Thursday, December 29, 2005

What Do You Want to Change?



I'm double blogging these days, here and on the NetSquared blog.

That's a photo of me above at NetSquared's last Net Tuesday. A gathering for folks to socialize and chat about how nonprofits can use web-based technology like blogs, podcasts and social bookmarking for change. Here's info. for the next Net Tuesday happening in the Bay Area.

The photo is from NetSquared's "I Want Change" Flickr group where folks are posting photos with signs that say what they want to change in the world.

If you are feeling inspired, here's how you can post your photo:

1. Log in to your Flickr account at www.flickr.com. If you don't have one already, it's free to set one up.
2. Upload your photo and tag it with “net2”.
3. On the top of the page, click on, "Groups".
4. In the, "Search for Groups" box write, "I Want Change!"
5. Click on the "I Want Change!" group with the Net2 icon.
6. Click on, "Join this group". Now you are part of the, "I Want Change" group.
7. To add a photo to the group, go to your photos (on the top of the page click, "Yours")
8. Click on the photo you want to add.
9. Click on the "Send to Group" button on the top of the photo (light grey icon).
10. Click that, then choose the group you want to send it to, and you're done!



Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Giving Circles

Good Morning America did a story this morning on something I have been wanting to write about for a while, giving circles.

They profiled a giving circle called, Dining for Women, a group of women who get together once a month for dinner and to learn about and financially support grassroots organizations that serve women and children.

Giving circles are basically groups of people who support a cause by joining their resources together. They are sometimes referred to as, "social investment clubs.”

The Giving Circle Knowledge Center has tons of information about how to start a giving circle.

Which brings me back to the idea of combining my love of cupcakes with my desire to make the world a better place. Cupcakes for a Cause already exists. Perhaps a monthly cupcake tasting/giving circle . . .

Monday, December 26, 2005

Mentoring Young Women Bloggers

Beth Kanter posted information about an interesting youth mentoring opportunity on the www.netsquared.org blog recently. They are looking for bloggers from around the world to be blogging mentors for 1 week as part of the Young Caucasus Women project, a group blog for young women from the Caucasus region (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia). If you are interested, here is the original post from www.registan.net.

Last night we watched Mad Hot Ballroom, one of the best movies I've seen in a long time. Its all about a ballroom dancing program in the New York City public schools and it makes a terrific case for the importance of arts education. Having worked at Streetside Stories for such a long time and seen how powerful it is for young people to write, tell and create autobiographical stories, it was interesting to see how a different medium has the same effect on young people: increased confidence, engagement in school and joy.

Many of the young people who participate in the dance classes in Mad Hot Ballroom, and in Streetside Stories' workshops, are young people of color from low-income families who may not have an opportunity to go to any arts programing outside of school, and definitely not during school, where most arts programming has been cut.

It is so important that all young people have an equal opportunity for a good education, but equal doesn't mean the SAME, which is what California is trying to do now with its public schools, at least in the Bay Area, make all of the curriculum the same, which doesn't make any sense. All people don't grow the same way.

Think about those little plastic sticks that come with plants when you buy them that say that the plant needs sun, shade or half sun/half shade. It also tells you how much water they need, what time of year to plant them, how deep to plant them, what their flowers will look like, how long they will live, if they will re-seed, etc. Do the people making decisions about education at the state and national level really believe that all young people need the same things?

It makes me think of how small farms that used to rotate their crops and let parts of their fields lie fallow for a season have been taken over by big ole corporations that plant one crop over and over again and spray it with lots of pesticides till the soil is dead.

With public schools' large class size and recommended rote teaching standards, are we nurturing our young people in the same way?

I guess that is what interests me about the Young Caucasus Women project, the opportunity for equal access and training to what I consider to be an artistic opportunity.




Thursday, December 22, 2005

Cleaning Off My Desk for the New Year




With just a couple weeks before the New Year starts, I wanted to pass along some bits and pieces of Have Fun * Do Good stuff that has come across my desk, but that I haven't found a way to incorporate into a longer post:

Geekers and Gamers Give Toys to Tots
My friend Jonathan Stein sent me this:
A few years ago, the two guys who created the online comic strip, Penny Arcade decided to fight the stereotype of video gamers as violent, nihilistic ne'er-do-wells. They launched an annual fundraiser and gift-collecting drive for the children's hospital in their community (in WA). It was a huge success and it's now become an international drive, with toys and books going to children's hospitals all over. They've got it expertly set up so that you can purchase exactly the toys/books that the hospitals want through Amazon.com and have them shipped directly to the hospital.

Teens as Good Samaritans
The November/December issue of Psychology Today has a brief article called, "The Making of a Good Samaritan", about the benefits of community service requirements in schools. According to a study by the journal, Political Psychology, students who were already "community-minded" were not affected by community service requirements at their school, but students who were more "self-interested" developed a, "willingnes to donate their time to charity as well as a greater political awareness."

Wyclef Jean Brings Aid to Haiti with His Music
Alfred de Montesquiou of the Associated Press wrote an article recently
about how the hip-hop musician, Wyclef Jean, uses his music and his new aid organization, YĆ©le Haiti, to help deliver aid and food into some of the most dangerous areas of Haiti. Because many of the armed gangs are into his music, they will allow him to enter territory where other aid organizations are not allowed.

Rockin' CD to Benefit Hurricane Katrina Survivors
The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights has produced a CD called,
"Eye of the Storm: Love and Rage from the Bay to the Gulf", to benefit survivors of Hurricane Katrina. CD's are $15 and all of the proceeds will directly aid families and grassroots organization's efforts to help Katrina survivors rebuild their communities. The CD features music and spoken word by Bay Area artists such as Aya de Leon and Michael Franti.

Barack Obama Nominated for a Grammy
If you've been reading my blog for a little bit, you know that Barack Obama's podcasts are one of my favs and that he gives me hope for American politics and government. I was happy to hear that he was nominated for a Grammy for his narration of his book, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.

Free Books for Kids!
First Book is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to give children from low-income families the opportunity to read and own their first new books. Their Book Relief program provides books specifically for children displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

Save the Chimps
You can "adopt" a chimp that has been rescued from a testing lab through Save the Chimps.
Look how cute these chimps are.

Speaking of Cute
Check out this site, Cute Overload, when you're feeling down (that's where the photo at the top came from). Thanks to Musings of a Social Architect for this link.

A Quote for the New Year
Finally, I would like to close with a quote that I saw in the most recent edition of "Simply Celebrate", an e-newsletter published by Mad Moon Creations.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
-Mary Oliver, poet

Saturday, December 17, 2005

How to Start Your Basic Blog



My friend Abby, the Executive Director of the school gardening nonprofit, Urban Sprouts, has taken the plunge and started an Urban Sprouts blog. Hooray!

If there are any readers out there who want to start a blog for themselves, here are my basic, "accidental techie" guidelines.

1. Decide what you want to write about. The best blogs are ones with a particular focus. Obviously, you can stray from that focus once in a while, but your readers want to know what kind of stuff they can expect when they take the time to read your posts. There are so many kinds of blogs out there. Here are some examples:

food http://chockylit.blogspot.com/
gossip http://socialitelife.com/
how to make stuff http://www.notmartha.org/
intriguing projects http://postsecret.blogspot.com/
journalism http://www.motherjones.com/mojoblog/
marketing http://www.buzzmarketingwithblogs.com/
nonprofit http://urbansprouts.blogspot.com
parenting http://www.themommyblog.com/
political http://www.ericumansky.com/
shared interests http://cupcakestakethecake.blogspot.com
social justice http://www.pambazuka.org/
technology http://marshallk.com/
travel http://www.vagabonding.com/
and just plain old great writing http://www.jorydesjardins.com/

2. Commit to writing in your blog once a week, minimum. The more you post, the more often people will read your blog.

3. Set up a blog hosting account. I use Blogger, because it is free! If I had known I would like blogging so much, I would have set up a Typepad account, because it has more features, but Blogger is just fine and it's a bargain!

4. Allow comments and make your pages findable by search engines. If you use Blogger, there are a couple settings you'll want use:

In Archive Settings: click "Yes" in answer to "Enable Page Posts?" That will allow each of your posts to be archived as a separate page making it easier for people to find your posts when they search for information on a particular topic.

In the Comments Settings: click "Anyone" in answer to "Who Can Comment?". You want to encourage people to comment on your posts. To prevent spammers or other non-humans from posting a comment click, "Yes" in answer to "Show Word Verification in Comments." That's those weird wavy letters you have to type in sometimes when you are submitting a form to make sure that you are a person and not a computer spammer.

In Site Feed: click "Yes" in answer to "Publish Site Feed" so that other people can publish your posts elsewhere.

5. Allow people to subscribe to your blog (see the box in the right hand corner of my blog that says "Enter your email to subscribe"? Feel free to enter your email by the way). I use Feedblitz (it's free), but there are a lot of other services out there you can use as well. You set up an account (are you keeping an Excel sheet of all of these passwords?) and I think it will give you a piece of code (don't get scared) to put in your blog (its been a while since I set this up). Do not be afraid of working with HTML code for something like this. Just think of it as a fancy cut and paste job.

If Feedblitz gives you a piece of code to put in your blog, don't panic, copy it and click on the "Template" tab in your Blogger account. You will see a page with lots of scary words and symbols on it. Scroll down until you see where it says:

End main column

Sidebar

Paste you Feedblitz code below this.

Now click on Preview to make sure nothing is totally out of whack. If it is, you can hit "clear edits" and start again. If it looks normal hit, "save template changes." As long as you always preview and clear edits if things look funky, you can't really hurt your blog. You don't have to put your Feedblitz box there, I just like it there because it easy to see.

6. List other blogs that you like (like my list in the right hand column). Part of writing a blog is connecting your readers with other blogs that might interest them and hoping that other bloggers connect their readers to your blog.

Click on the Template tab in your Blogger account again. Now you're not afraid of all of those symbols 'cause you already put your Feedblitz code in there. Scroll down to where Blogger has already inserted some URL's for sites. I can't remember if they call it Sites or Blogs on the template. Just replace the URL of the site's they have started with the URL of the sites you like. If you want more sites, just copy and paste the code they've already created as a new line and change the URL to your favorite site's address.

7. Set up a statcounter. You'll want to see how many folks read your blog and where they are referred from so that you can thank the site that is referring them. There are a lot of free counter sites:

http://www.statcounter.com/
http://www.sitemeter.com
http://www.google.com/analytics/


Similar to the Feedblitz, you'll set up an account. It will give you a piece of code which you'll copy and paste into your site. Click on the Template tab in your Blogger account again. Scroll down the page until you see the phrases:

End sidebar
End content

Paste the code here. Again, you can put it in other places in the sidebar, just make sure you Preview where you have pasted it to make sure the page isn't all messed up.

7. Start posting! When you write a post, make sure to include links to other sites that people can click on. To create a link in Blogger, highlight the word that you want the link underneath with your cursor, click on the icon at the top of the page that looks like a globe and a chainlink. Write in the URL of the site you want to link to and hit OK.

If you want to add a picture, hit the icon at the top of the page that looks like a blue photograph. Hit Browse to find the image you want in your computer, select it, decide what size you want the image to be and where you want it placed on the page and upload it.

8. Tag your posts. At the end of you your post, you want to add some tags to make it easier for people to find your posts and for blog search engines like, Technorati, to find your posts. See all of the little words at the end of this post? They are tags and if you click on them, you'll see other posts in Technorati with the same tag. Technorati has a good guide for how to add tags to your post here.

9. Let blog search engines know when you update your blog. Again, there are a lot of services that do this. One of the ones I use is Ping-O-Matic, although although, as I am writing this, this the site didn't seem to be up and running. Again, you register your blog with the site and then after you write a post you go to the Ping-O-Matic site and tell it to "ping" blog search engines (i.e. tell them that you've written a new post). For good measure, I also set up an account on Technorati, "claimed" my blog and ping them separately when I write a new post. I have used Pingoat as well.

10. Read other blogs. Set up a Bloglines account so that you can see what other folks are talking about in the "blogosphere."

11. Have Fun! I hope that this guide is helpful and not confusing.

If you are feeling overwhelmed here is the short short guide:

1. set up your blog hosting account
2. write posts
3. tell your friends!


Monday, December 12, 2005

Cupcakes for Hope!



The amazing food blog, Chocolate and Zucchini, advertised my kind of yummy online fundraiser today--Menu for Hope. Readers choose an item that they are interested in off of the "menu" (which includes everything from french pasteries to Napa wine tours to food photography lessons--all donated by other food bloggers) and donate a minimum of $5. Each $5 donation gives you one chance at winning the prize(s) of your choice. The donations are being collected by UNICEF through the First Giving web site to raise money for earthquake survivors from Northern India and Pakistan.

The First Giving site is totally cool. It allows individuals to create fundraising pages to raise money for causes they care about. Nonprofits can use it too. There is so much that I like about this project:

1. Blogs are being used for a do good purpose
2. It's a community do good project
3. It's an individual do good project.
3. It's accessible to anyone who wants to give (not a $100 a plate dinner)
4. It's fun!

It would be a great holiday season gift idea too if you wanted your family and friends to donate to the cause of your choice rather than to give you stuff.

Side note: The cupcake photo is from a batch I made this weekend, Chocolate Cupcakes with Peppermint Icing from Elinor Klivans' Cupcakes!





Sunday, December 11, 2005

Seven Favorite Books of 2005



Whenever someone asks me if I've read a good book lately, I can never remember what I've read, so this year, I wrote down titles as I read them. Of the 31 books I read this year, here were my 7 favorites:

#1 Harvest for Hope by Jane Goodall

My Dad brought this book for me when he and my mom came to visit in November and I just finished it today. I have always felt ambivalent about buying organic produce, free-range meat, etc. not because I don't think it is better for you, but because it has always felt so elitist to buy it, and when I do buy it, I feel guilty that I can afford to buy it and other people can't. But I can tell you that after reading this book, there is no way I will ever buy non-organic produce again, if I have the choice. In fact, it inspired me to do something I have thought about for a long time. I signed up for a box of organic produce to be delivered to our house every other week from Farm Fresh to You. By buying produce from the California farmers who run Farm Fresh to You, not only will be be eating organic produce, but we'll be supporting local farmers. If you want to find a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription service near you, just go to the Local Harvest web site

#2 Notes From My Travels by Angelina Jolie

I wrote about this book back in September in this post and this post . Since then, Jolie's philanthropic work has become even higher profile and UNHCR has given Jolie her own page where you can download more of her journals and learn more about her work.

#3 Bono on Bono: Conversations With Michka Assayas by Bono and Michka Assayas
I wrote about this book in a September post as well. You can hear Bono speak about his work with the ONE campaign on the ONE campaign's podcast.

#4 Soul of a Citzen: Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time by Paul Loeb

#5 The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear by Paul Loeb

It is interesting to read Soul of a Citizen, which was written in 1999, and The Impossible Will Take a Little While, which was written in 2004, to see how liberal idealism has transformed since September 11th. You can receive more articles written by Paul Loeb by email through his web site http://soulofacitizen.org

#6 Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam by Andrew Pham.

This was the first book I read in 2005. It tells the story of Pham, a Vietnamese-American who intertwines his memories of growing up in Vietnam and the United States while telling the story of bicycling through Vietnam on his first return visit as an adult. The whole staff at Streetside Stories loved his book, and thought he was a great role model for the young people writing autobiographical stories in Streetside's workshops, so we asked him to write the foreword for Streetside's 2005 student anthology, Writing Outside the Lines: Stories of Change by San Francisco Youth, and he was nice enough to say yes!

#7 Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
This is the only fiction book on my list this year and is one of the most amazing pieces of writing I have ever read. It is more of an experience than a story and very difficult to explain. All I can say is that I am sure he will go down as one of the great writers of our time. The New York Times named his newest book, Kafka on the Shore, which I have not read, as one of their 10 Best Books of 2005.

It, along with Barak Obama's Dreams of My Father and Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking are on my "to read" list for 2006.

I hope folks will share their favorite books from 2005 in the comments section below.







Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Be a Net2Builder!



As I mentioned in my November 3rd post, I am working as a Community Builder with NetSquared, a project of Tech Soup.

One of the things NetSquared is looking for is folks to research and write up profiles of nonprofits who are successfully using emerging technology like:

blogging
podcasting
social bookmarking
social networking
tagging
wikis
RSS feeds
SMS/cellphones
aggregation

to further their missions (if you are unfamiliar with any of the above categories, you can click on them and see their definitions in Wikipedia).

Writing up a nonprofit profile only takes 15-20 minutes. If you know of some fabu nonprofits that are using these tools and want them to be highlighted, just register (if you haven't already), login, go to the "Put Your Voice in the Mix" page: click on "submit your case study" and fill out the form.

Our goal is to create a gallery of case studies that will provide inspiration and information for other nonprofits. You can check out the ones we've profiled so far here.

Also, we are hosting gatherings for Bay Area nonprofit and web innovators interested in connecting communities for social change the second Tuesday of every month. The next Net Tuesday will be held on December 13th at the Balazo Gallery (2183 Mission St.@ 18th Street) at 6 PM. Ed Batista, Executive Director of Attention Trust and Seth Sternberg from Meebo will be presenting. You can RSVP on Upcoming, or just show up!

You can hear last month's speakers, Chris Messina from Flock, CompuMentor's Marnie Webb and yours truly, on the NetSquared Channel on Odeo.

If writing up a case study or going to a Net Tuesday feels too time consuming, you can also help by tagging web sites in del.icio.us, photos in Flickr and personal blog entries that relate to NetSquared with the tag "net2" and they will feed into the NetSquared news aggregator.

Finally, anyone who is registered on NetSquared can blog on the NetSquared blog about Net2 related things. I'm double blogging right now, here and on the NetSquared blog.

I really believe that many of these technologies can help nonprofits get the word out and build community around their work so if any of the above interests you, and you'd like to get involved, let me know.






Monday, December 05, 2005

Online Advent Calendar



For those of you who used to love to open the little door on the Advent calendar each year, check out this web-based Advent Calendar by Leslie Harpold.

I found it through a fun, crafty blog called, Not Martha.

I guess this is Leslie's 4th year of producing the calendar and this year she is asking her readers to send in Christmas memories. She will include the best of them behind the remaining days on the calendar.


Another Do Good Gift


I saw an article about textile designer, Hiroko Kurihara's Blanket Shares Project in the December issue of Sunset magazine.

For each item she sells, she donates a scarf or blanket made of recycled polar fleece to an organization that serves people who are homeless or in transition.

She is based in Oakland and gives blankets to the following Bay Area orgs:

Oakland Elizabeth House

Asian Women’s Shelter

Larkin Street Youth Services

Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency in Berkeley





Saturday, December 03, 2005

Must Hear Speech from Barack Obama and the Power of Podcasting




I love listening to Barack Obama's podcasts because he gives me hope that there is at least one person in the US government who is reasonable, sane, intelligent and truly cares about people as humans, not just as voters who can keep him in or out of office.

Most weeks his podcast is a direct chat with his listeners, but this week he posted a recent speech, "Moving Forward in Iraq" that he gave at the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. I've posted the transcript of the speech below and here is the link to listen to it online.

One of the reasons I am so excited about the work I am doing with NetSquared is because I think that these new web-based tools, especially podcasts, are an incredible way for nonprofits to get the word out about their causes, especially when they are listened to through headphones. There is something powerful about hearing Barack Obama's voice or the children's voices from the UNICEF podcasts or Nelson Mandela's voice from the recent ONE campaign podcast, inside your head. You feel close to them and their cause. I suppose it is how people felt when they first started listening to radio, like the announcer was in the room with them.

As the technology for making podcasts becomes increasingly user friendly with Web sites like Odeo and Gcast, they are a tool not only to reach adults, but young people too. In doing a little research for this post, I came across the East Side Bloggers 2008, a blog by 10th graders at East Side Community High School. Now obviously, they were made to listen to Barack Obama's podcast about Rosa Parks by a teacher (there were about 10 entries about listening to this podcast), but I still found it heartening to find posts like this on the site:

i did enjoy this episode of "Memories of Rosa Park" because this podcast showed how skin color doesnt mean that your a bad or good person.


What a great tool for young people (and adults!) who learn my listening.

I've posted the text for Obama's speech below, but if you've never listened to a podcast before, be brave. Click on one of the podcast links above and try listening to it on your computer. Its a whole new world.

Moving Forward in Iraq
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Senator Barack Obama
Chicago Council on Foreign Relations
Chicago, IL


Good afternoon.

It is a privilege to give this speech at the Council on Foreign Relations here in Chicago.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to visit Walter Reed Army Medical Center. While I was there, I met a young man whose legs had been blown off from mortar fire and who had sustained severe nerve damage in his arms and hands. He was sewing as a means of regaining his small motor skills, and as his wife looked on, they talked about their efforts to piece their lives back together. They talked about the wonderful way their young daughter had embraced her father and told him she loved him despite his disfigurement.

I also met a young man who had lost a leg and an arm and who now had a breathing tube in his throat. He was working with two of the therapists in a mock-up kitchen to cook hamburgers on his own.

We went down to the physical therapy area where I talked to a 19-year-old former track star who had lost both his legs and was working out on one of the weight machines. And I spoke to a sergeant from Iowa who had lost one of his legs but was working vigorously to get accustomed to his prosthetic leg so he could return to Iraq as soon as he could. I then went up to the wards to visit with other injured veterans - to take pictures, talk about basketball, and to say thank you.

Listening to the stories of these young men and women, most of them in their early twenties, I had to ask myself how I would be feeling if it were my son, my nephew, or my sister lying there. I asked myself how I would be feeling if it were me struggling to learn how to walk again? Would I feel bitter? Would I feel hopeless?

I don't know. None of us can answer that question fully until we find ourselves in that situation. What I do know is that the extraordinary men and women that I met seemed uninterested in rage or self-pity. They were proud of their service. They were hopeful for their future. They displayed the kind of grit and optimism and resourcefulness that represents the very best of America.

They remind us, in case we need reminding, that there is no more profound decision that we can make than the decision to send this nation's youth to war, and that we have a moral obligation not only to send them for good reasons, but to constantly examine, based on the best information and judgment available, in what manner, and for what purpose, and for how long we keep them in harm's way.

Today, nearly 160,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are risking their lives in the Middle East. They are operating in some of the most dangerous and difficult circumstances imaginable. Well over 2,000 men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice - given their full measure of devotion. Thousands more have returned with wounds like those that I saw at Walter Reed.

These men and women are willing to lay down their lives to protect us. When they were told there was danger that needed to be confronted they said, "I will go. I will leave my family and my friends and the life I knew and I will fight." And they went. And they're fighting still.

And so as the war rages on and the insurgency festers - as another father weeps over a flag-draped casket and another wife feeds her husband the dinner he can't fix for himself - it is our duty to ask ourselves hard questions. What do we want to accomplish now that we are in Iraq, and what is possible to accomplish? What kind of actions can we take to ensure not only a safe and stable Iraq, but that will also preserve our capacity to rebuild Afghanistan, isolate and apprehend terrorist cells, preserve our long-term military readiness, and devote the resources needed to shore up our homeland security? What are the costs and benefits of our actions moving forward? What urgency are we willing to show to bring our troops home safely? What kind of answers are we willing to demand from those in charge of the war?

In other words -- What kind of debate are we willing to have?

Last week, the White House showed exactly what kind of debate it wants on future of Iraq - none.

We watched the shameful attempt to paint John Murtha - a Marine Corp recipient of two-purple hearts and a Bronze Star - into a coward of questionable patriotism. We saw the Administration tell people of both parties - people who asked legitimate questions about the intelligence that led us to war and the Administration's plan for Iraq - that they should keep quiet, end the complaining, and stop rewriting history.

This political war - a war of talking points and Sunday news shows and spin - is not one I'm interested in joining. It's a divisive approach that only pushes us further from what the American people actually want - a pragmatic solution to the real war we're facing in Iraq.

I do want to make the following observations, though. First, I am part of that post Baby Boom generation that was too young to fight in Vietnam, not called to fight in Desert Storm, too old for the current conflict. For those like me who - for whatever reason - have never seen battle, whether they be in the Administration or in Congress, let me suggest that they put the words "coward" and "unpatriotic" out of their vocabulary - at least when it comes to veterans like John Murtha who have put their lives on the line for this country. I noticed that the President recognized this bit of wisdom yesterday. I hope others do to.

Second - the Administration is correct to say that we have real enemies, that our battle against radical Islamist terrorism will not be altered overnight, that stability in the Middle East must be part of our strategy to defeat terrorism, that military power is a key part of our national security, that our strategy cannot be poll driven. The Administration is also correct when it says that many overestimated Saddam's biological and chemical capacity, and that some of its decisions in going to war were prompted by real errors in the intelligence community's estimates.

However, I think what is also true is that the Administration launched the Iraq war without giving either Congress or the American people the full story. This is not a partisan claim - you don't have to take my word for it. All you need to do is to match up the Administration's statements during the run-up to the war with the now declassified intelligence estimates that they had in their possession at the time. Match them up and you will conclude that at the very least, the Administration shaded, exaggerated and selectively used the intelligence available in order to make the case for invasion.

The President told the American people about Iraqi attempts to acquire yellow cake during the State of the Union. The Vice-President made statements on national television expressing certainty about Iraq's nuclear weapons programs. Secretary Rice used the words "mushroom cloud" over and over again.

We know now that even at the time these unequivocal statements were made, intelligence assessments existed that contradicted these claims. Analysis from the CIA and State Department was summarily dismissed when it did not help the Administration make the case for war.

I say all this not to score cheap political points. I say this because war is a serious business. It requires enormous sacrifice, in blood and treasure, from the American people. The American people have already lost confidence in the credibility of our leadership, not just on the question of Iraq, but across the board. According to a recent Pew survey, 42% of Americans agree with the statement that the U.S. should "mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own" - a significant increase since the immediate aftermath of 9/11. We risk a further increase in isolationist sentiment unless both the Administration and Congress can restore the American people's confidence that our foreign policy is driven by facts and reason, rather than hopes and ideology. And we cannot afford isolationism - not only because our work with respect to stabilizing Iraq is not complete, but because our missteps in Iraq have distracted us from the larger threat of terrorism that we face, a threat that we can only meet by working internationally, in cooperation with other countries.

Now, given the enormous stakes in Iraq, I believe that those of us who are involved in shaping our national security policies should do what we believe is right, not merely what is politically expedient. I strongly opposed this war before it began, though many disagreed with me at that time. Today, as Americans grow increasingly impatient with our presence in Iraq, voices I respect are calling for a rapid withdrawal of our troops, regardless of events on the ground.

But I believe that, having waged a war that has unleashed daily carnage and uncertainty in Iraq, we have to manage our exit in a responsible way - with the hope of leaving a stable foundation for the future, but at the very least taking care not to plunge the country into an even deeper and, perhaps, irreparable crisis. I say this not only because we owe it to the Iraqi people, but because the Administration's actions in Iraq have created a self-fulfilling prophecy - a volatile hotbed of terrorism that has already begun to spill over into countries like Jordan, and that could embroil the region, and this country, in even greater international conflict.

In sum, we have to focus, methodically and without partisanship, on those steps that will: one, stabilize Iraq, avoid all out civil war, and give the factions within Iraq the space they need to forge a political settlement; two, contain and ultimately extinquish the insurgency in Iraq; and three, bring our troops safely home.

Last week's re-politicization of the war makes this kind of focus extremely difficult. In true Washington fashion, the Administration has narrowed an entire debate about war into two camps: "cut-and-run" or "stay the course." If you offer any criticism or even mention that we should take a second look at our strategy and change our approach, you're branded cut-and-run. If you're ready to blindly trust the Administration no matter what they do, you're willing to stay the course.

A variation on this is the notion that anything short of an open-ended commitment to maintain our current troop strength in Iraq is the equivalent of issuing a "timetable" that will, according to the Administration, undermine our troops and strengthen the insurgency.
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This simplistic framework not only misstates the position of thoughtful critics on both sides of the aisle - from Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to Democrat Russ Feingold. It completely misses where the American people are right now.

Every American wants to see a peaceful and stable Iraq. No American wants to leave behind a security vacuum filled with terrorism, chaos, ethnic cleansing and genocide. But no American wants a war without end - a war where our goals and strategies drift aimlessly regardless of the cost in lives or dollars spent, and where we end up with arbitrary, poll-driven troop reductions by the Administration - the worst of all possible outcomes.

It has been two years and seven months since the fall of Baghdad and any honest assessment would conclude that the Administration's strategy has not worked. The civilian efforts to rebuild Iraq, establish a secure environment, and broker a stable political framework have, thus far, come up short.

The Administration owes the American people a reality-based assessment of the situation in Iraq today. For the past two years, they've measured progress in the number of insurgents killed, roads built, or voters registered. But these benchmarks are not true measures of fundamental security and stability in Iraq.

When the Administration now talks about "condition-based" withdrawal, we need to know precisely what those conditions are.

This is why the amendment offered by Senator Levin and the one that passed from Senator Warner are so important. What the Administration and some in the press labeled as a "timetable" for withdrawal was in fact a commonsense statement that: one, 2006 should be the year that the Iraqi government decreases its dependency on the United States; two, that the various Iraqi factions must arrive at a fair political accommodation to defeat the insurgency; and three, the Administration must make available to Congress critical information on reality-based benchmarks that will help us succeed in Iraq.

We need to know whether the Iraqis are making the compromises necessary to achieve the broad-based and sustainable political settlement essential for defeating the insurgency.

We need to know how many Iraqi security forces and police and the level of skill they will require to permit them to take the lead in counter-insurgency operations, the defense of Iraq's territory, and maintaining law and order throughout the country.

We need to get accurate information regarding how many Iraqi troops are currently prepared for the transition of security responsibilities, and a realistic assessment of the U.S. resources and time it will take to make them more prepared.

And, we need to know the Administration's strategy to restore basic services, strengthen the capacities of ministries throughout the country, and enlist local, regional, and international actors in finding solutions to political, economic, and security problems.

Straight answers to critical questions - for the most part, that is what both the Levin Amendment and the Warner Amendment call for. Members of both parties and the American people have now made clear that it is not enough to for the President to simply say "we know best" and "stay the course."

As I have said before, there are no magic bullets for a good outcome in Iraq. I am not the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of State, or the Director of National Intelligence. I have neither the expertise nor the inclination to micro-manage war from Washington.

Nevertheless, given the best information I have, and in an effort to offer constructive ideas, I would suggest several broad elements that should be included in any discussion of where we go from here. I should add that some of these ideas have been put forward in greater detail by other senators and foreign policy experts - I claim no pride of authorship, but rather offer my best assessment of the steps we need to take to maximize the prospects for success.

First and foremost, after the December 15 elections and during the course of next year, we need to focus our attention on how reduce the U.S. military footprint in Iraq. Notice that I say "reduce," and not "fully withdraw."

This course of action will help to focus our efforts on a more effective counter-insurgency strategy and take steam out of the insurgency.

On this point, I am in basic agreement with our top military commander in Iraq. In testimony before Congress earlier this year, General Casey stated that a key goal of the military was to "reduce our presence in Iraq, taking away one of the elements that fuels the insurgency: that of the coalition forces as an occupying force."

This is not and should not be a partisan issue. It is a view shared by Senator Chuck Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran, and someone with whom I am proud to serve on the Foreign Relations Committee.

I believe that U.S. forces are still a part of the solution in Iraq. The strategic goals should be to allow for a limited drawdown of U.S. troops, coupled with a shift to a more effective counter-insurgency strategy that puts the Iraqi security forces in the lead and intensifies our efforts to train Iraqi forces.

At the same time, sufficient numbers of U.S. troops should be left in place to prevent Iraq from exploding into civil war, ethnic cleansing, and a haven for terrorism.

We must find the right balance - offering enough security to serve as a buffer and carry out a targeted, effective counter-insurgency strategy, but not so much of a presence that we serve as an aggravation. It is this balance that will be critical to finding our way forward.

Second, we need not a time-table, in the sense of a precise date for U.S. troop pull-outs, but a time-frame for such a phased withdrawal. More specifically, we need to be very clear about key issues, such as bases and the level of troops in Iraq. We need to say that there will be no bases in Iraq a decade from now and the United States armed forces cannot stand-up and support an Iraqi government in perpetuity - pushing the Iraqis to take ownership over the situation and placing pressure on various factions to reach the broad based political settlement that is so essential to defeating the insurgency.

I agree with Senator Warner that the message should be "we really mean business, Iraqis, get on with it." Without a time-frame, this message will not be sent.

With the Shiites increasingly in control of the government, the U.S. is viewed as the military force that is keeping the Shiites in power, picking sides in the conflict, driving a wedge between the factions, and keeping the Sunnis out of the government.

Wrong as these perceptions may be, they are one of the key elements unifying the insurgency and serving as its best recruiting slogan.

We need to immediately recognize and address this problem.

On October 25, Ambassador Khailizad stated that he believes that the United States is on the right track to start significant reductions of U.S. military forces in the coming year. Earlier in the year, when I pressed Ambassador Khalizad on this during his confirmation hearing to be more specific about a time-frame for withdrawal, he said that there would not be a U.S. presence in Iraq a decade from now. That's at a start - but I think we need to be clearer than somewhere between one and ten years.

Third, we need to start thinking about what an Iraqi government will look like in the near term.

The post-election period will be critically important in working with the Shia and Kurdish leaders to help address Sunni concerns and to take steps to bring them into the government.

In testimony before Congress, Secretary Rice stated that while she believed it was possible to create a multi-ethnic, democratic Iraq under a unified national government, it was also possible that, in the near term, Iraq may look more like a loose federation and less like a tightly-knit, multi-ethnic society. According to the deal struck in the writing of the Constitution, the structure of the national government may still be altered by discussion among the three major factions. If it is the Administration's most realistic assessment that the Iraqi government will take the form of a loose confederation, then we need to be thinking about how we should calibrate our policies to reflect this reality. We cannot, and should not, foist our own vision of democracy on the Iraqis, and then expect our troops to hold together such a vision militarily.

Fourth, we have to do a much better job on reconstruction in Iraq.

The Iraqi people wonder why the United States has been unable to restore basic services - sewage, power, infrastructure - to significant portions of Iraq. This has caused a loss of faith among the Iraqi people in our efforts to rebuild that nation and help it recover from decades of brutal tyranny.

The Administration tells us there can not be reconstruction without security, but many Iraqis make the opposite argument. They say Iraq will never be secure until there is reconstruction and citizens see that a better future awaits them.

The Administration also tells us that they are making progress, but can not publicize the specific successes out of security concerns.

If we are unable to point out the progress, how are Iraqis - especially ones we are trying to persuade to claim a bigger stake in the future of their country - ever to know that the Americans efforts are helping to make their lives better? How does this approach help to quell the insurgency?

We need to break this cycle. We have to get more Iraqis involved with the reconstruction efforts. After all, it is the Iraqis who best know their country and have the greatest stake in restoring basic services.

We need to work with the best and brightest Iraqis, inside and outside of government to come up with a plan to get the power back on in Baghdad and help to restore the faith of the Iraqi people in our important mission in Iraq.

Fifth, we have to launch a major diplomatic effort to get the international community, especially key neighboring states and Arab nations, more involved in Iraq. If one looks at the Balkans - our most recent attempt to rebuild war torn nations - the international community, from the European Union to NATO to the United Nations, were all deeply involved. These organizations, driven largely by European countries in the region, provided legitimacy, helped with burden-sharing, and were an essential part of our exit strategy. Ten years later, conditions are not perfect, but the blood-shed has been stopped, and the region is no longer destabilizing the European Continent. And so a part of any strategy in Iraq must more deeply integrate Iraq's neighbors, international organizations, and regional powers around the world.

Finally, it is critical for this Administration, and Congress, to recognize that despite the enormous stakes the United States now has in seeing Iraq succeed, we cannot let this mission distract us from the larger front of international terrorism that remains to be addressed. Already we are getting reports that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. Our progress in improving our intelligence capabilities - particularly human intelligence - has lagged. Iraq has absorbed resources that could have gone into critical homeland security measures, or in improved coordination with our global allies and partners. At the outset of this war, I challenged the Administration's assertion that deposing Saddam Hussein was the central measure in our war on terrorism. And although I believe we must stabilize Iraq, I continue to believe that the Administration's tendency to equate the military defeat of the Iraqi insurgency with the defeat of international terrorism is dangerously short-sighted.

Long the before the war in Iraq, international terrorism posed a grave security threat to the United States. Well over two years after the start of the Iraq war, these threats to our way of life remain every bit as serious. Some have argued that these threats have grown. The Administration has to be capable of finding a solution in Iraq and strengthening our efforts to combat international terrorism.

In the end, Iraq is not about one person's legacy, a political campaign, or rigid adherence to an ideology.

What is happening in Iraq is about the security of the United States. It is about our men and women in uniform. It is about the future of the Middle East. It is about the world in which our children will live.

Responsible voices from all parts of the political spectrum are coming forth to say this in increasing numbers.

Colin Powell had the courage to call his presentation to the United Nations on Iraq a "blot" on his distinguished record. And recently John Edwards said he made a mistake in voting to go to war in Iraq, and accepted responsibility for this decision.

It is no coincidence that both Mr. Edwards and Mr. Powell no longer serve the government in Washington. Those of us in Washington are falling behind the debate that is taking place across America on Iraq. We are failing to provide leadership on this issue.

Iraq was a major issue in last year's election.

But that election is now over.

We need to stop the campaign.

The President could take the politics out of Iraq once and for all if he would simply go on television and say to the American people "Yes, we made mistakes. Yes, there are things I would have done differently. But now that we're here, I am willing to work with both Republicans and Democrats to find the most responsible way out."

Nearly four decades ago, John F. Kennedy took responsibility for the Bay of Pigs Invasion. He admitted that mistakes had been made. He didn't spend a good deal of time publicly blaming the previous Administration, or the other party, or his critics. And through these decisive actions, he earned the respect of the American people and the world - respect that allowed his diplomacy to be trusted a few years later during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Americans everywhere are crying out for this kind of leadership today. They want to find pragmatic solutions to the difficult and complicated situation in Iraq. They want to move forward on of the greatest foreign policy challenges that this nation has faced in a generation. And they want to get it right for every American son and daughter who's been willing to put their lives on the line to defend the country they love. It's time for us in Washington to offer the rest of the country this leadership. Thank you.




Friday, December 02, 2005

Nonprofit Blog Exchange



I am participating in my first Nonprofit Blog Exchange set up by the fabulous Emily.

I want to highlight a blog that I've been reading for a while, the Tutor Mentor Connection blog written by Daniel Bassill out of Chicago, Illinois. Daniel's blog was recommended to me through a great list serv for anyone interested in volunteers and volunteer program managment, Cybervpm at Yahoo! Groups: Online Networking for Professional Managers of Volunteer Programs.

His blog gathers information and provides networking opportunities for people, like Daniel, who are involved with volunteer-based tutoring and mentoring programs. Having managed adult volunteers to work with the young people in Streetside Stories workshops for many years, I know what a difference adult tutors and mentors can make in a young person's life and I appreciate Daniel's creating an online space for them to nework and share experiences.

I am posting here a letter he wrote to the Chicago Tribune in mid-October, but that wasn't picked up, in the hopes that it will spread through readers' blogs and email lists instead:

What You Can Do to End Poverty, by Daniel F. Bassill

Alicia and Marquita were in elementary school when I first met them 15 years ago. They were normal kids, except they lived in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood of Chicago, where the role models and life experiences were anything but what normal kids in most parts of America grow up with. The Cabrini Green neighborhood has a high concentration of poverty, many people living on welfare, and strong street gang involvement. This is the neighborhood that shocked the nation in 1992 when 7-year old Dandrell Davis was shot and killed while walking to school. It’s a neighborhood where more than 40% of the kids drop out of high school before graduation, and where many who do graduate never move on to college and careers.

Today, Marquita has graduated from college and Alicia will do the same next year.

What happened to take these girls off the path toward poverty, and place them on a different path toward college and careers? The answer is simple, but powerful. They were able to participate in a comprehensive volunteer-based tutor/mentor program that connected them with adults who mentored them, helped with school work, talked about options and choices, and just plain cared. In elementary school they were able to participate in a program hosted by the Montgomery Ward Corporation in Chicago. After 6th grade they were able to transition to the Cabrini Connections tutor/mentor program, which has supported them for the past 12 years. This year they have become part of the adult tutor/mentor corps, and are now volunteering to help other Cabrini Green children move through school and into college then careers.

In the aftermath of Katrina, people in Chicago and across the nation are asking what we can do about poverty. I’m not a teacher by training and I don’t have special skills. I started mentoring a fourth grade boy living in Cabrini-Green in 1973 and became leader of a volunteer-based program in 1975. Thus I have 30 years of experience in recruiting volunteers and connecting them with inner-city kids. While I did not have much experience when I started, my understanding of the issues and my commitment to volunteer-based tutoring/mentoring has continued to grow with each passing year. I’ve learned the difference between being poor and being poor without hope.

I’ve also learned how tutoring/mentoring can be one of the best strategies for civic-engagement, workforce development and education reform. Long-term programs connect youth and adults from both sides of the economic and social divide in a long-term process of service and learning. This leads to a better understanding of poverty, and a stronger commitment to do what is needed to provide paths to hope and opportunity for kids who need extra support to succeed in school, move to college and find help in starting jobs and careers.

I would like every adult who is not living in poverty to become personally involved in helping build and sustain long-term tutor/mentor programs in every neighborhood where concentrated poverty is the largest obstacle to succeeding in school and moving to jobs and careers. That is how we are going to improve our schools, reduce youth violence, lower the costs of the juvenile justice system and meet the workforce needs of the 21st century.

The way to get everyone involved is for people from every walk of life – business, churches, hospitals and universities – to step up as leaders and make children living in low-wage families a priority. Businesses can use their intranets to provide information about where tutor/mentor programs are needed, and ways to contact existing programs. They can use their advertising to encourage employees and customers to volunteer in programs throughout the Chicago region. Universities can encourage their students to talk with local children about what college is like, and can develop research and teaching programs that connect students and alumni with training resources and tutor/mentor programs throughout the country. Every organization can use its website to publicize volunteer opportunities and to increase the number of people who are learning ways to become involved in tutor/mentor programs. The ways to take action are as endless as the numbers of children in need.

Such a leadership strategy needs to guide volunteers and donors to all neighborhoods where there are high concentrations of poverty, not just to the few brand name programs in highly visible neighborhoods. If we increase the number of people who are willing to commit time, talent and dollars to efforts that help end poverty, we will reduce dependency on government and build programs that last more than a few years.

No business would be successful if it advertised sometimes, and sometimes not. Children take a long time to grow up, and they will only be successful if adults like us get personally involved, stay involved, develop an understanding of poverty, and grow into leaders who bring in new volunteers to do the same. We’re building a system of support for this type of involvement. We call it the Tutor/Mentor Connection. You can find us and similar support networks that operate in other cities by using Internet search tools like www.Google.com .

By the time you read this, the media will probably be turning its attention away from poverty and to the next "hot" issue. But that doesn’t mean we have to turn our attention away from the children who need us.

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Daniel F. Bassill is the president of Cabrini Connections (http://www.cabriniconnections.net) and the Tutor/Mentor Connection (http://www.tutormentorconnection.net) which provide an organized framework that empowers and encourages adult volunteers to give their time, effort, ideas and advocacy in seeking life-changing solutions for children living in educationally and economically disadvantaged environments such as the Cabrini-Green housing development in Chicago.

For information call 312-492-9614.
Address: 800 W. Huron, Chicago, Il. 60622








The Good Gift Ideas Keep Coming




My friend Gabriela Masala sent me some more good giftie ideas:

For the children on her list, she bought High in the Clouds a children's book by Sir Paul McCartney, Geoff Dunbar and Phillip Ardagh. She described it as, "a green story about preserving the Earth and protecting
the animals. Subtly-in a way kids would still enjoy a story without lecture." For their friends and family, she and her husband make a homemade CD of music each year.

She and her husband and their local community also "adopted" a village in Africa of approximately 3,600 people. The money they donated through a friend's foundation will provide 5 new wells and pumps this year.

Oh yes, and I forgot to mention yesterday that my friend, Corrina McFarlane, who sent me the Boston Globe article, also is co-founder of Only the Brave Kilts, a US Fair Trade business. The perfect gift for the man in your life whose legs you love!






Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Few More Do Good Gift Ideas




My friend, Corrina McFarlane, sent this link to an article from the Boston Globe, Giving Twice: Thoughtful gifts that benefit charities, education, and research.


If you read this great article from UTNE reader, Blanket Relief:
How one man's simple idea is getting thousands of blankets to quake survivors in Pakistan
, on the same page there is a box that says, "Gift for the Greater Good". If you click on it, you can download a 10 page PDF with advertisements from all kinds of Fair Trade companies.

And even though it isn't about gifts, keeping in line with the Christmas theme, check out this post about Christmas Lights for Charity from the blog, so you wanna be a Domestik Goddess?