11/08/08: A beautiful sight

Category: Politics
Posted by: Therem
Obama Wins

tags: %l

11/08/06: Euphoria

Category: Politics
Posted by: Therem
Wow. What an amazing 24 hours it's been.

Yesterday I came home from work and sat down in front of my computer to monitor the election. Burlington blogger extraordinaire Bill Simmon recently set up a citizen forum called Exit Voices that I spent some time at. From there, I clicked over to our local community access news channel's streaming video feed of election coverage. Not only did I see Bill himself acting all reporterlike, I saw my own comment on Exit Voices scroll past onscreen. Ha!

Meanwhile, I was also cycling between three excellent Vermont political blogs, The Carpetbagger Report, Green Mountain Daily, and Vermont Daily Briefing. Also, for up-to-the-minute vote counts, CNN.com. Things were looking good, REALLY good. CNN called the Senate and House races for Vermont early on, and they were in line with the poll numbers: Sanders for Senate and Welch for Congress. The race for governor was still up in the air, though things weren't looking too promising for Parker. Oh, well -- I expected it.

What I didn't expect was that Democrats would do so well nationwide. By 9:30 PM, it was obvious they were going to regain the House, and the Senate was looking more promising than I had ever imagined. I was getting excited. I considered calling my Mom, who is a dyed in the wool Democrat and used to be a reporter for the Times Argus. She knows politics and makes a point of staying informed. But I felt like getting out. Then my brain finally registered that Channel 17 had said the Democrats were rallying at the Wyndham Hotel... which is only three blocks from my house! So I threw on my coat and headed down there.

It wasn't quite a madhouse, but it was close. Scads of people were gathered in the Adirondack room, which had a stage set up at one end. Scores more were clustered in the halls talking and drinking. As soon as I arrived I ran into some of my co-workers (they're a liberal and involved lot overall) as well as some other people I knew. One of them told me that the Sanders campaign had their own room reserved upstairs. Over the summer I donated my computer skills to the Sanders campaign office, but I hadn't been over there for a while. So I went looking for them to say hi. It was surprisingly easy to just follow the foot traffic to the Sanders HQ, and I immediately saw Scott Eagle, one of the people I was looking for. We had a nice chat, and I assuaged my guilt about not calling him back the last time he left me a message. (My excuse: I've been really overworked.) Bernie had already delivered his victory speech, so everyone was looking kind of tired and relieved. Relieved that he had won, and relieved that the punishing schedule was at an end.

When I returned downstairs I found the other Sanders campaign guy I know, Seth Engel. He had a glazed look about him and told me he hadn't slept in days. "This is the craziest thing I'm never going to do again," he said (I think -- it was loud). Heh heh.

Then Peter Welch took the stage to declare his own victory. I was in the thick of the cheering, sign-waving, balloon-bouncing crowd, and it was great. The speech ended with all three Vermont representatives -- Welch, Sanders, and Leahy -- putting their arms around each other and beaming at the crowd while music pounded out across the room. I found myself thinking, "There they are, three bald white men... god bless 'em."

It took me a while to calm down once I got home. This morning I was tired, but I soon energized when I looked at the election results. We have the House, and that means that we have the first ever woman Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Yay! We probably have the Senate as well. And this afternoon we got the icing on the cake: Donald "Scummy" Rumsfeld has resigned. Yes, he's probably a scapegoat to deflect some of the Democratic wrath, but DAMN! It feels great to have him gone.

The glow of this day will take some time to fade.

11/06/06: Election eve

Category: Politics
Posted by: Therem
Yep, it's another of those moments when the fate of the United States hangs in the balance... the night before a national election. Things are looking a little better for Democrats than they were two years ago, but I'm trying not to become too hopeful given how many times the Dems have had campaigns crash and burn at the last moment. Instead I'm focusing on Vermont politics because none of the possible results -- apart from Rich Tarrant -- look too bad.

On that front, I was amused at work this afternoon when a herd of Democrats unexpectedly arrived in our office to say "Hi." The group included Scudder Parker, Matt Dunne, Deb Markowitz, Jason Lorber, Rachel Weston and... drumroll please... Howard Dean. He didn't talk much, leaving the spotlight to Scudder (who has a long history with my employer), but his presence lent a certain frisson to the event. I didn't try to shake his hand because he's someone I really respect, and it would just be too depressing to see the familiar glazed look in his eye that indicates there's not a chance he'll remember my face or my name later. There was a certain dark humor to the fact that this very thing happened with Deb Markowitz this afternoon. She couldn't even remember that we had met just two minutes earlier and shook my hand and introduced herself a second time. Ouch. If I had to glad hand people all day for weeks I'm sure I'd be like that, too. But it's still off-putting.

Polls indicate that Scudder Parker is probably going to lose to Jim Douglas, but other contests are looking better. Bernie Sanders is beating the pants off Rich Tarrant in the Senate race, and I'm pleasantly surprised to see in this Pollster.com poll that Peter Welch seems to be pulling decisively ahead of Martha Rainville in the House campaign. Rainville's campaign mailers have been puzzling me for weeks. I like many of the positions she espouses on them, but find it somewhat insulting that she keeps calling herself "an independent voice for Vermont". I suspect that she and Rich Tarrant (who also started calling himself "independent" a couple weeks ago) are hoping uninformed voters won't even realize what party they belong to until it's too late. Clearly, being a Republican is no longer cool.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow, not only because of the probable electoral results, but also because it will mean an end to all these damn phone calls, emails and fliers in the post.

07/23/06: Stand up guys

Category: Politics
Posted by: Therem
There's an article in today's New York Times about the court martial of an Army officer, 1st. Lt. Ehren Watada, for refusing to be deployed to Iraq. Watada is not a peacenik in general; he objects to the Iraq war in particular as dishonest and unlawful. The manner in which he came to this conclusion is like a geek fantasy: he originally supported the war, but before deployment conducted his own personal education campaign, reading books and talking with fellow soldiers returning from Iraq. As a result, he changed his mind! And he's willing to risk dishonorable discharge and seven years of prison for acting in accordance with his convictions! (See this supportive web site for more info.)

All this time, I was thinking one of the big plausibility problems with the movie Serenity was that the Operative was converted so easily with facts to opposing the Alliance. Watada has made me revise my opinion. One of the most cynically revealing passages of the article follows:
"Lieutenant Watada’s about-face came as a shock to his parents, his fellow soldiers and his superiors. In retrospect, though, there may have been one ominous note in the praise heaped on him in his various military fitness reports: he was cited as having an 'insatiable appetite for knowledge.' "
Oops! He found out what's really going on.

This all reminds me of the movie Control Room, a documentary about the Arabic news channel Al Jazeera and its difficult relationship with the United States in the early stages of the Iraq war. The movie consists mostly of crosscut interviews with Al Jazeera employees and an American press officer, Lt. Joshua Rushing. When I watched the film, I thought Rushing seemed like the usual blinkered military type, willing to defend the indefensible with slippery language and references to duty. Yeah, he made a couple of comments that acknowledged that, yes, war might actually be a terrible thing. Not much of a revelation. He's just trying not to look like a total monster, I thought. He's in public relations, after all.

Therefore, I was amazed to learn while randomly surfing the internet that he had been given an official gag order by his superiors. Apparently, in a climate where our Secretary of Defense practically accuses Al Jazeera of being the Great Satan, saying anything even slightly positive about them is a violation of protocol. Whatever. Rather than shaping up, Rushing decided to resign. Interesting.

Then came the real shocker: he's gone to work with Al Jazeera! Apparently, they are in the process of starting up an English language version of their station, and upon learning of Rushing's resignation from the Marine Corps they asked if he would be interested in joining them. He accepted, and the station is planning to launch in September 2006.

Check out his web site, featuring a giant photo of him wearing a keffiyeh. An image that is truly worth a thousand words.

Stories like these give me hope. Of what, I'm not sure. It seems impossible that the Iraq situation can be resolved in a way that will please anyone at this point. Muslim = Terrorist in the minds of most Americans. Israel and Hezbollah are pounding each other as I type. Afghanistan is still a mess. And there continue to be U.S. administration rumblings about action against Iran. All of it seems depressingly unstoppable.

But the existence of these two men still makes me feel better. Thanks, guys.

12/20/05: Calls to action

Category: Politics
Posted by: Therem
I've been watching a lot of politically charged movies lately. A few weeks ago I saw Good Night, and Good Luck, the short and focused account of Edward R. Murrow's stand against Joe "Red Scare" McCarthy when no one else would face up to him. It was so inspiring, it actually made me cry. More recently, I saw another Participant Productions movie, Syriana, which though very good was the opposite of inspiring. America's dependence on the auto and oil industries is terrible, and the lengths to which some will go to preserve the status quo is shocking, whether or not you believe that the events of Syriana could actually happen. (Check out the top corporations on this list of the Fortune 500 to get some idea of who's making the money in this country.)

Those movies are very topical to what's going on now in Shrub's America. But I've also been delving into the not-too-distant past of the Clinton administration with a couple of movies about the Rwandan massacres of 1994. In addition to being too Hollywood, Hotel Rwanda struck me as borderline racist a couple of times. However, it inspired me to watch another film, an HBO production called Sometimes in April. Though it was a little clunky and unfocused, it was a lot more honest and disturbing. I won't list all the scenes that affected me -- you should just see it yourself. But I was shaking my head in amazement at one scene that pertains to American politics. The footage in this scene was real, and I very carefully transcribed exactly how this woman spoke. Every "uh" and halting repetition was really there. Here it is, an exchange from a press briefing with State Department spokesperson Christine Shelley, June 10, 1994:

Journalist: What's the difference between acts of genocide and genocide?

Christine Shelley: Well, I think the, um... As you know, there's a... there's a... legal definition of this. There has been a lot of... of discussion about how the definition... um... you know, applies under the definition of the genocide, of genocide contained in the 1948 Convention. Um, if you're looking at that as for your, um, determination about genocide, um, not, clearly not all of the killings that have taken place in, uh, Rwanda, uhm, are uh, killings, uh, that to which you might apply that label. But it's, as to the distinctions between the words, we're trying to call what we have seen so far, um, as-- as-- as best as we can and based again on, on the evidence we-- we have every reason to believe that acts of genocide have occurred.

Journalist: How many acts of genocide does it take to make genocide?

Christine Shelley: Um, Allan, that's just not a question that I'm in a position to answer.

Journalist: What is an act of genocide, Christine?

Christine Shelley: As defied-- defined, in the 1948 genocide Convention: "The crime of genocide occurs when certain acts are committed against members of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group with the intent of destroying that group in whole or in part. The relevant acts include killing, causing serious bodily harm-- bodily or mental harm and deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction of the group."

Journalist: So -- wait a minute, you said genocide --

Christine Shelley: That is the definition in the 1948 Convention.

Journalist: ...of genocide.

Christine Shelley: Of genocide.

Journalist: OK, so you say genocide happens when certain acts happen, and you say that these acts have happened in Rwanda. So why can't you say that genocide has happened?

Wow, the woman could hardly be more inarticulate and guilty and weird. My best guess is that she was instructed to avoid the standalone word "genocide" in connection with Rwanda -- against all evidence -- because the United Nations (and by extension the US, as one of its most powerful members) is obliged to act in the case of genocide. In this case, the US government absolutely did NOT want to act, for two reasons the movie points out: 1) they were still burning from the Mogadishu fuck-up that had happened just six months earlier and 2) there really was nothing in Rwanda that they cared about.

Has anyone ever really fought a war or engaged in a "peacekeeping" mission for moral reasons alone? If ever there was a case for moral action, this was it. But even Clinton and his administration were craven cowards when it came to Rwanda. Ugh.

More information about the Rwandan genocide here and here.
Category: Politics
Posted by: Therem
I was just browsing Salon.com and came across this flashback to 9/11. By the time I got to the end, I was feeling pretty emotional, even after all this time. There's something about being caught in the narrative that brings it all back.

Afterward, I decided to look up my old AOL Instant Messenger chats from the same time period. (2001 was my most intense stretch of internet chatting. My obsessively accumulated archive contains over 350 individual chat logs from that year, most of them between me and Orson.) When I pulled up the chats from 9/11 and subsequent days, I was struck by how many of the ideas and suspicions Orson and I exchanged matched what the Salon.com posters were saying. Glaring in their absence were any mentions of Iraq or Saddam Hussein. Hm!

For history's sake -- and with Orson's permission -- I've uploaded an edited log. Click "Read More" to see the full, VERY long post.

» Continue reading this entry...

11/01/04: Feeling blue

Category: Politics
Posted by: Therem
Tomorrow is the big day. It seems like a lifetime since the Supreme Court selected the smirking chimp as our country's Chief Executive. It's hard to believe that in a little over 24 hours he could be handed his pink slip. (Or a bit more than 24 hours if the Onion's "Countdown to the Recount 2004" scenario materializes. Considering the tales of dirty tricks in Ohio in Florida that have already begun to surface, I wouldn't be surprised if it did happen again.)

After all this time, the Bush presidency remains inexplicable to me. The fraud, the screw-ups at the polls, and the naked partisanship of the Supreme Court are not what baffles me. What I truly cannot fathom is why so many people would vote for George W. Bush even one time, let alone twice. Apparently millions of people consider him to be "decisive", "trustworthy", even "compassionate". Who are these people? Some part of me is convinced they must be Stepford wives or pod people.

Why is it so hard for me to reconcile myself to reality? I think it's because I live in "Blue America". I've been looking at a lot of electoral maps in the last couple of weeks. (Two examples are here and here.) It is truly striking how distinct the regions of Democratic and Republican sway are. Vermont is nestled in the midst of Kerryland, just south of those borderline commies, the Canadians. (New Hampshire leans a bit more to the right, but there's the width of an entire state between me and it.)

We have had our liberal vs. conservative battles -- the civil unions bill and the subsequent vengeful effort to "Take Back Vermont" being the best example -- but for the most part Vermont is a pretty comfortable home for a lefty like me. A sizable chunk of Burlington's voters are considerably further left than the Democrats. (The "Electoral Vote Predictor" reports that even after the debacle of 2000, 3% of Vermont poll respondents say they are going to vote for Nader!) I can't think of anyone I personally know who is going to vote for Bush tomorrow.

If I hadn't already concluded on my own that the Bush presidency is a travesty, my environment would lead me to believe it anyway. That's the trend around here. So when I look at the vast, solid stretches of red on these electoral maps, I can't help but think, Those people might as well be living in another country. A thought soon followed by, That country wants to control us for another four years.

These are not pleasant or helpful thoughts to have. I hope for happy news tomorrow.
Category: Politics
Posted by: Therem
Just gave another $50 to Howard Dean's campaign. It's my fourth donation in the past six months. I've also given to the Democratic National Committee, though I'm less than impressed with their efforts so far. They haven't got any fire apart from James Carville, and he's just one man. He does make me laugh, though. His latest letter began, "If I run into one more person who tells me he or she is waiting to see who the Democratic nominee is before 'getting too involved,' I'm going to flip my lid." Unfortunately, the DNC itself seems to be holding back until the Democratic candidates have duked it out amongst themselves. After all, if the candidates can't even agree on whether the Iraq war was justified or not, how is the DNC supposed to spin the coming election? Tough call. I'm hoping that once Howard Dean is the nominee the Democratic confusion will sort itself out and we can get on to the serious business of ousting the Resident.