Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why Obama's Inaugural Addess Was Better Than the Pundits Credit

I've heard many pundits calling Obama's speech today lackluster. But many writers are praising it, and here's why.

I'm learning that Obama is smarter at speech making than most pundits give him credit for. He doesn't always have to deliver a "knock out" speech with easy soundbites. Instead, he carefully determines the occasion and delivers the type of speech needed for the political moment. When he's in trouble over race, he delivers an inspiring call to move beyond race. When he's accepting the nomination for a tough partisan fight with a divided party, he gives a workmanlike speech that's designed to carefully move voters having trouble warming up to him.

Obama doesn't redeliver his last speech, or the speech you might expect. Instead, he thinks two moves down the road and delivers the speech that's necessary.

In that regard, today's speech - as a launch to four tough years of ambitious policy - may have seemed a bit more proletarian than one might expect, but its overall effect was excellent. He crafted together a call back to history to invoke the spirit of America to begin to elicit broad support for a difficult and all-encompassing agenda, and at the same time, laid the groundwork for the specific policy areas he will be striving to change. Of all the Presidential examples, his speech was closest to Kennedy's - asking us to turn a page and to contribute new efforts towards citizenship.

Being in the thick of history, I think it's hard to see immediately what lines will be remembered by future generations. But let me hazard a guess about some of the more overlooked lines that may gain resonance over Obama's administration.

"The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works" - of all the things that embody the promise of Obama, it's the idea of moving past the entrenched political ideologies of the past forty years. This sentence simply summarizes both a new governing philosophy as well as the idea of a new generation's approach.

"To all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more." Obama embodies not only the hope of Americans, but the hope of the world. As a President that has the potential to restore the world's romance with America, this sentence may be long remembered as one of Obama's enduring legacies. "America is a friend" is not a phrase that has been heard much lately, but may well be a staple of the next four years.

"In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come." Yes, this is the peroration, the summation of Obama's speech. But throughout, he touches on the theme of hope and virtue: hope that we can overcome our current problems; virtue that is the source of our better angels and the promise of America. These words sum up aptly what Obama calls for in our cultural zeitgeist as we enter this new era.

Yes, it is hard to pick out the sentences that will stand the test of time. But read the whole speech: it is remarkable for how it sets out a mood and a moment, how it weaves its themes of importance and humility while addressing the pressing issues of the day. As a speech that places the everyday concerns our immediate time into the resonance of history, it would be hard to do much better.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bush versus Obama Approvals: A study in Contrasts

Bush leaves office with a 22% approval rating, the lowest rating on record.

Meanwhile, Obama's transition gets an 83% approval rating and a near mirror-image of Bush's approval.

You know, one of the reasons why I didn't watch the Bush farewell address is because I just couldn't take the arrogance anymore...it's like listening to a nasty ex that you long ago divorced and no longer have to put up with trying to justify his drunken behavior to you yet again.

Or here's what it is. It's one thing to be robbed blind at gunpoint by a thief and a liar. It's another to have to listen to a lecture on your moral character about why you should be more cautious with your money while the thief is holding you up. Just rob us and go away, already.

Sigh. Just three more days. I can feel the weight lifting already. If you want to read my swan song for Bush, here it is.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Did Obama Once Support Gay Marriage?

A new memo surfaces that Obama supported gay marriage in Illinois as a state senator and has since backtracked on that position.

Conservatives see this as a liberal hiding his stripes for national stage.

Gays see this as yet one more way Obama is throwing them under the bus.

Liberals see this as a big yawn since anything Obama said twelve years ago in Illinois would have little relevance to what he does now as President.

As with most of this stuff, what you think it says about Obama probably says more about who you you are than who he is....

Palin Slams Bloggers Once Again

Palin goes after "bored, anonymous bloggers who lie." Since she was referring to the "who's Trig's mom" question, could she possibly mean this guy?

But Andrew isn't anonymous. So maybe she means this?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Does Your Dog Twitter?

Twitter is starting to explode with growth. Maybe one reason is because everyone and their dogs are getting online.

That's literally. After going to a Twitter presentation where someone presented a gadget that lets your plants Twitter (the plant will twitter you a message when it's getting dry, or if you over water it. You can customize the little green missives so you plant might say, "I'm thirsty" or "Get me some water pronto, Jack," or whatever personality you give it), it occured to me that there's no limit to the number of personalities you might create to Twitter for you.

And after viewing characters like God, Athena, The Joker, and the cast of MadMen twittering online, as well as Sockington the cat, who has over 4700 followers, I figured, why not my dog?

So I got her her own Twitter page. Of course, I'm not the first to think of this, as I immediately found dozens of dogs Twittering on the web. So I had my dog friend some of them.

What does this mean when your pets start Twittering and making friends online? I don't really know. Maybe it means we're all slowly going slightly insane. Who knows.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Responding to the Press Yentas

The war in Gaza has gone on now to the point where the press Yentas are starting to do their usual worried shtick about disproportionate response and missed opportunities. Here are few pointers in response:

1. It seems to me that a country that has killed 655,000 citizens of another country that didn't even attack it shouldn't be complaining about the "disproportionate response" of Israel.

2. It seems to me that it's obvious that if you stick a pin in someone's arm often enough, eventually that person is going to swat you. Anyone who thinks Hamas didn't WANT Israel to respond this way is deluding themselves.

3. It seems to me obvious that there is little Israel can do with this invasion other than to a) show its population it's doing something and b) try to subdue rocket fire for a while. Anyone who ascribes loftier or more zealous goals to this is overreaching out of some sense that there MUST be a more long-term solution, when there really isn't.

4. Anyone who expected Israel to stop with aerial bombardment only has to wonder what the point of a response is if you are only going to try to blow up things and not at least try to stop the flow of rockets (and how else would that be done, given that the current status hasn't worked)?

5. It seems to me that comparisons between Gaza and the Holocaust come out of either a gross misunderstanding of history or a true feeling of anti-semitism. Such comparisons would be equivalent to saying that Kuwait defending itself from Iraqi attack was a holocaust or England's presence in Ireland was a holocaust and on and on in every situation. So why do we have to rely on only conservative networks like Fox to address this obvious canard?

6. When Hamas refers to "occupation" they mean not Gaza or the West Bank, but all of Israel. Asking Israel to negotiate with this position is like asking someone to negotiate about how you should kill yourself. So let's recognize how words are being thrown out here precisely to distort what's at stake. So far, Hamas has signaled no intention of backing away from that position, as any "truce" they put forward is only meant to be temporary.

7. If people are so concerned about peace they should be working to convince Hamas to accept the terms for international monitoring of peace that Israel already has on the table. Such terms have worked in Lebanon. Israel and Hamas have already agreed to a daily three-hour cease fire to allow a flow of supplies. But understand that the real reason Hamas won't accept a long-term monitored ceasefire has to do with their internal struggle with Fatah, not with Israel. Such a ceasefire would lessen the need for their existance and threaten to unify Palestinians under a single Palestinian Authority that could actually negotiate a long-term peace with Israel. That's the LAST thing Hamas wants. So to stop fighting on Hamas' terms of no recognition and no long-term truce is to give them a victory - as well as to destroy any hope for Palestinian statehood - for all Hamas needs for a victory is to have the world opinion side to allow Israel to withdrawal so it can continue uncriticized its bombardment of Israeli towns by rockets, which will continue to forestall peace and Palestinian unity. So where are the monitors who would make peace possible? So far, the world has seemed more eager to wag their tongues than to do anything would actually force back Hamas's positions and allow for a real peace to start to emerge.

8. In this war, the press is Hamas's greatest ally. Israel may have made a strategic mistake not inviting reporters into Gaza. But still, the press needs to examine how they're being played by terrorists as part of their gambit to create sympathy. It's a shame that rather than either only uncritically defending Israel (Fox) or hand-wringing about the casualties of war (everyone else), the press doesn't do more to examine the real strategic motives of what's going on. That seems to me to be part of the intractable problem in this situation.

Should the Government Bail out The Porn Industry?

Yes, for a second there I thought it was April 1. I opened the blinds and looked out the window. But no: it's still January. So perhaps this is a serious report that the porn industry is asking Washington for a bailout.

I guess when Congress predicted that soon everyone would be coming to them with their hands out, they weren't kidding. Our could this be one of the touted benefits of the recession: people stop paying to watch porn and have free sex with their partners again?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Bill Richardson Booted

One of the hazards of Obama's quick cabinet selection process must be that his involved vetting process is only now catching up to some of the appointments: such as with this just announced "pending investigation" forcing Bill Richardson to drop out.

Given the Blagojevich distraction-fest, Obama doesn't need any of this sort of thing occupying his cabinet when he takes office.

Now, if only tainted Bush administration officials had gotten the axe this fast....

Twitter Erupts in Gaza Propaganda War

You can watch it all in real time here.

Ann Coulter Enters the Bend a Metaphor Department

To strain a phrase, Ann Coulter criticizing Michele Obama's wardrobe choices is a little more than the pot calling the kettle black.

Let's just say that Michele Obama's wardrobe hasn't be purchased with funds from the DNC.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

What is Israel's Way Forward Now?

I agree that the Gaza operation needs to continue, but I disagree with this post about the West Bank.

Yes, now is not the time to "ceede" the West Bank, but some gesture needs to be made to Fatah for being on the "right side" of the conflict in Gaza. There needs to be easing of life, another degree of autonomy. The wedge this drives into the Palestinian populace in important.

Israel will never know peace until a) there is a unified Palestinian government and b) it accepts the co-existence of Israel. Those objectives can't be achieved without a Palestinian partner.

What the war in Gaza shows is that Palestinian moderates CAN potentially be a partner for Israel. Now is the time to strike deals with them: Help Israel destroy Hamas; earn power, and territory. Show the Palestinian people that Hamas is not the way. But even if they don't agree, even if it is "anti-democratic," Israel and Fatah must impose their will in Gaza. It is Israel's right, and Fatah's reward.

There must be a carrot that goes along with this stick.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Why Gaza Demonstrates the Failure of Bush's Policy in The Middle East

Ephraim Sneh outlines Israel's real objective in Gaza - removal of Hamas from power, as well as the reason why the status quo could not be tolerated any longer.

Such an objective illustrates the total failure of the Bush Administration's approach to the Middle East: relying on simplistic rhetoric of bringing "democracy" while pursuing a drastically misguided self-interested course in oil politics.

Gaza illustrates the problem perfectly: it's a democratically elected government that is committed to terrorism and the destruction of it's intractably entangled Democratic neighbor. Bringing "democracy" to Gaza has brought nothing but disaster to the Palestinians and terror to Israelis.

The Bush Administration's rhetoric made the U.S. impotent to face such a development, or to move negotiations forward. No peace was achievable as long as Hamas remained in power. Yet Bush's team was powerless to do anything about it, since by championing "Democracy" at the expense of all other results, the U.S. had no position it could take other than to attempt to ignore Gaza as long as possible. But ignoring a ticking time bomb doesn't stop it from eventually going off; in the intervening years, Palestinian society has disintegrated into warring factions, Israel and Fatah have forged relationships in the West Bank, and Gaza has essentially become a prison. Such is what became of the Palestinian aspirations for territorial integrity and self rule.

Paradoxically, Israel's incursion into Gaza is precisely what gives the incoming Obama administration a chance to restart the peace process. The action is timed perfectly with the waning days of Bush so that most military objectives can be completed by the day Obama takes office, and the current lame duck President has little political capital to use to intervene or object.

Both Obama and Bush seem to have at least tacitly - if not willingly behind the scenes - endorsed the interregnum timing, which has a natural expiration date of January 20th, when a new administration is sworn in and will have to be seen to be "doing something."

But by that time, Hamas's leadership will be disorganized, the tunnels and rockets destroyed, and the population disillusioned in their elected leaders. It's only at that point that a new Palestinian leadership can emerge - one that can reasonably negotiate both with Fatah in the West Bank and Israel.

In way, then, Israel has given the incoming Obama administration (as well as Abbas and Fatah in the West Bank) a great gift: a real chance to go beyond the logic of the last eight years and restart the peace process under realistic terms with a more moderate and unified Palistinian government. That is, unless the U.S. and the world pressure Israel to stop it's actions early. But such a stop to the incursion will neither achieve prosperity for the Palestinians or security for Israel. Only the elimination of Hamas from power will do that.

In this case, the Democratic will of the people produced an outcome that was certain to destabilize the entire region. In such a case, the only thing that can result - either sooner, or later - is war. That it has should be no surprise. The result of war is terrible, of course, and there is terrible loss on both sides. Those who regret this should ask themselves, on all sides, whether or not their ideology has stood in the way of finding a way for these two societies to live peacefully next to each other.

And those who hope for peace in the region should join Palestinians in the West Bank in helping Israel to achieve it's immediate objectives as quickly as possible. For until a government exists in Gaza that can accept an Israeli state, no peace is possible.

Presidential Pets

The Obamas' future puppy isn't the only famous Presidential pet. Warren Harding's Laddie Boy was famous in numerous songs and Zachary Taylor's horse Whitey was an equal celebrity. And let's not forget Nixon's Checkers, who was used to such adroit political effect.

So I think it's fair for the press to be anxiously awaiting the announcement: Some big job awaits the next Presidential pooch.

Magic Money?

I appreciate that the government needs to spend "close to one trillion dollars" to get the economy moving again, and give aid to states to spend on Medicaid etc etc.

But it seems we've reached a threshold now, and as the population starts hitting retirement just as we are spending like there's no tomorrow, it's like we don't care anymore that this money doesn't have any place to come from. Just spend it!

I mean, how long can we just print money out of nowhere before something REALLY bad happens? I get the feeling that even if the recession ends, there's another shoe that's got to drop here.