Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Gender issues in American Politics

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on April 24th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

By the time you read this the results of the United States’ Pennsylvania Democratic primary will be known, so I will discuss those results and their implications for a continuation of the contest between Senators Obama and Clinton for the Democratic Presidential nomination in next week’s column. This week I want to begin discussing issues of race and gender in America, issues which affect citizens of many other countries as well.
Let me begin by telling you that I am an unabashed male chauvinist. The term “chauvinist” is derived from the last name of a legendary French soldier, famous for his devotion to Napoleon, Nicolas Chauvin. I am a male chauvinist in the sense that I love being a male of our species, make no apologies for it and will always defend us against attacks on our inclinations and tendencies as males. That is not to say that as males we don’t have some faults as human beings because, indeed, we have many different flaws.
Having said that, I think you should know that I am also a feminist. I am a feminist because I recognize, as many women also do, that for centuries the female of our species has suffered from abuse and been a victim of intolerable inequalities within male dominated societies around the world. If I was a female I too would want to fight against gender inequalities. To that end, in 2005 I was asked by some of my female classmates at the University of Texas at Dallas to help start the first on campus chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and served as the chapter’s Secretary (ironic position for a male officer to hold eh?) until I moved to Ireland in September of 2006.
Thus I am sympathetic to the many women of all ages and races in America and the rest of the world who regard Hillary Clinton’s Presidential candidacy as a true turning point in America’s history as regards equal rights and opportunities for women. But many women in America also believe that Barack Obama would be a better president than Hillary Clinton for many of the same reasons I do. Some of them are also members of the feminist movement and they tell me they’re being treated like traitors by their feminist friends because they’re not supporting the woman who is running in this historic election.
But is this really how we should make our decisions about who should lead the most powerful country in the world, based on our feelings about America’s history of racial and gender inequality?
Shouldn’t one ask the question “Am I really advancing the cause of equal rights regardless of one’s race or gender by casting my vote for a political candidate primarily because we are of the same race or gender?”
If I vote for a person on this basis and they get elected and then do a poor job won’t there be some who will wrongly associate this poor performance with their own misconceptions about racial and gender differences and say “Well I told you a person of this race or gender isn’t properly suited for the difficult job of US President.”?
What exactly distinguishes me from an obviously biased or prejudiced person who will not vote for a candidate or will vote against them precisely because they happen to be a woman or a person of colour?
The differences regarding what the US domestic and foreign policies would look like under Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama are relatively few but not insignificant when you examine them closely. Obama recognizes that while Clinton’s proposal for a universal healthcare mandate sounds great to voters, such legislation has no chance of ever becoming law because the Republicans will keep it bottled up in the US Senate.
Hillary Clinton also chooses to ignore the fact that a similar plan was soundly defeated when she tried to push it through Congress during her husband’s first term in office 15 years ago. On the other hand Obama proposes incremental steps beginning with a mandate for children that Republicans will have difficulty opposing in the Senate. Obama believes that once you get some Republicans started down this path it will then be possible later to draw some of them to the idea of a mandate that covers adults as well.
Thus the real difference between Obama and Clinton’s universal health care plans is that Obama’s has a very good chance of passing the Senate while Clinton’s sounds better but has virtually no chance of ever becoming law. There are other important differences between these two candidates upon which one can base one’s decision on who to vote for which also have nothing to do with their race or gender.
On more than half a dozen occasions Hillary Clinton sought to burnish her military and foreign policy credentials by referencing her having to run from sniper fire on a visit to Bosnia as First Lady. That is until a few weeks ago when, following assertions contrary to Clinton’s by others who were there in Bosnia, CBS News unearthed video footage showing her entire arrival ceremony in Bosnia, noticeably absent any running from the plane or sniper fire. When confronted with this evidence Hillary at first claimed she miss-spoke and then later said she had done so due to sleep deprivation.
My question is what was Clinton thinking when she first started telling this tall tale three months ago in Iowa? Did she not bother to consider the fact that there were numerous US State Department, military and Bosnian witnesses to her arrival in Bosnia that day and that video footage of the visit probably also existed as well?
Unfortunately this is not the first time that Hillary Clinton has shown poor judgement and this lack of judgement has nothing to do with her being a woman. It does however reinforce my view that Hillary is just another politician who will say anything she thinks will help her get elected.

Food for Thought

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on April 17th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In recent weeks I have pointed to the negative impacts of global climate change to our health from tropical diseases and to our food supply from declining fish stocks. But even though many nations, including Ireland, have promised to take steps to curb CO² emissions over the last decade, the world's output of CO² emissions now totals over 10 billion tons a year and is continuing to increase each year rather than decrease.
So last week I closed my discussion about one of the negative consequences of climate change due to global warming, by saying that the consequences will be even direr for our children than they will be for us and then asking the question; “How will you explain your inaction to them?” Well today I want to discuss one of the few, but probably most visible, actions we have taken to reduce our current levels of CO² gas emissions, the production of biofuels.
While the idea of turning a product like soybean oil into an earth-friendly fuel such as biodiesel has merit, ample evidence suggests the concept has many limitations as well as unintended consequences. Alas, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but there are no quick, cheap, or easy ways to reduce the CO² emissions which are the primary cause of global warming. Believe me, I wish there were because dealing with this issue is going to cost me time, money and some inconvenience, just as it will everyone else.
But these are not sufficient excuses for us to continue to ignore the issue and simply let our children deal with the negative consequences of our inaction. Such an attitude is irresponsible at best and downright selfish if we are really honest about it. “Hey kids, sorry about the condition of the planet we are leaving you. We knew there was a problem with the way we were doing things, but since we couldn’t think of a quick, cheap or easy way to deal with it, we decided to just let you live with the consequences.”
Mind you I am not condemning Richard Branson for trying to experiment with powering his jet engines with biofuels. I applaud such efforts, however misguided they may be. At least Richard Branson is trying to do something to reduce his business’ carbon footprint, which is more than can be said for most other business enterprises.
But biofuels are not the panacea many in business and government once believed they were. There may be a fairly limited place for biofuels in the overall scheme of reducing CO² emissions, but it will never rise to the level that the many politicians and lobbyist engineers of tax breaks for the production of biofuels envision. Let me elaborate now on some of the reasons why biofuels are simply not a viable solution.
As we all know, appearances can often be deceiving. On the surface corn and sugar cane look like great sources of ethanol for our automotive fuel needs because when they are burned as a biofuel they emit far less CO² greenhouse gases than our traditional fossil fuels of coal, oil and natural gas. Moreover, there appears be a secondary benefit in that these biofuel crops also act to remove CO² from the atmosphere while they are growing in the field. The net effect makes them carbon-neutral, which is ideal for a fuel source because it means they do not add more CO² gases to our already overwhelmed atmosphere when they are burned than they remove while being grown in the field.
Sounds great at first blush, but when you drill down below the surface you find there are some unintended consequences that result from producing more biofuel crops like corn and sugar cane which will actually add to the buildup of CO² gases in the atmosphere. In fact burning biofuels could actually prove to be more harmful to the earth’s atmosphere than the current burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil is.
Princeton University recently released a study which showed that clearing temperate forests, tropical rainforests and or grasslands to grow biofuel crops unleashes long-sequestered carbon into the atmosphere. The earth’s forests and oceans capture and retain much of the excess CO² gases we emit by burning carbon based fossil fuels. While planting sugar cane or corn on land already in crop production is not a problem, clearing land to grow more food and or biofuel crops releases the huge quantities of carbon stored there into the air. This makes the current situation with CO² gases worse instead of better.
A Nature Conservancy study supports the Princeton University study but also goes a step further and shows that “converting rainforests, peat lands, savannas, or grasslands to produce biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia and the United States creates a ‘biofuel carbon debt’ by releasing 17 to 420 times more carbon dioxide (CO²) than the fossil fuels they replace.” The Nature Conservancy and other studies also point to other problems associated with producing more biofuel crops.
Growing corn requires the use of irrigation and lots of water. Water that is already in short supply in many areas of the world and a problem that will only get worse as the global climate continues to warm and certain areas get even drier than they currently are. There will be competition between homes and farmers for this water not to mention competition between consumers of grains for use as food and businesses buying grain to produce more biofuels. This last concern is potentially the most serious one.
Last year, two University of Minnesota professors wrote; “By putting pressure on global supplies of edible crops, the surge in ethanol production will translate into higher prices for both processed and staple foods around the world, If oil prices remain high -- which is likely -- the people most vulnerable to the price hikes brought on by the biofuel boom will be those in countries that both suffer food deficits and import petroleum.” That’s a lot of food for thought!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Plans for the George W. Bush Library have just been released

Plans for the George W. Bush Presidential Library have recently been released.

The Library will include:

The Hurricane Katrina Room, which is still under construction and looks like a disaster.

The Alberto Gonzales Room, where you won’t be able to remember anything you see or hear.

The Creation Science Room, where you can see how God created the world in 7 days plus a bonus tour of how the Bush administration created the evidence that linked Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda in just 7 days as well.

The Texas Air National Guard Room, where you don't have to show up.

The American Homeowners Room, where you can see millions of home foreclosure notices.

The Walter Reed Hospital Room, where they won't let you in.

The Guantanamo Bay Room, where they won't let you out.

The Fiscal Responsibility Room, where you will hear lots of noise but see absolutely nothing.

The Weapons of Mass Destruction Room, which you won’t be able to find.

The Iraq War Room, where once you complete your first tour of the room, they make you go back for a second, third, fourth, & sometimes fifth tour.

The Abstinence Sex Education room, where you can see millions of positive teenge pregnancy test results.

The Dick Cheney Room, which you will find in an undisclosed location and which also includes a shooting gallery.

Future plans also include:

The K-Street Project Gift Shop, where you can buy an election.

The Airport Men's Room, where you can meet some of your favorite Republican Senators.

In addition to the aforementioned plans:

An entire floor will be devoted to a 1/64 scale model of the President's ego.

In order to highlight the President's accomplishments the museum will also have an electron microscope available to help you locate them.

There is no word yet on where the library will put the President's only book.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Its Trench Warfare Now

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on April 3rd in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Last week I discussed the CEO management style Mrs. Clinton has displayed over the course of the last year while running her Presidential campaign into the ditch. While not all of the problems Clinton has experienced on the campaign trail were of her own making, when you are telling voters you are the most experienced and capable Democratic candidate running for President then the buck stops with you regardless.
As President you can’t blame those you have appointed to positions of power in your administration for failing to get the job done. You have to casually admit you made a mistake appointing them by unceremoniously cutting them loose as quickly as possible, and simultaneously naming a successor who has a reputation for possessing whatever qualities that their predecessor lacked. There is no room for sentiment or personal loyalty when it comes to running a business enterprise or the US government. You have a much greater responsibility to US citizens and that responsibility is more important than one’s sense of personal loyalty to any one person, no matter how long they have been with you.
President Bush has repeatedly put his personal feelings of loyalty ahead of the interests of the US and its citizens by stubbornly resisting calls to replace long time aides who were failing in their jobs such as Alberto Gonzalez and Donald Rumsfeld. My concern is that Hillary Clinton has, from the outset of her presidential campaign, shown the same propensity as Bush for putting a higher premium on loyalty than competence or experience as a pre-requisite for working for her in her presidential campaign.
Thus far Clinton’s poor campaign management skills and inability to make hard choices have only had consequences that have affected her Democratic presidential nomination prospects. But install that same management philosophy and indecisiveness in the White House and it will be the American people who will suffer the consequences not just Clinton and her staffers. Is this the type of President I want answering the phone at 3am? A President who isn’t decisive and can’t bring herself to make tough choices?
When I saw Clinton’s 3am phone call advertisement questioning Obama’s ability to respond to some kind of middle of the night emergency, I got scared at the sight of her answering the call. While I understand her campaign’s use of this TV attack ad tactic in an attempt to cast doubt on Obama’s fitness to serve as Commander in Chief, the reality of such crises is that decisions on how to respond to them are made in much more unexciting ways. Even former Clinton National Security advisor and Hillary Clinton supporter David Rothkopf says that “It's a bit of a specious issue, somehow implying you need better judgment in the middle of the night.”
In fact US government historians and former national security advisers from both parties say that all serious presidential decisions have been made over the course of days or weeks and never in the middle of the night. Regardless, Senator Clinton’s decision to not even bother reading the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) prior to voting to authorize the Iraq war calls into question her ability to make better judgments as the US Commander in Chief in the middle of the day, much less in the middle of the night.
Aside from the fact that Senator Obama has shown better judgment than Senator Clinton on the Iraq war, Obama has also shown himself to be a much stronger and more decisive CEO than Clinton in terms of how he has managed his presidential campaign. The Obama presidential campaign staff is not composed of a bunch of people who all get along and agree on everything particularly as regards campaign strategy and tactics.
There were a number of Obama’s campaign advisers who were suggesting he change his campaign strategy and or tactics during the course of the last year while Obama continued to languish 20 plus percentage points behind Hillary Clinton in both national and early voting states’ polls. They wanted Obama to attack Clinton and among other things try to shed some light on the Clintons’ many questionable financial dealings since they left the White House in 2001.
Questions such as: How much money was Bill Clinton earning from speeches, (compared to what other former presidents made from speeches) on the basis of the presumption that he and Hillary would be returning to their White House perch after the 2008 elections? What were the names of the donors who had “donated” over $500 million to the Clinton Presidential Library and could they have been doing so to curry favor with the “next” Clinton administration? Why won’t the Clintons release their post-2000 tax returns until after they have been nominated as the Democratic candidate? What is in these tax returns that they don’t want Democratic voters to see until “after” they have voted?
Obama heard the voices calling for a change in strategy and considered the reasoning offered by those who proposed it. But Barack Obama decided that he was going to be consistent and continue to try and maintain a positive campaign message of bringing an end to the divisive politics that have dominated in the United States for the past forty years. He said that if he had to attack and tear his opponent down in order to win the nomination that he would be no better than that which he was fighting to change.
The Clintons have no such lofty illusions about political campaigns.. They are after all a product of the divisive anything goes politics that Obama is trying to bring an end to. Having squandered their advantages in name recognition, money and political establishment support, the Clintons have decided that they will attack Obama with a “kitchen sink” strategy in a final desperate effort to win the nomination no matter what it costs. I don’t think it will succeed but this is trench warfare now ….and the Clintons are very good at it.

Clinton shares many Bush traits

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on March 27th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

So how is it the Clinton Presidential campaign went from leading all the national and early voting state polls by margins of 20 plus percentage points for almost a full year, (not to mention having over 200 super-delegates pledging their support before the first state primary votes are cast) to being behind in the number of primaries and delegates won, total number of all delegates and total popular vote in less than 3 months time? How do you begin your Presidential campaign with a massive war chest of Senate re-election and lobbyist campaign funds and find yourself loaning the campaign $5 million of your own $50 million personal fortune a year later because your political campaign is broke?
Now I could be wrong but I believe the answer lies in Clinton’s lack of effective Chief Executive Officer (CEO) management skills. Allow me to elaborate on why I believe this to be the case. At some point during their tenure all Presidents and CEOs have to resolve conflicts and disagreements between various different subordinates or groups of supporters. Such conflict is inevitable within any large organization because no matter how hard you might try to only hire people who share similar perspectives there are bound to be legitimate differences of opinion on how to accomplish certain objectives. It is the CEO’s job to resolve such conflicts so the organization can move on to deal with other issues and not get bogged down by sometimes petty disagreements.
In the case of the Clinton campaign, Hillary Clinton has cultivated an image as a strong and steady chief executive surrounded by legions of loyal and efficient staffers when in fact the reality of the inner workings of her Presidential campaign has been the exact opposite. The truth is that many of Clinton’s campaign advisers despised each other and there were also deep divisions within her campaign over campaign strategy, TV and radio advertising, where to allocate resources as well as how best to use former President Bill Clinton as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. These problems were allowed to fester for months throughout 2007 until her campaign ship almost ran aground on the shoals of financial insolvency at the end of January of this year.
Now don’t get me wrong here, but there is a legitimate CEO organizational management style whereby some CEOs actually seek to surround themselves with feuding subordinates because they believe the conflicting ideas that result from these clashes gives them the best possible set of options to choose from. There is also some evidence that would suggest that this style of management can be quite successful, but it requires a CEO who is both very decisive and also very involved in terms of the divergence of opinions between his or her subordinates. They only let the debate of ideas continue for a brief period of time before they step in and make a decision on which course the organization will take so that all involved can then move on to the next issue.
But while Hillary Clinton assembled a group of campaign advisors who were well known for their dislike of each other, she paid almost no attention to the details of the issues her campaign staffers were debating. Nor was Clinton decisive, preferring to delegate virtually all campaign decisions (no matter how large or how small they were) to various different lieutenants and to defer to her advisors on all critical campaign issues.
For months Clinton appeared to be totally unaware of the many conflicts that were simmering within her organization and that were also preventing her staffers from making decisions on how and where to confront the upstart candidacy of Barack Obama. The Clinton campaign’s seething cauldron of campaign staff resentments and unresolved conflicts over political strategies finally boiled over in the wake of consecutive February primary losses to Obama and led to the departures of her campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, and Doyle’s top assistant, deputy campaign manager Mike Henry.
James A. Thurber, a professor of government at American University who is an expert on presidential management says this about Clinton as a CEO: “She hasn’t managed anything as complex as this before; that’s the problem with senators. She wasn’t as decisive as she should have been. And it’s a legitimate question to ask: Under great pressure from two different factions, can she make some hard decisions and move ahead? It seems to just fester. She doesn’t seem to know how to stop it or want to stop it.”
I found it interesting that Clinton chose another long-time member of her old White House inner circle of loyal aides as Patti Solis Doyle’s replacement. Maggie Williams, like Patti Solis Doyle, has had no previous experience running a presidential campaign or managing a paid political staff of almost a thousand people. In this respect Hillary Clinton has shown the same disturbing tendency that our current President Bush has shown during his two terms as President. Like Bush, Clinton appears to place a higher value on those who have demonstrated personal loyalty to her through the years than she does on their relative experience or competence.
Virtually all of Clinton’s key campaign aides are people who have worked for her for many years and are familiar with her peculiar management style. Clinton has also demonstrated the same propensity the current President Bush has shown for sticking by lieutenants who are not getting the job done even when other friends have urged Clinton to let them go. I find these tendencies troubling because it says a lot about the type of people Clinton is likely to nominate as Cabinet heads and for positions overseeing government agencies should she ever be elected President.
What the US doesn’t need is another four years of Presidential appointees who lack the experience or the competence to do the jobs they are tasked with. That is why I find these parallels between Bush’s and Clinton’s CEO management styles so disturbing.

The presidential candidates CEO skills

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on March 20th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Last week my closing comment was to express my hope for a landslide victory by Barack Obama in the General Election, one that would also usher in a bigger Democratic majority in Congress as well as many state legislatures.
One of my Republican friends, who is also sympathetic to my reasons for supporting Barack Obama, was nonetheless surprised to hear me advocating for larger Democratic legislative majorities as well. He wondered how I could do this given my longstanding opposition to many of the policies supported by previous Democratic legislative majorities in Congress as well as state government. So I will now attempt to explain my reasons for taking such a radically different position on this subject.
History has shown that US Presidents elected in landslide elections also bring substantial changes to the United State’s domestic political landscape. After his landslide election in 1932 Franklin Roosevelt brought Americans guaranteed old age pension benefits in the form of Social Security legislation. On the heels of his 1964 landslide Lyndon Johnson pushed through the 1965 Voting Rights Act that would later guarantee the success of 1964’s Civil Rights legislation. Ronald Reagan was able to cement the tax and economic reforms he had pushed through Congress (which significantly altered US economic and taxation policy) following his landslide win over Walter Mondale in 1984.
Just as the US was grappling with seemingly intractable domestic problems in those years, we now face a host of equally daunting issues that will require landmark legislation to effectively deal with them. I hope I will be able to see Barack Obama follow in the footsteps of these other Presidents because I believe he is the only one of the three remaining candidates with a chance of winning the Presidency in a landslide.
With a voter mandate provided by an overwhelming electoral win and a strengthened Democratic majority in Congress, Obama would be able to cut through a lot of the partisan political posturing we have seen in Congress for the last 20 years. With his emphasis on finding common ground and not trying to settle old political scores, I believe he would be able to get enough support from both Democrats and moderate Republicans to pass the difficult measures that will be required to address America’s ills while the country is simultaneously experiencing tough economic times.
If one closely examines the political campaigns of the three remaining Presidential hopefuls, you can get a pretty good idea of who is more likely to perform best in the role of US President. Being President of the United States of America is more akin to being the CEO of a huge corporation and thus is a role that is quite different than the advise and consent role played by a US Senator. Being an effective US Senator with a paid staff of 20 people doesn’t require the same kind of CEO skills needed to manage a Presidential campaign with a paid staff of over 500 people.
Let’s take a minute to examine the records of all 3 Senators and how well they have managed their respective Presidential campaigns over the past year. John McCain began his campaign in November of 2006 as the Republican frontrunner with the advantage of his past experience running for President in 2000 and narrowly losing in some key primaries against the current President Bush. He had the experience and the national name recognition from the previous campaign as well as a strong fundraising operation. McCain actually had more well connected lobbyists as fundraisers than any other candidate for President and raised over $13 million in the first quarter of last year.
So what happened? By July of last year the McCain presidential campaign was almost broke and they had to let almost 100 staffers go while the other remaining staff took pay cuts or switched to being unpaid advisors. McCain had also slipped from first to fourth place in national polls behind Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and the as yet undeclared candidacy of Fred Thompson. As a result McCain also showed both his campaign manager and chief campaign strategist the door.
But John McCain’s subsequent comeback to win the Republican nomination was less about savvy political campaign management and more due to the mistakes of his competitors and fortunate turns of events that McCain had no control or influence over.
In January of 2007 Hillary Clinton began her Presidential campaign in an even stronger position than John McCain thanks to the transfer of $10 million from her NY Senate campaign. She had been discussing running for President since the fall of 2002 and so it was widely assumed that much of the money raised for her 2006 Senate re-election was actually destined for the 2008 Presidential race.
She was the immediate Democratic frontrunner in all of the national polls due to her name recognition as the wife of a popular former President at a time when the current President was very unpopular. She also led the polls in the first 6 Democratic primary/caucus states and used this data coupled with influential lobbyists to raise an additional $25 million in the first quarter of 2007 to add to the $10 million from her 2006 Senate re-election campaign she started the presidential race with. By October of 2007 Hillary Clinton had a commanding lead in all of the national and early voting state polls over her 2 main rivals, John Edwards and Barack Obama.
By the beginning of December Senator Clinton was presumed by most political observers and establishment Democrats to be unstoppable in her quest to be the Democratic Presidential nominee. As a result many of these Democratic politicians decided to jump on the fast moving Clinton Presidential campaign train and announced they would cast their un-pledged delegate vote for Clinton at the Democratic National Convention. Clinton had over 200 Super-delegates pledged to support her before the first voters ever went to the polls.
So what happened? I will discuss this in some detail next week.