Posts about Politics


I was a skeptic about Barack Obama, hearing emptiness in his words and fearing inexperience in his resume. No more. I was hoping to be proven wrong and so far it’s becoming clear that I was wrong. I have been delighted with his leadership since the election, his appointments with experience, his openness to former opponents, his magnetic attraction to a center, his image. I also underestimated his ability to carry the symbolism of his election. Dare I say it: When we most need it, he brings hope.

Fred Wilson is disappointed with inaugurapalooza because it isn’t different. I’m not. I think the symbolism is important: everything that existed is passed to the next generation. That doesn’t say that things aren’t changing. It says the platform is changing hands and that’s where the change comes: what you do with it.

All the Obama fans who growled at my doubts about him and my support of Clinton can nya-nya me now. But I don’t think that’s what this day is about. It’s about unity. At least for today.

Bailout, schmailout

In any loan, the lender demands to know the use of proceeds. It is beginning to appear that we, the people, aren’t getting even that from the use of our money in the bailout.

The Times’ editorial this morning complains that banks may use the bailout funds to buy other banks. NPR’s Planet Money last week reported on fine print that would allow the banks to use the funds to pay dividends to shareholders (there’s some Talmudic debate on that) or buy back stock, only enriching the owners. I heard on local New York TV yesterday — for what it’s worth — that the bailout means “good news” for Wall Street employees: higher bonuses. The strictures being put on banks are merely lipstick-on-pig limitations on executive pay. BFD. They should be explicit requirements on the use of funds.

As Planet Money’s Adam Davidson said, my blood is boiling.

Now we have GM trying to remake itself into a bank to get a piece of the bailout bonanza.

First, our money should be used to shore up credit and confidence and we should be demanding that a condition of getting a penny.

Second, if you want to bail out GM and other companies, I’ll give you a new idea: Take over their health insurance obligations.

If you’re going to socialize something, don’t let it be the banks. Let it be the common good of health care. Take over health insurance and make it universal.

How will we pay for it? Taxes, of course. But won’t that put GM back in the hole? No, because it has no profit to tax. You want to redistribute wealth, then this will have the profitable paying for health care and it will take a huge and looming burden off the big, old giants, giving them a chance — one last chance — to get their acts together.

Making health care portable and universal will also, I predict, release a flood resignations as people no longer feel trapped by their jobs because it is the only way to get coverage. This can lead, in turn, to new efficiencies in companies and a wave of entrepreneurism (and with it, innovation, wealth creation, and new tax revenue). Let’s try trickling up.

And if we’re going to use federal funds to try to improve the economy, I say we should be using it to provide universal broadband internet access better than anyone in the world: our new interstate. It will lead to more new companies, new jobs, new skills, better government, more competitiveness on the world market, and better education.

And while I’m playing New York Times columnist, giving my prescription for the nation as if I were running it, I’d take advantage of low oil prices by putting a tax on fuel that guarantees a minimum price to both keep demand low and, far more important, to fund immediate and for-once-real development of — and tax credits for — alternative energy, which will also create jobs and make us competitive in the world market.

The tragedy of the bailout is that we could use this tremendous resource and get nothing for it.

: LATER: Tom Evslin has a different proposal for a gush-up (vs. trickle down) approach (tagged ‘unscientific economics’).

A new economy

At a Newhouse School/New Yorker event yesterday, Gary Hart said that President Obama (presuming) could not rebuild a 20th century economy out of this wreckage but will need to build a 21st century economy.

That is what I tried to argue in this post about the Google economy — or rather, the new economy that already exists that we can see through the lens of Google. I’ve turned it into an op-ed my agent is flogging now.

Also at the event, former senator Bob Kerrey, now president of the New School, gave an eloquent and passionate defense of the new media economy and how new it is. He reminded the audience that Jerry Brown wowed the nation in the ’92 debates when he held up a 1-800 number. Wow, how hip, we thought. Kerrey said he reads papers and magazines only out of habit and he revels in getting so many more sources for news today. Asked whether media are better today, he didn’t hesitate answering yes.

He also admitted to watching collections of Joe Biden gaffes on YouTube the day before. He likes Biden. But “it was hilarious.”

I asked whether and how government – rather than just politics and its coverage – would change because of the internet. He said that if Obama wins and appoints Jamie Dimon as Treasury Secretary and more like him, we’ll see “technology used to reduce the overall size of government,” especially at regulatory and administrative levels.

One more note: Kerrey has a sense of humor we should wish for in a president. Made me wish I’d paid more attention to his presidential campaign in the day.

The rise of the third estate

No one’s in charge. I didn’t think that’d be worse than having the bozos we had in charge. But it is.

You’d think the one thing our politicians would be competent at is politics. But they couldn’t even count votes.

We knew the White House was a vacuum. Congress is a vacuum. Wall Street is lie. Detroit and the era it represents is dust. Journalism is sinking like a wet witch.

Who’s in charge? It’s falling to us, the people. We’re in charge. Problem is, we’re not ready. We’ve used the internet so far to organize some knowledge and yell at each other. We are just beginning to create the tools to organize ourselves. If only the meltdown of every authority structure could have waited a few years. Then again, necessity is the mother of organization. New structures don’t replace old structures while they’re still in place. New structures fill voids. And, boy, do we have some voids to fill.

Two paragraphs from the end of my book:

Whatever causes they take up, Generation G will be able to organize without organizations, as Clay Shirky wrote in Here Comes Everybody. That ability to coalesce will have a profound destabilizing impact on organizations. We can organize bypassing governments, borders, political parties, companies, academic institutions, religious groups, and ethnic groups, inevitably reducing their power and hold on our lives. In an essay in Foreign Affairs in 2008, Richard Haass argued that the world structure is moving from bi- and unipolarity (i.e., the Cold War and its aftermath) to nonpolarity (i.e., no one’s in charge). We are in an open marketplace of influence. Google makes it possible to broadcast our interests and find, organize, and act in concert with others. One need no longer control institutions to control agendas.

Haass chronicles the dilution of governments. Bloggers Umair Haque and Fred Wilson have written about the fall of the firm, and earlier I examined the idea that networks are becoming more efficient than corporations. In my blog, I follow the crumbling of the power of the fourth estate, the press. One could debate the stature and power of the first estate, the church. What’s left? The internet is fueling the rise of the third estate—the rise of the people. That might bode anarchy except that the internet also brings the power to organize.

Our organization is ad hoc. We can find and take action with people of like interest, need, opinion, taste, background, and worldview anywhere in the world. I hope this could lead to a new growth in individual leadership: Online, you can accomplish what you want alone and you can gather a group to collaborate. Being out of power need not be an excuse or a bar from seeking power. That may encourage more involvement in communities and nations—witness the youth armies that gathered in Facebook around Barack Obama, a powerful lesson for a generation to have learned.

But in the pinch and crunch, we still haven’t managed to elect candidates truly of the people: the first politician to emerge from the web. We haven’t created financial networks of scale; is cute but it’s not the next BofA. We are only beginning to organize the new infrastructure of information and news; Wikipedia and Digg are fast and big but shallow.

I’m reminded of Bob Garfield’s chaos scenario for advertising, in which he argued that the old media world would crumble before the new media world was ready for marketers and advertising dollars would fall into the crevice between. That is what is happening with our political and financial and industrial and journalistic leadership. The old is crumbling fast — and angry voters yesterday helped push it over the cliff. But what now?

Not so fast

Dana Milbank hilariously skewers the presumptive Democratic nominees presumptuousness.

Inside, according to a witness, he told the House members, “This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for,” adding: “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.”

As he marches toward Inauguration Day (Election Day is but a milestone on that path), Obama’s biggest challenger may not be Republican John McCain but rather his own hubris.

And you thought Bill Clinton had a big ego?

He could still lose this and hubris could lose it for him.

Or the media could help him lose it even as they try to help him by being just that much too enthusiastic. I heard journalists talk about “the ovation problem” when Obama came to address the Unity convention of minority journalists. The Tribune’s Swamp reports that he did get an ovation — as we can see from this video, a standing O:

At UNITY, the applause was restrained, after organizers reminded conference participants that the appearance was being nationally broadcast and they should make every effort to maintain “professional decorum.”

Still, Obama received a standing ovation from many in the audience at the start and end of his appearance. There was also a rush toward the stage after his speech, as Obama shook hands and signed autographs.

One journalist was also overheard wishing him luck, while another squealed, “He touched me!” as she left the ballroom.

Before Obama arrived, a panel discussed the question of journalistic objectivity, including whether journalists should clap for politicians when they appear.

: LATER: There are predictable snipes in teh comments — go take a look. My response:

Let’s talk tactically, folks. Gore may not have lost the election (just the Supreme Court) but he did blow a big lead by being – why do you think? – dull. Kerry lost what should have been a victory by being – what? – awkward and dull. Obama is neither of those. But he could still lose this election. That’s my point. This level of hubris is unbecoming. If voters feel as if he is being shoved down their throats, as if he is a fait accompli, then I think there could be a backlash.

Milbank’s piece was a good warning: Hubris is becoming an issue.