Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Global Neural Network Online Now

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Last night we attended a lecture at MIT which once again reminded us why we keep returning to Cambridge after 40 years despite the weather. The event featured Wadah Khanfar, until recently head of the Al Jazeera network, and a panel composed of Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media, Mohamed Nanabhay, head of online at Al Jazeera English, and Joi Ito, the ubiquitous internet wag and champion of open netways. As advertised, they talked about the Arab Spring a year after the precipitating events in Egypt, but the discussion soon zoomed into the areas of new media, social media, citizen journalism, and how its all changing fast, before our eyes.

We felt lucky to be there. We only found out about the event that day; fortunately, right now we have a cadre of eight Saudi students who are bright, open-minded, and obviously taking advantage of their time in Boston. Thanks for the head’s up, guys.

One part of the discussion got me thinking, which is why we go to these things in the first place. Mr. Kanfar was speaking about the moments during the day of January 25th, 2011, when the world’s attention turned to Tahrir Square, in Cairo, Egypt, and everything changed.

Al Jazeera, he said, was in the middle of a long-planned, meticulously researched, intensively promoted 4-day special series title “The Palestine Papers”. They had a lot of money invested in it. It led their hourly newscasts and was the top story on their popular online sites. They had a few reporters in Tahrir, but as Mr. Kanfar said, there had been a series of protest in that and other public places in Cairo, and they were not expecting anything dramatic. The Egyptian story was fourth or fifth on the website, and drawing hit accordingly.

However, during the afternoon Al Jazeera web traffic monitors (another telling emergent phenomena) noticed something interesting. The hits on the Tahrir Square story were shooting up, and within minutes they had shot past the Palestine Papers. And kept going up.

Al Jazeera, behind Mr. Kanfar, immediately realized they had a major, historic story breaking in their own backyard. They seized the moment and ran with it. Within days the brushfire lit by events in Cairo and across Egypt had spread to a half-dozen countries in the region and every major news organization on the planet was covering it.

But the people who saw it first, all those millions of viewers who clicked through to the story on Al Jazeera’s web site looking for more infomation, how did they find out about it? Two words – Social Media. Twitter and Facebook. Smart phones. Regular, ordinary people had twisted the neck of a major network , shouting, “What’s going on over there?” And the whole world looked.

It has been clear for a while that there is a white-hot spotlight of global media focus that sweeps the planet looking for the three or four stories which occupy the extremely limited planetary attention span for a few days, before fading into the background buzz. Successful stories often feature photogenic famous people, photogenic disasters, or royalty, photogenic or not, and sex, preferably in some combination. But up until now, the focus of the spotlight seems to have been directed by a shadowy cabal of major media groups.

Something new is happening here. Maybe not a revolution, but an accelerated evolution. It seems to us that we are watching the emergence of the first effective Global Neural Network. By that I mean that for the first time, multiple human brains, in fact millions of human brains, can be linked in near instantaneous networks, simultaneously in series and in parallel, so that they are able to process the same information at the same time, voice, video or text, and cogitate over the same questions. No one can say to what extent they will arrive at the same answers.

This is not a completely new phenomena. A spectral precursor to the global neural network has existed as long as humans have been using language. For millennia humans myriad individual consciousnesses were linked by the structure of the languages they spoke and the oral histories they wove and repeated down through their generations. But interlinking of networks depended on physical travel by one of the nodes, a human brain, and this was a difficult and dangerous endeavor until quite recently.

With the popularization of the printed world, the neural network took a great leap forward. Suddenly ideas, memes, modes of inquiry, could reach across the furthest distances, stand the tests of time, form a base to be built upon and allow for collective decision making on a far larger scale. But the transmission of ideas was agonizingly slow, at least from a modern viewpoint, like playing a game of chess via transatlantic schooner. Hard to imagine a global consciousness arising form such glacial cognition.

But now, just in the past five years, it has become possible for ideas, words, pictures and moving images to pass from one mind to another in seconds. From when one isolated consciousness views something in his or her immediate reality, it can be transferred to a million other minds in two or three seconds. Less time than is needed to explain it to someone standing next to you. All you need is a smartphone, which is standard equipment for almost half of the human population right now.

It was a fortuitous combination of hardware, software and wetware. Smartphones provide the neural network hardware , Twitter and Facebook provide the software, and we provide the wetware. If Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckenberg hadn’t done it someone else would have; it was a change waiting to happen and we were waiting for it to happen to us.

We must confess, we are a fan of neither Facebook nor Twitter. Facebook violates our deep instinct for anonymity and we only joined because we had agreed to address a big conference on Using Social Media in the Classroom. Now we are constantly denying friend requests from ex-students. Our history with Twittter is even worse. We got the Twitter pitch back at the Berkman Bloggers Group before it was even in beta, and my dismissive comment at the time was, “Most of my favorite sentences have more than 140 characters”. We forgot the fact that even the most complex mosaic is composed of disparate bits. Which can be crowd-sourced.

It is hard to imagine how the global neural network can get much more immediate until, inevitable, we all get cerebral implants to facilitate direct brain-to-brain transmission of ideas. There will be incremental improvements, for sure. The recently announced Google Glasses heads up display, for example. Envision a citizen journalist in the next Tahrir Square who can transmit exactly what they are seeing from their eyes directly into the eyes of millions of Glasses-wearing viewers around the globe. With the surround-sound earphones on, it would be like the whole world was there.

Beware. Be aware. Everything is changing. We will see it in our lifetimes. Stay tuned.

All the World’s aTwitter

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Discussing logistical matters on Twitter is simply going to attract unnecessary attention of the government and other detractors. This is why most such discussions take place on secure private platforms like e-mail or instant-messaging….Thus, Iran’s regime is quite knowledgeable about social media. Perhaps we should not read too much into the government’s reluctance – or, some have argued, inability – to ban tools like Twitter. The reasons for these may be much more banal: These tools are simply too useful as sources of intelligence about what is happening in the country. Not only do they help the Iran government to follow the events closely (as well as to understand the perception of the government’s actions) in every single locality with an Internet connection, they also help it to understand the connections between various activists and their supporters in the West. From the intelligence-gathering perspective, Twitter has been a gift from heaven.

Evgeny Morozov in Boston Globe

It occurs to the Dowbrigade that our previous posting, arguing that there is nothing inherently beneficent or liberating in the digital revolution, was a bit one-sided. It argued that the internet was just a new tool that could be used to ends both enlightened and nefarious, by the full gamut of human wielders. However, as we used to say in our salad days, the mark of true intelligence is the ability to simultaneously entertain irreconcilably contradictory concepts. So let us consider the flip side.

As someone undoubtedly noted (the unattributed quote is in my head and Google won’t help) the Power of the Printing Press accrues mostly to those who own one, which used to be a pretty rarified slice of humanity.  The paradigm-busting characteristic of the digital revolution is putting that power in the hands of a significant proportion of the world’s population.

Recent events in Iran seem to argue for the status quo quashing potential of digital tools, as Twitter, blogs (Iran has the most blogs in the Muslim world) and general wiredness of the population seems to be a crucial factor in the most serious opposition to the rule of the Ayatollas since the Islamic Revolution thirty years ago. The majority of the current population of Iran never knew the Shah and grew up on the Internet. Surely that makes governing 66 million people according to a set of laws from the 9th century a bit of a challenge.

Yet, as Evgeny Morozov noted in the Globe, quoted above, the Ayatollas and Revolutionary Guard know how to use computers as well, and we are currently seeing a pretty virulent counter-attack on the ground and in cyberspace on the part of the Iranian authorities. Perhaps, rather than a stairway to freedom, the web is just another battlefield for the age old struggle between – who? The authorities and the rebels?  The ins and the outs?  The ensconced elders and the upstart youth? Good and evil?

At any rate, it appears Twitter is here to stay, for better or worse. And we finally get it.  After a couple of years of dismissing it as digital telegrams for twits, the currently vogue term “microblogging” helped me wrap my head around it.  But it’s not “micro” exactly, more like “mobile”. The distinguishing characteristic of Twitter is that it can be, and is usually, done from a cell phone.

Blogging, of course, is usually done from a computer.  It is a ruminative, contemplative occupation, best accomplished alone, in a quiet, controlled environment, like the Dowbrigades Electronic Command Center, with its multiple screens connected to all manner of digital information, rats-nest of cables which Norma Yvonne constantly threatens to cut and throw out, super-comfortable Ikea suspended chair and easy access to refrigerator, restroom and sleeping facilities.  Hence the iconic image of the unshaven, pajama-clad blogger burning the midnight oil. Many bloggers are comfortably into middle age.

Twitter, however, is a youngster’s game. It is out and around, not stogily baracaded in a basement bunker. It is done on iPhones and Blackberrys, in short frantic bursts, on the scene, furitively in crowds and meetings, on the fly, in the moment, and as such captures a different aspect of the cutting edge and a different slice of daily life than blogs. It produces different kinds of insights and thrills.

For example, this Twitter-related story came into the Dowbrigade Command Center this morning:

TORONTO (AP) – Police have charged the tour manager of the Black Eyed Peas with assault after he allegedly gave celebrity blogger Perez Hilton a black eye outside a Toronto nightclub.  Hilton, whose real name is Mario Lavandeira, complained about the incident on the microblogging site Twitter. He tweeted at 4 a.m.: “I am bleeding. Please, I need to file a police report. No joke.”

from the Associated Press

The Dowbrigade thinks he will stick to blogging. Actually leaving the Command Center is becoming increasingly dangerous. No joke.

Dead Invade the White House

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First Family
The surviving (and formerly feuding) members of the Grateful Dead had a secret impromptu meeting Monday evening with the man they credit with reuniting them: President Obama. The president welcomed all the members of The Dead, who are performing tonight at the Verizon Center in Washington, to the Oval Office just before dinner last night.

from the Washington Post

A transparent ploy to mesmerize baby boomers while social security evaporates and end-of-life care is made more cost effective.

First Female POTUS?

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Only four days into her reign as John McCain’s “soul mate,” or “Trophy Vice,” as some bloggers are calling her, on the ticket known as “Maverick Squared,” Palin, the governor of Alaska, has already accrued two gates (Troopergate and Broken-watergate), a lawyer (for Troopergate), a future son-in-law named Levi (a high school ice hockey player, described by New York magazine as “sex on skates”), and a National Enquirer headline about the “Teen Prego Crisis” with 17-year-old daughter Bristol.

from Todays NYTimes Maureen Dowd OpEd

And the French think they are so chic having a sex symbol as the WIFE of the President. With Sexy Sarah a chicken bone away from the Red Phone, we might all be in for a rootin’ tootin’ straight shootin’ surprise…..

How Many Million Cracks?

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WASHINGTON — Senator John McCain spent the summer arguing that a 40-something candidate with four years in major office and no significant foreign policy experience was not ready to be president.

And then on Friday he picked as his running mate a 40-something candidate with two years in major office and no significant foreign policy experience.

from the New York Times

Brilliant pick, from where the Dowbrigade is sitting. Undoubtedly McCain will pick up a hefty percentage of the women who took the collective dis of Hillary personally, and as an affront to women. Of course, this is a minority of all Hilliary supporters – those who supported her for ideological or purely practical reasons have shifted their support to the relatively benign Obama.

But among those true believers who feel that what ails the American body politic is an overdose of testosterone poisoning, voting for Palin, especially with a spectral John McCain growing older by the week and slumping at her side, is going to make sense. Hell, Vegas is probably giving even odds he doesn’t last out his first term. And there just might be enough of these sisters to sway a close election, which this is shaping up to be. As incredible as it may seem, the Democrats may somehow have found a way to blow another Big Game, in danger of becoming the Buffalo Bills of American Politics.

Hillary, despite all of her enthusiastic bombast, is obviously convinced Obama is doomed, and has plans for a triumphant told-you-so return to the stage in ’12. But now the Republicans, whether or not McCain is forced to make a one-term pledge, will have an experienced female QB on the bench, ready to go into the game to counter Hillary. A younger, prettier female coming off of four years of high-profile photo-ops. Brilliant.

Personally, experience has shown the Dowbrigade that women are better at just about everything than men, except Football and Writing. For some reason, almost all of our favorite football players and writers are men. Call us a chauvinist. But we have no doubt that women would do a much better job of running the world than men, not that it would be much of a challenge considering how we’ve bolloxed up the past 3,000 years through Patriarchial mismanagement.

On the other hand, this conviction could not induce us to vote for Condelezza Rice for President, for example, or Margaret Thatcher, or Sarah Palin for that matter. We knew Pinky Bhutto from Winthrop House dining hall, and we wouldn’t have voter for her either,  God rest her soul, even had we been born in Pakistan.

We are so over the Hill, we can’t even see her in the rear view mirror. Given that the Bill is yet to be paid, we’d have to say their race is run and their day is done. But we’ve been wrong before.

So who is the Dowbrigade supporting this time around? As we tell our students when they ask us this question, as a registered Massachusetts voter, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. Our electoral votes were signed sealed and delivered long ago. However, who one supports, especially as psuedo-pundit, can make a difference. The truth is we are waiting to see who the Natural Law Party nominates, now that John Hagelin is President of the United States Peace Government.

Stay tuned…..

Hillary Down But Not Out

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Now that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has crashed and burned in tatters and ashes, it seems an appropriate time to chime in with one of our patented, wrong-in-so- many-ways political predictions: Don’t Count Her Out Yet.

This may be but a brilliant subterfuge on the part of the Clinton Brain Trust, designed to let her candidacy fly under the radar for a few months before rising like a Phoenix in Denver to save her party, her political ass (that’s Bill), her marriage (Bill again) as well as to save her nation from four more years of this macho madness.

Remember that the Super Delegates can change their minds at any time up to the actual moment they cast their votes; that’s what makes them Super. And if no candidate wins an absolute majority on the first vote, they will keep voting until someone does. This could take a while.

Although multiple roll call votes, and the back room bargaining they engender, have been largely banned from the media-managed modern political conventions, there is no reason they could not make a comeback – the rules and traditions are still in place. During the longest nominating process in history, in 1880, James Garfield won the Republican nomination with 399 votes to 306 for U.S. Grant on the 35th ballot and after four exhausting days. As a delegate admitted, “It was the escape of a tired convention.”

So what could get those declared Super Delegates to undeclare and change their minds? Any one of a number of revelations, unexpected developments, world events or just plain fate could intervene. Any guesses as to the specific nature of these possibilities would be pure speculation and irresponsible journalism, but then, what are bloggers for?

The following ten headlines should not be construed as predictive or prejudiced against any particular candidate, but are merely intended as food for thought. Like the Dowbrigade, they are not in any way related to reality.

1. Michelle Obama Mud Wrestling Tapes Surface
6-week stint at NJ Hooters Recorded by Rugby Team

2. Obama Law School “Lost Weekend” Found
Ended on Lynn MA park bench, booked for indecent exposure

3. Southside Bouncer Claims Barack Sold Bunko Blow
Candidate reportedly middled deal for fake flake

4. Senate Race Obama CV Lists 3 CIA Fronts as References
Damning info removed before Presidential bid

5. Aide Asserts Obama Hides Father’s Koran Inside Bible Binding
Plans to take oath of office on Islamic Tome

6. Obama Makes Anti-Semitic Comment at B’nai B’rith Fete
Off-mike comment caught on cell-phone: “Who needs the damn Hebes, anyway?”

7. Obama Abducted by UFO on Camping Trip
Recounted incident in 1988 NPR interview

8. Obama Rent Paid by Banned Islamic Charity
Overseas support during ‘lean years’ as Chicago organizer

9. Teen Barack Organized Black Panther Chapter at Punahou High School
Only chapter in Hawaii included all three blacks at school

10. Obama Bigamy Alleged
Indonesian woman has proof she was “child bride” in arranged marriage

If nothing like this crops up spontaneously, we hope Hillary’s hordes have venom and expertise enough to whip something up, and plant it so it can’t be traced back to the Clintons. After all, if she can’t win dirty, she isn’t the politician we thought she was, and doesn’t deserve the top job after all.

But if a miracle can be manufactured, watch out. Hill’s been taking names for a while now, and those on the list better hope she’s down for the count.

Fantastic Finish Coming Right Up

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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — The contest with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton not quite over and the one with Senator John McCain not quite under way, Senator Barack Obama is floating somewhere between the two major phases of his long campaign — a political limbo that brought him to this Republican hamlet on the
night of a West Virginia primary he was expected to lose.

from the New York Times

The Democratic Party’s love affair with Barak Obama has hit a rough patch. Familiarity has not exactly bred contempt, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that the dew is off the rose and a lot of people don’t trust this guy as far as he can toss a bowling ball. Books will be written about the meteoric arc of the political career of Sen. Obama, but in the Big Book of Presidential History he is destined to be but a footnote.

We continue to maintain that the entire Obama candidacy, in fact his six-year ballistic rise from South Side obscurity, was a brilliantly devised plan by the Billary Brain Trust to create an extremely attractive but ultimately nonviable stalking horse to divert attention, support and funding from more (they thought) dangerous rivals.

For a variety of reasons this political science project went seriously out of control. For one, Barack proved elegant, graceful and silver-tongued to a degree almost forgotten in American politics, and completely novel to a majority of voters. Remember, 18-year-old first time voters in 1960 are 66 now. In addition, despite decades of spite and vitriol, the Clintons once again underestimated the depth of the visceral repugnance that Hillary inspires in a healthy segment of the population, including many in her own party. Finally, the millions of young Americans drawn into the political maelstrom for the first time during this election cycle are proving endearingly but frustratingly naive. They actually believe that the highfalutin rhetoric flowing from the B-man mean that he IS different from your average politician.

The sad truth is that Barack is one more in a long line of Democratic machine politicians, perhaps even more indebted to his corporate masters as a result of his seemingly miraculous ascendancy over pols with decades more experience and public servitude. The polished veneer starts to crack every time he has to play defense; the lofty phrases and sweet syntax evaporate and he becomes just another mealy-mouthed prevaricator trying to talk his way out of hot water.

Everybody but the Dowbrigade has already counted Hillary out, and that’s just the way she wants it. Contrary to popular belief, the protracted internecine warfare in the Democratic party is helping Hillary, the party and the American political system. How? Well, for Hillary, this kind of knock-down drag-out infighting is her bread and butter. She revels in the down and dirty of American politics, and in our opinion it’s about time the Dems got a candidate who knows how to land a good sucker punch in the clinch.

Whoever wins this thing is going to have to win it dirty, and in a no-holds-barred mud wrestling death match our money is on Hillary every time. Perhaps it is better for her that the Obama golem has run amok – after a rough blood sport matchup with Barack she will be even more ramped up than if she had emasculated him in a spring walk-over as originally planned. Kind of like the Red Sox beating the Yankees in the American League Championships and then blowing through the World Series.

Plus, the Democratic party benefits by the unceasing media spotlight focused on the race; McCain gets barely an obligatory mention on the evening news these days. Even when he does get some face time, he doesn’t know whom to attack. By keeping the situation up in the air as long as possible, the Dems present a moving target and confuse the enemy, like a football team that doesn’t know which opposing quarterback to prepare for.

Finally, the country benefits because, besides six months of gripping political drama, we are witnessing unprecedented engagement and activism by huge segments of the electorate who have been sitting on the sidelines for far too long, apathetic, disillusioned and convinced that nothing they do would have any effect on the way their country is run. Unfortunately, most of them are so starry eyed and gullible, not having had their eyes opened and their hearts ripped out by the likes of Teddy Kennedy, Thomas Eagleton, Gary Hart, Ross Perot, Michael Dukakis, Ralph Nader or Jerry Brown, that they are taking this newly repackaged Democratic shtick at face value.

Let’s hope these fools wake up before it’s too late. Let’s hope that Hillary’s feral nastiness and killer instinct discover a loose thread in the presumptive Emperor’s new clothes, because America needs a President who knows how to fight dirty. The world is indeed a Global Village these days, and its not a particularly nice neighborhood.

The bottom line is that Barack Obama is simply not ready for prime time. He has not been battle-tested, has not been in the line of fire, has not endured his trial by fire. He may one day face these trials and come out seasoned and secure, but leader of the free world is not the kind of gig you want someone working out the kinks in their act in.

Categorically renouncing a man he so recently referred to as his mentor and spiritual adviser indicates an individual in a major period of evolution and reorientation. As Groucho Marx famously said, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.

At least we know what Billary stands for…..

Dowbrigade Denies V.P. Rumors

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Barack Obama’s press conference this afternoon may have been the death knell of his ersatz presidential campaign, if not of his aspirations. In an ingenious twist in the script, by utilizing a surrogate as the scandal object, Obama can lose elegantly and remain a viable player in future electoral cycles. It’s nice he’s going quietly; he possesses a gentle grace rarely seen on the political stage. The Clinton’s scriptwriter (the Mastermind?) is to be commended; having their support-sapping surrogate undone by a surrogate of his own is both ironic and karmicly balanced.

The press conference was almost embarrassing. Although he handled his prepared statement fairly well, when the reporters began their aggressive questioning, he stopped speaking grammatical English and started wandering down twisted paths of hems and haws and”…umm, that is, I, or rather we, ummm, let me say this, that was not my intention…”

Everybody knows that kind of hesitant pussyfooting is prima facie evidence of guilt and moral vacillation. Your President can be as guilty as Lee Harvey Oswald, but you don’t want him or her looking or feeling guilty. And the last thing Americans want right now is a President experiencing the kind of moral vacillation or personal reorientation that renouncing ones Spiritual Advisor usually involves.

So, bye bye Barry and hello Hillary. The Clintons cut it close; they almost let this one get away from them. They clearly underestimated the speed and ferocity with which the ABC (Anyone But Clinton) forces aligned behind even as deeply flawed a candidate as Barack Obama. It is probably better for all concerned they managed to stop the runaway freight train before it crested the hill. Had Barry actually accumulated a majority of the delegates, the opposition would have had to resort to Plan Z to blow him out of the water, which probably would have involved large quantities of drugs, underage kinky sex, or similar evidence of moral turpitude, and from which resuscitation would have been unlikely..

Which brings us to the question of the day – who is going to be Hillary’s VP? Despite rumors to the contrary, the Dowbrigade is not in the running to adorn the Clinton ticket. Although we have no doubt we could bring sizable demographic support to the ticket (never underestimate the dingbat vote), after considerable divination and soul-searching we have concluded that those unsubstantiated rumors of our connections to white slavery rings and previous ayahuasca abuse have rendered us unelectable.

Which leaves a sorry field of party hacks, corporate sell-outs and career sycophants. Let us review the field.

Barack Obama – while his apparent graceful fade and considerable support would seemingly recommend him, and we can certainly see him on the stage in Denver with one arm around Hillary and the other around Bill, we don’t expect him to be the candidate. It would be the most unbalanced ticket in recent Democratic history; something for almost everybody to hate. The problem is that people hate Hillary and Barack for different reasons, so if you add together all of the people who can’t stand one or the other you have built an electoral majority.

No, what Hillary needs is a nice stable adult white male, a jocular, reassuring Daddy or Granddaddy figure to inspire confidence and buff down some of her sharp edges. Someone who makes voter’s say, “Well, if Hillary shits the bed we can always impeach her like her old man and bring in good old Frothington.” But who can play the role convincingly?

John Edwards – as an affable Southern gentleman who could deliver a valuable demographic and geographic segment, he would seem to be a prime candidate, and he is obviously interested (why else has he not endorsed anyone yet). However, we have a hard time seeing Hillary picking someone prettier than her. Think how bad it would look on all of the posters and campaign buttons.

Bill Richardson – our personal favorite with the requisite affable, reassuring personality and a demo-geo-graphic contribution to make, but it appears that Hillary already has the demo (Hispanics) part locked up, and she hates redundancy.

Al Gore – the surprise pick of the litter is actually the logical choice for a number of reasons; he hits the same southern gentleman note as Edwards but is not as pretty, he has proven he can do the job (and be an effective and loyal Clinton consigliere), and has given every indication he enjoys a lifestyle with a high profile, little real work, and an endless series of dinners and banquets. Those who say he has lost the lust for politics underestimate the addictive allure of the Big House, dwarfing anything a dynamite baron can offer.

Of course, she could always go the other way, and select someone so scary that all potential usurpers would give serious pause before proceeding. Someone like, say, one of the Jesses (Jackson or Ventura) or Barney Frank. If she’s got the goods on John McCain like she has on Obama, she may just go that route.

The Last Days of Barack Obama

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The demolition of the Obama phenomena is now well underway, and the only matters remaining to be resolved are timing, deniability and how far the destruction needs to go.


Meanwhile, the denouement of Act One must be accomplished with pathos, transcendence and redemption. After unbelievable trials and tribulations, beat up and counted out more times than Rocky, the future Queen Hillary will in the climatic scene be transformed from Plucky Pauper to Proud Princess.

In the process, the comeuppity knight will be vanquished to his subservient domain by an onslaught of trials and misfortunes. Reverend Wright and the “bitter” imbroglio are merely love taps compared to the barrage of insinuation, inuendo and incriminating evidence which will appear between now and the convention. How far it will go depends on Obama himself and whether he hopes to salvage a future in the Democratic Party, as well as on how much sleaze it takes for the American public to decide they’d better take a pass on this guy, at least for now.

We all know that Hillary’s hit team has a lot more ammunition in the armory. Barack Obama is running up against one of the signature conundrums of the media age; anybody interesting and inspirational enough to make a good President has probably done something which, were it widely known, would disqualify him or her from winning a national election.

Clearly, Obama is not alone in having transgressed in his youth. John McCain was reportedly a wild man as a hot-shot fighter pilot, and even Dubya has admitted to having had a drinking problem and at least trying other “substances” in his admittedly misspent youth. The only exception to this norm seems to be Hillary, who has apparently been fastidiously circumspect in all of her actions since she decided she wanted to be President at age 11.

But Obama admits to having been a regular user of pot and blow, and has the unfortunate burden of having grown up in the electronic generation. This means that somewhere out there there is a photograph, or a video, or a tape recording of Obama doing some bad things with some bad people. During his college years the Ivy league campuses were awash in drugs of every description and provenence. During his years as a community organizer in the South Side of Chicago the streets were awash in a kaleidoscopic variety of groups, cults, angels and devils. If his Pastor was damning America, one shudders to think what his more profane associates were saying.

It’s not that we think that Clinton staffers are locked in a secret research center pouring over ancient video and tracking down old Obama homeboys to gather dirty tidbits. We are convinced they already have the goods, and have had them for quite some time.

All that remains to be resolved are timing, deniability and how much ammo needs to be used. In politics, as in baseball and sex, timing is everything. Obama has shown an amazing resiliency, and if a bomb is dropped too early its effects could pass before the convention. We expect a gradual cascade of escalating mini-scandals will be the most effective.

Of course, none of these scandals can be traced back to the Clinton campaign or the effects could backfire. In this day of electronic trails and millions of nosy bloggers anonymous leaks are harder to achieve, but not impossible. Plus, Hillary does a credible “Who, me?”

Finally, a lot depends on when Obama sees the writing on the wall and slides back into line. If he does so before the really heavy artillery is brought out he can salvage his career and his image and probably nail down a cabinet post in the Clinton administration. If not, he goes the way of Gary Hart and Thomas Eagleton.

The scriptwriters’ idea is to reconcile in the final scene of Act One, to gather together all of the new voters energized by both campaigns, to mobilize the fundraisers and the canvassers and the bloggers and to march forward to face the Evil Warlord in Act Two. Like a hit network TV show this script was written long ago, yet we sit rapt, week by week, and watch the story unfold.

If you think this part is good, just wait for sweeps week.

Growing Up Retarded

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Anyone who has been to the supermarket lately (which means everyone except the very rich and Presidential candidates) is aware of what is happening with food prices. Even with weekly specials, manufacturers coupons and heavy reliance on store brands, $80 just doesn’t fill the larder like it used to.

While the average American is beginning to react to the pinch of rising food prices by choosing a cheaper cut of steak or a budget bottle of wine to accompany it, for the hundreds of millions of human beings living dangerously close to the starvation line, the adjustment is nothing short of catastrophic.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) keeps tabs on world food prices, and they have determined that in 2007 their Global Food Price Index surged a shocking 40%. For a significant percentage of the people on the planet, struggling to rise from abject poverty and partake of the tantalizing promise of Globalization, this abrupt increase amounts to a death sentence for them, and most significantly, for their children.

According to the UN, of the current 6.1 billion inhabitants of our orb, almost 1 billion, or one thousand million people, are trapped between the poverty line and the starvation line. These are people so poor that they or their childred were going to bed hungry at least 3 or 4 times a week. And that was before food prices went up 40%.

These people were just barely keeping their heads above the water. Now the water has gone up three feet.

Not having enough food to eat, or access to clean water and a balanced diet, does much more than send people to bed on an empty stomach. People without enough food are weak, lethargic and depressed. They are unable to work hard, hold jobs, go to school or look for work. They are susceptible to myriad diseases and conditions brought on or exacerbated by inadequate diet.

The effects are not limited to the physical, either. Chronic hunger causes personality disintegration, depression, apathy, neglect, uncontrollable outbreaks of anger and violence and a breakdown of law and order. Who among us, faced with returning empty-handed to a hovel in a slum to face the tear-stained faces of our children slowly dying of starvation would not consider desperate measures, robbing, rioting or even strapping on a suicide vest in a last, desperate gesture of rage and despair?

Cruelly, it is the most innocent who suffer the worst. Anthropologists have found that while adults can survive a period of inadequate nutrition with a little weight loss and wasting from which they later recover, children under the age of five who pass through a similar period suffer permanent mental and physical retardation. This means their IQ’s, their stature, their physical strength and health, will all be limited to 75-80% of what they would normally be.

This is not a new phenomena, but with the increase in food prices it will soon be endemic around the world. Vast regions, entire countries, even continents will be struggling along with the majority of their surviving populations suffering from extreme retardation. Their geniuses will just have average intelligence, and the normal people will be, well, slow. How can they be expected to compete in the increasingly competitive and cutthroat global marketplace?

And all of those retarded people will be hungry, and desperate, and resentful of the waste and opulence that they can see daily on television; today even the poorest of the poor have access to televised images. Shanty towns sprout forests of antennas – even tiny villages in the Amazon or the Himalayas or the Australian Outback have one or two screens. Television has become the true opiate of the people.

And these hungry huddled masses, the wretched refuse trapped on those teeming shores, will prove fertile ground for extremist sects, violent religions and messianic leaders, and poor candidates for good neighbors or democratic allies.

The problem is extreme and immediate, and will not get better soon. The factors causing the sudden run up of food prices – fuel and fertilizer costs, bad weather caused by climate change, growing population and competition for arable land – will not abate in our lifetimes.

The ultimate irony is that we already have the space and the know-how to feed the entire population of the planet until and after the global population stabilizes, which most experts feel would happen if everyone had access to education and economic opportunity. It is simply a problem of priorities and distribution of available resources.

The Dowbrigade feels strongly that this is the only road to a happy ending to the troubled history of the human race. There exists a solution to the Malthusian dilemma, but only through fully developing our human potential all over the planet. Statistically speaking, there is an Einstein alive somewhere right now, and a da Vinci and an Aristotle and a Mahatma Gandhi.

But if they have the bad luck to be born in the half of the world that is growing up retarded, together with billions of others, then we don’t stand a chance.

Last Man Standing – Hillary!

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Although we saw straight through the Obama phenomena when we first met the man four years ago, there are several heartening aspects to his runaway popularity. Even though he hasn’t a Kibbutznik’s chance in Sadr City of winning the nomination, he is undeniably drawing new interest, enthusiasm and participation from quarters customarily quiessent during past political campaigns.

First, he has mesmerized the public largely on the basis of the kind of soaring political retoric which hasn’t been heard in these parts since at least the Presidency of JFK. The succession of mangle-mouthed speachifiers who followed Kennedy has been all the more disappointing given the inspiring history of American political rhetoric.

Since Thomas Jefferson penned the lines “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certainunalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” the bar has been set pretty high on the English eloquence scale. Over the centuries Lincoln, Monroe, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and Kennedy, to name a few, have contributed to the tradiition of elegant and enduring language. Hell, even Woodrow Wilson said “The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of the bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy.”

Some will argue that slick speechwriters, focus groups, reaction polling, tele-prompters and speech coaches have emasculated modern political speach, but one need go no further than our friends in Latin America to find that good, old-fashioned barn-burning political rhetoric is alive and well in other parts of the world. We once saw Peruvian President Alan Garcia hold a crowd captivated for over two hours, make them laugh, cry, shout in anger and piss in their pants, followed by four hours of drunken reveling featuring spontaneous copycat speechifying by the audience and semi-nude conga lines of painted native dancers.

Barack hasn’t reached those heights quite yet, but his ability to move people with words holds out hope that inspirational political rhetoric is not a lost art in this country.

Another key element in the early tsunami of support for the Obama candidacy was the shocking realization that after 40 years of chumming around the Democratic Party, Hillary has become just another party hack.

We are sure that in those halcyon days when Hillary was a Wellesley rebel she was convinced that on her quest to become the first female president she was going to change the political system from within. However, in America today, and for the past hundred and fifty years, there are only two roads to the White House – one goes through the Democratic Party and the other goes through the Republican Party.

Now, those roads are lined with the running dogs of party politics, grasping lobbyist hands, thinly veiled temptations, unlimited lines of credit, whispered promises and threats and a thousand varieties of unctious slime which drip and leak and adhere annoyingly to all who travel that path. Hillary has been on this road for an awful long time and we all know that if you lie down long enough with dogs like these, you get up with rabies.

What voters are showing is a rejection of the depressing partisan baggage that comes standard on machine politicians from both parties these days. What they are just starting to realize is that Barack Obama is being rolled out of that same corporate factory, with the same brand allegiances, as his competition. He is just a newer model for a newer generation.

We sat down with Obama when he met with a group of bloggers at the 2004 Democratic Convention, and it was immediately obvious that he didn’t “get it”. We asked him a question about New Media and he thought we were talking about Fox News. He’s just trying to sing a hip-hop version of Sinatra’s “My Way”, and although he’s got a nice voice, the tune is tired.

The public’s visceral rejection of party politics, reflected in the historically low poll numbers garnished by Congress lately, brings tears to our eyes, both because it validates our faith in the instinctual political wisdom of Americans and because it is doomed to be dashed by the eventual exposure of Obama as the same old obsolete product in a slick new package.

Americans are grasping for something new on the political scene like a drowning man grasping for a life preserver. Unfortunately, the life preserver they have embraced is sinking like a stone. Barack Obama is a made-to-order update on the traditional major party politician mold, but he’s not ready for prime time. His campaign has reached its high water mark and is now withering under the unrelenting and unforgiving scrutiny of the all-seeing media eye.

Geraldine Ferraro was only half-way there. Barack Obama not only would not have gotten so far had he not been black, he would not have gotten so far if the cupola of white men running the Democratic Party had not had a firm hand on his throttle and a few kill switches build into the system as well. The unmerciful exposure of his spiritual advisor is but the latest brick in a wall of unelectability being build between Barack and an increasingly disillusioned public. By August he’ll be lucky to get past security in Denver.

Obama has done his job, played his role, and hopefully can be recycled in a form leaving him serviceable for future electoral dramas. After four years of meticulously laid plans, venomous in-fighting, double-crossing, arm twisting, back stabbing subterfuge and cynicism from the heavyweights of the Democratic Party, there is just one candidate left.

It has come down to the last man standing, and that man is – Hillary Clinton!

We couldn’t make this stuff up – but somebody did.

The Unfolding Narrative of Queen Hillary

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Queen HillaryHillary believers need not fear. The Obama phenomena has reached its high tide mark right on cue, and the froth and spray are starting to ebb. Just as scripted by her consort the Master Planner, the Warrior Princess will emerge, bloodied but unbowed, battle-tested and triumphant, to claim her rightful place on the throne.

At some inevitable point in the next few months, the gallant young knight-errant will step to center stage, deliver a moving and inspirational silioquy, and kneel before his leige to pledge his sword and his loyalty for the battle ahead. The major remaining incognitos, in our mind, are the new Queen’s choice for a second-in-command, and the location of the prestigeous fiefdom from whence the defeated loyal knight will serve the resurgent dynasty.

A few weeks ago we were wondering if the Clintons would be able to finesse the endgame or would need to resort to the self-destruct button on their Obamadroid. We should have had more faith in the Master Planner. Whatever their Ace in the Hole was – and it is certain that the powers controlling the Democratic Party would not have brought this loquations young man so far so fast without a kill switch – we won’t be seeing it anytime soon.

Instead of a scandalous misstep like those which aborted the campaigns of Edmund Muskie, Ted Kennedy or Gary Hart, we will probably see a series of minor miscalculations, insinuations, denied rumors and critical press like that which has emerged in the past few days.

These moves are designed to erode Obamamania just enough to let Hillary play the comeback kid one more time while retaining Obama as a viable asset in future electoral cycles. After all, the party superstructure (aka The League of Super Delegates) has a lot of time and money invested in their boy Obama by now, and it would be a shame to have to blow him up at this stage of the game.

Why would the Democrats want to go through this long, drawn out drama if they could possibly avoid it? The conventional wisdom says that McCain and the Republicans have a major advantage having settled on a candidate four months before their convention while the Democrats are still battling it out. As usual, the conventional wisdom is hogwash.

What do you think the Press is going to cover if John McCain is attending fund raisers and giving the same tired speech over and over again to groups of rich white donors while Hillary and Barack are barnstorming across the country speaking in Baptist Churches and Barrio rec centers and college campuses, chasing every demographic slice of the American Pie and trading punches like the Red Sox and Yankees in a 51-game World Series? Which narrative will capture the public imagination?

Because what politics in America has come down to in the Media Age is a competition between narratives. Which storyline will the public buy into? John McCain has a compelling narrative with the whole tiger cage, Maverick Senator thing, and it sure would feel good, on one level, to have a real American hero as President once again. It’s been a while. How can the Dems come up with a narrative to top that?

During the past two election cycles, the Democrats cynically underestimated the American predilection for smaltzy melodrama and patriotic vitriol, and the Republicans were able to impose the righteous reformed slacker Bush narrative on an insecure and wounded public. This time the Clinton brain trust, Howard Dean and the economic interests behind them are determined not to get robbed again on the crucial stage of media-fueled myth-making.

So they have crafted, for our viewing pleasure, an exquisite, astute and inspirational saga of struggle and triumph, of emancipation and empowerment, of patient perseverance rewarded and past injustices avenged. It’s gonna have action, it’s gonna have tear-jerking dialog, it’s gonna have mondo suspense, and its gonna have a happy ending. For its authors.

If everything goes according to plan, its gonna fill up the front pages of America and the world, and keep the voters enthralled until its dramatic denouement in July, when the Warrior Princess is crowned and the loyal knights line up to pledge to the cause and prepare for the final battle against the forces of evil in November.

Simply brilliant. Like a well-scripted television series, even though we all but certain of the eventual outcome, we can’t wait to watch each episode unfold.

The only questions remaining, in the Dowbrigade’s mind at least, are who Hillary will select as a running mate and what role she has reserved for the soon-to-be tamed Obama. Readers may have surmised that we don’t think much of the chance she’ll select Obama himself; despite the superficial advantages this would produce a deeply unbalanced ticket bound to tick off just about any group on some level.

What Hillary needs is an experienced older white guy from the South with enough Gravitas that a certain segment of the voting public will reason, “Well, if she really fucks up or goes rabid, we can always impeach the bitch and fall back on good old Chumley…” This may be enough to close the deal for the few percentage points worth of wavering liberals necessary to put her over the top.

We’ll deal with these ancillary questions in a future posting.