Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Help a disabled Marine

Cox & Forkum
I am participating in an online fundraiser called Project VALOUR-IT, Voice-Activated Laptops for OUR Injured Troops. One hundred percent of your donation to Project Valour-IT will be used to purchase the laptop computers that will provide independence and freedom to wounded Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. As of October 2007, Valour-IT has distributed over 1500 laptops to severely wounded military members across the country.

In honor of my late uncle Col. William Traynor, USMC (Ret.); and my friend Cpl. Bobby Wold, USMC, currently deployed in Iraq, and all Marines, I have chosen to post a Team Marines graphic (right) for some friendly interservice competition, but all of the money raised goes into a single fund.

How did this program get started? From the Soldiers' Angels web site:
Project Valour-IT began when Charles "Chuck" Ziegenfuss was wounded by an IED while serving as commander of a tank company in Iraq in June 2005.

During his deployment he kept a blog (an online personal diary, opinion forum, or news analysis site-called a milblog or military weblog when written by a servicemember or about military subjects). Captivating writing, insightful stories of his experiences, and his self-deprecating humor won him many loyal readers. After he was wounded, his wife continued his blog, keeping his readers informed of his condition.

As he began to recover, CPT Ziegenfuss wanted to return to writing his blog, but serious hand injuries hampered his typing. When a loyal and generous reader gave him a copy of the Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred software, other readers began to realize how important such software could be to Captain Ziegenfuss' fellow wounded soldiers and started cast about for a way to get it to them.

A fellow blogger (blog author) who writes under the pseudonym FbL contacted CPT Ziegenfuss and the two realized they shared a vision of providing laptops with voice-controlled software to wounded soldiers whose injuries prevented them from operating a standard computer. FbL contacted Soldiers' Angels who offered to help develop the project, and Project Valour-IT was born.

Bloggers and their readers have a special understanding of how significant this program can be to a wounded warrior's rehabilitation and recovery. Please chip in what you can to help the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who through their sacrifices have shown us that freedom is not free. (Soldiers' Angels is a volunteer based, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Election coverage targets Minnetonka school board member

In a notable exercise of yellow journalism (at least for a newspaper that is not the Star Tribune), Lakeshore Weekly News Editor Brett Stursa put the campaign of one incumbent Minnetonka school board member in her journalistic crosshairs ("Race raises new, old questions," October 23, 2007).

The school board member, Bill Wenmark, is running for reelection to a third term on the Minnetonka school board. Wenmark is known for his early opposition to the now-repealed Profile of Learning graduation standards, and a long record of activism on public school issues. Wenmark is not shy about voicing his views, for example in favor of permitting the teaching the concepts of intelligent design in science classes, and raising serious questions about the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

Stursa devoted 13 column inches, almost 25% of her article about the Minnetonka School Board elections, to a clarification of one of the lines in the education section of Wenmark's resume. The facts of the case: Wenmark's resume listed the United States Naval Academy when it should have read United States Naval Academy Hospital/Clinic. Wenmark corrected his campaign web site after Stursa asked for this clarification.

(Further clarification from Wenmark's web site: "In 1969, after completing extensive technical medical training and three years in the United States Navy, [Wenmark] was assigned to the United States Naval Academy Hospital/Clinic. It was here that the direction of his life would be forever changed. With a family to consider, he volunteered to be transferred to the United States Marine Corps and a tour of duty in Vietnam as a Combat Corpsman. He did this with the knowledge that his life expectancy in country was 3 months. He became a decorated Combat Corpsman in Vietnam from 1969-70.")

Why was this mundane portion of a reporter's routine research into a 1969 entry in Wenmark's curriculum vitae highlighted in the lead 13 inches of a story ostensibly about the issues in the Minnetonka school board election of 2007?

It would have been nice to hear the candidates' views on the Minnetonka school district's $3.8 million excess operating levy and $4.8 million extension to the current technology levy, for example, which share the ballot on November 6 with the school board election. How have the $3.8 million in budget cuts made in 2005 affected class size or curriculum? In the opinion of each of the candidates, has the new (in 2006) Q-Comp alternative compensation program been good for Minnetonka students, parents, teachers? Surely Stursa could explore these and other issues facing the district that will need leadership from the school board during the next few years.

Stursa is certainly qualified to explore these questions and more. She has covered the west metro education beat before, for the left-wing City Pages, including an article about the International Baccalaureate debate in Minnetonka called "We don't need no education (May 11, 2005)."

Instead, Stursa next spent 6-1/2 column inches examining Wenmark's committee assignments and meeting attendance record, which at least is related to his school board service, but certainly can't top the list of issues on the minds of most voters — except perhaps Wenmark's opponents.

Stursa concludes the piece with two issues that she knows about, but by her own admission are yesterday's news: "...the momentum going into this election isn't nearly as fierce as it was two years ago when IB and Intelligent Design first surfaced."

Agenda-driven writing like this, which generates more heat than light, is better suited to a lefty blog or City Pages than a community newspaper that local voters look to for substantive guidance in this non-partisan race. Check out this week's issue of the Sun Sailor for an information-packed voter's guide to the Minnetonka and other 2007 west metro elections.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Terri Bonoff: "uniting the middle" in the Third?

Terri Bonoff (photo: Minnesota Senate)This week in the Sun Sailor newspaper (article not posted online yet), my Minnetonka neighbor, state Senator Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), announced her candidacy for the DFL endorsement for U.S. Congress in the west suburban Minnesota Third District. The puff piece, perfectly coordinated with an endorsement in the letters-to-the-editor section, neatly laid out Bonoff's winning strategy for 2008, which is cut from pretty much the same cloth as her two successful campaigns for the Minnesota Senate.

If Bonoff wins the DFL endorsement, look for campaign themes like Uniting the Middle, pragmatic, bipartisan, education, health care, multimodal transportation (read: light rail). Independent expenditures will be aggressive in more ways than one: Democrats are salivating at the chance to win the Third for the first time in forty-eight years, and Bonoff has proven fundraising ability. If past campaigns are any indication, Bonoff will wisely take the high road against her opponent, while independent party, 527, and PAC money will go on no-holds-barred attack.

Many independent voters will be looking for a candidate in the mode of retiring Representative Jim Ramstad, that is, not too conservative, but not too liberal. Bonoff may look for unconventional endorsements that would appeal to independents and left-leaning Republicans; for example: the surprise 2006 endorsement of Bonoff by the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce over the Republican candidate Judy Johnson. (Bonoff won the TwinWest endorsement despite my friend Johnson's long-time support of TwinWest as city councilperson and mayor, and despite TwinWest ironically hiring Johnson after the election as their Director of Community Relations.)

One helpful endorsement already in hand came in August, when Bonoff was named a "Friend of Education," along with liberal Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville), by the Association of Metropolitan School Districts (AMSD), which lobbies for more money from the state for metro-area school districts.

If the Republicans endorse a male candidate, sexism will be a major factor in the campaign: not the candidates' sexism, the voters' sexism. Given the chance to elect a woman, any woman, to office, party-independent, marginally political, and center-right female voters will contract a sudden mass case of Estrogen Blindness, and reflexively line up behind their sister without a serious analysis of the candidates' other differences. The reasoning goes like, "Men (like Ramstad?) have made such a mess of things, it's time to give a woman a chance."

Wendy Wilde's unsuccessful challenge to Ramstad in 2006 used the theme "ELECT MOM" in an attempt to recast Wilde from liberal talk radio host (scary) to briefcase-toting soccer mom. Bonoff needs no such extreme makeover. With her business experience, public school advocacy, and just-like-you charm, she is perfectly cast to appeal to women across the Third.

In an alternate universe, "Mirror Mirror" scenario, the Democrat Bonoff could quite possibly mount a "stay-the-course" campaign — she already compared herself to the Republican Ramstad in the Sun Sailor article — while her Republican opponent mounts a "time for change" campaign, without mentioning The Rammer by name. If Republicans don't offer a positive, bold, conservative vision to contrast with Bonoff, they could find themselves triangulated right out of the Third District seat.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Semper Fidelis

Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference. The Marines don't have that problem.
—President Ronald Reagan, 1985, as inscribed at the National Museum of the Marine Corps

Presentation of the flagI spent a few days in the Washington, D.C. area last week to mourn the loss of my uncle, Col. William L. "Moose" Traynor, USMC (Retired). As often happens, I learned a lot more about my uncle at his funeral than I ever knew about him while he was alive.

My Uncle Moose was a daring Marine aviator in three wars (from F4U Corsairs to A-6 Intruders, from land and from three aircraft carriers), a patriot, a scholar, loving father and husband, golfer, New York Times Crossword Puzzle fan, and McGovern Democrat. He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in the family plot, with full military honors provided by a Marine escort platoon and band, led by a flag-draped caisson and riderless horse. I have never before seen so many Marines in dress uniforms in one place.

As the funeral procession reached the grave site on that sunny, unusually warm Virginia afternoon, the band played a somber rendition of the Marine Corps Hymn. The service included three rifle volleys by a seven-man rifle team, the playing of "Taps," the ritual folding of the American flag by the Marine pallbearers as the band played the Navy Hymn, and the presentation of this flag with the words:
On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's service to Country and Corps.

It was a very moving and fitting burial service.

After the burial, there was a reception at the Fort Meyer Officer's Club, on the Army base adjacent to Arlington Cemetery. Many ex-Marines from VMA-121, Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 121, joined family and friends in celebrating Moose's life.

The previous day, I had the opportunity to tour the year-old National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia, about a half-hour south of Arlington near Marine Corps Base Quantico (where Moose was once stationed). I highly recommend a visit to this fitting tribute to the Corps.

After last week, I have an increased appreciation for these Marine warriors who so selflessly protect and serve our nation. As the motto of the First Marine Division says, there is "No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy" than the United States Marine Corps.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Iowa burning

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the public treasure. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most money from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship. —attributed to Alexander Tyler (1747-1813)

A month before she became Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson's campaign spokeswoman, Karen Hanretty bravely opined on The Hill's Pundits Blog in opposition to ethanol subsidies, "Perhaps it’s time to put America first and make Iowa go last."

After opposing them while he was a U.S. Senator, candidate Fred Thompson now backs billions in taxpayer subsidies to Archer Daniels Midland and Big Ag to burn our nation's corn supply for fuel — while domestic oil exploration and petroleum refinery construction have been at a virtual standstill for years, conveniently providing the "crisis" that ethanol has been waiting to solve.

Ethanol may be a scam, but like light rail and SCHIP for all, it wins elections — even if it doesn't solve the problems that it purports to solve, even with a blank check from the public treasury. Just ask Governor Tim Pawlenty — or former lieutenant governor candidate Judi "What's E85?" Dutcher.

Ethanol's a no-brainer — for politicians on both sides of the aisle. Tyler would certainly agree.