Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Michael Johns' Hour-Long Radio Interview with The Bottom Line with Ryan Prucker

Michael Johns' wide-ranging, hour long interview with the popular radio program, The Bottom Line with Ryan Prucker, is now available online. The audio, which can be heard or downloaded globally, is available at Episode 8 on the right column, midway down, of Bottom Line's web site at:


In the interview, Michael addresses the complexities of national and global Presidential communication, why President George W. Bush's liberation of Iraq will ultimately prove one of the great accomplishments of the century (despite its current unpopularity), and why several broken components of the U.S. health care system demand creative solutions, especially ensuring enhanced quality, patient-centered care and an expeditious solution to the 40 million Americans, or 13 percent of the country, who live without any health insurance.

Michael also offers great praise to former President Ronald Reagan and his administration, stating that Reagan's domestic policies salvaged a dangerous trend toward governmental micromanagement of the U.S. economy and that Reagan's foreign and defense policies were the single most important factor in the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the 46-year long Cold War.

"The Bottom Line with Ryan Prucker" is hosted by widely-respected corporate and non-profit marketing consultant Ryan Prucker, President of New York-based Imagelight Advertising & Production, LLC and Executive Producer of the television series Exploring History's Treasures and Three Course Delight.

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Friday, May 4, 2007

One Iraq Option Only: Victory

By Michael Johns

Disturbingly, there is an emerging consensus among the Democrat-led United States Congressional leadership that the war in Iraq is "lost." The most recent example that this thesis has worked its way into official party talking points was offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat, who pointedly stated last month that "...this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything...."

Setting the obvious contrarian politics aside, could there be a more defeatist, demoralizing and undermining statement at this time?

With approximately 3,000 lives--some of America's finest men and women--now having been sacrificed for the purpose of this mission in Iraq and another quarter million currently deployed there in harm's way, calling the Iraq War "lost" is about the greatest disservice a public official can offer both those fighting today and the legacy of the 3,000 fallen. Does this Congress really need to be reminded: Their mission is a hugely laudable one, not a lost cause.

Make no mistake: the Iraq War has become the epicenter in the global war against terrorism, and the outcome in Iraq will ultimately be a key factor in determining whether September 11, 2001 was the beginning of the end for al-Qaeda, or whether, conversely, it was just the beginning of an era of global terror that grows in both scope and duration.

This fact may be lost on the Democratic leadership now conceding defeat and seeking the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, but it is not lost on al-Qaeda itself. Last weekend, on May 5th, Shaykh Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's second in command, essentially echoed Reid's sentiment, observing that the Democrat-led legislative effort to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq “reflects American failure and frustration.”

To those Americans who have not yet grasped the extent of al-Qaeda's stake in the outcome of the Iraq War, and why the Iraq War is a large part of the war on terror, ask yourself why Zawahiri is commenting on Congressional acts in Iraq, not in Afghanistan or Pakistan. The point should be self-evident: al-Qaeda wishes nothing more than to see Iraq left in a state of chaos, in which they can maintain a presence following an American withdrawal that would surely demonstrate that it is al-Qaeda, not the U.S. or democratic political systems, that own the future of the Persian Gulf region. It's this simple: a win in Iraq is a significant defeat for al-Qaeda, establishing a secure, peaceful and democratic nation in the heart of the Persian Gulf. A defeat in Iraq is a significant win for them, al-Qaeda, likely creating another nation in chaos and ripe, as the Taliban regime once was in Afghanistan, for large levels of al-Qaeda presence and training.

Clearly, one hopes that is not a message Congressional Democrats want to be sending al-Qaeda and America's enemies in the region at this juncture, and I think it would be unfair to assign any member of Congress such malicious motives. But it's already becoming very clear that driving the Republicans from the White House will first mean ensuring no 2008 Republican candidate can run on the coattails of a Bush-led victory in that nation. Putting politics ahead of national security, this nation's Democratic leadership knows all too well what the prolonged nature of the Iraq War has done to President Bush's national popularity. It has set the table for the Democrats to reclaim the Presidency in a mere 20 months.

If it is not politics that is driving the Democratic inclination to label the Iraq War "lost," then Senator Reid's course of action should be clear: He owes this nation, its deployed troops and their families an apology because this conflict has been anything but "lost."

Reflect for a moment on the accomplishments of U.S. forces so far in the Iraq War: the U.S. engaged Saddam Hussein diplomatically, only to find him utterly uncompromising to reasonable expectations of the U.S. and the world community. Given ample time to accommodate those expectations, the U.S. reluctantly was drawn into conflict, driving Saddam (who had governed Iraq since 1979) from power in a mere three weeks. Eight months later, in December 2003, U.S. forces captured the former Iraqi dictator--the "most wanted Iraqi"--in an underground mud shack on a ad-Dawr-based sheep farm.

Then, as opposed to ending Saddam's life there, the former dictator was properly tried under Iraq's established legal system. While he was technically charged with just one, fairly clearly established crime--the murder of 148 Iraqi Shiites and the illegal torture and incarceration of 399 others--the charges really reflected just a sampling of Saddam's brutal, 28-year reign. He was properly convicted and sentenced.

In Iraq, while critics of the war alleged that the war was really driven by U.S. aspirations for Iraqi oil, the U.S. sought quickly to transfer governing authority to the Iraqi people and did that in 2004. Since then, a constitution has been written and elections have been held, suggesting the promise of an emerging Iraqi democracy.

Critics respond that these victories aside, insurgents are winning the war. Wrong again. Today, most of Iraq, thanks to U.S. and allied intervention, is secure from terrorist attacks, and some of the most historically active insurgent areas--Fallujah, Mosul, Najaf and others--have become more secure.

These are not the accomplishments of a war that can be easily labeled "lost," and this President deserves credit for continuing to see through the ultimate and achievable objective of establishing a peaceful, stable and democratic Iraq. Can any objective onlooker really believe such a mammoth mission would be accomplished without its trials and tribulations? The entire concept of democracy functioning in the Persian Gulf was once an inconceivable concept; this President, these capable American men and women of our armed forces, combined with many brave Iraqis, are close to making it a reality. A "lost" war?

But, in fairness, the criticism is not exclusively a partisan one. This nation does run the risk of forgetting that warm, sunny morning of September 11, 2001, at least in part because some components of our modern culture seem to want us to forget. How telling, for instance, that American television networks, seemingly all of them, have adopted policies refusing to air the attacks on the World Trade Center because it was unsettling to some Americans. Message to networks: We should be unsettled. We need to be unsettled.

Nor is the criticism exclusively aimed at Democrats and our television media, who seem to be running from the call to action. President George W. Bush has handled this war on terror with extraordinary resolve, and one can only imagine the sense of responsibility that this President must carry as a decent man attempting to bring about a successful conclusion to this war. But even in this administration, the dead seriousness of al-Qaeda seems periodically lost. Take, for instance, the comment of a "senior administration figure" earlier this week, who reportedly found it "stunning" that Zawahiri was following the U.S. Congress so closely to be able to comment on the Democrat-led timetable legislation. Stunning?

There's nothing at all stunning about this observation by Zawahiri. In fact, if one looks at America's war on terror with some historical perspective, even 30 years worth, the one common denominator in America's engagement in foreign conflicts is that our enemies have closely monitored our metal and tested our political will. In this freest of nations, it's well known that American policy is driven by political temperament. That temperament has sometimes led us to war. That temperament has sometimes ended war. But the temperament of Americans does still guide the vast majority of this nation's foreign policies, and especially those that involve the loss of American life.

It shouldn't be surprising that this fact is not lost on our enemies. Anyone with any political sophistication--and one has to count the Senate Majority Leader among this group--understands that when you undermine American political will by advancing the thesis that what we have, in exchange for the loss of these 3,000 American heroes, is a war we are "losing," you have taken the first step to making that "loss" a self-fulfilling prophesy.

This recognition did not start with al-Qaeda. It was, for instance, well recognized by North Vietnam, whose leadership saw the U.S. anti-war movement of the early 1970s as a key component to eradicating American political will to sustain our important and warranted engagement in defending our important Asian ally, South Vietnam, in the midst of the Cold War. It also was recognized by the Kremlin, who saw U.S. and European-based "peace" movements as the quickest way to undermine former President Ronald Reagan's plan to appropriately counter Soviet global aggression through both a strengthening of American defenses and support for resistance movements opposing Soviet-supported regimes.

In contemporary America, memories can be short, even among those who have lived this history. Take this example: Speaking to a former White House-level Clinton administration official about a year ago--someone I would call a friend, despite our differing partisan alignments--this former Clinton official told me with a straight face that the world was becoming more complex and was not as simple as it was during the Cold War when, this Clinton official told me, "everything was so black and white."

That's interesting, I replied, because every time, during the Cold War, that conservatives like myself made the argument that we needed to be vigorous in opposing Soviet aggression, that the Soviet Union was in fact an "evil empire" and that "winning" the Cold War was both an achievable and laudable geopolitical goal, we were lectured by American liberals that the world was not so black and white, that neither the Soviet Union nor the U.S. could depict themselves as forces for good in the world, and--in their most extreme responses--that we were risking nuclear conflict, maybe even the very end of the world, in our insistence to engage, counter and defeat Soviet aggression abroad.

In fact, to the best of my memory, I cannot recall any liberals or Democrats who described the Cold War era as "black and white" in the heat of those battles. Every Congressional vote over former President Reagan's initiatives--the deployment of space-based defense to guard the nation from nuclear attack (known as the Strategic Defense Initiative), the effort to aid anti-communist resistance movements in Angola, Nicaragua and other nations (known as the Reagan Doctrine), and the initiative to strengthen NATO's defense capabilities (which Reagan correctly labeled "peace through strength")--were opposed every step of the way by some of the same people who now label that time a simple, "black and white" era where, they now contend, we "all" wanted to prevail. But it can never be forgotten that it was resiliency in the face of liberal opposition to Reagan's initiatives that won the Cold War. With due respect to American liberals, whose patriotism I do not question, the Cold War was won over their dead bodies.

In the midst of this 2007 political battle--with American liberals again trying to lead America's retreat, and this principled President appropriately and bravely standing his ground--can anyone doubt that, ten years from now, the war on terror will similarly be viewed as a "black and white" struggle between good and evil? Surely, it will be. But any liberal who intends to take that position cannot now be advocating a cut and run policy in Iraq.

There also is a lesson in this Cold War history that applies to Iraq today, where again--this time as it relates to their historical views on Saddam--American liberals seem to possess a selective memory. During my stint as a White House aide to former President George H. W. Bush, I can well remember periodically leaving the Washington, D.C. area on various weekends, sometimes returning to the hometown of my youth in Pennsylvania. I would arrive proud of the efforts at the time--and most especially the extraordinary, successful effort by former President George H. W. Bush to end the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.

The successful liberation of Kuwait was widely welcomed by the American people, and former President Bush's approval ratings skyrocketed into the low 90s; no President since has come close to enjoying such widespread support from the American people. But in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, there was a different tone than that which existed inside the Bush White House. Beneath the popularity ratings and support for Kuwait's liberation, there was a lingering disappointment by many Americans--conservatives, moderates and liberals--that Bush, after driving Saddam's forces from Kuwait, did not push on to Baghdad and remove Saddam from power completely.

For those of us up close at the time, it was an absurd idea. Saddam was a brutal dictator in a world filled with brutal dictators. Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm were hugely successful because they defined a clear objective and then pursued it relentlessly, strategically and precisely. What sort of chaos would follow Saddam, in a nation so characterized by bitter conflict between Saddam's Baath party, the opposition Shia (which opposed Saddam's decision not to implement traditional Islamic law, known as the Sharia), the Kurdish opposition, and other factions?

To the great credit of former President Bush, Operation Desert Shield and then Operation Desert Storm were both clearly defined missions whose every initiative was consistent with these clearly-defined objectives, starting with Marlin Fitzwater's brilliant and inspirational February 17, 1991 comment that "the liberation of Kuwait has begun" (a statement of raw genius, both reflecting absolute confidence in the outcome of a battle not yet fought, combined with a rigid definition of what we sought to do), and continuing through the air war and the culmination of the ground war, which ended on February 27, 1991 with Kuwait's absolute liberation.

Contrary to some conventional wisdom at the time, there was nothing cowardly about former President Bush's decision not to drive Saddam from power in 1991. Nor did his decision not to do so in any way condone Saddam's obvious disregard for human rights, which ultimately and properly earned him entry into President George W. Bush's "axis of evil."

Rather, Operation Desert Storm was guided by a number of historical lessons, perhaps most prominent being that regime change can be a dangerous business and the U.S. can never seek to initiate, or even encourage, such change without some clear recognition of what follows a government's collapse. This astute geopolitical recognition justified former President Bush's February 1991 decision not to liberate Iraq from Saddam's autocratic reign, even though such an effort would have enjoyed initial support.

Over ten years later and following the September 11, 2001 attacks, regime change became an imperative in Afghanistan and then, ultimately, in Iraq. They question this war now, but it was not in question in 2002, with liberal Senators Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and many other current critics of the war voting to authorize the use of force against Saddam.

To be sure, as some of these leading Democrats now conveniently begin to express their opposition to the Iraq War, they will contend, as most of them have already, that they authorized the use of force only because the Bush administration misled them as it related to Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

But this criticism too is unfair, since the intelligence that led the Bush administration to that conclusion had been widely accepted not just by President Bush, but by his predecessor, Bill Clinton, too. In fact, in justifying former President Clinton's December 1998 air attacks on Baghdad, Sandy Berger, Clinton's National Security Advisor at the time, remarked that "(Saddam) will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten times since 1983." Then Vice President Gore also recognized the fact that Saddam was harboring WMDs, noting: "We know that (Saddam) has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country."

What absolute audacity for Democrats to now forget these remarks and instead allege that this administration misled them into supporting a war they otherwise would have opposed. American intelligence under both Clinton and Bush indicated that WMDs were in Saddam's possession. It's quite clear that Saddam did historically use WMDs in his war against the Kurds and in the Iraqi-Iranian War. And, shocking as it may be to today's opponents of the Iraq War, it is not entirely inconceivable that Saddam was, in fact, possessing WMDs, just as both the Clinton and Bush administrations believed, when the use of force was authorized. It's certainly an extremely reasonable conclusion that Saddam's political maneuvering around United Nations-ordered inspections, which ultimately invited this war, were not designed to hide nothing.

The issue of WMDs is now ancient history. Whether they did or did not exist, it is now very clear that the Iraq War has become a central front in the war on terrorism. This global war has many fronts, and Iraq is one of them, which is why a dangerous man like Zawahiri is paying such close attention. For Al-Qaeda, much is at stake in Iraq's outcome.

Things will not likely get easier as the November 4, 2008 Presidential election, now 18 months away, nears. Iraq will take on a greater and greater domestic political dimension. So be it.

President Bush's legacy, should he succeed in stabilizing a democratic and peaceful Iraq, will be substantially better appreciated years from now than it is today in the heat of this battle. And should this administration remain engaged and succeed in prevailing in Iraq, the Republican candidate in 2008 will be within bounds in asking an important "what if" question: Where would we be now in this global war on terror if we had accepted Senator Reid and the Democratic party's April 2007 declaration that the Iraq War was "lost?"

Calling this war "lost" may now be hugely politically expedient for some, coming as it does at the height of uncertainty in this critical conflict.

But at such a critical moment, Americans should be comforted by this President, reminded that we have been here before. We well know these dark and freightening paths of uncertainty because we have walked them before, not just cursing their darkness but pointing the way to light. Valley Forge, 1777. Normandy, 1944. The Cuban missile crisis, 1962. The Pershing II deployment, 1981. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," 1987. "The liberation of Kuwait has begun," 1991.

Mr. Reid: The common denominators of over 200 years of American greatness may be alien to you, but they are not rooted in your defeatism.

Yes, we know these paths too well. Facing down terror in Iraq, 2007, in a global conflict that safely may be labeled "World War III," our next step could not be more self-evident: America must prevail.

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Monday, April 30, 2007

It's Still About Oil

By Michael Johns

For all its greatness, long-range thinking is not one of the many attributes one would assign to our nation. Our public companies often run on quarter to quarter corporate plans; our government's focus, frankly, is on the next election. In the United States House of Representatives, that's every two years. That means the campaign never stops, which also means the long-range thinking never starts.

Examples are plentiful: America's health care policy? Not a policy you'd describe as a long-term one, given its minimal focus on disease prevention, no immediate remedy to the mounting burden placed on state governments by long-term care admissions and no apparent solution for the coming demographic tidal wave in federal and state health costs. America's entitlement programs? The only thing certain about them is that they cannot go on as they are currently. Each Congressional Budget Office study confirms the obvious absurdity of our current course, which cannot be sustained without revolutionary changes. But it's not a comfortable political topic, so the absurdity endures.

National security and foreign policy? There are some brilliant long-range thinkers in the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency, and America's think tanks. But these people rarely are making policy. Here too America's policy is defined by a reactive, not proactive, approach to the many global threats to our national interests. Difficult as it may be to imagine today, the Iraq War will one day end. What next of America's role in this world? Perhaps understandably, Iraq seems to preclude such thinking right now, largely precluding the long-range strategic thinking that is required by our government and its policy makers.

And then there's America's energy policy, and it's generous to use the word "policy" in describing it. The transition of our nation from a manufacturing to a service economy may be nearly complete, but it's certainly not reflecting in our continued demand for oil, which is greater than ever.

By necessity (and to its credit), the administration of George W. Bush is now looking at some long-term alternatives to oil dependence, which President Bush rightly labeled an "addiction" in his State of the Union address this past January 31. Since then, it's a credit to this administration that the phrase "alternative energy", used historically to describe ethanol and other non-oil energy resources, is losing its relevance as these energy sources become less of an "alternative" and more a part of our deliberations over America's long-term energy needs. From all of this, a long-term energy policy may yet arise.

Yet, despite the obvious long-term need to adopt these "alternative" approaches to our nation's energy needs, it's troubling that Washington feels the necessity to trump market forces by making their production a federal mandate. If ethanol is all that its advocates represent, such a mandate would prove unnecessary because market resources would naturally flow to its development. This is especially true today, in an economy with abundant liquidity and unprecedented levels of available private capital.

What's troubling amidst all the hype around ethanol, however, is that these market forces have historically viewed ethanol with some degree of trepidation. That may someday change completely; in fact, it appears to be changing at least partly now. But it would be more appropriate to let those market forces flow to our next energy resources, as opposed to mandating one of them--ethanol, as Congress is doing. Federal corn lobbyists: 1, America's energy interests: 0.

The uncomfortable and too seldom discussed reality is that it is oil and natural gas that still drive this economy--and no alternative has yet emerged to supplant it. That's a fact today, and it will likely be a fact for at least several years to come. And oil is not, for two primary reasons, coming cheap.

First, the cost of oil is influenced by some degree of geopolitical risk still factored into its pricing. On Friday, for example, Saudi Arabia arrested 172 suspected al-Qaeda and other militants. At first word of this development, oil futures soared, as the market confronted the uncertainty of the incident. By this morning, as it appeared that Saudi forces had in fact foiled a fairly large Saudi-based terrorist cell, which should prove helpful to regional stability, future prices dropped, ultimately falling lower than they were before their original escalation on Friday on the theory that Saudi Arabia may finally be getting serious about eradicating the al-Qaeda threat. Such price volatility proves only that this is a jittery market looking over it's shoulder, well aware that dangerous geopolitical threats linger.

Second, the escalated price of oil is equally attributable to classic supply and demand forces, with supply negatively impacted by the fact the U.S., even in the midst of enhanced geopolitical uncertainties, has failed to drill sufficiently for oil on its own soil. An estimated 10 billion barrels remain undrilled on a small part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). And off of our own coastal waters, European and other nations drill for oil where our own Congress has prohibited such drilling by American oil companies.

Widely unknown to most Americans, Congress also has mandated the production of roughly 30 different types of gasoline to be used in different parts of the nation, which only further increases the cost of its production. Eric Bolling, a strategic advisor to the New York Mercantile Exchange but better known as "The Admiral" on CNBC's excellent daily 8pm ET show Fast Money, predicts that gasoline is headed to $4 a gallon by July. That's the quantifiable cost of a war on terrorism that is not yet won and a Congress that seems clueless as to the extent of this nation's lingering energy crisis. Forget a long-term plan, this Congress doesn't have a short-term one.

Our long-term energy policy, when it does emerge, will not likely be rooted in oil, as President Bush has astutely acknowledged. But the short-term bridge to this long-term policy is very much rooted in oil, and it's a short-term bridge that requires the use of our own oil resources that can be easily extracted now. Such a step would ease the supply cycle that is burdening this nation with unnecessarily escalated oil and gasoline prices and enhancing our dependency on unreliable Persian Gulf, Nigerian and other oil resources.

Ditto the case with nuclear power, which, since Three Mile Island, modern technology has made an impressively efficient and environmentally-friendly mechanism for the delivery of energy. Even in the environmentally conscious European Union nations, this is a fact long ago recognized. But it's been 30 years since bureaucrats at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have authorized the construction of a nuclear power facility in this nation. The first one since then is now under development in New Mexico, but it's been a long time coming.

A final point: It surely is not a pleasant thought for most Americans, especially given the prolonged nature and excessive loss of life in the Iraq conflict, but the likelihood of a potential conflict with Iran is not insignificant. High school geography taught us that the Strait of Hormuz, which divides Iran and the United Arab Emirates, is roughly 21 miles wide and twenty percent of the world's oil flows through it. In the not so improbable case that Iran ultimately attempts to close this straight (as it has periodically threatened to do), either in provocation, in retaliation, or as part of a larger geopolitical conflict, it will be important that our currently untapped U.S.-based oil reserves are available.

With light sweet crude futures for June currently priced at roughly $65 a barrel, an ambitious short and long-term energy policy that enhances supply becomes important if, for no other reason, than the fact that, at $100 a barrel, the impact on this economy and the American people would be hugely painful. And in such a scenario, which could yet emerge this year or next, ethanol will not be this nation's salvation.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Giving Kevin Kolb the Benefit of the Doubt

By Michael Johns

I wouldn't exactly call Jeffrey Lurie, the owner of my beloved Philadelphia Eagles, a good friend, or even a friend at all really. But we share enough in common: the same birthday (September 8th) and a passionate love for the Eagles, which in my case goes back to the age of six or seven, with fond memories of Ron Jaworski and Bill Bergey. Mr. Lurie's history is actually not as deeply rooted in the green and white: he comes from Boston, then headed to Hollywood to run some movie production company, neither of which you would find too commonly among the old 700-level Veterans Stadium fans who have deep emotional investments in this team. But suffice it to say that he's now the CEO of the company I have long admired the most--and, on that basis alone, Mr. Lurie has earned a place in my world.

But there's at least a little more to my history with Mr. Lurie and maybe, today being NFL Draft day, some relevant lesson that can be drawn from it as it relates to today's shocking first round selection by the Eagles. In that selection, the Eagles opted to trade down with the Dallas Cowboys in the first round and then use their first overall selection to draft University of Houston quarterback Kevin Kolb. Kevin Kolb? Yes, Kevin Kolb.

Back in the late 1990s, as a senior associate in one of Philadelphia's politically-wired center city consulting firms, I also counted the Eagles among one of the Philadelphia-based clients that I represented. While the vast majority of my time was spent in our health care practice focused on assisting hospitals, nursing homes and the like, from time to time some of my colleagues at the firm--looking for some lobbying or strategic input but more likely just knowing of my passionate, lifelong love for the Birds--would look for my assistance in one way or another on the Eagles account. The essence of the mission was simple enough: to obtain state funding from Harrisburg for a new football-only stadium to replace Veterans Stadium, the historic South Philly stadium and former home to the Eagles and Phillies. It's a stadium of such fond multi-decade memories (to put it in historical perspective, I once saw Lou Brock steal a base there) that I sort of regret never purchasing one of its stadium seats, which I think they ended up marketing and selling for about $200 a piece before the stadium was ultimately subjected to a somewhat saddening 15-second, "shock and awe" city-orchestrated implosion. And then it was gone. Given that, I always thought a few Veterans Stadium seats would work well in my living room and would reveal all one needs to know about my interior design preferences.

The decimation was understandable. By the late 1990s the Vet's "field" was pretty much green concrete, not keeping up with some of the more plush NFL stadiums arising around the nation and, while many of us hated to see it go, the case for its replacement became glaringly apparent once quality prospective Eagles and Phillies players expressed reluctance about playing in Philly because of the field's quality. Lincoln Financial Field (along with three other large Pennsylvania stadiums) ultimately won the support sought from the state, and the Eagles now have a new and vastly improved home field.

As the campaign to replace the Vet gained momentum in the 1990s, I'd find myself from time to time in our firm's mahogany board room with none other than Mr. Lurie, and it didn't take more than a few meetings before I joined the many Philadelphians who felt compelled to share their "wisdom" on the team's direction. It was March 1999, maybe three weeks or so before the NFL Draft in which the Eagles had the second overall selection (and it was already widely established that Tim Couch would go first). The fall before, I spent quite a few Saturdays watching the poetic running of University of Texas running back Ricky Williams, who Sports Illustrated reasonably labeled the "Texas Tornado" in one cover story. One look at Williams told me everything I needed to know: he was a huge talent, with great stop and go running capabilities and the sort of speed explosion and misdirection running that made him extraordinary. His senior year, as I recall, he rushed for over 200 yards on something like 12 separate occasions. Who was the last to do that? Not surprisingly, Williams was the obvious choice for the 1998 Heisman. Like a lot of Eagles fans, I felt that Ricky Williams would one day belong to the elite group of NFL running backs: Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders...Ricky Williams. Obvious enough, right?

I felt compelled, as a passionate Eagles fan with this special access, to share my wisdom with my new friend, Mr. Lurie. Our meeting broke, the small talk commenced, and I soon found myself walking down the firm's hall with the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles. I shared my pearl of wisdom: "Mr. Lurie, I watched a lot of Ricky Williams down at Texas. I sure hope the Eagles can pick this guy up." "You think so?" he replied, with the smirk of a man who had heard utterly too many suggestions from all-knowing Eagles fans and may well already have discounted Williams for reasons unknown to the pedestrian Eagles fan.

NFL Draft day came and many Eagles fans, urged on by Philly sports radio station WIP, famously made the journey to New York City's Madison Square Garden to root for a Ricky Williams selection. The opportunity to seize the next Walter Payton had arrived. "With the second selection in the 1999 NFL Draft," NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said that day, "the Philadelphia Eagles select...Donovan McNabb from Syracuse." Eagles brethren filled the Garden with boos as McNabb grabbed his Eagles jersey and posed with Tagliabue. The boos continued. Then New Orleans Saints coach Mike Ditka saw his unique opportunity, quickly traded up, and Ricky Williams was off to New Orleans and Eagles fans, I suppose, spent a bus ride back to Philly denouncing the selection of this new quarterback from Syracuse.

Fast forward a few years. McNabb has led the Eagles to the playoffs just about every year and to one Super Bowl. Call him the best quarterback in football and some people might pause and mention Peyton Manning, the Super Bowl-proven Tom Brady, or the emerging and explosive Michael Vick, but the thesis of McNabb as "best" would not be too broadly challenged. McNabb is plain good and maybe great. He has played with broken bones. I became a believer when, this past fall, he refused to leave a game in 110-degree Tampa Bay heat, ultimately vomiting on the grass of Raymond James Stadium, then calmly resuming an Eagles drive to a fourth quarter score.

As for Ricky Williams, as I recall, the Saints somewhat outrageously ended up negotiating his contract with Williams' new agent, Master P of hip hop fame, and Williams then went on to test positive for marijuana multiple times, ultimately announcing an early retirement presumably because he was about to face his third positive test for the drug, which he said he used instead of taking anti-depressants to treat his social anxiety disorder (he would conduct media interviews with his helmet on). Time passed, and the 1999 draft faded from memory. Williams disappeared from the game and the memories of most Eagles fans. McNabb soared to legendary status.

Which brings me to Kevin Kolb, the University of Houston quarterback taken this afternoon with the Eagles' first 2007 NFL Draft selection (after the Eagles were apparently convinced they would not obtain the quality safety they originally sought). I did not follow college football quite as closely in the fall of 2006 as I did the 1998 season that I grew to admire the "Texas Tornado." But let me say that I watched enough to know that Kevin Kolb was not a name that rolled off the tongues of many as a likely top 2007 draft selection. Even among quarterbacks, he was considered a more likely third round selection, and he did not appear on any Eagles short list that I remember seeing.

But at least with the Eagles, I've come to learn and remember the lesson of Ricky Williams. Eagles coach Andy Reid and his quality group of coaches and scouts, likely now realizing that a day will come when McNabb (who will turn 31 this season) no longer takes Eagles' snaps, have thought ahead. As I do most years, I'll make the trip to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania this July for Eagles training camp and look forward to seeing Kolb in a red Eagles quarterback jersey. With the Ricky Williams selection now nearly a decade old, are we too proud in our football wisdom to give Kevin Kolb the benefit of the doubt?

Mr. Lurie, of course, had it right in his selection of Donovan McNabb, who (if his injury recuperation continues on pace) may yet lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory and may some day enter Canton as a Pro Football Hall of Fame selection. Conversely, after disappearing for a while following his positive drug findings, Ricky Williams resurfaced recently, playing a season with the Toronto Agronauts in the Canadian Football League and is now purportedly attempting an NFL comeback. I, for one, would love to see him in an NFL uniform this season because his raw talent has yet to be fully witnessed in the NFL, and there is no reason to think it still does not exist. But the Ricky Williams lesson is obvious: The selection of Ricky Williams by the Eagles in 1999 would have ranked among the worst draft selections in Eagles history, with the Eagles passing on a quarterback who has become "the franchise."

One cannot really view the Kevin Kolb selection in April 2007 without that perspective. The McNabb era will one day end. His off-season training and recuperation efforts are legendary, but his cumulative injuries are now sufficiently concerning to ask what the future holds for the Eagles at quarterback.

One hopes that question was answered today in Kevin Kolb, of whom I know next to nothing except that he appears to have had reasonably impressive statistics at the University of Houston, whose games were not once broadcast in Philadelphia as far as I recall. The word "durable" was used today to describe him. Good enough for me. Here's to Kevin Kolb--and hoping his NFL career becomes all that Andy Reid and Jeffrey Lurie obviously saw when Tagliabue let out those now infamous words at the Garden: "Donovan McNabb from Syracuse." This time, I am letting the lesson of Ricky Williams prevail and, unlike some Eagles fans, presuming some not so obvious wisdom in the selection.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Dow 13,000

By Michael Johns

Predictions of the demise of the American economy are, regrettably, routine these days, but don't be fooled. They also are vastly overrated. For the past six months at least, we have been subjected to routine predictions of sluggish growth, diminished productivity among small and mid-size capitalized companies, and euphoric fascination with the growth prospects in the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

Not to take anything away from the fascinating promise of these four nations, but this week's development: the Dow Jones Industrial Average blowing right through 13,000 sends the message that American leadership is alive and well in the global economy. Analysts underestimated first quarter earnings for a vast number of leading American companies, perhaps convinced that the sub-prime mortgage squeeze and other pressures would curtail our economic growth. They too shorted the promise of this American economy.

What is behind Dow 13,000? Many things. The vibrant optimism of the American consumer, the prospects for a stabilization of the conflict in Iraq (there actually is progress), and a validation of some of the domestic and economic policies of this administration. President George W. Bush is suffering from predictably diminished approval ratings that have confronted nearly every U.S. President fortunate enough to earn a second term, but this economy under his watch deserves greater praise: nearly full employment, continued global leadership in many important industries, and now a record in the most closely watched stock index in the world. It's not a small accomplishment and is certainly a tribute to the continued promise of the American dream and at least partly to the generally free market, pro-growth policies of this grossly under-appreciated Bush administration, which certainly is not the only factor behind Dow 13,000 but, especially in its support for sensible tax relief on dividends (paid by most Dow stocks)--has played a hugely supportive role, attracting capital to Dow equities.

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