Saturday, April 30, 2011

Qaddafi's son dead? (3x UPDATED AT BOTTOM)

Various media are reporting that a NATO airstrike has killed a son of Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi.

1st UPDATE: 6:52 p.m. EDT: If the news is true, there is terrible irony at work; it was just today that Col. Qaddafi called for new talks with NATO about the ongoing civil war in his country. Of course, Qaddafi insisted he would not leave Libya, and that demand likely would have been seen as a non-starter by the United Nations and the West.

2nd UPDATE: 7:13 p.m. EDT: The Associated Press provides additional details on the death of Qaddafi's son. What is perhaps most telling about this report is that the missile attack could have killed Qaddafi:
Qaddafii and his wife were in the Tripoli house of his 29-year-old son, Saif al-Arab Qaddafi, when it was hit by at least one missile fired by a NATO warplane, according to Livbyan spokesman Moussa Ibrahim.
The one-story house in a Tripoli residential neighborhood was heavily damaged.
Saif al-Arab Qaddafi was the sixth son of Qaddafi. He had spent much of his time in Germany in recent years.
3rd UPDATE: 7:31 p.m. EDT: The Washington Post has posted photos of the home that was hit by an airstrike.

You've got to love kids!

If something is coming at you, you're instinct is to do whatever it takes to protect yourself.

Perhaps you duck, jump to one side or another, or run in the other direction. When it is a baseball, you're going to instinctively do one thing -- reach out to catch it. And toward the end of a wonderful sunny Saturday youth baseball game, a dad -- who had been pitching to his son and his teammates (and that's part of the rules when 7-year-old boys and girls are playing) -- did just that.

By catching the ball, his instincts had won out over any other thought or feeling I...uh...he, yes, he...might have had at that moment. Of course, the dreaded "split-second later" moment then happens, and that dad suddenly thought, 'uh, oh, now why did I just do that?'

One mom, trying to fend off laughter, yelled, "Oh, come on, drop it!" Another -- the mother of the boy who had hit the ball -- playfully yelled, "Boo! Give the kid a do over!"

The boy happened to be the final batter for his team in that inning. (The rules allow for each kid to hit in each inning; so my catching the ball did not equate to out number three and the traditional end of the inning.) As he ran to his defensive position, I went up to him to apologize.

"Sorry," I said. "But if I didn't catch it, it would have hit me." (And it would have hit me...right...there, if you know what I mean.)

The boy has two older brothers, one of whom played youth baseball with my older son for one year. The boys have fantastic parents, and the kids are growing up to be fine young men. He looked at me, and without skipping a beat, said, "Oh, it would have been funny if it had."

You've got to love kids.

Вы бы лучше не фол в этом 50-летия космического полета Юрия Гагарина

You'd better not foul up in this 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first space flight.

If you do, Russia's prime minister is going to fire you. He has canned the nation's space agency head, as AFP reports, because
Russia in December suffered one its most embarrassing space failures in recent times when three navigation satellites for the new Russian Glonass system crashed into the ocean off Hawaii instead of reaching orbit.
Officials later admitted that a simple fuel miscalculation was to blame.
In February, Russia then put its new Geo-IK-2 military satellite into the wrong orbit, rendering it useless for defence purposes.
Reports have said that the last straw was when the latest manned launch for the International Space Station was delayed due to a technical problem just two weeks ahead of the Gagarin anniversary.
That anniversary was April 12 and as these pictures attest, it was a big deal in Russia. Meanwhile, the Telegraph reports that a new book throws into question just how successful Gagarin's mission was.

Quotas pour le football français ?

Quotas for French football?

At least one French media outlet reports that, "oui," the French football/soccer association is interested in a less black team. Mediapart reports that
Members of the French Football Federation's National Technical Board, including the France team coach Laurent Blanc, have secretly approved a quota selection process to reduce the number of young black players, and those of North African origin, emerging from the country's youth training centres as potential candidates for the national team....

Sources inside the French Football Federation (FFF), who have expressed outrage at the plan, have told Mediapart that a number of training centre directors were notified of the quota stipulations over recent weeks. Among the centres made aware of the quota plan is the French National Football Institute, the INF (Institut National du Football ), based at the Clairefontaine national training centre west of Paris. 
The British newspaper The Telegraph also has picked up on the story. In borrowing heavily from Mediapart's reporting, it states,
Senior figures within the French Football Federation, including the national coach, Laurent Blanc, backed plans for a 30 per cent limit for the number of non-white players once they reach 13 years of age, according to Mediapart, the investigative news website.
It cites sources inside the Federation as naming François Blaquart, the newly-appointed head of the Federation’s National Technical Board (DTN), as a key proponent of the alleged plan.
In February, shortly after his appointment, Mr Blaquart spoke of the necessity to “prioritise intelligence in the game with respect to the technical and, above all, athletic aspect.”
Mr Blanc is reported to have approved a selection process favouring young talent sharing “our culture, our history”.
It appears no one has yet denied the Mediapart report, though the French sports minister has promised an investigation. In a follow-up report, Mediapart notes that Chantal Jouanno is outraged by the potential for color-based decisions.
"It is unthinkable because it runs contrary of the history and spirit of the French Football federation" she told French TV news channel LCI late Thursday, adding; "It is above all contrary to the law and the constitution."
"It is fundamentally contrary to the spirit of sport because in sport, the only selection worth the name is, on the one hand, a player's sporting talent and, on the other,  their ethics and respect for the jersey," she continued. "It does not depend on their origins or skin colour."
Recognizing the recent burqa ban instituted by the French government, the news of a potential quota system for French football provides another distraction for France. On the other hand, it could be seen as yet another example of placating the nationalist movement that seems to be generating support in recent political polls.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Five important leadership positions...

...will simply have to go unfilled.

Not good. But that's expected to happen at Temple University, which is one of Pennsylvania's major public universities that could fall victim to Republican governor Tom Corbett's radical spending cuts. The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that delays in hiring five deans is part of a plan that also will include pay freezes and potential job losses.
"Given the difficult situation of the state budget, this will help us protect academic quality and student success, and the continued growth and development of the university," [university president Ann Weaver Hart] said.
The school has achieved academic improvements over the last decade, including raising its graduation rates by 44 percent.
Hart outlined the cuts in an e-mail message to faculty.
The hiring freeze exempts grant-funded posts, academic advisers, and fund-raising positions, [university spokesman Ray] Betzner said.
Restrictions on travel and a review to reduce the total number of administrative positions are also included. And dean searches for the schools of art, education, communication and theater, health professions, and social work will be delayed.
The governor has called for a 50 percent reduction in the amount of money the state gives to its institutions of higher education. In announcing how Temple will respond to that drastic funding cut, President Hart insisted that students will not bear the brunt of making up the difference. As the Patriot News notes
In a letter distributed to the campus community, Hart assured "one thing we do know is that we cannot make up for a reduction in our commonwealth appropriation solely through tuition increases."
She said a final recommendation for tuition for the 2011-12 academic year will not be sent until "we have examined every productive avenue for expense reduction and non-tuition revenue generation."
The delay in moving forward with the five deans searches will not likely generate as much attention as will any pay freezes or job cuts. However, they are important decisions that cannot be ignored. If you are part of higher education, you know the valuable role a dean serves in providing leadership for your academic unit. If you are not part of higher education, allow me to use a family as a metaphor.

A family is not whole when one of its members is not there. My family, for example, misses me terribly when I am at an academic convention or other professional event that takes me out of town. (And I feel the same -- I sometimes joke that being away from home is great except that missing your family stinks.)

Extending this example, imagine that a family was making plans to again make itself whole and all of a sudden an event takes place that ensures that absent member will remain away for a longer period of time. There is stress and anxiety, worry and fear.

Sure, a family of loved ones might not equate well with a family of professional colleagues, but I think you get the idea.

So, now Gov. Corbett's radical budget plan can be looked at not only as ensuring that college students will have a more difficult time completing their education but also as adding stress to the professional family.

For some, it will be au revoir; for others, who knows?

For a fantastic group of students in the School of Communication at Point Park University, graduation is now days away.

Commencement represents the end of their undergraduate academic experience, and I always wonder as graduation looms just how often I will see these young men and women whom I've gotten to know. Yes, a multitude of factors contribute in trying to figure out that answer.

If they remain (or return) to the Pittsburgh area, the chances are higher. If they wind up in a city in which I visit for a convention or for some personal reason, there's an increased chance of a short reunion. If they opt to pursue a career in the communications industry, the likelihood of running into them increases. And, yes, if we remain in touch through social media, the potential for a face-to-face meeting become more likely.

It is the unexpected meeting that I especially enjoy -- that moment when you don't anticipate seeing an old, familiar face and then do. That's not to say that the planned reunion is not enjoyable; rather, the "holy cow, look at you!" moment really makes you feel good.

Next Saturday marks the first time in the six years I've been at Point Park that I won't be attending the commencement ceremony. Beginning Monday, a group from the University of Presov, in Slovakia, will be visiting Point Park, and I'm part of the team that has been planning the academic and social events highlighting their schedule.

On May 7, I am joining them as we take a visit to the Amish region of western Pennsylvania. I'm very much looking forward to seeing my friends from Presov again, and yet it is odd knowing that I won't be with "my kids" at graduation.

As we move through finals week, I hope to catch a moment with as many of these graduating students as possible; they will give me a chance to extend my best wishes. But regardless of whether I get that chance, it will be curious to see how often we run into each other in the future.

I don't like the word "goodbye," and I try to never use it. I certainly won't use it over the next few days although I know that those days afford me the final chance to see some of these young men and women. But exactly for how many, I don't know.

Lockout!

On the day that Prince William and Kate Middleton's love was locked in, the National Football League learned that it can keep the players locked out.

As the Associated Press notes,

A federal appeals court in St. Louis late Friday granted the owners' request to temporarily put on hold U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson's ruling that lifted the lockout.

The order came only hours after teams opened their doors to players and some of the basic football operations began, and it came as the second round of the draft was under way. There was no immediate word from the NFL on whether the lockout would resume.
The irony of the players being locked out is that the second night of the NFL Draft continues. 

Well, it's about time

It's the closest thing that the U.S. has come to telling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop his assault on his people.

Reuters sent this "flash" tweet late today -- White House says Syria's "deplorable actions" warrant strong international response. A few minutes before that it noted in another tweet that White House calls on Syrian president Assad to 'change course now'.

Unfortunately, considering the previous tepid response from the White House to what has been happening in Syria, these statements -- released late on a Friday when the news cycle begins to slow down -- smack of "gee, we've been behind the curve on this one, haven't we?"

Further diluting the White House's comments is that the U.N. today failed to come up with a strong resolution condemning what President Assad's security forces have been doing. As the Christian Science Monitor notes,
The UN Human Rights Council approved a watered-down statement sponsored by the United States that condemns the military-on-civilian violence that has killed as many as 500 people, according to reports from Syrian rights organizations. The statement also calls on the UN’s top human-rights official to undertake an immediate investigation of the violence for violations of international law.
But the statement had to overcome a barrage of opposition from China, Russia, and some African countries that made it clear they were balking at following the same path the international community has taken against the regime of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. The statement squeaked by with 26 votes in favor from the 47-member body.
There are a few interpretations to the U.S. reaction to Syria
1. No two countries deserve the same response
2. Libya is more important to the U.S. than is Syria
3. The multiple video images emanating from Libya have overshadowed the fewer number of images from Syria, ensuring that a more prominent response is demanded
4. The West wants the removal of the Libyan leader more than it does the Syrian leader

Les français prennent les devants en Libye...

The French are indeed taking the lead in Libya, but the question is just how that leadership will be perceived.

As a NATO blog notes,
Yet it is dangerous to believe that the world has found in this new-model Coalition of the Willing the solution that it was seeking in today's increasingly chaotic post-American order. Neither France nor Britain – not to mention the European Union, which is more divided than ever when it comes to military interventions – can be seen as substitutes for the US. Despite Sarkozy's exceptional activism, they have neither the means nor, in reality, the will.
Confronted with the world's increasing complexity and the US's decreasing appetite for international responsibilities, the need for adequate rules – and for a referee to enforce them – is greater than ever. In the face of growing risks of global anarchy, the courageous but risky activism of France and Britain should not be seen as a substitute for an engaged US. But does such an engaged US still exist? The answer is probably ‘No'.
There are reports today that in its effort to turn the military and political tide against Libyan leader Col. Moammar Qaddafi that the French government has authorized so-called concrete bombs to be used.  will further rankle the tension between the French and the Libyans.

But the political mood between the French and Jordanians appears to be different. But throughout North Africa and the Middle East there is ambivalence at best toward France because of the recent burqa ban. As CNN reports,
The veil ban is a contentious issue for many, partly because of the broad overlap between the cultural and religious significances of Muslim head scarves.
There is no express mandate in the Quran for women to wear a veil, and there are a wide range of differing theological positions on the issue within contemporary Islamic thought. Still, many Muslims view wearing the veil as an integral expression of their faith.

Now, its SIU-Carbondale and Nevada-Reno

Another day, another set of examples of the stresses being placed on faculty at institutions across the country.

At Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, faculty are threatening to strike, but as the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, the university is attempting to reassure faculty that there is no need to do so.
Four unions representing employees of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale on Thursday announced plans to call strike votes, despite assurances from the campus’s chancellor that the employment terms being imposed on the faculty preserve existing tenure protections. Chancellor Rita Cheng argued in a statement issued Thursday that leaders of the SIUC Faculty Association, which represents most tenured and tenure-track faculty, are wrong to believe the contract the administration wishes to put into effect following an impasse in negotiations allows the campus to lay off tenured faculty members without declaring financial exigency.
Texas Tech University offers a slightly jumbled definition of "financial exigency." It suggests:
Financial exigency means that the financial position of the university as a whole, demonstrated by competent evidence, is such that the financial resources of the university, including all funding sources (specifically recognizing that all funds are not equally transferable for all uses), are insufficient to support existing academic programs to the extent that the university is unable to finance the full compensation of both all tenured faculty and all other faculty until the end of their appointment, including timely and proper notice.
In other words, financial exigency means a university is in deep financial trouble. And that might be the case at Nevada-Reno, where the faculty and the administration appear to be butting heads. As Inside Higher Ed notes,
Faculty members at Nevada’s eight colleges and universities are bristling at changes being proposed to the state’s code that they say will give administrators a freer hand in scuttling programs and in laying off faculty members -- even if they have tenure. ...

Under the proposed amendments, a review of the curriculum can be triggered by “adverse economic conditions.” That review can result in “a unit, program or curriculum” being eliminated, reduced in size or reorganized. And if that happens, the suggested new rules say, “then the faculty tenured in that area may be laid off.”
One reason that the new language alarms faculty members is that, by making "adverse economic conditions" a formal reason to prompt reviews of academic programs, it effectively injects financial considerations into curricular decisions, which are traditionally the exclusive domain of faculty.
Another is that “adverse financial conditions” is seen as a much lower threshold to cross than the commonly accepted standard for when tenured faculty can be dismissed, “financial exigency.”
The same article includes a link to a 2010 Inside Higher Ed report that acknowledges many public universities across the country have attempted in recent years to scale back the definition of financial exigency and to therefore be positioned to reduce faculty size. 

Credibility is perhaps the critical term here. If we believe that academic administrations are indeed acting in the best interests of the university by seeking to adjust faculty size and introducing the potential dismissal of tenured faculty, then we agree with what we are attempting to do.

However, if we see some other motive at work, then we are by necessity going to question these moves. I'm not close enough to any of these cases to be able to make a firm and convincing argument as to which scenario is more likely at work.

Nevertheless, the number of cases does require us to examine the relationship between academic administrators and faculty, and to determine whether that relationship somehow needs to be adjusted.
 

Is Donald Trump using the White House as...

...publicity for his television program?

If someone like yours truly were to ask that question, I'd be perceived as simply trying to garner attention for this blog. (Nope, I'd be seriously asking the question.) But when it's an MSNBC program host asking the question, perhaps more attention ought to be given to the premise.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A day of learning and celebrating

My day began with my boys at my school...and ended with me at my older one's. And in the middle I enjoyed seeing the work of "my kids."

Trust me, I'll explain.

Today was "Take Your Child to Work Day" and as you might have seen earlier the Moretti boys had the chance to spend several hours with me. My younger one enjoyed the opportunity to play in my office, while the older one spent time with various Point Park employees exploring and observing career options (which was a missing-class-today requirement).

My "work" day ended with me spending an hour at a student multimedia showcase, which showed off some of the work the School of Communication students (most of whom I call "my kids") completed during the academic year. I headed for home -- or so I thought -- a little after 8:00 when my wife called to let me know that our older son's "Curriculum in Action" night at his school was, in fact, on until 9:00.

He had already showed off his school to his mother and younger brother, but once he knew that I had the chance to also see his teachers and some of his work, he was waiting for me at the front door when I had parked the car.

In a 30-minute blitz, we hit six classes with six teachers and various assignments. For me, it was a bit of a blur. For him, hosting his parents was a big deal.

Yes, education needs to be celebrated and appreciated. Today on the elementary and higher education levels, my family had the chance to do that.

The wedding...and the beatification

Coincidence? Unusual planning? Twist of fate?

Call it what you wish, but, as CNN notes, there are two important events taking place in Europe over the next 72 hours that are again placing the British monarchy and the Catholic Church in the spotlight.

It's Take Your Child to Work Day!

And the Moretti boys are in the house!

More (negative) changes at America's colleges and universities

If you are a college student attending one of Louisiana's public colleges or universities, then your "major" options have been reduced.

By 100.

As the Baton Rouge Advocate reports,
More than 100 academic degree programs will be eliminated statewide for not graduating enough students, the Louisiana Board of Regents decided Wednesday.
Nearly 200 more academic programs will be consolidated or shaped into new programs, under the plan approved by the board that sets policy for the state’s public colleges and universities. Southern University has the most degree programs being directly terminated, with 13 degrees lost, including its Spanish and French bachelor’s degrees, the Regents determined.
Alongside other cuts at Grambling State University, no public historically black college in the state will offer a bachelor’s degree in a foreign language once the programs are phased out. That adds to other statewide reductions in foreign language degree offerings the past two years.
“The consequences are dire,” said Southern foreign languages professor Thomas Miller, who unsuccessfully argued, “We are in the process of turning the program around.”
Meanwhile, at two American universities you can take an introductory communications course that is taught by a non-profit organization. Now, it's not just any non-profit -- it's Poynter, which houses some of the best creative minds in the communication industry. Nevertheless, they are not full-time (or in most cases not even part-time/adjunct) educators.

Inside Higher Ed takes a closer look at this plan, and as you'll see from the following excerpt perhaps the biggest problem with this outsourcing idea becomes evident when you look at the role the faculty of the two institutions play:
Missouri State and Florida Atlantic Universities have agreed to let the Poynter Institute – a Florida-based nonprofit organization that focuses on non-credit journalism training for students and professionals – teach an introductory Journalism 101 course online for traditional credit at the two institutions.

While faculty members in the journalism department at Missouri State have generally been receptive to the program, professors in other disciplines have voiced objections to letting an outside entity create a course without the full faculty’s consent.
Margaret Weaver, a professor in Missouri State’s English department and a former chairwoman of the faculty senate, said the issue for some faculty members is whether the Poynter course, which is listed under the same number as the old course, circumvents the traditional process for course creation. “We don’t have anything in our curricular review process to handle current courses offered through a different system,” she said. “The concern is that we’ve turned over total control to people who are not employees of the university.”
She said the arrangement sets a bad precedent for the university to engage in outsourcing measures and undermines the Faculty Senate, which is responsible for regulating curricular changes.
"When you outsource classes like this, you lose a little control over the content," said Mark Paxton, a professor in the journalism department who opposes any broader outsourcing of courses without faculty consent. "If this happens on a larger scale, then what makes us any different than the University of Phoenix? What makes us unique is our faculty teaching courses."
And then in Texas, the governor is proposing a stripped-down, four-year baccalaureate degree. The Chronicle of Higher Education explores what that degree would entail:
Raymund A. Paredes, commissioner of higher education, said finding lower-cost strategies was crucial.

"Almost 50 percent of the students coming through the pipeline are low-income," he said, "and the current pattern of spiraling costs is going to make higher education inaccessible to them."
While the $10,000 ceiling may be ambitious, "I hope we've established that this isn't a crazy idea," he added during a break in the meeting.
Mr. Paredes said the low-cost degrees would not be for everyone and would not replace existing degrees. "We're talking about making sure we have a range of options for young people so they can select a path to a baccalaureate that makes the most sense to them," he said. "We in Texas should embrace the challenge and become a national leader."
Average tuition and fees at a public university in Texas last year was $6,483, for a four-year total $25,932, according to the coordinating board. That doesn't account for annual tuition and fee increases. With books, the total would probably top $30,000, the board members noted.
Students who spend their first two years at a community college before transferring to a university can, in some cases, complete four-year degrees for under $10,000, according to the board. Expanding those "2 plus 2" models could save money.
Universities could also trim costs by teaming up to offer statewide online degree programs in fields that are in high demand, the board suggested. Online courses could also incorporate open-source lecture videos or textbooks developed at other universities.
Times they are a changin' on college campuses all across the nation. But let's not forget to consider the impact of these decisions on current and future students. Not all ideas are bad, but not all ideas are good, either.

Tuscaloosa, today

The devastation in the South continues to be evaluated in the aftermath of a series of terrible storms and tornadoes. The estimated death toll in the region is at least 170.

Perhaps no city has been hit harder than Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where a tornado struck late yesterday afternoon. Reports this morning put the death toll stands at least 35.

The front page of the Tuscaloosa News tells just part of the story; what cannot be told adequately is the fear that gripped the community best known to most Americans as the home to the University of Alabama. These images, shot from a local television station's helicopter, provide additional evidence of the devastation the tornado left behind.

The U.S. economy slows down

The following comes from the New York Times:
The American economy slowed to a crawl in the first quarter, but economists are hopeful that the setback will be temporary.

Total output grew at an annual pace of 1.8 percent last
  quarter, the Commerce Department said Thursday, after having expanded at an annualized rate of 3.1 percent at the end of 2010. Most economists had forecast growth of 2 percent in the first quarter.

The slowdown was largely the result of a widening trade
  deficit, a larger decrease in federal government spending and higher commodity prices, which reduced the amount of pocket money that households and businesses had available to spend.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why Tuscaloosa matters to me (UPDATED AT BOTTOM)

As I watch the images of the tornado that struck Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and the devastation that has followed, I find myself thinking about the dozen or so people I know who live there.

Of course, they are faculty or staff at the University of Alabama, and they are people I know through personal and professional associations.

For an overwhelming number of people who don't know anything about or anyone in Tuscaloosa, the university is linked to its football program, and at least one home video shot today shows just how close the deadly cell came to hitting the historic stadium.

I sent several of them an email early this evening simply to let them know I hope they are a-ok. I've been to Tuscaloosa once, and it was only for a day or two, so I lack a solid knowledge of the city's layout. But I certainly see the people I know at least once a year.

Yes, tonight, Tuscaloosa and some of its great people are very much on my mind.

1st UPDATE: 9:07 p.m. EDT: It is important in times of crisis to separate the emotional response that we naturally feel and focus instead on what we know and still need to learn. The tornado that struck Tuscaloosa tonight was perhaps one-mile wide, according to multiple reports I've read.

AL.com is reporting that
ABC 33/40 meteorologist James Spann says the storm has caused "major, major damage" in some areas of the city and Mayor Walt Maddox told The Weather Channel that parts of the city were "obliterated."
The Tuscaloosa News offers eyewitness accounts in this report. And the University of Alabama's Website offers important information for its students, noting that
The Student Recreation Center is available to students whose off-campus residences are damaged. Counseling services will also be available.

Tuscaloosa, Alabama is... (5x UPDATED AT BOTTOM)

...recovering after a terrible tornado blew through late this afternoon.

The power of the tornado was delivered live on the area's television stations, and even those of us with limited knowledge of how these amazing and yet frightening natural phenomena happen could see that significant destruction would follow.

There are multiple examples (consider this picture, this picture, and this video) of the devastation the tornado left behind. The tornado is part of a series of storms that have battered the south and led to at least 12 deaths. In Tuscaloosa, the video of a child being rescued certainly will become one of the signatures images from today's events.

5th UPDATE: 9:50 p.m. EDT: The death toll in Tuscaloosa stands at 15, CBS News' Miles Doran states in this "tweet": Walt Maddox/Mayor of Tuscaloosa: 15 confirmed fatalities.

4th UPDATE: 9:43 p.m. EDT: The following "tweet" comes from Al Tompkins of Poynter: AP-100 admitted to emergency room at DCH Medical Center in Tuscaloosa, 3 pronounced dead. 

3rd UPDATE: 9:33 p.m. EDT: The Associated Press reports the death toll in Alabama and throughout the South has increased.
An emergency official says violent storms have killed 25 in Alabama, bringing the regional death toll to 37.
Emergency Management Agency spokesman Yasamie August says the people died in severe storms that raked the state on Wednesday.
2nd UPDATE: 9:18 p.m. EDT: For a live Twitter feed of what Tuscaloosa News journalists are seeing and covering, click here.

1st UPDATE: 8:54 p.m. EDT: The Tuscaloosa News reports that there are three confirmed deaths in the city as a result of today's tornado.

Nous ne pouvons pas vous

We can't afford you.

That's the newest line of reasoning being offered by the French government to explain why it can't accept any Tunisian migrants. As the Associated Press notes,
France cannot afford to take in waves of North African migrants looking for jobs, the head of President Nicolas Sarkozy's party argued Wednesday, as European neighbors spar over what to do with thousands of unemployed Tunisians who have arrived illegally on this border-free continent.
Paris police detained illegal migrants from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in roundups around the French capital on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to city hall. That angered charity groups who are trying to find them housing and keep them off the streets.
The BBC takes a look at the decision to arrest the migrants and reports:
The suspects, who include some Egyptians, Libyans and Algerians, were arrested for "breaking the residency laws", a police source said.
It's apparent to this observer (with limited knowledge of French politics and of President Sarkozy) that the government is using the migrants as political fodder -- an easy target to validate a get-tough attitude with outsiders in the lead up to next year's elections. With the recent success of Marine LePen and the far right, Mr. Sarkozy needs to strengthen his credentials with the public.

And hosting an international economic event is another way to do that. In fact, next month the French are the hosts of the G-8 Summit. The president wants to make a splash, and as Reuters reports,
French President Nicolas Sarkzoy said on Wednesday he would invite Internet business leaders to an end-May G8 summit to discuss regulation of the web and he called for more scope for governments to tax Internet firms.

Regulation of the Internet is one of the main topics of a May 26-27 meeting of G8 leaders to be held in the coastal resort of Deauville in northern France, which will also discuss economic aid to North African countries in the wake of this year's political upheavals.
"Ahead of the Deauville summit, on May 24-25, we will gather in Paris eminent representatives of the world of the Internet, who will participate in a G8 Forum to aid the discussions by heads of state and government," Sarkozy said, adding he would ask some of the business leaders to attend the summit itself.
This is a good platform for Mr. Sarkozy -- tough on those outsiders and pro-business. But is it legitimate or merely political grandstanding from a man who wants to keep his job?

Что значит для меня Сталин

What Stalin means to me...a question that appears never far from the minds of the Russian people.

The Moscow News, for example, takes a look at how Stalin is perceived in Russia, noting:
Teaching Russia’s recent history tends to get mired in controversy, and the staff at the chalkface find it a challenge to deal with a complex issue sensitively.
Olga Stepanova, a history teacher at a Moscow school said that she was bombarded with questions about Stalin long before the topic came up in class.
And with the era evoking conflicting family memories for many pupils it could become a potential flashpoint in class.
“There are children in the class whose families have nothing to do with it, and there are those whose ancestors were repressed as well as those whose forefathers took part in the repression,” she told The Moscow News. “We don’t want any scandals in the class room.”
However, Stepanova added that she personally found it hard to give a positive assessment of Stalin’s leadership, and hoped that her school was not contributing to the rise in Stalin’s popularity.
Meanwhile, the question of whether some form of mental illness can at least partially explain Stalin's actions is being addressed. The Independent suggests,
Newly released diaries from one of Joseph Stalin's personal doctors suggest that, in Stalin's case, illness could have helped to contribute to the paranoia and ruthlessness of his rule over the Soviet Union.

Alexander Myasnikov was one of the doctors called to Stalin's deathbed when the dictator fell ill in 1953, and, in diaries that have been kept secret up to now, he claims that Stalin suffered from a brain illness that could have impaired his decision-making.

Ah, those potential Republican presidential candidates...

...just can't stay out of the news.

Or, perhaps it's the other way around -- the news media can't stop placing those potential candidates in the news?

Though he appears to be more bluster than policy wonk, Donald Trump refuses to deny any speculation that he might run for president. If he does, he might have to explain why he gave considerable sums of money to multiple Democratic politicians. As the Washington Post notes,
The real estate mogul and “Celebrity Apprentice” host has made more than $1.3 million in donations over the years to candidates nationwide, with 54 percent of the money going to Democrats, according to a Washington Post analysis of state and federal disclosure records.
Recipients include Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), former Pennsylvania governor Edward G. Rendell, and Rahm Emanuel, a former aide to President Obama who received $50,000 from Trump during his recent run to become Chicago’s mayor, records show. Many of the contributions have been concentrated in New York, Florida and other states where Trump has substantial real estate and casino interests.
The donations provide another view into the odd political spectacle surrounding Trump, who may be the most unlikely of possible GOP presidential hopefuls in an already eclectic field. Although candidates such as Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty have spent years carefully crafting and plotting a White House run, the tycoon and fixture of the New York tabloids has leapt onto the scene with loud proclamations and surprisingly strong poll numbers among likely Republican voters.
And speaking of money, several media pundits, including ABC's George Stephanopoulos, are asking if Trump will now follow through on a promise he made to release his financial records if Barack Obama released his birth certificate.  

One of the more credible (and I think likable) presidential aspirants is Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas. Huckabee insists he's in no hurry to make a decision about a possible second run for the White House, and he also says that despite the rumors he is under no pressure from FOX News, where he is a program host, to make up his mind.

The Republican presidential field will clear itself up in a few weeks, but the need for the media to continue reporting each morsel of information about the men and women who might run does clog the news agenda. I'm not suggesting that these people aren't making news, but I am saying that making them news is a different item.

The fun of this political season is over

Oh, no! The White House did what it soooooooooooooooooo should not have done. It has released Barack Obama's birth certificate.

That means political pundits will now have to find a NEW controversy to discuss. Or, perhaps create one? They might even have to focus on REAL ISSUES! Or, they might have to take this birth certificate issue to the next level and suggest that what the White House released today is a fake.

The Obama administration has absolutely ruined this political season. The fun is now over. The ridiculous controversy over his status as a real American is perhaps now in the past. We might now be able to consider watching political analysts, hoping they will argue over issues that matter.

Oh, the horror of it all. Why?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Attention, sports fans:

Here's the deal -- let's assume that the most prestigious franchises in North American professional sports are the Canadiens (hockey), Yankees (baseball), Cowboys (football) and Celtics (basketball).
If you could have season tickets for life to just one of these teams, which would you pick? 
Since I asked, I'll go first -- les Canadiens.
Now, it's your turn. Vote!

Жириновский для президента?

Indeed, Zhirinovsky for president?

The outspoken and brash speaker of the Duma says he's going to run for president next year. As RIANovosti reports,
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the controversial leader of Russia's ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and the State Duma's deputy speaker, said on Tuesday he will run in the 2012 Russian presidential elections.
"We will definitely take part in the presidential elections because if a party does not take part in elections, it is weak," Zhirinovsky said.
The elections are expected to be won by either current president Dmitry Medvedev, or his forerunner and the current prime minister, Vladimir Putin. The two men are expected to reach an agreement in the near future on which of them will run.
Zhrinovsky's party expects him to come third in the run off after candidates from the ruling United Russia Party (Putin or Medvedev) and the Communist Party.
And speaking of Putin, he couldn't resist taking a jab at the Western coalition attempting to protect the Libyan people.

At the "Frontline" of technological change

An interesting story examining how one of PBS' signature programs is adapting to an ever-changing technological landscape.

If you are going to do the job...

...then you'd better do it right.

The problem when it comes to addressing and dealing with dictators is how do you know what is the right thing to do? Consider America's involvement in Iraq.

President George H. W. Bush continues to have hung around his neck the "you didn't finish the job and take out Saddam Hussein." At the same time, his son, President George W. Bush, continues to have hung around his neck the "you did take out Saddam Hussein, but you acted like a cowboy in doing so."

And that brings us to President Barack Obama. He faces at least three crisis -- and all within a small geographic area. He needs to demonstrate the proper attitude toward the potential rapid development of democracy in Egypt, but editorial writers are already suggesting that circumstances within Egypt are turning against those who are the most progressive thinkers.

He also needs to deal with a deteriorating situation in Libya. Here again, the media critics are saying loudly and clearly that there is a job to be done and the White House has to do it. However, the situation in Libya appears to have reached a kind of impasse and that has led to strains in the international coalition operating under a U.N.-sponsored resolution to protect Libya's citizens.

And now Syria is rapidly becoming the pre-eminent international crisis because of the vicious military response against the protesters demanding political reform. The political and humanitarian crisis is evident no matter where one looks, and the White House has to grapple with that two-pronged problem.

Yes, the momentum is on the side of the West and it is aided by people in at least three countries that appear to desperately want change. These people generally are young and they are aided by an international audience eager to see tyranny tossed to the ashcan of history.

So, if you are Barack Obama, you don't want to be George H. W. Bush and perceived as having failed to get the job done. And if you are Barack Obama, you don't want to be George W. Bush and perceived as having gotten the job done with a blinded-by-reality attitude. So, just how does Barack Obama do the right thing? And what is it, exactly?

Taking a bite out of Apple?

Multiple companies already have jumped into the "tablet" line, each attempting to take market share and prestige from Apple and its iPad.

The newest player might have the best chance. As the BBC reports, Sony is preparing a tablet.
The gadgets will use Google's Android operating system, according to the company's deputy president Kunimasa Suzuki.
Sales of tablet PCs have been booming globally, led by the success of Apple's iPad.
Sony has said it wants to become a leading player in the market.
The success of iPad has seen many consumer electronics companies, like Samsung and HTC, launch their own versions of the tablet PC in an effort to capture a share of the growing market.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ron Paul is moving closer to being a presidential candidate

The following alert was sent by Politico at 7:58 p.m. EDT:
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) will take a big step closer to a presidential bid, announcing Tuesday in Iowa that he will form an exploratory committee.
CBS News notes that Rep. Paul is preparing to make his third attempt at the White House. What makes his candidacy different this time is that he comes in with name recognition and the support of the Tea Party movement. In fact, as the National Journal reports,
This would seem to be an ideal year for Paul: Since the last election, the Republican Party has moved much closer to his view on deficit reduction, which made him an early tea party favorite. All of the party's top-tier presidential hopefuls are focusing on lowering debt, government spending, and tax rates, issues Paul has long advocated.
Rep. Paul will not begin his campaign as a GOP frontrunner; however, in this wide open Republican field and with strong support from the Tea Party, Paul could have staying power that cold propel him deep into the primary season.

Faible Amérique ? France forte ?

A weak America? A strong France?

Perhaps those terms are not appropriate, but they certainly are useful as discussion points for the France's decision to be among the nations calling for a U.N.-sponsored resolution condemning the Syrian government's decision to unleash its military on its people.

The French is one of many European governments asking for such a condemnation; while on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the White House is silent. In examining the European governments' choice, Bloomberg News notes,
The United Nations Security Council is being asked to condemn the Syrian government’s attacks on protesters against President Bashar al-Assad, Portugal’s ambassador said.
Britain, France, Germany and Portugal today circulated a draft statement that asks for restraint by all parties to the conflict and respect for human rights, and endorses Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon’s call for an investigation of the violence. It also notes Assad’s decision last week to lift the 48-year-old emergency law and abolish the Supreme State Security Court.
“The situation in Syria is extremely serious and it requires a very clear condemnation from the international community,” said Portugal’s ambassador to the UN, Jose Moraes Cabral. Noting that Ban and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, have condemned the Syrian government’s actions, Cabral said it was “time the Security Council also said something.”
Notably absent from the list of countries in that public request for a condemnation is the U.S., though it should be noted that the Obama administration is seeking additional sanctions against Syria.Among the media analyzing the administration's options is the Wall Street Journal, which notes:
Unilateral sanctions by Washington on Syrian officials wouldn't have much direct impact on Mr. Assad's inner circle, as most regime members have few holdings in the U.S. But countries in Europe, where the Assads are believed to have more substantial assets, will be pressured to follow Washington's lead, the officials involved in the discussions said.
The legal order is expected to be completed by the U.S. Treasury Department in the coming weeks, these officials said. The move indicates a hardening of the Obama administration's policy toward Mr. Assad, whose family has ruled the country for four decades.
If Mr. Obama imposes new sanctions on Syria, it will mark a break from his initial efforts of seeking rapprochement with Mr. Assad. Over the past two years, the U.S. has eased some of the financial penalties imposed on Damascus by the George W. Bush administration. And in January, Mr. Obama returned a U.S. ambassador to Syria for the first time in nearly six years.
Quite a comedown, if you ask me.

NFL lockout? What NFL lockout?

The following was sent by the New York Times at 6:11 p.m. EDT:
A federal judge gave professional football players a significant victory Monday, granting an injunction to stop the N.F.L.'s six-week lockout Monday. Judge Susan Richard Nelson of United States District Court did not stay her decision, sending the N.F.L scrambling to seek a stay from the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit to prevent the league from having to open for business immediately.

If the stay is not granted, the N.F.L. will have to put rules
in place allowing players to return to work and free agency to open within days, creating a flurry of activity similar to the normal operations of an off-season. Teams will be allowed to hold workouts with players, players will be permitted to meet with trainers to rehabilitate injuries and coaches to study game film.
The league almost immediately announced it will appeal the decision, which for now, according to the Associated Press, means,
The plaintiffs "have made a strong showing that allowing the League to continue their 'lockout' is presently inflicting, and will continue to inflict, irreparable harm upon them, particularly when weighed against the lack of any real injury that would be imposed on the NFL by issuing the preliminary injunction," [U.S. District Judge Susan Richard] Nelson wrote.
The NFL said it would ask Nelson to put her order on hold with a stay so it can pursue an expedited appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
"We believe that federal law bars injunctions in labor disputes," the league said. "We are confident that the Eighth Circuit will agree. But we also believe that this dispute will inevitably end with a collective bargaining agreement, which would be in the best interests of players, clubs and fans. We can reach a fair agreement only if we continue negotiations toward that goal."
Today's decision does not ensure that the 2011 NFL season will take place, but it certainly makes clearer to the owners that they will need a more concrete legal argument in order for their efforts to succeed. 

"Haley" no, I won't run

You can cross off the list of prospective Republican presidential candidates the governor of Mississippi. Politico sent out the following alert at 3:42 p.m. EDT:
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Monday that he won’t run for president in 2012.

“This has been a difficult, personal decision, and I am very grateful to my family for their total support of my going forward, had that been what I decided,” Barbour said in a statement.


“A candidate for president today is embracing a ten-year commitment to an all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else. His (or her) supporters expect and deserve no less than absolute fire in the belly from their candidate,” he added. “I cannot offer that with certainty, and total certainty is required.”

A Syria-ous problem is developing

The Syrian government is taking a page out of the "how-to-hold-onto-power manual" that other tyrants also have availed themselves of.

The Los Angeles Times reports that one city -- Dara -- is the location of the most recent efforts by the government to trample on its people.
Syria's leaders have ordered tanks to crush a popular uprising in the southern city of Dara, say residents of the city that started the five-week old peaceful popular revolt against the regime of President Bashar Assad.
The Associated Press added this morning (EDT) that the crackdown in Dara was deadly.
In a terrifying escalation of Syria's crackdown on dissent, thousands of soldiers backed by tanks poured Monday into the city where the uprising began, opening fire indiscriminately on civilians and killing at least 11 people, witnesses said. Knife-wielding security agents did house-to-house sweeps in what activists called a campaign to intimidate protesters.
Al Arabiya suggests the death toll is 25, and the assault on Dara included a simultaneous closing of Syria's border with Jordan.

The Obama administration is preparing new sanctions against the Syrian government, but it is leaving it to the European Union to push for any kind of Libya-style U.N. resolution that would allow for air strikes. The rather tame international response comes as no surprise to one journalist, who in the Huffington Post writes,
Despite the lifting of emergency rule, which remained in place for 48 years, Syrians are not taking his bait of vacuous reforms.

They have had enough. They have come out in hundreds of thousands and even bullets have not deterred them. Men, women, and children are rallying for democracy and basic rights. They are braving the worst crackdown by the repressive establishment. They have buried hundreds of people including mutilated bodies of children, who were shot mercilessly by the Assad thugs. Thousands are languishing in jails and secret detention centers, including a teenage female blogger. They know that they will have to fight till the fall of the Assad Empire. Nothing less is acceptable.
They also know that no one in the world would support them. They have to wage their battle on their own. Deafening silence is the apt word for describing the diplomatic reaction on the massacre that is being carried out by the Assad Empire. The "reformer," as Hillary Clinton has called him, is now out implementing his agenda of reforms: the most violent repression. Obama has given a lame statement urging the same dictator who is behind the carnage to show restraint. European Union has paid lip service to the cause of Syrians and many countries in the world have not even done that.
There is certainly something to think about here. Why did the West respond so forcefully to what took place in Egypt but was less forceful in fighting (so to speak) for Bahrain? And why was there a push from multiple quarters for a U.N.-sponsored resolution against Libya, but such an effort seems timid now?

Wanted: A Republican presidential candidate

Leave it to the Financial Times to set a rather grim forecast for the 2012 U.S. presidential election. In this report, the newspaper suggests:
At this rate, the US presidential election of 2012 promises to be a titanic struggle between a failed incumbent and an unelectable challenger.
Well, bully for you, then.

All kidding aside, the newspaper does have a point -- Mr. Obama is a wounded incumbent, facing disgruntled voters because of a sagging economy, a still-in-legal-limbo health plan and the perception of being a big-government advocate. But the Republicans appear unable to find the candidate who can beat him.

The list of likely or guaranteed candidates falls into one of two categories -- "unknown" (i.e. Tim Pawlenty) or tarnished (i.e. Mitt Romney). There are candidates out there who might run; one of them could be Indiana's Mitch Daniels. However, as the Washington Post states,
Daniels has looked to others to seize the issue of the country’s fiscal problems, hoping that would give him a good reason not to run. He has examined from various angles the question of whether he should run. Can he advocate as effectively for action on the debt problem if he does not become a candidate? Does the debate touched off by [Rep. Paul] Ryan’s plan and Obama’s response guarantee that the issue will be front and center in 2012 even without him? Will he set back the cause if he runs and does poorly?
One issue that could complicate the selection of a GOP candidate is that more independent voters are expected to become involved in voting in the various primaries. The Washington Post suggests:
That means Republican White House hopefuls who have been courting Republicans at party fundraising dinners and holding private meetings with tea party activists will have to branch out: beyond talking about things like the Declaration of Independence and conservative Republican talking points. They’ll also have to talk to New Hampshire independents.
“The discourse so far here in New Hampshire really mirrors the very conservative discourse we’re hearing with the tea party and among conservative elites around the country,” said political analyst Dean Spiliotes. “The question is, how much of that is going to appeal to independents?”
Independent voters in the “Live Free or Die” state are notorious for, well, being independent. And sometimes so much so that they’ve helped upend presidential primary contests.
In 2008, more chose to vote in the Democratic primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton than in the sleepier GOP contest between a slew of Republican contenders. Exit polls showed that 6 in 10 independents voted in the Democratic contest.
Although Obama won more independent votes, they contributed to the coalition Clinton stitched together to stage a comeback victory after a disastrous Iowa defeat.
Independents also were critical to Republican John McCain’s victory here, which set him on the path to winning the GOP nomination.
You know the mainstream media are looking for ANYTHING at this point that relates to a conversation about the 2012 presidential election. And as they do, you should remember that the good people of Iowa and New Hampshire will not host their caucuses (Iowa) or primary (New Hampshire) until January. In other words, the build up to the election continues, but there will be no significant moment for seven months.

They say patience is a virtue, but you know and I know that term has never applied to the news business.  

Katie Couric to abandon the CBS News anchor chair

The New York Times reports this morning that Ms. Couric will soon announce she will no longer be the anchor of the CBS Evening News. In its report, the newspaper states:
The meticulously arranged exit plan was described by four people with knowledge of it, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was not supposed to be revealed before the formal announcement.
Ms. Couric’s contract with CBS ends on June 4, and the network is said to want a month for a transition. Scott Pelley, a correspondent on “60 Minutes,” is expected to succeed Ms. Couric. A transition has been fodder for the media for most of a month, but Ms. Couric insisted as recently as April 13 that she had not decided about staying or going.
Ms. Couric batted away constant questions about her future during the recent publicity tour for her new book, “The Best Advice I Ever Got.” “I’m just in the middle of figuring it out,” she told Matt Lauer on her former show, “Today.” “I’m not in a position to discuss it at this point,” she told Barbara Walters on “The View.”

The assault on higher education...

...continues.

Let's set aside for a moment that states' governors are cutting to and perhaps into the bone as they attempt to trim horrible budget deficits. My opinion on cutting too deeply into education spending has been noted on this blog many times; yes, I'm biased on this issue -- I happen to think that education is rather important to our nation's future, but you are encouraged to disagree with me on that any time you want.

I'm not alone in feeling this way, of course. Consider this editorial that appeared in one Pennsylvania newspaper. The author is a graduate of one of this state's public universities. He notes that:  
When I attended Bloomsburg, the state provided much more funding than today. During my time there in the ’70s, there was another attempt to de-fund the schools, which meant that not only would tuition have to be raised, but faculty would have to be reduced. The plan then, as now, bred much consternation on the part of the faculty and the students.
Having a vested interest in the current events as a product of that system, my observation is that cutting funding to any of our public schools is a step backward in time, to a place where education was not affordable and people could not have the opportunity to improve their lot in life.
As I moved around the reception room that evening and as the old stories, the new stories and the current events were paraded around the stage of discourse, my mind turned to focus on the people with whom I was mingling. All the people in the room were graduates of Bloomsburg University, just one of the schools in the system. Many of the attendees never would have been able to obtain a college education had it not been for public funding. The attendees included educators, businessmen and women, government workers, accountants and former military members.
I noted that each of these people has made and continues to make a positive impact in their communities, their workplaces, their churches and their families. They all stayed in or returned to Pennsylvania. It’s hard not to wonder if they would have been as successful without their education.
Moving on, I'm increasingly interested and bothered by attempts (often successful) that individual or groups of colleges are making at changing the rules of tenure, which has been and should be sacrosanct. The latest example comes from the University of Michigan, which is moving closer to establishing a 10-year-to-tenure policy. As Inside Higher Ed reports,
The regents’ vote Thursday came as a blow to many faculty members in Ann Arbor, whose governing body, the Senate Assembly, in January voted nearly unanimously, 54-1, against the plan. “I think a lot of us are disappointed,” Edward Rothman, professor of statistics and chair of the assembly, told Inside Higher Ed. The faculty had wanted, he said, to take more time to examine the problem “carefully and numerically” and to explore options that were “consistent with a win-win atmosphere since we’re all part of the same university."
Despite the faculty resistance, Phil Hanlon, who serves as provost and as the Donald J. Lewis Professor of Mathematics, decided to move forward with proposing the measure to the regents after “much consultation and thought,” he wrote in a letter to faculty last week. “In seeking advice for this decision, I have consulted with the faculty in ways that are both broad-based and deep."
While acknowledging the opposition of the Senate Assembly, Hanlon said that other sources of faculty input were very much in favor of the change. These were reflected, he wrote, in the public comments that had been submitted to him and the dozens of informal conversations he’d had, as well as the advice from leaders of other committees on university and academic affairs, among other bodies.
The existing policy had been on the books since 1944.
Of course, the rolling-in-dough perception that people have about colleges and universities doesn't help. Now, I'll admit, there are some universities with endowments that ought to be classified as obscene -- those dollars, especially now, ought to be tapped in order to help current students meet their financial obligations to the university.

Nevertheless, the city of Boston is about to ask its many institutions to offer up more voluntary "in lieu of taxes" payments to the city. As the Boston Globe notes, other non-profits also are being asked to chip in. And why does the city want more money?
“We’re looking for fairness for Boston taxpayers and the nonprofits,’’ said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “This isn’t something we drew up on the back of an envelope. It’s something we put a lot of thought into.’’
The new revenue-raising plan — the first of its kind in the nation — is based on the estimated cost of providing basic city services, such as police and fire protection, snow removal, and emergency medical treatment, which account for roughly 25 percent of the city’s budget. And it is designed to gradually increase annual financial payments to the city by the major tax-exempt organizations from the $15 million they paid this year to $48 million over a five-year ramp-up period.
That is still significantly less than the $404 million nonprofits would pay if they were not tax-exempt. New assessments of the property owned by the city’s 40 largest major nonprofits show that its collective value is $13.6 billion, or the equivalent of more than half of the city’s commercial tax base, which is about $25 billion, according to Boston’s Assessing Department.
But support for the plan — the product of a mayoral task force that included representatives from nonprofits — appears mixed among the organizations being asked to pay.
Higher education (as is true of elementary and secondary education) provides an invaluable and often under-appreciated service to our communities. To see it under attack pains me. I hope it pains you, too. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The important news event this Friday will be...

...well, that does depend on what your definition of news is.

Of course, the mainstream, social and any other media you can think of are in a lather, attempting to get even the most minute of details about the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. I have no idea how much money the media -- especially those based in the United States and the United Kingdom -- are spending to cover this symbolic, but otherwise unimportant, event. In my opinion the money spent is largely wasted.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not some ingrate turned off by the civil institutions that define Western culture -- marriages, births, etc. provide us with important markers; they are moments to celebrate our shared humanity. Nevertheless, their news value is minimal.

I think the important news event on Friday will be the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Its captain is Mark Kelly, who's married to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who was shot during a public event in January. Today we learned that Ms. Giffords will be allowed to attend the launch -- the final one for the shuttle.

I doubt the media will be allowed anywhere near Ms. Giffords, and frankly they ought not be. Yes, she is a public figure and as such there is an expectation of being available to the media. However, she remains a patient who has taken only the initial steps in her recovery. She has many steps to take; nevertheless, her attendance at what might be the pinnacle moment in her husband's professional life offers an important sign that the evil intentions of a likely deranged young man cannot succeed.

Yes, his actions took the lives of more than one person. And, yes, his actions injured several people. But ultimately he didn't succeed.

On Friday, perhaps millions of Americans will wake up at 4:00 a.m. EDT to watch Prince William and Ms. Middleton exchange their vows. I won't be among them. Later that day a much smaller number will watch the shuttle begin its final mission. And while the most important onlooker will be the commander's wife, I'll be among those watching, thankful that she's with us.

Let's not forget about Egypt...

...as we talk about efforts to bring about political change.

With the U.S. involvement in Libya, the Yemeni president's announcement that he will step down, Syria perhaps on the verge of political implosion, it is easy to dismiss what already has happened in Egypt. And what still needs to take place.

Over the past couple days, there have been important reports about what is taking place in that country. Former president Hosni Mubarak remains under detention and he will soon be transported to a military hospital. As the Telegraph reports,
The move would be temporary until preparations are completed at a Cairo prison hospital for the former strongman, who is under detention in a Red Sea resort hospital on suspicion of involvement in the deaths of protesters.
The military hospital was not specified but security sources have said it was likely to be the International Medical Centre on the outskirts of Cairo.
Prosecutor Abdel Maguid Mahmud's office said a medical team he sent to the Sharm el-Sheikh hospital determined that Mr Mubarak was "in stable condition with medical treatment".
"Stable" might be the way to describe Mr. Mubarak's medical condition, but that word wouldn't be applicable if one were referring to Egyptian politics. In fact, as the Wall Street Journal suggests, Egypt is struggling to determine what direction it will take now that Mr. Mubarak's dictatorship is history.

In Tunisia and Egypt, where longtime rulers are gone, protest movements are fracturing over the question of what comes next. New political arrangements are coalescing, but they draw heavily from elements of the old regimes. Tunisia may have the best chance of producing a multi-party democracy, but it's far from clear it will be able to solve the deeper social problems that divide the country.

Religious and sectarian tensions, too, have surfaced, stalling movement toward representative government and open societies. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations are gaining influence, but their professed commitment to democracy remains untested. In Bahrain, the protests and government crackdowns have inflamed tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. The island kingdom has blamed Shiite-dominated Iran for much of the unrest and invited in forces from Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia, raising tensions across the entire Persian Gulf.
Egypt (and the entire region for that matter) will benefit from vibrant and independent media, as its transition continues. Recently, PBS' On the Media examined how the Egyptian people are getting their news and information in this period of uncertainty. Perhaps the most important excerpt is this one:
Today, Egypt's state-run outlets declare that they've thrown off the yoke of the dictator and plead for a chance to redeem themselves. They claim that the revolution has erased the red lines around such taboo topics as religious minorities, torture, sexual harassment, Mubarak's personal life and the military.

But human rights activists say one red line still remains, the one pertaining to the last remaining institution with unchecked power, the only one that matters, the military. In part, that's because the military stood with the protestors by refusing to defend Mubarak.
The major push to oust Mr. Mubarak began just 90 or so days ago, so anyone who thinks that a transition to democracy (or at least to rid 30 years of tyranny) will happen in a few short months is devoid of reality. Nevertheless, the decisions made now will set the foundation for what will come next. We would be wise to keep Egypt on our information radar. 

Go, Gabby, go!

The Arizona Republic provides an update on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who was shot in January during a public event in Tucson.

Yes, Ms. Giffords continues to make progress, and, yes, she still has many important steps still to take in her recovery. Nevertheless, to read about what she is able to say and do provides reassurance that she's going to make the most complete recovery possible.

Go, Gabby, go!

E-mailing is so passe

Good story from the Wall Street Journal examining how companies are now "talking" to their internal and external audiences.

Perhaps the most important portion of the report is this:
Many companies now have official Twitter handles and Facebook pages for their brands. But it helps set the tone and personality of a brand if the boss weighs in on the conversation personally, says Mark Silva, senior vice president of emerging platforms at marketing agency Anthem Worldwide. Among the most successful tweeting top executives, he says, are Virgin Group Ltd. Chairman Richard Branson, Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt and Zappos.com Inc. CEO Tony Hsieh.
Sherry Chris, CEO of Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate LLC, began tweeting in 2007. "I thought it would be much more authentic—although time consuming—to become engaged myself," she says.
Her company, a subsidiary of Parsippany, N.J.-based Realogy Corp., has a widely followed Twitter account maintained by a small team, but Ms. Chris's personal account, which has about 5,000 followers, focuses on broader industry issues and her own life. Recently, for example, she asked other agents to talk about their experiences with cash sales.
"I don't see myself as a celebrity," she says. "But it has to be somebody in a leadership position to be credible to entice people to start collaborating and sharing information."
While companies digest how they want to use Facebook and Twitter comes an important study suggesting that one of those social media opportunities is more popular than the other. The BizCoachBlog reports:
A new report from eMarketer finds that most adult Americans with Internet access use Facebook at least once a month, and a full 42.3% of the entire American population was using the site as of this month. By contrast, Twitter‘s penetration rate was much lower, sitting at around 7% of the total population and 9% of the Internet-using population, according to the report.
Keep in mind, we are discussing how companies communicate with their audiences. We are not referring to communication between individuals; nevertheless, there are important ideas in the two reports that should be evaluated no matter how widespread we are attempting to make our communication.

St. Louis slowly and surely...

...puts the pieces back together.

And there is perhaps no more symbolic important event than the re-opening of Lambert Field, the city's airport, to suggest the city is recovering from the terrible storms and a tornado that struck late Friday.

For a sense of how bad the storms were, consider that today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports the following:
The worst storm in the St. Louis area in more than 40 years cut a wide swath of destruction, especially in north St. Louis County.

"There's nothing to compare it to," Bridgeton Mayor Conrad Bowers said while surveying the damage that Friday night's storm left on his own street. "It's a disaster."
But there are also sighs of relief - no serious injuries, no deaths - with some wondering about a higher power at play. At Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, where rushing winds tossed cars and blew out windows, passenger jets are actually landing again.
And at the First Baptist Church of Ferguson - where dozens of windows were shattered, part of the roof was ripped off and two vans were overturned - cleanup volunteers pledged to move forward.
"We haven't missed an Easter since 1942," said Ken Bouas, the church's facilities manager, "and we're not going to miss this one."
That confidence was certainly put to the test Friday night. As CBS News notes,
CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports that witnesses in St. Louis to the storm say it was bedlam. Even though Lambert Field was under a tornado watch, no one expected a powerful tornado to barrel down a runway and slam into the historic airport.
Enormous windows shattered, sending glass flying into Lambert's main terminal. Surveillance video shows the time of impact with travelers and airport employees racing for cover to avoid flying debris.
Thankfully, there were no deaths and few injuries. 

Suspension de Schengen ?

Suspending Schengen?

It could happen, if the French government has its way.

Schengen is the 25-country border-free zone that allows anyone within it to move freely between any two of its nations. (If you've been to Europe recently, you've probably experienced it: You cleared customs once -- upon arriving on the Continent -- and then traveled on to another nation without the need to go through customs or a border check again.)

But in light of the recent spat between Italy and France about a group of Tunisian migrants, the French government is asking for a temporary halt in its use. As Reuters reports,
“It seems to us that we need to think about a mechanism that would allow us, when there is a systematic disruption at one of the EU’s external borders, to intervene with a temporary suspension for as long as the disruption lasts,” the source close to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office told Reuters on Friday.
Italy says 26,000 migrants fleeing violence in Libya and unrest in Tunisia and Egypt have arrived on its shores so far this year.
The same report notes:

The source said France now wanted to boost the treaty’s existing provision for suspending border-free travel for exceptional security reasons.
The Schengen area comprises 25 countries, 22 of them EU members. It has border controls on entering and leaving the area, but none on travel within it.
The treaty already allows member countries to temporarily reinstate border controls if deemed necessary for security reasons, such as big sporting events like the Olympic Games or to address temporary threats.
Ironically, the French are pushing for a halt to the enforcement of Schengen while seeking to add at least one more nation to its list of participating nations. AFP reported last week that:

France will help Romania meet conditions to join the visa-free Schengen zone, French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said Monday, adding he hoped tensions between the two will be surmounted.


"France wants to help Romania meet the entry criteria," Gueant said during a joint press conference with Romanian counterpart Traian Igas.


"We know that the authorites have made considerable efforts" in this respect, he said.