Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Michael Schwartz on the US-Iraqi security deal

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Local elections in Venezuela

By all accounts, today's state and local elections in Venezuela will determine whether last December's referendum debacle was a temporary set back for Chavez or the beginning of a longer decline for the Venezuelan left.

As with the referendum vote, it does not look like Chavez has prepared well. Chavez is again relying on the military to fight any attempt to sabotage the elections, rather than mobilizing his base, the urban poor, who fended off the 2002 coup attempt. Also troubling is Chavez's reaching out to champion of democracy Vladmir Putin, seeing an alliance with Russia as a bulwark against US intervention. All this seems to suggest that Chavez sees his power as flowing from the barrel of a gun, rather than from the Venezuelan working class.

Since the referendum, the Venezuelan ruling class has attempted to sabotage the economy by hoarding food and jacking up prices. If this Al-Jazeera English report is to be believed, there is discontent within Chavez's base over the limits of progress. Given the failure of the referendum, and the growing problems with food prices, it seems pretty believable. (I'm not sure how reliable Al-Jazeera is on Venezuela. This report is unlike most bald-faced anti-Chavez propaganda that tries to pass off protests by rich students, the same goose-stepping bastards who supported the coup, as a democratic opposition within Venezuela. Any thoughts, gentle readers?)

Is there a Pulitzer Prize for most understated headline?

It's the only explanation for this
Some in Arab World Wary of Clinton

During the Democratic primary campaign, Clinton said the United States could "obliterate" Iran if it launched a nuclear attack on Israel. She said the United States should not negotiate with Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, unless it renounced terrorism. "The United States stands with Israel, now and forever," Clinton told AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, at its conference in June.
Hmm...yes. Disconcerting. Indeed. On the other hand...
Yet Clinton is also the former first lady who famously broke with her husband's administration in 1998 and said Palestinians should have a state of their own.
What the WashPo does not understand is that "Palestinian sovereignty" has a different meaning to the American and Israeli ruling class than to everyone else. Take a look at the prior results of Israel's concession to a "two state solution"
Under the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority acts as a subcontractor of the Israeli army in the task of repressing the Palestinians. To the U.S. and Israel, that's virtually the only task the PA is accorded. It's no wonder, then, that Arafat controls nine different police and security operations, accounting for as many as 50,000 cops. These security forces work hand-in-glove with the Israeli security forces and the CIA, which provides "training" to Arafat's police. When Israeli undercover police arrested Palestinians whom they accused of lynching two Israeli cops (in a well-publicized October 2000 incident), Arafat's police were said to have fingered the arrestees.
The two state solution on offer from Israel is not real Palestinian self-determination but an alternative strategy for suppressing Palestinians. It's the old colonial scheme of getting the elite segment of the indigenous population to do the dirtiest work. As Jonathan Cook has shown, politicians like Olmert preach the virtues of two states, precisely because they fear real Palestinian freedom
According to Olmert, without evasive action, political logic is drifting inexorably toward the creation of one state in Israel and Palestine. This was his sentiment as he addressed delegates to the recent Herzliya conference: "Once we were afraid of the possibility that the reality in Israel would force a bi-national state on us. In 1948, the obstinate policy of all the Arabs, the anti-Israel fanaticism and our strength and the leadership of David Ben-Gurion saved us from such a state. For 60 years, we fought with unparalleled courage in order to avoid living in a reality of bi-nationalism, and in order to ensure that Israel exists as a Jewish and democratic state with a solid Jewish majority. We must act to this end and understand that such a [bi-national] reality is being created, and in a very short while it will be beyond our control."

Olmert's energies are therefore consumed with finding an alternative political program that can be sold to the rest of the world. That is the reason he, and Sharon before him, began talking about a Palestinian state. Strangely, however, neither took up the offer of the ideal two-state solution -- the kind Avnery and Neumann want -- made in 2002. Then Saudi Arabia and the rest Arab world promised Israel peace in return for its withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders. They repeated their offer last year and Israel has steadfastly ignored them.

Instead, an alternative version of two states -- the bogus two-state solution -- has become the default position of Israeli politics. It requires only that Israel and the Palestinians appear to divide the land, while in truth the occupation continues and Jewish sovereignty over all of historic Palestine is not only maintained but rubber-stamped by the international community. In other words, the Gazafication of the West Bank.
Clinton's position on Palestine may please the Arab ruling class, and even Hamas, but the most clear-headed activists realize the futility of such a course.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Engels on Popular Resistance: Or, Why Decentists Haven't a Leg to Stand On

They [the Chinese] kidnap and kill every foreigner within their reach. The very coolies emigrating to foreign countries rise in mutiny, and as if by concert, on board every emigrant ship, and fight for its possession, and, rather than surrender, go down to the bottom with it, or perish in its flames. Even out of China, the Chinese colonists, the most submissive and meek of subjects hitherto, conspire and suddenly rise in nightly insurrection, as at Sarawak; or, as at Singapore, are held down by main force and vigilance only. The piratical policy of the British Government has caused this universal outbreak of all Chinese against all foreigners, and marked it as a war of extermination.

What is an army to do against a people resorting to such means of warfare? Where, how far, is it to penetrate into the enemy's country, how to maintain itself there? Civilization-mongers who throw hot shells on a defenceless city and add rape to murder, may call the system cowardly, barbarous, atrocious; but what matters it to the Chinese if it be only successful? Since the British treat them as barbarians, they cannot deny to them the full benefit of their barbarism. If their kidnappings, surprises, midnight massacres are what we call cowardly, the civilization-mongers should not forget that according to their own showing they could not stand against European means of destruction with their ordinary means of warfare.

In short, instead of moralizing on the horrible atrocities of the Chinese, as the chivalrous English press does, we had better recognize that this is a war pro aris et focis, a popular war for the maintenance of Chinese nationality, with all its overbearing prejudice, stupidity, learned ignorance and pedantic barbarism if you like, but yet a popular war. And in a popular war the means used by the insurgent nation cannot be measured by the commonly recognized rules of regular warfare, nor by any other abstract standard, but by the degree of civilization only attained by that insurgent nation.

1857 Tribune Article

Yes We Can Win Gay Marriage!

Great video of a gay marriage protest in Chicago.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

An Anthem for the Crisis

Gang of Four - Capital (It Fails Us Now)


Lyrics:
The moment I was born I opened my eyes
I reached out for my credit card
Oh no! I left it in my other suit!
capital it fails us now comrades let us seize the time
capital it fails us now comrades let us seize the time
on the first day of my life I opened my eyes
guess where!? in a superstore.
surrounded by luxury goods
I need a visa. I need a hi-fi.
no credit no goods
come on back I say
they say we're bankrupt
capital it fails us now comrades let us seize the time
capital it fails us now comrades let us seize the time
Capital it fails us now
Scientists blame it on pollution
People are not very happy
This is caused by alienation
oh no! I left it in my other suit!
one day old and I'm living on credit
[bankrupt]
one day all will be living on credit

Mike Davis on Why the Future Can Wait

Mike Davis has a very good article on Tomdispatch arguing that while infrastructure investment is desperately needed in the US, keeping our existing public institutions like hospitals and schools operating should be top priority:

Yet saving (and expanding) core public employment is, hands-down, the best Keynesian stimulus around. Federal investment in education and healthcare gets incomparably more bang for the buck, if jobs are the principal criterion, than expenditures on transportation equipment or road repair.

For example, $50 million in federal aid during the Clinton administration allowed Michigan schools to hire nearly 1,300 new teachers. It is also the current operating budget of a Tennessee school district made up of eight elementary schools, three middle schools, and two high schools.

On the other hand, $50 million on the order book of a niche public transit manufacturer generates only 200 jobs (plus, of course, capital costs and profits). Road construction and bridge repair, also very capital intensive, produce about the same modest, direct employment effect.

Is the US post-racial? Think again.

Following the historic election of Barak Obama in a country built on slavery, many in the media, Right and Left have argued that racism has ended and the 'divisive' concept of race has been rendered irrelevant. This article in the New Republic takes this argument to absurd lengths, suggesting that since neo-fascists and white supremacists such as David Duke do not hate Obama, we have somehow entered a new age of tolerance. The author suggests that

white supremacists feel compelled to explain away the confounding notion of an immensely gifted and appealing black man. Yet it also reflects the fact that, unlike Jesse Jackson, Obama simply lacks certain cultural signifiers--not to mention an urban-centric policy agenda--that would viscerally threaten racist whites obsessed with maintaining "white rights," ending affirmative action, and cutting off nearly all non-European immigration.
Frankly, in a country where millions of Americans stand to lose their homes, child hunger is skyrocketing, and jobs are being slashed in the tens of thousands, this country needs more 'urban centric' policies. And pissing off white supremacists is a great thing in my book.

But that's neither here nor there. On the question of racism, a recent incident of police brutality brings to the fore the weaknesses of Obama and his campaign to confront racist attacks from the McCain camp and Hillary Clinton and also to take up issues pertaining to the virulent racism of the criminal justice system (Sean Bell, the Jena Six, Troy Davis).

The father of Green Bay Packers star receiver Donald Driver was brutally beaten by Houston cops on Sunday. Police allegedly picked him up on a warrant for traffic violations and then took him behind a gas station and beat him mercilessly:
As they beat him and forced him to swallow something, the officers told Marvin Driver Jr. he was "going to see Jesus," according to relatives and community activist Quanell Evans, who identified himself as Quanell X.

"Mr. Marvin Driver Jr. is now at Hermann Hospital in ICU where he can't even speak," relatives said in a statement. "Doctors say there is some bleeding on his brain from blunt force trauma."
The two accused officers are still on the street, pending investigation. However, according to a community activist, "One of the officers named in the arrest report is Hispanic and has a history of harassing African-Americans."

This event is a sobering wake up call to people who believe that Obama's election could instantly bring and end to the systemic racism embedded in the US from housing and hiring to the criminal justice system.

In another sense, however, this event presents an opportunity to expose this. As Dave Zirin has argued time and time again, professional sports presents a huge platform for athletes to take a stand on against oppression and political injustice, like Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Olympics, Billie Jean King's victory in the "Battle of the Sexes". Who knows how the Driver family will respond to this tragedy, especially given the pressures on athletes from their coaches, team mates, and the talking heads in the sports writing world (See Brandon Marshall and Josh Howard?) Despite these pressures, athletes are also affected by the sense of hope and joy that Obama's election brought about nor can they ignore the anger and mass outpouring of activism against the draconian Proposition 8. If Driver's brother's response is any indication of the sentiment shared by the family, we could be in for a battle: "if we can't trust these people, who can we trust? ... I think that my father was targeted for being black."

Eric Holder, Obama's pick for Attorney General


The good:

Holder also advocated closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, transferring the remaining prisoners to the US and adopting an "expedited and procedurally fair" review process.
The bad:
Quick! Name the veteran Department of Justice insider who, shortly after the USA Patriot Act was signed into law and at a point when the Bush administration was proposing to further erode barriers to governmental abuses, argued that dissenters should not be tolerated?

Who invoked September 11, explicitly referencing "the World Trade Center aflame," in calling for the firing of any "petty bureaucrat" who might suggest that proper procedures be followed and that the separation of powers be respected?

John Ashcroft? No.

Alberto Gonzales? No.

It was Eric Holder, the man who has reportedly been selected by President-elect Barack Obama to serve as the next Attorney General of the United States.
The ugly:
Alongside the claims that Guantánamo will be closed in a new administration, and that the sham military commissions will cease, have come proposals that Guantánamo's closure will require a radical reworking of our justice system in order to ensure that those who the government asserts need to be imprisoned will continue to be held. Frankly, this is the same assertion that in 2002 created Guantánamo for the alleged "worst of the worst," without charge or process.
Although I haven't heard anything Holder has said about a new preventive detention law, I think, given the advice Obama's getting, we can look forward to Holder figuring out new ways to hold people without charges in the name of "fighting terror."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Zirin hits MSNBC

On Morning Joe talking sports, politics and the recession

On Rachel Maddow talking about being a victim of police espionage for constitutionally protected activity

Check out Dave Zirin's new book, A People's History of Sports in the US

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Robin Mejia on The Iraq Math War

Excellent article from Mother Jones on the Bush Administration's war against any accurate accounting of the number of Iraqi dead.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obama's potential pick for VA head, Duckworth, helped squelch anti-war candidacies


Many news outlets lead their coverage of yesterday's Veterans Day ceremonies with Obama's photo-op with Major Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran. Most mentioned that Duckworth is the Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. At least the AP noted she has run unsuccessfully for congress. Only the local NBC affiliate mentioned that Duckworth is someone with her own political ambitions, and could either replace Obama in the Senate or take the post as secretary of veterans affairs in his administration.

Most interesting to me is Duckworth's role in torpedoing anti-war dissent within the Democratic Party. When truthout recently reposted an article from 2007 on how new Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel ran conservative candidates against anti-war Dems in congressional primaries, I noticed this particularly mercenary episode of how Emanuel shut down Christine Ceglis' campaign for the Democratic nomination in Illinois' sixth district. Ceglis was an information technology worker who had run in 2004 against Henry Hyde, a 16 term Republican in a district that was a Republican stronghold.

Ceglis' decision to run again in 2006 actually convinced Hyde to retire (this is a woman with no political connections). But Emanuel did not take to Ceglis' anti-war stance

Emanuel, himself a congressman from the neighboring 5th District of Illinois, apparently tried to recruit six different candidates to run against Cegelis. According to Kevin Spidel, campaign manager for the Cegelis campaign, all of Emanuel's attempts failed because the potential candidates "all said 'hell no!' They knew the resentment they would face. If you were in the district, you knew how much Cegelis was loved. She built her own machine."

Eventually, Emanuel found a candidate who lived just outside the district, Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth, a helicopter pilot who was severely injured in combat in Iraq, was convinced to run against Cegelis by Emanuel and two Democratic heavyweights, Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Barack Obama.

Duckworth does not support a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. The Los Angeles Times, quoting Duckworth, reported that she believed the military should not "'simply pull up stakes' in Iraq because it would 'create a security vacuum' and 'risk allowing [Iraq] ... to become a base for terrorists.'" According to the same article, Duckworth supported "a pullout of US forces on a schedule based on the training of Iraq's armed forces."
Duckworth helped the Democrats shut down Ceglis, got appointed to Director of the Illinois VA less than a month after the race by Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich and is now a front runner for a spot in Obama's cabinet.

Granted, Duckworth would have little say on foreign policy if she became head of the VA, and it looks like Jesse Jackson Jr. may get Obama's Senate seat. But it's interesting to note who Obama's surrounding himself with. Also interesting are the political calculations that go into everything Obama does, even something as "sacred" as a Veteran's Day ceremony.

Also, one wonders what a self-described "fiscal conservative" would do for the VA in the middle of the biggest economic crisis in generations. Perhaps we will find out.

Winning Hearts and Minds: Or, WHAM!

Hearts and Minds was released in 1974, winning the Oscar for Best Documentary in 1975 (and today's academy can't even handle Michael Moore!). It is simply the best film made about Vietnam, and American culture during the 1970s in general.


For me, the most frightening scene in this movie is its ending. There's the spectacle of actual Vietnam Veterans, the American Serviceman's Union, being taunted and beaten by pro-war forces. Even more sinister, however, is the spectacle of the "victory" parade itself. It is truly horrifying to think that this tawdry theatre can provide an emotional logic for those who inflicted such brutality on Vietnam.

Profiling Obama's Economic Team

A recent Counterpunch essay by Patrick Bond gives some important insights into the ominous track records of Obama's economic advisers and potential heads of the Fed - Lawrence Summers and Paul Volcker.

On Volcker,

Conference calls and face-to-face meetings of the Obama economic team are often reorganized to accommodate his schedule. When the team discusses the financial crisis, 'The most important question to Obama: What does Paul Volcker think?' says Jason Furman, the campaign's economic-policy director... When Sen. Obama raised the prospect of a package of spending and tax measures to 'stimulate' the economy, Mr. Volcker disapproved. 'Americans are spending beyond their means,' he told the group. A stimulus package would delay the belt-tightening and savings needed, he added, proposing instead better regulation and assistance to banks."

On Summers:
Summers is best known for the sexism controversy which cost him the presidency of Harvard in 2006. But fifteen years earlier he gained infamy as an advocate of African genocide and environmental racism, thanks to a confidential World Bank memo he signed when he was the institution's senior vice president and chief economist: "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that... I've always thought that underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly underpolluted, their air quality is vastly inefficiently low..."
After all, Summers continued, inhabitants of low-income countries typically die before the age at which they would begin suffering prostate cancer associated with toxic dumping. And in any event, using marginal productivity of labour as a measure, low-income Africans are not worth very much anyhow. Nor are African's aesthetic concerns with air pollution likely to be as substantive as they are for wealthy northerners.
Such arguments were said by Summers to be made in an 'ironic' way (and in his defense, he may have simply plagiarized the memo from a colleague, Lant Pritchett). Yet their internal logic was pursued with a vengeance by the World Bank and IMF long after Summers moved over to the Clinton Treasury Department, where in 1999 he insisted that Joseph Stiglitz be fired by Bank president James Wolfensohn, for speaking out against the impeccable economic logic of the Washington Consensus.


To contextualize the inter-imperial ambitions of the US and it's competitors toward Africa, check out this article from the International Socialist Review.

Take that Mormons!

A Connecticut judge ruled today in favor of gay marriage. The knots are getting tied as we speak! The stage is also being set for a massive day of action against Prop 8. The victory in Connecticut and the outrage in California that is spreading across the nation is going to be a crisis that Obama and the Democrats are going to have to address. While it is premature to call it a civil rights movement, a movement that takes up the issue of gay marriage has to explicitly stand in the fight for civil rights. The radicalizing effect of the ban is spurring people to the type of action needed to make real change in this country. Sherry Wolf also has a great piece challenging the assumption that Blacks are somehow disproportionately homophobic and argues that linking the fight for gay marriage to civil rights is the way to forge the multi-racial/sexual orientation fightback in this country

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What does the state of Alaska have in common with the US Military ?

Neither pay for rape kits! Figures have been coming out recently that continue to destroy the idea that the US military is a force of good, and in the case of the war in Afghanistan, a force capable of liberating women: servicewomen are TWICE as likely to face rape and sexual assault as their civilian counterparts.

After Congress threatened Department of Defense officials with contempt citations, the Pentagon admitted that

in 2007 there were 2,688 sexual assaults in the military, including 1,259 reports of rape. Just 8 percent (181) of those cases were referred to courts martial, compared to a civilian prosecution rate of 40 percent. And almost half of those cases were dismissed without investigation. (And I say Whitley "had to admit" the number of cases because in 2004, Congress woke up to the fact that the DoD was blowing off the issue and required the military to make yearly reports on all matters relating to sexual assault in the Armed Forces. But those reports did not indicate either prioritizing or progress -- hence the hearings.)


As the article notes, current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates played a key role in suppressing this information. This adds another reason why activists must challenge the logic of President-elect Obama's consideration of this war-mongering rape apologist.

An important - and positive - lesson in this case is that many revelations about command rape and abuse of women in the armed services have come to light during Winter Soldier testimonies organized by Iraq Vets Against the War and their allies in the antiwar movement. These gatherings, which have taken place from in the Pacific Northwest, Baltimore, DC, Madison, and other cities across the country, have been a venue for service people and vets to speak out about the racism, sexism, and brutality of the armed forces. Exposing these abuses is part and parcel of radicalizing and organizing the antiwar masses in this country who swept Obama into office and can give further confidence to active duty soldiers to speak out and get organized.

Armistice Day


"I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veterans' Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans' Day is not.

So I will throw Veterans' Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don't want to throw away any sacred things.

What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

And all music is."
--Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

Why Obama's Health Care Plan is Deadly


In a great interview, Physicians for a National Health Plan's Steffie Woolhandler explains why Obama's health care plan could be worse than no change at all. The gist of her argument is that trying to expand public programs while maintaining the private industry is incoherent and a fiscal black hole:

There’s no reason to think that would work. I think the private health insurance industry is not going to allow the government to run a program that really competes with them. That’s not just my opinion. If we look historically, when state governments have tried to run public programs side-by-side with private programs, the private health insurance industry has intervened to make sure that the public program is very low quality, with very limited coverage, because the private insurance industry doesn’t want the competition.
Woolhander argues that the US, which spends twice as much per capita on health care as other industrialized countries, doesn't need to spend a dime more, but instead to spend the money wisely.

One consequence of Obama-type plans that she doesn't mention is their ideological impact. Given that these state run programs in competition with private ones tend to become totally fiscally unsustainable, they serve as fodder for right wing arguments that government run programs are simply too expensive and inefficient.

Monday, November 10, 2008

State Capitalism in China

The Chinese ruling class has taken a decisive step towards a more aggressive form of state capitalism, announcing a massive plan to spend nearly ten percent of GDP on an infrastructure, social welfare, and public works plan. The plan is designed, among other things, to bolster consumer spending in the face of falling exports.

This kind of move seems to me to be the next step beyond the kind of financial state capitalism we saw spreading last month. As European governments moved to ensure larger and larger amounts of bank's deposits, either through forced equity or nationalization, the US government was forced to do the same in order to stave off a mad rush of deposits to the now safer European banks. Whether China's move will force a similar scramble globally seems unsure. In the United States at least, there is a sedimented attitude in the ruling class that aggressive spending is, at the moment, out of the question. Yet China's move to preserve its buying power surely puts pressure on the US to do the same, lest the tremendous importance of the American market in the global economy diminish.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Palin's attacks caused spike in death threats against Obama

Just in case you needed further proof of coded racism coming from the McCain campaign.

The odd thing about this article is that it says "The revelations, contained in a Newsweek history of the campaign, are likely to further damage Mrs Palin's credentials as a future presidential candidate." Obviously the Telegraph does not understand that, as comrade pauly is fond of pointing out, the one unforgivable sin in American politics is accusing someone of racism. Being racist is pretty much a prerequisite for seeking public office.

Hell, the Palin base may see this as a selling-point.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What's Beef?

A BlackStar PSA:

Friday, November 7, 2008

Does the apple fall far from the tree?

This is normally the type of thing they say in private

In an interview with Ma'ariv, Emanuel's father, Dr. Benjamin Emanuel, said he was convinced that his son's appointment would be good for Israel. "Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel," he was quoted as saying. "Why wouldn't he be? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House.
HT: Angry Arab

Obama’s Mandate: Why “Going Slow” is a Recipe for Going Nowhere Fast

Less than 24 hours after Barack Obama won the presidency with a greater share of the popular vote than any candidate in 20 years, talking heads from all quarters (including his own) began the mad rush to contain the tremendous popular energy that had infused his campaign. On November 5th, Robert Gibbs, a senior advisor to the campaign, told the New York Times that the masses of people across the country who spontaneously took to the streets in celebration of Obama's victory need to have "a realistic expectation of what can happen and how quickly.” William Galston of The New Republic, in a rather strange piece, argues that the economic crisis effectively precludes Obama from taking any effective action to remedy the crisis' effects on working Americans. Scott Winship, also of TNR, in one of the denser (as in more stupid) articles I've seen post-election, argues that since the Dems have a lesser margin in the House and Senate today than they did in 1992, 2010 could well see another "Republican Revolution" and its ensuing Contract on America.[1] Paul Krugman writes an effective riposte to such technocratic gibberish: "John McCain denounced his opponent as a socialist and a “redistributor,” but America voted for him anyway. That’s a real mandate."

The comparison of Obama and Clinton has become nothing less than a mantra among those seeking to convince the former to play ritardando. "Remember Hillarycare!" they mouthe with solemnity. The narrative is as follows: Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 promising sweeping changes (universal health care, federal anti-scabbing legislation, and a federal freedom of choice act, etc) and the end of Reaganism. He tried to move too fast, however, and gave the Republicans an opportunity which they took in 1994. Unfortunately, he had to spend the rest of his time in office battling a hostile congress (tear, cue violin.)

Very little of this narrative has anything to do with reality. Beginning with the end, it ignores the boatload of quite unsavory things Bill Clinton did accomplish during his presidency (the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, NAFTA, Don't Ask Don't Tell, the destruction of welfare, the assault on Yugoslavia, etc). Based on this record, one would have the impression that Clinton worked quite happily with a Republican congress.

Beyond this, the core of the narrative is, quite simply, a fantasy. Bill Clinton did not move quickly to enact the progressive promises of his campaign. As Vincente Navarro, the "token leftist" of the Clinton's health care taskforce reminds us in a crucial article, "President Clinton made his first priority a reduction of the federal deficit (a policy not even included in his program), approved NAFTA (against the opposition of the AFL-CIO, the social movements, and even the majority of the Democratic Party), and committed himself to perpetuation of the for-profit health insurance system." If anything, Clinton brought on the Republican Revolution not by moving too quickly to the Left, but by executing a sharp turn to the Right.

Navarro's analysis rings true in several ways. First, Clinton's own staffers admit it. In the same article quoted earlier about the Obama campaign trying to dampen expectations, we find a curious admission from Paul Begala, one of Bill's senior advisors. Begala recounts Bill's reaction to his advice that the candidate needed to cool his backers' expectations:

“I remember talking about this to him in the closing days of the campaign,” Mr. Begala said. “And he started saying, ‘We didn’t get into this overnight and we’re not going to get out of it overnight.’ ”

“So I remember him talking about it and doing it — and it didn’t have any effect on the citizens,” Mr. Begala said. That was one reason, he said, that Democrats lost control of Congress two years later.
This rather extraordinary admission invites no comment from the Times' reporter, who is apparently intent on sustaining the goals of the Obama team.

Begala's comment is vindicated by an electoral analysis of the 1994 Congressional elections. Hailed by the Republicans as a mandate for a return to Reagan, the election illustrates the deadly effect Clinton's triangulation had upon his base. Voter turnout among those making $22,000 (2007 dollars) or less a year dropped sharply, by 21%. A drop in African American voting rates. And a drop in voting rates for women. Democratic turnout was down in every part of the country except the Mid-Atlantic and the Far West, where gains were minute. By turning sharply away from the positions which had fueled his campaign, Clinton drove a nail into his own political coffin. If Obama wishes to avoid a similar fate, he would do well to ignore the advice of the "go slow" crowd.

What Obama does or doesn't decide to do, however, is far less important than what those of us on the ground decide. Based upon the conduct of his advisors and his selection of Clintonite DLC hack Rahm Emmanuel for Chief of Staff, he's already made his decision. What is urgently needed now is for all of us who celebrated Tuesday night to turn a deaf ear to the go-slow liberals both inside and outside of Obama's administration and get down to the hard work of rebuilding the American Left.


[1] Less relevant to my argument, but perhaps more entertaining, is Ramesh Ponnuru's delusional fantasy that the American electorate is best characterized as "center-right."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Who is Rahm Emanuel?

Two great articles highlighting Emanuel's hard-line zionism and his anchoring of the conservative, anti-grassroots wing of the Democrats.

The sequel is always worse than the original


Interestingly, "change" looks a lot like the Clinton administration II. This morning it became official that Rahm Emmanuel, Democratic Leadership Council hack and uber-Zionist, will be Barack's chief of staff.

In an article titled "Obama Aides Tamp Down Expectations" the NYT draws a direct comparison to the Clinton years

As Election Day approached in 1992, it was apparent from the crowds that Mr. Clinton drew, in their size and their faces, that his supporters expected big things after a campaign in which Mr. Clinton had promised a dramatic revamping in health care coverage and programs for the poor. At the time, a senior adviser who was traveling with him, Paul Begala, warned Mr. Clinton to add some caveats to his speeches, to avoid voter letdown should it take time to accomplish things as president.
“I remember talking about this to him in the closing days of the campaign,” Mr. Begala said. “And he started saying, ‘We didn’t get into this overnight and we’re not going to get out of it overnight.’ ”
“So I remember him talking about it and doing it — and it didn’t have any effect on the citizens,” Mr. Begala said. That was one reason, he said, that Democrats lost control of Congress two years later.
Meanwhile, Pelosi and other are crowing about how Barack has to "reach across the aisle" and "govern from the center." World Socialist Website makes a great point
One only has to contrast this with Bush's insistence that he had a mandate for his right-wing agenda despite losing the popular vote in 2000 and failing to win a majority in 2004.
While some are beginning to lower their expectations so as not to get demoralized, I have a feeling this patience will wear thin quickly. Moreover, Harlem didn't do this for the self-described "first black president" back in '92.
Progressives and socialists should keep this point in mind
THE FIRST thing to say is that there should be no honeymoon. The Democrats have held a majority in the House and Senate for two years, yet have continued to fund the occupation of Iraq, to allow warrantless wiretaps, to expand the military budget. But the Democrats can no longer use the excuse of Bush and the need to win the White House to continue to defy the widespread desire for change. That means we need to challenge Obama from the first day he takes office, with public protest and mobilization.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A new era

I just came from a spontaneous march/celebration of 1,000-2,000 elated Obama supporters. At about 11:00-11:30, a small group of triumphant students gathered at the state capital in Madison, Wisconsin, and they didn't stop coming until they crowded the whole block.



I've been in campus activism for a few years, and I never imagined such an energetic outpouring of joy (The videos above don't nearly do it justice). The crowd marched from the state capital to Bascom Hall, the UW administration building. People danced, sang, high-fived and hugged with strangers.

I and a few other comrades asked people what they expected of an Obama administration. Most people had trouble articulating an answer. Most said things like "change" or "a new direction." There's a strong sense that Obama will be different, but it's not clear how.

One thing is clear and that is people's hopes have been raised. People chanted "Yes we can" and "Yes we will" like they meant it. I think we can safely say things will never be the same.