Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Katie Baron on Sarah Palin (As Hot As It Sounds)

Sarah Palin

By Katie Baron

What’s the difference between a hockey mom and the second in command to be leader of the free world? I can tell you for damn sure, it’s more than lipstick.

I consider myself more of a pop culture critic than a political aficionado, so I’ll stick to what I know. If I didn’t hate Sarah Palin so much, I would love her. In fact, I love to hate her. She has emerged onto the political scene as a true star. “Babies, Lies & Scandal”, that was the headline on the cover Us Weekly Magazine. Celebrity gossip junkies like myself live for this stuff-- scandal, scandal, scandal-- it’s so irresistible! The whole can’t-turn-your-head-away-from-the-car-wreck phenomenon that leads the public to watch Amy Winehouse’s drug use spiral out of control or Britney Spears’ demise into mental illness fuels much of the interest into Sarah Palin. Bristol Palin is the GOP’s very own Jamie Lynn Spears! How better to draw attention to a lackluster campaign than bringing it to the forefront of the pop culture dialog? The Republicans can no longer criticize Barack Obama for being the biggest celebrity there is. I personally have a little more faith in the Republican Party than to believe that Sarah Palin wasn’t properly vetted. I wouldn’t be surprised if the McCain camp was telling the truth when they said they knew of Bristol’s pregnancy before they chose Palin. Under investigation for trying to get her ex-brother-in-law (a violent drunk who tested a taser on his step-son) fired? Come on, how could they have missed that? By adding to the ticket this no name Governor from Alaska, a state with a population less than one-third that of Brooklyn, the Republicans have inserted themselves into the minds of more Americans by appealing to the lowest common denominator among us. It’s the same reason reality TV dominates programming and radio stations all play the same shitty songs. We are an over-mediated society and Sarah Palin is easy on the eyes.

In the words of Peggy Noonan, speech writer for Ronald Regan, the Republicans have gone for this narrative bullshit- whether Noonan is right in saying that it doesn’t work for the GOP is yet to be seen. The choice of her as John McCain’s running mate says so much about what is so wrong with Americans today. She epitomizes the “candidate that you’d most like to sit down and have a beer with” factor. Sarah Palin: Mother. Moosehunter Maverick. This video put out by the RNC pretty much sums it up. With a tune highly reminiscent of the theme song from the prime time soap opera Dallas playing in the background, the Republicans paint a picture of a small town girl who rose through the ranks. From the PTA, to the City Council, to the Mayor’s Office, to the Governor’s Mansion, and all this while popping out FIVE children. The McCain camp definitely went “all-in” with this one, attempting to appeal to disaffected Hillary supporters and their conservative base at the same time. Sarah Palin resonates.

Never mind the facts. Never mind the fact that she took a $600,000 loss for the state of Alaska by “putting that corporate jet on eBay.” Never mind the fact that she straight up lied about her stance on the Bridge to Nowhere and stance on earmarks. Never mind the fact that she didn’t have a passport until 2007. Never mind the fact that being in close proximity to Russia doesn’t actually give you ANY foreign policy experience. Never mind the fact that she thinks global warming is not caused by humans. Never mind the fact that thinks abortion should be illegal, even in cases of rape and incest. Never mind the fact that she is such a poor decision maker she changed colleges six times, often because she didn’t like the weather.

In 1984 Barack Obama had graduated from Columbia and was taking on his first job as a research associate at Business International Corporation. That same year Sarah Palin was coming in runner-up at the Miss Alaska Pageant! From a McCain camp whose biggest knock against Obama was his lack of experience and over-hyped celebrity status, this choice of Sarah Palin has proven that the GOP has subscribed to the philosophy that if you dominate the public discourse and win over the hearts of Americans the rest will follow. After all, whatever it is that the VP does all day wouldn’t we have fun watching Sarah Palin do it?

A Way Worse Than Michelle Quote

"No one knows what war is like other than my family. Period."

-- Meghan McCain, daughter of Sen. John McCain, on the Today Show.

Let's see if the media treats this like a misstatement, or if it spends the rest of the campaign harping on it like it has ever since Michelle's 'proud of my country' comment.

Denver Dispatch, Part 2

Wednesday, from the DNC...

I’m John Kerry, and I’m Reporting for Breakfast!

Wednesday morning was the toughest of times, the point in the Big Weekend where only the indomitable nature of the human spirit allows you to carry on after your body says no. Cursing myself as I narrowly missed multiple buses, I rushed as fast as my gimpy legs could carry me to the Tent. The day’s main attraction was T. Boone Pickens, an old deuschebag, a right-wing Texas billionaire oil man. He was sharing the Big Tent stage with Sierra Club Executive director Carl Pope and Center for American Progress (moderate left) founder, John Podesta. Pickens is long-time oil and gas speculator who has made literally billion dollars in the oil industry. He played a big role in the Swift Boats debacle, and has been a big financial backer of true right-wing idiots like Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who thinks global warming is “a giant hoax.” Podesta and Pope seemed in utter awe that they were sharing a stage with an old foe like Pickens. Pope even made the alliterative and probably correct comment that, “You know our politics is broken when Podesta, Pope and Pickens agree on something, and it’s still not getting done.” Pickens seemed unfazed, even annoyed. He knows these stooges on stage with him will last as long as he needs them, at which point he’ll eat them alive.

You see, Pickens has this thing he calls “the Pickens plan.” Though couched in a lot of talk about wind energy and solar energy, where Pickens perhaps believes he can make his next billion dollars, what the plan actually amounts to is putting Pickens in charge of our country’s energy policy. Picking a convenient time to go ‘non-partisan’, Pickens insists he has met with both Obama and McCain, and is willing to be appointed energy czar no matter who is elected president. How thoughtful! A snake in the grass is a snake in the grass. I’ll trust this septuagenarian oil mogul with our renewable energy policy like I’ll trust Paul Wolfowitz with running Dennis Kucinich’s Department of Peace or Ricky Martin with getting Pink Floyd back together.

I was dithering on the stairs a little later when I heard the booming voice of Dan Rather coming from the upstairs stage. Rather was engaging in the most typical mainstream media self-flagellation. The crowd hissed as Rather went through the mainstream media’s complete failure to focus on substantive stories, its subservience to the Bush administration in the lead-up to the War, its lack of fortitude in the face of “access-restriction” threats. Indeed, today’s mainstream journalists are complete wusses and worthless lemmings at the very least. The crowd gave Rather no credit for his periodic, “I do no except myself from this statement.” After all, the damage was done, and giving self-loathing talks on the academic cocktail circuit won’t repair it. One novel reason (at least to me) Rather gave for the media collapsing on itself was the diversified holdings of major media companies, which cause them to act profitably with respect to the media channel, which but also answer to a larger company that doesn’t really care about its news content at all. These mega companies leave ownership too diffused for someone like Anchor Rather to have an individual he can point to as “running CBS.” It was sad, sad but boring. I agreed to meet Paul on the street.

MSNBC was doing its best to make its “live studio” sitting in the middle of nowhere, a mile from the Convention, interesting. As it turned out, the Roll Call vote was going down, so we stayed to watch on the big screen. My friends, let me tell you something. I’ve worked on two presidential campaigns, and run meetings with Robert’s Rules of Order for two years as Student Body President, but the Roll Call vote was one of the strangest procedural events I’ve ever witnessed. First of all, each state gives its “Chamber of Commerce” pitch:

“The great state of New Jersey, home of Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, with its gorgeous beaches and green mountains (??), home of our great Senators Bob Menendez and Frank Lautenberg…” This goes on for a maximum of 45 seconds, though that self-promotional rule is constantly violated. At the end of the pitch, the state declares, “the State of New Jersey proudly casts its 126 delegates for the next president of the United States, Barack Obama!” Now imagine that, for every state, in alphabetical order. And Guam. At one point, California passed. No one was sure why. Then Illinois passed. Then, for the grand finale, New Mexico deferred to Illinois, so that Mayor Daley could take the mic and defer to New York, where the delegation marched into the room, with Hillary leading the way. I have to admit welling up in pride a little bit- we have a damn fine delegation: Governor Paterson, Attorney General Cuomo, the dean, Congressman Rangel, Senator Schumer…these guys aren’t perfect, but they are tough as nails, and I’m happy they’re in office to stand up for our interests. Somehow Shelley Silver ended up with the mic though, and as he nasally crooned for Hillary, Chris Matthews interrupted to observe ‘how amazing it was that we all have such different accents in America.’ Hillary then motioned to suspend the rules and make Obama the nominee, cool pageantry, if not rendering the whole exercise something of a waste of time.

We were about to walk away when I spotted a costumed representative of Nos Energy Drink. It was like Red Bull, but grosser, and I had discovered it on my last trip to Canada. You don’t get your nickname in a can every day, and I’ve become a volunteer endorser of the product. Perhaps sensing this, the Nos representative handed me a few cans, and asked if I could pose for a picture holding them. Clint, ever the thorough journalist, lined up to take one as well. Then a random dude, sensing that this was a picture worth taking, lined up his camera too. This caught the attention of random journalists, not wanting to miss out on the Big Photo, and the bored crowd, who by this assumed the recipient of all this attention must be celebrity. I was wearing a silver shirt, after all.

Lesson learned. Paul and I made a pact that next Convention we are bringing a video camera and taking turns pretending to follow the other one around. Washington has always been called “Hollywood for ugly people”, and in this environment, it’s pretty easy to convince people you’re important just by acting like it- there’s no People Magazine to verify who’s who in politics.

After the Roll Call, I met up with Brett, who had also acquired a free bike, and was casually following a massive anti-war protest, taking pictures. The protest had been declared by Rage Against the Machine, who were holding a concert several miles from the convention. The band, forming an intimidating alliance with Iraq Veterans Against the War, descended on downtown D.C, with an army of anarchists, hippies and Code Pink demonstrators in tow. It was an impressive show, and reminded me of the old days past. Outgrowing the spirit of the movement is one thing, but the chants you just grow sick of. There’s only so many times you can yell “Who’s streets? Our streets!” into a megaphone. Sally said her least favorite is the inane, “If the people are united, they will never be divided.” It’s largely incorrect, and it doesn’t even rhyme. My favorite was always “money for schools, not for war.” Keep it simple and on message. In my attempt to meet up with Brett during this circus I had found an embankment near a bank, and yelled, “I’m on the grassy knoll!” over the phone several times before I realized that might send the wrong message to the hundreds of cops standing near me.

All the energy drinks in the world couldn’t help me get through Evan Bayh’s speech, but sleep was impossible, as the loud drone of speakers introducing speakers introducing speakers wore on and on. Markos Moulitsas gave me a supportive high five when he saw I was fading- by the way, the DailyKos founder is one of the nicest famous people I’ve ever met, straight up. At this point the line-up for National Security Night came into focus. Evan Bayh. Jack Reed. John Kerry. Bill Clinton. Finally, Joe Biden. Apparently, in the Democratic Party, as in the rest of America, “having national security credentials” is just another phrase for being a bellicose old white man.

John Kerry was speeching like it was 1971, thundering, “patriotism is not love of power, it is love of country” before delving into a great flip-flopping routine. Flip-flopping, of course, is the dirty word Republicans came up with to describe John Kerry’s ability to change his mind when the circumstances around a question evolved. In contrast, Stephen Colbert notes, “George Bush believes the same thing on Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened on Tuesday.”

Nevertheless, flip-flopping has been with us ever since, and John Kerry was more than happy to lay into the many, many occasions in which John McCain has changed his positions (sucks to have the paper trail of a longtime Senator, doesn’t it?). Kerry took McCain for violating his own campaign finance reform bill- “Talk about being for it before he was against it!” Kerry ended, “Before he ever debates Barrack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate he started against himself!” In 2010, after 26 years as an understudy, Kerry will finally become the Senior Senator from Massachusetts.

Next up, Bill Clinton. He may have been an SOB this primary season , but it’s hard not to get teary-eyed when Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow blasts out the speakers and President Bubba takes the stage to a sea of flags. The applause was epic, second only to Obama’s, and unable to talk over the wild cheers, Bill smiled, put his head down and muttered, “God I love this” into the microphone. Bill’s message that night was simple:

1. Rebuild the American Dream

2. Restore American Leadership in the world

“The world has always been more impressed by our power of example than the example of our power,” he preached. So simple: American can do better. After eight years, who would you rather trust to rebuild the American dream and restore American leadership in the world? A war-monger who admits to not understanding the economy, or a post-partisan leader who thinks in 21st century terms

“They actually want us to reward them for the last 8 years by giving them four more years,” Clinton continued. “Let’s send them a simple message: thanks, but no thanks, this time the third time is not the charm.” Having once again simply thrown down the Democratic Party’s core principles and why we must support Senator Obama, Bill ended with his classic line, “America Must Always Be a Place Called Hope.”

Closing out the night, even Joe Biden, who I’d always kind of regarded as kind of a tool, was searing with emotion, reminding people of the values his parents taught him, “that everyone is equal to you, and you are equal to everyone.” It seemed an odd line, almost socialistic. Biden also has a shelf-life at which point you just want him to stop talking, but near the end of his speech he nailed this line:

“In all of my years in the Senate, Washington has never seen so many people get knocked down, and do so little to help them up.” After the speeches we all met up at a dive bar and took in the events of the day. A lady offered us Joe Biden paraphernalia, including the big red signs you wave on a stick. I accepted. Joe is on the Moving Train now, and we’re going to ride this train together to the very end.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Denver Dispatches, Part 1

“If John McCain is the answer, the question must be ridiculous.”

-New York Governor David Paterson

It’s hard to believe that two weeks ago the Denver madness was only just underway. How the air has clouded and the good memories faded from what will go down as one of the most seamlessly executed political conventions in history. These days the daily stress of seeing the media and populace fawn over a book-burning creationist and watching Gallup release preposterous poll numbers has me retreating into the pleasant world of sports (it’s better for you than whiskey).

Last night, in a stadium for the first time since Invesco, I joined another packed crowd in cheering on a sweet rock star (Johan Santana) shut down the forces of evil (the Philadelphia Phillies) with the help of his own bearded fat man (Carlos Delgado). Happy times are here again in Shea. Some say the stadium is hideous, but it was the stadium that raised me. I’ll miss it, especially knowing that it’ll end up costing New York City taxpayers nearly a billion dollars to provide the Mets and Yankees subsidies for their new stadiums.

Tonight Roger Federer also redeemed his season, winning his fifth consecutive U.S Open title, against his fifth finals opponent in as many years. Watching him play induces jaw-dropping awe constantly. May he wear that headband and remain the classy champion of tennis for another two or three years. But back to politics, and not fury-induced rants about people I loathe, but fond recollections of living the dream in Obamaville Central, where hope goes to hang out.

A Man Without A Laptop

Denver was the perfect host city, big enough to put on a full scale carnival in its downtown, but also small enough that the whole city was drenched in Convention, unlike Boston or New York, where conventions seem more like inconveniences than celebrations. The sun was shining, the band was playing, the free stuff was flowing. But not all was well in Obamaville when I walked glumly into the Big Tent on Tuesday morning.

My new buddy from the National Democratic Institute saw me first. Fresh off a tour of showing African dignitaries “how democracy works”, he needled me, “The Kennedy-Minh ticket didn’t work out, did it?”

“You’re damn right it didn’t. Supporting the ticket got me kicked out of at least two places.”

“That’s to be expected.”

“Of course it was. The country wasn’t ready for Kennedy, and I suppose they’ll never be ready for Minh. But I have bigger issues now, Greg. I’ve gotta find my laptop.”

“Shit man, it’s tough to blog with a laptop.”

“I know, but worst comes to worst I’m going old-school style- by hand!” The bloggers sitting by Greg looked unimpressed as I whipped out a crumpled little notebook. Greg shook his head, and as did the rest.

“Kennedy-Minh… That was some funny stuff. Pretty weird though…”

It was around two in the morning Monday night when I had found myself alone on a bus heading downtown, away from the action. Worse than that, I realized I no longer had the laptop I had started the night with. Still hobbling somewhat from my torn ACL, I scrambled from the bus towards the mall, where Paul was swearing at me for leaving him behind.

“We’ve gotta find my laptop man!”

“Where did you leave it?” My mind raced. I couldn’t recall having it for hours. The best plan was probably to retrace my steps. “Let’s go back to the bar.”

“You want to go back in? You must be joking?”

“I was just wondering if I could go in real quick to look for something I left back there.” “Hell, no. After that stunt you pulled…”

Our final destination had been some lame bar on 16th street. The bouncer was a tall blond punk, with a perfectly trimmed blond Mohawk. It wasn’t clear what decade he was supposed to be in. Paul and I had settled in with some locals, sipping on cans we had smuggled over from the Big Tent. Out of nowhere, the bouncer snuck up on me, grabbed my can and poured it out into the trash. No one at the table really knew what was happening, and even I was surprised when he crushed the can, slammed it in front of my face and snarled, “Why don’t you recycle that, bitch?”

Having seen this movie before, I calmly nodded, went to the bar, ordered something on tap, and carried on with my conversation. On our way out though, I let him have it: “You call yourself a punk! Is that what punks do? Going around crushing people’s beer cans? Is that what punks do? Hanging out in trendy bars with their fake Mohawks and designer clothes?! You’re not a punk, you’re a joke, and your bar is a joke…”

As the Disposable Heroes sing, “I’m not so proud, but I’d do it again.”

No sight of the laptop. On the way out I patted him on the back. “I’m sorry about earlier, man. No hard feelings.” He sighed.

“No worries, man. Things can get crazy, I understand.” Having made peace with the bouncer (who was still a suspect for theft as far as I was concerned), we headed to our previous destination, the Slate party.

Slate, or Salon.com, the difference was never really clear to me, had held some sort of book party on the top floor of a giant book store. My only solid memory of the party was Clint constantly reminding me and Paul, “Don’t fuck this up for me, I really want to work here.” As far as I know, I was on my best behavior- gin and tonic goes well with an endless sea of books to stare at absent-mindedly while munching on celery and dip. Paul wasn’t as sure, muttering, “I think I told Matt Cooper he was a loser, and he should have stayed in jail.”

If convincing the security guard to let us into the book store at the three in the morning (laptop wasn’t there) was a challenge, we knew the Mother Jones hotel party was out of the question. As I retreated home for the night, tail very much between my legs, a thought occurred to me. No one had ever seen me carrying the laptop since Laughing Liberally.

Hours before, after crashing a venture capitalist party (to aplomb and success, I might add) Clint and I had snuck Paul in to the Big Tent, and were enjoying the last hours of the free beer service. Just as we were getting feisty, however, they booted us up to the top floor, where they were still serving canned beer and forcing people to watch Laughing Liberally. Now I’ll doff my hat to the great Mr. Justin Krebs, founder of Drinking Liberally. It is a great organization that started with a simple premise during the low point of the Bush years- provide liberals a place to get together and drink every week. It has since expanded enormously as a franchise, to hundreds of cities and off-shoots, like Reading and Eating Liberally. But Laughing Liberally has never been in its strong suit. They were less than pleased when we took a couple Kennedy signs we had found and started chanting “Kennedy-Minh for President!” After accosting a few hapless audience members, who weren’t really sure if we were part of the show, for not supporting Ho Chi Minh, we were eventually booted out by Justin. We took off for the Mother Jones hotel room, and the rest is history. I was crushed the next morning to find that my laptop was not at the site of the Laughing Liberally Massacre. Pen and paper it would be.

The Tent was slow and hot that morning. Some news about rednecks trying to assassinate Obama being pulled over for driving around drunk and on meth with guns in the car. One of them was a neo-Nazi named Adolph, who sprained his ankle jumping out of a sixth-floor hotel window (super race?). As someone whose actually met George Bush, there’s no chance four meth-heads are gonna get within 100 yards of a presidential nominee, and even if they did, they’d get their heads blown to pieces by machine guns before they could pull their own triggers.

Having spent most of Monday watching a series of panels, this morning I decided to explore the Big Tent and its companion Colorado Alliance for Sustainability building. The scene was part library, part sports bar, part … Well the last part was just unique.

At any given time there were 100 or so bloggers at their laptops, some typing away, other lazily lounging on gmail, sipping on beer or munching on tacos. The dull noise from the panel being broadcasted or the afternoon Convention banter rose faintly above the humming of industrial fans and chatter about sharing electrical outlets. Woodstock it was not, but at least it was a place to call home.

“Blogger” is an ugly word, like “mold.” It’s one of those things I cringe at being called, like “hipster.” As it was, the Big Tent was crawling with video-journalists (Vloggers?) making short pieces about bloggers, and rather than risk the alienation of my Tent-mates, I gave several interviews on the impact of blogging, etc.

I will say this about bloggers though:

They are not all white young men living at home in their parents’ basements. While statistics have long shown this to be quite obvious, mainstream journalists, perhaps out of jealousy and fear, continue this idiotic characterization of the blogger movement. In the Big Tent, which was absolute blogger central, males outnumbered females by the same amount you’d expect in any political crowd (Washington staffers, campaign workers, D.C bar scene), at about 60-40. Though the group skewed white, it felt pretty damn eclectic, especially when assessed by age.

“They think we’re space aliens,” a middle-aged woman lamented to me. I know a thing or two about space aliens- I was accused of housing one in 2002- but the lady was right. Bloggers fit no stereotype; they are the most eclectically banal slice of America you could put under one tent roof.

“So what does one do in Denver during the Convention,” asked Paul. “I mean, besides go to Convention events.” The streets answered for me: Get Free Stuff. Within blocks we had been given free stickers, free tshirts, free condoms, free energy drinks. We were also getting delirious from the heat and fatigue- I thought I was hallucinating when I was almost run over by a series of chariots led by Captain Morgan and his pirate wenches.

“What more free stuff could they possibly give us?” Paul wondered aloud, just a middle aged man jumped out from behind the curb and yelled, “Who wants free bikes!” During the week of the Convention, there were about a dozen spots around Denver where you could pick up a bike for free, just showing your ID, on the condition that you return it to a drop-off location by 7pm. We biked around Denver living the dream.

At night I was back in the Big Tent to catch the speeches. Hillary was the main attraction, and as if to offer juxtaposition, an assembly of also-VP-rans were paraded out before her. Tim Kaine was mediocre, and his rantings in Spanish, cool as hell in person, seemed weird on television. Sebelius, my number one VP choice, delivered a hum-drum speech full of almost-Janos phrases like “saving the dream” and “to the stars through difficulty.” I much prefer “lying in the gutter, reaching for the stars” myself, although its prominence was far overshadowed during my Student Body President elections by the main slogan, “It’s hard to stop a moving train.” Sebelius did have one great line- “As we like to say in Kansas, ‘there’s no place like home.’” Or, as John McCain puts it, “There’s no place like home, or home, or home, or home or home….”

Former Mayor Pena quoted Congressman Barney Frank, calling government “the name we give to the things we choose to do together.” It’s a nice way to think about government, after both parties have demonized the whole concept.

Mark Warner was supposed to be the keynote, but he was so terrible that most people in the Tent stopped listening half-way through, and Fox News cut the speech off entirely to go back to discussing Bill Ayers.

Hillary Clinton, at her best when she has nothing to lose, noted, “It makes perfect sense that in a week George Bush and John McCain will be in the Twin Cities, because these days they’re awfully hard to tell apart.” As it turned out John McCain did everything he could to keep George Bush out of the Twin Cities a week later, but that’s another story. There was definitely a buzz in the room that maybe it had been a bad idea after all not to make Hillary Vice-President, but there’s no need to dig through bad memories of days past to recall why that would have been a terrible idea, regardless of a good speech here and there.

After the speeches we went to a fancy hotel where I had been put on the list for a Moby party, and I was shocked when Margot and I actually got in. Not only was the scene wild and gorgeous, but there was free vodka and Sam Adams on the house, and I got a seat on a couch next to some rapper named Bazaar Land or something (it’s not Bizarre from D12). Fortuitously, Moby and his band began setting up right next to us. My knee was aching, and I leaned it on a speaker. This, again, fortuitously, gave a few people the impression that I was some sort of bouncer (I was wearing an army jacket and sunglasses indoors). A couple nervously approached me as Moby finalized his set-up. “Hey,” they asked meekly, “is it cool if we take a picture of Moby?” Realizing that I had become a de-facto bouncer, I gruffly replied, “Sure, but make it quick.” My status was set for the rest of the set.

Moby, by the way is a bit of a prick. At one point the music stopped so his female singer could shout, “Hey all of you shut the hell up! You can drink and talk to your friends any night, but how often do you get to listen to Moby?” The VIP crowd looked perplexed as she continued, “We’re not even gonna waste our time playing until you all quiet down.” But fully quiet down the young, drunk, excited crowd did not, and after a few minutes Moby and the crew begrudgingly continued their set. No worries, we were already scheming about after-parties.

Denver, unfortunately has the highest concentration of asshole bouncers between New York and Los Angeles (see: Monday night). After we failed to get into a party at a club using Congressman Clyburn’s name, a helpful staffer came out and clarified that we had actually been invited by State Senator Malloy, and that we were welcome. The big bouncer shook his head. “You said Clyburn. You can’t just go around saying whatever.” It made no sense. I was about to protest, but saw that Brett and Paul were already trying to get into the Arkansas Democrats party next door. The bouncers wouldn’t let them in either, but as the bouncer bumped Paul down the stairs, he led a fired up pack of Arkansas Democrats in a raucous chant of “Yes we can!” This eventually attracted the attention of a couple vans marked, ‘Sheriff’, and I retreated to a nearby jazz bar. Like second hand Beats we bopped our heads to the music in the only local bar not filled to the brim with lame delegates.

The drummer was not amused by our chants of “Yes we can,” interrupting the band. “God damn it man, yes we can- give me some fucking cash!” We laughed, tipped the band well, and soon we were in a cab home, stopping at a drive-through Burger King, living the dream, and halfway through our week in Denver.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Community Organizer Rebuttal

Cross-posted at ruby-k.blogspot.com
From a friend I met at a workshop in Indiana, enjoy:

Community organizers do have responsibilities...

Sorry. I'm sure about two hundred other community organizers have written rants about this, but well, I was leading a team of canvassers knocking on doors in rural new england yesterday, so i was busy with my responbilities until now.

The Republicans have used "community organizers" as a punchline and a punching bag these last few days. It's not often I hear something I've been doing, in one form or another, for more than a decade, get laughed at by a room (well, half a room) full of people on national television. And so I wanted to spend a little time today on my blog talking about what community organizers are, even if it's preaching to the choir, or the converted, because community organizers play a critical role in the world, and in our country.

Community organizing is what it says it is, that is to say, it is organizing communities, and organizing within communities. Think about that for a minute. Ever put together a neighborhood watch? Start a parent music boosters or sports boosters organization? Find a place and set up a structure for a bunch of people to pray together because they don't have a priest/rabbi/cantor/pastor/building? Set up a communal day care plan? School carpools? Get a group of people to put a stop sign/stop light in an intersection you thought was unsafe? Reach out to your friends and neighbors to vote for a school budget? Work with people to put together an afterschool program, or an intramural sports program? Asked a store to not carry particular items because they were unsafe?

Have you ever joined a union? Registered someone to vote as part of a larger effort? Worked with a group of people in your building to get the heat turned on, the rent not raised, the building fixed? Circulated a petition? Demanded justice for yourselves? For your families? For your friends? For people you don't know?

Put another way, community organizing is about working together with people to empower yourselves and help fill the needs of the community and make things better. Whether its organizing something for a few people, or working with communities around the country or world, it is about taking action to fill a void and/or make something right.

What certain people who have been knocking community organizing need to understand is that often times, community organizing happens _because_ of needs that aren't being met, _because_ of rights that aren't being granted/respected, _because_ of injustices that aren't being addressed. And many times, at the end of each of those phrases, you could add "by the government." Let me give you an example.

Right now, women have the right to vote. It didn't always used to be this way. Messed up, right? I mean, they should've been able to from the beginning. But no. And so, a bunch of people, primarily women, fought like hell for 50 years, doing everything from handing out leaflets to reaching out to other organizations, to setting up meetings everywhere to pushing for hearings with Congress (and got one every year for 50 years) and finally, they did enough organizing in their communities to push Congress to move a Constitutional amendement (something I'm not sure I'll ever see in my lifetime) honoring the right to vote for women.

Put in another, short hand perspective: Child labor laws? Right to form a union? The weekend? the minimum wage? the Montgomery Bus Boycott? the Civil Rights movement? From critical things in individual lives to larger, broad social justice movements, all can thank community organizing for that. Concerned people standing up for themselves and what they believe in, and fighting for that. Pretty important, no?

Maybe former mayors of town great and small have a problem with community organizers because they are a particular thorn in their side? Because they bring up needs that the city/town/hamlet/sleepy village of 5000 isn't addressing? Because they bring up responsibilities that the local/city/state/national government AREN'T LIVING UP TO OR MEETING? Another example:

You may have heard there was this storm a couple years ago that hit the Gulf region of the country, called Katrina. Well, while Brownie was doing a heckuva job and the government apparati were failing the people of the gulf, organizations like Common Ground were doing the work the government was supposed to be doing, on a shoestring budget and hundred hour weeks from its staff and volunteers. Think about that for a moment. A small non profit doing the work the government was supposed to be doing. Working fast to clean up and tear down houses, get rid of mold, get drinking water, food, shelter and other needs to people. Functioning where the government failed. Maybe these people hate community organizers because we remind them of their own shortcomings?

So maybe their problem is that community organizing is also a profession. There's a cadre of paid community organizers out there. No one can argue that. I mean, the hours are insanely long and the pay is usually shit, but its true that people get paid to do this work. Now, leaving aside for a moment the idea that they are attacking a profession who's main purpose is to help people empower themselves to fight for their needs and for justice, let's talk about responsibilities. Community organizers, volunteer or paid, do have responsibilities. The biggest one is helping people educate andempower themselves to have agency in their lives and fight for theirown interests and for a better world. They have responsibilities to themselves, to the social justice organizations that hire them, and the member donations that pay their salary. To the people that contribute money to hire them to help them fight, to help organize more voices, more people to stand up and speak. To the people in the communities they are helping to organize. To the town/city/state/country/world that is not helping people meet their needs and to do everything in their power to make this world more just, more fair, more equitable, more responsive, the world it can be.

Some people leave everything to do this work, their families, their friends, everything they know and everyone they love to try to make the world a place it can be. Other people do this work IN ADDITION to working hard at their jobs, raising families and living their lives. Whether volunteering from home, teaching their children how to take agency in their lives, or working 60-90 hour weeks to help people take action, whether building community run schools or lay lead prayer communities, standing up for people with autism, organizing rent strikes or union strikes, whether speaking for themselves or speaking for themselves and for people halfway around the world that need to be heard here in America, all are critical contributions to making this world a better place.

Susan B. Anthony. Martin Luther King Jr. Gandhi. Harriet Tubman. Abraham Joshua Heschel. Mother Jones. Malcom X. Cesar Chavez. Jesus. Saul Alinsky. John L. Lewis. Fannie Lou Hamer.


Community Organizers. We have responsibilities. To ourselves. To each other. To the world.
posted by Ruby K at 9:02 AM

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Semi-Dispatch: Smokey Joe Lieberman as Rancid Cockroach of the Earth

“Americans have always lived on the sunrise side of the mountain.”

-Almost No Longer President George W. Bush

The Republicans who took the stage last night and the night before are the vilest brand of human scum walking the Earth today. And yet, it’s hard to do anything but stare at the screen in disbelief, or perhaps write aghast away messages. The reason for this is simple: the leaders of today’s Republican party are beneath us. They are hardly people. It’s as if God put them on Earth so there would be a foil for decency, intelligence and truth, or perhaps as a rebuttal to the case for evolution. Looking at them, listening to them or thinking about them is a waste of the very life that Republicans find so precious unless it is poor, black or being destroyed by American wars in foreign countries.

Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee’s speeches aren’t even worth bothering with. Once a loser, always a loser- the Lieberman Principle, to be precise. Wait, actually, I do have a word or two to say about Lieberman. Of all the horrific people who dare soil the name ‘statesman,’ he is absolutely in the top three, along with Rumsfeld and Cheney, destined to replace Brutus, Cassius and Judas in the Ninth Circle of Dante’s Inferno.

Let’s be clear: Lieberman was always a total loser. He was the guy so lame he made Gore look like the vibrant one on the 2000 ticket, and he was so soft on Cheney in the vice-presidential debate that people came away actually liking the Monster. In 2002, during the Lamest Presidential Campaign in History, I got to pin Smokey Joe down on why his name was listed on a statement by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a fanatical right-wing group supporting the suppression of academics and students speaking against the war in Afghanistan. Lieberman said his name had been placed on the list by mistake, and that he did not think those who opposed the war were unpatriotic. Turns out Lieberman was lying through his teeth- the motherfucker FOUNDED the organization with Lynne Cheney in 1995.

His next appearance on campus he managed to go an entire stump speech without garnering a single round of applause, and cleared a quarter of the room when he blamed domestic violence on “video games like Grand Theft Auto.” For Lieberman, self-righteousness and tone deafness is a mark of pride, so it was no surprise when he scheduled an event in liberal Hanover a week before the New Hampshire primary at a small coffee shop, and had no one show up except his staffers. He ended up on freezing cold Main Street, harassing unsuspecting voters who thought they were being chased by a giant beagle.

Realizing he had no future in the leadership of the Democratic Party, Lieberman used the War in Iraq as an opportunity to become Fox’s Favorite Democrat, which worked out great for him until he lost the Democratic Primary to a political neophyte whose only qualification for the Senate was that he wasn’t Joe Lieberman. Let the people be reminded that Lieberman actually made the argument that Democratic primary voters would hurt the Party’s 2008 chances by voting for Lamont! His argument was that Democrats would then be seen as “cutting and running” (holler if you remember that phrase), in contrast to the Bush-McCain-Lieberman plan, which is to stay in Iraq until we’ve properly riled up enough meatheads to support an invasion of another brown-skinned country. Of course, his argument didn’t work, so he ran as an Independent, winning narrowly after taking almost all of the Republican vote. He promised to remain an Independent-Democrat though, in exchange for the right to keep his powerful committee posts, like Chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

And what an Independent-Democrat he was! Lieberman quickly became McCain’s Reggie Love, a personal assistant reminding him of the difference between Iraq and Iran, Sunni and Shiite, even cruising on the Straight Talk Express when John McCain wasn’t on it, like the time it crashed into a van (an event described as “bursting with metaphors”). Most Democrats were appalled, but hardly surprised, when Lieberman endorsed John McCain. “Fear not,” Smokey Joe said, “it’s not like I’m going to speak at the Republican Convention.” But sign up to speak he did- in the keynote spot- a more prominent role in endorsing John McCain than George Bush himself, who spoke via television satellite earlier in the night.

Incidentally, I curled up by the TV in anticipation of how Bush could possibly justify the last eight years of his life before a national audience. Turns out he took the path of least resistance, sticking to praising John McCain, and vowing that McCain was tough enough to “survive the Angry Left.” His only other notable line, posted at the top here, is so bewildering that I’ll post the full quote here, lest anyone accuse me of quoting it out of context:

“In the time the Oval Office has been in my trust, I've kept near my desk reminders of America's character -- including a painting of a West Texas mountain lit by the morning sun. It reminds me that Americans have always lived on the sunrise side of the mountain.”

When you figure out what that means, get back to me. Jacob Press pointed out that when you are on the top of a mountain, you can see the sunrise from anywhere. Maybe that’s it…

Anyway, after lying about being a strong Democrat in 2006, lying about supporting the Democratic candidate in 2008, and lying about speaking at the Republican Convention, Lieberman’s final lie was that during his speech at the Convention he would not go negative on Obama, though that is almost entirely what he did, wildly distorting facts about Obama’s record as hack-ishly as Zell Miller did Kerry’s four years ago. Unlike Zell Miller, Joe Lieberman did not challenge Chris Matthews to a duel, but that’s probably because he’s too big of a pussy, and would rather send a bunch of enlisted soldiers to do it for him instead. Because that’s what Tough On Defense politicians do.

I realize hammering at Joe Lieberman on paper is like smashing a piƱata with a wooden baseball bat, even though it’ll never be as satisfying as a fistic smash to his sagging jowls. My only regret is that political revenge on Lieberman is nearly impossible- he is well aware that he will be stripped of his posts come January, and he’ll retire in 2012 to avoid certain defeat at re-election. Polls show that if a Connecticut election were held today, Lamont would crush him. One thing we can do is make sure that every day Joe Lieberman spends between now and January of 2013 is as miserable as possible, so that he can retire not a dignified statesman, but as the coward, the traitor and the phony he really is.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Gustav Looks ot Fade Out

Hurricane Gustav looks like it is not going to destroy the Gulf Coast again. As of 8pm tonight, Mississippi Gulf Coast had taken a beating in terms of wind, the flooding of roads, and power outages, but will ultimately be fine. Route 90, which connects the entire Mississippi Coast, and was the main thoroughfare until Interestate 10 was built, is completely under water for major stretches. Hands On Gulf Coast has said it will help run shelters and clear debris if called upon, for anyone looking to get back to the Coast and volunteer.
Their number is 228 257 6094, and they ask that you call for details if interested. Mississippi was remarkably ignored for a second time by media coverage of this event. Since New Orleans looks like it will too dodge a bullet, with no levees being breached as of now, the hope is that Mississippi and Louisiana coastal towns like Houma, LA can ride this thing out.
One of Katrina's lasting impacts was that it took out a number of underwater barriers, small islands, sand dunes and tree lines that normally serve as barriers between a storm and landfall. There is simply less resistance to a storm that hits the coast now than there was in 2005. In any case, if any important updates arise re: Mississippi, I will post them here.

Convention Dispatch, like Hope, is On the Way

Overcoming the loss of a laptop is no small obstacle in the world of blogging, and now that I'm behind a steady desktop in New York, it's only a matter of time. Leaning towards releasing one giant dispatch covering the full four days, estimated finish time of Wednesday or so.
For a preview, the highlights include crashing a number of C-list parties (and two weddings), body-guarding Moby, living the dream at Invesco Field, and driving around Denver yelling "Yes We Can."
There will be a separate post on what a terrible VP choice Sarah Palin is, and how John McCain had no choice but to pick her anyway.