Tuesday, March 25, 2008

imposed upon by most indirect causes

Lest we forget how affected we can be by those myriad things that happen even continents away, consider my poor student from Venezuela who went home for her spring break. While there, she learned that her government refused to renew her visa to return to Florida and finish her semester at our university.

I seem to recall reading something about Hugo Chavez's threats to withhold visas to the U.S., among his usual rants against us "Yankee Imperialists," which are so frequent I hardly pay attention most of the time. But this time it affected me directly. My student's predicament led her to contact my administration, who promptly contacted me to arrange online work with her so she can continue to meet her requirements in my course and earn her credits. I'm also asked to report back to the administration as I proceed so they can monitor the situation.

The extra workaround isn't difficult but is time-consuming, as with any individual needs outside the regular class meetings. It's not really part of my responsibility as an adjunct instructor, but I'll do it, because it was no fault of the student--nor any fault of my university or even me. It's Hugo Chavez's fault, as I see it. Yet there's not much any of us can do otherwise, in fairness to the student.

I'm sure she flew down without her texts or assignments--it was her spring break after all--expecting to fly right back. But all her stuff's up here in her room, and I have no idea how or when or even if, she'll ever get it back.

The incident reminded me how fortunate I am to live in a free country which offers me at least some protections against the infantile whims and pouting gestures of a despotic leader.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Ties That Bind

Once again my state, Florida, has bolixed up an election process, and once again it has managed to appear foolish in the eyes of the nation, and once again it's citizens are all a-dither for something to be done to set it right--without paying for it, of course.

In a pushy attempt to pre-empt the national Presidential primaries, our ex-governor Jeb and the Republican-dominated legislature moved up our primary by a couple of weeks, over the objections of just about everyone else in the country, including the candidates. Not screaming so loudly was Michigan, which made a similar cut to the front of the line by moving its own primary earlier as well. The Republican Party and the Democratic Party quickly levied punishment for breaking the rules: Florida's Democratic delegates were denied seats at the national convention, thus disenfranchising the state's democratic voters and rendering their primary votes moot. The state's Republican delegates were divided by half at that party's national convention. No delegates campaigned in the state, by their mutual agreement (though Hillary came down to crow over her victory briefly after the vote).

So the move to increase influence in the primary selection process backfired in spades. Not only did the state receive far less exposure to the candidates, with the chance to influence issues and positions, but they got next to zip. And worse, even with the primary taking place January 29, its results didn't alter anything at all. And worse still, Florida's delegates were unseated and the electorate punished with their votes not counting at all--surprise surprise.

Now both Florida and Michigan are scrambling to undo the damage and rush through a Democratic party do-over, either in actual balloting or a mail-in choice, but even that has the devil in the details and no one can agree on how it would be feasible or fair, or affordable. The national party won't pay for a repeat, nor should they.

What the legislature did not foresee--besides the foolhardy thumbing of noses at the national rules--was the tie. The tie between Obama and Clinton--or potential near-enough tie to make the super-delegates a factor going into the convention, and the very real possibility that neither can win enough delegates to capture the nomination outright. That effective tie means that something has to give. Someone empowered to elect the Democratic party nominee for President has to switch his or her vote. Actually, quite a few have to, to assure the number for victory.

But wait! Isn't each delegate bound by law to vote for the candidate the voters elected in the primaries and caucusses? Actually, not exactly. It's not against the law to switch. But wait! Isn't each delegate bound by moral obligation to reflect the will of the people's votes? Guess what. This is what is called hardball, friends, and anything goes.

So it turns out that the ties that bind, where elections are concerned, are not binding very firmly, that the back-room deal-making and phone call deal-breaking has already begun, both candidates promising the super-delegates the moon many times over to switch to their side.

And ironically, with Pennsylvania coming up in its primary in a few weeks, that state and others which follow, which kept their place in the pecking order of traditional primary dates, are now the ones which are apt to actually have the greatest impact on the election, not Iowa, not New Hampshire, not even Texas and Ohio. And certainly not 'lil ole Flawda, which in its reckless gamble just lost its clout entirely. The latest state to vote may actually be the one to put Mr. Obama or Mrs. Clinton over the top. He who laughs last,....

Oh well, at least we got to see a lot of Rudy Guiliani. He campaigned here and nowhere else, and came in last, and quit. The ties that bind aren't very firm.