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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Astroturf Closeup

(Astroturf, 2011)

Some things bubble up slowly, like hearing a snipet of conversation here or there over the course of a couple of weeks. Naturally. Some might refer to that as collective consciousness. The people here call it 'Grassroots' Interests.

Some go wide all at the same time and you hear it everywhere you turn. Some political messages come out like Talking Points.

When they appear in several right wing mouths with exactly the same phraseology on the same day, those are Talking Points. Generally known within the beltway, and on the talky shows, as 'Astroturf' politics. Sort of like when you hear a politician or pundit say, "The people of the United States feel..." or "The people of the United States want... You always want to pay attention to the next few words out. If that phrase hits the airwaves like it's a CD set to repeat, you've got your Astroturf. It's meant to sound like just plain ol' folks are thinkin' it up, but without a doubt that kind of Rovian speak has been generated by think tanks, public relations firms, or in corporate executive suites. Although Astroturfing has long been associated with politicians trying to appear to be aware of grassroots sentiment, it is actually revisionism at its core.

And some things are even more subversive. Welcome to the Smiley-West 'Poverty Bus Tour.'
According to The Root, "These two have done much worse than what Halperin has done because they set the tone for it, opened the door to it, and must take much of the blame for creating a climate that would make a white, professional journalist feel comfortable verbally and vulgarly attacking the first black president of the United States," Joyner wrote.
Recently, some very prominent Republicans had begun criticizing President Obama for supposedly ignoring Black America's plight. Like the decks stacked against your average American of color are somehow beyond the POTUS's radar. What's that about, you might ask? Simple.

Check out these articles that have noticed the latest coming down the pike, seemingly innocuous and spread out comments over the last couple months, in preparation for the 2012 primaries.

Michele Bachman - Newt Gingrich "Blame Obama For Black Joblessness

Fox News
Newt Gingrich Puts Obama On Defensive Over Failure To Help Black Americans

Talking Points Memo
Newt Gingrich ~ "Obama Is So Bad, Black People Will Vote Republican."

Wonkette finally came out and called this spade a spade.
Newt Gingrich Plan For Success ~ Win The Black Vote Back From Obama

And Steve Harvey called this one out as well. Have a listen (3 audio clips)

Most Obama supporters feel ;-) that Tavis Smiley and Cornel West are now taking their personal hatred of President Obama on the road with this so-called ‘poverty tour’ and that this is nothing but undermining President Obama for 2012. If you need confirmation, you need only look at the recent Washington Post article titled- Poverty tour’ stirs debate about whether Obama policies have helped African Americans

"More than a year ago Smiley and West went rogue on Obama, fomenting bitter, public fights with allies of the president that have resulted in name-calling and shouting matches."

The minute President Obama says anything about a program “specifically” geared for African Americans, he would be crucified because everyone (especially in the media) would then say that he is being biased towards African Americans. He can’t win that fight. But the real grassroots have come out and have been speaking loud and clear. Smiley and West were greeted in Detroit by angry protesters, many wearing Obama t-shirts and hats, who wanted to let them know that their Obama bashing tour was not welcome in their town. However, mainstream media outlets like CNN are reporting on this as if this tour has major support from the Black community.

The message they've chosen as their opening shot for 2012, if you are Black, don't vote for Obama. Nasty. This kind of Astroturfing in social media and on in the main stream news is based on manipulation rather than constructive and authentic echoes of the public trust. And while American Crossroads and Alec are still in business, me thinks we need our own pushback think tank. Like now!

Lisa Lindo
The Policy Geek

Occasional Repost

(GetReligion.Org, 2007)
My friend Mark Dorlester's OpEd.
Just opinion:

We, the nation and we, Obama supporters are in one hell of a pickle. Idon't need to recap the headlines; you know the top national problems, and much of the news today was on the idea that the national self-deception of the past 10 if not 30 years has finally been penetrated: our problems are real, serious, and they will not simply go away with the next business cycle.

Further, we Obama supporters all have areas of great disappointment with the President - in terms of our expectations 3 years ago vs. the reality so far.

But we have a critical choice: we can accept that whoever gets the Republican nod will be somewhere between "not at all to our liking" and"lethal to our democracy" and therefore we can rally to support Obama, or we can let our national problems and political anger fester and watch the country go off the proverbial cliff. The worst of all worlds would be to work like hell with no focus and no attention to Obama's re-election needs, so that our effort is largely wasted.

You should know by now that I'm not a Kool-Aid drinker. I carry no one's water. I have strong independent opinions. Nonetheless, I hereby declare that this situation is one of very, very few in my life where I am, however reluctantly, willing to sublimate my own drives - in most areas - to those necessary to get Obama re-elected. We are entering a"political 9/11" situation until the next election. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that if we lose to the political right, there will be no hope left (pardon the entendre). I've been telling friends and family for 10 years now that our democracy is gone. If we lose this one, it will never come back. Wisconsin was not an uplifting harbinger.

The next few weeks are the calm before the storm. The political power bases in Washington are taking the typical August break - assuming the stock market doesn't sink another 20%. In any event, after Labor Day, all hell will break loose and it will likely stay that way for 14 months. The question for us then becomes: what do we listen to for guidance, and where and how do we target our efforts?
As to guidance, the laser-beam answer: we listen for direction really intently to the White House and the campaign, not to the pundits. Not to the news grabbers. When we need to vent, we clearly so state and do not - ever - try to divert attention out of frustration. This is hard for independent-minded folk like us. So was Normandy.

As to focus, I suggest we mentally divide our thinking into 2 major categories: (1) issues and (2) battleground states. On issues, obviously, it's jobs, jobs, jobs and programs creating them. On battleground states it's Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Florida, and then New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina, and Minnesota. That is, as of today. As time goes on, the campaign will let us know how the map is playing out. We MUST keep in mind that presidential elections are NOT - repeat NOT - national elections.Electoral votes are tallied state-by-state. No national popularity poll has any electoral meaning. Going nuts for Obama within California or New York is worse than foolish - it helps the Republicans by wasting valuable Obama resources where they have no electoral impact. Therefore I, a lifetime Maryland resident, will be putting in whatever I can to help in Pennsylvania and Virginia, not downtown Baltimore.

This is not to say that there won't be serious work to do in all 51 electoral states. It IS to say that an infrastructure program that does more for Michigan than for NYC is the one we want to support. Keeping EPA's reach softer in Pennsylvania may be temporarily necessary to keep those folks employed, like it or not.

Above all, we simply cannot afford no-return wild goose chases having zero electoral benefit/potential. I don't know about you, but that's a harsh reality for me. I like the freedom to go wherever my mind takes me. But a lack of discipline in this election risks a Fascist-vision Bachmann society, or a Yee-Hah Anarchist-vision Perry Society, even if Hidden-vision Chameleon Romney were to win.

That is an unacceptable risk for me.

Enjoy the break.

(Interested in contacting Mark? I would be happy to forward any emails to him.)
Lisa Lindo

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Finding Home

"With Malice Towards None, With Charity For All"
(Mountain State Collector, 2011)
Hi, I'm Lisa Lindo, and I guess I'm a policy geek.  I mean, how can any red blooded American with a keyboard turn down a front row seat these days to history? As no generation before could ever do, globally, instantly?

I certainly couldn't.

The last 7 years have been like a doctoral thesis of history study and world travel. Fortunate, I know, I'm fortunate. To spend so much time absorbing and sharing with those who also love following CSPAN radio...what more could a girl ask for?  Friends, who, if given the opportunity, would carry Rachel's books home.  I mean if she asked.

We are discussers and debaters, sometimes fed up but always engaged. Book readers and paper turners. We are awake and involved in the process, and occasionally manifest as a listener of bars and sitter of lobbies. When you speak a few languages it's fun to eavesdrop.

(Cardcow.com, 2011)

Then two years ago I moved to D.C., so I've been in heaven.

During this fabulously historic period, it's nothing short of patriotic to pay attention, self educate, and share what you are taking in. So check out our list of vital links and maybe find something you wanted to know more about.  A more informed voter is a better voter, we always say, and therefore more likely to vote. And despite all evidence to the contrary, I still believe in the electoral system.

The Policy Geek
Lisa Lindo

Monday, August 1, 2011

Conversations from a D.C. Coffeeshop

(pulsd.com, 2011)
How does a wonk survive in the Big Beltway?  In the evenings it's MSNBC, The Guardian, Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight, more You Tube, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Craig Ferguson, Ted, National Geographic, Time Magazine , Esquire, Mother Jones, Democratic Underground, News Max (know the enemy; however, be prepared for your head to explode), emails from Barack Obama's latent internet army, Karl Rove's tweets, thousands of other tweets, updates from museums around the world, a little light white paper reading, check in with my NASA pals, The Economist, Media Matters and NPRCurrent TV, CSPAN, and all the rest are peppered through the week and I guess what I'm saying is that Sarah Palin should have answered the question.  You are what you read.

If you get to hang out in D.C. Coffeeshops, you are what you drink as well.  Me? My favorite soothing beverage, warm apple juice with caramel. And yes, I can order that in a coffee shop because this is not just a coffee shop.  I mean, not like your average coffee shop.  This is Starbucks. And I've been a regular from Maui to Maryland.

In LA you'll see promising writers and giggling shopping girls who pout when they are asked to leave their purse dogs outside.  In NY, no one is talking to anyone else 'cause they are deep in their electronic devices, suspicious of the too friendly or too chatty.  In Maui they are slow and annoyed if you rush them.  And surprising places, like towns in Colorado, you see hippies mingling with matrons. 

Yet, as I keep saying, today this is not just a coffee shop.  Each community has made it their own.  They've added games, or the chance to read Howard Schurtz's book Onward: How Starbucks Fought For Its Life Without Losing Its Soul, with extra store copies lying around. This is your neighborhood coffee shop.

In case you haven't been in one lately, (and I have more than one Union Organizer friend not thrilled with the non-union status of their employees) they are still pretty great.  I always say their 'employees have health plans' blah blah blah. I'm pro-union, but don't mess with my caffeine.  My very ethically sourced caffeine.

(pittsburghhotplate.com, 2011)
This is Starbucks and in each and every one I happen to sit in, maybe craft some jewelry, or catch up on the tweets, there is always that crazy person.  The one that wants to talk too long about something you never thought you would want to know about and now are sure you don't.  They seem so nice at first:
"How's your day?"or "Awfully hot out, huh?" or "Nice dress."
But then the next thing you know you are listening to a song they wrote.  A very long song.

So why go there?  They have most drinks ready for the regulars as they walk in.  Not a company policy, but a game most employees play with themselves to keep interested in the gig. In this D.C. bedroom community coffee shop, it's no different. 

There's this nice hum, someone comes in, orders, makes a joke, and leaves.  Someone says something about the oppressive heat and jokes about 'how nice it must be to work at Starbucks and be inside all day, ha ha ha', "I have to wear a suit, ha ha", "have a nice day" "see you later" etc. etc.  There's usually a shorter guy who seems to be waiting for his drink to cool, but not quite ready to go back outside and he hangs around a bit and seems a little awkward.

(Stuart Isett for The New York Times, 2008)
And even here in the beltway there are those giggly skinny skirted nonfat young ladies who think coffee is fun and use their 180 second wait time to catch up on relationships ala, "So I said, Oh Yeah?!  Whatya gonna do, take your SATs in Europe?"  The young and the gigglies are a staple at Starbucks, the banter just changes a bit the closer you get to the beltway.  Sometimes it's in Japanese, or Swedish.

There are people meeting up to make last minute adjustments to an about-to-be-launched website exclusively interested in bringing to life Azbekistan artifacts through animations, a new take on a dusty museum's contents. Pretty images but not enough to keep my attention.

(Sound Off Starbucks, 2010)
There is always someone interviewing someone for a job and there is usually a table with a Born Again person speaking to the more recently Born Again about what God really meant about this or that.

Lately, there's been this 'Arabic Guy.' Very business like.  (Editor's Note: I call him 'Arabic guy' because he was only speaking Arabic and for no other reason.)  It turns out he's one of those people who use the largest of tables all day as a makeshift office.  He would have meetings throughout the day.  Each arrival also only spoke Arabic, and one man after another would come in for coffee and to argue with the 'Arabic Guy,' politely excuse themselves, and then the next would be beckoned in by the ad hoc Arabic butler sitting at a smaller table who jumped up when signaled to.  Are they planning their next attack, or just business men who've lost their office?  Hard to say.

One recent heat wave of a day, we found ourselves, sharing the big table, the Arabic Man and I.  He with his meetings, me with my beading, and no real sound accept for me occasionally singing along to the Starbucks soundtrack of the day.  O.K., maybe a little more than occasionally.  We were all sharing A.C. so no one could really complain.

Now no matter what Starbucks you go into, anywhere, if you hang out over the course of a week, you eventually meet one of them.  They are what I call the coffee crazies, and D.C. is no different.  You just get your own grade class of vagrants.  Those in button down shirts with pockets, with a large volumous tome in front of them from which they are taking notes.  And they turn and focus their gaze.  Oh no, please, I'm just making jewelry, I'm not looking for, no, er
"Hi, yes, nice to meet you, yes, thank you, I love making jewelry, its therapeutic, yes, I've traveled all over the world shopping for these pieces, yes, oh, you're Vietnamese, Nice to meet you.  Yes, Cam on.  No, I don't speak much more Vietnamese, I'm sorry but.  Oh?  Really?  You've developed a matrix of how to teach Vietnamese and wrote a book about it that got swept away in Katrina?  Really?  No, need to show me, ah, a napkin, yes, I suppose you could draw a chart on that.  Yes, I see.  Fascinating."
Now remember that on this particular day I had been sharing the large table with the Arabic guy for awhile now.  He'd been a foot away from me, fuming about sharing the table with me, but not saying anything.  When a bead would roll his way he would just put it back with my things, not speaking.  And now here was this man, apparently who had been a prisoner of a Vietnam prison for 8 years, and voted for Bush, and right this minute, with the urgency of a CIA movie, he had to explain to me the matrix of Vietnamese, TO ME, and share the wisdom of the origin of words themselves and is doing all of this standing over both I and the Arabic man from across the way. So this guy is standing over us saying how Ba and Ba with a different sound show you the connection between the word father and what was it? neighbor? and how if we taught words according to this matrix instead of just all the words at one time, like you do to a child or to learn English that it would teach us so much about, that's where I lost him, and the Arabic guy just couldn't take it anymore and started coughing, loudly, and sort of puffing up his chest at the same time.  He wouldn't tell me he was annoyed at sharing the table and he sure as heck wasn't going to tell this elderly Vietnamese prison camp veteran that he had not shared his views on Bush or that his presence over both of us was, to say the least, odd.  No he just huffed and cleared his throat and at some point the birdlike physical messages were received and the Vietnamese man went back to his table and kept talking to me.

I didn't have the heart to keep sort of yelling that I couldn't hear him that well from all the way over there, with the occasional grinder noise or frapaccino blender going...so I just said, 'ah huh', and 'really?' once in awhile until he packed up his notes and his very big book and left with a ton of bows on the way.

The beltway has it's very own brand of coffee crazies.  And those of us who spend many a day on a tab or a tablet or an iPad or a phone, or laptop, or sometimes even stop to write a letter, we sort of bond after an incident like that.  Every one sees it.  They can't stop it.  They can't  help but overhear it.  And afterwards you know you've been touched by humanity.  And all the other patrons know too.  They see you.

The next week I drove into that same lot, and towards that same Starbucks, and as I cornered the entrance looking for a space, the Arabic man was there and saw me coming.  By the time I was served my Venti Cafe Vanilla Frappaccino 2% Nowhip Not Lite upside down extra shot of love, the Arabic man had packed up his things at the large table and as he went to relocate outside he waved at the table and smiled at me.  He sat outside with his family, they were clearly sharing the break in the heat that had swept in after an earlier Thunder Storm.  It's the watering hole I guess his whole family uses too, 'cause they came and showed off the grandchildren as the light of the day started to fade.  This is our Starbucks.  Our collective melting pot of caramel and mocha and whole milk.  And now I didn't see the business man.  I saw the family man.

Now, maybe it's time to learn Arabic.