The Glaring Absence of a U.S. Department of Culture

November 7, 2008

200px-ussealThere’s been much excitement and speculation about how Obama will staff his Executive Office. With Joe Biden Jr. as VP (link to the Senate) and Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff (link to the House), the search is on for 15 new Cabinet members*: Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health/Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing/Urban Dev’t, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General.

What missing? Secretary of Culture.

Call me biased, but pretty much all the most powerful nations in the world have one. There are Ministers or Secretaries of Culture in France, England, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Spain, Italy. And so on and so on.

It’s the 21st Century: America needs one.

Obama’s victorious campaign itself proves that images, words, beliefs, attitudes, narratives, and aspirations can bind us together, powerfully, as a nation (and tear us apart — as Dubya’s violent legacy proves).

Culture — the ideas, practices, and ideals people share — is a dynamic and critical apparatus of any nation-state. Mightier than steel, as Obama wisely put in his acceptance speech. More primal than religion, if I may add.

In these dark, fractious days, the strength of American Culture/s (or at least, the belief in it) just might be that magical something, that je ne sais quoi, that pulls us through to a new and better era.

So, I’m putting this out into the blogosphere: Secretary of Culture, Please!

(Cultural Council would be cool too.)

*For posterity, here’s a pdf of Dubya’s Cabinet.

Separate and Not Equal in America’s Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

November 4, 2008

prcoqAs Americans head to the voting polls today to decide who will be the 44th President of the United States, four million American citizens who are residents of Puerto Rico will be barred from casting their ballots.

A Spanish colony from 1493 to 1897, Puerto Rico was ceded to the U.S. under the Treaty of Paris in December 1898, putting an end to the Spanish-American War. It marked the end of the Spanish Empire in the Americas and signaled the rise of U.S. colonialism.

In 1917, Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship and in 1947, the right to democratically elect their own governor (previously an appointed post). In 1952, they drafted their own constitution which was ratified by Congress and approved by President Truman.

Today, Puerto Rico is officially an Estado Libre Asociado (which translates into “Free Associated State”) or Commonwealth: a self-governing territory — with its own executive, legislative, and judicial branches — that is subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sovereignty. It belongs to the U.S., but is not part of the U.S. It has limited (non-voting) representation in Congress. Its head of state is the President of the United States — who it can nominate in party primaries (as we saw on June 1st), but NOT vote for in presidential elections.

So, today Americans vote for President. And Puerto Ricans vote for Governor: not-quite-equal-citizens in a not-quite-independent, not-quite-common land for almost a century.

It’s definitely time for change. We’ve waited far too long. Here’s hoping today is the day change makes history. Vote OBAMA.


Kings and Kingmakers at Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner

October 19, 2008

NYT’s top cultural chronicler Bill Cunningham ran the lead photo above for his “Evening Hours” page this Sunday. From left: Cardinal Edward M. Egan, Alfred E. Smith IV (great grandson of Smith), Nan Smith, and Senator Barack Obama at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner held on October 16th at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

The dinner reportedly raised $4 million for underprivileged children. Which is (undeniably) well and good. It also brought together — in royal white tie — the city’s (arguably, the nation’s) political, cultural, and media elite: both presidential hopefuls, both state senators, the city’s 3rd-term-seeking mayor, a Catholic archbishop, news anchors, and so on and so forth.

Power. With a capital-P. I can’t help but think how much of our futures were shaped that night.

No surprise to anyone that politicians must pal around with the ruling dynasties of wealth and religion in order to get work done. But I am curious about whether and how Obama’s promise of change will weather these dominant regimes with which he is ostensibly at odds.

Certainly, there is no choice. Obama MUST/WILL become the next American president. There is much at stake. One hopes his presidency radically alters photographs such as this.


Palin (aka Fey Lookalike) to Appear on SNL?

October 9, 2008

On MSNBC‘s News You Can’t Use: Sarah Palin may take on Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live/SNL this week. Whoa!

Fey’s hilarious and scathing performances as the Republican Party’s desperate and ill-conceived pick for VP are spreading like wildfire. The physical resemblance is uncanny. And Fey definitely capitalizes on Palin’s patent on fake-adorable prairie-pinscher. In a sense, one could say that Fey constructs and deconstructs a simulacrum: a simulation of a simulation, or a copy of a copy (think Disneyworld).

If MSNBC’s sources are accurate, Palin taking on Fey on SNL would indeed be a spectacular feedback loop. Not art imitating life or life imitating art. Just a copy wrestling with a copy.

It will definitely be a good day for arts and entertainment — but a bad, sad day for politics. I can’t wait: the imperial GOP wolf outfitting itself yet again in sheep’s clothing. Now THAT’s a joke.


Bush Calls on Congress to Lift Ban on Offshore Oil Drilling

June 18, 2008

oilrigs

On Tuesday, Republican nominee John McCain said he favors offshore oil drilling in the U.S. to alleviate rising oil and gas prices. Echoing McCain, President Bush is calling on Congress today to end the federal ban on offshore drilling. Ironically, Bush’s father signed the executive order for the ban in 1990 and brother Jeb opposes the drilling. Bush’s move would effectively go against family sentiment.

While the Democratic nominee Barack Obama is against lifting the ban, the McCain-Bush legacy may not be too far off from America’s public sentiment. Surprising for a seemingly eco-obsessed nation: more than three out of five Americans want to lift the ban and resume drilling. According to Rasmussen Reports on 6/17:

…67% of voters believe that drilling should be allowed off the coasts of California, Florida and other states. Only 18% disagree and 15% are undecided. Conservative and moderate voters strongly support this approach, while liberals are more evenly divided (46% of liberals favor drilling, 37% oppose.)

…64% of voters believe it is at least somewhat likely that gas prices will go down if offshore oil drilling is allowed, although 27% don’t believe it. 78% of conservatives say offshore drilling is at least somewhat likely to drive prices down. That view is shared by 57% of moderates and 50% of liberal voters.

The day before, Rasmussen Reports wrote that 29% favor nationalizing the oil industry, while 47% are opposed. 24% are not sure.

37% of Democrats believe the oil industry should be nationalized. In contrast, Republicans oppose nationalizing the oil industry by a 66% to 16% margin. Unaffiliated voters are opposed by a 47% to 33% margin.

Photo of oil drilling in Texas by swisscan on flickr.

It’s Official: Clinton’s Campaign is Dead, Long Live Obama’s Campaign

June 7, 2008

Slightly after noon today, Senator Hillary Clinton publicly ended her historic campaign for the U.S. presidency and encouraged her 18 million supporters to back the presumptive Democratic nominee, Senator Barack Obama. Parts of her speech (full text here):

Now when I started this race, I intended to win back the White House, and make sure we have a president who puts our country back on the path to peace, prosperity, and progress. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do by ensuring that Barack Obama walks through the doors of the Oval Office on January 20, 2009.

…We may have started on separate journeys – but today, our paths have merged. And we are all heading toward the same destination, united and more ready than ever to win in November and to turn our country around because so much is at stake.

…We cannot let this moment slip away. We have come too far and accomplished too much.

…So today, I am standing with Senator Obama to say: “Yes we can.”

It has been an unprecedented primary season for the Democratic party. Some say, after the darkest night comes the brightest light. And the Democrats have vetted not just one, but two.

twoeaglesI found this photograph of two American bald eagles right after listening to Clinton’s farewell speech today. And I thought, what an apt metaphor for Clinton and Obama right now.

After two soaring campaigns, they’ve both landed on different branches of the same tree. Here, a quiet — and very pregnant — pause.

And we wait to see whether one will choose to fly with the other.

A world is at stake.

Photo: Judy Malley, ShootsNikon on flickr

Day of Silence For An Historic Clinton Campaign

June 3, 2008

Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has claimed the Democratic Party’s nomination tonight in Minnesota. While the future of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton remains unclear at this time, we are observing a day of silence on Wednesday, June 4th, to salute the historic implications of her hard-earned, hard-fought campaign.

A blixity tip of the hat to a formidable candidate and an ever-defiant force. Here’s to Clinton for fighting a stunning fight and keeping the serious debates going.

We now have 24 hours to switch gears and get behind the party’s nominee, after an epic and invigorating primary battle. Clinton’s campaign is dead. Long Live the Obama campaign.

We hope to see the emergence of an Obama-Clinton dream team — perhaps when the media pundits decide to stop dragging Clinton through the coals. Let’s go win this one for peace and democracy, why don’t we?

hillobamared

It’s time.