Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Roving Storm on Hold

My Dear Friends (as John McCain would say), I write with regret that the posts will be few and far between for the rest of the convention due to an unforseen laptop loss. I will continue on paper, and put together the best damn dispatch ever for later in the week.
Love,
Nos

Monday, August 25, 2008

Transcript of Michelle Obama Speech

We were raised by wolves. We went to Walmart and saved. We treated people to ice cream in the hot and hot chocolate in the cold. We rocked the casbah when we were up, and went to synogauges when we were down. See, we were parents. With shorts. And shortcuts. To home, to school, to the library. We are going to the library! That’s when we found a book. People had warned us about the book, but folks it is not too late! Conviction? It’s our latest prescription. Soldiers! Yes, them! And Hillary Clinton! Where’s Governor Cuomo? We need a surrogate. Not Geraldine Ferraro. No, please, not Geraldine Ferraro. And I do love this country. More than Geraldine Ferraro. And fuuck those parades. Not fiscal discipline. And our children’s future. And if not that, our children’s children’s future. What about those kids? They aren’t even born yet. Hope! Yes, I’ll have some more hope, please. “First voices, for chorus for change. We got the whole world in our hands. We got the brothers and the sisters in our hands. We got the whole world in our hands.”

First Reports from the Big Tent

This'll be the first of many reports. We're on like 7 hour time delay, perhaps worse because of time zones, but given that this site targets people bored at work, my only hope is to be fully updated by Tuesday morning.

Reporting from the Big Tent in Denver
IGHIH is reporting from the sweet new media building a few blocks from the Democratic Convention called The Big Tent. This week you can expect a variety of dispatches from the bloggers stationed here, at the Convention, and at various happening around Denver. Below is the first of many posts covering the climate change panels that the hosts of The Big Tent have put together.

Van Jones: Nothing Radical Here
Big Tent is playing to a select audience of activists and journalists. We don’t need the basics, dire warnings of impending doom, or lofty rhetoric about the need to work together. Oakland area activist Van Jones wastes no time getting to the heart of how clean energy can be sold as a pragmatic solution in the current political climate, and he does so by tipping his hat to everyone’s favorite capitalist , Adam Smith.
The central premise of Van’s presentation is that establishing a green collar economy is perfectly consistent with the traditional American economical model. “The other side has climate destroying solutions,” he notes, “but by playing on our economic fears, they are winning the debate.” For anyone exposed to the harsh political attacks associating a green economy with higher taxes, higher energy bills, and a lesser quality of life, the ease with which Van distills the green economy to cutting demand, diversifying supply, and creating jobs is refreshing.
For example, he explains, weatherproofing homes, particularly for elderly folks in rural areas, immediately cuts heating costs and creates green collar jobs. Developing mass transit programs similarly cut energy costs and create jobs. A comprehensive solarization program would not only cut demand for carbon fuels, diversify supply and create green collar job, but also create legions of entrepreneurial opportunities. Finally, in speaking to the job creation the green collar economy would supply in both poor urban and rural communities, Van thundered, “the unemployed don’t just need a paycheck, they need a purpose!” The green economy model will challenge the way politicians think about the poor and the unemployed by giving them a chance not just to pay their bills, but participate in meaningful work no matter how hard their struggles have been.
Van’s second great skill, as you may have gathered, is an oratorical eloquence that takes a somewhat stilted phrase- “green collar economy” – and keeps it lively until you’ve heard it out. Just when you start to tune out (this is a panel, in a hot room, at ten in the morning, after all), Van delivers memorable phrases like “turning pollution into solutions”, “vulture culture”, “acting like crackheads for carbon,” and “taking death (carbon fuel) and blasting it into the sky.” Don King he is not- each catchy phrase is followed by serious analysis, a perfect juxtaposition for activist speakers to master.

Van concluded that the first political step is to acknowledge that “government today is on the side of the problem, providing tax credits to polluters, the Pentagon and the prison system- we need to incentive the problem solvers who use the wind and the sun.” There is nothing radical here. For those in the activist community who have felt beaten back for so long, know that you aren’t just on the side of social responsibility and justice. You’re also on the side of common sense, any way you spin it.

Bobby Junior Kicks Ass!

"Republicans hate free market capitalists!"

Live blogging is damn hard. I'm working on articles summarizing the first two panels I've seen while listening to third one. But I'll say this, Bobby Kennedy Jr. is awesome. I'd heard him before on Ring of Fire, and thought he was a decent sidekick to the charismatic Mike Papantonio. But his rant about the dirty energy industry's strangling of the free market system, the need to liberate markets for solar energy, and the terrible costs of coal got a moribund crowd fired up and stomping their feet. To think we could have had him as NY AG instead of Cuomo... Hopefully he'll represent our state or country as an elected offfical one day. Later on I'll excerpts from his speech.

Of Pain and Panels

There will come a day when panels go the way of the typewriter. The time has come for them to evolve or disappear. Having run in these circles for the entire decade, here are some observations:
1. Panels promote simplistic soundbites ("we need to mobilize communities to solve problems"), which can be frustrating when you actually have a decent understanding of the topic.
2. In their short allotted time, panelists lean on anecdotes that may or may not be representative ("anarchist evangelicals"?).
3. Like meals at Chinese restaurants, panels throw a ton of information at you, leaving you satiated at first, but hungry two or three hours later.

Panels need to be small- three people max, plus a moderator who lacks self-indulgence.
Panels in the 21st century have to be multi-media presentations.
Panelists should know their audiences.

I will soon cross-post on itsgettinghotinhere.org about my favorite presentation, a mostly solo-act by environmental activist Van Jones.

Oh, and the free beer starts in an hour, which should help.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Guest Rant from Ambassador Zaid Hydari

Mr. Nos and I recently ate Korean barbecue together and as usual, our jive resulted in some points to ponder. He asked me to elaborate on one of them as a guest to rovingstorm – I welcomed the opportunity to rant.
As if the 2008 presidential campaign has not repeatedly forced us to question whether or not race continues to play a role in our (inter)national psyche – 2 recent events highlighted perfectly that we are certainly far from fully overcoming widespread notions of the past.
Take for example the recent photograph of the Spanish National Basketball team (silver medalists as a result of the Redeem team) – pulling the skin around their eyes so as to make them more flat and horizontal. No one on the team, or the Spanish advertisers for whom the photo was taken, found the gesture to be offensive. Are you serious? It’s the Olympics for God’s sake…a union of the entire world’s people through sport. Not a forum for displaying stereotypes and revitalizing the basis for discriminatory treatment of the past. What’s next – European teams wearing blackface during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa? Of all the controversial elements to the Beijing Olympics, I found the Spanish Basketball photo fiasco to exhibit how issues of colorism and racism go well beyond our national borders – see recent NY Times Editorial (Brent Staples, As Racism Wanes, Colorism Persists, Aug. 22, 2008) for oodles of thought-provoking and shocking analysis.
The second thing that smacked me in the face recently as a little off is the soon-to-be-released film Lakeview Terrace. I know I’m not the first person to think of this, or even write about it. A July 30 article by John Horn hit the LA Times and touched upon the racial themes, complete with first-hand thoughts of lead actor and resident badass Samuel L. Jackson. Although I’m afraid I don’t fully agree with the angle that Horn took, I do admit I haven’t seen the movie yet - but the preview does a hell of a job reinforcing racial stereotypes and fears. Having grown up in the suburbs myself, I know that affluent suburban neighborhoods generally are not made up of large contingents of African-Americans or other minorities (other than the “model-minority” Asians of course – an equally inappropriate and distorted title). You can’t help but get the sense that the new residents in the film (Chris and Lisa Mattson) are shit-scared of their neighbor – in large part, because he’s Black. Sure, the new residents are a mixed-race couple themselves. But that just seems to legitimize the fear – its not wholly based on race – after all, Chris is married to a Black woman. Somehow I don’t buy it – the personalities seem to reflect racial stereotypes to the T – Black males are violent, unfriendly, unaccommodating, and to-be-feared, and White males just want to live in peace.
Yet another twist – Samuel L. (Abel Turner in the film) is also a cop! Sure – that introduces an unexpected theme – no one to turn to to seek protection or justice. Those entrusted with the duty to protect are the ones perpetrating the terrorizing of innocent newcomers to the neighborhood! Once again – could just be a compelling plot line used to bring enthrall the audience – but what it also does is take attention away from the growing problems with police departments across this country. Take racial composition for example –major US cities have police forces that are not reflective of the people living amongst it. The LAPD, according to data from 2000, was 46% White and 14% African-American. The NYPD: 65% White and 13% African-American. Both departments have been struggling to meet recruitment levels, and you can bet that the higher up you go in the force, the less color you see. Not to mention police shootings or stop and frisk practices that are glaringly racist – policies that emanate from the top, where again, Black representation is less than at lower ranks.
Perhaps the film aimed to challenge people to think about racism as not always being a White against Black phenomenon. That’s fair – its not. But we haven’t come to a place in society where the systematic disenfranchisement of minority communities has been reversed so as to allow for equal access to the opportunities that facilitate socio-economic success. Until it is – and until suburban neighborhoods – at least in a city as diverse as LA – are racially diverse – films like Lakeview Terrace will come across to me as simply reinforcing a White fear of moving out to the Burbs with the intention of starting a family and living the dream – all to be disrupted by the crazy Black neighbors.

Dispatches, Volume 15

The Text Message Heard Around the World
There’s no point in side-stepping it: I was wrong. Dead wrong. I fear that my adamance that Joe Biden would absolutely not be the Vice-President produced the deflated question marks that popped up in text messages and emails Saturday morning. I have a pretty good track record in politics, but as Bob Dylan and Bill Ayers would say, ‘you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.’ I know some people have liked Joe Biden from the beginning, perhaps because he was articulate, good-looking and clean. For me, it was tough to see past the derogatory comments about South Asians and his performance at the Alito confirmation hearing.
Jon Stewart could demolish the pundits on Monday, recounting the weeks of their erroneous bluster, but he may lay off simply because its become too easy. Cable television would be more entertaining and no less informed if pundits were replaced by philosophical night-shift security guards and ranting immigrant taxi-drivers. But while I joined the punditocracy on this twisted VP ride, you’ll never Daily-Show me- I straight admit to misreading this one pretty hard. And on Saturday night I was frustrated, even angrily balling out my friend Shilpa, who as a former Delaware resident was the closest thing I could find to a target for my tirade.
Then I watched the Springfield rally. Saturday’s rally was a fascinating moment in observing the evolution of Barack Obama. If February 10, 2007 feels like a long time ago, you’re damn right it was. Back then a frail-looking 45 year-old got up on stage in freezing temperatures and launched his improbable, adorably na├»ve, yet still inspiring, quest for the presidency. But when Obama stepped up to the mic today, his eyes were all business. His hair looked almost gray. And he was unquestioningly in command. By the time Biden bounded onto the stage to Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” (good choice, by the way), the Big O had once again convinced me of his wisdom.
Biden, despite possessing a second-string stump speech and an odd fondness for trampling certain words, like “literally”, and phrases, like “ladies and gentlemen”, into the ground…where was I? See, that’s a Joe Biden sentence. Where he shone was hammering home his middle-class values, from his ‘scrappy’ upbringing in Scranton, Pennsylvania to his son’s impending service in the war. He also has an ability to deliver zingers, noting that McCain sits down to sort through his economic affairs, “he’ll have to figure out which of the seven kitchen tables to sit at.” His joke earlier in the campaign cycle that Rudy’s idea of a campaign speech was “a noun, a verb, and 9/11” was so potent it took the wind out of Rudy’s sails as effectively as any negative ad could. This is a guy we want involved in the campaign.
Unlike John Edwards or Hillary Clinton, he’s going to be a running mate who looks out for the top of the ticket first. By the end of Obama’s second term, Biden will be 73. He knows his days of running for president are behind him. And the foreign policy stuff? Doesn’t do much for me. Vice President Biden may have Obama’s ear on big foreign policy questions, but less than Susan Rice will, and probably not much more than Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Biden would have had anyway. Kennedy barely even invited Lyndon Johnson to Ex-Comm meetings during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Obama’s rhetoric makes it sound like he’s more interested in having that kind of traditional vice-president than having a father figure to turn to whenever things get rough, which is how the media is spinning it. If Biden’s “foreign policy credentials” reassure ‘working-class whites’ that’s fine with me, even though I think it’s a little ridiculous.
Finally, Biden’s ascendancy will allow Delaware Governor Ruth Minner to appoint a young, progressive Senator in 2009. Evan Bayh just didn’t seem to have the upside he would have needed to make up for losing that Indiana Senate seat. Governor Kaine will be happy finishing his term in Virginia, where the golden trio of Kaine-Warner-Webb will be working their damndest to turn the Old Dominion permanently blue. As for Sebelius…she was my pick of choice, and with her second term over in 2010, who knows what the future holds for her- though I’m sure there will be a warm place waiting for her in the high levels of the Obama administration. For now, however, the moment belongs to Joe Biden. May we have many gaffe-free days to come.

Fear and Loathing in Pitkin County
I was lucky that the Joe Biden announcement was not made during my stint at the Woody Creek Tavern. The Tavern was Hunter S. Thompson’s favorite bar, and our romp through Colorado would be incomplete without a visit. One of my favorite maxims is that a good last impression beats the hell out of a good first impression, and that was certainly the case here. First, the bar takes last call at 11pm, disappointing even for rural Colorado, and shocking for a bar that once housed Dr. Thompson. The next morning I endured a torturous brunch of pop music, chattering families adjacent to me, and a cash-only policy that played me into the diabolical hands of Big ATM.
But a trip to the next-door Woody Creek Community Center started turning things around. The folks out there take their art, their serenity, and their local alcohol seriously, and the themes mix pleasantly against the backdrop of the Rockies. The regulars float in and out of the tavern all day, every day, lounging in the outdoor patio, where they lean back in reclining chairs, watch decadent tourists meander into the art studio that adjoins the bar, and carve wood of all different colors (“wood comes in every color except blue”) into totem poles. Like the old camp fires of Biloxi, anyone was allowed to sit in the outdoor section by the art studio, but you’re not really welcome there until they get to know and like you.
I hit it off well with an overall-toting fellow named Dave Doggs from the nearby town of No Name, Colorado. “You should know,” he leaned over warning me, “That people say this is where the degenerates sit.” We chuckled together. I assured him that I was in familiar territory. The Lion’s Den this was not. My volunteer status with the Obama campaign transformed me quickly into its unofficial spokesman. The old-timer crew was conflicted between heavy Obama supporters and the forlorn who didn’t believe any Democrat would be able to stop the madness, the raping of the forest and the carnage of war. They certainly would have spit on the ground at Joe Biden, but then again, they might not have cared at all.
The crowd was universally dismayed that I was not going to Denver to protest, though Dave Doggs agreed that free beer for a week was a fair price for being part of The Man. If spending a week with left-wing bloggers and life-long activists can amount to being part of The Man, then we’ve come a lot father that I ever thought possible. One of Denver’s fascinating subplots will be the dynamic between the legions of progressives who have fought for years to nominate someone like Barack Obama and the protest-for-protests-sakers who will complain about a convention dedicated to universal healthcare and ending the war in Iraq. I’ll always have sympathy for those who protest settling for less than the best treatment of the destitute, both at home and abroad, and those who challenge the moral authority of violence and war. But I cast my lot for politics and policy over pure ideology back in the fall of 2002, and in the years since, especially in places like Biloxi, I’ve heard the echo of the old serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
I spent about 38 hours in Pitkin County, and about a third of them at the Woody Creek Tavern. Nothing like listening to the sweet tunes of Van Morrison, drinking local brew, and watching the U.S basketball beat the hell out of Argentina at eleven in the morning. Things started to get ugly though- I lost my drivers license, Tim lost his phone, and the sun roof of my car was almost blown off completely until it was tied down with bungee chords and duct tape. Between our logistical woes and the pessimism of the crowd, I could sense the “fear and loathing.” As much as it’s a catchy, all-purpose phrase, it’s often abused, and over time I’ve come to question my own use of it, much preferring to go with “living the dream.” HST was, after all, a man who consistently had his dreams and conception of America shattered, and lived most of his life, even in his prime, in constant paranoia that he was not welcome- as Vonnegut later wrote of himself, “A man without a country.” I share no such despondency. We have many great times ahead of us, as individuals, and as a collective nation. To be in Denver now is to see what the young, fresh, purpose-driven progressives that pepper this land are ready to offer. It’s hard to imagine being anywhere else.
Hunter’s old friend found my ID. Tim found his phone. The bungee chord is still holding. I sit in a wireless rigged apartment in downtown Denver that costs $17 a day, split four ways. We have events and parties and adventures lined up for days. I am living the dream. That is just how we roll.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Dispatches, Volume 14

Drilling We Can Believe In

Back in the Lion's Den...
Ever since Robbie X’s henchmen welcomed me to the “lion’s den” on New Year’s Eve, 2002, I’ve come to enjoy planting myself in places we’re I’m least welcome. In the lion’s den, nothing can go worse than expected. Tim Spellman and I checked into Obama’s Denver office a week ago. The play was a swirling hive of activity, the reliable volunteer crowd being joined for the week by the thousands of Invesco Field hopefuls, promised a chance at the lottery for Convention tickets in exchange for six hours of volunteering. We weren’t there long, however, until the young local wheeling dealer, Adam D., asked us to head down to Colorado Springs. “It’s Focus on the Family country, total battleground, and they need all the help they can get…plus the female organizers are totally hot.”
Colorado Springs, Colorado’s second biggest and certainly ugliest city, is located in the heart of El Paso County, the 17th most Republican county in the country. To call it Republican country is an understatement- of the 153 elected positions in the country, Republicans control 150. And these aren’t your anti-government Western libertarians either- they are camera-in-your-bedroom Orwellian conservatives, mixed in with sprinklings of pure racism.
The notorious Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave represents the counties just east of El Paso. Musgrave achieves biannual notoriety for sponsoring a bill banning gay marriage, calling it “the most important issue our nation faces.” Musgrave was endorsed by the KKK last May, and has been called one of America’s worst ten Congressmen by Rolling Stone. During a phone bank, Timmy asked a voter if he would be supporting Obama, to which he responded, “I’ll never vote for that slippery little coon.”
One African-American woman seated about ten feet from me had the most fascinating conversation. When she originally pressed an old man on the phone for why he was not choosing Obama, he answered that he “didn’t think it was a good idea to say,” but that he would call back later. Call back he did. He explained to the woman that his biggest fear about Obama’s candidacy was that if he lost, blacks all over the country would riot, believing their candidate had been cheated. Did she not feel such concerns? Our volunteer incredulously responded that she had absolutely no fear of blacks leading mobs through the streets in reaction to an Obama loss, and had never heard anyone else express such concerns either. Besides, she noted, that didn’t explain why the gentleman would be concerned with an Obama win.
The man paused. “An Obama win,” he cautiously spelled out, “would mean that the blacks would think they controlled everything. It would be dangerous for our country.” Our volunteer, unperturbed, pointed out that Obama was half-white, so perhaps he was a leader that neither blacks nor whites could lay claim to. I could see the man shaking his head through the phone line. “The blacks won’t see it that way,” he sighed. “They just won’t.” The conversation ended in a civil manner. The man said he had never spoken to an Obama supporter before, and had rather enjoyed the experience. Our volunteer similarly complimented him, and invited him down to the volunteer center, perhaps an opportunity to meet an Obama supporter in person. He chuckled and agreed. “Oh, by the way,” he added, just before he hung up, “You are a particularly educated and articulate black person. Not like those others.”
Not that Colorado Springs was all bad. We stayed with awesome psychiatrist named Lynn, who had a spacious house in the mountains, and a hot tub that ran 24 hours a day. My mornings would begin and my evenings would end in that hot tub, staring up at the stars, or down at the valley below. Nightlife in the Springs, however, was less than ideal.
On Monday we had the pleasure of stopping at a bar where the male/female ratio was twenty to zero, the worst scene I’d dealt with past afternoon hours since Calcutta. In “Cal” the bars are packed with stuffy-looking Indian males, ten to one ratios, soft pop music blasting (including a full-length version of “Doe, a Deer”) and all eyes glued to the monotonous, interminable cricket matches. But to their credit, in Cal, folks don’t sit at the end of the bar and criticize New York for no reason. Three old-timers babbled on for about 15 minutes about how little New Yorkers understood about the world, given that they lived in an ant-hill, like little ants, running around without understanding things like the price of gas, how to drive or mow a lawn, or how the world really is outside of their ant hill. We jumped in, explaining that we were from New York, driving on a cross-country road trip, and quite familiar with the impact of fuel costs on the price of goods and services in New York City. They explained some sort of mountainous car racing that was popular in the region, and we all left having learned something.
We felt sad leaving Colorado Springs behind, mostly out of sympathy for the overworked young organizers throwing their hearts into the battle. I’ve worked at a lot of campaign offices, and what struck me in Colorado Springs was the complete absence of leadership figures with any significant campaign or Hill experience. What they lacked in experience, however, the campaign team easily replaced with grit and determination. They are doing Obama proud, and I wish them the best of luck. The next time you want to donate to the campaign, I recommend paying $25 for a kit of buttons, bumper stickers and yard signs to be sent to the Springs office, so these go gettin’ organizers can hand them out to El Paso Democrats who have been abandoned by the national Democratic party for generations.
There is a path to victory in El Paso. One of our last nights Tim and I hosted a house meeting, an Obama innovation similar to Dean Meet-ups, where 10-20 strangers congregate at a house in the neighborhood to talk about the campaign. The Obama campaign has stressed that the purpose of these neighborhood groups is not only to win the election, but to serve the dual purpose of mobilizing in support of Obama administration policies, and voice dissent loudly and clearly when the Obama administration strays. The meeting’s composition was surprising- an 80 year-old libertarian, an anarchist couple, a few sometimes Democrats- almost no one who had volunteered for the party before. We chatted, ate pizza, watched Obama’s South Carolina victory speech (in my opinion, his best speech ever), and marveled at the eclectic coalition that could turn this James Dobson enclave into a battleground.

This is what hopelessness looks like…
While things are tough out in El Paso, Republican efforts nationally are so embarrassingly poor that the genius of Karl Rove in delivering these idiots the White House for two terms becomes all the more apparent. You can feel the Republican desperation every time John McCain launches a desperate seventh-grader ad criticizing Obama for being too popular and attractive. Every time Sean Hannity whines to his dejected listenership, “You want change. How about off-shore drilling? That’s change!”
It would be too simplistic to compare the Straight Talk Express to a train wreck. If you want a sense of what life in the McCain camp, think to anytime you’ve played a team sport like basketball or soccer where your opponents are simply superior to you. Your offense misfires. Your defense is porous. Teammates turn on each other. Time-outs are called, and strategies are changed, all to no avail. Now Old Man McCain thinks he can reenergize his campaign by picking an exciting comparatively young white male running mate. Republicans frothing at the prospect of Mitt Romney as Vice-President will eventually be reminded of why they weren’t excited by the prospect of Mitt Romney as President: He looks and sounds like a used car salesman, has no core principles, and can only talk about his economic experience in so far as his role in laying off factory workers when he was at Bain. The only person who could actually help the McCain campaign at this point is Mike Huckabee, but McCain has shown about as much interest in Huckabee as he’s shown in understanding the mortgage crisis, the basics premise of Social Security, or Czechoslavakia’s split into two nations, one called the Czech Republic, and one called Slovakia.

Meanwhile, Back in Obamaville…
Meanwhile, things continue to roll along for the Obama campaign. The continued wall of silence around the Vice-Presidential deliberations are an outstanding testament to the discipline of Obama’s inner circle, a discipline that will prove invaluable when the administration endures difficult times in the years to come. The campaign has announced what looks to be a stellar convention line up.
On Monday night (the 25th), the party will highlight its female leadership with keynote addresses by Speaker Pelosi, rising party star Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Michelle Obama, whose stirring speech will put aside preposterous rumors about her lack of patriotism and racism.
On Tuesday, Mark Warner is the perfect choice to give the keynote address. The popular former governor is on cruise control in his Virginia Senate race, up 20 points or so on Republican Jim Gilmore. He no doubt views his Tuesday night prime time spot with a lustful look towards his future, aware that the slot launched Obama’s rise to stardom. Hillary is also speaking that night, and has the burden of supporting Barack Obama like she really means it.
On Wednesday, a slow parade of boring Senators take the stage before Bill Clinton. For Bill, this speech will profoundly shape his legacy among the many progressives and yellow-dogs disgusted by his behavior during, and even since the primary. His speech for Kerry was good, but could have been given behalf of any nominee. It’s time for him to tell America why Barack Obama is ready to lead, not why the 90s were so great when he was in charge.
And yes, on Thursday the Big O will enter Invesco Field to a crowd of 78,000. Don’t let anyone tell you this ticket process wasn’t a complete fiasco. No individual arm of the campaign had more than about 15,000 tickets to work with, with the Colorado Obama campaign, the Colorado state party, the Convention organizers, and the thousands of delegates and party bosses from around the country all sticking their hands in the pot. I certainly felt bad telling long-time activists and big-time supporters (not to mention close personal friends) that there was just no way they were getting tickets. For Obama to deliver an acceptance speech in front of every diehard and deserving supporter, he’d have to give it in the Washington Mall, and you can bet the press would call THAT presumptuous.

On the Road Again...
Anyways, the stretched morales of Colorado Springs, the torrential rains of Route 25, and the madness of Denver are all behind us now, as we sit in a non-Starbucks coffee shop in Pearl Street in Boulder. This afternoon (the Lord’s afternoon) I was kicking it on a couch enjoying the mindless offerings of TNT when a commercial came on for Bush’s Baked Beans. The owner of the small bean company’s face bore a harsh grimace, in recognition of the low brand quality the name “Bush” exudes these days. It’s as if the commercial screamed, “From the people that brought you two unsuccessful wars and a dismal economy, new baked beans!” These are tough times for Bushes everywhere, and for the rest of us caught in their calamitous path.
But places like Boulder offer friendly refuge. We’ll probably hang here for a bit, registering young hippie voters, before we go the promised land, Woody Creek, Colorado. If you don’t know what’s there, you definitely haven’t been listening to the Songs of the Doomed, like we have, speeding along underneath the Rockies on Route 36, still living the dream, regardless of obstacles life puts in our opticals to slow us down
.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Support Janos at the Moth GrandSLAM Announced for September 10th

The Wall Street Journal has called The Moth, "New York's hottest and hippest literary ticket." And if anyone knows hotness and hipness, it's the Wall Street Journal.

The Moth has bi-weekly storytelling contests, with different themes each event. Ten individuals are allotted five minutes each to tell their most amusing stories. As some of you may remember, last May my "Tripping with Dick Gephardt" story carried me to victory, landing me a spot in the coveted New York GrandSLAM Championships.

The GrandSLAM will feature six months of contest winners. It should be an awesome event, and once the event is announced, I'll probably be pulling you aside at random times to practice my stump story (hoping I can weave in New Orleans Jail Story).

So SAVE THE DATE, the TIME, the PLACE.

Wednesday, September 10 at Comix. Doors at 6:30. Get there early, like be standing online or have a surrogate standing online at 6:15, if you want any hope of not standing in the way back.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mukasey: A Disgraceful Man

Some Democrats are just so stupid they seem to think that “this time Bush is acting out of sincerity and integrity.” Over and over again, on issues like the Roberts nomination, FISA, and No Child Left Behind, Democrats absurdly and completely undeservingly give Bush “the benefit of the doubt.” Chuck Schumer may be self-amorous and prone to bloviating, but I don’t think of him as stupid. But if he wasn’t being stupid, he was simply being self-serving when he thrust Attorney General Michael Mukasey upon this beleaguered nation.
At the time, Attorney General Gonzales had become an embarrassment to the Bush administration, and any of Bush’s picks for his successor would have been met with serious scrutiny. When Mukasey’s name came up, most people in the legal profession nodded their heads. Here was a Federal judge from the Southern District of New York with experience handling terrorism cases. He would make a good CANDIDATE for Attorney General. But old Chucky jumped the gun.
Maybe it was a New York thing- Schumer thinking he’d somehow be more empowered with a terrible New Yorker as Attorney General than he would be with an Attorney General from somewhere else. But once a “leading Democrat” came out in support of the Bush nomination, the battle was over. ‘How did Mukasey feel about torture?’ It didn’t matter. ‘Executive overreach?’ It didn’t matter. ‘Civil liberties in the war on terror?’ Who cares? The motus operandi for the Bush administration since Day 1 has been to cobble together 51 votes and give everyone else the finger. Schumer jumping the gun cost us a serious discussion of who would replace Gonzales as the nation’s top law enforcer.
To Mukasey’s credit, he had a distinguished career in the legal profession, and many of the senior partners I spoke with about him this summer discussed him as a ‘good judge’ or a ‘fair judge’. Then the Goodling Scandal officially broke.
To back up, consider Regent University School of Law. Under Gonzales, with Monica Goodling as head of hiring, Regent, a 4-Tier law school founded by Pat Roberston, became one of the top feeder schools for the Department of Justice. Its Law Review is "committed to a jurisprudence based upon a Higher Law; that is, law based upon the Law of God.” Goodling, a graduate herself, hired Regent graduates as she "forced many very talented, career people out of main Justice so she could replace them with junior people that were either loyal to the administration or would score her some points” (Washington Post).
Among the legal community, especially strung out, job-hunting law students, rumors of bias at the DOJ have abounded for years. But recently, a series of internal Justice Department reports have revealed that Goodling’s office blocked hirings for both political reasons, such as refusing to hire an experienced counter-terrorism prosecutor because of his wife’s involvement in Democratic politics, and personal reasons, such as rumors that a U.S attorney was engaging in homosexual activity. For entry-level positions, signs of liberal leanings were nearly automatic disqualifications, in breach of the DOJ’s longstanding tradition to value merit over ideology in its hiring process. The report, which mind you, comes from the DOJ itself, alleges that Goodling almost certainly violated federal laws and Department of Justice policy.
Which brings us to Mukasey, who announced yesterday that he would NOT prosecute Goodling, or at this point, anyone else associated with the worst Justice Department scandal in its history. Mukasey noted that “negative publicity is punishment enough” for the perpetrators. The New York Times responded, in disbelief, “Mukasey is more interested in defending the Bush administration than enforcing the law. His speech to the bar association is further evidence that, like his predecessor, he cares more about politics than justice.” Mukasey will now go down in history with Ashcroft and Gonzales as the triumvirate that brought greater disgrace to the venerable Department of Justice than any administration in history. Of all of Bush’s failures, his management of respecting and enforcing our nation’s laws rank very near the top.
This scandal, like Katrina scandals, hits close to home for me. When I left behind the best work of my life to start law school, I envisioned a career path that would take me to the DOJ, a place known for fighting corruption, white collar crime, international cartels, illegal monopolies, civil rights violators… I’ve spent the last few weeks staring at my DOJ Honors Program application, wondering if I would finish it, wondering who would read it. I stare at my first choice, the Civil Rights Division, recognizing that the legendary branch of the DOJ that brought lawsuits for African-American voting rights hasn't launched such a suit since Bush became president, instead creating the Freedom of Faith task force to fight for freedom of religious expression in schools.
Mukasey’s exoneration (because that’s what not prosecuting a crime is) of Goodling’s behavior confirms that the loathsome insects who have infested the Justice Department for the last seven and a half years continue to suck the blood out of the constitution and the American people. They cannot be trusted, and they have shamed themselves before this country. And to Chuck Shumer- thanks a lot, I hope you’re learned that being important can be less important than being right.

For an excellent article on the Goodling scandal and Regent University School of Law, see Dahlia Lithwick’s, “How Pat Robertson’s Law School is changing America” at http://www.slate.com/id/2163601/ .

LIVINGTHEDREAM.ORG Successfully Captured!

Thus read the headline. Like a 21st century Captain Nemo I've chased this web white whale. As of today, I officially own the domain site, LivingtheDream.org. What the site will be dedicated to remains up in the air, but it will most likely be a forum for people to share their experiences living the dream.
In order to get this site off the ground I need to build the site, and host it somewhere. GoDaddy has offered to host it at $50 a year. Is that rip-off? I am no expert in these matters. Similarly, I'm going to scour the old roledex for someone who knows how to make basic websites. Holler if you're interested.
But no need to wait for the technology, folks. If you or your friends have stories of living the dream, email livingthedream.janos@gmail.com.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, livingthedream.blogspot.com is taken by some dude named Fumio, who wrote one post in 2002. Sounds like someone stopped living the dream. The trouble is, there's no way to reach him to ask for him to relinquish the coveted website.

Shout Out of the Day: Under the BQE

As part of an effort to make sense of the links you see posted on the right, every few days I'm gonna lay down some info about one of them.

Under The BQE is a blog by Rachel Bennett created a few months ago with a simple purpose- to capture the changing nature of Williamsburg and Greenpoint (Brooklyn) through photography and whimsical observations. In the months since then, Under the BQE has featured posts on a near-daily basis, featuring poetry, music, neighborhood lore, and limited editorializing on hipsters and the like.

The site continues to branch out topically, and its own links page contains a number of blogs that pontificate on the New Brooklyn.

Hit it up: underthebqe.blogspot.com .

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Dispatches, Volume 13

The Roving Storm Returns…The Dark Knight Cometh…The Quadrennial Veepstakes Rock the Rudderless Punditocracy…
Last Monday I sat in the last row of an AMC Theater to watch The Dark Knight. In India, the back row is the most coveted place in the house, probably because it is the least likely to get soaked when the theater roof starts pouring down rainwater like it did during Apne, a disastrous Bollywood rip-off of Rocky, where a middle-aged businessman becomes a boxer to avenge his singer-turned-boxer brother, who was nearly killed by an evil American heavyweight champion. But I’ve digressed already.
Welcome back to Roving Storm. The five month lay-off has been intentional, because Roving Storm articles are born out adventure, not armchair punditry. I almost wrote about the April and May primaries, but once Hillary had statistically lost, further intra-party bloodshed seemed unnecessary, although her campaign didn’t seem to think so. I almost wrote about the campaign in the context of our annual 4th of July destination, the boardwalk of Ocean City, Maryland.
It was chilly and cloudy this year, and the boardwalk crowd sought out new forms of entertainment, often gravitating in packs of ten or twenty to observe the machinations of the porch and sand dune crew at the house of Martin. The boardwalk crowd had a fondness for pointing out the literal nature of things, especially during our outdoor beer pong sessions.
“They’re playing a game down there.”
“That is a house.”
“They’ve got beer on the table.”
“Hey fella, that game is like ping-pong.”
“No,” an exasperated Crispus Knight yelled back. “It’s like sky-diving!” He shook his head. “We’re playing with ping-pong paddles and a ping-pong ball on a ping-pong table.” Some took the more diplomatic approach, and explained the concepts of the sport to onlookers, who not only adopted teams, in true partisan style, but also showed their hospitality to fellow strangers.
Stranger One, remarking on cup hit: “What happens now?”
Stranger Two: “Well, you see, since they hit the cup, the other side has to drink half of it.”
Stranger Three: “If they had sunk the cup in, it would be the whole cup they’d have to drink.
Stranger One: “I wish they’d sink it in one of my cups, I could use a beer up here!”
Laughter, laughter, laughter…
Then there was the dollar trick, a boardwalk favorite for the ages. The newest member of the crew crawls underneath the boardwalk, waving out a dollar bill through the boardwalk cracks. Just as some unsuspecting boardwalker licked his lips, and greedily bent down to seize the dollar to buy his eye-rolling girl-friend a snow-cone, someone gives the signal, and the dollar disappears- just out of the boardwalker’s reach. Everyone has a good laugh, including people on the porch, folks from nearby hotel balconies, and sun-bathers by beachside umbrellas. In an interesting display of human psychology, because not only do the victims generally take the humiliation good-naturedly, but they often go sit on the sea wall, and wait till the next victim came along, so they can laugh at them too.
These crowds were composed of all ages, races, and waistband sizes, a beautiful tapestry of America, on the 4th of July, no less. It was a weird 4th alright, but not as weird as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams dying hours apart on the 4th of July in 1826, exactly fifty years after the Declaration of Independence. The two were close friends in the years after their presidencies, and I suppose if they could put their differences aside, so could we all for that one day.
There were some major adventures after Ocean City, including the legendary Marathon Day (which will get its own post down the road), but summer is a trite time in political news, and it took a cinematic awakening to revive me.

The Dark Knight Cometh…
The Dark Knight…The Dark Knight…
The spoiler alert goes out here. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, who are you? If you plan on waiting for the IMAX to stop selling out so you can watch it a second time, read keenly.
The Dark Knight is an excellent action movie, which is what everyone expected. Heath Ledger was phenomenal as the Joker, and not just because he’s dead (all of the main characters gave excellent performances). But what surprised me was the depth of the movie’s themes, unmatched in an action movie since at least The Matrix- taking on questions of justice, power, morality, and duty.
An Indian friend of mine remarked that reviews in the subcontinent considered the movie an allegory for the War in Iraq. The U.S is like Batman, a liberator never truly accepted, especially wearing out his welcome as chaos descends on Gotham. Appreciation for past deeds (running out the mob) quickly forgotten in the wake of a greater destruction (the unleashing of the Joker). The Joker quite literally plays the role of a terrorist; one of my only wincing moments came when Harvey Dent pounded the podium in a vow “not to give in to a terrorist.” Though, of course, the terrorist angle raised multiple questions, like the role of torture and illegal surveillance in times of terror. The Iraq allegory is most vivid in Batman’s insistence that Gotham have a face it can look up to, in Harvey Dent, so as to make Batman unnecessary. A ‘when the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down’ kind of message. This philosophy is unimpeachable- just as Gotham needs to be inspired by one of their own using the rule of law to enforce order, so will Iraq ultimately step out of the darkness when a generation of Iraqi leaders take the reins in moving their country forward. The allegory leads to a confusing conclusion; if we are the Dark Knight, then was the occupation of Iraq worth it or not?
History, Bush always says, will judge him. When the invasion of Iraq was first proposed, I was at least intrigued by the long-term humanitarian argument for overthrowing an oppressive dictatorship. My opposition to the war was rooted in the knowledge that humanitarianism was not the public or private goal of the war, as much as Bush may rewrite history to argue it was, after the failure of all other plausible reasons for fighting it. But at the end of the day, the War in Iraq was so hastily conceived, so deceptively foisted, so poorly executed, and so spirit-breakingly divisive, that Bush and his Project for a New American Century cohorts become not the Dark Knight, but only a Chris O’Donnell, punch-less Robin at best.
The war is one prism through which to watch The Dark Knight’s themes develop. Equally potent is the notion of the activist at the cross-roads of working to fight the system and working to change it from within. The old expression “it takes all kinds to make the world go round” is certainly true in activism. I once experienced serious disillusionment at some of the radicalism proffered at an activist workshop in 2006 (actually standing in a small minority defending the troops at one point). My friend smartly pointed out, however, that every issue requires the agitator to distill the ideological concept, the protester to keep it in peoples’ minds, the thoughtful intellectual to flesh out the policy, the organizer to apply the issue practically to peoples’ lives, the leader to push gently for change with professionalism and composure, and the compromiser to implement the issue palatably to the greater local or national constituency. None of these individual parts can take an idea and make it an enforceable bill. Finding a place in the chain that balances one’s strength, morality, pragmatism and skill-set should be the goal of all activists. Batman made me think of this because he was not ready to be the face of Gotham, because it required him leading in a way he could not lead. Ultimately, that doesn’t shortchange his importance, for his own role in Gotham is no less critical than the separate but equal role played by someone like Harvey Dent.
The point is- The Dark Knight was awesome.

Quadrennial Veepstakes Rock the Rudderless Punditocracy…

Despite my fierce opposition to unfounded punditry, the temptation to weigh in on the Democratic Vice-Presidential sweepstakes is far too great, and, as the capitalist crowd clamors, there is demand to meet the supply. My track record is one for one so far, having predicted that primary winner Kerry would pick John Edwards in the fall of 2002. A lot happened on the road to Boston, but that’s another story, a sad, sad, story.
Senator Obama has a number of very good choices, but no truly great ones. It’s worth a stroll down the “unlikely” list, before we get to the made-for-TV “short-list.”

John Edwards: Categorically will not be the running mate. Put aside his three national campaign losses in four years (quite a feat!), his paper thin public sector resume (yes, less experience than Obama) and the recent tabloid scandal. The real reason is that despite the punditocracy’s simplistic and inaccurate storyline, Senator Edwards has absolutely no base among blue-collar white voters. His strongest performance, Iowa, came after six years of virtually living there. He never beat Clinton and Obama subsequently among the coveted “blue-collar voters.” So he brings nothing to the ticket. Not going to happen.

Al Gore: Just not going to happen. It’s too tiresome to explain to this informed crowd, but I had to acknowledge the never-ending and preposterous rumors.

Michael Bloomberg: Ditto. Mayor Mike loves his name in national headlines, doesn’t he? I’m not saying being a tease to both campaigns isn’t smart politics, as he’s ever improving his ‘dead-centrist’ brand.

Bill Richardson: Is it because he’s dull as dry paint on television, because he has ‘women issues,’ or because this country isn’t ready for a full-colored ticket? Three strikes and you’re out, even if the last one should have been called low.

Jim Webb and Brian Schweitzer: The Virginia Senator and Montana Governor are both real alpha men, sadly a dying breed in the party of Truman and LBJ. But they have their own careers to cultivate, and don’t seem interested in being #2 men to anybody.

Mark Warner: Virginia’s former governor and soon to be Senator is just great. He was my first presidential choice, and both on paper and in person he comes across as a razor-sharp, excellent executive. I was wondering why he was doing a stump speech in Chelsea a few weeks ago, when, in his pandemonium, I heard him blurt out, “I may not be running for national office this year, but what about 2012? What about 2016!?” He lacks the charisma to be elected president, but he’d make a great VP. Winning that Republican Senate seat in Virginia, however, takes priority.

Wesley Clark: Does Obama really have a “foreign policy problem?” He has been, and continues to be right on the war, after all. I like Wesley Clark (he actually has very sound domestic policy positions), but after the media sand-bagged him for his totally benign comments about McCain’s foreign policy credentials, it would be surprising to see Obama go this route.

And now…the public “short-list.” You read a lot about smoke-screens, how the real short-list is under tight wraps. I can’t imagine someone not on the list above or on the list below being nominated for Vice-President, but here goes nothing…

Joe Biden: Kill me now. People seem to like this guy, including my own brother. First of all, he single-handedly ruined the Alito confirmation hearings with his wind-baggery. After Biden used up 23 of his 30 minutes for a rambling monologue, Alito took a deep breath, smiled, and asked, “I’m sorry, could you repeat the question?” Everyone roared with laughter. Thirty years later Alito was replaced on the Supreme Court. Biden, if everyone can recall, is the person who noted, ON THE FIRST DAY OF HIS CAMPAIGN, that Obama was “articulate and clean.” He’s made fun of South Asians, wished Delaware was part of the Confederacy, and voted for the war in Iraq. Did I mention he’s a Six-Term Senator? Talk about bringing change to Washington.

(10% chance) Evan Bayh: If Obama is going for a dull as molasses, ‘solid American,’ it’s hard to argue with the moderate Senator and former Governor of Indiana. Evan Bayh well could be the nominee, depending on what happens with the three people below. His nomination would also mean the loss of an irretrievable Senate seat.

(30%) Tim Kaine: The Virginia Governor may have flunked his State of the Union Response in 2006, but man, can he bring down the house! A couple of us saw him introduce O in Northern Virginia. He got so excited comparing Obama’s days as a community organizer to his as a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador that he started giving his stump speech in fluent Spanish. He has that very key quality, the “Arm Around the Shoulder Wave.” He and Obama are friends, you see, and Kaine was his first national supporter outside of Illinois. When they hug and wave and smile together, they mean it, unlike Kerry and Edwards for example. We all remember how awkward that looked. So why is he being such an unbecoming chatterbox in the media? I believe he is Obama’s personal first choice, but insecurities about his record as governor and stances on social issues require a proper ‘feeler.’ Getting his name out there is the only realistic way of doing that.

(25%) Kathleen Sebelius: A few of us met the Kansas Governor when we were in Ohio. She is great. Commands authority and respect when she speaks, exudes competence as Warner does. Absolutely not a barn-burner, but that might not hurt, given that Obama’s got the corner on that market anyway. She would be my first pick. Of course, there’s that loving line you hear- “too much change on one ticket.” These aren’t fucking aliens, folks. It’s an Ivy-league educated African-American Senator and two-term white woman governor. These are probably the same people who said an African-American couldn’t win a major party nomination. I’m curious about how Hillary supporters would feel about this seismic glass ceiling blast being performed by someone besides Hillary. Let’s face it though- Sebelius is a VERY popular governor of a VERY red state, and she’s won tons of support for her ability to pass bi-partisan legislature, winning re-election easily, all while staying true to progressive values. If she were a man, she’d be on this short-list.

(25%) Hillary Clinton: I don’t have to tell any of you about Hillary Clinton, her strengths or her weaknesses. Obama basically has a lingering fear that his VP choice will come off like a big dud. Let’s face it, there’s nothing of epic grandeur in any of the people I just talked about. Hillary’s got that. Obama knows that. Now he just has to decide if he wants it.

(10%) Not Bayh, Kaine, Sebelius, Clinton: You heard it here first.


That concludes the rare foray into wildly speculative punditry. As the email noted, Roving Storm is officially back up and running, with more vitality than ever. In the days to come, there will be postings about the new Roving Storm Book Review, some new websites that will keep your head bopping and your mind racing, and exciting on the ground action from Colorado, battleground state de jour and honored Convention host.

Till next time, keep living the dream.