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Archive for July 2008

“We let em use our water fountains. What do they want?”

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A “dust-up” on one of Kevin Hayden’s posts at a blog called The American Street in which the cluelessness and ferocity of right-wing intolerance was vividly in evidence, brought together a number of things I’ve been thinking about since I came South. Savannah is, in some ways, the epitome of the contradiction that still exists between what people say about racism and what they feel. There is a genuine sort of truce here where, at least on the surface, people accept each other at face value and try to deal with each other that way. But the truce doesn’t affect any emotions that may be roiling beneath that surface. They remain as strong as they ever were, often for good reason.

The title above wasn’t actually said by anyone but it encapsulates the feelings of an awful lot of white people I run into down here (not all, I hasten to say, and certainly not just in Savannah). There’s an impatience to “get over it” on the part of whites, who either don’t know or don’t accept that the realities of black life haven’t really changed since the 60’s in many significant respects. We feel the “injury” of forced integration and the social changes it has wrought in the last 40 years but have no real understanding of how superficial those changes have at the same time proved to be.

For example, yes, blacks don’t sit at the back of the bus any more and they drink at the same fountains and sit in the same section of the movie theaters with whites and own homes and hold down jobs and are elected mayor and so on. To whites, this is a Big Deal. Many of u8s experience such things as great sacrifices on our part and are justifiably proud of making them. We honestly don’t know what else we can do and tend to fall back on the usual Right-wing folderol, “personal responsibility”. The society has made blacks equal to whites so if blacks aren’t scaling the social ladders, acting with grace and wit, and educated to within an inch of their lives, it’s not our fault. They need to take responsibility for their own failures now.

The corollary, of course, is that if blacks aren’t easing into white society with grace and wit, it just goes to prove what we’ve been saying about them for years: that they’re inherently inferior. “What do you expect?” people whispered to me when I got here. “It’s a black town.”

But under the cover of the superficial changes, even a cursory acquaintance with the black community in Savannah turns up lots of anger, residual and current, because to a large degree despite the overwhelming changes of the past 40 years, not much has actually changed: they’re still the last hired and the first fired, they’re still constantly badgered by police even though the police force has lots of black faces in it, some of them in positions of authority, and they are still given very little room to move compared to whites. A white teen who gets caught selling drugs will be sent to rehab; a black teen likewise caught will go to prison.

Even in tolerant Savannah, it is hard to find a black family in which no member has been to jail. It is still a constant part of their lives. You hear the DWB stories (police stop them for the crime of Driving While Black), the endless stories of being hassled just because you’re walking in a white neighborhood, of being arrested for “trespassing” in the parking lot of the motel in which you’re staying, and so on. Whenever the brothers get together, a basic staple of their conversation is who went to jail, who got out, who was accused of what, whose lawyer was good, whose wasn’t, which cops treat you like a human and which treat you like an animal.

These are fundamental differences between the cultures, and the expectations of whites that letting blacks drink at the same water fountain is going to solve the whole problem is just a form of denial about how deep the problem really goes, and how hard it will be to fix it for real. Major portions of the society we accept will have to be reorganized, and though we’re doing that – slowly – we resent doing it at all and drag our feet, bitching and moaning about how we wouldn’t have to do it at all if those damn blacks would just accept “personal responsibility” for the way they live.

But that’s like saying that if those people from New Orleans had just accepted personal responsibility for Katrina the hiurricane never would have happened and they never would have lost their homes.

It isn’t a surprise that white people feel that way, but it came as a surprise to me to find out that many blacks feel that way, too. Especially the women for some reason. They can be as hard as nails with their own, as unwilling to forgive as the most bigoted white you can conjure up. Only three times in all the miles I was hitching was I picked up by a black man even though most of the cars that passed me were driven by blacks. Of all the people who’ve offered me money, only two were black. They were both women and they each gave me a dollar.

With the first (in Richmond), I had the feeling that she was making a sacrifice, that even a dollar was going to cause a problem to her week but she was going to do it anyway. I was grateful and even humbled by that sacrifice. The other (in Fayetteville) was slumming. She had just put over $40 worth of gas in her SUV and she wanted to feel, perhaps, that she wasn’t as selfish as she sometimes thought she was.

The point here is not that black people are stingier or meaner with money, gifts, or aid. The point is that they, too, have bought a certain amount of the “personal responsibility” swill that conservatives have been peddling for the past 30 years. Not as much as whites but quite a bit all the same. Bill Cosby started a furor several times in the last few years when he publicly took the standard conservative attitude – “I did it so if you can’t it’s because you’re lazy and undisciplined” – and beat his own people over the head with it. Of course they were angry. They’re used to hearing that crap from whites. It was an insult to hear it from one of their heroes.

But it does make plain the split in the black community between those angry because the discrimination never seems to end despite all the white promises (and now the incredibly frustrating white insistence that it has ended when it so clearly has not) and those who are angry because their friends and loved ones often seem to be taking the easy way out, proving to the whites that “they’re all like that” and similar cliches.

There’s nothing really new about this split. It has been there for generations but conservative propaganda has given it new life and force so that even blacks are asking themselves, “What’s wrong with us? Why haven’t we come further in the last 40 years since the civil rights movement than we have? Are they right? Are we just lazy, undisciplined, and dependant on government handouts?”

The poison is everywhere – both in the unrealistic expectations of whites that blacks ought to have become docile and obedient once segregation was technically over even though in many ways how they’re treated hasn’t changed much, and in blacks’ expectations for themselves that it must be their fault if they haven’t made more progress. It’s a game of Victim/Victim that has to be played out, I suppose, but it isn’t helping anybody.

Written by Mick

July 24, 2008 at 6:47 pm

“The Constitution Doesn’t Poll Very Well”

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[T]his is exactly what we are now hearing from the likes of Harold Ford, Chuck Schumer, Cass Sunstein, David Broder, Tim Rutten, and on and on and on — criminal prosecutions for government lawbreakers are far too disruptive and politically untenable and unfair. The only fair reaction is just to vote them out of office or wait until they leave on their own accord. All of the Beltway platitudes are trotted out — we can’t look backwards, or “criminalize policy disputes,” or get caught up in unpleasant battles over prosecutions when we have too many other important problems too solve — all in order to argue that, no matter what happens, our glorious political leaders should never be held accountable in a court of law, like everyone else is, when they break the law.
Why would we expect political officials to do anything other than break the law if we continuously tell them — as we’ve been doing — that they are exempt from consequences? And how can Bush — or Nixon — be criticized for conceiving of the Presidency as being above the law when that’s how our political establishment, including many Democrats, explicitly conceive of it as well?
(emphasis added)
Indeed. And those arguments, absurd and anti-democratic as they are, are being accepted out here far more often than they should be. Too many of us seem willing to hold our noses and allow them to pass even though we’re uncomfortable with the whole idea of an all-powerful president, more like a king than anything a genuine democracy would dream up. Maybe that’s because we’re constantly being told – by Republicans, Democrats, and news commentators at every level and on every medium – that that’s the way it’s supposed to be. David Sirota wrote in this week’s column:
A calculated Jedi mind trick is at work here….
When regular folks talk to friends and neighbors, we sure feel like our desire for privacy, disgust with NAFTA and opposition to the Iraq war are mainstream majority positions – and they are. But then comes the barrage.
Day after day, smiling anchormen, blow-dried correspondents and silver-tongued congressmen follow the Big Lie theory of indoctrination, taking to our televisions, radios and newspapers insisting that crazy is normal, the majority is the minority and – most importantly – the fringe is the “center.” This is no accident.
These voices of the status quo do not want the status quo challenged. They deliberately broadcast messages crafted to get us – the mainstream – to question our mainstream-ness, while convincing politicians that the Establishment’s extremism represents a responsible middle ground.
And, confused, we fall for it. It sounds good – authentic, authoritative. We have little or no ability to read between the lines or hear beyond the words, we’re generally too ignorant to work out the real options in any situation, an ignorance that’s not totally our fault because the opportunistic media doesn’t see fit to tell us much that we need to know convinced as they are that we don’t want to know it. Still, there are a sizable number of people who are seeing through the Republicrat/corporate game to the underlying truth. Here’s Anonymous (his/her email is a cover coming through something called “Gishpuppy”, a site that lets you hide your real email address) on the SenatorObama-PleaseVoteAgainstFISA website answering an Obama defender who thought everyone should vote for Obama because his Supreme Court nominees wouldn’t be as extreme-Right as McCain’s would be:
This single issue is the Bill of Rights. With a politician willing to run roughshod over the Bill or Rights, what’s the point? Who cares who they nominate to the Supreme Court if there’s no Constitutional rights to protect? Without your freedoms from the Bill of Rights, what is it you are defending from terrorists? The Constitution and the Bill of Rights is the foundation upon which everything else in American politics is built. So, yes, when it comes to the Constitution I am a single-issue voter and so should every American.
Compromise is not an option.
The sad, sad truth is that it doesn’t. While we sit back arguing over who will make the better SCOTUS nominations (which the GOP will block anyway if they’re Obama’s), both parties – or, as Ralph Nader says, the single party known as the Republicrats – are working their little fannies off gutting the Bill of Rights, which is more than what Anonymous calls “the foundation upon which everything else in American politics is built”, it is the foundation on which all American law is built. Without it we are no different from the dictatorship of Slobovia or the Kingdom of Heineken.
The Republicrats want power. That’s what it’s all about. When DLC Chair Harold Ford spoke at the netroots conference, he basically defended the FISA vote and its destruction of the accountability principle by echoing his hero, George W Bush, “I think that accountability was brought in 2006 when [the GOP] lost in the House and the Senate,” Ford responded said. “And we have only eight more months of George W. Bush…” Or as a Hullaballoo commenter put it, “The Constitution doesn’t poll very well.” Which is the exact same argument the media uses whenever it’s criticized for swallowing the Bush/Cheney manipulations whole and continually parroting the govt line without even bothering to check to see if anything in it is true. Glenn quotes the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer.
[L]et me tell you about a conversation I had with..[NY Sen]..Chuck Schumer. When I asked him why, given his safe seat, and ostensible concern for civil liberties, he didn’t speak out more against the Bush Administration’s detention and interrogation programs, he said in essence that voters don’t care about these issues. So, he said, he wasn’t going to talk about them.
(emphasis in the original)
I’ve said this before and I will undoubtedly say it again: if we want to save our democracy from full-bore corporate authoritarianism; if we don’t want to see it become a home for autocratic despots and tinpot dictators like some Central American banana republic, we’re going to have to save it ourselves. If you’re expecting Obama or the Democrats to do it, that’s like expecting a thief to break into your house and leave his money on your dresser – unrealistic.

Written by Mick

July 19, 2008 at 4:06 pm

The Death of Innocence

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DCup at The American Street has figured out conservatives. She wonders if she’s a little late to the party (she is) but nevertheless has an interesting insight: Americans are conservative because it’s easy.

Conservatism doesn’t require you to change any of your beliefs or habits. It doesn’t ask you to consider anything different than what you already know. It doesn’t trust that you’ll think beyond the little circle you stand in. It doesn’t encourage you to care about the commons or your fellow human beings. Conservatism says it’s okay, no it’s preferable if you are exclusionary. It allows you to draw the tiniest circle possible around you so that you only have to care about your family and yourself.

It’s a good point. America is about being lazy – intellectually lazy. We’ve always prided ourselves on our ignorance, bragged about it. Which is why when George W sticks his nose in the air to tell us he doesn’t bother to read books, we applaud. He’s one of us, no damn egghead.

Conservatism applauds right along with us. As Kevin pointed out in his comment, “T[h]at also explains why so many hate actual knowledge. Knowledge and reason threaten biases and distorted or perverse ethics.” They like that we’re ignorant and naïve and want to stay that way. It makes us easy targets, makes us easy to manipulate.

This is important not because her insight is so blindingly original – it isn’t – but because she has put her finger on the challenge – the real challenge – that the entire country will face very soon: the loss of our innocence.

We hate that. We hate the whole idea. Our national identity has been built on our innocence, our generosity, our perpetual youth. Without it, we are groundless, undefined, a people floating in a void. This is a “melting pot” where people of vastly different cultures and ethnic backgrounds have merged into a single simple identity. They gave up much of their identifying heritage (it takes 3-4 generations but they’ve all done it) in order to become naïve, ignorant, generous Americans who don’t have the age-old problems that stifle, even choke, the rest of the world.

Yet we have now reached a point in our development where the innocence and naiveté we prize so highly has actually begun to threaten our survival. No matter how much in love with it we are, we’re going to have to give it up. Have to. And it isn’t going to be easy.

We are more or less equivalent to a 16-yr-old who is facing adulthood but doesn’t want to let go of the safety and familiarity of childhood, who wants the responsibility to make his/her own decisions but also wants to continue to be protected by parents and family. And that adolescent is spoiled. Rotten.

 

America, to be blunt about it, has built itself on the uniquely American Dream that you can have it ALL.

Well, you can’t. And that may be the hardest lesson we ever have to learn. But if we don’t, our nation – or what’s left of it after Bush – is going to wind up joining the rest of the would-be imperiums in the planet’s hitorical junkbin. We MUST wake up. We MUST learn things we don’t want to learn, like how to deal with complexity.

We MUST.

Written by Mick

July 16, 2008 at 7:20 pm

Posted in Conservatism

Bush Lobbyist Caught Selling Access to VP Cheney in Return for Donations to Bush Library/Propaganda Center (Updated)

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Well, I’m not surprised.

The Sunday London Times is reporting that big-time Bush lobbyist Stephen Payne is busy these days selling access to Dick Cheney in return for (sizable) donations to the Bush Library and Propaganda Center.

The images on the tiny screen of Stephen Payne’s personal organiser told a clear story: this was a man with connections at the highest level.

One showed Payne uprooting dead trees side by side with George W Bush on the US president’s Texas ranch. Another depicted him skeet shooting next to Dick Cheney, the vice-president, and a third grinning for the camera alongside Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state.

The man on the other side of the table from Payne at the Lanesborough hotel in central London last week appeared impressed by the contents of the BlackBerry. He was a familiar figure, a Kazakh politician Payne knew as Eric Dos.

 Dos, whose full name is Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov, told Payne that he was representing another foreign political figure who was looking to meet the top people in the US government.

 Dos had good reason for believing that Payne could make it happen. Payne has accompanied Bush and Cheney on foreign trips to the Middle East and Asia, and he sits on the influential advisory council to the Department of Homeland Security. Payne is also president of a lobbying company, Worldwide Strategic Partners (WSP), which specialises in connecting business and political interests with the US government.

Dos told Payne that the politician needing help was Askar Akayev, the former president of the central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan.

Akayev, who is in exile in Moscow after being ousted from power three years ago in a people’s revolt, was seeking an endorsement from senior US figures in order to help rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the world, Dos told Payne.

“Who does he want to meet with in Washington?” asked the American. Dos replied: “Well of course, maybe the president of the United States, vice-president Cheney, to speak maybe directly to explain the situation in central Asia . . . To give his side of the story. These kind of things.”

“I think that some things could be done,” said Payne, adding that seeing Bush himself might be more difficult. With barely a pause, he continued:

“I think that the family, children, whatever [of Akayev], should probably look at making a contribution to the Bush library.

“It would be like, maybe a couple of hundred thousand dollars, or something like that, not a huge amount but enough to show that they’re serious.”

(emphasis added) 

Whew! That’s a relief. For a minute there I thought we were talking about real money. $200K for a visit with L’il Dick so a deposed dictator could have a sympathetic audience listen to “his side of the story”? Cheap at twice the price. And who knows? L’il Dick can understand the pain of autocrats slung out of their country for torture, theft (isn’t Akayev the one who boiled his political opponents in oil?). He might be looking at something similar himself one of these days. Maybe he’ll invade Kyrgyzstan and give the guy back his country if he promises to join the worldwide WOT and turn Kyrgyzstan’s oil fields over to Halliburton and Chevron for management/sale.

Hey, it’s doable. Disgusting but doable.

I wish I could say this means the Bushies have struck rock bottom but selling access for $$$ is what they do. what they’ve been doing for years. 

The scandal isn’t that a BushBaby is breaking the law. This is minor for these guys. The scandal is that I have to read about it in the foreign press. The reporter was undercover – a concept the US press abandoned after the Food Lion fiasco because it wasn’t fair to corporate pirates and their willingness to poison us for a buck or two – and he recorded the conversation (legal, despite conservative howling to the contrary). Who these days in the US could imagine such a thing happening? Not me.

Dos said that in the autumn of 2005 he had been asked by the Kazakh government, via Kulibayev, to arrange a visit by Cheney. The intention was to improve the country’s international standing.

Dos had spent several days negotiating with Payne. A deal was eventually agreed, he said, and he understood that a payment of $2m was passed, via a Kazakh oil and gas company, to Payne’s firm.

The following May, Cheney made a brief trip to Kazakhstan. His visit was remarked upon in the media at the time, both for the lavish praise which he publicly heaped on Nazarbayev and for the stark contrast between this and a speech he had made just a day earlier at a conference in Lithuania in which he had lambasted Russia for being insufficiently democratic. Now he was lauding Nazarbayev, who has effectively made himself president for life and in whose country it is an offence to criticise him.

“Why did Cheney castigate Russia’s imperfect democracy while saying not a word about Kazakhstan’s shameless travesty of the democratic system?” said one newspaper following the visit. “Cheney’s flattery of the Kazakh regime was sickening,” said another.

Hey! Cheney is an honorable man. If he takes money to fluff a country, bigod, he fluffs that country! No matter what kind of hellish conditions he has to ignore. He lives up to his contracts.

Some of them…

I don’t imagine this is serious enough to get much attention as a scandal. It’s pretty small potatoes for the Bushies. So maybe SMU doesn’t really have to worry very much about the soiling of its reputation that bribery on behalf of the school will inevitably bring about. Maybe they don’t think it’s any big deal considering they’re willing to look past torture. Maybe they think John Wesley would take a laissez-faire approach to White House corruption, spying, theft, and contempt for the law. Maybe that’s all OK with Methodists now.

Apparently it must be, because the Bishops have been perfectly willing to bow to Bush pressure and overlook all of it. What’s one more crime more or less? Bribery? Fagh. Who cares?

Clearly the Methodist bishops don’t.

UPDATE: (7/15/08) Lindsay Beyerstein has dug up a lot more at Majikthese.

Written by Mick

July 14, 2008 at 6:35 pm

Insane Conservatives 1 – Clinging to Fantasies

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Are modern conservatives insane?

It’s a legitimate question from a number of different angles but let’s just take one to start with.

In psychotherapy there’s a common saying, often used when dealing with addicts of various descriptions:

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result.

Well? Isn’t that exactly what conservatives do?

Take their constant, unbending rejection of any form of regulation – any – while at the same time demanding govt interference in other sovereign countries in order to protect business interests. Using a series of arguments that more or less boiled down to “You can trust us”, they convinced the country that the odious nature of “over” regulation was hurting our ability “to compete successfully in the global marketplace”, they convinced us that a Golden Age was right around the corner where everyone would be rich if we just got rid of those pesky regulations that were “choking” them.

The evidence that almost nothing in that argument was true was rejected outright by modcons even before they knew what it was. Deregulation was an article of faith with them but it has never worked, not from Day One and not now.

Ronnie [Reagan] sold the country on deregulation by avowing a “common sense” belief in the grown-upness of corporate executives who, he insisted, would never take advantage of weak laws to rip off consumers. The conservatives’ vaunted “free market” would effectively prevent dishonesty, price-fixing, and over-charging. Govt interference (read: “regulations”) just made things difficult for business by adding a layer of costly bureaucracy that forced them to raise their prices to cover all the paperwork they had to do. The Congress, with a Democratic majority led then as now by conservative Blue Dogs who were Pubs in everything but name, promptly began the destruction by deregulating the airline industry.

Well, we all know how that ended. The airline industry has been in chaos ever since. Airlines appear and disappear with the frequency of grrl/boy bands, cut maintenance budgets until their planes are ready to fall apart, cut service, squeeze 4 passengers into a space meant for 2, and underfund employee pensions or cancel them outright. Pilots, mechanics, and flight attendants have all had their pay cut drastically; layoffs are so common that many carriers are chronically understaffed and running skeleton crews; many of them wind up in bankruptcy, from which they have to be bailed out by…us, of course; and service is at an all-time low – meals so cheap they’re almost inedible (when they’re offered at all), more luggage lost than ever before, long lines at ticket counters, delays so common we assume them, and so on.

Those of us not blinded by the need to endlessly repeat mistakes rather than have to admit we made one knew that deregulation wouldn’t work because we knew why these industries had been regulated in the first place: to keep them from destroying themselves, our economy, and even our fragile democracy with their unrestrained lust for ever larger profits. As a country we saw it in the late 19th century, a time of the Robber Barons and massive corruption and theft that led to the Panic of the 1890’s, and then again during the Roaring 20’s when speculation was uncontrolled, greed was glory, and the lack of limits on financial institutions caused the ’29 Crash and the Great Depression.

Franklin Roosevelt restructured the banking industry, virtually forced, like a parent when a kid runs wild, to put the brakes on and set up boundaries to protect both the kid and his potential victims – in this case, us. Reagan was essentially arguing that the kid was all grown up now, knew better, and would never repeat those mistakes again.

Yeah. Right.

What did he do when the cuffs were off? What everyone who knew the kid expected him to do. No sooner was he free then he ran right out and did it again. But this time his much more permissive parent, the one who thought it was cute when he stuffed the maid into the toilet to see if he could flush off her dress, had control and let him do whatever he wanted to do. The results were predictable.

Unless, of course, you’re a modern conservative, in which case you are:

  • in denial that anything has gone wrong
  • arguing that the reason it went wrong is because there are still regulations left – somewhere – and their very existence caused the screw-up
  • blaming the victims
  • pushing for more deregulation

Despite this long history of which every step proves the desirability, nay, the necessity of regulatory strength to protect citizens from pedatory business practices and the society from the damage such practices caused; despite the clear historical evidence that having such a regulatory presence does far more good than harm; despite all that, the modern conservative continues to pretend that deregulation works and regulation doesn’t.

Again, in psychotherapy when a patient refuses to recognize basic realities that conflict with his belief system, we suspect there is a serious problem involved, not just some passing neurosis with temporary or minor effects. We think there may be a pathology here, perhaps a psychotic personality living in his own private dream world, hallucinating the beneficial results he believes he deserves but has never received in ordinary reality.

Sound familiar? I thought so.

Written by Mick

July 13, 2008 at 4:17 pm

Dump the Dems 7: Are You Ready to Do It Yet?

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There is no reason whatever to back the Democrats.

That’s the lesson we learned the past couple of weeks as Barack Obama forever soiled his undies when ordered to by the DLC, and the 4th Amendment was sent packing in a secret midnight meeting the Dem Leaders (Steny Hoyer, Jay Rockefeller, and Sylvestre Reyes) had with the Pubs and didn’t even bother to tell the membership about. The DLC/BD contingent is a minority with a very Pub-like disgust for democracy because it’s so hard to get anything done when you have to convince people to go against their best interests and the best interests of the country. They keep crabbing about the Constitution and stuff (as if that meant anything any more – “9/11 changed everything! 9/11 changed everything!!“), and how can you talk sense to people like that?

Here’s what the Democrats just did:

The new statute permits the NSA to intercept phone calls and e-mails between the U.S. and a foreign location, without making any showing to a court and without judicial oversight, whether or not the communication has anything to do with al Qaeda — indeed, even if there is no evidence that the communication has anything to do with terrorism, or any threat to national security.

As I’ve previously explained, the NSA’s objective here is not simply to surveil foreigners who it already suspects as being part of al Qaeda — it can easily obtain a FISA order as to those folks. Nor is the purpose of the new law to allow warrantless surveillance of international-to-international calls — that’s already legal, too. As is the warrantless overseas interception of calls between foreigners and U.S. persons.

What the agency is seeking, instead, is to be able to intercept foreign communications (i) coming across domestic wires where (ii) NSA does not have probable cause to believe that any of the parties is a terrorist or agent of a foreign power; and (iii) there is a chance that some of the intercepted communications will be with persons in the U.S.

The new law allows the NSA to do this, by permitting what David Kris has called a form of “vacuum-cleaner” surveillance that (in the words of the new law) “target[s] . . . persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information.”

Under this new standard, there’s no need that the surveillance have any connection to al Qaeda, or terrorism, or even to national security. The only substantial requirements are that someone overseas be a “target” and that one “significant purpose” of the surveillance be to acquire “foreign intelligence information” — which is very broadly defined to include most anything that occurs overseas and in which the federal government might have an interest (including information necessary to protect against the full range of foreign threats to national security, and information with respect to a foreign power that is necessary to the national defense or foreign affairs).

That’s what Democrats have done. Not Republicans, not Stalinist Commies. Democrats. Specifically, the DLC-run leadership. The message is clear: as far as the DLC/Blue Dogs are concerned, FDR Democrats – liberals –  are a thing of the past and from this point on the New Democrats – conservative DLC Democrats – are running things to suit themselves and if you don’t like it, wha’d’ya plan to do about it? Vote for a Republican? By gawd, they’re even worse! Hah! You’re stuck.

No, we’re not. We have options. The best one is to defeat the damn GOP conservatives who have infiltrated the party and grabbed hold of all the leadership positions. The Blue Dogs MUST go down to defeat if we are to replace the New Democrat party of autocrats and corporate stooges with Old Democrats who believe in stuff like universal health care, worker and consumer protections, the Constitution, community, and generosity to those less fortunate. (The Blue Dogs would run the less fortunate over in a truck if they were lying dying on the road because, after all, the BD’s are really Republicans and to a Pub anybody lying in the road deserves to be run over with a truck as a lesson not to lie in roads.) “Compassionate conservatives” my heiny. As we know know, that’s an oxymoron. Conservatives are never compassionate, and anyone who is compassionate isn’t a conservative.

The second possibility – don’t laugh – is to build a Third Party. And yes, it’s possible. Difficult – very difficult – but possible. And you know what? To be effective, it doesn’t even have to win, only scare the New Democrats into thinking they might lose.

The important thing is that we must be ready to Dump the Dems. If we’re not, neither of these options will work because they’ll have no reason to pay any attention to us.

Are you ready yet? What’s it going to take before you’ll be ready to risk a Pub win in order to get your party back? I really want to know. It’s fish or cut bait time.

Written by Mick

July 10, 2008 at 7:04 pm

Why Al Giordano Is Wrong About, Well, Everything (Updated)

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Al Giordano’s incoherent defense of Obama’s hard right turn over the last couple of weeks leaves a bad taste even if you don’t swallow it. The height of its inconsistency comes very early when Giordano berates those of us dismayed by Obama’s acceptance of the abominable FISA bill, his promise – which he repeated even more strongly this weekend – to bring religion into government, his obeisance to the Wall Street Journal, and so on. Calling us “Chicken Littles” as a way to minimize Obama’s betrayal as well as our concerns, he asks politely if we wouldn’t “[p]lease put aside 28 minutes and 22 seconds today to give your full attention to the video of [the May 31st] speech” before we dare open our mouths again.
He then quotes it at length and spends several grafs of his most persuasive prose on how important what BO said was, ending with this:
As a writer, I believe that words should be powerful enough to stand on their own no matter who is writing them.
Which is in its turn followed by several more grafs giving his history and proving what a splendid fellow he is and how he, too, in his day was a dissenter. I can vouch for this, having met Al once or twice back in the 80’s when he was a real troublemaker.
Then there is a short history of dissent (centering around his own of course) which ends with this startling comment – startling, that is, if you took the first part of this diatribe seriously:
[F]or a number of years in my reckless youth I worked inside of political campaign staffs. And there’s one thing that is evident from that experience: What a candidate says while seeking office has little to no bearing on his or her actions upon obtaining that office.
Too many progressive activists suffer from the illusion that if they leverage a candidate during a campaign that getting him or her to say one thing or another will later translate into policy.
***
Candidates that clipped to the right turned out to govern quite progressively. Candidates that tacked to the left governed more conservatively, sometimes to authoritarian extremes.
***
In sum, I don’t think that anything that Obama or McCain say during the campaign is going to determine how each of them will govern.
(emphasis added)
Really? Can you like, name one Lefty who, once elected, governed “to authoritarian extremes”? Just one? Pretty please? Because I’m older than Al and until very recently I have observed no such phenomenon. LBJ? Not even close. Democrats, yes, but they were all Yellow Dogs – conservatives.
But did you note the central contradiction? He wants us to back off based on listening to Obama’s words, assuring us that “words should be powerful enough to stand on their own”, and then he wants us to shut up about Obama because, after all, no politician means what he says during a campaign and anyway his words don’t have anything to do with how he will govern.
Oh.
So I’m a little confused, Al. Do you want me to listen to Obama’s words or ignore them?
The answer, of course, is that Al wants us to do whichever will shut us up. Because Mr Giordano is now part of the establishment, an Obama apologist who 20 years ago would have been raging about the gutting of the 4th Amendment but for whom these days, in his place at the (coming) center of power, it’s, like NBFD, man, so what’s all the anguish about? etc etc etc.
To prove he is (or wants to be) a DLC player all the way, he spends the next section of the piece regurgitating the very same DLC talking points we’ve been hearing since Clinton, assuring us that he once shared our concerns but has now overcome such childishness. 
Among the baggage from the Clinton era of Democratic Party politics is this narrative about a nominee “moving to the center.” I myself have a hard time breaking out of it, even though I know it’s generally bullshit….
Of course, it’s not “bullshit”. It’s precisely and literally exactly what Clinton did and what the DLC/Blue Dog Alliance wants to expand – a move to the Right. Anybody – and Al really ought to know better – who thinks “welfare reform” was a liberal idea ought to check history. Clinton (and Al From) stole it from the Right, who were trying to sell that garbage back when Clinton was dodging the draft. Thus has Al learned from the DLC (who learned it from Lee Atwater and Karl Rove) to ignore reality and history, replacing them with his own little narrative pushing his particular sales pitch.
Then we get all the old DLC TP’s: Nader, Dukakis, the whole bag of tricks.
Let’s debunk this nonsense once and for all.
The Dukakis Myth
DLC propagandists have been throwing this one at us for 20 years and, frankly, that’s long enough. It wasn’t true to begin with and in any case it’s antiquated as hell. Here’s Giordano’s version, which differs very little from Al From’s.
And it’s also a popular myth these days in some circles that “moving to the right” is what has hurt previous Democratic nominees. That’s exactly the opposite of what happened to Michael Dukakis in 1988, whose 17-point lead in the polls was blown not because he moved to the right (he didn’t) but because he was unable to frame his more liberal views in a non-ideological or “post-partisan” manner.
This is such bullshit one hardly knows where to begin to debunk it. Just as the Right likes to set up straw men and count on our ignorance to let them stand, DLC propagandists have for two decades run this crap into the ground with little more than shreds of evidence to sustain it. No, Dukakis didn’t run to the right, he moved to the Right in order to run in the Center – the real Center, not the right-wing “center” conservatives insist on, a “center” to which their deepest beliefs are core and liberal beliefs are…unwelcome, a “center” which Giordano now accepts without flinching. The Duke’s loss had NOTHING WHATEVER to do with being “unable to frame his more liberal views in a non-ideological or ‘post-partisan’ manner.” That’s hindsight in all its glorious distortion. Either that or a deliberate misinterpretation – a la Karl Rove – in order to give DLC assumptions some weight. Either way, it’s nonsense.
Dukakis lost because he was a lousy candidate and Susan Estrich (another long-time DLCer) ran a lousy campaign. He lost because Lee Atwater emptied the bag of sleazy dirty tricks (Willie Horton, anyone? Al doesn’t mention him. Irrelevant, I guess) and then invented new ones (which Rove was to copy and go even deeper into the barrel of evil with). But frankly, here’s why he lost, and Al’s got it, but from the wrong end, like all DLCers.
From his disastrous debates where he boasted to be “a card carrying member of the ACLU” and his stammering, impersonal response when a CNN moderator asked him whether he would still oppose the death penalty if his wife was raped and murdered, it was clinging to the left side of the divide that brought down that Democratic nominee.

Duke didn’t “boast” about being a member of the ACLU but he had the audacity to mention it without thinking it was something he needed to apologize for. That was enough for Atwater’s hit squad, and while it’s frustrating to find a so-called “liberal” like Giordano repeating Atwater’s attack, it’s perfectly predictable. The DLC was born out of the crucible of Dukakis’ loss, and it is an article of faith with them that Democrats can’t fight Republican propaganda, that their only hope is to do what the GOP wants so they won’t – theoretically – attack (see Harry Reid’s recent statement about why we “had to” pass FISA). Their second article of faith also follows Republican thinking – that you can’t win in America unless you run to the Right. That may have been true 20 years ago. The country was, at the time, enamored with Reagan’s aura and distracted by constant conservative propaganda that told them if they just believed in conservative principles, they’d get rich.

But that was then and this is now. In the meantime we’ve had to suffer through 12 years of GOP control of Congress, one term of a hapless Bush and two terms of a disastrous Bush separated by two terms of an ineffectual Pub-Lite president under constant attack by the Far Right. Economically, Bush had a free hand for 6 years with a Pub-majority Congress. We’ve had all the favored recipes of the Right in full Technicolor, unrestricted by either reality or common sense – deregulation, low tax policies, an unrestrained “free market” in which corporations were allowed to run amok with neither regulations nor oversight, privatized health care – and have had a chance to see and evaluate the results. According to the polls, we don’t like what we see. We’re more frightened of our economic future than we’ve been since they started measuring it, we’ve had 5 straight months of growing unemployment, a stock market that’s falling like a stone off a cliff, and we’re in a Recession without end looking very much as if it won’t be long before it becomes a major Depression rivaling the 30’s. From this angle, right-wing economics looks dangerous at best, disastrous at worst. We ain’t so crazy about it any more.

We dislike conservative social policies (growth of poverty, removal of the safety net, anti-worker edicts, etc), conservative imperialist war policies – enormous deficits, torture – even more. In fact, we don’t like what’s happened to the country under conservatives because it’s finally dawning on us that under the GOP only those already rich get richer. Everybody else gets poorer. Including the nation as a whole.

As Americans we’re also (finally) having trouble with the conservatives’ “screw the other guy” philosophy as we see poverty and hunger grow before our eyes, jobs disappearing over the horizon, sick kids with no health insurance, old people with no place to live, homelessness growing like a cancer, etc. The usual conservative mantra about how the poor are only poor because they’re lazy breaks down when the middle class becomes poor through no fault of their own but because of govt policies that favor the rich at everybody else’s expense. They have been 7 hard years and hard lessons were learned. Conservatism no longer sounds like the clarion call to wealth so much as what it really is – a promise to strip you of everything good in life so your rich neighbors can buy a new yacht.

It isn’t setting well. We want CHANGE. Al and the DLC mavens apparently think “change” means a new name and face attached to the same old policies. It doesn’t. This is NOT 1988. The pendulum is swinging the other way, Al. Our way . But you’re too scared of 1988 to take advantage of it? Get over it.

As for Duke’s supposedly “stammering, impersonal response” to a torpedo of a question planted by Lee Atwater, Giordano is basically accepting the wisdom and use of infotainment-style “How long have you been beating your wife?” questions, questions designed to elicit confusion and get a meaningless but punchy sound bite that embarrasses a celebrity. It was – and still is – sabotage “journalism” and ought to be condemned, not accepted mildly with the blame put on the perp instead of the victim. Remember, we expect these kind of questions now but we only expect them because that one was fired at Duke, out of the blue. In those days no one expected shoddy, vindictive, National Inquirer-type questions at the level of a presidential debate. No one at the time (except me) thought the GOP would sink that low. We learned just how low they would sink (and how tightly they were tied to our corporate media) from that very question, and from the media’s absurdly childish response to it. Al, are you going to be as unforgiving when Obama does a bunk – as he will – when faced with an unprecedentedly dirty dirty-trick gets aimed at him and he can’t respond fast enough or personally enough or whatever flaw appears the Right will grab and keep throwing at him?

The fact of the matter is that Dukakis really lost not because he moved to the Center or looked silly wearing a helmet in a tank (Estrich’s monumentally stupid idea to make him more palatable to the military-minded Right) or stuttered when asked an abominably evil question or mentioned the ACLU without spitting at them. He lost because he didn’t look comfortable defending his liberalism. He waffled, made center-right noises, and seemed to be forever apologizing for being one. He came across – as many Democrats since have come across and for the same reasons – as a man who didn’t really believe what he was saying, or if he did, wasn’t willing to defend it much less fight for it. He didn’t need to “frame” his views in a “post-partisan” (whatever that means) manner, he needed to present them with passion and certainty. He did neither. He looked weak, sounded apologetic and unsure of himself and what he supposedly stood for. When Bush I refused even to use the word “liberal” because it was so horrible he couldn’t bring himself to say it (he called it “The L word” – another Atwater PR invention), Duke – no doubt on Estrich’s advice – stopped using it, too. He concentrated on “policy issues”, which made him seem remote and academic. Atwater convinced CNN to ask that loaded question on the basis of a meme he developed that Dukakis wasn’t exactly human but some sort of policy machine who had no feelings. He came across like that because he was running from the Left instead of embracing his liberalism and defending it.

And it has been that way with DLC-run candidates ever since. It is the reason – the core reason – why Kerry won by such a slim margin. It is the reason Gore was down in the polls until he dumped his DLC advisors late in the campaign and started running to the Left instead of away from it, at which point he began to pull ahead. It’s the reason Democrats have been perceived as opportunistic, grasping, weak, and evasive. What was needed was a national Democrat running unapologetically, with passion and fervor in his/her liberal beliefs. Had Dukakis done that instead of buckling under to Estrich’s cowardice, he could have, probably would have, won. Passion and commitment was what people were waiting to see. They never saw it.

And that, as Glenn Greewald makes clear, is what is currently threatening Obama’s candidacy as well.

[I]sn’t the perception that Obama is abandoning his own core beliefs — or, worse, that he has none — a much greater political danger than a failure to move to the so-called “Center” by suddenly adopting Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies? As a result of Obama’s reversal on FISA, his very noticeable change in approach regarding Israel, his conspicuous embrace of the Scalia/Thomas view in recent Supreme Court cases, and a general shift in tone, a very strong media narrative is arising that Obama is abandoning his core beliefs for political gain. That narrative — that he’s afraid to stand by his own beliefs — appears far more likely to result in a perception that Obama is “Weak” than a refusal to embrace Bush/Cheney national security positions.

What’s most amazing about the unexamined premise that Democrats must “move to the Center” (i.e., adopt GOP views) is that this is the same advice Democrats have been following over and over and which keeps leading to their abject failure. It’s the advice Kerry followed in 2004. It’s why Democrats rejected Howard Dean and chose John Kerry instead.

And in 2002, huge numbers of Congressional Democrats voted to authorize the attack on Iraq based on this same premise that doing so would enable them to avoid looking Weak on National Security. The GOP then based its whole 2002 campaign on attacking Democrats as Weak on National Security and the Democrats were crushed — because, having accepted rather than debated the GOP premises, there was no way to challenge GOP National Security arguments.

What Giordano and the other DLCers are arguing for is precisely the strategy that killed Dukakis and Kerry and Gore, and they’re talking and acting like it’s the only possible intelligent strategy and anybody who doesn’t go along is brain-dead.

I don’t think so.

The Nader Myth

This is one of the most pernicious of the DLC TP’s because if you buy into it, it freezes all political action contrary to DLC policy. It leaves no viable options to DLC control of the Democratic party and conservative Blue Dog control of leadership in Congress. Which is, of course, why they spend so much time propping it up. Here’s Mr Giordano’s take, only a slight variation on the usual DLC canard:

Too many progressive activists suffer from the illusion that if they leverage a candidate during a campaign that getting him or her to say one thing or another will later translate into policy. Ironically, it was Ralph Nader that pioneered that view of activism and we can all see to where it has naturally led him and some others after the frustration of decades of believing, despite the bad results, in a tactic that did not work.

Honesty is “a tactic that did not work”? A non-running campaign by a candidate who never expected to win and didn’t really want to is your template? Of course the more usual spike against Nader, of which this is a junior cousin, is that Gore lost the election because Nader split the Democratic vote just enough to make it close enouigh for Bush to steal.

Balderdash. Utter nincompoopery.

Let’s stick with the guilty parties, shall we? BUSH OPERATIVES STOLE THE 2000 ELECTION AND A FAR RIGHT SCOTUS AFFIRMED THE THEFT. Nader’s candidacy made NO DIFFERENCE to the outcome. It couldn’t have. The Bush operatives were going to steal enough votes to ensure his win NO MATTER WHAT. Anybody who doesn’t get that doesn’t get what the last 8 years have all been about, or understand the true nature of modern conservatism. Nader is innocent.

But by presenting Nader as an incalculable problem, a menace, and the reason Bush won, the DLC can fend off what they must know is the rebellion that will come from the Left. After all, they hijacked the party and turned it into a haven for moderate and not-so-far Right Republicans who run as Dems, then vote with the Pubs. It’s a way for the conservative DLC/BD Alliance to maintain power in the face of a challenge from the party base, who are mostly FDR Democrats and civil libertarians. If they maintain control of the national party, the New Democrats, the base’s only option is the formation of a Third Party built along Old Democrat populist lines. If the DLC is to prevent that, they need to make – and keep – the base scared about Democratic losses leading to future George W Bushes, a frightening propect indeed.

The problem for the DLC, of course, is the question of just how far they can go to the Right before the base doesn’t care any more and abandons them anyway, understanding at last that the New Dems are just going to continue to vote with the Old Pubs. That realization is going to happen sometime – is probably beginning to happen right now – and the tactics the DLC has picked to keep it at bay are the unsurprising right-wing tacks of minimizing the importance of the Democratic party’s betrayal of its roots and its base, and ridiculing anyone who doesn’t think the way they do as “Chicken Little’s” or worse. We’ve seen all this before, but it’s usually coming from the GOP. They have to keep us scared to keep us from bolting their corporate-friendly Republican-model party, and they know if we thought there was a snowball’s chance of fielding a significant third party challenge, we’d do it. So Giordano, playing the GOP/DLC game, warns us that if we disagree with his and his masters’ assessment, we’re stupid dissenters.

[T]he highest calling of patriotism is not dissent. It is smart dissent, that based not on self-indulgence or the blurting of one’s frustration’s out in ways that seek to share the panic or the misery, but based on – even sometimes against great odds – building the objective conditions by which we will win the important battles worth fighting.

Got that? If you disagree with his definition of “smart dissent”, you are self-indulgent, “blurting” (a word usually applied to very young children) out your “frustrations” because you don’t understand how they endanger the “important battles”, of which, naturally, the FISA isn’t one, you Chicken Little.

I spent so much time and space, even knowing it’s unlikely to be read, not because Giordano’s screed is insulting, elitist, condescending, and arrogant – which it is – but because it’s a clever and comprehensive picture of the major themes in DLC thinking and what we can expect for the future from him and the other conservative Dem propagandists.

I need to be clear about one point: THIS ISN’T ABOUT OBAMA. It’s about the control conservatives have taken of the Democratic party and the way they’re taking that party away from the Left and even the Center and planting it firmly on the Right. Obama is just the poster boy, the latest vessel of DLC conservative mastery of what was once our national party. He’s a figurehead the same way George W Bush is a figurehead – he represents the real power, is the public face of it, but he isn’t himself the power.

That’s the reason Giordano is ultimately right about one thing: it doesn’t matter what any candidate says during the campaign. No matter what they say, they’ll do what the power tells them to do. Obama is proving that even as we speak.

UPDATE: (7.8.08) I’m as surprised as Avedon Carol to find myself agreeing with Peter Beinart but he’s right.

In “The Best and the Brightest,” David Halberstam chronicles Lyndon Johnson‘s absolute terror of appearing soft on communism. Having seen fellow Democrats destroyed in the early 1950s because they tolerated a Communist victory in China, Johnson swore that he would not let the story replay itself in Vietnam, and thus pushed America into war. The awful irony, Halberstam argues, is that Johnson’s fears were unfounded. The mid-1960s were not the early 1950s. The Red Scare was over. But because it lived on in Johnson’s mind, he could not grasp the realities of a new day.

In this way, 2008 is a lot like 1964. On foreign policy, many Democrats live in terror of being called soft, of provoking the kind of conservative assault that has damaged so many of their presidential nominees since Vietnam. But that fear reflects memories of the past, not the realities of today. When Democrats worry about the backlash that awaits Barack Obama if he defends civil liberties, or endorses withdrawal from Iraq, or proposes unconditional negotiations with Iran, they are seeing ghosts. Fundamentally, the politics of foreign policy have changed.

***

Because Americans are less afraid and because Republicans have abandoned the foreign policy center, Democrats need not worry that Obama will suffer the fate of George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale or John Kerry. He won’t lose because he looks weak. The greater danger is that he will change positions in a bid to look strong — as he recently did on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — and come across as inauthentic and insincere. As Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin have noted, the Democrats’ biggest political liability is not that Americans believe they are too liberal but rather that they believe that Democrats don’t stand for anything at all. On foreign policy, Obama has a chance to change that: to articulate a vision based on the principles of global cooperation and human dignity that animated Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. He shouldn’t be deterred by fears of being called soft. Those fears are the echoes of a bygone age.

(emphasis added)

Written by Mick

July 7, 2008 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Democrats, Politics

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