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.

Free Obama Toy (with a Catch)!

November 6, 2008

obamadoll had this ad up today. It’s funny enough on its own. Then I thought, there’s an even funnier role reversal here. Shouldn’t they be offering a free McCain doll with purchase of an Obama doll? I’m assuming that popular demand for the winner’s doll would be greater than that of the loser’s. I mean, generally, who pays for the loser’s memorabilia? (That’s akin to buying holiday decorations on the day after. What’s the point, right?)

Maybe Obama’s popularity is so strong right now that a free Obama toy WILL actually get someone to shell out the big bucks for a McCain doll?

Maybe there are some microtrend market studies out there that say more McCain supporters happen to be toy collectors as well. Or maybe more toy collectors happen to support McCain. Who knows.

Get yours while supplies last!

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.

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?


It’s time.

Obama Forsakes His Controversial Church Of Twenty Years

May 31, 2008


Saturday evening news headlines are always telling. Particularly because fewer people are watching. So, what a non-surprise that media-savvy presidential hopeful Barack Obama picked a Saturday evening to quit his own church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. NYT reports that he will be explaining this latest denunciation tonight in South Dakota.

The 47-year-old junior senator from Illinois has been a member of Trinity’s congregation for about two decades — that’s almost half his life. It’s also the church where he and wife Michelle were married, and his two daughters were baptized. Like his public denunciation last month of Trinity’s pastor and his longtime mentor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. (from whom Obama adopted the phrase, “The Audacity of Hope”), this could not possibly have been an easy decision. Is it the right one?

While the church has certainly been a lightning rod for controversy during Obama’s campaign, what does quitting it accomplish?

In stark contrast to Bush’s “stay the course”, Obama’s openness to “change” has won an unexpected show of support over the past few months. But these public denunciations of longtime friends or we-weren’t-really-friends, are beginning to turn this pro-change stance into a flip-flop dance (remember Kerry?) What happened to sticking by your people? Working with your people (one of them being, your longtime pastor) to CHANGE their minds? What does it mean to quit your church, of all things? (And I’m not even religious.)

Disappointing news indeed. Obama certainly has the gift of oratory. He’s going to need it in bundles and busloads to explain this one.

If he can quit his pastor and church of twenty years just like that because he disagrees with what they’re preaching (apparently different from what they’d been saying before he entered the race), how fast till he drops YOU, a total stranger? What if we say we don’t agree with his definition of “change”? Will he quit you and me too?

Stop the bus, I want to get off.

Castro on Obama, Hunger, and Consumerism

May 26, 2008

The rumble for Florida’s votes is on and the winner may depend on what Miami’s Cuban immigrants see as the future of their motherland. Clinton, Obama, and McCain are sparring over how they will deal with Fidel Castro, now 81, and younger brother Raul, who formally assumed the presidency in February 2008. Mirroring the majority of immigrants’ sentiments, Clinton and McCain are vowing not to deal with the socialist republic until it introduces more democratic reforms. Obama is going against the grain, pledging to open up official lines of communication with the most populous nation in the Caribbean.

In the past, the older Castro has voiced his support of Obama and an Obama-Clinton ticket. However, in a surprising Reuters report today, Castro criticized Obama’s speech in Miami last Friday wherein Obama called for lifting restrictions on travel and money transfers to Cuba. Castro, as quoted by Reuters:

“Obama’s speech can translate into a formula of hunger for the nation (Cuba), the remittances like alms and the visits to Cuba as propaganda for consumerism and the unsustainable lifestyle that he sustains.

“How is the very grave problem of the food crisis going to be confronted? Grains must be distributed among human beings, domestic animals and fish, which year by year are smaller and more scarce in the over-exploited seas,” Castro said. “It’s not easy to produce meat from gas and oil.”

Castro is pointing out the dangers of rhetoric and smooth talk, which is Obama’s Achilles heel. But I wonder how much Castro himself has been able to stop the tide of consumerism within Cuba. Here’s a photo of Castro published by Reuters in a separate article. It was apparently taken by Brazilian President Lula during their meeting in Havana in January. Why is Castro wearing an ADIDAS track top? One might consider this a very successful case of advertising or product placement, aka “propaganda for consumerism”. Not good: a picture is worth a thousand words.




Adidas, of course, knows best. The company’s got an “Adidas Cuba Retro Track Top” for soccer fans and Cuban loyalists.

Selling Cars in Missouri with God, Guns, and Gas

May 23, 2008

maxmotorsMax Motors, a car dealership in Butler, Missouri, has been making headlines with a controversial new promotion: buy a car, get a free gun or gas. It seems their usual sales pitch of “guaranteed lowest price in the nation” was no longer enough to get people in the barn door. So they looked at the bigger issues and tried to get proactive. Max Motors’ website patriotically claims: “We are aware of the gasoline and crime problem in America. Max Motors, the Country Dealer wants to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.” This has landed them on Fox News, ABC, MSNBC, BBCNews, NBC, Reuters, and surely more to come. The dealership has even set up another website,, to capture support, defend the right to carry guns, and very interestingly, pontificate about America’s “real roots”, the Christian Bible.

According to BBC News, the dealership (with “no big city tricks”) has sold more than 30 cars and trucks in the past three days, apparently because of the “God, Guns, and Gas” pitch. Only two of the 30 buyers have chosen the free gas (in the form of a $250 gas card) over the free handgun.

Owner Mark Muller credits Barack Obama for the promotion: “We did it because of Barack Obama. He said all those people in the Midwest, you’ve got to have compassion for them because they’re clinging to their guns and their Bibles. I found that quite offensive. We all go to church on Sunday and we all carry guns.”

I love country air, oh yes I do. But sentiments like this sure stink it up bad. How does one qualify “love thy neighbor” and “thou shalt not kill” with the right to defend property? Just another one of those big mysteries in life that seem to get more incomprehensible the farther away one gets from the city.

Note: For your protection, this post contains no links to the dealership. The image above is a screenshot from Max Motors’ website, which you can search for yourself, although I suggest not giving them the pageview.

Multi-Party System is Way Overdue in America

May 21, 2008

flagsClinton wins Kentucky — overwhelmingly. Every time Obama and McCain supporters declare the numbers game over, an undeniable wave of support for Clinton breaks. The salaried media says people are tired of this. I find it incredibly refreshing. People are finally speaking out, through their votes. Not for Obama. But for the bigger dream of Change. The two-party system of Democrats and Republicans no longer fits. America is a nation with over 304 million people who must continue to seek representation between two political machines that are directly plugged into Capitalist, Patriarchal, Christian traditions. We are a nation with multiple voices, visions, brains, hearts, and souls. And we are in dire need of MORE political choices, MORE candidates. THIS is change.

A couple days ago, Arianna Huffington wrote a memorably lucid post, shockingly supportive of Clinton’s run for president and its monumental implications:

“[Clinton] has…forever demolished the question mark hovering over the issue many (wrongly, in my opinion) have felt would be a woman candidate’s biggest weakness: the ability to be seen as a plausible commander-in-chief.

It is to her great credit that very shortly into the ’08 race, when you saw Clinton on television, you didn’t think, “Oh, there’s the woman running for president.” That is no small feat for a woman trying to break into a male-dominated arena. So the next time a woman — or two or three — runs for president, it won’t be seen as a novelty act. Because Hillary certainly wasn’t.

Personally, I’d love to see a presidential race in November that allows us to choose between Clinton, Obama, McCain, and Paul. That is not going to happen this year. But it will sooner than later. As Arianna writes, the rules of the game have already changed:

“Campaigning in Pennsylvania in early April, Clinton compared herself to Philadelphia icon Rocky Balboa. “Let me tell you something,” she said. “When it comes to finishing the fight, Rocky and I have a lot in common. I never quit. I never give up.”

The comparison was meant to reinforce her image as a tireless warrior — but it was more accurate and prescient than she intended. Because Rocky actually lost his initial fight with Apollo Creed. After 15 punishing and bloody rounds, he was satisfied just to have gone the distance.

…Even though Rocky didn’t win, he was ultimately seen as a triumphant figure. And that’s how Hillary will be seen too…Hers will have been a game-changing defeat.”

Unlike Arianna (and while we still face a two-party race), I’m not ready to submit to Obama as the democratic nominee. Clinton is still in the ring. So I’m holding out for change.

Political Speeches As New Form of Ad Space

April 27, 2008

On Gawker, Towleroad, and Mother Jones: Video footage of Obama making his concession speech after losing Pennsylvania shows three guys, all clad in Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts. The one on the left seems particularly well-prepared for television coverage, his “Fitch” being the largest visible brand on the screen (even beating the Obama campaign’s own slogan of “Change”). Media buyers get creative!

From Gawker:

“Maybe it’s a plot by the Obama campaign to win back the gay community, which has something of a taste for the youth clothing retailer and, especially, its catalogs, but whose vote is basically owned by Hillary Clinton… Perhaps, instead, this is some kind of bizarre attempt at product placement by Abercrombie, trying to latch on to some of Obama’s rock-star appeal.”

Obama’s “Unity” = China’s “One World One Dream”

April 19, 2008

Insight Analytical‘s Friday post on Obama’s ongoing “Unity” campaign linked to an article written by Barry Grey for WSWS back in January 2008 (before the New Hampshire primary and in response to a conference on bipartisan unity). As IA notes, Grey’s article raises a critical issue. Titled “The U.S. Elections: In whose interest is the campaign for bipartisan unity?”, Grey writes:

“The demand, made in the name of the American people, for an end to what [ex-Democratic Senator, just-named-Obama-advisor Sam] Nunn called “rampant partisanship” is as brazen as it is absurd. What is an election about—if it is anything more than an empty ritual—if not the airing of political differences and the advancement of competing programs?

It is all the more ludicrous in a country where political discussion is suppressed as in no other “democracy” and the substantive differences between the two officially sanctioned parties are increasingly negligible. The Democratic 110th Congress is a testament to the fundamental unity of the two parties on all issues—war, the further enrichment of the financial aristocracy, the assault on democratic rights—that are critical to the American ruling elite.

The demand for bipartisan unity serves to obscure the objective reality of a society that is riven by class and social divisions. The agents of Wall Street who preach the gospel of “unity” have good reason to suppress any genuine political discussion. They preside over a country where the concentration of wealth has reached unprecedented levels, with the top 1 percent of families owning 40 percent of the nation’s net worth. And the economic disparities continue to grow.

The “unity” demanded by Messrs. Boren, Hagel & Co. is essentially unity of the corporate elite against the working class…”

This call for unity, backed by Big Media and Obscene Wealth, has swallowed up the Democratic Party, chewed away any platform for multiple voices, and spat it out in the willing form of “frontrunner” Barack Obama. Newbies, particularly if they can be seen to “represent” certain marginalized constituencies, are always excellent fodder for the ruling class.

We are not all the same and we are not all equal. We are multiple voices, living in multiple worlds with multiple ideologies, working towards multiple dreams. Democracy is the persistent struggle to keep these all alive, visible, and contemporary. If we give this up, as Obama preaches, would we not be participating in the construction of a new hegemonic order, the same neoliberalism behind China’s Olympic slogan “One World One Dream”? Monsters often have many heads.

Grey ends in a depressing note:

“The campaign for bipartisanship thus has a distinctly antidemocratic and sinister aspect. It is an effort to discipline the political squabbling within the US ruling elite in order to face a far greater danger: an eruption of social conflict produced by the increasingly desperate conditions facing the vast majority of the American people.”

With a population of over 300 million people, we don’t just need unity. We desperately need more political platforms and agonistic arenas within which to debate and negotiate our differences.

In the meantime, I’m voting for ch-ch-ch-changes I CAN believe in. Vote for Ru Paul. (We sure hope someone’s explained to McCain what LGBTQ means by now.)

CREDITS: Top Image of Obama by Charis Tsevis in Athens, Greece (or tsevis on flickr). Image of Ru Paul (right) by Josh McCormick of Tulsa (or jmccorm on flickr). Usage for both images via Creative Commons license.