Category Archives: Politics

State of the union

This was a quick, throw away shot I snapped of my reflection in my office window. The double paned glass messed it up and it just wasn’t very good anyway, so I was about to throw it out.

But then I looked at it saw something very sad. I’m wearing a hoodie and quasi Malcolm X-style glasses. I thought, “Gee, I look every bit as threatening as Trayvon Martin. A piece of garbage like George Zimmerman could shoot me at will and no one would do anything about it.” Sad enough, until I realized it would never happen to me. I’m white.

We still have such a long way to go.

Stopping SOPA and PIPA

Today was a turning point in American politics. Watching Senators and Congressmen backing away from these failed bills as hastily as they originally tried to push these bills through was quite satisfying. It would be naive to believe we’re out of the woods. These horrible bills will return in some form again and again, like Police Academy sequels.

We’re in the midst of an era where the deck is stacked in favor of large, lobbyist-hiring corporations and the 1%. This small victory needed support from Google. Let’s not overrate people power. We might be able to roll back $5 bank fees and rally to preserve a single DVD queue in Netflix, but the 99% lack the political clout to get meaningful financial regulation and a fair tax policy through this same Congress.

Celebrate today’s victory, but gird yourself for bigger battles.

11-11-11

Like so many national holidays in America. Veterans Day has become just another day to sell more cars and appliances. This year the holiday got a little more attention because of its palindromic date, but most of us still went to work as US corporations have by and large made the determination that this holiday can be skipped. In its place we get the most American of all holidays, Black Friday off.

It’s not just about paying lip service to honoring our military veterans one day a year. This solemn day is a time to look inward. Are we as a nation keeping our end of the bargain with our servicemen and women? We aren’t. In the midst of two wars we learned of the deplorable conditions at Walter Reed not so long ago. Follow up care for PTSD is sorely lacking. The list goes on, and is in evidence every time we hear of another current or former serviceman or woman’s suicide.

A parade, a laying of a wreath, and hanging the flag by the front door are all nice gestures, but they are absolutely meaningless if we don’t back them up with appropriate action.

And while we consider how we honor our veterans, perhaps we should consider if what we are asking them to do is worthy of the sacrifices we ask. In my lifetime thousands have died taking some remote piece of turf in Vietnam. Was that really worth the price we asked them to pay? What about those who have been killed or injured in Iraq so long after we declared the mission accomplished?

We honor our veterans by giving them worthy missions that truly protect our nation, not some political agenda. We honor our veterans by taking care of them with dignity when they are injured in the line of duty. And we honor our veterans by taking care of those they left behind.

Don’t ever tell me I don’t support our troops because I don’t support your political agenda. I support our troops when I demand of our leaders only to put them in harm’s way when absolutely necessary.

Image originally uploaded to Flickr by Frank Capria as #20 in Random 365.

 

Random 365 #7 and the politics of deregulation

Electric Fence

Originally uploaded by fcapria

With a rare October nor’easter bearing down on us, and threatening widespread power outages, I thought this image appropriate for tonight’s Random 365. The lights have been flickering and parts of town are already without power.

While utilities blame freakish weather patterns for the deterioration of service the past few years, it’s not likely. The culprit is deregulation. Utilities are cutting back on maintenance to improve short term margins and regulators no longer have the necessary tools to force more responsible behavior. Perhaps it’s time the regulatory pendulum swings the other way. We deregulated airlines, and flying is just a miserable experience. We deregulated banks, and we have the mother of all recessions to show for it. Does anyone really think deregulating core infrastructure is a good idea? What pennies we might eventually save each month comes at the cost of Soviet-level quality of service.

The case for media literacy education

Having exited the center ring of the 24/7 cable news circus, we should take stock of the lessons learned from the Shirley Sherrod firing. She was the USDA official fired after a conservative blogger with already questionable credibility posted a crudely edited video clip of Sherrod, an African American explaining how she once chose not to help a white farmer as much as she could have. Rather than rehash the history, those not versed in the details of this debacle can check out the very thorough Media Matters timeline of the whole sordid affair.

This affair must be a wake up call to America. As a society we need to become media literate. Examining the Media Matters timeline it’s absolutely shocking it took so long for the truth to come out. Consider these points.

  • A cabinet member of a Democratic administration took action based on a conservative blogger known for his often distant relationship with facts. Andrew Bierbart is the poster child for the sad state of political discourse in the blogosphere. Just about six weeks ago Rebecca Mead profiled Beirbart in the New Yorker. Surely someone inside the beltway actually reads those New Yorker magazines prominently placed next to the brie and chardonnay on the coffee table. It’s shocking no one in the administration said to Secretary Vilsack, “Maybe we should look into this deeper. Do you really want to end someone’s career on Bierbart’s word?”
  • No one expects the Fox News opinion programs to properly vet an attack on a member of the Obama administration, so why did the administration react to these particular tantrums from O’Reilly and Hannity? Even the conservative Economist criticizes the network’s approach to discourse. But the blame here cannot be on Fox News. Neither Hannity nor O’Reilly call themselves journalists. They host entertainment programs, and the audience (and our leaders) should understand the difference between entertainment and journalism.
  • Why didn’t anyone question the editing of the video? It doesn’t take an experienced news editor to recognize that there was something more to Sherrod’s anecdote that was edited out. Why didn’t any mainstream media outlet call this out and demand to see the whole speech?

The mistakes pile up, and I could go on listing them, but I’ve made my point. The clear problem is that the mainstream news media failed to do journalistic due diligence before reporting this story, and the Obama administration showed poor judgment by taking the word of non-journalists as vetted fact.

If democracy is to survive the 21st century media onslaught, we need to do a better job of fostering media literacy. We simply cannot have people forming opinions, making judgments, and voting based solely on the prime time rantings of Fox News and MSNBC pundits, or the missives of Matt Drudge and Arianna Huffington. It’s not hard to teach kids how to interpret media messages — to teach them to ask questions these basic questions: Why are they telling me this? What to they want me to think? How do they want me to react? What’s in it for them? Is that audio or video clip complete? How can audio, video, and statistics be manipulated?

Glenn Beck and Rachel Maddow sit in sets that look like traditional news sets, but they are not journalists. I hope the issue is simply that we as a people are ignorant, and not that we’ve chosen to enter echo chambers that tell us only what we want to hear. Because if the latter is the case, it’s 1984.

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