Family Values: Barack Obama Should Be Proud of His Name

There’™s a small controversy, and maybe manufactured of whole cloth, about whether Barack Obama will use his full name, Barack Hussein Obama, when taking the oath of office. I understand he has decided to do so, and I think that honors his family. Family values are important, even in the case of Barack Obama where his father abandoned him.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Mary Ann Akers of the Washington Post writes today about the Barack Obama inauguration. Barack Obama has evidently decided to use his complete name, ‘œBarack Hussein Obama,’ in his swearing in. Seems the scripts for the ceremony are using ‘œBarack H. Obama.’ I know this is a picky thing, and it’™s yet another example of manufactured controversy, at least if Akers’™ column gets some play, but I applaud Barack Obama for his choice.

When Barack Obama was born his mother and father likely had a long converstaion as to what they would name the boy. ‘œObama’ was a given, considering that they were married and all. ‘œBarack’ means ‘œblessed’ in arabic, and is wholly appropriate as a name. (I like that the Hebrew ‘œBarak’ means ‘œLightning,’ that it is very close to Obama’™s name and a common name for Israeli’™s.) The sticky part is ‘œHussein.’ Sure, the last President, the failed George W. Bush, demonized Saddam Hussein, fought a war on false pretenses, and in the process convinced many Americans, Busheviks for the most part, that ‘œHussein’ means ‘œdevil.’ But I’™m thinking Barack Obama’™s parents took some time to choose that name, and it is important for all of us to honor our parents, is it not?

‘œHussein,’ according to, was Barack Obama’™s grandfather’™s name. OK, I frankly would cringe to have ‘œHerman’ or ‘œClyde’ as my middle name, even to honor a grandfather. I might not shrink, though, from my great grandfather’™s name ‘œAssam,’ or my maternal grandfather’™s middle name, ‘œAdeeb.’ Regardless, Barack Obama should honor his parents, his grandparents, and all those relatives who helped make him what he is. ‘œHussein’ means ‘œgood’ or ‘œhandsome one,’ according to, and that’™s a nice thing, I think. But nicer is that Barack Obama has a sense of place, a sense of family, and that the sense of family values includes honoring his name, despite how the previous administration and most Republicans have demonized his middle name. I applaud him.

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Alberto Gonzales Can’t Find a Job, Whines

Alberto Gonzlaes has decided to write a book. It will consist of several hundred blank pages, as he simply doesn’™t recall much of what he did during his tenure in the Bush Administration. What is pitiful is that Gonzales compares himself to victims of the War on Terror, because the Senate picked on him, I suppose. Shameful and pitiful.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Republicans have been unable or unwilling to protect their own, and have not found a nice, cushy job for amnesiac and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Poor Alberto Gonzales. He’™s whining to the Wall Street Journal about his treatment on Captial Hill and et cetera, and has now decided to write a tell all book. (OK, the jokes about how he could possibly write a book if he ‘œcan’™t recall’ are cheap, if accurate.) Gonzales, famous for tracking down John Ashcroft in order to justify violating the constitution with the NSA domestic surveillance program, is now whining because, as a lawyer charged with knowing the law, he’™s got a track record of not recalling how he violated the constitution. But the whiney complaints are good reading, at least when in a Wall Street Journal blog:

Mr. Gonzales has been portrayed by critics both as unqualified for his position and instrumental in laying the groundwork for the administration’™s ‘œwar on terror.’ He was pilloried by Congress in a manner not usually directed toward cabinet officials.

‘œWhat is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?’ he said during an interview Tuesday, offering his most extensive comments since leaving government.

During a lunch meeting two blocks from the White House, where he served under his longtime friend, President George W. Bush, Mr. Gonzales said that ‘œfor some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror.’

This is pretty much the most clueless statement I can imagine. The treatment Gonzales received concerned the program of politicizing the department he was in charge of, the Department of Justice. It came after a string of answers which showed Gonzales either didn’™t know at all what was happening in his own DOJ, or was purposely misleading Senators with a string of ‘œI do not recall’ answers. Gonzales now doesn’™t just fail to recall, he fails to understand the enormity of his incometencies. Look for no responsibility taken in this book.

Worse here is that Gonzales compares himself to the real victims in the War on Terror, the men and women who died on 9/11, the soldiers who died because of Bush’™s policies, the tens of thousands of Iraqi dead. . . those are victims of the ‘œWar on Terror.’ Mr. Gonzales is at worst complicit in some of those deaths in that he helped justify some ugly policies. At best, Gonzales is merely a bumbling incompetent, and thus his is not a tragic story. Tragedy requires one fall from great heights, after all, and while Gonzales’™ role in the Bush Administration was a high-ranking one, it was still a role in the failed and incompetent Bush Administration.

The interview with the WSJ is a bit pitiful and self-serving, of course. Gonzales is a Republican, after all. Here’™s another excerpt:

Among other things, Mr. Gonzales said Tuesday that he didn’™t play a central role in drafting the widely criticized legal opinions that allowed the Central Intelligence Agency to use aggressive interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects and expanded the president’™s power to hold ‘œunlawful combatants’ and terrorism suspects indefinitely. He also said he told the truth to Congress about a classified eavesdropping program authorized by the president, and admitted to making mistakes in handling the U.S. attorney firings while maintaining that he made the right decisions. He says that while he bears responsibility as former Attorney General that ‘œdoesn’™t absolve other individuals of responsibility.’

Mr. Gonzales, 53 years old, doesn’™t have a publisher for his book. He said he is writing it if only ‘œfor my sons, so at least they know the story.’

This last bit seems a bit poignant. Gonzales gives excuses about his behavior concerning the NSA program and the torture policies of the Bush Administration, and then cops a little responsibility about the US Attorney scandal. I’™m surprised he admits to anything, really. This guy is universally considered a liar and an incompetent, after all. But it is poignant because it appears Gonzales knows that the only ones he can convince about his good name and reputation are his own sons. How far he has fallen.

Let’™s not let Alberto Gonzales off the hook, though. He was a lawyer with a degree from Harvard when he was hired by President Bush. He’™d worked for Bush in Texas, so likely knew what he was getting himself in for. There are no excuses for the damage he did to our constitution, and while Alberto Gonzales’™ sons may indeed believe his accounts, it is unlikely anyone else will. I’™m just wondering where the man finds a publisher who will touch the book.

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008 by Richard Blair |

GOP in California, Who Once Gave us Reagan, Now Dying

Three cheers for an incisive analysis and post-mortm of the death of the California GOP by Jon Ponder, a blogger at Pensito Review. The only question not answered explicitly is whether the death was by natural causes, murder or suicide. The elderly electorate the GOP there depend upon are dying, too, so maybe I’™ll go for natural causes rather than suicide.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

The stellar work here is by Jon Ponder of Pensito Review. Go read his article. Quoting from the LA Times and Fox&Hounds Daily, Pensito the strong case, echoing Republican Tony Quinn, that the Republican Party in California is dead. As Ponder of Pensito notes:

The only bright spot for the state GOP in 2008 was the success of Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage amendment. They are quick to bask in the glory, but you won’™t hear them claiming credit. They were not major players in fundraising or the campaign. It wasn’™t that they weren’™t eager to join in all the gay-hatin’™ fun. (Not hardly.) They couldn’™t participate because they are broke.

Anti-gay ballot measures have been highly effective at getting out the Republican vote in most states ‘” the tactic may have helped George Bush win reelection in Ohio in 2004. But Prop 8 had no coattails in California. It didn’™t help John McCain, and California Republicans even lost ground in Sacramento, where Democrats added one seat in the Senate and two in the Assembly to their majorities.

So even in a time when a ballot measure whipped the conservatives in California into such a frenzy that they took away rights from gays, the Republicans lost ground electorally. Why? The Republican party in California is run by the anti-gay, anti-abortion religious crowd. They simply won’™t allow a candidate who can’™t pass the religious litmus tests to run, and California, despite the vote on Proposition 8, is a pretty accepting place.

I’™m particularly encouraged by Tony Quinn’™s words, that the California Republican Party is a ‘œdying party of geriatric voters.’ That says almost all that Quinn needs to say.

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Toomey, Club for Growth, Demonize Unions, EFCA

Today’s Republican Pundit Gone Wild is Pat Toomey, head of Club for Growth, writes today about the dangers of unions. Evidently they cause acne, will destroy our economy, leave dirty stains in our sinks and cause earthquakes if Congress passes the Employee Free Choice Act. Everybody panic.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

I am not a union apologist. In the interest of full disclosure, I have boarded corporate jets and with that corporation’s chief labor negotiator. Indeed, I rode with the labor negotiator on several occasions, to Washington, DC, Columbus, OH, Ithaca, NY and Houston, TX. That said, I am not anti-union, either. It is my view that there have been sins on the part of management and unions over the last hundred years in this country. Conversely, there are many good examples of management doing right by employees, as there are good examples of unions standing up for employees and their rights. Pat Toomey, Chair of the Club for Growth, has a different opinion. He thinks all the problems in the world are the fault of unionization.

In today’s Philadelphia Inquirer Toomey writes a column calling for the defeat of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a small modification of National Labor Relations rules that would allow unions to be certified without a secret ballot under some conditions. Toomey, in an over-the-top drama queen conservative performance, claims right citizens have never had, blames unions for disasters and calamities, and predicts economic catastrophy if this one little rule is modified. Hey, and the big secret is that unions are already allowed to be certified without secret ballots. What the EFCA does as concerns Pat Toomey’s column, is take away the right of companies to force a secret ballot.

As I understand it, prior to the EFCA, companies could call for a secret ballot even if 100% of its employees signed a document saying they wanted to form a union. The National Labor Relations Board would then schedule a time to come run the election. What happens in the meantime? Well, there’s a whole lot of politicking that happens, by the union organizers and the company. Essentially, under present labor law, even if 100% of the employees say that they want a union, the company gets a do over and time to convince those same employees. The EFCA doesn’t let that happen anymore if a mojority of the employees sign saying they want a union. Yeah, this is a small little change in the law, and it takes away the company’s right to a do over.

Pat Toomey thinks the change EFCA represents is the end of the world, and that unions will now destroy American manufacturing completely. I am particularly enamored of this paragraph in his Philadelphia Inquirer article, where Pat Toomey blames the unions the current economic crisis:

Even though most Americans – and even a majority of union members – think fair workplace elections conducted by secret ballot are preferable to card check, Congress doesn’t seem to be listening. And given the economic crisis, this is precisely the wrong time to be sacrificing the interests of American businesses and workers.

The government will likely step in to save the auto industry because of the prevailing belief that it’s too big to fail. But if the auto industry can be brought to the brink by big labor, what about America’s small businesses? By definition, they are small enough to fail, leading to lost jobs and investment.

That’s why stopping the Employee Free Choice Act is an important part of any economic-recovery plan. Let’s hope Congress realizes that before it’s too late.

According to Pat Toomey, the unions forced GM and Ford and Chrysler to produce huge SUVs, trucks and vans. The unions forced GM to make those land yachts and Hummers and cars and trucks that got bad mileage. Then when the price of gas went through the roof and the lending market collapsed, clearly, according to Toomey, because of unions, the unions forced people not to buy GM and Ford and Chrysler cars. In fact, I’m surprised Toomey has not blamed unions for record losses at. . . Toyota.

What are the facts here? EFCA is a relatively mionr change to the labor environment in this country. Pat Toomey is Chicken Little, only the sky isn’t really falling. He’s today’s Republican Pundit Gone Wild.

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

Nuclear Armageddon! Run Away!

Of course, Pat robertson has a tin foil hat in his bedside drawer and uses it as his ouija board. So take that as you will.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Well, that’™s what Pat Robertson is predicting.

Run away, run away!

Monday, December 29th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Tim Pawlenty is This Year’s Katherine Harris?

Katherine Harris changed the election in 2000, bigtime, and it looks like Tim Pawlenty is going to do the same this year in the race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman. At the very least, Pawlenty will keep from sanctioning Franken’™s victory. Are all Republicans against democratic voting, or is it just those lusting for power?

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

It is beginning to look like it is so. The Senate Race in Minnesota is very tight, and there’™s not many of us who are ready to call it, though some media outlets are calling the race for Al Franken. So, what’™s going to happen? It is beginning to look lke Tim Pawlenty. the Republican in the mix, is going to gum up the works. Here’™s a bit from The Hill:

Still, even if Franken ends the Canvassing Board period with a lead, it is unlikely he would be appointed on an interim basis. Senate rules stipulate a governor must provide the upper chamber with a certificate of election, something Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has voiced reluctance about.

Pawlenty’™s office told the Star Tribune that the governor only has the power to fill a permanent vacancy, not a temporary one caused by such a close election.

Hey, this is a chance for Pawlenty to earn his Republican cred, isn’™t it, to step in and prevent a democratic victory. I’™m not giving an opinion on who won or losty here, though I’™m sure that America will be better off with Norm coleman on the sidelines. Still, Pawlenty digging his nose in is likely, if he wants to be seen as a frntrunner in 2012. That’™s what Republicans like, after all, a man who will nudge an election, regardless of the outcome.

Can someone do me a photoshp of Pawlenty and Harris? That would be sweet, wouldn’™t it?

Monday, December 29th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Laura Bush Dances a Little Sidestep

One expects Rove or Rice or Cheney to play fast and loose with the facts when it comes to defending the Bush Administration and its record. To see Laura Bush do so, well, is also not shocking. Not when she gets those softball questions from FauxNews. Big mentions of Afghanistan from Laura, none of why we went there, to get Osama.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Laura Bush was dancing a little Sidestep yesterday on FoxNews, defending her husband’s wreck of a Presidency. . .

Fellow Texans, I am proudly standing here to humbly see.
I assure you, and I mean it- Now, who says I don’t speak out as plain as day?
And, fellow Texans, I’m for progress and the flag- long may it fly.
I’m a poor boy, come to greatness. So, it follows that I cannot tell a lie.

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-
I’ve come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,
cut a little swathe and lead the people on.

Now my good friends, it behooves me to be solemn and declare,
I’m for goodness and for profit and for living clean and saying daily prayer.
And now, my good friends, you can sleep nights, I’ll continue to stand tall.
You can trust me, for I promise, I shall keep a watchful eye upon ya’ll…

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-
I’ve come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,
cut a little swathe and lead the people on.

Now, Miss Mona, I don’t know her, though I’ve heard the name, oh yes.
But, of course I’ve no close contact, so what she is doing I can only guess.
And now, Miss Mona, she’s a blemish on the face of that good town.
I am taking certain steps here, someone somewhere’s gonna have to close her down.

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don’t-
I’ve come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,
cut a little swathe and lead the people on.

I just couldn’t resist a little whorehouse reference when talking about the Bush White House. Pardon that moment of weakness.

We’ve got less than a month to go before President Bush, the worst President in US history, leaves office, and to that end the time for people defending him is dwindling. Oh sure, Rush Limbaugh will still try to defend Bush, blaming either Clinton or Obama for everything from the Hurricane Katrina response to the real estate mortgage crisis to the failure to apprehend Osama bin Laden. The media whack jobs like Rush will continue to distort the blame game in trying to burnish the image of George Bush. Still, time is running out for the ones who were on the Bush payroll. Who is going to listen to anyone connected to the Bush Administration after January 20th, after all? Well, Laura Bush got in her licks yesterday, and the result was quite ludicrous. She appeared on Fox News Sunday, and talks about George Bush’s noble work in Afghanistan:

WALLACE: I want to pick up on Afghanistan, because I know it’s one of your most heartfelt causes. It’s not just women – a lot of men feel very keenly about this as well.

There’s been substantial progress over the last seven years. Women can now participate in the parliament. Little girls can go to school. But with the Taliban on the march again, do you ever worry that we could go back to the days of the burqa and to that terrible oppression of women in that country?

L. BUSH: Sure, and the days of the burqa aren’t over. Many women in Afghanistan still cover because they want to, partly, because it’s part of their tradition and their culture, and also because they’d be afraid not to.

But that is a worry, and I met with a group of parliamentarians, women parliamentarians, from Afghanistan last January or so, and they said they were afraid, that their – that this is their only chance, and if they can’t make it now, then they just don’t know if they ever would be able to.

And I think that’s all the more reason the international community needs to stay involved in Afghanistan and do what we can.

Afghanistan and Iraq both have the opportunity, if they can seize the moment, to build real democracies where the rights of every person in those countries is respected, and a lot of that is because of the United States, because of our policies of liberating them from the Taliban in one instance and the tyranny of Saddam Hussein in the other.

And it’s very, very important for the people of these countries to stand up and to take this opportunity to build their countries.

But let me say about Afghanistan, they don’t have a lot of capacity. They’ve been in the conflict for 30 years, and most of their population is younger than 30. They don’t have the human capital.

It’s very important for the international community to stay involved, to try to make education as fast and as broad-reaching as possible so they can build the kind of human capital they need to build the infrastructure of laws and of civil society that they’ll need to build a democracy.

Laura’s sidestep, of course, is to burnish Bush’s record in Afghanistan without mentioning the distraction that is Iraq, a distraction that siphoned off hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of troops which could have been devoted to the cause in Afghanistan, whether that cause was the plight of women, of democracy, or of getting the guy who was actually responsible for 9/11, Osama bin Laden. I swear, in their youth Republicans must train or something to answer questions while simply bypassing the biggest issue in the room, like who was actually responsible for 9/11. There’s the big news of this interview, that Laura Bush spent oodles of time lamenting 9/11 and then the status of women in Afghanistan, the vital need for us to support their democracy, etc., etc. No, she never mentioned Osama bin Laden once.

But Laura Bush isn’t the only one guilty of this manuever. Check out Condi Rice in her defense of the Bush Administration, especially on the subject of the Middle East. And then there was Dick Cheney’s defending his decisions about torture. Yes, this is the season for defending George Bush, no matter the tenuous connection to reality those defenses take.

Monday, December 29th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

Mr. Obama, Come Try Some “Wooder” Ice

The press is all atwitter because Barack Obama ditched them to take the girls to a water park. Then they got petulant and wouldn’t join him for a shave ice at a local food stand in Hawaii. Obama should have more real life encounters, and I propose one complete with Philly water ice at Fitler Academics Plus School in Germantown, where kids are inspirational.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Mr. Obama is still in Hawaii. He escaped reporters in what they are jokingly referring to as Waikiki-gate, a swift move whereby the Barack Obama took Malia and Sasha to a water park without press interference. Then they stopped for “shave ice,” evidently some form of Hawaiian delicacy not unlike South Philadelphia water ice, pronounced “wooder ice” by the locals here. As noted by the Washington Post, Mr. Obama treated several kids who happened to be at the shave ice shop, and it got me thinking. The kids of Fitler Academics Plus School here in Philly have sent off letters of advice to the President, and He should come out here, maybe with Sasha and Malia, and listen to their fine words.

I don’t expect our Philadelphia kids to tell Mr. Obama all about Michael Nutter’s infrastructure projects. Michael probably has someone down in DC whispering in the appropriate ears already. But the kids at Fitler have taken Mr. Obama’s message of hope to heart and it needs some recognition by the President-elect. The eighth graders there have formed the Obama Hope Organization, a group of kids helping each other with tutoring and reading and, well, hope. Barack Obama’s election has been an inspiration for the students, and they’ve all written him a letter. Here are some excerpts, from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“I hope that you have a great life and that you will be the greatest, because I was Barack Obama for Halloween and I wanted black people to kick it up a notch and win. Call me anytime,” wrote Tymeer Beal, who conveniently provided the president-elect with his phone number in case Obama wanted his advice on kicking it up a notch.

. . .

“I said, –I hope you can fix stuff, because people are poor,’ ” said Kyrell Harrison.

“I want Barack Obama to help the older people and the younger people,” Daisy Stone said.

“I said, –Will you please be a good president and we’re counting on you,’ ” said Jaden Rimes, a confident young man who says he knows exactly what it means to be the president: “It means taking care of people. And lowering prices.”

The real reason Obama should visit the school, and have them treat him to some Philadelphia Water Ice is that they have embodied the Obama theme of hope and service, with the older kids digging in and helping the younger ones. We don’t need an Obama visit to Philly to boost Michael Nutter’s plans. (Hey, if Michael gets the Eagles to pay up, then I’ll ask for an Obama visit just for him!) The notion of a visit by Barack Obama to this city school that is doing wonders, especially with it’s student-run Obama Hope Organization, is to reward the students for ispiring all of us. They also make me smile. Here’s the last little bit of the article, with some of the goals of the kids, and a bit of humor (from the Philadelphia Inquirer):

The Obama Hope Organization, chartered by a handful of seventh- and eighth-grade students, has big plans.

Eighth grader Sierra Graham ticked off the things she wants the group to accomplish, aligned with Obama’s focus on education and health care.

“We should try to influence the young children to be anything they want to be,” Graham said. (Think of the planned literacy campaign and a tutoring program for students who need help, she added.)

Her friend Michelle Harvey, who said the group wants to recruit more members, nodded.

“We hope to volunteer our time, to give back, to be mentors. We’ll donate to the less fortunate,” Harvey said.

But the talk isn’t all serious, Kyshon Jackson confessed. She’s spent a fair amount of time thinking about how the president is cute.

“At first, I was going to write him a love letter,” she said. “But I didn’t think Michelle would like it. She seems feisty.”

Every holiday season needs a little inspiration, and after eight years of Bush Christmases, with soldiers in harms way, with disasters bungled, with the envirnoment trashed and the economy now in shambles, we need to take our inspiration where we can get it. Seventh and eighth graders are a good source if you ask me.

Saturday, December 27th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

Barack, the Magic Negro is Above All That

Another manufactured controversy today, this one because a stupid Republican, running to head the GOP, gave out a CD tinged with racism to the RNC committee members, likely thinking because the CD was on Limbaugh it was acceptable. These guys aren’t ready to run a hot dog stand, much less the country. Obama does the right thing in standing tall.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

By now we’ve all heard the controversy. Chip Saltsman, former campaign manager for Mike Huckabee and current candidate for RNC Chair, made the tasteless move of slipping a CD into the goodie bags for RNC Members, and on it is a song called “Barack the Magic Negro.” As TPM describes it, the song is a parody with the songwriter, Paul Shanklin, singing it as if he is Al Sharpton. I suppose one can imagine all sorts of blackface and such. Here’s the lyrics from when the song was first controversially run on the Limbaugh show about a year and a half ago, from Media Matters (and here’s the Youtube of the song):

SHANKLIN (Sharpton impersonator):

Barack the Magic Negro lives in D.C.
The L.A. Times, they called him that
–Cause he’s not authentic like me.

Yeah, the guy from the L.A. paper
Said he makes guilty whites feel good

They’ll vote for him, and not for me
–Cause he’s not from the hood.
See, real black men, like Snoop Dog,
Or me, or Farrakhan
Have talked the talk, and walked the walk.
Not come in late and won!

[refrain] Oh, Barack the Magic Negro, lives in D.C.
The L.A. Times, they called him that
–Cause he’s black, but not authentically.

Oh, Barack the Magic Negro, lives in D.C.
The L.A. Times, they called him that
–Cause he’s black, but not authentically.

Some say Barack’s “articulate”
And bright and new and “clean.”
The media sure loves this guy,
A white interloper’s dream!
But, when you vote for president,
Watch out, and don’t be fooled!
Don’t vote the Magic Negro in –
–Cause – ’cause I won’t have nothing after all these years of sacrifice
And I won’t get justice. This is about justice. This isn’t about me, it’s about justice.
It’s about buffet. I don’t have no buffet and there won’t be any church contributions,
And there’ll be no cash in the collection plate.
There ain’t gonna be no cash money, no walkin’ around money, no phoning money.
Now, Barack going to come in here and –

You know, the American people, and probably even a few Republicans about now, are beginning to detest this sort of ugly attack politics. These ugly politics tinged with racism permeated the last election cycle, and look where it got them – they lost ground in the Seante and the House, and they lost the Presidency to a black man with the middle name of “Hussein.” Sure, the incompetence of George Bush had something to do with those losses, but I’m thinking Americans are finally tired of the same old same old politics of destruction. I say let them still do it without too, too much squawking. Every time Republicans resort to anything remotely like racism, they’re going to bolster the racist base they can count on, and alienate the majority of Americans. We should take Mr. Obama’s lead on this one, and here’s what he said in 2007 when the controversy first reared its ugly head, from Tabloid Edition:

Mr Obama’s campaign team described the song as dumb. Mr Obama, who could become the first black president, said he had not heard the song but had heard about it. He played down the row, saying that he did not take himself so seriously that he became offended by every comment made about him.

There are people in this country who will condemn Saltsman and Limbaugh and anyone who chooses to associate with this ugliness. Hey, I’m not here to defend either Al Sharpton or Barack Obama. I’m here to note that Barack Obama’s response in 2007 will be followed with the same response now to this ugliness, with class and calmness that in contrast to the whiney ugniness of the Republicans will win Obama two or three more points at the polls.

It is still up in the air whether the Republicans will ever learn that civility is the new way to win campaigns.

Friday, December 26th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

Winning Hearts and (Dirty) Minds in Afghanistan

The Washington Post this morning brings humor to the discussion of the Afghanistan War, but they also bring a depiction of life in Afghanistan that feeds into stereotypes. Sure, it is interesting to know what the CIA is using to gain influence, but an article about giving away viagra just emphasiszes the notion of the arabic “other,” to our moral detriment.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

OK, maybe the guy’s mind isn’t quite so dirty. He’s got a big job at 60+ years old with four wives who are much younger. Think, think. . . how could the CIA appeal to this guy for his help? From the Washington Post:

The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

“Take one of these. You’ll love it,” the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes – followed by a request for more pills.

For U.S. intelligence officials, this is how some crucial battles in Afghanistan are fought and won. While the CIA has a long history of buying information with cash, the growing Taliban insurgency has prompted the use of novel incentives and creative bargaining to gain support in some of the country’s roughest neighborhoods, according to officials directly involved in such operations.

I’m not complaining about this practice by the CIA of handing out the little blue pill in exchange for valuable information. Oh, I suppose the guy wasn’t prescribed the drug, and if he dies from the pill, he’s not going to be much use. Hey, and if he gets one of those four hour boners it might be a long way to his doctor.

I suppose that’s what’s got me going this morning. This is a topic that just invites jokes rather than a serious discussion of the lengths to which we will go in gathering intelligence. The WaPo article is full of double intendres, so much so that this feels like a “feel good” magazine section piece. OK, it IS a “feel good” piece, at least from one point of view, but. . . just look at this wry comment from the second page of the article in the WaPo:

Two veteran officers familiar with such practices said Viagra was offered rarely, and only to older tribal officials for whom the drug would hold special appeal. While such sexual performance drugs are generally unavailable in the remote areas where the agency’s teams operated, they have been sold in some Kabul street markets since at least 2003 and were known by reputation elsewhere.

“You didn’t hand it out to younger guys, but it could be a silver bullet to make connections to the older ones,” said one retired operative familiar with the drug’s use in Afghanistan. Afghan tribal leaders often had four wives – the maximum number allowed by the Koran – and aging village patriarchs were easily sold on the utility of a pill that could “put them back in an authoritative position,” the official said.

Maybe we can call this the dumbing down of journalism, now designed to appeal to a 7th grader’s intellectual level and not to someone serious about the situation in Afghanistan and about learning how we’re solving that situation. Oh, I know this is a small example, and that the article contains far more information than that the CIA uses boner medicine as a way of inducing cooperation. Certainly, though, the viagra is the focus of the long article, when the focus should be the analysis of what’s going right and wrong with CIA tactics in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is, after all, going to be the focus again in the War on Terror very soon.

Perhaps even more troubling is what this story does to depict the exotic (now erotic) life of the Afghan Chieftain. I am reminded of Edward Said’s Orientalism, his chronicle of the history of the depiction of asian people’s in western culture, a depiction as culturally “other,” and a depiction that often used differing sexual practices as a way of emphasizing oriental “otherness.” Said uses a painting of Jean-Leon Gerome on the cover of his book, so I daresay you can find examples of late 19th century orientalism. I think the harm pictures most instructive in this discussion.

Sure, the little blue pill may certainly help in the gathering of intelligence in Afghanistan. But this is a battle for hearts and minds both in Afghanistan and in this country, and if the media keeps consciously depicting the people of central asia as so extremely “other,” that does little for our sense, I suspect, that these people are just as deserving as us to live a full and prosperous life. The more we depict the Afghanis (or the Khazakhs or the Iraqis or the Iranians) as so extremely “other,” the less likely we are to have an American populace willing to do the job right over there without torture and with far more care towards the lives of innocent civilians.

Friday, December 26th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |
Category: Afghanistan,Media
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