Saturday, March 1, 2008

How To hate Barack Obama


Excellent article on Obama, American racism, the 2008 Presidential election, and the horrific Republican Party machine by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford


How to hate Barack Obama
Right now, deep in the GOP dungeons, they're planning their racist, disgraceful assault. Whatever will it be?

By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Friday, February 29, 2008

The name thing is just too damn easy. Childish, sophomoric, a given.

Of course, this doesn't mean they won't use it. A lot.

I mean, my God, his middle name is the same as Dubya's irrelevant little dead arch-enemy and his last name rhymes with that of the most-wanted terrorist in the world and this one's pretty much already in the can, nothing much for the right to do with Barack Hussein Obama's moniker except "accidentally" mispronounce it as "Osama Hussein" over and over again on Fox News and at McCain rallies and across Wal-Mart's loudspeakers so trailer park denizens across Bush's 'Merka will get even more confused and panicky and start loading up the bunker with Ding-Dongs and Coors just in case the Muslim radicals take over.

No, the problem for GOP strategists is not how to inflame the troglodytic, Limbaugh/Coulter-grade sects of the party who, assuming Obama goes the distance, are already hugely terrified of the notion of a black liberal president, given how he'll surely be a slippery slope straight to gay marriage and rampant lesbianism in schools and hourly shriekings to Allah as everyone's forced to give up their guns and drive a hybrid moped to the tofu store.

The true difficulty facing the GOP's henchmen in the coming months will be how to get those who are just a tiny bit smarter, calmer, less easily swayed, those on the right who might actually be a bit impressed and charmed by Obama's obvious intelligence and oratory power, to hate him, fear him, find his genuinely moving brand of hope and inspiration to be suspicious and problematic and even deeply dangerous.

It won't be easy. Because at the same time, they must make their own unlikely candidate, a feisty but fuzzy 71-year-old war hawk whose entire campaign is apparently now being fueled by a giant hunk of Cold War phlegm, the nauseating notion that not only is a perpetual state of war and aggression desirable for America, but is actually essential to a healthy and functioning nation, they must make John McCain's musty, patriarchal brand of regurgitated Republicanism seem fresh and visionary and not horribly regressive and embarrassing.
Wish them luck. Or, you know, don't.

So then, here's the fun little game all progressives can play until the election itself. Assuming Obama gets the nod, just how will they attack him, smear him, paint him as an evil and untrustworthy force for the nation, the way they did Al Gore and John Kerry? How nefarious, racist, draconian will they get?

We have a few hints, the first one allegedly (if you believe the Drudge Report, which you should almost never do) coming from the Hillary Clinton campaign. That old photo of Obama wearing a traditional head-wrap and robe while visiting Kenya, looking vaguely like a terrorist because as everyone knows, only terrorists wear traditional tribal garments? Not bad. That sort of thing has potential, something the right normally would hurl all over the airwaves as fast as possible, though it mostly just reeks of the same kind of ignorance-baiting as the "Osama Hussein" name game. They'll have to do better.

What about the shocking lapel-pin scandal, wherein Obama allegedly refused to wear an American flag button, causing a bunch of angry fat white men in the GOP to grumble and pretend to be outraged over his "lack" of patriotism? Sure, it was deeply stupid reaction. Yes, the minor furor was merely meant to enrage the gun-rack-on-the-pickup-truck crowd. But the patriotism angle might be something they can poke at. Hell, they just don't have much else.
See, unlike Hillary, Obama can't be effortlessly demonized. He doesn't have Hillary's infamous laundry list of faults and transgressions, the enormous built-in wall of hate the right already has for her, her gender, her husband, everything she represents and carries forward from the Bill Clinton era. Smart as she is, Hillary has truckloads of baggage. Obama has but a tiny carry-on.

At the moment, the McCain camp is spinning like mad, trying to find its footing and apparently basing his entire run on permanent tax cuts (the same ones he voted against, twice) and war war war. McCain himself ain't exactly the world's sharpest tack, and, given how he's the presumptive GOP nominee only through a rather astonishing series of flukes and lucky breaks, he has enough trouble of his own just trying to articulate a coherent message that doesn't offend the entire planet. He's far short of a master strategist.

What's more, he has yet to hire one. There's no true genius hate artist like Karl Rove around anymore to attempt to unify the racists and the white evangelicals and the Latinos and the war-lovers into one giant, seething, Obama-fearing voting bloc. Which might be impossible, but given the deeply fractured nature of the conservative wing, it might be McCain's only hope.

That, and attacking Obama. Will they go for his past drug use? Not available. He's already admitted to everything in his own book, and it's pretty tame. Major past policy errors? Doesn't have any. And what he has accomplished is remarkably consistent with his current vision. Lack of military experience? Nope. The Bush administration saw to it that military experience is considered useless, with Dubya himself running AWOL and even Dick "Go F- Yourself" Cheney saying he had better things to do than serve in Vietnam.

Which leaves us with the one true hot button, the ugly issue everyone expects: race. This is the card the right will have to play very, very carefully, as the slightest slip-up in demonizing Obama's skin color and playing to America's nastiest, deep-set racist tendencies will offend millions and only make Republicans look like the party of old, white, sexist, racist, classist warmongering men they very much are.

But rest assured, if the past eight years are any indication, play it they will. For one thing, the GOP is now counting on the cultural discord that's been simmering for years between the Latino and African American communities. While it's hard to imagine Latinos flocking to the Republicans, given the party's hateful, isolationist immigration agenda, McCain is immigration-friendly, and Obama is, well, black. Will it be enough to sway millions of Latinos McCain's way? Does the right even have the power structure in place to try?

Because here's the thing: When they stole two elections for Bush, the brutal, homophobic conservative machine was tightly organized, had focus, mountains of cash, Karl Rove, the backing of a very nefarious, deeply inbred team of ultra-wealthy war hawks hell-bent on taking over the nation and ruling with a flaccid peni- ... er, iron fist. But now, this monstrous machinery has collapsed, failed, fractured into so many warring factions. There is much foment. There is enormous discord. Iraq is a disaster. Amid the smoking wreckage, McCain stumbles.

Nevertheless, one thing seems certain: We have yet to see the worst — and most deviously racist — of the attacks on Obama. The sad news is, there are simmering pockets of racist hate in this nation that have never really been tested, pockets of such vehement intolerance and power that it's impossible to know what demons lurk, what sort of outrage will erupt. After all, there is simply no historical precedent for what we are about to get into. No one with Obama's uniquely appealing makeup has ever made it this close to the White House.

And hence, it's almost a sure bet that the remnants of Bush's Republican machine, mangled and disgraced though it is, will still struggle mightily to find a hugely shameful, pitiful pathway toward playing on Middle America's darkest fears. All puns, unfortunately, intended.

Howard Zinn On The Case

From: The Progressive, March 2008

The always erudite, timely, and insightful radical historian, teacher, author, and activist Howard Zinn on the limitations and distractions of presidential elections on our political discourse and the larger struggle for Democracy:

Election Madness
By Howard Zinn, March 2008 Issue

There’s a man in Florida who has been writing to me for years (ten pages, handwritten) though I’ve never met him. He tells me the kinds of jobs he has held—security guard, repairman, etc. He has worked all kinds of shifts, night and day, to barely keep his family going. His letters to me have always been angry, railing against our capitalist system for its failure to assure “life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness” for working people.

Just today, a letter came. To my relief it was not handwritten because he is now using e-mail: “Well, I’m writing to you today because there is a wretched situation in this country that I cannot abide and must say something about. I am so enraged about this mortgage crisis. That the majority of Americans must live their lives in perpetual debt, and so many are sinking beneath the load, has me so steamed. Damn, that makes me so mad, I can’t tell you. . . . I did a security guard job today that involved watching over a house that had been foreclosed on and was up for auction. They held an open house, and I was there to watch over the place during this event. There were three of the guards doing the same thing in three other homes in this same community. I was sitting there during the quiet moments and wondering about who those people were who had been evicted and where they were now.”
On the same day I received this letter, there was a front-page story in the Boston Globe, with the headline “Thousands in Mass. Foreclosed on in ’07.”

The subhead was “7,563 homes were seized, nearly 3 times the ’06 rate.”

A few nights before, CBS television reported that 750,000 people with disabilities have been waiting for years for their Social Security benefits because the system is underfunded and there are not enough personnel to handle all the requests, even desperate ones. Stories like these may be reported in the media, but they are gone in a flash. What’s not gone, what occupies the press day after day, impossible to ignore, is the election frenzy.

This seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. It is a multiple choice test so narrow, so specious, that no self-respecting teacher would give it to students.

And sad to say, the Presidential contest has mesmerized liberals and radicals alike. We are all vulnerable.
Is it possible to get together with friends these days and avoid the subject of the Presidential elections?
The very people who should know better, having criticized the hold of the media on the national mind, find themselves transfixed by the press, glued to the television set, as the candidates preen and smile and bring forth a shower of clichés with a solemnity appropriate for epic poetry.

Even in the so-called left periodicals, we must admit there is an exorbitant amount of attention given to minutely examining the major candidates. An occasional bone is thrown to the minor candidates, though everyone knows our marvelous democratic political system won’t allow them in.

No, I’m not taking some ultra-left position that elections are totally insignificant, and that we should refuse to vote to preserve our moral purity. Yes, there are candidates who are somewhat better than others, and at certain times of national crisis (the Thirties, for instance, or right now) where even a slight difference between the two parties may be a matter of life and death.

I’m talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.

But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.

Let’s remember that even when there is a “better” candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore.

The unprecedented policies of the New Deal—Social Security, unemployment insurance, job creation, minimum wage, subsidized housing—were not simply the result of FDR’s progressivism. The Roosevelt Administration, coming into office, faced a nation in turmoil. The last year of the Hoover Administration had experienced the rebellion of the Bonus Army—thousands of veterans of the First World War descending on Washington to demand help from Congress as their families were going hungry. There were disturbances of the unemployed in Detroit, Chicago, Boston, New York, Seattle.

In 1934, early in the Roosevelt Presidency, strikes broke out all over the country, including a general strike in Minneapolis, a general strike in San Francisco, hundreds of thousands on strike in the textile mills of the South. Unemployed councils formed all over the country. Desperate people were taking action on their own, defying the police to put back the furniture of evicted tenants, and creating self-help organizations with hundreds of thousands of members.

Without a national crisis—economic destitution and rebellion—it is not likely the Roosevelt Administration would have instituted the bold reforms that it did.

Today, we can be sure that the Democratic Party, unless it faces a popular upsurge, will not move off center. The two leading Presidential candidates have made it clear that if elected, they will not bring an immediate end to the Iraq War, or institute a system of free health care for all.

They offer no radical change from the status quo.

They do not propose what the present desperation of people cries out for: a government guarantee of jobs to everyone who needs one, a minimum income for every household, housing relief to everyone who faces eviction or foreclosure.

They do not suggest the deep cuts in the military budget or the radical changes in the tax system that would free billions, even trillions, for social programs to transform the way we live.

None of this should surprise us. The Democratic Party has broken with its historic conservatism, its pandering to the rich, its predilection for war, only when it has encountered rebellion from below, as in the Thirties and the Sixties. We should not expect that a victory at the ballot box in November will even begin to budge the nation from its twin fundamental illnesses: capitalist greed and militarism.

So we need to free ourselves from the election madness engulfing the entire society, including the left.

Yes, two minutes. Before that, and after that, we should be taking direct action against the obstacles to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

For instance, the mortgage foreclosures that are driving millions from their homes—they should remind us of a similar situation after the Revolutionary War, when small farmers, many of them war veterans (like so many of our homeless today), could not afford to pay their taxes and were threatened with the loss of the land, their homes. They gathered by the thousands around courthouses and refused to allow the auctions to take place.

The evictions today of people who cannot pay their rents should remind us of what people did in the Thirties when they organized and put the belongings of the evicted families back in their apartments, in defiance of the authorities.

Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war.

Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.

Howard Zinn is the author of “A People’s History of the United States,” “Voices of a People’s History” (with Anthony Arnove), and most recently, “A Power Governments Cannot Suppress.”

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Value of Critical Discourse Between Generations

My response to letter from friend and colleague J. dated February 29:

It's very good to hear from you too. Things are going well with me and Chuleenan here in the Bay. It's almost impossible for me to believe that you're only 27 or that you are that same curious, precocious, and big eared kid who used to hang out with all of us crazy Detroit radicals and music/literary fanatics on those summer porches back in the '80s (with your wonderful and equally crazy radical artist parents among us). It WAS a longtime ago and yet it seems like it happened only a few months back in many respects. TEMPUS FUGIT indeed!

It's especially great to hear what you have been doing with your life. Your union and political activity is not merely 'impressive' but needless to say VERY IMPORTANT. We are probably living in the most perilous time in human history and as you well know it's imperative that we all take direct responsibility for seriously changing this world that as you so eloquently and accurately put it is clearly "headed to hell with gasoline drawers on"...

The fact that you have such a sophisticated and mature understanding and knowledge of the complex ideological dynamics of "race, class, and gender" in both your struggles for democracy within the Teamsters and in the general society as well does my heart good and is a clear vindication for me that all the public "ranting and raving" we black, white, brown, yellow, and red activists and artists did in Detroit back in the '80s and beyond was not in vain. YOU ARE THE BRILLIANT LIVING PROOF OF THAT FACT. After all our collective goal "back in the day" and as it still remains to this day was to make both political and cultural education and activism REAL AND USEFUL for younger people as well as ourselves. Your involvement in the union struggles along with Walter and all the others in your multiracial crew make that vividly clear and is definitely inspiring (despite whatever primitive and backward racist bilge and opposition you have inevitably encountered among many of the "Irish and Italians").

What's especially encouraging and inspirational for me to realize is that you are already an integral part of that truly progressive "new generation" that I and all my other friends/colleagues/fellow radicals & artists from my generation are always talking about and demanding that it emerge. So along with Kathleen and the music I can see that you're taking care of business and doing just fine. That means I can now relax a little bit now that I know the future is in good hands. So thank you brother. I appreciate it...

As for Obama:

As I pointed out in my last email message I agree with you that Obama is not, will not, and cannot be the central or most significant force in any mass movement for progressive change in this country--only the rest of us can build and sustain such a movement (as i also said in my more detailed letter response to Ray Waller, a copy of which I sent to you--I hope you read it). But Obama's clearly a potential political conduit and instrument for such mass activity as one part of a much larger and far more complex strategic, tactical, and creative movement that can and should make sustained demands on his administration to carry out much needed reforms in many different areas of both domestic and foreign policy. I especially agree wholeheartedly with the last five paragraphs of your letter that speaks precisely and lucidly to what we should all concern ourselves with regardless of the inherent limitations and inadequacies of the Obama candidacy and campaign. Because as I also pointed out our responsibility as activists and citizens in this mass struggle is going to involve far more than merely getting a liberal President elected and will be as we pointed out not only a great challenge to any legitimate mass movement for change but will also take time to develop (certainly much longer than anyone's four year term in office).

What's absolutely KEY to this political evolution however is what you say here in the following quotation all of which i agree with 100%:

"But further, it may sharpen the contradictions a
little more and hopefully encourage the re-birth of
real autonomous social movements. Labor, Civil
Rights, Women's Rights, etc. are all movements whose
leadership has been co-opted by the government and/or
capital. Instead of mobilizing against capitalism,
racism, sexism, imperialism, etc., they all focus
almost exclusively on electing liberal democrats (or
sometimes just ANY democrat).

What would happen if we got a Black, liberal,
democratic president? The movements would have to
really get to work. Electing Obama, as you know and
basically said in your email, is not going to bring us
real democracy or control over our own lives over

One last thing about third party stuff. We
desperately need independent working-class political
parties that can put the demands of working people of
color, women, etc. front and center. I'm not sure if
the greens haven't had their day. They seem to be
more interested in running for president than building
real people power.

With that said however, there is a radical
African-American woman named Cynthia McKinney who left
the democrats and is running for president, seeking
the Green nomination. Why would Nader stand in her
way? Why couldn't he be her vice-president? She
seems to at least represent the kind of politics we
need in the electoral arena."

Don't ever lose sight of the very clear eyed, practical, and ideologically substantive vision you express in these last four exquisitely expressed paragraphs. It is in these words that you most intelligently indicate that you fully understand and appreciate the dialectical dimensions of thought and action that will be crucial for any truly radical and progressive organizing efforts not only in terms of this election but far more importantly in terms of that much larger struggle that you talk about in your letter. We both realize in the long run that the Obama campaign (with all of its warts, shortcomings, blindspots, and flaws) is only the possible beginning of something and I maintain that the energy released by this national activity is the actual beginning of a legitimate mass movement IF we don't all falter now in our general commitment and realize the potential that we collectively have to really turn things around. It'll obviously take discipline, patience, dedication, and a great deal of perseverance but it CAN and MUST be done. Like always the real struggle for Democracy is in our hands and not in the hands of politicians or any other "leaders." To the degree that we understand and act on that knowledge is in my opinion the degree to which we can all fulfill old Fred Douglass prophetic words about resistance and struggle against the so-called "powers-that-be" by expressing and making manifest our own collective power and genuine sense of self determination. Later young blood. It was great hearing from you. Talk to you soon...

Peace & Struggle,


From letter dated Feb 29, 2008


good to hear from you. hope things are well out in
the bay. it's been a long time since we've seen each
other or spoke.

I'm remembering a young boy, on summer nights in
Detroit, eaves-dropping on front porch
conversations--listening as his pops and his pops'
friends talked about jazz or poetry or politics, or
some combination of the above. I'm only fucking 27 and
that seems like a long time ago. damn!

anyway man, good to hear from you.
especially now as the world still seems to be headed
to hell with gasoline drawers on...

I wanna respond to this Obama stuff in a second.
But since its been a good minute, first, allow me to
indulge in a little "what has the young boy been

About two and a half years ago I moved to Brooklyn. I
took a job as a Teamster in the trade show/moving and
storage industry (moving boxes, crates, setting
up/installing shit for shows, packing, wrapping,
delivering expensive things to rich people, etc.).
I genuinely enjoy the work and make more money then
many kids I went to school with who are wallowing in
non-profit land (i guess the government isn't into
funding its own demise huh?).

anyway, the story is that I didn't just end up in any
old Teamsters local, but one with a pretty militant
past and a potentially even more militant future.
There had just been a strike where the rank-and-file
(who almost always know better than their "leaders")
self-organized and basically shut down the entire
industry for a few days. One of the major
rank-and-file leaders of the strike was and is an
African-American guy in his forties named Walter.
Since becoming a member of the union myself, a growing
rank and file movement/dissident caucus is beginning
to take shape. I have helped bring together some
younger (and a few older) radical workers in my
particular shop.

Less than a year ago, we ran for the executive board
of our union (with Walter running for president) and
lost by a slim margin. Our local's membership is
traditionally--you'll be shocked to hear--Irish and
Italian. And our leadership (if they can even be
called that) is again--hold your breath--Irish and
Italian! Many people in the union grumbled that
running a Black guy for the top spot was political
suicide. The rest of our "Teamsters For Change" slate
included a half Latino/half Korean guy (who by the way
refers to himself jokingly as the "china-man") a
Mexican-American, a Nigerian immigrant and one good
old white guy from Staten Island (who is a solid
trade-unionist and didn't mind being on a slate with a
radical group of people of color).

Not surprisingly, when we ran a campaign based on
rank-and file power, union democracy (which we
currently enjoy very little of) and standing up to the
corporate bosses in new york (something our lazy bunch
of Sopranos cast-offs doesn't seem particularly
interested in), we did quite well with all
demographics--and even had an Italian shop steward in
of the most notorious "goomba" warehouses campaigning
really hard for us.

Were there white racists in our union who didn't vote
for Walter because he's Black (even though he did lead
the strike which resulted in material gains for those
same idiots)? Of course there were and are.

But we trudge on. We've pressured our union leadership
to take more militant stands and adopt more visionary
practices on organizing our industry. We have a new
web-site (in slightly post-embryonic form) at, and are preparing for several
contract fights and possible strikes/lockouts.

so yeah, class struggle, along with falling in love
with a beautiful woman named Kathleen, and listening
to the new Joshua Redman joint is what I've been up to

As for Obama...

I think you're right to say the momentum behind him is
real. Many regular working people have fucking had it
and see his candidacy as something which could make
their lives better. They are right. If he gets
elected and even passes a few modest liberal reforms,
and/or appoints more liberal judges to benches and
labor boards, holds the line on affirmative action,
doesn't bomb us and the rest of the world into the
next century, then our lives will all be better. I
don't however feel that his campaign is really much of
a "movement" per se, as it is based on getting him
elected and not on building and sustaining popular
organization and/or putting forth an agenda for
substantive change and a shift in current power

The reason I circulated the Gonzalez piece is not
because I think he's a great guy or is ideologically
pure (if anybody is). All I know about him is that he
ran for mayor and is a big wheel in the Green party.
He may be a hypocrite, probably is, and that wouldn't
surprise me. I generally expect very little from
elected "leaders," precisely because I adhere to what
you said in your email about social movements being
the only real engine of radical change.

I did, and do however, think Obama's voting record
suggests very little willingness to break with
washington's time-honored practice of protecting the
white-western-corporate-elite. I would support Obama,
as Howard Zinn says in this article
(, for as long as it
takes to pull the lever in the voting booth.

But what's actually great about the Obama
campaign--besides that it has seen a lot of white
people acknowledging and even advocating for a Black
guy to be president (that alone is something in this
country!)-- is that it has no real substance! It's
like Obama is handing out a bunch of blank checks to
poor/broke Americans and telling them to just fill in
whatever they want. Whatever dreams Americans have
for change, they can get. I don't have to be the one
to tell you, or anybody, that the check is gonna

Still, I think his presidency will be a good thing.
Not the least of the reasons being that we will have
avoided electing a deranged veteran who never got to
finish blowing up yellow and brown countries or
electing a slippery politician who sat on the board of
Wal-Mart for years and has a high level adviser
(Bill's old buddy Mark Penn) who works for an infamous
anti-worker law firm.

But further, it may sharpen the contradictions a
little more and hopefully encourage the re-birth of
real autonomous social movements. Labor, Civil
Rights, Women's Rights, etc. are all movements whose
leadership has been co-opted by the government and/or
capital. Instead of mobilizing against capitalism,
racism, sexism, imperialism, etc., they all focus
almost exclusively on electing liberal democrats (or
sometimes just ANY democrat).

What would happen if we got a Black, liberal,
democratic president? The movements would have to
really get to work. Electing Obama, as you know and
basically said in your email, is not going to bring us
real democracy or control over our own lives over

One last thing about third party stuff. We
desperately need independent working-class political
parties that can put the demands of working people of
color, women, etc. front and center. I'm not sure if
the greens haven't had their day. They seem to be
more interested in running for president than building
real people power.

With that said however, there is a radical
African-American woman named Cynthia McKinney who left
the democrats and is running for president, seeking
the Green nomination. Why would Nader stand in her
way? Why couldn't he be her vice-president? She
seems to at least represent the kind of politics we
need in the electoral arena.

ok enough babbling.
respond if you get a chance.
again, great to hear from you.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ralph Nader Picks Matt Gonzalez as his Running Mate


Well, well what do you know... So HERE'S the larger reason for Gonzalez's broadside against Obama yesterday. Politicians ARE slick, aren't they?--even leftist ones LOL... In any event as I've said many times before, I have the utmost respect and admiration for Ralph Nader and everything he stands for and if he had any kind of chance at all to become President of the United States I would vote for him in a nanosecond. But I truly wish him well in his campaign and I KNOW because of his radical insight, experience, knowledge, and bedrock INTEGRITY he WILL continue to raise all the right questions and make all the most important political criticisms of Obama, Hillary, & McCain-- as well he should. As I've also pointed out I don't quite feel the same way either personally or politically about Gonzalez but perhaps Ralph knows something I don't... Let's hope so anyway...


Nader Picks Gonzalez as Running Mate
by Paul Hogarth, 2008-02-28

At 9:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time today, presidential candidate Ralph Nader announced at a Washington DC press conference that his running mate will be former San Francisco Supervisor and Board President Matt Gonzalez. Beyond Chron was the first media outlet in the country to report this story. We were unaware of Gonzalez's plans when he wrote a guest editorial for us yesterday, and so did not disclose it at the time.

Gonzalez ran for Mayor in 2003, coming very close to becoming the first Green Party mayor of a major U.S. city. On February 5th, Nader won the California primary for the 2008 Green Party nomination with 60% of the vote. This is Nader's fourth consecutive run for the Presidency. His running mate in 1996 and 2000 was Native American activist Winona LaDuke. His running mate in 2004 was Peter Camejo.

Matt Gonzalez Critiques Senate Record of Barack Obama


This article by San Francisco leftist politician Matt Gonzalez critically pinpoints many of Obama's negative contradictions as far as his Senate voting record is concerned. This piece clearly indicates precisely why we must ALL continue to DEMAND of our politicians that they honestly own up to their populist political rhetoric in PRACTICE. That's what real struggle means. For the record this sentiment includes Gonzalez as well...My personal overall response to Gonzalez's article in another context can be found below...



I know Matt Gonzalez's political record as a 'Green party leftist' here in SF all too well. Trust me: He too has a LOT of skeletons (both personal and political) rattling around in his own closet and is frankly hardly in a position to talk about either Obama or as he so cynically puts it political"crazes." As I and many others here in the Bay Area vividly recall Gonzalez was the leader of a very similar kind of mass movement when he ran for Mayor against the current corporate neoliberal hustler who beat him (by default as it turns out) and who presently masquerades as Mayor of San Francisco (Gavin Newsome). Gonzalez punked out of the race altogether and ran scared when things got very hot during the campaign and he was exposed by both the media and the current Mayor as basically someone who was not fully what he claimed to be. I won't go into all the sordid and agonizing details about it because I simply don't have the time but you can easily FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF by going back and studying via the Internet, library research sources, magazines, and any number of books about Bay Area politics over the past 20 years just precisely WHO Matt Gonzalez really is and WHAT he stands for both when there's no pressure on him AND when he is being properly held accountable for his actions. Hopefully a critical investigation into Gonzalez's immediate past can help provide some much needed CONTEXT to fully understanding his arguments about Obama...

Be that as it may however the real issue here is the race for the Presidency and Obama's record. But first of all two very important things need to be addressed and clarified from 'jumpstreet' and they are the following:

1) Obama's candidacy is NOT a "craze." That's not only FALSE but ABSURD. Nor is his campaign a "cult" or an egocentric exercise in mass hypnotism. It is a genuine, REAL mass movement for fundamental political reform that is ultimately not dependent either for its form and content, energy and focus, vision and program on Barack Obama himself who as a politician (which remember is what and who he happens to be) is at most a conduit or one of many available tools or instruments for realizing political change in the U.S. federal government in terms of domestic and foreign policy. Only a complete MORON and/or a hopelessly NAIVE and clueless person would stupidly suggest that Obama (or any other POLITICIAN) was the major key to all that was possible, valuable, or necessary in our political lives. I can't imagine any adult individual with a BRAIN could or would make such a ridiculous assertion and certainly the overwhelming MAJORITY of people following and supporting Obama's campaign and candidacy are neither stupid nor lost in an idealistic haze. Get real! Contrary to the ideological bleatings of Gonzalez and many others in this country who think they've acquired the key to political purity and superiority by doing only self serving one dimensional 'analyses' of the obviously flawed and (yes) COMPROMISED records of (I stress again) POLITICIANS, politics in general (radical, reform, conservative, and reactionary) is about STRUGGLING WITH and assiduously working both FOR and AGAINST certain things for certain, particular reasons, under certain specific circumstances for certain particular and specific AGENDAS. This kind of ongoing COMMITMENT AND DISCIPLINE involves a great deal more than merely finding out who has or seems to have "all the correct positions" and then passively voting for, following, and supporting them. In this society individual 'leaders' are far too often portrayed as being the engine as well as the alpha and omega of their own dreams, anxieties, values, and positions. But as any actual political and ideological movement clearly demonstrates individual leaders are not and COULD NOT POSSIBLY BE the most significant aspect of that which they claim to "embody and represent." That's neither how politics, mass movements, or life itself works. NO. What's taking place with the Obama candidancy is that MILLIONS OF PEOPLE ARE DEMANDING POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC CHANGE IN THE UNITED STATES regardless of all the obvious "positives" and "negatives" of Obama the individual leader. Don't you know that only masses of people ever really change anything and I bet you everything that we both own that Obama (like most "leaders") knows and understands that all too well. What's most important however is that WE understand and use that knowledge in our own lives which includes of course OUR POLITICS. Gonzalez for one seems not to understand this very crucial DIALECTIC which, as a self proclaimed "Marxist" and "socialist" (which Gonzalez claimed to be before he was really tested on these assertions during his own Mayoral campaign) one would expect that he of all people would understand and appreciate this fundamental fact.

But alas like far too many "armchair revolutionaries" Gonzalez erroneously thinks that politics (of whatever ideological stripe) is ultimately about "individual personalities" and their "flawed records." But that's not only wrong but INFANTILE. As a member of the U.S. Senate Obama like Hillary like Edwards, like McCain, hell like ANYONE who works in one of the wealthiest, most bourgeois and powerful branches of government in the world would already HAVE TO BE "flawed" and "compromised." SO WHAT!

When one engages in mass political struggle a mature, THINKING radical or reformist is not looking for or expecting "perfection" or "purity" out of the people and organizations he/she decides to support and organize around but far more importantly that activist/"regular person"/intellectual/CITIZEN is realistically (and DIALOGICALLY) looking for strategic, tactical, and objective OPPORTUNITIES and OPENINGS to make and sustain REAL CHANGE. That is unavoidably always a STRUGGLE and should be. As the late, great Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) pointed out in one of the greatest political speeches in American history: 'POWER CONCEDES NOTHING WITHOUT A DEMAND" (see the full quote below at the end of this letter). Guess who has to and is ultimately responsible for making these demands? CLUE: The answer ain't "Barack Obama"...

2) Always remember youngblood--and this is a very valuable political lesson for us ALL to recognize: POLITICIANS ARE NOT MESSIAHS...and you shouldn't "expect" them to be...

Peace & Struggle,


OBAMA IN 2008!

"Dare To Struggle, Dare To Win"

Here's the full Fred Douglass quote i promised you earlier in this email:

"Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. .. ”

--Frederick Douglass, 1857

On Feb 27, 2008, J. wrote:

To all the good people I know, please take a couple of
minutes to read this.

this is not to say that Obama isn't creating real
excitement on the ground. lots of regular people are
excited about and participating in Obama's campaign.
He's clearly effectively tapping into a deep amd
wide-spread discontent with the American experiment.

However, this article is revealing, to say the


Note: forwarded message attached.

"Race" is A Delusion But Racism Isn't--especially in Politics,0,5199170.story


Once again we find the white media ignorantly (and cynically) misusing the insipid and inaccurate phantom word "race" to describe what is in reality RACISM. As I stated in a couple of earlier essays "Race is a delusion but Racism isn't!" What we all need to do of course is FACE REALITY and STRUGGLE to CHANGE IT in both this campaign and far beyond it...


Los Angeles Times


Race a wild-card factor
It's unclear if Obama's minority status will help or hinder him. But it has changed the rules of engagement.

By Maria L. La Ganga and Mark Z. Barabak
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

February 28, 2008

COLUMBUS, OHIO — When John McCain apologized to Barack Obama this week for the comments of his warm-up act at a rally, it was not the first time -- and probably won't be the last -- that the most competitive black presidential candidate in U.S. history has heard the words, "I'm sorry."

In his yearlong quest to win the White House, the Democratic senator from Illinois has changed the rules of political engagement, forcing his rivals to step delicately in a normally no-holds-barred arena.

As the possibility grows that voters may bestow the nation's highest public office on an African American, serial public apologies -- largely by Democrats -- show just how sensitive race remains. What is less clear is how race could help or hinder Obama, who has struggled to keep it in the background.

If current or future opponents focus on Obama's race, it could help them by playing on some voters' racial prejudice, or it could help Obama if he is seen as a sympathetic victim of his rivals' insensitivity.

"Democrats have to be careful in navigating the way they deal with Obama," said David Doak, a Democratic campaign consultant who has advised Hillary Rodham Clinton. "They don't want to get too rough with him in the primary, because they don't want to alienate blacks and have them stay at home in the general."

In addition, "white liberals are going to go south if you play unfair," said Doak, who helped David N. Dinkins, an African American, topple New York Mayor Ed Koch in 1989.

For his part, McCain felt duty-bound Tuesday to apologize immediately and take full responsibility for the remarks of conservative radio host Bill Cunningham at a Cincinnati rally.

While introducing the Republican senator from Arizona, Cunningham ridiculed Obama for his intention to "meet with world leaders who want to kill us" and pointedly used the Democrat's full name over and over: "Barack Hussein Obama."

Throughout Obama's campaign, foes have invoked his middle name as a kind of dual-use code word to remind voters of his African ancestry and call into question his Christian faith.

McCain had not arrived at the rally in time to hear Cunningham's remarks. Asked whether Obama's middle name -- a family name of Arab descent -- was appropriate fodder for political discourse, McCain said, "No, it is not. . . . I absolutely repudiate such comments."

The Cunningham incident could be a harbinger of the pitfalls McCain faces in the fall if Obama is the Democratic presidential nominee.

As conservative columnist Peggy Noonan wrote this month, "Mr. Obama will not be easy for Republicans to attack. . . . There are many reasons, but a primary one is that the fact of his race will freeze them."

No political consultant, she wrote, "will think it easy -- or professionally desirable -- to take him down in a low manner." The upshot: Simply by the fact of who he is, and the color of his skin, Obama has taken a weapon out of his rivals' arsenal and put it to his own use.

Todd Shaw, an assistant professor of political science and African American studies at the University of South Carolina, said that Obama was the immediate beneficiary when McCain pledged to conduct "a respectful debate."

"If [McCain] goes back on that, or his supporters go back on that," Shaw said, "that's where the Obama campaign could say, 'Well, we had hoped that Sen. McCain had observed these rules of engagement, but he hasn't.' "

In fact, the behavior of his supporters is more worrisome to the McCain campaign than the prospect of running against a black nominee for the first time in presidential history.

The Tennessee Republican Party sent out a press release this week that used Obama's middle name, included a photo of Obama in traditional Somalian dress and accused him of surrounding himself with anti-Semites.

McCain was asked about the document at a press conference Wednesday in San Antonio. While he said that "I'm not excusing anything that anybody does," he noted that he is not yet the party's nominee, and, therefore, can't do much about it.

"I will continue to treat Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama with respect, just as I have treated my primary opponents with great respect," McCain said. "And if I'm the nominee of the party, I will obviously make sure that everyone within my party knows that this has got to be a respectful debate."

Mark Salter, one of McCain's closest advisors, said in an interview that "we'll do the best we can" to keep surrogates and independently funded advocacy groups in line.

"If somebody were to get after [Obama] for his race, McCain would denounce it," Salter said. "But in terms of how McCain competes with him, it's not going to make any difference if he's African American, Latino, Caucasian, Asian."

That suits the Obama camp just fine, said David Axelrod, the senator's top political advisor. "I do not think and never would say we expect to be treated differently than anyone else," he said.

The uproar surrounding the McCain camp this week is only the latest in a string of race-related episodes that began a year ago and highlights how Obama's candidacy has thrown his rivals off balance. Most of them involve his fellow Democrats.

Delaware Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. overshadowed his own announcement that he would seek the Democratic nomination last year when he described Obama in an interview with the New York Observer as "the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

Biden later apologized.

In December, former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey endorsed Clinton and gave an interview in which he mentioned Obama's middle name and noted that his Kenyan father and paternal grandmother were both Muslim. Obama is Christian.

Kerrey later wrote to Obama apologizing and saying that he never meant to harm Obama's candidacy.

Bill Clinton was taken to task last month for comments that many viewed as racially tinged. As Obama was winning the primary in South Carolina -- with its heavily African American electorate -- Clinton dismissed the victory: " Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in '84 and '88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here."

In a tour of black churches in Los Angeles before the Feb. 5 primaries known as Super Tuesday, Clinton offered a veiled apology.

Earlier this month, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Clinton supporter, was pilloried as racially insensitive for telling the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that "you've got conservative whites here . . . who are not ready to vote for an African American candidate." Rendell later told the Post-Gazette that "I regret saying it because of the way it was interpreted."

This week, the photo of Obama in traditional Somalian garments during a trip to Africa was widely circulated. The Drudge Report said the picture came from the Clinton camp. The Obama campaign exploded in anger. During Tuesday night's debate in Cleveland, the New York senator denied knowing the photograph's provenance and said she did not condone such a tactic.

During a news conference at a Cleveland hotel Tuesday, Obama noted wryly that "I don't think that photograph was circulated to enhance my candidacy." But he said it was "probably not" reflective of Clinton's approach to campaigning.

Obama himself has not been exempt from the politics of ethnic and racial sensitivity. In the Tuesday debate, he was forced to repudiate the support of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has a history of anti-Semitic remarks.

"I would reject and denounce" Farrakhan's support, Obama said during a lengthy back-and-forth.

He was prompted to offer a rare reflection on the race question during the news conference when a reporter asked how he would sell his candidacy to white Ohio voters who rejected an African American gubernatorial candidate in 2006. Obama warned against selling the American people short.

"I think right now they are looking for somebody who can bring the country together, who will push against the special interests in Washington, will listen to them, will fight and advocate for their hopes and their dreams and their aspirations," he said.

"And if that person is green, they'll vote for him," Obama continued. "if that person's purple, they'll vote for him, and if that person is African American, I think they'll vote for him."

La Ganga reported from San Francisco, Barabak from Columbus. Times staff writers Michael Finnegan in Ohio and Maeve Reston in Texas also contributed to this report.

If you want other stories on this topic, search the Archives at

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mass Movement for Democracy vs. Party Elitism


This is an important article about the ongoing fight within the Democratic Party over crucial issues of Democracy, party elitism, and mass-based grassroots political involvement...


The Democratic Take: From Top to Bottom
New York Times

The Democratic race is turning out to be a battle of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “top-down” style of politics and Barack Obama’s “bottom-up,” grassroots approach.

At least, that’s the view of Joe Trippi, a senior adviser to John Edwards, who addressed the changing political climate — particularly the transformation of the Democratic party — at a panel Wednesday in Washington.

What’s rocking the boat? The Internet, mostly. Every day, it seems, the Web provides another way for average citizens to be active in the political process, instead of having the effects of politics trickle down to them.

As campaign manager for the Howard Dean presidential campaign in 2004, Mr. Trippi was among the first strategists to harness the Web to create grassroots networks of supporters — and collect small donations from them.

But even Mr. Trippi is wowed by the grassroots movement that Barack Obama’s bottom up campaign has created. By successfully harnessing that power, Mr. Obama is able to compete with the powerful Clinton machine — which Mr. Trippi calls not just a “normal” top-down campaign, “the best top-down campaign, the strongest one ever put together.”

When the Dean campaign ended in early 2004, 1.4 million blogs were on the Web, Mr. Trippi said. Now there are 77 million. Add in YouTube, social networking sites and widespread broadband, and you’ve got yourself a whole new kind of campaign to run.

“We were like the Wright Brothers,” he said, “this flimsy little thing with a few propellers, compared to just four years later, they’re landing on the moon.”

As proof, Mr. Trippi points to the disparities between donations to the Clinton and Obama campaigns. Only 10 percent of Clinton contributors did not donate the legal maximum $2,300 for her primary campaign. In contrast, only three percent of Obama donors gave the maximum. The rest of the cash came from small sums from many more people.

Mr. Trippi made clear that he “would still not today write the Clintons out of this,” but noted that even if Hillary Rodham Clinton wrestles the nomination away from Barack Obama, this election cycle has proved that ground-level networking will be an important part of future campaigns.

Andres Ramirez of the New Democratic Network’s Hispanic program presented figures suggesting that the portion of the nation’s Hispanic population that voted for President Bush is turning back to the Democratic party — and becoming more politically active in general — in protest to the G.O.P.’s hard-line stance on immigration it’s held since 2006.

And, what’s more, he noted that the recent Arizona primary, the home state senator, John McCain, won about 22 percent of the Hispanic electorate. Mr. Obama — the candidate pegged in the media as less-Latino friendly than Mrs. Clinton — took 28 percent of that demographic, Mr. Ramirez said.

Simon Rosenberg, the founder of the progressive N.D.N. think tank, the sponsor of the event, called Mr. McCain the “worst candidate” the Republicans could have chosen because he’s the biggest throwback to old, white America, which is slowly ceasing to exist. (Mr. McCain’s sometimes campaign theme song, ’50s hit “Johnny B. Goode,” doesn’t help that image, Mr. Rosenberg said.)

Considering the low approval ratings for President Bush and considering the high Democratic primary turnout, Mr. Rosenberg said the only way the Democrats could blow the November election would be to determine the nominee based on a superdelegate vote in the proverbial “smoke-filled room” at the party convention. In that case, all the youthful energy the Democrats seem to have now would vanish.

Nowadays, anyway, Democrats at all levels across the country are more and more considering themselves to be “partners in the fight, not donors to the cause,” Mr. Rosenberg said, meaning people feel they can be a part of the process from their own homes and in their own communities — not just by volunteering at a phone bank like in the days of old.
“And I’d rather have one million people on my team than 200 kids in an office,” he said.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Return of Ralph Nader


It's GREAT NEWS to know that once again Ralph Nader is going to seriously demand that all three candidates in the race for the Presidency take full and complete political and ideological responsiblity for both their stated and unstated positions on the issues. Unlike many others who fear and despise him I am very happy to see Nader back in the political arena again because his truly radical critiques of the present political and economic system and the politicians who serve it is very important and goes a long way toward properly calling all the candidates out and "sharpening the contradictions" in the present battle between Obama, Clinton, and McCain. After all this is what REAL DEMOCRACY is truly all about and it's at best INFANTILE for the Democratic Party and their presidential candidates to pretend as though their feet shouldn't be held to the fire. That's precisely what we ALL should be doing no matter who we support! As I said back in both 2004 and 2000 when Nader was unjustly and absurdly accused of sabotaging and thus 'spoiling" the so-called "inevitable victories" of John Kerry and Al Gore IF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY CANDIDATES ARE NOT TOUGH, ORGANIZED, AND PROGRESSIVE ENOUGH TO FIGHT THE REACTIONARY RIGHT WING REPUBLICANS TOE TO TOE AND PREVAIL ON THE MERITS OF THEIR POSITIONS THEN THEY DON'T DESERVE TO WIN. While it's clear that I personally support Obama for the Presidency (and will continue to do so) I still feel the exact same way about this election as I did in previous races: In this particular case it's up to Obama himself to seriously address and honestly confront the more than legitimate and necessary political criticisms and analyses that Nader has made and will continue to make of him, Clinton, and McCain.

SO WELCOME TO THE PARTY RALPH and please stay on EVERYONE'S case like you always have...We need it...


"Dare To Struggle, Dare To Win.."

Ralph Nader Enters Presidential Race

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Ralph Nader lashed out at the Democratic presidential candidates Monday after they said he could hurt their chances of taking back the White House.

Ralph Nader's decision to again run for president is drawing criticism from Democrats.

The longtime consumer advocate announced Sunday that he will launch his fourth consecutive White House bid -- fifth if his 1992 write-in campaign is included.
In an interview with CNN on Monday, Nader accused Illinois Sen. Barack Obama of name-calling and challenged him to "address the issues."

"Above all, explain why you don't come down hard on the economic crimes against minorities in city ghettos: payday loans, predatory lending, rent-to-own rackets, landlord abuses, lead contamination, asbestos," Nader said.

"There's an unseemly silence by you, Barack -- a community organizer in poor areas in Chicago many years ago -- on this issue," he said.

Nader called Sen. Hillary Clinton the Democrat "most loved by big business," referencing a Fortune magazine article from last year.

The June article said Clinton had "probably the broadest CEO support among the candidates" at that point.

Many Democrats fear that Nader, who turns 74 this week, could draw votes away from whoever gets the party's nomination, potentially helping presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain win the White House in November. Obama and Clinton were quick to pounce on Nader after he made his announcement.

"He thought that there was no difference between Al Gore and George Bush, and, eight years later, I think people realize that Ralph did not know what he was talking about," Obama said at a town hall meeting Sunday.

Clinton also said Nader "is responsible for George W. Bush" and called his candidacy "regrettable" during a Boston, Massachusetts, fundraiser Sunday night.

"We can't assume that we're going be able to win overwhelmingly," she said. "We're going to have to fight for every state, and Ralph Nader is a problem."
Earlier, Clinton said Nader -- who says environmental policies are central to his platform -- "prevented Al Gore from being the greenest president we could have had."

Nader has long rejected accusations that he served as a spoiler in 2000, effectively helping Bush beat Gore. Nader stood by his contention that Gore won the 2000 race because he took the popular vote, saying Florida's electoral vote "was stolen from him."

Nader said Democrats should "concentrate on the thieves who steal elections" instead of "scapegoating the Greens," a reference to the Green Party, the ticket he ran on in 2000.

"The Democrats ought to look themselves in the mirror and ask themselves why they have not been able to landslide the worst Republican Party and the White House and Congress over the last 20 years," he said.

Nader said he does not believe that any of the candidates, including McCain, will come through on pledges to reduce the influence of special interests in Washington.

"First of all, if they wanted to do that, they'd put front and center public funding of public campaigns," cracking down on corporate crimes and other issues. "Washington has closed its doors on citizen groups," he complained, calling the nation's capital "corporate-occupied territory."
"We have to give the system more competition, more voices, more choices, more freedom, more diversity," Nader said in a defense of his candidacy.

Roscoe Mitchell--Master Musician/Composer in Residence

Roscoe Mitchell, Musician/Composer


Chuleenan and I attended Mr. Mitchell's talk and musical performance at 'The Marsh' in San Francisco last wednesday evening (February 20). Extraordinary lecture, exquisite music, and very informative question-and-answer session with a rapt and deeply appreciative audience. It was everything I had hoped for and expected and more. Roscoe is one of the most creative, important, and influential American musician/composers in the world over the past 40 years and as always it was a great pleasure to experience him and his music live. I have just about every single album and CD the man has led and appeared on since 1966 I'm very proud to say and it's absolutely thrilling that he will be here in the Bay Area for the next three years as the prestigious Darius Milhaud Chair of Composition at Oakland's Mills College. We are indeed very fortunate to have such a great artist in our midst.


NOTE: For still more information about Mitchell and his music see article by New York Times critic Adam Shatz from 1999 directly following the new SF Chronicle article below. I will also soon be providing a discography of Mitchell's work on this site.

Roscoe Mitchell brings jazz history to Mills
David Rubien, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, February 18, 2008

The building that houses the music department at Mills College is undergoing rehabilitation, so Roscoe Mitchell, the saxophonist who was hired last fall as the Darius Milhaud Chair of Composition, has been given a temporary office in another hall down the road that winds through the leafy Oakland campus.


The room is large but barely furnished, with a scratched-up '60s-vintage desk, an empty bookshelf and two grand pianos abutting each other. The wooden chair Mitchell is sitting in seems incommensurate with his status as perhaps the most prestigious instructor at one of the most prestigious graduate music schools in the country. Not that this seems to bother him.

"Yes, it is prestigious," he acknowledges nonchalantly. "A lot of great people have been in this chair" - not meaning the one he's sitting on. Previous occupants of the position, named after the French composer who taught at Mills from 1941 to 1971, include Lou Harrison, Iannis Xenakis, Pauline Oliveros and Anthony Braxton.

Talking to Mitchell, you get the sense that sitting in an old wooden chair and being an exalted professor are about equivalent in the grand scheme of things - at least at this particular moment, when he is concentrating on an interviewer with that uncanny focus jazz musicians have when they're listening to each other on the bandstand.

In fact, a cheap chair and a fancy professorship represent the twin poles of what Mitchell, 67, could have become, as a budding jazz artist blazing trails in sonic realms neither understood nor respected by many people - unless they happened to observe the music being performed, in which case they'd likely be tweaked for life.

Mitchell, who teaches composition and improvisation at Mills, is best known as one of the founding members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, a quintet that existed with its original personnel for 30 years, and continues with some fresh blood now that two of its members, trumpeter Lester Bowie and bassist Malachi Favors, have passed away. One of the great groups in all of jazz history, the Art Ensemble had the misfortune of doing its key work from the late '60s through the early '80s, something of a lost era in jazz. You didn't hear much about this incredibly fruitful period in the otherwise excellent documentary "Jazz," a shameful omission on director Ken Burns' part.

"I was lucky to be around people who were so committed to what they were doing, and that's what kept us going for so long," Mitchell says.

The Art Ensemble of Chicago grew out of two bands Mitchell formed in the early '60s, the Roscoe Mitchell Sextet and the Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble. As did many important bands in jazz history - Charlie Parker's and John Coltrane's pioneering groups, for instance - the Art Ensemble embodied exactly the point that jazz had evolved to at the time of the band's existence. The Art Ensemble made and still makes astonishing, joyful, swinging, sometimes difficult music based not only on the revolutions of the '60s, but on bebop, big band swing, kitschy vaudeville, 20th century classical and African percussion.

When Mitchell's sextet released "Sound" on Delmark Records in 1966, it was the birth of a new approach to improvised music, one based on an examination of music almost at the level of wavelength, where the saxophonist set about dissecting individual notes in order to unlock their mysteries. In performance, Mitchell often showed off this approach in hypnotic solo saxophone playing with a remarkable circular breathing technique.

In the few dozen albums he's made as a leader outside the Art Ensemble, he's pursued this from-the-ground-up approach, erecting suites and sheets of sound with various combinations of musicians.

Larry Ochs, a founding member of the Rova Saxophone Quartet who organized the Improv: 21 "informance" series where Mitchell is talking Wednesday, says Mitchell has influenced countless musicians even if they don't realize it.

"When I was a young man, Roscoe's electrifying tenor solos on the Art Ensemble's live recording from a concert in Ann Arbor ("Bap-Tizum") was crucial to my own playing, and the band's recording 'Les Stances a Sophie,' which is probably still in my top 10 albums of all time, showed one critical way to combine forms and feelings that spoke to me," Ochs says. "And certainly the Art Ensemble pointed the way for Rova to see the value of keeping a band together for a long time."

The commitment factor emerged early on in Chicago when Mitchell, along with several other musicians who were rehearsing with pianist Muhal Richard Abrams' big band, decided to form an organization that would teach artists to become self-sufficient. That's when, in 1961, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music was born.

"We were able to establish a unit of people who gave us a foundation, where we really didn't have to be dependent on things that were outside of us," Mitchell says.

The association still exists today, and has spawned such artists as former Darius Milhaud Chair Braxton, reed player Henry Threadgill, trombonist George Lewis, keyboardist Amina Claudine Myers, violinist Leroy Jenkins, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and dozens more.

Mitchell says that when he was a kid, all kinds of music were everywhere in Chicago. "If you went to a movie, after the movie there'd be Count Basie's big band. Duke Ellington. Ella Fitzgerald. Lester Young. On and on like that."

Mitchell took up the clarinet while attending Inglewood High School on Chicago's South Side. "Back then, it was kind of a normal rule that if you wanted to play saxophone, you had to start with clarinet."

In the Army, he says, he started "functioning 24 hours a day as a musician." While stationed in Orleans, France, Mitchell first saw a performance by another Army player, tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler. "He had an enormous sound on his instrument. And though I didn't quite understand what it was that he was doing ... he made a big impression on me - but not enough to deter me from studying a more straight-ahead form.

"It wasn't until I got out of the Army and I heard Coltrane's record 'Coltrane,' when he was doing 'Inch Worm' and 'Out of This World,' that I thought, 'Oh my god, you can do that?' And then I thought, 'OK, I better go back and listen to Eric Dolphy a bit.' And then I said, 'Hmm, I better pull out these Ornette Coleman records.' And then it all started to make sense to me."

Mitchell is much too earnest and self-possessed to indulge in hero worship, but when recalling his early infatuation with the mighty 'Trane, his eyes fog up a bit.

"Man, I used to go around and think: Oh my god, what must it be like to be going down the street, and someone asks you, 'What's your name?' and the reply would be, 'John Coltrane.' I couldn't imagine what that would be like."

Mitchell got to sit in with Coltrane, too. Drummer Jack DeJohnette - who was a friend of Mitchell's when they both played in that nascent Abrams big band - had a brief gig with Coltrane after Elvin Jones left the group. The band came through Chicago, and "Jack told Coltrane you should ask this guy to play. And I was like, 'Wait a minute, Jack, man.' But Coltrane did ask me to come up and play. ... It was a remarkable experience for me. I mean (drummer) Roy Haynes came in that night and sat in, and it ended up with the club owner putting us out of the club because we played so late."

As a scientist of sound, Mitchell seems uniquely suited to teaching. One approach he uses involves a scored-improvisational system he developed decades ago that he calls the "card catalog." It's a series of cards that contain different kinds of cues to help students with improvisation.

"I noticed that when it came time to improvise, my students would often make mistakes. So I derived this system to help them discover some different options."

The big picture for Mitchell as a teacher, though, is to help his students figure out their own paths.

"I think the best thing you can teach a person is how to learn," he says. "And once they discover their own individual approach to that - which is inside all of us - then all of a sudden they've opened up a door of endless resources."

Roscoe Mitchell: "Informance" conversation with Derk Richardson. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco. Tickets: $10. Call (415) 826-5750 or go to

Roscoe Mitchell with the Stanford Jazz Orchestra: 8 p.m. Feb. 27. Dinkelspiel Auditorium, Stanford University. Tickets: $10 general public; $5 students; free for Stanford students. Call (650) 723-2720 or go to

To hear music by Roscoe Mitchell, go to see a video of Mitchell performing, go to

E-mail David Rubien at

This article appeared on page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

MUSIC: A Maestro Of Esoteric Invention Becomes Accessible
Published: March 28, 1999

IN 1937 John Cage inaugurated a musical revolution in three sentences of typically Zenlike simplicity: ''Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating.'' In the future, he declared, music would be replaced by a broader field of creativity, which he called ''the organization of sound.''

In 1966 Roscoe Mitchell, then a 26-year-old saxophonist living on the South Side of Chicago, released a stunning album called ''Sound.'' Mr. Mitchell's band looked like a jazz sextet, but it didn't play like one. For starters, the music had no fixed pulse: the drums were used atmospherically, not rhythmically. The solos were explorations of timbre and noise punctuated by long silences; the overall effect was a trippy suspension of time. ''Sound'' belonged as much to the future Cage envisioned as to the jazz tradition.

Any similarities to Cage, however, were serendipitous. Unlike Cage, a privileged insider who delighted in mischief, Mr. Mitchell was a purposeful outsider, intent on claiming new rights for himself and his peers. ''Sound'' was no mere esthetic experiment. It was a pointed challenge to what Mr. Mitchell's fellow Chicagoan Anthony Braxton has called ''the myth of the sweating brow'' -- the notion that black music is an expression of native grace rather than introspection. And in 1966, the year Stokely Carmichael raised the cry of black power, ''Sound'' had the force of a manifesto.

Roscoe Mitchell, whose album ''Nine to Get Ready'' has just appeared, is a leading member of jazz's forgotten avant-garde. Once hailed as an heir to Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, Mr. Mitchell found himself pushed to the margins in the 1980's by Wynton Marsalis and his traditionalist followers, who viewed free jazz as an evil second only to fusion. Since the early 90's, Mr. Mitchell has been staging a comeback, recording and performing at a furious clip. He might not be welcome at Lincoln Center, where musicians are expected to adhere to blues-derived forms and steer clear of European dissonances. But among younger jazz players who chafe at such restrictions, Mr. Mitchell is increasingly recognized as an elder statesman.

''Jazz,'' he said recently, ''is a part of the whole picture, but the communication lines are all over the place now. If you're truly in love with music, you can't help being affected by that fact.''

A small, wiry man with close-cropped, salt-and-pepper hair, Mr. Mitchell, 59, is best known as a member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, one of the most important free-jazz groups since Mr. Coleman's 1960's quartet. But it is in Mr. Mitchell's work as a solo performer and as a leader that he has expressed his vision most rigorously.

A saxophonist and flutist with a hard, acerbic sound reminiscent of Eric Dolphy, Mr. Mitchell has a predilection for unusual effects like circular breathing, a technique of simultaneously inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth that allows a musician to blow for marathon stretches. His compositions have been performed by a wide array of ensembles, ranging from his own experimental jazz bands to contemporary classical groups like the S.E.M. Ensemble.

Although he has been accused of making self-consciously cerebral music, he said: ''It does not bother me to hear my music described that way. I am a scientist involved in the study of music, and it may well be that my work possesses some of those qualities.''

On ''Nine to Get Ready,'' the scientist has unbuttoned his lab coat and delivered some of the most lyrically accessible music of his career. Half the album is devoted to Mr. Mitchell's thorny, stylishly polytonal chamber music. But the jazzier half blazes with feelings that Mr. Mitchell once seemed bent on renouncing in his pursuit of sonic invention.

The unusual nine-piece band on ''Nine to Get Ready'' is composed of Mr. Mitchell on reeds, his longtime associate George Lewis on trombone and Hugh Ragin on trumpet, simultaneously backed by two full rhythm sections: the pianists Craig Taborn and Matthew Shipp, the bassists Jaribu Shahid and William Parker and the drummers Tani Tabbal and Gerald Cleaver. As Mr. Mitchell pointed out, the rhythm sections ''can function together or separately.''

Although most of the music on ''Nine to Get Ready'' is notated, Mr. Mitchell's composing methods blur the line between written and improvised music. To preserve the spontaneity of improvised music, he uses written instructions and graphic symbols as well as notes in his sheet music. (In one concert, Mr. Mitchell divided a stage into squares, each containing suggestions for the performers, who would move from one to the next.) At the same time, Mr. Mitchell abhors off-the-cuff expressiveness; he expects musicians to shape each improvisation as if it were composed. As he put it, ''You've got to know your part in improvised music, too.''

MR. MITCHELL, who was born and reared in Chicago, reached musical maturity at a time when the South Side nearly surpassed New York as a center of jazz innovation. In the early 60's, Mr. Mitchell began playing in the pianist and composer Muhal Richard Abrams's Experimental Band, which gave birth to the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (now better known as simply A.A.C.M.). Drawing inspiration from the music of Mr. Coleman and from the politics of Malcolm X, the collective staged concerts and provided music lessons to inner-city children. ''We knew what happened to people who were out there on their own, and we didn't want to end up like that,'' Mr. Mitchell recalled. ''We wanted to have a scene that we controlled.''

The collective nurtured some of the most significant composers of the 70's and 80's, including Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Braxton and Henry Threadgill. ''There was a feeling of not waiting around for someone to say you're O.K.'' said Mr. Mitchell. ''You'd go to someone's concert, get really inspired and go back home to prepare for your own concert.'' A distinctive regional sound arose, one that valued shadings of color and structural experiments over rhythmic motion and soloing. If New York loft musicians were the action painters of free jazz, these Chicagoans were its constructivists, working through appropriation and collage.

In 1968, Mr. Mitchell founded the collective's flagship band, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, with the bassist Malachi Favors, the trumpeter Lester Bowie and the saxophonist Joseph Jarman. While traveling in France the next year, the Art Ensemble added the drummer Don Moye. Its motto was ''Great Black Music: Past, Present and Future.'' (Early album titles like ''Certain Blacks Do What They Wanna! -- Join Them!'' gave the band a certain radical chic cachet.) The Art Ensemble produced sophisticated pastiches of advanced jazz, big band music, blues, African percussion and reggae that honored -- and sent up -- the black musical tradition.

Mr. Mitchell was the band's intellectual-in-residence. (Mr. Bowie was its jester, Mr. Jarman its mystic.) He was also the only member to appear on stage in street clothes. Since Mr. Moye, Mr. Favors and Mr. Jarman covered their faces with tribal paint and Mr. Bowie wore a physician's suit, Mr. Mitchell's appearance was a symbolic rejection of ornament. It reflected the lean, analytic style he was cultivating as a composer.

Although Mr. Mitchell still performs with the Art Ensemble, since the late 70's he has focused on his work as a composer and leader. In 1976, he moved with his family to a big farm in Wisconsin, where he could finally hear, he said, ''silence and the way things move in nature.'' As he explained: ''When you're in the city you're always being influenced by what's going on around you. I needed to get out of the city to find myself, though I admit when I first looked in the mirror I didn't see all that much. I found that I wasn't all that great and I kept working, from morning to night.''

On his records, Mr. Mitchell has painstakingly documented this process of self-examination. Although he has produced marvels like the 1981 album ''Snurdy McGurdy and Her Dancin' Shoes,'' some of his records demonstrated that avant-garde jazz could be as arid as academic serialism. With ''Nine to Get Ready'' -- his best record since ''Snurdy'' -- Mr. Mitchell has succeeded in fusing his scientific investigations of sound with the humanism of his Art Ensemble work. The chamber pieces have an unusual suppleness; the ballads are almost voluptuous. The opening track, ''Leola,'' is a breathtaking requiem for the composer's stepmother. In ''Jamaican Farewell,'' a beautiful, cloud-like formation, Mr. Ragin's trumpeting sounds virtually Coplandesque.

Mr. Mitchell, who now lives in Madison, Wis., leads a fairly ascetic life for a jazz musician. He often wakes up early to run through Bach's flute sonatas with Joan Wildman, a pianist on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin, where he occasionally teaches. He spends most of the day composing, studying and practicing. Baroque music is his latest obsession, and he has been transcribing some of his compositions for a recorder orchestra. ''Berkeley Fudge, a saxophonist, gave me my recorder, and it felt so natural, just the one key and the six holes,'' he said. ''And of course the sound is just incredible. I've been in a lot of halls in Italy that were just built for that sound.''

If all of this seems a long way from his Chicago jazz roots, Mr. Mitchell continues to uphold what he calls ''A.A.C.M. philosophy.'' His dream, he said, is to set up a collective of his own -- in the country, of course: ''I'd love to have a school and a big performance space. And I'd love to have a state of the art video studio because the only example we have is MTV.'' He paused, then added: ''I'd never have to leave the house. Can you think of a hipper life than that?''

Adam Shatz's most recent article for Arts and Leisure was on DJ interpretations of Steve Reich's music.

The Audacity of Hopelessness


"The Audacity of Hopelessness",,,Now THAT'S funny...and right on target......Frank Rich remains one of the best damn political journalists in this country...


February 24, 2008

The Audacity of Hopelessness


WHEN people one day look back at the remarkable implosion of the Hillary Clinton campaign, they may notice that it both began and ended in the long dark shadow of Iraq.

It’s not just that her candidacy’s central premise — the priceless value of “experience” — was fatally poisoned from the start by her still ill-explained vote to authorize the fiasco. Senator Clinton then compounded that 2002 misjudgment by pursuing a 2008 campaign strategy that uncannily mimicked the disastrous Bush Iraq war plan. After promising a cakewalk to the nomination — “It will be me,” Mrs. Clinton told Katie Couric in November — she was routed by an insurgency.

The Clinton camp was certain that its moneyed arsenal of political shock-and-awe would take out Barack Hussein Obama in a flash. The race would “be over by Feb. 5,” Mrs. Clinton assured George Stephanopoulos just before New Year’s. But once the Obama forces outwitted her, leaving her mission unaccomplished on Super Tuesday, there was no contingency plan. She had neither the boots on the ground nor the money to recoup.

That’s why she has been losing battle after battle by double digits in every corner of the country ever since. And no matter how much bad stuff happened, she kept to the Bush playbook, stubbornly clinging to her own Rumsfeld, her chief strategist, Mark Penn. Like his prototype, Mr. Penn is bigger on loyalty and arrogance than strategic brilliance. But he’s actually not even all that loyal. Mr. Penn, whose operation has billed several million dollars in fees to the Clinton campaign so far, has never given up his day job as chief executive of the public relations behemoth Burson-Marsteller. His top client there, Microsoft, is simultaneously engaged in a demanding campaign of its own to acquire Yahoo.

Clinton fans don’t see their standard-bearer’s troubles this way. In their view, their highly substantive candidate was unfairly undone by a lightweight showboat who got a free ride from an often misogynist press and from naïve young people who lap up messianic language as if it were Jim Jones’s Kool-Aid. Or as Mrs. Clinton frames it, Senator Obama is all about empty words while she is all about action and hard work.

But it’s the Clinton strategists, not the Obama voters, who drank the Kool-Aid. The Obama campaign is not a vaporous cult; it’s a lean and mean political machine that gets the job done. The Clinton camp has been the slacker in this race, more words than action, and its candidate’s message, for all its purported high-mindedness, was and is self-immolating.

The gap in hard work between the two campaigns was clear well before Feb. 5. Mrs. Clinton threw as much as $25 million at the Iowa caucuses without ever matching Mr. Obama’s organizational strength. In South Carolina, where last fall she was up 20 percentage points in the polls, she relied on top-down endorsements and the patina of inevitability, while the Obama campaign built a landslide-winning organization from scratch at the grass roots. In Kansas, three paid Obama organizers had the field to themselves for three months; ultimately Obama staff members outnumbered Clinton staff members there 18 to 3.

In the last battleground, Wisconsin, the Clinton campaign was six days behind Mr. Obama in putting up ads and had only four campaign offices to his 11. Even as Mrs. Clinton clings to her latest firewall — the March 4 contests — she is still being outhustled. Last week she told reporters that she “had no idea” that the Texas primary system was “so bizarre” (it’s a primary-caucus hybrid), adding that she had “people trying to understand it as we speak.” Perhaps her people can borrow the road map from Obama’s people. In Vermont, another March 4 contest, The Burlington Free Press reported that there were four Obama offices and no Clinton offices as of five days ago. For what will no doubt be the next firewall after March 4, Pennsylvania on April 22, the Clinton campaign is sufficiently disorganized that it couldn’t file a complete slate of delegates by even an extended ballot deadline.

This is the candidate who keeps telling us she’s so competent that she’ll be ready to govern from Day 1. Mrs. Clinton may be right that Mr. Obama has a thin résumé, but her disheveled campaign keeps reminding us that the biggest item on her thicker résumé is the health care task force that was as botched as her presidential bid.

Given that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama offer marginally different policy prescriptions — laid out in voluminous detail by both, by the way, on their Web sites — it’s not clear what her added-value message is. The “experience” mantra has been compromised not only by her failure on the signal issue of Iraq but also by the deadening lingua franca of her particular experience, Washingtonese. No matter what the problem, she keeps rolling out another commission to solve it: a commission for infrastructure, a Financial Product Safety Commission, a Corporate Subsidy Commission, a Katrina/Rita Commission and, to deal with drought, a water summit.

As for countering what she sees as the empty Obama brand of hope, she offers only a chilly void: Abandon hope all ye who enter here. This must be the first presidential candidate in history to devote so much energy to preaching against optimism, against inspiring language and — talk about bizarre — against democracy itself. No sooner does Mrs. Clinton lose a state than her campaign belittles its voters as unrepresentative of the country.

Bill Clinton knocked states that hold caucuses instead of primaries because “they disproportionately favor upper-income voters” who “don’t really need a president but feel like they need a change.” After the Potomac primary wipeout, Mr. Penn declared that Mr. Obama hadn’t won in “any of the significant states” outside of his home state of Illinois. This might come as news to Virginia, Maryland, Washington and Iowa, among the other insignificant sites of Obama victories. The blogger Markos Moulitsas Zúniga has hilariously labeled this Penn spin the “insult 40 states” strategy.

The insults continued on Tuesday night when a surrogate preceding Mrs. Clinton onstage at an Ohio rally, Tom Buffenbarger of the machinists’ union, derided Obama supporters as “latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust-fund babies.” Even as he ranted, exit polls in Wisconsin were showing that Mr. Obama had in fact won that day among voters with the least education and the lowest incomes. Less than 24 hours later, Mr. Obama received the endorsement of the latte-drinking Teamsters.

If the press were as prejudiced against Mrs. Clinton as her campaign constantly whines, debate moderators would have pushed for the Clinton tax returns and the full list of Clinton foundation donors to be made public with the same vigor it devoted to Mr. Obama’s “plagiarism.” And it would have showered her with the same ridicule that Rudy Giuliani received in his endgame. With 11 straight losses in nominating contests, Mrs. Clinton has now nearly doubled the Giuliani losing streak (six) by the time he reached his Florida graveyard. But we gamely pay lip service to the illusion that she can erect one more firewall.

The other persistent gripe among some Clinton supporters is that a hard-working older woman has been unjustly usurped by a cool young guy intrinsically favored by a sexist culture. Slate posted a devilish video mash-up of the classic 1999 movie “Election”: Mrs. Clinton is reduced to a stand-in for Tracy Flick, the diligent candidate for high school president played by Reese Witherspoon, and Mr. Obama is implicitly cast as the mindless jock who upsets her by dint of his sheer, unearned popularity.

There is undoubtedly some truth to this, however demeaning it may be to both candidates, but in reality, the more consequential ur-text for the Clinton 2008 campaign may be another Hollywood classic, the Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy “Pat and Mike” of 1952. In that movie, the proto-feminist Hepburn plays a professional athlete who loses a tennis or golf championship every time her self-regarding fiancé turns up in the crowd, pulling her focus and undermining her confidence with his grandstanding presence.

In the 2008 real-life remake of “Pat and Mike,” it’s not the fiancé, of course, but the husband who has sabotaged the heroine. The single biggest factor in Hillary Clinton’s collapse is less sexism in general than one man in particular — the man who began the campaign as her biggest political asset. The moment Bill Clinton started trash-talking about Mr. Obama and raising the specter of a co-presidency, even to the point of giving his own televised speech ahead of his wife’s on the night she lost South Carolina, her candidacy started spiraling downward.

What’s next? Despite Mrs. Clinton’s valedictory tone at Thursday’s debate, there remains the fear in some quarters that whether through sleights of hand involving superdelegates or bogus delegates from Michigan or Florida, the Clintons might yet game or even steal the nomination. I’m starting to wonder. An operation that has waged political war as incompetently as the Bush administration waged war in Iraq is unlikely to suddenly become smart enough to pull off that duplicitous a “victory.” Besides, after spending $1,200 on Dunkin’ Donuts in January alone, this campaign simply may not have the cash on hand to mount a surge.

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