Jewcy Blogger Roundup: Advice for Obama

I’m not sure if you guys heard, but we’re getting a new President tomorrow, and apparently he wants to change a lot of things. A couple of Jewcy‘s bloggers weighed in on what they think Barack Obama’s administration should focus … Read More

By / January 19, 2009

I’m not sure if you guys heard, but we’re getting a new President tomorrow, and apparently he wants to change a lot of things. A couple of Jewcy‘s bloggers weighed in on what they think Barack Obama’s administration should focus on in the next four (or eight!) years.

Howard Schweber:

As the Obama administration initiates its promised interventions in the economy, a lot of people are talking about the desirability of being as green as possible. I am second to no one in my enthusiasm for the environment but with due respect to the ecological enthusiasts, maximizing green-ness is not the immediate priority. That distinction between immediate and non-immediate priorities is the key. As the Obama team goes forward, they need to keep in mind the need to operate on three distinct tracks: short-term, medium-term, and long-term.

Short term, the crucial thing is to blunt the effects of the economic collapse. The goal has to be to minimize the number of people who slide into working poverty as well as to blunt poverty’s worst effects. That means putting people to work and keeping them in their homes. There are a million proposals floating around; in judging between them, the administration needs to ask how quickly the proposal will get people to work, how effective the interventions will be in preventing foreclosures. The other question to ask is how effective any program will be in getting money into circulation. (For a really good example of how not to achieve these short-term goals, see the TARP program.) Tax cuts, subsidies, and public employment are all potentially perfectly good or potentially utterly useless mechanisms; it all depends on whether they are designed and implemented in a way that gets money into the hands of those who might otherwise slip into poverty. Conveniently, those are also the people who are most likely spend any money they receive.

In the medium term the goal is restoring credit. Here’s where we begin to look to the futures of the mid-size and larger firms. Here is also where the TARP program has failed miserably, creating a system of giveaways that banks are gaming to the hilt (see the Jan. 19th New York Times for some depressing details.) By contrast, the Commercial Paper Funding Facility that Timothy Geithner launched at the New York Fed is a good example of exactly what is needed; programs that will use federal money specifically and solely to increase the availability of short-term credit. Certainly we are right to be concerned about the stability of the banking sector, and the idea of initially pumping capital into banks was not a terrible one (although we obviously should have followed the British model of insisting that the money be used for lending rather than stashed away). But in the medium term, we care about the banks because they are the source of liquid capital, not because they are bastions of American virtue in and of themselves.

Looking to the long term, thinking green makes good sense, both from the perspective of reducing dependency on oil and forward-looking technologies. Long term, we need to be talking about infrastructure improvement, not just repair: broadband wireless everywhere would he an awfully good place to start. We should also be talking about education, and that includes postsecondary as well as primary education. Technical and vocational training, affordable public college, increases in general levels of literacy and numeracy; America needs a major push to improve education across the board. And at long last, we need what used to be called an “industrial policy” for this nation (although “postindustrial policy” might be just as good a term at this point.)

Finally, a few things not to do: reward bad behavior, encourage future recklessness, make the rich richer, dump money into the political cesspools that exist in many of our state capitals. And for god’s sake, let’s have some transparency, some oversight, and a modicum of accountability this time around.

Phyllis Chesler:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasized that the world-wide "plight of women and girls..(is) of particular concern to me." She "pledged" that the violence against women issues, including sex trafficking, and other "crimes" against women, will be "central to our foreign policy," that "we cannot have a free, prosperous, peaceful, progressive world if women are treated in such a discriminatory and violent way."

Stirring, Beijing-like words indeed. Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice often said similar things. The question now is how much money and power the Obama administration will allot to rape crisis and anti-incest interventions, shelters for battered women, the Violence Against Women Act and the William Wilberforce Act Against Trafficking, and the Equal Right Ammendment–as they apply to women in America.

Beyond that, is America prepared to economically sanction those countries that engage in honor killings, stonings to death, female genital mutilation, arranged child marriages, polygamy, and forced veiling? If we are serious, that means we will radically alter our relationships to Muslim world countries and to countries in Europe which have become increasingly Islamified.

My advice? President Obama should immediately institute mandatory gender equality training in American grade and high schools. Very young girls are being indoctrinated to look and act like prostitutes. This is happening all over America, among all classes and races. This is a shameful development which we must solve here, right in our own backyard.

At the very least, we must ensure that the crimes of Islamic gender apartheid do not take root on American soil.

Josh Strawn:

Everybody knows that something’s gone funny with the music industry, but when it comes to designating precisely what, most analyses miss the point. Technology changed the business, no one can dispute that. MySpace leveled the playing field and made Fall Out Boy famous, while increasing Internet speeds and file-sharing have all but rendered the musical object obsolete. But people changed, too. The life-world in which music functions has changed. While our obsession with referencing the past may be due in part to the fact that cheeky postmodern self-consciousness has become commonplace, and in part to the industry’s discovery that the long tail helps them sell their back catalog, it’s also due to the suspicion most of us has that some spark existed in the artists and songs of the past that has grown rare if not extinct in today’s music.

Obama can’t take us back to a time when culture was doled out from the top down by a few major TV networks, magazines, and record labels. He can’t recreate the era of gargantuan collective experience that resulted from it, either. In that regard, there will never be another Elvis or Beatles. Never again will the collective sexual energy of the world’s youth be unleashed and need a soundtrack. And since the New Left did win so many victories, the races, sexes and classes, while far from being perfectly equal, rarely experience the amount of tension that leads to widespread insurrection and revolt. Victory is sweet, but also you know what they say about the hunt being better than the catch. Marvin Gaye and the MC5 move us more than Kanye or Against Me! because we know they were singing about reality, not striking a pose.

The fights against big-box retailers and shadowy neoconservatives are, let’s be honest, dull. Malaise against Wal-Mart and Starbucks, throwing a brick in a Nike store window or a pie in a CEO’s face isn’t the same as Kent State or even Abbie Hoffman on Wall Street. No longer do weirdos stand up for their right to be weird, they want being different normalized; meanwhile, the weirdest things are so commonplace as to not even hold the mystique of taboo since the average 15-year-old has probably seen at least 4 or 5 different videos of a girl triple anal penetrated then bathed in horse ejaculate. Still, because of the fear of AIDS he will probably spend the next 10-15 years of his life jerking off to those videos instead of engaging real people with bodies and feelings.

The fights of the culture and the counterculture today are, in a word, uninspiring. The body is in retreat and with it is disappearing our interaction with the real world. But it isn’t as if injustice or the material world recently came to an end. Life is better for us, but millions around the world suffer. Technology has allowed us to expand our global perspective, but simultaneously, those who set the agendas for what is and is not progressive, have been handing down marching orders that are generally a big snooze. Music is only a reflection of what people do, what they’re made of, what’s on their minds, and what they care about. Obama has the world’s attention and respect. First he needs to reset the agendas.

Not as if there ever was a dark neocon conspiracy, but whoever believed there was one no longer can harp on that trope. Obama needs to make liberals hate the right things again. He’s the great unifier, the one who believes more unites Americans than divides them. So it’s up to him to convince the would-be rebels that they have more of an enemy in the genocidaires of Darfur or Rwanda, or the Islamists who intimidate and murder Muslims than they have in the chairman of a Fortune 500 company or a Republican who has a different philosophical take on liberalism than they do.

He doesn’t have to leave out the way that corporate greed at home feeds the stew of the world’s evil–clearly and thankfully, his debate answer about labor intimidation in Colombia shows that he knows very well that the workers’ struggle is far from over. But once the music makers and music listeners of the world no longer live in an insular world focused on hating only what’s internally not up to par, they might find something more resembling the fire that welled up in the greats of the past. Then and only then will music become an experience everyone wants to have, share, and maybe even pay for.

Obama should also keep up his commitment to progressivism in the realms of reproductive rights and sex education while funding AIDS research like nobody in history ever has. It sounds funny or unserious to say that once people start getting it on again, the world will be a happier place. But, there was sex before there was love, and there was sex before there was rock. Love and rock ‘n’ roll are outgrowths of our most fundamental, primal form of human connection in the material world. Ensuring that the morality police of the ultra right, regardless what religion or ideology they label themselves with, are defeated, and seeing to it that people have good reason to start talking and fucking again will be necessary to the revival of music as well. Rock and pop music has always sold in proportion to its ability to fan the flames burning in the depths of the sexual beast. Right now that beast is hibernating, probably watching disgusting pointless porn, forgetting that it is a beast at all. If Obama can create the conditions for its awakening, he just might give music and the industry that tries to sell it, some much-needed stimulation.

Molly Crabapple:

Barack Obama, more than any other incoming president, knows the value of a good painting. Has there ever been a politician as tied to an artist as Obama is to Shephard Fairey? But how can the Obama administration encourage art as much as it has Fairey’s career? Here are some humble proposals.

  • Recognize that being an artist is a job. I know it’s tempting to dismiss artists as effete trustafarians. However, we’re workers, who generate value in an actual industry. As our most design-ey president, grant us this respect.
  • What helps artists is often what helps other self-employed, middle-class folks. That means, Obama should institute comprehensive, single payer health insurance (one reason the entrepreneurship rate is so much higher in Europe than it is in America). He should also eliminate the Unincorporated Business Tax, a discriminatory 10% tax that many states impose on self-employed people making a middle class wage.
  • Set a good example with government buildings. From Grand Central Station to the National Mall, America has a rich history of gorgeous public works. So why so do our current government buildings all reference Eastern-European communism? Take a page from the WPA and put broke artists to work creating beautiful environments for their fellow citizens.
  • Streamline the grant process. Getting grants in America has more to do with maintaining ivory towers than funding the arts. Artists have to hire grant writers and get sponsored by non-profit organizations (two things that cut into any government money they receive). Eliminate the requirement for Pretentious-ese, and make sure the grants can go to individuals as well as non-profs.
  • Halt the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act. The Orphan Works act is a blatant attempt by corporations to get free content, (with dire consequences for artists). Kill it once and for all.

Lux Alptraum:

When the polls closed on November 4th and Barack Obama was declared President-Elect of the United States, Americans around the country rejoiced—especially those who happened to live and work in a little place called Porn Valley. After eight years of the Bush Administration—and its extremely punitive “War on Porn”—there would finally be some new blood in the White House. And while it seemed unlikely that Barack Obama would ever publicly come out in support of the nation’s hardworking pornographers, it wasn’t unreasonable to assume that America’s New Hope might have more important things to do than harass hardworking, law abiding pornographers with petty obscenity lawsuits.

Or so it seemed. With the selection of Eric Holder as the top candidate for the position of Attorney General, hope of a pro-porn Obama administration seemed to fade away. A little bit of digging revealed that Holder had an anti-porn past, with a few official memos revealing a distaste for “obscenity” (and some dedication for fighting it). While Holder’s hardly likely to follow in the footsteps of Ashcroft or Gonzales, it’s a bit hard to picture him reaching out to Larry Flynt—or even returning to the laissez faire attitude of the Clinton Administration.

It’s unclear what the Obama presidency will mean for Porn Valley—and while it’s unlikely that things will get worse than they were during the Bush Administration, there isn’t much sign that they’ll get better, either.

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