Archive for the ‘Blogs and the NetRoots’ Category

Gitell.com Says Goodbye

February 8, 2009

I write today with the bittersweet news that I am suspending my primary writing outlet for more than two years, Gitell.com. This website served as an eclectic collection of musings and reporting, on subjects ranging from the 2008 presidential campaign to Middle East politics, great deli to Chinese food.

In the world of blogging such a diverse website is not supposed to succeed. I received my share of lectures from web experts urging me to narrowcast. I shouldn’t just write about pets or cats or black cats, they said, but one-eyed black cats. That was how I could hope to wring money out of the media at a time of transformation and retrenchment, they said. I never heeded that advice. The site fit into no existing blogosphere community – an all but certain way to boost website traffic. I never wanted to generate gruel for the ideologically converted. No. Gitell.com will stand as the repository of quirky interests of a person with plenty of passions.

I’m particularly proud of the response Gitell.com gained in a number of areas. My writing on veterans’ affairs, influenced by my father, garnered a constant stream of visitors. See this piece on the Vietnam War Memorial. Then, there were the pieces I thought of as the web equivalent of a Boston Globe metro column: for example, the story of my neighbor, a witness to the Warsaw Ghetto horror, himself taken to Germany as a slave laborer after participating in the little-remembered Warsaw revolt. Then there are my writings on the people who helped forge the political character of Boston, such as Albie Sherman and Charlie Doyle. And, of course, food. I’ll probably miss that the most.

It’s a tribute to the site and the brilliance of the great departed John Cazale that a post about him is the fourth-most trafficked piece in the history of Gitell.com.

As much as Gitell.com ran contrary to the flow of conventional web thinking, it won more than its fair share of of acclaim and recognition. The site was linked to by Politico and Slate, The New Republic and other sites. My piece on encountering documentarian Ken Burns at Costco was quoted in the print edition of The Washington Post. Another post was excerpted on the op-ed page of The Boston Globe. Amidst the more than 205,000 blogs associated with WordPress, Gitell.com was selected “Blog of the Day” and “Hawt Post” on a number of occasions.

All-in-all, it was a great run. I’m moving on to a terrific opportunity. To all my readers, I thank you for your loyalty and support. Farewell.

EDIT. February 10, 2009. Many have written asking about my new coordinates. The State House News Service reported today that I have joined the new Speaker of the House in Massachusetts, Rep. Robert DeLeo, as his director of communications.

Advertisements

More RNC Ad Comment

July 31, 2008

When I linked to the RNC’s first parody ad attacking Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin, I wasn’t sure how much buzz it was going to generate. Now with the second ad, which makes the far more outlandish analogy between Obama and Britney Spears, the Republicans are defining the dialogue.

The GOP ought to be particularly careful with Spears. In one of her last state’s of quasi-coherence, Spears espoused political rhetoric as simple-minded as George W. Bush. Remember this famous interview. (“Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision that he makes and we should just support that, you know, and be faithful in what happens. “)

With that said, the recent ads demonstrate three things. First, it’s possible that even financially-strapped Republicans can use web tools, such as Youtube, to get a message out. It’s odd seeing the Republicans take momentum online heretofore the home to the powerful liberal NetRoots. Second, for all the talk of John McCain not knowing anything about the web, the people around him are struggling mightily to catch up. In the vacuum left by mainstream comedians who have been reluctant to poke fun at Obama, the RNC attempt at humor has a more open playing field.

James Webb and Obama’s Scots-Irish Problem

May 19, 2008

Jim Webb courtesy of NBC

Now that Josh Marshall has outlined Barack Obama’s political problem with the Scots-Irish, the table has been set for the solution: James Webb. Webb, who appeared yesterday on Meet the Press pushing a new book would blunt some of Obama’s political weaknesses. Webb also supplied the cover story for the highly read but buzz-free Parade Magazine yesterday.

Marshall argues in a sharp post, which reflects his background as a Phd in history, that Obama’s inability to win in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia stemmed, in part, from long-standing tensions between Appalachian highlanders and lowlanders. Marshall explains: “These regions were settled disproportionately by Scots-Irish immigrants who pushed into the hill country to the west in part because that’s where the affordable land was but also because they wanted to get away from the more stratified and inegalitarian society of the east which was built by English settlers and their African slaves. Crucially, slavery never really took root in these areas. And this is why during the Civil War, Unionism (as in support for the federal union and opposition to the treason of secession) ran strong through the Appalachian upcountry, even into Deep South states like Alabama and Mississippi.”

Enter Mr. Scots-Irish, Webb, who is the author of a popular history of the Scots-Irish in America, “Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America.” Webb reclaims the Scots-Irish identity in the book:

“This people gave our country great things…It’s bloodlines have flowed in the veins of at least a dozen presidents, and in many of our greatest soldiers. It created and still perpetuates the most distinctly American form of music. It is imbued with a unique and unforgiving code of personal honor, less ritualized but every bit as powerful as the samurai code. It’s legacy is broad, in many ways defining the attitudes and values of the military, of working-class America, and even of the peculiarly populist form of American democracy itself.”

Webb, like his fellow Scots-Irish counterpart John McCain, famously graduated from Annapolis and served in Vietnam. Should Webb end up on the ticket, it would be ironic that McCain blurbed his book. “James Webb, a legendary fighting man, tells a remarkable story — how the Scots-Irish and their fighting faith in America shaped the great nation we are today,” McCain wrote back before Webb was a senator or even a candidate for the senate. “His profound insights deepen our understanding not only of this unique people, but also of America’s past and present.”

And future, it could be added, if Marshall is correct in his Appalachian hypothesis. But for the fact that Webb is even more junior in the senate than Obama — albeit carrying strong military credentials — he would be a logical running mate for the Illinois senator.

Biden Opens Up About Pakistan, His Presidential Rivals, and Money

August 16, 2007

Joseph Biden

Remember the angry exchange between Senators Obama, Dodd and Clinton about Pakistan at the AFL-CIO debate last week. Joe Biden tells me his three colleagues missed the point: America’s policy has been to target al Qaeda figures in Pakistan!

“The reason I was surprised by what not only Senator Obama said, but what Senator Clinton said and Senator Dodd said, is that all three of them seemed to be arguing about something that they didn’t know already existed. It is the policy of the United States of America, it has been the policy for the last five years; if there’s actionable intelligence relating to bin Laden or Al Qaeda, that we would move, assuming we’re able to move, against him,” Mr. Biden said. “The part that surprised me was the lack of knowledge about this and the idea that you wouldn’t take action if you knew where bin Laden was.”

Mr. Biden added that Mr. Obama’s proposal to make American aid to Pakistan conditional on progress in fighting Al Qaeda is already in legislation. Mr. Biden drafted an amendment to a bill passed by Congress in July and awaiting the signature of President Bush. “That’s the Biden-Lantos amendment,” Mr. Biden said. “It exists now, so the thing that startled me was the fact that here these three people are arguing about whether we should go in or not go in or how to go in, the first thing that surprised me is it took so long for them to focus on Pakistan. I’ve been talking about Pakistan and this since I went into Afghanistan as the first American in there since the Taliban came down in 2001.”

Read more here.

GITELL.COM EXCLUSIVE BONUS CONTENT

Why Biden, in his view, is a better presidential candidate than Clinton? “I think I am much better positioned to win Kentucky, MO, Arkansas, West Virginia than any of the other candidates running.

Because of my positions on the issues, because I come from a state that is a border state, that the politics of having to reach across party lines matter, because my 34 years in the senate have been the opposite of polarizing, they have been uniting. So I think for all those reasons, I think I have the best chance of crossing over and picking up independent votes and keeping a democratic base. But again, time will tell that. That’s an assertion. It’s a judgment that democrats are going to make, but they will make that judgment of who they think we’ll be best able to win a general election.”

On Obama. “You know he’s a very smart guy. I can’t speak for me. But I know for me that it was a learning experience. I worked very hard. I’m sure he’s working very hard too. I’ve watched seven presidents, and I’ve watched presidents who have come to office who haven’t thought through some of the areas that theyt’ve never worked in, for example foreign policy. I watched several presidents come in and they’re smart as the devil and they get here and unless you already know when you get here exactly what your foreign policy is, it’s awful hard to hit the ground running and not to make serious mistakes the first couple of years. I’m not saying that senator obama is where I was [when elected to the senate at age 29]. I was younger than he was when he got to the Senate. But I do think, I acknowledge that experience is not the issue, it’s whether your experience has been good or bad. Somebody with 34 years of bad experience isn’t perfectly qualified to be president, someone with 34 years of good experience that makes a big difference. So, again, I know it’s kindof difficult to master, it’s kindof difficult to feel sure-footed in a lot of areas that you haven’t spent a long of time dealing with.”

On Dennis Kucinich: “It’s a little bit like my friend Dennis Kucinich. Dennis, God love him, gets up in all these debates and says the Democratic Congress could end the war today. Dennis should read the Constitution. You gotta have 67 votes to override a presidential veto. Unless he’s figured out how to get 17 Republicans in the Senate to vote with us, I’m not quite sure how to do that. But it’s very appealing.”

On money in politics: “The third thing that’s different [since his 1988 presidential run] are the obscene amounts of money that are being
It is radically different. The last time I changed this at the stage I left which was eight months before Iowa, I had raised $6 million and that was more than any other candidate had raised in the democratic process. Now you’re talking about these giant amounts of money, that it’s arguable that you need $100 million to run in a primary. It’s obscene. I think there’s going to be a backlash to it.”

Biden’s got a highly readable new memoir out, “Promises to Keep.”

Trade Unionism in Chicago

August 8, 2007

Labor City

Leave it to the City of Big Shoulders to finally host a superb Democratic debate. On the historic grounds of Soldiers Field in the city where police fired upon trade unionists at Haymarket Square and 4000 Pullman Car workers struck, the AFL-CIO provided a good forum to hear the Democratic candidates out on worker protection, free trade and pensions. The authenticity of the questioners really stood out.

Let me put it in the vernacular; in short, the AFL-CIO kicks YouTube’s ass. I know we’re all supposed to kowtow to the primacy of the Netroots and the internet saavy. But I just can’t. I’m sick of the snideness and the snarkiness. I appreciate hearing the plain but powerful words of people who work for a living.

As far as the politics of the night go, I thought Hillary Clinton shined when it was her time to respond to a questioner from the audience and she went back and answered questions from several of the questioners whom had been ignored by the other candidates, including the wife of fallen miner. It was also an opportunity for the long-serving members of the Senate — Chris Dodd and Joe Biden — to highlight their years of experience and advocacy for the trade union movement. Even Dennis Kucinich had a nice movement when he voiced a mulit-clause paean to labor.

Despite Obama’s homefield advantage, I felt his performance was his worst yet. While he didn’t have a gaffe on a par with those of his prior debates, he seemed entirely uncomfortable. Most answers were incredibly awkward. For a generally verbally fluid speaker, his comments were filled with pauses, halts and uhs. I honestly don’t understand it, other than he might genuinely not know how to connect with blue collar folks.

Iran Discussion at TPM Cafe

July 8, 2007

I have been posting at TPM Cafe, where the debate is rigorous to say the least. You can read my posts on the threat of Iran here and here. Make sure to check out the posts of Chris Floyd and Ezra Klein as well as the commentators.

Blogging at TPM Cafe

July 3, 2007

As America enters the July 4th holiday, readers can find me posting at TPM Cafe’s Book Club. Glenn Greenwald has written what is sure to be an interesting and controversial book on the Bush Administration, “A Tragic Legacy”. Other participants will include Ezra Klein, Danny Postel and Chris Floyd.

Hillary’s Campaign Song

June 19, 2007

Hillary and President Clinton demonstrate their mastery of American politics. Her campaign chose to spoof the Sopranos in announcing her campaign song. Watch it here.

Hillary Clinton is the Democratic establishment candidate. Obama and Edwards had the early advantage in web presence. But by showing a lighter side, Hillary is catching up. It’s amazing that politicians so associated with the ’90s, the Clintons can find ways to be relevant today. Seeing Bill in his Tony shirt is classic. I think this video will be a web hit.

Having said that, I also have to recommend this highly watchable pro-Obama video.

Joe Lieberman’s War

June 12, 2007

Disagree with Joe Lieberman’s suggestion of military action versus Iran, if you want. Argue that America doesn’t have the military capacity to start another front right now. But let’s keep it in perspective shall we. Lieberman’s reacting to an Iran that has embarked on military adventurism across the Middle East.

I write in The New York Sun: “Iran’s role in training fighters in Iraq, Iran’s aiding Hezbollah, which is destabilizing Lebanon and threatening Israel, Hamas battling Fatah and threatening Israeli areas bordering Gaza. To these can be added recent reports that NATO forces have detected Iranians bringing explosive materials into Afghanistan. All of these actions are not equivalent to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor yet, perhaps, but, taken together, they suggest a regional effort by Iran to destabilize the Middle East.”

Many commentators — including one in an e-mail comment read last night on CNN — have suggested Lieberman is merely carrying water for Israel. Drudge even ran a photo of Lieberman with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to illustrate the Iran story. We’re back to the “double loyalty” canard. I suppose one might argue that a nuclear Iran dominant from Gaza to Afghanistan only affects Israel — not America. Perhaps this is the foreign policy reordering that such bright lights as Steve Walt are advocating for — one that has us behaving far more like France or Germany than America. That would mean we’d also have to sell out oil-producing Sunni countries such as Dubai and Kuwait, who depend on us to keep Iran away from them.

Lieberman’s raising a difficult option to a tough problem. I thought that was what members of the U.S. Senate were supposed to do.

Larry King to Jimmy Kimmel: “You’ve got a future doing this”

April 7, 2007

New CNN Host?

Tonight Jimmy Kimmel guest hosted The Larry King Show. After Dr. Phil, Nancy Grace and a host of other guest hosts over the years, Kimmel was a tremendous relief. Kimmel tempered his seriousness with a no-nonsense curiosity. Unlike Jon Stewart, whose persona can venture into self-importance, the suspender-clad Kimmel merely asked tough, common sense questions. The topic of the show was celebrities and paparazzi. Kimmel even got a lot out of perennial news program guest, attorney Mark Geragos. Kimmel’s quip: “the lawyer looks good next to the paparazzi”. Following Kimmel’s natural host-appearance, King called in from vacationing in San Francisco to praise Kimmel, saying he would like to add the comedian to the list of regular substitute hosts.

Particularly interesting was a colloquy between Kimmel and Emily Gould, the editor of Gawker. Kimmel fired a flurry or examples of inaccurate reportage on the site. Gould’s lame reply was that readers don’t go to Gawker with the expectation of truth. Kimmel also took Gould to task for the Gawker Stalker function, which lists the locations of celebrities close to real time. At this, Geragos entered the discussion predicting an act of violence against a celebrity abetted by the site. He added that the site would be taken for a lot of money. He was not, exactly, volunteering to take the case.

I haven’t been a big fan of Kimmel’s over the years, but he has a tremendous authentic quality that makes for a terrific talk show host.