Sunday, August 31, 2008

McCain/Palin: Not Mavericks!

Sometimes, I think people don't understand what 'maverick' means. It's to be a dissenter among ones associates, to be the one who breaks away from the pack.

The narrative beginning to be spun about the McCain/Palin ticket as one of reform is laughable and inaccurate.

Here is the GOP's draft of their 2008 platform. It's a marvel of cognitive dissonance and plain old spin. I'm sorry, NO mention of Iraq at all??

It used to be, you could rely on McCain to be at least less hardcore about a couple of things: immigration (he was one of the drafters of the Dream Act, after all) and stem cell research. Oh, and this war being a total mess. Back then, that was enough to mark him with his 'maverick' status.

(Apparently, GOP standards for dissent are low.)

But can McCain, and presumably Palin, be counted on to be real dissenters? I don't think so. He's backed off his support for his own legislation, he's reified his support of the war and he wasn't really that much of a dissenter if he voted with the President 90% of the time, anyway.

Over on Screed, I take a look at Palin's very slim record and compare it to the GOP's platform and their favorite sacred cows. There's not much difference between her and them.

So what's she dissenting? She looks like just another Republican to me.

[ok, I have to get some food. I'll write about the GOP platform more later today. Yay for three day weekends!)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Doh! McCain picks a running mate!

It's a girl!

ooh, way to trump the Friday news cycle, gramps (thus endangering any post convention bounce Obama's camp might receive)!

Sarah Palin...what do we know about her?

Background Information
Gender: Female
Family: Husband, Todd
5 Children: Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, Trig.
Birth Date: 02/11/1964
Birthplace: Sandpoint, ID
Home City: Wasilla, AK

(huh? no religion?? why - that's unAmerican!!)

BA, Communications/Journalism, University of Idaho, 1987.

Professional Experience:

Political Experience:
Governor, Alaska, 2006-present
Former President, Alaska Conference of Mayors
Former Mayor/Manager, Wasilla City
Former Council Member, Wasilla City Council.

Member, Alaska Miners Association
Member, Alaska Outdoor Council
Member, Alaska Resource Development Council
Member, Chambers of Commerce (Various)
Member, Iditarod Parent-Teacher Association
Member, National Rifle Association
Member, Valley Hospital Association Board
Coach/Hockey Team Manager, Valley Youth Sports
Member, Youth Court Steering Committee
Former Member, American Management Association
Former Member, Salvation Army Board.

Caucuses/Non-Legislative Committees:
Chairman, Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, 2003-2004
Former Member, Alaska Municipal League Board
Chair, Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission
Vice Chair, National Governors Association Natural Resources Committee.

Her record? Check out what Project Vote Smart has collected here.

Compare this 'bright shining star in the Republican firmament' to McCain on women's issues, the environment, the war, economic empowerment issues and, other progressive issues (gay rights? racial justice?) and compare her to Bush on these things, too.

Will the fact John 'I fell and I can't get up' McCain picked a woman draw disaffected HRC supporters to his side? If it does, will those women sleep easier knowing they played the gender card and doomed this country to regressive social policy for a very long time?

(Hello-oo! Supreme Court nominees!! This is what it's all about, people!!)

LeBlanc has this to say over at Bitch, Ph.D:
I want you to hammer Sarah Palin on this stuff. If I were you, or if I were a reporter, or anyone who had a loud voice, today I would ask Sarah Palin the question:

If you were elected vice-president, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act came before the Senate once again, and the vote was tied, and you were called upon in your constitutionally-mandated role as tie-breaker, how would you vote? Would you, like me, vote that when women are denied equal pay for equal work, they should get restitution, or would you, like John McCain, vote that a Supreme Court decision making it nearly impossible for them to receive that restitution, should stand?

Don't let her get away with the "I'm a woman, of course I care about women" bullshit. Make her answer for the hypocrisy of her party.

Monday, August 25, 2008

DNC 08!: live blogging after dinner

hey, folks. i'm live blogging the convention over at Screed. come on over for conversation and observations if you like!

DNC '08! Who's covering what?

Hey, things are underway in Denver. My co-bloggers over at Bitch PhD are already there and so is, it seems, the rest of the blogosphere.

(Sigh. Damn my having to choose between holidy travel to family and the DNC convention!!)

If there are ChurchGal readers in Denver and you were at this panel, lemme know. I'd really love to know what this conversation was all about.

For folks interested in brown politics (who isn't, really?) you can check out Jack & Jill Politics - they have a really well-thought out coverage page with Twitter feeds, updates, video and links to other brown political bloggers. Excellent stuff.

I wonder if there are any religious bloggers at the convention?

Here's to an exciting kick off!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

obama-biden: it's balanced, alright.

Whaddya know. Obama picked Biden.

I am not bothered by this.
I think it's brilliant, funny and totally expected. In fact, earlier this week, I had called it while emailing with some friends. Friends called it for Bayh, Schweitzer and Webb but I went for Biden.

My reasoning:
As evidenced by an ample Google record, Biden has a long history of saying problematic shit re: people of color. I will not offer an opinion re: Biden's racism - I'm just saying he says problematic shit.

The things he says are not that substantially different from what 98% of the general white population, conservative or self-identifying liberal, say/think about people of color in general, black people in particular. So, in effect, Biden is familiar to most of the population. He's easily recognizable; he is our American mirror.

By choosing Biden, the Obama campaign is saying to America, 'See? We get you. We know you're scared, but it's ok. Joe is just like you, and we like him! Obama's not mad.' By signaling to the electorate that they're overlooking Biden's 'off the reservation' problematic racial shit, they are asking that we also overlook some things - primarily, the color of Obama's skin and all the weight it carries.

Yeah, yeah. Biden brings some bizarro 'connection' to 'everyday' people (pundits need to STFU) and foreign policy experience which is a good thing, but his biggest contribution to the Obama campaign is his whiteness. His benign, problematic, clueless Whiteness. It's a gift and I hope Obama uses it well.

[an extra piece of goodness: today's This American Life about snap judgments that had me shaking my head.]

Friday, August 22, 2008

movin' on up

Alpa Chino: That's the theme song for the Jeffersons!
Kirk Lazarus: Just because it's a theme song doesn't make it any less true.

- Tropic Thunder

Say hello to the new Government Relations Officer at Large Metropolitan Chicago Non Profit.

That almost makes up for not going to the convention next week.

Monday, August 18, 2008

more on the OBD

Jesse Jackson Sr Says Something Appropriate - Jack & Jill Politics

Proving that there is, indeed, something in the Kool Aid and all this talk about intergenerational conflict is on our minds, J&J have a post up that jibs pretty much with mine (not that it must but it's always nice to have ideas supported by others.)

Useful: examples of young whippersnappers making a difference:

So I disagree that the “old guard, new guard” distinction is unhealthy. I think it’s very healthy to talk about the quality of leadership we’ve been receiving from the likes of Jackson and Sharpton and challenge the media to look to a new generation of leaders that are emergent and highly relevant to the struggle of today — not yesterday. Generation X leaders like Van Jones, Majora Carter, Lennox Yearwood, Tavis Smiley, James Rucker & Andre Banks (google ‘em) for example — and yes, you and me y’all — have decided to roll up our sleeves and get in the game.

Please do Google them.

Friday, August 15, 2008

old black dudes need to go the way of the dodo

Chicago Black Leaders Call for School Boycott Draws Fire | RaceWire

When I say 'old black dudes' I am not talking about specific old black dudes. (My dad is an old black dude!) I'm talking about the Old Black Dude (OBD, for short) Political Discourse, a system of old, tired and failed tactics to implement social change.

I mean, come on! The way to address education funding inequity is to tell little black kids to boycott the first day of school?? What the hell is wrong with you?

In fairness, Meeks is the lead sponsor of a senate bill that the CTBA backs as the best way to redistribute state funds to address this funding inequity. (You can read about the bill and the policy statement here and here.) But, of course, this bill is tied up because of the ongoing feud/stalemate between the governor, the legislature and the leaders.

Yesterday, I was in a strategy meeting and heard that polling here in Illinois reveals that among people's highest priorities are education and roads. Education reform is consistently at the top of this list for the citizens of IL, but where's the organization and elbow grease to educate the public, mobilize them and get the bill passed? The public would be behind you! (Maybe. It would involve some taxing...)

But it would be nice to see our so-called black leaders actually get the lead out and do some actual organizing (i.e., work) and strategic thinking instead of just proposing lameass protests that do nothing to move legislative policies out of the dead pool and onto the frakking floor for a vote.

Out of those 1000 people at that rally, do any of them know about this senate bill? Who's organizing them to do some actual lobbying? What the hell does having a sit in in the Loop have to do with education funding reform? Absolutely nothing. It's all tactic and no strategy.

Where are the strategic thinkers in the black community, huh? Where are the folks, the strategists, the lobbyists, the grassroots organizers who know how to apply pressure on those who have the power and ability to move policy through? I know they're out there - I've met them, we see each other at meetings! But instead we get lameass, stupid public relations exercises like boycotts and sit ins that really don't do anything except show that you're lame and stupid. Boycotts and sit-ins may have worked back in the day but, for the love of god, it's a new day.

There was a recent piece in the NYT about what Obama's candidacy means for traditional black 'leadership' and I, for one, hope it means traditional black leaders get to retire. Where are the innovative ideas that benefit our community coming from? They're not coming from the same old ministers or leftovers from the Civil Rights movement. They're coming from the bright, educated black men and women of today. Not yesterday.

Is this a generational divide? Absolutely. And it crosses race and ethnicity. In the mainstream, the common image of America is still from the 50s. Dude. Seriously? The parameters of American national identity are still being informed by the bracketing contexts of WW2 and the Vietnam War. (Obama, as an example, is being blamed, basically, for being younger than McCain. Dude - we're all younger than McCain!)

I'm being flip but I'm also serious. It's time to move on - oh, not that we're living in any post racial society by any stretch. But the Jeremiah Wright/Jesse Jackson/Harold Ford, Jr. self-interest, paranoia, corruption and hyperbole 60s. I think my generation, and the generation after mine, is into results - what's going to work? (Notice how I keep saying 'work'?) We need men and women who know how to get the frakking job done - not just garner media attention about the issue. Who cares about that? Get the job done! We've had 40 years for that old paradigm (grab media attention and hope to shame the hegemony into changing course) to work and, so far, it hasn't.

(Well, not on a large scale basis, though the Jena 6 action was pretty cool. But that was mostly through new media, definitely not an OBD tool.)

Before our communities are permanently retarded beyond recovery, step aside and let someone else do it.
I was going to start a list of new and upcoming black/brown/tan men and women who I think would be great to replace the Old Black Dude coterie, but I'm too busy enjoying Ta-Nehisi Coates' post on who should be elected White People Spokesperson.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

on the Clinton Campaign memos

The Front-Runner’s Fall

If you haven't read the piece in The Atlantic about the internal workings of the Clinton campaign, you really should.

Oh, not because it gives you a little thrill to have all your bad feelings against the Clinton campaign reaffirmed (if that was your wont) but because of what you can learn about basic lessons of organizational management.

For me, especially if I remembered part of my past at a strategic communications firm, the story of the campaign's implosion was a textbook lesson of what happens when an organization A) fails to ensure proper values and strategy alignment among its teams, B) doesn't address bad information flow and C) lacks trust. None of these issues are siloed from one another. In fact, they depend on one another and soon you just have a ball of entrenched dysfunction, as the Clinton campaign discovered.

Not to sound all Fast Company, but values and strategic alignment is the glue that holds an organization together. In corporate speak, it's what folks talk about when they say they're 'on the same page.' Folks in leadership talk a lot about 'being on the same page' but there is usually a big gap between where the Leader says they are and what folks on the frontline see.

Say what you will about the GOP, in every single one of the candidates they run, values and strategy go hand in hand. The DNC? Not so much. I don't know if this is because the left likes to 'process' shit so much and no one likes to be the bad guy or deliver bad messages but when I think of the messy politicking of the left, aligned is the last thing they are.

(See the continued wrangling over what's going to happen at the convention, which I won't be able to attend, and how we seem to run into the same thing every election cycle when each warring progressive faction wants some other interest to fall on their sword so that others will survive.)

In the case of the Clinton campaign, HRC and her staff seemed to come from totally different places: in one instance, Penn wanting to go immediately negative (which I'll note later), other key staff resisting, the Leader being conspicuously absent from the final decision. Did HRC really believe that BO was 'un-American'? I seriously doubt that. Yet, what made Penn think she'd be open to that? What values gap existed between them?

(And sharing the same goal does not mean people share the same values.)

My biggest takeaway from the piece is how information flow is crucial to any successful campaign (not just political campaigns, either.) The Clinton campaign memos reveal how information was plugged, or viewed with distrust, at various points, to the detriment of the campaign. Information on budgets, tactics, shifting electoral landscape - all, at some point, went ignored by key people after being floated 'up' or 'across' the organization from people on the frontline. As a result, the leader was left without the necessary tools to do her job; she was at sea.

Does this kind of isolation make a leader trust her team or does this make her assume more random responsibility because she can't trust her team to do what it needs to deliver? And, in return, does a team look at their leader's angry withdrawal and respond positively or do they panic, withholding bad news or difficult conversations - which leads to more distrust?

High performing teams don't have these issues; they see and act (quickly) while wearing the same goggles, acting with flexibility to good and bad environmental factors; ideas are evaluated on their value-addedness (is this idea going to enhance our mission and vision, stretch it or take us outside of it?); high performing teams act with autonomy but there's always an honest touchstone with leadership, marked by free flowing communication.

If only someone on Clinton's staff had read a few issues of the Harvard Business Review.
Reading the Atlantic piece, I was riveted.

Penn's memos where he suggested highlighting Obama's Otherness and 'un-American-ness,' made me think, 'Wow, he actually said it!' If we take his suggestion and pair it with his note that the campaign was trying to 'neutralize' race as a major demographic factor, then we get a picture of a man with his head very far up his ass.

You want to take 'race' out of the picture but you don't mind telling a whole bunch of black and brown people (in addition to the rest of the country) that a man of color is un-American. Nice message.

Talk about problematic - and talk about an opportunity for the Dems to ask themselves if that kind of strategic thinking reflects the core values of their party.

This piece also makes me hope the Obama camp will be careful of future values/strategy misalignment, mission and vision creep, or perceptions thereof. (In other words, no more FISA or offshore drilling shit!)

But I'm almost positive Obama reads the HBR. Right?

[crossposted at Screed]

Monday, August 11, 2008

the Olympics, the Other and Orientalism

I love the Olympics. Not for sports - I could care less, frankly, though I enjoy watching the more obscure things, like fencing. I like the Olympics because the nationalism is just so immensely wrong and amusing.

Friday, my friends and I made up a drinking game during the Beijing opening ceremonies. For kicks, and because we are students of the problematic ways our media covers other countries during the Olympics, we made a list of things that might be said or shown during NBC coverage of the games that might be a little problematic or just drive us nuts.

For instance:
If they say the words, 'ancient,' 'mysterious,' sleeping dragon,' 'paper tiger';
if they imply Chinese 'inscrutability';
if color commentary registers surprise at any aspect of Chinese culture;
if color commentary confuses any aspect of Chinese culture with any other Asian culture;
if color commentary points out every Chinese American athlete and wonders aloud how great it must feel to be 'home';
if coverage shows common/stereotypical western images of China - the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, dragons, or anonymous teeming crowds;
and extra drinks for all if any misunderstanding of Chinese culture gets called out on air.

Our real list was actually longer (and also included how many times Mao is mentioned, problematic social policies and continuous stats on the population) and, within a half hour of the opening ceremonies, we were intoxicated. By the end of the opening ceremony there were so many drinks taken, we were all laid out on the floor.

Welcome to the Orientalizing Gaze. Though his book didn't include China in its analysis, Edward Said's Orientalism (1978) describes Orientalism as a discourse that makes certain generalizations about the 'East' which serve to paint the Other as inferior (or unknown) and, as a result, the Western subject as superior since the West 'knows' or recognizes the Other. (That's a huge reduction of his main thesis, but that basically covers it.) Said says that, mostly, what the Western gaze sees and reproduces is myth.

And you see the power of that myth in the NBC framing of the story around these opening ceremonies. What's really interesting to me is that there was a huge gap in the representation of China, depending on who was doing the talking. First there's the NBC color commentators - who provided us with all of the problematic dialogue; then there's the 'talking' done by the ceremony itself - but which had to be interpreted by an NBC 'expert' on China. So basically, we didn't see China represent itself at all but saw it through a scrim covered by another scrim covered by another. Will the real China please stand up?

For me, one of the telling moments was midway through the ceremony (which was probably the most gorgeous and amazing one I've seen, truthfully). The NBC expert pointed out the Chinese character for 'harmony' and went on to explain how this theme of 'harmony' will appear throughout the games and the rest of the ceremony; then he went on to bring attention to the irony that this Confucian idea of 'harmony' is at odds with every day reality, how things are quite 'dis-harmonious' within China - i.e., their social, political and environmental policies.

He clarified for Bob Costas and Jim Lampley, "So, actually, this concept of harmony is, you know, an ideal.' As in, completely fake.

I tipsily snarked back to the screen, 'Yeah, sorta like our ideal of democracy.'

The beam in your own eye and all that.

It's easy to 'see' or to 'know' the inconsistent self-fictions of another country (or to think that we do) but it's quite another to see ourselves do the same thing. The NBC expert sneers at Xiang Yimou wanting to include harmony in his country's self-presentation and his tone implies that the Chinese identity is hopelessly broken and false (handily tapping into the stereotype of the false Oriental); but in the same way, isn't our national identity split, too? Our actions are one thing, our ideals another and never the twain shall meet.

Take, for instance, our President at the opening ceremonies. He's there to present an ideal face of America to the world - to embody gravitas, democracy, freedom, liberty, prudence, or whatever else we expect from our President. But what do we actually get? A man in a wrinkled gray suit, looking at his watch, waiting for the whole thing to end. There's your ideal, right there, folks.

[Want more on Said? Go here for a really great intro to his work.]

Thursday, August 07, 2008

asshat, international edition: Russia!

I was totally going to just keep on working but a pal sent me this: Sexual harrassment okay as it ensures humans breed, Russian judge rules - Telegraph

What. The. Hell.
There are no words to describe the frakked-up-ness of this news item.

Choice bits:

The unnamed executive, a 22-year-old from St Petersburg, had been hoping to become only the third woman in Russia's history to bring a successful sexual harassment action against a male employer.

The judge said he threw out the case not through lack of evidence but because the employer had acted gallantly rather than criminally.

"If we had no sexual harassment we would have no children," the judge ruled.
Who knew the word 'Please?' could mitigate patriarchy? And where the hell did that judge get his law degree? A cereal box?

I could make a joke about mail order brides here, but I won't because it's just too messed up.
Sorry, poppets. Ding has a job and is workin' it this week. Hard.

Monday, August 04, 2008

who killed LaVena Johnson?

These are the dots I want people to connect:

Aberdeen Proving Grounds
The Air Force Academy scandal (the resulting report can be found here)
The case of Pvt. Steven D. Green
This NYTimes series on violent death among Iraq War vets
This Feminist Law Professors post
Jamie Leigh Jones and the 'rape problem' with military contractors

To that string of dots, add one more: LaVena Johnson

I think a primary value of feminist work is its ability to uncover women's hidden history, the stories of our existence that tend not to fit neatly in our national or cultural, patriarchal narratives. The stories of women in our military, as well as the women connected to associated industries that support or benefit from the military's work, are taking shape before our eyes and a repeating thread in this narrative is one of sexual assault and brutal violence against women.

(This isn't to say men aren't assaulted; they are, at much smaller numbers. I'm just not writing about sexual assault against military men right now.)

From the testimony of the women at Tailhook after the first Gulf War to the stories from KBR contractors in this latest Iraq conflict, the lives of women linked to the military - as family members, government employees, soldiers, or contractors - is bracketed by sexual or domestic violence. Perhaps, as the Times series sugggested, we can attribute some of this violence to inadequately treated combat trauma. In the Frontline site for the Tailhook investigation, some male officers and attendees attributed some of the behavior by the aviators and officers to post-Gulf combat relief; in other words, they were 'blowing off steam' - and what better way to blow off combat stress than violating women's bodies?

It's clear the military, despite lip service to the contrary after every sexual assault scandal at their proving grounds, academies and bases, has no capacity to deal with the needs of military/civilian women who've been assaulted or harrassed within, or by, the military. Their reporting structure is broken, their punishment structure is an utter failure and their treatment/prevention capabilities seem to be non-existent, despite their best intentions.

About these intentions: after the worst stories broke (especially the Air Force Academy scandal) there was an attempt to improve the military's metrics on sexual assault. Sexual assault trainings and awareness programs were implemented; oversight committees were formed; victims names would be kept anonymous, cutting down on the threat of reprisals; greater efforts would be made to collect and analyze evidence and counseling supports would be made readily available to victims of assault. These improvements seem to send a strong message that sexual assault in the military is unacceptable. But the chances that such a message will drift down to service members is slim. Frankly, it's not in the military's nature to change.

What is it that makes the military what it is, that allows it to do what it does? The military accepts violence as a suitable human, cultural and national response; it creates an environment that feeds on a sense of overweening Masculine privilege; and what makes all of this aggression and privilege acceptable and not merely psychotic is the body of a woman. Whether it is the feminized 'body' of the nation they invade or the bodies of assaulted female soldiers or civilians left in its wake, our military clearly requires the Othered, violated bodies of women to keep a grip on its GI Joe identity. The subjugation of a woman in order to retain the fiction of masculine 'wholeness' is, to me, a function of patriarchy.

(If this sounds familiar, it's because I said something like it in a post about Joe Francis and the Steven D. Green case here.)

In the stories patriarchy tells of us, a woman's position is primarily prone. We serve patriarchy either on our backs or we prop it up by conveniently and quietly dying. LaVena Johnson's death was not quiet. She was raped, beaten, tortured, murdered and her body burned. Despite physical evidence to the contrary, the army still calls her a suicide, a bootstrapped Dido. Her family is being lied to about the circumstances surrounding her death and the wall of silence around her murder is not just about the military's need to maintain a modicum of public relations discipline (though that's certainly part of it.) The military's silence is also the silence of complicity and it needs to be broken, cracked into pieces for the sake of justice.

(If you want to know what to do about LaVena Johnson's murder, visit here.)

I used to think that whatever men could do, women could do, too. But LaVena Johnson's rape and death, along with all the other military women's deaths and rapes, prompts me to ask a potentially un-feminist and problematic question: Why should we? Why should women even serve in the military when it's clear the eminent danger they face isn't from combat but their male cohort?