Thursday, March 31, 2011

The 5 Major League Baseball stadiums...

...I've not visited but would like to:

5. Nationals Park, Washington
4. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia
3. Target Field, Minneapolis
2. AT&T Park, San Francisco
1. Fenway Park, Boston

I've never visited...and have no interest in seeing:

5. US Cellular Field, Chicago
4. Citi Field, New York
3. Sun Life Stadium, Miami
2. Tropicana Field, Tampa
1. Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland

I've visited...and want to again:

5. Rangers Ballpark, Arlington
4. Progressive Field, Cleveland
3. Rogers Centre, Toronto
2. Coors Field, Denver
1. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
(Note: Because I live in Pittsburgh and visit PNC Park a couple times each year, I am not including that stadium on this list.)

Nicolas Sarkozy has a plan...

...to make nuclear energy safer for the entire world.

Speaking today in Japan, Mr. Sarkozy noted:
French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on Thursday for a reform of global nuclear standards by the end of the year during a first visit by a foreign leader to Japan since the earthquake and tsunami that triggered its atomic disaster.

Group of 20 Chairman Sarkozy said
France wants to host a meeting of the bloc's nuclear officials in May to fix new norms in the wake of the crisis at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Japan's Prime Minister
Naoto Kan supported the idea.

"In order to avoid recurrence of such an
accident, it is our duty to accurately share with the world our experience," he said at a joint news conference.
In the aforementioned story, the Los Angeles Times stated:
France, the world's most nuclear-dependent country, is taking a lead in assisting Japan. In addition to Sarkozy's show of solidarity by his presence, Paris has flown in experts from state-owned nuclear reactor maker Areva.

"Consider me your employee," Areva Chief Executive Anne Lauvergeon told Japanese officials.
Mr. Sarkozy's trip to Japan included more than his support for nuclear energy. As the Japan Times reports:
In a joint news conference after his meeting with Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Sarkozy pointed out that Japan is always quick to help countries in crisis and this time, it is the international community's turn to come to Japan's aid.
"The time has come for the world to do something for Japan and to show solidarity," Sarkozy said. "We want Japan to remember that it is not alone."
The two leaders also agreed to take up the Fukushima nuclear crisis at the upcoming Group of Eight summit.
President Sarkozy's visit to Japan was overshadowed by new reports that it will take decades for the damaged nuclear plant to be stabilized. The Financial Times posted this news alert late this afternoon (EDT):
Japan’s quake-crippled atomic power station will take years to fully stabilise but officials hope to prevent further deterioration of the plant and stem leakage of radioactive material into surrounding areas within weeks, Yukio Edano, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary tells FT
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that the recent events in Japan have heightened the need for new drugs to combat exposure to radiation.

Did Tech Wreck...

...its student affairs obligations?

This story caught my attention for two reasons. First, it deals with an important aspect of university life -- student affairs. And second, I taught at Texas Tech University for two years and still have a fondness for the institution.

The story analyzes recent changes made to how student affairs will be managed at Texas Tech. It notes that:
A massive dismantling of the student affairs infrastructure at Texas Tech University has placed many departments under the provost and chief operating officer, eliminating three top administrative positions and startling others in the profession.
The university says it will save $500,000 a year without a senior vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, dean of students and associate vice president for student affairs, and associate vice president for student affairs and external relations. But the move wasn’t strictly for financial reasons, said Doug Buchanan, assistant vice president for human resources at Texas Tech.
The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal provides additional details about last week's decision, which obviously is not sitting well with professionals who understand the various aspects of student affairs.

Effective immediately, according to a morning memo from Tech President Guy Bailey, the university is eliminating the post of Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, a senior-level position long held by veteran administrator Michael Shonrock.
Tech also cut the job of Dean of Students Greg Elkins and Vice President for Student Affairs and External Relations Jan Childress, who were both subordinate to Shonrock.
Elimination of these three salaries should save Tech some $500,000 per year and, Bailey hopes, fulfill his promises to streamline Tech’s administration ahead of state budget cuts.
“Micheal Shonrock did a good job,” Bailey said. “We’re not dissatisfied with his work. It’s just a part of what you have to do to survive right now.”
As abrupt as Monday’s announcement appears, Bailey said he has been planning these changes for weeks and didn’t see a reason to draw them out through a more gradual transition.
Divvying up of the roughly 25 departments under Shonrock translates into a wholesale shift in the university’s organizational structure. Departments ranging from recreational sports to the registrar to residence halls and food services will fall under a different chain of command beginning today.

If it sounds complex, it is. But more importantly the university continues to have a public-relations issue on its hands -- the recent sizable pay increase to football coach Tommy Tuberville. Yes, the money that is being used for Tuberville isn't coming from the same budget line. Yes, athletic departments are largely stand-alone financial units that drain little money from the academic or administrative side of the university. Nevertheless, the image here is that the football coach (and therefore football program) continues to be taken care of while people more fully connected to the day-to-day operations of the university are dumped at the side of the road. That image is strengthened because of the inevitable state-funding cuts that will hit Texas Tech and all public institutions in the state.

I don't have a firm handle on how student affairs works, but I can say that in my time in higher education that the people in those offices are firm believers in taking care of students. Moreover, in the two years I was at Texas Tech, the people in student affairs were amazingly helpful. I don't know if the decision mentioned above was the right one, but I do know that it raises enough questions to warrant additional conversation.

Oh, and as for the unusual title to this post, if you know about Texas Tech, then you know its rally cry is "Wreck 'Em, Tech!" I think some wrecking is indeed taking place in Lubbock.

Qaddafi must like Elton John

Perhaps, but you couldn't blame the Libyan strongman if he continues to song John's "I'm Still Standing" because he's still in power.

The coalition air strikes continue, but they've not succeeded in giving the opposition (or the rebels, depending upon your opinion of Qaddafi!) the chance to make that final big push that might lead to regime change. Moreover, some of the men closest to Qaddafi are bailing; his foreign minister arrived yesterday in Britain and has asked for political asylum. As TIME notes,
In a thundering blow to Muammar Gaddafi's standing and the morale of his regime, Libya's Foreign Minister Moussa Kusa defected to London on Wednesday night, in the regime's most high-profile break since the Western bombing campaign began nearly two weeks ago—if not, indeed, the most momentous split in the Libyan government in years.
Kusa, who has long been one of Gaddafi's most trusted aides, landed at London's Farnborough Airport at about 9 p.m., after slipping across Libya's border into Tunisia earlier this week. He was flown on a British military jet, and immediately requested political asylum. "Kusa is not happy about how the government has handled the conflict," said his friend, Noman Benotman, a former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which was aligned with al-Qaeda until 2008, speaking to TIME late Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, there also is evidence that the CIA is in Libya. The Washington Post reports that:


Although the administration has pledged that no U.S. ground troops will be deployed to Libya, officials said Wednesday that President Obama has issued a secret finding that would authorize the CIA to carry out a clandestine effort to provide arms and other support to Libyan opposition groups.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, insisted that no decision has been made.
In other words, it's a secret...but it's not a secret. And as that effort germinates, the White House continues to develop an international diplomatic plan to pressure Qaddafi to leave. But so far, Qaddafi is still standing.

How "healthy" is the county in which you live?

Every now and then I come across a story that screams "read me."

This is one of them: TIME highlights a new report that ranks the "health" of each county in the United States. Of course, my attention soon turned to the Pennsylvania map, which indicates that Allegheny County, the one in which I live, is ranked 42nd out of the 67 counties. The area close to Penn State University (located in Centre County) is the healthiest part of the state.

Of course, the "health" of the area in which you live is but one of the factors that must be considered in choosing where to call home. Economic, employment, educational, social, recreational and other factors also come into play. Nevertheless, the aforementioned report provides an important discussion topic for your family and you.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What a change

From the PBS station in Los Angeles...to being sold to the Church of Scientology.

As the Los Angeles Times reports:
Financially strapped KCET-TV is in talks to sell its landmark Sunset Boulevard studio to the Church of Scientology, according to people who know about the pending deal.

The Los Angeles television station, which is struggling to rebuild viewership after its recent split from PBS, plans to move its operations to a smaller location, real estate brokers said. Station officials have been touring potential sites, brokers said.
 
Terms of the potential deal were unavailable, but the 4.5-acre property at 4401 W. Sunset Blvd. has an assessed value of $14.1 million, according to county records.

The media are starting to panic?

Okay, let's start with a teaching moment -- in my writing classes, I tell my students that they need to remember to bring their GPS with them when they sit down to write. The "G" stands for grammar. The "P" stands for punctuation. The "S" stands for spelling.

Apparently, even "professional" writers need to remember the importance of the GPS.

I began to grumble the second I read the headline to this Huffington Post story. The media is NOT starting to panic...and that's because "media" is a plural term. Therefore, the media is (or isn't) impossible.

Now let's move further down the story. Another "oops" appears when the writer suggests "none of the people who promised to run for president are all that close to making a decision." Nope. "None" must take the singular  verb. Therefore, it is impossible for "none" and "are" to be linked in the same sentence.

That's it? Nope. Later, we read that "while the lack of credible candidates is posing a minor inconvenience for Politico's debate planners, that's nothing compared to the all-out emotional breakdown it's causing Time Magazine's Joe Klein, who basically says that the current state of the GOP slate is nothing short of an embarrassment for America...." Since when did Time acquire the word "Magazine" (and with the capital "M"!) in its title?

Now that I've spilled my spleen, we can turn our attention to the point of this poorly written opinion piece -- that the media ARE nervous because they have nothing of substance to address regarding the 2012 presidential election.

If they are nervous, then they have only themselves to blame. If they are so eager to cover the speeches, rallies and other events associated with the 2012 presidential election NOW, then what exactly are they doing to fulfill their roles as journalists? Absent investigative reporting, the media ARE little more than gasbags screaming about the events of the day; and we know that events lacking in context and/or perspective shouldn't qualify as "news." 

If the media ARE worried that prominent Republicans have yet to enter the presidential race, then you ought not be concerned. Keep in mind that no voter will cast his or her ballot (or gather for a caucus) for almost nine months.

Heck, some of the people who run for the White House won't have a campaign lasting that long.

Sacre bleu!

The president of China is aggravated at his French counterpart for being so upfront in his support for coalition air strikes against Libya. As VOA News reports,
Chinese President Hu Jintao has warned that coalition airstrikes on Libya could violate the spirit of the UN resolution on the North African country if civilians are killed in the process.

Speaking at a press conference with visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy Wednesday, Hu also said violence would not resolve the armed political stand-off in Libya. ...



Sarkozy was in China at a meeting of the Group of 20 top world economies.
The apparent criticism delivered by President Hu came as he met with President Sarkozy to discuss, as you might guess, international finance. Reuters notes that:
France needs China's support to help advance reform of world commodity and financial markets, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said before meeting his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao on Wednesday, ahead of a seminar dealing with Sarkozy's G20 agenda.

Sarkozy made the remarks in Beijing, which he is visiting before flying to Nanjing, the city in east China that will host a seminar of the Group of 20 wealthy and developing economies on Thursday.
That seminar was supposed to highlight Sino-French cooperation in promoting more regulation of commodity markets and exploring reform of the global monetary system, but Beijing has not exuded enthusiasm for the seminar or for Sarkozy's broad plans during his government's presidency of the G20.
Mr. Sarkozy couldn't be blamed for being a bit miffed today but not necessarily at his Chinese hosts. Instead, he is learning more about a shooting in the Ivory Coast capital city in which the car carrying France's ambassador to that nation was shot up. According to Reuters,
France condemned on Wednesday an alleged gun attack by incumbent Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo's forces on a car escorting the French ambassador in Abidjan.

The French foreign ministry said the attack showed Gbagbo was pursuing a policy of "blind violence" targeting both citizens of the Ivory Coast and foreigners.
"This afternoon his special forces fired a burst of shots at a vehicle escorting the French ambassador," the French foreign ministry said in a statement. "These acts, coming after other attacks against other ambassadors, are unacceptable."
"We condemn these acts in the strongest terms. We will hold Laurent Gbagbo accountable," the ministry added.
As well it should unless the Gbagbo states clearly (and perhaps with some proof) that his henchmen had nothing to do with the attack.

All and all, a tough day for the French government, and the French people probably aren't all that happy, either, after their beloved national soccer team wound up in a 0-0 draw in a friendly match against Croatia.

FOX News' winning streak is at 37

Like it or not, FOX News has become the dominant cable news provider for Americans. As the latest Nielsen numbers suggest, FOX News has been number one in the ratings for 37 consecutive quarters.

That's a winning streak that spans more than nine years. And if one executive from MSNBC has his way, that top-dog spot will soon belong to his network. Phil Griffin told the Philadelphia Inquirer:
"We have beaten CNN, and we are a solid No. 2. . . . Fox is now in our vision, and there are a couple of hours where it's getting close."
Ah, but Mr. Griffin, getting close in just a couple of hourly segments offers scant evidence that your network is prepared to make a full-out assault on FOX News' ratings dominance.

You can't hold a debate...

...if there aren't enough presidential candidates.

As the Huffington Post reports:
The first Republican debate, which was to be hosted on May 2 by NBC News and Politico, has been postponed until September, it was announced Wednesday. The reason? Not enough candidates.
The event was due to be hosted at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. But John Heubush, executive director for the library, said that "too few" candidates "have made the commitment thus far for a debate to be worthwhile in early May."
That's embarrassing, especially considering that four years ago 10 men and women stood ready to debate each other about the direction of the country. The Atlantic notes that:
In 2007, Politico and MSNBC hosted a GOP debate on May 3, and ten major contenders showed--including John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney.
It appears, for now, that the initial GOP debate will be May 5 in South Carolina. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Un flâner memory lane

And I hope that translates to "a stroll down memory lane."

The recent support of this blog among readers in France got me in the sentimental mood and reminded me of an all-too-short visit to Paris in October 2009.

I flew into Paris expecting to stay just long enough to catch a connecting flight to Moscow. Unfortunately, I lacked the proper paperwork and therefore was forced to remain in Paris (yes, you can laugh at that choice of words -- oh, pity Moretti...he had to remain in Paris for a few days before returning home!!) before eventually returning to the United States.

I think the above photo is my favorite, as I was able to catch a remarkable sunset with the magical Notre Dame to the right.

Notre Dame was stunning, and I was reminded yet again when I was inside it that regardless of the faith someone practices that the opportunity to enter a sacred place of worship leaves me amazed.

On this particular October day, I was one of the most blessed people in the world. Will I see Paris again in my lifetime? If the good Lord above wills it, I hope so.

Vive la France!

The first foreign head of state to visit Japan since the devastating earthquake and tsunami will be French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

And as Reuters reports, Mr. Sarkozy's visit is just one sign of French support for its Asian ally.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who chairs the G20 and G8 blocs of nations, plans to visit Tokyo on Thursday. He will be the first foreign leader in Japan since the disaster.
In further support, France flew in two experts from its state-owned nuclear reactor maker Areva and its CEA nuclear research body to assist Japan's heavily-criticized plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO).
A global leader in the industry, France produces about 75 percent of its power from reactors so it has a strong interest in helping Japan get through the Fukushima disaster.
The French are also taking a front-line approach to the crisis in Libya. It is sending a special envoy to Benghazi, where rebels have built a stronghold against Col. Moammar Qaddafi. Reuters suggests that while Mr. Sarkozy might score some diplomatic points in dealing with Libya, he will find any such efforts with Syria to be more complicated.
Sarkozy -- who grabbed control of the world response to the Libyan crisis to reassert France's influence in North Africa after its clumsy handling of revolts in Tunisia and Egypt -- must come up with a smart strategy on Syria or lose his new kudos, analysts say.
"He can't go out on several fronts at once, and the front where he is engaged is starting to show the difficulties of such an operation," said North Africa expert Christian Bouquet at the University of Bordeaux III.
"On the ground Sarkozy has stated, human rights and democracy, there should be interventions in several countries including Syria, and Ivory Coast, but he would not be able to mobilize the international community ... and there would be a hierarchy problem of where he should go first."
The tensions in Syria have not reached the level they did in Libya when Sarkozy called the emergency summit that launched air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi's troops.
Syria's ties with Iran and the fact it borders Israel, Iraq and Turkey would make military action an undesirable option, especially given the high risk of repercussions from groups like the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement or Hezbollah in Lebanon.


Mr. Sarkozy's aggressive approach to Libya stands in contrast to President Obama, who remains adamant that the U.S. will play a supporting role in the North African diplomatic and military tussle. While the image of Sarkozy remains largely undefined in the U.S., his efforts could provide a platform for Mr. Obama's critics to suggest that other leaders are doing what the American president ought to be.

To the many new readers from France

Merci!!

Thanks for finding the blog. Please keep checking it out!

If Qaddafi survives...

...the military and diplomatic assault he is under, then it could be a long time before such outside interventions take place again.

Moreover, and as I mentioned last night, President Obama has made it (sort of) clear what America's role as global cop will be under his watch: It will take a short-term lead on any such operation but will demand international cooperation, United Nations backing and a coalition ready to assume the long-term direction.

One political scientist suggests the Obama Doctrine (and if that label isn't appropriate, then let's remove it from the conversation) ought to be cautious and reflects the apparent mood of the American people. John Mueller suggests:
The U.S. government has applied military pressure only reluctantly and tentatively, ruling out the idea of sending in ground troops, and has made it a priority that any intervention be internationally approved. Trying to maintain a support role in Libya, the United States has proved quite willing, even determined, to let the Europeans take the military lead.
That's all fine and good for some, and clearly it is unacceptable to others. But it also reflects what could be the final stages of any world power -- and most especially the United States -- engaging its military in the affairs of other nations. At least that's what Gideon Rachman suggests in this Financial Times editorial. He notes:
But the reality is that the Libyan war is more likely to mark a last hurrah for liberal interventionism than a new dawn. For the brutal truth is that the western powers that are the keenest promoters of the idea will not have the economic strength or the public backing to sustain many more overseas interventions. And the rising economic powers – China, India, Brazil and others – are deeply sceptical about the whole concept.
I can hear the howls of protest: "We are the United States; we will do what it takes." Only the most ardent supporter of that policy -- which perhaps could be called the Bush Doctrine? -- would still deny that essentially going it alone in Iraq was far more than anyone bargained for. Consider the strain it put on the military, the trillion dollars it cost and the lives it took, and you come to the conclusion that ousting a tyrant -- however noble it might be -- is perhaps not worth it.

70

That figure represents the number of academic advisees I have this year. And I'm honored, and I mean this, to say that that number is the highest among all faculty within the Point Park University School of Communication.

Now, there are a couple of circumstances that help explain that figure -- one of my former colleagues who also had a large number of advisees retired at the end of last academic year, so her students were assigned to another colleague and me. There also needs to be an acknowledgement that there are more than 100 students interested in broadcasting.

Nevertheless, I am humbled that 70 students -- they range from freshmen to seniors -- trust me to offer the advice, encouragement, ideas about classes, career planning and other professional conversations that take place in those all-too-few precious moments that an adviser spends with his or her students.

My wife knows that I have a lot of "kids" at school. I hope I treat each of them with the respect they deserve. I certainly try.

The situation is Syria-ous

This from the Los Angeles Times:
Syria's state-run television said Tuesday that the nation's Cabinet has resigned amid the worst unrest there in decades.

The resignation is the latest concession by the government aimed at countering more than a week of mass protests.
 
President Bashar Assad is expected to soon announce that he is lifting a hated emergency law and moving to annul other harsh restrictions on civil liberties and political freedoms.
Interesting how some dictators (labeled presidents, of course) get it and others don't. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

"When our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act."

With those words, President Obama has outlined how the United States will continue to deal with Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi and other tyrants it confronts.

In his speech, the president said the commitment made almost two weeks ago to the American people, the Libyan people and others has been met -- the U.S. and its partners have significantly reduced Qaddafi's ability to attack his political rivals. As a result, effective Wednesday, NATO will take over the military campaign. He added that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will continue the diplomatic discussions that the Western powers insist will lead to a change in Libya's leadership.

In other words, the situation in Libya demonstrates that the American military will not lead alone (or with the support of few allies); instead it will play a leading role for a limited time but only as part of a broad international coalition with backing of the United Nations. And that one-of-many mentality will continue once the process of building democracy begins.

"The transition to a legitimate government [in Libya]...will be a difficult task", the president said, adding that the American government will work with its international powers to foster the economic, social, political, legal and other institutions needed to develop Libya once Qaddafi is removed.

But the words "when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act" can be interpreted in many ways. Moreover, they give America's allies and critics significant fodder to analyze any additional military actions this president orders.

For example, what exactly are America's interests in Libya? This excerpt from the president's address perhaps best summarizes it:
America has an important strategic interest in preventing Gaddafi from overrunning those who oppose him. A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya's borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful - yet fragile - transitions in Egypt and Tunisia. The democratic impulses that are dawning across the region would be eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship, as repressive leaders concluded that violence is the best strategy to cling to power. The writ of the UN Security Council would have been shown to be little more than empty words, crippling its future credibility to uphold global peace and security. So while I will never minimize the costs involved in military action, I am convinced that a failure to act in Libya would have carried a far greater price for America.

However, the president also made clear that the U.S. will not seek a repeat of the events in Iraq -- meaning military force to remove a tyrant. He said:
If we tried to overthrow Gaddafi by force, our coalition would splinter. We would likely have to put U.S. troops on the ground, or risk killing many civilians from the air. The dangers faced by our men and women in uniform would be far greater. So would the costs, and our share of the responsibility for what comes next.
To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq. Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our troops and the determination of our diplomats, we are hopeful about Iraq's future. But regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.

There are at least two ways to interpret Mr. Obama's remarks -- the decisions made by President Bush regarding Iraq were wrong, or the decisions made by President Bush regarding Iraq were correct, but the costs in lives, money and American prestige outweighed the good.

But are America's interests and values at stake in Iran? North Korea? Pakistan? Would President Obama attempt to build a coalition to attack Iran, for example, or would that nation's potential to drop a nuclear bomb on Israel cause him to act differently?

In North Korea, people are starving and the government appears determined to advance a nuclear agenda. At some point does Dear Leader become Dead Leader? And if he does, how much of an international coalition would the president seek?

Pakistan appears to have a love-hate relationship with the United States. Does protecting America's interests -- and those of ally India -- require a broad coalition before actions are taken?

Yes, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to international affairs. But "our interests and values" can mean one thing when it comes to dealing with one country and another when it comes to another. And the "responsibility to act" isn't always the same thing, either.

Anna Chapman: "Who told you I was an agent?"

Here we go again, but this time with a twist.

Anna Chapman is back in her native Russia, deported from the U.S. last year, and in her homeland she remains a political figure, a celebrity and (from all appearances) a hero. Western governments will tell you she was expelled from the U.S. because she was a spy.

But don't use that word when talking to her. "Who told you I was an agent?" she asked a BBC reporter.

"I will never deny and I will never confirm [whether I was a spy]," Ms. Chapman told the BBC during an interview. She added that she "never planned to be a celebrity" upon returning home and that she is excited about the prospects for her television career.

I wonder, has she actually taken any classes in journalism, reporting, editing or any skill required to actually work in the industry? Or perhaps she will "figure" out how to use the "equipment" in the future?

Cry me a river

Oh, please. I have no pity (and even less concern) for news organizations that say they've already spent their entire budget on international news events...and its only March (Oh My God!)

A short memo to these people: News happens, and you report it.

Something tells me that the corporate behemoth that owns you can pony up the extra million or two that it will take to cover the next big international event.

In the meantime, please continue the PR campaign that says you are broke; that's good for the next budget-negotiation cycle.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

And just in case you were wondering...

...I picked Butler and VCU to go to the Final Four.

Oh, come on...smile. You know you want to!!

A "chill" is blowing through Wisconsin

There is a term occasionally heard in media discourse -- "a chilling effect." It suggests that a government policy, if enacted, will give journalists pause before they do their jobs with the commitment they should.

Of course, the term is used (but perhaps not correctly) in other situations. We've seen that of late in Wisconsin, where those people and groups opposed to Gov. Scott Walker's plans to take away collective-bargaining rights for public employees are arguing that if Gov. Walker succeeds, then the power of unions and the rights of workers throughout the country will be threatened.

Interestingly, there is a potential second "chill" starting to blow in Wisconsin. Liberal groups are in the initial stages of recall efforts against multiple state politicians with a special focus on removing Republicans who voted with Walker. One columnist warns that if this effort works, then politicians all over the country will be worrying about their job security should they ever run afoul of unions.
If Walker and other governors cannot tame public pensions and union contracts, you will see tax hikes enacted under freshmen GOP governors across the country in the next few years. It is simple math.
If Republicans don't engage with real cash in Wisconsin, they could lose the state Senate in advance of redistricting this summer, embolden unions and scare hell out of Republicans in statehouses everywhere.
Walker may have won on policy -- yet Republicans could face massive losses nationally if they don't win those Wisconsin recalls.
Yes, if you were wondering, there also is a recall effort against Walker.

Do either of the above scenarios -- if unions are busted here, they will be busted everywhere or if politicians are recalled here, they will be recalled everywhere -- constitute a chilling effect?

I think not. For me, the difference is this: decisions made by governments are not comparable to decisions made by voters. A chilling effect against a journalist could lead to him or her being tossed in jail; a voter does nothing more than toss someone out of office. (And the use of the words "nothing more" should not be interpreted as criticism.)

There also is a healthy irony in what is happening in Wisconsin. Since Gov. Walker announced his plans to take away collective-bargaining rights for public employees, the faculty at three of the states public colleges and universities have moved forward with plans to unionize.

That's not a chilling effect, by the way; that's politics.

Two papers...one story

The city of Pittsburgh and portions of Allegheny County wake up this morning to significant changes to their mass-transportation system. Either route cuts or service cutbacks begin for the Port Authority, which operates the bus and light-rail system throughout the city and various portions of the county.

I glanced at the city's two major papers -- the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review -- to see how they covered the story.

The Post-Gazette, the so-called "liberal" newspaper, offered a report that hinted at confusion and impending difficulties for the thousands of people affected by the route cancellations and changes. It suggested at the end of its principal story about the Port Authority cuts that:
The cuts in service taking effect today are designed to keep the Port Authority's transit system operating without more drastic changes until state officials agree on a permanent funding source, Mr. [Steve] Bland, the Port Authority's CEO, said. He said he understood the passion of those who oppose the service reductions, but the board's decision offers riders "consistency and stability of service."
[Local union president] Mr. [Patrick] McMahon wasn't buying it. "There will be massive confusion on Monday morning and all next week," he predicted.
That's debatable. The local media have done a credible job, in my opinion, of covering the on-going talks. More importantly, the public has been told for several weeks about potential route changes (or cuts) through the media and the Port Authority's Web site.

We'll return to that, but let's see how the Tribune-Review reported this story. "The Trib" is the so-called "conservative paper" in town. It offered significant space to the financial reasons behind the changes. As an example, consider this information:
Port Authority's financial struggles have long been a problem, many of which stemmed from increasing health care costs beginning in the 1990s.
From 1996-2006, the cost to provide health care for Port Authority's 2,600 retired drivers and mechanics quadrupled. Since 2006, the agency has carved $52 million in annual expenses out of its budget, with measures that included cutting service, freezing pay, increasing employees' health care and pension contributions, and shedding more than 400 jobs.
Fare increases in the 2008 and 2010 fiscal years translated to $14 million a year in increased revenue.
In December, then-Gov. Ed Rendell shifted $45 million in federal funding to bail out the agency, which initially proposed cutting more than 500 jobs. The outgoing Democrat called the money a temporary fix, saying state legislators must increase transportation funding this year. Port Authority will spend $33.8 million of funding this fiscal year to close its budget deficit.
Nowhere does one read of potential chaos, though the paper does note in the aforementioned story that many people and businesses will be affected by what is taking place. But let's be honest -- anytime changes are made to mass transportation, many people are going to feel the impact. 
Everyone who rides any of the routes that will be cut (or cutback) should have been making alternative plans for the past several weeks. What has taken place starting today should have surprised no one. (Full disclosure -- my bus route is facing neither cutbacks in service nor elimination.) 

However, there is another side to the "you-should-have-been-ready-for-this" storyline -- there are many people who have no alternative to mass transportation. Some people don't own a car. Others do, but they cannot afford to drive into downtown, where monthly parking spaces can be had for about $300. If you had gas prices and normal wear-and-tear on a car, let's estimate that it would cost $500 each month to drive into the city. By comparison, a monthly bus pass is $80.
 
The Port Authority's finances are a mess. I'll defer to those who understand labor laws and contracts to explain why that is. But if we accept that structural changes had to be made in order to prevent a more dire financial picture, then what is taking place in Pittsburgh is necessary, overdue and an acknowledgment that the Port Authority is saying years of agreeing to unwise contracts are over. 

Or is it? Is it possible that the Port Authority is interested in union busting (a charge being heard across the country these days principally against various state governments) and using fears of a complete shutdown to achieve its aims?
 
I know where my liberal and conservative friends fall on that issue. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Checkin' out Chapman

The Western media's fascination about (lusting over?) expelled Russian spy Anna Chapman shows no sign of letting up.

This time, the Guardian provides the (oh-so) important update as to what Ms. Chapman is doing now that she's back in Russia.
Chapman has also been made the face of the ruling United Russia party's youth movement and has been tipped to win a seat in parliament in upcoming elections. On top of all this, she has registered her surname as a trademark; has brought out a poker app and a slew of Chapman-own products, including perfume, watches and vodka, is expected to hit the shops soon. The 29-year-old provincial Russian also has a Max Clifford-type agent to handle "commercial projects", which include highly paid interviews and photo shoots.
The irony is, of course, that Anna Chapman is being rewarded for doing her job badly. Not only was she duped by the FBI into blowing her cover, but she apparently failed to turn up any useful information for Moscow.
But that's unimportant when Russia's prime minister approves (ahem) of you. In the same Guardian story, the newspaper reports:
It wasn't hard to predict that only good things awaited Chapman once she was safely back in Russia. The country's all-powerful premier, Vladimir Putin, had said that Chapman and her former comrades would "work in worthy places" and have "bright, interesting lives".
"Every single one of these people has gone through a difficult time… in the interests of their homeland," said Putin, the ex-KGB officer. And while a number of her former colleagues have reportedly been rewarded with cushy posts at state-run companies, it is Chapman's star that has risen by far the highest.
Chapman will have the chance to inspire (ahem) Russia's youth; she is expected to be named to a prominent position within the Young Guards, a group created by the right-leaning United Russia party.

To learn more about Chapman's political and other interests, you can visit her Russian-language Website. My guess is it won't be long before the site has an English language link.

Congratulations, Gary Johnson

Who?

Gary Johnson?

Who?

Hey, stop that.

Johnson is a former New Mexico governor who appears ready to announce a presidential bid. As Politico reports:
A libertarian-leaning Republican who supports gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana, Johnson occupies much of the same political space as Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who run in 2008 and is considering another bid. Starting a campaign in April could provide such backdrops as the April 15 tax day and the annual April 20 pushes for legalizing marijuana.
FOX News, which initially reported Johnson's intention, adds:
When asked in a wide ranging interview with Fox News what he thinks is the most important issue facing America today, the answer is immediate, "I think it's the fact that we're bankrupt, that we're borrowing 43 cents out of every dollar that we're spending."
When asked what other issues he thinks are most important, the answer is pretty much the same. "I am in the camp that believes that we are on the verge of an imminent financial collapse. The only thing that government could do and should do in my opinion would be to balance the budget. That would really send an unbelievable message that we as Americans understand that you can't continue to spend more money than what you take in."
Johnson will struggle to generate media attention, presuming that more high-profile names such as Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich enter the race. But that doesn't mean he has no chance to edge his way into the media conversation.

15 kids...8 adults...

...and one fun time in a television studio.

I hosted that group earlier today as the kids and adults took a tour of the Point Park University television studio. The kids represented two Girl Scout units and 4 Tiger cubs (and a few interested siblings).

They had a blast. And as the near 45-minute tour began to wind down, I was reminded again that children are society's greatest asset. They represent a better future. But we shouldn't get so caught up in what they might become that we forget what they are -- wide eyed with wonder, exuberant about many things they see and oh-so curious.

The kids grasped how the equipment worked -- they were especially fascinated with the switcher that is used in the studio. And of course they couldn't resist sitting on the news set. I wondered if (okay, yes, hoped that) one or two of the Scouts turned out to be my students in a few years.

That would be pretty cool.

RIP, Ms. Ferraro

The following comes from the New York Times:
Geraldine A. Ferraro, the former Queens congresswoman who in 1984 strode onto a podium to accept the Democratic nomination for vice president to take her place in American history as the first woman nominated for national office by a major party, died on Saturday at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. She was 75.

The cause was complications from multiple myeloma, a blood
cancer that she had battled for 12 years, her family said in a statement.

If you like Pittsburgh...

...then you might like this story.

If you don't, then this might open your eyes.

And no matter your opinion, you might learn something about this city.

If you like America the way it is...

...don't read this column. If you think America can and SHOULD do better...consider what Mr. Herbert is saying.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Katie (don't) bar the door

Memo to Katie Couric
From CBS News

If you want to leave, we won't stop you.

Dirty pool? A chilling effect? Legitimate request?

The Wisconsin Republican Party is playing politics with a tenured professor at the University of Wisconsin.

Or maybe not.

The GOP has filed a open-records request seeking the emails sent by the professor. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Cronon, a tenured professor of history, geography, and environmental studies, said the open-records request appeared intended to dig up evidence that he had violated a state law that bars public employees from using state resources, such as their work e-mail accounts, for partisan political purposes.
"I am absolutely confident that there is nothing in these e-mails that is inappropriate," said Mr. Cronon, who characterized himself as "a relentless centrist in my own politics" and scrupulous about not using his university e-mail account "for anything that might be questionable." But, Mr. Cronon said, he is urging the state GOP to withdraw the open-records request as a matter of principle because he believes its request "will have a chilling effect on the university" by giving faculty members reason to fear that any e-mail they send will be made public as a result of politically driven efforts by their critics to fish around for information that will discredit them.
The timing of the Republican Party's request is more than a little suspicious -- it came just days after Mr. Cronon used his blog (oh my God...he has a blog!!!) to question what was taking place in his state and just days before Mr. Cronon wrote an editorial in the New York Times (that liberal-loving newspaper!!!) examining the effort by Wisconsin's Republican governor to rollback collective bargaining rights and placing that effort in some historical context.

There is nothing in that blog post or editorial that can be considered demeaning to the GOP; there is no call for violent action, for example, and Cronon doesn't call for unethical actions.

But at least for some Wisconsin Republicans, Cronon went too far by simply opening his mouth (so to speak). 

Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel provides some additional details about the GOP's request:
The request was made by Stephan Thompson of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. In his request, Thompson asked for e-mails of Cronon's state e-mail account that "reference any of the following terms: Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell."
Most of the names are Republican legislators. Marty Beil is the head of the Wisconsin State Employees Union and Mary Bell is the head of the Wisconsin Education Association Council.
Cronon said the university had not yet complied with the open records request. The e-mails would be subject to the state's open records law because they were written on an university e-mail account.
The university has an e-mail policy that states, "University employees may not use these resources to support the nomination of any person for political office or to influence a vote in any election or referendum.”
Let's cut through the rhetoric. If Dr. Cronon did use his university email to discuss the collective bargaining issue, then some kind of sanction needs to be applied. The university will need to determine what that is based on how many abuses of the email rules are evident.

But let's also admit that what is taking place is dirty pool. Wisconsin's Republicans should be doing something far more important than worrying about emails that one university professor might be sending or receiving.

The cover up is worse than the crime

Watergate? Well, yes. But I'm referring to Ohio State's head football coach Jim Tressel, who, at the risk of being overly blunt, royally screwed up.

And as today's Columbus Dispatch reports, the coach not only was well aware that some of his players were selling their personal memorabilia (an NCAA violation), but he was letting other people know about it. His boss was not one of them.
Tressel forwarded the information to Ted Sarniak, a mentor to Terrelle Pryor, after the coach received emails warning that Pryor and at least one other player had sold memorabilia to a local tattoo-parlor owner who was under federal investigation for drug trafficking, multiple sources have confirmed to The Dispatch.
Sarniak, 67, is a prominent businessman in Pryor's hometown of Jeannette, Pa. He befriended the quarterback years ago and accompanied him on recruiting trips to Ohio State and other universities.
During a news conference on March 8 to announce NCAA ethics violations by Tressel, the coach said he kept the information to himself to protect the confidentiality of the federal investigation and for the safety of his players.
But Tressel also nodded his head and said "um-hmm" when asked whether he had forwarded the emails to anyone.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith quickly intervened to prevent Tressel from answering that question about the matter currently under investigation by the NCAA. The university suspended Tressel for the first five games of the coming football season and fined him $250,000 for failing to report the information to Ohio State officials or the NCAA, but the NCAA could accept or increase the penalties when it issues a final ruling.
Tressel has enjoyed a positive relationship with the too-often fawning Columbus and national sports media, but to say that they are protecting him at this point would be wrong. The man screwed up, his image is quickly reaching toxic levels and the question is being asked: Is it time for Tressel to either step down or be fired?

One Sporting News' columnist says yes (and I agree with him, for whatever my opinion is worth). Matt Hayes writes:
Because now that this latest revelation in Ohio State’s bungled infractions case has become college football’s Watergate, the next step is the end for coach Jim Tressel.

All that’s left for the most successful coach in Ohio State history is to stand in the beautiful rotunda of Ohio Stadium, underneath the stained glass murals of Buckeye heroes, under the cascading ceiling designed to look like the Pantheon, and humbly resign.
Or be fired.
Tressel's positive national image was built upon the myth -- now shattered -- that he was somehow better than the slimy figures that engage in unethical recruiting, protect their players when they get in trouble and care only about winning.

Now, we are seeing that Tressel was in fact more than willing to cover up something that in reality wasn't awful. Yes, the players sold memorabilia that belonged to them; I'm not dismissing what they did. But none of them is in trouble with the NCAA or the courts because they stand accused of beating up a fellow student, raping a co-ed or otherwise acting like a brute thug.

Tressel has turned this into Watergate. And much like President Nixon did, Tressel needs to acknowledge that his actions reflect his character and upon his ability to be viewed as a moral and ethical leader.

It's time for him to go.

You won't be allowed to see your hometown for 5 years

Imagine hearing those words. At least one Russian scientist believes that's the message the Japanese government will need to deliver to the people who lived near the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant.

Meanwhile, the potential breach of one of the reactors is a growing possibility, and it clearly worries Japanese officials who also say that the workers attempting to fix the various on-site problems might have been exposed to radiation at 10,000 times the healthy level.

It will be worth watching what happens over the next few hours (and that's not to suggest that what has happened over the past two weeks was unimportant), as events once again appear to be ratcheting up in their intensity and uncertainty.

Stay on message!

The Republicans -- especially under the administrations of Reagan and W. Bush -- have demonstrated an almost fanatical desire to find and then stay on a message.

But what happens when there is uncertainty about the message?

You get ripped...by your political opponents and by the media (especially conservative commentators).

And as the Washington Post notes, that's the problem President Obama continues to face as he attempts to outline America's purpose in Libya.
With the potential for prolonged conflict, calls are growing louder on Capitol Hill and elsewhere for a fuller explanation of precisely what the United States hopes to achieve and how it intends to achieve it.
Administration officials say they have done that — through the president’s public remarks made during his trip to Latin America, including in an interview with Univision television; in briefings by top aides with reporters; and in meetings with congressional leaders.
But part of the confusion comes from the fact that the administration has shifted over the past weeks — from resisting military action, to leading the first assault, to positioning itself to hand over control to its partners. That seems to have left almost no one satisfied.
Mind you, in a separate story, the Post also notes that many Republican presidential contenders appear to also not be able to state clearly what they would have done in this situation.

The assault on Col. Moammar Qaddafi's forces continue today, and Qaddafi appears as defiant as ever. And that's part of the problem facing this White House: How should it deal with a tyrant determined to use rhetoric, force and guts to simply outlast the missiles being fired upon his stronghold areas?

So far that answer is not been clearly stated.

An expanded evacuation zone

Japanese officials have expanded -- repeat, expanded -- the mandatory evacuation zone around the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant.

As the Los Angeles Times notes:
Residents living within 12 miles of the plant have been evacuated, yet those living between 12 and 18 miles of the facility have been told it is safe to remain as long as they stay indoors. But two weeks after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck the country and hobbled the plant, causing radiation to leak, the situation has yet to be resolved.

"It has become increasingly difficult for goods to arrive, and life has become harder," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said at a news conference. He called upon local governments in the zone near the plant to promote evacuations. It was not immediately clear how many people remained within 18 miles of the plant.
The more troubling reality is more fully highlighted in this New York Times story:
Japan’s effort to contain the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered a setback, an official said on Friday,  citing evidence that the reactor vessel of the No. 3 unit may have been damaged. 

The development, described at a news conference by Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director-general of the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, raises the possibility that radiation from the mox fuel in the reactor — a combination of uranium and plutonium — could be released. 
For a reflection on what the past two weeks have done to the psyche of the Japanese people, consider this report from the New Yorker.

I lived in southern California for 20 years, so I am aware how difficult it can be to assist the people in recovering from powerful earthquakes. But the Japanese government has the dual problem of trying to put its people's lives back together while trying to contain a dangerous and invisible enemy -- radiation.

You might recall one official suggesting in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that the country was facing its most potent conflict since World War II. Anyone who thought he was simply engaging in hyperbole ought to reconsider that.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hey, Pittsburgh...it might be time for us to stop picking on Cleveland

If you live in Pittsburgh, then you know how much fun it is to criticize Cleveland.

For those who don't live here, just trust me; there are few things Pittsburghers like more than ripping Clevelanders.

But maybe, just maybe, Cleveland has come up with something that we in Pittsburgh ought to copy. Technorati picks up the story, noting that:
The Cleveland Indians are not breaking many attractive records as of late but they are however number one in something. They are the first team in any major sport to develop a social media only section in their home park Progressive Field. The section, which was located in left field last year, is now being moved to the suite boxes for the 2011 season and has been named Indians Social Suite.

Fans who participate on social media sites will be invited to the suites on a game by game basis. Fans need to fill out an application in order to get a chance to attend. The Indians are also inviting bloggers to the suite who at times tend to bash the team in their websites.
The team is (obviously) touting its social networking plans on its Web site. It states:
This season, the club will dedicate an entire suite at Progressive Field for social media users. The "Indians Social Suite" replaced the "Tribe Social Deck" that was created last year. Invitations to the Social Suite are given out on a game-by-game basis, but fans can apply at indians.com/connect.
Also new is a social media ticket offer for the upcoming season. Through either Facebook or Twitter, fans will have the chance to share the ticket special through social media to receive a discount. More information will be available on the team's Facebook and Twitter sites.
Will I sign up? Hey, come on, I love social media, but Cleveland? (And my Ohio friends know I'm kidding. I think.) Now, if the Pirates were to start something like this...hey, I'd be there!

Das Vidyana, Moscow

Perhaps it's a sign that Russia -- no matter how dictatorial it might be -- is not the Soviet Union.

Perhaps it's a sign that the BBC refuses to be "business as usual."

Perhaps it's both.

Regardless, an era in radio broadcasting comes to an end on Friday when the BBC shutters its Russian-language service. As the Moscow Times reports,
Public and media figures contacted by The Moscow Times were unanimous in their disappointment over the closure, praising the BBC Russian Service for its balanced coverage, lack of preaching and willingness to go beyond propaganda. 

"I can't advise the British government on how it should spend its money, but this is a sad thing," Leonid Gozman, co-chairman of the pro-business Right Cause party, said by telephone. 

"Now we are able to listen to variety of radio stations, but possibly a day will come when we would again have to turn to foreign radio stations for the truth," Gozman said. 

Still, the closure was not entirely unexpected after the Russian BBC left the FM broadcast band in 2007, switching to middle waves and losing a chunk of its audience in the process.
The BBC offered its analysis of how effectively it reported on Russia and the former Soviet Union. It suggested:

The BBC's Russian radio programmes evolved over time, but it was the opening up of the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of perestroika and glasnost that provided a massive leap forward. Mr Gorbachev said he had been a long-term listener.
Suddenly, there was access to interviews and opinions from Russia itself.
Many of the Russian Service's presenters were household names in Russia and the countries once part of the USSR. In particular, Seva Novgorodtsev, who was one of the Soviet Union's first rock DJs and who opened up the western music scene to Russian listeners, remains a much-loved media personality in Russia.
The service recently celebrated his 70th birthday with a memorable evening hosted by him in St Petersburg. It attracted a great deal of local media attention.
In its heyday, the Russian Service provided a full range of news and current affairs, analysis, musical, medical, scientific, cultural and religious programmes.
Das vidyana.

Hey, Pittsburgh...

...here's a familiar story.

The Los Angeles Times sent this alert late this afternoon:
The Board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted today to make sweeping cuts to bus service in the largest overhaul of the system in more than a decade.

Plans call for nine routes to be eliminated in June and 11 scaled back. In addition, there will be a 12% reduction in overall bus service. The cuts will increase the number of passengers on individual buses.
 
Protesters outside Metro offices and inside the boardroom today decried the cuts as an assault on those with low incomes and said people of color will be disproportionately affected by the reduction in services.
For what it's worth, when I was in Los Angeles last week I read a story or two about the potential for bus cuts. The information I gathered suggest that the city's light-rail/Metro system had been growing in popularity and cutting into the number of bus riders. 

Does everyone from Minnesota...

...want to be the next President of the United States?

On the heels of former governor Tim Pawlenty's decision to form an exploratory presidential committee (which is the fancy and official way of saying "I am running for president") comes a CNN report indicating Rep. Michele Bachmann is prepared to do the same.

The report notes:
"She's been telling everyone early summer," the source told CNN regarding Bachmann's planned June filing and announcement. But the source said that nothing is static.

"If you [debate sponsors] come to us and say, 'To be in our debates, you have to have an exploratory committee,' then we'll say, 'Okay, fine...I'll go file the forms.'"
Three GOP presidential primary debates are planned before and during early June: The first one on May 2 at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California and another on May 5 in South Carolina. CNN plans a GOP presidential primary debate in New Hampshire in early June.
Meanwhile, CNN has also learned that Iowa Republican state Sen. Kent Sorenson will likely be hired to be Bachmann's political director for the state - and that Bachmann aides hope to have a complete team together for Iowa by this weekend.
Bachmann would need a good showing in Iowa to demonstrate that she's more than just a vitriol-lobbying representative. And the Los Angeles Times notes in this story that she would have two items working in her favor:
Bachmann, founder of the House "tea party" caucus, could be a formidable candidate in the Hawkeye State, whose caucuses are traditionally dominated by social conservatives. She is an Iowa native, something she's played up as she has teased a potential campaign.
By offering less-than-subtle hints about her political plans now, Bachmann might be attempting to stake out territory on which another Tea Party favorite wants to tread. You'll remember just yesterday there was talk of Kentucky senator Rand Paul considering whether to throw his name into the presidential race.

All of this is a good sign, in my opinion, regardless of what you think of any of the Republican presidential aspirants. The "I don't want to be first" hesitancy is rapidly disappearing, and that means it is time for the men and women who are serious about running to step forward and do it.

You can learn more about Bachmann's decision on her Facebook page.

27,000

Japanese officials now say the number of dead and missing is 27,000 after that terrible earthquake and tsunami that struck two weeks ago. (For some stunning before-and-after pictures, consider this photo spread published today by The Guardian.)

The government announced today that two workers at the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant have been exposed to radiation; they have been hospitalized.

The international discussion about the safety of nuclear power plants continues, but the daily drumbeat of sad news from Japan continues to grab the media headlines. One can expect (unfortunately) that will continue.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Am I still confident...

...that Philadelphia will beat Boston and win the 2011 World Series?

That was my prediction on the eve of the start of spring training. Now with spring training winding down, it's time to offer my final 2011 Major League Baseball predictions:

AL WEST:
Texas -- no reason to pick against them
Oakland -- starters could dominate, but after that...lots of questions
Los Angeles -- if the Angels are close in July, a major trade could kick them over the top
Seattle -- getting better

AL CENTRAL:
Chicago -- the least-flawed team in an otherwise boring division
Minnesota -- if Morneau's concussion remains an issue, forget it
Detroit -- did this city really lose 25 percent of its population over 10 years?
Cleveland -- bland, but better than the Cavs
Kansas City -- lots of young talent here but no guarantee that it will coalesce into anything

AL EAST:
Boston -- this could be the worst professional team in this city; mull over that one
New York -- starters 3 through 5 are something like 298 years old, or so it seems
Toronto -- my favorite team probably needs one more year
Tampa Bay -- Joe Madden is a better manager than you think
Baltimore -- could finish second in the AL Central

NL WEST:
Colorado -- will score a lot of runs
San Francisco -- second best starting pitching staff in the majors, but after that...keep your fingers crossed
Los Angeles -- remains hamstrung by an ownership mess
San Diego -- might be better than the Dodgers when it's all said and done
Arizona -- the 10th year World Series championship anniversary is upon us

NL CENTRAL:
Milwaukee -- might as well move to Las Vegas; no one team has stakes as high as this one
St. Louis -- will somehow patch together a winning season, and in this division that could be good enough
Cincinnati -- still hasn't convinced me that it is more than a good team in a bad division
Chicago -- Wrigley will again be full and the World Series flag will again go somewhere else
Houston -- we have a problem
Pittsburgh -- we still have a problem

NL EAST:
Philadelphia -- Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels, then pray for rain
Atlanta -- we know the manager this year won't be tossed as often as the one last year
New York -- makes the Dodgers' ownership situation seem boring
Florida -- just wait for the new stadium (yeah, right)
Washington -- spent buckets of money in free agency and will again finish last

AL WILD CARD PLAYOFFS:
New York over Texas
Boston over Chicago

NL WILD CARD PLAYOFFS:
Philadelphia over Milwaukee
Colorado over Atlanta

AL CHAMPIONSHIP:
Boston over New York

NL CHAMPIONSHIP:
Philadelphia over Colorado

WORLD SERIES:
Philadelphia over Boston

Rand Paul...presidential candidate?

You laugh? I wouldn't, if I were you.

Rand Paul, in your mind, is the junior senator from Kentucky. But he has credentials that make him a Tea Party favorite. And as Salon notes,
Rand Paul was in South Carolina on Monday and will soon make appearances in Iowa and New Hampshire. On Monday he told reporters that "the only decision I've made is I won't run against my dad. I want the Tea Party to have an influence over who the nominee is in 2012." 
The story continues:
In a crowded field likely to underwhelm the GOP base, it's not hard to imagine Paul --  with his brash style and message of absolute ideological purity -- standing out in debates and winning over more Republican voters than his father, who still struggles with basic television skills. The best case scenario for Paul would probably be replicating what Pat Buchanan achieved in 1996: a surprisingly strong showing in Iowa (he nabbed 23 percent, good for second place), followed by a startling win (with just 29 percent of the vote) in New Hampshire -- at which point a panicked GOP establishment rallied around the strongest non-Buchanan candidate (Bob Dole) and denied him the nomination.
Paul -- and any other interested presidential candidate -- are almost certain to announce their plans in the next two months, and Paul will be visiting Iowa and New Hampshire in the next few days. He was in South Carolina yesterday.

Paul will further endear himself to Republicans and Tea Party members next week should he, as he says he will, criticize President Obama for how he's handled the attacks on Libya. 

At least for now, that might not matter to non-Republicans. A recent poll from the Pew Center suggests that in any 2012 presidential match-up, President Obama would win re-election.That means at least for now that Mr. Obama is still America's cup of tea.

Outrageous? Hidden?

I don't think so!

The Huffington Post has posted a story/informational graphic suggesting that college students spend more than $23,000 EVERY YEAR on hidden charges.

Baloney.

Read the chart carefully; there are no "hidden" or otherwise secret costs to attend college. Moreover, please note how many of these so-called "outrageous" charges have NOTHING to do with going to college. (What, only college students need food? Only college students have cellphones?)

Give me a break. This is a feeble attempt at something, and it fails miserably.

Student media ain't the same

Ah, the good ol' days -- say, 20 years ago -- are now gone. Probably for good.

For student media organizations, the new good ol' days involve a bit of self-promotion, a bit of social media, a bit of bit.ly, and, yes, a bit of old-fashioned reporting.

At USC (full disclosure -- this story particularly attracted my attention because that's where I earned my BA), that combination has been quite successful. As the Los Angeles Times notes:
They must be doing a few things right just west of the Harbor Freeway because, two years after its birth, Neon Tommy draws a larger audience than any other Web-only college news site. It ranks sixth among college outlets when thrown in with those that also produce print publications — such as the No. 1 Daily Bruin at UCLA and the No. 2 Harvard Crimson.
Wow, and I still remember tape-to-tape editing machines. 

Here's the dilemma

If the coalition that is attempting to undercut Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi really wants to do its job, then it has to ramp up (not dial down) its mission.

However, the apparent limited scope of what it wants to accomplish appears to have already been met (call me surprised, for what that's worth), but there is a general sense that nothing has really been accomplished. Yes, Qaddafi's opponents are speaking out again, but Qaddafi also remains defiant...and in charge.

For his part, President Obama says removing Qaddafi was not part of the (stated) mission, and he wants Americans and people from other countries to feel a sense of pride in what has been done. And the White House appears committed to handing over operational control of the mission to its coalition partners.

All well and good, but one needs to see only one or two reports from Libya to know that Qaddafi has not been neutered, and therefore the potential for him to (again) retard the West's attempts to oust (or kill) him remains high.

That's the dilemma -- at what point does the United Nations, the White House and/or other Western leaders say enough is enough and deliberately change the focus of the air strikes? And if it decides not to, then will the perception of success change?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The "everybody can live with him" candidate?

If he can show himself to be that, then former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty will be a significant player in his party's presidential nomination process.

As Politico notes in this story, Mr. Pawlenty won't be simply talking the talk when he references fiscal and social conservative views. It adds:
With a softer rhetorical style that he couples with strong pitches to each constituency of the conservative movement, Pawlenty doesn’t alienate any wing of the party and has some appeal to all of them. He’s addressed a recent Tea Party Patriots conference, rallied evangelical audiences in Iowa and attended small house parties in New Hampshire. ...

The biggest knock on Pawlenty, though, is that he’s an unexciting candidate—not nearly charismatic enough to win the nomination. One well-known Republican consultant, who didn’t want to speak on record because he’s still trying to decide who to work for, said he likes Pawlenty personally but isn’t sure he can break through as a candidate.
The New York Times suggests that desire to break through the expected soon-to-be logjam of candidates pushed Pawlenty to make his presidential bid on Monday. 
Mr. Pawlenty has been visiting early-voting states for months, recruiting contributors and courting activists who are influential in selecting the Republican nominee to challenge President Obama. He has struggled to break away from the party’s crowded field, so his announcement was intended to provide a head start raising money and building a campaign organization.
Granted, right now, Mr. Pawlenty lacks the name recognition of at least three other people who likely will join him as presidential wannabees -- Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. But he also lacks the baggage those men carry (married more than once, Kenya/Indonesia, perception of arrogance). So perhaps being boring won't be that bad.

Another state governor, another battle with...

...higher education.

This time, however, I think public sentiment will be on the side of the governor.

Ohio's governor, John Kasich, is proposing that full-time faculty at the state's public college and universities be required to teach one more class during a two-year period. As Inside Higher Ed notes, his plan is meeting with resistance from the faculty.
Faculty members have been wary of (and even hostile to) the idea. David Witt, professor of family and consumer sciences at the University of Akron and past president of the Ohio Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, assailed the plan’s underlying logic and referred to it as “a sequence of non sequiturs.”
Many accused Kasich of hypocrisy. “The governor and others have continuously talked about giving public institutions of higher education more ‘flexibility’ and ‘reliev[ing] them of regulations,' then they try to pass down mandates like this,” said Sara Kaminski, executive director of the Ohio Conference of the AAUP. “It appears that we have a situation on our hands where elected and appointed officials who know very little about the inner workings of higher education are trying to make significant reforms without even consulting the group that the changes primarily affect: professors.”
The same report outlines why the governor put forward the idea:
In his budget address last week, Governor John Kasich unveiled a plan that included a mandate that professors at public institutions teach one additional course every two years. While significant details remain undefined, the plan is meant to apply to all professors while also providing flexibility for administrators and controlling costs, said Connie Wehrkamp, Kasich’s deputy press secretary. She did not specify how much money the plan would save the state.

It would be left to the new chancellor of the University System of Ohio, Jim Petro, and the Board of Regents to work with colleges and universities to figure out the best way to implement the increased load. Wehrkamp noted that current workload levels result in colleges having to hire additional part-time instructors to cover gaps. The result is that universities spend more money to hire adjunct faculty while effectively denying students access to full-time professors, she said. “This change could reduce costs as well as improve students’ academic experiences,” she said in an e-mail.
One Ohio newspaper suggests tepid support or genuine concern define reaction to the governor's plan.

Some good news to report from...

...Japan.

The following comes from the Los Angeles Times:
Workers resumed trying to restore cooling systems Tuesday at the damaged Japanese nuclear power plant in Fukushima, a day after smoke from two reactors forced repair crews to evacuate.

Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said white smoke from the plant's No. 2 reactor could have been steam and a darker plume from the No. 3 reactor was debris that had been set on fire by the building's rising temperature, the Kyodo news agency reported. 
By midday, firefighters and Japanese Self-Defense Forces deemed the situation safe enough to return and continue spraying the building housing the No. 3 reactor, the only one of the plant's six that has yet to be connected power cables, Kyodo said.
There also appears to be some good news on the financial front. The Wall Street Journal reports that:
Japanese stocks surged more than 4%, boosted by signs that the nuclear crisis is moving into a more manageable phase.

The Nikkei 225 is now up 17% from its post-quake panic lows of last week. It still remains about 8% below its pre-quake levels.
Toshiba soared 13% today, leading a pack of recovering electronics companies. Financials also did well, with Mizuho rising and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial each rising about 8%.
As companies such as Toyota, Honda, Sony and Hitachi try to restart  production and the economy begins scrabbling back onto its feet, the big challenge facing the Japanese economy is energy and electricity.
In no way should these stories be interpreted as indicators of anything resembling "normal" having returned to Japan. But they do indicate that encouraging signs are available. Japan has a long way to go, and the world's assistance in the recovery must continue. But even a bit of positive news helps the psyche. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Qaddafi has a friend in...

...Beijing.

The evidence comes from Radio Free Asia, which suggests that:
Titled “Maverick Gadhafi,” the biographical piece ran more than two minutes on CCTV 4, the network’s international channel, on Sunday while China's official newspapers slammed the missile and air strikes by US, British and French forces as a violation of international rules and courting new turmoil in the Middle East.

The CCTV said that “With his independent characteristic trait, Gadhafi has made Libya attract more global attention than other African countries.”

It portrayed the Libyan leader as “leading a frugal life, who prefers mineral water and camel milk to any other drinks; a Bedouin tent to luxury residence; and riding a camel to a limousine.”
CCTV's criticism of the West was echoed by the People's Daily. On Monday, according to the English-language Website of CCTV, an editorial in the newspaper stated:
"The blood-soaked tempests that Iraq has undergone for eight years and the unspeakable suffering of its people are a mirror and a warning," said the commentary in the People's Daily.
"The military attacks on Libya are, following on the Afghan and Iraq wars, the third time that some countries have launched armed action against sovereign countries," it said.
"It should be seen that every time military means are used to address crises, that is a blow to the United Nations Charter and the rules of international relations."
The Washington Post notes that another Chinese newspaper also offered a sharp rebuke of the events in Libya. According to the Post, the Global Times suggested:
"The West will not give up their jurisdiction over justice and injustice," the Global Times editorial said. "They truly believe that they are the world's custodian and the embodiment of justice. The Jasmine Revolution actually deepens their sense of purpose, and the West cannot bear the prospect that their will might be negated by Gaddafi." 
Rhetoric? Obviously. And it comes on the heels of official Chinese government statements indicating that the Chinese are not satisfied with what has taken place in Libya, where innocent people, according to Libya's state-run media, dying and being injured as a result of the West's missile attacks.