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.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sarah Palin Is NOT The Mother [Photos+Video]

Yesterday, with the news of Sarah Louise Heath Palin inexplicably being chosen as a Vice-Presidential nominee, the attentive American public was also introduced to her character. Unfortunately for all of us, it was filled with multiple instances of backtracking and outright lies.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

News & Analysis
Democratic National Convention outlines policy of wider war

Repression in Denver highlights assault on democratic rights in US

Georgian crisis heightens US-Russian tensions over Ukraine

Military officers testify that US soldiers murdered Iraqi detainees

More details of immigration raid in Mississippi, US

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Democrats may be learning to fight dirty
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Something unusual happened during the run-up to the Democratic
convention: A presidential candidate was subjected to a highly
prejudicial, not particularly honest personal attack, and for once the
victim was a Republican. Interestingly, the political press jumped on
it, happily trashing John Mc-Cain for two clueless remarks he never
actually made. Are Democrats finally learning to fight dirty? Should the
rest of us feel good about it? Meanwhile, the McCain campaign is running
TV commercials mocking Barack Obama for not asking Hillary Clinton to be
his running mate—a job she surely didn’t want. Because Republicans, of
course, admire Hillary so. They’ve even found a Clinton delegate from
Wisconsin to make a pro-McCain commercial, because.... Well, because
why? Anybody calling themselves a Democrat who doesn’t understand how
important it is for both parties, not to mention the nation, that
Republicans pay the price for the catastrophic presidency of George W.
Bush needs to turn in his party ID and magic decoder ring and find
another hobby, something solitary and quiet, such as gardening or
compiling a variorum edition of the “Pride and Prejudice” columns of
Maureen Dowd.

See, it’s not simply his trademark arrogance and incompetence that have
earned Bush the lowest approval ratings of any president since political
polling began. It’s not merely the interminable morass in Iraq,
worsening conditions in Afghanistan, manufactured “intelligence,” a
legacy of torture, of epic corruption and cronyism, of one massive
financial scandal after another, of runaway budget deficits and economic

Yes, it was foolish and self-deluded of Republicans to imagine somebody
of Bush’s limited abilities capable of handling the presidency. But the
failure’s more than personal. So-called conservative ideology has lost
contact with reality. The GOP has become the party of illusion,
incapable of seeing the world as it is, infuriated by anybody who does.

Contemporary Republicanism isn’t a governing philosophy so much as a
rationalized series of talking points useful in winning elections since
the Reagan presidency. Always of limited usefulness with respect to the
visible world—as Ronald Reagan himself, who knew a script when he saw
one, sometimes realized—GOP dogma has grown downright dangerous.

But back to Democratic dirty tricks. Everywhere you looked, from The
Washington Post to Keith Olbermann’s MSNBC News program, you saw McCain
pilloried for two classic “gaffes.” As the Post put it, the GOP
candidate’s “inability to recall” how many houses he and his wife own
jeopardized his strategy of framing Obama as an “elitist.” Campaigning
in Wisconsin, the Democratic nominee lampooned McCain’s forgetfulness,
also mocking him for defining as “rich” only somebody with an income
exceeding $ 5 million a year.

The point was clear: The famous “straight-talking maverick” is basically
a gigolo (to use a word Republicans used to describe John Kerry in 2004
) whose much younger second wife inherited more money than the Bush
family and Scrooge McDuck combined. For Obama, it was a twofer, also
hinting that the 71-year-old McCain’s memory might be fading.

Alas, neither of these things ever happened. Asked how many homes he
owned, McCain advised the reporter to check with his staff. He didn’t
sound unable to recall, merely unwilling.

It’s much the same with the $5 million thing. Asked to define “rich” by
Pastor Rick Warren, McCain jokingly ducked the question.

“If you’re just talking about income,” he said, “how about $ 5 million?”

He laughed, Warren laughed, the audience laughed.

“But seriously... and I’m sure that comment will be distorted,” McCain
continued. “But the point is that we want to keep people’s taxes low and
increase revenues.”

Indeed, the comment was distorted, even in supposedly straightforward
newspaper stories and TV broadcasts. As Bob Somerby, who’s long
documented this kind of skulduggery against Democrats, writes, “If you
want to know who the press corps is hunting, just see which candidate’s
jokes they transform into straight assertions.”

Well, so what? Wasn’t McCain himself, with that gibberish about
increasing revenues by lowering taxes, shamelessly citing delusional GOP
propaganda? He was. Indeed, McCain voted against the Bush tax cuts for
the wealthy, explaining that they’d do exactly as they’ve done: blow a
huge hole in the federal budget, endangering the nation’s financial
security. But now McCain wants to be president, so he’s joined the
Republican War on Arithmetic. And given that millions of
low-information, undecided voters don’t get it, shouldn’t Democrats act
on what GOP strategists have long known, that a presidential election is
basically a TV game show, “Battle of the Celebrity Politicians”? Replace
the “straight-talking maverick” with the “blustering old hypocrite” and
you’ve won? Something like that, yes. Not that I have to like it. That
said, if I were Obama, I’d put that famous photo of McCain giving Bush a
big, warm hug on TV so often people would start thinking of him as
George W. McCain.
—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

News & Analysis
Democrats convene in Denver amid police state security and a sea of corporate cash

US air strike massacres civilians in western Afghanistan

US continues to ratchet up tensions with Russia

Sri Lankan army advances into key LTTE areas

Scotland: Massive public health failings responsible for CDAD deaths at Vale of Leven hospital

Monday, August 25, 2008

Obama selects Biden to reassure the US ruling elite

By Patrick Martin
25 August 2008

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The selection of Senator Joseph Biden as the vice-presidential candidate of the Democratic Party underscores the fraudulent character of the Democratic primary campaign and the undemocratic character of the entire two-party electoral system. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, the supposed protagonist of “change,” has picked as his running-mate a fixture of the Washington establishment, a six-term US senator who is a proven defender of American imperialism and the interests of big business.

The rollout of the Biden selection over three days of escalating media attention, culminating in the text-message announcement early Saturday and a kickoff rally in Springfield, Illinois, is a metaphor for the entire Obama campaign. His presidential candidacy represents not an insurgency from below, but an effort to manipulate mass sentiments, using Internet technology and slick marketing techniques, aided by a compliant media, to produce a political result that is utterly conventional and in keeping with the requirements of the US ruling elite.

Long gone are the days when the selection of a vice-presidential candidate by one of the two major big business parties involved a complex balancing act between various institutional forces. In the Democratic Party, this would have involved consultations with trade union officials, civil rights organizations, congressional leaders and the heads of particularly powerful state and urban political machines.

Today, neither party has any substantial popular base. In both parties there is only one true “constituency”: the financial aristocracy that dominates economic and political life and controls the mass media, and whose interests determine government policy, both foreign and domestic. The selection of Biden, the senator from a small state with only three electoral votes, whose own presidential bids have failed miserably for lack of popular support, underscores the immense chasm separating the entire political establishment from the broad mass of the American people.

Obama has selected Biden to provide reassurance that, whatever populist rhetoric may be employed for electoral purposes in the fall campaign, the wealth and privileges of the ruling elite and the geo-strategic aims of US imperialism will be the single-minded concerns of a Democratic administration.

An establishment figure

Biden has been a leading figure in the political establishment for three decades. He was first elected to the US Senate from Delaware in 1972, when Richard Nixon was president and Obama was 11 years old, and he has held that position through seven administrations. He has headed two of the most important Senate committees: Judiciary, which vets nominations to judicial positions, including the Supreme Court, and Foreign Relations, which Biden chaired in 2001-2002 and again since the Democrats regained control of the Senate in the 2006 election. Biden ran for president 20 years ago and again this year.

In the 1990s, with Bill Clinton in the White House, Biden was one of the principal proponents of US intervention in the former Yugoslavia, a role that he describes in his campaign autobiography, published last year, as his proudest achievement in foreign policy. In the mid-1990s he called for the US to arm the Bosnian Muslim regime against Serbia, and then advocated a direct US attack on Serbia during the 1999 Kosovo crisis, joining with a like-minded Republican senator to introduce the McCain-Biden Kosovo Resolution, authorizing Clinton to use “all necessary force” against Serbia.

This legislative proposal provided a model for a 2002 congressional resolution authorizing Bush to wage war against Iraq, which Biden co-authored with Republican Senator Richard Lugar. The Bush administration opposed the Biden-Lugar resolution, because it was limited to ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, and successfully pressured the Democratic-controlled Senate to adopt a broader war resolution, for which Biden voted.

On domestic policy, Biden is a conventional liberal whose roots go back to the Cold War era. He combines occasional populist bromides about concern for the poor and downtrodden with close relations with the trade union bureaucracy and unquestioning defense of the profit system. Like every other senator, he has “looked after” the interests of those big corporations with major operations in his state, including the Delaware-based MBNA, the largest independent issuer of credit cards until it was acquired in 2005 by Bank of America.

In this capacity, Biden was one of the most fervent Democratic supporters of the reactionary 2005 legislation overhauling the consumer bankruptcy laws, making it much more difficult for working class and middle-class families to escape debt burdens exacerbated by the corrupt and misleading marketing tactics employed by companies like MBNA. The 2005 law has compounded the problems of distressed homeowners seeking to avoid foreclosure.

Biden defended the bankruptcy bill during the Senate debate and voted for the legislation along with the overwhelming majority of Republicans, including John McCain. Obama opposed the bill, and has attacked it repeatedly during the 2008 campaign as a punitive measure against working families.

Employees of MBNA were the biggest single financial supporters of Biden’s campaigns over the past two decades. In 2003, MBNA hired the senator’s son, Hunter Biden, fresh out of law school, quickly promoting him to the position of executive vice president. (While his father is not wealthy by US Senate standards, Hunter Biden has since become a hedge fund multi-millionaire).

Biden has occasionally taken positions slightly more liberal than those of Obama, most recently voting against the bill (which Obama supported) authorizing a massive expansion of government surveillance of telephone calls and e-mail, and providing legal immunity to the giant telecom firms that collaborated with such illegal spying over the past seven years. But he is a fervent supporter of the USA Patriot Act, defending it during the recent Democratic primary campaign against criticism by some of his opponents.

Biden and the war in Iraq

Senator Obama prevailed over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic nomination contest in large part because she had voted in October 2002 to authorize the Iraq war, while Obama, not then a US Senator, verbally opposed the decision to go to war. This difference in political biographies was utilized by Obama’s campaign to make an appeal to antiwar sentiment, although Obama’s record once he arrived in the Senate in January 2005 was indistinguishable from Clinton’s.

Biden’s record on Iraq makes his selection as the vice-presidential candidate all the more cynical, since he was an enthusiastic supporter of the war far longer than most Senate Democrats. He advocated measures to drastically increase the scale of the violence in order to win the war, including the dispatch of 100,000 additional US troops and the breakup of Iraq into separate Sunni, Shia and Kurdish statelets—on the model of the former Yugoslavia—which would presumably be more easy to control.

In the run-up to the launching of the unprovoked US aggression in March 2003, Biden echoed Bush administration propaganda. At a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just after Secretary of State Colin Powell’s notorious appearance before the United Nations Security Council in February 2003, Biden gushed, “I am proud to be associated with you. I think you did better than anyone could have because of your standing, your reputation and your integrity ...” Every major element of Powell’s indictment of Iraq has since proven to be false.

Once the Bush administration’s lies about weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi connections to Al Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks had been exposed, Biden began to express increasing alarm over the failure of the Bush administration to find an adequate rationale for maintaining public support for the war.

He bemoaned the Bush administration’s failure to sell the war effectively to the American people. In a speech to the Brookings Institution in June 2005, he declared, “I want to see the president of the United States succeed in Iraq...His success is America’s success, and his failure is America’s failure.”

Biden was particularly critical of the rosy forecasts of imminent success in Iraq being issued by the Pentagon and White House, which were at odds with the reality on the ground. “This disconnect, I believe, is fueling cynicism that is undermining the single most important weapon we need to give our troops to be able to do their job, and that is the unyielding support of the American people. That support is waning.”

Only after public opinion turned decisively against the war did Biden shift from advocating escalation to a limited pullout of US troops. A Washington Post column in late 2005—which noted the convergence of views of the longtime senator from Delaware and the newly elected senator from Illinois, Barack Obama—described Biden as “an early and consistent supporter of the US intervention against Saddam Hussein.”

Once the Democrats regained control of Congress in the November 2006, Biden became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he played a major role in the capitulation by the congressional Democrats to the Bush “surge” policy. Millions of antiwar voters had cast ballots for the Democrats seeking an end to the war, but the White House escalated the war instead, and the Democrats postured impotently and then went along.

The Democratic-controlled Congress meekly submitted after Bush vetoed modest restrictions on the conduct of the war, and in May 2007 passed full funding for military operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. When several Democratic senators voted against the funding bill as a protest—including Clinton and Obama—Biden denounced them for undermining the safety of the troops.

Two weeks after this critical vote, Biden denounced antiwar critics of the Democratic Congress, claiming, “We’re busting our neck every single day” trying to end the war. There could be no end to the war, he said, until a significant number of Republican senators defected, to provide the two-thirds majority needed to override a Bush veto, or until a Democratic president was in the White House. “We’re funding the safety of those troops there till we can get 67 votes,” he declared.

By then, the Democratic presidential contest was well under way, and Biden, despite winning little support and no delegates, played an important political role. As the World Socialist Web Site noted following a candidates’ debate in August 2007, “Biden has carved out a niche as the Democratic presidential candidate most willing to publicly rebuke antiwar sentiment.”

In the course of the debate, Biden attacked those who suggested that by threatening a quick withdrawal, the US government could compel Iraqi politicians to establish a stable government in Baghdad. He denounced illusions “that there is any possibility in the lifetime of anyone here of having the Iraqis get together, have a unity government in Baghdad that pulls the country together. That will not happen.... It will not happen in the lifetime of anyone here.” In other words, the US occupation would have to continue indefinitely.

There have been numerous suggestions from Democratic Party officials and the media over the past few days that, given Biden’s reputation for verbal confrontation, his selection signals a more aggressive attitude from the Obama campaign. On his record, however, it is quite likely that Biden will be deployed as an “attack dog” against antiwar critics of the Obama campaign.

This fact makes all the more despicable the fawning embrace of Biden by purportedly “antiwar” publications like the Nation. John Nichols, Washington editor of the left-liberal magazine, wrote that the choice of Biden was an “acceptable, perhaps even satisfying conclusion to the great veep search,” which could tip the polls back in Obama’s direction.

Commenting on the Springfield rally Saturday, Nichols gushed, “When Biden went after John McCain, with a vigor and, yes, a venom that has been missing from Obama’s stump speaking, it was a tonic for the troops who have been waiting for a campaign that is more prepared to throw punches than take them.”

This response only confirms a fundamental truth about the political crisis facing working people in the United States: it is impossible to conduct a serious struggle against American imperialism, and its program of social reaction and war, without first breaking free of the straitjacket of the Democratic Party.

Working people have no stake in the outcome of the Obama-McCain contest, which will determine, for the American ruling elite, who will be their commander-in-chief over the next four years. The task facing the working class is to break with the two-party system and build an independent political movement based on a socialist and internationalist program.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What Obama must do to win

Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, August 20, 2008

“I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private
affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation [n] or imposed by the
nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.”

—John F. Kennedy, 1960 Any Democrat who imagines that Barack Obama’s got
the presidential election locked up needs to watch the so-called
Saddleback forum featuring him and John McCain online at cnn. com.
Broadcast live on Aug. 16, it was hosted by Rick Warren, the California
televangelist and author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” a spiritual
self-help manual for people who think God drives an SUV and a
Christian’s highest calling is monitoring others’ sexual behavior. The
calculatedly casual Warren—he preaches to congregations of upwards of
17,000 wearing blue jeans and an untucked, open-collared
shirt—definitely marks an evolutionary step up from the Virginia divines
Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell. During the two hours, there
were no melodramatic Armageddon predictions, no accusations that
Democrats are in league with Satan, nothing about flinging virgins into
volcanoes to appease a wrathful God.

OK, maybe even Falwell never said that. Warren’s more like a TV
game-show host, a description he embraces, than a fire-and-brimstone
shouter. He urges his followers not to hate people they disagree with.

Even so, it’s possible to feel disquiet about presidential candidates
submitting themselves to spiritual inquisition by any preacher. Will
they next undergo questioning by a Catholic cardinal? A rabbi? Orthodox
or Reformed? A Muslim imam? By Christopher Hitchens, bestselling scourge
of God? I know a female Methodist preacher I’d enjoy watching give
McCain the third degree.

Never mind the implied recognition of smiley-face evangelism as
America’s semi-official religion. What politician wouldn’t pander
shamelessly when asked to describe his personal relationship with Jesus
Christ on national TV?

For Obama, Job No. 1 was to associate himself with a reasonable suburban
deity instead of a ghetto shouter like Rev. Jeremiah Wright. That he
accomplished through a combination of unabashed piety (“ Jesus Christ
died for my sins”) and artful dodging. The question of when a “child”
acquires human rights, for example, Obama called “above my pay grade.”
(McCain barked out a quick “At the moment of conception.”)

Me, I quit taking Obama’s religious views seriously when he claimed to
have no idea that Wright said things like “God damn America.” However,
the candidate’s studious, professorial air definitely ameliorated any
tension that might have resulted from his stating unequivocally that “I
am pro-choice.”

For any of Pastor Rick’s followers who might conceivably vote
Democratic, the message was clear: Obama’s no radical; he’s your
moderate Democratic neighbor. More broadly, anything making it harder to
depict Obama with cloven hoofs, horns and forked tail could help lower
turnout among ecclesiastical hotheads.

But there’s a risk to a Democratic nominee who responds like a Ph.D.
candidate to a question about the existence of evil. To wit, do we
“ignore, contain, negotiate with or defeat it?” Obama treated it as a
theological issue, even pointing out that some of history’s worst
catastrophes have come in the name of fighting evil.

It’s an answer that Illinois’ own Adlai Stevenson might have given. And
that’s the problem. McCain’s approach to evil? “Defeat it.” He’d follow
Osama bin Laden “to the gates of Hell,” the GOP candidate vowed. Did he
sound like Bruce Willis in a two-dimensional action/ adventure flick?
Exactly. Also, however, like Ronald Reagan, who McCain must have invoked
10 times. President Bush’s name hardly came up—father or son.

In a characteristically thoughtful Atlantic Monthly article about
presidential debates, James Fallows argues that “Mc-Cain is not a good
debater, not even by comparison with George W. Bush.... Worse, he will
look and sound old and weak next to Obama.”

Well, he didn’t at the Saddleback forum. Directly following Obama,
McCain came across as brisk, confident, charmingly self-deprecating, a
man’s man in the old-fashioned sense and—forgive me—a leader. Like it or
not, as the brilliant blogger Digby has pointed out, “McCain is the man
George W. Bush was pretending to be, right down to the flight suit. The
Real Thing is actually far more dangerous than the cheap imitation.”
Asked about his own relationship with Christ, McCain delivered an
oft-told tale about a Vietnamese prison camp guard drawing a cross in
the sand on Christmas Day during his five years as a prisoner of war.
Did it actually happen? McCain never mentioned it until 1999, after a
similar story emerged about the late Russian novelist, Aleksander
Solzhenitsyn. But here’s the deal: There’s no proving it didn’t or
denying McCain’s genuine appeal. Yes, he’s peddling economic snake oil
and a delusional world view more appropriate to a film script than the
visible world. To win in November, Obama’s going to have to take him
head-on. Democrats are kidding themselves if they think it’ll be easy.

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

News & Analysis
Washington steps up its anti-Russian rhetoric

Musharraf resigns as Pakistan's political crisis deepens

Obama, McCain vie for support of Christian right

Indian government resorts to armed repression in Kashmir, killing 21 and wounding hundreds

Canada to deport another Iraq war resister to the US

Thursday, August 14, 2008

In the guise of humanitarian aid

Bush dispatches US military forces to Georgia

By Barry Grey
14 August 2008

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In a major escalation of the conflict with Russia over Georgia, President George W. Bush on Wednesday announced a “vigorous and ongoing” deployment of US military forces to its key ally in the Caucasus. Bush appeared in the White House Rose Garden for the second time in three days, this time flanked by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and announced the military buildup, casting it as a humanitarian relief operation.

Even as he spoke of a humanitarian mission, Bush made clear the military dimensions of the measures he was announcing. He said he was directing Pentagon chief Gates to lead the mission, which would be “headed by the United States military.” He announced that a C-17 military aircraft was already on its way to Georgia and that “in the days ahead we will use US aircraft, as well as naval forces, to deliver humanitarian and medical supplies.”

This is a formula for an injection of US military and naval forces into Georgia of indeterminate scope and duration. It will certainly involve the presence of hundreds if not thousands of uniformed US military personnel on the ground, and a substantial number of warships in the region. The US is introducing this military force into a situation that remains highly unstable and combustible, raising the possibility of a direct military clash between the United States and Russia.

Bush spoke less than a day after Russia and Georgia had agreed provisionally to a cease-fire in their five-day war. The agreement had been brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, acting on behalf of the European Union.

Even as Bush spoke, Russia and Georgia were trading accusations of truce violations, and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili was objecting to provisions of the agreement which, he claimed, failed to prevent the pro-Russian break-away republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from seceding from Georgia.

In his remarks, Bush issued an implicit threat against any attempt by Russia to interfere with Washington’s “humanitarian” operation. “We expect Russia to honor its commitment,” he said, “to let in all forms of humanitarian assistance. We expect Russia to ensure that all lines of communications and transport, including seaports, airports, roads and airspace, remain open for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and for civilian transit.”

The US will pour military resources into Georgia to strengthen its hand against Russia, and denounce any objections by Moscow as an attack on humanitarian aid and a violation of the cease-fire agreement.

Within minutes of Bush’s Rose Garden statement, Saakashvili spelled out its essential meaning in a televised address from Tbilisi. “You have heard the statement by the US president that the United States is starting a military-humanitarian operation in Georgia,” he said. “It means that Georgian ports and airports will be taken under the control of the US defense ministry...”

He went on to call Bush’s “relief” mission a “turning point,” and characterized its import as “definitely an American military presence.”

Bush also announced that Rice would immediately travel to France to meet with Sarkozy and then go to Georgia. Employing the rhetoric of the Cold War, he said Rice would meet with Saakashvili and “continue our efforts to rally the free world in defense of a free Georgia.”

He further threatened Russia with diplomatic and political sanctions, suggesting it might be excluded from the G-8 group of industrialized nations and prevented from joining the World Trade Organization.


Bush’s remarks were drenched with hypocrisy. He reiterated Washington’s support for Georgian control of the disputed territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, invoking once again the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia.” Neither he nor any other American spokesperson has explained why Georgia’s use of murderous violence against South Ossetia in its indiscriminate shelling of the region’s capital city was a legitimate defense of “territorial integrity,” while Serbia’s use of force against Kosovan secessionists was a war crime.

The US seized on Serbia’s moves against CIA-backed separatists in Kosovo to carry out a ten-week air war, under the auspices of NATO, in 1999. While Washington decries Russia’s “disproportionate” use of force against Georgian troops which attacked South Ossetia and condemns Moscow for military action beyond the borders of the breakaway republic, the US and NATO rained bombs and missiles on virtually all parts of Serbia, demolishing bridges, water pumping stations, electricity grids, government buildings, housing developments, schools and hospitals in the capital city of Belgrade. The US and NATO killed far more civilians in its campaign to crush Serbia, a traditional ally of Russia, than have been killed by both sides in the current fighting in the Caucasus.

The US has absolutely no political or moral standing to denounce Russia or anyone else for deploying military force. Washington asserts an unlimited and unilateral right to mobilize its massive apparatus of military violence wherever and whenever it wishes, spreading death and destruction from the Persian Gulf to Central Asia and threatening even more bloody conflagrations.

In the current conflict, the US government and media have cast Russia as the aggressor. There is no progressive content to Moscow’s actions in Georgia. They are motivated by the predatory aims of the Russian ruling elite, which is intent on reasserting Russian control over territories on its border that it dominated for centuries. However, the eruption of war in the Caucasus is the outcome of a policy pursued by US imperialism since the breakup of the Soviet Union whose ultimate aim is the reduction of Russia to a semi-colonial status.

It is inconceivable that Washington was not intimately involved in the preparations for Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia. US military advisers virtually run the military of what Washington considers its key ally in the Cacausus, a strategically critical bridgehead between the oil-rich Caspian Basin and Western Europe.

Just one month ago Secretary of State Rice visited Tbilisi and reaffirmed US support for Georgia’s admission to NATO, a development which Russia considers an intolerable threat to its security. Rice’s visit was followed by a massive three-week military training exercise, in which 1,000 US troops participated.

The incendiary measures announced by Bush on Wednesday represent the response of American imperialism to the major setback it has suffered as a result of Russia’s military intervention in Georgia. There is great concern within the US ruling elite that Russia’s routing of Georgia will undermine Washington’s drive to displace Russia from Moscow’s former spheres of influence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and establish American hegemony over the Eurasian land mass.

US policy makers worry that the example of Georgia will weaken US control over right-wing client regimes it has established in a whole number of countries that were either part of the Soviet Union, such as Georgia and Ukraine, or allied to the Soviet Union through the Warsaw Pact.

A pattern of provocation

From the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 to the present, the United States has carried out a policy of militarily encircling Russia and surrounding it with hostile states dependent upon and subservient to Washington.

As the USSR was disintegrating, the United States launched its first war against Iraq, a key ally of the Soviet Union in the Middle East. During the 1990s, the US and Western Europe sponsored the dismemberment of Yugoslavia in order to isolate and weaken the Russian ally Serbia.

In 1998, the US spearheaded the incorporation into NATO, the US-dominated military alliance, of a whole number of newly independent states that had been either part of the Soviet Union or allied to it through the Warsaw Pact, including Estonia, Latvia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Bulgaria.

In 1999 the US launched the air war against Serbia. At the same time, the US organized the construction of a new pipeline to transport oil from the Caspian Basin, via Baku, through Georgia to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, bypassing Russian territory.

In 2002, the US set up military bases in the former Central Asian Soviet republics of Uzbekistan (since then closed at the insistence of the Uzbek government) and Kyrgyzstan. At the end of 2003, the US engineered the “Rose Revolution” that brought Saakashvili to power in Georgia. In 2004, NATO admitted a new group of states formerly aligned with Russia—Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. One year later Washington orchestrated the “Orange Revolution” that toppled a pro-Russian government in Ukraine and replaced it with a pro-American regime.

The final chapter in this assault on the strategic position of Russia was the recognition last February of Kosova’s bid for independence from Serbia.

Until now, the US has encountered no serious resistance. The events of the past week represent a major shift. For the first time, Russia, flush with oil money and able to exploit the overextended state of the US military, with its massive commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, pushed back.

This has evoked an apoplectic response in the American ruling elite, which has no intention of accepting a diminution of its influence in the regions formerly dominated by the Soviet Union. US imperialism will react by immensely escalating its confrontation with Russia, no matter what the cost.

There is also a domestic component to the US escalation of tensions with Russia. The Bush administration is consciously seeking to create an atmosphere of international crisis in the run-up to the November presidential election. It calculates that an election held in an environment of fear and insecurity will boost the electoral chances of the Republican candidate John McCain.

McCain has based his campaign on his military background and his supposed foreign policy experience. From early on, he has called for a more combative stance toward Russia, and has responded to the Georgia crisis by demanding Russia’s ejection from the G-8 and other punitive measures.

The Wall Street Journal in an editorial on Wednesday summed up the demand of sections of the ruling elite and elements within the Bush administration for a major and permanent shift to something like a new Cold War against Russia. The newspaper wrote: “Reshaping US policy toward Russia will take longer than the months between now and January 20, when a new president takes office. But Mr. Bush can at least atone for his earlier misjudgments about Mr. Putin and steer policy in a new direction that his successor would have to deal with.”

There are, in fact, only relatively minor tactical differences between McCain and Democratic candidate Barack Obama on US policy toward Russia. Both continue to demand the admission of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, which would put the US-led military alliance on the very doorstep of Russia. Had Georgia already been a member of NATO, the alliance would have been legally bound to intervene militarily in its defense following Russia’s incursion into South Ossetia.

The trajectory of the imperialist drive to carve up the world, spearheaded by US imperialism’s mad drive for global hegemony, is ominously clear. The American ruling elite will drag American workers and all of humanity into a catastrophe unless it is stopped. The only social force capable of achieving this is the international working class, united in the struggle to put an end to capitalism, the source of imperialist war, on the basis of a revolutionary socialist program.

See Also:
As ceasefire takes hold
Imperialist hypocrisy over war in Georgia

[13 August 2008]
Russia develops military forces, strategic alliances to counter US
[13 August 2008]

Saturday, August 09, 2008

How to blow it

It's the most winnable presidential election in American history - but the Democrats are old hands at losing. Michael Moore offers some helpful hints on how they might gift it all to the Republicans.

"Let's snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."
"We never met an election we'd like to win."
"Why get elected when you can be defeated!"

These have been the mantras of the Democratic Party. Beginning with their stunning inability to defeat the most detested politician in American history, Richard Nixon, and continuing through their stunning inability to defeat the most detested politician in the world, George II, the Democrats are the masters of blowing it. And they don't just simply "blow it" - they blow it especially when the electorate seems desperate to give it to them.

After eight years of Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office, the public had seen enough. The Democrats chose Michael Dukakis as their nominee. Two months before the election, he was ahead of Bush I in the polls. Then he went to an army tank factory in Michigan, put on some kind of stupid-fitting helmet and rode around in a tank with a goofy smile on his face. Weeks later, when asked what kind of punishment he would like to see given to someone who might rape his wife, he started mumbling some sort of bleeding-heart gibberish instead of just saying what anyone would say: "I'd like to tear the bastard limb from limb!" The voters were so put off by his wimpiness, they elected an actual wimp over him, George H W Bush.

For years now, nearly every poll has shown that the American people are right in sync with the platform of the Democratic Party. They are pro-environment, pro-women's rights, pro-choice, they don't like war, they want the minimum wage raised, and they want a single-payer universal healthcare system. The American public agrees with the Republican Party on only one major issue: they support the death penalty.

So you would think, with more than 200 million eligible voters, the Dems would be cleaning up, election after election. Obviously not. The Democrats appear to be professional losers. They are so pathetic in their ability to win elections, they even lose when they win! Al Gore won the 2000 election, but for some strange reason he didn't become the president of the United States.

If you are unable as a party to get the landlord to turn over the keys to a house that is yours, what the hell good are you?

Well, in 2006, the Dems had a come-to-Jesus meeting with themselves and, under the leadership of Rahm Emanuel, won so many House seats, they just waltzed in and took the place over. What a great day that was, seeing Nancy Pelosi bang the gavel down to open Congress. And what was her first act? To declare that any discussion of the impeachment of George W Bush was verboten and no one was ever to bring it up again. And that was that. It sent a clear message to Bush that he could just keep doing what he'd been doing for the first six years. The result? That's exactly what he did, with Congress authorising every war funding bill he sent to them. How did the American people respond? Congress's approval rating sank lower than Bush's. How disgusting do you have to be to sink lower in the public's eyes than a man who can't even successfully choke himself on a pretzel?

So when you hear Democrats and liberals and Obama supporters say they are worried McCain has a good chance of winning, they ain't a-kidding. Who would know better than the very people who have handed the Republicans one election after another on a silver platter? Yes, be afraid, be very afraid.

After the debacles of Iraq, Katrina, gas prices, home foreclosures, our standing in the world, the failure to capture Bin Laden, and revealing the identity of a CIA agent in an act of revenge, it would seem that Barack Obama should be on a cakewalk to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The man should be able to sleep his way through the rest of the campaign season.

Ha! Think again. How many Democrats does it take to lose the most easily winnable election in American history? Not many. Just a few "close advisers" to Barack Obama who tell him a bunch of asinine stuff and he ends up listening to them instead of his own heart. As the party hacks in the past two elections have proven, once they get the candidate's ear, the rest of us might just as well order pizza and stay inside for the next four years.

In an effort to help the party doofuses and pundits - and the candidate - spare all of us another suicide-inducing election night as the results giving the election to the Republican pour in, here is the blueprint from the Democrats' past losing campaigns. Just follow each of these steps and you, the Democratic Party establishment, can help elect John Sidney McCain III to a four-year extension of the Bush Era:

Keep saying nice things about McCain. Like how he's been "good on global warming" and campaign finance. Keep reminding a country at war that he and he alone is a war hero. Not to mention an all-round good guy. Say that enough and what happens? The same thing that happens when you repeat over and over, "Apply directly to the forehead" - people start to believe it! You've sold them on the idea that McCain isn't a bad egg, and they do not hear the rest of what you have to say: "But John McCain is four more years of George W Bush." If you keep saying he used to be a "maverick", our less-attention-span citizens hear only the "maverick" part, not the past tense verb included in that sentence.

This is not to say you should in any way demean John McCain as a human being or as an American. Disagreeing strongly with his policies or the direction he would lead the country is not the same as denigrating him as a person. This particular style of politics is the cesspool that the Right and the Republican Party apparatus swim in. We do not further our agenda by imitating them. Fight, fight back, and fight hard - but fight clean. It's ultimately what I believe the majority of Americans would like to see.

There is also nothing wrong with saying nice things about McCain's constituency, and you should. We want to hold out our hand to people who have voted for Republicans in the past. Many of them are tired, a good number are disgusted. They won't agree with a lot of what we stand for, but they've had it up to here with the Republicans and we should make sure our tent is big enough to welcome them in.

So if you want to help elect McCain, keep blessing him as if he were the white knight who accidentally hopped on the wrong horse. Forget to continually point out that he is truly up to no good. Keep pulling your punches. Don't remind people McCain wants to help the oil companies even more than Bush did. Don't bring up that he wants to outlaw all abortion. Back away from painting McCain as the guy who thinks it's a good idea to stay in Iraq until pigs fly. That way, if you keep praising him, you can send a mixed message to the less-informed who are simply not going to figure it out. When they walk into a voting booth, they will see two names on the ballot:

· Barack Obama
· War Hero

Trust me, this ain't Sweden. War Hero wins every time.

Have Obama pick a vice-presidential candidate who is a conservative white guy, or a general, or a Republican. Yes, it will seem like smart politics at first. Shore up Obama's lack of military experience with a hawk.

Be true to Obama's message that he'll be a president for everybody by having him run with a Republican.

Make a pitch to the purple states of Virginia and Indiana to vote Democratic this time by putting one of their own on the ticket.

Or swing for the fences and make the red state of Ohio happy by handing the vice-presidential slot to its governor.

But by doing any of this, you will upset the base that not only must come out on election day, it must also be active and work dozens of hours during the campaign. They have to personally bring 10 people each to the polls with them if we are to avoid the disasters of the past two elections. Many won't do this extra work if Obama picks the wrong Veep. It will suck the air out of the balloon in a big way.

Obama electrified the nation on the notion of change and hope and a fresh direction in Washington. If he picks a running mate who screams "Same old same old", it will make it harder for him to attract all the new voters he needs to bring to the polls to win. Remember there are nearly 100 million adults who choose not to vote. That is a large base from which to draw millions of new votes. Obama should not desert a strategy that has worked well for him.

There is nothing wrong with picking someone who can help him win a swing state or someone who has more experience than he does in certain areas. But when I hear pundits say, "He has to pick a Catholic", well, John Kerry was a total Catholic and the Catholic vote went to Mr W. I mean, here's one of the largest groups in the country - 66 million Catholics - and they/we have allowed only one Catholic to be president in 208 years. You would think they would have been flocking to Kerry in 2004. That is not the way people think. It is the way pundits think. Keep listening to them and you can help elect John McCain the next president of the United States.

Keep writing speeches for Obama like the one in front of the American Israeli lobbying group the day after the final primaries. Here's what he said: "The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat." And: "Let there be no doubt: I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel. Sometimes there are no alternatives to confrontation."

Sounds like a speech McCain would give. Sounds like he's ready to invade Iran. He staked out an even worse position for the Palestinians vis-a-vis Jerusalem than the one held by George W Bush. Keep that up and more and more supporters will be less and less enthused. It will be harder to keep the base motivated if they continue to hear how Obama wants to expand Bush's "faith-based" initiatives, doesn't have a health plan that covers everyone, and wants to send more troops to Afghanistan. The implied message of this is that the Republican plan is a good plan. So why would voters want to elect the candidate imitating the Republican when they can get the real thing? Talk like this gets McCain elected.

Somehow forget that this was a historic year for women and that there is more work to do. Obama should be making a speech about gender like the brilliant one he gave on race back in March. Millions of people, especially women, had high hopes for the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Attention must be paid. And you don't pay attention to it by having your advisers run your wife through the makeover machine, trying to soften her up and pipe her down. Michelle Obama has been one of the most refreshing things about this election year. But within weeks of the end of the primary season, the handlers stepped in to deal with the "Michelle Problem". What problem? She speaks her mind? She wears what she wants? She thought he was crazy to run for president and tried to put her foot down? Only a crazy person would want her husband and family to be chewed up and ground through the political grist mill.

Michelle's biggest sin, according to the punditocracy, was to say that, as a black woman, this may be the first time in her adult life she's been really proud of her country. Shock! Surprise! Outrage! But not from any of the black women I know.

Barack Obama, outnumbered in his household 3-1 by the female gender, has a lot at stake in making sure that women's rights and opportunities are on a par with men's. As one who knows what it's like to be in a class of people who traditionally have not held power, he's in an excellent position to speak to another group that has been left out - women - and assure them that he will be their advocate.

Plus, this is just good politics. Women vote by a larger margin than men. And if it remains true that Obama will not carry the white male vote (as most of the polls indicate he will not), then he simply cannot win without capturing a strong majority of the female vote. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton both lost the white male vote but won the White House. They did so by winning an overwhelming percentage of the black, Hispanic and female vote. That has to be Obama's strategy. Otherwise Cindy McCain will be our new First Lady.

Show up to a gunfight with a peashooter. Convince yourself that the Republicans are just going to roll over and play dead because there is simply no life left in their party. Convince yourself this one is in the bag! Convince yourself that if you play by the rules, the Republicans will, too. And when McCain and his people roll out their nuclear arsenal on you, just go all sweet and sensitive and logical. Believe that the truth shall prevail, that good people will see what the Republicans are up to. As they smear you, your family, your religious beliefs - cower, back down, go on the defensive. Heck, if they don't like your new I'm-running-for-president logo, denounce it, apologise for it, and fire the person who designed it.

But don't stop there. Be ready to jump and change anything at a moment's notice. If they ask you to stand on your head and do the hokey-pokey, snap to it and do it with a smile on your face and don't forget to apologise for not doing the hokey-pokey earlier, you meant no disrespect and please don't take it as any indication that you do not love your country, your flag, and your Christian God.

Do all of that, and then listen for that sound - the sound of your supporters shuffling away in silence. Don't worry, though - they won't vote for McCain. They'll just stop showing up at the campaign headquarters over on Maple Street. They'll say they're too busy to go on another three-hour door-to-door literature drop. They'll still take a list of a hundred voters home to call and read the index card over the phone about "why you should vote for Obama" - but there won't be much enthusiasm in their voice, and the voter on the other end of the line will hear that. After 15 or 20 calls, they'll give up - after all, there's dishes to do and a dog to walk. And on election day they'll go do their duty and vote, but they will not be up at 6am driving around the city picking up strangers who need a ride to the polls.

Denounce me! The candidate Obama, at some point, might be asked this question: "Michael Moore is a supporter of yours and has endorsed you. But in his new book, Mike's Election Guide, he says the following (go ahead and fill in the blank - I've provided a full list of outrageously offensive lines already taken out of context in advance to make it easy for rightwing commentators and Fox News). Will you still accept his endorsement or do you denounce him?"

And he better denounce me or they will tear him to shreds. He had better back away not only from me but from anyone and everyone who veers a bit too far to the left of where his advisers have told him is the sweet spot for all those red state voters.

We can't take four more years of this madness. We need you to be a candidate who will fight back every time they attack you. Actually, don't even wait till you have to fight back. Fight first! Show some vision and courage and smoke them out. Take the offensive. Keep asking why these lobbyists are McCain's best friends. Let's finally have a Democrat who's got the balls to fire first.

· This is an edited extract from Mike's Election Guide, by Michael Moore, published by Grand Central Publishing on September 1 . To order a copy for £7.99, with free UK p&p, call 0870 836 0875 or visit © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

Thursday, August 07, 2008

IRAQ: Iran Gains From Power Cuts

Inter Press Service
By Ahmed Ali and Dahr Jamail*

BAQUBA, Aug 7 (IPS) - The crisis over electricity failure grows as summer temperatures climb and a drought plagues Iraq. It is a crisis Iran is using to help Iraqis where the U.S. has failed.

The average house in Baquba, capital of Diyala province north of Baghdad, has less than 12 hours of electricity a day. "I cannot exclude electricity from my thinking; when I think of making any plans, I have to factor the lack of electricity," says local shopkeeper Abdullah Salim.

With temperatures soaring to 55C, lack of fans and air coolers can put people's health, and businesses, at risk.

"We cannot work without electricity, because generators are not dependable," Salman Taha, who owns a mechanics workshop, told IPS.

"When I decided to purchase an updated model of my bakery, I did not think of electricity," says Mahmood al-Mujamaee. "I could not operate it at all because of the inconsistency of electricity; the bakery needs stable power. It cost around 45,000 dollars. Now, I'm ready to sell for 20,000 dollars."

But bad as it is, the situation has been improving over the past four months – with Iran's assistance. The Bush administration and western companies like Bechtel have failed to deliver on promises to improve infrastructure.

"Now, the province gets power from Iran under a contract signed about two years ago between the Iraqi government and Iran," Naseer Milmy, an employee with the directorate-general of electricity told IPS.

Electricity cuts are now programmed; houses get two, sometimes four hours at given times. This is considered remarkable progress even if the voltage of supplied electricity is often lower than the required 220-240.

"This problem should be tackled by the Iranian side," said an engineer at the directorate-general of electricity, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It is supposed to build voltage regulators each 100 kilometres from the border to the province to avoid loss in the power."

The Iranians are working on it. "There is another line of power from Iran which is being worked on and should be finished within a month," Diyala's directorate-general of electricity said in a statement. "This will have a great effect on the improvement of the voltage and increasing the hours given."

People have meanwhile had to buy voltage regulators to deal with this difficulty. The price for a regulator for four amperes is 80 dollars, for 20 amperes 200 dollars, and for 40 amperes 350 dollars. People often need to buy more than one. But even so, current voltage is incapable of powering big machines or appliances.

Some local electricians have produced a device to increase voltage. It remains unreliable at best. "Some houses burnt down because of the extremely high voltage from these," said a local trader. "Scientists will be shocked to see what Iraqis are doing. It shows how much people are suffering."

A month ago, water pumping got better after a better flow of river water was ensured. This helps people using air coolers operated by water pressure rather than electricity. All kind of air coolers can be operated on only one or two amperes.

But the better water flow may not be here to stay. The water resources ministry has given a drought warning. Following an unusually dry winter, water in reservoirs and lakes is currently just under 22.07 billion cubic metres, down from the previous year by 9.19 billion cubic metres.

"The shortage of rain, which last winter was 30 percent of what it was in previous years, has led to an obvious impact on water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates and their tributaries," the ministry said in a press release.

Lake Hamrin in the north-east of Diyala has shrunk to nearly half its size and could dry up within two months, ruining the livelihoods of many farmers and fishermen.

"The lack of water from Iran's al-Wand river and from the Darbandikhan dam in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has caused Lake Hamrin to lose nearly 80 percent of its capacity," says Mowafaq Hawar Mohammed, an expert at the provincial water resources directorate.

The water and agriculture ministries decided late May to allow planting only of strategic crops like rice, corn, sunflower, cotton, and vegetables. The government has ordered irrigation rationing.

With all this, Iraq has been plagued with dust storms this summer. Every three or four days the sky above Baquba is overcast with dust.

"This make things more difficult with electricity shutdowns," Luay Ata, father of four, told IPS. "People cannot sleep on the housetops at night where it is cooler."

Through the difficulties, people look now to Iran, not the U.S., for a better life.

(*Ahmed, our correspondent in Iraq's Diyala province, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who has reported extensively from Iraq and the Middle East).

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

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

One less T-bone in the food chain
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Maybe it’s fitting that I became a cattleman of sorts about the same
time that President Bush dropped the cowboy act. As predicted here, Bush
confirmed that he and Laura will move to a posh Dallas neighborhood
after a relieved nation watches them leave the White House next January.
How long before the Crawford ranch, acquired in 1999 for transparently
political purposes, goes on the market? The correct answer: Who cares?
Besides, this column is about Layla, the Charolais wonder calf. I was
recently out for an afternoon ride on Rusty, my quarter horse, when we
came upon my neighbor, who rents my pasture for his cattle. One of his
cows had given birth to twin calves. Not good. They’re often premature,
undersized and weak. The mother’s likely to choose the stronger calf and
leave the other to die—bovine Darwinism. Paul was trying to coax the
little white heifer, all spindly legs and big brown eyes, to stand and
nurse from her mother’s teats. Without fresh mother’s milk, colostrum,
she wouldn’t get antibodies needed to survive. He wasn’t having much
luck. The heifer’s mother was already showing signs of ignoring her for
the stronger bull calf.

When I rode back later, the herd had moved on. The little heifer lay
alone under some trees. After sundown, she’d basically be coyote bait.
Rusty and I tried herding the mother back to her. Anxious to protect her
other calf, however, the mother cow—all 1500 pounds of her was spoiling
for a fight.

Rusty’s no cutting horse and I’m no cowboy, so I put him up, drove out
in my truck, picked the heifer up and tried setting her on her feet
among the herd. Her mother actually ran. Tottering along bawling, the
little heifer tried to nurse other cows, which kicked her.

I volunteered to bottle-feed her if Paul would teach me. He allowed as
how she’d be mine if I could keep her alive, which he doubted. He and
his wife came by to show me the ropes.

By morning, she was substantially weaker, unable to stand, barely able
to nurse a bottle. Paul showed me how to tube-feed, inserting a plastic
tube down her throat and pouring milk into a hotwater bottle hung from a

Like every cattleman I talked to, he was fatalistic.

“I don’t know if I’d fool with it,” he’d say. “It’s 90 percent she’ll be
dead by morning.”

Indeed, when I carried her into the stall we prepared for her, the
little heifer hung limp in my arms. She couldn’t stand. Yet when I’d
force the feeding tube into her esophagus, she’d struggle against the
insult. I felt she was a fighter. I felt she wanted to live.

On the third day, I drove off to fetch frozen colostrum on what I feared
was a fool’s errand. I half expected to find her dead when I returned.
Instead, she was standing, sniffing noses with Fred the basset hound.

“Ah like to cried,” country folks say, meaning they almost did. There
was no almost about it. The little white heifer with the knobby knees,
huge brown eyes, spoonlike ears and amazing vitality had entered my
heart. It was also a minor revelation seeing laconic cattlemen driving
all over three counties to fetch what I needed to keep her alive:
colostrum, antibiotics, vitamin B-12, steroids.

I named her Layla, after the Eric Clapton song. The extended melodic
piano and guitar ride at the end has often brought tears to my wife’s
eyes. Besides, Layla definitely had me on my knees, feeding her a

Next she went blind. It was probably congenital, possibly an auto-immune
reaction to foreign colostrum, veterinarians thought. Treating it was
probably hopeless. However, if I had a safe pasture where she wouldn’t
drown or walk off a cliff—I do—she and a companion calf might live 20

They tried steroids anyway. Over three days, the white cloud over her
eyes vanished. She began playing chase with the dogs, who somehow knew
not to nip her. The two Great Pyrenees are over the moon happy that
there’s finally something on this place that needs guarding—unlike the
horses, which mildly resent their efforts. They let Layla nurse at their
ears. At six weeks, Layla appears to think she’s a basset hound,
although she knows I’m her mother. She definitely knows where the milk’s
kept—inside the house—so she spends lots of time on the front porch,
snoozing with the dogs and mooing for supper. I’d been told that cows
had strongly marked personalities, but I had no clue. My own feelings
about this little calf, one among thousands in a county inhabited by far
more cows than people, have surprised me. Have I given up T-bones? Not
yet. Layla, however, will never enter the food chain.

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

The making and marketing of Barack Obama: Image and identity in US politics

By David Walsh
5 August 2008

Use this version to print | Send this link by email | Email the author

An article that appeared in the New York Times July 30, along with an extended interview in Rolling Stone magazine earlier in July, provide insight into the thinking and personality of Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic Party candidate for president.

The Times piece concerns Obama’s stint teaching part-time at the University of Chicago Law School. That lasted from 1992 until 2004, when he won election to the US Senate. During most of those years, he also served as an Illinois state senator and practiced law with a firm specializing in civil rights litigation and neighborhood economic development.

The Times article is not intended to be unfriendly, but it paints a picture of a fiercely ambitious, cool and cautious man, primarily committed to his own advancement. Obama “stood apart,” the article asserts, “in too many ways to count.” The distance he kept from his colleagues might, in part, be attributed to his ethnic background and his generally liberal politics, in a law school considered to be quite conservative.

However, he never came into conflict with his fellow faculty members over political issues. Mostly, in fact, they were kept “guessing about his precise views.” The article asserts: “Mr. Obama’s years at the law school are also another chapter... in which he seemed as intently focused on his own political rise as on the institution itself.”

As the Times notes, Obama hardly had time to engage with anyone at the law school, as he was busy “embarking on five political races during his 12 years at the school.” He was also, by all accounts, rather involved with himself. The article states: “Mr. Obama, in turn, could play the star. In what even some fans saw as self-absorption, Mr. Obama’s hypothetical cases occasionally featured himself. ‘Take Barack Obama, there’s a good-looking guy,’ he would introduce a twisty legal case.”

While his views were more to the left than those of most of his colleagues, his dissatisfaction with old-style liberalism comes through: “Mr. Obama’s courses chronicled the failure of liberal policies and court-led efforts at social change: the Reconstruction-era amendments that were rendered meaningless by a century of resistance, the way the triumph of Brown gave way to fights over busing, the voting rights laws that crowded blacks into as few districts as possible. He was wary of noble theories, students say; instead, they call Mr. Obama a contextualist, willing to look past legal niceties to get results.”

The Times notes that Obama, “whether out of professorial reserve or budding political caution,” refused to take a stand on controversial issues. “Nor could his views be gleaned from scholarship; Mr. Obama has never published any,” the newspaper notes. He was too busy, a former colleague suggests, but also “he was unwilling to put his name to anything that could haunt him politically... ‘He figured out, you lay low.’”

This canniness, now being played out on the national political stage, is something more than a personal caution. Whereas the Clintons bore some connection to the protest movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s, albeit representing their most shallow and opportunist element, Obama was largely shaped by the sharp rightward shift in American ruling class policy that began in the late 1970s under Jimmy Carter and fully flowered during the Reagan administration.

He was an impressionable 19, a college student in Los Angeles, at the time of Reagan’s first election. In The Audacity of Hope, Obama offers this remarkable tribute: “All of which may explain why, as disturbed as I might have been by Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980... I understood his appeal... Reagan spoke to America’s longing for order, our need to believe that we are not simply subject to blind, impersonal forces but that we can shape our individual and collective destinies, so long as we rediscover the traditional virtues of hard work, patriotism, personal responsibility, optimism, and faith.”

To ask whether this paean to Reagan was merely political calculation begs the question. Obama is largely made up of political calculation. To inquire as to where his weighing up the advantages of this or that position ends and his “core beliefs” begin is a futile undertaking.

Obama is the product of identity politics, which came to prominence in the 1970s. This opportunist trend, promoted by sections of the ruling elite, elevated race or gender above class position and served to undermine any organized struggle of working and poor people against their social oppression. It became a way for a relatively a small section of blacks, Latinos and women to advance themselves at the expense of the mass.

For obvious reasons, certain doors were closed to Obama as the child of a white woman, originally from Kansas, and a black Kenyan, who left his wife and son when the latter was two years old. Other doors, however, would open up.

Significant numbers of the erstwhile radical middle class were moving toward self-absorption and hedonism in the late 1970s and early 1980s, often while retaining the language and trappings of their ‘free-spirited’ youth. The category of ‘hippie capitalist’ came into being, including, prominently, Rolling Stone publisher and Obama interviewer Jann Wenner.

At what point Obama, in the midst of these various changes, recognized that he might possess a marketable identity is impossible to say. It is worth noting that he stopped calling himself “Barry,” his childhood and teenage nickname, and reverted to his given name, Barack, around 1980 or 1981. Had a vision of a possible political future already flashed before his eyes?

According to a lengthy 1995 article in the Chicago Reader entitled “What Makes Obama Run?”, his politics “were tinged with nihilism during his undergraduate years [1979-81] at Occidental College outside Los Angeles. There he played it cool and detached, and began to confuse partying and getting high with rebellion.” Ambition swelled within him apparently during the 1980s, at Columbia and later Harvard Law School.

By 1990, he hardly made a secret about the possibilities his ethnicity and academic qualifications offered him. In the summer of that year, a Chicago Reporter article gushed, “The last thing that Barack Obama will have to worry about next year when he graduates is job offers. Obama finished his second year at Harvard Law School this spring and has been elected to lead the Harvard Law Review, a prestigious position traditionally reserved for a top student.

“‘It’s a great time to be a young black law school graduate—if you’re from Harvard and in the top quarter of your class,’ said Obama.”

Throughout his adult life, Obama has single-mindedly pursued his personal career, whatever that might be at any given point. The manipulation of his identity, in response to the changing political winds, has been at the center of that.

As we noted last year: “Obama uses his ethnicity as a kind of unspoken metaphor for his political approach. Here is a man, the message is intended to convey, who is white and black, liberal and conservative, foreign and American, a man above party ideology and the petty bickering of partisan politics.”

His intense ambition and his political ‘androgyny,’ the ability to be ‘all over’ an issue, to appear to address it fluidly and flexibly, while saying nothing, both emerge strongly from Wenner’s Rolling Stone interview.

Asked when it had occurred to him that being black and bearing the name “Barack Obama” would not prove an obstacle to his political ambitions, the senator from Illinois replies self-assuredly, “I was never lacking in... confidence that my particular background would not be a barrier to me running.”

What had he learned about Americans that he might not have known before? “I’m not sure if this is a new lesson, but it reinforced my belief that we’re not as divided as our politics would indicate... [Americans are] not particularly ideological. Everybody is sort of a mix of what you might consider some liberal ideas, what you might consider some conservative ideas. But there is a set of common values that everybody buys into: Everybody thinks you should have to work hard for what you get, everybody believes that things like equal opportunity should be real, not just a slogan.”

A feint to the right, a thrust to the left ...

Wenner notes that “change” is the byword of Obama’s campaign. “Can you describe what change is? What does it look like?” he asks.

This provides the opportunity for Obama to indulge in his specialty—empty generalities, vague commitments that commit him to nothing, “feel-good” phrase-mongering.

“I want people to feel connected to their government again,” he says, “and I want that government to respond to the voices of the people, and not just insiders and special interests. That’s real change. I want us to think about the long term and not just the short term, whether it’s climate change, energy policy, how we’re educating our kids, what kind of investments we’re making in our infrastructure, how we’re dealing with the federal budget and national debt,” etc., etc.

What and who is Obama? What does he or anyone else have to show for his legal, political and “community organizing” careers? In reality, very little. Take the marketable identity away from him, and there’s nothing there.

He accepted this identity (neither black nor white, liberal nor conservative, entirely American nor foreign) and cultivated it, and it eventually took the place of whatever he was before.

US presidential hopefuls are selected, vetted, molded in a complex and time-consuming process. The ruling elite faces life-and-death questions and is not about to allow just anyone to take up residence in the White House. He, or she, must be prepared to make the most ruthless decisions.

Obama has survived the process to this point largely because powerful forces in the country recognize that the Bush presidency has been a disaster. A different face, a different look, is needed. Bill Clinton came along to “feel” the population’s “pain” during a sharp recession and after the Reagan phenomenon had exhausted itself. The situation today is far more serious.

Bush and Cheney are identified with war, slump and wholesale criminality. Confused and searching for answers, the population is seething with anger. A mass radicalization threatens. That the relatively inexperienced, bi-racial Obama has been plucked out of the ranks and possibly given his moment in the sun is itself an indication of the depth of the crisis.

Politically, Obama is meant to forestall as long as possible the eruption of mass opposition to the existing economic and political setup. He is being marketed to the public as a caring, thoughtful black man, with hints of Lincoln in the background. He has the constructed appearance, the outer form, of opposition. But only the outer form. He’s clever and adroit. He’s not Bush.

But, minus his carefully crafted identity, he’s not terribly different.

See Also:
Obama backs long-term US military presence in Iraq
[29 July 2008]
The Obama candidacy and the new consensus on Afghanistan
[21 July 2008]
Obama outlines policy of endless war
[16 July 2006]