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08 November 2008

Change you can believe in: Bipartisan determination to hit Iran

Links and bracketed info added by yours truly.

November 3, 2008

It is a frightening notion, but it is not just the trigger-happy Bush administration discussing — if only theoretically — the possibility of military action to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Of course, no president or would-be president ever takes the military option off the table, and Barack Obama and John McCain are no exception.

What is significant is that inside Washington’s policy circles these days — in studies, commentaries, meetings, Congressional hearings and conferences — reasonable people from both parties are seriously examining the so-called military option, along with new diplomatic initiatives.

One of the most thorough discussions is in a report by the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center, founded by four former senators — the Republicans Robert Dole and Howard Baker and Democrats Tom Daschle and George Mitchell — to devise policy solutions both parties might embrace.

The report warns that the next administration “might have little time and fewer options to deal with this threat.” It explores such strategies as blockading Iran’s gasoline imports, but it also says that “a military strike is a feasible option and must remain a last resort.”

[Here's the report mentioned, with some other material:

Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development

A report of an independent task force sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center's National Security Initiative

National Security Initiative (NSI)

NSI's Iran Project]

Its authors include Dennis Ross, top Mideast adviser to Mr. Obama, and former Senator Dan Coats, a McCain adviser. [Dennis Ross was a signatory to the Project for a New American Century's First and Second Statements on Iraq. Note the other signatories.]

Ashton Carter, a senior Pentagon official in the Clinton administration, wrote a paper [Note other authors, including Dennis Ross] for the Center for a New American Security, a prestigious bipartisan think tank, that asserts military action must be seen as only one component of a comprehensive strategy, “but it is an element of any true option.”

At a conference [links to audio and video] in September in Virginia sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “surrogates” for Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama insisted America must focus on preventing Iran from developing a bomb, not on allowing Iran to produce one and then deterring its use.

“John McCain won’t wait until after the fact,” declared the columnist Max Boot [Another PNACer/neocon], from the McCain team. The Arizona senator has previously said risking military action may be better than living with an Iranian nuclear weapon (and to his regret jokingly sang a song about bomb, bomb, bombing Iran).

Richard Danzig, Mr. Obama’s surrogate, said his candidate believes a military attack on Iran is a “terrible” choice, but “it may be that in some terrible world we will have to come to grips with such a terrible choice.” Early in the primary campaign, Mr. Obama declared that as president he would sit down in his first year in office with — among others — Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (He has been reparsing that commitment ever since.) [And in his first press conference wouldn't even welcome Iran's congratulation of his victory -- surely a cost-free way to simply welcome an unprecedented post-revolution opening. It came from Ahmadinejad.]

Given the global economic meltdown and other crises, it is not surprising if the American public is largely unaware of this discussion. What makes me nervous, is that’s what happened in the run-up to the Iraq war. [Lost in transition? Or just, self-congratulation? The usual circus -- don't look for much in the way of bread.]

In those days Americans were reeling from the shock of 9/11 and completely focused on hunting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In Washington, though, talk quickly shifted to the next target — Iraq.

Bush administration officials drove the discussion, but the cognoscenti were complicit. The question was asked and answered in policy circles before most Americans knew what was happening. Would the United States take on Saddam Hussein? Absolutely.

As a diplomatic correspondent for Reuters in those days, I feel some responsibility for not doing more to ensure that the calamitous decision to invade Iraq was more skeptically vetted.

This time the debate is not so one-sided. Most experts acknowledge that military action poses big risks and offers no guarantee of destroying Iran’s nuclear program.

Both presidential candidates have also promised new diplomatic initiatives. Mr. McCain talks of tougher sanctions and Mr. Obama proposes a comprehensive approach involving sterner penalties, more compelling incentives and direct talks with Iran.

Mr. Ross, who was top Mideast negotiator for the first President George Bush and for President Bill Clinton, [Here's some sanity on Ross's role; if anyone wants a Word copy, I have it. I edited this, actually (it's 40 pages in Word).] said that in the prelude to Iraq, nearly all of the talk focused on military action. He says this time experts are taking a harder, more systematic look at all options — including force — because diplomatic efforts have failed to slow Iran’s rush to master nuclear technology.

“I want to concentrate the mind and make people understand, ‘Look, this is serious and you don’t want to be left with only those two choices’ ” — war or living with an Iranian bomb, he said.

With Iran projected to produce enough fuel for a nuclear weapon by 2010, the next president is going to have to concentrate his mind quickly. We hope he, unlike George W. Bush, will encourage a broader public debate about all of America’s options, and the high cost of another war. I will certainly be a lot more skeptical.

[My prediction of what (most? many?) Obama supporters will say, if and when...

1. "No one could have known that an Obama administration would threaten Iran with war/attack Iran!"
2. "Iran deserves it."

Of course a third option is still possible, and necessary, right now:

3. "Oh, boy: we better get on his case pronto about opening a third war in the Middle East/Central-South Asia, especially since he's keen on escalating in Afghanistan/Pakistan."

New Afghan myths bode ill for western aims, Roderic Braithwaite, FT, 10/15/08

Think Obama, et al, will listen? Doubtful.

Published: October 15 2008 19:25 | Last updated: October 15 2008 19:25

Afghanistan is a place of myths. One myth tells us that the British were defeated in their wars against Afghanistan; or, as an American official remarked recently: “The British screwed up there for two hundred years.”

History tells us different. After losing one army in 1842, the British sent in the Army of Retribution which burnt villages, razed the centre of Kabul and hanged a lot of people. The second Afghan war ended in 1880 when another army captured Kabul, hanged more people and burnt more villages.

The British aimed to reduce Afghanistan to a protectorate under a puppet leader with a British political adviser – the imperial formula that worked so well in India. Once they realised that it would not work for Afghanistan, they sensibly settled for their minimum objective – a monopoly of Afghan foreign policy which lasted for 80 years.

The Russian military claim that they were not defeated in Afghanistan either. In military terms they are probably right. But the Russians achieved none of their limited political aims: to stabilise the government, secure the towns, train up the army and police, and leave within six months. The comparison is not between them and the British in Afghanistan, but between them and the Americans in Vietnam. The US military, too, claim that they were not defeated. But America also failed to achieve its political aims.

In Afghanistan today new myths are building up. They bode ill for current western policy. On a recent visit I spoke to Afghan journalists, former Mujahideen, professionals, people working for the “coalition” – natural supporters for its claims to bring peace and reconstruction. They were contemptuous of President Hamid Karzai, whom they compared to Shah Shujah, the British puppet installed during the first Afghan war. Most preferred Mohammad Najibullah, the last communist president, who attempted to reconcile the nation within an Islamic state, and was butchered by the Taliban in 1996: DVDs of his speeches are being sold on the streets. Things were, they said, better under the Soviets. Kabul was secure, women were employed, the Soviets built factories, roads, schools and hospitals, Russian children played safely in the streets. The Russian soldiers fought bravely on the ground like real warriors, instead of killing women and children from the air. Even the Taliban were not so bad: they were good Muslims, kept order, and respected women in their own way. These myths may not reflect historical reality, but they do measure a deep disillusionment with the “coalition” and its policies.

People in Nato and in Washington used to speak of “victory” in Afghanistan. Failure, they warned, would signify defeat in the war on terror and the end of Nato. But in Afghanistan, “victory” is another myth, not to be achieved by flying in a few more American soldiers. The British know from Ireland that you do not achieve “victory” over insurgents or terrorists. So, now, do the Russians: as one Russian general ruefully remarked: “We tried to teach the Afghans how to build a new society, knowing that we ourselves had failed to do so ... Our army was given tasks which it was in no position to fulfil, since no regular army can possibly solve the problems of a territory in revolt.” He was right.

We will have to settle instead for a new bottom line: a genuinely Afghan regime under a strong ruler who can impose himself on provincial governors, warlords, and assorted villains by a mixture of carrot and ruthless stick, in the manner of the great Afghan rulers of the past. Foreigners cannot usefully influence the choice: we will never know enough about Afghan politics to back the right man. Such a regime might only come into being amid further bloodshed. It would not be based on democratic institutions and the rights of women as we understand them. It would probably include elements of the Taliban. But if we were lucky as well as clever, it might co-operate with us on the thing we need most: neutralising al-Qaeda and its foreign fighters.

Despite their talk of British “defeatism”, some senior Americans seem at last to be gritting their teeth, facing the realities and moving towards such a political solution. Any change of course will be protracted and difficult. Too much treasure and prestige has been invested, too many words have been spoken, too many lives have been lost, too many outsiders – Pakistanis, Saudis and Arab fighters – are involved. The Russians first talked of leaving Afghanistan in 1982: it took them seven more years and many more dead to extricate themselves. Many people died, too, in the years during which the Americans sought an honourable exit from Vietnam. By contrast, the British marched to Kabul and then, when they had had enough, just marched back out again.

Things were simpler in the 19th century.

Sir Rodric Braithwaite, UK ambassador to Moscow 1988-92 and then chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, is currently working on a book about the Soviets in Afghanistan

Chomsky Speech at University of Baharain (Remote)

NOTE: The video does not show Noam Chomsky during the first fifteen minutes or so, so there's audio only with the camera focusing on the audience. The remaining hour of this video conference works fine.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

07 November 2008

Darwin's Legacy: Free Stanford University Video Course

An Aztec Version of "Four Sticks"

Page & Plant, No Quarter, 1994

Amazingly good; dig it:

Here's "Gallows Pole" from the same concert; unembeddable. And here's "Four Sticks," unfortunately not well synched, but the sound is what matters.

White House 2: Let's Drive the Debate!

This might end up being a "safety valve," but it might turn into something big. Check it out: set your own priorities, and suggest some, along with a fast-growing number of other users. A kind of political/policy wiki.

FairTest: You can't judge learning with a standardized test

A short video challenging the use of high-stakes standardized tests to judge students and schools. Produced for the non profit organization FairTest.

More here:

Uncritical Exuberance? Judith Butler on the Danger of Obama-mania

Stone-cold brilliant. Exactly right.

No Title Necessary

Can Grassroots Movement that Propelled Obama to Victory Chart a Better Economy?

From Democracy Now!

President-elect Barack Obama is moving swiftly to fill his administration and form his response to the economic crisis. Obama is expected to soon choose his Treasury Secretary and the two names reportedly at the top of the list are Lawrence Summers, who held the post during the Clinton administration and Timothy Geithner, president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank.

In one of his first orders of public business since the election, Obama has convened an economic advisory board to meet today in Chicago. The group includes billionaire investor Warren Buffett, former presidential Cabinet officials and executives from various corporations including Xerox, Time Warner, Google and the Hyatt hotel company.

This comes as more signs emerge that the nation will be facing a prolonged recession. The Labor Department reported Thursday that the number of people receiving unemployment benefits has jumped to 3.8 million – the highest level since 1983. On Wall Street, the S&P 500 has lost 10 percent in the past two days, its worst two-day decline since 1987.

On Monday, Obama is scheduled to meet with President Bush to discuss the global economic crisis and the war in Iraq. Obama has declined to attend the president’s global economic summit meeting on November 15th.

The New York Times reports the Obama camp is feeling pressure from the Bush administration, specifically from Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, to “co-own” the bailout program, which remains unpopular among voters. The Treasury has reserved office space, so far unused, for Obama representatives and Paulson has reportedly sought Obama’s advice into the choice of a permanent director of the bailout program.

To talk more about the state of the economy and the economic policies of Barack Obama we are joined by two guests.

Arun Gupta, reporter and editor at The Indypendent newspaper. In September, he organized a large protest on Wall Street opposing the bailout. His latest article is “Now That the Election Is Over, the Fight for Economic Justice Begins!

Robert Kuttner, Journalist and economist. He is the co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect magazine, as well as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the think tank Demos. His latest book is called Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency. Kuttner’s previous works include The Squandering of America: How the Failure of Our Politics Undermines Our Prosperity.

Institute for Policy Studies: A Sensible Plan for Recovery

A Sensible Plan for Recovery(PDF)

By Inequality and the Common Good

Author(s): Sarah Anderson, John Cavanagh, Chuck Collins, Dedrick Muhammad, Sam Pizzigati

Rebuilding Accountability and Trust

The grassroots blowback against the Bush Administration’s proposed Wall Street bailout is rooted in deep distrust. Americans recognize the need to act on our current crisis but detest the idea that ordinary taxpayers should bear the brunt of bailing out the kingpins of Wall Street.

The following program, if incorporated into the bailout, could far better address our current problem’s root causes and restore trust and confidence in our economic system.

Program Basics:

• Fund a green stimulus for the real economy
• Restructure mortgages for families put at risk by predatory lenders
• Make Wall Street speculators pay for the bailout
• Shut down the global casino: Assert real oversight of financial markets
• Limit CEO pay and prohibit profiteering from the bailout

Why Did the Media Not Predict the Crash?


Paul Lashmar is an investigative journalist and is currently undertaking a research project into the reporting in the UK of the sub-prime market prior to August 2007 for publication in Journalism Practice. He writes for various newspapers including the Independent on Sunday, The Guardian and The Evening Standard, and his specialist areas include terrorism, intelligence, organised crime, offshore crime, business fraud and the Cold War.

Gillian Tett is an assistant editor of the Financial Times and oversees the global coverage of the financial markets. In 2007 she was awarded the Wincott prize, the premier British award for financial journalism, for her capital markets coverage. She was named British Business Journalist of the Year in 2008.

Ann Pettifor is a political economist and author of The Coming First World Debt Crisis (Palgrave, 2006) and editor of The Real World Economic Outlook (Palgrave, 2003). She is a fellow of the new economics foundation (nef) in London and director of Advocacy International.

Michael Blastland is a freelance writer and broadcaster and co-author of The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and In Life. A journalist all his professional life, he started on weekly newspapers before moving to the BBC where he made current affairs programmes for Radio 4, such as Analysis and More or Less.

Paul Mason is Newsnight's Economics Editor with a brief to cover an agenda that he sums up as: "profit, people and planet". He is also the author of Meltdown - The End of the Age of Greed which will be published in Spring 2009 by Verso.

Recent Chomsky Interview with Taiwan-Based Commonwealth TV

It's in English, eventually. I assume this outlet is based in Taiwan given the .tw URL:

Nader, Obama, Uncle Toms, the Democrats, the War, and Reality vs. Postmodern Personas

In response to this clip --

-- Truthdig posted the following:

Not entirely sure how to unpack what exactly is going on in this startling exchange between Fox News’ Shepard Smith and third-party avenger Ralph Nader, but here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling.

It’s from election night, and an indignant (!) Smith appears to be attempting to school Nader (?!) on the unseemliness of invoking racially charged literary allusions when referring to America’s first black president-elect—especially, Smith suggests, when Nader is about to fade into obscurity.

Nader, meanwhile, maintains that it was perfectly valid for him to question, as he had earlier, whether Obama will be “Uncle Sam for the people of his country, or Uncle Tom for the giant corporations.” Just as Nader is about to further elaborate, Smith makes it clear that he has entered a nuance-free zone, and thus Nader’s final attempt to explain his statement is cut short.

Nader thinks Smith is a bully. Smith thinks Nader is kaput. We think it’s weird to bring race into a discussion about politicians capitulating to big corporations (and people’s potential reactions to the term Uncle Tom in particular may make it difficult to take in the bigger argument here). After all, history would suggest that elected officials from a wide array of backgrounds are perfectly capable of that sort of thing.

I think Malcolm X would have understood and appreciated Nader’s use of the term to describe a possible future for Obama:
Just as the slavemaster of that day used Tom, the house Negro, to keep the field Negroes in check, the same old slavemaster today has Negroes who are nothing but modern Uncle Toms, 20th century Uncle Toms, to keep you and me in check, keep us under control, keep us passive and peaceful and nonviolent. That’s Tom making you nonviolent. It’s like when you go to the dentist, and the man’s going to take your tooth. You’re going to fight him when he starts pulling. So he squirts some stuff in your jaw called novocaine, to make you think they’re not doing anything to you. So you sit there and ‘cause you’ve got all of that novocaine in your jaw, you suffer peacefully. Blood running all down your jaw, and you don’t know what’s happening. ‘Cause someone has taught you to suffer—peacefully.

The slavemaster took Tom and dressed him well, and fed him well, and even gave him a little education—a little education; gave him a long coat and a top hat and made all the other slaves look up to him. Then he used Tom to control them. The same strategy that was used in those days is used today, by the same white man. He takes a Negro, a so-called Negro, and make [sic] him prominent, build [sic] him up, publicize [sic] him, make [sic] him a celebrity. And then he becomes a spokesman for Negroes—and a Negro leader.

I would like to just mention just one other thing else quickly, and that is the method that the white man uses, how the white man uses these “big guns,” or Negro leaders, against the black revolution. They are not a part of the black revolution. They’re used against the black revolution.—Malcolm X, Message To The Grass Roots, November 10, 1963.
That’s for all of you, whatever your age, who seem to have forgotten what was actually happening in the ‘sixties in black America, what Obama has specifically claimed to have “transcended,” and finally how postmodern identity politics have replaced any realistic sense of struggle in this country.

Isn’t it interesting how applicable Malcolm X’s picture is to Obama? Nader knows that, if Obama’s followers don’t. Malcolm X has been accused of being a racist toward whites; he’s yet to be accused of being a racist toward blacks.

We are all slaves to this fiction of Obama’s progressiveness. It’s wish-projection, and Obama was nice enough to let us know that he knows that he is a screen upon which people project their hopes.

Do something a little more worthwhile than bashing Nader: join http://november5.org.

Furthermore, what’s amazing to me is that Nader’s accurate use of “Uncle Tom” causes more outrage than Obama’s lightning-quick appointment of Rahm Emanuel as CoS. Of Emanuel’s many sins, including running conservative Democrats against progressives (the change we need?), consider that he, along with the rest of the Democratic Party leadership, purposely refused to cut off funding for the Iraq war in order to use discontent with “Bush’s War” to take over. Which they have, and the body count for that was, what, again? I mean, y’all are oh-so-moral anti-war types, right?

Evidence. Key point here:
The secret for the Democrats, says Emanuel, is to remain the party of reform and change. The country is angry, and it will only get more so as the problems in Iraq deepen. Don’t look to Emanuel’s Democrats for solutions on Iraq. It’s Bush’s war, and as it splinters the structure of GOP power, the Democrats are waiting to pick up the pieces.
More evidence here and here. And I’m sure you can find more on your own, if you care to look.

Gee, I don’t know, refusing to defund the war in order to gain power seems rather worse to me than using “Uncle Tom” accurately. I really couldn’t care less about Nader the person—as little as I care about Obama, Bush, you name it. Politics is not about marketed personas, not for adults. It’s about power, and we all need to organize to force the change we need, not sit back and wait for Handsome Daddy Leader (Bush, Obama, whomever) to Make It All Better.

Neocons Plot to Co-Opt Obama, William Pfaff

My main problem with this analysis is the use of the term, "co-opt." Though the Kool-Aid drinkers have made Obama into their wish fulfillment, he wasn't the protege of Joe Lieberman for nothing. He's a hardline, cruise-missile liberal -- and not too far from the neocons. Just smarter: he knows that you need to have a nice smile to keep the masses happy while you rule the empire.

Word on the street in NYC: "I'm already disappointed" t-shirts are popping up.

06 November 2008

A Look Under the Hood at the (Potential) Obama Administration

It ain't pretty. Key quote:

Given the make up of his potential advisors, we’re [i.e., progressives are] in for a long uphill battle. So let’s drop our illusions and start organizing, beginning with a discussion of what “organizing” even means in today’s political climate.

President-Elect Obama and the Future of U.S. Foreign Policy: A Roundtable Discussion

Along with Amy and Juan:

John Pilger, Australian investigative journalist, bestselling author, and documentary filmmaker. His latest book is Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire, and his most recent film is called The War on Democracy.

Mahmood Mamdani, Professor of Government and Anthropology at Columbia University. He has written extensively on post-colonial African politics, and his most recent book is Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror. His latest article for The Nation magazine focuses on recent events in Darfur and is called “The New Humanitarian Order.”

Ali Abunimah, author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and co-founder of The Electronic Intifada

Laura Carlsen, director of the Mexico City-based Americas Policy Program of the Center for International Policy. She has written extensively on US relations with Latin America.

Tariq Ali, veteran journalist, commentator and activist. He was born in Lahore, Pakistan and lives in London. He has written over a dozen books and is on the editorial board of the New Left Review. His latest book is called The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power.

Raed Jarrar, Iraqi blogger and political analyst. He is the Iraq consultant for the American Friends Service Committee.

05 November 2008

Nader's Concession Speech: Next Steps

Watch it on RealPlayer here.

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

-- Yogi Berra

In this case, at the end of the road that is the presidential election, we do actually come to a fork. It's called Congress -- the House and the Senate. And we should follow Mr. Berra's famous advice and take that fork.

Whomever President-elect Obama chooses for his various cabinet posts, chief of staff, and so on, he is now pretty much out of reach of the American people. To sway a vote to Nader/Gonzalez, one could speculate on Obama's potential appointees, given his campaign contributors, and the thick phalanx of former Clinton advisers and hawkish military types around him. Now is the time to rapidly shift the focus to Congress.

Bringing our efforts to bear on Congress is the only way we can achieve a single-payer system of health care, a living wage comparable to that at the end of the 1960s -- $10 -- and a less belligerent foreign policy. In each Congressional district we need to start organizing ourselves -- and quickly. Ralph Nader showed how much could be done in just a single day in Massachusetts with the marathon he did there of 21 campaign stops in 24 hours. And that was done with the tough goal of trying to convince voters to support his candidacy, which was overwhelmingly ignored by the news media.

Imagine a campaign for results that a majority of Americans already support before you start campaigning! We figure that it will take about 60 days to solidify this new effort.

But, clearly, it won't be easy, and we don't want to underestimate the task. Here's the thing: with your generous donations to the Nader/Gonzalez campaign, you helped us design systems of organizing (that's how you get on 45 state ballots) that lend themselves perfectly toward the idea of organizing around Congress to pass the major laws that we want, laws that respond to people's needs.

Though some of us are now involved with the new effort at November5.org, it's not part of the Nader/Gonzalez campaign. Please visit that website and sign up today. Let your friends and family know about it. We're all shifting direction, and the faster we go about it the better.

Regrouping Fast to Continue Onward,

The Nader Team

Inside USA - The financial crisis

SPECIAL REPORT ON THE ELECTION OF 2008 prepared for No More Stolen Elections! by John Nichols

Appearing on the HBO talk show “Real Time With Bill Maher” a few weeks before Tuesday’s election, actor Tim Robbins urged voters to stand their ground when it came to demanding their right to vote:

“Refuse provisional ballots. They’re throwing those out. They can throw those out. If that’s your last resort, take it, but fight in the polling place to vote. It’s your right as an American. You have every right to vote if you’re registered. And if you’re not on the rolls and something went wrong, document it. Video cameras at polls are going to be an effective way to fight this Election Day.”

In an Orwellian twist on the actual Election Day, Robbins had to take his own advice. When he showed up at the New York City polling place where the politically-active actor has been voting for more than a decade, he was told that his name was not on the list of registered voters. So he refused to leave his polling place in Greenwich Village, even after an election worker suggested that the police might have to be called. Finally informed that he could go downtown to the office of the city’s Board of Elections, Robbins made the trek, got verification that he was properly registered, got a judge to rule that he would be allowed to vote, and headed back to his polling place to finally vote five hours after his Election Day ordeal began.

Robbins had the time, the resources and the information to make sure his vote would be cast and counted. He could overcome the hurdles placed in the way of democracy.

But not all Americans were so well-positioned, or so determined, as Robbins. And that is why Tuesday’s election cannot be called a success by anyone who takes serious the promise of the American experiment.

A great democracy that is home to a very busy people ought not ask citizens to wait up to eight hours to cast their ballots, But that is precisely what America has done during the course of this most volatile and critical of election seasons.

As citizens, we do democracy itself a disservice if we finish counting the votes and simply say: All’s well that ends well.

Barack Obama has won the presidency. Democrats have improved their positions in the House and Senate. And many Americans who griped through the last eight years about the Supreme Court intervention in the 2000 Florida recount and the mess that was Ohio in 2004 will be inclined to put aside their concerns about the deeply problematic process by which we choose this nation’s leaders

All is not well with the process by which America registers, casts and counts votes. And the time to repair a broken system is now, when the memories of its dysfunction -- so well documented by No More Stolen Elections! are fresh.

What are the signs of dysfunction?

1. Separate-but-equal access to the polls. With voting systems that differ from state to state, and sometimes even within states, the playing field is not equal. It is easier to vote in some places that others: because there are more polling places, more machines, longer voting hours and more citizen-friendly practices and procedures. And make no mistake about the fact that, when a working mom with kids must wait in line for four hours, that is not an inconvenience. That is a barrier to voting. “When people are waiting in line four, five, six hours, that’s just too long for a lot of working people who want to participate in this election,” says former Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder, who now serves as mayor of Richmond.

2. Even people who are appropriately registered and ready to vote can run into problems such as the one Robbins faced. This is a simple technological issue. Election boards can and should have laptops at all polling places so that poll workers can conduct checks instantaneously. Not every voter can spend half a work day correcting official errors. And they should not have to do so. “We have the technology,” says Wilder. “Why not use it to make voting easier and more efficient?”

3. When voters actually get past the initial roadblocks, it appears that they can lose their votes in machines that, for reasons of incompetence or chicanery, do not function properly. There were scattered reports of machine breakdowns on Election Day -- as well as reports about that soggy ballots in Virginia would have to be dried before they could be counted -- and of course serious concerns about vote flipping. Even Oprah Winfrey had a problem with this. So did the Columbus Dispatch, a newspaper that endorsed McCain.

4. There are still patterns of intimidation at the polls. An Indiana judge ruled Tuesday that Republican poll watchers had violated a court order regarding the correct process for challenging voters at the polls, and the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund was monitoring similar problems across the country. In Wisconsin, after losing a lawsuit fight to make it easier to challenge newly-registered voters, the Republican attorney general of Wisconsin -- a McCain campaign co-chair -- dispatched assistant attorneys general and special agents to the polls in order to “monitor” supposed voter fraud, even though past Republican attempts to stir up controversies about voter fraud confirmed that there were few if any problems.

5. Counting processes don’t produce accurate results on Election Night, creating false impressions that can become definitional. A bad call of Florida in 2000 created the fantasy that George Bush had a credible lead in the state. In fact, he didn’t. It was too close to call. In 2008, many states – including Pennsylvania – officials planned to delay the counting of “emergency” and “provisional” ballots for days. Even though Pennsylvania went for Obama, such delays warp the picture of the his finish – denying Americans a clear image of the actual election result. And they are not necessary. Again, getting laptops into polling places would make it possible to resolve most registration and voting conflicts immediately.

The fundamental flaw in the system is that it really is no system at all.

The United States has no baseline standard for organizing federal elections. And thus, federal elections are as often gamed as they are won fairly.

Thus, in Ohio, a prospective voter much register his or her intention weeks before election day in order to be able to cast it.

In Minnesota, on the other hand, a resident of the state can show up on election day and vote.

In Texas, voters can cast ballots weeks before election day and they don’t even have to get out of their cars. “If you can drive or if you have a friend or relative who can drive you, you don't even have to get out of the car, announces the Texas Secretary of State. “Call ahead to notify the early voting clerk that you want to vote from your car. This procedure is called ‘curbside voting’ and is available to any voter who has difficulty walking or standing for long periods.”

In Pennsylvania, on the other hand, there is no “curbside voting.” In fact, there is no early voting. Barry Kauffman, the executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, says that, "Pennsylvania is very tradition-bound and not inclined to change with the time unless forced to."

And so it goes through every other aspect of the voting process. Different states, different rules. In some cases: within the same state, the rules differ from county to county, or even within counties.

What that means is that the American electoral system, while it may yesterday have produced a satisfying result, is not functioning as it should. Lots of Democrats said during the Bush years that the party needed to win by enough that the election couldn’t be stolen. But that should not be the standard in a nation that presumes to offer the world a democratic model.

“If we are an advanced society, if we are monitoring elections around the world, why not make voting right?” asks Douglas Wilder.

If this is to be a transformational moment, then let us begin be transforming our electoral system into one that is finally and truly democratic.

- John Nichols is the Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine. He is also a member of the Liberty Tree Board of Directors.

Independent Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader Discusses Future Obama Presidency and Two-Party Politics

Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are, The Onion

Nader on an Obama Presidency, The Real News

Nation Finally Shitty Enough To Make Social Progress, The Onion

03 November 2008

Citizen Gore Vidal, Interview with David Barsamian, 11/3/08, In These Times

Elections won’t reverse the decline of American democracy, the prolific literary legend says

Gore Vidal is one of the singular literary figures of this era. A scion of a political family, he grew up in a milieu of power and politics. Winner of the National Book Award in 1993 and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1982, Vidal is the author of scores of plays, screenplays and historical novels, including Lincoln and Julian. He also has written a number of bestselling nonfiction books, including Dreaming War, Imperial America and Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace. The Washington Post calls him “the master essayist of our age.”

You have a role as a kind of Cassandra of the United States. A couple of years ago, you were talking about the impending economic collapse of the country.

We’re in it. But my predictions — I’m a master of the obvious. If you spend money at this rate on an unjust war — and a war that will have no outcome favorable to us, ever — don’t be surprised.

Bush is insane. We have a better word in Italian. It’s deficente. He’s deficient in the mental department. Deficente. He got applauded when he attacked two innocent countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, and he’ll try it again. “I’ll be popular because I’m going to hit Iran. It’s the source of all evil, heh, heh, heh.” And he starts to whinny like a horse.

At this point in the republic’s history, do elections matter?

No. They’re not going to change anything. First of all, we have to get the republic back before it can matter. It’s gone. About three or four years ago, during the reign of [Attorney General Alberto] Gonzales, they got rid of the only nice thing England had left us, which was Magna Carta, due process of law. These were the things that, when we invented the republic, the republic rested upon … and the Constitution. It’s all gone now.

You’ve been saying for the past 1,000 years that we have only one political party with two right wings. Is John McCain significantly different from Barack Obama?

McCain is significant in the sense that he has no significance at all on any subject. The fact that he can even dream of being president after he dreamed up being a hero — that comes from him, by the way, his heroism as a prisoner of war. I don’t know how prisoners of war are ever heroes unless they escape. He didn’t. He seems to have just gone up, crashed his plane and get taken captive.

I was bicycling along the Venice Beach path a couple of days ago, and one of the beach houses had a big photograph of Obama with a very large caption that said, “Hope.”

J’en ai besoin d’espoire. I think we all need hope. I think it’s far too late. Our institutions are wrecked. He’s sown the earth with salt, this fool.

You’re talking about Bush.

Yes. He’s too stupid to know what he’s doing. His instinct, however, is totally malevolent, in which he’s in the great American tradition of American fascism. That is a word we’re told not to use, just on grammatical grounds. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s a word that applies only to Italy at the time of Mussolini, and even then Mussolini didn’t know what it was and got terribly annoyed when foreigners would say, “Tell us, Duce, what is fascism?” “Well, you know, it’s spaghetti.” He had some flippant answer. I think we need hope.

I don’t believe if you just get a nice man or a nice woman, everything will be all right. That’s what they want us to think.

Eisenhower, in his now famous farewell address in 1961, as Kennedy was about to enter the White House, warned the country about a “military industrial complex.”

Nous voilà. We’re here. This is it.

Eisenhower’s whole speech is not quoted. He said the usual things about the military and they’re getting too much power through all these vast amounts of money that are thrown at them. And then he said the greatest danger of all — and he had been president of Columbia University — will be to institutions of learning now that they are used to this flood of federal money. Everything has been militarized. And suddenly a free, independent analysis — he’s talking about history — won’t be taught. This is never quoted.

I remember reading a book — it was a Cold War polemic, as I recall — in the late ’50s called A Nation of Sheep, by William Lederer. But the title stuck with me. Does America strike you as a nation of sheep?

Of course it is.

Why is that?

No one is educated. There is no educational system for the lower classes, if we can call them that. And we used to always call them nature’s aristocrats. But nature’s aristocrats don’t get educated here. And why? If you owned this place, would you want anybody to know any history or to know why anything happens the way it does? No, you can’t teach that. Ask any working schoolteacher. They make difficulties to this day over teaching evolution. It’s a nation going to commit suicide. We’re too stupid to survive in an evolutionary world.

And what role does the media contribute in that dumbing down of Americans?

It’s central. The media has always been corrupt in the United States, and it’s more corrupt now than at any time I’ve ever seen it. And I’ve spent a lot of time in media, starting with early television.

In your “State of the Union, 2004” essay, you write: “We hate this system that we’re trapped in but we don’t know who has trapped us or how. We don’t even know what our cage looks like because we have never seen it from the outside.”

You go on to write that audiences that you address, people you meet, still want to know “who will let them out of the Enron, Pentagon prison, with its socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor.”

I think there is an instinct out there to rid us of our masters. They know we have masters. But the masters think of new things. It was genius, whoever thought of a volunteer army. “Volunteer,” that’s the last word. You make a million very poor men who have no chance for education or decent work, you enroll and give him a little extra money to be in our army and go off and get killed. And everybody feels so good about it. “You know, it’s really what they deserved,” is how our rulers would put it. I don’t think they deserve this.

They knew after Vietnam that never again could you draft people to fight crazy wars in Asia. MacArthur’s final advice, by the way, to Lyndon Johnson was, never fight a land war in Asia. Johnson knew everything, but he did it anyway.

Chalmers Johnson, in his book Nemesis, makes allusions to the United States looking more and more like Rome in its last days: overextended, fighting endless wars, and economically decaying internally.

But we’re unlike Rome, which kept on being quite successful as a mercantile republic, which is what we used to be. Rome did rather well out of empire. We’ve lost everything. I’ll give you my favorite Benjamin Franklin quote.

He was not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, but he went there. He went there as an observer. And the people who were presiding, starting with Gen. Washington, knew that he was going to be trouble, because he asked troubling questions.

But there were about four young men who were assigned to follow Dr. Franklin around Philadelphia for the next few days until the Constitution was published, because they knew he would bad-mouth it and he would say awful things. So the kids were following the great man around, and the great man knew it. As they were all leaving what we now call Constitution Hall, an old lady said, “Well, Ben, what have you given us?”

He said, “Well, we have given you a republic, if you can keep it.” Then he said something disagreeable about the Constitution.

The boys followed him outside. They said, “You know, Dr. Franklin, why are you so harsh? A lot of wonderful work has gone into this Constitution. Why are you so convinced that it must fail?”

And outside of the building Franklin started to make a speech. He said, “Every republic of this sort that we know of since the world began has failed, badly failed.”

“Why, sir, is that true?”

He said, “I don’t know why, but I have a suggestion. It has failed because of the corruption of the people.” And he meant all of us.

What about the permanent war economy? What ways are there out there for us to get beyond being a Sparta?

We’re not very good at being Sparta. We’re not very good at the military virtues or even the merits. I think we will get out of it when we are eating the grass growing in the streets of our cities, and loving it. It’s the only nutrient we can get. There are big fads that always start when you’re about to end up eating grass. Suddenly, a lot of little ladies come out on television and say, “You will find that the hollyhock berries are very, very good.” And they’ll encourage us to adjust ourselves to penury and half-starvation.

Of course, it’s too early to talk about your legacy, but how do you want to be remembered?

Anybody who is stupid enough to want to be remembered deserves to be forgotten right now.

David Barsamian is the award-winning founder and director of Alternative Radio, the independent weekly series based in Boulder, Colo. His interviews and articles appear in The Progressive, The Nation, Z and other journals and magazines.

The single worst expression in American politics, Glenn Greenwald

Right on. This is creeping fascism.

A Political Do-Not-Call Registry

A damn good idea whose time has come.

Democracy Now! Election Coverage: 7PM-12PM 11/4; 8AM-10AM, 11/5

Scroll forward thirty seconds; no idea why they left in the countdown.

On Eve of Election Day, Is the Nation’s Voting System Ready? Reports of Irregularities Pour in From Across U.S. in Record Early Voting

Obama and Dreams: A Reply to a Liberal Friend

Written last night in response to how moving it was that a young, black trick-or-treater dressed up as Michelle Obama, and how important the election (most likely) of a black man would be for the country:

I am happy to join with Chris today in what will go down in history (most likely) as a symbolic passage of limited, but real, significance for the progress of our nation.

Forty-five years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow I write tonight, gave a great oration in front of the Lincoln Memorial. This momentous speech came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of human beings who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end a long night of their suffering.

But forty-five years later, African Americans are still not equal. Forty-five years later, even with an African American about to ascend to the presidency, African Americans still suffer from a lower life expectancy, a higher incarceration rate, a higher infant mortality rate, and from systematic prejudice, still sadly crippled by the manacles of economic as well as de facto segregation and the still-iron chains of discrimination. Forty-five years later, despite a growing African-American upper-class, real achievements in equality of opportunity, the end to race barriers at upper-class institutions from Harvard to the White House, far too many African Americans live on a lonely island of relative -- and absolute -- poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. Forty-five years later, an African-American candidate for president has exiled the poor -- black, white, yellow, and brown -- to the corners of American political discourse. And so I write here tonight to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense, Obama has come to our nation's capital to cover a debt still owed. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men -- yes, black men as well as white men, women as well as men, gays as well as straights -- would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has still yet to make good on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color, too many of her women, and her gay citizens are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given these people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is as bankrupt as our treasury. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, whether Obama prevails or not, we must cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice -- the freedom of economic justice and the justice of economic security.

I have also returned to this hallowed speech to remind my friends of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of self-congratulation or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of poverty and discrimination to the sunlit path of racial, economic, and social justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of economic injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of our children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This electoral season of the legitimate discontent of the forgotten millions will not pass until there is an invigorating spring of freedom from fear; of the equality of opportunity, health, welfare; of a return of the rule of law; and of a retreat from imperial designs abroad. Two thousand and eight is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that Obama's ascension was all that was needed to blow off the steam of class warfare and legitimate discontent, sometimes expressed in ugly words, that Obama's reign will spread content among those classes who do not rule will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until all her people are granted their human rights: freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of expression, and freedom of -- and from -- religion. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my friends: In the process of gaining the White House for Obama, you must not be guilty of delusional thoughts. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for justice by drinking from the cup of image and propaganda. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into consumerist gesture. Again and again, we must rise to inescapable duty of meeting real injustice, whatever its source, under whomever's watch, with integrity and stubbornness.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the critics of Obama, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as anyone is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality, whether on our streets as a daily routine, outside the "free speech zones" that surround our political conventions, or in the Gulags we have set up around the world, most infamously at Guantanamo Bay. We can never be satisfied as long as our civil liberties are sacrificed for political gain. We cannot be satisfied as long as the the poor's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our prisoners, many wholly innocent and admitted to be so, are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by institutionalized torture. We cannot be satisfied as long as a corporate bailout is forced through against the will of the people and neither party's candidate utters a word of protest. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

I am not unmindful that some of you have come to view my e-mails as tribulations. Some of you have come to ignore them, to mock them. And some of you have come to invest so much in Obama because the past eight years have left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of official brutality. You have been the veterans of increasingly desperate times. If Obama does indeed win, continue to work with the faith that unearned accolades are empty. Go back to work on November 5th, even if Obama wins, knowing that this situation cannot and will not be changed without redoubled efforts of all kinds.

Let us not wallow in an orgy of self-congratulation, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day in the deserts of Iraq, the sons and daughters of former slaves and the sons and daughters of former slave owners will be able to dismantle all evidence of our presence there.

I have a dream that one day even the prison at Guantanamo, a dungeon sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that candidates for public office, officials of all kinds, and indeed all Americans will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, America, with its vicious history of imperial warfare, with its leaders' lips dripping with the words "American exceptionalism" -- one day right here in our city on a hill, we will learn humility and be able to join hands with little Arab boys and Iranian girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to work with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be truly free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, when we truly welcome it in every country, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Christians and Muslims, gay and straight, women and men, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Only Nader Is Right on the Issues, Chris Hedges

Avraham Burg: Israel's new prophet


Avraham Burg was a pillar of the Israeli establishment but his new book is causing a sensation. It argues that his country is an "abused child" which has become a "violent parent". And his solutions are radical, as he explains to Donald Macintyre
Click the title for the whole article -- extremely interesting.

John Lewis Gaddis: Propagandist & Lap Dog

02 November 2008

Nader on Washington Journal: Saturday, Nov. 1

Watch here in RealPlayer.