1/28/2008 1:58:11 PM
Lobbyists are a tricky bunch to track. Their jobs are by definition behind the scenes, and politicians (especially of late) have made big displays of distancing themselves from these targets of citizen ire. So who are these K Street power players? In many instances, they’re retired politicians or their staffers, who take lucrative advantage of the deep Beltway ties they made while working on the Hill.
To shine some light on the troubling career ladder from public servant to interest-group money peddler, the Sunlight Foundation launched the Where Are They Now? project. Sunlight, which focuses on exposing the backstage dealings of the federal government, has a list of 268 former congressional staffers who retired or resigned, or whose bosses got the electoral boot when the 109th Congress ended last January. Now they need to confirm which of these individuals have recently become lobbyists and for what organizations. (Former staffers must wait a year before signing on as a lobbyist.) To manage the task, Sunlight is enlisting ordinary internet citizens, or “netizens,” to make some phone calls, ask some questions from a provided script, and uncover the old-fashioned, top-hat-wearing truth.
By December 21, just a day after the project launched, “21 citizen researchers... investigated 268 congressional staff members... and found 48 who have potentially gone through the revolving door to work for K Street.” Of that 48, 10 have since been confirmed as lobbyists, but 34 remain uninvestigated. If you want to answer the call, click here. And then be prepared to click other stuff.
1/25/2008 5:11:17 PM
In Kyoto Journal Roy Hamric writes about the Moustache Brothers, a persecuted comedy group in Myanmar that’s described as a cross between Franz Kafka and Lenny Bruce.
In 1996, the three brothers were invited to speak at a pro-democracy rally. Up on stage, Par Par Lay, the group’s leader, joked: “In the old days, we called a thief a thief. But now, we call them junta members....” The junta members didn’t laugh. Par Par and his fellow Moustache Brother Lu Zaw were sentenced to six years in prison, including stints of hard labor and solitary confinement.
In 2001 Par Par and Lu Zaw were released, but banned from performing in public. So the Moustache Brothers started to stage nightly performances for tourists in their home, which is where Hamric caught them last summer. “Foreign travelers have kept our family and our art alive,” the third brother, Lu Maw, explained. “Tourists are our Trojan horse. Without them, we’d be up the river. We need tourists and journalists to see our show and talk about us. We’re living on the edge. Are you with me?”
In September, Par Par was arrested again for giving alms to a monastery. After a month in prison, he was released.
1/23/2008 12:33:11 PM
The Chronicle of Higher Education—the 2007 Utne Independent Press Award winner for political coverage—just filed this scoop today: A massive trove of Baath party documents from the era of Saddam Hussein has found a controversial, temporary home at the Hoover Institution, the Stanford-affiliated conservative think tank and library.
The Chronicle reports that Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi exile who was a leading proponent of invading Iraq for humanitarian reasons, has been searching for a safe haven for the documents since digitizing them in 2005 with the help of the U.S. government. (The government got a digital copy out of the deal.)
Makiya, who discovered the documents in April 2003, says his Iraq Memory Foundation got the OK from Iraq’s deputy prime minister and the prime minister’s office to make the deal with Hoover, which will house the documents for five years. But Saad Eskander, the internationally respected director general of the Iraq National Library and Archive, says the documents belong in Iraq and that the private foundation’s possession of them is illegal. (The International Council on Archives noted that only “a legislative act of the state” can sanction “the alienation of public archives.”)
Despite the pitched debate between the two men, they do agree on something: The 100 million pages of Iraqi documents kept by the U.S. Department of Defense—the largest known cache of Baath-era papers—“belong in Iraqi hands,” the Chronicle reports. Both men have asked the Pentagon to turn the documents over to their respective organizations.
1/22/2008 2:04:21 PM
A couple of years ago, I was a guy who almost never thought about Disney, the self-esteem of adolescent girls, or super-teams of crusading princesses. Now that I have a two-year-old—or, frighteningly, a teenage-girl-to-be—these are matters of utmost importance. Especially when they disturbingly intersect, as they did last month in a revelatory online article from the Nation by Barbara Ehrenreich about Disney’s line of Princess toys based on the heroines from the company’s movies.
To appreciate my fears, you should know that my house is an eerie outpost of that most manically psychedelic of realms: Disneyland. Spooky ceramic Belle figurines stare at me from the bookshelf; Beauty and the Beast bedding piles up in the laundry room; stuffed Disney dolls reach out to trip me in the dark. It’s a nightmare. And it gets worse. According to Ehrenreich, this paraphernalia of the bizarre is responsible for the assassination of a generation of girls’ ambitions. And yes, it’s the fault of Disney and those darn Princesses.
It would seem the dainty young lasses of Princessland have bigger problems than a propensity for enchantment-related somnolence. Ehrenreich points out that, besides nabbing a prince, the Princesses’ “only career ladder leads from baby-faced adolescence to a position as an evil enchantress, stepmother, or witch.” The Disney gal-gang is patently lacking in motivation and purpose. Beauty and youth are paramount virtues of femininity in the Magic Kingdom. And the Princesses are passing on an archaic ethos of a pre-feminist society to our daughters.
If Ehrenreich is right, all possible outcomes are disastrous. Best-case scenario, my darling daughter gets hitched to a snobby prince, while her mother and I languish in exiled serfdom. Or she embraces the Dark Side—a never-ending version of the terrible twos. The final alternative afforded the Disney Princesses and their brainwashed harem of impressionable girls is spinsterhood. While a favorable alternative to evil, I’m firmly against adult children never leaving the nest. It erases the light at the end of the tunnel we parents secretly fantasize about. And this is exactly what will happen, given the Princesses’ lack of anything resembling survival skills. So not only are they wrecking it for girls; Disney’s dumbed-down damsels are also ruining dads’ dreams of someday reclaiming our basement man-palace turned playroom.
To see Disney’s secret war against girls’ self esteem first-hand, check out the Disney Fairies site, where 85 percent of voters (read: girls) said they want to be fairies, and 15 percent are happy just being themselves. Go corporate fairy power!
1/18/2008 5:27:28 PM
The idea is pretty simple, but the message isn’t. Pay 30 Euros (around $45) to Send a Message and a group of Palestinians will spray paint your personal message on the security wall that closes off the West Bank. According to the website, the Palestinians want to show people beyond their cement borders that “We are human beings, just like you, with sense of humor and lust for life.” Most of the funds go to supporting various Palestinian NGO projects, with the remainder covering Send a Message’s expenses.
Behind the newspaper stories and the political wrangling, there are human lives obscured by the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. While the project, which was developed in a Ramallah workshop by Dutch advertising professionals and Palestinian youths, might seem too light-hearted, I think that the levity is message enough: Something can come from this conflict that does more than make you throw up your hands in frustration.
1/16/2008 1:39:48 PM
After presidential elections last month, Kenya erupted into chaos. With all indications suggesting the vote was rigged in favor of incumbent Mwai Kibaki, rioters filled the streets. Some 600 people died.
It’s a complicated mess involving angry supporters of Raila Odinga, Kibaki’s opponent, and tensions between the country’s more than 40 ethnic groups. Arno Kopecky’s powerful photo essay, “Kenya on the Brink,” from his blog for the Walrus, helps make sense of the conflict.
The visual chronicle begins with pictures from election day (December 27). People calmly count ballots in small, poorly-lit rooms. While most polling places finished counting votes that night, a photo from a gymnasium in Nairobi shows people slumped over in chairs, waiting to hear final results that wouldn’t be delivered for a full day. As some people patiently bided their time, riots were already forming in the slums. A photo taken from a car Kopecky was riding in shows people jumping on the vehicle, “looking for a victim.”
In the days that followed, Kibaki was declared president and the violence worsened. “Reports started pouring in that every city, town, and village in the country had been torn apart by violence,” Kopecky writes. Images of fires, protesters waving signs and weapons, and citizens hiding in fear follow. Two moving photos show refugee camps in Kibera—temporary shelter for the hundreds of families whose homes were destroyed by fire. Due to supply shortages, women and children were forced to wait behind bars outside the entrance.
While much coverage of Kenya’s upheaval has focused on parsing enflamed ethnic tensions and lamenting a stable African country’s slide into disarray, Kopecky’s photos place the viewer among those affected and those perpetrating, offering a visceral context and perspective that goes beyond rehashed analysis.
Photo courtesy of Arno Kopecky.
1/16/2008 1:01:15 PM
Say your elected official is exposed for corruption. What’s a community to do? Demand repeated tearful apologies? Procure a tough conviction, only to see it quietly reduced to a negligible fee once the cameras are off? Even challenging a crooked pol in an election can be surprisingly difficult.
Simon Graves, a Miami pastor, has a more original idea: Require corrupt officials to take a seat on a dunking stool, and sell tickets to help replace the money their mischief cost the public. Reporting for the Miami New Times, Calvin Godfrey describes Graves’ plan:
He has staked out a site for the stool and has constructed several (poor) prototypes in his living room. If Graves had his druthers, the device, a modified seesaw with a chair attached to one end, would have gone up in Bayfront Park this past January 1.
believes the stool will create a "terrifying scourge" for all "the nasty little devils on [crooked politicians'] shoulders." If he ruled the county, anyone looking to take office would agree to be dunked if he or she were caught violating the county's code of ethics.
Check out Graves’ website and MySpace page. There’s no evidence whatsoever that he’s kidding.
1/15/2008 4:26:36 PM
What does socialism smell like? Stalin’s party-issued undies? Stale bread and conformity? Not if you’re a member of the Catalan Socialist Party. According to the Guardian, the Spanish political party just unveiled its latest strategic gambit: a socialist-scented perfume. Contrary to speculation, it’s not made by juicing party deserters. Rather, “it mixes Mediterranean herbs and fruits such as Bergamot orange and white tea with base notes from the Orient, which come together to produce an aroma of ‘confidence, equality, progress, and efficiency.’ ” So apparently it’s made for socialists, not of them.
1/15/2008 3:25:58 PM
In a nation where recidivism rates are upwards of 65 percent, it is obvious that keeping convicts from returning to prison is no easy task. States turn to programs focused on addiction, education, and employment to give convicts the opportunity to make law-abiding lives for themselves after their release. Some of these programs have been effective, many of them have not. But Washington’s adoption of SB 6157 (pdf) may be the most counterintuitive approach to reducing recidivism yet. The bill requires offenders to return to the county of their first conviction to complete post-prison programs such as probation and parole. Previously, counties like Pierce, with large urban areas, claimed they were bearing an inequitable financial burden when it came to funding these programs. The idea behind the bill was to target this disparity by sharing the burden among counties.
In an article for Seattle Weekly, Nina Shapiro responds to the new law by showing its adverse effects on the lives of four people recently released from prison. For one ex-convict, the law meant returning to a county full of “triggers” to her addiction—drug dealers and users, former pimps, and a criminal lifestyle. Another was forced back to the county he lived in as a child, where he received his first prison sentence, even though he hadn’t lived there for years. And a third subject had to move to a county she had never lived in before because she committed a crime while driving through that county.
Although there is a committee set up to review special situations like these, the appeals process is a lengthy one, and solutions are often shackled in bureaucratic red tape. Since the law was enacted explicitly to ease the burden on counties’ resources, operating and funding a special review board seems to go against the logical grain in any case.
Photo by o2ma, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/15/2008 2:56:46 PM
Or rather, Whom would Buffy slay? Utne.com uberintern Brendan Mackie just pointed me to Cogitamus’ expertly assessed lineup of Republican candidates as Buffy the Vampire Slayer villains.
John McCain is tagged as The Master, Buffy’s season one threat and a recurrent lurking danger:
The oldest vampire. Got killed early, but there’s some talk about how he might rise again.
And Ron Paul stands in as Moloch the Corruptor, an ancient demon that finds new life haunting the Internet:
He’s been around a long time, but he only recently absorbed himself into the internet, where he now has a bunch of overexcited followers who spend too much time online.
If Buffy’s not your pop-culture point of reference, you should 1) rethink your pop-culture frame of reference, and 2) enjoy the more accessible slate of Star Wars candidate analogies posted on Craigslist.
1/15/2008 1:13:05 PM
The modern person is a bit confused. We look at a world on the brink of oblivion, suffering from political crises and environmental doom, and yet we attend charming dinner parties and munch on lovely marinated olives while chatting with wonderful, witty friends. We suffer from a “perception gap,” as Matthew Taylor terms it in the New Statesman: We tend to think that things in our own lives are going well, while society at large is “going to the dogs.”
Here’s just one example: Ninety-three percent of people surveyed in a recent BBC poll said that they were “optimistic about their own family life,” according to Taylor. But 70 percent believe that families are getting less successful overall, compared to nostalgic perceptions of days of old. Maybe we can blame this on a quirk of cognition that makes us zone in on bad news and filter out the good. (It’s the bad news that will kill us after all.) But Taylor sees the problem as something particular to our time.
With the rise of consumer culture, people have become more individualistic. Piled onto that is the decline of community endeavors of all kinds, from bowling leagues to churches, which has led people to see themselves as cut off from the rest of society. Finally, we now face threats of monumental proportion—terrorism, global warming, the caprice of international finance—all of which seem so big that we doubt anybody or anything can surmount them. So the lonesome modern person looks out the window of her bungalow, sees the gathering storm, and doubts anybody’s ability to halt our ineluctable slide into barbarism.
But there is cause for optimism. Taylor rattles off some of the joys of the modern era—less racism, a growing equality of the sexes, better education—and wants these developments to put our social ills in perspective. We’re actually doing pretty well, we moderns.
Taylor’s Panglossian optimism might seem unrealistic, but given the choice between self-satisfied optimism and dour pessimism, I think that the former will be a more effective outlook, if not a more realistic one. When we’re too bleak about things, problems we’re confronted with seem impossible to solve. So I choose optimism: Even if we’re wrong and the world really is going to end in the next decade, we have a better chance of changing society if we believe such a thing is possible.
1/15/2008 11:42:55 AM
Today, Michigan Democrats go to the polls to help choose a presidential nominee—either Hillary Clinton, Mike Gravel, or Dennis Kucinich. Barack Obama and John Edwards are not on the ballot; they withdrew their names following the conflict between the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the state party over the date of the primary.
So what’s an Obama or Edwards supporter to do? A few creative suggestions have come up. Voters could check “uncommitted,” as the two leading no-show campaigns are urging, according to the state’s Democratic party chairman, Mark Brewer. Or Democrats could take a page from Michigan Republicans’ historical playbook with strategic cross-over votes for Mitt Romney, as Markos Moulitsas Zúniga suggests on the Daily Kos blog.
The editors of News Hits, a department of the Detroit alt-weekly Metro Times, have a more straightforward idea: Vote Kucinich. They argue that Kucinich’s positions on the issues—more than any other candidate’s—actually reflect those of many liberals before they do all the political math and settle on some other, more viable candidate.
The column also notes that today’s primary presents “a perfect opportunity for progressives in Michigan to make a statement without taking any risk.” While the plan probably won't win Kucinich any delegates at the national convention (he's not likely to get the 15 percent of Michigan Democrats he needs, and the DNC is still holding out on alloting the renegade state any delegates), it could establish him as a new brand—Kucinich: The Candidate of Risk-Free Political Statements.
1/14/2008 3:18:54 PM
What are the five most important votes taking place this year?
If your answers included “South Carolina,” “Florida,” or “a special election for mayor of New York after Bloomberg jumps in as an independent,” you might need to take a step back. Foreign Policy wants to remind you of a place you may have forgotten while glued to the televised presidential horse race—a little place called the rest of the world.
Foreign Policy’s most recent edition of its online feature “The List” tallies five particularly important elections in the vast elsewhere. Taiwanese nationalists squared off against a tough opposition challenge in last week’s parliamentary election and will do so again in an upcoming presidential vote. Pakistan’s parliamentary elections were postponed following Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and ensuing riots but will be held next month—and few trust President Pervez Musharraf’s promise for “free and fair” elections. In March, Russian president Vladimir Putin plans to pass the presidency on to First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, who has promised to make Putin the prime minister. It’s anybody’s guess how smooth this transition will be, not to mention the power-sharing arrangement itself.
In Zimbabwe, the economy is a complete mess, and President Robert Mugabe—who has been in power for almost 30 years—faces a serious electoral challenge. And upcoming legislative elections in Iran are viewed widely as a referendum on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s economic policies and aggressive demeanor.
While each of these countries’ elections are undoubtedly fraught with nuance, ours, to the best of my knowledge, is the only nation that spent the better part of last week fretting over what it “means” that a candidate got slightly emotional while talking to voters on national television.
1/14/2008 2:52:22 PM
The public library is treasured even by people who rarely use it. Along with book-borrowing privileges and research tools, the library offers something more fundamental: As a public, local institution, it defends intellectual freedom and supports and responds to the particular needs and interests of a community.
At least, it used to. More and more, a library’s civic function depends on where you live. Writing for In These Times, Akito Yoshikane recently reported that Library Systems and Services (LSSI), a private, Maryland-based company, now runs 50 “public” libraries across the United States.
When funding issues force communities to consider permanently closing their libraries, outsourcing to LSSI can be a relatively attractive alternative. According to its website, the company can make a library “operate more effectively at lower cost per hour.” According to Yoshikane, the company accomplishes this by, among other things, downsizing staff, reducing hours, and passing costs on to patrons. And it keeps a portion of the community’s library budget as profit. What’s more, libraries that outsource core services to LSSI lose the local oversight typical of public libraries.
Not everyone is quietly accepting library privatization as an inevitable result of a free market and limited public funds. Local campaigns have defeated outsourcing initiatives, and, in at least one county, the Service Employees International Union local has gotten involved. Also, as Yoshikane notes, “the ALA [American Library Association] council adopted a stance opposing outsourcing, stating that libraries are ‘not a simple commodity’ but ‘are an essential public good.’ ”
(For a wider look at the state of public libraries, see this 2005 article from the Utne Reader.)
Photo by Mayr, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/14/2008 10:27:21 AM
Which presidential candidate has the best plan for dealing with the affordable-housing crisis?
It’s a tough question, mostly because there’s so little information available to base an answer on. Section 8 vouchers and new development set-asides haven’t exactly been prominent themes on the campaign stump. Writing for City Limits Weekly, an electronic newsletter from City Limits—the bastion of housing coverage—and their affiliated think tank Center for an Urban Future, Jarrett Murphy argues that they should be:
War and terrorism were bound to loom large in the 2008 race, but even among domestic issues, housing has gotten short shrift. In the most recent New York Times/CBS News presidential poll, for example, voters were asked to rank seven issues in order of importance. It turned out that five were domestic issues, but housing problems weren't even among the options, despite their broad impact. "A third of Americans [households comprising about 105 million people] are paying more than they can afford for housing. Compare that to health insurance," says Occidental College politics professor Peter Dreier, who has written about the role of domestic policy in this campaign. "Something like 45 million Americans lack medical coverage – and that's, like, a big scandal."
City Limits contacted a variety of housing experts and stakeholders and put together a survey of questions, which it then sent to each of the campaigns. It didn’t get any responses. So Murphy cobbled together the candidates’ perspectives by gleaning information from their past statements and records on some of the major housing issues.
The piece makes for a slightly wonkier read than, say, a transcript of candidates arguing about who represents real “change.” But it’s fairly important to understand the candidates’ ideas and views on a situation that finds an enormous number of Americans in an utterly vulnerable position.
1/9/2008 9:08:51 AM
For the kid inside of you who still dreams of being president, take note. It seems the bar for getting on the ballot in Arizona is mighty low. Jim Nintzel of the Tucson Weekly announced in November:
It turns out that all you have to do to get on the Feb. 5 presidential primary ballot in Arizona is fill out a nomination form. You don't have to pay any fee; you don't have to gather any signatures. Yes, that's right: The state of Arizona will take anybody. There's no political party with veto power to cock-block our fun this political season.
With that opening shot, the alt-weekly began its strange and entertaining train wreck called Project White House, an ongoing feature that showcases a weird, self-selected menagerie of real dark horse candidates, all vying to capture the paper’s endorsement, while they soak up some free coverage.
With tongue securely in cheek, on January 3 Tucson Weekly ran a “Meet the Candidates” article profiling all 25 of their participating candidates, none of whom chart on the national stage.
Presidential hopeful Col. Karl E. Krueger stumps: “You may have noticed that I am not a good-looking man. In the electronic age of visional media, we are voting more and more for the best-looking. Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t stand a chance today.”
Candidate Sean Murphy “considers himself an old-school Republican. Like John McCain once did, he believes agents of intolerance like Pat Robertson have no place in the nation’s dialogue. Like Rudy Giuliani once did, he believes that hard-working immigrants, whether they’ve crossed the border legally or not, are the sort of people we want in this country. Like Mitt Romney once did, he believes that a woman should decide whether to have a child, rather than leaving the decision in the hands of government.”
Watching real people launch themselves into the presidential electoral circus makes for a great show. Unfortunately for that kid inside of you, your bid will have to wait until 2012: The deadline to file passed on December 17. Tucson Weekly’s endorsements will be announced in their January 31st edition.
1/8/2008 6:11:39 PM
Welcome back, American Gladiators. But I’m here to serve you notice: There’s a bigger, badder, more outlandish reality game show also relaunching this year, and it’s called The Amazing Race for White House Survival.
So writes David S. Bernstein for the Boston alt-weekly the Phoenix as he recasts the 2008 presidential race in terms of those elimination-style reality TV shows. He breaks the presidential campaign into six legs with key dates from each—then predicts who will get voted off the island at each stage. With New Hampshire and Iowa behind us, we’re now entering “Leg 2: Grinding for position (January 9 through February 4)”:
This year, due to their clumsy mishandling of the schedule, the Democrats have just one big contest during these four weeks: South Carolina. The party is boycotting the Michigan and Florida contests, and Nevada’s has become so marginalized that Oprah Winfrey didn’t even bother to include it on her big tour for Obama.
will be the first big contest between Obama and Clinton for the Southern black vote. But don’t forget that Edwards won the state in 2004—if he gets momentum, he will camp out there 24/7, hoping to be left in a two-person race with the Clinton-Obama survivor.
The Republicans, on the other hand, have votes in Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina, Florida, and Maine—meaning that the candidates might split up to concentrate on states most amenable to them, in hopes of staying viable until February 5.
Other rounds to look forward to include “Leg 4: The Great Lull (April 1 through August 24)” and Leg 5: Dirty Season (August 25 through September 25).
It may sound light, but the analysis is actually pretty smart and positively welcoming to all levels of political familiarity; it even offers fresh perspective to those steeped in the season’s political wonkery.
1/8/2008 2:39:41 PM
New York City police officers are the latest group to be caught up in America’s scandalous national pastime: steroid investigations. The probe, spearheaded by the Brooklyn D.A.’s office, stems from the sketchy diagnosis of dozens of young officers and civilian NYPD employees with hypogonadism—a condition that causes low testosterone, typically in men over 60—according to a recent article in the Village Voice. The common treatment for hypogonadism is steroids, which have been prescribed to at least 39 NYPD officers and employees, according to the Village Voice’s in-depth look at the sordid story, which broke in October. The investigation doesn’t just target cops. Alleged involvement includes a Brooklyn mom and pop pharmacy-turned-drug-lab, exclusive Beverly Hills anti-aging clinics, and even the Gambino crime family. Although the ultimate target of the investigation will most likely be distributors of the steroids, buff cops suffering from ’roid rage should earn a top spot on the NYPD’s list of concerns.
1/8/2008 1:25:19 PM
The internet age threatens to condense the entire world’s culture into a single YouTube video: In it a personification of Youth Culture dances to 50 Cent while sipping a giant, corn-syrupy Starbucks latte. It’s world unity, sure, but from Helsinki to London to Paris, many fear that the oncoming juggernaut of the new internet age may pave over local difference.
Nope, argues Tommi Laitio in Eurozine. While it may seem like youth culture has become an international monolith, beneath that MySpace veneer bloom a thousand flowers of local culture. “Youth cultures present a strong case for the ultimate ideal of Europe—allowing differences within a shared framework,” Laitio writes. “Youth phenomena with an American origin can even function as tools for voicing European concerns in ways impossible through national, elite-driven culture.”
Take European hip-hop, for example. Hip-hop culture on the continent began by trying to remake American hip-hop in American-accented English. But now rappers rap in local languages about local problems, Laitio writes.
I did a thoroughly modern thing and checked out the MySpace pages and YouTube videos of the rap artists mentioned in Laitio’s article. Here’s a video of the Dutch group DuvelDuvel cavorting around in ape suits. Here’s an odd video of Yugoslavian rappers Bad Copy mixing Serbian up with Italian—which, more than anything else, suggests the creative, mongrel culture that’s coming from the cocktailed new Europe. And here’s the Polish rapper Fisz rapping on a train.
This is not just a new breed of local hip-hops, Laitio argues. It’s a new way of according merit. These people don’t care about what the “cultural elite” think about their art; they care about what their peers think and they can easily listen to their peers’ opinions through user comments, pageviews, and MySpace friends.
But looking at those MySpace pages and YouTube videos shows that there’s still a great gulf spanning the local from the foreign. While you can appreciate Fisz’s flow and bob your head to DuvelDuvel’s beats, you cannot appreciate the message of their raps, the acrobatic wordplay most emcees pride themselves on, and—most worryingly—the texture of the local identity the raps are celebrating. Instead, the sounds of foreign hip-hop bleed into one another: They are just rap in a strange tongue, a curiosity unless we either learn the foreign language or somebody posts a YouTube video with subtitles. Which isn’t such a bad idea.
For more on local incarnations of hip-hop, read Mackie’s online exclusive feature on Australian rapper Pegz.
1/4/2008 12:34:43 AM
Utne Blogs the Iowa Caucuses: The Big Day
Critics can say that Iowa isn’t representative of America as a whole, and that’s true. Its almost 95 percent white, largely rural, and doesn’t even have a pro-sports team. People say there’s too much money flowing through the Iowa caucuses, and that’s probably true, too. Candidates spent millions of dollars over the past few months, trying to sway the opinions of a few hundred thousand voters. No matter what the critics say, however, on Thursday night in the cafeteria of the Merrill Middle School in Des Moines, Iowa, grassroots democracy was hard at work.
The Republican caucus was nearby, but I attended the Democratic side. The evening began when the chair, a man with a long pony tail, mustache, and a t-shirt reading “God Bless Union People, America Needs Us” (seen right), called the meeting to order. “We have some rules for the media,” he said, and the caucus goers responded with thundering applause.
There were 372 people gathered with me in the cafeteria to make their voices heard. There were another dozen or so media correspondents who came out to cover the affair. The “Meat and potatoes” of the evening, the chair said, began when everyone physically separated themselves into camps representing the candidate of their choice. Each candidate needed 15 percent of the group, or 56 people in the Merrill Middle School cafeteria, to remain “viable.”
Here were the initial results:
Senator Barack Obama : 155
Senator Hillary Clinton : 77
Senator John Edwards : 67
Governor Bill Richardson : 47
Senator Joe Biden : 34
Kucinich, Dodd, and Gravel: 0
Due to a mathematical error, few noticed that the crowd had grown by eight votes.
After the initial counting, the real politicking began. Speeches were made by representatives, extolling the merits of each candidate. Men and women stood on chairs, read letters from candidates, and pumped their fists in excitement. The Obama speech was delivered by a fiery black woman who said that America didn’t need any more “Clintons, or Bushes.” Unfortunately for her, the attack on the Clinton camp was met by a volley of boos.
Once the speeches ended, the Obama, Edwards, and Clinton caucusers went to work on the Richardson and Biden camps. The crowd had 20 minutes to realign, and if any candidate couldn’t get the minimum 56 votes, the caucusers would be asked to join another candidate.
The harsh words by the Obama representative hurt her cause, as many Iowans detest negative campaigning. One Biden supporter said, “I liked Obama until about five minutes ago,” when the campaign went negative.
My uncle, with whom I went to the caucus, was the first Biden supporter to switch over to the Edwards camp. He had planned to switch from the start, if Biden couldn’t garner the needed votes, and a pretty, young blond girl enticed him to change.
The Bill Richardson camp eventually gained viability, and probably legitimately. The group had at least 55 of the 56 people needed, when the representative pointed over his shoulder and asked, “we’ve got one over there?” He then threw up his hands, and declared that they had succeeded. You can watch the video on YouTube at the bottom of the post, or by clicking here.
When the Biden camp realized their efforts were ill-fated, the campaign representatives unveiled specific instructions on where to send their constituents. The campaign didn’t want anyone going to the Richardson camp, for fear that he would steal some of the Biden's media coverage. Deals were made between representatives, sending constituents to different camps in exchange for other promises. Eventually, one of the leading voices in the Biden camp said, “Alright, so how many of you are ready to hold your nose and go over to Hillary?”
In the end, when time was called, the final tally was this:
Senator Barack Obama: 156
Senator Hillary Clinton: 89
Senator John Edwards:73
Governor Bill Richardson: 56
Biden, Kucinich, Dodd, and Gravel: 0
There were 2 votes too many. The chair realized it was incorrect, but no one really cared.
Nationally, the outcomes were fairly similar:
Senator Barack Obama : 37.58%
Senator John Edwards : 29.75%
Senator Hillary Clinton : 29.47%
Governor Bill Richardson : 2.11%
Senator Joe Biden : 0.93%
The processes wasn’t perfect: There were voting irregularities, backdoor dealings, and irrational people. When the national voting ended, and it came time to elect local delegates, most of the room quickly cleared out. The people of Iowa, though, know and feel passionate about their presidential candidates. They should. They've spent the past few months bombarded with campaign literature and ads. And as David Yepsen, the political correspondent at the Des Moines Register told me this afternoon: The race for the next president of the United States “has gotta start somewhere.” Tonight, it started in Iowa.
For all the posts from the Iowa Caucuses, read the Utne Politics blog
1/3/2008 10:39:29 AM
Utne Blogs the Iowa Caucuses: Day 3
The political poo-bahs came out last night for Hillary Clinton. General Wesley Clark, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, all gathered to support Hillary. NBC’s chief White House correspondent David Gregory was there and Nightline’s Terry Moran broadcast from out front.
The speech was held inside the Iowa historical society, surrounded by models of old-fashioned prop airplanes and a stuffed wooly mammoth. I was prepared to write an extended metaphor about the Clinton campaign as a political wooly mammoth, but I was surprisingly impressed by the night.
The characteristic Bill Clinton charm was in full-swing as he announced his wife, just in time for the 10 o’clock news. He joked about how America needs a president who can do the job, “while not getting too carried away being president, which is easy to do.” He then quickly bowed out, allowing his wife to be the star of the show.
The candidate’s speech clearly exhibited the power of her campaign. She spoke in an almost hushed tone: calm, clear, and comforting, yet confident and direct. The voice she used was almost matriarchal, which was particularly effective in the crowd laden with women and mothers, some with infants in their arms. A friend of mine remarked that it was an event mothers would want to attend with their daughters, so that in 20 years, they could tell their children, “I was there.”
I have never personally been a big fan of Hillary Clinton. I’ve said before that she is too entrenched in the corporate elite to bring about real change. But last night I witnessed the full force of a Hillary Clinton campaign. She might not win (in fact, I think she might come in third, behind Obama and Edwards), but last night’s speech was a powerful display from a political veteran.
For all the posts from the Iowa Caucuses, read the Utne Politics blog
1/3/2008 8:47:11 AM
Utne Blogs the Iowa Caucuses: Day 3
Mitt Romney’s campaign might hate the media. Or, more likely, they’re just stupid. When I called to ask the location of last night’s Mitt Romney campaign event, a staffer told me it was at Hivie Hall. I asked how to spell it, and he said “H-I-V-I-E, I don’t know, Hivie Hall… look it up on the internet.”
I looked it up on the internet. There is no Hivie Hall, but there is a HyVee Hall in downtown Des Moines. I showed up at HyVee Hall at the appropriate time, but the parking lot was nearly deserted. There was only one man from a local TV station, standing in the cold, plugging in his equipment. I asked him, “Is this where the Mitt Romney event is tonight?”
“Oh, you’re here for the Romney thing?” he asked. “Yeah, that’s over at the HyVee Conference Center.”
Some could accuse me of simply getting the information wrong. Seconds later, though, two cars filled with media correspondents drove into the parking lot, asking about the Romney event. I told them it was a few minutes away, and one of them responded, “Oh, that sucks!”
Not knowing where the event really was, I ended up driving around Iowa for a half hour, before giving up and going to the Hillary Clinton rally. I’ll bet Mitt wouldn’t be happy to hear that.
For all the posts from the Iowa Caucuses, read the Utne Politics blog
1/2/2008 5:13:10 PM
Utne Blogs the Iowa Caucuses: Day 3
This campaign lawn sign in Des Moines, Iowa, just informed me of some breaking news: God has endorsed Mike Huckabee. I knew that he attributed his surge in the polls to divine providence, saying, “There’s only one explanation for it, and it’s not a human one. It’s the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people.” And now God has endorsed Huckabee. Judging from the Christian rock song I just heard on the radio that says, “People, get ready/ Jesus is coming/ Soon we’ll be going home/ People, get ready/ Jesus is coming/ To take from the world his own.” This endorsement could seriously help Mr. Huckabee, at least in Iowa.
For all the posts from the Iowa Caucuses, read the Utne Politics blog.
1/2/2008 4:36:39 PM
Utne Blogs the Iowa Caucuses: Day 2-3
Past midnight, a mile down a dirt road outside of Atlantic, Iowa, Denise O'Brien’s farm-style house was filled to capacity with people. Staffers and supporters of the John Edwards campaign and correspondents from Time, CBS News, and the New York Times, gathered in the kitchen and the living room, sipping hot cider and making small talk. Fire codes were undoubtedly broken, as everyone stood shoulder-to-shoulder, waiting for the candidate to arrive.
John Edwards was in the midst of “36 hours to save the middle class” according to his campaign staffers. For 36 consecutive hours, Edwards traveled at break-neck speed across the state of Iowa, speaking with undecided voters and core supporters alike. (To see a map of the route: click here.) Each hour, Edwards planned to highlight an idea on how he would save the middle class, if elected president. The press, meanwhile, followed behind him, dutifully covering his every move.
I arrived at in Atlantic at midnight, and by then, most of the people already had a place to watch the speech. I was awkwardly corralled into the kitchen, and I tried to set up for a good view of the former Senator. I smiled politely as the correspondent from Time took down people’s names and asked them why they were there. The clock passed 12:15 a.m. and people started shuffling. The clock passed 12:30 a.m. and people started to get impatient.
Fifteen minutes before 1 a.m., the candidate finally arrived. He immediately made a beeline for the living room, far away from my view. My fellow kitchen dwellers and I sighed, knowing there was no way we could hear or see Mr. Edwards speak. A few of us snuck outside, taking pictures through the windows and talking politics.
Originally, I had planned to pull an all-nighter with the candidate and follow him from Atlantic at 12 a.m., to Creston at 2:15 a.m., to Centerville at 5:15 a.m., and finally Ottumwa at 7:00 a.m.. Driving a rental car on my own, I tried to convince members of the press and the campaign to come with me. I wanted someone to make conversation with to help keep me awake. Some people feigned interest, but no one would consent.
At about 1:30 a.m., I got back into my car and put my key in the ignition. Alone and staring down the barrel of seven more hours of driving, my eyes began to feel heavy. I started thinking about the car drifting off to the side of the road and spinning into a ditch. I felt the 2 degree weather sting my face. “It’s not worth it,” a member of the press had told to me. “Stay safe,” she warned. I shook my head, turned the key, and drove back to Des Moines to sleep.
For all the posts from the Iowa Caucuses, read the Utne Politics blog.
1/2/2008 10:06:16 AM
Utne Blogs the Iowa Caucuses: Day 2
Barack Obama pulled a few of his key Iowa field organizers up on stage yesterday during a rally in Des Moines, Iowa. He hugged them and thanked them for their hard work. While he was speaking, at least two of the organizers got choked up and started to cry. The tears were likely due to a lack of sleep as much as anything else, but it was a touching moment.
The most notable part of Obama’s speech was how long it was. He spoke for over an hour, without notes. He began by introducing his wife and two children. He moved on to introducing his organizers saying, "They're a good looking bunch, aren't they. They look like a Benetton ad." Then he spoke alone, addressing the challenges facing the country today, and his hope for the future. (You can hear an excerpt from the speech at the bottom of this post.)
And even though he spoke extemporaneously, I had heard most of the speech before. By now, all of the candidates must be nearly out of new material, heading into these final days of the caucus. Much of the crowd, though, was still inspired by his message. I found myself trying to join the crowd in applause at multiple points in the speech, but restrained myself due to the stoic atmosphere of the press gallery.
Throughout the speech, Obama never once mentioned any of his Democratic opponents by name. He did, however, reference Hillary Clinton throughout. In a not-so-subtle swipe at the former first lady, Obama said, “We can’t poll test every opinion.” And, “We need principles, not polls: not calculations, but commitment.” When speaking about his decision not to run negative advertising, he said he resisted the temptation to “pull a Tonya Harding on the frontrunner.” He came close, but not a single Clinton, Edwards, Biden, or Dodd was mentioned by name throughout the speech. Instead, he took shots at the Bush administration, for which he garnered his biggest applause of the day.
Historical Side Note: The event took place at Roosevelt High School, in Des Moines. The school was the site of the conflict that led to one of the most famous cases in the history of the US Supreme Court: Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. In the case, the Supreme Court decided that students and teachers don’t “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” It was also the place where my father went to high school.
To hear an excerpt from the speech, click on the arrow below:
Excerpt from Barack Obama’s speech in Des Moines, Iowa: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download
For all the posts from the Iowa Caucuses, read the Utne Politics blog.
1/2/2008 9:06:28 AM
Utne Blogs the Iowa Caucuses: Day 1-2
New Years Eve was a night of improvisation for me in Iowa. I arrived in downtown Des Moines at 10 p.m., just in time to see Hillary and Bill Clinton walk out of a party. (I would have posted a photo of Hillary, but they were all blurry.) The two waved and smiled to the loyal supporters who braved the bitter Iowa cold to catch a glimpse of the former president and first lady. I assumed that the action wouldn’t end there, but after the Clintons left, everyone just stood around dumfounded.
I caught up with a journalist from a German radio station and asked her if she knew of any other political events taking place that night. She looked confused and disheartened as she told me that she didn’t. She asked me if I had seen anything interesting today, and I told her that I saw Mike Huckabee get a hair cut. Suddenly her face changed into one of child-like envy. “Oh no,” she said, further disheartened. “I’ve checked the schedule, and no one’s doing anything that interesting anymore.”
Out on the street, camera crews from around the world were searching for people to interview. People exchanged expectant looks, as media correspondents and Iowans tried to figure out who was asking the questions, and who was giving the opinions. By the time I entered the Clinton Party, the room was quickly being deserted. Few people were left beyond a couple of bloggers, and some Clinton loyalists searching for someone to talk to.
After the Clinton party was over, I wandered into a party for the John Edwards campaign. Unfortunatly, John Edwards was not at the party, but it did have an open bar. The actress Madeline Stowe was there, eating appetizers and taking questions. Every few minutes, someone would walk by and ask to have his or her picture taken with her. Stowe was working for Edwards in Iowa, she told me, because she felt “inspired” by both his message and his policies.
Meanwhile, the Edwards Staffers were busy blowing off steam, having a few drinks, searching for someone to kiss at midnight, and singing karaoke. There was a general hesitancy to talk about politics at the party. No one wanted to get quoted saying something stupid, minutes before New Years Eve and days before the caucus. One highlight of the night came around 1 am, a few of the staffers sang a full-throated version of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” By the time I left the party at 2 a.m., many of the revelers were still going strong.
For all the posts from the Iowa Caucuses, read the Utne Politics blog.
1/1/2008 6:38:15 PM
Utne Blogs the Iowa Caucus: Day 2
This morning, when I woke up, I saw my face on the front page of the Des Moines Register. It was not a full photo of my face. In fact, all you can see my right eye and my right hand holding a camera. The photo was taken before Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee got his haircut at a Des Moines barber shop.
To read my account of the event: click here.
And to see my right eye on the front page of the Des Moines register: click here.
1/1/2008 4:27:47 PM
Utne Blogs the Iowa Caucuses: Day 1
When Mike Huckabee is in Iowa, Scott Sales is his barber. And when Mike Huckabee visited Scott Sales four days before the Iowa caucus, a media circus ensued. Sales owns the Executive Forum Barber Shop in downtown Des Moines. It’s a small shop, with just three old-fashioned chairs, and a shoe-shine stand out front. A representative from Huckabee’s presidential campaign called Sales this morning to ask if the press could come to attend the former Arkansas Governor’s scheduled appointment. Sales didn’t think twice about the request, he told me. He’d cut Huckabee’s hair before, and the event hadn’t caused much fuss.
By the time I arrived on the scene, dozens of reporters from Newsweek, CNN, and the New York Times were already packed into the small store. One young woman was grilling Sales on his caucus plans, who he planned to vote for, and if he changed the price of his haircuts for presidential candidates. There was a flurry of activity as Huckabee walked into the room: cameras snapped, pens scratched, and hands shook.
Once Huckabee was in the barber’s chair, the reporters put him on the hot seat. His campaign had just pulled the plug on an advertisement attacking former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Huckabee’s primary competition in Iowa. According to Foon Rhee of the Boston Globe, the ad accused Romney of “raising taxes, failing to OK a single execution of a death-row inmate, and signing a healthcare plan that subsidizes the cost of elective abortions.” Huckabee defended his decision to pull the ad, saying that the people of Iowa don’t like negative campaigning. Though Huckabee’s aides tried to cut off the questioning multiple times, he continued to fire off jokes and answer questions.
Reporters were hanging from the rafters as they asked about Romney, Iowa, and the haircut. Someone broke a trash can while trying to get a better view of the action. A display case of mini-football helmets was knocked over, and parts of the ceiling were knocked out. A reporter even jostled Sales while he was shaving Huckabee’s face with an old-fashioned, straight razor, almost slicing the candidate’s throat.
Embarrassed by the conduct of my fellow members of the media, and wanting to experience the cold slice of presidential clipping shears, I decided to ask Sales for a cut. He was considerably more relaxed when I sat down in his chair. We talked politics, football, and about the relative merits of Iowa and Minnesota. He told me that he agreed with Huckabee’s decision to pull the ad. He didn’t like negative campaigning either. The one thing he didn’t appreciate though, were the reporters who trashed his store.
For all the posts from the Iowa Caucuses, read the Utne Politics blog.
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