Archive for ‘Politics’

You Can’t Beat the System

By , 1 September, 2008, No Comment

My dad collects coffee mugs. Everywhere we go on a vacation, while the rest of us hunt eagerly for T-shirts and keychains, he shops the international Crate and Barrels for dishes. From London, we have a mug with the Underground map and the tagline “You Can’t Beat the System.” I like to drink from it while I read the financial section of the New York Times…

Thought about the “system” today when I read this story about a McCain aide who thought to juice up Sarah Palin’s Wiki entry before she was unveiled as a Veep choice on Friday. The article takes up the question of whether tampering with Wikipedia is immoral or just smart politics.

That reminds me of the controversy that errupted last year, when viral marketer Dan Greenberg unveiled some of the tactics he uses, or recommends others use, to sell brands online in a tell-all post on TechCrunch. Some of the conversation was about the ethics of individual tactics (paying bloggers to write favorable posts, for example), but much of the dialogue was about the ethics of using the Web to sell things at all.

There’s a lot of hippie culture among techheads, so much so that some of them talk as if making money from online activities is itself sacriligious. As someone who sees free culture as akin to free markets (not free lunch), I’m inclined to respond, “You can’t beat the system.” And you can’t blame Ackerman or the McCain campaign for working it.

Old Dude 1, Techheads 0

By , 29 August, 2008, 1 Comment


Last week, I was all amused to watch CNN steal Barack’s thunder by breaking his veep choice before his so-so-cool text message went out. I took it as a sign that old media might be more agile and relevant in this high tech age than some bloggers like to argue.

This week, I’m all amused to learn that McCain has picked Sarah Palin as his veep. Of the choices he had, I think he made the best one. His other finalists–social conservative Romney, ‘Sam’s Club’ conservative Pawlenty and hawk Lieberman–were all fatally flawed: reviled as a person, an unknown and gasp! a Democrat.

But the benefits of picking Palin–proven maverick, social conservative–are undercut by the baseness of assuming that Hillary voters will swing to her just because she’s a woman:

1. most Hillary voters weren’t for her JUST because of her gender
2. the ones that were, the ones for whom “women’s issues” are the only issues that matter are not the kind of people who would vote for a pro-lifer.

Plus, as a man with serious health/age concerns, McCain is picking a VP with a decent shot of being No. 1 one day. Palin’s foreign policy resume just isn’t big enough for that. That said, on domestic policy, I think Palin fits right where McCain wants to position himself, so overall, I think it’s the right choice.

Given that neither McCain or Obama totally bungled their choices, then, I think the veep choices come out even, meaning the race is still neck and neck and still focused on the same few states as before.

What McCain does win, however, is the media battle. Mr. Old Dude, supposedly out of touch and mocked by Paris Hilton for his mashup video of Obama managed to keep his choice a total secret in the age of 24-hour news and bloggers dying to scoop him. Meanwhile, Mr. 21st century, Obama, got scooped. Score one for being old, I guess.

Apocalypse 7: Stealing Barack’s Thunder

By , 24 August, 2008, 1 Comment

Unless you lived under a rock last week, you probably heard some chatter about the Obama campaign’s plan to announce a runningmate (it’s Biden, by the way) via text message The young faithful Obama-ites would be in the know before the media pundits; the news would be all over the blogs before it hit the evening broadcast.

It didn’t work out that way. Late on Friday night, CNN had enough material to break the Biden news on air, followed within minutes by the other networks and the websites of all the major newspapers. Panicked, the campaign sent out their text to supporters at about 3 am (AFTER the news was out for the general public) instead of the 8 am time they had planned. Oops.

Now my anecdotal reporting suggests a certain correlation between the Obamamaniacs and the free culture radicals who are waiting for blogs and citizen journalists–camera phones in hand–to obliterate the CNN’s of the world. Both groups are young, urban lefties, after all.

So fittingly, when the Obama cell phone campaign got scooped, the free culture argument lost out too: the threat of new technologies didn’t kill the old media hounds, it just made them work harder to get the story first.

By raising the bar, might the Internet actually be good for the news industry?

“OMG, he asked for my number!”

By , 21 August, 2008, 2 Comments

No, not the guy who shares my cubicle at work (alas), but Barack Obama. If I give him my digits, I can be among the first to know (by text) his choice of runningmate. How hot is that.

Like everything Obama does these days, the media pundits–old and new–immediately labeled this a genius move. Now the Obama campaign can incorporate cell phones–and their young users–into their phone bank lists and begin hounding us all to vote for their man in November.

Here’s the glitch. The folks who need to know Obama’s veep the second he makes up his mind are either Obama kool-aid drinkers or political junkies, or both. Those aren’t the ones you need to call, Barack, cause they already have their minds made up one way or the other. Unless you’re just going through the motions of this campaign to enjoy the celebrity adulation.

The folks you oughta be calling–those 11% undecideds–are still wavering not because they love you and McCain so much, or because they hate you both so passionately, but because frankly, they’re just not that into either one of you. So the idea that those people are sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for a veep choice–and gonna cough up their privacy to be in the know–is pretty ludicrous.

Too Fast for Jarvis

By , 14 August, 2008, No Comment

Today, the news cycle got faster than the blog cycle. Jeff Jarvis, who I’m convinced has an intravenus feed from his brain to his blog he posts so damn frequently, got behind the news.

At 5:58 AM this morning, he announced a new scheme for newspapers, that resource-crunched industry, to save money: get rid of your convention coverage. Nothing happens at political conventions. The platforms are released beforehand, the candidates are pre-determined and some major national TV outlet (or 2 or 3 or 4) will cover the big speeches. Will you get some local color from covering your city’s delegates? Sure. Is that news? Not so much.

Ooops.

At around 10 this morning, every news outlet was abuzz with the information that Hillary Clinton’s name will be thrown into the roll call at the Democrats’ shindig in Denver. That doesn’t change the fact that Barack is the candidate (whatever the Clinton die-hards may say), but it allows her supporters to make a lot of angry noise and allows the GOP to make the case that the Dems run a dysfunctional family picnic. In politics, any opportunity for one side to make the other side look bad IS news.

And most of the infighting will be happening on the local level between the Obama and Clinton people within individual state groups. Which means for once, local newspapers might have an edge, and a real reason to be on the convention floor.

The “New” Political Culture

By , 7 August, 2008, No Comment

I’m skeptical of Barack Obama’s “new” politics. This week, the NYTimes revealed that it’s really just a YouTube-genic version of the old politics: despite all his claims to the contrary, Obama gets his funding from big bundlers just like everyone else. I have no beef with bundlers–campaigns are expensive. But since Obama told everybody he was a $50 check kind of guy, the bundlers are a problem for him.

Meanwhile, McCain was learning a different lesson about the “new” political culture: how impossible it is to have a controlled message in this viral age. His attack ad about Obama as the greatest celebrity got big press, but not in the way he wanted:

Read More →

Follow-Ups

By , 5 August, 2008, No Comment

An all-too-true criticism of bloggers is that we get caught up in whatever is the hot news story of the minute, but can’t follow through or stick around long enough to see the full picture. To correct that, I’m revisiting two previous posts today.

1. Way back in May, I ranted about America’s atrocious decision to rescind some Fulbright awards to Palestinians at Israel’s request. To summarize my previous argument, even if you believe that Palestine should be denied a seat at the negotiating table till it solves its internal problems, isn’t helping responsible, social-service oriented Palestinians (ex. academics) a key way to facilitate that precondition? For a few weeks after the Fulbright scandal broke, the U.S. appeared to see that logic and re-granted the grants. Today, we found out that of the 7 grants that were taken away and given back, 3 have been taken away AGAIN. For the details of the Kafka-esque legal proceedings, see the NYTimes coverage. But suffice it to say, this blog’s snapshot judgment earlier this year was sadly right.

2. Yesterday, I indulged in a little gloating at spotting some errors in a David Brooks column. Those errors still hold, but today, Brooks pretty much smacked me in the face for doubting his intelligence: his column on Barack Obama was spot-on, and as usual focused on the cultural side of politics, looking for social and cultural forces that might turn voters off him. No, that doesn’t mean racism. It means that Obama’s post-partisan, post-racial, trans-national ideology is a problem not because of the specific groups he transcends, but because he’s so determined to be transcendant. It’s okay, says Brooks, to have your feet in a few communities; that’s good. But it’s not okay when it starts to feel as though you have no community at all. Accusing Barack of being sort of antisocial has nothing to do with challenging his patriotism, his blackness or his whiteness; it has to do with the fact that humans of all political stripes are social beings.

On one point, I do disagree with the almighty DB. He makes the point that this uber-individualism Barack exhibits is something of a generational shift and alludes to the notion that the rising hyperlinked generation, whose reality is all about being in multiple places, viewing multiple tabs at once, are his core constituents. True. But even the techiest of GenYers has a community or two–no one I know is on EVERY SINGLE social network or wants to be. And no one views their various online communities with the aloof dispassion that Obama seems to have for the whole notion of belonging to a group.

Brooks is wrong, FINALLY!

By , 4 August, 2008, 1 Comment

For the last seven years (as long as I’ve been writing opinions pieces), I’ve had a grudging respect for the genius of David Brooks, referencing him in several columns and linking to him from most of the posts on this and previous blogs. That’s odd, because Brooks is a classic Burkean conservative, and I’m a pretty unabashed liberal, and most of the time I disagree with his policy proposals. What I like about Brooks is his social and cultural approach to political subjects, his explanation of elections and geostrategy through technological change or class hierarchies. He’s asking the questions I want to be asking, and even if we come up with different answers, our differences are matters of values, not a sign that one of us is more right than the other.

His most recent column, however, breaks the mold. For the first time in years, I think David Brooks is wrong and I feel like a cross between the child who finds out his parents aren’t superheroes after all and the proverbial martial arts student who defeats his master in one-on-one combat.

Brooks wrote on Friday about the rise of a multipolar world. America’s demise as THE single superpower will not usher in the rule of China, or India or Brazil or even a consortium like the EU, but the rule of nobody and everybody. To Brooks, this means we are doomed to anarchy, because any one power has the ability to cripple the international process–witness the collapse of the Doha talks and the lack of action on Darfur. He seems to think that the international process and international institutions depend upon the ability of a few (Perm5, G8 etc) players to keep everyone in line.

In fact, the opposite is true. Yes, the world has gone multipolar. Not in the sense that all powers have suddenly become equally powerless, but in the sense that different kinds of power are focused in different places. Technological power is centered on both sides of the Pacific; military power in America, China, Russia, and Israel; economic power in India, China, Brazil and if they get their act together the EU, political power in China, Russia, and the OPEC countries etc.

But instead of yielding a world in which no country can exercise whatever kind of power it’s got, the multipolar age means every country has an increased vested interest in the international process TO exercise that power. When you only control one small niche, and when that niche is part of so many global relationships (India’s economic power is all linked up with the technological power of Silicon Valley, for example), you NEED the international process to make your power valuable. The problem with our current international institutions is that their hierarchical setup isn’t suited to multipolar power dynamics. The P5 or G8 nations are unrepresentative of today’s power dynamics, but simply adding more countries (or bringing EVERYONE to the table, a la Doha) is inefficient.

Instead, imagine a United Nations with 3 or 4 possible Security Councils. Depending on the resolution up for debate, a different Council would be in session, allowing say Brazil to trump Russia if the topic is trade, but Russia to trump Brazil when the topic is disarmament. Just as individuals are dividing up their world in more niches as technology allows, so the international process can become more issue focused, allowing many powers to become the central pole of their own niche.

I Just Don’t Get It

By , 28 July, 2008, 5 Comments


Obamamania, that is. I’m about 90% sure I’m voting for him, because at the end of the day I’m (moderately) left of center, but I’ll be voting for him the way most liberals voted for John Kerry in 2004: with a shrug, and a total lack of emotion.

I’m trying very hard to at least comprehend what has everyone else so jazzed up, but so much pro-Obama coverage confuses me. For example, I hear that he promises some new kind of politics that is cleaner and more honest than what we’ve got now. I may not like that, but that’s something I can get my head around. But as soon as I start to process that, I see this piece in the Sunday Times about how he and McCain represent “new” politicians because they come from the Senate, which is a change from an “old” model of governors (Carter, Clinton, Bush) and generals (Eisenhower).

Wrong. If we take the longview, we’ll realize that for most of US history, senators were the most likely presidential candidates. The 20C examples of presidents with executive, not legislative, experience was the change. Electing senators is old news: Abe Lincoln was a one-term Congressman, and from Illinois too. The contradictions go further–the article opens with a long lede about Lyndon Johnson and the kind of bargain politics he mastered as a senator, then used to pass a ton of legislation as President. But Johnson’s bargain politics was manifestly un-clean: it was the backroom dealing and verbal arm twisting of a DC insider. I kind of like Johnson, even if I think his policies were flawed, BECAUSE of that willingness to be forceful. The analogy might fit McCain, but using a HISTORICAL comparison to say Obama is a new politician, however, is just mind-boggling.

Then there’s the contradictions in the coverage of his recent international tour. Arguably, Obama’s biggest strength is that electing him would be a great PR move for America. That seems to be the gist of this blog post from Kevin Xu at Brown’s Watson Institute. But then, in the same post, titled “Obamamania around the world” Kevin reminds us that Obama has no foreign policy experience, so he should focus on the economy in this campaign. With all due respect to Kevin, who’s a good friend of mine, “Huh?”

That’s my biggest problem with Barack: not simply that it’s still unclear to me why I should vote for him, but that no one in his campaign or among his supporters is trying to bring his vision into focus. To ask for focus is an insult, a sign that I’m just an old fogey (keep in mind, I’m 21.) Instead, I’m asked to believe, to feel, to vote for some intangible inspiration–Kevin says Obama’s best foreign policy asset is that he “cares about people’s feelings.”

“Change we can believe in” just doesn’t get my political juices running, because I’ve never seen politics as an act of faith. If I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be seeing in the tea leaves, I have no way to evaluate if it’s there or not. Can anyone decipher?

Which Party is more tech savvy?

By , 15 July, 2008, No Comment

In most polls I see, Barack Obama is set to win in November, which suggests that he and the Dems are pretty tuned in to the national pulse. President Bush is unpopular, it’s a “change” election, and in an era of big technological transformations, the geriatric McCain admits he doesn’t use email. Barack is the hip, young, leader of tomorrow etc.

But then, I learn that the GOP is using Facebook to solicit policy ideas from voters. It’s a similar approach to Gordon Brown’s Ask the PM project, which I blogged about in May: issue-oriented brandbuilding, rather than the plea for donations that characterizes most online politicking.

So I’m split–any thoughts on which party actually gets the Web 2.0 universe? And how important is an understanding of these technologies to lead a 21st century society?