Sunday, November 30, 2008

If I had the floor at the auto rescue talks


OK. It's a fantasy. But if I had five minutes in front of Congress last week, here's what I would've said:

Good morning. First of all, before you ask, I flew commercial. Northwest Airlines. Had a bag of peanuts for breakfast. Of course, that's Northwest, which just merged with Delta, a merger you, our government, approved -- and one which, inevitably, will lead to big bonuses for their executives and higher costs for us. You seem to be OK with that kind of business.

Which makes me wonder why you're so against our kind of business? The kind we do in Detroit. The kind that gets your fingernails dirty. The kind where people use hammers and drills, not keystrokes. The kind where you get paid for making something, not moving money around a board and skimming a percentage.
You've already given hundreds of billions to banking and finance companies -- and hardly demanded anything. Yet you balk at the very idea of giving $25 billion to the Detroit Three. Heck, you shoveled that exact amount to Citigroup -- $25 billion -- just weeks ago, and that place is about to crumble anyhow.

Does the word "hypocrisy" ring a bell?

Protecting the home turf?

Sen. Shelby. Yes. You. From Alabama. You've been awfully vocal. You called the Detroit Three's leaders "failures." You said loans to them would be "wasted money." You said they should go bankrupt and "let the market work."

Why weren't you equally vocal when your state handed out hundreds of millions in tax breaks to Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Honda and others to open plants there? Why not "let the market work"? Or is it better for Alabama if the Detroit Three fold so that the foreign companies -- in your state -- can produce more?
Way to think of the nation first, senator.

And you, Sen. Kyl of Arizona. You told reporters: "There's no reason to throw money at a problem that's not going to get solved."

That's funny, coming from such an avid supporter of the Iraq war. You've been gung ho on that for years. So how could you just sit there when, according to the New York Times, an Iraqi former chief investigator told Congress that $13 billion in U.S. reconstruction funds "had been lost to fraud, embezzlement, theft and waste" by the Iraqi government?

That's 13 billion, senator. More than half of what the auto industry is asking for. Thirteen billion? Gone?


Where was your "throwing money at a problem that's not going to get solved" speech then?
Watching over the bankers?

And the rest of you lawmakers. The ones who insist the auto companies show you a plan before you help them. You've already handed over $150 billion of our tax money to AIG. How come you never demanded a plan from it? How come when AIG blew through its first $85 billion, you quickly gave it more? The car companies may be losing money, but they can explain it: They're paying workers too much and selling cars for too little.
AIG lost hundred of billions in credit default swaps -- which no one can explain and which make nothing, produce nothing, employ no one and are essentially bets on failure.
And you don't demand a paragraph from it?

Look. Nobody is saying the auto business is healthy. Its unions need to adjust more. Its models and dealerships need to shrink. Its top executives have to downsize their own importance.

But this is a business that has been around for more than a century. And some of its problems are because of that, because people get used to certain wages, manufacturers get used to certain business models. It's easy to point to foreign carmakers with tax breaks, no union costs and a cleaner slate -- not to mention help from their home countries -- and say "be more like them."

But if you let us die, you let our national spine collapse. America can't be a country of lawyers and financial analysts. We have to manufacture. We need that infrastructure. We need those jobs. We need that security. Have you forgotten who built equipment during the world wars?
Besides, let's be honest. When it comes to blowing budgets, being grossly inefficient and wallowing in debt, who's better than Congress?

So who are you to lecture anyone on how to run a business?

Ask fair questions. Demand accountability. But knock it off with the holier than thou crap, OK? You got us into this mess with greed, a bad Fed policy and too little regulation. Don't kick our tires to make yourselves look better.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


I was never much taken with John McCain. Even in 2000, when he made a good run against Bush in the Republican primaries and was horribly smeared by the Rove machine, he still seemed, insofar as actual policy was concerned, just another Republican, with enough charm to make him seem slightly different to the easily fooled media. Then during the years of the Bush regime, he started becoming even more conventional, kissing Jerry Falwell's ass (see here), and sucking up to Bush himself. But I was not prepared for the complete abdication of principle that has characterized his campaign for the presidency, especially in recent weeks.

The ads now running for the McCain-Palin ticket in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, and a handful of other swing states are beyond contempt, and they insure that John McCain will be remembered as one of the great hypocrites of our age (for a sample, see here).

All the polls suggest that these ads are having little effect on the election. They are, by all reasonable assessment, not convincing independents and late deciders to move to McCain. But I fear that they will have another impact, one that is likely to poison further, if that's even possible, the nature of culture and politics in America. Because McCain and Palin have opted to take the low road, millions of Americans are convinced that Barack Obama is a socialist, a threat to families, a friend of terrorists, even the anti-Christ. Obama will be facing monumental problems when he takes office: unemployment, foreclosures, the world financial crisis, two wars going badly, the imminent apocalypse of climate change--the Bush years have left our country in such a shambles that the list of problems is more or less endless.

For McCain and Palin to spew out such venom as they have the last few weeks makes Obama's challenges more difficult. Millions of ordinary Americans will live in fear that Obama is about to loose the Muslim hordes on them, at the same time that he sends their children off to a madrassa. McCain and Palin are hurting our country terribly. Their lies and innuendo are polarizing, divisive, and as mean spirited as anything we have ever seen in our political culture. John McCain knows that Obama is not a socialist or a terrorist, yet he traffics in slander and threat, thus, in fact, actually terrorizing those Americans susceptible to his vile smears.

McCain's motto is "Country First," yet he clearly is putting his own ambition ahead of country. By continuing to pour out this filth, by filling the airwaves of Pennsylvania and Ohio with this garbage, McCain, once a war hero, is committing nothing short of treason.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Vote YES on Proposal 2

We urge you to say Yes 2 Proposal 2 and Yes 2 Cures this November 4th.

Proposal 2 has one purpose: to allow researchers the ability to find the cures and therapies that millions of Michigan families desperately need right now.

The procedure required to conduct vital stem cell research is criminalized in Michigan, even though it holds the greatest hope of cures for deadly and debilitating diseases and conditions including Parkinson's, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's, sickle cell anemia, MS, Cerebral Palsy and spinal cord injuries.

It's in our grasp: we can find cures for the diseases that affect our friends, family, co-workers and neighbors. It's the right thing to do for Michigan families who deserve to have hope, and need our help.
If you want to learn more, visit for facts and details.

Tell everyone you know to Vote YES on Proposal 2 November 4th!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Joe Biden in St. Clair Shores

"In John McCain’s America, we wouldn’t guarantee that more of energy would come from wind, solar, and other renewables. The minimum wage would still be $3.35 an hour. There would have been 100,000 fewer police on the beat. There would have been no national domestic violence hotline for the 1.5 million women who were in crisis and needed somewhere to turn."

Joe Biden was eloquent in St. Clair Shores on Monday, exposing the destructive policies of John McCain and advocating for the change we need. He and Barack Obama know that we're all in the same boat, and they want to steer us in the right direction!

Check out the complete speech at

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Plan to Renew the Promise

Published this month, Change We Can Believe In: Barack Obama's Plan to Renew America's Promise is a book that lives up to its title.

Following a foreword by Obama and an introduction entitled "Hope for America," four chapters in "Part I: The Plan" describe what his administration would work to accomplish: "Reviving Our Economy: Strengthening the Middle Class," "Investing in Our Prosperity: Creating Our Economic Future," "Rebuilding America's Leadership: Restoring Our Place in the World," and "Perfecting Our Union: Embracing America's Values."

The book's second part, "The Call," features seven speeches by Obama, from his "Declaration of Candidacy" in Springfield, Illinois in February 2007 to his July 2008 address in Berlin, "A World That Stands as One."

The four chapters in "The Plan" set forth a catalog of policy proposals and reforms that are almost dizzying in their number and variety. Each one is mentioned only briefly and is sure to tantalize readers who feel passionate about it. The seven speeches, elegant and energizing, offer an inspiring counterpoint to this program for action.

While the speeches are splendid, it was the contents of "The Plan" that had an abiding effect on me, an effect greater than the sum of its parts. For while the federal government under any administration engages in numerous activities, what the Obama campaign advocates is something more than tremendous variety. It proposes governance that is bold and beneficial, confident and humane. In sharp contrast to the dysfunctional, negligent administration of the last two terms, Obama communicates something exciting, a commitment to leadership not dominated by secrecy and fear and polarization, but one that respects and trusts the American people. Barack Obama believes that citizens and government can enter into a powerful partnership yet again for the benefit of the nation and the world.

"The Plan" is conservative in the best sense because it recalls moments in American history when ordinary people took risks on behalf of freedom and justice. It is also a progressive manifesto, inviting the America of today not to surrender to complacency or despair, but to walk with determination into a bright future of increased equality and opportunity for all people.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Liberals, Be Proud!

Here, verbatim, is Bob Herbert's column from the New York Times earlier this week. All liberals should read it carefully. It might help some of those people who call themselves conservative see things a little clearer, too.

Hold Your Heads Up


Ignorance must really be bliss. How else, over so many years, could the G.O.P. get away with ridiculing all things liberal?

Troglodytes on the right are no respecters of reality. They say the most absurd things and hardly anyone calls them on it. Evolution? Don’t you believe it. Global warming? A figment of the liberal imagination.

Liberals have been so cowed by the pummeling they’ve taken from the right that they’ve tried to shed their own identity, calling themselves everything but liberal and hoping to pass conservative muster by presenting themselves as hyper-religious and lifelong lovers of rifles, handguns, whatever.

So there was Hillary Clinton, of all people, sponsoring legislation to ban flag-burning; and Barack Obama, who once opposed the death penalty, morphing into someone who not only supports it, but supports it in cases that don’t even involve a homicide.

Anyway, the Republicans were back at it last week at their convention. Mitt Romney wasn’t content to insist that he personally knows that “liberals don’t have a clue.” He complained loudly that the federal government right now is too liberal.

“We need change, all right,” he said. “Change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington.”

Why liberals don’t stand up to this garbage, I don’t know. Without the extraordinary contribution of liberals — from the mightiest presidents to the most unheralded protesters and organizers — the United States would be a much, much worse place than it is today.

There would be absolutely no chance that a Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin could make a credible run for the highest offices in the land. Conservatives would never have allowed it.

Civil rights? Women’s rights? Liberals went to the mat for them time and again against ugly, vicious and sometimes murderous opposition. They should be forever proud.

The liberals who didn’t have a clue gave us Social Security and unemployment insurance, both of which were contained in the original Social Security Act. Most conservatives despised the very idea of this assistance to struggling Americans. Republicans hated Social Security, but most were afraid to give full throat to their opposition in public at the height of the Depression.

“In the procedural motions that preceded final passage,” wrote historian Jean Edward Smith in his biography, “FDR,” “House Republicans voted almost unanimously against Social Security. But when the final up-or-down vote came on April 19 [1935], fewer than half were prepared to go on record against.”

Liberals who didn’t have a clue gave us Medicare and Medicaid. Quick, how many of you (or your loved ones) are benefiting mightily from these programs, even as we speak. The idea that Republicans are proud of Ronald Reagan, who saw Medicare as “the advance wave of socialism,” while Democrats are ashamed of Lyndon Johnson, whose legislative genius made this wonderful, life-saving concept real, is insane.

When Johnson signed the Medicare bill into law in the presence of Harry Truman in 1965, he said: “No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine.”

Reagan, on the other hand, according to Johnson biographer Robert Dallek, “predicted that Medicare would compel Americans to spend their ‘sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was like in America when men were free.’ ”


Without the many great and noble deeds of liberals over the past six or seven decades, America would hardly be recognizable to today’s young people. Liberals (including liberal Republicans, who have since been mostly drummed out of the party) ended legalized racial segregation and gender discrimination.

Humiliation imposed by custom and enforced by government had been the order of the day for blacks and women before men and women of good will and liberal persuasion stepped up their long (and not yet ended) campaign to change things. Liberals gave this country Head Start and legal services and the food stamp program. They fought for cleaner air (there was a time when you could barely see Los Angeles) and cleaner water (there were rivers in America that actually caught fire).

Liberals. Your food is safer because of them, and so are your children’s clothing and toys. Your workplace is safer. Your ability (or that of your children or grandchildren) to go to college is manifestly easier.

It would take volumes to adequately cover the enhancements to the quality of American lives and the greatness of American society that have been wrought by people whose politics were unabashedly liberal. It is a track record that deserves to be celebrated, not ridiculed or scorned.

Self-hatred is a terrible thing. Just ask that arch-conservative Clarence Thomas.

Liberals need to get over it.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Heroes, Kings, and Old Men

I must admit I feel sorry for John McCain. It's not because he may lose the election for president. It has to do with something else, something that will remain with him whether he loses or wins. The problem I see is one that is writ large in his life, but appears also in the lives of many men who do not appear in the news.

McCain refers very often to his military service and to his time as a prisoner of war. Lots of other people talk about this time in his life, and even his opponents refer to him as a hero. His later decades, including several terms in the Senate, appear almost as an anti-climax.

Perhaps the young McCain was a hero. Certainly on behalf of his country he suffered in ways that no one should have to suffer. But heroism is for young men, perhaps also for those in middle age. McCain is now past seventy, and as Aaron Kipnis has said, "There are no old heroes--only wise or foolish old men." Someone McCain's age can be a credible senator or president. But by that point in life, heroism needs to give place to something greater. The hero must become the wise old man. If not, then he turns into the foolish old man, somebody stuck in the past.

John McCain is the third of that name. His grandfather was an admiral, and his father was also. The current John McCain never became an admiral. I wonder how much he is haunted by this. I wonder also how much he is haunted by having served his country inside an enemy prison rather than in a position of high command. That was a hell of a hard way to become a hero.

If these are McCain's preoccupations, then he has company. Many men have difficulty letting go of heroic expectations about themselves or even heroic realities. When I was in college, I met a World War II veteran, a relative of one of my friends. Within the first ten minutes of our acquaintance, he was reciting with gusto stories of the dangers he had faced in that war thirty years earlier. It was as though nothing had happened since then. Whether a man is acknowledged as a hero or not, he may not learn that there is life afterward, and that his final decades are inevitably characterized by either foolishness or wisdom.

Another stage can occur between the young hero and the old man. That is the stage of the king. Kings can reign well or poorly. They can preside over territories large or small: not only entire nations, but businesses, classrooms, and families. Richard Rohr has said that a man is rarely in touch with his king energy before the age of fifty. When there's a true king in the room, you know it. He's robust, confident but not arrogant, and embodies a zest for life. The true king makes others feel safe and appreciated.

I've learned a lot about John McCain in recent months, as many Americans have, and I find little or no evidence of positive king energy in what he does. People who know him well, even some who share his political perspective, find him hard to get along with. The greatest leaders add luster even to high office. Others fulfill their roles with dignity and competence. The record suggests that McCain does not belong to either of these groups.

Barack Obama is still in his forties, yet he strikes me as a man moving from hero to king. His mother, his father, his stepfather, and his grandfather are all gone, and he has separated himself from his spiritual father, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Becoming a good king often involves saying farewell to parental figures and leaving mentors behind. The end of these relationships brings grief and sometimes conflict. Obama's words and actions demonstrate that he has negotiated these transitions in a thoughtful way. He lives in the present moment, not the past.

I feel sorry for John McCain, but I will not vote for him. On the other hand, Barack Obama makes me hopeful. Whether or not he's elected president, Obama will serve our country with positive king energy and in time become an old man of uncommon wisdom.

Monday, August 18, 2008

VoterPalooza: Issues and Candidates Forum

Saturday, September 20, 2008
2:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M.
Municipal Office CenterPort Huron, Michigan

VoterPalooza: An issues and candidates forum

Statement of Purpose

On September 20, 2008, at the Municipal Office Center in Port Huron, BlueNovember.Org will sponsor in VoterPalooza, an issues and candidates forum focusing on the major themes of the 2008 election. VoterPalooza will provide voters a chance to hear advocates from four political parties as well as candidates from four local races. We are inviting representatives of the Democratic, Republican, Libertarian and Green parties to participate.

From the parties' advocates, voters will hear the parties' positions on the two overarching issues of the campaign: the economy and national security. From candidates, voters will get side-by-side comparison.

With VoterPalooza, we hope to stimulate voter interest and encourage people to use their right to vote in this important election, perhaps the most important presidential contest in generations. The right to vote for our national and local leadership is a fundamental feature of our American citizenship.

By providing voters information about Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, and Green party ideas for how best to stabilize our economy and keep us secure in a troubled world, and by focusing attention on four local races. By sponsoring this event, BlueNovemner.Org hopes to generate excitement about the democratic process and increase voter turnout in St. Clair County.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Company You Keep

John McCain graduated from the United States Naval Academy near the bottom of his class: 894 out of 899. This sad performance should not in itself disqualify him for the presidency. What should disqualify him are attitudes that put him at the bottom of the class in our nation's continuing education about decency and justice.

Social change sometimes takes the form of a bell curve. The change starts with a small number of people, then larger numbers are won over. In time the majority of people endorse the change. Those who do not become an increasingly smaller part of the population until opposition to the change practically disappears. John McCain keeps company with people whose views on race and justice are dangerously outdated. They--and he, so it seems--are at the bottom of the class on these ethical issues.

Irwin A. Tang's new book, Gook: John McCain's Racism and Why It Matters (The it Works / Paul Revere Press) provides evidence for this. Tang reveals connections between American militarism and racist attitudes throughout the last century. He helps those of us who are not Asian American sense the racism that people of Asian background have encountered and still encounter in the United States.

Tang is also helpful when he points to the ugly attitudes and actions of specific people who support John McCain and are supported by him. In response to public exposure, McCain has banished several such people from official roles in his campaign, but the fact remains that he was happy to have them on board before the political price became too great. What role they continue to play in his career remains unclear.

One of these folks is Richard Quinn, a long-time associate of McCain who serves as a paid strategist for him in South Carolina. Tang identifies Quinn as "a life-long white supremacist" who has served as editor-in-chief of The Southern Partisan, "an anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-gay journal" with ties with the Holocaust-denial movement. This magazine described the first Grand Wizard of the KKK as a "superhero," Nelson Mandela as a "bad egg," and feminism as "a revolt against God." Quinn was also McCain's chief strategist in South Carolina during his 2000 presidential campaign. The state campaign was headquartered in a building owned by Quinn that also housed the offices of The Southern Partisan.

Another of McCain's pals is George Wallace, Jr., son of the late governor of Alabama. Wallace ran in the 2005 Republican primary for lieutenant governor. In June of that year, his speech opened the national convention of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a major white supremacist group he had addressed on other occasions. Wallace lost the primary, but this was due to no lack of effort on the part of John McCain, who endorsed him and arranged a fundraiser on his behalf. Irwin Tang notes that of the numerous Republicans running for office in recent years, Wallace may be the only one to attend hate group meetings in full public view. Yet McCain went out of his way to support him. Why was this primary of such importance to a man wanting to become president?

John McCain hired a number of former lobbyists to help with his current presidential campaign. One of them was Charlie Black, who lobbied for such notorious dictators as Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Mohamed Siad Barre of Somalia, and Mobuto Sese Seko of Zaire, each of whom was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in their own countries. Black was also handsomely paid for lobbying on behalf of Jonas Savimbi's Angolan guerilla group UNITA. One Africa specialist has described Savimbi as unique in the history of the continent "because of the degree of suffering he caused without showing any remorse."

Let's not overlook this pair of former Washington lobbyists: Doug Davenport and Doug Goodyear. Davenport was hired as McCain's campaign manager in the mid-Atlantic states, Goodyear as McCain's convention CEO. They lobbied on behalf of the military junta that rules Myanmar, formerly Burma. This junta has killed its enemies and terrorized entire ethnic groups in their country. They have kept Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. And when Cyclone Nargis ravished their country, they prevented food and medicine from reaching millions of people in crisis.

You're known by the company you keep. The company kept by a presidential candidate includes people who will be rewarded with power and position should that candidate be elected.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What about Other Veterans?

Members of the United States Armed Forces who sign up for additional duty in Afghanistan or Iraq sometimes say they do so because they can't let their buddies down. They are concerned about others in the service. However one views the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, such loyalty deserves respect.

John McCain puts his experience in the Navy and as a prisoner of war to work as a major selling point in his campaign for president. This focus on his early years takes attention away from his four terms in the Senate and his present political commitments. McCain's overall legislative record has hardly been exemplary. He acted as a political maverick for a while; now he follows the lead of George W. Bush so closely that a McCain presidency can reasonably be seen as a third term for Bush.

Based on his military experience and his willingness to publicize it, many people conclude that John McCain must be a bulldog supporter of veterans. Remarkably this is not true. McCain is far from loyal to them. Unlike numerous service members past and present, he is not there for his buddies.

Consider the difference between McCain's votes and the stands taken by major veterans organizations.

American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars: Both groups strongly supported the Webb-Hagel Twenty-First Century G.I. Bill that McCain tirelessly opposed.

Disabled Veterans of America: 20% rating for McCain. Only two other senators had ratings this low.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America: Grade of D for McCain.

Vietnam Veterans of America: McCain voted against VVA in 15 key votes and voted with them for only 8.

Many people who have never worn a uniform do what they can in ways large and small to help veterans. John McCain, who campaigns as a veteran and former prisoner of war, has had the rare privilege of sitting in the United States Senate for four terms, yet he demonstrates little concern for his fellow veterans. It looks as though right wing ideology has replaced loyalty to his buddies. If this is how McCain as senator responds to those with whom he claims a special relationship, then imagine how he will treat the rest of us should he become president.

Free Trade Is Not Free

Free trade is a frequent topic in the contest for president. The term itself is misleading: people pay for our free trade policies. Plenty of stories can be told about how these policies have damaged people, families, and communities in the United States, especially in the Midwest. Plenty of stories can be told as well about the damage these policies have done to people, families, and communities in other countries.

For twenty-five years I have been supporter of the Ecumenical Refugee Council, Inc., a grassroots ministry based in Milwaukee that addresses human needs in several locations around the world. ECR is a shoe-string operation, channeling practically all its receipts to people in desperate circumstances. Its letters do not comment on politics or economics, but the latest one is an exception. Sallie Pettit, long-time ERC president, has this to say:

ERC remains deeply concerned about Columbia S.A. The information that we are receiving from our contacts there indicate that c. 80% of Columbia's population lives in grinding poverty, even though Columbia is considered a First World Country. Internal warfare continues to destroy the fabric of society there. We of ERC continue to support Sister Mercedes and her poverty programs in Bogota. Currently we of ERC are supporting all of our government and business leaders who oppose the United States-Columbia Free Trade Agreement. Many of us have seen or know first hand the adverse effects of "Free Trade" in other Latin American countries. We hope that you can find it in your hearts to join us in this opposition. There is an enormous amount of information on the net about the adverse effects of Free Trade Agreements on small farmers and small businessmen in Latin America.

The world is remarkably interconnected. Is this good news or bad news for poor and struggling people in other countries? Much of the answer depends on what we in the United States choose to do.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Time to Start Breathing Fire

Democratic Representative Robert Wexler from Florida has served in Congress for six terms. In 2007 The Nation named him "Most Valuable Congressman" and Congressional Quarterly included him among "The 50 Most Effective Legislators in Congress." His just-published book, Fire-Breathing Liberal: How I Learned to Survive (and Thrive) in the Contact Sport of Congress is an energetic, entertaining, and hopeful account of his congressional experience set against the recent history of the United States.

Fire-Breathing Liberal offers a good introduction to its author, who belongs to the courageous wing of the Democratic Party. He and co-author David Fisher have produced a fast-moving narrative that features many laugh-out-loud anecdotes. But what I most appreciated was the ringside seat Wexler provides for such developments as

  • the Gingrich-DeLay subversion of legislative process and bipartisanship within the House of Representatives,
  • the theft of the 2000 presidential election, due in part by the mishandling of numerous ballots in Wexler's own congressional district, and
  • the growing demand that Dick Cheney and George Bush be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors against the people of the United States.

The introduction to Fire-Breathing Liberal is entitled "It's Time to Be Mad as Hell." Wexler's right about that. His final paragraph is also on target:

"After eight long years of Bush and Cheney, if we give the American people a clear choice, they will pick us overwhelmingly. But if we show them caution, hesitation, and meekness, they will remain frustrated, even despondent over the state of our government. I believe that if more liberals start 'breathing fire,' we Democrats will finally build a lasting majority."

I encourage you to read this book as a summer project in patriotism.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Responsible Plan for Ending the Iraq War

What's happened due to the Iraq War? More than 4,000 U.S. troops are dead. Nearly 30,000 more have suffered serious injuries. Our nation's military capabilities and readiness have been severely damaged. Our international standing has plummeted, making work with other nations to address security threats more difficult. Our constitutional system has been abused by an executive branch claiming unprecedented powers. Our economy is threatened, partly because to date this war has cost $16,500 for every U.S. family of four.

No political reconciliation has occurred in Iraq and none is on the horizon. As many as a million Iraqis have been killed. Four million have fled or been displaced. Half the households in Baghdad have lost a family member. Iraqis have no reliable electrical power, no reliable hospital system, no reliable schooling for children, and no functioning civil infrastructure. Unemployment is estimated at 60%. Young, unemployable men end up joining local militias rather than helping to rebuild their shattered nation.

In light of these well-documented realities, how can we bring American military involvement to a rapid and responsible end? How can we keep from repeating the mistakes that have brought us to this calamity? Working with military and security experts, ten congressional candidates have put forth "A Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq" ( Their proposal has been endorsed by four Senate candidates and fifty-four House candidates. It includes several bills introduced in Congress last year.

"A Responsible Plan" calls for an end to U.S. military involvement in Iraq and transfer of control and responsibility for Iraq to the Iraqis. This draw down of troops would not depend on Iraqi action or inaction. It would occur with utmost regard for troop safety and would result in no U.S. troops in Iraq other than those required for embassy protection.

The United States and the international community would engage in diplomacy and nation-building rather than military action. Our departments of State, Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation, and Treasury would all play a part. The United States would work to establish a regional dialogue involving all of Iraq's neighbors.

The humanitarian crisis involving millions of Iraqis who have fled their country or have been internally displaced would be addressed through accountable assistance to these populations and their host countries, increased border security, and the resettlement of Iraqis at risk. Among those at risk are Iraqis who have assisted the United States; they must not be abandoned.

"A Responsible Plan" advocates that the three branches of the United States government perform their functions in accord with the Constitution. Specifically it requires that ongoing war funding be incorporated into the normal congressional budgeting process, which is not now the case. Signing statements by the current president have involved attempts to alter the laws passed by Congress; such statements must be eliminated.

Habeas corpus, the individual's right to appeal to a court of law against arbitrary detention, would be reinstituted. Government surveillance without both probable cause and judicial warrants would be eliminated, as well as the torture of detainees and their secret transport to countries that practice torture during interrogations.

The renewal of our military would include reducing reliance on unregulated private militias, the provision of first-rate medical care for veterans, and the restoration of educational benefits for veterans. Holding contractors responsible for their contracts and increasing congressional oversight of contractors would help to eliminate war profiteering.

Lack of impartiality and skepticism on the part of the news media allowed administration claims to go largely unchallenged around the start of the Iraq War. "A Responsible Plan" calls for greater public participation in the establishment of media ownership rules and increased diversity in the ownership of broadcast media.

Last but far from least, this plan supports research on next generation energy technologies and the elimination of our nation's dependence on foreign oil. These efforts are viewed not only in the light of environmental responsibility, but also of economic and national security. Investment in alternative energy will create new industries and new technology which will result in new jobs and a healthier economy.

"A Responsible Plan" envisions generous and courageous goals. The United States has realized such goals before and can do so again. This plan points the way ahead for genuine patriotism in the twenty-first century. Such patriotism will contribute to the rebuilding of Iraq as well as to the restoration of the United States as a vibrant and confident democracy.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Attitudes of a Life-long Learner

The June 6 Washington Post featured a half page obituary entitled "Harlan Cleveland; Dean, Author, Statesman and Lifelong Learner." The headline intrigued me, as did the accompanying photo of an elderly man next to an elephant. I had never heard of Harlan Cleveland, but reading his obituary, I felt as though I was standing beside a theatre entrance as a jubilant audience flooded out onto the sidewalk: I had missed a remarkable show.

Cleveland packed a lot of living into his ninety years of life. "He was a journalist, an assistant secretary of state, a NATO ambassador, a university president and the author of a dozen books on leadership and public policy, and he was interested in almost everything--in part because he believed that everything is inter-related." Cleveland hated the phrase, "Have a nice day!" As he told one audience in 1989, "What I want is exciting days, passionate days, blessed days, surprising days."

Among Cleveland's books is Nobody in Charge: Essays on the Future of Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2002). There he tells of how over the decades he reworked and refined a list of attitudes essential to what he called "a generalist mindset . . . indispensible to the management of complexity." Here are the eight attitudes he came to recognize through experience and reflection.

  • First, a lively intellectual curiosity, an interest in almost everything--because everything really is related to everything else, and therefore to what you're trying to do, whatever it is.

  • Second, a genuine interest in what other people think, and why they think that way--which means you have to be at peace with yourself for a start.

  • Third, a feeling of special responsibility for envisioning a future that's different from a straight-line projection of the present. Trends are not destiny.

  • Fourth, a hunch that most risks are there not to be avoided but to be taken.

  • Fifth, a mindset that crises are normal, tensions can be promising, and complexity is fun.

  • Sixth, a realization that paranoia and self-pity are reserved for people who don't want to be leaders.

  • Seventh, a sense of personal responsibility for the general outcome of your efforts.

  • Eighth, a quality I call "unwarranted optimism"--the conviction that there must be some more upbeat outcome than would result from adding up all the available expert advice.

Leadership of this sort has been conspiciously absent from both the halls of Congress and the White House for many years. It is in short supply in many other venues as well. The good news, however, is that those in conventional positions of power have no unique claim on leadership.

In his 1985 book, The Knowledge Executive: Leadership in an Information Age, Harlan Cleveland predicted that it would no longer be possible for information to be hoarded by leaders and alleged experts, but that leadership would increasingly arise from new sources rather than trickle down from established figures. Leadership would be abundant rather than scarce.

All of us can help this vision become a dominant reality. In diverse ways, we can contribute to the refreshing streams of new leadership necessary for the invigoration of our suffering society. The eight attitudes identified by Harlan Cleveland outline the shape of any future leadership worthy of the name.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Oil and Politics

Everyone agrees that putting gasoline in our cars and trucks is expensive, that the price has increased alarmingly in recent months, and that for many American families fueling their cars has become a threat to their economic security and even their ability to pay the rent or put food on the table.

You may have also noticed that this is an election year.

The answer to our gasoline woes, say both George W. Bush and John McCain, is to drill for oil on the North American continental shelf, something that has been prohibited ever since both Congress and the president's own father banned off-shore drilling. The reasons for this ban are obvious: drilling and the inevitable subsequent oil spills pose catastrophic threats to the complex oceanic and litoral ecosystems.

Nothing makes this threat any less significant now than when these prohibitions began. Indeed, one could argue that as the world's population continues to grow and as feeding all those people becomes increasingly difficult, we should do all we can to protect and even restore the ocean's great fisheries.

But with oil up over $130 a barrel, with voters angry about their gasoline and heating oil bills, and with reserves of oil apparently sitting off shore, the big oil lobby, abetted by Bush and McCain, is demanding a chance to suck it out and sell it to you. If you've recently filled up your tank, you might agree.

Here's what Bush and McCain are not telling you: Under the very best of circumstances--meaning no regulatory problems, sufficient refining capacity, and cooperative weather and geological conditions--not a drop of any oil found will reach your gas tank in less than ten years. More important, under the best of scenarios, the amount of recoverable oil on the continental shelf will not make any appreciable difference in the price of oil. There simply isn't enough of it to make the pump price go down. See here. There are reasons why gasoline costs so much: the declining purchasing power of the American dollar--largely brought on by a ghastly and astronomically expensive war in Iraq--is one. A growing appetite for oil in China, India, and rest of the world is another. The reluctance of American car manufacturers to invest in fuel-efficient technologies is yet another. The list goes on and on.

Drilling in environmentally sensitive areas--and this includes the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge--is not the answer. Pushing for new drilling is an election-year gimmick and yet another republican gift to the oil companies. Though the amount of oil out there will not do you and me any good, it will do plenty to engorge the already obscene profits of the oil companies that land the leases. Anyone recall what industry Bush and Cheney used to work for?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

John McCain and Your Liberty

There's a lot about John McCain that scares me, starting with his unrelenting support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq and his willingness to commit American troops to that disaster far into the distant future. But something he said yesterday demonstrates with unnerving precision just how horrible a president he would be.

On 12 June 2008, the United States Supreme Court ruled, in a narrow, 5-4 decision, that habeas corpus still means something in this country. The court declared that prisoners at Guantánamo can go before an American judge to try to find out why they are imprisoned. Note carefully: this decision does NOT say that any prisoners should be released. It merely upholds the principal of habeas corpus, the only civil liberty mentioned in the US Constitution before the Bill of Rights.

What is habeas corpus? It is a simple, wonderful thing. It means that the government can't lock you up without saying why. A lot of loudmouths on the right will claim that this Supreme Court decision will lead to wholesale release of terrorists, that it endangers Americans. They'll say it means being soft on the guilty. This is utter bullshit. This decision means simply that our country is governed by law and not by presidential whim. Habeas corpus is the absolute foundation of liberty. Without it, there is no United States of America.

It is therefore profoundly disturbing to read that John McCain told a town-hall meeting in New Jersey that the Supreme Court “rendered a decision yesterday that I think is one of the worst decisions in the history of this country" (see here). McCain and his handlers have obviously decided that this issue plays well with the right-wing fanatics that are the bedrock of lingering (and diminishing) support for Bush and his assault on the Constitution. McCain is pandering to the lunatic fringe of American politics. More important, this tells us clearly what sort of judges McCain would appoint to the Supreme Court--more wingnuts like John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia, who voted to suspend habeas corpus, in clear violation of the spirit and intent of our Constitution.

There are many reasons why a John McCain presidency is something we should fear and do everything we can to prevent. His callous and opportunistic indifference to the American faith in the rule of law is now at the top of the list.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Nuking the Great Lakes

Here's an important issue that's sneaked under the radar:

Ontario Power Generation is seeking permission to construct a huge, underground storage pit for nuclear waste on the edge of Lake Huron, at Kinkardine, Ontario. If permitted, nuclear waste with toxic potential that will last hundreds of thousands of years will be stored where it can leak into Lake Huron. So far, the Canadian authorities responsible for reviewing this project have not considered its impact on Michigan and other parts of the United States.

It's vitally important that Michigan residents express their views on this threat to environmental sanity. In addition to the fact that polluting Lake Huron is, in any form, unethical and stupid, consider this: the Michigan economy is in the tank, and one of the only hopes we have for recovery is the fact that the Great Lakes constitute about one fifth of the world's available fresh water. Storing nuclear waste on the Bruce Peninsula is a threat to everyone who lives in Michigan. Of course, it's also a threat to millions of Canadians.

Send an email, asap, to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. The address is The deadline for public comment is June 18. For an easy way to do this, go the Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination (CACC) website.

Here are some important points, courtesy of CACC:

1. The study area for this deep geological repository should be expanded to include Michigan and all communities in the Great Lakes Basin.

2. The Environmental Impact Panel should be made up of members entirely independent of the nuclear establishment in Canada and should not include members of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

3. The comment period should be extended by at least 90 days to properly inform all communities affected by the proposed repository of its likely serious impact.

4. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency should hold informational meetings in Michigan and other impacted parts of the United States, in addition to meetings in Canada.

It's also important to send copies to your state and federal representatives, which you can do via the CACC site.
For more information, see this article in the Times Herald (ht/jj).

Friday, June 06, 2008

June 21 Rally for Peace and Justice

BlueNovember.Org Peace and Justice Rally

Saturday, June 21, 2008
1:00 to 3:00 P.M.
Corner of Pine Grove and Sanborn
Port Huron, MI

Signs are available, but feel free to bring your own expressions of peace.

This is a non-violent, non-confrontational event. We intend to be a peaceful voice of dissent. All participants are instructed not to impede traffic or engage in confrontational debate with passersby.

Monday, June 02, 2008

As bad as Bush. Or worse.

Looking for a portrait of John McCain? Cliff Schecter has given us one in The Real McCain: Why Conservatives Don't Trust Him--and Why Independents Shouldn't, published by PoliPoint Press. Schecter, a political commentator and consultant, tells the McCain story in a fashion that is lively and well-documented.

The picture he offers is not a pretty one. Consider a few observations:

  • In 2007, McCain voted to abolish the federal minimum wage.

  • The Action Council of the Children's Defense Fund recently named McCain "America's Worst Senator for Children."

  • Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the country's first and largest Iraq veterans' group, graded all members of Congress for their votes affecting the welfare of troops, veterans, or military families. 36 senators received a B+ or above. McCain's grade was a D.

  • In 1999, McCain joined a group of neoconservatives calling for the removal of Saddam Hussein with or without support from the U.N. Security Council. Along with Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, and others, he bears major responsibility for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

  • Former Representative John LeBoutillier, a New York Republican, has said that when McCain and Bush were both seeking the Republican presidential nomination, "Nearly all the Republican senators endorsed Bush because they knew McCain from serving with him in the Senate. They so disliked him that they wouldn't support him. They had been on the hard edge of his behavior."

The Real McCain is a valuable resource for the months ahead. Give it to any family member or friend who talks about voting for this candidate. Sadly, John McCain has proven himself to be not a maverick, an independent, or a reformer, but a legislative follower of the worst sort and a profound disappointment to a wide range of Americans.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Fairness and Equality: John McCain is clueless

Most of the debate about my participation at John McCain's Oakland University town hall meeting has been about me -- the T-shirt I wore, how I got the senator to notice me, and even whether I had a right to be involved at all. Although these issues are worth discussing, the question I asked John McCain and the answer he gave me are more important.

When I asked John McCain why he did not "show up to support equal pay for equal work," he stated he opposed the legislation because the only ones who would benefit from it would be trial lawyers and others in that profession.
Here's why I found McCain's answer unacceptable: The legislation McCain opposed would have given backbone to anti-discrimination laws. As it is now, a woman has only 180 days to figure out her pay is not fair and equal.
What is so magical about 180 days? Does John McCain believe it is OK to pay a woman less than a man or pay an African-American less than a white person simply because it might be necessary to hire a lawyer in the pursuit of justice? People who have been the victims of any crime, including discrimination, will need lawyers, period.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act makes every unfair, unequal paycheck a crime, and it removes the 180-day, ridiculously unfair statute of limitations. After all, if a man is robbed, but he does not discover the theft until the 181st day, does it mean there has been no crime?

This November, I hope voters remember John McCain refused to support a law that would have made it easier to find equality and fairness in the workplace.

Our future depends on it.

Fort Gratiot, May 13

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The McCain Initiative

Oakland University Campus, Rochester, Michigan

Seven members of BlueNovember.Org participated in John McCain's May 7th town hall meeting at Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan, to ensure the discussion included issues important to average Americans.

Each member was prepared to ask a substantive question of the senator, who chose to limit his opening remarks to three topics:

Human trafficking
Internet pornography
and Religious freedom

Hayley, one of BlueNovember.Org's youngest members chose not to wait until the question and answer period for an opportunity to create a meaningful dialogue. She stood up to display the tee shirt she was wearing which stated:


The senator acknowledged her and gave her the first question. She asked him why he opposed a bill that would have helped support a woman's right to equal pay for equal work. Basically, Senator McCain explained that the bill would only benefit trial lawyers, not women.

Susan, another BN.Org member, asked Senator McCain to discuss his philosophy that "Free Market Forces" should be the way we protect our environment. Susan stated that our government and the American people should decide how to best protect the environment, not corporations. Additionally, Susan asked if oil was the real reason we invaded Iraq. To this, McCain stated, "No Ma'am, we thought they had weapons of mass destruction."

Other populist issues were brought up, but the question lingering in the minds of BN.Org members was this: Do the McCain supporters of Southeast Michigan really think internet porn, sex slaves, and religious freedom are the issues most Americans struggle with on a daily basis?

If so, they are the most out-of-touch audience this side of $4.00 a gallon gasoline and wrap-around unemployment lines.

Read more about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act here.

Monday, May 05, 2008


The last seven years have been a scary time. We've seen so many horrors that the mind sometimes simply fogs up, and it's hard to keep them in any sort of remotely clear focus: the pointless slaughter in Iraq, the violation of civil liberties, torture, the suppression of sound science, the failure to heed the warnings before 9/11, the shameful indifference to the needs of veterans, the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, the growing control of our government by corporate lobbies--the dreary list goes on and on.

Last week a new bit of right-wing nastiness passed across our newspapers and computer screens; it ought to be getting more attention. This was the decision of the United States Supreme Court in favor of an Indiana law requiring voters to furnish a picture ID before voting. Sounds innocuous, doesn't it? In fact, it's a transparent Republican maneuver to suppress the votes of people--the poor, African-Americans, the elderly--that traditionally vote Democratic.

The important point to bear in mind is that there is absolutely no evidence that voter fraud is a problem. There is no plot among any group of voters to cast fraudulent votes. It doesn't happen. There is no need for this law. It does not address a current or imminent threat.

So why was it passed? For one reason and one reason only. The republican-controlled Indiana legislature knows that many elections are decided by narrow margins. If they can keep a few voters from the polls or make voting more difficult, they could swing an election. And they also know that the voters who currently do not have a photo ID are overwhelmingly likely to vote Democratic. According to Professor Amitai Etzioni of George Washington University, roughly 11% of the population lacks a picture ID that would satisfy the requirements of this law (see here). And it's obvious that the people without driver's licenses and passports are not your typical Republican voters.

This law is so brazen in its intent to disenfranchise certain segments of the American electorate that you have to go back to the poll taxes and other nefarious mechanisms of the Jim Crow South to find a parallel. It's one more Republican effort to steal elections they cannot win on the issues.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Robert Byrd on "Mission Accomplished"

Robert Byrd, Democratic Senator from West Virginia, was one of the few brave souls who consistently and eloquently opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq. People sometimes mock Byrd for his grandiloquent style, his antique, courtly manner, and his dedication to pork-barrel projects for his home state, but in this case, he was far wiser than most Americans and most members of the United States Senate. Here is what he said on the Senate floor yesterday:

Tomorrow, we mark the fifth anniversary of the now infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech, which was delivered by President Bush on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003. Five years ago, I took issue with the President’s choreographed political theatrics because I believed that our military forces deserved to be treated with respect and dignity, and not used as stage props to embellish a presidential speech.

The President’s declaration of “Mission Accomplished” and the “end of major combat operations” proved wildly premature and dangerously naïve. The complete lack of foresight and planning by the President for what lay ahead became tragically clear in short order. Our nation continues to pay the price every single day. More than 97% of the more than 4000 Americans killed in Iraq lost their lives after the President’s flashy declaration of victory.

Years from now, I expect that history books will feature the sorry “Mission Accomplished” episode as the epitome of this administration’s reckless and arrogant foreign policy, which has reaped disastrous consequences for our nation and the world. We have seen a President who is eager to use American troops for a political backdrop, yet is seemingly indifferent when it comes to providing them with the equipment they need, quality health care, or a real plan for ending the war.

President Bush has said that history will judge him on his decision to go to war in Iraq. I say that history is already delivering its verdict. It is evident in the strains of the long and multiple deployments that are wearing down our mighty military, and in the suffering of the American people as they bury their fallen heroes. It is evident in the fear and distrust with which the rest of the world views us, and in the instability wracking the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of the Bush policies.

President Bush has recklessly squandered more than 200 years of American leadership, good will, and prosperity. If that is what he was aiming for when he took office, then he can claim “Mission Accomplished.” That is his legacy. As we write the next chapter in our nation’s history, let us commit to building a new legacy that restores the promise of America, both at home and around the world.

Mission Accomplished?

Today, 1 May 2008, is the fifth anniversary of the infamous "Mission-Accomplished" speech, delivered by President Bush on the aircraft carrier, Abraham Lincoln. Since the beginning of this war—begun in deceit, executed and expanded with incompetence—over 4000 Americans and perhaps a million Iraqis have died. Millions more Iraqis fled the country and now live in uncertainty and destitution, while those remaining in Iraq endure unreliable services and rampant corruption. Divided into mutually antagonistic regions and neighborhoods, Iraq is ravaged by sectarian war. The rights of women have been diminished, as religious fanatics have imposed misogynistic, medieval laws throughout the country. The United States has become a debtor nation, and economic recession lowers our standard of living. Allowed to prosper in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Al Qaeda has grown in strength. The reputation of the United States is in tatters. Iran has become the dominant local power in the Gulf. The United States has engaged in torture, kidnapping, and the violation of civil liberties, at home and abroad.

Way to go, George! And way to go, John McCain, who has enabled this war from the start, enthusiastically supported the administration's "surge," and completely failed to show the slightest understanding of the realities of Iraqi culture and politics. If you think the Iraq war was a great idea, then John McCain is just the president for you.

Friday, April 25, 2008

McCain and Katrina

Yesterday, John McCain popped down to New Orleans, to show his sympathy for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. More hypocrisy. On the day that Katrina struck, as the always sharp David Corn reminds us, McCain was in Arizona celebrating his birthday with you know who:

Where was McCain during the horrible weeks and days after Katrina? What did he do then to express his outrage? Nothing. For him, as for Bush, Cheney, and the rest of the Republican-corporate-military machine, the people of New Orleans whose lives were wrecked by Katrina, mostly poor and African-American, are no more than photo opportunities. When not needed for a public-relations event, they are ignored and cast aside.

McCain and his wife possess a fortune of over $100 million. His political career has never displayed the slightest concern for ordinary people. Why in the world should we believe, now that he's the certain Republican nominee, that he suddenly cares about the poor, the dispossessed, or even those losing their homes to foreclosure? It's all transparent political theater.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

McCain and the Real World

The other day, John McCain stopped by Selma, Alabama, as part of a tour of America's "forgotten places." This is a piece of public-relations hypocrisy that defies reasonable description. He says he cares about our country's poor, the economic outcasts, those whom the American dream has abandoned. He talks pretty, about justice and fairness, but he offers not one word about policy, the actual steps that he might take to address the incredible gap between rich and poor in the United States. His plan to improve our economic health is nothing more than rehashed bushism: tax cuts for the rich and impossible claims about cutting government spending. See this excellent assessment of "McCainomics" by Marie Cocco at Truthdig .

For another detailed analysis of where John McCain actually stands on the issues that matter to American families, go here, where the AFL-CIO has assembled McCain's own words to reveal what he will do for us. McCain monotonously promotes himself as different from the current administration, and the media so far have more or less given him a free pass on this bit of carefully crafted fiction. Whoever gets the Democratic nomination can win in November only if she or he can effectively make this point: McCain is in all meaningful respects merely Bush with an older face. McCain is just another right-wing, corporate friendly Republican. The bit about straight shooting is empty rhetoric, and, as Robert Scheer cogently outlines in this piece at Truthdig, if McCain's elected, he will give us nothing other than the third term of Bush-Cheney.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


Last Friday, John McCain was a guest on a right-wing radio talk show, The Mike Gallagher Show.

Here's a verbatim quote: “no one has supported President Bush on Iraq more than I have.” Here's a link where you can hear it yourself (h/t jj).

What else do we need to know?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Is McCain a Maverick?

The key to John McCain's candidacy, the thing that appears to appeal to a wide range of voters, is his reputation for being his own man, for not adhering to a party line. He claims to be a straight shooter, a no-nonsense, independent thinker, not tied to special interests or bound to any ideology.

The truth is so distant from this narrative that one has to admire its brazen, shameless construction, abetted at every turn by a compliant press. McCain and his handlers have so fooled so many voters and, far more important, have so bedazzled so much of the press with this fiction that they might just lie their way into the White House with it.

In fact, McCain is a boringly conventional right-wing Republican. He doesn't look as baffled or talk as mindlessly as the current president, but in terms of policies, values, and utter obeisance to big business and the military-industrial complex, he'll give us the third term of the Bush administration.

If he's such an independent thinker, why did he vote against a ban on waterboarding?

Why has he voted with the Bush administration 89% of the time, supporting disastrous policies on Social Security and children's health care?

Most important, why has he consistently supported the debacle in Iraq? McCain repeats all the administration lies about defeating al Qaeda in Iraq. He's either hopelessly confused about the civil war in Iraq or he's knowingly pandering to media-induced ignorance.

McCain is no maverick. He's an old guy who wants to cut taxes for the rich, gut Social Security, and send more of our sons and daughters to Iraq (don't take my word for it; got to his web site, where the first thing we see is his relentless determination to send more troops to Iraq). He is Bush lite, and he's bad for us and our country.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Lessons of History?

The first two episodes of the HBO series about John Adams last night led me to ponder where we, as a country, started and where we have arrived.

As this show and a mountain of scholarship show, the men we call the "Founding Fathers" were a flawed lot: they were vain, petty, and contentious, and many of them saw nothing wrong with owning and exploiting other human beings as chattel slaves.

But they were also serious thinkers, who agonized over their decisions, thought deeply about such matters as liberty and justice, and were willing to risk everything they had, including their lives, for what they considered a noble cause. One feature of the drama of the Declaration of Independence that we often forget is that if the Revolution had failed--and it easily could have--every one of the signers would have been hanged for treason.

Compare them to the current president. Where they were serious, he is a fool, a capering clown who launched--exactly five years ago, with a rationale based equally on incompetence and deceit--an absurd and costly war at no risk to himself or his family. Our economy is in chaos, with the dollar and financial markets sinking, while the deficit swells like an over-inflated balloon. Yet the president indulges in sophomoric jokes, blandly assures us that all is well, and demands further tax cuts for the rich. He is a man who evinces no curiosity, cannot express himself coherently, shows little interest in science or the arts, and wouldn't recognize a complex idea if it bit him on the nose.

The explanations for how we accomplished this decline are legion: an irresponsible press, a relentlessly self-serving plutocracy, a political system based on lobbying and favors, and an electorate often more interested in celebrity sex than in our constitution or our military misadventures. However it happened, we've gone from George Washington, who could not tell a lie, to George Bush, who cannot tell--and doesn't even have a passing acquaintance with--the truth.

Monday, March 03, 2008

McCain's War

For the next seven months, our airwaves, our TVs, our computer screens, and our newspapers and magazines will be overflowing with republican claims about al Qaeda in Iraq. John McCain has already begun using a formula he will return to obsessively; he will endlessly accuse Obama (or Clinton if she should happen to pull off an upset and win the nomination) of willingness to "surrender" to al Qaeda in Iraq. This is illogical and ahistorical, but it will resonate with some voters, and the election may well turn on our ability to counter it.

Here is what we must say, repeatedly:

* Al Qaeda was not in Iraq before the Bush-Cheney invasion.

* The small but vicious group calling itself "al Qaeda in Iraq" consists almost entirely of foreign fanatics who easily entered Iraq to take advantage of the chaos following the ineptly executed American invasion and occupation.

* There is no evidence that "al Qaeda in Iraq" follows orders from bin Laden or others in the inner circle of the real al Qaeda.

* "Al Qaeda in Iraq" has been responsible for a relatively minor percentage of the sectarian carnage in Iraq since 2003.

* "Al Qaeda in Iraq" is exclusively a Sunni movement and as such will be quickly rounded up and either slaughtered or expelled by the majority Shi'ites when American troops leave.

* The real threat of al Qaeda comes from Pakistan and Afghanistan, where it has been reorganizing and gaining strength ever since the Bush-Cheney team insanely shifted our strategic focus to Iraq.

Al Qaeda, I believe, is indeed a threat to world peace and security, and the Bush-Cheney invasion of Iraq was precisely the worst thing this country could do in addressing the real horrors of al Qaeda. John McCain has been a cheerleader of the Iraq occupation since its onset (with some minor quibbles about strategy). The Iraq debacle should be McCain's to defend and explain. But we can't expect the mainstream media--inept, lazy, often corrupt, always subject to herd behavior--to force McCain to answer the hard questions, let alone show how his rhetoric is confused and incomplete, just another Rovian con, rewriting history and substituting republican talking points for reality.

If the American electorate buys McCain's claims about Iraq, he's the next President.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

US a Christian Nation?

We have all encountered people who claim that the United States was founded to be a "Christian Nation," that the founders were born-again Christians, and that any resistance to the agenda of the evangelicals trying to establish a theocracy today is thus a violation of the founders' intent. We know this is nonsense, but it's often hard to come up with convincing contrary evidence on the spot. Here's a terrific web page, provided by "Archiving Early America," with documented quotations from and references to what the founders actually said and wrote.

One excellent and useful example, from the Treaty of Tripoli, signed by President John Adams and ratified by the United States Senate in 1797: "the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion." Can it be any clearer than that?

Monday, February 11, 2008

McCain and Bush

Here's the picture we want every American voter to have in mind, every minute of the day, until the first Tuesday in November.

Friday, February 08, 2008

John McCain

It looks pretty certain that John McCain will be the Republican nominee, so it's time for progressives to get ready to counter the media's shameless love affair (see here) with him. People who should know better say they like him because he seems to talk straight and because he doesn't play the familiar political games. He does occasionally appear a bit different from the run-of-the-mill white guys in suits that run this country, but when it comes to policy--the things he stands for--he's just another Republican who's spent most of the last seven years kissing George Bush's ass.

It's time to start getting some truly straight talk about this guy, who, if elected, will give us, in fact, the third term of the Bush-Cheney administration.

Just a few minutes of googling turns up all sorts of things that the McCain campaign will not want voters to be thinking about, come November.

The North Carolina Democratic Party has a nice web page, with some telling McCain statements. Here's one you might want to have ready at your family Labor Day picnic when your republican cousin starts gushing about McCain (h/t jj):

After the start of the Iraq war, McCain praised President Bush for his leadership and said, "I think the president has led with great clarity and I think he's done a great job leading the country." Asked if he thought the president exaggerated the case for war, McCain said, "I don't think so."

Even better is Joshua Holland's essay at Alternet. Holland reminds us that McCain has said that it's fine with him if American troops stay in Iraq for a hundred years, and he claims the "surge" is working--this despite the mountains of evidence (well outlined in Holland's piece) that it is anything but the success the Republicans and their compliant friends in the press insist it is.

In the matter of the war and so much else, McCain is a Bush Republican. If the Democratic Party has any sense at all (always uncertain), it should shout to the sky, endlessly, "If you liked George W. Bush, you'll LOVE John McCain."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King Day

Today we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The few people who attend official ceremonies will hear much about non-violence and King's hopes for racial harmony. Orators will describe a peacefully re-ordered society where race is no impediment to success, where the vestiges of Jim Crow, which were ubiquitous in King's life, have peacefully disappeared. This is a vision to which no conscientious person can object, of course, but it's incomplete. In our quest for heroes who don't particularly threaten us, we have constructed a "King," with whom we can all (or nearly all--there are still troglodytes out there who'd like to abolish the holiday) feel comfortable.

The reality is that King was a radical. He questioned the way American society is organized, especially its economic system. This is the King that our contemporary politicians, of both parties, will not be eulogizing today.

A few months before he was murdered, King addressed the 11th Convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, in Atlanta. The compete text is available here and makes for fascinating reading. The title is "Where Do We Go from Here."

Among other things, King challenged the legitimacy of American capitalism. He knew that the poor of this country--of any color--would never be free so long as they were ruthlessly exploited by a system that denied their basic humanity. In a country where wealth and resources remain controlled by a few, justice is not possible: "We must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, 'Why are there forty million poor people in America?' And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. And you see, my friends, when you deal with this you begin to ask the question, 'Who owns the oil?' You begin to ask the question, 'Who owns the iron ore?' You begin to ask the question, 'Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that's two-thirds water?'"

King understood that American capitalism, which, one should never forget, developed with the labor and sweat of African slaves, leads to the dehumanization and exploitation of human beings and to imperialism: "The whole structure must be changed. A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will … make them things. And therefore, they will exploit them and poor people generally economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and it will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together." How sadly accurate this analysis of America was. And how sad it is to note how well it fits the Bush-Cheney administration.

Since King died, things have gotten worse. There has been a massive movement of wealth into the hands of an obscenely rich elite. In the last 30 years, as Bob Herbert reminds us in Sunday's New York Times, “The distribution of wages, income and wealth in the United States has become vastly more unequal over the last 30 years. In fact, this country has a more unequal distribution of income than any other advanced country.” To find out what's really going on with respect to the American economy, check out the web site of the Economic Policy Institute.

Martin Luther King would be appalled by the failure of this country--and both political parties--to deal with economic injustice. He knew that a government that serves only the rich promotes injustice and demeans human dignity. Wouldn't it be great if some of today's orators would talk about the real Dr. King?

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Surge, Another Look

The headline for a piece in USA Today for 18 Jan. 2008, mostly reprinted in the Port Huron Times Herald for the same date, claims, "Military says 75% of Baghdad areas now secure." The article makes a series of assertions about how security has improved in that beleaguered city since the arrival of additional American troops. On the surface, these claims are probably more or less accurate; in much of Baghdad, street violence is down. This is obviously a good thing.

But the fact that the article stops there tells us volumes about what is wrong with the way mainstream American media report on Iraq. Tom Engelhardt has an excellent account in The Nation of what the media are too lazy or too corrupt to tell us. Let's take a brief look at just a few important issues not addressed in the media most Americans read or watch:

* Iraqi authorities say they will not be able to maintain security without American help until 2018. The president has admitted that is is the case.

* Baghdad has become a largely Shia city: see here and here. This is the real reason the violence is down. Those responsible for most of the ethnic killing have, for now anyway, won. Neighborhoods have been ethnically cleansed. But this doesn't mean those driven from their homes won't try to come back. The momentary lull is fragile. Even if the Sunni don't try to return to their homes, declaring the current situation a triumph rewards aggression and ducks responsibility for enabling it.

* The Iraqi government has done virtually nothing to show it can actually govern. The recent legislation that appears to allow ex-Baath party members to return to government jobs is a sham. It provides no evidence that any sort of settlement between Shia and Sunni is in the works.

The Bush-Cheney surge has bought time. Iraq is not on the front page, and it's not seriously discussed by the presidential candidates of either party. The Unites States has brought unimaginable suffering, dislocation, and damage to Iraq. A momentarily diminished level of violence may keep us from thinking about Iraq for a while, but the unavoidable certainty that this invasion/occupation is the worst foreign policy disaster in American history is not going away.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Surge

It's disappointing to note the almost complete absence of any serious discussion of Iraq among the leading Democratic candidates. They all appear, more or less, to want the U.S. out, and they disagree only slightly on how fast that should happen. But they obviously don't want to talk about Iraq in any detail. One reason for this, I fear, is that, along with too many others, they think the "surge" has actually accomplished something. Or else they know it hasn't and don't want to appear to contradict the media-promoted conventional wisdom.

While the level of street violence has in fact decreased in recent months, the major announced objective of the surge, the creation of political space for the Iraqi government to get its act together and actually do some governing, has clearly not been achieved.  The pressing issues--distribution of oil revenue, writing a useful constitution, and figuring out how the major ethnic groups can live together in one country--remain disastrously unresolved.  For a satisfyingly acute expression of how far from successful the surge has been see this essay at Truthout by Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida. For an equally trenchant assessment of what all this silence really means, see this essay in today's New York Times Magazine by Noah Feldman.

We should not forget that the main reason the day-to-day violence in Baghdad has diminished is that entire neighborhoods have been ethnically cleansed. The Sunnis and Shi'ia simply don't live near each other any more. Millions of Iraqis are either dead or displaced. The surge can never erase their suffering. It can only, and only momentarily, distract Americans from contemplating what our government has done in our name.

The American misadventure in Iraq is just as much a failure as it has ever been. Its consequences will haunt whoever is elected President in November. Until our politicians grapple meaningfully with Iraq, there's little hope that the endgame will be any less catastrophic than what we've seen the last five years.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Election: Random Thoughts

(Caveat lector: The following reflects my own coffee-addled meanderings, not an official position adopted by BlueNovember.)

Michael Moore has posted a thoughtful analysis of the three Democratic front runners. He declines to make an outright choice, but it's clear he's leaning to Edwards. At Alternet, Norman Solomon offers a cogent argument for why those who have been sticking with Kucinich should consider shifting to Edwards; like many of us, he's mystified by Kucinich's decision to instruct his supporters in Iowa to switch to Obama after the first ballot. Kucinich has been the most progressive, forthright candidate in the Democratic pack, and Edwards is the frontrunner with the positions closest to his. It makes no sense for Kucinich folks to move toward Obama. Go figure.

The primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina will probably settle Edwards's chances. If he can win or even finish close in NH and then win in SC, he stays viable. If he doesn't, then I'm for Obama as the obvious best bet to stop Clinton. I don't hate Clinton the way many progressives seem to. Though I find her vote on the Iraq war resolution and her failure to make amends for it to be unforgivable, and though her later support of a resolution declaring an element in the Iranian security apparatus a "terrorist" organization seems equally politically motivated, I don't think, in the long run, that a Clinton presidency would be much different from an Obama presidency. They both would have to deal with a Neanderthal Congress (even it's run by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi), and they both have far too many ties to corporate interests (consider, for example, Obama's cozy relationship with big coal). I find Obama's endless talk of "change" to be vague, almost empty. But when it comes down to choosing between Obama and Clinton, I pick Obama, simply because I think he has a better chance of winning next November. Clinton has too many negatives with too many voters, who I think are more likely to move toward a relatively fresh face. Obama and Clinton are offering policy positions much more similar than different. Edwards's are better, especially with respect to the power of wealth in our political culture, but the media have opted to marginalize him (just look at the coverage in today's New York Times [h/t, jj]), and that may mean the end of his chances. So if we're left with Clinton and Obama, I'm going with Obama.

Another thing: when the hell is this country going to make its elections remotely democratic? The travesty of the Iowa caucuses and the obscene wads of money dumped there on television, political operatives, and god knows what else should ring alarm bells across the land. And now it's on to New Hampshire, another nearly all-white, low-population, rural state. Why in the world do these backwaters have so much authority in the selection of the American president? From the primaries to the Electoral College, the American system of voting is dysfunctional, undemocratic, and unrepresentative. Today's Times Herald offers a predictably vapid essay (not available on line) by DeWayne Wickham on the putative superiority of the process by which Americans elect their president, with the absurd claim that it offers "the world a lesson in self-governance that can be learned nowhere else around the globe"; I don't think the irony in that declaration was intended. You could say that the lesson suggested by our system is indeed unique. It's uniquely chaotic and unreflective of the popular will, and no people in their right mind would adopt it. In France (a country and a culture the American right wing loves to ridicule), to offer a counter-example, people vote for president, and the candidate with the most votes wins. Sounds pretty straightforward, does it not? In the United States, we can't do anything so obvious. Just ask Al Gore, who won the popular vote in 2000. That's a lesson for the world? Wayne, you must be joking!

The messiness of the whole process is well exemplified by the Michigan Democratic primary, which apparently is completely meaningless--not to mention a waste of money. I'm considering voting in the republican primary, just to muddy their already turbulent waters. Whom I should vote for? I'm thinking McCain is now the front runner, and I predict he'd be a formidable opponent. I also think he's nuts, so I don't want to help him. Giuliani scares the sox off me (take a look at Elizabeth Kolbert's probing analysis of Rudy in the New Yorker), so I sure don't go for him. Huckabee's a flake, and a win for him would upset the party bosses, but he's also pretty scary and might surprise us all. Romney is an empty suit, and I think any one of the leading Dems could take him down. So maybe I'll give him my vote on the 15th.