Scott Stringer's People-Centered Politics

(cross-posted from WNYC's It's A Free Country)

The crowd for Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s State of the Borough Address Tuesday night was so large that it filled the auditorium at the CUNY Graduate Center in Midtown and three overflow rooms across the hall. It’s not common to command such a turnout when you hold an office most New Yorkers don’t know much about. But this audience didn’t just come to hear about Manhattan; attendees were looking forward to hearing Stringer’s vision for the city in what many assumed would resemble an opening pitch for the 2013 mayor’s race.

The substantive, wide-ranging and pointed speech delivered what the audience wanted: an outline of Scott Stringer’s vision for New York City. (Full text here). The remarks refreshingly pushed beyond criticism — which any blogger can offer — to promote ideas that will ensure New York not become “a city like any other, instead of a city like none other.” It also offered an alternative approach to leadership that many New Yorkers have longed for through the three terms of Mayor Bloomberg.

February 10, 2011

Will The Left Lose The Huffington Post?

(cross-posted from WNYC's It's A Free Country)

If “The Social Network” walks away with Oscars this year, ushering in a series of Hollywood blockbusters about online powerhouses, we can expect the fictionalized feature about The Huffington Post to be one of the most entertaining. It already had the charismatic and eccentric protagonist, the roster of celebrity cameos and the upstart start-up mentality. It’s had its share of controversy including recent lawsuits alleging that members of the founding team have been written out of the script. It’s had skeptics questioning how it balances its roles as hub of original journalism, platform for progressive punditry, and nexus of entertainment “news” – and whether the “firing” of an unpaid contributor, who used journalist credentials for an act of labor protest, signaled a shift in its brand.

Now, of course, the story has a climactic deus ex machina: a buy-out by AOL that’s more marriage than merger. It's a surprise twist that will open, in the words of Arianna Huffington, “a brand new media universe," emphasis on the word brand.

The business experts aren’t sure what to make of the deal. Barrons’ columnist Miriam Gottfried wrote, “Count us as skeptical” about the prospects this would rejuvenate AOL. Others saw a larger industry shift, with Businessweek reporting a jump in newspaper stocks and The Times Dealbook blog suggesting that more sites that create content and community may be hot purchases for other online giants. While the guests on The Brian Lehrer Show joked about which unlikely buyer might gobble up the liberal blog DailyKos, the truth is that less traditional media sites can provide insights, partnerships, nimbleness and passion that legacy media might find desirable. The New Yorker’s recent feature on AOL’s new head Tim Armstrong emphasized his interest in boosting the company as a news source. Owning the news isn’t a surprising strategy (just look at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and its intense investment in media consolidation) — owning the Huffington Post, though, is the part that nobody saw coming…except, maybe, for Arianna herself.

So let the business “experts” disagree as they speculate what this means, and the news “experts” bemoan the shaping media environment.  What, though, does this mean for the left? The Huffington Post was conceived initially as a progressive counter-balance to the Drudge Report. If Fox had purchased Drudge, we’d have rolled our eyes at the obviousness of that partnership. However, if Disney — owner of ABC — had purchased conservative Andrew Breitbart’s empire and made him editorial director, there’d be outrage. There was controversy over their invitation to Breitbart to be an election night analyst — imagine if he suddenly had a role in Disney editorial content?

Of course, Huffington is not Breitbart. While the latter spreads the smears of James O’Keefe’s video pranksterism and crusades against innocent victims like Shirley Sherrod, the Huffington Post isn’t just a propaganda outlet. HuffPo doesn’t balance Drudge and the like by being left where they are right, but by being right where they are wrong. Arianna Huffington and her team have all the sensationalism and savvy of the best right-wing sites — and they use that approach to promote real journalism.

February 08, 2011

The President In The Lion's Den

(cross-posted from WNYC's It's A Free Country)

Which is more frightening: sitting one-on-one with a pundit who perches at the pinnacle of a media machine that has been undermining you over the airwaves for two years, or speaking to an audience of the wealthy and powerful who have sought to undercut your efforts with their wealth and power?

We can ask President Obama Tuesday morning after his two-day tour through the bases of conservative political power: An interview with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly and an address to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

February 07, 2011

To Ban Or Not To Ban: The Liberal Dilemma on Smoking

(cross-posted from WNYC's It's A Free Country)

I’m a non-smoker. I believe that cigarettes have a destructive impact and that the tobacco industry perpetrated a willful, harmful fraud against the American public. I’m a liberal. I subscribe to the public health concerns around smoking and am concerned about the overall societal costs for caring for those damaged by the habit. I fully believe these concerns demand us to take action.

Yet, I’m unsure about the latest smoking ban put forth by the City Council.

It’s not often I agree with Dan Halloran, the conservative City Council member who most recently made news with trumped up charges against city workers after the December blizzard as part of an ideological, right-wing smear campaign against organized labor. But on the Brian Lehrer Show on Friday, he and progressive Council Member Robert Jackson made compelling arguments as they explained what made them “odd bedfellows” in opposing the Council action to ban smoking in public parks, plazas, beaches and boardwalks. 

February 06, 2011

The Right-Wing War On Women

(cross posted from WNYC's It's A Free Country)

The right-wing is not ashamed of making enemies. Having targets motivates their base, earns them attention and fuels their cause.  Usually, like schoolyard bullies, conservative activists pick on the weaker kid in the playground to prove how tough they are. They pick on the targets who are different (like the anti-Muslim rhetoric around the downtown Islamic Cultural Center), who can’t always stand up for themselves (the anti-immigrant bashing in the past election cycle) or who are weak already (the successful assault on ACORN).

However, this time the right-wing may have picked the wrong target: women. With a one-two punch of Congressional Republicans redefining rape and conservative activists framing Planned Parenthood, the right leapt head-first into a new front in their ongoing culture war. And this time, they’ve miscalculated, bullying a target that’s strong enough to fight back.

February 04, 2011

The Lessons Of Obama's Cairo Speech

(cross posted from WNYC's It's A Free Country)

President Obama looked out at a historic public gathering in the streets of Cairo and declared his unequivocal support for the principles of democracy in a message that echoed both at home and abroad: 

There are some who advocate for democracy only when they are out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party.

No, that was not our president’s reaction when the uprising began last week as he carefully balanced his support of President Hosni Mubarak with his calls for peaceful restraint by the Egyptian government.  Nor was it in his remarks on Tuesday, as his positioning shifted, his urgency increased, and called for change to “begin now” in response to Mubarak’s announcement that he will not seek reelection.

The powerful call for democracy in Arab countries and throughout the world came from President Obama’s Cairo speech on June 4, 2009, as he sought to inspire a new relationship between the United States and the Arab world, built upon an understanding of the connectedness — not contradictions — between American and Muslim values.

February 02, 2011

Toward Egypt, A Choice Better Than Grandstanding

(cross-posted from WNYC's It's A Free Country)

On Friday, Americans discovered they didn’t need a television to catch the most gripping program around – and that, in most parts of the country, TV wouldn’t help them.

The program had more emotional surprises than a Hollywood awards show, more adrenaline-pumping tension than last week’s NFL conference championships and fewer predictable applause breaks than the State of the Union.

It was the live coverage of the uprising in Egypt broadcast to our computers by Al Jazeera English. As Americans realized the revolution was being streamed, we tuned in to an historic event: an unprecedented level of protest calling for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

January 31, 2011

Halloran's Abominable Snow Story

(cross-posted from WNYC's It's A Free Country)

When New York City Council Member Dan Halloran announced that the city’s poor response to last month’s blizzard was the result of an intentional slow down by sanitation workers, we had a chance to see how right-wing media works. Based only on his unverified claims, the story appeared in The Post, then on its sibling Fox News. Other news agencies then followed Fox’s lead, and all the attention prompted three separate probes by the US Attorney, District Attorney and the City Department of Investigations.

Halloran had his 15 minutes of fame serving the anti-worker interests of the right-wing message machine, and the workers were dubbed  “Abominable Snowmen" by the ever-classy Post.

Now the story of these “Abominable Snowmen” is proving as questionable as the yeti itself.

January 28, 2011

Financial Crisis: Where's The Outrage?

(cross-posted from WNYC's It's A Free Country)

In 2008, the bubble popped. The financial crisis sent our economy swirling into chaos and pushed us into this Great Recession. Many Americans lost faith in our private institutions that caused this mess and in our public institutions that should have seen it coming. The fallout shined a light on the double-dealing shell game being played by our financial giants. Unfortunately, they weren’t playing with Monopoly money. The high stakes had high costs: a devastating spike in unemployment, a national foreclosure crisis based on mortgage fraud and depleted pensions and retirement accounts for working Americans.

At least those whose reckless — and potentially criminal — gambles drove us into this ditch got what they had coming…bonuses, a light reprimand and carte blanche to do it all again.

It’s enough to make you so angry you’d consider dumping tea in Boston Harbor.

January 27, 2011

The State Of The Union and The Sputnik Fix

(cross-posted from WNYC's It's A Free Country)

The build-up to President Obama’s State of the Union Address had suggested he was going to boldly challenge Americans to rise to meet the “Sputnik moment” of our generation. It was a tantalizing claim. Liberals hoped this sense of purpose would justify new investment in jobs, infrastructure and education, despite the worries of deficit hawks. Conservatives looked forward to pro-business policies behind the themes of entrepreneurship and innovation and were intrigued by the tone of American exceptionalism hinted at in the speech’s promotion.

On Tuesday night, President Obama delivered an address that had a little for everyone. It probably sent liberals and conservatives away with feelings as mixed as their seating arrangements. It captured a moderate — and moderating — tenor. It didn’t hit the emotional poignancy of his Tucson remarks two weeks ago, but it didn’t try. In fact, despite the claim that the president was going to issue a challenge equivalent to a moon-landing, this speech didn’t shoot for the moon. And the viewers most disappointed may be the ones who were expecting the “Sputnik moment” to be bolder.

January 26, 2011