Saturday, June 13, 2009

 

Tehran Uprising, No US Televising

Perhaps not surprising, but it's become clear that Iran's mullahs have stolen the election in declaring Ahmadinejad the landslide winner.

Andrew Sullivan is running some great posts on developments as the state cracks down on protestors. Juan Cole breaks down vote counts from various regions that just underscore the level of fraud.

Iran's own election monitors call the result invalid.

"Losing" candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi has reportedly been arrested.

Remarkably, none of the American cable stations are giving this story much coverage. Even CNN International just gave it a couple of "headline" piece treatment on the half-hour. Amazing -- and pathetic.

Apparently, in the 21st century, the revolution will be tweeted and blogged -- not televised.


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Open Thread

Wild week. Sorta democracy in Lebanon and Iran and sordid pseu-democracy in Albany, New York. Feel free to discuss these and any other matters.

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Social Media Update

For Thots readers interested in tracking me down in the social media world, you can find me on Facebook where my status updates become mini-bloggish discussions -- www.facebook.com/robert.george.

I'm also on Twitter at twitter.com/RobGeorge offering silly observations and the usual occasional bad pun. In other words, yeah, kinda like the blog too.

So it goes!


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Friday, June 12, 2009

 

Stability If Not Sobriety

In this increasingly complex world, where uncertainty rages, how refreshing that some things never change.

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Not A Top 10 Moment, Dave

Two truths: 1) Politicians will always be appropriate targets of comedians.  2) Politicians will always try to end up portraying themselves as victims of the media. This past week, a good, professional comedian made inappropriate jokes about a politician's family. The politician was right to call him on it. 

The comedian should take a second shot at an apology. 

Over the last week, David Letterman and Sarah Palin have exchanged words over Palin's visit to New York last weekend -- and Letterman's Monday and Tuesday night monologues and "Top Ten" list responding to said visit.  Palin had been completing a New York trip that included an upstate visit to the National Women's Museum in Seneca Falls, proceeded to a fundraising parade for autism in Westchester County and concluded with a trip to Yankee Stadium, where she was a guest of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.  Key fact: Palin's middle daughter, Willow, the 14-year old accompanied her on the trip. Palin's more famous older daughter, Bristol (of the Levi and Bristol soap-opera) was nowhere around. 

On Monday, during his "Late Show" monologue, Letterman referred twice to certain New York figures "having their way" with Palin's "daughter." 

The first joke was relatively mild: "She went to Yankee Stadium with Rudy Giuliani..."the toughest part of her visit was keeping Eliot Spitzer away from her daughter."  Clearly, the target of the joke is Spitzer, New York's disgraced former governor.  The next night, Letterman followed that up with a similarly-themed even rougher comment: "One awkward moment the Yankee game for Sarah Palin; during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez." 

Now here, obviously, part of the joke alludes to Rodriguez' love life, including his recent divorce from his wife -- initiated partly by reports of his philandering with women such as Madonna. But the "knocked up" also refers to the Bristol saga from last year.  

Now, added to this is one line in Monday's "Top Ten" segment. No. 2 on the "Highlights of Sarah Palin's trip to New York City":  "Bought make-up at Bloomingdale's to update her slutty flight attendant look."  

Obviously, comedy is about taking elements of reality and stretching them to absurdity. But the real elements matter. To people just watching the show or reading these jokes on the page, the immediate allusion is probably going to be to Bristol Palin who has been so much in the news over the last few months. Bristol has also become a celebrity in her own right -- with appearances on People magazine and becoming a spokeswoman against teen pregnancy.  But the fact remains that Palin brought her 14-year old daughter with her to New York -- Willow, not Bristol.  Responding to statements of outrage from both Sarah and Todd Palin, Letterman had an extensive bit on Wednesday, where he offered a sort-of apology, admitting that a few jokes were in "poor taste."  But, he says:

"These were not jokes made about her 14-year old daughter;. I would never never make jokes about raping or having sex of any description with a 14-year old child. Look at my record; it's never happened...Here's where you draw the line: So, maybe these are questionable because the girl, who actually was, excuse me, knocked up, is now 18 years old. So the difference there is 14 years old and of legal age...I can't really defend the joke, OK. I agree, ugly and unpleasant, but I would never never think it was funny to use a 14 year old girl as a joke like this, for God's sake:" 

Letterman's defense is fair, but it's not that clear that he knows how many daughters the Palins have. It's also not clear that he knows that who -- or if either -- was at the Yankee game. In fact, Willow was there. While politicians often take faux offense at shots from the media, the Palins have a case here. It's understandable that they could think he was making a joke about the daughter who did make the trip to New York -- or that she might think Letterman was talking about her. 

Finally, out of context, Letterman's "slutty flight attendant" look was, at the very least, tacky. But, added to everything else it does make Letterman -- or his writers -- look like they have some issues when it comes to women in general. 

Friday morning, Palin kept the pressure up, appearing on "The Today Show" to call Letterman's response a "convenient excuse." She also underscored the point, again, that it was Willow who was at the game, as opposed to "any other daughter." 

David Letterman can't win this fight. Nor should he. These were a series of jokes that went awry. His Wednesday statements actually made him look factually ignorant -- not knowing that Palin's actual 14 year old daughter was at the game. 

He would be wise to offer a full, legitimate apology -- not as part of comedic shtick -- and just move on. 

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

 

Extremist Nation

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is perhaps owed a partial apology: 

In April, she was the target of much criticism coming from conservatives because of the release of a DHS report on possible violent behavior from "right-wing extremist" groups.  Mainstream conservatives thought that the report was designed to intimidate into silence legitimate groups concerned about illegal immigration and abortion.  Napolitano fought back:

In her statement Wednesday, Ms. Napolitano defended the report, which says "right-wing extremism" may include groups opposed to abortion and immigration, as merely one among several threat assessments. But she agreed to meet with the head of the American Legion, who had expressed anger over the report, when she returns to Washington next week from a tour of the U.S.-Mexico border.

"The document on right-wing extremism sent last week by this department's Office of Intelligence and Analysis is one in an ongoing series of assessments to provide situational awareness to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies on the phenomenon and trends of violent radicalization in the United States," Ms. Napolitano said in her statement.

 The only area where she did back down was in apologizing to veterans for unintentional offense.  

However, after a two-week period that has seen an abortion doctor shot to death in church and a white supremacist attack the DC Holocaust Museum, killing a black security guard in the process, the DHS report seems to have a prescient sense about it.  Indeed, Scott Roeder, accused killer of abortion doctor George Tiller, warned that more such incidents are possible.

Now, the complementary left-wing extremism study -- released two months before focuses on, “left-wing groups within the animal rights, environmental, and anarchist extremist movements that promote or have conducted criminal or terrorist activities.”

However, Napolitano said about the same time, that she wanted to minimize phrases like, "Islamist terrorism," because it reflects the "politics of fear."  Why then is there no DHS report that could be said to anticipate recent incidents involving homegrown Islamist extremism?  In New York, four American Muslims were arrested in connection to their plot to blow up Bronx synagogues and shoot a plane out of the sky

Yes, thanks to an informer, the plan never got anywhere. But the plotters -- all ex-cons -- apparently became radicalized while serving time behind bars. 

Meanwhile, another American Muslim convert, Abdulhakim Muhammad, attacked a recruitment center in Arkansas, killing Pvt. William Andrew Long and wounding Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula. His stated reason:

"Yes, I did tell the police upon my arrest that this was an act of retaliation, and not a reaction on the soldiers personally," Muhammad said. He called it "a act, for the sake of God, for the sake of Allah, the Lord of all the world, and also a retaliation on U.S. military."

 In short, this was a political attack against the U.S. military -- that, while religiously motivated, was, arguably as "political" as was Scot Roeder's attack on the abortion doctor. The difference? Broadly speaking, Muhammad's motive was closer to a left-leaning view about the wrongness of U.S. military actions -- just as Roeder was, broadly speaking, acting from a right-leaning view on the wrongness of abortion.  

But, again, where is the DHS report on others like Muhammad or the Bronx plotters.

Again, Napolitano is owed a partial apology. The right-wing extremism report had a certain amount of truth to it -- which conservatives should admit. But, clearly, the left-wing extremism report could be expanded to include religious fanatics acting from a direction that doesn't fit a conservative stereotype. And maybe Napolitano needs to revisit that "Islamist terrorism" phrase and start doing some more research in that direction. 

Sadly, extremism in America comes in all shapes, colors and ideologies.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

 

Albany Explained

New York Daily News cartoonist Bramhall sums up everything anyone needs to know about New York state government:



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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

 

Empire State of Chaos

llinois, you had all your "fun" last fall. It was bad at the time, but then, like a rotten tooth, your corrupt governor was impeached, removed from office and subsequently indicted. The worst you have to worry about now is watching the state's former first lady appear on a cheesy summer reality show.

Speaking of which, there are probably quite a residents of what is nick-named "the Empire State" wishing they could be on a reality series called, "I'm A New Yorker, Get Me Out of Here!!!"

After having lost one governor to sex scandal, having him succeeded by another who has become a national joke on "Saturday Night Live" as he incompetently runs the state -- hiking both taxes and spending -- New Yorkers today had to deal with a parliamentary overthrow which flipped the state Senate, nominally, back into the hands of the Republican Party. While this was a big surprise; it wasn't a total shock. It didn't occur in a vacuum.

The Democrats had taken control of the Senate after the 2008 elections -- by a slender 32-30 margin -- for the first time in 40 years. But even that had not occurred without controversy. Four Democrats -- Pedro Espada and Ruben Diaz of the Bronx, Hiram Monserrate of Queens and Carl Kruger of Brooklyn -- all withheld immediate support from the man who was to majority leader, Malcolm Smith of Queens.

The group -- nicknamed the "Gang of Four" -- tried holding out for various committee chairmanships and other leadership positions. Diaz, a fiercely socially conservative Democrat, insisted that he wouldn't support Smith unless he got a commitment that the chamber wouldn't bring up same-sex marriage. Eventually, Monserrate dropped out of the dissident group and pledged allegiance to Smith. The remaining three -- when they couldn't cut a deal with the Republicans and facing increasing pressure from their fellow Democrats -- eventually relented and also voted for Smith. That was back in December.

Keep these characters in mind.

Since that time, Gov. David Paterson has been suffering historically low poll numbers and has had to face rampant speculation that Attorney General Andrew Cuomo will be the Democratic nominee in his place in 2010. His herky-jerky leadership of the budget process (that included ridiculously high spending hikes, even in the middle of a recession) helped him not at all. (Prior to that his chaotic selection of Kirsten Gillibrand to replace Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate (and parallel trashing of Caroline Kennedy) process endeared him to neither the public or the press.

Last week, New York Post columnist Fred Dicker reported that a virtual "civil war" was brewing within the Democratic Party over next year's governor's race:

The battle lines are pitting Paterson, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, a Paterson appointee, and several party functionaries against Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic leaders of the Legislature, and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who had a serious and unexpected public clash with the governor on Friday.
Cuomo, the highly popular son of former governor Mario Cuomo, is gearing up to run for governor next year and is seen by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and other senior legislative Democrats as their party's strongest standard-bearer.

As if to confirm that volatility, the senior member of the New York delegation -- Rep. Charlie Rangel -- declared last Friday that a Cuomo challenge to the sitting black governor would split the party on racial lines. The statement was seen as a clear shot across the bow of Cuomo -- who lost an embarrassing gubernatorial primary fight several years ago to then-Comptroller Carl McCall, another African-American.

It seems that wasn't the "civil war" that people should have been looking at -- at least not right now.

Instead, two members of the previously mentioned "Gang of Four" -- Espada and Monserrate -- apparently worked behind the scenes over the last several weeks and restarted their conspiracy with the GOP minority. Both men will remain Democrats but include themselves in a "bipartisan majority" that ousts former Majority Leader Smith. The top Republican in the state Senate, Dean Skelos, will take that title, while Espada is now Senate President Pro Tem (in recent times in New York, both positions have been held by one individual).

Perhaps most appalling is that this situation could, conceivably, abruptly change because of the legal and ethical woes of both Monserrate and Espada.. Monserrate was arrested for slashing his girlfriend's face in a pre-New Year's domestic altercation. The girlfriend declared that it was a mistake and that Monserrate "tripped" with a glass in his hand. There is, reportedly, a hallway camera that tells a rather different story. The trial is pending. Espada has also been fined thousands of dollars over campaign irregularities going back years.

As a result, look for the Republicans to work on getting both the aforementioned Kruger and Diaz (and perhaps one or two others) to also caucus with them -- to give a measure of insurance in case either Monserrate, Espada or both possibly lose their seats to legal issues. If that is the case, New York can forget about getting same-sex marriage this session. At the very least, Diaz wouldn't switch without a guarantee that the legislation won't be brought up by the Republican pseudo-majority.

What will be the result of this insanity? Who knows? In 1994, a savvy politician had to deal with the loss of the legislative majority in both chambers. President Bill Clinton eventually used that to his advantage and managed to turn split government into a successful bid for re-election. Gov. Paterson has yet to demonstrate that he has that level of skills to try to triangulate between an Assembly still strongly in Democratic hands and a Senate controlled by Republicans. The governor has been strongly pushing what he calls the "marriage-equality" bill as a major priority that he thought could help repair his image with part of the Democratic Party base. Again, that is likely to become the most notable victim of the shake-up.

Alas, for New Yorkers, they can be forgiven that they are trapped in a nightmarish "reality" series from which they can neither escape nor awaken.

UPDATE: Some more background on the Albany overthrow -- with some historical perspective. And a clinical "anataomy of a coup."

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