Monday, June 30, 2008

Campaign Plank: Jobs Policy With a Future

Photo: Blue-Green Alliance

A Deeper Look
At Green Jobs,
Industrial Policy

By Bernard Marszalek

June 26, 2008, San Francisco - 'Green Collar Jobs' have gone mainstream. Obama endorses it. And a plank in the Democratic Party Platform calling for green collar jobs would solidify it as Democratic Party policy. Even if that expectation is premature, the popular reception of this program is a remarkable achievement for what began only a few years ago as an under-reported campaign uniting a few progressive labor leaders and some politically astute environmentalists.*

Despite its popular appeal, or maybe due to it, 'Green Collar Jobs' lacks clear definition. The term arose from the groundbreaking, alliance between labor and environmentalists to create a massive national effort to 'jump-start' an alternative energy program. They modeled it after John Kennedy's well-funded Apollo Project to get an American on the moon, fast.

The Apollo Alliance, as the labor/environmentalist collaboration came to be called, works 'to catalyze a clean energy revolution' with the intent 'to reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil, cut the carbon emissions that are destabilizing our climate, and expand opportunities for American businesses and workers.' **

The labor unions affiliated with the Alliance support it as a way to rally political backing for a program that would replace lost manufacturing jobs with new, good paying jobs in clean technologies. These new, skilled jobs include erecting wind turbines, installing solar panels, retrofitting old buildings with new 'green' technology, and similar pro-environment tasks. Social justice advocates recognized, with the call to create new jobs, an opportunity to establish a national program to train those who have been excluded from economic opportunities in general and disadvantaged youth in particular. Good paying jobs in these new green sectors, like the old blue collar industrial ones that led to a middle class life-style, got branded as 'Green Collar Jobs.'

With all three movements, labor, environment, and social justice, united behind the program of 'green collar jobs for all,' and with Democrats in an election year eager to adopt innovative policies, a political synergy developed. The call for green collar jobs gained legitimacy and media currency.

The push to promote this program without generating factionalism amongst the ranks meant that no precision was sought in defining which jobs fit the Green Collar designation. The point of this program was to get popular acceptance and not create divisive tensions. And success on that level must be acknowledged. The problem, though, is that without a clear definition opportunistic corporations will undoubtedly promote their version of 'green jobs' in 'clean' coal, nuclear energy, and other dubious areas.

Besides the issue of definition, there are other concerns related to seeing green jobs as the prime catalyst to stimulate employment.

Every community seeks development, especially the clean, high tech sort. In the 90's, for instance, cities and regions across the country sought to create their local version of Silicon Valley. More recently, in farsighted communities, alternative energy production emerged, in anticipation of the demise of cheap oil, as the new economic development panacea. A few localities already have secured contracts largely with European manufacturers of turbines, or electric cars, or solar collectors. As significant as this is, it seems unreasonable that each city or region, not to mention each state, can be a center for a green technology.

There are some sectors of the economy, of course, that everyone recognizes as specifically local job generators, like retrofitting older buildings and recycling/reuse, and they can provide major employment opportunities for maybe a decade before they peak and then decline. After older structures are fitted with solar collectors and insulated, what will generate new jobs? And as more products are engineered to be reused, as they are in Europe, even this sector could shrink.

Further, green collar advocates do not resist the centralization of green technologies. Giant energy firms plan huge, multi-megawatt solar collectors for deserts as more efficient than decentralized schemes, because in part they employ a smaller workforce.

These basic economic realities should temper the spectacular optimism that assumes millions of green collar jobs wait in the wings to make their appearance.

Zooming out to take a wider perspective, the demand for green collar jobs however may be a useful way to leverage a long overdue discussion of national industrial policy.

Industrial policy requires definition. We can say that whenever a government adopts policy that supports some economic activities over others it is conducting industrial policy. Most obviously subsidies to agribusiness and oil corporations are foundational elements of the current industrial policy. But even a national health insurance plan that supports premiums to private insurance firms is industrial policy.

The last time this country had a popular and beneficial industrial policy was in the 30's. The Roosevelt administration, pressured by the mass unrest of unemployed workers, stumbled into cobbling together programs to mollify the discontent. Nevertheless, looking back we see its texture: for the first time the federal government transferred funds to directly aid ordinary people.

The New Deal programs were cut short with the massive mobilization to prepare for the Second World War. Before the end of the war, a more conscious industrial policy (consisting of full employment, mainly for white male Americans, and bountiful profits for the armaments and nuclear industries) took the form of a permanent war economy and the construction of the Garrison State.

The development of the Cold War - we could say that that was the brand name of the post-war industrial policy - served the plutocracy well for at least a generation. The post-war generation, as a consequence, achieved middle-class status and passed on those benefits to their children. This prosperity of the 50's and 60's was fueled by the creation of an enormous 'military-industrial and legislative' complex Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about days before John Kennedy assumed the Presidency. Kennedy, ignoring Eisenhower (and in doing so, justified Ike's fears), escalated the war in Vietnam further enriching the military manufacturing sector.

By the mid-70's, as the economy nosedived, the ruling class feared that the edifice of industrial policy, always hidden from public view, would become visible despite the carefully maintained appearances of wellbeing. The day was saved, just like in the movies, with the appearance of Ronald Reagan. With his 'charm' and well-orchestrated diversionary programs, Reagan swiftly followed his entrance to the White House with anti-union and rabidly pro-business policies that accelerated the first wave of de-industrialization of the Midwest's basic industries.

With little substantive change, this post-war industrial policy, has been inherited more as an albatross than a legacy. Today we find ourselves on the precipice of an economic and environmental catastrophe the litany of which is know by heart - Peak Oil, Climate Change, and environmental devastation due to increased pollution. And the secondary effects: world resource wars, mass migrations, and pandemics. As a future unfolds far worse than the horrors of depression of the 30's, it's time for a thorough and popular discussion of an industrial policy that goes far beyond the confines of Roosevelt's .

By focusing on a vulnerable area of capitalism - jobs - a critical public discussion on a new industrial policy, one that is equitable, may be initiated. The catalyst to energize this discussion, the demand for green jobs, needs definition. Without it we are reduced to the perennial call for full employment and the usual inconsequential political effect. A definition serves as a guideline to create standards of corporate performance. Truly sustainable criteria may prevent corporations adopting Human Resource Department greenwashing that will define as green jobs those that support the current industrial policy.

Corporate heads will resist any attempt at accountability, but two decades of fighting bad corporate behavior has conditioned the public to be receptive to popular pressure to coerce good conduct. It should not be assumed that the corporations could amass an effective opposition.

The last thing to do, even with good standards, is to debate the specifics of green collar jobs - that would lead to a useless fight on the terrain of the corporations. Much better to out-flank the corporations with a more popular and far-reaching demand. Using the criteria introduced by green jobs -- good paying and socially useful - why not create a demand for free skills training, not only for new green collar jobs, but also for the industrial jobs vacated as the current generation of skilled workers retires?

Across the country, manufacturers have voiced alarm that there is no labor pool of young trained workers. From the late 70's and through to the early 90's trade school classes were scuttled from high school and community college curriculums in the false view that all new jobs would be high-tech ones: blue work shirts replaced by white lab coats.

Revenue-starved education budgets forced this false choice in training, in the same way as off-shoring manufacturing caused many unions to downsize their apprenticeship programs, if not eliminate them entirely. A bleak future for labor equipped with mechanical skills seemed inevitable.

The need for skilled workers to replace the retirees has mobilized, in some communities, a response by unions, junior colleges and local governments to establish pioneering educational ventures using limited local resources. Significantly, many manufacturers recognize the value of skills training and it may be possible to find support from some sections of the business community over this issue.

It can't be stressed enough that unless the country educates a new generation of skilled workers, much of the infrastructural work, like re-building failing bridges, replacing weak levees, laying high speed rails and much more, will be impossible to accomplish.

If there is a national commitment, which means massive federal funds, to initiate these essential construction projects it will recall Roosevelt's political script - to provide good jobs for the unemployed - but updated by the push to create green collar jobs. For example, instead of simply rebuilding the old bridges, why not design them with fewer auto lanes and expanded public transit lanes to allow for light rail and bikes? And new levees? Build them higher for safety of course, but also smarter to allow water flows to fill low-lying areas. And why not restrict new construction to fit a sustainable land-use perspective that incorporates economic justice? The point is to move the public discussion, by the concern for good green jobs, towards an examination of social-serving employment.

Another reason to develop technical skills, from the factory floor to the universities, is to begin the re- industrialization of America, not in imitation of the old mega-factories like Ford's River Rouge plant in Detroit, but smarter, decentralized models. A new engineering technology that responds to the needs of local production must be encouraged to develop. Reusing material gleaned locally, a metal fabricator, for instance, could produce with the aid of computerized resources a variety of parts for a range of uses. A model for this sort of local re-use are the small rubber fabricators erected near refuse dumps in the developing world. Clean, small pulping mills, like those being developed in Europe, could likewise remake paper products. The possibilities of re- industrialization are endless if the goal is to achieve a truly sustainable material environment and engineering technique is freed from the constrictions of the profit motive.

The implications of an industrial policy that consciously creates useful jobs, not the demeaning jobs now offered to the desperate, won't be lost on many. In the process of doing good work, socially recognized as such, a change of attitude regarding work could arise - one that places high value on the work itself. The displaced rewards we now associate with bearing up under grueling, mind/spirit destroying labor could be history.

Imagine. What if the weekend, instead of a frantic escape into consumerism, actually became an occasion to visit the good work done by others? As farfetched as this may sound, something like it happened in the 30's when people, using public transportation, visited national parks made serviceable by the formerly unemployed. Or attended public fairs and theater productions to see performances with actors paid by government checks.

There are major implications of a new industrial policy, that go to the very core of the economic system we currently endure - the military-industrial enterprises. This sector of our economy may not provide qualitatively less socially useful work than the advertising and public relations sectors, but it certainly wastes more resources. This is obvious to all. The seemingly bottomless budgets and the economic penetration of the military-industrial complex in all communities, therefore requires a solid alternative proposal. Rebuilding the failing infrastructure, re- tooling for local manufacture and developing an alternative energy economy, all financed by diverting wasteful military expenditures, outlines a program that the peace movement could support. And allied with unions, environmentalists and economic justice groups they could combine as one to further it.

As radical as this proposal may sound to this point, it needs greater depth. There remains a large area of the economy absent from consideration - the service sector. And what about the non-profits, a subset of the service sector, that the business section of newspapers deposit, by their neglect, outside the economic universe? It would be foolhardy to ignore these workers jobs formulating a new industrial policy. They are significant economic factors in local economies and often the most exploited. Precarious employment rules here like in no other sector.

It should come as no surprise that service sector jobs are unionizing faster than any other employment area. An exemplary level of dignity has been achieved by unionization for people in these jobs, but, as sound remedy, it fails within the context of a new industrial policy. There are jobs in the service sector, including the non-profits, that could be eliminated, plain and simple. These sectors have grown to huge proportions due to a large, poor and desperate population eager for income. Without these recruits, who would do these jobs? Would they disappear as unnecessary, or be automated out of existence? Would office staff clean their own space?

As for those tasks that are socially necessary, and poorly funded by public revenues and private foundations, a new approach must be sought to protect and even expand them. And not on the backs of recent college graduates in need of beginning a resume. One sound approach is to expand the guaranteed minimum income program. If this program were fully funded to cover the basics of shelter and food and a modest stipend for social needs, to afford a dignified existence, it would form the basis for equitable employment. That is if no penalty was introduced to prevent an income earned beyond the minimum. Conceivably then those who choose to increase their basic incomes could do those jobs that are socially useful but pay little.

These tasks might be part-time jobs, and maybe two or more could be taken on to add variety to one's life. If the intention to reduce drudge-work were realized then options become available for people who wouldn't think of helping in a school, or assisting the disabled, because of the poor pay and long hours.

A national income subsidy, sounds utopian, and while there is nothing wrong with that, the proposal for a basic, guaranteed income is currently discussed worldwide as an alternative to the multitude of social welfare programs countries more enlightened than ours provide their populations. Among others, the Irish and the South African parliaments are discussing it. The Brazilians have already implemented it on a small scale by providing funds to families to compensate them for the loss of income when they send their children to school. It has been widely recognized as the most successful program Lula introduced.***

Assuring a basic income severs the oppressive link between jobs and income. And the broken link releases time to either work for income or not. The decision to work one job or another as a consequence of market forces, contradicts the principles of a democratic society besides devaluing socially necessary employment. With time available, a path towards a sustainable society opens up - there's time to actually create a democratic society, which means to develop personal resources to act communally.

In order to avoid the impending catastrophe brought to our doorstep by the unbridled growth of global capitalism, there is no alternative but to embrace a perspective that reverses the pursuit of profit over people. The control of the economy by the rich and powerful presumes self-destructive behavior by obedience to authority and out of fear of generalized scarcity. On a personal level, abandoning the desire to develop our capacities is what the pursuit of profit is all about. To reverse that perspective requires critical thinking on several levels. The current dire world situation functions as a test of our ability to overcome our social conditioning.

First on the agenda - a vision of a cooperative way to live together, as a work in progress. All visions needs to be malleable. Next, an attainable goal to strive for, and finally, the steps to take to get there. The vision of an eco-economy society, a society that serves to sustain humanity within nature, cannot be chiseled in stone and neither can the goals be unmovable, but that doesn't mean the walk can't begin. What it does mean is that popular participation, to be legitimate, requires constant feedback. The vision, the goals and the steps develop as a process of constant refinement to strengthen and deepen their impact.

If the common vision is of a society that meets human needs, and the goals are collaborative projects to create community, then the steps are expanding the possibilities of useful work, by choice. Defining what that work entails begins this process. Focusing on the details of useful employment cannot proceed without constant reference to the goals and the vision.

* Those who grow increasingly pessimistic with the daily revelations of ever more apocalyptic consequences of global warming might ponder this phenomenon: what was nowhere on the political radar two years ago currently assumes the status of a 'no-brainer.'

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Marszalek is employed in an Alameda County (CA) Certified Green business with a trade union contract.)




Sunday, June 29, 2008

The GOP's New Term for 'Uppity'

Photo: Foe of 'Arrogance,' Karl Rove

Karl Rove
Calls Obama


By John Ridley
Huffington Post

Karl Rove says Barack Obama is arrogant.

We've heard that; we've heard the pejorative "arrogant" before. When I say "we" I mean those of us who are "others" in America; people of color. Minorities. Women. We hear the word all the time from a select section of privileged white guys; the codifying they use when they fear the silver spoons are about to be snatched from their lily palaces: "Those people... How dare they think they can work jobs like ours or live in neighborhoods like ours or send their children to school with ours? Those people are just so damn arrogant."

Arrogant, of course, is a euphemism. In the monochromatic bunkers from which old-schoolers cling to power the true word they use is "uppity" when hurled at blacks. It's the "B-word" for women. I'm not sure what the Rovian ilk use for the Latinos and Asian-Americans who dare claim their due, but I'm sure it's equally as derisive and wielded with sick pleasure.


The only arrogance Obama is guilty of is the same "Unforgivable Blackness" so many exceptional people of color have demonstrated throughout the history of this country: a refusal to bend to the will of the Retro Guard. To Rove, to the neocons such attitude is wholly unacceptable. Back in the day such "arrogance" was met with a strong rope and tall branch, and anyone who believes that analogy to be too harsh, read here how Roy Bryant and J.W.Milam dealt with the arrogance of 13 year old Emmett Till.

But in this day and age Karl Rove is reduced to making statements which he does not even have the meat to own up to.

Nevertheless, speaking of Obama's "arrogance" Rove is quoted as saying: "Even if you never met (Obama), you know this guy. He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone."

Really, Mr. Rove? Do you really wish to go there? I will give you the cigarette. Obama did smoke. I will give you the beautiful date. Beyond being a Harvard-educated lawyer, Michelle Obama is a beautiful woman. But I would bet the farm -- and I have a farm to bet -- that George Bush has been in more country clubs than Barack Obama. I would easily take the line on who's had more cocktails in their day. And isn't it the current president who loves to slap a condescending nickname on everyone?

And is there anything more arrogant, Mr. Rove, than ignoring the international community, the United Nations, weapons inspectors on the ground, very facts themselves, to invade a nation because you and a small cadre believe it's the right thing to do? Is there anything more arrogant than the belief that after such an invasion we as the occupying nation will be welcomed as liberators? Is there anything more arrogant than slapping on a flight suit, playing like you're the one landing on a carrier deck, making nice for the cameras before that infamous banner while tens of thousands of troops are left behind to fight, and four thousand (and counting) are left to die?


It's nothing but hubris for the neocons to believe they can win the election on that one.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Battleground Report - Energy in Nevada

Obama Urges
Green Energy,

Green Jobs

By Molly Ball
Las Vegas Review-Journal

Under the bleach-bright Las Vegas summer sun, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Tuesday checked out the solar panels that shade cars in the parking lot of the Springs Preserve while powering the facility.

"What we are seeing here ... is that the green, renewable energy economy is not some far-off, pie-in-the-sky future," Obama said in a speech at the local nature attraction. "It is now. It's creating jobs now. It is providing cheap alternatives to $140-a-barrel oil now. And it can create millions of additional jobs, entire industries, if we act now."

The Illinois senator said he wouldn't rule out expanding nuclear power, but he would first require an acceptable way of dealing with the radioactive waste that results.

Obama opposes the proposed nuclear waste repository at Nevada's Yucca Mountain, and he used the local issue to slam McCain.

"He wants to build 45 new nuclear reactors when they don't have a plan to store the waste anywhere besides right here," he said.

The federal government, Obama said, should provide incentives for the development of wind, solar and other types of renewable energy.

"But Washington hasn't done that," he said. "What Washington has done is what Washington always does: peddled cheap gimmicks that get politicians through to the next election."

McCain has proposed a $300 million prize for development of battery technology for cars, an idea Obama ridiculed.

"When John F. Kennedy decided that we were going to put a man on the moon, he didn't put a bounty up for some rocket scientist to win," he said. "He put the full resources of the United States government behind the project and called on the ingenuity of the American people."

Obama was also critical of McCain's proposals for a summer holiday from the federal gasoline tax and allowing offshore oil drilling. He noted that McCain had admitted that drilling off America's coasts would have only a "psychological impact" in the immediate term.

"In case you were wondering, in Washington-speak, what that means is, 'It polls well,'" Obama said. "It's an example of how Washington tries to convince you that they've done something to make your life better when they really didn't."

Oil companies, he said, already have drilling rights to millions of acres of federal land, "and yet they haven't touched it," Obama said. "John McCain wants to give them more when they're not using what they already have."

The companies ought to pay a fine on drilling rights they're holding but not using, he said.

In the case of the gasoline -tax holiday, he said that when he supported such a measure in Illinois, oil companies simply pocketed the money to pad their profit margins rather than passing on the savings to consumers.

"These are not serious energy policies," Obama said. "I wish we could wave a magic wand and make gas prices go down, but we can't."

In the near term, Obama proposed a second round of stimulus checks to families and a tax cut for workers to help people deal with rising costs. To help pay for it, he called for a tax on oil companies' profits and closing the "Enron loophole" that allows speculators to drive up oil prices.

Over 10 years, Obama said he would devote $150 billion to alternative energy sources, which he said would create "up to five million new jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced."

Republicans responded to Obama's attacks on their candidate by calling him "the Dr. No of energy policy."

Obama has put forward just one concrete proposal on energy, the stimulus checks combined with taxing oil profits, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said in a conference call with reporters. Meanwhile, he has opposed McCain's many proposals: the gas tax holiday, offshore drilling, more nuclear power and the $300 million prize.

"I am not sure he has done anything other than mirror the inaction of the Democrat majority in the Congress," Burr said.

McCain's economic adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, defended the concept of offshore drilling's "psychological impact." Futures markets, he said, would respond to the prospect of increased drilling capacity by lowering oil prices right away.

"If the United States makes a strong commitment to additional exploration ... that sends a strong signal to the traders in the market that future supplies will be greater," he said.

After his 14-minute speech, Obama took questions from the audience of about 50 energy workers and conservationists seated in the small conference room at the preserve, which was built to national green building standards of energy efficiency and with sustainable materials.

Local electrician Eddie Gering, 48, thanked Obama for opposing the gasoline-tax holiday, saying he felt the proposal insulted his intelligence as a voter. He wanted to know why nuclear power shouldn't be a bigger part of the nation's energy future.

"The problem that we've got with nuclear energy right now is that we have not figured out how to store the waste in a safe and effective manner," Obama said. "That's why Yucca is such a big issue here in Nevada. The basic theory was, we won't solve the problem, we'll just dump it all in Nevada."

He said he would increase investment in research and development to find a better way to store nuclear material.

"If we can figure that out, then nuclear has some big advantages, the fact that it doesn't produce greenhouse gases being the most important one," he said.

To another question, about government red tape preventing new energy projects from getting off the ground, Obama became philosophical.

"I'm a Democrat, and at times in the past Democrats have gotten so regulation-happy they lose sight of efficiency," he said. "Republicans attack us as wanting government for the sake of government. I want enough government to do what needs to be done, but I also want government to get out of the way where it's blocking progress. I want to streamline government so it's working. I want it to be consumer-friendly."

While he was in town, Obama met briefly with a local family to talk about how his tax plan would affect them, according to the campaign.

Later Tuesday in Los Angeles, Obama raised nearly $5 million at a celebrity-packed fundraiser that was the equivalent of the entertainment industry's coming-out party for the likely Democratic presidential nominee.

"He's my candidate, and I think you have to put your money where your mouth is," said actor Don Cheadle. Actor Dennis Quaid said Obama is "the Superman for everyone."

Obama's campaign refused to say how many millions he and the Democratic National Committee raised at the gala, but Democratic officials put the number at close to $5 million. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the numbers publicly.

Campaign officials severely limited media access to the event at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. No television cameras or photographers were allowed inside.

Obama, who is counting on Hollywood's reliable support for Democrats, appealed to the those in the crowd who might have supported his former foe, Hillary Clinton.

Contact reporter Molly Ball at


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Battleground Report: The Raccoon Fair in W PA

Photo: Raccoon VFD Fair


and Obama

By Carl Davidson

Progressives for Obama

Tractor pulls, tilt-a-whirls and dirt track motorcycle races aren't the usual setting for a literature table featuring the Obama campaign. But the several thousand local residents who attend the annual Raccoon Township Fair here in Western Pennsylvania every June made it seem like a natural to us, especially after all the local turmoil over "white workers" in the recent Democratic Primary.

We set up our wares alongside others that featured local crafts by township women. The site was the Volunteer Fire Department Hall, next to the bingo games in the garage and the food concession in the kitchen, usually the site of the regular "Fish Fry" community fundraisers.

To the extent the township has a "village square," the VFD buildings and grounds are it. Wedding, graduations and family reunions take place here, too.

We put up a big "4th CD Progressive Democrats of America" sign, together with plenty of Obama posters and literature, and "Healthcare not Warfare" petitions for the "Single Payer" health care plan in Rep. John Conyer's (D-MI) HR676 Bill. The petitions are aimed at our local Member of Congress, Jason Altmire, to get on board. Last but not least, we set out everything we need to register new voters.

Raccoon Township is a semi-rural part of Beaver County, near the West Virginia and Ohio borders. It sits in rolling hills and hollows above the Ohio River among mill towns and historic strip mining areas. If you walk in the woods, you'll really find raccoons and beavers. As for the deer, you don't even have to go into the woods. They show up on the back roads and even in your back yard.

If "white workers" had a homeland, this township would be part of it. About 3600 people live in Raccoon, and larger numbers in the other townships and mill towns nearby. Some 99 percent are "white" and over 90 percent working class, with construction workers a large block, and a good number of retired workers from shut-down mills. But there are some new younger high-tech workers, too, from two local colleges and the Pittsburgh Airport "Tech Corridor." The first here were the Scots-Irish and the Germans in the late 1700s, but now there's plenty of Italians, Serbs and Croats, too. Democrats out-register Republicans two-to-one and out-vote them by a larger margin, and the Dems went 30 percent for Obama to Clinton's 70 percent in the primary.

"That's 30 percent we can build on," said one older worker who stopped at the table five minutes after we were open. "This is terrific; I'm glad you're here." He had Obama signs in his yard along with one of his own, "Vote Out All Incumbents!" "It'll be tight," I reply, "but I think we can take it in November."

Almost everyone was friendly, even if they didn't agree with us. There were a few exceptions; one elderly woman told me I should "be ashamed' for urging votes for a Black man. "No, I'm proud," I replied, "he's a decent man, and times are changing, we're all God's children, aren't we?" She wasn't convinced. "One of our Republicans," a women who had been within earshot tells me, rolling her eyes.

By far our easiest sell was the "Single Payer" petition. People hardly needed an explanation before picking up a pen. Most were also against the war.

A good number of people came up, with some worried amazement in their voices, saying, "He's going to win, isn't he?" I'd come back with something like, "It's going to be fine. He's not perfect, but he's our best option. But it's going to be very close here in PA. Everything counts, and we need your vote and support."

One construction worker was clearly upset with the prospect, and wasn't happy when I said this. His wife, however, had other ideas, as she snatched up all the literature. "Best option? No way. He's our ONLY option. We've got to turn that current crew out!"

Quite a few told me they voted for Hillary. They listened, but wouldn't commit to Obama. "Nope, I'm going for McCain," said one.' McCain and Hillary take rather different stands, I explained, especially regarding women. "Doesn't matter," she replied. "I'm crossing over and going for McCain.'

This led me to come up with a new flyer for the following days. I simply took the text of Hillary's speech, the section where she endorsed Obama, put it on a sheet with her picture and a banner headline: "Hillary calls for Unity Behind Obama' and put a stack on the table. It turned out to be one of our more popular pieces.

Once the word got out that we were there registering voters, a young worker for our 4th CD Congressman, Altmire, showed up, offering assistance. "We're doing OK," I said, but you're welcome to hang out. If you really want to help, tell the Congressman to sign on to "Single Payer," and the degree to which he opposes this war, that's the degree to which he'll get some support from us.' So far, Altmire is to the right of Obama on the war, and won't back single payer. His worker was impressed, though, with how easy we got "Single Payer" signatures, and said he'll deliver the message.

What about the Obama campaign? A young volunteer, who had been raised in Hawaii, also contacted us. We took him to a retired steelworkers meeting first, getting him used to a different world. At the fair, he was fired up to register voters, grabbed a clipboard and went outside, to work the crowds of young people. He did well. We talked at length about the history of class struggle in the Ohio valley, and Honolulu's working-class.

The young people are most enthusiastic. Four young women came up, a little over 18, since they're registered to vote. "We LOVE Barack Obama!" they said loudly. They wanted bumper stickers. I didn't have too many left. "You promise to put it on your car?" I say. "Car? No, put it on my BACK!" So, after I got e-mail addresses, two wandered the crowds with "Obama 2008' on their backs and two wore "Healthcare Not Warfare!" Thank goodness for a little youthful audacity.

One thing kept popping up every day-the right wing's nasty and deceitful email campaign-"Obama's a secret Muslim, Obama won't say the pledge, won't put his hand on his heart, won't wear a flag pin, hates white people, wants to kill white babies while funding Black babies," and so on. My favorite big lie: "Obama secretly takes billions from the Saudis and passes it out in $50 bills to the millions of the urban poor so they'll go online and give it back to him in small amounts."

These ideas came to our table in two ways. A small number of people simply asserted them in a hostile tone and walked off in a huff. A larger number came up puzzled, and asked, with genuine concern, if we know whether the rumors are true or not. I calmly took the lies apart, explaining why the right is using racism and religious bigotry to divide. I also told folks how they can check for themselves. Most seem relieved, and grateful for the information. Keep in mind, all many people here know is Fox, Limbaugh and Hannity, and very few have gone beyond high school, or know about The Nation, DailyKOS or Huffington Post.

But there were some surprises. One young couple in their twenties, with a little girl, came up. She registered to vote, while the husband asks me about the email litany. "That's what I thought', he said as I explained one or two. "I got his book, and read it.' Which one, I asked? "Dreams of My Father," he replied. "Once I got to know him there, I could understand him as a pretty cool guy, very honest. I'll vote for him." Both worked service jobs, and had a little college, but a rough time affording more.

Another young landscape worker comes up, and ran the email litany, and seemed satisfied with my answer. Then, he asked, "Which one went AWOL?" It wasn't Obama, I said, since he wasn't in the military, and Bill Clinton only did a little fancy footwork with the draft. "The only one who comes close is the one we got now, George Bush," I conclude. He says: "Well, then, no wonder we're in such a mess."

I only got into one really drawn-out debate, with a construction worker, a real up-by-your-own-bootstraps but frustrated libertarian who would go for Paul or Barr, if only they would support the war. He started by asserting public health care of any sort is "unconstitutional" and we took off from there on government and the market for about half an hour, at considerable volume. I finally stump him on the Brodhead Road, the first vital overland route through our part of the county, and still very significant for the markets here, built by the troops of General Brodhead and General George Washington in the 1700s. I say: "How's that for state intervention where the market can't do the job; in fact, it creates the market? Why is using our taxes to prime the pump of getting these mills up and running with green jobs making wind turbines any different in principle?" That one he had to ponder a bit.

But the debate had some impact. The next day the ladies at the craft tables couldn't get over it, and offered me some support. "We're all in this together, no one really does everything all on their own," one said.

So a good time was had by all-or almost all, anyway. The Raccoon Fair survived, and even enjoyed, our small group of independent progressive registered Democrats supporting a serious African-American candidate for president. New voters were registered, new contacts made, the Obama campaign learned a few things they wouldn't have otherwise, the Congressman got a little heat, we did some educating, especially against the right, and most of all, we were educated, too, getting a crash course in the politics and values of our neighbors that would be hard to obtain better in any other way.

[Carl Davidson is a long-time peace and justice organizer and writer. He works with Beaver County Peace Links, the 4th CD Progressive Democrats of America and its new website,, and serves as webmaster for the national project, 'Progressives for Obama' at His own blog, "Keep On Keepin' On" is ]


Monday, June 23, 2008

Low-Income Students: $4000 Credit for Service

Photo: With Wayne State Students

Obama Urges Tax
Credit to Ease

Collegians' Pain

By Kathleen Gray and Lori Higgins

Detroit Free Press

June 18, 2008 - For the second straight day in Michigan, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama went to a college and met with students struggling to pay for their educations. At the Wayne County Community College campus in Taylor, he met with 29 students to hear their stories and tout his plan to make college more affordable.

Roy Gaines of Inkster wants to complete a degree in computer science. But old credit problems are hampering the 32-year-old father's ability to pay for the classes he needs.

Marilyn Pace, 23, of Taylor will graduate with an associate's degree in dental hygiene in five weeks. But the high price of gas, coupled with a maxed-out loan account, is leaving her $1,500 short of the cash she needs to take certification tests later this summer.

And Demetrius Jenkins, 19, of Inkster wants to transfer to Eastern Michigan University next year to pursue a premed degree. But the $16,000 annual cost of tuition, room and board is daunting. He didn't have the money to buy books in much of his first year at Wayne County Community College.

Obama said he hopes to offer a $4,000 annual tax credit for low-income students or their parents in return for community service. He would pay for the tax credits by raising taxes for people who make more than $250,000. "It just isn't right when you're working so hard and struggling so much just to pay your tuition,"

Obama told Pace, who is helping care for her disabled father. "I do not accept an America where you can't achieve your potential because you can't afford it." The campus visit capped a two-day trip to Michigan for Obama, who talked about many of the same issues Monday at Kettering University in Flint.

Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, favors consolidating training programs and partnering with community colleges to help displaced workers get college educations and perhaps new careers. On Tuesday, his campaign said Obama's proposals would result in a big tax increase that would hurt, not help, job growth in the nation. "Every college-savings account starts with a job, and Barack Obama has proposed tax hikes on over 21 million small businesses that drive job growth," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said.

"So while Sen. Obama shares John McCain's concern over the high price of college tuition, there is a critical job gap that must be addressed." Paying for education is a daily struggle for countless students across Michigan as tuition has increased while state subsidies to universities have fallen. Tuition rates increased last year at all of the state's 15 public universities, ranging from 5.74% at Western Michigan University to 15.14% at Wayne State University.

Meanwhile, state aid to the universities has declined by $150 million since 2002. Just last week, Michigan State University's Board of Trustees approved a 6.8% tuition increase for the school year that begins in September. Other universities are expected to consider increases later this month.

"We haven't seen declining enrollment yet, because students and parents understand that their personal earning power will be compromised without a degree," said Michael Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan. "But I'm very, very worried about where we're headed. People keep taking out more and more loans."

At Oakland University, financial aid director Cindy Hermsen said any kind of funding for students to attend college is beneficial, but a tax credit may not be the most effective means of providing it.

"Students actually need funding to attend school up front," Hermsen said. "They don't need it a year from now when they file their tax returns." More useful, she said, would be more money for grant programs.

Michigan has a large number of students who qualify for need-based grants. For Pace, her choice has come down to paying her last tuition installment or the tests. After talking with Obama and WCCC financial aid director Marcus McGrew, Pace learned that the school would help her find a grant or scholarship that would allow her to finish up her year. That brought her to tears.

"You get tired sometimes, don't you," Obama said to Pace as he patted her back. "Well, we're proud of you, you're making good choices." Despite the words, Pace said she's still not sure for whom she'll vote on Nov. 4. "I kind of, sort of support him, but I can't just go on this experience," she said. "I agree with him on education, but I may not agree with him on other things. I still have to sit down and do my research."


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Obama Can Do Better: Mountaintop Removal

Audacity in

By Jeff Biggers
The Huffington Post

June 19, 2008 - When the shouting is over, a sad fact remains about Appalachia during this presidential primary season: When Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton, trundled their liberal stop-global-warming bandwagons into the coalfields of West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and eastern Tennesse, they blew off one of the biggest crimes against nature, and American citizens, in our modern times. Mountaintop removal, as Al Gore recently pointed out, is indeed a crime and "ought to be treated as a crime."

Gore's frankness begs the question: How could Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton come into this region and simply gloss over the fact that more than 470 mountains and some of our nation's most diverse and ancient forests -- an area the size of some eastern states -- and the adjacent communities of American citizens and their water supply and health care (and any attempts at a diversified and sustainable economy) have been destroyed and continue to be destroyed by this bizarre form of stripmining?

Let's be clear: No one is calling on Obama to reject the reality of coal in our current energy policy or call for an end to coal. Of course not. (Likewise, it would be nice of Obama to call for better mining safety measures for our nation's coal miners.)

UPama made an admirable call for protecting waterways and enforcing the Clean Water and Air Acts, but, to the consternation of many Appalachians, he failed to take the next step of directly coming out against mountaintop removal or including such a vision in his campaign platform.

But just as Obama could go to the Cuban American community in Miami and call for looser travel restrictions and money transfers to Cuba, and tell the Cuban American community, "I won't stand for this injustice; you will not stand for this injustice, and together we will stand up for freedom in Cuba," it's too bad Obama didn't have the audacity of courage to distinguish between the illusory "clean coal" slogans of the coal lobbyists, the difference between underground mining and surface mining, and the machinations of a handful of coal operators in the specific crime of mountaintop removal in central Appalachia.

Is Barack Obama so beholden to King Coal that he can't single out this particular tragedy?

I hope not.

Mountaintop removal is not an Appalachian issue. It is a national issue, and above all, a civil rights issue that transcends any narrow debate of jobs versus trees by clearly showing that the environmental devastation has gone hand in hand with economic decline.

Mountaintop removal leads to poverty and dispossession, in every sense. (In West Virginia, for example, there are less than 500 United Mine Worker union jobs related to mountaintop removal.)

Barack Obama's extraordinary and inspiring campaign of hope needs to come up to the mountains and recognize this. In fact, every American needs to listen to the words of author Wendell Berry, one of our nation's most insightful philosophers, that we don't only need a vision of a "better future," but "an increase of consciousness and critical judgment in the present," and this begins with mountaintop removal.

Every time you flick on your light switch or attend a lit-up evening baseball game this summer -- from the sun-drenched city of Phoenix, Arizona to the Midwestern back warrens of St. Louis and Chicago, to the eastern seaboard states like North Carolina, to the neon billboards in Times Square in New York City -- a large portion of your electricity will come from coal-fired plants that utilize coal from mountaintop removal sites in central Appalachia.

Check out to see your connection to mountaintop removal. Perhaps in the fall campaign Obama will deal with his own connection to mountaintop removal.

In the meantime, I urge you to take a few minutes to view these important new film documentaries, among many others:

"Burning the Future" and "Black Diamonds"


Campaign Issue: Our Weapons That Destroy Us

Photo: General Taguba, Exposing Torture.
started by Tom Hayden, for more.

John McCain,
Torture Puppet

By Andy Worthington

Huffington Post

June 19, 2008 - As Barack Obama talks sense on Guantánamo, McCain's far-right drift ignores mounting evidence of torture and abuse in "War on Terror" prisons.

This is clearly no time for being mealy-mouthed. After nearly seven years of ruinous warmongering, economic meltdown and the shredding of the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture, Sen. John McCain, who recently shelved his lifelong opposition to torture by voting against a bill banning the use of torture by the CIA, cemented his adherence to the bellicose policies of the Bush administration by declaring that last Thursday's Supreme Court ruling, granting constitutional habeas corpus rights to the prisoners at Guantánamo, was "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country."

As conservative columnist George F. Will asked, pertinently, in a Washington Post column on Tuesday, "Does it rank with Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857), which concocted a constitutional right, unmentioned in the document, to own slaves and held that black people have no rights that white people are bound to respect? With Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which affirmed the constitutionality of legally enforced racial segregation? With Korematsu v. United States (1944), which affirmed the wartime right to sweep American citizens of Japanese ancestry into concentration camps?"

Beyond McCain's stunted historical memory, his outburst, which is clearly intended to portray Barack Obama as anything other than the rock-hard soldier stallion that McCain is in his imagination, flies in the face of the ever-growing evidence that the entire "War on Terror" imprisonment program has been both chronically brutal and irredeemably flawed, and that Barack Obama is correct to call the ruling "an important step toward reestablishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law, and rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus."

On ABC News on Monday, Obama explained more, saying, "Let's take the example of Guantánamo. What we know is that in previous terrorist attacks, for example, the first attack against the World Trade Center, we were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial. They are currently in US prisons, incapacitated. And the fact that the administration has not tried to do that has created a situation where not only have we never actually put many of these folks on trial, but we have destroyed our credibility when it comes to rule of law all around the world."

When McCain's team followed up by accusing Obama of having "a September 10th mind-set," the response was both swift and accurate. Obama declared that it was clear that, while McCain was "going to use the Bush-Cheney political playbook that's based on fear," he believes that he is "very clear about the threats America faces ... and I think, in fact, it's the failed policies of the Bush administration and the unwillingness to look towards the future that is causing us so many problems around the world."

On Sunday, in the first story to throw serious doubt on John McCain's rhetoric, McClatchy Newspapers published the results of an eight-month investigation into the stories of 66 of the 501 prisoners released from Guantánamo, which demonstrated why the Supreme Court was correct to intervene in the cases of the prisoners. In an article introducing the profiles, lead researcher Tom Lasseter wrote that "the dozens of separate tales merge into one: Arrests -- often without real evidence -- brutality and mistreatment in US interrogations, years of their lives spent behind prison-camp wire in a system of justice that no American citizen would recognize."

This was almost an understatement, as even the McClatchy report does not make entirely clear that the Guantánamo prisoners required the Supreme Court's constitutional assistance because, in sidestepping the Geneva Conventions' battlefield tribunals, which traditionally sort out soldiers from those wrongly detained, and in pressing ahead with alternative tribunals at Guantánamo that relied on generalized and generic unclassified evidence, and classified evidence, withheld from the prisoners, that was often obtained through torture or coercion, the prisoners at Guantánamo have never been screened adequately to determine if they actually do constitute a threat to the United States.

Further proof of the administration's descent into barbarism came on Tuesday, when it was revealed that an investigation by the Senate Committee on Armed Services into "The Origins of Aggressive Interrogation Techniques" has discovered that senior Pentagon officials began planning to use abusive tactics at Guantánamo Bay in July 2002, three months earlier than has been previously acknowledged. The plan involved borrowing tactics from the military training program known as Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE), whose aim is to teach US soldiers counter-interrogation techniques by subjecting them, in controlled circumstances, to torture techniques including waterboarding (controlled drowning), sleep deprivation, forced nudity, sexual and religious humiliation, and forced standing in painful "stress positions."

Speaking as the story broke, Sen. Carl Levin, the committee's chairman, said, "How did it come about that American military personnel stripped detainees naked, put them in stress positions, used dogs to scare them, put leashes around their necks to humiliate them, hooded them, deprived them of sleep, and blasted music at them. Were these actions the result of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own? It would be a lot easier to accept if it were. But that's not the case. The truth is that senior officials in the United States government sought information on aggressive techniques, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality and authorized their use against detainees. In the process, they damaged our ability to collect intelligence that could save lives." He added, "Some might say that if our personnel go through it in SERE school, what's wrong with doing it to detainees? Well, our personnel are students and they can call off the training at any time. If we use those same techniques offensively against detainees, it says to the world that they have America's stamp of approval."

During eight hours of hearings on Tuesday, William J. Haynes II, the former general counsel for the Department of Defense, who was singled out by the committee for investigating the use of SERE techniques in summer 2002, acknowledged that he had pressed for the use of more aggressive techniques, but claimed that the decisions were driven by the administration's fear of another major terrorist strike. "What I remember about the summer of 2002," Haynes said, "was a government-wide concern about the possibility of another terrorist attack as the anniversary of September 11" approached. While this was undoubtedly true, Haynes and other senior officials (including President Bush, Vice President Cheney and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld) ignored the many voices of others, trained in the use of interrogation, who pointed out that, as well as being morally repugnant, torture was not the way to secure worthwhile confessions.

At the forefront of these complaints, as I have repeatedly pointed out, was the FBI. A recent Department of Justice report (PDF) highlighted the FBI's opposition to the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques," and retired senior interrogator Dan Coleman, who worked on several high-profile terrorism cases before the 9/11 attacks without using torture, is on record as stating that "people don't do anything unless they're rewarded." In an interview with the New Yorker's Jane Mayer, he acknowledged that brutality -- "all that alpha-male shit" -- may "yield a timely scrap of information," but is "completely insufficient" in the longer fight against terrorism. "You need to talk to people for weeks. Years," he explained. His colleague, Jack Cloonan, had another take on the self-defeating nature of brutality, telling Mayer that it would cut off "the possibility that other people with useful information about al-Qaeda [would] consider becoming informants." As he explained, "You think all of this stuff about torture is going to make people want to come to us? That's why I get upset when I hear people talking about stress positions, loud music, and dogs."

With even less success, Haynes cited "widespread frustration" among Pentagon officials in the summer of 2002 about the slow progress of obtaining information from prisoners in Guantánamo, ignoring the fact that this was the period when CIA officials were first concluding that this lack of "actionable intelligence" was unconnected with the prisoners' supposed resistance to questioning, which was purportedly part of al-Qaeda training, and was, in fact, because the majority of the prisoners had no intelligence to withhold.

In August 2002, the Los Angeles Times reported that a senior intelligence official who had spent time at the prison said that "US authorities had netted 'no big fish' there," and that "Some of these guys literally don't know the world is round," and in September 2002, a top-secret CIA study reported in a New York Times article in June 2004, "raised questions about [the prisoners'] significance, suggesting that many of the accused terrorists appeared to be low-level recruits who went to Afghanistan to support the Taliban or even innocent men swept up in the chaos of the war," according to "current and former officials who read the assessment." Or, as Lt. Col. Thomas S. Berg, a member of the first military legal team established to work on proposed prosecutions for prisoners at Guantánamo, told the New York Times in October 2004, "It became obvious to us as we reviewed the evidence that, in many cases, we had simply gotten the slowest guys on the battlefield. We literally found guys who had been shot in the butt."

Reports on the hearings have focused on the widespread opposition to the administration's policies from other law enforcement agencies. The Washington Post reported that "Haynes and other Pentagon officials acknowledged that the proposed methods faced opposition at the time from experts in military and international law," and cited Mark Fallon, the deputy commander of the Defense Department's Criminal Investigation Task Force, whose criticisms have been largely overlooked.

In an October 2002 e-mail to colleagues in the Pentagon, Fallon warned that the techniques under discussion would "shock the conscience of any legal body" that might review how the interrogations were conducted. "This looks like the kind of stuff Congressional hearings are made of," he wrote, adding, "Someone needs to be considering how history will look back at this." In October 2006, when MSNBC ran a major feature on various agencies' opposition to the administration's tactics -- which included a profile of Fallon -- his boss, Col. Brittain P. Mallow, the commander of the task force from 2002 to 2005, also spoke out. "No. 1, it's not going to work," Col. Mallow said. "No. 2, if it does work, it's not reliable. No. 3, it may not be legal, ethical or moral. No. 4, it's going to hurt you when you have to prosecute these guys. No. 5, sooner or later, all of this stuff is going to come to light, and you're going to be embarrassed."

Even more significant than the CITF's criticisms, however, was the opposition to the administration's policies that was waged by Alberto J. Mora, the head of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which, like the CITF, was also involved in non-violent intelligence gathering at Guantánamo. When Mora was informed about the Pentagon-sanctioned abuse that was taking place, he took his complaints to the highest levels, confronting both Donald Rumsfeld and William Haynes. His principled struggle -- which was ultimately unsuccessful -- was first reported in detail in another extraordinary New Yorker article by Jane Mayer in February 2006, and Mora also features heavily in the Academy Award-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, and in my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison.

On Tuesday, Alberto J. Mora appeared before the Senate committee, condemning the policies now apparently supported by John McCain with a clarity and indignation that should serve as a rallying cry to all decent Americans. Mora declared:

[O]ur Nation's policy decision to use so-called "harsh" interrogation techniques during the War on Terror was a mistake of massive proportions. It damaged and continues to damage our Nation in ways that appear never to have been considered or imagined by its architects and supporters, whose policy focus seems to have been narrowly confined to the four corners of the interrogation room. This interrogation policy -- which may aptly be labeled a "policy of cruelty" -- violated our founding values, our constitutional system and the fabric of our laws, our over-arching foreign policy interests, and our national security. The net effect of this policy of cruelty has been to weaken our defenses, not to strengthen them, and has been greatly contrary to our national interest.

He continued:

The United States was founded on the principle that every person -- not just each citizen -- possesses certain inalienable rights that no government, including our own, may violate. Among these rights is unquestionably the right to be free from cruel punishment or treatment, as is evidenced in part by the clear language of the Eighth Amendment and the constitutional jurisprudence of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. If we can apply the policy of cruelty to detainees, it is only because our Founders were wrong about the scope of inalienable rights. With the adoption of this policy our founding values necessarily begin to be redefined and our constitutional structure and the fabric of our legal system start to erode.

In conclusion, he added, "Albert Camus cautioned against nations fighting for their values against selecting those weapons whose very use would destroy those values. In this War on Terror, the United States is fighting for our values, and cruelty is such a weapon."

Are you listening, John McCain?


Monday, June 16, 2008

Obama vs. McCain: Differences That Matter

[John Pilger's "Continuing the Tradition - Obama is a Hawk" was recently published in the British New Statesman and circulated widely. It opposed those urging a vote for Obama.]

With All Respect,

John Pilger
Is Wrong

By Tom Hayden

John Pilger is one of my favorite critics in the world, but he’s very wrong on Barack Obama. Not all wrong, though.

Take Robert Kennedy. Pilger says RFK, like Obama, was “a senator with no achievements to his name.” What? He was US Attorney General during the Freedom Rides; after a token start, he became an important supporter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.. He initiated the community action programs that briefly offered hope until the Democratic establishment smothered them. His backdoor diplomacy defused the Cuban missile crisis. He raised hopes in South Africa through a controversial visit. We can disagree with these gestures, in whole or part, but to say RFK had “no achievements” is foolish by far.

Neither is it accurate to assert that Kennedy “continued to support [Vietnam] in private.” What is true is that he was ambivalent in private and public, but determined to reverse a policy that was sinking 500,000 troops in a quagmire. At worst, as president he would have embarked on a gradual de-escalation combined with diplomacy. Pilger’s clear implication is that Kennedy was faking his opposition to Vietnam to seduce the anti-war vote.

Pilger says Kennedy’s motive was to rescue the Democrats from the “threat of real change.” And so he visited Indian reservations, Appalachian hollows, hunger-striking California farmworkers, and the streets of Watts in a deceptive campaign filled with “vacuities.”

To believe this narrative is to deny the living examples of Ted Kennedy, Ethel Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, junior, and the leaders of black and latino communities who apparently continue the delusion of living out this pattern of “politricks” decade after decade.

Could Bobby Kennedy have been more antiwar? Yes? Was he too hopeful about the remedies to Bedford-Stuyvesant? Yes. But that doesn’t make him a vacuous politician peddling false hope. He would have appointed hundreds of progressives to civil rights, anti-trust, and anti-poverty offices, and been at least responsive to the winds of change which he himself helped to stimulate. For Pilger, it apparently wouldn’t matter if Kennedy, Humphrey or Nixon were president.

Now to Obama. It’s plain crazy to argue that Obama and John McCain are “almost united” on Iraq. It is a truism of politics that rival candidates tend toward the center to win uncommitted votes. That doesn’t obscure the obvious, that their differences on the Iraq war are wide and deep. Further, Pilger sees no differences between the two on domestic issues either. Why? Because Obama takes Wall Street money, apparently eclipsing the unprecedented sums his campaign has raised online.

For Pilger, tens of millions of Americans who either love or hate Obama are victims of mass manipulation, since Obama is neither their savior or enemy, but only another politician “exploiting the electoral power of delusion”...and so on.

Sorry for the unintended sarcasm, but there is an alternative to sitting on the sidelines waiting for people to wake up from their electoral fantasies.

It’s called

It’s a network for people who strongly support Obama, or Obama’s movement [myself], or who think Obama is the “best option”, or who simply want to stop McCain and the neo-conservative renaissance. Or people who believe it important to be engaged in mass movements.

We disagree on certain fundamentals with Obama, which is why we are independent of his campaign. We agree that his anti-war proposal will leave tens of thousands of Americans trying to carry out counterinsurgency in Iraq. We believe diplomacy, not escalation, is the best approach to Iran and Afghanistan. We believe deep revisions must be made to NAFTA, CAFTA, FTAA and WTO. Those policies must be reversed by the power of social movements, public opinion and the election of a more progressive Congress.

But we believe that Obama’s core constituency is a progressive one, and the new voters he excites will be progressive political activists for years to come. We believe that certain presidential appointments matter to the progressive movement, such as the US Supreme Court, the civil rights division of the Justice Department, labor standards enforcers, appointments to the Federal Communications Commission, and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. And more.

As far as I know, none of us believe that a new president is a substitute for the education, organizing and movement-building that is the primary force in progressive social change. But experience teaches that who is president matters. And this is a major point of difference with Pilger, whose belief is that [a] an Obama victory will be “liberalism’s last fling”, and [b] that if Obama wins, “domestic resistance to rapacious America will fall silent.”

It’s also possible that an Obama defeat will accelerate domestic resistance, based on a larger, angrier constituency than ever before, and they won’t be followers of those who sat by dismissing the Obama campaign. On the other hand, a November Obama victory, like the Obama primary victory, will energize a spirit that will lead to a new progressive cycle of organizing and movement building and trigger expectations that will surprise the new president.


Marking the End of the Right's Dominance

Photo: Yale's Immanuel Wallerstein

Obama's Victory:
How Big? How Far?

By Immanuel Wallerstein
Agence Global

June 15, 2008 - Let no one underestimate it. Barack Obama has won big. He has not only won the Democratic nomination for president. He is going to sweep the elections with a large majority of the Electoral College and a considerable increase in Democratic strength in both houses of the Congress. Before we analyze how far he will go, can go - that is, how much of a change this will actually mean - we must spell out how real is his electoral triumph.

In the long drawn-out contest between him and Hillary Clinton, both the polls and the results showed that each was stronger in certain categories of voters. Obama had greater strength among the younger, the more educated, the African-Americans of course, and the politically further left. But he also seemed more attractive to independent and Republican crossover voters. Clinton had greater strength among the older, the less educated voters, the women of course, the Latinos, and the politically more centrist.

However, the real decision was made by the superdelegates. And they voted on a quite different basis. They seemed convinced that he would be a stronger candidate, and could actually win in some traditionally Republican areas. Or even if he couldn't win a majority in these states, he could help Democratic candidates for Congress to win. It is quite striking that he drew strong support from superdelegates in precisely these states, many of whom were individually among the more centrist, least left-oriented Democratic leaders. Since these superdelegates were anchored in their local situations, they are telling us something of U.S. political realities of 2008.

I have just done an analysis comparing McCain's state by state strength in the latest polls and Bush's proportion of the actual votes in 2004. In 45 of the 50 states, McCain is weaker, often much weaker, than Bush was. And in the other five, he is about the same. Of course, if Bush had won a state by a large margin, McCain will still win it albeit by a smaller one. But in the states that were close in 2004, the tide is in Obama's favor.

Furthermore, we have to realize that McCain is currently at the top of his strength. The Democratic Party is now reunifying and hungry for winning. Obama will lose almost none of the traditional Democratic percentages among women and Jews. He will increase the national percentage among Latinos and will bring in a very large number of young people and African-Americans who otherwise would not have voted. He will also get the votes of the considerable number of independents and Republicans disillusioned with Bush. The people who will vote against Obama because he is African-American were almost all already going to vote Republican. This issue is behind him, not in front of him.

The Republicans, on the other hand, are still deeply divided and quite morose. The Christian right still doesn't trust McCain, and so far is dragging its feet. And we forget too easily the defection of the libertarians. Ron Paul is planning on a convention fight. And while he will of course lose it, his supporters are already disgruntled. With Bob Barr running on a Libertarian Party slate, many of Paul's supporters will vote for him. Barr may be to McCain in 2008 what Nader was to Gore in 2000 - just strong enough to deny him a few states. And in general, McCain's line on the plunging U.S. economy is going to lose him a lot of the support he counts on obtaining among so-called Reagan Democrats.

If one analyzes the situation in detail, state by state, the only state that voted Democratic in 2004 in which McCain seems to be competitive today is Michigan. The states that Bush won in 2004 in which Obama is competitive are numerous - Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, and maybe Nevada, North Carolina, and Montana. He's even doing well enough in Mississippi that Republicans will have to invest money and time campaigning there. If Obama won all the competitive states except Michigan, he'd have 310-333 electoral votes. He needs 270.

The picture looks even better in senatorial races, where Democrats might win in some states in which Obama cannot quite make it - for example, Kentucky, where the Republican minority leader in the Senate is in serious trouble in this very Republican state.

Now what will this mean? Obama is not planning some revolutionary turnabout in U.S. politics. He is surrounded by a lot of conventional Democratic politicians and advisors. But he will be swept into power by a wave of enthusiasm for change that the United States has not seen since Kennedy's election. True, there is only so much he can do on the world scene, despite the fact that he will be cheered on by the entire rest of the world. The global geopolitical anarchy is far beyond the control of any American president today.

But he will be pushed to make important changes within the United States. Of course, the very election of an African-American will represent a remarkable cultural change, and cannot fail to have a great impact. His electors will expect him to launch the equivalent of another New Deal internally - health care coverage, tax restructuring, job creation, salvaging the pensions. How much he can do depends in part on the global recession, which is largely beyond his control, but even so forceful leadership can play an important role up to a point. The example of Roosevelt shows us that.

The biggest unknown is how far he will go to dismantle the quasi-police state structures that the Bush regime has instituted under the umbrella of a war against terrorism. This involves far more than appointing better judges. It means a radical revising of both legislation and executive policies and exposing the ultra-secret rules and practices to the light of day. Much can be done, as we know from what was accomplished in the 1970s, reining in the CIA and the FBI. But the situation is worse now and requires more. History may well judge Obama most of all on what he does in this domain. Up to now, he has been quite silent about this arena.

Obama has won big. His election will mark - mark, not cause - the end of the counterrevolution of the world right of the 1980s. He has rekindled hope, and created space for a more progressive world. But this space is structurally cramped by the constraints of an ever more anarchic world-system. The basic question is not whether he will transform the world and/or restore U.S. leadership in the world-system - he will do neither - but whether he will do as much as it is possible to do in allowing us all to push our way forward. Even if this is less than the world might wish he could do.

[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write: Wallerstein is an early supporter of 'Progressives for Obama']


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Youth in Crisis - Obama Can Do Better

Photo: Fireflix2, Hip-Hop for Obama

Idle Hands:

Why America's

Youth Matter

By Jeff Chang
Huffington Post

June 10, 2008 - This summer could be the worst ever for teens looking for work, according to experts. Less than one in three youths may find summer jobs.
In recent years, the youth jobless rate has soared to record highs. In cities like Chicago, three in four teens, including seven in eight Black teens, did not work in 2006. But this summer could mark the highest level of youth joblessness since the end of World War II.

The shrinking economy and rising unemployment rates are to blame, as laid-off workers compete with young people for shrinking piece of the pie. Budget cuts have led to the ending of federal, state, and city youth jobs programs.

But the biggest problem is a lack of political interest.

Earlier this year, George W. Bush and Democratic Congressional leadership killed a $1 billion proposal to create youth jobs. At the same time, the Justice Department gave a $500,000 grant to a George H.W. Bush- chaired golf program supposedly meant to stop juvenile crime.

"We need something really attractive to engage the gangs and the street kids," the Justice Department's administrator was quoted as saying. "Golf is the hook."

Dozens of other effective programs were denied. Many grants were disbursed via affirmative action for friends of the administration, the domestic equivalent of handing out no-bid work to firms for "Iraqi reconstruction".

It was still more proof that politicians have neither a clue nor a care as to how to really address the needs of young Americans.

The team at Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies has been trying to call attention to the historic rise in youth joblessless. But in a recent shocking, but sadly not-yet-influential report, they posed the question right in the title: "Does Anybody Care?" The issue has not been raised in any of the presidential debates.

But the Center's researchers say the developing trend represents nothing less than "the collapse of the teen job market". They sketch the problem in starkest terms for youth of color. Even the poorest white teens are more likely to find work than the wealthiest Black teens. Wealthy white teens are two and a half times more likely to be employed than the poorest Black teens, whose employment rate was merely 18.9% last summer.

They write, "Low income, Black and Hispanic teens face the equivalent of a Great Depression."

Bob Herbert from the New York Times outlined the consequences in a recent editorial: There are four million or more of these so-called disconnected youths across the country. They hang out on street corners in cities large and small --

and increasingly in suburban and rural areas. If you ask how they survive from day to day, the most likely response is: "I hustle," which could mean anything from giving haircuts in a basement to washing a neighbor's car to running the occasional errand.

Or it could mean petty thievery or drug dealing or prostitution or worse. To the hip-hop generation--and the authorities charged with containing it--this is all hardly news.

Violent crime rates, which have taken disturbing leaps in some inner cities over the past few years, tend to rise during the summer. Idle hands are the devil's tools. But this is an extreme--and simplistic--way to understand a deep problem.

Experts make an economic argument. Idled hands mean less productivity for the nation. Idled minds mean decreased competitiveness in the global economy now and in the future.

There is another argument: youths who want work and cannot find it are being sent the wrong message. Is this a country that really respects hard work if it places no value on creating work?

Indeed, what message does this nation want to send its young? John F. Kennedy famously implored a new generation not to ask what their country could do for them, but to ask what they could do for their country. In 1963, he followed up with a wide-ranging address outlining the nation's responsibility to its young. In it, he discussed the creation of the Peace Corps, a National Service Corps, and a youth jobs program. He said, "The future promise of any nation can be directly measured by the present prospects of its youth."

What does it mean that, almost a half century later, young Americans face record rates of joblessness?

Since the '60s, youth policy has less often been discussed in terms of harnessing energies, than in terms of suppressing problems. There has been a massive shift towards harsher criminal and juvenile justice policies. The stunning rise in youth joblessness is a symptom of a larger national neglect, a neglect that is interrupted only by--ironic at best, disingenuous at worst--episodes of hand-wringing over young people's corruptibility and directionlessness. Punishment, it seems, has been the only coherent national youth policy since Kennedy.

Senator McCain, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been mostly silent on these issues, save vows to clean up the student loan mess. But even Senator Obama, who has clearly benefited by the enthusiasm of the young and who understands perhaps better than any politician youths' skepticism toward politics, has not yet outlined a place for them in his vision of America.

He supports focusing closely on job development and student achievement in 20 impoverished areas, what he calls "Promise Neighborhoods". More intriguingly, he backs a program of green-collar jobs for inner-city youths first pioneered by hip-hop activists in the Bay Area. But even these worthy programs are hardly more than a drop in the bucket, and don't by themselves add up to anything close to a national youth policy.

Senator Obama knows that the creative energies of young people can never be underestimated. In his interview with Vibe last year, he noted that hip-hop is a vast make-work project, a way of harnessing and channeling vast energies of young people. (This is partly why the up-by-the-bootstraps mythology--a narrative easily twisted into a celebration of consumerism that demagogues are then quick to criticize--has become so deeply interwoven into hip-hop culture.) But how could hip-hop be enough to reverse Great Depression-sized problems?

After four decades of the politics of abandonment and containment, now is the time for the presidential candidates to recognize young Americans are more than just a vote to be courted through late-night TV, more than a wellspring of videos, posters, music, and art, more than just an enthusiastic rally crowd. Inspiration has been good, hope has been good, but both are not good enough.

The candidates must put young America to work, and involve the rest of us in taking full measure of the future promise of our nation.

[Books by this author: Dreams Dreams by Jeff Chang, Generosity by Jeff Chang; Jeff is also part of 'Progressives for Obama']


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