Friday, January 16, 2009

Miracle On The Hudson


Image: NY Times
Oh the humanity! What stinking cheese on this morning's news shows. Miracle on the Hudson? Are you kidding me? How about: "Big Bird KO-ed By Mother Goose!" It doesn't quite educe the "tugging at your heartstrings" cozy feeling the media was spoon-feeding us this early eh-em, does it? And god knows we need something at least semi-warm.

Oh and, if you haven't somehow noticed that the temperature in Alaska is the same as in the panhandle of Florida, The Media will be sure to point out several times an hour, all day to-day and next week: IT'S GODDAMN COLD OUTSIDE. That's it; that's the news. We don't need to re-visit that tidbit until spring, basically when little birdies start waking me up at 0500 with their incessant, perky chirping (the bastards). People, it's winter. It's usually cold in winter. People huddle and shiver and lose body heat from uncovered extremes. Innocent Canadian geese fly seamlessly into jet engines (looking for warmth, perhaps?). Excrement happens. And then it freezes.

This is the issue I have with the 24-hour news cycle. Beating a dead horse into mini-patties to be served repeatedly and with impunity with a side of cheesy fries. And to buttress up the ad nauseam information, we get cutesy stories on re-decorating the private quarters of the White House, using shite from Target, Pier One, and Restoration Hardware. I actually watched in disbelief as some queer-eye-for-the-straight-guy pundit type expounded on the hip and cool virtues of buying crappy plywood furniture from Walmart for the Obamas' living quarters. Yea. I want my three minutes and twenty-eight seconds back.

Meanwhile, the war rages in Gaza with Israel "mistakenly" dropping bombs on a U.N. site; Zimbabwe's government (i.e. Mugabe) is kidnapping vocal opponents and torturing them; the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute enters its tenth day (you think YOU'RE cold? Try living in East Europe without heat right about now); Somalia is literally exploding from clashes between Islamic insurgents and Ethiopian troops; Latvia is unraveling from riots over its weak economy...yea, you get it.

And so I propose we draft a (perhaps) rudimentary, albeit frustrated open letter to The Media Powers That Be. Please feel free to add or subtract from it as you see fit. It could go something like this:

Dear Mr. American News Media Mogul or Corporation:

Please steal a page from the BBC/CBC playbooks and report on more diverse issues, particularly outside our borders. Even if most of your captive audience is not initially interested, you can actually use your outlet to educate it. For example, it would be helpful to include regional maps when covering events around the world. We Americans are not so strong in geography, you see. Due to that deficiency, sales of portable GPS tracking devices have quadrupled in the last year, but I digress. I sincerely hope you give the matter some grave thought.

Thanks much for your brief consideration. I await your response with held breath,
Joe Twelvepack

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dissent and Unity in Gaza


There are ripples of Palestinian allegiance beginning to arrive throughout the OpEd and mainstream journalistic world, like the passive, receiving shoreline absorbing a Doppler effect. A quick scan of the carnage stats yesterday yielded 940 Palestinian dead (mostly civilians) and 13 Israeli casualties. Last week, Red Cross workers were denied access to scores of dead and wounded Gazans, and a civilian crowd near a United Nations school was hit, with at least 40 people killed.

To Israel’s critics abroad, the picture cannot be more lucid: Israel’s war in Gaza is an obtusely disproportionate response to the rockets of Hamas, causing horrendous human suffering. The bombing of an already isolated and impoverished population into the Age of Hunting and Gathering must be stopped. This surprisingly united anti-Israeli front among increasing numbers of writers and journalists has in turn rallied together Israelis who have circled the wagons and closed shop.

Voices of dissent in Israel have been rare. And while tens of thousands have spilled into the streets of world capitals demonstrating against the Israeli military operation, antiwar rallies in Israel have struggled to draw participants. The Peace Now organization has received many messages from supporters telling it to stay out of the streets on this one.

In an article yesterday, The New York Times writes that Israel, which is sometimes a fractured, bickering society, has turned in the past two weeks into a paradigm of unity and mutual support. Flags are flying high. Celebrities are visiting schoolchildren in at-risk areas. Soldiers are praising the equipment and camaraderie of their army units, and neighbors are worried about families whose members are on reserve duty. Ask people anywhere how they feel about the army’s barring journalists from entering Gaza and the response is: let the army do its job.

As the editorial page of The Jerusalem Post put it on Monday, the world must be wondering, do Israelis really believe that everybody is wrong and they alone are right? The answer is yes.

Sounds like the familiar, pompous mantra of a certain western superpower during the years 2000-2008, doesn't it. It's quite amazing the bravado one displays if one has the weapons to bump his enemies into the Stone Age.

But the situation is complicated. It always has been. Hamas leaders encourage its fighters to hide among civilians. Their rockets are launched from within the decimated Palestinian community, giving Israel no choice but to counter-attack particular dwellings. And for all the support the Arab world seems to extend to its embattled brothers, it falls short on action. Egyptian president Mubarak has refused to open up his borders and take in Palestinian refugees.

Talking to an Arab friend, I was taken aback by the candor and language with which he explained: "Just as the Irish consider themselves the n*$%ers of the British Isles, so are the Palestinians thought of by their Muslim brothers throughout the world."

Eye-opening, to say the least.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hold Your Horses

I never set myself up in November to be gravely affected by the little ripples of disappointment I knew would slowly be trickling in from the incoming Obama administration, although I will admit to being swept up by the Change Movement, and believed in it wholeheartedly. I still do, but hold much less of an emotional ethos and much more of an utilitarian if not pseudo-cynical position on it.

Obama is ultimately a politician and he will do all that is necessary to survive and thrive inside the Beltway (not at the least neglecting his legacy), coupled with incremental alterations to national policy that will historically satisfy the mantra of his campaign: Change.

One significant example of backpedaling from the Obama administration is the signalled reluctance to look into Bush policies. In an interview broadcast Sunday on ABC's “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” Obama said he was unlikely to authorize a broad inquiry into Bush administration programs like domestic eavesdropping or the treatment of terrorism suspects. However, he was quick to add that prosecutions would move forward if the Justice Department found evidence that laws had been broken.

For those of us with longer short-term memories, Candidate Obama broadly condemned some counter-terrorism tactics of the Bush administration and its claim that the measures were justified under executive powers.

The Bush administration has authorized interrogation tactics like waterboarding that critics say tap danced outside federal laws and international treaties, and domestic wiretapping without warrants. But the details of those programs have never been made public, and White House officials have steadfastly held that their actions were legal under a president’s wartime powers.

There was no immediate reaction on Obama's decision from Capitol Hill. In resisting pressure for a wider inquiry, he risks the anger of influential Democratic lawmakers on Congressional judiciary and intelligence committees, and core constituencies who hoped his election would cast a spotlight on President Bush’s antiterror efforts.

On other terrorism issues, Obama suggested that his approach will continue to be more measured. He said the closing of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which once seemed to be an early top objective, was not likely to happen during the first 100 days of his administration.

These are the little ripples of disappointment washing ashore. However, I refuse to be altogether turned into the political curmudgeon that I had become on the heels of the stolen election in 2000. I believe in change, and I believe in government's ability to help us--despite the significant atrocities of the last eight years.

In the 1980s Reagan was successful in brainwashing us into thinking we can be left to our own devices and fend for ourselves. "Government is not the solution to our problem," he said. "Government IS the problem." It was the Sink or Swim attitude of Republicans toward the populace that falsely empowered Americans with the empty label of Rugged Individualism. I do not believe in that. I believe that government has the fact the DUTY to help us solve problems. I believe Change is coming, it's just arriving in little spurts instead of the fantastical Revolution we've been promised. Which is fine; America is still a God-fearing, conservative if not Puritan nation. For all the talk about being flexible and self-sufficient in any and every situation, we must be gently exposed and introduced to change---much like acclimating to a hot bath. Kid gloves are always necessary. Those and a leak-proof body suit.