Monday, January 31, 2011

Getting out

The U.S. government continues the slow but steady effort to get as many Americans as possible out of Egypt.

As CNN reports,
The United States said it expected to fly out 1,000 people Monday in an around-the-clock airlift to Turkey, Cyprus and Greece. As of Monday afternoon, the U.S. State Department said 500 Americans had been evacuated aboard five flights.
The government said it hoped to fly out another 1,000 people on Tuesday and planned to expand its evacuation effort beyond Cairo to reach stranded U.S. citizens in Alexandria, Luxor and Aswan.
The State Department told Americans on Monday that they should bring food, water and other necessities -- including patience -- to the airport if they hope to catch a flight.
The U.S. embassies in various locations say they are prepared to accept as many Americans as necessary. Interestingly, the number of Americans inside Egypt who want out is not that large. VOA notes that:
The U.S., which has about 50,000 citizens registered at its Cairo Embassy, said more than 2,600 people have contacted officials requesting evacuation assistance.

He wants to replace his boss

To the surprise of no one, the U.S. ambassador to China -- Jon Huntsman -- has resigned his post. The reason? Simple, says Politico:
... Huntsman Jr. ... sent a resignation letter to President Barack Obama on Monday and now is likely to explore a Republican presidential bid, a close associate told POLITICO. In a letter hand-delivered to the White House, the former Utah governor said that he wants to return to the United States by May, the associate said. If Huntsman won the GOP nomination, he would be challenging the reelection of his former boss. 
At least for now, the White House is downplaying the potential that Huntsman could make a bid to replace President Obama. As AFP reports,
...White House spokesman Robert Gibbs sidestepped questions about Huntsman's political intentions, as anticipation builds for Obama's reelection bid and several prominent Republicans take soundings over their chances.
"I have talked to several people in the building, I have not heard anybody say that they know what the future holds for Ambassador Huntsman," Gibbs said.
Obama's 2009 pick of Huntsman to serve in the crucial Beijing post was seen as a political masterstroke, potentially taking one possible rival out of the game in the upcoming presidential election.
But Huntsman stirred 2012 buzz with a Newsweek interview late last year in which he suggested he had one political run left in him, and after buying a new home in Washington.
Huntsman, the son of a chemical billionaire, could inject his own cash into an effort to explore his prospects in the crowded field of presumed Republican contenders for the presidential nomination.

The health care law is unconstitutional

Nope, don't take my word for it. Take it from a federal judge.

This from the New York Times:
Like a Virginia judge in December, Judge Roger Vinson of Federal District Court in Pensacola, Fla., said he would allow the law to remain in effect while the Obama administration appeals his ruling, a process that could take two years. But unlike his Virginia counterpart, Judge Vinson ruled that the entire health care act should fall if the appellate courts join him in invalidating the insurance requirement.
“The act, like a defectively designed watch, needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker,” Judge Vinson wrote.
In a 78-page opinion, Judge Vinson held that the insurance requirement exceeds the regulatory powers granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Judge Vinson wrote that the provision could not be rescued by an associated clause in Article I that gives Congress broad authority to make laws “necessary and proper” to carrying out its designated responsibilities.
“If Congress can penalize a passive individual for failing to engage in commerce, the enumeration of powers in the Constitution would have been in vain,” Judge Vinson wrote.
The Los Angeles Times adds:
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson accepted without trial the states' argument that the new law violates people's rights by forcing them to buy health insurance by 2014 or face penalties.

Attorneys for the administration had argued that the states did not have standing to challenge the law and that the case should be dismissed.
The case is likely to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. Two other federal judges have upheld the insurance requirement, but a federal judge in Virginia also ruled the insurance requirement unconstitutional.
If you thought the political fires were ready to be stoked in Washington before today, well you can imagine how Democrats and Republicans will act now. Remember, the law remains in effect until the Supreme Court ultimately rules on it.

(Please don't) Run, Rick Run!

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum is offering more hints that he's thinking about a run for the White House.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that:
Mr. Santorum has picked up two high-profile political strategists to help him out. Mr. Santorum announced Friday that Nick Ryan and Jill Latham of the Concordia Group in Des Moines will be advising his political action committee as he explores a presidential run.

Also, Mr. Santorum's media strategist, John Brabender, said the Republican will likely announce the hire of a well-known national political consultant this week.
Both Mr. Ryan and Ms. Latham have ties to another likely 2012 candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Ms. Latham was Iowa political director for Mr. Romney's 2008 presidential campaign and Mr. Ryan is the founder of the American Future Fund conservative advocacy group, which has close ties with Mr. Romney. Ms. Latham also is the daughter of ninth-term Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa.
Mr. Santorum also is going to be in New Hampshire tomorrow, where he'll deliver a speech.

Don't count me among Mr. Santorum's supporters. We'll leave it at that.

Status quo in Egypt

On the surface, little has appeared to change in Egypt -- the protesters are still on the streets, demanding political reform; and President Mubarak continues to offer signs that he is still firmly in control.

And part of Mr. Mubarak's strategy is to move forward with a new government that he says will bring about the changes the country needs. The Associated Press notes:
In an apparent attempt to show change, Mubarak named a new government Monday. But the lineup dominated by regime stalwards was greeted with scorn by protesters camped out for the fourth day in the capital's central Tahrir, of Liberation, Square.
"We don't want life to go back to normal until Mubarak leaves," Israa Abdel-Fattah, a founders of the April 6 Group, a movement of young people pushing for democratic reform.
If Egypt's opposition groups are able to truly coalesce — far from a certainty for an array of movements large and small that include students, online activists, old-school opposition politicians and the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood — it could sustain and amplify the momentum of the week-old protests.
It could also provide a focal point for American and other world leaders who are issuing demands for an orderly transition to a democratic system, saying Mubarak's limited concessions are insufficient.
It is likely that any coalescing of the opposition will center on Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a Nobel laureate. But TIME magazine suggests that no matter who (if anyone) replaces Mr. Mubarak in the short term, the political uncertainties will not go away:
ElBaradei is a moderate and a democrat, but he doesn't share Washington's allergy to Islamist parties and has publicly questioned the Obama Administration's strategy on Iran's nuclear program.

Curiously enough, years before the current turmoil, Washington was warned it could expect a difficult transition after Mubarak, even if his succession had been handled within the regime. "Whoever Egypt's next president is, he will inevitably be politically weaker than Mubarak," reads a remarkably prescient May 2007 cable from the U.S. embassy in Cairo released late last year by WikiLeaks. "Among his first priorities will be to cement his position and build popular support. We can thus anticipate that the new president may sound an initial anti-American tone in his public rhetoric in an effort to prove his nationalist bona fides to the Egyptian street."
The images from the streets over the past week largely have come from Al-Jazeera, and this morning the Egyptian government said enough of that. However, the brief detaining of six al-Jazeera journalists and the confiscation of their equipment has not halted the network's continuous coverage of the crisis.

American families who have college students in Egypt still are trying to determine when their sons and daughters will be able to make it home. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that:
Despite the pockets of violence that have flared in Cairo and other areas over the past week, however, university officials stressed that they were looking out for the safety of students on study trips to Egypt.
Morgan Roth, communications director for North America for the American University in Cairo, where about 500 U.S. students are attending programs, said she and her colleagues had spent the weekend reaching out to parents and to study-abroad advisers.
"We are making sure they're all informed and that everybody has the right information," Ms. Roth said on Sunday in New York. "Parents are seeing a lot of terrible things on TV, and want assurance that we are able to provide for their children and are keeping them safe."
"This is evolving, literally, as we speak," she said.
The university's main campus is in a suburb of Cairo, away from the demonstrations downtown, and the university is moving all of its U.S. students, many of whom live off campus, to a dormitory there and to another location on the island of Zamalek, in Cairo.
The bottom line is that Americans are not in being targeted for reprisals or attacks. That's comfort, albeit perhaps not enough, for parents.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The great rivalries in sports

Yes, putting together any kind of list involving great and intense sports rivalries is an exercise in frustration. Attempting to rank order something like rivalries is akin to playing catch with a wet bar of soap -- the results will leave you laughing and wonder why you undertook the venture in the first place.

Nevertheless, I'm going to try it. The list below is based only on North American teams; yes, that leaves the gaping hole of European soccer, for example, as well as sports from other parts of the world.

Feel free to chime in and especially let me know if I missed something.

15. North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Duke Blue Devils -- Sure, college basketball pops into your head when you consider these two universities, but you shouldn't forget the intensity of their lacrosse games.

14. Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins -- When they are both good (and that hasn't been true for a long time), the echoes of past games are heard loudly and clearly.

13. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals -- Chill out, people. Unless you live in one of these cities, you recognize it for what it is: the NHL's attempt to generate a desperately needed rivalry between two American teams. When the Capitals win the Stanley Cup, this rivalry will fully develop.

12. St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago Cubs -- I confess, if I called either city home I would appreciate this rivalry more than I do and therefore might move it higher on the list. To this outsider, they seem like two old friends who get together during the summer to talk about past glories and the promise of future successes.

11. Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs -- In my mind, this should always be Hockey Night in Canada.

10. Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan Wolverines -- Yes, I hear the Big-10 fans screaming in protest; they demand I move this higher on the list. Give me a reason. This is an intense but, for all intents and purposes, one sport rivalry.

9. San Francisco Giants vs. Los Angeles Dodgers -- My sense is that Giants' fans are more passionate in their hatred of the Dodgers than the other way around.

8.  USC Trojans vs Notre Dame Fighting Irish -- Much like Ohio State and Michigan, it's intense. And it's all about one sport.

7.  USC Trojans vs UCLA Bruins -- What separates this rivalry from almost every other in sports is that each calls the same city home. But Los Angeles and southern California are just too cool (at least in their minds) to allow this rivalry to go higher on the list.

6. Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears -- It's the longest-running rivalry in the NFL. What more do you need?

5.  Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees -- It doesn't hurt that two of the nation's largest media markets feed the frenzy. And of course ESPN seems to televise every game these two play. Come on, it's hard to take every game seriously when they play at least 18 times a season.

4. Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers -- This is plain and simple: the two most dominant teams in that sport. The NBA needs to keep this rivalry fresh and intense. If both could again make their way to the NBA Finals this season, that would help the cause.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens -- Sure, it's hotter than a roaring fire right now. But this rivalry needs more history. And I realize that for many people this is still (and might always be) Pittsburgh against Cleveland.

2. Florida Gators vs. Florida State Seminoles -- They're regular at the top of the college football rankings, but let's not forget that they know how to play baseball as well.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Auburn Tigers -- I hate you, you hate me. We're a happy family. It gets the nudge over the top because they are the last two college football national champions, but it won't stay there if other Tide or Tiger teams cannot be a consistent champion in other sports.

And in case you are wondering why Army and Navy didn't make this list, my answer is: The men and women who wear those uniforms have far more on their minds than winning a game; they are defending the nation. That's a rivalry that none of the teams on this list can match.

President Mubarak -- which will it be?

The sixth day of protests are about to wrap up in Egypt (live coverage from al-Jazeera here) and there is little to suggest they are going to end.

We at this point are left with three potential outcomes to this crisis. And in the end, it is Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, who must decide how it will conclude.

First, the protesters back off, realizing that despite their numerous voices they have not pressured either the Egyptian government or the international community to bring about President Mubarak's ouster. Granted, they will have rallied around an opposition figure, but despite the appearance of Mohamed ElBaradei at one of the largest protests in Cairo the protesters cannot achieve their ultimate aim. Mubarak is then left to decide whether he will enact meaningful reform.

Second, President Mubarak backs off, realizing that no matter what he does, he cannot muster domestic and international support to continue in office. Under this scenario, the growing criticism from the United States and the West has an effect. As an example, consider this from Politico:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continued the Obama administration’s careful but unmistakable move away from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Sunday, declining to repeat her assessment that the Egyptian government is “stable,” and instead pressing for a move to democracy in the largest Arab country.
“Real stability only comes from the kind of democratic participation that allows people to feel that they are being heard,” Clinton said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour,” calling for “real democracy.”
Mr. Mubarak therefore cedes power, likely to some transitional government before meaningful, free and full elections are held. Mr. Mubarak leaves the country, perhaps for Saudi Arabia, and probably doesn't face any trial for his autocratic leadership.
Third, Mr. Mubarak demands that the military unleash its fury on the people to fully put down the protests. To this point, fortunately, that hasn't happened. Nevertheless, the military are on the streets, as Salon notes.
Egypt's powerful military stepped up its presence across the anarchic capital on Sunday, closing roads with tanks and sending F-16 fighter jets streaking over downtown in a show of force after days of looting, armed robbery and anti-government protests.

The army made no attempt, however, to disperse some 5,000 protesters gathered at Tahrir Square, a plaza in the heart of downtown that protesters have occupied since Friday afternoon. They have violated a curfew to call for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak's regime, which they blame for poverty, unemployment, widespread corruption and police brutality.
Mr. Mubarak retains power if the military becomes involved, but he must turn his country into an even deeper autocratic, closed nation.

So, Mr. Mubarak, which will it be?

Egypt: where defiance continues to meet determination (3 x UPDATED)

3rd UPDATE: 11:07 a.m. EST: The protesters ignored the potential for police reprisals when they took to the streets six days ago. They again ignored that potential as their numbers grew. They ignored curfew calls. They ignored military jets flying low over their heads.

The world cannot ignore that the protesters are in full voice ready to see political change in their country. Granted, diplomacy is not as loud and overt, but there is no way that the U.S. and the West can continue to straddle the fence. Doing so will extend the attitude that those nations are not on the side of the people and are instead only concerned with maintaining the status quo.

It is time for world leaders to do the right thing -- demand that President Mubarak step down, and as the transition of power unfolds also demand that he do nothing to attack the people.

2nd UPDATE: 11:03 a.m. EST: Al-Jazeera is reporting that opposition political figure Mohamed ElBaradei will join the protesters in Cairo. The expectation is that he will arrive in Tahrir Square within the hour.

1st UPDATE: 10:28 a.m. EST: The crisis in Egypt appears to be escalating. Fighter jets flew low over Tahrir Square in Cairo, where perhaps the most vocal protests of the day have taken place. There also are reports that tanks with water cannons could be moving into the area.

Considering that night is about to fall in Cairo, it would be not be surprising if a powerful assault on the protesters took place there and perhaps elsewhere in the country. Obviously that would be an unfortunate decision on the part of the government and would cement that it has lost the people and any chance to maintain power.

Al-Jazeera's live coverage continues, and it is reporting that the most likely opposition political figure -- Mohamed ElBaradei -- believes he is prepared to form an interim government. According to Reuters, Mr. ElBaradei has called on Mr. Mubarak to immediately resign.

ORIGINAL POST: Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak continues to deny reality.

Egypt's protesters continue to refuse to back down.

The images emanating from Egypt today resemble those of the past six -- people everywhere (al-Jazeera's live coverage can be accessed here) demanding that Mubarak step down as president, a post he has held with no legitimate political opposition for 30 years.

He won't listen.

They won't stop.

In yet another sign of the government's desperation -- and disconnect from reality -- al-Jazeera has been shut down in Egypt:
"The information minister [Anas al-Fikki] ordered ... suspension of operations of Al Jazeera, cancelling of its licences and withdrawing accreditation to all its staff as of today," a statement on the official Mena news agency said on Sunday.
In a statement, Al Jazeera said it strongly denounces and condemns the closure of its bureau in Cairo by the Egyptian government. The network received notification from the Egyptian authorities on Sunday morning.
One British newspaper has added its voice to those calling for Mubarak to resign.
The 82-year-old's television appearance on Friday night only underscored how little he understands the causes of the tumult. Like Tunisia's recently deposed president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Mubarak chided the demonstrators, insisted stability was all and shifted the blame to others, sacking his cabinet and promising another. He gave no assurances about this autumn's elections, made no mention of his intentions or those of his purported heir, Gamal, though his selection yesterday of his old henchman Omar Suleiman as vice president hinted at a new succession strategy, and offered no vision of reform. He made plain he would not go.
This impasse is not acceptable, this deadlock cannot be sustained. It is damaging to the region, to Egypt's western friends and, most of all, to Egypt itself. All concerned now have an urgent duty to think afresh.
Perhaps some fresher thinking needs to come out of the White House, which is still unsuccessfully, in my opinion, straddling the fence between endorsing the fight for freedom and supporting President Mubarak. One Israeli newspaper writes there are growing parallels between Iran in the late 1970s and Egypt in the early 2010s.
Jimmy Carter will go down in American history as "the president who lost Iran," which during his term went from being a major strategic ally of the United States to being the revolutionary Islamic Republic. Barack Obama will be remembered as the president who "lost" Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt, and during whose tenure America's alliances in the Middle East crumbled.

The superficial circumstances are similar. In both cases, a United States in financial crisis and after failed wars loses global influence under a leftist president whose good intentions are interpreted abroad as expressions of weakness. The results are reflected in the fall of regimes that were dependent on their relationship with Washington for survival, or in a change in their orientation, as with Ankara. 
Meanwhile, Americans in Egypt continue to look at how and when they can exit the country. Though there are no signs they are in imminent danger, they couldn't be blamed for wanting to leave. As the New York Times reports:
...Cairo International Airport ... was a chaotic scene on Saturday, with at least 2,000 passengers scrambling to leave. Adding to the confusion was the lack of Internet access and cellphone service, both cut off by the government, although cellphone use was later restored.
One British flight to Cairo from England had to return to Heathrow Airport in London because it could not land in time to allow passengers to travel outside the Cairo airport before the government-imposed curfew was to begin.
The unrest was expected to deliver a serious blow to Egypt’s tourism industry. The United States State Department has urged Americans to “defer nonessential travel” to Egypt, and it advised those already there to “defer nonessential movement and to exercise caution.” The State Department also instructed Americans in Cairo to stay inside and “not attempt to come to the U.S. Embassy" if demonstrations were taking place.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Super Bowl has zero value...

...when you see what is happening in Cairo and throughout Egypt.

Oh, I know what you are thinking: 'There goes Moretti spouting his holier-than-thou attitude. He's going to demean America's unofficial national holiday and then in a day or so tell us how much he loves sports. He's great when it comes to talking out of both sides of his mouth.'

My plan is not to criticize the Super Bowl, blast America's love of sports or in any way suggest that we shouldn't enjoy what is going to happen next Sunday.

Rather, I am interested in seeing that you place these events into context.

If you live in Pittsburgh or Green Bay (and most other American cities), I expect that you will be talking about the Super Bowl. Obviously, living in one of those cities, it is impossible for me to escape conversations about the game. And I don't try to duck those conversations or hide my feelings -- I want the Packers to win the game.

I could offer you a variety of reasons, but one should be enough -- I like the Packers far more than I like the Steelers. 

And, yes, come next Sunday, I'll be watching the game.

But when you think about it, and I hope you do, whichever team wins will not affect you as the events in Egypt could and should. Let me put it a bit more bluntly -- the events in Egypt are more important than any football game.

If Egypt unravels, and there is the potential that it could, President Obama will need to immediately re-think America's political strategy toward that nation. No, that doesn't mean American troops will be sent there; I see no scenario under which that happens. However, the pressure to provide even more in aid -- humanitarian, financial and otherwise -- will increase, and that aid will have to come during an often nasty political conversation in the U.S. about spending and financial priorities.

Next, what the young people in Egypt are pushing for is something all Americans know well -- freedom. In this time of domestic unrest, Egyptians see America and the West as examples, however imperfect they are, of what they want their nation to be.

They don't want security forces -- often acting undercover -- knocking on doors in the dead of night and taking political opponents away. They don't want to equate their president with autocracy. They don't want sham elections.

They'd trade places with us in a second, however flawed our democracy is. At minimum, we should support what they are calling for. If we can do more, we should think about doing it.

Third, our connected, global humanity is under stress as the death toll rises in Egypt. It will seem trite to say, but I'll say it anyway -- the increasing number of people who lose their lives in Egypt should resonate with us more than whether one team in Pittsburgh or one in Green Bay hoists a football trophy.

Except for a fellow former graduate student who works at the American University in Cairo, I know no one who lives in Egypt. I don't see Egyptians on television each day. I can't recognize them as I can most of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL, and I certainly can't identify any of them by name. But their fight for freedom is more important to our core as people than any "fight" for a championship.

Next week's game brings to an end another football season. I think it's been a pretty good one, even though my favorite team was one of the NFL's worst. In a few months, a few new faces and many former ones will begin another campaign to finish with the Lombardi Trophy in their hands.

Some of us will relish how next week's game ends. Some of us will hate it. Some of us won't care. I hope an overwhelming majority of us enjoy it.

But remember that it is a game. It is not real life. Real life is taking place in Egypt.

When you bring together...

...40 Scouts, countless siblings, multiple parents, a few grandparents and family friends, you have...


You think I'm crazy, don't you? No, I'm perfectly sane.

You get heaven when you bring all those people together because you have a Pinewood Derby, which my Cub Scout Pack held earlier today.

The kids were their usual selves -- boisterous, (mostly) behaved and anxious to see their car race. Of course, many of them just want to know if they are going to win and if a prize or trophy comes with that.

Telling them that not everyone can win doesn't go over well. Telling them that the goal is to "do your best" at times just doesn't resonate.

Parents can at times be the most "interesting" people during the Derby. Today was no different; and we'll leave it at that because Scouting is supposed to be about young people learning, growing, maturing and having fun.

Knowing that most of them did validates in my mind that today was a huge success.

The total death toll is approaching 40... (4 x UPDATED)

4th UPDATE: 7:58 p.m. EST: The calls for Egypt's president to step down poses a real dilemma for Israel. As Haaretz reports,
The fading power of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's government leaves Israel in a state of strategic distress. Without Mubarak, Israel is left with almost no friends in the Middle East; last year, Israel saw its alliance with Turkey collapse.
The diplomatic efforts taking place in Washington, Tel Aviv and various European capitals is an important element to this story. Of course, the on-going pictures of people on the streets dominates the headlines, and they, especially for television, provide a reason to continue to watch.

On the other hand, diplomatic efforts happen away from the cameras and lack the immediacy of the protests. Moreover, political leaders are going to speak carefully, using words that are parsed so as to not add to the unrest taking place throughout Cairo.

At the grassroots level, the protesters are emboldened by the lack of a real military response. Fortunately, and we must hope this continues, the security forces do not unleash their full fury on the people; the repercussions in the short and long term are horrible to fathom. World leaders know they also can embolden the young people who have taken to the streets by offering even the slightest hint that they are trying to oust President Mubarak.

And, yes, Israel is watching as well.

3rd UPDATE: 7:47 p.m. EST: Al-Jazeera (live coverage link here) is reporting that more than 6,000 prisoners have escaped after guards refused to show up for work. It also adds that many of the nation's most influential businessmen and their families have fled the country.

2nd UPDATE: 7:35 p.m. EST: Salon tells it like it is -- when it comes to following what is taking place in Egypt, al-Jazeera is covering the story, and the American cable news networks are...uh...trying to cover it.
Fox, CNN and MSNBC are all acquitting themselves better than they did the day Tunisia's government collapsed. All of them have reporters in Cairo, and are airing footage of the demonstrations on the streets. But none of them are reporting on the situation as compellingly as Al Jazeera English, which has reporters across the country.
And if you're in the United States, you can probably only see Al Jazeera English online. If you're watching Al Jazeera, you're seeing uninterrupted live video of the demonstrations, along with reporting from people actually on the scene, and not "analysis" from people in a studio. The cops were threatening to knock down the door of one of its reporters minutes ago. Fox has moved on to anchor babies. CNN reports that the ruling party building is on fire, but Al Jazeera is showing the fire live.

1st UPDATE: 7:24 p.m. EST: Reuters reports that the death toll from 5 days of protests has now exceeded 100.

ORIGINAL POST: Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak refuses to accept reality.

As CNN reports, today was as chaotic as any of the previous four.
In a fifth day of protests engulfing the Arab world's most populous nation, people took to the streets, chanting "Down with Mubarak" and burning pictures of the authoritarian leader.

The demonstrations Saturday in Cairo and other cities were boisterous but largely peaceful. One exception was near the cordoned-off Interior Ministry, security forces clashed violently with demonstrators Saturday afternoon.
At least one person was killed, Dr. Ragab Ali said at the Ebad Al-Rahman Clinic, a medical center near the Interior Ministry, though another doctor treating the wounded said at least five people had been shot to death.
The clashes injured at least 60 people, Ali said.
There was confusion about the human toll in the demonstrations thus far.
Among those injured today was a BBC journalist.

As the protests continue, Mr. Mubarak's new government was sworn in. Meanwhile, his two sons have finally appeared. Haaretz notes that
Mubarak's two sons, Gamal and Ala, arrived in London late Saturday as the clashes in their home country continued.
So good to know that they are standing firm with their father. And so good to know that they were able to make it through the crush of ordinary citizens and tourists who also are heading for safer lands

Mind you, the death, the unrest and the fear all is because of Mr. Mubarak, who won't accept that his people no longer want him to lead. The Saudis appear to be one of his few allies.
Saudi Arabia slammed protesters in Egypt as "infiltrators" who seek to destabilize their country, and a top Palestinian official affirmed "solidarity" with Egypt...
It is nighttime in Egypt, where the protests show no signs of letting up (live coverage from Al-Jazeera can be accessed here).

Friday, January 28, 2011

Congratulations, Mr. Mubarak.

You blew it.

You had the opportunity in your address to Egyptians early Saturday morning (Cairo time) to do the right thing. You had the perfect platform to admit that you were the problem. You had the chance to exhibit real leadership and show just how much you cared for the country you have so autocratically led for 30 years.

Instead you did what so many of your similar despots also opted to do -- blame the protesters for causing the problems of the past couple days. You suggested that the people -- hungry for reform, thirsty for freedom -- had no right to voice their anger alongside tens of thousands of citizens who felt the same.

Before you were a hollow, empty figure in the minds of so many of your people; now you are now loathed.

You could have shown your professed love for Egypt by surrendering power. Voluntarily. Peacefully. Completely. But you held onto your arrogance that says only you and your cronies can govern Egypt.


If you think dumping a few of your political hacks and replacing them with new officials will shut down the protests, then you are wrong.

If you think the protesters will accept the new government as being independent of you and responsive to their needs, then you are wrong.

If you think you can hold onto your power, then you are wrong.

Romania's despot, Nicolae Ceausescu, was overthrown. Then he was shot.

Iraq's despot, Saddam Hussein, was overthrown (with some assistance from the United States military). Then he was hung.

Almost certainly, a deadly fate awaits you.

It didn't have to be this way. But tonight you brought it upon yourself.


Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's speech... (2 x UPDATED AT BOTTOM) his people should say something like this:

"My dear people...

My time has your leader must come to an end. And it must do so quickly. You have made clear over the past week that I no longer have the legitimacy required to govern.

Therefore, I have begun substantive discussions with my political opponents, including Mr. Mohammed ElBaradei, and I expect that we will agree that for the good of Egypt that he or someone assume the interim presidency before a date for fair, free and full elections can take place.

As those conversations continue, I have asked the nation's police and security personnel to not respond with force to our citizens as they demonstrate their call for change. In exchange, for the good of the nation, I ask the people to scale back their protests and to not damage any of our nation's infrastructure.

In an effort to bring about peace, the transition of power talks will continue through the weekend and then on Monday at 12 noon, I will voluntarily surrender my role as president and leave the country.

Thank you."

2nd UPDATE: 9:22 p.m. EST: President Mubarak finally addressed his people shortly after midnight Cairo time and offered no real olive branch to the nation.

CNN described him as "somber" as he began his speech, which at least one news agency says was not welcomed by the protesters.

The president's principal message was that he has dismissed the current leadership (himself excluded, of course) and will name a new government as early as Saturday.

In his speech, Mr. Mubarak said his security forces rushed to protect the people at the onset of the protests, which he said soon turned to "riots." He promised that "sovereignty will always be to the people" provided that the law is followed. He seemed to hint that the protesters deserved to be dealt with as they were, as they had crossed the line between freedom and inciting chaos.

Mr. Mubarak said that any necessary changes and improvements to the country "cannot be achieved through violence nor chaos. They can only be achieved through national dialogue."

The bottom line is this -- President Mubarak thumbed his nose at the thousands of people who called for him to step down. He now has two choices as those protesters continue to take to the streets -- and we know they will. He can again call upon his police and security forces to clamp down in whatever way possible to prevent the protests from expanding. That means a bloody end to this crisis.

The other option is to recognize that he is the problem and that dismissing the hacks who worked for him will not "achieve the aspirations of Egypt and its people."

The choice is still his. The world can hope he makes the right one.

1st UPDATE: 2:09 p.m. EST: What I have written here is my hope of what I will hear whenever President Mubarak addresses his people. He has NOT delivered such an address, and I apologize if anyone reading this post interpreted it that way. I was not attempting to add confusion to an already unsettled situation in Egypt.

January 28

On a day when America remembers the 25th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, comes the real possibility that Egyptians will overthrow the autocratic rule of Hosni Mubarak.

Yes, it is a coincidence that these events could take place on the same calendar date and 25 years apart, but it does show that memorable news events can happen at almost any time.

The Challenger explosion rocked the United States because the country was used to watching a shuttle go up and come down. Sure, the danger of space travel was not a secret, but it didn't seem possible that a shuttle would explode. And the fact that it happened on live television shook us in ways that we couldn't understand at the time.

Fast forward 25 years, and Egyptians -- regardless of whether they are on the streets protesting, supporting those in opposition to the government, or in favor of continuing the rule of President Hosni Mubarak -- are watching their shake-to-the-core moment.

It was only four days ago that protests against the government began, and I doubt anyone in the crowds then could have foreseen what is taking place at the end of the week. Al-Jazeera continues to provide live coverage of what now seems certain to be the end of the Mubarak regime.

America turned to its president on Jan. 28, 1986 for an understanding of what happened. President Reagan delivered one of his best speeches, and it provided reassurance that we as a nation would get through.

Egypt will soon hear from its president, according to al-Jazeera, but his credibility is gone. In fact, those on the streets want him gone. Mr. Mubarak could call for calm and announce he will step down; that should reduce the anger we have seen on the streets. Anything else will not be enough.

January 28. A date we should not ignore for its significance in history.

Is Katie Couric on the move?

We know CBS News cannot afford her $15-million a year salary. We know that contract is coming to an end. We know that for her to continue in that role that she'd need to take a significant pay cut. We know she's good friends with former NBC Universal head Jeff Zucker.

So, what about the two of them working together again? It could happen.

Mr. Mubarak -- you're done (UPDATED)

1st UPDATE: 11:14 a.m. EST: Al-Jazeera is reporting that President Mubarak will address his nation at some point today (tonight, Cairo time). It is not clear what he will say.

ORIGINAL POST: Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, might very well win today's battle with protesters, but he has sealed his fate. No, his removal from power might not come today or tomorrow. But make no mistake -- Mubarak is done.

As expected, tens of thousands of protesters have taken to streets in Cairo today and have continued to voice their anger at the Mubarak government, which has led in an autocratic manner for 30 years. And at least one media report suggests that the police are not going to attack the people.

That's why Mr. Mubarak is through. The security forces, however loyal they might be to the government, are not willing to use their power against their own people. And that leaves the president with one choice -- voluntarily and peacefully step down.

Whether he has the guts to do that will determine what images come out of Egypt over the next 24-48 hours.

And while we're at it, let's also acknowledge that while it might serve the U.S. in the short term to say the right things about Mr. Mubarak -- he's our ally, he's our friend, he can survive if he listens to the protesters -- in the long term, it will backfire. As TIME magazine notes,
Reform is not necessarily the same as democracy, however, and after 30 years under the same President, those who are taking to the streets want regime change rather than the kindlier, gentler Mubarak the U.S. would appear to prefer. The Obama Administration's dilemma over how to respond to Egypt's democracy movement became a little more acute on Thursday when the country's largest opposition party, the banned Muslim Brotherhood, declared its intention to openly participate in Friday's protests.
The government's effort to shut down the Internet -- a feeble means of trying to deny international attention to what is taking place -- also is failing. For example, though not using that means of communication, al-Jazeera continues to offer live coverage ensuring that the Arab world and the West can follow events in real time. Those pictures are more important and leave a more lasting mark than any Internet post, Facebook comment or Twitter tweet.
The political events in Egypt are fascinating to watch, and I don't mean that to sound trite or funny. Instead they validate that governments that lack the popular support of the people have no credibility and no "right" to rule. 
Mr. Mubarak. Your time is up. It's time to go.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

They weigh just 5.0 ounces...

...but for the 40-or-so Scouts from my Pack who checked in their Pinewood Derby cars tonight in advance of Saturday's derby, they mean so much more.

As I checked each car tonight to ensure it met the length and height restrictions, I took time as often as I could to see what the car looked like.

Of course, the local NFL team -- the Steelers -- and its popularity ensured that many cars enjoyed a black-and-gold paint job. But patriotic themes, paint jobs that looked like they belonged on $100,000 cars, the traditional and the unusual caught my eye tonight.

I always wonder how much work the Scouts did on their cars and how much mom, dad or some other adult did. Our Pack includes an "alumni and futures" division, in which boys and girls, moms and dads and anyone else who wants to race, can. It's there that I want adults to build their own cars. But part of learning about design, colors, coordination, working with tools and a host of other things is by doing.

I want to believe parents don't lose sight of that. I really want to believe that.

On Saturday, my Scouts will stand when their car is placed at the starting line. Their eyes will grow big and wide. Their hopes for victory will soar.

They'll be having fun. That's what I love most about Scouting -- seeing my sons (one a Cub Scout, one a Boy Scout) and my Scouts having a blast.

This Friday in Cairo...

...might be unlike any in that city in more than three decades.

That's because the intensity of this week's protests is expected to reach its crescendo with anti-government voices at full force. With the arrival of long-time opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, a potential future head of state can join the rallies.

The protesters suggest Friday will be a "Day of Anger". As the AFP reports, the government is responding well before the rallies begin:
Internet service was disrupted in Egypt early Friday as cell phone text messaging appeared to be down, hours before activists who used both to organise large anti-government protests planned further actions.
The interior ministry had said in a statement late Thursday it would take "decisive measures" against dissidents who planned protests after Friday noon prayers, saying the activists "sent messages to citizens to gather in a number of mosques in the provinces during Friday prayers."
The government's response will dictate how events unfold. If it unleashes the police and security forces, it will lose whatever ounces of respect it has left. Moreover, the pressure from the international community on President Hosni Mubarak to step down will intensify.

Video such as this (be warned -- it is graphic) suggests the police are prepared to respond with deadly force.

In what will certainly raise eyebrows in Egypt and in the U.S., Vice President Joe Biden refused tonight to describe President Mubarak as a dictator.
“Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with – with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.”
Those comments will cause the White House genuine headaches over the next few days and they almost certainly require a more definitive statement from President Obama.

But Mr. Biden's remarks are a sideshow to the main act -- the protests expected in Cairo and throughout Egypt.

Fish-er fry

I didn't see this one coming -- the Tennessee Titans announced tonight they fired Jeff Fisher as their head coach.

According to the Associated Press,
The move comes only three weeks after owner Bud Adams announced Fisher would stay on for the final year of his current contract, a move that would have left Fisher coaching for his future.
I wonder if the coach wanted to talk contract extension and the front office said no?

The Muslim world rising; the Arab world uprising

A preface to this post -- I've never liked the phrase "the Arab world", though I hear it often, because it seems no more valid a description than it would if we labeled all the North and South America "the American world".

In short, the phrase seems to lump disparate people into one seemingly cohesive group.

Now, we move on to the more important items associated with this post.

I hope you've had the chance to see the interesting story in today's Washington Post that examines projected population trends among Muslims. It says,
The world's Muslim population will grow at double the rate of non-Muslims over the next 20 years, according to a broad new demographic analysis that is likely to spark controversy in Europe and the United States.
If current trends continue, the study found, the number of Muslims in the United States will more than double, from 2.6 million in 2010 to 6.2 million in 2030. The percentage of native-born Muslims in the U.S. is projected to rise from 35 percent today to 45 percent in 2030.
That information provides all Americans with a fantastic opportunity to experience Islam as it is -- one of the world's great faiths and practiced by compassionate, positive people. I hope that the boogieman image of Islam that has been developed because of the extremists who claim they are Muslim as they kill innocent people throughout the world doesn't continue to cloud our perception of this faith and the people who practice it.

As we examine that issue, we also must continue to focus on the third day of anti-government protests in Egypt. A police station was burned in the city of Suez and President Mubarak says he has begun talking to the leaders of some of the protest groups. The New York Times suggests those meetings provide evidence that Egypt's youth are driving the anti-government rallies:
But their readiness — tens of thousands have braved tear gas, rubber bullets and security police officers notorious for torture — has threatened to upstage or displace the traditional opposition groups.
Many of the tiny, legally recognized political parties — more than 20 in total, with scarcely a parlor full of grass-roots supporters among them — are leaping to embrace the new movement for change but lack credibility with the young people in the street.
But the images of heavy-handed security forces clouds anything Mr. Mubarak might be thinking.

TIME magazine notes that the police and security forces yesterday began ramping up their response:
While police allowed thousands to march through Cairo, Alexandria, and other cities on Jan. 25, on the 26th they reverted to the tactics more typically associated with Mubarak's heavy-handed state: cordoning off demonstrators against walls; and setting swarms of knife- and stick-wielding plainclothes thugs against others. The Associated Press reported that 860 people had been arrested since Tuesday, and four protesters and two policemen had been killed. 
In a move sure to ratchet up the pressure on President Mubarak, one of his political rivals -- Mohamed ElBaradei -- is flying to Egypt, and he says he is ready to join the opposition protests.

As the political temperature in Egypt rises, it is beginning to do the same in Yemen, which, the New York Times notes,
...became the latest Arab state to see mass protests, as thousands of Yemenis took to the streets in the capital and other regions demand a change in government.
There appears -- at least for now -- to be one important difference between what is taking place in Yemen and Egypt (and earlier this month in Tunisia), as al-Jazeera explains:
Motahar Rashad al-Masri, the Yemeni interior minister, ruled out any resemblance between the protests in Yemen and the public outcry in Tunisia and Egypt.
"Yemen is not like Tunisia," he said, adding that Yemen was a "democratic country" and that the demonstrations were peaceful.

He told Al Jazeera that Yemeni authorities will not curb any demonstrations that are peaceful, regardless of their size.
Whether that continues might depend upon how large and how peaceful any protests remain.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

One domino has fallen... (UPDATED)

1st UPDATE: 8:39 p.m. EST: The BBC reports that more than 700 people have been arrested in Egypt

One person who has emerged as a credible replacement should the Mubarak government fall is Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency. In an interview with Newsweek, Mr. ElBaradei discussed why the U.S. has diminishing respect in the Middle East. He said,
If you would like to know why the United States does not have credibility in the Middle East, that is precisely the answer. People were absolutely disappointed in the way you reacted to Egypt's last election. You reaffirmed their belief that you are applying a double standard for your friends, and siding with an authoritarian regime just because you think it represents your interests. We are staring at social disintegration, economic stagnation, political repression, and we do not hear anything from you, the Americans, or for that matter from the Europeans.
So when you say the Egyptian government is looking for ways to respond to the needs of the Egyptian people, I feel like saying, “Well, it’s too late!” This isn’t even good realpolitik. We have seen what happened in Tunisia, and before that in Iran. That should teach people there is no stability except when you have government freely chosen by its own people.
Of course, you in the West have been sold the idea that the only options in the Arab world are between authoritarian regimes and Islamic jihadists. That’s obviously bogus. If we are talking about Egypt, there is a whole rainbow variety of people who are secular, liberal, market-oriented, and if you give them a chance they will organize themselves to elect a government that is modern and moderate. They want desperately to catch up with the rest of the world.
The Associated Press reports President Mubarak is showing no signs of stepping down or backing down in responding to the protesters.
[T]here was no indication that Mubarak, who has ruled with an iron fist for nearly 30 years, intends to relinquish power or make democratic or economic concessions, and no sign he would rein in his security forces.
The defiant demonstrations continued late into the night.
And so did the intense police response. One reporter recorded what happened to him when he was arrested. Before you click on this link, be aware that there is some strong language on the tape.

Just a few hours ago, I suggested Egypt appeared ready to wobble. From where I sit, perhaps the better phrasing is "beginning to wobble." How the Obama administration responds and how it demonstrates its credibility could affect what role the citizens want it to play in any new Egypt.

ORIGINAL POST: ...and a second looks ready to wobble. How many others are behind it?

North Africa is not a mainstay of international news reporting and so Americans read and see (and therefore know) little of what is taking place there.

But interest should be growing for anyone who is concerned about international relations.

Tunisia's long-ruling dictator is gone; and despite him being a long-time ally of the United States, the White House is compelled to stand in full support of the country's democratic movement. But in making the claim that what took place there cannot spread to the region seems specious.
A top State Department official in Tunis pledged full American support for the Tunisian drive to hold free elections on Wednesday, but also sought to distance the U.S. position on Tunisia from other mass protests in the region, such as the ongoing unrest in Egypt.
"What happened in Tunisia strikes me as uniquely Tunisian. That the events that took place here over the past few weeks derive from particularly Tunisian grievances, from Tunisian circumstances by the Tunisian people," Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said at a press conference.
He called for free and fair elections in Tunisia and pledged both American and international support to set them up.

"The United States stands with the people of Tunisia. This is an exciting and unprecedented moment in Tunisia's history with great challenges but also great opportunities for the Tunisian people to chart their own course," he said.
Uniquely Tunisian? I am in no way an expert on North African politics, so I must defer to those who know the region. However, as one watches the protests in Egypt, clearly inspired by what has happened in Tunisia (and it happened quickly), it stretches credibility to say Tunisia is akin to a one-off problem.

The Tunisian authorities appear ready to hold the ousted president accountable for real or perceived crimes.

Tunisia has asked Interpol to help arrest ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and members of his family, including his brother-in-law, who is reportedly staying in Montreal with his wife, four children and a nanny. Ben Ali and family members fled the country during an uprising earlier this month.
Tunisia’s justice minister, Lazhar Karoui Chebbi, said Wednesday Tunisia wanted to try Ben Ali and his clan for “possesion of (expropriated) property and transferring foreign currency abroad.”
He named seven members of Ben Ali’s family in Tunisian custody, but said that Imed Trabelsi, a nephew of Leila Trabelsi, and Sakher al-Materi, Ben Ali’s son-in-law, had fled abroad.
As mentioned, with protests that began yesterday, Egypt appears wobbly. Those anti-government rallies continued today, and as they did:
Fearing protests could cause damage, shops and restaurants closed their doors early in the Downtown and Zamalek areas of Cairo, witnesses said.
They added that lights were shut off on main streets and guests were asked to leave restaurants in preparation for closing establishments in Zamalek district.
The protesters say the events in Tunisia have served as a rallying cry for Egyptians. Reuters reports that:
Demonstrators complain of poverty, unemployment, corruption and repression and, inspired by the Tunisian revolt, demand that Mubarak step down.
"The people want the regime to fall," protesters chanted.
Security forces have arrested about 500 demonstrators over the two days, an Interior Ministry source said. Witnesses said officers, some in civilian clothes, hauled away people and bundled them into unmarked vans. Some were beaten with batons.
What has to trouble the United States is that both countries entered 2011 led by strong men who were positively viewed by the successive American presidents. In his State of the Union address, the president made clear the U.S. stands with Tunisians seeking openness and democracy. Today, the American government sent the same message to Mubarak and Egypt.
The Obama administration sharpened its response to political upheaval and brutal crackdowns in Egypt on Wednesday, telling its closest ally in the Arab world it must respond to its people's yearnings for democracy as the largest political protests in years swept Cairo streets.

But with no clear picture emerging of a democratic and pro-Western alternative to the three-decade rule of Egypt's authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak, it was unclear how hard the United States was willing to press its case.
The New York Times takes that a step further, noting:
In interviews in recent days, officials acknowledged that the United States had limited influence over many actors in the region, and that the upheaval in Egypt, in particular, could scramble its foreign-policy agenda.
So it is proceeding gingerly, balancing the democratic aspirations of young Arabs with cold-eyed strategic and commercial interests. That sometimes involves supporting autocratic and unpopular governments — which has turned many of those young people against the United States.
That smacks of what led to the overthrow of the Shah in Iran. Granted, a theocracy akin to what is there now might not take root in Egypt, but the potential for a non-democratic future for Egypt cannot be ignored. The White House cannot come across as feeble, and pithy comments about supporting democratic ideals and warning governments to respond in measured ways do little to indicate that the administration has a credible policy to assist Egypt specifically and North Africa generally in tackling its future needs. 

Considering that this president appears doomed to failure in his efforts to bring about a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians (and he joins a list that gets ever longer), he doesn't want unrest in another part of the Arab world to foment without being able to articulate how he intends to deal with it.

Americans should be waiting -- and not with an ample amount of patience -- for his answer. If he's not quick enough, events may surpass his ability to be ahead of the issue.

The state of our union is strong

President Obama ended his State of the Union address with those words.

For the most part, the media critics aren't buying what he's selling.

The Washington Post editorial board suggests that the president needed to make clearer how the country was going to pay for much of what was outlined in his address:
President Obama entered office promising to be a different kind of politician - one who would speak honestly with the American people about the hard choices they face and who would help make those hard calls. Tuesday night's State of the Union Address would have been the moment to make good on that promise. He disappointed. ...
The reality, as Mr. Obama understands, is that the country is headed for fiscal catastrophe unless it does some politically unpopular things: unwind the Bush tax cuts, including for the middle class; reduce projected Social Security benefits for future retirees, exempting the poor and disabled; rein in the cost of health care; limit popular income tax deductions. Mr. Obama knows this, but last night he did little to prepare Americans for any of it. The best you could say is that he left the door open to work with Congress on these issues. 
TIME magazine suggested that the president returned to familiar themes, albeit repackaged, as he set his agenda for the final two years of his first (and only?) term in the Oval Office. In doing so,
Obama's formula last night for "Winning the Future" was basically a revival of his original new foundation: innovation, education, clean energy and infrastructure, eventually followed by deficit reduction. In fact, almost all of his policy proposals involved expanding or extending big-ticket items from the $787 billion stimulus package enacted during his first month in office: his Race to the Top education program, his $2,500-a-year tuition tax credit, his high-speed rail program, his broadband initiatives and his aggressive push to promote green energy and green manufacturing. He even gave a shout-out to the supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which became the fastest in the world after it received a $20 million stimulus-funded upgrade — and before it was overtaken by a supercomputer in China.

The New York Times reports that the president offered echoes of America's Cold War battle with Communism as he challenged the country to move ahead boldly but smartly in confronting its problems. That Cold War theme baffled at least one Times' reporter, who wrote
Mr. Obama is hardly the first president to try to rekindle the spirit of cold-war competition in an effort to force Americans to set aside political differences and join together to face a common threat to their prosperity and security.
Mr. Obama was clearly seeking to pull America out of its latest funk, arguing that no country has a deeper bench, better universities or a more entrepreneurial spirit. But he also portrayed those as fragile assets, and his bet is that Americans expect their government to preserve the country’s lead, a view that puts him in direct competition with Tea Party-fueled calls for a diminished Washington.
If the president wanted to use the Cold War as a rallying point, then why, the Financial Times asks, did he say so little about America's role in the world?
The president reaffirmed US policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea, supported the “democratic aspirations” of protesters in Tunisia and offered to revive reforms to immigration laws.
But the substance of his address was strikingly domestic. While relatively little time was devoted to foreign policy, much was made of the rising economic power of the rest of the world.
The rhetorical centrepiece of the speech was about how the US could no longer keep up with its global competitors. More so than his predecessors have in previous such presidential speeches, he listed areas where the US had fallen behind the rest of the world, to South Korea in internet penetration, to Europe in infrastructure and to China in trains and airports.

The 12,000 level looked good...

...but at least for now the Dow Jones stock market can't hold at that level.

The Los Angeles Times reports that:

The Dow Jones industrial average closed below 12,000 points Wednesday after climbing above that level for the first time since June 2008.

The widely followed stock index rose above 12,000 early in the trading day and proceeded to go below and above it repeatedly before closing at 11,985.44, up 8.25 points, or 0.1%.
Despite its disappointing finish, the Dow is still up more than 5,400 points, or 83%, since hitting bottom in March 2009 in the wake of the global financial crisis and the deepest recession in decades.
And the political spin continues. The stock market is up -- that's good. But (and as expected) unemployment numbers are not dropping quickly -- that's not good. However, more employers appear ready to add workers -- that's good. But...and so it goes. 

The Dow keeps moving in the right direction

This from the Los Angeles Times:

The Dow Jones industrial average today climbed above 12,000 points for the first time since June 2008.

The blue-chip index has surged 24% in less than seven months as investors have gained confidence in the staying power of the economic recovery.
Since hitting bottom in March 2009 in the wake of the global financial crisis and the deepest recession in decades, the Dow has gained more than 5,400 points, a stunning 83%.  
The world-famous stock average still has about 2,000 more points to recover before it matches its all-time peak of 14,164.53, set in October 2007.
Of course, we can expect the usual political spin-doctoring from Democrats, Republicans, the White House and more about this information. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Our nation was a winner tonight

I don't care where you fall on the political spectrum because tonight we should all be celebrating.

Yes, political differences divide us. Republicans and Democrats often can't agree on anything except the day of the week; Independent voters too often seem to matter only at election time; and those on the far right and far left are often dismissed in political rhetoric as out of touch (or worse).

But tonight, the President of the United States met a Constitutional requirement and by doing so reaffirmed that no president, no matter how popular or unpopular, can neglect to address Congress and the people and outline his political agenda.

Sure, beginning in the morning, we will in full throat argue for or against what President Obama said. But let's not forget that we live in a country in which we can do that openly, freely and without fear of being thrown into jail (or worse).

Democracy was a winner tonight. Celebrate it.

The full text of Mr. Obama's...

...State of the Union address can be accessed here.

The highlights, in my opinion:
We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.
That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation.
Now, by itself, this simple recognition won’t usher in a new era of cooperation. What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow. ...
At stake right now is not who wins the next election – after all, we just had an election. At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else. It’s whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded. It’s whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but a light to the world. ...
Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown. You didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors. If you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck, good benefits, and the occasional promotion. Maybe you’d even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.
That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful. ...
We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit, and reform our government. That’s how our people will prosper. That’s how we’ll win the future. And tonight, I’d like to talk about how we get there. ...
Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik¸ we had no idea how we’d beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t there yet. NASA didn’t even exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.
This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. In a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology – an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people. ...
And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s. ...
Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success. But if we want to win the future – if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas – then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.
Think about it. Over the next ten years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school degree. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to 9th in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us – as citizens, and as parents – are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed. ...
Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.” Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. ...
Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. I know that debate will be difficult and take time. But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort. And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can staff our research labs, start new businesses, and further enrich this nation. ...
Our infrastructure used to be the best – but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a “D.”
We have to do better. ...
Now, I’ve heard rumors that a few of you have some concerns about the new health care law. So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved. If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you. We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses.
What I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a pre-existing condition. ...
But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.
So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president.
This freeze will require painful cuts. Already, we have frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years. I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs. The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without. ...
A 21st century government that’s open and competent. A government that lives within its means. An economy that’s driven by new skills and ideas. Our success in this new and changing world will require reform, responsibility, and innovation. It will also require us to approach that world with a new level of engagement in our foreign affairs. ...
We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.
We must never forget that the things we’ve struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere. And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country.
Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families. Let us serve them as well as they have served us – by giving them the equipment they need; by providing them with the care and benefits they have earned; and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation. ...

College graduation rates look good...

...when you consider the big picture.

But, as the Chronicle of Higher Education has done, digging deeper adds some blemishes to that picture:
One thing that jumps out of the data is the large educational gap experienced by blacks and Hispanics. That can be difficult to examine fairly over time because of changes in how the census has handled race and ethnicity, but a clear contrast exists with college degrees in the population as a whole.
For instance, the census estimates that in 2009, 28 percent of Americans 25 and older had at least four-year degree.s But the rate for black Americans was just 17 percent, and for Hispanic Americans only 13 percent.
The Chronicle's report includes an interactive map that allows you to see graduation rates in each of America's counties across various demographic segments. 

A variety of factors goes into whether a person will graduate from college. While there is no perfect predictor for success, generally speaking Caucasians, and those who come from at least middle class status and from a family with at least one college graduate are more likely to succeed in college.

Of course, state governments do little to improve anyone's chances for making it into and through college when they slash spending for education. Texas, a traditional laggard in overall graduation rates, is the latest to cut from the education pie. The Huffington Post reports that
Public education in Texas is facing billions in proposed budget cuts that would include slashing arts education, pre-kindergarten programs and teacher incentive pay as lawmakers take on a massive deficit with the promise of no new taxes.

Lawmakers got their first glimpse of what the next state budget might look like late Tuesday, including the $5 billion cut to public schools, as Republican Gov. Rick Perry and his supporters were dancing at an inaugural celebration.
I hope y'all had a good time at that celebration.

No one should be dancing in Oregon, which has problems of its own. Graduation rates for students of color are showing signs of improvement at at least one large, public institution -- Colorado.

Graduation rates are a but like national rankings in collegiate sports -- they're impressive, but they don't tell the entire story about an institution. Of course, colleges and universities want impressive graduation rates and will tout them when they can. But there needs to be an effort to understand not only how many students graduate, but what they learn when they are in the classroom.

Please don't forget the importance of learning, personal growth, development of a relevant skill set, the ability to think critically and a host of other issues as you determine which institution is best for your family.

Egypt -- the next Tunisia?

You'll recall that when the government of Tunisia fell a couple of weeks ago that there were discussions about it touching off similar popular uprisings around the Arab world.

Egypt must know be considered one of those hot spots.

Protesters took to the streets of the capital city, Cairo, today in what can be described only as a sign of discontent with the Mubarak government, which has ruled often with an iron fist for 30 years. (The protests continued into Wednesday morning, Cairo time and appeared to be met with a more pronounced police presence.)

Video of Tuesday's protests appeared on YouTube and regular updates appeared on social media sites, including Twitter, which the government tried to shut down.

Three people are confirmed dead, as NBC reports
Two protesters and a police officer were killed in the nationwide demonstrations inspired by Tunisia's uprising, which also demanded a solution to Egypt's grinding poverty and were likely to fuel growing dissent in a presidential election year.
Mobilized largely on the Internet, the waves of protesters filled Cairo's central Tahrir — or Liberation — Square on Tuesday, some hurling rocks and climbing atop armored police trucks.
"Down with Hosni Mubarak, down with the tyrant," chanted the crowds. "We don't want you!" they screamed as thousands of riot police deployed in a massive security operation that failed to quell the protests.
That "tyrant" has long been an ally -- at least in name -- of the United States and it's that association that puts the Obama administration in a difficult situation:
Tunisia was considered one of the least likely to fall, but it fell. Across the region, opposition groups, hoping to repeat Tunisia's successes, are emboldened and increasingly active. For the first time, they know what change looks like. More importantly, they now believe it can happen in their own countries. But in the growing battle between Arab autocrats and popular oppositions, the U.S. is finding itself torn between the reliable allies it needs and the democratic reformers it wants. (Complete Atlantic report here.)
For now, the people's rage is directed at the Mubarak family. Deutsche Welle reports that
The protests in Egypt, which organizers have vowed to carry on until dawn, are estimated to be the largest since President Hosni Mubarak took power nearly 30 years ago.

Protesters in Egypt's second largest city, Alexandria tore down a picture of 82-year-old Mubarak and of his son, Gamal, who many Egyptians believe is being groomed for office when his father steps down.
Demonstrators hung banners from buildings in Cairo reading "Revolution against oppression" and Down with Hosni Mubarak."
One Middle East web site is reporting that Gamal Mubarak and his family have fled Egypt, though there has been no confirmation from other media sources I've accessed. 

If the elder Mubarak maintains control of the security apparatus, he has a chance to remain in power. But he'll need to use that control wisely; if he were to unleash the police on the people, then he'll be under increasing calls to step down. Whether he would listen is not certain.

Here's $3-million...with strings attached

You've got to give some people credit -- they certainly know what arrogance means.

This story highlights one such man. Enough said.

Why do people do stupid things?

Alright, I confess that with the evidence presented in this Washington Post story, I believe the man accused of altering a historic document is in fact guilty of doing that.

And my only question is, why? What does it take inside someone to deliberately alter papers that are of importance to scholars, researchers, students and more in this and future generations?

The student-athlete... a term often met with a snicker.

I can hear the responses, most of them beginning and ending with "sure, they are."

There's no question that striking the proper balance is difficult as universities grapple with the realities of big-time athletics. There might be a lesson to be learned by what has taken place at the Division-II NCAA level this year.

As Insider Higher Ed reports:
In a move last year that went largely unnoticed, the member institutions of Division II of the National Collegiate Athletic Association took a major step to distance themselves from the bloat many critics have come to associate with their counterparts in Division I: the division’s 300 or so institutions voluntarily decided to scale back the playing and practice seasons of most sports, after a study determined that their players were spending “too much time on athletic pursuits.”
The "season" in which an athlete performs is too easily forgotten. In fact, as one NCAA report found, the season in many cases never ends:
[A] defined "off season" is not the reality for thousands of NCAA student-athletes. For many of them, especially at the elite level in most sports, "next year" begins at almost the same moment "this year" ends. Unlike the fans who cheer them on, more and more student-athletes spend less and less time recovering between seasons — continuing instead to train, practice and prepare. Anymore, being an NCAA student-athlete is a year-round pursuit.
Returning to the aforementioned Inside Higher Ed report, the Division II schools voluntarily chose to reduce the playing, training, practicing and other times associated with sports.

Among the changes that took place this fall in the division, athletes in football, cross country, field hockey, soccer and volleyball all reported to their institutions a week later in the summer than in prior years. The soccer season was cut from 20 games to 18, the volleyball season from 28 to 26, and the basketball season from 27 to 26. The Division II Football Championship was held a week later. Also, there was a seven-day “dead period” in December during which all athletic activity was banned so that athletes, like other students, could focus on finals.
Though Division II officials stressed they do not have data on the immediate impact of these changes, many gathered at this year’s NCAA convention, held earlier this month in San Antonio, spoke positively of the difference they saw them make on their campuses and in the lives of their athletes.
These are important changes and we'll begin to see a more complete picture of their effects in a few years. Will Division I programs have the courage to consider such reductions? Sadly, I doubt it.

The pressure on D-I programs to be a selling point of a university are well known. I recall reading a few years back -- and if anyone reading this post remembers the exact study and can locate it, please let me know -- a research project that found that applications to America's top national universities correlated with the success of the football team. When the team did well (and if my memory is accurate here, especially if it was returning to the top of the national rankings or was a new "hot" team in the polls), applications from potential undergraduates soared.

Let's face it, you're not going to get 90,000 people to return to campus to watch the university ensemble, a Nobel laureate or anyone else. They return because football (and to a lesser extent basketball, hockey and baseball) are part of the lifeblood of the college experience.

I admit it, when USC is on television, I'm going to watch. I want the Trojans to win every game, every year (and, yes, the way they did it in the earlier part of this century was not often ethical). If I still called Los Angeles home, I likely would attend as many games as possible. You wouldn't get me on the campus 6 or 7 times during the fall for any other reason.

That's the conundrum -- how to keep students, fans, alumni and others engaged without sacrificing the integrity of the student-athlete.