Archive for the ‘In the news’ Category

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Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination brings out subtle racism everywhere

May 26, 2009

President Obama announced his appointment of Sonia Sotomayor for the ninth seat on the Supreme Court bench yesterday morning, setting the interwebs and the cable news pundits on fire with something big to talk about all day.

Stuart Taylor at the National Journal is right in pointing out that this nomination is extremely shrewd because it puts the Republican Party in a tight spot. If they criticize Sotomayor for the things they most want to attack her for, they risk further branding themselves as the party of old white men. If they don’t attack her aggressively, they risk giving a victory to Obama and further weakening the party.

After Obama’s announcement, what followed was almost boringly predictable: all the news today has been dominated by talk about her race and gender. And though she was only nominated about 12 hours ago, her nomination has already brought race to the forefront of the public discourse — a topic we all normally like to avoid for the sake of our own comfort levels. Better to pretend race doesn’t exist, right? Right. Except now, it suddenly exists, more than ever. The fact that she grew up in the Bronx projects but graduated summa cum laude from Princeton and Yale Law School doesn’t exist, but the fact that she’s a Latina woman definitely does exist.

For instance:

–Glenn Beck says Sotomayor is a racist! (Does anyone else besides me see the irony in the fact that a panel of three white men are discussing whether Sotomayor is racist towards white men?)

–Senator James Inhofe thinks Sotomayor might allow ‘undue influence because of her own personal race and gender‘! (Oh my god, you’re right, because she’s a LATINA WOMAN and her opinions might be different from those of WHITE MEN, she’s automatically a bad judge) 

–Mike Huckabee calls her Maria  Sotomayor. Well, you know, all those brown people have such similar names. 

–Even Politico, however inadvertent, falls prey to some good old-fashioned racial stereotypes.

–The conservative Judicial Confirmation Network whines that “in Sotomayor’s court, the content of your character is not as important as the colour of your skin.”  That’s not a hypocritical statement to make about a minority judge at ALL…

The underlying assertion in all these subtle, or not so subtle, criticisms Sotomayor is that her race and gender make her less qualified to be a Supreme Court justice, because her race and gender might affect her decisions. Thus, following that logic, we should only pick jurists who don’t have any race or gender to cloud their decisions.

You mean to tell me white men are raceless and genderless and completely neutral? Why didn’t someone tell me that before?!

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The mainstream media ignored Delara Darabi. New media didn’t.

May 2, 2009

Early Friday morning in Tehran, 23-year-old Delara Darabi was executed in the Rasht prison in Iran for a crime that happened when she was 17. Human rights groups had been protesting and trying to save her from execution for months, since it is a violation of international law to execute anyone for a crime that occurred when they were a minor. Despite the protests, Iranian authorities executed her on Friday with no notice.

What is perhaps the saddest part of her story, however, is that the mainstream, traditional news media did not report the story at all. A Google News search on Delara Darabi revealed, as of late last night, a total of ZERO mainstream US news stories. The only stories about Delara as of last night were from Iranian and international sources, blogs, and human rights groups.

Today, the mainstream media started to pick up on it, with stories from the Los Angeles Times, BBC, United Press International, New York Times, and a few others. Still, at the time of writing this post there are only 206 news stories about Delara Darabi’s unjust execution. By comparison, there are currently 762 news stories about Matthew McConaughey, and 7,078 news stories about Arlen Specter.

So, how, you might ask, did word of the story first break? Who reported it first? The answer is: Darabi’s execution was first reported on Twitter. And then the first media outlet to pick up the story was none other than the epitome of new media, BreakingTweets.com, a news site which reports stories from around the world using Twitter for breaking news. BreakingTweets isn’t run by seasoned news pros, either — its founder and head is Craig Kanalley, a twentysomething journalism grad student trying to revolutionize the way we get our news, through the use of new media.

Breaking Tweets was paying attention to the Delara Darabi story, and they reported it more than a full 24 hours before the mainstream media.

Delara Darabi’s story should be seen as a case study of some of the challenges with our media system as it stands today:

Ethnocentrism still reigns supreme: stories with an “American” angle – like the imprisonment of American journalist Roxana Saberi in Iran – are more important than similar stories, like Delara Darabi’s, without the American angle. With Roxana Saberi, international media attention has been fierce — and because of that, so has international pressure on Iranian authorities. Had Delara Darabi had that kind of attention, she could have had a very different fate. But she didn’t get that attention – because she’s not American.

And new media won major points. Old media types who rail against new media, such as NYT’s Maureen Dowd and Matt Bai, who spent last week complaining about Twitter, should take note: the New York Times was shamefully far, far behind Twitter and new media in picking up this story.

Where are our media’s priorities? What is driving them to choose to write 7000+ of the same stories on Arlen Specter, and almost nothing about the international law-violating execution of an innocent young Iranian woman?

Perhaps it is because human rights stories just don’t sell as much as stories about high-intensity partisan clashes or Hollywood actors. Human rights stories, particuarly world news, may sell less copies or bring in few page views. But news isn’t supposed to be about the profit motive — it’s supposed to be about educating and informing the masses about the world around them. If the press is to act as an arbiter of what is news, they should be reporting on what matters, rather than more banal stories about the White House puppy or Michelle Obama’s garden.

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Why Congress NEEDS to be tweeting

April 29, 2009

claire-mccaskill-twitterA few months back I started writing a post questioning whether members of Congress really need to be Tweeting. Especially if their Tweets are particularly snarky. That post, like about 75% of the posts I start writing, never saw the light of day because I never completed that idea.

But then last week Matt Bai of the New York Times slammed politicians who use Twitter, most notably Senator Claire McCaskill. “The capital might be a better place if it became a Twitter-free zone,” Bai wrote, “a city where people spent more time talking to the guy serving the coffee and less time informing the world that the coffee had, in fact, been served.”

Then Senator McCaskill responded on her Tumblr blog (really, she has a Tumblr, which is worth noting in and of itself): “I tweet an average of 4 to 5 times a day.  This has become a welcome discipline for me in Washington. As I am walking to a hearing, or riding the tram over for a vote, I think of what I want to tell the folks at home about my work or life. This, I believe, is a fairly decent way to stay connected. After all, I’m in Washington to work for them and this process reminds me of it several times a day.

Senator McCaskill was also on a panel last week at the Politics Online conference in Washington, which I was fortunate enough to attend (thanks to the wonderful Julie Germany). On the panel, she and three other Members of Congress discussed how they use Twitter to stay connected with their constituents. All of them manage their own Twitter accounts and love the direct connection it gives them to the people — without reporters or communications staff in between them. All of them also read all their replies – they may not have time to respond to everything, but they read them, and it gives them an important window into the minds of their constituents, allowing them to know what the people are thinking.

The Members of Congress on the panel also talked about the frustrations they have run into sometimes in dealing with the other hundreds of Members of Congress who are not using Twitter and other new media tools to communicate with their constituents. Most elected officials haven’t gotten on the new media train yet. Most of them still don’t see the value in it. It’s not unlike the general population really — most normal people still don’t get the value of Twitter, either.

Bai also complains about other politicians, like Craig Fugate, the head of FEMA, who recently tweeted:

craig-fugate-twitter

To which Bai responded in his article: “Which kind of makes you wonder: if the head of FEMA feels that disoriented buying a latte near the White House, what’s going to happen during a tornado?”

But Bai, and the other old media types like him who won’t stop complaining about how Washington is all a-twitter, don’t really get it. Elected officials may be elected officials, but they’re human beings too – and were chosen by the people to run our government. That doesn’t make them any less human, and the beauty of new media is that you get unfiltered access to these politicians and get to feel more connected to them. They step out from behind the curtain of press secretaries and communications staff and mainstream media and give you direct, unfiltered access to them.

So what if the head of FEMA had a stressful morning? Being the head of FEMA doesn’t mean you don’t experience the same normal moments that average people experience, or that you’re any less human than them. Hiding those moments behind a curtain isn’t productive, nor does it give people any more confidence that you can do your job better when there’s a tornado. And anyone who expects politicians to operate with secrecy rather than transparency is suggesting something ridiculous, as Bai does.

But politicians using Twitter are informing their constituents of what they’re doing in Congress (and why), provoking policy discussions, and most importantly, listening to what their constituents are saying and using that feedback as they continue their work in Congress. I’d say that’s a pretty good case for why every member of Congress should be getting on the new media train.

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Quick Hit: Who CARES if Susan Boyle gets a makeover or not?

April 24, 2009

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A friend of mine just tweeted: “Susan Boyle gets a makeover. At last.” And then linked to this article. It’s a piece of crap, for many reasons. But I want this to be a short post with one main point, so I’m only going to highlight the most important thing. The article talks about how Susan Boyle has now died her hair, and got new, supposedly more fashionable, clothes.

“Susan Boyle, the frumpy “Britain’s Got Talent” sensation, has had a makeover. Boyle, 47, dyed her tangled gray hair a rich brown, and ditched her “drab dresses” for more fashionable attire. It’s heartwarming to see that having the opportunity to share her “beautiful voice” with millions has given Boyle new enthusiasm for life.” [emphasis mine]

When exactly did changing your looks to conform more to society’s standards of beauty become the same as a “new enthusiasm for life”? I’m not faulting Susan Boyle if she felt pressure to change her looks. Lord knows no one can talk about her WITHOUT talking about her looks. But I am faulting society for basing a woman’s worth, or at least part of it, on her looks. It doesn’t matter, apparently, how talented you are, unless you at least somewhat fit the description of what society thinks a woman should look like. No one is talking about Susan Boyle’s voice without simultaneously  talking about her looks and how “frumpy” or “drab” she is. It’s sending the message that her talent isn’t worth anything unless she were better looking.

I know I’m going to get at least a couple comments saying, but it’s not bad to be more attractive if she wanted to update her look. No, it’s not. But it is bad that everyone is judging Susan Boyle – and her worth – based in part on her looks, rather than JUST on her talent. Her looks shouldn’t matter, people.

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The real problem with Betty Brown: words matter

April 12, 2009

Side note: I have this whole post brewing about the US, Israel, and the UN Human Rights Council, that I’m excited about but haven’t finished. It kind of demands more thorough research and long-form writing than is suited for blogging, so I haven’t gotten around to it. Maybe some time this week.

Today, though, I want to put in my two cents about this Betty Brown business. For those of you who haven’t already heard of Betty Brown, she is a previously unknown Republican lawmaker from the state of Texas who got her 15 minutes of fame last week when shemade some seriously inflammatory remarks about how Asian-Americans should change their names to make them “easier for Americans to deal with.” I kid you not. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the video of her madness.

Upon hearing initial reactions to her statements, Brown, dismissed them, saying Democrats are “trying to make it all about race.” Um, I think she made it about race when she made all her ignorant statements. Anyways, she has since apologized, but only in part. She has apologized for suggesting Asian Americans change their names — but she hasn’t apologized for suggesting that Asian Americans aren’t American. Specifically when she says:

“Do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here.

“Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for both you and for people who are pollworkers, if there were some means by which you could adopt a name just for your poll identification purposes that would be easier for the Americans to deal with?”

That kind of language, and ignorance, is the REAL problem here. The problem is the fact that Brown still subscribes to the antiquated, racist notion that Asian Americans are The Other and are not real “Americans.”

In 2009, I would think most people would have caught on to the fact that the meaning of American is no longer white, blue-eyed, and blond, but far more diverse than that. It seems some of our lawmakers still haven’t clued in to that, however.

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Quick Hit: The Afghan Rape Law

April 6, 2009

I just want to share briefly how saddened I am by a new Afghanistan law commonly known now as the “Afghan Rape Law.” This law, passed just a few days ago, was called “abhorrent” by President Obama. Basically, it legalizes rape of a woman by her husband. From Think Progress:

“As long as the husband is not traveling, he has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night,” Article 132 of the law says. “Unless the wife is ill or has any kind of illness that intercourse could aggravate, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband.”

The law would also force women to get their spouses’ permission before leaving the house, looking for a job, going to the doctor or receiving education.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), said the law “legalizes the rape of a wife by her husband. … The law violates women’s rights and human rights in numerous ways.”

The good news is, after substantial international outcry Afghani president Hamid karzai has agreed to “review” the law. However, he still argues the law has been “misinterpreted” by the West. Really? Seems pretty clear to me.