Sunday, March 30, 2008

March 30th Installment of Forward Forum

by: Harry Waisbren

Both John and I are very excited for tonight's show, which we hope will be a thoughtful, mature and authentic panel discussion about the role that race, gender and religion are playing in the presidential campaign.

We'll be seeking common ground and placing into historical context recent events in ways that seek to recapture the excitement that so many have felt about the current campaign, despite recent events that seem to have left us mired in divisiveness and politics-as-usual. We believe, as do our panelists, that we can transcend these dynamics, and realize the potential of the politics of a new movement sweeping this country. However, before we can do that, we need to move beyond denial and demagoguery to an authentic national discussion about these issues that are central to our lives.

Our guests include:

  • The Rev. Gregory Armstrong, pastor at S.S. Morris African American Episcopal Church, and president of the Madison Urban Ministry;
  • UW-Madison Graduate Student Amy Tully, now in her third year pursuing a doctorate in Communications Arts, with an emphasis in Rhetoric;
  • The Rev. Phil Haslanger, recently ordained minister, serving at Fitchburg's Memorial United Church of Christ, who has a 30 plus year history as a contributing editor to the Capital Times; and
  • Community Leader Abha Thakkar, longtime Madison community organizer and cultural competency trainer, director of the internationally-based Books of Hope project, and 2006 recipient of the Wisconsin Community Fund's Social Justice Visionary Award.

On this week's show, we try to move beyond the hype, and to lower the volume, as we examine the sermons of Rev. Wright in the context of the historical and rhetorical traditions of the Black pulpit, and by letting you the listener hear for yourselves the almost-never-reported full context of his messages, beyond the soundbytes. And we look at how decades-old tactics by her far right wing critics to make Hillary Clinton into a polarizing figure have been uncritically perpetuated by the mainstream media--and how this reflects America's remaining ambivalent and impossible-to-satisfy expectations for women in positions in power.

Is "Bitch" really the "New Black"?

by: Harry Waisbren

Although members of the press themselves have described the media bias against Hillary Clinton as bordering on “mental illness”, it is still shocking to see the degree of gender-based attacks that have been levied at her. Such bias has already led Saturday Night Live to declare that “bitch is the new black”, and although it was written as satire, their larger point over the presidential campaign exposing a blatant bigotry against women is gut-wrenchingly true.

Not only has Clinton already received condemnation over such important issues as having cleavage, looking like an older woman, and getting ready in the morning like a woman, but she is given a double standard towards qualities men share as well. Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake described this double standard when it was exposed over the varying press reactions to male vs. female candidates who cry:

Male candidates can cry and it shows their humanity; Hillary Clinton cries and she's weak and hysterical. And why shouldn't she be emotional at this point? Her male fellow candidates don't have to put up with leering, chortling, oily creeps like Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough laughing at them and disrespecting them when they're trying to run a fucking political campaign.

The press’s blatant gender bias is further evidenced by the Associated Press uncritically quoting Robert Stone as an objective pundit. If you don’t know who he is, this is the same Robert Stone that recently founded the anti-Hillary organization, Citizens United Not Timid, or C.U.N.T.

Chris Matthews’s gender bias extended to him even questioning Hillary’s qualifications to be president:

"the reason [Hillary Clinton is] a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around. That's how she got to be senator from New York. We keep forgetting it. She didn't win there on her merit."

Although Chris Matthews was compelled to apologize a week later, the behavior of pundits on MSNBC did not change. This was exemplified by this observation from David Shuster who later also had to appologize:

"there's just something a little bit unseemly" about Chelsea Clinton contacting super delegates on behalf of her mother. "[D]oesn't it seem like Chelsea's sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?"

Although it seems particularly obscene to attack a candidate’s offspring in misogynistic tones, such abrasive attacks against Chelsea are not new, as they had already dealt with John Mccain’s 1998 rhetorical question:

Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno.”

Now who is holding their breath waiting for the media to savage John Mccain for heartlessly calling a teenage girl ugly?

Despite such examples of a political environment so keen to misogyny, perhaps the most blatant example occurred but a week ago when, following a firestorm of criticism, Hillary released her records of her tenure as first lady. Glenn Greenwald depicted the coverage of this new information in a post entitled “the worst, sleaziest press corps possible”:

It just isn’t possible for this country to have a more depraved and wretched press corps. After spending months haranguing Hillary Clinton to release her schedule as First Lady—based on high minded demands that open government is important—this is what ABC News “investigative reporter” Brian Ross did with the documents today (h/t Susie Madrak via email):

Hillary Was in White House on "Stained Blue Dress" Day Schedules Reviewed by ABC Show Hillary May Have Been in the White House When the Fateful Act Was Committed Hillary Clinton spent the night in the White House on the day her husband had oral sex with Monica Lewinsky, and may have actually been in the White House when it happened, according to records of her schedule released today by the National Archives. . .

The minute he got his hands on Hillary's schedule today, he apparently crawled right over to that most special media day ever -- Stained Blue Dress Day -- and excitedly connected the dots. The byline on the story is "BRIAN ROSS and the ABC NEWS INVESTIGATIVE UNIT." It apparently took the entire ABC Investigative Journalist team to uncover this story. Given what an honest, law-abiding and open administration we have, it's not as though investigative journalists have anything else to do.

This state of affairs led to this observation from Christy Hardin Smith of Firedoglake:

What?!? We don't get the background chatter that she made Bill sleep on the sofa in the private residence for months afterward? Or that she used Kleenex tissues to dry her copious tears or that she sought solace with a pint of Ben and Jerry's Chubby Hubby? Come on! What in the hell is wrong with these people-- this occurred years ago and is none of our business. It wasn't our business back then, and it sure as hell isn't our business years later.
This is not news. It is a distraction. From what, you ask? For starters, the fact that John McCain can't tell the two major branches of Islam apart, and has managed in one "foreign policy" trip to enrage the Palestinians and insult the Jews by equating Purim with Halloween, in a "goodwill tour" masquerading as a transparent bid to court American Jews in the delegate-rich states of NY, NJ and FL.

I agree wholeheartedly that such reporting is nothing but distraction. However, Christy is also right that there is something perversely wrong with these people and the system at large, one which includes gender-based questions against Barack Obama’s qualifications to be president as well:

So we may have reached the perfect gender dilemma: is Obama "man enough" to be President?

If Bush is the prototype of being “man enough” to be president, then I certainly have no issue with going against the grain and hoping for a president that is more representative of the other half of humanity. One hope I have for Hillary Clinton is that she will decide to take these issues head on like Obama has with race, as there clearly are major gender issues that our country, and especially our media corps, have to move past.

Scary Black Pastors and the Press

by: Harry Waisbren

The press induced "controversy" surrounding the youtube videos of Reverand Wright has generally been a vomit-inducing, race baiting free for all since it began. This back to the 50's style affair has been so poorly managed by the press that there are now concerns for Wright's very safety. Do not be fooled by the press's supposed veneer of objectivity: a prominent black leader is now in danger because of the latent racism boiling to the top amongst our Elite Political Class. Scarecrow from Firedoglake is aboslutely right:

America's DC pundits are bullying a black candidate while making racist attacks on black pastors and churches, thinly disguising them as a defense of American civility and patriotism....It does not seem to have occurred to the white DC pundit class that blacks have every right to be angry at America -- and that condemning them for this anger is racist.

It never made sense for this issue (and most else covered by the mainstream press) to be of such prominence considering the tyranical rule America is embroiled against--so severe that our European Allies now have more faith in Vladamir Putin than Bush . However, compared to the major issues of the day this is particularly ridiculous in light of Mccain's serial embarrassments on his Middle East tour that just so happen to counter his credentials as a Serious foreign policy Expert.

Pam Spaulding caught the true reason why this is considered so preeminently newsworthy:

people have to acknowledge part of the reason for the discomfort lies in Wright's delivery of the message. It's so black, isn't it? It sounds militant to tender ears outside the traditional black church. For that matter, it doesn't resemble the delivery of sermons in other denominations of black churches -- I was raised Episopalian, and those folks aren't the hooping and hollering types of congregations. That said, what does that all mean? If the same messages were delivered with a velvet glove, with less inflammatory language, would it generate the same reaction? I doubt it.

She is completely right that it is not even the most radical of Wright's conspiracy theories that is creating such a stir, as if controversial and offensive statements of a candidate's pastor were worthy of such coverage there would be much more regarding Mccain's connections to Rev. Hagee and Rev. Moon among others. Rev. Wright is called anti-American for saying our foreign policy played a role in 9/11, but John Mccain is able to endorse Rev. Hagee proudly despite him suggesting that Hurricane Katrina was God’s vengeance on America for our tolerance of homosexuality. This is a double standard of epic proportions, and it is as clear an expose on the state of American journalism as there possibly could be.

If it was only the views of the pastors that were at issue, then Fox News would not be predicting that blacks will riot following an Obama loss. Jon Stewart summarized this latent racism in the double standard from the press when he said "yeah, I mean we all love Jesus, but why do you have to be so black and angry about it?" This is what is going on, and the sooner our country recognizes how much further we have to go to deal with race relations the better.

Glenn Greenwald, who has been leading the fight against this double standard for some time, has documented how this precise attitude has been completely exposed by the most mainstream of conservative bloggers. In the post excerpted below he takes great care to describe how more credible mainstream outlets make dog whistles to these sort of views:

Here's the dirty secret all of us know and no one will admit to. There ARE niggers. Black people know it. White people know it. And only black people are allowed to notice and pronounce the truth of it. Which would be fine. Except that black people are not a community but a political party. They can squabble with each other in caucus but they absolutely refuse to speak the truth in public. And this is the single biggest obstacle to healing the racial divide in this country. I'm not proposing the generalized use of the term, just trying to be clear for once, in the wake of Obama's call for us to have a dialogue about race. However much they may scream and protest, black people will know what I mean when I demand they concede that the following people are niggers:

-Jeremiah Wright
- O.J. Simpson
- Marion Barry
- Alan Iverson
- William Jefferson
- Louis Farrakhan
- Mike Tyson

It is just this sort of conduct that has the RNC fearing being labeled bigots, but they are clearly latching onto it as an electoral strategy. However, it is entirely disconcerting and much more surprising to me that Hillary Clinton has also joined in on the Rev. Wright fear mongering in what has become an increasingly racialized and negative campaign strategy. Despite the coverage, Chris Bowers at Openleft noted how Obama's relationship to Wright should be considered a positive to progressives:

I am not offended by Jeremiah Wright. In fact, Wright is actually one of the reasons I have always liked Obama. And no, that is not because I am religious (I'm not) or that I actually liked the comments that have caused a controversy about Wright (I don't). Instead, Obama's upbringing, including the church he attends, provides him with a perspective on a large segment of America that is rarely represented either in popular American culture or in the executive branches of state and federal governments. If you live in a large American city, but not in one of the expensive / gentrified areas of those cities, you know that there is absolutely nothing shocking or even unusual about Jeremiah Wright.

Bowers is absolutely right that Obama’s recognition of such rancor, some justified and some maybe not, in the black community is quite the positive attribute compared to the beltway enclosed and ignorant elites that have run our government and media for far too long. Even aside from this evidence of Obama's important perspective on stark realities in this country, as seen in his incredible speech on Wright and Race, John Cole cites another potential reason to be happy about this sad racist saga in a simple request:

Can you stop pretending he is Muslim now that you are denouncing his Christian minister?

Sadly, the way our media functions these days, I think that might be far too much to ask. Shockingly, there is an element of phenomenal news in this debacle: polling is indicating that the people are ignoring the concerns from our joke of a press and aren't falling for the race baiting:

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC national poll says that the controversy over Jeremiah Wright didn't hurt Obama. Not only has he held against Hillary Clinton (they're in a dead heat at 45% each, as opposed to two weeks ago when Clinton was 47% to his 43%), but his numbers relative to McCain haven't moved (he's 42% to McCain's 44%, virtually the same as in the previous poll).

The people are waking up, and they are sick and tired government and media elites attempting to pit neighbor against neighbor in order to get us to ignore the fact that we are being robbed blind by a developing aristocracy. As rancid as this whole situation has been, if it does cause a substantial portion of the populace to truly wake up, it might end up one of the most important developments in race relations in quite some time.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

What is Mad Progress?

by: Harry Waisbren

Mad Progress is the official blog for Forward Forum, a Madison based progressive talk radio show that covers issues of civil rights and social justice. The show airs every Sunday night 7-9 P.M. on 1670 WTDY, and is also available via live stream or podcast. The show was founded by John Quinlan, and I have recently joined as a co-host as we both aspire to speak truth to power over the roar of the right wing noise machine. Both the show and the blog aim to achieve these goals, and we hope to integrate the two to increase our prospects for success.

Mad Progress is also the virtual headquarters of UW-Madison's Chapter of Campus Progress, the student arm of the Center for American Progress. Campus Progress has two main goals for our grassroots efforts on campus:

1. To take part in the Iraq/Recession effort through our True Cost of War campaign
2. To advocate for the Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq

But what else is Mad Progress, and why do we feel utlizing the power of the progressive blogosphere can help us reach our goal of bursting through the Open Left? The answer lies in the three different meanings we take from its name:

Mad i.e. Madison progress

Madison in particular and Wisconsin in general have been integral to the progressive movement for more than a century. This is the birthright of all Wisconsinites, and we aim to ensure that Madison will once again be a leader in a historical moment so ripe for progressivism. Although Fighting Bob La Follette has long since passed, a new generation of Wisconsin progressives are taking the mantle and making progressives across the nation proud. This includes perhaps the most progressive politician in all of Washington, Sen. Russ Feingold, who has already ensured his place in history through his staunch opposition to the Iraq war, his solo-filibuster of the Patriot Act, and his courageous fight against warrantless wiretapping and the surveillance state. Wisconsin’s governor Jim Doyle has also proven to be quite important to the progressive movement in his prescient leadership on stem cell research, making Wisconsin one of the leaders in the entire industry. Rep. Steve Kagen, despite being only a freshman in congress, has already become one of the prime leaders on health care reform, as his 30 year career in medicine has given him a vital perspective necessary to achieve universal health care. Rep. Tammy Baldwin has also been the embodiment of the progressive movement, not only for her unwavering support for universal health care, but also for her status as the first open lesbian in the United States congress.

However, despite such important leadership emanating from the state capital, Wisconsin has been underrepresented in the blogosphere and the progressive movement in general. It is time to reassert our birthright by focusing our passions and energies onto national issues that can create real change, and if we do, I am certain that the progressive blogosphere and the progressive movement as a whole will be that much better for it.

Mad i.e. lots of progress

There has never been a time in my lifetime where progressives were making such gains as we have been recently, and this is in large part due to the strength of the progressive blogosphere. We're here to help, as many still do not know about the importance of many of these seemingly modest gains. Individually these gains may seem small, but together they represent a sea-change in the way politics function in America. This includes the historic 2006 midterm elections, showing that despite an entirely negligent mainstream media, the people no longer believed in the Iraq war and were no longer susceptible to the baseless fear mongering that sometimes seems like the only purpose for big media in this country.

This success was followed by a blogosphere powered campaign to prevent retroactive immunity amidst preceisely that fear mognering, as such an unprecedented decison would shut down the last avenues to achieving accountability for the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping. This mandate to defend the constitution has also become manifest in the House filing a criminal contempt resolution against former Bush administration cabinet members Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers, which hopefully is evidence of the growing political will on behalf of the democrats to demand accountability for the politicization of the department of justice. The growth of the political power needed to demand accountability can also be seen in the growing attention given to Rep. Robert Wexler’s call for impeachment hearings for Vice President Cheney.

The increasing political power of the progressive movement has perhaps been most apparent through congressional elections around the country though, especially when a strong progressive like Donna Edwards was able to defeat a corporate and establishment connected incumbent like Al Wynn in a democratic primary. This was also made further evident by Bill Foster winning in former Republican Speaker Denny Hastert’s district, which a GOP lawmaker compared to the “toppling of the Saddam statue in Baghdad for Republicans.”

Edwards is already making good on her great potential to be a strong progressive leader by arguing for a Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq. Although this plan was crafted outside the bubble of the beltway system, it has already gained the support of 54 Democratic congressional candidates, but don't take my word for it, read it yourself and see what an incredible plan it is. Very importantly as well, the prospects for ending the war as well as for achieving many of our goals as progressives are enhanced extensively by the election of Barack Obama due to a progressive movement symbiosis with the movement Obama is creating. This is especially important as there are a multitude of other reasons to be hopeful about the prospects for a Barack Obama presidency.

It is a great time to be a progressive in America, and although we should never underestimate the ability of the Democrats to capitulate or for the Republicans to criminally and blatantly defend treasonous policies, we should recognize how far we have come despite how far we still have yet to go.

Mad i.e. anger at prevention of progress

Digby made what I believe will be considered a historic speech about the blogosphere and the progressive movement at the 2007 Take Back America conference when she accepted an award on behalf of the progressive blogosphere. Digby described progressive bloggers and the movement at large like this:

We are, in short, something of an enigma. I like to call this phenomenon irrational fear of hippies. And this has, in my view, become irrational fear of political passion. Of all the criticisms I just mentioned, that is one we are all willing to accept. We are passionate about politics, and in this era of Republican corruption, excess, and failure, that passion sometimes manifests itself as anger. But how could you not be angry? So many institutions have failed us in the last decade that being vitriolic seems the only sane response.

As usual, Digby is completely right. Vitriol is entirely warranted, and those who have prevented progress for so long need to be exposed and held accountable. Anger is not something to be ashamed of, as anyone who is not angry is just not paying attention. Furthermore, the pacification of the people following Vietnam, Watergate, and Iran Contra prove that such atrocities to the rule of law will continue unless true accountability is achieved.

I refuse to apologize for my anger, just as I refuse to appologize for my beliefs that the Republican Party has become nothing more than a criminal organization, or that our mainstream media system is so easily manipulatable that it has essentially become a finely tuned propaganda apparatus. What I promise to do, though, is to utilize my passion for achieving a more perfect union to work to stop the degradation of our democracy, and I hope that I can help others become inspired to do the same!