Stand Down, CNN

Howard Beale (Peter Finch)  loses is grip in the 1976 United Artist film "Network".

I can now officially blame 24 hour news for nearly everything that is wrong in this world. It is a sad day when a potential Republican presidential candidate is on the ropes (or nearly so), and I can’t draw enjoyment from it.

Although I was not a fan of Governor Chris Christie from the start, I appreciated his gracious response to President Obama’s support of New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. He took flak from the far right for saying something – anything – positive about the President. From my side of the aisle, he showed a lot more integrity than did Republican lawmakers who loudly bashed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, while at the same time (and with a lot less publicity) accepting stimulus money for their home states. He openly and without apology put the best interests of the citizens of New Jersey ahead of party, and future political ambitions. It’s what a governor gets paid to do.

I briefly wondered if I could vote for Christie someday, as a way of casting a vote against partisan politics. It wasn’t out of the question; there were times when I might have considered voting for John McCain. (That was long before 2008, in case you were wondering.) But when I evaluate Christie in total…Nah, it’ll never happen.

Governor Chris Christie shouts down a New Jersey teacher on the campaign trail in 2012Chris Christie says he’s not a bully; he’s just a no-nonsense, what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy. Ask a question he doesn’t feel like answering? He’ll tell you it’s none of your business. Question his effectiveness in a certain area?  He’ll holler until he’s red in the face, and wag his finger at you.

I’ll let the people of New Jersey decide if that works for them, but it’s a liability in the national arena. He’s not the guy I want having diplomatic discussions with leaders of unfriendly nations – or with allies, for that matter.

(Have you noticed that every election cycle, a segment of America moons over a straight talker who becomes the early front-runner? He/she eventually crashes and burns, after becoming a little too “refreshing”. Remember Ross Perot? Herman Cain? Sarah Palin?)

Let’s fast forward to this week’s traffic scandal, which is quickly turning a bit Lord of the Flies on cable news. Yesterday, Christie spent two hours denying he had any knowledge of his staff’s ordering lane closures to snarl traffic to the George Washington Bridge in September, as political revenge against Fort Lee’s mayor.

While it is the role of the media to thoroughly investigate the matter, and assess whether actions by members of Christie’s administration reflect the petty, vindictive style of the boss, who may want to run for president in 2016 — it’s a CRAZY FEEDING FRENZY out there!

Some will argue that a liberal media agenda is at work – or maybe a tea party one. Others may think it’s the work of a few ambitious journalists, who want to turn the story into Watergate, and themselves into Woodward or Bernstein (depending on hair color). It may even be driven by how easily the scandal lends itself to pithy headlines: Christie’s In a Jam! 

I blame 24 hour news, and the incessant need for CONTENT.  If you don’t think writers, editors and pundits are licking their collective chops because a story like this — if they can keep stoking suspicion of the Governor’s involvement — could fuel the news cycle for days… well, you probably don’t have a TV at your house. Or access to the internet.

In his new book “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” former Secretary of State Robert Gates remembers that Washington lawmakers could be reasonable, right up to the point “the little red light went on atop a television camera [which] had the effect of a full moon on a werewolf.”

We’ve all seen it, and it’s enough to make you shake your head in despair. The fault lies not just with Congress, but also with the news networks that fan the flames, spin the facts, and broadcast on a loop.  And it’s our fault, for giving our tacit approval of the coverage by watching it.

I received a breaking news alert from CNN this morning, letting me know that a batch of documents related to a New Jersey State Assembly investigation of the Governor’s advisors had JUST BEEN RELEASED. CNN assured me they would dig through the document “dump” and post updates online throughout the day.

2:58 p.m. ET – As you can expect, everyone is trying to get these documents at the same time, so download speed is slow. Bear with us.

Breathe easy, America.  CNN is on the job.

Have a Look Under the Hoodie

I was horrified by last month’s killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida — as horrified as 73% of Americans polled by CNN, who believe George Zimmerman should face charges for shooting the unarmed teenager.

I have no doubt that race was central to what happened.   What’s more, you couldn’t find stronger proof that allowing anyone — no matter their education level, emotional maturity or temperament – to carry a gun and use it if they feel “threatened” is a terrible, terrible idea.

George Zimmerman – a wannabe police officer, and self-appointed head of his neighborhood watch group — dialed 911 at least 46 times over the past six years, because he felt threatened.   In other words, the man is easily spooked.  With a gun in his pocket, it was only matter of time.

Did Trayvon Martin attack George Zimmerman, once he caught up to him and demanded to know what he was doing in his apartment complex?  Perhaps.  Have any of Zimmerman’s supporters stopped to wonder how threatened Trayvon must have felt at that moment?  Unlike George Zimmerman, though, Trayvon didn’t have a gun.

There have been many protests, all over the United States, calling for justice for Trayvon.  On March 23, members of the Miami Heat posed in hooded sweatshirts – like the one Trayvon wore, that George Zimmerman found so “suspicious” – to show their support.  Church congregations and City Councils nationwide have worn hoodies too.

Why is it that, the more commonplace hoodie protests become among politicians, the less impactful they seem, and the more contrived they appear?

Today – more than one full month after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed – Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) was asked to leave the House chamber after taking off his suit jacket and revealing that he was wearing a hoodie.   As it turns out, wearing a hood or hat while the House of Representatives is in session is against the rules.

“Racial profiling has to stop Mr. Speaker,” shouted Rush. “Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum.”

Wow, powerful speech Sir!  If only someone really influential could take up the cause — someone who won’t just TALK about addressing the issues. We need someone with power to pass legislation!  Maybe a Congressman!  Someone like… Bobby Rush.  Oh damn, now I see the problem…

Great Balls of Fire!

It’s been a busy week for the Republicans, culminating in tonight’s Arizona debate – another performance that no doubt had President Obama switching over to the Knicks game in time to catch the fourth quarter of Linsanity(!).

The day started with Rick Santorum referencing “what’s on fire down here” at one of his tent-revival-style campaign stops.  The media played it over and over again, but I still don’t know what he meant by “down here”.  He seems pretty fixated on the Prince of Darkness, so maybe he was referring to Hell, where it’s far too hot for comely sweater vests. Otherwise, I just don’t want to think about it…

Not surprisingly, attention in the debate quickly turned to contraception.  References were made to a recent New York Times story about the scourge of unwed motherhood in the United States.  I read that article, and the candidates grossly distorted the facts in it.  To hear them talk, this is a growing problem among poor urban teens – when in fact, the article highlights that the growth in single motherhood is a decidedly middle-class phenomenon.  Teen pregnancies in the U.S. are, in fact, declining.

While it’s true that educated upper-middle-class and upper-class women are not part of the single motherhood trend, the fear mongering claims of abject poverty and abuse in the homes of single mothers was a mischaracterization, intended to create the all-too-familiar sense of danger so critical (it would seem) to convincing Americans to vote for you.

The candidates flailed around for a while, trying to hammer home that even though they are avidly pro life, pro church and anti contraception, they aren’t anti women.   Each argued that he did more than the others to banish the morning-after pill for rape victims.  I think I started to drift off for a moment, then… BOOM.  Ron Paul blinded them all with science.

He explained that it’s all contraception; the active ingredient in birth control pills and the morning-after pill is the same — hormones.   The candidates stared at him blankly, then moved on to a new question.  Behold, the product of a non-scientific, creationist education!  Proceed with caution, America!

Ron Paul, as usual, seemed upbeat and just a tiny bit crazy.  I wouldn’t vote for him in a Presidential election, but you have to hand it to him – he is candid, witty and consistent.  He pointed out that abstinence is not mentioned in the Constitution, so while he is against government involvement in matters of contraception he doesn’t think we should be funding or legislating abstinence education either.  (Cue more blank stares from guys who think we all honestly believe that they are defending the Constitution and religious freedom, rather than evangelicalism.)

Mitt Romney looked nervous.  Rick Santorum emphasized that he’s a team player – a character flaw only in politics – and came across like a policy-wonk insider who rolls his eyes a lot when he’s defensive.

Newt Gingrich stayed out of the scrum, saving most of his criticism for President Obama.  He tried giving the audience a history lesson on the Founding Fathers, claiming they would have had strong views on balanced budgets and unemployment.  I don’t think the colonials suffered many layoffs down at the blacksmith’s shop, but I guess I should defer to the guy who made a fortune as an “historical consultant” to Freddie Mac.

Throughout, the crowd behaved like fans of the WWF — or Senators at the State of the Union Address — loudly cheering for their guy and jeering his opponents.

Late in the debate, the candidates were inanely asked to describe themselves in one word – a question no doubt put forth by a retired college recruiter.  Lucky Ron Paul got to go first, and snagged “consistent”.   Tough break for Romney – I’ll bet he really, really wanted to be consistent!   He went with “Resolute”.  Not terribly convincing but at least his voice didn’t go up at the end, like he was posing a question.  (i.e. resolute???)

In (merciful) conclusion, the candidates were asked to clarify the biggest misconception about them.  Ron Paul answered the question.  Newt meandered a bit, but eventually answered it too.  Then Mitt Romney tried to just go with his talking points, à la Sarah Palin.  When reminded that the question was about a misconception, he curtly replied “You ask the questions you want to, and I’ll answer the questions I want to.”

We all watched the 2008 Vice Presidential debate, so we know what comes next – even if Romney’s debate coach doesn’t.