Sunday, June 3, 2007

We're Building Ourselves a Palace

Check this out.
We build a palace in Baghdad for our ambassador and his guests.
It is the biggest embassy in the world.
The Pentagon is trying to keep embassy plans quiet.
Here is a link to the original website, now shut down.

It's $592 million and the size of the Vatican.

Meanwhile, 1 murder out of 162 in New Orleans last year has resulted in conviction.

Heckuva Job

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Who Hates Ralph Nader?

Why did God send Ralph Nader? Or, perhaps as Democrats might ask, why didn’t God take away Ralph Nader somewhere around 1999? We all know that Ralph Nader’s Green Party candidacy for the presidency in 2000 siphoned away progressive voters that otherwise would have voted for Al Gore, essentially allowing George W. Bush’s “victory”.

He ran again in 2004, to the chagrin of Kerry supporters, but carried a less significant portion of the vote. Now, Ralph Nader’s rhetoric threatens another bid for the White House in 2008 should Hillary Clinton earn the Democratic nomination. Even one of our favorites because of his non-partisan analysis, Dick Polman, is unable to hide his disdain for the man. Certainly, much of this has resulted from the poor performance of the president “who Nader helped propel to power in the first place”.

Partisan Democrats hate Ralph Nader because he “cost” them electoral victories.

He did this by earning the support of independent progressives who felt as though the Democratic Party had become more interested in the business of winning elections than representing a pragmatic and progressive platform for action. Ralph Nader is criticized the types of Democrats being nominated, the corruption of the party structure by corporate interests. He was disparaging the Democratic establishment that had become entrenched after brokering power over the course of the Clinton administration.

Nader’s target, that same Democratic establishment, has since lost some of its hold on intra-party politics. The Party’s incompetence at mounting a challenge to George W. Bush’s policies led to further defeats on subsequent election days. Grassroots criticism of the Party began registering in 2004 as Howard Dean became chairman of the DNC as an outsider. In 2006, the progressive grassroots challenged the Democrats to take back Congress and they did. While the degree to which independent progressives have stamped the platform of 2006 Democratic nominees can be argued, it is clear that new non-insider leaders are emerging within the Party (i.e. Obama). These new leaders reflect the progressives that Nader was trying to reach with his anti-establishment criticism of the Democratic corporatism that dominated the Party.

This is not to argue that young guns like Barack Obama and John Edwards have completely clean hands when it comes to corporate influence. Hillary Rodham Clinton, however, clearly represents the old-guard corporate Democratic establishment to Nader and to many other independent Democrats and progressives that will be working against her during the primary season. That is why Nader has threatened an independent run for the presidency against Hillary Clinton but not against the other early front-runners, Barack Obama and John Edwards and why these two Clinton challengers will generate the most buzz among younger Democratic voters.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Minimum Wage and Congressional Character

Democrats have been in control of Congress for three weeks and inter-party relations have not been good. In the House Democrats have moved swiftly to pass a number of bills (minimum wage, new ethic and lobbying rules, etc.) that Republicans assert they had little say in. Despite the Democrats’ promise to include representatives from the minority party in the debate, Republicans claim they have been overlooked. Unfortunately for them, this argument is feeble because for the past twelve years they treated House Democrats like uninvited guests.

Debate in the Senate has taken a somewhat unpredicted course. In the Times article, the journalist writes that “the House long has earned a reputation for being far more partisan than the Senate. In the Senate, the minority's power to stall legislation requires the majority to reach out if it wants to pass bills.” The Democrats have, in fact, extended the olive branch to the minority Republicans in the form of allowing them to propose amendments to bills before voting on them.

The Senate spent all last week and part of this week debating a bill that would increase the minimum wage because of endless tax-break amendments that have been proposed by the minority party. The Democrats have proposed none and have been ready to vote since the first day of debate. So in the chamber of Congress in which the majority party has the ability to prevent the minority party from creating blockages (not including the filibuster), a weeklong delay has occurred.

Democratic frustration over this holdup is obvious in Senator Ted Kennedy’s speech on Thursday in which he openly rebuked Republicans for purposely blocking a vote on the minimum wage increase.

There are three interesting aspects of this debate. First and foremost, this is not a controversy over whether to raise the minimum wage by a couple of dollars. This is a controversy between people who believe we should have a living wage for the poorest in society and people who don’t believe we should have a minimum wage at all. There have not been movements made by Republicans to raise it only to $6.15. Republicans, in general, do not want a minimum wage and will fight its increase accordingly. If Republicans don’t want a minimum wage, why didn’t they dispense with it when they were in power? Simply because it would have been enormously politically unpopular. Don’t fool yourself: Republicans are not concerned about the two buck increase - they are disturbed by the existence of the minimum wage.

Secondly, given the way that Republicans treated Democrats in the House and Senate for the last twelve years, the Democrats have absolutely no responsibility to afford the Republicans the ability to block or delay their legislation. Despite this, the Democrats have decided to make a tenuous attempt at bipartisanship in the Senate. Given the abusive response of the Republicans in the Senate, I cannot imagine that they will always have the opportunity to do this. The Democrats were only able to get the vote to close debate by accepting some tax breaks for small businesses. In the future, Republicans may not have such sway.

Third, and most generally, this issue illuminates the current character of Congress. How does a governing body govern itself? They can change the rules of debate whenever they choose and can easily minimize the effects of the minority party. It is impossible to regulate how much say the minority party gets, because the majority could always change it. The trend in the last couple of decades has been one of bickering and resentment. Both parties are guilty of “tyranny of the majority.” For our nation, this is not a good trend. Instead of reasoned and balanced legislation that actually represents the political diversity of the public, we get superficial, short-sighted, and selfish laws implemented when one party is in power, and then enormous swings in public policy when the other comes to power. In general, these laws fail to address the true causes of the myriad problems that hinder Americans. The net effect is a political atmosphere of contrarianism, attacks, and the illusion of progress that have characterized American politics for several decades.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Who's Hit-Job?

Late last week, published a story that alleged that Barack Obama had been less that completely forthright regarding his educational experience as a prepubescent youth in Indonesia. In fact, a young Obama, the piece discloses, spent two years being educated at a Madrassa, an Islamic seminary.

“The sources said the background check concerned Mr. Obama's years in Jakarta. In Indonesia, the young Obama was enrolled in a Madrassa and was raised and educated as a Muslim. Although Indonesia is regarded as a moderate Muslim state, the U.S. intelligence community has determined that today most of these schools are financed by the Saudi Arabian government and they teach a Wahhabi doctrine that denies the rights of non-Muslims.”

What then? What are they implying by that? That he was indoctrinated by radical Islamists that want to destroy us? How could that be because I’ve heard him talk, he’s Christian, he’s smart, a radical Islamist wouldn’t get elected to the Senate. He must be covert al-Qaeda!

Not only is it absolutely ridiculous to allege that he went to a Madrassa when it is completely not true, but it is even more malicious for the story to insinuate that Senator Obama is a treasonous foreign puppet.

And on another level, the implication of Hillary Clinton’s team as the source of the lie awards another early opportunity to show of Hillary’s lust for power and her cold, calculating methodology.

A Soap Opera for sure

No wonder cable news jumped all over it. It is not a surprise that Glen Beck, Page Six, and Fox News Channel failed to wait for any kind of verification that the internet rumor that they had just broadcast contained any ounce of truth. It is however, where many people are getting their news. Just like when the internet was young, my teachers warned me about including information that I read there in my reports and papers because much of it can turn out to be substantively incorrect, one cannot trust the information coming from their television sets. My question here is, from where did the original lie on come? Whose operative planted that lie?

It is highly publicized stories like these that lead to the “facts” behind “truthiness”

These are the “facts” that lead to 45% of Americans believing in the existence of WMDs in Sadaam’s Iraq or that there were links between Sadaam and al-Qaeda.

These are the “facts” that neoconservatives have created and manipulated to operate in a consequence-free Washington D.C.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Media Images and the Electability of Hillary Clinton

Recently, the media has said a lot about a possible showdown between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for President in 2008. Although neither has officially announced their candidacy, it is clear that both are seriously sizing up their chances. As the media has become aroused by the potential battle, pundits, bloggers, and prognosticators have stimulated debates over each potential candidate’s electability. Perhaps it is because Barack Obama is not white, or because Hillary Clinton has no penis, or because each has demonstrated incredibly fundraising abilities, but these two candidates in particular have attracted the attention of media in ways that other stated or potential candidates have not. Should either win the nomination, people wonder, could either beat a Republican in the general election? The emerging debate on Hillary Clinton warrants a closer look.

Hillary Clinton has been considered a frontrunner for some time. She leads the potential field in both name recognition and money. The conventional wisdom has been skeptical, however, of her chances in the general election. Is America ready for a female president? Is she too polarizing? Can she appeal to citizens of all fifty states? Recently, however, there has been a counter-movement of sorts that has questioned the conventional wisdom that Hillary Clinton is unelectable.
Dick Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer, for instance, has cited recent polls that show Hillary Clinton competing favorably against not only her Democratic rivals, but also against Republican pack leaders John McCain and Rudolph Guliani. It is argued that these positive poll numbers, along with her exploding bank account and moderate voting record in the Senate, make Clinton the most electable, or very electable at the very least.

However, in spite of these compelling arguments, the fact is that she suffers the most glaring electability questions. This is not because America is not ready for a woman president. It is because the media is not ready to cover one objectively. Or, she is not the right woman to effectively dodge or deflect its scrutiny. I can vividly imagine her portrayal.

On one hand, you have the ultra-conservative media. Smirconish, Beck, Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Hannity, and Coulter have all had plenty of practice using rhetoric, personal attack, and bombast to polarize and mislead the American people or otherwise besmirch the reputations of candidates to whom they are opposed. Do you remember how effectively the war hero John Kerry was bashed as soft on terror? What will happen to Clinton? None of her more moderate and conservative senate votes will save her from the emblematic imagery of bra-burning parties at the abortion clinic. Even if the attacks become so heinous as to draw backlash, the damage will be done. As mainstream media outlets questioned the authenticity of the attack ads put forth by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and figures in both parties denounced them, the seeds of doubt that were planted received fertile soil, water, and sunshine.

It is just as easy to imagine her portrayal in satirical comedy. Even the Daily Show, hostile to neo-conservatism, will have a field day with Hillary Clinton. Her speaking ability is questionable; she can sometimes sound cold, disingenuous, or opportunistic.
(Remember the speech at the NAACP?) Perhaps more damaging, is her appearance, her physical style, her womanhood. Even beyond the jokes related to menstruation, menopause, and mammary glands to which any woman candidate would be susceptible, Hilary Clinton’s style is particularly vulnerable to attack. She is as close to Janet Reno as she is to Madeline Albright. She will be portrayed as a frigid bitch, an old hag, a dumb blonde, and a WASP soccer mom all at once.

No amount of positive press, campaign ads, or endorsements will prevent the media’s construction of images like these or worse. American voters will be influenced by these images and consequently, Hillary Clinton will struggle to win November votes. Thus as we wonder and speculate about the political futures of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, it is critical that we realize that it may not be the readiness of the American people for a minority or woman president that will determine the winner, but rather the degree to which the media sticks to archaic imagery that has been historically associated with their coverage of minorities and women at-large. Barack Obama will certainly tackle obstacles related to the media imagery associated with his racial makeup, yet those arguing in favor of Hillary Clinton’s electability have largely ignored the imagery challenges that she will come to face.