Why I am For Obama – Lawrence Lessig

Stanford Law School professor and a key leader in the Creative Commons and the free culture movement has an absolutely amazing video summarizing in three clear and simple points why he is for Obama in this election. I couldn’t help nodding my head in agreement throughout. I have seen no better or closer articulation of the reasons why I support Obama in this election.

Lessig Video and Video Transcript

Super Tuesday brought mixed results and it looks like the primary contest will continue into March. HT to Kerim for the video link.

Barack Obama for President

2008 will bring the world its next US president and therefore its most powerful leader. The impact of the election will go well beyond the three hundred million who can influence the outcome of this national contest.

I support the candidacy of Barack Obama, and his first major challenge is only a day away in the Iowa Caucus to be held January 3rd.

I have been consistently impressed with Obama. I support his position on a very wide range of issues, and where I disagree with him, my own views are often sufficiently marginal that any US politician who shared them would find a largely hostile electorate near impossible to overcome. His commitment to the fight against poverty, his desire to move towards universal health coverage, his support for a strong and well-funded public education system and his consistent support for a more rational and measured foreign policy are all important. His consistent opposition to the war in Iraq helps him stand out among most candidates.

On many of the key issues in this particular campaign, Obama has much in common with other candidates for the Democratic party nomination. However, I believe he stands out when we consider his personal skills and character. The role of a leading politician in a democracy is not that of the monarch. They cannot merely dictate policies after inheriting power. An excellent candidate for president of the United States must be able to inspire the electorate, persuade them of the wisdom of his or her policies and, once in office, be able to work harmoniously with both opponents and allies alike. I believe Obama is the candidate best equipped for the task. He is an incredibly gifted speaker who can combine a straightforward message without abandoning nuance. His life has been dedicated to causes worth fighting for and has fought for them at both the grass roots level and in the halls of political power. His sharp intelligence and wide knowledge are virtues too long ridiculed in American politics. He has generated an intense excitement about politics among many in our cynical generation who have long since stopped caring and I sincerely hope his efforts will help carry him to the presidency later this year.

May Day and The Great American Boycott 2006

Tomorrow is May 1st, and the Great American Boycott 2006 (El Gran Paro Americano 2006). It is also being called “The day without an immigrant” (Un dia sin immigrante). I’ll being joining the citywide gathering at Boston Commons at 4pm tomorrow and I hope there will be a big showing from the immigrant community and its supporters. You can find out more about the nationwide movement and links to local events for tomorrow at Nohr4437.org. I hope that recent roundups and rumors of roundups of undocumented immigrants will not dissuade anyone from joining in.

I’ll also be joining the Harvard May Day rally and walk out tomorrow which is to show solidarity with the movement. You can read more about the Harvard coalition here.

The basic positions: 1) against criminalization of undocumented immigrants 2) in demand for a real path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented individuals who reside in our country and want to become U.S. citizens 3) in support for civil rights for immigrant workers 4) in favor of equal access to education for immigrants and/or their children.

To find out more general information about these issues, and ways that you can support the movement, visit the Immigrant Solidarity Network.

Henry Luce and The American Century

I have been looking at various conceptions of internationalism and especially world federalism in early postwar Japan and for background research, the history of similar movements worldwide. One article which popped up during the course of my reading was the famous February 1941 Life magazine editorial by publisher Henry Luce entitled “The American Century.” I have heard of it before but didn’t read it until today. I have never found a more explicit expression of American exceptionalism than this article, nor a more direct call for American world domination in the name of “American ideals.”

Interestingly, before launching into its nationalist, if not boldly imperialist arguments, the article makes mention of a book by world federalist Clarence Streit called Union Now which argues for a supernational federalist government. Unlike many other world federalists during this time and after the war, Streit wanted to limit his federalist state to democracies, thus splitting the movement even before it becomes strong for a brief period in the early postwar period. Early in his article Luce says Streit’s approach, “may not be the right approach to our problem. But no thoughtful American has done his duty by the United States of America until he has read and pondered Clarence Streit’s book presenting that proposal.” (164) Luce then begins by invoking the core ideals at stake:

“in postulating the indivisibility of the contemporary world, one does not necessarily imagine that anything like a world state – a parliament of men- must be brought about in this century. Nor need we assume that war can be abolished. All that it is necessary to feel – and to feel deeply – is that terrific forces of magnetic attraction and repulsion will operate as between every large group of human beings on this planet….Tyrannies may require a large amount of living space. But Freedom requires and will require far greater living space than Tyranny. Peace cannot endure unless it prevails over a very large part of the world. Justice will come near to losing all meaning in the minds of men unless Justice can have approximately the same fundamental meanings in many lands and among many peoples.” (168)

In other words, peace and justice must be found at the level of the universal, and cannot be maintained if only a few play along. The question, of course, is how this is to be accomplished. The world federalists had one solution, the founders of the United Nations had a somewhat more limited vision, but Luce clearly has something a little different in mind. He begins by looking at the word “internationalism” He notes that the word doesn’t tell you very much by itself. Indeed Rome, the Vatican, Genghis Khan, the Ottoman Turks, Chinese emperors, 19th century England, Lenin, and Hitler all had their own kind of “internationalism” to offer.

“But what internationalism have we Americans to offer? Ours cannot come out of the vision of any one man. It must be the product of the imaginations of many men. It must be a sharing with all peoples of our Bill of Rights, our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, our magnificent industrial products, our technical skills. It must be an internationalism of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The contrast to those empires of old, which he is directly comparing America too, cannot be more stark:

“…Unlike the prestige of Rome or Genghis Khan or 19th Century England, American prestige throughout the world is faith in the good intentions as well as in the ultimate intelligence and ultimate strength of the whole American people.” (169)

Throughout the article, the transmission is one way, from America to the world, for it is America who is the wellspring of virtue. No clearer expression of this can be found than here:

“…We have some things in this country which are infinitely precious and especially American – a love of freedom, a feeling for the equality of opportunity, a tradition of self-reliance and independence and also of co-operation. In addition to ideals and notions which are especially American, we are inheritors of all the great principles of Western civilization – above all Justice, the love of Truth, the ideal of Charity. The other day Herbert Hoover said that America was fast becoming the sanctuary of the ideals of civilization. For the moment it may be enough to be the sanctuary of these ideals. But not for long. It now becomes our time to be the powerhouse from which the ideals spread throughout the world and do their mysterious work of lifting the life of mankind from the level of the beasts to what the Psalmist called a little lower than the angels.

America as the dynamic center of ever-widening spheres of enterprise, America as the training center of the skillful servants of mankind, America as the Good Samaritan, really believing again that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and America as the powerhouse of the ideals of Freedom and Justice – out of these elements surely can be fashioned a vision of the 20th Century to which we can and will devote ourselves in joy and gladness and vigor and enthusiasm.” (170)

Freedom, equal opportunity, self-reliance and independence are “especially American” while America has also, as by some auspicious royal marriage, come to inherit guardianship over the principles of Justice, Truth, and Charity – the “ideals of civilization.” These She will share with the world.

Does this sound familiar? I was not raised in the United States so these words are perhaps less familiar to me than many. However, more than ever, we hear echoes of such passionate idealism and frightening conceit around us in much that we read and hear. Its supporters today want a new American century and much like Luce, embrace a vision in which a benevolent and virtuous America may, through her own “internationalism” dictate her terms to the world.

Note: I’m citing from a reprint of Luce’s article in Diplomatic History 23, no. 2 (Spring 1999): 159-171

Minor Things of Note

ChinaJapan.org Down

My host for my ChinaJapan.org site had a crash and had no functional backups. They handled the whole thing with complete incompetence which I will be describing at major hosting forums to warn future customers. I’m going to be moving the site to another host where I am hosting Muninn and FrogInAWell along with numerous other projects. I have fairly recent backups so I think I can get everything back up.

Che and Sponheim

By the time I post this to the internet, the Norwegian Storting elections will be over. However, one amusing thing about the last days of the election campaign. The Left party, or Venstre, was campaigning in downtown Stavanger on Friday, my last day at the library. The Left party is actually one of the non-socialists (Norwegian parties are traditionally but somewhat misleadingly divided into socialist and non-socialist camps) and are in the current (relatively) conservative coalition. However, they had some interesting campaign posters which were appealing to young voters. They depicted that famous image of Che Guevera (sp?), the Communist revolutionary leader on a red background. However, instead of Che’s face, they put Lars Sponheim, the leader of the Venstre party.

This was cute but somewhat surprising given the Høyre (Right party, their coalition ally) party’s recent ineffective attack on the Socialistic Left or SV party by associating them closely with Communist regimes and their atrocities. However, I suspect the irony of the poster escapes the notice of most.

And yet imagine if you will, the same campaign poster, approved by the party in the United States. While the Left party in Norway is a very moderate centrist party in comparison to the Republicans, imagine if you will some moderate republican putting their face on a Che poster in a effort to appeal to young voters. It just wouldn’t happen, right?

Norwegian Television Debate

VG, one of the major Norwegian newspapers (although it has always looked like a tabloid to me) has a strange way of measuring up the political debate between the party leaders in its Sunday, Sept. 11th issue. It first give all the participants of the debates a grade from 1 to 6 (six being best). It gave a 5 to Jens Stoltenberg (Labor party) and Dagfinn Høybråten (Christian Democrats) and 4s to everyone else except the right-wing Progress party (3 points) and the marginal Coast Party (2 points). Then it marked each one along a scale showing whether they were on the offense or defense in the debate. The highest “offense” ratings went to the hard left-wing Red Alliance, Socialist Left and Labor party, basically the left spectrum of Norwegian politics. Then, most bizarrely, it marked the mood of each participant with happy and sad faces on a scale. The most happy were apparently the Center party and Progress Party, with the most miserable being the Right party (who are set to lose big in this election) and the Coast party.

Critique of Domination

Roger Cohen had a good editorial in the Sept. 10-11 Int. Herald Tribune I got in the airport today where he discusses the political split on discussing looting during a crisis like the Katrina hurricane. He notes that conservatives are taking a hard line “zero tolerance” for looting (even those stealing food and water) but notes sardonically that Rumsfeld once said “While no one can condone looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of oppression.” Of course, he was referring to Iraq, which led Cohen to say that Rumsfeld and conservatives think that “A little mayhem in Mesopotamia was just fine” as long as it wasn’t within the US.

However, I found most memorable a quote from a French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut in the article. He was deeply critical of any sympathy towards looters, who he described as having a “revolting reaction.” Now, I strongly disagree with his take on the looting question and find myself having no moral opposition to any looting for food and essentials in a crisis situation. However, he then added a quote which sums up one of my biggest problems with recent critical theory.

While I’m very much influenced by a lot of recent critical theory out there, especially those important in historical research, I’m worried about the kind of moral paralysis I feel can result from some approaches suggested by things like postcolonial theory and postmodern critiques of society. Finkielkraut sums this up very nicely into one line, “It’s funny, our dominant ideology is a critique of domination in all its forms.”

Children, Marriage and Norwegian Politics

I have never looked closely at the Norwegian laws regarding things like adoption, maternal/paternal leave, and marriage. I repeat what I hear from friends, when other friends ask, but never really knew the details. Thanks to some colorful charts in yesterday’s Stavanger Aftenblad, I got a little bit of a better understanding, all of my info below comes from page 4 of its August 31st issue.

Since the 1960 Swedish politics has based their childbirth leave laws on two premises – the need to give females time away from work to care for a newborn child, but secondly, on the need to get men into the house. They have had flexible leave since 1974.

I think there have been numerous changes in the law but as I understand it stands now it basically says you get 43 total weeks of 100% paid leave from work or 53 weeks of 80% paid leave. Of this, I think the mother has 9 nine of these weeks reserved for her, and the father has 5 weeks of the total reserved for him. I think you can freely divide up the rest. In contrast, in liberal Sweden there is a fully equal law reserving 60 days for each the father and mother, but provides you 80% salary for 390 days and then 60 Swedish kroner for 90 days after that.

This issue is big in this election coming in September here in Norway. Everyone but the Right party (~15% in polls) and Forward Marching Party (~20%) want to expand the reserved time for fathers and there is all sorts of talk about making the whole system more flexible so that you can take your leave well after the child is born, up until at some point while the child is in school. One reason for considering greater flexibility is that the Swedish welfare department (who I guess in this issue plays the role of the neighbor whose garden is better tended) reports that men are more likely to take paternal leave if they are allowed to do so later on in the child’s life.

Another issue is marriage and adoption. Adoption rights for homosexuals (who already have marriage rights here) and the question of getting rid of some elements of the marriage law which have gendered aspects to it (not sure what these are) are on the election agenda. Homosexuality was also in the news here because of some big conference on homosexual issues held in Norway recently. The Norwegian crown princess gave the opening speech in which she emphasized that discrimination against homosexuals still remains in Norway, especially in the workplace.

On the adoption issue:

Those who want to allow adoption for homosexual couples: Socialistic Left (SV 12% in current polls) Left Party (3.6%), Labor Party (34.6%), Red Alliance (0.x%), and looks like the Right party (15%) is considering something they call “step children adoption” for homosexuals, which I don’t quite understand. Against: Christian Democrats (5.6%) and Forward Marching Party (20%)

Those who want a completely gender neutral marriage law: Socialistic Left (SV 12%) Left Party (3.6%), Labor Party (34.6%), Red Alliance (0.x%) Against: Christian Democrats (5.6%) and Forward Marching Party (20%). The Right party doesn’t either I guess, since they say they want to “keep the partnership law.”

Politics in Downtown Stavanger

I came to the library this morning to pick up a book I had requested on the early postwar treason trials in Norway. The library building is housed along with the town’s movie theater, public art exhibition space, a children’s museum and a coffee shop in a well lit glass and steel complex known as the “culture house.” In front of this we have other important mass gathering places such as McDonoalds and an open space covered in cobblestones. Last week this housed a massive book selling frenzy amongst high school students eager to sell textbooks to younger victims.

Today the little open space housed some kind of political fair. While a band, dressed in typical Norwegian sweaters and old-fashioned pilot goggles (?) cracked jokes and sang songs in a mix of dialects that gave them a nice authentic sound of belonging to “the people.”

Surrounding the stage were three booths where political organizers could pass out brochures about their respective party positions in the upcoming September election. The scene struck me as somewhat unusual. I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it in Japan or the US – multiple, quite antagonistic parties gathering in a single public space only a meter or two distance from each-other, all trying to reach the same crowd of passing people and strays listening to the band.

This was an especially interesting scene given the three parties in question: the Christian Democrats (KrF. polling at 5%, might be called a center-right party, currently trailing badly in the polls but in the current coalition government of the “Right” party the “Left” party, and KrF), the Forward Marching Party (polling at 20%, a semi-fascist populist party, but maybe I’m a little harsh), and the Red Alliance (1% which I think is a coalition of the Communists and other hard-core socialist parties).

There was no presence of the three parties who have joined forces to form what might be called the ASS coalition in the morning. These consist of the powerful Labor party (Ap., polling at 35%) which has dominated Norwegian politics in the postwar period, the Socialist Left party (SV) which has made a surprising rise in popularity in the last few years to become mainstream contender with over 15% support, and the Center party (Sp, polling at 5.6%), which traditionally was supported by the agricultural sector. However, the booth battle shifted to the Right party and SV in the afternoon.

Let's Kick Some Ruling Class ASSMy award for the most entertaining election poster so far has to go to a small crowd of Socialist Left youth campaigning in Sandnes last week, who held a banner saying, “Let’s Kick Some Ruling Class ASS”
Continue reading Politics in Downtown Stavanger

Gender Free Wonderland Japan

Sayaka posted about the recent statements made on gender in education made by Minister of Education Nakayama Nariaki. He is the same minister who last November was pleased to report that in this year’s history textbooks, “it is good that such terms as sex slaves of the Japanese Imperial Army and forced Asian labor were less frequently mentioned in school history books.”

He apparently believes (link in Japanese) that “gender neutral [lit. gender free] education and extreme sex education are running rampant. There are those who might say that this is wrecking Japan.” His comments apparently continued to critique Japan’s gender neutral education system.

Sayaka points out that this is one of many similar comments by the minister and laments the fact that no one seems to have gotten across the message to the Japanese minister the importance of the foundations of an education system.

She also talks about the bewildering “return to Confucian values” movement in Japan. There is a movement to change or get rid of article 24 of the Japanese constitution which states that:

Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis. 2) With regard to choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce and other matters pertaining to marriage and the family, laws shall be enacted from the standpoint of individual dignity and the essential equality of the sexes.

Opposition to this comes in the form of those who argue that, “Japan has gone too far in promoting individual rights and should return to the duties of family, community and nation.” Fortunately, however, there is a counter campaign against an effort to alter the clause.

UPDATE: Jae over at Tianan saw Sayaka’s posting and decided to look up the related clause in the Korean constitution. Read more on his blog.

First One Down

The first debate is over, and I’m sure the flurry of blog entries about this will begin across the net. On CNN, they were already talking about the “blogger” reaction within minutes of the closing statements. CNN has joined the party by making their Crossfire guys give minute by minute comments during the debate. See Paul Begala and Bob Novak‘s comments but I most enjoyed the hilarious responses of Jessi Klein. My own reaction? Well, the more reasonable side of me wants to concede that Bush probably managed to get us to remember the phrases “mixed messages” and “It’s hard work” (He said this 11 times) and, “Of course I know Osama Bin Laden attacked us.” Otherwise, I think he did a pretty solid job at giving us those comical pauses of bewilderment, “deer in headlights” stares, and desperate struggles as he reached for just … one … more … intelligent … sentence before the yellow light went on.

I think Kerry babbled too much sometimes, but was much better at imitating the 5 word, 5 syllable sentences that for some reason seem to resonate so well with public opinion. I think everyone wants to believe that the word is full of binaries, that there isn’t real complexity, and that, to use a metaphor by Jessi Klein, freedom can be “spread” like peanut butter.

UPDATE: I remember one more line I liked, Bush’s constant pleading to Kerry that he acknowledge poor Poland in the coalition of the bribed and coerced. Here is what Aleksander Kwasniewski, the Polish president has to say about his country’s participation: “They deceived us about the weapons of mass destruction, that’s true. We were taken for a ride.” (Via Hit and Run)

UPDATE: FactCheck.org has an article detailing the factual errors of each candidate in the recent debate.

Working them Stats

David Weinberger has blogged a Kerry camp poll analysis at Corante setting the expectations high for the Republican convention. It is really amusing to read in a cynical light, especially when read against the kinds of media analyses and use of statistics during the lead up to Democrats’ convention.