Thursday, December 28, 2006

John Edwards Announces


John Edwards, who ran as John Kerry's vice president in 2004, announced his run for the 2008 Democratic nomination today. His announcement was staged in New Orlean's Lower Ninth Ward.

CBS News reported that last night he created a media event by doing yard work with young volunteers of a woman whose house was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in preparation for the announcement today.

He was interviewed this morning on ABC's Good Morning America with George Stephanopolous. Stephanopolous asked only one policy question in the four minute interview, which was on the war in Iraq, although it was framed in a "why should Democrats nominate you" on Iraq when Edwards originally supported the war and now he's against it.

Edwards' response was to highlight honesty, trustworthiness, and integrity as characteristics he would posess in dealing with Iraq. Although not mentioning Bush's name, he clearly insinuated Bush lacked those characteristics in the war in Iraq. He also rejected the idea of strengthening troop levels in Iraq, and he parroted the now-overused phrase that Iraq requires a political solution not a military solution.

Stephanopolous started the interview with a snippy strategy question by noting that Edwards had criticized President Bush in 2004 for exploiting Ground Zero for political gain, and whether Edwards was now doing the same thing with New Orleans. Edwards emphasized that New Orleans still needs much help after Hurricane Katrina and must not be forgotten--a nice job of dodging the question.

The caption underneath Edwards' bust shot was "John Edwards Running for President: Can He Take on the Big Names?" This theme was emphasized by the question of whether he's more qualified than Hillary Clinton. Edwards responded by saying that it's not up to him to decide, but that the next leader would have great responsibility to rebuild leadership and moral authority in the world - perhaps a slight dig on the Clinton legacy?

There was also news today that his Website was launched early, yesterday rather than today, and it was reported as a glitch for the campaign. CBS reported that campaign staff shut the site down until this morning.

I went through the website, and it's a little glitchy. When I entered the website from the splash screen, I went hunting for the announcement speech, but couldn't find it. Then, I wandered to the blog, which requires registration. After doing that (grrr), the site said I'd successfully logged in, but then the blog didn't load. I had to click on the blog link at the top to see any of the content. When I went back to the home page of the site, the top now heralds his announcement speech and includes vide from You Tube of a speech he made yesterday, which was posted on Wednesday night, according to Paul Kaputska. Kaputska declares the pre-announcement announcement on You Tube a candidate first. Of that, I am sure.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Who's Running For President?

I should be grading undergraduate student papers, but procrastination is the name of the game (you should see how spotless my kitchen is). To continue the dawdling until I really must start grading, let's take a little run down of who has thrown or has been publicly thinking about throwing their hat into the ring.

Democrats

Two candidates have officially announced, and many others are exploring a run for the nomination:
  • Tom Vilsack, Governor of Iowa, announced he was running earlier this year. His website suggests he is running a high tech campaign, utilizing his blackberry, videoblogging, and social software to connect to possible supporters. His website, though, lacks any indication of why he's running for Governor or what his major issues are.
  • Dennis Kucinich, the anti-war candidate in 2004, has announced a second run at the Democratic nomination, continuing his anti-war message.
  • Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico, has declared that he will form an exploratory committee to investigate a run for the nomination.
  • Joe Biden, Senator from Delaware, said he would seek the Democratic nomination.
  • Evan Bayh, Senator from Indiana, had announced plans to form an exploratory committee at the beginning of December, but has since decided not to run.
  • Mark Warner, former Governor of Virginia, had explored a run, but announced he would not seek the nomination. What was interesting about Warner was that he held a townhall forum in the 3-D sandbox, Second Life. I'm disappointed he dropped out, only because I was curious to see what he would do with his digital self.
  • Hillary Clinton, Senator from New York (and former First Lady, in case you've been living on a deserted island for the past 14 years), has been visiting New Hampshire and Iowa, and making noise about an exploratory committee. I must confess that I'm not eager to see her run. The days of Hillary hating were painful, and they will be back in force when she throws her hat into the ring.
  • Barak Obama, junior Senator from Illinois, has been the media's baby, creating quite a splash on his visit to New Hampshire last week. Will this media darling sustain the withering scrutiny of an attentive press?
  • Al Gore, former Vice President. I throw his name into this simply because there has been much speculation that his movie An Inconvenient Truth was his entry back onto the political scene. I'm not sure myself. I suspect he's quite happy beating the drum of global warming and not the drum of president. But, we shall see.
Republicans

As far as I can tell, no one has yet declared him or herself a candidate for the nomination, but here are a few who are exploring:
  • John McCain, Senator from Arizona, created an exploratory committee a month ago. The news media has been running polls with Hillary as his Democratic opponent. McCain does not have much support with the Republican base, but wide-spead popularity with independents and Democrats. For Hillary, it's the opposite: strong support from the base, and weak support from independents and Republicans.
  • Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York, established his exploratory committee in November. He has widespread popularity as America's mayor given his remarkable performance during and after the days of the terrorist attacks.
  • Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts, is considering the nomination. Romney is interesting, because he's not a traditional Republican. His state was one of the few to declare gay marriage a legal right for lesbians and gays. His state pushed for comprehensive health care.
  • Tommy Thompson, former Governor of Wisconsin, says he will form an exploratory committee in January. All I know of Thompson is that he's a good conservative.
  • George Pataki, soon-to-be former Governor of New York, has been visiting New Hampshire and Iowa, but I'm not sure if he's actually formed an exploratory committee yet. Pataki is, like Romney, a moderate conservative, and I'm not sure he's got wide-spread support from the Republican base. He also has about as much personality as milk toast.
  • Bill Frist, former Senate Majority Leader, has declared he won't seek the nomination, although he had made noises of this sort earlier this year. Thank goodness. I will never forgive him for his arm-chair assessment of Terry Schiavo. For that, he should have lost his medical license.
Stayed tuned. There's two years more of this to come . . . .

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Draft

Since 2003 Representative Charles Rangle of New York has been talking about legislation to reinstate the draft. Not an NFL draft, but a military draft. His rationale for the legislation is to sensitize Congress to the seriousness of war authorization if their own sons and daughters might be called to serve. He also believes that military service in an all volunteer army falls primarily on those who are often from the lower classes and minority communities and have few options. By forcing a draft, the people whose bodies on the line would come from all classes.

The conversation is back on the table as the Iraq Study Group releases its findings, as the Senate confirms Roberg M. Gates to serve as Secretary of Defense, and as Rangle moves to chair the House Ways and Means Committee.

The conversations in the past days have focused on whether more troops should move into Iraq to help stabilize the country. The problem with that plan, if that were to be the will of the Administration, is there aren't that many more troops to be had. More National Guard and Reservists could be called up and more service men and women currently in Iraq could be forced to serve more tours. But, is that the answer? Or is it time for a draft?

Even if the Administration decides to remove troops from Iraq, it is evident that the United States cannot fight a war on two fronts with an all volunteer army, which has been the measure of our military strength. We have not the troop strength to sustain such a feat.

So, what do we do? Do we revise our vision as a military super power and back off an ideal that we can fight a war on two fronts? Or, do we reinstate the draft for such times as these, when the nation is at war?

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The New York State Assembly Sucks


Okay, that's a rather nasty title, but really, they do. Here's why:

The Senate and the Assembly of New York State engage in a practice known as member item spending. Basically, when the "three men in a room" plan the budget they set aside millions of tax payer dollars to give out to their favorite members to spend on projects they like with virtually no public oversight. Until yesterday, the public was denied access to how the money was spent or which member was given money.

The Times Union sued both chambers, specifically Joe Bruno, Senate Majority Leader, and Sheldon Silver, Assembly Speaker, under the Freedom of Information Act here in New York. A judge ruled that both men must give up the information. Silver did so first, but initially struck the names of the Assembly members who received the money! I'm not kidding.

(If they didn't think what they were doing was wrong, why hide the names of the Assembly members? And, why "protect" them? It's not like the Assembly members are in a witness protection program. They simply received unregulated, unsupervised money to spend on any pet project they pleased.)

Okay, but that's not why the Senate sucks (that's why the Assembly sucks). Here's why the Senate sucks:

So, yesterday both chambers released Adobe PDF documents of the 3,000 documents or so on the member item spending. But, here's the thing, both offices scanned the documents as images, not as text, so there's no way to search the thousands of pages or import the data into a program that would help with the analysis.

When the Times Union went back to the Assembly, Silver's staff acquiesced and produced text-based PDF documents. When they went to the Senate, Bruno's staff member John McArdle said, "What the Senate has been willing to do is to provide the information [author's note: only under court order] . . . . Our understanding is that this is all you're entitled to." And here's my favorite part: "Bottom line, that's all you're going to get."

Don't you just LOVE that?!?

The arrogance, and the lack of any sense that they have an obligation to provide USEABLE information to the public. It's shocking. It makes me supremely angry. These public officials have no regard for the public. It's disgraceful. That Bruno is still in office can only be because that man can bring home the bacon like no other pork dealer in this state. It's certainly not because he has any regard for transparency in politics.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Give to Your Local Food Bank

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I tend to reflect back on past Thanksgivings, and people, events, and things in my life that make me thankful.

One thing I am thankful for is food. I know that sounds rather silly, but when I was a teenager, food was scarce at times. My Mom had mental health and chemical dependency issues, which led her down a classic path of divorce, economic distress, job insecurity, job loss, and welfare. Since she had custody of me and my brother, we joined that path with her. There was a set of Thanksgivings and Christmases that were made possible only through the generosity of others. That generosity was funneled through our local food bank.

So, this Thanksgiving weekend, be thankful that you are not one of the estimated 35 million Americans (according to the Agriculture Department) that do not have regular access to food on a given day. Be generous and give to your local food bank.

In the richest nation in the world, no one should go hungry.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Touch(ed)

I spent this weekend in San Antonio, Texas at the National Communication Association annual meeting. This is the big, national conference for communication teachers and researchers. When I say big, I mean 8,000 people big this year. That's a lot of communication people.

These conferences serve as a place for people to share ideas and present research. It is also a reunion of sorts. Here, once a year, friends from graduate school or from prior jobs converge in one location. I roomed, for example, with two dear friends from my Annenberg days, had lunch with two dear friends from my Minnesota days, had drinks with senior scholars in the field, had dinner with friends and possible collaborators of future research projects. I had chance encounters with old acquaintances and old friends who had grown distant.

In nearly all of those interactions, the one element that seemed to be a constant was touch: hugs, handshakes, hands on shoulders and upper arms or around the back, kisses on cheeks or lips. Greetings in this context seem to require some form of touch. Why?

I think when we see acquaintances and friends whom we rarely get to see, physical touch communicates more effectively and deeply the reality of that connection than can words. We rarely if ever physically touch strangers, and when we do we often apologize (think about walking through a crowded hallway of strangers: bump into somebody's arm as you're passing through and you apologize). We also rarely touch people we see on a daily basis, with exceptions of family members or really close friends. I don't often touch my co-workers, and I certainly don't give them a hug everytime I see them standing by the coffee pot in the office (can you imagine what a reputation one might get for doing so?).

As I think about my interactions with my friends and colleagues at the conference, I often remember the warm embraces, and the feeling such physical connection brings: warmth, connection, love.

That's why I enjoy conferences.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Election Post Mortem

Like all political junkies I was up until the wee hours Tuesday night into Wednesday morning watching the returns come in. When it was clear Montana, Missouri, and Virginia were not going to be decided in the next few hours, I went to bed.

I woke up with the news that Missouri had been called for McCaskill, leaving Montana and Virginia. By Friday, the outcome was clear: The Democrats were the majority in both the House and the Senate.

I am relieved to see, at last, a check on the executive. I believe it is problematic when both the executive and the legislative branches are held by the same political party. The legislative branch as of late has been especially meek, tepid, and mostly useless, with too many legislators saying "Yes" to whatever the executive asks for, while lining their pockets with lobbyist money, and bringing home the bacon to constituents to ensure the lever gets pulled for them the next election cycle.

And, even though there were ridiculously few genuinely competitive races this year, I'm heartened to see Americans rejecting another 2 years of what we've seen the last 6. I don't think the budget, our foreign policy, or minimum wage workers can stand much more of the same.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

My Brother Passed the Bar!

I just have to shout it out to the world - my brother passed the Maryland Bar exam.

Mark, I am SO proud of you.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Congressman Sweeney's Ad Lies

So, Factcheck.org released an analysis of the latest ad in Republican Congressman Sweeney's arsenal in his re-election run against challenger Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand here in upstate New York. It's been an especially nasty race since September, and it just got nastier.

Factcheck.org analyzes an ad that attacks Gillibrand for being a war profiteer, taking illegal campaign contributions, harassing a fallen soldier's mother, and (my favorite) making little kids cry (I'm not kidding).

Factcheck exposes the claims for what they are - lies.

It's disgraceful and Sweeney should be held accountable for such lousy antics.

Good ol' Aristotle argued that effective persuasion was possible when the person attempting to persuade had upstanding moral character and genuinely had the interests of those he was trying to persuade at heart. Where did that go in this country? The authors of the new book, The Architect: Karl Rove and the Master Plan for Absolute Power, reveal that Rove has targeted Christian conservatives for both legislation and mobilization tactics to strengthen the dominance of the Republican party. Rove himself, though, has no particular affinity with God, and does not necessarily hold the values of the Christian conservatives he is targeting. He has encouraged such overtures solely for strategy - to help benefit the Republican party.

Where are the people who genuinely believe the values they preach? Where are the people with values, period?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Negative Advertising

The 2006 midterm elections are hot hot hot.

The races, already competitive coming in to October, became even more so as the Republicans were knocked off message by the Foley Page scandal (in case you've been in a cave the past month, Representative Foley of Florida sent naughty messages - in Tony Snow's words - to young male Pages). Now, as I've said since 2000, it's the Democrats' races to lose.

The strategies of the two parties this election season are noteworthy for their differences. The Republican National Committee is doing what it's been doing successfully for 10 years, which is to raise huge sums of money from big donors, then funnel that money into 10 or 15 close races, more-or-less ignorning the rest of the country.

This had been the Democratic strategy until Howard Dean became Chariman of the DNC. His strategy, which is hated by the old-time Democrats, has been to not raise huge sums of money from a few key donors, and not to spend money on only a handful of targeted races. Instead, Dean has been raising money from small donors (sound familiar?) from across the country, and then funneling that money into local Democratic party organizations everywhere - even Alaska.

The thinking behind the strategy is that the Democratic party must rebuild its grassroots base, and in so doing eventually be able to win races in areas that Democrats have not seen victories in decades, such as the South.

The problem is that there is a spectacular imbalance between the two parties. Republicans have at least $69 million in their coffers. Democrats have in the neighborhood of $14 million. Given the strong correlation between money spent in a race and winning, this could prove problematic for Democrats.

There's a second notable difference in the parties' strategies. According to a new report from the non-partisan Factcheck.org. , Republican Campaign Committee ads in targeted districts have been attacking Democratic opponents on their character. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ads have attacked Republican opponents on their policy positions.

Now, the Democratical ads are often incorrect or misleading in their attacks - so I do not want to appear to be defending the Democratic strategy. But, the Republican attack ads are classic mudslinging.

Although character can be an issue in a campaign, for example if a politician has been found to be involved in illegal doings the voters have a right to know (take, for example, the Comptroller's race in New York, with Alan Hevesi illegally using a state driver for personal use). Often, though, these character attacks are completely baseless, and aim only to demean or smear the name of the Democratic opponent.

Perhaps, the most controversial ad has been the character attack on Harold Ford, a black Democrat running in Tenneessee against white Republican Bob Corker. The person-on-the-street ad shows average people saying that Ford was right to rasie money from the porn industry, to reinstitute the "death" tax, and to let Canada deal with North Korea. The most controversial element is the sexy blonde who says she met Ford at a Playboy Bunny party. The ad ends with her winking to the camera and telling Ford to "call me."

The ad, at its most innocent, calls into question both Ford's policy positions and his character (raising money from the porn industry and attending Playboy parties is meant to be sleazy). At worst, as John Geer notes (whose book on negative advertising my grad students will be reading soon), the ad plays into fears white people have of interracial dating and sex.

Ken Mehlman, RNC chair initially said the ad was not racist and that the RNC wasn't involved in making it. Later, he corrected that statement (the RNC did, indeed, create and pay for the ad), and the ad is no longer playing. But, many other sleazy ads are.

So, at a 10,000 foot view it seems that Republicans are doing what they've been doing and Democrats are trying something new. It remains to be seen which tactics will work. For the sake of democracy, I hope that we could have less mudslinging, more accurate attacks on policy positions, and more energy and money and spent across the country and not just on 10 races in a few key states. But campaigns rarely are meant to better the democracy . . . .

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The BEST Resource for Political Ad Analysis

The mid-term election campaigns are in full swing, and political ads are invading our television screens.

For the the best resource for analysis of the truth and lies in political ads, visit Factcheck.org. The website, referrenced (incorrectly) in the 2004 Vice Presidential debates by Dick Cheney, has continued to be the premier source for critiques of political advertising.

The website was started by journalist Brooks Jackson, the father of adwatching on television news, as part of an initiative at the Annenenberg School for Communication, at the University of Pennsylvania (my alma mater). Factcheck.org is funded through the Annenberg Foundation, and is non-partisan and beholden to no special interests that might influence the analysis.

If you want to know whether your candidate is telling fibs or telling the truth about his or her opponent, visit the site.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

To Hell in a Handbasket

As in "We are going to hell in a handbasket." [A big gold star to the person who knows where this saying comes from. I say it a lot these days, and I love the imagery.]

Weeks like this one make me think the United States is rotten at its moral core.

Sunday night, I watched 60 minutes, which had an expose on a surge in violence against the homeless, apparently because of the video series "Bumfights," which shows bums fighting each other and doing violent, painful, dangerous things to themselves while deeply intoxicated.

White, suburban teenage boys watch "Bumfights" (which can be downloaded from the Internet). Then, after having thoroughly laughed at and ridiculed the homeless in the videos, violently attack homeless they encounter or seek out on the streets.

Sixty Minutes interviewed the creator of "Bumfights," a 24 year old white guy who saw absolutely nothing wrong with the videos. He paid two homeless guys alcohol and pocket change to do the acts he captured on video. "Bumfights" has led to "The Bum Hunter," video footage of another 20-something white guy who goes around binding and gagging the homeless. The 24 year old director of Bumfights, when shown footage from "The Bum Hunter" thought that these were funny "skits." And, he insinuated that the homeless deserved it for being bums.

My moral outrage meter was on overdrive.

And, then, there are the school shootings. Three in a week. The latest one happened in Lancaster, PA, when a white middle aged guy stormed an Amish one room school house, released all the boys and teachers, then lined up the girls, bound them, and shot each of them in the head. Five girls have died so far, and the other seven girls fight to survive.

What in the hell is wrong in this country?

But, wait, there's more. It seems that another white, middle aged guy simply can't be a decent human being. Representative Mike Foley appears to like little boys, pages at the White House, to whom he instant messaged and emailed sexually explicit notes.

Remember in the 2004 elections, when Republicans declared that they won the election on moral values? Where are those moral values now?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Power to the President

On Friday, Congress completed its work on the Military Comissions Act of 2006.

In a nutshell the Bill allows the President to interpret the Geneva Conventions, and establishes that the courts do not have jurisdiction to hear challenges to his interpretation.

The legislation also strips detainees of any right to challenge their detentions in court. [This little element is likely to land the Bill back before the Supreme Court, and force Congress to rewrite the legislation.]


It also defines "enemy combatants" more broadly. Now, an "enemy combatant" is any noncitizen living in the United States (legally or illegally) or living outside the United States who is determined by the Secretary of Defense or the President to be an enemy combatant.

This legislation gives the Executive Branch broad power in establishing the judicial process for detainees. The bill denies the Judicial branch oversight when the Executive branch is challenged on its execution of that process.

The United States needs to establish a judicial process for trying the detainees we currently have. We ought not just hold them forever. But, this terrible piece of legislation does not get us there. It gives too much power to the Executive branch, and elements of it that can be challenged in the courts will be, which means that it will be another couple of years before we have the possibility for a process. In the meantime the 14,000 people we're currently detaining, some of whom do not deserve to be there, continue to rot in detention centers.

I can only hope that the force of public opinion, both at home and abroad, will keep the Executive in check as it tries to execute this current law. Certainly, Democrats and moderate Republicans in Congress absolutely failed in their duty to do so.

[Read a powerful critique of the Bill and our Congress in The Nation.]

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Why We Fight in Iraq

The conversation on the last post has been terrific. I want to keep it going.

So, here's some more to chew on:
Last night, Jon and I watched the documentary Why We Fight by Eugene Jarecki. The film has a website (of course), whywefightmovie.com, which I recommend.

The film and the website start with a video clip from President Dwight Eisenhower's last speech in office. This is the speech in which he coins the phrase "militaryindustrial complex." [Read the
full text of the speech.]

In the speech he argues that only in the 20th century has there been a military industry. This industry benefits from war, and if not kept in check, could influence every aspect of social and political life.


The film's narrative arc is to prove that Eisenhower's caution went unheeded - that we now have a government that is beholden to the industries that support and benefit from war.


As just one case in point, take the new B-2 Bomber. The B2 was originally designed as a Cold War terror device. The message to the Soviets was, if you screw with us, we'll fly one of our planes from our country to yours within hours, a plane that can't be detected by your radars, and with its massive nuclear payload drop tons of radioactive love on a target, and leave you glowing [Read a good history of the B2].

The cost of the B-2 was a major issue in its development.
The Air Force originally estimated the new planes to cost $45 million each, according to the GAO in 1995. The Air Force then revised the estimate, stating that it would cost more like $89 million in 1997. A fact sheet from the Air Force from this year estimates the cost of building future B2s at $1.2 billion dollars PER PLANE.

One might wonder why, today, we would need such a plane. The B-52 also is a large payload bomb dropper (love my technical military parlance?) originally designed to drop nuclear bombs on the Soviets. It has been used successfully in every war. The unit cost: $53.4 million. You could build 25 B-52s for the cost of 1 B2 Bomber. The government currently owns 21 B2s, according to Boeing, one of the companies that make the bomber (other companies included, Northrop Grumman, Hughes, Generl Electric, and Vought). Each of these first edition B2s cost tax payers $2.2 billion each.

The only military advantage of the B2 was that it was designed to circumvent enemy radar, particularly large conventional forces radar (i.e. standing armies of nation-states fighting each other). We don't dare land one in Turkey or any base outside of the United States, because they are too valuable. They have no armor, unlike the B52. Their only defense is their anti-radar detection capabilities. The B2 is usually not deployed until all ground based radar is destroyed. So, basically the planes are so expensive, we only use them when there's no risk that they'll be destroyed.

So, again, why are we building this plane? The answer is simple: because a piece of the bomber is being built in all 50 states.


Did you catch that?

So, if the B2 program were scrapped, Senators and Representatives would feel pressure from constituents who lose their jobs if the factory in their town closes. Since each state benefits from having the B2 in the form of jobs, then what's the harm in spending billions of dollars on a few planes?


The point here is this: the reason we are at war is because major corporations benefit from war, and these corporations are incredibly successful at pressuring government agencies and politicians to help them increase their profits. According to the film, the militaryindustrial complex is today a $740 billion dollar a year industry. That is a 25% profit. When most companies see 5-7% profitability, this is a staggering windfall. The new CEO of Boeing, James McNerney, receives $1.75 million in salary, and a bonus of as much as $4 million a year. The CEO of the bulletproof-vest maker DHB Industries made $70 million in 2004 compared with his 2001 salary of $525,000, according to CNN, because Congress approved major purchases in body armor. The profit from war is substantial.


Another point of the film is the relationship between politicans and the militaryindustrial complex. The film highlights Vice President Cheney's position in Haliburton after serving as Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. Cheney who had strong government ties was a valuable asset to Haliburton. As Vice President he continues to be helpful to Haliburton. The film highlights that Haliburton received several no-bid contracts to support the war in Iraq. Although there is absolutely no smoking gun that Cheney helped Haliburton acquire those contracts directly, the loose association of friends and acquaintances that exist between the two (government and military corporation) are so intertwined that the influence is now in the very fabric of the relationships between the two.


The film also highlights that on 9/12/2001 President Bush discussed with his Cabinet the possibility of a pre-emptive attack on Iraq - even though Iraq had NOTHING to do with the attacks the day before.


So, there it is. It's not oil, it's not democracy or freedom (two of the most empty God terms bandied about these days), it's profit for militaryindustrial corporations. That's why we fight.

What do you think?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Bring Them Home?

As we move into the fall elections, one of the major issues if, of course the War in Iraq. Lawn signs have popped up along the side of the road on my way to work declaring "Support the Troops Bring Them Home Now." Yet, Republicans, especially President Bush (most recently in his speech commemorating 9/11) have argued that we must stay the course in Iraq.

I want to start a conversation here on this question. I am very curious to know what my friends and readers think on this issue. I will confess that I was against the war when we declared it, because I was very skeptical of claims of WMD in Iraq and connections between al Qaeda and Iraq. Now that we know both of those claims were false, reasons for being there have changed. Now, one of the primary arguments is that we are bringing democracy to the Middle East.

My gut instinct on whether we should pull out of Iraq is that we should not. My current feeling is that we have a moral obligation to help the Iraqis to at least establish the infrastructure they need to be a stable country (or countries).

But, I am very open to other perspectives. What do you think?

[Oh, and this time the question mark in the title is genuine!]

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Voter Turnout?

New York State had its primary this past Tuesday. Turnout was reported to be light. But, light is an understatement.

Today the official word is that only 5.5% of *registered* Republicans turned out to vote. The turnout for Democrats was higher - somewhere between 11% and 15%, according to the Times Union.

Part of the reason for the discrepancy in turnout is the number of high-profile contested races. For Republicans only the U.S. Senate seat was contested. The race between John Spencer and K.T. McFarland was at times really nasty. But, that was about it for Republican voters. For Democrats, there were contests for several offices, including Governor and U.S. Senator.

But, still: 5.5%? What kind of democracy do we have when such tiny slivers of the population turn out to vote during the primaries?

The primaries were established in the early 1970s to encourage a more democratic process for identifying who a party's nominee would be. Before that, most states' parties selected their leaders through back-channel and private negotiations - imagine the smoke filled room in the back of a bar somewhere with guys sitting around a table deciding who would be the nominee.

But, the revised primary system has failed to do what it aimed to do. With only an average of about 15% of registered voters of a party turning out to vote on a given election, it is still a thin slice of the electorate who is selecting their party's nominee. And, this is not a random sample of the electorate who turns out. People who vote in primaries are more ideological, better educated, and more knowledgable about the political process, the candidates, and current events - sort of like the old days with the men in back rooms picking the candidates.

I'm not sure there is a way to fix this broken system, and perhaps it's okay that such a small percentage of the people turn out. At least the primary system allows those who want to have a say to have one. The rest can stay home as they always have.

[The question mark at the end of this blog post's title is a nod to John Stewart, who last night, on the Daily Show, had a terrific piece about titles on the crawlers of CNN and Fox News. Why say it when you can ask it?]

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Katrina : One Year Later

Last year around this time I was simultaneously pissed off and disillusioned. Watching the images coming at me via CNN of the New Orlans convention center gave me a surreal feeling that I was not witnessing an event in the United States. Surely, the US of A would not allow 40,000 people people to linger for five days in a rancid building without food and little water. Surely, my government would never fail to send desparately needed supplies and manpower in the form of our National Guard to the flooded homes of the Gulf Coast. But, that's what I was seeing.

One year later, it is important to reflect on the complete failure of the several layers of government to do what it is intended to do: serve its people. In times of disaster (from hurricanes to terrorist attacks) we turn to our government to help us. The government is our collective will, our common good, with the resources and agency to act in the service of those who we all agree need help.

But, that's not what I saw one year ago. And, it still makes me angry.

[photo from Mother Jones]

Monday, August 14, 2006

Bad Things Come in Threes

A good friend of mine is terrified of flying. She is very attentive to any news of plane crashes or "incidents." After there have been three, she relaxes somewhat, because bad things come in threes.

My rational self says such ideas are silly, but the past few months have given testament to this superstition. Three people have died this summer who have touched my life. The first death was Mike Young, a talented comedian and graphic designer in Philadelphia. A brain tumor stole his life and robbed his wife and young son of an incredible soul. The second death was Uncle Len, my husband's uncle. Len was at our wedding - the jovial, good natured jokester. Len was an important figure in Jon's life, and I'm sorry that we won't be able to enjoy future Christmases at his house.

The third I just learned of. My University's president died yesterday in a swimming accident. Kermit Hall has been president of my University almost 2 years. He was energetic, had vision, and worked very hard to promote the University at Albany in our community and to the state legislature. His work paid off in a line item in the budget desparately needed to upgrade my decaying concrete campus. He pushed to increase the number of tenure-track faculty on campus by 100 over the next 5 years. He was also a distinguished legal historian, with an impressive research career.

President Hall's death will have tremendous impact on my campus. We were gaining momentum and hope under his leadership; Now that will stall as we move to an interim president. Having lived under one interim president before Hall was appointed, it is clear that they generally stay the course until a new president is appointed. So, the progress we were making, including a stronger family leave policy that I worked very hard on for the past two years, now will be on hold.

His death, like Mr. Young's, shakes my assumption that life is a given as I go about my daily routines. One day you could be enjoying coffee on the deck with the Sunday newspaper, and the next day . . . . All the more reason to push boundaries, to get out of comfort zones, to help others, to better yourself, and your world.

All three of these men who have died this summer enacted the virtue of a life lived fully. May we all strive to be so vivid.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Theme of This Summer

"Out of my Comfort Zone."

I ran into a colleague on campus yesterday, and he reminded me that we only have three weeks left of summer. I did not need to hear that.

But, it got me thinking about what has transpired this summer. As usual, I have not gotten as much accomplished as I had envisioned, and a trip to Minnesota is not going to happen. But, I have done some things, many of which are new for me - and challenging: the dogs, the longer runs, gaining authorization to drive the ambulance for Helderberg volunteer EMS, learning guitar, and doing a whole new kind of data analysis than I have done before. The latter two have been the most frustrating. I still cannot get my fingers to make a nice sounding G chord, and the data analysis has been so very slow.

But, I am learning things, and pushing myself out of well worn routines. That makes for a satisfying summer.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Flashbacks of Katrina

Those watching world events have heard of the deaths of civilians, women and children, in the Lebanese town of Qana by a precision - guided Israeli bomb. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed regret at the killings, but Olmert and Israeli officials have said repeatedly that Hezbollah must be stopped and that civilians were given notice to evacuate.

The implication is that Hezbollah must be stopped at any cost and that those who failed to evacuate are responsible for their deaths.

The later echoes in my head.

Didn't "Brownie" and various government officials after the chaos that Katrina invoked in New Orleans say the same thing of those who didn't get out before the huricane hit?

Do none of these government officials recognize how difficult it is for many people to "evacuate" on a moment's notice? Especially people who are poor, who do not have cars, who do not have safety nets and social networks to give them some place to go? If Hezbollah was the primary social safety net in Southern Lebanon, then the Lebanese government likely was not assisting evacuees out of Southern Labanon in any way. How are the elderly, young families, the destitute to get themselves out of bomb blasts?

Moreover, how the hell are people supposed to flee on wrecked roads and bombed bridges while Israeli missiles rain down from on high?

The rhetoric that civilians were warned constructs a moral exit for Israel. If they warned civilians to leave, but they are still there, then it's their own fault they were killed. The blame is on them (and Hezbollah), not on Israel.

Other Israeli rhetoric further pushes blame elsewhere. The New York Times reported the following:

But Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador, said Hezbollah had used Lebanese civilians as human shields and had deliberately exposed them to danger in the hopes of stirring expressions of outrage against Israel. “What is happening around this table is exactly what they wanted to happen,” he said.

Lebanese civilians “may have been killed by Israeli fire,” Mr. Gillerman said, “but they are the victims of Hezbollah, victims of terror.”

Now that is a twisted logic.

No, they are the victims of Israeli's grossly disproportionate force against Hezbollah's kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. Soldiers mind you, the guys who are in the military, who are not civilians, who are generally, for lack of a better phrase, "fair game" when violent force is the order of the day.

Using precision guided weapons heightens Israel's culpability. They knew exactly what they were hitting when they blew up the apartment building in Qana this weekend. They knew it was an apartment building. Israel has footage of what appears to be a rocket launched from somewhere behind the apartment building. Note: behind the building, not from the building. Yet, Israel chose to bomb the building. Why? (And for that reason, why on earth did they bomb the U.N. building last week?)

The 24 hour cease fire that Israel announced after the deaths has, unsurprisingly, been rescinded, the New York Times is reporting. Bombing continues today.

And this just underscores the problem. Civilians weren't able to get out before Israel began bombing. They've been stuck. They'd still be stuck if it weren't for the Red Cross and Lebanese soldiers, and a short period of calm to get themselves out.

How many are still stuck? Pawns in a terrible game that kills dozens by the day.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Cease Fire?

So, after the meeting in Rome and the lack of a clear message from several world leaders (thanks to Rice thwarting such efforts), Isreal's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared that the lack of a message out of the meeting in Rome was a signal that his country was authorized to keep bombing southern Lebanon to smitherings.

Now, hold on a minute.

The U.S. was the only country quibbling over the terminology of "immediate" in the phrase "cease fire." The rest of the leaders, especially the European leaders, were crystal clear in their opposition to the continued airstrikes and ground war by Israel as well as Hezbollah's launching of rockets into Israel.

Fortunately, the European Union leaders have continued to put pressure on Isreal and on the United States to reject a long-term war. Indeed, after Prime Minister Blair met with Bush yesterday it seems that Bush is changing his message somewhat on the Israel/Hezbollah war and seems to now be pushing for a shorter time period before international peacekeepers would move into the region. Until then, Isreal can continue to pound sounthern Lebanon with abandon, but once the peacekeepers enter that can no longer happen. Israel will be effectively reigned in from their current unabandoned bombing spree.

Now, I should be clear and say that Hezbollah needs to be disarmed. They have basically held Lebanon hostage, bringing death and destruction to thousands of Lebanese citizens who have no interest in this war. The U.S. needs to help Lebanon strengthen its military and its government. One of the reasons Hezbollah continues to exist and to receive tepid suppport from Lebanese citizens is because Hezbollah runs hospitals, grocery stores, and cares for the poor. The Lebanese government must step in and offer better services to its citizens, removing the incentive for support of Hezbollah.

I fear, though, that the overwhelming force Isreal has used on Lebanon against Hezbollah and by extension the Lebanese citizens will turn Arab sentiment further against Israel and create renewed sympathy for Hezbollah. Indeed, reports from CNN suggest that is the case.

It's hard to get people to join your cause if they think you're evil.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Cease Fire

Today, Condoleeza Rice met with leaders from several European and Arab governments to discuss a possible cease fire between Hezbollah and Israel (Syria, Iran, and Israel were not there, I should note - the three countries that might be able to actualize a halt to the killings). The Bush Administration dragged its feet, sending Rice only this week to the region to talk with both sides.

The Administration clearly has no desire to see a cease fire between Israel and Hezbollah. Although the other government officials came to the meeting in Rome arguing for a demand for an immediate cease fire, Rice was hell bent on preventing that.

The BBC reported that nearly an hour and a half was spent debating whether the phrase "immediate" should be used in relation to a cease fire. In the end, Kofi Annan, still declared the need for an immediate cease fire, and BBC News ran with that as its headline.

[Note: the photo is courtesy of About.com. I quite like the Condi-Conan look.]

Her rhetoric justifying a position of no cease fire is worth considering. According to the New York Times, Rice said after the meeting:
"It doesn't do anyone any good to raise false hopes about something that's not going to happen. It's not going to happen. I did say to the group 'When will we learn?' The fields of the Middle East are littered with broken cease-fires."
Translation:
"What is the point of working towards a solution? People will only die anyway? Best to give up now, and just let Israel bomb Hezbollah into the stone age, along with the Lebanese civilians who are stuck in the middle."
The U.S. apparently has a new approach to diplomacy: Diplomacy works best that works least.

Time has a compelling commentary on "Condi in Diplomatic Disneyland".

Monday, July 24, 2006

Indy and Bella's Journeys

For those of you who have been following our dog adventures - a little update. Yesterday, Jon and I attended a "happy hour" for dog owners at a local pub. The benefits went to Peppertree Rescue, where Jon and I got the big beasts.

When we arrived we were surrounded by friendly people who knew these two dogs - especially Indy. Several people praised us for having taken him in, and a few said they didn't think he'd ever get adopted and would be put down.

I also learned a little more of the circumstances of the dogs. Bella was originally named Edie. She came to Peppertree from Georgia with her sister Eva in November, 2005. She was adopted out twice and returned because of her many issues. Somewhere in there she was renamed Bella.

[Side note - you'll see in the photos that Bella loves having things in her mouth: sticks, kongs, bones. She'll wander around the house all day with her red kong in her mouth. If she were a human, she'd be a smoker.]

Indy was turned in to the Mohawk & Hudson Humane Society as a stray. He was found with a second dog, both of whose faces were covered in porcupine quills. The Humane Society was able to track down Indy's owner, but when they called to tell them that Indy had been turned in, the owner said they were through with Indy and didn't want him. Thus began Indy's journey in foster homes where he became an escape artist of remarkable feats (jumping over 6' fences, eating through plastic crates and tearing through screen doors).

It gives me some more perspective on what these dogs have been through.

I have to say, though, I am getting very sick of Bella's bad habits. She has two that are frustrating. First, she jumps. Second, she's not quite housebroken. If anyone has any tips on how to deal with these two problems, please share!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The First 5K

Today, in the rain, my friend Emily and I ran the Berne 5K. We placed first and second in our age class. You should be impressed . . . . or not, since Emily and I were the only two people in that class!

There were 103 runners, so a perfect first race - small and surrounded by friendly people, some of whom were my neighbors.

The route of the race is one that I run at least once a week, and it was a joy-ful feeling to run with others on what is usually my solo course.

It was a delight to run it with Emily. She has run marathons, and I've been intimidated by her feats. But, after today, I have new confidence that perhaps I could run longer distances. If she could do it, then maybe I could do.

I have felt the runner's high - and it is good.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Where is Jenny S-G?

Joshie Juice posted on the last entry a question: Where am I?

I've not been a good blogger for a while. I know. I've been sort of hiding. I don't have good reasons, but I have reasons.

The run-up to the trip to Dresden and Budapest at the end of June was hectic. I had both an encyclopedia entry and a book chapter due immediately upon my return, and as usual it was a scramble to get them finished.

Upon my return, I've buried my head deep in analyzing and writing up research I've been working on for forever now. At the conference in Dresden it sunk in that I'm going up for tenure in a year, so now is the last big push. When I'm in the writing stage, I find it best to be a bit of a recluse (even a bit enjoyable after the high social interaction and distractions of the semester). I'm trying to be disciplined and not distracted by such things as thoughts for the blog.

As well, I feel overwhelmed by what is happening in the Middle East and in the United States both domestically and our foreign policies, and I don't even know where to start to express my thoughts on the many bad happenings.

Even more preoccupying, I've been taken with the journey of my fellow ASC alum Danna and her husband Mike who had a brain tumor. He died Tuesday, and I've been coping with my sadness for her, my grief that has resurfaced about my mom's death, and my own fears of mortality . . . . I'm afraid of death, so I'm not blogging (how's that for an excuse?).

But, on the positive side, I'm running my first 5K on Saturday with my friend Emily (I know, you couch potatos will say there's nothing positive about running a 5K race . . . . . ) . I've been running two days a week and doing a long run on weekends. I'm up to 7 miles. My goal is 10 by the end of the summer. The dogs make great running companions.

So, maybe now that I've broken the seal of solitude, I'll be a good blogger again?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

And Then There Were Two Dogs

(Apologies for being quiet on the blog - I've been traveling)

So, May 15, we brought a second dog into our lives. Her name is Bella (that's the name she came with). She's a 62 pound black lab/hound mix, and around a year old.

After we got Indy, we thought he would do well with a second dog in the house. He is quite anxious, and we hoped that a second dog would help him be more calm. Plus, Peppertree Rescue has an endless supply of needy dogs, and we felt we could accomodate one more.

Bella's backstory is that she came out of the New York shelter system. Apparently, her first owner got her as a puppy, lived in an apartment somewhere in the city, and turned her in to the shelter after neighbors complained that Bella barked while the owner was at work. Bella was subsequently placed in a couple of different homes up here, but her barking when left alone was found unsuitable. When we got her, she was being kenneled at an animal hospital. We agreed to long term foster care for her to at least get her out of the animal hospital. If she worked out we'd keep her.

Two days after we got her, I left for Eastern Europe. My unlucky husband had to manage two big dogs in my absence. Bella turns out to be very poorly mannered, not really knowing or obeying any commands, and walking like a torpedo when on a leash. But, Jon worked magic while I was gone, and she is increasingly becoming a well-behaved dog. It helps that she is very lovey.

As per my last post, the plight of dogs in shelters has not decreased. Give to your local animal shelter, and urge your friends and relatives to spay and neuter their pets. Consider taking in a first or second (or in our case sixth) animal. The rewards are endless.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Rescuing Indy



I've been busy, and have neglected this little blog. What has kept me busy, you ask? My new dog, Indy. We adopted him from a local rescue on April 29th. He appears to be part Lab, part Rhodesian Ridgeback. He's tall, and weighs about 75 pounds. We're not sure how old he is - somewhere around 4.

We don't have much back story on him. He was dropped off at the Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society the beginning of March. He was dropped off with another dog, possibly his brother. The other dog was adopted right away, and Indy became very depressed - he became listless in his cage, turning constantly, and not eating.

Peppertree Rescue, a local area rescue, adopted Indy out of the shelter. Peppertree's mission is to rescue and to adopt out dogs with good natures. They work closely with area Humane Societies to rescue dogs marked for death because they're not being adopted out. Indy was poorly behaved at the Humane Society, and wasn't showing well, but the folks at Peppertree saw that Indy just needed a second chance. I am overjoyed with the new addition in our herd of beasts.

In the process of adopting Indy, my husband and I have become highly aware of the state of animal abandonment in the United States. In adopting Indy, we felt we had made a small difference, but as I look at the Peppertree site and see a new round of dogs in need of homes, I realize that it's a never-ending tide of unwanted animals.

The Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society, for example, receives over 12,000 animals every year. They receive no government funding for their work housing, healing, and helping abandoned animals (so give generously). Right now, they have over 70 cats in need of adoption. 70 cats! Are there 70 people willing to take them in? And even if there were, in another month, there would be 70 again. It's a grim cycle.

But, we made a teeny tiny difference, and we saved a really good dog from death.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Diebold: Keeping America Safe From Democracy

A new report is out by Harri Hursti, a computer programmer in Finland, who tested Diebold's machines to see if they could be hacked to alter election returns.

Hursti, in participation with BlackBoxVoting.org, has released a report which detail several vulnerabilities with the Diebold machines - now the most used machines in the United States.

In short, Hursti's report says that the machines can easily be compromised if a hacker has a few minutes of time with the machine. Compromises can be very difficult to detect. In the process of "installing" updates to the software, malicious code could be written into the install and the machine would still report a successful installation of updates. The hack could cause the machines to fail to work or, worse, alter votes without anyone detecting the comprised vote.

So, today, which is a day of voting in New York for local school boards and school propositions, I thank my lucky stars that I'm still voting on those fantastic, old 2 ton pull-lever voting machines.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Faulting David Horowitz



A group called Free Exchange on Campus has produced a document countering the many baseless claims Horowitz makes in his book The Professors. The find many niggly little errors, such as that only 100 professors are profiled in the book (Horowitz claims that there's actually 103 profiled, because he discusses 3 in his introduction). They also find more weighty problems, such as a lack of any evidence supporting his claim that conservative students are being punished by liberal professors by lowering their grades.

Thank goodness. I think some academics would prefer to just ignore Horowitz on the hopes that he would just go away. But, he's not likely to do that, and it's better that the claims get countered than to let them stand.

Academia, intellectually, is about falsifying, truth telling, and producing compelling argument. It's time we tell the truth and let it speak louder than Horowitz.

For more info, there's a good story in Inside Higher Ed this morning.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

When Rumsfeld Lied 2,414 Died and Thousands Injured (and it's not over yet)


After watching my pre-recorded episodes of the Simpsons last night, I flipped through the channels looking for something to watch as I stalled going to bed. I landed on C-SPAN, which was showing a purple heart award ceremony. Seven men and women stood in front of the dias in their military fatigues to receive the award, their family members by their sides. Two men were in wheel chairs; a woman walked with a prosthetic leg. As the medals were awarded, family members softly wept. I did too.

This is not news, but it's worth being said: The war in Iraq has taken a terrible toll on our military members and their families. And, I found myself asking as I watched last night: To what end?

When Donald Rumsfeld beat the drum for war in 2002 and early 2003, I was doubtful of his claims of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq and his claims of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda. Now, more than three years later, the press is finally highlighting the claims made before war and the reality that we now face - no weapons, no connection between Iraq and al Qaeda, massive loss of life and limb of Americans sent to "liberate" Iraqi people and of the Iraqis we're supposed to be liberating.

Times Union reporter Eric Rosenberg wrote an article that was published this morning (in the paper but not on their website) that details the claims Rumsfeld made before we went to war and the claims he's made since, denying the original claims.

At a forum in Atlanta last Thursday, Rumsfeld was challenged by a questioner. The questioner claimed that Rumsfeld had lied when he said that he knew where the weapons were located in Iraq in the days leading up the war. Rumself replied
"I did not. I said I knew where 'suspect' sites were."
But Rosenberg's investigation on Rumsfeld's claims in 2002 and 2003 prove otherwise:
On March 30, 2003, 11 days into the war, Rumsfeld was asked in an ABC News interview if he was surprised that American forces had not yet found any weapons of mass destruction.

"Not at all," Rumsfeld said, according to an official Pentagon transcript. "The area in the south and the west and the north that coalition forces control is substantial. It happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south, and north somewhat."
Well, not exactly.

So, because of the deception, the claims of certainty that Hussein threatened the security of the United States, we went to war. But, the claims were false, and the war our men and women continue to fight is premised on false assumptions.

We can tell ourselves that we're fighting a war on terror, but it feels to me that we're fighting figments of Donald Rumsfeld's imagination. And the price we pay for that fight is precious life.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Way of Business: The CEOs Get Richer While Minimum Wage Stays the Same

'Tis the season when publicly traded companies hold their annual meetings. So, in my Yahoo email account I receive notices from the few companies we own that it's time to vote my shares in preparation of the shareholder's meeting. I employ the same ethic to voting for boards of directors and shareholder proposals as I do for voting for candidates, which means I spend more time than I should researching who the various board members are and what the shareholder proposals mean.

(Before you jump to the conclusion that college professors get paid too much if I have money to play the stock market, let me be clear: the play money came from a lovely and lucky windfall my husband and I received for being in the right place at the right time in the real estate market in Philadelphia. That whole buy low, sell high moto works.)

Here's what I learned from my research this weekend: If you want to be rich, become a CEO.

Of the companies I researched this weekend, only one CEO made less than $1 million in total compensation in 2005, and that was Charles Schwab, the namesake and CEO of the financial company. He made $911,000 in compensation. And that figure was so low becuase he refused the bonus that his Board of Directors Compensation Committee had allocated for him. His peers in the same market sector made on average $4.7 million in 2005.

By contrast, the CEO who made the most money of CEOs in my portfolio was the Chair and Executive of a mega-conglomerate called Cendant. Henry R. Silverman raked in $24 million last year. (Cendant is a company that owns everything for Coldwell Banker to Orbitz, to Cheaptickets, to Wyndham, to Budget. It's breaking into four companies over the next few years.)

Now, you might think that perhaps that's just what CEOs of companies of his type make. No. The average compensation is $3 million.

Well, maybe you'd think that he must really deserve it. This must be a company that's stock is soring, that is gaining ground in its many business ventures, that is outcompeting its competition. No.

Of all the stock I own, it's the one of two companies that's sucking ass. I've lost 26% of my money on the company since I bought into it over a year ago.

So, why does this guy deserve to make 800% more than his rivals? Beats me. It's counterintuitive that somebody who is the CEO of a conglomerate can make money while the company is losing it.

What's really aggravating is there isn't much I or any of the shareholders can do about it. Executive compensation is generally not voted on by shareholders but is decided by a sub-committee of board members who chair a compensation committee.

Here's the rub: All those &$*%ers are CEOs themselves. So, it's a beautiful club to join. I join your Board of Directors and give you a nice fat salary, bonuses, and stock options. In return you join my Board and do the same for me.

Meanwhile, the federal Minimum Wage of $5.15 hasn't increased in 9 years, and the rising costs of fuel, food, and life's essentials have increased more than the 2% cost of living raises the rest of us working schmucks get per year.

Where's the justice?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Higher Education, Salary Gaps, and Manliness

I've been working for two years now to improve the family/maternity leave policy at the University at Albany. During this time, I have grown keenly interested in gender disparities in higher education.

Inside Higher Ed is reporting this morning a new study that looks at the salary gap between male and female academics. In raw numbers, female professors on average earn 21.8% less than their male counterparts. The researcher, Paul D. Umbach, then identified several independent variables, including number of years in the discipline, number and types of publications, whether the faculty has external grants, and rank.

Factoring in all these variables reduces the gap to 6.8%. That's still a sizable number in my mind, although not nearly as grim as a full 20%.

Umbach isn't sure that the gap indicates a genuine bias towards giving men higher salaries or if the bias is more discipline based - some disciplines are populated with more female faculty (schools of social welfare/social work, schools of education) and others with more male faculty (engineering, computer science, biology, chemistry).

I'm not sure that there's a "preferrence" in salary allocation to male faculty either, but I am sure there are system wide biases. There are clear salary discrepencies between, for example the hard sciences and the humanities, with hard science faculty making more than arts faculty, and hard science faculty bringing in more external funding.

To me, this just indicates that our society, for better or worse, places more value on "hard" sciences than on humanities. And, with more women attracted to the humanities than the sciences, and women's work less valued than men's, we get further reinforcement of the justness of the salary discrepancies.

Speaking of women's work less valued than men's, I heard an interview on WBUR Boston's "On Point" with Harvey Mansfield, who has written a new book, Manliness.

He defines "manliness" as "confidence in a situation of risk," and argues that this is a quality that men have and that women lack (tell that to Rosa Parks, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Madeline Albright, Ida Tarbell, Margaret Thatcher, and any number of women who have stood strong in the face of adversity and danger).

He argues that we need more "take charge" guys; that our gender-equal society has constructed women and men as interchangeable. This is bad for our society, since women are inherently NOT interchangeable with men.

Women are inferior to men. Yes. That's what he said in the interview.

And certain jobs women do are sheer drudgery for men, like housework, and should be done with pride by women, but should not be done by men, since it's beneath men to do.

I would not want to be Mrs. Mansfield.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

South Dakota Senator Bill Napoli is Looney

As I hope everyone knows by now, South Dakota's government recently passed a law banning all abortion except if the mother's life is threatened. They are hoping that the law will be challenged eventually at the level of the Supreme Court and that Roe V. Wade will be overturned.

My cousin Loy and her partner Bob live in South Dakota, and Bob has created an auction site on E-Bay to raise money for a proposed women's clinic on the Pine Ridge Reservation. It's an interesting way to ensure women have access to basic medical services, including abortion, even if the ban takes effect--since Pine Ridge isn't subject to state laws. Even if the ban never takes effect, South Dakota currently only has 1 abortion provider in the entire state located in Sioux Falls, which is on the eastern end of the state and a five hour + drive from the western end of the state. More clinics in South Dakota are desparately needed.

The item being auctioned by Bob to raise money for the clinic is a card with a statement by one of the South Dakota Senators, a truely remarkable character, by the name of Bill Napoli. Napoli on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer justified that there shouldn't be an exception in the bill for rape and incest, because such an exception would naturally occur for a particular type of rape victim:

"A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life."
Bob, who has a mischievious wit, has created a card printed with this bizarre declaration, which Bob has titled the "Sodomized Religious Virgin Exception" that he's auctioning on e-bay to raise money for the Oglala Women's Clinic.

Here's where things get very strange.

Bob mailed a copy of the card he's auctioning to Napoli. Napoli sent him a note back that made my jaw drop. You can see a copy of it, but the text reads as follows:

Newland,

What's with the Bullshit Card? You want to be friends again????

After reading some of your diatribe on a couple of the blog sites, I now understand you much better.

Your apparent self importance isn't near what you think it is. As a matter of fact, for a person who has failed so miserably in his life, I am surprised at your consistent criticisms of people who used to have a modicum of respect for you.

I suppose too many years of seld induced abuse has definitely taken its' [sic] toll.

No Joke Newland! If I could have had you arrested for the threat you made towards me and my family, I would have.

Napoli.
The blog comments and the "threat" that Napoli refers to was a comment Bob wrote on the Rapid City Journal Blog that said
When Napoli's father was growing up here in the wild west, his cafe was burned to the ground. A sign was left nearby, 'Italian nigger go home.' I happen to believe that can happen again. Ah, the good ol days.
The moderator of the blog wrote a note following Bob's comment with this:
I got a backchannel complaint from a reader who said someone could take the above comment as a threat or intended threat. It didn't seem like a threat to me, but I called Newland and asked him to clarify the remark. Bob told me his "ah the good old days" comment was in reference to Bill N's statement that he believe [sic] we could go back to the days when young men were forced to marry the girls they impregnated and live up to their responsibilities.": "I was mocking his comments about shotgun weddings," Bob told me. he said his point was that the "good old days" might not have been so good. Bob also said, "I think Napoli's been a valuable asset to South Dakota."
As a friend of Bob's, I can also say confidently that Bob's comment was not intended in any way to be a threat to Napoli.

Nonetheless, Napoli's pissed at Bob. So, Napoli contacts the South Dakota Criminal Investigation unit and has an agent sent to Bob's house to interrogate him about the supposed threat. Bob wasn't arrested, since there was no threat there, but Napoli certainly was doing his best to threaten Bob.

So much for free speech in this country--especially speech targeted at a looney South Dakota Senator who is so self-important as to think he can treat women like vessels and dissenters as criminals.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Research on Liberals and Conservatives on Campus

Continuing the conversation of the accusations by David Horowitz of a left-wing bias on college campuses, Inside Higher Education interviewed a researcher who has been investigating the claim that students with a conservative ideology are more likely to get low or failing grades in their classes.

The researcher, Markus Kemmelmeier, at the University of Nevado at Reno studied a cohort of nearly 4,000 of students over four years. His surveys of these students indicated that, no surprise, students with liberal leanings are more likely to enter fields, such as sociology and cultural studies. Students with conservative leanings are more likely to enter fields, such as business and economics. Grades in those disciplines overall tend to be lower than in the arts and sciences:
So when conservative students complain that their grades are lower than their liberal friends, they may be right--but it has nothing to do with bias.
Grades in the disciplines where liberal students tend to gravitate suggest no relationship between their ideology and the grades they received; whereas:
In disciplines that tend to attract more conservative students (economics and all of the disciplines in business schools), conservatives have a slight edge -- the equivalent of0.25 on a 4 - point graduate point average scale.
This difference is slight, and the researcher cautions liberals declaring a conservative bias on college campuses. Instead, he believes his research demonstrates that there is not a pervasive, systemic liberal bias on college campuses.

Sounds about right to me.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Fun with the Web

Instead of working on my manuscript on disagreement, I'm cleaning out email (a constant necessity).

A few people sent me interesting tidbits that are worth sharing.

The first: A mesmerizing, moving diagram of how the computer works.

The second: Regardless of your political leanings, an entertaining "ragdoll" of President Bush that you can manipulate.

The third: For those of you who've been following the issue of who owns the internet, a terrific map of backbone ownership at the Net Effect blog.

Monday, March 20, 2006

On Spring and Board Games

Today is the first day of spring, although you couldn't tell that here in Albany. It was brisk, baby. This is about the coldest weather we've had all winter. I read today that Albany experienced a January that was a full 9 degrees above average. The weather seems seriously out of wack.

Listening to MarketPlace on NPR, I heard a report about shareholders that are now demanding that the companies they invest in consider and disclose how global warming will impact their long term business. Businesses initially didn't take seriously the questionnaires that were sent out by the Carbon Disclosure Project. But last year, the organization had nearly a 75% response rate. That's pretty darned good, and it signals that companies are starting to take seriously the economic impact the inevitable is going to have on us.

The story closed with a statement that global warming is the new internet: Once it first arrived on the scene, no one had heard of it, but it gets bigger every year, and it's now inevitable that businesses need to figure out how they'll respond to it.

Indeed. Now, if only the government could see the inevitable and begin to seriously address the causes.

As an aside, a friend sent me a link to an article about a new Monopoly-esque board game called "Patriot Act: The Home Version," which parodies our current war on civil liberties. Read the article and download a make-your-own version of the game.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Dancing the Big Dance


I have a confession. I got March Madness fever.

I found myself Thursday night watching the Syracuse - Texas A&M match, warming up for the Big Game last night: Ualbany vs. UConn.

I gathered with my husband and two friends at my local watering hole here in Berne to watch the game on the big screen. As I consumed too much corned beef and cabbage (violating my usual vegetarian rule when eating out), I watched with delight the UAlbany men play a remarkably strong game against UConn the first half.

For a moment there, around minute 11 of the second half, I thought UAlbany must just pull off an historic feat. They were up 12 points (50-38). UConn seemed to be struggling, and UAlbany looked like they could conquer the world. The bar was packed and everyone was cheering. I heard people behind me saying with pride "Hey, you know Frank works there" and "My daughter went to Albany." And, I thought to myself, "These is MY university." Everyone wants to be part of a victory.

But, then, something changed. Albany seemed to shift to a defensive position to try and hold their 12 point lead, but it didn't work, and with only 5 minutes left, UConn was in the lead. Albany began taking wild shots while UConn stayed focused on team play, and in the end UConn won with a 13 point victory.

Nonetheless, we in our little rural bar in New York danced the big dance, proud that UAlbany was on the national stage and competing with the best.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Diebold: "It's not who votes that counts. It's who counts the votes."

A friend sent me a link today to a website with hypothetical Diebold slogans. The slogans are very clever . . .

I confessed to my graduate students last night the conspiracy theory (which I happen to subscribe to) about Diebold helping Republicans steal the election in Ohio in 2004. For a great article on direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines, the business of vote recording, and why we should be worried about fair elections, read Ronnie Dugger's excellent article in Harper's Magazine.