A Plea for Partisanship
* This essay reflects views that Rosenblum develops at considerably greater length in her recent book On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship. Princeton UP, 2008.
“What we need is a critique of visual culture that is alert to the power of images for good and evil and that is capable of discriminating the variety and historical specificity of their uses.” - W.J.T. Mitchell. Picture Theory (1994).
Labels: Media Politics
"So, as temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we've proposed. There's a reason why many doctors, nurses and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo. But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Let me know. Let me know. I'm eager to see it."Here is the simple, straightforward reply: A Single Payer National Health Care System. It will do all the things he mentions.
Ads by GoogleDo you suppose they really have former SS officers providing instruction to eager future torturers? Oh, I see it means 'Secret Service'! My mistake?
BS/MS in Counterterrorism Taught by Former CIA, FBI and SS
"Politics means a slow powerful drilling through hard boards, with a mixture of passion and a sense of proportion. It is absolutely true, and our entire historical experience confirms it, that what is possible could never have been achieved unless people had tried again and again to achieve the impossible in this world. But the man who can do this must be a leader, and not only that, he must be a hero - in a very literal sense. And even those who are neither a leader nor a hero must arm themselves with that staunchness of heart that refuses to be daunted by the collapse of all their hopes, for otherwise they will not even be capable of achieving what is possible today." ~ Max Weber (1919)I have been in class most of the day. That has given me lots of time to think about the travesty of the news leaked this morning that Obama has decided to simply capitulate to the conservatives with his proposed budget freeze. In the process he comes off as either wholly incompetent or remarkably hypocritical - to see why look here.* Between classes I had had the chance to read some of the responses.
"I would not be interested in being a consensus leader. I refuse to determine what is right by taking a Gallup poll of the trends of the time. . . . Ultimately, a leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968)
Paul Krugman: "It’s appalling on every level." and "Right now, this looks like pure disaster."Not only is the freeze policy bad news substantively, it cedes the debate to the conservatives (and here I mean the so-called 'moderates'). What would I have Obama and his underlings do? How about we end the ridiculously (at least) costly and (at best) questionably justifiable wars? How about we explain why deficit reduction (at best) is a red-herring and (more likely) is actively misguided in the current context  ? In short, I would have them lead and mold consensus rather than simply search it out. I would have them at least try to extend the bounds of what is possible today. That, it seems, is way too much to hope for!
Robert Reich: "His three-year freeze on a large portion of discretionary spending will make it impossible for him to do much of anything for the middle class that’s important."
Brad DeLong: "Barack Herbert Hoover Obama?"
Chris Hayes: "It may be a head fake, the fine print may basically have a lot of loopholes, in which case the policy itself won't be terrible, but again it reinforces the enemy's narrative: that government spends too much on "programs," that defense and "security" spending doesn't count for the deficit and that times of economic misery and widespread unemployment the solution is fiscal austerity."
John Judis: ". . . in the past year, [Obama and his administration] have failed utterly to explain to Americans (let alone the bond traders) how deficits function in recessions. Yes, it is hard to do so, but no harder than it was for Ronald Reagan to explain to middle class Americans how regressive tax cuts would actually benefit them. For better or worse--and mostly the latter--Reagan actually tried to explain to Americans what his policies were about. The Obama administration has abdicated. Where are the charts? The graphs? The ads that patiently explain deficits and recessions? The stories, the anecdotes? And it’s not just the budget. It’s the health care plan as well. Or the need for financial regulation."
"It is one of the defining tropes of contemporary pop culture that everything illicit should be paraded rather than engaged in discreetly. Everything is not just permitted, but must be photographed, filmed, and posted on the web. In this context, Dash Snow is very much an artist of our times.
Often his photographs seem to celebrate drabness and/or clutter. Grimy bathrooms and dishevelled living rooms abound. The activity he records tends towards the puerile of the criminal, or both. There are snapshots of kids shooting up, kids snorting coke (in one instance on a flaccid penis), kids puking, tagging, flashing and falling down. Blood, nudity, graffiti and cocaine are the recurring themes, as well as Dash himself, the unsteady centre around whom all this determined dissolution is played out. There is desperation in all this too, but it is the now-familiar desperation of the self-indulgently confessional: Nan Goldin without the brilliant composition, the heightened colour or the underlying poetic sadness.
[. . .]
The question is, though, do they amount to anything else? Do they approach the mystery and mastery of art?"
Are you kidding me? If O'Hagan can't answer that question he's got no business hanging out his critic shingle.
Finally, as I've noted multiple times before, there is no particular reason to think photographers (as opposed to, say, drivers of small cargo vans) are terrorists. That closes the 'loophole' that some bureaucrat might exploit by suggesting that photography per se is a safety concern. Unfortunately, this is simply part of a broader pattern of muddled thinking.
"The general public is permitted to use hand-held cameras to take photographs, capture digital images, and videotape within public areas of CTA stations and transit vehicles for personal, non-commercial use.
Large cameras, photo or video equipment, or ancillary equipment such as lighting, tripods, cables, etc. are prohibited (except in instances where commercial and professional photographers enter into contractual agreements with CTA).
All photographers and videographers are prohibited from entering, photographing, or videotaping non-public areas of the CTA’s transit system.
All photographers and videographers are prohibited from impeding customer traffic flow, obstructing transit operations, interfering with customers, blocking doors or stairs, and affecting the safety of CTA, its employees, or customers. All photographers and videographers must fully and immediately comply with any requests, directions, or instructions of CTA personnel related to safety concerns."
Adolph Reed Jr.
Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
In January 1996 I wrote the following about Barack Obama in my Village Voice column: "In Chicago, we've gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program--the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics."
In 2007 Matt Taibbi described him as "an ingeniously crafted human cipher, a man without race, ideology, geographic allegiances, or, indeed, sharp edges of any kind. You can't run against him on the issues because you can't even find him on the ideological spectrum."
In 2006 Ken Silverstein noted Obama's deep financial industry connections. Glen Ford, Paul Street and many others have stressed those and other disturbing connections, including his penchant for supporting more conservative Democratic candidates against more liberal ones.
Obama indicated no later than the summer of 2007 that he intended, if elected, to extend the war in Afghanistan into Pakistan.
The only surprise about his presidency is how many ersatz leftists cling to the fiction that he's anything other than a superficially articulate neoliberal Democrat in the Clinton mold and that his administration would act in any other way.
Glenn C. Loury
Professor of the Social Sciences, Brown University
From where I sit, the high point of President Obama's young administration was its inauguration. Much seemed possible on that glorious day, but it has been downhill since. Hope, it would appear, is more easily inspired than it is justified. And those eloquent speeches about change during Obama's historic and euphoric campaign look now to have been precisely what the candidate's detractors said they were--just words.
Specifically, my hope had been that elevating a progressive African-American Democrat to the nation's highest office would do two things: help to bring about an effective engagement with America's unresolved problems of racial inequality, and begin to reverse our headlong march toward a Hundred Years' War with radical Islam. I did not expect these things to happen overnight, but I did expect to see movement in this direction. This administration has shown scant inclination to do either, which is disappointment enough. But worse--far worse--is the likelihood that Obama's failure even to attempt such changes will discredit the very idea that these are worthy objectives for any Democrat.
Obama has said little of substance about racial inequality since moving into the Oval Office, and what he has said leaves much to be desired. His speech to the NAACP convention was a rehash of his by now familiar "family values" homily. His comments on the arrest last summer of a black Harvard professor were shockingly inept. Our black president seems eager to address the American public with passion about the race issue when his "friend" has been mistreated by the police, but not if it means stressing policy reforms that might keep tens of thousands of troubled black men out of prison.
As for the new American militarism, Obama has not really changed the direction in which we are headed. Indeed, and ironically, his speech in Oslo accepting the Nobel Peace Prize attempted to justify American military hegemony as the necessary precondition of global security and prosperity in the second half of the twentieth century. His conduct of the "war on terror" and, most distressing, his escalation of our involvement in Afghanistan's civil war is eerily reminiscent of the approach of his immediate predecessor.
This is not change of any kind, let alone of the kind that we can believe in.
Most of the symposium consists in one of two types of comment: "its all been down hill" or "stop your leftist whining, be patient." Given what Reed & Loury have to say you can see where I stand. Loury is in the "down hill" mode and Reed thinks its been up hill, as usual.
"This is how understanding is key of we are going to be able to build bridges, and I do think photography is a lot about creating the bridge. People still have to walk over it. I think photographers are the ones who perceive the bridge as a possibility ... and it goes back to that hope that people will feel the connection. And that connectivity is the opening of the door."I have argued elsewhere that the point of photography is to establish or to help establish solidarity. It sounds to me like Meiselas is talking about just that.
"In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike.There are a few salient features of this passage. The first is that King, unfortunately, was way too sanguine about our having ceased blaming the poor for their own plight. The second is that he had moved beyond a "civil rights" agenda to endorse economic justice and solidarity across races. The third is that there are plenty of good reasons to take the proposal for guaranteed income or even a civic minimum seriously.* There hardly get a public hearing hear in the U.S. - after all that would be socialism!
Up to recently we have proceeded from a premise that poverty is a consequence of multiple evils:lack of education restricting job opportunities;poor housing which stultified home life and suppressed initiative;fragile family relationships which distorted personality development.
The logic of this approach suggested that each of these causes be attacked one by one. Hence a housing program to transform living conditions, improved educational facilities to furnish tools for better job opportunities, and family counseling to create better personal adjustments were designed. In combination these measures were intended to remove the causes of poverty.
While none of these remedies in itself is unsound, all have a fatal disadvantage. The programs have never proceeded on a coordinated basis or at a similar rate of development. . . . At no time has a total, coordinated and fully adequate program been conceived. As a consequence, fragmentary and spasmodic reforms have failed to reach down to the profoundest needs of the poor. In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs of the past all have another common failing — they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else. I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.
Earlier in this century this proposal would have been greeted with ridicule and denunciation as destructive of initiative and responsibility. At that time economic status was considered the measure of the individual's abilities and talents. In the simplistic thinking of that day the absence of worldly goods indicated a want of industrious habits and moral fiber. We have come a long way in our understanding of human motivation and of the blind operation of our economic system. Now we realize that dislocations in the market operation of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. The poor are less often dismissed from our conscience today by being branded as inferior and incompetent. We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands it does not eliminate all poverty.
The problem indicates that our emphasis must be two-fold. We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position, we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available.
This proposal is not a "civil rights" program, in the sense that that term is currently used. The program would benefit all the poor, including the two-thirds of them who are white. I hope that both Negro and white will act in coalition to effect this change, because their combined strength will be necessary to overcome the fierce opposition we must realistically anticipate."
"Q: What about skepticism toward the government: Isn’t that also a key part of the Chicago tradition?
A: Sure. You have to ask why would the government get it right. You can’t just say, here’s a market failure and the government needs to step in and address it. You have to look in detail at what the government might do, and compare the relative effectiveness of the two."*
Over at The New Yorker John Cassidy has posted a series of relatively brief interviews he's done with various key figures in the "Chicago" school of economics. They mostly deal with the response of conservative economic thinking to the financial melt-down. I have commented on this a couple of times here   .
"This past year, both the Republican and the Democratic Presidential candidates came out firmly for banning torture and closing the facility in Guantánamo Bay, where hundreds of prisoners have been held in years-long isolation. Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain, however, addressed the question of whether prolonged solitary confinement is torture. For a Presidential candidate, no less than for the prison commissioner, this would have been political suicide. The simple truth is that public sentiment in America is the reason that solitary confinement has exploded in this country, even as other Western nations have taken steps to reduce it. This is the dark side of American exceptionalism. With little concern or demurral, we have consigned tens of thousands of our own citizens to conditions that horrified our highest court a century ago. Our willingness to discard these standards for American prisoners made it easy to discard the Geneva Conventions prohibiting similar treatment of foreign prisoners of war, to the detriment of America’s moral stature in the world. In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of solitary confinement—on our own people, in our own communities, in a supermax prison, for example, that is a thirty-minute drive from my door."
"Why is it that here in the United States we have such difficulty even imagining a different sort of society from the one whose dysfunctions and inequalities trouble us so? We appear to have lost the capacity to question the present, much less offer alternatives to it. Why is it so beyond us to conceive of a different set of arrangements to our common advantage?" ~ Tony JudtThere is an interview, by turns frightening and enlightening, with Tony Judt at The Guardian today. You can find the lecture - What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy? - mentioned in the interview here at the NYRB.
Labels: political economy
"In Peter van Agtmael’s 2nd Tour Hope I don’t Die and Lori Grinker’s Afterwar: Veterans From a World in Conflict, two haunting books of war photographs, we see pictures of war which are almost always hidden from public view. These pictures are shadows, for only those who go to and suffer from war can fully confront the visceral horror of it, but they are at least an attempt to unmask war’s savagery. [. . .]In part, I admire Hedges and his convictions. Note how he shifts here from a discussion of the books to something of a harangue. I point that out not to criticize the outrage Hedges expresses. But his argument is politically naive and so runs the risk of an empty moralism that is incapable of mobilizing outrage. Sermons are out of place here.
Chronicles of war, such as these two books, that eschew images and scenes of combat begin to capture war’s reality. War’s effects are what the state and the press, the handmaiden of the war makers, work hard to keep hidden. If we really saw war, what war does to young minds and bodies, it would be harder to embrace the myth of war. If we had to stand over the mangled corpses of the eight schoolchildren killed in Afghanistan a week ago and listen to the wails of their parents we would not be able to repeat clichés about liberating the women of Afghanistan or bringing freedom to the Afghan people. This is why war is carefully sanitized. This is why we are given war’s perverse and dark thrill but are spared from seeing war’s consequences. The mythic visions of war keep it heroic and entertaining. And the press is as guilty as Hollywood. During the start of the Iraq war, television reports gave us the visceral thrill of force and hid from us the effects of bullets, tank rounds, iron fragmentation bombs and artillery rounds. We tasted a bit of war’s exhilaration, but were protected from seeing what war actually does. [...]
Look beyond the nationalist cant used to justify war. Look beyond the seduction of the weapons and the pornography of violence. Look beyond Barack Obama’s ridiculous rhetoric about finishing the job or fighting terror. Focus on the evil of war. War begins by calling for the annihilation of the others but ends ultimately in self-annihilation. It corrupts souls and mutilates bodies. It destroys homes and villages and murders children on their way to school. It grinds into the dirt all that is tender and beautiful and sacred. It empowers human deformities—warlords, Shiite death squads, Sunni insurgents, the Taliban, al-Qaida and our own killers—who can speak only in the despicable language of force. War is a scourge. It is a plague. It is industrial murder. And before you support war, especially the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, look into the hollow eyes of the men, women and children who know it."
"“The brain is plastic and continues to change, not in getting bigger but allowing for greater complexity and deeper understanding,” says Kathleen Taylor, a professor at St. Mary’s College of California, who has studied ways to teach adults effectively. “As adults we may not always learn quite as fast, but we are set up for this next developmental step.”
Educators say that, for adults, one way to nudge neurons in the right direction is to challenge the very assumptions they have worked so hard to accumulate while young. With a brain already full of well-connected pathways, adult learners should “jiggle their synapses a bit” by confronting thoughts that are contrary to their own, says Dr. Taylor, who is 66.
Teaching new facts should not be the focus of adult education, she says. Instead, continued brain development and a richer form of learning may require that you “bump up against people and ideas” that are different. In a history class, that might mean reading multiple viewpoints, and then prying open brain networks by reflecting on how what was learned has changed your view of the world.
“There’s a place for information,” Dr. Taylor says. “We need to know stuff. But we need to move beyond that and challenge our perception of the world. If you always hang around with those you agree with and read things that agree with what you already know, you’re not going to wrestle with your established brain connections.”
Such stretching is exactly what scientists say best keeps a brain in tune: get out of the comfort zone to push and nourish your brain. Do anything from learning a foreign language to taking a different route to work.
“As adults we have these well-trodden paths in our synapses,” Dr. Taylor says. “We have to crack the cognitive egg and scramble it up. And if you learn something this way, when you think of it again you’ll have an overlay of complexity you didn’t have before — and help your brain keep developing as well.”"
One interesting implication of this is that diversity is valuable not just socially   but individually. In particular, it might prove an antidote for knee-jerk conservative views .
"A judge in America threw out charges against members of the Blackwater security company yesterday who were accused of killing Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in one of the most notorious incidents since the 2003 invasion.
[. . .]
US district judge Ricardo Urbina ruled in favour of the Blackwater men yesterday, saying prosecutors wrongly used against them statements they had given under duress. He said the government's case was built largely on "statements compelled under a threat of job loss in a subsequent criminal prosecution," a violation of their constitutional rights. The state department, which employed Blackwater, had ordered the men to explain what had happened."
So, the judge doesn't want to look at the world and see if the Blackwater thugs actually fired wantonly at Iraqi civilians. He instead wants to protect the mercenaries and their constitutional rights. That seems fine to me, although no self-respecting mercenary - who in all likelihood would tend to be politically reactionary - surely would want to be seen as a coddled criminal found 'innocent' on the basis of a mere legal technicality! And, of course, I am certain that the courts trying various individuals accused of terrorism or whatever will be similarly concerned with the use of evidence based on "statements . . . given under duress." I wonder whether any of the mercenaries were water boarded, slammed into walls, or deprived of sleep for extraordinary lengths of time during questioning?