Not Ready From Day One

In choosing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, you first had to endure the television talking heads gushing over how canny John McCain was in making the selection and how pretty Palin is.

Then you had to hold your nose from the stench of the cynical political calculation.

Is THIS putting Country First or just politics at its most cynical?

Is THIS putting "Country First" or just politics at its most cynical?

If there were any doubts that the 72-year-old McCain is having “senior moments” this move confirms it.

The selection of Palin undermines the central argument McCain has used against Obama. That is the “experience” issue. If Obama lacks executive experience and has only been on the national stage briefly as a U.S. Senator still serving his first-term, the same charge can be made against Palin with her 22 months in the governor’s office.

If Palin has the experience necessary to be Commander-in-Chief so does  Obama. That particular avenue of attack has now been closed.

People don’t vote for or against a ticket based on who the vice-president is, so while Palin and Biden will do their best to get the man at the top of the ticket over the hump, neither one of them are a game-changer by themselves.

However, if anything should happen to a President Obama or President McCain Americans will have to ask themselves would they want Joe Biden or Sarah Palin as their next Commander-in-Chief?

Should I also mention that Governor Palin said “she doesn’t know what a vice-president does?”

The first executive decision a presidential candidate makes is who he believe will best serve the nation should he be unable to. Barack Obama chose an experienced and qualified senator who is well known and respected both at home and abroad. John McCain chose a first-term governor from a sparsely populated state who is a total enigma to the Lower 48.

The choice of Palin, someone McCain had only met once, smacks of calculation, not inspiration. McCain seems to gambling that disgruntled Democratic women and independents will see Palin’s pretty face and family and ignore her less attractive firmly right-wing beliefs. I don’t think women are going to vote for a woman simply because she IS a woman.

McCain is being cynical to the nth degree by selecting Palin. His overture to Hillary Clinton supporters is as clumsy as it is obvious. He seems to think women will vote strictly along gender lines. That same accusation was leveled at African-Americans for backing Obama. What that simplistic assumption ignores is just as Blacks never coalesced around Alan Keyes because his positions were out of the mainstream of African-Americans, Palin’s hard-right conservatism will be less appealing to Hillary supporters. Additionally, no one questioned whether Clinton was experienced enough to be the president or vice-president.

Women read the fine print too.

Palin may prove to be the asset McCain needs to give him the keys to a eighth house—1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Or she could do for him for Geraldine Ferraro did for Walter Mondale.

Not a damn thing.

A Moment of Majesty

I watched all of Obama’s acceptance speech before over 84,000 people at Invesco Field. My kids were just as interested as my wife and I were. I was almost afraid he wasn’t going to mention the historic symbolism between a Black man accepting the presidential nomination of a major political party 45 years from the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech.

Obama never mentioned Dr. King by name, but in retrospect it might have seemed egotistic to suggest a correlation between his monumental achievement and King’s legacy. He really didn’t need to. I think the significance was not lost upon most of the 84,000 present and the 38 million that watched the speech.

Would 84,000 people show up to hear McCain speak?

Would 84,000 people show up to hear McCain speak?

There are a few moments in our lives when you know  you’ve seen something you may never see again.

I’ve never seen thousands of people fill a football stadium to hear a politician speak.   I never dreamed it would be to see a Black man take one more step to changing the way America deals with it’s seemingly intractable race issue.

The heart of Obama speech came for me here:

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America’s promise the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that’s to be expected. Because if you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

You make a big election about small things.

And you know what it’s worked before. Because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn’t work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it’s best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already know.

I get it. I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office. I don’t fit the typical pedigree, and I haven’t spent my career in the halls of Washington.

But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the nay-sayers don’t understand is that this election has never been about me. It’s been about you.

This is a big election.  It’s the biggest and maybe the most important one I’ve ever participated it.

Whatever a moment of history is, it probably feels a lot like this.

Hillary’s Finest Hour (give or take 30 mintues)?

If I were a Hillary supporter, I’d be pretty pissed off right about now.

Not about Obama beating her.  That’s old news.  What is new is where the hell has this Hillary been?  She was gracious to Obama, hard on McCain and looser, funnier and more relaxed than I’ve see her in over a year.

THIS Hillary could have been won the nomination and maybe even the whole thing in November.

Too bad she’ll have to wait four more years for her next swing at the ball.

Hillary gave a great speech last night.  Maybe the best one she’s even given.  Too bad.  Had she given that speech sooner she might be the one being nominated instead of Obama.

When she asked “Were you in this campaign just for me?” she gave the die-hards vowing they would sooner vote for McCain than Obama a wake-up call.  We’ll see how many actually heard it.

Hillary tells her supporters to get on board with Obama.

Hillary tells her supporters to get on board with Obama.

That line about “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits” was pretty funny too.

Clinton, in effect said, “If you’re one of my supporters, join me in supporting Barack Obama for President.  He’s far more receptive to the issues important to me than McCain.”

The only ones who can ignore that invitation to return to sanity and Democratic Party unity are the fanatics, flakes and total losers who are determined to go out like the last of the Japanese soldiers who wouldn’t surrender even though the war was over.

Game over Clintonistas.   Your girl lost and she’s moving on.  Isn’t it about time you took the thumbs out of your mouth, your heads out of your ass and get with the program.

Princeton professor of political science and a committed “Mama for Obama,” Melissa Harris Lacewell put it best.  Writing on her blog, the former contributor to The Root  broke it down:

Obama will serve himself, his party, and his country best by standing still making a case for his own positions, and letting the voters come to him…or not. This is a democracy and the people must decide what kind of country we want. We cannot have something better than what we are ready for. November will tell us if HRC supporters are willing to sell out the future of their daughters in order to soothe their hurt feelings and nurse their personal arrogance.

In the meantime: no more concessions and no more chasing white women.

There’s only ten weeks until Election Day and Obama can’t waste any more time trying to kiss up to spoiled brats who threaten to hold their breath and turn blue.

If they love Hillary so much they’re convinced ignoring her strong message of support of Obama is the way to go, those White women are too far gone and nothing is going to bring them back until the wake up to the sad reality that Gramps McBush is not their friend.

Hard heads make for soft asses my daddy used to say.  This wasn’t exactly what he had in mind, but if he were still alive he’d still be saying it.  He’d be right too.

McCain and “the cross in the dirt.” Another senior moment?

Last week, NY Times columnist cracked Senator John McCain and his surrogates for “playing the P.O.W.” card after he came in for criticism following his stumbling admission he didn’t know how many homes he and his trust-fund baby mama, Cindy, owned. The answer was supplied by a sarcastic Barack Obama: seven.

Nobody’s disrespecting McCain’s military service and it is something he should be justifiably proud of. I’m not a fan of Mo Dowd and her poison pen either.

But there’s being proud of his service and his experiences as a P.O.W. and pimping it. McCain and his team are pimping the prisoner of war thing and it’s not an accident. It’s a strategy.

In a memo sent to reporters Thursday morning headlined, “Country First Vs. Self-Serving Partisanship,” McCain senior adviser Steve Schmidt traces an unbroken line from the physical courage McCain demonstrated in the Hanoi Hilton to the political bravery his supporters say he demonstrated on Capitol Hill.

“When John McCain was offered early release as a prisoner of war, he refused, subjecting himself to torture rather than give a propaganda victory to his captors,” Schmidt writes. “Is it any wonder that during the
Republican primary, John McCain was working with Democrats and talking about the need for comprehensive immigration reform?”

If the self-styled defenders of All Things McCain want to accuse anyone of
exploiting McCain’s service for political gain, they can start with the
candidate and his campaign.

Next week at the Republican National Convention, for those that bother to tune in, there will be so many mentions of McCain being a P.O.W., you may think he’s STILL trapped in The Hanoi Hilton.

“The truth is that, in national security terms, he’s largely untested and untried. He’s never been responsible for policy formulation. He’s never had leadership in a crisis, or in anything larger than his own element on an aircraft carrier or [in managing] his own congressional staff.  It’s not clear that this is going to be the strong suit that he thinks
it is.”

Being shot down 40 years ago and being a prisoner of war does not make you uniquely qualified to be president. Gen. Wesley Clark got rebuked, but he was only saying what nobody has disproved.  McCain’s “experience” is largely a figment of McCain’s imagination.

Sometimes it takes another ex-soldier to see through another ex-soldiers bullshit and war stories in a way civilians can’t hope to without fear of being called “disrespectful.”

Obama might regret having passed on Clark in favor of Joe Biden.

Remember McCain talking about his POW experience with a guard who used his rifle to draw a cross in the dirt? It may be possible that McCian is “misremembering” the story. It is very similar to a story written by
the late Russian author and dissident, Alexander Solzhenitsen.

Is McCain lying, distorting or just not remembering the story correctly?

The first option is very bad. Tthe second very troubling. The third is very scary.

Start Printing the “Obama/Biden ’08” Bumper Stickers.

In 2006, I was covering a fundraiser for the Ohio Democratic Party and the big draws were two U.S. Senators who would be speaking.    Typically these events are stone snoozers usually confined to insiders, political groupies and reporters like me looking for anything that moves that might present an interesting story hook.

The senators were Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

That way to the White House, Barack

"That way to the White House, Barack"

At the press conference Obama entered first.  He walked in with no handlers, no aides, nothing like the horde that moves with his every move now.  Like everyone else there I was well aware that his name was being prominently mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, but once again this was the summer of ’06 and the snows of the Iowa primaries were still many months away.

Obama stopped and spoke to everyone in the room and I mean everyone.  He shook hands with local officials, reporters, and even the photographers and TV cameramen and nobody pays them any attention.  He stepped over to me and extended his hand.

I’ve interviewed my fair share of politicians, musicians, public officials and an actor or two.  None of them impressed me as much as Obama did in that brief encounter.   He looked me directly in the eye, gave a firm handshake and spoke to me directly.  That’s not what most politicians do when they’re gladhanding.  They give your hand a quick squeeze, make a brief acknowledgment of your existence and move on the next schmuck in line.

I’ve never met Bill Clinton, but from what I’ve been told by those who have, he has the very unique ability to make you believe in the time you’re talking to him, he is totally into you and whatever irrelevant bullshit you may be rattling on about.   Much has been written about Clinton’s rock-star vibe.

Whatever that intangible “it” is, Barack Obama has it.

After Obama delivered the standard and obligatory “Bush bad, Democrats good” stump speech, he left the room and in came Biden.

Biden is a trim, white-haired liberal from Delaware who has a considerable political resume but the reputation of being a stiff and long-winded speaker.   He breezed through, shook hands, made a few remarks, and moved on to whatever the local pols needed him for.

If Obama is too cool for the room, Biden is the consumate professional who’s too chilly to be cool.

Now he’s going to try and help get Obama in and keep John McCain out of the White House.

The Republicans will sneer that the Democratic ticket is just two out-of-touch liberals who love Big Government and bigger taxes.  The thing of it is Biden’s presence on the ticket shores up Obama’s foreign policy weaknesses and experience issues.  People don’t vote for vice-presidents, but they do say something about the caliber of persons a potential President might look for in his Cabinet.

Biden is a satisfactory, if not particularly exciting pick.   As McCain has had his own private surge in the polls to turn the race into a dead heat, August has been a rough month for the Obama campaign.  Going into the national convention next week in Denver they could use some good  news.

Getting Too Close for Comfort?

Not the Three Amigos

Not the Three Amigos

You can tell we’re in the middle of the Olympics. The pundits are trying to determine who took the gold medal when Barack Obama and John McCain appeared jointly (but answered separately) at Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback mega-church in California on August 16.

McCain should have benefited the most and most likely did. For all intents and purposes he was playing with the home field advantage.  Evangelicals have been a significant voting bloc in the GOP for years and years now. Despite not being cut from the same cloth as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, Rick Warren is also an evangelical, a supporter of the war in Iraq, and pro-life.

Evangelicals are not madly in love with McCain and will fall right out of mildly liking him if he picks a pro-choice running mate (bye-bye Tom Ridge, hello Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty).

I wouldn’t go so far to say as the fix was in for McCain, but there wasn’t much chance Obama was going to win over many new converts to his cause.  He definitely had the tougher sell to make.

Consider Obama’s appearance at Saddleback as the flipside of McCain’s appearance at the NAACP convention in July. It probably didn’t help much in changing minds and winning votes, but give credit to the candidate who goes where he knows he’s the underdog. It didn’t hurt McCain to speak to the NAACP and it won’t hurt Obama speaking to a gathering of evangelicals. 

You sure were opposed to gay marriage?

"You sure we're opposed to gay marriage?"

I don’t think either candidate gave any particularly shocking, surprising or eye-opening answers.   The caliber of the questions Warren asked wasn’t all that drastically different from the ones the candidates have been answering for the last year or so.  Simply because the ordinary folks are asking questions of the candidates means that they are good questions. There is a tendency to think Joe and Jane Six-pack will ask smarter and tougher questions than professional pundits and journalists, but that isn’t always so.

More distressing to me is why presidential candidates feel they must talk about their faith and religious beliefs all the time. I could care less personally when Obama or McCain’s moment of religious awakening came.  I’d much rather know what their plans are to get the economy going or combat global warming or what their foreign policy initiatives will be rather do they kneel and pray before making a tough decision.

Whether it’s Jeremiah Wright, John Hagee, Father Pflager, Rod Parsley, or Rick Warren, I’ve had enough indulging of the egos of clergymen who want to flex their muscles and demonstrate how much juice they have with the
presidential contenders. They should get back to their full-time jobs of saving souls and out of the game of playing politics.

It’s time for a little more separating in the separation between church and state.

Too much coziness between politicians and preachers isn’t a good thing.   Warren said he set up the joint interview with Obama and McCain by calling them on his cell phone.  Rick Warren has the private phone numbers of both of the two men who would be the next President of the United States.

Why does that fact bug me more than it should?

Barack Obama: Jazz Politician

It took me a while to figure it out, but I finally think I know why so many White folks are having a hard time getting into Barack Obama.

I think it’s because Barack is a jazz politician in a culture used to country and soft-ass pop politicians.   America respects jazz.  It just doesn’t want to listen to it.

Maybe because unlike pop music, jazz demands you not just listen, but actually hear.

Changin up the groove

Changin' up the groove

When I was a kid I was into soul music, pop music and rock music.  I wasn’t even slightly into jazz music.  Jazz was “old people’s music.”

Now that I’m older than I’ve ever been I love jazz.  I love it more than any other type of music even though I still have a soft place in my heart for some quality old school soul and every now and then I’ve got to hear some rock n’ roll guitar riffs blowing out of my car stereo.

Barack Obama is a jazz politician.  You can see him improvising, deviating from the script, and at times he’s way ahead of the audience.

Barack is no Miles.  He’s not Coltrane.  Miles and ‘Trane were not just innovators, they were revolutionaries.  He’s more like Herbie Hancock or George Benson.  Guys who didn’t so much blaze a path as they followed it and took it into their own direction.  That’s Obama.    A brother with serious chops and a even more serious education in politics, but aiming for a bigger audience; a crossover audience and the success that comes with it.

All of which  throughly pisses off the purists.   “He’s too brash and he hasn’t payed his dues,” they sneer.  Mediocre minds always throw stones at someone who doesn’t represent the status quo.

Real improvisers/innovators don’t play for critics.  They play for the people.   The hardcore few don’t give the people what they want.   They give them what they want first and make the fans realize they needed it later.
The trick of it is to not lose your authenticity  even while you’re bringing the message to a wider audience.  It’s a tricky move and just like Herbie and George, Barack has at times wandered a little too far from jazz into impure  Kenny G. pop/sludge.

And there’s nothing authentic about that.

But play on Barack.  Play on brother.

“We all have to open our minds, stretch forth, take chances and venture out musically to try and arrive at something new and different.”   ~ Horace Silver

Change “musically” to “politically.”  Otherwise the meaning doesn’t change.

The Very Strange Death of LaVena Johnson.

was it suicide or murder?

LaVena Johnson: was it suicide or murder?

There is never a shortage of missing White women and children for the media to fixate upon.  Crap television shows such as the ones hosted by Greta vanSustren and the repellent Nancy Grace turned the case of Natalie Holloway into a cause celebre.

It helps when the victim is young, pretty and White.

LaVena Johnson was young and pretty, but unfortunately, since she wasn’t White, the mainstream news media has paid almost no attention to her death under what can be described as “unusual” circumstances.

Unusual in what way?

Recently, Kate Harding on Salon related the mysterious circumstances of Private Johnson’s death.

In July 2005, 19-year-old Johnson became the first female soldier from Missouri to die in Iraq. She was found with a broken nose, black eye and loose teeth, acid burns on her genitals, presumably to eliminate DNA evidence of rape, a trail of blood leading away from her tent and a bullet hole in her head. Unbelievably, that’s not the most horrifying part of the story. Here’s what is: Army investigators ruled her death a suicide.

Beyond the obvious evidence of abuse, there was no sign of depression or suicidal ideation in Johnson’s psychological profile. The bullet wound was in the wrong place for her to have shot herself with her dominant hand, and the exit wound was the wrong size to have come from her own M-16, as the Army suggested it did. The blatant lie the military has tried to sell Johnson’s family is on a par with the cover-up surrounding football star Pat Tillman’s 2004 death in a friendly fire incident. Unlike Tillman’s widely reported story, however, outside the blogosphere — where writers like Philip Barron have worked tirelessly to keep Johnson’s name in the spotlight — the LaVena Johnson case has rarely been noted. And sadly, it is far from unique. In a story in the New Zealand Herald on Wednesday, Tracey Barnett writes, “[LaVena’s father] John Johnson has discovered far more stories that have matched his daughter’s than he ever wanted to know. Ten other families of ‘suicide’ female soldiers have contacted him. The common thread among them — rape.”

Regarding the runaround her family got from the military, Pat Tillman’s mother said to the New York Times in 2006, “”This is how they treat a family of a high-profile individual. How are they treating others?” LaVena Johnson’s story is just one tragic answer to that question.

It’s one thing when soldiers risk their lives to defend our country.  It’s another thing entirely when they become possible victims of assault, rape, and murder and the military turns a blind eye.

The Army says Johnson committed suicide.  Seems to me there are less strange ways to kill yourself than the method she supposedly chose.  There needs to be a new investigation into Johnson’s death. has begun a petition drive addressed to U.S. Representative Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to request they hold an inquiry

Instead of talking about who’s more of a celebrity, McCain or Obama, Paris Hilton’s presidential aspirations, or if John Edwards is a baby daddy and all the other bullshit we dwell upon in our endless search for brain-dead entertainment, every American regardless of their position on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan should not only be concerned, we should be outraged over how our female soldiers are being mistreated.

In their desire to protect our lives, what are we doing to protect theirs?

To sign the petition:

For more information about the Johnson case: