Friday, August 19, 2011

Obama's "Swing 'Round the Circle"

On the Magical Misery Tour, the debt man walking continued his Andrew Johnson impersonation, traveling around the Midwest, giving speeches that even further bury his presidency. (In 1866, Johnson conducted his "Swing 'Round the Circle" tour where he took on Congress in a series of speeches. By the end of the tour, train officials routinely feared for the life of the president because the crowds grew so violent.) In his most recent speech, Obama compared criticism of himself to that of Lincoln. This implied that opposition to Obama is quasi-treasonous, a note he has sounded in the past. None other than Eric Foner, quasi left wing historian of the Civil War and Reconstruction era, slammed Obama's recent self-comparison to the 16th president.

Obama's series of speeches, like Johnson's, have laid bare the nature of the president. He is self-absorbed without enduring self-reflection. His speeches emphasize his trials, his suffering, his political enemies' machinations. Audiences in 1866 found these themes unnerving in their chief executive. In 2011, the president is trying to toss everyone under his bus, but so far has only thrown his own reputation beneath the wheels.

Obama criticism has not even reached the depths of the fecal matter slung at his predecessor, much less the unfortunate Lincoln, who endured commentary on every aspect of his presidency and life. Few people, really outside of me, have questioned Obama's intelligence and all will admit that he can read a teleprompter with style. People have issues with how the president has performed so far. He has made glaring errors on every level and has no shortage of other people to blame. Most recently, he blamed politics itself as the main obstacle to his leading us to a glorious promised land.

People are fed up. Even his own supporters, such as those in the Congressional Black Caucus, imply that he has been less of a savior and more of a carnival barker. Obama is reminiscent of Harry Truman's description of another failed president, James Buchanan in that he spent a long period of time trying to become president, then once he got there, he had no sense of how to do the job.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Unraveling of the Atlantic Coast Conference

Once upon a time, there was a small, but exclusive gated community of college programs that extended from suburban Washington down to Atlanta. It prided itself on superior basketball, competent football, and a sense of superiority that comes from allegedly higher educational standards than others (i.e. no 2.0 students need apply.) The community issued an invitation to Florida State many years ago, causing consternation among traditionalists. FSU is too pedestrian, too common, too football oriented, some said. But Florida State came in anyway, bringing football power and its "free shoes university" scandal with it.

Then came the superconference. With wild visions in their heads of competing with the Southeastern Conference, they pillaged and plundered the Big East. Again, traditionalists groaned as Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Miami entered their club. Here came Rodney Dangerfield to mix with the elite. Miami was still tagged as a "bad boy" school. Boston College had the pedigree and the snobbery, but was too far away. And Virginia Tech, well, these were the University of Virginia's country cousins. What good could come of this?

Almost a decade later, the dream that was ACC football dominance has devolved into a state of ludicrousness. They have won way fewer BCS bowl games than the conference that they supposedly had killed, our Big East. The conference flagship, FSU, hit the reef because its captain remained at the helm a little too long. Georgia Tech, who won a national title in the 1990s (seriously, they did. I'm not joking) has become one of the most consistent teams in the conference. They win eight games a year using an offense that is closer to Knute Rockne than the spread. Virginia Tech regularly dominates and wins the conference, but has a history of losing to teams such as Temple and James Madison in such seasons. And the vaunted conference title game has produced dismal attendance numbers for most of its existence. Meanwhile the Big East continues to gradually strengthen its brand and the SEC sets the standard for football excellence. When pundits actively discuss the possibility that Big Ten reject Rich Rodriguez could help the conference by joining Clemson's staff, one sees how bad the situation has gotten. The ACC has even declined in basketball prowess.

Even worse have been the scandals. North Carolina last year had to get rid of a large number of players to satisfy the NCAA. Most recently has emerged the possibility that the "U" is through. The University of Miami was plagued for a decade by a rogue criminal booster who violated many of the most profoundly important NCAA rules, possibly with the knowledge of coaches. Players, allegedly, were paid in money, food, parties, prostitutes, and other favors. This happened in an era when Miami slipped into absolute mediocrity. Southern Methodist University in the 1980s only exceeded these allegations by continuing to make payoffs after being on probation. They lost their program for three years and never recovered. Almost certainly this weakened the old Southwestern Conference and helped to perpetuate its downfall.

Expansion rumors have swirled around the ACC, but this time they are the prey, not the predator. The Big East has cozied up to Maryland while the SEC initially began to look for expansion possibilities there as well. Maybe it is reflective of the weakness of the ACC that West Virginia University is seen as an increasingly strong prospect for SEC admission relative to any ACC programs.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has experienced, perhaps, one of the worst ten year disasters of any major college sports conference in recent memory. It does not look to improve for them any time soon.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Progress On a Ridgetop

Most people in Keyser should by now be aware of a major construction project taking place right over their heads. After several years of wrangling, construction has started and proceeded very quickly on the Green Mountain windmill project. As of today, four are completely assembled and many more are partially built.

This is one of the few major private sector initiatives I have seen in Mineral County since I moved here six years ago. Most of the people I have spoken to are amazed at the speed of construction and are interested in their progress. Not many have expressed dismay at seeing windmills on a ridgetop that overlooks McDonald's and Denny's.

Even though the school board at one time voted to discourage their construction, the tax money from the project will be a huge help to improving our schools. They also create a sense that the town and county are moving forward. Today, Mineral County is becoming a part of our nation's domestic energy production solution. Tomorrow, who knows what further steps we can take? If we keep our mind open to the possibilities and embrace the need for development and jobs, Mineral County can be a more attractive destination for investment and we can provide opportunities for more of our children.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blocking Communications In a Riot

A few days ago we saw the city of San Francisco take a decisively controversial action in response to a planned demonstration over a police shooting. It was not exactly on the level of a "Dirty Harry" Callaghan move, but it had a powerful effect. Demonstrators and others found that Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officials had shut off power to cell phone towers that serviced the metropolitan area trains. Some of the demonstrations planned to disrupt public transit service.

San Francisco, predictably, took a lot of criticism over the move. Even some BART board members found the action too draconian, as you can see in this Huffington Post article

Officials, however, denied that this was a First Amendment issue and were confident that courts would back their action.

I am not sure how I feel about this. Predictably, the liberal Huffington Post discusses this event as if it took place in a vacuum, unconnected to global events. San Francisco officials most certainly had the recent riots in London and other English cities in mind when they pulled the plug on cell phone towers. Those were sparked by police shootings of gangsters. We know that rioters used cell phones and other forms of technology to disseminate intelligence on police movements to maximize the mayhem. The British response to the destruction of life and property was criticized as lackluster at best. London's calamity was certainly on the minds of those men and women who made this decision.

On the other hand, if the worst did happen in San Francisco, law abiding citizens would be unable to warn their friends and loved ones about potential dangers. Is there a right to communicate tied to the right of freedom of speech? San Francisco's action was one of prior restraint, which is normally considered out of bounds by courts. However, if it is laid down as a policy to be used in narrowly defined situations, cities may be able to use this as a tactic to curb thuggish rioters.

Many cities will be watching as the courts examine San Francisco's response to determine if this represents a valid police maneuver to protect life and property, or if it is too restrictive of citizen rights.