Saturday, November 22, 2008

The departure of Alan Colmes

As HuffPo reported this morning, Alan Colmes will be leaving Fox News' top-rated "news show" Hannity and Colmes after 12 years on air. I put that in quotes for a reason - the premise of the show has been that Hannity is conservative while Colmes is liberal, further emphasizing Fox's "fair and balanced" mantra. While the sparring of pundits is no doubt commonplace, what worries me is how interchangeable it has become with the world of television news journalism.

More than that, over the course of the past 12 years, Fox News has become increasingly more conservative and increasingly less fair and balanced. There is no denying its right wing bias. So what now? Will they find another (insert gasp) liberal to exchange barbs with Sean Hannity? And frankly, what's the point? Did Colmes ever really convince Fox's audience of anything or was he merely a liberal punching bag?

My previous post on Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly's most recent meeting touched on the same idea - the value of opposite ends of the spectrum meeting to try and understand eachother's points of view, their motives, their fears. What I appreciated about Stewart was that it seemed like, even if albeit momentarily, he had a vested interest in understanding WHY O'Reilly has the viewpoints he does. He wanted to understand the fear. But O'Reilly was on the show for the sake of argument. He doesn't have any interest in understanding the other side, even if just for the sake of understanding.

I've never been all that fond of Colmes (there's always been some indiscernible off-kilterness I've been unable to pinpoint), but without him, Fox will reduce the show to an even lower level of drivel masqueraded as news. They will find some argumentative "liberal" that they can paint with that red-handed placard, and they will continue to "debate," to bicker really, without ever taking the leap to understanding why it is Sean Hannity sits at one end of the table, and his partner at the other.

Not only is it not news, but it is a testament to the low level of political discourse we have reached. It is always the what, and never the why.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

clash of the titans

If you missed last week's Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly, make sure to catch it online (or below in two parts).

O'Reilly has moments where he seems almost human, a thinking, rational being that agrees the last four years (not eight - - for him, shit only hit the fan with 9/11) were a mess. Cue Stewart attempting to assuage the fears and montra of a man who lives by the creed that America is center-right and that we are a country of traditions, and we see O'Reilly at his most recognizable -- barking blabber and disillusions about who actually lives in this country.

What really struck me was O'Reilly's insistance that Stewart needed to "get out of New York," to "walk around Greenwich Village and tell me it's not completely homogeneous," attempting to argue the point that we city-dwellers have somehow turned a blind eye toward "real America" and toward the thoughts of the people. "You would get killed in Alabama," he tells Stewart, a half-joke I'm assuming aimed toward's Stewart's liberal bias and also his Jewish background. I wouldn't argue with that. But how does that now become the real America? And more importantly, why would we WANT that to be the real America? I don't mind the partisanship in this country and frankly, it is not only idealistic but a fruitless concept to think we could all agree on anything. And why bother? Conflicting discourse makes the world go round.

What frightens me is that so much of our country seems to be clinging to a racist, conservative -- in the most extreme manner of the word -- view of religion and society and feeling as though everybody who does not live that way is living improperly, sinfully, in error. As Stewart so brilliantly points out, to think that we are a country built on ideals of conservatism is a ludicrous disillusion born out of the religious right. This country was conceived as a safe house for people fleeing the constricting nature of the church, seeking to build their own lives under their own rules. We live in a society built upon foundations of progression. To argue that intellectual, city-dwelling people are blandly homogeneous because they are in favor of progress is an insult to what this country means to all Americans.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

On that note...

A great photo of new President-elect Barack Obama and French president Nicolas Sarkozy, with the caption "It's like we went away for the summer and lost all the weight and got contacts! And also a tan." -- the accompaniment to a hilarious post-election article from New York Mag on why Europe is finally jealous of America.

On a similar note to last week's op-ed post on what having Obama as president will mean to the rest of the world...
Days after Obama's landslide victory, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi responds:

Italians never quite know whether to laugh or cry at Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. But many reacted with incredulity and outrage after the prime minister, visiting Moscow on Thursday, amiably called the first African-American president-elect in United States history “young, handsome and suntanned.” Mr. Berlusconi made the remark while meeting President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia, saying that Senator Barack Obama’s good looks, his youth and his so-called suntan were “all the qualities” for Mr. Medvedev and the future president to “develop a good working relationship.”
While the comments may seem over the top offensive, Italy is used to this. Frankly, I was surprised the article painted Italians as "uproared" over this, since not only is Berlusconi famous for his outrageously inappropriate commentary and demeanor, but they KEEP ELECTING HIM. OVER AND OVER AND OVER. Economists gauged at their last election in April 2008 that if Berlusconi was reelected over sitting Prime Minister Romano Prodi, the country of Italy as we know it will have economically and socially collapsed within ten years.
[Berlusconi] said that his remark had been “a compliment” and that his critics lacked irony. “If you want to get a degree in idiocy, I won’t stop you,” La Repubblica quoted him as saying. “I say whatever I think.” He said the Italian left was wrong about everything, “including their lack of a sense of humor.” He added: “Too bad for them. God save us from imbecils."

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The '08 Effect

It's been over a year of this endless election "season" and the one thing both sides can agree on is that we are tired. The constant bickering of personalities, policies, and politics has made it all too easy to forget that there exists life outside our own. What is perhaps more interesting than how the results of this election will affect us is how the outcome will fair in the rest of the world.

Over the course of my junior year of college, I spent 11 months living and traveling throughout Europe. Most of my time abroad was tinged with the first stages of chaos birthed from the primaries. As an American, there is a set of questions you always field from foreigners -- for a while, it was "What do you think of George Bush?" Soon after, it had become "Are you voting for the black man or the woman?" And eventually, "What do you think about Barack Obama?"

With events like his speech that drew 200,000 in Berlin, we have come to see over time that Americans are not the only ones intrigued by a character like him. However, I always struggled to explain the significance of black Americans in the grand scheme of things, especially to my friends in my home country of Italy, a bizarrely racist country from top to bottom. Through our discussions and the constant influx of election news they received, it became clear that Obama was a novelty to them. They didn't really know what to do with a Kenyan-American that one day could potentially be ruling the free world. As the primaries dragged on, it was obvious that, for all the jokes about him being a messiah, Obama really is teaching Europe what it means to be black.

The role of the black community in American culture is our single most prevalent identity crisis. It has spanned centuries, ever evolving but always a struggle. What I hadn't realized until I lived in Europe was how little the rest of the world understands of the increasingly difficult to define role of black Americans. Cities like London and Paris now have substantial black communities, nearly all stemming from the African colonies England and France occupied for years. Ultimately, Africans moved to Europe on their own accord. By that point, they spoke the same language and had been immersed in centuries of similar culture from the ruling monarchies. While they may have been subordinate, they certainly weren't slaves.

In Italy, the strongest black presence is North Africans, many of whom make a living selling fake Fendis in metro stations and parks. Italians amass most of their information about black culture from American rap music videos, which through the course of mistranslations and cultural barriers gives about as accurate an understanding of the black struggle as Vanilla Ice had of black music. One of the questions I got most frequently would be about the N word, a mystifying concept lost on them entirely. "Why can they say it and you can't?" they would ask, typically followed by a "Look at my bitches! N***a N***a N***a!" they had picked up from watching MTV. It was one of the biggest cultural walls I stumbled upon, especially as Obama began to take the center of the international stage and race, suddenly, was on everybody's lips. How could I even begin to explain this? The entire picture was missing to them.

As the primaries progressed, the front pages of Italian newspapers were littered with coverage of his campaign. The endless drama of the elections was perfect fodder for a country whose own political atmosphere exists more like a circus than a parliament, whose own prime minister is more Penn and Teller than Tony Blair. For the Italians, it seemed, Barack Obama was an intriguing figure, well-read, well-spoken, and well-dressed. Miuccia Prada claimed she designed her men's Fall collection with him as inspiration. While the subtleties of his significance may have been lost on them, the undeniable candor of his message was uplifting for a country awash in political dissolution.

Given the elementary level of race relations in a western country like Italy, imagine what an Obama presidency could do for the preconceived notions of countries like Slovenia, Poland, Russia. Having a public figure like Barack Obama at the forefront of the American spotlight has the potential to integrate the concept of intellectual, powerful black leaders not as a novelty, but as a reality--one that doesn't involve rap videos, baggy jeans and groupie hos. If he succeeds in winning this election on Tuesday, he will not only reinvent the American international image, but he will give many other countries the much needed opportunity to reevaluate their own societal norms and perhaps, one day, be able to say Yes We Can.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Jumping the gun?

With only a week to go until Election Day, it seems -- knock on wood -- that the majority of Americans know the way it's going to swing. I have staunch Republican friends who are already speaking about next week like it's the morning after the Superbowl -- and they're the Patriots in 2008.

I too find myself feeling awfully calm in these last few weeks. As a Democrat, it's hard to not watch the recent polls -- and the recent gaffes -- and feel like the nail is in the coffin. But what if? In Friday night's Rachel Maddow Show she pulled up a recent video montage of McCain seeming entirely too calm whilst the election world falls apart around him. Then she cut to video of George W. Bush on Election Night 2004, when, by all accounts, Florida had already been called against him. He sat calmly with Laura in plain view of cameras, looking unfettered and at ease considering that, by all accounts, the Democratic party was about to take the White House. And we all know what happened next.

As Maddow outlines above, if McCain takes states that typically go Republican like Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada, and Florida -- not an entirely outlandish possibility -- we could be looking at a McCain presidency. It is hard to tell if this is one of those pre-Halloween Osama bin Laden video kind of weeks, sitting ducks waiting for an ambush. The scary thing is, all we can do now is wait.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The 3 am call McCain won't want to get

One wonders how much remorse the GOP will have when death threats begin pouring in toward Barack Obama.

Assuming the McCain campaign had this one on layaway, saved up for when he floundered in the third debate or maybe just when they got desperate enough to get this desperate....

As the Huffington Post reports, a massive robocall campaign has been enacted by the McCain-Palin team:

The call begins: "Hello. I'm calling for John McCain and the RNC," before telling recipients that they "need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist, Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge's home, and killed Americans."
The phone calls could potentially get the campaign into more hot water than they bargained for, considering that states like Minnesota--just one of a reported 13 that received the calls--have legal bans on robocalls, while others have very strict rules about their construction.

But more than that, the news of this call felt like a blow to the stomach. Palpable nausea. Like catching your ex-lover with their new fling. You can't believe they've stooped that low. After several weeks of low polls and bad reviews for their hate-filled campaign, it is absolutely mind-blowing that advisers not only think this is a good idea, but that they are sleeping at night.

Has McCain forgotten 2004? Has he forgotten what it's like to have slanderous, derogatory lies spewed by your opponent attacking not only your credibility but your ethos as well? Perhaps he has. He is 72 after all.

Perhaps he is just caught up in it all, an old man swept up by the wind and rain of presidential campaigns that he doesn't even recognize who he has become or more importantly who he is creating. While Jon Stewart parodied this idea brilliantly, it actually rings true--John McCain has created the Frankenstein he no longer can control. From rally to rally, he has supporters screaming 'Muslim!' and 'Terrorist!' to nationally broadcast audiences.

But alls fair in love and politics, right? Wrong. What happens if all these terror-driven campaigns pay off? What happens if Obama is assassinated by a fanatic, thinking he's ridding our country of a murderer? This is beyond politics. How will McCain live with himself when he is responsible for violent attacks or homocide toward a presidential candidate, or quite possibly, the president of the United States? You can be sure he'll be out of excuses then.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pulling the props out of the closet

With so much on the state ballot this November--a $7 billion deficit, a massive overhaul of regional transportation, billions in secondary legislation--it seems all too reminiscent of 2004 that gay marriage is once again the make-it-or-break-it proposition. But three weeks before the election, the supporters of Proposition 8 have spawned an egregious commercial that has flipped the polls in their favor. In a state so riddled with other problems, the California electorate is once again shifting its ballots into the wrong focus.

The controversial Prop 8 would amend the state legislature passed nearly 6 months ago that currently recognizes gay marriage under the law and would amend the definition to read "only those between a man and a woman." As of Oct. 14, the Financial Times reported that a poll taken over the course of the summer found 47 percent of respondents favored the measure, with 42 percent opposed and 10 percent undecided.

The results of the poll have caused a ripple of anxiety across the state, especially considering the generally positive reception toward the initial ruling. Turn on your California television at any given time and you'll be witness to the cause of the overhaul in support: one of the "Yes on Prop 8" advertisements flooding every channel. “They have raised a tremendous amount of money, and as a result they have significantly out-bought us on TV,” Steve Schmidt, a spokeseman for “No on 8” told the Times. “Every time somebody sees one of our ads, they’ve seen two of theirs.”

The ad tells you several things, all of which are untrue: the passing of Prop 8 would allow people to be sued for their personal beliefs; it would prompt churches to lose their tax exemption; and it would allow for gay marriage to be taught in public schools. "It's no longer about tolerance; acceptance of gay marriage is now mandatory," the voice over reads. [See video below]

So, now that acceptance has become an obligation of us all, let's take a look at what else we may be forced to accept should we neglect discussing the rest of November's ballot: a $9.95 billion bond for the construction of a high-speed train connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles; $980 million in bonds for children's hospitals; a mandatory parental notification before minors obtain abortions; shorter parole for nonviolent drug offenders; the prosecution of 14-year-olds involved in gang-related felonies as adults; an allocation of $5 billion of state funds towards alternative fuel research and technology; and $900 million in bonds that would assist veterans in the purchase of farms and homes.

Fiscally, the most prominent of the ballot’s propositions is 1A, which would authorize the transfer of close to $10 billion in funds merely as a down-payment for a Japanese-engineered “bullet train” that would connect the Bay Area with the South Bay. If that number seems too heavy for the levees to hold, then imagine the $45 billion proponents of the project say the train would ultimately call for. Or better yet, how about the $80 billion Libertarian think tank Reason Foundation found was the most accurate estimate to date.

All of this while Gov. Schwarzenegger recently applied for a $7 billion emergency loan because the state is, as the Los Angeles Times wrote on Oct. 3, "close to running out of cash to fund day-to-day government operations and is unable to access routine short-term loans that it typically relies on to remain solvent." The requested funds would need to be in the bank no later than Oct. 28, the designated drop date for a $3 billion payment to over 1,000 school districts across the state. "California faces the potential of a perfect storm created by the financial crisis' effect on liquidity, lower-than-anticipated revenues currently coming into the state, and our late budget," Matt David, Schwarzenegger's communication director, told the Times.

So, while the credit crunch hinders our state pocketbook, we are ignoring billions of dollars in possible legislation we don't even have the loans to make possible. With November's ballot on the line, the state of California could be looking at a period of financial recession in its own house.

Funny time for us to be seeing who's coming out of the closets.