Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Kidding ourselves about high price of debt

Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Credit cards, as most people theoretically understand, can turn
into the 21st century equivalent of sharecropping. First, you borrow
from The Man to get your cotton planted (or maybe to buy that new
flat-screen HDTV). Comes picking time (or the warranty runs out) and
you’re likely to discover, in the words of an old country song, that you
“owe your soul to the company store.” Not to mention late fees and a big
jump in the interest rate. Meanwhile, you’re getting letters daily
offering you a new card at temptingly low rates for the first six
months. Why not double down? Hey, your 15-year-old’s being offered a
platinum card with the logo of his high school’s mascot. Shoot, I’ve got
a Charolais calf named Layla who’s probably eligible for EZ-Credit
today. Basically, anybody who can walk and chew cud at the same time can
end up owing a half-dozen company stores. But why worry? Money? They’re
practically giving it away. And if the payments get too steep, what with
$4-a-gallon gasoline and $5 milk, all you’ve needed to do over the past
dozen years or so, in the immortal words of George W. Bush, is borrow
more to “make the pie higher.”

Refinance with an adjustable rate mortgage, pull some cash equity out of
your house, pay off a couple of credit cards and then repay the home
loan with tax-deductible cash. Sweet. See, you’re going to trade the
dump in on a fancier house to borrow against before the interest rate
resets anyway, pushing your monthly payment into the stratosphere.
Because as everybody used to know, real estate can’t go anywhere but up.

Until recently, spending money you didn’t have was your patriotic duty.
Wasn’t it the same George W. Bush who advised Americans to respond to
the 9/11 terrorist massacres by heading to the mall? When the going gets
tough, everybody laughed, the tough go shopping.

Never mind that it was also Bush who inherited a $128 billion budget
surplus and turned it into a $482 billion deficit—an estimate,
incidentally, that leaves out the costs of the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan. They’re off the books, a bit like Enron’s money-losing
“partnerships.” In retrospect, the Enron collapse clearly predicted the
fiscal consequences of Bushism.

Psychiatrists call it magical thinking. Today it defines American
culture. For decades GOP propagandists have endlessly pushed the fantasy
that cutting taxes invariably brings more revenue into the treasury.
Because it’s so counterintuitive, it makes people who think Rush
Limbaugh is an intellectual feel smart. So they get their big $247. 32
tax cut; Scrooge McDuck gets a few millions more to paddle around in;
the pie theoretically gets higher and higher.

It’s the Republican equivalent of Marxist cant about the “withering away
of the state” under communism: An objectively false belief that’s
repeated with ever more fervor as its bad consequences become harder to

The effect of such self-delusion on individual lives was recently
illustrated in a fascinating article by New York Times financial editor
Gretchen Morgenson. She profiled a 47-year-old divorced Philadelphia
woman, Diane McLeod, driven into bankruptcy by spiraling credit card
debt, by mortgage rates that adjusted her right out of her home, by
unforeseen medical expenses and by rapacious lenders equally indifferent
to reality.

McLeod admitted being her own worst enemy. She even put $19,000 on her
credit cards buying expensive handbags and other useless gewgaws on the
Home Shopping Network while lying in bed recovering from surgery.

“In 2007,” Morgenson reports, “when she earned $48,000 before taxes, she
was charged more than $20,000 in interest on her various loans.”

To keep up, McLeod repeatedly refinanced her modest house to the point
where, after the real estate bubble burst, she owed far more than it was
now worth. Then she lost her job and couldn’t make payments.

The mortgage company is foreclosing and will itself lose maybe $100, 000
on the deal; hence, the need for a taxpayer bailout of Fannie and
Freddie, the two giant public/private mortgage banks that find
themselves holding untold amounts of worthless paper. Also for decades,
Republicans and many Democrats have pushed the equally fallacious notion
that the financial industry needs no regulation because free markets
correct themselves and because wise investors invariably exercise due
diligence in advancing loans. In reality, Morgenson shows, many lenders
no longer care about repayment. They make their money on “fees and
charges generated when loans are made.” Their relationship to the
world’s Diane McLeods is that of a coyote to a chicken. Next, the loans
get repackaged as securities and sold to investors just now waking up to
the fact that they’re worthless. The upshot of it is that whether or not
you and I and Layla have run up huge credit card debts, we’re paying for
them anyway.

—–––––• –––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author
and recipient of the National Magazine Award.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama is still an unknown quantity
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The problem with satire as a political tool is that it’s virtually
always a two-edged sword. One would expect the editors of a literary
magazine like The New Yorker to realize that. Its July 21 cover
caricaturing Barack and Michelle Obama as Oval Office revolutionaries,
complete with Kalashnikov, a portrait of Osama bin Laden and an American
flag ablaze in the fireplace, couldn’t help but cut several ways. Had
the drawing more resembled its subjects—the thin-lipped Obama is
portrayed with thick, pursed lips—the controversy might have been
sharper. As it was, furious debate erupted about whether a cartoon
lampooning the crackpot whisper campaign portraying Obama as a covert
Muslim and his wife as white hating extremist might reinforce those
smears among the influential Moron American community. The correct
answer is: We’ll see. Satire’s more ambiguous than its keenest
practitioners sometimes acknowledge. Consider my two literary heroes,
Jonathan Swift and George Orwell. Although each was celebrated for his
clarity of style, both saw their greatest work misconstrued and misused.
Orwell, who revered Swift and wrote “Animal Farm” in frank imitation of
“Gulliver’s Travels,” also wrote an influential and spectacularly
wrongheaded essay about it.

What artists intend has a limited effect on audience response. Swift’s
antic imagination often seemed at odds with his conservative principles.
As a young Anglican priest, he wrote “Tale of a Tub” to mock the
excesses of Puritanism and the corruptions of Catholicism, explosive
political issues in 1704. So vivid was his imagery, however, that Queen
Anne wrongly suspected him of atheism and banished him to Ireland, the
land of his birth.

Swift got even in “Gulliver’s Travels,” where the minuscule Emperor of
Lilliput charges the gigantic hero with treason for extinguishing a
palace fire by urinating on it. His anonymous pamphlet, “A Modest
Proposal,” was a deadpan proposal that English landlords fatten native
Irish children for roasting instead of letting them starve.

Swift’s fierce indignation made him a national hero; he became the
Solzhenitsyn of 18th century Ireland. But the English quit treating the
Irish worse than cattle only after IRA terrorists drove them out in

Orwell first submitted his satirical allegory, “Animal Farm,” to British
publishers in 1943. He was infuriated when editor/poet Eliot refused on
patriotic grounds to publish a book depicting Soviet leaders as pigs
immediately following the siege of Stalingrad, the bloodiest battle in
human history, and the turning point of World War II. Orwell thought it
folly to delude oneself about communism, even as Josef Stalin’s armies
were decimating the Nazis.

After the war, “Animal Farm” became an instant classic. It’s arguably
the most influential political book since 1945. Yet Orwell had to
explain that he meant to attack communism, not democratic socialism,
which he passionately favored. Millions of readers didn’t get it.

By 1948, Orwell found himself explaining that “1984,” his futuristic
anti-totalitarian novel, wasn’t a prediction of what would happen, but a
satirical warning against what could. Like Swift’s, his vivid imagery
sent inadvertent messages he hadn’t foreseen.

Both authors added concepts to the language: “Lilliputian,” “ Yahoo,”
“Big Brother,” “doublethink.” But never entirely on their own terms.

And the Obama cartoon? Well, it depends. Whether verbal or visual, any
time an artist tries to say something by depicting its opposite in
parodic form, the potential for misunderstanding is great. The implied
target of the New Yorker caricature isn’t the Obamas, but conspiracy
minded rubes taken in by viral e-mails suggesting there’s something
furtive and sinister about the presumptive Democratic nominee.

They look at him, they see a Muslim secret agent cunningly programmed to
surrender America to the terrorists who won’t salute the flag, took his
oath of office on a Koran and whose wife wants to kill white people.
Before chastising the magazine’s hoity-toity attitude, let’s stipulate
that some fools do buy this nonsense. As they’re surely 21-percenters,
however—people who still think President Bush is doing a bang-up job—the
political impact is apt to be nil. But if I were making an anti-Obama TV
commercial, I’d definitely secure the rights to Carly Simon’s “You’re So
Vain.” As a young literary scholar of my acquaintance put it, “Satire
can tell us things about the artist’s community that The New Yorker may
not have intended. The cover lampoons the portrait of Obama as an
Islamic militant, but it also illuminates some real misgivings about the
many things we just don’t know about him behind his hope-y change-y
façade. It gives us a glimpse of anxieties perhaps even felt by the
over-eager media. Most people won’t believe the extremist portrait, but
they’ll intuitively grasp the uneasiness behind it.” The real danger’s
not that Obama is perceived as a secret agent, but that he is seen as an
unknown quantity, too glib a shape-shifter to be trusted. Despite
worshipful media coverage of his pilgrimage to the Middle East and
Europe, that remains a strong possibility.

—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Four workers dead in Texas crane disaster

By Tom Carter
21 July 2008

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Four workers were killed at a Houston, Texas oil refinery on the afternoon of July 18 when a huge construction crane collapsed, pulling a second crane down with it. Seven other workers were injured in the collapse, and one worker remains hospitalized for his injuries.

According to witnesses, an evacuation alarm sounded at the refinery at around 1:30 in the afternoon. Responding to the alarm, a number of workers ran into a lunch tent designated as an evacuation rally point. The crane, breaking off at the base, toppled directly onto the tent. Workers elsewhere at the facility described being lifted off the ground by the force of the impact. Arial photographs show the giant twisted lengths of the two cranes stretched out across the facility, as well as smashed buildings and vehicles, buckled concrete pavement, and flattened workers’ tents where the cranes fell.

“It sounded like a building—sounded like a building fell. I looked back—I was on my way to evacuate the plant and I looked back and I see the arms coming down. After that, I just see a lot of black smoke,” worker Stacy Davis told KPRC Local 2 News in Houston. “I stopped in my tracks. We were in shock. I was in the middle of the street. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to cry. I believe some people got killed. It was so big and so loud and I’d seen it come down.”

The four men killed were employed as contract workers for Deep South Crane & Rigging, the company owning the crane. The workers have been identified as Marion “Scooter” Hubert Odom III, 41, of Highlands; John D. Henry, 33, of Dayton; Daniel “DJ” Lee Johnson, 30, of Dayton; and Rocky Dale Strength, 30, of Santa Fe, Texas.

Grant Pasek, a lineman, was seriously injured in the 45-foot fall from his bucket, where he was working at the time of the collapse. When the arms of the crane began to fall, Pasek jumped in order to survive.

At the time of the accident, around 4,500 workers, including 1,500 contract workers, were at the Houston refinery, operated by Netherlands-based chemical and refining company LyondellBasell. The facility processes high-sulfur crude oil at a rate of 270,000 barrels per day, and is one of the largest of its kind. The refinery covers about 700 acres along the Houston Ship Channel on the outskirts of Houston. The cranes that failed had been installed as part of an overhaul of one of the facility’s two crude distillation and coking units.

The taller of the two cranes that collapsed was one of the largest mobile cranes in the world, rising over 30 stories. This crane was designed to lift entire oil derricks so the tanks inside the structure could be maintained. The individual derricks can weigh up to a million pounds. The crane was apparently tested several days prior to the collapse, and it lifted up 800,000 pounds without incident.

Jim Roecker, LyondellBasell’s vice president of operations, denied any plans for the crane to be operating on the day of the collapse. “As far as we’re concerned, there were no planned lifts with that crane for today. We’re going to be working with the contract company that operates that crane to determine if they were involved in any type of activity at the time of the incident. We certainly did not know anything that was planned,” Roecker said. The crane had only recently been assembled, and was not scheduled for work until the following week.

Cranes operate in Texas without any state or local government oversight. According to KPRC Local 2, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined the operators of the Houston facility for 11 serious safety violations in 2006 following an investigation into a pipe explosion earlier that year. OSHA has announced that it will undertake an investigation into this latest collapse.

A spate of crane disasters

The Houston crane collapse is only the most recent in an emerging epidemic of crane-related workplace disasters. The situation is the direst in the construction industry, where the housing crisis has put pressure on construction firms to cut costs by lowering safety standards, rushing deadlines, and using cheaper materials. Construction is the second most dangerous occupation in the US, after transportation, with four construction workers dying on average every day.

In Harris County, Texas, a crane operator was killed last month when his crane fell on top of him at the construction site of a wastewater treatment plant.

In March of this year, seven people were killed in Manhattan in New York City when a 22-story crane broke apart. Falling parts of the crane buckled streets, destroyed a townhouse, and sheared away the side of a six-story building. In May, another Manhattan crane collapse killed two workers, severely injured others, and smashed a luxury apartment building under construction. Fifteen construction workers have been killed on the job in New York City so far this year, an increase over 12 in 2007.

Also in March of this year, a crane collapse in Miami, Florida, killed two workers and injured five others on the site of a high-rise condominium under construction. A 20-foot-long section of the crane broke off and fell 30 stories onto a two-story house. In June, another Miami crane broke apart, seriously injuring a worker. The worker’s son, also operating the crane at the time, escaped unhurt.

In May, three ironworkers were injured, two critically, when a crane collapsed at the Black Thunder coal mine in northeastern Wyoming.

Over the past two years, 11 workers have been killed in MGM Mirage’s CityCenter project in Las Vegas, Nevada, dubbed by local workers as the “CityCemetery.” The most recent death was that of Dustin Tartar of Henderson, Nevada, who was killed May 31 when he was caught between the counterweight system and the track of the crane he was operating.

In northern Vietnam, a crane collapsed last week while it was being erected, killing seven workers. Two workers at the Cai Lan port in Quang Ninh province were killed instantly, and five more have since died from their injuries.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

News & Analysis
“Measure of America” report documents social decay of the United States
US ranks 42nd in life expectancy

In face of new evidence child-detainee was abused and tortured
Canada reaffirms support for Khadr's Guantanamo Bay detention and prosecution

US judge rules Guantánamo military tribunal can proceed

Communalism dominates run up to Iraqi provincial elections

Widespread protests against Swedish wire-tapping law

Study tracks the fate of German shipyard workers

Istanbul police attack municipal workers

Longtime Canadian Auto Workers union chief to retire

Workers Struggles
California: University service workers struggle against poverty wages

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Toeing the story line
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, July 9, 2008

To the skeptical observer, an amusing aspect of the 2008 presidential
contest is watching both candidates maneuver to place themselves above
criticism as willing media acolytes invent helpful story lines. At every
opportunity, Barack Obama’s campaign hints that any/all criticism of the
Democratic candidate is by definition racist. Sen. John McCain
emphasizes his manly refusal to trade on his Vietnam War heroism. No
braggart soldier he, the straight-talking maverick reminds us daily. Far
be it from him to mention his five years in a prisoner-of-war camp,
McCain modestly boasts. Meanwhile, his campaign staff portrays every
disagreement about foreign policy as mocking the candidate’s valiant
sacrifice. What’s less entertaining is the complicity of the Washington
media establishment in creating and sustaining these fictions for
self-aggrandizing purposes of their own. All that hoo-hah from
journalists about their relentless search for the truth? Maybe in Des
Moines or Spokane. But among Washington courtier/pundits, most high
profile political coverage consists of make-believe narratives concocted
to sway voters emotionally. In consequence, much of the electorate’s
flying blind, a dangerous way for a democracy to operate.

One ludicrous recent example was an outburst of pretended outrage by the
Mc-Cain campaign over some relatively innocuous remarks by retired Gen.
Wesley Clark on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” Regarding McCain’s
captivity and torture in North Vietnam, Clark began by saying this: “I
certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me,
and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in the armed forces,
as a prisoner of war.”

A hero to millions. Got that?

Clark added that McCain lacked the kind of command experience arguably
useful to a president—unlike the general himself, a highly decorated
(and badly wounded) Vietnam combat veteran and former NATO supreme

Host Bob Schieffer pushed the point: “I have to say, Barack Obama has
not had any of those experiences, either. Nor has he ridden in a fighter
plane and gotten shot down....”

“Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down,”
Clark responded, “is a qualification to be president.”

As part of his self-deprecating fly-boy persona, McCain himself often
jokes about how little skill it takes to intercept a heat-seeking
missile. If Clark can be faulted, it’s for maybe polishing his own brass
when he was supposed to be touting Obama, and for adopting Schieffer’s
language, easily taken out of context by the art of malicious

Which is exactly what McCain’s campaign did next, issuing a press
release whining that Clark had “attacked John McCain’s military service
record.” That’s plainly absurd.

“Clark had done nothing of the kind,” wrote Zachary Roth in the Columbia
Journalism Review. “He had questioned the relevance of McCain’s combat
experience as a qualification to be president of the United States. This
is a distinction that you’d expect any reasonably intelligent
nine-year-old to be able to grasp.”

Ah, but that would leave out Washington’s high-dollar press corps.
Reports in The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, and on CNN
and MSNBC claimed, as the Los Angeles Times phrased it, that Clark
“didn’t pay proper homage to McCain’s greatest sacrifice.”

Which, of course, he certainly had.

The Politico claimed that the retired general had “invoked McCain’s
military service against him.” An editor for The New Republic opined
that it’d be naïve not to recognize Clark’s comments as part of a covert
scheme by Obama not only to belittle McCain’s Vietnam exploits, but to
suggest that they “rendered him psychologically unfit for presidential
office.” Sheer fiction.

Taking matters further, MSNBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell described a
TV ad criticizing McCain’s stance on Iraq as part of “an organized
campaign against John McCain’s military service.” Would it shock you to
learn that the ad mentions McCain’s service not at all? As Jamison Foser
writes at mediamatters. com, Mitchell “may as well have said a giant
purple unicorn had called McCain a traitor, for all the truth there was
to her statement.”

Ah, but Mitchell, Mrs. Alan Greenspan in civilian life, is a bona fide
Washington media celebrity, a courtier/pundit of high social standing.
As such, it’s crucial to understand, she can appear on national TV and
say virtually anything she pleases about any politician, especially any
Democrat. So-called mainstream Washington journalism, see, isn’t a
profession as most educated Americans understand the term. It’s more
like a social clique or a fraternal order. Driven by ambition and status
anxiety, members and aspirants alike adopt group narratives for many
reasons—to secure invitations to the right dinner parties, rub elbows
with the great, appear on TV chat shows, earn higher lecture fees, win
book contracts, etc. Mere accuracy, alas, gets lost in the shuffle.

—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Israeli Shin Bet, Bastards that they are.

He Lacks Privilege

Le Monde Diplomatique
3 July 2008
By Dahr Jamail

On June 16 I was the co-recipient of the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism with Mohammed Omer in London. Omer is a 24 year-old Palestinian with whom I felt, and feel, honored to have shared this award. During my brief talk while accepting the award, I told the audience I could not think of anyone else I would rather share the award with. Omer’s work from his Gaza homeland has been a beacon of
humanitarian reportage; his work serves as a model of peace and attempted reconciliation with Israel for the youth in his occupied territory.

Unlike me, Omer’s journey to London to receive the award was next to impossible. When I heard the news that I was a co-recipient, I simply booked my flight from San Francisco and boarded my plane. Omer – whose home has been crushed by an Israeli bulldozer and who has seen most of his seven siblings killed or maimed by the Israeli army which occupies his homeland – struggled even to get an exit visa. The veteran journalist John Pilger, who handed us each our award, described his journey: “Getting Mohammed to London to receive his prize was a major diplomatic operation. Israel has perfidious control over Gaza's borders, and only with a Dutch embassy escort was he allowed out.”

Then, after the ceremony, came our even more different return journeys. My biggest problem was an hour’s delay for the flight back to my home country -- which last year gave Israel $2.38bn in military aid. And will again give that same amount for the coming fiscal year, along with an extra $150m. (As of July 2006 direct US aid to Israel had reached $108bn according to conservative estimates.)

Omer, on his return home last Thursday, was tortured by Israel’s security forces, Shin Bet. He was met by a Dutch official at the Allenby Bridge crossing (from Jordan to the West Bank) who was to ferry him back into Gaza. The official waited outside for Omer as he entered the Israeli building. Inside, Omer was told he was not allowed to call this embassy escort when he asked to do so; a Shin Bet officer searched his luggage and documents, and asked him for his English pounds.

Omer was surrounded by eight armed Shin Bet officers. This is how he described what happened next. “A man called Avi ordered me to take off my clothes. I had already been through an x-ray machine. I stripped down to my underwear and was
told to take off everything. When I refused, Avi put his hand on his gun. I began to cry: 'Why are you treating me this way? I am a human being.' He said, 'This is nothing compared with what you will see now.' He took his gun out, pressing it to my head and with his full body weight pinning me on my side, he forcibly removed my underwear. He then made me do a concocted sort of dance. Another man, who was laughing, said: 'Why are you bringing perfumes?' I replied: 'They are gifts for
the people I love'. He said: 'Oh, do you have love in your culture?’

"I had now been without food and water and the toilet for 12 hours and, having been made to stand, my legs buckled. I vomited and passed out. All I remember is one of them gouging, scraping and clawing with his nails at the tender flesh beneath my eyes. He scooped my head and dug his fingers in near the auditory nerves between my head and eardrum. The pain became sharper as he dug in two fingers at a time. Another man had his combat boot on my neck, pressing it into the hard floor. I lay there for over an hour. The room became a menagerie of pain, sound and terror."

Consider the fact that the Israeli Supreme Court has allowed the use of “moderate physical pressure” in the questioning of prisoners. Israel holds more than 10,000 Palestinian prisoners, many of them under administrative detention (no charges filed, detention can be renewed every six months).

Now consider the fourth Geneva Convention (1949): “(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities…shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.”

“To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;…(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment…”

Former Dutch ambassador Jan Wijenberg said of what happened to Omer: “This is by no means an isolated incident, but part of a long-term strategy to demolish Palestinian social, economic and cultural life ... I am aware of the possibility that Mohammed Omer might be murdered by Israeli snipers or bomb attack in the near future.”

Janet McMahon, managing editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs with whom Omer files stories, just told me he is still in hospital. “He may go home, or have an operation. He's still in a lot of pain – and it’s hard for him to swallow, or to breathe deeply. He's being fed intravenously.“

As Omer’s colleague, I cannot reconcile the disparity in our experiences. How can we reconcile something that is irreconcilable in the absence of all justice?


** Dahr Jamail's MidEast Dispatches **
** Visit the Dahr Jamail website **

Obama continues lurch to the right on Iraq war and militarism

By Bill Van Auken
4 July 2008

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The embrace of key elements of the Republican agenda and jettisoning of positions that he advanced during his “Change you can believe in” primary campaign have become a daily routine, as the Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential candidate Barack Obama carries out a dizzying turn to the right.

In speeches and press appearances on Wednesday and Thursday, Obama continued to identify his campaign with support for American militarism, while backing away from his primary-campaign pledge to withdraw US combat forces from Iraq based on a definite timetable.

Appearing Wednesday in Colorado Springs, Obama delivered a speech on national service, which hailed the US military and vowed to swell its ranks.

While proposing the expansion of Americorps, the Peace Corps and other civilian entities, Obama made it clear that the main service to which he intended to call young Americans was the military.

He began by invoking the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington and lamenting the failure of the Bush administration to issue “a call to service” and “a call for shared sacrifice.”

“There is no challenge greater than the defense of our nation and our values,” he continued, praising the actions of US troops “fighting a resurgent Taliban” and “persevering in the deserts and cities of Iraq.”

What “values” are embodied in the systematic destruction of the Afghan and Iraqi societies and the killing and maiming of millions of civilians in the attempt to impose US hegemony over oil-rich regions of the planet, the Democratic candidate did not spell out.

Instead, he insisted on the “need to ease the burden on our troops, while meeting the challenges of the 21st century.” That these “challenges” entail the continuation of these wars and the launching of new ones is clear. As president, he said, he would “call on a new generation of Americans to join our military,” while vowing to increase US ground forces by 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines.

With the military struggling to meet current recruitment quotas, this proposal raises the real question of whether the national service envisioned by Obama will involve the reactivation of the military draft.

Speaking at a press conference in Fargo, North Dakota Thursday before addressing a group of veterans, Obama allowed that he expected to “refine” his positions on Iraq during an upcoming trip to the US occupied country this summer.

Backing away from his earlier pledge to carry out a 16-month withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, the candidate said, “I have always said I would listen to the commanders on the ground. I have always said that the pace of withdrawal would be dictated by the safety and security of our troops and the need to maintain stability.” Meanwhile, he couched his opposition to the continued occupation of Iraq at current levels in terms of what he posed as the more urgent necessity for sending troops to Afghanistan.

Obama’s advisors have been more explicit. His top foreign policy advisor, Anthony Lake, a former Clinton administration national security advisor, told the press that an incoming Democratic administration was committed to maintaining “a residual force for clearly defined missions” in Iraq, as well as “preparedness to go back in,” if needed. “That is not a ‘cut and run’ and let’s just see what happens,’” said Lake, one of the architects of the Clinton administration’s “humanitarian” interventions in Somalia, Haiti and the Balkans.

Meanwhile, there is growing speculation that Obama is prepared to keep current US Defense Secretary Robert Gates at his post and the campaign has agreed to participate in a series of transition teams being set up in military, intelligence and police agencies to assure the seamless continuation of the “global war on terrorism.”

Having won the Democratic primaries in no small part by posturing as an opponent of the Iraq war and indicting his opponent, Hillary Clinton, for voting to authorize it, Obama is now presenting himself as another “wartime president.”

The lurch to the right by the Obama campaign is so blatant that it has aroused substantial commentary in the bourgeois press, some of it gloating and some of it reflecting concerns that this maneuver is so naked that it may alienate substantial layers of the population from the electoral process and expose the fraud of the entire two-party system.

The Christian Science Monitor, for example, cited concerns Thursday that Obama’s lurch to the right posed “a particular risk among young voters, who have turned out and volunteered in droves for Obama and may be disillusioned by his display of old-style politics.”

In the gloating category was an editorial published Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Bush’s Third Term.” The Journal, whose editorial board has generally reflected the views within the right-wing sections of the Republican Party that dominate the Bush administration, pointed to Obama’s continuous warnings against McCain’s victory resulting in “George Bush’s third term.”

“Maybe he’s worried that someone will notice that he’s the candidate running for it,” the editorial affirmed.

It went on to note Obama’s announcement two weeks ago that he will vote for legislation legalizing the Bush administration’s sweeping domestic wiretapping program, while granting retroactive immunity to the telecom companies that helped it carry out this unlawful spying operation. It pointed to the pullback from campaign promises of a timetable for withdrawing US combat troops from Iraq. And it cited his embrace of government funding for “faith-based” social programs, as well as a series of calculated statements on so-called hot button issues of the political right, ranging from guns to the death penalty.

Another demagogic appeal that the Obama campaign has jettisoned is the previous pretense that he opposed NAFTA and sympathized with the protectionist outlook of the trade union bureaucracy. In a recent interview with Fortune magazine, the candidate declared, “I’ve always been a proponent of free trade,” and allowed that some of the primary rhetoric on the subject had been “overheated.”

“Now that he is in a general election,” the Journal commented, “he can’t scare the business community too much.” It would appear that the stock exchange is not at all frightened. According to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama has netted nearly $8 million in contributions from the securities and investment houses, almost double the amount received by his Republican rival, McCain.

The Journal editorial concludes cynically, though justifiably, that “the next President, whether Democrat or Republican, is going to embrace much of Mr. Bush’s foreign and antiterror policy whether he admits it or not.”

In the end, this right-wing voice of Wall Street criticizes Obama not for his policies, but rather for what it terms his questionable “political character,” meaning doubts about whether he can be trusted to carry through the wars abroad and attacks on the working class at home that the ruling elite requires.

Obama’s turn to the right is the manifestation of a system in which the policies of both major parties are determined by a small wealthy layer of the population, which holds the will and sentiments of the American population in contempt.

The right-wing agenda being spelled out by the Obama campaign sets the stage for yet another election in which the masses of working people in the US will find themselves politically disenfranchised, with no viable means to express their immense hostility to the policies of war, destruction of living standards, and political reaction identified with the Bush administration.

Obama’s rapid evolution in the wake of the primaries demonstrates the politics of deception and manipulation of public opinion that his campaign has embodied from the outset. It has never represented an insurgency from below, but rather a bid by elements of the ruling elite to effect certain definite but limited changes in policy, while using Obama to supply a fresh face for American imperialism under conditions in which it is discredited at home and abroad.

The attempt to use the Obama campaign to delude broad layers of the population seeking change enjoys the active and crucial support of most of what passes for the American “left.” They seek to cover up or apologize for the right-wing trajectory of the Democrats. Some put forward the cynical argument that Obama is merely doing what it takes to get elected—the American people, they would argue, are backward and right-wing. Others maintain that he is reacting to pressure from the establishment and must be pushed back on course through pressure from the left.

Typical of this second school is the left liberal journalist Arianna Huffington, who posted on her web site advice to Obama, warning him that “tacking to the center is a losing strategy.”

Instead, she called upon him to “appeal to the 82 million people who did not vote in 2004.” She continued, “Isn’t galvanizing the electorate to demand fundamental change the raison d’être of the Obama campaign in the first place?”

In reality, Obama is now running on his real program, that of a corrupt and reactionary big business politician. He will leave it to figures like Huffington, the Nation, and others on the so-called left to continue promoting illusions in his candidacy, while he makes his pitch to his key constituencies, the financial aristocracy and the forces of the state.

The Democrats have no interest in coming into office with a mandate for “fundamental change,” because they have no desire or intention of carrying out such transformations. In fact, Obama’s latest campaign swing is aimed in no small part at creating a new and decidedly conservative base for politics that will in key respects represent continuity with those of the Bush administration.

In the end, the promotion of illusions in Obama and the Democrats serves only to block the emergence of a genuine alternative based upon the independent political mobilization of the broad mass of working people.

One thing is certain. The policies of an incoming Obama administration will not be determined by the erstwhile populist posturing of the candidate or by the pressure exerted by the left liberals. Rather, they will be dictated by the enormity of the economic and political crisis confronting American capitalism and what is required under these conditions to defend the class interests of the ruling elite. The turn to the right on the campaign trail is preparation for this essential task.

See Also:
Obama’s patriotism tour: the last refuge of a Democratic scoundrel
[2 July 2008]

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Rules will change come November
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Recently, I spoke with a Clinton supporter who takes politics seriously.
Was she still angry, I asked, or would she heed Hillary’s endorsement of
her rival? No question, she allowed. Come November, she’d cast her
presidential ballot for Sen. Barack Obama. “Yeah, but you’d vote for a
timber rattler,” I teased, “with a ‘D’ after its name.” “ Two words, ”
she said. “‘Supreme Court.’” So there’s definitely that. A couple more
appointees like John Roberts and Samuel Alito, and apart from the latter
half of the Second Amendment, where it says even children and barnyard
animals lacking opposable thumbs have a right to keep and bear 44 Magnum
handguns, and we’ll have to rename the Bill of Rights the Liberal Elite
List of Unrealistic Suggestions. Meanwhile, the Chosen One, as certain
non-idolatrous Democrats call Obama, has been changing positions so fast
it’d take a Doppler Effect equation to locate him. (Astronomers measure
distances by calibrating the “red shift” as light waves move closer or
farther away.)

“In recent weeks,” the Los Angeles Times summarized, “he toughened his
stance on Iran and backed an expansion of the government’s wiretapping
powers. On Wednesday, he said states should be allowed to execute child
rapists. When the Supreme Court the next day struck down the District of
Columbia’s ban on handguns, he did not complain.”

Obama once vowed to filibuster the FISA surveillance bill he now
supports. In Illinois, he once supported a ban on handguns. (Obama
blames a staff error. Yeah, right.) Maybe his most predictable sidestep
was opting out of public campaign financing to exploit his fund-raising
advantage over Sen. John McCain.

During the Democratic primaries, Obama’s position was that Clinton’s
crawfishing on public financing proved her membership in the corrupt
Washington establishment. Evidently, however, the money-changers can
keep on scheduling cocktail parties and fact-finding missions to the
Bahamas. The Chosen One won’t be chasing them from the temple after all.

Welcome to the big leagues, Obamaphiles. At least Bill Clinton used to
bite his lower lip and raspily explain why the cause he was about to
abandon was a tough sell. Obama just kind of glides. Sometimes it’s hard
to tell if an African American’s blushing. But what are you academic
lefties going to do about it? Vote for Ralph Nader again?

Not everybody thinks Obama’s calculated shape-shifting is so clever.
Writing at salon. com, Glenn Greenwald opines that Obama’s gotten
sandbagged by the Beltway celebrity media, which always depicts GOP
positions as centrist: “[A] very strong media narrative is arising that
Obama is abandoning his core beliefs for political gain.... The advice
that [Democrats] should ‘move to the center’ and copy Republicans is
guaranteed to make them look weak—because it is weak. It’s the
definition of weakness.”

So who is this guy? Here’s how Obama defined himself at a recent
campaign rally: “Hillary Clinton and I agree on 99 percent on the
issues. We had to work to find something to disagree on.... It is going
to be very difficult for Republicans to run on their stewardship of the
economy or their outstanding foreign policy. We know what kind of
campaign they’re going to run. They’re going to try to make you afraid.
They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. ‘He’s young and
inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?’”

This drew an instant rebuttal on NPR, of all places. Scott Simon of
“Weekend Edition” indignantly demanded to know: “What has John McCain
ever done or said to merit the charge that he’s going to make Senator
Obama’s race an issue?... Millions of Americans hope the country can go
through this year’s historic presidential campaign without anyone
playing the race card, but they’ll have to watch both sides of the

Notice anything? Obama hadn’t actually mentioned McCain’s name. But the
Arizona senator is a Beltway media favorite, and even the Chosen One
won’t be allowed to treat him like Clinton. The time for this objection
was around the South Carolina primary, when Obama surrogates played a
whole deck of race cards against both Clintons. Hillary Clinton is
taking a position similar to Boston Red Sox centerfielder Coco Crisp in
explaining why he held no grudge against a Tampa pitcher who’d
deliberately hit him with a pitch, triggering a brawl: “Even though we
went at it, he hit me in the leg, he didn’t try to hit me in the head.
He didn’t try to kill me. I ran out there and then he tried to hit me in
the head. That’s the way to go.” It’s classic baseball logic. The
situation dictated that Crisp be thrown at. But a big league fast-ball
can crush your eye socket, while most pitchers can’t punch worth a damn.
Because Obama never personally endorsed the racism smear, Clinton can
pretend it never happened. The November election, however, will be
played by different rules.

—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.