Thanks for the Memories

Posted on 14. Dec, 2009 by .

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In the past three months I’ve learned a lot about opinion writing.  I’ve learned first and foremost that having an opinion and being able to write about it coherently are two entirely different things.  I’ve learned that it’s easy to piss off your readers and not so easy to get them to think, hmm, I never thought of it that way.  I’ve also learned that mustaches and seal claps are not a good look for some people (some of whom need to realize this for themselves).  And I’ve also learned that writing from what you know can go a lot farther than writing about what you think you know, or what someone else thinks you need to write about. At this point I can honestly say – while I’ve learned a lot more about the Obama presidency that I might have originally intended, I still know nothing about politics.  I don’t understand the need to make a fuss about the simple things in life, or to unnecessarily complicate what should be simple.  I don’t understand how the need to make someone else look bad (or taint their legacy) can out way the need to do the right thing. And I don’t understand the need to call someone else out for flaws that we all possess, just because the other person’s dirty laundry is visible and our is not.

So to politics and the Obama Blog I say, thanks for the memories.  I’m glad for the learning experience. Because what I have learned is that I have no desire to write about politics although I think my opinion could be useful in another space.  Just as long as its not a column discussing Tiger’s Wood.

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Dear Politics . . .

Posted on 08. Dec, 2009 by .

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I remembered how much you love roses and my really awesome penmanship.

I remembered how much you love roses and my really awesome calligraphy skills.

Dear Politics,

You and I have been dancing around this issue for a while now.  And despite our best efforts to keep up appearances, we just can’t avoid the truth: it’s just not working out between us.

So, I think it’s best that we just take a break and see other people.  Maybe we’ll realize that we’re meant to be together, or perhaps we’ll find that special someone that clicks better for us.

Nevertheless, I just want you to realize it’s not you, it’s me – - I see writing about politics is a lesson in futility because the subject itself is futile.

Obama, the man who was going to bring change to the nation, fell in line with the previous administration’s military strategy of “fighting them over there, so we don’t have to fight them over here” by sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.  He proposed a revolutionary health care bill that the Senate bogged down with addendums - – as they tried to quell its catalytic nature.

And the economy is still in shambles by the way.   Just thought I’d throw that in there too.

Yes, I understand that it’s not a good time to bombard you with the content of this letter.  After all, it is still Obama’s first year in office – - so many good things can happen and I’ll miss out on commenting on them.  But, I’m willing to that the risk, at least for the sake of my sanity.

Besides, the clock is slowly ticking on how long supporters can use that as an excuse for stagnancy – - and pundits are ready to criticize him and the Democrats once Americans realize Obama’s lack of progress.  And really don’t want to stick around when the hounds of political hell are fully unleashed on the White House.

You and I both knew that this day was coming.  When I first met you, I was pretty open and honest about my feelings:

I mean, how could I not hate a system that caters to the needs of the privileged and wealthy while millions of Americans remain homeless and hungry?

Why should I care about a government where political squabbling and mudslinging prevents its representatives from dealing with the state of the Union?

Why should I respect a system that fosters lobbyist glad-handing, pork lined Senate bills and representatives more concerned with kickbacks than trials and tribulations of those they represent.

Fast forward three months and nothing about you has changed.  Corrupt politicians continue to serve in Congress despite being pegged for criminal activity.  Republicans chastise homosexuals for wanting equal rights.  And the Democrats just can’t get it right – - no matter how hard they try.  Covering you is suffocating me and I just have to get out while I still can.

I know this is hard to take.  But, it’s for the best.  You’ll realize that as time goes on and when you meet your Mr. Right, whoever he may be.

Just remember the good times, memories filled with Chipotle burrito bowls, midnight Call of Duty sessions on XBox Live and Robert Plant‘s hypnotic voice lulling us to sleep:

Yours forever and always,
N-

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Jobs Report Strong In Comparison to What?

Posted on 07. Dec, 2009 by .

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Are this month’s lowered jobless reports really anything to celebrate?  So unemployment has made .2% dip, down to 10%.  This is still the highest jobless rate in the last 26 years.  And lets also consider that the jobless rate doesn’t give an accurate picture of how many people are unemployed; those numbers only cover the numbers of people filing new unemployment claims, not those who are already on the roles and have also maxed out their compensation.

As a graduate student, about to receive my masters degree, these numbers put more fear in my heart than they do to console me.  Fear that I may have to take a serious cut in pay when I get back into the job market, or go back to a field where I was miserable, just to keep food on the table.  Fear that I may have to give up the one bedroom apartment I’ve been renting for 13 years, which ultimately gives way to the fear that after living on my own for almost two decades, I may be forced to move back home and live with my parents.

And thanks Barack, for telling me what I already know, it’s could get worse before it gets better. But I’m not sure that I can wait until the forecasted shift from jobs being cut to jobs being added, expected in the coming spring. By then I will have moved back home or resigned myself to a life of crime.  And since there isn’t a market for big girls on the stripper pole, I will probably be selling drugs.

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Baucus’ Beeswax

Posted on 07. Dec, 2009 by .

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In a world where married Senators trying to solicit sex in airport bathrooms and meeting up with girlfriends in foreign locals seems to be the norm, I understand Max Baucus’ feeling inclination towards airing his dirty laundry.  But unlike some others, the Montana Democrat didn’t do anything wrong. So he nominated his girlfriend for a position in the Obama Administration.  BFD. Where’s the harm and the foul?

We as a country need to stop acting like people don’t nominate their friends and friends of friends for appointed positions, political or otherwise.  Seriously, if someone asks you to recommend someone to fill a vacancy, be it the president of the United States or the President of the he-man women haters club, what would you do?  Would you seriously consider nominating someone you didn’t know, essentially putting your reputation on the line for a stranger?  All of us, if asked, would lean towards a qualified person from our own inner circle.  That’s just how people are.  You recommend the people you know. Just because I don’t know Melodee Hanes doesn’t mean she’s not qualified to be a federal prosecutor for the state of Montana and as a seasoned attorney, I’m pretty sure she is.  And if she’s qualified and she’s a friend, do we really need to know that she’s a friend with benefits?  While I appreciate the transparency, I didn’t need to know.  Especially not as brief on the front page of the Sunday New York Times, when I’m sure there was a local shooting or drug raid that didn’t even make it into the paper.

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The Circle

Posted on 07. Dec, 2009 by .

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“I am very sensitive to the fact that my New York is only one New York, and that a successful paper should reflect all the cities out there.” – Wendell Jamieson

I write to praise newspapers, not to bury them.

Richard Perez-Pena is already on the Death and Burial of News Organizations Great and Small beat for The New York Times, and his sources are far better than any I can muster.

While my experience, like most, began with the physical newspaper with which most are familiar, it has grown to include the homepages of various papers beamed to my laptop. While the word ‘newspaper’ obviously means ‘tree pulp on which true information has been printed,’ I prefer a more existential definition.

-Warning! Math metaphor alert! -

A circle is nothing more than a line turned back on itself, without beginning or end. A line is nothing more than a collection of individual points laid along the same path that have the illusion of continuity. So a circle is not really a thing in and of itself, but a portrait of a series of points surrounding a central radius.

A newspaper is no different. Whether it arrives as a sheaf of dead trees on your doorstep or as a flash of hypertext in your web browser, a newspaper is an enormous group portrait of individuals whose lives play out around a defined center. That center can be small as a neighborhood or expand to the world entire, but no matter what, newspaper readers get an accurate impression of the circle through portraits of the points.

If the world is a circle, then newspapers show us both the big picture and the small, often simultaneously. This ability to show many perspectives while still presenting a single coherent picture made Picasso immortal; we take it for granted in newspapers.

Wendell Jamieson edits the City Room blog at The Times. His quote above perfectly expresses my sentiments about the value and necessity of newspapers. All the people of New York have their New York, all the reporters covering New York have their New York, all the editors reading the reporters’ copy have their New York, and together they form a daily reflection of the city, of the city’s place in the state, of the state’s place in the nation, of the nation’s place in the world.

When I click on the City Room blog, however, it’s free. Great for me. Unfortunately for the Sulzbergers and their employees, there are 15 stories posted on the blog, supported by three small advertisements. This is untenable, as the mounting pile of newspaper carcasses shows. I want to continue to be able to read both the master narrative of the world and the smaller stories of the people who compose it. I consider it as important to understanding as mathematics, as valuable as any painting.

Please make me pay for news. I’d much rather continue to read The New York Times than give its eulogy.

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Graduation Day

Posted on 06. Dec, 2009 by .

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In ten days I will accept my degree from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. A half month later, we’ll collectively close the door on one of the most turbulent periods of American history, a ten year span that Time magazine recently dubbed “the decade from Hell.

In the case of both, it’s about time.

Graduations, in theory, at least, are supposed to be happy occasions. Our families and friends will travel from all over to hear our names called as we walk across a stage and are handed a piece of paper that, in some way, is supposed to be a validation of the literal blood, sweat, and tears expended (not to mention the financial liability incurred) to receive it. Words of wisdom – and warning – will be conveyed by our elders. Grandmothers and parents will cry tears of joy. The auditorium will twinkle like a Christmas tree from the flashes of dozens of digital cameras. Celebrations will ensue. There will be booze.

But graduations are also supposed to represent lines of demarcation; a beginning and ending. Before grad school, we were perhaps less aware, more credulous. Reporting for a year and a half quickly disabuses you of any notion that you truly have a handle on this world, though. Post-graduation? Well, that’s a different story. It’s all supposed to make a little more sense. Or perhaps we’re just supposed to understand how little we actually know and accept it.

In any case, I feel like the ending of this year and decade might represent something of a graduation day for the county as well. Because just as the halcyon haze of my commencement will eventually fade and I’ll be faced with a series of gut-wrenching decisions about the nature of what it is that I want to do in an uncertain field, America will find itself grappling with a host of perplexing issues about the type of country it wants to be.

During his run for the White House and in the wake of his election, many pundits speculated that President Obama’s deliberative intellectual style and accommodating mien might indicate that the country was ready to turn away from the gut level decision making and openly partisan politics that characterized the two terms of George W. Bush. And, for a short time, it did feel that way.

But then the summer came and the health care debate revealed how little actually changed. Facebook posts from out of work politicians making baseless claims about the nature of the legislation dominated the national debate. Guns were brandished at town halls. Republicans accused Democrats of wanting to kill granny.

All of this played out against the backdrop of the worst recession most of us have ever seen not to mention the two wars we’re prosecuting in the Middle East. Throw in concerns over climate change and a host of other issues and its hard not to be crestfallen over what appears to be a lack of seriousness in the public debate.

So we are at a critical moment: will we, both as students and as citizens of the nation, take the lessons we’ve learned and apply them to our lives in a productive way, or will we choose to ignore them at our peril?

As to journalism, although I’m unsure of what the field will look like in the immediate future, I know that there are enterprising reporters doing the sometimes thankless but incredibly important work of providing the people of this city with snapshots of the triumphs and struggles of what’s going on around them. I see classmates digging to find important stories that need to be told. I see experimentation and innovation.

In short, it may be a rocky road, I think the future of journalism is in good hands.

And after reading stories like this, I see some reasons, albeit minor ones, to be optimistic about what the coming year might bring. Things won’t be easy, but being able to get a glimpse of our leaders working, really working, to make the best choices they can is reassuring.

So as my time as a student and this year and decade end, I look forward to 2010 with sober eyes but high hopes. I wish us all the luck in the world. We’re gonna need it.

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Why Golf Is Obama's New Favorite Sport

Posted on 06. Dec, 2009 by .

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So we know that Obama is the “sports president.” He’s been to a Wizards game, aired a video to kick off Monday Night Football, taken in an Oregon State Beavers basketball game (wifey’s brother coaches the guys team there)–he even went to a George Washington University men’s basketball game (insert a Guantanamo joke here at your own discretion). He’s definitely a hoops and football fan (he hosted a Super Bowl party after his inauguration). But I don’t believe he’s been to any hockey or baseball games yet. And certainly not any golf.

But, if the president has any good sense, he’ll book his tickets now for the next tournament Tiger Woods is playing in, and then every one following.

Because thanks to Tiger Woods, Obama’s Afghanistan policy was pushed to the back up role in the news rotation for a lot of Americans last week, replaced instead with the latest gossipy developments about Woods’ extramarital affairs.

Andy Borowitz wrote a sarcastic post about this for Huffington Post’s humor section. And Frank Rich picked up on it in his most recent Op-Ed:

As long as our wars remain sacrifice-free, safely buried in the back pages behind Tiger Woods and reality television stunts, he’ll be able to pursue [the bet he made about Afghanistan].

The reality is, there has been plenty of discourse about Obama’s decision to surge 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan–a good many of the New York Times opinion writers have weighed in at this point–but we’re in an updated news model now. While the Afghanistan speech coverage and reaction may be out there, in this updated model, it’s not finding its way to me.

As any good Jeff Jarvis disciple will tell you, with the advent of Facebook, Twitter and the like, stories and news make their way to the reader. And so, less and less readers make their way to the stories. I personally haven’t checked my Google Reader in weeks; it used to be a daily occurrence (then again, so did sleep, so perhaps my normalcy level isn’t the best standard at this point).

Last week, one of the people I’m following on Twitter tweeted that excess of Tiger Woods updates he’d received from CNN led him to unsubscribe from their feed. I read no such complaints about Afghanistan social network traffic.

You could argue that it’s a reflection of the demographic that uses social networking perhaps, but I find that the demographic is expanding and argument is starting to show gray hairs.

What I think really happened is that Tiger Woods spared Obama some short-term scrutiny. I am not saying I either agree or disagree with his decision, but nothing happens in the presidency anymore that doesn’t garner at least a dull roar and a tea party. Whatever Obama had decided, there would have been loud voiced naysayers. Woods muted their effect.

And, since it will be hard to measure the results of Obama’s plan anytime soon, you could argue that by averting some of the public reaction, perhaps Woods improved Obama’s chance at a re-election bid. A bit of a stretch perhaps, but not entirely.

Either way, I firmly believe that some Obama staffers were at least a little happy with the timing of Woods’ accident. And if next week Woods is suddenly bestowed the title of “Distraction Czar,” (also known as the social secretary) remember, you heard it here first.

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Too many young moms in the Bronx

Posted on 05. Dec, 2009 by .

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I was up in the Bronx yesterday talking to two 17-year-old mothers. Both girls started taking parenting classes with a group called the Bronx Teen Parenting program over a year ago. The service is excellent and really should be expanded through the borough, considering it has consistently had the highest teen pregnancy rates in NYC for the past 15 years. In 2007 the pregnancy rate was 127 per 1000 girls as opposed to New York State which averages 67 per 1000 according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.They teach girls like Samantha and Elimarie, even small techniques like how to properly hold their babies, how to feed the kids, proper nutrition, as well as giving them coupons for baby products. Through the parenting program both young mothers are being helped to return to high school. Accordingly, the South Bronx also hosts a 70 percent drop out rate, partly due to the large number of young parents who are unable to handle parenting and school simultaneously.
I was happy to hear that both girls are on their way back to school and to learn that their parenting classes have helped them raise three healthy kids. The classes all seemed like a step in the right direction. Elimarie is hoping to get through two more years of high school and on to college someday. Samantha is about to finish her first semester of tenth grade.
As positive as this all seemed to me, I was disappointed when I learned that the parenting program is still bound by abstinence-only education. And I thought, “What’s the point of teaching abstinence-only to teens in parenting classes? Clearly they have failed to abstain.”
I wondered this allowed to the director of the program, who only rolled her eyes, and mumbled, “yup.”
Earlier this year when Obama announced the 2010 budget, he made significant cuts in abstinence-only education programs. In total he proposed $164 million in teen pregnancy prevention, only 25% of which would go towards abstinence programs. Federal funding in the Bush years went mainly towards abstinence-only programs, as conservatives argued that teaching pregnancy prevention to teens only promoted teen sex.
It has only been six months since Obama allotted all those millions towards Teen pregnancy prevention programs. In the Bronx they are direly needed. There are plenty of organizations reaching out towards teens like Samantha and Elimarie to help them get back to school and to teach them how to care for their kids. NY Foundling and Inwood House are two wonderful non-profits that have helped many young mothers. It’s necessary and dozens of young mothers have greatly benefited from these classes and programs. But the Bronx is in need of programs that will reach out to these girls before they become mothers. The rates speak loud and clear, this continues to be a problem. Sure teach them how to be good parents, but tackle the problem before it continues growing.

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Begun, Obama's War Has . . .

Posted on 03. Dec, 2009 by .

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Send these guys into Afghanistan and watch how fast Osama Bin Laden will run out from his hole.

Send the 501st into Afghanistan and watch how fast Osama Bin Laden will raise the white flag.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . .

In the wake of an escalating civil war between the Galactic Republic and the Confederacy of Independent Systems, Republic Chancellor Palpatine (later revealed to be the evil Sith Lord Darth Sidious) received supreme executive powers, authority which he used to change the face of galactic history.

Palpatine said on that ominous day:

It is with great reluctance that I have agreed to this calling.  I love democracy… I love the Republic. The power you give me I will lay down when this crisis has abated. And as my first act with this new authority, I will create a Grand Army of the Republic to counter the increasing threats of the Separatists.

Republic officials quickly assembled an army by implementing cloning technology, which created a near-limitless supply of troopers – - thus the conflict was forever known as “The Clone Wars.”

In light of President Obama’s recent decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, one wonders if the Commander-in-Chief wishes if he could send in the 501st Legion to Afghanistan instead of this country’s armed forces.

Nevertheless, with the President’s decision to send more troops to the nation also comes an undeniable realization: though Bush started the Afghan War in 2001, it is Obama’s war now.  There’s no blaming the previous administration for their lack of troop withdrawal – - because this administration is following in their footsteps.   So what happens to the American troops stationed in the region rests solely on his shoulders and no one else.

Check out the speech in its entirety via WhiteHouse.gov (which has a very shiny looking video player I might add):

The public can construe Obama’s West Point address in one of two ways:

1) Obama wanted to break the news directly to the men and women most likely to encompass the 35,000 reinforcements in a Patton-esque manner (if this is the case, I think he failed in this regard).

OR

2) Obama used this as a publicity stunt to take attention off of his non-committal committal to the future of Afghanistan (35,000 more troops to the region while the country prepares to leave in 2011? Two steps forward to take three backwards?)

With the Clone Wars, the Republic could easily throw hundreds of thousands troops at the conflict because they were expendable clones.  And their opponents, the Separatist Droid Army could do the same for their forces were nothing more than inanimate androids programmed solely for war.

Conversely, the United States, despite having an expendable and viable technological option in the Reaper Drone program, resolved to fight the war by overloading the region with living and breathing military resources – - namely this generation’s young men and women  – - and put them in harm’s way needlessly.

Now, the nation can only hope that, with Obama’s decision, these troops’ yet expelled blood and sweat won’t result in their loved ones’ tears of sorrow and mourning.

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Help Wanted: Second Superpower Needed in Middle East

Posted on 30. Nov, 2009 by .

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Iran’s announcement that it plans a massive expansion of its nuclear program couldn’t come at a worse time for the Obama administration. And President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad knows it.

Right on the heels of a pointed rebuke by the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency over its nuclear program, Ahmadinejad announced that the country would build ten more reactors.

Obama is in trouble on all side with Iran. Conservatives are sure to say that Obama’s efforts at rapprochement, were interpreted as weakness by Tehran. Meanwhile, the President has just ordered thousands of more troops into neighboring Afghanistan. And with Obama declaring that the war will continue until 2017, Iran knows that there is no chance of a credible military ultimatum from the administration.

Meanwhile another debt fueled holiday season puts the U.S. further in debt to China. Mounting American debt to China in this economic mess takes away American ability leverage China, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said recently. And without China even weak sanctions are impossible.

And Iran for its part has every reason to push for confrontation. With the regime still recovering from the shock of this summer’s street uprising, Ahmadinejad is eager for anyway to redirect youthful anger on a shoving match with the West.

Obama has a very difficult line to walk on Iran. Making threats that he can’t deliver on will make Iran’s leaders even more eager to test new red lines, while giving the regime a greater mandate to crack down on dissent. But the further along that Iran gets on the potential of building a bomb, the harder it will be for anyone to reign them in.

The only real hope is that China can be convinced to assert its new role as a global superpower. In some ways China has the most to lose if the Middle East were to explode. If Israel were to launch strikes against Iran’s reactors there would be a real possibility of regional war that would drive oil prices through the ceiling. A huge 1970′s-style oil hike would throw the breaks on China’s march to development.

China is in a unique position to offer Iran a stake in its future growth through trade agreements. China also can offer Iran a boost through helping to rebuild the country’s crumbling infrastructure – power generators, refineries, major highway systems.

Iran’s stalled economy is one of the causes of the regime’s instability and therefore a big part of the reason it needs to pick fights with America. The U.S. is in no position to do massive development projects in Iran, and neither nation’s populations would like it much, anyway. But China could take this role, gaining stability in a critical region while building relations and leverage over a country with resources it needs.

Obama’s best move in Iran might be to convince China it needs a piece of the action.

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