Sound Affects

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Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama

Why Is America So Content With Mediocrity?

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by Alan Cumming

repost from The Huffington Post

I had intended to write this entire piece and then go back and remove the ‘g’ from every word that ended in one.

But then I thought that would make me a churlish, smart-arsed, lefty stereotype and alienate the very people I want to try to hear me. (Although I imagine there ain’t gonna be many of them readin’ the huffpost, huh?! Wait for the audience to realize they should clap and/or boo, nod, smile even more, carry on.) Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Ok, this is basically it: Over the last few weeks I have watched with mounting bemusement as John McCain and Sarah Palin have constantly referred to the American work force as the best in the world, how America is a force for good in the world, how America is the best at (fill in the blank here depending on who you’re talkin’ to, wait for applause, wink, smile, and on).

You know what? I’m sorry to be blunt, and I wish it were not true, but America isn’t any of the above. Its poor downtrodden, unhealthy, under-educated and depressed workforce cannot surely believe it towers above all others in some sort of World Worker Idol type way? If so, why are its bosses firing so many of them and giving the jobs to people in other countries?

And although the notion of America being a force for good is noble and beautiful, the reality of how the world sees America is very different: America is an imperialist power that invades oil and mineral rich countries on little or flimsy evidence, and at the same time turns a blind eye to blatant genocide taking place in other parts of the globe. Perhaps if Ms Palin had a passport before 2007 and had a little less xenophobic viewpoint, she would have experienced, as I have, the terrible sight of American friends of mine being afraid to open their mouths when abroad for fear of reprisal for their nation’s ‘force of good.’ (And I’m not talkin’ about scary, rearin’ their head places like Russia or Iran. I’m talkin’ about in like cool places like London.)

This country is a mess. It is entering a depression. It is waging two wars. It has an administration so blatantly corrupt that the world is baulking at its arrogance. It lets its poor die.

And on top of all this, one of the presidential options available to its voters – although having cynically plagiarized its opponent’s keyword of ‘change’, and positively wearing its flaws and shortcomings as a badge of honor – is actually endorsing the past eight years and playing down the gargantuan problems!

Now I understand that election stump speeches are partly about trying to make people feel better/confident/happy/deluded but I am really shocked that a political party in a country that so trumpets its democracy and freedom is offering its voters such a shoddy product, and WORSE, they are still buying it!! (I thank you, my fellow Americans!)

So why? Is loyalty the value that Republicans vaunt above all others? Above common sense? Are the right of America all colluding in a giant version of the Emperor’s New Clothes?

When I encountered a Republican TV pundit at a party in New York last week I reeled off my litany of reasons about why I feel the appointment of Sarah Palin is a disgrace and a terrible blight on America’s history, and I was met with a thin smile, a nodding head, maybe even a nascent wink and the line: ‘She’s learning.’

She’s learning? (Gosh yes, she’s only been doin’ this for, what, five weeks? Smile, shout out to class 3, ignore question, on.)

I actually have so much sympathy right now for the hundreds of Republicans out there somewhere – well intentioned, well-informed, prepared, lucid for goodness’ sake – who must be utterly furious that they were overlooked for the VP post. Imagine being a doctor and thinking you’re about to be made a partner in the practice and then the receptionist who’s a big fan of Grey’s Anatomy gets it over you and we’re beginning to understand how those poor people must be feeling.

But back to the Republican pundit: I then moved on to say why I thought the policies – the policies, remember those? – of the Obama-Biden ticket were better for America. Again the smile, a little attempt at an argument in that she wasn’t sure that all those great ideas could be achieved, to which I responded that yes, in the light of the economic holocaust caused by the greed and corruption that her vote had validated, perhaps these plans might take a little longer to implement now, but didn’t she agree with the thrust of them? That crazy, trying to help people who weren’t doing so well thing?

She looked at me, a little hurt.

‘You’re not going to say you’re a fiscal conservative, are you?’ I asked.

‘Actually I was going to say I’m an economic Republican,’ she smiled. Checkmate, I could see her thinking. But I wasn’t done.

‘You know what I think a fiscal conservative or an economic Republican means?’ I asked. ‘I think it means you are clever enough to agree with the notions of what Obama stands for, you’d love everyone to have access to healthcare and good education and to be treated equally…’

She was nodding slightly now.

‘But when it comes down to it, when you’re in that polling booth, you actually think ‘Screw them’ and you vote with your pocket. And I think you use that phrase as an excuse to not care!’

She looked a little taken aback. I thought I might have gone a little too far. But no.

‘I love your passion’, she said and turned to her colleague. ‘We should have him on the show.’

You see, I think that when it comes down to it, American politics is split into people who think it’s their duty to care about other people, and those who think it’s every man for themselves. That’s it. That’s why I think the system is systematically flawed and is in dire need of a third party to shake things up a little.

But I digress. I truly think that Americans, some Americans, are comforted by mediocrity. Even those who have been battered the most by the last eight years can be reticent to the idea of change, because they are told to fear it and to leave things as they are, sit down and open a six-pack and forget their troubles. And so, all the more reason to take our hats off to Barack Obama and the Democratic party for making that scary word the touchstone of this election campaign.

I have lived in the United States for ten years. When Obama began his presidential campaign I was so inspired that I decided to start the process to become a naturalized citizen of this country. I am, at present, a resident alien (or green card holder), which basically means I do everything here -including pay taxes – except vote.

I wanted to become a citizen in time to vote on November 4th, but the immigration system of America is a little slower than it was when I first came here and I will not be sworn in properly in time. However, the point is that I want to be a part of America’s future, of its potential, because I am fed up with mediocrity.

Obama has a combination that is rare in a modern politician. He has the rhetoric and the charisma to inspire whole swathes of the hitherto dispossessed to engage in the political system. And he has the real-life experience of prejudice and poverty to both understand and make people trust that he understands their needs and his desire to help them. But he also has the intelligence and the sophistication to deal both in big ideas and incredibly detailed plans. His election campaign has been a model of harnessing a generation’s desperate desire to be heard and making them integral to the future of our society.

I hear him and he makes me excited about the prospect of being an American, an American that looks out for other Americans, in an America that is indeed a force of good in the world.

(Smile. Wink. Thumbs up. Wave.)

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Written by soundaffects

October 14th, 2008 at 9:49 pm

Dirty Secret Of The Bailout: Thirty-Two Words That None Dare Utter

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by Jason Linkins.

reposted from Huffington Post

A critical – and radical – component of the bailout package proposed by the Bush administration has thus far failed to garner the serious attention of anyone in the press. Section 8 (which ironically reminds one of the popular name of the portion of the 1937 Housing Act that paved the way for subsidized affordable housing ) of this legislation is just a single sentence of thirty-two words, but it represents a significant consolidation of power and an abdication of oversight authority that’s so flat-out astounding that it ought to set one’s hair on fire. It reads, in its entirety:

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

In short, the so-called “mother of all bailouts,” which will transfer $700 billion taxpayer dollars to purchase the distressed assets of several failed financial institutions, will be conducted in a manner unchallengeable by courts and ungovernable by the People’s duly sworn representatives. All decision-making power will be consolidated into the Executive Branch – who, we remind you, will have the incentive to act upon this privilege as quickly as possible, before they leave office. The measure will run up the budget deficit by a significant amount, with no guarantee of recouping the outlay, and no fundamental means of holding those who fail to do so accountable.

Is this starting to sound familiar? Robert Kuttner cuts through much of the gloss in an article in today’s American Prospect:

The deal proposed by Paulson is nothing short of outrageous. It includes no oversight of his own closed-door operations. It merely gives congressional blessing and funding to what he has already been doing, ad hoc. He plans to retain Wall Street firms as advisors to decide just how to cut deals to value and mop up Wall Street’s dubious paper. There are to be no limits on executive compensation for the firms that get relief, and no equity share for the government in exchange for this massive infusion of capital. Both Obama and McCain have opposed the provision denying any judicial review of decisions made by Paulson — a provision that evokes the Bush administration’s suspension of normal constitutional safeguards in its conduct of foreign policy and national security. […]
The differences between this proposed bailout and the three closest historical equivalents are immense. When the Reconstruction Finance Corporation of the 1930s pumped a total of $35 billion into U.S. corporations and financial institutions, there was close government supervision and quid pro quos at every step of the way. Much of the time, the RFC became a preferred shareholder, and often appointed board members. The Home Owners Loan Corporation, which eventually refinanced one in five mortgage loans, did not operate to bail out banks but to save homeowners. And the Resolution Trust Corporation of the 1980s, created to mop up the damage of the first speculative mortgage meltdown, the S&L collapse, did not pump in money to rescue bad investments; it sorted out good assets from bad after the fact, and made sure to purge bad executives as well as bad loans. And all three of these historic cases of public recapitalization were done without suspending judicial review.

Kuttner’s opposition here is perhaps the strongest language I’ve seen used, pushing back on this piece of legislation, in any publication of repute, and even here, Section 8 is not cited by name or by content. McClatchy Newspapers also alludes to Section 8 with concern, citing the “unfettered authority” that Paulson would be granted, and noting that the “law also would preclude court review of steps Paulson might take, something Joshua Rosner, managing director of economic researcher Graham Fisher & Co. in New York, said could be used to mask previous illegal activity.” Jack Balkin also gives the matter the sort of attention it deserves on his blog, Balkinization.

But elsewhere, the conversation is muted. The debate over whether Congress is going to pass the Paulson bailout package, or pass the Paulson bailout package really hard seems to have boiled down to a discussion of time and concessions. The White House has made it clear that they want this package passed yesterday. Congressional Democrats seem to be of different minds on the matter, with some pushing back hard, and others content to demand a small dollop of turd polish to make the package seem more aesthetically pleasing, at which point, they’ll likely roll over and pass the bill. Neither candidate, John McCain or Barack Obama, seem all that amenable toward the bailout, but neither have either demonstrated that they are willing to risk their candidacies to do much more than exploit the issue for electoral purposes.

Sunday morning came and went, with Paulson traipsing dutifully from studio to studio, facing nary a question on Section 8. Front page articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal detail the wranglings, but make no mention of this section of the legislation. On TV, cable news networks are stuck in the fog of the ongoing presidential campaign.

Throughout the coverage, one catches a whiff of what seems like substantive pushback on this power grab, but it largely amounts to a facsimile of journalistic diligence. Most note, in general terms, that the bailout represents a set of “broad powers” that will be granted to the Department of the Treasury. Yet the coverage offsets these concerns through the constant hyping of the White House’s overall message of “urgency.”

But one cannot overstate this: Section 8 is a singularly transformative sentence of economic policy. It transfers a significant amount of power to the Executive Branch, while walling off any avenue for oversight, and offering no guarantees in return. And if the Democrats end up content with winning a few slight concessions, they risk not putting a stop-payment on the real “blank check” – the one in which they allow the erosion of their own powers.

Over in the Senate, Christopher Dodd has proposed a bailout legislation of his own, which critically calls for “an oversight board that not only includes the chairman of the Federal Reserve and the SEC, but congressionally appointed, non-governmental officials” and would require the President to appoint an “independent inspector general to investigate the Treasury asset program.” In Dodd’s legislation, Section 8 is effectively stripped from the bill.

Nevertheless, the fact that Section 8 of the Paulson plan seems to strike few as a de facto dealbreaker can and should astound. The failure of Congress to hold the line on this point would be truly embarrassing. But if we make it through this week with nobody in the press specifically informing the public about the implications of this single sentence – in the middle of a complicated bill, in the middle of a complicated time – then right there, you have the single largest media failure of this year.

Written by soundaffects

September 26th, 2008 at 1:44 am

Obama meets with Bartlet. Jed Bartlet.

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resposted from New York Times

by Maureen Dowd

Now that he’s finally fired up on the soup-line economy, Barack Obama knows he can’t fade out again. He was eager to talk privately to a Democratic ex-president who could offer more fatherly wisdom — not to mention a surreptitious smoke — and less fraternal rivalry. I called the “West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin (yes, truly) to get a read-out of the meeting. This is what he wrote:

BARACK OBAMA knocks on the front door of a 300-year-old New Hampshire farmhouse while his Secret Service detail waits in the driveway. The door opens and OBAMA is standing face to face with former President JED BARTLET.

BARTLET Senator.

OBAMA Mr. President.

BARTLET You seem startled.

OBAMA I didn’t expect you to answer the door yourself.

BARTLET I didn’t expect you to be getting beat by John McCain and a Lancôme rep who thinks “The Flintstones” was based on a true story, so let’s call it even.

OBAMA Yes, sir.

BARTLET Come on in.

BARTLET leads OBAMA into his study.

BARTLET That was a hell of a convention.

OBAMA Thank you, I was proud of it.

BARTLET I meant the Republicans. The Us versus Them-a-thon. As a Democrat I was surprised to learn that I don’t like small towns, God, people with jobs or America. I’ve been a little out of touch but is there a mandate that the vice president be skilled at field dressing a moose —

OBAMA Look —

BARTLET — and selling Air Force Two on eBay?

OBAMA Joke all you want, Mr. President, but it worked.

BARTLET Imagine my surprise. What can I do for you, kid?

OBAMA I’m interested in your advice.

BARTLET I can’t give it to you.

OBAMA Why not?

BARTLET I’m supporting McCain.

OBAMA Why?

BARTLET He’s promised to eradicate evil and that was always on my “to do” list.

OBAMA O.K. —

BARTLET And he’s surrounded himself, I think, with the best possible team to get us out of an economic crisis. Why, Sarah Palin just said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had “gotten too big and too expensive to the taxpayers.” Can you spot the error in that statement?

OBAMA Yes, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac aren’t funded by taxpayers.

BARTLET Well, at least they are now. Kind of reminds you of the time Bush said that Social Security wasn’t a government program. He was only off by a little — Social Security is the largest government program.

OBAMA I appreciate your sense of humor, sir, but I really could use your advice.

BARTLET Well, it seems to me your problem is a lot like the problem I had twice.

OBAMA Which was?

BARTLET A huge number of Americans thought I thought I was superior to them.

OBAMA And?

BARTLET I was.

OBAMA I mean, how did you overcome that?

BARTLET I won’t lie to you, being fictional was a big advantage.

OBAMA What do you mean?

BARTLET I’m a fictional president. You’re dreaming right now, Senator.

OBAMA I’m asleep?

BARTLET Yes, and you’re losing a ton of white women.

OBAMA Yes, sir.

BARTLET I mean tons.

OBAMA I understand.

BARTLET I didn’t even think there were that many white women.

OBAMA I see the numbers, sir. What do they want from me?

BARTLET I’ve been married to a white woman for 40 years and I still don’t know what she wants from me.

OBAMA How did you do it?

BARTLET Well, I say I’m sorry a lot.

OBAMA I don’t mean your marriage, sir. I mean how did you get America on your side?

BARTLET There again, I didn’t have to be president of America, I just had to be president of the people who watched “The West Wing.”

OBAMA That would make it easier.

BARTLET You’d do very well on NBC. Thursday nights in the old “ER” time slot with “30 Rock” as your lead-in, you’d get seven, seven-five in the demo with a 20, 22 share — you’d be selling $450,000 minutes.

OBAMA What the hell does that mean?

BARTLET TV talk. I thought you’d be interested.

OBAMA I’m not. They pivoted off the argument that I was inexperienced to the criticism that I’m — wait for it — the Messiah, who, by the way, was a community organizer. When I speak I try to lead with inspiration and aptitude. How is that a liability?

BARTLET Because the idea of American exceptionalism doesn’t extend to Americans being exceptional. If you excelled academically and are able to casually use 690 SAT words then you might as well have the press shoot video of you giving the finger to the Statue of Liberty while the Dixie Chicks sing the University of the Taliban fight song. The people who want English to be the official language of the United States are uncomfortable with their leaders being fluent in it.

OBAMA You’re saying race doesn’t have anything to do with it?

BARTLET I wouldn’t go that far. Brains made me look arrogant but they make you look uppity. Plus, if you had a black daughter —

OBAMA I have two.

BARTLET — who was 17 and pregnant and unmarried and the father was a teenager hoping to launch a rap career with “Thug Life” inked across his chest, you’d come in fifth behind Bob Barr, Ralph Nader and a ficus.

OBAMA You’re not cheering me up.

BARTLET Is that what you came here for?

OBAMA No, but it wouldn’t kill you.

BARTLET Have you tried doing a two-hour special or a really good Christmas show?

OBAMA Sir —

BARTLET Hang on. Home run. Right here. Is there any chance you could get Michelle pregnant before the fall sweeps?

OBAMA The problem is we can’t appear angry. Bush called us the angry left. Did you see anyone in Denver who was angry?

BARTLET Well … let me think. …We went to war against the wrong country, Osama bin Laden just celebrated his seventh anniversary of not being caught either dead or alive, my family’s less safe than it was eight years ago, we’ve lost trillions of dollars, millions of jobs, thousands of lives and we lost an entire city due to bad weather. So, you know … I’m a little angry.

OBAMA What would you do?

BARTLET GET ANGRIER! Call them liars, because that’s what they are. Sarah Palin didn’t say “thanks but no thanks” to the Bridge to Nowhere. She just said “Thanks.” You were raised by a single mother on food stamps — where does a guy with eight houses who was legacied into Annapolis get off calling you an elitist? And by the way, if you do nothing else, take that word back. Elite is a good word, it means well above average. I’d ask them what their problem is with excellence. While you’re at it, I want the word “patriot” back. McCain can say that the transcendent issue of our time is the spread of Islamic fanaticism or he can choose a running mate who doesn’t know the Bush doctrine from the Monroe Doctrine, but he can’t do both at the same time and call it patriotic. They have to lie — the truth isn’t their friend right now. Get angry. Mock them mercilessly; they’ve earned it. McCain decried agents of intolerance, then chose a running mate who had to ask if she was allowed to ban books from a public library. It’s not bad enough she thinks the planet Earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago complete with a man, a woman and a talking snake, she wants schools to teach the rest of our kids to deny geology, anthropology, archaeology and common sense too? It’s not bad enough she’s forcing her own daughter into a loveless marriage to a teenage hood, she wants the rest of us to guide our daughters in that direction too? It’s not enough that a woman shouldn’t have the right to choose, it should be the law of the land that she has to carry and deliver her rapist’s baby too? I don’t know whether or not Governor Palin has the tenacity of a pit bull, but I know for sure she’s got the qualifications of one. And you’re worried about seeming angry? You could eat their lunch, make them cry and tell their mamas about it and God himself would call it restrained. There are times when you are simply required to be impolite. There are times when condescension is called for!

OBAMA Good to get that off your chest?

BARTLET Am I keeping you from something?

OBAMA Well, it’s not as if I didn’t know all of that and it took you like 20 minutes to say.

BARTLET I know, I have a problem, but admitting it is the first step.

OBAMA What’s the second step?

BARTLET I don’t care.

OBAMA So what about hope? Chuck it for outrage and put-downs?

BARTLET No. You’re elite, you can do both. Four weeks ago you had the best week of your campaign, followed — granted, inexplicably — by the worst week of your campaign. And you’re still in a statistical dead heat. You’re a 47-year-old black man with a foreign-sounding name who went to Harvard and thinks devotion to your country and lapel pins aren’t the same thing and you’re in a statistical tie with a war hero and a Cinemax heroine. To these aged eyes, Senator, that’s what progress looks like. You guys got four debates. Get out of my house and go back to work.

OBAMA Wait, what is it you always used to say? When you hit a bump on the show and your people were down and frustrated? You’d give them a pep talk and then you’d always end it with something. What was it …?

BARTLET “Break’s over.”

Written by soundaffects

September 24th, 2008 at 10:41 pm

Menage politique a trois a la Sarah

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reposted from Sydney Morning Herald

A great woman who worked with Ronald Reagan was on the phone shortly after Republican Senator John McCain turned the American political world on its head with his selection of Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his choice to be the next vice-president of the United States.

“Reagan loved McCain,” she said. “And John was a protege of Reagan. And John watched when Reagan was prevented by his staff, in his first run for the presidency in 1976, from going with his gut on his VP choice.

“Reagan wanted his old pal Paul Laxalt, a senator from Nevada. They were great together. But the staff said, ‘No, you have to go with another guy to bring the party together.’ Reagan resisted and then gave in, and he never forgot that and McCain didn’t either. And with Sarah Palin, he went with his gut and did it his way. And she’s going to be sensational. She’s going to connect with women in the west and in small towns who know real leadership when they see it.”

That’s what McCain did and this dynamo from Northern Exposure went incandescent on the floor of the Republican convention. The lions gorged on the red meat and felt they had a winner, a new American heroine, a change agent, a fighter, a smart and sassy no-nonsense cultural values cookie who would help throw the Democrats out of Washington and take no prisoners.

McCain threw the long ball and Palin scored.

But does this political ménage Palin joined with McCain to muscle Barack Obama – change the game?

Palin’s speech has made many of Obama’s strongest supporters, particularly African Americans, very nervous. Here they are on the cusp of the most profound change in American political history the election of a black man as president and they see this fireball from the land of shrinking ice floes and moose threatening to steal the very swing voters Obama needs to seal the deal and win in November.

An Obama ally assessed what Palin means.

“This is a turnout election and the right will now turn out. I still think this is Obama’s race to lose, but he could lose it unless our folks turn up the energy…Obama needs to help identify her over the weekend as a book burning fundamentalist with a secessionist husband, a wacky minister of her own and an appetite for pork barrelling. They need to marginalise her as a nice, but extreme, fringe, inexperienced and slightly less than honest politician. Right now she is America’s sweetheart … They have to demonstrate she is a radical conservative mannequin with a stylist.”

What Palin has done is energise the base of the Republican party which was lethargic until she went carpet bombing against the Democrats on national TV. Until then, the party was sleepwalking with McCain towards mediocrity as was so evident in McCain’s speech on Friday, which was pedestrian on policy, but riveting with his poignant, haunting story of captivity, torture, despair and resurrection. On taxes, energy, trade and national security, McCain offered nothing significantly different from the past two decades of Republican campaigns for power.

But at the end of the day, the choice is still between Obama and McCain, and not their VP choices.

In retelling the odyssey of his captivity, McCain said that, when he finally prevailed, “I wasn’t my own man any more. I was my country’s.”

Service, values, experience, trust: McCain tells us more about himself and what made him a hero. That’s what burns for McCain.

For Obama, the calling is more about people and where they are and where they want to go.

Service and honour. Change and transformation. An extraordinary election.

Four years ago, a new face exploded on the national scene with a riveting, dynamic speech to a national political convention. It was an instant sensation on the net. Many in the hall in Boston and watching on television that night thought, in the back of their minds, “President?” But no way it could be seriously considered then; the man needed time to emerge and prove himself. Last week, Sarah Palin delivered a powerful speech. A new face. And everyone knows she is standing, today, for vice-president. And the question mark still lingers in the air.