Monday, December 31, 2007

Edwards Wins the Mellencamp Primary

by John Nichols
Published on Monday, December 31, 2007 by The Nation
The news that singer John Mellencamp will cap the Iowa caucus campaign of John Edwards has not provoked the media frenzy that accompanied Oprah Winfrey’s Des Moines tarmac tap on behalf of rival Democrat Barack Obama.

For this, Edwards should be thankful.

Obama has been stalled in the Iowa polls ever since Winfrey visited the state on his behalf early in December. In contrast, national front-runner Hillary Clinton, who fumbled repeatedly in November and early December, and Edwards, who had been written out of the race by some pundits, have regained their positions.

Obama misread Iowa. He bet on style over substance in a state where activist Democrats take seriously the definitional role their play in the nominating process. The senator from Illinois, who had so much momentum at the beginning of December, calculated that the Hawkeye state might be locked up by a recommendation from a multi-media persona whose entry into presidential politics came off a little like the launch of a new “project.”

That does not mean that Obama should be counted out in Iowa. He has spent more money than the other candidates on slick TV ads, he has hired some of the best caucus strategists and his campaign is tossing every charge and claim it can muster into a drive to blunt the momentum that has belonged to Edwards since he dominated the last pre-caucus debate between the Democratic contenders.

But, despite his many advantages, the Illinoisan could well finish behind Edwards.

That’s because the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president has waged a dramatically different campaign than Obama’s feel-good effort. Where Obama has run the softest sort of campaign, Edwards is mounting a edgy, muscular effort that owes more to the memory of Paul Wellstone or the sensibilities of Ralph Nader than to the smooth triangulations of Bill Clinton or the not-so-smooth compromises of John Kerry.

Edwards has fought his way back into contention with aggressively populist positions, anti-corporate rhetoric and a campaign that eschews glitz for grit. Necessarily, the former senator from North Carolina opts for a different sort of celebrity than the other contenders.

So it is that Mellencamp will come to Iowa Wednesday to close the Edwards campaign off with a “This Is Our Country” rally at the not-exactly-Hollywood Val Air Ballroom in West Des Moines. (In case anyone is missing the point here, they will be distributing the tickets from the United Steelworkers Local 310 hall.)

Where Winfrey brought a big name but little in the way of a track record on the issues that are fundamental to the rural and small-town Iowans who will play a disproportional role in Thursday’s caucuses, Mellencamp is more than just another celebrity taking a lap around the policy arena.

For a quarter century, the singer has been in the thick of the fight on behalf of the rural families he immortalized in the video for “Rain on the Scarecrow,” his epic song about the farm crisis that buffeted Iowa and neighboring states in the 1980s and never really ended.

Mellencamp has not merely sung about withering small towns and farm foreclosures. As a organizer of Farm Aid, he has brought some of the biggest stars in the world to benefit concerts in Iowa and surrounding states, and he has helped to distribute the money raised at those events to organizations across Iowa.

Farm Aid is nonpartisan. It’s not endorsing in this race. But Mellencamp is. The singer, who this year will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but whose music remains vital enough to have earned a 2008 Grammy nomination for Best Rock Vocal Performance, was lobbied for support by other campaigns, especially Clinton’s. But he has a long relationship with Edwards. He has an even longer relationship with the issues that Edwards is talking about. Indeed, his credibility is grounded in the recognition that Mellencamp has repeatedly taken career-risking anti-war, anti-racist and anti-poverty stances that other celebrities of his stature tend to avoid.

What matters, of course, is the fact of that credibility — and the fact that it is so closely tied to the farm and rural issues that have meaning even in the more urbanized regions of Iowa. That is why, if there is an endorsement that is going to have meaning with the people who drive down country roads to attend caucuses on what looks to be a very cold and unforgiving Thursday night, it is likely to be that of the guy who proudly sings that, “I was born in a small town…”

John Nichols’ new book is The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism. Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson hails it as a “nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the ‘heroic medicine’ that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to ‘reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.’”

Obama Is Our Best Chance to "Keep Hope Alive" in 2008

[Editor's Note: Like my comrades below, I was inspired by Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Presidential campaigns of the 1980's, and served on the steering committee of Students for Jesse Jackson at UC San Diego in 1988. However, I see John Edward's populist campaign for economic and social justice as the modern day version of Jesse's progressive rainbow tradition, not Obama's moderate, overly cautious "politics of hope." -- Paul B]

By Eric Mar, San Francisco Schoolboard Member

Like longtime electoral and cultural activist Eddie Wong, over 2 decades ago I was inspired by and became a part of the historic Rainbow Coalition campaigns in 1984 and 88. And I too have become active in the Obama '08 campaign with some of the same hopes as we had 20 years ago when our Jesse Jackson for President campaign won some seven million popular votes and registered 2 million new voters.

But most importantly, we used the rainbow coalition campaigns to:
1) Build a broader and more diverse base of support for progressive issues and our movements at the local level
2) Win concrete issues and influence public policy from the bottom-up
3) Use the electoral arena more strategically to build an ongoing multiracial organization and to open up political space for grassroots organizations
4) Successfully utilize media access and exposure for mass public education around social and economic justice issues. [For more see Applied Research Center's Multiracial Formations].

I think the intense Rainbow Coalition work of the 1980's also paved the way for many grassroots electoral activists and politicians like me. But the level of grassroots involvement and infrastructure to hold us accountable to our communities is much weaker today.
Though Obama has nowhere near the grassroots field campaign, or progressive vision/politics as Jackson had in the 80's, I believe his campaign gives our movements another historic opportunity, as Wong states, to "build bridges across constituencies and generations" and "for (progressive) change, for hope and for a better America."

Wong, a leader in the Asian American and Pacific Islander Leadership Council for the Obama campaign, comments in his Asian Week commentary The Man And The Moment:

"Twenty years ago, as I stood in the bitter cold in a parking lot in Sioux City, Iowa, I saw a sight I thought I’d never see. A crowd of white meat-packers, big beefy men and their wives and children, shuffled their feet in quiet anticipation. They shielded their eyes against the low winter sun, stamping their feet for warmth on the frozen ground. They were waiting to hear my boss, the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States.

"No one knew what to expect from this unlikely meeting of the Southern-born civil rights veteran and these heartland folk who had been on strike for months and were now down to their last savings. As Jackson began to speak, I could see heads nodding as he told them that their sacrifice was redemptive, and that they were not alone in their fight for fair wages and safe working conditions. He took their strike and cast it against the larger economic violence that came out of President Reagan’sunion-busting practices, and the failures of a trickle-down economy that brought wealth to the rich and poverty to the working poor. As Jackson spoke, he ignited a sense of pride and dignity in these men and women. He brought them to their feet with tears in their eyes with the cry, “Keep hope alive!”

"Now, Senator Barack Obama is standing with the workers, farmers, students, elderly and others in Iowa, preaching a similar message of hope and offering a new way forward for our country. Just as Jackson offered a break from Reaganomics and repression, Obama would take us away from the destruction of Bush’s war policies and restore our democracy. Just as Jackson offered a message of hope across racial and class divides, Obama is building a bridge across generations and constituencies.

"Obama is the new messenger of hope, justice and equality. His call for ordinary people to take back their government from the lobbyists and big business clients, who have reaped mega-profits through backroom deals, is exactly what we need at this critical moment when economic inequality is at an all-time high. His pledge to engage directly with foreign leaders who oppose us and with allies who should be our partners in solving intractable conflicts is exactly what we need. We need to build bridges and tear down walls.

"This moment in United States history poses a turning point that can set the coursefor decades. The crises posed by global warming, a protracted struggle against Islamic extremists, the deepening inequality in our country, our deteriorating infrastructure and declining educational system, and our tarnished international reputation cry out for new answers and new approaches. Obama is the best person to meet the challenges of this historical moment. He has shown a deep grasp of issues and, more importantly, exhibited the ability to listen to other points of view and find ways to build alliances across historic barriers.

"Obama is the man with the vision, clarity and ability to meet the challenges of our times. He is the man, and this is the moment — for change, for hope, for a betterAmerica."

Eddie Wong is a member of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Leadership Council for Senator Obama. He was the national field director of the 1988 Jesse Jackson for President campaign. He is a media and political consultant based in Oakland, Calif.

The Obama Effect

Dear Friends,

This is a fascinating article on Obama and what can be called "the new politics of race." Those of us progressives who came of age during the Jesse Jackson, Rainbow Coalition era have to figure out how to maneuver in this new electoral environment. We'd love to here your comments.

Keep Hope Alive!
Paul B

[from the December 31, 2007 issue of The Nation]

At around the age of 7, Barack Obama saw a picture in Life magazine of a black man who had tried to peel his skin off, and Obama had an epiphany. "I imagine other black children, then and now, undergoing similar moments of revelation," he wrote in Dreams From My Father. "I know that seeing that article was violent for me, an ambush attack."

At around the same time, the Rev. Jesse Jackson was involved in a quite different ambush attack. At Martin Luther King's side when he was assassinated by a sniper's bullet, Jackson appeared on television the next day with the civil rights leader's blood on his shirt. The formative events that shaped the last generation of black leadership could not be more different from those that have informed this one.

Obama was born in 1961, the year the Freedom Riders rolled through the South and were met with chains, clubs and firebombs. He was just 2 when Dr. King made his "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington. By his seventh birthday, both King and Malcolm X had been assassinated, and Congress had moved to protect a right to vote he wouldn't be able to exercise for another eleven years. Obama knows those years and places only from the history books, and even that knowledge is less than reliable. When he went to Selma, Alabama, to address the Brown Chapel AME church on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday earlier this year, he credited the demonstration for enabling his parents, a mixed-race couple, to fall in love. It turned out he had been born four years earlier.

Obama is the most prominent figure in what has been cast as a new generation in black politics. It's an illustrious list that includes, to name a few, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, former Tennessee Congressman and Democratic Leadership Council chair Harold Ford Jr., Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown and Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty. As the civil rights movement forced open the doors of academe, corporate America and elite universities, this new generation strode through. Booker is a graduate of Yale Law School and a Rhodes scholar; Obama went to Columbia and Harvard law; Patrick and Brown were at Harvard. Ford was at the University of Pennsylvania.

The emergence of this cohort has filled the commentariat with joy--not just because of what they are: bright, polite and, where skin tone is concerned, mostly light--but because of what they are not. They have been hailed not just as a development in black American politics but as a repudiation of black American politics; not just as different from Jesse Jackson but the epitome of the anti-Jesse.

"[Obama] is in many ways the full flowering of a strain of up-tempo, non-grievance, American-Dream-In-Color politics," wrote Terence Samuel in The American Prospect recently. "His counterparts are young, Ivy League professionals, heirs to the civil-rights movement who are determined to move beyond both the mood and the methods of their forebears."

There are many problems with this. Chief among them is that this "new generation" is itself a crude political construct built more on wishful thinking than on chronological fact. Patrick, born in 1956, is hailed as part of it, but hapless New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who was born the same year, and civil rights campaigner Al Sharpton, who was born just two years earlier, are not. Obama and Booker are always mentioned as members of this new club, but Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who was born between them and spent his twenty-first birthday in prison protesting apartheid, is not.

So whatever else this is about, it is not just about years. It is one thing to say there is a critical mass of black politicians of a certain age and political disposition. It is entirely another to claim that they represent the views of a generation.

Moreover, those who constructed the model forgot to build any women into it. Donna Brazile, who in 2000 became the first African-American to direct a major presidential campaign, is rarely mentioned in their number, even though she is younger than Patrick. Nor is Donna Edwards, who in 2006 mounted a strong challenge to Albert Wynn in Maryland in a generational battle royal that will see round two in 2008.

But the champions of this new generation have their hearts set on a symbol far greater than a more diverse electoral landscape. At the very least the post-civil rights cohort represents proof of the nation's unrelenting progress and boundless opportunities. "They've lived the dream, and represent a generation of black Americans who do not feel cut off from the larger society," writes Samuel.

At most it does not just mark a new chapter in America's racial history; it shreds the entire book and then burns the remains. To some this period, which has seen voter disenfranchisement in Florida, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Jena Six cases, is not only post-civil rights but postracial. "Obama embodies and preaches the true and vital message that in today's America, the opportunities available to black people are unlimited if they work hard, play by the rules, and get a good education," wrote Stuart Taylor Jr. in National Journal.
In 1925 Alain Locke, a professor of philosophy at historically black Howard University, hailed the emergence of the "New Negro" as it related to the Harlem Renaissance. "Hitherto, it must be admitted that American Negroes have been a race more in name than in fact, or to be exact, more in sentiment than in experience. The chief bond...has been that of a common condition rather than...a life in common. In Harlem, Negro life is seizing upon its first chances for group expression and self determination."

More than eighty years later the value of the new "Negro" leadership is, it seems, directly proportional to its distance from the black community and its experiences. Its cheerleaders desire not so much to refashion black politics as to eliminate it altogether, not so much to eliminate racism as to eradicate discussion of it. This is not necessarily the fault of politicians. But it is their challenge.

"[Obama] is being consumed as the embodiment of color blindness," says Angela Davis, professor of history of consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "It's the notion that we have moved beyond racism by not taking race into account. That's what makes him conceivable as a presidential candidate. He's become the model of diversity in this period...a model of diversity as the difference that makes no difference. The change that brings no change."

Commenting on the presidential ritual of pardoning one turkey in the run-up to Thanksgiving, Arundhati Roy once said, "A few carefully bred turkeys...the occasional Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice...are given absolution and a pass to Frying Pan Park. The remaining millions lose their jobs, are evicted from their homes, have their water and electricity connections cut and die of AIDS. Basically they're for the pot.... Who can say that turkeys are against Thanksgiving? They participate in it!"

What is true of the Republican Administration is differently true of American society. The older generation of black politicians--those decried as pursuing narrow racial interests--created the conditions for a new political class and a new agenda. So although the way this "new generation" has been characterized is misleading and self-serving, it does not mean that they represent nothing at all.

Their résumés are relevant. During the latter half of the last century black leaders rose in politics primarily through religious institutions, which since slavery had been one of the few autonomous areas of black life. "The principal social institution within every black community was the church," wrote Manning Marable in Black Leadership. "As political leaders, the black clergy were usually the primary spokespersons for the entire black community, especially during periods of crisis. As the political system became more democratic and as more blacks were permitted to participate in voting, it was only a small shift from running a large church to running for public office." In other words, they emerged from organizations that had an organic link with the black community, and their advancement was inextricably tied to a broader agenda that advanced the interests of black people.

If religion was the principal conduit into the political class, it also played a crucial role in shaping black political culture. "To some extent, this tradition has been characterized by a charismatic or dominating political style," Marable wrote. It was a "messianic style" that produced stronger leaders than it did movements. After King died, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference never really recovered; when Malcolm X was shot, the Organization of Afro-American Unity virtually died with him. When Jesse Jackson stopped running for President, the Rainbow Coalition ceased to have any significant influence. "The difference between the Christian Coalition and the Rainbow Coalition is that the Christian Coalition exists," a former Jackson aide told me.

So by the time this new generation of leaders came of age, no black-led movement existed, and while most have been active members of predominantly black churches, these would not provide the vehicle for their ascent. Having usually arrived on the political scene through business or academe, they are not so much produced by the black community as presented to it. "We used to think there was a black community. It was always heterogeneous, but we were always able to imagine us as part of that community. That's no longer possible," says Davis. "I don't think it's possible to mobilize black communities in the way that it was in the past.... I don't even know that I would even look for black leadership now. That category assumes a link between race and progressive politics."

This, more than tortured explanations of ethnic authenticity, explains the initial ambivalence black voters display toward many of these candidates. They have no idea who they are and want to know where they are coming from and whom they plan to represent. "Are they black enough?" is often shorthand for a universal voter concern: "Will they represent my interests?"
Given the manner in which these politicians are depicted as going "beyond racial politics," the concerns of black voters are well founded. The records of this "talented tenth" are mixed. Booker has so far concentrated primarily on fighting crime in Newark and is a strong advocate of school vouchers. Patrick has been rolling back the more egregious policies of his predecessor, Mitt Romney, by rescinding the ban on embryo research and decriminalizing undocumented immigrants. He has also championed casino gambling, property tax relief and state health insurance. Fenty has been criticized for being secretive and authoritarian since he took over the DC school system with the aim of radically improving some schools, closing others and giving the schools chancellor the right to fire nonunion workers.

Obama was criticized by some black leaders for not speaking out more forcefully on the Jena Six incident. "If I were a candidate, I'd be all over Jena," Jackson said after a speech at the historically black Benedict College in South Carolina. "Jena is a defining moment, just like Selma was a defining moment." By not seizing on the issue more, Jackson claimed, Obama was "acting like he's white." (Jackson later said his comment was misrepresented; the State newspaper of Columbia stood by its reporting.) But the parallels Jackson drew shed light on the key differences between his campaign and Obama's. For if he were the candidate he wouldn't be doing as well as Obama, and the reason is less because Obama is "acting white" than because he is making every effort not to act "too black."

Indeed, the main thing the new leaders have in common is that they don't scare white people. Or at least not too many and not too much. This is not an entirely accidental or insignificant fact. For while they do not control the way they are perceived, they do have some influence over how they come across. "In so much of the work I've done, I've found that you had to put people at ease on the question of race before you could even start to talk about what you were doing," explains Patrick. "I don't fit a certain expectation that some people have about black men. And I don't mean that as anything other than an observation about my life."

This is a sad but honest reflection on the reality of black middle-class life in America. Anyone who wants to make it in a predominantly white world has to navigate racism in all its subtlety and plausible deniability. In this sense the boardrooms and debating chambers are no different from the rap videos on BET. Race is, among other things, a performance.

Obama knows this only too well. In The Audacity of Hope, he recalls sitting in the Illinois Senate with a white Democratic legislator as they watched a black colleague (referred to as John Doe) deliver a speech on the racist implications of eliminating a certain program. "You know what the problem is with John?" the white senator asked him. "Whenever I hear him, he makes me feel more white." Obama reflected. "In defense of my black colleague, I pointed out that it's not always easy for a black politician to gauge the right tone to take--too angry? not angry enough?--when discussing the enormous hardships facing his or her constituents. Still, [his] comment was instructive. Rightly or wrongly, white guilt has largely exhausted itself in America."

Whether "white guilt" has ever truly been exercised, let alone exhausted, and what good it ever did anyone even if it has, are moot points. The fact of the matter is that a black politician who wants white support must first "gauge the right tone." In 1995, when it seemed as though Colin Powell might run for President, he explained his appeal to white voters thus: "I speak reasonably well, like a white person," and, visually, "I ain't that black."

In the past this would not have mattered. There was a time when Powell could have been as light-skinned as a latte and as eloquent as Shakespeare and still not be in the running. In 1958, 53 percent of voters said they would not vote for a black candidate for President; in 1984 it was 16 percent; by 2003 it was 6 percent. Herein lies one substantial fact that is remolding the nature of black politics and the opportunities for black politicians--white people have become a viable electoral constituency for black candidates. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll early this year, a candidate's being over 72, a Mormon or twice divorced are all greater issues for voters than race.

There is, of course, the very real chance that they are lying.In the past white voters have told pollsters that they were happier about voting for black candidates than they actually were, leaving the vote for black candidates about five points less than predicted. This was once known as the Bradley effect, after the 1982 gubernatorial candidacy of black Democratic candidate Tom Bradley in California. Bradley was ahead in the polls until the very end but lost. Some white voters who said they would vote for Bradley changed their minds on election day. Seven years later it was renamed the Wilder effect, after Douglas Wilder narrowly scraped to victory as Virginia governor in what, according to polls, ought to have been a far more comfortable win.
But it seems unlikely that this time around there will be an "Obama effect." A report by the Pew Research Center, which matched the polls to the results for five black candidates in statewide races during the 2006 midterms, found that they were highly accurate. "Fewer people are making judgments about candidates based solely, or even mostly, on race itself," concluded the Pew report. This change in voting patterns enables black candidates to make substantial rather than symbolic runs for state or even national office and therefore lends different potential priorities to black political possibilities. But to be successful they have to nurture a different base and create a different coalition of interests than their predecessors did.

"The civil rights generation saw politics as the next step in the struggle for civil rights," explains Salim Muwakkil, senior editor of In These Times. "Their aim was to get their agenda taken up by whoever won. But this new generation do not conceive politics as the next step but just as what it is--politics. Their aim is to win."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Edwards Only Top Dem to Take on Wall Street

By Dean Baker
Posted on December 26, 2007

It would be difficult to identify much difference between the three leading Democratic presidential candidates' positions on major economic issues. They have come forward with comparable positions on taxes, healthcare and trade. Insofar as it is possible to identify differences between Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama, it is primarily due to judgments about their level of commitment and the powers to whom they will answer.

On taxes, all three candidates have said they want the wealthy to pay a larger portion of the bill, which starts with taking back the Bush tax cuts on families earning more than $200,000 a year. All three have proposed eliminating various loopholes that primarily benefit the wealthy. Edwards has gone the furthest in this respect, calling for raising the capital gains tax rate back to the pre-Clinton level of 28%. This tax increase almost exclusively affects the wealthy. Most of the capital gains earned by middle-class families are either from selling their home, which is generally not taxed, or in retirement accounts that are subject to normal income tax rates.

All three contenders have proposed a national healthcare system that is a variant of the plan developed by Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker. The basics of the plan are to require that all firms either insure their workers directly or pay a fee to the government. The government then uses this money to heavily subsidise insurance for low- and moderate-income families. It also establishes an expanded Medicare-type public plan that people will have the option to buy into. In addition, it reforms the private insurance market, most importantly by requiring that insurers not discriminate based on pre-existing conditions.

Both Clinton and Edwards would impose a mandate that everyone buy into this system. Obama has claimed that he would not require a mandate. As a practical matter, the healthcare system that any of them are able to put in place will depend on the arms they twist and the pressure they can bring to bear against the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry and other powerful actors who will be hurt by real reform.

Any serious plan will require a mandate - this directly follows from its requirement that insurers take all comers. Without a mandate, no one would buy insurance until they had serious bills. This would be like letting people buy car insurance after an accident, and then sending the company the bill. That doesn't work.

All three contenders have said that they want to break with the Bush-Clinton-Bush trade agenda. Since recent trade deals like Nafta and Cafta are hugely unpopular, especially among Democrats, this position is not surprising. What their position means in practice remains to be seen. For example, in spite of her newfound opposition to these trade deals, senator Clinton found the time to vote for the recent Peru trade pact, which is largely in the Nafta/Cafta mode.
As a practical matter, the country has already gone about as far as it can in placing its manufacturing workers in competition with low-wage workers in the developing world. The impact of any future trade deals on the US economy will be almost imperceptible. A decline of the dollar by an additional 10% against the currencies of our trading partners would swamp the impact of all currently pending trade deals.

On this issue there are likely to be substantial differences among the candidates. Former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin is likely to be the guiding light for economic policy in a Clinton or Obama administration. Rubin was the architect of the high dollar policy of the 1990s, which led to the massive trade deficits of recent years. He remains an enthusiastic supporter of a high dollar. Therefore Clinton or Obama would be more likely than Edwards to sacrifice the jobs and wages of manufacturing workers in order to prop up the dollar.

Rubin's Wall Street agenda would also apply to other areas of economic policy, most importantly the budget. Rubin places balanced budgets and even budget surpluses at the centre of his economic vision. A push to a balanced budget will seriously curtail the ability to extend healthcare coverage, promote access to childcare, promote clean technologies and address other neglected priorities. By contrast, Edwards has clearly stated that he does not view a balanced budget as a priority, arguing instead for deficit targets that prevent the debt from growing relative to the size of the economy. The willingness to accept deficits may prove especially important in the context of an economy that could be in recession when the next president takes office.

In short, Edwards has set himself apart from the other two top candidates by indicating a clear willingness to challenge an agenda set on Wall Street. If a President Edwards actually carried through with this course, he would pursue a very different economic agenda than his two leading rivals.

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.View this story online at:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hillary slips in California

Clinton Can No Longer Count on California Win in Primary as Race Narrows According to Field Poll
Some Very Interesting Numbers Indeed Below the Hood of This Survey

By Frank D. Russo
The California Field Poll has just released a survey taken between December 10 and 17 that shows Hillary Clinton’s once 25 point edge in California has declined to 14% over Barack Obama, and that if third place John Edwards were to drop out of the race, it would be even closer. Virtually all of the movement in the poll comes from a drop in support from Clinton from October when she had the support of 45% of likely primary voters to 36% in the latest survey and an increase in undecided Democratic primary voters to 20%, up from 14% previously.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Obama opens Sacramento office


Sacramento for Obama is proud to announce the Grand Opening of the first grassroots office for any Presidential candidate in Sacramento and the first office in California for Barack Obama to be fully-operated by volunteers and grassroots supporters.

Sacramento for Obama consists of 700 committed Sacramento residents, all volunteering time and effort in support of electing Barack Obama for President. Sacramento for Obama has been in operation for nearly a year and has achieved great success in hosting and attending events, canvassing Sacramento’s neighborhoods, registering voters, and engaging those in Sacramento who historically have been politically isolated.

Please join us in celebrating this momentous event:

Thursday, December 20th 6:00pm – 8:00pm
2015 Q Street – Midtown Sacramento

Former Senator Deborah Oritz (Host Committee & Confirmed Guest)
Sacramento Vice Mayor Kevin McCarty (Host Committee & Confirmed Guest)
Baseball Legend Dusty Baker (Host Committee & Confirmed Guest)
San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris (Host Committee Only)
U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee (Host Committee Only)

We very much look forward to seeing you there as we draw attention to the importance of voting for Senator Obama in California’s February 5th primary. To RSVP please contact Kim Mack, Chair of Sacramento for Obama, at: 916-524-1420.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Campaign 2008

The Perfect Storm of Campaign 2008
By Steve Fraser,
Posted on December 10, 2007, Printed on December 10, 2007
Will the presidential election of 2008 mark a turning point in American political history? Will it terminate with extreme prejudice the conservative ascendancy that has dominated the country for the last generation? No matter the haplessness of the Democratic opposition, the answer is yes.

With Richard Nixon's victory in the 1968 presidential election, a new political order first triumphed over New Deal liberalism. It was an historic victory that one-time Republican strategist and now political critic Kevin Phillips memorably anointed the "emerging Republican majority." Now, that Republican "majority" finds itself in a systemic crisis from which there is no escape.

Only at moments of profound shock to the old order of things -- the Great Depression of the 1930s or the coming together of imperial war, racial confrontation, and de-industrialization in the late 1960s and 1970s -- does this kind of upheaval become possible in a political universe renowned for its stability, banality, and extraordinary capacity to duck things that matter. The trauma must be real and it must be perceived by people as traumatic. Both conditions now apply.

War, economic collapse, and the political implosion of the Republican Party will make 2008 a year to remember.

The Politics of Fear in Reverse
Iraq is an albatross that, all by itself, could sink the ship of state. At this point, there's no need to rehearse the polling numbers that register the no-looking-back abandonment of this colossal misadventure by most Americans. No cosmetic fix, like the "surge," can, in the end, make a difference -- because large majorities decided long ago that the invasion was a fiasco, and because the geopolitical and geo-economic objectives of the Bush administration leave no room for a genuine Iraqi nationalism which would be the only way out of this mess.

The fatal impact of the President's adventure in Iraq, however, runs far deeper than that. It has undermined the politics of fear which, above all else, had sustained the Bush administration. According to the latest polls, the Democrats who rate national security a key concern has shrunk to a percentage bordering on the statistically irrelevant. Independents display a similar "been there, done that" attitude. Republicans do express significantly greater levels of alarm, but far lower than a year or two ago.
The constitutional transgressions of the executive branch and its abrogation of the powers reserved to the other two branches of government are, by now, reasonably well known. Most of this aggressive over-reaching has been encouraged by the imperial hubris exemplified by the invasion of Iraq. It would be short-sighted to think that this only disturbs the equanimity of a small circle of civil libertarians. There is a long-lived and robust tradition in American political life always resentful of this kind of statism. In part, this helps account for wholesale defections from the Republican Party by those who believe it has been kidnapped by political elites masquerading as down-home, "live free or die" conservatives.

Now, add potential economic collapse to this witches brew. Even the soberest economy watchers, pundits with PhDs -- whose dismal record in predicting anything tempts me not to mention this -- are prophesying dark times ahead. Depression -- or a slump so deep it's not worth quibbling about the difference -- is evidently on the way; indeed is already underway. The economics of militarism have been a mainstay of business stability for more than half century; but now, as in the Vietnam era, deficits incurred to finance invasion only exacerbate a much more embracing dilemma.

Start with the confidence game being run out of Wall Street; after all, the subprime mortgage debacle now occupies newspaper front pages day after outrageous day. Certainly, these tales of greed and financial malfeasance are numbingly familiar. Yet, precisely that sense of déjà vu all over again, of Enron revisited, of an endless cascade of scandalous, irrational behavior affecting the central financial institutions of our world suggests just how dire things have become.
Enronization as Normal Life
Once upon a time, all through the nineteenth century, financial panics -- often precipitating more widespread economic slumps -- were a commonly accepted, if dreaded, part of "normal" economic life. Then the Crash of 1929, followed by the New Deal Keynesian regulatory state called into being to prevent its recurrence, made these cyclical extremes rare.
Beginning with the stock market crash of 1987, however, they have become ever more common again, most notoriously -- until now, that is -- with the implosion of 2000 and the Enronization that followed. Enron seems like only yesterday because, in fact, it was only yesterday, which strongly suggests that the financial sector is now increasingly out of control. At least three factors lurk behind this new reality.

Thanks to the Reagan counterrevolution, there is precious little left of the regulatory state -- and what remains is effectively run by those who most need to be regulated. (Despite bitter complaints in the business community, the Sarbanes-Oxley bill, passed after the bubble burst, has proven weak tea indeed when it comes to preventing financial high jinks, as the current financial meltdown indicates.)

More significantly, for at least the last quarter-century, the whole U.S. economic system has lived off the speculations generated by the financial sector -- sometimes given the acronym FIRE for finance, insurance, and real estate). It has grown exponentially while, in the country's industrial heartland in particular, much of the rest of the economy has withered away. FIRE carries enormous weight and the capacity to do great harm. Its growth, moreover, has fed a proliferation of financial activities and assets so complex and arcane that even their designers don't fully understand how they operate
What makes Wall Street's latest "normal accident" so portentous, however, is the way it is interacting with, and infecting, healthier parts of the economy. When the bubble burst many innocents were hurt, not just denizens of the Street. Still, its impact turned out to be limited. Now, via the subprime mortgage meltdown, Main Street is under the gun.

Campaigning Through a Perfect Storm of Economic Disaster
The equity built up during the long housing boom has been the main resource for ordinary people financing their big-ticket-item expenses -- from college educations to consumer durables, from trading-up on the housing market to vacationing abroad. Much of that equity, that consumer wherewithal, has suddenly vanished, and more of it soon will. So, too, the life-lines of credit that allow all sorts of small and medium-sized businesses to function and hire people are drying up fast. Whole communities, industries, and regional economies are in jeopardy.

All of that might be considered enough, but there's more. Oil, of course. Here, the connection to Iraq is clear; but, arguably, the wild escalation of petroleum prices might have happened anyway. Certainly, the energy price explosion exacerbates the general economic crisis, in part by raising the costs of production all across the economy, and so abetting the forces of economic contraction. In the same way, each increase in the price of oil further contributes to what most now agree is a nearly insupportable level in the U.S. balance of payments deficit. That, in turn, is contributing to the steady withering away of the value of the dollar, a devaluation which then further ratchets up the price of oil (partially to compensate holders of those petrodollars who find themselves in possession of an increasingly worthless currency). As strategic countries in the Middle East and Asia grow increasingly more comfortable converting their holdings into euros or other more reliable -- which is to say, more profitable -- currencies, a speculative run on the dollar becomes a real, if scary, possibility for everyone.

Finally, it is vital to recall that this tsunami of bad business is about to wash over an already very sick economy. While the old regime, the Reagan-Bush counterrevolution, has lived off the heady vapors of the FIRE sector, it has left in its wake a de-industrialized nation, full of super-exploited immigrants and millions of families whose earnings have suffered steady erosion. Two wage-earners, working longer hours, are now needed to (barely) sustain a standard of living once earned by one. And that doesn't count the melting away of health insurance, pensions, and other forms of protection against the vicissitudes of the free market or natural calamities. This, too, is the enduring hallmark of a political economy about to go belly-up.

This perfect storm will be upon us just as the election season heats up. It will inevitably hasten the already well-advanced implosion of the Republican Party, which is the definitive reason 2008 will indeed qualify as a turning-point election. Reports of defections from the conservative ascendancy have been emerging from all points on the political compass. The Congressional elections of 2006 registered the first seismic shock of this change. Since then, independents and moderate Republicans continue to indicate, in growing numbers in the polls, that they are leaving the Grand Old Party. The Wall Street Journal reports on a growing loss of faith among important circles of business and finance. Hard core religious right-wingers are airing their doubts in public. Libertarians delight in the apostate candidacy of Ron Paul. Conservative populist resentment of immigration runs head on into corporate elite determination to enlarge a sizeable pool of cheap labor, while Hispanics head back to the Democratic Party in droves. Even the Republican Party's own elected officials are engaged in a mass movement to retire.

All signs are ominous. The credibility and legitimacy of the old order operate now at a steep discount. Most telling and fatal perhaps is the paralysis spreading into the inner councils at the top. Faced with dire predicaments both at home and abroad, they essentially do nothing except rattle those sabers, captives of their own now-bankrupt ideology. Anything, many will decide, is better than this.
Take the presidential campaign of 1932 as an instructive example. The crisis of the Great Depression was systemic, but the response of the Democratic Party and its candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- though few remember this now -- was hardly daring. In many ways, it was not very different from that of Republican President Herbert Hoover; nor was there a great deal of militant opposition in the streets, not in 1932 anyway, hardly more than the woeful degree of organized mass resistance we see today despite all the Bush administration's provocations.

Yet the New Deal followed. And not only the New Deal, but an era of social protest, including labor, racial, and farmer insurgencies, without which there would have been no New Deal or Great Society. May something analogous happen in the years ahead? No one can know. But a door is about to open.

Steve Fraser is a writer and editor, as well as the co-founder of the American Empire Project. He is the author of Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life. His latest book, Wall Street: America's Dream Palace, will be published by Yale University Press in March 2008.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

While the U.S. economy has entered a period of instability, one group, vocalized by Lou Dobbs, blames immigrants. The question is, should we pay attention to them or ignore them?

Question #1.
Should we try to win the South? Or , should we write it off as lost?
Question #2.
Should we try to win over Reagan Democrats? - the Lou Dobbs dominion, or should we write them off and get on with creating a new majority.

What is the role of Sacramento Progressive alliance in this?

Obama and Oprah in South Carolina

"For the very first time in my life, I feel compelled to stand up and to speak out for the man who I believe has a new vision for America."
- Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey joined Barack and Michelle Obama at free public rallies in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina this weekend.
In total, they electrified nearly 70,000 people across three states and brought thousands of new volunteers into our crucial early-state operations. Thanks to everyone who came out and made these events such a success.
Here's a video with excerpts from both Oprah's and Barack's remarks:
Oprah's public support has attracted a lot of attention and created a tremendous opportunity to reach out to people who otherwise might not hear Barack's message of change.
At every stage of this campaign, the mission for every Obama supporter has been to become an organizer in their own right. By reaching out to your friends, family, and neighbors, you have the potential to bring people back into the political process and make them part of something special.
Oprah can certainly reach a lot more people than most of us, but the challenge she met this weekend is the same one you can meet: To break out of your comfort zone and reach out to your network about the important choice our country faces at this moment.

Obama and Oprah in South Carolina

"For the very first time in my life, I feel compelled to stand up and to speak out for the man who I believe has a new vision for America."
- Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey joined Barack and Michelle Obama at free public rallies in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina this weekend.
In total, they electrified nearly 70,000 people across three states and brought thousands of new volunteers into our crucial early-state operations. Thanks to everyone who came out and made these events such a success.
Here's a video with excerpts from both Oprah's and Barack's remarks:
Oprah's public support has attracted a lot of attention and created a tremendous opportunity to reach out to people who otherwise might not hear Barack's message of change.
At every stage of this campaign, the mission for every Obama supporter has been to become an organizer in their own right. By reaching out to your friends, family, and neighbors, you have the potential to bring people back into the political process and make them part of something special.
Oprah can certainly reach a lot more people than most of us, but the challenge she met this weekend is the same one you can meet: To break out of your comfort zone and reach out to your network about the important choice our country faces at this moment.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Conyers on FISA

Dear Duane,

In recent weeks, there has been lot of conflicting information floating around about efforts by House Democrats to protect the country by adopting rules for intelligence gathering that are both flexible and constitutional. This week, President Bush suggested that my legislative alternative to this summer's hastily-enacted Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reform, the "Protect America Act," would take away important tools from our intelligence community. He characterized as "obstruction" the skepticism that many of us have about granting amnesty to telecommunications carriers who may have cooperated in warrantless surveillance. I was disappointed that the President did not propose any concrete steps to improve our capabilities or protect our freedoms -- he just repeated his demand for immunity.

This comes close on the heels of a recent controversy concerning the House Democrats' FISA legislation stemming from Joe Klein's column in Time Magazine on November 21st, in which his Republican sources seem to have spun a tale that led Mr. Klein to characterize our efforts as "more than stupid."

I believe that it is time for a comprehensive and detailed response to the President's accusations of obstruction, the misinformation in the Time Magazine column, and the debate over warrantless surveillance. Below is that response. Please let me know what you think, and feel free to pass along to your friends and colleagues.

Joe Klein's recent column deriding the House-passed FISA legislation, along with his subsequent stumbling efforts to clarify its intent, and Time Magazine's failure to publish the protests my Democratic colleagues and I had regarding its many inaccuracies are only the most recent manifestation of disinformation put forth concerning the Bush Administration's warrantless surveillance program and legislative efforts to modify the law. As the lead author, along with Silvestre Reyes, of the RESTORE Act, allow me to set the record straight once and for all.

First, contrary to GOP and media spin, the RESTORE Act does not grant "terrorists the same rights as Americans." Section 105A of the RESTORE Act explicitly provides that foreign-to-foreign communications are totally exempt from FISA – clearly, this exception for foreigners such as members of Al Qaeda does not apply to Americans. In cases involving foreign agents where communications with Americans could be picked up, Section 105B of the legislation provides for liberalized "basket warrant" procedures by which entire terrorist organizations can be surveilled without the need to obtain individual warrants from the FISA court. Again, this new authority is aimed at foreign terrorists, not Americans.

Mr. Klein appears to base much of his criticism of our bill on our use of the term "person" to describe who may be surveilled, based on the suggestion of a Republican "source" that this risks an interpretation that terrorist groups would not be covered. The truth is that under FISA the term person has been clearly defined for almost thirty years to include "any group, entity, association, corporation, or foreign power." It is also notable that both the RESTORE Act, and the Administration's bill passed this summer, contain the exact same language that Mr. Klein questions, yet we've never heard an objection to the Administration's bill on this score.

Second, I must strongly disagree with Mr. Klein's assertion that the Speaker "quashed ... a bipartisan [compromise] effort." As the Chairman of the Committee with principal jurisdiction over FISA, the House Judiciary Committee, I am aware of no effort to prevent bipartisan compromise on this issue. As a matter of fact, last summer, beginning in July, Democrats tirelessly negotiated with Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Mike McConnell, to develop consensus legislation to address the Administration's stated concerns about our intelligence capability.

We addressed every one of the concerns Mr. McConnell raised. He said he needed to clarify that a court order was not required for foreign-to-foreign communications -- our bill did just that. McConnell said he needed an assurance that telecommunications companies would be compelled to assist in gathering of national security information – our bill did that. The DNI said he needed provisions to extend FISA to foreign intelligence in addition to terrorism – the bill did that. He asked us to eliminate the requirement that the FISA Court adjudicate how recurring communications to the United States from foreign targets would be handled – the bill did that. McConnell insisted that basket warrants be structured to allow additional targets to be added after the warrant was initially approved – again, the bill did that. When this legislation was described to DNI McConnell, he acknowledged that "it significantly enhances America's security.''

Yet, suddenly, on the eve of the vote, Director McConnell withdrew his support after consultation with the White House. If the media wanted to identify over-the-top partisanship, they could begin by citing the declaration of David Addington, Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, that "We're one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious FISA Court," and DNI McConnell's assertion that by merely having an open debate on surveillance, "some Americans are going to die."

Third, the RESTORE Act legislation is badly needed to provide accountability to the Bush Administration's unilateral approach to surveillance. The warrantless surveillance program has been riddled with deceptions that only began to come to light when The New York Times first disclosed the existence of the program in 2005. The program itself appears to directly violate FISA and the Fourth Amendment, as a federal court, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, numerous Republican legislators, and independent legal scholars have found.

The Administration has also mischaracterized the existence, degree, extent and nature of the program itself as well as how much information it has shared with Congress. For instance, compare the President's speech in 2004 with his admission that there was indeed a program of warrantless surveillance. When high-ranking DOJ officials found the program lacking, the White House went to absurd, if not comical lengths, to convince a dangerously ill and hospitalized Attorney General Ashcroft to overrule them. Even today, the Administration continues to obscure its own past misconduct with extravagant claims that the "state secrets" doctrine bars any legal challenges whatsoever - a position that has been rejected by the Court of Appeals.

The Administration's hastily enacted legislation, signed this summer, is little better. Instead of being limited to the stated problem of foreign-to-foreign electronic surveillance, it could apply to domestic business records, library files, personal mail, and even searches of our homes.

Against that backdrop, it is clear we need a new law with the critical oversight provisions included in the RESTORE Act, such as requiring the Administration to turn over relevant documents to Congress, mandating periodic Inspector General reports, and acknowledging that the Administration is indeed bound by FISA.

Finally, the Administration has yet to explain why offering retroactive immunity to telephone giants who may have participated in an unlawful program is vital to our national security. Under current law, the phone companies can easily avoid liability if they can establish they received either an appropriate court order or legal certification from the Attorney General. Asking Congress to grant legal immunity at a time when the Administration has refused to provide the House of Representatives with relevant legal documents for more than eleven months is not only unreasonable, it is irresponsible.

Civil liberties and national security need not be contradictory policies, rather they are inexorably linked. Perhaps nowhere is this interrelationship more true than in intelligence gathering, where information must be reliable and untainted by abuse to be useful. So when we discuss FISA, the first thing we need to do is drop the partisan rhetoric, and stick to the actual record. Under the RESTORE Act, the intelligence community has the flexibility to intercept communications by foreign terrorists without obtaining individual warrants, and the Court and Congress are given the authority to perform their constitutional oversight roles. The only parties who lose in this process are the terrorists, and those who want the executive branch to have absolute and unreviewable power.

Rather than being, in Mr. Klein's words, "well beyond stupid," the RESTORE Act offers a smart and well balanced approach to updating FISA and reining in the excesses of an unchecked executive branch.

Your Friend,

John Conyers, Jr.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How the Peace Movement can win.

How the Peace Movement Can Win: A Field Guide

[from the December 17, 2007 issue]

This article can be found on the web at

The Republicans, led by George W. Bush, Rudy Giuliani
and their hard-core neoconservative hit squads, have
spent millions on television messages supporting the
military surge in Iraq. They mounted a major campaign
to demonize in order to derail the group's
proven ability to raise funds for antiwar messages and
Democratic candidates. During the election year,
pro-war Republicans are poised to promote staying the
course in Iraq while threatening or even instigating a
war on Iran. The Democrats will have to respond with
more than an echo.

But at this point the leading Democratic contenders are
reluctant to say they would pull out all the troops
from a war they claim to oppose. In sharp contrast to
Republicans, Democrats at least support withdrawing
most or all American combat troops on a twelve- to
eighteen-month deadline. Asked for exact timelines,
however, the top contenders indicate that they would
put off the withdrawal of all troops until sometime in
their second term. The platform of "out by 2013" may be
a sufficient difference from the Republicans for some,
but it won't satisfy the most committed antiwar voters.
Asked about the five-year estimate, Senator Hillary
Clinton's spokesman on Iraq policy, Philippe Reines,
expressed surprise, but his formulation of her views
did not conflict with the idea of a long US presence:
that she wants substantial troop reductions starting
immediately, without a deadline for completion, and
with a smaller American force left behind dedicated to
training Iraqis and counter-terrorism.

"It's beginning to feel like 2004," says one Washington
insider at the Center for American Progress, a think
tank led by former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta.
CAP issued a key memo on October 31 complaining about a
"strategic drift" setting in among security strategists
and the Democratic leaders they advise. The
schizophrenia consists of wanting to end the war as
painlessly as possible while running away from their
anti-Vietnam past. In the triangulating phrase of
Barack Obama, one can't be seen as a "Tom Hayden
Democrat" on Iraq.

The leading Democratic contenders buy the line of a
more hawkish think tank, the Center for a New American
Security, a mostly Democratic cast of auditioning
future national security advisers. They propose the
gradual, multiyear withdrawal of combat troops and an
increase in the number of Special Forces and trainers,
who are somehow supposed to train the Iraqi army and
chase Al Qaeda from Iraq. A similar proposal was made
at the beginning of this year by the Iraq Study Group,
based on a December 2006 report. The dangerous, even
irrational, assumption of this thinking is that a small
number of American trainers and Special Forces can
accomplish what 160,000 troops have failed to do.

Nevertheless, the proposal has understandable appeal.
Bush plans to withdraw 25,000 to 30,000 troops this
spring to salvage an army at the breaking point. If the
next President withdraws another 75,000 troops in 2009,
the peace movement will face the challenge of opposing
a war that appears to be slowly ending. Iraq would then
likely evolve into either an Algerian- or
Salvadoran-style dirty war or tumble toward a South
Vietnam-style fiasco with American advisers trapped in
the cross-fire. But it would be mostly invisible until
the endgame if managed successfully, with American
casualties declining in a low-profile war.

Can anything be done to avert this scenario? Actually,
yes. The peace movement does have an opportunity to
solidify public opinion behind a more rapid
withdrawal--regardless of what the national security
advisers think.

Peace advocates will likely have the best-funded
antiwar message in history during the coming election
year. Tens of millions of dollars will be raised for
voter education and registration and get-out-the-vote
campaigns through the 527 committees, which disseminate
election messages independent of partisan candidates.
The Democrats defaulted on their opportunity to use
these independent committees for a peace message in
2004, when they muted and muddled their antiwar
position. But this time they will have to contend with
the frustration of millions of antiwar voters, and
their nominee will be pledged, in rhetoric at least, to
end the war.

Backed by real resources, skilled organizers and
volunteers across the electoral battlegrounds of 2008
will be able to identify, register and turn out voters
through door-to-door work combined with radio and
television spots. Already, former MoveOn political
director Tom Matzzie is being entrusted with a $100
million fund for independent expenditures during the
2008 electoral cycle, a significant portion of which
will go to antiwar messages. The money will come from
antiwar unions like the Service Employees International
and big-money donors like investor George Soros and
Hollywood producer Steve Bing. Podesta is personally
involved in the independent campaign as well, through a
527 entity called Fund for America.

This plan poses enormous challenges. Who will make the
decisions, what will be the Iraq/Iran message, who will
deliver it and by what means? The independence of the
527 committees is based on an organizational separation
from the political parties. But the message will likely
be consistent with, if not identical to, the
candidates' message, influenced by the same hawkish
consultants. Yet the peace movement has an opening to
exert its influence: it can demand a role in the
independent campaign as a condition of enlisting its
legions of local peace activists. The challenge will be
to draft an antiwar formula that unites the peace
forces and progressive Democrats rather than one that
depresses vast numbers of antiwar voters.

Beyond the issue of message, there's the question of
whether the independent campaign is controlled from the
top or is open to the thousands of volunteers already
devoted to antiwar efforts in their local communities.
Matzzie is a brilliant field organizer in his early
30s, trained in the post-1960s staff-driven methods of
groups like USAction. Most of these organizers have
little knowledge of Iraq, foreign policy or peaceful
alternatives to the "war on terror." Their backgrounds
tend to be in labor or consumer organizing or
door-to-door canvassing for donations. Typically, they
are results-oriented (number of phone calls made,
voters identified, "hits," etc.) rather than
community-oriented. Ideally, Matzzie will map out a
battle plan calling for cooperation where local groups
already have strong track records (like New Hampshire,
Iowa and northern Illinois, to take three examples) and
new initiatives in areas lacking an active base. A
final question to be finessed is whether the
independent campaigns will invest in a long-term local
strategy, including simple things like leaving contact
lists behind with local groups, or whether they will
pull up stakes and vanish on election day.

The peace movement can succeed only by applying people
pressure against the pillars of the war policy--public
opinion, military recruitment and an ample war
budget--through marching, confronting military
recruiters and civil disobedience. The pillars have
been eroding since 2004. The tactics that are most
likely to accelerate the process are greater efforts at
persuading the ambivalent voters. This is where the
interests of the peace movement converge with Matzzie's

A massively funded voter-identification and
-registration drive and a get-out-the vote campaign
have enormous potential to tip not only the
presidential election but also the scales of public
opinion. Rather than merely pounding away at a
simplistic message--Republicans dangerous, Democrats
better--such an effort would require, as a foundation,
resources to educate voters and involve them in house
meetings. The house-meeting approach allows for voter
education and participation on a scale that cannot be
achieved by hit pieces or TV spots. It is also critical
for cultivating grassroots leadership capacity for
election day turnout and beyond. Voters may be
persuaded by a narrow end-the-war message, especially
if Giuliani is the Republican candidate, but they will
also need the ability to answer questions about the
interconnected issues of Iraq, Iran, energy, healthcare
and the threat posed by neoconservatives.

Only in this way will the peace movement succeed in
expanding and intensifying antiwar feeling to a degree
that will compel the politicians to abandon their
six-year timetable for a far shorter one. In the
worst-case alternatives, Giuliani and the neocons will
roll to a narrow victory despite a platform of
promising war, or the centrist Democrats will prevail
without a mandate for rapid withdrawal of troops from
Iraq and negotiations plus containment toward Iran.

The coming war is a political one, to be fought at
home. There will be a yearlong showdown that will
determine the presidency and the climate of opinion. If
the Republicans succeed in electing the next President,
the Iraq War will continue and probably expand. If they
lose the presidency, they are already positioning
themselves to charge the Democrats with "losing" Iraq
and ride that theme to a comeback in 2012.

The key dates in this coming domestic war will be:

January 2008 onward: the budget. There will be attempts
to limit or reverse Bush's supplemental demand of $200
billion for a war that has already cost more than $470
billion. CAP recommends a goal of cutting the request
in half. Two-thirds of Americans favor a reduction of
some kind, and 46 percent favor sharp reductions. It
appears that the best that can be hoped for in this
battle is to rebuke Bush, reduce funding for the war
and make the budget vote so painful that Congress
members will never want to cast one again. There is no
reason to support $5 billion to $10 billion for the
sectarian torturers operating under cover of the
Interior Ministry, for example. Already a high-level
military commission has called on Congress to scrap the
Iraqi police service as hopelessly corrupt, a position
reflected in HR 3134 put forward by Representatives
Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee and Lynne Woolsey. This
simple focus on the Frankenstein monster fostered in
Baghdad might generate a movement against using taxes
for torture and thus begin to unravel the occupation.

January-February 2008: presidential primaries. The
Democratic candidates have been at least shopping for
the peace vote in the early primaries, if only to
differentiate their brands from the others. Voting for
Kucinich, Richardson or Gravel is a legitimate choice
to support an important voice--but not a nominee. Joe
Biden's proposal for partitioning Iraq is the most
dangerous of any of the Democratic candidates'
positions and should be rejected. John Edwards's
proposal is the best of the front-runners', though it
leaves a gaping loophole for "sufficient" US troops to
continue fighting terrorists and training the Iraqi
police. Barack Obama has been sharpening and improving
his position somewhat, defining a more limited role for
trainers and counterterrorism. Obama (and Edwards) also
have toughened their stand against bombing Iran. That
leaves Hillary Clinton struggling in the center,
promising she will "end the war" while leaving a
scaled-down force to fight Al Qaeda, train the Iraqis,
resist Iranian encroachment and demonstrate her
awareness that Iraq is "right in the heart of the oil
region." What she means is anyone's guess, leaving her
with little more than an anti-Bush "trust me" platform.
These Democratic positions may underestimate the
passionate demands of peace voters, potentially driving
a significant fraction of those voters into apathy or
toward third-party alternatives. All these candidate
positions can be drawn out further in the heat of the
early primaries by sharp questioning and selective
voting by peace activists. The "bird-dogging" of
candidates by New Hampshire Peace Action is an example.

April 2008: the Bush deadline for withdrawing 25,000
troops (by not extending their tours of duty). Unless
the Administration has bombed Iran, Bush will use this
deadline to promote the Nixon-like theme that the war
is "winding down." The Democratic candidate will have
to insist that 25,000 is far too small a number of
troops. This risks a Republican attack that the
Democratic position is "too extreme"; there is also the
risk that Democratic candidates would fall into Bush's
trap by calling a 25,000-troop withdrawal a "positive
first step."

Summer 2008: convention protests and platforms. The
time is now for advocates and insiders to write and
propose platform language that promises to truly end
the war, without the usual ambiguity that drives
activists to despair. Both conventions will be held in
protest-friendly cities, offering an outside strategy
to highlight the differences and deficiencies in the
two-party debate.

Fall 2008: House and Senate races. It is perhaps here
that groups like MoveOn and Progressive Democrats of
America can have the greatest effect, by bolstering the
numbers of antiwar senators and representatives who
favor terminating the war in 2009. Think: Senator Al

November 2008-January 2009. This will be a test of
whether the peace movement will hit the streets and
pressure the incoming Administration to promptly end
the war or face four more years of deepening

If a one-year campaign seems too long, consider Vietnam
for perspective. After the McGovern Democrats took over
the Democratic Party in 1972 only to lose the
presidency, it took three long years before Nixon's
"Vietnamization" policies ended in debacle and in a
cutoff of Congressional funding. Along the way, a young
Senate staffer named Tom Daschle spearheaded a campaign
to block Nixon's funding for a secret gulag of "tiger
cage" torture chambers. Like Baghdad today, Saigon was
a US-backed police state, a hideous system abetted by
10,000 American "civilian contractors." American
activists were arrested outside the US Embassy in
Saigon for distributing leaflets against the torturers.
Another 1 million educational pamphlets were passed out
in fall 1972 by local organizers in a hundred cities.
Those local groups demanded that candidates sign a
peace pledge or face the loss of critical votes.

It all seemed too little, but the pillars of the policy
kept crumbling in Vietnam and at home. In May 1973, in
response to Indochina and the Watergate impeachment
crises, both houses of Congress voted a deadline of
August 15 for further funding of American combat
forces. Henry Kissinger refused to comply with any
deadlines, and his position was defeated on a tie
204-204 House vote that allowed only a last extension
of the bombing until that August. The country was so
divided that a small, determined faction was able to
tip the scales.

We are approaching a similar chasm in public opinion
today. The neoconservatives, conservatives and liberal
hawks have been discredited for their foolish 2002
belief in a quick and easy invasion of Iraq. A
beleaguered neocon minority is pressing to strike Iran
and stay the course in Iraq. Democrats, despite their
electoral majority, have not proven to be as tenacious
about Iraq as the neocons. Nor are progressive
activists always as educated and focused for battle as
their adversaries. With a majority of Americans wanting
and expecting a withdrawal from Iraq, the outcome of
2008 may depend on who has the greater will to win.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Chavez and Venezuela : Elections matter

Venezuela's Constitutional Reform Fails (For Now)

By Justin Podur
ZNet Commentary

ZNet - December 04, 2007

The Constitutional Reform referendum in Venezuela has
failed, and Chavez, unlike the Venezuelan opposition,
gracefully accepted the defeat. The best outcome would
have been a slim victory for the "Si" side, and the
loss will have negative regional and global
consequences. Colombia's President Uribe, backed by the
US, had days before destroyed a humanitarian accord
that Chavez had been trying to broker between
Colombia's government and the FARC guerrillas. The US
is in the process of negotiating a free trade deal with
Peru. Canada, serving US foreign policy as it often
does, is trying to get the US a free trade deal with
Colombia through the back door, by negotiating one for
itself. In all this, progressive forces and politicians
in place in countries like Ecuador, Bolivia, and
Brazil, have looked to Venezuela for political
direction and support. The referendum outcome will help
the US to isolate these forces.

But, as Chavez himself said, the battle is not over and
there are some good things that can come out of this.

The referendum results: "No" got 50.7% (4 504 351),
"Yes" got 49.2% (4 159 392) votes. Abstention was very
high, at 44.11%. These are from El Tiempo, the
Colombian newspaper, and they come from when there were
97% of the votes counted.

Note how very close things were. The normal split in
previous years, including the 2004 referendum, has been
about 5 million voting with Chavez and about 3.5
million voting against. In this referendum, about 500
000 voters switched and voted against Chavez. Last
year's presidential election, which Chavez won with 63%
of voters, had only 30% abstention. Many who had voted
with Chavez voted abstained, and some voted against.

The usual fear tactics and dirty tactics were used by
the opposition and the Americans. The spread of
disinformation, from the notion that Chavez was going
to ban miniskirts to Chavez was going to take your
firstborn, was pervasive. There were small-scale
capital strikes, threats of a new coup, and other
abuses. But the Bolivarians had defeated those tactics
in the past and many of them had already been exposed
by a much stronger Bolivarian media strategy than ever

What good can come of it? One of the best things that
could happen in Venezuela, as unlikely as it is, is
that it could make socialism, popular participation,
and democracy seem like normal things, normal options
for a society to choose - if not for elites or for the
US, for Venezuelan and Latin American peoples. Instead,
every time there is an electoral process, there is
polarization, a sense that the whole revolutionary
project is in the balance, the whole future is in the
balance and imperialist violence is hanging overhead,
and that voting against Chavez is to side with these
reactionary imperialist forces. If, instead, this vote
could be seen the way Chavez is presenting it, as a
defeat of a specific proposal "for now" (one of his
famous phrases), in the context of an ongoing process,
that would be a very good thing.

There are two related weaknesses in Venezuela's
revolution. The first is the absence of highly visible
leaders with a national television profile and ideas of
their own, that are in Chavez's league, that are a part
of the revolutionary process, but that might have
slightly different proposals or strategic ideas. This
is something that revolutions have always had a hard
time producing - it always seems to focus on a single

The second problem is the difficulty, again largely
created by the US and imperialism, in having a space
for dissent within the revolutionary process. Oh, it is
true that the Bolivarians are incredibly tolerant of
the opposition, allowing speech and acts against the
government that would not be tolerated in the US or
Canada. Much harder though, and unclear how to
accomplish, is for there to be debate within the
movement about specific proposals without one side or
the other having to go over to the opposition. In a
context where the opposition has some 3.5 million
voters, plus tremendous media power, foreign financing,
and ultimately military backing, that is very hard to
do. But this referendum outcome could help. It could
actually split the opposition voters, by showing that
Chavez isn't a dictator and is willing to accept a
democratic result, something the opposition has been
unwilling to do.

The other reason not to despair over this defeat is
because of the weaknesses of the referendum itself. The
most important flaw was that it was an "omnibus"
referendum, in which voters had to accept or reject the
whole package. Some parts of this package were exciting
- other parts were less so.

There were three issues in the referendum that
concerned me, and if they had been presented by
themselves I would have voted against them. These were
the removal of term limits, (which are a relatively
minor issue, given the many jurisdictions in the world
that don't have them), the increased presidential
powers to appoint and remove officials, and the 7-year
terms (both which I would vote against as much because
they could be used against the Bolivarians in future -
who wants to be stuck with an empowered reactionary
regime for 7 years?). From increased social welfare to
the creation of popular power, there was much that was
very good and exciting in the constitutional reforms,
but how can we know that the 500,000 or so that
switched didn't switch on these three issues? Support
for the Bolivarian process could well be deeper than
support for this referendum, and potential support for
it is even greater (given the high abstention rates and
the outcome of the last presidential election). We've
always known that the Bolivarians were the more
democratic of Venezuela's two sides. Accepting this
defeat and carrying on with the process is bound to
demonstrate this to many.

[Justin Podur covered the 2004 recall referendum for
ZNet from Venezuela and writes on Colombia-Venezuela
issues. He is based in Toronto and can be reached at]