30 May 2006

Weekend in Norfolk

Just came back from a romantic weekend with zee boyfriend - we were off to Norfolk up North for a weekend at his parents' cottage - it was great. Last time we were there it was freezing and it actually snowed on the beach, where as this time we were a bit luckier with the weather and even saw a bit of sunshine. I believe our tour de Norfolk consisted of Norwich, Blakeney, Cley, Brancaster, Burnham Market, Holt, Cromer, Wells by the Sea, and their own little village outside of Fakenham, but I'm sure we drove through even more. It was Bank Holiday Weekend over here, so everyone had Monday off, which conviently was Jack's 30th birthday. After dancing with the Latin American crowd at Mestizo on Friday late into the night as a benefit for Mauritzio's NGO, getting up to catch out 8:30am train was rough. But... we made it... and spent Saturday and drove from one quaint fishing village to another, stopping in for crab sandwiches and coffees along the way. We also picked up sea bass, smoked salmon and crab and then went home and made a fabulous dinner - it had been quite some time since I had had such high quality seafood, hands-down. On Sunday we were able to go to a beautiful vast beach surrounded by a wooded pine forest - it was cold and windy - but lovely and fun to be able to walk in the sand and stick my toes in the water! I have some funny pictures from that day - along with some pics of a beautiful church just outside of Cley.... the computer is rubbish right now so I'll have to try and add them later!

It's Almost June - Who Knew?!

So last night we made a discovery of really great Mexican food in London - it exists! The place is called Green and Red and the bar specializes in Tequila (they have probably the biggest selection I've ever seen) and the restaurant is fabulous... good guac, great corn tortillas, pico de gallo, salsa verde, beans... you name it. Check it out here: http://www.greenred.co.uk/.

So after an awesome birthday celebration for Jack we picked up ice cream and headed back to watch a great Mexican dvd, 'Amores Perros' to complete our Mexican-themed night...(http://cinemexicano.mty.itesm.mx/peliculas/amoresperros.html).

I am back now and after having lunch with Mark am trying to get myself sorted.... packing, laundry, blogging, setting up interviews, etc. I am off to Washington, DC in the morning ... so hopefully I'll have time to post blogs, but probably not pictures just yet. Until then - have a great few weeks and email me if you need anything. Also - if you are in the DC area... Kris and Gretchen are throwing a welcome-back bbq for me (because they are awesome)... so feel free to join! http://www.evite.com/pages/invite/viewInvite.jsp?inviteId=BXAHSPOXNQVZFVQAJWLD&li=iq&src=email&trk=aei2

Uno Mas

Mark smiling in photo (as always!); Mara acting mature (as always!)

25 May 2006

Not married, with children? Not in our town thanks

Not married, with children? Not in our town thanks·
Missouri council defends policy to 'protect values'·
Unmarried couple could be fined $500 a day
Oliver Burkeman in New York
Thursday May 25 2006
The Guardian

The town of Black Jack, Missouri, got its name from the variety of oak tree that once grew nearby. "Those stately trees represent who and what we are today, a proud city with strong roots, providing the safety and respite of community," its promotional literature explains. It is the kind of place where family is valued - just as long as the family in question meets certain criteria.

Olivia Shelltrack and Fondray Loving's family, it seems, do not.The couple could face fines of $500 (£270) a day, and Black Jack is already facing the unwelcome glare of national attention, as a result of a local regulation that bans unmarried couples with more than one child from occupying homes there."The character and stability of a city is not an accident, it is the result of years of hard work by the residents," Norman McCourt, the mayor of Black Jack, said in a statement after the city council rejected a proposal to abolish the regulation.

Mr Loving and Ms Shelltrack now plan to file a lawsuit with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, while the US department of housing, in Washington, has launched an investigation to determine whether Black Jack's ban is illegal.Mr Loving, 33, and Ms Shelltrack, 31, have lived together for 13 years. They have two children and also live with Ms Shelltrack's daughter, who calls Mr Loving her father. They bought their Black Jack home earlier this year."We're just like anybody else," Ms Shelltrack told the Guardian. "It's not like we're purple with polka dots or something. I just really feel like this shouldn't be anybody's business."

The couple were not opposed to getting married, she said, but wanted to wait until they could afford a "nice big wedding ... I don't think a piece of paper is going to validate our relationship, though. We love each other, and our kids are happy, healthy individuals. You can't define family."

Other American towns have regulations similar to Black Jack's, which technically bars any group of more than three people from living together unless related by "blood, marriage or adoption". Generally, such rules are intended to stop rowdy college fraternity houses from being established on residential streets. But in a country increasingly riven on issues of social morality, housing regulations represent an easy way for towns to try to give their definitions of acceptable lifestyles the force of law.

In an earlier dispute, in 1999, Mr McCourt wrote that city officials "do not believe that an unmarried couple having children, residing in our community, is an appropriate standard that they wish to approve". The family in that case broke the restriction because they had triplets.Black Jack has backtracked on the mayor's earlier warning that Mr Loving and Ms Shelltrack might be evicted, but if it takes them to municipal court and wins it could fine them up to $500 a day. Sheldon Stock, the town's special counsel, said a 1977 supreme court judgment had affirmed the view that a city could uphold traditional family values by limiting the number of unrelated people who share a home.

"I find it curious at best that housing laws are being used to define the relationships that count," said Frank Alexander of Emory University law school in Georgia, who has researched the phenomenon. "It seems a dangerous way to do indirectly what we may not be willing to confront directly, which is social control over the definition of family." Rules were being used increasingly, he said, to target immigrant communities - "where extended familial relationships are common".

Michael Watson, a former marine who lives in Black Jack, has been taking a special interest in the case, since he too shares a home with his girlfriend and their children. He told the St Louis Post-Dispatch they had contemplated getting married, but were unwilling. "If I do get married, am I getting married out of super love, or am I getting married because Black Jack says I have to? If we're forced out of our house, what do our neighbours get? A sex offender? A drug addict? A drug dealer?"

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited

*This is ridiculous... why don't they focus on helping kids without parents? Families without homes? Families without food? Of all the stable families that I have seen in my life... I have yet to hear of one basing their success on a piece of paper. It's the strength of the commitment, not the legal status of it.... of all the problems in this world it's amazing that breaking up stable families could be on the top of the list.


Buckingham Place + Piccadilly Circus + Hampstead Heath + Polish Party


It was SO great to see Peter and Nick and Chris... and to meet Lev, Dove and Jen... thanks for playing host Gieg!

Spoon + New Pornographers

East Side Gallery + Additional Berlin Pics

More Prague Pics

23 May 2006

What The Heck Do Democrats Run On?

*Kris just forwarded this - it's awesome.
NationalJournal.com© National Journal Group Inc.
Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2006

There's a growing realization within Democratic circles that the party is facing a tough hurdle when it comes to concocting a message that's "not them" to "why us."

The "not them" part of their message is getting written by the Justice Department and the slow-to-act House GOP leadership on a nearly daily basis. And for their part, Democrats have actually done a decent job of pushing the "not them" with their "culture of corruption" refrain.

Making the case for firing a political party or elected official is easy to do in campaign politics. Making the case to hire in lieu of is much harder.

Making the case for firing a political party or an elected official is one of the easier things to do in campaign politics. Making the case to hire in lieu of is much harder.

Let's just look back at 2004 and 2005 and note the number of campaigns that were more "not them" than "why us" and how many of them actually won.
John Kerry's entire campaign was built around "not them" and that was good enough to unite the Democratic base, good enough to make the presidential race competitive, but not good enough for the swing voters (mostly white, married women) to hire Kerry.

Doug Forrester's campaign for New Jersey governor in 2005 was exclusively "not them" as it made the assumption that the voters in the state had had it when it came to political corruption. But Forrester never made a strong "why us" argument and, of course, Forrester's opponent, Jon Corzine, had the resources to develop both the "not them" and "why us" messages.

Freddy Ferrer only had a "not them" message when it came to unseating New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg; and that "not them" was solely based on Bloomberg's party affiliation.

The parties or candidates who successfully "fire" or unseat a party/incumbent from office usually have a potent combination of the two. Some recent examples:

In 2000, George W. Bush weaved his "not them" and "why us" messaging quite effectively using his "restore honor and integrity" line without talking too much about how he'd govern differently than Clinton.

In 2004, John Thune had the benefit of two years to get South Dakota voters comfortable with the "why us" message and that gave him the luxury of focusing a "not them" on Tom Daschle. Again, as far as voters were concerned, they were hearing both "not them" and "why us."

In fact, as much as we talk about the "throw the bums out" mentality that can take hold of electorates, it appears that candidates who unseat incumbent parties or elected officials usually do so because of how well they deliver their "why us" message. Sure, the "not them" is important, but the "why us" is much more so. Just ask Jim Talent in Missouri, Norm Coleman in Minnesota or Mark Pryor in Arkansas. (By the way, Bob Casey Jr. needs to take note of this; his party has the "not him" down pat in regards to Rick Santorum but Casey still needs the "why him." But we digress...)

It seems the Democrats don't have a solid "why us" message yet. At best, their "why us" can be described as "not them but like they wanted to be." Take, for instance, Al Gore's Monday speech on privacy or Harry Reid's tour of the red states talking about fiscal responsibility or Reid and Nancy Pelosi talking about some extreme ethics reform that neither would have been trumpeting back in '92.

But all of these stances seem to mirror a more Republican philosophy or campaign tactic of old that may give the Democrats difficulty in firmly selling their "why us."

What the Democrats are missing is the big "easy to grasp" issue to be "for." In '94, Republicans used "term limits" among other issues as an easy way to underscore their change message. Granted, selling change based on 40 years of control versus the 12 years Democrats are trying to stop is easy. Still, "term limits" seemed like an idea that was bigger than just the congressional election. There were ballot-initiative campaigns all over the country trying to get various state legislatures to abide by term limits.

Of course, we can debate all day about whether the term-limit system keeps politicians from becoming power-hungry or emboldens lobbyists to truly run the asylum. (For what it's worth, we think term limits are a disaster on the state legislative level, as lobbyists have taken over multiple state houses and senates for the worst, but may be necessary on the federal level to clean up this current mess.)

So what is the "big idea" or two Democrats are going to pitch? Right now, it's a party that seems to fear the "big idea" because of divisions within its own ranks. Whether it's Iraq, health care, energy or education, there seems to be nothing but caution being put forth.

But the problem isn't just the lack of a "why us" message from the Democrats but the messengers themselves.

Take, for instance, the Sam Alito hearings where Democrats trotted out too many old, liberal lions and featured virtually no one under the age of 55. There was too much Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden and Pat Leahy. And no senators elected since 2000, senators who should/could be the face of the party for years to come, like Mark Pryor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama or Ken Salazar.

What a contrast Lindsey Graham was for the GOP compared to Kennedy. This isn't to say that the Republicans don't have their share of tired faces, particularly on the Judiciary Committee. But somehow, they also had fresh faces to feature, while the Democrats had no one fresh even though there are some dynamic Democrats ready for their closeup.

A few weeks ago, Bob Novak made a very smart observation in the lack of "new Democratic blood" residing on the House side as well. He noted how reticent House Democrats are at churning out their ranking committee members, something the Republicans do more regularly. From Charlie Rangel to John Dingell to Henry Waxman to Tom Lantos, it's hard to find a major legislative lion among House Democrats that was elected after 1996.

In fact, it was one of the few Newt Gingrich-led reforms in how the House operates that's remained largely intact on the Republican side -– i.e., the six-year committee chairmanship term limit (though there has been some tinkering). We'd argue that, for instance, had the six-year term limit enforced on committee chairmanships been applied to leadership (particularly the speaker slot), we'd have seen new blood flow into their ranks a while ago.

And that's where the Democrats find themselves at the start of this election year. They have their "not them" message down pat (it was what 2004 was largely built on), but they can't communicate their "why us" thanks to a combination of no clear issue/idea to rally around and the lack of a strong team of folks to deliver the message.

-- Chuck Todd is a NationalJournal.com contributing editor and editor in chief of The Hotline. His e-mail address is ctodd@nationaljournal.com.

Crazy Weather

So the weather here has been crazy! I still have my bikini tan lines from 2 weeks ago when it was scorching! And yet here I am freezing and have busted out my boots AGAIN! It's now become necessary to take my umbrella, sunglasses, a tank top and a coat with me at all times - do'h!

But for the funniest weatherman I have ever seen... check this out: http://www.wimp.com/weatherman/. Freakin' hilarious.

21 May 2006

In Need of a Little Help From My Friends

Alright all you politicos....

I am coming to DC in 2 weeks to do academic reseeach for my dissertation and am looking to interview both Democratic and Republican consultants, pollsters, strategists and communication staffers - basically anyone who has insight into GOP rhetoric and messaging,especially in regards to the 2000 and 2004 campaigns.

Although the trip is funded, which is great, it's happenning much earlier than I had originally scheduled and so am running extremely tight on time.

If you have any contacts that you think would be helpful I would REALLY appreciate it. They are only 25-30 minute interviews and I will be in DC May 31-June15th and am very flexible on time/location/etc.