Politics: October 2008 Archives

arrest the real criminals!


Nobody has to spell it out again. We all know what it is, and what it represents. We know it should never have been built and we know that it should have been plowed under long ago.

We also know that no one is talking about it any more*.

Its victims remain inside, but it has been arranged that we can never know anything of their innocence or guilt. The only thing we can be sure of is the guilt of so many who are outside, those who built it, those who maintain it still, and all of us who tolerate it.

Well, almost no one. In a letter to the editor of the NYTimes published yesterday, Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International, acknowledges that while Bush has decided to do nothing about Guantanamo, in spite of saying more than two years ago that he wanted to close what I call our Cuban concentration camp, both major candidates are actually on record as saying that they would close it. However, Cox and many others smell the rat:

But they must not transfer the the violations to other locations [my italics]. Detainees should be charged with a recognizable criminal offense, brought to full and fair trial or released.

The next president must also commit to abandon the military commission trials, repudiate secret detention, never again authorize or tolerate torture, and uphold the rule of law at home and abroad.

But my question (and our guilt) remains: Why not now?

[image from Getty Images via Nasir Khan]

in storage since the wingnuts bought all the rights: my old, yellowing 48-star flag

I have had a very hard time getting as excited as most of my friends and acquaintances are about Obama's candidacy, perhaps especially during the time he was coming closer to being the Democratic candidate and then to being chosen to occupy the office of President itself. I admit I'm spoiled: I've always had difficulty settling for less than what I want or, in this case, for less than what is needed by my country.

Yes, part of it's because I'm politically far to the left at least of the image the candidate presents of himself, but I also believe that we have nothing but our fragile hopes to support any belief that Obama will have both the imagination and courage to do as President what absolutely must be done. The extremity of our current crisis requires an even more ambitious agenda, in both domestic and foreign policy, than what was required of FDR in 1933, and I see no evidence that anyone is fully aware of this, including the candidate - perhaps especially the candidate.

We're in big trouble, and I don't think we understand yet what's wrong.

But I also worry that we are too anxious to lay the blame for our shame and misery, and the responsibility for our redemption and relief, solely on someone our system puts in charge of things. Neither Bush and Cheney nor the people and corporations who created them are fully to blame; after all, almost 50% of voters approved their candidacy - twice! At the same time, we won't find our way out of this mess if we think our own responsibility ends after next Tuesday.

The October 27 issue of The New Yorker includes this letter from a reader which beautifully lays out the sense of what I've just touched on:

While I agree with your editorial support for Barack Obama, the challenges of national leadership are greater than simply choosing the right candidate (Comment, October 13th). Our preoccupations - consumer profligacy, national myths, and denial of the rest of the world - may not result in the best choice of leadership, as the second Bush term so clearly demonstrates. The question is whether we can make the personal sacrifices necessary to change ourselves, or whether we believe that change is only about what leadership we select. The original patriots risked their lives for what they believed. No one is asking that of us; just that we vote with care and with attention to our enduring values, and realize that there is more to being good citizens than going to the polls.

Jon Gilmore
South Orleans, Mass.

untitled (yellow riser) 2008

This grassy clump is growing at the top of the stairs of a subway entrance on Bowery.

Who says Manhattan's lost its edge? Ask any European or Japanese visitor what s/he thinks about the appearance of our infrastructure - after twenty years of killer prosperity for the city. I'm afraid of what may lie ahead, even if it could mean the return of affordable apartments for artists and those who love them.

In any case, it looks like we haven't lost our heart. I like the grafitto, "I love you", in the background.

the Radical Homosexual Agenda seen in Council this morning

The real argument is about competitive elections, not term limits. Of course we'd like to think that every vote counts, but the fact is that we've designed a system in which money really counts; the votes are essentially just for decoration.

If we had a real system of public financing of elections there would be no argument for term limits. New Yorkers have voted twice to establish a system of term limits, a clumsy and ineffective mechanism intended to help level the playing field for candidates seeking office. It doesn't really get us where we should be, but it's not preferential, and it's what we got.

While it's not entirely about money, it's about money. Wealth always attracts power and power attracts wealth. It's not just ironic that the billionaire who initiated and bankrolled, to the tune of $4 million, successful term limits referendums in 1993 and 1996 now wants to overturn the results without a referendum, in order to support another billionaire: In fact it's disgusting but it should surprise no one.

Supporters of Mayor Bloomberg's call for the Council to negate the twice-expressed will of the voters of the city for his benefit are acting as if victory would automatically mean a third term for their candidate. Unfortunately they're probably right. Bloomberg spent $100 million of his own money to buy and keep his first two elections; he is expected to spend another $80 million if we let him have his way with us a third time.

Supporters also argue that voters should have complete freedom to cast their ballots for whomever they wish. I agree, but it's not going to happen if this kind of money (whether coming from individuals or very interested corporations) is always going to be there to tell us who and what is best for us. Any other other "whomever" or "whatever" will always be kept out of both sight and sound by people with more money behind them.

I'd like to think that my city is not for sale, and yet of course we know it is.

But there's still hope, and some of it showed up at City Hall this morning. On the second day of hearings over the question of whether the Council should vote for another term for Bloomberg, the first statements were delivered by Queens Borough President Helen M. Marshall, Time Warner Chairman Richard D. Parsons, and Peter Vallone, Sr., who was Speaker of the City Council from 1986 until 2001. All three support Bloomberg, and all three spoke in his support today, but then something happened to throw a figurative wrench in their political works. I hope it might set the theme for the remainder of the day: Members of the Radical Homosexual Agenda [RHA website] got up from their seats and dropped the cloth banner shown above.

W.A.G.E. RAGE from the speakers' platform in the Armory Drill Hall

Creative Time's 2008 project, "Democracy in America: The National Campaign", was a remarkable achievement on a national scale, and it all came together in our town this past September. I wouldn't know where to start if I tried to address everything I saw on visits over two days, but I can say a few things about its general success, at least as I see it.

For starters, this is the kind of investment in public art that, unlike so many that are imposed upon us, could really make a difference to both a huge number of artists and a very large public. Also, it probably cost New York something less than the $15 million the Public Art Fund spent on Olafur Eliasson's surprisingly-lame "New York City Waterfalls". Thirdly, it involved the active and creative participation of thousands of people all over the country, from all sorts of backgrounds and they were exercising all kinds of talents. And finally, on a personal note, entirely aside from its undeniable intellectual and aesthetic appeal, I would say that any art project which can teach this art fan and political activist new things and radicalize him beyond his previous position must have gotten something very right.

Some of the liveliest elements of the entire Park Avenue Armory "Convergence Center" were to be found inside the Drill Hall. Throughout the week of the installation anyone could speak from a soapbox, but individuals and groups were also scheduled to perform or speak more formally at the east end of that magnificent vaulted shed. I heard parts of only a few segments in either format, but on the night of Saturday, September 27, I was there for addresses, in intense and reasoned argument, by some of the people of W.A.G.E. [Working Artists and the Greater Economy]. The words we heard then will some day be described as marking the moment when the gloves came off and artists in America began to be free.

Their website says that the group "works to draw attention to economic inequalities that exist in the arts and to resolve them", and their fundamental argument was expressed in some of the statements we heard that Saturday, beginning with these notes which I've made with the help of the video available by Creative Time on vimeo:

"It seems apt that W.A.G.E. is here [as the world's financial systems fall - Ed.] tonight to bring to light ongoing unjust fiscal practices in the art world"

[the speaker goes on to explain that institutions, should they choose to exhibit their work, don't pay artists the costs for the exhibition, don't pay their lecture fees, don't pay fees for the reproduction of their images in their advertising materials, just for starters]

"Does this list sound absurd? It's long. What is absurd is to exclude artists from payment for their labor and for the reproduction and exhibition of their work, within an economic climate where it is socially acknowledged that payment is granted for services rendered."

[she added that it's also not absurd because there are many examples of artist fees being covered in other countries, and then she continued, guessing some listeners might respond that those countries may be socialist, or that they must have more funding than our private institutions]

"If capitalism is you bag or priority, I can't think of anything more capitalist than getting paid for your labor [italics mine]."

I'm sure you'll be hearing more about this movement, even if you don't become a part of it, and even if you don't go to the site, where there's much more about W.A.G.E. and CARFAC, the Canadian artist-run organization which has been so successful.

We love creative time, and we love Creative Time.

pretty empty

I've just sat through my first - and last, ever - Presidential or Vice-Presidential debate. As Barry twittered, immediately after we had together watched a real TV show in real time probably for the first time since 9/11:

I feel I lost IQ points watching that. I hope I get them back. What we call a "debate" is a travesty of that concept.

Two of my own thoughts: I think the Republican "principal" should be watching his back: My headline refers to his "dummy", but in this country dummies have a history of taking over everything, even supplanting fools.

And after listening to Ms. Palin's painful memorized deliveries, I never want to hear anyone visit the word "maverick" again. John McCain has only done two "maverick-ish" things in his lifetime: The first was the moment he asserted that he was capable of performing as President of the United States; the second was the moment he decided to tell us that, in a pinch (or something of that sort), Sarah Palin would be able to do the same.

I may be significant of nothing, but does anyone remember the original Ford Maverick, a slightly-gussied-up version of the Falcon, a tired earlier model? I do, for reasons not related to any virtues which might later have been associated with it, sentimentally or otherwise. Let it suffice to say, the Maverick was not a "memorable" car in any sense which could be related to worthiness.

Like the current Republican slate, just lipstick and paint on cheap plastic and rusting tin.

forty years ago a Maverick was merely sort of pathetic

the medieval court jester or fool's own prop-stick fool

[first image, of a century-old bisque marotte, from antiquedolls; the second, of an early-seventies Ford Maverick, from barkbarkwoofwoof]

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