Thursday, January 25, 2007

International air travel Published January 25th in Metro Eireann

Republican Politics, American Style
By Charles Laffiteau

Let's talk about what it's like to be an American studying abroad and International air travel. I flew back to Dublin on January 12th and I guess you could say the trip was "interesting". I got to the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) airport at 1:30 for a 3:05pm flight. My flight to Chicago was delayed to 4:20 so I switched to the 2:05 flight so I wouldn't miss my American Airlines flight #92 non-stop to Dublin. NOT! I also found out American charges $110 for extra bags and only allows 2 checked bags for "free". Delta allows me to check 3 bags for free and only charges $100 for each additional bag. So $220 later I pulled away from the gate at 3:20pm and sat on the runway till 4:55 when they "turned the airport around" and found out my plane was on the wrong end of the runway. I finally took off at 5:30 and landed at O'Hare at 7:30. Did American hold the flight for me and at least 4 other Dublin bound passengers (that I met and know of)? Nope.

American then put all of us on Flight #46 to London Heathrow leaving at 8:05 (but delayed till 8:30pm) with a connecting flight to Dublin out of Heathrow on Aer Lingus at 12:15pm Saturday afternoon. American's last flight to Heathrow that evening had plenty of available seats (#98) but was scheduled out at 9:55pm. So we opted for the earlier flight and got on the plane at 8:00 but then proceeded to wait until 10:05 for late connecting passengers. I get it now. If there isn't another flight that night for your destination, then they won't hold your flight for you. But if there is another flight 2 hours later with plenty of available seats, then they hold the earlier one to wait for the connecting passengers. Makes perfect sense to me, how about you?

We pull away from the gate at 10:05 only to find out we're 13th in line for takeoff before finally departing from O'Hare at 10:40pm. Luckily (for me but not my fellow Dublin bound passengers), I knew from talking to reservations that there were 2 open Business class seats and asked the American gate agent if I could upgrade to one of them. She said she wasn't going to do any more upgrades for coach passengers because she didn't have time, just before I boarded the flight. After flying over 3 million miles in the past 20 years since I got out of high school, I sort of know the ropes of the airline system. Plus, I figured that I had already paid for that upgrade with my $220 charge for 2 "extra" bags. In fact, that is just about what it would have actually cost me to upgrade from coach as an American AAdvantage Lifetime Gold Million Miler. I just proceeded directly to one of those 2 seats ,(acting like it was actually my seat), stowed my 2 carry-on bags and prayed that no one with a boarding pass for that seat would get on for the next hour and a half. Either I was very lucky in choosing that particular seat or God must have taken pity on me, because an Asian gentleman got on an hour later and took the other business class seat, but no one ever came to take mine.

We land at Heathrow at 11:15am and I proceed from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1 for my 12:15 connecting flight on Aer Lingus. Those of you familiar with London's Heathrow airport know that this is a journey all by itself. When I finally arrive at Terminal 1 30 minutes later, I am told that only one carry-on bag is permitted on flights out of Heathrow, even if you are only a connecting passenger. Good information for even a seasoned air traveller, but a bit late for me to be finding out at this point in my journey home to Dublin. Did I actually say "home"? Hmmm, that's interesting, that I feel that way. At any rate, now I have to go back and wait for 30 minutes in line to clear British Customs and Immigration, so I can check one of my 2 carry-on bags. Needless to say, I miss my connecting flight on Aer Lingus and am re-scheduled to leave on a later flight at 2:10pm.

After a very turbulent flight home from London to Dublin, I go to baggage claim wondering what the odds are that all of my bags have also made it to Dublin with me. If you figured slim and none, you would be a winner. The carry-on bag I checked at Heathrow is there and so are the 2 smaller bags I had originally checked at DFW airport. But those 2 "extra" bags I paid $220 to check at DFW are nowhere to be found. I guess they figure if you're paying "extra" for these bags, then you won't mind waiting a couple of "extra" days to get them. Makes a certain amount of sense doesn't it? Anyway, after giving my baggage claim check numbers to the Aer Lingus baggage claim agent, she tells me they have located both bags. They are still in Chicago. Getting "extra" special handling I guess. If you're thinking this is the end of my story, guess again.

When I arrived home and opened my mobile traveller bag, it reeked of cologne. Inside I find 2 new, sealed and rather expensive bottles of cologne have been opened and then put back in the suitcase with the tops barely screwed back on. Almost half of the contents of each bottle were spilled inside the suitcase. I guess someone didn't like the smell of my dirty laundry and thought they would improve on the situation. I hope my story has an ending someday but as I write this, I have only recovered one of those 2 "extra" bags I paid to check. It was just delivered at noon on Sunday. The gentleman from Aer Lingus who delivered it didn't know anything about the identical companion bag that was supposedly found with it in Chicago. Want to take any bets on when or if I ever get that bag? I thought not.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Laffiteau Family History


Tarn-et-Garonne is a French department in the southwest of France.
The department was created on November 4, 1808 during the First French Empire by a decision of Napoleon I. It was formed out of territories belonging to neighboring areas. More than half of the territory was taken from the Lot (including Montauban and Moissac), over one-third was taken from Haute-Garonne (including Castelsarrasin), and the rest from the department of Lot-et-Garonne, Gers, and Aveyron.
The department of Tarn-et-Garonne constitutes part of the Midi-Pyrénées region. It borders the department of Lot, Aveyron, Tarn, Haute-Garonne, Gers, and Lot-et-Garonne.


Gironde is a department in the Aquitaine region situated in southwest France named after the Gironde Estuary.
Gironde is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on March 4, 1790. It was created from parts of the former provinces of Guyenne and Gascogne.
From 1793 to 1795, the name was changed to Bec-d'Ambès to avoid the association with the revolutionary party, the Girondins.
Gironde is part of the current region of Aquitaine and is surrounded by the departments of Landes, Lot-et-Garonne, Dordogne, Charente and Charente-Maritime and the Atlantic Ocean on the west. With 10,000 km², Gironde is the largest department of metropolitan France.
The region is well known for the Bordeaux wine it produces
It is also well known for the Côte d'Argent beach which is Europe's longest, and attracts many surfers to Lacanau each year


Lot-et-Garonne is a department in the southwest of France named after the Lot and Garonne rivers.
Lot-et-Garonne is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on March 4, 1790. It was created from part of the provinces of Guyenne and Gascogne. Some of the original southeastern cantons were separated from it in 1808 to form the department of Tarn-et-Garonne.
Lot-et-Garonne is part of the current region of Aquitaine and is surrounded by the departments of Lot, Tarn-et-Garonne, Gers, Landes, Gironde, and Dordogne.
Food-processing, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals are all major industries of the department.
The inhabitants of the department are called Lot-et-Garonnais.


Haute-Garonne is a department in the southwest of France named after the Garonne river.
Haute-Garonne is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on March 4, 1790. It was created from part of the former province of Languedoc.
Haute-Garonne is part of the current region of Midi-Pyrénées and is surrounded by the departments of Hautes-Pyrénées, Gers, Tarn-et-Garonne, Tarn, Aude, and Ariège. It also borders Spain in the south (province of Lleida and province of Huesca).
The department is crossed by the Garonne River for nearly 200 kilometers (125 miles). The extreme south of the department lies in the Pyrenees mountain range and is very mountainous. The highest elevation is the Peak of Perdiguère, at 3,222 meters (10,571 ft) above sea level.

A Brief History of the Laffiteau Family Name

Laffiteau is a variant form of Laffite or Laffitte, originally of two places in Lot-et- Garonne and Tarn-et-Garonne. Etienne de Lafitte, was born June 13th 1774 in south-east Gironde near the boundary stone marker for Lot-et-Garonne. Etienne and his brothers changed the spelling of their family name to Laffiteau to reflect their birthplace near the boundary marker for the new departments of Gironde and Lot-et-Garonne following the French Revolution, when the National Assembly created these departments as part of a new uniform justice.system in 1790. Etienne then became a volunteer soldier in the French army in 1791. He was promoted to sub-lieutenant in 1792 and his brother Pierre, subsequently moved to New York, in the United States of America in 1797.

Today, their descendants live in Bordeaux, the Mid-Pyrenees and near the village of Lalouret-Laffiteau in France, as well as in the southern United States. Etienne served as a squadron head under Napolean Bonaparte from 1811- 1814 and then after having his enoblement reconfirmed, under King Louis XVIII from 1814-1833. He was appointed a lieutenant colonel of dragoons and Chevalier of the Order of Saint-Louis by King Louis XVIII. Etienne subsequently named his son Stanislas, a name he took from the King’s given name of Louis Stanislas Xavier. Etienne Laffiteau died in the department of Marne on July 1st 1836.
The Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis ("ordre royal et militaire de Saint Louis") was a military Order of Chivalry founded on April 5, 1696 by Louis XIV and named after Saint Louis. It was intended as a reward for exceptional officers, and is notable as the first decoration that could be granted to non-nobles. It is roughly the ancestor of the Légion d'honneur, with which it shares the red ribbon.

Stanislas Laffiteau and his son, whom he named after his uncle Pierre, Peter Stanislas Laffiteau, emigrated to the United States in 1837, entering the US at Charleston, South Carolina.

Peter Stanislas Laffiteau moved to Jekyll Island Georgia and married the daughter of Charles DuBignon. They named their only son Charles Peter Laffiteau after her father. The family relocated to Tybee Island near Savannah Georgia after the Civil War and lived quietly with their small family.

Charles Peter Laffiteau later married a local Savannah woman who bore him one son they named Charles Augustus Laffiteau.

Charles Augustus Laffiteau Sr. married a woman from a prominent New Jersey family named Irene and had two children Charles Augustus Laffiteau Jr. and Helen Marie Laffiteau. Charles Sr. later died in 1932 of pnuemonia.

His son Charles Jr. later married a woman named Mary Eleanor Austin, a member of the prominent Manning family of Atlanta Georgia and they had 7 children, the oldest of which was named Charles Augustus Laffiteau III who resides in Dallas, Texas.

Laffiteau and DuBignon families and Jekyll Island

The ancestral family home of the Laffiteau and DuBignon families in the United States is the Dubignon Cottage on Jekyll Island Georgia.. John Eugene DuBignon, whose family had owned Jekyll Island from 1792 until 1886, had built a house there in 1884 to replace the original home made of tabby, a mixture of lime, water, sand and oyster shells. During the early days of the Jekyll Island Club, it housed the Club’s Superintendent and overflow guests. It was built in the stick style with Queen Anne details. It features a wrap around porch, a second floor porch, gabled roof, and is made of clapboard and batten. The cottage was moved from the Sans Souci site where J.P. Morgan built the first condominiums in the United States, to its current site in 1896. It is located on Old Plantation Road within the Jekyll Island Club Historic District at 171 Old Plantation Road Jekyll Island, GA 31527

The Jekyll Island Club

John Eugene DuBignon and his brother-in-law Newton Finney were the early developers of the Jekyll Island Club.
Between 1879 and 1885 the two men reacquired Jekyll with the idea of forming a hunting club for wealthy northerners. Finney lived in New York and had good connections to members of such institutions as the Union Club, and he developed the membership and early investors in the project. DuBignon handled the purchase of the island and in turn sold it to the newly incorporated Jekyll Island Club. Finney easily found fifty-three individuals willing to become members, among them Marshall Field, Henry Hyde, J. P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, and William K. Vanderbilt.

In 1886 Finney, as a representative of the newly formed Jekyll Island Club, purchased the island from the DuBignons for $125,000. Ground was broken on the clubhouse building in mid-August 1886, and the club officially opened its doors in January 1888. Between 1888 and 1928 these wealthy northern industrialists built their winter homes, or "cottages" as they called them. These cottages, which exemplify Victorian architecture, have been restored and are open to the public.

Because of the concentration of internationally prominent business leaders, Jekyll Island has been the scene of some important historical events:
AT&T president Theodore Vail placed the first transcontinental telephone call from Jekyll Island on January 25, 1915. Meetings that lead to the development of the Federal Reserve System were held in secret on Jekyll in 1910 between members of what became known as the First Name Club.
The First Name Club comprised six major players in the Federal Reserve: Senator Nelson Aldrich, A. Piatt Andrew (assistant secretary of the treasury and advisor to the National Monetary Commission), Henry P. Davison (partner in the firm of J. P. Morgan), Benjamin Strong (vice president of Banker's Trust Company), Frank Vanderlip (president of National City Bank), and Paul Warburg (partner in the banking firm of Kuhn, Loeb, and Company). Using assumed names, the men made their way to Jekyll posing as duck hunters, then spent approximately a week developing what became known as the Aldrich Plan, which was proposed to U.S. Congress in 1912. Congress did not pass the plan, but President Woodrow Wilson and others used the Aldrich Plan as the basis for another plan that became the Federal Reserve Act and established the Federal Reserve System, creating a central banking system for the United States.

The Jekyll Island Club flourished into the 1930s, but the Great Depression began to change many people's priorities. World War II (1941-45) was the final blow to the life of the Jekyll Island Club. It opened as usual for the 1942 season but closed early because of financial problems and the strain the war placed on the labor situation. The club's president hoped to reopen the club after the war, but in 1946 the state of Georgia entered the picture. The revenue commissioner, Melvin Thompson, wanted to purchase one of Georgia's barrier islands and open it to the public as a state park. Finally on October 7, 1947, the state purchased the entirety of Jekyll Island through a condemnation order for $675,000.

Jekyll Island State Park
Since 1950 Jekyll has operated under the auspices of the Jekyll Island Authority.
When Jekyll was purchased by the state of Georgia, it officially became the Jekyll Island State Park and was operated as part of the state parks system in 1948-49. Maintenance and operational costs were so great that the best way to operate the island was determined to be via a state-sponsored authority, so that the island could operate more like a business than as a department of state government. The state then chartered the Jekyll Island Authority for ninety-nine years (beginning in 1950) to manage the island on behalf of the state. The board of the Jekyll Island Authority is appointed by the governor.

The island has become renowned for the preservation of its natural and historic resources, and it provides public access to thousands of visitors annually. In 1972 the Jekyll Island Historic District including the DuBignon Cottage, The Jekyll Island Club and the Sans Souci condominiums was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1978 it was elevated to National Historic Landmark status. In 2002 archaeologists began to excavate the Horton House site, where the first Jekyll Island landowner, Major William Horton lived until his death in 1748, looking for evidence of other structures and artifacts. The original DuBignon-Laffiteau tabby house lies beneath the Sans Souci condominiums.

Friday, January 19, 2007

America's so called "War on Drugs"

Republican Politics American Style
Published January 18th in Metro Eireann By Chartles Laffiteau

Since I’ve noticed drug use in Ireland has been in the news lately, I want to bring up the 40 year old US led “War on Drugs” and give my own assessment of how it’s going and the way it’s being conducted.
I can describe how it’s going in six words: “It has been a complete failure.” My critique of the strategies, however, being used to conduct this war will take a few more words to describe.
Ever since the mid-1960’s, the US has attempted to stop illegal drug use by primarily using what economists would refer to as “supply side strategies.” By this I mean the US government has tried to stop the illegal use of drugs by interrupting the flow of drugs within the US, interdicting them at the border or ports of entry, or by eradicating them at the source.
Federal and state law enforcement authorities also try to catch drug dealers who distribute the drugs, disrupt their distribution networks and confiscate their property under Federal “Racketeering” statutes, which were originally enacted to help fight organized crime.
But when it comes to using “demand side strategies” to reduce the numbers of drug users who have created the market - and thus the demand - for illegal drugs, government efforts have been uneven and haphazard at best. The authorities routinely arrest otherwise law-abiding citizens for smoking pot or growing it for their own consumption and incarcerate drug addicts who are suffering from a disease which will cause them to re-offend after they are released from prison.
According to most economists, supply side strategies rarely work to reduce the availability of a particular product (in this case illegal drugs) because of a phenomenon called the “balloon effect”. When you attempt to stop development or production in one area, the production picks up somewhere else, so long as demand for the product remains steady.
History has shown that the “balloon effect” is an economic fact of life throughout the world. If demand exists for a product (any product, legal or illegal) then someone will figure out a way to supply that product and make a profit doing so.
Operating in a free market, capitalist oriented society, one would think that the US Government might understand this economic fact of life.
Indeed, some US officials have recognized the problem with their drug control strategies. In 1998, Dr. Ernest Drucker of the US Public Health Service said; “The current model of drug control relies primarily on law enforcement to seize drugs and imprison drug offenders. While these efforts have produced large numbers of arrests, incarcerations and seizures, drug overdose deaths have increased 540% since 1980 and drug-related problems have worsened.”
Let me cite a few examples which will illustrate my point. During the 1960’s growth in pot consumption in the United States and Europe triggered the development of large marijuana plantings in Mexico and Jamaica. Toward the end of that decade, the U.S. government promoted eradication programs in Mexico using Paraquat, a herbicide known to have harmful health effects, which drove away American consumers. This measure created strong incentives to find other marijuana growing sites, and the marijuana crop was then displaced to Colombia.
Colombia subsequently became a major supplier of marijuana imports to the United States in the 1970’s, until the US stepped up law enforcement efforts to stop the smuggling of this drug towards the end of that decade. In turn, Colombian smugglers turned their attention to another drug, one much easier to conceal, called cocaine. They used the same smuggling routes and tactics they had been using for marijuana along with a wider array of methods to disguise their contrband.
Since the demand for marijuana has remained fairly constant since the 70’s, new domestic sources of supply have developed.
Domestic growers in the US operate smaller, harder to detect indoor “gardens” or grow their crops on public lands in US national forests and parks. This domestic variety of “pot” is also more potent than Colombian and Mexican marijuana .
To quote the US Government’s own 2005 National Drug Threat Assessment: “the documented rise in marijuana potency is more a factor of the availability of and demand for better quality marijuana.”
So US drug policies drove the Colombian marijuana smugglers into the cocaine business and helped us to develop domestic sources to supply users with more potent marijuana.
My point here is that the drug war has not reduced the supply of drugs nor made them more costly to obtain. The market prices for illegal drugs follow the same laws of supply and demand that apply to all commodities.
The drug war merely creates an artificially high commodity price, and these huge profit margins have encouraged more drug producers to enter the market. Greater production also creates economies of scale.
So maybe we ought to try another approach. Strategies that are focused on reducing demand for alcohol and drugs are the only ones that have any chance of success in the “war on drugs”. To begin with we should at least decriminalize the sale of marijuana; this would free up law enforcement resources to tackle the more serious problems related to the use and abuse of other illegal drugs like cocaine, ecstasy and heroin. We should also devote more funds to education and treatment of drug addicts to prevent them from committing other crimes to support their habit, since mere incarceration hasn’t stopped them or reduced the problem. If we are truly interested in winning the “war on drugs” we must start treating the cause, - the consumer demand for illegal substances..

Monday, January 15, 2007

Republican Politics American Style

Republican Politics American Style
Published January 11th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

As we just marked the end of 2006 and the beginning of the new year 2007, I would first like to comment on the year end departures of John Bolton as the US Ambassador to the United Nations (as I predicted several weeks ago in the wake of the US mid-term elections) and Kofi Annan as Secretary General of the United Nations. I also hope to offer readers some insights regarding what I believe the new US strategies will be in Iraq for the coming year while my country prepares for the 2008 Presidential elections.

John Bolton has been devoted to issues surrounding the United Nations (UN) and US participation in the UN throughout his career, (whether he was inside or outside of the US government at the time). A staunch critic of the UN as an institution of global governance and of its bureaucracy, Bolton at various times argued for US withdrawal from the UN and or withholding of US dues payments, on the one hand, but on the other also advised the Taiwanese government on how to become a member once more. He would preach the neo-conservative foreign policy ideals regarding greater democracy as the political solution for all nations, while seeking to thwart attempts to make the UN a more democratic institution, by working with China to prevent Japan, Germany and India from obtaining permanent seats on the UN Security Council.

Bolton was, however, a loyal operative for the neo-conservative foreign policy minions of the Bush administration and, as such, was doing exactly what the Bush administration wanted him to do. Kofi Annan said as much in his comments regarding Bolton’s resignation: “I think Ambassador Bolton did the job he was expected to do.”

While John Bolton was never very diplomatic in his approach to US foreign policy and UN issues, he should not be blamed entirely for the many failures of US foreign policy he presided over. Chief among these was his failure as the “head honcho” in charge of arms control at the State Department before becoming Ambassador to the UN. In this role, he torpedoed US Congressional efforts to improve and tighten the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Had these measures passed, countries would not have been able to drop out of the treaty, (like North Korea subsequently did) and voluntary inspections of nuclear facilities would have become compulsory for countries like Iran. As UN Ambassador, he also wrecked havoc on Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s attempts to reform the management of the “bloated” UN bureaucracy.

Well, so much for John Bolton’s legacy as UN Ambassador and for his part in helping to make the world a safer place. He will not be missed.

As for Kofi Annan, here was an example of a good, well intentioned man, totally overwhelmed by the fractious international politics of a post-“Cold War” world: an indecisive man whose power and influence never matched with his admirable but lofty goals for the UN.

Trying to reach a consensus among 192 nations to make the UN an actor instead of just a bystander on humanitarian issues involving conflicts in Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo and Darfur, is a virtually impossible job for any one person. It is made that much more difficult when Security Council powers like the US, China and Russia choose to follow the “multi-lateral” course advocated by Kofi Annan and the UN as a global institution, only when it is seen as politically convenient for them to do so. Annan’s position as a moral force and conscience for his 192 “bosses” was also compromised by the Oil-for-Food programme scandal involving his son and numerous allegations of graft and sexual harassment involving some of his senior UN officials.

But while he failed to stop unilateral action by the US in Iraq and Israel in Lebanon and humanitarian atrocities in Darfur, Kofi Annan did what he could to prevent these actions and to raise awareness on issues such as “global warming”, and the plight of citizens in poorer countries with respect to sustainable development, food, clean water and healthcare (particularly the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS). I hope that his successor, Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, will learn from his mistakes and be more successful in terms of discouraging unilateral actions by individual states, while continuing to pursue some type of global consensus on humanitarian and environmental issues. The world is a better place because of Kofi Annan and will miss his voice much more than it will miss the voice of John Bolton.

Moving on to Iraq, I believe that the US will soon begin adding as many as 30,000 troops to the combat forces in this conflict, in an effort to stabilize the situation there and prevent further escalation in sectarian violence between the Shi’ite and Sunni factions.

The Iraq Study Group’s December report did not recommend such action nor did it preclude it as a possible step towards the eventual phased withdrawal of US troops from this region. Republican Presidential candidate, Senator John McCain,-among others- has repeatedly called for such action as a necessary step towards US withdrawal, in order to allow more time for US forces to train Iraqi armed forces and then turn over Iraq’s national security to them. I am not wild about this idea, but don’t see where the US has any other options given the recent escalation in sectarian violence and the failure, thus far, of Iraqi security forces to prevent or stop it. Other options such as partitioning Iraq or forcing its ill prepared security forces to take over security responsibilities sooner than they are realistically capable of doing so, strike me as being just a quick way out for the US.
Our administration has made an unholy mess in Iraq. We owe it to the people of Iraq to do what we can to clean up this mess before returning control of the country to its citizens and their elected representatives when we depart.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Republican Politics American Style

Bush and Iraq Published December 28th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Let’s talk about the Bush Administration and the way they have mishandled US Foreign Policy in Iraq. It might help to understand how America got into its current dilemma in Iraq; if you can set aside any prejudices you may have and try to look at Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the Republican Congress as basically decent men who have made some bad decisions, based on flawed strategies and poor judgement. They are not bad men or part of an “evil empire” as some of their opponents in the US and around the world would have us believe. They did not want to see thousands of American soldiers or Iraqi civilians killed as a consequence of their decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s repressive regime. They did not want to find themselves grappling with a war that has sapped America’s spirit and sectarian violence that threatens to erupt into a full scale civil war among Iraqi citizens. This was never their intention. So how did these well intentioned (for the most part) gentlemen get themselves into such a mess?

There are a number of underlying factors which have contributed to the current situation in Iraq and several of these are not peculiar to this particular Republican administration. One of these factors is a cultural one; American’s bias for action. When we see there is a problem, we want a solution immediately if not sooner. We expect our leaders to do something, anything, but most all, to take some type of action. This is one of America’s greatest strengths as a people and as a country, but it can also be one of our greatest weaknesses. Once an issue gets to the top of America’s problem list, this bias for action often results in positive resolutions to seemingly intractable problems. However it can also result in defective strategies and solutions based on poor planning, faulty assumptions and bad judgements. Such has been the case for the United States in the Iraq war.

Another factor relates to organizational behaviour and is by no means limited to the Bush administration. Many public and privately held business corporations operate in much the same manner. The Chief Executive Officer gathers his top lieutenants and asks them how the company should attack a particular problem or prevail over the competition. He will discuss his vision as regards company’s position following the successful implementation of the plan of action. Failure in terms of strategy or execution is not an option he wishes to discuss. The lieutenants then get together with their respective staffs and employees and tell them “These are our new marching orders from the President. We have scheduled a meeting and I want you to be there to discuss your ideas on how we should go about achieving this objective.”

At this meeting one of the participants questions the wisdom of what the CEO has proposed, or the strategy for accomplishing the task. He makes a number of valid points and has some sound objections. At the next staff meeting to discuss strategy and planning, you notice that the participant with the pointed questions isn’t present. So do your cohorts. You sense that if you want to continue to be a part of this organization, it might be wise to keep your mouth shut unless you have something positive to say that your bosses will want to hear. Unfortunately, this is also a description of what happened inside the Bush Administration with respect to Iraq.

Finally, we have a factor called human nature. When we have undertaken a course of action, then things start to go wrong and we realize that we don’t have an alternative strategy to deal with the reality of the situation, we start circling the wagons. We point the finger at others or complain that we are not getting the support we need to do the job. The more we are criticized or vilified, the more defensive and unwilling to change we become. We won’t admit we made a mistake, no matter how obvious it is to outsiders, because we don’t see a face saving way out. So the situation continues to worsen until a new CEO is brought in to clean up the mess and come up with a new strategy. This is the situation that currently confronts the Bush Administration and its Republican supporters in the US Congress.

Is there any hope that this administration will change some of its positions before they have to leave office in two more years? Maybe. Donald Rumsfeld’s departure and the nomination of Gates as his successor, coupled with the rising influence of foreign policy experts led by James Baker and Brent Scowcroft, of the Iraq Study Group, is a hopeful sign.

If you would like to read some fairly accurate and unbiased, behind the scenes accounts about how the Bush administration got into its current predicament, then I would suggest that the two best books on this subject are Bob Woodward’s “State of Denial” and “Fiasco” by Thomas Ricks.

Rich and Famous Published January 4th 2007 in Metro Eireann
By Charles Laffiteau

In another side-track from US politics, I've been thinking about the rich and famous people I’ve met, both here in Dublin and back in the states. I’ll begin with President Clinton, since I’ve spoken with him twice since that night we partied together in Little Rock, once in Fayetteville Arkansas, just before a basketball game in December of 1993 and the other time here in Dublin, shortly after my arrival from the states.

In Fayetteville, after waiting outside the basketball arena with my ex-wife in a long line to pass thru metal detectors, I was in a hurry to get to my seats before tip-off, when I ran into a barrier blocking the passageway to the aisle closest to my seats. I looked up, visibly disturbed about the “roadblock” to my seats, and found myself looking straight into Bill Clinton’s eyes. He offered his hand and as I shook it I said “How are you Governor, if you don’t mind I’m in a bit of a hurry to get to my seats.” He smiled and turned to the Secret Service agent and said “Go ahead and let these folks thru.” Then he turned back to me and said “Should be a great game, I hope you enjoy it” as his Secret Service agents allowed me and my ex-wife past the barrier to our seats.

My ex-wife then proceeded to scold me for addressing him as “Governor” instead of “Mr. President”, saying that I was being disrespectful. I told her that I truly meant no disrespect in addressing him as “Governor”,that I had done so out of habit, not intentionally. At half time of the game, the couple behind us noted that we had been the only people allowed down that particular aisle before the game and that everyone else in our section of seats had to “take the long way around” to get to their seats. I turned to my ex-wife and said “Now see, does that sound like something a man would do if he felt like I was insulting him by addressing him as “Governor”?

At the end of my second week in Dublin, I splurged and got a bite to eat one evening at a restaurant on Henry Street which is in an old church and reminded me of a similar restaurant I once worked for in my home town of Atlanta, Georgia called The Abbey. As I was leaving I ran into Bill-surrounded by a retinue of Secret Service agents-as he was entering and we briefly exchanged greetings. I was quite surprised to be running into him in Dublin and almost said “How are you Governor” again! But this time I remembered my ex wife’s admonishments and stopped myself at the last moment. She would have been proud to finally here me greet him as “Mr. President” (instead of just “Bill” or “Governor”), although I personally think he doesn’t really care how one addresses him, so long as you are being reasonably friendly and respectful.

Other run-ins with the same rich and famous people have also occurred in both the States and Dublin. I am specifically speaking about the band with the 2 in their name. When they were on the first leg of their Zoo TV tour back in 1992, they came to Dallas to perform three shows at Reunion Arena. I was backstage thanks to connections and suggested that Bono and the boys visit a funky local bar called the “Grapevine” if they wanted somewhere to party after hours, since I was friends with the owners Richard and Melissa. They duly did and when Melissa saw us arrive after 1:00am she immediately locked the doors so no-one else could get in (she had seen some customers calling their friends to tell them the band was there) and then shoed her other customers out when the legal closing time of 2:00am rolled around (though the party kept going till 5). I have a one of a kind “Achtung Baby” road crew t-shirt as a memento of that evening. The next time our paths crossed was in May of this year, when Bono spoke at Fair Park in Dallas, on behalf of (an organization I am a member of) and I spoke with him briefly at a private reception for members of the organization.

The next and last time I encountered Bono or the band was not long after, on my first foray shopping in downtown Dublin back in September. It was on O’Connell Street looking for college textbooks when I saw the band emerge from a book signing at Eason’s. I quickly handed my card to Bono’s driver and asked him to give it to Willie, so that he would know where to contact me here in Dublin-if he or the others actually remember our previous meetings in Dallas, that is. I haven’t heard a word from them yet.

I have met and partied with a number of Rich and Famous people back in the States but I doubt my readers would recognize many of the names. Most of them are sports figures, coaches and television personalities unfamiliar to most people outside of the US. I find the vast majority of these individuals to be intelligent, personable and very approachable. I thing most Dubliner’s, like many Americans, are too awed or intimidated by people’s fame to try to approach them and have a normal conversation with them. They are really not much different than you and I.

Since I’ve been in Dublin I've met a few more. I have talked one on one with actors Nev Campbell and David Soul following their performances in the play “Exonerated”, and I also spent some time talking with actor Patrick Bergen about the play and our respective viewpoints regarding capital punishment. Not bad for my first 30 days in Dublin. I wonder who else I’m going to meet or run into here in the future. Roddy Doyle maybe?

Friday, January 5, 2007

RTE 1 "Questions and Answers"

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Watch the new season of "Questions and Answers", beginning at 22:30, Monday, January 8th on RTE 1. My 'mates from Dublin City University will be on the front row asking questions of Jonathan Bowman's guest panelists. See you there.