Isaiah Webster

Hillary’s historic achievement that no one is talking about

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Earlier today, Hillary Rodham Clinton cemented her place in American history, when she became the first woman to win the Iowa presidential caucus. In 2008, Clinton became the first woman to ever win a presidential primary, when she came from behind to defeat Barack Obama in New Hampshire.

While the chattering class continues to debate coin flips and margins of victory, Clinton’s historic achievement has almost gone completely unmentioned in the press. That’s a shame. And the reason it’s a shame has nothing to do with Clinton herself.

It’s a sad commentary that it took America until 2016 for a woman to win the Iowa caucuses. In fact, most people are stunned to learn that Clinton is the first woman to win in Iowa and New Hampshire. In the span of just 8 years, one woman has embodied the entire achievement of women in elective presidential politics. When you consider that our country is mostly women, and that the electorate is mostly women, it’s truly stunning that so few females have experienced electoral success.

It’s important to remember: Not only has no woman ever won the presidency; no woman has ever even come close.

The fact that it took this long to reach this achievement is an indictment on us all. The fact that media is ignoring this achievement is a slap in the face to all American women.

“Obviously, a major malfunction.”

Commander Francis R. Scobee. Pilot Micheal J. Smith. Mission Specialist Ronald McNair. Mission Specialist Ellison Onizuka. Mission Specialist Judith Resnik. Payload Specialist Gregory Jarvis. Payload Specialist and Teacher Christa McAuliffe.

The heroic crew of Mission STS-51-L knew all about the risks. They knew that space flight was not completely safe. They knew that, despite all of NASA’s preparations, once their vehicle left its launch pad — they could encounter any number of dangers. They knew that agreeing to undertake this mission could mean the last time they saw their families. Certainly, the crew was unaware of the circumstances. They never knew the severity of the ice accumulation; they never knew about the infamous “O-rings,” either. But as for the risks…they knew.

Challenger

It was the rest of us who were in for a rude awakening when Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff on January 28, 1986.

In the 30 years since that day, we’ve experienced triumphs, and even more tragedy: Discovery’s return to space. The Mars rover landings. The loss of Columbia on re-entry. But still, Challenger stands alone as a definitive moment in time for anyone who experienced January 28, 1986.

It wasn’t just that the orbiter exploded in flight — it was how the orbiter exploded in flight. Challenger was carrying an American school teacher (McAliffe), and the entire country had become wrapped up in her story — exploring space as a way of advancing children’s interest in the Universe. Many American classrooms took a break from lessons to watch the Challenger launch live on TV. Justifiably, NASA had built up the event as a historic first; and the entire country was eagerly looking on. Though the morning was wickedly cold, the atmosphere at the launch pad and around the country was pure magic. A teacher in space!

With America’s children watching, a faulty O-ring allowed fire to escape the left rocket-booster, which ignited the external fuel tank and destroyed the orbiter. The entire flight lasted just 73 seconds. Just like that, seven American heroes were lost. Just like that, the innocence of a generation was wiped out.

As a child of the 80s, I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember seeing the explosion, yet hoping beyond hope that the astronauts would somehow be saved. I’m still haunted by the thought of another “major malfunction” every time I see the launch of a rocket or space vehicle. Thirty years later, I still wonder about the crew’s final thoughts before their sudden end.

There are thousands of astronauts, but a certain generation will forever be enchanted by a mere seven: the men and women who were aboard Challenger on its 10th and final flight. May their courage and grace live on forever.

Heart v. Head

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It’s not that liberals don’t realize Sen. Bernie Sanders is too extreme to be elected president, it’s that they just don’t care. The emerging battle between Sanders and former secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has turned into a classic head versus heart decision.

At her core, Clinton is an incrementalist. She’s a pragmatic leader, who has little interest in “changing the system” in Washington. I believe that Clinton has already come to the conclusion that Washington can’t be fixed or changed. The next best thing is to work within the system as best you can to affect change. In words and deeds, Clinton has demonstrated that this is her approach. It’s worth noting that Clinton’s political philosophy has been significantly shaped by the battles she’s waged since 1992. From health care to Travelgate to the Lewinsky matter to the U.S. Senate to serving in the Obama administration, she’s learned the hard way that politics is truly the art of the possible.

Sanders is an idealist; he is summoning a “political revolution.” Never mind that a single-payer health care bill has zero chance of passing through the Congress, Sanders promotes it anyway. And his supporters stress that it’s more important to seek what you truly want, rather than conform to political realities.

Though Sanders is the latest presidential candidate to run on a platform of “changing Washington,” he is by no means the first. In fact, Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination in 2008, by promising to “turn the page” on politics as usual. He promised a transformational presidency that would be devoid of petty politics. Before Obama’s presidency was even 48 hours old, the Republicans hatched their master plan of obstruction. Seven years later, Barack Obama’s presidency has been one of the most divisive in history. Much of this is not his fault; certainly racism has played a role and even non-racist Republicans have been completely unwilling to be partners in governing. But the bottom line remains the same — President Obama’s grand idea of transforming Washington failed.

No matter how genuine Sanders and his followers are — they can’t change Washington. If Barack Obama — with all his political gifts — could not do it, then it’s safe to say it can’t be done.

This leaves the Democratic Party with a critical choice: the safe and pragmatic Clinton? Or the wild card socialist, who promises the moon? Once again, it’s the choice that makes sense versus the choice the heart wants. In 2008, Democrats went with their heart — falling head over heels for a charismatic young Black senator. His words were soaring; his story inspirational. He wasn’t the most experienced option; nor was he the option better prepared to step into the presidency. But, Democrats didn’t care. The heart won.

In 2016, Democrats face this reality: If they lose the presidential election, the Republicans will likely control the White House, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and a majority of state legislatures. Only a Democratic president would prevent total GOP control of government. Now is not the time to chase idealism. Now is not the time for picking high-risk nominees. This choice should be one of the head — and truly, it’s not even close.

Boycotting the Oscars is pointless

The Oscars aren’t Black enough, and Hollywood’s Black community is threatening a boycott.

Since nominations for the 88th annual Academy Awards were announced last week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have been under fire because all 20 of the acting nominations went to White people. Most Oscar observers felt Will Smith (”Concussion”) and Idris Elba (”Beats of No Nation”) were snubbed. Almost immediately, the uproar began, but it’s really picked up steam now that Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith are urging a boycott.

The Academy has had a tortured history with race. Almost every year, the Oscars have faced criticism for a lack of diversity in its nominees. And even when Blacks have won Oscars — like Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball” or Denzel Washington for “Training Day” — folks have complained that the winning roles didn’t project positive images of Black people.

Without question, the Academy doesn’t nominate enough people of color for Oscars. But there are two reasons for that, and it’s easily explained.

First, there are too few quality roles for Black and Latino actors. Moreover, Black and Latino people are rarely cast in quality roles where race and ethnicity is irrelevant. If people of color aren’t given quality roles in quality films, than it stands to reason they won’t be in contention for awards. It’s really that simple. The first step towards diversifying the Oscars is to diversify the people in quality roles.

Secondly, Academy members vote on who gets nominated for Academy Awards. Nominations aren’t decided by Hollywood popular vote or even by the success of a given film. In order to become a member of the Academy, you must first be nominated for an Oscar. Therefore, this creates a catch-22 for minorities. Since Blacks are few within the Academy, they can’t nominate more Blacks and thereby create more Black members. And even if the Academy suddenly did have more Black members, there aren’t sufficient Black roles in quality films that would warrant a proliferation in Oscar nominations.

It’s all a vicious cycle that perpetuates itself every few years, and leads to calls for boycotts.

Cynics might say that there are quality Black performances that are simply being ignored by the Academy. There is some truth in this. However, since human beings vote on the nominations, the Academy can’t remove bias from the nomination process even if it wanted to do so. Inherently, there’s no fairness in personal preferences; and that’s what’s happened to Oscar nominations.

For these reasons, boycotting the Oscars make little sense. The Academy is powerless to enact any significant change in who’s nominated. The Academy does have complete control of the ceremony, and this is where it has shown its commitment to diversity. In fact, Chris Rock is returning as host for the upcoming Oscar ceremony. Last year, many of the presenters were people of color. I’d expect these symbolic gestures to continue.

However, the movie studios and the casting directors have the biggest influence on who ultimately wins Oscars. It is the studios and casting directors who are passing over quality Black actors for quality roles. Boycotting the Oscars would be like addressing the symptoms, but not the underlying illness. Instead a making a big stink about the Academy Awards and who gets Oscars — we should invest our time and energy in ensuring people of color have an opportunity to be in quality cinema in the first place.

UPDATE: The Academy is changing its membership rules to be more diverse.

“Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

NYDN

Another mass shooting proves we don’t really care about them

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Each new mass shooting in America confirms a sad truth — We Don’t Care. No society that cares about its people would allow these shootings to continue to happen.

It’s not hyperbole or an overstatement. Collectively, our nation has concluded that our liberties — specifically unregulated firearms — are more important than protecting innocent lives. Consider this: Four Americans died during a 2012 terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and the Congress launched 8 investigations and has spent nearly $5 million to get to the bottom of it. Granted, much of this was politically-motivated, but at least the Congress did something.

Conversely, hundreds of innocent Americans have died in mass shootings since those same Benghazi attacks — yet the Congress has done nothing. Nothing. Moreover, the Congress continues to get away with doing nothing because the electorate doesn’t demand action from its representatives. Literally, no one cares.

Earlier this afternoon, at least three people opened fire at a social services facility in San Bernardino, California. At least 14 people were killed. Many others were wounded. The death toll and full ramifications of today’s shooting could easily rise in the hours ahead. But even if it doesn’t, this qualifies as the worst mass shooting since Newtown  — when 27 innocent people were killed. (Most of the Newtown victims were elementary school children, who were executed in their classrooms.)

There have been 21 mass shootings in America in 2015. With four weeks left in the year, we could easily hit 23 or 24 for the year.

In the days ahead, everybody will say the right things, but nobody will really mean it. After all, we’ve all sent our “thoughts and prayers” so many times before that it seems rudimentary. Kind of like asking a stranger you pass on the street, “Hi, how are you?” No one really cares about the answer to that question. The stranger knows you don’t care, and that you’re just being polite and going about your way.

We can no longer go about our way as it relates to mass shootings. America is the only civilized country in the world in which this happens. Mass shootings in European countries are extremely rare. It’s primarily because they value life over firearms. They care.