Sunday, November 30, 2008

Watch out for Obama's Team Selling Conservative Policies as Progressive Politics

There seems to be a great deal of concern from the left-of-center bloggers about Mr. Obama's appointments. The quote below is a perfect distillation of my thoughts regarding presidential politics and the duopoly in general and my strong feelings regarding Obama in particular. He hasn't been co-opted by his election to the machine - he was never a progressive. That said, there will never be any significant social change resulting from establishment politics. Convince me otherwise, please.--Pete
By David Sirota, Open Left

"This is the violin model: Hold power with the left hand, and play the music with your right."-- David J. Rothkopf, a former Clinton official who wrote a history of the National Security Council, said on Friday, as news of Mrs. Clinton's and Mr. Geithner's appointments leaked.

This quote, from the New York Timesstory asserting that Barack Obama will govern from the center-right, highlights a very important dynamic in politics: the tendency of politicians to use the argot of progressivism in their public presentations (to "hold power with the left hand") -- all while wielding conservative policy ("playing the music with your right").

There's nothing surprising about this - the reason endangered politicians of both parties start airing populist progressive themes around election time is because they know those themes are popular among rank-and-file voters (thus the definition of "populism") - they know, in other words, that this is a decidedly center-left country, and when they have to answer to that country come election day, they go left. But once these politicians get into office and are far away from all of us, the unwashed masses, the pressures of money and media -- ie. the Establishment -- unleashes incredible pressure for them to actually write the details of policy in a way that preserves the conservative status quo.

Enter the Obama administration.

While there's not enough evidence to declare a full-on "trend" in the incoming Obama White House, it is notable that Obama's policy appointments (ie. Cabinet secretaries and White House policy advisers who actually craft policy) are almost all right-of-center, Establishment choices -- and almost none are, as The Nation's Chris Hayes has said, movement progressives. At the same time, many Obama appointments to exclusively political positions -- that is, positions that are focused on selling policy, whatever that policy may be -- are terrific movement progressives, people like Mike Lux (transition outreach to progressive orgs), Ellen Moran (communications director), Phil Schiliro (congressional liason) and Patrick Gaspard (political director). In other words, the initial structure seems to resemble the principle in American politics of politicians publicly selling their policies in progressive terms, while having those policies be crafted with much more conservative ideology.

Intra-administration ideological ghettoization isn't new. The last Democratic administration engaged in its share of conservative-progressive ghettoization - but rather than making the policy/politics barrier the wall of the two ghettos, it divided the two ideologies between the cabinet offices with different jurisdictions. The cabinet offices that oversaw economic regulation and defense largely went to conservatives, and the cabinet offices with powerful grassroots progressive constituencies like Labor, EPA, I and HUD went to progressives.

The potential ghettoization in the Obama administration -- and I stress again, it's only the potential -- is one where the policy sculptors are center-right Establishmentarians, and where the policy marketers (ie. the political team) is comprised of people who know how to package and sell policies in the language of progressivism, and sell those policies to progressive activists, a progressive-dominated Democratic congressional caucus and a center-left public at large. Certainly, Obama may mimic the Clinton administration and give Labor, EPA, Interior and HUD to progressives as well, but the politics-policy divide nonetheless seems to be the defining progressive-conservative boundary right now.

Obviously, the division of responsibility is never totally cut and dry. As Karl Rove showed, a White House political team can have a lot of influence over policy. So we can't draw any hard and fast conclusions about what this will mean in the Obama administration. It's very possible that the progressive political team will have a lot of policy say.

That said, I do think it is important for progressives to understand the difference between the policy and political machinery of an administration. Ghettoizing conservatives into the policy machine (to "play the music") and progressives into the political machine (to help Obama "hold power") would not bode well for all the progressive policy promises Obama made during the campaign. After all, if the details of policy are being forged by center-right Establishment insiders, those policies are more likely (though certainly not guaranteed) to represent a fairly center-right Establishment viewpoint, no matter how well those policies are draped in the salesmanship of a progressive political machinery.

This gets to the fundamental question about Obama that nobody really knows. Does Obama believe that in order to be a successful president and right the economy, he has to fulfill the decidedly progressive policy promises he made during the campaign? Or does he believe that if he combines his own personal salesmanship talents with a strong political team that is skilled at the language of progressivism, he can sell a right-of-center Establishment agenda as huge "change?"

Nobody knows the answer to this - and those who say they do are arguing with the same ridiculed faith that George W. Bush cited when he said he knew Vladimir Putin was a good guy because he looked into the Russian autocrat's eyes. The truth is, we just don't know what Obama thinks his path should be.

That's why it is important to keep a close eye on how the new administration is being constructed. The strategies we create to enact a progressive agenda (and I assume that, and not just Democratic Party dominance, is what progressives want) will have to be calibrated for the kind of administration that is ultimately built. An administration that has right-of-center policy sculptors and left-of-center policy sellers will have to be worked with differently than, say, an administration with progressive policy sculptors and conservative policy sellers.

Again, I'm not saying the administration is built yet, or that the initial staffing decisions delineate a full-fledged trend. But we should watch closely to see if a trend does, indeed, develop.

David Sirota is a best-selling author whose newest book, "The Uprising," was just released this month. He is a fellow at the Campaign for America's Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network -- both nonpartisan organizations. His blog is at

Friday, November 28, 2008

Obama Chooses Wall Street Over Main Street

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hate-filled christ-worshippers just being themselves...

Every time I get into a discussion on the topic of religious extremism - after acknowledging that my discussion partner naturally has some good points regarding fascist Muslims - I try to point out that just about all religions taken to their logical, legalistic, fundamentalist extremes are dangerous as hell (no pun intended). Yes, radical Islam is a threat to peace, harmony, liberty, true democracy, and co-existence on the only planet we have, but so is extremist Christianity. These fascists actually believe that they are so much better than us simply for their worship of a deity purported (by their preferred religious tome) to be the true son of god (that god being Yahweh, an ancient pre-judeo tribal god whose name is sometimes mispronounced Jehovah). So much better, in fact, that among themselves, those of us who don't subscribe to their superstitions are often referred to as "the unsaved".

In a cobbled-together myth known as "The Rapture", taken from bits and pieces of many books in their bible but mainly from a mushroom trip called Revelations, it is said that the "saved" will rise to Heaven on the final day of judgment while the rest of us have to tough it out here on Earth. Sweet, huh? This from their "loving" god. Many of these special souls also believe that Barack Obama is the Antichrist, a main character in this absurdity. So many, in fact, that Newsweek actually devoted a main article in their Belief Watch section to this insanity.

Anyway, here's some of 'em playing one of their favorite games, "Hate Those Who Aren't Just Like Me".

And he's not even in office yet...

Well, campers, it looks like the constant and vigorous web log vetting of President-elect Obama's choices for administration positions is beginning to have an effect. The torture-defending former head of The Counterterrorism Center John Brennan has withdrawn himself for consideration for the position of CIA director or Director of National Intelligence (redundant systems, eh?). He stated that he didn't want to be a distraction since rumors of his possible appointment started a firestorm in liberal/progressive blogs due to his association with BushCo detention and rendition policies. Mr. Brennan has repeatedly condoned harsh interrogation tactics on terror suspects, including waterboarding, which is plainly torture.

While Brennan asserts that he has always been critical of these policies, he is on record as defending them at length. Left-of-center bloggers such as Andrew Sullivan, Digby and Glenn Greenwald have been instrumental in pointing out these documented facts.

As long as we keep the pressure on, we may be able to avoid major mistakes like the retention of Robert Gates (are you fucking kidding me?! Look out, Afghan citizens!) as Defense Secretary. Let's all try our level best to hold him to his word. Use his web site to propose changes that you would like to see made, such as green-collar job creation and national healthcare.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

US officials flunk test of American history, economics, civics

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US elected officials scored abysmally on a test measuring their civic knowledge, with an average grade of just 44 percent, the group that organized the exam said Thursday.

Ordinary citizens did not fare much better, scoring just 49 percent correct on the 33 exam questions compiled by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).

"It is disturbing enough that the general public failed ISI's civic literacy test, but when you consider the even more dismal scores of elected officials, you have to be concerned," said Josiah Bunting, chairman of the National Civic Literacy Board at ISI.

"How can political leaders make informed decisions if they don't understand the American experience?" he added.

The exam questions covered American history, the workings of the US government and economics.

Among the questions asked of some 2,500 people who were randomly selected to take the test, including "self-identified elected officials," was one which asked respondents to "name two countries that were our enemies during World War II."

Sixty-nine percent of respondents correctly identified Germany and Japan. Among the incorrect answers were Britain, China, Russia, Canada, Mexico and Spain.

Forty percent of respondents, meanwhile, incorrectly believed that the US president has the power to declare war, while 54 percent correctly answered that that power rests with Congress.

Asked about the electoral college, 20 percent of elected officials incorrectly said it was established to "supervise the first televised presidential debates."

In fact, the system of choosing the US president via an indirect electoral college vote dates back some 220 years, to the US Constitution.

The question that received the fewest correct responses, just 16 percent, tested respondents' basic understanding of economic principles, asking why "free markets typically secure more economic prosperity than government's centralized planning?"

Activities that dull Americans' civic knowledge include talking on the phone and watching movies or television -- even news shows and documentaries, ISI said.

Meanwhile, civic knowledge is enhanced by discussing public affairs, taking part in civic activities and reading about current events and history, the group said.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Keep it Simple: Stop the Foreclosure Crisis with the Right to Rent

By Dean Baker,

Politicians often prefer complex solutions to simple problems. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the long list of complicated and convoluted proposals to address the country's foreclosure crisis.

Millions of people face the loss of their homes over the next few years. While the politicians in Congress have developed a wide variety of complex schemes in order to hold back this flood of foreclosures, including one passed into law last summer that provided up to $300 billion guarantees for new mortgages on homes facing foreclosure, none have had much impact thus far.

The unavoidable problem with these schemes is that it is difficult to design a plan that aids families facing foreclosure without giving an incentive to other homeowners to also default on their mortgage. In addition, it is hard to justify taxing the people who are struggling to keep up with their own mortgages in order to help those who default. It is even harder to justify taxing ordinary people to help out the bank executives, who issued hundreds of billions of dollars of bad loans.

As a result, to date these programs have not prevented a tidal wave of foreclosures and evictions. The number of foreclosure filings (there are typically two or more filing for every actual foreclosure) is now approaching 300,000 per month.

For those not offended by simplicity, there is an easy solution. Congress can temporarily modify the rules on foreclosure to give families facing foreclosure the right to rent their homes at the market rate for a substantial period of time. Rep. Raul Grijalva proposed such a change in the Saving Family Homes Act, which would allow homeowners the option to remain as renters for up to 20 years following a foreclosure.

This bill would immediately give families security in their home, so that if they like the home, the neighborhood, the school for their kids, they would have the option to stay in the house for a substantial period of time. This also has the great benefit for the neighborhood that homes will remain occupied.

Perhaps more importantly, this change in foreclosure rules will give banks a real incentive to negotiate conditions under which homeowners can stay in their homes as owners. Banks do not want to become landlords. The bank will own the house after a foreclosure, but a house with a renter is worth much less to them than a house over which it has complete control.

Giving the homeowner the right to stay as a renter hugely increases their bargaining power with the bank. The result of this change in foreclosure rules is that far more homeowners are likely to remain in their homes as owners.

The beauty of this sort of proposal is that it is simple, can take effect immediately, it requires no taxpayer dollars and no new bureaucracy. It also is not giving anyone a big bonanza. Homeowners are not likely to line up for a process that could end up with them being renters. And the banks will obviously not be thrilled about a rule change that will leave them worse off in trying to squeeze money out of homeowners.

While the basic point of the right to rent is simple, it can be extended in various ways to further aid homeowners. Bernard Wasow, at the Century Foundation, has proposed some additional measures to facilitate the transition to rental status or possibly a return to ownership. Daniel Alpert, of Westwood Capital, has a somewhat different version that creates a mechanism for homeowners to buy back their homes after five years.

In short, if people want to add bells and whistles, it is easy to do so. But, the key to stopping people from being thrown out of their homes is simply to change the law that allows people to be thrown out of their homes. That one is so simple that even a policy wonk should be able to understand it.

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
© 2008 All rights reserved.
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Statistics show that religious belief harms countries

Religious belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research. According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society. It compares the social performance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality. . .

The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, reports: "Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly skeptical world.

"In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

"The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so."

Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist, used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions.

He compared social indicators such as murder rates, abortion, suicide and teenage pregnancy.

The study concluded that the US was the world's only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional. Mr Paul said that rates of gonorrhea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from " uniquely high" adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent abortion rates, the study suggested.

Mr Paul said: "The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America."

He said that the disparity was even greater when the US was compared with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion, he added.

He said that the evidence accumulated by a number of different studies suggested that religion might actually contribute to social ills. "I suspect that Europeans are increasingly repelled by the poor societal performance of the Christian states," he added.

Official Obama Bingo Card

Courtesy of Sam Smith, Progressive Review

Union-Busters Want GM to File for Bankruptcy

By Jane Hamsher, Firedoglake

Let's call it what it is:

[N]ot everyone agrees that a Chapter 11 filing by G.M. would be the disaster that many fear. Some experts note that while bankruptcy would be painful, it may be preferable to a government bailout that may only delay, at considerable cost, the wrenching but necessary steps G.M. needs to take to become a stronger, leaner company.
Although G.M.'s labor contracts would be at risk of termination in a bankruptcy, setting up a potential confrontation with its unions, the company says its pension obligations are largely financed for its 479,000 retirees and their spouses.

This is about union busting, pure and simple.

No mention made about Rick Wagoner giving back the $2.2 million salary he pulled down in 2008 for driving GM into the ground.

Jane Hamsher is the founder of FireDogLake. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect.

© 2008 Firedoglake All rights reserved.
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I'm an American Worker and I'm Tired of Getting Screwed

Betcher fuckin' ass!--Pete
By Rick Kepler,

I am an American worker, and you are damn right I want the wealth to be shared and spread. I am talking about the wealth my hard work helped to create, but was taken from me by George Bush's base, the very rich, or as I know them, my corporate bosses. For the past eight years I have watched W.'s and McCain's (Country Club First) base grab the largest share of our country's wealth. Where did they take it from? They took it from my family's pocketbook, and my co-workers' families' pocketbooks. They stole the wealth that I was trying to build for me and my family when they stripped my pension plan from me and told me to invest in a 401k. Then they stole most of that 401k and other workers' 401k savings with this economic meltdown. This was a massive transfer of wealth from the workers' pockets into the already stuffed pockets of the rich. My retirement savings and my coworkers' savings all across America have been looted by the corporate bosses, who just got bailed out while we got left out. Again!

The American worker, whether black, brown, white, red, yellow, or rainbow color, has been fleeced over these past eight years. We are the ones who go to work every day. We don't own our places of work, nor do we help manage them. We just go in and do the job. And we must be doing one hell of a good job because we are told that we are the most productive workers in the world. We are working longer and harder, but our paychecks keep shrinking! Where are those productivity gains going then? Not into our pockets. Our standard of living has been going down these past eight years ($2,000 less in family income since W. took office) This is another damn transfer of wealth into the hands of the extremely rich.

Their greed is insatiable. Take our family's health care. They do. They keep passing on their increased costs to us, or they just drop coverage for the worker completely. That means we either join the 50,000,000 who have no health care, or we end up having to buy it privately, thus eating up a huge portion of our family's income. If we manage to hang onto our health care plans, our deductibles, co-pays, and out-of-pay contributions keep skyrocketing. This amounts to another massive transfer of wealth from our pockets into the overflowing pockets of our corporate bosses.

The list goes on for the American worker. We saw overtime pay stripped from millions of workers during this past nightmare eight years. The worker was still working overtime, but due to a new "boss law" passed by W. and McCain's party that assists these thieves, the workers didn't receive overtime pay because they were declared exempt. They also weakened the workers' health and safety standards or just plain didn't enforce the laws already on the books. As a result, the American worker pays the price in lost days due to accidents from unsafe conditions or from lingering, expensive illnesses suffered from unhealthy working conditions. This too is a massive transfer of wealth from our pockets into our corporate bosses' bulging pockets.

To further sweeten their own pots, they took full-time jobs and converted them to part-time with no benefits, or they just made their employees line up and reapply for their exact same jobs at half the pay. Are we beginning to see what a true transfer of wealth looks like? So, do I want to see a spreading of the wealth? You bet your sweet hind-end I do. But all I ask of Obama is to give me and my co-workers the ability to retrieve some of the wealth that has been stolen from us.

Strengthen the laws that give workers the right to organize and bargain for a contract with our bosses. The current laws on the books have been torn to shreds by W. and McCain on behalf of their base. This is just part of their attack on American workers. Under globalization, the bosses seek a much cheaper workforce, which always means non-union, which means "can't fight back." That is why they have gutted the laws that protect workers. The laws that once gave us a level playing field with our bosses have been rendered useless, including our legal right to strike. That law said I had a right to strike, and could.

The American worker doesn't want a handout. Never did. We do want a hand up from our government. We still believe and have hope that this is a government of, by and for the people. We do want to know that our government will finally stand with us against this onslaught, this Robin Hood in reverse, being conducted by the bosses against the workers. The bosses know that W. and McCain have been on their side for the past eight years - and so do we workers. We just want our government to now stand on our side as we stand up against this corporate attempt to create third world working conditions right here in America. Restore our right to fight for a better living for ourselves and our families, and let the power of pissed-off workers, united in struggle, spread corporate America's stolen wealth back into the pockets of those whose pockets got picked these last eight years - the American worker.

Rick Kepler has driven beer trucks in New Orleans, Louisiana; Colorado Springs, Colorado and Oakland, California. He has tended bar in San Francisco, and worked on the railroad and loading docks in Ohio. Currently he's a Teamsters organizer who speaks to thousands of unorganized workers every year.

© 2008 All rights reserved.
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Did somebody say Clinton?!

This piece by Alex Cockburn at Counterpunch is just some more of what I'm talking about, campers. I mean, what the fuck? This isn't what got Obama into office, it was the hope of change, the change of hope, or some shit like that. In any case, there was definitely change involved and his cabinet picks show him stocking up on the same old crap. Hillary? For the love of all that's right and good, she hasn't ever shown any interest in international relations whatsoever, aside from lobbing in a few missiles. Gotta tell ya guys, this is starting to smell a bit and he's not even in office yet. Sorry to rain on the parade, but I told you he wasn't a progressive. Shit, it's starting to look like he's not even liberal!--Pete

Alexander Cockburn

Two years without a single leak and suddenly, last week, Obama’s operation was like a sieve. That’s what happens when you pick up the phone and call one of the Clintons. Or, to put it another way, that’s what happens when someone claims you, the president elect, picked up the phone and called Mrs Clinton to ask whether she’d like to be secretary of state.

Out the window goes the sense of purposeful strides towards a new-look Administration. In comes a dreadful feeling that somehow we’ve slipped a dimension in the space-time continuum and are heading back into the Clinton era. A couple of more weeks and the Republicans will be calling for a special prosecutor.

I’ve had people try to explain to me the political logic of Obama offering his erstwhile Democratic rival a top position in his cabinet. Better to have her inside the tent. Send her off on bouts of futile shuttle diplomacy, like Condoleezza Rice.

It still doesn’t add up. Why march back briskly into Clintontime? Besides, she’d make a lousy Secretary of State. Mrs Clinton has never displayed any talent for negotiation, nor even any conspicuous appetite to find out what is going on in the world, let alone come up with a new vision of America’s role in the 21st century. She’s an interventionist by instinct, her finger twitching over the Bomb Release lever. the She voted yes on the Iraq war. She was an ardent advocate of NATO’s onslaught on Yugoslavia. If we do get Hillary at State we may get Madeleine Albright as one of her sidekicks – the woman who said in the late 1990s that starving half a million Iraqi children was “worth it”, probably the line that the 9/11 al Qaeda hijackers were muttering to themselves when they sped on their mission of revenge towards the Twin Towers. This is change?

The answer of course is that there has to be a good deal of similarity between the Clinton and Obama administrations, because Obama is a neoliberal interventionist like Bill, and because the 45 and 50-year old veterans of the two Clinton administrations who have been cooling their heels in law firms and think tanks for eight years make up a high percentage of those in the hiring line, particularly those who placed an early bet on Obama. To round off the symmetry he new White House counsel will be Greg Craig, who defended Clinton during his impeachment.

The young people who worked for Obama and who voted for him have been feeling wan this week, amid all the retro talk about the Clintons. And the cabinet members Obama has announced or who are being bandied about are not inspiring. They’re dull like former Democratic senator Tom Daschle getting Health and Human Services. Howard Dean, who was a doctor and who hd hands-on time grappling with health insirance when he was governor of Vermont, would have been a much better choice. Janet Napolitano, the Arizona governor slated to be head of Homeland Security, horrified labor organizers at one meeting earlier this year listening to her boasting about kicking migrant workers back into Mexico. One nominee headed towards a Republican roasting in his hearings is Eric Holder, named to be Attorney General. As number 2 in Clinton’s Justice Department, Holder played a grimy role in one of the most scandalous affairs of Clinton-time, the last minute pardon by Clinton of billionaire trader and denizen of the FBI’s most wanted list, Marc Rich. (See Jeffrey St. Clair's account of the pardons for Holder's central role in the affair.)

Other possible appointments are not demonstrative of a resolute change of pace. The talk is of keeping Robert Gates on as Defense Secretary, although Gates has made no significant mark on the vast pork barrel beside the Potomac. The conversion of this mucky schemer of yesteryear into revered emblem of sound governance is one of the many marvels of our age. Somewhere down the road we’ll probably end up with another slimy fellow, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, who counts among his regular roosts CSIS and the Center for A New American Security, also decorated by the odious Robert Kaplan and Dr John Nagl.

The most significant appointment will be Treasury Secretary. On current form Obama will play it safe with the top nominees to run this Department. The trouble here is that there is no safe option and the usual suspects will have the usual limited perspective. He’d better get this one right. A conventional appointee could doom his administration right from the start.

In sum, this looks like a standard issue, business-as-usual cabinet in the making, about as exciting as looking at one of the regular network panel shows on a Sunday morning. Can’t they find anyone under 40 who looks like they might want to do things different and shake things up?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales Indicted By Grand Jury

Yaaaayyyy!!! Keep 'em coming, campers! We'll hang these reptilian fuckers yet!
This piece actually has to do with Big Dick Cheney's investments in private prisons and the typical abuse that results from such privatization of penalization. Let's all hope for a "Fucking Gulity" verdict on this puppy, as well as on all those that must and will follow!--Pete
By Faiz Shakir, Think Progress

A South Texas grand jury has returned multi-count indictments against Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on charges related to the alleged abuse of prisoners in Willacy County's federal detention centers:

The indictment accuses Cheney and Gonzales of engaging in organized criminal activity. It criticizes Cheney's investment in the Vanguard Group, which holds interests in the private prison companies running the federal detention centers. It accuses Cheney of a conflict of interest and "at least misdemeanor assaults" on detainees by working through the prison companies.

Gonzales is accused of using his position while in office to stop an investigation into abuses at the federal detention centers.

Faiz Shakir is the Research Director at the Center for American Progress and serves as Editor of and The Progress Report.

Has Newsweek Gone Mad? New Article Gives Voice to Antichrist Whack Jobs

Just when I was able to breathe again knowing that we prevented dangerous true-believer and all-around christian wacko Sarah Palin from becoming President-to-be-upon-McCain's-death (this was causing me actual nightmares), along comes this piece from Newsweek, of all places! Why the editors saw fit to give voice to these fear-driven religious impositionists is beyond me. To dignify superstitious myth and legend is not the domain of serious journalism, unless it's a study of the mass trance-state that is religion. Giving space to a 600-word article detailing how Obama may show traits of a fictional character from a cobbled-together biblical legend shows how far from the Enlightenment we have fallen.

What century is this again?!--Pete

By Steve Benen, Washington Monthly

When bizarre, fringe publications speculate openly about who may or may not be the Antichrist, it's easy to dismiss. When Newsweek publishes a 600-word piece on those who wonder about Obama being the Antichrist, one really has to wonder what on earth the editors were thinking.

On Nov. 5, Todd Strandberg was at his desk, fielding E-mails from around the world. As the editor and founder of, his job is to track current events and link them to biblical prophecy in hopes of maintaining his status as "the eBay of prophecy," the best source online for predictions and calculations concerning the end of the world. Already Barack Obama had drawn the attention of apocalypse watchers after an anonymous e-mail circulated among conservative Christians in October implying that he was the Antichrist. Former "Saturday Night Live" ingenue Victoria Jackson fueled the fire when, according to news reports, she wrote on her Web site that Obama "bears traits that resemble the anti-Christ." Now Strandberg was receiving up-to-the-minute news from his constituents in Illinois. One of the winning lottery numbers in the president-elect's home state was 666 -- which, as everyone knows, is the sign of the Beast (also known as the Antichrist). "It is very eerie, and I take it for a sign as to who he really is," wrote one of Strandberg's correspondents.

First, from a theological perspective, the whole thing about "666" being a "mark of the beast" is inherently suspect, and dismissed as nonsense by most scholars. Second, and more importantly, what is the purpose of Newsweek running a story about those who wonder if Obama is the Antichrist?

Mat Staver, dean of Liberty University's law school, says he does not believe Obama is the Antichrist, but he can see how others might. Obama's own use of religious rhetoric belies his liberal positions on abortion and traditional marriage, Staver says, positions that "religious conservatives believe will threaten their freedom." The people who believe Obama is the Antichrist are perhaps jumping to conclusions, but they're not nuts: "They are expressing a concern and a fear that is widely shared," Staver says.

Um, Newsweek? "Widely shared" fears can most definitely be "nuts."

Strandberg says Obama probably isn't the Antichrist, but he's watching the president-elect carefully. On his Web site, he has something called the Rapture Index, a calculation based on signs and prophecy of the proximity of the end. According to Strandberg, any number over 160 means "fasten your seat belts." Obama's win pushed the index to 161.

Keep in mind, this isn't just some bizarre online-only piece -- Newsweek decided this was worthy of publication in the print edition of its weekly news magazine.

I can appreciate the fact that there are a handful of very odd people in the world, some of whom believe the Book of Revelation foretold Obama's election. Strange people can be led to believe strange things. That's not a reason for Newsweek to publish articles about their inanity.

© 2008 Washington Monthly All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bracing for a Major Disappointment
Sorry about the title of the piece - that was in Pfaff's original. Also, sorry about these postings regarding the inevitable disappointment progressives are going to feel initially from the Obama administration. Don't despair, push!--Pete

By William Pfaff

BRUSSELS—The Americans who voted for Barack Obama as president were promised change they could count on, but it rather looks as if they may actually be asked to make do with a mildly refurbished Clinton administration, with many of the same officials and nearly all of the same policies. The policies are drawn from the same centrist Democratic Party sources as those of Bill Clinton, and Obama’s admirers might even find themselves with Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state—which makes no sense whatsoever.

Are there no significant differences of view on war and peace between the two of them? Why did the American (and international) public have to endure a year and a half of Democratic Party primaries in addition to the national election contest if the Democratic race could have been settled by the flip of a coin between people who believed in the same policies and thought the same thoughts?

Where is the sweeping change Barack Obama was promising the electorate? Looking back, he was rarely specific about the changes he intended to make. He constantly invoked the principle of change, without going much into the messy details, for which—admittedly—he was criticized at the time.

Many who voted for him, as did this writer, relied upon his evident qualities, in comparison with his predecessor and most of his competitors, which were that he clearly was very intelligent, as well as balanced and mature: He was an adult, who spoke to his audiences as fellow adults. This was his great difference from Hillary Clinton. Personally very intelligent, she has spent too long in the shady political precincts of ambition and calculation. She could never have made the speech Obama made on race. (Possibly he will never again be able to make such a speech. He has himself said that we must settle down now to being disappointed by Obama.)

The disappointment problem is international. Because of the enormous expectations Obama’s election has aroused abroad, above all among America’s European allies, any Obama-Clinton restoration of Clintonism would be met with incomprehension and disappointment. This is not because the Clinton administration was so awful, but because it was so confused in perception and lacking in foreign policy direction that it was easy for George W. Bush to merge it into the Great War on Terror. He had simply to add fear, security hysteria, lies about mass destruction weapons, and torture.

Europeans had never thought of Americans as torturers. When it turned out that the sponsors and defenders of torture occupied the highest offices of government in the United States, with the chief legal enablers of torture in the White House counsel’s office itself, and heading no less than the Department of Justice, a chill passed through the Western alliance. It was noted that the chosen euphemism for torture by the president, lawyers and the CIA was “enhanced measures,” a direct translation of the term employed by the Gestapo.

I was just in Brussels to speak to the European Ideas Network, sponsored by the Christian Democratic-Center Right-Conservative group, the largest in the European Parliament. The audience seemed taken aback when I answered their question about what will change in European-American relations under Barack Obama by replying, “Probably not much.”

The president-elect has said he will stop torture and extra-legal imprisonment, but on fundamental matters of transatlantic relations, he clearly has indicated that he wants an alliance in which the Europeans contribute more. (This will undoubtedly be a welcome change from the Bush effort to split the European Union by encouraging hostility toward the West Europeans by the pro-American former Warsaw Pact governments.)

The U.S. contribution to the Georgia fiasco has undermined its reputation among the East Europeans. In the future, there probably will be more American consultation and good will in transatlantic relations, and perhaps even in dealing with Russia (there certainly is nothing to gain from hostility). However, Barack Obama himself said in his Berlin speech that he expects the Europeans to contribute a lot more to “winning” the war in Afghanistan.

This is not a popular idea; the European governments have been encouraging regional diplomatic solutions for Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. Most Americans may be surprised to know that there is West European concern (as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told a Brookings audience in Washington last week) that the new American administration might try to take all this over for itself, and thereby wreck the progress already made. After all, it was Barack Obama who said that he would himself talk to the Iranians.

Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at

Friday, November 14, 2008

An Open Letter to Barack Obama: Between Hope and Reality

Global Research, November 4, 2008

Dear Senator Obama,

In your nearly two-year presidential campaign, the words "hope and change," "change and hope" have been your trademark declarations. Yet there is an asymmetry between those objectives and your political character that succumbs to contrary centers of power that want not "hope and change" but the continuation of the power-entrenched status quo.

Far more than Senator McCain, you have received enormous, unprecedented contributions from corporate interests, Wall Street interests and, most interestingly, big corporate law firm attorneys. Never before has a Democratic nominee for President achieved this supremacy over his Republican counterpart. Why, apart from your unconditional vote for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, are these large corporate interests investing so much in Senator Obama? Could it be that in your state Senate record, your U.S. Senate record and your presidential campaign record (favoring nuclear power, coal plants, offshore oil drilling, corporate subsidies including the 1872 Mining Act and avoiding any comprehensive program to crack down on the corporate crime wave and the bloated, wasteful military budget, for example) you have shown that you are their man?

To advance change and hope, the presidential persona requires character, courage, integrity-- not expediency, accommodation and short-range opportunism. Take, for example, your transformation from an articulate defender of Palestinian rights in Chicago before your run for the U.S. Senate to an acolyte, a dittoman for the hard-line AIPAC lobby, which bolsters the militaristic oppression, occupation, blockage, colonization and land-water seizures over the years of the Palestinian peoples and their shrunken territories in the West Bank and Gaza. Eric Alterman summarized numerous polls in a December 2007 issue of The Nation magazine showing that AIPAC policies are opposed by a majority of Jewish-Americans.

You know quite well that only when the U.S. Government supports the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements, that years ago worked out a detailed two-state solution (which is supported by a majority of Israelis and Palestinians), will there be a chance for a peaceful resolution of this 60-year plus conflict. Yet you align yourself with the hard-liners, so much so that in your infamous, demeaning speech to the AIPAC convention right after you gained the nomination of the Democratic Party, you supported an "undivided Jerusalem," and opposed negotiations with Hamas-- the elected government in Gaza. Once again, you ignored the will of the Israeli people who, in a March 1, 2008 poll by the respected newspaper Haaretz, showed that 64% of Israelis favored "direct negotiations with Hamas." Siding with the AIPAC hard-liners is what one of the many leading Palestinians advocating dialogue and peace with the Israeli people was describing when he wrote "Anti-semitism today is the persecution of Palestinian society by the Israeli state."

During your visit to Israel this summer, you scheduled a mere 45 minutes of your time for Palestinians with no news conference, and no visit to Palestinian refugee camps that would have focused the media on the brutalization of the Palestinians. Your trip supported the illegal, cruel blockade of Gaza in defiance of international law and the United Nations charter. You focused on southern Israeli casualties which during the past year have totaled one civilian casualty to every 400 Palestinian casualties on the Gaza side. Instead of a statesmanship that decried all violence and its replacement with acceptance of the Arab League's 2002 proposal to permit a viable Palestinian state within the 1967 borders in return for full economic and diplomatic relations between Arab countries and Israel, you played the role of a cheap politician, leaving the area and Palestinians with the feeling of much shock and little awe.

David Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, described your trip succinctly: "There was almost a willful display of indifference to the fact that there are two narratives here. This could serve him well as a candidate, but not as a President."

Palestinian American commentator, Ali Abunimah, noted that Obama did not utter a single criticism of Israel, "of its relentless settlement and wall construction, of the closures that make life unlivable for millions of Palestinians. ...Even the Bush administration recently criticized Israeli's use of cluster bombs against Lebanese civilians [see for elaboration]. But Obama defended Israeli's assault on Lebanon as an exercise of its 'legitimate right to defend itself.'"

In numerous columns Gideon Levy, writing in Haaretz, strongly criticized the Israeli government's assault on civilians in Gaza, including attacks on "the heart of a crowded refugee camp... with horrible bloodshed" in early 2008.

Israeli writer and peace advocate-- Uri Avnery-- described Obama's appearance before AIPAC as one that "broke all records for obsequiousness and fawning, adding that Obama "is prepared to sacrifice the most basic American interests. After all, the US has a vital interest in achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace that will allow it to find ways to the hearts of the Arab masses from Iraq to Morocco. Obama has harmed his image in the Muslim world and mortgaged his future-- if and when he is elected president.," he said, adding, "Of one thing I am certain: Obama's declarations at the AIPAC conference are very, very bad for peace. And what is bad for peace is bad for Israel, bad for the world and bad for the Palestinian people."

A further illustration of your deficiency of character is the way you turned your back on the Muslim-Americans in this country. You refused to send surrogates to speak to voters at their events. Having visited numerous churches and synagogues, you refused to visit a single Mosque in America. Even George W. Bush visited the Grand Mosque in Washington D.C. after 9/11 to express proper sentiments of tolerance before a frightened major religious group of innocents.

Although the New York Times published a major article on June 24, 2008 titled "Muslim Voters Detect a Snub from Obama" (by Andrea Elliott), citing examples of your aversion to these Americans who come from all walks of life, who serve in the armed forces and who work to live the American dream. Three days earlier the International Herald Tribune published an article by Roger Cohen titled "Why Obama Should Visit a Mosque." None of these comments and reports change your political bigotry against Muslim-Americans-- even though your father was a Muslim from Kenya.

Perhaps nothing illustrated your utter lack of political courage or even the mildest version of this trait than your surrendering to demands of the hard-liners to prohibit former president Jimmy Carter from speaking at the Democratic National Convention. This is a tradition for former presidents and one accorded in prime time to Bill Clinton this year.

Here was a President who negotiated peace between Israel and Egypt, but his recent book pressing the dominant Israeli superpower to avoid Apartheid of the Palestinians and make peace was all that it took to sideline him. Instead of an important address to the nation by Jimmy Carter on this critical international problem, he was relegated to a stroll across the stage to "tumultuous applause," following a showing of a film about the Carter Center's post-Katrina work. Shame on you, Barack Obama!

But then your shameful behavior has extended to many other areas of American life. (See the factual analysis by my running mate, Matt Gonzalez, on You have turned your back on the 100-million poor Americans composed of poor whites, African-Americans, and Latinos. You always mention helping the "middle class" but you omit, repeatedly, mention of the "poor" in America.

Should you be elected President, it must be more than an unprecedented upward career move following a brilliantly unprincipled campaign that spoke "change" yet demonstrated actual obeisance to the concentration power of the "corporate supremacists." It must be about shifting the power from the few to the many. It must be a White House presided over by a black man who does not turn his back on the downtrodden here and abroad but challenges the forces of greed, dictatorial control of labor, consumers and taxpayers, and the militarization of foreign policy. It must be a White House that is transforming of American politics-- opening it up to the public funding of elections (through voluntary approaches)-- and allowing smaller candidates to have a chance to be heard on debates and in the fullness of their now restricted civil liberties. Call it a competitive democracy.

Your presidential campaign again and again has demonstrated cowardly stands. "Hope" some say springs eternal." But not when "reality" consumes it daily.


Ralph Nader

November 3, 2008


By Will Rogers, from a recording released May 31, 1923, by Victor Records. The origins of the speech are unknown; Rogers may have been speaking before the annual convention of the American Bankers Association in 1922, in New York City. The document is included in The Papers of Will Rogers, Volume Four, published by the University of Oklahoma Press.

Loan sharks and interest hounds—I have addressed every form of organized graft in the United States, excepting Congress, so it’s naturally a pleasure for me to appear before the biggest. You are without a doubt the most disgustingly rich audience I ever talked to, with the possible exception of the bootleggers’ union, Local No. 1, combined with the enforcement officers.

Now, I understand that you hold this convention every year to announce what the annual gyp will be. I have often wondered where the depositors hold their convention. I had an account in the bank once, and the banker, he asked me to withdraw it. He said I had used up more red ink than the account was worth.

I see where your convention was opened by a prayer, you had to send outside your ranks to get somebody that knew how to pray. You should have had one creditor there; he’d have shown you how to pray. I noticed in the prayer the clergyman announced to the Almighty that the bankers were here. Well, it wasn’t exactly an announcement. It was more in the nature of a warning. He didn’t tell the devil, as he figured he knew where you all were all the time anyhow.

I see by your speeches that you’re very optimistic of the business conditions of the coming year. Boy, I don’t blame you. If I had your dough, I’d be optimistic too.

Will you please tell me what you all do with the vice presidents the bank has? I guess that’s to get anybody more discouraged before they can see the main guy. Why, the United States is the biggest business institution in the world. They got only one vice president. Nobody’s ever found anything for him to do.

You have a wonderful organization. I understand you have 10,000 here, and what you have in federal prisons brings your membership up to around 30,000. So goodbye, paupers. You’re the finest bunch of shylocks that ever foreclosed a mortgage on a widow’s home.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Patricia Cohen, NY Times - Three sets of researchers recently concluded that professors have virtually no impact on the political views and ideology of their students. If there has been a conspiracy among liberal faculty members to influence students, "they've done a pretty bad job," said A. Lee Fritschler, a professor of public policy at George Mason University and an author of the new book "Closed Minds? Politics and Ideology in American Universities."

A study of nearly 7,000 students at 38 institutions published in the current PS: Political Science and Politics, the journal of the American Political Science Association, as well as a second study that has been accepted by the journal to run in April 2009, both reach similar conclusions. "There is no evidence that an instructor's views instigate political change among students," Matthew Woessner and April Kelly-Woessner, a husband-and-wife team of political scientists who have frequently conducted research on politics in higher education, write in that second study. Their work is often cited by people on both sides of the debate, not least because Mr. Woessner describes himself as politically conservative.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Doctors, Citing Mandate for Change, Call on Obama, Congress to 'Do The Right Thing' on Health Reform

15,000 physicians urge enactment of single-payer system

A group of over 15,000 U.S. physicians has called on President-elect Barack Obama and the new Congress to "do the right thing" and enact a single-payer national health insurance plan, a system of public health care financing frequently characterized as "an improved Medicare for all."

"Our country is hailing the remarkable and historic victory of Barack Obama and the mandate for change the electorate has awarded him," said Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program.

"In large measure Sen. Obama's victory and the victories of his allies in the House and Senate were propelled by mounting public worries about health care," he said. "Yet the prescription offered during the campaign by the president-elect and most Democratic policy makers - a hybrid of private health insurance plans and government subsidies - will not resolve the problems of our dangerously dysfunctional system.

"We've seen such hybrids repeatedly fail in state-based experiments over the past 20 years in Oregon, Minnesota, Washington and several other states, including Massachusetts, whose second go-round at incremental reform is already faltering," Young said.

"The only effective cure for our health care woes is to establish a single, publicly financed system, one that removes the inefficient, wasteful, for-profit private health insurance industry from the picture," he said. "Single payer has a proven track record of success - Medicare being just one example - and is the only medically and fiscally responsible course of action to take."

"A solid majority of physicians endorse such an approach," Young said. "An April 2008 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows 59 percent of U.S. physicians support national health insurance. Opinion polls show two-thirds of the public also supports such a remedy. Now, with strong political leadership, this reform is within reach."

Young said the adoption of a single-payer health system can be a "major component of the new president's economic rescue of Main Street."

"We see no value in trying to bail out the private health insurance industry, an unsustainable system of financing care that has outlived its usefulness," he said. "By contrast, a single-payer plan would provide direct and much-needed relief to millions of American households at a time of great economic hardship."

"Only a single-payer system can achieve the goal of comprehensive and affordable care for all," he said, noting that the estimated $350 billion administrative savings realized by replacing private insurers would be enough to cover all of the country's uninsured and to end co-payments and deductibles for all Americans. "This would be the perfect way for President Obama to get the country back on track."

"Patients would be able to go to the doctors and hospitals of their choice and not have to worry about being able to afford it," he said, "and the single-payer system's ability to do bulk purchasing, planning and global budgeting would rein in costs."

Young noted that Obama has said more than once that he is a supporter of a single-payer universal health care program, and that if he were "starting from scratch," he would favor adopting one. In 2003, Young said, then Illinois state Sen. Obama remarked that "first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House."

Young remarked: "Tuesday's election has made all of these conditions happen. In his first 100 days, President Obama has a window of opportunity to inspire the nation by championing the enactment of single-payer national health insurance under the slogan, 'Everybody in, nobody out.' Such a plan is embodied in the U.S. National Health Insurance Act, H.R. 676, introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and co-sponsored by more than 90 others, more than any other health reform legislation."

Young noted that at least five additional supporters of single-payer health reform were elected to Congress yesterday, including Senator-elect Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and that pro-single-payer ballot initiatives in 10 Massachusetts legislative districts "won by a landslide, on average receiving 73 percent of the vote."

"Adopting a nationwide single-payer system will build on the great achievement of Medicare, further unify our people, strengthen our country's economic competitiveness and assure President Obama's legacy as an American hero," Young said.


Physicians for a National Health Program, a membership organization of over 15,000 physicians, supports a single-payer national health insurance program. To contact a physician-spokesperson in your area, call (312) 782-6006 or visit

From: Z Net - The Spirit Of Resistance Lives


In 8 of the 10 initiatives, drug reform got a higher percentage than did Obama

NORML - Millions of Americans cast votes Tuesday in favor of marijuana law reform, approving nine out of ten ballot measures seeking to liberalize penalties on cannabis use and possession.

In Massachusetts, 65 percent of voters approved Question 2, which replaces criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana (punishable by up to six-months in jail and a $500 fine) with a civil fine of no more than $100. More than 1.9 million Massachusetts voters (and all but three cities) backed the measure - a greater total than the number of voters who endorsed President Elect Barack Obama (1.88 million). Question 2 is expected to become law within30 days - making Massachusetts the thirteenth state to decriminalize the personal use and possession of cannabis. However, opponents of the measure - which include the state's governor, attorney general, and all twelve state district attorneys - note that lawmakers still have the legal option to amend or repeal the new law.

In Michigan, 63 percent of voters approved Proposal 1, which legalizes the physician-supervised use and cultivation of medicinal cannabis by state-authorized patients. More than 3 million voters endorsed the measure, which received approximately 150,000 more votes in Michigan than did Obama. Proposal 1 goes into effect on December 4th, at which time nearly one-quarter of the US population will live in a state that authorizes the legal use of medical cannabis.

Thousands of voters in various municipalities also backed local ballot initiatives supportive of marijuana law reform. In Arkansas, 66percent of Fayetteville (population: 67,000) voters approved Question 16,which directs law enforcement to make activities related to the investigation and prosecution of adults who possess up to one ounce of marijuana their lowest priority.

In Hawaii, Big Island (population: 172,000) voters approved a similar initiative, which directs law enforcement to make activities related to the investigation and arrest of adults who possess up to 24 ounces of cannabis and/or 24 plants their lowest priority. The measure, which voters backed by nearly a 3 to 2 margin, also forbids the County Council from accepting government funding to promote federal marijuana eradication efforts on the Big Island.

In Massachusetts, voters in four state House districts (encompassing 15towns) passed nonbinding public policy questions directing eachdistrict's state representative to vote in favor of legislation tolegalize the medical use of cannabis. More than 70 percent ofvoters in each district backed the measures.

Finally, voters in Berkeley, California endorsed Measure JJ, which eliminates local limits on the quantity of medicinal cannabis that may be possessed by patients, and liberalizes municipal zoning guidelines for patient dispensaries.

By contrast, California voters rejected a statewide sentencing reform measure (Proposition 5), which sought expand the diversion of non-violent offenders to drug treatment and would have decreased minor marijuana penalties to a non-criminal infraction. Numerous politicians,including Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrat USSenator Dianne Feinstein, joined forces with law enforcement and the California Beer and Beverage Distributors to lobby against the measure,which gained just 40 percent of the vote.

Tomgram: Rebecca Solnit, Day of the Citizen

A Great Day, Nine Years, Three or Four Centuries
The Jubilant Birth of the Obama Era
By Rebecca Solnit

Citizenship is a passionate joy at times, and this is one of those times. You can feel it. Tuesday the world changed. It was a great day. Monday it rained hard for the first time this season and on Election Day, everything in San Francisco was washed clean. I went on a long run past several polling places up in the hills around my home and saw lines of working people waiting to vote and contented-looking citizens walking around with their "I Voted" stickers in the sun and mud.

People have again found one of their -- our -- most buried and powerful desires: to make a better world together. I ran across an online collection of photographs of people crying in public, so moved by what is happening in this country, and I cried a little myself last weekend and choked up again when my local paper ran a story on a woman who'd crossed the country 40 years ago for Martin Luther King's funeral and left her polling place Tuesday singing hallelujah, amazed like so many older people that she'd lived to see the day.

You can argue against Barack Obama. I would myself, on the grounds that electoral politics are inherently flawed, corrosive, disempowering. My leftist friends, already cranky about him, warn me that I will be disappointed, but I'm not sure I will, because my expectations are realistic. I love his style, but he's not my messiah.

Who he is is so much better than we had any right to expect in a country left to the jackals for so long, even if he's just a pretty gifted liberal Democrat with an uncanny ability to see beyond the binaries and describe what might lie there.

What he is, in all his hyphenated hybridity, is a sign of a new world being born -- not, certainly, the "another world is possible" of the anti-globalization movement, but another world of mingling and crossing borders, of making new ethnicities out of love across old divides. He is a living invitation to come in from the cold for a lot of those who have been left out for decades, for centuries.

He's my age exactly, born that summer the Berlin Wall went up, and I recognize him, a man from the in-between. And I recognize my country's ability to surprise itself and the world as well by being great, just when our monstrousness seemed utterly inescapable.

His day picks up from many that have come before. It's the first great lurch forward for racial justice since the 1960s, that era of the Civil Rights Movement. But it pick ups as well from the 1860s, from the unfinished promise of Abraham Lincoln -- the promise over which a great and bloody Civil War was, in part, fought -- to undo what that great president called the "original sin" of our country that goes back three centuries and more: race-based slavery.

Obama does not cancel out or heal the legacies of racism, but in becoming the most powerful man in the world he signifies that the game has indeed changed, not just ground to a halt partway to justice and equality. The inner-city kids I see in my neighborhood and the murderous racists I've encountered recently in New Orleans are both going to think about their place in the world and their rights differently from this day forward. And that matters immensely, whatever the man being voted into power today does, or does not, achieve.

I am against heroes generally, and I grieved to see how deferentially people invested their hopes in Howard Dean nationally in 2004, and in Matt Gonzalez in my local mayor's race the year before. The movements that invoked them were, in both cases, so much better than the men. The people who made up those great populist groundswells, as far as I'm concerned, mistook those men -- little more than hood ornaments -- for the engines powering their movements. And the movements died out when the men went nowhere. Had each of them won, their followers would have given them their power and hoped for the best, rather than keeping it and moving past them.

I thought we were entering an era where we would do without heroes, but we have been given a hero, which is a bit like being given a chainsaw or a credit card: you have to be careful how you use it.

This moment of joy will subside, and those who expected Obama to be flawless or to keep inspiring them forever and a day may be disappointed. Still, his strength is that he speaks the language of community organizers, of "si, se puede," and that, at least for a while, he may spread rather than consolidate power.

When you come down to it though, that's our responsibility, not his. His responsibility is to preside over a nation that must shrink from empire, on economic as well as moral grounds, from the mad consumptive prosperity of the postwar era, and from the profligate environmental destruction that went with it. Perhaps he will be our Gorbachev, a man with the boldness to yield and reduce.

Four Milestones to This Moment

This is a great day that picks up from so many moments that came before. Think of Obama as a new star that lets us pick out all sorts of constellations of history.

We're just short of the ninth anniversary of the first of what now seem like five extraordinary moments in a decade that historians a century hence may consider far more turbulent and transformative than the 1960s. I was there in Seattle on November 30, 1999, when a network of grassroots activists from around the world shut down the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial summit and said that the future was not going to be shaped solely by corporations, capital, and governments; it belonged to us. And so it did: the WTO and many of the other institutions with plans to strengthen corporate control and power have crashed and burned since then; Latin America has swung far to the left; and finally, of course, in the past few months, neoliberalism and free-market religious fervor bankrupted themselves -- and nearly everyone else.

That moment in 1999 was an extraordinary one for popular power. It changed the world in ways no one expected. The year 2008 looks nothing like anything any of us imagined -- for better and worse. And we got here on a sprint across three more strange milestones.

Few would normally include 9/11 among uplifting moments, but I've been writing about disasters for the past four years and part of what prompted me to do so was the extraordinary emotion of that week in 2001. We were suddenly citizens. We felt connected, urgent, purposeful, immersed in public life, eager to do something, fully alive in the face of tragedy, as we often feel in such times. Fear, blind patriotism, and malevolent anti-Arab/Islamic sentiment were subsidiary emotions in that moment, but the overriding sentiment was heroic and civic.

That was the real threat to the Bush administration, not al-Qaeda, and they did a fairly masterful job of squelching it overall, though outliers and pockets of insurrection survived. These would include, the wonderful site I've been writing for these last five years, founded by Tom Engelhardt's outrage over the 9/11 news and the need to offer a more thoughtful version of that moment in history.

Recently, he wrote, "When historians look back, it will be far clearer that the ‘commander-in-chief' of a ‘wartime' country and his top officials were focused, first and foremost, not on the shifting ‘central theaters' of the Global War on Terror, but on the theater that mattered most to them -- the "home front" where they spent inordinate amounts of time selling the American people a bill of goods." And smothered a moment when a better nation might have been born.

That surge of idealistic passion and solidarity mostly failed, but I saw in those days that people wanted to be something better, something more committed, something more altruistic. The avenues through which to realize such possibilities were mostly blocked then, or remained invisible to so many of us.

A third extraordinary moment came on February 15, 2003, when a worldwide passion against the invasion of Iraq, supposedly justified by 9/11, led tens of millions to march in protest on every continent. The war went forward anyway, despite the constraints an angry citizenry was able to place on it. Thanks to its marketing of 9/11, the Bush administration had carte blanche to do pretty much what it wanted, at least as far as a docile Congress and an intimidated Senate were concerned, if not an increasingly hostile world. So that third moment, staggering in itself, achieved little. And the fourth was a tragedy as well as a rallying cry.

On August 30, 2005, Hurricane Katrina broke the administration's mandate, revealing its callousness, indifference, and incompetence to all those who had not yet recognized them in the conduct of an occupation that was already turning into a nightmare of murder and sectarian warfare at close quarters. But Hurricane Katrina revealed something more important. The people of New Orleans, the mostly poor, mostly dark ones left behind in a "mandatory" evacuation run in a style as laissez-faire as any neoliberalist could ever dream of, were demonized by the media and those in charge, from Mayor Ray Nagin to top Bush officials; and yet so many Americans responded not just with rage and grief, but out of a desire to be with the very people who were suffering most, to care for them, and to share with them. Within perhaps a week, 200,000 volunteers had offered beds in their homes to the displaced; in the years since, uncounted hundreds of thousands of volunteers have gone to New Orleans to lend a hand.

Outrage over the racism of that moment, as well as over the brutality of poverty and deprivation revealed then, awoke in so many a painful idealism and a yearning to be a better nation, as well as a realization of just how much remained to be done in New Orleans -- and elsewhere. Some say that Obama's rise came in part from the widespread realization that the wounds of racism were still bleeding, that our country desperately needed to change more. (This was, of course, a white realization; I doubt most people of color were soothed by what progress had been made over the previous half-century.).

Katrina was terrible, but the desires it awoke were the same ones blooming today -- the desire to do the truly meaningful work, the work of making a better world and better selves, as well as the desire to find common ground, to live in the open space of idealism and possibility. One of the most moving things to me this week is the realization that racism has been a grief also carried somewhere deep within by many of us who are not its victims. This is where so many of our tears came from, as we saw that that grief might be lifted for a moment, maybe even reduced in this new era.

A Brother in Hope

I began writing about hope in the grimmest days of the millennium, after the war in Iraq had been launched and most of the antiwar activists around me felt utterly defeated, not just in this one endeavor, but in any sense that history, and the power that comes with it, could be ours. I began writing about hope to convince them that people have, again and again, had just that power, and have made history, and will make it again.

My hope came not only out of specific stories I had lived through, or even dug up as a historian, but out of a deeper sense of the sheer unpredictability of history, the darkness out of which hope emerges. No one foresaw that five years after George W. Bush stood, seemingly infinitely triumphant, on the deck of an aircraft carrier, he would be slinking off history's stage in ignominy and an antiwar candidate would be taking his place. Not antiwar enough, but far beyond what most hoped for a few years ago.

It's been a wild nine years.

I wrote to Barack Obama Monday night when I decided to send him a copy of Hope in the Dark, my book that came out of the invasion of Iraq and the despair around me. After all, he is my brother in hopefulness. I said to my future president (I was hopeful enough to have called the election early): "My hope resided in the countless stories I had witnessed or researched of popular power -- but also resided in the unpredictable and ever-changing nature of history, politics, and popular imagination, the darkness I wanted to redeem from negativity and cast as something numinous instead. Heaven knows you are as unlikely a thing as ever happened in this country, though like any great change we will come to see it or you as inevitable and reread the muddled history of the United States as leading to this moment. But right now, it's still breathtaking."

Today, like yesterday, like tomorrow, is a great day. Remember them. And remember whatever joy, tears, or amazement they have brought you, and don't let go of them. They are the candles you get to bring with you in the darkness in which we will need to look for hope again, and to keep moving onward.

There is no stopping now. The wild mare history has us on her back.

Rebecca Solnit's next book about the extraordinary communities that arise in disaster will be out just in time for the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The latest language in which Hope in the Dark was published is Greek; the publisher distributed it from his motorbike when a national strike shut down Athens and then just gave it away to the marchers.

Copyright 2008 Rebecca Solni

White House Chief of Staf Represents Worst of the Clinton Years

Hail to the Chief of Staff
By Alexander Cockburn, Counterpunch

The first trumpet blast of change ushers in Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s chief of staff and gate keeper. This is the man who arranges his schedule, staffs out the agenda, includes, excludes. It’s certainly as sinister an appointment as, say, Carter’s installation of arch cold-warrior Zbigniev Brzezinski as his National Security Advisor at the dawn of his “change is here” administration in 1977.

Emanuel, as Ralph Nader points out in my interview with him below, represents the worst of the Clinton years. His profile as regards Israel is explored well on this site by lawyer John Whitbeck. He’s a former Israeli citizen, who volunteered to serve in Israel in 1991 and who made brisk millions in Wall Street. He is a super-Likudnik hawk, whose father was in the fascist Irgun in the late Forties, responsible for cold-blooded massacres of Palestinians. Dad’s unreconstructed ethnic outlook has been memorably embodied in his recent remark to the Ma’ariv newspaper that "Obviously he [Rahm] will influence the president to be pro-Israel… Why wouldn't he be [influential]? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House."

Working in the Clinton White House, Emanuel helped push through NAFTA, the crime bill, the balanced budget and welfare reform. He favored the war in Iraq, and when he was chairing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006 he made great efforts to knock out antiwar Democratic candidates. On this site in October and November, 2006, John Walsh documented both the efforts and Emanuel’s role in losing the Democrats seats they would otherwise have won.

In 2006 Emanuel had just published a book with Bruce Reed called The Plan: Big Ideas for America, with one section focused on “the war on terror”. Emanuel and Reed wrote, “We need to fortify the military's ‘thin green line ‘around the world by adding to the U.S. Special Forces and the Marines, and by expanding the U.S. army by 100,000 more troops. Finally we must protect our homeland and civil liberties by creating a new domestic counterterrorism force like Britain's MI5.” Recall that Obama has been calling throughout his recent campaign for an addition of 92,000 to the US Army and US Marine Corps.

Emanuel and Reed had fond words for the mad-dog Peter Beinart, neocon warrior theoretician for the Democrats, roosting Marty Peretz's The New Republic, and author of The Good Fight where Beinart explained why a tough new national security policy is as essential to the future of of progressive politics as a united front against totalitarianism and communism was to the New Deal and the Great Society. Emanuel and Reed also commended Anne-Marie Slaughter's proposal for "a new division of labor in which the United Nations takes on economic and social assistance and an expanded NATO takes over the burden of collective security." In other words, let NATO shoot the natives and the UN clean the floors.

Walsh took a hard look at the 2006 Democratic primary race between Christine Cegelis and Tammy Duckworth in Illinois's 6th CD, a Republican District, which had elected the disgusting Henry Hyde from time immemorial. In 2004 Cegelis, who iwas only mildly antiwar, ran as the Democrat with a grass roots campaign and polled a remarkable 44 per cent in her first run. It was not too long before Hyde decided to retire, and the field seemed to be open for Cegelis in the November poll, in 2006.

Enter Rahm Emanuel, who promptly dug up a pro-war candidate, Tammy Duckworth. Although she had both her legs blown off in Iraq, she remained committed to "staying the course" in Iraq. Duckworth had no political experience and did not live in the 6th District. Emanuel raised a million dollars for her and brought in Joe Lieberman, Barak Obama, John Kerry, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton to support her. Despite all this help and with the Cegelis campaign virtually penniless, Duckworth barely managed to eke out a primary victory by a measly four percentage points.

To win the House, the Dems had to win 15 seats from the Republicans. Walsh identified 22 candidates hand picked by Emanuel to run in open districts or districts with Republican incumbents. Of these, nine adopted a US “must win” in Iraq position and only one of Rahm's candidates was for prompt withdrawal from Iraq.

Then, after the election, Walsh assessed Rahm’s supposed brilliance in winning back the House. “Looking at all 22 candidates hand-picked by Rahm, “ Walsh wrote, “we find that 13 were defeated [including Duckworth], and only 8 won! And remember that this was the year of the Democratic tsunami and that Rahm's favorites were handsomely financed by the DCCC. The Dems have picked up 28 seats so far, maybe more. So out of that 28, Rahm's choices accounted for 8! Since the Dems only needed 15 seats to win the House, Rahm's efforts were completely unnecessary. Had the campaign rested on Rahm's choices, there would have been only 8 or 9 new seats, and the Dems would have lost. In fact, Rahm's efforts were probably counterproductive for the Dems since the great majority of voters were antiwar and they were voting primarily on the issue of the war (60 per cent according to CNN). But Rahm's candidates were not antiwar.