Thursday, February 28, 2008

Continuing Yesterday’s Post

I wrote yesterday’s post while awaiting a meeting with a co-worker so when she was freed up, I had to cut it short. For that reason, the last bit was truncated. Now, all one-off, no context commentary aside, I want to continue with the theme.

My wife and I have decided that our time here in Colombia is coming to an end. It wasn’t an easy decision, especially for her (leaving one’s home country, again, is never easy), but we are in agreement with the decision. There are a lot of variables that played into that decision, but essentially, it is time.

Our timetable gives us about 10 months more in country for me (possible 1 or 2 months more than that for her) at which point we transition to the US – in all probability, Washington DC. I, for one, feel relieved about that decision. Our initial plan was to live here for 1 year and now, that 1 year will end up being 3 years. There’s nothing wrong with that (I freely chose to continue living here, after all) but in sum, I have lived out of my own country for the better part of 4 years, going on 5 and I feel the urge to be near friends and family, to have steady access to burritos, and once again re-immerse myself in American culture.

What this decision does do, however, is give us impetus to take advantage of certain things here in Colombia that we have been wanting to take advantage of, but have not yet found the time. One of those is scuba diving. It’s one of the things I’ve wanted to do for a very long time and we’re both very excited to be taking a course in April and having our first real dives off the Isla Rosario in Cartagena on the first weekend of May.

We’re also headed to Peru next month. We’ll be seeing Lima, Cuzco, Macchu Picchu, and Islas Ballestas. That should be a fantastic trip, especially since my mother will be joining us.

In August, we have tentative plans to travel again. My wife will be in Europe for work and it seems like a good opportunity to visit friends in England. Hopefully that will play out (we were unable to take advantage of her April trip to Spain for various reasons).

So, like I alluded to yesterday, there is a lot to be grateful for and a lot to look forward too.

That being said, I wanted to speak a bit more on the “negativity” of my blog posts. There is a perception that I am unhappy in Colombia. I have contributed to that perception as I frequently talk about the negatives and omit the positives. I’ll take the blame for that. But I think it is important to consider the alternative. I don’t look at Colombia with rose colored glasses. The country has vast problems, greater than my home country has, and, very troubling, a vast percentage of the population tends to ignore or refuse to acknowledge those problems.

That doesn’t mean that “Colombia is sh*t” as one Colombian friend told me once (he was very drunk). And it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate or value the many wonderful things that Colombia offers (I have a new appreciation for family from living here, for example). What it means is that I care about Colombia. I see some of the worst things that this life has to offer on a daily basis (either on the nightly news or in the streets) and I question how a culture that is so incredibly warm could treat their own so incredibly bad.

For some reason, while riding the bus this morning, I was reminded of a university aged woman who I taught English to awhile back. She was attending the National Military University, the same one that was bombed in September 2006 (injuries, but no fatalities). The event shook her and shortly thereafter, she stopped coming to class and I lost track of what happened to her. But she spoke once, rather eloquently, about something I will label the “Ethic of Self-Ignorance”. Her rant went on about how Colombians walk by the homeless, the sick, the poor and do nothing, not even acknowledge the dire straits that a majority of the country experiences, and instead choose bottles of beer and diversionary telanovelas (soap operas). I felt that it wasn’t just the lack of action that she was speaking of – it was the lack of caring. It was the total, selfish disregard for a fellow human being that shocked her to her core and brought tears with her loss of innocence.

I was thinking of this today because I have a Colombian friend who I met in London who has adopted this Ethic. In London, he was “poor” as students are. He felt marginalized and less important than he does here. And that humanized him. It’s one of the reasons why we are friends. He began to realize that there is a world of suffering outside the walls of gated communities and private schools and it wasn’t easy. Two weeks ago, he told me (paraphrasing): “I don’t give a f*ck about any of those poor bastards. F*ck ‘em. They would never help me, so I’ll never lift a finger to help them.” He went on at length.

This attitude seriously bothers me. It bothers me to the point that I wonder what our friendship has left. It bothers me because gringos come to Colombia to find poor, beautiful wives who will do anything to have a better chance in life, even if it means sleeping with el Gordo once a week until she gets that green card. It bothers me because I have, for better or worse, dedicated the last 1+ year to working to provide economic opportunities to the disadvantaged and at risk. It bothers me because I am currently working to provide an innovative, educational opportunity to those on the margin of society, for those who have little hope in this world and need something extra to show them that they can be more than that which they see around them. It bothers me because no one should have to pull a hand-made wooden cart across the city collecting discarded boxes just to scrape by a living (these people work harder than anyone in the country and make next to nothing). It bothers me because I’m a F-ing human being who shouldn’t be forced to turn my head at misery and ignore it. And it bothers me because most of the time I feel helpless to do anything about it.

So please, forgive me if I come across as judgmental sometimes. I’m human. And I see problems which have solutions. Those solutions will require some team work, some cooperation, some volunteerism. But they can be solved. What isn’t needed down here, however, is more profit seeking, more individualism, more turning our heads away while someone suffers in ways that no one should be allowed to suffer.

And forgive me if I just don’t go into one of the bars here and get drunk. Forgive me if I don’t party all night long like a rock star. Forgive me if I appear overly serious and overinvested in the problems I see. I’m not here on vacation. I’m not here to get drunk. I’m here to live, to grow, to experience. And I’m here to see if I can at least make a small impact that could positively affect the lives a few in need.

Perhaps this all speaks to why Obama’s message of hope resonates with me. Unlike some (mainly HRC supporters, brain dead media types, or Repugs), I don’t see his “hope” as shallow rhetoric. I see it as an important message that needs to be taken to those who need hope the most – the poor and downtrodden. As Obama would say, that message doesn’t get carried by words, it gets carried by deeds.

So, yeah, sometimes this whole bit brings me down. And yeah, most of the time, that gets played out on this blog. But I'm not trying to present Colombia as some paradise. It isn't. It's just as brutal, dirty, and barbaric as it is lively, rich, and entertaining. I just don't think the world needs yet another website going on about how great Colombia is. So please, forgive my touch of realism. I try to see the world as it really is all the while working to make it how I want it to be (in small ways). I will not apologize for that.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More debate

I saw about as much of last night's debate as the average american.


We don't get MSNBC down here so I got nothing. Just a few clips on CNN and BBC World later in the night. From what I gather, most people consider Obama the winner, Clinton to be shrill and desperate, and Russert to be a total loser.

I'm sitting in my new office at the moment. It's located in the Candelaria in an old, historic, freezing ass house. I'm wearing my jacket, as is everyone else, and I'm still feeling icicles form on my nether regions. Maybe if we get the grant money we're after we could afford to buy a space heater.

At any rate, the Candelaria is the historic center of Bogotá. I liken it to the "old" Bogotá in that the streets are always packed with vendors and beggars, it's filthy dirty, and you always have to be aware of pickpocketers. I think this is what Bogotá must have been like 30 years ago (or less). But living in the north, you kind of feel a bit isolated from the poverty, the crime, and the trash. In short, historical sites aside, the Candelaria is rather disgusting. I've already stepped in unpleasant and unidentifiable things and I make it a point to spend as little time here as possible.

It also takes much longer for me to get to work, say an average of 1 hour each direction. I find that unpleasant. In fact, I'd say that long commutes are one of the great unpleasantries of daily life and I hope that I can avoid them in the future. I'm committed here at Escuela Galán until Dec 08 but after that, I really hope to have a commute of 15 minutes like I'm accustomed to. Or at least access to a public transport system that is usable (I'm seriously tired of cramming into overstuffed buses with their various foul odors and drivers who think they're piloting a Chevy Geo and are completely oblivious to the fact that sudden braking seriously endangers the 75% that are standing). I can dream.

Other bits...hmmm. Well, the other NGO doesn't seem to be doing anything. They're "waiting" on the UNICEF contract which is great since I don't want to work in 2 different places (especially since "part-time" is a euphamism for "full time but we can't pay you full time so we'll say part time and expect full time effort for half pay"). Hopefully we can get initial funding here at Escuela Galán quickly and I can transition to real full time here. The third job option is still frozen but I won't be accepting it anyway (unless they were to blow me out of the water, which I highly doubt they could) since they want a 2 year commitment and there is virtually no way I will live in Colombia for another 2 years (my lungs can't handle the exhaust, for one).

We're going to take a scuba diving course in April. We've signed up and everything. Should be great. We'll be doing our qualification dives in Cartagena in the first week of May. And we're off to Peru in March for a week. That's getting firmed up as well. Life is good.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Reflections on last night’s debate

I watched almost all of the debate last night which is a rarity for me. I usually get tired of them after a bit, although I must confess there were several moments when I flipped to CBS to watch a bit of CSI. Hillary Clinton’s tired attacks on Barack Obama haven’t gotten any better or more interesting. Anyway, here are my comments:

1. Obama destroyed her on Cuba and Engaging Foreign Dictators: HRC touted the same old line, when they change, we’ll change. Shorter HRC: Not lifting the embargo or anything else. Obama expressly stated he would be willing to meet with Raul Castro assuming certain issues were on the agenda (human rights) and stated again that he would lift the travel ban and the ban on remittances. He did well on those points. Could have sold it harder (talking about families separated by a failed policy, etc) but no real complaints.
Then the CNN woman suggested that he was backtracking on his lifting the embargo position from several months ago and Obama devastated her on that point as well. He said that of course he favored lifting the embargo, but that there is a process, a step by step process that must be pursued before that can happen. I thought he was very strong on that point.

Then the debate turned to engaging foreign leaders and here things got worse for HRC. She restated her tired adages about not meeting with dictators. Nothing new there. But Obama suggested that we should meet with them and that there was nothing unusual about that. He could have been much, much stronger here (Nixon going to China in 72 for example) and I was a bit annoyed that he didn’t try to peg the shunning policy on the current president (since every president since Nixon until Bush II has actively engaged foreign dictators) but he was strong. The one new bit he did offer was that the US can’t appear as better than everyone else and that HRC’s idea of withholding presidential summits would just fuel the sense of American elitism. It’s an interesting point and he might just be right. Bottom line – the debate started off very poorly for HRC and Obama was awesome.

2. Health Care: This is obviously HRC’s strong issue. But it’s also a clear weakness for her as a candidate. The reason is, the public doesn’t care much or even understand the finer divergent details between Obama and HRC on this issue. Frankly, I don’t even really understand it all that well and I certainly couldn’t say who is “right” on this issue. HRC was really aggressive during this part of the debate but I don’t think it won her anything more than “a few debating points” as David Gergen put it. This would have been a great strength of hers against McCain, but against Obama, who has a very similar plan, I just don’t see her making inroads or gaining support because she requires a mandate and he doesn’t.

Not only that though, I think there was something in Obama’s tone that was a bit different this time. He implied that if his plan didn’t work 100%, he would expand it, change it, and do what it took to ensure 100% coverage. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I think that pretty much trumps her expertise on the matter.

3. The negative ads: HRC’s campaign made some very pathetic and frankly idiotic complaints against Barack this week (namely that he “plagiarized” and that he was all talk and no action. These were very, very stupid things to say because not only did they not resonate with voters, they set Obama up to destroy her in this debate. Which he did. Thoroughly. To the plagiarized claim, he stated that he lifted one line from a man who is on his election committee who suggested he use it. HRC came back with her “Xerox” line which was soundly booed. And rightfully so. In her heart, I’m sure she knows that she was being petty and unpresidential.
To the all talk, no action claim, Obama just destroyed her again. Essentially he said that that was an insult to not only the things he’s done but to the millions of people that have voted for him. He went on to state that words do matter and that he uses words to motivate the public, to make them partners in change. He looked very presidential while, once again, HRC looked petty.

4. Tone: I thought there were several moments where it looked as if HRC was conceding. When she shook Barack’s hand, for example, and her closing statement. I don’t think that defined her other than suggesting that she’s going to lose gracefully. But in general, I thought, like many others, that if HRC was going to have a chance, put up a real fight, she was going to have to come out with the knives out. She didn’t do that. Instead, he basically had nothing new to offer and repeated tired lines from previous debates. I’m guessing she did that on purpose. For awhile now my big fear has been that she would destroy the Democratic Party to win. Let’s hope last night’s essential concession becomes a trend. Because the more she listens to Mark Penn (her advisor), the uglier and pettier things get and that’s bad for Democrats.

Conclusion: I thought Obama came off very presidential last night. He's a vastly better debater than he was when he started this process and it showed. HRC looked graceful in defeat. I think the contest is now (unofficially) over. Bring on Robot McCain.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sick of the Transmilenio

With my new job has come a much longer and less pleasant ride in Transmilenio. This is now the worst part of my day. Generally, I hate long commutes (it’s about an hour, door-to-door) because I feel as if I am losing valuable time that I could use doing anything else. If the commute is manageable – for example with a crossword puzzle or a newspaper – then it’s less of a problem. Unfortunately, Transmilenio is such a poorly run and managed organization that there are never enough buses on high volume routes like the one I now travel, while there are tons of buses on low volume routes. Let me just suggest that there is nothing more aggravating than driving by a mostly empty bus while you a struggling to find enough space just to inhale. Needless to say, the buses are always so packed that one doesn’t even have enough space to breath, not to mention do a crossword puzzle.

Then there’s the total F-ing A-hole factor. These are the maleducados, the typically selfish pendejos who force their way past the line and onto the bus blocking those who wish to get off. I have no words sufficient to express my animosity toward these fools. Just now, I got off the bus to make room for those who wanted to leave and 4 pendejos jumped on in front of me. Murderous thoughts do not make for a pleasant morning.

Sadly, Colombia has more of these people than one would expect or hope. And not just on Transmilenio. A frequent criticism that I hear from Colombians about Colombia is that Colombians are generally very selfish people – in that they always think for themselves first and never give a damn about anyone else. I have seen this first hand in complete strangers and in at least one of my friends and it’s probably the least favorable thing about the country. I’ll skip any pseudo-analysis as to why this is the case and just leave it at this: I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to take Transmilenio on a daily basis.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The incredibly stupid declaration

Yesterday, after a 10 year wait with essentially no diplomatic progress, the very small Serbian province of Kosovo declared its Independence. This is a move that was widely anticipated and will likely lead to at least low level violence (rioting) if not a reemergence of war in Eastern Europe. Serbia is not one for calmly forgiving “breakaway” provinces (as they considered Bosnia).

An independent Kosovo represents a renewed risk of conflict in Eastern Europe as well as the former soviet republics and, ostensibly, it was for this reason that Russia has long opposed the move. Their response so far has been muted but there is no doubt that Putin and his corp are steaming in the Kremlin.

Amidst reports that there was a possible diplomatic solution behind the scenes, proposed by Russia, that would have resulted in eventual independence, an idea that never really received attention by the United States, comes President Bush’s official recognition. This is significant since there are essentially three requirements for a territory to be considered a state: that it has stable boundaries, that it has its own government, and that it has international recognition. (Some IR scholars vary on their definition of a “state” but that’s a good baseline to start any discussion.)

Generally speaking, receiving international recognition is the most difficult to achieve since states have no real interest in acknowledging breakaway provinces abroad for fear of breakaway provinces at home. How would we, for example, feel if Texas just up and declared its independence? Ok, maybe that’s a bad example given that it would take our President with it but I think the point is clear. This is one reason why we officially don’t recognize Taiwan as an independent country. China would flip its lid and it’s an excellent idea to keep large, populous, economically powerful, nuclear armed states on firm, friendly ground.

So, Bush’s recognition is significant and essentially means that there is no turning back the clock. Serbia will fight this in the legal and political world, a fight they will lose, and then we shall see. Let’s hope that they don’t return to the violent solution of the 1990s. But if they do, we have to be prepared to act – and swiftly. The President has us committed.

I highlight this case, however, not because of the microcosm of Kosovo (no matter how grave a threat that microcosm might develop into) but because it reflects a central premise of the Bush Doctrine - a fundamental ignorance or disregard for the motivations for our strategic adversaries, in particular, Russia. For better or worse, we need a friendly, pro-western Russia. They’ve got a nuclear arsenal big enough to kill us all and they control the supply of oil and natural gas to Western Europe. Antagonizing a large, oil rich, heavily armed former adversary is not only non-sensical, it’s borderline suicidal.

The creation of foreign policy has to begin with a sharp analysis of national interest – both ours and theirs. That means understanding the target nation’s security concerns, national interests, and foreign policy methodology. As such, were we to attempt to analyze those factors, we would easily understand the great fear that Russia has of losing oil rich provinces to independence movements (ala Chechnya and Georgia), among other factors. By ignoring these concerns, by placing human rights above our own national interests, by pushing a relentless and poorly thought out strategy of democratization and self-governance, the US government has felt “moral” with each subsequent blunder. Feeling “moral” does not make for good foreign policy.

Let me be clear – I think an independent Kosovo is a good idea. Serbia doesn’t have a particularly good track record for respecting minority rights (to put things extremely mildly) and I think independence was inevitable. I also support a free press and free speech in Russia, I’m opposed to their repressive crackdown in Chechnya, and I worry that Russia is slipping back into a Soviet-style government.

However, we must ask ourselves if it is truly in our national interest to confront Russia on issues related to their vital national interests. This question becomes especially poignant when one considers that our pressure has, up to now, totally failed to stimulate the types of freedom which we value and have only pushed Russia to more belligerence. In this, our failed policy closely resembles the regressive, backwards embargo we maintain on Cuba.

The lesson of the 1920s was that policymakers must see “the world for the way it truly is, not as it is hoped” (I’m paraphrasing). This is the fundamental basis for foreign policy realism. Realism as a school of thought goes too far in some instances, but the crux of the philosophy remains valid. We can’t change Russia for the better with harsh words, encirclement, and by striking at the heart of their national interest. But we can change those types of regimes by working with them, by promoting openness and engagement, and by resisting the urge to judge them (saving face cannot be underestimated, especially for a very proud Russia). Nixon understood this. Reagan understood this. Clinton understood this. It is extremely dangerous and foolhardy to not understand this and it’s yet for the past 7+ years our nation has actively ignored realism in favor of neo-conservatism or Bush-style Divine Inspiration (most famously, with his comment that he looked into the soul of Vladimir Putin and saw that he was good).

One has to wonder just how much irreparable damage has been done and will be done before the coffin containing the Bush Doctrine is finally nailed shut for good.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Reflections on the old job and new beginnings

I have very mixed feelings about the job I just left. On the one hand, I didn't walk away feeling like I had accomplished what I wanted to, that I had made a real, valuable contribution. Some of the blame for that falls on my shoulders and some on the shoulders of my former employer. They certainly made almost no attempt to use my skills and abilities and after 6 months on the job, I definitely gave up trying to find a place for me there (although I don't think there was a place for me there in any case).

The situation I was put into was complicated by my sub-standard Spanish (when i started) and by the fact that I was sold a dog and pony show in the interview and the job turned out to be nothing like what had been discussed (the interview was in english, so it wasn't like I misunderstood). I was particularly displeased to find out on my first day that the job I had been hired for was not the job I interviewed for and that was the beginning of the end. Over the course of the first few months, I went to my boss seeking to define my role and, to his credit, I did write a number of research reports that helped form the basis of our new strategy (not that I ever got credit for it though). But when the boss was fired in June, so to went any hope of me finding a constructive place in the company.

Reflecting on this, I know that my expectations were artificially high. In the interview, they spoke of using me as a liason between the Component and the US Embassy officials. That appealed to me. They were specific about my experience giving presentations in english and other various aspects. None of those things ever came to pass. Nor were they even possible, as I found out later.

I leave the rest of the details as they're not terribly important to my point. When I left yesterday, I left with my head hanging low. Not because my team didn't appreciate me (they did) but because I hadn't met my own personal expectations for the job. I didn't give my all in that position except for the moments in which I had real substantive things to do. I should feel good about the contributions that I made. Instead, I feel like I slighted myself by not doing more, by not being more aggressive (emotional and language components aside).

Life is a big mystery, they say. What does it all mean? Why are we here? What is the point aside from the accumulation of wealth, items, etc.? I don't have any more answers to those questions than the greatest philosophers and thinkers of time. But I know what I like and I know what I want to do. And it isn't to be situated in a job that I can't grow in, a job that I can't learn anything from, a job that is more routine than anything.

As humans, we have to decide what is best for us as individuals and as a species. I don't have any more answers than anyone else, but I know that if I am to be happy, I need to have professional opportunities in which I can give a full effort, in which I can excel, and in which I can feel like I'm making some kind of difference. Hopefully I will have the opportunity in my next position.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Dishonest Reporting

You know, I'm getting real tired of CNN and the rest of the world with the following headline (or derivation): "Clinton still leads in Delegates, Obama closing".

It just doesn't represent the truth. According to CNN, Clinton has 1,148 to Obama's 1,121. But that's hogwash because it includes the Superdelegates WHO HAVE NOT YET VOTED. It's estimate, a guess, of how those superdelegates will vote, nothing more. It's especially absurd considering that Superdelegates are inherently fickle and an early "pledge" to vote one way, means little. Aside from Clinton, Bill there is no way to guarantee that Hillary's pledged Superdelegates actually vote for her and we won't know that for a long time.

A more honest way to report this would be: Obama 986 - Clinton 924. Because that's the truth. Obama is ahead on delegates. That is, delegates that have actually voted and whose votes are fixed. Rant over.

UPDATE: Yahoo is significantly different. As in, honest.


Last day on the job...

...and they inflict a 2 hour staff meeting on me. Nothing like the last stab in the eye.

Should be starting my 2 new jobs (NGOs) this week or next monday at the latest. Still negotiating the details but the need is fairly urgent and everything looks like a go, so that's a good thing. These jobs mean more responsibility on more interesting projects with actual work to be done, so that's a good thing. Plus I'll be my own boss, can organize my own schedule, and will have the ability to work from home when I want to (aka - won't be a slave to anyone's schedule).

I'll put more information up when things are official.

UPDATE: There is a God. Staff meeting cancelled. There was much rejoicing.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Math

I've read this in a number of places and it's going to be the common story over the next week or so, so I'll forgo the links and just tell it like it is:

For either HRC or Obama to win, they would have to win the nomination roughly 70% of the remaining pledged delegates. Not. Gonna. Happen. Best guess, they're gonna finish up with about 1600 votes each, well short of the required total. That means brokered convention or nobbery in Michigan/Florida, or a back room deal. No matter the outcome, it's looking very crapilicious.

In a year in which the Dems have everything going for them, we come to this. The GOP candidate is settled. They've got now to November to get their organization in place and spread their message. The Dems are going to keep fighting to the end and for what? So that cigar smoking white men can broker a deal in a back room?

If the Dems don't make a decision until the end of August, that's bad news for the on the ground operations that need to be in place to get out the vote and win in Nov. I'm getting a bit worried here.

A Quickie

Just wanted to point out that Hillary Clinton raised upwards of $6.5 million since Tuesday. Obama is still beating her, but she's done very well and should be applauded for it. Of course, the real loser here is John McCain. In 2 days the Democratic candidates outraised what McCain raised in the MONTH of January. Sucks to be a spineless, flip-flopping, repug.

PS - I'm not sure how I feel about Iowa having a governor named "Chet" (very Hardy Boyish) but for what it's worth, he endorsed Obama yesterday in front of 10,000 strong in Omaha Nebraska. In case you're confused by this (why would Iowa's governor be endorsing Obama now and in Nebraska?), you wouldn't be alone. The article is confusing. I'm guessing that the difference between Iowa and Nebraska is pretty slim so speaking to one electorate is like speaking to your own.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Midday update

- Good bye Rominator. It was good knowing you.

- Only once in my life have I ever donated money to a political campaign and that was a $25 contribution I just made to Obama. Now I can say I helped with more than just inane blather.

- Still no Redskins coach. Getting the feeling no one really wants the job.

- Shaq to the Suns. Alright then.

- No Car Day here in Bogota. That means no cars except: taxis, buses, official business cars, diplomatic and state cars, and any car with a 3-grade window tint or heavier. Yeah, sounds kinda bizarre but it's just a way of saying, "If you're rich and have bodyguards, you can still be driven around like a badass." The point of the "No Car" is to take air pollution measurements and encourage public forms of transportation.

- Holy crap those were some serious tornados. Saw the devestation on TV this morning. Looks like a post-nuclear war zone. You can do your part here.

Handicapping the Race

The general mainstream media narrative at the moment suggests that Tuesday was a tie. It further suggests that we’re in a “horserace” and that it will essentially be tied for the foreseeable future. Yes, this is what they get paid for. Stunning insight and analysis.

I’ve been reading about Blogostan and I’ve come to some conclusions I thought I would share.

It wasn’t a tie

Prior to Super Tuesday most pundits were suggesting that Obama needed to stay within 200 pledged delegates of Hillary Clinton to have a chance. The wide expectation was that she had a strong advantage and that he would be lucky stay close enough to compete. This post accurately sums up this sentiment.

But Obama just killed on Tuesday. He won more states and more delegates. He won red states and states all across the country. Any spin from the Hillary camp that it was a tie, so carelessly absorbed in the national media narrative is little more than that – spin. She should have won big the other day and instead, she survived.

Advantage Obama.

It’s getting worse for HRC

There are essentially two factors that spell trouble for HRC (although some articles suggest 5 or more factors, I think these are the two worth mentioning). First, she’s running out of money. As confirmed by NBC, her financial situation is getting increasingly dire. Not only did HRC loan her campaign $5 million, but some of her staffers are working without pay. Obama just destroyed her in January ($32 million to $15 million) and, while the HRC campaign is touting its $3 million raised since Tuesday, Obama is claiming $6 million $7 million raised.

Generally, when presidential campaigns start running out of money that spells the beginning of the end. Just as Rudy Guiliani. I’m not suggesting that this is the end of the HRC campaign. But it is true that having money troubles in February, in a race that, as the clear favorite (near incumbent), she should be winning outright, speaks to underlying trouble that is not likely to go away.

But aside from the general funding issues, the larger issue is that Obama just has more money and can spend more to get his message out than she can. The HRC campaign’s response to this dynamic is to propose a series of debates which would offer free publicity for her and her message. I hope that Obama rejects them. He doesn’t fair particularly well in the debate format at this point and he doesn’t need them to keep winning. And the less free advertising the HRC campaign gets, the more money she has to spend. It’s a win-win cycle for Obama.

The second factor related to the future of the HRC campaign is that the election calendar favors Obama in the near future. There are two reasons for this. First, the calendar is spread out. After next Tuesday, there is a gap of a week before Hawaii and Wisconsin, and then another gap until March 4th. This is good for Obama because the more people get to know him, the more they like him.

The rest of February is positive for Obama in another sense as well as the states voting and the formats both favor him. In terms of format, Obama is 8-1 in caucuses. Many HRC supporters are griping about that and the reason is that Nebraska, Washington, Maine, and Hawaii all have caucuses in February. It’s not inconceivable that he could sweep (the unknown is Maine). Combine that with positive demographics in Louisiana, Virginia, DC, and Maryland and it’s almost certain that he has 6 states and DC in the bag. The US Virgin Islands is anyone’s guess as is Wisconsin. But the point is that there is a chance that Obama could win out in the rest of February and win the majority of the 447 pledged delegates up for grabs. That would spell disaster for HRC.

HRC supporters in Blogostan are going apesh*t

It’s always a dodgy game taking the pulse of greater blogostan since the internets is filled with crazy people who have little more than ravenous passion and a keyboard but it is telling that the average HRC supporter is doing 2 things: whining about the caucus format and spinning Tuesday as a loss for Obama. They’re also going generally crazy and making arguments that are getting progressively more stupid as things get worse for HRC. Maybe it doesn’t mean much for blogostan is filled with radicalism and bad arguments, but it is noteworthy that the shrillness of these complaints is increasing.

I see two options for the future

I was watching CNN’s John King last night (who is a total badass and never gets enough air time – damn Wolf Blitzer) and he went race by race making reasonable projections of the number of delegates that Obama and Clinton were likely to win. The result was that neither won enough to gain the nomination.

I think this is the likely scenario. Both have their strengths and the democratic electorate is essentially divided between the two. White women and Latinos are opting for HRC, men and blacks for Obama. There’s a divide on class and age as well with lower income and older folks going for HRC and higher income and younger folks for Obama. I don’t see these dynamics changing greatly in the near future.

What this means is that neither is likely to win big states by great majorities (over 10%) from here on out. And in a proportional distribution system, when the votes are close, so are the delegates awarded.

There is, however, an outside chance that Obama wins out in February. If that happens, I think the HRC campaign collapses. I wrote about this yesterday with my winners-win argument but more to the point, if the perception is that Obama has gained inevitability, the money will dry up for HRC and she simply won’t be able to compete for air time, etc.

As a party, this is the outcome we should hope for. It’s a bitter pill for HRC supporters but faced with the option of a brokered convention or an early Obama nomination, we should opt for the Obama nomination. The last democratic convention that was brokered didn’t work out so well (see Hart, Gary 1984). And in an election year in which the Dems have a clear advantage, it behooves us to unify behind the strongest candidate early so as to beat back the McCain McMachine. It is my distinct hope that Obama sweeps February and HRC gracefully steps aside so that we can shift the focus to destroying the GOP. I know that is an audacious hope (intended) and that an HRC supporter would vehemently disagree with me but she doesn’t have a predetermined right to be President and I think at some point you have to acknowledge that she can’t win, she can only tie. (Maybe the same can be said about Obama but he was never supposed to win and I think, at this point, he’s got the best shot at the nomination through the primary process.)

Look for the issues and focus to change

It’s the economy stupid and it still is. It is not without irony that 2008 is mirroring 1992. There’s a Bush in the White House, his popularity has hovered just under 30% for months, there was an Iraq War, and the economy is tanking. Up until now, the big issues have been health care and Iraq. These are issues both candidates have pushed for obvious reasons. HRC sees health care as her strength while Obama sees Iraq as his. They’ve both won and lost votes based on those selling points.

But it’s time to change the focus. The economy is tanking and at the end of the day, people care more about the money coming in and their jobs than they do about anything else. Expect both candidates to refocus their message. Obama started doing this on Tuesday night when he spoke about his experiences in Southside Chicago. It’s a start, but it’s not enough. He’s going to have to articulate more details for economic stimulation and support for homeowners on the verge of foreclosure. I’d advise he adopts some of the Edwards platform on the homeowner issue (Edwards owned that issue) and that he talk about major infrastructure work – repairing bridges, etc.

Both candidates will talk about the economy more than anything in the days and weeks to come and it remains to be seen if Obama can connect with those most at risk in these days of decline. But message and policy are both important and it’s up to the candidates to come up with winning talking points.

But more than just issues, I see both candidates trying to reach out to the voters they haven’t been winning. Obama did this after New Hampshire and significantly closed the gender gap. So far he’s been basically getting nowhere with Latinos (race is a factor in my opinion) but I expect him to reach out to Latinos and have some success as they get to know him (so far, Latino support has come mainly from the Clinton name and not from any particular policy issue). For HRC it’s a bit more complicated. I don’t think she’s going to turn too many of Obama’s target support to her side, but she will give it a try.

But either way, I think the candidates are going to reformulate both the message and the target audience (to a certain extent). These changes in tactics and strategy are going to have huge play in the coming weeks but, oddly, I don’t think they’ll make much of a difference in February. Instead, I think the change in message will help in places like Texas, West Virginia, Indiana, Mississippi, and Ohio, among others. So even if HRC does make inroads here, I don’t know how it starts helping her until March 4th at the earliest.


If I were to bet on it, I’d put money on neither securing enough delegates to win the nomination outright. That seems the most likely outcome. But, I have to say, I like Obama’s chances. He’s got the money, the favorable calendar, the organization, and the momentum. In some ways, he’s gone from challenger to favorite. That doesn’t mean he’s going to win, but he’s got a great shot.

Update: A couple more links to bolster my story. First, an AP article providing more details about the calendar schedule for February. It notes that HRC expects to lose MD, DC, VA, WI, and Hawaii. The other link is the story I referenced above that details 5 reasons for HRC concern. And now, two extra points:

1. It looks like the Edwards supporters went for Obama. No link but I've seen it written in several places.

2. HRC's entire campaign was based on "inevitability". People who suggest Obama didn't win on Tuesday either have very short memories or a tenuous relationship with the truth. He smashed the central premise of her campaign to bits and they're reeling. There's even talk of a shakeup at the top now. Getting interesting.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Winners Win

There is an old political adage popularized by an American Enterprise Institute fellow to explain why Bill Clinton kept the Republicans at bay in the 1990s. He suggested, rather simply, that “winners win and losers lose” meaning that when a politician has the appearance of winning, he’ll likely win. Clinton was the master of this, particularly during the State of the Union. He’d laundry list lovely proposals which would never pass but which would make him quite popular with the public, a public that thought he was despicable on a personal level, yet lovely on a policy level. He won – even though the GOP through the kitchen sink at him and eventually caught him in a lie.

I mention this because a lot of people are suggesting that last night was disappointing for Obama. I think they’ve forgotten this adage. Winners win. Obama won 14 states (including New Mexico – which is still a toss up). He won in the northeast, the south, the Midwest, and the southwest. He won white and black and even a few Latinos. And while the delegate count is still out, Obama pulled off the unthinkable. He made California irrelevant.

It must have been a very disappointing night for Hillary Clinton. She lost states she should have won, her margin of victory in the states she won, for the most part, was fairly narrow, and had it not been for California, we would be talking about the end of her candidacy.

As recently as three days ago, Hillary was leading in Delaware, Connecticut, Alabama, Missouri, Minnesota, and was in a dead heat in Colorado. He won them all. He won Delaware by 10 points, Connecticut by 4, Alabama by 14, Missouri by 1, Minnesota by 35, and Colorado by 35. This was a stunning turn around.

Obama is the challenger, the underdog, while Hillary is the virtual incumbent due to her name recognition and her husband. And the general rule in politics, sports, life is that the longer a challenger sticks around, the worse it is for the favorite. This doesn’t mean it’s over. Hillary could still win this thing. But all the important trends are going against her. Obama has the money ($32 million in January alone). He’s been trending upward on national polls while HRC has been flat. He won yesterday’s total popular vote 49%-48%. The next few primaries favor him over HRC (Virginia, DC, Maryland in particular).

And then you have to consider the historical circumstances. One year ago he was a junior senator from Illinois barely recognized from his 2004 Convention speech. He was up against the inevitable Clinton machine, a machine that had been cultivating the HRC image since 2001 for her ultimate plan to win the White House in 2008. She had (has) rich, powerful backers lined up behind her and an aura of inevitability that seemed unstoppable. She was the New England Patriots.

Now, Obama is a national force. He’s got a movement behind him. A movement of people that passionately support his candidacy with time and money, of people who have been better organized from the bottom up than HRC’s top down approach, and who have consistently gotten out the vote in key states. At the end of the day, even if Obama is still behind in the delegate count, he won more states and more people. Winners win.
As to the Republicans, I think Doug Bandow, former Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute summed it up best:

“Imagine a McCain-Huckabee ticket: a mix of irresponsible hawkishness, economic populism, nanny-state regulation, parole for murderers, Christian identity politics, and ethical lapses. The Democrats are starting to look real good!"

Update: Here's the text of Norman Ornstein's Winners-Win argument. Refers to Congress, but the point holds true, methinks:

Norman Ornstein, American Enterprise Institute, ROLL CALL, May 27, 1993

Winning comes to those who look like winners. This only sounds redundant or cliche'-ish. If power is the ability to make people do something they otherwise would not do. Real power is having people do things they otherwise wouldn't do without anybody making them - when they act in anticipation of what they think somebody would want them to do. If a president develops a reputation as a winner. somebody who will pull out victories in Congress even when he is behind, somebody who can say, "Do this!" and have it done, then Members of Congress will behave accordingly. They will want to cut their deals with the president early, getting on the winning team when it looks the best and means the most.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Two Hours and Fifteen Minutes I’ll Never Get Back

We have a crime problem in our apartment building. In just under one year there have been 5 burglaries. The belief in the building is that someone inside the building is responsible. It’s a belief that is interesting, but mostly irrelevant. We have not the power to investigate and prove or disprove the theory. All we can do is secure our apartments and live with it and for the most part, the responsibility falls on the individual owner. We installed a security door that would need the jaws of life to pry open, for example. It was a cost we had to assume.

Saturday night, there was another robbery. It was number five. We seem to be on a 2 month schedule. This thief (or thieves) climbed over the outer fence on one side of the building to the 2nd floor patio, then climbed up another barrier and forced open a 3rd floor kitchen window. A computer, camera, money, and credit cards were stolen. The thief got away cleanly. And, there are security cameras on each corner of the building yet the security guard apparently saw nothing or wasn’t paying attention.

This news necessitated a meeting. As my lovely wife was once again out of town (for the 2nd time), I was forced to attend. This was particularly unfortunate as yesterday afternoon I had been inspired by words of Chipotle and had cooked a monster amount of chicken and vegetables to form my own personal fajita burrito – only to get a call about the meeting 10 minutes before I finished. So I was not in the best of moods, to say the least.

The meeting started reasonably well. The woman whose apartment was robbed recounted the story. We understood the details. We were prepared to take action. Then Colombia broke out. And when I say “Colombia” I mean two hours of arguing and complaining about what wasn’t done in the past, what needs to be done now, and pretty much everything in between – none of which had any relation to the situation at hand. The situation at hand was pretty simple to fix – put barbed wire on the outer fence (like EVERY other building in the city), put up light sensors that respond to movement, and retrain the security guards so that they understand what to do when they see irregularities on the security monitor (there were mysterious “shadows” Saturday night).

I was extremely pissed off. Not only were tasty and delicious fajita burritos awaiting, not only was my stomach rumbling, not only was I missing out on precious time to do WHATEVER THE HELL I WANTED, but I was forced to listen to people who had never lifted a finger to improve building security make the most petty and ridiculous complaints. Somebody needed a good slapping.

I won’t be attending another meeting like that. Not only is it the wife’s turn but next time I’m just going to speak up and tell them how absurdly wasteful they really are, etiquette and form be damned. My post work time is valuable to me and I don’t want to waste it on fools and their desire to be heard.

This event does, however, highlight something that I think is worth mentioning. What happened last night replicates virtually every meeting I’ve ever had here at the Company. Meetings are essentially a waste of everyone’s time because people want to fight over problems, not resolve them, everyone insists on being heard, even if their point has already been made a half dozen times, and throughout it all, there are little inefficient time wasters in the forms of jokes intended to lighten a mood that has gotten personal due to the veracity of the comments. Somebody get me a job with the Brits!

To give an example, one common trait of these types of meetings is the person who says some derivation of the following: "I've lived/worked/etc X number of years and never once had a problem with X/Y/Z!!!" People love to think their personal experiences mean something, I guess, no matter how petty or stupid.

Anyway, I just voted for Obama in the Democrats Abroad primary and I’ve got some more burritos waiting at home for me tonight, so today is looking up.


Monday, February 04, 2008

The Great Economic Opportunity Provided by a March against the FARC

Colombia, by all means, is much more purely capitalistic than I ever expected. Perhaps that is due to the fact that the nation is, ostensibly, in a fight for its life against would be Marxist socialists and it’s the public’s patriotic duty to become foot soldiers for capitalism. Some would certainly explain it that way. But I think it’s more due to necessity. Life for the poor is hard here and it only gets better if you get out there and sell, sell, sell. Need drives them, nothing more, nothing less. And the fundamentals of capitalism, the provision of desired goods for an effective price, is the only option. The pipe dream that is socialism sounds great, but any of the working poor will tell you, there is no hope for it. Even in the “socialist paradise®” that is Venezuela, thousands of people poor cross the border every day to sell cheaply bought gas to Colombians just to survive. So much for Chavez’s dream

Which brings us to today’s glorious economic opportunity. Today is the day in which the entire nation will take to the streets and march in protest against the FARC with the slogan “FARC No Mas” or some derivation thereof. This march is in response to the FARC’s tendency to kidnap and hold (virtually forever) both military and civilians alike and was sparked by the recent round of foolerism that was the January release of Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez. Of note, is the following communiqué from the FARC:

“….Cuando toda la Nación unida, (empresas, medios y pueblo) o por lo menos un 50% (22.000.000) de Colombianos nos diga a una sola voz que no están de acuerdo con nuestra lucha, ese día daremos por perdida nuestra lucha armada…”.

Which says:

“…When the entire Nation unites (businesses, media, and people) or at least 50% (22,000,000) of Colombians tell us with one voice that they disagree with our struggle, that day we will have lost our armed struggle…”

This is not to suggest that Marulanda and his partners are going to throw down their arms and emerge from the jungle with their hands out, asking for forgiveness. But it is interesting that essentially, Colombia is calling their bluff.

At any rate, in the interest of solidarity, the march organizers are asking all participants to wear white T-shirts that say “FARC, No Mas” or “FARC son terroristas”. There is also a drive to carry small Colombian flags or place large flags on places of business, etc. The idea is to paint Colombia’s cities white to represent peace or opposition to the FARC.

This represents a great selling opportunity. The last week, the streets have been flooded with T-shirts and flags and today there are even more. Flags are flying from apartment buildings, from the windows of cars and buses, and are placed in the streets. Some in the office are already wearing their white T-shirts while others have them at the ready.

The march will start at noon and go for an hour or two. During that time, there will be people needing to buy T-shirts, refreshments, and, in all likelihood, souvenirs. Money is going to be made today.

Which brings me to my general point: If the FARC stand as Marxists opposed to capitalism, then they’ll lose twice today. Not only will 50% of the nation rise to stand against them, but that 50% is going to spend, spend, spend and that’s in all likelihood, the greater defeat. The system works when the poor earn. The FARC fail when the poor earn.

Note: More information on the march is available here.


Friday, February 01, 2008

The (Non) Great Debate

I may be in the minority here, but I found last night's Democrat debate very difficult to watch. Part of that is because it was a very dense policy debate that was more or less a repitition of previously discussed issues. But another part lies squarely at the feet of Hillary Clinton. There were a number of times in which HRC just rambled on and on, clearly dodging questions. I lost her on several of those rambles (especially when she talked about launching a PR campaign for health care reform - at least I think that's what she was suggesting) and I thought she suffered from a classic debate syndrome - trying to fill space when a short, succint answer would serve better. On the other hand, Obama was relatively short and sweet a number of times and I liked that. Especially when asked stupid questions (like the, Romney says he'll be the CEO of the US but you don't have business experience so how can you be an effective CEO? - that was pure idiocy and Obama and HRC were both great at slapping the question back at Wolf).

In fact, I though Hillary was much, much sharper on the policy issues in South Carolina. I would not rate last night as one of her finer debates. HRC is at her best when she has tightly worded policy points and doesn't go off script. That's what happened in SC. Last night, she just went off the plot more often than not to the point that I was confused and annoyed in that she wasn't making much sense and she wasn't answering the questions (see answer to the political dynasty question, for ex).

Not only that, I think that Obama pretty much controlled or pushed the agenda (at least in the 2nd half). He pushed the McCain card and the Iraq card which I think are devestating to Hillary (she can't really position herself as the anti-war alternative in the general since she voted for the war, Obama can, and that's a key selling point. With Hillary, the distinction between the two candidates is muddy). Hillary was reactive to those points, going so far as to suggest that her vote in '02 made sense at the time, but that Bush screwed it up. Obama beat her back on that point as well with his, "everyone knew the day after the vote we were going to war." I know I felt that way after the vote and I found HRC's response to that question to be, politely, awful. (I'm not the only one.)

I also thought that Hillary rambled on in terms of Immigration. She didn't have a particularly coherent answer and while Obama didn't get down into the policy options, he sold his commitment to the issue and his commitment to not scapegoating which I know will sell well in California. By contrast, Hillary laundry listed things that she was in favor of, things like fines for illegals, waiting lists, etc. and I thought that to be a mistake. You don't court the immigrant/latino vote by suggesting you're going to levy fines against illegals who want to stay, even if that is what you are going to end up doing in reality (sometimes in politics it's better to talk in a general way and this is one of those issue). I thought Obama routed her on immigration.

That being said, I don't pretend to pass on these points as anything other than my own. Going back to 2001 my opinions and predictions for American politics haven't exactly been spot on. I also admit to being in the Obama corner and that undoubtedly influences my views on these issues. There's no telling how this debate will effect the elections on Tuesday but I thought that Obama, in general, won the debate because 1) he proved that he could be a policy wonk and 2) he hammered away his message that he was the best suited candidate to tackle John McCain. Hillary, by contrast, merely reiterated her policy wonkery, less effectively than before, while essentially had no answer to the electability question and Iraq.

On a final note, some people have suggested that Obama could join Hillary's ticket. I will politely suggest that there's no F-ing way that's going to happen. Obama's entire campaign speil has been based on a different, above the fray politics. He CAN'T join up with Hillary without proving that speil a total lie and fabrication. She stands for the type of politics he is against, so, all wishful thinking aside, it's EITHER/OR not Either/and.

(As a real final note, compared to the GOP "debate" the other day, this debate was infinitely more interesting. The GOP debate took place in the most bizarre of surrounding and failed to generate enthusiasm even with the GOP audience. The Dem debate was in a packed house in LA that, even with a number of Hollywood stars, still managed to rock and sway like a rock concert. This bodes well. GOP - Party of old, white, rich men. Dems - Party of diversity, youth, enthusiasm, and participatory democracy.)


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