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Towleroad Talking Points: Recovering From Sandy



A look back at today's top stories


The clean up is underway across the east coast following the destruction from 'Superstorm Sandy'. New York City and the surrounding areas have been hit hard. Here are a few updates on the outages and recovery in NYC as of this afternoon. A lot of the outages in downtown New York have been blamed on a rather shocking explosion at a Con Ed substation. As Obama arrives in New Jersey to survey the beginings of the recovery effort, former FEMA chief Michael Brown criticizes him for acting too quickly. Well, "heck-uva-job Brownie" would know. 



With FEMA in the news because of Sandy, Mitt Romney's comments disparaging the emergency agency have been a talking point in the last few days of election coverage. Now that he has taken flack for it, Rachel Maddow shows us 11 examples of Romney just avoiding the question all together. Ari Ezra Waldman asks what it means to 'politicize' a tragedy?

A new poll in Ohio shows good signs for the President, with Obama holding if not increasing his lead in the crucial state. In a few other states where Obama has been trying to fight off Romney, Obama's senior advisor David Axelrod has bet his mustache


Ellensofia-3_4_r560GAY NEWS

A lot of us on the east coast may have forgotten that it is Halloween today, but that didn't stop Ellen from dressing up like Sofia Vergara

A group of stories about positive support for gay rights today. First take a look at this beautiful and touching PSA for an LGBT support group in The Netherlands. Great message. Also check out this straight jock telling everyone about his two loving mothers in the final ad in support of Maine's pro-marriage equality ballot measure. And again from Ellen check out Macklemore and Ryan Lewis performing their marriage equality anthem "Same Love"



Halloween will certainly be a lot less gay in New York tonight without the annual Village Halloween Parade. But if you are trying to find a non-gay Halloween in the rest of the country, here are some tips. Oh wait — I guess that is rather gay huh?

Posted Oct. 31,2012 at 10:30 PM EST by | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hurricane Sandy and What It Means to 'Politicize' a Tragedy?


Christie_obamaThe standard line from most politicos after a tragedy -- say, the Denver movie theater attack, death and destruction from Hurricanes Irene or Katrina, or the Gabrielle Giffords shooting -- is to eschew politics and come together in our common solidarity. Brusque rhetoric from Governor Christie typified this perspective after Hurricane Sandy struck the Jersey Shore when he responded to a question about Governor Romney, saying, "I have a job to do. If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, than you don’t know me." Politicians tread lightly in this area or risk being accused of politicizing a tragedy.

But, what does it actually mean to politicize a tragedy?

Governor Cuomo said that any rebuilding plan has to include updated infrastructure reflective of the fact that dangerous storms are becoming more frequent. Is that a simple statement of fact and good planning, or is it making hay of climate change? Fox News split its screen between video of Governor Romney giving a speech with video and audio about the recovery under the guise of showing that the campaigns go on while we get back on track. Is that bald politicization even though there was no overt boosting of the Romney campaign? President Obama was quick to suspend campaigning to deal with his presidential duties. Is even that politicization because, counterintuitively, it insulates him in an apolitical environment and allows him to use the trappings of the office to look like a commander-in-chief?

Fema_RomneyWas Towleroad politicizing the tragedy by highlighting the President's statements and not mentioning Governor Romney's? Was it politicization for Governor Romney to help relief efforts by going to Ohio, a swing state, and not the harder hit New Jersey, New York, or Connecticut, three states he will lose big? Were local campaigns, including Linda McMahon's costly campaign for a Connecticut U.S. Senate seat, taking advantage of Sandy by using the high ratings on local news channels and upping their ad buys?

It seems that the opposition can claim pretty much anything constitutes politicization of a tragedy. And, the object of that attack, be it President Obama, Governors Christie or Cuomo, or local leaders touring damage sites, can respond by saying that this is no time for politics. It sounds like yet another endless back and forth of our hyperpartisan political culture.

I disagree. There are qualitative differences between responding to a tragedy and taking advantage of one. And both were on display in this campaign in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Let's explore the differences AFTER THE JUMP...

There are a few ways to distinguish between a legitimate response to a tragedy and just taking advantage of one. Consider four:

1. Responses are selfless; only selfish actors take advantage.

2. Responses are policy-oriented solutions; people take advantage by political posturing without any substance.

3. Those not on the ballot respond; all candidates, incumbents or challengers, up for election, take advantage.

4. Responses learn from the tragedy; those taking advantage are just trying to profit from it.

Note the overlap and subtle differences. All potential definitions of respond focus outward, yet learning from something is more specific than just being selfless or writing policy. All visions of taking advantage have a personal focus, but profit is more specific than general selfishness or politicking. Let's see how.

We could see the difference between responding to and taking advantage of Sandy on a continuum of selfishness: Responses are outward focused, aimed at helping those who were harmed; taking advantage of a tragedy is self-centered, focused on how the event can benefit you. That makes some intuitive sense. The phrase taking advantage implies a personal advantage and the inverse of a selfish reaction is an unselfish one. But there is a problem with leaving the distinction at this level of generality. It's a description of character, not behavior. And, it really can't work in the political arena because any candidate can easily take on the guise of carer-in-chief and express concern for those harmed by a tragedy simply to position himself or herself to win more votes. Therefore, because helping people could be seen as a way to get you, or your party, or your ideology, to victory, this distinction falls apart.

We could also distinguish response from taking advantage by looking to the difference between policy and politics: to respond to a tragedy, you offer policy; to take advantage of it, you run to the press and posture. Again, this seems to make sense. It reflects the difference between witnessing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and then, on the one hand, going to a microphone to claim that we should elect Democrats because Republicans failed in their Katrina response and, on the other hand, going back to one's office in Congress and writing a bill that allocates money and creates a plan for the dramatic improvement of the New Orleans levee system. But, the line between policy and politics is blurry. Policy is always political and even drafting or proposing a bill can be an act of political posturing, as with so many of the wingnut social conservative bills passed by the Republican House that were dead on arrival in the Democratic Senate.

One of the most simple distinctions is between those who are running for office and those who aren't. That is, any person running for any office will inevitably use the tragedy to somehow help his or her election prospects, while those not on the ballot could not. That is a pretty base view of human nature and, in any event, avoids the thought project entirely. I think there is a way candidates for office can respond to tragedies without politicizing them.

Perhaps we could go a little deeper than just a selfishness scale and an artificial policy/politics distinction. Responses are attempts to learn from the tragedy and any attempt to take advantage of it is simply an attempt to personally profit from it. This carries considerable theoretical and moral weight. It corresponds with our intuition about selfishness because learning implies an outward, unselfish focus, while profit implies turning inward toward personal gain. It also allows us to cabin the "getting elected" parameter to the selfish side. It takes the best part of our policy versus politics idea -- the idea that policy proposals can actually do something -- and includes it under the learning parameter.

What do you think about this distinction? Would you define it any other way?

For now, let's say that taking advantage of a tragedy is using it for personal political gain and that responding to a tragedy is learning from it. Given that definition, who did what in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy?

Image640x480Governor Cuomo provides the paradigm for a response. Not only has he been active at every level in the practical response, including monitoring and evaluating the on-the-ground response of the notoriously backward and unresponsive Long Island Power Authority (LIPA). But he also stated that any plan for the systematic repair of everything from the New York coast to the MTA system has to reflect the changes in our climate that have brought us, as he said, "hundred year storms every two years." Governor Cuomo may aspire to higher office, but he is nowhere on any ballot, and couched his off-hand remark on climate issues in terms of how to protect New York from the unavoidable reality that storms are getting worse. He didn't bloviate on Republican willful ignorance or the Republican platform that denies the reality of environmental science. Instead, he said that New York needs to protect itself from stronger storms because stronger storms are a reality of our changing environment. That is an example of learning from experience in a socially-responsible way. 

Governor Romney, the man who has been running for president since he was governor of Massachusetts, is trying to take advantage of the tragedy. He canceled events and expressed his solidarity and sorrow, but he went to help bring aid to Ohio and Pennsylvania. He used what seemed like a selfless act to simply improve his standing among the electorate in swing states (though only in Governor Romney's deluded national picture is Pennsylvania a swing state). Governor Romney showed no interest in spending time in New Jersey or New York. He is now down in Florida ignoring Sandy. And, while President Obama is also resuming a campaign schedule, his press conference yesterday gave credit to local leaders, including Governors Cuomo and Christie, and emphasized that the Administration will do what needs to be done to help victims recover. The President came to New Jersey even though he has no chance of losing the Garden State. He will campaign in Ohio, but not on how his response to Sandy benefited Ohioans.

We see here two very different ways of responding to a tragedy. Governor Cuomo worked the problem, showed empathetic concern, and connected that concern to real change. Governor Romney tailored every single part of his post-Sandy response to his quest for power. It is clear that Governor Romney would say and do anything to beat President Obama, including manipulating the victims of Hurricane Sandy.


Ari Ezra Waldman teaches at Brooklyn Law School and is concurrently getting his PhD at Columbia University in New York City. He is a 2002 graduate of Harvard College and a 2005 graduate of Harvard Law School. His research focuses on technology, privacy, speech, and gay rights. Ari will be writing weekly posts on law and various LGBT issues. 

Follow Ari on Twitter at @ariezrawaldman.


Posted Oct. 31,2012 at 6:15 PM EST by in 2012 Election, Ari Ezra Waldman, Barack Obama, Hurricane Sandy, Mitt Romney | Permalink | Comments (26)

Towleroad Guide to the Tube #1241

HENRI 4: L'Haunting. Cat does not suffer fools.

iPUMPKIN: A time-lapse Steve Jobs Jack O'Lantern.

SHARON NEEDLES: "Every Day is Halloween".

FELIX BAUMGARTNER: His sonic boom captured from the ground. Sound is quick double boom at :20.

For recent Guides to the Tube, click HERE.

Posted Oct. 31,2012 at 5:15 PM EST by in Felix Baumgartner, Halloween, News, Sharon Needles, Steve Jobs, Towleroad Guide to the Tube | Permalink | Comments (0)

News: Benedict Cumberbatch, Skeleton, Lydia Callis, The Wanted

RoadPaul Ryan stages another 'charity' stunt.

RoadRomney campaign: "A Romney-Ryan administration will always ensure that disaster funding is there for those in need," said campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg. "Period."

SkeletonRoadHurricane Sandy unearths skeleton in Connecticut: "I noticed what I thought was a rock at first, I kind of poked it and a piece came off in my hand, and I noticed it was bone fragments. So I took a stick and knocked some of the dirt away and noticed it was an entire skull and body and vertebrae, ribs."

RoadRobert Pattinson is now the face of a fragrance.

RoadAnother faked Homocon hate crime.

RoadJoe Simpson's alleged 'boyfriend' speaks: "Over the course of two hours or so, we rolled around, kissed and gave each other oral. We'd take breathers and then start up all over again. He seemed to have an insatiable appetite for sex and never really appeared tired."

RoadDon't Rush: Kelly Clarkson goes country with Vince Gill in new track.

RoadTwo teens charged in murder of Jawan Wright: "Jarone Carter, 16, has been charged as an adult with first-degree murder, attempted armed robbery and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, said Andrew Conklin, a spokesman for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office. A 14-year-old boy has also been charged with the murder but his name has not been released because he is being tried as a juvenile."

RoadThe Wanted suits up for Fabulous.

RoadKeith Urban rocks a Speedo.

CumberbatchRoadBenedict Cumberbatch to play gay closeted Beatles manager Brian Epstein.

RoadThe NYT endorses same-sex marriage in all four states with ballot measures: "The freedom to marry is a fundamental right that should not have to be won or defended at the ballot box. In fact, ballot initiatives are a bad way to write or rewrite laws of any kind. Unfortunately, that is the reality of American politics, which is why same-sex marriage measures on the Nov. 6 ballot in Maine, Washington, Maryland and Minnesota could turn out to be pivotal in the struggle for marriage equality."

RoadLog Cabin bloggers quit over LCR's endorsement of Mitt Romney: "Leaving them is kind of like a divorce."

RoadUganda speaker wants vote on "kill the gays" bill: "Uganda’s Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga returned home to Entebbe Airport to a hero’s welcome after attending a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Quebec, Canada. The rally at Entebbe’s airport was organized by religious leaders, former Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo, and  Anti-Homosexuality Bill sponsor M.P. David Bahati. She told supporters and the press that she would instruct the chair of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee “to quickly bring the report on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill” to the House floor for a vote."

RoadEvangelicals vs Halloween.

CallisRoadWe love her: Bloomberg's sign-language interpreter Lydia Callis makes us smile. "Ms. Callis’s form makes it all but impossible not to notice her. With her smartly coifed short dark hair and sharp suits, she literally throws her whole body into signing, from her head to her hands to her hips. She has inspired a tribute Tumblr page: Lydia Callis’s Face for Mayor, which has compiled images of her expressions as she signs."

RoadMore than $16M raised in Minnesota same-sex marriage battle.

Road10-year-old with gay dads has a question for President Obama.

RoadIowa Rep. Steve King's (R-IA) position on disaster relief: “'Can you imagine in the middle of a disaster to ask for appropriations for mitigating future disasters?' King says. 'That’s why I said no on that second round of appropriations for Katrina…because they spent it on Gucci bags and massage parlors and everything you can think of — in addition to what was necessary.' King made his comments Tuesday night during a debate in Mason City and Christie Vilsack, King’s Democratic opponent, immediately responded to that Gucci remark.
'Comments like that, Congressman King, are heartless,' Vilsack said. 'You were one of 11 congresspeople who voted against flood relief in Hurricane Katrina and you said it was the proudest vote that you ever took.'"

Posted Oct. 31,2012 at 3:41 PM EST by | Permalink | Comments (8)

Ellen is Sofia Vergara for Halloween: VIDEO


Ellen reveals her Halloween costume. And someone is not amused.


Posted Oct. 31,2012 at 3:08 PM EST by in Ellen DeGeneres, Halloween, News, Sofia Vergara | Permalink | Comments (12)

David Axelrod Will Shave His Mustache of 40 Years if Obama Loses Michigan, Pennsylvania, or Minnesota: VIDEO


Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod has made a Movember pledge - he'll shave off his mustache of 40 years if Obama loses Micheigan, Pennsylvania, or Minnesota.


Posted Oct. 31,2012 at 2:56 PM EST by in 2012 Election, Barack Obama, David Axelrod, News | Permalink | Comments (4)


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