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Topic: Political Power
Debbie Wasserman-Schultz Has Got to Go to Unite Democrats Against the Racist, Trump
5/27/2016 4:06:12 PM
Mark Plotkin has written a quick piece at The Hill making clear why it is important for the current chair of the Democratic National Committee to resign. I encourage folks to send letters to the editor in local papers and emails to the DNC and your representatives saying that Wasserman-Schultz has got to go. The country really needs a united Democratic Party right now to be able to defeat a truly frightening candidate, the racist, "little money-grubbing" candidate, Donald Trump, as Elizabeth Warren called him.
Here is the article:
The role of Democratic Party chair is a high honor. Holding that position requires a combination of many attributes. Beyond being the face and chief messenger of the party, you must possess the skills of a consummate diplomat. Above all, the members of your party must trust you. This trust is most needed and required during the presidential campaign season.Plotkin is a political analyst, a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner.
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Trump is a Fraud Who is Playing the American People as Suckers, Says Romney
3/3/2016 12:40:59 PM
It is one thing to endorse one candidate over another. It is something else when a political figure uses such emotionally strong language to reject one of the candidates in the favor of all the others.
That's what Mitt Romney did today at the University of Utah. Donald Trump showed on this past "super Tuesday" that he is far ahead of the other candidates in the campaign for the Republican nomination for president. That apparently caused Romney to feel he had to speak out. In the strongest possible language he rejected Trump and endorsed any of the remaining Republican candidates, taking the position that "anything is better than Donald."
Furthermore, he said that Republicans who would vote for Trump are "suckers." That is not a very high estimate of the Republican electorate by a former presidential candidate.
Romney attacked Trump as businessman, saying the billionaire had been "born into privilege" and "squandered his inheritance on frivolous business ventures." “He inherited his business, he didn't create it,” the former Massachusetts governor said. “And what ever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there's Trump Magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks, and Trump Mortgage? A business genius he is not.” Romney called into question Trump’s temperament, condemning him for “the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics.”
“This is an individual who mocked a disabled reporter, who attributed a reporter's questions to her menstrual cycle, who mocked a brilliant rival who happened to be a woman due to her appearance, who bragged about his marital affairs, and who laces his public speeches with vulgarity,” Romney said.
Read more about Romney's speech against Trump over at The Hill.
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Leading Republican Candidate Donald Trump: How Stupid are the People of Iowa?
11/13/2015 3:03:15 PM
It is actually a bit difficult for me to say that Donald Trump and Ben Carson are leading in the polls right now as candidates for the highest position of power and authority in the United States. Like most Americans, this country and its institutions are important to me; I want the best for the country. But how can it be that people like Trump and Carson are leading in the polls? What has the Republican Party become?
At Fort Dodge, Iowa, Trump got up in front of people and acted out how ridiculous the story is that Carson tells about himself, that he broke a knife on the belt buckle of a friend when he was trying to stab him. Trump then went on a tirade against Carson about his claim that the incident led him into the bathroom to read scripture and he came out a changed man. Trump asked "How stupid are the people of Iowa" to believe what Carson is saying. Carson, indeed, has been telling some whoppers, saying that the pyramids were built by the biblical figure Joseph to store grain for use during a famine. This is the kind of thing an "evangelical" audience might believe, they believe what their authority figures tell them to believe, but it is the sort of thing that makes you look ridiculous in front of a secular audience.
But it is not even a secular audience that is making fun of Carson, it is his fellow Republican, Donald Trump. Just watch this YouTube video "Trump Showing His Belt During Iowa Speech to Mock Carson: How Stupid Are The People of Iowa" on 11/12/2015:
The following is a summary of the video which was at the YouTube site:
During a rally in Fort Dodge, Iowa on Thursday night, Donald Trump briefly mimicked fellow GOP candidate Ben Carson's alleged stabbing incident. donald trump mocked and owned ben carson during his iowa campaign rally, watch trump imitate Ben Carson's suspect story of stabbing a classmate, I mean a friend, I mean a close relative. Donald Trump went on a tirade Thursday night. A few hours after claiming that Republican rival Ben Carson has an incurable "pathological temper" and comparing it to something else he says is incurable — "child molesting" — Trump escalated the battle, devoting over ten minutes of his rally to attacking Carson's personal narrative. He wrote a book and in the book, he said terrible things about himself," Trump said of Carson. "He said that he's pathological and he's got basically pathological disease ... I don't want a person that's got pathological disease." Trump first compared the two conditions on CNN and repeated them to a 1,500-person crowd at Iowa Central Community College: "I said that if you're a child molester, a sick puppy, a child molester, there's no cure for that - there's only one cure and we don't want to talk about that cure, that's the ultimate cure. No there's two, there's death and the other thing. But if you're a child molester, there's no cure, they can't stop you. Pathological, there's no cure." Trump said he doesn't believe Carson is telling the truth and questioned how a belt buckle could stop a blade. He stepped away from the podium and acted out how he imagined such an attack would happen, with his own belt buckle flopping around. He asked if anyone in the audience had a knife to try out his theory. His Secret Service agents, who just joined his detail this week, stood guard. Belt "Carson is an enigma to me," Trump said. "He said that he's 'pathological' and that he's got, basically, pathological disease... I don't want a person that's got pathological disease." Trump repeatedly said he doesn't believe there's any cure for such a disease, and he said he doesn't believe that Carson was truly changed by divine intervention, as he writes in his book. "If you're a child molester -- a sick puppy -- a child molester, there's no cure for that," Trump said. "If you're a child molester, there's no cure. They can't stop you. Pathological? There's no cure." And yet Carson is doing well in the polls, Trump said in disbelief. "How stupid are the people of Iowa?" Trump said. "How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?" Trump started the speech looking exhausted, his voice hoarse. This was his fourth state in four days. A sense of anger built as Trump listed off everything wrong with the country and everything wrong with his rivals. His voice got louder and stronger, his hands gripping the podium. He would be a unifier, he said, a winner. Then he wondered aloud if he should just move to Iowa and buy a farm.
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Tell Ben Carson to Give Up His Presidential Campaign
10/27/2015 8:21:13 PM
I have done some research on Ben Carson and am sorry to have to report that he is a whole lot worse than I had thought. He seems to be so soft-spoken and even rational. But the actual content of what he has said on health care, evolution, and lately about abortion, has been very extreme, so bad that one wonders where these ideas have come from.
So I want to encourage readers to go to his website and tell him to end his campaign. Tell your friends to do likewise, start a movement, literally. This man would make a really, really bad president.
I wrote the following as part of an article by David Corn which I placed on this website. It would help understand why I feel the way I do about Ben Carson.
Without an active sense of history it is impossible to adequately interpret or understand contemporary politics. I grew up during the Cold War when the public media was completely dominated by fear and attacks on Communism. This is the time when Billy Graham began preaching in Southern California to people who had left Southern states to work in the defense industries of California, people building the bombs to drop on the Soviet Union. Graham's sermons warned that if the country didn't turn to Christ the Communists would drop nuclear bombs on New York and Los Angeles. Graham got his start preaching fear and encouraging hysterical anti-communism.
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Corporate-Funded Think Tanks have Created an Angry, Destructive Politics
10/24/2015 3:14:48 PM
Dave Johnson at Campaign For America's Future has written up some quick thoughts about the grilling of Hillary Clinton by Republican members of the House Select Committee on Benghazi this past Thursday. It's worth reading (see below).
I watched most of the hearing myself. The question that kept coming to my mind is what in the world has made these Republican congress people so angry? That is, they were really, really mad. Their lower lips trembled with emotional intensity. They hollered and screamed. They asked completely illogical questions. They assumed everyone else shared their silly preoccupations with matters having nothing to do with the otherwise serious questions about Benghazi.
I had the feeling all of these Republican House members had actually lost their sense of reality; they lived in some other universe of hatred and hostility. They actually seemed to be assuming that they themselves were the ones who really "cared" about the fact that four Americans were killed in Benghazi and that Clinton did not care at all for them. They seemed to be saying that Clinton caused these deaths, as if a Secretary of State is fully responsible for every last thing that occurs, not thinking about the fact that 9/11 happened during the George W. Bush administration as if he should therefore be blamed for that absolutely.
When I read Dave Johnson's piece it helped to point to the fact that the hearing represents the consequences of several long decades of corporate funded think tanks trying to create a mind-set/world view opposed to everything that has been created in this country since Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s and Johnson's Great Society of the 1960s.
The idea that Hillary Clinton might be elected president to continue that legacy is absolutely driving these hard-right Republicans (the only kind now around it seems) bonkers. It's not a very good way to run a country and if the American people don't start voting these people out of office they are going to find that Social Security will go away, Medicare for older people no longer available, no more of those terrible government post offices, no free public schools, and voting will be limited to white males only, and it won't be long before there will not be much clean air and water.
In a capitalist system money is everything, and the pursuit of money alone is now on the verge of destroying life as we know it, destroying the country, destroying decent human relationships. Hysterical anger is not the way to a viable future.
Here is the Dave Johnson article:
Thursday's Clinton-bashing hearing in Congress carried with it that "frog in heating water" feeling. The water is boiling and the country is the frog. This is a period where the country has gone crazy.
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Matt Taibbi on the GOP Clown Car
8/15/2015 6:14:32 PM
I am just finishing a book by Matt Taibbi about the two sides of the American criminal justice system, one side refusing to actually put in jail the bankers and others who regularly defraud the American people and the other side being huge numbers of black and other poor minorities who are sent to prison for very little reason. The book is The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. Taibbi's writing is not only fun to read, but insightful exposing the ridiculous reasoning of a racist society which idolizes rich people.
So when I saw that Taibbi has just published a piece in Rolling Stone on Donald Trump and the current Republican nominating campaign for president I wanted to read it right away. It's worth reading the whole article but here is the way it ends:
Politics used to be a simple, predictable con. Every four years, the money men in D.C. teamed up with party hacks to throw their weight behind whatever half-bright fraud of a candidate proved most adept at snowing the population into buying a warmed-over version of the same crappy policies they've always bought.
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Democrats Move to Encourage an Elizabeth Warren Candidancy
12/10/2014 4:25:14 PM
For several decades now the professional class advising Democratic candidates has not believed that they can be elected by articulating and governing on the basis of key Democratic values such as freedom and opportunity for all people, economic and social justice and equality and peace in the world through strong international institutions.
Bill Clinton was a "new Democrat" from the South and advocated business values over the interests of working people and the middle class. Barack Obama has essentially continued the policy framework of the Clinton tradition. In the 2014 election the South has been taken over completely by the Republicans. The strongest forces within the Republican Party are now Southern white religious conservatism and the interests of especially large corporations including Wall Street Banks. Another presidential candidate in the Clinton tradition is exactly what the country does not need.
Now two major organizations of the most active Democrats, MoveOn.org and Democracy for America, are moving to actively create a support structure for a presidential candidacy of Elizabeth Warren who has risen to popularity precisely through her knowledgeable criticism of Wall Street and the domination of financial corportions over the economy. She is the only credible candidate who figures the possibility of turning the economy to be beneficial to real working Americans rather than the wealthy elite.
Watch this video to see why Warren would be an outstanding candidate:
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Teachers Turn Against Obama
7/12/2014 3:32:41 PM
I was surprised when Obama won his election to the presidency. I was amazed such a highly qualified person could be elected. The country would be in even much worse shape had his opponents been elected. But he has been such a huge disappointment in so many areas, including education.
Now teachers are turning against him in their summer conventions as described in an article in The Hill. Teachers are a major constituency for a Democratic president. So you would think that a president elected partly by teachers would listen to them and consider their views. But Obama put a person in charge of the Education Department that seems to be anti-teacher, a person who supports the kind of testing that is ineffective and that teachers hate. So now Obama and Democrats are losing the energy and support of teachers for political engagement in the election season of 2014.
It is strange. You elect a president. Then he does the opposite of what you want. There is something fundamentally wrong with the political reasoning of Obama and his brand of Democratic politician, the same brand represented by Hillary Clinton. Democrats must begin to choose and elect candidates who will do what the people want.
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Koch Brothers are Creating Their Own Political Party
1/26/2014 2:20:57 PM
An article in Politico reports that "The billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch are convening some of the country’s richest Republican donors on Sunday at a resort near Palm Springs, Calif., to raise millions of dollars for efforts to shape the political landscape for years to come." The article goes on to describe the wide-ranging "network" of the Koch's political operations. It consists of not just one or two groups, but a whole system of affiliated agencies which the Koch's are trying to manage more tightly in order the control the whole operation and avoid mistakes which have damaged their effectiveness in political campaigns.
Reading this article it appears that the Koch brothers want to literally create their own political party in this country. That is, they are not satisfied to make contributions to the Republican Party, which means that that party would make the decisions about what candidates to field and how they would be funded. No, the Koch brothers want to decide those matters themselves. They want to be the ones to recruit candidates for state and federal offices and to decide how they are funded. The Kochs will be getting involved in primary Senate races in particular states, for example.
When Republicans say they want to reduce taxes on the rich they say that will mean those rich will invest their money in the economy which will then provide more jobs. The rich are the job-creators. That argument supported the vast tax cuts for the rich in the 1980s for example. But what have the rich actually done with those tax cuts? They have invested everywhere but in the United States. We have seen massive investment in China and overseas, not in manufacturing in this country.
And the other place the rich have invested is in foundations and political groups expounding "conservative" economic beliefs. There are now immense numbers of right-wing think-tanks that pay intellectuals to promote ideas beneficial to the rich themselves, over-against the rest of the community including the poor and unemployed (who then tend to be blamed for economic problems as if they were the ones in power). The people who work for the Koch brother's groups are prostituting their minds, selling their minds in order to have some sort of job. They must feel pretty badly about themselves.
I think it may be good that the Koch brothers are engaging so flagrantly in the political process now, trying to dominate everything. It means the American people may well be able to come to see that this is a huge problem for the country. If the rich are able to buy democracy in so obvious a way it may lead people to reolt against this at some point. But a great deal of damage is being done to our political institutions in the process.
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The Next President will be a Woman and a Methodist, but not Hillary
11/11/2013 7:36:47 PM
Noam Scheiber of The New Republic writes a fascinating article with the title: "Hillary's Nightmare? A Democratic Party That Realizes Its Soul Lies With Elizabeth Warren". He doesn't think Warren will run for president if Hillary Clinton decides to do it. But Hillary might take a long time to make up her mind and lots of things can happen that might create conditions especially favorable for Elizabeth Warren to run.
I just have a deep feeling that Hillary is "so yesterday" as young people say today. She represents the Bill Clinton "new democrats" who turned the Democratic Party so far to the right that the primary constituencies of the party felt the party had left them behind. This includes union workers, teachers, and people of faith concerned for peace and justice. Barack Obama has been mostly terrible on all these issues. There is a great yearning in the party for a credible alternative candidate and Elizabeth Warren has acted and spoken in ways exciting for these folks.
So, reading this article I came to have quite a strong feeling that the next president will be woman, yes, but it may well be Warren not Clinton, though both are Methodists.
I checked on the religious background of Warren and found E.J. Dionne had done an interview with her when she was running for senator. Here is what she says about her religious faith:
Methodists believe in action. And that’s a part of goodness — a part of worship of God is to act.
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Regular Republicans are Beginning to Reject Their Leaders
11/11/2013 5:24:36 PM
Something very interesting happened in the Virginia gubernatorial election this November. The partisan makeup of the electorate which actually came to the polls should have favored the Republican candidate, Ken Cuccinelli, but he lost to the Democrat, Terry McAuliffe. It was not that the Democrats got more of their natural constituencies out to vote, according to Stu Rothenberg, a conservative pollster, writing in Roll Call. More people in the Republican constituencies turned out to vote but they didn't vote for the Republican. Rothenberg says:
The 2013 Virginia electorate was older, wealthier, more married and, surprisingly, more male than the Virginia electorate during the presidential race just a year earlier. In other words, it was a measurably more Republican-looking electorate than the one that turned out in the commonwealth for President Barack Obama’s re-election, even with the impressive black turnout.
But Rothenberg uses his analysis of the makeup of the electorate to conclude only that Democrat analysts have been wrong in their own efforts to understand the election, by focusing on single women as a crucial factor, for example. He does not make the obvious point from his analysis, that an electorate with more Republican-leaning characteristics chose this time to NOT vote for the Republican candidate.
This has been my hope for some time, that regular Republican voters will begin to stop supporting the extremist candidates the Republican Party has been sponsoring. Ken Cuccinelli promoted especially extremist views against both abortion and birth control, for example. When people of both parties actually hear and see what some of these candidates are promoting they lose.
The regular Republicans I know, friends and family members, simply are not rabid in their views like the right wing talk radio hosts, Tea Party zealots, or religious right true believers. They don't want to destroy the public schools, they support some public aid to the poor and elderly. They want to lift people up, not engage in hate and hostility. It is possible to have different political views without resorting to violent language against others.
So I hope what happened in Virginia is a sign of a trend among Republican voters.
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When the Big Money Mafia Rule
10/1/2013 8:09:58 PM
In the last item here I wrote that the House Republicans are using mobster tactics by using a governmental shutdown to get their way. They are saying, "Do what I want or I will hurt you." These tactics are based on no respect for the other person or party. These tactics do not respect the fact that opponents have been elected in free and fair elections. No matter that President Obama was re-elected in a campaign that featured the Affordable Care Act as a central issue. No matter that Paul Ryan, the architect of the House Republican Budget, was on the Republican ticket that lost the election. House Republicans don't care about these elections. As I heard them say repeatedly in the debate on C-Span "the American people" hate Obamacare and want it delayed and defunded. How can they claim that all "the American people" hate Obamacare when Obama was re-elected? It's because they don't care about elections if the other party wins, they will use whatever power they can to get what they want. They will use blackmail and distortion. They will manipulate the media. They will lie about the Obamacare. They will threaten anyone who disagrees with them. They are, yes, acting like mobsters.
Then later today I happened to see a new issue of Dissent Magazine has been published. I read an article about how the mafia has taken over Bulgaria. I have been following some of what has been happening in Eastern Europe as societies turned from Communist rule to wide-open free market economies. What has happened there is interesting. In the wide open atmosphere the mafia has moved in, taken over major companies, gained lots of money, which has entirely corrupted the politics of the country.
Is this what happens when the institutions of a democratic government are turned over to the rich? They will rule with mafia, mobster tactics. There is a lot at stake in current debates.
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Obama Wins Shutdown Battle
10/1/2013 12:56:20 PM
Last night the House of Representatives refused to pass a resolution acceptable to the US Senate and President Obama to avoid a shutdown of the government. I watched a good deal of the debate in the House on C-Span over the past several nights. The Republicans have made a serious mistake by positioning themselves over-against Obama and Obamacare in a way that likens themselves to mobsters.
Just consider the emotional structure of the relation the Republicans have set up. They are saying, "you have to do what I want or I will hurt you." You have to stop or change Obamacare or I will shut down the government. The simple structure of this relation is the kind that mobsters or criminals try to use.
Obama has responded by saying to the Republican mobsters: "I will not let you try to force me to do what you want." He is this time, unlike the earlier fiscal cliff crisis, simply saying that he will not negotiate with a gun to his head.
He will win this fight in the minds of most of the American people. They will be responding emotionally to the basic structure of this relation, against those who are threatening the use of force to get their way. People don't like mobster tactics. Obama will win this fight in the end.
Some of this depends on how media portray the fight. At the last minute last night the Republicans in the House voted to establish a conference committee with the Senate to resolve the differences. This was after they had already voted on previous resolutions to deny funding to the Affordable Care Act and then to delay the individual mandate of the law for a year, which the Senate had rejected. For some time now both Obama and Senate Democrats have been saying that they will not negotiate any change in the ACA, Obama's signature accomplishment. So the Senate also rejected the proposal for a conference committee, there is nothing to negotiate. But this opens the possibility of media interpretation that Democrats refuse to negotiate and therefore should be blamed for the shutdown.
If you hear this interpretation from news sources like Fox News and right wing radio, consider this fact. The Senate adopted a federal budget six months ago and have been asking the House leadership for a conference committee to negotiate differences between the House and Senate budgets. This is called the "regular order" and is how the House and Senate have traditionally worked, by setting up conference committees within which compromises are made leading to a law both sides can live with. But House leadership for six months has refused to agree with the Senate request for a budget conference. It is Republicans who have systematically refused to negotiate through the regular process. They have not wanted to compromise, they have been waiting for the time to try to force Democrats holding a government shutdown (a gun) to the heads of the Democrats and Obama. Media reports that fail to inform everyone of this fact should be taken as false reports, as right wing spin.
So the last minute ruse to call for a conference committee is a tactic being used by the Republicans to pretend that they are the ones who want to negotiate and Obama will not. The truth is the opposite. The forty or so Tea Party true-believer House members have actually been looking for an opportunity to shut down that terrible thing called "government".
People will see what is happening here. Republicans are acting like mobsters.
One more thing. Last night I heard Nancy Pelosi say that Democrats had accepted the Republican "number" in the continuing resolution proposal. Today I read more about this. The number refers to the total budget number allowed by the continuing resolution. The Democratic number was set by the Senate at more than a trillion dollars. The Republican House number was much less than that and maintained the sequester lowered budget cuts. So Democrats actually already have "compromised" with House Republicans by giving in on the amount of the budget. But you will not probably hear much about that even in the regular media.
The media love conflict and tend to report on the loudest screaming voices. That is a very big problem for the rational governance of our society.
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Joining Obama Against Himself?
9/5/2013 4:45:43 PM
I want to join with President Obama in his quest to rid the world of chemical weapons. I believe he was genuinely moved at the horrendous images of children gassed to death, just as he was moved by the senseless killing of children at Sandy Hook School. He wants to do something about this, the world should not just turn away from this without consequences. I agree, something should be done.
And I also want Obama to succeed as president. It was amazing to me that a man of such great character could have been elected in this country in the first place, and then re-elected. The over-the-top hostility so many have for Obama I attribute to racism pure and simple. Many extreme conservatives and others who call themselves libertarians refuse to accept anything Obama proposes. This is small-minded, in fact, verges on literal mental illness. When people holler and scream in ways that damage themselves and their country they have lost their connection to reality.
I expect that Obama calculated that those who supported his election will tend to support him now since he has put forward such a strong moral argument against the use of chemical weapons. Many of us supported him because of his stance against the Iraq war. But that war too was sold to the American people on the basis of high moral purpose, to bring "freedom" to the Middle East. But that war was also sold on the basis that Iraq's dictator was a threat to this country, and had used and was threatening use of weapons of mass destruction. And just so, after Obama says the United States should engage in a moral and humanitarian effort in Syria, he then follows up by saying chemical weapons in Syria can be a threat to this country. He wants to use both moral and national security arguments. And this, of course, is just what the neoconservatives were doing when they made their arguments for the Iraq war.
Obama has now decided that only a big military strike will be able to turn the tide in Syria and serve to punish the Syrian president. Military power is efficacious. This is neoconservative dogma. It is what John McCain has been saying all along. Obama is now doing not that which Obama himself said was his preference, negotiation, even with the enemy; he is doing what the neoconservatives have been urging him to do, get tough, use the big guns, only "strength" will work against "those people". One way to say this is that Obama the president is acting against himself, the person Obama who said he believed in negotiated settlements of political questions.
In fact on a whole host of issues it seems that Obama talks one way and governs in another. He talks economic justice but then acts in ways wholly supportive of corporate interests. Obama is making his decisions on the basis more of politics than moral judgment. A couple days ago he held a think session, drawing many of his advisers together to discuss how to move forward on Syria. All of these folks were political and communication advisers. And such folks are not asking what is right and wrong, they are oriented to Obama's political opponents. They tend to discount Obama's own political base. So rather than do what his base wants, Obama ends up doing exactly that which his base does not want, in this case, talking tough on use of military force as if this will solve the problem.
This is Obama against himself.
It is especially ironic that the key to a negotiated settlement in Syria may be Russia. But in the Ed Snowden affair Obama has decided that arresting Snowden is more important than good relations with Putin. This means that Obama is not in a good position to discuss Syria with Putin. With his better self Obama the person probably agrees with the motives of Snowden, that the American people deserve to know more about how their government is involved in monitoring conversations in this country. But as president Obama is working against himself in his determination to use every means necessary to arrest Snowden. And this now is creating the conditions within which Obama thinks he has to try to use military violence to get what he wants in Syria. How much more evidence do we need to realize that violence begets more violence, which is exactly what will happen in Syria if Obama sends in the bombs.
Obama has not been faithful to himself, or the people who elected him. He could wake up, make a turn to peace, announce a new direction to his administration, risk meeting with Putin and the new president of Iran, and set a new direction for the world. But, alas, he is being driven by the old politics of empire, against himself.
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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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