Tuesday, May 31, 2011

'Weinergate' and the Brave New World of 21st Century Politics

Politico Arena Topic: 'Weinergate' a Cautionary Tale?

The Anthony Weiner Twitter incident will certainly serve as a cautionary tale about the risks of social networking. Most Americans are at risk of having their email and social networking accounts hacked and their personal information stolen. It is a fact of life and elected officials are no different.

However, in the brave new world of 21st century politics, Twitter, Facebook, and other modes of social networking have become a necessity for elected officials and candidates looking for a way to connect with generations of constituents and voters who utilize that technology daily. Social networking allows politicos the ability to connect absent the media filter — and to do so cheaply and often. Especially for those politicos who seek to develop a broad base of support beyond their geographic constituency, social networking is crucial.

The Weiner Twitter incident will have little impact on the use of social networking by politicos; in fact, more and more politicos will be expected to utilize social networking technologies as time marches on.

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Advantage: Bachmann

Politico Arena Topic: Is Bachmann a Threat to Palin?

While both women profess to have much admiration for each other, they clearly occupy much of the same political space dominated by Tea Party folks and Christian conservatives. Expect elbows to start flying.

Though Sarah Palin commands the name recognition, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is a fresh face who has a rabid following among the small government crowd. Bachmann also does not carry around the personal baggage that Palin does. Whether Bachmann will wilt in the sunlight as the media glare becomes more intense is another question. Advantage: Bachmann.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Nancy Pelosi: Yesterday's News or Perfect Foil?

Politico Arena Topic: Pelosi Effective Foil for GOP?

Republican attack ads using Nancy Pelosi as the villain will be about as effective as Democratic ads were in 2010 which starred George W. Bush—not very. Pelosi is yesterday’s news. Informed voters know that Democrats no longer run the House and that the only real puppet masters of that institution have “Speaker” or “Chairman” in their title. Ill-informed voters don’t remember who the heck Pelosi is at this point since she is no longer an obsession of the Washington media.

It is interesting that Republicans would cart out Pelosi as a foil in the race for North Carolina’s 11th District and I’m sure the Shuler reelection campaign is loving it. After all, Heath Shuler’s constituents will no doubt be treated to numerous pro-Shuler ads showing that he ran against Pelosi for the Minority Leader post. All the GOP ads serve to do is demonstrate that Shuler is an independent thinker—while most of Shuler’s colleagues supported Pelosi’s election, Shuler established through his words and action that he was willing to challenge his party’s leadership and progressive wing. Shuler should send the NRCC a thank you card for helping publicize his case and making the GOP look foolish all at once.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Area 51: A Military Base Which Does Not Officially Exist

I was driving home from work today and tuned into a story on NPR's Fresh Air about a new book about Area 51. The book, Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base, was written by Annie Jacobson, an editor at Los Angeles Times Magazine. The interview was mesmerizing and covered a variety of subjects. I haven't read the book yet but if it's anything like the show today, I expect it is damn good.

Here is an excerpt from the book: "Area 51 is the nation's most secret domestic military facility. It is located in the high desert of southern Nevada, seventy-five Miles north of Las Vegas. Its facilities have been constructed over the past sixty years around a flat, dry lake bed called Groom Lake. The U.S. government has never admitted it exists. Key to understanding Area 51 is knowing that it sits inside the largest government-controlled land parcel in the United States, the Nevada Test and Training Range. Encompassing 4,687 square miles, this area is just a little smaller than the state of Connecticut — three times the size of Rhode Island, and more than twice as big as Delaware. Set inside this enormous expanse is a smaller parcel of land, 1,350 square miles, called the Nevada Test Site, the only facility like it in the continental United States. Beginning in 1951, on the orders of President Harry Truman, 105 nuclear weapons were exploded above ground at the site and another 828 were exploded underground in tunnel chambers and deep, vertical shafts. The last nuclear weapons test on American soil occurred at the Nevada Test Site on September 23, 1992. The facility contains the largest amount of weapons-grade plutonium and uranium in the United States not secured inside a nuclear laboratory."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Reenacting History: Pictures of Historic Presidential Events Often Posed After-the-Fact

A presidential practice has occurred since Harry Truman but has rarely, if ever, been talked about: presidents pose for pictures with the media after events have already taken place. Those photos are then presented to the public as pictures of the actual event when, in fact, they have been staged. So, when pictures were released of President Obama making his historic announcement to the nation about the killing of Osama bin Laden, those pictures were from the staged event which occurred AFTER President Obama had already addressed the nation.

According to WaPo: "Those pictures of the president standing at the lectern for one of his televised speeches? Yeah, they’re a kind of a crock. For decades, little known to the public, photos of the president making a major address were reenactments. Presidents — stretching at least as far back as Harry Truman, apparently — finished their speeches and then pretended to do it again a few minutes later, so that photographers barred from the actual event could snap photos. The resulting images have often been presented as the real thing when published by countless newspapers and Web sites. Maybe not a critical deception but phony nevertheless."

So, how was this deceptive practice outed? "A well-respected Reuters photographer, Jason Reed, blew the lens cap on this everyday fraud when he blogged about the Sunday-night assignment." Logistics and the need to constantly feed the media beast created the practice in the first place: "The problem is the tension between the news media’s desire for fresh images of a major speech and the logistics of pulling that off. No administration wants an address of major importance disrupted by clicking shutters or jostling photojournalists. What’s more, some parts of the White House, such as the Oval Office, are too small to accommodate even a limited pool of photographers — once teleprompters, lights, TV cameras and production technicians are in place."

The Obama White House has indicated it will stop the practice. What then, however? The public does have a desire to see still images of POTUS during historic moments. Chances are the official White House photographer will fill the void if, in fact, the White House no longer accommodates the media's desire to stage events post-event. Or, the media will have to do a better job labeling the photos indicating that they were taken after the event they are supposed to represent.

Friday, May 13, 2011

C Street Hypocrite

Politico Arena Topic: The John Ensign Report

The most startling thing about the Ensign report is the totality of the transgressions involved. If the allegations contained in the report are true, not only does it appear that the Senator broke numerous Federal laws, it is clear he is an abhorrent human being who needs to spend some quality time in prison for preying on subordinates and abusing his position in the U.S. Senate to cover his tracks. And let’s not even get into the fact that he dragged Mommy and Daddy into this mess as if he were caught shoplifting Skittles at the 7-Eleven. I applaud the Senate Ethics Panel for not quietly burying the story—something they were not doubt tempted to do.

For the record, no political party has a monopoly on moral turpitude—there are plenty of examples on both sides of the aisle. Details of the John Edwards case, for example, bring up similar repugnant issues. However, the fact that John Ensign is a self-proclaimed Christian conservative—one of the C Street crowd—makes him a first class hypocrite as well.

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Big Bad Oil?

Politico Arena Topic: Are Oil Companies the Bad Guys?

Do oil companies deserve a Capitol Hill grilling? Talk about low-hanging fruit. Americans are pumping fuel into their cars at over $4 a gallon at the same time that oil companies are scoring record profits. All this while the country’s slow recovery may succumb to inflation.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure there is not a lot of love out there for oil companies and their executives who are about as popular as Charlie Sheen at a NOW conference. They are a bogeyman for a reason—Americans don’t mind profits, even big profits, but are turned off by greed. Especially when that greed is encouraged through corporate welfare.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Details, Details

Politico Arena Topic: Lasting Damage From Shifting Bin Laden Details?

Did the administration jump the gun on releasing details on the killing of Osama bin Laden? Of course. Given the inaccuracies and number of facts the White House has had to walk back, it is clear that in the rush to inform the public, the administration did not get its facts totally straight.

In the end, however, it will have little impact on the public’s judgment on the mission—a judgment that is overwhelmingly positive. President Obama was able to accomplish what his two predecessors were unable to do: eliminate the world’s most feared terrorist.

In the short term, the “bin Laden bump” is a real boost to the Obama White House. And of course President Obama’s harrowing words in his 60 Minutes interview that the world “will not see bin Laden walking on this Earth again” will forever remain true regardless of the quality of the information that was released in the mission’s immediate aftermath.

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Monday, May 2, 2011

The Bin Laden Nightmare is Over

Politico Arena Topic: Osama bin Laden Killed

To paraphrase and slightly alter the words of President Gerald Ford: Our decade-long national-nightmare is over. This is an unexpected but very positive development in the War on Terror or War on Al-Qaeda as President Obama would say. The killing of Osama Bin Laden is a symbolic blow to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups bent on harming America and other Western countries. I’m sure that there will be negative reaction in some parts of the world—but those parts hate the United States and the West anyway.

Kudos to President Obama and his national security team who made the decision to press ahead and kept the mission from leaking. Kudos also to the intelligence community who finally solved this difficult puzzle and the American military who carried out this dangerous mission and never lost sight of the goal, even after ten long years.

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