Thursday, July 31, 2008

Empire Through the Athens-Sparta Prism

Photo: The Unconquered Afghans

Dilemma: Warriors
or Statesman?

By Tom Hayden

ATHENS, July 30, 2008 - As Barack Obama swept Europe politically this week, my vantage point was the ancient Agora of Athens, where I could muse whether the young conquerer might become more Athenian or Spartan.

Athens today still evokes a powerful historical parallel with the present American experience. Here, more than 2,000 years ago, an open participatory democracy was born, with lasting artistic, scientific and philosophic achievements, but in tandem with a system of slave labor. Obama strides the same historical contradiction.

The city-state of Sparta, on the other hand, birthed today’s military ideal, turning young boys into warrior-patriots, becoming the vanguard of “the 300” against the Persian advance at Thermopolae, but eventually succumbing to decay as their hyper-militarism led to over-extension.

The parallels between the Athenian Obama and the Spartan John McCain [and his neo-conservative allies] seem obvious.

After George Bush and the Iraq War, the vast majority of Greeks and Europeans long for the restoration of democratic, free-thinking Athens – with the Harvard scholar Obama symbolizing the overcoming the legacy of a slave-state underclass. Instead of Spartan militarism, and its echoes in Pax Romana, Nicolo Machiavelli, or Pax Americana, the dream here is of a Pax Humana led by Barack Obama. The "new Athenian" will have to negotiate with the modern Persians, not fight them at a modern Thermopolae.

The Republican incarnation of the Spartans is seen here as an insanely-dangerous neo-conservative faction attempting to hold off the terrorist throngs at a new Thermopolae, somewhere near the Khyber Pass. Sparta's vanguard units in those times were known as the Crypteria, which roughly translates as "special ops brigade." The hard lessons learned at Thermopolae, however, have been ignored by neo-conservative discourse, including the recent Hollywood film glorifying Sparta's 300.

The Greek worldview is helpful here, in permitting a distinction between the Mythic Obama and the Literal Obama. The rapture in Europe is for the mythic Obama, whose candidacy suggests a possible transcendence of the world's woes over racism and immigration. But support for Obama's insistence that Europe join America in sending thousands of troops to Afghanistan, in a new, aggressive combat mission, meets with heavy resistance even among hard-core Obama supporters.

“The bottom line is an abhorrence with Bush”, says Spyros Draenos, a Greek researcher writing a history of the 1960s’ Greek reformer, Andreas Papandreou, overthrown and imprisoned with the cooperation of the American CIA. Draenos’ familiarity with the sadness of modern history places him as an interested, but by no means passionate, supporter of the Illinois senator who was two years old when the Greek generals jailed Papandreou and installed a dictatorship in 1967.

“But that leaves open the question of why the fascination with Obama”, Draenos admits. “We are in awe of the fact that a black could be elected president of the US, because America is so associated with racism. Yet underneath the deep anti-US sentiment here is a desire to believe. Back in the Sixties it was the same, it was the rise of a movement among those who were disillusioned pro-Americans.”

Obama is likely to be mistaken in his stated belief that his popularity in Europe will translate into support for more combat troops in Afganistan. Here the Mythic Obama faces the real world. There is little European desire to shed blood in Afghanistan or Pakistan, not even among the British who carved the two countries into existence. Those are seen as reputational interests of the American superpower, not global interests in securing peace. ***The literal Obama would have fared better in Europe if he had acknowledged America’s stakes in Pakistan’s garment sweatshops, which receive privileged trade status, or America’s tolerance of Afghanistan's monopoly on opium.***

Dreanos notes his “amazement that young people here are actually following Obama when he makes compromises, and asking the same questions” as the older, more critical generation. “There is an underlying cynicism” that Obama has not yet addressed, “about America playing a different role in the world” from the Middle East to Afghanistan. “The Greeks are fatalistic about getting ***f-d over”*** by a varied series of masters, he bluntly says. They are not likely to understand the imperial goal of dying in Afghanistan. They think they have been here before, for centuries.

As Obama made his near-perfect pitch, for example, a top US official was confirming European skepticism by writing in the New York Times that Afghanistan is a “virtual narco-state” with collusion at “the top of government” and complete indifference from the Pentagon. [NYT, Global, July 25, 2008]. From any perspective, Obama’s proposal is to join a coalition in quagmire, a token form of Spartan resolve, designed to protect him through the next American election.

Obama also is asking NATO to sign up for combat, not peacekeeping, in the global war on terrorism [GWOT, in original Pentagon terminology], a haunting reminder of Greece’s experience with the first CIA subversion of a European government under the cover of the fledgling NATO.

In brief, Communist-led nationalist forces would have defeated the Nazis and taken power in 1944 were it not for British military intervention, a task soon handed off to the Americans. It is not clear what an anti-Nazi victory of the Left would have meant for Greece, but it is known that the Soviet Union left the Greek partisans on their own. As a result, a radical and turbulent Greece came under NATO control, with a royalist government that included an army, police and civil service purged of anyone suspected of anti-monarchist or left-wing sympathies.

In the Cold War dichotomy, neutralism was unacceptable to the Americans, a policy that foreshadowed the Bush/GWOT era’s pronouncements that governments and parties were “either for us or against us.” But the Greek passions for national sovereignty and social justice gave rise to a Center-Left resistance led by George Papandreaou and his son, the American-educated economist Andreas [and his Chicago-born wife Margaret] in the early Sixties. Following the US-supported overthrow of the democratically-elected governments of Iran, Guatemala and Brazil, the "colonels' coup" in Greece was a preview of the violent overthrow of the Chilean government in 1973. In those years, right-wing generals seemed to be the solution to the rise of neutralism and non-alignment. The hubris was astounding, as recently-declassified CIA and State Department documents, never before reported in America’s mainstream media, reveal:

According to a CIA cable of January 21, 1965, retrieved from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, “the [Greek] king believes that the [Papandreaou] government’s move to the left and the apparent rise of leftist activity are dangerous developments and that preventive action should begin now.” And further: “the king wants Papandreou’s image destroyed…but he does not want to become involved or blamed if the attacks fail.” Another document, dated September 5, 1965, stated that the American "embassy has concluded George Papandreou's return to power should be avoided if this can be done without a direct and open confrontation with him."

A memo drafted by the CIA station chief in Athens concluded that "the anti-monarchists [led by Papandreou] would draw some 70 to 80 percent of the vote." The CIA reported favorably on articles by the New York Time's C.L. Sulzberger "highly critical of Andreas Papandreou and his father [as] a fair reflection of the U.S. [government view and were probably inspired by U.S. officials. [NYT, July 28, Aug. 4,5,6,1965]

Andreas Papandreou was an unlikely reformer or revolutionary, but a Greek patriot who sought alternatives to the Cold War divisions. Chairman of the economics faculty at UC Berkeley, he blended Greek destiny with the Sixties’szeitgeist.
He was closely aligned with the Galbraithean wing of the Kennedy administration, and ***later*** with more progressive economists like Stanley Sheinbaum, then extricating himself from a CIA-funded Vietnam police training program at Michigan State University.

Like Obama, Andreas Papandreou developed what he called a “mystagogical” relationship with his fervent audiences at mass rallies in Greece. Despite a 53 percent electoral mandate for his father's Center Union coalition, its ascendance was destabilized, thwarted and ultimately overthrown by a Greek junta with CIA support in 1967***. Andreas Papandreau’s life was saved by the passionate intervention by Americans like Sheinbaum. President Johnson told Arthur Schlesinger at the time that he ordered that the Greeks “not kill that son of a bitch”, according to later interviews and documents.

After being released from prison, Andreas Papandreou came to power on a democratic electoral tide in the 1980s. Ten years earlier he had written a prophetic book, Democracy at Gunpoint: The Greek Front, which contains a compelling challenge to today’s humanitarian hawks gathering around the Obama candidacy.

Caught between two powers [then the Cold War, now the Global War on Terrorism], Papandreou wrote that “democracy is indeed at the gunpoint; and the sooner that the democratic, progressive forces of the world perceive that situation, the greater is the chance that the trigger will not be pulled.”

I visited Papandreou’s widow, the American-born former first lady of Greece, at her shoreline home in Corinth as Obama passed through Europe last week. Now 85, Margaret Papandreou remains a charismatic proponent of human rights, particularly women’s rights, on a global basis. She finds Obama, a resident of her native city of Chicago, a fascinating new force in global politics. But aware of the haunted chapters of the Papandreou’s progressive legacy, she wonders aloud if Obama can achieve his idealistic origins, become more Athenian than Spartan.

Wishing him well and not waiting for a Delphic oracle, she already is planning conferences on how to organize community leadership for the next generation. She hopes to contact the Obama organizers for their advice.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

If You Want to Win, Don't Play McCain's Game

An Open
Letter From
The Nation

Dear Senator Obama:

We write to congratulate you on the tremendous achievements of your campaign for the presidency of the United States.

Your candidacy has inspired a wave of political enthusiasm like nothing seen in this country for decades. In your speeches, you have sketched out a vision of a better future--in which the United States sheds its warlike stance around the globe and focuses on diplomacy abroad and greater equality and freedom for its citizens at home--that has thrilled voters across the political spectrum. Hundreds of thousands of young people have entered the political process for the first time, African-American voters have rallied behind you, and many of those alienated from politics-as-usual have been re-engaged.

You stand today at the head of a movement that believes deeply in the change you have claimed as the mantle of your campaign. The millions who attend your rallies, donate to your campaign and visit your website are a powerful testament to this new movement's energy and passion.

This movement is vital for two reasons: First, it will help assure your victory against John McCain in November. The long night of greed and military adventurism under the Bush Administration, which a McCain administration would continue, cannot be brought to an end a day too soon. An enthusiastic corps of volunteers and organizers will ensure that voters turn out to close the book on the Bush era on election day. Second, having helped bring you the White House, the support of this movement will make possible the changes that have been the platform of your campaign. Only a grassroots base as broad and as energized as the one that is behind you can counteract the forces of money and established power that are a dead weight on those seeking real change in American politics.

We urge you, then, to listen to the voices of the people who can lift you to the presidency and beyond.

Since your historic victory in the primary, there have been troubling signs that you are moving away from the core commitments shared by many who have supported your campaign, toward a more cautious and centrist stance--including, most notably, your vote for the FISA legislation granting telecom companies immunity from prosecution for illegal wiretapping, which angered and dismayed so many of your supporters.

We recognize that compromise is necessary in any democracy. We understand that the pressures brought to bear on those seeking the highest office are intense. But retreating from the stands that have been the signature of your campaign will weaken the movement whose vigorous backing you need in order to win and then deliver the change you have promised.

Here are key positions you have embraced that we believe are essential to sustaining this movement:

§Withdrawal from Iraq on a fixed timetable.

§A response to the current economic crisis that reduces the gap between the rich and the rest of us through a more progressive financial and welfare system; public investment to create jobs and repair the country's collapsing infrastructure; fair trade policies; restoration of the freedom to organize unions; and meaningful government enforcement of labor laws and regulation of industry.

§Universal healthcare.

§An environmental policy that transforms the economy by shifting billions of dollars from the consumption of fossil fuels to alternative energy sources, creating millions of green jobs.

§An end to the regime of torture, abuse of civil liberties and unchecked executive power that has flourished in the Bush era.

§A commitment to the rights of women, including the right to choose abortion and improved access to abortion and reproductive health services.

§A commitment to improving conditions in urban communities and ending racial inequality, including disparities in education through reform of the No Child Left Behind Act and other measures.

§An immigration system that treats humanely those attempting to enter the country and provides a path to citizenship for those already here.

§Reform of the drug laws that incarcerate hundreds of thousands who need help, not jail.

§Reform of the political process that reduces the influence of money and corporate lobbyists and amplifies the voices of ordinary people.

These are the changes we can believe in. In other areas--such as the use of residual forces and mercenary troops in Iraq, the escalation of the US military presence in Afghanistan, the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the death penalty--your stated positions have consistently varied from the positions held by many of us, the "friends on the left" you addressed in recent remarks. If you win in November, we will work to support your stands when we agree with you and to challenge them when we don't. We look forward to an ongoing and constructive dialogue with you when you are elected President.

Stand firm on the principles you have so compellingly articulated, and you may succeed in bringing this country the change you've encouraged us to believe is possible.

Here is a list of early signatories to this open letter:

Rocky Anderson

Moustafa Bayoumi

Norman Birnbaum Professor Emeritus
Georgetown University Law Center

Tim Carpenter
Progressive Democrats of America

John Cavanaugh, director
Institute for Policy Studies

Juan Cole

Chuck Collins

Phil Donahue

Barbara Ehrenreich

Tom Engelhardt

Jodie Evans, co-f0under
CODEPINK: Women for Peace

Thomas Ferguson

Bill Fletcher Jr., executive editor,

Eric Foner

Milton Glaser

Robert Greenwald

William Greider

Jane Hamsher

Tom Hayden

Christopher Hayes

Richard Kim

Stuart Klawans

Bill McKibben

Walter Mosley

Richard Parker, president
Americans for Democratic Action

Gary Phillips
Writer and activist

Jon Pincus and member of Get FISA Right

Chip Pitts

Frances Piven

Elizabeth Pochoda

Katha Pollitt

Marcus Raskin

Betsy Reed

Bob Scheer

Herman Schwartz

Jonathan Schell

Gene Seymour

David Sirota

Norman Solomon
Author and Obama delegate to Democratic National Convention

Mike Stark

Jean Stein

Matt Stoller

Jonathan Tasini

Zephyr Teachout

Studs Terkel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Gore Vidal

David Weir

Howard Zinn

Add your name to the Open Letter calling on Barack Obama to stand firm on the principles he so compellingly articulated in the primary campaign.


Monday, July 28, 2008

War Economy: Lessons for Obama, Too

The War,
and McCain

Nathan Gardels
& Joseph Stiglitz

In the following interview, Nobel laureate Joe Stiglitz talks about how the economy has replaced Iraq as the central issue in the presidential campaign, but how the two are closely related.

Nathan Gardels: The American economy, teetering toward recession or worse, has replaced the war in Iraq as the key issue in the presidential campaign. What is the link between U.S. economic woes and the war in Iraq?

Joseph Stiglitz: The war has led directly to the U.S. economic slowdown. First, before the U.S. went to war with Iraq, the price of oil was $25 a barrel. It's now $100 a barrel.
While there are other factors involved in this price rise, the Iraq war is clearly a major factor.

Already factoring in growing demand for energy from India and China, the futures markets projected before the war that oil would remain around $23 a barrel for at least a decade. It is the war and volatility it has caused, along with the falling dollar due to low interest rates and the huge trade deficit, that accounts for much of the difference.

That higher price means that the billions that would have been in the pockets of Americans to spend at home have been flowing out to Saudi Arabia and other oil exporters.

Second, money spent on Iraq doesn't stimulate the economy at home. If you hire a Filipino contractor to work in Iraq, you don't get the multiplier effect of someone building a road or a bridge in Missouri.

Third, this war, unlike any other war in American history, has been entirely financed by deficits. Deficits are a worry because, in the end, they crowd out investment and pile up debt that has to be paid in the future. That hurts productivity because little is left over either for public-sector investment in research, education and infrastructure or private-sector investment in machines and factories.

Until very recently, we haven't sharply felt these three factors depressing the economy because the Federal Reserve Bank responded with the attitude that they must keep the economy going no matter how much President Bush spends on the Iraq war. Seeing a weak economy, they kept interest rates low, flooded the economy with liquidity and looked the other way when bad home-lending practices were shoveling money out the door. Regulation was lax. The spigot was wide open. More than $1.5 trillion was taken out of houses in mortgage equity withdrawals alone over the past five years! That is a huge amount of money to be spent.

At the same time, the U.S. savings rates plummeted to zero. So everything that was being spent, from rebuilding Iraq to redecorating the home, was on borrowed money. All the problems were papered over by borrowing. The bubble ultimately burst when the ratio of housing prices to income -- that is, what people whose incomes are falling could afford -- was no longer sustainable.

Now that we can see beyond the bubble, the economic weakness caused by the Iraq war will be fully exposed. And we'll pay for it in spades -- you might say, with interest.

Gardels: One of the bizarre occurrences of globalization is that the Chinese, who opposed the Iraq war at the U.N., have ended up as a major financier of that war by purchasing U.S. Treasury bonds with the huge dollar reserves they've earned from their trade surplus with the U.S. So, a consumer democracy with no savings borrows from a market-Leninist state to combat terrorism and hold free elections in the first Shiite government in an Arab state in 800 years!
How will we sort it all out?

Stiglitz: And the American people haven't a clue about what they are supporting, which undermines democracy at home as well.

The ironies don't stop there. This is the first American war since the Revolutionary War that has been financed from abroad. At the beginning of every other war, there was real public discourse about which costs should be put on future generations and which should be paid today -- in taxes. This is the first war where we have (BEGIN ITALICS) lowered taxes (END ITALICS) as we went to war.

The Iraq war has not only been financed by foreigners, but it is also the most privatized war in American history. And the results are egregious. For example, a security contractor -- I'm not talking about sophisticated engineers here -- makes well over $1,000 a day, often more than $400,000 a year. A person in the U.S. Army gets paid a fraction of that amount -- about $40,000 annually -- for performing the same tasks. Everybody knows any workplace where one person makes 10 times what the other one does for doing the same job is a recipe for discontent. So, in order to attract soldiers, the U.S. Army has increased sign-up bonuses. We're competing with ourselves! And that raises costs all around.

But that is not the end of the absurdity. On top of that, the U.S. taxpayer is paying disability and death insurance for the contractor, but then the insurance policies exempt paying in the circumstances of "hostilities." Who are we buying insurance for? The taxpayer, then, is essentially paying the insurance companies for nothing. Talk about a sweet deal!

Gardels: What is the big picture in terms of America's economic reckoning with the Iraq war?

Stiglitz: The big picture is that, by our most conservative estimates, this war has cost an almost unimaginable $3 trillion. A more realistic estimate, however, is closer to $5 trillion once you include all the downstream "off budget costs" of long-term veteran benefits and treatment, the costs of restoring the now depleted military to its pre-war strength, the considerable costs of actually withdrawing from Iraq and repositioning forces elsewhere in the region.

Then there are the micro costs. For example, if a solider gets killed, his family gets a $500,000 lifetime payment. That is not included in the public budget when the costs of the war are considered.

These costs are real and are not going away. You can't continue to sweep them under the rug. Like your credit card bill, the costs only grow greater if you ignore them.

Finally, anybody who says we ought to stay in Iraq for even another four years, no less the next 100 years, as John McCain has suggested, has to honestly tell the American people how they are going to pay the $12 billion-a-month bill. Where are we going to come up with another $1.2 trillion? And is that going to make America more secure?

Let's get out sooner rather than later. Above all, let's stop fantasizing. It's those fantasies that got us in trouble.

Gardels: In your view, is this economic mess a result of the neo-con fantasy or a conscious cover-up by the Bush administration to hide the costs from the American public?

Stiglitz: Both. It was a neo-con fantasy that we'd be greeted with garlands. We'd only be responsible for cleaning up the rose petals. Iraqi oil would pay for everything else.

It was also a deliberate attempt to hide the costs from the American people. How else could you justify not providing the American troops with the equipment they need? How else could you justify not giving the Veterans (Benefits) Administration what they need to treat the disabilities of our heroic soldiers who have been both physically and psychologically maimed by this war? That can only be interpreted as a deliberate attempt to hide the real costs of war -- at the expense of weakening our armed forces, which have been debilitated. The Bush administration has put short-run political advantage ahead of the security of the country.

Gardels: The economic costs have now come back to undermine the whole post-9/11 security effort. When John McCain says he's not interested in and doesn't understand the economic aspect of things, and only knows about how to keep America safe, what does that say about his leadership capability?

Stiglitz: If he doesn't understand the economy, he doesn't understand security. If we had infinite resources, we might be able to have perfect security. But America, like every other country, has resource constraints. That means you need to be smart -- that is, economic -- about the money we spend. If you weaken the American economy, you won't be able to find the resources you need for security. The two cannot be separated.

[Joseph Stiglitz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2001. He is the author, with Linda Bilmes, of The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of The Iraq Conflict, just published in the U.S. ]


Friday, July 25, 2008

Afghanistan Needs Rethinking, Not Refining

Warns Obama
on Afghanistan

Seth Colter Walls
Huffington Post

All of a sudden, everyone seems to be in favor of sending more troops to Afghanistan. As Barack Obama encourages Europeans to dispatch more NATO forces and John McCain says that U.S. troops could be sent in greater numbers, the idea that a bigger military footprint is needed has become something of a consensus in the political mainstream.

But Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski is not on board -- though it's not the first time President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser has cast a skeptic's eye on the usefulness of dispatching great numbers of troops to the country.

In an famous 1998 interview with France's Le Nouvel Observateur, Brzezinski admitted his own role in funding Afghanistan's Mujahadeen in 1979, thereby "increasing the probability" that the Soviets would invade a tough, demoralizing, mountainous theater for combat.

And it's with a similar perspective that Brzezinski now doubts the that the answer to what ails Afghanistan is more troops.

"I think we're literally running the risk of unintentionally doing what the Russians did. And that, if it happens, would be a tragedy," Brzezinski told the Huffington Post on Friday. "When we first went into Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban, we were actually welcomed by an overwhelming majority of Afghans. They did not see us as invaders, as they saw the Soviets."

However, Brzezinski noted that just as the Soviets were able to delude themselves that they had a loyal army of communist-sympathizers who would transform the country, the U.S.-led forces may now be making similar mistakes. He said that the conduct of military operations "with little regard for civilian casualties" may accelerate the negative trend in local public opinion regarding the West's role. "It's just beginning, but it's significant," Brzezinski said.

His own program for improving the state of affairs in Afghanistan -- where U.S. casualties have surpassed those in Iraq for two months now -- revolves around pragmatism. He believes Europe should bribe Afghan farmers not to produce poppies used for heroin since "it all ends up in Europe." Moreover, he thinks the tribal warlords can be bought off with bribes, with the endgame being the isolation of Al-Qaeda from a Taliban that is "not a united force, not a world-oriented terrorist movement, but a real Afghan phenomenon."

Brzezinski, who has endorsed Obama, was far more critical of a few figures now surrounding McCain, who he suggested were pushing the presumptive GOP nominee towards a radical foreign policy on issues such as Iran.

"Well, if McCain is president and if his Secretary of State is Joe Lieberman and his Secretary of Defense is [Rudolph] Giuliani, we will be moving towards the World War IV that they have been both favoring and predicting," he said, calling that an "appalling concept" (and adding that by their lights, the Cold War counted as World War III). "So it depends on who are the principal officers. If it's [Richard] Armitage, or if it were to be Brent Scowcroft, I think it would be very different."

Asked who he would like to see in a potential Obama cabinet, Brzezinski said: "I think [Sen. Chuck] Hagel. I would like to see a bipartisan cabinet. I think we need one very badly -- and we did well in the Cold War when we had one. I would say Hagel and [Sen. Dick] Lugar would be very good Republicans [for Obama]." He also cited Sen. Joe Biden as a potential Secretary of State, in which case it would also be possible to "keep [Secretary of Defense Bob] Gates in the job for a few months."

Brzezinski said such a cabinet would be an important step in redressing the increased partisanship of foreign affairs in recent years, adding: "I think there is a tendency, because of the very complexity of the issues, for solutions to become polarized and more extreme. ... Republicans move toward neocon-ish formulas, and Democrats [follow] idealistically escapist formulas. In either case you don't end up with the necessary mix of idealism and realism."


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Photo: Chicago Tabloid

A Referendum
on Obama?
..And on Us!

By Don Rose
Chicago Observer

A Republican strategist was quoted recently saying if the presidential race is about McCain he loses--if it's about Obama, then McCain has a chance.

That's another way of saying this race is a referendum on Obama. Or, to put it as another friend did, it's Obama's to lose.

Thus far he's winning. But before Obamaniacs or other Dems revel too joyously in the thought, there are two points to remember:

1. It ain't over 'til it's over, four months from now.

2. Obama continues to run substantially worse than the hypothetical generic Democrat, meaning the public has not yet fully made up its mind about him.

Which is to say that if the candidate were, say, John Edwards or any such substantial white guy it would, for all practical purposes, be over right now.

I might add that if Sen. Hillary Clinton were the candidate, the race would be a referendum on her, though the panoply of issues that separate them might be different.

I warned earlier that all polling to date must be taken with large doses of salt, but one pattern has been fairly consistent: Obama's lead has ranged from roughly 4 to 8 points while the generic Democratic vote this time around ranges from 10 to 12.

Democrats hold the edge on just about every issue: the economy, health care, the wars, energy, education and all their subgroupings-though the GOP still comes close or ties on terrorism/national security matters.

Obama holds the edge on McCain on most of these except the constellation of experience/commander-in-chiefship/terror. Hardly surprising, even for many Democrats to think this way. This gap may close substantially as a result of Obama's currently successful tour of the Middle East (which is only half over as I write this). McCain, after all, has been around a long time and continues to bask in his long-ago reputation as a maverick. In the public eye he is a war hero. He has a lot of experience--though certainly his judgment and deportment are open to question.

Obama could have made hay on his superior judgment, say, in opposing the war, but his judgment on associates such as Rev. Wright and Tony Rezko sort of blunts that issue in the public perception.

On energy, McCain has a significant advantage with his focus on coastal drilling and a gas-tax holiday--both totally phony solutions, but highly popular. Obama's refusal to pander here works to his disadvantage.

There are other readily explainable reasons why Obama runs behind the generic Democrat: His exotic background--African father, Indonesian schooling, oddball middle-name and so forth also come into play. Yes, the phony charge that he is a secret Muslim understandably thrives in that medium like fungi in a Petri dish. Remember the huge numbers of people who still think the 9/11 terrorists came from Saddam Hussein's Iraq?

Nevertheless, Obama clings to a mid-single-digit lead in the national polls both because he is a Democrat and an otherwise supremely gifted and charismatic politician with a superb organization. Even more heartening for Democrats, in the state-by-state polls to date he stands at the brink of a possible electoral landslide. (I will deal with these prospects in a later column.) As the weeks go by and he becomes better known, he can narrow more and more of the margin McCain holds on him in certain areas.

Conversely, McCain's and other Republican attacks could exacerbate his problems and even cause new ones.

Which gets us down to the real, still largely unspoken question of race. There are still loads and loads of Democrats and independents who are unlikely to vote for him because of what still remains what Gunnar Myrdal called 'the American dilemma'.

That is the real referendum on Obama. More importantly, it's a referendum on us.

[Don Rose is a Chicago political consultant, and active in Chicagoans Against War and Injustice]


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

McCain Desperate Over Obama Trip

Photo: With Troops in Iraq

Barack on Tour:
Taking Global
Victory Laps

By John Nichols
The Nation blog

July 22, 2008

What was John McCain thinking?

Did the Republican who would be president really think that by goading Democrat Barack Obama into visiting Afghanistan and Iraq -- countries the senator from Illinois was going to have to visit as part of an image-building international tour -- he would somehow trip-up his November rival?

Was McCain under some delusion that international leaders would subtly undermine the Obama tour and thus confirm that the Republican ally of discredited lame- duck President George Bush was the only real choice to lead the United States toward a more realistic role in the world?

If that was the case, then McCain really is too foolish to be president -- not merely of the U.S. but of his stamp club.

Type rest of the post here
As Obama goes from strength to strength -- sinking baskets, drawing cheers from the troops, forging a plan to extract most U.S. forces from Iraq that everyone who matters seems to agree with -- McCain is scrambling.

Of course, it is true that Obama is too open to a wider U.S. commitment in Afghanistan and too closed to a wider U.S. commitment to seeking peace in the Middle East. But, in each case, he appears moderate when compared to the bombastic McCain.

Of course, it is true that Obama may be making commitments that he cannot keep. But the Democrat's overreach does not begin to rival that of the Republican -- a fact that is coming across to the American people who, if tracking polls are correct, are warming to Obama with each passing day of an international journal that looks less like a listening tour than a victory lap.

What's a McCain to do?

The Republican appears to be thinking about trying to trump Obama, not with some foreign-policy masterstroke but with some old-fashioned politics.

McCain has been meeting on an almost daily basis with Republican vice presidential prospects -- former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was with the candidate Sunday, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal will be with him Wednesday. There have been lengthy conversations with long-shot Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, and with the man whose name many believe is at the top of the list of likely suspects: former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Syndicated columnist Robert Novak claims that McCain will make a vice presidential pick quickly. "Sources close to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign are suggesting he will reveal the name of his vice presidential selection this week while Sen. Barack Obama is getting the headlines on his foreign trip," argues Novak.

Is it really possible that McCain would use a vice presidential designation to grab some cheap headlines away from Obama? Possible, yes. The Republican contender is desperate; he's falling behind in state- by-state surveys and there is every reason to believe Obama will enjoy a big bump from his global positioning.

But the key word here is "possible." McCain's aides are torn about whether making a vice presidential pick now is the best idea. While such a move would counter Obama's surge, picking a running-mate now would require the Republican contender to play the best card he's got early in the game. McCain would own the news cycle, but once the excitement fades -- as it surely would if someone like Romney was the pick -- he has very little with which to compete with Obama for attention.

That could make for a long, hot August for McCain, culminating with Obama's rock-star finish to the Democratic nominating convention in Denver.

Still, July is turning into a miserable month for McCain. And misery loves company.


Monday, July 21, 2008

McCain's War on Women

A McCain Vote
Is Insanity
For Feminists

By Kate Sheppard

July 21, 2008 - Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) campaign and the media would have us believe that herds of disaffected women voters will be stampeding to the Republicans this year because a woman candidate won't be on the presidential ballot in November.

McCain's campaign has been making a clear play for women voters in recent weeks, hosting conference calls with Republican women and touting that his policies on national security, the economy and healthcare appeal to women voters.

But the suggestion that women -- and feminist women, at that -- will be lining up behind him is a fairytale. At least, it should be. McCain's record and policies on issues of importance to women are neither moderate nor maverick.

In The Nation, Katha Pollitt put it simply: "[T]o vote for McCain, a feminist would have to be insane."

But the chatter about the voting decisions of former presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) supporters continues. Much of the recent talk has focused on PUMAs (the acronym stands for "Party Unity My Ass"), a group supposedly so angry about the Democratic primary that they won't vote for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). But as blogger Amanda Marcotte reported, PUMA PAC was started by a McCain donor, according to the Federal Election Commission.

That doesn't mean there aren't angry Clinton voters. But the number of progressive or even moderate voters who would seriously consider voting for McCain is much smaller than the media would have you believe. Unfortunately, McCain's propaganda seems to be working, at least on those who aren't aware of his record on issues of concern to women voters.

A February Planned Parenthood poll of 1,205 women voters in 16 battleground states found that 50 percent of women voters don't know McCain's position on abortion, and that 49 percent of women who backed McCain were pro-choice. Forty-six percent of women supporting McCain said they'd like to see Roe v. Wade upheld -- though McCain says he supports overturning the decision. When they learned of his position on Roe, 36 percent of women who identified as both pro-choice and likely McCain voters said they would be less likely to vote for him.

These moderate, often suburban, middle-class women could be critical swing voters this election. At the time of the Planned Parenthood poll, Obama held only a 5 percentage-point margin over McCain with its swing-state demographic, 41 percent to 36 percent.

Planned Parenthood concludes that these findings suggest "that just filling in McCain's actual voting record and his publicly stated positions on a handful of key issues has the potential to diminish his total vote share among battleground women voters by about 17 to 20 percentage points."

"The only reason [McCain is] saying he's going after Clinton voters is because if he doesn't win their votes, he's not going to win this election," says Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. "Even though I think it's a real wash-up for him, he's got to find some more voters somewhere. That's the political math here."

On the record

One reason many pro-choice women are confused about McCain is because he has flip-flopped on the abortion issue.

In 1999, McCain said he backed Roe: "Certainly, in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations."

But on NBC's "Meet the Press" in May 2007, responding to a question about his statements in 1999, McCain said: "Well, it was in the context of conversation about having to change the culture of America as regards to this issue. I have stated time after time after time that Roe v. Wade was a bad decision."

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan says his shifting rhetoric is an attempt to "game" the electorate and confuse voters about his actual stances. "[The McCain campaign] knows full well that women in America, especially independent and pro-choice women, will not support a candidate who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade," Keenan says. "So they're still trying to make the case that he's a moderate and a maverick, when his record proves that he is neither."

The record also shows that McCain has rarely strayed outside Republican Party line on the issue of choice. He has consistently voted against measures to provide access to contraception and sex-education, and voted to approve anti-choice judges.

Planned Parenthood and NARAL have each given him a zero for his record on women's health issues. (The record dates back to his days in the House of Representatives, between 1983 and 1986, and carries through to his career in the U.S. Senate, which began in 1987.) Of the 130 congressional votes related to reproductive freedom that McCain has cast, 125 have been anti-choice, according to NARAL.

It's a record McCain says he's proud of -- when he's not trying to appeal to women outside his Republican base.

"I have many, many votes and it's been consistent," McCain told The National Review, a conservative magazine, last year. "And I've got a consistent zero from NARAL throughout all those years. ... My record is clear." He has also bragged to the media that his record has "been pro-life, unchanging and unwavering."

On the campaign trail this year, he has been adamant, telling MSNBC's Chris Matthews in April that "the rights of the unborn is one of my most important values."

And McCain has pledged that if elected president, he will appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe. In February, he said he "will try to find clones of [Justice Samuel] Alito and [Chief Justice John] Roberts" -- two conservative Bush administration appointees -- to fill high court vacancies.

He has worked his pro-life ideology into other aspects of federal decisions. Perhaps the most preposterous example is his voting in favor of legislation to amend the definition of those eligible for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to include the unborn -- while voting against legislation to expand SCHIP's coverage to low-income children and pregnant women at least six times.

In 2003, he voted for a ban on so-called "partial-birth abortions." And in 2004, he supported the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which makes it a criminal offense to harm or kill a fetus while committing a violent crime -- essentially deeming the fetus a person in the eyes of the law.

In July 2006, McCain voted for legislation that would fine and/or imprison physicians who perform abortions on out-of-state minors if there are parental notification requirements in their home state. In October 2007, he voted for legislation that would cut Health and Human Services grants to organizations that perform abortions.

McCain is no better when it comes to the issues of providing access to contraception, family planning information and basic women's healthcare. He has voted to require parental consent for teenagers who want access to contraceptives, and against an amendment to the Senate's 2006 budget that would have allocated $100 million for the prevention of teen pregnancy by providing education and contraceptives.

He opposed legislation requiring that abstinence-only programs be medically accurate and based in science. He voted to abolish funding for birth control and gynecological care for low-income women, and against funding for public education on emergency contraception.

He also voted against a measure that would require insurance companies to cover prescription contraception, despite the fact that many currently fund male reproductive pharmaceuticals, such as Viagra.

And he supports President Bush's restoration of the "global gag rule" -- which cuts off federal funding for nongovernmental organizations that provide abortion services and information -- and he opposes funding international family planning, in general. Yet he doesn't seem particularly well-informed on the subject.

In March 2007, the New York Times' Adam Nagourney asked McCain whether grants for sex education in the United States include instructions about using contraceptives, or if they should abide by Bush's abstinence-only policy.

After a pause, McCain responded, "Ahhh. I think I support the president's policy."

Nagourney followed up: "So no contraception, no counseling on contraception? Just abstinence. Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?"

After another pause, McCain replied, "You've stumped me."

McCain is confused about his stance on the issue of choice overall, according to other accounts. In the 2000 primary, he was asked what he would do if his daughter Meghan, then 15, became pregnant. McCain said it would be a "family decision."

"The final decision would be made by Meghan with our advice and counsel," McCain said, referring to himself and his wife, Cindy. When reporters suggested that this view made him, in fact, pro-choice, McCain became irritated. "I don't think it is the pro-choice position to say that my daughter and my wife and I will discuss something that is a family matter that we have to decide."

McCain's record on women "undermines any thought that he is a moderate or that he is someone more independent," says Planned Parenthood's Richards. "Unlike George [W.] Bush, who really had no voting record on anything, Sen. McCain has a record he has to stand by, and it's a very consistent one."

But others, including Jennifer Stockman, co-chair of Republican Majority for Choice, an organization that works to elect pro-choice Republicans, says she believes McCain would be better than Bush in the White House.

"There's more hope with McCain," Stockman says, "because of his genuine interest in being more common-sense centered and to reach out to independents and to the majority of the Republican Party [who] are people like us rather than pander to the social conservatives."

But Stockman says her group isn't going to endorse McCain, and she herself still isn't sure whether she's going to vote for anyone this year. Like many, she says she doesn't really understand where McCain's is coming from, since he's not outwardly religious, nor has he displayed a desire to pander to social conservatives on other issues.

"I don't understand, knowing him, why he's been so anti-choice," says Stockman. "His voting record doesn't really make sense to me, honestly."

But she adds that chances are, as in previous years, social conservatives will commandeer the GOP's platform and make sure anti-choice language is a centerpiece.

Education and training

McCain has an equally dismal record on other issues central to women's lives -- pay equity, fighting workplace discrimination, and supporting programs that help working mothers and their families.

In April, he skipped the vote on the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Had it passed the Senate, this bill would have restored the interpretation of the protections for pay equity in the Civil Rights Act that was overturned in a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling.

Though he didn't vote, he spoke against the bill on the campaign trail, saying in New Orleans: "They need the education and training, particularly since more and more women are heads of their households, as much or more than anybody else. And it's hard for them to leave their families when they don't have somebody to take care of them."

In addition to suggesting women need to be taken care of, the statement shows a total lack of understanding of the case.Lilly Ledbetter had worked for nearly 20 years at a Goodyear Tires plant in Gadsden, Ala., before she discovered that she was being paid less than her male counterparts -- despite having received awards for her performance. She brought an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the company to rectify the situation, but the court ruled that employees have only 180 days from when payroll decisions are made to file a wage-discrimination complaint.

McCain's allegation that Ledbetter's problem was in her preparation for the job is, at best, misinformed. At worst, it expresses ignorance of the reality of discriminatory practices against women in the workplace.

"It's not because of training and education; it's because of discrimination," says NOW Executive Vice President Olga Vives. "And he doesn't seem to get that."

The candidate, however, has said repeatedly that he's in favor of pay equity -- though there is little in his record or his platform to suggest he supports it.

"Regarding women's rights, this guy really doesn't see it," Vives says. "There's no indication in his record before then or now that he's going to be supporting the issues that are very important to women, including economic issues and health."

On civil rights issues, his record, again, is poor. He has voted in favor of banning affirmative action hiring for jobs funded by the federal government, and says he's against policies that might result in "quotas" -- an oft-repeated conservative excuse for not supporting policies that rectify systemic inequities. In the first session of 109th Congress, he voted with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's positions only 7 percent of the time.

On the economic front, McCain's platform suggests he'd perpetuate many of the Bush-era policies that have done little for low- and middle-income women and families. Although he initially opposed the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, McCain has now flipped.

In 1993, before voting in favor of the Family and Medical Leave Act -- which, among other things, allows pregnant women to take unpaid maternity leave if it's not automatically offered in the workplace -- McCain sought to weaken the measure. He proposed allowing the government to suspend the law if it found that the act would increase the cost to business.

His record on broader health issues for women and families isn't any better. McCain voted at least six times to reduce, eliminate or restrict health insurance programs for low-income children and pregnant women. In August 2007, he again voted against a bill to expand coverage of SCHIP.

In 2000, he voted against providing tax credits to small businesses that offer health insurance to their employees -- the same year he voted against a $3,000 tax credit to help seniors and their families cover long-term care.

In 1995 and 1999, he voted against measures that provided additional funding for home and community-based healthcare providers. And he has voted seven times for measures that cut or restricted funding for Medicaid, and 18 times for measures that cut or restricted Medicare.

"It's a typical conservative approach," Vives says. "As we know, that doesn't bode well for the common ordinary person, more than half of whom are women. It's the same old story of trickle-down economics."

The personal is political

Then there's what we know about McCain's personal interactions with women. In his book The Real McCain, Cliff Schecter describes one stop during his 1992 Senate reelection bid. He writes, "At one point, Cindy playfully twirled McCain's hair and said, 'You're getting a little thin up there.' McCain's face reddened, and he responded, 'At least I don't plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt.' " (Schecter confirmed this remark with three reporters who were present when it was made.)

And at a 1998 Republican Senate fundraiser, McCain proffered this "joke": "Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?" Answer: "Because her father is Janet Reno."

Then, there is McCain's response to a questioner in Hilton Head, S.C., last November, who asked, referring to Sen. Clinton: "How do we beat the bitch?" McCain responded: "Excellent question."

During this election campaign, McCain has taken to talking up the sexual conquests of his youth, perhaps to appeal himself to younger voters. In March, he told a crowd in Meridian, Miss.: "I remember with affection the unruly passions of youth." He then regaled them with a story of his exploits organizing an off-base toga party for his military pals and local girls.

In another campaign stop in Pensacola, Fla., McCain recalled his days as a Florida-based fighter pilot -- dating an exotic dancer known as the "Flame of Florida" and "blowing my pay at Trader Jon's," a local strip club. Abstinence-only must not apply for the boys.

Not an easy fix

As Republican Majority for Choice's Stockman notes, if more women get wind of his record on women's issues, he'll have a problem.

"McCain's going to have to come up with reasoning about his voting record and what he really believes without flip-flopping," says Stockman. "It's very challenging for him. I don't know how he's going to handle it."

[Kate Sheppard is the political reporter for the online environmental magazine, She has also written for The American Prospect, Bitch, The Guardian and MSN.]


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Iraq End Game Tilting To Barack

Photo: Maliki Greets Ahmadinejad Note: since this was written, 'spokemen' for Maliki tried to spin this as not intended to endorse a candidate.

Maliki Backs
Obama Timeline

For Withdrawal

By Tom Hayden
Huffington Post

In a stunning diplomatic breakthrough for Barack Obama, Iraq's prime minister yesterday endorsed the Democratic candidate's 16-month timeline for withdrawing combat troops from Iraq.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki endorsed the Obama approach in a July 18 interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, just as President Bush and Sen. John McCain were touting a vague new commitment to a "horizon" for withdrawal. The New York Times did not report the Maliki statement in its July 19 edition.

Uncertainty about Maliki's surprise statement persists since his top political spokesman told the Times only one week ago that troop withdrawals would take three to five years, if not longer. [NYT, July 11]. The number of American troops he would request as counter-terrrorism units, trainers and advisers could be tens of thousands.

But as Obama's plane touched down in Afghanistan, Maliki's comments were having a far-reaching effect on the war and presidential politics, with the Maliki government withdrawing from George Bush and making McCain appear foolish.

This could be the "Philippine option" predicted in Ending the War in Iraq, in which the US arranged behind the scenes for the Manila government to request the departure of the American fleet.
While the sequencing may be accidental, it appears that the Obama forces could reap a windfall. Obama will seem more successful than Bush in managing the last stages of the war, depriving McCain of the claim to superior foreign policy experience. Obama's imminent arrival in Baghdad could seem like a victory lap in the foreign policy "primary."

Why would Maliki break so sharply with his long-time US partner in the White House? Are the Iraqis more adept at playing American politics than the White House is?

As noted before at this site, Iraqi public opinion -- Shi'a and Sunni -- strongly favors a deadline for American troop withdrawal. The provincial elections to be held later this year [at the insistence of the US] will produce victories for candidates who demand ending the occupation, both in Sunni areas like Anbar and Mahdi Army areas like Sadr City. Maliki's coalition must appear to stand for Iraqi sovereignty and the departure of US forces.

Somewhere in the background is Iran with its strong ties to the entire Shi'a community in Iraq. The Iranian interest is in keeping Shi'a factions unified in a demand that the US troops and bases are folding up and returning home. Iran believes that a retreating US will be less able to strike from positions of strength on the ground if a US-Iran conflict takes place.

Besides Iran and the Shi'a bloc, the big winners in this scenario would be the multinational oil companies now subtly assuring themselves access to Iraq's oilfields after thirty years of absence.
The Bush Administration could mask defeat in claims of "mission accomplished", perhaps with garlands of flowers provided by Maliki at a joint ceremony.

Though genuine peace would a blessing, the real losers stand to be the Sunni minority which is the backbone of the insurgency, and the long-suffering Shi'a poor in Sadr City whose social-economic needs are little recognized by the dominant Shi'a party. In the region's geo-politics, Saudi Arabia would be angered at the rise of greater Shi'a and Iranian power in potentially competitive oil fields. And despite their alarm about Iran's nuclear plans, Israel would welcome an Iraq shorn of its power in the Sunni world.

As for al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, they could claim a victory in helping drive the American forces out of Iraq, but their narrow public support would shrink further if Iraqis recover sovereignty. A loophole in the Obama plan, certainly endorsed by Maliki, would allow American counter-terrorism units to go after alleged al-Qaeda units operating in Iraq as US combat forces draw down.

The huge "if" hovering over this sudden development is simply whether the Bush Administration can force Maliki to back down from his statement, or at least retreat from going further.

Here is Maliki's statement, delivered as Obama's visit to the region was beginning:

Whoever is thinking about the shorter term [for withdrawal] is closer to reality. Artificially extending the stay of U.S. troops would cause problems... As soon as possible, as far as we're concerned... Those who operate on the premise of short time periods in Iraq today are being more realistic... Artificially prolonging the tenure of US troops in Iraq would cause problems. U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.

Tom Hayden is the author of Ending the War in Iraq [2007].


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Obama to NAACP: Social Justice Not Enough

Demanding More:
From Washington,
And From Ourselves

By Barack Obama

Remarks ath 99th Annual
Convention of the NAACP

July 14, 2008 - Cincinnati, Ohio

It is always humbling to speak before the NAACP. It is a powerful reminder of the debt we all owe to those who marched for us and fought for us and stood up on our behalf; of the sacrifices that were made for us by those we never knew; and of the giants whose shoulders I stand on here today.

They are the men and women we read about in history books and hear about in church; whose lives we honor with schools, and boulevards, and federal holidays that bear their names. But what I want to remind you tonight – on Youth Night – is that these giants, these icons of America’s past, were not much older than many of you when they took up freedom’s cause and made their mark on history.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was but a 26-year old pastor when he led a bus boycott in Montgomery that mobilized a movement. John Lewis was but a 25-year old activist when he faced down Billy clubs on the bridge in Selma and helped arouse the conscience of our nation. Diane Nash was even younger when she helped found SNCC and led Freedom Rides down south. And your chairman Julian Bond was but a 25-year old state legislator when he put his own shoulder to the wheel of history.

It is because of them; and all those whose names never made it into the history books – those men and women, young and old, black, brown and white, clear-eyed and straight-backed, who refused to settle for the world as it is; who had the courage to remake the world as it should be – that I stand before you tonight as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States of America.

And if I have the privilege of serving as your next President, I will stand up for you the same way that earlier generations of Americans stood up for me – by fighting to ensure that every single one of us has the chance to make it if we try. That means removing the barriers of prejudice and misunderstanding that still exist in America. It means fighting to eliminate discrimination from every corner of our country. It means changing hearts, and changing minds, and making sure that every American is treated equally under the law.

But social justice is not enough. As Dr. King once said, “the inseparable twin of racial justice is economic justice.” That’s why Dr. King went to Memphis in his final days to stand with striking sanitation workers. That’s why the march that Roy Wilkins helped lead forty five years ago this summer wasn’t just named the March on Washington, and it wasn’t just named the March on Washington for Freedom; it was named the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

What Dr. King and Roy Wilkins understood is that it matters little if you have the right to sit at the front of the bus if you can’t afford the bus fare; it matters little if you have the right to sit at the lunch counter if you can’t afford the lunch. What they understood is that so long as Americans are denied the decent wages, and good benefits, and fair treatment they deserve, the dream for which so many gave so much will remain out of reach; that to live up to our founding promise of equality for all, we have to make sure that opportunity is open to all Americans.

That is what I’ve been fighting to do throughout my over 20 years in public service. That’s why I’ve fought in the Senate to end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that create good jobs here in America. That’s why I brought Democrats and Republicans together in Illinois to put $100 million in tax cuts into the pockets of hardworking families, to expand health care to 150,000 children and parents, and to end the outrage of black women making just 62 cents for every dollar that many of their male coworkers make.

And that’s why I moved to Chicago after college. As some of you know, I turned down more lucrative jobs because I was inspired by the Civil Rights Movement and I wanted to do my part in the ongoing battle for opportunity in this country. So I went to work for a group of churches to help turn around neighborhoods that were devastated when the local steel plants closed. And I reached out to community leaders – black, brown, and white – and together, we gave job training to the jobless, set up afterschool programs to help keep kids off the streets, and block by block, we helped turn those neighborhoods around.

So I’ve been working my entire adult life to help build an America where social justice is being served and economic justice is being served; an America where we all have an equal chance to make it if we try. That’s the America I believe in. That’s the America you’ve been fighting for over the past 99 years. And that’s the America we have to keep marching towards today.

Our work is not over.

When so many of our nation’s schools are failing, especially those in our poorest rural and urban communities, denying millions of young Americans the chance to fulfill their potential and live out their dreams, we have more work to do.

When CEOs are making more in ten minutes than the average worker earns in a year, and millions of families lose their homes due to unscrupulous lending, checked neither by a sense of corporate ethics or a vigilant government; when the dream of entering the middle class and staying there is fading for young people in our community, we have more work to do.

When any human being is denied a life of dignity and respect, no matter whether they live in Anacostia or Appalachia or a village in Africa; when people are trapped in extreme poverty we know how to curb or suffering from diseases we know how to prevent; when they’re going without the medicines that they so desperately need – we have more work to do.

That’s what this election is all about. It’s about the responsibilities we all share for the future we hold in common. It’s about each and every one of us doing our part to build that more perfect union.

It’s about the responsibilities that corporate America has – responsibilities that start with ending a culture on Wall Street that says what’s good for me is good enough; that puts their bottom line ahead of what’s right for America. Because what we’ve learned in such a dramatic way in recent months is that pain in our economy trickles up; that Wall Street can’t thrive so long as Main Street is struggling; and that America is better off when the well-being of American business and the American people are aligned. Our CEOs have to recognize that they have a responsibility not just to grow their profit margins, but to be fair to their workers, and honest to their shareholders and to help strengthen our economy as a whole. That’s how we’ll ensure that economic justice is being served. And that’s what this election is about.

It’s about the responsibilities that Washington has – responsibilities that start with restoring fairness to our economy by making sure that the playing field isn’t tilted to benefit the special interests at the expense of ordinary Americans; and that we’re rewarding not just wealth, but the work and workers who create it. That’s why I’ll offer a middle class tax cut so we can lift up hardworking families, and give relief to struggling homeowners so we can end our housing crisis, and provide training to young people to work the green jobs of the future, and invest in our infrastructure so we can create millions of new jobs.

And that’s why I’ll end the outrage of one in five African Americans going without the health care they deserve. We’ll guarantee health care for anyone who needs it, make it affordable for anyone who wants it, and ensure that the quality of your health care does not depend on the color of your skin. And we’re not going to do it 20 years from now or 10 years from now, we’re going to do it by the end of my first term as President of the United States of America.

And here’s what else we’ll do – we’ll make sure that every child in this country gets a world-class education from the day they’re born until the day they graduate from college. Now, I understand that Senator McCain is going to be coming here in a couple of days and talking about education, and I’m glad to hear it. But the fact is, what he’s offering amounts to little more than the same tired rhetoric about vouchers. Well, I believe we need to move beyond the same debate we’ve been having for the past 30 years when we haven’t gotten anything done. We need to fix and improve our public schools, not throw our hands up and walk away from them. We need to uphold the ideal of public education, but we also need reform.

That’s why I’ve introduced a comprehensive strategy to recruit an army of new quality teachers to our communities – and to pay them more and give them more support. And we’ll invest in early childhood education programs so that our kids don’t begin the race of life behind the starting line and offer a $4,000 tax credit to make college affordable for anyone who wants to go. Because as the NAACP knows better than anyone, the fight for social justice and economic justice begins in the classroom.

But it doesn’t end there. We have to fight for all those young men standing on street corners with little hope for the future besides ending up in jail. We have to break the cycle of poverty and violence that’s gripping too many neighborhoods in this country.

That’s why I’ll expand the Earned Income Tax Credit – because it’s one of the most successful anti-poverty measures we have. That’s why I’ll end the Bush policy of taking cops off the streets at the moment they’re needed most – because we need to give local law enforcement the support they need. That’s why we’ll provide job training for ex-offenders – because we need to make sure they don’t return to a life of crime. And that’s why I’ll build on the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York and launch an all-hands-on-deck effort to end poverty in this country – because that’s how we’ll put the dream that Dr. King and Roy Wilkins fought for within reach for the next generation of children.

And if people tell you that we cannot afford to invest in education or health care or fighting poverty, you just remind them that we are spending $10 billion a month in Iraq. And if we can spend that much money in Iraq, we can spend some of that money right here in Cincinnati, Ohio and in big cities and small towns in every corner of this country.

So yes, we have to demand more responsibility from Washington. And yes we have to demand more responsibility from Wall Street. But we also have to demand more from ourselves. Now, I know some say I’ve been too tough on folks about this responsibility stuff. But I’m not going to stop talking about it. Because I believe that in the end, it doesn’t matter how much money we invest in our communities, or how many 10-point plans we propose, or how many government programs we launch – none of it will make any difference if we don’t seize more responsibility in our own lives.

That’s how we’ll truly honor those who came before us. Because I know that Thurgood Marshall did not argue Brown versus Board of Education so that some of us could stop doing our jobs as parents. And I know that nine little children did not walk through a schoolhouse door in Little Rock so that we could stand by and let our children drop out of school and turn to gangs for the support they are not getting elsewhere. That’s not the freedom they fought so hard to achieve. That’s not the America they gave so much to build. That’s not the dream they had for our children.

That’s why if we’re serious about reclaiming that dream, we have to do more in our own lives, our own families, and our own communities. That starts with providing the guidance our children need, turning off the TV, and putting away the video games; attending those parent-teacher conferences, helping our children with their homework, and setting a good example. It starts with teaching our daughters to never allow images on television to tell them what they are worth; and teaching our sons to treat women with respect, and to realize that responsibility does not end at conception; that what makes them men is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one. It starts by being good neighbors and good citizens who are willing to volunteer in our communities – and to help our synagogues and churches and community centers feed the hungry and care for the elderly. We all have to do our part to lift up this country.

That’s where change begins. And that, after all, is the true genius of America – not that America is, but that America will be; not that we are perfect, but that we can make ourselves more perfect; that brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand, people who love this country can change it. And that’s our most enduring responsibility – the responsibility to future generations. We have to change this country for them. We have to leave them a planet that’s cleaner, a nation that’s safer, and a world that’s more equal and more just.

So I’m grateful to you for all you’ve done for this campaign, but we’ve got work to do and we cannot rest. And I know that if you put your shoulders to the wheel of history and take up the cause of perfecting our union just as earlier generations of Americans did before you; if you take up the fight for opportunity and equality and prosperity for all; if you march with me and fight with me, and get your friends registered to vote, and if you stand with me this fall – then not only will we help close the responsibility deficit in this country, and not only will we help achieve social justice and economic justice for all, but I will come back here next year on the 100th anniversary of the NAACP, and I will stand before you as the President of the United States of America. And at that moment, you and I will truly know that a new day has come in this country we love. Thank you.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fox vs Obama: No Languages for Our Kids

Fox's GOP
as the New

By Smintheus
Daily KOS

July 14, 2008 - Republicans have been in a lather since Barack Obama commented that American children should learn a foreign language in school. It demonstrates the extent to which they've become the party of ignorance.

Responding to a voter in GA who'd like more bilingual education, Obama said:

"Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English — they’ll learn English — you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about, how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language.

You know, it’s embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe, and all we can say [is], ‘Merci beaucoup.’ Right? You know, no, I’m serious about this. We should understand that our young people, if you have a foreign language, that is a powerful tool to get a job. You are so much more employable. You can be part of international business. So we should be emphasizing foreign languages in our schools from an early age, because children will actually learn a foreign language easier when they’re 5, or 6, or 7 than when they’re 46, like me."

Hard to argue with that. It's obvious too that learning a foreign language helps you to understand your own language better. It also brings perspective on how to think, speak, and write. While thinking critically about ideas you learn to communicate them more precisely.

Predictably, right-wingers flew into a rage at Obama's un-American call for better language skills. For example, John McCormack at the Weakly Standard labeled language education as snobbery and elitism. John Derbyshire called Obama's suggestion "idiotic" because "not many human beings can learn another language", as his own failures prove. He combines that with characteristic condescension:

In fact, below some cutoff point, which I'd guess at around minus one standard deviation in IQ (that would encompass sixteen percent of the population), education beyond the three R's is a waste of time, and foreign-language instruction a total waste of time.

Many right-wingers just skipped what Obama actually said and declared that he wants to forcibly indoctrinate their children in Spanish, or make Spanish the official language of the US. Fox News knew what Republicans wanted to hear. Neil Cavuto brought on the Philly-cheese-steak bigot Joey Vento to denounce Obama: "This man is a sick man. He is a scary man."

Even before it embraced creationism and made attacks on science a guiding principle, the Republican Party had proudly turned itself into the party of ignorance and anti-intellectualism. But Obama's call for children to learn more languages (which he stands by) has given the GOP an opportunity to link two of its favorite cudgels, ignorance and bigotry against immigrants. Truly the modern heir to the Know-Nothing Party.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Warning to Obama: Avoid the 'Great Game'

Photo: Afghan Fighters

Stop One War
by Starting

Two More?

By Tom Hayden
Huffington Post

Barack Obama restated his Iraq phased withdrawal play in response to public questioning today but committed himself to expanding the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Any proposal to transfer American troops from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan is sure to cause debate and questions among peace activists and rank-and-file Democrats. The proposal potentially represents a wider quagmire for the US government and military.

On Iraq, Obama said nothing especially new in his July 14 New York Times' op-ed piece, but it was a forceful restatement of his commitment to combat troop withdrawals after his recent statements suggesting that he would "refine" his views when he consults military commanders on the ground.

Obama neglected to address how many American "residual forces" he would leave behind in Iraq to fight al-Qaeda and "protect American service members," though he made additional US trainers conditional on the Iraqis making "political progress." It was a proposal that seemed to promise a phased diminishing of the American military presence, not a complete withdrawal.

Many independent analysts question leaving some 50,000 American troops as advisers, trainers and counter-terrorism units in Iraq after the withdrawal of 140,000 by 2010. Those forces will be protecting a sectarian political regime that is linked to death squads, militias and a detention system now holding 50,000 Iraqis in violation of human rights standards.

It is quite possible that Obama's regional diplomacy, including hard-bargaining with Iran, could facilitate a decent interval for American troop withdrawals and a more stabilized Iraq, as suggested by former CIA director John Deutch. [interview with Deutch, in Ending the War in Iraq, 2007]

Obama smartly exploited the recent call by Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Malaki for a US withdrawal deadline, although al-Maliki's time line was twice as long as Obama's. In this face-saving scenario, the Pentagon would follow "the Philippine option" in which the client government formally requested that the US close its bases. This option was advocated openly by the Marines' commander in Iraq in 2004. [NYT, Nov. 29, 2006]. The US only withdrew obsolete naval forces from the Philippines, however; today the US spends hundreds of millions on a secret war against Islamic forces in the southern Philippines. Obama might do the same.

These public policy ambiguities are not simply Obama's problem, but are caused by a mainstream media which stubbornly refuses to ask any questions about those "residual forces." For example, how will "residual forces," tied to the regime the Americans put in power, be more successful on the battlefield than the departing 170,000 combat troops?

But Obama's proposals for Afghanistan and Pakistan are far more problematic. They can described in everyday language as either out of the frying pan and into the fire, or attacking needles by burning down haystacks.

The Pentagon paradigm is to defeat al-Qaeda militarily while refusing to address, and thereby worsening, the dire conditions that gave rise to the Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives in the first place. Ahmed Rashid's new Descent into Chaos [Viking, 2008] provides a horrific portrait of Afghanistan in careful prose based on reputable sources;

- It is estimated by RAND that $100 per capita is the minimum required to stabilize a country evolving out of war. Bosnia received $679 per capita, Kosovo $526, while Afghanistan received $57 per capita in the key years, 2001-2003;
- When the US installed the Hamid Karzai government, Afghanistan ranked 172nd out of 178 nations on the United Nation's Human Development Index, having the highest rate of infant mortality in the world, a life expectancy rate of 44-45 years, and the youngest population of any country; in 2005 95 percent of Kabul's residents were living without electrical power.
- Seven hundred civilians were killed in the first five months of 2008 alone, according to the United Nations.

Despite some gains in media and currency reform, plus a modest increase in children in school, this was the path of least reconstruction.

And despite images of Afghan democracy that made loya jirga tribal gatherings appear to be the birth of participatory democracy, a warlord state was entrenched by the CIA.

There are some 36,000 US troops stretched across Afghanistan, another 17,500 under NATO command, and 18,000 in counterinsurgency and training roles [NYT, July 14]. They are so aggressively combat-oriented that the Afghan government itself continually objects to the rate of civilian casualties. It costs the Pentagon $2 billion per month to support 30,000 American troops. According to Rashid, "Afghanistan is not going to be able to pay for its own army for many years to come -- perhaps never."

As of 2006, Afghanistan's economy still rested on producing 90 percent of the world's opium, an eerie narco-state parallel with the US counterinsurgency in Colombia from where most of America's supply of cocaine originates.

Afghanistan is an unstable police state. By 2005, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission cited 800 cases of detainee abuse at some thirty U.S. firebases. "The CIA operates its own secret detention centers, which were off limits to the US military." Ghost prisoners, known as Persons Under Control [PUCs] are held permanently without any public records of their existence. Warlords operate their own prisons with "unprecedented abuse, torture, and death of Taliban prisoners." And as the US lowered the number of prisoners at Guantanamo, it increased the numbers held at Bagram, near Kabul. As of January, 2008, there were 630 incarcerated at Bagram, "including some who had been there for five years and whom the ICRC had still not been given access to." After weeks of hunger strikes about detention conditions, the Taliban recently orchestrated a jailbreak of hundreds of Afghanis from the Kandahar prison, an inside job.

As in Iraq, the US contracted for police training in Afghanistan with DynCorp International; between 2003 and 2005, the US spent $860 million to train 40,000 Afghan police, "but the results were totally useless" according to Rashid. Even Richard Holbrooke described the DynCorp training program as "an appalling joke...a complete shambles."

When the Taliban government was overthrown, the US installed a Westernized Pashtun, Hamid Karzai, a former lobbyist for Unocal, who had been out of the country during the jihad against the Soviet Union. But the Pashtun tribes themselves were violently displaced from power for the first time in 300 years. They remain by far the largest Afghan minority at 42 percent of the population, heavily concentrated in Kandahar and the southern provinces and across the federally-administered tribal areas in western Pakistan. These are the areas that the Pentagon, the New York Times, and Barack Obama [like John Kerry before him] designate as the central battlefront of the war on terrorism.

The question is not simply a moral one, but whether the expanding war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, fueled by troop transfers from Iraq, is winnable, and in what sense?

Transferring 10,000 American troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, which Obama proposes, is symbolic, a potential downpayment on the treadmill of further escalation. [In his statement, Obama supports "at least" two additional brigades for Afghanistan]. The future of the Pentagon's "rear" in Iraq will be questionable if 15 combat brigades are withdrawn under Obama's plan, while the Pentagon's new "front" line cannot be secured with two brigades sent to southern and eastern Afghanistan. At best these might be holding actions until the next administration makes a decision about its ultimate strategy. Obama may be proposing an escalation simply in order not to lose, a pattern well-documented in Daniel Ellsberg's history of the Vietnam War.

But the US escalation policy already is deepening rapidly, with bipartisan support [or silence, so far]. In keeping with counterinsurgency strategies going back to America's long wars against native tribes, the Pentagon has fostered the ascension of a new Pakistani general, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, whose background includes training at Fort Benning and Fort Leavenworth. An unnamed US military official praises Kayani "for embracing new counterinsurgency training and tactics that could be more effective in countering militants in the country's tribal areas. [NYT, Jan. 7. 2008] Over $400 million is being spent to recruit a "frontier corps" of to "turn local tribes against militants" [NYT, Mar. 4, 2008] CIA and Special Forces operatives already have invaded Pakistan to set up a secret base from which to hunt Osama bin Laden "before Mr. Bush leaves office" as well as fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban on the ground and from pilotless Predator drones. [NYT, Feb. 22, 2008].

All this constitutes yet another preventive war by the United States, this one in violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and against the stated policies of the newly-elected Pakistani government, not to mention the overwhelming sentiment among Pakistan's people. On the Afghan front, the Taliban will be able to retreat in the face of greater US firepower, or attack like Lilliputians from multiple sides if the US concentrates its forces around the Pakistan border. Further violence and tides of anti-American sentiment could sweep across the region into Pakistan with unpredictable results.

Michael Scheuer, the former CIA official once charged with tracking down Osama bin Laden, suggests that the American delusion is that "by establishing a minority-dominated semisecular, pro-Indian government [in Kabul], we would neither threaten the identity nor raise the ire of the Pashtun tribes nor endanger Pakistan's national security." Scheuer wrote this year that "for the United States, the war in Afghanistan has been lost. By failing to recognize that the only achievable US mission in Afghanistan was to destroy the Taliban and al-Qaeda and their leaders and get out, Washington is now faced with fighting a protracted and growing insurgency. The only upside of this coming defeat is that it is a debacle of our own making. We are not being defeated by our enemies; we are in the midst of defeating ourselves." [Marching Toward Hell, 2008]

The beginning of an alternative may require unfreezing American diplomacy towards Iran and considering a "grand bargain" instead. Teheran is the single power, according to CIA director Deutch, who could destabilize the US withdrawal from Iraq. It happens that they were America's ally against Afghanistan not so long ago. The Iranians have lost thousands of police and soldiers themselves in a border war against Afghan drug lords. According to William Polk, "ironically, the only effective deterrent to the trade is Iran." [Violent Politics, 2008] In exchange for security guarantees against a US-directed regime change, Iran may be willing to discuss cooperation with the "Great Satan" to stabilize its borders with Iraq and Afghanistan. Improbable? That depends on whether one thinks the alternative is unthinkable.

Only a short time ago, historically, the US was supporting the jihadists in the same tribal areas as they ventured to destroy the Soviet occupation. In the same years, the US was hosting the Taliban for talks on a possible oil pipeline across Afghanistan. Since twists and turns seem to be the only pattern in divide-and-conquer strategies, it is possible that Obama thinks being tough towards Afghanistan and Pakistan is a defensive cover for withdrawing from Iraq, and he later will follow up with unspecified diplomacy after he takes office. But history shows that creeping escalations create a momentum and constituency of their own. Obama might get lucky, lower the level of the visible wars, and embrace a diplomatic offensive. But North and South Waziristan could be his Bay of Pigs.

In summary, to borrow a popular phrase of the season, ending one war [Iraq] to start two more [in Afghanistan and Pakistan] seems to be a dumb idea.

TOM HAYDEN is the author of Ending the War in Iraq [2007], The Voices of the Chicago Eight [2008], and Writing for a Democratic Society, the Tom Hayden Reader [2008]


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