Tag Archives: politics

The Tweet Heard Around the World

Posted originally at Blogcritics Magazine

by Barbara Barnett

Social media are much disdained in some circles. Especially Twitter, where people “follow” you and conversely, you “follow” them, which sounds a lot creepier than it is. You can follow real life friends, celebrities who allow you access. (Although why celebrities, already harassed by the paparazzi, would want to expose themselves even more is beyond me.) Stephen Fry, the venerable British actor/writer/comedian (and long time comedy partner of House’s Hugh Laurie) “tweets” with great gusto as his thousands of followers hang on his every tweet, reply to him — and are sometimes pleasantly surprised by a personal response.

Everyone from photographers to porn-meisters to news outlets to bloggers to Barack Obama’s White House tweet away, hoping you’ll listen, and learn or buy  — or just say “hi.” It’s a global, post-modern market square. If you get a tweet that sounds like everyone should know about it, “re-tweet” it and pass it on. If it catches on, the message will spread to every one of your own “followers.” And they will  spread it to theirs as the message spreads virally through the ether of Internet. The only hitch: a “tweet” must be no longer than 140 characters. Sound bites of the smallest sort; fragments of conversations heard from across the market square, but worth checking out. Sometimes.

But what if something really important happens on the global stage? Something that is too fluid and too elusive for the more traditional media to track? Like the birth of a revolution.

Three hours after the polls closed in Iran last week, and millions of ballots were cast, incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner with a landslide victory over reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. Protests sprung out in Tehran and other places throughout Iran. Violence followed, and 140-character micro news reports from the streets began to appear on Twitter. The tweets conveyed the sense of people whose contact with the outside world was imperiled. Vital information about what was happening crept out in tweets coming fast and furious:  hundreds per minute.

The true populist power of Twitter was unleashed. It was the tweet heard ’round the world. The protests continued while much of the mainstream media missed what was really going on last weekend. News blackouts occurred as Internet and phone service went out in many places all over Iran, continuing throughout this week. But Iranians continued to get the message out 140 characters at a time, and mighty little Twitter became the broadside sheet for the Iranian street, compelling the world to take note, re-tweet and follow. The mainstream media (CNN, MSNBC, and the networks) finally began to tell the story, playing catch-up with that little Internet upstart.  Twitter itself, now the conduit for up to the minute news from the streets of Tehran, has become an important story for the mainstream media. Now everybody’s following the story on Twitter.

Earlier this week, Twitter announced that a planned site outage for a critical network upgrade had been moved from the wee hours of the morning (in the US) to early afternoon. The “wee hours” for US residents is prime time daylight in Iran. The afternoon outage in the US would inconvenience (or be a mild annoyance) to some, however, Twitter explained, “our network partners … recognize the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran.” Who’d have thunk it?

And then the new message went out all across Twitter-land. Show support of the opposition by turning your Twitter avatar green. That, too, went viral as many Twitter-ers (Twits?) have now gone green.

Today, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei declared the original election results correct, proper, and valid, and he warned protesters to cease their actions on the streets. Undeterred, the micro protests continue, although the tweets don’t seem to come as fast and furiously as they had a few days ago. (It is getting increasingly more difficult to acquire safe pipelines out of Iran.) Tweeting (and providing secure access for Iranian Twitter-ers) has become an act of courage as the Iranian government tries very hard to put a halt to the small, but powerful messages.

Text messaging, even video text messaging, cannot convey the urgency of those 140-character sound bites. They almost have the feel of those vital bits of information coming across an those old shortwave radios back in my parents’ era, when the networks, and certainly the newspapers were unable to keep up with the fast pace of overseas news.

Twitter (and networks like it) have great power. Far more than a creepy-sounding way to “follow” your friends or favorite celeb, it has the power to change the world, 140 characters at a time.

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Barack Obama: “Enough!”

To echo Barack Obama: “Enough!” Enough of the politics of playground!

We’ve all been through it. Mostly when we were kids or teenagers, serious and resolute about something important (to us, anyway). And every time we endeavored to open our mouths to start talking about whatever that “it” was, someone else, usually the brat on the playground would start making annoying noises to pull the focus away “neener, neener, neener” “nya, nya, nya, nya, nya.” And we’d never get to articulate what that really important thing was. The annoying kid was such a huge distraction that even when we finally got to say what we meant to say, it was too late, because everyone was focused on the annoying brat.

Pigs with lipstick. Sex education for kindergartners. Pregnant teenagers. The list goes on. Geez, people. Get real, here.

When some wise person coined the term “politics of distraction,” this is what they meant. This country has so many problems right now caused by seven years of an inept, power-hungry, arrogant, destructive administration that it will take years of hard work to undo the damage (which we’ll only begin to understand in January after it’s mercifully put out of office). And this is what we’re talking about? Liptick on pigs? Give me a f-ing break.

I have an idea why the McCain campaign has kept Sarah Palin practically vacuum sealed from the press, and it isn’t exclusively because once she has to start answering real questions about her term as Governor and her time as Mayor of Wasilla she’ll melt down (like the northern reaches of her home state). No. It’s because as long as we’re all trying to figure her out: the rumors and the facts, the mythology versus the reality, we’re not talking about the issues: the “are you better now than you were eight years ago” issues. And by the time we get to the debates, the rancor will be so great that if anyone’s still paying attention at all, this side show will still dominate. It’s all of a plan.

No. Because once we start talking about the actual issues. McCain loses. No matter how hard he wishes or wants to believe it ain’t so, he chose a path several years ago that put him into bed with the Bushies and the Cheneys and the Rovies. McCain’s campaign has a bit of the Wizard of Oz in it: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” But like in Oz, the curtain eventually gets lifted to reveal a sham and a charlatan. Agent of change? Really? To listen to him (and everyone else speaking at the Republican convention) you’d have thought McCain was running as the head of the party out of power. Maverick? And that image, although once true (I actually once thought a McCain presidency would be a good thing) can no longer be claimed. To me he is the “Candidate Formerly Known as Maverick.”

So whose fault is it? I suppose you can’t really blame McCain. Is it the media, with its often “short attention-span news” take on world? Its often “he said, she said” approach, where giving both sides precludes any real sense of right vs. wrong? Fact vs. myth? Is it Obama’s fault for not hitting back harder? For trying to stick with issues and not get sidetracked by the bullsh*t?

I echo what Obama said yesterday in a speech. “Enough.” I want Obama to make John McCain talk about the issues. I want someone to insist that McCain and Palin actually talk to the press about issues. Not slogans. Not sniper fire. Issues: the economy, energy independence, Iraq (and not just the surge), Iran, Russia, climate change. I want to know what they’re going to do. I also want to know where their beliefs are: where do they stand on separation of church and state? Where do they stand on stem cell research now (and not eight years ago). I want to know where they stand on climate change. On health care. On social security (hey, I’m in my early 50s!). I want to know McCain’s and Obama’s vision for America; for reinvigorating the economy. And it’s not more tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent. Because it’s seven years post Bush’s election, and if I’m not mistaken, Bush’s trickle-down economic theory just hasn’t worked.

I demand that real reporters leave the politics of personality to US Weekly, TheNational Enquirer and People. Let them have fun. Your job as reporters is to report on the important. Not to host a debate on what “lipstick on a pig” meant in a speech. Your job is to remember that there aren’t always two sides to a story that are equally correct. Politics isn’t always Rashamon; it isn’t always Kipling and his five blind men with the elephant. Sometimes right is right and wrong is wrong. A lie is sometimes a lie, and not just a differing opinion. And a big lie isn’t less so just because it’s a big lie. And an often told lie. Maybe it’s just a lie. And your job (or so I thought) was to figure that out; expose it when necessary and call foul when it happens.

And maybe that’s finally happening. There are certainly signs of it. And what is Obama’s responsibility? Well, sometimes when that annoying playground brat won’t shut up on his own, you just gotta do it yourself. As much as Obama wants to keep it on the issues, he has to hit, and hit hard. McCain spoiling for a playground fight? I think Obama is about to grant his wish. And as unfortunate as that may be, taking more yet days away from discussing the issues, I don’t think Obama has a choice. Because, I, like Obama, have had enough!

The Candidate Formerly Known as “Maverick”

Four years ago, the Republican hatchet squad took a nuanced remark by John Kerry about his voting record on the Iraq war and labeled him “flip-flopper.” Thus was born a nasty, schoolyard name-calling attack against Kerry that was used in advertisements, Republican talking points, and by right-wing (and even mainstream) hacks throughout the fall of 2004. It was used by John McCain himself, in attacking Kerry.

Last night, Kerry delivered a speech last night at the Democratic National Convention — one that had to have felt a little like payback for those 2004 attacks. The subject was: the flip flops of the candidate formerly known as “Maverick.”

Here we are four years later, and as much as the wishful thinking of the Republican machine hopes that the Democrats (and the American public) might not have noticed, Senator McCain has become quite the adept flip-flopper. And I’m not referring to nuanced and reasoned policy shifts or voting. I mean ham-handed, in your face, wholesale change of political personality. And John Kerry was the perfect person to make that perfectly and explicitly clear.

Kerry gave us the whole laundry list of the flip-flops, big-time flip flops of the candidate John McCain. Maverick? McCain? No way! No more! No how!

“To those who still believe in the myth of a maverick instead of the reality of a politician, I say, let’s compare Senator McCain to candidate McCain,” began Senator Kerry, just warming up.

  • “Candidate McCain now supports the wartime tax cuts that Senator McCain once denounced as immoral.
  • “Candidate McCain criticizes Senator McCain’s own climate change bill.
  • “Candidate McCain says he would now vote against the immigration bill that Sen. McCain wrote.

“Are you kidding? Talk about being for it before you’re against it.” Zing! You’ve gotta love it, Kerry using the Republican’s own words against him. That had to feel like the sweetest moment of the evening for Kerry. And a line he’s probably been aching to use for months, if not years.

“Let me tell you, before he ever debates Barack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate with himself,” continued Kerry, firing with particular precision. Just where does candidate McCain stand on the policies of Senator “Maverick” McCain, hmmm?

“And what’s more, Senator McCain, who once railed against the smears of Karl Rove when he was the target, has morphed into candidate McCain who is using the same Rove tactics and the same Rove staff to repeat the same old politics of fear and smear.”

And don’t tell me that both McCain and Obama are using dirty tactics. That’s simply a moral relativism that doesn’t wash. McCain and his team strike fear by insinuation, using Obama’s unique background to suggest he may not be quite as American, not as patriotic, as McCain.

Obama’s commercial about McCain’s houses (called by some an attack) is relevant, because it shows him to be out of touch economically with middle class America. Anyone who can’t remember how many houses they own (even if they’re owned by a spouse) may not feel the pain of many Americans (no matter how many years he may have spent in the Hanoi Hilton).

But Kerry went on to remind us all that it’s not necessarily how many years experience you have (after all, Cheney-Rumsfeld is about as experienced as you get in a foreign policy team). It’s all about judgment; keeping cool in a crisis and surrounding yourself with people who will disagree and debate; argue, and keep you from the arrogance that the presidency can bring to bear. Ideologues make bad foreign policy, as we have seen.

And that’s not all. Kerry also made the point that all along the way, from September 11, 2001, to today’s foreign policy decisions, Obama has been right. McCain has been wrong. “Time and again,” Kerry said, “Barack Obama has seen farther, thought harder, and listened better. And time and again, Barack Obama has been proven right.”

The Rove-Bush-McCain machine will try to tap in to fear; the Obama campaign will give us a vision for the future. Voters will have to decide for themselves to whose voice they will listen.

Barack in Berlin–Values and a Vision for the Future

Posted originally on Blogcritics.org

There is much tongue clucking amongst the mainstream media gurus in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin. Was it hubris?  Arrogance?  Too much from a United States senator, who is a presidential candidate, but not yet (or perhaps never) President of the United States?  I say no.

John McCain said when asked about Obama’s speech that he would rather give that sort of speech after he became president.  (Notwithstanding the fact that McCain recently spoke both  in South America and Canada). On the other hand, what a great demonstration to the American voting public, that may have forgotten in the last seven years, of what is possible when an American leader goes abroad and gives a speech.

One of John McCain’s main campaign themes argues that Barack Obama is a foreign policy lightweight.  He practically goaded Obama into this Middle East/European tour; and Obama has used this trip to demonstrate to the US electorate (and the world) that McCain is wrong.  How Obama plays on the world stage is very much a relevant question, and one that has now clearly been put to rest.

Today’s speech in Berlin did that and more.  You say that all he did was make a speech?  Where was the meat of his policy?  Where were the specifics?  Speeches that stir; that promote a vision; that evoke ideas and ideals are sometimes as important as the specifics that come from them much, much later. And in a reality where the US presidency has been shamed and embarrassed by an anti-intellectual, arrogant cowboy, it is refreshing to hear Obama speak to the world simply and passionately about the real ideals that fuel our country.

When was the last time we saw American flags waving amidst cheering throngs in Europe; in the “Old Europe,” the Europe that the Bush administration has derided as practically irrelevant?  Obama generated an excitement at the presence of an American leader (albeit not the President) because of the promise he holds and vision he has been articulating. And the promise that through his election the confidence in our country may be regained, within our own borders and across the seas.

What is it that America is selling?  What is it about our country that makes it the best place to live?  Often the last hope of the hopeless.  “Give me your tired your poor,” says the Statue of Liberty.  “Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  America is unique on our planet.  And it’s not because of our health care; not because of our economy; but because of our values and ideals.  Freedom.  Opportunity.

My grandparents called it “the goldene medina” (the golden land). “Regardless of race, creed or color.”  The blindness of our justice system.  These are our values; the things to which we aspire as Americans, and what gives citizens of other nations pause and the room to hope for something better.  The “better” that brought Obama’s father here from Kenya; that brought my grandparents here from Eastern Europe; that brought my next door neighbor here from Pakistan.

After September 11, the world stood with us.  A world united.  All the world “was a New Yorker.”  George Bush squandered that in the morass and mess of Iraq.  And today, for the first time in many years, the world sees a glimmer of where we might be, come January 2009. “The world is hungry for American leadership,” Obama told NBC newsman Brian Williams.  Leadership to face the challenges common to all “citizens of the world,” those that America, at its best, can provide: terrorism, global warming, nuclear threats, AIDS.    The list goes on.

Throngs of people cheering “USA! USA!”  Waving American Flags.  No protests, no effigies.  They see a United States where someone like Barack Obama is even possible—someone who is the embodiment of what is good and right about the United States.  And they see the hope that the walls between the US and Europe; between people of differing creeds, religions and cultures can come down, and that we can work together to make our imperfect world just a little bit better.

White House Endorses Obama’s Iraq Plan!!!

First published at Blogcritics.org

Barack Obama advocates engaging the Iranians diplomatically as a more useful strategy than saber-rattling and refusing to talk to them.  Obama is called an appeaser and (much) worse with great disdain by both the administration and the McCain camp for daring to even suggest it. This week, the US sent a diplomatic envoy to the Iran-Europe talks as “an observer” for the very first time.  Hmmm.  You say coincidence?

Barack Obama insists that our troops in Iraq may be better utilized in Afghanistan, where the gains we made in 2002 have very nearly been erased while thousands of our troops have died in a war we never should have started.  Americans are now beginning to die in greater numbers as Afghanistan falls apart, beating a hasty retreat to its pre-2002 political landscape.  The Taliban are growing ever more powerful; al Qaeda is steadily regrouping there.  Obama is labeled as inexperienced and naïve.  But this week, the Bush administration said much the same thing (except not the part about the wasted American deaths for an unnecessary war.)

Barack Obama has suggested a 16-month timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.  Bush and McCain labeled timetables as irresponsible, and labeled Obama as inexperienced and naïve (and much worse).  This week, the Bush Administration announced agreement with the Iraqi government for setting a “withdrawal horizon.”  So, tell me.  Who’s leading this dance?

So enamored is the Bush administration of Obama’s great leadership, vision and calm wisdom about the Middle East that, this morning, the White House Press office emailed  a story in which Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki calls Obama’s 16-month strategy “the right time frame for a withdrawal” to its entire distribution list.  The Reuters news report details an interview in the German magazine Der Spiegel.

Full disclosure:  OK, so actually only part of this is true.  Yes, believe it or not, the White House did send an email to its press distribution list, but it wasn’t intentional!  Just when you thought the White House could not get more incompetent, it shoots itself in the foot.  “Iraq PM backs Obama troop exit plan,” read the title on an email sent out to thousands of subscribers to the clipping service, including major media outlets and anyone else who would listen. The White House often sends out emails to this distribution list, with titles like: “News You Can Use,” “In Case You Missed It,” and “Setting the Record Straight.”  Clearly, the intention is usually to bolster administration talking points, not promote endorsements (well, al-Maliki backed away from calling it an endorsement) given to the opposition.

The White House SNAFU has been attributed to someone pushing the wrong button.  (Given the predilection of the White House rewarding stupidity and incompetence, he or she might be up for a big promotion.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the next White House press secretary!)

Of course the story has become rampantly virulent on the internet, spreading like a California wildfire.  And how could such a mistake happen?  Some have speculated that the email was intended for an internal group, sent to assemble talking points that might counter it.

Instead, an article that might have received scant attention has gotten wide distribution in the mainstream media,  having been reported in the New York Times, on ABC News and other outlets, as well as in the Blogosphere.  Doubtless that, on the Sunday morning talk shows tomorrow, McCain and Bush spokespeople might be asked not only about al-Maliki’s statements, but about the SNAFU  and its potential impact on the two presidential candidates’ campaigns, as well.  Stay tuned!

Digg it here!

John McCain, Rod Parsley and the Politics of Hate

A conspiracy of “international bankers” was responsible for the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II, and a host of other ills. Who said that? And who are those “international bankers,” anyway?

I just spent the last ten minutes watching a YouTube video of a well-known Christian preacher and “moral compass” of a particular presidential candidate spew forth with incendiary words — words of a “Christian patriot” that sent chills down my back. As his fiery rhetoric spewed forth about the “international banking conspiracy” and its manipulation of financial markets, I physically recoiled at the all-too-familiar code words that hearken back to the darker side of history and into hateful anti-Semitic diatribes like Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Words that can be found on neo-fascist and “Christian patriot” websites cultivating hate and suspicion of Jews, Muslims, and other minorities. And who said these words? Shouted them in a packed-to-the-gills church? His name is Rod Parsley, and he is head of the World Harvest Church.

This is what one presidential candidate said of this man, introducing him at a campaign event event just a couple of months ago: “I am very honored today to have one of the truly great leaders in America, a moral compass, a spiritual guide… thank you for your leadership and your guidance. I am very grateful you are here.”

Who would say such nice things about a hate-spouting preacher? None other than John McCain, presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Backtracking later, McCain insisted that he didn’t mean that Parsley was his (McCain’s) spiritual guide; just a spiritual guide — drawing a distinction between his relationship with Parsley and Barack Obama’s with the Reverend Wright. But, if not his own, then just whose spiritual guide might Parsley be? Much was made at the time on the Internet, on the mainstream news, and in other corners of the political world of the difference.

But never mind the “a/his” controversy. I’m much more concerned that McCain has called this guy anyone’s moral compass at all. And a “great man.” Like John Hagee, another of McCain’s spiritual soul mates, Parsley uses the international money-lenders diatribe to great effect as thousands of rapt congregants hang on his every word, every week.

And even though Parsley may prefer euphemisms and code words about Jews, he uses outright incendiary language speaking about Muslims. In his book Silent No More Parsley says: “The fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion (Islam) destroyed, and I believe September 11, 2001, was a generational call to arms that we can no longer ignore.”

As I consider Parsley’s rhetoric, I wonder then, for whom McCain believes the Reverend Parsley is a “great man” and “moral compass.” Did he mean for this country? Because if so, we’re in a whole lotta trouble. Is this the direction McCain wants the country to travel? Really? Or was McCain simply pandering to the right? I only imagine what the reaction would have been if Obama introduced his old pastor as a “great man” and “moral compass” in the heat of this presidential campaign.

Interestingly, much has been made of Obama’s “choosing” Wright as his pastor. Obama has explained himself well, and has called Wright’s heinous remarks for what they are. McCain can choose to associate himself with a lot of different campaign and spiritual advisers along his presidential trail. And he has chosen to embrace hate-mongers like Parsley. Where’s the moral outrage for that? Where’s the 24/7 coverage of that? Those are my questions for the day.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending Reverend Wright. There should be no place for him within Obama’s political framework. He is an old and bitter man who, now retired, has found new (and more public) pulpits from which which he can spread his bitter and cynical hatred. And he is no less to be disparaged and denounced than Rod Parsley and others like him, with his talk of America’s destiny to squash Islam and rid the world of Muslims. To quote Shakespeare: “a plague o’ both your houses.”

On Patriotism and lapel pins

There have been two time periods in my life during which I wore an American flag pin on my clothing. The first was back when I was in high school.  In protest of the Vietnam War, I wore an American flag pin upside down, a symbol of distress.  I wore it along with other buttons, badges and pins, including my home-made “I am an effete intellectual, nattering nabob, snob for peace.” (It repeated the unforgettable adjectives for war protesters uttered by that paragon of virtue, Vice President Spiro Agnew).   My wearing of the upside down flag pin got me kicked out of typing class during a mid-term exam, which resulted in my only “D” during my high school years (not that there were so many “A’s” either.)

 

The second time I wore an American flag lapel pin was in the days after 9/11.  Bound together as a nation, facing a national tragedy, we were united across political, social and generational lines in our collective grief, not just that 3,000 innocent people had been intentionally and brutally murdered, but that our country could be attacked like that, so easily, on a cloudless September morning.  Powerless to do anything individually except watch “breaking news” coverage and talk about it among our friends, we banded together under the flag, wearing it proudly, as sign that, despite our differences, we were all Americans, and, in this at least, we were unified.

 

Everyone was wearing them: liberal, conservative, independent, rural Americans, big city Americans.  We needed to show the world that we stood together, and wearing a flag pin—a sign of unity under the principles that have bound us since our founding—was a very visual way to do that.  I stopped wearing the pin when the flag began to stand, not for the principles that make our country great, not the least of which is freedom of speech, but for a view of patriotism that has more to do with the flag and allegiance than to the ideals behind it.

 

People seem to use those little flag pins to express their patriotism.  Fine.  No problem with that. But does not wearing one mean that you’re not patriotic?  And by whose definition?  Is it the unwavering support of an administration regardless of what it doing in our name?    When patriotism comes to mean silent acquiescence and not thoughtful consideration, we have gone astray of the ideals of our nation.  When questioning the validity of a policy is labeled unpatriotic; when exposing the lies told by an executive branch run amok with delusions of absolute power is deemed subversive under someone’s ideas of “national security;” when questioning the continuation of a dubious and ill considered war is deemed to somehow being unsupportive of the soldiers on the front (when in fact the opposite may be true), we are weakened as a nation for the suppression of necessary debate.   

 

The flag does not stand for blind allegiance, and it does not replace (by a long shot) the urgent need of everyone to understand (to the best of their knowledge) the issues, all sides, and judge—and question.  Our flag stands for the healthy skepticism for government power and wisdom, and certainly not for the notion that our nation is run by an all-powerful executive branch with the other branches in existence to support and cheer lead.  It stands for the Constitution—that body of laws  and principles that govern  and define us.

 

Patriotism is certainly not defined by the wearing of a lapel badge (more than likely manufactured in China) American flag.  And to ask, (as one questioner asked during last week’s ABC democratic debate) whether Barack Obama “believes in the flag” does nothing but show the ignorance (yeah, call me an elitist) the of the questioner.  Believing in the “flag” doesn’t mean believing in a piece of metal affixed to a blazer.  Was she really questioning whether Obama believed in our country?  Questioning his patriotism?  She said she was not; what, then was she calling into question because Senator Obama does not happen to wear a flag lapel pin?  The flag is merely a symbol, meaningless except for what it represents—“liberty and justice for all.”  The Bill of Rights: free speech, right to assemble, due process, habeas corpus.  That’s what the flag stands for.  Believing in the flag means supporting the government when it is right, and having the courage to criticize and otherwise speak out when it is not.  It sometimes means being a cheerleader, but so often means being a opponent, although the former is a far easier variety than the latter.

 

Upon reflection, I wonder if I shouldn’t re-pin the flag pin on my lapel. Affix it with the appropriate dash of righteous indignation, refusing to allow the far right to hijack very notion of patriotism, and its most visible symbol.   Or maybe design a new lapel pin—a miniature of the US Constitution, with its oversized “We the People…”  To me, that’s really what we’re protecting…and what we stand for:  for ourselves and as a symbol for the rest of the world. 

Gotcha Politics and Sound-Bite Journalism

“Gotcha” politics has got to go.  And I think that time is here and now.  I want to thank George Stephanopoulos (who has, in my humble opinion, lost all credibility as an intelligent political voice), Charlie Gibson (who never really had it) and ABC for making it possible. 

Finally, we are having a debate about debate; about political discourse and about the media’s coverage of politics via soundbite, innuendo and a series of “gotchas.”  Last night was, perhaps, the tipping point; the straw that broke the camel’s back.  A ninety minute debate and for the first 45 minutes, not one bit of policy was discussed.  Not one merest suggestion of an issue was raised. 

Call me an elitist, but to question Barack Obama as to whether he “believes in the flag,” (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean) would be insulting, if it weren’t so ridiculous.  That Obama chose to actually answer showed him to be a man a lot more tolerant than I would have been.  (Beside the fact that I’m not a man.) 

This country is in an endless and fruitless war.  This country is in a recession; threatening to veer into the sort of stagflation I remember when I was just getting out of college in the late seventies.  Global warming is breaking off big chunks of ice fields (and George Bush’s plan is to begin to cut emissions in 12-15 years-that is, after they’re allowed to peak in 10 years.)  Our cities’ infrastructures are crumbling and our military is stretched too thin; Iran continues its nuclear program and in Afghanistan, the Taliban grow more powerful (hey, I thought we won that war) with each passing week.  And the media want to talk about David Ayers, a 60s radical.  Hey, Congressman Bobby Rush was a 60s radical too.  And former Tom Hayden.  Even Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (he, the son of Richard J– who helped all hell break loose in 1968 at the democratic convention) thinks its ridiculous to bring up William Ayers, who is a professor at the University of Illinois.

But yesterday, Obama countered.  He called this for what it is; and for what it is not.  The time has come, he said to talk about substance.  The post-debate coverage has been less about who said what, or who did what, than the substance of the questions themselves.  And I say it’s about damn time.  Criticism of Stephanopoulos, Gibson by people like Tom Shales, <i>Editor and Publisher </i> and others in the media and public life have dominated the discussion.

Last night Obama made a surprise appearance on the <i>The Colbert Report,</i> placing the word “distractions” on Colbert’s “on notice” board.  Distractions like the trivial questions coming from the real issues, when the issues are as serious as they are in this election, are not useful and are examples of lazy journalism. I’m not saying ONLY policy issues should be discussed; and character is an important thing to examine.  But when “journalists” insist on spending 75 percent of their coverage on distractions, and not at taking a hard look at the differences between the candidates (including the differences between the two democrats and John McCain) they are doing us all a disservice. 

So, maybe, finally, in the aftermath of the ABC debate, the main stream media are put on notice to discuss issues; real substance.  Not whether a candidate “believes” in the flag.  The stakes are too high to do otherwise. 

Stormy weather usually brings colder weather.  Yesterday’s brought practically balmy breezes towards Chicago, and I awoke to 60 degrees (never mind that it’s supposed to snow tomorrow.)  I’m ready for spring.  Really.  My irises and lilies of the valley are ready for spring.  Time to put the old car window scraper back in the garage for the season.

What’s with American Airlines?  All those cancellations and service problems.  I’m told that it’s the inspecting agency who’s been lax all these years.  Imagine that!  A regulatory agency of these United States lax during the Bush Administration?  Hard to believe, I know.  Glad my daughter is coming home for Passover on United next Thursday.  That’s all I can say.

And speaking of Bush.  New poll numbers put him in Nixon territory. ‘Bout time, dontcha think?  What amazes me is that 28 percent of Americans actually think Bushie’s doing a good job.    approve (better word?) of Bush’s performance.  On WHAT???!!!!!  On lying? On dismantling the Bill of Rights? On emasculating the House and Senate? On declaring himself king? (oops, sorry–head of a “unitary” executive branch).  I guess you can fool some of the people all of the time.

And speaking of Passover.  So this will be the first time, ever, that we’re doing a (mostly) vegetarian seder.  I say “mostly” because for the carinvores and traditionalists in our family, I do want to have something familiar for them to eat.  After all, they’ve always accomodated our need to only have kosher (and now meat-free altogether) food in their homes, so it’s only fair.

The menu: (always subject to change)

  • Mock chopped liver
  • Pareve chicken soup (I have a recipe that the writer swears is indistinguishable from the real stuff)
  • Home-made gefilte fish (just like grandma made–my mom never has had a clue about how to make it)
  • Magic roasted veggies (magic, because there just too easy to make)
  • Gingered orange sweet potato casserole
  • Matzo farfel with mushroom kugel
  • Veggie terrine
  • Turkey breast (for the meatatarians)

 Any other ideas?????  We’re new at this vegetarian thing. Our teenager spent a high school semester in Israel last year and came home a vegetarian in June…we decided his reasoning made sense, so we followed him, albeit a bit lest strictly (we eat fish, he doesn’t).    I’m really hoping to get a knockout passover main course that will knock everyone’s socks off, so I’m open to suggestions, as I begin to prepare for the holiday.

 

 

 

Of Firing Squads and Democrats

A circular firing squad. It’s an apt metaphor for the democratic presidential campaign these days. I never, ever thought we’d be in this position. Although I’ve never been known as a political pessimist (hey, I was rooting for John Kerry way into the night in 2004), I have become one. Only the democrats could manage to turn this year’s presidential sure thing into a possible rout. OK, maybe it’s a bit hyperbolic to say so this early. But I’m beginning to dread the fall.

And who’d have thunk it? A long and costly (and unpopular) war; the unitary executive; the emasculation of Congress; the Supreme Court; an economy that everyone but George in Wonderland perceives as tanking; a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan that promises to erase any gains we may have made prior to Iraq; Blackwater; Halliburton; an army stretched to the brink, with stop-loss orders threatening the lives, livelihoods and well-being of our veterans; a health care system that is an embarrassment equal only to our loss of our credibility on the international stage. The list goes on. And on. And yet…let me get this right: Clinton and Obama are sniping at each other? Circular firing squad indeed.

The stakes are way too high this year to allow the Republicans to keep the castle…er…White House. Nearly eight years of damage cannot be piled atop another (even) four years of an imperialized Republican executive.

So, here’s my two cents worth (and in this economy, it’s not worth very much). Everyone just take a breath. Then readjust the circular formation and re-aim. But this time, instead of aiming at each other and assorted feet, this time take aim at the real enemy: John McCain and every up-for-election Republican who sits in the House and Senate. They’re the enemy. They’re the guys who’ve let our country fall apart and fall away from the values (yes, values) and ideals that make our country great.

But, you wisely ask, aren’t Obama and Clinton running against each other? How else can we figure out who should have the nomination if they don’t attack each other’s Achilles heels and other weaknesses? How, indeed. And thanks for asking.

Fight the enemy. Fight McCain. What better a target for practice? What better a test of wills? Of skills? Of merit? Who has the better claim against McCain? Show us. In real time. Because that’s what it’s all about, baby. Because that’s what’s going to matter in the final analysis.

You wanna see who should have the nomination? Fight McCain. Let us see you set the agenda against his, and theirs. Don’t give the guy a pass. Don’t let him embrace racists like Rod Parsley; demagogues like John Hagee. Don’t let him embrace eight years of a disastrous presidency and revise it to suit his (and the Republican agenda). Because, believe me, he will. And they will. You think Karl Rove has been vacationing in Aruba? You think those 527s have laid down their arms? No way. And while Hillary and Barack are taking pot shots firing at each other, they’re taking their eyes off the prize and watching it disintegrate into sand right in front of their (and our) eyes. They’re distracted from the real war; from the real fight.

Like I said, my advice isn’t worth a lot. So, I do think we’ll continue to see more of the same. Democrats shooting at each other and themselves in the foot as the Republicans plan the autumn offensive. And they’ll be ready. But the real question is: will the Democrats? This campaign sorely needs John Edwards back in the fray. I miss his role as “the adult candidate.”

So I will end with a plea to the adults in the upper echelons of the Democratic Party. Will someone: Howard Dean? Al Gore? Teddy Kennedy? Just someone (or all of you)—put a stop to this. For the sake of the party, for the sake of the race, for the sake of the country—and the sake of the planet.