Sunday, August 31, 2008

Putting Country Second

In his cynical ploy to woo disgruntled Hillary Clinton voters and at the same time shore up the recalcitrant extreme right edge of the Republican Party, Sen. John McCain obliterated the image he has been meticulously cultivating that he puts country first. His selection of Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate, while lauded by some elements of the media as a gutsy "maverick" move, proves to me that John McCain is not ready to lead.

Sarah Palin with her colorful bio and family background considers her foreign policy experience to be sufficient as her state is next to Russia. Serving only a year and a half as governor and before that, a term as mayor of some 6,000-population moosetown called Wasilla, John McCain selected her over the more qualified and experienced candidates in a field of Veep possibilities that included an ex-Democrat and a former head of the Department of Homeland Security.

At 72 and a four-time cancer survivor, McCain is betting that, if elected president, he will survive his first term without an interruption and potentially Vice President Palin would not have to demonstrate her neophyte credentials under fire. But can he guarantee that? Of course, not.

Sure the GOP spinmeisters will argue that she has more experience than Barack Obama. That is garbage. One day as a U.S. Senator trumps her 6 years as a moosetown mayor and governor of a sparsely populated state. This is underscored by the fact that she had little interest in the war in Iraq—a travesty of epic proportions of blood and treasure.

Palin is praised as a popular governor. Well, a $1,200 handout to her constituency will buy popularity fairly well. That’s what she did.

This selection will undoubtedly backfire. Voters who are intelligent, informed and who are not religious conservatives will be uneasy at the prospects that Palin, a proponent of creationism and home schooling, could actually have to sit in the Oval Office. But her extreme right wing views will also turn off the moderates, the political center and the independents. And yes, Hillary voters will not flock to her simply because she has a vagina, as one woman put it.

John McCain made a bold but dubious decision—a key test to his true leadership. I believe it will fail. He undermined his message by making a political choice rather than one that would be a benefit for the nation. Who is going to whisper in his ear that Iran doesn't train al Qaeda troops? Who is going to whisper in his ear that Iraq does not share a border with Afghanistan? Who is going to whisper in his ear the distinctions between Shi-ites and Sunnis? Who's going to tell him that Czechoslovakia doesnt exist anymore? Sarah Palin?
He put country second.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Barack of Ages

One line in Obama’s powerful acceptance speech may have won him the election.

Watching the Democratic Convention this week and waiting for "red meat" to be hurled at President Bush, Vice President Cheney and John McCain was indeed frustrating. The Dems have been for so long tepid at their conventions while the GOP goes after the opposition like blood thirty dogs. And guess what? That strategy of attack works most of the time.

I liken the helpless frustration and disappointment towards the Convention’s wussy approach, whereby the election was slipping through our fingers, to being stranded at sea without a life vest, the boat is leaking, and sinking into shark-infested waters.

Sure, Bush and McCain were mentioned in the many speeches. And some had dead-on zingers in them, such as by Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana, Gov. Bill Richardson, Senator John Kerry and President Bill Clinton. But none of them were hard hitting. Not like the GOP convention will be sure to offer.

Despite an approval rating that is bordering on negative numbers, Why wasn’t Vice President Dick Cheney demonized given he was such an obvious target? His dark secrecy, his pushing us into Iraq, the trampling of the Constitution, his personal alliance with big oil, the incredible no-bid contracts in Iraq, and his involvement in the Valery Plaime affair would be a speechwriter’s dream. Alas, Cheney was mentioned so infrequently that one would have gotten the impression he recently died and the Dems were avoiding his name out of respect.

Nonetheless, there were spectacular speeches from Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden and a seemingly rushed Al Gore. But none were better than the candidate himself, Barack Obama. It was one for the ages.

He hit all the right themes and was presidential. He was determined and earnest. His delivery is unmatched. But it was one line in the entire speech that was not only memorable, but it might have changed the image that the Republicans (and the help of the Clintons during the primaries) created bestowed upon him. And that line was, "If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that’s a debate I’m ready to have."

With this statement Obama challenged McCain and showed he will not back off despite the flurry of ads and attacks that pigeonholed Obama as not ready to lead the country. They will still use it, of course, since they have no other strategy to defeat him. But Obama’s surprise strike not only demonstrated he wasn’t going to yield to the GOP demagoguery, but he has motivated his supporters even more so. That results in enhanced getting out the vote efforts, increased monetary donations and organizational heft.

One speech for the ages. One line. One more better chance for victory.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Michelle, My Belle

After Ted Kennedy's moving and inspiring speech, it was difficult to imagine how Michelle Obama could have pulled it off. But she certainly did! With style, elegance, intelligence and being a down-to-earth woman steeped in family values, Michelle soared to the top of the list as far as role models is concerned. Barack, you did well!

She's no more an angry black woman than John McCain is.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Short Memory

John McCain's memory lapse about the number of houses he owns is perhaps not the only memory issue facing Camp McSame. Following Sen. Obama's superb choice for vice president-- Sen. Joe Biden--the Republican talking points were dispatched to their surrogates so they can all sing from the same twisted hymnal (as usual).

The selection of Sen. Biden was derided by these folks as an admission by Sen. Obama that he lacks the foreign policy experience needed to be president. The fact that he made this decision is supposedly a weakness and, therefore, it proves Sen. Obama is not ready to be president. This is the GOP's predictable narrative.

But oh, the short memory! Let's refresh it for these guys and gals who are hoping the American voters have no sense of history--even recent history. Recall how Ronald Reagan chose George H.W. Bush to be his running mate because it would plug the many holes in Reagan's resume. To the GOP partisans, that was a legitimate, pragmatic move. As I've said many times before, Reagan had no more experience related to being commander-in-chief than Obama is said to lack.

Then, of course, was the infamous decision by George War Bush to pick Dick Cheney to be his veep for the same reasons (lack of foreign policy gravitas). How the country suffered from that! Not much protest from the Republicans then. In fact, Bush was wildly praised for the selection, which was actually made by Cheney himself. It was a harbinger of things to come.

However, Obama's choice is knocked down, and what's worse and not surprisingly, they used the the rationale from the two aforementioned Republican candidates for their choices to bludgeon Obama.

The fact is, the GOP is disappointed they did not have a chance to whack the Clintons. And Biden, who receives widespread bipartisan respect, is expected to use McCain as a punching bag, and they know that.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Facing the Triple-A Threat

Despite progress on other fronts, AIDS, addiction and apathy grip the LGBT community

By Steve Charing

Should California’s voters uphold its newly won legalization of same-sex marriage, it would provide a huge victory in the ongoing struggle for equality. If there is a favorable outcome in the presidential election, we may eventually see the end of the military’s failed "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy. We could also gleefully anticipate some long overdo progress on federal employment nondiscrimination legislation as well as other initiatives.

As positive as the outlook is—there is indeed a rainbow at the end of a very long tunnel—we must remind ourselves that there is a darker reality embedded in our successes.

Several grim problems still afflict our community. In my view, the three most serious of these are the triple-A threats of AIDS, addiction and apathy. They are arguably the biggest challenges facing our community today.

While the broader population must also deal with the very same issues, these scourges appear to hit the LGBT community hardest because of several factors, with societal rejection, alienation, depression and lower self-esteem among them. And they are not entirely independent of each other; there is palpable evidence that HIV and addiction are connected. Although apathy may also be linked to addiction, it seeps into all segments of the community and impedes political progress.

Clearly HIV/AIDS is the most life threatening. Men who had sex with other men (MSM) reported the largest percentage (46%) of HIV/AIDS infections last year in the U.S. Many health experts attribute this trend to an increase in the number of young men having unprotected sex.

"Within the [MSM] community, the new generation would not have been through the 1980s and 1990s and they wouldn't have the high levels of awareness that the previous generations have," said Dr. Mukesh Kapila of the International Federation of Red Cross in an interview with Reuters. "[They have] the feeling perhaps that treatment is available, that maybe it's not such a fatal condition anymore."

We need to push hard that barebacking is potentially fatal, especially with partners whose HIV status is positive or unknown. Some of the younger members of the community are dangerously becoming too lax and feel immortal. They tend to take chances, especially when high or drunk.

Recreational drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamine (meth) and others have been linked to sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, largely as a result of impaired judgement and a higher level of risk-taking. For example, nearly 10% of gay and bisexual men responding to a Michigan Department of Community Health survey reported that they had engaged in unprotected sex when they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Substance abuse has significant health, economic and social consequences, and the LGBT community is particularly vulnerable. Alcohol and drug abuse affects an estimated 20-30% of the gay and lesbian population—a rate that is two to three times higher than the general population.

The younger members of our community are most at risk. Substance abuse among gays often begins in early adolescence when youth first begin to struggle with their sexual orientation and the accompanying homophobia from family, friends and society in general. In response to this anxiety, many LGBT youth turn to alcohol and drug abuse.

Though not as devastating as AIDS and addiction, political apathy within the LGBT community is a blot that also needs to be eradicated. It is thwarting progress for equality and social justice as we attempt to gain political influence and power.

Unless one is an activist, it is difficult to find gay men or lesbians interested in issues that are important to the LGBT community, let alone take action on them.

"The slow crawl toward equal rights is hindered each day by the apathy within our own community," said Josh Sullivan, a volunteer for Equality Maryland and a parent of an adopted child. "Taking a few minutes to call your legislators and tell them your personal struggle for equality while detailing the impact on your life and family is far more powerful than donating money."

It would be gratifying to see the same large crowds attending pro-gay rights rallies as those who show up at pride events. But there is more fun in partying and whatnot than to speak to a legislative representative. Somehow we need to get our folks more mobilized lest we fail to progress further.

Yes there are other issues that beset our community like racism, ageism, domestic violence and poverty. But we must also work hard to address the growing triple-A threats of AIDS, addiction and apathy.

Monday, August 04, 2008

It's the Stupidity, Stupid!

Karl Rove knew what he was doing during the 2004 presidential campaign. The newly formed Department of Homeland Security following marching orders from the Cheney-Bush war machine issued frequent color-coded terrorism warnings during the final few months of the campaign.

Not there were any imminent threats, but the constant reminders were a ploy to scare the voters into believing that only George W. Bush could protect the American people from a terrorist attack. Lost in this is the fact that the attacks on September 11, 2001 occurred nearly 9 months into the first Bush term. Not much protection W.

Rove and other GOP strategists acknowledged that the key to winning the reelection of a totally inept incumbent is to prey on the fears of an astonishing large number of American voters.

Besides those faux terror alerts they employed other scare tactics, especially in such battleground states as Ohio. Fear of two gay men kissing a few houses down the street ignited the hysteria over "gay marriage," thus pulling otherwise indifferent voters to the polls to register their contempt of such a horror.

These homophobes and so-called social conservatives voted Republican. Despite voting against their best economic interests, (and they see now how such a ghastly election outcome could, in fact, be ruinous) they chose to keep Kenny and Michael from getting hitched.

Sad to say, there are too many stupid people in this country. Many of these still believe Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11. They are quick to buy into the simplicity of quick fixes and fall victim to hype and believing the smears leveled against a candidate. And the GOP whose brand is equal to anthrax or worse, Exxon-Mobil, must exploit the stupidity of the voters or at least their lack of education.

Senator John McCain was once a politician who would eschew those tactics. Not anymore. Karl Rove’s protégé now heads up his campaign, so fasten your seatbelts.

A barrage of GOP-produced negative ads, floating over the airwaves, the Internet, You Tube and news-hungry broadcast and cable television channels are designed to malign Senator Barack Obama as part of Rove’s Fear and Smear playbook. They have no other choice because of the Republicans’ swampy reputation after two terms of Bush and their lack of vision for the future.

Throw money at the stupid voters who cannot discern a snake oil deal when it is right before their eyes. Give them a "gas tax holiday" that will save them a relatively miniscule amount. Nevermind that the transportation fund is already hurting from the diminishing tax revenue caused by reduced driving.

But that’s OK. The GOP will tell the stupid voters to blame liberal Democrats (especially their convenient straw man Bill Clinton) for any future structure failure involving hundreds of bridges. It’s worth saving those $30, right?

Now the new fraud is offshore drilling. "Drill more oil, dammit, so that these sky-high gas prices will go down!" Right. McCain used to be opposed to offshore oil drilling. But he knows voters are stupid and will buy into a quick fix. In fact, a shocking 70 percent have.

What goes unsaid is that there is not a supply problem concerning oil. The prices have been shooting up until very recently as a result of a combination of complex factors including speculation, geopolitics and the weak dollar.

Moreover, the effects of newly found crude oil should there be such discoveries would not have an immediate impact on prices, but an uninformed public still believes in miracles.

Prices have recently come down some as a result of reduced driving and more cautious speculative activity because Congress is beginning to get serious about containing it. The price of gas has fallen because of reduced demand, not increased supply.

It doesn’t matter what the issue, the stupid voters are in the Republican fear and smear sights. They are fed the mantra, "the surge is working" over and over until it oozes out of their ears.

They are exposed to ads that link a Harvard educated charismatic leader to vacuous celebrities to mock the idea that just maybe Barack Obama stands for something that the rest of the world appreciates.

The stupid voters seem to prefer one of their own.

When an amazing 9-country tour brings nothing but praise and hope from the international community, but it is derided and mocked by a jealous Republican presidential campaign, you know who the target audience is.

It’s the stupidity, stupid!