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Archive for December, 2010

Welcome to Mouseland

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TomP at Daily Kos has posted an animated version of Mouseland, the famous (in Canada anyway) fable by Tommy Douglas, notorious Canadian socialist who has been voted the Greatest Canadian.

This version has an introduction by some actor who played on some tv series on Fox. Yes, those are very loud irony alarms you hear going off.

TomP is making the point that, “The recent events seem to expose many in the Democratic Party as just the socially liberal version of the Wealth Party.”

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December 14th, 2010 at 11:52 am

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Greenwald on Wikileaks and U.S. Media

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Within the past hour, Julian Assange was granted bail in a British court and will be able to fight extradition to Sweden from outside a jail cell. I’ve been following the Wikileaks developments with much interest but have refrained from commenting here b because I haven’t done the leg work of reading the released material or researching the legal issues around any possible U.S. prosecution of Assange.

Somebody who has done all that hard research is Glenn Greenwald. He has followed very closely both Wikileaks activities, the U.S. government’s response and the media reaction to the leaks and to Assange himself. In the process Greenwald seems to have discovered a corporate media blind spot. It seems that media organizations are giving citizens the idea that Wikileaks has released many more documents than they really have. Greenwald has communicated with Time magazine over this matter, with limited success:

What was vital here was to have Time state clearly that the claim of “indiscriminate” dumping of cables is factually false — not merely that Assange disputes it. That could then be used to quash this lie each time it appears in other venues. Of course, all of that fell on deaf ears, because my demand required that Time do exactly that which establishment media outlets, by definition, will rarely do: state clearly when the facts contradict — negate — claims by those in political power, especially when the target of the false claims is a demonized outsider-of-Washington faction like WikiLeaks.

Of course, Time’s behavior and that of the rest of the corporate media in this regard is explainable if one considers the role of said corporate media to be not to inform but rather to guide the thinking of the public by making it more difficult for real information to be widely distributed. Kind of like Pravda in the Soviet Union.

I encourage anyone who stumbles on this to visit Greenwald’s corner at Salon and see what he has to say about Wikileaks, Julian Assange and the DOJ.

Others are on the case as well, of course, like Nicole Belle at Crooks and Liars, who wonders why, if Julian Assange is such a terrible person, Bob Woodward is allowed to run around loose.

There’s been a lot of talk about how WikiLeaks is terrible, how the information released is damaging to national interests and/or security, how Julian Assange should be treated as a terrorist/enemy combatant/spy (pick your hyperbole), US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad points out that far more damaging information was given by someone with a much higher clearance to Bob Woodward, and no one started screaming that Bob Woodward should be prosecuted–or worse, executed.

I may agree on very little with Ron Paul and on even less with his son but props to Congressman Paul for his defense of Wikileaks.

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December 14th, 2010 at 11:18 am

Trancript of Bernie Sanders’ Speech 12/10/10

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Here is a link to a transcript of Senator Bernie Sanders’ speech, delivered in the Senate on Friday, December 10. Somebody should print it an d distribute it as a pamphlet.

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December 12th, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Bernie v Bernie (Goldberg v Sanders)

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First they ignore you. Then they mock you. Then they fight you. Then you win.

I have seen this formula attributed to Ghandi, but then I have heard others say that Ghandi never spoke or wrote these words. Whoever first made this statement it does describe how a movement progresses from oblivion to victory.

The Burlington VT or San Francisco city councils may have Greens or socialist members but at the state or federal levels the United States, unlike most if not all advanced democracies does not have a viable left wing party. Lefties who want to participate in government are therefore driven into the Democratic Party.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont does not play that game. He was elected Mayor of Burlington as a Socialist, and serves in the U.S. Senate as an independent. Still, his approach to policy and legislation is as a socialist, that is (if I may be so bold as to define Sanders’ socialism for him) someone who believes that power and wealth should be more equally shared and that an affluent society should ensure that all are provided for.

Though an independent, Sanders caucuses with the Democrats for tactical reasons. He supports Democratic legislation most of the time. That is why during his mock filibuster yesterday, Sanders was supported by other Democratic Senators like Sherrod Brown. But in terms of left wing, socialist, social democratic or labor oriented legislators, Bernie sanders is it. Maybe that is why his speech yesterday has drawn so much attention from both the Left and the Right.

Here is how Andrew Leonard at Salon tries to summarize Bernie’s “rant”:

His epic rant — perhaps one of the most extraordinary critiques of how the American economy has been managed over the last several decades delivered in living memory — is an endless sequence of connecting the dots from one outrage to another. Even as I wrote this paragraph, he segued effortlessly from trade policy to Wall Street.

“But it is not just a disastrous trade policy that has brought us where we are today. The immediate cause of this crisis, and it gets me just sick talking about it … is what the crooks on Wall Street have done to the American people.”

Sanders then delivers a capsule history of deregulation, blasts Alan Greenspan, notes that in the late ’90s he had predicted everything that ultimately happened, but failed to rally legislative support to stop the runaway train — “and the rest is, unfortunately, history.”

From there, a class warfare sideswipe: “Understand, that in this country when you are a CEO on Wall Street — you can do pretty much anything you want and get away it.”

“And what they did to the American people is so horrible.”

On to the bailout! His scorn is so caustic it could disintegrate an aircraft carrier: “We bailed these guys out because they were too big to fail, and now three of the four largest banks are now even larger. ”

As Sanders’ great oration enters its seventh hour, it is, by its very nature, impossible to summarize. It is a ramble, a rant, a critique, a cry of rage, a wail of despair, and a call to action. And it is amazing. I’ve heard stories of filibusters in which senators read phone books. And I’ve watched with disgust as for years Republicans have merely threatened to filibuster, without ever actually being forced to exercise their vocal cords. But here is Bernie Sanders, seven hours in, calling for the biggest banks to be broken up, voice still hale and hearty, and looking like he could easily go another seven hours.

Another Bernie, Goldberg as it happens has skipped from ignoring to attacking, skipping mocking in the process.

Apparently Bernie Sanders speaking out today about the terrible deal being struck to make sure that the rich in America get to keep their tax cuts hit a nerve with flame thrower Bernard Goldberg. He appeared on Fox with Megyn Kelly to promote his latest op-ed where he said we should be building monuments to rich people and pissed and moaned about what percentage of the taxes they pay. Those poor downtrodden rich people that own most of the wealth in the country. How will they ever get by without the Bernard Goldbergs of the world looking out for them?

Michelle Malkin piles on:

My question is whether any Republicans can get it on the action and provide some counterbalance. The “Wall Street greed” diatribes are getting noxious.

Noxious. Sanders has their attention it appears. There is no doubt that Sanders has become a nemesis to the Right even as he has raised his profile as a hero to the Left. My hope is that Sanders’ efforts yesterday lead to more. As Michael Tomasky at The Guardian said, “(L)et’s also hope that there arises a popular groundswell behind his efforts today, enough that some other Democrats and – God help us – a few Republicans see that his view is a responsible one. It is one, after all, that majorities typically support in polls.”

I would also like to see the birth and growth of a movement if not a party that is dedicated to restoring social justice and equality to the united States. It would take more than one historic speech to bring such a movement into being, but this was a damn good start.

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December 11th, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Bernie Sanders Should Stay in the Senate

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Hello, Guardian readers. And thanks to Michael Tomasky for linking to this little blog and my December 1 post about Bernie Sanders’ interview with Rachel Maddow.

Tomasky seems to take at face value my suggestion that Bernie should run for President. Actually it was just my way of saying Bernie is a hero to me and many others. I do not want to see him run for President because he might not win and he is truly a national treasure in the Senate. It would be neat, however if he could be joined in the Senate by a few more socialists of his ilk. Fat chance, I know.

Here is some of Bernie’s filibuster from earlier today, which I shamelessly (but legally) lifted from KO’s Countdown site.

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This is what Bernie does best. I don’t know why progressive Democrats are seemingly so reluctant to speak like this and to bring such clarity to issues. I have the feeling that if some teabag Republican accused Bernie of waging class warfare he might shoot back “Yeah? Well you started it. But we’re gonna finish it.”

I think that the push back on the Obama/McConnell compromised has surprised and raised the morale of many liberal and progressive Democrats. Maybe we can start a movement or something.

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December 10th, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Barack Obama, Carole James – Carole, Barack

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Outside of the Canadian Embassy, I am sure there are few in Washington who either know or care that the Official Opposition party in the Canadian province of British Columbia has lost its leader. After all, was Octavian informed or did he care that a homeless woman in Palestine had given birth to an illegitimate son?

I mean, there’s a lot of stuff going on in D.C. and president Obama, our latter day Caesar, has his hands full at the moment and is likely not being kept informed about B.C. affairs. But there is a cautionary tale that the President would profit from if he were to hear it told. It is a tale that illustrates the limits of elected power and how easily it is lost or corroded.

It goes like this: In British Columbia, the two main provincial parties are the B.C. Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP). Despite their centrist sounding moniker, the Liberals are a center right party and way more right than center. The New Democrats are nominally a socialist or social democratic party with formal ties to Labour, but are in fact a center left coalition that includes everybody from Troskyists and other Marxists to environmentalists, LGBT activists, trade unionists, and centrists who would rather give their condos at Whistler to homeless people than vote for the NDP in a federal election. There are a lot of factions in both parties but the B.C. NDP is a much more complex and vulnerable coalition.

The current leader of the NDP, Carole James, is a former school board trustee and chair. She gained the leadership in 2001 soon after the NDP had been reduced to two MLAs out of 89 in the B.C. legislature. In the next election, the NDP came storming back with 34 seats to the Liberals 45. In the next election, the legislature was expanded to 85 seats but the NDP only won 35 and found itself in second place, again.

For several months now, the NDP has led the polls in B.C., at least partly because the Liberal government of Gordon Campbell introduced a new consumption tax. In B.C. as elsewhere, raising taxes in a recession can make a government unpopular.

Even though she has been in a position to become the next Premier of B.C., James faced increasing opposition within her party. There are a number of causes for this dissension but some within the party have argued that James is unelectable and a new leader is needed before the next scheduled election in 2013. A crisis arose when 13 members of the NDP caucus insisted on meeting with James and threatening to resign from caucus and form a new party if their conditions were not met. A meeting between James and the 13 dissidents was scheduled for last Sunday, but the meeting was canceled at the last minute. The next day, James resigned, setting in motion a leadership contest within the party.

What, you may well ask, does this have to do with President Barack Obama, Leader of the Free World? Just this; This episode demonstrates how a political leader can not last in power if he or she loses the support of the people who put her or him into their position of leadership. Perhaps a majority of B.C. NDP members were prepared to keep James in her position and hope for the best. But a significant part of that membership was not so prepared and on their behalf the 13 dissident MLAs forced her hand and ultimately her resignation. Whatever the merits of the intra-party discussion, James lost the support of too much of her own party to stay in her leadership position.

And have you heard how upset many Democrats are with Obama because of his capitulation to the Republicans over the Bush tax cuts? The disappointment among rank and file Democrats and fellow travelers is pretty wide spread. It is not unanimous, certainly. But suppose Democratic voters stay home in 2012 as they did in the mid terms last month. Governor Palin might win every state.

So Obama needs to regain the support of Democrats if he is to navigate through he next two years and ultimately be re-elected. But right now Obama is defying his own party and electoral base with his stubborn defense of the tax cut deal he struck with the GOP (without much input or assent from Congressional Dems). As of this moment, there is still uncertainty as to whether or not the Obama/GOP deal will be adopted by either the House or Senate. Many Democrats in both houses are trying to either defeat the compromise or make it better fro the non-wealthy Americans. This is clearly in opposition to the President with whom they should be cooperating but who seems to not want to work with them.

Going forward, whatever the outcome of the current legislative struggle, Obama can either listen to his Democratic and progressive base or persuade them that he really is fighting for what his base wants. If he does neither, he can expect a more than symbolic challenge for his re-nomination in 2012. The further he strays from his party’s priorities, the more dissent within his own party he will create. In the end he could share the fate of Carole James and other leaders who decide to ignore the advice and wishes of those who put them in power.

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December 8th, 2010 at 9:53 pm

truthout: Revisiting the Politics of Social Change by Cary Fraser

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Currently, truthout has a post up by Cary Fraser about Revisiting the Politics of Social Change that along the way makes a number of very astute observations on the site of the U.S. spoiler alert: It looks pretty bad. There is so much in the piece that needs to be read and discussed, I would like to just post it aas is. But that’s not how we do things in the blogosphere, so let me quote some excerpts and encourage everyone to go read the whole thing for themselves.

The November 2010 midterm elections have unveiled the fissures in America to reveal a society suffering a loss of self-confidence and a fragmentation of its political system…In the face of the Tea Party’s mobilization of anti-Obama sentiment around concrete economic issues, the administration demonstrated that it was unable to fashion a coherent response to the populist onslaught and the Republican Party leadership’s obstructionist attempts to block policy initiatives to ameliorate the consequences of the economic downturn.

After the brilliant 2008 campaign, I for one thought that the new President would be able to advance the progressive cause by prioritizing its policy goals, and pursuing them effectively. Obama would use his mighty oratorical skills to persuade the people of the need to act decisively in pursuit of solutions to the nation’s problems. But instead of Lincoln with a jump shot we got a neo Liberal Prufrock, afraid to eat a peach or take a stand. This dithering weakness and betrayal of his base allowed the Tea bag GOP to define Obama and the Democrats in terms that fit the Right’s narrative.

But wait! There’s more.

The Obama administration has found itself hostage to Wall Street’s predatory practices in the name of “saving American capitalism” – with adverse consequences for the wider society. This perception of relative disadvantage coming out of the economic crisis has been validated by recent reports from the federal government. According to the Washington Post, recent government indicators show that:

*Even as conditions are likely to remain miserable for job seekers for years to come, an extraordinary bounce-back is underway in the nation’s corporate sector, with profits rebounding 28 percent over the past year to an all-time high in the third quarter.

*Businesses’ spending on compensation for employees, by contrast, rose only 7.6 percent.

*Among the reasons for the strong earnings growth were that financial companies are no longer suffering from massive write-downs on bad investments, as they were in 2008, and profits from U.S. firms doing business overseas have shot up.

I don’t think these observations are controversial, although I don’t think the White House would accept them. Tragically, the Obama Administration has spent most of its first two years helping corporations grow stronger while doing next to nothing to rescue or empower middle class and working class families.

The 2010 midterm election has led the Obama administration to a fork in the road – in both ideological and political terms. The president will have to decide whether he will live up to the promise of change that defined his 2008 campaign or whether he will be content with a legacy of being the savior of the primordial predatory capitalism that has eviscerated the middle and working classes of America.

I wish I had any hope at all that Obama would choose door number 1. But I do not.

However, beyond the changes in health care that emerged from the recent legislation, progressive social forces will have to offer an alternative political vision of America in opposition to the predatory ethos of governance that the Republican Party, sections of the Democratic Party and both parties’ corporate paymasters have embraced since the Reagan era. The three decades of Republican ascendancy in American politics since Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 have been defined by widening income disparities between the truly wealthy and the rest of the society; the accelerating export of jobs and industrial capacity to other countries; growth of the underground economy based on the trafficking of drugs, guns and other dangerous substances; the neglect of public education and an expansion of the prison-industrial complex, resulting in the underdevelopment of the intellectual capital available to society; an increasing deference to Wall Street’s speculative excesses and its focus upon the index of short-term business profitability; and neglect of the country’s infrastructure, a dereliction that was highlighted in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Progressives and/or liberals in the U.S. can no longer allow the Democratic party to act or speak for them. The democratic party is dysfunctional, divided and compromised. The two party system is not meeting the needs of the nation because a party of the left is desperately needed but is not an option in the near term.
Therefore the U.S. left (loosely speaking) need to organize around issues and principles and not be afraid to call out those in power of whatever party.

A broader vision of American economic recovery is now more necessary than that provided in the first two years of the Obama administration. The recent call by Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Ted Turner for the government to tax the wealthy at higher rates than those currently applied will undoubtedly help to intensify the debates over tax reform under the Obama administration. It will be important for other sectors of society to become involved in challenging the rhetoric of lower taxes that has been championed by Republicans from Reagan onward. The illusion that the rest of the world will continue to finance America’s deficits for the maintenance of its claim to being a superpower is not sustainable over the medium- and long-term. American political debates will have to acknowledge that reality.

Further, current political leaders may need to take refresher courses in American history to understand that America’s influence was greatest in the world when its tax rates and fiscal policies helped to fuel the era of international economic stability that followed World War II. The Vietnam quagmire that led the Nixon administration to abandon the gold standard was followed by the oil crises of the 1970s, which eroded American competitiveness and triggered the progressive restructuring of the American economy away from the industrial development that had secured the U.S’s role as an international leader during the 20th century… American political leaders will have to be educated that the Republican shibboleths of low taxes, limited government and predatory capitalism will contribute to the further erosion of America’s appeal in the wider world. Further, those shibboleths, if enacted as policy, will limit American society’s capacity to avoid the crippling effects of high levels of unemployment and underemployment over the long-term.

In both the near and long terms, following the Right’s policy prescriptions will result in a smaller economic pie that is less equally divided. And the perpetual Orwellian wars are a major component of the downward spiral of the U.S.

Like I said, everyone should read this piece for its very astute analysis.

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December 5th, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Greenwald Defends Assange – Takes on Washington Elites

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Here is video from an MSNBC aired on Wednesday, December 1. Note how the network loses its connection to Glenn Greenwald at about 1:52 into the video. No, I’m sure it was accidental and not some conspiracy to silence WikiLeaks sympathizers like Greenwald.

Greenwald discusses the segment in his blog at Salon:

Overwhelmingly, the reaction of establishment media figures has been to scorn these disclosures as somehow being both a Grave Threat and Nothing New. Watch this short segment I did yesterday on MSNBC with Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post Editorial Page and former GOP Congresswoman Susan Molinari. Technical difficulties impeded my participation, but what’s important is not really what I said, but what they said. Two notes about it: (1) Capehart, who calls himself a “journalist,” could not be more contemptuous of WikiLeaks as it shines a light on the U.S. government, and (2) the snickering and disdain toward Assange from Capehart and Molinari are indistinguishable — totally interchangeable — because there is no distinction between how most American “journalists” and how standard politicians think about those who are actually providing adversarial checks on U.S. political power; media and political figures are in the same undifferentiated class…

I think Greenwald has the better argument here. Maybe one of contributions les affaires Assange and Wikileaks makes is to our understanding of the interconnectedness of corporate media and journalism. I remember reading not so long ago about how Soviet dissidents got around Pravda and other official media to keep themselves informed. From Wikipedia:

Samizdat (Russian: ????????; Russian pronunciation: [s?m??zdat]) was a key form of dissident activity across the Soviet bloc in which individuals reproduced censored publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader. This grassroots practice to evade officially-imposed censorship was fraught with danger as harsh punishments were meted out to people caught possessing or copying censored materials.

Regarding Capehart’s assertion that there is nothing new in the latest Wikileaks release, Juan Cole has posted what he considers the top 10 WikiLeaks disclosures from the current round:

1. The British government’s official inquiry into how it got involved in the Iraq War was deeply compromised by the government’s pledge to protect the Bush administration in the course of it.

2. Afghan President Hamid Karzai routinely pardons drug dealers and corrupt officials.

3. Karzai’s brother, Ahmad Wali, is called a corrupt drug dealer. He is chief of the provincial council of Qandahar and said to be more powerful than the province’s governor. A US official wrote, “While we must deal with AWK as the head of the Provincial Council, he is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker. End Note.”

4. The Boston Globe reports of Senator John Kerry that he urged the return of the Golan Heights to Syria in return for peace: “In the meeting last February with the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Kerry said Syria should be involved simultaneously in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, saying Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “needs to compromise and work the return of the Golan Heights into a formula for peace,’’ according to the summary of Kerry’s remarks.”

5. Israeli General admits that Israel’s narrow focus on its qualitative military edge often conflicts with the global interests of the United States.

6. Former US-appointed interim prime minister of Iraq in 2004-early 2005, Iyad Allawi, is Alleged to have urged a US attack on Iran. He denies the report.

7. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told the US to forget about democracy in Iraq and instead install a dictator (“the Iraqis are too tough.”) He also warned the US to stay in Iraq militarily, asserting that otherwise the Iranians would take over the country. Mubarak had vigorously opposed the US march to war against Iraq in 2002-2003.

8.The Israelis wanted military dictator Pervez Musharraf to remain in power.

9. Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the current Pakistani chief of staff, allegedly considered making a coup in spring, 2009, when Nawaz Sharif was leading a popular movement in the streets to demand the reinstatement of the dismissed supreme court chief justice. Kayani considered moving against President Asaf Ali Zardari in case his weakness might allow Nawaz to return to power.

10. Aside from that occasion, Kayani, is said to have learned from dictator Gen. Musharraf not to try to rule directly. He is adept at staying behind the scenes but using other institutions to protect the interests of the military. He succeeded in foiling an American plan to put civilian politicians in control of the military. (Obviously, this French assessment of Kayani was made before, or in ignorance of, his having toyed with a coup in spring 2009).

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December 2nd, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Bernie Sanders for President

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If Obama keeps up this constant appeasement of the GOP, if he does not start listening to his base, he will most certainly face either a primary challenge or a third party candidate in 2012. I wish this fella Rachel is talking to in the clip below would run. I would work like hell on his behalf.

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December 1st, 2010 at 12:28 am