Saturday, May 29, 2010

New York’s Eccentric Road Signs - City Limits Magazine -

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New York’s Eccentric Road Signs - City Limits Magazine -

Alabama, Tim James, George Wallace and Campaign Exploitation

by Cody Lyon

During a chat on politics while home visiting friends and family in Birmingham Ala., one friend remarked that candidates who speak in ‘positives’ rarely do well in campaigns for state office in Alabama. She pointed to the legacy of unfortunate condescension, that use political formulas where candidates steer people’s attention from true ‘center of life’ issues towards hot button social topics.

Of course, this is probably one of the easiest, oldest and cheapest tricks in politics but, fueled on by a media focused on the sensational, it often works, not just in the South, but, across the nation,

And, for some us who grew up or live in Alabama, headlines seem to say this deep-south state has produced more than its fair share of this sort of similar political games.

Over the past few weeks, Americans have met Alabama Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim James, the 48-year old son of former Governor Fob James who was noted in part for blunt language and loud opposition to the teaching of evolution.

The younger James, a millionaire businessman, has inspired news headlines, sneers from liberals and now a barrage of viral videos based on a real television campaign ad where the candidate for governor tackles Alabama’s practice of offering drivers license exams in 12 languages.

During the ad, James looks earnestly into the camera and say’s “this is Alabama. We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it.” One would be hard pressed to find evidence that offering drivers license tests to a variety of languages is a ‘central to Alabama life issue,’ nonetheless, since the ad’s debut, James’ poll numbers have gone up and local interest in the governor’s race has jumped. These days, he’s drawing big crowds as he criss-crosses the state in the ‘common sense’ express.

James’ exploitation of anti-immigrant sentiment is one of the latest incidents in an immigrant backlash we’re seeing in many states like Arizona. But, in Alabama, one can’t help but draw comparisons to other candidates who, especially during times of economic instability, have exploited the insecurity of voter fear and insecurity.

As meticulous research in the book ‘Alabama, Portrait of a Deep South State,’ notes, in the 1960’s, when poor whites who’d recently entered the middle class saw their earning power failing to keep pace with inflation, instead of acting rationally and organizing or joining unions, they often acted in non-rational ways, “through scape-goating, fatalism, or blind rage.” To champion the cause, “they chose George C. Wallace.”

Interestingly, when George Wallace’s first ran for Governor in 1958, he ran with the support of the NAACP. Wallace was defeated by fellow democrat John Patterson who himself, had the support of the Ku Klux Klan. Afterwards, Wallace, who had been vocal in his opposition to the Klan and apparently seen by blacks as ‘fair’ before the first governors race, reportedly told an aide, that he’d been “outniggered” in the campaign by Patterson, and that he’d “never be outniggered “ again.

Then, in 1962, the historically familiar George Wallace was elected. He proclaimed against the backdrop of whoops and hollers during his Montgomery inauguration that he stood in defiance of coming change, proclaiming “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”

Earlier, he’d reportedly told a supporter that people didn’t pay attention to his campaign in 1958 when he tried to forward a progressive agenda peppered with talk of all the good he would do like building better roads and schools. In essence, although social change was inevitable, reactionary politics had become his ticket to the state capital in Montgomery.

In truth, Wallace had taken the cheap and easy highway to power, using persuasive political trickery, appealing to base emotions like fear. Although he lived to regret his tactics, begging history to paint him as reasonable, he took the sins of blood stained rhetoric to the grave.

Almost 50 years after the Wallace segregation speech, Alabama has seen remarkable economic and social transformation. It is a place filled with ethnic diversity, thousands of new jobs, many of them brought by foreign investment. But, like other states, Alabama has been hit hard by recession, so the appeal of anti-immigrant sounding rhetoric that we’ve seen in states like Arizona, comes as no surprise.

And although Tim James’ English only ad is a far cry from the dangerous 1960’s rhetoric of George Wallace, James tactic is at the core, cheap and easy politics.

Instead, why doesn’t James produce and star in an ad that taunts the insanity of Alabama tax structures? For example, a 2008 Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy study that says that Alabama’s tax system is regressive, relying on income and sales taxes that are skewed against low income people.

Or perhaps, he could get people stirred up over Alabama’s consistent ranking as one of the top states for dangerous levels of obesity, smoking, diabetes and poverty. Another potential point of contention, Alabama’s localized school systems are markedly disparate, where in a few wealthy suburbs near cities like Birmingham, children are guaranteed public educational opportunity on a par with the best offered anywhere in the country. Meanwhile, inner city or rural areas, the bigger challenge is to simply see a child graduate from high school. And, while dramatizing these social ills, mention that the state’s biggest city, is home to one of the nation’s top ten homicide rates, yes, Birmingham is statistically a much more dangerous than New York City.

Those tidbits touch on a few problems facing today’s Alabama. But those problems are also America’s problems because we all operate under the same umbrella in this Republic of ours. Yet, with all that going on in this economically uncertain time that’s ripe for change, the most enthused political rhetoric spewed onto the nation’s airwaves is negative and marked by blame, finger-pointing and once again, scape-goating. For example, news stories in the mainstream media featuring colorful notes on the tea party movement trump stories on exactly how, why or who led America into the current Great Recession.

Meanwhile, there’s no doubt that Tim James is charismatic, smart and a good businessman who might make a fine Governor for Alabama.

But, like the originally moderate candidate named George Wallace, who made a campaign decision 50 year ago and won office, the political calculation behind James’ English only ad may grab attention now, but ultimately, such diversion mutes hope for healthy open discussion and debate that leads to change for the better of a people. In the end, these tactics block the path to progress into the future.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Thought for the day

With thousands of square miles to choose from, how is it possible, Science can pinpoint where to drill and extract oil, but, when faced with environmental catastrophe, human ingenuity fails to deliver a solution to plug up a hole in the ground....

Friday, May 07, 2010

Interview with Limelight Marketplace Developer Jack Menashe at

Back Into the Limelight
Cody Lyon

The Limelight Marketplace, New York City retail developer Jack Menashe’s latest vision for a 163-year-old former Episcopalian Church turned legendary nightclub is set to finally open this week as a boutique mall.

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You want some design with those Fries? Story looks at McDonald's new Euro Look in NYC (

Cody Lyon for

Curing a Big Mac attack with a visit to McDonald’s has gotten a little more chic in a handful of the fast-food giant’s 250 New York City locations. Diners are treated to egg chairs, wide tables, bright walls, and fresh art deco panels, elements based on a store model created by French interior designer Phillipe Avanzi, the mastermind of similar redesign efforts at McDonald’s locations in Europe.

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