Thursday, December 31, 2009

For New Year's 2010: Resolve, Resolve, Resolve


Washington's Wars

And Occupations

By Max Elbaum

War Times

It's not a very happy new year for the antiwar movement. The headline on Tom Engelhardt's latest Nation column says it all: "Why War Will Take No Holidays in 2010." The full piece - go to - presents the reasons why we are unlikely to see much progress toward peace in the next twelve months.

Yet between the lines there is another point: the work we do this year lays the crucial groundwork for breakthroughs in 2011 and beyond. That idea can and should spur heightened resolve to work hard, work smart, and come out of the upcoming difficult year in better shape than we are today. 


This perspective applies first to the Afghanistan war, where President Obama's escalation is now underway. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll indicates that this so-called "surge" is supported by 58% of the U.S. public. But for a large portion of that 58% such support is extremely thin, dependent on the hope that escalation will "show good results."

But it won't. Figures as highly placed as Thomas Johnson, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School and Thomas Mason, a retired Foreign Service officer previously assigned to a high post in Afghanistan, cut to the chase. "There isn't the slightest possibility that the course laid out by Barack Obama in his December 1 speech will halt or even slow the downward spiral toward defeat in Afghanistan," they write in Foreign Policy magazine.

For the full article, go to:

In other words, Afghans will keep dying, U.S. troops will keep dying, huge amounts of money will continue to be spent, reports of Afghan government corruption will continue to surface, and the to-be-expected reports of "progress" from one general after another will ring more hollow with each passing month. In this context, an antiwar movement that consistently gets its message out there that this war is hopeless, wrong, costly, and heightens rather than reduces the threat of terrorism can make a difference. Step-by-step public opinion can be turned. And if creative ways are found to show how this resource-devouring war prevents addressing the economic hardships that are the front-burner issue for the country's majority (and the environmental crisis that is spurring so many youth to action), changed public sentiment can become a powerful political force. 

(The same message needs to be sent regarding Iraq.. The end of 2011 is officially the deadline for the U.S. to totally withdraw, but that is far from a done deal. Witness the New York Times report on recent remarks by Robert Gates: "The defense secretary… expects that some U.S. forces might remain in an advisory capacity in Iraq after 2011. 'I wouldn't be surprised to see agreements between ourselves and the Iraqis that continue a train-equip-and-advise role beyond the end of 2011,' Mr. Gates said.")



It is likely even more uphill to change U.S. policy in ways that would open the door to a just settlement to the Israel-Palestine conflict. On the ground Israel is ramping up land seizures and repression: its military shot and killed six Palestinians Dec. 27 and the next day its government announced the construction of nearly 700 new Jewish-only housing units in occupied East Jerusalem. And on the anniversary of its Gaza War - in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed - Israeli officials made no bones about what lies ahead. The New York Times reported Dec. 25 that "officials and experts familiar with the country’s military doctrine say that… Israel will likely find itself fighting another, similar kind of war. Only next time, some here suggest, Israel will apply more force. 'The next round will be different, but not in the way people think,' said Giora Eiland, a retired major general and former chief of Israel’s National Security Council. 'The only way to be successful is to take much harsher action.'

Washington nominally opposes expansion of Israeli settlements and discourages such militaristic threats. But there is no muscle behind periodic statements of disapproval. The cracks that have opened up recently in the 40-year-long "special relationship" between the U.S. and Israel so far are strictly at the level of words.

Turning those cracks into a material shift in policy requires building up sufficient grassroots political muscle to take on both longstanding Washington patterns and the Israel Lobby. This is tough to do in a country where pro-Israel messages pervade the media and other institutions which shape popular opinion. The latest Pew poll shows that, when asked who they sympathize with in the Israel-Palestine conflict, 51% of the public says Israel, 12% the Palestinians, and 4% both equally.

Daunting as that political balance is, there are countervailing trends that give advocates of human rights and Palestinian self-determination levers to work with. The level of Israeli brutality in its recent wars has given rise to international condemnation, in particular the Goldstone report detailing Israel's war crimes in last year's Gaza war. Among growing if (in the U.S.) still limited sectors the myth of Israel as a peace-loving democracy is being stripped away. Divisions within the Zionist camp that up until recently were almost solely intellectual have begun to translate into operative politics via such initiatives as J-Street, self-described as the "political arm of the pro-Israel pro-peace movement." The global campaign answering the call of Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is gaining momentum providing peace and solidarity activists with a tool for broad outreach, education and action.

Finally, the felt need among at least a large portion of the foreign policy establishment to recoup U.S. influence in the Middle East after the disasters of the Bush years is leading to some interesting things. Truths long obvious to most of the world have finally begun to sink in to at least a few high-level figures: specifically, the fact that blank-check U.S. backing for Israel is right at the pivot of the anger toward Washington that pervades the Arab and Muslim worlds. It is perhaps not accidental that in the Pew poll noted above members of the Council on Foreign Relations were markedly less pro-Israel than the U.S. population as whole. Only 26% of CFR members said they were more sympathetic to Israel (compared to 51%) and - though just 16% sided with the Palestinians (compared to the public's 12%) - the large figure of 41% said they sympathized with "both sides equally" (compared to only 4% of the general public).

Nothing in the fight for Palestinian rights ever comes easy. But even small steps forward here in the country that is Israel's main international backer reverberate in Palestine and across the globe.


Blood is flowing in Honduras. And much of it is on Washington's hands. U.S. recognition of the illegal Nov. 29 "elections" served as the green light for the coup-makers who ousted President Manuel Zelaya in August to crack down hard on the popular movements demanding restoration of Honduran democracy.  Five anti-coup organizers were gunned down death-squad style December 7. The decapitated body of a member of the Resistance Front against the Coup was discovered December 11 six days after he had been detained by five people wearing uniforms of Honduras' National Criminal Investigation Division. Two members of the Unified Peasant Movement were kidnapped December 14 and official arrest warrants were then issued for many more. There have been a number of gruesome killings of Honduran LGBT activists and members of the LGBT community. Human rights groups warn that this kind of repression is intensifying as the coup-makers attempt to solidify their grip on power. Honduras' popular movement, which mobilized courageously and expanded its base between the July coup and the November "election" farce, is readjusting to new conditions, preparing to operate in what are likely to be all but martial law conditions.

The coup, the repression and the U.S. have regional significance. Washington's support for an illegal seizure of power and look-the-other-way stance toward repressive acts that elsewhere (in Iran, say) would bring howls of official outrage were messages to an entire continent. Latin America has been moving leftward: across the region left of center forces have been gaining ground, winning governmental power, moving in ways that go around Washington toward regional cooperation and expanded economic relationships with other countries in the global South. The combination of the vigor of Latin American grassroots movements and the U.S, being preoccupied with war and defeat in the Middle East has driven this leftward motion a lot farther than most of the U.S. elite are willing to tolerate. So the signal is sent in Honduran blood: this far and no further. It's an attempt to intimidate the popular movements and the left who have been on the rise, embolden the right-wing oligarchs and their military allies who have been on the defensive.

But too much has changed for Washington to get its way without a much bigger fight. Most Latin American governments have stayed firm and refused to recognize the Honduran coup regime. Popular movements - first and foremost in Honduras itself - are stepping up rather than stepping back, if anything pushed toward greater determination and radicalism by Washington's reversion to old-style Yankee imperial behavior. A sector of the elite in Washington is anxious about joining the battle on defense-of-coup terms, not at all certain that an overextended U.S. behemoth can prevail with that kind of approach in the region of the world where progressive popular movements have the greatest strength. So here too the battle within the U.S., the fight for public opinion and the fight over policy, is a key terrain for peace and solidarity activists.

To follow events in Honduras and get up-to-date bulletins and action alerts, go to An excellent eyewitness report on what really took place during the coup-organized election in November - and its implications - is by Lisa Sullivan. You can find it at:


Last month's column noted that the antiwar movement is in a period of building/rebuilding capacity for the long haul tasks ahead. It stressed that accomplishing this required "nurturing, expanding and eventually galvanizing-into-action the currently passive but widespread antiwar sentiment in communities most impacted by war and militarism." Month in Review will close out 2009 by flagging a few noteworthy efforts underway that contribute to that task which might have slipped under your radar screen.

Project YANO, the San Diego-based Project on Youth and Non-Military Alternatives, sends veterans to youth groups and local schools to speak about the realities of military life and war. With a focus on youth in low-income communities and communities of color and a comprehensive anti-militarist approach, Project YANO combines making an immediate difference in people's lives with building an antiwar, anti-militarist base for the long haul. You can find out more about Project YANO at and read an interview with key Project members Rick Jahnkow and Jorge Mariscal at:

Since its founding in November 2002, Military Families Speak Out has played a crucial role in bringing antiwar perspectives to a sector of society directly impacted by the horrors of war but not easily reached by many other peace organizations. MFSO has also been a stalwart in amplifying the voices of military families in the larger antiwar movement and making that movement more effective (and aware) in the process. Today MFSO faces extreme financial strain due to the combination of recession and the new challenge facing co-founders Charley Richardson and Nancy Lessin. Charley is battling an advanced, aggressive cancer and he and Nancy have had to pull back from MFSO activity to take on this difficult personal struggle. War Times joins friends across the country in paying tribute to Charley and urging readers to make what donation you can to the Charley Richardson Legacy Fund established to put MFSO on a firm foundation. You can find full information and donate at

Finally, an innovative new project, Dialogues Against Militarism, has been launched to build links between - and share the stores of - military resisters from the U.S., individuals who have refused to serve in the Israeli military, and Palestinians struggling for peace and self-determination. DAM's first delegation to Israel/Palestine, consisting of U.S. military veterans, conscientious objectors and war resisters as well as other social justice activists has just returned and begun to share their stories and experiences. You can read some of these and find out more about DAM's work at

You can sign-on to War Times/Tiempo de Guerras e-mail Announcement List (2-4 messages per month, including our 'Month in Review' column), at War Times/Tiempo de Guerras is a fiscally sponsored project of the Center for Third World Organizing. Donations are tax-deductible; you can donate on-line at or send a check to War Times/Tiempo de Guerras, c/o P.O. Box 22748, Oakland CA 94609.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

War as Politics by Violent Means

No Chance Obama's War

in Afghanistan Will Succeed


By Sherwood Ross
L.A. Progressive

Dec. 26, 2009 - "There isn't the slightest possibility that the course laid out by Barack Obama in his December 1 speech (at West Point) will halt or even slow the downward spiral toward defeat in Afghanistan," writes Thomas Johnson in the current Foreign Policy magazine. And for emphasis, he adds the word "None."

"The U.S. president and his advisors labored for three months and brought forth old wine in bigger bottles,"
Johnson goes on to write, noting, "The speech contained not one single new idea or approach, nor offered any hint of new thinking about a conflict that everyone now agrees the United States is losing."

Author Johnson is no armchair admiral. He is a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, a man who has conducted his own on-site investigation in Afghanistan.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Carbon Bill - Doomed Without Bribes for the Banks?

Cap & Dividend:

A Clear Winner


By Sarah van Gelder 

Dec 11, 2009 - A new bi-partisan climate bill offers a much smarter way to cut emissions—auction off pollution permits and distribute the proceeds to everyone.

December 11, 2009. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced a bill today that is a much better approach to reducing climate change than the cap and trade bill circulating in the Senate. Her bill, which she co-sponsored with Senator  Susan Collins (R-ME), uses cap and dividend to reduce climate emissions and avoids the pitfalls and boom-and-bust cycles inherent in carbon trading. (Peter Barnes proposed this idea in YES! Magazine in 2001).

Why is this a better idea?

First, polluters would pay for the right to pollute; they would buy carbon emissions permits at an auction, instead of getting the majority of them for free. This sends the right market signal—emit carbon, and you'll have to pay.

Carbon permits would be required at the point where fossil fuel energy enters the economy. The number of greenhouse gas emissions allowances is reduced regularly by amounts that businesses can plan for. There are no offsets—these would be real reductions in climate changing emissions.

Second, American families strained by the poor economy would benefit. Each person would get an equal share of the proceeds from the auction. It works like the oil trust funds in Alaska, where each resident gets about $1,300 per year for their share of the state's oil royalties. As long as our economy remains dependent on fossil fuels, prices for energy and energy-intensive products will rise. But the rebate will offset those price increases—Cantwell says it will mean most families are in about the same place financially. Those who buy carbon-free energy, drive energy efficient cars, or buy products produced locally with little fossil fuels will come out ahead, though, while those who drive gas guzzlers will pay more through the higher price of fuel. So it sends the right signal to consumers, too.

Politically, it should go over much better than cap and trade. Who wouldn't like to get a check in the mail each month that represents your share of the carbon auction revenues? Three quarters of the revenues would be distributed equally to all Americans. The other quarter will go to clean energy research and development, for projects that reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions, and for aid to communities and workers who need special help making the transition to a clean energy economy.

And here's the frosting on the cake. Instead of cap and trade, which would set up a massive Wall Street system of buying and selling carbon, this auction is for energy producers and importers, only—not brokers and speculators.

What's not to like? This is a far better proposal than the cap and trade proposals that has Wall Street salivating. One caveat, though. Carbon reductions proposed in the bill are probably not enough to avert dangerous climate change. But if there is flexibility to step up the reductions as the science get firmer and the public backing grows, this approach could be just right.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Antiwar To-Do List: Getting Organized, Preparing to Mobilize

Photo: Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Antiwar Voice in Congress

What will Congressional

Democrats do now?

By Tom Hayden

Dec. 8, 2009 - Congressional Democrats held a closed caucus Dec. 8 to consider their stance on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and what to do about the president's 30,000 more troops, whose deployment will begin without a Congressional decision or funding. 

The majority Democrats are uncomfortable in being caught between their constituents' peace sentiments and the president's deployment of 100,000 American troops.
It's going to get more uncomfortable.

Progressives should be vociferous in opposing the slithering [as opposed to dithering] by which the official deadline for beginning withdrawal keeps being shoved back by several years, if ever, solely under political pressure.
This stretching out of Obama's withdrawal timetable eliminates the primary feature of the President's plan that is attractive to most voters, especially Democrats.

Progressives also must force discussion of the secret CIA war being authorized in Pakistan, where the center of gravity is shifting. See Jane Mayer's "The Predator War" in The New Yorker.

The CIA's secret offensive in Pakistan is likely to produce blowback on a historic scale. It's no secret to the people of Pakistan, who oppose it in recent polls by 67-19 percent. It's proven an embarrassment to American diplomacy since even Hillary Clinton is barred from acknowledging it's going on. The reason for all the secrecy is not to protect American troops, but rather to avoid embarrassing Pakistan's army and government from admitting the violation of their sovereignty - and, perhaps above all, to prevent anti-war sentiment from increasing here at home.

Progressives should nail the costs of Afghanistan should on every Congressional door, if foreheads are impossible. At the present rate of killing, American deaths under Obama will be another 1,100 by the end of 2011, bringing the overall total to nearly 2,000. At the present budgetary cost, the war started by Bush will become a trillion-dollar war under Obama.
Never doubt the ability of the government and media to hide these figures from the distracted public. Apparently the dollar costs were not realized by the president himself until October 25, when his budget office sent a memo at his request. According to the New York Times, our president "seemed in sticker shock [at the news], watching his domestic agenda vanishing in front of him. 'This is a 10-year trillion-dollar effort and does not match up with our interests'", the president said, before setting the wheels in motion anyway.

Every peace advocate should post the costs of this war from their desktop to the highest billboard. Just go to the National Priorities website.

As for the Congress, every peace advocate should say loudly and clearly that two-thirds of their Democratic and independent constituents are unhappy with these wars, and that unhappiness will become a growing danger to many incumbents in 2010 and 2012. Reject the idea of a war surtax except as a rhetorical gesture. Push for Rep. Barbara Lee's bill which will prohibit funding for the additional troops. It won't pass, but is the vehicle for serious hearings and amendments - like forcing a vote on a tougher withdrawal plan. And push for Rep. Jim McGovern's exit strategy resolution. How can anyone oppose the Pentagon reporting to Congress on an exit strategy, which is all the measure does. Just watch - the hawks will go wild at the thought of plan to exit from a stalemate rather than shedding American blood until the last Taliban surrenders.

Meanwhile, keep studying this Long War because it may be around for a while. A very intelligent analysis of what Obama is trying to do - a gradual strategic repeat from an unsustainable future - comes from a pro-war advocate, Peter Beinart, in the current Time.

Step by step, in the formula of Richard Flacks, is the way of social movements that succeed.
And by the way, order, view, and distribute the Rethink Afghanistan package from Brave New Films as a holiday gesture to your friends.

Tom Hayden
The Peace and Justice Resource Center 

Article originally appeared on (

See website for complete article licensing information.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Bloody Days & Big Explosions Ahead

Washington's Wars

and Occupations:

Month in Review #55

By Max Elbaum

War Times/Tiempo de Guerras

Nov. 30, 2009 - No one can predict the specifics. But Washington's current course in the Middle East is all but certain to produce one or more disastrous explosions of violence in the coming years.  And way too much blood is going to be uselessly shed even before the next big bang crisis arrives.

For obvious reasons, Afghanistan is the front-page candidate right now for the next explosion. But conditions are also ripe or ripening for a throw-everything-up-in-the-air crisis in the Israel-Palestine conflict; in Pakistan; in the Iran vs. the West/Israel stand-off; and - despite the assumption that "this one is over" - in Iraq.

As peace activists we need to look this painful reality right in the face. And then strategize and act accordingly. That's the only way to make an effective contribution to minimizing the day-to-day horrors ahead. Likewise, only if we find ways to amass far more clout than we have now can we get in position to make a major difference when future crises expose the futility of "the military option" and create new possibilities for forcing a change in the imperial course.



We don't yet know precisely what President Obama will announce tomorrow regarding Afghanistan. But it is apparent he is going to dispatch more troops, albeit with phrases about goals and "off-ramps" that leave him some wiggle room down the road. He'll need it. This escalation simply will not work.

Washington's election-stealing Afghan "partner" has no legitimacy with the majority of Afghans. Corruption and drug-dealing are not aberrations in Hamid Karzai's government; they are the lifeblood of the regime at every level. The Afghan Army to which the U.S. will supposedly "turn over security" down the road is a travesty, with a 25% annual turnover rate and soldiers as inclined to shoot at their U.S. "trainers" as at their insurgent countrymen. U.S. killing of Afghan civilians means Washington has already lost its fight for "hearts and minds." Sending more troops means civilian deaths - like U.S. casualties - will only go up. The trajectory of the last seven years, in which an initially small insurgency slowly transformed into a broad-based anti-foreign resistance anchored in Afghanistan's Pushtun majority, will only accelerate.

Only death and destruction lie down this road. The extent of the horror and the futility of military occupation can be hidden for awhile from the majority of U.S. people - though not from Afghans or people throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds. But sooner or later the bubble will be punctured even more dramatically than it was by the recent blatant election fraud: perhaps a "forward base" will be over-run with large-scale U.S. casualties, or a deliberate massacre on the scale of My Lai in 1968 will get covered instead of covered up.  Or a set of "top Afghan officials" will defect to the insurgency leaving the Karzai regime teetering on collapse. When some incident like this lays bare the utter failure of Washington's occupation - and provokes wider layers of U.S. people to reconsider its moral bankruptcy as well - another moment comes when whoever is in the White House has to again "consider their options."



Meanwhile in the ever-volatile Israel-Palestine conflict Israel's land-grab grinds on. The day-to-day reality of occupation here is even more hidden from most of the U.S. public than the realities of Afghanistan. But hardly a week passes that doesn't see Israeli settlers uprooting a Palestinian farmer's olive trees or attacking Palestinian children walking to school, while the Israeli government seizes a Palestinian's home in East Jerusalem or expands settlements in the West Bank. Every single day hundreds of Palestinians face humiliation and abuse at checkpoints that observers from South Africa have called more brutal than those that existed under that country's apartheid regime.

How can anyone think this colonial pattern will not result in resistance, wars and explosions? Hopes of averting worst-case-scenarios were raised among Palestinians and human rights advocates throughout the world by Obama's words about Palestinian suffering and dislocation in his Cairo speech last June, and even more by his demand that Israel halt all settlement-building. But even in the eyes of those Palestinian leaders who had been most inclined to give Washington the benefit of the doubt, Obama's retreat from that demand has now left matters worse than before. Fatah veteran and so-called "moderate" Nabil Shaath, for instance, declared:

"There was high expectation when he arrived on the scene. Now there is a total retreat, which has destroyed trust instead of building trust."

Official Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat went further: "If the U.S. administration cannot compel Israel to halt the construction of settlements, who will believe that it will be able to compel Israel to withdraw to the borders of 4 June 1967, to withdraw from Eastern Jerusalem, and to resolve the issue of the refugees according to the U.N. resolutions, with Resolution No. 194 at their forefront? The U.S. has 230,000 soldiers in the region. If it thinks that it can solve the problems through the use of Marines and wars, then it is completely mistaken."


Matters are also touch and go on other fronts of the region's many conflicts.

Pakistan seethes with anti-U.S. sentiment. The country's majority is opposed to the reactionary-theocratic factions who use terrorism against Pakistani civilians and try to forcibly impose their repressive social/cultural agenda in areas of the country. But that same majority does not think the country's problems will be solved by launching a war on sections of their own people. And - as the reception Hillary Clinton received from Pakistani students and journalists demonstrated - they regard Washington's drone attacks within Pakistan as terrorism just as morally bankrupt as jihadi bombings of civilian marketplaces. Washington's constant pressure on Pakistan's government to use military force to address what are fundamentally political problems (many of which are a direct result of U.S. policies in the first place!) has so far been met with evasion and compromise. But that kind of pressure - especially combined with U.S. escalation in Afghanistan - could cause something to snap in unpredictable but terrible ways.

On the West vs. Iran front, it's promising that the U.S. and Iran are engaged in direct talks. But it is not going to be easy to reach an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program that both sides can tout as a victory, especially since Israel and the U.S. right wing are using every fear-mongering weapon they have to paint acceptance of a peaceful Iranian nuclear program as a betrayal of the West, the Jewish people and the world to Islamic terrorism. And if negotiations break down (the last few days news has been all bad), grave dangers right up to the prospect of an Israeli military strike and regional war immediately get catapulted center stage.

Iraq too remains a powder keg. Right now there is considerable momentum toward (long overdue) U.S. withdrawal. But because the "surge" did not solve a single one of the country's problems (despite the Neocon Big Lie), the level of violence and potential for new outbreaks of sectarian fighting remains high. That's bad enough in itself, but what makes the prospect even worse is that much of the U.S. military brass, not to mention the McCain/Palin crowd, still itches for an excuse to stop the withdrawal and stay forever.


The bottom line is that in every one of these conflicts, the impulse in Washington toward reliance on military force, bullying, and colonial dispossession remains powerful. In some cases it clearly dominates policy, while in others it manifests itself more subtly while remaining a constant threat.

The practical mix - and especially today's rhetoric - is different from the Bush years. The Obama administration came into office hoping to halt the rapid slide toward utter defeat and loss of global influence that Bush-era unilateral militarism and blatant torture was bringing about. The new team's preferred approach was, and is, to dispense with doomed adventurism, give diplomacy more play, and act more prudently given the changed power balance in today's multipolar world. Very sensible from an imperial point of view. At the same time, since such imperial retrenchment likely meant accepting withdrawal from Iraq, a measure of compromise with Iran, scaled down goals in Afghanistan, and putting at least a little distance between Washington and Tel Aviv, it overlapped to a certain extent with the antiwar agenda.

But the overlap is inherently unstable since, for instance, the antiwar movement believes the U.S. should get out of Iraq because it had no right to be there in the first place, while for Obama's team withdrawal is a matter of a cost-benefit calculation which could be recalculated at any time. Even beyond that, actually carrying out even a limited imperial retrenchment is not fundamentally a matter of any President's intent. Neither the power-balance in the affected countries nor in U.S. domestic politics are under administration control – and in the end it is the balance of power that determines what happens.

So we can and should appreciate the openings created by certain shifts in rhetoric and policy since Obama took office. But like the Israeli government, the Palin/Beck/Limbaugh fear-mongers, and the highly politicized Petraeus/McChrystal military brass – all of whom started gearing up for a big fight five minutes after the polls closed November 4, 2008 - we would do well to recognize that it's muscle that matters.

It is extremely difficult to orchestrate a soft landing for an empire that has suffered a big defeat even if all sections of its ruling elite recognize that defeat and believe it is urgent to adapt to it. When major sectors of that elite still believe in victory through arms and can fire up a large reactionary grassroots base; when nuclear armed zealots who believe God gave them the right to another people's land have one of the most powerful lobbies in that empire's capital; and when the chief executive trying for a soft landing is politically vulnerable and inclined toward conciliation even on issues where he personally desires change - then no soft landing is in the cards. The changing balance of power in the world and the Middle East means that the empire can be pushed back. But the harsh truth of the moment is there is going to be more bloodshed, more defeats and more crises before that comes to pass.


The antiwar movement gears up for this next round of battle in difficult shape. Many of its organizations have shrunk in terms of numbers and resources. The attention of many activists and much of the movement's 2003-2008 base has turned to other issues. The political complexities of battling the war policies of an administration that is under constant reactionary and racist attack from the far right, and which retains the general support of most key constituencies for progressive social change, have proven extremely daunting.

There are significant pluses the movement has to work with. Public opinion has shifted substantially since 2001-2005, with opposition to or at least skepticism about U.S. wars in the Middle East far more widespread. And those parts of the antiwar movement who focus on getting antiwar messages in front of members of Congress, the think-tank/foreign policy "community," key media figures and the like are quite active and have made some substantial gains. But in terms of grassroots mobilization – the ability to turn antiwar sentiment into forms of activity that force policy-makers to react and respond – the peace movement's capacity is probably lower now than it has been at any time since early 2002, before the momentum and mobilizations of 2003.

Building/rebuilding capacity on that level is a long haul task, different from the "emergency mode" of functioning much of the movement felt obligated to take on during the Bush years. There are no quick fixes and even the best strategies are no guarantee of success since much depends on what happens with events and political forces beyond the movement's control. That said, what movement activists can do is take a long range view, work patiently, work hard, work smart, and maximize our chances to make a difference. In that framework, a few ideas strike us at War Times as worthwhile to consider.

First, nurturing, expanding and eventually galvanizing-into-action the currently passive but widespread antiwar sentiment in communities most impacted by war and militarism is a key strategic task, a route to political clout. When the Black community, the Latino and Asian communities, immigrant communities, Arab and Muslim communities, working class and poor people weigh in aggressively on the war-vs.-peace scales, those scales tip. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, these constituencies are most focused on issues other than war vs. peace as such: the economy, jobs, health care, immigrant rights and others. The way ending U.S. wars can help gain victories on these issues – indeed, is crucial for doing so – needs to be a focus for antiwar activism. We are dubious that much progress will be achieved by adding "linkage demands" to antiwar-focused actions. The process will have to be more the other way around: integrating the antiwar perspective, and antiwar movement support, into ongoing struggles already being waged by these key constituencies. There is much to learn in this regard from the work of U.S. Labor against the War, which has worked from its inception from the perspective of targeting a key constituency and over time making that constituency a bastion of antiwar sentiment and action. Likewise much to learn from Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out and Iraq Veterans against the War, who have taken on the extremely important work of bringing the antiwar message to military personnel, their families and veterans. We hope that in the next period similar projects targeting other key constituencies for this kind of long haul work can be developed, while recognizing that tactics, approaches and organizational forms will vary a great deal.

Second, in a parallel vein, there are clear links "on paper" between stopping global warming, protecting the environment generally and stopping these oil-gobbling and toxic wars. But in terms of ongoing practical campaigns and development of political muscle, the antiwar movement has not found effective, sustained ways of integrating the demand for peace into the environmental and climate justice movements. Given the prominence and urgency these movements will have in the coming years, and in particular the extensive involvement of young people, this is another important area of attention.

Third, even as we shift gears to this kind of long range, base building and movement-linking work, there is a need to keep the antiwar message in the public eye. Every vigil, every letter and email to an elected official, every civil disobedience action, every article and op-ed in the local or national media makes a difference. Not all will have the exact same message. Different groups and activists will disagree on what to emphasize, exactly what demand to make, exactly what tactic is most productive at a given moment. Solidarity and cooperation across these differences is necessary for a pluralist, long haul movement.

Fourth, we could benefit from new kinds of flexibility – and experimentation – in working on many levels of politics simultaneously. For a long time ahead we will be working under conditions where the extreme racist/militarist right is a major danger, and where the complexities of Middle East politics (including the fact that U.S. imperialism is not the only reactionary force operating there) combined with media disinformation causes large-scale confusion among even progressive sectors of the U.S. population. These and other factors mandate approaches that look to finding every possible way of working with the broadest possible forces on specific issues – "meeting people where they are at" as the jargon puts it. At the same time, without a steadily expanding layer of the population that has and acts on a critique of the depth of militarism in society, and the nature of empire, we will have to keep reinventing the wheel, and have tremendous difficulty sustaining a durable antiwar movement between exceptional moments of protest. For addressing these two challenges, which sometimes pull in different directions, either/or approaches won't work. We need both/and.

Last, though achieving breakthroughs for peace is fundamentally a matter of gaining political muscle, this project is inseparable from taking a firm moral stand and gaining the moral high ground. Militarism can advance politically without a moral anchor. But anti-militarism cannot. In this or that situation an antiwar movement may appeal to one or another practical political calculation as part of its message. But if we surrender to "real politick" in the drive for political clout, we are headed down a slippery slope. We are far from a morally pure movement and each of us has the same moral failings and confronts the same moral dilemmas as other human beings. Some of us are complete pacifists and others believe resort to force is justified in some situations. All that said, only a movement that strives to keep the moral dimension integral to its message to others and to its internal workings; a movement that appeals to people's "better angels" and is infused with respect for all other human beings; a movement that that rejects of the domination of one country or group or person over another - only that kind of movement can become a force with enough support and strength to end the wars being waged by the most powerful empire the world has ever seen.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

HR 3699: Barbara Lee's Battle in Congress

'Barbara Lee

Speaks for Me!':

Rally vs. escalation

in Afghanistan


By Rebecca Griffin

Nov. 24, 2009 - Yesterday I joined an enthusiastic crowd on a sunny afternoon in the courtyard of the Federal Building in Oakland to join Rep. Barbara Lee’s rally and press conference to build support for her bill to stop escalation in Afghanistan. I can’t imagine there are many members of Congress who have as devoted a following as Rep. Lee—throughout the event you saw signs and heard chants of “Barbara Lee Speaks for Me!” As we keep up the tough fight of pushing our government to support an alternative strategy in Afghanistan, I am inspired and heartened to hear the passion and commitment from politicians like Barbara Lee, and proud to have such a principled and courageous woman representing me in Congress.

Rep. Lee’s staff lined up a great list of speakers on short notice. The MC for the event was Sharon Cornu of the Alameda County Labor Central Committee, and the first speech came from Vietnam Veteran Paul Cox of Veterans for Peace, who spoke about learning the lessons of Vietnam and ensuring our government doesn’t continue to make the same mistakes in Afghanistan.

Renowned activist Tom Hayden took the stage to make the case for supporting congressional vehicles for ending the war in Afghanistan. He expressed his hope that President Obama will reject the “long war” doctrine embraced by some in the Pentagon who have talked about a 50-year war that spans several countries. He said that by his calculations, another two years of war at the current rates would mean 1,100 more US soldiers would die in Afghanistan, and said he believes these are “unsustainable policies.” Hayden noted the need for us to “define a progressive alternative” to the current plan in Afghanistan, which he emphasized should include an exit strategy, and urged us to help pressure people to become cosponsors of Rep. Lee’s HR 3699.

Rep. Lee was introduced by actor and activist Danny Glover, who pointed out that she is special not just for her lone opposition to the war in Afghanistan in 2001 but for her ongoing work to support social justice. In discussing the need to oppose the war in Afghanistan, he evoked Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight against militarism, racism and materialism. Glover said that Barbara Lee is about “transforming values,” and that our country needs a transformation of values, starting with all of us as citizens, but especially with our representatives in the White House and Congress.

Rep. Lee started out by thanking the crowd for “keeping hope alive.” She said that she stands “resolved to bring this chapter of American history that has been characterized by open-ended war once and for all to a close.” She encouraged us, in the words of her House colleague John Lewis, to “make some noise” in this country and said we need the “street heat,” and she laid out what she and others in Congress have done to “stir the pot” in the House of Representatives and push for an alternative in Afghanistan.

Lee outlined several letters that she signed to the President, including one with her “sisters in the triad” Lynn Woolsey (D-CA-6) and Maxine Waters (D-CA-35); one with the Congressional Black Caucus; and another with 53 other members of Congress urging President Obama to reject a request for more troops. She also cited the vote on an exit strategy in June that gained 138 votes, and her introduction of HR 3699 to prohibit funds for increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan. It’s important that we are publicizing these efforts and magnifying their impact by making sure the public is aware that there are members of Congress who are working to move the debate forward.

Rep. Lee told the cheering crowd, “We all know there is no military solution to the war in Afghanistan.” She said her legislation sends a “clear and unequivocal” message and urged us to help build support for the bill. She asked the crowd to “make some noise” and be “the wind beneath our wings” and help push Congress to speak out for a new approach in Afghanistan. You can listen to Rep. Lee’s speech here:

This is absolutely a critical time to “make some noise.” Reports today indicate that President Obama is going to announce a plan on Tuesday that will include sending around 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Join thousands of others around the country as part of our campaign to flood the White House with calls. Call 1-202-456-1111 to tell President Obama to support an alternative plan that doesn’t include an increase in troops. Click here to urge your representative to cosponsor Rep. Lee’s bill to prohibit funding for sending additional troops to Afghanistan.


Monday, November 23, 2009

White Blindspot: GOP Teabaggers Rewrite 2008

Poll: Majority Of
GOP Think Obama
Didn't Win Election
- ACORN Stole It!

By Eric Kleefeld
TPM Talking Points

Nov. 19, 2009 - The new national poll from Public Policy Polling (D) has an astonishing number about paranoia among the GOP base: Republicans do not think President Obama actually won the 2008 election -- instead, ACORN stole it.

This number goes a long way towards explaining the anger of the Tea Party crowd. They not only think Obama's agenda is against America, but they don't think he was actually the choice of the American people at all! Interestingly, NY-23 Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman is now accusing ACORN of stealing his race, and Fox News personalities have often speculated about ACORN stealing the 2008 Minnesota Senate race for Al Franken.

The poll asked this question: "Do you think that Barack Obama legitimately won the Presidential election last year, or do you think that ACORN stole it for him?" The overall top-line is legitimately won 62%, ACORN stole it 26%.

Among Republicans, however, only 27% say Obama actually won the race, with 52% -- an outright majority -- saying that ACORN stole it, and 21% are undecided. Among McCain voters, the breakdown is 31%-49%-20%. By comparison, independents weigh in at 72%-18%-10%, and Democrats are 86%-9%-4%.

Now, the obvious comparison would be that many Democrats felt that George W. Bush didn't legitimately win the 2000 election. But there are some clear differences.

First of all, Al Gore empirically won the national popular vote in 2000, and lost in a disputed recount process in Florida. By comparison, John McCain lost the national popular vote by a 53%-46% margin.

In order to believe that Obama wasn't the true winner of the 2008 election, one would have to think that ACORN (and perhaps other groups) stuffed ballots to the tune of over 9.5 million votes, Obama's national margin.

PPP communications director Tom Jensen says: "Belief in the ACORN conspiracy theory is even higher among GOP partisans than the birther one, which only 42% of Republicans expressed agreement with on our national survey in September."


Monday, November 2, 2009

Obama's Dilemma: Defeat Now, Bigger Defeat Later

Heads You Lose,
Tails You Lose

By Immanuel Wallerstein
Progressives for Obama

The war in Afghanistan is a war in which whatever the United States does now, or that President Obama does now, both the United States and Obama will lose. The country and its president are in a situation of perfect lockjaw.

Consider the basic situation. The Afghan government in Kabul has no legitimacy with the majority of the Afghan people. It also has no army worthy of the name. It also has no financial base. There is almost no military or personal security anywhere. It is faced with a guerilla opposition, the Taliban, who control half the country and who have grown steadily stronger since the Taliban government was overthrown by a foreign (largely United States) invasion in 2002. The New York Times reports that the Taliban "are running a sophisticated financial network to pay for their insurgent operations," which American officials are struggling, unsuccessfully, to cut off.

Pres. Hamid Karzai was reelected recently in a manifestly falsified election. The U.S. government was ready to swallow this because Karzai is the only major politician who is ethnically a Pashtun, the base of the Taliban support. He is therefore the only one who can even hope to enter into a political arrangement with some or all of the Taliban. The United States was embarrassed publicly into recognizing the electoral fraud and was pressured to put pressure on Karzai to accept a run-off second round election. Karzai will undoubtedly win the run-off. His political position, post-election, will be very weak.

The major U.S. political ally in the region, Pakistan, is clearly collusive with the Taliban - in large part to ensure its own internal survival. The U.S. military commander, General Stanley McChrystal, insists he needs 40,000 more troops right away, or it will be too late to win the war in Afghanistan. It seems unlikely he will get the full number of these troops, or fast enough, to meet his implicit deadline. There are many military figures who doubt that he is right in arguing that his 40,000 more troops, even if they arrive right away, will make the difference.

It doesn't seem very daring to suggest that the United States will have to withdraw from Afghanistan at some point. Who will really come to power in Afghanistan at that point is a very open question. There may well be civil war for a long time.

Within the United States, opinion about the "lost" war will be extremely divided. It seems clear that the Republican right is preparing the charge of a treacherous sell-out by the Democrats in general, and Obama in particular. Gen. McChrystal may well be their candidate for president, if not in 2012 then in 2016.

Obama will get no credit for anything he does. If he gives full backing immediately to McChrystal's requests, he will still be accused by the Republicans of having done it too late. At the same time, he will have angered deeply at least half, if not more. of those who voted for him in 2008.

The war in Afghanistan has become Obama's war. When the United States `loses' that war, it will be Obama who will be charged with having `lost' it. Even if he gets a health bill of some kind passed (possible), and even if the U.S. and world economic situation improves in the next several years (doubtful), the war in Afghanistan will still loom largest as the single most important element in judging his presidency.

Could Obama reverse this situation by moving dramatically in another direction - towards a rapid political deal with the Taliban and full withdrawal? Aside from the fact that there is no public evidence that he is seriously contemplating doing this, there is not yet the degree of public support within the United States to make this a feasible political option for him. He doesn't even have the necessary degree of support within his own administration for such a dramatic shift.

So the United States and Obama shall stumble on, for a year or two, while the general military and political situation deteriorates. For the United States and for Obama, it is heads we lose, tails we lose.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Our Challenge: Defeat the Right's Militant Minority

Barack Obama,
Right Wing Frenzy
-- and the Left

By Mark Solomon
Progressives for Obama

Some have pointed at past attacks on Democratic presidents to contend that there is every little about the current hysteria that has not been seen before. But there is something different about the frenzied and relentless right wing assault on Barack Obama. The vitriolic fear mongering and lies about Obama's health care reform, the calculated fanning of racism and anti- communism, organized disruptions of congressional town meetings replete with gun-toting intimidators, slanderous and frenzied attacks without boundaries -- constitute a qualitative leap into an abyss of violent rhetoric and occasional violent acts that have rarely been seen before.

Fueling that frenzy is significant right wing corporate money that has heavily financed emerging groups that have galvanized protests on the right. Among those formations, some have cynically appropriated symbols from the American Revolution to manipulate and sustain anger against Obama and the government through contrived "tea parties" and vitriolic demonstrations freighted with racist smears.

The most reactionary sectors of the corporate elite (especially oil, gas coal and insurance money) are not impressed by Obama's cautious and at times temporizing policymaking. Obama's appeals to bipartisanship regularly fall on deaf ears. The right is not encouraged by centrist policies that fall well within sustaining the institutional domination of capital. Rather, it senses that the country is at a dangerous transformational moment -- symbolized by the Obama presidency. Eight years of right wing rule brought severe blows that led to the right's defeat in 2008. The toll of Wall Street's financial collapse and the economic crisis of rising joblessness and social dislocation, the drain of resources from the hopeless Iraq war and the more hopeless Afghan venture, health care and environmental crises, assorted scandals that shredded Washington's claim to moral authority -- all led to a powerful convergence of various forces -- labor, youth, women, African Americans, Latinos and other nationalities that responded to Obama's call for change.

It is both the potential to advance a more democratic and egalitarian society inherent in the Obama presidency and the power of an emerging progressive majority that is the target of the right wing assault. Both represent for the right a frightening promise of social transformation. Whatever the insufficiencies of Obama's health proposals, the right wing (abetted by assorted "moderates") senses in those proposals an historic effort to undermine vast privately held wealth by effecting a major redistribution of that wealth. The right rails against a tepid "public option" because it perceives an historic precedent -- a "slippery slope" according to their house intellectuals at the Weekly Standard --to government "socialist" control of the health care industry.

The heavy infusion of funds into the campaign against health care reform and against the Obama presidency has abetted the rallying of a large constituency representing a complex and often bewildering array of ideologies and programs. But some elements of that convergence of right wing forces are clear. The historic ascendancy of an African American to the presidency has stirred deep wellsprings of racism grounded in paranoid fear that racial and national minorities are taking wealth and power from whites -- ironically wealth and power that they never possessed. The wail of a demonstrator in Washington that "we want our country back" was a plea for the return of unmitigated white supremacy -- for a world unaltered by irresistible social and demographic change, for reversal of African American advance symbolized by Obama, for ending immigration spawned by the upheavals of globalization. Immigration has now broadened the range of racism, stoking the anxieties of a major sector of the right wing movement.

Anti-communism, another weapon of the right wing arsenal, deeply embedded in the country's history, has been revived to paint Obama as variously a communist or socialist (or perversely as a fascist, a hypocritical manipulation of a most frightening image by a fascist- tinged current). Anti-communism has been resurrected as "big government" driven by jack boots running health care and enforcing a a reversal of the "natural order" of white supremacy.

Finally, right wing populism has been reintroduced to exploit genuine anxieties of those who fear impending economic collapse, long-term joblessness, and a government that has, especially in the last decade, remorselessly lied to them. Right wing trends in populism of the late 19th century berated banks and railroads while directing the rage of white farmers and workers towards on African Americans (actually abetting those banks and railroads). Current rightist populism demagogically mimics working class anger at multi- trillion dollar bailouts to banks. It utilizes the old McCarthyite tactic of attacking "liberal elites" that allegedly manipulate the powers of government to coerce the mass with unwanted and repressive programs. Beneath the anti-corporate rhetoric is the real objective--to cultivate searing hatred for government --- at least government that has been obliged to seek social cohesion by pursuing modest steps towards equality.

Orchestrated by corporate and Republican operatives and Fox media, the racists, anti-communists, anti- environmentalists, anti-choice and anti-gay rights elements, "birthers," "tea baggers," religious fundamentalists, anti-taxers -- and some driven by confusion, fear and desperation in an imploding economy -- are bound together by a single, overriding factor: resentment and anger at Barack Obama as the symbol of unwelcome change and the power of liberal government. That animus towards Obama enabled a distinct minority to nevertheless galvanize its splintered constituencies, to frame the political debate and to overshadow the broad forces that drove Obama to the White House. While analogies are never perfect, it is instructive to recall that a clear minority, driven by paranoia, anti-Semitic scapegoating, racism and nationalism in early 1930s Germany was able to take power in the face of a paralyzed center and a divided left. The stakes in the current right wing drive to decapitate the Obama presidency and restore the Bush nightmare (or worse) require clear-eyed resistance to the right wing's attempts to undermine Obama and crucially, to topple the broad social movement that brought him to the presidency.

On the left, there appears to be a general understanding of the importance of stanching the right wing offensive against the present administration -- while subjecting that administration to grass roots pressure to steer it in a progressive direction. However, some influential left voices are engaging in an one-dimensional attacks on Obama that sow confusion, demoralization and demobilization that however unintentional, detract from the primary need to combat the right wing. (The pseudo-left fringe that defines Obama as a stalking horse for a ruling class conspiracy is not considered in this article.)

For example, a prominent peace activist, demonstrating against Obama at his Martha's Vineyard vacation site declared that in calling Bush a war criminal we must also call Obama a war criminal. Another voice on the left recently published a more sophisticated, but no less disorienting attack in an article titled "Bush's Third Term? You're Living It." Faithful to its title, the article, posted on prominent left websites, recites a catalog of deeply institutionalized imperial and national security polices passed from administration to administration -- the largest military budget in history, defense of executive privilege, continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a "Bush third term" honeycombed with Wall St. operatives that orchestrated the massive bailout of the finance industry. The point, of course, is that Bush's third term is Obama first term.

To reach that conclusion a selective scalpel had to be applied to Obama's brief record as President. Some comparisons with Bush ("continuing his policy of extraordinary rendition") are questionable. Torture have been formally ruled out by the present administration. But rendition, though not clearly rejected, is nearly paralyzed by hesitancy. Other aspects of military and national security policy such as complete withdrawal from Iraq, escalation in Afghanistan, release of White House visitor logs, torture indictments, claims of executive privilege -- are either yet to be finalized or are frozen for the moment by internal conflicts within the administration.

The "Bush third term" analogy also requires the omission of Obama policies that reflect the influence of the multilateralist wing of the military and foreign policy establishment -- to an extent the influence of progressive forces. Can one imagine George W. Bush opening the door to the elimination of nuclear weapons? Would Bush have canceled the provocative European missile shield that has riled the Russians? However tenuous and cautious the Obama approach, would Bush have opened the door to Cuba? Would he have condemned the Honduras coup? In the domestic sphere, it is unimaginable that George W. Bush would launch a major stimulus, however short of overwhelming need, to boost a shattered economy, to call for Wall St. re- regulation, for institutionalized consumer protection and for urgent attention to the environmental crisis?

Pointing out positive aspects of Obama's brief record is not meant to negate justified criticism or to offer a mechanical balance sheet devoid of analysis of its principal elements.Some of his administration's policy choices are riven by serious contradictions such as its claim to re-ignite a Latin American good neighbor policy that is undercut by a plan to establish military bases in Columbia or its demand for a freeze on Israeli settlements that is countered by its retreat before Netanyahu and its obstruction of the Goldstone report on Israeli crimes in Gaza. However, to close our eyes to the positive and to offer one-dimensional condemnation is to perilously neglect the internal splits in ruling circles that provide openings for progressives and to weaken the spirit and resolve of progressives to reinvigorate the social movement that brought Obama to the presidency.

Those Obama policies that reinforce imperial strategic interests and the dominance of the financial sector should be subjected to criticism and opposition -- first and foremost from the forces that put him in office. Obama the candidate promised change, but he is a cautious, pragmatic politician who bends at times to the left (especially when he feels the weight of that "bottom up" movement that he talked about when campaigning) but who carefully assesses and responds to the pressures of powerful ruling blocs that oppose his agenda. President Barack Obama understands a progressive platform. His recent media interviews demonstrated an acute understanding of single payer health care and of various forms of socially grounded health programs around the world. But given his assessment of the power of insurance and pharmaceutical interests arrayed against even tepid reform, Obama was not going to carry the ball for meaningful universal health care without a powerful, united push from his left. Standing in the wings are forces, at least as powerful as those opposed to universal health care, geared to prevent serious measures to combat the environmental crisis and to stop the Employee Free Choice Act. Defeating those forces requires the urgent unity of a reinvigorated progressive movement.

Crucial to the fight against the right wing offensive is the need to pressure the Obama administration to sharpen its policies in a progressive direction.The administration's vague and temporizing approach to vital issues like health care undermines the clarity and vitality of the majority on the left and center, thus weakening the fight against the right. Organizing for America, the 13-million-person list of Obama supporters has had little success in urging its members to mobilize to support vaguely-defined "quality health care," thus stifling efforts to counter the resurgence of the right wing and to reach out and win that large segment on the right that is motivated by deep economic insecurity and distrust of government. The task of invigorating Organizing for America falls to the left which should be involved in reawakening the progressive agenda that largely motivated the Obama coalition in the first place.

A way forward at this critical juncture is suggested by an event that took place in Boston in late September to "talk back to the G20." A packed public meeting at Northeastern University was sponsored by the Majority Agenda Project -- dedicated to the principle of the inseparability of the crises in the economy, the environment and foreign policy and need to mobilize the majority that supports progressive policies to stem those crises. The meeting before a predominantly young, multiracial audience was addressed by an economist who briefly surveyed the damaging bailout of the financial system; by a student whose parents are now jobless and who may be forced to leave college, by two Latina housekeepers at the Boston Hyatt Hotel who were replaced by contract workers at half their wages (bringing many in the audience to tears), by two African American women fighting foreclosure of their homes, by a sociologist who produced data to demonstrate the country is center-left not center- right, by a young Iraq war veteran who made the connection between wasteful military spending and the crisis at home, by a medical doctor who described through personal experience the magnitude of the crisis in health care, by an African American environmental activist who surveyed the fight against climate catastrophe in his community and a by leader of the Massachusetts Green-Rainbow Party who drew together the many strands of crisis into a coherent whole. In reporting on the results small group discussion, a student pointed out that the meeting had put a human face on growing suffering, had demonstrated the inseparability of the various crises and the compelling need for all those affected by those crises and working for change to stand together.

The country is again at a critical crossroads that may well determine the outcome of the fight against the right wing and the fate of a progressive agenda. Whether the war in Afghanistan will be escalated or whether a path will be taken to ending US and NATO intervention will impact a range of issues from a a new stimulus to create green jobs, to solving the crisis of health care, to serious engagement with the impending climate catastrophe. In coming days, the rallies, protests and lobbying to end the war in Afghanistan should be the basis for the broadest movement to embrace the thousands who converged in Detroit to seek minimal aid in paying rent and utilities to the military families, to the millions of jobless, to the millions who are caught in the health care crisis and to all of us facing the environmental crisis. Now is the time to resurrect the alliance that defeated the right in 2008. That fight goes on and so must the quest for the unity of all progressive forces.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Time To Stop The Hypocrisy on Iran

What Is NOT Being
Discussed In The
Iran Nuclear Story

By Bill Fletcher, Jr

Last week’s announcement of the discovery of a previously unknown but suspected nuclear research and production site became a major story in the Western media. The Obama administration, along with its allies in Europe, saw this as evidence of Iranian duplicity on the matter of its nuclear intentions. Though Iran admitted the existence of this facility, the manner in which it did so seemed to be directed at heading off the expose' from other sources.

The outrage that was expressed concerning Iran’s revelation is, at best, overstated. While no one has been able to prove that Iran’s nuclear program is anything other than what it has claimed that it is—peaceful—the assertion from most of the mainstream Western press is that it is military in intent. This, by the way, despite the 2007 intelligence report indicating that Iran dropped its military nuclear program some years ago.

The outrage against Iran is also hypocritical. While the focus of the mainstream Western media has been on Iran’s alleged intent toward a weaponized program, in another part of the Middle, East Israel appears to possess somewhere between 100-200 nuclear weapons. No one is actually quite sure precisely because (1)Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and (2)Israel refuses to confirm or deny its nuclear program.

So, as pointed out by many observers, the real nuclear issue in the Middle East is not Iran’s nuclear intent but none other than Israel’s actual possession of such weaponry. Israel not only possesses such weapons but also possesses delivery systems for these weapons. Yet, mainstream political and media personnel in the West refuse to discuss this. In a noted exchange between iconic White House reporter Helen Thomas and the then newly elected President Obama, the President refused to answer Thomas’s questions regarding Israel’s nuclear program. He did a dance around the question that would have made Fred Astaire proud.

Idiotic and anti-Jewish remarks by Iranian President Ahmedinejad have been seized upon in order to focus the world’s attention on Iran’s nuclear intent. The fact that President Ahmedinejad often seems out of touch with reality and is cavalier in his concerns and remarks is disquieting. Yet none of that speaks to the actual power structure in Iran and what Iran intends to do with its nuclear program. While Israel used its nuclear program to support apartheid South Africa, nothing of the sort can be placed at the doorstep of Iran. Iran occupies no one’s territories, while Israel occupies Palestinian territories. While Iran has been very cagey with the International Atomic Energy Agency, Israel has completely ignored any and all international inquiries into its nuclear intent.

Once again Israel is excused by mainstream Western opinion for what it does because it is all justified in the name of protecting Israel, and by implication, Jews who were the victims of the Holocaust. While Iran’s Ahmedinejad may attempt to deny or explain away the Holocaust, most sane individuals on this planet not only acknowledge it but have seen it as an indictment of Western so-called civilization and Western barbarism previously directed at the colonial world brought home to Europe.

Yet the Holocaust does not justify the possession of nuclear weapons any more than the fact that US overthrew one Iranian government (Mossadegh in 1953); supported a criminal dictatorship (the Shah); and attempted to overthrow the newly formed Islamic Republic through support for Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980, would justify an Iranian nuclear program today. Yes, the Iranians have every reason to be suspicious of US intent toward their country and their region. They additionally have every right to seek respect from Western nations, particularly after a history of abuse experienced at the hands of Western countries.

The focus on Iranian nuclear intent, however, seems completely over the top in terms of scale and possibilities. A real and scary nuclear standoff exists between India and Pakistan yet there is anything but an aggressive approach towards this situation by the USA. India, which, along with Israel, is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has had a blind-eye turned toward it as its nuclear program went forward as did, by the way, Pakistan. In fact, with regard to Pakistan the main concern has been not whether Pakistan will use nuclear weapons against India but rather whether the Pakistani security system can adequately protect the weapons from capture by terrorists. In neither case does the West seem particularly concerned that both of these countries have the capability to turn their respective capitols into glowing mounds of sand.

Iran, on the other hand, knows fully well that any attempt to use nuclear weapons against its neighbors, not to mention against Israel, would result in an immediate retaliation. There would be no percentage in such a game, not to mention that Iran lacks a full delivery system that could get its weapons across US-dominated Iraq, US puppet Jordan and into Israel.

Each time the focus turns to Iran and its alleged intent I become nervous, largely because the specter of an Israeli or US military strike seems a possibility. There are those in both of those countries who believe that a quick air strike can teach Iran a lesson. It probably would; perhaps a lesson like how to shut off oil from ever leaving the Persian/Arabian Gulf. I suppose that would equally be a lesson for us in the West.

[ Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.]


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Conflict Over Afghan War Sharpens Among Dems

A Bold Sen. Feingold
Could Lead the Way
Out of Afghanistan

By Tom Hayden
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Sept. 21, 2009 - The United States Senate is our version of a house of lords, where time slows down in the name of a "deliberative process" even when the world seems on fire to the ordinary eye.

And so the other day, with concern about Afghanistan rising, with American troops dying at record rates, with the U.S.-supported Kabul regime in tatters, it was typical of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to declare that "the thing I'm going to do and recommend to my caucus is let's just take it easy. I'm going to wait until the president makes up his mind as to what he thinks should be done."

Then there is Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold. By everyday standards, he is a cautious person, calling for a "flexible timetable" for American troop withdrawals but also for "continued strikes on Taliban and al-Qaida leaders." Sounds like an uncertain trumpet. But in the culture of the Senate, Feingold is considered downright hyperactive, often accused of being a loner who doesn't play well with the senior oligarchs.

The truth is that Feingold has learned to play the Senate game when it comes to new proposals. Like chess, when a single senator moves, other senators follow or readjust. That's what is happening. Not a single senator had spoken out against the war until Feingold said in an Aug. 24 interview in Appleton that the U.S. should consider a flexible timetable.

Feingold amplified his views in a Sept. 17 interview I held with him, asserting that he will vote against any troop escalation, "unless I hear some very different arguments than what I've already heard." He also will vote against the coming defense authorization bill if it "follows down this misguided path." He said he might offer amendments to the bill, perhaps on the timetable.

Feingold's timetable proposal triggered a stampede, or at least a crawl, to the microphones. Sen. Carl Levin said an increase of U.S. troops should be delayed for one year, proposing a buildup of Afghan troops instead. Sen. John Kerry said he was rethinking Afghanistan. So did senators Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Robert Casey, Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders. Speaker Nancy Pelosi opined that votes for another year of war might not be there in the House.

That was a pretty fast response for a senator the critics describe as isolated. The label is perhaps the price Feingold pays for being prematurely right.

We have been here before. In 2005, Feingold was the first senator to propose a specific withdrawal deadline of one-year from Iraq. I wrote at the time that his suggestion, while too modest, was a "brave departure from the ice house of the Senate." By 2006, Feingold was joined by 13 senators on his withdrawal proposal and had prompted a proposal from Levin for a more gradual phased withdrawal. By July 2007, Reid had joined the entire Democratic Senate bloc in supporting an amendment to phase out the U.S. occupation.

Feingold now stands in a Democratic tradition that includes Sens. Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern and Robert F. Kennedy, all the way back to Wisconsin's Sen. Robert LaFollette. The major difference is that those recent Democratic candidates were running for president in the wake of a passionate "dump Johnson" movement, whereas the challenge for Feingold and other Democrats today is to dump the Afghanistan war without dumping President Barack Obama and the party's congressional majorities.

Military leaders and Republicans are sure to weigh in that they see "light at the end of the tunnel." Feingold has tried to armor himself with the argument that America is becoming weaker in the war against al-Qaida as long as it occupies Afghanistan. As for firing drones into Pakistan, he told me, "We will always reserve the right to act in the national security interests of the American people including targeting al-Qaida and Taliban leadership." Civilian casualties, he argues, can best be avoided "if we reduce our military footprint in that country."

The conflict is intensifying. Seventy percent of Democrats oppose the war. Wisconsin Rep. David Obey, the House appropriations chair, has given the president one year to show progress or face funding cuts. The Pentagon and national security hawks argue that there must be 18 to 24 months of "hard fighting" followed by 10 to 12 years of continued nation-building. At the present rate, that means 1,100 more American soldiers will die in Afghanistan by the end of 2011, as Obama faces re-election. More than 700 died during the Bush presidency. Although budget figures are foggy, Afghanistan is likely to become another $1 trillion war over a two-term Obama presidency.

That's why the Democrats already are facing a voter mandate, similar to those in 2006 and 2008, to somehow end the war and turn to more urgent priorities on the home front.

Feingold could be the Gene McCarthy of our time, though one seeking to end a war to save a presidency, not the other way around. But his inherent caution could leave the anti-war public wanting a bolder leadership. A flexible timetable is a talking point, not a proposal. The further use of Predators is likely to inflame anti-American sentiment to the benefit of insurgents. Why he lumps al-Qaida with the Taliban will need clarification.

The opening for Feingold may lie in the utter collapse of the Kabul government, a Humpty Dumpty that all the king's men will not be able to put back together with any legitimacy. Having failed to produce a credible client in Kabul, it could be time for the U.S. to launch all-party talks, including the Taliban and regional powers, in a diplomatic surge to stabilize Afghanistan. What Feingold needs to define is a face-saving exit strategy to complement his proposal for a troop withdrawal. For now, he only says he is "concerned" and "closely monitoring" the mounting evidence of fraud in Kabul, which could leave the United States without a partner that Americans - not to mention Afghans - can believe in.

[Tom Hayden is the author of 17 books, a former California state senator and a longtime peace activist.]


Monday, September 14, 2009

Public Must Force an End to Afghan War

What is Obama's
Real Plan for

By Tom Hayden

Sept. 14, 2009 - What is Obama's real plan for Afghanistan? Surely he sees all the signs of quagmire that we do. So why is this happening?

The key to Obama is that he often assumbles what he considers "best practices" into new packages he then tries to promote. The other key is that like any President, he wants to avoid the appearance of losing, even if escalating doesn't assure winning. So here is what he is doing:

[1] Repeating the 2007 Iraq surge strategy of Gen. Petraeus. This was designed for political reasons, to lessen the Iraq violence in order to suppress the Iraq issue as the defining one in the presidential elections. As Petraeus said at the time, he wanted to speed up the Iraq clock to slow down the American one. Anti-war critics were caught off balance. The surge "worked" in ways that were under-reported. First, nearly 100,000 Sunni insurgents were put on the American payroll if they agreed not to shoot American troops. Second, the same McChrystal who now commands Afghanistan was in charge of a massive top-secret extra-judicial killing operation that devastated the remaining insurgents and gave a leading US operative "orgasms" [details in Bob Woodward's last book].

[2] Repeating Richard Holbrooke's diplomatic role in the Balkans where he presided over the complicated Dayton all-party talks on Bosnia, which cobbled together a fragile peace of sorts for the next decade. Holbrooke even negotiated with Slobodon Milosovic over pear brandy and in hunting lodges while the US military campaign was tightening against the Serbian leader. Holbrooke has been managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, and a director of Lehman Bros. and AIG. He is a symbol of so-called "soft power." As Obama's special ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan, he has assembled a large team of diplomatic, political, commercial and agricultural advisers who serve as a shadow neo-colonial state ready to assume responsibility for a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. He famously said last month that it was impossible to define "success" in Afghanistan "but we'll know it when we see it."

In summary, the Obama plan is to use escalating military force to weaken - but probably not defeat - the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, largely based among Pashtun tribes. According to the plan, the next 12-18 months are the "critical window" for "demonstrating measurable progress" in disrupting and dismantling al Qaeda "and its allies" in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the escalation kills and wounds greater numbers of Taliban, the violence will be described as declining, and Holbrooke's soft-power infrastructure will take over the role of nation-building, including standing up a newly-trained police force and army of hundreds of thousands of Afghans. In this plan, US casualties then will decline after the first 18-24 months and a phased withdrawal can proceed, ending in five, ten or 12 years.

The latest version of the plan is contained in the August 10 Pentagon "sensitive but unclassified" report, "United States Government Integrated Civilian-Military Campaign Plan for Support to Afghanistan", by generals Karl Eikenberry [chief of mission in Kabul] and Stanley McChrystal, US commander. Their document is laced throughout with references to "civ-mil" strategies and "civ-mil" units, as if to emphasize the seamless connections between hard power and soft.

Perhaps it is a tribute to American and global public opinion, but the military strategy lacks any bloodthirsty references to combat, instead describing goals in sanitized language such as this: "International security forces [aka US troops] in partnership with Afghan security forces reverse security trends especially in Helmand, Kandahar, Khost Paktya and Paktika, facilitating GIRoA [Kabul government] presence at sub-national level."[p.17] the only slip came last week when the generals openly talked of using more "trigger pullers" on the ground and outsourcing more non-combat duties.

Have no doubt, they will kill a lot of Afghans and Pakistanis without press releases. Given unlimited time, troops and funding, it is possible that the US strategy can succeed in suppressing a restless Afghanistan/tribal Pakistan, though at the expense of numerous other American priorities. But with a majority of Americans and 70 percent of Democrats opposed to the war and occupation, with similar anti-war majorities rising in NATO countries, the question is whether the Obama strategy can appear to "succeed" in the short run.

The brief answer is no.

First, the current military surge is resulting in higher American troops losses than at any time since the beginning of the war. At the July-August 2009 rate, another 1,100 American troops will die by the end of 2011, on top of some 700 who were killed on Bush's watch. The American death toll inevitably has to rise before it ever begins to subside, if it even does by the end of Obama's first term. The dispatch of more American troops will increase the American casualty rates in the short term, stirring more questions from the public and Congress.

Similarly, the civilian casualty rates in Afghanistan and Pakistan will still increase in an escalated war, inflaming public opinion, even if the Pentagon's tighter guidelines are actually followed. The latest controversy over air strikes called by German forces shows the impossibility of truly "surgical" strikes, pits most Afghans against the foreign forces, and is having an unsettling effect on the Merkel coalition.

Second, unlike Iraq or the Balkans, the longer the foreign occupation, the more the Afghanistan client state weakens. The same is proving true in Pakistan, where the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas [FATA] and Baluchistan [homeland of Pakistan's Pashtun] show signs of breaking from the grip of the centralized state. The most immediate crisis is the discrediting of the Afghan government in the presidential election on which the entire American strategy depends. The civ-mil strategy paper sets a near-term goal of a "capable, accountable and effective government" in Afghanistan, and states that the "most important component [of the plan]", according to the document, "is a strong partnership with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan [GIRoA]." But the US government was unable either to [1] fix the recent elections to benefit its client in Kabul, or [2] unable to prevent its own client from engaging in the most blatant of vote-rigging tactics.

We should not be surprised at this catastrophe. The same US government ignored, or was ignorant of, the "Lord of the Flies" behavior rampant among the private security contractors in charge of security at the American embassy in Kabul.

Now the US has dwindling choices. Ahmad Karzhai and his main opponent, Abdullah, are made of the same cloth. Any foreign plan to impose another leadership is sure to be rejected. The entire US plan to combine military and civilian tracks is derailed.

Whoever was responsible for this failed US strategy, from Karzhai to his American consultants at the highest levels, should be forced to resign. President Obama should retreat with his most trusted advisers to his most secluded study to ask who led him to this place, and quietly plan to slip out of the untenable position he is in. When President Kennedy realized that he could not trust his advisers during the Cuban missile crisis, he turned to his brother Bobby to open a second, secret track. Obama needs a Bobby.

The Democratic-led Congress, which is hardly known for a consistent anti-war stance, may be better able to see the quagmire in the making, and begin hearings on an exit strategy if only to avoid political consequences to their self-interests down the road.

The indispensible factor- never consulted by the experts but never ignored by the consultants- is the 70 percent of Democratic voters who, having no stakes in a failed enterprise, are the difference between winning and losing for the Congress and administration in 2010 and 2012. The public is the only force capable of making Congress step back from the brink.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

First Blood: GOP vs. Van Jones & Team Obama

Graphic: Fascist 'Anti-Fascist' Poster

The Afrikaner Party
Draws First Blood:
Van Jones, Obama
and the Audacity
of Capitulation

By Tim Wise

September 7, 2009 - Van Jones, special advisor to the President's Council on Environmental Quality, has resigned from the administration. To be honest, he was forced out. Oh, perhaps not directly, but if not, then by the stunning silence of his employer. An employer more concerned about appeasing the right-wing bullies who sought to make Jones a liability for him, than about standing up for a brilliant thinker on both economics and ecological issues, and confronting the conservative talk-show hosts who have libeled and slandered Jones (literally) over the past month.

The right has shown no shame in their relentless pursuit of Jones's political scalp. They have fabricated from whole cloth details of his life, calling him a convicted felon and instigator of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. This, in spite of the fact that he has no criminal record whatsoever and wasn't even in Los Angeles when those riots were happening. His arrest at that time was part of a sweep of dozens of peaceful marchers in San Francisco, involved in a protest at the time of the riots. He was released, charges were dropped, and he was paid damages by the city. This is not what happens to criminals, but rather, innocent people who have done nothing wrong.

Jones should sue the living shit out of Glenn Beck, his employers at Fox News, and every other prominent liar who has repeated the baseless allegations of his criminal record in recent weeks. He should wipe them out, take their money, leave them penniless and begging on the streets, without health care. They would deserve it. Perhaps Beck's AA sponsor or the Mormons who he credits with "saving" his wretched soul can then take care of him and his family. Since surely he wouldn't want the government to lend a hand.

They have twisted other aspects of Jones's past, suggesting his brief stint with a pseudo-Maoist group makes him a secret communist in the heart of government, this despite his more recent break with such groups and philosophies, in favor of a commitment to eco-friendly, sustainable capitalism. They have called him a black nationalist, which he admits to having been for a virtual political minute in his youth, and have suggested he's a "truther" (one who believes George W. Bush masterminded the 9/11 attacks as an "inside job"). As for this last charge, their evidence consists of Jones's signature on a petition, which originally called merely for more openness about the pre-9/11 intelligence available to the former administration, but which was later altered to reflect the conspiratorial lunacy of its creators. Jones, and many others who reject the truthers' nonsense, were tricked into signing and were appalled by the final product. But none of this matters to the right. Because after all, none of it was ever the point.

This is not about convicted felons. The right loves convicted felons, as long as their names are Oliver North and G. Gordon Liddy. The former of these (whose convictions were eventually vacated on a technicality) helped direct an illegal war from the Reagan White House, which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of innocent Nicaraguans. And the latter helped plan the Watergate break-in, advocated political assassination during his time in the Nixon White House, and even advised folks on how to kill federal agents several years ago, from his radio show perch ("head shots" he roared). But none of his friends on the right ever suggested that such talk put him beyond the pale, or should result in him being silenced.

This is not about having an arrest record. After all, there are many anti-abortion zealots with arrest records, hauled in and then ultimately released after blocking access to family planning clinics. But Glenn Beck doesn't make them public enemy number one. Nor would he, or any of his political soulmates, seek to prevent such persons from having roles in a future Presidential administration. Indeed, they would likely consider such a record a bonafide qualification for higher office.

This is not about believing in conspiracy theories. Surely not. Beck of all people can hardly condemn anyone for that--even if Jones did subscribe to such things, which he doesn't--for it is he who believes, among other things that Obama is planning on a mandatory civilian defense corps, which will be like Hitler's SS, that Obama "hates white people" and has a "deep seated hatred for white culture," that Obama is pushing health care merely as a way to get reparations for black people, and that he secretly wants to bankrupt the economy to force everyone to work for ACORN. It is Beck who is among the leading voices suggesting that the President's upcoming speech to schoolchildren--in which he will implore them to study hard--is really just an attempt to indoctrinate them into a new version of the Hitler Youth. No, these people love to push nonsensical conspiracy theories. It is their bread and butter. It is all they have, in fact.

Nor is this about Jones's remarks in a speech, given prior to becoming part of the administration, to the effect that the reason Republicans get things done is that they're willing to be "assholes," while many Democrats, including Obama, aren't. Conservatives don't mind that kind of talk. They loved it when Dick Cheney said go "fuck yourself" to Senator Patrick Leahy in 2004. Not to mention, right-wingers say far more offensive things than that, on a regular basis, but remain in good standing, and are surely never condemned by their fellow reactionaries. What's worse: Jones calling Republicans assholes, or Rush Limbaugh saying that most liberals should be killed, but that we should "leave enough so we can have two on every campus--living fossils--so we will never forget what these people stood for?"**
What's worse, Jones's asshole remark, or Anne Coulter saying, among the many venomous syllable strings that have toppled from her lips, that the only thing Tim McVeigh did wrong was choosing to blow up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, rather than the New York Times building?

This is not about socialism, as Jones is not a socialist. Oh sure, he's associated with some, and might still be friends with several to this day. And so what? Martin Luther King Jr. associated with socialists and communists because they supported the civil rights struggle and the black freedom movement at a time when the rabid anti-communists were at the forefront of attempts to maintain formal white supremacy. Which is to say that the socialists and the communists were on the right side, and the red-baiters were on the wrong one. Which was also true about the fight for the 40-hour work week, the 8-hour day, the end of child labor, the right of women to vote, and every other advance for freedom and justice in this nation in the past 100 years. But of course, Glenn Beck explained on the radio this past July 4th that he "hates the last 100 years of American history," so I guess we know what side he would have been on in all those battles.

Let's be clear, this is about one thing only: namely, the attempt by the right to exploit white reactionary fears about black militancy. It is the same tactic they tried with Rev. Jeremiah Wright in 2008. They did not confront Wright's narrative--the accuracy of which was far stronger than they would like to admit--nor do they actually grapple with Jones's ideas (it is doubtful that Beck has even read Jones's best-selling book, for instance). Rather, they present a caricature, a bogey man with black skin, an occasional scowl, and an attitude. Angry, confrontational, "uppity," and too close to the President. Which means that Wright=Obama=Jones=Malcolm X. It's a trope the right has banked on for years: using racial memes and symbols to scare Jim and Susie Suburb. Put the face of black anger out there and watch your devotees respond like Pavlov's dog.

It's something I first saw up close and personal in 1992. The woman I was dating at the time was an interior designer and had scored a contract to decorate the VIP lounges at the Houston Astrodome for the GOP National Convention. I viewed it as a great opportunity to do some enemy reconnaissance, so I lurked around the literature tables and took in the imagery beamed from the jumbotrons to the assembled conventioneers. One afternoon, we arrived before the main hall was opened to the delegates, and as I looked up at the screens above the floor, I saw the image that would be there to greet them as they entered a half-hour later: a massive, pixillated image of hip-hop artist Ice-T, whose speed metal band Bodycount had recently gotten in trouble for their song, "Cop Killer." The Republicans wanted their delegates to know who the enemy was. Not just Ice-T, but anyone who listened to his music, anyone who looked like him.

And that is what the attack on Van Jones is about: exploiting white fears and anxieties. Anxieties about a black President, anxieties about a basket-case economy (which they're trying to blame on the black President even though it was well in the crapper before he came along), anxieties about a changing demographic balance in the nation (which animates their fear and anger over immigration), anxieties about a popular culture whose icons look less and less like them as the years go by. And so they play up the militant black guy image, turning a low-level bureaucrat into a "Green Jobs Czar," (the latter of which term they have sought to spin into a communist thing, despite the fact that the Russian Czars were actually the royalist pigs who were thrown out by the Russian left, a small historical detail which doesn't matter to illiterate people of course), and making him the bad guy who's running the Obama administration from behind the scenes.

No, it's not only about race. But if you think it's merely a coincidence that the right has sought to make Jones such an issue--rather than some of the other administration officials they are now threatening to "expose" (two of whom are white)--then you haven't been paying attention to Republican and conservative politics for the past forty years. This is what they do. It's the only language they speak, at least fluently. Which is why when John McCain--to his credit--tried to move away from this method a bit, and refused to push the Jeremiah Wright theme during the general election campaign, so many on the hard-right criticized him. They didn't want him to talk about Bill Ayers: they wanted him to talk about Wright. Even though Ayers was the one with the criminal record and the links to political violence, while Wright was the military veteran and preacher with a storied history of community contributions. Why? Because they knew that Wright would be the better image. To link Obama to a white radical is one thing. But to link him to a black one? Oh, much, much better. This is why, in the instant case, they kept pushing Van Jones's non-existent connection with the Los Angeles riots, and his supposed felony record. Nothing better than a marauding criminal black man to get white fears into the stratosphere.

This is, it appears, the emerging political agenda of the Republican Party, and certainly its right-wing: a group that has decided, apparently, to go all in as a party of angry white people (and the few folks of color willing to look past their incessant race-baiting). They have circled the wagons, all but given up on reaching out to black and brown voters, and are putting all of their chips on white.
And everything they are saying about Van Jones was what people like them said about civil rights leaders in the 50s and 60s: about Dr. King and Ralph Abernathy, and John Lewis, and Fannie Lou Hamer. They were communists, and revolutionaries, and a danger to the republic. Make no mistake, had they been old enough in those days, Beck and every modern-day movement conservative would have stood with the segregationists, with the bigots, with the mobs who burned the buses carrying freedom riders. They would have stood with the police in Philadelphia, Mississippi, even as they orchestrated the killing of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner. They would have stood with Bull Connor in Birmingham. How do we know? Easy. Because not one prominent conservative spokesperson of that time did the opposite. Not one. That's who they are. And the minute you forget that, the minute you insist on treating them better than they would treat you, the minute you insist on playing by rules that they refuse to as much as acknowledge, all is lost. They do not believe in democracy. They believe in power. White power. They believe in the past. They are Afrikaners, and it's about time we started calling them that.

(**) This quote, which appears in David Neiwert's book The Eliminationists was reported originally in the Denver Post, December 29, 1995.

Tim Wise is the author of four books on race. His latest is Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama(City Lights: 2009).


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