the important and the not-so-important, horribly conflated.

Archive for the ‘POI’ Category

How Difficult is it to Hold an Election in Africa?

In POI on April 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Very, very, very difficult, if the past

[J]udges at the International Criminal Court on Wednesday authorized a prosecutor to investigate Kenya’s bloody post-election violence, a move that could lead to key leaders facing charges at The Hague. In a 2-1 ruling, the ICC judges said the available information “provides a reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed on Kenyan territory.”


Southern Sudan’s main political party withdrew its candidate from the country’s upcoming presidential election, a surprise move that erodes the credibility of the nation’s first multiparty election in decades. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement pulled Yassir Arman—widely considered the most serious challenger to President Omar al-Bashir’s re-election bid—from the race late Wednesday.

and future are any indication:

Zimbabwe’s first human rights and electoral commissions have been sworn in by President Robert Mugabe. The creation of the two commissions is seen as crucial in moving the country towards free and fair elections.

Wait! Wasn’t that last one good news? It would be, if it wasn’t eclipsed by Mugabe’s recent moves to insulate himself from the global economy and emasculate PM Morgan Tsvangirai, the better half of Zimbabwe’s “unity government.”

Too often, the press portrays these election struggles as the African equivalent of Machismo politics—and that cracking down on corruption and fraud = instant democracy. Instead, these crises emerge in the concurrent 1) vacillation between dependency (on foreign aid, on a natural resource economy) and hyper-isolationist political cultures, and 2) spread of moderate and modernized opinions within the larger populace.

In other words, (I’m risking overgeneralization here) the leaders’ political ideals fail to represent their people’s day-to-day reality, and a culturally heterogeneous populace loses community- and self-agency as a result.

Human Rights and Election commissions are great, but global economic and political support for a shift in power to local, decentralized governance could do much more to guarantee and sustain a democratic Zimbabwe, Sudan, or Kenya.


Points of Interest: Old People

In POI on March 11, 2010 at 4:25 pm

In reference to the current debate between the White House and the Supreme Court over last month’s campaign finance ruling, The New Yorker’s News Desk cited E.B. White’s 1937 (!) report of a clash—concerning age limits for justices— between FDR and the highest court in the land:

We are not sure we agree with President Roosevelt that seventy is the age when a Supreme Court judge should retire. If we must establish an arbitrary pension age, it should be either fifty or ninety, but not seventy. At seventy, men are just beginning to grow liberal again, after a decade or two of conservatism. Their usefulness to the state is likely to improve after the span of life which the Bible allows them to complete.

The men of eighty whom we know are on the whole a more radical, ripsnorting lot than the men of seventy. They hold life cheaply, and hence are able to entertain generous thoughts about the state. It is in his fifty-to-seventy phase that a man pulls in his ears, lashes down his principles, and gets ready for dirty weather. Octogenarians have a more devil-may-care tactic: they are sometimes quite willing to crowd on some sail and see if they can’t get a burst of speed out of the old hooker yet.

A few points: 1) This is hilarious. 2) It’s also very true. 3) It gives me hope for Jerry Brown’s (age: 71) gubernatorial campaign in CA [via The Economist]:

Mr Brown, who would be California’s oldest governor ever (older even than Ronald Reagan), admits that the job is fiendish and thankless. But he is looking forward to “the combat…the conflict and the exploration”. And the toughness of the post is all the more reason, he says, to elect somebody who knows the ropes and who has “no future” afterwards.

With people like Senator Jim Bunning (R-Crazyville, KY) highlighting the not-fun characteristics of old age—blind stubbornness, crass disregard for human suffering that doesn’t involve one’s own prostate—it’s nice to see someone campaigning on the right kind of principles: not immovable moral and ideological stances, but rather a conviction in the long-term movement towards something better.

It’s hard to play the long game when you’re 70 or 80—but it’s a lot easier to see how daily small policy shifts and public opinion pendulum swings fit into a larger historical context.

The Myth of Bipartisanship

In POI on February 26, 2010 at 8:34 pm

A series of observations, perhaps leading towards a coherent argument:

1) Republicans increasingly represent a more homogeneous block of voters. Read “White and Old” into that descriptor, but more significantly I think, the GOP attracts individuals who believe strongly that polarity defines the issues we face as a nation—to the point that they will unwittingly fight for the preservation of the very real income, education, and occupation gaps that this ideology propagates and they suffer from. (Recent CBO analyses project that the states that would benefit most from Health Care Reform are: Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah. See a pattern?)

2) The problem with the ideology of polarity is that compromise = defeat in their zero sum political calculus. This extends beyond legislation, too. It manifests itself as a “culture of tolerance,” in which different people, ideas, lifestyles are merely “tolerated”—not because the “other” has something to contribute to society, but because Real Americans, as the arbiters of Right and Wrong, view the other’s existence as a mere blemish, an impermanent thing. The presence of the other is an almost biblical test of the Republicans’ worldview’s Rightness.

3) Which is why the idea and man that is Barack Obama drives them insane. Nuance, plurality, ambiguity—all embraced by the President, and all scorned by those on the Right.

4) In this way, Obama is truly the head of the Democratic party: though hardly separate from its own unwieldy, hegemonic backers (unions, lawyers, etc), the Left is a diverse collection of conflicted, but ultimately cooperative special interest groups.

5) And, perhaps more importantly, they often represent populations that by themselves are homogeneous (gerrymandering goes both ways), but resemble in the aggregate a stunning reality that will emerge in a very visible way when the 2010 Census results are published—“minority” will soon speak not in relation to population statistics, but to a continued disenfranchisement, an institutionalized paucity of opportunities for Hyphenated-Americans.

*Ok, argument time:

Laugh, but for me the word “Bipartisan” conjures up images of either amalgamating ores, or chimeras (Griffins?). In other words, it is grounded in the vernacular of a culture obsessed with defending its masculinity and its mythology. Sound familiar?  The movement towards “bipartisanship,” in many ways, makes permanent the ideology of polarity. That is somewhere we don’t need to go.

Instead, a simple suggestion: the ideological gaps between Republicans and Democrats are boring—let us look closer at the arguments and compromises made between Democrats. By doing so, we get closer to understanding the issues that our country will face long after we can no longer ignore that difference, rather than blind adherence, is what challenges but ultimately saves our political system.

Sunday Reading

In POI on February 21, 2010 at 3:56 pm

The Economist‘s “Democracy in America” blog talks health insurance premiums:

The reason Democrats decided to pursue health-care reforms based on a regulated private industry was that America’s health-insurance companies have shown they will do their utmost to defeat any proposal for basic single-payer insurance. To do so, they are willing to spend huge amounts of money—money skimmed from the premiums of their customers, money that ought by rights to be paying for someone’s health care or lowering someone’s premiums.

2. Esquire publishes a touching profile of Roger Ebert (with a stupid title—like the whole “two thumbs up” gimmick was distraction from Ebert’s particularly observant reviews).

3. The short fiction of the late John Hughes, geek/genius.

4. The New York Review of Books asks what’s lost as fiction becomes globalized. (Answer: a lot)

Hot Corporate Threesome

In POI on February 20, 2010 at 5:09 pm

A nominee for this week’s sign of impending apocalypse [via TinyMixtapes]:

Live Nation executive chairman Irving Azoff announced at the recent NBA Technology Summit in Dallas that ticketing outlets will open in select Wal-Mart stores across the US (about 500, in major cities). Rather than go online, shoppers will be able to head to Wal-Mart’s entertainment section for tickets to local concerts, sporting events, and other Ticketmaster offerings.

Because the only thing I love more than being charged a 20% “service charge” for my concert tickets from the incestuous Ticketmaster/Livenation megacorp is buying bulk meat. Now I can enjoy both at the same time!

The idea of corporate personhood is really interesting—commentators often oversell the cosmic dissonance of “corporation=legal person,” while ignoring the more concerning implication of Walmart’s or Live Masternation’s legal standing: while corporations may not be a flesh and blood “person,” they can provide, when defined as a “person,” their employees with vital social and political agency and legal protection. But corporations have a conflict of interest—they are legally bound to protect the investment of their shareholders, even if by doing so harms the wellbeing of their employees. The only defensible aspect of their personhood—guarantor of employee representation—is cast off when profits are endangered.

Check out NPR’s latest Planet Money podcast for more fun with corporations.

Points of Interest, 2/1

In POI on February 1, 2010 at 7:00 pm


With the release of the Obama Administration’s 2010 Budget Proposal, we get two seemingly divergent narratives. This is the sort of day where the twin teleprompters that accompany President Obama on his many speaking engagements appear the perfect emblems of our president’s deft oratory balancing of opposite forces.

He turns to the right: We’re abandoning the 2020 Moon Mission. He pivots to the left: We’re revamping No Child Left Behind.

But these stories, upon our second glance, reveal a familiar, nuanced theme—our president treating the American public as adults who deserve better than to be sold an ideal when a practical solution will suffice. Obama may have been carried into office on “The Dream” lifestory, but he has governed with (for better or worse) a suspicion of  imposing an artificial narrative arc on the complicated, lived consequences and benefits of his policies.

So we get coolly, technocratic proposals like this:

[Education] Department officials, who love acronyms, have already dubbed the new college- and career-ready goal as “CCR.”

“States would measure school performance and differentiate schools on the basis of progress in getting all subgroups of students on track to CCR, the growth of individual students toward CCR, progress toward closing subgroup achievement gaps, graduation rates (at the high school level) and other measures as appropriate,” the [proposal] summary said.

And we see an abrupt shift away from the 1950s and 60s technologies and missions that, it can be argued, inspired millions of young Americans to pursue a career in science. But the driving force behind the feelings evoked upon seeing the Stars and Stripes wedged into the lunar soil was always the frightening, seductive, and constant pursuit of making the unknown known. After the afterglow of Kennedy-era TVs faded, that’s what pushed a generation into science, and that’s what was forgotten during the Bush years.

Education reform, like healthcare reform, is incurably complicated. But that hasn’t stopped the Obama administration from boldly arguing that we 1) cannot wait for all the unknowns to reveal themselves before we enact reforms, and 2) it is unacceptable that the unknown is accepted as something permanent or permanently out-of-reach.

Bring on the charters, bring on merit pay, bring on vouchers, Obama seems to say—not to put forward a doctrine of “whatever works,” but rather to fend off stasis, a word that has new meaning in the International Space Station age: not “completely immobile,” but “in a fixed orbit.”