24 November 2008

A neat image for an equally nice time of the year. Seattle forecast calls for rain.

The best part of Thursday is when everyone at the table offers their thanks. Lots to appreciate this year. Thanks to everyone who made it possible.

A surplus of images at FFFFound.

23 November 2008

War to Wildfires

An interesting follow up to my last post about the contrast between public/private military forces.

It seems as though the frustration has made its way to the firefighting "industry."

Are private fire crews, hired by insurance giants like AIG, more of a help or a hindrance?

Check out this piece in the LA Times.

Military, Inc.

As pirates off the eastern coast of Africa disrupt the international shipping industry, they simultaneously provide a huge source of potential revenue for private security firms already operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. This one situation highlights the gray area that has surrounded private companies (i.e. KBR, DynCorp, Triple Canopy, and Blackwater Worldwide) who offer security services in conjunction with traditional public (i.e. government) protectors.

The business strategy of one particular company, Blackwater Worldwide, is evident from CEO Erik Prince. "Our corporate goal is to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did to the postal service."

Yet, this story pales by comparison to simultaneous headlines associated with the conduct and ventures of the same private military contractors in Iraq. Currently, such contractors feel threatened by a provision that would allow for Iraq to "have the primary right to exercise jurisdiction" over U.S. contractors and their employees. The agreement is part of a larger US-Iraq accord calling for deadlines for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq. The accord calls for final withdrawal by December 31, 2011.

As background — in 2004, "Governor" of Iraq, Paul Bremer issued Order 17, a directive granting immunity to all private contractors hired by the Department of Defense to provide security in Iraq. To this day, Bremer's decree protects military contractors from prosecution in any court of law (American, Iraqi, UN) despite incidents such as the 2007 Nisour Square massacre, when 17 Iraqi civilians were killed by contractors. The new security agreement, however, doesn't specifically prevent Iraqi officials from bringing criminal charges retroactively in cases such as Nisour Square.

The most ironic part of this story is that private contractors across the world come together to form the International Peace Operations Association.

While the security agreement is unprecedented in Iraq, the magnitude of this specific provision will prove essential to future relations between the US and Iraq. Nisour Square was not the first and certainly will not be the last situation where military contractors come under question.

In general, what worries me is this trend towards privatizing typical government functions (military action). I'm not arguing against the American system that encourages earning capital on just about anything, but by privatizing the military, we are jeopardizing our safety and our standing across the globe. First, private contractors cost taxpayers more than the average military officers — sometimes eight times as much. Second, they are held to standards that contradict US military policy. A sense of frustration is established between two forces with the same objective. In Iraq, the collective actions of private and "public" soldiers are the same. According to investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater — The Rise of World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, "scores of US soldiers have been court-martialed on murder-related charges in Iraq, [but] not a single Blackwater contractor has ever been charged with a crime under any legal system.

Corporate profits should not be linked to violence, but I suppose the world isn't always peachy.

13 November 2008

Quiet Down Alaska

Let's hope that Mark Begich adds to his lead over Ted Stevens so I can all together stop hearing about Republican politicians from Alaska. While I understand that by voting for Stevens, Alaskans are certifying GOP representation in Washington, I cannot stand any more coverage of Senator Stevens OR Sarah Palin. No one knows whether Stevens will remain in office or step aside (if he pulls the comeback). Still, part of me prefers a convicted felon to Sarah Barracuda.

Other than President-elect Obama, Palin has earned more attention following the election than the actual loser, John McCain. Her post-election comments about how she regrets not being more available to the media, or how she still sees some validity behind the connection between Bill Ayers and Barack Obama or that her 7-year-old daughter actually wants her Mom to run in 2012 are a waste of the media airwaves. Let's see how much money the Palin family earns from Sarah's book deals or her Todd's plan for snowballs at inaguration. Pardon me, you will be purchasing "genuine Alaskan Toddballs." Next thing we know Fox News will be airing their own version of Jon and Kate Plus Eight, but coin it something along the lines of "Todd and Sarah Plus Wasilla."

What's most frustrating is that Palin is allowed to say anything imaginable right now. Now under less "intellectual" scrutiny, she seems to enjoy her emerging status as a potential GOP savior. She is filling the role of an entertainer rather than a politician. And to be honest, a drop of me feels bad for Senator McCain, who has to hear about Palin's frustration with his staff in what is seeming to be a race to "succeed John McCain."

Although the whole "where is Africa" scandal was revealed to be a hoax, let's hope that in one of her imminent soundbites, she shines like the Sarah Palin we grew to appreciate on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.

Stevens or Palin. Yikes.

10 November 2008

An Eclectic Perspective

?uest Love of the Roots Crew speaks his mind following Obama's victory. An interesting perspective on what this means for culture in the United States.

Hope, Hip Hop, and the Future.

"This is not the end, it's only the beginning, ladies and gentlemen."

True Bipartisanship

Between the general election, the outome on November 4, and now the 71 day transition, President-elect Obama has emphasized the importance of bipartisan efforts to the future success of this nation.

During the election, the McCain campaign attempted to taint Obama's record of stepping across the aisle during his three years in the Senate. Obama responded to the attacks by citing legislation he authored or cosponsored with Republican Senators Coburn, Lugar, Brownbacke, Hatch, and Inhofe to name a few. As Commander in Chief, bipartisanship will prove even more important, especially after the alienation incurred by the Bush administration.

This expectation is not novel. Obama called for a "different kind of politics" over the 21 month campaign and he said in victory speech: "
Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long."

With all of the recent talk surrounding appointments within the administration, I appreciate the sustained claims from Obama and his surrogates that his White House will reflect his commitment to bipartisanship. This will also the necessary action behind a candidate who values pragmatism over stubborn. Identical to to Lincoln's appointment of political rivals, Obama has seemed ready and will certainly emulate this action in the upcoming weeks.

His transition team is doing a superb job of emphasizing Obama's commitment to appointing the best people for the respective positions. Valerie Jarrett said yesterday on Meet the Press:

"I think that, in a sense, putting together the Cabinet is like a jigsaw puzzle, and he wants to make sure that it represents the diversity of our country, diversity in perspectives, diversity in race, diversity in geography. And so all of those pieces are going to come together. And he will pick the best person for each position," Jarrett said."

Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel echoed Jarrett hours later on Face the Nation saying:
"The challenges are big enough that there's going to be an ability for people of both parties, as well as independents, to contribute ideas to help meet the challenges on health care, energy, tax reform, education."

The mentioning of Gates, Lugar, Hagel, and maybe even McCain as potential members of his cabinet and/or future is impressive. Lugar seems the most realistic because of the relationship between the Indiana Senator and Obama in the past. In addition, Obama seems content in working with Chairmen Bernanke and Mullen until at least 2009 and Director Mueller until at least 2011.

Hopefully this will be one of the many promises that President Obama follows through on in the coming months.

In the meantime, I need to start reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals. She details the story of Lincoln and his decision to include rivals in his cabinet.

Barack to trump Bradley

With so much recent attention on Joe, is Bradley no longer the protagonist of the 2008 election season?

For months, politicos have been weighing the likelihood of a victory for Senator Obama with the ultimate impact of the “Bradley effect.” With or without Bradley, a strong tie between young people and the Democratic Party will counteract any damaging effect to Obama on Election Day. Since 1990, Republicans have lost their connection to the young, and the problem gets worse with every passing election. Today's twentysomethings are the most anti-Republican age group in the electorate and they are voting in numbers not seen since 1972 – when the voting age was raised to 18.

Ever since former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley lost the California gubernatorial election in 1982, African American political candidates have worked against an alleged fatal tendency called the “Bradley effect.” Although polls showed Bradley ahead of his opponent, George Deukmejian (by as many as seven points), Bradley actually coughed up his lead on Election Day. Expected voters had earlier admitted to that they were willing to vote for an African American candidate. On Election Day, however, they seemingly did not follow through on this commitment. According to some, voters did not want to initially appear socially intolerant in front of pollsters. Although Obama is also leading in the polls, the supposed “Bradley effect” will prove little consequence on the outcome for this Democratic candidate.

To start, polling numbers from the primaries suggested no presence of a Bradley Effect. Although results of the New Hampshire primary scared some cynics, pundits forget that a lot more than skin color lost Bradley the governorship. While the privacy of the voting booth could change opinion, the sweeping excitement for an African American candidate seem likely to outweigh any skittish voters.

For this election, let’s consider a counter-effect, and that is the “David, Jeff, Amber or effect.” Fill in the blank with the name of any young person in America. Across the nation, circles of students and young professionals “like his young appeal.” While in the 1980s, first Ronald Reagan and then George H.W. Bush won first-time voters and under-29 voters by big margins, the makeup is different post millennium. Today, plenty of young people see beyond racial lines and take into account other factors in voting for a presidential candidate. A New York Times/CBS News/MTV poll from 2007 found young Americans (between the ages of 17 and 29) more open to left leaning campaigns, such as universal health care, legalization of gay marriage, and a withdrawal from Iraq.

This may finally be the year for young people to stun the political community and vote. Obama's strength in the caucuses and primaries were one place this was made apparent. And in a general election, this might even be more pronounced. Let’s hope that the only Bradley to affect the November 4 election will be the one who’s name appears in the rolls alongside David, Jeff and Amber.

Up and Running

My apologies for some technical difficulties. I was off the air for some time, including the day of all days — November 4.

I secured a few hard copies of the Wednesday LA Times and Boston Globe as mementos, but I found the Tribune cover to be the most poignant.

Thank you, Mr. President.

19 October 2008

Powell A+

Despite a heartbreaking loss by my hometown team tonight, I can still manage to crack a smile.

I was beyond thrilled to see Colin Powell endorse Senator Obama this morning. The former Secretary of State echoed one question I often present to friends - which candidate is the President that we need now?

To his credit, McCain has been willing to stand up against his party and its principles over the years (i.e. torture, global warming, immigration, campaign finance). Granted I do appreciate Senator McCain and that decent commitment to reform, but it seems that the atmosphere is less conducive to a conservative in the White House. It's obvious that even longtime friends (i.e. Powell) can't find any of that maverick in this campaign. I suppose it's impossible for McCain to win as the Republican candidate with this persona, but he should at least clean things up in the GOP (and in his campaign).

Powell pointed out a particularly troubling element within his own party:

"I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian.

But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.."

My biggest problem with the GOP is exactly this. Intolerance. For this, they should not be the ruling party in the Executive Branch.