September 13, 2007

Nothing But the Truth

Humor is complex, and especially so in the realm of politics. Something else that’s complex in the realm of politics is the notion of trust. The American public has finally begun to grown skeptical over whom they trust after years of biased news coverage, shady media conglomeration and deceitful political administrations. So this brings about the inevitable question: why should you trust me? Do I know everything about politics? Of course not. Can I keep secrets? Kelly’s pregnant and she’s probably not going to keep it, but don’t tell anyone that I told you. But am I funny? I would sure like to think so. Or, at the very least, funny things have a tendency of finding me.

To prove this, I will relay an anecdote from my childhood. When I was 8 years-old, my treasured hermit crab, cleverly nicknamed “Hermy,” died. When I made it to his cage, I only found his shell. At first, this didn’t surprise me, because Hermy was a frequent exhibitionist and enjoyed chilling with his toys in the nude. After I thoroughly inspected the cage, I was shocked to find that Hermy was nowhere to be found, so I asked my mom if she had seen the naked refugee. She quickly sat me down and began to dispense the enchanting tale of the underground hermit crab railroad.

“Deep under the streets, there is a railroad for homesick hermit crabs,” she explained. “The hermit crabs all take the train back to New Jersey to meet up with their families.”

I instantly imagined flocks of homesick hermit crabs trekking down to the train station, some toting tiny suitcases, others, like Hermy, braving the journey naked. Little did I know that Hermy hadn’t boarded any underground railroad. He was, in fact, buried in the front yard in a shoebox next to my mom’s tulips.

Sure, my mom’s intentions were admirable, but in the end, she withheld the truth, regardless of whether it was to prevent a midlife crisis pre-puberty. As upsetting as the truth might be, it is the truth. With that said, I pledge to not conjure up fuzzy stories akin to the underground hermit crab railroad. We’re putting this blog together to promote discourse between politicians and the rest of the nation and to foster an atmosphere comfortable enough for questions to be asked and the truth to be delivered. The humor division of this blog maintains the same prerogatives, we just have a more amusing way of telling the truth.

Polictical Debates in the 21st Century

As I researched the Lincoln-Douglas debates this week I found myself contrasting these debates of 1858 with ones we can tune into on CNN during this election season. I came to the conclusion that political debates today have become entirely too safe and predictable.
Lincoln used debate as a way to thrust himself onto the political stage and become a true contender in 1860 election. Lincoln was able to build a campaign and following on the speeches he made in 1858. Lincoln and Douglas both got a full, uninterrupted hour to address the issues they felt prevalent, which was predominately slavery’s position in American society.
The 2004 presidential debates lasted ninety minutes total, already allotting a smaller portion of time to each candidate. Candidates are asked specific questions, which could be beneficial; withstanding that rhetoric can be used to avoid fully answering questions they are uncomfortable with. Two minutes are giving for closing statements are the end of the debate.
It is no wonder that with this structured format only about 40% of Americans tuned into the 2004 debates. Debates should return to being less scripted and give the candidates a chance to truly connect with the citizens watching. Honestly, can you see history classes in fifty years discussing and studying the Bush-Kerry debate in 2004 with as much revere as we now study the Lincoln-Douglas debates? Perhaps major news networks keep this question in mind before arranging the Fall 2008 debates.

Tony Blair Gets Personal

I was scanning youtube for a clip of the Nixon-Kennedy debates of 1960, the first televised presidential debate, and I somehow come across this clip of Tony Blair. The video was made just before Blair's announcement last May that he would step down as Prime Minister.

James Kotecki's main goal is to have this type of debate opened up between political candidates and the American people. Certainly Tony Blair had time to prepare and ready his answers, but he still utilized the new media which youtube has provided. Clearly, it's possible for candidates to debate or discuss on youtube, they just haven't managed to get their act together yet.

Some Inspiration?

I'm not a fan of politics. In fact I hate politics. But in this day and age they're a necessary evil. I've watched a couple of debates. And all I can say is this, "Politicians are crazy." They script their answers, there's no spontaneity, and they avoid real questions like the Black Death. Debates have become a realm of touting a platform. We need to inject some life into politics, get some real thought going. Like this man did.

We're people, we have a responsibility to change what we don't like. That's the entire basis of this country. We not only should change the air of politics, we have a responsibility to.
So let's change something.

Quizzes controlling votes?

I think I'm in the lower 5% of AU undergrads when it comes to knowledge about today's political issues. I don't watch presidential debates; I don't keep up with current events; I don't get all hot and bothered when I talk about politics. I would very much rather sit down, listen to music, and maybe go through and watch the most ridiculous videos ever created. This is what is entertaining to me. This is what I like to do.

In thinking of what I could possibly blog about, I did a quick google blog search on "Politics for Dummies" and I was quickly referred to a rather interesting post from a said "elyzabeth." She writes about how she took this quiz that is supposed to be for people who maybe don't know much about politics, and they take the quiz and it tells which candidates they agree with the most and everything. The quiz can be found here.

The blogger gives us a disclaimer stating that "the best part about this quiz is that if you’re left-leaning at all, you’re pretty much guaranteed to wind up with Kucinich on top because, a candidate gets points for each position you agree wtih him/her on and, according to the comments section at Pandagon, Kucinich is the only one who gave a position for every question."

Now, I would consider myself more left leaning than right, so I was expecting whoever this Kucinich guy is to be at the top of my list... and I was right. Kucinich on top with Obama right below.

But it got me to thinking... what if someone just stumbled upon the quiz and was not informed of this disclaimer? And, do people really base their actual votes on the results from a survey they took online? I would hope the answer is no... but you know how people are. How do you think became popular? Because people love quizzes and people love what their results are. People abide by fortune cookies, and some even think that horoscopes from the Sunday paper will really tell you what's going on...

But now these quizzes might be influencing American politics. What if everyone who takes the quiz gets Kucinich and since they're a "dummie," they will vote for whatever the quiz tells them. In a nation with lazy people (like myself), they won't be watching a political debate and they won't be following up on current events. A quiz they can take in 3 minutes might hold a little more weight than anything else. God forbid if any candidate is behind the funding for some of these quizzes, because it could be masked pretty easily; no one would know.

What if the quiz taker is on the fence between voting Obama and Clinton? Should a quiz really dictate the decisions our fore fathers fought so hard to let us have for ourselves? Could we be seeing a Kucinich-run white house? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Second-Class Citizen

I’m one of those… oh, what do you call them? bleeding-heart liberals? You know, a "we're descended from monkies, women have a right to choose, pull out of Iraq, homosexuality is not a choice, the humanities can safeguard our culture" kind of person. And it’s my firm belief that theatre –like an internet blog- is a powerful medium of political awareness and discourse –just look to ancient Greece for evidence on how public performance can be used as a means of civic engagement. In the 2,500 years since Aeschylus first produced his Oresteia, however, theatre has shifted to –and is seen almost solely as- a form of entertainment rather than education. Now is the time to change that perception.

But doing so is difficult: in today’s world of Bonos and Brangelinas, many actors are politically vocal, but few are politically aware. I need your help to change this. In the coming weeks, I want to learn more about the positions of presidential candidates on a subject that many actors care deeply about and has only been talked about within the past two decades on stage: homosexuality. I want the candidates’ –and all of your- opinions on don’t-ask-don’t tell, marriage versus civil unions, federal anti-discrimination laws, allocations for AIDS research and the development of the queer image. It’s my hope that this blog might create more civic discourse so that this actor –as well as anyone else who will share- might be a bit more informed when standing in the voting booth a year from now.

And so it begins...

The idea for this blog came from a speech by Newt Gingrich about the need for honest debates among politicians. He said that the rules for presidential debates these days limit the candidates too much and make it hard for those watching the debates to get a true sense of the issues. During debates, the candidates not only deal with time constraints, but ridged rules of how to rebut their opponents. A book full of rules is no way for healthy dialogue about issues to occur.

That being said, how do we as a group of college students, blogging for class, make people interested in what we are writing about? Who will care that we are looking for ways to promote debates without super hardcore rules?

One person who might care is Newt Gingrich himself (or perhaps people who work for him). So the other day, I friended Newt on facebook. His profile is here. I also joined his official facebook group. I figure once the blog really starts rolling, we can announce our presence and have Newt fans flock to our blog. Hopefully really opinionated Newt fans who might disagree with us on something, because debate and discussion is kinda pointless when no one disagrees with anyone else.

Mashup Missteps

In my search for blogs that actually create political discourse (and don't just regurgitate news stories), I stumbled upon the Yahoo! Democratic Candidate Mashup. In theory, Yahoo! (in conjunction with the Huffington Post and Slate) has created some sort of interactive debate between the Democratic presidential candidates by tapping into the internet's wondrous resources.

Well, not really. In fact, this "debate" is just a series of interviews, conducted by journalist Charlie Rose. The candidates appear to be interviewed by Rose one-on-one and surely had time to prepare their well-organized responses. Questions from real people mix things up a bit, but in the most controlled way possible.

It's a shame that such high-profile alternative news organizations were able to sit down with all these candidates, only to waste this opportunity -- or, more specifically, to treat this opportunity the same way a mainstream news source would.

At least Mike Gravel was able to air his suspicions of agrarian-based school calendars.

Too many debates, too little interest

I didn't watch the Logo debate. That's right, I said it. I've missed every Republican debate, too. The Univision debate occurred while I had class, though I made little effort to search for it online or read a transcript.

On a blog about maximizing political discourse, such a confession should be anathema. I'm a registered voter; it's my democratic duty to be informed. Turn that argument on its side, however, and you'll realize how benign it truly is.

Take, for example, the most recent CNN opinion poll of President Bush's approval ratings. Unsurprisingly, only 35 percent of Americans surveyed believe the commander in chief is doing a decent job leading the country.

Of course, Iraq has a lot to do with those numbers. In the shadow of a poorly handled week of congressional testimony, President Bush is scheduled to speak to the American people this evening to detail the Administration's plan for "drawdown" (a rather precarious rhetoric device military leaders use when they don't want to say "withdraw") by Summer of 2008. Yet it begs a more important question: where was Congress during all of this?

Think of Iraq as microcosmic. If a hasty exit from Baghdad was America's top priority -- and the Democrats, in their bid for Congressional supremacy during the midterms, said it was -- why was there such a lull between November of 2006 and now? Of the sixteen politicians now vying for the presidency, how many of them turned their stump rhetoric into action, translated their complaints into workable policy? And once those said policies and proposals fell through the cracks of congressional gridlock, which candidates, if any, persevered and fought the administration?

I think that's why I refuse to watch the debates. Aside from their generally uninformative structure, such scripted nonsense early on in the election cycle does little to correct problems in the status quo. Instead, today's debates are distractions that stifle discourse, stops on long campaign trails that prevent those most able to facilitate change (the politicians) from doing their jobs. The debates demonstrate Congress' tacit compliance with the executive branch -- a major dilemma considering America's perceivably infallible checks and balances system.

We can analyze as many candidates as we want, picking apart their analogous behavior all the while asserting our ever-growing partisanship, all to no effect. Until we shed the ever so prominent belief that Congress is unable to affect change until November 2008, America's most troublesome problems will worsen and the debates that discuss them will lack substance. But no one's willing to ask that question, now are they?

Hillary vs. Obama

So I came across this video on Despite the fact that it doesn’t focus specifically on the Presidential debates, it is still relevant to our class on Dissident Media, at least in regards to the public and mainstream media’s primary concerns about these candidates. The two advocates for Hillary and Obama both spout the same comments and criticisms that are highlighted and repeated in mainstream media. The pettiness of the criticisms, and the heated and overblown discussion of the candidates’ personal lives definitely reflects the same general petty attitude of mainstream media.

While the advocates of both candidates are distracted and arguing about issues such as Obama's previous cocaine use and Hillary’s marital problems, they never address the issues people and the media should actually be talking about. They don’t talk about healthcare or immigration and they only briefly mention the war. Even when they spoke of the war, Obama’s advocate only talks about past voting records and doesn’t talk about policies for the future.

The satirical argument is an unfortunate expression of what the primary focuses are in this year’s Presidential race. Scandal is overemphasized because it’s entertaining and it sells. Therefore politics has just turned into a petty soap opera. The worst part is the public eats it up! And as this video shows, the public then just becomes a mouthpiece for what mainstream media’s selling.

Will Clinton's return affect her standing?

This week, it was announced that Senator Hillary Clinton had to return $850,000 in donations due to the fact that the money was given by someone under investigation for fraud. stated that, “The refunds, among the largest in political history, set a precedent that will create pressure in future situations involved tainted donors” ( The question is did the refund and apology come too late? It seems that whenever the media catches on to politician’s mistakes, before the politician admits to their wrongdoing, the apology can seem phony. Take for example when President Clinton was called out on his affair with Monica Lewinsky, was his apology after he was caught sincere, or was it stimulated by the fact that he needed to save his reputation? Now, his wife is caught in a similar situation (minus the affair of course). The media was the first to draw attention to the fact that the donation was given by someone under investigation, and then Senator Clinton returned the money, so was it earnest? Or was she coerced and required to return the donation? Was it more important that she gave back the money at all, or was it nullified because she was called out on the fact that it was a bad donation? It can be argued that this can work for or against her reputation… she did return a very large donation, which can be detrimental to her campaign in the future, but then again it can be said that, she did return a very large donation because the media announced that it was potentially fraudulent money. Prior to this event, Clinton and Obama were tied as front runners for campaign collections, now what? Will this bring down her campaign? As well, will this effect how much they raise by the time they need to give campaign numbers again? Senator Clinton’s return can be beneficial to her reputation, but will it bring down her campaign and then in return affect her standing?

Straight 2 the candidates

Today in my Mass Media class two college students from Germany came in to recruit help and to inform students of their new blog site which is currently in the works. At this site anyone can post a blog directing a question to any of the US presidential candidates. The two college students created a site like this in Germany so that regular citizens could have the opportunity to ask their president questions. Viewers can vote on blogs that they find most important or relevant. The more popular the blog the more likely it is to get an answer. In a matter of 3 weeks, and after much publicity, Germany's president was responding to the 3 most popular questions. The President notified the two college students who created the site thanking them for their idea and pledged that he would do his best to answer at least 3 questions a week.

I think that this site would be a great source for our blogging in Dissident Media. In a matter of weeks the site should be up and running. Hopefully most candidates respond to the site. In Germany they never specifically notified the president, but after word spread and after much publicity the president responded. The voting system on the site enables users to make clear which questions they want answered. The questions are directed to specific candidates rather than the parties. This site is in the same context of the youtube debates. It will give the regular citizen the opportunity to directly ask the candidates questions that they want answered. Groups can even be made on the blogging site, like student groups for instance, that can advocate for a certain cause.

The creators are looking towards college students to spread the word of this upcoming site. They hope that more people will become involved in the upcoming election. This site was a big hit in Germany, and I think it will be a great way to see a more personable side of the candidates. Furthermore, we can finally get some important questions answered! Video responses can be added, so hopefully the candidates use this tool. Once the site is up and running I think it'd be great to follow along with it to see how it does. Hopefully it will pick up rather quickly so we can look at it this semester. It would also be a great site to link to! I'd definitely use it to follow the candidates' positions.

Check it out if you have some time, the site is

WhoseTube Debates

A few months after the Democratic YouTube debate and a few months before the Republican, now is as good a time as any to reflect on what exactly is the point of these Web 2.0 inspired debates. Are they really holding the candidates accountable to the voters, or are they merely a hip charade?
According to YouTube, "This is your country, and your presidential debate." However, the YouChoose '08 site goes on to say that the CNN political team chooses which videos will air, a method out of line with the Web 2.0 modus operandi. Why not decide by votes? Comments? Clicks?
Perhaps CNN and YouTube are trying to assuage the fears of candidates such as Mitt Romney, who said, “"I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman" (see the WaPo campaign blog The Trail on Aug. 12). Romney was referring to a global warming question asked by a snowman at the Democratic YouTube debate.
Does Romney really have any reason to be afraid? After all, what difference it make if a kid with MacBook asks the questions instead of an experienced moderator if the candidates still respond with the same boiler plate talking points and are never held to their words?


What to blog about?
This has truly been plaguing me all week. I know we're not supposed to allow the blog to become a time sink, but I'm one of those people who has trouble coming up with an idea without any guidelines. After long debate I've decided to blog about my disappointment for the week.

The Petraeus report was a whole lot of nothing. None of my friends were at all changed by Petraeus' answers. He didn't provide anything that hadn't already been thoroughly debated in the mainstream media. Also after the add none of the Democrats or any of the mainstream media seemed to have the willingness to at all question any of the statements that were made during the presentation. It was a relative waste of time for the American public. The one good sign is that Petraeus did propose a hypothetical timetable for withdrawal of the troops. Even this draw down would have the Americans maintaining a troop level of 70,000 for some time to come. However with the assassination of the leading anti-al Qaeda Sunni in Anbar yesterday who knows if even that is feasible.