McCain’s VP…In Which I Find Myself In SHocking Agreement With Jimbo and Ann Althouse

Got picked up by The Flying Dutchman at the airport last night – not my last trip, but the beginning of some changes that will result in a lot less trips, thankfully – and instead of business we wound up chatting about McCain’s VP choice.

I told him it had to be Palin. Or rather that McCain would be “idiotic” not to pick her.


Purely tactically, Biden’s a sharp debater. Blustery, sometimes fact-challenged, but smart and sharp-tongued. Imagine a matchup of the likely GOP Veeps in the debate…they lose, it’s a ‘Crossfire’-type boring shouting match, or…if it’s Palin, he’s pinned. He can’t bluster her down without seeming like an ass, he has to be polite, and she can go after him with an inside game that’s all about “I am successfully running a state while you have sat in DC and made speeches for the last 40 years”.

Plus he has to pick a woman (well, no but he’d be even more idiotic not to), and Fiorina, Whitman, and Hutchinson all bring too much negative baggage.

Here’s hoping…and heading to Costco for the jumbo popcorn.

Update: Ohmigawd – could it be true?

WGN On The Air

We just want it to stop. It’s not fair, it’s blatant attacks against Barak Obama

I’m listening to WGN, where Stanley Kurtz apparently just finished talking about his research. The first two callers – apparently triggered by the Obama campaign – both wanted Kurtz silenced.

I’m beyond disgust. I’ve been bitterly opposed to ‘silence the critics’ on blogs and in the media everywhere. This is not remotely the kind of politics that represents change that I want to be part of.

Steven Diamond is talking now…nice slam at Ayers. Makes me feel better about being liberal.

[Addendum, 13 hours later: WGN has posted the “full podcast of the show.”: –NM]

ABC And The Brown Palace – The Brown Palace’s Side

There’s a contretemps over an ABC crew getting arrested. So I asked the hotel about it.

Quoted in full, with their permission:

Dear Mr. Danziger,

If I may provide an explanation about today’s events:

The ABC news cameras were intruding on the entrance of the hotel, creating an unsafe entrance/exit for our guests, which are our priority at all times. The police department asked them to move to the side several times so that our guests could enter/exit, and ABC refused. ABC was clearly told that they could stand on the sidewalk but it is illegal to block an entrance to any business, which is what they were doing. After not complying with the police requests, they were then asked to move to the other side of the street. It is our understanding that ABC continued to speak belligerently to the police and were arrested for not complying with police orders. The arrest resulted from issues between the police and ABC, not The Brown Palace Hotel.

Watch the video at the link; there’s not enough info to support or reject her explanation.

Props to the Brown Palace for getting the problem and responding quickly…let’s see how the story develops.

Edited for clarity; hard line breaks removed by NM to better suit this blog’s format.

Blackwater, Again

So I wanted to take a moment to talk about Blackwater some more; I actually mean to do two posts on it – this one about the organization and some of the politics around it, and other about an idea about society and people that being there gave me.

Blackfive, Uncle Jimbo, and NZ Bear all wrote about the logistics and posted pictures and video, so let me refer to some of their pictures and cites:


…and of course they talked smack (and some compliments) about me…

Ok, so who taught you that you carry your weapon like some bag from Prada? MKH might get away with it.. but guys, c’mon. REAL dudes know better.

Someone tell A-L he’s carrying it LIKE a typical ‘liberal’- ”eww, someone take this!”


And, as much as we kid Marc Danziger (the best dressed range trainee I’ve ever seen – Italian shoes, even) about the huge money he has spent on training, we ate some humble pie as he demonstrated that his investment was worth it.

Yeah – a little anxiety shooting in front of those guys – and since United lost my suitcase, I was shooting in dress shoes (interesting shooting in leather soles) and suit pants from one of my favorite suits (hence the ‘don’t get gun lube on the gabardine’ that got me smack-talked on B5)

But enough about the trip, let me take a moment and talk about Blackwater.

My impression, as of Monday of last week, was that they had built essentially a body shop (placement service) for skilled trigger-pullers. I believed that they had levels of skill – from people who were basically somewhat more trained than I am up to the most elite operators. As of Friday night, my impression was very different.

I’m a big believer that people give you ‘tells’ about who they are and how they operate. The first thing I noticed was how buttoned-down the whole place was. Every building was neat, every building and door numbered, every vehicle had an ID on it. We walked into the vehicle shop where the Grizzlies (and the new secret vehicle) were being built and two minutes later a nice lady came around and offered us safety glasses.

When we did our hot laps (did I mention how fun they were? Did you see the videos?) course control – something I’m sensitized to from roadracing and motorcycle track days – was watertight.

The AR15 ‘sampler’ we did was absolutely great – they built skills with care to conceptually explain what we were doing and to carefully ‘pyramid’ skills. The tests they gave us were pretty easy – but they were sound, well managed, and at every moment they carefully managed us in terms of safety, attention, and action. And I’ll note that the conceptual points they made about what they were doing were simple, smart and even somewhat novel to me.

So every detail I saw wasn’t one indicating a loosely run placement agency for retired cops and operators, but an organization that proceeds with more than a little care in everything it does.

Look, I know about the accusations – of overaggressive fire at vehicles, of the shooting and deaths at Nisour Square. I honestly don’t know enough to have a real personal opinion on those events and others like them. I will suggest that in reality in any situation where people walk around with loaded guns the potential for tragic incident is there, and in any organization that ramps up as fast as they did they will get some losers and make some mistakes.

Overall, for me to judge them on those kinds of grounds, I’d want to compare them with a realistic standard – one with some grounding in history and fact – not one based on a kind of artificial notion of behavior. So I won’t judge or condemn them for those actions until I have facts that take my views one way or the other.

I also can’t comment in detail on their ‘profiteering’ except to suggest that you watch the clip from the Aviator where Howard Hughes confronts Senator Brewster. Large things need to get done quickly in wartime, and that means there will be large checks written and sometimes wasted. Anyone who can improve the procurement process – by saving the public money while still getting results – will have my support. But meanwhile, I’d suggest you read the CBO study on the costs of contracting in Iraq (pdf).

One of the things that impressed me the most about them was their ability to rapidly shift ground and innovate. Price – a wealthy former SEAL – started Blackwater as a training facility, intending to compete with Gunsite and Thunder Ranch, both schools I’ve attended. He put his school in North Carolina thinking that the population density and surrounding government facilities would give him an advantage over the remote Prescott, Arizona and Mountain Home, Texas locations of those schools.

They were approached by the Navy to train up sailors after the USS Cole, given that they could act in 30 days. Their response – “sure!” – and they created a huge training capability that became the basis of their business.

They have pivoted on a dime multiple times in order to respond to opportunities – and to create opportunities where they see them. Armored vehicles, energy, airships…that entrepreneurial “why not?” and “why not right now?” kind of attitude appears to drive the company.

I do think there are some interesting questions about the appropriate role for companies like this – and all the other contractors who support our military (see the CBO report, seriously). And I touched a nerve when I asked if they really believed that they had no impact on retention of highly trained operators (for the record, they strongly argued “no” and pointed me to Congressional studies that back them up – I’m still a bit cynical).

But I think it’s critical somehow to create space in the defense ecology for the kind of dynamic, responsive organization that Blackwater represents. I’d love to see more and more of our defense spending channeled to companies like this and less to the large multi-megabuck multi-decade projects (the Crusader, anyone?). I’m looking forward to an interesting discussion with Joe about this issue.

Blackwater is a Defense 2.0 company – finding half-million dollar solutions to what have traditionally been ten-million dollar problems. That’s something we need a lot more of, not less.

Department of Hmmmmm…. (Economics News)

Some Economic News:

LA Times: “Los Angeles County poverty rate fell in 2007, census data show: Other Southern California counties also show slight declines. The effects of the sharp economic downturn and rising unemployment since last year are unclear.

LA Times: “A gauge of consumer confidence has its biggest increase in two years this month.

NY Times: “Average U.S. Income Showed First Rise Over 2000

Then a LAT article asks:

We have a market paradox on our hands. Consumer confidence is close to a 40-year low, suggesting that the economy is in worse shape now than in times that seemed far darker, such as the early 1980s, when both inflation and unemployment crept into double digits. Yet many of the current economic indicators, including inflation and unemployment, are rather positive — or at least not as negative as consumer sentiment implies.

So why are consumers, myself included, so gloomy?

The article goes on to suggest that consumers helplessness in the face of larger economic challenges drives the negative sentiment.

I’ll suggest an alternate answer – and actually pass on the obvious one which that the media is bearish on the economy – like they are on foreign policy, the environment and everything else – out of partisan loyalty to the Democratic party. Personally, I’ve heard this, think it’s interesting, but don’t buy it.

I’ll suggest another reason:

New York Times Co., the third-largest U.S. newspaper publisher, reported revenue fell 10.1 percent in July as a slumping U.S. economy led to the steepest monthly declines in retail and classified advertising this year.

Ad sales decreased 16.2 percent to $129.4 million from a year earlier, led by drops of 30.1 percent in classifieds and 13.3 percent in retail ads, the New York-based company said today in a statement. July revenue was $235.9 million.

The people whose job it is to shape our attitudes about our economy are among those getting slammed the worst by the current – admittedly complex – economy.

I can’t help but believe their own tribulations bleed over into their perceptions of the wider world.

I’ve said for a long time that the economy is like a Napoleon – what the French call a mille-feuille (thousand layer pastry). The layers are loosely connected to other layers, but connections are much more strong within the layer itself.

Just food for thought.

Hillary’s Speech

In a hotel watching TV. Hillary’s going on stage…

…admit it. You want her to tell her supporters to cut loose, mount a coup and force a vote tomorrow. A little real history at one of these freeze-dried conventions…

Update: You know she’s actually giving a stemwinder of a speech…

What Really Happened In Ossetia?

Go read Michael Totten on the spark that ignited the Georgian war:

Virtually everyone believes Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili foolishly provoked a Russian invasion on August 7, 2008, when he sent troops into the breakaway district of South Ossetia. “The warfare began Aug. 7 when Georgia launched a barrage targeting South Ossetia,” the Associated Press reported over the weekend in typical fashion.

Virtually everyone is wrong. Georgia didn’t start it on August 7, nor on any other date. The South Ossetian militia started it on August 6 when its fighters fired on Georgian peacekeepers and Georgian villages with weapons banned by the agreement hammered out between the two sides in 1994. At the same time, the Russian military sent its invasion force bearing down on Georgia from the north side of the Caucasus Mountains on the Russian side of the border through the Roki tunnel and into Georgia. This happened before Saakashvili sent additional troops to South Ossetia and allegedly started the war.

This is going to continue to be interesting for some time…

Blackwater Pix

Blackfive and NZ Bear at Victorycaucus have pictures up – go check them out. And I’m holding the damn AR15 out “like a Prada purse” because I’m wearing my suit pants – thanks to United Airlines losing my luggage – and didn’t want to get gun lube on them. So there.

Play the video of the drive on B5’s site it was a hoot.

And, oddly, when NZ sent me the email telling me the post was up, TG and I were watching one of the movies he referenced – Buckaroo Banzai, which she’d never seen.

I’ve always wanted to be Lord Whorfin. But I do compulsively floss my teeth for days every time I see the film.

Some Election Links

I’m going to start doing a running set of posts on interesting Obama / McCain posts from here and yon. Not a lot of commentary, but a link and a snippet. There’s a lot of interesting writing going on out there…

Telegraph UK – ” Obama won’t lose for being black but for not being American enough

It is that core of experience – of growing up American – which Obama lacks. His problem is not so much that he is an African-American in the modern political sense of being a black American. It is that he is an African-American in the literal sense of being half African and only half American, who spent much of his boyhood abroad and who borrowed a consciously constructed black American identity from the south side of Chicago.

TAP – ” The Democratic Education Divide

Ultimately it is policy makers — supported by parents — who must rise to these challenges and recommit themselves to educational equality. Teachers’ unions have a role to play, but they aren’t either the villain or the fix-all of education politics. What the unions remain, however, is a key Democratic constituency. Surely, convincing, cajoling, and encouraging are better tactics to win over grass-roots teachers than hectoring them with anti-union rhetoric. After all, if folks like Nancy Ruth White and the generations of teachers following her embrace of the Democrats for Education Reform agenda — giving up tenure in exchange for higher starting salaries and merit pay tied to student achievement — the unions will have to get with the program. If they don’t, they’ll risk becoming irrelevant to their own members.

Andrew Sullivan quoting Robert Caro on LBJ’s absence from the convention:

Caro is now at work on the fourth volume of his epic biography, about Johnson’s White House years. “I am writing right now about how he won for black Americans the right to vote. I am turning from what happened forty-three years ago to what I am reading in my daily newspaper…and the thrill that goes up and down my spine when I realize the historical significance of this moment is only equaled by my anger that they are not giving Johnson credit for it.”

Joe Klein on an undecided focus group – ” Focused

So this is Obama’s task on Thursday: To convince people that he is a man of substance, not empty promises, that he has ideas–despite his lack of experience–about running government in a way that will be more effective. A tall order, I’d say.

Kevin Drum on the Klein article:

I just finished writing a short essay on more-or-less this very topic, so I won’t anticipate myself too much here. But the nickel version is this: the goal of this election shouldn’t be just to win, it should be to talk a big chunk of the electorate into becoming friendlier toward liberal goals and ideas. Not just friendlier toward change, but friendlier toward specifically liberal change. That means a public that, at least at the margins, is more convinced that we need universal healthcare and that Obama can deliver it; that we need to withdraw from Iraq and reboot our foreign policy; and that some sacrifices are acceptable in the service of a serious energy policy. So far, though, Obama has simply been too cautious about standing up and really hammering home a simple, easily understood case for these and other specifically liberal goals.