Thursday, 24 May 2012

A Test for the American New Media

I really liked this segment from yesterday’s Rachel Maddow Show, in which our host takes a look at Jay Carney’s surprising moment of… well, emotion, when he addressed the Washington Press Corps and told them, effectively, to do their job, to not just parrot whatever new Republican or Right Wing talking point they get fed – it’s a nice moment of someone in politics legitimately wagging a finger at a news media that has become rather lazy in its reporting.

To this end, Rachel offers the news media a test. She points out that Candidate Romney claims that, by the end of his first administration, were he to be elected, he would bring unemployment down to 6%. Even though two weeks before, he said anything over 4% would be an Obama failure. As Maddow points out, projections suggest that unemployment levels are already on their way to hitting 6%. This almost suggests that Romney’s plans are either to do nothing new, or to just maintain Obama policies… And that Obama’s policies are probably working. I’ll let you be the judge about what the truth is.

Here’s the clip:

I’m Not a Career Politician. I’m a Career Candidate…

Candidate Weathervane’s back at making silly statements:

“For me, politics is not a career…”

This is an interesting statement from someone who has either been in politics or unsuccessfully trying to get into politics for decades. The sentence is clearly missing a second half:

“… despite how much I’ve tried to make it one.”

His first unsuccessful campaign was in 1994 (Massachusetts Senate seat). Then, from 2002-7, he was either running for or being Governor of Massachusetts. Since then, he’s been running for President. So that’s roughly a decade of his life spent in or around politics, stretched over a longer period of time.

“Career politicians got us into this mess and they simply don’t know how to get us out.”

And yet, Romney’s prescriptions have either been ridiculed as being unrealistic, potentially damaging, or lacking in concrete details.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

“Democracy is not a vicarious experience…”

I’ve been catching up with my news/magazine reading this week, and I came across an article by Bill Bradley (TIME, May 14 2012, p.23), which is both good and frustrating.

In the article, Bradley ostensibly takes a look at Citizens United (that’s the title of the piece, but not really the focus). He frames his piece around President Obama’s election, which he says marked a misunderstanding of politics on the part of not only the electorate, but also government officials. He doesn’t break any new ground in the article, but Bradley does have a good way with words, and the article is rife with quotable moments.

On election day, Bradley writes, “we made the mistake of believing that a leader can renew the country all by himself,” which overestimates the power of the President. Yes, a President can “inspire and help mobilize” the electorate, but in order for policy and government to move forward, a talented administration needs to be “joined with commitment from citizens”. As Bradley admonishes: “Democracy is not a vicarious experience.” Quite what Bradley means by “commitment” from the electorate isn’t really made clear. They should vote, certainly. But that’s all he really offers.

Bradley compares the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements, saying that the Tea Party’s focus on a “very specific objective – roll back government”, allowed it to convert its energy into political effectiveness. [This, actually, suggests Bradley doesn’t fully understand the Tea Party – there has been a lot written about the TP, and I’ve been given the impression that it is not the cohesive movement the media portrayed to begin with.] Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, lacked a focus or anything specific. “Some people argued that it was enough simply to point out inequality; a detailed program would have divided the movement.” Bradley argues that “getting money out of politics” would have been the best specific program for OWS. This is because Citizens United has exaggerated democracy (if you will) for the politically-engaged wealthy few. Without a concerted effort from citizens as a whole, “the future will be hijacked by a combination of greed, self-indulgence and excusemaking.” So far, so unoriginal.

The main problem with this article is that Bradley doesn’t really offer anything concrete or remotely new. Instead, with regards to the 2012 election, he says Americans

“should insist on a presidential campaign about the future, not a blamefest about the past. Candidates’ narratives can have a historical dimension about how we got where we are, but the bulk of their story must be about the future. If what you hear is only blame or bromides, change the channel.”

Very true. But thus-far, Bradley’s article has offered nothing concrete and is predominantly leaning on the very bromides he says the electorate are sick and tired of hearing.

“People are tired of seeing monied interests dominate the House of Representatives... They’re tired of narrow interests raiding the U.S. Treasury in collusion with members of Congress who, when they leave office, are employed as lobbyists by the very industries whose interests they promoted in Congress. (The same applies in spades to congressional staffers.)”

Yup, still unoriginal, still uninformative, and still lacking prescription.

“Now is the time for citizens to insist on answers to real questions and for the media to serve the public more than they serve their advertisers. Now is the time for follow-up questions and enough airtime for candidates to lay out their programs. What, specifically, will they do about jobs, the deficit, political corruption? How do they see America's role in the world?

“Now is the time for politicians to show us that they are more interested in doing something than in being somebody... What we need are courageous leaders who serve the public and not themselves, who devise a plan to save the country and fight for it because they know that the well-being of millions of Americans at stake.”

Now is, indeed, the time for citizens and the media to ask proper follow-up questions, to call politicians on obfuscations and distortions. But… Why doesn’t Bradley use this platform to offer some of the things he says citizens want to hear, rather than just telling off his peers and colleagues for not telling anyone anything useful or prescriptive?

He had a full page in TIME magazine, wouldn’t it have been better for him to outline a plan (whole, complete, even a nugget), instead of just painting a picture of everyone else doing things wrong? So Occupy Wall Street aren’t focused, because they voice only generalities. So does Bradley. What are his prescriptions for jobs, the deficit, political corruption? Other than to tell the population of America that it’s “up to them” to get involved. Yes, the voting public has the option to turf out bad politicians. This is only half of the story – how about a politician proposing a bill that would blunt Citizens United? Or strong restrictions on campaign contributions? Citizens can’t do that on their own – they have to see Congressmen and -women who actively support those things, without going to the fundraisers, and so forth (which he says citizens are sick of seeing politicians do).

Bradley had worked on campaign reform in the past. Why didn’t he use this platform to talk a little more about it, rather than just trot out the heard-it-all-before reiteration of the fact that something needs to be done?

Monday, 21 May 2012

Drezner on Weathervane’s FP

Dan Drezner – a professor at Tuft’s University, blogger for Foreign Policy, and author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies – has been deconstructing Republican primary election foreign policy pronouncements for the past six months, and had thought that “this horse has pretty much been beaten to death”. Now, however, following Candidate Romney’s op-ed piece for the Chicago Tribune, Drezner “fear[s Romney] and his campaign have crossed the line from really stupid foreign policy pronouncements to logically contradictory ones.”

“I really like his first paragraph... and then we run into a whole mess of problems.”

The problems are four-fold, and take a look at Romney’s comments regarding NATO, North Korea and China; a “revanchist” Russia; Romney’s doubling-down on “free-rider logic”; and some confusion about Romney’s prescriptions (which even I thought sounded prosaic and meaningless, and I tend to give politicians some benefit of the doubt). Drezner’s response (“Is it unreasonable to expect simple logic?”), offers a good, pithy deconstruction of Romney’s piece (as well as plentiful links to statements, past comments, and so forth). His conclusion is, in a nutshell:

“That’s it?! Really?!”

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Colin Powell in Newsweek & TIME

ColinPowell-JakeChessumForNewsweek

Jake Chessum’s picture of former Secretary Powell
for the Newsweek piece [which I think is rather weird]

Former Secretary of State and General Colin Powell has been cropping up in the news weeklies in recent days, in advance of his new book (which I would very much like to read). There were a couple of articles in particular I thought were interesting, so I thought I’d tease out some key points and interesting observations. The articles are from TIME magazine (as part of their last-page “10 Questions” series – May 28th 2012, p.70); and from Newsweek, in which Powell wrote a piece about the George W. Bush Administrations decisions and actions with regards to Iraq. Both are quite interesting, with the Newsweek piece obviously more substantial and informative.

That being said, if you’ll indulge me a segue before I get on to the main point, the former Secretary did comment on whether or not he thought Congressional leaders were staying too long in office: “We need people who know how the system runs, but it really is not necessary to stay there for an entire career.”

Anyway, back to the Newsweek article and my comments.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Seriously?

I know I’ve been hammering away at how disappointed and frustrated I am with Candidate Romney’s inability to stick to a coherent ideological message, but come on:

“I’m not familiar, precisely, with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said, whatever it was,” Mr. Romney said.

Seriously? Paul Waldman, writing for the American Prospect, said the above comment is “what happens when you're obsessed with proving that you aren't a flip-flopper”,

“There are times when you can just see the wheels turning in Mitt Romney’s head, as he cycles through the possible responses to a question, realizes there really is no good one, then spits out something that sounds like the least bad answer possible. It’s almost sad.”

Waldman finishes his post thus, which I thought was spot on:

“you can be sure that no matter the winding road he has traveled to arrive at the place he is today, Mitt Romney believes what he believes and stands by what he says. Whatever it is.”

Should America no expect more from someone running for an office that definitely requires you to remember what you believe? Because, after all, you’re supposed to be fighting for what you believe, to make it true for America? How is that even remotely possible, if you don’t know what you believe? Or is it, as I suspect, just a case of Candidate Weathervane being so obsessed and in love with the idea of being president, that he just doesn’t care as long as he gets to live in the White House, ride in the Beast and Marine One, and get a portrait and library?

Frankly, I think the longer this campaign goes on, regardless of the outcome, Candidate Romney is just going to continue to disappoint and water-down who he is. This is extremely depressing, and is a massive indictment against the US political system.

Now, imagine what happens if he wins? There will be no genuine politician again – he will have proved that being spineless, opinionless, and positionless is a politically sound strategy.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Best New Thing in the World? Jane Lynch Gives Advice to the GOP

Sorry, one more clip from the May 16th episode of The Rachel Maddow Show – Rachel gives over the “Best New Thing In The World” segment to amazing actress, Jane Lynch. Watch and enjoy:

It’s funny, but also pretty spot on – Lynch gets the first 2:20 mins of the segment, but then she and Maddow discuss the topic.

Maddow comes out, (rhetorical) Guns Blazing

I wanted to share this segment from the May 16th episode of The Rachel Maddow Show, because I thought it is an example of exceptional broadcast journalism. Unlike Lawrence O’Donnell, Ed Schultz or a good number of Fox presenters and Talk Radio hosts, Maddow lets the actions and words of the Republican Party make her case for her. Her sarcastic repetition of “but of course it’s about Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” tells you everything you need to know about the hypocrisy of the more militant and activist members of the right.

In fact, the whole episode was one of the best of recent weeks. Frequent readers will know that I’m a big fan of The Rachel Maddow Show. But there is more to it than just ideological convergence – there are times when I think Maddow either commits false equivalence or over-reads into certain comments or news items. But, and this is what makes the show most notable among the cacophony of talking heads and celebrity presenters: she actually acts and works like a journalist. It is less about her, and more about the facts.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Honesty & dishonesty in just one sentence…

On the above segment from Today’s UP! With Chris Hayes, there was a clip from Candidate Romney that I thought had an interesting duality, in that it was informatively both honest and dishonest all at the same time. Specifically, when discussing gay rights, Romney said (at around the 4:20 mark),

“I have the same view that I’ve had since… well, since running for office.”

The statement is dishonest, because Romney’s had a couple of different position on gay rights since first running for government office. For example, in his race again Ted Kennedy for Senate, he said he would be more liberal than Kennedy, which is very different from his current position (which I believe to be his true feelings on the matter).

The statement is honest, though, in that it points out that Romney makes decisions based on whether or not he’s running for office. Which is not exactly news, but it’s nice to get these things on tape. It reminds me of the October 18th 2011 debate, in which Romney got tagged by Rick Perry about hiring illegals (link includes video), to which Weathervane’s response was,

“Look, you can’t have any illegals working on our property. I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake, I can’t have illegals.”

Again, his concern does not appear to have been the fact that his employees were illegal, but that their illegal status would be a problem for his electoral prospects.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Mitt Romney has the courage of his ambitions, and that’s it.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Media: Robert Caro, Power, Presidency

Ok, that’s actually a rather grand title for this post, as I actually just wanted to share a couple of quotes from his interview with TIME magazine (May 21 2012, p.64). When asked about what advice he would give to Mitt Romney about his vice-presidential pick, Caro responded:

“I’m not going to give advice to Romney. But a presidential candidate has a great responsibility to America to pick someone who is well fitted to the role. I think John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin is the single most irresponsible act of government I can remember.”

Quite the scathing indictment. True, it’s not exactly a ground-breaking comment (there are plenty of people who have gone on the record about how disappointing McCain’s VP pick was), but I thought it was interesting that he would be so blunt about his political allegiances.

Another interesting snippet from the interview:

Q: In studying political power, have you figured out why Presidents get so little done?

A: “Part of it is the inherent resistance to transformative change embodied in Congress. In the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, it was the Southern Democrats who controlled Congress and stood in the way of social-welfare legislation. Today it’s the Republican Party.”

Robert Caro is the author of the (seemingly never-ending) series of biographies of President Lyndon B. Johnson (The Years of Lyndon Johnson), the latest of which – The Passage of Power – has just been published by Knopf.

Caro-LBJ4-PassageOfPower

It’s a series I would love to read, but sadly I just don’t have the time. I think I will probably make do with Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of LBJ – not exactly “settling”, as that biography has also received plenty of praise. Not to mention, it’s complete, shorter and arguably more accessible.

I know one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but there really seems to be a trend in some historical publishing circles that favours singularly boring covers. Along with Caro’s book, Henry Kissinger’s latest, On China (paperback edition now available), was also bland to the point of appearing unfinished:

Kissinger-OnChinaUS

Media: Chen Guangcheng & Newsweek

Newsweek-20120514In the latest issue of Newsweek, you will find a good, long article about the magazine’s history with Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, “Blind Justice” by Melinda Liu, who has known the dissident for about a decade. The feature offers a very good explanation of Chen’s story.

The issue also includes an editorial by Tina Brown, “Resisters” (Periscope, p.4), which I thought contained a bit of a strange comment:

“One of the unsettling aspects of the Chen affair, as with the dissenter Fang Lizhi in 1989, has been the diplomatic dance required between geopolitical economic considerations and America's commitment to human rights.”

I don’t really know what to make of this comment. I think it’s the use of “unsettling”, and the fact that this fact should come as no surprise to anyone in the news business, as this sort of situation is absolutely the norm for US-China relations – and, in my opinion, is also common sense. It suggests a rather glaring misunderstanding of international relations, economics and foreign policy. The United States government and its diplomats must make considerations on a larger, broader political and diplomatic scale. To base or rest an entire foreign policy on the fate of one dissenter (regardless of how brave, audacious, commendable s/he may be) is folly and irresponsible. The US and Chinese governments must think of the whole relationship, which is becoming ever-more complex. Indeed, thus far, that policy has actually worked in America’s favour.

It doesn’t exactly cost Beijing much political to let one or two high-profile dissidents go whenever there’s a summit or event with prominent United States diplomats and cabinet officials. They always do this – not just in 1989, like Brown’s statement would suggest.

In fact, one easy way for any administration to further the human rights cause with China (limited as it would be) would be to just plan more summits with China. A glib proposition? Yes, certainly, but given Beijing’s intransigence on the issue, it would do more than is currently being done, and even a modicum of forward momentum should never be sneered at or avoided.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Some Cross-Over Appeal…

Saw this today, thought it had some cross-over appeal with my two blogs:

jhe120504

Cartoon by Joe Heller