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01 November 2008

Madeline Kahn is God

31 October 2008

Obama and Change, Ralph Nader

Third-Party Debate: Nader, Baldwin, Barr

Another one; view on RealPlayer here.

And here's the Socialist candidate.

Academy-Award Winning Filmmaker Michael Moore on the Election, the Bailout, Health Care, and 10 Proposed Decrees for an Obama White House

McCain, Obama, and Rashid Khalidi: Straight-Up Racism, Plain and Simple

I mean, just add it to the ever-lengthening list.... First link to DN!; second, below, to Juan Cole. Khalidi is a leading scholar, of course. But he's one of "them," just like Barack Hussein Obama, so, you know. Not a real American. As Colbert put it, the only "Joe" McPalin are using as a mascot in this campaign is Joe the McCarthy. Total scumbags.

McCain Faults Obama for Ties to Professor He Once Funded

On the Republican side, Senator McCain has revived an old attack on Obama by bringing up his alleged ties to Palestinian American professor Rashid Khalidi. Khalidi teaches Arab Studies at Columbia University, where he also heads the Middle East Institute. The McCain campaign has cited few allegations against Khalidi aside from the fact that he is a Palestinian and supports Palestinians’ right to resist Israeli military occupation. Speaking last night on CNN’s Larry King Live, McCain criticized the LA Times for refusing to release a video of Obama appearing at a 2003 event honoring Khalidi.

Larry King: “Speaking of newspapers, there is the LA Times.”

Sen. John McCain: “Yeah.”

King: “They apparently—your campaign says that they’re suppressing videotape of a 2003 banquet when Barack Obama praised Palestinian activist and scholar Rashid Khalidi. What’s this all—what is this?”

Sen. McCain: “Why shouldn’t they—”

King: “Why would the paper suppress this?”

Sen. McCain: “I have no idea. If they have the tape, they ought to make the American people aware of it, let them see it and make their own judgment. Frankly, I’ve been in a lot of political campaigns, a whole lot. I’ve never seen anything like this, where a major media outlet has information and a tape of some occasion—maybe it means nothing. Maybe it’s just a social event. I don’t know. But why should they not release it? And why shouldn’t the Obama campaign want it released?”

King: “Is this Palestinian some sort of terrorist?”

Sen. McCain: “We know that at that time, the PLO was a terrorist organization.”

King: “He was PLO?”

Sen. McCain: “Yeah, yeah—that’s what the allegation is, Larry. I haven’t seen the tape. So—but we should see the tape to make it—the American people make a judgment.”

McCain went on to compare Obama’s appearance at the dinner to appearing at a “Neo-Nazi” event. The LA Times says it won’t release the tape because of a promise made to the source who provided it. Khalidi has never worked as a spokesperson for the PLO. McCain’s attack on Khalidi marks the latest in a series of efforts to disparage Obama because of real or concocted ties to Arabs and Muslims. Khalidi is a respected scholar who has called for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict in accordance with a majority of public opinion in the US and worldwide. The so-called Khalidi “controversy” also comes as a surprise in light of McCain’s own previous ties to Khalidi’s work on behalf of Palestinian rights. During the 1990s, McCain chaired the International Republican Institute when it gave several grants to Khalidi’s Center for Palestine Research and Studies.

Juan Cole on this: lots of embedded video, so click away. He nails it, utterly.

More Rashid Khalidi here:

Recent Chomsky Interview

Sit tight: Chomsky speaks in English, as per usual. It starts at 6:25. The second part has some technical error at about five seconds: Chomsky starts by talking about Obama, but slides into something else (possibly about the EU or antiglobalization movement?). I e-mailed the interviewer to see whether this can be fixed.

Paulson's Swindle Revealed, William Greider, The Nation

October 29, 2008

The swindle of American taxpayers is proceeding more or less in broad daylight, as the unwitting voters are preoccupied with the national election. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson agreed to invest $125 billion in the nine largest banks, including $10 billion for Goldman Sachs, his old firm. But, if you look more closely at Paulson's transaction, the taxpayers were taken for a ride--a very expensive ride. They paid $125 billion for bank stock that a private investor could purchase for $62.5 billion. That means half of the public's money was a straight-out gift to Wall Street, for which taxpayers got nothing in return.

These are dynamite facts that demand immediate action to halt the bailout deal and correct its giveaway terms. Stop payment on the Treasury checks before the bankers can cash them. Open an immediate Congressional investigation into how Paulson and his staff determined such a sweetheart deal for leading players in the financial sector and for their own former employer. Paulson's bailout staff is heavily populated with Goldman Sachs veterans and individuals from other Wall Street firms. Yet we do not know whether these financiers have fully divested their own Wall Street holdings. Were they perhaps enriching themselves as they engineered this generous distribution of public wealth to embattled private banks and their shareholders?

Leo W. Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, raised these explosive questions in a stinging letter sent to Paulson this week. The union did what any private investor would do. Its finance experts vetted the terms of the bailout investment and calculated the real value of what Treasury bought with the public's money. In the case of Goldman Sachs, the analysis could conveniently rely on a comparable sale twenty days earlier. Billionaire Warren Buffett invested $5 billion in Goldman Sachs and bought the same types of securities--preferred stock and warrants to purchase common stock in the future. Only Buffett's preferred shares pay a 10 percent dividend, while the public gets only 5 percent. Dollar for dollar, Buffett "received at least seven and perhaps up to 14 times more warrants than Treasury did and his warrants have more favorable terms," Gerard pointed out.

"I am sure that someone at Treasury saw the terms of Buffett's investment," the union president wrote. "In fact, my suspicion is that you studied it pretty closely and knew exactly what you were doing. The 50-50 deal--50 percent invested and 50 percent as a gift--is quite consistent with the Republican version of spread-the-wealth-around philosophy."

The Steelworkers' close analysis was done by Ron W. Bloom, director of the union's corporate research and a Wall Street veteran himself who worked at Larzard Freres, the investment house. Bloom applied standard valuation techniques to establish the market price Buffett paid per share compared to Treasury's price. "The analysis is based on the assumption that Warren Buffett is an intelligent third party investor who paid no more for his investment than he had to," Bloom's report explained. "It also assumes that Gold Sachs' job is to protect its existing shareholders so that it extracted from Mr. Buffett the most that it could.... Further, it is assumed that Henry Paulson is likewise an intelligent man and that if he paid any more than Mr. Buffett--if he paid $1 for something for which Mr. Buffett would have paid 50 cents--that the difference is a gift from the taxpayers of the United States to the shareholders of Goldman Sachs."

The implications are staggering. Leo Gerard told Paulson: "If the result of our analysis is applied to the deals that you made at the other eight institutions--which on average most would view as being less well positioned than Goldman and therefore requiring an even greater rate of return--you paid a$125 billion for securities for which a disinterested party would have paid $62.5 billion. That means you gifted the other $62.5 billion to the shareholders of these nine institutions."

If the same rule of thumb is applied to Paulson's grand $700 billion bailout fund, Gerard said this will constitute a gift of $350 billion from the American taxpayers "to reward the institutions that have driven our nation and it now appears the whole world into its most serious economic crisis in 75 years."

Is anyone angry? Will anyone look into these very serious accusations? Congress is off campaigning. The financiers at Treasury probably assume any public outrage will be lost in the election returns. I hope they are mistaken.

  • Copyright © 2008 The Nation

30 October 2008

Alex Kramer on Cello

Sergei Rachmaninoff's Cello Sonata in G-minor, 3d movement; Ludwig van Beethoven's Sonata in D-Major Op. 102 #2; Zoltan Kodaly's Sonata for Cello and Piano; Bohuslav Martinu's Variations on a Slovak Theme.

Each video segment begins with a little visual fog; it clears up quickly:

The Vote Grab: Voting machines are unreliable and inaccurate, Peter Tatchell, The Independent

Great video embedded in this article: nice to watch how fucked up these machines really are.

Bottom line: not having an independent election commission is a bipartisan "gentleman's agreement" -- whoever can steal the most votes wins. Nice.

Let's see whether Obama pushes for an independent election commission that oversees all elections (federal, state, local); paper-trail voting; full public funding of elections. Anyone want to lay a bet?

29 October 2008

What Do They Have to Do to Lose Your Vote? Matt Gonzalez

By MATT GONZALEZ, Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Watching the Democrats in the final weeks of the presidential election has been a lesson in revisionist history. While they lament the terrible crimes perpetrated against the American people by George Bush and vow to keep fighting for our rights, they conveniently gloss over the fact that they have no standing to make such claims. Indeed, the Democrats, including Senator Barack Obama, have actually voted with President Bush’s agenda, making them complicit in his acts, not valiant opponents defending our liberties.


Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi said that if she became the speaker of the House of Representatives she would end the war in Iraq. Remember that? The Boston Globe noted, "Pelosi vows no ‘blank check’ on Iraq funds.” (1/8/07). In her own words: "If the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have to justify it. And this is new to him, because up until now the Republican Congress has given him a blank check with no oversight, no standards, no conditions.” Rick Klein of the Globe noted "Pelosi’s comments mark the first suggestion by a Democratic congressional leader that Congress could use its authority over the nation’s finances to hasten an end to the war. Her remarks point toward an aggressive stance on Iraq from Congressional Democrats in their opening days of control of the House and Senate.”

Yet after she became the speaker of the House in Jan 2007, war appropriations actually went up by $50 billion, with no strings attached and no date for the withdrawal of troops. This year, 2008, they’ve gone up by another $25 billion for a two-year total of $350 billion, with no end in sight. So what happened to the promise of "no blank check?”


Sen. Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, has complained that the Republicans have filibustered (a procedure used by the minority party to delay voting on legislation) more times in the last two years than in the entire history of the United States to explain why he can’t move forward a progressive agenda. First he said it was over 70 times, then adjusted it by saying it was 65 times (Las Vegas Sun 3/6/08); yet still the highest for any two-year period (the previous record was 57 filibusters) (Politico, 3/6/08; Gov.Track.us 4/15/08). But Sen. Reid’s frustration has proven to be a red-herring. Did you know that Reid lets the Republicans filibuster telephonically, meaning that he doesn’t require that they physically present themselves on the floor of the Senate? Why is he making it easy on them? Is this what an opposition party looks like?


Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic Party nominee for president, has a long history of voting against the interest of the American people, and specifically, the working class. Before entering the presidential contest, he supported the Republican Class Action Reform Bill, which made it harder for class-action lawsuits to be brought in the state courts. State courts are exactly where consumer protection lawsuits and recent wage and hour claims have succeeded in improving the lives of workers and helped them obtain better wages and breaks during work hours have succeeded.

Progressive commentators at the time called it a thinly veiled special-interest extravaganza. Journalist David Sirota noted "Opposed by most major civil rights and consumer watchdog groups, this Big Business-backed legislation was sold to the public as a way to stop ‘frivolous’ lawsuits. But everyone in Washington knew the bill’s real objective was to protect corporate abusers.” (The Nation, 6/26/06). So why did Obama vote for it?


Sen. Obama supported one of the worst attacks on civil liberties in recent history, the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, which extended an earlier law granting law enforcement expanded powers to search telephone, e-mail, and financial and medical records, in addition to granting the federal government a host of other powers to combat so-called domestic terrorism. After saying he would oppose it if elected to the U.S. Senate (NOW questionnaire, 9/10/03), in July 2005, Obama voted for it.

But this wasn’t enough. After entering the presidential race and running on a "change” message, Obama vowed in February of 2008 to vote against—and filibuster if necessary—the FISA bill amendment (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) that gave immunities to telecommunications corporations that cooperated with the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program. This eavesdropping program clearly violated the privacy of law-abiding Americans at the behest of the president, and made the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover seem tame by comparison. Those voting in favor of the bill didn’t even first require full disclosure to see how deep the illegal conduct extended and agreed to apply the law retroactively.

Despite his promises to the contrary, and despite the vehement protests of many of his supporters, when the FISA bill came to the Senate for a vote this past July, Sen. Obama voted for it without explaining how this vote fit in with his change message or reconciled with his repeated claims he was going to protect the American people from repeated assaults on civil liberties by President Bush. Here was his chance to lead and make good on his promise, and what did he do?

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called the FISA bill "an unconstitutional domestic spying bill that violates the Fourth Amendment and eliminates any meaningful role for judicial oversight of government surveillance" (ACLU press release, 7/9/08). Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office called the bill "a Constitutional nightmare” and noted "with one vote, Congress has strengthened the executive branch, weakened the judiciary and rendered itself irrelevant.”

Obama even voted to stop debate on the bill so he could get back to the campaign trail. How ironic is it that he was in a hurry to give more speeches about change and hope but couldn’t find the time or integrity to convert these ideas into action?

On the eve of the vote MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow noted "I’m betting that [Pres. Bush’s] wildest dreams did not include the prospect that Congress — a Democratic-led Congress — would help him cover up his crimes. Yet that is exactly what the US Senate is poised to do.” (Countdown with Keith Olbermann, 7/8/08).


As Sen. John McCain started to call for domestic drilling to ease our dependence on foreign oil, rather than debate the scientific and economic illogic of the position, Sen. Obama announced that he agreed with McCain. Reversing a 25-year ban on off-shore oil drilling, Sen. Obama led his party’s reversal, offering no explanation for how this would ease oil prices, particularly as experts noted that drilling would likely have an almost imperceptible impact on oil prices in the near future.

As Lester Brown and Jonathan Dorn of the Earth Policy Institute noted in "Drilling For Oil Is Not The Answer” (9/30/08) "The U.S. Department of Energy projects that lifting the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) moratorium [of the lower 48 states] would not increase production before 2017 and that by 2030 production would only amount to 0.2 million barrels per day—less than 1 percent of current consumption.”

Furthermore "The U.S. Department of Energy projects that opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) would lower gasoline prices at the pump by a mere 2 cents per gallon.” Even if we combined the two regions in question, it wouldn’t amount to much of an impact on oil prices: "Lifting the moratoria on drilling in ANWR and the OCS would reduce the price of a gallon of gasoline by at most 6 cents—and this would not be seen for at least another decade.”

Proponents of drilling have also exaggerated the environmental safety of current off-shore drilling and oil production technology in general. There is widespread evidence that current drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is already leading to serious pollution and spills. After reviewing data from the National Response Center, the Houston Chronicle found there had been 595 oil spills across four state coastlines, totaling roughly 9 million gallons spilled in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ("Spills from hurricanes staining the coast” by Dina Cappiello, 11/13/05). So why is Sen. Obama, who claims to care about the environment, now advocating off-shore drilling?


In June of 2008, the conservative Supreme Court struck down the use of the death penalty in cases of child rape (Kennedy v. Louisiana held that states may not impose the death penalty for the commission of a crime that did not result in the death of the victim), a decision that surprised even death penalty opponents who hailed it as an important step toward full abolition of the death penalty. Sen. Obama’s response? He quickly called a press conference to denounce the decision. Obama stated that he agreed with the extreme conservative minority, comprised of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas. Despite the many known racial and class inequities inherent in the death penalty, a practice abolished and abhorred in most of the rest of the world, Obama celebrates that he has always been a supporter of it.

On the campaign trail, Sen. Obama likes to highlight death penalty legislation that he sponsored while a member of the Illinois legislature, to show his commitment to reform. But let’s be clear, he didn’t work on laws to address the disproportionate rate of death penalty convictions of African-Americans, but rather a law to require videotaped interrogations of death penalty suspects. Yes, something we can applaud, but something many critics have noted merely greases the wheels of this injustice.

Most disquieting of all, as a state legislator, Obama voted "to expand the list of death-eligible crimes” (Chicago Tribune, 5/2/07), despite admitting in his own allegedly soul-searching memoir that the death penalty "does little to deter crime.” (The Audacity of Hope, 2006).


On foreign policy, Sen. Obama’s approach is hawkish. He wants to deploy more soldiers to Afghanistan, which will only further destabilize the Afghan-Pakistani border. He simply ignores the historic reality that no invading army has ever managed to successfully win a war in this area or subjugate the Afghani people.

During its ill-fated 10-year war, between 1979 and 1989, the Soviet Union deployed 620,000 soldiers to Afghanistan and sustained 470,000 casualties (sick and wounded, including infectious diseases such as hepatitis and typhoid fever).

Why does Obama want to ignore these facts and risk further destabilizing the area and creating another Vietnam/Iraq occupation there?


With respect to Iraq, Sen. Obama has conceded the main argument of Sen. McCain’s campaign and said the so-called "surge” worked (despite significant evidence and analysis to the contrary). And he has vowed to keep soldiers in Iraq to fight counterterrorism. John Podesta, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton who now leads the Center for American Progress, estimated this would take a 60,000 troop presence to achieve.

Moreover Obama "will not ‘rule out’ using private security companies like Blackwater Worldwide in Iraq” according to Democracy Now! Correspondent Jeremy Scahill. And Obama did not plan on signing on to legislation that seeks to ban the use of such forces by the U.S. government by January 2009, according to one of his senior foreign policy advisors. (Democracy Now! 2/28/08). (This is one promise Obama unfortunately has kept, refusing to sign onto the Stop Outsourcing Security Act, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont).

In an interview with Amy Goodman, Sen. Obama stated his intention of leaving 140,000 private contractors in Iraq because "we don’t have the troops to replace them.” He also stated the need to keep an additional "strike force in the region … in order to not only protect them, but also potentially to protect their territorial integrity.” Summarizing the interview, Amy Goodman concluded that it sounded as if Obama "would leave more than 100,000 troops, close to 200,000 in Iraq. ‘Troops’ meaning U.S. soldiers and military contractors which some call mercenaries.” (4/1/08).

Even concerning a possible timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq, Obama has diminished his promises. He now is committing only to "reducing the number of combat troops within 16 months,” presumably to "bolster efforts in Afghanistan so that we can capture and kill bin Laden and crush al Qaeda.” (Obama/McCain debate, 9/26/08).

What we know for certain, though, is when given a chance to commit to a complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq, Obama said "no.” When Tim Russert asked him, during a debate in New Hampshire in September 2007, if he could promise having American troops out of Iraq by 2013, he would not do so.


According to military policy analysts at the Arms Control Center, in their report "U.S. Defense Spending, since 2001” military spending has risen from $333 billion in 2001 to $696 in 2008 (including $189 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). It’s expected to rise even more in 2009, to $706 billion.

Despite this, Sen. Obama has joined Sen. McCain and called for increased military spending. "I’ve said that we have to increase the size of our military,” Obama told ABC’s This Week (9/7/08). The details of which he has previously noted in a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs: "I strongly support the expansion of our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 Marines.” ("Obama surrenders on military spending” by Glen Ford, The Progressive, 1/15/08).


The current financial crisis has generated perhaps the most fascinating political rhetoric of all. Obama has blamed the Republicans for deregulation and in doing so, his poll numbers have given him a healthy lead as we approach the final days of the campaign. The only problem is that the economic crisis is not just the fault of the Republicans. It is the direct result of bipartisan bills enacted into law by a Democratic president, Bill Clinton.

In 1999 Clinton signed into law the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. This repealed the last vestiges of an important Depression-era law, the Glass-Steagall Act (1933), which prohibited banking, brokerage, and insurance companies from merging together, thus compartmentalized the financial industry and protected it from future collapses.

Equally significant in 2000, President Clinton signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which repealed 20-year-old agreements between the Security and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, so that financial institutions could sell credit derivatives such as the now notorious "credit default swaps” without any oversight and with no regulation. Two of its cosponsors included Democratic Senators Tom Harkin of Iowa and Tim Johnson of South Dakota. The measure had such bipartisan support that it was never even debated in the Senate and was passed by unanimous consent.

This resulted in the repackaging of mortgages into securities and the failure to regulate institutions that then over-leveraged themselves as they sold credit derivatives to investors who wanted protection from risky investments. This is what led to this financial crisis whose ramifications we have only begun to understand.

Both Obama and McCain voted for the $700 billion taxpayer-funded bailout despite the plea of 200 economists (including Nobel Prize winners) urging them not to do so (Open Letter to Congress regarding Treasury bailout plan, 9/24/08). Obama keeps emphasizing that the mess was the fault of Republicans alone. But how is this argument credible when the law responsible for the financial meltdown enjoyed unanimous support from both parties?


It was quite emblematic of Sen. Obama that he has changed his position on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to suit whatever situation he is in. First, while running for the Senate in 2004, he said he supported NAFTA and thought there should be more trade agreements like it. (AP story 2/26/08). Then, while running against Hillary Clinton he blamed her for NAFTA’s impact on workers in the "rustbelt” states of Wisconsin and Ohio. But once he won the primary things changed. When asked if he would truly invoke the six-month clause in NAFTA for unilateral withdrawal, Obama showed his signature political reversal.

NAFTA created a trilateral trade bloc encompassing the United States, Canada, and Mexico, which was meant to foster greater trade between its members. It primarily lifted tariffs on goods shipped between the three countries but has caused economic turmoil both among American and Mexican labor, with unexpected loss of jobs and negative environmental impacts.

Nina Easton, a Washington editor for Fortune, noted in a June 18, 2008 article that "the presumptive Democratic nominee backed off his harshest attacks on the free trade agreement and indicated he didn’t want to unilaterally reopen negotiations on NAFTA,” something he had promised to do when locked in a close primary race with Sen. Hillary Clinton. Asked directly about whether he would move the U.S. out of the trade agreement, Obama said "Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified.” Fortune magazine concluded that, despite once calling NAFTA "devastating” and "a big mistake,” Obama "was toning down his populist rhetoric” and had no intention of following through with his anti-NAFTA promises now that the primary battle was won.

In light of this evidence, can we believe any of the other commitments he‘s made?


Those who think Sen. Obama will appoint good Supreme Court justices should just take note of his long history of supporting some of the worst Bush appointees to the federal bench, including Thomas Griffith (D.C. Cir.), Susan Blake Neilson (6th Cir.), Milan Smith (9th Cir.), Sandra Segal Ikuta (9th Cir.), and Kent Jordan (3rd Cir.). The Neilson vote was particularly troubling as both senators from her own state "blue slipped” her for being "too extreme.”

And even when he does manage to muster the courage to vote against conservative appointees, he does it in a lukewarm and perfunctory manner, refusing to join Democratic Party filibuster efforts. This is deeply troubling. He voted cloture (to end any voting delay) on Priscilla Owen (5th Cir.) and Brett Kavanaugh (D.C. Cir.) both extremely conservative jurists, thus ensuring they would be confirmed.


Obama’s selection of Sen. Joe Biden as a running mate is particularly troubling and does not bode well for the decisions Obama is likely to make if elected president. Obama has presented Biden as someone who never forgot his roots, is a working class, regular guy.

The only problem with this characterization is Sen. Biden’s voting record. He was one of the main supporters of the Republican Bankruptcy Reform Bill that Pres. Clinton vetoed twice, only to have it signed into law by Pres. Bush in 2005, with Sen. Biden’s ardent support.

Criticizing the Bankruptcy Reform Bill, Arianna Huffington noted that the bill "makes it harder for average people to file for bankruptcy protection [average annual income of Americans who file for bankruptcy is less than $30K]; it makes it easier for landlords to evict a bankrupt tenant; it endangers child-support payments by giving a wider array of creditors a shot at post-bankruptcy income; it allows millionaires to shield an unlimited amount of equity in homes and asset protection trusts; it makes it more difficult for small businesses to reorganize while opening new loopholes for the Enrons of the world; it allows creditors to provide misleading information; and it does nothing to rein in lending abuses.” (Salon.com, 3/05)

Jackson Williams noted, in "Joe Biden: No True Friend of Working Men and Women” (Huffington Post, 10/27/08), that Biden "didn’t just vote for it, he helped carry the water on it. Some Democrats tried to soften the bill with a series of amendments; for example, exempting military personnel at war in Iraq. Biden joined the majority of his colleagues—the Republicans and too many Democrats—in knocking down every possible change that was offered.”

Sen. Biden has built a reputation as someone who works tirelessly for credit card companies, with some critics even referring to him as the senator from Mastercard—rather than the senator from Delaware.

In addition, Biden voted for the War in Iraq and the Patriot Act, so it’s hard to understand how Sen. Biden is going to help bring about change in the new administration.


Obama called Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez an enemy of the United States and urged sanctions against him. (Interview with Jorge Ramos, El Mercurio, 6/11/08)

He heaped praise on the first George Bush saying, "You know, one of the things that I think George H.W. Bush doesn’t get enough credit for was his foreign policy team and the way that he helped negotiate the end of the Cold War and prosecuted the Gulf War. That cost us $20 billion dollars. That‘s all it cost. It was extremely successful. I think there were a lot of very wise people.” (Larry King Live 3/23/08).

And in a much-anticipated speech to America’s pro-Israeli government lobby, AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee), Obama towed the typical pro-Israel line. He urged that Jerusalem would belong to Israel, despite peace efforts currently underway which would allow the holy city to be shared among both Israelis and Palestinians. He unequivocally stated "Israel’s security is sacrosanct.” And "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” (AIPAC speech, 6/08).


Before you vote for someone with such a checkered voting record, it might be worthwhile to make some demands on him, don’t you think? Or at the very least we should ask him to explain why he’s capitulated so many times.

I’m sure Sen. Obama would find such questions uncomfortable. In fact, even progressives find such inquiry bothersome: they are aware of Obama’s lamentable history of capitulation on votes that take away our civil rights, but nevertheless cling to their wish that Obama will be something other than what he has already proven himself to be.

But it’s not likely that he will be a transformative leader. He’s already announced economic advisors whose ideas are at the heart of the economic meltdown, like Austan Goolsbee, an aggressive free trader and subprime loan advocate, and former Clinton advisors, David Cutler and Jeffrey Liebman, supporters of market-oriented solutions to social welfare issues such as the partial privatization of Social Security. ("Subprime Obama” by Max Fraser, The Nation, 1/24/08).

He has foreign policy advisors who helped take us into war, like Colin Powell, who in 2003 addressed the United Nations on behalf of the Bush Administration, outlining the reasons the U.S. had to invade Iraq (he also disturbingly, as a young Army Major, worked to suppress key evidence about the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam).

But that’s not all. Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman spoke with journalists Allan Nairn and Kelley Beaucar Vlahos who discussed Obama’s foreign policy advisors (2/10/08). They noted that Obama proudly brought on to his team old cold warrior and former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has boasted of having created the whole Afghan Jihadi movement; Anthony Lake, who was behind the U.S. invasion of Haiti during the Clinton years; General Merrill McPeak, who delivered U.S. fighter planes to Indonesia shortly after the Dili massacre in East Timor in 1991; and Dennis Ross who has pushed to subordinate the rights of Palestinians to the needs of the Israeli government.

What do you think the likelihood is that Obama will listen to us, once we’ve voted for him, without making any demands on him?

As Robert Scheer, a noted columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, noted on July 23, 2008, shortly after Obama voted for the FISA bill, "Barack Obama is betraying his promise of change and is in danger of becoming just another political hack.” And Scheer made these remarks before Obama decided to support off-shore drilling, denounce a Supreme Court death penalty decision, and before he voted for the Wall Street bailout.


But we don’t have to vote for either Senators Obama or McCain, do we? Ralph Nader has a more impressive legislative record as an outsider than do Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain combined. And he has a proven record of fighting the culture of Washington. Just think of the Freedom of Information Act, Clean Air, Clean Water, automotive safety, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Yet despite these accomplishments, Obama and McCain do not believe they should even have to debate him.

What they don’t tell you is that the so-called independent Commission on Presidential Debates is actually a private corporation run by former leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties. The Commission, which was formed in 1987, is currently led by Frank Fahrenkopf, a former head of the Republican National Committee, and Paul Kirk, the former head of the Democratic National Committee. No wonder they won’t debate Nader or anyone else.

Of course they justify this by saying Nader isn’t polling well enough to include him in the debates. Yet, interestingly, both McCain and Obama were losing their respective primary races until they were let into televised debates. And there are well-known examples of how letting a candidate debate "mainstream” candidates can lead to a different outcome. Jesse Ventura won the governor’s race in Minnesota in 1998 when he was allowed to debate the Republican and Democratic Party candidates, going from 9 or 10 percent in the polls to ultimately winning the contest.

Ralph Nader polled at five percent and above at least four different times this year in national polls, and he even reached 10 percent in one poll in the state of Michigan (conducted by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA, 4/15/08). This should have been sufficient to gain access to the presidential debates. Ross Perot got in the debates in 1992 even though he was polling below 10 percent. Perot went on to win 19 percent of the vote, and his warnings about NAFTA and deficit spending influenced Clinton policy and proved prescient. Afterwards, the two parties retaliated by creating a 15% threshold which ironically no candidate is likely to reach without being included in televised debates.

The worse part of the so-called presidential debates as they are currently produced is that two-party control ensures that the questions are not sufficiently hard-hitting. Isn’t it appalling that we saw three debates between Obama and McCain at a time our country is suffering its worst economic crisis, and no one asked these men "Why should Americans have any confidence either of you is the best choice to tackle these problems given that both of your political parties helped pass laws that made this crisis possible—or even inevitable?”

They also like to say that voting for Nader is throwing your vote away. The Democrats often cite the 2000 election to blame Nader for Bush’s victory. But they noticeably never mention the 1992 election, when Bill Clinton won because Ross Perot "spoiled” the race for George Bush’s father, an incumbent president. By the way, Clinton got only 43 percent of the vote in 1992 compared to 48 percent by Bush in 2000.

And they offer no explanation for why they haven’t worked on election reform since 2000. Imagine claiming your political party lost the presidency because the "winner” was declared even though he hadn’t won a majority of the votes cast? Then imagine doing nothing to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. Isn’t it odd that the Democrats haven’t worked on election reform in the past eight years?

They never will change the system because the way things are now, they can be assured that they will be in office roughly half the time. They also count on people to accept their arguments that Nader and other third parties aren’t polling high enough to get your vote; that the real contest is between just two candidates.

If all else fails, they argue that it’s the most important election of your lifetime. I’m 43 years old and I’ve heard this argument each time the presidential race has come up.

If you accept these arguments, you are in effect rewarding the two parties for not fixing how we do elections in this country. You reward them for creating the Commission on Debates. You guarantee that things will not change. And you ensure that candidates that support single-payer health care, decent wages and pensions for workers, controls on corporations and a foreign policy based on achieving peace rather than driven by self-interest, cannot ever be heard.

Nader wants a more humane and democratic society. He’s seen that you can’t get anything done in Washington because senators like Obama and McCain ignore what’s good for Americans in pursuit of their own interests. Sure McCain talks like a maverick and Obama talks like a revolutionary, but look closely and you will see repeated
capitulations to the very entities our government needs to get away from if we are to build a more democratic society.


Eugene Debs ran for president several times in the early 20th century. He advocated the right of women to vote at a time when it was not popular to do so and while other more successful politicians openly argued against giving women the right to participate directly in elections.

The general attitude among men was exemplified by Elihu Root, a former cabinet secretary to presidents McKinley and Roosevelt and winner of the 1912 Nobel Peace prize who said: "Suffrage would be a loss for women. I think so because suffrage implies not merely the casting of the ballot, (…) but suffrage, if it means anything, means entering upon the field of political life, and politics is modified war. In politics there is a struggle, strife, contention, bitterness, heart-burning, excitement, agitation, everything which is adverse to the true character of woman. Woman in strife becomes hard, harsh, unlovable, repulsive…” (N.Y. Constitutional Convention, 1894).

President Theodore Roosevelt, himself, said "Personally I believe in woman’s suffrage, but I am not an enthusiastic advocate of it, because I do not regard it as a very important matter.” (Letter to Dr. Lyman Abbott, 11/10/1908). And President Grover Cleveland said, "Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote.” (1905).

Despite these sentiments Debs advocated this right. Yet he never obtained more than 6 percent of the vote. Let me ask you: Were the men who voted with Debs throwing their vote away? If you had lived in that era, would you have voted for him? Or would you have come up with an excuse for why it wasn’t important enough?


On the street when I am approached by an Obama/Biden volunteer or someone who tells me they’re voting for Obama, I usually ask "What about the FISA vote?” And each time I hear in return "What’s that?” Or if I say, "You know he supports the death penalty,” I usually hear in response, "No he doesn’t.”

At what point will there be intellectual honesty about what is
happening? People are voting for Obama because they find him to be an engaging public speaker and like his message regardless of his history of being part of the very problem he professes to want to fix. Most people don’t want the actual facts to interfere with the desperate hope that he is everything they want him to be.

Do you really want to vote for someone who has already voted to take away your civil liberties because of some vague wish that he’ll act differently as president? Obama himself, speaking of Sen. Hillary Clinton, made a remark that could just as easily apply to him, and, unwittingly makes the case for why no one should vote for him: "We can’t afford a president whose positions change with the politics of the moment. We need a president who knows that being ready on day one means getting it right from day one.” (Salem, OR, 3/21/08).

If voting for war appropriations and taking away civil liberties was bringing us closer to a more democratic and egalitarian society, well, I would advocate it. But it isn’t doing that.

What is your breaking point? At what point do you decide that you’ve had enough?

What do they have to do to lose your vote?

Matt Gonzalez is Ralph Nader’s Vice-Presidential running mate on an Independent ticket.

Howard Zinn Voting for Nader

Not that you should care one way or the other -- I don't -- but the point is that Zinn, unlike Chomsky, didn't specify voting for Obama if and only if you're in a swing state in his widely quoted interview with Paul Jay of The Real News Network.

Apparently, he's set the record straight, which sounds right to me, as I was surprised not to hear that caveat from Zinn, of all people.

-------- Original Message --------

Subject: Howard Zinn Voting for Nader
Date: 29 Oct 2008 09:24:24 -0700
From: The Nader Team org>
Reply-To: The Nader Team org>
To: tarnopol@cox.net

Ralph Nader for President 2008

October 29, 2008

Howard Zinn now says he's voting for Nader.

The famous historian lives in Massachusetts, where Obama is ahead by 20 points.

Zinn created a stir earlier when he said he was voting for Obama.

He legitimately took some heat for supporting the corporate Obama.

But late last night, Zinn admitted in an e-mail to our campaign that he made a mistake and now says he will vote for Nader.

And Zinn urges all people of conscience to vote for the true progressive in slam dunk states.

Of which there are now many.

(Zinn says that in non slam dunk states, he urges people to vote for Obama. We obviously disagree with that bit of advice.)

Or as Ralph Nader put it today:

"A vote for Nader/Gonzalez on November, rather than being wasted by piling onto an Obama landslide or McCain implosion, will produce a stronger hammer and watchdog for what millions of Americans want -- including public Medicare for all with private delivery and a living wage for the one in three workers who don't make one."

"Unless millions of voters of conscience choose the progressive hammer and watchdog of Nader/Gonzalez, millions of votes will be tactically wasted and serve only to increase the mandateless landslide of Barack Obama."

So, if you are ambivalent about this election, fear not.

If you live in a slam dunk state, follow the advice of Howard Zinn.

Vote Independent.

Vote Nader for President.

Onward to November

The Nader Team

PS: A lot of our supporters heard that Zinn said he was voting for Obama. Now that he has set the record straight, it's important that we pass along the word. So, forward this e-mail to your friends and family.

PS: Remember, if you donate $100 or more, we will ship to you the hard cover 40th Anniversary edition of Unsafe at Any Speed -- Ralph's historic expose of the American automobile industry -- autographed by the man himself. It was the book that launched the American consumer movement and saved hundreds of thousands of lives. This autographed edition is bound to become a rare collector's item after the election. So, get it now. Only a limited number left. (This book offer ends November 4, 2008 at 11:59 p.m.)

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28 October 2008

The Least Worst Trap: Talking with Ralph Nader, Alison Kilkenny, HuffPo

On Sunday, the War on Terror spilled into Syria, and the only people more surprised than the Syrians are Americans. See, the war has already spilled into Pakistan. It's unclear where the United States will be heading next, but I hear Kazakhstan is hunkered down and braced for an attack at any moment. Sure, they're a member of NATO and the UN, and have nothing to do with any of this, but their funny-sounding name and population of foreigners is working against their innocence. All it will take to gain popular support for an air assault is the presence of American ignorance regarding Kazakhstan's people, policies, and culture. Bad news Kazakhstan: we have no idea who you are. Head for the hills!

Even as the war expands, the definition of victory remains opaque. Though the Bush administration has no long-term vision of what a stable Middle East looks like (Bush has said something about an Iraqi 'Mickey D's being a 'sweet idea') several senior American officials simply expressed hope that the unwise war policies of preemption and perpetual, borderless war would "be embraced by the next president as well." And these policies will be embraced unless the American people demand something different from their leaders.

At home, people are losing their jobs and their homes, while their tax dollars go to bailing out corporate crooks who base their livelihoods on speculative lending, shady mortgages, and outsourcing American jobs overseas. The policies of corporate socialism (where tax dollars go to bailing out huge corporations) will also continue unless the American people stand up and say no more.

In desperate times, the American people have a history of embracing the least worst politician, but it's time they demand more from the next president of the United States. It's time to transcend pretty rhetoric and empty promises. The new president must aggressively embrace a Progressive agenda or it will be impossible to reverse the damage committed over the past few decades.

Ralph Nader, Independent Party presidential candidate, has been pleading with the American people to demand more from their leaders. Unsurprisingly, the corporately sponsored Commission on Presidential Debates did not permit Nader into the debates, even though a majority of the American people supported opening the debates to other party candidates.

Regardless of how one feels about his presence in the 2008 election, Ralph Nader is undeniably the leader of the last real Progressive wave in this country. It was because of his uncompromising vision that Congress passed the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Just during the 5-year period between 2002 and 2006, seat belts have saved over 75,000 lives (PDF). His list of Progressive accomplishments includes the Clean Air and Water Acts, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and the Freedom of Information Act.

Ralph Nader and his army of conscientious citizens were the last organized, serious movement that demanded accountability from Washington.

The so-called Progressives today are allowing Barack Obama to compromise on everything from FISA to the anti-war movement. But even as he votes for telecom immunity and talks about Afghanistan as the good war, Obama has never lied about being a Progressive. In fact, he seems rather confused that any of his followers think he'll be anything but a centrist in the White House. Progressive groups that score Obama with a 50% approval rating seem confused by this as well.

The Progressives have pinned their hopes and dreams to a man they have asked nothing of, and they're going to be sorely disappointed when he, in turn, does nothing for them.

When I interviewed Ralph Nader, he explained what will happen if Barack Obama is elected president:

You take the 20 leading groups supporting him in the liberal-progressive pantheon: labor, anti-poverty, civil rights, women's rights, gay-lesbian rights, environment, consumer - you name it - not one of them is putting any demands on him. Unconditional voting for the least worst of the two parties means that your vote has no political leverage whatsoever. It allows Obama to take it for granted, and not give the anti-war people anything because he knows he has the anti-war vote. Then they go to the right wing and slice off a few votes there by going more corporate and flip-flopping on offshore drilling. This is the same merry-go-round every four years. The liberal intelligentsia is doomed unless they solve this problem of unconditional voting for the least worst candidate.
Closed debates and apathetic, naïve voters will result in a continuation of Bush's policies, and Americans will be told to wait another four years for single payer health care, a living wage, the end of the Iraq war, cutting the bloated military budget, ending the death penalty, ending the wasteful War on Drugs, investing in solar power, and the end of nuclear power.

When neither party is talking about any of the above issues, the American people are screwed because they're at the mercy of a winner-take-all system. Nader explains:

The people are in a two party prison. There can be something like a Green Party in Germany because if you win 5% of the vote you get 5% of the parliament. Here, you've got to win 51% or a plurality, which is why people don't support small starts to make them build into larger movements because they think: well, they're only 4 or 5% in the polls and I don't want to waste my vote. It's time to break out of the prison.

A 4-5% Progressive voice won't be enough to create real change. And Americans are ready for real change. They don't want to triangulate and compromise. Compromise results in, as Nader puts it, "a macho competition" between Democrats and Republicans, who disagree on if abortion is a matter of killing babies, but agree on bombing foreign babies every chance they get. The 2008 US military cash-burning extravaganza is currently hovering around the $623 billion mark. That's more than the rest of the world's military budgets, combined.

It's time Progressives stop playing defense and start setting the agenda. They can do that by putting real pressure on Barack Obama if he is elected president. They must organize and demand a stop to the wars, and not settle for, as Obama is suggesting, the continued presence of U.S. bases and private mercenaries. They also must demand publicly funded elections, and an open system that allows the American myth that anyone can run for president to become reality.

Currently, the Military-Industrial Complex, which feeds on war and suffering, controls America. Progressives claim to be the blockade between greedy politicians and federal tax dollars, and yet they are continuing to let Obama get away with catering to the middle.

They make this unforgivable compromise because they're certain Obama is a radical Progressive simply spouting some centrist rhetoric until he can get into the White House. And then it's free health care and peace for everybody!

I'm paraphrasing what a California lawyer told me at the Nader-Gonzalez Wall Street bailout rally a few weeks ago. Michelle, the lawyer, and a minority Obama supporter (she came to the rally because she was curious), said she was absolutely 100% certain that Barack Obama was a Progressive, and he is only saying he's pro-death penalty and for the bailout because he needs to get elected.

I asked her what evidence she had of this claim. She had none. She just felt it in her heart.

Progressives need to stop acting on what they feel in their hearts and look at what is happening to their leadership. If they don't collectively demand real, sweeping reform from the next president, then the president will bow to the only real pressure he feels - the pressure from corporations and war hawks.

The full transcript of Ralph Nader's interview can be found here.

For more information on Ralph Nader, visit: Votenader.org.

Nader's Stubborn Idealism, William Greider, The Nation

Ralph Nader is a man of political substance trapped in an era of easy lies. He pierces the fog of propaganda with hard facts and reason, but the smoke rolls over him and he disappears from public view. A lesser man might go crazy or get the message and give it up. Nader instead runs for president again, as he is doing this year, campaigning in fifty states and addressing crowds wherever he finds them, smaller crowds this time but still eager to feed on his idealism. Ralph is not delusional. He knows the story. He is stubborn about the facts and honest with himself.

"I believe in I.F. Stone's dictum that in all social justice movements, you've got to be ready to lose. And lose and lose and lose. It's not very pleasant, but you have to accept this if you believe in what you're doing," Nader explained.

He was conducting a "newsmaker" press conference at the National Press Club in Washington on Friday before moving on to Massachussetts, where he planned to deliver more than twenty speeches in one day, in hopes of earning a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Five or six reporters showed up at the Press Club event (including several old admirers). The only camera was a documentary film maker. Nader stood at the podium and read from a lengthy speech describing the corporate dominance of politics, the stranglehold exercised on dissent by the two-party system, the presidential candidates packaged like soap and cars, the failure of left-liberal progressives (including The Nation) to demand conditions on their support for the Democratic candidate.

"The hypocrisy of liberals, which may in some ways be unconscious, is empowering the forces that are destroying our nation," Nader asserted in an even-tempered voice. "The left in this country has been successfully cowed by the Democratic Party," he continued. "The votes of progressives are taken for granted by Democrats.... By allowing ourselves to be manipulated, we have demonstrated that we have no moral substance. We have no line that can be never be crossed, no stance so sacred and important that we are willing to stand up and fight back."

So long as progressives are willing to settle for the "least worst" alternative, they will remain ignored and excluded from power, he suggested.

This kind of talk from Nader drives some people to rage against him. He returns the favor by discussing "the rage that many in our nation feel towards liberals." Barack Obama, he insists, does not intend to alter anything fundamental about the causes. "This rage is a legitimate expression of very real betrayal," Nader explained. "The working class, most of whom do not vote, watch Democratic candidate after Democratic candidate run for office promising to support labor and protect jobs and then, once elected, trot off to Washington to pass the corporate-friendly legislation drawn up by the 35,000 lobbyists who work for our shadow government."

Whatever you might think of Nader's jeremiad, it is exceedingly timely. Democrats are on the brink of losing their old excuses for timidity and retreat. If the election produces stronger majorities in Congress and a new president who has promised big change, Nader's analysis will be tested in the clearest terms. For the first time in thirty years, the Dems will have nobody else left to blame. If Obama does not turn the page as he promised, if the Congressional majority does not step up forcefully, then we may fairly conclude Nader was right. The decay of democracy is deeper than we wished to believe.

The hard warning Nader poses is not about himself but about how the left and other elements of the old Democratic coalition will respond to their new situation. Nader is not optimistic. "I see a lot of anger around the country, but I don't see it organized," he said. "Anger that's unorganized has no power." The rationale behind his serial campaigns for president was always about this vacuum in politics. His conviction was that third-party campaigns could help mobilize a popular counter-force to leverage the Democrats and break up the two-party monopoly. For many reasons, he failed in this, as he frankly acknowledges.

"The question usually asked," he said, "is, 'Has there been a pull or a push on either political party?' I'm sorry to say there hasn't been any indicator of that, which to me means people's resignation to politics-as-usual has deepened further." Both major parties are deeply skewed in their allegiances to corporate power, and Nader believes this unnatural condition must be altered to reverse the decline and decay of society. He thinks this will happen sooner or later, but probably not in the way he has approached it. "My personal preference is a grassroots movement," he said, "but more likely it's going to be some billionaire--a progressive or liberal billionaire who makes it a three-way race. If people get used to voting outside the two parties, then things can change."

So what has his presidential candidacy accomplished in the meantime? Nader offered a modest list. His presence encouraged others to run independently for public office and showed them ways to do it. He identified the many barriers to ballot access for third-party candidates as an important issue of civil liberties as meaningful as access to voting. He brought young people into clean politics and helped them develop their skills. What else? "We kept the progressive agenda alive for the future."

Alexander Cockburn: Obama, the first-rate Republican

Is there anything the front-runner will not say to become President? No progressive cause would have a chance with him in charge

Sunday, 26 October 2008

As a left-winger I might be expected to be supporting Barack Obama. And indeed, in these last days I've been scraping around, trying to muster a single positive reason to encourage a vote for Obama. Please note my accent on the positive, since the candidate himself has couched his appeal in this idiom. Why vote for Obama-Biden, as opposed to against the McCain-Palin ticket?

Obama invokes change. Yet never has the dead hand of the past had a "reform" candidate so firmly by the windpipe. Is it possible to confront America's problems without talking about the arms budget? The Pentagon is spending more than at any point since the end of the Second World War. In "real dollars" – an optimistic concept these days – the $635bn (£400bn) appropriated in fiscal 2007 is 5 per cent above the previous all-time high, reached in 1952. Obama wants to enlarge the armed services by 90,000. He pledges to escalate the US war in Afghanistan; to attack Pakistan's territory if it obstructs any unilateral US mission to kill Osama bin Laden; and to wage a war against terror in a hundred countries, creating a new international intelligence and law enforcement "infrastructure" to take down terrorist networks. A fresh start? Where does this differ from Bush's commitment on 20 September 2001, to an ongoing "war on terror" against "every terrorist group of global reach" and "any nation that continues to harbour or support terrorism"?

Obama's liberal defenders comfort themselves with the thought that "he had to say that to get elected". He didn't. After eight years of Bush, Americans are receptive to reassessing America's imperial role. Obama has shunned this opportunity. If elected, he will be a prisoner of his promise that on his watch Afghanistan will not be lost, nor the white man's burden shirked.

Whatever drawdown of troops in Iraq that does take place in the event of Obama's victory will be a brief hiccup amid the blare and thunder of fresh "resolve". In the event of Obama's victory, the most immediate consequence overseas will most likely be brusque imperial reassertion. Already, Joe Biden, the shopworn poster boy for Israeli intransigence and Cold War hysteria, is yelping stridently about the new administration's "mettle" being tested in the first six months by the Russians and their surrogates. Obama is far more hawkish than McCain on Iran.

After eight years of unrelenting assault on constitutional liberties by Bush and Cheney, public and judicial enthusiasm for tyranny has waned. Obama has preferred to stand with Bush and Cheney. In February, seeking a liberal profile in the primaries, Obama stood against warrantless wiretapping. His support for liberty did not survive for long. Five months later, he voted in favour and declared that "the ability to monitor and track individuals who want to attack the United States is a vital counter-terrorism tool".

Every politician, good or bad, is an ambitious opportunist. But beneath this topsoil, the ones who make a constructive dent on history have some bedrock of fidelity to some central idea. In Obama's case, this "idea" is the ultimate distillation of identity politics: the idea of his blackness. Those who claim that if he were white he would be cantering effortlessly into the White House do not understand that without his most salient physical characteristic Obama would be seen as a second-tier senator with unimpressive credentials.

As a political organiser of his own advancement, Obama is a wonder. But I have yet to identify a single uplifting intention to which he has remained constant if it has presented any risk to his progress. We could say that he has not yet had occasion to adjust his relatively decent stances on immigration and labour-law reform. And what of public funding of his campaign? Another commitment made becomes a commitment betrayed. His campaign treasury is a vast hogswallow that, if it had been amassed by a Republican, would be the topic of thunderous liberal complaint.

Obama's run has been the negation of almost every decent progressive principle, with scarcely a bleat of protest from the progressives seeking to hold him to account. The Michael Moores stay silent. Obama has crooked the knee to bankers and Wall Street, to the oil companies, the coal companies, the nuclear lobby, the big agricultural combines. He is more popular with Pentagon contractors than McCain, and has been the most popular of the candidates with Washington lobbyists. He has been fearless in offending progressives, constant in appeasing the powerful.

So no, this is not an exciting or liberating moment in America's politics. If you want a memento of what could be exciting, go to the website of the Nader-Gonzalez campaign and read its platform on popular participation and initiative. Or read the portions of Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr's platform on foreign policy and constitutional rights. The standard these days for what the left finds tolerable is awfully low. The more the left holds its tongue, the lower the standard will go.

Alexander Cockburn co-edits counterpunch.org, the US left-wing website, and is a columnist for 'The Nation' and 'The First Post' (alexandercockburn@asis.com)

James K. Galbraith on Moyers: Ayn Rand, Greenspan, and Where We Are

John Pilger, "The diplomacy of lying"

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger describes the truth and lies of great power as practised by British "diplomacy'', and the prospects for peace and order following the US presidential election on November 4.

In 1992, Mark Higson, the Foreign Office official responsible for Iraq, appeared before the Scott inquiry into the scandal of arms sold illegally to Saddam Hussein. He described a “culture of lying” at the heart of British foreign policymaking. I asked him how frequently ministers and officials lied to parliament.

“It’s systemic,” he said. “The draft letters I wrote for various ministers were saying that nothing had changed, the embargo on the sale of arms to Iraq was the same.”

“Was that true?” I asked.

“No, it wasn’t true.”

“And your superiors knew it wasn’t true?”


“So how much truth did the public get?”

“The public got as much truth as we could squeeze out, given that we told downright lies.”

From British involvement with the genocidal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, to the supply of warplanes to the Indonesian dictator Suharto, knowing he was bombing civilians in East Timor, to the denial of vaccines and other humanitarian aid to the children of Iraq, my experience with the Foreign Office is that Higson was right and remains right.

As I write this, the dispossessed people of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean await the decision of the Law Lords, hoping for a repetition of four previous judgments that their brutal expulsion to make way for a US military base was “outrageous”, “illegal” and “repugnant”. That they must endure yet another appeal is thanks to the Foreign Office – whose legal adviser in 1968, one Anthony Ivall Aust (pronounced “oarst” and since knighted), wrote a secret document headed “Maintaining the fiction”. This advised the then Labour government to “argue” the “fiction” that the Chagossians were “only a floating population”. Today, the depopulated main island, Diego Garcia, over which the Union Jack flies, serves the “war on terror” as an American interrogation and torture centre.

When you bear this in mind, the US presidential race becomes surreal. The beatification of President Barack Obama is already under way; for it is he who “challenges America to rise up [and] summon ‘the better angels of our nature’”, says Rolling Stone magazine, reminiscent of the mating calls of Guardian writers to the “mystical” Blair. As ever, the Orwell Inversion Test is necessary. Obama claims that his vast campaign wealth comes from small individual donors, yet he has also received funds from some of the most notorious looters on Wall Street. Moreover, the “dove” and “candidate of change” has voted repeatedly to fund George W Bush’s rapacious wars, and now demands more war in Afghanistan while he threatens to bomb Pakistan.

Dismissing the popular democracies in Latin America as a “vacuum” to be filled by the United States, he has endorsed Colombia’s “right to strike terrorists who seek safe havens across its borders”. Translated, this means the “right” of the criminal regime in that country to invade its neighbours, notably uppity Venezuela, on Washington’s behalf. The British human rights group Justice for Colombia has just published a study concerning Anglo-American backing for the Colombian regime of Álvaro Uribe, which is responsible for more than 90 per cent of all cases of torture. The principal torturers, the “security forces”, are trained by the Americans and the British. The Foreign Office replies that it is “improving the human rights record of the military and combating drug trafficking”. The study finds not a shred of evidence to support this. Colombian officers with barbaric records, such as those implicated in the murder of a trade union leader, are welcomed to Britain for “seminars”.

As in many parts of the world, the British role is that of subcontractor to Washington. The bloody “Plan Colombia” was the design of Bill Clinton, the last Democratic president and inspiration for Blair’s and Brown’s new Labour. Clinton’s administration was at least as violent as Bush’s – see Unicef’s report that 500,000 Iraqi children died as a result of the Anglo-American blockade in the 1990s.

The lesson learned is that no presidential candidate, least of all a Democrat awash with money from America’s “banksters”, as Franklin Roosevelt called them, can or will challenge a militarised system that controls and rewards him. Obama’s job is to present a benign, even progressive face that will revive America’s democratic pretensions, internationally and domestically, while ensuring nothing of substance changes.

Among ordinary Americans desperate for a secure life, his skin colour may help him regain this unjustified “trust”, even though it is of a similar hue to that of Colin Powell, who lied to the United Nations for Bush and now endorses Obama. As for the rest of us, is it not time we opened our eyes and exercised our right not to be lied to, yet again?

John McCain in the Echo Chamber, Gore Vidal

27 October 2008

Zinn on Democracy and Militarism

Interview with Naomi Wolf on Our Nascent Police State, October 4, 2008

More here:

26 October 2008

"Kashmir," Plant, Page, Egyptian Orchestra, Western Orchestra

This is about as good as music gets. I posted a version before: this one is better.