Witnessing history

January 13, 2012 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

Every age has its historic moments.

Ours:

The 9/11/01 attacks and brutal amputation of Manhattan’s skyline
One of the most destructive tsunamis ever recorded (Indian Ocean)
One of the deadliest earthquakes ever recorded (Haiti)
One of the worst environmental disasters of all time (Gulf spill)
The virtual drowning of a major U.S. city (New Orleans/Katrina)
The near-drowning of a major U.S. city (New York/Sandy)
Japan’s monster earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster
The emergence – and denial – of the greatest man-made threat to human life (climate change)
The Middle East and North Africa uprisings

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Epic irony: Mideast moves forward while America moves backward

February 23, 2011 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

The contrast between events in the Middle East and the political reality here in America is striking: as the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere rise by the millions to protest injustice, and as governments from Jordan to Syria see the writing on the wall, the United States gives power to a political movement bent on reversing generations of progress.

The GOP and Tea Party, drifting ever rightward, want to strip away health coverage, undermine faith in science, deny the overwhelming consensus on the mortal threat of climate change, give tax breaks to the rich, increase record wealth disparities, abolish women’s reproductive rights, defund public radio, gut gun laws, curtail gay rights, inject religion into government, and much more.

Targeting scientists, academics, public broadcasters, unions, health care providers and women, among others, they willfully misinterpret the Constitution to make specious arguments in favor of reactionary policies and are whipped into a frenzy by millionaire radio and TV blatherers, whose sole mission is to demonize liberals and liberalism — to the point of inciting violence against them.

Democratic leaders, obsessed with wooing “independent” voters, and captives of a toxic Beltway mindset, barely make a stand in the face of this all-out assault.

If we fail to see the irony of a Mideast marching into the future while America races into the past, we will pay the price.

UPDATE: The GOP’s mission to deny women’s reproductive rights/freedom is exemplified by this:

One hundred members of Congress (so far) have cosponsored a bill introduced by far right Congressman Joe Pitts (R-PA) called the “Protect Life Act.” They want to “protect life” so much that they have written into the bill a new amendment that would override the requirement that emergency room doctors save every patient, regardless of status or ability to pay.  The law would carve out an exception for pregnant women; doctors and hospitals will be allowed to let pregnant women die if interventions to save them will kill the fetus.

Heinous beyond words.

UPDATE II: More disturbing examples of America’s reverse trajectory…

First:

Georgia State Rep. Bobby Franklin has introduced a 10-page bill that would criminalize some miscarriages, and make abortion in Georgia completely illegal and punishable by death. Basically, it’s everything an “pro-life” activist could want aside from making all women who’ve had abortions wear big red “A”s on their chests.

Second:

For nearly a year, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Virginia’s crusading Republican attorney general, has waged a one-man war on the theory of man-made global warming. Invoking his subpoena powers, he has sought to force the University of Virginia to turn over the files of a prominent climatology professor, asserting that his research may be marred by fraud. The university is battling the move in the courts. Now his allegations of manipulated data and scientific fraud are resonating in Congress, where Republican leaders face an influx of new members, many of them Tea Party stalwarts like Mr. Cuccinelli, eager to inveigh against the body of research linking man-made emissions to warming.

Third:

In 2010, for the first time in 15 years, more bank branches closed than opened across the United States. An analysis of government data shows, however, that even as banks shut branches in poorer areas, they continued to expand in wealthier ones, despite decades of government regulations requiring financial institutions to meet the credit needs of poor and middle-class neighborhoods.

On Egypt, Twitter missteps from the White House to Kenneth Cole

February 3, 2011 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

In the cacophony of Egypt-related commentary on Twitter, a couple of incidents illustrate the pitfalls of communicating publicly on social networks.

On January 29th, while the entire world was watching the historic events in Egypt, this Twitter exchange took place:

WH Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer (official account): @dcfooter on the road is tough, but Nova is very beatable

Pfeiffer: Tough game on the road, but Nova is very beatable if the guards shoot well RT@pfeiffer44 gtown-nova. What’s your confidence level?

Nic Lott: @pfeiffer44 How about more tweets on issues of the nation and world since this is a WH twitter account. Turmoil in Middle East. Not sports.

Pfeiffer: @niclott fair point. We are carefully monitoring. Pls see this video of POTUS talking about egypt last night http://bit.ly/ecz1Xo 9:25 AM Jan 29th via web in reply to niclott

After reading the back and forth, I gave credit to Pfeiffer for responding in real time and quickly pivoting to Egypt.

Similarly, on the White House Twitter account (@WhiteHouse), three wildly incongruous tweets appeared on February 2 as Egypt exploded:

Gibbs: “US deplores and condemns the violence that is taking place in Egypt… repeat our strong call for restraint” http://wh.gov/cJu 12:15 PM Feb 2nd via web

Congrats to the winners of Cabinet meeting jeopardy: @LauraKMM @gravitas28 @Only4RM @Diament_OU, others we missed 12:13 PM Feb 2nd via web

Photo of the Day contest: Name 4 Cabinet members pictured here. Bonus for 5. Prize: not much. (credit: @petesouza) http://twitpic.com/3vsscd 11:28 AM Feb 2nd via Twitpic

Far from politics, Kenneth Cole waded into a firestorm with a tweet that made light of the events in Egypt. Cole posted this apology on Facebook:

I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.

Kenneth Cole, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer

I asked fellow Twitter users how they felt about the fluffy White House tweets. Some said it was meaningless and critics should lighten up, others disagreed:

jentwats it’s disgusting

eclexia Utter callous stupidity

jbuford Light-hearted tweets coming from the WH are jarring and incongruous

This raises a much larger question – one of the most profound and intractable problems we face as humans, namely, how to balance pleasure with sensitivity to others’ pain, how to enjoy life in the midst of unfathomable sadness. There is no easy answer. It’s the perennial problem of how much to give of ourselves and how often. Should we plunk down $100 on a nice meal when kids are starving around the world? How about having a $20 meal and donating the rest to feed several families? Should we laugh and joke and smile at the exact moment that little girls are being raped with broken bottles? Is it fair? Is it right?

Our general impulse is to say that it’s a matter of degree, that there is infinite anguish on this planet and we can’t survive if we internalize all of it, nor can we spend all our time suffering over the suffering of others. If we sacrifice and help to a reasonable extent it’s the most we can do. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

As I said, there’s no answer. We each find our own equilibrium. Some do nothing, some dedicate their entire lives to the cause of helping others in need.

In the end, at the very least, we should appreciate the pain that’s all around us. Even if we don’t devote every waking moment to alleviating it, let’s not exacerbate it by turning a blind eye.