Thursday, 13 January 2011

I recognise her expression...

That's just how I feel.

UPDATE: Michelle has written an open letter to Tucson parents, which I am posting below without comment. Except that, whether in moments of sorrow or in celebration, you've got to love Michelle.

An Open Letter to Parents Following the Tragedy in Tucson

January 13, 2011 at 06:07 PM EST

Dear parents,

Like so many Americans all across the country, Barack and I were shocked and heartbroken by the horrific act of violence committed in Arizona this past weekend. Yesterday, we had the chance to attend a memorial service and meet with some of the families of those who lost their lives, and both of us were deeply moved by their strength and resilience in the face of such unspeakable tragedy.

As parents, an event like this hits home especially hard. It makes our hearts ache for those who lost loved ones. It makes us want to hug our own families a little tighter. And it makes us think about what an event like this says about the world we live in – and the world in which our children will grow up.

In the days and weeks ahead, as we struggle with these issues ourselves, many of us will find that our children are struggling with them as well. The questions my daughters have asked are the same ones that many of your children will have – and they don’t lend themselves to easy answers. But they will provide an opportunity for us as parents to teach some valuable lessons – about the character of our country, about the values we hold dear, and about finding hope at a time when it seems far away.

We can teach our children that here in America, we embrace each other, and support each other, in times of crisis. And we can help them do that in their own small way – whether it’s by sending a letter, or saying a prayer, or just keeping the victims and their families in their thoughts.

We can teach them the value of tolerance – the practice of assuming the best, rather than the worst, about those around us. We can teach them to give others the benefit of the doubt, particularly those with whom they disagree.

We can also teach our children about the tremendous sacrifices made by the men and women who serve our country and by their families. We can explain to them that although we might not always agree with those who represent us, anyone who enters public life does so because they love their country and want to serve it.

Christina Green felt that call. She was just nine years old when she lost her life. But she was at that store that day because she was passionate about serving others. She had just been elected to her school’s student council, and she wanted to meet her Congresswoman and learn more about politics and public life.

And that’s something else we can do for our children – we can tell them about Christina and about how much she wanted to give back. We can tell them about John Roll, a judge with a reputation for fairness; about Dorothy Morris, a devoted wife to her husband, her high school sweetheart, to whom she’d been married for 55 years; about Phyllis Schneck, a great-grandmother who sewed aprons for church fundraisers; about Dorwan Stoddard, a retired construction worker who helped neighbors down on their luck; and about Gabe Zimmerman, who did community outreach for Congresswoman Giffords, working tirelessly to help folks who were struggling, and was engaged to be married next year. We can tell them about the brave men and women who risked their lives that day to save others. And we can work together to honor their legacy by following their example – by embracing our fellow citizens; by standing up for what we believe is right; and by doing our part, however we can, to serve our communities and our country.

Michelle Obama

Can this really be true?

This is the billboard that advertises Rush Limbaugh's radio show. In Tucson.


No. Just, no.

UPDATE: The Ad has been removed.
In the wake of the tragedy, Clear Channel Outdoor management in Tucson quickly elected to take down this ad - believing that discussion of its interpretation would not contribute to the desire for healing in the Tucson community
I commend Clear Channel for taking this clearly sensible action out of sensitivity to the very raw and painful emotions that the people of Tucson must be feeling. But I don't think it's really the "discussion of its interpretation" that is really injuring the desire for healing, but rather the rather ad itself and it's pretty direct correlation between political commentary and actual gunfire.

But anyway.

"It’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.

President Obama spoke yesterday at a memorial service for those slain in Arizona. I haven't been able yet to watch video of the speech, but I've just looked up the text to at least quickly read through the gist of what he had to say.

Tears are welling in my eyes. This is awkward, as I am at work. It's a good thing I have a slight cold and thus an excuse for sniffling.

Fully half of the speech seems to just be telling the stories of the victims... one by one...
George and Dorothy Morris -– “Dot” to her friends -– were high school sweethearts who got married and had two daughters. They did everything together -- traveling the open road in their RV, enjoying what their friends called a 50-year honeymoon. Saturday morning, they went by the Safeway to hear what their congresswoman had to say. When gunfire rang out, George, a former Marine, instinctively tried to shield his wife. (Applause.) Both were shot. Dot passed away.
Everything -- everything -- Gabe Zimmerman did, he did with passion.  (Applause.)  But his true passion was helping people.  As Gabby’s outreach director, he made the cares of thousands of her constituents his own, seeing to it that seniors got the Medicare benefits that they had earned, that veterans got the medals and the care that they deserved, that government was working for ordinary folks.  He died doing what he loved -– talking with people and seeing how he could help.  And Gabe is survived by his parents, Ross and Emily, his brother, Ben, and his fiancĂ©e, Kelly, who he planned to marry next year. 
And, unbearably, excruciatingly...
And then there is nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green. Christina was an A student; she was a dancer; she was a gymnast; she was a swimmer. She decided that she wanted to be the first woman to play in the Major Leagues, and as the only girl on her Little League team, no one put it past her. (Applause.)

She showed an appreciation for life uncommon for a girl her age. She’d remind her mother, “We are so blessed. We have the best life.” And she’d pay those blessings back by participating in a charity that helped children who were less fortunate.
Almost impossible to read.

But there is also hope in the world.
Gabby opened her eyes.  Gabby opened her eyes, so I can tell you she knows we are here.  She knows we love her.  And she knows that we are rooting for her through what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult journey.  We are there for her.
And, turning to the broader discussion of how to learn and move on from this tragegy:
But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized -– at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do -– it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.

And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their death helps usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy -- it did not -- but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud.
That seems to me exactly right. We can't govern our every action and word according to how it might be seen by the most disturbed person among us. But we can aspire in all of our actions and words to live up to the example of the best among us.

We can have a politics that is vigorous, lively and full of energy while at the same time recognising that our opponents are human beings, that they have families and loved ones and lives outside of their politics. That they may be as sincere and as thoughtful about their beliefs as we are about ours.

It's too easy to transfer anger ABOUT ISSUES to anger AT PEOPLE. And my experience has been that in politics what is easiest is usually also what is least valuable.

My thoughts are with the families of the victims.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

This is not a Sarah Palin blog

As you may have noticed, things have gotten a little busy here on the blog in the last day or so! Yesterday's post has generated over 350,00 page views in just a 24 hour period, and the blog has been linked to by a bewildering range of high profile figures, including Andrew Sullivan, Dan Savage, and the Guardian newspaper. The post has been retweeted and shared on Facebook tens of thousands of times.

So hello to all my lovely new readers! And judging by the tone of the comments, I have a few not-so-lovely new readers as well - hello to you too. Have a cookie. Take a deep breath. We'll be hugging and growing before you know it in the finest tradition of the situation comedy.

So I realise that you (new readers) and I (old blogger) are at a slightly awkward moment in our relationship. This is like the morning after a one night stand with: our chance to grab a cup of coffee and get to know each other a little bit after a highly charged and emotional introduction.

Let me start.

Let's answer a few questions:

  • Why do you care so much about US politics if you're British? I am not British. The blog is called Obama London because I am a US citizen and activist with Democrats Abroad who works to register US voters here and London and throughout the UK so that they can exercise their right to vote from overseas. If you are a US citizen living overseas, no matter what your party affliation or voting intention, you can register and request your absentee ballot here:
  • Aren't you kind of obsessed with Sarah Palin? I am not a Sarah Palin obsessive. I am a Barack Obama obsesive. (Check the name of the blog, guys.) Very important that we get that straight, because if you are expecting this blog to feed a Palin fixation, you will be dissappointed. This blog has been in existence for nearly three years, focussing exclusively in US Politics - including detailed coverage of the 2008 campaign. In all that time, yesterday's post - which has taken off to an incredible degree online - was the first time I have written a post specifically about the Former Governor. I mentioned her in passing exactly twice. (For the record, here and here.) If you think about it, I would seem to have been working pretty hard to AVOID writing about Sarah Palin, and for good reason. Any time her name comes up, people tend to get sort of shouty. On both sides. It hurts my head. I would suggest, given the overwhelming response on the one occassion when I did write about her, that I am not the one who is obsessed with Sarah Palin but rather that the obsessed are... well, everyone else.
  • So what do you write about, then? I'm glad you asked. I like writing about health care reform. About gay rights (btw, I'm a straight married female), about legislative reform. Politics, policy and lots more.
  • How dare you suggest Sarah Palin is responsible for the AZ shooting!? Did I? Let's go to the tape: I said, "in the wake of the terrible events in Arizona, with many commentators pointing out the obvious fact that Gabrielle Giffords had been targetted by Palin in the November election on a map that used a chilling gun site graphic, I thought it would be worth watching her page for a little while to see if her team were indeed deleting negative comments routinely." That sentance was not followed by, "Because this is all her fault." I think Sarah Palin made some terrible judgements about how to express herself. In particular, "don't retreat, reload" makes me queasy. I think she should, I think most people would, feel terrible if someone that they had directed a comment like that towards is attacked in this manner. I think we should tone back our rhetoric and remember that we have more in common than we disagree over. And I think that people like Glen Beck shouldn't suggest that the desire to provide all Americans with affordable and comprehensive health insurance is exactly the same thing as being a Nazi. I think these things are a bad idea, and I would ask them to stop. Please and thank you.
  • I can't believe you spent ALL THAT TIME obsessing over Sarah Palin's Facebook page! Don't you just have too much time on your hands? I really don't understand this criticism. I spent about two hours just observing and reporting what I saw on Palin's page on a Sunday afternoon while waiting for my husband to finish up some work. Better I should have spent that time watching Friends reruns? Because I do think I get enough of my Recommended Daily Allowance of Friends reruns. Yesterday's Palin post, which generated hundreds of thousands of readers and hundreds of comments was not a waste of time to write. Although I am starting to wonder about the many hours I have spent crafting long posts about policy and politics lo these many years for far, far fewer readers.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Inexplicable Edits on Sarah Palin's Facebook Page

Sarah Palin has a reputation for being an aggressive editor of comments on her Facebook page - a reputation that has always seemed likely accurate to me, given the tedious consistency with which all comments on the page are along the lines of "I love you SARAH!"

But in the wake of the terrible events in Arizona, with many commentators pointing out the obvious fact that Gabrielle Giffords had been targetted by Palin in the November election on a map that used a chilling gun site graphic, I thought it would be worth watching her page for a little while to see if her team were indeed deleting negative comments routinely. But I had no idea how incredibly, almost comically, efficient her people would turn out to be in deleting comments that were even slightly critical of the former Governor. And then I came across... well, what I guess you'd have to politely call an appalling example of editorial misjudgement at best.

Here's what I found, from a brief sample achieved by the simple expedient of hitting the refresh button repeatedly over a short period of time:

A negative comment saying, "YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE, YOU EVIL WITCH" - at 17:19PM. (I'm in London, so that's British Standard Time.)

 Removed by 17:21.
 Two negative comments, one suggesting that her publicity team must be working overtime to make her not look guilty and one from a British poster saying "Guns and nutters don't mix..."
 Removed by 17:26.
Comment saying, "I can't believe you don't have the leadership of intelligence to tell your people that putting crosshairs on people incites violence." 17:27

Was removed by 17:28 (although I failed to capture a screen grab - oops).

 A comment that simple says, "hypocrite" - presumably in reference to Palin at 17:28

 Gone by 17:29.
 Comment alleging "THEIR BLOOD IS ON YOUR HANDS" at 17:29.
Gone by 17:31.
Comment saying the commenter is glad her show was cancelled and saying, "I'm not blaming her but is it really a smart thing posting a map with gun sights of politicians with opposing views?" At 17:38.

 Gone by 17:39.
 Comment that refers to the text of Palin's post by saying, "Peace and Justice? That's a new concept for you isn't it?" at 17:48.
 Gone by 17:50.

OK. At this point, I am finding this all kind of... well, funny I suppose. I mean, the ruthless efficiency of the deleting and the desperation with which people would try to get their negative comments up there combined with the efficiency of their removal. There were actually a lot more examples than what I've been able to show here.

And in fairness to Sarah Palin, I should say that there were a couple of comments that were removed that weren't directly critical of the Governor but clearly offensive. Most notably, a commenter who repeatedly posted, "To bad it wasn't Pelosi." Yikes.

But then things got a little... well, upsetting.

A commenter posted the following at 18:12:

"It's ok. Christina Taylor Green was probably going to end up a left wing bleeding heart liberal anyway. Hey, as 'they' say, what would you do if you had the chance to kill Hitler as a kid? Exactly."

I think I literally gasped when I read that. Remember, Christina Taylor Green was the 9 year old girl killed by the shooter. Apparently she had been brought there by her mom, who thought she might get a kick out of meeting Rep. Giffords, having recently been elected to her student council.

I assumed, as a matter of course, that this particular comment would be deleted with greatest possible speed.

So I kept hitting refresh, hoping to use this as an example to say, "You see, Palin's Facebook editing at least has the good judgement to remove clearly offensive content such as this." But it didn't come down.

By this point I thought it was likely that the staff person monitoring the page was simply no longer working - I mean, fair enough it's a Sunday, right? So I thought I would just satisfy myself that the page was no longer being edited by continuing to look for negative comments, assuming that either they would all remain live for the time being, or if the editor came back to work, that they would be removed simultaneously with the Christina post.

So here's a comment posted at 18:16 saying, "I hope you're happy now. It's because of the influence that you do wield, that you should think about things you say and do."

Deleted  by 18:18.
 But the Christina post was still live.

So then I thought, well maybe the page editors just haven't seen it. We all make mistakes, perhaps it just slipped by them.

Then I spotted another commenter, rightly expressing her disgust at the post. "You are so out of touch... Show a little consideration and leave innocent out of your twisted diatribe."

Having been alerted to the post, does the editor NOW remove it? Nope, it's still there.

And I spot several other posts being removed. For instance, here's a post from 18:28 saying, "Your type of sorrow doesn't make up for the blood on your hands."

 Gone by 18:29.

 I found a few more instances, but I won't belabour the point. The Christina post was still live at 16:39 when I started writing this post.

I don't really know what to make of this. Sarah Palin has the right to edit her Facebook profile - it's not technically a public platform, it's a privately owned space. But the fact someone has a right to do something doesn't mean it is always a good idea, and I think that someone who aspires to public office has an especially strong responsibility to try and engage with the public at large - not just those who agree with them. But still... she's not currently in any form of elected office and she can do what she likes.

But I find her team's editorial judgement to say the least... odd.

UPDATE: Since this blog was posted, there has been a lot of media attention paid to it and a lot of online discussion. If anyone wants to discuss the article with me, the best way to reach me is on Twitter -!/karinjr

UPDATE II: Here's what happened when I conducted the same exercise to look at Barack Obama's facebook page: Totally Straightforward Edits on Barack Obama's Facebook Page

Gabrielle Giffords and the Tragedy in Arizona

I want to send my sincerest condolences to the families of Gabrielle Giffords, who thankfully is recovering at the moment from what was so nearly a fatal bullet to the brain, and of

and the other innocent victims of this unspeakable act.

This truly is an attack on the very concept of Democracy itself, and to the extent that any lesons can be learned, or useful advice given in its wake, I would heartily echo the thoughts of Ezra Klein, who wrote:
"Loughner's shooting might've been motivated by mental illness, but the people in that parking lot were motivated by democracy: It was a meeting between a congressional representative and those she represents. They were attacked for being good citizens, and nothing can ever put that right. 
But one way that people might pay tribute is to follow their example and attend the next meeting held by their representative. It is so easy and safe to participate in the American political system that we sometimes take doing so for granted. Today was a horrifying look into a world in which that isn't so, and it should leave us with renewed appreciation for, and determination to protect, the world we have."
Ezra follows this comment by pointing to some other very wise words, spoken below by Representative Giffords herself, but written a couple hundred years ago. The basic needs of our democracy have in some ways not changed at all in the ensuing years:


"The right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition their government for redress of grievances."