Check this: Karl Rove is trying to lead a challenge to Eric Holder’s nomination as AG of the US. I don’t think Rove or any other part of the GOP cares particularly about Eric Holder per se, they care about Holder’s connections to Clintons, who they would like to tie to Obama. It’s an effort to re-inscribe the partisan frame around Obama and his Administration – and points out the risks O took in bringing so many Clinton-types into the fold when building his Administration.
Tag Archives: politics
I’m totally fascinated by this too-quick New York Times article on the decline of the New York City power-centers.
The article shows one problem with eliminating term limits – it creates an inability to pick hard political battles like really saving the MTA when constantly in the running for a third or fourth term. Regardless of the high re-election rate for incumbents, the media attention on a candidate for re-election means they shy away from real battles.
The main point of the article is more interesting. It shows the dearth of symbolic resources for politicians in the city- Robert Caro’s point at the end that the issue is also one of ‘vision’ points out that no one really has a clear sense of what the city should or does look like. Obama harnessed the decline of machine politics on a national level by latching on to a fundamental set of American Myths that propelled him to prominence. In New York, the myths may be just as powerful, but they certainly don’t unite in the same way – glam NYC clashes withcorrupt or mafia New York, intersects with multicultural diverse New York.
The decline of hard-and-fast power centers, and the lack of real and easy symbolic center puts a particular emphasis on grassroots organizing. Groups like the Working Families Party and sites like ChangeNYC will be the key to shaping the future of the city. With no quick paths to power or easy levers to pull, the emphasis returns on creating coalitions and organizing disorganized groups with potentially converging interests against the developing rapid changes overtaking the city.
I have no doubt in my mind that this NYT article on Rahm Emanuel would have been much different were it written about a Republican. Seriously: for the past few years ‘industry ties’ has been a kind of buzzword for ‘corruption’ under the Bush administration, and I don’t see why that should change under Obama. I don’t think that this provides evidence of a left media bias because Emanuel isn’t that left, which is really the point – the obsequious media coverage of the Obama campaign/administration, forecasting change and lauding the team of experts starts from some fairly shaky assumptions. Mainly it rides a partisan/Manichean frame that associates the “last 8 years” with failure, and any ‘change’ with ‘hope.’ The other implicit assumption is that Obama-as-is is the only change we could ever really see, when in reality there could be many different Obama Administrations, depending on how much critical pressure the media and an organized opposition places on him.
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.
Streetsblog posted its own call to action about today’s hearing on remodeling Chatham Square which, when read in the context of CCRC’s much more detailed analysis, just seems a little flimsy, and flippant at that – Streetsblog groups local response under generic ‘opposition’, and pushes for the present plan as handed down by NYC DoT and friends, despite the fact that the main opposition seems to be from folks who don’t oppose the project, but rather oppose doing it NOW.
This case, and the recent rise of anti-bike lane activism in Brooklyn reveals how certain ‘green’ policies can work as a kind of class warfare, with the New Urbanist trend being only the latest of many architectural salvos for the city delivered from on-high by city administrators to the unwashed/ignorant residents, unable to see the social benefits of a overhaul of their street life. Honestly, I’m not even totally convinced of the utility of green streets – transportation is a sizable but not immense part of CO2 emissions, and the green-streets improvements feel increasingly like a form of social control purpetuated by New York’s ascendent young, mobile and wealthy urban class with its ‘green’ mores (notably different from a serious environmentalism).
Not to say that ‘livable streets’ policies won’t work, but rather to say that they’ll work better if done in collaboration with the residents of those streets. Instead of putting out calls for ‘advocates’ to descend on hearings to support “green here, green now.”
Obama’s ‘O’ logo is one of the most impressive elements of his political identity – it functions as a condensation of Obama’s message, a badge for supporters, a lucrative branding tool, etc. I love this interview with the designer at the NYT, because it shows a more or less face of the campaign, and reveals so much about how electoral politics works these days -
First, it shows the deliberate, calculating side the the campaign, rather than the exuberent, movement-building face. Axelrod and Plouffe deliberate about what logo serves them best, debate the advantages of different ‘O’s and make a calculated decision. No doubt this is why the interview is happening only after the election.
The logo works because it condenses so much meaning. The ‘O’ itself refers to his name, which signifies him as something different, a ‘change’ – Obama has a ‘funny’ name that sets him apart from other candidates and past presidents. The ‘rising sun’ image also connotes change, the lines imply the open feilds and rural areas that supposedly define America. it implies unity (a full circle), and an accessible simplicity that can be molded to fit any number of messages.
The multi-valent iconicity of the ‘O’, and it’s basis in Obama’s biography (both of which the designers read before going to work) reveals the imagistic and narrativized foundations of contemporary politics.
First of all: a shoutout to techPresident for being a great resource for thinking about the relationship between technology and politics. Full of consistently engaging and challenging work, and just generally pretty dope.
Anyways – the much-ado about Obama’s plan to use the internet to govern needs some fleshing out. The key remains changing the internet from a tool of access and transparency into a tool for people (writ-large) to make decisions. Questions remain about how to transform feedback and criticism into decision-making authority, and transparency into power for the people viewing. As it stands, the folks in government being monitored by internet-tools often still have the authority to act as they please, even if hundreds of thousands of voices dissent.
At the very least, internet tools put into more explicit terms the incongruencies of power and time that define the modern bureaucracy. In the same way that I think that Obama’s Presidency throws into better contrast certain types of exploitation (and makes certain new stridant critiques more sayable), internet transparency movements do the work of making critiques of state power more visible and potent.
I’m not particularly happy with the idea of Brennan as the head of the CIA – but then again, I’m not particularly OK with the CIA in the first place. Anyways, there’s also a problem with the idiotic rhetoric of ‘opening a debate‘ about the use of torture. I definiately don’t take issue with debates – I’m pleased with the defeat of a challenge to NYU’s Coke ban in a debate, to cite the most recent example – but I’m fairly sure that any ‘national debate’ about torture will look nothing like a productive discussion about torture, or state violence. The terms of the debate will be left up entirely to people like Brennan – not only will he choose what people talk about, but also the forum in which they do it, and the terms in which it is described. The cacaphony of a truely national debate will be reduced to the talking points of a hoarde of ‘national security experts’ and other apologists for the exercise of US military power.
Here’s the point: I don’t think debate is a problem, but in the narrow, imagistic environment that constitutes public discourse, the idea of a ‘debate’ all too often only serves as a fig-leaf to media campaigns meant to justify some pretty fucked up stuff, and I’m not buying it.
Get yer democracy, right here folks:
City Hall paints out a flow chart for the possible chain reactions in state and local government that could occur if Hillary Clinton goes to Sec. of State. It inadvertantly gives you a perspective on the insider-baseball of NY state politics – all of these people are connected in one or two degrees of seperation, and the assumtpions about who could fill whose spot shows the chain of political favors that connect them. I think this provides yet another argument for term limits – everything should be done to shuffle these folks out of office just to break up the insular club that only changes up when someone resigns or is offered a higher office in government.
Another recommendation: “The Dreadful Genius of the Obama Moment“
A pretty jarring analysis of the numerous problems left unsolved, and the problems created by the Obama election. I’m worried that my own focus on the symbolic/rhetorical elements of politics sometimes distracts from the real material facts of US exceptionalism. We really do have a war on most of the world, with terrifying implications.
I feel very conflicted. On the one hand, I know that no matter how right you are, you have to be able to effectively communicate and organize people for your voice to matter. In the current political environment, trying to take ‘hope’ head-on and out and out deny that people should enjoy Obama’s election feels like political suicide. On the other hand, I know that arguments about ‘effectiveness’ can straight-jacket real dissent, and prevent people from saying what needs to be said about Obama and the violence of the US government.
I guess my real feelings go something like this: I agree with the commenter on the article above that the real alternative is to ask people to hope further. What did we hope for? Was it Rahm Emanuel and a return to the Clinton foreign policy? Or are we really hoping for an end to racism (white supremacy), and something more fundamentally just in the world?
One of my favorite stories about American politics (besides Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72) is about JFK, and his popularity bounce after getting elected, then assasinated. in 1960 Kennedy won a very close election, by about 100,000 votes. But, magically, by the time he was inaugerated as President, 60% or so of Americans told pollsters that they voted for him. Then, after his assasination in 1963, about 80% of people polled said they voted for him. Somone was lying.
Obama won fairly decisively this year, but the same thing is happening: a low to mid 50′s percent win in the popular vote magically turned into a 65% approval rating (acknowledging that people polled is a different group than voters). It shows just how successful Obama was in posturing himself as ‘historic’ in the post-election aftermath, and the popular utility of his personal narrative in winning himself political capital.
The bump demonstrates the very different rhetorical posture Obama must adopt as President, rather than Candidate, and also forecasts the difficulties he might have in re-mobilizing his 3 million or so subscribers. I think Obama’s need to make general, more cautious appeals once in power suggests that his ‘online army’ will perhaps go rogue and begin leading their own campaigns, rather than continuing to rally behind the more pragmatic rhetoric of President Obama.
Both major parties showed some serious lack of fortitude in their failure to reprimand either (soon to be frmr) Senator Ted Stevens or Joe Lieberman. While Uncle Ted will saw his day in court – and will soon he his day in prison – Joe will go more or less scott-free for his transgressions (which were of a different magnitude that Ted, but still).
The point is this: after an administration that tortures people to death, the first step towards making sure that rampant abuse of executive power and torture doesn’t occur again is open and earnest prosecutions of the folks at the top. The Senate’s unwillingness to even really second guess either of these folks – particularly Lieberman, who Greenwald points out as a head cheerleader for the downright evil shit both parties let go down in the last 8 years or so – signals that no one close to the President will be publicly or legally reprimanded for their crimes. And that is a disturbing precedent.
For a few I had been planning a post in my mind about how NYU had avoided high-profile controversy this year, after last year’s Polytech-Abu Dhabi-Provincetown Playhouse smorgasbord of public debates, but it looks like they managed to prove me wrong. Just in the last month, they’ve said and done a lot of stupid things:
Like “There will be no service cuts for students!” … which actually wasn’t true, and having the President lie to students never wins points.
Which, of course, never stopped Mr. Sexton – he also misled students on fair pay in a town hall.
Then, after the WSN did a pretty decent job exposing guard cuts on campus, NYU went out of its way to gag guards from talking to the press.
Now, NYU made headlines for more or less lying about its crime statistics on campus, on a day when they would have much rathered talk about the Silver Towers and making nice with GVHPS.
THEN there’s the Sexton pay package, which, it turns out is ANOTHER example of NYU lying to its students – in 2005, the university said that Sexton’s salary wasn’t increasing, but at the same time the University vastly increased other forms of compensation that nearly doubled his overall pay.
The second to last refuge of the scoundrel, accusations of being ‘out of touch’ or ‘behind the times’ abound these days, leveled at the UAW/Automakers in Detroit, and legislators unwilling to cut their way out of a crisis in Albany. These appeals work because they’re ungrounded references to general sentiment, and build off the sense that many of our economic problems are insurmountable, or at least wildly difficult. Calling folks ‘out of touch’ not only neatly condenses problems into a soundbite form, it also provides a definate scapegoat who already is in the wrong. In the case of union rules, which is an important part of the Detriot discussion, the accusation of ‘out of touch’-ness typically begins an argument about why workers should get sold out for their bosses ineptness, or why they should lose the right to organize their labor. Really, the argument comes down to this: someone has the bully pullpit, wants to get their way, but doesn’t actually know how to get it.
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.
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.
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.
I remain unconvinced about the politicization of videogames – I don’t really believe in organizing on SecondLife, socialization via EverQuest, or any of that bullshit, generally. I think that videogame environments (and Facebook environments) are designed for highly-specialized purposes, and attempting to hijack them for political ends is more or less useless.
Which is not to say there can’t be lessons learned. TechPresident featured this article on MyBarackObama (‘myBO’ for those in the know), calling the system the campaign season’s best videogame. I think the name appropriately characterizes the Obama campaign’s ephemerality, it demonstrates how organizers can benefit from thinking about new media.
What keeps people playing MMORPGs and slavishly attached to Facebook is accumulation. They offer ways to cement your existence in time and space – Facebook gives you a record of all your freinds, MMORPGs allow you to create characters and build them into something permenant, collecting gold, skills and experience. Movements might look to mirror MyBO and build structures of participation that lend a sense of permenance to the relationships built in organizing, as a way of building-in acomplishments to the grueling, grinding work of creating a movement. (this also means blogging, and creating your own media history as a way to lend legitimacy and permenance to the work you do on a daily basis)
As I’ve pointed out before, a widespread economic recession (increasingly trending towards depression) predicts a new relationship of consumers to their consumption, with a new eye towards substance as the new style. It may be that the popularity of culture-jamming anti-consumption strategies in recent decades were in reality forced by an economic situation that made consumption so appealing.
Now that consumption is becoming much more conspicuous, the situation might allow a shift towards more explicit challenges to capital, at least temporarily. So, instead of the imagistic tarnish of Nike’s image, the focus might be more on the relationship of workers to Nike CEOs, that shows the owners getting rich while kids get exploited.
The key will be in describing what recovery looks like, as more than a return to prosperity, but also prosperity that allows for mutual shared wealth and collective wellbeing. I think Obama gave one good rhetorical starting point when he described an ownership society as a “you’re on your own” society. The recovery should be about reviving a community, and explicitly calling out those who have grossly profitted off of the American worker.
Queer liberation struggles provide an interesting parable on the path of radical action in America – what began with an uprising, a rebellion in the Village at Stonewall has now become a mass-mobilized, legislation focused movement, able to rally tens of thousands of people in the street.
In the beginning, radical action was absolutely necessary: this required street fighting, throwing fake blood, character assassination against Reagan and more, because the question was about invisibility. Queer people didn’t exist except as the seedy underbelly of good society, and the task was to put them on the cultural radar.
That struggle waned as AIDS became part of the national health agenda, discrimination against gays became increasingly taboo, and marketers recognized them as a target demographic. Recognizability was no longer the issue, but concrete rights were.
Now, the Prop 8 protests show a movement reaching a stage of decadence: they can afford mass mobilization because gay rights appeal to so many, and the mainstream mode of political dissent (street protest) fits the goal of creating change through mainstream forums. But it shows how movements require a diversity of tactics (including confrontational alienating ones) to accomplish their goals. A movement in germination needs to confront and radicalize, then build its own mythology to support legitimate forms of the movement in the future.
Buried in Glen Greenwald’s latest post about Obama Presidency prosecutions of Bush Administration war crimes (he’s in favor of them, I agree) is this comment about the notion of ‘bipartisanship’:
But our political establishment venerates “centrism” and “bi-partisanship” as the highest religious concepts. Those terms are, in reality, nothing more than vehicles to insulate government officials and the political establishment generally from any accountability. Their only real meaning is that cooperation within the political establishment is paramount, regardless of political principles and the rule of law.
‘Bipartisanship’ means agreement between the party-elites who on the one hand pitch themselves as the defense against the greater of two evils, but simultaneously expect co-operation from those evils when the time comes. In our two party system, we should openly recognize the difference between being elected and representing the real interests of voters; we should acknowledge this inherent failure of democracy when we talk about ‘bipartisanship’ as a political good.
Even if you don’t see ‘bipartisanship’ as the product of our decadent, mutually gratifying political system, the appeal for it now is particularly frustrating. The Republicans are being totally disingenuous – we just came off of 8 years of the 50%+1 political machine that railroaded legislation without even a hint of real debate or consensus, conceding to a call for bipartisanship now would only cement the horrifying legislative changes of the past two administrations.
Look, I know Obama is all about the transcendence and what not, but it’s time to play hardball. The ‘transcendence’ was not just over ‘partisanship,’ but rather a specific brand of partisanship that fed the Bush-GOP machine. Failure to push back with equal fervor would be the final victory of the Bush Administration.