I’m Just Not Impressed

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Posts Tagged ‘Obama

It’s Czar Mystery

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I find it interesting that one of the criticisms being leveled against the Obama administration is his appointment of various “Czars”. What evidently started as a birther/’bagger type theoryis now gaining ground in the Republican establishment. And like stories of President Obama’s fictional Kenyan birth certificate, there’s about as much truth to the idea that this is a new concept.

Reading  Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Sunday editorial over a morning bowl of cereal, in which she calls Obama’s appointment of Czars “unprecedented” and strongly implies that no such position has ever existed (no, she doesn’t say it, but absolutely nothing in the op-ed even begins to acknowledge the fact that such posts have existed for 20 years), I was struck by that thought – didn’t this defiance of the Constitution begin during a Republican administration?

The answer is actually more nuanced than I thought. I was thinking of the “Drug Czar,  a position that was created in 1988 (under Ronald Regan) and filled in 1989 (under George H.W. Bush), which was initially a Cabinet level position, and therefore, while still evocative of the Evil Empire, not a direct thread to the sanctity of liberty. Or something like that. Obama has made a change with respect to the Drug Czar, a move that is not entirely inappropriately called “unprecedented”, in that it is a move without direct precedent, of essentially decommissioning the position and removing it from Cabinet status.

But the first actual use of “Czar” as a title evidently goes all the way back to the Nixon administration, who, again, I’m pretty certain was Republican. Or does it go back even farther? Some of our lovely friends at Wikipedia would have us believe that the term has been used for more than 80 years, beginning with FDR. So, maybe it is the Democrats’ fault? Just for the record, this, kids, is why people mock Wiki as a primary source. Three different articles imply three different answers to this burning question.

What is not in question is that for the better part of a century, the White House made do with a handful of Czars. Then look at that jump – the leap not just back into double digits, but into the 30s, takes place not in 2009, as Hutchison would have us believe, but rather, in the 8 years prior. You know what that means, right?

Yet, where were all of these people when George W. Bush was was appointing “czars” right and left? I suppose no one actually thought that the poster boy for unremitting capitalism could ever be labeled a communist.

Written by emandink

September 14, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Fairey Tales

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I have a growing fascination with the Shepard Fairey copyright case.  Part of what makes it so fascinating is that, unlike a lot of copyright cases where a close look at existing law and precedent makes it pretty clear who is likely to win, this one is a crap shoot to my mind.  Cases like this one, and the recent Harry Potter Copyright Trial of Doom, illustrate a trend in the U.S. federal courts to apply nuanced reasoning about what fair use really means and what it truly means to “transform” a work into something new that does not depend on the original.  I don’t think that Fairey will win on his declaratory judgement action.  There are too many questions of law and fact at stake and I suspect that it will require a full trial (provided that it doesn’t settle first).  At full trial, though, I think he has a decent chance.  Then again, so – potentially – does AP.  I suspect, though, that it would tip in his favor, since while his image is clearly derivative, it does not represent a market that AP was likely to exploit, nor does it supersede the value of the original image.  OTOH, he copied it.  AP has made it’s basic case.  Whether Fairey’s Stanford legal team can establish the fair use defense will be the real issue.  It’s a decent case, but not a slam dunk.  Fair use is a defense that applies only after the case for potential copyright infringement has been proven, after all.

In the meantime, how about that Shepard Fairey.  The more I learn about him as an artist, the more I sort of dislike him.  But, boy, is there a lot of interesting stuff there to think about it.  There are three different angles to look at this art through – legal, art criticism and social justice, all of which can lead to far reaching conclusions.

From a legal perspective, my feelings are mixed – on the one hand, probably 30-40% of the art referenced in that first link  is in the public domain and is therefore fair game for any sort of use.  OTOH, a lot of it isn’t.  So we’re back to fair use and whether the use that he’s making really transforms anything, particularly the work that largely shifts perspective on works that were overtly political to begin with and whether his works act as substitutes or damage the market for the original works.

Then there is art criticism – and certainly reasonable people will differ on he question of is this art, although I certainly think it is.  I’m not sure how to categorize it, though.  My first thought is to forget the comparisons to Warhol and Lichtenstein – they copied iconic images, for sure – iconic images that were easily recognizable from their source.  And they transformed them into something else.  Warhol turned household goods into art objects (and did settle a lawsuit with Campbell’s for his trouble).  Lichtenstein took comic images from the 2×2 inch paper booklet and put them on walls.  Obama poster aside (which is somewhat like Warhol’s famous figure works), Fairey takes other people’s propaganda and turns it into…propaganda. 

This recasting of propaganda art from the 60s and 70s is the most problematic part of the work that I’ve seen.  Fairey borrows heavily from works made by people of color to publicize and fight their oppression and commodifies them into something easily consumable by an audience comprised primarily of white hipsters, while simultaneously marketing some of the actual emblems of their oppression right along side.  This is the real insidiousness of this work.  It is an exercise of enormous privilege for a white person to appropriate images by and of people of color for “art”, no matter how politicized and “in tune” with the original message.

Written by emandink

February 16, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Things I love the sound of:

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President Barack Hussein Obama.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Shivers, I tell you.

Written by emandink

January 22, 2009 at 9:24 am

Watching the World Wake Up From History

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It suddenly occurredto me yesterday that in five days George W. Bush will no longer be President of the United States.  I’ve known that, of course.  All of DC is abuzz with the inauguration.  I’ve been reviewing contracts related to inaugural related events – at least tangentially – for over a month.  Half the local news on NPR is about closings and crowds and the chaos that is feared as the enthusiastic masses amass on Tuesday.

But yesterday, something clicked.  In less than a week, we will have a new President.  That’s pretty damn cool.  It is exciting to see new faces in the news, or old faces in new ways.  Hillary Clinton’s remarks during her Senate confirmation as Secretary of State sent chills down my spine.  Happy, elated, my god, someone who really gets it kind of chills.  I wondered why Obama chose that spot for her.  Now I know.  There have been a lot of moments like that in the past couple of months – moments where I’m struck by how different our government leadership could be.  The DOJappointments especially, make me grin with glee.  Eric Holder, Elena Kagan, a formal NARAL laywer  – all excellent choices.

Sanjay Gupta, maybe not so much.  Warren giving the invocation makes me want to vomit, Robinson notwithstanding.

Eight years ago, like so many others – half this nation – I looked toward January 20th with dread.  This year I don’t.  I find myself looking forward to a State of the Union address for the first time in almost a decade.  But I also look around me and I know this – Obama is not a superhero.  He is not the messiah.  He can, and will, do wrong.

The morning of January 21, the United States of America is not going to be a whole new and different place.  The sun will rise, it will be cold as hell over much of the country and traffic is still going to suck on the Roosevelt Bridge.  The economy will still be in a shambles.  All Americans will still not be equal based solely on the anatomy of the person they love.  My library books will still be due.  But maybe, just maybe, change will still be in the air.

Written by emandink

January 15, 2009 at 11:24 am

It was a dark and stormy morning.

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I woke up at 5:15 this morning.  It was dark.  It was chilly.  It was election day! 

I stumbled to the bathroom, threw on some clothes, stopped to make coffee, let the dog out and clean up some spilled apple juice, then I was out the door into the early morning dark and chill.  Happily, it was not yet raining.

I should have walked to the polling place – it’s only about 5 blocks away, but it was 5:30 and I was tired and not thinking clearly.  As it was, I got one of the last spots in the community center lot and joined a line that was already half a block long – at 5:35!  I’d guess that there were at least 100 people in line ahead of me. 

By the time the polls opened at 6, the line was starting to snake around the corner.

In one of those strange DC area coincidences, I started chatting with a couple of folks near me in line and it turns out that a man who had been voting at our polling place for 45 years used to live in NW Iowa near Sioux City and he would drive down to Springfield, Missouri every weekend fifty years ago to play at a country music bar there.   Two people behind him was a woman who grew up on a farm outside of St. Louis and who went to college at what was then called SMSU, where my mother worked for when I was born and later moved to Chicago.  So, we ended up chatting a lot about the Ozarks and Branson and Eureka Springs, Arkansas for the duration of our wait.  Maybe we live in a small town after all.

Once the doors opened at 6:00, the line moved fast.  Poll workers were on the ball, walking up and down the lines with portable electronic check in machines confirming that anyone voting at our precinct for the first time was actually on the voter rolls properly.  Check in was the most comprehensive I’d ever seen – they didn’t just check to see that our id matched a voter registration, but we had to give our full name and address – at least I did.  Again, this was electronic.

Then it was get in the last and final line for the vote itself.  We had a choice between touch screen machines and paper scan ballots.  I ended up going electronic – it was a fight in my gut – part of me had been hoping for the paper option and evidently a lot of local media watchers are saying that is better.  Then again, a friend of mine is now worried that her vote won’t be readable because the election officers at her Fairfax County polling place didn’t have pencils or black pens, which the ballot claims to require.   She has thusfar been unable to get a satisfactory answer to that issue. 

The last time I felt such a thrill marking and finalizing my ballot was in 1992, when for the first time ever, I had a ballot in my hand.  I voted absentee from college, which was sort of a letdown, although, given the tales of long lines at the campus precincts, it definitely saved me some time.  I remember filling out the ballot with the little punch card thing, frantically worrying about whether I was doing it right before sealing the envelope, kissing it for luck and sending it off to McLean County with its votes for Bill Clinton and Carol Mosley Braun.  That year I helped elect the first Black woman to the U.S. Senate.  Here’s hoping this year I help elect the first Black man president.

As we wait for the election returns tonight, I will leave you with this.  That’s pretty much what it’s all about right there.

Written by emandink

November 4, 2008 at 4:02 pm

Posted in Election 2008, Politics

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We the People…

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I have to confess that parts of the Obama mega-ad made me cry last night, especially the clip when he was talking about how “all of you have someone in your family who came to America to follow a dream of a better life; maybe they worked in a coal mine, maybe they got hurt” etc. It got me thinking about my grandfather and how he should have died in a rig fire in the Texas oil fields in the late 30s, years before my mother was even born, and how he stayed in Oklahoma because my grandmother refused to leave the family farm when all of his family lived The Grapes of Wrath and caravaned to California to escape the dustbowl.  I remember playing all over what was left of that farm as a child – running through the pasture, riding the occasional calf, playing in “Lucky Rock Creek”, so dubbed my my mother and uncle as children because they found a stash of Lucky Strike cigarette packets there.

So, while I found most of the ad to be somewhat bland and predictable – a nice summation of the campaign and well designed to raise confidence in Obama for the undecideds and to enforce the desire to vote in decided voters – that part really got to me.   As in seriously fighting back sobs and I’m not sure why.  Part of it, I’m sure, is the fact that while I’ve lived on the east coast for twelve years now, I grew up in that mid-western milieu that John McCain romances and Obama was playing too last night.  Born in the Missouri Ozarks, raised in central Illinois, family trips to Oklahoma every year until my mid-teens, visits to my step-mom’s family farm in a tiny Missouri community first populated by her ancestors, detours to Kansas to see the unquestionably small town where my mother grew up.

My mother was the first woman in her family to go to college.  I may be a lawyer, but I don’t come from a family of doctors and lawyers.  I come from oil workers and traveling salesmen and Air Force Sergeants and dairy farmers and homemakers and college dropouts.  I’m the only person in my generation to go to grad school of any type.  I’m the only one to have moved east.  My biological cousins are fundamentalist Christians to the core, as were my grandparents.  I don’t come from John McCain’s elite.  I come from allegedly “real” America.  I am not less of an American because I wanted to follow my dreams of a career.  I am not less of an American because I went to the best school I could get into and afford.  I am not less of an American because I followed a job and in time found one I love.  I am not less of an American because I choose to live near and work in a city.  I am not less of an American because I believe in the words of our Declaration of Independence, that “all [people] are created equal” or the promise of our Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity, do hereby ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

I memorized those words as an eighth grader at Parkside Junior High School in Normal, Illinois and they are the words that led me to be a lawyer a decade later.  Those are words that I believe in.

Written by emandink

October 30, 2008 at 12:54 pm

This town isn’t big enough for the both of us.

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You know, it feels like just a few weeks ago that I was writing about what the heck the McCain-Palin campaign means by small town values.

Now it seems that not only are small towns (again…this means what?) the sole bastion of American morality, but in fact, in the bizarro world inhabited by John McCain and Sarah Palin and their cronies, somehow despite being at least five generations removed from “the old country” to the point where I can identify only the vaguest of non-American nationality, I am not truly an American by virtue of living in an area with more than, let’s say roughly, 5,000 people.

Hell, I don’t even live in a real state.  Which I suppose can be explained by the fact that Virginia is technically called a Commonwealth, however, those pesky income taxes that don’t go to the feds or to my local county seem to still go to Richmond to help support “real” Virginia. 

The McCain campaign is stooping to this bizarre Orwellian mantra of “All citizens are Americans but some citizens are more American than others” and I have an idea why:  Obama’s life completely belies the standard Republican narrative of the American dream.  Here we have a hard working, essentially self-made son of an immigrant and a woman from Kansas for god’s sake.  But the immigrant father was a dark skinned African man.  The mother was white and not particularly religious.  And the son had the audacity to go to the best schools that would accept him and to excel, to break down barriers, to find Jesus, to work to make the world a better place for black people in this country and to be a Democrat.  And really, it’s those last that are the real issue here.  Let’s be honest.

So, since they can’t harp on the self made American dream – which usually ties in nice and tight with the old-fashioned conservative values mantra – they’re looking for a different hook.  The tried and true “some of y’all just aren’t American enough for the rest of us” is not new.  But it is odd to see it trotted out in such force, not just by media surrogates, but by the candidates themselves.  In some ways this is another example of McCain campaigning like Bush, the original “uniter, not a divider.”

This campaign strategy has the odd effect of both being grotesquely offensive and almost relieving – I’m not entirely sure I want to live in Sarah Palin’s America.  But I don’t really appreciate her and McCain thinking they get to decide who really belongs here either.

Written by emandink

October 23, 2008 at 4:20 pm