Monday, November 26, 2007

Hold the reigns or steer?

The faculty union, UUP, is currently negotiating a new contract with the state. Since July or something I've been working without a contract (don't expect a strike, like the autoworkers or the hollywood writers).

I am eager to see what is in the new contract. Specifically, is there an improved family leave policy? The cynic in me doubts we'll see any changes to the current unsatisfying leave policy. I just don't think it's enough of a priority for the union. I think they're inclined to just hold the reigns.

Susan Herbst, UAlbany's former "officer in charge" refused to act on the leave policy passed in the Senate two years ago on the grounds that she was not in a position to create such a dramatic policy change on the campus and that a more progressive policy would have to be up to the new president.

Our new "office in charge" George M. Phillip claims that he won't just be a caretaker while the university searches for a new president. There was talk among the Organization of Women Faculty (created by Susan Herbst -- I'll give her credit there) that the family leave proposal should be brought before him. I think that's a smashing idea. See if he's really going to steer this institution . . .

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Nationwide Citizen Deliberations: A Future Trend?

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards has called for nationwide citizen deliberations. Calling them a "Citizen's Congress," he wants to convene 1 million Americans to deliberate and help inform policy in Washington D.C.

His announcement marks the first major recognition at the federal level of the growing deliberation movement - an attempt to bring citizens more directly into the policy-making process.

Organizations, such as AmericaSpeaks, have popularized deliberative efforts working with local and civic organizations to host deliberations. Researchers, such as James Fishkin, have advocated deliberative polls -- ways to poll Americans after they have become informed and deliberated with others on the issue before expressing their opinions. These efforts suggest that people learn more, develop more informed opinions, and become more politically engaged. Theoretically, citizen deliberations legitimize the policy making process by involving them more directly in identifying political problems and solutions.

This gives my new research an interesting potential life. I'm working with Peter Muhlberger, a political scientist, and Nick Webb, a computer scientist. Together we are trying to develop natural language software technologies that will help facilitate political deliberations that occur online. By providing tools to help citizens learn about the political deliberation before and during the deliberation, as well as facilitation tools to help citizens with the process and progress of the deliberations, we hope to enable better deliberations.

We just received a $450,000 National Science Foundation grant to bring these ideas to life.

Who knows. If we actually manage to make these technologies work, maybe we'll see them in action in Edwards' Citizen's Congress. Now, that's a thought!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A House of Cards

My University, the University at Albany, lacks leadership. This is not meant as a criticism of the various people who sit in the positions of leadership. They are fine people. The problem is that they are interim. The Dean of my College, the Provost, the President at Albany, and the Chancellor of the SUNY system are all temporary until a permanent person can be hired.

So, hire some people, you say.

Well, if it were only that simple.

See, we can't get a new Dean 'til we get a new Provost. We can't get a Provost 'til we get a President. We won't get a President until we have a Chancellor.

House of Freakin' Cards.

Why don't we have a Chancellor you ask?

Well, because we got a new Governor. Our new Governor played hardball with the head of the Senate (these days manifested as "Troopergate"). The head of the Senate won't act on the Governor's nominees--which includes the Chancellor.

So, there you have it. No leadership, because Bruno and Spitzer can't play nice. Unintended and real consequences.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

It's Time for a Mother's Movement

Before I was a mom I worked hard for two years to get my university to pass a more progressive family leave policy.

Right now the University at Albany only allows for female faculty and professional staff to take four weeks before childbirth and six weeks after delivery of maternity leave. The maternity leave pay is tied to an employees sick leave. So, if an employee has been with the University two years or less, then much of the leave is unpaid. Male faculty and staff may only take 15 days, and adoptive parents may not take any leave (since no one is "sick").

Before Isabel was born, I didn't think six weeks of leave following childbirth was enough. Now, I know it's not long enough. At six weeks, I was just starting to get back into the swing of things. The thought of having to go back to work full time is simply unbelievable. I don't know how I would have managed that.

Now, it's true that parents have the option of taking the federal Family and Medical Leave Act time, which is 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for children or sick relatives. The problem there is such leave is unpaid. I have the financial luxury to take an unpaid leave, but many parents do not.

Family and childcare simply do not get enough political attention in the U.S. That needs to change. Mothers need to come together to be part of a movement to affect better policies around childcare and work. Women should not have to choose between work and family.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Fred Thompson Just Called . . . .

I just got off the phone with the most novel fundraising approach I've ever experienced from a campaign.

I'm not even signed up on Thompson's website, but somehow his exploratory committee got hold of my telephone number and called me to solicit funds.

It didn't start out as a typical fundraising call. Instead, a pleasant, female voice told me that Fred Thompson is traveling the country seeking feedback from people like me as he explores his run for the presidency, and that he would like me to hear a message from him, and then answer a few questions about my thoughts about his campaign and the state of the country. I was thinking this was going to be a public opinion survey funded by his campaign.

So, I held the line as I listened to a recorded message from Thompson. He told me in his folksy, Southern voice that he had thought he'd turned his back on politics in 2002, but he's since decided the country needs someone like him, so he's been testing the waters for a run for the presidency and "the water is warm." He tells me he'd like me to stay on the line to answer a few questions.

So, I stayed on the line, and a new voice, a young, male voice greeted me with a "hello Mr. Stromer, er, Ms. Stromer" and asked me if I heard the message from "Fred" okay. I told him I did. He then asked me something along the lines of, "Do you think the White House should be taken back by average people like me."

"Well, sure," I said brightly.

What else would I say? "No. I think we should continue to have idiots run the country."

Then, the nice young man, dropped into a fundraising pitch.

It's worth noting that Thompson is "announcing" tonight at midnight. He's appearing on Leno and skipping the Republican debate in NH. He also is airing his first ad on Fox during the debate (that's a first, I believe).

If this is any indication, Thompson is going to be a financial force to reckon with. I understand he's amassed millions already - and he hasn't announced yet. It's novel that he's airing a nation-wide ad at this early date, and that he's already tele-fundraising is especially remarkable to me. I'm not likely to be on any of the Republican's donor lists, so that my name got picked for a call is remarkable to me. I haven't received such solicitations from any other Republicans or Democrats yet (and it's Democrats who are more likely to call me in the first place).

Ladies and Gentlemen. Let the games begin . . . .

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Isabel Faye


My few faithful readers will have to forgive me for the long silence on this blog. On July 17th, I gave birth to Isabel Faye. My days and nights have been filled with my new role of "mother," and it hasn't left room for much else. More political and social commentary will flow in the days to follow (I hope).

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

McCain's Malaise

Politico this morning is running an article on McCain that the mainstream media has been reporting on since yesterday. McCain's fundraising was lower than expectations (only $11 million), and he is cleaning house and firing dozens of staff.

I have found the McCain campaign fascinating to watch this election cycle, in part for the fun of comparing this campaign to his bid in 2000. As I've written elsewhere, McCain has not been able to really carry his "straight talker" and "maverick" image forward this campaign, in part because of the overstatement of security in Iraq from the spring.

Like his campaign in 2000 he is struggling to capture the traditional Republican base. His stands on some key issues, immigration being the new one, put him at odds with his party base. He won New Hampshire in 2000 because New Hampshire allows registered independents to vote in primaries, and independents turned out for McCain in droves. But, he lost in South Carolina, at least in part because that state does not allow independents to vote in primaries.

He faces the problem of not appealing to the base this election cycle, and his stand on Iraq has put him at odds with independents who poll with Democrats on their negative opinions on the war.

Having said all of that, I am struck by how much the money game has changed this election cycle. In 2004 when Howard Dean raised $10 million in the second (or third, my memory is fuzzy now), it was heralded as a huge fundraising success. Now, a measly $11 million only gets a candidate scorn.

This is not to say that McCain has no problems. He does. A shake up of his staff, only $2 million in the bank, and low fundraising numbers compared to Obama who blew the record at $32 million signal that McCain has a rough road ahead.

Politico and other sources are ringing the death knell for McCain, but my prediction is that he'll stick it out. We're still 6 months away from the first ballot casting, and much can change during that time. McCain likely found it difficult to fundraise in the middle of the divisive debate on immigration, and now that such legislation is dead, he may find some pockets open up. Plus, his campaign is now seriously considering taking federal matching funds, which would give the campaign an additional infusion of cash.

Time will tell, though, whether Maverick McCain can communicate a consistent image and appease the party base.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

"Public Forums" on Campaign Finance Reform

On Wednesday, I attended the first of a set of "public forums" on campaign finance reform that the Senate committee on elections is hosting around the state.

"Public forums" is in quotes, because although the public is invited to attend, they're not invited to speak. Instead, the committee is bringing in expert speakers to discuss on various issues about campaign finance reform.

The one on Wednesday was about campaign finance reform and the First Amendment. Senator Joe Bruno keeps repeating the mantra that campaign finance laws violate the First Amendment. It was no surprise, then, that two of the three panelists held Senator Bruno's view.

John Staple of the CATO Institute and James Bopp, Jr. of the James Madison center for free speech (or something like that) both argued that campaign finance laws violate the first amendment. Staple argued that the First Amendment is violated because it forces candidates with less money to have to work harder to raise money in order to buy air time and campaign. Candidates with more money (either their own or those with wealthy networks) do not have to work so hard and can get their message out easier.

The one voice in support of campaign finance reform was the League of Women Voter's of New York State's Barbara Bartoletti, who argued that the reform legislation being proposed in New York state does not raise any questions or concerns about violating the First Amendment, since much of the legislation is about closing loopholes, requiring more transparency and reporting of donations, and limiting hard money amounts, but not to the strict levels established at the federal level.

I agree with Bartoletti that the legislation being proposed for New York state does not raise First Amendment concerns for the reasons she stated. In addition, it's worth noting that in Buckley V. Valeo, the Supreme Court clearly ruled that limits on amount of money an individual gives to a candidate *can* be restricted. What cannot be restricted is how much money a candidate can spend (unless they take public money to finance their campaign).

Stamp and Bopp both also argued that the Wisconsin Right to Life decision that was decided just last week by the Supreme Court indicates that campaign finance violates the First Amendment. The Court ruled that issue ads cannot be restricted from airing unless they clearly are involved in electioneering. The ruling likely will end the element of the McCain/Feingold campaign finance law that restricts issue ads from airing the last 60 days of an election if they urge viewers to contact the candidate running for re-election.

I agree with Stamp and Bopp that the Supreme Court ruled on First Amendment grounds in the Wisconsin case, but again, there is nothing being proposed for New York that bans issue ads or issue advocacy in the days leading up to an election. So, as Bartoletti said, First Amendment concerns are irrelevant.

The one part of the discussion that I found incredibly aggravating were claims made by Stamp and Bopp that public opinion basically is neutral on campaign finance reform. This echos Bruno's claim that no one gives a flying f*** about campaign finance reform in New York state. I don't disagree that if you ask New Yorkers what the most important issues facing the state are, campaign finance is not likely to make the top 10 (although I'd bet that issue of "reform in Albany" would rank somewhere). But, I don't think that matters.

I care a great deal about public opinion, and I think that public opinion can and should matter at times. But, some issues are complex, arcane, and do not directly affect voters. As a result, they don't rate highly on voters' lists of problems -- but that doesn't mean they aren't problems that need solutions.

To my mind, New York state has one of the most back-assward's processes for governance in the country. And without question the obscene amounts of money that candidates can raise with little oversight or reporting is one of many elements of governance that need reform.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mike Bloomberg and Ross Perot

Yesterday New York city Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he is switching his party from Republican to independent. The pundit circles are abuzz that this signals he is running for president as an independent in 2008.

Journalists have been noting in their reporting that independent candidates do not fair well in the United States. Ralph Nader, running on the Green ticket in 2000, did not get 5% of the vote. Ross Perot, an overall more successful third party candidate, was unable to get any electoral votes in 1992, even though he had a strong, oh 18% popular approval going into the election (or so, my memory is a touch fuzzy on his support numbers).

I think the comparisons are unfair; that is, to lump all third party candidates and their campaigns together is inappropriate. Each third party candidate acquires a unique flavor, like different types of alcohol, and to mix them all together misses the subtleties and unique characteristics of each.

Take Perot for example. Journalists are comparing Perot and Bloomberg in part because they're both financially independent. Both are billionaires who could fund their campaigns. But the similarities really end there. Perot had never held elected office. He was a one issue candidate (remember those terrific easel demonstrations of the budget deficit?). He had really big ears.

And, he dropped out half way through the campaign. After coyly inviting people to get him on the ballot in all 50 states, which they did, in the early summer he dropped out, out of a fit of paranoia that he and his family were being targeted by the other campaigns in malicious ways. Then, in early fall he changed his mine and declared he was running.

The loss in momentum that occurred when he dropped out, coupled with the appearance of a somewhat paranoid mind led many supporters to back away from Perot, and it lost him potential supporters, too.

Bloomberg is an entirely different character. He's been mayor to the United State's largest city. He's managed it as a centrist. He is not a single issue candidate.

I predict that he will develop a following (and I *always* predict wrong, BTW), and that over the course of the next few months as he tours the country to see if his message is resonating, he'll find that it does. And then, the 2008 race will get even more interesting.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Paid Family Leave

As the federal government steps backward on family leave, New York state is attempting to move forward.

The Assembly and Senate are considering a bill that would provide a paid family leave for workers who give birth, adopt a child, or care for a sick family member. The paid leave could extend for 12 weeks and pay at most $170.00 per week. The plan would be paid for by a weekly 45 cent payroll tax on workers' wages.

Presently, workers may take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave to care for a new child or a sick relative under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, passed under the Clinton administration. The problem is that many workers don't take the leave, because they cannot afford to go without a pay check.

Although I think the legislation is a step in the right direction, I'm not sure $170.00 per week is going to be enough for many families to opt to take the leave. Workers in professional jobs I would suspect are going to be especially uninterested in such a small wage during leave, although something is better than nothing.

The Times Union yesterday predicted the legislation will pass. If it does, New York will have the most progressive family leave law in the country. Washington state and California both have paid family leave laws, but for shorter periods of leave (and higher worker compensation).

I continue to be amazed at how back-asswards this country is with regard to creating a culture in which people can balance work and family life. That New York's law might be the most progressive in the land speaks volume of how far we still have to go to allow men and women to be both workers and caregivers, rather than having to choose between them.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Food Stamp Challenge

Some members of Congress have agreed to live for a week on a "food stamp budget," basically the per person allocation for food stamps for those who qualify (which is $21.00/week for the average food stamp recipient).

Congressman Jim McGovern has been blogging about it at foodstampchallenge.typepad.com. As his blog attests, it is not easy to eat well or even eat much all on $21.00 a week, or basically $1.00 per meal.

After my parents divorced when I was a young teen, my Mom went on AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children), on and off for about three years (from when I was 12 to about 15). AFDC included an allotment of food stamps, about $130.00 a month if my memory of those teenage years is correct. [My grocery budget now is about $180 a week, and that doesn't include dining out.]

The first two weeks of the month would be good, as we had enough food in the cupboards and fridge. But, the last two weeks were grim, as the cupboards ran bare, and there was no money to buy more until the start of the next month.

I remember praying for that check and the stamps to arrive at the start of the month so that our cupboards would have food in them again. When the postman would come and deliver the mail, and the check wouldn't be there, it meant another day of privation. The disappointment that empty mailbox produced, I still remember. I wonder if that's why I now need to keep necessities stocked. I get anxious when there's not milk or bread for tomorrow.

I remember many mornings at school when around 10am my tummy would rumble, because the piece of toast or small bowl of cereal had worked through my system hours ago. I was deeply embarrassed by the rumble. If I had gum, I'd swallow it to try and shut it up. No wonder I was a very skinny teen.

In especially lean months, my Mom would get government cheese, peanut butter, and prunes. I don't remember what agency or who gave that stuff out. The cheese came in a huge brick that would last weeks, and we'd live on cheese sandwiches until the bread ran out. I also came to love prunes.

When you're on welfare, you don't get to indulge in many sweets, like ice cream or candy, and the prunes were sticky and sweet, and would satisfy that intense craving for sugar that seems to drive children's taste buds. I still like prunes, although they're not as satisfying now.

The allotment for food stamps has not increased since 1996. So, as inflation has risen the amount granted in food stamps has stayed the same. Representative McGovern has proposed legislation to add $4 billion to the food stamp program, which he intends to add to the next agriculture bill. He also would peg the program to the rate of inflation.

For the 26 million Americans who receive food stamps (and that's only a percentage of those who are eligible for the program), such a move would help ease the burden of intense poverty and need, though it would by no means entail a life of gluttony.

So, I praise Representative McGovern and the other members of Congress who are taking the challenge. They get to try out poverty for a week, and to live in the shoes of the working and unemployed poor. They're trying to start a very important conversation in this country about hunger and poverty, two issues that are real, pervasive, and largely ignored by those of us who live comfortable lives.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Katie Couric and the Demand for Hard News

The New York Times has an article online this morning about Katie Couric and the ratings for the CBS Evening News.

CBS News remains in third place and has slipped in ratings since Couric's arrival.

The article interviews various people who speculate on a range of reasons for the third place position, the most prominent being that the problem is Couric. Her approval ratings as an anchor are lower than those for Brian Williams at NBC and Bob Schieffer at ABC (which is in first place in the ratings); that is, there are more people that don't like her than don't like the other two anchors.

The other speculation is not that it's Couric, per se, but that she's a woman. Apparently there have been critical commentaries that she's too soft on news and was too hard on John Edwards and Elizabeth after they announced Elizabeth's return of cancer. There are also accusations that she wears too much or too little make-up, complaints one does not hear about Williams or Schieffer.

My own prognosis is this: CBS made a tactical error in going with soft news in the evening news slot. As the foreign and domestic scenes in the United States grow increasingly problematic and complex, viewers of national television news want more hard news, not less (hoorday!). Couric, with her reputation for the morning show, brings a soft news touch to in a time of hard realities.

So, recently CBS hired a a new executive to help turn-around CBS Evening News. Rick Kaplan has shifted the format to a major story with a few sidebar stories, and has picked up the pace of the show (MTV-ifying it, if you will), which is a format that is more typical of hard news.

The problem for CBS now is that if they shift to a hard news format, they've got the wrong anchor. I'm not saying that Couric can't do hard news. But, her reputation and the audience of people who were drawn to her in her morning show career are used to a "soft news" delivery style from Couric. So now, there's a disconnect between their anchor and audience and their news delivery. Given time Couric can make the transition, I suspect. But, will CBS give her the time?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Bruno, the Death Penalty, and Campaign Finance Reform

New York Senator Joe Bruno is making political hay over the recent spate of cop shootings in the state. He's advocating for a new death penalty for the state. The old death penalty was struck down by the State's highest court for violating the rights of defendants.

The most recent cop shooting occurred last week. A young trooper with a wife and infant daughter was shot accidentally by another state trooper while involved in a wild-west shoot out with a fugitive.

This shooting occurred the same week as new Governor Eliot Spitzer announced that he was going to push the Senate and Assembly to pass campaign finance legislation. Currently your average New Yorker can donate $55,000 to a campaign (yep, the cost of a fully-loaded Hummer), and there are limited regulations on Limited Liability Corporations, PACs, soft money to political parties, etc. etc -- the usual hodge-podge of loose laws to allow money to flow unlimited and unregulated into the political scene. Spitzer wants to limit individual contributions to $15,000 ($13,000 more than limits to federal candidates, by the way) and limit contributions from other channels.

Now, when Spitzer advocated this, Bruno made it crystal clear he thinks campaign finance reform is bullshit. He characterized Spitzer's proposal as a violation of freedom of speech.

Bruno doesn't know his constitutional law, though. The U.S. Supreme court made it clear in 1979 in Buckley V. Valeo that there is no violation of free speech by limiting contributions to campaigns. There is a violation if there are caps on how much candidates can spend if they do not take matching funds - but that's not what Spitzer is proposing.

And, frankly, Bruno doesn't care about constitutional law. He's just throwing every half-baked argument at campaign finance reform, because he doesn't want to stem the flow of taint that pervades the New York State political process.

My favorite Bruno half-baked argument came on Thursday when he argued that the state should pass a cop-killer death penalty, and that Spitzer didn't have his priorities straight by advocating for campaign finance reform rather than a death penalty. He was quoted in the Albany Times Union saying: "What is more important than protecting the lives of law enforcement officers? Is campaign finance reform more important than that? I don't think so."

What's wrong with this argument? Well, I'll tell you. :-) It sets up a dilemma between the death penalty and campaign finance reform. But, it's an utterly FALSE dilemma. What, the Senate can't handle more than one policy initiative a year? It's so stupid.

I can't figure out why the people of Bruno's district put up with this crap. I write angry letters to MY state Senator complaining about Bruno (not that Neil Breslin can do much of anything about it, since he's in the opposite party, but still). I look forward to the day when that man loses his bully pulpit. To my mind, he is a perfect symbol for what is wrong with politics in this state.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Is it Time to Ban Handguns?

Last night, watching the coverage of the shooting at Virginia Tech, my husband and I talked gun control. Virginia has some of the most lax gun laws in the U.S. Handguns were used in the shooting at the University. Indeed, it seems that handguns are the weapon of choice in killing other people. I caught an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer this weekend that said that shootings in Philadelphia are at new highs. Last year, over 400 people were killed in the city, and this year shootings are up 16% so far from last year. Most of those deaths are caused by people using handguns.

This is a tough topic for me, because I have some sympathy with the idea that the citizens should be able to rise up against the government when it becomes unjust and tyrannical. It's hard to do that without weapons. Although, as my Canadian husband, who finds Americans' love of guns bizarre, points out, no "well regulated militia" of average citizens can compete against the regular military. Those who might rise up against an unjust government would likely be put down by that military of that unjust government. But, still, I like the idea.

And, I grew up with guns, mostly rifles, which we used to shoot cans or prairie dogs (before they were an endangered species, ehem). My dad had an assortment of rifles and shotguns, which were part of life on the ranch. I handled those and was comfortable with them. And, I don't have a problem with regulated and managed hunting. Given that humans have killed off most of the predators, there's a certain amount of wildlife management necessary by hunting these days.

Handguns are another story, though. Their small size, easy handling, point and click interface (to use video game terms), make those guns seem fairly scary to me. They definetely seemed scary when I was a kid. My dad had a semi-automatic handgun that I found particularly scary. The recoil on that gun, and the ease of pulling and pulling and pulling the trigger to have it fire over and over again, gave it a feeling of lethality that I didn't feel with my .22.

Now, those who declare all guns (and the purchase and ownership of them) sacred in the Second Amendment and outside the purview of regulation I think have constructed an interpretation of that Amendment that far exceeds what the founders intended.

But, it seems to me the only way to get laws passed to better regulate guns is to amend the Constitution--to clarify the right. I don't think Americans should have the right to bear handguns that they can use to shoot other people. Vigilantism, retribution, hate, jealousy, drunken rage, you name it, are not good reasons to brandish guns and fire them at other people.

This is controversial, I know, but we need to have another deep conversation in this country about the manufacture, distribution, and acquisition of guns. Otherwise, the violence will continue. I don't see that as good for our society.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Violence at Virginia Tech

I've been following today's coverage of the shootings at Virginia Tech. I have colleagues there, which just brings it closer to home how terrible the events were.

Violence like this can happen on any college campus. Let us all be vigilant to watch for those who show signs of stress and emotional trouble, especially in these final weeks of the semester. And not just those who might hurt others, but those who might hurt themselves. Suicide is still the most common type of on-campus death.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Imus Gets Canned

I must confess I did not expect CBS and MSNBC to stop broadcasting the Don Imus show. But, that is what both have now done.

I think I didn't expect it, because although I assumed that this culture would find what he said inappropriate but not feel that he has crossed a line. I was wrong.

So, the question is: what line did he cross?

It wasn't a sexism line. As one of my students pointed out "ho" is said all over popular culture. I am resigned to the reality that although we don't think we're a sexist society, we still are at some very basic levels, and in this culture it is A-OKto use derogatory terms against women and not get censured for it.

Was it a race line? There's a children's book about "nappy hair," which suggests that the term can be viewed as a straight-up description (without the negative connotations). But, maybe it's because a white guy said it? Certainly, as another one of my students pointed out, there is an "insider"/"outsider" phenomenon at work. If I am gay, I can call myself and others who share my orientation "queer," but if I am straight and I call someone who is gay "queer," I might be in social trouble. The same may be at work here. But, we are still a racist society, and Imus has said racist things in the past which have never met with this sort of furor. So, I'm not sure that's it.

Was it a genre disconnect? By that I mean that the Imus show is mostly an elite show. Major politicians, journalists, pundits, and others who are opinion setters and policy makers appear on his show talking about the current events and latest ideas they're selling. Its mass appeal is in the political parodies and uncouth exchanges that draw in the masses who enjoy the "shock jock" aspects of the show (not that the elites didn't, even if they weren't supposed to publicly). Perhaps such a boundary-crossing show can't be both mass and elite without eventually alienating one of those two groups. [The problem I have with this analysis, at least as I've been able to articulate it so far, is that this assumes that the masses are base and quite happily revel in racist and sexist language, and although I think that's true, I don't think the elites are exempt from this. So, perhaps someone out there can make this argument work.]

Was it the subject of the "humor" that crossed the line? The people he claims he was just trying to make a joke about, the Rutgers women's basketball team, were a group of athletes who had made their university, their families, and the state proud by doing something extraordinary and worth commendation. Imus seemed not to joke about them but instead to attack them for no good reason, simply because they had done something extraordinary.

Quite simply, whom he picked on for humor turned out not to be a set of people who could serve as being an acceptable butt of a cruel joke. We have no qualms making jokes at the expense of Bill Clinton (Still! I enjoy it every chance I get). But, he deserves it. The women's basketball team did not. Thus, he joke not only failed as a joke, but it didn't even *seem* like a joke. Instead, it seemed like an attack, and an attack on a group of people who in no uncertain terms did not deserve it.

Now, perhaps Imus would still be on air if it weren't for the pulling of advertisements of major corporations from CBS and NBC. In the world of broadcasting, money is the bottom line, and the threat of a loss of revenue gets the executives listening. But it says something that advertisers said they did not want to be associated any longer with what Imus was dishing out.

So, perhaps, this signals a shift in our culture. The FCC is now regulating indecency more aggressively than in the past. And, perhaps, broadcasters are starting to get the feeling that Americans are not as inclined as perhaps we once were to be subject to morally depraved programming. I'm not quite ready to grant this, but I would like for it to be true. I don't want to see the morality police determining what we should watch, and I love a naughty joke as much as the next person, but there is a point when a society stoops too low, and perhaps we're there? Imus the first casualty.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Shock Jock Imus Hits New Low

Many of you may have caught the furor over Don Imus' latest nasty remarks on his morning show. I won't perpetuate the shock by repeating what he said, but suffice it to say, he made a racially and sexually derogatory set of remarks about the Rutgers' women's basketball team.

When I read the story this weekend, I thought about blogging about it, but didn't want to give the ass any further publicity than he's already received. On the other hand, to sit quietly and not say anything, also isn't appropriate. He deserves all the scolding society should muster, because what he said was beyond the pale. The women of Rutgers basketball team are hard working, talented women doing something they love and furthering themselves and their school through their athletics. These are people who deserve praise not attack. That he thought it was okay to say such nasty things about people who absolutely did not deserve it speaks to his weak moral character (it also says something about our culture, but that's for another post).

Having expressed my own disgust at his remarks, the situation raises an interesting question. Should he lose his job?

On the face of it, I'm uncertain. On the one hand, he is using a public commodity (the public airwaves) to expound his vile and filth. Is it appropriate for someone to use a scarce public resource to demean and degrade people? No. On the other hand, there's that whole First Amendment thing. He has the right to express racist and sexist views as much as I have a right to express my disgust at them.

So, should he lose his job? As I consider it, I think yes. If he expressed this on his blog or to his friends in a living room, fine. First Amendment all the way. But, there is something deeply troubling about using a scarce public resource to expound hate for profit. Our public resources can and should be used to uplift society, not drag us down.

Update

MSNBC and CBS have both suspended their syndicated broadcasts of the show for two weeks (geez, now there's punishment . . . .). Imus reports that he believes the suspension is appropriate, and that he is sorry for his words.

It's worth noting that Imus has a long history of making racially derogatory remarks. He then apologizes profusely and says he won't do it again. Will it be any different this time?

I would like to see his many celebrity and political guests refuse to be on his show. McCain was asked if he would appear again (he's a frequent guest), and he said that he believed in redemption. But, how many times must Imus request redemption, before one starts to wonder if his heart is really in it?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Abandoned Pets on Easter Sunday





I want to take this Easter Sunday to reflect on the plight of unwanted, abandoned dogs and cats.
Several times a year, someone abandons a dog or a litter of kittens up the hill from where we live. My neighbor, Ida Mae, on whose land most of them are dumped takes them all in. She has several abandoned dogs and a barn full of abandoned cats whom she keeps, feeds, and cares for.

These are the lucky ones. Half of all dogs that are dropped off at shelters are euthanized. Half. Any dog that is taken to shelter has a 50/50 opportunity at a second chance. It's even worse for cats. They have a 1 in 3 opportunity at a second chance. In total, 8-10 million animals are euthanized every year in animal shelters.

So, on this day, consider adopting a dog or a cat from your local humane society. If your house is full, then donate money or volunteer your time to the local humane society or animal rescue.

And, if you're thinking that it's time to get rid of your pet, because it's annoying, it scratches, it chews, it pees where you don't want it to, it doesn't match your furniture, reconsider. Enroll your animal in a behavior training program, or seek help and guidance from an animal trainer. Most "problems" can be solved.

Love your animals as much as they love you.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

McCain's Fundraising

Last week the candidate's released their quarterly reports on fundraising.

The two big surprises were McCain and Obama. McCain raised an unexpectedly small amount (only $12.5 million compared to Mitt Romney's $23 million). Obama raised an unexpectedly large amount ($23.5 million to Clinton's $26 million - although more of his money was raised for the primaries than Clinton. See, candidates can raise $2300 from a single donor in the primaries and that amount again during the general election. At some of the big donor fundraisers, attendees write $4600 in checks for both races).

[The amount of money being raises far surpasses anything we've seen in prior years. This will be a billion dollar campaign, without any question.]

The comparison between Obama's and McCain's fundraising style illustrates two very different ways to fundraise. Obama has recreated the Dean strategy of raising smaller donations through the Internet. He received donations from more than $100,000 donors, which beat all the other candidates [see article]. Half of his donations came from donors who gave online [see article].

McCain also had adopted a small donor approach to fundraising, but his clear campaign finance reform stance seems to have turned off donors (according to the pundits). After the fundraising reports, his campaign announced that he would more aggressively adopt the Bush strategy of "pioneer" fundraising. He has recruited several of President Bush's top fundraisers, whom Bush labeled "pioneers" and gave special perks (such as private dinners with candidate Bush) for raising $100,000 each.

My sense is McCain also is in trouble because he does not enthuse the conservative base of the Republican party, which was McCain's trouble in 2000. That election, McCain attracted independents, weak Democrats, and weak Republicans to his campaign. But the core of his party was suspicious of his reformist bent and his lack of vocal support for social conservative values. Unlike in 2000, his "straight-talk express" was a novelty, though, and there was something refreshing and exciting about his no-B.S. approach to campaigning.

This time around he does not appear to be quiet so "straight" in his talk. Recall that he had been a vocal opponent to President Bush's attempt to pressure Congress to include some forms of "interrogation" (or "torture" if you prefer) when detaining suspects of terrorism. Yet, when it came to actually writing the legislation, McCain bowed to Bush and wrote into the Senate's bill legislation which gave the President wide discretion in determining what constitutes appropriate interrogation tactics.

Just last week, McCain was in Iraq investigating the situation in Baghdad. He attended a large market to see how life was for Iraqis and declared during a press conference (rather testily according to some reporters) that things had improved in Iraq, and that he felt perfectly safe to walk about the market, which in past months had been a target of attacks. He failed to point out, though, that he showed up at the market in a bulletproof vest with over 100 support troops, helicopters flying overhead, sharp shooters placed on roof tops, and traffic redirected away from the market.

A New York Times journalist interviewed merchants at the market following McCain's visit and reported that the market was not safer, that the merchants were losing money, and that they had expressed their fears and concerns when McCain and the other congressmembers in the delegation spoke with them. But, McCain did not report their concerns, and tried to create a vision of the market as a symbol of an increasingly safe Baghdad.

Three days later, McCain issued an apology of sorts, saying that he "misspoke" when he said that the market was safe and a sign of improved conditions in Baghdad.

So, the "straight-talker" seems to have lost his straight-talking ways. If he can't appeal to independents, and if he continues to fail to excite conservatives, his campaign won't make it through the primaries.

Obama, by comparison, attracts not only independents but also weak and strong Democrats. He has the advantage of being novel, viewed as a relative "outsider" when compared with Clinton, of offering something fresh and different. He also had not adopted a persona yet that he has since betrayed (which is McCain's problem). Obama has staying power that will continue to be a major threat to the Clinton campaign. And, unlike Dean in 2004, he so far has not alienated journalists who cover his campaign, nor shown signs of being a hothead or "unstable."

As much as we may hate the amount of money that flows to campaigns, they serve as an important symbol of the viability and potency of a campaign.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Being Pregnant

I apologize to my four faithful readers of this blog for being quiet the past little while. There's much happening in the political world right now, and I have things to say but no time to say them in.

The reason: I'm pregnant.

I've gone back and forth on whether to post anything here about my state of being. I find the public/private of blogging complex to negotiate, and have opted for a less revealing style of posting.

But, this pregnancy is a big deal for me, as it is for anyone who is experiencing it. It's a big deal for me (for us), because we've been trying to conceive for awhile now, and thanks to modern medicine it finally happened.

We're having a girl (at least according to the sometimes unreliable ultrasound). She's due July 25th. And, no, we don't have a name picked out. There's a list, but what she will end up being named, I cannot say.

So, if there are silences on this little blog, it's because I can't manage all the many tasks required of me right now coupled with the fatigue of growing another life inside of me.

Another life. It's surreal.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

McCain Announces on Letterman

In my email box, I received an announcement tonight from the McCain campaign. He's announcing his candidacy on David Letterman.

I've been trying to watch the clip on McCain's website, but it's been excruciatingly slow to load. The website must be getting hammered with page requests and calls for the video.

In the clip, McCain explains that this is not his formal announcement. That is coming in April. As McCain said, a candidate doesn't just announce, he or she drags it out as long as possible. Milk it for everything its got, because it's free publicity for the candidate and it generates dollars. Indeed, I'd bet he's making an announcement now, because he's getting scooped in the headlines by Giuliani and the race between the Democrats. An announcement now puts him back in the headlines, and stimulates new interest and money in his campaign.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Family Medical Leave Act Under Attack

For those of you who work for large employers, don't bet on the fact that if you have a baby or if you or someone in your family gets sick you'll be able to take 12 weeks unpaid from work and get your job back.

The Department of Labor has published a request for information on the Family Medical Leave Act, which according to a Judith Warner's NYTimes column (requires registration) means that the Department has caved to business groups who have been pressuring the Department to greatly curtail or eliminate that 12 week unpaid leave workers can now take for family or medical issues.

The law as it now stands is unscrupulously chintzy, forcing workers to choose between their family or health and their paycheck. But, at least it's something, and guarantees that if workers need to take time for themselves or their family, they can do so without jeopardizing their jobs (up to 12 weeks, of course).

According to Warner's column:
When it was first proposed in Congress, in 1985, it was meant to provide 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave for workers in companies with one employee or more. By the early 1990s, when President George H.W. Bush vetoed it twice, the act had been scaled down to its current paltry offerings, but it nonetheless sparked the particular ire of social conservatives, who viewed it as an implicit endorsement of working motherhood. (In 1991, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, now House Minority Leader, called it “another example of yuppie entitlement.”)

The business groups that sought to defeat the family leave act way back when (including the Coalition to Protect Family Leave’s twice-removed parent, The Society for Human Resource Management) have been agitating since the mid-1990s to scale it back into virtual nonexistence. What they want now is to tinker with the bill so that only workers with the most “serious” medical conditions requiring extended leave will be covered. They want to make sure workers don’t take “intermittent” leave – i.e. a couple of hours off here and there to go to the doctor – but instead only avail themselves of the substantial chunks of time off that will put a serious dent in their income.

The idea, it seems, is to make taking sick leave so financially painful that only those without the slightest chance of dragging themselves to the office will do it.
You can do something to counter those who want to limit this basic protection. Visit the Department of Labor's website and send them your comments on FMLA. Tell them why it's so important, and why it should be expanded not contracted.

As you know, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. You need to be very squeaky.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Those Darn Bloggers

So, the big news today was John Edwards' decision to keep on his staff two bloggers who on their personal blogs had written fairly nasty things about Catholics and conservatives.

It was all over the political news Web sites, and appears to have caused the Edwards campaign a good bit of controversial press.

The news here, for me, is that the medium matters.

Campaigns have always hired staff who are deeply ideological and say nasty things about "the other side." But, it used to be that such things were generally said when the microphones and videotape was not rolling, when people were in private and talking with like-minded comrades.

Not anymore. Now, idealogues can start a blog, and not only say incendiary things to their friends in private but blog about it in public. Such posts are not ephemeral. They are permanent, archived, searchable.

We have not seen the last of stories like this, I am sure.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Joe Biden: Insert Foot in Mouth and Other Stories

[I'm so flippin' busy, and there are so many freakin' candidates, I can't stay on top of 'em . . .]

Tonight while cooking dinner and listening to National Public Radio, I heard that Joe Biden had declared himself officially a candidate for the the Democratic ticket.

Right. Got it. Add him to the "in" column. No surprise.

So, tonight, while taking a break from writing, I read through the headlines on the New York Times website. Seems that Biden's coming out party didn't turn out so well.

Apparently, the New York Observer printed a quote from Biden today that has him describing Barak Obama as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." Ummm, is that meant to be a compliment?

Jesse Jackson, who ran against Biden in 1988, said that he didn't find the comments "off color" but that they were "highly suggestive." Of what, exactly? He didn't say. Racism, perhaps?

This is not the way any candidate wishes to have their candidacy's first day go. He lost the message, and the good press he should have gotten has all gone bad. Indeed, CNN and the NyTimes are reporting other gaffes of the Senator's including inappropriate statements against Indians: "You cannot go into a 7-11 or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent." Geez.

Unscripted moments like these really let voters in, and of course journalist LOVE this stuff. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, though (I think he's a bombastic ass).

He's going to be on the Daily Show tonight. I look forward to this one.

Others who have recently announced he's setting up an exploratory committee: Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is thinking of seeking the Republican nomination. He of the same political stripe as Senator Brownback of Kansas: Christian Conservative. He announced on Meet the Press Sunday morning.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Dirty Politics Already

I ran across an article on CNN tonight with a headline that stopped me in my tracks: "CNN debunks false report about Obama." Of course, I had to know what the "false report was."

It appears that staff from Hillary Clinton's campaign released to Insight Magazine information that Obama had attended a madrassa when he was a child living for a time in Indonesia. (A madrassa is a Islamic-fundamentalist school). This "fact" was reported on CNN, Fox News, and other outlets late last week.

CNN, it seems, traveled to the alleged madrassa and found it to be, yes a Muslim school, but not of the fundamentalist sort.

When a Clinton staffer was queried about this, he said it was "an obvious right-wing hit job."

My question is: If so, then why did it come from the Clinton campaign? And, why are other news outlets reporting something that came from Insight Magazine?

Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church (i.e. the moonies) own Insight Magazine. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, it tends to promote right-wing views.

If only cable "news" actually did its job of investigating facts instead of reporting rumors. Bah!

Oh, and Bill Richardson

I need to note that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson announced he will seek the Democratic nomination. He set up an exploratory committee this week.

If he runs, this will make for one of the most diverse Democratic fields in U.S. history. Richardson has Hispanic roots. His mother is Mexican.

He also is making the right moves with regard to making himself appear presidential. A few months back, he traveled to Darfur, Sudan to help negotiate a cease-fire between rebel leaders and the government. That's definately something we'll see him touting in speeches and advertisements down the line.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Oh, and Sam Brownback, too

Kansas Senator Sam Brownback announced today on his Website (I detect a theme here) and in a speech in Topeka, Kansas that he will seek the Republican nomination. Brownback is a socially conservative Republican, with strong anti-abortion and anti-gay rights positions. Of all the Republican candidates who have announced so far, he is the most clearly in the "Christian conservative" camp. He mentioned on his Web video God, prayer, "and the wisdom to know the difference" (a reference to "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change . . . .".

I've been signing up to all the candidates email lists (it's always fun to see what the candidates are saying in their email). Brownback's sign-up is very confusing. There's a "join" link, but it's not clear what one is "joining." The "join" link takes a visitor to a page that requires your name and email address. But there are also two additional fields, one for "display name" and one for "user name" and it's not clear what those are or what that means. There are also little red arrows underneath each form field, and they are quite confusing. They don't seem to do anything. After filling in the fields, it just takes me back to the home page - no "thank you" for signing up. Not professional. Unlike the other websites so far, there is no blog.

Yeah Yeah, Clinton Set up a Committee

I know I should be all excited that it finally happened - that Hillary Clinton finally announced the creation of an exploratory committee for a run at the Democratic nomination. It's not that I'm unexcited. Whenever a new candidate announces, it makes me happy (I know, I'm sick), but you know you'd have to be pretty clueless to have not seen this one coming.

If anything, it's noteworthy that she waited until after Obama. It's also noteworthy that she announced only a few days after Obama. Clinton does not want too much time to elapse after Obama's announcement. She needs to make sure that the fundraising advantage that an exploratory committee generates isn't lost. Both Obama and Clinton are going to compete for many of the same big (and small) donors.

Like Obama, Clinton announced on her website. She also is inviting people to sign up to join her for a live web chat. I'm curious to see how that will work. Like Obama's site, a large "contribute" button is featured prominently next to the video screen for watching her announcement.

Her announcement theme is about starting a conversation with the American people, which will happen through the live chats.

From an interactivity perspective, this is, so far, the most interactive move by a candidate that I've seen. If the interactive chats are really interactive, it will mark yet another milestone in the use by candidates of the Internet to connect and converse directly with people.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Candidates for President and Other Items

I've been meaning to post since Tuesday when Barak Obama announced on his website that he's establishing an exploratory committee. The three minute statement was a classic direct-address statement of why he is thinking of running for president.

It's a clever move to have created this announcement on his website. Right next to the video is a huge "Contribute" button. Money is the key to viability. And, if he is going to be viable, he's going to have to match the Clinton money machine. The media coverage of Obama's announcement was complete, giving Obama ooodles of free media and driving traffic to his website (and, I am sure his staff hopes, drive up donations).

There are a few others who have announced a run for the Democratic ticket: Chris Dodd and Joe Biden. Both are senior Senators. Senator Dodd announced on the "Don Imus in the Morning" show. I'm still not sure what to think about that move. If anyone has any insights, I'd gladly hear them.

Senator Biden announced his run on "Meet the Press." Biden chairs the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, and will get much free media by virtue of serving in that highly visible position (especially as Democrats vow to hold various and sundry hearings on the war in Iraq, etc.).

I should also mention that on the Republican side Newt Gingrigh announced on "Meet the Press" that he is seriously considering a run. He said he'd decide "after the new year." A Gingrigh run would be an interesting thing to see, especially alongside John McCain. I'd love to hear those two debate.

Also, just a brief aside, in my post about "20,000 troops is not the answer" I mentioned two things that have since changed. First, the "Iraqi" troops that will be going in to Baghdad as part of the "surge" are going to be primarily comprised of Kurdish forces (not Shia). This changes the dynamics somewhat. The Kurdish fighters are ready for battle. I don't know as well how they Sunnis or the Shia view them. I also read the al Maliki's government has detained 400 "Shiite militia." It's not clear what this means or who they are, but if they are part of the militia that's been rounding of Sunnis, torturing and killing them, then that's a good sign.

Second, Secretary of Defense Gates has just completed a tour of Afghanistan, and it appears he is likely to call for an increase of upwards of 3,000 U.S. troops in that country and 1,000 additional NATO troops. That's a good move in my book. Although, I still wonder how the Army will find these soldiers. (Does anyone else besides me have any interest in seeing a draft? or at least having a real discussion about it?)

Alright, back to preparing to teach and finalizing a research paper that should have been done weeks ago . . . .

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Long Road Home

One of my graduate students, Rachel Brune, served in Iraq with the sustainment brigade. Over the winter break, with her fiance she put together a You Tube video with photographs and video of their time in Iraq. It's a moving depiction of our armed forces. Recommended viewing. (It's Rachel singing, BTW).

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Why 20,000 Troops is not the Answer

I listened tonight to our President announce his new plan for Iraq.

The current situation in Iraq is unacceptable to me, and so on that he and I agree. But, I am not convinced that 20,000 troops is the answer. Here's why:

1) President Bush referred to "the Iraqi people" several times in his address. This is problematic. Those who live within the borders established during British Imperialism do not see themselves as "Iraqis". They see themselves as ethnic and religious clans and groups: Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Kurds. There is no "Iraqi people" and there never has been. It is a mistake to think that we can get Shiites and Sunnis to reconcile, as the President has suggested. Sending in 20,000 more troops to Baghdad won't force a reconciliation.

2) President Bush proposed that "Iraqi military and police" would serve in Baghdad to help secure the 9 regions in the city backed by American troops. Sunnis already deeply mistrust the Iraqi military and Iraqi police. Shiite extremists hell bent on exterminating Sunnis have infiltrated the Iraqi police (Side note: The Iraqi police have been run through the Interior department, which is headed by a "radical" Shiite, and has been heavily infiltrated by Muqtada al Sadr's army as well as other militant Shiite factions that want nothing more than to terrorize Sunnis). As such, Sunnis will see this new move as a further effort to destroy them, which will only further radicalize them, and push them even further from the negotiation table.

It's also worth noting that as there is no "Iraqi people" there is no "Iraqi army." Only a few units have integrated Kurd, Sunni, and Shiite. Nearly all units are homogenous. Shiites don't want to fight alongside Sunnis and vice versa. So, the units that likely will go into Baghdad will be Shiite (since they have been more likely to join the military and police than the Sunnis who are mistrustful of those entities). This will further reinforce the fear in Sunnis that they are meant to be exterminated. Which, I fear, will lead to more insurgency and a stronger effort on the part of Sunnis to attack American soldiers and Shiites.

Moreover, Shiites don't exactly want to see more U.S. troops. The Shiites do not trust us, and believe that the U.S. knew about the bombing of the Shiite golden temple in Samarrah, the holiest place for Shiites, but chose to do nothing. Moreover, President Maliki is in Moqtada al Sadr's back pocket, and I don't believe for a second, that al Sadr will allow Maliki to let the U.S. military into predominantly Shiite areas of Baghdad to "quell the insurgency." President Bush tonight said he has Maliki's cooperation, but that is something I would need to see to believe.

3) The Army and Marines are already stretched very thin. The "trigger pullers" are but a fraction of the 1 million strong U.S. military, and many of them have already served 2, 3, or 4 tours of duty. How much more can we ask of our regular Army and Marines?

Even more critical for me is that in order for the Army to deploy the increased number of troops, the Pentagon will need to change their current policy on reservists and National Guard. Presently military personnel in these serve one tour of duty (extended at the start of the war from 1 to a maximum of 2 years). The Pentagon would need to change that to two tours of duty. How much can we ask of our reservists and National Guard? The states have joint control over the National Guard. Will they be willing to sacrifice that many men and women who are necessary for states in times of, for example, natural disasters?

Finally on this, Army and Marine units are going to be pulled from other theatres, specifically Afghanistan. NATO and the Afghanistan government have been begging the Pentagon to increase troop levels in that country, because the Taliban is gaining in force, and is quickly moving to reclaim areas of Afghanistan. NATO anticipates an orchestrated attack by the Taliban on Afghan/NATO forces in the coming months, and there are not sufficient troops to hold them back. So, just at the time we risk losing portions of Afghanistan to the Taliban, the U.S. is going to pull a brigade of Marines out of there and into Iraq. How does that make the United States more secure at home and abroad?

4) If there were to be a "unified Iraq," it would most likely be controlled by the Shiites (since they now have the most power and the most people in the country). The Shiites, for the most part, do not want a secular, nationalist government (like what existed under Sunni control). They want a theocracy styled in Iranian fashion. Although the Iranians are Persian and the Shiites of Iraq are Arab, they both share a common faith, and increasingly a common vision on how the government should be run, which includes Sharia Law, which is a fundamental Islamic legal system based in religion. The U.S. is unlikely to see women's rights in Iraq and Western-style democracy under Shiite-controlled Iraq.

Here's what I think we should be doing instead:

Diplomacy - the "political" solution as they say. We need to work with the Sunnis and the Shiites to help them each establish their own regional government. The Constitution that the Kurds and Shiites created (the Sunnis boycotted this process) establishes a very weak federal government and strong regional governments. This opens the door for not a "unified Iraq" but three strong, but separate regional governments that each get a share of the oil that comes out of the ground primarily in the Shiite region of the country (although there are productive wells and the possibility for more in all three regions), and that each establish their own local laws and rules of government. The Kurds have already done that. Now, we must find a way to help the Sunnis and Shiites to do the same.

It is a mistake to think that we can "unify Iraq" and "quell the insurgency" by bringing in 20,000 more troops to Baghdad. What we need are many more diplomats and regional experts (the regional experts have been quite left out of this entire Iraq fiasco to this point) in that country who speak the language, forging ties with local leaders, and helping them to each craft governments and military/police, and infrastructure that is acceptable to each region.

Forcing "Iraqis" to reconcile will be a fruitless mission that will kill thousands more American soldiers and "Iraqi" civilians, and drain our treasury even further. Helping the Shiites and the Sunnis to develop regional governments, to help them each gain ownership of a region, to let them define for themselves how they wish to govern themselves, and to allow the weak national government do what it wants to do - govern, then we will have indeed allowed for a democracy to take place and helped the people of Iraq to help themselves.

[Side note: Much of my information on Iraq comes from Peter Galbraith's smart book, The End of Iraq. My solutions are really his, but he convinced me as no one else has that his is a real solution to the problems of "Iraq." Reading the newspaper also helps .]

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Vilsack on Daily Show and Poor Giuliani

Tom Vilsack, former Governor of Iowa, and one of the three officially announced Democratic nomination contenders was on The Daily Show on December 18 (yeah, I know, it's now January, but better late than never that I look at this).

The four plus minutes of time focused primarily on the War in Iraq, and Vilsack's tour of the country, which led him to his proposed policy that the United States needs to withdraw.

He described the relationship between Iraq and the United States as an addiction - that the Iraqis are addicted to a belief that the United States should save them. Vilsack said he believes the Iraqis need to save themselves.

Stewart used the "if you break it, you fix it" analogy that Colin Powell had offered some time ago as reason to stay in Iraq, and Vilsack responded with the proposal that the Europeans and others must step in and help stabilize as we step out.

He mentioned Bush at the beginning of the segment, noting that Bush is advocating a surge in troops in the months ahead. Vilsack then said that Bush now has McCain advocating this approach, and then Vilsack offered his plan for withdrawal, saying that a troop surge was a mistake. What's noteworthy is the explicit mention of McCain, which is a signal that that is who Vilsack thinks will be running on the Republican ticket in 2008.

There was, of course, at the end of the segment a plug for Vilsack's website - a now customary move for candidates to try to drive traffic to their website.

On a side note - I read in my local paper that the New York Daily News was reporting that Rudy Giuliani's entire campaign playbook was left (or stolen) from a hotel room (or airplane), and has been leaked. There's some speculation that the playbook was stolen by an aide to the new Florida Governor when Giuliani was campaigning for him last year, possibly someone who favored a different Republican candidate for the presidential nomination.

The playbook's details have not received much media coverage, except in the Daily News, which detailed the unvarnished assessment of Giuliani's weaknesses, which include his three marriages, his relationship to disgraced Bernard Kerik, and his private business dealings.

Such foibles are hard on a campaign, because they're distracting and cause candidates and their staffs to go off message. This will blow over, but I am curious whether or not this will be made more of when the campaign starts to heat up.