I woke up this morning to a flurry of posts on facebook referring to an article about the financing of an Indianapolis School Board campaign, and the contributions its candidates have received. Of particular note and interest (to me anyway), is that I am called out by name in the article under the section detailing the campaign contributions to one Kelly Bentley, who is running to represent District 3 on local school board. The exact line is
“New York based Stephen Suess gave her $2500.”
Ah yes. It makes it sound like an evil out-of-state billionaire reaches his dirty, powerful fingers across the country to control local school boards and ultimately corrupt the youth of this great country. Who knows what nefarious plans this wealthy patron has or what bidding the local school board will have to do to accommodate the influence he has purchased.
Except, I never gave $2500. Kelly is my sister, and I built a campaign website for her. She wanted to pay me, but I said no, she could just consider it my contribution to her campaign. At which point she asked me how much the site would have cost and I pulled a normal sum out of my head for a similar sized project. And I guess they (properly) reported that on their filings as an in-kind contribution to her campaign, at which point the self-styled muckraker who wrote the article started licking her chops, and dusted off her keyboard for this hard-hitting expose of the dirty influence of money in politics.
My point is that outside of context these (and most other) things are meaningless. Someone had a tiny, pre-formed angle that they wanted the “facts” to support, whether or not they had any relevance to the point, which is supposedly about the corrupting influence of money in politics. It sounds really juicy then to mention an out-of-state benefactor, until you realize that no money was given and the candidate is my sister who needed a simple campaign website.
Today I had a lovely walk around town with my new friend Kasia. We saw some cool new architecture (the gorgeous EYE institut, for example) and took a nice long stroll through older parts of the city ending up in the Vondelpark for a drink. After that, we met up with Xavier, Matteo and Huw to attend a protest against Putin who was visiting Amsterdam today. (In case you weren’t aware, Russia has been passing some pretty repressive laws recently regarding gay people). We followed our important (but rather easy) activism with a lovely dinner and walk back to the apartment. I have had such a fantastic time here, connecting with old friends and making new ones, I am really looking forward to coming back soon.
I watched the president’s state of the union speech last night, and couldn’t help but cringe at the heaping portion of American exceptionalism. Why has it been so impossible to get Americans to face up to reality and do something about it? Why is it politically untenable to say that we are anything other than the best, the smartest, the bravest, etc? Like a mother spoiling an only child, our political leaders fawn over us, stunting our prospects. It is rather like social promotion in schools, being passed along to a higher grade and told we are good, rather than holding ourselves to any standard or (heaven forbid) actually challenging us to change our bad study habits and become better. Take but one example (of many) from the President’s speech (referring to the military):
We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world.
Really? Do you read the news? Do you honestly believe that people around the world welcome the military of the US with open arms? Do you honestly believe that every military action we take makes us safer? How can you even peddle this fiction with a straight face? Why are we so emotionally needy and intellectually bankrupt as to accept this fairly tale? I expect this jingoistic bullshit from nativist Republicans, but I would like better from a Democratic president I voted for.
How about telling Americans the truth: that we have greatness in us, just like all people do, but to achieve that greatness we need to look at ourselves honestly. We need to look at our problems honestly. And instead of puffing ourselves up with empty and false flattery, we should use our resources to make our society better for everyone. I was glad the president mentioned income inequality and that it was central to his speech. But I wish he had been a little more honest about our shortcomings and stopped glorifying our worst impulses.
Dear President Obama,
What the hell is wrong with you? Why is your administration defending a ban (DADT) that you admit is discriminatory? During the campaign (and since) you have repeatedly vowed to end the ban, while doing very little to actually accomplish that. Of all the promises you have broken, this one makes the least sense of all. As vast majorities support ending the ban, you (as commander in chief) could have ended it with the stroke of a pen. At the very least you could have put in place a moratorium on enforcement while you awaited action in congress. Your actions had all the political cover you would have needed. You would have been keeping a promise. A promise to people like me, who believed in you and fought very hard for your election, only to now feel (repeatedly) thrown under the bus by you and your administration. You mention that ending the ban in this way (or stopping its enforcement) would endanger the military, but you offer no rationale for continuing this bigotry other than an unspecified fear of change. What happened to “the fierce urgency of now”? What happened to “hope”? Remember how you played us all with your empty promises about your so called “bedrock principles”? The last two years have not been easy to swallow as you and your administration repeatedly let us all down in the following ways:
1. Refused to fight with vigor for the things promised during the campaign (bargaining away a public option, DADT, reduced stimulus, Guantanamo)
2. Actively went back on promises or compromised your supposed principles (expansion of executive power, continuation of police state favored by Bush)
3. Failed to change “politics as usual” by appointing the fox to guard the henhouse (your entire economic team) which favored wall street over main street, the stock market over job creation.
I dont blame you entirely for the failures brought on by the clear obstructions of the Republicans in congress, and I do feel that in a number of cases your heart was in the right place. I also clearly feel that we are far better off as a country than if McCain had been elected. But it is a bitter disappointment to once again have to return to the polls not with “hope”, but rather with an unenthusiastic commitment to “the lesser of two evils”.
You wonder why there is no enthusiasm leading into this election? It is abundantly clear. You don’t seem to understand who elected you and why. Your craven run to the center right is not at all what your supporters expected of you, and they are not pleased. Your decision yesterday to defend a law you know to be discriminatory is just another nail in your coffin, and we will all suffer for it. You had an opportunity to stand up for what is right, and you again took a pass, insulting all of us in the process.
Stephen Disappointed Suess
The New York times has an article today discussing why the president is suffering from fading popularity. As with most of the “mainstream” media outlets, I think they are DC focused and really miss the point. Their argument is that he has been focusing on a legislative agenda to the detriment of getting his message out.
Here is the reason I, and many other people, are disappointed in the President, and it boils down to one word: timidity. The President has never missed an opportunity to water down any and all of the bold promises he made during the campaign. Either he negotiates away things before ever pushing for them (public option, financial oversight), says he will fight for/against things and then doesn’t (don’t ask don’t tell, executive branch abuses), or just outright gives up on things started (Guantanamo, second stimulus). These are but a few examples, but it boils down to something pretty simple. This President eloquently argued that he stood for all sorts of things during the campaign, and once in power promptly forgot about a lot of them. Plain and simple, people voted for something better. They voted for the “fierce advocate” who never was, and seems to have never missed an opportunity to compromise on his “bedrock” principles. I am really shocked that the mainstream press seems so clueless about this. Obama was voted in on a wave of hope for a better future, and the power of all those young people, all those progressives, all those common sense conservatives was targeting the same idea: To put behind us the abuses of the past 8 years and try to rebuild trust in government. Are we better off than under Bush or than we would have been under McCain? Absolutely, not a shred of doubt there. But just being better off than we would have been makes for a pretty lackluster argument, and doesn’t speak to the huge drop in enthusiasm. If the democrats lose a lot of seats this fall, it will be due to a lot of factors (the state of the economy, obstruction by republicans, etc). But it will also be due in large part to the fact that the President refused to stand up for what he (supposedly) believed in.
Listen, I think Joe Wilson is a jerk and an asshole, for sure. But did we really need to waste precious time at the capital with a house resolution to recognize his boorishness? This is exactly the kind of bullshit that has all decent people angry when the Republicans pull it, and it would behoove the Democrats to rise above it.
Regular readers of this blog know that I go on at length about the corrosive aspects of conspicuous consumption, and how our stuff takes a far too important place in our lives. While it is true that I sometimes talk about how this is destroying our planet, my main focus has been more about the prison we put ourselves in emotionally and spiritually by being so tied up and obsessed with our stuff. Of course, that is only part of the story, and a New York Times article this morning pointed me to an absolutely amazing video called “The Story of Stuff“, that details the ins and outs of the cycle of consumption, and makes some excellent points about the lack of sustainability in our current culture.
The maker of the video, Annie Leonard, is a former Greenpeace activist, and there are a few rather indelicate ways she describes some parts of the system in the video. At times, she makes some rather blanket statements about using resources that leave out some nuance. But overall, I heartily agree with her main points that this system can not continue indefinitely as is, and that we fundamentally need to change our relationship to consumption so that the true costs are put in evidence. Continued life on our planet depends on it. The video is only 20 minutes long, and WELL worth watching. Check it out here.
I was invited to a generally lovely wine party by my cousin Josh at some friend of his’ apartment in the Village this evening. Most of the people I met were very nice, but I met one young(ish) gay man who was a bit of a puzzle. He told me he was from Texas originally, and had lived briefly in San Francisco before moving to New York about a year ago. Loving SF as I do, I asked him what he thought of it, and he told me he absolutely hated it there because it was so “liberal”. I asked him what he meant, but his only response was, “They are just so liberal about everything” and then added for good measure “Just like Nancy Pelosi, I hate her, she is such a liberal.” Intrigued by this blanket statement, I asked him to give an example of a policy of Nancy’s that he disagreed with. His response was “Everything, absolutely everything about her! I hate her! She is so…liberal!” To which I responded, “You said that already. Can you give a single example of a policy position she holds that you disagree with, or do you just hate the way she looks or that she is a woman with some power?” To which he responded, “I don’t really want to get into it all, it is complicated and I am not drunk enough to argue well.”
“Or sober enough, apparently” I added helpfully. There isn’t a whole lot I find less attractive than knee jerk political opinions. It is all the more shocking when coming from a somewhat disenfranchised minority, but it just proves that no group is free of its know-nothings.
In the White House town hall meeting yesterday, Obama made reference to one of the most popular voted on questions solicited on his website:
“Do you think legalizing marijuana is a good strategy for growing the economy?”
To which he answered with a smirk,
“No, I do not think that legalizing marijuana is a good strategy for growing the economy”
It is sad that there are certain things that are untouchable in politics, even for someone as gifted as Obama. He must know what an abject failure the drug war is, and that treating drug abuse in this country as a criminal justice problem (rather than the public health problem it is) is likewise a costly failure. But there is a belief that there are some issues so radioactive one must never challenge the status quo, no matter how awful the status quo is. These issues exist on both the left and the right of course. They are kept in place by the willful ignorance of the electorate, and steadfast denial of reality (which would be fine if it wasn’t so costly and didn’t result in so much violence and death).
Obama apologists can hopefully and helpfully point out that he didn’t say he was against legalization, he only said he didn’t think it was a good idea for growing the economy. But the fact that he brought it up in the context he did, and passed on one of his teaching moments (remember how great the race speech was?) rather than ignore it completely was designed to appeal to a certain audience (and hint, hint: it wasn’t the legalization crowd).
Overwhelmingly, I have been pleased with the actions Obama has taken thus far in his tenure. And I give him wide berth on a number of things, waiting to see how these will pan out in the coming months. I understand strategically why Obama, with everything else on his plate, was reluctant to go there with anything resembling the cool logic he applies in most other circumstances. But it sure wasn’t pretty to watch.
Ok, I am feeling much more love for the change.gov website and the Obama administration than I was a week ago. Not only did they revamp and put back the detailed “Agenda” section, they included the issue that I (and others I am sure) wrote to them about, and more. And they stated in clear terms what they support. From the “Civil Rights” page:
Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: Barack Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.
After the civil rights letdowns of the election, this is exactly what I wanted to hear. Thank you, Barack Obama, and thank you, transition team!