Requiem for Apollo

July 19, 2013

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I’ve dreaded this moment from the first instant I saw those two puppies fourteen and a half years ago.

I didn’t want them. I knew how dogs change your life. They have to be fed and walked. Played with. They’re always in a good mood. Always full of love, so when you’re not, you feel guilty until they’ve made you feel better. They insinuate themselves into your life in a thousand ways. You love them in a way that you don’t love your parents, siblings, spouse or kids. Not better or stronger, just different. And you will outlive them. Knowing all this, it is no wonder I paused at the top of the driveway and blinked hard. The kids wanted them. Laura wanted them. Alison wanted to name them after dogs past. Adam and Cameron were enthralled with the Greeks. The little sister was no match for the boys. The dogs were to be Atlas and Apollo. End of story. Beginning of story.

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Burt was painting houses. Living here in exile from San Diego and Oahu. He was like that painter on Murphy Brown: indispensible on so many levels. He was engaged in one Sisyphean task after another.  Jobs that never ended, or melted into one another. He shepherded those dogs from hand to chair to crate.

Steve was living here too. Also a dog guy, he knew it was important for them to have company, love and exercise. Laura and I were busy outside the house. Our brothers largely raised those dogs for the first year.

Part of the rescue deal is neutering. Burt got a wry look on his face when the boys returned from castration. “Nutless and Noballo, welcome home!” We’re still laughing.

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Black and white, like those Ralph Lauren dogs, Atlas and Apollo were rambunctious, sweet, fit-in-the-palm-of-your-hand puppies. They were full of life, chasing chipmunks, tennis balls, squirrels, or laser-pointers. Trotting up the deck stairs, each proudly holding an end of a (dead) three-foot black snake in their mouths. Was that the Lab half or the Border-Collie half? Atlas had the Border-Collie traits. A girl at the pet rescue place observed, “He got the good blood.” He was the brains of the operation. Apollo, bigger and more densely built dog had more Lab traits. A waterdog. A hunter. A huge heart.

They ran like the wind, and wore a path from the driveway, around the railroad tie wall and up into the wooded backyard, usually with one’s mouth around the other’s neck. They growled and barked and nipped at each other constantly. If you didn’t know they were playing, you’d have thought they were trying to kill each other as loudly as possible.

I was able to keep them out of my heart through the first year. Between Steve, Burt and Cameron, they were held constantly. Like Alison, I don’t think their feet touched the ground during that first year. But then Burt moved back to Hawaii, Steve moved back to Ohio, and the dogs got too big for the shared crate. They began to howl at night, so we let them come upstairs, they would, however, under no circumstances, sleep on the bed. Ever.

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They were rascals. Atlas was the alpha, but when it came to scamming food, Apollo had no equal. Just when we had convinced ourselves that he would forever be in Atlas’s thrall, we came home one evening to find Apollo in the great room, perched on the forbidden couch, high up enough to survey the groceries sitting on the kitchen island. We had apparently interceded in the nick of time.

One day we (very) mistakenly left a chocolate cake mix (boxed, no less) on the island. We returned to discover he had somehow (how is a mystery that went to the grave with him) managed to climb up there, snatch the cake mix, and drag it to the living room where he opened the box, punctured the thick plastic bag that held the delicious chocolate powder, and proceeded to lick it into the white carpeting. Visitors always note the unusual Mexican tile that has been in that room since.

And so it went from 1999 through 2003. I had always traveled a couple of days a week for work, but in 2004 I started commuting to New York City at zero dark thirty Monday mornings, coming home on the last one out of LaGuardia Thursday night. While I was gone, Laura discovered the Chattahoochee National Forest and the series of trails therein. A wide exercise loop that runs along the river, and some dandy trails that give one a good sense that one is indeed in the Appalachian foothills. We started taking the dogs Saturday and Sunday mornings. There, we met some now longstanding friends. Dog people. Our boys, who had lived outside on the deck and in the heavily wooded backyard, were used to the woods, and having each other for company. They were therefore easily socialized into the river scene. Most of the dogs they encountered were also pretty social and with one notable exception where a canine of our acquaintance shredded Atlas’s ear in an inexplicable and unprovoked attack, the biggest worry was spooking a snake sunning itself around a blind corner.

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When my commuting gig ended, and I started working out of the house, Atlas and Apollo became my associates. After sharing cereal and yogurt for breakfast, there was the morning walk, which quickly became a daily ritual—dogs like routine—we settled into the basement where the boys slept on their bed when not performing secretarial chores for me. (I began to refer to our walk as the Three Mile Tranquilizer since it made them sleep and let me work.)

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That walk became (and remains) ritual. The highlight of everyone’s day, canine and human alike. It is the friends there who are helping us through this time of grief. They know what it means to lose a long term companion.

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I’ve never met a dog that didn’t like to go in the car. I’ve heard of dogs whose only automotive trips were to the vet, and those dogs, understandably, hated to see the keys come out. These dogs were normal, though, and the car was a second home. They so completely ravaged my last car that I had to go to K-Mart and buy rubber backed bathroom rugs to salvage what little was left of the rear seat.

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The years marched on, unnoticed except for new lines in the mirror’s face, and high school, college and law school graduations to mark the passing. Matt met Monica, and grandchildren were soon sharing the floor with Atlas and Apollo. Atlas was predictably aloof, surveying all from his perch. Call it the Ottoman Empire.

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Apollo was hungry, and saw the small children as easy marks. Satisfied with licking a toddler’s hands and face clean, he was never far from those kids.

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Young Cean shared his father’s relative indifference, but Baby Kier, taking after her mom, became fast friends with “the puppies.”

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Essential to this story is that Apollo was our “special needs” dog. He had his first epileptic seizure while I was away. Laura says it was a doozy of a grand maul seizure. It happened at home. Then it happened at the river. We read up on Labs and epilepsy, and were not encouraged. He was about three, and we figured the days ahead were borrowed time. Phenobarbital became a staple of Apollo’s diet, and the seizures relented. Over a couple of years time we realized the medicine was aging him quite dramatically and consulted the vet. He said our choices were to take him off the drugs and watch carefully, or leave him on the sedatives and watch him age unnaturally. We opted for the former and got lucky. The seizures never returned with the previous frequency or devastation, but the damage was done.

At Thanksgiving 2010, Apollo had a major seizure following a particularly manic episode on the river trails. He recovered slowly, and by January was pretty much his old self, but a new pattern was emerging: manic episode, seizure, recovery (although not quite a full recovery). A roller coaster ride where each succeeding peak is lower than the last one, and each succeeding depression lower too. All told, a long story of decline.

In January of 2012, Apollo had a vestibular incident—vertigo. It didn’t look like any seizure I had seen, and after riding it out for far too long a time without the typical resolution, Monica and I rushed him to the emergency vet. They told us he would regain most of his balance, but the head tilt, a hallmark of vestibular disorder, would likely stay. Again, against all odds, Apollo rebounded and the head tilt went away. But his balance was never the same, and somehow, all this neurologic stress had robbed him of the lower body strength that made him a great swimmer and hunter. I thought he was in pain, but it turned out he really just couldn’t feel much below the waist.

His decline accelerated until all he could do was eat and take a slow walk. On July 13, 2013, at fourteen and a half, he had had enough.

So I offer this remembrance as tribute to a fierce watchdog and cuddly friend. We’ll see how his constant companion, Atlas, fares in his absence. Atlas, he of the “good blood,” has not experienced health issues until this year. He has lost most of his hearing. That’s a really isolating phenomenon for man or beast. Between his hearing loss and Apollo’s inability to climb up on the bed or the Dog Chair, they haven’t slept as bookends or interchangeable pillows much lately. Maybe that fact will help Atlas deal with the loss of a littermate who was not farther than the next room for a decade and a half.

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I didn’t want these dogs. I knew what having dogs meant. Try as I did to stop it, these dogs got into my heart, and I’m paying for that now. I hope to come out the other side thinking that fourteen and half years of unconditional love was worth this hole in my heart that feels today as if it will never heal.

Rest in peace, Apollo. We miss you already.

Apollo Sinton 2/1/99-7/13/13

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Apollo Sinton 2/1/99-7/13/13

Jon Sinton, Atlanta, July 14, 2013

While You Were Out

March 3, 2013

While you were surfing the Internet, consuming video on-demand, texting on your smartphone, chatting on Facebook, or Tweeting about playing Halo 18, Neil Postman’s seminal 1985 work, Amusing Ourselves to Death, was coming true. Postman correctly predicted that while we were on guard against George Orwell’s Big Brother in the dystopian classic, 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World–the one where entertainment and self-indulgent behavior allow the political class to pull a fast one–emerged into our consciousness fully-formed. We have awakened from our amusements, well, some of us, anyway, to find a world gone mad. A president who lost his voice for four years, and a Republican party that thought it was outsmarting the electorate, only to realize, too late, that it had outsmarted itself. They had gerrymandered themselves into a technically unbeatable congressional majority, but left themselves at the mercy of their own right wing, known as the Tea Party, a sort of sesquicentennial tribute to the Know Nothing Party, that was made up of anti-immigration xenophobes. In 1850, no amount of evidence-based arguing could dissuade them from their beliefs. This may sound familiar to you.

As Ian Millhiser wrote in his article, Grand Theft Election: In 2012 Democratic House candidates received nearly 1.4 million more votes than their Republican counterparts. Yet Republican candidates currently hold a 33-seat majority in the House, due in large part to the fact that Republican state legislatures controlled the redistricting process in several key states. Indeed, Republicans were so successful in their efforts to lock in their control of the House of Representatives through gerrymandering that Democratic House candidates would have needed to win the national popular vote by more than 7 percentage points in order to receive the barest majority in the House. Republicans aren’t particularly shy about touting the success of their gerrymanders either: The Republican State Leadership Committee released an extensive memo boasting about how they used gerrymanders to lock down GOP majorities in the House.

The impact of the current congressional maps is most profound in six key states…President Obama did win Michigan by nearly 10 points, but Democratic candidates won only 5 of the state’s 14 congressional seats. Likewise, President Obama won Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin—in some cases by comfortable margins—but Republicans dominate the congressional delegations from these states. Notably, all six of these states are currently controlled by Republican governors and legislatures, meaning that all six of them could implement the Republican election-rigging plan before the 2016 election.

(That’s the one where they change the Electoral College rules in their presidentially-blue states so that it is no longer winner take all, but forces each district to cast its electoral votes in accordance with its congressional choice–that is, a rigged, foregone conclusion. It would signal the end of majority rule, and would have allowed Mitt Romney to win the presidency with five-million fewer popular votes than President Obama. You have to hand it to them: only once in the last six presidential elections have Republicans managed to win the Popular Vote; they know the only way to win is to rig the game, and they are okay with that.)

The President and PowerPoint

President Obama found his voice not a second too soon in the Fall election. Now I wonder if he’ll use it to tell the American people exactly what’s going on. I’ve read his books. He’s an excellent story teller. One hopes he will use that gift now when we need it most.

What has finally emerged is the indisputable fact that the country is faced with a vocal and vehement minority whose most closely held civic values revolve around self-sufficiency and letting the societal chips fall where they may. They want very limited government intervention, preferring to let the consequences of sickness, unemployment, injury, bad fortune, infirmity and old age play out like a Dickens novel. The descendants of those who fought FDR on Social Security and LBJ on Medicare are in full-throated alarm over Obamacare, the minimum wage and banking/business regulation.

The last election, be damned; evidence be damned, they will shrink government if not by hook, then certainly by crook.

So I wonder about the President and Power Point. Is it written somewhere that presidents cannot use audio-visual aids? Why doesn’t President Obama use his bully pulpit to outline the starkly different philosophies that are actually behind the gridlock in Washington? Why can’t he say that traditional Republicans are afraid of Tea Party Republicans who want a much smaller government where individuals rely on themselves, while Democrats, and not coincidentally, the majority of Americans, want the social insurance programs that have been in place since the Great Depression?

He could then tie these differing philosophies to the importance of redistricting, he could tell the American people that even though the majority of them want Social Security and Medicare, the conservative forces who opposed social insurance since its beginning now control congress through gerrymandering, and will through the remainder this decade.

He could explain the gridlock in this fashion, and show the American people that independent redistricting panels as a national policy enforced at the state level are the only way to ensure that voters pick their representatives, and not the other way around.

If I were he, I would hire the filmmakers and technologists behind Al Gore’s “An inconvenient Truth,” and lay out a graphic depiction of where we are and how we got here in a visually appealing animation that fifth graders would immediately grasp. I know that still leaves out wide swaths of the American landscape, but, trust me, enough people would still get it.

Independent Redistricting: Our Only Hope

I feel certain that there is a “State Plan” wherein Republicans long ago recognized their dim national prospects, so began an all-out war to control state houses, senates and gubernatorial races as a way to forward their agenda of electoral “fixes” like voter suppression through rule changes, intimidation and gerrymandering.

The good government group, Common Cause (full disclosure: I chair the Georgia state board, but in no way speak for the national or state organization here), is engaged in a long term battle against both parties to create independent redistricting as they did in California. It won’t be easy, but has to be tried if we’re to restore fair congressional elections in this country. There’s a recent documentary that chronicles the decade-long, winning battle in California. “Gerrymandering” serves as more than a history, it is a guide for states across the land who wish to restore fairness and sanity to our elections. We simply have to save our democracy from, well, us.

We have outsmarted ourselves. No matter what laws we create, partisans, lobbyists and corporations, given enough time and money, will find ways around and through our best intentions. Only a national plan for independent redistricting strikes broadly and simply enough to make sure there are no loopholes. It is complicated by the fact that we are a nation at play, not a nation at work. Where electoral politics are concerned, we are not a vigilant nation. I’m sure you know how many Twitter followers you have and how many Facebook friends as well, but do you know who your Congressional rep is, and a better question, why?

The Last Hurrah

November 7, 2012

OK, excellent outcome. Not a mandate, but clearly a rebuke to Republicans’ misguided belief that hate and division can again pass for vision. Their pundits employed “selection bias,” the phenomenon where you pick the information that suits your argument (Karl Rove, Peggy Noonan, Rasmussen Polling, The Wall Street Journal, Talk Radio and Fox News) rather than the facts (Nate Silver). If you’re scoring at home, that’s Science 1 – Wishful Thinking 0.

The two headlines have to be Science and Demographics. The Obama campaign knew a year ago that twelve counties would decide this. They analyzed the Electoral College rules and knew how, when and where to deploy their assets. Demographics, because the emergent coalition of women, Millennials and minorities meant that no amount of safe white counties would be enough to win.

Still, the campaign was disappointing: substance free, nit-picking the tiny, inconsequential issues while ignoring the critical ones will be its hallmark. Both candidates were afraid to address real issues like global warming or the structural changes to our economy represented by the twin forces of Globalization and the broadly disruptive Internet.

Instead the Republicans invoked dog-whistle racism, and blatant misogynistic rape and abortion hot buttons.

And why did the President play small-ball? This election campaign has turned on taxes, unemployment, the size of government, and economic recovery, but let’s face it, presidents have much less power than we give them credit and blame for. If a president could control gas prices, for instance, would there ever be another one term presidency? Each September of an election year, the boss would just reprice gas at $1.76/gallon and get re-elected. How about if they could control the unemployment numbers? Same story: put Americans to work so the number gets to 5.5% or so, and voila! Congress has a lot more power over the economy than does the president.

What then is a president’s role? Well, for starters, the Commander in Chief is the last word on foreign policy. The president can mobilize the military and decide whom we talk to, whom we trade with, and who we bomb. But bigger still is the president’s bully pulpit, both at home and at broad.

And that, for me, is the big Obama disappointment. Not his foreign policy–for it has been the bright shining light of the Obama presidency–but his inability or unwillingness to tell the story of these years to the American people. Someone said the president is the Story Teller in Chief, and that, more than anywhere else, is where he let us down. Strange, too, because during the 2008 campaign, and right up through the inauguration,   Mr. Obama seemed to get that. He’s a superb writer and an eloquent speaker, yet for some inexplicable reason, he stopped telling us what was going on.

Why, beginning with the stimulus, didn’t he lay out his plans, his outreach, and the opposition’s tack? How hard would it have been to let us know that history says when credit freezes and business stalls, government can prop up the economy long enough for it to regain its momentum? And when the opposition–loyal and otherwise–started to lie and obstruct, why didn’t he show us how wrong, spiteful and mean-spirited they were?

We sent him to The White House to fight for hope and change, and this president had the once-in-a-generation chance to re-stripe the field, but he would have had to tell us what he was going to do, and then tell us what he did.

The presidency stands for national leadership. I will grant you that in the Age of Information, when the huge messaging infrastructure represented by Fox News, Talk Radio, and a million Websites and blogs has the discipline to stick to the Heritage Foundation’s daily talking points, you have your work cut out for you.

But you’re the President. Your messaging infrastructure is the U.S. government and the entirety of the news media from serious newspapers to Entertainment Tonight.

So everyday you call the liars out and recast the story the way it should be told, in truths big and small. They make it so easy, really. As the great American philosopher, Ann Landers, said, “The best dressed lie is never as pretty as the naked truth.” How hard would it have been to stop Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on day three when he said publicly that his primary goal was to see to it that Mr. Obama was a one term president?

There’s no rule against presidents using Power Point is there? For four years I’ve wondered why the White House didn’t hire the people who made Al Gore’s Oscar™ winning movie “An Inconvenient Truth” to make a few slides depicting the wanton off-the-books spending of the Bush Administration, the structural nature of current unemployment that began in the Bush years, or the painful truth that trickle down economics has not resulted in income or job growth for the Middle Class.

To our detriment, both sides forwarded deluded “plans” to restore an economy that is so significantly changed by Globalization and the Internet that it will never return to the Industrial Revolution model we have relied on for a hundred years.

Women, Millennials, Latinos, African Americans, and GLBT minorities emerged in this election. It was their first election as the majority. All of this “take our country back” and social imagineering of a return to the 1950s Hollywood back-lot America is the last gasp of the WASP majority. They are anti-immigrant for good reason: they don’t want to lose their majority standing. This was their last hurrah.

To a Friend in Need

September 6, 2012

A friend was getting abused for her liberal thinking. Facebook “friends” were relentless in their bullying, minimizing her relevance, and denigrating her personally. She ultimately made a more peaceful existence online by un-friending them. She is a wise and good person. A college professor with a huge heart, and intellect to match. This was truly upsetting to her, and she decided to let it go and live in peace, while noting that they treat me differently. It is not just because I give as good as I get. I try to be reasoned, respectful and logical. Here’s how I answered her:

Trust me, I get my share, although it comes from the pros like Hannity and Boortz, not former classmates. Because I work in politics and study this stuff, they are afraid to challenge me. My theory is that they know deep down that theirs is an id-driven compulsion to repeat lies that attempt to hold women and minorities down and build them up. Frankly, i can understand the fear that old white guys have–the world really is changing. It’s the women Tea Partiers that I don’t get. Maybe it’s just to scary to contemplate a world where men don’t have to take care of you.

There is no reasoning with them. As you saw, I showed them the video evidence of one of their supreme leaders calling for voter suppression, but they couldn’t hear it. I have a friend here, Drew Westen, who is a neuro-scientist at Emory, and is the author of a marvelous book called The Political Brain. He says open-minded people are few and far between, and that we will always stretch to believe ideas that support our closely held positions. Frankly, it’s pretty damn depressing. It is a willful ignorance that makes them think they can depress the vote and call it fraud protection, or say the president is letting welfare recipients not work. They know very well the depths of their lies. If not ignorance, it is worse: wishful, even magical thinking.

On an up-note, I’m just back from Charlotte where I saw Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton speak, and I am fairly well convinced that this last gasp of good ol’ boy (and girl) power will lose to the new demographic coalition of youth, color and ethnic and sexual diversity. As the young woman said to her father when he asked how she could possibly vote for a black president in 2008, “Oh, Daddy, he’s only half black, just like your grandchildren will be!”

This is not to say they are not armed and dangerous. The Secret Service knows it .You should see the security in Charlotte.

So, forget the closed-minded morons, this is their last hurrah. The world is moving on without them.

Regarding the IndieGoGo ask for Progressive Voices, it would sure help if you’d share it on FB and send it to your email list. My worst fear is that we are too late, and talk radio and Fox News will poison a new generation’s minds. We must not let that happen.

Lots of Love,

Jon

Travelogue– Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

August 19, 2012

Christmas 2007 (just found this, which it is why it is out of sequence)

Cambodia has low ceilings. I’ve smacked my head on a bunch of door jams and boats. My noggin is knottier than pine at the moment. We went out on the water today. The largest fresh water lake in Asia, Tonle Sap Lake, gathers water from the Himalayan runoff and feeds the Mekong River as it winds its way south through Phnom Penn to the delta in Vietnam that connotes so much sadness for those of us of a certain age.  Frankly, I thought Cambodia would evoke those feelings in general, but it has not. It is long ago and far way, that war, and we­all of us, the Vietnamese, the Thais, the Cambodians­are different. Anyway, It all spills into the South China Sea, and a whole population lives on the lake and the surrounding lowlands. They are mainly Vietnamese refugees whose communities move up and down river about 5 km a year as the rainy season changes places with the dry season. They fish or farm rice, depending on how deep the water is. The fish get sold to Thailand. The rice goes all over Asia. There is also a subset who live off the tourist traffic on the water. Little boys and girls in their parents’ canoes glide up next to the tourist boats and jump aboard, repeating the incantation, “one dollah, one dollah.”  To them it seems magical because dollars appear in exchange for the cold Cokes and bananas they offer. Then they jump ship, and are back home in the family craft. It’s like a marine lemonade stand.

It’s been a week since I’ve heard or seen aircraft of any type. That’s plenty weird. Off the beaten civil and commercial aircraft path, apparently.

Yesterday we finally went to the granddaddy of all temples, Angkor Wat. It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Tons of carvings. The whole thing is one hundred thousand square kilometers. A moat surrounds it. There are three levels of ancient security in the form of masonry walls. Inside the third wall is the temple itself. Each of the four sides of that wall has a story from Hinduism carved into the walls. The story of Hanaman, the monkey saving Sita the queen from the demons, plays longer than a medium par three. The temple is oriented East-West, so the story of Heaven and Hell is even longer than Sita’s North-South tale of rescue. It is replete with demons meting out their punishments as the Judge sends scores to Hell. Heaven is less well represented. I assume the artists had more experience with the former than the latter.

The outside is also riddled with bullet holes. After we left Indochina in the seventies, the Khmer Rouge overthrew the Cambodian government and was ruthless by every modern-day standard. They cared little for people and less for art. On an oddly related note, the temples are primarily of Hindu origin. The Buddhist temples that preceded them were all defaced by the Hindus when they arrived. The Hindus left the bodies, but chiseled out the faces of the Buddha statuary, not unlike the Taliban blowing up the Buddhas in (what passes for) modern Afghanistan. Buddhism has no gods, just the trip to enlightenment on earth. Obviously, that really pisses off both the mono- and polytheists who insist their deities reign supreme.

Last night we went into the town of Siem Reap (we are in the province, but not in the town proper). It only takes ten minutes and one millennium. Actually, it is quite modern in places where the French colonized. There is a beautiful French Quarter and loads of food that runs the gamut from dirt-floor local restaurant to chic fusion and Continental cuisine. We settled for feeding seven hungry stomachs for $46. Not exactly five star, but not dirt-floor either.

On the way back, we and I hired a tuk-tuk­-that’s a traditional taxi. Not long ago they were man-powered rickshaws. Now, they’re little Honda 110 Dream Cycles with a carriage attached to the seat via trailer hitch. We drove along the Siem Reap River, first past the great colonial wealth, then the newer indigenous wealth, and ultimately past double and triple cots with the cool blue light of television glowing through mosquito netting. I’m realizing this is not just Asian, it’s the same economic diversity we have in Mississippi and West Virginia. The haves and have-nots aren’t bound by political borders.

Crazy hot, and this is the cool season, so pool will be popular, as will the beach when we get to the island of Koh Samui. Meanwhile, I’m just blown away by how my expectations were so out of line with the reality of Thailand, and so far Cambodia. First, the people are extremely friendly. The economies are driven by tourism. Many more speak English than I would have imagined. Infrastructure is modern and growing quickly. Also noteworthy is the fact that they are stylish and the women, in particular, are beautiful.

We spent the first week in Bangkok exploring the old temples and palaces and the canals that make it the Venice of the Far East. There are a billion cars and motorbikes and seem to be no rules of the road. I am taken aback by their technical and economic prowess and the huge dichotomy as past meets present. There’s no zoning in Bangkok, so beautiful new high rises shadow squalid old shanties. All told though, the momentum is decidedly toward progress and everyone has a cell phone. Satellite dishes bloom like madness in the spring (apologies to Ian Anderson). The malls are modern and teeming with consumers.

Southeast Asia is an awakening giant. The infrastructure is new and gleaming. The people are cheerful and glad to help. The service reminds me of the U.S. twenty years ago. We’d better watch out because they are innovative, on the rise and waiting their century.

 

Israel and Iran. Self Defense and Aggression.

August 14, 2012
I was afraid of this. Corruption, jingoism, opportunism, profiteering, and just plain wrongheaded-stupidity have led us into so many unjustifiable armed conflicts, that when a credible threat arises, fatigue and ideology overwhelm our instinct to defend ourselves.
History is instructive on this count. There was no leadership in the Warsaw ghetto. There was no insurgency. That is why my grandmother was the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust. She came alone as a teenager to the United States in 1917. She took my mother to Poland in 1937 so her family might meet their American granddaughter. It was the last time they saw any of them alive. Shortly thereafter, Hitler rounded up the Jews and fenced them into the Warsaw ghetto. The residents of the ghetto underestimated the evil, and overestimated the outside world’s understanding of their plight and its willingness to help. After millennia of persectution, Jews decided to keep their heads down, counting on aid that never arrived. It guides everything they have done since. Like so many American Jews, I hate that after all the years of being occupied, Jews in Israel have become the occupiers. I trusted Rabin. He fought for peace and, like Sadat in Egypt, was assassinated by his own right wing. I don’t trust Netenyahu. He’s built his coalition by courting Rabin’s murderers. Like all fundamentalists, they are rigid in thinking and stuck in a world the rest of humanity left centuries ago.
War is almost never the answer. But, when slavery couldn’t be stopped by political means, we had a devastating–but necessary–civil war. Hitler had to be stopped, but fatigue, fear from WWI, and general isolationism, kept us out of WWII until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor dragged us in. Had we geared up earlier, as Churchill admonished, and gotten on the Continent even a year sooner, we would have saved millions from the death camps.
Most wars are fought for territory, treasure or ideology. Only occasionally through man’s history have we taken up arms to defend against ruthless aggression or unthinkable inhumanity. On these occasions, we have served the best interests of mankind.
I don’t trust anybody who’s overwhelmed by their own dogma. If there is a unifying precept among liberals, it is open mindedness. I hope we can keep an open mind and leave all options on the table with respect to Iran. A stupid war in Iraq freed Iran’s hand, just as we tried to tell the last administration it would. Now we’re weary, Israel is faced with the threat of annihilation, and a theocracy that properly belongs in the seventh century is on the verge of possessing a weapon of mass destructive power. Let us hope that technologies like the stuxnet computer virus and political strategies that support regime change are enough to slow Iran. But let’s not be dogmatically bound to any single course of action.
This is NOT an entreaty to war, it is a plea for open mindedness.

NN12, Good and Bad; Happy and Sad

June 19, 2012

The mood was sour last week at Netroots Nation 2012, the seven year-old gathering of progressive political activists who have come together, and come of age, online.

Two days before they arrived for the four-day conference in Providence, Rhode Island, Wisconsin voters opted to keep Scott Walker, the embattled Republican governor who laid waste to collective bargaining rights for teachers, firefighters and cops. His victory was aided by enormous amounts of out of state money, the result of 2010’s Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision that said corporations are people, so they have First Amendment rights to unfettered free speech (which in practice means they can spend huge sums anonymously through Super-PACs).

Adding to the gloom, President Obama told a news conference that “the private sector is doing fine.” Predictably, Republicans were outraged. That did nothing to cheer the Netroots Nation.

The heroine of the ninety nine percent, and architect of the new Consumer Protection Bureau, Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, had lost her voice by the time she spoke Saturday. She went through the motions, but was largely uninspiring. She was obviously tired and her voice was hoarse when she gave a paint-by-numbers stump speech. It was cotton candy: sweet and filling, but completely without substance. The crowd wanted more.

Luckily, Van Jones was there. This guy is Superman. Except, there’s not a phone booth big enough to hold all his uniforms. Civil- and eco-rights activist, attorney, best selling author and former adviser to the president on the emerging Green Economy, Jones is quintuple threat. But, mostly he’s a realist. And somehow, he managed to cheer this group up.

He told them that he was obviously raised wrong, because his parents taught him that police officers, firefighters and teachers were heroes, not villains. He was surprised to learn they had caused the economic crisis and were being punished by having their pensions–and the ability to collectively negotiate any new contracts–cancelled.

And he told them to pick their eyes up off the ground, and to stop complaining about the Wisconsin loss and a president who isn’t as progressive as they’d hoped. He said you have to get in the game. You can’t stay out of Wisconsin where the governor outspent his opponent 30 to 1, and just wish the outcome was different. You have to be there on the ground. He said, memorably, “Democracy is not an app.” You have to get your head out of Facebook and actually participate. I thought he was a pretty good forward thinker in 2005 when he co-founded the African American online advocacy group Color of Change. I wasn’t surprised when President Obama picked him to spearhead their Green Economy initiative. And I wasn’t surprised when the Right went after him and he graciously resigned rather than making the White House fight for him. I was sure about him when he founded Green For All, the non-governmental agency “building an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.” My only surprise came this weekend when I–and about 3500 other people–learned how personally he takes the success of all our people and our country.

The other person who always cheers up a gathering is former Congressman Alan Grayson. He’s the guy who famously said the Republicans already have a healthcare plan: “Don’t get sick.” His website isn’t “CongressmanWithGuts.com” for nothing! They beat him in his Orlando district in 2010, when Democrats lost everywhere, but the polls say they won’t beat him this November.

I ran into him as he was being interviewed by one of the best progressive talk show hosts on the radio, Sirius XM’s Matsimela Mapfumo-Mark Thompson, who was midstream in his nightly Make It Plain show. It was the Congressman with guts and the talk show host with heart (and plenty of guts) talking solutions and hope at a time when seemingly everyone else was talking despair.

Thompson, by the way, is a uniquely American voice: schooled as a pastor, he has a preacher’s cadence and patience. Usually slow and sweet with his callers, he is also fully capable of switching identities without a phone booth. One caller who thought Thompson “paranoid” for wondering if/when he and his 10 year-old son would be stopped and frisked by NYC police near their Harlem home, got more than he expected. “Wait a minute. Wait a minute, fool,” the host protested with more than a little edge in his voice. “Y’know paranoia is a deluded mental condition. You’re closer to that than I am.”

By Saturday night, NN12, as they call it, was winding down and the rag tag coalitions that make up the 99%, the multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-cultural stew, was bubbling with hope again. They just needed to get together, and get back to their roots.

 

 

© 2012 Jon Sinton Progressive Agenda LLA

 

How Liberals Think

May 5, 2012

I recently served on a panel at the 64th Annual Conference on World Affairs that was titled “How Liberals Think, ” a question I’ve pondered as long as I can remember. Beyond the classic dictionary [New Oxford American Dictionary] definition, open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values; favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms; and (in a political context) favoring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform,” let’s address it as the more fundamental question: Which side of history do you want to be on?

I want to be on the side of the American Revolutionaries. Not the conservatives who sided with King George.

I want to be on the side of Lincoln and the abolitionists. Not the conservatives who were willing to spill their countrymen’s blood to preserve their ability to enslave their fellow man for economic gain.

I want to be on the side of the 21st Amendment that repealed Prohibition, not with the conservatives who passed the 18th Amendment that created it.

I want to be on the side of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, not the conservatives who opposed it.

I want to be on the side of scientific fact, not with the conservatives who, 85 years after the Scopes “Monkey Trial” in Tennessee, just passed legislation in the Volunteer State weakening the teaching of evolution.

I want to be on the side that advocated entering World War II, not the conservative isolationist obstructionists who delayed it.

I want to be on the side of The New Deal that created social insurance so we would never again face bread lines and destitution, not the conservatives who opposed Social Security.

I want to be on the side of the Interstate Highway system, not the conservatives who oppose infrastructure spending.

I want to be on the side of The Great Society, which expanded social insurance to create Medicare. Not the conservatives who opposed it.

I want to be on the side of the Environmental Protection Agency, not the conservatives who oppose protecting our air and water from pollution.

I want to be on the side of self-determination, not the conservatives who traded guns for hostages to sidestep Congress and fight an illegal war in Central America resulting in the Iran Contra Scandal.

I want to be on the side of welfare reform, not the conservatives who would allow the poor to starve in the richest country in the history of the world.

I want to be on the side that opposed the Iraq War, not the conservatives who lied and ginned up evidence to push us into Iraq.

I want to be on the side of working Americans like teachers, firefighters and cops, not the bankers who crashed our economy and socialized their debt by having us bail them out, then privatized their profits through outsized compensation and bonus plans.

I want to be on the side of love and non-discrimination, not the conservatives who are against  gays and lesbians having the same legal standing in marriage as everyone else.

I want to be on the side of Ben Franklin who said, “Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.” Not the conservatives who created The Patriot Act.

I guess all that makes me an Eisenhower-Nixon Republican/FDR-LBJ Democrat. Eisenhower built the freeways, and warned against the military/Congressional/industrial complex; Nixon opened China and created the EPA. FDR saved the world (despite the isolationist Republican Congressional and business leaders who wanted no part of WWII), and created social insurance; LBJ fought for civil rights and enhanced social insurance with the creation of Medicare.

Republicans used to be communitarians like Reagan and Eisenhower, but neither of them could get through primaries now. They’re not doctrinaire enough. I don’t even recognize the Party of Lincoln, and wonder what a life long Republican thinks of what has become of the Grand Old Party.

Here’s what Thomas Mann, of the nonpartisan Brookings Institute, and Norman Ornstein of the very conservative American Enterprise Institute write in their new book, It’s Worse Than You Think: However awkward it may be for the traditional press and nonpartisan analysts to acknowledge one of the two major parties, the Republican Party, has become a insurgent outlier, ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, scornful of compromise, un-persuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

By the way, I don’t have much patience for the Democrats as a party either. I guess I am an independent.

The entrenched, monied interests in Washington prosper when they keep us yelling at each other instead of at them. It is a great diversion. If we ever discover that so many of us who think we disagree actually agree, the game will up for them. But in the meantime, they promote the bickering and sniping, and hope they can keep us thinking the other side is unreasonable and even evil. The fact is we are mostly a centrist country whose common interests greatly outweigh our differences, but don’t tell anybody.

An Immigrant’s Tale

November 15, 2011

Martin was fourteen years old when his father first walked him to the United States. From the poor little Central Mexican village of San Miguel, the walk should take seven days. Sometimes, it took only six. Once, it took 11 days. And the time it took 15 days–they were lost–the party of itinerant workers ate snake (“Not very good, but you will it eat if you are hungry enough”), and armadillo (“Better than pork!”). They were happy not only to have food, but to have tasty food. The armadillo was charred on the outside, owing to a very hot cooking fire, but was quite juicy on the inside. Martin felt the juices running down his chin. It wasn’t until the next morning when he looked at his father in the daylight, that he realized how undercooked the armadillo really was and that he, as well as the rest of the party, was also covered in armadillo blood.

Counting his father and himself, there were eleven workers walking to Texas. When they crossed the Rio Grande at Eagle Pass, Seco’s truck was waiting for them. Along the road to his ranch, Seco stopped three or four times and sold all but four of the Mexicans to other ranchers. (The workers pay was typically garnished in total until they had repaid the ranchers’ outlays.) They would spend about three months driving cattle, mending fences, shearing sheep, etc. Seco’s father had taken Martin’s father under his wing many years before. When Seco inherited the ranch, he also inherited Martin’s father as a seasonal cowboy.

In those days, there was virtually no immigration or border patrol presence. Still, Seco was concerned that Martin would attract unwanted attention to the ranch because of his age. The government may not enforce immigration laws, but they were sure to enforce child labor laws. As a result, each day Martin would stay behind in the bunkhouse and be bored by local afternoon television, his light gardening chores done for the day.

One day, when there was no gardening to do, Martin talked his father into letting him ride out with the rest of the cowboys. In the mid-day, Seco stopped by the bunkhouse as was his habit. He expected to see Martin watching TV, and was alarmed when he didn’t see him. After quickly checking the grounds around the house and stables, Seco rode to where he knew the cowboys were working that day. He dreaded having to tell Martin’s father that he could not find the boy. Out on the range, Martin’s father feared Seco’s reaction when he saw that the boy was on horseback, working. To their great surprise, Seco, seeing how innately Martin handled the horse, threw caution to the wind and gave Martin his blessing. From that point forward, Martin rode the range with the rest of the cowboys.

They made the walk from San Miguel to Seco’s ranch a couple of times a year for three years running. Martin mastered the art of the cowboy, and loved the life of a rancher. But when he was seventeen, a slightly older friend in the village convinced his father that Martin could make a lot more money working construction in Los Angeles. The walk to the California border at Mexicali in the Baja took ten days. From there they got in a coyote’s van and rode in windowless seclusion to Tarzana where Bill lived.

Martin, who spoke no English, fell in with the other construction workers. He was small for a 17-year-old and was the brunt of Bill’s derision, although he didn’t realize it at the time. He had not yet put together the idea that the word “idiot” was the English version of “idiota.” All he heard was what he assumed must be a nickname. It was “idiot this” and “idiot that.” Bill, who in later years would be like a father to Martin, did not suffer fools gladly. In fact, it was Bill’s grandson who pulled Martin aside and said, “Let me apologize for my grandfather. He’s just not a very nice man.” It became clear to Martin that until he learned to speak English, he would make small mistakes and Bill would call him out on them. But Martin was a fast learner, and as he picked up a little English, he was able to hold his own.

It didn’t take him long to fall in with the guys. Their habit most days after work was to go to the 7-11, buy a six pack of cheap beer and a couple of frozen tacos, and go back to Bill’s house where they would eat, drink and watch TV. Martin learned to curse in English from his fellow construction workers, the rest of what he needed to know he learned from television. On Friday nights, they went out. At 17, Martin was not old enough to drink. And while the other workers drank, smoked marijuana, and snorted cocaine when they could find and afford it, they were not stupid enough to get caught driving under the influence. Martin was the designated driver on the Friday night excursions to the Tarzana dance hall.

The dance hall girls offered big smiles, their mother tongue, and overpriced drinks in exchange for dances. The boys drank and danced and held the girls close, but there was no sex. Pedro, Martin’s older brother, was a smooth talker. Before long he was dating one of the dance hall girls. The other boys idolized the charming Pedro because his girlfriend got him in without the cover charge, and arranged dates for the older boys that Martin and Pedro worked with. These girls were also illegals. They were the immigrant equivalent of the boys working construction. All worked hard, and all sent the majority of their money back to their families in Mexico.

The dance hall girls weren’t there for sex, but every once in a while a van full of prostitutes pulled up in front of Bill’s house. Over the next 10 years as Martin came north to work construction when the economy warranted, the prostitutes in the van were a staple. The young man who arranged the prostitutes’ visits never had to pay. Neither was he particularly modest. One evening, when the boys had chosen their girls and disappeared into the kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, closets, utility rooms, etc., the young man who made the arrangements found himself in the living room with one of the girls, and nowhere private to go. They simply slunk down behind the sofa and made the other boys in the living room step over them as they went to the kitchen for beer.

Although peopled by coyotes, drug addicts, and cholos (Mexican-American street gangs), Martin’s passage at Mexicali was generally untroubled. He did hear disturbing tales, though. It was not uncommon for the coyotes, most of whom had drug habits, to lead their charges directly to the cholos who would rob the men and rape the women. It was no skin off the coyotes’ noses, because they were not paid by the immigrants, but by the American employers on the other side. An immigrant usually gets across the border and to his safe house without spending a peso. They can’t leave the safe house until their new employers pay their freight.

It was also not uncommon for coyotes to separate the young women from the rest of the immigrants, and tell them that they could provide protection from the robbers, rapists and cholos. Having, gained these girls’ confidence, over the course of a few days walking, they would convince the girls that they were in danger, and that in exchange for sex, the coyotes would make sure they got to the safe house. The coyotes also promised that in exchange for sex, they would pay all the fees associated with the girls’ passage. The naïve young girls never realized that there is only one cash transaction, and that it takes place at the very end of the journey. So, when they would say to the safe house operator, “My passage was paid for by your cousin Jorge, the coyote,” the safe house operator would simply laugh and say, “I have no cousin Jorge,” and demand their usual fee from the family member or new employer who showed up to take the girls.

Martin married in his twenties and had five children with a girl from the village. At thirty, after thirteen years of crossing the border to work in the United States, Martin decided he would stay home with his family. San Miguel was becoming an art colony with tourist traffic and a little money. His mother had a large house near the town square. Martin and his wife lived there with their five children, his brother, his wife, and their seven children. In time, the inevitable sibling rivalries as well as the fights among the young cousins forced Martin and his wife to make their own home. For nine years, Martin found good work in the village as a driver and interpreter. He remained in close touch with Bill in Los Angeles. One day Bill called and asked Martin to fly to Tijuana where he was to meet up with coyotes and make the trip to Los Angeles. Bill suddenly had houses to build and needed his trusted foreman.

When Martin found the coyotes in Tijuana, they told him to leave his food and water behind. Instead of the typical three-day trip, they had made arrangements for a van, and needed only to walk about three hours into the desert to make the rendezvous. The party was twelve people altogether, including coyotes. Some of the migrants were experienced with the border and others were not. All were in better shape than Martin, who had allowed himself to grow fat driving the tourists around San Miguel. He had taken a week or so before embarking on this trip to get himself into shape, but his long walks in the cool high desert were not enough to prepare him for what awaited.

After following the coyotes through the desert outside of Tijuana for three hours, Martin became suspicious. He asked the coyotes where the van was. They told him that they were certain they would find it very soon. Night fell, and the coyotes, who had not allowed food or water to be conveyed, insisted on continuing to move through the desert. Martin knew better. They needed rest. He knew that the desert was unforgiving. Being fat and out of shape, he had shed his jacket in the oppressive heat of the day. By nightfall he regretted that, and wished very much for something to cover himself with, for the desert had chilled quickly. The coyotes showed no interest in rest. It seemed that they were cocaine addicts and were far too high to stop. They didn’t appear to need food or water, but their charges did.

By noon the next day, Martin had fallen hopelessly behind. Wracked with exhaustion, and without food or water, he was dizzy and beginning to hallucinate. At some point, having lost sight of the immigrants and coyotes in front of him, Martin collapsed near a very minor county road in what he assumed was by now the Arizona desert. He awoke delirious, with two Chicanos standing over him. They were willing to give him water and a sandwich, but nothing more. They feared the Border Patrol would arrest them on suspicion of being coyotes when they were simply ranch hands. Martin found that he was so sick that when he took a swallow of water, and it came right back up. So did the sandwich. His internal organs were shutting down, and the Chicanos were refusing to help him further. Martin threw himself on their mercy, and cried, “I have a wife and children who depend on me. You cannot leave me here to die. I could be your brother.” They discussed the situation and one of the men was dead set on leaving him. The other prevailed, however, and they lifted him into the back of their truck. They would take him to the nearest highway intersection and no further. Martin lost consciousness in the back of the truck, and when he came to he was on the ground sprawled next to a paved road that had a little traffic. Soon enough, the Border Patrol rolled up in an SUV. They helped him up. He’d never been so happy to see law enforcement officers, and prayed that they were taking him to jail. The agents did not want to do all the requisite paperwork for one immigrant, so they flagged down a taxi. The driver, seeing the rough shape that Martin was in, declined to take him. The agents tried to get Martin to drink water but he could not. They stopped at a convenience store and got him a sports drink, which was exactly what he needed. The glucose and electrolytes brought him back pretty quickly. The agents drove around with Martin in the back of their vehicle for few hours until he was finally well enough to be put on a bus bound for Tijuana.

Still feeling horrible, Martin checked into a familiar hotel at the border where he was able to bathe, sleep, and finally hold some food down. He reflected on the difference between Mexican immigration and American immigration. The Americans were likely to throw your food away so you’d have to turn around, but they respected your being and basically left you alone. The Mexican immigration officers preyed on Central Americans making their way to the U.S. border. They would beat them and steal their money. Martin thanked God that his troubles had arisen on the U.S. side of the border.

Later that day, outside the restaurant at the hotel, Martin ran into a coyote that he knew. The coyote seemed shocked to see him.

“Martin, I’m so happy to see you alive.”

“Why?”

“Because the people you were with the other day were all found dead. They wandered around the desert as they collapsed one by one and died.”

Martin, recognizing that the fat around his middle had saved his life, called Bill and told him that he would not be coming to LA.

Talk Radio Must be Careful with the Occupy Wall Street Movement

October 27, 2011

The knee jerk reaction of many, if not all, right wing hosts was to vilify and minimize a rather ill defined but decisively moral movement. While making fun of stuff we fear (or don’t understand) never loses its charm, this is a loose movement that many in our audience relate to positively. I think Limbaugh and Hannity were far too quick to tease and stereotype the protestors as vagabond hippies. In actuality, it’s teachers, fire fighters and cops upset by layoffs and the loss of collective bargaining rights, families distraught over upside down mortgages after their tax dollars bailed out the very banks who won’t loan to them and are trying to foreclose on their houses, and college graduates with big student loan liabilities and no job prospects.

As Charles M. Blow noted in the New York Times, “[OWS] has energized two groups who are notoriously apathetic and lacking in civic engagement—the young and the poor—and has done so outside the existing architectures of power and politics.” The Oct. 9-10 Time Magazine/Abt SRBI poll of 1001 Americans is decisive: 86% think “Wall Street and lobbyists have too much influence in Washington,” and 79% think, “The gap between rich and poor is too large.” Seventy one percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “Executives of financial institutions responsible for the financial meltdown in 2008 should be prosecuted.”

I know everybody thinks they’re one lotto ticket away from needing tax protection, but last year the median wage in America was $26,000 while the average S&P 500 CEO made $11 million. You have many more accountants, cops and teachers in your audience than S&P 500 CEOs. At least Dave Ramsey made an effort to find the truth by interviewing participants rather than judging them prior to investigation. I remain uncertain how he treated the matter as time progressed. I have only heard second hand reports that he also ultimately ridiculed the protestors, but the source was unreliable, in my estimation, because it was a conservative host who clearly had an agenda.

And that raises the most fundamental question of all: why does talk radio exist? Is it to inform? Is it to entertain? Is it to forward a political agenda? In the beginning it was just to generate ratings and therefore, revenue. Some really old school folks might say it is to serve the public interest by informing and enlightening, or maybe by supplying the platform for meaningful social and civil discourse.

At some point, the outrageous opining that offered more heat than light caught on and fueled a ratings bonanza. Old school talk was cast aside as unexciting, and a full-blown political propaganda machine was ignited. Ultimately–inevitably–we arrived at this moment, where the core audience is significantly older and less diverse than the population at large, and expects Talk Radio to defend its sensibilities, even as those sensibilities become obviously out of step with mainstream American thought.

Is it lucrative, wise or entertaining to be perceived en masse as the voice of the privileged one percent? Is it worth Talk Radio’s future to obstinately defend a position that will pretty clearly put talkers on the wrong side of history? When the primary season is over, Republicans will creep back toward the middle, hoping average voters didn’t notice their yearlong romance with hate, exclusion and derision. Can Talk Radio afford to take the same chance?

There’s a pretty good chance that the obstructive “get Obama and the Democrats at any cost” mentality will backfire on the Republicans, and that is their problem. I suggest that mentality no longer serves the ratings, revenue or public interest missions of our medium.

Can Talk Radio escape from the corner it has painted itself into?

Atlanta-based Jon Sinton is a serial media entrepreneur who has been an air personality, PD, consultant, owner, network founder and syndicator.

©2011, Progressive Agenda LLC


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