Richard Kim is the executive editor of The Nation. He is co-editor, with Betsy Reed, of the New York Times bestselling anthology Going Rouge: Sarah Palin, An American Nightmare. Kim has appeared on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, Up with Chris Hayes/Steve Kornacki, Melissa Harris-Perry, CNN, NPR, Al Jazeera, Democracy Now! and other media outlets. He has taught at New York University and Skidmore College.
The growing populist rage (see Eyal's post) at exorbitant corporate bonuses, especially at the $165 million AIG gave mostly to execs in its financial products division, made me think of Imelda Marcos' shoes and the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines. For long years, the Filipino people had endured the brutal dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, who in addition to ordering martial law and broad scale political repression, had plundered the country's wealth, including taking a cut of $28 billion in IMF loans. By the late 70s, in a country where 80 percent of the population subsisted on less than $2 a day, the Marcos family had accumulated over $35 billion in assets.
Tales of their profligacy were well known: the $5 million shopping trips to Rome and Copenhagen, the acquisition of vast patches of Manhattan real estate, the art collection that included works by Botticelli and Michelangelo. Imelda once reportedly dispatched a plane to Australia to pick up tons of white sand to adorn a private beach resort. But nothing quite prepared the Filipino people for what they would discover when, after a heady but peaceful four-day revolution, they stormed Malacanang Palace and sacked Imelda's closet--65 parasols, 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 888 handbags, 71 pairs of sunglasses and, most legendarily, 1,060 pairs of shoes.
What was so potent about those shoes? What did they symbolize? Gross inequality, corruption, the staggeringly brazen looting of public resources--for sure (all qualities also evident in the AIG bailout). But something else too was represented by that collection of ruby slippers, a kind of insane magic by which Imelda transformed herself into something more than human. She could never wear all those shoes. They were beyond utility or even fashion. They existed only to represent the idea of excess itself, like The Simpson's Montgomery Burns' wardrobe made from the pelts of endangered species. As Time's Lance Morrow wrote at the time:
Any erstwhile liberal New Yorkers thinking of supporting Mike Bloomberg's bid for a third term should read the New York Times carefully. The city hasn't been spared the ravages of the recession. As of December, unemployment stood at 7.4 percent, and experts predict almost 300,000 more jobs will be gone by the summer of 2010. Homeless rates are at record highs; the city's overstretched shelters now take in an average of 36,000 people each night. The city's already beleagured middle-class is in full flight. According to a recent study by the Center for an Urban Future, over 150,000 middle income residents left New York City in 2006, driven away by the highest rent, food, child care and utilities bills in the country. Meanwhile, Manhattan has been thoroughly rezoned--thanks to Rudy Giuliani's quality of life campaign and plush subsidies for developers--as the almost exclusive playground of the rich.
If Mayor Mike gets reelected, it will stay this way--or get worse. As the NYT reported on February 17, Bloomberg is refusing to accept extra food stamp money from Obama's stimulus package:
"The provision overturns a 1996 rule limiting able-bodied adults who have no dependents to three months of food stamps in a three-year period. But the Bloomberg administration said on Tuesday that nothing had changed and that it was not obligated to extend benefits to anyone not enrolled in the Work Experience Program, a workfare program that provides temporary jobs, usually in city agencies."
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It's a bright, sparkling Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles, and about a thousand people of all hues and ages are flocking to the south lawn of City Hall. The majority of the crowd is Chinese, but there's a sizable group of Latinos and pockets of South Asians, Koreans, Vietnamese and Indonesians. There are only a handful of black people, but they flow with ease through the throng. There are a few conspicuous white guys in suits too, cloistered around the stage where a band plays sing-along tunes. The mood is buoyant, affectionate. There are balloons and banners everywhere; a jolly Chinese mother cuts up a cake; snapshots are taken; cars honk. People gather in family clusters; grandparents play with children--who make up about half the crowd.
It's the happiest, most diverse political event I've ever been to, and it's not for Barack Obama. It's for Proposition 8--the California ballot initiative that would eliminate the right of gays and lesbian to marry, which some 14,000 same-sex couples have exercised since the state Supreme Court ruled in their favor earlier this summer. Here and now at City Hall, where a good share of those same-sex weddings took place, there's not a single Obama or McCain button in the mix. Instead, everyone is wearing red t-shirts that proclaim in both English and Chinese--Protect Marriage. Yes on 8. The toddlers' shirts have an added touch: I Love My Mommy and Daddy.
When I ask people whom they'll vote for, a few say McCain; a few more say Obama. But the vast majority say, "Yes on 8."
In tonight's interview with Charlie Gibson on ABC, Sarah Palin seemed alarmingly ignorant of what the Bush doctrine is, much less capable of defending it. Gibson asks her: "Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?"
After an uncomfortably long moment of silence, which should have viewers conjuring Dan Quayle's potatoe, Palin asks, "In what respect Charlie?"
Gibson responds, "The Bush--well, what do you interpret it to be?"
Barack Obama took audacity to new heights tonight and if thecrowd's reaction to his acceptance speech at Mile High Stadium is any indicator--he knocked it out of the park, touchdown, homerun and every other tired sports metaphor thisblogger can't think of. What impressed me most is the sheer chutzpah ofthe moment--the daring of attempting to fill a football stadium (done),the daunting logistical challenge of coordinating the event (ding), theintelligence and grassroots organizing that went into the programming(yeah, they did) and, above all, how much rhetorical work Obama pulledoff in a speech that had the highest of expectations.
Remember 2004, when many a Democrat (and many more religious right demagogues) blamed gay marriage for John Kerry's defeat? Remember San Francisco, where Senator Dianne Feinstein publicly scolded Mayor Gavin Newsom the morning after for arranging those awful queer unions just in time to get Bush re-elected? No? Well, don't worry. Nobody at the DNC is very much eager to pull out that particular wedding album either. Since those days, California's Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage (prompting Newsom to claim "vindication"), and one--yes, just one--anti-gay marriage initiative was beat back at the polls (in Arizona in 2006) while several others have passed. Meanwhile, a federal marriage amendment--which Bush backs but McCain opposes--hangs over not the Democrats, but the Republicans--a nuclear option that not even Karl Rove seems particularly keen to use.
If gay rights (or opposition to it) is not quite yet a problem for the GOP, it has certainly shifted--rapidly and decisively--to a non-issue in the Democratic party. Indeed, it's become a point of pride for the party as a whole: Melissa Etheridge sang primetime at the DNC, Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin hosted a packed luncheon for LGBT delegates (at which Michelle Obama spoke) and speaker after speaker (including Hillary Clinton) has mentioned gays and lesbians at the podium.
That's not to say the party embraces everything many gay advocates would like ("full marriage equality," for example). But the Democratic platform this year is the most pro-gay it has ever been, calling for a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, employment non-discrimination legislation that includes trans folks, increased money to fight AIDS and opposition to the federal marriage amendment. There was some worry earlier this month by gay activists who noticed that the words "gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender" appear nowhere in the platform (unlike 2004), but that reflects a move toward using the terms "sexual orientation," "same-sex couple" and "gender identity"--expressions that have some legal teeth. As for marriage, not a single gay delegate I spoke with said it was a make or break issue for them. Most seemed content with the new détente--that the marriage battle is going to be fought out in numerous state referenda and, one day, the Supreme Court--a contentious issue still, but not the so-called determinative national culture war of '04 and nothing to risk a McCain administration over.