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Topic: Political Power
Obama Failed to Appoint Competent IRS Leaders
5/22/2013 3:51:45 PM
Last night I watched on C-Span a hearing on the IRS debate of the Senate Finance Committee chaired by Max Baucus (D, Montana). It became clear to me that President Obama has again failed to appoint people to high positions who represent his own policy orientations, and has, instead, tried to avoid controversy by keeping in place previous appointees of George W. Bush. In his effort to nearly always appeal to the other side, rather than act on the basis of his own core convictions, Obama has allowed a controversy to develop that is framed in the worst possible way for his own policy preferences or for the good of the Democratic Party which he should be representing since he was elected by Democrats who rightly expect him to be a Democrat and not a Republican.
The hearing included responses from three persons: Acting Commissioner Steven Miller (now relieved of that position), former Administrator Doug Shulman (who left the agency last November), and Inspector J. Russell George (who wrote the Inspector General report). They testified about revelations that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had applied additional scrutiny to groups applying for tax-exempt status that had the words “Tea Party” or “patriot” in their names.
The primary framing of the issue fits right into the main talking point of the Tea Party and Republicans, that the IRS is unfairly going after or "targeting" Tea Party groups for political purposes, that this is an outrage, and that this demonstrates the government as a whole is always doing this kind of thing so that people can no longer trust the government on anything. (See columns by Rich Lowry and David Brooks). Obama himself has accepted this framing rather than support professional workers in the IRS. He has assumed that terrible deeds have been done by these workers.
From watching the hearing, the fact is that Obama has failed to appoint strong, competent leaders for the IRS. Not once did either Steve Miller or Doug Shulman say the obvious, that the Tea Party groups were themselves "political" groups and the IRS has a responsibility not to allow such groups tax-exempt status. Steven Miller seemed the better of the two because he was trying to reject the over-all framing of the issue as the Republicans were assuming in their questions. He did not accept the idea that IRS agents were "targeting" Tea Party groups, for example. But he could not articulate things in a clear way, partly because the agency has not itself adequately developed guidelines for handling these matters. This is a failure in itself of the agency. But who is responsible for that failure? The previous commissioner, Doug Shulman, a Bush appointee who Obama kept in place, a man who does not share the policy preferences of the president and the party the president represents. It is Schulman who failed to guide the agency in dealing with these matters; he let the problem fester and took no action to deal with the whole issue of tax-exemption of political groups. (See this article by Lee Fang for specific groups violating the principle that political groups should not be tax exempt.)
This became clear in questioning of Shulman by Max Baucus toward the end of the hearing. Baucus asked Shulman if he was aware that after the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case there were many groups who began to involve themselves in political activity and abusing their so-called status as social welfare groups. Baucus didn't say this but he was referring to groups such as Karl Rove's Crossroads which raised millions of dollars from a few rich donors for attack ads against Democratic candidates in the last election, money Rove did not have to account for by revealing the donors since his was a "social welfare" organization.
Doug Shulman refused to answer the Baucus questions, pretending he was not supposed to influence the agency since he was a political appointee; he said these were questions which should be dealt with by the career civil servants of the IRS. I thought this incredible. In fact, what Shulman said is an outrage itself. But apparently Obama just hoped that appointing Shulman would satisfy the Republicans and they would not be able to criticize the IRS since Shulman was a Republican appointee. Will Obama ever learn? If you don't support your own party, if you back away from hard decisions, if you fail to create a context in which your own policy preferences are clear, you are going to get caught in very bad situation sooner or later.
So Obama now is looking weak and indecisive because he has been acting, well, weak and indecisive. Both Miller and Shulman themselves appeared weak and indecisive, refusing to answer questions, giving lame excuses, which just made the mad-dog Republicans more angry. Mad dogs have a habit of sensing and going after weakness.
The Democratic Senator from Washington, Maria Cantwell, was one of the Democrats who said the real issue is how a tax-exempt group should be defined, what actually makes for "political" activity and why should a social welfare tax-exempt group be allowed any political activity at all. That is the real question. The real scandal is that Tea Party and other conservative groups have been pushing the envelope by engaging in obvious political activity.
But this framing of the issue will probably not prevail. It's interesting to me that the so-called "liberal press" and many Democrats have taken the lead from Obama and articulated the issue in the conservative framing, that the IRS did something terribly wrong. Obama and Democrats have got to stop doing that. Otherwise there is no way to understand why Lois Lerner, the IRS official most directly in charge of this section of the agency is doing what she did today, taking the fifth amendment, refusing to answer questions, in order to protect her own constitutional rights. This makes it sound as if she is guilty. And that will keep the mad dogs going after the IRS even more.
I think Lois Lerner had to do what she did, otherwise she exposes herself and others in the IRS to a terrible and vicious witch hunt. The Tea Party Republicans will not be satisfied until they see real blood on the ground. Only Obama can do something about this; he has to lead by changing the whole framework within which he talks about this. Only he, finally, is able to set the context within which this debate can be resolved. I am afraid he will just back away again and let the Republicans win again, which is very, very bad for the nation.
It can be argued that money in politics is the most important pressing issue in the country today. The very future of democracy is at stake here. Obama can start doing the right thing by holding a press conference and announcing why he supports a faithful government worker like Lois Lerner.
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The NRA: Southern Political Terrorism
5/14/2013 3:21:05 AM
Earlier this month at their annual convention the National Rifle Association elected a new president, an Alabama lawyer by the name of James Porter. His father had been president in the 1970s when the decisions were made to remake the NRA from an association of gun owners into what can only now be called a political terrorist organization. The NRA now uses guns, and relies on the threat of violence, to intimidate and terrorize the minds of any politician who will not support its extremist views about guns. It uses the money provided by gun manufacturers to buy political advertising to attack any politician who will not vote the strict party line of the NRA.
Many people in other parts of the country do not realize the degree to which the South continues to hate the North not only for the civil war but also for using the federal government in the 1960s to force the South to change its ways of segregation against black people. When a conservative Southern politician talks about "freedom" what he means is freedom from the federal government which demands equal treatment for all persons, both blacks and whites. It means "freedom" to dominate and oppress others, freedom for white people to terrorize the hearts and minds of black people. That is the true history of the meaning of the word "freedom" in the language of white racism. After the successful civil rights movement in the 1960s the South turned from Democrat to Republican and the NRA was taken over by anti-civil rights extremists.
James Porter in the video below speaks a lot about freedom. This presentation to a gun group in New York state before the last presidential election is very revealing. He actually says in front of this audience that down South they don't call it the civil war, they call it "the war of Northern aggression." Now, for the people in the North the civil war is history, but not for those Southerners who have refused to change. For them the civil war is at the top of their memory and political rhetoric. It continues to provide the energy and context for their current political activity. And when James Porter begins his talk about everyone there sharing the same values he is not being honest. Most folks in the North do not at all share the same values of Southern racists.
Notice how Porter speaks about the president of the United States, how the NRA as an organization was dedicated to keeping him from being re-elected. They didn't succeed, as we now know. But throughout his talk Porter talks about "fighting" for freedom. And he says clearly that the reason people should have guns is to be able to fight against "tyranny". What tyranny is this? It is the "tyranny" of the demand of the North that the South must treat black people equally. Porter is still fighting the civil war.
Many white people in the South have changed over these last few decades. But I am afraid that the old Southern attitudes have not gone away. Those good folks in the South along with those of us in the rest of the country should not allow those old Southern attitudes to influence politics through organizations like the National Rifle Association.
Our politics should not be determined by people willing to engage in political terrorism.
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4/17/2013 2:14:58 PM
On the day federal taxes are due, April 15, 2013, two pressure cooker bombs went off as the Boston Marathon was concluding. Legs were torn off. Three died. Many more injured.
Maybe there is a connection with domestic terrorism, maybe not. But there are very large numbers of people out there whose minds have already been terrorized by right wing talk show hosts about the evil of federal taxes. In fact, the most intense opposition to current gun control proposals in congress is from those who believe they should be able to own military style weapons to protect themselves not from terrorists but from government. Just think about that for a moment: there are very large numbers of mostly white men in this country who hate the government so much that they believe they must arm themselves to defend themselves from government officials who may use the police and the military against them. (The US Senate is so cowed by the intensity of hostility to government that it has just voted down proposals for expanded background checks and a ban on high-capacity gun magazines.)
Yet the most important effect of the public violence at Boston will be calls for more police, more surveillance by public authorities, more control by government of public events. The more violence there is the more police we must have. To say it clearly, the more violence the more police, and also, the more police the more violence.
The police carry guns; they represent official violence. The more people experience the terror of violence the more they want the police to protect them. Ever since the cities blew up in violence in the 1960s there has been a political response calling for more prisons, more police. And the more society relies on official violence the more it has experienced the backlash from those afraid of the power of the state.
This has now come to the point that public events will become less and less possible. It will cost too much to provide the police to control the violence. People will become imprisoned in their own homes watching violence on their television sets. It is time to think clearly about whether there is a better way.
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Why Does Romney Focus So Much On Apology?
9/12/2012 3:02:35 PM
Romney has now gotten himself in some real trouble by jumping the gun trying to interpret the meaning of a press statement from the Cairo embassy yesterday evening. Before a crowd was gathering at the embassy to protest a video trailer on YouTube about a movie mocking the Prophet Mohammed, the embassy released statement: "The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."
It is this statement that Romney calls an "apology" and says demonstrates that Obama has sympathy for rioters who later attacked the embassy. And then later still four Americans were killed in Libya. It is extremely important to realize that the Cairo embassy statement was released before any riot or violence occurred. Yet Romney even after he knew the facts later refused to adjust his remarks, saying the embassy was speaking for an administration which apologizes to its enemies.
Why can't Romney take back what he had said about apologies? Because this is a key belief of the apoplectic conservative right wing listening to right wing radio especially Rush Limbaugh. This is what Limbaugh has been drumming into his listeners for decades now, "liberals" are weak-kneed sympathizers with the poor and oppressed who are always apologizing for the economic and military strength of the United States.
It goes back especially to Vietnam. Most everyone who thinks just a little bit knows that war was a disaster, that it damaged this country, that it ended in utter defeat. But Limbaugh and those known as neoconservatives simply cannot stand to admit what everyone else knows to be the truth about Vietnam, so they say that to admit the truth is the same as apologizing for that war. And for Limbaugh the desire not to admit truth extends to slavery in the United States and the oppression of blacks for another hundred years. Liberals who want to remember the truth of the racial history of the U.S. are therefore "apologizing" when they recount that history. This is a very deep and significant emotional argument that resonates with enough people to continue to have political appeal.
But it is morally repugnant, it intentionly draws on the worst instincts of the American people and encourages the continuation of racial prejudice as a factor in the politics of this country. Romney and his advisors know what they are doing when they accuse Obama of apologies. They are encouraging racial prejudice in the minds and hearts of white people.
White people should have no sympathy for blacks, for Africans, for Asians, or for Muslims. Any person who shows any sympathy for such people should be attacked. Romney and his campaign are relying on this idea when they attack Obama for having any sympathy for others in the world. I believe there are enough people who see through this that it may mark a turning point in this campaign, when Romeny is viewed as not a serious candidate, as one who does not demonstrate the sense of calm rationality needed by a president in a very dangerous world.
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Romney Degrades Himself with Welfare Ad
8/28/2012 2:18:46 PM
Mitt Romney says he approves the ad (below) which claims that Obama wants to send out welfare checks to people without work requirements, a completely false charge. Romney's willingness to use this type of attack means that he is willing to engage in the worst form of political lying to appeal to those white voters who still harbor racial prejudices about welare.
Those who make their living at politics or follow it closely know that this welfare ad constitutes an intentional strategy to engage in racist appeals. The Republican operative, Lee Atwater, urged the use of such appeals in the campaign of the first George Bush, for which after he knew he was dying said he was sorry he had done so. To his credit John McCain refused to use such ads.
Romney campaign officials have said they must use these ads because they are working, they are effective. But for Romney to seek to be elected by appeal to racial prejudice of voters, whether South or North, is a disgrace. It encourages prejudice and divides the country against itself.
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Wall Street Occupation Protest - Live Video
9/26/2011 3:45:59 PM
Thousands have been protesting at Liberty Park in New York City against corporate greed represented by Wall Street. Eighty protestors were arrested this past Saturday. The major media are not covering these events, though they would certainly be there if it was a "Tea Party" event. This should help us all realize that the major media help literally create movements on the right. Click below to watch a live video stream of these courageous Americans exercizing democracy and public responsibility in the streets.
Here is information from the website Occupy Wallstreet.
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Tens of Thousands Protest in Israel; Citizens of the USA Should Also Hit the Streets
8/7/2011 2:00:28 PM
Major protests are occurring in Israel (see video below). The people are hitting the streets there opposing the policies of Netanyahu. There have been 250,00 Israelis in the streets: On a per capita basis for the USA, that would be about 9.5 million people. The streets of the cities of this country should be filled every weekend with millions of enraged citizens demonstrating against flawed debt deals and the failure of Washington to address the real problems in this country: the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, the declining incomes of the working middle class, and the lack of jobs (14 million unemployed people, families starving, increasing poverty and food stamps). Barack Obama has demonstrated he will not lead, he will do whatever he is forced to do, even when it damages the economy, as this debt deal does. It is time he is forced to do what is right.
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Obama Punches Back
4/13/2011 3:13:44 PM
Many liberals and progressives were very worried about what President Obama was going to say in his big speech today on fiscal policy. Time and again, it has seemed to me, Obama has allowed very conservative Republicans, whose quite extremist views are not shared by the vast majority of Americans, to define the terms of the debate; he has not adequately exercized the kind of political leadership that only he can provide as the leader of the Democratic Party. He and his staff members have seemingly declared war against his own most committed supporters in chasing the so-called independent voters who political consultants today believe turn elections. I have thought that Obama needs to clearly articulate his goals and policy directions so that other Democrats and policy professionals gain a clear sense and context of the direction he wants to take the country and can work to help him implement his priorities.
Well, today the President did just that. Here is why I think the speech was so excellent:
1) He clearly expressed his view of political philosophy by saying that this country has a strong tradition of free enterprise and individual initiative and that this tradition is important. And he also said that the country also has a strong tradition of people looking out for one another, of social responsibility. He did not play one of these off against the other, both are significant. That is a view I also share. I think it wrong if one or the other party claims just one of these views for itself. All parties and persons can and should affirm both of these traditions and how they can contribute to a strong and healthy nation. Obama said caring for one another is what patriotism is all about. Good for him.
2) He clearly interpreted history, and on a factual basis, including the ways previous presidents of both parties have been able to solve big fiscal problems in a bi-partisan way. As I have said many times, much of what we call "politics" is a contest between different views of history. Obama made very clear where the big deficits have come from, including from large tax cuts which deprived government of the revenue necessary to pay its bills. Republicans in general don't want to engage in debates about real history because it exposes that the so-called "supply side economics" (cut taxes and revenues will increase) is what the first George Bush called it, "voodoo economics." The administration of the second George Bush proves it beyond question, cutting taxes just cuts revenues and creates big deficits, and during his administration jobs did not grow, the economy did not improve, the rich sent their tax savings to invest in China, not the United States. I do wish Obama had said more about that than he did.
3) Obama laid out a clear plan for the closing the deficits which included defense cuts, dealing with tax expenditures (money spent by the government through tax breaks), lowering health care costs rather than depriving people benefits, and increasing taxes on the wealthy. He said clearly that he will not turn Medicare into a voucher program where older folks have to pay more for services through insurance companies.
4) He clearly set his program over against the budget of Paul Ryan released last week which is based on wild assumptions about supply side magical beliefs and which destroys Medicare and Medicaid. He laid down a line in the sand that he will not again approve extension of tax cuts for the wealthy. The President appeared to be very certain and strong in how he talked about this in a way that he has not done in previous big battles.
Now the question is, of course, whether he will follow through. At the end of the speech he said Joe Biden will lead a process in May and June to put together the final proposal for legislation. This has to do with the impending vote on an extension of the debt limit which will have to occur in July. The devil will once again be in the details. But the President's speech is clearly an act of leadership setting the parameters of what will and will not be acceptable. Due to his past performance Obama had lost the trust of many of his most faithful supporters. It is necessary now to let him know that by punching back at crazy Republican ideas he is providing the leadership many of us were hoping for.
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Public Lies about Tax Cuts
2/10/2011 3:46:27 PM
A couple years ago I happened upon a C-Span presentation sponsored by the American Heritage Foundation of conservative economists discussing tax policy. What was fascinating to me was that not one of these economists would agree now with the so-called "supply side" argument that if you lower taxes the revenues to government increase. Now, these were not politicians, they were economists talking to one another, and though they were all in the "conservative" camp they could not just repeat what has become the prime credo of Republican politics.
Now, at one time this idea may have had some merit. Under Eisenhower in the 1950s the top rate on income taxes was 91 percent! When Kennedy reduced that rate there could have been a stimulative effect. But when rates are already very low in comparison a further decline won't make much difference, it will just mean that tax revenues decline so government cannot pay its bills. And that is what has been happening now for the past decades. Under both Reagan and Bush the deficits have exploded because of their tax cuts which did not produce the expected revenue. So history is absolutely clear now and conservative economists know it.
But the message hasn't gotten to the politicians. David Corn has written this at Mother Jones:
Moments before the new Republican House was to be sworn in, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), the head of the House Republican Policy Committee and the chamber's fifth-ranking GOPer, was standing in the ornate Speaker's Lobby of the Capitol, near a roaring fire. In the celebratory hustle and bustle—new members rushing to pick up lapel pins and license plates, their kids noisily exploring the building—a reporter approached Price with a question: How could he reconcile the GOP's pledge to tame the deficit with its decision to dodge budget calculations about the costs of tax cuts and repealing health care reform? Without missing a beat, Price replied, "It doesn't cost the government money to decrease taxes. When you decrease taxes, as President Kennedy proved, as Reagan proved, you increase revenue to the federal government."Now, what is this? Is it a complete delusion, a refusal to face facts caused by ideological blinders? Or is it intentional and literal public lying? Here you have a major Republican congressional leader saying something which is just completely untrue. If he is not lying, but just deluded, then public policy established on the basis of a false belief will be bad for the country, it can't accomplish what is being claimed. If he is lying then he is morally reprehensible and should be ejected from office. But wait a minute, this kind of thing is being said by a whole lot of Republican leaders today, so they are all either deluded or lying. Either way, a country being run by delusions or lies is not one which can be successful in the world today.
David Corn goes on in his article to report the views of David Stockman, Ronald Reagan's first budget director. Stockman thinks it is lying: "Republicans like Price were, in Stockman's view, misreading history—even perverting the Reagan message. As he saw it, they were guiding the nation toward financial ruin by pushing for tax cuts without having the guts to seriously slash spending—and dishonestly justifying their "flimflam" by citing his work."
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The People Own the Streets
2/2/2011 3:24:23 PM
Every once in a while the truth about political power is exposed in full view. That is the case now in Egypt after a week of popular demonstrations against the thirty-year regime of Hosni Mubarak. Today pro-Mubarak groups are on the streets engaging in violent clashes with the otherwise peaceful demonstrators. Live streaming of events is available at Al Jazeera. The truth is that people finally own the streets. All of a sudden, if the people decide, they can change their government. All of a sudden people refuse to affirm the legitimacy of their leaders. All of a sudden the rules are changed.
Yesterday I attended an event sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Portland, Oregon. Tom Bartlett, past President of the American University of Cairo, spoke of the context of what is happening in Egypt. He emphasized that the population there has exploded over the past few decades, now at 85 million people. The average age is 24 years old, so these demonstrations represent a revolt of the young against a regime that has not provided adequate economic and political opportunities. Bartlett also said that a key fact to realize about Egypt is that it has to import forty percent of its food. That means that it has to raise the income to buy this food from others, which it obtains through tourism and charges for use of the Suez Canal, among other sources. Even groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood realize this. Bartlett said the Brotherhood is only one and not a significant factor in political reconstitution of the country. Note this, because the neoconservative right wing in this country has already begun to raise great fear about this. Also, he said Iran will not have influence in Egypt, as Juan Cole explains in an article I placed on this website.
It may be helpful to keep three factors in mind as you watch the unfolding of these events. First on religion, Egypt is a Sunni Muslim nation, not Shia like Iran. The Sunni are more likely to affirm secular government than the Shia. That's why when George W. Bush began the war in Iraq he didn't really know what he was doing. The Shia are dominant in Iraq, Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, had kept the lid on the Shia in Iraq the years he was in power. With "democracy" in Iraq the Shia are now in power, just as the Shia are in power in Iran. (Iran is ethnically Persian, Iraq is Arab). This distinction between Shia and Sunni is critical to understanding the differences among Muslims. Egypt is much less likely to adopt an Islamist extremist government due to its history as a more secular and Sunni culture.
A second factor is the role of Israel. Policy in the United States tends to focus on Israel because of the strength of the Israel lobby and neoconservative propaganda. This is the source of hysteria over changes in the Muslim world, and why so many are expressing fear and worry over what is happening in Egypt. The various dictators in Arab countries have been able to keep their populations in check, and keep the oil flowing, through political repression, and the United States has supported these dictators since they maintained the power balance with Israel. A democratic Egypt would certainly change that equation; there would be a different orientation to Israel, and anything "different" is to be feared according to those who put Israel at the absolute top of their priorities. Egypt does not have a lot of oil, but it has been a leader in constructive relations with Israel. So when listening to commentators consider their views on Israel.
Thirdly, rising prices for food is a particularly significant issue since it has to do with world markets and how the economic policies and financial practices of the U.S. government can have tremendous impact on those prices. Since Egypt imports forty percent of its food, any increase in international food prices quickly has an effect there. This may have been a factor in the current outbreaks there since financial speculators have begun to play their casino games with food commodities (as they did with homes in the recent housing bubble). If people cannot eat they are going at some point to hit the streets because their government is failing them.
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Political Violence Works
1/13/2011 3:46:10 PM
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot by an armed gunman last Saturday outside a supermarket in Tucsan, Arizona as she was conducting a "Congress on the Corner" event for her constituents. Six people were killed, and fourteen wounded including Giffords, shot through the head. Last night President Obama spoke to the nation from Tucsan about the shooting. The same day, Sarah Palin put up a video which called the press "reprehensible" for suggesting that her campaign map with crosshairs on Giffords district, and comments about "reloading," helped create a public atmosphere encouraging armed violence against political opponents.
I would like to make some comments about this which you are not going to hear in the media. No one wants to admit something that has become entirely obvious in current political culture for some decades now: political violence works, politically violent talk works, it intimidates others, it forces others to extremes, it removes civility from political discourse and appeals to raw emotion, it demonizes others and justifies any means necessary to destroy them. And it makes a lot of money, lots and lots of money, for a whole industry of violent talkers.
When Obama calls for civility the liberals and progressives nod and say "yes, indeed," and Republican political operatives also say yes because they want liberals to continue their civility so the conservatives can keep winning elections through political violence. Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist tells young Republicans that politics is a "knife fight" so don't be taken in by any talk about ethics in politics.
And it's not true that both sides do it, as so many media persons say, trying to be neutral in the debate. Remember Watergate, for example, a Republican president, Richard Nixon, actually hires former CIA operatives to break into headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (located in the Watergate building) to dig up dirt against George McGovern in the 1972 presidential campaign. Nixon got elected again because the people couldn't believe a president would do such a thing. The people want to believe that their leaders are good and decent persons, especially a party which claims to stand for moral values, but Republican politics is absolutely corrupt. Just think of all those now sitting in jail, former congressional leader Tom Delay will now be joining them. Anybody who actually reads some books on politics of the last years can only come to one conclusion: Republican political tactics are corrupt, politically violent, they systematically lie, cheat, steal, and yes, "kill" in the way they talk and the images and associations they use in political discourse.
Even a "deranged man" knows this. Sarah Palin in her speech calls the Tucson gunman "deranged" again and again and says that Ronald Reagan taught us that only individuals are to blame for such acts, not society. Her speech offers no recognition at all that this incident demonstrates failures of those institutions responsible for mental health and education in current society. Such institutions require taxes and Republicans are opposed to taxes adequate for a complex society today; cut taxes but build prisons, that's been the conservative mantra for decades now. Use taxes for more and more police, more and more official violence, more and more military to go and kill others all over the world. Bellicose, violent talk is what we hear again and again from Republicans, big strong tough talk, the way to get what you want is to take it by force of arms, kill the evil enemy. Even a mentally ill person, especially a mentally ill person, is going to be influenced by that kind of talk, is going to hear what is taken to be a central belief of this society, violence works. This gunman in Tucson was doing exactly what a violent society taught him to do, a society which has become more and more violent due to the killing rhetoric of so-called conservative politicians. I say "so-called" because true conservatism teaches responsibility for others, not hatred of them. Current Republican rhetoric is not conservative at all, it is extremist politics just on the edge of what is known as fascism, a political philosophy that believes in violence, that's how Hitler became powerful, indeed. Hitler is the extreme example of the truth of the phrase: "political violence works."
Guns are at the center of it all for Republicans. It is interesting to me that Democrats have for over a decade retreated from the debate over gun control, have given in to extremely powerful gun lobbies, especially the National Rifle Association. But Republican rhetoric continues to keep the issue alive, it is such a successful political tactic they cannot give it up. They tell voters to vote against the Democrat because Democrats have in the past stood for gun control, they will "take away your guns" if you vote for them. The whole Tea Party movement centers on guns, the very meaning of "Tea Party" recalls the violence of the revolutionary war at the beginning of the country. More and more it is necessary for those who really believe in the constitution of this country to walk into public places carrying a gun demonstrating that you are a real man, that you are going to shoot anyone who gets in your way, that guns are the way to maintain one's personal security.
The Republicans have won the debate over gun control, yet they can't stop talking about guns, it's a topic that hits at the heart of everybody's concern for personal safety and thus an extremely successful political tactic. It wins elections again and again. The NRA has become, literally, a poltical terrorist group, threatening anyone who even begins to talk about a rational approach to the regulation of firearms in this country. The NRA has suggested in response to this latest incident that what is appropriate now is to pray for the victims, no discussion of any regulation of guns or ammunition is appropriate now. So the NRA is proposing prayer as the solution, as if it has become a church, a representive of God's will in the world today. This is a desecration of God's name, but "God and guns" is what Republicans talk about, an appeal to a violent god who settles things by violence.
So, the truth is, political violence works. A true political discourse would at least begin with acknowledgement of that reality.
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Democrats Elected a Republican President
12/9/2010 1:39:07 PM
The worst thing about the Obama tax deal with the Republicans is that it assumes that Republicans are right about how to promote economic growth. When the economy is growing Republicans say that cutting taxes will make it grow more. When the economy is in recession Republicans say that only cutting taxes will provide economic growth. Now Obama has even agreed to cut the payroll tax which supports Social Security, agreeing to a principle that will provide a precedent to the idea that Social Security is not able to pay for itself and therefore benefits should be reduced, which affects especially the least well-off in the country, as has even been already promoted by the deficit commission appointed by this very president. Obama in other words is acting like a Republican president, agreeing with Republican ideas.
What is really needed for economic growth is a massive federal jobs program. Corporations are sitting on mountains of cash right now, they are not spending it to create jobs. Investors have put their money under the mattress, they will not invest until they know for sure the direction of the economy (until the "herd" tells them what to do), except for those who will invest overseas, especially in China where the Communist government absolutely controls the workers and maintains low wages. In these conditions, when corporations will not hire enough people to keep people working and making money for their families, it is necessary for government to step in and put people to work. But Republicans cannot agree to such steps because that would make it necessary to admit that the magical "free market" does not always work to the benefit of all in society. Rather than do something that will really give people jobs, Obama has sided with the Republicans, which has the effect of screening out all serious policy proposals based on rational analysis and historical experience of the Democratic Party. Obama is betraying his party and the people who voted for him.
I think he is betraying his own good sense as well. I was early in my support for him. I was impressed with his full endorsement of unions in his Springfield speech announcing his candidacy. I too worked as a community organizer on southside of Chicago, in the mid-1960s some years before Obama, and a few miles north, in the Kenwood-Oakland community, from the far-southside where Obama did his own community organizing. I could not believe that a person working in community organizing would, when it came down to it, lose that basic sense of power and justice for the poor. But Obama has lost it, he is now betraying his own life and experience.
He says that he must compromise. But he is not compromising, he is given away the store, he is only doing tax cuts, and the whole deal goes onto the credit card again, so that he will later be blamed for increasing the deficit even more. Republicans will not raise taxes to deal with the deficit, they want to destroy the governmental support system that makes life possible for the millions of people who do not succeed in an economic system rigged against them. And this is now at real crisis levels. There are nearly fifteen million people officially unemployed according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
The line at the top represents fifteen million unemployed, the line at the bottom represents years between 1948 and 2008. And this doesn't count discouraged workers, those no longer looking for work. This economy is not doing its job of employing people, putting food on the table. The business class is failing the American people. The wealthy are willing to create vast swaths of surplus populations, people who don't count for anything, people who can be left behind.
And this graph represents the whole nation, in some places both urban and rural the unemployment rate is absolutely devastating. It has been Democrats who as a political party are concerned with workers and the poor. It is Republicans who don't care about these folks, who have been successful in destroying the union movement, who attack in right wing talk shows the poor and unemployed as welfare cheats, freeloaders, as people undeserving of any sympathy or compassion. In fact, right wingers blame the poor and unemployed for a bad economy, blame the weakest for the sins of the most powerful.
The Obama deal keeps unemployment compensation going for about two million people for thirteen months, but in the past Republicans have supported such measures under similar conditions without Democrats giving away the rest of the store. Obama gets very little in this compromise.
He is more a Republican than Democratic president. It is time for a new Democratic movement of some kind, the folks who work in the trenches at the local level are, most of the time, real Democrats, and they must now begin to come together in their local meetings and demand that their representatives become real Democrats too, especially the President they supposedly elected.
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A Deep Sense of Bewilderment and Betrayal
12/2/2010 4:15:27 PM
I still remain on a mailing list run through the Obama campaign website. On the list are 250 persons who worked very hard to elect him, spent hours and hours on the phone calling people, contributing money, very serious activists who research the issues, send emails, talk to others. But these folks are feeling bewildered these days, and even betrayed. The president they see now is not the one they thought they were working to elect. I think that a very wide chasm has been created between the regular folks who work in politics and the political establishment, the candidates, political consultants, the professionals who make money at the game of politics. This chasm has grown so wide as now to raise serious questions about the very legitimacy of the political process in this country. It is not just the normal cynicism shared by journalists and old political hacks, it is a sense that what is called "democracy" in this country fundamentally doesn't work, that participation in politics is not at all worthwile. When a good and decent person such as Barack Obama is elected and then is unable or unwilling to do what he said he would do, when millions of people go unemployed and under-paid and the wealthy get their way again and again at the expense of common folks, when so many are duped by corporate-sponsored tea parties to vote for politicians beholden to corporate interests, when the campaign cash from the wealthy dominates the public consciousness through the media, then it is understandable that people would come to believe that it is not worthwhile to participate anymore in politics.
When Obama was on his trip to Asia David Axelrod announced that there might be a compromise on tax cuts to the wealthy, the extension of the Bush tax cuts in the early years of this new century which have been a very large factor in creating the current budget deficits that Republicans are now so concerned about. The folks on the mailing list began talking about what other country they should move to, things were getting hopeless. Since then the mood is getting worse and worse. The word "betrayal" describes the consciousness of many of these previous Obama supporters. One of them just wrote: "I am having a sad because I don’t think the White House even wants to try."
She then says she was inspired by reading something in the Huffington Post by Senator Tom Harkin, D-IA, about the fact that Senate Republicans refuse to consider extending unemployment benefits until tax cuts are approved for the rich: "Have the Republicans lost all sense of fairness? Have they lost all sense of justice? Have they lost all sense of what's right and wrong? I mean, there ought to be moral outrage at the policies that permit million-dollar bonuses to these money manipulators on Wall Street, and yet they're telling the unemployed to get into the soup line for Christmas. We ought to be outraged at this -- at what the Republicans are doing to the unemployed in this country. And we ought to let the American people know just what the Mitch McConnell and the Republican leaders are doing here in the Senate."
If people are unemployed it means that the economic system is not working properly, but who does the right wing tea party spokespersons blame for this? They blame the unemployed. It is those terrible, lazy bums who want an unemployment check that are the problem. This is the kind of thinking that led to Republican victories in the past election. Blame the poor, blame people on welfare, blame the weakest members of society. This is just what the corporate oligarchs want people to believe, this is the message they try to promote through the media, this is what Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are repeating hundreds of times every day. If there is a crash of the entire financial system of the country then who is to blame? It is Acorn, a coalition of poor black organizations, they are the cause, they are so powerful they can take down the big banks and hedge funds of the country. Tea Party Nation President Judson Phillips thinks people who don't own property are to blame for the country's problems. He even proposes that the constitution be changed to end voting rights for those who don't own property.
This kind of ridiculous thinking is what now dominates the political process and Democrats don't seem to be able to speak against it, expose it, Obama seems willing to go along with it, compromise with it. At least Harkin is trying to talk about some morality, some justice, in how government should act.
The deep question we face in the country is whether things have gone so far that the very legitimacy of both our leaders and institutions is at question. Very large numbers of people don't even vote anymore. Very large numbers of people pray each day for the end of the world to come as fast as possible so they can be saved. Very large numbers of people are giving up. What is a pastor to say on Sunday morning? How can a pastor tell the truth? Who is finally worthy of faith and trust?
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Rand Paul Exposes Tea Party Racism in Libertarianism
5/20/2010 3:31:00 PM
John Judis has written a piece about the Tea Party movement at The New Republic which places it within the context of other conservative movements in the past in this country. It is a good piece. But he misses one very important element, the issue of race. Liberals in general hesitate to blame others for racism, to look racism square in the face, to use race as a critical factor in analysis of political movements. They do not want to be accused by the right of "playing the race card" even when the right itself plays that very same card over and over. Judis is a very good writer, and I recommend his article, but there is more to the Tea Party than he realizes.
That was exposed in an interview of Rand Paul on the Rachel Maddow show last night on MSNBC. Paul on Tuesday won the Kentucky Republican primary for the senate and somehow thought it would be a good move for him to appear on the Maddow show. He was wrong. Maddow asked him about civil rights, whether he approved of the 1964 civil rights law which opened public accomodations to black persons. Paul wouldn't answer the question directly, indicating he might have some trouble with the section of the law which requires that blacks be served at lunch counters of a "private" company. This, of course, means the government is telling a private company what to do, and Paul kept avoiding to answer the question directly, but Maddow kept pushing him to answer clearly. Paul kept saying over and over that he doesn't believe in discrimination but when it came down to it he did not want to admit that he opposed government enforcement of civil rights laws on so-called private institutions.
As the son of congressman Ron Paul, Rand Paul is a libertarian. Ron Paul has his own sorry history on questions of racism. The son may not be following the father on all aspects of the question, but the philosophy of liberatriansm was itself exposed in this interview. Rand Paul on election night associated himself directly with the Tea Party, that "he had a message from the Tea Party...."
The fact is that the political culture of the South continues to be driven by racism in many and various ways, it provides the underlying "energy" for the cultural power of conservatism in this country. The South absolutely hates and abhors the federal government, including the Supreme Court, for its role in forcing the South to change its ways of segregation. It cannot explicitly display racism in public so it comes out in relation to other issues such as abortion and gay rights for the religious right, and hostility to taxes (for education and social services to poor black people) and government for libertarians. The South's hostility to the federal government is the real energy of the more libertarian Tea Party movement.
Libertarianism is the political philosophy of most of the extreme right wing radio talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh. It is popular among these hosts because it does not require a lot of serious thought about what government is and how it should function. It is easy to be against anything government does, but it is also completely irresponsible. It is easy to say that government should not regulate business in favor of the free market, until an oil spill destroys the economy for lots of other folks along with the natural environment. It is easy to say that government should not regulate financial institutions, until they act in such a way as to destroy the economic functioning of the country and drastically reduce the wealth of millions of homeowners. The Tea Party movement is based on irrational rantings and ravings of talk show hosts who want to make their millions and then run away from any responsibility for what they have led people to believe. The fact that racism continues to be a major underlying factor in these rantings underscores how irrational and immoral are those media and political figures are who use this sort of rhetoric.
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The Political Use of Torture
4/25/2009 11:27:47 PM
In a column in the The New York Times Frank Rich summarizes current facts about the use of torture methods by the Bush administration. We had been told that such methods were necessary for purposes of national security. Now we are learning that these methods were used for political purposes, in order to try to get information which would link the 9/11 terrorists to Saddam Hussein thus justifying the war in Iraq. The Rich article is the best I have seen on this topic so far.
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The Significance of the Killing of Robert F. Kennedy
4/13/2009 3:03:13 PM
Last week Charlie Rose interviewed Robert Caro, the author of one of the best books I have ever read called The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. The book was published in 1975 and describes how the unelected Moses became the most powerful figure in New York City. Anyone at all interested in city planning, political power, and how cities develop should read this book. It is a classic.
Since then Caro has been doing meticulous research and writing books about Lyndon B. Johnson. I read his third volume called Master of the Senate which describes how Johnson was able to pass the landmark civil rights legislation of the 1960s by which the Democratic Party became associated with the cause of black people in the country and which resulted in the South turning to the Republicans to lead the fights against further gains for civil and economic rights for black people and the poor. I do not believe the politics of the last decades can be understood without a full appreciation for what Caro describes in this book.
Caro in the interview says he is most interested in how power actually works in this country, not how it is supposed to work, not about the legal structures of the government, but about how power is actually exercised. If the American people can better understand how power actually works then they can better pariticipate in a democractic society.
This man who has so closely studied power said something in the interview that was especially interesting to me. He talked about how both Lyndon Johnson and Robert F. Kennedy had great enmity for one another but shared a deep and authentic care for "the poor" of the country. Johnson had started out as a teacher of immigrant children in the hill country of Texas and never forgot that one reason he ran for office was to create better opportunities for such children to succeed in life. When he became president on the death of John F. Kennedy he was determined to initiate a "war on poverty" to create a more just society. Caro said that the Vietnam War kept Johnson from "transforming" American society, but many programs Johnson began are now taken for granted by people today such as Medicare. A full acounting of how Johnson improved American society has not been appreciated because conservatives over the past decades have been too successful in castigating the gains of the "Great Society."
But the comment that especially caught my attention was what Caro said about Bobby Kennedy. He said that if Bobby Kennedy had been elected president there would have been a real transformation in the country along the lines of what Barack Obama may be doing for the country today. That was interesting to me because I had in Chicago helped to begin a movement called "Citizens for Kennedy-Fullbright" to persuade Kennedy to run against Johnson in the 1968 election. Later he did enter the race and then was shot in California.
It will be interesting to read what Caro may have to say about all this in the fourth book on Johnson that he is now writing. Unfortunately, that book is three years from being finished, Caro said. Caro expressed deep respect for the brilliance of Kennedy as a politician. If Kennedy had been elected and the country had not gone into Vietnam we may not have had to endure the last decades of nasty Republican politics built on a backlash to the loss of the Vietnam War and the gains of civil rights in the 1960s.
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