Wednesday, April 29, 2009


With Arlen Specter’s defection from the Greater Evil Party, the Democrats will have a filibuster proof Senate -- once the buffoonish Norm Coleman ceases and desists from obstructionist litigation, or the judicial system runs its course, and the comedian Al Franken assumes the Senate seat he seems to have won. Or, more precisely, they’ll have a filibuster proof Senate if everyone who caucuses with the Lesser Evil Party stays on board. That’s not at all a sure thing, even in Specter’s case. The only thing that is sure is that he could honestly run on the slogan: “better than Lieberman.”

Arlen Specter has made a career of being a tiresome windbag, just “liberal” enough to do well among Pennsylvania’s less benighted voters and just bellicose enough not to be too much on the outs with the GOP leadership. Acting on principle has never been his forte. Even in comparison with other Senators, the man is a rank opportunist. But that character flaw is not such a bad thing when it comes to switching parties – as Specter has now done twice. After all, what principled reason could there be for being a Democrat or a Republican when neither wing of our semi-official duopoly has any principles at all.

Not long ago, when he still thought he could keep his Senate seat and his Republican affiliation too, Specter flip-flopped on EFCA, the Employee Free Choice Act – betraying his misguided supporters in the labor movement. If he doesn’t flip flop back in short order, organized labor should do everything in its power to make his life miserable, and along with it the lives of the Democrats – Joe Biden, Ed Rendell, and even our “bipartisan” President – who engineered his defection and who have warmly welcomed him into the Democratic fold. Labor has given its all to getting Obama elected and to supporting his agenda, foolishly demanding nothing in return. Now is the time to start demanding. If Specter doesn’t come back on board, they should run a pro-labor candidate against him in the primaries or, better yet, in the general election.

With the Obama administration in Wall Street’s pocket, it could be a risky move. But it also just might unleash events, as unpredictable as was Specter’s defection, from which all would benefit. Ours is a political culture where the duopoly’s disabling hold over the state has proven all but unshakeable. But then, the strategy that has worked well elsewhere – where organized labor fields its own candidates and, in the right circumstances, launches its own political party – has never been tried, at least not in recent decades. If not now, when? And if not in Pennsylvania, where? – should the old fool miscalculate (perhaps by calculating that he should not seem as unprincipled as he is) and remain stubbornly on the bosses’ side.

Friday, April 24, 2009

"Bipartisanship" versus Governance

One can never be quite certain that Obama isn’t “faking right” so that he can be in position to do the right thing. But with each passing day, it seems more likely that he isn’t faking: that he’s a go-with-the-flow “centrist” to his core. That’s why he backed down, sort of, on his bipartisan determination to “look to the future” by not prosecuting Bush administration war criminals. But, of course, in this matter, nothing is yet settled -- he could still backslide. For justice to be done, pressure from believers in the rule of law must be relentless. Otherwise, it is sure as can be that Obama will again veer off course.

Sadly, this change of heart is the only inkling of victory to date. In all other matters of consequence, Obama’s reckless bipartisanship is leading to disaster. The title of William Grieder’s latest, “Testicular Politics: Obama is Getting Punked By the Big Dogs of Banking, Does He Have the Balls to Do What’s Right?” gets it right. The same thing is happening in foreign policy. To cite just the most egregious recent example, it is reported that the new extreme right-racist government of Israel wants to take the two state solution off the table unless the U.S. comes around to its view on Iran. This is chutzpah on steroids; in a better possible world, it would embarrass even the likes of Alan Dershowitz. Well, maybe not him, but anyone a shade more decent and less ethno-centric. But Israel could get away with it – if Obama doesn’t have the balls. In this case, in addition to everything else, Obama would have to stand up to his own party in Congress – as recent events concerning Jane Harman, doyenne of the Lesser Evil Party’s right wing, and the ostensibly liberal Nancy Pelosi, aka the Whore of AIPAC, illustrate.

Then, there’s health care. If Republican obstinacy doesn’t derail Obama’s efforts to go bipartisan, he’ll have succeeded not only in marginalizing the single-payer alternative, but in sacrificing universal coverage too. The “partisan” Democratic plan, if true to its word, would at least make public coverage (the same available to federal employees and members of Congress) available to anyone who chooses it. That should put the kaybosh on private insurance in short order. [To keep the Democrats relatively honest on this score, proponents of the Obama plan should be asked at every opportunity just what they think private for-profit insurers contribute to health care. Let Max Baucus and Company wriggle out of that one!] The Clintons set the cause back a generation by not having the balls to take on the private insurers and Big Pharma from the getgo. If Obama is permitted to go bipartisan on this one, that unhappy outcome could happen again.

It all comes down to this: “bipartisanship” or governance. It’s not too late for an enraged citizenry to push Obama and his “team” away from the snare and delusion they are inclined to favor. Obama’s (possible) change of course on prosecuting Bush era criminality proves that. But it won’t be easy – particularly with Congressional Democrats, a few brave souls excepted, dragging everything within their grasp to the right.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Criminal Obama

Obama has not disappointed me; I never expected much from him. It was clear from the outset that he would govern from the center-right, just as Bill Clinton did and as Hillary Clinton would have had she become President. I didn’t even vote for him; living in a “safe” state and in a country with grotesquely undemocratic electoral institutions, it seemed infinitesimally more expressive to vote, yet again, for Ralph Nader. That’s why, unlike so many others, I’m not disappointed; but I am surprised.

I’m surprised that the Clintonite Restoration he promised was implemented without even cosmetic changes. I’m surprised, even so, that he would turn economic recovery efforts over to the perpetrators of the present crisis, and that he would stay the course as they line the pockets of Wall Street bankers at the taxpayer’s expense. I’m surprised that, having beaten his eponymous Clintonite rival by running against the Iraq War, that he would backtrack so blatantly. I’m even surprised that he’s so determined to escalate the Afghanistan War into a genuine quagmire and breeding ground for terrorists – notwithstanding all he said about the “importance” of that doomed effort during the campaign. I’m not surprised that his health care plan would continue to subsidize private insurance companies and the pharmacy industry – after all, he campaigned on that plan – but I am a little surprised at how zealously he has tried to marginalize the not-for-profit, single payer alternative, the one real solution to America’s healthcare woes. I’m not surprised that he would continue to pander to the military and the intelligence community (most recently, the CIA) or to the Israel lobby (even to the dismay of African Americans in Congress, who wanted the United States to participate in the second “Durban Conference” on racism). I must say, though, that letting the Chas Freeman appointment go because neo-con bloggers and Charles Schumer wanted it that way was over the top. I’m not surprised either that he refuses to take on the NRA at this point; that may even be a shrewd move. But I am surprised that it fell to Hillary Clinton, not Obama, to state the obvious: that the lack of an assault rifle ban in the United States is a major factor contributing to the drug wars in Mexico and to their overflow back into the United States. The list goes on. On style, Obama gets an A+; on substance, he’s just what one would have expected – only worse.

BUT if he makes good on his declared intention not to prosecute CIA torturers and the war criminals who advised them, not to mention the higher ups who gave the orders the torturers followed, then under both American and international law, he too is a criminal – an obvious point confirmed just yesterday by Manfred Nowak, the UN rapporteur on torture. “Looking forward” (only), as Obama calls it, is worse than implementing center-right policies with more than the usual zeal. It’s an affront to justice. It crosses the line from dreadful politics to outright criminality.

This is so obvious that even right-wing Democrats, like Diane Feinstein, can’t help but see it, and speak out about it. How ironic that the agent of “change” is turning out to be worse than Diane Feinstein. But that’s what’s happening. It is still possible, though, to parse Obama’s words – and Rahm Emanuel’s – Clinton style, with a view to finding wiggle room for the administration to appoint a special prosecutor. That’s precisely what should happen. Now is the time for everyone committed to the rule of law to force Obama to do this; to force him to back away from the threshold of criminality – saving him from his forgiving, “bipartisan,” centrist self. Will we be up to the task?