Podcast with The Commentator

One of the great joys of the past year has been my developing relationship with the team that put together The Commentator. They work tirelessly to put together an informative and engaging publication and I am delighted to be a Contributing Editor, producing my weekly article for them on the latest developments in the United States.

This week I have been involved in their latest venture, The Commentator’s podcast, “We Need to Talk…” I sat down with The Commentator’s high-flying Executive Editor, Raheem J. Kassam and Christian J. May of Media Intelligence Partners to discuss the week’s developments in the United States, Russia, Israel, Iran and the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST…..

Paul Ryan: Pros, Cons and a Podcast

The subject of whom Mitt Romney would select as his running mate has been swirling for several months. Now we know that it is Congressman Paul Ryan, what are the implications?

LISTEN TO MY PODCAST ON THIS SUBJECT HERE

After several months of wild speculation surrounding the Republican Vice Presidential pick, which has included everyone from Chris Christie to Condi Rice, Mitt Romney has named Representative Paul Ryan. In doing so, Governor Romney has ensured that this will be far from a tame, event-free general election. Indeed, the decision appears to have finally ignited interest in the race, passion in Republican supporters and has the potential to spark similar sentiment in the Democratic ranks.

As the author of the much-vaunted Ryan budget proposals, the Republican vice presidential candidate brings a great deal to the ticket; assets and liabilities that will be utilised and exploited by both friend and foe alike in the coming months. As I discussed on Sky News this weekend, Ryan’s presence on the ticket ensures that the American electorate will be presented with a clearly defined choice this November.

What then, are the advantages that Representative Ryan brings?

1. He is NOT Sara Palin. The last minute, poorly vetted fiasco of 2008 has not been repeated, ensuring that Romney has secured the talents of a smart and able young running mate, whose intelligence and ability to answer questions from Katie Couric is not in question.

2. Ryan’s standing with the Tea Party movement should placate those members of the movement that feel they have been sidelined thus far in the presidential process. Clearly Mitt Romney was not the Tea Party’s candidate of choice, but by reaching out and embracing Congressman Ryan, Romney should have done enough to ensure that they turn out and vote Republican in November.

3. Ryan’s presence appears to have already energised what was a rather tame Republican ticket. His unveiling ahead of the convention in Florida ensures that delegates will head to Tampa excited by the ticket, rather than vexing over any shortcomings in Romney’s resume and tax records.

4. Ryan’s age, vitality and recognised intelligence stand in sharp contrast to the current Vice President, Joe Biden, more renowned for gaffes than for policies.

5. In endorsing Ryan, Romney is by extension endorsing the Ryan Budgetary proposals, since this is Ryan’s defining policy. Without his budgetary proposals, Ryan would be just another member of the lower chamber of Congress and an unimaginable candidate for the presidency. His budgetary proposals have elevated him to a position of leadership within the House of Representatives and the Republican Party. By naming Ryan, Romney is allying himself to his partner’s budgetary and spending proposals, which will endear him to the right, but which, as we shall see shortly, ensure a barrage of criticism from the left.

6. By selecting Ryan, Romney has guaranteed that the economy and welfare reform will be central to the campaign. This will make life uncomfortable for President Obama who may be pushed into a foreign policy focused campaign as a result. To do otherwise will risk drawing attention to his deficiencies in the vital areas of welfare and the state of the economy. The alternative will be to initiate a totally negative campaign focused on the Romney/Ryan plan, the like of which Democrats attacked Romney over during the initial primary season.

Whilst the nomination of Congressman Ryan brings with it considerable benefits to the Romney camp, there are also serious impediments to consider:

1. Romney introduced Ryan as “an intellectual” who had been in Congress for 14 years. These are not usually terms of endearment for Republicans and it is easy to imagine these very attributes being portrayed as liabilities in opponents. Indeed, to many in the Republican movement, they are far from ideal and it will be interesting to see how these elements are addressed during the campaign. 14 years is a long time to be in the lower house and there will certainly be uncomfortable voting records for the Congressman to address (including his votes in favour of the bailouts of GM and Wall Street), which Democrats will be eager to exploit in revenge for the savaging that Senator Kerry received in 2004.

2. Romney’s embrace of Ryan enables the White House to link Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital with the cuts espoused in the Ryan Budget plan. The combination will enable the Obama team to portray the Republicans as Robber Barons; vindictive slashers of public services, out to deny seniors their rightful retirement protections and healthcare provisions. The approach that the White House is guaranteed to take on this issue will ensure that Florida, with its elderly population, will be an even more vital state than usual and will undoubtedly be the venue of intense and at times vitriolic advertising aimed at scaring the living daylights out of American seniors.

3. With Ryan’s selection, there is a total lack of foreign policy experience on the Republican ticket. This election cycle could therefore see a bizarre inversion of politically accepted norms, in which the Republicans under Romney and Ryan run on domestically focused economic issues, whilst the Democrats under Obama are forced away from this traditional position to an embrace of strong foreign policy and national security issues, on the premise that the president “killed bin Laden.”

4. Historically, vice presidents have been chosen to add balance to a ticket. This may be geographic balance (north/south, east/west), exemplified in 1960 with Kennedy’s selection of Lyndon Johnson. Balance may also be expressed in terms of age, and again 1960 is a classic example of this, with Johnson’s maturity contrasting with JFK’s youth. Balance may be struck in terms of gender, such as the Mondale/ Ferraro ticket of 1984 and the McCain/Palin ticket of 2008. Finally, balance can be struck in terms of ethnicity, such as Obama/Biden in 2008. None of these elements are adequately addressed in the selection of Paul Ryan and so the Republican ticket is bereft of ethnic, gender or regional balance. Neither does the Republican ticket in 2012 include a Veteran or a Protestant; points that could be significant considering the traditional Republican embrace of God and the military. Indeed, for the first time ever, both main parties have a Catholic on the ticket as vice president.

5. Whilst every presidential candidate wants to have his VP selection recognised as being a smart first choice, the risk for Romney is that his running mate overshadows him. Ryan is a recognised economic/welfare planner with 14 years experience in Congress. Romney is not known for his tenure in office or for his intellectual dynamism. His reputation for being a lightweight risks being exacerbated by his selection.

6. Despite the content of speeches and campaign advertising, the American Presidency is rarely won on issues. It occasionally depends on personality. It is always a matter of figures and the figure that counts is 270. The big question ultimately is simply: Does Ryan help Romney get to the magic number of 270 Electoral College votes needed to secure the presidency? This is the bottom line reason for choosing a running mate. It should not be about personal dynamics or compatibility. It needs to be a cold-hearted calculation: Will this individual help or hinder the electoral chances of the ticket?

Every candidate needs to consider the states that they are likely to win, states they hope to win and states that they are likely to lose, in order to plan a campaign that will deliver victory. In this calculation, a viable candidate must be able to guarantee carrying their home state. (Gore’s failure to win the presidency in 2000 was not helped by the loss of his home state of Tennessee). However, in 2012, neither Romney nor Ryan can take such a fact for granted.

Romney has historical ties to Massachusetts and Michigan. He was governor of the former and grew up in the latter. However, both are recognised as being traditional Democratic strongholds. Massachusetts will not vote for Romney as a favourite son in November and it is highly unlikely that Michigan will either. Obama carried Romney’s home state of Michigan with 57.4% of the vote in 2008, over 16% ahead of his Republican rival. Michigan alone is worth 17 Electoral College votes.

The situation with regard to Ryan in Wisconsin, with its 10 Electoral College votes, is even worse. Whilst Ryan has gained in popularity since his first election and received 64% of the vote in 2008, that same election saw Obama outpoll McCain in Ryan’s own district 51.4% – 47.4%. Statewide, Obama won Wisconsin with a 13.9% margin over McCain, carrying 56.2% of the vote. Ultimately, McCain carried only 13 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Despite all of the heat that will be generated in the coming weeks and months the two Republican candidates are starting the campaign in the unenviable position of being unlikely to carry their home states.

The selection of Ryan has energised an otherwise dull campaign. The degree to which this is maintained will be fascinating to see. For far too long, voters have complained that there is little to choose between candidates. In selecting Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has ensured that there will be a clear and distinct policy option presented to the American voters this November. The one winner in all this is Paul Ryan, who like Sarah Palin before him, has been propelled to international renown in the blink of an eye. His statements and appearances in the coming weeks will do much to decide if his next four years will be sent in the Vice President’s residency or in Congress planning his own bid for the presidency in 2016…

Intelligence Design: The Podcast

Earlier this summer, after months of research and interviews, editing and designing, my report on the UK Intelligence Architecture was finally released:

Intelligence Design by Dr James D. Boys

The Rt. Hon Dr. Liam Fox, MP, the UK’s former Defence Secretary, was kind enough to provide a most gracious foreword to the report. Better still, he hand delivered a copy of the report to the Prime Minister, David Cameron. In his foreword Dr. Fox was kind enough to note, “The report’s author, Dr. James D. Boys, is to be applauded for adopting a non-partisan approach to this vital area of national security and for noting advances and errors by the two main political parties… this is clearly a time of evolution and change within the U.K.’s national security architecture. Having initiated bold moves, it is in the long-term interest of the country for the Coalition Government to urgently address the current system and I hope that it notes the recommendations made in this paper.”

I am delighted to announce that my podcast addressing the report, orchestrated by my colleagues at King’s College London, is now live and can be accessed here:

DR JAMES D. BOYS PODCAST ON UK INTELLIGENCE ARCHITECTURE LINK

 

Paul Ryan as Romney’s VP Running Mate

It’s always nice to be awoken with breaking news from leading broadcasters. So it was this morning when I was informed of the breaking news by my contacts at Sky. Within hours I was live on set and considering the implications of Ryan’s place on the Republican ticket.

I will be writing more on this topic later in the week but for now, enjoy my appearance on Sky News from this morning….

 

 

Shoot To Thrill: Guns and Politics in the United States

For the last few weeks the perennial issue of gun ownership in the United States has come up for discussion once more. This tired debate resurfaces only in the aftermath of some particularly heinous event, something that actually shocks the masses from their stupor. This time it was a shooting in a cinema. Previously it had been high schools, universities, the senseless deaths of senseless celebrities, or the heart wrenching assassination of national leaders and presidential candidates. The events in Colorado, therefore, are part of a pattern that looks set to continue.

It will continue irrespective of the debate that is held outside the United States. It will continue irrespective of how many children are killed in their classrooms by fellow students, in schools with airport style metal detectors and armed police on their grounds. It will continue despite the inevitable gangland style shooting of the next singer with an over inflated sense of his own self-importance and streetwise values. It will continue despite the next assassination of a presidential candidate dedicated to offering a new direction to the United States. It will continue despite the next murder of a president, beloved abroad, but hated by an angry section of his own countrymen.

It will continue because there is neither the political courage nor incentive to do anything about it. It will continue because even in the 21st century, there remains a frontier mentality in the United States that feels the need to arm itself to the teeth to demonstrate that the cowboy is still alive.

We have been here before on countless occasions; tragedy in America, followed by soul searching, the furrowing of brows and presidential commiseration. This is a divided America, torn between those that want to do something to prevent someone else committing such a crime, and those who simply want to ensure that the guilty party cannot commit crime in the future.

Overseas the charade is viewed with increasing disdain and dismay. This, however, is an element in the constant misunderstanding of the United States, in particular in Europe, where it is assumed that Americans are like ‘us’ rite large. They are not, and the nation is not. There is a mentality that most foreigners never comprehend and an approach to life that is equally incomprehensible to most non-Americans. And why should this not be the case? After all, most foreigners never set foot in the ‘America’ that is currently under debate.

The perception that most non-Americas have of the United States is derived from superficial vacations and hours spent in front of the television watching idealised versions of ‘America.’ But America is not Disneyland, Disney World, Six Flags, or Universal Studios. Neither, ultimately, is it New York, L.A., Boston, Chicago, Orlando or San Francisco. It certainly isn’t Friends, Fraser, Cheers, Sex and the City or Boston Legal. This is the liberal interpretation of the United States, sold to the world as a perfect holiday destination.

These cities, these destinations, these shows are what most foreigners identify as being ‘America’. They are also the epicentres of the Democratic Party’s voting base, and as such representative of precisely HALF of the United States’ demographic. Anyone who claims to ‘know’ America having spent time in any one of these places is deluding themselves and anyone dumb enough to listen. They may as well have spent all their time on ‘It’s a Small World’ at Disney for all that they will have gleaned about the USA.

No one can seek to comprehend the ‘America’ that clings to its guns, its God and its freedom from government if they insist on flying over the Red States. So long as visitors stay hemmed in between the East Coast and the Appalachians or the West Coast and the Rockies, they will never comprehend the three thousand miles of conservative heartland that lies in between. It is here that the explanation for the continuing tale surrounding gun control can best be understood. It is here that people fail to look for answers and why such debate is flawed, patronising and irrelevant.

It is here that Washington D.C. feels as far removed from people’s lives as it would to a foreigner. It is here that small town values are still adhered to and are a part of daily life, where people feel no need to lock their doors, where communities are close knit, yet often miles apart. This is the agricultural heartland of the nation; inherently white, agrarian, religious and Republican. They do not cling to the second amendment out of a perverse wish to own semi-automatic weapons. Some in the farming community will need firearms as a way of life. Most however, adhere to the second amendment as a protection of personal freedom to defend oneself, if necessary, against the government. It would be feared that repealing the second amendment would be the first step on a slippery slope towards government infringements on all aspects of everyday life.

This after all is not just a law; it is a Constitutionally mandated RIGHT. The Constitution of the United States would not have been ratified had it not been for he attachment of the Bill of Rights, of which the second amendment is part, as it was feared that the constitution alone did not offer sufficient protection FROM the government. When one appreciates this, it is easier to understand why repealing one of the original ten laws that guaranteed the rights of Americans is so problematic.

Clearly, debate rages over the meaning of the second amendment. Does it guarantee the right to bear arms to all citizens, or only as part of a well-formed militia? Certainly the language leaves ample room for interpretation, discussion and debate, written at a time when memories of British Redcoats were fresh in the mind. However it is interpreted, it is part of American law and lore, a central element in the document that forms the basis for the nation and the American way of life.

For non-Americans, it is perhaps easy to forget the importance of the Constitution in American life. Suggesting alterations are akin to tinkering with Magna Carta (though this has, of course, been altered!). Constitutional change is not attempted lightly or achieved without great struggle, notwithstanding the demands of tabloid journalists. The Constitution came into effect on March 4, 1789, along with the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments, including the much-debated second amendment, guaranteeing the right to bear arms.  Since then the constitution has been amended on 17 times, and 2 of these amendments addressed the introduction and then repeal of prohibition. This was also the only amendment that ever restricted the rights of the citizen, all other amendments restrict the right of the government or are procedural, dealing with issues such as presidential succession.

To change the Constitution requires not only that the Executive and the Legislative branches of government agree in a simple majority, as would be required to pass a normal piece of legislation. Instead, the President must approve, as well as a Super Majority in Congress (2/3 in favour). In addition, 3/4 of all fifty states must then vote to approve of the change in a process that can take up to seven years to implement. This therefore is a major undertaking, the like of which is not entered into lightly or often.

No president will attempt to initiate such a process unless he is confident of success, since to fail would carry great political ramifications. The last great effort to alter the Constitution in this fashion was in the 1970s and attempts to implement an Equal Rights Amendment that sought to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender. As introduced under Carter this appeared to be a no-brainer, but it failed to achieve a majority in the states and therefore failed to be implemented.

Taking on the gun lobby as well as the millions of Americans who are adamantly opposed to any such move would be an epoch-making moment for any American president. He would not only be risking his own tenure in office, but also those of ay member of Congress or State legislatures that supported such legislation. Such a move would have to have such a groundswell of support that it would need to be wrong to vote against it, such as the Civil Rights Act. To get to that point would take some national gun related tragedy, the like of which has clearly not yet been experienced. Which raises the questions as to what America must experience before it is ready to address this situation in a sensible fashion. Children are killed in their classrooms and four Presidents have been shot and killed. Within 8 weeks in 1968, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were shot. President Reagan came within millimetres of being assassinated after just 12 weeks in office. Every time President Obama speaks in public he does so behind 6 inches of bulletproof glass. Yet none of this is sufficient to prompt politicians to seek any serious reform. The only efforts to do so occurred under President Clinton, with the Brady Bill, which introduced waiting times for certain weapons under certain circumstances, elements of which have since lapsed.

The debate occasionally raises interesting concepts. If opponents loath the National Rifle Association, why not join it in droves and seek to control it from within, goes one argument. If the right to bear arms is protected, why not just ban bullets, goes another. These are intriguing theoretical ideas but miss the point.

What is needed is political courage and the ability to enter into a forthright, mature national conversation about the continued need for an individual to bear arms, and the abuses that this has brought to modern American society. With political courage being in such short supply, and during a political campaign season characterised by petty personal attacks and a notable absence of policy debate, do not expect such a conversation to happen anytime soon.