not who I was that one afternoon.” – Matthew Clemmens at his sentencing. Good luck with that, kid.

Idiom of the Week: To be a bundle of nerves.

This week’s Idiom of the Week describes someone who is nervous and uptight.

Example #1: John was quite a bundle of nerves when his name was called on to read a passage of Hamlet aloud in front of the class.

Example #2: John Kerry was a bundle of nerves when he realized he didn’t pay taxes on his new yacht.

Song of the Week:

This week’s Song of the Week comes from the New Jersey band Real Estate. It’s a great chill, summer tune to put on in the background. Enjoy!

That concludes our Week in Fodder. Hope you got something for your weekend shenanigans. Thanks for tuning in. Until next week, keep living the good life!

DNA and the Fourth Amendment

July 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Our most unique feature.

Recently, the House of Representatives passed the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act of 2010 (H.R. 4614). The Act would amend the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to provide states with financial incentives, through the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant Program, to set up pre-conviction compulsory DNA gathering programs. Katie’s Law – known for Katie Sepich, a 22 year old student at the University of New Mexico who sadly was raped and murdered in 2003 – is only a further step in the growing trend of expanded DNA collection by state and federal law enforcement agencies. It is, however, the first time that the federal government has put a monetary incentive on the implemenataion of such laws; this ratchets up the pressure on states and the Fourth Amendment.

Oklahoma and California are two of the highest profile examples of states adopting laws that require the collection of DNA samples upon felony arrests. The Oklahoma law requires DNA swabs to be taken when a suspect is arrested on suspicion of rape or murder. The California code, however, is more expansive. It again covers murder and rape but it is also includes voluntary manslaughter and any “registrable sexual offense.” This is an unfortunately wide swath of crimes. Depending on the state, you can be put on a sex-offender registry for any offense from indecent exposure to aggravated rape. That is too wide of a spectrum.

The result of adding federal money to the mix of law and DNA is potentially combustible. Let us be honest here, states are always clambering for federal funds to bolster their budgets. This will be no different. I undertand the reasoning behind these laws. Preemptively collecting DNA of suspected violent offenders will create a quick-strike pool in which to compare future samples against. It makes sense. But this is the definition of “the slippery slope.” Implementing, and facilitating the implementation of, compulsory DNA collection laws – for whatever noble motivation – start the government, at all levels, down a path dangerously close to invading its citizens’ privacy at the most basic level. If H.R.4614’s Senate companion passes, I can guarantee that we will see a spate of laws codified with one challenged all the way to the Supreme Court.

Cocktailfodder.com

July 22, 2010 Leave a comment

cocktailfodder.com!!!

We are now at cocktailfodder.com! That’s right, we made the jump.

That is all.

LeBron to Miami: A Team-First Tale

July 22, 2010 1 comment

LeBron risked all the grief in the world for this.

Another day, another guest blogger. Today, we present to you, the one and only, Chazzerific. A maverick of the sporting world, Chazzerific’s first post will give you a new take (YES, a new one!!) on the LeBron James free agency fiasco. He will be helping out, from time to time, in the sports section to keep our voice fresh and sharp. So, without further explanation…

Since LeBron James announced his decision to “take his talents” to South Beach, to team up with Dwayne Wade and the newly acquired Chris Bosh, he’s been called a disappointment, selfish, even cowardly. Critics say the King shied away from his chance to be “the man;”  that he gave up his chance to be considered among the greatest players of all time and failed to fulfill his destiny as the second coming of Michael Jordan. At first, I pretty much agreed with these assessments. Then I realized something. LeBron isn’t Michael. There are similarities for sure: in Cleveland he wore number 23 and he can jump out of the gym just like Mike. However, according to NBA scouts, what really set LeBron apart, even in high school, was his playmaking ability, his on-court vision, passing and unselfish play. In contrast, Michael was a scorer. He is the only player to lead the NBA in scoring during a Championship season and he did it six times. The more I think about it, the more I realize that his move to Miami represents an old school, team-first basketball attitude in a new school, big market NBA. The clash between those two worlds has made LeBron one of the most polarizing figures in sports and overall it has given him a bad rap.

No player, even the players we all know on a first name basis – Michael, Kobe, Larry, Magic, and so on – has ever won an NBA Championship by himself. They were all surrounded by talented teammates. In fact, they all had at least one teammate that, like them, that can be identified by a single name. Michael had Scottie. Kobe had Shaq and then Pau. Larry and Magic were lucky enough to have a couple guys each. Larry had Ainge and McHale. Magic had Kareem and Worthy; you’ve heard of them right? In signing with the Heat, LeBron has succeeded in doing for himself what the Cavs, despite their best efforts, failed to do for him. He surrounded himself with great teammates; a group of players that will highlight his strengths as a passer and a play maker and emphasize team-first basketball.

I know what you’re thinking… if LeBron is such a team-first guy, why in the world did he keep the spotlight so singularly on himself during his free agency? I am not about to try and defend the spectacle that was “The Decision.” As mentioned in a previous Fodder posting, everything about that press conference – from the day-long build up on ESPN to the location from which it was broadcast – was a microcosm of everything that is wrong in professional sports today. So you will not find a defense of “The Decision” here.

The new "Showtime?"

But I digress… critics say that LeBron’s move to Miami is selfish, I would argue the exact opposite. Other teams offered him the Sun and the Moon, but he took less money in order to play for the Heat. Wade and Bosh have done the same. It brings to mind something Bill Russell said in a conversation with KG during the Celtics 2008 Championship run: “You may have to put your arms around a couple guys and take them with you, but you can’t drag them. You’ve got to put your arms around them and take them with you.” A look at the Miami’s revamped roster shows that LeBron, Dwayne and Chris won’t have to drag anyone with them. The team-first, self-second attitude has become contagious. The new additions did cost them some young talent, namely Michael Beasley, who was sent to Toronto as part of the Chris Bosh sign and trade. On the flip-side, however, Miami has been able to retain the services of some young talent in both Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem. Haslem, in particular, will provide a hard-nosed defender and another big body down low during particularly physical contests. While talks with NBA Finals regular Derek Fisher fell through, Miami found veteran role players from other places in the form of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Juwan Howard and Mike Miller; all of whom have played at least 10 seasons in the NBA. Alongside D Wayde, LeBron and Chris Bosh, these salty vets will play a key role in helping to mold rookies Dexter Pittman, Da’Sean Butler and Jarvis Varnado.

Critics say that by joining the Heat, “King” James will never be anything more than a “Prince” in the court of His Majesty Dwayne Wade; is that really such a bad thing though? Magic orchestrated Showtime by distributing more often than scoring yet he is still considered among the greats. Isn’t Lebron capable of similar feats? It’s true that LeBron probably won’t score as many points while playing with two other top ten NBA superstars, but they will play extremely entertaining basketball. Aggressive defense will lead to a fast and loose type of offense with James and Wade exchanging high altitude finishes. In teaming up with D-Wade and Chris Bosh, LeBron may not be “the man” but he will undoubtedly be one of “the men” on what might prove to be one of the most talented teams the NBA has seen in recent memory.  Even if you put all that aside, let’s face it, the guy gets to do something we should all be fortunate enough to do at some point in our lives… work with his best friends. I mean c’mon, who are you kidding? You would jump at the chance to get paid to hang out with best friends at work all day, especially if it meant you might get to win an NBA Championship (or several) and you know it.

Cocktails with the Captain

July 21, 2010 1 comment

Saranac Adirondack Lager - Pick some up.

From time to time, a man has to stand up for what he believes in regardless of the consequences. Damn the Man. Fuck the draft. Screw you editor. We don’t need no stinking patches. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen… I’m going rogue. In this week’s edition of Cocktails with the Captain, I’d like to take some time to talk about my first love, beer (sorry smoking-hot girlfriend), and highlight two of my favorite microbreweries on the East Coast.

The third most consumed drink worldwide, next to tea and water, has been around for a very a long time. As the story goes, some ancient Sumerian brahs living in Mesopotamia said some prayers to Ninkasi, the Goddess of Beer (super-hot for sure), that not only thanked her for her amazing gift but also helped them remember the recipe. Way to go guys.

Just a few years later, I started my own experiments with beer at the ripe age of 21 (19)… (ok 17)… (…16). There were lagers and ales, pilsners and porters, blondes and redheads: I tried them all. As the craft brew revolution began and exploded into the new millenium, the rest of America tried them all too.

SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale. It's good stuff.

My personal philosophy when it comes to beer is that sometimes good things can be hard to find. My two favorite microbreweries are continuing to grow but have not yet gained full exposure. In total, beers sales in America were down by over five million barrels in the last year. Despite this, small brewies experienced  a 7.2% volume increase in sales.

The Saranac brewery, technically the F.X. Matt Brewing Company, nestled in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in Utica, NY, is the fourth oldest family owned brewery in the United States; it is ranked as the 7th largest craft brewing company in the US (or the 15th largest overall) based upon 2008 beer sales volume. You’ve probably seen their Pale Ale. (It almost won the Washington Post’s March Madness Beer Bracket.) But, my personal favorite (perhaps of all time), the Adirondack Lager – a German-style amber lager – was named named the Top Premium Lager by the Great American Beer Festival back in ’91. You should buy some.

The SweetWater Brewing Company was founded in 1997 and quickly made a name for itself in the American brewing scene. By 2002, it had been voted the Best Small Brewery of the Year and awarded Brewmaster of the Year by the Great American Beer Festival. Based in Atlanta, it is largely distributed throughout the Southeast. Their flagship beer – SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale, a West Coast style pale ale – is also my favorite. You should really buy some the second you cross over the Mason-Dixon Line. It’s real good y’all.

(My editor thought I had finally gone an entire post without saying y’all… sucker).

Lieutenant General James Clapper, Good Luck Sir.

July 20, 2010 1 comment

DNI... just a dream?

When Dennis C. Blair resigned as the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) in May, the intelligence community, Congress and the rest of the federal government were left to wonder: “is the position of Director of National Intelligence feasible?” Since the creation of the position in 2006 – I will go into more detail about this in the following paragraphs – four men have held the post. For a Cabinet-level position, four different appointees is not a healthy turnover rate. So as we watch the newest nominee – Lieutenant General James Clapper – go through the nomination process today, it is time to start thinking about the hard questions revolving around the US intelligence community and the position that is entrusted to keep all the 16 individual agencies in line. Does the DNI have enough power to press people into following its lead? Can the CIA Chief live without being the end-all and be-all in the intelligence game? And finally, is General Clapper the answer?

Post-9/11, Americans were left to wonder “how did this happen on American soil without the intelligence community knowing?” Congress immediately went to work trying to find an answer to this question. Authorized by lawmakers, the 9/11 Commission produced a long, scathing report on the failures of the intelligence apparatus and recommendations on how to clean it up. Over and over again, the report speaks to the need for “cooperation and coordination” between the different intelligence arms. What resulted from the investigation was the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. The centerpiece of this legislation was the establishment of the DNI; someone who could take the reigns of the sprawling intelligence landscape and make sure that everyone got along and shared information. The DNI, for lack of a better metaphor, was to be the study hall proctor for the individual, petulant agencies. The only problem is, the position has not been able to get all of those agencies in their seats, let alone tell them what to do.

So what’s the problem here? Why can’t the DNI gain traction? Let’s go through the DNIs and why they each left office. It might shed some light on the problems. The inaugural DNI, John Negroponte, left the post in order to allow President Bush to change his strategy in Iraq. Although a seemingly benign rationale, there were already rumors of Mr. Negroponte having trouble getting the spy agencies in line. Next up was Vice Admiral John Michael McConnell. During his tenure as the DNI, Mr. McConnell repeatedly made detrimental mistakes to solidifying his power over the community. In 2007, Mr. McConnell granted an all access interview to the El Paso Times (over-sharing?) and then proceeded to threatened the reporter. In 2008, he directly contradicted Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ assessment of the Afghanistan War. He finally stepped down to return to the private sector in January, 2009 after losing respect in a myriad of difference agencies. Finally, we come to Dennis Blair; the quintessential case study in the failure of the Directorship of National Intelligence.

The Seal of the United States Intelligence Community: the DNI's worst nightmare.

Mr. Blair’s tenure was littered with controversy. Last year, Mr. Blair appointed John Deutch, a former CIA Director who was unceremoniously dismissed from the community for improperly storing top secret information, to a board of independent intelligence overseers; at best a careless oversight, at worst a disregard for protocol. Earlier this year, he told Congress that the Obama Administration did not consult him on the charges brought against Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab; inappropriately aired dirty laundry. Most importantly, Mr. Blair continually clashed over intelligence turf – drones in Pakistan, agency budgets, type of tea at meetings, etc. – with CIA Director Leon Panetta.

So what does this all mean? First, it means the DNI may be the hardest position in the Cabinet to hold. Whether it be controversy or territorial clashes, the DNI seems to be continually impeded by something. Second, something clearly needs to change in order for a person to step into this Directorship and get things done. No one has been able to succeed and these men have been more than qualified and competent. Third, and most importantly, the CIA must understand – for the good of the intelligence community – that it is no longer running the show. THIS will undoubtedly be the hardest sell.

As we watch this newest (and unluckiest?) man go through the nomination process for the DNI, we can only cross our fingers that he will be the study hall proctor we have been waiting for. In order to stop the extremists – who are, no matter your politics, out to hurt Americans – from attacking this country, we need a healthy and capable intelligence community. The DNI can only help this cause. So, Lieutenant General Clapper, good luck. I’ll be rooting for you.

The Week in Fodder

July 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Another Friday and another Week in Fodder. Some new formatting, the first Poll of the Week and plenty of scrumptious morsels of knowledge, you’ll be sure to find something to like. Al-Shabaab, the Iranian scientist, the Barefoot Bandit, Eskil Ronningsbakken (You have to read on to find out who he is!), 18th century ships at Ground Zero and the lamest moments in technology… we hope you enjoy!

World Views

Al-Shabaab leaves Somalia.

Ugandan Blasts: Last Sunday, as revelers watched the finale of Africa’s first World Cup, the Islamic militant group al-Shabaab struck, utilizing suicide bombers, two viewing locations in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.  Killing 74 civilians, the attack was the first by the hard-line militia outside of its Somali homeland. Heavily linked to al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab has been fighting to overthrow the transitional Somali government for over three years. It’s widely believed – disputed by some, however – that Uganda was specifically targeted for its soldiers that are in Somalia protecting the transitional government as part of the larger AU-mandated peacekeeping force. Al-Shabaab is an exceedingly dangerous (perhaps more so than al-Qaeda) militant group. Striking outside of its borders is a truly alarming development.

Argentina Legalizes Same-sex Marriage: On Thursday, the Argentinean Parliament passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. Argentina becomes the first country in all of Latin America to pass such a progressive, tolerant piece of gay rights legislation. This is somewhat surprising given the overwhelming Catholicism of the Argentine population; over 90% of the country identifies with the Church. Argentinean dioceses actively tried to sustain opposition to passage of the bill. Despite the organized resistance to the measure, it passed and now gay and lesbian couples can enjoy the same rights at heterosexual couples.

Sharia Women: Earlier this week, Malaysia Islamic officials appointed the first ever women to the country’s Sharia court. Malaysian sharia, the strictest interpretation of Islamic law, cases are tried by judges that are the guides of Islamic law within the country. The fact that two women were appointed to this position is a very big deal. Strict interpretations of the Qur’an call for women and men to be completed segregated from each other’s company outside of the familial home; you can clearly understand the controversy in letting female judges decide the fate of defendants. Although the extent of the women’s powers are still unclear, this is a pioneering step. Watch this, as a possibly model for other progressive Islamic countries, with a keen eye.

Healthcare and Kim Jong-il: This week, Amnesty International released a report on the healthcare system in the People’s Republic of Korea. The results of the report are unfathomable. Findings of doctors working at hospitals without basic medicine, performing surgeries by candlelight and amputating limbs without anesthesia litter the testimonial. Unsettling details about conditions under the world’s most reclusive regime are nothing new; stories of the nation’s food crisis, among other things, have trickled out from defectors. That being said, the international community is not close to putting together a full picture of what life is like under Kim Jong-il. We should cross our fingers and hope it’s not worse that what we know.

Feuding Neighbors: India and Pakistan are officially talking again. After almost two years of ice-cold relations, stemming from the Mumbai terror attacks, the two countries are back at the table trying to iron out their differences concerning the disputed and volatile region of Kashmir. Historical rivals, dating back to Partition, the two countries attitudes towards each other took a turn for the worse when Lashkar-e-Taiba trained militants struck the Indian commercial hotbed of Mumbai killing at least 170. This is a productive step forward for the region and the two countries to be talking about tinderbox issues once again.

American Matters

The CIA and the Iranian: At this point, you have all undoubtedly heard about the rouge Iranian scientist, Shahram Amiri, who went missing for months and only to surface this week in Washington, DC.  Mr. Amiri’s whereabots had been the subject of debate for months. Since his appearance, the story has unfolded at a breakneck pace. He and the Iranian government claim that he was abducted and tortured by the CIA. The Agency asserts that he was a willing defector and informant on the Iranian nuclear program. Reports have confirmed that Mr. Amiri was paid at least $5 million by the CIA for services rendered. He returned to the Islamic Republic to a hero’s welcome. We will probably never know what the truth of this latest international espionage episode is but it provides another reminder of the shadow games continually played by the world’s governments

The Barefoot Bandit's favorite loot.

Double-dip?: Economic news for the past two to three months has been mostly positive; gradual reduction in unemployment, stronger consumer confidence and a slowly growing economy. All of a sudden, however, the US is staring a double-dip housing crisis in the face. Reports this week indicate that foreclosures will hit the 1 million mark in 2010. This high number can be attributed to a backlog of mortgage holders; still, though, it’s a very scary statistic. So faced with this knowledge and the growing stagnation of the nation’s housing market, economists are feeling a bit weary. The whole world will be watching the US housing numbers with bated breath.

Barefoot Bandito: The Barefoot Bandit, otherwise known as Colton A. Harris, was finally caught in the Bahamas this week. A new American folk hero, Mr. Harris had been on the run for over two years, a plethora of states and the Caribbean for a litany of robberies from stealing airplanes to cold, hard cash. After finally yielding to the pressure of law enforcement officials, Mr. Harris was quick to plead guilty. At the age of 19, the Barefoot Bandit and his escapades will be the subject of American lore and pop culture for years, possibly decades, to come. Hats off to you Mr. Harris. You may be a criminal, but you’re a damn good one.

Death of a Hero: Vernon Baker, the only non-posthumous African American recipient of the Medal of Honor, died this week at the age of 90. He received the honor for his service with his platoon in Italy during WWII. He left the military in 1968 as a First Lieutenant. Mr. Baker returned to the United States after his military service and lived the rest of his years in Northern Idaho. In a time of war, it is important to remember those pioneers and heroes that so valiantly served our country. We’re forever indebted to you, Mr. Baker. Thank you.

Henry in America: French legend Thierry Henry is officially a member of the New York Red Bulls. A prolific scorer for both club and country, Henry comes to Major League Soccer (MLS) as the biggest signing in its history. (And YES, this includes David Beckham.) Unlike Mr. Beckham, Henry was made to score goals. He will clinically finish in front of goal and bring Red Bulls’ fans to their feet. It is quite possible Henry is the European star the MLS has been long searching for to bring Americans to its stadiums. Just wait, Henry will have too many Sportscenter Top Plays to count.

Off the Beaten Path

Secrets, secrets.

Mona’s Secrets: This may be only interesting to me and art enthusiasts but I thought it would be a nice little bit of Fodder for all. Using x-ray fluorescence spectrometry, Dr. Philippe Walter has uncovered the nitty-gritty details of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “sfumato” technique. The spectrometry procedure even allowed Dr. Walter to attain the recipes of Da Vinci’s paints and glazes. The glazes, mixed by Leonard himself, were layered in an impressively micro-manner. From the Da Vinci Code to this newest report, it seems that the vaguely smiling Mona will eternally hold a place in the world’s hearts.

Anchors at Ground Zero: Construction workers at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan have found the remains of an 18th Century ship used by traders in the mouth of the Hudson River. Next to the uncovered wooden hull, the excavators also found a 100lb anchor. A truly impressive historical find in the middle of the world’s busiest city. Everyone involved hopes to have the treasure removed by the end of the week. It just goes to show, there is history everywhere; even where you least expect it.

Eskil Ronningsbakken: There is not much to say about Eskil Ronningsbakken. He’s the world’s foremost extreme balancing act. Just check out this gallery and the YouTube video embedded below. As AWC says, “CRAZY Norwegians!” That is all.

Raccoon News: Last week’s Week in Fodder gave you a ridiculous and colloquial story about the Boston area so I’ll return the favor to NYC this week. Earlier this week, a raccoon – channeling his inner burglargot into the basement of the Brooklyn Public Library. Closing the storage area to staff for the week, the raccoon caused quite the nuisance and unfortunately did not get the library card it had applied for. (KNEE-SLAPPER!!)

Too Uncool for School: In our final news synopsis of the week, we offer you your first “Poll of the Week.” The other day, MSNBC ran a story chronicling the “10 Most Uncool Moments in Tech.” Click on that link, take a look at a couple of the videos and tell us which one you think is the LAMEST. It has to be the Sony rap, right?

Idiom of the Week

“Get you knickers in a twist”

Victorian knickers. Insert British accent.

This week’s Idiom of the Week should be said in an English accent at all times. Something about the word knickers makes me immediately think of good ‘ole England. To “get your knickers in a twist:” when you are angry, nervous, or perturbed with a particular situation.

Example #1: “Larry, don’t get your knickers in a twist with this one. Everything will work out.”

Example #2: “Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, recently got his knickers in a twist with the departure of Lebron James. As a result, he was fined 100,000 dollars by the NBA–true story.”

Song of the Week

This week’s song of the week comes from the Scandinavian group Who Made Who. I found this gem while listening to the radio of Nova Planet, a music website from France (http://www.novaplanet.com)

That’s all folks! Until next week, keep on reading the Fodder and living the good life!