Friday, April 2, 2010

Cartman and Catholicism

In the recent news, there's been much talk over child molestation cover-ups by current Pope Benedict XVI. While it's great that this story is getting its much-deserved media attention, sexual abuse and Canonical cover up has been going on for years, decades... maybe even centuries?

In 2006, director Amy Berg shot a documentary called Deliver Us from Evil, which showed how the Catholic Church systematically covered up cases of sexual abuse in California in the 1970s/80s by simply moving a pedophile priest from parish to parish while he continued to molest children.

Not that it's right, but I understand the urge of a profitable, multinational, brand-conscious organization to cover up a potential scandal. At this point though, I think sexual abuse and the Catholic church are synonymous in the collective consciousness of the world. For an example of this, we need look no further than last week's episode of South Park.

In the episode, when Cartman is asked if he would like to smuggle some illegal KFC into town, he replies affirmatively by asking:

“Does the pope help pedophiles get away with their crimes?”

This starts a recurring theme of well-deserved Pope bashing. Cartman is asked about smuggling KFC repeatedly throughout the episode and always replies affirmatively in the form of a Pope-zinger question:

“Is that something I’d want to do? Is the Pope Catholic? And making the world safe for pedophiles?”

Then, “Does a bear crap in the woods? And does the Pope crap on the lives and dreams of 200 deaf boys?”

This is South Park at its best.

Actively covering up sexual abuse is Catholicism at its worse.

The Catholic church should wave the white flag, surrender the war of cover up and seriously clean house. They have a history of irreconcilable miscues which have left their organization morally bankrupt. Yet, at the same time, they still have some solvent assets in their portfolio: compassion for the poor, the Jesuit educational tradition, the Kennedy political legacy.

The Vatican needs to take a page out of the GM playbook: drop the losers and focus all energy on core strengths. They should know better than anyone that confession wipes the slate clean. The world will forgive them if they own up to their past.

Basic ethics aside, the Pope is running a business and he needs to realize that he's going to run it into the ground if he continues down this path of over leveraged moral equity. The Pope must stop the abuse, then stop the denial. It's for his own good.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Big Dose of Crazy

Read this quote and then guess who is speaking and what they are talking about.

"I believe as we stand on the abyss tonight, that those Americans who are want to turn to God for answers, that this is a time to be doing that, to ask for his help, supernaturally, so we don't make this fatal step..."

Hmmm, a situation so dire that our only option is to turn to God and ask for supernatural intervention, something that, if not stopped, will be a fatal step for America. What could it be? Has some self-proclaimed prophet convinced himself that nuclear war is imminent? Let's look at the end of the quote:

" we don't make this fatal step, pushing our nation into socialized medicine."

Once you realize the subject of supernatural intervention is health care reform, it should become sadly obvious that the person talking is some member of the House or Senate who's deaf to any legitimate policy discussion because he's got his iPod on repeat, listening to The Book of Revelation. In this case, the Congressman is Rep. Todd Akin, (R)-Missouri.

Having problems with current health care legislation is not wrong. Fear mongering, while both manipulative and morally dubious, is certainly a tactic that has been ingrained into the political process. What Akin is doing here though is a hybrid of sorts, a symbiotic relationship that I like to call Evangelist fear mongering. The perfect mix of church and state.

Akin is not calling for the general, "please find a way to help the victims in Haiti" or "keep our soldiers abroad safe" style of dialogue with God, but instead is asking that we plea for direct, "supernatural" intervention against health care reform. Prayer and belief in God imply a certain level of supernatural-ness, but Akin wants us to forget the implied supernatural activity of normal prayer and really swing for the fences this time in the hopes that maybe we can get the big guy to come down from the clouds and do something tangible to stop health care reform.

That is, in this case, God's mysterious ways will not do, we need him to step in and specifically stop health care reform. So get to praying America, because God and God alone is our only hope. In other words, if we don't pray to God, we are just plain fucked ("those Americans who are want to turn to God for answers" are making a "fatal step" into the "abyss").

Christianity has been telling non-believers they are fucked (going to hell) for its entire existence, but the political arena is supposed to be distinct from the religious. On a subtle level, this respect of the divide between church and state has been gone from near the beginning, as anyone running for elected office must declare their faith in God, no, I correct myself, their faith in Christianity, if they want a chance of winning. But what Rep. Akin is doing here is going a step further. God is not just there to answer to our spiritual needs, but also our policy decisions.

Congress is in good hands.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Daily Show and C-SPAN Gems

There is a lot of talk out there about how many young people get their news from The Daily Show. For people who do not pay attention to current events or politics, I think that is a fair statement. On the other hand, for the people out there who do pay attention to the news, The Daily Show provides poignant satire on politics and the sad state of mass media. Still, for the latter group of informed fans, The Daily Show does provide an educational service of high value.

If you were to ask anyone you know if they watch C-SPAN, the answer would most likely be no. If you asked the same question to the writers/editors of The Daily Show, the answer would be different. The Daily Show sifts through C-SPAN for gold. By gold I mean the absurd, theatrical, and/or sad actions of Senators and Congressmen on Capitol Hill.

Last Monday, March 1st, The Daily Show produced a segment about Senator Jim Bunning and his obstructionist tactics. By his objection alone, he blocked a motion to extend unemployment benefits for one month to the unemployed.

Jon Stewart does not only scold Jim Bunning, but also the Democrats who Bunning played like a fiddle. Due to the farcical old rules of Capitol Hill, for the motion to be passed, all the Dems would have had to do is get Bunning out of the room. Stewart makes jokes about how the Dems should have called him to the 'courtesy phone', but the point he is making is simply that the Dems are a bunch of inept jackasses with their thumbs stuck up their asses.

Bush pretty much did whatever the fuck he wanted to do while he was president, and he never had anything close to a supermajority. What he did have was Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, two very smart and politically savvy veterans of D.C. who knew how to get things done when they wanted to. I disagree with most of what they did, but I still have to respect the fact that they got it done. Politics is a dirty game, and the Democrats just don't seem like they know how to play.

To quote Jon Stewart, from a different episode of The Daily Show:

"It's not that the Democrats are playing checkers and the Republicans are playing chess. It's that the Republicans are playing chess and the Democrats are in the nurse's office because once again they glued their balls to their thighs."

So thank you Jon Stewart and staff, without you, most of us would never see for ourselves, in cold, hard evidence just how dysfunctional D.C. really is.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Haiti January 12

Photojournalist Ron Haviv was in Haiti immediately after the earthquake for two weeks. He handed over some still, audio, and video footage to telegraph21 for myself and my colleague Jeca Taudte to edit into a short multimedia presentation.

Check it out.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Les Enfants de L'enfer

I am working for a website that just launched in January called It features the best non-fiction videos from around the world every week. Last week we featured a video about the effects of the earthquake on children/orphanages in Haiti. We were able to get an interview with the camera man/editor, which I cut into a short video. Below are the actually documentary and the interview I edited. Enjoy.

Les Enfants de L'enfer (Children of Hell)

Interview with Adam Kaufman (camera man/editor)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

GOP House Issues Conference: Obama's Back!

Three days after the State of the Union Address, President Obama accepted an invitation to have a Q&A session with the GOP. Like the beginning of America's love affair with Barack, it all started with a speech.

Many topics were discussed, but the theme of the night was bi-partisanship. The speech had a tone of firm necessity, but a sub-text of pleading desperation. To properly address health care, jobs, the economy/financial regulation and the $1.3 trillion deficit, voting that is stubbornly and forever split down the aisle has got to go. Period.

Two Republican Responses

Once the Q&A session began, I hoped that some of the Republicans might take Obama's pleads to heart and ask thoughtful, or at least legitimate questions. Congressman Peter Roskam (IL), did such a thing. He asked critical questions, but in a fair and amiable way. He recalled how State Senator Obama had worked effectively with Republicans to get things done in Illinois, but remarked that, "over the past year, in my view, that attribute hasn't been in full bloom." He went on to specifically ask about the Free Trade Agreements mentioned in the State of the Union Address and how to walk the line between protecting jobs and protectionism.

Unfortunately, he was the lone collection of rational thought and productive dialogue who spoke that night to represent the elephant in the room (pun intended).

On the opposite end of the spectrum was the distinguished (if only by her impressive collection of empty sound bites) Congresswoman from Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn. If anyone has ever heard a congressional hearing or anything of the C-SPAN variety, they know that politicians can talk for hours without saying anything. True to form, Marsha Blackburn gave it 110% and, in my humble opinion, should get some sort of Congressional Special Olympics medal for the performance she put on during her speech. It was so devoid of any trace of cogent thinking beyond the obligatory "Thank you, Mr. President," that is was kind of cute (Think of a parent watching his/her child in the school play, 'aww, look at her, she's doing such a good job remembering all of her lines!'):

(skip to 0:48:20)

Thank you for acknowledging that we have ideas on health care because, indeed, we do have ideas. We have plans, we have over 50 bills, we have lots of amendments that would bring health care ideas to the forefront...

[This is where it gets good! ]

...We would -- we've got plans to lower cost, to change purchasing models, address medical liability, insurance accountability, chronic and preexisting conditions, and access to affordable care for those with those conditions, insurance portability, expanded access -- but not doing it with creating more government, more bureaucracy, and more cost for the American taxpayer.

Let's examine her second paragraph. She starts her sentence, "We would," but then quickly and correctly stops herself from making empty promises, because using the word "would" creates a loose form of accountability. "We've got plans," on the other hand, carries with it no claims of accountability.

Well-played, Congresswoman.

This slight stumble begins a barrage of health care buzz words that, when put together as Congresswoman Blackburn does, have as little value as a whole as their degree of specificity when separate. To wrap up her free-form stanza, she seamlessly slips in the conservative playbook's central tenant: the illogical, yet exceedingly popular claim that we can solve, and somehow pay for, all of our country's problems with small government and less taxes ("but not doing it with creating more government, more bureaucracy, and more cost for the American taxpayer").

Republicans like Congressman Peter Roskam show us how bi-partisanship can work, Marsha Blackburn shows us how to be a jackass, albeit a simple-mindedly cute one.

The Last Question of the Night

I recently wrote about how, after a year in office, Obama has let me down. He has not been able to move forward with many policy decisions, due partly to his own fault, but due primarily to the sorry state of Washington. The power of money to win elections and influence the legislative process when we need it most has turned both parties into money grubbing tools. I hate to seem biased toward the Republicans, but it is quite clear that the Republican party has, in the last year, morphed into an obstructionist entity hell bent on Democratic failure to help the GOP come election time in November 2010 and 2012.

Obama's speech seemed almost like a direct response to my concerns. I do not think Obama reads my blog, but I think that my ideas are shared by many concerned citizens, by anyone who has looked into our pseudo-Democracy close enough to realize how broken the system really is. It was ethereally calming to hear Obama specifically addressing everything I wanted to hear and, while I couldn't help but think that I'd been wooed by him before, I still could not help but feel the sincerity in his voice, the common sense of his arguments, and the validity of his laundry list of ailments in Washington.

This all crystallized in the final question of the night from Congressman Jeb Hensarling from Texas. If you have the desire, I recommend watching the entire speech, but if you choose just one part to look at, this question and Obama's response is the part to check out.

Jeb starts out with a congenial mention of the fact that both Obama and himself are parents (yes, Jeb is human, contradictory to his robotic demeanor and talking points) and then jumps right into his own mini-speech/question. As he begins, he, unlike his peer from Tennessee, puts together words that form coherent sentences. Step 1, check. Like Blackburn though, he goes straight to party line arguments, claiming that if Obama would have looked at the Republican budget proposal at the beginning of 2009, that we could have avoided all the economic pitfalls of the year. He goes on, "since the [Republican] budget was ignored, what were the old annual deficits under Republicans have now become the monthly deficits under Democrats." It's the oldest form of propping up shaky arguments: baseless statistics.

(Note: Obama inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit, Bush inherited a $200 billion budget surplus

After a couple minutes of talking, Jeb finally gets to his question, which is a subtly fear-inducing play to the teabaggers all across the country, "Will that new budget, like your old budget, triple the national debt and continue to take us down the path of increasing the cost of government to almost 25 percent of our economy?"

No, this isn't the typical death camp, Hitler comparison teabagger vernacular, but it sure is teabagger rhetoric. They want to focus on scary spending, on 'the path' we are marching down (toward socialism of course), but they do not want to address why there is a necessity to spend at this unprecedented moment in American economic history. These people have their priorities twisted; they feel that regaining power comes before solving problems, they put their efforts into House and Senate majorities
, not jobs, health care, or the economy. They are bullshit wonks.

Obama's Response

(skip to 1:14:00 for Jeb's question and Obama's response)

Jeb, with all due respect, I've just got to take this last question as an example of how it's very hard to have the kind of bipartisan work that we're going to do, because [your] whole question was structured as a talking point for running a campaign...So when you say that suddenly I've got...a monthly deficit that's higher than the annual deficit left by the Republicans, that's factually just not true, and you know it's not true.

After dealing with Mr. Hensarling, Obama
details the political process Jeb's comments represent:


That's why I say if we're going to frame these debates in ways that allow us to solve them, then we can't start off by figuring out, A, who's to blame; B, how can we make the American people afraid of the other side. And unfortunately, that's how our politics works right now. And that's how a lot of our discussion works. That's how we start off -- every time somebody speaks in Congress, the first thing they do, they stand up and all the talking points -- I see Frank Luntz up here sitting in the front. He's already polled it, and he said, you know, the way you're really going to -- I've done a focus group and the way we're going to really box in Obama on this one or make Pelosi look bad on that one -- I know, I like Frank, we've had conversations between Frank and I. But that's how we operate. It's all tactics, and it's not solving problems.
And so the question is, at what point can we have a serious conversation about Medicare and its long-term liability, or a serious question about -- a serious conversation about Social Security, or a serious conversation about budget and debt in which we're not simply trying to position ourselves politically.

I know talk is cheap, but goddamn that's good stuff! It's rare these days to hear a politician, let alone the President, simply tell it like it is. The first step to solving a problem is identifying it and, after this speech, there is no denying that Obama knows what's wrong and it seems like he wants to fix it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

One Year In

Obama has simply not lived up to the hopes of a nation. To me, this signals two things, one about Obama the individual and one about our corrupt at worse, stagnant at best, political system. Let's start with the latter. The two big domestic issues of Obama's administration are health care and the economy/financial regulation.

Health Care:
A single payer option was labeled socialism before people even knew what it was and the public option only lasted for a few months. The 'blue dogs' knew the public option would be thrown to the curb eventually and, in hindsight, it seems as though the public option was mere window decoration to garner liberal support.

Now the bill we are left with forces millions of Americans to buy into a broken health care system. In negotiating the health care bill as it stands now, the federal government is essentially deciding how much money we are going to guarantee for private insurance companies. The American tax payer will largely foot the bill a la federal subsidies for low-income families who cannot afford the coverage they are being forced to buy. So who's really benefiting here? Does the bill as it stands now seriously tackle out of control drug prices, one of the malignant cancers of the health care problem? No. Will it help the average American on Main Street? Maybe. Will it help the trillion-dollar deficit? Maybe. Will it boost insurance companies' quarterly profits by forcing millions of Americans to buy private health insurance plans? Yes.

Wall Street:
Obama made a great move in appointing Elizabeth Warren to head Congress' panel on financial regulation. Now if only he would listen to her. She has proposed the idea of a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Wall street and it's powerful lobby don't like it, so guess what? The right side of the aisle and the 'centerist' (read: big business friendly) Blue Dog Dems are trying to shoot it down.

The more I learn about modern American politics, the more I think the CFPA will be either scratched or watered down so much Elizabeth Warren will be trying to disassociate herself with it. So when the dust clears from the financial regulation fight, who will come out the winner? I'm guessing that Wall St. will not be disappointed.

People like to throw a fuss about bonuses and profits. Let's be real. Big banks/investment firms, and all corporations for that matter, exist to make money. A corporation is actually legally obliged to pursue profits above all else. Profits are to corporations what winning is to any sports franchise. In this sense, steroids and mortgage-backed securities, credit default swaps, and other complex derivatives are very similar. They give the 'athlete' an edge over the competition. The main difference is that steroids are illegal. If banks are acting within the law, then who are we to blame them? Enter CFPA.

I still like to believe that Obama has a spot in his heart for all the people he worked with in his fabled days as a community organizer in the south side of Chicago. Unfortunately, one cannot readily see it in the policy decisions, or lack thereof, of his first year.

In the wake of his election and the sorry state of America that went with it, FDR comparisons were abound. The collective American consciousness correctly thinks of FDR as the people's president, but we take for granted the struggle involved in getting the New Deal passed. Big business existed in the 1930's too. Lest we forget the Gilded Age of Standard Oil and US Steel that preceded the Great Depression by a few short decades. FDR had to roll up his sleeves and play hard ball to get things done. Obama MUST play hard ball as well if he truly wants any serious change to occur.

State of the Union:
The American political system (I consider it a rarely functioning pseudo-Democracy) does not work. It is that simple. When it costs millions of dollars to run a successful re-election campaign, money is king. When money is king, lobbyists can control the kingdom, as we see now in health care and financial reform.

I know this sounds like a lot of gloom and doom, but I'm just calling it like I see it. This is not a red or blue thing, this is an American thing. If someone can please explain to me why I am wrong I would love to hear it.