Saturday, June 28, 2008

George Carlin: The Sheer Fearlessness of Laughter, 1937-2008


George Carlin (1937-2008) one of the most profound, creative, insightful and deeply funny comedians in American history died June 22 at age 71. Satirist, linguist, raconteur, social and cultural critic, actor, political gadfly, atheist, and fierce public advocate and defender of free speech Carlin was, along with fellow comedic legends Lenny Bruce (1926-1966) and Richard Pryor (1940-2005) one of the most iconic and influential artists in modern comedy who, like his fellow highly innovative contemporaries, revolutionized and fundamentally transformed the very form and content of standup comedy. Possessing a scathing and deadly accurate quick-fire wit as well as a fearlessly perceptive and ruthlessly honest take on human and social behavior and institutions, Carlin was an unsurpassed master of the complexities, ambiguities, and absurdities of language as well as an adroit and very shrewd observer of its liberating and deceptive uses in society. Many of the targets of Carlin’s highly barbed, often furious, and yet sometimes paradoxically gentle and empathetic wit were the ignorant, corrupt, and dishonest mythologies and lies embedded in the endlessly destructive distortions and manipulations of history, religion, and political/cultural ideology. Taking an excoriating and gleeful all-holds- barred approach to the social and cultural questions of race, class, sex, gender, and identity, Carlin not only relentlessly and hilariously attacked all forms of racism, sexism, class domination, and homophobia in his act but he also absolutely refused to let anyone (including himself) off the hook when honing in on the flaws, foibles, pretensions, hypocrisies, idiocies, insecurities, poses, delusions, and deceptions of human beings in general in any given social or historical context. It was this absolute refusal to privilege or cater to the egos and/or bigotries of any one group or individual when making his comedic observations and analyses that made Carlin (again like Pryor, like Bruce) one of the truly most fearless and scathingly honest performers in the history of the demanding art of comedy. Carlin was never afraid to say what he thought or mean what he said in any setting and it was and is this bedrock integrity and foundational sense of independence in harmony with an extraordinary intelligence and a quintessentially blues and Jazz based prophetic understanding and appreciation for the intricacies and demands of experience in all of its many dimensions that made Carlin one of the most important and consistently laugh-out-loud-till-you- can’t-do-anything-but-cry-and-wonder-why comedians to ever rock the mic. To say he and his powerful legacy of public truth telling will be sorely missed yet surely never die as long as the human species can still laugh and simultaneously dig what the laughter means is not only a great understatement but a seemingly absurd paradox that George Carlin would have both understood and happily and derisively laughed at. Thanks for everything Mr. Carlin. You were a straightup genius. You were also, as Miles and many others throughout the globe would say, “a very funny muthafucka.”


June 24, 2008
George Carlin, Comic Who Chafed at Society and Its Constraints, Dies at 71 By MEL WATKINS and BRUCE WEBER
New York Times

Correction Appended

George Carlin, whose astringent stand-up comedy made him an heir of Lenny Bruce, who gave voice to an indignant counterculture and assaulted the barricades of censorship on behalf of a generation of comics that followed him, died on Sunday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 71 and lived in Venice, Calif.

The cause was heart failure, said his publicist, Jeff Abraham. Mr. Carlin, who performed earlier this month at the Orleans hotel in Las Vegas, had a history of heart problems.

“By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth,” read a message on Mr. Carlin’s Web site,, and he spent much of his life in a fervent effort to counteract the forces that would have it so. In his always irreverent, often furious social commentary, in his observations of the absurdities of everyday life and language, and in groundbreaking routines like the profane “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” he took aim at what he thought of as the palliating and obfuscating agents of American life — politicians, advertisements, religion, the media and conventional thinking of all stripes.

“If crime fighters fight crime and firefighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight?” he asked in a 1980s routine, taking a jab at the Reagan administration’s defense of the Nicaraguan Contras.

During a career that spanned five decades, Mr. Carlin emerged as one of the most popular, durable, productive and versatile comedians of his era. He evolved from Jerry Seinfeld-like whimsy and a buttoned-down decorum in the ’60s to counterculture hero in the ’70s.

By the ’80s, he was known as a scathing social critic, wringing laughs from the verbal tics of contemporary language like the oxymoron “jumbo shrimp” (and finding another oxymoron in the term “military intelligence”) and poking fun at pervasive national attitudes. He used the ascent of football’s popularity at the expense of the game he loved, baseball, to make the point that societal innocence had been lost forever.

“Baseball is a 19th-century pastoral game,” he said. “Football is a 20th-century technological struggle. Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park. The baseball park! Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.”

Through the 1990s and into the 21st century, Mr. Carlin, balding but still pony-tailed, prowled the stage — eyes ablaze with intensity — as the comedy circuit’s most splenetic curmudgeon, raging over the shallowness of a “me first” culture; mocking the infatuation with camcorders, hyphenated names and sneakers with lights on them; lambasting white guys over 10 years old who wear their baseball hats backwards, baby boomers “who went from ‘do your thing’ to ‘just say no’ ” and “from cocaine to Rogaine”; and foes of abortion rights. “How come when it’s us it’s an abortion,” he asked, “and when it’s a chicken it’s an omelet?”

George Denis Carlin was born in New York City on May 12, 1937. His mother, Mary, a secretary, separated from his father when he was an infant, and he grew up with his mother and his older brother, Patrick, on West 121st Street in Manhattan.

“I grew up in New York wanting to be like those funny men in the movies and on the radio,” Mr. Carlin said. “My grandfather, mother and father were gifted verbally, and my mother passed that along to me. She always made sure I was conscious of language and words.”

He dropped out of high school and joined the Air Force, and while stationed in Shreveport, La., he worked as a radio disc jockey. Discharged in 1957, he moved to Boston for a radio announcer’s job, then to Fort Worth, where he was a D.J.

Along the way he met Jack Burns, a newscaster and comedian. They worked together in Fort Worth and Los Angeles, performing on the radio and in clubs and even appearing on “The Tonight Show” with Jack Paar. The comedian Mort Sahl, whose penchant for social commentary Mr. Carlin came to share, dubbed them “a duo of hip wits.”

Still, the Carlin-Burns team was only moderately successful, and, in 1960, Mr. Carlin struck out on his own.

He made his first television solo guest appearance on “The Tonight Show” in 1962, in the interim between Paar’s departure and Johnny Carson’s arrival; the host that night was Mr. Sahl. His second wasn’t until 1965, when he made the first of 29 appearances on “The Merv Griffin Show.”

At that time, he was primarily known for his clever wordplay and reminiscences of his Irish working-class upbringing in New York. But there were intimations of an anti-establishment edge. It surfaced, for example, in a parody of television newscasts, for which he invented characters like Al Sleet, “the “hippy-dippy weatherman”: “Tonight’s forecast: Dark. Continued mostly dark tonight turning to widely scattered light in the morning.”

Mr. Carlin released his first comedy album, “Take-Offs and Put-Ons,” to rave reviews in 1967. He also dabbled in acting, winning a recurring part as Marlo Thomas’s theatrical agent in the 1960s sitcom “That Girl” and a supporting role in the 1968 movie “With Six You Get Eggroll.” He made more than 80 major television appearances during that time, including on the Ed Sullivan Show and Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”; he was also regularly featured at nightclubs in New York and Las Vegas.

He was one of America’s most popular comedians, but as the convulsive decade of 1960s ended, he’d had enough of what he considered a dinky and hollow success.

“I was entertaining the fathers and the mothers of the people I sympathized with, and in some cases associated with, and whose point of view I shared,” he recalled later, as quoted in the book “Going Too Far” by Tony Hendra (Doubleday, 1987). “I was a traitor, in so many words. I was living a lie.”

In 1970, Mr. Carlin staged a remarkable reversal of field, discarding his suit and tie, as well as the relatively conventional and clean-cut material that had catapulted him to the top. He reinvented himself, emerging with a beard, long hair, jeans and a routine steeped in drugs and insolence. A backlash followed; in one famous incident, he was advised to leave town when an angry audience threatened him at the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, Wis., for joking about the Vietnam War. Afterward, he temporarily abandoned nightclubs for coffee houses and colleges, where he found a younger, hipper audience that was more attuned to both his new image and his material.

By 1972, when he released his second album, “FM & AM,” his star was again on the rise. The album, which won a Grammy Award as best comedy recording, combined older material with his newer, more acerbic routines.

One, from “Class Clown,” Mr. Carlin’s third album, became part of his “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” with its rhythmic recitation of obscenities. It was broadcast on the New York radio station WBAI. Acting on a complaint about the broadcast, the Federal Communications Commission issued an order prohibiting the words as “indecent.” In 1978, the Supreme Court upheld the order, establishing a decency standard that remains in effect; it ensnared Howard Stern in 2005, precipitating his move to satellite radio.

Mr. Carlin refused to drop the bit and was arrested several times after reciting it onstage.

By the mid-’70s, like his comic predecessor Lenny Bruce and the fast-rising Richard Pryor, Mr. Carlin had emerged as a cultural renegade. In addition to his jests about religion and politics, he talked about using drugs, including LSD and peyote; he kicked cocaine, he said, not for moral or legal reasons but because he found “far more pain in the deal than pleasure.”

Three of Mr. Carlin’s comedy albums of the 1970’s — “Class Clown,” “Occupation: Foole” and “An Evening With Wally Lambo” — sold more than a million copies. In 1975, he was chosen to host the first episode of the late-night comedy show “Saturday Night Live.” And two years later, he found the perfect platform for his stinging and cerebral, if sometimes off-color, humor in the fledgling world of cable television: the first of his 14 HBO comedy specials, “George Carlin at U.S.C.” was aired in 1977, the last, “George Carlin: It’s Bad for Ya,” in March.

During the course of his career, Mr. Carlin overcame numerous personal trials. His early arrests for obscenity (all of which were dismissed) and his problem with cocaine were the most publicized. But he also weathered serious tax problems, a heart attack and two open-heart surgeries; his health problems cost him five years of productivity between 1977 and 1982. Though he had been able to taper his cocaine use on his own, he said, he continued to abuse alcohol and also became addicted to Vicodin. In December 2004 he entered a rehabilitation center.

“Stand-up is the centerpiece of my life, my business, my art, my survival and my way of being,” Mr. Carlin once told an interviewer. And while it did always take center stage in his career, Mr. Carlin also acted in films, among them “Car Wash” (1976), “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989), “The Prince of Tides” (1991), and “Dogma” (1999).

He also wrote books, expansions on his comedy routines, including “Brain Droppings” (1997), “Napalm & Silly Putty (2001) and “When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?” (2004), all published by Hyperion. A 1994 sitcom, “The George Carlin Show,” lasted a single season. He also did a stint narrating the children’s television show “Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.”

Mr. Carlin won a total of four Grammy Awards. He was recently named the recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which he was to receive in November at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. The Kennedy Center said Monday that the prize would be given posthumously and that the evening would be a tribute to his life and work.

In addition to his brother, Patrick, Mr. Carlin is survived by his wife, Sally Wade, and a daughter, Kelly Carlin McCall. His first wife, Brenda Hosbrook, died in 1997.

Mr. Carlin’s most recent work was especially contentious, even bitter, full of ranting against the stupid, the fat, the docile. But he defended the material, insisting that his comedy had always been driven by an intolerance for the shortcomings of humanity and society.

“Scratch any cynic,” he said, “and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.”

Anahad O’Connor contributed reporting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 25, 2008

Because of an editing error, an obituary on Tuesday about the comedian George Carlin misstated the location of the Playboy Club where he angered an audience by joking about the Vietnam War. It was Lake Geneva, Wis. (There is no town named Lake Geneva in New York.)

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

George Carlin: A Funny Man in an Unfunny World By Amy Goodman
King Features Syndicate
Posted on June 26, 2008, Printed on June 28, 2008

The world lost one of its great comedians this week with the death at age 71 of George Carlin. Carlin had a career as a stand-up comic that spanned a half-century, in which he continually broke new ground, targeting those in power with his wit and genius. He impacted our culture, our media and our nation with a stream of material that skewered institutions of the left and right, from government to business and the church. He released 22 comedy albums, earning him five Emmy nominations and winning four Grammys. He was the first guest host of "Saturday Night Live," in 1975, and appeared on "The Tonight Show" 130 times. He starred in 14 HBO specials and authored three best-selling books. He also left an indelible mark on the radio station where I got my start in broadcast journalism, Pacifica station WBAI 99.5 FM in New York City.

On Oct. 30, 1973, WBAI broadcast Carlin's "Filthy Words" routine. Carlin wrote on his Web site, "Lone professional moralist complains to FCC which issues a Declaratory Order against station. Station goes to court." That court battle would last five years, end at the U.S. Supreme Court and set the standard for broadcast indecency laws that are hotly debated to this day. It was neither accident nor coincidence that this iconoclastic comic would have some of his most controversial material broadcast over Pacifica Radio's WBAI. The Pacifica Network was founded in Berkeley, Calif., in 1949, with KPFA as the first truly listener-sponsored radio station.

Back then, radio was so overwhelmingly commercial that Pacifica founder Lew Hill and others found it worthless. As Hill wrote in his "Theory of Listener Sponsored Radio," "If we want an improvement in radio, the basic situation of broadcasting must be such that artists and thinkers have a place to work -- with freedom."

On July 3, 1978, the Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission could punish WBAI for its broadcast of Carlin's routine, arguing that words relating to sex or excretion (i.e., piss) when children might be listening were prohibited. Supreme Court Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall dissented, noting the court's "depressing inability to appreciate that in our land of cultural pluralism, there are many who think, act, and talk differently from the Members of this Court, and who do not share their fragile sensibilities." Remarkably, 30 years later, the same issues are before a decidedly more conservative Supreme Court.

Recent episodes of "fleeting expletives" from the mouths of celebrities like Bono, Cher and Nicole Richie have prompted the FCC to seek enhanced power to punish broadcasters. George Carlin pointed out what in our society was truly indecent: the behavior of the powerful.

Yes, he spiced his delivery with expletives. He was angry. He, like Pacifica, gave voice to essential, dissident perspectives that have been almost entirely blocked from mainstream media. He said: "We were founded on a very basic double standard. This country was founded by slave owners who wanted to be free. Am I right? A group of slave owners who wanted to be free, so they killed a lot of white English people in order to continue owning their black African people, so they could wipe out the rest of the red Indian people and move west and steal the rest of the land from the brown Mexican people, giving them a place to take off and drop their nuclear weapons on the yellow Japanese people. You know what the motto of this country ought to be? You give us a color, we'll wipe it out."
His prolific output will continue to inspire for generations to come.

Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now!
© 2008 King Features Syndicate All rights reserved
.View this story online at:

HBO plans encores programs of George Carlin comedy Tue Jun 24, 2008

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In a tribute to irreverent comedian George Carlin who died this week, cable television network HBO said on Tuesday that it will air encore specials of more than 30 years of his comedy shows starting this week.

Carlin began giving performances on HBO as far back as 1977, almost since the network's inception, and the network will air the first "George Carlin at USC" as well as the final "It's Bad for Ya."

Sister network HBO2 will show 11 of his specials over two nights.

"Because HBO has had such a long and close relationship with George Carlin, his passing is like losing one of our own," HBO Entertainment Senior Vice President Nancy Geller said in a statement. "No performer was more important to helping our network define itself in its early years."

Carlin was 71 years-old when he died of heart failure on Sunday in a Los Angeles-area hospital. He had enthralled the country for nearly 50 years with his provocative humor.

In 1978, a radio broadcast of Carlin's routine "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television," fueled a battle with the Federal Communications Commission over indecent language on U.S. airwaves.

The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled that Carlin had used words that were indecent, and that the FCC could ban them from being aired when children were listening.

Still, Carlin continued with his no-holds-barred style of comedy that inspired several generations of young comedians to push the boundaries of what audiences considered funny.

"(No) performer was more committed to the ideal of freedom of speech, a principle he embodied for the 50 years he performed with his trademark wit," Geller said.

Apart from presenting 14 shows on HBO, Carlin wrote three best-selling books, won four Grammy Awards, and recorded 22 comedy albums.

The John F. Kennedy Center recently announced Carlin the winner of the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which he was to receive in November this year.


Award-winning comedian George Carlin dies
June 23, 2008

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- George Carlin, the influential comedian whose routines used profanity, scatology and absurdity to point out the silliness and hypocrisy of human life, has died. He was 71.

George Carlin, here in 2007, kept up a busy schedule, performing as recently as last weekend in Las Vegas.

Carlin, who had a history of heart trouble, died of heart failure Sunday, according to publicist Jeff Abraham. Carlin went to St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica on Sunday afternoon, complaining of chest pain, and died at 5:55 p.m. PT.

Carlin performed as recently as last weekend at the Orleans Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, and maintained a busy performing schedule, which included regular TV specials for HBO.

"He was a genius and I will miss him dearly," Jack Burns, who was the other half of a comedy duo with Carlin in the early 1960s, told The Associated Press.

Carlin was "a hugely influential force in stand-up comedy. He had an amazing mind, and his humor was brave, and always challenging us to look at ourselves and question our belief systems, while being incredibly entertaining. He was one of the greats," actor and comedian Ben Stiller said in a statement. Slideshow: The life of George Carlin »

Carlin was often quoted, his best lines traded like baseball cards. "Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?" began one famous routine. Another pointed out the differences between the pastoral game of baseball and the militaristic game of football: "Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park. The baseball park! Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium."

Then there were the non sequiturs: "The bigger they are, the worse they smell," he observed. Watch Carlin in action »

He filled three best-selling books, more than 20 record albums and countless television appearances with his material. How Carlin changed comedy

He appreciated the impact his words made on fans.

"These are nice additional merit badges that you earn if you've left a mark on a person or on some people," he told in 2004. "I'd say it's flattering, but flattery implies insincerity, so I call it a compliment."

Carlin was probably best known for a routine that began, "I was thinking about the curse words and the swear words, the cuss words and the words that you can't say." It was a monologue, known as "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television," that got Carlin arrested and eventually led to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The "Seven Dirty Words" bit prompted a landmark indecency case after New York's WBAI-FM radio aired it in 1973.

The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 that the sketch was "indecent but not obscene," giving the Federal Communications Commission broad leeway to determine what constituted indecency on the airwaves.

"So my name is a footnote in American legal history, which I'm perversely kind of proud of," Carlin said. "In the context of that era, it was daring.

"It just sounds like a very self-serving kind of word. I don't want to go around describing myself as a 'groundbreaker' or a 'difference-maker' because I'm not and I wasn't," he said. "But I contributed to people who were saying things that weren't supposed to be said." Watch the impact of Carlin's seven dirty words routine »

In November, Carlin was slated to receive the 2008 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, given by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

"In his lengthy career as a comedian, writer and actor, George Carlin has not only made us laugh, but he makes us think," Kennedy Center Chairman Stephen Schwarzman said in a statement. "His influence on the next generation of comics has been far-reaching."

In a typically wry response, Carlin said, "Thank you, Mr. Twain. Have your people call my people." Watch an appreciation of Carlin »

Carlin was born on May 12, 1937, in New York. He dropped out of high school in the ninth grade and joined the Air Force, where his misfit ways continued -- he received three courts-martial and several punishments.

After leaving the military, he spent a few years in radio, where he met Burns. In 1960, the pair left to pursue a comedy career in Los Angeles. Burns told the AP that the Carlin of those years was "fairly conservative," but things changed when the two saw Lenny Bruce in the early '60s.

"It was an epiphany for George," Burns told the AP. "The comedy we were doing at the time wasn't exactly groundbreaking, and George knew then that he wanted to go in a different direction."

Carlin remembered a similar feeling, he told

"[His career] represented a lot of such honesty on the stage, the willingness to confront a lot of sacred cows and expose them," he said of Bruce. "He did it with a great deal of irreverence and with a lot of brilliance."

Carlin went solo in 1962. For most of the decade, he was a conservative-looking presence: clean-shaven, attired in jacket and tie, making his amused observations to audiences on "The Tonight Show" and "The Ed Sullivan Show."

But as the times changed, so did Carlin. He let his hair down, grew a beard and dressed in jeans and tie-dyed T-shirts. It was this Carlin who became a hit with college audiences in the early '70s and made such albums as "FM & AM" and "Occupation: Foole."

Carlin hosted the first broadcast of "Saturday Night Live" in October 1975.
He also appeared in movies, including "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1989), Kevin Smith's "Dogma" (1999) and "Cars" (2006). For the latter, he was the voice of Fillmore, the Volkswagen bus.

He starred as a cabdriver in his own sitcom, "The George Carlin Show," which ran from 1993 to 1995. He also played the character of Mr. Conductor on the PBS series "Shining Time Station" and lent his voice to two episodes of "The Simpsons."

Carlin was blunt about his own struggles. He suffered several heart attacks, one at Dodger Stadium during a baseball game. He also underwent treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.

He was relentlessly amused by humanity -- in one of his most famous lines, he pointed out that "if you're born in this world you're given a ticket to the freak show. If you're born in America, you're given a front-row seat" -- but refused to consider himself a cynic. He preferred "disappointed idealist."

It all went into his comedy. He was fascinated by language and euphemism, noting that "there's a reluctance to confront reality and a desire to soften unpleasant realities." In a different life, he said, he may have been a teacher.

Which he was, anyway.

"Part of what my impulse is with things I've said or done, I think it is an attempt to demystify these things, to take them out of the realm of the forbidden and the disgusting and the off-base, and to at least bring them into the discussion," he told

He is survived by his wife, Sally Wade; daughter Kelly Carlin McCall; son-in-law Bob McCall; brother Patrick Carlin; and sister-in-law Marlene Carlin. Carlin's first wife, Brenda, died in 1997.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ralph Nader vs. Barack Obama: The Pitfalls of the Politics of 'Race, Class, and Identity'

UPDATE ON RALPH NADER'S COMMENTS: An amended correction to some of my previous comments below:


Now that I've had a chance to properly listen to all of Nader's actual critical comments today about Obama and the upcoming general election on it's clear that some of what Ralph said was improperly taken out of context by the writer of the article that I quoted (see below) in my earlier remarks. Therefore in fairness to both Nader and his overall analysis of Obama (a great part of which I thoroughly agree with) I have provided the following embedded video above of all of Nader's remarks in their FULL CONTEXT. So while I stand behind that part of my earlier remarks in the piece about the improper use of "racial" categories in Nader's analysis there is a much larger context to those remarks by Nader in the video that further supports what he said and why. As I said I find virtually nothing to disagree with in his general remarks which I find not only critically incisive, highly accurate, and important but necessary in any objective realistic assessment of Obama's limitations and shortcomings with respect to the highly compromised American political system as it is. Of course Obama is still the only viable candidate worth supporting in this election. But that fact doesn't mean that Nader's otherwise on target criticisms shouldn't be taken seriously and openly addressed by Obama and his campaign (and the rest of us) if he should ascend to the Presidency...


[My comments from earlier today]


Ralph Nader is typically both right and wrong in his critical assessment of Obama for all the correct (and incorrect) political reasons. I strongly support Nader's right and even obligation to be intelligently critical of Obama when and where it's necessary in both ideological and political terms. There's absolutely nothing wrong with him making his own independent analyses and judgments of what he thinks Obama is doing or not doing in his campaign. As a leftist/progressive candidate that's exactly what he's supposed to do--sharpen and heighten the contradictions and put forward radical alternatives. That's not only perfectly fine but absolutely necessary.

However, for Ralph to lamely suggest that Obama's personal racial makeup should (or could) dictate whether his politics are progressive or not is just racist nonsense. To the degree that Obama or any other black politician is progressive/liberal (or conversely reactionary/rightwing) in their politics is ultimately dependent not on who or what they are in so-called "racial" terms but what they actually advocate, represent, and struggle for in real ideological and political contexts. Condoleeza Rice, Clarence Thomas, and Colin Powell to name just three obvious examples among many others we could also name are all black/African American but that didn't stop them from being the reactionary right wing Republicans that they are. Of course we can and should denounce and attack what we don't like about their politics; but to expect or demand that simply because they're black to "do the right thing" politically, is not just being naive but also somewhat delusional at best about what the actual relationship is between cultural/racial 'identity' and ideology.

For example: Being designated an 'Uncle Tom' or a 'sellout' doesn't merely entail that one be vaguely 'disloyal' to a specific ethnic group's aims and objectives (however that is defined by other members of that group) but that objectively a person does or doesn't do something concrete that adversely affects a specific group's citizenship status or functional ability to survive and advance in actual social, cultural, economic, and political terms in the larger society.

What Nader is saying in his statement absurdly reduces his otherwise important political criticism of Obama to whether Obama is individually "black enough" to do what Nader is proposing should and could be done in terms of his politics. That's complete and utter bullshit and has the real effect of actually undermining the real content and value of what Nader is (very clumsily and stupidly) trying to say. It ain't a very progressive or radical approach either strategically or tactically on Ralph's part and only makes him look and sound like a bitter and clueless racist jerk instead of a sophisticated political radical who is properly demanding that Obama take far more ideological and political responsibility for the positions that he takes or doesn't take in this election on major poverty and class issues.

Unfortunately Nader and the American Left generally far too often fall into these kind of self inflicted traps and wind up doing themselves and more importantly their political positions a grave disservice. I really wish the American Left and Ralph Nader would GROW UP and finally learn how to organize, mobilize, and educate people by advocating and maintaining a much more mature and constructive relationship between strategy, tactics, goals, and ideology than engaging in these kind of mindless ego centered racebaiting and genderbaiting games. It's far beneath where Nader's and our own political discourse should be if we truly call or consider ourselves to be progressive. The class war or the mammoth struggles against racism, sexism, imperialism, anti-semitism, and homophobia certainly won't be addressed or resolved by simply determining what anybody's personal identity is or isn't--that's for sure...


Photo by Judy DeHaas Ralph Nader, who is running for president, talks about Barack Obama in his Washington, D.C., office Monday. Nader said Obama should "candidly describe the life of the poor."

Nader: Obama trying to 'talk white'
By M.E. Sprengelmeyer
Rocky Mountain News
June 25, 2008

Ralph Nader, who is running for president, talks about Barack Obama in his Washington, D.C., office Monday. Nader said Obama should "candidly describe the life of the poor."

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader accused Sen. Barack Obama, the presumed Democratic Party nominee, of downplaying poverty issues, trying to "talk white" and appealing to "white guilt" during his run for the White House.

Nader, a thorn in the Democratic Party's side since the 2000 presidential election, has taken various shots at Obama in recent days while ramping up his latest independent run for president.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Rocky Mountain News on Monday, he said he is running because he believes Democrats, like Republicans, are too closely aligned with corporate interests.

Economic exploitation

Nader was asked if Obama is any different than Democrats he has criticized in the past, considering Obama's pledge to reject campaign contributions from registered lobbyists.

"There's only one thing different about Barack Obama when it comes to being a Democratic presidential candidate. He's half African-American," Nader said. "Whether that will make any difference, I don't know. I haven't heard him have a strong crackdown on economic exploitation in the ghettos. Payday loans, predatory lending, asbestos, lead. What's keeping him from doing that? Is it because he wants to talk white? He doesn't want to appear like Jesse Jackson? We'll see all that play out in the next few months and if he gets elected afterwards."

The Obama campaign had only a brief response, calling the remarks disappointing.

Asked to clarify whether he thought Obama does try to "talk white," Nader said: "Of course.

"I mean, first of all, the number one thing that a black American politician aspiring to the presidency should be is to candidly describe the plight of the poor, especially in the inner cities and the rural areas, and have a very detailed platform about how the poor is going to be defended by the law, is going to be protected by the law, and is going to be liberated by the law," Nader said. "Haven't heard a thing."

"We are obviously disappointed with these very backward-looking remarks," Obama campaign spokeswoman Shannon Gilson said.

Plans to visit DNC
Nader said he plans to travel to Denver during this summer's Democratic National Convention, hoping to highlight an alternative agenda that he thinks the party should pursue. His appearance in the city is sure to anger some Democrats who believe his presence on the ballot during the contested 2000 election cost Al Gore votes, helping Republican George Bush win the disputed election.

Nader rejects that blame, saying Democrats "scapegoated" him instead of looking at other factors that contributed to the defeat.

'Appeal to white guilt'

Nader said he is not impressed with Obama and that he does not see him campaigning often enough in low-income, predominantly minority communities where there is a "shocking" amount of economic exploitation.

He pointed to issues like predatory lending, shortages of health care and municipal resources, environmental issues and others.

"He wants to show that he is not a threatening . . . another politically threatening African-American politician," Nader said. "He wants to appeal to white guilt. You appeal to white guilt not by coming on as black is beautiful, black is powerful. Basically he's coming on as someone who is not going to threaten the white power structure, whether it's corporate or whether it's simply oligarchic. And they love it. Whites just eat it up."

June 25, 2008
Nader Defends Remarks About Obama
New York Times

Update | 5:15 p.m. Asked about Ralph Nader’s critical comments at a news conference in Chicago on Wednesday, Senator Barack Obama said Mr. Nader had not been paying attention to his campaign, where “I’ve devoted multiple speeches, town hall meetings to” the issues Mr. Nader raised.

He added: “Ralph Nader is trying to get attention. It’s a shame because if you look at his legacy in terms of consumer protection, it’s an extraordinary one.”

Update | 4:45 p.m. Mr. Nader had called to explain, but not apologize for, the comments he had made about Mr. Obama in The Rocky Mountain News. He said Mr. Obama has not discussed poverty in the inner cities enough, and the fact that he is African-American should make a difference.

“What difference it should make is that he would be more sensitive and determined to bring elevated visibility and concrete programs to deal with these issues,” Mr. Nader said. “Wouldn’t a woman president be expected to be more responsive to women’s rights? It’s just more natural.”

He said that Mr. Obama “obviously made a tactical decision that he’s not going to campaign politically as Jesse Jackson did.”

“He wants to come across that he’s not politically threatening to the white power class and the liberal intelligentsia,” Mr. Nader said. “It’s been a brilliant tactic.”

Earlier, Mr. Nader had stood by the comments he made to a newspaper on Wednesday, in which he suggested that Senator Obama has not devoted enough time to poverty in inner cities and rural areas and “wants to talk white.”

Chris Driscoll, a spokesman for Mr. Nader, said on Wednesday afternoon that Mr. Nader would not retract his remarks or issue an apology.

In an interview with the Rocky Mountain News, Mr. Nader, who is running for president, said of Mr. Obama, “There’s only one thing different about Barack Obama when it comes to being a Democratic presidential candidate. He’s half African-American. Whether that will make any difference, I don’t know. I haven’t heard him have a strong crackdown on economic exploitation in the ghettos. Payday loans, predatory lending, asbestos, lead. What’s keeping him from doing that? Is it because he wants to talk white? He doesn’t want to appear like Jesse Jackson?”

Robert Gibbs, a spokesman for Mr. Obama, called the remarks “downright delusional” and “reprehensible.”

Mr. Driscoll responded by reading a statement from Mr. Nader. “Obama’s abstract campaign has been delusional and irresponsible when it comes to avoiding concrete policies that truly defend and empower the 100 million Americans living in poverty or near poverty,” he said.

Mr. Nader, a consumer advocate and former Green Party nominee for president, is running as an independent candidate this year on an anti-corporate agenda.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Registering Voters and Building a Movement for Change in 2008

by Chuleenan Svetvilas

On Saturday, May 10 I participated in the Obama campaign's 50-state voter registration drive. I had never registered voters before but when I got an email from Asian Americans for Obama informing me about the event I decided I had to do it. After all, I thought, if Barack Obama gets the nomination, he'll need all the votes he can get in November.

The email stated when and where we were to meet -- at the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center in San Francisco -- and that after a short training session, "we will send teams of volunteers to public events in selected neighborhoods." We were also told to "bring a pen, clipboard and an Obama button if you have them." I clicked on a link to RSVP for the 11 am to 3 pm shift. The other shift was 2:30 pm to 6 pm.

I took the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train from Oakland to San Francisco's Civic Center stop -- about a 25-minute trip. At Civic Center, in the area in between City Hall and the public library, people were in the midst of setting up for some event. I wondered if it was an anti-war event because I saw some tent with something on it about people killed. Then I walked several blocks to the center carrying my messenger bag, which held my camera, clipboard, pen, and bottled water. It was a very hot day and I was sweating wearing my long-sleeved black Obama t-shirt and my "Asian Americans Pacific Islanders for Obama" button pinned to my hat.

The Ella Hill Hutch Community Center serves the Fillmore community providing outreach programs for students and adults and offering shelter to homeless people at night.

This picture shows the striking mural on one of the center's walls. It depicts African Americans who have made important contributions to San Francisco. The people sitting on the ground are some of the volunteers filling out paperwork and waiting for training to begin so they can start registering voters.

Here are people waiting to sign in and pick up their paperwork and clipboards. We also got to wear the requisite rectangular name tag sticker. And if you didn't have an Obama button, you got a round Obama sticker to wear in addition to the name tag one.

I met Monica and Ricky (pictured above with name tags) after I signed in and picked up my paperwork -- blank registration forms and a form I had to sign detailing my responsibilities as a voter registration volunteer. Monica came all the way from San Jose and Ricky came from Santa Clara. Like me, neither of them had registered voters before. Monica, who was born in Guatemala, said she came because she wanted to get involved in the campaign. "I have never been involved in something like this before."

She is a student at City College in San Jose. Monica told me that in June she would be traveling to Washington, D.C. with Bread for the World, a Christian organization aimed at ending poverty and hunger. She went to meet with representatives "to advocate the issue of global hunger." Monica says they were going to request a $5 billion increase on the current Global Poverty Act (S.2433) to cut in half the number of people living on less than $1 a day by 2015. I emailed Monica for an update on her trip and here's what she said:

"I was in training from June 14-16. The training consisted of workshops and lectures to be prepared for Lobby Day, which took place on June 17th at the Capitol. On this date, all the constituents from California met with Richard W. Harper, Jr, Legislative Assistant for Senator Dianne Feinstein and Ann Norris, Senior Legislative Assistant for Senator, Barbara Boxer. We presented them our request for the $5 billion increase and addressed the impact of Global Hunger in the US and how $5 billion could benefit us by decreasing illegal immigration and building up our reputation and economy."

Monica told me to mention that she encourages people to get involved and take action "on matters that affect us directly" and write their congresspeople.

Ricky revealed that he was a Republican. He says foreign policy is a big concern of his so he voted for Obama in the primary. "The only person who can best save the country is Obama," says Ricky, and that's why he came to register voters. Ricky also says that Obama is the "most humanitarian of all the candidates." He mentioned that he wanted to show his support so that eight years later, he could say that he had a small part in getting Obama elected. Ricky describes himself as a businessman with a website for musicians called (In the Bay Area, it's hard not to run into someone who has a website or a blog.)

When I signed in, I was told that I would be going to the Civic Center area. So I went to sit over by the hand-painted sign that said "Civic Center" and had a circle with a few red lines like the campaign logo. Other signs said "Ferry Building," "Visitacion Valley," "Ball Park," and "Bay View."

Eventually we were told that our brief training would begin. One half went to one side of the grassy area and the other half, including me and my small "Civic Center" group of eight people, was near the "stage" of the building. Here we are on our feet, waiting to hear from Angelica, one of the folks who helped organize this event.

And here's Angelica telling us to be positive, don't debate people, and give the voter registration form to anyone who asked for one -- even if they said they were voting for McCain. And to make sure that people fulfilled the eligibility requirements so they wouldn't be disappointed should their registration not go through. In case you're wondering, you have to be a U.S. citizen, a resident of California, be at least 18 years old at the time of the next election,not be imprisoned or on parole for a felony conviction, oh, and my favorite "not currently be judged mentally incompetent by a court of law."

In addition, you have to write down your driver's license number, your state ID number, or the last four digits of your social security number on the form. This must be a new thing as I don't remember having to write down that info before.

My small group was led by "Team Captain" Jay, a young white man who had traveled to Texas and Pennsylvania for the primaries. He says he started working for the campaign two days after Bill Clinton started talking about race. "This is about the long term," says Jay. "It's about getting people involved. I've met people from 18 to 87 years old who are getting involved for the first time. That's why I'm here."

My group was racially diverse, including two white women from San Francisco -- Katie, a blond, pony-tailed, graphic designer wearing a short-sleeved black t-shirt that had "Obama" in red and "08" below in huge blue football-style numbers; and Gayle, a petite, dark-haired woman wearing the same Obama t-shirt as me. Gayle is semi-retired, does consulting work for higher education, and has a blog called Pastry Studio. "I've been involved since I saw [Obama] last September," says Gayle. "I went to headquarters in San Francisco and did phone banking."

It was exciting to discover that the majority of the people in our group had not registered voters before. We were nearly all first-time volunteers in this endeavor. I really started to feel that I was part of a movement. We had two young people in the group as well -- 18-year-old Filipino high school students Marc and Paula. Paula told me that she had worked the polls at the Super Tuesday primary and that she had donated to the Obama campaign. Marc said that Obama was "relatable" to people of different backgrounds, and like himself, Obama grew up with a single parent and spent time in another country.

Another member of my group was K.C., an African American woman who served as a precinct captain earlier this year. She also volunteered in June 2007 in the "Walk for Change" event in San Francisco. Here's a picture of K.C. (right) after our shift was over. Kenya, the young man with her, was a "Team Captain," overseeing the voter registration volunteers for the Fillmore area that day. He mentioned that he was a precinct captain as well.

As our group walked to the Civic Center area, Jay was figuring out who would go where and who had cell phones on them. Gayle didn't have her cell phone with her so I was paired with her. We were dressed alike -- black Obama t-shirts and jeans. I told Jay that some event was going on in Civic Center and he told us that we could start there. Katie and K.C. also joined us in working that event. The teenagers were sent to the area between the public library and the Asian Art Museum.

It turns out that the event was the Free Palestine, Peace and Solidarity Festival and it was difficult to find people to register there. I kept running into people who were already registered to vote or they were international students or immigrants who weren't American citizens. When I went around to the folks staffing various information tables, I got a couple hostile responses from people who were against Obama because of his support of Israel and because at that time, he had made some statement about not meeting with Hamas. I called Jay and told him about the challenges we were facing after about 30 minutes of walking up to strangers. In response to the Hamas statement, Jay told me that Obama didn't say that he wouldn't meet with Hamas, he said he wouldn't meet with them unless they recognize Israel's right to exist.

Then he decided to split us up. Gayle was to go to Hayes Valley and I had to traipse nearly 20 blocks (more than half of them uphill) to the Whole Foods store on California St. But just before we were about to leave, I finally found someone to register! A Chicana was staffing a table and she said there was some problem with her registration so she needed to fill it out again. So I gave her a form and a pen. It took her several minutes to fill it out. Then I checked to make sure she filled out all the appropriate sections, signed it and gave her the stub at the bottom. I didn't realize it would be so hard to find people to register. Gayle and I had wondered if the ten blank forms on our clipboards were enough. It soon dawned on us that it would be really hard to register ten people.

And on I went to Whole Foods, where I spent the next hour and a half or so trying to talk to as many people as possible. I've done canvassing years ago -- during a college winter break I went door-to-door in Massachusetts talking about the Toxics Use Reduction bill and getting donations for MassPIRG. Finding people to register to vote was a numbers game. I later found out that San Francisco has one of the highest rates of voter registration. But besides that, it was hard to get people to stop. They were either rushing into the store or they were on their way out with a cart or armful of groceries. Not an ideal situation for striking up a conversation with a perfect stranger.

I didn't count how many people I talked to because I was so focused on talking to people. But I know I talked to dozens and dozens of people during that time. That store is quite busy and seems to have its share of well-heeled, predominately white customers. I saw plenty of BMWs and Mercedes in the parking lot. Many of the people I talked to were already registered. A few weren't but said they didn't want to register. Some people wouldn't give me any eye contact. I think my Obama t-shirt gave some people the impression that I was campaigning for Obama. So I tried to tell them as quickly as possible that I was registering people to vote.

After about 45 minutes, I finally found someone who said they needed to register and she was grateful that I could register her. She had recently moved and needed to reregister. I was thrilled to hand over my clipboard. While she was filling out the form, I entertained her year-old daughter who was sitting in the grocery cart.

Then I went back to trying to buttonhole people and maintain a cheery smile despite the constant flow negative responses. A couple Whole Foods employees were on break so I approached the. One was already registered and another pointed out a fellow employee and told me that he wasn't registered and said I should ask him. So I went up to the guy and he said he had to get back to work so he couldn't fill it out. So I handed him the form and told him he could take it and mail it in himself.

Eventually I found a 20-something year old white guy who had never voted in an election before. I asked him if he would like to register to vote, holding out the clipboard. He paused and I held my breath, trying to act casual and not too excited (voter number three!!). Then he took the clipboard. And that was the last voter I registered that day before a Whole Foods employee came out and told me that he supported Obama but I needed to go over to the sidewalk about 100 feet away, and not be right in front of the store. I wasn't in a public area so I could see why he told me to move. I was standing in the store's parking lot.

So I stood around on the sidewalk but soon came to the conclusion that I wouldn't get much out of that. I called Jay and told him the situation and that I was essentially done for the day. It was after 2:30 pm and I was beat. I headed back to the center. At one traffic light as I waited for the light to change, a van rounded the corner and an older white guy leaned out and said to me, "I like your shirt." I thanked him and walked back with a smile on my face.

Back at the center I ran into K.C. who had been sent to the Harvest Urban Market grocery store south of Market. She didn't didn't have any luck finding folks to register. Then I didn't feel so bad about my low number. I dropped off my forms around 2:45 p.m. One of the Obama volunteers who was taking the filled out voter registration forms seemed a little glum about the low numbers and joked that at least it meant less data entry work.

I walked back to Civic Center so I could catch BART back home. Around 3:15 p.m. I ran into Marc and Paula. Marc had registered seven voters and Paula, four! I was duly impressed and told them that they did a great job.

I didn't have anyone take my picture when I was in San Francisco but Kofi took my picture when I got home. So here I am in my Obama t-shirt and with my clipboard.

I will participate in other voter registration efforts in the months leading up to the election. The key to winning this election is registering new voters.

Amiri Baraka on the American Left, Barack Obama, and the role of Ideology in American Politics today


Amiri Baraka (formerly Leroi Jones, b. 1934) is one of the major and most important writers of the past half century in the United States, as well as a longtime political and cultural activist and teacher since the early 1960s. Highly gifted and creatively proficient in many different genres of literature--poetry, playwriting, cultural criticism, the essay, fiction, music and literary theory, history, and criticism, as well as journalism --Baraka is also a consummate social organizer, theoretician, and strategist who has founded and/or been an integral part of many different social, cultural, and political organizations and is widely considered the leading force behind the legendary Black Arts Movement (BAM), a national cultural phenomenon that revolutionized American writing and cultural expression in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Amiri is the legendary and prolific author of over 30 books (!), an esteemed member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a past winner of the American Book Award, the Langston Hughes Award, and fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts. Baraka also taught literature, music history, cultural history, politics, and African American Studies for over 30 years at SUNY--Stony Brook, Columbia, Yale, and Georgetown universities.

The following two political essays were written in response to the Obama campaign for the U.S. Presidency. The first one entitled "Left Out, Left Back, Left Behind" initially appeared in the specific context of the national 'Black Left' political conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on May 30-31, 2008 and the second called "The Parade of Anti-Obama Rascals" was first published on June 21, 2008.

Cogent, insightful, feisty, toughminded, rigorous, and incisive these essays continue Baraka's profound intellectual and activist legacy of always speaking truth to power and challenging us all to seriously wrestle with, investigate, and engage the complex and often conflicted and even ambivalent dimensions of public discourse on radical politics, ideological committment, and the larger struggle for true Democracy in our society and culture. It is in that spirit of dialogue and shared hopes, dreams, anxieties, fears, and desires that we are proud to feature Mr. Baraka's most recent commentary in the online pages of The Panopticon Review.


by Amiri Baraka
May 30, 2008

The Left is still playing infantile games, maddening antics, childish in their pronouncement, backwards in their effect. But to play games in this bitter material world, a world imperialism has recreated as Hell, is to risk being regarded as a candidate for the loony pen.

At a recent Harlem debate about the presidential primary campaign, two “Leftists” and a righty journalist disguised as a purveyor of hard facts trashed Obama. In fact he came out Wednesday with another mighty tome proving that Obama is unworthy as he ends it he “smells a thug”. But as my grandmother would say he probably smells his own upper lip.

At the debate he said that Obama and Clinton’s records are identical. But she voted for the war, he did not. And at that time, she had not sunk into the gutter of race baiting including poisonous speculation about a campaign saving assassination.

All three of these speakers at the Harlem debate were Black, at least one who back in the day was a member of the CP and who explained that imperialism would not permit Obama to change anything. Was he signifying that imperialism would allow the other candidates to bring more effective change?

Didn’t he also understand that even imperialism has its contradictions and splits that might enable significant political gain with the correct political line and massive popular support. Were the gains made against formal apartheid in this country in the 60’s by the Civil Right and Black Liberation Movements made only because imperialism permitted them?

A Harlem housing activist leaped to her feet, hands on hips, defiantly shouting, “You are not calling Obama a progressive are you?”

But in the context of Clinton & McCain, of course he is a progressive. A would be progressive anti war activist said we shd forget Obama and get back to being against the war. What does that mean if the only candidate to be against the war is Obama? What would prevent a presumably intelligent person from understanding this?

But there is a culture that only regards protest as real politics and marginalization as the only correct political stance. Why do these people first infer that there is a whole spectrum of candidates to choose from? There are only three, McCain, Clinton & Obama, take yr pick. But for some of us the idea of actually soiling our idealism by plunging into Bourgeois politics is sickening. But how can it be more sickening than standing around full of good slogans which nobody hears but ourselves, some of the time.

No one can resent or be more disgusted by US bourgeois politics than I, but there must be some deeper understanding of politics, as Karenga sd, “The gaining, maintaining and use of power". But also what Lenin said is that the goal of any true revolutionary is the seizure of power. But we exist throughout this land animated by protest, to whatever extent, but do not yet comprehend at large that we must wrestle power from bourgeois forces at whatever level as anchor for our protest mode. As a Left “force” the protest is almost our sole modes operandi.

We must begin to understand that we have to oppose the maintenance of the bourgeoisie at the lowest possible level to the highest. The highest is revolution. But in The Civil War in France, Marx said the Bourgeoisie knew what to do about street fighting in the 19th century, but what they have remained vulnerable to is the possibility of the masses of the people organizing and using the hypocritical bourgeois cry of democracy to actually access varieties of actual power!

To use voting for McKinney, whom I have always admired, as a suitable stance in this present conflict is to play games—don’t even mention the Nadir of political liberal unreality (Bah, Humbug!)

As much as I respect Cynthia McKinney, we need to take real action not make symbolic gestures merely to reassure ourselves we’re on the side of the Angels (not Engels) while permitting the outright devil to remain in power.

We can see now the surrounding media has taken off its gloves and is pounding Obama, using Clinton’s victory in Pennsylvania to suggest she has made a stunning comeback. But with their usual trickery, where last month they were saying that Hilary was 34 pts ahead, now they trumpet the 10 point victory as a triumph of triumph.

New Jersey’s Star Liar had headlines after the West Virginia debacle of poor whites voting against their own interests, Clinton Wins Big in West Virginia, but only a miniature heading mentioning Obama’s Oregon victory. The fact is that neither West Virginia nor Pennsylvania changed the distance and relationship of Obama’s lead. And the 10 points in Penna , if that indeed was what it was, given the reports of voting machine break down in the inner cities, has merely kept the separation between Clinton & Obama exactly where it was.

What I understood in that Harlem debate is that the three I discussed have never been in the Black Liberation Movement, so the struggle is more abstract. They don’t see Obama’s candidacy as an aspect of the BLM. That is, a struggle to raise the level of contradictions in the society and to push race theory to the wall.

We have not had a white anything running local politics in Newark for 38 years. Our children have been raised understanding the duplicity & lugubrious cowardice, & ignorance of the negro petty bourgeois, defining home rule as flawed by that class’ shallowness & fear. Now with Corey Booker bringing in a “occupied Newark” we see the real meaning of Cabral’s observation of how imperialism can rule through “Native Agents”. But we have had the opportunity to be taught about classes and class struggle without having to be objectively oppressed directly by the acid addition of straight out racial fascism.

(In contrast, the top 10 police officials in Newark now, under Booker- Stanford, Yale, Rhodes scholar where he was president of the Oxford University Jewish Student Organization- are white , not even Latino, in a city 60% Black. Booker defines comprador)

But we see now, in the last weeks since Pennsylvania , the forces of straight out racism begin to represent themselves almost openly as that, no longer citing Obama’s lack of experience and being cheerful about his “post racial” message. Now they openly say Obama cannot win because he cannot convince white people (at first the white working class, now just white people..which includes Charlie Rangel and Andy Young) to vote for him. Add to that the feminists who want to describe Hilary Clinton as a “woman” but Obama as a “Black Man. This just in, Hilary is a white woman.

It is time that the BLM (Black Liberation Movement), and the would be “Black Left”as the most advanced sector of the BLM, made its presence felt in the campaign, celebrating the post racial potential of the Obama campaign, but also clarifying the exact things we want to achieve with an Obama nomination. Because it is the possibility of such nomination that shd bring us to explain precisely what we expect from that nomination, which is an explanation , at the same time, why we support him even, as the Phila leftist sd, as a member of an imperialist party. Which of these candidates is not? This reminds me of the negro preacher in Harlem who was on You Tube screaming “Obama had a white mother”. This just in….so did Hilary and McCain! What foolishness!

The Left must stop pretending that this campaign is other than bourgeois politics in a country ruled by Monopoly Capitalism and Imperialism, by two parties who are surely representatives of that. We must use our resources of communication & organization to broaden, solidify and draw to the Left the pro-Obama coalition, trying to electrify it with a Left Bloc, as Lenin counseled, to maximize the influence of real left politics even within the bourgeois election.

Does anyone believe that Malcolm X and Dr. King operated within another system? The question remains what we can do within this system to force some change within it, not to be so “shot out” by discovering we live under monopoly capitalism that all we do is call our enemies names & refuse to struggle directly to transform it.

If we do not directly participate in the only slender corridor where the bourgeosie, as Marx pointed out in The Civil War in France pretends to endanger itself by touting democracy, we are foolish not to try to take whatever advantage of it we can. Must we be content merely to celebrate our Leftism by participating in acknowledged rituals of impotence , no matter how high sounding & Left they may seem. We shd be fighting McCain & Bonnie &Clyde with all our might, maximizing our Unity & preparing to struggle. We shd understand by now how tough the primary campaign has been, we had better prepare for the general election campaign which will be much much worse.

We must hold meetings to set tactics and strategy in place, in a number of cities and consolidate our decision & resolve. We must even go to Denver & be ourselves to make certain they do not just steal the nomination before our eyes.

There are already forces in Denver and preparing to bring more in. It would be important to hold a number of rallies by late July to mobilize Denver rallies Aug 25 to 29 at the site of the National Democratic Convention. We must make the entire world understand the dangerousness of trying to steal the nomination from Barack Obama.

We shd also begin to make concrete suggestions about Obama’s campaign, where it is faltering we shd be open & give advice. We shd take issue, obviously with issues like the backwardness of part of the Cuba speech. We shd have come together forcefully to fight those forces black and white who thought Rev Wright’s sermon or his press conference were racist. Or to defend Michelle Obama’s expression of realistic pride in her husband’s candidacy.

It is time for Obama to get tougher, more incisive in his commentary. He can no longer be satisfied with merely taking “the high road”. Hilary Clinton is a very flawed candidate. If Obama is Black she must be White . Her reliance on feminist racism must be exposed. We must begin to see her as the plantations owners “better half” & only that.

McCain’s Viet Nam lobotomy must be cited. Not only is he a right wing Bush man in almost everything he says - no help for those unhoused in the subprime scandal- not even the banks - OOPS! Change that . That was so screwy under monopoly he had to withdraw that immediately.

The Bill scandals, Hilary’s loyal Goldwater membership while that dinosaur righty even opposed Dr. King’s birthday. We must see this also as an opportunity to hammer at the old guard sell out civil rights negroes whose years of betrayal now have become the scarlet letter of the Hilary support. Rangel, Fenty, Maxine, Bob Johnson, Philly’s Mayor Nutter, Andy with Tavis Smiley as Amos, and the rest, all must be drummed out of any respectful status they now obtain among the Afro American people. Let their obsession with Clinton be their paean of retirement , their public walking papers. So we can kill several birds with one stone. (John Lewis and Donald Payne came to their senses they say.)

Plus, we must create some widely distributed document of specific demands for Obama. He cannot be permitted to take us, as the Democratic party usually does, for granted. This document shd be , at once, a defense of his candidacy, but dialectically, give the more exact parameters of what we expect his candidacy (and his presidency) to do-- which at the same time we know the others will not.

The New Orleans reconstruction effort, Reparations, the rise of White Supremacy, the subprime mortgage scandal. Specifically calling for reversals of Bill Clinton’s legislative legacy, the crime bill, the destruction of welfare (having welfare recipients sell racist newspapers like the Star Ledger and describing it as workfare). There should be WPA type reconstruction efforts, but also raise these questions to put Hilary Clinton in the vise of having to repudiate Bill’s work & by inference her co-responsibility for it.

The entire explanation of what can be done now, even under monopoly capitalism , to change US political culture. The elimination of the electoral college, the elimination of the winner take all system, the elimination of private monies in elections which ensure the candidates will be controlled by private interests, the support for one person- one vote, the elimination of the US Senate (an American House of Lords) in exchange for a single, unicameral House of Representatives, the restoration of Voting rights for ex-felons, the making of voting mandatory…if taxation is mandatory, so too shd be voting. These are things that can be done even under monopoly capitalism as concrete steps toward a Peoples Democracy.

We shd project the replacement of the present two party dictatorship with a parliamentary system which will allow as many parties as there are ideologically significant blocs, so that governance must be done as it is in Europe, by coalition, rather than by two wings of the same vampire bat- not just a third party, but a multiparty system.

The restoration of Affirmative action as a class oriented reform, not racially, to break down the resistance to it the bourgeoisie can inspire in poor whites, who also need it Plus a strong plank for support of reparations, the impartial review of cases and freeing of Political prisoners like Mumia Abu Jamal & H Rap Brown. Such a Black Left developed platform could gain wide support by some of the same forces within Obama’s present “post –racial coalition”

One of those Harlem debaters has come out with a long paper on Black Self Determination, essentially using that discussion as yet another forum to put Obama down. But the question of Self Determination is not understood. Starting with DuBois’ description of a Double Consciousness, that the Afro American people, since slavery, have grown with this “Twoness” being both Black and American. Without any advanced understanding this could just function as just some form of schizophrenia. But the truth is we are both Black and American, though this has been historically a painful contradiction. The reality of this consciousness, as a reflection of real life, is that we have a double edged sword to face the twinned obstructions to our national liberation. So that we must fight for both Equal Citizenship Rights on one hand and Self Determination on the other.

If we think our struggle is simply for Equal Citizenship rights, then we are too dependent on the paths seemingly offered by the status quo to move forward as swiftly as we must. Even voting rights were brought by the self determined struggle of the Civil Rights Movement and Black Liberation movements. Just waiting for the governing bodies to reach the humanistic conclusion that we needed the right to vote would see us still waiting for it.

But if we think our struggle is only for Self Determination then we have marginalized ourselves into thinking that we need not struggle within and with the mainstream of US political life and that somehow we are not even defined by our lives and history in this society. We are US citizens.

It is the balance of these two struggles which are actually part of the same struggle that we must understand and make use of to make our advance, turning this way then that way but always moving forward with the twin goals of Democratic rights and Self Determination.

So we think the struggle to support Obama and thereby commit ourselves to challenging him is well within the responsibilities we take on when we claim advanced political consciousness. What I predicted in the first debates last year about Obama has certainly come to pass, that his candidacy would cause wide excitement in the national Afro American community and it is this excitement which is everywhere prevalent which the Black Left, in conjunction with the whole of the Left and whatever other progressive and middle forces cohere, to reignite not only the BLM but the entire spectrum of progressive US politics.

So we are proposing a general People for Obama network which will go up on the net very soon. We are also proposing rallies for fundraising and communication by late July, focusing on the 27 cities where Black people are a majority or a large plurality, these are the largest cities in the US. We are also proposing a mass gathering of forces in Denver

Aug 25-29, to put exclamation point on our determination that Obama receive the nomination and that no Deus ex Machina , the ancient Greek term for the metaphysical symbol they used to project out on the stage where there was a problem humans cd not solve in the old dramas. We cannot let that Deus or his Machina get in the way of democracy this time.

We hear Clyde calling idiotically from the wings “Hilary won the popular vote”, as he tries to savor the results of the racist mongering he and Bonnie have been doing after Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Perhaps he thinks he is that Deus and all he needs is his machine. But we have a larger machine, all those democratic and would be “post racist” forces , plus the will and strength of the Afro American people. Black folks who have been the irresistible force behind Obama’s campaign, some 90%. And let us not forget we are a people of close to 50 million with 600 billion dollars a year, the 16th largest GNP in the world. 15th is General Motors. It is time we, along with our most trusted allies, made some impact on the mainstream of US politics, again.

Amiri Baraka
at the Black Left conference
Chapel Hill, NC 5/30-31/08

The Parade of Anti-Obama Rascals
by Amiri Baraka
June 21, 2008

We certainly know the animals of the right, the US Reich, the Foxes and Klan in Civilian clothes, e.g., O’Reilly, Hannity, Limbaugh &c and certainly a coon or two Tavis & Andy, some people even came up with the slogan Strangle Rangel. Happily w/the departure of Bonnie & Clyde more of these Negro retainers will replace their “ HillJig” buttons with the shit eating grin of exposed Toms as they try to ease painlessly into at least the margin of the masses who support Obama .

But I’m talking about another substantial pimple of soi disant, dare I say, intellectuals & self advertised radicals who are quite audible & wordy in opposition to Obama. You might say, ‘but how is that, since now there is only the prisoner of war, McCain , whose proves every time he opens his mouth that he is still a prisoner of the Viet Nam war’ that Obama faces. McCain’s major campaign plank is that Americans need to keep dying in Iraq and our tax monies need to keep being fed to Halliburton and the other oilies and cronies. McCain also holds that we continue the Bush type savaging of the US constitution by denying habeas corpus and the legal rights of prisoners in Guantanamo. Keep it open as a Bush-Cheney concentration camp. McCain also wants to maintain the widespread hatred of the US by the world, as well as making Bush’ giveaway Tax cuts for the super rich permanent.

Here’s a charming character who on returning from Viet nam soon dumped his lst wife who had been severely crippled in an automobile accident, to run off with, among others, a beer brewery heiress who cd support his political barn storming. Here’s a man, who for all the media clap about him being “an independent” is the spiritual follower of the man whose seat he sits in as Senator from Arizona, Barry Goldwater.

I mention all this because it is criminal for these people claiming to be radical or intellectual to oppose or refuse to support Obama. I hope we don’t have to hear about “the lesser of two evils” from people whose foolish mirror worship wd have us elect the worst of two evils.

For those who claim radical by supporting McKinney or, brain forbid, the Nadir of fake liberalism, we shd have little sympathy. As much as I have admired Cynthia McKinney, to pose her candidacy as an alternative to Obama is at best empty idealism, at worst nearly as dangerous as when the Nader used the same windy egotism to help elect Bush.

The people who are supporting McKinney must know that that is an empty gesture. But too often such people are so pocked with self congratulatory idealism, that they care little or understand little about politics (i.e. the gaining maintaining and use of power) but want only to pronounce , to themselves mostly, how progressive or radical or even revolutionary they are.

Faced with the obvious that McKinney cannot actually do anything by running but put out lines a solid left bloc shd put out anyway, their pre-joinder is that Obama will be running as a candidate of an imperialist party, or Imperialism will not let Obama do anything different or progressive…that he will do the same things any democrat would do and that the Democrats are using Obama to draw young people to the Democratic party. Also that there is a sector of the bourgeoisie supports Obama to put a new face on the US as alternative to the Devil face Bush has projected as the American image.

Some of these things I agree with, but before qualifying that let me say that no amount of solipsistic fist pounding about “radical principles” will change this society as much as the election of Barack Obama will as president of the US. Not to understand this is to have few clues about the history of this country, its people, or the history of the Black struggle in the US. It is also to be completely at odds with the masses of the Afro-American people, let us say with the masses of black and colored people internationally. How people who claim to lead the people but who time after time tail them so badly must be understood. It is because they confuse elitism with class consciousness.

And at this point, the US body politic has been taken too far in this present election campaign to easily dissolve this heavy challenge to its historic race & class exclusivity. The positive aspect of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and commitment to work in the Obama campaign has certainly shredded some of the gender exclusivity as well, so that there is in reality a prospect that some substantive change can be made. Obama is the democratic nominee. Only repeats of the outright election theft of Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004 can put McCain in the white house. In 2 weeks, since the Democratic Party primaries ended, McCain’s poll numbers have dropped from a dead heat w/ Obama to trailing by 18 points.

It is up to revolutionaries and progressives and radicals of all stripes to make it difficult for another larceny in November. We should agitate for serious disruption across this country and internationally if such a criminal attempt to steal the US presidency is mounted.

For the so called left and would be radicals (and some grinning idiots who say they don’t even care about politics) the McKinney gambit is to label oneself “Quixote of the loyal opposition” to pipsqueak a hiss of disproval at the rulers while being an enabler of the same. Neither McCain nor McKinney will help us. Only Obama offers some actual help.

Even the dumbest things Obama has said re: Cuba and the soft shoe for Israel must be seen as the cost of realpolitik, that is he is not running for president of the NAACP and not to understand that those are the stances that must be taken in the present political context, even though we hold out to support what he said about initiating talks with the Cubans, the Palestinians. After years of Washington stupidity and slavish support for the Miami Gusanos and Israeli imperialism, there is in Obama’s raising of talks with the US Bourgeois enemies something that must be understood as the potential path for new initiative. It is the duty of a left progressive radical bloc to be loud and regular in our demands for the changes Obama has alluded to in his campaign. We must take up these issues and push collectively, as a Bloc, or he will be pushed inexorably to the right.

Some people were grousing about the father’s day address and the stance he took lecturing Black men to actually become fathers not just disappearing sexual partners. But can anyone who actually lives in the hood, and has raised children there really claim that what Obama said is somehow an “insult to half a race”. We need to take up that idea of making Black men stand up and embrace fatherhood (a lifetime gig) as men and quit winking at the vanished baby makers that litter our community with fatherless children. This is where a great deal of the raw material comes from for the gangs that imperil our communities.

As I answered one irate e-mailer who was pissed off at Obama for leveling that challenge, a Negro man killed my only sister, a Negro man killed my youngest daughter. I can’t give no mealy mouth slack about that, we need to Stand Up!

Obama has addressed the Israeli lobby and the Gusano (anti Cuba) lobby. But where is the Black left and general progressive, radical and revolutionary lobby? That is the real job we need to address. We must bring something to the table. It is time for the left to really make some kind of Left Bloc to support Obama. I was at the Black Left meeting in North Carolina and had to argue with a group of folks who want to be revolutionary as heck with a Reconstruction Party supporting Cynthia McKinney. Though there was some good discussion, nothing concrete has been offered especially around the Obama campaign.

There were even a few badly disguised nationalists, posing as part of the left who think such posturing somehow more revolutionary than getting Obama into the oval office and dealing with getting him there and the rocking and rolling that will go on in this country whether he makes it or not. We ought to be putting together a left bloc document that can be circulated as soon and as widely as possible and in Denver and depending on the circumstances, beyond. Using this as a means of drawing the excited masses to the left.

We always knew that the Obama campaign had the potential to do this. And the closer we get to the convention and then the election even more excitement will be generated. We shd not let our role be to stand on the sidelines and mumble how hip we are, we can’t be so hip we let this cross roads of US history pass us by and possibly even let the lobotomized Robocop of right wing Republicanism serve us up more Bush’it.

I am sending this document right after I finish writing it to the Black Radical Congress who is meeting in St. Louis this weekend. I would hope it could be circulated.

Amiri Baraka 6/21/08