2009 - %3, January

The 9 Worst Obama Editorial Cartoons

| Fri Jan. 23, 2009 3:20 PM EST

obama_tophat.jpg For the most part, America's editorial cartoonists have gotten better at drawing Obama over the last year. They're no longer depicting him as a generic black guy but as an unique individual with his own distinctive features. (I'm sure there's a dissertation topic in there somewhere about how this somehow mirrored many white Americans' evolving views of candidate Obama.) But there are some still some stragglers, whom I feel obligated to call out—in the name of improving the quality of political satire, of course. Not that good editorial cartoonists have to be good caricaturists: The Washington Post's Tom Toles, who is for my money the most original of the newsprint cartoonists, draws Obama like he has a bow tie stuck behind his head. But at least it kinda, sorta looks like him.

What bugs me are the cartoonists who still do the random-black-dude thing or use some kind of slapdash combo of Obama's most prominent features ("Big ears? Check! Angular chin? Check! Longer than average torso? Check!"). Or worse. After the jump, a collection of nine of the most egregious examples of editorial cartoonists' attempts to capture Obama's likeness, and some thoughts on who—or what—they actually look like.

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Is Wikipedia Eating the World?

| Fri Jan. 23, 2009 2:51 PM EST

IS WIKIPEDIA EATING THE WORLD?....Three years ago, Nick Carr did a Google search for ten topics off the top of his head. He found that Wikipedia entries were the #1 hit in two cases and among the top ten hits in all the others. Today he did the same searches again and found that Wikipedia was the #1 hit for all ten. This leads him to say this:

What we seem to have here is evidence of a fundamental failure of the Web as an information-delivery service. Three things have happened, in a blink of history's eye: (1) a single medium, the Web, has come to dominate the storage and supply of information, (2) a single search engine, Google, has come to dominate the navigation of that medium, and (3) a single information source, Wikipedia, has come to dominate the results served up by that search engine. Even if you adore the Web, Google, and Wikipedia — and I admit there's much to adore — you have to wonder if the transformation of the Net from a radically heterogeneous information source to a radically homogeneous one is a good thing. Is culture best served by an information triumvirate?

When I first saw this passage over at Andrew Sullivan's blog, I dismissed it. Wikipedia doesn't seem to dominate the searches I do. Quite the contrary, in fact. Usually they're only barely in the top ten.

But then I clicked the link and read Carr's search results. Apparently, for searches of standard topics, Wikipedia is far more prevalent than it is for the kinds of searches I do, which tend to be fairly random assemblages of search terms. What's more, my Google default is set up to return 50 hits per page, so even if Wikipedia is at or near the top, it's only one of many hits. But if you use the standard Google search page, it's one of ten. And if you routinely use the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button to go straight to the top hit, then Wikipedia rules. Carr, it turns out, has a more penetrating point than I thought. (On the other hand, he also has a vested interest in making this point since he's on the board of editorial advisors of Encyclopedia Britannica.)

I'm still not sure what to think about this, but my guess is that way more people use Google his way than mine. And although I'm a big fan (and defender) of Wikipedia, which I think is a miraculously useful reference tool considering how it's put together, I'm not quite sure how I feel if its hegemony in the search universe is really as complete as Carr suggests. So for now, I'm just passing this along.

Public Diplomacy

| Fri Jan. 23, 2009 2:06 PM EST

PUBLIC DIPLOMACY....Public diplomacy cheerleader Marc Lynch is unhappy over the news that Hillary Clinton may be about to choose an undersecretary of state for public diplomacy whose roots are in marketing, not statecraft. I won't pretend that this propsect gives me the same heartburn that it gives Marc, but I certainly agree with his basic criticism:

I don't know Judith McHale at all, and obviously have nothing against her personally. But the position of Under-Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs should go to someone with experience in and a vision for public diplomacy, and who will be in a position to effectively integrate public diplomacy concerns into the policy-making process. Appointing someone with no experience in public diplomacy but with a resume which "involves selling a message" has already been tried: the first post-9/11 Under-Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Charlotte Beers, whose tenure lasted only 17 months (October 2001-March 2003), focused on "branding" America through television advertising showing happy Muslim-Americans, and is generally considered to be an utter failure.

Actually, I think Marc is being too nice here. It hasn't just been tried once, it's been tried three times. After Charlotte Beers left, the position was briefly given to Margaret Tutwiler, who at least had a bit of diplomatic experience, but for the past four years it's been held first by Bush pal Karen Hughes, who was famously clueless about anything beyond the borders of the United States, and then by James Glassman, who was only marginally more qualified. Neither one of them had any serious overseas experience at all.

Maybe Judith McHale will be brilliant at the job. Who knows? We'll have to learn more about her. But it would sure be nice to get someone for this job who speaks a few languages, has spent a lot of time overseas, and doesn't think of the job as merely a branding exercise. Stay tuned.

Paterson to City: Drop Dead. The Governor Hands New York's Senate Seat to an Upstate Blue Dog Conservative

| Fri Jan. 23, 2009 1:58 PM EST

Governor David Paterson's appointment of Kirsten Gillibrand, a one-term Congresswoman from a conservative upstate district, to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate seat is a slap in the face to both New York liberals and to New York City in general. Yesterday, as Gillibrand emerged as the frontrunner, the Village Voice's Wayne Barrett branded her "too Republican to replace Clinton," and "out of step with New York voters, particularly Democrats, on a host of issues."

Gillibrand has described her own voting record as "one of the most conservative in the state." She opposes any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, supports renewing the Bush tax cuts for individuals earning up to $1 million annually, and voted for the Bush-backed FISA bill that permits wiretapping of international calls. She was one of four Democratic freshmen in the country, and the only Democrat in the New York delegation, to vote for the Bush administration's bill to extend funding for the Iraq war shortly after she entered congress in 2007. While she now contends that she's always opposed the war and has voted for bills to end it, one upstate paper reported when she first ran for the seat: "She said she supports the war in Iraq." In addition to her vote to extend funding, she also missed a key vote to override a Bush veto of a Democratic bill with Iraq timetables.

Gillibrand's positions and voting record can be seen as especially offensive to New York City. As Barrett writes:

Gillibrand has a one hundred percent rating from the National Rifle Association ….Gillibrand even opposes any limitations on the sale of semiautomatic weapons or "cop-killer" bullets that can pierce armored vests….Gillibrand voted against both…financial service bailout bills last fall, which have delivered billions to New York, salvaging institutions like Citigroup. An editorial in Crain's, the city's premier business news magazine, said recently that Gillibrand "should be disqualified" from seeking the Senate seat "by her politically expedient vote" against the bailout.

Upstate residents may resent the city's perceived dominance of politics on both the state and local levels, but they are in fact biting the hand that feeds them: The city has historically paid about 20 percent more in federal taxes and twice as much in state taxes than it gets back in services from those governments. And it seems like the wrong time to do anything that could be hard on New York City, which is already hurting badly. As I wrote late last year, while the effects of the economic meltdown are felt nationwide, New York stands at its epicenter, and is taking the heat on two fronts: It is suffering, along with the rest of the country, from the far-reaching fallout of the Wall Street debacle. But it is also directly dependent upon the financial industry itself: Jobs, retail, services, the real estate market, and an astonishing 20 percent of the state's tax base all rest upon the now crumbling foundation of the financial sector. The trip from Wall Street to Main Street is a lot shorter in New York than it is anywhere else.

Air Force Wings Are Made of Gold!

| Fri Jan. 23, 2009 1:25 PM EST

God damn, I'm so proud of my twelve years in the United Friggin' States of America's Air Force! I always am, but some days bring it home more pungently than others.

Hoo-ya! (blow me, Army.)

Check out this video of President Obama's first Air Force One flight.

Hard core, nut job lefty that I am, I joined up in March 1980, when Carter was almost out, then endured eight years of Reagan (whom I LOATHED LOATHED LOATHED), then Bush I (whom I pitied, but respected), and was out by the time of Clinton (for whom I had such high hopes and for whom I actually voted). But I always served with the diligence of my WWII, Jim Crow sharecropper father before me. And my brother who hated America's racism but was nonetheless motivated to join during the Iranian hostage crisis (and the uncle who lost a leg in Viet Nam).

I kept my eyes on the prize of America, just like the motivated AIR FORCE individuals staffing Air Force One. The military is a conservative place; likely, most of the crew wanted McCain to win. But check the pilot talking about the time honored military credo of 'respecting the rank, whether or not you respect the individual,' and you'll understand why we don't have banana republic-coups here every other week.

GO AIR FORCE!

Infrastructure

| Fri Jan. 23, 2009 1:20 PM EST

INFRASTRUCTURE....Conservative wunderkind pollster Frank Luntz says he's amazed: Americans really, really want more spending on infrastructure, even if it means higher taxes:

Last month, I conducted a national survey of 800 registered voters on their attitudes toward infrastructure investment....The survey's findings were unlike any other issue I have polled in more than a decade.

....Fully 84% of the public wants more money spent by the federal government — and 83% wants more spent by state governments — to improve America's infrastructure. And here's the kicker: 81% of Americans are personally prepared to pay 1% more in taxes for the cause. It's not uncommon for people to say they'd pay more to get more, but when you ask them to respond to a specific amount, support evaporates.

....And Americans understand that infrastructure is not just roads, bridges and rails. In fact, they rated fixing energy facilities as their highest priority. Roads and highways scored second, and clean-water treatment facilities third.

And what impresses Luntz the most about all this? That even 74% of Republicans are willing to pay higher taxes to improve infrastructure.

The lesson here is one that won't be new to blog readers: economic stimulus is all well and good, but infrastructure is mainly a long-term commitment. It's fine to get it kick started in the current legislation — even at the risk of bits of it being a "muddled mixture" — but Obama should make it clear that this is something that will be properly planned, properly funded, and properly prioritized in the out years. That means fewer roads, but more transit, more electrical grids, and more wind farms. Right?

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Stimulating China

| Fri Jan. 23, 2009 12:36 PM EST

STIMULATING CHINA....Ezra Klein explains why the Chinese government is setting up a universal healthcare plan:

The Chinese have a high savings rate — indeed, an absurdly high savings rate, between 30 percent and 40 percent of income — and one of the reasons is fear of medical expenses. China lacks a safety net, and so people spend less because they need to plan for catastrophe. And if catastrophe doesn't befall, then they've simply spent less. Which is a problem when you're facing down a potentially long recession. And so China is trying to make it safe for its citizens to spend, which means making future expenses more predictable, which means offering health care coverage.

That's certainly a unique reason for backing national healthcare, isn't it? But that's indeed what the linked NYT article says. I wonder if it will work?

Elections Have Consequences, Global Health and Family Planning Edition

| Fri Jan. 23, 2009 11:57 AM EST

A good week continues:

President Barack Obama on Friday will lift restrictions on U.S. government funding for groups that provide abortion services or counseling abroad, reversing a policy of his Republican predecessor George W. Bush, an administration official said.
"It will be today. He's going to make an executive order (lifting the global gag rule)," the official said...
When the ban was in place, no U.S. government funding for family planning services could be given to clinics or groups that offer abortion services or counseling in other countries even if the funds for those activities come from non-U.S. government sources.

Excellent public health groups working in the world's neediest countries were denied funding under the Bush Administration because they handed out condoms or provided family planning counseling. It was an example of rigid conservative ideology trumping simple pragmatism. And it's a thing of the past. (For 4-8 years, at least.)

Elections Have Consequences, Fair Pay Edition

| Fri Jan. 23, 2009 11:32 AM EST

Kevin has already noted that gender-based pay discrimination will get much, much harder now that the Senate has passed the long-awaited Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. I just wanted to mention something, overly earnest as it may be: to all of you out there who donated or worked on Senate campaigns — folks who were committed enough to progressive candidates and progressive ideals to get past the excitement of the presidential race and look for ways to help down-ticket — this is your reward. This bill had failed on Capitol Hill in 2008 and its central principles had been rejected in a widely criticized Supreme Court ruling. But yesterday's passage puts that shameful history behind us. By insisting that employers treat their hard-working female employees on par with their male counterparts, this bill — made possible only through larger congressional majorities, hard-won by activist folks like you — is a key step in building a more just and more equal America.

Palin: Don't Save the Whales

| Fri Jan. 23, 2009 11:28 AM EST

cook-inlet-beluga250x200.jpg
As a fierce high school basketball player, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was dubbed "Sarah Barracuda," a nickname that was revived on the campaign trail last year, when she served as John McCain's enforcer. Now the "Barracuda" is picking a fight with one of the biggest mammals in the sea.

Last week, the state of Alaska announced it plans to mount a legal challenge to the listing of the Cook Inlet beluga whale under the Endangered Species Act. (Placing the belugas on the endangered list requires a review of federally funded or permitted activities that could affect the health of the whales, the establishment of a recovery plan, and the designation of "critical habitat.") This marks the second time in a year that Palin's administration has squared off with the federal government over an ESA listing. Over the summer, her administration sued Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne after his agency conferred threatened status on the polar bear.