Tag Archives: bush

First the ‘Surge,’ then the ‘Reboot’

ctrl-alt-del. from corture.freaks flickr

ctrl-alt-del. from corture.freak's flickr

I love the recent electronic/electric metaphors flying around US foreign policy these days – first the Bush “Surge” metaphor used to describe the war, now the Obama “reboot” metaphor for his approach to the ‘Muslim world’ (btw, what is the ‘Muslim world’? This term probably needs some unpacking too…).

The ‘Surge’ was such a great metaphor – it invoked a jolting, devestating pulse of energy that was simultaneously momentary and fleeting – a lot of bang for your buck, so to speak.  It reduced a complex military operation to a word (more condensed than the played ‘Desert Storm’ type names), and got the ball rolling for making the escalation happen.

The ‘reboot’ metaphor does other equally interesting things – it isolates the problem in US-Muslim diplomacy as a glitch or virus that can be wiped away with the flip of a switch, it invokes the technology that will be a prime medium for the policy shift (and echoes Obama’s tech cred),  and its inward-focused, almost repentant sound.

The real question is what a properly-operating US foreign policy OS would look like – Obama seems to think there is something inherent that the ‘Muslim world’ should see in the US, and I’m interested to know what his ‘Safety mode’ boot would look like.

Government Governs.

still scary. from capt Kodaks flickr.

still scary. from capt Kodak's flickr.

Welcome to the technocracy: Obama is looking to govern for the sake of government as a technocrat in the center, rather than the left-wing ideologue that both the GOP and Democratic bases mistook him for.

Instead, he’s appointing Democrats and Republicans including old political rivals.  History says that non-partisan apointments get the job of government done best – which should return attention to questions about what government should be doing, if anything at all.

In many regards, left criticism has been hamstrung by George Bush in the Oval Office.  Folks got very confortable with lambasting every policy failure as a failure of incompetence or stupidity.  No doubt things will continue to go wrong under an Obama Presidency, but we don’t yet have the language to describe any impending failure in a particularly useful way.  For instance – while the current Bush-created budget problems will no doubt make Obama’s policy agenda difficult to implement, the focus on that issue alone sets us up for another 4 years of blaming Bush, rather than making forward-thinking criticisms of Obama (who, as the inheritor of the Bush Imperial Presidency and a unified government, will be the most powerful president in modern history).

Hopefully cutting off the head of the Bush-king will encourage people to think about the role of government on the whole, and reflect on whether it needs to do as much as we think.  I am encouraged by people who would like to see police officers reduced to basic first-aid responders and directors of traffic, and I think we need to do more of this type of reflection during an Obama Presidency.

Spending, Pardons and GOP 2010

I do what I want.  from motherpies flickr.

I do what I want. from motherpie's flickr.

Clinton spent his last months giving out pardons to felons and friends, but in the last few months of the Bush Administration, executive branchers spent trillions and trillions of dollars setting up shady loan deals with the people that ruined the US economy.  The real upshot from these deals will be hemming in the incoming administration financially with a near criminal excess of unaccounted-for and unauthorized loan programs.

At this point, the Bush folks see the writing on the wall and want to do their best to restrain the new government by running up deficits then demanding budget ballancing in the next Congress.  The military plays the same game with the defense budget, bloating requests for new spending to require cuts and then pigeonhole Obama as someone weak on defense.  With Bush functionally out of office, and all eyes on the incoming administration, no doubt these problems will look like an Obama problem, which will be the first step to a planned GOP resurgence in 2010.

War in Iran

got yr wish.  from danny.hammontrees flickr.

got yr wish. from danny.hammontree's flickr.

Bullshit, bullshit and more bullshit.  Since 2003, left-folks warned of an impending attack on Iran by the Bush Administration.  Every time there’s an election since then, the shrill warning went out: October Suprise!  The attack is coming!  But every single time, they’re proven wrong.

The reasons the attack won’t come are numerous: even if the warnings about weapons sound the same, the US military cannot physically make the effort of launching another war, and the Bush Administration doesn’t have nearly the same political clout it did in 2002 to win any sort of support for its war.

At the same time as folks whip up anger about Iran, the US overthrew the first real government in Somalia since the early 90s, attacked Syria, and started invading Pakistan.

The point is, we have plenty to be upset about, and I’m ready to stop hearing about Iran and start thinking about rallying folks to the myriad problems that actually exist, rather than ones of fantasy.

Getting back to Corporate Power

remember?  from Kashmirs flickr photostream

remember? from Kashmir's flickr photostream

I don’t know if anyone was paying attention, but back in the late 90s, huge and powerful movements emerged in this country to protest the practices of corporate power in a variety of forms.  We had anti-Nike folks, a stronger animal rights front, and oh yeah, Seattle.  After Bush got elected, and particularly after 9/11, that all changed – people returned the bread and butter issues of war and government power; the frame shifted off of corporations and went back on to the state.

Now that Obama has been elected, I can hope that folks get back to some of the anti-corporate struggles that existed before the Bush takeover which disarmed anyone who thought they had agency over their government.  It’s not like all the problems with the federal government have been resolved – far from it – but it feels less like the overbearing symbol of total power.  Of course, it never was total power – Bush acted largely of the behest of corporate powers that could have been the focus of activism from the get-go.

Obama Becoming Presidential

CUPCAKES.  From shastios flickr photostream.

CUPCAKES. From shastio's flickr photostream.

I think there are a limited number of important things a President can do. One is be a symbol – which Obama does nicely, at least until his President-Elect-Hopey-Shine wears off. The other is manage the bureaucracy.

It looks like Obama has jumped on the bureaucracy issue – at least according to his propaganda, he has a list of 200 or so Bush Executive Orders he wants to overturn. I’m totally down with most – particularly listing CO2 as an air pollutant, which will empower the EPA to significantly reduce carbon emissions without new legislation.

It shows that Obama’s election isn’t shaping up to be a total disappointment – although notably absent from reports on the EO action was any mention of Bush’s claims for the authority to torture, wiretap and attack whatever he pleases. It seems that while Obama will wipe away some of the Bush legacy, unilateral executive authority remains “on the table“.

Oh yeah, Bush

You still?  from dannymans flickr photostream.

You still? from dannyman's flickr photostream.

Hm, I think we all sort of forgot that George Bush was still President.  Well he is, and he’s trying to end his tenure with a bang, pushing through all sorts of deregulations before the door hits him on the way out.  Most of the changes would be really really bad ones, by allowing more coal mining waste into streams and rivers, less reporting of fisheries depletion and lifting caps on power-plant emissions.  Look for yet more when/if the election descends into a vote-fraud frenzy.  The nice thing about bureaucracy is that it’s so boring that most people don’t even want to pay attention – but even if they do, folks on the street have next to no power to change the decisions made.

Obama = Bush

look familiar? from e20cis flickr

look familiar? from e20ci's flickr

…at least in how the ‘opposition party’ treats them.  The “epic frenzy of hate” digby describes resembles at least in passing the manic anti-Bush rhetoric of many folks on the left-of-center-but-still-center. (Just like Tom DeLay is anti-Socialist but ran a big-government GOP, these folks are anti-war but vote Democratic)

Just think of the fervor poured into Bush bashing for the past 8 years: making fun of his way of speak, his relationship to Dick Cheney, his intelligence, his cowboy persona, his weird interpersonal relationships with foreign leaders – all of it mirrors back the right’s escalating obsession with Obama.

Both sides of the Manichean two party system accuse the other of treason in different forms, both are probably wrong, or at least seriously misled into thinking that in a choice between the lesser of two evils, the other side really truly was evil. The crypto-racial dynamics of the current GOP backlash should not be ignored, but for the most part it follows the same script as the Democratic reaction to Bush, trying to pigeonhole the other side’s identity politics strategy.

If the liberal left’s experience the past four years is any guide, folks on the Right better find a new strategy quick if they want to get anywhere. For folks on the left, they need to find a new way to talk about change that doesn’t walk right into Obama’s half-hearted liberal trap for the optimistic.

The Billionaires are Back

The Return.

The Return.

In trying times, at least we can know that rich people are funny. A total fucking meltdown and a power-grabbing Mayor have provided excellent opportunities for the return of the ‘Billionaire’ meme. (the meme began with Billionaires for Bush, and since taken on a life of its own)

Billionaires for the Bailout have made appearances in DC, backing the new age of corporate welfare in the name of leaving No Billionaire Behind. Just yesterday the Billioniares for the Bailout faced down the menace of Ralph Nader on Wall Street, standing firm in the face of the Radical Left’s attempt to undermine our support of the folks really in charge. The meme is overseas: the Billionaires made news all the way in India.

Back closer to home, the well-organized Billionaires brought out support for their friend and colleague Mayor Bloomberg on the issue of term-limits extensions, even if the repeal would still allow non-billionaire candidates such as Speaker Quinn or Anthony Wiener to run. As I’ve pointed out before, many New York City-focused movements are stiff, boring affairs, and I’m glad to see the Billionaires jump in to a high-profile battle like term limits- with Bloomberg’s media machine and billions to spend, folks opposing him will have to come up with something better than “the people have spoken” and “just say no” style appeals – I hope the Billionaires for Term Limits Except For Billionaires inject some energy and wit into the Bloomberg push-back.

Electronic Voting Machines – Fair Trade Voting At Best

This video never stops being important.

So, today I did a bit of research on electronic voting machines following Wired’s ThreatLevel post on NY State voting machines – half of the machines bought from Sequoia Voting Systems seem to be broken in various regards, not even counting the unverifiable counting mechanism itself.

The reaction to electronic voting machines totally fascinates me. Voting is the act that creates the idea of the American democracy, and when people lose touch with that act, the whole facade of participation starts to fall apart.

I particularly like the metaphor of ‘black box voting‘, because it echoes the Marxist commodity fetishism critique of capitalism. Essentially, exploitation through capitalism occurs because the means of production occurs in a ‘black box,’ that mystifies the actual conditions of labor and produces the thing known as profit – surplus value. The ‘liberal’ critique of exploitive production in capitalism (think Whole Foods, Fair Trade foods) calls for a demystification of those conditions of production, and tries to open up the black box by challenging the conditions of production, but without unlocking the central question – how surplus value is created to make profit for the owner of the means of production.

So, folks agitating to get our voting machines working again, to protect elections, are like the people trying to buy fairer foods through the capitalist commodity chain – they may make things a little more transparent, but can’t get to the core exploitation that makes growers sell at prices lower than what buyers pay, and makes buyers pay more than the sum total of ‘parts and labor’ going into the product. We may have cleaner elections, but the basic problems at the core of American representative democracy remain.

We only have two parties. All our Presidents have been men. All have been white. Almost all rich. Etc, etc…

I think people latch on to the idea of electronic voting machines, and their mystical powers to steal elections because it condenses the basic alienation of American politics. Jesus, riots and wars start over problems smaller than what went on in 2000 and 2004, but who’s going to die for Al Gore? Or John Kerry? (At least one person got tasered. Probably more, now that I think of it)

What happens with voting machines is no more or less mystical (or serious) than what happens when Democrats sweep to victory in 2006 only to refuse to impeach Bush, and fail to stop the war. It’s all out of our hands, things happen in Washington politics that boggle the mind, no matter who wins elections. In the same way that people constantly seek to erode the power of the ‘black box’ commodity fetish, try to concoct a talisman that will ward off exploitation through capitalism, eliminating electronic voting has become the talisman meant to ward off a collapse of our democracy. (Tellingly, most electronic voting activists are Democratic partisans, doubtless the most alienated and betrayed group in American politics. See Stop Me Before I Vote Again)

Upshot: I wonder if latching on to electronic voting to describe the problems in American governance is helpful. I like it because it allows me to dismiss sometimes tedious discussions about the election, when I’m feeling particularly grumpy or busy, but other than that I’m skeptical that fixing the machines fixes the machine.

EDIT – Here’s a link to more info on the NY voting machine problems.