Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Loyal Opposition

The days come and go like muffled and veiled figures sent from a distant party, but they say nothing, and if we do not use the gifts they bring, they carry them as silently away.

---Ralph Waldo Emerson

Without a place and with a place to rest---living darkly with no ray of light---I burn myself away.

---St. John Of The Cross, whose birthday (1542) it happens to be today

The birds have vanished down the sky. Now the last cloud drains away. We sit together, the mountains and me, until only the mountain remains.

---Li Po

I grew up in 1940s, 1950s America. Eventually I discovered I was in a Republican household, in a Republican stronghold, in Republican upstate New York. One of my first distinct memories as a child was the bulletin on the car radio that Franklin Roosevelt was dead. I remember exactly where I was at that moment. I was in the backseat (no seatbelts then), and the car was proceeding south, nearing the crest of Main Street hill at the intersection of 5th Street in Jamestown, New York. It was my mother's cry of alarm that drilled the moment into my subconscious I'm sure. I just had turned 5.

On April 12, 1945, we still were at war, rationing was severe, but FDR somehow had guided us out of the Depression, which meant little to me but was enormous to my parents. What could this little Harry Truman do? In 1948, Truman won election over Thomas Dewey, who had been Republican governor of New York. My father was a radioman, had interviewed Dewey on the air, and whether he was Republican before he was one now. In keeping with the times, my mother now was one too. Truman's election was an upset. Some claimed his defeat was the work of publisher Bennett Cerf, who said Dewey resembled the tiny man on the top of a wedding cake. Could a personal wisecrack win an election?

I was unaware totally of party politics until 1952, when Dwight Eisenhower defeated Adlai Stevenson. Approaching my teen years, I was becoming aware vaguely of the world around me. I liked Stevenson, particularly a photo of him that must have appeared in Life magazine, exhausted on the campaign trail, with his feet up, and a hole in the bottom of one of his shoes. But Republicans had "framed" him as an egghead---which meant he was intellectual---and again people said that label cost him the election.

My Republican household continued even more strongly through the Ike years. Mom said she felt safe when she saw a photograph of lights on in the White House late at night. Ike was up and taking care of things. The Iron Curtain had "descended," and now the Cold War was fueling our climb into undreamed of prosperity. Once I entered college I developed a political consciousness that took me light years away from how my parents saw things. I thought I was aware and critical now, but a newly born right wing called me a "dupe" of the Communists.

My parents continued Republican quite possibly until the day they died. The inflation during the Carter years, which I'll always believe was engineered skillfully by corporate and banking interests, left retired people nearly in ruins. Their comparatively modest wages produced savings and social security too small to thrive in inflated lifestyles. They voted for Reagan and began to become embittered. On it went, the Republicans leading their way. They didn't live into the Bush43 years, but I wonder if my father would have held on to the GOP. I wonder if even we could have talked about it.

I never considered myself a Democrat particularly. I had opposed Kennedy's policy of sending "advisers" to IndoChina, and I picketed his White House over nuclear testing. Eventually I registered Democrat because I wanted a vote in primaries. Last year I was convinced I'd find some candidate out there who wasn't representing either major party, but I couldn't. I ended up voting for Obama with both reluctance and hope. My hopes soared at Inauguration...but now...but now...

I want 3 things politically these days. I want a clear history of what has happened to the United States as result of our own actions, and where the Constitution has been breached and laws broken I want justice done. I want President Obama to emerge with crisp consistency to what he pledged (dubious) and from one end of his policies to the other (essential). I want a sane, rational opposition to him and the Democrats.

I found a clear history I think in a lengthy article by historian Sean Wilentz. It was written a few months before the election of 2008, and strangely appeared in Rolling Stone. No one was more surprised than I that this rock 'n roll magazine and a fashion/design publication for the fabulously rich, called Vanity Fair, became the journals for me of the most concise and relentless reporting and analysis of the shift in American political power. The Wilentz article was titled "How Bush Destroyed The Republican Party," and can be read in its entirety beginning here~~~

Sean Wilentz, who professes at Princeton, previously had put his cards on the table in 2006, with a shocker in the same magazine titled "The Worst President In History?" The ax he grinds is not against Bush or Republicans. He went after the Obama campaign too, claiming liberals were giving this untested, cloudy, problematic candidate a free pass. What he opposes is political manipulation, and 6 months before the Bush Destruction article, he accused Obama of illusion and distortion---for which Wilentz was soundly thumped. Well, it's always good to see historians in the thick of contemporary battle.

This President is in the news everyday across the spectrum of critical issues facing us. One cannot discount the energy in and scope of what this administration is doing. For me about half the Obama news is good, and the other half very disturbing. I don't get this war policy---and I'm tired of being told I can't understand because it's all classified. We're not going to show you the pictures and we're not going to release the prisoners and we're not going to prosecute war crimes. OK, somebody else can do all that stuff---but there's one Commander in Chief, and I'm not sure what the mission is. And then there are the bailouts. I'm sure he's got a timetable for everything, but when does he talk to the base and explain how it all goes together?

As for the opposition, it gets worse and worse. Last Friday a Washington Post blog discussed the most recent poll~~~

"Lost in the news yesterday about the polls showing eroding support for Obama’s policies was a funny detail in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll: The overall popularity of the Republican Party has now dropped below even the abysmal level of approval enjoyed by Dick Cheney.
"The poll found that 26% of respondents have a very positive or somewhat positive view of Cheney, up eight points from April. Meanwhile, it found that the GOP overall is viewed very or somewhat positively by only 25%, down four points from April.
"Okay, the difference is within the margin of error, making this a statistical tie. But still, this is pretty awful for the GOP, given that for a long time Cheney’s historic unpopularity seemed to define a kind of low-water mark among Republicans.
"There a couple of takeaways here. First, it appears that Cheney is doing a better job of making his own case than the current crop of GOP leaders are doing on behalf of the party as a whole, even though he’s no longer in office. And second, it gives the lie to the notion that Cheney’s ongoing media tour is helpful to the GOP overall, as some party leaders have publicly claimed to think. In reality, he only seems to be helping himself."

Speaking of "helping himself," hasn't that become the motto of the current Republican Party? William Rivers Pitt tallied up the cash from book deals doled to the Bush administration yesterday, and the total rivals the bailouts. See for yourself---and also catch a glimpse of the ex-President giving his speech in Erie last week.

If the Republicans are in complete, but wealthy, disarray, there's always Ron Paul and the Libertarians. I've been saying if the Repubs can't pull themselves together in the next several months and IF the Libertarians can find a worthy successor to Paul, Obama is going to have a run for the money in 2012. (The congressional elections next year will tell much more of the story.) Here's Ron Paul getting after Barack Obama yesterday...and as usual with Libertarians it's a precarious ride. Information Clearing House is a Libertarian news site, and it's well worth watching on a daily basis.


Quinty said...

Regarding your frustration with a lack of a plausible opposition to Obama I would just like to add that today’s political debate appears to be often dominated by absurdities, while the real issues are often submerged or ignored. This is what “establishment” (party loyalists, the MSM, TV pundits, etc.) sources offer.

For example, the Republican criticism of Obama not being “tough enough” on the Iranian mullas has come to dominate much of the current coverage of Obama’s response to the Iran crisis. And while the Republicans claim their criticisms caused Obama to stiffen up the true issues pass by untouched.

What’s more, I think we still have a hangover from eight years of Bush. Compared to the giddies Bush offered Obama appears like the picture of staid statesmanship. The dignity, intelligence, and charisma he offered was a stark contrast which is one reason why he was elected. We have still to see if there will be any true substance.

Obama has many critics, on the left and in his own party. There are still many progressive Democrats who would like to see single payer, a withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the numerous criminals in the Bush administration held to account.

Our quasi progressive president hasn’t completely silenced the Democrats, though they are somewhat subdued. After all, his program is still coming into place, little by little. It is still far too early to gauge its success though, of course, critics can and do comment on its direction.

While many establishment pundits immediately jump upon each event as if it were decisive - perhaps reflecting a need to make an impression (while furthering their own careers?) - Obama is still methodically laying the groundwork for his major initiatives. We are still only in the threshold of his presidency.

I don’t see the Libertarians as any solution. While I agree with Ron Paul’s opposition to the Iraq war and support for individual rights (such as gay rights) the Libertarian approach to government would simply put all the nation’s problems on the shoulders of the private sector. Which would be no solution at all since the private sector is primarily concerned with profit. If a laissez faire approach to healthcare would work it would have occurred by now. But we know we do not have universal healthcare because there is no profit in it for the insurance and healthcare industries. That’s why government involvement and tax dollars are needed.

jazzolog said...

As Quinty points out, foundation and direction are enormous. Liberals are famous for chaotic organization. Alas. If Obama can whip together a team or coalition that can be disciplined enough not to splinter off into a mass of little factions, all pouting, he will have achieved a real victory. However, that war policy is not working~~~

Wednesday, 24 June 2009 13:22 UK
'Dozens dead' in US drone strike

Pakistan officially objects to the strikes by pilotless US aircraft
At least 43 people have died in missile strikes by a US drone aircraft in a militant stronghold of Pakistan, a Taliban spokesman has told the BBC.

The people killed in South Waziristan had been attending the funeral of a militant commander who had been killed in an earlier strike.

Quinty said...

Obama seemed a little too eager to go into Afghanistan. And immediately numerous civilian casualties began to occur. In spite of the bright eyed optimism this looks like another unending quagmire. And the civilian deaths have already made US troops unpopular.

jazzolog said...

Made of Lies
Tuesday 30 June 2009

by: William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t | Columnist

It began more than six years ago with a lie, followed by another lie, and another lie, and then two more, ten more, a hundred, a thousand, an avalanche of lies from heads of state and hatchet men and well-fed media types more interested in getting the interview than in getting the facts.

It began with lies like this:

"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."

- Dick Cheney, Vice President Speech to VFW National Convention 8/26/2002

... and this:

"We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

- Condoleezza Rice, US National Security Adviser CNN Late Edition 9/8/2002

... and this:

"We know for a fact that there are weapons there."

- Ari Fleischer, Press Secretary Press Briefing 1/9/2003

... and this:

"We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more."

- Colin Powell, Secretary of State Remarks to the UN Security Council 2/5/2003

... and this:

"We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."

- Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense ABC Interview 3/30/2003

It began with George W. Bush standing before both houses of Congress and an international television audience for his January 2003 State of the Union address and stating that Iraq was in possession of 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons - which is one million pounds - of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent, 30,000 missiles to deliver the stuff, mobile biological weapons labs, al-Qaeda connections and uranium from Niger for use in a robust nuclear weapons program.

Lies. All lies. 4,321 American soldiers have died in Iraq because of those lies, 101 during this year, including Sgt. Timothy A. David of Michigan, who was killed on June 28 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. Four more soldiers were killed in Iraq on Tuesday in the midst of the withdrawal. Tens of thousands of American soldiers have been shredded and maimed because of those lies.


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know" and "The Greatest Sedition Is Silence." His newest book, "House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation," is now available from PoliPointPress.

Quinty said...

Just to taste the difference between the US and much of Europe.....

Published on Wednesday, July 8, 2009 by

Seeing Obama as Norwegians See Him
by George Lakey

I just returned from a research trip to Norway where the people I interviewed often brought up the topic of our new President. The first was Kristin Clemet, the director of a conservative think tank. "This spring on a delegation to Washington I was struck again," she said, "by how different the political spectrum is in Norway from your country. Here, Obama would be on the right wing." I checked her view with others -- academics, politicians, activists all over the Norwegian spectrum -- and all but one agreed. In Norwegian terms, our President's positions are very conservative.

When Norway hit a major financial crisis in the early '90s (from a real estate bubble and speculating banks), the Norwegians decided against bail-outs. Three of the biggest banks were simply taken by the government, their senior management fired, their stockholders sent packing. The government nursed the seized banks back to health over time while the economy made a quick recovery. The other troubled banks were left to declare bankruptcy or find new capital. Norway's action sent a clear message to the banks: mismanagement and greed don't pay. The result is that today its own financial sector is clean and only needs to deal with the impact of other countries' disasters. Norway's strategy was very far from Obama's bank-friendly game plan.

When Norwegian oil was discovered, the country decided not to risk putting their new treasure in private ownership. Norwegians were therefore able to lead the world in environmental responsibility and to avoid boom/bust impact on their seacoast cities. Most important, Norway has been stashing the oil profits in a public, socially responsible "Pension Fund" that will support the Norwegians' famously high living standard for many generations to come.

Half a century ago Norway already had a universal health care system that is simplicity itself. There's a single payer (the government) and minimum red tape, something like Medicare but for everyone and better. The entire political spectrum supports this. By contrast, Obama says he backs the failed U.S. private insurance scheme and his team is wobbling on his own modest proposal to add a public option. So I would have to say to thoughtful Republicans: even if you don't like the Nordic blend of capitalism and socialism, with its virtual abolition of poverty, free university education, and enlightened environmentalism, you're only confusing the issue when you try to label the President with the "S"-word. You may think his policies are wrong, but in Norway even conservatives would say the Democrats and Obama don't go nearly far enough.
George Lakey, formerly Eugene M. Lang Visiting Professor for Issues in Social Change at Swarthmore College, is now directing a research project there. Author of seven books, he founded Training for Change.