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Monday, November 12, 2012

The End Days of Assad

What in the World is happening with Syria?

The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces elected a leader, Mr. Mouaz al-Khatib, the Damascus native and moderate Sunni cleric who was chosen at the Doha conference to lead the new 63-member body.  The Gulf Cooperation Council recognized the new body as the legitimate body representing the opposition in Syria and within hours, the Arab League followed suit with the U.S. State Department quickly endorsing these new arrangements 

Reading the political tea leaves to decipher what this means essentially shakes this out as the creation of an entity that can assume power once the Assad regime either relinquishes power or is eliminated in some manner.  Naturally, the coalition was made up of a group of 63 people who represent different groups within the opposition and is structured in such a manner as to minimize a the potential for a totally radical new regime to emerge once the Assad Government ceases.  This also has the added feature of creating a more palatable group to funnel a higher quantity of financial resources combined with aid of a far more lethal nature.  After all, these thing will have to be explained to government policy makers and subsequently to the public... at least to some degree.

It's important to weight these developments with a convergence of other developments and comments from the chief allies of Damascus, namely Russia and China.  China, of course, is fully enveloped in a once in a decade leadership change, this means tricky foreign policy initiatives are likely to be placed on the back burner, at least until the new leadership is fully recognized and consolidated in their approach.  Without hesitation, Moscow quickly commented that "such alliances must act based on a platform of peaceful regulation of the conflict by Syrians themselves, without interference", urging the opposition to drop its stated refusal to negotiate with the regime.  In my opinion, this is hardly a forceful declaration of an impending international crisis that would have to be driven by Putin... it seems as though Syria is not a political hill Putin is willing to die on if I am reading the political tea leaves from Moscow with any degree of accuracy.

Besides, from the Russian perspective, both the economic and strategic importance of Syria has diminished over the decades.  Mother Russia now holds the high Arctic as far more strategic, recognizing the immense hydrocarbon resources in close proximity to their homeland and deep water naval assets.  The Middle East looks like a money pit guarded by a ticking bomb to the Russians, whereas the high Arctic must look like a bloated treasure chest in a region where they have unchallenged navigable superiority and all the most important strategic cards in their hands.  It only makes sense that Putin, being a man who has demonstrated his wisdom in matters political and in matters economic, will likely rattle sabers and complain, but at the end of the day, he will preserve his political capital for the big battles down the road... the ones that will be worth trillions in wealth to the Russian people.

The alliance and recognition required to facilitate more direct aid have given the opposition an enormous boost.  Substantially more indirect resourcing from the West can accelerate quickly as the opposition is now officially recognized.  This also paves the way for the provision of more lethal aid.  Turkey has taken in the vast population of Syrian refugees.  Turkey has also been repeatedly shelled by the Syrian Army, even a Turkish Air Force fighter was shot down by Syrian military forces.  Turkey has been stung repeatedly in this.  Turkey is now publicly discussing talks with NATO about the possible deployment of Patriot surface-to-air missiles to guard against further spillover of Syria's conflict. NATO alliance's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, made no specific remarks on the possible deployment of Patriots, but he has stated that NATO will not abandon Turkey if Syria continues illegal intrusions into their country.  This is the first major sabre rattling seen from NATO; interesting it would happen so close to the recognition of the opposition, and that both of those would happen less than a week after the US election was over.  Connect the dots... one does not usher in a huge ground breaking power sharing agreement between factions that have been fighting a revolution in Syria, and all in just a couple of days.  I think Hillary has been a very busy as she finishes up her tour as Secretary of State.

Some would view the deployment of Patriot missile systems as a method of establishing specific "no fly" zones in key areas.  This would have the attraction of not having to deploy NATO military aircraft to enforce limited "no fly" zones, forcing the Syrian Air Force to retreat from areas where humanitarian efforts are established.  These areas could be extended to provide strategic cover for opposition forces.  Syrian Army shelling of Turkey lays the groundwork for a potential NATO Patriot screen.  Syrian artillery has also fired into the Golan resulting in the Israeli Defense Forces sending a rocket back at the Syrian artillery position, deliberately missing them of course, but landing it close enough to deliver a message… don't even think about coming into the Golan.  The Israeli's then filed a complaint with the UN representatives in the area, but to no avail.  They Syrian Army lobbed artillery back into the Golan, this time landing in a Israeli military outpost.  The IDF sent back another rocket, although this time with precision.  The rocket landed a direct hit on the Syrian position, no reports of casualties have yet been seen on mainstream media.  All of these things seem to be adding up to a shifting reality; Western powers are putting the pieces together on the board to support a far more serious operation to unseat Assad.

Even the UK Prime Minister suggested Mr. Assad could go into exile recently, but this would be an unattractive option from Mr. Assad's perspective since it is likely that no matter where he goes, he could be legally subject to international tribunal for crimes against humanity.  The situation in Syria remains complex, the killing continues, but the one thing becoming evident is the timing between the U.S. election and a lot of mechanical requirements to launch a far stronger effort to dislodge Assad.  It almost seems as though the election ended and the plans were immediately put into effect.  It could be argued this represents the ability of a second term President to be more decisive in post election actions while using, as he is famous for, the full range of national security options available.

I suspect there will, over the days ahead, be far more lethal aid placed in the hands of the opposition.  It is likely that increased funding will flow, and if this is met with only token resistance from Russia and China, it could pave the way to an end of this ugly and unnecessary violence in Syria.  Even though Iraq and Lebanon may not be wholly supportive of the revolution in Syria, it is highly likely their concerns will tend to remain somewhat muted as the Arab League, NATO, and the GCC now have far greater alignment.  It seems likely there are more backroom deals to be made, and some "front of the house" sabre rattling will be required to add the element of window dressing for the Russians and the Chinese to save face, but the reign of Assad will likely be coming to an end at an accelerated pace.

Of course, the mainstream press does not typically report on other options that have been discussed here and there… options like an extraction operation to take Assad to an international location where he may be placed in the hands of an international tribunal or even the possibility that Assad could meet with a sudden and unfortunate event… certain circles might press for a political "assassination".  My viewpoints on the basket of options available are entirely mute.  I stand in silence as to the best pathway as I prefer to simply try and create a modest assessment of what is taking place.  In my humble opinion, I see the end game close at hand for the current Syrian regime.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Veteran's Day Message 2012

Veteran's Day Message 2012

Fresh from the excitement of the U.S. Election, I'm pleased to see the democratic system of the United States transition power (in this case retain it) in a peaceful manner as has been the hallmark of the great union since George Washington rejected the notion of being a King or President for life.

George Washington left his service as President imparting words of wisdom to the new nation… among those words he said, "The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the constitution which at any time exists till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people is sacredly obligatory upon all".  Clearly, President Washington was a man who understood the value of democracy and the rights of the people.  He was also a man who suffered terrible hardships of war to enshrine those values. 

In the United States election, I watched as partisan politics generated a fever pitch in the months leading up to the election.  Even the news channels seemed to have a stronger partisan flavor than usual.  Immediately after election, the conversations quickly turn to the problems ahead and how there will be great conflict in a nation so evenly divided.  In part, this is probably due to the pain of defeat, which is very real.  Especially for the candidates and their campaign workers and the thousands of volunteers who have placed countless hours of their lives into a cause they dearly believed in.  But the pain of an election defeat quickly dissipates and the business of the union continues.

I always harbor a strong sense of optimism at election time because I would like to believe that true patriotism is always prepared to blossom in the hearts of those who will head to Washington to govern the nation.  Patriotism itself should guide the larger needs of the nation and infuse a sense of collaboration in all hearts.  But the optimism, like the pain of defeat or the ecstasy of victory, also tends to dissipate as the omnipresent tasks ahead of the people are ever larger and more complex in a shrinking World.

The optimist believes the best days are still ahead of the United States.  President Obama will be focused on shaping the policy environment that will usher in new jobs, a growing economy, and a shrinking level of military conflict around the World.  Of course, the challenges are not easy nor will they be solved overnight. Hopefully, words of optimism and courage shall guide the republic and be a constant companion of political leaders in the weeks, months, and years ahead. 

On a personal note, I'm cheering for President Obama because, Like former President Clinton, I believe his policy direction will pay dividends for the great republic.  The global economic and security challenges this administration has faced have been historic.  The President, however, is not without fault.  During his first two years in office, he tended to undervalue the coin of the realm… trust.  Trust between Republican and Democrats alike.  Politics do not need to be a blood sport.  People who do not involve themselves with the machinations of the political intricacies of the beltway believe their representatives are assigned the job of looking after the republic and that they will do that work to great effect. 

There will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those who, under any pretense, may endeavor to weaken its bonds.  The division of political beliefs have spanned ever wider, creating large chasms that may disturb the republic.  It is clearly a matter of great peril, that any circumstances should be furnished for characterizing parties by demographic or geographic discrimination. 

The manipulative leaders of divisive policy endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of interests and views. This is an expedient manner for a party to acquire influence within particular districts or parties.  Altogether too often, they will readily misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts or parties.  Citizens should actively shield their hearts against the jealousies and divisiveness that spring from attempts to divide.  Such actions render hostilities between citizens who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. 

I point no fingers at any party, instead, I caution people as citizens of the republic, thereby incorporating both the innocuous practitioners and the sublimely effective highly capitalized practitioners for whom financial capacity dwarfs the ability of the average person to compete for an understanding of their opinions.  For the republic to be effective, a union of the government for everybody is indispensable and must be demanded of our elected representatives.

Some political entities exist to organize a strong faction, and to endow it with extraordinary force powered by wealth.  The danger of such entities is their proclivity to pretend they delegate the will of the republic while representing the will of their own interests.  In many cases, such entities are driven by a minority of republic, making the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of their self serving goals.  This is in stark contrast to transparent and well thought out plans that are evaluated by common counsels; modified by mutual interests and a sense of the fraternal good for the entire republic.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned political entities will seek to carry a popular issue such that it enhances their ability to become powerful organizations.  Their leaders are often cunning and ambitious.  Left unchecked, their ability to subvert the power of the people for their own purposes endangers the well being of the republic.  It is only through the constant opposition to such extremism that the public good will be served.

The baneful effects of the spirit of political party has, as part and parcel of the very human nature of such organizations, the goal of domination over another.  This is sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to opposing parties or political entities.  Left unchecked, the miseries imposed over the weaker entity, over time, will incentivize people to seek the security of the absolute power of the party or entity, expressed in our current system as partisan politics and control over key institutions. 

Having no recourse, and left to prosper without dissent, leaders of powerful factions, having accumulated more fortune than their competitors, may seek to elevate their powers at the expense of the public good.  Let these words stand as a grim reminder that public interest, the very foundations of democracy, become challenged whenever such polarization is allowed to run rampant over the larger needs of the republic and the people.  As this election ended, leaders on both sides pontificated the need to work across the aisle and engage each other in the spirit of the public good.  May we be fortunate to see these words translated into actions.

I believe the policy issues of the day, such as managing the finances of the republic, restoring geopolitical stability in the Middle East and elsewhere, the restoration of the economic engines that provide jobs, and a thoughtful dialogue about climate change constitute challenges every bit as large as the greatest challenges the republic has ever faced.  In few instances, except during the great wars or during the civil war when the cousins battled each other for the very existence of the union itself, has more been at stake for the people of the republic.  Accordingly, it is up to the people to demand, through their votes and their constant attention to government, a non-partisan spirit that shall not wane with the passing of some weeks or months. 

This applies equally to all parties and political entities, all of which owe their very right to exist to the blood of the patriots shed across the centuries.  Let the sacrifice of the many patriots be cherished and valued, for in their sacrifice the republic came to exist and survives to this day.  Failure to arrive at political solutions for the overall public good, even at the expense of the power of the political party or entity, is to heap the ultimate disrespect upon the cherished memories of the many patriots who have fought and paid with their blood and with their lives, for the free republic that now faces these challenges.

I wish every success to the President of the United States, to his staff, and to the Congress as the elected representatives of the people.  And I'm equally sure that, in the most fundamental sense of patriotic duty, this is also the wish of the people of the republic.  I also admonish both parties for their partisan mischief over the last years, and I am very hopeful their desires for the future of the republic can, and shall, be placed above any and all forms of partisan posturing.

As it turns out, this is a rather rare election for me because the President is also my cousin.  President Obama and I are 9th cousins, two times removed!  I believe I shall, perhaps, write to the President and ask him to send his cousin some inauguration tickets.  This will likely be the only chance I ever have to see a cousin sworn in as President of the United States for a second term.  But I would also like to look back on such an experience knowing it was also the day a new journey on the path of bi-partisan politics began in Washington. 

Interestingly, our common ancestors are from the Canadian side of our family tree that ties us together as cousins.  POTUS has Canadian lineage he can be proud of!  If I get the inauguration tickets and, possibly, the chance to converse with the President… I'll be sure to point that out to him.

In the meantime, dissolving all such fantasy of inaugural attendance, I turn my attention to the important duties of respecting our honored dead and the glorious living who have made the ultimate contract and compact with their fellow citizens, to defend freedom and liberty at all costs, and to pay any price to insure it, up to and including their own life if necessary.  Let those brave men and women occupy our thoughts as we, the free from around the World, gather to remember and honor these brave people.  Let us remember they have provided the very democracy where we prosper and thrive.  If you know a Veteran, or if you have a Veteran in your family, maybe take a moment to thank them for their service.  Those words mean more than you can ever imagine; it was for you whom they dedicated and sacrificed some of the best years of their lives.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The E-President Poll predicts an Obama Win

In the last U.S. Presidential election, I invented a fun tool designed to measure the e-bay factor.  It's a poll that looks at how much money people are willing to pay to have a piece of the candidate.  The more items for sale the larger the demand.  If the market has a larger demand AND a higher price, it's a hands down winner. The fascinating part is that it had a 100% predictability record in the 2008 U.S. election, both in the primaries and the general election.

e-President poll is not scientific, in fact, it's about as subjective as you can get.  I just do this for fun.  Still, it seems to have a good track record to predict the Presidency!  So here we go again.  Keep in mind, the last election did not feature a sitting President, so owning a piece of the candidate made for a relatively equal playing field in 2008.  In this election, if you bought Obama, you'd be getting a Presidential autograph and if you buy a piece of Romney, you won't know if it's a Presidential autograph until after the election... could turn out to be the autograph of somebody who ran and lost, so value is harder to appreciate.  This means more measures should be introduced, so I added active bids.

Active bids is the range where the "buy it now" signs tend to either fall off or we see multiple bids on items with regularity.  In other words, this is where the market becomes quite active for both candidates, indicating a measure of liquidity.  In this area, Obama holds roughly a 4:1 advantage over Romney.  Unfortunately, this is a new measurement, so I can't compare it to the 2008 data.  Obama's Active Bid Range starts just shy of 400 and strengthens into the 350 dollar range whereas Romney starts at 100 and strengthens into the 75 dollar range.  Interestingly, a lot of items for sale this year are signed baseballs.

Active Bid Range 3.99 : 1 Obama

Item count is another category, and compared to the 2008 election, where Obama's item count was 3.7 times higher than McCain; the range has narrowed in this election with Obama posting 2.8 times the item count Romney has.  This is a troubling statistic for the incumbent president as one would expect an incumbent President's item count separation to be wider.  I think this reflects a much stronger candidacy from the Republican ticket.

Item Count 2.87 : 1 Obama

The value predictor... or how much people will pay to "own" a piece of the candidate has also changed between 2008 and 2012.  Obama's cash value has slipped from 2008 when it was 2,500 down to 2,125 in 2012.  Romney, on the other hand, posts nearly 400 bucks on top cash value pre-election compared to a mere 108 bucks for McCain back in 2008.  This means Romney is a stronger candidate than McCain according to valuation figures. and the ration has vastly changes down from 23:1 in 2008 to a mere 6:1 advantage for Obama in this election.

Cash Value 6.08 : 1 Obama

My analysis is as follows:

Obama will win the election, although due to lower bid values and a tighter range, and compensating for an incumbency, it looks to be that the polls are correct, this will be an exceptionally close election.  The bottom line will be how the swing states go, and on that count, I believe the map of the United States will look very red, but most of the key swing states will be blue; placing President Obama over the top in the Electoral College, but it could be tight... with a possible electoral college win of less than 30.

A narrow active bid range is also troubling, but I feel the margin is wide enough to make it easy to call the race.  Obama enjoys both a far larger base of active bids and the quality is superior.  Romney, apparently, isn't as easy to sell on e-bay.  I was going to try and use Hillary as a potential marker to adjust for incumbent vs. non-incumbent, but even though she is Secretary of State, she is also a failed candidate and her e-bay numbers were in the tank... so not a good way to go.

I'm going to apply a 4:1 rule for incumbent vs. non and look at an amalgamated difference on the ratios posted in item count, valuation, and active bids.  Bear with me... it's a guess.  But using this as my only attempt at a data normalization attempt, I arrive at a predicted victory by Obama of approximately 3.2 (+/- 3)  In other words... it won't be pretty, but Obama wins in 2012.