Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Content of Their Character

Since I live in Tennessee's Ninth District, I received an interesting piece of mail today from the Nikki Tinker for Congress Campaign, co-sponsored by Emily's List. Since Ms. Tinker is a political novice running for an important representational office, I would think any slick mailers would be for the purpose of introducing the candidate and enunciating her views on local and national issues. But the picture on the cover was that of State Senator Steve Cohen. They used to say that any publicity is good publicity, but this desperate attack from Ms. Tinker borders on the scurrilous. This shows that any organization such as Emily's List, that ordinarily does good work, in their zeal to promote an attractive woman candidate, can sometimes overlook the best candidate.

Ms. Tinker's flyer attacks the attendance record of Senator Cohen between 1998 and 2004, conveniently overlooking the fact that those of us who put him in the State Senate know that he has been there for 24 years. There was corporate money spent to say in her ad that "Senator Cohen led efforts to allow sex shops to stay open on Sunday." To make such a bizarre accusation, regardless of which postscript of obscure legislation that you pulled it from, reeks of desperation. In fact, it seems like a campaign engineered by Karl Rove. To attempt to somehow link Steve Cohen with sex shops is laughable, but the brochure contains a lurid color photograph of a eerie green, neon sign that says "Sex Shop; Projections," and questions Senator Cohen's ability to fight for "our families" in Congress. Ms. Tinker also combed through Cohen's votes and found he declined to grant money above that budgeted for some unnamed "K-12 Education Funding." In fact, every college student who benefits from the Hope Scholarship, be they male or female, black, white or Asian, and whether the institution is a state university or a community college, should say, "Thank you, Steve Cohen, for your years of persistence in creating the Tennessee lottery." I know I do. My stepson attends Christian Brothers University and receives a grant from the Hope Scholarship which is projected to produce a billion dollars in four years. So what is Ms. Tinker really trying to say?

I think that "content of their character" speech by Dr. King in 1963 didn't sink in with some people. A July 5 edition of the Tri-State Defender ran a banner headline asking, "White Chocolate, or opportunist; can Sen. Steve Cohen represent Black people?" The article points out that since 1974 the Ninth Congressional District has elected an African-American to represent them and proceeds to chronicle the struggle of Black people through the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. Rev. Benjamin Hooks is quoted as saying a Cohen victory would be devastating for Memphis' majority population. Of course Steve Cohen can represent Black people. The problem is the Ford family dynasty has controlled the seat for so long that they believe they own it. In the crowded race to succeed Harold Ford, Jr. in Congress, there is a Ford brother, a Ford cousin, and Ms. Tinker, widely known to be Harold, Jr.'s campaign manager, advisor and protege. Judging from Junior's Congressional record, where he voted to ban same-sex civil unions and against raising the minimum wage, it often appeared as if he were positioning himself with conservative Republicans to make himself more palatable to a national audience. Ms. Tinker's campaign slogan was "Running for the right reasons." If her voting attitude reflects that of her mentor's, those are the very "right reasons" that I'm afraid of.

From Julian Bolton's comments about Mr. Cohen's "complexion," to the hysterical ravings of TaJuan Stout Mitchell, the African American political community has launched a "Stop Cohen" campaign filled with the same sort of racist arguments that white candidates used to make in the bad old days. Consider this excerpt from a letter to the Memphis Commercial Appeal; "The candidate's ideology should represent the majority of residents in the district rather than the majority of the votes in an overcrowded race. Most Ninth District residents do not support same-sex marriage, the legalization of drugs, Sunday liquor sales and restricted prayer, and some citizens do not support the lottery. Most of the district's constituents are of the Christian faith and would be offended by an elected official who would vote to curtail their free expression of religion or suggest that a pastor be told not to say, 'In the name of Jesus.'" If you read that comment on it's own without knowing the author or the context, you might think it was someone in league with Jerry Falwell or Tom DeLay. But it's old fashioned fear-mongering by Councilwoman Stout Mitchell. Only Ms. Mitchell ads the touch of reminding voters that Sen. Cohen is not Christian. In fact, it will be refreshing to vote for someone who will be a genuine liberal Democrat in Washington, and not someone who tempers his votes with an ambitious eye toward national office. I am one of the Ninth's constituents Ms. Mitchell speaks of that doesn't support the lottery. Only, I just don't buy a ticket. But you go ahead, and thank you for the revenue.

This sort of inflammatory rhetoric should be insulting to thinking people of all races. If Congressman Ford wishes to be a Senator he must court the white vote, why then, should African-American politicians encourage Black people to only vote for a Black candidate? It has been a long time since the mid-seventies and Harold Ford, Sr.'s infamous "white devils" quote. I believed the election and re-election of Willie Herenton and A C Wharton showed progress on behalf of Memphis' electorate that promised to reach beyond the politics of race. It may have been more accurate to say that moderate white voters made progress by voting for African-American candidates based on their abilities. But judging from the level of vitriol coming from the Black community toward Sen. Cohen, there are still some old-time Memphis politicians, and some new ones, too, that still just don't get it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Ugly American

I squirm every time I see President Jethro promenade across the world stage, but this trip that just ended was particularly painful. On his way to the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, the prospect of peace in the world's hot spots was as dire as I can remember. Over 160 people murdered on trains in Mumbai, more sectarian atrocities in Iraq, and the bludgeoning response of Israel toward the Lebanese infrastructure, and there stands Bush at a press conference in Germany talking about the pig that they have prepared for him for dinner. Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, but when a journalist asked him whether he was worried that Israel's military response might trigger a wider war, he said, "I thought you were going to ask me about that pig." Bush supporters seem to like his schoolboy type of humor, but I don't get it. It seems inappropriate and distasteful considering the circumstances.

Then came the press appearance with his pal Vlad "Pootie-poot" Putin. Trying to look tough, President Jethro said that "In Iraq they have freedom of the press and freedom of religion. A lot of people in our country would like to see Russia go the same way." Putin grinned like a Cheshire Cat while responding, "We certainly wouldn't want the same type of democracy they have in Iraq," to the laughter of the world press. But Chucklehead, always needing the last word had to yell out "Just wait," like a petulant fourth grader shouting back "Am not!" I guess former head of the KGB Putin isn't Bush's soul mate, after all.

After Bush blocked Russia's entrance into the World Trade Organization, the G8 Class Picture looked like a gathering of statesmen and Bush, President of the United Redneck States of America. All that was missing was the Stetson. It became more revolting when his candid chatter was captured by an open microphone. I don't object to his profanity so much as the context in which it was delivered, beginning with, "Yo, Blair!" His simplistic remarks while stuffing his face, his condescension towards the British Prime Minister, rebuking his suggestion to visit the Middle East, his James Dean adolescent body language, and his inability to have an intelligent conversation should be an embarrassment to those who remember Kennedy, Reagan, and Clinton.

What is profoundly unsettling is that this third generation of an Ivy League political dynasty has absolutely no couth. His father was a worldy man, but the son seems not to have even learned basic manners. He has no curiosity about how the rest of the world lives, aside from the occasional photo-op. Why would the leader of the free world go to India and not take his wife to the Taj Mahal, even to the point of being gently chastised by his hosts who apologized to Mrs. Bush on his behalf? He spent exactly three days in China. If you're going to spend a day and a half on a plane, wouldn't you like to do a little sightseeing before you return to clearing brush at the ranch? Incurious George wants to instruct the world in democracy, yet he couldn't point out the continent of India on a map.

Now that he's safely back in the White House, 25,000 Americans are in need of evacuation from Lebanon. The governments' leasing of a cruise ship from Cypress that holds 750 people at a time is at best a Katrina response, and at worst, a catastrophe waiting to happen. I understand the ship will be escorted by Navy vessels but God help the shortsighted people who could not see the obvious danger; that if Hezbollah, and thus Iran, can hit an Israeli ship with a missile, they can hit a Cypriot Cruise ship also. And the State Department under Dr. Rice was supposed to be so much more efficient.

Tomorrow, the Senate will pass a resolution lifting a government ban on further stem cell research. The President has promised to use his first veto to assure that those unused embryonic stem cells from fertility clinics hit the dumpster rather than a Petri dish. I hope that he does. I think that will seal his reputation as "Luddite in Chief," and not even his hard core conservative base, the right-wing Evangelicals, or Fox News can sway public opinion away from the conclusion that we elected a stupid man with a stupid plan. The emperor not only has no clothes, he has no sense either. The political season begins in earnest in just a couple of weeks. Will you help stop this insanity?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

On The Brink

In its' 58 year history, Israel has been more than capable of defending itself. In this latest spiral of violence, it is worth pointing out that the provocateurs of this action are Hamas and Hezbollah and their state sponsors in Iran and Syria. As the violence extends deeper into Lebanon and Gaza and once again threatens the region and the world, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seems to be lashing out Bush style. The Israeli government is correct both politically and morally to punish the murderers and kidnappers of Israeli soldiers through the cross-border raids of terrorists in Lebanon and Gaza. But to declare that this was an act of war by the Lebanese government is a mistake.

To obliterate the constant menace of Hezbollah requires striking them in southern Lebanon and in South Beirut where their offices and power bases are located. This is how the Israeli army uprooted the P.L.O. from Jordan in 1971. After the P.L.O. launched assaults on Israel, King Hussein, tired of retaliatory attacks by the Israeli army, expelled Yasir Arafat and his colleagues from Jordanian territory and joined in peace efforts sponsored by the U.S. saying, "There must be peace, or war." The Lebanese government has announced the risky proposal of sending the regular army to take control of the South. After fifteen years of civil war and the occupation by Syrian troops, Lebanon's government is fragile and lacks the backing of the other Arab states. And their army may not only be outgunned by Hezbollah, it is questionable whether Lebanese soldiers would fight their countrymen who are in league with the militants. Israel would do well to remember that only last year, the Lebanese people conducted massive street demonstrations to force Syria to remove their army. Outside of Israel, this was the only popular uprising favoring democracy in the Middle East that I can remember.

Although Israel has dropped leaflets warning civilians in Lebanon to stay clear of Hezbollah's installations, their massive response plays into the hands of Iran and Syria, who want war. Every civilian death is a tool for jihadists to "prove" that Israel devalues Arab life and is a recruitment bonus for terror organizations. For Israel to bomb Lebanon's infrastructure and fuel depots punishes the wrong people and Hezbollah knows it. It offers the opportunity for jihadists to further radicalize the Lebanese and moderate Arabs in the area against any peace plan with Israel. While U.S. troops are bogged down in Iraq trying to create a democracy in the Middle East, the one successful democracy in the region is fighting on two fronts. The terrorists know they cannot defeat Israel militarily. They are hoping that Israel's response will be unfocused and indiscriminate enough to rally sympathizers to their cause and create the wider war against the West that they desire. Al Qaeda's own propaganda states, "Today London, Paris, and Madrid; tomorrow Los Angeles and Melbourne."

One thing the current crimes by Hamas and Hezbollah should lay bare is the fiction that the problem has been Israel's occupation of Arab land since the 1967 war. When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip unilaterally, Hamas had the opportunity to actually govern Palestinian territory. But instead, they used it as a base from which to attack Israel with rockets and bombs. The Palestinians could have a state tomorrow in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem by recognizing Israel's sovereignty and reigning in the terrorists, but their desire to kill Jews seems to be greater than their desire to live next to the Jews. Now we know why Yasir Arafat could not deliver for his people in 1999. Had he accepted a peace agreement with Israel, he would likely have suffered the same fate as Anwar Sadat. In an early video appearance, Osama bin Laden urged jihadists to kill Americans and Jews. He never mentioned Israelis by nationality. The underlying message to Hezbollah and their Iranian sponsors is to never make peace with Israel. Their goal is not a Palestinian state that would co-exist with Israel, but one that would replace Israel. Is there any question that if Iran were to acquire the technology to produce a nuclear weapon, or a dirty bomb, they would use it on Israel?

As the Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. told his Lebanese counterpart yesterday, both Israel and Lebanon will benefit from the destruction of Hezbollah on Israel's border. The Bush administration's newly discovered interest in diplomacy will not work here. The war in Iraq has cost the U.S. its' traditional roll as a fair broker of peace because of wide distrust in the Arab world. Critics who claim the war in Iraq is really to further protect Israel will have to live with the irony that the Israelis had to approach Putin and the Russians to exert any diplomatic authority over Iran. The Muslim world was already a tinderbox before George Bush set a fire in Iraq like David Koresh in Waco. Now that the Islamic reactionaries have become emboldened and the region is ablaze again, we can only hope the flames will be contained by responsible diplomacy before they engulf us all.