Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Where Our Left Should Be

Photo: Obama vs The Right:
Which Side Are You On?

Obama Differences:
In Response to
Robert Dreyfuss

By Tom Hayden
From The Nation Blog

I’m sorry to disagree with my respected friend Robert Dreyfuss but his attack on Barack Obama’s hawkishness shows a real bias in his usually objective approach. I think of it as differences between the pro-Obama left, the anti-Obama left, and the indifferent-to-Obama left. Based on his writing, Dreyfuss belongs somewhere in the latter categories and so do those who welcome his views.

First, there is a telltale imbalance in his thinking. Dreyfuss denounces Obama’s views on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Georgia and the general “war on terror.” But in his sweeping criticism, he completely omits Obama’s repetitive attack on John McCain for being wrong on Iraq, and defense of dialogue with enemies, two positions consistent with the stance Obama took in 2002. Dreyfuss may consider the Iraq difference a minor matter, but it’s the issue that has driven Obama and divided him from McCain all along.

What is the Iraq difference? Two differences are paramount:

[1] anti-war activists and anti-war opinion from below made Obama’s campaign viable from the beginning, at a time when McCain was lobbying to bomb Baghdad and many Democrats were going along, and

[2] Obama’s pledge to withdraw combat troops in 16 months, while not the “out now” demand of the anti-war movement, is generally supported by most Americans and most Iraqis, and leaves Bush-McCain isolated in their opposition to deadlines. So a victory for Obama means a peace mandate, while a victory for McCain-Palin means a defeat on this central issue. A peace mandate matters.

Belittling the Iraq difference reflects a much greater omission, ignoring the gaping differences between the two candidates with 36 days until the election. On the basis what he’s written, Dreyfuss ignores this context. He simply wants Obama to move further left, beyond positions Obama has taken since last year. No other litmus test of legitimacy is offered. No important differences with McCain-Palin are mentioned.

It is as if frustration with Obama is greater than anything some people on the left can feel towards McCain. I feel their pain, but let me offer this formula: no candidate will move further left than their base demands and public opinion allows.

And for the record: I have voiced and written criticisms of Obama on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Georgia, Colombia and Cuba. But I always have done so in the context of being a progressive for Obama, not a progressive against Obama or a progressive who doesn’t care much who wins this election. There are too many on the left who, while acknowledging they will vote for Obama, are more comfortable in opposition or abstention.

I personally wish he hadn’t, but Obama has decided to close off any possible attacks from the right or the media on his national security policies and credentials. I believe that this stance will have serious consequences, like John Kennedy encountered at the Bay of Pigs. But I also know that his position is a political one, and can be [and should be] taken up by the left 37 days from now.

There’s a genuine movement out there, Nation readers. Out where I live, six hundred Latinos went to Nevada this weekend to campaign for Obama, and that’s a tiny example of what is going on. In the days ahead, the Republicans will attack Obama for being “too liberal” and his “ties to the left”, while doing everything possible to block the unprecedented voter turnout coming on November 4. The left should be among those defending the vote and, in doing so, will find itself aligned with the Obama voter base.

It’s been my experience that the American left should be deeply involved when the united African-American community is on the rise, when unprecedented numbers of young people are mobilizing, when the poor, the working class and the middle-class are on the receiving end of the shock doctrine. I come out of the Deep South civil rights experience, which perhaps explains the depth of feeling that I have towards this election. The primary reason this election remains close at all is racism, whether open, covert, or simply the racism of the perplexed.

But when the faith-based Right has been promised a Supreme Court majority by McCain-Palin, I think the left should be in full battle mode. Dreyfuss should know this too, based on his long-ago involvement in the Indochina Peace Campaign, which committed civil disobedience in Saigon, organized in Middle America, lobbied the Congress and supported George McGovern. I hope he puts up an Obama lawn sign now. We both can take up picket signs later.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Youth Vote: Critical Battleground Everywhere

[Note: A second article appended stresses the financial crisis on youth and students]

26,000 Young Voters
in Virginia brave
rain for Obama rally

By Rachael Dickson
Youth Vote 2008 Correspondent

Fredericksburg, VA, Sept. 28, 2008 - Thousands of Sen. Barack Obama's supporters cheered him Saturday night as he spoke through the pouring rain at University of Mary Washington.

According to UMW student Peter Ceo, a College Democrats member, people started arriving at the event at 10 a.m., nine hours before the Democratic presidential nominee and his vice presidential running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden, arrived.

"The line was well over half a mile long this morning," Ceo said.

Virginia is a key state in this year's election as the landscape is changing from a historically conservative state to more liberal in recent years.

According to The Washington Post, Jay Snipes, chief of the University of Mary Washington police force, estimated that 12,000 people were at the rally and another 14,000 were unable to get in after the United States Secret Service stopped allowing people in around 5 p.m.

The large, diverse and fiercely loyal crowd withstood the afternoon's high heat and humidity, which left many dehydrated. Though event volunteers passed out water bottles to the densely packed crowd, at least two attendees were observed taken away by emergency medical staff.

Later, when the sky opened up and it began to pour, the audience shielded itself with trash bags, jackets, Obama/Biden signs, blankets and whatever came to hand. Much of the press members took shelter, wrapping expensive cameras in ponchos as they retreated to a tent reserved for the traveling press or ducked under the risers.

Obama's supporters took the opportunity to dance and sing in the rain to the music pumping out over the loud speakers- a mix of classics such as Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and newer songs such as "Move Along" by the All-American Rejects.

The sun came out and dried the crowd in time for a few preliminary speakers to give abbreviated speeches before Biden and Obama arrived. Fredericksburg's state Sen. Edward Houck jazzed up the audience by leading cheers commenting on last night's first presidential debate.

"Who won the debate last night?" Houck said, smiling at the crowd's roaring answer of "Obama." "The difference between Obama and McCain could not have been more obvious."
He also commented on the importance of registering to vote, saying, "All across America we have the opportunity to reach out and touch the future."

Raucous cheers greeted Biden and Obama as they walked out on the stage. Biden began the program to cheers of "Joe! Joe!" by talking about the differences between Obama and McCain at the debate.

"Last night McCain's silence was definite," Biden said. "You did not hear him say the words middle-class or working class once."

Biden also criticized McCain's foreign policy positions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"We need more than a brave soldier," Biden said. "We need a wise leader. And that's Barack Obama."

Obama cracked a joke to begin his speech.

"I know some of you got a little damp, and I'm deeply sorry," he said. "Those of you wearing that special outfit, I would like to cover everyone's dry cleaning bills tonight, but I can't cause I got to use it on the campaign. So consider it one more modest effort to help the campaign."

Later on in his speech, as another deluge of rain began, Obama took off his jacket after joking about his own dry-cleaning bills and then proceeded to continue speaking to the crowd for another ten minutes, without cover.

Obama also spoke on the debate, calling McCain "out-of-touch" and saying ""On issue after issue, you heard John McCain make the case for more of the same."

He also joked about McCain's use of "change" in recent political advertising by saying
"Change is more than a slogan."

Obama referred to McCain's lack of mention of the words "middle-class" or "working-class" by saying "In 90 minutes, John McCain had a lot to say about me- but he had nothing to say to you...We need a president who will change the economy so it finally works for your family."
Obama spoke of the American dream to succeed as well, saying, "In America, our destiny
isn't written for us, it's written by us."

After talking for almost half an hour, Obama said good night to the crowd, leaving the stage with Biden. The crowd dispersed quickly, eager to get to their dry cars and dry-cleaning bills.

[Rachael Dickson is a junior at George Mason University and an award-winning journalist who works as a freelance contributor for WashingtonPost.com's LoudounExtra.com.]


September 26, 2008

Failing Economy Has
Young Voters Worried

For young Americans, it’s the economy too, stupid.

A new Rock the Vote poll of voters ages 18-29 has found that 41 percent said the next president’s first concern should be the economy, compared with just 17 percent who listed it as their chief concern in February. Eleven percent said gas prices were most important, while the war in Iraq and the cost of higher education garnered 10 percent each.

Although young voters have changed their focus to the economy, their presidential choice remains steady: The poll found that Barack Obama leads John McCain, 56 percent to 29 percent, among young voters. Those voters also appeared likely to defy the idea that they won’t turn out at the polls: 87 percent said they planned to vote, compared with 82 percent in February.

“Democrats are winning big this year among young voters, and young voters’ high level of engagement has the potential to turn into record turnout at the polls,” said Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners, which helped conduct the poll. “Senator Obama nearly doubles Senator McCain’s vote share, Congressional Democrats lead by more than 20 points, and young people want change. Every Democratic campaign should pay close attention to the growing youth movement.”

Though just 2 percent of those polled said they considered climate change as their top concern, an advocacy group is hoping a wind farm will change that. Starting with tonight’s presidential debate at the University of Mississippi, Power Vote will be installing 30 nine-foot-tall windmills at each of the debate sites, as well as various other college campuses, to encourage the use of clean energy.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

'Watching Party,' Beaver County Style

Photo: Obama rally in Beaver County

The Debate Highlights
A Hard Battle Here,
But Tough Fighters, Too

By Carl Davidson

Progressives for Obama

An Obama-McCain 'Debate Watching' party in Beaver County last night, Sept. 26, 2008, promised to be a fun evening, but it also offered as good an occasion as any to measure the progress, tasks, and difficulties of the Obama campaign here in Western Pennsylvania.

The polls here are currently giving Obama a slight edge, but there are too many wild cards to put anyone at ease.

I got my invitation to one of these events about two hours before the party began, and changed plans quickly to attend. It was pulled together by the young volunteers of the county's Obama campaign in partnership with Local 712 of the IBEW, SEIU activists, and some organizers with the 4th CD Progressive Democrats of America.

The union hall is on Sassafras Lane near a strip of small businesses and nonprofit agencies in Vanport, PA a working class suburb next to Beaver, the county seat. Beaver is relatively stable with government offices and a large medical center, but just a few miles in any direction are the distressed mill towns of Midland, Beaver Falls, Monaca, New Brighton, Rochester, Baden, Aliquippa, and Ambridge. The old village of Shippingport, is home to a big energy complex and the country's first nuke plant.

All the industry here in the post-WW2 years meant plenty of work then for the IBEW and many other workers. But everyone feels the tough conditions of globalized de-industrialization now, and it was a natural to see stacks of 'Workers for Obama-Biden' posters at the door.

'Is this where we watch the fights tonight?', I asked a bunch of young apprentices gathered for a smoke outside the door. They laughed and said I was at the right place, followed with some friendly sports banter about whether McCain was 'the Great White Hope' or the 'Great White Dope.''

Inside a young Obama worker, Chris, is hooking up a laptop and projector to stream the video of the debate onto a giant screen. Together, we figure out how to get the blue tones right. Three young African American women, Obama volunteers from New Brighton, just across the river, are discussing how some people they've canvassed haven't a clue about the difficulties bringing up kids compared with what Sarah Palin's daughter faces. An older white union worker starts talking with them about attending a dinner and rally to bring more manufacturing back to the Ohio River Valley.

But a quick look at the room shows this place is used by people who take elections seriously, warts and all. The walls are hung with county maps of the 4th CD, with critical townships highlighted. On a long row of tables are neatly stacked piles of folders, labeled by township and precincts, with lists of registered union voters inside, each one tagged with the number of workers needed on the canvass team. This is where the Saturday morning 'Labors Walks' of doorknockers are pulled together, and it's clear that a quality of the working class, as well as the Obama volunteers, is knowing more than a little about organization. The walks will take place every weekend up to the big mobilization on Election Day.

More people arrive and start filling the room, laying out a spread of snacks next to the coffee pot, beer, and wine. There are 30 or so altogether. About half are older white electrical workers, letter carriers, and younger service employees, with a few PDA people; the other half is a rainbow of young Obama volunteers.

An Obama staffer, Kyra Ricci, comes up to greet me, thanking me for helping them earlier with some media work. Like all of them, she's wired and tired, working 16 hour days every day. 'But it's less than 40 days to go, we'll make it', she says. Both she and Chris query me about other campaigns were like in Chicago, going back to Obama's first run. I explain that I started before that, with Jesse Jackson's runs, and Harold Washington's victories. I give them my five-minute short course on running independent campaigns against tough old machines.

I ask about the canvassing. 'We're getting down to the wire,' one union guy tells me. 'Some people tell me they're still making up their minds. I tell them, look, if you want me to stop bugging you, just declare one way or the other, if you really know but aren't saying. That way we won't waste each other's time, we can argue later, and I can get to more people in the next 39 days.'

A cheer goes up when the debate finally starts and the room darkens. People listen intently and excitedly to Obama, but started groaning at McCain. The first 'boos' start when he's defending taxes cuts for the rich: 'Why? So they'll invest it in cheap labor abroad?,' yells one older worker. Of course this room is self-selected and pro-Obama-there's no unbiased cross-section of voters here. But the response is interesting nonetheless.

The older workers shout out challenges to McCain on every economic point, especially health care. I'm sitting next to Randy Shannon of PDA and Charlie Hamilton of the postal workers, and they're comparing notes about the banking system's undue influences throughout. Charlie tells me he's retired. 'I am too,' I reply, 'but I've never been busier!' He laughs out loud. 'That's right, me too, and you know what? If you don't stay busy, you die early!'

The entire room, however, cheers Obama when he nails McCain on the war's being a fundamental mistake in the first place, that should never have been fought. The older workers laugh when McCain comes back that Obama doesn't understand 'strategy and tactics.' 'We'll teach him a thing or two about strategy and tactics,' say one worker.

I was a little surprised at the enthusiasm of some for Obama’s war talk on Afghanistan, where I think he needs a different and wiser approach. I bring it up my critical point on the matter later talking to two union officials and a few other workers.

But the most interesting reaction was at the very end, when McCain pulled out his POW experience. The older workers groan, 'Here we go again, you were a prisoner, give it a rest!' Now this is from a group that has considerable respect for this part of McCain's story--but 'that was then and this is now' is clearly the mood. They wanted more serious answers to serious current questions, and McCain had none, as least for them.

Everyone cheers when it's over. But Kyra, always on the ball, takes the center of the room before anyone can leave, and lays out the work plan: 'Don't forget, we can still register new voters right up to Oct. 6. We're driving them nuts down at the courthouse, bringing in batches of hundreds. But they thank us, sort of, for the overtime!"

Charlie tells me getting them registered is only the first step; getting them to the polls is even more important. 'Too many of these youngsters register, then forget to vote,' he says. 'We'll get them, we've got the lists, we'll knock on their doors, give them a ride,' Kyra answers. 'No slackers allowed,' I laugh, and then tell a funny story about a ward election in Chicago, where the machine was trying to beat us. I knocked on a door of some 'plus' voters, only to discover them in a little dalliance on the couch. 'Get dressed and get your butts to the polls, we need you,' I said. Sure enough, two minutes before we closed, the young couple came running in, breathless. It made my day, since my candidate won by only 150 votes.

Up front, Kyra continues getting everyone committed, but there's one important point that needs to be made here. This was a good gathering of union workers, housewives, young students, African Americans, PDA activists, and Obama workers. The AFL-CIO is campaigning for the Democratic ticket from top to bottom. Alongside the 'Workers for Obama-Biden' poster are a half-dozen stacks of posters and yard-signs for other local Democratic candidates. But none of them or their reps are here tonight.

It's called the 'Top of the Ticket' problem. When our Congressman Jason Altmire is out campaigning, he doesn't urge folks to vote for Obama. He will only say he expects Obama to win. This problem exists in many places where local Democratic incumbents or the old party machine never supported Obama or are now dragging their feet. There is fear that coming out solidly for Obama will cost them the votes of Democrats who are leaning towards McCain. They work their own campaigns, leaving 'the top of the ticket' to the Obama youth working their hearts out. The situation demands leadership from them, turning Hillary voters into Obama voters. Part of the problem is that racism infects the old boy network and it takes courage to buck it. Some are subtle, or try to be, but it's noticeable enough to spotlight it for progressive activists on the local level everywhere.

Bob Schmetzer, an official with the IBEW, is standing near the door chatting with some folks preparing to leave. Bob tells us he's investigated where McCain stands on veterans issues: 'I was surprised; his stands really suck.' He's making up a special flyer comparing Obama and McCain on the issue, with Obama coming out on top, to have his members take around to the many veterans organizations in Beaver County. 'Maybe it will open some eyes,' he says.

Finally, as I head toward the door, a white-haired woman, a union veteran, brings me to a dead stop, and looks me straight in the eye. 'We're going to win this,' she says. I hope so, I say, it's very tight, and everything counts. 'No,' she says with a steely look in her eyes and a resolute tone in her voice, 'We're going to win this. We have no choice.' Women like her are Obama's ace-in-the-hole, so let's do all we can to bring out and engage a million of them by Election Day.

[Carl Davidson is webmaster for 'Progressives for Obama' ( http://progressivesforobama.blogspot.com) and a field organizer for the US Solidarity Economy Network (http://ussen.org ). Together with Jerry Harris, he is the author of CyberRadicalism: A New Left for a Global Age. Along with Jenna Allard a Julie Matthaei, he also edited the newly published 'Solidarity Economy: Building alternatives for People and Planet.' Both are available at lulu.com/stores/changemaker. He was founder and director of Peace and Justice Voters 2004 in Chicago, a past member of the steering committee of United for Peace and Justice, and a member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism ( http://cc-ds.org ). See http://carldavidson.blogspot.com for more information.]


Friday, September 26, 2008

Pro-Grassroots Clarity Will Win Votes

Photo by Laurie Davidson: Protest on Wall Street

Undecided Voters
Are Gloomy, Now
to Obama

By Heidi Przybyla

Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) -- The undecided voters who may make the difference in a close presidential election in November are more pessimistic about the direction of the nation than the broader electorate and are looking even more to Democrat Barack Obama on economic issues.

In the latest Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll, 22 percent of voters said they are undecided or could easily change their preference between Republican John McCain and Obama. The poll was taken before this week's contentious debate over administration plans to avert further meltdowns in the financial markets by injecting at least $700 billion into the system.

Almost nine of 10 of the persuadable voters in the Bloomberg poll said the country is on the wrong track. That result is 10 percentage points higher than for all registered voters. The percentage of undecided voters who said the economy is doing badly is 7 points higher than among the broader public.

With the candidates locked in a tight contest, both Obama and McCain ``are vying for the still uncommitted voters,'' said Susan Pinkus, the Los Angeles Times polling director. This group is ``more pessimistic than voters overall, which should be worrisome for McCain, since Obama is the candidate that voters believe would strengthen the economy and help get the country out the financial crisis we're in.''

Return to Washington

Both Obama and McCain returned to Washington for a White House meeting yesterday where President George W. Bush said dire and immediate consequences will occur unless Congress approves a rescue. Obama and McCain have both said a response is needed, though both called for modifying the Treasury's plan.

In the Sept. 19-22 poll, the undecided voters said Obama would do a better job than McCain of addressing the market meltdown by a margin of 57 percent to 18 percent. That's significantly wider than among all likely voters, where there is just a 12-point gap between Illinois Senator Obama and McCain, an Arizona senator.

Poll respondent Dolcie Rogers, an 80-year-old retired copy editor and Republican, attributes the nation's woes in part to a spendthrift mentality of the younger generation now in control, including Bush. While she hasn't decided who she will vote for, Rogers said she prefers Obama's approach to the economy.

``I was a Depression child, so you don't get too excited about stuff and you don't spend, spend, spend,'' said Rogers, who lives in Botkins, Ohio. Obama, 47, is ``my kind,'' she said. ``He's frugal and he wants to make every penny count.''

These voters are as gloomy as the broader public about their own financial situation, with 63 percent saying they feel less secure than they did six months ago.

Domestic Issues

They also said a candidate's views on domestic issues such as the economy and health care are much more important than their positions on abortion and gay rights or national security and terrorism. This tracks the results for all registered voters. Last year, most voters said they were most concerned about the war and national-security issues.

While these undecided voters are also slightly more likely to say a McCain administration would continue Bush's policies, they are also significantly more positive about the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Fifty-one percent said they have a positive feeling about her, while 39 percent have a positive view of Obama's running mate, Delaware Senator Joe Biden. Among all registered voters, 42 percent have positive sentiments about Biden and 48 percent said the same about Palin.

Iraq War

Persuadable voters also give McCain a bigger edge on Iraq than other voters: 55 percent said the Republican would be best at achieving success in the war, compared with 21 percent who said Obama would do a better job. Among all likely voters, 50 percent said McCain would be best on Iraq.

McCain, 72, advocates continuing the war until Iraq is stable, while Obama is calling for U.S. troops to begin withdrawing immediately.

Poll respondent David Rattigan, a 40-year-old salesman in Cincinnati, said he has voted always Republican. He is now considering voting for Obama, though he is concerned about the situation in Iraq.

``McCain holds a stronger position and I think would help finish out Iraq and Afghanistan and help bring our troops home safely,'' Rattigan said.

The survey of 1,287 registered voters, including 838 likely voters, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for both groups.

To contact the reporter on this story: Heidi Przybyla in Las Vegas at hprzybyla@bloomberg.net


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

No Deal: We Need Economic Democracy

[UPDATE Sept. 25 - John McCain has a rescue plan for his campaign, and don't count him out yet. In returning to Washington, he hopes to deliver his Republican Caucus for the Bush-Paulson plan, plus a few concessions to the Democrats. The clue is the statement by former Speaker Newt Gingrich hailing McCain's move as great leadership. Gingrich, of course, speaks for the wing of the party most opposed to government intervention. It's a big if, but McCain also hopes the vote can be engineered by the weekend, forcing a cancellation of the Mississippi debate. He wants to emerge from this as a problem-solving leader, leaving Obama to look like a mere "debater." We'll see. TH.]

The Bailout, the
Election, and New
Hope for the Left

By Tom Hayden
Progressives for Obama

The proposed Wall Street bailout is the ultimate lipstick on a pig. Progressives should oppose it, no matter the cosmetics. I speak as a 20-year veteran of electoral politics, not an economist, when I say there is no way this Congress and the White House can agree on any reforms commensurate with the scale of the $700 billion theft.

This is a plan that Mussolini could have written.

What Barack Obama himself should do is a different matter. He has a track record of proposing greater regulation of Wall Street starting before the current crisis. He would like to appear “responsible” during and let McCain’s long record of deregulatory mania going back to the Keating scandal speak for itself. But Obama, in being too cool, may allow McCain to reinforce his “maverick” status by taking the more populist position.

This is about the presidency, not only the economy.

Progressives should say No to this deal and begin a new phase in building a real progressive movement and more populist Democratic Party in the direction of economic democracy.

On Iraq, progressives have succeeded in discrediting the neo-conservatives, centrist Democrats, and humanitarian hawks. Public opinion in general, and 85 percent of Democratic voters, are with us.

For those same five years, we have had a harder time winning the economic argument. But we have succeeded in blocking the momentum of the WTO, especially towards Latin America, and turned many Democratic politicians against corporate trade policies. The public is with us on protecting Social Security and repealing tax cuts for the rich as well. The trouble has been challenging the core notion behind privatization and deregulation, that is, the myth of the “free market”, trusting private banks and corporations, the geese that lay the golden eggs, to invest in the common good. Everywhere you look today, the trend is towards private financing of schools, colleges, economic development, political conventions, sports teams, even thousands of non-governmental organizations, including progressive ones. Treasury Secretary Paulson, for instance, just became chairman of the board of the Nature Conservancy, threading their futures together. The public sector declines while inequalities grow. Regulations are stripped away.

Many have lost the way from the principles of the Populists, Progressives, Socialists and New Dealers. Those political ancestors saved capitalism in their own ways, but at least they believed in a strong, growing public sector to assert the public good where markets failed. They put more than lipstick on the pig. Collective bargaining, social security, public utilities, regulation of banks and corporations, and the direct election of senators were a few of the reforms that resulted in those eras.

Today the Democrats are looking for the minimum concessions that will help them cave. Since the Clinton era, or perhaps really the Carter era, progressive economic thinking in the Democratic Party has been narrowed to the choices of lipstick again and again. They are incapable of saying No, even to the greatest stick up in the history of our economy. This is the “shock treatment” explained by Naomi Klein, in full view.

Bush and McCain will be satisfied this week if the Democrats win Congressional oversight, modest re-regulation, and perhaps limits on compensation for the executives who are to blame for the catastrophe.

But given the political situation, there is no possibility of any package of concessions that comes near the magnitude of the theft.

For the moment there is little that serious progressives can do, unless – and this is my hope - people unexpectedly go into the streets. But we should realize and drive home the argument that free markets are a faith-based lie, that privatization is greed without fetters, that the public sector must be restored to the role of defending the public interest. The two grand strategies of the empire – militarization and privatization – are failing everywhere from Pakistan to Bolivia. The space is wide open for a populist, progressive, anti-war agenda, rising from below.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Talking Points for Activists:

Debate #1: Foreign

And National

Security Policy

By Tom Hayden
Progressives for Obama

Point 1: Although this presidential debate is about foreign policy and national security, we cannot avoid mention of the financial meltdown on Wall Street. Without a strong economy we cannot be strong in national security. The Wall Street fiasco will cost well over $700 billion dollars, the current cost of the Iraq War. The mistakes in both cases, Wall Street and Iraq, were based on irresponsible misjudgments by many people in high places, including both parties.

Senator McCain was a key leader in pushing for the invasion of Iraq and the deregulation of Wall Street which have put our economy at risk and left nearly 5,000 Americans dead in Iraq. Senator McCain stood on a naval carrier yelling "Next stop, Baghdad!" as our pilots began that unnecessary war. A few years earlier, Senator McCain was criticized for ethical transgressions by the US Senate for his direct role in the Keating S&L scandal which put billions in taxpayer money at risk. It is fair to say that Senator McCain, with his close ally Sen. Phil Gramm, has been the Senate's leading voice for deregulation of Wall Street.

Point 2: Sen. McCain will claim, with some facts to his credit, that his advocacy of the surge in Iraq has paid off. Violence against American soldiers is down. But those America has been fighting in Iraq are not defeated. The situation is like a temporary interlude until the November elections are over.

We have put one side in power, a sectarian Shi'a coalition that has conducted ethnic cleansing, torture and the detention of 50,000 people in prisons where human rights are abused every day. We have left Moktada al-Sadr's army intact in Sadr City. We have paid off 100,000 on the Sunni insurgent side with money to stop shooting us. Neither side has made any significant moves towards political reconciliation. Both sides, including those the President put in power, want us to withdraw our troops in 15 or 16 months, a position Barack Obama has long advocated.

If peace really is "on the horizon", as the White House claims, we could begin withdrawing all our troops now. Instead, under the Bush-McCain plan, we will have more troops on the ground in Iraq next year than we did before the surge started. That's not peace, that's military occupation. Iraq is a time bomb.

Point 3: The solution is to withdraw our ground troops as promised, perhaps starting with an immediate redeployment from Iraq's cities. Any American advisers left behind must not be mercenaries caught in the cross-fire of a renewed civil war. All our efforts must be diplomatic and economic, conveying the message that some sort of coalition government among the Iraqis must be put together as the American occupation ends next year.

It is worth noting that both Bush and McCain have abandoned their long-standing principle of never accepting a withdrawal deadline, and now are playing election-eve word games about "horizons" and "aspirations". We all remember past presidents promising they would never send ground troops to Southeast Asia, or that peace was at hand, promises that allowed those men to win elections by not keeping their word. Now it's time for some straight talk with the American people.

Point 4: We should not leap from the simmering quagmire in Iraq to the hot ones of Afghanistan and Pakistan without a clear plan for peace. The deployment of any American advisers or combat troops to those countries, if at all justified, should be as temporary holding actions and consistent with respecting their sovereign rights. Our only legitimate goal is to deter al-Qaeda from planning attacks on America from sanctuaries in Pakistan, but that goal cannot be pursued in isolation, if Pakistan's people see us as foreign invaders, if civilian casualties continue to mount, and if terrorism spreads across Pakistan in response to our forays into the tribal highlands.

Point 5: Every civilian casualty, every destroyed village, gives birth to new al-Qaeda recruits. The only solution is to reduce the pool of potential terrorists by ending our policies that breed and inflame them, in particular:

--Afghanistan and Pakistan are two of the poorest countries in the world, and there is no credible economic development plan in place;
--Iran shares a long border with Afghanistan, and was our ally in the first war against the Taliban. Negotiations with Iran on these and other issues are indispensable to finding a solution in Afghanistan.
--Getting out of Iraq while continuing humanitarian assistance is crucial to opening a new chapter of diplomacy in the region.
--Resuming an American initiative towards the failed Israeli-Palestinian peace process will begin to rebuild Arab and European confidence that America has a constructive role to play in dampening down the fires set by the Bush Administration with its surreal campaign to impose American-style democracy on the Middle East.

Point 6: John McCain has offered no diplomatic, political or economic approaches to managing, not to mention lessening, these multiple crises. But his acting as an isolated hawk- yelling about bombing Baghdad, singing about bombing Iran, encouraging a conflict with the Russians on their border - is comparable to being General Custer at Little Big Horn.

Point 7: Even the greatest power on earth cannot sustain more devastating experiences like the past five years in Iraq and the cascading catastrophe on Wall Street. Our military can't take the wear and tear of forever wars. Our economy can't take the flow of our taxes and profits to such a narrow stratum of the rich. Our cities and schools can't take the burden of budget cuts and tax breaks. Our environment, our rivers and streams, our eagles and polar bears, can't wait another generation. Our courts can't take the appointment of extremist judges who unilaterally diminish the civil rights, women's rights, labor rights and environmental protections past generations have fought and sacrificed for. Enough.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Note to Obama: 4 Points for Progressive Bailout

Photo: America's Socialist Senator Talks to Workers

for Bailouts!
Who Pays?

By Sen. Bernie Sanders

September 19, 2008 - The current financial crisis facing our country has been caused by the extreme right-wing economic policies pursued by the Bush administration. These policies, which include huge tax breaks for the rich, unfettered free trade and the wholesale deregulation of commerce, have resulted in a massive redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the very wealthy.

The middle class has really been under assault. Since President Bush has been in office, nearly 6 million Americans have slipped into poverty, median family income for working Americans has declined by more than $2,000, more than 7 million Americans have lost their health insurance, over 4 million have lost their pensions, foreclosures are at an all time high, total consumer debt has more than doubled, and we have a national debt of over $9.7 trillion dollars.

While the middle class collapses, the richest people in this country have made out like bandits and have not had it so good since the 1920s. The top 0.1 percent now earn more money than the bottom 50 percent of Americans, and the top 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. The wealthiest 400 people in our country saw their wealth increase by $670 billion while Bush has been president. In the midst of all of this, Bush lowered taxes on the very rich so that they are paying lower income tax rates than teachers, police officers or nurses.

Now, having mismanaged the economy for eight years as well as having lied about our situation by continually insisting, “The fundamentals of our economy are strong,” the Bush administration, six weeks before an election, wants the middle class of this country to spend many hundreds of billions on a bailout. The wealthiest people, who have benefited from Bush’s policies and are in the best position to pay, are being asked for no sacrifice at all. This is absurd. This is the most extreme example that I can recall of socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor.

In my view, we need to go forward in addressing this financial crisis by insisting on four basic principles:

(1) The people who can best afford to pay and the people who have benefited most from Bush’s economic policies are the people who should provide the funds for the bailout. It would be immoral to ask the middle class, the people whose standard of living has declined under Bush, to pay for this bailout while the rich, once again, avoid their responsibilities. Further, if the government is going to save companies from bankruptcy, the taxpayers of this country should be rewarded for assuming the risk by sharing in the gains that result from this government bailout.

Specifically, to pay for the bailout, which is estimated to cost up to $1 trillion, the government should:

a) Impose a five-year, 10 percent surtax on income over $1 million a year for couples and over $500,000 for single taxpayers. That would raise more than $300 billion in revenue;

b) Ensure that assets purchased from banks are realistically discounted so companies are not rewarded for their risky behavior and taxpayers can recover the amount they paid for them; and

c) Require that taxpayers receive equity stakes in the bailed-out companies so that the assumption of risk is rewarded when companies’ stock goes up.

(2) There must be a major economic recovery package which puts Americans to work at decent wages. Among many other areas, we can create millions of jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and moving our country from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. Further, we must protect working families from the difficult times they are experiencing. We must ensure that every child has health insurance and that every American has access to quality health and dental care, that families can send their children to college, that seniors are not allowed to go without heat in the winter, and that no American goes to bed hungry.

(3) Legislation must be passed which undoes the damage caused by excessive de-regulation. That means reinstalling the regulatory firewalls that were ripped down in 1999. That means re-regulating the energy markets so that we never again see the rampant speculation in oil that helped drive up prices. That means regulating or abolishing various financial instruments that have created the enormous shadow banking system that is at the heart of the collapse of AIG and the financial services meltdown.

(4) We must end the danger posed by companies that are “too big too fail,” that is, companies whose failure would cause systemic harm to the U.S. economy. If a company is too big to fail, it is too big to exist. We need to determine which companies fall in this category and then break them up. Right now, for example, the Bank of America, the nation’s largest depository institution, has absorbed Countrywide, the nation’s largest mortgage lender, and Merrill Lynch, the nation’s largest brokerage house. We should not be trying to solve the current financial crisis by creating even larger, more powerful institutions. Their failure could cause even more harm to the entire economy.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Obama: Use Old Mills for 21st Century Energy

Photo: Obama talks with USWA workers at former closed mill in Bucks County now making wind turbines
Steel Workers, Allies
Launch Campaign
For 'Green Jobs'

By Press Associates

Sept. 12, 2008-Pittsburgh - Add "green jobs" to all the other campaigns traversing the country this fall, thanks to the Steel Workers, plus environmental groups.

The campaign, in six states - Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, New York, Missouri, Tennessee, and Minnesota - is based on a Sept. 9 report showing $100 billion invested in green technology has the potential to create 2 million new jobs in the next two years, advocates said. That's four times as many jobs as the same dollars would create in the oil industry, it adds.

Green Recovery: A Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy, by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, says that of the new jobs, 800,000 would be in construction and the rest would be in the to-be-built factories turning out "green" goods, such as hybrid auto motors, wind turbines and solar paneling that converts sunlight into electricity.

The $100 billion would be split: $50 billion for tax credits to aid business and homeowners to retrofit buildings, plus investing in renewable-energy systems, and $46 billion in direct government spending on retrofitting public buildings, expanding mass transit, freight rail and smart electrical-grid systems, and investing in renewable energy. The rest would be federal loan guarantees underwriting private credit for retrofits and renewable energy investment.

The green jobs would also help combat global warming. "The climate crisis is on a global scale," USWA President Leo Gerard said in a telephone press conference unveiling the report and discussing the campaign. And he said there would be positive spin-offs in other industries. Many of the construction jobs would re-employ now-jobless workers - due to the housing industry slump - "doing pretty much what they have been doing anyway," he pointed out.

"If you retrofit public and private buildings, for example" - one recommendation of the report - "the materials will come from glass factories and building trades factories. People can make what they already make, but make it for green economy."

Another spin-off, he pointed out, would be rising sales in industries now reeling from the recession, high gas prices, or both. Gerard said tire company officials told him driving is down, so purchases of tires are down. USW includes rubber and tire workers.

Increased auto sales, when hybrids and electric cars are produced, would reverse that.

And he cited Gamesa, a Spanish-owned windmill turbine firm, as an example of use of tax credits to create "green jobs." That former steel mill in Western Pennsylvania employs 1,000 people. It came there after the state offered tax credits for "green job" firms, Gerard noted. The Steel Workers have organized the Gamesa workers.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Depressing the Vote the 'Modern' Racist Way

Barack Obama:
The Price of
Being Black

By Andrew Hacker
New York Review of Books September 25, 2008 Issue

--Restoring the Right to Vote, by Erika Wood, Brennan Center for Justice, 34 pp., available at www.brennancenter.org

--Crawford v. Marion County [Indiana] Election Board, US Supreme Court, April 28, 2008

--Florida State Conference of the NAACP v. Browning, US Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit, April 3, 2008

In May, Hillary Clinton described many of her core supporters as "hard-working Americans, white Americans." Primary voting in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia confirmed her surmise. Her remark seemed, without saying so, to claim an advantage over Obama that was due to his race.

But there's more we need to know. We can see how being a farmer or a bond trader or a gun collector might influence your vote. And we understand why black Americans would want a person of their race in the Oval Office. But just what is there about being white that might incline someone toward one candidate instead of another?

Senator Clinton implied that this identity was salient for some voters and that she could appeal to it. Polls showed that some 15 to 20 percent of white voters in those three states said that "race" was a factor in their vote, and we are left to wonder just how much of a factor and how many more would have said the same if they had been frank with the interviewer. People are uneasy talking about the subject of race, but the feeling persists that Obama's half-ancestry could tip the scales on November 4.


Barack Obama can only become president by mustering a turnout that will surpass the votes he is not going to get. This may well mean that more black Americans than ever will have to go to the polls, if only because the electorate is predominantly white, and it isn't clear how their votes will go. Obstacles to getting blacks to vote have always been formidable, but this year there will be barriers-some new, some long-standing-that previous campaigns have not had to face.

For many years, the momentum was toward making the franchise universal. Property qualifications were ended; the poll tax was nullified; the voting age was lowered to eighteen. But now strong forces are at work to downsize the electorate, ostensibly to combat fraud and strip the rolls of voters who are ineligible for one reason or another.

But the real effect is to make it harder for many black Americans to vote, largely because they are more vulnerable to challenges than other parts of the population. Licensed to Vote In a 6-3 decision in April written by John Paul Stevens, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board , the Supreme Court upheld a 2005 Indiana law requiring voters in that state to produce a government document with a photograph at the polls.

In practical terms, this meant a passport or a driver's license. Since less than a third of adults have a passport, the Indiana case focused largely on how many adults lack a license to drive. During oral arguments, several justices pressed the plaintiff's lawyer for an answer. For reasons I cannot fathom, he kept using the number 43,000, for a state whose voting-age population is 4.6 million. In fact, the Federal Highway Administration, in an easily obtained report, says that 673,926 adult residents of Indiana have no license, which works out to a not trivial 14.7 percent of the state's potential electorate. Had that percentage been stressed, we can conjecture that Justices Stevens and Anthony Kennedy might have shifted their position. Requiring a driver's license to vote has a disparate racial impact, a finding that once commanded judicial notice. To apply for the state ID card that Indiana offers as an alternative, moreover, nondrivers must travel to a motor vehicles office, which for many would be a lengthy trip.

While licenses do not record race, Justice David Souter cited relevant studies of the race of license-holders in his dissent, which was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In one survey, made by the Department of Justice in 1994, black residents of Louisiana were found to be four to five times more likely not to have the official photograph needed for an identifying document. (Not to mention access to a car; recall how many couldn't leave as Katrina approached.) A Wisconsin survey published in 2005 was more precise. No fewer than 53 percent of black adults in Milwaukee County were not licensed to drive, compared with 15 percent of white adults in the remainder of the state. According to its author, similar disparities will be found across the nation. [1] The Indiana decision will not only make it harder to add new people to the rolls; many who had previously voted without photo identification are now required to produce an official photograph. If Marion County (Indianapolis) has the same proportion of unlicensed voters as Milwaukee County, I count it as having more than 44,000 black residents who will be needing transport to motor bureaus to ensure that each item in their nondriver ID application has been properly filled in. Extended nationwide, this means that a lot of on-the-ground assistance is going to be needed.

Purging the Rolls In 2002, Congress passed the amiably titled Help America Vote Act, presumably to thwart the recurrence of butterfly ballots and dimpled chads. To ensure that voters won't face problems at their polling place, each state is required to maintain an electronic "statewide voter registration list," to be linked to every precinct. States were also mandated to keep their lists current, eliminating the people who die or move away. One method is to mail letters to everyone on the rolls and expunge the names on those letters returned because the addressee could not be found.

But black families tend to move more, especially in cities, and few think to notify election officials. When Ohio purged 35,427 returned names in 2004, a review found that the addresses were in "mostly urban and minority areas." [2] Here too, getting back on the rolls can be like mending a mistaken credit rating. Florida doesn't depend on mailings. Rather, it uses computers to match registrants' names against their Social Security numbers, which are then sent to Washington (actually Baltimore) to see if they match. Whoever devised this syst em should have known that the Social Security Administration is unable to match submitted names with numbers in 28 percent of the cases sent to it: for example, because they are maiden names of women who married or changed them back after a divorce. [3] Not to mention keyboard operators getting a single digit wrong.

Florida also uses the help-the-voter act to check felony records, since convicted criminals there can't vote. Oddly, it only requires that 80 percent of the letters in your name match with the name of someone with such a record. So if there's a murderous John Peterson, the software disenfranchises everyone named John Peters. In view of the racial rates for incarceration, black voters are more apt to have names closely resembling those with felony histories. Florida's system for purging the voting lists was approved by a 2-1 ruling in federal circuit court this spring, Flor-id a State Conference of the NAACP v. Browning . The dissenting judge, Rosemary Barkett, a Clinton appointee, was the only one to spell out the disparate racial impact. She noted that while black voters made up 13 percent of the scanned pool, they comprised 26 percent of those who were purged; while whites were 66 percent of the pool, they were only 17 percent of the rejected group. Again, if you have plenty of time, you can claim that the computer was mistaken and try to find documents that show you exist and were never a felon.

Voteless for Life

Proportional to the population, the United States leads the world in putting people behind bars, and currently has 2.3 million in its jails and prisons. Among inmates, black men and women outnumber Hispanics by more than two to one and whites by nearly six to one. This is another reason why a much higher ratio of black citizens will be unable to vote this year, because they are among either the 882,300 who are currently incarcerated or the two million who have served sentences but continue to be disenfranchised.

According to Restoring the Right to Vote , a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, 13 percent of black men cannot cast votes; in three states 20 percent cannot because they are locked up or formerly were. Some states specify felonies that condemn the citizen to disenfranchisement for life. Alabama includes soliciting a child by computer, possession of obscene matter, and treason. Yes, some crim es are heinous; but completing a sentence is supposed to signify that a debt has been paid. Indeed, a desire to vote can be seen as showing a willingness to accept a citizen's obligations.

Virginia takes an especially harsh view of drug offenses, which is mainly why so many black Americans are imprisoned there, not least because it's so easy to make such arrests. Released offenders must wait seven years before they can file a petition for their vote, which must be accompanied by seven documents and several supporting letters, plus another to the governor detailing "how your life has changed" and specifying "why you feel your rights should be restored." Mississippi has a similar regimen: with 155,127 men and women released between 1992 and 2004, only 107 petitions to have the right to vote restored were approved. The disenfranchisement of former felons in Kentucky has reduced its potential black electorate by 24 percent. [4]

According to the Brennan Center report, only Maine and Vermont allow inmates to vote (as they can in Israel and Canada). Thirteen states, including Pennsylvania and Michigan, allow former convicts to vote upon their release from prison, while twenty-five bar voting until such ex-prisoners have completed their probation or parole. The other ten, like Alabama and Virginia, make the process of reattaining the right to vote so arduous that most people don't try. Nor does there seem to be much sentiment in those states for removing the bans or lowering the barriers. So allowing one-time inmates to become full citizens will be a long-term campaign; it will not likely have much effect on the next few elections.


While a high black turnout will obviously help Obama, whether he becomes president will hinge on the decisions of white voters. (Most Hispanic-Americans list themselves as white or don't designate a race.) In all, 94.2 million white Americans took part in the 2004 presidential election, as compared to only 13.5 million blacks; and 58 percent of whites supported George W. Bush against just 41 percent for John Kerry. So the Obama campaign, even if helped by external events, will have to change a lot of white minds.

There are already danger signs. In three states, race will in effect be on the ballot. Colorado and Nebraska are giving their residents a chance to ban affirmative action. The measures in both states carry the title "civil rights initiative," at the urging of the Black political activist Ward Connerly, who succeeded in outlawing affirmative action in California and has inspired similar campaigns in other states. The signs are that both measures will pass with votes to spare. This is what happened in California (1996), Washington (1998), and Michigan (2006), which tend to be liberal states. The reason isn't hard to find.

Putting affirmative action on a ballot encourages white majorities to identify themselves by their race. It's their rights they are voting to restore. What is seldom openly said is that a lot of white Americans feel racially aggrieved. They were represented by Barbara Grutter and Jennifer Gratz, whose petitions to end affirmative action reached the Supreme Court in 2003. [5] Their claims were that places which would otherwise have been theirs at the University of Michigan were given to less qualified black applicants. Thus, they argued, they were rejected because they were white, and there was an official preference for other races. In separate decisions, the Court narrowly upheld the law school's affirmative action method, while striking down the undergraduate admissions procedure.

What is rarely mentioned is that neither Grutter nor Gratz were outstanding candidates. To put it crudely, they weren't high on the "white list." And a lot of whites see themselves in the same situation. They are the ones who don't get admission or promotions, and thus feel they bear the brunt of affirmative action. Nor are they wrong about this, as Obama observed in his Philadelphia speech. Moreover, such feelings about affirmative action appear to be nationwide, even in states where it hasn't been on the ballot.

Obama's word "bitter" may describe a good many blue-collar and middle-income families whose children have been rejected by their state's university. This explains why close to 65 percent of white voters in California, Washington, and Michigan supported the bans, and why similar proportions are expected to in Colorado and Nebraska this November. So a task of Obama's campaign is to ensure that this white cause--which is what it is--does not carry over to the presidential contest. While only fourteen electoral votes are at stake, they could make a difference.

Two Democratic senators, Patty Murray of Washington and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, may have some useful advice. In 1998 and 2006, it was clear that many voters whose support they needed would also be supporting repeal of affirmative action. Yet Murray managed to win with 58 percent of the total, while Stabenow's margin was 56 percent. How they managed to keep separate their own election and the vote on affirmative action, for example, by emphasizing economic issues, could be instructive.

As I write, several polls give Obama about 47 percent and McCain about 45 percent, a decline of several points for Obama from the polls of May and July. The rest of the respondents say they are undecided. At the same time the state-by-state estimates by pollster.com show Obama leading in electoral votes, with 102 such votes a "toss-up." The numbers will probably have changed by the time you read this. Yet now and later, there's a chance that the real percentages will be the reverse of those I've cited. Some people who are telling pollsters they're for Obama could actually be lying.

Such behavior has been called the "Bradley Effect ," after Tom Bradley, a black mayor of Los Angeles who lost his bid to be California's governor back in 1982. While every poll showed him leading his white opponent, that isn't how the final tally turned out. Things haven't been far different in some other elections involving black candidates. In 1989, David Dinkins was eighteen points ahead in the polls for New York's mayoral election, but ended up winning by only a two-point edge. The same year, Douglas Wilder was projected to win Virginia's governorship by nine points, but squeaked in with one half of one percent of the popular vote. Nor are examples only from the past. In Michigan in 2006, the final polls forecast that the proposal to ban affirmative action would narrowly prevail by 51 percent. In fact, it handily passed with 58 percent.

That's a Bradley gap of seven points, which isn't trivial. Pollsters contend that respondents often change their minds at the la st minute, or that conservatives are less willing to cooperate with surveys. Another twist is that more voters are mailing in absentee ballots, and it's not clear how those early decisions are reflected in the polls. Yet the Bradley gap persists after voters have actually cast their ballots. Just out of the booth, we hear them telling white exit pollers that they supported the black candidate, whereas returns from these precincts show far fewer such votes. Thus they lie to interviewers they don't know and will never see again.

Barack Obama wants to think "white guilt [over treatment of blacks] has largely exhausted itself in America." [6] I'm less sure. Almost all people who reject black candidates say they have nonracial reasons for doing so. And many undoubtedly believe what they're saying. So I'm not persuaded that the Bradley gap won't emerge this year. The Obama campaign would do well to print signs to post prominently in all its offices: ALWAYS SUBTRACT SEVEN PERCENT! Since 1968, the Democratic Party has not been able to muster a majority of white Americans. Al Gore fell twelve percentage points behind among white voters in 2000, and John Kerry had a seventeen-point gap four years later.

It all started with Richard Nixon's strategy, which was initially aimed at the South. With the opening of electoral rolls to blacks, the then-dominant Democrats were becoming a biracial party, which disconcerted many whites. So Nixon invited them to join the Republicans, assuring them that they would not press to integrate their party. The formula continued to work when it moved north with the emergence of Reagan Democrats. By the 2000 GOP convention, there were only eighty-five black faces among the 2,022 Republican delegates. Some unknown proportion of white voters doesn't want to support a party to which black Americans are drawn-"any more," as Darryl Pinckney has noted, "than they would go on living on a street that got too integrated." [7]

I've been careful so far not to use the word "racism." The term itself has become an obstacle to understanding. Once white people hear it, they tend to freeze, and start listing reasons why it doesn't apply to them. After all, most Americans admire Oprah Winfrey, like Tiger Woods, and respect Colin Powell. Yet racism persists, albeit not publicly voiced, especially in the belief that one's own is a superior strain. Here, however, not many whites regard Barack Obama as their inferior; effete or arrogant perhaps, but they don't fault him on intellect. To some, indeed, he may seem too much the intellectual. Resentment of perceived black privilege is also involved, as we have seen with respect to affirmative action, and even fear of some kind of racial payback. Over half of a largely white sample told a Rasmussen poll that they feel Obama continues to share at least some of Reverend Jeremiah Wright's positions on America.

On underlying sentiments, surveys aren't much help. For example, in an ABC News-Washington Post poll in June, 20 percent of the whites who responded said a candidate's race would factor heavily in their vote, while 30 percent admitted to feelings of racial prejudice. If the Bradley Effect was at work, as many as one third of the voters may count race as important. (We know of whites who are for Obama because they'd like to have a black president, which is also a racial reason.) In July, 70 percent of whites told a New York Times/ CBS News poll that they felt the country "is ready to elect a black president." Of course; that's what people feel obliged to say today. Yet some might have followed it up with "but not Barack Obama." The surveys can't measure white apprehensions over having a black man at the head of their government. Michael Tomasky has said that to win, Barack Obama "will need to build multiracial coalitions." [8]

What seems more needed, in my view, are two parallel campaigns: a quiet one to assure a maximum black turnout, and a more public one to make the most of the white backing the Obama-Biden ticket already has. His rallies, appearances, and advertisements would benefit from featuring white faces, and they should be accompanied by endorsements from white military veterans, union leaders, police chiefs, and firemen. His black supporters will know what is going on, and not take this as a rebuff. -August 28, 2008

NYRB, Volume 55, Number 14 · September 25, 2008


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Key Task: Isolate and Divide the Right

Progressives and
Antiwar Movement
Must Weigh in

By Tom Hayden
Progressives for Obama

September 13, 2008 - A principle reason for Progressives For Obama is so that we can say things that the Obama campaign cannot or will not say.

This is one of those times.

1.Sarah Palin is a mortal threat to the possibility of Obama winning. The reason is simple: if she can add a couple of points to McCain from defecting white women and the newly-energized right wing religious base without losing more independent votes, McCain pulls ahead in some key states.

The dangerous tendency of the Obama campaign and its Democratic surrogates is to not fight back, but treat Palin as a “distraction” from McCain, the economy, the issues they feel familiar with, etc.

If they assume that the Palin bubble will return to earth naturally, or that the mainstream media and Saturday Night Live will do the job for them, the Obama campaign is mistaken.

There needs to be a controlled message that treats Palin as an extension of McCain, not a bobble-head to be laughed at.

The message has to cut off independent and women’s support for McCain-Palin and, if possible, divide some of the right-wingers. Not an easy task.

Perhaps the point is that we’ve already suffered eight years under a president Bush and vice-president Cheney who were, in Palin’s words, so “wired in a way to be committed to the mission” that they could neither blink nor think.

An excellent editorial in Sunday’s NY Times makes the connection from McCain to Palin in terms that will reach independent and moderate voters. It should be quoted and widely circulated. The choice of an unqualified candidate to be a heartbeat from the presidency of a 72 year old man with four melanomas “was shockingly irresponsible”, the Times said.

I think we can see in McCain-Palin a kind of faith-based extremism that reminds us of Bush and, even more, the persona of Gen. Custer.

We have seen where righteous faith-based politics goes in the Supreme Court decisions, corruption scandals, the official lies, and the unnecessary wars of the past eight years, all carried out in the name of what both McCain and Palin now call “God’s plan.”

We should say, In the name of God, stop them!

2. The McCain-Palin foreign policy is a mortal threat from the same neoconservatives who brought us Iraq wrapped in lies. We cannot give the Republicans an advantage with their false clams of “victory in sight.” We have to emphasize the three-trillion dollar cost of the war, and we have to connect the war to the price of oil. Democratic consultants should stop compartmentalizing the economy like it was 1992 all over again.

This is apparently not the advice of the biggest Democratic heavyweights like Bill Clinton and James Carville who tend to revert to “it’s the economy, stupid.” But it’s not 1992. It’s the 9/11 era, the Iraq War era, the War on Terrorism era – and also the middle of the worse economic and energy crisis in memory. The issues are tied together. Not enough people will vote on “lunch bucket” issues if they think McCain-Palin will protect them from terrorists, but they might vote against McCain-Palin if they think they are being lied to again.

The war is not being won. That’s why Petraeus wants to keep 140,000 troops in Iraq. We are paying 100,000 Iraqis not to shoot and bomb us – for now. Iraq is a time bomb with a timer set to go off next year after the November election. It costs $324 million a day, three trillion in the long run, that could be spent on public works, health care and education now. It deepens our dependency on oil when we should be spending the money to weatherize our buildings, conserve our energy and throw ourselves into a new clean energy economy with the same focus it took to get to the moon. That’s the mission we need to be wired into…

Under McCain-Palin, the same neo-conservatives who fabricated the pretext for invading Iraq will only take us into more quagmires – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Georgia, maybe Iran - that will bleed our troops and our economy without an end in sight.

Palin's brazen neocon advisers repeated the original Iraq lie – that Saddam was behind 9/11 - in the scripted speech she gave to her son’s troops as they departed for the war zone: “You’ll be there to defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the deaths of thousands of Americans.” [NYT, Sept. 14]

Bush-Cheney obviously are trying to scare enough voters into supporting McCain-Palin amidst a rising national security crisis. The Democrats and the media are helping them by accepting Georgia’s triggering attack on Russia as legitimate, which surely was orchestrated with the knowledge of McCain’s top foreign policy adviser, the same neo-con who directed the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq from Washington lobby to actual invasion force. They further hope to bring back bin Ladin’s head from Pakistan before November. Bush-McCain may get the scalp of bin Ladin but they are on Custer’s path to Little Big Horn.

So the clear promise of McCain-Palin is there will be blood. The fact that they scoff at Obama at the mere mention of diplomacy [despite their own talking to Russia, Iran, etc] presents an opening to describe them as what they are: extremists in the tradition of Bush-Cheney for whom war seems to be a first option. McCain was there on an aircraft carrier screaming “Next stop, Baghdad!” in 2002 as if it was Vietnam in 1967. Palin says she’s wired to win the war without blinking. That’s also why McCain on two occasions this year has spoken favorably of resuming the compulsory military draft. Independents and young first-time voters should pay attention to these issues.

The peace movement which provided the platform that made Obama’s candidacy possible in 2002 cannot afford to let that advantage be squandered by Democrats this fall. The upcoming September 20 Million Doors for Peace campaign is a good way to begin spreading the word.

[ See http://www.milliondoorsforpeace.org ]

['Progressives for Obama' is moving. It's new and more secure site is http://progressivesforobama.net It's old site, here, is http://progressivesforobama.blogspot.com Both will be functional for a while, by save the new one as a favorite, and pass the word. ]


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

'God's Plan' To Wipe Them Out?

Does Palin Care
If Alaska's Ice
and Polar
Bears Vanish?

By Tom Hayden

Every child in America should know that Sarah Palin is against saving polar bears from extinction. Then every child should ask their parents, teachers and ministers what the adults are going to do about it.

The first step is to watch the attached 20-second video of a polar bear family searching for ice in Alaska.


Then for a scientific report go to


Here's the story....

A petition to list the polar bear was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity in February 2005, nearly four years ago. A very cautious Bush Administration agency, the US Fish and Wildlife Agency released a "final rule" recommending that the polar bear be listed as "threatened", which means "likely to become extinct in the foreseeable future." The "primary threat to the polar bear is the decrease of ice coverage", the agency concluded. The report was too timid to recommend any habitat restoration for the bears.

Alaska is shrinking. Polar bears are drowning as they swim in search of distant ice flows. The polar icecap itself now is 700,000 square miles smaller than 20 years ago. The melting this year "may well surpass last year's - the furthest retreat of Arctic ice in a single year since it was first measured", according to the New York Times this week.

Sarah Palin refuses to believe that our oil, gas and chemical-based economy is causing global warming. She doesn't believe in evolution either. So as her state's coastal areas melt away and polar bear habitat disappears, she opposes the "endangered" listing, even suing the Bush Administration.

"Palin's administrration relied in part on research from scientists funded by the oil industry to fight against the polar bear's listing", even overriding Alaska's own polar bear experts.

Adult voters, politicians, lobbyists and consultants seem confused about "trade offs" between maintaining our oil-based lifestyle versus letting polar bears go extinct. [Palin also opposes listing for beluga whales, protections of salmon streams from mining runoff, and shooting wolf pups from helicopters.] Polar bears, whales, salmon and wolves apparently were once part of "God's plan" but now stand in the way of the oil companies. Like the Iraq War, Palin thinks her plan is God's plan too.

Our children are not confused about this. They will have to stand up to the adults before the dimming and darkening of their world.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Rightist Populism: Hard Right, Culture, Real War

Photo: Palin in Kuwait

Palin's Tactics:
Cultural Symbols

Vs. Actual Policies

By Robert Kuttner

Sept. 4, 2008 - So now we understand what John McCain's handlers were up to: Intensify the culture wars, and once again use cultural symbols as substitutes for policies. In particular, use Hockey Mom Sarah Palin to change the subject from why regular Americans are hurting in the pocketbook to why Palin is a more regular American than Barack Obama. Will the Democrats change it back? Whether they do will decide the election.

Last night, we learned once again how Republicans keep managing to turn seemingly weak candidates and weaker economic circumstances into instruments of political victory: They are superb at creating master narratives that make Democrats, liberals, and "the media" into the cultural enemies of ordinary people.

Those who view this as an overly narrow and outmoded Rovian tactic of throwing raw (moose) meat at the conservative base miss the point. The strategy of energizing the base is leveraged into using cultural symbols to reach out to everyone else who is frustrated with how little they get back from the economy and the government--not just hard core right-to-life women in Missouri and Oklahoma, but downwardly mobile white men in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In this strategy, every little Democratic misstep is inflated into a cultural parable, while gaping holes in the Republican story are neatly sidestepped. The master narrative of Obama as an unqualified elitist will be reinforced again and again this fall, as it was last night with Palin lines like these: "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities." "I might add that in small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening. We prefer candidates who don't talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco." (If you think that Palin came up with these zingers herself, I have a bridge-to-nowhere to sell you.)

Republicans consistently play this kind of hardball. And, as effective as the Democratic convention was, it did not quite have as consistent a master narrative. Only at peak moments did the Democrats rise the necessary shaming of McCain, as in John Kerry's superbly indignant speech, Biden's talk of the kitchen-table frustrations of regular Americans, and a few of Obama's better lines.

If the Republican master strategists can use Sarah Palin as Everywoman, just as they successfully used George W. Bush as the aw-shucks champion of regular people, they could turn the trick with a trained monkey.

Will they succeed yet again? That depends on two factors.

One is whether Sarah Palin's faux-feminist machismo, Alaska style, is just a little too weird for the lower-48. Can she and her handlers succeed in using purely symbolic appeals to camouflage her actual record and the plain contradictions in her story? Only time will tell. As Tim Egan, who has covered Alaska for the Times, has observed, she may be the only vice presidential candidate since Teddy Roosevelt who "knows how to field dress a moose," in Fred Thompson's memorable words (note to SNL, how about a moose in a party dress), but how many other Americans have actually dressed a moose-or care?

In defending Palin, Republican spokesmen (emphasis on men) charmingly discovered a new word-"sexist." Rightwingers who have long urged a traditional division of labor in the family found it sexist that some bloggers and talking heads were wondering why a "traditional values" mother of a newborn special needs baby and a pregnant 17-year old would abruptly jump into national politics. One Republican mouthpiece indignantly asked an NPR interviewer why she wasn't criticizing Barack Obama for leaving his daughters at home. Rudy Giuliani, of all people, asked: "How dare they question whether Sarah Palin has enough time to spend with her children and be vice president. How dare they do that? When do they ever ask a man that question?"

But isn't the family-values story that moms are supposed to stay home (and that high school girls are supposed to be abstinent?) They question is whether the broad, non-base public notices the plain hypocrisy. Somehow, it's hard to imagine Hillary voters being impressed.

The more important factor, of course, is economic. For nearly a week, the Palin drama has diverted attention from the real issue in the campaign-the weak economy and its effect on regular Americans. This was the Republican gamble. McCain's handlers were willing to take the messy Palin details in exchange for the distraction. Indeed, the rich details served to amplify the distraction.

It's understandable that McCain and Palin want to change the subject, for they have so little to offer voters. Bloggers and talking heads have taken the bait. And it's legitimate that they should expose the holes in Palin's story. But the responsibility for changing the subject back to pocketbook issues belongs to the Democrats.

This morning in my emailbox, was a point by point rebuttal of Palin's speech, sent by Obama economic spokesman Jason Furman, in mind-numbing detail. (Palin as mayor increased the Wasilla sales tax from 2.0 to 2.5 percent, etc., etc.)

This will endear the Obama campaign to liberal policy wonks everywhere, but it is no substitute for a master narrative. Unless Obama and Biden use every opportunity to hammer home how the right has played working Americans for suckers, culture will trump economics yet again.

[Robert Kuttner is the author of Obama's Challenge: America's Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency, just released by Chelsea Green. He is the co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect magazine, as well as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the think tank Demos.]

© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/97593/


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Needed: Frontal Attack on Radical Right

Photo: Palin's Creationism in Schools

The Palin Choice
and the Reality
of the Political Mind

By George Lakoff
Huffington Post

Sept. 1, 2008 - This election matters because of realities -- the realities of global warming, the economy, the Middle East, nuclear proliferation, civil liberties, species extinction, poverty here and around the world, and on and on. Such realities are what make this election so very crucial, and how to deal with them is the substance of the Democratic platform (PDF).

Election campaigns matter because who gets elected can change reality. But election campaigns are primarily about the realities of voters' minds, which depend on how the candidates and the external realities are cognitively framed. They can be framed honestly or deceptively, effectively or clumsily. And they are always framed from the perspective of a worldview.

The Obama campaign has learned this. The Republicans have long known it, and the choice of Sarah Palin as their vice presidential candidate reflects their expert understanding of the political mind and political marketing. Democrats who simply belittle the Palin choice are courting disaster. It must be taken with the utmost seriousness.

The Democratic responses so far reflect external realities: she is inexperienced, knowing little or nothing about foreign policy or national issues; she is really an anti-feminist, wanting the government to enter women's lives to block abortion, but not wanting the government to guarantee equal pay for equal work, or provide adequate child health coverage, or child care, or early childhood education; she shills for the oil and gas industry on drilling; she denies the scientific truths of global warming and evolution; she misuses her political authority; she opposes sex education and her daughter is pregnant; and, rather than being a maverick, she is on the whole a radical right-wing ideologue.

All true, so far as we can tell.

But such truths may nonetheless be largely irrelevant to this campaign. That is the lesson Democrats must learn. They must learn the reality of the political mind.

The Obama campaign has done this very well so far. The convention events and speeches were orchestrated both to cast light on external realities, traditional political themes, and to focus on values at once classically American and progressive: empathy, responsibility both for oneself and others, and aspiration to make things better both for oneself and the world. Obama did all this masterfully in his nomination speech, while replying to, and undercutting, the main Republican attacks.

But the Palin nomination changes the game. The initial response has been to try to keep the focus on external realities, the "issues," and differences on the issues. But the Palin nomination is not basically about external realities and what Democrats call "issues," but about the symbolic mechanisms of the political mind -- the worldviews, frames, metaphors, cultural narratives, and stereotypes. The Republicans can't win on realities. Her job is to speak the language of conservatism, activate the conservative view of the world, and use the advantages that conservatives have in dominating political discourse.

Our national political dialogue is fundamentally metaphorical, with family values at the center of our discourse. There is a reason why Obama and Biden spoke so much about the family, the nurturant family, with caring fathers and the family values that Obama put front and center in his Father's day speech: empathy, responsibility and aspiration. Obama's reference in the nomination speech to "The American Family" was hardly accidental, nor were the references to the Obama and Biden families as living and fulfilling the American Dream. Real nurturance requires strength and toughness, which Obama displayed in body language and voice in his responses to McCain. The strength of the Obama campaign has been the seamless marriage of reality and symbolic thought.

The Republican strength has been mostly symbolic. The McCain campaign is well aware of how Reagan and W won -- running on character: values, communication, (apparent) authenticity, trust, and identity -- not issues and policies. That is how campaigns work, and symbolism is central.

Conservative family values are strict and apply via metaphorical thought to the nation: good vs. evil, authority, the use of force, toughness and discipline, individual (versus social) responsibility, and tough love. Hence, social programs are immoral because they violate discipline and individual responsibility. Guns and the military show force and discipline. Man is above nature; hence no serious environmentalism. The market is the ultimate financial authority, requiring market discipline. In foreign policy, strength is use of the force. In fundamentalist religion, the Bible is the ultimate authority; hence no gay marriage. Such values are at the heart of radical conservatism. This is how John McCain was raised and how he plans to govern. And it is what he shares with Sarah Palin.

Palin is the mom in the strict father family, upholding conservative values. Palin is tough: she shoots, skins, and eats caribou. She is disciplined: raising five kids with a major career. She lives her values: she has a Downs-syndrome baby that she refused to abort. She has the image of the ideal conservative mom: pretty, perky, feminine, Bible-toting, and fitting into the ideal conservative family. And she fits the stereotype of America as small-town America. It is Reagan's morning-in-America image. Where Obama thought of capturing the West, she is running for Sweetheart of the West.

And Palin, a member of Feminism for Life, is at the heart of the conservative feminist movement, which Ronee Schreiber has written about in her recent book, Righting Feminism. It is a powerful and growing movement that Democrats have barely paid attention to.

At the same time, Palin is masterful at the Republican game of taking the Democrats' language and reframing it -- putting conservative frames to progressive words: Reform, prosperity, peace. She is also masterful at using the progressive narratives: she's from the working class, working her way up from hockey mom and the PTA to mayor, governor, and VP candidate. Her husband is a union member. She can say to the conservative populists that she is one of them -- all the things that Obama and Biden have been saying. Bottom-up, not top-down.

Yes, the McCain-Palin ticket is weak on the major realities. But it is strong on the symbolic dimension of politics that Republicans are so good at marketing. Just arguing the realities, the issues, the hard truths should be enough in times this bad, but the political mind and its response to symbolism cannot be ignored. The initial Democratic response to Palin -- the response based on realities alone -- indicates that many Democrats have not learned the lessons of the Reagan and Bush years.

They have not learned the nature of conservative populism. A great many working-class folks are what I call "bi-conceptual," that is, they are split between conservative and progressive modes of thought. Conservative on patriotism and certain social and family issues, which they have been led to see as "moral," progressive in loving the land, living in communities of care, and practical kitchen table issues like mortgages, health care, wages, retirement, and so on.

Conservative theorists won them over in two ways: inventing and promulgating the idea of "liberal elite" and focusing campaigns on social and family issues. They have been doing this for many years and have changed a lot of brains through repetition. Palin will appeal strongly to conservative populists, attacking Obama and Biden as pointy-headed, tax-and-spend, latte liberals. The tactic is to divert attention from difficult realities to powerful symbolism.

What Democrats have shied away from is a frontal attack on radical conservatism itself as an un-American and harmful ideology. I think Obama is right when he says that America is based on people caring about each other and working together for a better future -- empathy, responsibility (both personal and social), and aspiration. These lead to a concept of government based on protection (environmental, consumer, worker, health care, and retirement protection) and empowerment (through infrastructure, public education, the banking system, the stock market, and the courts). Nobody can achieve the American Dream or live an American lifestyle without protection and empowerment by the government. The alternative, as Obama said in his nomination speech, is being on your own, with no one caring for anybody else, with force as a first resort in foreign affairs, with threatened civil liberties and a right-wing government making your most important decisions for you. That is not what American democracy has ever been about.

What is at stake in this election are our ideals and our view of the future, as well as current realities. The Palin choice brings both front and center. Democrats, being Democrats, will mostly talk about the realities nonstop without paying attention to the dimensions of values and symbolism. Democrats, in addition, need to call an extremist an extremist: to shine a light on the shared anti-democratic ideology of McCain and Palin, the same ideology shared by Bush and Cheney. They share values antithetical to our democracy. That needs to be said loud and clear, if not by the Obama campaign itself, then by the rest of us who share democratic American values.

Our job is to bring external realities together with the reality of the political mind. Don't ignore the cognitive dimension. It is through cultural narratives, metaphors, and frames that we understand and express our ideals.

[George Lakoff is the author of The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 20th Century Politics With and 18th Century Brain.]


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