Category Archives: Politics

After the Anniversary

The much-anticipated 50th anniversary of the JFK Assassination is now gone. There are many reasons that one may adduce to explain why the occasion was marked with such predictable outpourings, but it is the fact that the truth of the assassination remains mysterious, the culpability of Lee Harvey Oswald as against that of the government still in question, which fundamentally accounts for the multitude of museum panel discussions, mass oral histories, gala remembrances, poets laureate and not intoning ad infinitum about idealism lost, and James Taylor lilting at the Kennedy Library.

It may be scary that the government, or one or more of its agencies or instrumentalities, might have been involved in the killing, but it is more unnerving not to be able to know this as a solid fact one way or the other, once and for all. The protracted irresolution around the Kennedy assassination, even at a time when the U.S. government has never more openly listed toward tyranny, announces to a society that it has been incapacitated from collectively uncovering an essential truth about itself, no matter how ugly, and about the world in which it is situated. In a putative democracy, this revelation induces tension, because its members feel they cannot be completely who they are.

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So Long, Money Knuckles

Former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg, before leaving office, sat for an extended exit interview with New York magazine. I read it because I wanted to hear the mayor’s own summation of his elongated tenure, the third part of which, if not other parts too, were arguably made possible by the virtually unlimited billions of dollars he personally commands.

One would not claim that Bloomberg’s personality was even close to the most offensive among the well-heeled in public view, but the plutocratic dyspepsia he displayed, the source of his wincing managerial lances, was tough-going. At no time, either during his interview or while in office, did he ever show that his outlook was not handicapped by the scotoma of privilege. This basic fact about Bloomberg’s conception of public life was on view in his oft-repeated refrain against unappreciative critics, who failed to understand that it was the rich who take care of us all by paying all those taxes.

All that wealth, which one must credit him to a degree for having earned (“I can outwork you,” he says – I believe it), yet the sum of all that occurred to him to do on so many important fronts amounted to reducing the public sector in terms of its scope and prestige. Teachers were remanded to “rubber rooms”, public schools were further compromised by an obsession with standardized tests, whereas real estate developers were untrammeled, their only major setback, no thanks to the mayor, a scuttled sports arena supposed to have been built in Manhattan, thankfully defeated. Justifiably, Bloomberg is widely seen as having purchased a third term against the will of the voters, based on the politician’s pet theory that the city required his continued service for its own good. His manner of evicting Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park, denying protesters a march permit before the Iraq War, and creating a “Guantanamo on the Hudson” during the Republican National Convention in 2004, at which 1,806 people were mostly falsely arrested, were of a piece with his coarse support for the NYPD’s “stop and frisk,” Bloomberg’s statement of position on civil liberties par excellence.

With this record, Bloomberg’s mayoralty is instructive on the issue of money in politics. He provides reason to doubt the idea that if lobbying money were to disappear tomorrow, politicians who now take lobbying money would suddenly change their votes or legislative designs to advance interests that they had previously ignored or that the inflow of such money had previously obscured. Michael Bloomberg was more completely free from any conceivable effect of lobbying money than any elected official in U.S. history, yet on policy questions he was virtually indistinguishable from the contemporary mainstream of the Democratic Party, or “moderate” Republican Party, both lobbied to the hilt. Bloomberg provides an occasion to look at this issue again.

Bloomberg installed bike lanes and despised guns: even the skunk has a white stripe on its back. The skunk, the spirit animal of a chief executive who sprayed a blustery, moralizing ordure whenever his stinking paternalistic visions of efficiency and health were not properly embraced. Yet, no one could have really expected a skunk to lower its tail from its taut, vertical pose when under attack. The blasts and seeping emissions alike still waft, through the ghostly portals of that citrus bed of nails which once covered Central Park, a lavish $21 million private gesture of fellow fantastically privileged confreres, never to be amortized on the public cultural ledger because to some it might have looked comely. Today, the thought of its conch-shell formations of flapping sheets on clotheslines will only serve to divert rumination from the swan song attack of the 13th richest person in the world on the city’s allegedly biggest problem, public pensions, a ludicrous notion which his allegedly populist successor already seems to be embracing. One step closer to the powder keg we go, Money Knuckles, you symptom of the times.


On Conspiriority

Revelations of wrongful official secrecy and its abuse by powerful political and economic organizations can have as a byproduct a politically debilitating effect that is contrary to the effect one would expect to occur when secret, unsavory official acts are divulged. Instead of using the new knowledge to become more effectively politically engaged, one may become liable to the perpetual surmise that while each new layer of exposed reality may provide a more complete picture of reality than what came before it, the picture is still not as real as it would be if another layer of reality were peeled away.

This frame of mind obviously can be psychologically exhausting, and it is wasteful for other reasons that may be imagined, but it is at least logically justified. If, for example, one discovers that the CIA used the Contras to bring cocaine into the United States during the 1980s in order to finance the Central American war then being fought illegally by the Reagan administration, it might be paranoid, but it is not unnatural, to think: “If they kept that hidden successfully until now, what else could they be hiding?” The danger is that one may never be able to accept any evidence of reality as definitive enough to be able to believe in it or act upon it: something else, always hidden, and probably important, must still be taking place out of view. Thus real political conspiracies beget conspiracy theorizing.