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Who Is to Blame? Post Election Thoughts

November 10, 2016

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

I hear that crowds of Americans across the nation are protesting the election of Donald Trump as the 45th US head of state. They blame the president-elect himself.

Who is really at fault? And to whom or what should these disillusioned voters address their demands?

Unhappy citizens have to blame someone, or something; I understand this. So here are some suggestions:

The celebrated, pervasive and multifaceted, right-center-left US media are first and foremost responsible. Our press, the ‘fourth estate’, regarded as the ultimate check on abuse is, in my view, guilty of gross exploitation, motivated by profit, creator of teams of shoddy pundits, polls, and personalities. The US public and perhaps global viewers too have been lured, misinformed and manipulated for eighteen months while media giants, both print and broadcast corporations, indulged themselves in their free speech license. They focused on presidential personalities of any caliber to the exclusion of real issues and their task of educating the public. They sought out and exaggerated salacious detail – tempting us with sexual scandal and financial abuse. Commentators Glenn Greenwald and Wayne Barrett rightly focus criticism here.

Those forlorn protesters in the streets ought to shout not in front of Trump Towers; they need to hammer real hard at the gates of the NY Times, WaPo, Fox News, ABC, NBC, and even the breaking-with-the rulers-Democracy Now. Journalism students: start questioning your professors’ habitual invocation of purportedly liberal NYT coverage. Aspiring journalists: reject invitations to these deceivingly biased, self-serving news manufacturers.

News agencies themselves will be leading the call for the capture of Wikileaks director Julian Assange. With his masterful hacking service, even while exiled for four years within the Ecuador embassy, Assange has arranged releases of emails exposing Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign plotting. This party and their candidate’s campaign have indeed rigged the election process.

Unquestionably the Democratic Party must answer for their illegal methods to lockout rival Bernie Sanders. It hasn’t even apologized for its insider dealing, which are more damaging to democracy than Clinton’s email irregularities as secretary of state.

Related to this was the involvement of FBI director Comey, announcing just before election day that more email investigations were underway. What? Clinton-supporting news media were outraged by this reprehensible government meddling, but not by internal party plots.

This is the second US election where social network platforms, especially Twitter and Face Book, are considered essential and reliable democracy handhelds (part of what is now called Fifth Estate. Millennials and media professionals engage themselves in these communication tools as a sure means of free speech, inclusive citizenship and truth. With these in hand, their liberal views will surely prevail. So convinced are American free speech advocates of the merits of these devices, that youths in China, Syria, Venezuela –whichever governments the US seeks to undermine-- must have them too. (Although social networking seems to have flummoxed American Clinton supporters, they are supposed to help stir democratic revolutions abroad.)

Nationalists will claim foreigners are responsible for November 8th’s  failures. Not Russia but Syria will top the list, with Afghanistan and Somalia as seconds. After all, those hordes of fleeing citizens threaten US stability and security--thus the success of Trump in winning over so many Americans. Cheap Mexican labor dislodging US workers is another culprit that won Trump votes.

One sees little attention directed to the flawed US electoral system however, or to the imperfect American constitution. The US is run by a party duopoly that chokes us between two megastars. Then, the Electoral College (capitalized, as it is by Webster dictionary!) defies the popular vote.

Have you ever heard of a coalition government in the US? When fellow Americans are questioned about why the constitution can’t be changed to remove its proven flaws, they respond with blank stares and wonder. What: question the wisdom of America’s founding fathers?

Then what about finding a way to dislodge an incompetent or criminal president without launching a long, disruptive process of congressional impeachment and court procedures? Ever heard of a simple vote-of-no-confidence, a snap election? No; American presidential and congressional elections can occur only every four years. Period.

Finally, although this list can be expanded, we have to admit sloppy procedures at the many polling stations. A country engaged in the electronic collection of mega data on citizens and foreigners could surely streamline its election process to ensure that no citizen has doubts or fears about their eligibility and where and when to vote.   END

[ Who Is to Blame? Post Election Thoughts ]

Americans Embarrassed? Never.

November 04, 2016

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

“Aren’t you people in the States embarrassed by all this?” It’s my sister in Canada again. She seems unable to ignore news from the US—the continuing recriminations and anxieties emitting from our presidential election process. In the grip of Canada’s prevailing Christian Presbyterian morality (Toronto-the-good of our childhood), she is concerned for our embarrassment.

Americans embarrassed? Never.

If Americans were, first we’d never admit it; secondly it would be concealed within piles of satire generated in cartoons and nighttime television comedy.

Are Americans fearful? Yes. Despondent? Certainly. Are people sinking into a malaise? Possibly. Are they confused? That too. Are they revolted by the spectacle? At least many women are. Have they decided to forgo voting altogether? So we hear.

 If we were not embarrassed by what American soldiers did in Vietnam, by our treatment of Iraqis illustrated in the Abu Ghraib revelations, by our amnesia over 13 years’ murderous embargo on Iraq, by suicide rates of our veterans, by our bullying the United Nations, by Snowden’s exposure of mass surveillance, by the imprisonment of 2.3 million US citizens, by class and racial prejudice revealed in the treatment of Hurricane Katrina victims, by the racism underlying police brutalization and murder of our Black citizens, why should we be embarrassed by personal stories and statements associated with candidates for the land’s highest office?

Political discomfiture is however an issue worthy of attention. Embarrassment would indicate a moral sensibility; in politics here, that doesn’t exist. Or if it does, it’s dismissed and quickly buried in a deluge of trivia introduced by media as more newsworthy.

 I don’t recall media critics or concerned friends expressing embarrassment about what’s going on here. Outside the USA, attitudes diverge from ours. Many Canadians, I suspect, view the issue similar to how my sister sees it--: Americans ought to be embarrassed.

Further afield, some associates in the Middle East and Asia are laughing at this democracy-media spectacle while others unequivocally say Americans should feel ashamed. One displeased colleague in Nepal suggests the deteriorating situation results from too much campaigning; he says all of the substantial issues were raised and addressed during the primaries, so that now a depleted, exhausted press is resorting to personal issues to keep the conflict active. (A worthy point.) A veteran journalist in Iraq asks me: “Why all this debate? We know that for us and our neighbors there’s certain to be more war, whichever candidate wins. Why are they prancing and posturing like this?”

 We can expect that people around the world, not only viewers in Russia, Venezuela, or Iran—especially where Americans have interfered with their elections--must be watching with a certain glee? Others will doubtless be dismayed however. A few may be uncomfortable for their American friends.

 I’ll tell you one group of Americans who surely feel chagrined:-- our diplomatic corps who has to face counterparts at their posts across the globe. I really pity US diplomats. Normally, on election night US embassies host parties at their (walled-in) residences and consulates to share their congratulatory democratic process with professors, journalists and officials. Private US citizens living abroad often invite foreigners to witness the selection of their ‘leader-of-the-free-world’ (a term no one but Americans uses). Before satellite TV, an embassy invitation was the only way one could see election coverage live. Even with every house now hooked to multiple satellite news channels, election night at US embassies across the globe would be a festive occasion. This week, will US embassies dim their lights, pretending they’re not home?

 And what about those global citizens traditionally invited to the US to witness the process firsthand? I think it was at the 1980 election between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan that I met Nepalese leaders who’d been flown to D.C. and New York solely to observe and join in the pre-election atmosphere. They noted that invitations were regularly extended to dignitaries from across the globe for this four-yearly event. One assumes the practice continues today, embarrassing or not.

Just yesterday a Palestinian friend in Jordan sent this ode by poet Kahlil Gibran: here are some notable lines from it:

Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.  Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave  and eats a bread it does not harvest.  Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero, 

and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful. … Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox,  whose philosopher is a juggler,  and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking… 

END

 

[ Americans Embarrassed? Never. ]

Less Than A Week

November 03, 2016

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Days before the US countrywide election (beyond the Oval Office) our democracy is leaning on what are called ‘down ballot’ races. Finally!

While national media indulge in the vicissitudes of the sleazy behavior and financial machinations of our two presidential candidates, local papers and broadcasters are making some last minute effort to help lowly citizens understand what choices we have in our own congressional and state races.

The very term ‘down ballot’ I find disturbing, implying as it does things less important, less worthy --like ‘going south’, a common trope for ‘failure’.

This belated attention to ‘down-ballot’ sums up the low priority given to hundreds of (non-presidential) races. Yet they are not insignificant. They include thousands of candidates running for the two houses of congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate, and for senate and assembly seats in 50 state legislatures. It’s the winners of these contests who make laws, who formulate environmental, agricultural, health, judicial and educational policies, who draw up budgets, and who are the real checks and balances on higher leadership. It is their ideals and their decisions which shape Americans’ day-to-day lives and our children’s futures.

I’m not the first one to note that democracy here is dysfunctional. What’s wrong with the Democratic Party? (I plead, to blank stares.) The Republican Party too. First, together they ensure that other parties, worthy but smaller, never become a serious challenge to their co-control. Second, both these major players are equally committed to the success of capitalist philosophy and the dominance of US military might across the globe.  

The Democratic Party for all its moralizing and its intellectual chauvinism is well known to be notoriously negligent when campaigning beyond (and below) the presidential ticket; it seems to hibernate during what are called ‘off season’ (non-presidential) election years. Thus the loss of the Democratic majority in the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014, resulting in influential committee chairs taken over by Republicans who could (and did) proceed to advance or withhold legislation in their own party’s interest. Thus we find ourselves with a blocked and bickering US Congress that also stonewalls President Obama’s attempts to lead.)

The brilliant and tireless civics educator Ralph Nader details this unhappy history in a recent article. An outstanding intellectual and civic campaigner, Nader asks why we repeatedly let this happen.

Even in these last hours of this shameful demonstration of how our democracy has deteriorated, when some local candidates are desperately trying to wade through their parties’ muck to inform voters about their personal values and qualifications and to discuss local concerns, they too are obliged to devote resources to countering lies and half truths broadcast by opponents. Local candidates are also distracted by media’s relentless questioning about Trump’s personal character and Clinton’s emails and lecture fees.

Like hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of citizens, I am deluged with campaign messages; rather than speak about policies, partisan campaigners like Moveon.org, DailyKOS, turnoutpac, DSCC (dscc.org) Senators Pelosi, Warren, Schumer and Sanders, the Committee of Concerned Scientists and more, plead for money to stave off the specter of a Trump victory.

People I meet and radio commentators I listen to heartily engage in gossip around the latest presidential contenders to the neglect of what’s happening in their own backyard. One example is WAMC Radio in Albany which, whereas it does a fine job covering state affairs for New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut, during this election cycle it seems to ignore local elections while devoting excessive air time to the scandals (or potential scandals) related to presidential candidates

Media, a major culprit in the deterioration of our democracy, focuses where the drama and dirt are, tapping into the abundant whistle blowers and cynics who feed this sleaze-hungry machine. For months media has gleefully joined the fray. With vigor and expectations of profit, it may have entertained us with this indisputably colorful circus. But with what aim, except to suck up our energy and crush our ideals.

Citizens are irresistibly drawn into the drama. As dismayed and despondent and exhausted as they are, they still feed off the daily revelations, caught in the whirl of twitter and facebook posts.

We may join the gossip but I suspect many are less and less inclined to vote. Come actual election day balloting at local stations may be meager.

Starting Friday one congressional campaign I ‘m familiar with is putting all its energy into what’s called GOTV—GetOutTheVote. In other words, just get people to the polls next Tuesday!

 

 

[ Less Than A Week ]

It's Only A Car! a media story

October 26, 2016

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

“It’s only a Car!”     Oct 25/16               by Barbara Nimri Aziz

“Yes, I listen when I first wake up, maybe while getting the children ready for school; sometimes in the car too.” They’re talking about radio. Radio was supposed to become a marginal medium, surpassed first by TV and then, surviving that, it would be buried by the internet. Yet radio is still with us. More than surviving, radio has introduced new ways of speaking, conversing and telling stories. A whole new sound has been created for example by Atlantic Public Media. Meanwhile some traditions continue.

Except that my very favorite radio show for almost three decades fits no tradition:—it’s part comedy, part advice column, part phone call-ins. (Listener call-ins gave radio a tremendous boost in the 1960s.)

I continue to be a radio addict. As a critic of government policies, an aficionado of literary readings, and a producer of “RadioTahrir” (www.RadioTahrir.org) for 23 years on the avant-garde and activist Pacifica Network (www.Pacifica.org) you’d expect my favorite to be a show related to political or literary enterprise. Actually, the program I listen to most faithfully is one that’s impossibly dissimilar. It’s CarTalk. This, though I’m not even a car enthusiast.

CarTalk is a hilarious, practical advice call-in show. It originated in Boston 30 plus years ago by two feisty Italian brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi, both garage mechanics (the do-it-yourself-sort; but to figure out their degree qualifications), a perfectly paired team with a shared irrepressible sense of humor.

Think about it. How often while listening to a non-comedy radio broadcast do you find yourself chuckling? Not only this: these hosts engage in banter and howls of laughter while dispensing serious counsel --all having to do with cars! Threaded though the humor is lots of useful (and reliable) car advice. (They really have to be good because of safety liability, the reputations both of cars they discuss and garage mechanics their guests already consulted.) The stimulus for Tom’s and Ray’s comments are calls from listeners challenging the brothers with simple, complex and silly car problems: mechanical problems, disputes with their local mechanic, family predicaments around co-ownership, repair costs, holiday motoring anxieties, and inheritance problems (cars often pass from parents to children). The issues are actual problems which cars, especially older models, experience. And Americans keep their cars for a long time.

CarTalk, in my view, is the most engaging program on US radio, on radio anywhere. A weekly one hour show, it’s been airing every Saturday morning as long as I can remember. With the passing of Tom the older member of the team in 2014, the live broadcast ended. Today the program continues as The Best of Car Talk, edited from their archives. Meanwhile www.cartalk.com carries a full show, highlighted moments of fun (or guidance), automotive news, and abundant free car advice.

Part of the success of the program, in addition to the spirited character and compatibility of the brothers, lies what cars symbolize in American history and culture. People grow very fond of their cars and are reluctant to part with them, thus the need for repairs to keep them functioning well past their dump-yard date. (We think we can fix our car ourselves—with a little advice.) An owner feels proud that her car’s odometer registers 200,000 miles, or if it approaches 170,000 (as my 1985 Toyota did) we’re determined to keep it running (as I did), whatever the cost, until it cracks 200,000. No car owner likes to spend money on repairs either, so Tom and Ray’s advice mustn’t require a lot of expense. Then there are the mechanical mysteries that emit from a car: you know, those rattles under the hood or the scraping below the passenger seat. So we turn to CarTalk to address our doubts or after our own local mechanic hasn’t performed a cure for our ailing 1968 Chevy pickup, or our limping 1992 Honda Civic..

The brothers seem to know every car model ever made, from 1950s vintage Fords to the latest Swedish, Chinese and Indian brands. After ID'ing their location a caller starts with: “I have a 1978 Volkswagen bus whose windshield wipers don’t work…..”, or “I and my husband are going to take cross country trip with our 3 dogs, two rabbits and a parrot; we can’t pay more than $3000. and plan to dump the vehicle once we arrive; what should we buy?” Tom and Ray try to diagnose the issue and dispense advice, injecting guidance with abundant hilarity, while never, never reproaching or ridiculing a caller. The hour is upbeat, always hilarious, and the advice is highly reliable and, it seems, mostly spot-on.

The personalities of the brothers and the chemistry between them explain much of CarTalk’s popularity. But this program taps into our American romance with cars and our attachment to these celebrities of manufacturing history. Cars enjoy an unparalleled place in American life. Desoto, Mustang, Studebaker, Roadster, Impala:-- these names are deeply embedded in the American lexicon. Each represents an image fixed in our memory, in the brains even of young people born long after a model ceased being manufactured. Cars represent key points in millions of Americans’ lives, in the latter 20th century if not now. Famous songs eulogize cars; cars are the subject of poems; “Motown” is the trope for Detroit city, center of auto manufacturing for decades, and the music genre that emerged there.

A driving license, not a pair of Nike trainers or the latest iphone edition, was and still is for many, the primary goal of a US teenager. We started saving for our first car even before we had our driver’s license; cars compete with sports to occupy 90% of young men’s conversations. We concocted quiz games about cars and car models. There is an entire industry in the U.S. devoted to auto museums, small scale car models, and road functional antique cars. Cars parked in residential driveways are part of American architecture. In my town, I recognize my neighbor by the color and model of their passing car. We can usually gauge a person’s income by the model of their car.

Whatever the caller’s car model, one of the brother’s recognizes it—1972 El-Camino, 1959 Ford Torino, 1990 Dodge Viper, 1980 Desoto Adventurer, or 1966 Volkswagen bus. (Most callers seek advice for only 20 plus year-old vehicles.) These radio hosts seem to know any car’s mechanics and particularities that could cause problems. Instead of saying “Take it to the junk yard; it’s past 250,000 miles”, they do their utmost to help extend its life. They treat the car like it’s a family pet. Only occasionally Tom would advise—“It’s only a car!”

[ It's Only A Car! a media story ]

Less Than Two Weeks

October 19, 2016

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

In response to Ralph Nader’s relentless calls --now there's a long distance runner-- high school social studies classes may devote a special hour this month to teach school children about the American electoral system. But it’s their parents, the voters, who need the crash course in civics. And quickly. We have less than two weeks to become real participants in our democracy. How can this happen when citizens are gripped by 24/7 coverage of a made-for-TV national blockbuster fed by ceaseless new corruption and sex revelations and deepening personality clashes of celebrity candidates? 

In the days remaining before we cast our votes, there’s little likelihood that ignorance and confusion about the 435 House races can be addressed so that voters can make intelligent choices. Since their outcome will decide the balance of power in the US Congress, why are we not preparing ourselves, to make our vote in our home districts count?

                Take the state I am familiar with--New York. New Yorkers pride themselves on having a political sophistication, but are actually woefully ill-informed. About the presidential circus, everyone I meet can volunteer lengthy comments; they quote press accounts of gaffs, policy shortcomings, poll numbers and the latest satirical skit. They may know the name of their incumbent congressman or woman, but not if they’re running again, how many terms they’ve served or who their opponent is. And races for the state senate or assembly? Forget those.

In just one campaign in this state, the problem is readily apparent from a sample of neighbors: “I want to know what a congressperson actually does,” announces Kathryn, a short-tempered resident who’d all but given up on politics. She plans to attend our meeting with District 19’s candidate and it’s evident that even though she’s 60ish and a professional who works with the public, Kathryn has never spoken to a member of the US Congress, not even to a congressional candidate. Her newfound enthusiasm to break this pattern is because this weekend she’ll have a chance to meet one.

Privately—by necessity since we could arouse neither interest nor help from our state or country Democratic party-- a few residents managed to lure one candidate to a town hall gathering. (New York is not a “swing state”. It’s expected to go wholeheartedly Democrat and as a region which the Democratic Party takes for granted, there’s no aggressive campaigning here --i.e. no significant funds are allocated by the national party.) Ours is one of four or five US House seats in NY where incumbents have resigned or otherwise will not run.These seats are open and present fair competitions whose outcomes could alter the balance of power in the House of Representatives. Don’t they count?

Urged on my some residue of hope for this country and an anthropologist’s curiosity, I’m devoting time to move through my neighborhood, risking rude rebuttals and challenging beware-of-dog warnings to urge residents to vote November 8th and to inform them of the candidate I’m supporting.

After Kathryn, I run into Lebron who’s in town for casual work as a housepainter. (He’s actually a professional cook.) Handing him a campaign flyer I ask: “You live in Middletown, so you’d be voting in this district, right?”

“Well, I’m now registered. But district 19, I don’t know.” I check my map; Middletown lies on the border of Sullivan and Orange counties. I’m uncertain too.

Steve working nearby overhears us and offers that he too isn’t sure if he votes in district 19. “My house is in Sullivan but my business is here in Delaware County; are they in the same congressional district?” (It’s a legitimate question since District 19 includes 7 whole counties and shares 5 counties with other electoral districts). This uncertainty also suggests that Steve, and maybe others too, haven’t visited their ballot station—they haven’t voted--in many years.

                Sharon, down the street, steps out of her house to talk. We rarely see Sharon at our pancake breakfasts or summer Bar-B-Qs, so her eagerness to come to the coming town gathering is a good sign. “I think I have some things to ask her; I’ve seen some TV ads; there are pros and cons. What about the tax cap; what’s her position on that? I heard she wants to raise taxes.” “Come and ask her yourself”, I retort. “I will.”

(I make a note to phone Sharon on Friday to remind her of the meeting time.)

Taxes seem to be the overriding issue; no comments on foreign or energy policies, jobs, educational reform, or Citizens United (unpopular with the left because of the liberty it grants wealthy individuals and corporations to donate to candidates).

                Even as Election Day nears a lot of people here haven’t yet made up their minds, certainly not about congressional candidates (they seem clearer about their presidential choices). More than once, before I have a chance to properly identify myself at their door, the householder assaults me with “Oh, no, I’m not for Hillary”, or, “I was for Sanders, but he’s out. So I’m undecided.” If, before the door closes I can explain which candidate I’m here to talk about, unfriendliness turns to curiosity. “Who?” Accepting a brochure, they ask: “What party is she? Oh, yeh, I think I saw something about her—she’s not from this area.” Or,” I saw a TV ad and have my doubts.”

“Well, do you expect to vote on Nov. 8th”? I retort, trying to end our exchange on a positive note. “Let’s see; I’m undecided. I need to know more”. Ten replies like this are erased when a door opens and a smiling citizen announces, “Oh she has my vote for sure. She’s terrific.”

Does he know more than the others? Is he a party faithful? Does he simply believe he counts?

And another thing: the state assembly and senate races! On Nov. 8th do we have to vote for candidates there too?

[ Less Than Two Weeks ]
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