October 1, 2007

Campaigning for Cash

The fundamental question of the day is, what would you do if you had $265,098,330? If you're fuzzy at reading reeeaally big numbers, let me spell it out for you. What would you do with more than one quarter of a billion dollars? The answer, you might be surprised or just saddened to hear, is finance the eighteen front runners is the 2008 presidential bid. At least, up until June 30, 2007 according to the link to a Washington Post Article above.

That's right, 16 months before the fateful day in November still more than a year away; the candidates had raised sufficient funds to send 1,506 people to American University for all four years, free of charge. Go ahead, do the math. Realize that the entire incoming freshman class could be here on a full ride for all four years with that money, and there would still be cash to spare. Better yet, with that money you could shack up 1,767,322 homeless people in a $150 dollar hotel room for a night with that cash.

Of course, there are other and probably better uses of 17.6 times the value of the Louisiana purchase, but the fact remains that the candidates raised what is to me at least, an absolutely incomprehensible amount of money, a full year and a third before the election. If that isn't mind boggling enough, according to http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/index.asp, it's projected that the eventual nominees will round up half a billion dollars a piece for their presidential bids.

Can you imagine the kind of good that could be done with a billion dollars? The lives that could be saved, the futures that could be brightened, here and abroad. Presidential elections and U.S. elections in general, cost too much money. Newt Gingrich, conservative that he is, brought up an excellent point. Elections have metamorphosed from campaigns of ideas to campaigns of ideas for fundraising. Perhaps there is in fact a relationship, but to me at least there seems to be little relevance between the ability to raise more money than most people will ever fathom, and running a country. It’s no longer the best candidate but instead the best fundraiser.

I don't know how a less gluttonous presidential election could be held, but I do know that there are far better ways to spent hundreds of millions of dollars. Roll the phrase around on your tongue: hundreds of millions of dollars. Who do you think would do more good with that money, a presidential committee or a nonprofit organization?

Truth in Humor

Today, (in fact as I type this) “Aliens in America” is debuting on The CW. Much to my surprise, the show is not about aliens such as E.T. & company. It’s about an immigrant. The show takes place in Medora, Wisconsin, and chronicles the Justin Toluchuk’s awkward high school plight, as he tries to navigate his way through the social scene. His family is not much help either, from his well-meaning mom and idealistic dad to his overtly popular sister. Hoping to find a remedy to her son’s social situation, Justin’s mother, Franny, signs the family up for the school’s international exchange student program.

“Picturing an athletic, brilliant Nordic teen, Franny is sure this new friendship will bestow instant coolness on her outsider son. However, when the Tolchuck's exchange student arrives, he turns out to be Raja Musharaff a 16-year-old Muslim from a small village in Pakistan…While the rest of the family is slightly freaked out by the Muslim in their midst, Gary is comforted by the fact that the host family receives a monthly check to help with expenses.”

Freaked out by the Muslin in their midst? He’s Muslim. Not a charging rhinoceros. The kid is named Raja, though, which is the same name as Jasmine’s pet tiger in “Aladdin.” Something still tells me that the family is not freaked out by the “Aladdin” connection. In fact, it’s very clear that the reason why the family freaked out is solely because of Raja’s religious identity. It’s his skin color. The initial reaction upon the family’s faces when they first see Raja (prior to learning of his faith) is one of utter shock with a surprising lingering sense of disappointment.

What The CW has in its hands is a golden opportunity to explore culture clash in the realm of high school America. It could also present a sobering satirical examination of American fears regarding Muslims. It could chronicle Raja’s Americanization. The worst thing that “Aliens in America” could do is do nothing and just present American fear with little analysis.

This show could even pick up with 2005’s “Crash” left off. Heralded as an essential study of race in America, “Crash” went onto win the Academy Award for Best Picture. What “Crash” strove to achieve was indeed admirable, yet flatly presenting the thesis that everyone(regardless of whether we’re honest with ourselves about it) is racist to a degree does not really change much. I mean, racists I know are not going to magically realize the error of their ways after Paul Haggis bangs his argument over their heads. Especially with a screenplay that horrendous.

People respond differently to humor, though. There is something more appealing about being told that you are doing something wrong in funny manner. So who knows: “Aliens in America” really does have the potential to do something great. As to whether or not the writers will pursue this opportunity to the degree they should…that’s a different story. The worst thing that could happen would be if Raja ends up being a token plot device who exercises his Muslim traditions as a means to generate tired, empty jokes.

So Why Does He Still Have a Job?

On tonight's Countdown with Keith Olberman, Olberman had a segment about Bill O'Reilly's radio show and his comments he made last week about a resturant in New York City. In the segment, Olberman teaches us, the American public, how to defend ourselves from an O'Reilly attack. Last week, O'Reilly continued to stir and justifiy his statements about the Harlem resturant.

I have been listening to pundits back and forth about O'Reilly and his comments and I just ask myself, why do we still let Bill O'Reilly have a job when so many people can not stand what he says? Granted, O'Reilly gets paid to say these very controversial things. It's really frustrating that O'Reilly gets so much press and he seems to be a detriment to the idea of better discussion. It's a real shame that we let someone like O'Reilly continue to speak about things that really should not be mentioned. O'Reilly does not bring anything useful to the table. Why don't we do the best thing we can do against this type of speech: not listen to it. We shouldn't feed into these kinds of people. We can only hope...

History of Presidential Debates

We've been having plenty of discussion on presidential debates, but we haven't really discussed the history of presidential debates, outside of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
On September 26, 1960 the first general presidential debate was held between candidates Richard Nixon, and John F. Kennedy. This debate was also the first televised debate, previously debates had been broadcast over the radio, or were printed in major newspapers. Those who listened to the debate on radio believed Nixon to be the winner, however, those who watched the debate on television viewed JFK as the victor of the debate. On screen JFK appeared relaxed, comfortable, and generally in his element. Nixon on the other hand, had been hospitalized earlier in September and appeared sick and exhausted on-screen.
A connection can be drawn between Nixon's unpreparedness for the medium of television and the refusal of candidates today to utilize Youtube. Gradually more and more presidential candidates are beginning to see the advantage of using youtube to reach out to a younger generation but the certainly took their own sweet time, and as James Kotecki has shown, the majority of the candidates do not use youtube to the best of their advantage.
Although the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate was the first official presidential debate, there are several other debates which served as forerunners to our current conception of today's presidential debates. The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 are a prime example. Although no television or radio existed at the time to broadcast the debates, newspapers printed the debates, and many people took a serious interest in the debates.
Following the presidential debates of there were no debates held for 1964, 1968, and 1972. The election of 1976 saw televised presidential debates between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Since 1976 every presidential election has had at least one presidential debate, the majority of elections have had more than one debate.
A problem now rises from reading this history. Although we believe that there has been a long history of presidential debate, these debates have only been around since 1960 elections. There are other debates which do set some precedent as the Lincoln-Douglas debate did, but in reality there is little for us to compare today's presidential debates to.

There are some things money can't buy; for everything else, there's American ignorance!

Oh, Newt. While I'd like to think you took my advice last week and realized that raising $30 million in 3 weeks was impractical, I'm sure that was not the case. I won't argue the importance of your political action committee, American Solutions, or the difficulty of obtaining funds this late in the race...

...ut I can use your reluctance as an example of what I think is most disturbing about American politics.

Take, for instance, CNN's most prized headline this chilly evening, which (perhaps discretely) applauds Sen. Barack Obama's $20 million (and possibly more) fundraising blitz this quarter. The not-so-shocking amount puts the not-so-inexperienced senator at about $74.9 million this election cycle.

For anyone interested in the math, that amount would cover nearly 44,600 AU students' financial tabs... yea, tell me about it...

Anyway, the amount, in my mind, really forces us to reconsider the age old question: to whom are the candidates most accountable or responsible? Sure, we'd like to believe in the merits of basic democratic theory, that our electoral system only allows the most qualified and (or) popular candidates to assume office. But what about the thousands of interest groups, PACs (like Gingrich's) and businesses who donate the most money to presidential candidates? It's true; the larger one's coffers, the better one's chances at securing success in the primaries.

I mean, this isn't always the case; Howard Dean and John McCain, in their earlier runs for their respective party's nomination, far outdid their competition. But for the most part, donations produce votes. Fundraised dollars means advertisements and canvassings, appearances and stump speeches, bigger staffs and more ambitious goals; more showiness, more political grandeur, more pageantry, all of which is uncharacteristic of real grass roots democracy.

And when the media hypes earnings, they give the impression that the candidate with the most money is indeed the most popular. Granted, this is sometimes true (or near true), as a recent CBS poll of the Democratic field would demonstrate. But any publicity is good publicity. Why would an able minded middle or low income American donate a large sum of money to a candidate (who perceivably promised adequate representation of their demographic) the media depicts as losing or already lost? It's paradoxical, to say the least.

So when I hear the big guys like Gingrich and Obama lambasting the political system while fretting over much-needed campaign dollars, I start to wonder whether this whole "we're going to change American politics as we know it!" scheme is nothing more than an excellent sound byte. You can't change America's election structure if the most contact you have with the country is the random debate and the occasional thousand-per-head dinner. It's about time someone realized that...

Licoln vs. Douglas 'The Smackdown' Pt. 2

The Lincoln Douglas debates rotated around the concept of slavery and it's expansion, or lack there of, into new territories. Image:Forcing Slavery Freesoilers Throats.jpg
It was Douglas who first helped to instate the Kansas-Nebraska Act which was used to repeal the Missouri Compromise and instead promoted the idea of popular sovereignty. These basically means that first the new territories of Kansas and Nebraska were both established and designated a specific area to occupy. Originally the Missouri Compromise banned slavery in all the former Louisiana Territories, except for Missouri, however the Kansas-Nebraska Act changed that so that the residents of both Kansas and Nebraska can vote and decide if they would like to allow slavery to expand to their territories.

This heated issue was one of the main topics of their debates since Douglas claimed that a democracy must be balanced with the idea of popular sovereignty citing the Compromise of 1850 as his prime example. Lincoln contested this idea by claiming that the national policy was to limit the spread of slavery which started with the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Between all the legislation that either allows or bans slavery in the different areas and territories it is easy to see how the separation between the free and the slave states only continued to grow as time wore on. The Lincoln-Douglas debates were not what sparked this controversy but they certainly helped bring the controversy into the public spotlight.

you down with GLB? yea, you know me....

There are those who think we queers are overly ambitious in our pursuit of gay civil rights. Calm down, I’ve heard. Blacks campaigned for civil rights for decades after centuries of enslavement… it’s a long process.

But why?

Sure, the African-American Civil Rights Movement and the enfranchisement of women took decades and decades of struggle (and arguably the effects of racial and sexist subordination are still felt today), but aren’t we a different society than we were in 1865 or 1920, or –hell- even 1973 (when the APA removed homosexuality as a mental disorder from the DSM)? Hasn’t the inclusion of women and blacks into Club Citizen taught us anything about marginalizing friends, colleagues and family members into categories of queer “untouchables”?

It’s 2007 and I have less agency than most of the people reading this blog. Fred Thompson suggests ammending the constitution to prevent court judges from legalizing same-sex marriage, but leaves that power open to each state legislature -a pretty moderate viewpoint for his party, and one that will certainly win him fringe votes should he gain the nomination. Hillary Clinton says she doesn't currently support same-sex marriage but wants to understand and work more for the cause.

With supporters like this in political power, with a more informed, mobilized and capable generation of gays than either women or blacks had available to them during their decades- and centuries-long struggle, with more ways of diseminating information and raising awareness than ever before, why should we be content to wait another 60 or 80 years for an ammendment guaranteeing our right to be equal citizens with our heterosexual friends and neighbors?

Why not now?

To blog or not to blog.... and my temporary political apathy

I must say, there are some days where I just flat out could not care less about politics. I look at all of the different politicians and candidates and I wonder if it is really worth the effort of getting to know about the various candidates and their views simply to mark a few boxes on a ballot next election year.

I was one of those kids who always enjoyed knowing about politics. My mom worked for a state senator, taught high school government, and has campaigned since before I was born. Growing up in my household, it was very easy to know what was going on in politics, which made some classes in high school a bit easier, and I really enjoyed knowing about current events. Sometimes my friends’ parents would ask me who to vote for because they figured I was better informed than they were. It was always easy to find my house during election season because we would be the house with six signs supporting different candidates in the front yard.

Then I come American University, which last year was the most politically active campus but now has gone down to sixth. And I was politically active last year. I campaigned, I voted absentee, and I followed the news.

And then the 2008 election started. In 2006. I think the reason I don't really care about this upcoming election is that it has been going on so long with nothing really changing. It’s like seeing advertisements for Christmas at Halloween. It’s too much.

Now being back at college for my sophomore year, I don’t really care. I am not really impressed by any of the candidates and I do not really feel the need to actively support any of them on either side. Other than a couple pet issues, I am really taking a step back from politics.

However, I think that if I really saw a candidate do really well in a debate, I might be swayed. My political apathy phase might end and I would remember again why being active in democracy is a good idea. I could be passionate about the future of our government again. So hopefully the new debate structure we want will allow the candidates to be impassioned and inspiring so that we as voters can remember why we vote.