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Saturday, November 29, 2008

You've seen this movie

My take on "Rachel Getting Married" -- a talented African American man from Hawaii swoops in to save a dysfunctional white family. Though it is too early to see how the story ends, it seems safe to say that some healing has occurred. Everybody agrees that US soldiers should come home from Iraq.

At a critical moment in the story, observers come to understand that a lot of people have been blaming a victim for a tragic event, when in fact a good part of the blame should be placed on a selfish winger.

Oh, note also that the story includes an attractive character named Paylin, but in the end she really didn't figure into the outcome.

As for Anne Hathaway's celebrated performance? Did you see Angelina Jolie in "Girl, Interrupted"? If so, you can skip this one.


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Friday, November 28, 2008

Duck dropping

On Tuesday, November 18, I posted "Obama's exit strategy?" at the Duck of Minerva group blog.

The piece speculates that the President-elect might be able to put an end to the so-called "war on terrorism" by withdrawing from Iraq and turning US attention back to Afghanistan (and Pakistan).

Last night, at a couple of gatherings with family and friends, some people were speculating that Afghanistan could become Obama's Vietnam -- or Iraq. This blogger at the Monthly Review made this precise charge last summer.

Since I posted that piece 10 days ago, Iraq's Parliament has approved a Status of Forces Agreement with the US establishing a formal timetable for the withdrawal of US troops. American troops must be out of Iraq by December 2011. To win Sunni support for the SOFA, the Iraq government promised to hold a public referendum on the deal no later than July.

President Bush used to dismiss the idea of a timetable, but has now negotiated one! As Spencer Ackerman explains, if Iraq rejects the SOFA in the public referendum, the US would have to withdraw from Iraq even sooner -- potentially by May 2010 (roughly 16 months after Barack Obama is inaugurated as US President).

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has called for a timetable for international troops withdrawal. Failing to achieve that, Karzai dropped another hint that conflict could end via negotiation:
"If there is no deadline, we have the right to find another solution for peace and security, which is negotiations," Karzai was quoted as saying in a statement from his office.
Some prominent American analysts are also calling for negotiated settlement -- and the Obama team is reportedly NOT planning to borrow from the Bush Iraq strategy:
The incoming Obama administration plans to explore a more regional strategy to the war in Afghanistan -- including possible talks with Iran -- and looks favorably on the nascent dialogue between the Afghan government and "reconcilable" elements of the Taliban, according to Obama national security advisers.
Finally, I'm expecting to be pleased this week when Obama announces key members of his foreign policy team.


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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Food insecurity

I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving today.

Last week, the Department of Agriculture released its annual report on "food security" and in the face of a recession, the news wasn't good. From the CNN report, November 25:
Almost 700,000 U.S. children lived in households that struggled to put food on the table at some point in 2007, the highest number since 1998, according to a federal report.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's annual report on food security showed that those 691,000 children lived in homes where families had to eat non-balanced meals and low-cost food, or even skip meals because of a lack of money. The number of children struggling to feed themselves adequately rose 50 percent from 430,000 children in 2006.

Nearly 36.2 million children and adults struggled to put proper food on the table in 2007, according to the report, up slightly from 35.5 million in 2006.

Of the 36.2 million, nearly a third were not able to eat what was deemed a proper meal.
The story has additional detail, noting for example that the worst crisis is faced by people living in Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas and Arkansas.

Note: I was also a Thanksgiving scold in 2005 -- and 2003. Those stories, however, were primarily about global hunger.


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Monday, November 24, 2008

Obama's foreign policy team

Next week, apparently, President-elect Barack Obama will be announcing his foreign policy team. Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to be named Secretary of State and other so-called "liberal hawks" (and Clinton loyalists) are expected to win positions throughout the State Department, National Security Council, and Department of Defense.

Spencer Ackerman explains the implications:
Some Obama loyalists pointed to a 2007 memo written by Harvard’s Samantha Power — a former leading Obama adviser who resigned from the campaign after making an untoward remark about Clinton — that summarized the Obama campaign’s ideological meta-critique of many of the people who might staff a Clinton-run State Dept. Titled “Conventional Wisdom vs. the Change We Need,” the campaign released Power’s memo to the press after the Clinton campaign labeled Obama naive for proposing negotiations with dictators without preconditions; for ruling out the use of nuclear weapons on terrorist training camps; and for proposing highly-conditioned military strikes in Pakistan against senior Al Qaeda operatives.

“It was Washington’s conventional wisdom that led us into the worst strategic blunder in the history of U.S. foreign policy,” writes Power, who declined to speak for this story. “The rush to invade Iraq was a position advocated by not only the Bush Administration, but also by editorial pages, the foreign policy establishment of both parties, and majorities in both houses of Congress. Those who opposed the war were often labeled weak, inexperienced and even na├»ve.”

Some in the Obama camp are left wondering whether picking Clinton as secretary of state represents an acquiescence to such conventional wisdom. “That memo was emblematic in many ways of the difference between the two groups,” said a Democratic foreign-policy expert and Obama loyalist.
Count me as someone who thinks that "some in the Obama camp" have this upside down.

Obama's foreign policy plans are going to be America's foreign policy. Sure, every President rejects some campaign rhetoric. Bill Clinton, for example, famously reversed his pre-election position on China. However, Obama promised to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months, end the mindset that got the U.S. into that war in the first place, and behave as a foreign policy pragmatist. He was by no stretch a liberal hawk and nearly all of his foreign policy advisors in the campaign opposed the Iraq war. He has not backed down from any of these positions since the election and there's no reason to think that he will.

Thus, liberal hawks like Hillary Clinton embedded in prominent foreign policy positions in an Obama administration will be expected to administer the President-elect's planned transformation of US foreign policy.

While Obama supporters (dare I call them doves?) worry that their man has abandoned them, I think this is potentially a brilliant strategy. The Democratic party was split nearly 50-50 in the primary season and some of the divide reflected foreign policy differences (though probably not all that much). To the extent that Obama was less hawkish -- and I think that he was -- then what better way to reorient the party than to include the most prominent political opponent as a key policy figure?

Hillary Clinton's career success as Secretary of State will be tied to the career success of Barack Obama as President. Clinton and her loyalists will not likely dissent publicly (at least not too loudly) if they are part of the team. All of them will have a personal stake in making sure that US (i.e. Obama) foreign policy succeeds on their watch. None will want to seem like a backstabber or troublemaker. Plus, they must realize that Obama's approach was popular with the American electorate. And those who are insufficiently enthused should rightly fear that they will be tossed aside.

In sum, I don't fear a new team of rivals, at least not on foreign policy. Rather, I see these likely Clinton-team appointments as a reflection of a unified Democratic party, about to take office, ready to implement a brand new set of policies.

In two months, I predict that the chattering classes will be talking about how new U.S. foreign policymakers are effectively tossing aside many of the policies of George W. Bush. With that unified project in mind, this Clinton-Obama "divide" can be set aside.


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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Anbar Awakening for Afghanistan?

Tara McKelvey has a good piece in the November American Prospect on what some are calling "The Petraeus Doctrine." Lots of security-types are now interested in counterinsurgency, but Petraeus's strategy has been confounded with "the surge," the Anbar Awakening and other elements of the Iraq war.

Indeed, the incoming Obama administration might want to think carefully before attempting to export "the surge" to Afghanistan. As McKelvey notes, when explaining the reduction in violence in Iraq:
"Nearly everyone gives credit to the Anbar Awakening...and to a pullback by the militia led by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. These disparate elements, some coordinated by the military and some coincidental, have come together and tamped down the bloodshed."
Want to know what I left out with those ellipses? Here's a key point to keep in mind. There's a huge payoff tied to US counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq:
the U.S. is paying approximately 100,000 individuals known as the Sons of Iraq about $300 a month to keep the peace, and Sunni tribal sheikhs make millions more through U.S. contracts
That $30 million monthly to the Sons of Iraq apparently buys a lot of order.

It's not at all clear that similar payoffs could be effective in Afghanistan.

Consider what columnist Eric Margolis wrote in 2002, "Karzai's `election' has cost Washington $5 billion in bribes and payoffs to Afghan warlords." How has that turned out?


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Monday, November 17, 2008

Energy pledge

The University of Louisville spends about $1 million per month on energy. Since spring, I've been part of a campus team of faculty and staff attempting to figure out behavioral changes that might save energy -- and money. The slow economy has forced budget cuts, though energy conservation is a good idea for a variety of non-economic reasons.

The campus has its own coal-fired electrical plant, so reducing energy usage means reducing harmful pollutants and greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Anyone affiliated with the University is strongly encouraged to complete the Energy Reduction Pledge.


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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Entertainment void

The baseball season ended a couple of weeks ago.

The election concluded (for the most part) on November 4.

To fill my leisure hours this weekend, I tuned to my favorite Americana/alt-country radio station (X-Country on XM) and discovered...that it's gone. The merger with Sirius radio has meant that "X-Country" has been replaced with "Outlaw Country." The former station played a wide variety of great music. So far, just about every song on Outlaw Country sounds like it belongs in a '70s Burt Reynolds movie. The DJs are driving me crazy too.

Actually, I like much of the Outlaw country music, but the playlist is simply not as wide-ranging or interesting. Most of what they're playing seems to duplicate other existing channels -- "The Roadhouse" and "Willie's Place."

Perhaps I'll have to migrate to internet radio. This station sounds promising so far.

Luckily, Kansas basketball begins tonight.


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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Senate update

In the U.S. Senate, Democrats currently have 55 seats. Independents Joe Lieberman (a former Democratic Senator) and Bernie Sanders caucused with the Democrats in the latest Congress, so many analysts think that the Dems currently have control of 57 votes. Lieberman is a bit of a wild card since he campaigned for John McCain and he has been recruited by the Republican caucus.

After the 1994 Republican wave, a number of congressional Democrats became Republicans. They joined the new majority. However, it is harder to imagine Lieberman wanting to switch to the minority party after it took some serious losses at the polls. Plus, Barack Obama has expressed no hard feelings and welcomes Lieberman into the Democratic caucus.

So, it's at least possible that the Dems have 57 of 97 votes in the new Senate. What about the other 3 races?

In the ongoing Alaska count, Democrat Mark Begich has inched ahead of convicted felon Ted Stevens by a bit more than 800 votes. There are still 1000s of early and absentee votes to be counted, but these are reportedly from blue areas of the state.

In Minnesota, Democrat Al Franken trails Norm Coleman by just over 200 votes and the state will have an automatic recount. Over 437,000 people voted for the third party candidate, Dean Barkley. According to Nate Silver, there are enough undervotes in Minnesota to believe that Franken has a 50-50 chance (or better) of winning this race. Apparently, however, the recount won't finish until mid-December.

In sum, Democrats have good reason to be optimistic that they will have 59 seats in the next U.S. Senate that meets in January, 2009.

Can they get to a filibuster-proof 60 votes?

In Georgia, Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss and opponent Jim Martin are scheduled to have a runoff election on December 2. Typically, runoff election turnout is light compared to the general election November vote. The winner of the runoff might well earn thousands of fewer votes in December than his opponent got in November.

Enthusiasm and turnout are viewed as critical in runoff elections. Obama campaign workers are apparently flooding into Georgia and John McCain campaigned in the state today.

In short, both political parties realize that Democrats could achieve a filibuster-proof 60 seat Senate majority with a victory in Georgia.

The long 2008 election cycle likely still has a month to go.


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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Counterpublic spheres

Tomorrow, November 13, I'm presenting a conference paper on "Counterpublic Spheres in Global Politics: The Anti-War Movement and Iraq." It's a revised version of a paper I gave at the 2006 International Studies Association annual meeting.

Louisville is hosting the 2008 annual conference of the International Association for Intercultural Communication Studies. My panel is at 1:45 pm in the downtown Marriott Hotel. So far as I know, anyone can attend the presentations.

Here's the abstract:
On February 15, 2003, millions of people from around the world participated in anti-war protests in anticipation of a war on Iraq that would not begin until March 19 of that year. The BBC estimated that 6 to 10 million people rallied in approximately 800 cities in nearly 60 countries. Yet, research on United States media coverage of the buildup to the Iraq war suggests that war advocates, especially within the Bush administration, were able to construct a successful (and predominant) narrative about Iraq threats that precluded significant public opposition to the attack. The public discourse was dominated by war proponents who successfully framed the proposed attack as an integral part of the ongoing "war on terror." This paper explores the narratives offered by the transnational "counterpublic sphere" that opposed the war. By definition, so-called "counterpublics" create and circulate discourses in opposition to those featured in the mainstream. Counterpublic spheres potentially make the predominant public sphere more inclusive and open to dissent. This paper explores apparent linkages between the anti-war narratives that emerged from a variety of voices from around the globe and the eventual U.S. public opposition to the Iraq war.
Hopefully, I'll receive some useful feedback so I can submit this paper for publication in a journal.


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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

President-Elect Obama

America has elected a biracial man named Barack Hussein Obama to be its 44th President. Much of the TV coverage has focused on the enormity of this fact.

The racial healing symbolized by Obama's victory is significant and certainly deserves emphasis.

However, from the point of view of partisan politics, the results are arguably even more impressive. Obama openly embraces the idea of universal health care, increased taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and an end to the American war in Iraq. He wants to "put a price on carbon" in order to combat global warming, to substantially increase investment in domestic infrastructure, and to initiate an alternative energy program modeled after the Apollo program. In fact, Obama embraces a plethora of policies that have made previous Democratic candidates for high office gun-shy.

Moreover, Obama was labeled the most liberal member of the US Senate by a reputable third-party evaluator, and his opponents often pointed out this fact. Indeed, they tried to call him a socialist.

Some implied that Obama was anti-American. He "palled around with domestic terrorists." You get the picture.

In sum, Obama embraced a clear Democratic agenda, withstood horrible attacks about his identity, and still won an overwhelming victory. As I write, he has 4 million more votes than John McCain and 51% of the vote. I suspect his margin of victory will increase a bit as big city tallies and the west coast totals become known.

This is remarkable. Truly unique and inspiring.

Earlier tonight, I was reminded by a prominent journalist that Bobby Kennedy's last words were "Now it's on to Chicago and let's win there."

It took 40 years, but admirers who watched Obama's speech in Grant Park must think that Kennedy's words now ring true.


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Monday, November 03, 2008

RIP Dad

Tulsa World, November 3:
Owasso — Allen Keith Payne, 73, Sherwood Construction executive, died Friday. Services pending. Mowery's.
From Mowery's Funeral Home:
Funeral Arrangements

Allen Keith Payne

Date of Birth Thursday, June 06, 1935
Date of Death Friday, October 31, 2008

Funeral Date Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Funeral Time 1:00 p.m.
Funeral Site Mowery Funeral Service Chapel
Funeral Address 9110 N. Garnett Road
Funeral City Owasso, OK 74055
Funeral Phone 918-272-6244

Visitation Location Mowery Funeral Service
Visitation Date Monday, November 03, 2008
Visitation Hours 1:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.

Burial Site Graceland Memorial Park Cemetery
Burial City Owasso, OK 74055

In lieu of flowers: American Lung Association
1010 East 8th Street
Tulsa OK, 74120
Eventually, they'll have the obituary here.

My Mom selected the charity. I am actually telling friends about the American Legacy Foundation, which is an anti-smoking group responsible for "The Truth" campaign.

Readers, you now know why I've not been blogging about politics this past week. Obviously, I won't be voting for Barack Obama or anyone else tomorrow.


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