Republican Presidential Candidates Houses: Bad Taste Past the Boundaries

            New Orleans               Republicans, Democrats, or whatever, when something is way, way over the line, it should be roundly understood as out of bounds.  A piece in the New York Times Home and Garden section this week by Kate Zernike called “The Houses of the Hopefuls” was appalling on any number of levels.

Having Glen Beck and other haters give people my home address and phone number is, admittedly, part of why I am fairly easily offended that there are simply no standards at the Times or anywhere else it would seem over about the privacy of public figures, and the Times would at least like to pretend that it is a place that sets such standards.  Past privacy though, was there no editorial or journalistic judgment that would restrain them from publishing pictures and descriptions of the candidates houses in the interest of public safety and some sense of a basic human right to safety, even if they are so bold, arrogant, or principled to put themselves forward for public office.

On those grounds alone the piece was offensive from its first premise that somehow we (citizens and voyeurs?) have a “right” to peek through the windows of their houses and stalk them on the blocks where they live in order to “get to know them better.”  God, how ridiculous is all of that?

But, then if readers tried to get through the piece, you would quickly be able to discover why Republican candidates of all stripes and persuasions have no problems with the “call and response” from their base about the smug elitism and sensibilities of what former Vice President Spiro Agnew once famously called the “nattering nabobs” of the East Coast corridor.  The article without apology seems to see its mission as making fun of the candidates and their families, parading forward one rock throwing, self-promoting designer after another willing to take a crack at the taste and sensibilities of these candidates and their private spaces.  The article was snide and “bitchy.”  In this case bad taste was truly in the eyes of the beholder, because virtually the entire article reeked of bad taste compounded by terrible judgment.

The reporter and the Times think they are in a position to take potshots at the taste of the candidates because they are so old-fashioned, traditional, and tend towards the “colonial” in housing styles.  Duh?  Quelle shock!   When George McGovern ran for President as a peace candidate against the sitting Democratic President Lyndon Johnson over the issue of the Vietnam War, he clearly stated a universal political law when he said, “those that would be most radical, must remember to appear most conservative,” as he explained his on wardrobe and lifestyle in the post-sixties environment.

Here’s the perfect example from the article.  I’m no friend of Michelle Bachmann, but once one gets past that and wraps one’s mind around the fact that a large family overflowing with adopted and other children that makes its money through public and social services can possibly afford a house with a $750,000 price tag, why is it not in fact admirable that she and her husband bought a house that was part of a charity construction design and build project?   To me it seems commendable in fact, though it rates no comment from the Times other than earning her a couple of body shots from a so-called professional whining about the design and line of the roof, as if Michelle and her gang were the architects and up there hammering away on the beams and shingles.

It never gets better after that, expect that the reporter and her buddies do seem to believe that you get more if you are richer so they had some faint praise for Romney and Huntsman as the zillionaires of the crew.

The Times Public Editor and anyone with an iota of routine manners and slight common sense should recoil and protest this unseemly and unsafe invasion of privacy and ad hominem attack (and that goes for Michelle Bachman , too!).

As always, let’s hope for a better new year!

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Egyptian Military Crackdown on Government Funded Civic Groups

New Orleans        There seems little argument left that the Egyptian military is aggressively pursuing a counter revolutionary program.  The latest evidence was shocking in its boldness when a coordinated shutdown three U.S. Government funded civic and democracy groups, the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House, as well as a similar civic support German funded civic training foundation and a non-profit, the Egyptian Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory, whose mission is to study the Egyptian military budget and expenditures, making them invaluable but wildly controversial these days.

Other than the Observatory, the other groups are all funded either 100% or close to 100% by the U.S. Government or the German Government.  A U.S. Congress funding deal apportions money (and therefore patronage, jobs, travel, and so forth) to both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party to ostensibly run nonpartisan civic training and support programs, which would teach citizens in foreign countries how to make democracy and government work just like back home.  I will ignore the obvious contradiction that the way our government is now working is a challenged model at best in many foreign lands.  Similarly in Germany their international aid money is distributed through foundations that are run by each of the political parties receiving a threshold share of the parliamentary vote qualifying their stifung to initiate civic and training programs in other countries.  To call any of these non-governmental organizations is a stretch since virtually all of their money is funneled directly from either the US or German government depending on the entity.

So when the Egyptian military seizes offices and operations of such organizations there is no way to understand this other than as direct, premeditated slap at the governments in question.  This may seem like a shot across the bow, but it is more a missile fired close enough for powder burns and medic calls.

When the Organizers’ Forum delegation visited Cairo several months ago, our “political” committee met with an NDI representative, so we were pretty well briefed on their program.  Until the revolution it had been tiny and below the radar because it was hardly a program at all.  Since the revolution given the election activity they had added extensive staff, but we got no impression that any were organizers or folks that one could claim could cause the military many problems.  Freedom House had inelegantly tried to take perhaps too much credit for some training they had organized for activists in recent years.  When we met with young revolutionaries who had been key spokesmen for the Tahrir Square protests, they thought some of the training was valuable, but they had sent lower echelon people to participate, not having time themselves or a whole lot of interest from what we could determine.

The Egyptian military likely presumes that they can get away with some of this outrage because of the ham handed way the State Department and the U.S. Ambassador handled some of this after the revolution with announcements of multi-million dollar funds available to support “democracy building” projects that let to large lines around the embassy of folks desperate for the money, repelling any serious groups from being able to get near such support.  The Ambassador did everything but erect a giant neon sign saying that they intended to interfere in as many ways as possible, thereby making involvement or support by the US Government toxic to any of the activists or revolutionaries.

We met with numerous legitimate NGOs and there is no question that any NGO without a local base or registration is operating in very tenuous circumstances.  Without revealing more, the stories of the gyrations and contortions that allowed them to operate in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt were as innovative and startling as they were admirable.

The military seems to have pointedly sent a drastic and unsettling message to other world governments as they continue to try to divert attention from their own tragic mishandling of recent protests and the blood on their hands from almost 100 deaths in recent weeks.  We can only hope that as chilling as this will be to the rest of the non-profit community in Egypt that the military will be content with its international muscle flex rather than initiating a wave to even more drastic and draconian attacks on the human and civil rights of its citizens.  Without doubt there are many we visited with only short months ago who are now lying low, backing up hard drives, and staying with friends and family as they prepare for what could be worse to come.  Our hopes and prayers are with them.

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