Tuesday, September 30, 2008

See ya at the Fair: I'm gonna get to go to the Palin-Biden debate too!

(Photos are of me at Graceland the morning after the Obama-McCain debate in Mississippi and at the Las Vegas airport during a layover -- I won $40!)

"You've just GOT to come see the Palin-Biden debate," said my friend Patrick who lives in St. Louis.

"Gee, I don't know," I replied. "I just got back from the Obama-McCain debate and that trip was exhausting. Hey, I'm a little old lady. I need my rest. And besides, I'm leaving for Iran on October 9 and I still don't have a THING to wear for that trip." I mean seriously. What DO they wear in Iran? Probably the same thing they wear in America -- lots of polyester. But then Patrick finally persuaded me to go by telling me that St. Louis was the murder capital of America. I can't miss that. Plus it's got golden arches. And it's a hecka lot closer as a source of hot news items than going all the way to Iraq.

So I borrowed some more frequent flyer miles, made a flight reservation to arrive in St Louis at 12:30 am on the day of the debate, dug my sleeping bag out of the closet and wrote out my will. I'm ready to go.

Now if only Sarah Palin is ready to go too.

Rumor has it that Palin is currently chained to a table in the U-Penn library, memorizing data like crazy so she can just plug in some talking-points when certain buzz-words come up and won't have to think -- or else she is getting ready to drop out of the race altogether by pleading a family emergency or a war breaking out in Iraq or something.

In any case, whatever happens on October 2 in St. Louis, I'll be there! And I promise to report back all the hot gossip -- unless of course the Secret Service tries to throw me in jail this time too.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Secret Service guy: "Hospital or jail?" Me: "Jail!"

(Photos are of Ashley's blue hair, the statue commemorating James Meridith for his stance against injustice, the cops at the checkpoint looking at my ID and me in the hospital getting tests)

My youngest daughter Ashley just sent a text message to her friend Frankie. "I just got a phone call from my mother and you are not going to believe what happened to her! She's currently in the hospital -- or jail -- in Oxford Mississippi. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around, where the kid is supposed to be the one in jail and the mom is supposed to be the one to come and bail the kid out? What kind of mother do I have!"

Want to know what happened? Here's the whole story.

Last week I attended the McCain-Obama debate in Oxford, Mississippi. The Commission on Presidential Debates did a wonderful job of organizing the debate and the people working their tables down at Ole Miss were also very helpful, not only giving me my media credential badge but also throwing in a fabulous southern-style breakfast. I was good to go.

Equipped with an official media badge, I then wandered over to the checkpoint that you gotta go through in order to get to the media filing room next to the debate venue. It was a rather hot day, I hadn't slept for 24 hours and I was carrying a whole bunch of luggage -- but other than that, I was in hog heaven. I had my CPD badge and I was about to go out and score a hot new story! Life was good.

But then I got more of a story than I had anticipated.

When I got to the checkpoint I flashed my badge to the officer manning the gate -- but then I just couldn't keep my mouth shut and started to brag. "See that photo on the badge? That was taken in Iraq when I was an embedded journalist," I pointed with pride. Wrong thing to do! The guard took a closer look -- of the photo of me on the streets of Iraq, wearing a headscarf! Holy crap!

You could just SEE what was going through that guy's mind. Maybe he'd just got done watching that racist and defamatory DVD called "Obsession" being distributed to voters by McCain fans and was thinking to himself, "Lordy, we got us here a genuine Islamic terrorist!" You might have been able to see that -- but not me. I was totally naive, only just wanting to brag about one of the most meaningful experiences of my journalistic life. Not only that, but the photo had been taken by a Marine officer too. Humph.

The checkpoint guard consulted his superior. The superior wasn't one of those Mississippians who were famous for their hospitality. This superior was a hard-boiled COP. "You can't use that ID here," he snarled. "You can't see your face."

"But the CPD gave it to me. See. There's my name! And here's my CPIC military ID. And here's my drivers license. See? My name. My picture. That's me." So I asked to see HIS superior. By this time I was polite, patient and Pissed Off. "This is discrimination! You are discriminating against me because I'm wearing a Muslim headscarf!"

"Am not."

"Are so."

Then another guy showed up, wearing civilian clothes. What was I thinking! Just because he'd taken off his black jacket because of the heat, that still didn't mean that he wasn't Secret Service! "I'm taking your badge," he told me. No southern hospitality here either.

"Give me back my badge," I replied politely. "The CPD gave it to me. They approved it. It's mine. Give it back." So we stood out there in the hot sun and me carrying all this luggage and me haven't slept for 24 hours and he wouldn't give me back my badge. And then I got sunstroke and sat down.

"If you don't get up right now, I'll have you arrested," growled the Secret Service guy. But I just couldn't get up. I really honestly couldn't.

"I can't get up," I mumbled.

"Then you're going to jail." Fine. Attica! Attica!

"But I'm feeling really bad," I mumbled again. "Can I call my lawyer?"

"You don't need a lawyer. You need to get out of this area. If you don't get up and leave right now, then you're going to a hospital. It's either the hospital or jail."

"Jail!" I replied. I was NOT going to put up with this injustice. If James Meridith could stand up to injustice here back in the 1960s, then so could I! That was MY freaking badge. Give me liberty or give me death! And then I passed out.

The next thing I knew I was in an ambulance and the paramedic was writing "uncooperative" on my chart because I couldn't answer his questions. Heck, I couldn't even have told him the correct answer if he had given me that "Who's the President of the United States" test. But then almost no one has been able to answer that question correctly ever since Bush stole the 2000 election. But I digress.

So. No jail for me.

At the hospital, I guess they were bored or not busy or something so they put me through every test they could think of. I got a complete blood work-up, a chest X-ray, an EKG, an IV full of saline solution, an oxygen tube -- about $5,000 worth of gadgets and tests. I even got a CAT-scan! Finally they diagnosed me with heat exhaustion, gave me a glass of iced tea, fed me some pot roast, handed me back my luggage and told me to take a cab back to the debate site. Which I did.

Once back at Ole Miss, the CPD issued me a new media credential badge -- with a photo of me without the headscarf -- and I finally got into the media filing tent after all. I was $5,000 poorer, roughed up, scared, dehydrated and truly pissed off about the injustice of it all and having lost five hours of time that I could have spent reporting and having my wonderful photograph of me doing yeoman service as an embedded journalist debased and treated like a terrorist by the Secret Service and discriminated against...but other than that? I was okay.

Ashley, You can text Frankie again -- that your mommie is not now in jail.

Plus I'd just been gifted with yet another hot story! And possibly a lawsuit.... Does anyone out there know anyone from the ACLU?


Muslim Children Gassed at Dayton Mosque After Obsession DVD Hits Ohio: ....John McCain has a moral obligation to publicly censure the Clarion Fund; to denounce the inflammatory, anti-Muslim message of Obsession; and to do everything in his power to stop any further campaign activities by his supporters that have the potential to incite violence. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-rodda/muslim-children-gassed-at_b_130076.html

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Who won the Mississippi debate? Obama -- but for different reasons than you think

(Photos are of the Ole Miss campus, the debate venue area, McCain's bus blocking the view, the media tent and my too-dark-to-see money shot of Obama -- click on it to enlarge it and you can hopefully see him striding along presidentially)

John McCain came on strong at the debate in Mississippi the other night -- while Obama just seemed hesitant. So. Why do I think that Obama won? For several reasons.

First, I was actually in Oxford on September 26 and watched the debate from inside a gigantic tent filled with approximately 600 other journalists. While we were all pounding away at our laptops (except for me, I didn't have one, sigh), there was this one young lady who was going around and handing out McCain talking-points to us every ten minutes during the entire time that the debate was in progress. Apparently the McCain campaign people would focus in on something Obama said, plug it into their database, come up with a pre-fab rebuttal, photocopy it onto light blue paper and distribute it to us journalists -- all within minutes after Obama had made his comment.

This was an extremely clever ploy on the part of McCain's team.

However. I soon began to notice that after the third or fourth talking-point conglomeration had been passed out, more and more journalists began covering their work spaces with their hands, indicating that they just couldn't deal with any more light blue papers from McCain.

By the time that the tenth or 12th blue paper was being handed out, journalists appeared to be thinking, "That's a heck lot of trees being cut down just for this...."

Second, as a reporter from Topeka wisely told me in the parking lot later, "McCain was playing to his base tonight, talking about Reagan, POWs, defending Israel, keeping hands off the DoD budget, etc. -- while Obama was playing to the swing vote." Interesting.

After the debate was over, Fox News commentator William Kristol told us that "McCain was on the offensive throughout." And Obama came off as being very mild-mannered, even bringing shades of John Kerry to mind.

During the debate, Obama complimented McCain at least five times, saying "Senator McCain is right...." Why was he doing that? According to the reporter from Topeka, Obama was trying to appear non-confrontational -- because the people in the swing states say that they don't like confrontational debates.

Third, Obama -- not McCain -- appears to be the darling of the media (and also the American people) because he is so much more accessible. Here's an example of the difference between Obama and McCain: 20 minutes before the debate, Obama arrived at the venue, got out of his vehicle and walked the last 50 feet to the side entrance, waving at us journalists as he walked.

"Give 'em Hell, Barack," I cried. And maybe an additional 300 journalists also clapped and waved too. And then we waited for McCain to arrive. And waited.

Ten minutes before the debate, a big-assed bus drove up in front of the rear entrance, totally blocking off any view that the press might have had of the doors. Then, five minutes before the debate was to begin, McCain's vehicle suddenly drives up between the bus and the entrance, pulls into this special white Secret Service-supplied tent and gets out of his car. NO ONE in the press corps caught even a glimpse of McCain as he entered the building, not even for a second. And no one in the press corps clapped for him or waved at him either.

This is a very good example of the difference between Obama and McCain. McCain, like Bush, is not gonna go out there and mix with the hoi poloi, even if they are carefully vetted (and carefully frisked) members of the free press.

Fourth, what I learned outside the immediate debate venue area was also important. What I had seen and heard as I walked around the campus of Ole Miss earlier that day gave me several more insights into Obama's various strengths.

The people I saw on campus who were wearing Obama buttons looked like normal people. The people wearing McCain buttons looked like Goldwater Girls -- like Barbie and Ken. Hey, there are only so many of those types of voters left in America these days. All the rest of us are too busy running for cover trying to protect our bank accounts. And it was to us that Obama seemed to plead his case during the debate.

But then I didn't get to circulate all that much among the crowds at Ole Miss during the afternoon prior to the debate. Why? Because I was being detained by the Secret Service and in the hospital. But that's another story.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Report from Mississippi: Oxford in a tizzy, Obama on his way

Well my hitchhiking plan worked and I got from the Memphis airport to Oxford Thursday night at 1 am and spent the night on a park bench. Now I'm credentialed and everything and am in the University of Mississippi library media center, typing away.

Folks in Oxford appear to have really gotten pissed off when McCain canceled.

Now McCain is waffling, trying to think up a good excuse to back down on his pledge not to come to the debate. Why are we not surprised.

There is a MEDIA CIRCUS here. So far, 4,000 reporters have been credentialed, even me. And I got a free Southern breakfast this morning so I won't have to eat for a week.

Here are some photos so far. A James Meridith memorial event is starting in ten minutes. Gotta go.
PS: McCain just blinked. He's on his way to Mississippi right now.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Here's the official statement by the Commission on Presidential Debates:

This is the official CPD statement I got from the website of the University of Mississippi [Note how they say that the public will be "well-served" by having the debate]:

Oxford, Mississippi: September 24, 2008 -- “The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) is moving forward with its plan for the first presidential debate at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss. this Friday, September 26. The plans for this forum have been underway for more than a year and a half.

"The CPD’s mission is to provide a forum in which the American public has an opportunity to hear the leading candidates for the president of the United States debate the critical issues facing the nation. We believe the public will be well served by having all of the debates go forward as scheduled.”

Stuck in Memphis again: McCain cancels the debate!

John McCain is behind in the polls. So what does he do? He cancels the freaking national presidential debate! "Country First!" he cries. "I need to go back to Washington to help get the financial crisis resolved. I gotta act Presidential." Yeah right. Like Congress is actually going to be in session at 9 pm on a Friday night.

Or are you going back to Washington to protect your buddies on Wall Street, John?

And what about us THREE THOUSAND media people who are scheduled to descend on Oxford, Mississippi in just two days? And what about Obama? Now if he shows up, he's gonna look like a slacker. All because McCain can't get his numbers up in the polls!

And what about ME? I already got my ticket to Memphis. What the freak am I gonna do in Oxford all by myself with all those other lost and distracted 3,000 reporters wandering around looking for a story?

And what about if McCain also cancels the Biden-Palin debate? What if Palin suddenly declares that she has to go back to Alaska to keep her eye on the freaking Russians? "Country First!"

That's just bull-moose dookie.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hoovervilles & camping out at the Memphis airport: My trip to Mississippi so far....
(Photos are of some of the airports that I have slept in over the years)

I'm still planning to go to the Obama-McCain debates in Oxford Mississippi this Friday night. I got a new plan. I just bought my frequent-flyer airline ticket to Memphis, arriving on Thurday night, spending the night in the airport (I'm bringing a sleeping bag), hitchiking to Oxford for the debate on Friday (I have a sign that reads "Journalist needs ride to Oxford"), eating a large meal at the free media buffet table, watching the debate, hitchhikinging back to my new home at the Memphis airport, spending another night there and flying home via Las Vegas where I will win a million bucks on the slots.


But what will I DO with my new $1,000,000? That's a no-brainer. I'll buy gold! And hoard the hell out of it. Apparently, however, a company called the Central Fund of Canada will actually hoard your gold for you. As far as I can tell from their website, you buy the gold from them and they store it for you somewhere up in Alberta. But will I actually be able to go up and VISIT my gold? It doesn't say anything on the website regarding homestay visits with one's gold.

Speaking of money, that wily fox George W. Bush is at it again, back in the henhouse. "Lookie here, Dick," I can just hear him say, "we stole that election back in 2000, then we robbed the taxpayers blind with our Ponzi scheme in Iraq. Then we stole the 2004 election and looted the American middle class, scammed the housing market, raised the price of gas over a hundred percent, screwed with FEMA, gouged sick folks on prescription prices and Lord knows what all else. But I only gots three more months left in office now and, frankly, there's still some money left in the treasury that we still haven't touched. Crap! What else do you think we can do to soak the US taxpayers right down to the very last drop before January?"

Cheney just smiled. "No problem there, ole buddy. Let's give Henry Paulsen a call...."

And Paulson came up with a fabulous idea for looting the henhouse really good. Now every single dollar in the US treasury will be gone, gone, gone by the time McCain gets inaugurated. And won't John be unhappy about that! Nothing left for him to steal?

PS: What I don't understand is why the government doesn't just give one trillion dollars to the homeowners themselves. It would be sort of a HUD Section 8 rent subsidy for the middle class. Works for me.

PPS: I just e-mailed the Obama campaign headquarters to see if I could get an interview with Barack about his position on HUD Section 8 housing subsidies. You know what would happen if the government ever cut off Section 8? Within a month, the entire United States would start to look like a Hooverville tent city. Or should I say "Bushville"?

Next I'm gonna e-mail the McCain campaign headquarters and ask if I can interview McCain on this subject too -- him being an expert on houses and all.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Mississippi presidential debates: Does Jackson have a public transportation system?

(Photos were taken on the set of the CNN South Carolina presidential primary debates)

Several months ago I applied to the commission in charge of presidential debates in order to cover the Obama-McCain debate in Jackson, Mississippi on September 26, 2008.

But days and weeks went by and I still hadn't heard anything back from the commission, so I called them up. "If you haven't heard anything so far," they told me, "that means that you HAVE been credentialed."

Have YOU heard anything back from the commission about not being credentialed for the Jackson presidential debates? If you too haven't heard anything so far either, does that mean that you too have been credentialed?

See you in Jackson.

As June Carter Cash is fond of saying, "I'm going to Jackson...." Yeah, but what do I do once I get there -- besides report back on how America is apparently yet again ready, willing and able to vote for what Deepak Chopra refers to as the "shadow" candidate rather than voting for a rational candidate who actually appears to know what he is doing and can actually find Spain and Iran on a map.

According to Chopra, "By appealing to fear, resentment, hostility to change, suspicion of 'the other' and similar dark impulses, the Republicans have been the shadow's party for a long time." And if America once again votes for a "shadow" candidate, then the country I love will once again be plunged into four more years of chaos at a time when rationality is called for more than ever. But I digress.

So. Hopefully, I will be able to use my frequent-flyer miles to arrive at Jackson airport next week. But then what? How do I get to the debate site? Ole Miss? Does Jackson have a public transportation system?

Next question. Of course I'm a hot-spit reporter but I'm definitely on a shoe-string budget -- and I travel to lots of places by scheming ways to get to my destination spots either cheaply or for free (the "shadow maverick" McCain hasn't got his hands on my Social Security check quite yet), so I still have a working budget. However, said budget does NOT stretch to encompass $200-a-night stays at the Jackson Sheraton or the Hilton -- or even a Motel 6. So. After I finally arrive in downtown Jackson, where can I stay? Does anyone know of any good homeless shelters in Mississippi?

Next question -- what to eat? Of course the media will be getting free buffet lunches during the debate, but what about before and after? Does anyone know of any churches in Jackson that give out free meals? Or any soup kitchens? Or Meals on Wheels for the elderly? Please let me know.

I'm asking about free or cheap transportation, housing and meals in the Jackson area so that I can cover the debates of course. But I am also checking to see what kind of social safety nets they have in Mississippi. Why? Because if the next candidate in a long line of Republican "shadow mavericks" does make it into the White House again, Mississippi and all the rest of America are going to need all the social safety nets we can get.

PS: "This social safety net that you are proposing smacks of socialism!" wrote one of my conservative online friends.

Yeah, well. Wall Street, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Merrill Lynch, AIG, Halliburton and General Electric have all benefited from socialism, so why not us too?

And I also just got an e-mail from a friend in Cedar Rapids who was a victim of the Iowa floods last year. "It's going to take at least a decade for our town to recover," she wrote. But do you think that her town will be getting sufficeint financial help from the federal government to allow them to recover faster? Or will the feds be too busy bailing out Wall Street to offer Main Street a hand?

"Those people in Iowa need to learn to be self-sufficient," said my conservative friend. "And besides, those floods were last year's news."

PPS: I just found out that that the presidential debate is being held 90 miles NORTH of Jackson. And not only that, but my frequent-flyer miles won't even GET me to Jackson. I'll have to fly into Memphis. No Jackson at all! Sorry about that, June.

This whole thing is getting really complicated and expensive. Maybe I'll just have to end up going to see Sarah Palin bitch-slap Joe Biden in St. Louis instead. But I'm leaving to spend a month in Iran on October 9 so that complicates things even more. Crap, it's hard being a journalist. Why don't all these people just come to Berkeley!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

My trip to North Korea: Pictures worth a thousand words?

I just love to write. While in North Korea this month, I filled a whole notebook with descriptions of my trip -- and I loved every minute of it. However, it's gonna take me forever to type up my notes and then fact-check them and get them reviewed. Hence I am publishing these photographs instead.

Whether or not these photos are worth a thousand (or many more) words, I'm not sure. But publishing them is a hecka lot easier than typing up my notes.

First I flew from San Francisco to Vancouver, then across the Pacific to Shenyang in northern China, and then from there I flew off to the capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Then I hit all the tourist hotspots in Pyongyang, flew back to Shenyang for a few days, and came home. And this is the proof.

Here are photos of, among other things, the Pyongyang subway, several monuments, a Buddhist temple, lots of food, a middle school, a dam, the Pueblo, our fabulous luxury tourist hotel, a trip to the mountains, a Korean War museum, an internet cafe in Shenyang, the Beijing airport Starbucks, the Vancouver airport's totem pole display and the ugly camel I brought my daughter Ashley when I got home.

To enlarge any particular photograph, just click on it.

Regarding the photos of North Korea's annual Mass Games, I hope that they will give you a feeling for what these games are like. Over 100,000 people participate in them each year and they are HUGE. Remember that choreographed sequence with the drummers at the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympic games? Imagine that sequence plus 15 more of them and you can get an idea of of what North Korea's Mass Games are like -- awesome.

PS: These photographs are in reverse order -- from the last part of my trip to first. Sorry about that. I'm a techno-dunce. This is the best I can do. If you don't like it, then just go to North Korea yourself!