Mar 202010
 
obama-larson

By Miles Mogulescu

Entertainment attorney, writer, and political activist  [print_link]

Editor’s Note: While we’re not quite happy with Mogulescu’s political strategy of conciliating crooks and opportunistic politicians in any party, preferring a different electoral strategy based foremost on the formation of a broad progressive independent movement, we think this piece is useful insofar as it confirms our old analysis that Obama and his crew (as Bill Clinton before him) are essentially corporatist creatures lacking a real commitment to the interest of the people.

Posted: March 16, 2010 12:57 PM

obama-larsonFor months I’ve been reporting in The Huffington Post that President Obama made a backroom deal last summer with the for-profit hospital lobby that he would make sure there would be no national public option in the final health reform legislation. (See here, here and here). I’ve been increasingly frustrated that except for an initial story last August in the New York Times,no major media outlet has picked up this important story and investigated further.

Hopefully, that’s changing. On Monday, Ed Shultz interviewed New York Times Washington reporter David Kirkpatrick on his MSNBC TV show, and Kirkpatrick confirmed the existence of the deal. Shultz quoted Chip Kahn, chief lobbyist for the for-profit hospital industry on Kahn’s confidence that the White House would honor the no public option deal, and Kirkpatrick responded:

“That’s a lobbyist for the hospital industry and he’s talking about the hospital industry’s specific deal with the White House and the Senate Finance Committee and, yeah, I think the hospital industry’s got a deal here. There really were only two deals, meaning quid pro quo handshake deals on both sides, one with the hospitals and the other with the drug industry. And I think what you’re interested in is that in the background of these deals was the presumption, shared on behalf of the lobbyists on the one side and the White House on the other, that the public option was not going to be in the final product.”

Kirkpatrick also acknowledged that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina had confirmed the existence of the deal.

This should be big news. Even while President Obama was saying that he thought a public option was a good idea and encouraging supporters to believe his healthcare plan would include one, he had promised for-profit hospital lobbyists that there would be no public option in the final bill.

The media should be digging deeper into this story. Washington reporters should be asking Robert Gibbs if President Obama is still honoring this deal. They should be calling Jim Messina and hospital lobbyist Chip Kahn to confirm the specifics of the deal. They should be asking Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leaders Dick Durbin and Harry Reid the extent of their knowledge of this deal. They should be asking Pelosi if the reason she’s refusing to include a public option in the House reconciliation bill to be sent to the Senate is that there are at least 51 Senate Democrats who would vote for it and she needs to insure that a final bill with a public option does not end up on President Obama’s desk where he would then have to break his deal with the hospital lobbyists and sign it, or veto it to honor his deal.

More deeply, there are serious questions about the extent to which Obama, with the help of Rahm Emanuel, used a K Street strategy to pursue health care reform. The strategy seems to have been to make backroom deals to protect the interests of the likes of the drug industry and the for-profit hospital industry in exchange for campaign cash, even if this meant reversing campaign promises to include a public option to put competitive pressure on private insurance premiums, and to allow Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices and Americans to buy cheaper drugs from Canada. The result is a health care bill that is generally unpopular with voters. Questions need to be asked, too, about the extent to which the White House is following a similar K Street strategy with Wall Street financiers when it comes to shaping financial reform and new regulations to rein in the banks who brought the economy to its knees.

Voters viscerally sense that the White House and Congressional Democrats may be as concerned with protecting special interests — whether it’s drug companies, private hospitals, or Wall Street bank — than they are with protecting the people, and this is feeding a populist backlash against Democrats that resulted in Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts and is making a Democratic bloodbath in the fall elections increasingly likely.

Polls indicate that about 60% of voters support a public option while only about 1/3 support the overall Democratic healthcare bill. There still time — very little time — for Democrats to shift course and include a public option in the final bill, even if it means going back on the White House’s backroom deal with the hospital industry. If the media picks up on this story, perhaps the White House and Congressional Democrats can be embarrassed into changing course. If, on the other hand, Democrats continue to honor these special interest deals, then passing an unpopular health care bill may just be walking into a Republican trap.
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RESPONSE TO COMMENTS: Whenever I write blogs which are critical of Obama and Congressional Democrats for making corporatist deals, I get numerous comments from people who believe they are progressive but say they will never vote for Obama or Democrats again, that they will stay home at the next election, or that they will vote for small third parties who have no chance of winning. It’s not my intent to encourage those views. Do people making these comments really think bringing Republicans back to power would make things better?

My goal is to shine a light on these backroom deals in order to embarrass Obama and Congressional Democrats to put the interests of the voters over the interests of special interests so that Republicans can’t play at being faux populists and use that to take back Congress in order to enact even worse corporatist policies.

Progressives need to have a sophisticated and nuanced relationship with elected Democrats. After the 2008 elections, too many progressive organizations demobilized believing their job was simply to take orders from the White House to support Obama’s agenda, whatever it was. That was a mistake. It’s equally a mistake for progressives to overreact in the opposite direction and think they can abandon electoral politics and do nothing to prevent the Republicans from regaining power. What’s needed is a powerful grassroots progressive movement to force elected officials to do the right thing more often and to counter-balance the power of big money in politics. The periods of progressive change in American politics, like the Progressive Era, The New Deal, and the Great Society, have come when strong progressive movements have forced elites and elected officials to enact somewhat progressive legislation.

Back in June, 2008, I wrote a blog entitled “Obama Will Break Our Hearts–But Progressives Need to Walk and Chew Gum at the Same Time” in which I argued that progressives needed to both elect Obama and create a strong grassroots movement or pressure him.

More recently, I wrote a blog entitled “The Democrats’ Authoritarian Health ‘Reform’ Bill and the Ascendency of Corporatism in the Democratic Party” in which I critiqued Obama’s Clintonian New Democratic corporatist ideology of trying to use subsidized private sector entities to achieve supposedly “progressive” policy results, thus promoting a corporate takeover of the public sector. I explained why, in my view, this is likely to lead to failure both in bringing meaningful progressive change, and in creating a politics that can keep Democrats in power.

I will continue to write the truth, as I see it, and to criticize Obama and corporatist Democrats when I think they’re wrong. But my goal is to create greater understanding and progressive mobilization, not to discourage readers or lead them to give up and stay home.

MILES MOGULESCU writes often for The Huffington Post and other liberaloid venues.

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 Posted by at 10:29 pm
Mar 202010
 
Lee Atwater with Poppy Bush. No more than a glorified servant.

By Louis Proyect

Filed under: Film, ultraright — louisproyect [print_link]

Lee Atwater with Poppy Bush. No more than a glorified servant.

Lee Atwater with Poppy Bush. No more than a glorified servant.

The timing of the PBS documentary on Lee Atwater titled “Boogie Man” could not be better. As the inventor of the kind of dirty tricks that John McCain used unsuccessfully, Atwater symbolizes the bare-knuckle politics that have worked so well for Republicans since Reagan’s election. Unfortunately for them, the recent financial crisis delivered a knockout punch to such politics–at least until the Democrats succumb to a new round of ineffectual governance that will render them vulnerable once again. (See related article HERE)

When asked by a PBS interviewer about his views on the 2008 election, director Stefan Forbes responded:

There was an election? I’ve been stuck in the edit room for the last two years, so I feel a little like Rip Van Winkle. People ask me if the Atwater playbook is over, if hope has beaten fear once and for all. I’m not so sure. Fear may have actually won. Peoples’ very real fear of losing homes and 401(k)s bested the trumped-up fears that Obama was a Muslim or an elitist socialist in league with Hamas. In future elections, where there’s no urgent issue, these sorts of attacks may regain their powerful emotional hold over the American voter.

Atwater died of brain cancer at the age of 40 in 1990. It is not hard to see his death as punishment for a misspent life. This morality tale even includes well-publicized reports of Atwater going through a death-bed conversion. The riveting documentary surmises that this could have been just another example of Atwater deception since the Bible he requested in his dying weeks remained covered in the cellophane it came in.

You can watch excerpts of the documentary at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/atwater/view/, but the entire DVD must be ordered from the PBS website. For those who don’t want to spend the money, I recommend looking for the printed transcript which should be online. Just check: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/atwater/etc/tapes.html

Stefan Forbes skillfully draws out the dramatic class differences between Atwater and the George Bush family that relied on his scuzzy talents. No matter how much Atwater sought to become part of the Connecticut Patrician world that the Bush family inhabited, they never regarded him more than a kind of elevated household servant.

As an authentic redneck from South Carolina, Atwater helped the Bush ‘41 campaign define itself as a “good old boy” defense of American values against the effete brie-eating Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis, who is interviewed throughout the film. Dukakis offers ex post facto refutations of Atwater’s lies that are quite eye-opening. It was too bad, as one commentator notes, that they were not used during his feckless campaign. For example, Atwater cooked up the infamous Willie Horton ads that blamed Dukakis for allowing the convicted African-American felon to get a weekend furlough from prison that allowed him to go on a killing spree. Dukakis notes that this program was inspired by another governor, namely Ronald Reagan from California.

Atwater also produced ads that charged Dukakis with opposing various weapons systems that would have left America defenseless against the dirty Russians. Dukakis explains that as governor of Massachusetts, he was in no position to vote on any kind of weapons system. In a period of deep reaction, such as the kind that allowed a Reagan or a Bush to triumph, it mattered little if such ads were true or not. American voters allowed their prejudices to take over, a luxury ill-afforded in a period of rising unemployment. Of course, it remains to be seen whether a Democratic administration can do much about this, given its free market fundamentalism.

Despite his racism, Atwater made a big thing about his affinity for Black people that was mostly expressed through his love for the blues. Atwater played backup guitar for Percy Sledge during the 1960s and sat in with bluesmen such as B.B. King. At the night of his greatest triumph, the election of George Bush the elder in 1988, Atwater played guitar with a virtual all-star band made up of Black musicians. You can see him and President-elect Bush mugging on the stage surrounded by Blacks in an updated version of the minstrel show. (Click “At the Top of His Game” on this page: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/atwater/view/) Ishmael Reed, one of the movie’s more adept interviewees, commented on the irony of such a spectacle attending the most racist election campaigns in American history.

Believing his own bullshit, Atwater was invited to serve on the board of Howard University, one of the country’s most prestigious Black colleges, fully expecting the same kind of warm reception he got from blues musicians. He was bitterly disappointed as the Boston Globe reported. The article is worth quoting at some length since it shows the potential of the Black student movement once it gets aroused about an issue, as well as the class divisions in the Black community:

The Boston Globe
March 12, 1989, Sunday, City Edition
Atwater’s approach to black community hits dead end at Howard
By Jerry Thomas, Globe Staff

The appointment of Lee Atwater to Howard University’s board of trustees appeared, at first, to be an easy way for the Republican Party to make inroads into the African-American community.

Howard, a historic black institution that still considers itself a mecca for the black mainstream and that attracts the sons and daughters of some of the world’s most influential and visible blacks, already has strong links to the party. The university has flaunted its conservative views and its Republican student organization, although the majority of its 12,000 students and the faculty are Democrats.

James Cheek, the president of Howard for 20 years, is a Republican who received the “Freedom of Peace” award from former President Ronald Reagan.

Thaddeus Garrett, one of 32 trustees, is a top aide to President Bush. Last year, the school received a $ 179 million appropriation from Congress, which founded the school in 1867 and pays some of the tuition for more than 60 percent of Howard’s students. Atwater would have been one of more than 11 whites on the board of the university, whose first students were five white women.

The university thought Atwater, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, could add to the wealth and prestige of the school named after Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, the commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau and the school’s first president.

Plus, Atwater, busy schedule and all, seemed accessible. He met with students several times after his appointment.

The first meeting, students say, was on a Thursday in February, shortly after 7 p.m. The setting was a nightclub on a ritzy part of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Just several feet from the guitar strings of blues legend B.B. King sat Atwater, waiting for several guests: six students from Howard.

It was politics at first sight, the students said. Both sides played it cool. They shook hands and talked over drinks.

Robert Turner, a senior from New Orleans and vice president of the Howard University Student Association, said that there appeared to be strategy behind Atwater’s approach. Turner recalled in his own words Atwater’s introduction, “Hey! How are you doing? I’m Lee Atwater, a down home country boy; I even like rhythm and blues.”

Atwater introduced the students to two of his black aides. He agreed to talk to the students again.

The aides took over the next night, meeting some of the same students at a local dance club for “upscale blacks,” the students said. The aides spoke highly of Atwater and the Republican Party. They noted that Atwater could do good things for Howard. They told the students that supporting Atwater’s appointment would not hurt job contacts and could strengthen their networking at graduation.

Atwater had a second meeting with the students. It was the following Sunday at his Capitol Hill office, where he told them how he keeps abreast of some issues, including black concerns.

The political magic was working, and the students were willing to consider what Atwater might offer. But within weeks, the Republican strategy would backfire.

What the party did not anticipate was a backlash from Howard students – many of whose parents and teachers participated in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s – who saw the appointment of Atwater as an insult to the student body and a bad signal to the black and African community worldwide.

On Friday, March 3, shortly before 10 a.m., things took an unusual twist on the campus.

Bill Cosby, the actor and author, was to give the Founder’s Day address in the school’s Cramton Auditorium, where the trustees, the administration, the faculty, students and alumni were to gather to commemorate the school’s 122d birthday. Instead of hearing Cosby, 1,500 students took over the ceremonies and announced “The Black Agenda.”

The protesters’ key demand was that Atwater, who they say was handpicked by Cheek and who was appointed unanimously by the board of trustees in January, step down. Atwater was accused of using racist tactics as Bush’s presidential campaign manager. He was the architect of the furlough issue, which focused on the release of Willie Horton, a convicted murderer, from a Massachusetts prison. The students argued that Atwater’s campaign methods portrayed blacks in a negative manner and fueled the successful campaign of David Duke, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, in Louisiana.

“We are here to oppose Lee Atwaterism,” Ras Baraka, a junior from Newark, told a crowd of protesters. “It is not the man, Atwater, but the ideologies he represents. It’s the conservative view he represents. It’s the Borks that he represents and the David Dukes he represents.”

Baraka, one of the protest leaders, is the son of Amiri Baraka, a poet and 1960s activist.

The students, much to the Cheek administration’s dismay and embarrassment, remained in the auditorium for several hours. They demanded that Cheek address the crowd on several issues, including the appointment of Atwater, requests for a graduate department of African-American studies, improved security and student involvement in school governance, but Cheek never did. The annual Founder’s Day ceremony was canceled.

The following Monday, hundreds of protesters moved from the auditorium to the Mordecai Wyatt Johnson Administration Building, where they barricaded themselves inside.

The protests forced Atwater to resign Tuesday. He said that he was “deeply saddened” by the resignation and that he had been miscast as a racist. He said that he had hoped, as a Howard trustee, to help the university administration and aid fund-raising efforts among GOP donors.

The film concludes with Atwater’s illness and death, including grotesque images of his face blown up twice its normal size due to steroids used to treat the effects of radiation therapy. It is not a pretty sight.

As might be expected, the documentary relies heavily on the analyses of liberal commentators such as Eric Alterman, Joe Conason, and Howard Fineman. For them, the Lee Atwaters and Karl Roves of the world serve as convenient demons whose expulsion will lead to a kind of re-establishment of Camelot with the Obamas as the new Kennedy’s. Such is the state of our degraded electoral politics that both factions in the ruling party of capitalism can keep people mesmerized by celebrity of the right or the left. Since the entire society is drenched in advertising, it is no surprise that this is the kind of politics we get with an Empire in its dotage.

LOUIS PROYECT is founder and chief editor of the suitably named Unrepentant Marxist website.

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 Posted by at 4:00 pm
Mar 202010
 
Frank Luntz in his own turf.

By David Michael Green

The entire regressive agenda is based on lies, most of them both whopping in scale and utterly transparent to any remotely sentient human being. How, then, has it succeeded so well these last thirty years? There are many answers to that question, including, especially, the collapse in confidence of alternative ideologies, the wholesale, marked-down-today-only, outright purchase of the Democratic Party by corporate interests, and the stunning derogation of duty by the mainstream media. But one key answer involves the work of these masters at the marketing of deceit.

Crossposted with http://www.regressiveantidote.net/Articles/This_Is_Liberalism.html [print_link]

Frank Luntz in his own turf.

Frank Luntz in his own turf.

YOU GOTTA HAND IT to the agents of the regressive right for playing the weakest imaginable hand so well.

I’m talking about the Lee Atwaters and Frank Luntzs of the world, who both understand human psychology (read fear) and are absolutely pitiless about employing it for purposes of assisting the rich and powerful in raping the rest of us.

If you can get past the absolute amoral viciousness of these sociopaths, you have to admire their handiwork at some level. (Oh, wait a minute: correction. Lee Atwater actually did apologize for some of his crimes against humanity. Of course, it was on his death bed.)

These guys are good. They understand the necessity of remaking the world when the actual one we live in would never dream of embracing their destructive initiatives. These guys could not only sell ice to Eskimoes, they could peddle dirt to an ant colony. They could market garbage at the county dump. They could sell crap to the local sewer district.

We know this, because they do it all the time. The entire regressive agenda is based on lies, most of them both whopping in scale and utterly transparent to any remotely sentient human being. How, then, has it succeeded so well these last thirty years? There are many answers to that question, including, especially, the collapse in confidence of alternative ideologies, the wholesale, marked-down-today-only, outright purchase of the Democratic Party by corporate interests, and the stunning derogation of duty by the mainstream media. But one key answer involves the work of these masters at the marketing of deceit.

And one of their greatest achievements has been to pick up the whole ideological playing field and move it about a thousand miles to the right. This is what I mean by remaking reality. They’ve created a whole new normal. And in this new normal, anything to the left of Dick Cheney is liberal, if not far left. And that, of course, includes the hated Barack Obama sitting like some squatter in their White House.

As it happens, I hate Barack Obama, too. And my reasons for doing so are piling up fast. But I would never mistake him for a liberal. And that, in fact, is one of the things I most despise about this disastrous fool of a president. I couldn’t possibly care less what happens to him, other than hoping for fate to return the favor after all he’s done (and, especially, failed to do) to the country he promised to rescue. But I do care about progressivism (or liberalism, if one prefers – I typically avoid that term now that the Atwaters and Luntzs have turned it into something slightly less hated than pedophilia), and I’m furious that this pathetic president and his horrid little whorehouse of a political party, who are about as liberal as George W. Bush was, are taking down the political ideas I care about with their own sinking ship.

By not refuting the false accusations that he is a liberal or even a socialist, and by running an abysmal presidency, Obama has done as much as the scum on the right in service to wrecking a set of ideas that are not only noble and correct, but are desperately needed now by a country imploding under the weight of the regressive politics which has been ascendant for thirty years now. Worst of all – and quite by design – Americans are forgetting what any sort of progressive politics would even actually look like. Orwell understood the significance of this phenomenon so well he made it the existential nightmare of his protagonist, Winston Smith. All Winston wanted to do was to hold onto some sense of a tangible reality. O’Brien, his torturer, showed him what happens when power not only wants to win battles, but better yet end them forever by eliminating the very opposing ideas people might embrace.

In that spirit, it’s well to remember what a progressive America might actually look like, and how different that is from the botched abortion of bogus liberalism that is supposed to be Democratic Party policy today.

Let’s start with what the Democrats – who, after all, control the government – should have started with: the economy. People are miserable and frightened today because they have so much job insecurity. The so-called liberals in Washington provided them with a ‘jobs summit’ as a remedy. And then there was that amazing stimulus bill that was one-third tax cut sop for Republicans (who still wouldn’t vote for it), mostly otherwise pork barrel legislation for the benefit of members of Congress, and still too small anyhow to do much good. The right has been apoplectic ever since, calling it the socialist takeover of America. Hell, it wasn’t even remotely liberal. A real progressive solution would have been big, and would have involved government spending to stimulate the economy and create jobs, either directly on the government payroll, or through incentives to the private sector. In reality, the Democratic plan has failed to revive the economy – not because it was progressive but, quite the contrary, because it wasn’t remotely so.

LeeAtwaterSpinningBobSchieffer

Lee Atwater, George Bush I's political tricks advisor, spinning CBS Bob Schieffer (easy). A reactionary hick from South Carolina, where his ilk remains in plentiful supply, he supposedly repented for his deeds in his deathbed, at a relatively early age.

 

The same is true with respect to what got us into this mess. Conservative catechism teaches that regulation is evil. Like Satan. And Saddam. Real progressives understand that it is entirely necessary. Take it away and greedy pigs masquerading as human beings will sell their own children for a buck, discounting them on a volume deal if you buy the whole brood. Even after the experience of the Great Depression, regressive predators couldn’t satiate their greed enough, so they dismantled the regulatory structure of the mid-twentieth century that had brought prosperity to so many Americans. That old system was real liberalism, ladies and gentlemen. Calling what Obama or Bill Clinton have done by that name is an insult to the intelligence of people everywhere (even in America, where it is so scarce). Clinton was absolutely no less a friend to corporate America than Ronald Reagan, and Obama has made zero serious attempt to outlaw the very practices that got us into the economic nightmare we’re digging out from now, while simultaneously rescuing the Wall Street pigs from the destructive fruits of their own greed. That’s liberal? Who messed with my dictionary while I was napping?

The same is true of government spending. Obama is now proposing cuts to federal spending, a pretty unliberal thing to do. He wants all those cuts to come from the domestic side, and none at all from an astonishingly bloated military budget that dwarfs the combined total of every other country in the world. A real progressive would spend money on people, not on more weapons crack to feed the ‘defense’ contractors’ insatiable addictions. Now Obama is pushing his ‘bipartisan’ deficit-cutting commission, to be led by Erskine Bowles, a Clinton hack, and Alan Simpson, a Reagan-era regressive whack job. Guess how that’s gonna turn out?

Look at what supposedly constitutes ‘socialized medicine’ for another great example of the total disconnect between rhetoric and reality that regressive mythmakers have so successfully fabricated. The Democratic plan is a complete exercise in idiocy for one reason and one reason only. It twists itself into pretzel-like contortions in order to avoid confronting the simple basic problem at the core of the country’s health care woes: the useless and parasitic private insurance industry inserted between the public and their health care delivery. These racketeers provide absolutely no value added whatsoever, but suck up one-third of every dollar spent on health care. What a coincidence that we spend about exactly that much more per capita than any other country in the world, and still die younger. A progressive plan would do what almost every other developed country has successfully done for decades, and simply nationalize health care. What the supposedly liberal/socialist Democrats are doing instead is proposing to massively expand the great insurance scam by forcing thirty or forty million Americans to buy insurance from these profiteers or get fined for failing to do so. Sorry. That’s about as liberal as the electric chair. And about as health-inducing too.

Energy policy provides another great example. Big Daddy Liberal in the White House is running around the country nowadays flacking for nuclear power, proposing billions in federal loan guarantees to underwrite a dangerous technology that is not even economically feasible without government assistance. Jackson Browne must be spinning in his grave, and he’s not even dead yet. If nuclear power is the liberal answer to energy questions, then Sarah Palin is a giant of political philosophy. But since Palin, The Great Defender Against Rampaging Ruskies, couldn’t tell Putin from pet food, non-zombies amongst us can also agree that a liberal energy policy would look a lot more like a giant national effort to develop alternative fuel sources than the reinvigoration of the one kind of energy production liberals absolutely hate the most.

The question of civil liberties provides another spot-on example. Remember how the elder Bush won office by trashing his hapless opponent as a card-carrying member of the ACLU? Well, this White House has made almost no serious departures from the human rights horrors promulgated by Junior Bush. Obama says we don’t torture. Guess what? So did Bush. Obama says he wants to close Guantánamo, but hasn’t. Guess what? So did the Cowboy Caligula. Obama has also kept and in some cases extended a plethora of the Texas Torquemada’s policies, ranging from indefinite detention to rendition for sub-contracted torture to state secrets to executive authority and beyond. For all this – which is nearly identical to the little shop of horrors that Cheney ran – Obama’s ‘liberal’ national security policies are being regularly trashed by regressives as left-wing capitulation to terrorists, not least by the monster himself, Dick “Dick” Cheney. You have to be insane to think this is liberalism. I guarantee you they’re not popping champagne corks in the ACLU offices across the country in celebration of the new respect-for-civil-liberties sheriff come to town.

It’s true that Obama and the Democrats have talked about ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. That’s pretty impressive, eh? They’re so liberal that they’re now, er, coming up right behind Colin Powell, Bob Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Now there’s a crop o’ radical lefties for you. You could organize a pretty good Maoist revolutionary cell with that lot, I’ll tell ya. And, of course, the emphasis remains on the term “talked about”. That’s all he’s done so far. Obama also talked about closing Gitmo. In fact, he promised us he would do it in a year. Didn’t happen. He talked about bringing new transparency to Washington, especially in the health care negotiations. Didn’t happen. He talked about leaning on the Israelis to stop building settlements in the West Bank. They just built more and he did nothing. Are you getting the picture here? Obama talking about civil rights for gays literally puts him on the same moral and ideological plane as Dick Cheney, who – because his daughter is a lesbian – actually has similar politics on this issue as the current president. Do I need to mention that Ol’ Dick is not the most liberal fellow to be found in America?

But speaking of liberals, do you remember them ever clamoring for more war? Remember back in the Nam days. Weren’t the liberals on the side of ending the war? Remember in 2003. Weren’t liberals trying to block the Bush thugs from invading Iraq? This president has massively escalated the American military presence in Afghanistan, while also significantly increasing the use of drone missile attacks in Pakistan. Maybe I need to lay off the Boone’s Farm for a little while, ‘cause I’m feeling kinda confused. I always thought the liberals were the anti-war crowd.

We could go on and on here, folks. The current Democratic government in Washington bears no resemblance whatsoever to liberalism. We know this, because we know what a real progressive government would actually do. It would spend a pile of money to create jobs and stimulate the economy. It would regulate economic actors so that they served the public interest or were instead promptly disappeared. It would create a universal, publicly-funded, national health care plan. It would launch a major initiative to create a new alternative energy industry. It would resurrect the Bill of Rights and restore human rights to the American legal system. It would act immediately to guarantee that all people were subject to equal treatment, regardless of their sexual orientation. It would be searching for political solutions to the conflict in Afghanistan and bringing troops home, rather than escalating the war.

This is what real liberalism would look like in America today, and this is not remotely comparable to what the so-called liberals in Washington are actually doing. None of it is, let alone all of it.

It’s really quite amazing. First, because of how regressive Obama has turned out to be. In all honesty, I cannot think of a single serious policy or action by this president that could be genuinely called liberal, with perhaps the possible exception of reversing the Republican clamp-down on stem cell research and on overseas abortion counseling (yet he’s also been simultaneously selling out abortion rights at home in legislating the health care debacle). I mean it. Obama may be a stylistic breath of fresh air after Bush (but, then, a rotting corpse would be, too) – but substantively, he’s little short of W’s third term. In fact, Bush was even more progressive than Obama if you compare their two signature health care initiatives. One of those two guys came up with a plan to massively increase government-provided benefits to the public. (Shhh! That’s called socialism.) Guess, what? It wasn’t Obama.

But what’s really amazing is how Obama is broadly perceived as being a liberal. This is just yet another framing victory by the right, and one of stunning proportions. By erroneously tagging Obunkster with the bleeding-heart liberal moniker, they manage to simultaneously tear him down, make liberalism unpalatable to the public, and shift the center of political gravity so far starboard that even a right-wing president like Obummer and his band of Democratic merry men become unacceptable because they are insufficiently regressive.

Like I said, you have to admire these guys for their craft. You know. Just like you have to admire the Holocaust for its good ol’ German efficiency.

Meanwhile, though, it’s scary that America has so little in the way of a real progressive option in our politics.

It’s scary that those politicians who are today widely considered to be liberal are in fact mostly deeply regressive.

And it’s scary that we keep following the same right-wing prescriptions, decade in and decade out, even though they have done nothing but wreck the planet, wreck the country, and wreck the lives of individual Americans.

But what is really scary is that we are now losing the capacity to even contemplate what a progressive set of politics would look like. These ideas are now so marginalized that people increasingly can’t even conceive of them anymore.

Orwell would be horrified. Comrade O’Brien would be very proud indeed.

When DAVID MICHAEL GREEN is not ranting about politics, he’s (by self-admission) busy poisoning the minds of America’s next generation of leaders, as an associate professor of Political Science at Hofstra University, located in Hempstead, New York. His website, THE REGRESSIVE ANTIDOTE archives his political essays.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED RELATED ARTICLE: The Boogie Man, the Lee Atwater Story

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 Posted by at 3:38 pm
Mar 202010
 
revolutionaryTruths

By Case Wagenvoord [print_link]

It seems to me that the nature of the ultimate revolution with which we are now faced is precisely this:  That we are in the process of developing a whole series of techniques which will enable the controlling oligarch who have always existed and presumably always will exist to get people to love their servitude.— Aldous Huxley

There’s someone in my head but it’s not me.

— “Brain Damage” Pink Floyd

revolutionaryTruthsG E O R G E  O R W E L L was a wonderful writer, deeply in love with the English language, and always quick to call our attention to its abuse. Yet it has always puzzled me why dystopian views of the future always cite his 1984 as a benchmark by which we measure this future dystopia, when our dystopia bears a closer resemblance to Huxley’s Brave New World.

The unfortunate thing about the emphasis on 1984 is that is a misleading diversion.  We look at our little worlds and conclude that they are nothing like Orwell’s world so everything must be okay.  (Of course, if you’re an inner-city Afromerican male, your world is probably closer to Orwell than Huxley.)

In a 1962 speech at the Berkeley Language Center Huxley pointed out that Orwell wrote his book between 1945 and 1948 at a time that saw the downfall of Hitler’s totalitarianism and the rise of Stalin’s.

Huxley wrote his in 1932, at a time when the influence of Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, was beginning to peak.  It was Bernays who argued that, “The engineering of consent is the very essence of the democratic process, the freedom to persuade and suggest.”

Huxley said:

“I’m inclined to think that the scientific dictatorships of the future, and I think there are going to be scientific dictatorships in many parts of the world, will probably be a good deal nearer to the brave new world pattern than the 1984 picture, they will [be] a good deal nearer not because of any humanitarian qualms of the scientific dictators but simply because the BNW pattern is a good deal more efficient.” (Huxley’s point that there will always be oligarchs is a good argument for changing them from time to time.  This is called a revolution.  Of course, it’s a given that no matter how democratic a revolution is, an oligarchy will form, and all orgarchies sour with the passage of time.  This is why they must be changed frequently, much as you change the oil in your car every 5,000 miles.)

Huxley’s point was that a dictatorship was much more stable if the people consented to their servitude than if the servitude was enforced by guns and clubs, though even the most scientific of dictatorships will resort to the latter if the mob gets testy.

In Brave New World, people love their servitude because they are given an unlimited supply of SOMA, a drug that soothes.  Instead of SOMA, we have a full medicine chest of psychotropic drugs that comfort and caress our minds.

Our houses are filled with screens that divert our attention from the real world even as they paint a distorted view of that world. The problem with this ubiquity of screens is not mind control ala 1984; it is mind apathy.

bigBrotherIn his talk, Huxley also spoke of suggestibility, which is the degree to which a mind can be manipulated.  He suggested that in any given population, twenty percent of the people are highly suggestible while twenty percent can totally resist it.  The remaining sixty percent could go either way depending on the circumstances, though he did point out that a heightened state of anxiety makes an individual more prone to suggestibility, as in the War on Terror.

What this means is that in the United States, 60 million people hang on Rush’s every word while 60 million think he’s a complete asshole.  The remaining 180 million watch “American Idol.”

We are entering an era of increasing unrest as economic and environmental problems continue to mount.  How this plays out depends to a large extent on how well the 60 million skeptics in America are mobilized.  This is especially important because Fox News, the Tea Party and the radical right are mobilizing the 60 million sheep.  And lies, if they are repeated enough, can sway the remaining 180 million, and that would be enough to silence the skeptics.

Case Wagenvoord is a citizen who reads.  He blogs at http://rightwingstoner.blogspot.com and welcomes comments at Wagenvoord@msn.com.


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 Posted by at 12:26 pm
Mar 202010
 
Neturei_karta

Most worrying, the report explicitly urged Israeli intelligence agencies like Mossad to take unspecified action against peace activists using entirely legal methods: “Neither changing policy nor improving public relations will suffice…Faced with a potentially existential threat, Israel must treat it as such by focusing its intelligence agencies on this challenge; allocating appropriate resources; developing new knowledge; designing a strategy, executing it.”

By Naomi Klein – March 17th, 2010 [print_link]

Neturei_kartaA while ago, the Reut Institute, arguably Israel’s most influential think tank, published a very controversial report about “hubs of delegitimization.” (Noteworthy, almost all the individuals behind this plan are yuppie graduates of American elite universities. Another case of “the best and the brightest” serving colonial/imperial ends). It attempted to equate tactics of non-violent resistance—like the growing movement to use Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to force Israel to comply with international law—with a military campaign to destroy the state of Israel.

Most worrying, the report explicitly urged Israeli intelligence agencies like Mossad to take unspecified action against peace activists using entirely legal methods: “Neither changing policy nor improving public relations will suffice…Faced with a potentially existential threat, Israel must treat it as such by focusing its intelligence agencies on this challenge; allocating appropriate resources; developing new knowledge; designing a strategy, executing it.” The think tank also called on the Israeli government to “sabotage network catalysts” – defined as key players in the “delegitimization network.”

The Reut report identified several cities with active Palestinian solidarity communities as “hubs” in this supposed network, one hub being my own city of Toronto. Another is the Bay Area, home of the indispensible and courageous Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). Cecilie Surasky, JVP deputy director, has an overview of the Reut controversy with lots of links. In it, Surasky succinctly undercuts the entire premise of the attack: “What groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) seek to delegitimize is the occupation and massive inequality and human rights violations committed against Palestinians, not Israel itself.”

Recently, I’ve gotten a taste of Reut-style “sabotage” myself. Last month, Eran Shayshon, a senior analyst at Reut, was invited on CBC radio to explain why he singled out Toronto in the report. Shayshon proceeded to equate the non-violent human rights movement with Hamas and Hezbollah and made several false and damaging claims about me, including the claim that I oppose Israel’s right to exist and oppose a two-state solution. There is no basis for this, as JVP called out in its response, “Reut Institute Report Lies About Naomi Klein.” You can listen to the inflammatory CBC audio interview here.

What follows is going to seem like a lot of detail and he-said-she-said. But keep in mind that Reut has openly called for covert tactics to be deployed against groups and individuals using legal, non-violent methods to advocate for justice. The goal, according to the Jerusalem Post, is to “establish a ‘price tag’ for attacking Israel and punish boycotters.” In other words, they are trying to shame people into silence, which is why each one of their lies needs to be countered.

So here goes the he-said-she-said, starting with my brief response to www.mondoweiss.net, one of my favourite websites, which has been closely covering the controversy:

What Shayshon says about me is a flat out lie. I have made a personal choice not to advocate any particular political outcome in Israel-Palestine. He can search all my writing and public statements, he won’t find anything. What I do advocate, and what the BDS campaign advocates, is for Israel to abide by all applicable international laws. Any political outcome — whether one state, two state or more — must abide by these universal non-discriminatory principles. Though I do have personal preferences, I have no secret agenda and would support any outcome that conformed to these principles.

Klein

Klein

Shayshon’s other big lie is his claim that I oppose “Israel’s right to exist”; indeed that I “have stated it out[right].” [Editor's Note:  When it comes to this, the prize goes to some old-time Jewish Orthodox groups, who have opposed the existence of the state of Israel on religious grounds since at least the 1930s. See, for example, NETUREI KARTA's site for more details. ] Once again, I challenge him to find one single example in anything I have said or written that would in any way support this claim. He won’t find it. This lie could just be slander, an attempt to inflict more “shame” on BDS advocates, as the leaked internal document explained to all of us recently. But I suspect that if challenged, Shayshon would simply claim that to support BDS is to oppose Israel’s existence, a claim I have heard before. This is interesting. Since the unequivocal goal of BDS is to force Israel to abide by international law, what Shayshon seems to be saying by implication is that Israel cannot exist within the confines of international law. I would never make such an argument but it does explain the recent aggressive “lawfare” campaign taking aim at the very existence of these laws.

One last point: if supporting boycotts against a place means supporting its annihilation (the claim being made here and elsewhere), what precisely are we to make of the Gaza siege, infinitely more brutal than anything BDS advocates? Does that mean Israel is denying the right of Gaza to exist?

Shayshon and his team appeared to spend the night Googling for dirt to confirm their claims—and came up empty handed. This is the response Shayshon posted on the Reut site and sent to Mondoweiss.net

(my response follows).

Several weeks ago I was interviewed on the CBC’s morning radio show about the danger of the trend to delegitimize Israel. In this context I was asked to refer to Toronto, in which we at the Reut Institute believe there is turbulent anti-Israel activity that stretches far beyond legitimate criticism of Israeli policy. Among a few other things, I mentioned the Canadian author and political activist Naomi Klein as one of the few significant individuals that reside in Toronto and promote Israel’s delegitimization.

Klein published her response in this blog. She argued that what I said about her was “a flat out lie”; that she has “made a personal choice not to advocate any particular political outcome in Israel-Palestine”; and that “(Shayshon) can search all my writing and public statements, he won’t find anything.” Klein claims to advocate the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) campaign “for Israel to abide by all applicable international laws.” Any political outcome according to Klein, “whether one state, two state or more — must abide by these universal non-discriminatory principles.” Klein continues that though she does “have personal preferences,” she has “no secret agenda and would support any outcome that conformed to these principles.” Klein also denies she opposes “Israel’s right to exist” and challenges me “to find one single example in anything I have said or written that would in any way support this claim.”

I believe that, in many cases, criticism of Israeli policy from a human rights perspective does not amount to fundamental delegitimization. Criticism of Israeli policy is legitimate, even when it is harsh or unfair, such as in failing to acknowledge Israeli concerns. However, I believe that such criticism crosses the line into delegitimization – as does Naomi Klein – when it falls into one or more of the following categories:

–Challenges the Two-State Solution/ Promotes the One-State Solution – In a transcript of a lecture she delivered in Ramallahanother article for the University of Toronto campus newspaper, Klein further argues that “I wish to be saved from Israel…. Some time ago I might have said that I am a Zionist against what Zionism has become in Israel. But for now, I am a Jew against Israel.” Klein comments that: “We need to move the bar. We need to put really radical positions out there. How about a one state solution? How about a no state solution?” In

These very clear statements by Klein reflect her rejection of a political solution that maintains a separate State of Israel, and her abdication of the Zionist principle promoting the Jewish people’s right for self determination.

–Promotes Double Standard/ Singles Israel Out – Klein argues in a few sources that Israel should be singled out for punishment not because it is the only state which deserves it, but because it is the only state where such punishment would “actually work” (see her op-ed in the Guardian and an article by David Hirsh).

–Demonizes Israel – Klein frequently presents Israel as being systematically, purposefully, and extensively cruel and inhumane, thus implicitly denying the moral legitimacy of its existence. Examples include association with apartheid and accusations of blatant acts of evil. I found the following description of the Israeli society extraordinarily amusing: “By far the most disturbing development in Israeli men’s misogyny towards Israeli women is something known to Israeli women as “Holocaust pornography” where images of emaciated women near ovens, shower heads, cattle cars, and the like are used to sell clothing and other products.”

–Suggests that Israel was Born in Sin / Opens the ‘1948 Files’ – Klein frequently describes Israel as a colonial country born in sin, stating in one source that Israel “can only properly be understood in the context of the history of colonialism.” The obligation to dismantle such as a state naturally derives from this logic.

So while Klein may have never publicly rejected Israel’s right to exist, by undermining the paradigm of the Two-State Solution, singling Israel out, constantly demonizing Israel, and opening the ‘1948 files,’ Klein leaves very little doubt regarding her true motives. As I said in the CBC interview, I believe it is more than a “fair accusation.”

However, what really worries me is that Klein probably genuinely believes that her actions promote human rights, justice, peace, and international law. Challenging the Two State-Solution is a recipe for chaos and bloodshed. The idea of precipitating Israel’s capitulation via the apartheid South Africa model is simplistic, superficial, totally unfounded, and likely to cause more human misery.

We should not be misled by Klein’s words. It is those in our camp, in both Israel and Palestine, that promote the principle of ‘two states for two people,’ that advances justice, that encourages national as well as civil and human rights, and that carry the potential to eventually reach a true and stable peace that is in accordance with international law – currently manifested in existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians and UN resolutions. It is us, and not those who demonize one side and promote unrealistic solutions.

And finally, here is my detailed rebuttal, originally posted on Mondoweiss.

Is that really the best an entire think tank can come up with to support the claim that I am out to destroy Israel and should be stripped of my free speech rights?

First, I have to say that I find it hilarious that in points one and three, Eran Shayshon resorts to quoting an article I wrote for my student newspaper when I was 19. I’m almost 40 so it’s oddly flattering. As I said the last time this article was dug up, I don’t respond to this kind of slime: “The article in question was written when I was in first year university. I look forward to the follow up exposé revealing that, in that very same year, I wrote college essays about books I had not actually read.”

As for the quote from my Ramallah speech, I did not advocate for a particular political solution but for a wide spectrum of debate on the subject. Here’s the quote in context:

“I don’t really think that Obama is FDR, but I can tell you this: he needs us to make him do it. He needs that mass movement, that global mass movement, putting pressure on him because boy is he getting pressure from the other side. And when he takes this tiny little tentative stand – ‘no more [Israeli] settlements [in the Occupied Palestinian Territories]‘ – suddenly this is a crazy progressive position. How about no settlements? We need to move the bar. We need to put really radical positions out there. How about a one state solution? How about a no state solution? Let’s get out there and make a lot of noise and build a mass movement for peace and justice in a way that is totally unapologetic, that doesn’t cater to the racists. That doesn’t apologize for itself. That knows that it is within the greatest traditions of anti-racism whether they are in South Africa in the liberation struggle, or whether they are in the Jewish community.”

I fully stand behind the statement; it’s why I like this website so much.

Shayshon claims that I have written that Israel should face BDS tactics “not because it is the only state which deserves it, but because it is the only state where such punishment would ‘actually work.’” For this, he points to an op-ed I wrote in the Guardian. Please do follow the link. You’ll see that the article didn’t say that Israel is the only country that should face these tactics, it said this: “Boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic. The reason the strategy should be tried is practical: in a country so small and trade-dependent, it could actually work.”

Plenty of countries fit this description, and I have supported boycotts in other national contexts when they have been called for and when they had a chance at being effective, starting with the South African anti-Apartheid campaign in the eighties.

Shayshon has clearly been poring through my public statements but he appears to have missed thisinterview I gave to Democracy Now! in the midst of the Toronto International Film Festival uproar. It directly addresses the “double standards” accusation:

“To just give you one example, imagine that this year the Toronto International Film Festival had decided to have a cinematic spotlight, a cinematic homage, as Ha’aretz described this program, on the city of Colombo, with the full blessing of the Sri Lankan government, overwhelmingly Sinhalese-dominated, not a single Tamil director, just as there’s not a single Palestinian director in this spotlight. Now, Toronto has a huge population—a huge Tamil population, very active. They would have been protesting outside, because it would have been perceived as a sort of a whitewash in a year that the Sri Lankan government rightly stands accused of war crimes.

“For some reason, Israel is supposed to be the exception, and we are accused of singling out Israel. But, in fact, what we’re doing—and when you look at the people who have signed our letter, like Howard Zinn, Harry Belafonte, Eve Ensler, these are people who have devoted their lives to applying human rights standards across the board. They’re not singling out Israel. What they’re saying is, we insist on applying the same standards that we apply to every other country to Israel, as well. And just as we wouldn’t celebrate another country that stands accused of war crimes, we don’t believe it’s apolitical to celebrate Israel.”

Shayshon may also be aware (who knows) that I am currently supporting a campaign using BDS-style tactics against my own country, Canada, because it has flagrantly violated its Kyoto Protocol commitments, increasing emissions by 35 per cent. You can view a recent clip from a speech in which I compare Israel and Canada here.

The rest of his points are even thinner. To support the slanderous claim that “Klein frequently presents Israel as being systematically, purposefully, and extensively cruel and inhumane” not to mention “evil,” all he’s got is that first-year university op-ed. And to support the claim that “Klein frequently describes Israel as a colonial country born in sin” all he’s got is a bland quote from me saying that Israel “can only properly be understood in the context of the history of colonialism.” Yet he concludes from this that: “The obligation to dismantle such as a state naturally derives from this logic.” This is crazy talk. I can (and do) say the same things about my own country, about the U.S., about Australia…. The purpose is not to call for the dismantling of those settler states but rather to recognize historical truths and to argue for justice and reparations for indigenous people in all those lands.

By the way, if comparing Israel to earlier settler states is to call for its dismantlement, someone needs to quickly tell Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren. Here’s what he said to the New York Times back in September:

“States are often created with great upheaval and pain, and Israel is no exception. The great excitement and challenge of living in Israel is that it is a work in progress. It’s like living in this country in 1776.”

As an aside, I found it harrowing to see Shayshon overtly make the claim that to “open the 48 files” is to deny Israel’s right to exist. He is literally saying that the enemy is history, study it at your peril. I hope others will address in greater depth the profound danger of this war waged on collective memory.

As for me, nothing Shayshon managed to dig up in any way supports his claim that I stand for a “rejection of a political solution that maintains a separate State of Israel” or an “abdication of the Zionist principle promoting the Jewish people’s right for self determination.”

In truth it is my belief in self-determination — for Palestinians and Israelis — that underlies my decision not to advocate for a specific political outcome (though I do have preferences, as we all do) but rather for principles of anti-racism and adherence to international law.

I look forward to the results of further frantic Googling.

Let’s hope this ends it, but I somehow doubt it.

Naomi Klein (born May 8, 1970) is a Canadian author and activist known for her political analyses and criticism of corporate globalization.

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 Posted by at 11:12 am