127 posts categorized "framing"

October 05, 2011

New Focus: Occupy Wall Street

Like all of you, I have been watching the events unfold across the country under the general rubric "Occupy Wall Street."   Rarely am I ever mistaken for a street-level activist--and for good reason, but I confess to being very inspired by what I see.  And so, without claiming any mantle of leadership or authority, I will devote the next round of Frameshop posts to Occupy Wall Street (OWS).

Long-time readers of Frameshop will also note that it has been some time since the site content has been updated.  I have been very active both writing and commenting via Twitter (#JeffreyFeldman) and have opted over the past few years to post my original work on The HuffingtonPost. Also, I have been fortunate to find a new audience via regular appearances on CBC television.  Altogether, I chose to transition Frameshop from a day-to-day source of engagement with politics to a resource for those looking to understand issues deeper via the past work on the site.  

But current events have drawn me back to the work of wrestling with the language and ideas at the heart of American politics. In a nutshell: We're back.

To new readers joining us from Twitter, HuffPo and CBC--welcome!  To familiar faces who have been with us all along--welcome back!

As always, I apologize in advance for any technical glitches on the site. My blogging habits have evolved over the past year and, frankly, I'm not sure if Typepad has evolved with me.  So far it seems good, and the clarity of the old site design still seems to make sense to me.  I may make some changes, however, as we move forward and will be sure to let you know along the way.

Also, to those who know me and my writing habits: type edits are always appreciated when caught by readers with better eyes for detail than myself. Please feel free to note edits in the comments. All I ask is that you do it as briefly as possible. No drama, please. Typos do not mean an author is unprofessional or lacks character and telling me something along those lines will have zero impact on the future of typos on this site.  I do my best.

Formalities completed--next post will take up the substance at hand: Occupy Wall Street.

September 03, 2010

Speaking in Yellow: The Crisis in Our Politics

Lately, American politics is neither blue nor red, but yellow. 

Like the "yellow journalism" that plagued the turn of the last century, this new era of Gilded Age politics has been overrun by obscene exaggerations and outright falsehoods, all whipped into national hysteria by newsrooms that long-ago swapped research method for PR wave moxie. 

Most of this yellow journalism, of course, flows from a few for-profit news corporations seeking to make money by keeping their readers in a constant frenzy.   William Randolph Hearst, allow me to introduce you to Rupert Murdoch.

As you might have noticed, however, media induced frenzy in the age of newsboys in shorts is like a codeine stupor compared to the cocaine jolt of cable news with a Facebook-Twitter chaser.  It seems quaint these days to even call the news cycle "24/7."  The last plague of yellow journalism grew from big headlines and front page stories. Today's yellow journalism thrives in second-by-second updated web and social media where sensationalism reproduces faster than bacteria in a middle school gym locker. Today, yellow stories overwhelm the actual issues before any real ink hits actual paper.

And with this kind of speed, today's yellow journalism instantly engulfs any political issue it wants. The border between yellow journalism and yellow politics is, as a result, a distinction without much of a difference.

Most of us probably cannot remember the last time we debated, let alone acted upon, a national issue devoid of yellow politics.

Taxes? Tea Party! Health care? Nazi extermination! Environment? Global conspiracy! Afghanistan?  Collusion with terrorists!  Education? War on Christmas! Economy?  Socialist takeover! Manufacturing?  Communist takeover!  Family? Homosexual takeover! Urban planning? Muslim terrorists! 

And on, and on.  There is no end to this new run of yellow politics. And as a result, we have become a nation that does nothing--a nation that can do nothing, apparently, but keep churning through yellow stories.

Think about it:  Are any of the current debates on the issues that concern our future actually happening in terms of red vs. blue anymore?

Supposedly, FOX News is the broadcast voice of red America.  But tune in, lately, and the programming is all yellow.

Glenn Beck tells us that on the issue of healthcare, Americans should not be debating actual programs or solutions, but whether or not our government is totalitarian. He says much the same for the rest of the issues we face.  And his viewers do just that.  Yellow, yellow, and more yellow.

At last week's speaking tour event Beck billed a "rally," his viewers demonstrated what it sounds like when American's speak 100% fluent yellow.

To speak yellow, one need only replace the actual issues that face our current government (i.e., levy vs. do not levy taxes, public vs. private education, war vs. diplomacy, etc.) with hyperbolic imaginary stories. Replace red and blue with yellow.

How should we pay for Social Security? Obama is a Communist!

What should be America's foreign policy in Central Asia? Obama is a secret Muslim! 

What kind of energy policy should we craft to transition from oil to renewables? Obama blew up Deep Water Horizon to pass his radical agenda!

Do you have any evidence proving any of these fantastical conspiracies to be even remotely true? God bless Glenn Beck!

Nobody can argue with a person speaking entirely in yellow because there is nothing to argue against.  It's like with a bag of marshmallows.

And yet, while FOX News, Beck, Limbaugh and most of the Newscorp-cum-Clear Channel business sector are a driving force behind the yellowing of our politics, they are not the only force.

Since running for Vice President and quitting her job as Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin has cultivated the extraordinary power to turn any political issue yellow by the simple act of updating her Facebook status (a remarkable feat when you think about it).

For years, for example, Republicans and Democrats debated the best way forward on healthcare reform.  Now, Sarah Palin updates her Facebook status and--death panels!  Suddenly, we are all speaking in yellow.

For months, FOX News discussed the merits of having new "moderate" Muslim leaders in and around the World Trade Center neighborhood in New York. Now, Sarah Palin updates her Facebook status and--ground zero mosque! Suddenly, we are all speaking yellow.

And what is the result of this sudden onset of yellow?  For starters, the people pushing yellow are making a mountain of cash doing it.

In the time since she stepped down from her job as Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin has amassed a staggering $13 million, and the money keeps flowing.  Tens of millions of dollars for typing sensationalist lies into her Facebook status line?  There are a few more steps involved (i.e., speaking fees, book advances, reality show contracts, etc.), but the engine that drives the Palin gravy train runs on high octane yellow.

If this keeps up, Sarah Palin will be the first politician in history to successfully ride the yellow wave from total obscurity to mega millionaire media mogul.  And once she hits that thresh hold (say, $25 million), Palin's yellow fortune will be large enough to buy her some legitimate credentials: a Senate seat, perhaps?

How do we get out of this cycle? How do we stem the tide of yellow?

Well, the last wave of yellow journalism to sweep the country ended when the country twice voted for FDR, against the hysterical warnings on the pages of newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst.  With the wind kicked out of his yellow business model by a President willing to push populism and strong reforms, Hearst's yellow empire faded quickly.

I am not so sure the same thing would happen, today.  And yet, it sure would be great for the country if it did.

Imagine if President Obama--elected on a groundswell of popular optimism and youthful energy for tackling real issues with real action--imagine if he were to suddenly find his fighting voice.  Imagine if he were to draw the line and push back against the yellow tide drowning the country.

"Epic" would be too small a word.

What the President needs to do is remind us ally what issues are really at stake.  And he can do that by focusing debate relentlessly on the core symbolic issues we face and the practical choices stemming from them. No more splitting hairs.  No more worrying about swing voters.  These are the stakes.  This is what's real.  This is what we must do. 

He has ended the war in Iraq, now he must bring the fight at home--the fight against yellow politics.

We need to hear from the President more, much more, on the everyday issues that concern us.  We need to see him speaking passionately and often, away from DC, outside of the backroom negotiation tables.  He needs to become, again, a voice so big and a story so large that the yellow voices will seem puny again by comparison.  Sure, Sarah Palin will probably make more cash along the way, but so be it.  Without the President stepping up to lead national debate, yellow will continue to overrun the levies until we are all drowning.

The crisis in American politics is clear:  Either we stop speaking in yellow or America should accept its fate as a nation that can do nothing--that will do nothing.

Either we do what is necessary to return to real issues and meaningful action in our politics or:  marshmallows, as far as the eye can see.

And that is a fate we can, and should, avoid.

October 12, 2008

Frameshop: McCain Volunteers Taught to Accuse Obama of Terrorism

According to Time, McCain campaign staffers in Virginia are teaching volunteers to see Barack Obama as having terrorist 'friends,' and then providing these volunteers with arguments for persuading voters that Sen. Obama, like Osama Bin Laden, shares responsibility for bombings of the Pentagon.

The report from inside the McCain campaign brings to light an alarming fact: while McCain tells his supporters publicly to refrain from violent rhetoric,  he continues to teach his volunteers rhetoric designed to elicit violent responses.

Continue reading "Frameshop: McCain Volunteers Taught to Accuse Obama of Terrorism" »

August 26, 2008

Frameshop: The 'Great Society' in Michelle Obama's Speech

As I listened to Michelle Obama's speech to the DNC delegates in Denver, I was struck by this section about midway through,  and in particular by the last line (emphasis mine):

Instead of heading to Wall Street, Barack had gone to work in neighborhoods devastated when steel plants shut down and jobs dried up. And he'd been invited back to speak to people from those neighborhoods about how to rebuild their community.  The people gathered together that day were ordinary folks doing the best they could to build a good life. They were parents living paycheck to paycheck; grandparents trying to get by on a fixed income; men frustrated that they couldn't support their families after their jobs disappeared. Those folks weren't asking for a handout or a shortcut. They were ready to work — they wanted to contribute. They believed — like you and I believe — that America should be a place where you can make it if you try.

Whenever I hear a Democrat tell the country what they believe, my ears perk up.  Proclaiming what one believes should happen in every persuasive political speech, but for a long time, Democrats refused to do so. Kudos to Michelle Obama. And there is no question that the story of Barack Obama becoming a community leader is inspiring.  I, too, was moved by Michelle Obama's description of her family and the roots of her husband's life as a public servant.  But above all else, I was struck by the particular brand of 'success' Michelle Obama's story described.   

For Michelle Obama, the story of her family's success is not the story of a parents who attain great wealth for themselves, but the story of adults who work hard to give opportunity to their children.  In the process of giving their children that opportunity, however, they also instill in them the worldview of self-reliance, hard work, and service.  The wealthiest parents in town cannot truly call their family a success if they raise profligate children.  To truly succeed, parents must not only put money in their pockets, but bring up children who adds value to the common good. 

The 'success' in Michelle Obama's story is rooted in principles from Emerson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt, wherein a responsible and pragmatic youth flowers into an idealistic adulthood oriented towards equality.

It was a speech that echoed what was once a great theme in American political rhetoric, but which has since been papered over by decades of right-wing pessimistic ideology.

The theme is the 'Great Society.'

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson delivered a speech to the graduating class at the University of Michigan in which he presented both a definition and a challenge:

Your imagination, your initiative, and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the  ‘Great Society.’

The ‘Great Society’ rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in out time. But that is just the beginning.

The ‘Great Society’ is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community.

It is a place where man can renew contact with nature. It is a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what is adds to the understanding of the race. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods.

But most of all, the ‘Great Society’ is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.

By saying that the 'Great Society' rests on abundance and liberty for all,' Johnson challenged America's youth to believe that the mere accumulation of wealth would be 'soulless' unless it gave rise to both concern and engagement with the common good, particularly as it pertained to the quality of life in our cities and towns, the sustainability of our land, and  the education of our children. 

While Michelle Obama did not call out the specific subheadings of Johnson's 'Great Society,' explicit concern for them flows from every chapter of her family history.

To the theme of 'Great Society,' Michelle Obama added a new and compelling refrain: the world as it should be.  Rather than using her words to lay out a program or a plan for building the 'Great Society,' she instead set the stage for the ideal that her husband will, no doubt, elaborate in his speech Thursday night.

'The world as it should be' is not a destination, so much as it is the energy that both unites us and drives us forward:

All of us driven by a simple belief that the world as it is just won't do — that we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be.

That is the thread that connects our hearts. That is the thread that runs through my journey and Barack's journey and so many other improbable journeys that have brought us here tonight, where the current of history meets this new tide of hope.

That is why I love this country.   

It may seem strange to some to hear a leader say that what they love about America is the general belief that American can be changed for the better.  But to a vast majority of the American public whom economic hardship has excluded from the promise of the 'Great Society,' the idea of 'fighting for the world as it should be' is a message that makes hearts beat and voices rise.

To pontificate in simple terms about achieving the American dream, in other words, would be tantamount to willfully accepting the wisdom of charlatans. The reality we must talk about is that America 'as it is' has been weakened by a trifecta of known, but surmountable obstacles that the present political structure refuses to face--the health of our families, the education of our children, and the sustainability of the very land that makes life possible.  If we are to talk seriously about the next generation ever again contributing to and building the 'Great Society,' we must first build a political structure capable of eliminating those obstacles.

More than just introducing the story of her family, Michelle Obama put the task of facing those obstacles firmly on the table, and with that task the theme of a 'Great Society' was dusted off and placed front and center in the 2008 election.

With that in mind, the next time a friend or family member tells me that 'taxes' is the thing that concerns them most in this election, I am going to respond by telling them about Michelle Obama's speech and about the story of the 'Great Society.'

To those voters today who believe ours is a time when each of us can think of nothing more than accumulating wealth, I will repeat what Lyndon Johnson once said:

For better or for worse, your generation has been appointed by history to deal with those problems and to lead America toward a new age.  You have the chance never before afforded to any people in any age.  You can help build a society where the demands of morality, and the needs of the spirit, can be realized in the life of the Nation.

So, will you join in the battle to give every citizen the full equality which God enjoins and the law requires, whatever his belief, or race, or the color of his skin?

Will you join in the battle to give every citizen an escape from the crushing weight of poverty?

Will you join in the battle to make it possible for all nations to live in enduring peace -- as neighbors and not as mortal enemies?

Will you join in the battle to build the 'Great Society,' to prove that our material progress is only the foundation on which we will build a richer life of mind and spirit?

And I will tell them what Michelle Obama said last night, reflecting on the love for her children--and the love of parents everywhere for theirs:

And as I tuck that little girl and her little sister into bed at night, I think about how one day, they'll have families of their own. And one day, they — and your sons and daughters — will tell their own children about what we did together in this election. They'll tell them how this time, we listened to our hopes, instead of our fears. How this time, we decided to stop doubting and to start dreaming. How this time, in this great country — where a girl from the South Side of Chicago can go to college and law school, and the son of a single mother from Hawaii can go all the way to the White House – we committed ourselves to building the world as it should be.

Despite what the cynical voices of pessimism that dominate the media will say, this is not just an election about taxes--or just about war or just about the environment or just about healthcare or just about education.  Each issue is crucial, but above them all: this is an election in which we have the opportunity to recommit ourselves 'to building the world as it should be.' 

The 'Great Society' is a great American idea.  It sure is great to hear it again.

Continue reading "Frameshop: The 'Great Society' in Michelle Obama's Speech" »

August 14, 2008

Frameshop: Corsi Frequent Guest on White Supremacist Radio

Author of New Book Attacking Obama Called 'Luminary' by Rising Star of White Confederate Media

Media Matters is now reporting that author Jerome Corsi, whose smear book of Barack Obama sits atop the NYT best-seller list, is scheduled to appear on the radio show 'Political Cesspool' Aug. 17, 2008.  Political Cesspool is a widely recognized white supremacist radio show whose host James Edwards regularly maligns Jews and African Americans, decries miscegenation, and has both interviewed and expressed admiration for widely recognized white supremacist leaders including David Duke and Gordon Lee Baum.

The Southern Poverty Law Center described 'The Political Cesspool' in a recent article posted to their hate-group monitoring resource called "Hatewatch":

Since co-founding “The Political Cesspool” in 2005, Edwards has become a golden boy in white nationalist circles and his show has served as the primary radio nexus of hate in America. Its sponsors included the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) and the Institute for Historical Review (IHR), a leading Holocaust denial organization. And its guest roster for 2007 reads like a “Who’s Who” of the radical racist right, including such people as the leader of the CCC, Gordon Lee Baum; Holocaust denier and IHR chief Mark Weber; neo-Nazi activist April Gaede; and anti-Semitic professor Kevin MacDonald. The show’s most frequent celebrity racist guest is former Klan leader and neo-Nazi ideologue David Duke, who has logged three appearances. (link)

Several months after the SPLC article, a promotional piece about 'The Political Cesspool' circulated around White Supremacist forums, including a list of 'luminaries' that James Edards had interviewed during one month alone on his radio show (links added):

During one particular 30-day span, the hosts interviewed the likes of: Dr. Virginia Abernethy, Dr. Chuck Baldwin, Gordon Baum, Esq., Peter Brimelow, Dr. Jerome Corsi, Sam Dickson, Esq., Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo, Dr. David Duke, William Flax, Esq., Dr. Kevin MacDonald, Rev. Ted Pike, Larry Pratt, Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, Dr. Tomislav Sunic, Jared Taylor, Mark Weber, Frosty Wooldridge and several other luminaries.

(from Original Dissent forum, May 15, 2008)

The list of 'luminaries' cited in the PR article consists of white supremacists, former KKK leaders, neo-confederate leaders, radical anti-immigration racists, scientific anti-Semites, hardcore gun-advocate nativists--and Jerome Corsi.

Corsi's upcoming appearance on Political Cesspool is his third appearance on the white supremacist radio show.  His other appearances include July 20, 2008 and November 15, 2007.

Media Matters has compiled a full list of racist remarks about African-Americans and Jews posted by Edwards on his blog.

The announcement for Corsi's guest appearance on The Political Cesspool reads as follows:

The Political Cesspool 8/17/08 (TN) 04:00PM (CST) SOARING TO NEW HEIGHTS
Don't miss today's live broadcast as we make an announcement of epic proportions!  Joining us on this monumental broadcasts as guests will be Nigel Farage, Chairman of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and Dr. Jerome Corsi, author of the runaway best-seller, The Obama Nation.  Dr. Corsi's book debuted at #1 this week on the NEW YORK TIMES Bestseller List and is available at finer bookstores nation wide. (link)

While it should go without saying, the ramifications this holds for the broadcast and print media are profound.  While the media has widely reported that Corsi was the author of a previous 'Swift Boat' smear campaigns against John Kerry, major media outlets have yet to report Corsi's affiliation with white supremacist radio.

News of white supremacist ties to an author of a book maligning Senator Barack Obama's candidacy for President deserves to be a top story within hours of its being reported.

Continue reading "Frameshop: Corsi Frequent Guest on White Supremacist Radio" »

Frameshop: What America Needs To Hear About Jerome Corsi

The smear merchants who lied about John Kerry being a traitor to tip the 2004 election are at it again with a book about Barack Obama.  I am not going to link to the book, but the author is Jerome Corsi.  He appeared recently on Larry King's show in a debate with Paul Waldman, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America and a specialist on debunking right-wing propaganda.

Day in, day out, Paul Waldman and the rest of the crew at Media Matters face down the most violent and offensive filth from right-wing broadcast media.  They are patient, smart, and fearless (hint, hint...go donate to Media Matters here).

Having said that, it saddens me to have to acknowledge that, even though Paul did a great job on Larry King, I think Corsi won the debate--unfortunately.


From the very start of the broadcast, Corsi made the debate about 'the facts' and kept returning back to that idea.  'I'm getting out the facts,' 'MM makes ad hominem attacks, but cannot refute the facts,' etc., etc.  Paul did a great job pulling back the curtain (amazing job).  But King never let the conversation come up to the real issue: this book and books like it destroy our political culture, undermine fair elections, inhabit the slippery space between politics and slander.

The Swift Boat group did more than just lie about John Kerry in a book. They broke Federal Election laws, were found guilty, and paid a huge fine. Their lie was not just the facts they printed on a page and promoted on TV, but the larger issue that they assembled and published the book in the first place as part of a big effort to win at any cost.

Now, I know it was not Corsi who was charged with the FEC violations, but if we are talking about 'truth,' then we are in the same discussion.  And it is not a discussion about footnotes and sources and interview transcripts.  It is a discussion about right-wing groups that seek  to undermine our elections using the media.

These books destroy civic debate on purpose--and are fundamentally at odds with democracy.  The goal of Corsi's project is not to discuss facts--it is to destroy the very possibility of discussion by implying that a Presidential candidate is a sleeper-cell terrorist--and doing so in the context of a huge broadcast media effort to convince the country of the same thing. 

That is not just factually wrong. It is wildly immoral. Whether or not Corsi published lies is not even half the discussion we should be having.

Americans from all over the country have talked about this problem before--the problem of shady right-wing groups that assemble huge private backing and then wade into elections with the purpose of bullying a candidate off the national stage--so this is nothing new.  But the media ignores us. Saps like Larry King choose instead to debase the hard work of researchers like Paul Waldman, and to willfully ignore the larger issue here: the wholesale undermining of our civic culture by deep-pocketed right-wing groups with a history of breaking election laws.

What American needs to hear from Larry King about Jerome Corsi is something like,"This book is filth. It goes against everything we believe in about honest, healthy civic debate.  Don't buy it.  Jerome, you are obviously part of a shady organization that uses money to sell lies with the goal of undermining serious debate in the 2008 Presidential election.  The only reason your book is atop the best-seller list is because you have a giant political marketing machine working behind the scenes. Caveat Emptor--buyer beware."

Yeah, yeah.  I know. It is hard to imagine  someone like Larry King saying that on his show--hard to even conceive of an America in which journalists use their broadcast power to protect our civic culture rather than promote shadowy figures who seek  to destroy it.  But imagining it is the first step.

Demanding it is what comes next.

Continue reading "Frameshop: What America Needs To Hear About Jerome Corsi" »

August 12, 2008

Frameshop: "Green Civics"

Last week I had a chance to visit a quite remarkable place in the Hudson Valley, a retreat center called The Omega Institute for Holistic Studies which, among other things, is just about to break ground on the most remarkable futuristic green project I have ever come across.   

Now, I need to admit right off the bat that holistic living is not my bag.  I studied comparative religion in college and I am a Cultural Anthropologist by training--so I am no stranger to the spiritual, ecological concepts that underpin the contemporary holistic movement. The roots of this movement extend back to the 1970s, its focus is on learning skills to improve personal well-being, relationships, and the world.  I get it, but it has just never been my cup of tea.   But my goodness, the 'green' project they are planning at the Omega Institute is completely fascinating and has significant implications for contemporary politics.   

Here's what all this means:  I am going to write a few posts that depart from my normal routine of framing contemporary issues.  In these posts I am going to explain why the new project at Omega is so fascinating and I as I do this, I am going to examine the intersection of framing, environmentalism, and politics. 

I should also say right up front that I was a guest at Omega on the day in question, which means they gave me a lovely dinner, a tour of their site, and a stack of stuff about the Omega Center for Sustainable Living, on which they are about to break ground.   I will also add, but way of disclaimer, that they are raising money to pay for the project ($2.3 million), and it was no secret that I was invited as part of an effort to get out the word in the context of this larger effort to bring in the dough.   All I can say on that front is: donate if you feel moved to (follow the first link)--but do not think there is any kind of quid pro quo in my writing. 

I am not selling the Omega Sustainable Living Center so much as I am thinking through it--and in so doing, trying to understand the vexing dilemma that we face in this country vis-à-vis the framing of environmentalism.  The problem is that environmentalism when seen through the lens of the Green movement seems successful, but it isn't.  And it is hard to articulate exactly what that means, let alone how to chagne it.

After thinking for almost a week about it, this is the question I came up with by way of departure:

Question:  Why has the green movement has succeeded so wildly in the past few years in the U.S. while the problems of energy and conservation continue to get exponentially worse?

I can even simplify that question to look like this:

Question: Why does the environment continue to degrade even as the green movement advances by leaps and bounds?

Yep--that's the right ballpark, so it will be the departure point for the next few posts.  Even better, I am going to provide an answer:

Answer:  Because environmentalism can only truly succeed if is fully realized as civics.

Adding to that, we need one more short answer to the obvious question (e.g., How can environmentalism be realized as civics?):

Answer:  By reframing environmentalism so as to bring the green movement squarely into politics.

OK..now that the preceding little exchange with myself is over--the big picture concepts are out there (framing, environmentalism, green, civics, politics), I will get started in the next post.

In the meantime, write down this phrase: "Green Civics"

'Green Civics' is a concept I plan to develop in these posts, starting with a discussion next of the Omega Instiute and what they are trying to accomplish with a building that employs snails, algae and goldfish to recycle 100% of their waste water.

Continue reading "Frameshop: "Green Civics"" »

July 24, 2008

Frameshop: Obama, America, and Yad Vashem

In 1994, I worked for one year as an intern at Yad Vashem, the campus of Holocaust museums, memorials, and research facilities in Jerusalem.  At Yad Vashem I was trained as a museum guide, worked with a team of Holocaust survivors to accession relics from towns destroyed by the Nazis, and assisted the curators on several exhibitions.  "You get to Israel by plane," the locals used to say to me. "But you enter through Yad Vashem."  Even today, tourists who visit Israel typically go to Yad Vashem their first day.  I went there for a year.

Seeing photos of Barack Obama at Yad Vashem come over the news wires, today, I felt for the first time in a long, long while that combination of pathos and longing welling up in my throat that I felt every day during my year as an intern--that wave of sadness so great that all I could do was clench my teeth for fear that it will spill out and overwhelm me.  My time at Yad Vashem was so emotional that for a full decade afterward I simply could not talk about it.    

It is difficult to overestimate the depth of feeling that flows from being at Yad Vashem.  Despite all the legitimate critiques Yad Vashem has elicited over the past ten years--critiques that it promotes a view of Jews as victims, that it provides cover for bad Israeli policies, that it fails to teach tolerance for cultural difference despite commemorating ethnic genocide--it is still one of the most profound places I have ever and will ever visit.  Every Holocaust memorial in the world has flaws, and Yad Vashem has its share. But to spend time there is to know that all the flaws combined are dwarfed by the feelings it evokes.   

The centrality of Holocaust memory in Israeli life--and by extension in American Jewish life--carries with it some deep and problematic political problems, many of which have been cynically exploited by the Republican Party in the 2008 Presidential election.   I do not dispute the idea that Holocaust memory has, perhaps, become too central in American Jewish life.  As a American Jewish intellectual, I  have even argued that building a progressive future will demand a two step process of (1) deepening our respect for the Holocaust while at the same time (2) loosening the often paralyzing grip Holocaust memory can hold on our national policies.  That is a very difficult path to walk down, but we are a country capable and willing to take on great challenges.

Perhaps more than any other election in history, the 2008 Presidential race has emerged as an emotional challenge for American Jews as a result of places like Yad Vashem.  In 2008,  Americans it is fair to say that Americans in general view remembering the Holocaust as a core national value.  "Never again," is not just a Jewish refrain, but an American principle.  But when I was at Yad Vashem fifteen years ago, Holocaust memory was a far more parochial affair.  In those days, the choice to dedicate oneself to learning more about Holocaust history led one down a lonely path. Delving deeper into the pain of Europe's destroyed Jewish communities brought with it feelings of isolation, spiritual crisis, and pessimism.   

I remember one point, about midway through my year, when I suddenly realized that I was no longer comfortable with people who did lacked a basic understanding of Holocaust memory.  By the end of my experience at Yad Vashem, all my friends and colleagues were somehow connected to the broader project of remembering the Holocaust--all people who had dedicated their lives to making sure that the world would never forget what happened, and that it would never happen again.

Remember, But Do Not Live In Fear
One day, while I was working in the museum storage room with my 'team' of survivors from Eastern Europe, each of them three times my age, I expressed my frustration with others my age who did not take Holocaust memory seriously.  'The question is not whether there will be another Holocaust,' the oldest of the three survivors said to me calmly. 'Sadly, it is likely that there will be another, albeit not likely suffered by the Jews."  He then continued with a point that I had not reall thought about up that point in my life, but which I find myself thinking about more and more each day:

"The bigger question is not just about remembering the Holocaust, but whether each of us will be able tell the difference between those who truly respect the memory and those who just want to use it for their own purposes to exploit us."

The lesson I took away from my time at Yad Vashem and from the advice I received in that museum storage room went far beyond the refrain "Never Again."  The lesson was that respecting the memory Holocaust requires two commitments from each and every one of us, whether we are young or old, Jewish or gentile, American, Israeli, European or otherwise.  On the one hand, we must find a time at least once in our lives to stop and think--to truly reflect--on the profound sadness of millions and millions of people put to death by a brutal, nationalist, industrialized genocide.  On the other hand, we must find a way to respect that memory without allowing ourselves to be taken over by fear.  Honor the memory of the Holocaust, but do not let your life become consumed by fear. 

Indeed, 'remember, but do not live in fear' is not just a moral lesson from Yad Vashem. In the past 15 years, it has become a core American value.  We remember the Holocaust, but we do not let fear of antisemitism rule our lives.  We remember the civil rights movement, but we do not let fear of racism rule our lives.   We must remember 9/11, but not let fear of terrorism rule our lives. Memory without fear. 

For the past 8 years, however, George W. Bush and the media-driven Republican Party machine that kept him in power have advanced a brand of sordid politics in direct conflict with that moral lessons I learned at Yad Vashem and which millions of Americans have subsequently learned by visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, by watching films like Schindler's List and the Piano Player, and by studying Holocaust history in school.  At every turn President Bush has sought to infect American civic life with a debilitating strain of fear and whenever possible he has exploited the memory of the Holocaust to hold that fear in place.

The political program of George W. Bush since September 11 could be summed up, quite simply, as 'Remember--in order to stay afraid.'   When historians write the chapter on George W. Bush, they will tell of a President who coined more phrases, gave more speeches, and launched more policies to make Americans afraid than any other president.  Period. 

And yet, despite how much George W. Bush has used fear,  and despite his willingness to exploit the memory of the Holocaust to spread that fear, there has been no national conversation to date as to how much damage this president and his cronies have visited on America's commitment to the remembering the Holocaust.  Instead, we find ourselves mired in a cheap and cynical ploy by the Republican Party to exploit the memory of the Holocaust to spread fear about their Democratic candidate for President. 

Make no mistake, America.  In the 2008 Presidential campaign the Republican Party has put forward the deeply offensive claim that electing the Democratic candidate to the White House may just well lead to another Holocaust.  That claim is disgusting. That claim is immoral.  That claim violates the core American principle of 'remember, but do not live in fear.' But each of us--every single one of us--will be called upon to reject it.

At the end of this election, there will be two kinds of Americans:  those who accept the claim that Barack Obama as President will lead to another Holocaust, and those who stand up without fear and reject that claim as scurrilous. 

In the past week, John McCain has begun to carry on the tradition of using the Holocaust to promote fear that George W. Bush exploited with aplomb.  In so doing, John McCain has signaled what kind of American he is.

McCain, by embracing the smear campaign against Obama and attempting to undercut Obama's visit to Israel with talk of preventing another Holocaust has demonstrated that he is the kind of American willing to betray the core American principle of 'remember, but do not live in fear.' 

As for Barack Obama, seeing the pictures of him at Yad Vashem was as difficult for me personally as it is important for the future of this country.  What I see in Barack Obama's visit to Yad Vashem is a re-emergence of a core American principle that has been trampled underfoot over the past 8 years of George W. Bush and in recent days by the campaign of John McCain.

If we as a nation are to come together, face the challenges ahead of us, and work side-by-side towards real solutions, we must begin by honoring the memory of those who suffered in the past, but do so without fear.  'Remember, but do not live in fear,' is principle not always easy to live up to.  I first understood its value during my year at Yad Vashem.  But since, I have met many people in America and elsewhere who embody that principle in so many ways. 

As Americans in the year 2008, we each have a lot of work to do to get past the fear injected into our public life over the past 8 years.  Each of us can start down that path by looking closely at the pictures of Barack Obama at Yad Vashem and seeing in them not just a American leader paying respect to fallen heroes and victims of World War II, but an opportunity to reject the fear that has crippled America for far too long already. 

Continue reading "Frameshop: Obama, America, and Yad Vashem" »

July 11, 2008

Frameshop: The Barbarity in McCain's Blooper

In a recent campaign stop, John McCain was told by a reporter of U.S. corporations allowed by the Bush administration to sell cigarettes to Iran.  Upon hearing this fact, McCain looked startled, then responded with a jovial smile, "Maybe that's a way of killing them...that's just a joke...I'll have a better answer the next time we meet."

While the press laughed at McCain's 'joke,' my guess is that most Americans recoiled in disgust as they mumbled to themselves, 'Oh, no; here we go again. Another yahoo who jokes about killing people...'

Of all reasons not to elect a person President, a tendency to joke about the death of others is at the top of my list.

In certain contexts, sure.  When the setting for a political presentation is clearly entertainment, joking about the death of others may--in limited circumstances--be acceptable.  But for a man who wants to be President, those situations will be so rare as to be virtually non-existent.

For John McCain, those situations seem disturbingly plentiful.

And yet, that is not even the most alarming part of this story.  What truly boggles the mind is that the current President has also been known for flip comments about killing--albeit in the guise of a fake cowboy rather than a barnyard clown.

Continue reading "Frameshop: The Barbarity in McCain's Blooper" »

June 20, 2008

Frameshop: How Gingrich and Giuliani Sabotaged Civic Debate

This past week, America saw two familiar figures impose violent rhetoric into the Presidential debate on behalf of John  McCain: Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani.  It was a textbook example of the right-wing effort to use violent language not just to distract the public, but to undermine the attempt by citizens to have a pragmatic discussion with an eye towards solving problems. 

On June 12, 2008, the Supreme Court restored Habeas Corpus to detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and in so doing, the courts initiated an important conversation about what it means for the United States to be a Democracy based on a system of laws.   Within that ruling itself, Justice Scalia invited those who opposed the ruling to use violent rhetoric by stating that the court's decision "will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed” (link).

Within days of that ruling, Gingrich and Giuliani followed Scalia's lead, pushed their way into the right-wing broadcast, and began to argue that liberal views on Habeas Corpus would kill Americans.

Continue reading "Frameshop: How Gingrich and Giuliani Sabotaged Civic Debate" »