Saturday, February 28, 2009

Are We 'Cowards' When Dealing with Race?

Race, History and
Attorney General
Eric Holder's Remarks

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

Last week’s comments by Attorney General Eric Holder to the effect that when it comes to race, the USA is a nation of cowards brought forth immediate condemnation by right-wing talk radio. This was to be expected.The more mainstream media also reacted, albeit more mildly. Nevertheless, they have tended to focus on Holder’s wording, suggesting that he would be more likely to be heard if he used other language, such as that the people of the USA need to be more sensitive to race.

The problem that Holder encountered was not simply the attitude of the people of the USA toward race, but more fundamentally, the prevailing attitude toward history. The USA has the distinction of being one of the few countries on the planet that has little interest in history as such, and when it is forced to address history, it tends to view history in terms of myth(s). As such, there are few useful lessons, often making history a boring subject in school, not to mention something that is ignored when it is time to develop policy.

Let’s take the example of the American Revolution. Most of what passes for the history of the War of Independence either falls into the realm of myth or the selective use of facts. Rarely are we presented with the significant fact that the colonies probably would not have won had it not been for the intervention of the French and Spanish (not to mention Haitian volunteers who are often completely overlooked). Ignoring these facts, except perhaps to acknowledge the Marquis de Lafayette, gives one a completely inaccurate sense of what it took to win independence from Britain, not to mention the impact the American Revolution had on bringing a revolution to France.

We also fail to acknowledge in most histories of the Revolution the mighty contradiction in the middle of the entire process: all men are created equal… vs. slavery.

In the USA, the prevailing approach toward history, then, is to set it aside and assume that we can march forward, ignoring the past and any lessons it has to offer. In a recent speech, I suggested that in other spheres, such an approach would be ridiculed. Consider the horrible bridge collapse in Minneapolis last year. Could anyone ever imagine the Minneapolis-St. Paul authorities proposing to ignore the causes of the collapse; failing to investigate anyone or anything responsible, and not taking appropriate action PRIOR to building a new bridge? Such an approach would defy imagination.

Holder’s comments were attempting to highlight just that point, specifically in the realm of history and race relations. With all the excitement in connection with the election of the first African American president, there have been too many mainstream white Americans who believe that we have now entered a post-racial era where we can all march forward, hand in hand, with the past behind us.

Holder’s comments, much more than Obama’s March 2008 speech on race, acknowledge that race and racism remains a problems deeply embedded in the fabric of the USA, a problem that must be understood in order for it to be fully eradicated. Although Holder did not indicate specifically how this should happen, he should be loudly applauded for calling the attention of the USA to the necessity for this dialogue.

If we are to build on Holder’s comments, what could it mean to confront the ‘cowardice’ when it comes to race? Here are a few ideas:

* The Bill Clinton “Race Initiative” was poorly focused. A real dialogue would need to happen at several levels simultaneously. A “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” model might be a good framework. There would need to be, in other words, a commission that directs the work of a multi-year study and dialogue.

* The Commission would sponsor studies on different aspects of race and racism in US history, going back to the colonial era and running through the present. Such studies would be published and be the basis for local discussions, available to all, but also targeted at key opinion-makers and political leaders.

* A curriculum would be developed that would be introduced in the public school system and that would be made available for private schools, as well as colleges and universities. The US Department of Education would sponsor a special training program for teachers to use the curriculum.

* Hearings would be held across the USA, looking at different aspects of race. This would not simply focus on what is happening to people of color, but would also look at the impact of race and racism on the lives of white Americans.

* Through vehicles established at the time of the 2001 United Nations World Conference Against Racism, further hemispheric discussions would be encouraged, with the full and constructive participation of the USA, examining race in the Western Hemisphere.

* Specific policy recommendations would be put before the President of the United States with the intention of translating them into legislative action items. Such proposals would aim to repair the damage which resulted from the hundreds of years of racist oppression we have experienced in North America.

The question remains as to whether there is the political will - what Holder described as ‘courage’ - for the USA to come to grips with its history. After all, that history is not as Pollyanna-ish as the myth we have been taught, but it is nevertheless more exciting, challenging and true.

[ Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., a founder of 'Progressives for Obama', is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum.]


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Obama's Realignment and People of Color

Obama, Race
and the Future
of U.S. Politics

By Bob Wing

Feb 12, 2009 - Barack Obama's victory is indeed an historic breakthrough for U.S. politics. In a country that enforced a system of legalized racism until just 40 years ago, and that was founded on white supremacy, black slavery and Native genocide, the election of the first black president is cause for jubilation.

The significance of Obama's victory is accentuated by the fact that not only is he an outstanding individual with liberal politics and a community organizer's instincts, but he is also leading a potentially historic realignment of U.S. politics.

Such realignment could not come at a better time. Beset by a deep economic crisis, now is the time for progressive structural changes to the international and national socio-economic landscape. But such changes will be impossible without enormous political strength.

Whether President Obama can help orchestrate a turnaround of the economic crisis now facing the country, indeed the world, will be revealed in the coming years. But he has already made a major contribution to changing the pattern of U.S. politics, a pattern that was set by slavery and enabled conservative Republicans to dominate the presidency for the last forty years.

However, the development of a mass progressive movement with its own agenda will be critical to consolidating that realignment, and to winning systemic change in the years to come.

The Color of Election 2008

The magnitude of Obama's victory has led to much hyperbole about the end of racism and the advent of a colorblind society. This notion deserves closer examination lest Obama's victory become an obstacle, rather than an opening, to future racial progress.

Much of the press has focused on celebrating the willingness of many whites to elect a black president. But just how colorblind is the U.S. electorate?

Despite the fact that the Republicans had failed miserably, even on their own terms, and run the country virtually into the ground, whites still voted for McCain by 55 to 43. In stark contrast, blacks voted for Obama by 95 to 4, Latinos went for Obama by 66 to 32 and Asians backed Obama by 61 to 35. (1)

In 2008, the white vote was virtually identical to election 2000 and continued to exert a strong conservative pull on the electorate while the votes of peoples of color and young people of all races headed powerfully in a more progressive direction.

The color lines, in life and politics, are alive and well.

Indeed, peoples of color made the biggest shifts in their voting between 2004 and 2008. It was they who proved decisive in Obama's victory. Left to white voters, John McCain would have won a landslide twelve-point victory.

African Americans voted for Obama by an astonishing 95 to 4, a fourteen-point swing for the Democrats compared to 2004. (2) Many a pundit has dismissed this result as a knee-jerk racial solidarity vote for Obama. How soon they forget that the majority of black voters favored Hillary Clinton for the many months leading up to the Iowa primary.

Much of the mainstream media declared that Latinos were too racist to vote for Obama. They pointed to the large Latino primary vote for Clinton as proof.

Latinos resoundingly put the lie to these cynics by voting for Obama by 66 to 32, a huge sixteen-point swing to the Democrats compared to 2004. Even a 58 percent majority of Cubans in Florida, traditionally solidly Republican, went for Obama.

Latinas led the way toward Obama, casting 68 percent of their votes for him and only 30 percent for McCain. Latino voters under 30 went for Obama by 76 to 24, perhaps indicating the direction of future Latino voting patterns.

Asians swung Democratic by fourteen points over 2004, voting for Obama 61 to 35. The political trajectory of Asian voters has been striking. In 1992, Bill Clinton received only 31 percent of the Asian vote. Since then Asians have steadily moved Democratic, reaching a highpoint this year.

So much for the pundits who believed that Latinos and Asians would never unite behind black leadership. These results amount to a massive progressive motion by peoples of color.

Meanwhile the white vote swung toward Obama and the Democrats by five points compared to 2004. White voters under 30 were the only age group among whites to favor Obama. They voted for him by 54 to 44. All other whites voted for McCain by about 57 to 41.

The most anemic swing was made by white women, who voted for McCain by 53 to 46, moving a mere four points toward the Democrats, This was particularly disappointing in light of their ten point swing to Bush from 2000 to 2004, a change that accounted for Bush‚s victory in that year.

White men favored McCain by a bigger margin, 57 to 41, but this represented a sizable nine-point swing to the Democrats compared to 2004 when they voted for Bush overwhelmingly, 62 to 37.

Overall, Obama carried the white vote in only 18 states, mostly in the Northeast and the West Coast.

The Changing Color of the Electorate

From a long-range point of view, the change in the racial composition of the electorate as a whole is perhaps even more important than the recent shifts towards the Democrats. In 1976 whites constituted 90 percent of the vote; in 2000 they still accounted for 81 percent. This year the white share of the vote fell to 74 percent, quite a dramatic change in a short time.

Just as surprising, the main group increasing its share of the electorate is not Latinos, but African Americans. Blacks constituted thirty percent of all new voters in 2004, and an even greater mobilization this year brought them to 13 percent of the overall vote, a thirty percent increase over 2000.

The sheer numbers of Latino and Asian voters have risen significantly over the same period, but their percentage share of the overall vote is virtually unchanged since 2000: nine percent for Latinos and two percent for Asians. (3)

Surprisingly, the percentage of the electorate that is under thirty years of age, regardless of color, also remained stable, at 17-18 percent. However, these voters increased their Democratic vote by 12 points compared to 2004, voting for Obama by 66 to 32. Young voters were also the main corps of Obama field organizers and their energy gave the campaign much of its movement-like quality.

Historic Realignment?

The true maverick in the 2008 campaign was not McCain who pursued the same old reactionary Republican Southern Strategy, but Obama whose bold strategy of fighting for the South and the Southwest, indeed all fifty states, ran counter to all previous electoral common sense.

His success was both astonishing and history making. He won the southwestern states of Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico, and the former Confederate slave states of Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, as well as former slave states Maryland and Delaware. The Latino vote was decisive for Obama in Nevada, New Mexico, Florida and Colorado.

In all, nine states switched from red to blue from 2004 to 2008: Virginia, North Carolina, New Mexico, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, New Hampshire and Iowa. Obama lost Missouri by the narrowest of margins.

The historic nature of these victories is brought into sharp relief by the accompanying maps.

The first is the map of slave versus free states and territories just prior to the Civil War. The other is the electoral map of the 2004 election. Depressingly, they are almost identical: the former slave areas are almost universally Republican and the former free areas, with a couple of exceptions, are Democratic.

Almost 150 years after the abolition of slavery, the political patterns wrought by the peculiar institution‰ still shape U.S. politics. Barack Obama‚s campaign may mark the beginning of the end of this historic pattern, with tremendous implications for the future of U.S. politics. The main window into this change is the Electoral College.

Electoral College: a Pillar of Racism

It is not so surprising that slavery set the pattern of U.S. politics if one knows that the Electoral College itself was a product of slavery.

The Founding Fathers, led by slaveholders such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe, invented the Electoral College out of thin air to serve their interests.

They codified the notorious idea that slaves were non-humans, and thus deserving of no constitutional or human rights. The one exception to this rule was the stipulation that slaves were to be counted as three-fifths of a person, solely for the purpose of determining how many congressional representatives each state would be allotted. The three-fifths rule vastly increased the slave power in the House of Representatives and therefore the Congress.

The Electoral College, in which each state receives a number of Electors equal to their congressional delegation, was invented as the institutional means to transfer that same pro-slavery congressional allocation to determining the presidency. Slaveholders held the presidency for 50 of the 72 years before Abraham Lincoln, who was elected in 1860, became the first U.S. president to oppose the expansion of slavery. The South, used to wielding political power through the selective enumeration of slaves, promptly seceded.

Since the end of slavery the Electoral College has remained a racist and conservative instrument. It has given the Republicans a running head start to win the presidency ever since reactionary Southerners switched en masse from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party in protest of the 1960s civil rights legislation.

As then-Republican strategist Kevin Phillips put it in 1970, "The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are."

Based on that switch, the Republicans adopted the notorious Southern Strategy that has enabled them to dominate the presidency for the last forty years. The Republicans learned to skillfully fashion a winning combination of the solidly Republican white southern voters with conservative and moderate whites in the Midwest and Southwest, through barely coded racist appeals.

The Southern Strategy has been the glue with which the Republican Party has united powerful corporate capitalists to conservative white workers, farmers, gun aficionados, small business owners and suburban homeowners.

Negating the Southern Black Vote

The racial bias embedded in the Electoral College system is the structural basis of the Republican's Southern Strategy. The winner-take-all Electoral College system ensures, even requires, that about half of all voters of color be marginalized or totally ignored. (4)

About 53 percent of all blacks live in the southern states, and in 2000 and 2004 they voted about 90 percent Democratic. However, in those elections white Republicans out-voted them in every Southern state and every border state except Maryland.

As a result, every single southern Electoral College vote was awarded to Bush. While whites voted 54-42 for Bush nationally in 2000, southern whites gave him over 70 percent of their votes in both 2000 and 2004. They thus completely erased the massive Southern black vote for the Democrats in that region.

The Electoral College result was the same as if blacks, and other Democrats, in the South had not voted at all.

Similarly negated were the votes of millions of Native American and Latino voters who live in overwhelmingly white Republican states like Arizona, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, the Dakotas, Montana and Texas. Further, the peoples of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Guam, territories ruled by the U.S., get no Electoral College votes at all. The tyranny of the white, conservative majority prevailed.

Compounding the reactionary and pro-Republican bias of the Electoral College, the system gives as much as three times as much weight to the mainly conservative and white Republicans in the rural states compared to states with large, racially diverse and majority Democratic populations.

For example, Wyoming has a little more than 240,000 voters and has three Electoral College votes: one for every 80,000 or so voters. By comparison large population states like California have about one Electoral College vote for every 220,000 voters.

Thus, the Electoral College system violates the principle of one person, one vote, drastically undermines the impact of the black vote and gives the Republicans a major advantage in presidential contests. Its abolition should be a key part of the progressive agenda.

Final Thoughts

Although the political dynamics of each of the nine states that turned from red to blue in 2008 need to be examined closely in their own right, it is likely that a minimum of three or four will move decisively into the Democratic column. A number of others that swung Democratic in 2008 have moved from being solidly red states to battleground states.

The solid Republican South and Southwest may be a thing of the past. In the wake of Obama's hard-won victories, the Democrats have no excuse for essentially conceding these regions, as they have done for decades.

This will qualitatively shift the Electoral College math. Since 1968 the Electoral College has clearly favored the Republicans and the Democrats had to pull off an upset to win. Indeed, Bill Clinton won only because of the third party candidacy of Ross Perot. In the future, it may be that the Electoral College math will favor the Democrats, and that the Republicans can only win by staging an upset.

Just as important, for the first time in U.S. history the two political parties clearly represent the two broad wings of U.S. politics. At the national level, the southern reactionaries no longer hold the Democratic Party hostage.

This augurs well for the possibility that an Obama presidency may be able to gather the political strength to undertake a major restructuring of the economy in favor of working people and peoples of color in general, and to reorganize our foreign policy in a positive direction.

However, there is still a major political element missing from the political equation: a powerful independent peoples‚ movement. In the 1930s the union movement, and especially the newly formed, radical CIO, was key to the New Deal. In the 1960s the civil rights movement was the driving force of the War on Poverty.

Herein lies the principal task of progressives in the coming period: to forge powerful independent, mass movements and organizations that can help shape the Obama coalition in a positive way. Our relative success or failure at this task may determine the future of the U.S. and the world every bit as much as President Obama himself.

Bob Wing is a writer and organizer in South Los Angeles, and former editor of ColorLines magazine and War Times newspaper.


1. Unless otherwise noted all voting figures are drawn from the National Exit Polls for 2000, 2004 and 2008, as reported by CNN.

2. I calculate the "swing" or "change" in the vote in the traditional but rather confusing manner as the change in the vote differential. For example, in 2004 blacks voted Democratic by 88 to 11, a 77 point differential. In 2008, they voted Democratic by 95 to 4, a 91 point differential. The vote differential thus changed from 77 points to 91 points, so I report a 14-point "swing" or "change."

3. No national exit poll numbers are available about Arab or Native American voters for any year.

4. Only Nebraska and Maine allocate their electoral votes more or less proportionate to the vote rather than on a statewide winner-take-all basis.
From: Z Net - The Spirit Of Resistance Lives



Monday, February 23, 2009

Is Afghanistan Obama's Vietnam?

Photo: Soviet Afghan Poster with Dubious Soldier

Note to Obama:
Advice from
John F. Kennedy


Chronicle Review

"Only a handful of times in our history has a generation been confronted with challenges so vast [including] two wars, one that needs to be ended responsibly, one that needs to be waged wisely."

— Barack Obama, January 17, 2009, in a speech in Philadelphia

"All war is stupid."

— John F. Kennedy, in a letter written aboard his PT boat in the South Pacific, 1943

Feb. 27, 2009 - In a book published last month, David Sanger, a correspondent for The New York Times, paints a bleak picture of President Obama's foreign-policy challenges. Among the nightmares Sanger mentions, several are potentially disastrous. They involve continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and possible wars-in-waiting with Iran and Pakistan.

The world's tinderbox, stretching through the Middle East to South Asia, is more dangerous as Obama takes office than at any time in recent memory. The United States is bogged down in a disastrous war and occupation in Iraq. The expanding war in Afghanistan is being lost, and lost badly, to the resurgent Taliban. Nuclear-armed Pakistan is coming apart at the seams and is increasingly at risk of both civil war and a war with its neighbor India, with whom it has already fought three wars, and which also possesses a nuclear arsenal. Finally, some American and Israeli officials have spoken publicly about the possibility of bombing Iran's nuclear sites. As Sanger reports, the Israelis in fact wanted to bomb Iran last summer and requested permission from Washington to fly over Iraqi airspace en route — a request that was refused, causing the Israelis to scuttle the plan.

Has any president ever come to office with such a withering array of potential foreign-policy disasters facing him? Does history have anything to tell us about whether who we elect as president makes a difference in matters of war and peace? Does it provide clues as to the difference President Obama might make, having just ascended to the presidency?

It does. Research in recently declassified documents and formerly secret presidential audiotapes — detailed in my book and documentary film, Vietnam if Kennedy Had Lived: Virtual JFK — demonstrates that John F. Kennedy would very likely not have taken the United States to war in Vietnam. Six deep crises (two each over Cuba and Vietnam, and one each over Laos and Berlin) were his inheritance from his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower. His inaugural year, 1961, was in fact the presidential year from hell, as JFK would discover. By March, his advisers were requesting nuclear weapons to counter Soviet-backed rebels in Laos. He suffered humiliation over the Bay of Pigs fiasco in April and outraged his senior advisers, many of whom recommended that he send in the U.S. Marines to salvage the operation and overthrow the Castro government. Between August and October, his advisers recommended military action in Berlin, including the use of nuclear weapons if necessary, and the removal by force of the wall just then going up. And in November, he faced down all of his national-security advisers, who were recommending the Americanization of the conflict in Vietnam.

Kennedy said no to war each time. We now know, after extensive research over more than two decades, Kennedy was right to say no. We are now virtually certain that if Kennedy had chosen to escalate one or more of these crises to an American war, disaster would have followed. In each case, we now know, the adversaries of the United States and its allies were far more numerous, more heavily armed, and more committed to their causes than Kennedy's advisers believed at the time. The same is true for the epochal Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. If Kennedy had agreed to the attack and invasion of Cuba favored by most of his advisers, a nuclear catastrophe would almost certainly have followed. It is highly probable that an American invasion would have been met with devastating Soviet nuclear fire, with almost unthinkable consequences to follow.

The Vietnam case is particularly instructive on the issue of Kennedy's personal significance in America's avoidance of war during his administration. We now have the data to make a relatively objective comparison between JFK's decisions on Vietnam and those of his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. It's as close to a perfect experiment as exists in the history of U.S. foreign policy. That is because, for various reasons relating to his own personal insecurities and lack of foreign-policy experience, LBJ retained all of JFK's top foreign-affairs officials. We now know that within hours of assuming office on November 22, 1963, LBJ was pressured by these advisers to take the nation to war in Vietnam. Their argument was the same one they had put to JFK: You cannot let our South Vietnamese ally fall to the communists. If you do, a U.S. pledge guaranteeing the security of an ally will be worthless, another "domino" will fall to communism, and your presidency will be judged a failure. In response to these arguments, as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara recalled, LBJ responded, "OK, win the war." Same advisers. Same conflict. Different president. The Vietnam War was Johnson's war, not Kennedy's. Presidential leadership was decisive in keeping the nation out of war, and leading the nation into war.

Fast forward from 1961 to 2009. Replace Cuba, Laos, Berlin, and Vietnam with Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. Insofar as the November 4 election was a referendum on foreign policy, the electorate voted yes to Sen. Barack Obama's opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and yes to Obama's stated intention to withdraw U.S. personnel from Iraq as soon as possible in an orderly and dignified way. They also voted yes to Obama's promise to talk to enemies, rather than bully them or bomb them or invade them. And Obama's special adviser on Pakistan and India (Richard Holbrooke) and rumored adviser on Iran (Dennis Ross) are both high-profile advocates of diplomacy as an alternative to military force. All told, Barack Obama's stated foreign-policy objectives recall JFK's remark in his Inaugural Address: "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate." Obama's stated approach to foreign policy is, in fact, uncannily JFK-like.

But proclivities and stated objectives aside, does Barack Obama have the right stuff necessary to avoid disastrous wars like those in Vietnam under LBJ and in Iraq under George W. Bush? While voters going to the polls on November 4 could hope, they could not know for sure. The key question is this: Will President Obama display steely, JFK-like resistance to the urge toward war he will inevitably have to face when things go badly, as they almost certainly will, with respect to his inherited crises involving Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan and (no doubt) other dangerous crises which will appear unexpectedly and unbidden on his horizon? The simple answer is: We don't know, but we are about to find out.

We should pay particular attention to Obama's decisions on the war in Afghanistan. On January 17, Obama said in a speech given in Philadelphia (on his whistle-stop tour en route to his inaugural) that Afghanistan is a war "that needs to be waged wisely." Time will tell what sort of "wisdom" Obama was referring to in the speech. If by "wisdom" he means what it came to mean in the Johnson administration, he (and we) are likely to fail. LBJ and his lieutenants tried to carefully, rationally calculate the proper balance between sticks (U.S. troops and bombing) and carrots (the promise of peace negotiations) needed to subdue the Vietnamese communists. They failed utterly. If this is the sort of "wisdom" that the Obama administration will seek to apply in its support of the U.S.-backed regime in Kabul, it is unlikely to prevail against a ruthless, resourceful insurgency whose fighters know the territory as U.S. and allied forces never will. The Johnson administration, which sought in vain to bomb the Vietnamese communists to the conference table, ultimately found itself both humiliated and reviled.

The Obama administration may find itself mired in a similar quagmire of its own making in Afghanistan. To those who believe that such an outcome is unthinkable with a liberal, progressive president in the Oval Office, it should be recalled that LBJ and his advisers were mainly liberals. The escalation of the war in Vietnam was approved and effected by liberal Democrats. Their putative "wisdom" was actually hubris sustained by arrogance and ignorance of the history, culture, language, and determination of their adversary.

Rewind, briefly, back to 1961, to John F. Kennedy. It's worth asking: What were the sources of the fear of escalation to disaster in this young, well-educated, but inexperienced president? Where did his skepticism and caution come from? And how did he muster the determination to act on his inclination to avoid war, even in the face of optimistic advice to the contrary, and also in the face of tremendous political heat from hawks in both political parties?

Two experiences seem above all others to have shaped Kennedy's cautious path through 1961 and thereafter. First, his experience in the South Pacific was fundamental. In the spring of 1943, on the eve of the now famous encounter between his PT boat and a Japanese destroyer, Kennedy wrote home, "all war is stupid." Two of his own men died in the famous collision, and their deaths weighed heavily on the young commander. But by "stupid," Kennedy meant something more comprehensibly negative, along the lines of Robert McNamara's definition of "the fog of war," made in the 2004 documentary film of the same name. In that film, McNamara says that "war is so complex it's beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend all of the variables. Our judgment, our understanding, are not adequate. And we kill people unnecessarily." It is worth remembering that when Kennedy wrote "all war is stupid," he was referring to conclusions he drew from what is now often called "the good war." The young PT commander was himself a member of "the greatest generation" that fought the war. Regardless, "all war is stupid," according to JFK. That was the wisdom he took from his experience in war, an experience far beyond Johnson's. In Kennedy's view, war is never good. War is irrational and destructive and plain horrible. Period.

Second, Kennedy's humiliation over the failed invasion of Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 was, in one sense, highly fortunate. It was humiliating, of course. More than a hundred Cuban exiles were killed; the rest were rounded up and herded into a baseball stadium in Havana for a mass show trial reminiscent of Stalin's show trials of the 1930s. Yet the Bay of Pigs debacle was not a national disaster on the scale that the war in Vietnam later became under Johnson, nor anything remotely close to it. Kennedy asked himself after allowing a scaled-back version of the exile-invasion plan to go forward, "How could I have been so stupid?" He never again believed the rosy estimates of the CIA with regard to military interventions, nor did he ever again trust his military advisers' optimistic predictions about what could be accomplished in military interventions at acceptable cost and risk to the United States. His advisers hammered away at him to go to war all through 1961 with a ferocity and relentlessness that has only come to light in recent declassified documents and oral testimony. Kennedy stonewalled them, diverted them, but always refused their fundamental advice, which was to go to war. Thus, by the end of 1961, his inaugural year from hell, the United States had not invaded Cuba, was not involved in the war in Laos, and did not go to the nuclear brink in Berlin, and although JFK had increased the number of military advisers to the Saigon government, he had repeatedly refused to send any combat troops to Vietnam.

Fast forward a final time from 1961 to 2009, and what may well become President Obama's own inaugural year from hell. Obama has no personal experience of war. He may or may not be fortunate enough to experience an early, sobering, but not disastrous foreign-policy failure, along the lines of Kennedy's Bay of Pigs. Will Obama have the wisdom and conviction to resist the slide to war when the pressure mounts? Already, many have urged him to lengthen the timeline for getting out of Iraq, which is still a horribly violent, chaotic environment. Already, the groundwork has been laid to increase the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan, a country that has been a graveyard for foreign military adventures for hundreds of years. Already it appears that Iran will not cease and desist in its quest for nuclear weapons, no matter how much diplomacy is employed. And already some of Obama's own senior advisers are recommending significant military action inside Pakistan, including bombing and use of Special Forces, in an effort to prevent Al Qaeda from expanding its threat to the West.

President Obama has made a point of meeting with the living ex-presidents and asking for their advice. With all due respect to ex-Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and now George W. Bush, President Obama would be wise to consult the predecessor whose foreign-policy inheritance upon entering office most closely approximates his own in difficulty, number, and potential danger to U.S. interests around the world.

That president is John F. Kennedy, that other bright, young, Ivy League-educated, inexperienced senator who, upon taking office, was catapulted into a maelstrom of difficulty not of his making, but for which he was suddenly responsible. Lesson No. 1 from Kennedy is: "All war is stupid." This is not an invitation to pacifism. It is not a moral exhortation. It does not mean that the least bad option will be never going to war. It is rather a statement of fact, former president to current president: "If you choose to take the United States to war, you should assume that the results will be more complicated, more difficult to control, more damaging politically, and altogether more horrible than you or your advisers can imagine. Keep this in mind, Mr. President, and you might just make it through 2009 intact, as I made it, barely, through 1961."n

[James G. Blight is author (with janet M. Lang and David A. Welch) of Vietnam if Kennedy Had Lived: Virtual JFK, published last month by Rowman & Littlefield, and a producer of the new film, Virtual JFK, directed by Koji Masutani.]


Friday, February 13, 2009

Lincoln's 'Just and Lasting Peace'

Photo: Multi-billion dollar military junkyard

Cut the Military Budget
(Or Make Levees, Not War)

By Steve Cobble
Huffington Post

An Open Letter to Our Congressional
Leaders on Military Budget Cuts:

On the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birthday, I'd like to call attention to the closing line from his Second Inaugural Address:

" do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

Given that the U.S. still accounts for nearly half the world's spending on war, and preparations for war; given that we lead the world in arms sales; given that we have far and away the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons; and given that the Federal government still spends half its discretionary budget on war, and preparations for war--can we honestly say that we are living up to Honest Abe's charge?

And if not, shouldn't we be discussing what we might do differently?

During this week's crucial stimulus battle, the newspapers have been filled with discussion of the "high cost" of the Democratic leadership's recovery package(s), with the usual pundit fear-mongering over the deficit, with editorial applause for last-minute cuts in weatherization/school reconstruction/health care, and with comments on the supposed need to find equivalent "savings" in other domestic programs, perhaps even Social Security and Medicare.

Yet there is one budget topic that is rarely discussed inside the D.C. Beltway--our massive, unstable, and unsustainable war economy. This seems like a huge oversight, since this is one of the few places remaining where real money can be found to fund the programs that President Obama and the Democratic Congressional leadership promised during the 2008 campaign, including a new "green jobs" economy, health care for everyone, and union jobs with good wages and benefits.
We know the military budget--plus the war spending--skyrocketed during the Bush/Cheney years.

So why don't we look across the Potomac River to the Department of Defense, which has enjoyed those massive Bush/Cheney funding increases? After all, it's been two decades since the Berlin Wall and the Cold War collapsed, and six years since everyone but Dick Cheney admitted that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq--so do we really still need all the entire, expensive DOD wish list?

We just cannot afford the many costly weapons systems our war economy now desires--first, because we need the money for domestic programs; and second, because military spending does not create nearly as many new jobs as does spending on weatherization, mass transit construction, education, or health care.
So, for example, if we need to find hundreds of billions of dollars to put America back to work, provide health care for those left out, and build a sustainable new "green economy" that makes Mideast oil obsolete, why would we ever continue down the F-35 runway, spending massive amounts on one of the most expensive weapons system ever? We should cancel the delayed, not-very-stealthy, way-over-budget F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, with its estimated hundreds and hundreds of billions--perhaps even one trillion--dollars cost!
Think about the F-35's cost for a minute. Over its life cycle, the Joint Strike Fighter is now expected to cost just about as much as the stimulus package deal announced yesterday. Does that make any sense, in a time of economic--not military--crisis?

Can we afford the next allotment of F22 Raptors, which still have no mission? Would Honest Abe Lincoln approve of the V-22 Osprey, which even Dick Cheney once tried to kill? Can anyone tell me the strategic purpose of either the DDG-1000 destroyer or the Virginia class submarine?

No, I didn't think so.

If we want to turn the page on the recent past, and show the world the new face of America, we must end the occupation of Iraq, as the President and the leadership in the Congress have promised. We should remember the tragedy of LBJ & Vietnam, and refuse to fall into the trap of a larger war in Afghanistan. We should release all documents from the Bush/Cheney secret files and let the legal chips fall where they may, in keeping with our new President's commitment to the U.S. Constitution and to transparency. We should shut off dangerous and costly efforts to militarize space. And we should not only close down the torture camp at Guantanamo, we should shut down several hundred other overseas bases. After all, America was founded in opposition to Empire, not to become one.

Since President Obama has made it clear that he is serious about keeping his promise to reverse the nuclear arms race, the Congress should help him negotiate big cuts in our nuclear stockpiles--it would make the world a much safer place.
And since we know the future depends on developing a sustainable green economy, why not convert our national weapons labs completely to anti-nuclear-proliferation work and to alternative energy R&D? Aren't "loose nukes" and climate change two of our true security threats?

Lincoln's message to us, near the end of a bloody civil war, was that America's leaders should do all that they could to "...achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace."

If Abe Lincoln took a look at our spending habits today, wouldn't he have to conclude that America has not heard his message? Wouldn't he be forced to conclude that our hearts and minds are not committed to a just and lasting peace, but instead to a growing and incendiary arms race?

I do not believe that the current Federal budget really reflects where most Americans' hearts are. Our people are not comfortable with spending half our treasure on a military/industrial/petroleum complex while millions of Americans suffer without health care, pensions, good schools, affordable housing, even bridges and levees...

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an open admirer of Abraham Lincoln, and gave his "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. So perhaps it's appropriate to end with a reminder that Dr. King also warned us about an immoral war and the growing nightmare of a permanent war economy.
He called for a "true revolution of values," and worried aloud whether the "giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."

America's greatest prophet taught us: "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

America's greatest President called on us to "...achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace."

So I ask you, the Honorable Majority Leader, Madame Speaker, and all the elected Members of the Senate & House--don't you agree that it's time to pay them some mind?

Thank you, Steve Cobble


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Steelworkers Message to GOP Footdraggers:

Steelworkers Jobs March Draws
Thousands in Granite City, IL

By Scott Cousins
St Louis Suburban Journals

Feb. 10, 2009 - A line of more than 5,500 laid-off steelworkers from Granite City, auto workers from Decatur and Fenton, Mo., and their supporters stretched out for more than eight blocks along a mile-long route as part of a “Put America Back To Work” march Tuesday morning in Granite City.

The march, sponsored by local and state labor unions and several community groups, was held to support passage of a federal stimulus bill, including a “buy American” provision.

Both city and union officials said slightly more than 5,500 people participated.

The march went from a parking lot at U.S. Steel-Granite City Works to Amsted Rail, a distance of about one mile.

At a press conference before the march, labor leaders and local politicians said that passage of the bill — now working its way through Congress — would help jump-start the nation’s economy.

“We are living in unprecedented economic times,” said U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Belleville). “Families here in Granite City are hurting.”

More than 2,500 area steelworkers are currently laid off or will be soon — almost 2,000 now at U.S. Steel-Granite City Works, which has been idled, and almost 700 at Amsted Rail, which produces railcar parts.

Costello said he is hoping that differing versions of the bill can be reconciled by Congress and passed, and be on President Obama’s desk for signature by the end of the week.

“Every member of Congress can find a reason or something in this stimulus package they do not like,” he said. “If you are looking for an excuse to vote no, you can find an excuse. The fact of the matter is ... it’s time to support this president and his economic plan so we can give him the tools to turn this economy around.”

Much of the focus of the press conference was on “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges and schools that could begin within 90-120 days.

Costello said each billion dollars spent on infrastructure generates $6 billion in economic activity, and provides 34,000 “good-paying” jobs.

Union officials said that starting the infrastructure projects would be especially good for plants like Granite City Works. Approximately 30 to 35 percent of Granite City Works’ output is construction-grade steel.

Illinois Comptroller Daniel Hynes was among those attending the press conference, although he did not speak.

Later, he said passage of the bill was important for the state, which is facing a $9 billion deficit.

“The Congress has to put aside their differences and realize that people are desperate right now,” Hynes said. “They’re bickering over minute details while people are spiraling downward and losing their economic security.”

He said the state would benefit both from infrastructure programs and money it might receive for health care, education and other programs.

The march itself began just after 11 a.m., and was led by a tractor-trailer, followed by Joe Stephens, of Alton, and Marvin Tucker, of Granite City, both laid-off members of United Steelworkers of America Local 1899, carrying a large American Flag.

Most of the local’s 1,300 workers are laid off right now because Granite City Works was idled in December.

“There are so many people off work right now, the country is in bad shape,” Stephens said.

Behind them were several elected officials, including Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan, Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer, Pontoon Beach Mayor Jim Denham, and Madison Mayor John Hamm.

“We have a lot of people in Granite City laid off at this time,” Dunstan said. “I think it’s important for us to be here and show our support.”

Hagnauer agreed, saying officials had a duty to support both the steel mills and their workers.

“Our community is not decimated by this, but it’s affected us greatly and we’ve got guys we want to put back to work,” he said.

Behind them, other marchers stretched out over approximately eight city blocks.

Louis Norton, of Centreville, was one of them.

Norton was an employee of Stein Steel Mill Services, which provides support services for Granite City Works, but is currently laid off.

“We need to go to work. We’d just like to get to work and get back to like it was,” said Norton.

The march worked its way along 20th Street to Niedringhaus Avenue, then past the main entrance to Amsted Rail, where about 40 workers were watching.

The march ended in an Amsted Rail parking lot, where some steelworkers performed a few skits, and people mingled, ate donuts or waited for shuttle rides back to their cars.

Dennis Barker, political action coordinator for USWA Local 1899, was one of those performing a skit about the demise of the American middle class.

“This is the first time we’re actually in the street — not in protest but in support of government action,” he said. “We want the government to take action, we want the government to pass the stimulus bill. The government is the last entity that can turn this country around.”

As the end of the parade was working its way toward the parking lot, others were walking back or waiting for friends.

Jack Guelzow of Worden, a laid-off member of Local 1899, had been at the front of the march, but he and some friends had already finished and were waiting near Amsted Rail for others who had been in the middle.

“Hopefully we can do some good here today, we’ll see what happens,” Guelzow said of the march. “It’s a pretty good crowd.”

Granite City Alderman Don Thompson was nearby, said, “I think it’s a very good turnout. I was really surprised. I think the weather was with us, and I think that’s what brought a lot of people out here today. I’ve been here 40-some years, and I’ve never ever seen this magnitude of people.”

“It was a great day for working people here in Granite City,” said Russ Saltsgaver, president of USWA Local 1899.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Arizona Watch: Lou Dobb's Bull Conner

Photo: Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Detainees

The Face
of the New
American Bigot

By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
New American Media

Feb 11, 2009 - On the issue of immigration, there is little difference between conservatives and extremists. Both camps have come to greatly admire Sheriff Joe Arpaio – America's toughest sheriff. To this Arizona lawman, there is nothing wrong with racially profiling red-brown peoples and communities And of course, his supporters applaud his every antic, including the recent public spectacle of humiliating some 220 migrants in Phoenix by parading them in public.

This is arguably why the GOP is dying. Arpaio has become the Bull Conner of our times. For conservative Republicans to embrace him – akin to how extremists embrace him – gives the nation a clear message: the GOP is more interested in preserving its outdated ideology and (racial) heritage, than in expanding its base.

Type rest of the post hereAs the economy continues its uncontrolled convulsions, the nation also continues to convulse with an increasing number of ugly cases of racial bigotry and acts of violence against immigrants.

Indeed, this era is now marked by the rise of the New American Bigot. The old one has undergone an extreme makeover; save for lawman Arpaio, the New American bigot is no longer the Aryan extremist or unrepentant segregationist. George Wallace is out and CNN's jolly Lou Dobbs is in.

Don't misunderstand: Racial supremacists and ultra-nationalists are up in arms because of President Obama's historic election. Many are on a gun-buying shopping spree. Others are prophesizing doomsday.

However, among the nation's mainstream body politic, outward displays of racial bigotry are generally now frowned upon. The GOP has a new face, which is but a mask. Witness the election of Michael Steele to head the Republican Party, or what has now become America's far-right, anti-immigrant party. Steele's mission is to convince people generally not attracted to his party that they are now welcome under the GOP's shrinking white tent. With Obama in office, the chance of siphoning off black voters is nil.

Theoretically, sizeable inroads could be made from the expanding Latino/Latina electorate. Yet with racially tinged xenophobia rampant within the GOP, the chances of making inroads there don't look good. Unquestionably, xenophobia is also present within Democratic circles; it's just not trumpeted as loud.

The GOP's inability to attract new voters has little to do with an image or perception problem. As long as their views come wrapped in patriotism, legalese and law-and-order, they believe that their views are appealing to all. Outward displays of racial bigotry are out, but one exception is allowed: "illegal aliens."

Purportedly, the objection to them is not directed at any one racial or ethnic group. It is strictly directed at those who have broken the law; at the brown hordes that have crossed the Mexican border illegally (the Canadian border is okay); at those who refuse to assimilate into the American way of life; and at those who refuse to learn good English (never mind former president Bush).

In their fervor, they forget that almost half of "illegal aliens" do not enter the country from Mexico. The other half enter legally, but overstay their visas. They also forget that refusing to assimilate or to speak English is not an indicator of legality or illegality. Besides, they are seemingly unaware that there are no laws that compel anyone to assimilate (particularly their conservative or extreme right-wing values.)

The "illegal alien"-obsessed Lou Dobbs does not take a backseat to brazen xenophobes such as Arpaio. Dobb's daily rants have made it respectable for Republicans to clamor for a gated, checkpoint society. Dobbs and most of his talking head counter-parts are anything but jolly, speaking with the same venomous tongue. On the airwaves and on the Internet, racial extremism, xenophobia, scapegoating and dehumanization are part of the daily soup. Both extremists and conservatives hold the views that the fewer red-brown peoples in this country, the better… the less Spanish spoken, the better.

The New American Bigot has a new face, and it, too, is but a mask – a Janus-faced mask.

Rodriguez can be reached at:


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

GOP Right Gutting Stimulus to Wreck Obama

Plan Isn't
About 'Recovery'

By Isaiah J. Poole
Campaign for America's Future

The missive [1] that House conservatives issued early Friday may be called an "economic recovery plan," but it is as threadbare as the big discount goods store that went belly-up in my neighborhood a few weeks ago and is now in the final days of bankruptcy liquidation.

They claim they are responding to President Obama's challenge to come forward with the best ideas for economic recovery. But they can't seem to break their tax-cut mantra, even though the evidence is clear that a stimulus plan that relies primarily on tax cuts is no stimulus plan at all in today's economy.

The proposals House Republican leaders have put on the table range from the arguably meritorious—exempting unemployment benefits from federal taxes—to the politically and economically unacceptable—their demand that "any stimulus package include a provision precluding any tax increases now or in the future to pay for this new spending," but instead requiring future spending cuts to offset any new spending.

In the middle is the usual melange of business and personal tax cuts. We've pointed out before [2] that whatever you think of various tax-cut proposals, you can't call them cost-effective stimulus.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reinforced this view in a paper Friday [3], concluding, "There is a serious debate to be had about whether cutting corporate rates, especially if done in tandem with measures to close corporate tax loopholes, would strengthen the economy over the long run. But corporate rate cuts simply are not credible as short-term economic stimulus in a recession."

That's because the core problem businesses face in a recession is not a shortage of cash, but a shortage of demand. It stands to reason, then, that businesses will simply pocket a tax cut, or pass some of the proceeds on to shareholders, until an increase in demand entices them to make the investments needed to meet that demand. (Think about how consumers handled the rebate checks issued last year. Because the lion's share of the checks were used to pay off past debts or to squirrel away something in their savings accounts, "the rebates in 2008 provided little 'bang for the buck' as economic stimulus," according to a new study by University of Michigan economists Matthew D. Shapiro and Joel Slemrod.)

So it makes absolute sense for government to be a demand driver, creating jobs and priming the economic pump by finally addressing the long-neglected public maintenance and rebuilding tasks essential to the country's future.

There is nothing in the plan offered up by House conservative leaders that speaks to how the repair and rebuilding of our public assets will be done in the context of a shrinking government; that task is not even addressed. Instead, they want to head off any thought that the nation would make a permanent commitment to not falling again into the hole of disinvestment in our commons that began to open in the Reagan era and widened under the era of Bush II.

"What seems to be the real message being put forward by House Republicans is that government should hand out additional tax cuts to businesses and then sit on the sidelines," Center for American Progress senior fellow Scott Lilly writes in a column [4] published Friday. "It is time for the loyal opposition to recognize their responsibility for the mess in which we now find ourselves and begin to find ways to be part of the solution rather than prolonging the agony in which millions of jobless Americans and at-risk families are now suffering."


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