Thursday, August 26, 2010

08-26-10 Activist Newsletter

Aug. 26, 2010, Issue #161



1. "IT'S FREEDOM OF RELIGION — YOU KNOW?" — GOP politicians and their Tea Party warriors are intentionally fanning the flames of anti-Muslim hatred in their campaign against situating an Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero. The purpose is to gain Republican votes in November, and the American people may be falling for it.

2. BEYOND OBAMA, LIBERALISM AND THE  'PROFESSIONAL LEFT' — What did White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs actually mean when he blasted the "professional left?" We critically examine the relationship between the Democratic Party and its frustrated liberal wing.

3. THEY GO, OR OBAMA GOES — Robert Scheer says sack Summers and Geithner and bring in a new economic team that can ease the plight of the American people and reverse the economic crisis.

4. THE GUNS OF AUGUST — Historian Chalmers Johnson looks to the future and observes the American Century fading away and the U.S. in decline but militarily dangerous all the same.

5. "THE HURT LOCKER" — Why did this undistinguished war movie win the 2010 Academy Award for Best Picture?

6. THE MYTH OF POST-RACIAL AMERICA — America’s real racial problems remain mostly unaddressed despite the election of an African American president.

7. REDUCING DEFICITS THROUGH A WEALTH TAX — Increasing taxes on the rich will cut federal and state deficits. Here's how.

8. IRAN GAINING AS ARABS' OBAMA HOPES SINK — Obama and U.S. popularity drop sharply in the Arab world and "Iran may be reaping the benefits," writes Jim Lobe.

9. OBAMA "DECIDEDLY MIXED" ON LIBERTIES — ACLU rates the Obama Administration record on civil liberties.

10. PRISON GERRYMANDERING ENDS IN NYS — Inmates are no longer counted as residents of the region where the prison is located, changing some legislative districts.



By the Activist Newsletter

The precise location in New York City of a new community center that includes a Muslim mosque is becoming an important national campaign issue for the Republican Party as the Nov. 2 Congressional and state election  draws closer.

GOP politicians, their Tea Party warriors and the right wing in general are livid about plans to situate the facility two blocks from where the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed in a terrorist attack nine years ago this Sept. 11.

This calculated Republican tantrum over an essentially trivial placement of an Islamic-associated community center seems to have hoodwinked a majority of Americans — over 60% —  into opposing a project intended to improve relations between different faiths in the U.S., and "in particular between the Muslim world and the United States," according to its backers.

Since the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of religion and the right of religious groups to build houses of worship, opponents of the project are focusing their outrage on its intended proximity to the 9/11 attack in New York City's Lower Manhattan.

Recognizing that the depressed economy and high unemployment are the key issues of the campaign — and that they offer nothing to the voters on that score but complaints — the GOP hopes that the "emotional" issues of an Islamic institution violating the sanctity of "ground zero," and Mexican immigrant workers illegally crossing the U.S. border will bring in additional votes.

Republican politicians, joined by some Democratic office holders including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, insist the planned community center be moved an unspecified distance from the "hallowed ground" where 2,749 people lost their lives (among them hundreds of Muslims working in the twin towers). Not to do so, they claim, will amount to a grievous affront to the victims and their families.

The implication of the Republican campaign is that the 9/11 attack by a fringe extremist sect of Islam was actually an assault by the religion of Islam against the United States and its way of life. Otherwise, why would the existence of a mosque two blocks away be considered a desecration that would cause pain to victim families?

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, one of a handful of centrist Republicans, is a staunch supporter of the community center project. He declared Aug. 24 that he opposed establishing a "no mosque zone" around ground zero. “There is already a mosque four blocks away," he said. "Should it, too, be moved? This is a test of our commitment to American values. We must have the courage of our convictions. We must do what is right, not what is easy.

“We would send a signal around the world,” he said, “that Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen. And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam.”

President Obama spoke out Aug. 13 in defense of the project. "As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion, as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."

The next day Obama equivocated: "I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about."

A few days later, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd criticized Obama's clarification: "Let me be perfectly clear, Mr. Perfectly Unclear President: You cannot take such a stand on a matter of first principle and then take it back the next morning.... Our enemies struck at our heart, but did they also warp our identity?.... The war against the terrorists is not a war against Islam. In fact, you can’t have an effective war against the terrorists if it is a war on Islam."

The Cordoba Initiative, as the New York City project is called, is the brainchild of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a leader for the last 27 years of a Lower Manhattan mosque a dozen blocks from ground zero, and his wife, Daisy Khan, Executive Director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement. Rauf is the chairman.

Cordoba House —the name of the planned community center — is to occupy the reconstructed, long-empty 15-story Burlington Coat Factory building in a neighborhood of small and large stores, food venders, businesses, small and skyscraper buildings, tourist stores and attractions, fast food restaurants, strip clubs and the nearby financial district surrounding the 16-acres once occupied by the World Trade Center complex.

When completed, Cordoba House will include an auditorium, library, mosque, daycare space, restaurant, cooking school, swimming pool, basketball courts, and more. According to its backers, who are just starting to raise the $100 million necessary to complete the project, the facility will be "a community center open to all New Yorkers, much like a YMCA or Jewish Community Center [such as Manhattan's 92nd St. YM-YWHA]with a designated prayer space (mosque) in one area to serve the needs of the large existing community of American Muslims in the neighborhood." Part of the building has been utilized as a mosque for some time.

Why "Cordoba?" The website explains: "A thousand years ago Muslims, Jews, and Christians coexisted and created a prosperous center of intellectual, spiritual, cultural and commercial life in Cordoba, Spain."

Although right wing commentators rant that Imam Rauf supports terrorism and seeks to impose Sharia (the sacred law of Islam) in the United States, he is fastidiously moderate, rarely deviating from the center of the road. Both the Bush and Obama State Departments have sent Rauf on four speaking tours to the Middle East so far to explain America to Muslim audiences. The State Department distributes copies of his book overseas — "What's Right With Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West." Rauf has even lectured to an FBI seminar on U.S.-Muslim relations.

The right wing is attempting to keep the mosque issue alive and intensifying until the election — and it is already generating increased hostility to Muslims in several American cities, including an Aug. 24 knife attack on New York City cab driver Ahmed Sharif. The purpose is to stir up anti-Muslim antagonisms to help generate enough votes for the Republicans to weaken or end Democratic control of Congress. Former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and ex-Republican House majority leader Newt Gingrich are among the public leaders of this effort.

Gingrich believes that Obama is "pandering to radical Islam" and that the Cordoba Initiative feeds into "an Islamic cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization." To build support for halting the Cordoba  House project he conflated the Muslim religion with German and Japanese fascist imperialism of World War II: "Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington," he said. "We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There’s no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center." 

No reason except the Constitution, that is. No reason except that 9/11 was the product of a small group of religious fanatics, not one of the world's great religions. But Gingrich — who still harbors presidential ambitions — hopes to create a large enough backlash to catapult his party to power. And if it takes extreme national chauvinism, bellicose "patriotism," xenophobia and its twin in this case, Islamophobia, so be it.

Nearly all top Republican politicians — such as House GOP leader Rep. John Boehner — emphatically oppose situating the projected Islamic community center close to the lower Manhattan site.  New York State Republican candidate for governor, Rick Lazio — echoing former Republican New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani — suggests foreign intrigue is involved, demanding: "Open the books! Let’s see who’s giving the money to construct this mosque. Is it foreign governments? Are they radical organizations? We deserve to know."

The Anti-Defamation League, a prestigious and long established Jewish civil rights organization, astonished the inter-faith community by opposing the Lower Manhattan location and declaring: "We are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values." In suggesting nefarious backing for the project, the ADL is hardly unaware that the rightist Israeli government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is strongly opposed to Obama's halting efforts to improve U.S. relations with the Muslim world.

One of the few exceptions to Republican unity regarding the Muslim center by a leading politician was the principled stand taken by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who okayed the project and declared: "We cannot paint all of Islam with that brush. We have to bring people together." The state's Civil Liberties Union expressed its pride in  Christie and declared: "Our governor, a national icon among conservatives, boldly took a stand against the xenophobia and mob mentality driving the opposition to a Muslim community center in Manhattan. More than that, he took a stand for religious freedom."

Some New York State Democratic politicians, currying favor with conservative voters in their districts, have also joined the anti-mosque clamor. Gov. David Paterson suggests moving the project elsewhere, and he has met with Catholic Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan to discuss arranging a compromise. Sheldon Silver, Democratic speaker of the State Assembly, has called for a compromise by moving "to a suitable place that doesn’t create.... controversy.”  Four New York House Democrats have so far objected to the location, including Hudson Valley Rep. John Hall (19th CD), who declared Aug. 17: "I think honoring those killed on Sept. 11 and showing sensitivity to their families, it would be best if the center were built at a different location."

Hall thus perpetrated the chauvinist myth that locating an Islamic community center and mosque a couple of blocks from the 9/11 disaster site dishonors the innocent dead and insults their survivors. Not all the families of the twin towers collapse blame the Muslim religion for the loss of their loved ones. The group September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows announced it welcomed the prospect of establishing Cordoba House close to ground zero, noting that "the people and the land thrive when we choose to trust in our principles rather than cave to our basest fears."

According to the Times Herald-Record, a regional paper published in the Hudson Valley's Orange County, New York State's two Democratic Senators — Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand — "have essentially defended the [mosque] proposal (Schumer said he is 'not opposed')." Rep. Maurice Hinchey (22nd CD) has not taken a public stand as of this writing.

In many cases, comments in opposition to the planned center were accompanied by slurs against Muslims and the religion of Islam. For example, Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams, who was deeply involved in opposing the New York City project, described Islam as having a "monkey god," among other comments. He also was called to task for anti-Semitic and anti-African American comments. Williams was finally expelled in mid-July by the National Tea Party Federation for "clearly offensive" remarks.

According to two national opinion polls, Pew Research Center and Time Magazine, 61% of the American people oppose building the Muslim center near the World Trade Center site.

Time reported Aug. 19 that "More than 70% concur with the premise that proceeding with the plan would be an insult to the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center." The magazine also stated that "the survey also revealed that many Americans harbor lingering animosity toward Muslims. Twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for President."

At the same time, while opposing a mosque just two blocks away form the former Trade Center, the Time poll showed "55% of respondents say they would favor the construction of an Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from their home, and an equal number say they believe most Muslims are 'patriotic Americans.'"

The CNN/Opinion Research survey showed that 68% oppose the plan to build the mosque in Lower  Manhattan, compared to 29% who favor it.  According to a Marist poll, 53% of New York City residents opposed the location.

Going completely against this tide were the residents of Manhattan, New York City's most populous and sophisticated borough, where the World Trade Center was located. Another Marist poll showed that 69% of Manhattan's population supported building the Muslim center as planned. Aside from Mayor Bloomberg, other supporters of the Lower Manhattan location include Democratic Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and Democratic Rep. Gerald Nadler, who represents the district that includes ground zero. They view the project as a gesture to heal the wounds of 9/11 near its very epicenter.

Bloomberg , who is Jewish, as are Stringer and Nadler, has supported the project from the beginning. His exemplary stance in the face increasing opposition to Cordoba House has earned him deserved tributes from the Muslim community. The mayor was to meet with the injured cab driver in City Hall Aug. 26.

In early August Bloomberg declared: "We would betray our values if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else.... To cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists — and we should not stand for that.... The attack was an act of war — and our first responders defended not only our city but also our country and our Constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights — and the freedoms the terrorists attacked."

The New York Times, which is housed in Manhattan, published an editorial Aug. 4 titled "A Monument to Tolerance," which said in part: "It has been disturbing to hear and read the vitriol and outright bigotry surrounding the building of a mosque two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. So it was inspiring when New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 9 to 0 on Aug. 3 to reaffirm one of the basic tenets of democracy: religious tolerance....

"The attacks of Sept. 11 were not a religious event. They were mass murder. The American response, as President Obama and President George W. Bush before him have said many times, was not a war against Islam.... There was simply no excuse for the behavior of the Anti-Defamation League, which eagerly piled on with the opponents of the mosque. It should not be built 'in the shadow' of the World Trade Center, the group said, because it would 'cause some victims more pain.' It was distressing to see the rationalization of bigotry used by an organization that has been fighting discrimination of all kinds."

In addition to leading the campaign to convince the American people that Democratic politicians who support building the Islamic center in downtown Manhattan are disloyal to America and contemptuous to the families of 9/11 victims, the continuing right wing effort to depict President Obama as a Muslim and a non-citizen has been making progress.

The Pew Research Center poll released Aug. 19 reports that 18% of the American people now believe President Obama is a Muslim (it was 12% nearly two years ago), and 43% say they "don't know" his religion (it was 32% in October 2008).  Even though the White House and Obama himself have stressed repeatedly that he is a Christian, only 34% of the people claim to be aware of this fact (it was 51% in the earlier poll).

These figures testify to the ignorance of a not insubstantial sector of the American people — but what explains the increase in false knowledge in the last two years? Evidently it's due to the success of the continuous right wing media campaign to mislead the masses into believing Obama not only sides with the "enemy" but by supporting the right to build a mosque near ground zero he is actually in league with the enemy.

According to the Pew results, "The view that Obama is a Muslim is more widespread among his political opponents then among his backers. Roughly a third of conservative Republicans (34%) say Obama is a Muslim, as do 30% of those who disapprove of Obama's job performance."

Despite a birth certificate showing Obama is an American citizen born 49 years ago in the State of Hawaii, a CNN/Opinion Research poll made public on his Aug. 4 birthday determined that 27% of all Americans think he was "definitely" or "probably" born in a foreign country. Among Republicans, 41% definitely or probably believe he was foreign born, and thus a non-citizen and an "illegal" President. Further, 19% of independents and 15% of Democrats think he's definitely/probably foreign born.

The right wing will evidently go to extreme lengths to take back Congressional seats on Nov. 2, including untruths, national chauvinism, and anti-Muslim propaganda. Many millions of Americans have been misled about the community center and mosque planned near the former World Trade Center.  But millions more average Americans know better and say so in plain terms.

The Wall St. Journal sent a reporter to examine the neighborhood immediately surrounding ground zero where the Cordoba House is to be situated. The reporter noted that there were two strip clubs within three blocks of what some critics of the mosque consider to be a "sacred" space. Without condescension, the reporter interviewed Chris from the Pussycat Lounge, and Cassandra from New York Dolls about the mosque controversy.

Said Chris: "They’re not building a mosque in the World Trade Center" grounds itself. "It’s all good. You have your synagogues and your churches. And you have a mosque." Said Cassandra: "I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s freedom of religion — you know?"

Americans with a commitment to civil liberties absolutely agree. It's freedom of religion — you know?

The Cordoba Initiative website contains a section of questions and answers about the proposed Community Center project in Lower Manhattan. It's at

— J.A.S.



By Jack A. Smith, Activist Newsletter

"Ask not what your Democratic Party can do for the working people of the United States, for civil liberties, peace and equality; ask what you can do for your Democratic Party."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs did not make this statement, but it's what he meant Aug. 10 when he excoriated the "professional left" for criticizing or expressing dismay at the Obama Administration's compromises with conservatives, its lack of fighting spirit, and the refusal to promote social programs commensurate to the needs of America and its people.

Gibbs declined explain what individuals or groups were included within the "professional left," but didn't aim his attack at the actual U.S. political left, most of which is routinely critical of  the center/center-right politics of the Democratic Party and never harbored illusions that President Barack Obama would govern as a progressive.

The press secretary's barbed remarks were aimed at one of the party's most loyal constituencies — the liberals and moderate social democrats who remain in the ranks though they have been rendered virtually powerless since the Democratic leadership and big-money backers dismissed the organization's center-left wing over three decades ago.

The liberal period of the 1930s New Deal and the 1960s Great Society are faded memories, along with Depression era President Franklin D. Roosevelt's campaign song, "Happy Days Are Here Again," the unofficial theme of the Democratic Party during its on-and-off 35-year center/center-left excursion that lasted until about 1970.

The party has forsaken the liberals in its ranks today, not the other way around as Gibbs implied in his virtually inarticulate criticism of the "left' vented during a private interview granted a reporter from The Hill, Washington's political newspaper. That the liberals have remained in the "lesser evil" Democratic Party despite its aversion to liberal policies is a tribute to the narrow parameters of the American political system, which offers mass parties of the right and center but not the left.

Liberals have been disillusioned by the timidity of their party in power today and the way it seems to be on the defensive though the Democrats occupy the White House, enjoy a large majority in both houses of Congress, and the party treasury is overflowing with cash.

For instance, they wanted Obama to fight hard for single payer or public option healthcare, not to first compromise with the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, then with the conservative Democrats in Congress (the Blue Dogs), and then make huge concessions to gain a few Republican votes for, by then, a much weakened program.

One of the Activist Newsletter's many liberal readers told us: "They should have fought hard for the original full plan — and lost if necessary — then bring it up again next year and the next." Another liberal Democrat was critical of her party's practice of withdrawing legislation because the GOP threatens a filibuster. "They should support it and vote on it anyway, and let the onus fall on the obstructionist party," she said.

An undoubted factor irritating the White House is the fact that 102 out of the 250 House Democrats who voted on the nearly $60 billion war funding bill  July 27 opposed the measure. They were joined by 12 Republicans. The bill passed 308-114 when 160 Republicans voted with 148 Democrats. (Here's the New York State House tally: 14-14. 12 Democrats and 2 Republicans supported the measure. 14 Democrats opposed. Voting "NO": Clarke, Crowley, Hinchey, Maffei, Maloney, Meeks, Nadler, Rangel, Serrano, Slaughter, Tonko, Towns, Velazquez, Weiner.)

The Obama Administration is especially perturbed because this "professional left" is expressing its disquiet despite the approach of Congressional and state elections in less than three months when the Democrats are expected to suffer some setbacks. It doesn't seem to matter that these liberals continue to ardently support their party and are far more critical of the Republicans.

Although Gibbs said he had been speaking out of "frustration," it's assumed his remarks accorded with the sentiments of the Administration's top leadership, some members of  which have long complained privately about the "excessive" expectations of party liberals. Gibbs' key charges amounted to less than 50 words:

"....I hear these people saying he's [Obama's] like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested. I mean, it's crazy.... They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That's not reality.... They wouldn't be satisfied [even] if Dennis Kucinich was President."

The next day at a White House press conference a reporter asked Gibbs "who wants to eliminate the Pentagon?," to which the press secretary responded: "I think that was — wasn’t that a proposal during the presidential campaign? Didn’t Dennis Kucinich — or maybe it was adding the Department of Peace." Rep. Kucinich of Ohio, one of the party's relatively few center/center-leftists,  suggested the creation of a Department of Peace and advocates a reduction in Pentagon spending, but not the elimination of the Pentagon.

Since the press secretary speaks for the President, reporters assumed Gibbs would abandon some of his comments, but he chose not to withdraw the description of liberal critics as mentally unstable, pot-smoking left-wingers — a characterization usually emanating from the far right reactionaries who think Obama a socialist with a false birth certificate.

Liberal New York Times columnist Bob Herbert had no patience with Gibbs' complaints, writing Aug. 14: "The Obama administration seems to be feeling sorry for itself. Robert Gibbs is perturbed that Mr. Obama is not getting more hosannas from liberals. Spare me. The country is a mess. The economy is horrendous, and millions of American families are running out of ammunition in their fight against destitution.... The war in Afghanistan... is proceeding as poorly as ever.... And while schools are hemorrhaging resources because of budget meltdowns, and teachers are losing jobs... American youngsters are falling further behind their peers in other developed countries....

"This would be a good time for the Obama crowd to put aside its concern about the absence of giddiness among liberals and re-examine what it might do to improve what is fast becoming a depressing state of affairs. President Obama missed his opportunity early last year to rally the public behind a call for shared sacrifice and a great national mission to rebuild the United States in a way that would create employment for millions and establish a gleaming new industrial platform for the great advances of the 21st century. It would have taken fire and imagination, but the public was poised to respond to bold leadership. If the Republicans had balked, and they would have, the president had the option of taking his case to the people, as Truman did in his great underdog campaign of 1948.

During the campaign, Obama and his closest advisers never embraced the liberal perspective, though many liberals assumed they did. After eight dreadful years of George W. Bush and one of the worst Administrations in U.S. history, liberals concentrated on their candidate's intelligence, charm and truly inspiring rhetoric without always closely analyzing its content, and provided their own optimistic interpretation of the campaign's intentionally ambiguous slogans such as "Change we can believe in," and "Yes we can."

Between announcing his candidacy in February 2007 and the election 21 months later, Obama repeatedly intoned versions of this mantra: "There is not a liberal America, or a conservative America, but a United States of America." He said he would reach out to fellow American politicians "across the aisle" and work together as a team during his years in office.

To many liberals and independents this sounded convincing at the time. But how else to interpret such remarks — certainly by now — as anything but the following:

"I am a non-ideological pragmatist of the center who will govern from the center-right using compromise and charisma to pass moderate domestic programs we can all agree to and to conduct an assertive foreign policy that unites us all, including victory in Afghanistan. I shall first compromise with our own Blue Dogs and then stretch out my hand to compromise with my Republican team members 'across the aisle' to seal the deal. My popularity and the fear of a GOP restoration will keep our old fashioned ideological liberals at bay."

It's almost as if Obama was organizing a game of neighborhood stick ball while the Blue Dogs thought of it as hard ball and the Republicans were contemplating bare-knuckle street brawling, which is what's been happening.

In a politically important biographical article about Obama in the New York Times Magazine of Nov. 5, 2007, just as the candidate was becoming credible to the electorate, journalist James Traub wrote that the young Illinois freshman Senator "says that he was never much of a lefty. Obama offers himself as the representative of a new generation, free of the dogmas that still burden the Democratic Party. 'The Democrats have been stuck in the arguments of Vietnam,' he said to me on the campaign plane, 'which means that either you’re a Scoop Jackson Democrat or you’re a Tom Hayden Democrat and you’re suspicious of any military action. And that’s just not my framework.”

The late Sen. Jackson was a Cold War conservative darling of the military-industrial complex. Hayden was a student leader in the early 1960s, who became public antiwar figure during the Vietnam era, and then a Democratic member of the California legislature. He went on to become an initiator of Progressives for Obama, co-authoring (with Bill Fletcher Jr., Barbara Ehrenreich and Danny Glover) a March 2008 manifesto announcing that "All American progressives should unite for Barack Obama.... As progressives, we believe this sudden and unexpected new movement is just what America needs. The future has arrived." Many liberals and progressives were taken in by this document as well as many other pulsating endorsements from celebrity Democrats.

By December 2009 Hayden revealed he had removed his Obama bumper sticker because  the "escalation in Afghanistan is the last in a string of disappointments" that included the Wall St. bailouts and de facto support for the right wing coup in Honduras.

The Times Magazine article quotes Obama as rejecting the Jackson-Hayden framework. Well, what's Obama's actual framework? It is to seek the political center, evidently disregarding such "generational" distractions as left and right. Of course, left and right continue to exist and in fact determine virtually all political outcomes. When a center party in power (riddled with Blue Dogs, no less) reaches "across the aisle" for programmatic and political compromise with a right/far-right adversary, three outcomes are possible. One is that, given the inputs, the outcome at best will be of a center-right configuration. The second is legislative paralysis. The third is that the liberals within the center party start to complain because center-right outcomes cannot possibly solve the many problems confronting America and its people.

All three outcomes are now taking place simultaneously. The Obama Administration's main legislative accomplishments — the economic stimulus, healthcare and restraints on Wall St. — are half-way accomplishments at best. The Republicans  have pulled the plug on Congress. The best of the liberals are complaining.

The remarks from Gibbs were relatively polite compared to other comments by White House insiders in relation to liberal moves. In August last year, at a meeting with some liberal groups about health care legislation, Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel declared that a plan by one group to broadcast an ad critical of Blue Dog opposition to the reform was "fucking retarded!" The idea was quickly dropped.

During the same month, the Washington Post quoted "a senior White House adviser" criticizing some advocates of the 'public option' healthcare proposal: "I don't understand why the left of the left has decided that this is their Waterloo."

The notion that public option groups are "left of the left" is absurd. Does this mean the AFL-CIO, which last September backed the more extensive single-payer, is "left of the left of the left?" We're dizzy considering the number of "lefts" required to identify our Activist Newsletter.

Two months ago on June 10, a senior "White House official"  (ipso facto, an Obama surrogate) slammed the 15.3 million member labor movement — the Democratic Party's most important and loyal asset in terms of money, volunteer hours, and votes — in a quote provided to Politico and repeated elsewhere.

The Oval Office was annoyed because the AFL-CIO and several major unions opposed flagrantly anti-union conservative Sen. Blanche Lincoln (known as the "Senator from Wal-Mart") in the Arkansas Democratic primary, backing moderately pro-union Lt. Gov. Bill Halter instead. The action was intended to send a message to conservative Democratic politicians not to take union support for granted. Lincoln won because of public backing from Obama and ex-President Bill Clinton, a former Arkansas governor. Said the anonymous official: "Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members' money down the toilet on a pointless exercise. If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November."

The Democratic Blue Dogs are largely responsible for the Obama Administration's failure to pass labor's most important legislative initiative — the Employee Free Choice Act, which would remove onerous obstacles to union organizing and recognition. But when the unions finally stood up to one of their worst enemies, Sen. Lincoln, the White House leaked insults to Politico.

Labor's relations with Obama have been passable but have been better with some previous Democratic Administrations. Earlier this year, the AFL-CIO criticized Obama for publicly supporting the firing of 93 union members at a Rhode Island high school.

As always, the unions will give all-out support to electing Democrats in this year's balloting. They fear a Republican takeover of Congress will sink Free Choice for good. Since  the trade unions are too conservative to invest their abundant funding and energy into helping create a leftist mass third party, their only option is to stick with the lesser evil centrists. Even so, there is another option, as noted by UC-Santa Barbara Prof. Nelson Lichtenstein in a March 1 talk to the AFL-CIO executive council:

"The labor movement, as well as the civil rights movement, achieved their greatest influence when the Democratic Administration in power perceived the leadership of these social movements as troublesome, unreliable, and unpredictable allies. Labor leaders like John L. Lewis of the Mineworkers, Philip Murray of the Steelworkers, and Walter Reuther of the Autoworkers were frequently seen by the White House as 'going off the reservation.'"

Actually, it would do all the large social movements within the Democratic Party a great deal of good if they went 'off the reservation,' refusing to be coerced and manipulated by a party hierarchy that thinks its own services are indispensable. The movements should demand progressive change in return for their backing instead of the nebulous "change we can believe in" that the  Obama campaign refused to define lest its vacuity be exposed publicly.

Gibbs made it clear that the White House considers the criticisms from the "professional left" to be little more  than acts of undeserved rudeness from an unappreciative constituency angered because its every wish wasn't granted.

Progressive lawyer and author Glenn Greenwald addressed this matter in his Salon column Aug. 10 titled "Robert Gibbs attacks the fringe losers of the left." He wrote:

"You may think that the reason you're dissatisfied with the Obama administration is because of substantive objections to their policies: that they've done so little about crisis-level unemployment, foreclosures and widespread economic misery.  Or because of the White House's apparently endless devotion to Wall Street. Or because the President has escalated a miserable, pointless and unwinnable war that is entering its ninth year. Or because he has claimed the power to imprison people for life with no charges and to assassinate American citizens without due process, intensified the secrecy weapons and immunity instruments abused by his predecessor, and found all new ways of denying habeas corpus. Or because he granted full-scale legal immunity to those who committed serious crimes in the last administration.  Or because he's failed to fulfill — or affirmatively broken — promises ranging from transparency to gay rights.

"But Robert Gibbs... is here to tell you that the real reason you're dissatisfied with the President is because you're a fringe, ideological, leftist extremist ingrate who needs drug counseling....

"Perhaps one day the White House can work itself up to express this sort of sputtering rage against the right, or the Wall Street thieves who destroyed the American economy, or the permanent factions that control Washington. Until then, we'll have to satisfy ourselves with White House explanations that the real culprits are not (of course) them, but the 'professional left,' that is simultaneously totally irrelevant and ruining everything."

Political commentator Chris Weigant wrote on his own website and elsewhere Aug. 11: "From the White House’s point of view, lefties are not giving them sufficient credit for the things President Obama has managed to achieve with a fractious Congress and with an opposition party dedicated to the failure of any small shred of his agenda. From the left’s point of view, these are mostly hollow victories and were achieved at great price — gutting the real reforms proposed, in exchange for something so watered-down it was barely worth passing (and certainly not worth praising)."

Former Clinton Administration Labor Secretary Robert Reich, now a professor at UC-Berkeley, touched in his blog on some of the Obama Administration's programs that cause legitimate concern among liberals:

"A stimulus too small to significantly reduce unemployment, a TARP that didn’t trickle down to Main Street, financial reform that doesn’t fundamentally restructure Wall Street, and health-care reforms that don’t promise to bring down health-care costs have all created an enthusiasm gap. They’ve fired up the right, demoralized the left, and generated unease among the general population....

"The real choice is between achieving what’s possible within the limits of politics as given, or changing that politics to extend those limits and thereby more assuredly achieve intended goals. The latter course is riskier but its consequences can be more enduring and its mandate more powerful, as both Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan demonstrated. So far, Barack Obama has chosen the former course."

Appearing on Keith Olbermann's MSNBC program Aug. 10, filmmaker-writer Michael Moore said: “What’s bothering them is that liberals and the left have been right from the beginning" in opposing "more offshore oil drilling and expanding the war in Afghanistan…. Everything we’ve tried to push them to do has come back to bite them in a profound way."

Writing in  the Progressive magazine, which he edits, Matthew Rothschild pointed out: "Obama should know that progressives are his best hope. He wouldn’t be in the White House without enthusiastic progressive support. The Democrats won’t keep their seats in November without enthusiastic progressive support. And Obama won’t win in 2012 without enthusiastic progressive support. But he doesn’t deserve it today. And he won’t get it by having Gibbs and Rahm Emanuel piss all over us."

The ACLU recently published a report (see below) titled "Establishing a New Normal" that indirectly connected Obama and Bush by stating that "there is a very real danger that the Obama Administration will enshrine permanently within the law policies and practices that were widely considered extreme and unlawful during the Bush administration." Given that Gibbs seemed incensed at "people saying he's like George Bush," the Democracy Now! radio/TV news program invited ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer, one of the authors of the report, to speak. When host Amy Goodman asked Jaffer to mention a few instances that the report criticized, he responded:

"Some of the points in the report include the endorsement of indefinite detention for some of the people who are now held at Guant√°namo; the failure to hold accountable the people who endorsed torture. The last administration built a framework for torture, but this administration, we say in the report, is building a framework for impunity. Allowing those senior officials who endorsed torture to get away with it leaves torture on the table as a permissible policy option, if not for this president, then for the next president."

The Activist Newsletter has argued since a year before the election that Obama would be a better President than any of the Republicans seeking nomination, and that the election of an African American would be an advance for the United States. But we also stated that "being superior to a neoconservative rival does not a progressive make. Despite his inspiring speeches, a between-the-lines reading of Obama's vague slogans and political writings, his unimpressive record as a Senator, and choice of advisers made it obvious he will govern from the center/center-right."

Immediately after Obama won the election our newsletter reported: "We suspect the Obama government's domestic program will resemble that of the Clinton administration with an extra spurt of energy and ambition in the first two years because of the recession.... In foreign affairs, the new administration suggests to us a combination of the Clinton years (1993-2001) and that of 'realist' Republican George H.W. Bush (1989-1993). In this connection it is time to drop any remaining misunderstandings that Obama is an 'antiwar' president or that his foreign policy will differ substantially from that of mainstream American governments since the end of World War II in 1945."

At the same time, while recognizing that conservatism has been the spreading in American political life for decades after the reforms of the 1960s, we wrote: "Objective conditions — decades of stagnant wages and reduced social benefits, gratuitous wars, a crumbling infrastructure, a looming environmental disaster and the worst economic crisis since the 1930s — are ripe for a period of extensive progressive social reform in the United States for the first time in 40 years. But is it possible for such a flaccid political party to seize this opportunity? We think not."

So far, the Obama Administration and Democratic Congress have produced few impressive results. The big accomplishment was naming two moderates to the Supreme Court  in place of the two intransigent anti-choice conservatives Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin would have selected. There have been  some limited legislative advances as well. Of course the right wing duo would have done more harm, as would a Republican Congress.

It's doubtful, however,  that McCain/Palin would have intensified the "anti-terror" wars to Obama's reckless extent, in part because to do so would have provoked a sharp response from the antiwar movement. Liberals usually flock to the peace standard when the Republicans dominate the White House and Congress, as they did when Bush was in office. With Democrats in control, many rank-and-file liberals — a large part of the peace movement — have withdrawn from antiwar activities, sharply cutting attendance at peace events. A weaker movement, plus heavy Congressional Republican support for the majority of Democrats who vote in favor of Obama's aggressive foreign policy is providing the U.S. government with carte blanche to wage wars, increase the war budget, back the Honduran coup d'√©tat, and threaten Iran.

These 19 months since the Democrats have controlled the government have been educational for a number of liberals who fervently supported Obama as the vehicle for bringing about positive change in the political system and for advances toward peace, justice, equality, a stronger social safety net, a more sustainable environment, and repair of the infrastructure. 

A lot of them have had illusions shattered for obvious reasons, judging from conversations we have had with nearly a score of liberal readers. Our response was that while it's painful being disillusioned, ridding oneself of political illusions while learning from social practice and deeper involvement in the struggle can lead to a more realistic political point of view, and to more fruitful methodologies for attaining extensive progressive social change.

We assume nearly all the liberals will stick with the Democrats because they perceive no alternative, and most won't struggle hard for reform within the party. But some liberals, including three we spoke to, say they plan to wage a more strenuous campaign to move the party toward the center/center-left — a necessity for generating at least some progressive reforms.

We support any move to the left, and note that the outburst from Gibbs means the pressure from spontaneous progressive criticism is reaching its target — but it must be far better organized with strong leadership and support from some key social movements in order to produce a substantial impact.

Even then, it's an extremely daunting task because powerful forces of wealth, finance and corporate power control both ruling parties. It may be just as hard but more rewarding some day to help create a mass left third party as exists in many industrialized capitalist countries with far better social programs for the people as a consequence. This would depend on strong backing from a substantial sector of the labor movement, which has yet to emerge from its overlong attachment to the "lesser-evil" party.

Some liberals will move further — to left wing political activism outside the two-party system, a decision we also support, having done so ourselves a very long time ago and never looked back. Such a decision turns liberals into leftists, providing an opportunity to help build and influence movements for significant social change, including the struggle for socialism and the revolutionary transformation of society.

All this undoubtedly puts us to the left of the left of Gibbs' "professional left," but if we can "have Canadian healthcare" and "eliminate the Pentagon" (as we know it!) in the process, that'll be pretty good — for openers.



By Robert Scheer

Barack Obama and the Democrats he led to a stunning victory two years ago are going down hard in the face of an economic crisis that he did nothing to create but which he has failed to solve.

That is somewhat unfair because the basic blame belongs to his predecessors, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who let the bulls of Wall Street run wild in the streets where ordinary folks lived. And there was universal Republican support in Congress for the radical deregulation of the financial industry that produced this debacle.

The core issue for the economy is the continued cost of a housing bubble made possible only after what Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers back then trumpeted as necessary “legal certainty” was provided to derivative packages made up of suspect Alt-A and subprime mortgages.

 It was the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which Senate Republican Phil Gramm drafted and which Clinton signed into law, that made legal the trafficking in packages of dubious home mortgages. In any decent society the creation of such untenable mortgages and the securitization of risk irrationally associated with it would have been judged a criminal scam. But no such judgment was possible because thanks to Wall Street’s sway under Clinton and Bush the bankers got to rewrite the laws to sanction their treachery.

It is Obama’s continued deference to the sensibilities of the financiers and his relative indifference to the suffering of ordinary people that threaten his legacy, not to mention the nation’s economic well-being. There have been more than 300,000 foreclosure filings every single month that Obama has been president, and as The New York Times editorialized, “Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the Obama administration’s efforts to address the foreclosure problem will make an appreciable dent.” The Times noted that the administration’s main program has been a bust, with only $321 million of the $30 billion allocated to the program having been spent to help folks stay in their homes.

The ugly reality that only 398,198 mortgages have been modified to make the payments more reasonable can be traced to the program being based on the hope that the banks would do the right thing. While Obama continued the Bush practice of showering the banks with bailout money, he did not demand a moratorium on foreclosures or call for increasing the power of bankruptcy courts to force the banks, which created the problem, to now help distressed homeowners.

The subject of housing foreclosures is inherently boring unless you happen to own a home being foreclosed, in which case your family’s life has just been turned disastrously upside down. But few of the well-paid pundits on television are in such a position, and as a result the tragedy that has hit 4 million families in the past two years has received scant notice.

But even that highly privileged group of commentators must now be aware that those foreclosures are behind the Aug. 24 news that U.S. home sales reached their lowest point in 15 years and that there is unlikely to be an economic recovery without a dramatic turnabout in the housing market. The stock market tanked on reports that U.S. home sales had dropped 25.5% below the year-ago level.

When homes are foreclosed in a neighborhood the equity of those in the area who have faithfully paid their mortgages is slashed. And when the banks dump those foreclosed properties back on the market, prices drop even lower. Yet the administration has offered the most tepid of responses to stanch the fierce bleeding of home equity worth. A paltry $4.1 billion has been committed to efforts by the states to help the unemployed and other distressed borrowers stay in their homes. Compare that with the trillions spent on making the financial industry super-profitable once again.

There is no way that Obama can begin to seriously reverse this course without shedding the economic team led by the Clinton-era “experts” like Summers and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner who got us into this mess in the first place. They are spooked by one overwhelmingly crippling idea — don’t rattle the financial titans whom we must rely on for investment. But when it comes to keeping people in their homes, it is precisely the big banks that must be rattled into doing the right thing.

Obama gained credibility through sacking Gen. Stanley McChrystal for making untoward remarks. Why not sack Summers and Geithner for untoward policies that have inflicted such misery on the general public?

This article was posted April 25 on, "A progressive journal of news and opinion." Author Robert Scheer is Truthdig's editor.



[Editor's Note: Following are excerpts of a longer article by Chalmers Johnson appearing Aug. 17 at He is the author of three exceptional books about America's superpower role in the world — "Blowback" (2000), "The Sorrows of Empire" (2004), and "Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006)." His newest book, "Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope," has just been published.]

In 1962, the historian Barbara Tuchman published a book about the start of World War I and called it 'The Guns of August.' It went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. She was, of course, looking back at events that had occurred almost 50 years earlier and had at her disposal documents and information not available to participants. They were acting, as Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara put it, in the fog of war.

So where are we this August of 2010, with guns blazing in one war in Afghanistan even as we try to extricate ourselves from another in Iraq? Where are we, as we impose sanctions on Iran and North Korea (and threaten worse), while sending our latest wonder weapons, pilotless drones armed with bombs and missiles, into Pakistan's tribal borderlands, Yemen, and who knows where else, tasked with endless "targeted killings" which, in blunter times, used to be called assassinations? Where exactly are we, as we continue to garrison much of the globe even as our country finds itself incapable of paying for basic services?

I wish I had a crystal ball to peer into and see what historians will make of our own guns of August in 2060. The fog of war, after all, is just a stand-in for what might be called "the fog of the future," the inability of humans to peer with any accuracy far into the world to come. Let me nonetheless try to offer a few glimpses of what that foggy landscape some years ahead might reveal, and even hazard a few predictions about what possibilities await still-imperial America.

Let me begin by asking: What harm would befall the United States if we actually decided, against all odds, to close those hundreds and hundreds of bases, large and small, that we garrison around the world? What if we actually dismantled our empire, and came home? Would Genghis Khan-like hordes descend on us? Not likely. Neither a land nor a sea invasion of the U.S. is even conceivable.

Would 9/11-type attacks accelerate? It seems far likelier to me that, as our overseas profile shrank, the possibility of such attacks would shrink with it....

Thirty-five years from now, America's official century of being top dog (1945-2045) will have come to an end; its time may, in fact, be running out right now. We are likely to begin to look ever more like a giant version of England at the end of its imperial run, as we come face-to-face with, if not necessarily to terms with, our aging infrastructure, declining international clout, and sagging economy. It may, for all we know, still be Hollywood's century decades from now, and so we may still make waves on the cultural scene, just as Britain did in the 1960s with the Beatles and Twiggy. Tourists will undoubtedly still visit some of our natural wonders and perhaps a few of our less scruffy cities, partly because the dollar-exchange rate is likely to be in their favor.

If, however, we were to dismantle our empire of military bases and redirect our economy toward productive, instead of destructive, industries; if we maintained our volunteer armed forces primarily to defend our own shores (and perhaps to be used at the behest of the United Nations); if we began to invest in our infrastructure, education, health care, and savings, then we might have a chance to reinvent ourselves as a productive, normal nation. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening. Peering into that foggy future, I simply can't imagine the U.S. dismantling its empire voluntarily, which doesn't mean that, like all sets of imperial garrisons, our bases won't go someday.

Instead, I foresee the U.S. drifting along, much as the Obama administration seems to be drifting along in the war in Afghanistan. The common talk among economists today is that high unemployment may linger for another decade. Add in low investment and depressed spending (except perhaps by the government) and I fear T.S. Eliot had it right when he wrote: "This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper."....

Johnson's complete article is at,_portrait_of_a_sagging_empire__/



By the Activist Newsletter

Why did "The Hurt Locker," a well-acted, tension-filled but otherwise undistinguished war movie focusing on a military bomb-disposal team in Iraq, win the 2010 Academy Award for Best Picture?

After viewing the film recently, it appears to us that the main reason Hollywood bestowed the honor is that Kathryn Bigelow, who also received the Best Director prize, distorted the real nature of the war in two distinct ways.

1. The film did not even hint that the three-man Army elite Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) squad operating in Baghdad a year after in the U.S. invasion was engaged in an unjust, illegal war of aggression, and thus were participants in a war crime.

Indeed, according to the film website, the task of the GIs in question was "to try and make the city a safer place for Iraqis and Americans alike." In the process, according to the producers, "it is soldier vernacular to speak of explosions as sending you to the 'hurt locker,'" hence the odd title.

2. Also unmentioned is the fact that "the finest military in the history of the world," as President Barack Obama continually describes the U.S. Armed Forces, was fought to a stalemate in Iraq by some 25,000 decentralized and part time guerrilla fighters with low-tech and home-made weapons.

It took over a million Iraqi deaths, four million refugees, and Washington's divide-and-conquer policy of intentionally exacerbating sectarian religious and ethnic rivalries to produce this stalemate instead of a humiliating defeat for the Pentagon. The wreckage of this war, the "collateral damage," has no place in "The Hurt Locker." Only American pain is stored there.

Reviewers repeatedly characterized  and praised the film as "nonpolitical."

As one reviewer wrote, it was "remarkably nonpartisan and nonpolitical." Another wrote: "It's a nonpolitical film about Iraq. Many films about the Iraq war have fallen into a trap of appearing preachy or at least having a strong point of view." The New Yorker's David Denby said the film "wasn't political except by implication — a mutual distrust between American occupiers and Iraqi citizens is there in every scene," but the real meaning is that it "narrows the war to the existential confrontation of man and deadly threat."

If "war is a mere continuation of politics by other means," as von Clausewitz famously and correctly surmised, a "nonpolitical" film about what is universally recognized as an unjust war is a conscious misrepresentation of reality. "The Hurt Locker" is an extremely political film, largely because of what it chooses to omit, masquerading as apolitical in order to disarm the viewer.

Bomb disposal teams exist in all modern wars, but they do not exist in a moral or political vacuum. One side often represents the oppressor, and the other the oppressed, and it is morally dishonest to conceal the distinction.

For example, one assumes Japanese bomb teams were at work during the Nanking Massacre in China, and the time of the notorious Bataan Death March in the Philippines; and that German teams worked in Poland during the Warsaw Uprising in the Jewish ghetto, and during the horrific Nazi siege of Stalingrad.

These Japanese and German handlers of unexploded bombs were extremely brave, as are their American counterparts today, and some lost their lives, particularly since they didn't have all the protective gear and bomb destroying robots available to Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams in Iraq or Afghanistan.

But what should we think about a German war film dealing with the Warsaw rising and the slaughter of Stalingrad, or a Japanese film about Nanking or the death march, that focused only on the heroism of their bomb-disposal  troopers, without any reference to the aggressive imperialist wars that situated them in Poland, Russia, China and the Philippines? Most people would characterize such films as "enemy propaganda," particularly while the wars were still were going on, as are the U.S. wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Suppose you were an Iraqi, who lived through 12 years of U.S.-UK-UN killer sanctions followed by seven years of invasion and occupation. What would you think of a U.S. war film where nearly all the Iraqi characters were villains or crooks, and the occupying GIs were depicted as heroes or at least well-meaning? What would you think when you read from the producers that "The Hurt locker" is "a riveting, suspenseful portrait of the courage under fire of the military's unrecognized heroes: the technicians of a bomb squad who volunteer to challenge the odds and save lives doing one of the world's most dangerous jobs.... Their mission is clear — protect and save."

You'd probably think this film, which won six Academy Awards while 100,000 troops were still occupying your country, was enemy propaganda.

Well, propaganda is propaganda no matter who is the perpetrator. Most Americans, it seems to us, are unable to distinguish self-serving war propaganda from reality when it is delivered by the U.S. government, the corporate mass media, or the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

We can't read director Bigelow's mind, but objectively "Hurt Locker" seeks to justify the Bush-Obama wars. It does so by suppressing the political context of the wars, and by individualizing and conflating the scope of the conflict to resemble, as reviewer Denby suggests, an "existential confrontation [between] man and deadly threat."

The "Hurt Locker" war is no longer a matter of U.S. foreign policy, military power, and the quest for geopolitical advantage and hegemony over the world's largest petroleum reserves. It's simply a matter of how three American guys in a very dangerous military occupation respond emotionally to the extraordinary pressure they are under.

The Hurt Locker" is a film of pro-war propaganda, unfortunately coinciding with the weakening of the U.S. peace movement due to the reluctance of many Democratic voters to oppose their party's extension of the neoconservative wars. Had this powerful war movie instead told the truth about America's ongoing imperial adventure in Iraq, even as it continued to focus mainly on the dilemmas confronting the bomb disposal team, it never would have been nominated for, much less become the recipient of, an Academy Award.

— J.A.S



By Thomas J. Sugrue

The euphoria surrounding Barack Obama’s election as the first African American president seems a lifetime ago. In the days following the election, Gallup reported that more than two-thirds of Americans viewed Obama’s election as “either the most important advance for blacks in the past 100 years, or among the two or three most important such advances.” Obama embodied the rise of a “post-racial” America, a “post civil rights era,” whose very success was proof positive that we had finally overcome.

Obama himself reinforced this view, mostly through silence. On the campaign trail he avoided racial issues unless he was forced to confront them, as in the controversy sparked by his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. And in the White House, he has assiduously avoided talk about race — the noteworthy exception being a handful of speeches before predominantly African American audiences.

His calculation is strategic. The political costs are too high. In a peculiar inversion of America’s racial history, it has become a form of racism (“playing the race card”) to suggest that protesters wielding placards depicting Obama as an African witch doctor are racist or that Tea Partiers’ belief that Obama’s policies favor blacks and disadvantage whites are rooted in race. In a topsy-turvy political world, Obama’s mere mention of race in the 2009 brouhaha following the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. led apoplectic commentators, like Fox host Glenn Beck, to accuse the president of being “racist,” a person “who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”

But the president’s studied silence on race — and many white Americans’ insistence on their colorblindness — leave America’s real racial problems mostly unaddressed. Racial injustice today takes a form far more dangerous than the vile prejudices that sometimes appear on placards and racist blogs. It isn’t gross caricatures of Obama as a simian that give the lie to the notion that America has entered a post-racial age. Instead, it’s the deep and persistent gap between blacks and whites by nearly every socioeconomic measure.

A majority of Americans have been afflicted by the Great Recession. But minorities still bear the brunt of economic hardship. Blacks are unemployed at a rate one-and-a-half to two times greater than that of whites. Young blacks have been especially hard hit by the downturn — nearly a third between the ages of 18 and 24 are unemployed nationwide.

Just a year after Obama was elected, a coalition of civil rights and labor groups, led by the venerable National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Council of La Raza, demanded that his administration step up its job creation efforts. “Make no mistake, for us this is the civil rights issue of the moment,” argued civil rights leader Wade Henderson. “Unless we resolve the national job crisis, it will make it hard to address all of our other priorities.” Until recently, the unemployment crisis was not at the top of the administration’s economic to-do-list, and its impact on minorities will have devastating effects for a generation to come.

The job situation is bleak, but minorities have also disproportionately borne the burden of the financial crisis. In May, a group of scholars led by Brandeis sociologist Thomas Shapiro released a report showing that the black-white wealth gap has quadrupled in the past 25 years. A household’s wealth is measured by calculating its assets (savings accounts, stocks, bonds, and especially real estate) and its debts. The asset side of the balance sheet is grim: blacks are less likely than whites to own real estate. Even in 2005, at the peak of the most recent real estate bubble, only 49% of blacks were homeowners, compared to 74% of whites. And because of persistent racial segregation, the value of homes that blacks own is significantly lower than that of white-owned homes.

On the debit side of the ledger, the statistics are even bleaker. Blacks have been disproportionately affected by market failures in home financing and personal credit from the New Deal through the early 21st  century. From the 1930s through the late 1960s, blacks seldom had access to federally backed mortgages and loans; in that period and beyond, they were more likely to buy properties using expensive non-mortgage instruments like land contracts; and beginning in the 1980s and 1990s, as the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations deregulated the financial, personal loan, and mortgage markets, predatory lenders (from pawnshops to payday loan agencies to subprime mortgage brokers) found their most lucrative markets among minorities.

In 2006, more than half of subprime loans went to African Americans, who comprise only 13% of the population. And a recent study of data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act found that 32.1% of blacks, but only 10.5% of whites, got higher-priced mortgages — namely those with an annual percentage rate three or more points higher than the rate of a Treasury security of the same length. The result has been growing economic insecurity among African Americans, even those of middle-class status.

Have we overcome? The historic presidency of Barack Obama offers one answer. But the boarded up, foreclosed houses in minority neighborhoods and the staggering rates of urban unemployment offer another. “The arc of the moral universe,” wrote Martin Luther King, Jr. “bends towards justice.”

But that arc just as often veers off course. To veer it back on course means recognizing what has changed in the Obama era, but just as importantly, what has not.

— This article by Thomas J. Sugrue, a professor of history and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, appeared recently in the Washington Post blog.


By Leon Friedman

The federal government and virtually every state government are facing enormous deficits this year. The anticipated federal deficit this fiscal year will be $1.555 trillion, about 10.64% of gross domestic product (GDP). New York State is facing a deficit of $9 billion, New Jersey, a deficit of $11 billion and California, a deficit of $26 billion.

The legislatures in those jurisdictions and in cities and counties around the country are now examining what programs have to be reduced or eliminated - firing tens of thousands of state employees (including police, fire fighters and teachers), giving less aid to local governmental units and less money for health care and education.

Another way to reduce the deficits is to increase taxes. The new federal health care law provides for an increase in medicare taxes and a less than 1% increase in income taxes for persons earning over $200,000, beginning in 2013. But in these times of economic trouble, few of the states are looking to increase income taxes or to look for new sources of taxable wealth. Indeed Governor Christie has rejected Democratic efforts to impose a tax surcharge on the 16,000 New Jersey households that earn more than $1 million a year.

But why don’t we impose a tax on the rich, the very rich, in order to reduce deficits? There are many good reasons for doing so.

First, they can afford it.

Second, there are a lot of rich people in the United States whose wealth was partly the result of previous government largesse, such as the Bush tax cuts in 2002, 39% of which went to the top 1% of the population.

Third, taxing the wealth of the very rich can reduce or even eliminate the large deficits facing the states and the federal government, and thus insure that vital government services are not eliminated or cut during the current emergency.

What kind of tax can accomplish this result? The answer is a wealth tax, not a tax on income, but a tax on the total wealth of an individual. The federal government and most state governments impose an estate tax based on the total net worth of the individual at the time of death. (The federal estate tax expired this year but is due to be reimposed in some form next year). Local government units also have a real property tax, measuring the value of each person’s real property which is taxed on an annual basis, but such taxes do not reach personal property.

In addition to these taxes, many European countries also have a wealth tax: that is, a tax on the total wealth (net worth) of each individual which must be paid, not just once at the time of death, but annually to the government. It is like an estate tax, since it requires each individual household to measure its total net worth and to pay a tax based on that net worth. If a Swede has a net worth of $1 million, he must pay, in addition to any income tax, 1% of $1 million or $10,000 to the government every year.

Suppose such a tax were imposed by individual states and the federal government, not on everyone, but only on the richest among us, the top 1% of households.  Governments might impose such a tax on an emergency basis, to be applied only during the immediate financial crisis, say for two or three years. How much could such a tax raise?

As of the end of 2009, the total net worth of all American households was $54 trillion, according to studies made by the Federal Reserve Board. The top 1% (about three million households with a net worth of at least $8.3 million) owned 37% of that figure, according to Professor Edward Wolff, of Bard College, a leading scholar on wealth inequality. Indeed they own 40% of the total wealth if you ignore home ownership. That means that the top 1% has a net worth of $19.98 trillion (37% of $54 trillion). The 400 wealthiest Americans have a total net worth of $1.27 trillion, according to the Forbes Magazine annual survey of the richest among us.

California residents own at least 12% of the total amount owned by the top 1%, based on the State’s percentage of the total United States population. That means that the top 1% in that state have a net worth of $2.39 trillion. New York residents own about 7% of the total (or $1.39 trillion) and New Jersey residents about 4% (or $467 billion). If each state for the next two years imposed a yearly 1% wealth tax on the wealthiest 1% of its residents, California could raise $23.9 billion each year (1% of  $2.39 trillion), New York could raise $13.9 billion (1% of  $1.39 trillion) and New Jersey could raise $4.67 billion (1% of $467 billion). That would eliminate the deficits in California and New York and sharply reduce the New Jersey deficit as well.

What about the federal government? Could it also impose a 1% wealth tax on all households in the country, which could raise $200 billion a year?

There is a provision in the Constitution that may stand in the way of a federal wealth tax. Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution stated: “No Capitation, or other direct Tax, shall be laid unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.” That is, no direct tax on the wealth of individuals can be made unless it is spread around in proportion to the total population in each state. In 1895, in the infamous Pollack decision, the Supreme Court interpreted that provision as barring a federal income tax. It was only after the 16th Amendment has passed in 1913 to amend the quoted provision that an income tax was reinstated.

However, many Constitutional scholars, primarily Professor Bruce Ackerman of the Yale Law School, have studied the history and background of the provision and concluded that it should not be a bar to the type of tax proposed here. They point out that the provision was imposed at the Constitutional convention in 1787 by the Southern states who were concerned that Congress would impose a property tax on the value of the slaves that they owned.  Subsequent decisions of the Supreme Court confirmed the wide scope Congress possessed in avoiding the scope of the Section 9 provision.

So what would this mean? Because of the openness of our stock markets and SEC filings, Forbes Magazine has no trouble each year determining the wealth of the 400 richest Americans. Thus we have no trouble determining who would be subject to the law. If a very rich person had a net worth of $10 billion, he or she would have to pay 1% of that total (or $100 million) to a  state government for the next two or three years and $100 million each year to the federal government.

In the face of the stark financial problems facing the nation, our richest Americans can afford this modest demand on their wealth since it was previous government programs that contributed to that wealth.

Leon Friedman is a Professor of Constitutional Law at Hofstra Law School. This article originally appeared on Portside,



By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON (Inter Press Service) — United States President Barack Obama has suffered a sharp drop in popularity in the Arab world over the past year, and Iran may be reaping the benefits, according to a major new survey of public opinion in five Arab countries.

Only 20% of respondents in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) now view the U.S. president positively, compared to 45% who did so in the spring of 2009, according to the 2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll conducted by Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institution and the Zogby International polling firm.

Moreover, negative views of Obama have skyrocketed — from 23% to 62% — since the last poll was conducted in April-May 2009. The new findings were based on interviews with nearly 4,000 adults in the six countries between June 29 and July 20 this year.

When respondents were asked to name the world leader they admired most, Obama's standing was less than 1%. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was cited most often (20%), followed by last year's top pick, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (13%), and Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (12%).

Erdogan's rapid rise to the top — he was cited by only 4% last year and never mentioned in the 2008 survey — was due to his outspoken denunciation of the 2008-9 Gaza war waged by Israel and the Turkish role in the aid flotilla to Gaza that was intercepted by Israeli commandos at the end of May, Telhami noted.

Much of the disillusionment with Obama appears related to his failure to make progress in achieving a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, according to Telhami, who has conducted eight previous surveys of Arab opinion since 2000.

Asked what policies pursued by the Obama administration they were most disappointed with, 61% of respondents in the new poll identified the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. That was more than twice the percentage of the next-most-cited example, Washington's Iraq policy (27%).

"This is the prism through which Arabs view the Untied States," Telhami said, referring to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Iran appears to have benefited, at least indirectly, from Arab disillusionment with Obama, the poll results suggested.

While a majority of respondents (55%) said they believed Tehran's nuclear program was aimed at developing weapons — a charge denied by Iran — nearly four out of five respondents (77%) said the country had the right to pursue the program — a whopping increase of 24% since last year.

Support for the program was strongest by far in Egypt and Morocco and weakest in the UAE, where a strong majority said Iran should be pressured to halt it.

Conversely, only 20% of respondents said they favored applying international pressure on Iran to curb its nuclear program. That was down from the 40% who took that position one year ago.

"Overall, there is very little support here for the notion that Arabs are secretly yearning for the U.S. to attack Iran," wrote Marc Lynch, a Middle East expert at George Washington University, whose blog on has a wide readership.

Moreover, a solid majority (57%) of respondents agreed that if Iran acquired nuclear weapons, it would lead to a "more positive" outcome in the Middle East region. That was nearly twice the percentage of one year ago (29%). By contrast, only 21% said that it would lead to a "more negative outcome", compared to a plurality of 46% who took that position in 2009.

These results, Telhami said, are "highly correlated to how [respondents] feel about U.S. policy. It's mostly an expression of anger and pessimism about U.S. policy."

Speaking before a standing-room-only audience at Brookings, Telhami stressed that the Arab world, unlike some other key regions, was never "in love with Obama", but that his election had raised their hopes, particularly after the eight-year reign of George W Bush, who was consistently rated with former Israeli prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert as the global leader most disliked by Arabs in Telhami's surveys.

Hopes for Obama rose even further after his June 4, 2009, speech in Cairo where he pledged to "seek a new beginning" in relations between the United States and the Islamic world and expressed particular sympathy for the plight of Palestinians, especially in Gaza.

But those hopes appear to have largely collapsed over the past year, according to the survey's findings. While he remains a somewhat attractive figure to many Arabs — 48% said they had a favorable personal view of him — an overwhelming majority (89%) said that he either would not or could not change basic U.S. policies in the region.

In one of the most remarkable findings, only 12% of respondents said they had a favorable view of the United States. That was three percentage points less than in the 2008 survey when Bush was still president. At the same time, however, the survey found a significant drop in those with "very unfavorable" views of the United States — from 64% in 2008 to 47% in the latest poll.

Asked what two steps Washington could take that would most improve their views of the U.S., respondents cited achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, withdrawing from Iraq, stopping aid to Israel, and withdrawing from the Arabian Peninsula in that order. Democracy promotion and economic aid received much less support.

Asked which two factors they believed were most important in driving U.S. policy in the Middle East, respondents most commonly cited protecting Israel, controlling oil, weakening the Muslim world, and preserving regional and global dominance in that order. Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, promoting stability, fighting terrorism, and spreading human rights and democracy received many fewer mentions.

Asked what two countries posed the greatest threats to them personally, respondents cited Israel (88%) and the U.S. (77%) — exactly the same results as in the 2009 survey. When Bush was still president, 95% of respondents cited Israel; 88% the U.S.. By contrast, Iran was cited by 10% of respondents, down from 13% last year.



By the ACLU

The Obama administration has repudiated some of the Bush administration’s most egregious national security policies but is in danger of institutionalizing others permanently into law, thereby creating a troubling “new normal,” according to a report released by the ACLU this month.

“Establishing a New Normal: National Security, Civil Liberties, and Human Rights Under the Obama Administration,” an 18-month review of the Obama administration’s record on national security issues affecting civil liberties, concludes that the current administration’s record on issues of national security and civil liberties is decidedly mixed. President Obama has made great strides in some areas, such as his auspicious first steps to categorically prohibit torture, outlaw the CIA’s use of secret overseas detention sites and release the Bush administration’s torture memos. However, he has failed to eliminate some of the worst policies put in place by President Bush, such as military commissions and indefinite detention. He has also expanded the Bush administration’s “targeted killing” program.

“In its first days, the Obama administration took some important steps to restore civil liberties and the rule of law,” said Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU. “It has not, however, abandoned the ‘global war’ framework that was the basis for many of the last administration’s counterterrorism programs. Indeed, some of the Obama administration’s policies  like the policies on indefinite detention, military commissions and targeted killings  are entrenching this framework, presenting a profound threat to human rights and the rule of law. We urge the Obama administration to recommit itself to the ideals it articulated in its very first days. President Obama should not make ‘global war’ the new normal.”

The 22-page report, which was researched and written by staff in the ACLU’s National Security Project and Washington Legislative Office, reviews the administration’s record in the areas of transparency, torture and accountability, detention, targeted killing, military commissions, speech and surveillance, and watchlists.

— Read the full “Establishing a New Normal” report.



By Anthony Papa

This month legislation was signed into law by Gov. David A. Paterson that would bar legislative districts from counting imprisoned individuals in state prisons as part of their population. New York became the second state, following Maryland, to end the practice.

For years New York activists called for the dismantling of prison-based gerrymandering (PBG) that allowed mostly rural counties to inflate their population numbers. This resulted in financial rewards for those communities that utilized it.... The new change could dramatically change the state's political dynamics.

PBG was an unfair practice that increased the populations of rural upstate districts with prisoners who were mostly from urban areas. According to Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative, an organization that pioneered the challenge of PBG, when legislative districts are now redrawn in 2011, 26,000 prisoners will be counted as part of their home communities in the five boroughs of New York City, instead of the prisons they are housed in.

Although the state practiced PBG for many years, nothing could be done because of the powerful politics associated with incarceration — fueled by the war on drugs. If you connected the dots you would see that PBG was tied into the prison industrial complex, money raised from the local, state and federal levels. Since 1982, 33 prisons were built in rural upstate communities, giving politicians the incentive to turn these prisons into cash cows for their respective communities. [There are over 70 state prisons in New York State, most of which are upstate.  In the Mid-Hudson region there are four each in Dutchess and Ulster countries, two each in Orange and Greene.]

But the tight grip of the instilled corrupt political process of PBG was recently broken when a powerful coalition was created headed by [Democratic state] Sen. Eric T. Schneiderman. He became lead sponsor of the bill that challenged PBG and eventually became law. Schneiderman has said that "Equal representation under the law benefits everyone. The practice of counting people where they are incarcerated undermines the fundamental principle of 'one person, one vote' — it's undemocratic and reflects a broken system. This legislation is as simple as it is fair: it requires that legislative districts at every level of government contain an equal number of residents."

According to research done by the Prison Policy Initiative in 2002 seven New York State Senate districts depend on prison-based gerrymandering to maintain their existence. One of the districts that will be affected is Republican [state] Sen. Betty Little's 46th District. Little was a very vocal opponent of prison-gerrymandering reform legislation. It is not surprising — without her prison constituency (about 13,000 individuals in 12 prisons), her district would be unconstitutional. She knew that if reform happened, districts would merge and politicians like her would likely lose their jobs....

— Anthony Papa, author of "15 To life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom," is with the Drug Policy Alliance, AlterNet posted this article Aug. 18, 2010.