Friday, April 25, 2008

Circus Maximus

"Media Jumps Ship From Obama" is the gigantic headline this morning on one of my favorite Political Blogs: The Huffington Post. While becoming much more like "The Sun" newspaper in the UK (lots of tawdry pictures of young actresses. But no page 3 girls. Yet.). Anyway, I digress. After the butt-whooping Obama received from Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania, the media, who once had anointed Barack Obama as a cross-between Jackie Robinson, and JFK, have started to run away from the Illinois Senator as if he was infectious.

Yes, he did lose big in Pennsylvania. Yes, it was a drop-the-trousers heinie spanking by 10% points for the front-runner. It seems to be a pattern with this campaign that just about the time it seems Obama is going to close this out, Mrs. Clinton comes along and says "Not just yet". But the media has taken this as a queue that Obama is a loser. He's George McGovern, Michael Dukakis, Fritz Mondale, etc. etc. etc. He can't win the big one. He can't close the deal. As someone once said: "Yadda Yadda Yadda".

Ok, my question is so what? This is after all a political campaign, and there are many states (almost 10) who have not voted yet. It seems reasonable to me that people should be allowed to vote and choose their candidate. I'm one of the few who think we should have a one day national primary (with run-offs if no clear majority wins) where everyone picks their favorite candidate. It will never happen because of the money involved. No candidate will raise enough funds for one shot.

But, back to the media. What an enormous pile of wasted space this "4th estate" has become. The cable news channels (CNN, MSNBC, FOX) as well as the networks have turned this into one giant, seemingly never ending circus where they beat the same old horses to death. Want proof? The last Democratic debate moderated by ABC, where the usually solid Charlie Gibson and George Stephanoupolus asked questions like "Senator Obama, Do you think Reverend Wright loves the United States as much as you do?" Aw, come on George. You are better than that aren't you? Wouldn't we be better served by asking questions about say, How would you get us out of Iraq? Or, how would you deal with the current fuel and food issues facing us today? Or perhaps, What's your plan on Healthcare? Instead, they ask questions about a preacher, ask questions about a lapel pin (a freaking lapel pin for God's sake!) and why Obama won't wear one.

Of course, they have a right to ask these questions. If this is what the American People are that concerned about and have written thousands of letters telling the media this is what they want to know, then fine. I don't think it is however. I think it's the media continuing to stir the pot so the talking heads continually have something to talk about. One of the cable news networks I regularly watch is MNSBC. I enjoy Chris Matthews, Keith Olberman, Dan Abrams shows a lot. However, they have (as many of the others) reduced this down to "can Obama reach the common man?" "Is he too elitist to win?" "Will pastor Wright's comments cost Obama the white blue-collar vote?" And on and on and on.

I don't think most of us give a rat's behind about those topics, but with 24 hour news channels bleating away with this refuse all the time, it's hard not to start thinking about it.

I believe most of us are concerned about the economy, health care, this never ending cycle of violence we seem to have initiated in Iraq. What do you think?


Sunday, April 13, 2008

April 4th, and Heroes

April 4th is a day of reflection for me. I know, it's April 13th today, but I was busy and didn't have time to post. So sue me.

April 4th is the day that two very important people in my life died. The first I didn't know personally, but is someone whose life history had a profound impact on my view of how people can work together. His name was Martin Luther King. Dr. King, as everyone who has gone to school knows was an iconic figure of the 1950's and 1960's responsible for moving the cause of civil rights forward. Killed in 1968, he died doing what he did best: working for the common man. He was shot in Memphis while working with local garbage collectors who were on strike for better wages.

King was a memorable figure for me because of his view towards non-violence as a way of protesting and solving conflict. King, Gandhi and the other fellow I'll tell you about in a moment all had a point of view that violence only begets other violence. The idea that you could work through your problems rather than fight about them was a central theme in the philosophies of these men. This has had a profound impact on my world-view.

Dr. King was not only a voice for civil rights, he was also a voice for America in that he wasn't a blind patriot in the mode of Dick Cheney or George Bush. He loved America like one loves their children. Praise them when they do well, rebuke them when they need it. His speech at the Riverside Church (pastored by another of my heroes: Rev. William Sloan Coffin) is as relevant today as it was when he made it in 1967. One excerpt from that speech is timeless. Simply substitute the word Southeast Asia for Viet Nam, add in Latinos and see what I mean:

"Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. And so we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. And so we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor."

Dr. King was as right now as he was then. I see no difference in the futility of purpose of Viet Nam and Iraq.

The other fellow I mentioned above is my Dad. He died on April 4, 2004. He was a cancer victim and passed away at age 79. My Dad was as heroic and impactful to me as King, John Kennedy, Mickey Mantle, etc. etc.

Sam Sherrard, or S.C. as his friends called him was a working man. He was in the grocery business for about 45 years. Anyone who has worked in this field knows of the long hours, back-breaking work and minimal pay that it brings.

Self educated, he was the first of his family to finish high school. After completing his military service in World War II, he came home and decided to go to work rather than college. The mythology I grew up with said he went to work because his family was effectively destitute and he had to support his mother, father and "no-account" brothers. The reality that I learned later in life from him personally was he was "too frightened" to go to college. So, he took what he considered the easy way out and went to work. I find deep irony in this. Here was a man, who at the age of 18 was drafted and sent into the bloodiest war in history, and after surviving that, comes home and is too afraid to try college. He takes the "easy" way out by deciding to work in a field that pays very little and requires a lifetime of hard labor.

However, he read voraciously. He had an immense vocabulary and became a self-taught historian, particularly regarding the Civil War and World War II. The conversations he and I had later in both of our lives was as valuable to me as gold bullion.

What's heroic about my Dad is that he lived his life without a lot of complaint. Oh, he was distrustful of the rich, as most non-rich people are, but I never heard him complain about his life decisions. He sucked it up and made the best of it. He loved his work. He taught my brother and I simple lessons: Integrity is of paramount importance. Always give a dollar's value for a dollar's pay. Be faithful to your friends, your loved ones and your family. Stand up for what you believe.

Pretty simple stuff. Pretty courageous stuff. I miss him a lot.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Same Old Song

Yesterday, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee to report on the state of affairs in Iraq. In eight hours of testimony, questions, political pontification and posturing, the net of the conversation is this: We've made substantial but fragile progress. Some political progress has been made along with the diminution of violence that has occurred in the last year. The General reported that violence had significantly subsided since the surge began and they were seeing positive results since the last report to Congress in September of 2007.

OK, on its face, this is good news. Anytime violence is down is good news. Anytime political progress is made it is good news. What's troubling in the General and Ambassador's testimony is the revelation that the progress is so fragile that we must pause troop withdrawals. According to the testimony, General Petraeus believes that we must maintain the current levels in Iraq or face an increase in violence and a loss of some of the progress that has been achieved. The Armed Services Committee was not pleased with this and many members, republicans and democrats alike voiced their displeasure.

I believe, based on why I've seen and what I've read that both General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are decent, competent and honorable men. There is little denying that progress has indeed been made. The frustration I feel about this isn't directed at them, they are doing their jobs and by all accounts doing them pretty well. The frustration I feel is directed at the president, republican presidential candidate John McCain, Senator Joe Lieberman, and the rest of the pro-occupation/pro-war crowd that this is now normalcy. We've all heard Senator McCain say they it would be OK with him if troops were in Iraq for 100 years. While some people believe this is OK, citing the Japanese, Korean and German models as evidence of US troops in other sovereign nations as being a "good thing", I find it just about bat-shit crazy.

Military alliances are one thing. I believe in them. They make us more secure. I do not believe in permanent military presence in foreign countries. This is fertilizer for resentment, bad behavior and breeds violent actions such as the current situation in the middle east. We've been kicked out of the Philippines and Saudi Arabia, and we saw massive protests in the 1980's at our military bases in Europe and the United Kingdom. The value of having forward military installations has waned since the fall of the Soviet Union. George Kennard's policy of containment worked with the Russians, it will not with Islamic theocracies.

Who knows how long this circle jerk will continue? Meanwhile, there are over 4,000 US soldiers dead and countless Iraqis dead or homeless. It is time to end this tired, old song.

Tell me what you think,