In the Belly of the Beast: 4/11/11: Voters in Iceland reject debt repayment, again

INDEX

The WikiLeaks News & Views Blog for Monday, Day 135

from The Nation Blogs: Media Fix by Greg Mitchell
“POLITICS”

CIVIL LIBERTIES TODAY
“Fascism is the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary sector of monopoly capital”

THE ECONOMY

ENVIRONEMENT

NUCLEAR POWER

Headlines for April 11, 2011

from Democracy Now! | Healthcare Reform by mail@democracynow.org (Democracy Now!)

The WikiLeaks News & Views Blog for Monday, Day 135

from The Nation Blogs: Media Fix by Greg Mitchell

Voters in Iceland reject debt repayment, again

It’s hard to argue against their position that the bankers should not be bailed out by everyone else. We would all be better off if more people in more countries insisted in this. Al Jazeera:

Voters in Iceland have rejected–for the second time– a plan to repay debts to Britain and the Netherlands from a bank crash, partial referendum results showed.

Johanna Sigurdardottir, Iceland’s prime minister, said economic and political chaos could follow, after near-complete results were quoted on Sunday by RUV public radio.

“The worst option was chosen. The vote has split the nation in two,” the premier told state television, saying it was fairly clear the “no” side had won.

Icelanders say citizens should not bail out irresponsible bankers who were blamed for the collapse of the Icesave bank and the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars.

In the US, why should everyone else have to suffer harsh GOP cuts when they were not to blame for the economy? The Republican budget grew when they were in control of Washington and now they’re asking the people who rescued the lifestyle of the bankers to pay up again. It’s not fair yet not many people in Washington – Democrats and Republicans, alike – seem to understand or care about this. Voting for either only encourages their bad behavior.

Truthdig

Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System

Posted on Apr 10, 2011

By Chris Hedges

A nation that destroys its systems of education, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. It prizes test scores above critical thinking and literacy. It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.

Teachers, their unions under attack, are becoming as replaceable as minimum-wage employees at Burger King. We spurn real teachers—those with the capacity to inspire children to think, those who help the young discover their gifts and potential—and replace them with instructors who teach to narrow, standardized tests. These instructors obey. They teach children to obey. And that is the point. The No Child Left Behind program, modeled on the “Texas Miracle,”is a fraud. It worked no better than our deregulated financial system. But when you shut out debate these dead ideas are self-perpetuating.

Passing bubble tests celebrates and rewards a peculiar form of analytical intelligence. This kind of intelligence is prized by money managers and corporations. They don’t want employees to ask uncomfortable questions or examine existing structures and assumptions. They want them to serve the system. These tests produce men and women who are just literate and numerate enough to perform basic functions and service jobs. The tests elevate those with the financial means to prepare for them. They reward those who obey the rules, memorize the formulas and pay deference to authority. Rebels, artists, independent thinkers, eccentrics and iconoclasts—those who march to the beat of their own drum—are weeded out.

“Imagine,” said a public school teacher in New York City, who asked that I not use his name, “going to work each day knowing a great deal of what you are doing is fraudulent, knowing in no way are you preparing your students for life in an ever more brutal world, knowing that if you don’t continue along your scripted test prep course and indeed get better at it you will be out of a job. Up until very recently, the principal of a school was something like the conductor of an orchestra: a person who had deep experience and knowledge of the part and place of every member and every instrument. In the past 10 years we’ve had the emergence of both [Mayor] Mike Bloomberg’s Leadership Academyand Eli Broad’s Superintendents Academy, both created exclusively to produce instant principals and superintendents who model themselves after CEOs. How is this kind of thing even legal? How are such ‘academies’ accredited? What quality of leader needs a ‘leadership academy’? What kind of society would allow such people to run their children’s schools? The high-stakes tests may be worthless as pedagogy but they are a brilliant mechanism for undermining the school systems, instilling fear and creating a rationale for corporate takeover. There is something grotesque about the fact the education reform is being led not by educators but by financers and speculators and billionaires.”

Teachers, under assault from every direction, are fleeing the profession. Even before the “reform” blitzkrieg we were losing half of all teachers within five years after they started work—and these were people who spent years in school and many thousands of dollars to become teachers. How does the country expect to retain dignified, trained professionals under the hostility of current conditions? I suspect that the hedge fund managers behind our charter schools system—whose primary concern is certainly not with education—are delighted to replace real teachers with nonunionized, poorly trained instructors. To truly teach is to instill the values and knowledge which promote the common good and protect a society from the folly of historical amnesia. The utilitarian, corporate ideology embraced by the system of standardized tests and leadership academies has no time for the nuances and moral ambiguities inherent in a liberal arts education. Corporatism is about the cult of the self. It is about personal enrichment and profit as the sole aim of human existence. And those who do not conform are pushed aside.

“It is extremely dispiriting to realize that you are in effect lying to these kids by insinuating that this diet of corporate reading programs and standardized tests are preparing them for anything,” said this teacher, who feared he would suffer reprisals from school administrators if they knew he was speaking out. “It is even more dispiriting to know that your livelihood depends increasingly on maintaining this lie. You have to ask yourself why are hedge fund managers suddenly so interested in the education of the urban poor? The main purpose of the testing craze is not to grade the students but to grade the teacher.”

“I cannot say for certain—not with the certainty of a Bill Gates or a Mike Bloomberg who pontificate with utter certainty over a field in which they know absolutely nothing—but more and more I suspect that a major goal of the reform campaign is to make the work of a teacher so degrading and insulting that the dignified and the truly educated teachers will simply leave while they still retain a modicum of self-respect,” he added. “In less than a decade we been stripped of autonomy and are increasingly micromanaged. Students have been given the power to fire us by failing their tests. Teachers have been likened to pigs at a trough and blamed for the economic collapse of the United States. In New York, principals have been given every incentive, both financial and in terms of control, to replace experienced teachers with 22-year-old untenured rookies. They cost less. They know nothing. They are malleable and they are vulnerable to termination.”

The demonizing of teachers is another public relations feint, a way for corporations to deflect attention from the theft of some $17 billion in wages, savings and earnings among American workers and a landscape where one in six workers is without employment. The speculators on Wall Street looted the U.S. Treasury. They stymied any kind of regulation. They have avoided criminal charges. They are stripping basic social services. And now they are demanding to run our schools and universities.

“Not only have the reformers removed poverty as a factor, they’ve removed students’ aptitude and motivation as factors,” said this teacher, who is in a teachers union. “They seem to believe that students are something like plants where you just add water and place them in the sun of your teaching and everything blooms. This is a fantasy that insults both student and teacher. The reformers have come up with a variety of insidious schemes pushed as steps to professionalize the profession of teaching. As they are all businessmen who know nothing of the field, it goes without saying that you do not do this by giving teachers autonomy and respect. They use merit pay in which teachers whose students do well on bubble tests will receive more money and teachers whose students do not do so well on bubble tests will receive less money. Of course, the only way this could conceivably be fair is to have an identical group of students in each class—an impossibility. The real purposes of merit pay are to divide teachers against themselves as they scramble for the brighter and more motivated students and to further institutionalize the idiot notion of standardized tests. There is a certain diabolical intelligence at work in both of these.”

“If the Bloomberg administration can be said to have succeeded in anything,” he said, “they have succeeded in turning schools into stress factories where teachers are running around wondering if it’s possible to please their principals and if their school will be open a year from now, if their union will still be there to offer some kind of protection, if they will still have jobs next year. This is not how you run a school system. It’s how you destroy one. The reformers and their friends in the media have created a Manichean world of bad teachers and effective teachers. In this alternative universe there are no other factors. Or, all other factors—poverty, depraved parents, mental illness and malnutrition—are all excuses of the Bad Teacher that can be overcome by hard work and the Effective Teacher.”

The truly educated become conscious. They become self-aware. They do not lie to themselves. They do not pretend that fraud is moral or that corporate greed is good. They do not claim that the demands of the marketplace can morally justify the hunger of children or denial of medical care to the sick. They do not throw 6 million families from their homes as the cost of doing business. Thought is a dialogue with one’s inner self. Those who think ask questions, questions those in authority do not want asked. They remember who we are, where we come from and where we should go. They remain eternally skeptical and distrustful of power. And they know that this moral independence is the only protection from the radical evil that results from collective unconsciousness. The capacity to think is the only bulwark against any centralized authority that seeks to impose mindless obedience. There is a huge difference, as Socrates understood, between teaching people what to think and teaching them how to think. Those who are endowed with a moral conscience refuse to commit crimes, even those sanctioned by the corporate state, because they do not in the end want to live with criminals—themselves.

“It is better to be at odds with the whole world than, being one, to be at odds with myself,” Socrates said.

Those who can ask the right questions are armed with the capacity to make a moral choice, to defend the good in the face of outside pressure. And this is why the philosopher Immanuel Kant puts the duties we have to ourselves before the duties we have to others. The standard for Kant is not the biblical idea of self-love—love thy neighbor as thyself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you—but self-respect. What brings us meaning and worth as human beings is our ability to stand up and pit ourselves against injustice and the vast, moral indifference of the universe. Once justice perishes, as Kant knew, life loses all meaning. Those who meekly obey laws and rules imposed from the outside—including religious laws—are not moral human beings. The fulfillment of an imposed law is morally neutral. The truly educated make their own wills serve the higher call of justice, empathy and reason. Socrates made the same argument when he said it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong.

“The greatest evil perpetrated,” Hannah Arendtwrote, “is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons.”

As Arendt pointed out, we must trust only those who have this self-awareness. This self-awareness comes only through consciousness. It comes with the ability to look at a crime being committed and say “I can’t.” We must fear, Arendt warned, those whose moral system is built around the flimsy structure of blind obedience. We must fear those who cannot think. Unconscious civilizations become totalitarian wastelands.

“The greatest evildoers are those who don’t remember because they have never given thought to the matter, and, without remembrance, nothing can hold them back,” Arendt writes. “For human beings, thinking of past matters means moving in the dimension of depth, striking roots and thus stabilizing themselves, so as not to be swept away by whatever may occur—the Zeitgeist or History or simple temptation. The greatest evil is not radical, it has no roots, and because it has no roots it has no limitations, it can go to unthinkable extremes and sweep over the whole world.”

Photo illustration by PZS based on an image by Lin Pernille Photography


A Progressive Journal of News and Opinion. Editor, Robert Scheer. Publisher, Zuade Kaufman.
Copyright © 2011 Truthdig, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Study: Liberal brains bigger in areas dealing with complexity, conservative brains bigger in area of fear

from AMERICAblog: A great nation deserves the truth by John Aravosis (DC)

3 people liked this

Want to know what’s driving the budget debate?

Liberals have more gray matter in a part of the brain associated with understanding complexity, while the conservative brain is bigger in the section related to processing fear, said the study on Thursday in Current Biology.

People with a large amygdala are “more sensitive to disgust” and tend to “respond to threatening situations with more aggression than do liberals and are more sensitive to threatening facial expressions,” the study said.

Liberals are linked to larger anterior cingulate cortexes, a region that “monitor(s) uncertainty and conflicts,” it said.

“Thus, it is conceivable that individuals with a larger ACC have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts, allowing them to accept more liberal views.”

And you’d think a fear-based brain would be less evolutionarily advanced, since when we lived like animals fear probably would be the most important life-preserving mechanism. Not so helpful in modern society.

“POLITICS”

The importance of elections; or, why you should continue to be a thorn in the President’s side

Matt Yglesias penned a short post a few days ago about the Obama-Boehner budget deal. It crystallizes the point of view of those who have a more charitable view of the President’s actions on this deal, but also on health care reform, the stimulus and more. I’ll let Matt speak for himself, then I’ll explain why I disagree:

Details on the appropriations deal are still hard to come by, but you don’t need the details to know that substantial short-term cuts in domestic discretionary spending will hurt the poor while harming macroeconomic performance. The problem with not agreeing to the deal, of course, is that a government shutdown would also hurt the poor while harming macroeconomic performance. If you genuinely don’t care about the interests of poor people and stand to benefit electorally from weak economic growth, this gives you a very strong hand to play as a hostage taker. And John Boehner is willing to play that hand.

I hope people remember this year next time large Democratic majorities produce an inadequate stimulus bill, a not-good-enough health reform bill, a somewhat weak financial regulation bill, and fail to deliver on their promises for immigration and the environment. It’s easy in a time like that to get cynical and dismissive about the whole thing. But there’s actually a huge difference between moving forward at a slower-than-ideal pace and scrambling to reduce the pace at which you move backwards. Now we’re moving backwards.

Let’s deal with his first graf: The notion that ruthless hostage-takers always have an advantage in a fight, and thus, it’s really really hard to beat them (so stop criticizing Obama for giving away so much in these various negotiations). The assumptions underlying that argument are not necessarily true.

1. Obama didn’t save all (or most) of the hostages.  It wasn’t “Raid on Entebbe,” it was “Sophie’s Choice.”

On health care reform, the public option was held captive and killed.  As was expanding Medicare to those aged 55 and up.  A lot of good things, great things in fact, that the President might have been able to get, had he just fought sooner and harder, were killed because the President blinked in the face of hostage-takers.  Same thing with the December Bush tax cut deal.  About a trillion hostages were killed by the time the dust settled on that battle, namely the budget (and all the Democratic programs that would “have” to be cut in the future because the GOP, with Obama’s help, just ripped the deficit that much wider).

Oh, but the President saved the unemployed hostages, and the military hostages, all of whom would have lost income had the President stood up to the GOP.

One week before Christmas does anyone really think the Republicans were going to steal the pay raises of our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan?  And one week before Christmas, do you really think the Republicans were going to be responsible for taking paychecks from hundreds of thousands of American families in need?  That’s not hostage-taking, that’s a suicide mission.  And the very nature of suicide missions is that they only happen once – after they’re over the hostage-taker is (politically) dead.

Had Democrats tried to steal the bread out of the mouths of millions of Americans (4m military members alone), right before Christmas no less, the Republicans would have had a field day.  Oh the Democrat-bashing ads we would have seen on TV (the Grinch ads would write themselves, not to mention Scrooge).  The Republicans would not have seen this as a “gosh what we do?” moment, they’d have seen this as a blood-in-the-water moment.  Sometimes our problem isn’t that the other guys are ruthless, it’s that we aren’t ruthless as well.

2. Instead of politically wiping out the hostage-takers, Democrats have empowered them to kill again.

It’s pretty simple logic.  If you do something, and then get rewarded for it, you’ll do it again and again.  It’s the political equivalent of your dog peeing on the kitchen floor.  If you give him a treat because at least he avoided the Persian rug, then you’ve just guaranteed that Fluffy is going to be peeing on your floor for the rest of his life, and loving it.

There’s a certain nod in Matt’s post, and Obama’s attitude, to the notion that the Republicans have us by the cojones.  We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t – so at least let’s mitigate the damage, or the flip side, get the most we can out of the deal.

Putting aside the fact that I don’t believe for a moment that the President got what he could out of the deal, Matt’s argument seems to ignore the long-term deal.  Perhaps – just perhaps – it looks like a pretty sweet deal saving half the hostages this time.  But you’ve just guaranteed that the hostage crises will be never ending, and you’ve condemned a lot of people to a future budgetary death when the bad guys kidnap again.  If we’re already playing the game of “not all the hostages can survive,” then it’s simply a numbers game – how many can we save?  But why stop the analysis in the near-term?  Why only look at how many you can save, and how many may die, today, when what we’re really talking about is how many will survive, or not, long-term as a result of your actions today?

I would submit that caving to hostage-takers today runs a serious risk of upping the political death toll in the long-run.

Look at the CR deal on Friday. Not only did the President agree to cut spending, which will impact specific programs we care about, and not only has the President just guaranteed less future growth in the economy and more future unemployment (those sound like dead hostages to me), but by embracing the GOP’s message points, about how great it is to cut the deficit, and how the deficit must be cut now, the President has just guaranteed a lot more damage to the economy, and to programs we care about, in the future.

As Joe and I have written time and again, the President’s actions have consequences.  He isn’t caving on these negotiations in a vacuum. He’s setting a precedent for the future, and sadly, as these ongoing negotiations show, we were right.

3. It is specifically because political lifetimes are finite that politicians must do all they can now.

Matt’s second paragraph is a point we often hear from Obama defenders, but also from Democratic party defenders, with regards to any issue on which the party falls short of its promises: But the other guy is worse.

While I understand the premise, I’m not sure I get the point. Yes, Republicans are, more often than not, worse than Democrats on most issues we care about.  And yes, the Republican House is far worse than President Obama.

And?

Does that mean we shouldn’t expect the President to keep his promises, or at least fight for them (early and often)?  If politicians aren’t held response for broken promises, then like Fluffy peeing on the floor, they’ll just keep breaking ’em until a politician’s promises mean nothing.  And while you can certainly try to get out the vote, and the money, by telling voters that the Ds are still better than the Rs, I think the D’s job is a lot harder when voters think you lied to them after one too many broken promises.

And, if our goal to is to do good, then why not do all the good we can before our political life is over?  There’s an assumption in Matt’s second graf that we shouldn’t expect the President to try for more, simply because the Republicans are less.  Why is that?  Perhaps he’s implying that we hurt the President’s re-election chances when we chastise him for falling short of his promises on the stimulus, HCR, or the current budget debates.

A few responses.

1) If I happily voted for you and now am forced to hold my nose come the re-elect, whose fault is it, the voter or the candidate?

2) If you promised more than you could deliver, again, whose fault is it that the voters are now disappointed?

And even on that point, the media often gets it wrong.  They think “liberals” are naive about politics, and that’s why they’re disappointed with the President: because liberals just don’t get how the game is played, that you can’t always get what you want.

I get how the game is played.  I’ve been playing the game for 20+ years now.  And I’ve seen great things accomplished when the players have the guts, and the smarts, to win.  My formative experience in politics was working for five years for Republican Senator Ted Stevens as a legislative attorney, and volunteering (often 40+ hours a week) for Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy on gay rights issues.  What both men had in common, Stevens and Kennedy, is they both were a bit of an ass, and knew how to use it to their advantage.

I had the opportunity to interact with both (Stevens, a lot, Kennedy less so, but I did do some foreign travel (on arms control issues) with the man), and both men thought big and took no hostages.  And while Stevens waspossibly the bigger bulldog of the two, Kennedy had the bigger vision.  It was not usual for me to be sitting with my staffer friend in Kennedy’s office, watching him suddenly come up with the idea of a $5bn amendment on some issue of concern to the Senator.  Then I’d watch that amendment magically become law.  It was an inspiring thing to watch, not just the end result, but the way Kennedy and his staff went about insuring their victory.  Kennedy’s staff (circa 1990s) in action was a political orchestra de force.  The phone calls, the ghost-written op eds for the politically, corporate and culturally famous, the corralling of CEOs, billionaires and political opponents, and the painstaking detail that went into planning every PR event was something to behold.  My favorite Kennedy staff maneuver was “spousal lobbying,” i.e., getting Senators’ wives to work their husbands on a particular issue.  It was all a beautiful dance, and it worked.

Because I witnessed Stevens and Kennedy in action, because I watched two very strong men get their way through brute force and brute smarts, I admit to being a bit underwhelmed by the President’s almost laissez-faire attitude towards his own promises, and towards legislating.  In my Washington, nice guys do finish last.  I learned that you could often, or at least much of the time, get a heck of a lot more than people thought possible, by using your head and committing to be an incessant pain in the ass.

Political lives come with an expiration date.  It was only a matter of time before the Democrats lost control of the Congress, and lose control of the White House.  But, to me, that isn’t an argument for giving President Obama a pass on the stimulus, health care reform, and the budget. It’s a damn good reason to ask why he didn’t do more when he had the chance.

Yes, life is finite.  But does anyone on their death bed really wish they had done less?

You often hear from the White House and their defenders excuses such as: If we only had 60 votes; if we only had the right 60 votes; if we only had control of the House; and my personal favorite, “he’s not God, you know” (as if).  When it comes down to it, this debate is really between those who think the President is weak, and those who think Barack Obama has incredible untapped strength.

Which one do you think encapsulates the politics of hope?

“Don’t Punish the Poor” Economist Jeffrey Sachs Slams Obama-GOP Budget Deal

from Democracy Now! | Healthcare Reform by mail@democracynow.org (Democracy Now!)

Play_budget-sachsPresident Barack Obama and congressional leaders reached a last-minute budget deal on Friday, narrowly averting a government shutdown. The deal would cut roughly $38 billion from a federal budget expected to exceed $3.7 trillion this year. We speak to Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. “Many of us who supported President Obama just feel that he’s abandoned the field,” Sachs says. “He’s left it to the right wing, which wants nothing more than taxes cut for the rich, whereas the American public is saying very clearly, in every opinion survey, one after another, if you want to close the deficit, go after taxes for the rich, raise them, cut military spending, cut the excess profits in the insurance industry and healthcare, do things that would really make a difference—don’t punish the poor.” [includes rush transcript]

Krugman wonders “What have they done with President Obama?”

Paul Krugman asks some important questions:

What have they done with President Obama? What happened to the inspirational figure his supporters thought they elected? Who is this bland, timid guy who doesn’t seem to stand for anything in particular?

A lot of people are wondering the same things. (And, a lot of those people comprise the Democratic base, the very people who are supposed to do the work and give the money to get Obama reelected.

Krugman’s column is worth a read (and I hope our friends at the White House read it and heed it, although, they’ve largely ignored the advice from Krugman so far.)

Like many of us, Krugman had problems with the President’s speech on Friday night:

But let’s give the president the benefit of the doubt, and suppose that $38 billion in spending cuts — and a much larger cut relative to his own budget proposals — was the best deal available. Even so, did Mr. Obama have to celebrate his defeat? Did he have to praise Congress for enacting “the largest annual spending cut in our history,” as if shortsighted budget cuts in the face of high unemployment — cuts that will slow growth and increase unemployment — are actually a good idea?

Among other things, the latest budget deal more than wipes out any positive economic effects of the big prize Mr. Obama supposedly won from last December’s deal, a temporary extension of his 2009 tax cuts for working Americans. And the price of that deal, let’s remember, was a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts, at an immediate cost of $363 billion, and a potential cost that’s much larger — because it’s now looking increasingly likely that those irresponsible tax cuts will be made permanent.

We’re entering the next phase of the debate and the GOPers have been running the show. Obama is scheduled to give a big speech on Wednesday night about his plans for the deficit (including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.) Krugman, like many of us, is concerned about Obama’s ability to fight the plan put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan:

What’s going on here? Despite the ferocious opposition he has faced since the day he took office, Mr. Obama is clearly still clinging to his vision of himself as a figure who can transcend America’s partisan differences. And his political strategists seem to believe that he can win re-election by positioning himself as being conciliatory and reasonable, by always being willing to compromise.

But if you ask me, I’d say that the nation wants — and more important, the nation needs — a president who believes in something, and is willing to take a stand. And that’s not what we’re seeing.

Not at all.

The one who primaries Obama will be the next Democratic president

During the Seventies, we had two ineffectual presidents unable to deal with the economic and other hard times that confronted them. Both were primaried and both went on to lose the general election. However, their parties had very different fates after those elections.

After Ronald Reagan lost to Gerald Ford, he did not stop campaigning and organizing. Not only did he go on to win the next time, but his 1976 campaign is basis of the Conservative Movement that has dominated American politics ever since. In retrospect, conservatives would surely say that the Regan Revolution and all that followed was worth it to suffer through four years of Carter. Additionally, what most people remember of Gerald Ford is Chevy Chase’s imitation, and no one brands his failures onto the Republican Party.

Even thirty years after Carter’s defeat, we can’t use the word Liberal because the Republicans succeeded in branding him a “Liberal.” Of course, Carter was a moderate at best and actually started the country on the road to de-regulation. But for anyone old enough, his feckless “malaise” is forever mixed up with the word “liberal” and the Democratic Brand.

The question with Obama is, can we afford not to primary him?

If Obama continues on his present course and does not show real strength and leadership, he will lose. In losing, his ineffectualness and lack of spine will become that of the Democratic Party and Progressives. The Left will be redefined in terms of Obama’s positions, as the Republicans try to roll back even those small accomplishments. And we will be out of power for another generation.

In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, a far-sighted scientist can see that the Galactic Empire is crumbling and is to be followed by a thirty-thousand-year-long dark age, but with the right steps, the darkness can be limited to only a thousand years. There is probably no saving an Obama Presidency that stubbornly refuses to save the country and itself. There may even be no way of preventing the Republicans from taking the White House. But conducted properly, a primary challenge now can result in victory: if not in 2012, then in 2016.

Frankly, a 2012 challenge has a better chance of winning than conventional wisdom gives it. The fight for a nomination is about the base and appealing to its parts. At this point, what part of the base has Obama not disappointed and angered? Challenging Obama may be like pushing on a partially opened door.

We saw in 2008 that organizing a primary campaign apart from the built-in support of the established party can create a national movement for change. A successful campaign has to recruit and organize supporters around the country, it must create its own message machine and rapid response team, and it must create donors and fundraise successfully in order to support all of these efforts. Modern technologies make this even easier than it was in the days of Reagan’s 1976 campaign. But, to really succeed, the movement cannot be discarded at the moment of the Inauguration (just ask the poor folks trapped in the tunnel with the Purple tickets).

Personal Note: I have worked in Democratic politics for 25 years and continue to make my living working with campaigns and organizations – because many of the views I feel I need to express would be considered subversive – I have to blog them anonymously. So I will be taking the pseudonym of Tom Wellington and will be also blogging at my own blog — What is to be Done.

The 2012 problem

I could have called this post “Kicking his base in the teeth” after Rachel Maddow’s formulation. But let’s leave it at this: The 2012 Problem.

How should a progressive think about Obama? Just in the last few news cycles, several items scream for attention.

First this, the budget cave, Paul Krugman’s observation (“Celebrating Defeat“, my emphasis):

Ezra Klein gets this right, I think; it’s one thing for Obama to decide that it was better to give in to Republican hostage-taking than draw a line in the sand; it’s another for him to celebrate the result. Yet that’s just what he did. … It’s worth noting that this follows just a few months after another big concession, in which he gave in to Republican demands for tax cuts. The net effect of these two sets of concessions is, of course, a substantial increase in the deficit.

Cave Week 1 was the Lame Duck for the ages, in which Obama promised never to give in to the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich, then gave in. That blew a multi-trillion dollar hole in the long-term budget, which spending cuts are expected to fix.

Now we have Cave Week 2, Obama vs. the Teabags, in which the Teabags win big and Obama does a victory dance.

Next we find this, Obama vs. the Entitlements, a “major speech” on Wednesday, via Teagan Goddard (my emphasis again):

President Obama plans to deliver “a major speech” on Wednesday laying out an aggressive plan for deficit reduction — including reform of entitlements, such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Cave Week 3? “Reform” of Social Security by Obama will mean the death of the Democratic Party, and yetObama wants it bad.

Add these recent items to any number of others. starting with the FISA cave long before his inauguration, and ending with what both Rachel Maddow and Glenn Greenwald noticed earlier this week — Obama’s decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed before a military commission at Guantanamo, announced on the same day as he announced his re-election campaign.

It’s a horrifying anti-progressive record, favoring everything we oppose.

It is now out in the open that progressives have a 2012 problem, and that problem is Barack Obama. Here’sMaddow’s disgust, well expressed:

“Kicking the base in the teeth.” Here’s Greenwald on the same subject; I won’t quote it, but it’s an excellent read and has a lot of people talking. Our own John Moyers expressed himself eloquently on this subject to great response.

The relationship between the Dems and Republicans is often described as a “hostage situation”. Republicans threaten to kill the country with starvation if the Dems don’t cave.

Progressives also have a “hostage situation”. Obama threatens to kill the country with Republican rule if progressives don’t cave (by voting for him).

What do progressives do? Joan Walsh will vote for him anyway. Sam Seder will vote for him anyway, if only because of the Supreme Court.

What will you do? Which burnt bridge is a bridge too far for you?

More importantly, what should progressives do as a group?

The choice is clear. Unless some primary challenger turns up, it’s Obama or some Billionaire-financed Teabag-worshiping Republican.

I won’t express myself on the shoulds of the decision, not yet. Is it automatically worse if a Republican wins in 2012 and the Democratic Party goes up for grabs? I’m not prepared to say.

But I will express myself on the shoulds of the discussion — we have to be talking about this now, and wellwithin earshot of Team Where Else You Gonna Go?

Steve Benen on the White House’s serious mistake

from AMERICAblog: A great nation deserves the truth by John Aravosis (DC)

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The President will be giving a speech this week detailing his plan for long-term deficit reduction. Here is Steve Benen’s take (keep in mind when reading this that Bene, I think it’s fair to say, has often been more charitable to the President’s policy choices than have we):

Once Democrats commit to systematic debt reduction as policymakers’ principal goal — as opposed to, say, economic growth — it sets the terms of the debate. The unyielding dynamic locks everyone into answering the same question: how do we tackle the deficit and the debt?

That’s the question Republicans (and much of the media) want as the central focus, but there are more pertinent and important questions that should be prioritized, such as, “How about a jobs plan to reduce unemployment?” Or maybe, “How will taking money out of the economy and reducing public investment lead to more growth?”

What’s more, it also sets baselines for a “compromise.” If Obama presents a credible vision for long-term debt reduction this week, we’ll have one pillar, which will serve as a counterweight to Paul Ryan’s radical House budget plan presented a few days ago. But a moderate counterweight may not be wise — if recent history is any guide, negotiations will produce a deal that’s somewhere between them.

In this case, that’d be a disaster. Even half-way to Ryan’s roadmap would destroy much of the modern American social compact, and prove devastating to the middle class.

Assuming that congressional Republicans are interested in a sincere, good-faith discussion about fiscal responsibility is folly. If this week’s presidential speech simply presents a sensible answer to a dubious question, without regard for the larger political dynamic, the White House will be making a serious mistake.

What more is there to say. I want to see CBO’s score for the budget deal, and their score for whatever the President proposes this week, specifically in terms of what impact they will have economic growth and jobs. The concern many have is that the President seems to have jumped on the deficit bandwagon of convenience, completely forgetting his number one job – to save the economy.

I’ll say it again. The GOP would love nothing less than to gut the recovery heading into the presidential election of 2012. Why the President seems interested in helping them do this is a mystery. The man saved this country from a second Depression, and seems almost embarrassed to remind people of that fact. That’s why we’re all talking about how “bad” the deficit is, because POTUS seems downright afraid to explain to the American people that the deficit is better than the Great Depression, Part II.

Obama needs to draw the right lesson from Clinton’s battles with the GOP

Greg Sargent writes:

With Obama set to give a major speech on deficit reduction in response to Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposals, we keep hearing comparisons between the current historical moment and Bill Clinton’s mid-1990s standoff with Newt.

So maybe we should recall the forgotten lesson of Clinton’s victory: He won in no small part because he drew a very hard line against Medicare cuts, and used that battle to articulate an expansive vision of Democratic governance, which he contrasted with the GOP’s vision of a “winner-take-all society.”

I just got off the phone with Michael Waldman, who was Clinton’s chief speechwriter throughout much of that battle, and he told me that a crucial piece of the historical record is being lost. While Clinton, a New Democrat, did push for welfare reform and call for a balanced budget to restore his fiscal credibility, the former president pivoted from there to a major, protracted public fight over Medicare — and an unabashed defense of a liberal role for government — that was crucial in restoring his public standing.

DC for Obama blasts budget deal over needle-exchange, choice and vouchers

DC for Obama isn’t an official part of the Obama operation. But, during the 2008 campaign, DC for Obama played a key role in the Get-out-the-vote operations in Northern Virginia, particularly helping to win Prince William County. A lot of DC politicos participated in the 2008 Obama campaign through this group.

Over the weekend, DC for Obama’s founder, Adam L. Barr, sent out an email blasting the budget deal for its impacts on DC:

The budget deal struck Friday by the White House and Congressional leaders interferes in the affairs of the District of Columbia, and puts its most vulnerable residents at greater risk. We need to send a clear message that we object to this overreach, and we are willing to hold Congress and our President accountable. This pattern of government catering to the rich and exploiting the poor has to be stopped.

As a candidate, Obama challenged us to expect and demand better from our government. Once elected, he repeated that call and asked that we hold him accountable. Today, we are doing just that.

President Obama – “I am my brother’s keeper”

(Despite the rhetoric, the President and his top staffers really don’t appreciate being accountable. We learned that during the DADT debate. They despise being challenged by progressives.)

The budget’s impact on DC are three-fold (that we know of), including preventing DC from using its funds on needle exchange programs:

You will notice far less coverage about the Federal Government’s needle exchange intervention than the other two major provisions. The budget deal also bars the District from using local funds to support abortions for low-income women that opt for the procedure, and it reinstates the DC Opportunity Scholarship (school voucher program).

This is truly despicable.

So, how is the base responding?:

We cannot allow the District to be used as a faceless bargaining chip in these negotiations without letting our voices be heard. On Monday, DC Vote is organizing residents to make clear their objections to being treated like second-class citizens, and we hope you will join us. We will gather at the Hart Senate Office Building to send the message that we will not be trampled on.

Join us at the DC Vote demonstration

Even if you cannot join us on Monday, you can still share your viewpoint with the President, Congress, and the media. In addition, you can make calls to the White House, Speaker John Boehner, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Congress still has to finalize the details of the agreement before their votes, which are anticipated mid-week. Click here to make your voice heard. The clock is ticking.

Palin cheers Trump’s birther obsession: “More power to him”

The obsession over Obama’s birth certificate has united two of the biggest self-promoters on the planet:

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) on Saturday applauded billionaire businessman Donald Trump for opening a private investigation into President Obama’s birth certificate.

The 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee said she believes the president was born in Hawaii, but claimed there is something on his birth certificate he is trying to hide.

“More power to him. He’s not just throwing stones, you know — from the sidelines. He’s digging in there. He’s paying for researchers to know why President Obama would have spent $2 million to not show his birth certificate. So more power to him,” she said during an interview on Fox News.

Palin and Trump deserve each other. Would be great if someone can create a reality show for them, preferably where they are dropped on a desert island for an indeterminate length of time.

CIVIL LIBERTIES TODAY
“Fascism is the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary sector of monopoly capital”

THE ECONOMY

Wisconsin is not Broke, “Budget Crisis” a Fraud

from Informed Comment by Juan

Wisconsin was not and is not “broke.” Its pension system gets a “gold star” for soundness, and it has no enduring structural shortfall in revenues. Gov. Scott Walker gave business a $500 million tax break and caused the budget deficit thereby, and then claimed that social spending had to be slashed and public unions destroyed because the state is “broke.”

Cutting taxes on the rich does not create “jobs,” as the first 8 years of the 21st century conclusively demonstrated. It throws more money to the rich, who use it to buy legislators to induce more tax cuts on the super-rich, so that over the past 20 years the rich have amassed four times as much wealth as they had before, while the average wage of the average worker in real terms is virtually where it was in 1970. Cutting taxes on the rich is a way of taxing the middle class and imposing extra burdens on working families.

Government is not bad. It builds your roads, funds your hospitals, pays your social security (the elderly were the poorest group in American in the 1920s, now they generally not so badly off, because of a government program), and could help solve global warming by building high speed rail and promoting green energy. Corporations don’t do anything of that sort for you. Some of them are well-run and make things that improve lives. But many of them (as with industrial fishing) are destroying the species-wealth of the planet, or strip-mining it, or pumping enormous amounts of poisonous carbon into its atmosphere. Or they are ponzi schemes or modern-day slavers who get people deeply in debt and charge them usurious interest rates, turning them into serfs-for-the-lender. If someone is charging you 22% interest, he should be in jail, not the recipient of the bulk of your paycheck. Government student loans allow young people potentially to avoid this sort of situation, which is one reason financiers want to destroy government and the whole idea of regulation. Ayn Rand is a recipe for turning the United States into one big Company Town, in which we are born indebted to the corporations and pass the debt on to our children. In contrast, government debt can goose the economy during downturns, is mostly owed to ourselves, and becomes smaller over time because of inflation; and if it weakens our currency slightly it would help exports.

Artificial “budget crises” used to break unions and impoverish the lives of the middle and working classes are just a form of bank robbery, on top of the world-class heist pulled off in fall 2008 courtesy Bush/Paulsen. They are conspiracies promoted by billionaires like the Koch brothers, and promulgated by front organizations like ALEC and lackeys of the super-rich like Walker, and are the real class warfare.

ENVIRONEMENT

Tennessee Republicans turn back the clock on science

from AMERICAblog: A great nation deserves the truth by Chris in Paris

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One Republican even mentioned the hassle of giving up Aqua Net aerosol hairspray which, in her mind, would actually have helped stop global warming. But of course, she doesn’t really support climate change theories anyway and wants teachers to have the right to discuss alternative theories such as the Bible and probably whatever theories the Koch Brothers and Big Oil can produce. It’s no wonder Sarah Palin is so well liked in GOP circles.

Critical thinking? Really?

The House voted 70-23 today for a bill backers say shields teachers from being disciplined if they discuss alternatives to evolution and global warming theories with students.

The debate ranged over the scientific method, “intellectual bullies,” hair spray and “Inherit the Wind,” a 1960 movie about the 1925 Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tenn.

Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, said the bill’s intent is to promote “critical thinking” in science classrooms.





NUCLEAR POWER

Fukushima Core Failure a Level 7 (the Worst)

from Informed Comment by Juan

It’s official. The Fukushima nuclear core failure is now more like what happened in Chernobyl than what happened a Three Mile Island, and is being declared a Level 7 nuclear emergency– one that has wide effects on human health.

I was in London during Chernobyl, and I remember them telling us that children or pregnant women or women trying to get pregnant couldn’t drink milk or eat lettuce, and now the same warnings are being given out by an NGO in France, with an announcement that the radiation risk for Europeans from Fukushima is “no longer negligible.”

Here is a news report on the situation:

Another big aftershock hit Japan on Monday, further delaying work at the plant.

German t.v. reports that a leaked memo from TEPCO partner AREVA suggests very substantial release of plutonium from the plant.

Switzerland is now considering abandoning nuclear power.

I really like Japan, and am devastated by what they are living through; why should one people have to suffer so much from atomics?

I hope that the tragedy at least impels a big new push for green energy and billions in research and development money toward that end. Only if we have new breakthroughs in solar, wind, wave, batteries, etc., will all this suffering have been redeemed a bit.

Japanese raise nuclear crisis to level 7, highest rating, equal to Chernobyl

It’s a bit odd.  They’re claiming nothing new has gone wrong, yet they’re raising the severity rating from a level 5 to the highest level that exists, a 7.

Washington Post:

Japanese authorities raised Tuesday their rating of the severity of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis to the highest level on an international scale, equal to that of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Officials with Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission reclassified the ongoing emergency from level 5, an “accident with off-site risk,” to level 7, a “major accident.” The reassessment comes at a time when the International Atomic Energy Agency says the plant is showing “early signs of recovery” but still in a critical condition.


Japanese turning in money and valuables found in rubble

Yes, they can keep it if it’s not claimed but it’s still amazing to see so much being handed over to authorities. You probably wouldn’t see this much turned over in many other countries. MSNBC:

Tens of millions of yen has been turned in to authorities by rescue workers and citizens who found the cash in the rubble of disaster-hit areas, the Kyodo news agency reported Sunday, citing police.

Police told Kyodo that citizens were turning in cash and valuables every day and that there was little hope in most cases of finding the original owners if the items were found without identification. Under Japanese law, the finders would be able to keep the money if the owners did not claim it within three months.

Police in the Miyagi prefecture told Kyodo that money has been returned in less than 10 percent of cases.


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This entry was posted in Background & Analysis, Collapse, Corporations, Corruption, Decline, Events, Human Rights, Japan, Nuclear Power, Obama, US. Bookmark the permalink.

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