Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Power, Dangers, and Responsibility of Investigative Journalism and Whistleblowing: Wikileaks, Julian Assange, and Pvt. Bradley Manning

Pvt. Bradley Manning

Julian Assange

THE LAST JOURNALIST: Wikileaks' Julian Assange Being Martyred by Our Indifference, But Who Weeps for Bradley Manning?
By Rayfield A. Waller

I don't have the time to be writing this. I have writing deadlines to meet for publication of short stories that I will be paid for, making it easier to pay my rent. My students are panicking because finals are approaching, so my cell phone has rung all day with the pleadings of twenty year old undergraduates. On top of that, my union is embroiled, like all embattled unions are these days, in conflict over an insulting proposal for contract renewal from the college administration that offers no raise, no bonus, and cuts in benefits. I and fellow professors must decide whether to accept this 'austerity-driven' piece of malarky or throw it back in their faces and threaten a strike if they won't re-bargain.

Yet, I put all personal and local issues aside to write this. We must all put things aside (or at least do some slick multi-tasking) to respond publicly, in writing, at rallies, at speeches, in articles, editorials, or broadsides, each in his or her own way, to the Wikileaks fiasco. I, like you I'm sure, had been at first bemused by the groveling gutlessness of American journalists who've gleefully, self destructively, joined in the American military state's chorus of denunciation of the heart and soul of journalism (that heart and soul being investigative advocacy for the powerless, and the will to challenge the powerful with the truth). That denunciation has centered on one journalist (Julian Assange, creator of the investigative site, 'Wikileaks': who has dared do what so-called fourth estate poseurs like “Nightline”, the ABC, CBS, and NBC news divisions, CNN, The Washington Post, MSNBC, TIME, NEWSWEEK, and UPI, AP et al, have failed to do for a very long time now, uncover the truth about US and other western governments' political and military actions in murdering hundreds of thousands of civilians in three wars; the US war machine's misappropriation of our tax dollars; the truth about the jackal-like behavior and Neanderthal words and actions of our patrician diplomatic corp; and to publish these things so that we all will know what our governments are doing in our names.

My bemusement has turned, as has yours I'm sure, from humor to horror as the botox and brill cream cyborgs at network news services fulminate about Assange 'threatening the safety of our troops', and as even venerable leftist geezers like my beloved Ariana Huffington feel the need in this reactionary environment to provide journalistic 'balance' by carrying hypocritical 'morality' pieces (like Huff columnist Alex Becker's in which he questions Julian Assange's moral clarity: Such suck-up journalism displays as Becker's show a truly frightening level of stupid about what journalism by definition, actually is, what it used to be, and what it should be. (for example, Woodward and Bernstein exposing Watergate, Seymour Hersch exposing the truth about the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, The New York Times deciding to fearlessly publish 'The Pentagon Papers' provided as a 'leak' by Daniel Ellsberg, veteran Vietnam correspondent Peter Arnett exposing the effect on Iraqi civilians of the use of depleted uranium weapons and the possible causes of 'gulf war syndrome' suffered by hapless American soldiers, or Greg Palast speaking truth to the-powers-that-be-Bush by exposing Governor Jeb Bush's illegal purging of thousands of Black Florida citizens from voting roles prior to the 2000 election, helping his brother to win the presidency).

The fourth estate's complete surrender to the market strategy of profit driven news, the mendacity and overt irrationality of plutocratic news-o-tainment that American media have imposed upon us to the point that they now dare to treat Julian Assange (the last journalist?) as insane or terroristic simply because he does his job as a journalist, threatens now, in the sixty second memory environment that is American public culture today, to totally obscure Assange's feat of carrying on the simple decency of the hero, Daniel Ellsberg into the present day. It obscures Assange's having managed to show us all our own power in the internet age by giving investigative journalism a forum in cyberspace.

Assange has provided a slight, and oh so brief revitalization of the profession of journalism. For a moment there, we almost had a feeling that the old times were back (you know: the old days when we spoke truth to power, cared more about the innocent third world civilians being murdered with impunity by America's imperialist war machine that we pretended to care about 'our troops' who are themselves victims, many of them, of an economic draft into this nefarious business of War Inc.

Luckily, intellectuals and cultural critics across the world are rallying to Assange.

He has been pledged help with bail, in order to be freed from a London jail where he had been held pending extradition to Sweden where suspicious criminal sexual charges have been filed against him. Among other defenders, Michael Moore has donated $20,000 to Assange's bail and defense fund, as well as pledging to donate his own computer servers, websites, and any other electronic resources to the service of Wikileaks so that it can continue publishing after having been scurrilously attacked and shut down by elements of the United States government and the CIA (the very first complete and arrogantly public act of internet censorship by the US government, akin to China's overt censoring of its own citizens' internet access).

But what of Bradley Manning?

'Wikileaks' is essentially a skeleton key. Assange's operation uncovers and accepts 'leaks' in hidden data and un-reported government and corporate activities that impact freedom, democracy, the principle of government transparency, and human rights, allowing '' to unlock secrets and expose them to the light of day. Part of its success depends on informants or 'whistle-blowers', men and women within government and corporate structures who, as an act of conscience, decide to 'leak' secret, repressed, classified, or hidden information, events, activities, and images to the press and to the outside world. An example of this is the 2004 'leaking' of the photos, of torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib by soldiers of the 320th Military Police Battalion. The public exposure by NY Times, The New Yorker, CBS News and CNN of those photos, taken by and also leaked by American military personnel, led to charges against some of the perpetrators, of 'prisoner abuse' under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. U.S, Army Prvt. Bradley Manning is another of the growing number of military personnel who are leaking evidence of war crimes such as torture and murder of unarmed civilians to the media, crimes they witness first hand and want to expose. Manning, allegedly a military intelligence operative in Iraq, leaked more than 250,000 classified United States embassy cables to Wikileaks. One of the items Manning is alleged to have released to Assange is an infamous military operations video of a 2007 US Apache helicopter strike in Baghdad in which non combatant, unarmed Iraqi civilians were murdered by U.S. Helicopter pilots.

Unlike other leakers, however, some of whom have been hailed, even by the government, as 'heros' for alerting the world to heinous war crimes, Manning has been held in inhumanely military custody for seven months, in Kuwait and in Quantico, Virginia, in solitary confinement. Though he has not been tried for any crimes, he is being held now in Quantico under what Journalist Glenn Greenwald in a recent Annenberg Digital News article calls, “Conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture." (see Greenwald, who writes for and for NY Times and LA Times, also charges that:

"From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day -- for seven straight months and counting -- he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he's barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he's being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch). For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs. "(Glenn Greenwald,

The reason we need to be eternally vigilant against the abuse, murder, and torture of prisoners of war, of even our enemies, is because what is done with impugnity and without oversight to those we wage war against will eventually be done against us, by our own government grown bold and unafraid thanks to our indifference. What is happening to Bradley Manning today, will happen to Julian Assange tommorow, and thus, it will be done, history makes clear, to even the journalists of NY Times and PacificaNetwork and DemocracyNow, and to you and me. to keep up to date on the course of Manning's captivity, and to offer help and support. We need to take the time.

Rayfield A. Waller is on the adjunct faculty of the department of Africana Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. He’s a freelance journalist, and contributing writer to Progreso Weekly and to The Michigan Citizen. He is also a proud member of the Union of Part Time Faculty, AFT, AFL-CIO

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Senator Bernie Sanders Fights For Democracy While His Colleagues Run For Cover

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). (Photo: United States Congress)


This is what really smart, tough, and courageous political leadership actually looks and sounds like these daze. This man and his absolutely crucial message makes him a GIANT among pygmies. Thank you Bernie Sanders!


What Bernie Said, Part I
Tuesday 14 December 2010
by: William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

At the time of this writing, legislation to formalize the tax deal between President Obama and congressional Republicans cleared cloture by a large margin, and looked ready to sail through the Senate. Polls indicate a large margin of Americans approve of the deal, and newspapers like the Washington Post are hailing the process as "the most significant bipartisan vote since President Obama took office."

Not everyone agrees.

Last week, a battery of congressional Democrats rose up in outrage over the deal, specifically protesting not only the extension of George W. Bush's tax cuts for rich people, but for the attack on the payroll tax, which many see as the beginning of the end of Social Security.

Leading the charge was Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who took to the well of the Senate on Friday to deliver a marathon eight-and-a-half hour denunciation of the deal. As his speech rose and grew, bloggers and "mainstream" media reporters, and then the networks, focused on the fact that it was happening. Articles debated whether this was a "true" filibuster, or merely a very long speech, and a few snippets of what Sanders said were disseminated.

The thing was, if you were not watching C-SPAN, or if you didn't have eight hours to spare, you probably missed the vast majority of what he had to say. No articles I could find repeated his more salient points at any length, and by the end of the weekend, it was as if the event had not taken place.

Not on my watch, folks.

The speech delivered by Mr. Sanders on Friday ranks among the most important I have ever heard in my life, certainly the single most pertinent expression of fact and outrage that has been delivered in this current climate of "compromise" and collapse. He told more truth in his eight hours than many of us have heard from an elected official in the last ten years, and it would be a disgrace if his eloquence faded into the background without the study and reflection it deserves.

The thing is, Mr. Sanders basically recited a book on Friday; the sheer volume of what he had to say is staggering. I highly recommend reading the entire transcript yourself when you have the time, but make enough time; the full transcript is 124 pages long. In lieu of that, I took the time to cull out and highlight what I consider to be the most pertinent aspects of the speech. Because there is so much, I have broken these highlights into two parts. The second part will run later in the week, whether or not this tax deal passes.

What Sanders had to say is too important to miss. The emphasis added in these passages is mine. He begins below with an examination of the so-called "death tax":

This agreement includes a horrendous proposal regarding the estate tax. That is a Teddy Roosevelt initiative. Teddy Roosevelt was talking about this in the early years of the 20th century. It was enacted in 1916 and it was enacted for a couple of reasons. Teddy Roosevelt and the people of that era thought it was wrong that a handful of people could have a huge concentration of wealth and then give that wealth, transmit that wealth to their children. He did not think that was right.

Let us be very clear: This tax applies only - only - to the top three-tenths of 1 percent of American families; 99.7 percent of American families will not pay one nickel in an estate tax. This is not a tax on the rich, this is a tax on the very, very, very rich.

If my Republican friends had been successful in doing what they want to do, which is eliminate this estate tax completely, it would have cost our Treasury--raised the national debt by $1 trillion over a 10-year period. Families such as the Walton family, of Wal-Mart fame, would have received, just this one family, about a $30 billion tax break.

It is all too rare these days to actually hear an elected official jump up and down on the fact that this country has been neatly divided between the scrabbling, scratching majority and an all-powerful micro-minority that gets every break there is to get. Thirty billion for one family? How many schools is that?

Truthout needs your help to sustain groundbreaking, independent journalism in 2011. Make a tax-deductible contribution now by clicking here.

From there, Mr. Sanders moved on to the assault on Social Security:

Even though Social Security contributed nothing to the current economic crisis, it has been bartered in a deal that provides deficit-busting tax cuts for the wealthy. Diverting $120 billion in Social Security contributions for a so-called "tax holiday'' may sound like a good deal for workers now, but it's bad business for the program that a majority of middle-class seniors will rely upon in the future.

While this idea of lowering the payroll tax sounds like a good idea, in truth, it really is not a good idea. This idea originated from very conservative Republicans whose intention from the beginning was to destroy Social Security by choking off the funds that go to it. This is not just Bernie Sanders' analysis. There was recently - I distributed it recently at a meeting we held - a news release that came from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. The headline on that press release is "Cutting Contributions to Social Security Signals the Beginning of the End. Payroll Tax Holiday is Anything But.'' What the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, which is one of the largest senior groups in America, well understands is that there are people out there who want to destroy Social Security. And one way to do that is to divert funds into the Social Security trust fund and they don't get there.

A majority of Americans were against extending tax cuts for the wealthy, and a whole lot of people have been wondering for a while why this administration and this congress have not instead focused as intently as required on the subject of job creation. Mr. Sanders has a simple solution:

As a former mayor, infrastructure does not get better if you ignore it. You can turn your back, if you are a mayor or Governor, on the roads and the highways because you do not have the money to fix them today, but they are not going to get better next year. At some point, they are going to have to be repaired and fixed. We may as well do that right now.

So I believe the money, the very substantial sums of money in this agreement between the President and the Republicans, which goes into tax breaks for corporate America, could be effectively spent on infrastructure.

According to the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, $225 billion is needed annually for the next 50 years to upgrade our surface transportation system to a state of good repair and create a more advanced system. The Federal Highway Administration reports that $130 billion must be invested annually for a 20-year period to improve our bridges and the operational performance of our highways. At present, one in four of the Nation's bridges is either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. One in four of our bridges is either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Yet in this agreement struck by the President and the Republican leadership, to the best of my knowledge, not one nickel is going into our infrastructure. We need to invest in our infrastructure. We need to improve our infrastructure. When we do that, we can create millions of jobs.

From there, Mr. Sanders went on to remind everyone about the nightmare that was the Bush years, and what kind of damage was done to this country because of it. From there, he made several pointed remarks about what he believes to be the true foundations of Republican ideology:

The passage of this agreement would mean we would continue the Bush policy of trickle-down economics for at least 2 more years. That is not a good thing to do because, I think, as most Americans know, that philosophy, that economic approach, simply did not work. The evidence is quite overwhelming. I do not think there is much debate, when median family income during Bush's 8 years goes down by $2,200, when we end up losing over 600,000 private sector jobs, and all of the job growth was in the Federal level, I do not see how anybody would want to continue that philosophy. But that, in essence, is what will happen if this agreement is passed.

During the Bush years, the wealthiest 400 Americans saw their incomes more than double. Do you really think that after seeing a doubling of their incomes under the Bush years, these people are in desperate need of another million-dollar-a-year tax break? In 2007, the 400 top income earners in this country made an average of $345 million in 1 year. That is a pretty piece of change. That is the average, $345 million. In terms of wealth, as opposed to income, the wealthiest 400 Americans saw an increase in their wealth of some $400 billion during the Bush years. Imagine that. During an 8-year period, the top 400 wealthiest people each saw an increase, on average, of $1 billion apiece. Together, these 400 families have a collective net of $1.27 trillion. Does anybody in America really believe these guys need another tax break so that our kids and our grandchildren can pay more in taxes because the national debt has gone up?

Let me also say there is no doubt in my mind what many - not all but many - of my Republican colleagues want to do; that is, they want to move this country back into the 1920s when essentially we had an economic and political system which was controlled by big money interests; where working people and the middle class had no programs to sustain them when things got bad, when they got old, and when they got sick; when labor unions were very hard to come by because of anti-worker legislation. That is what they want. They do not believe in things like the Environmental Protection Agency. They do not believe in things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Federal aid to education. That is the fight we will be waging.

This point cannot be made strongly enough: What our Republican friends want to do - and they have been pretty honest and up front about it, especially some of the extreme, rightwing people who have been running for office and, in some cases, have won - they have been honest enough to say they want to bring this country back to where we were in the 1920s. Their ultimate aim is the basic repeal of almost all of the provisions that have been passed in the last 70 years to protect working people, the elderly, and children. They believe in a Darwinian-style society in which you have the survival of the fittest; that we are not a society which comes together to take care of all of us. You take care of me in need and I take care of you and your family; that we are one people. Their strategy is pretty clear. They want to ultimately destroy Social Security.

Once again, Sanders dared to raise a subject almost no one in Washington DC has the courage to touch - how much economic damage we have suffered, and continue to suffer, because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:

In terms of the Federal budget, when President Bush first took office, he inherited a $236 billion surplus in 2001 and a projected 10-year surplus of $5.6 trillion. That is what Senator Landrieu was discussing. But then some things happened. We all know that 9/11 was not his fault, but what happened is, we went to war in Afghanistan. We went to war in Iraq. The war in Iraq was the fault of President Bush, something I certainly did not support, nor do I think most Americans supported. The war in Iraq, by the time our last veteran is taken care of, will probably end up costing us something like $3 trillion, adding enormously to our national debt.

So when we talk about Iraq, it is not only the terrible loss of life that our soldiers and the Iraqi people have experienced, let's not forget what it has done to the deficit and the national debt. We did not pay for the war in Iraq. We just put it on the credit card.

This below was my favorite part. Rather than continuing to deal in abstractions and bland figures, Mr. Sanders laid it on the table and put a name and a face to the greed that has been driving us into the dirt:

Let me personalize this a little bit. This gentleman, shown in this picture I have in the Chamber - I have no personal animus toward him at all; I think I met him once in a large room. His name is James Dimon. He is the CEO of JPMorgan Chase. Over the past 5 years, Mr. Dimon, who is the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, received $89 million in total compensation - a bank that we now know received hundreds of billions in low-interest loans and other financial assistance from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department.

So Mr. Dimon received $89 million in total compensation. His bank was bailed out big time by the taxpayers. But under the legislation the President negotiated with the Republicans, Mr. Dimon - I use him just as one example for thousands; nothing personal to Mr. Dimon - will receive $1.1 million in tax breaks. So $1.1 million in tax breaks for a major CEO on Wall Street, who over the last 5 years received $89 million in total compensation.

Meanwhile - just to contrast what is going on here - 2 days ago, I brought before the Senate legislation which would provide a $250 one-time check to over 50 million seniors and disabled veterans, who for the last 2 years have not received a COLA on their Social Security. Many of those seniors and disabled vets are trying to get by on $14,000, $15,000, $18,000 a year. The total package for that bill was approximately $14 billion that would go out to over 50 million seniors and disabled vets. We won that vote on the floor of the Senate 53 to 45. But just because you get 53 votes in the Senate does not mean you win. Because the Republicans filibustered, I needed 60 votes. I could not get 60 votes. I could not get one Republican vote to provide a $250 check to a disabled veteran trying to get by on $15,000 or $16,000 a year.

But Mr. Dimon, who made $89 million in the last 5 years, will get a $1 million tax deduction if this agreement is passed. Now, that may make sense to some people. It does not make a lot of sense to me.

In America today - we don't talk about this too much, but it is time we did - we have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income in the industrialized world. I haven't heard too many people talk about that issue. Why not? Our Republican colleagues want huge tax breaks for the richest people, but the reality is the top 1 percent already today owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. How much more do they want? When is enough enough? Do they want it all? We already have millions of families today who have zero wealth. They owe more than they own. Millions of families have below zero wealth. We are living in a situation where the top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. The top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. That is simply unacceptable.

According to the Citizens for Tax Justice, if the Bush tax breaks for the top 2 percent are extended, these are some of the people who will benefit and what kind of benefits they will receive: Rupert Murdoch, the CEO of News Corporation, would receive a $1.3 million tax break next year. Mr. Murdoch is a billionaire. Do we really think he needs that? Jamie Dimon, the head of JPMorgan Chase, whose bank got a $29 billion bailout from the Federal Reserve, will receive a $1.1 million tax break. Trust me, Jamie Dimon, the head of JPMorgan Chase, is doing just fine. Vikram Pandit, the CEO of Citigroup, the bank that got a $50 billion bailout, would receive $785,000 in tax breaks. Ken Lewis, the former CEO of Bank of America - a bank that got a $45 billion bailout--the guy is already fabulously wealthy - would receive a $713,000 tax break. The CEO of Wells Fargo - these are the largest banks in America; the CEOs of these banks are already making huge compensation. John Stumpf, who is the CEO of Wells Fargo, would receive a $318,000 tax break every single year. The CEO of Morgan Stanley, John Mack, whose bank got a $10 billion bailout, would receive a $926,000 a year tax break. The CEO of Aetna, Ronald Williams, would receive a tax break worth $875,000.

Mr. Sanders has been leading the push to expose the insane lending policies practiced by the Federal Reserve during the onset of the financial crisis. Trillions of dollars were doled out to American companies as well as foreign companies and banks, with no oversight and no accountability, while Americans debated the comparably meager $700 billion bailout, having no idea what was going on in the Fed. When Sanders tried to get answers, he was told by Fed officials to go pound sand. On Friday, he let us know about it:

After years of stonewalling, the American people have learned the incredible, jaw-dropping details of the Fed's multimillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street and corporate America - not just Wall Street. It is one of the things we learned. As a result of this disclosure, in my view - we are going to get into what was in what we learned--Congress has to take a very extensive look at all aspects of how the Federal Reserve functions and how we can make our financial institutions more responsive to the needs of ordinary Americans and small businesses.

Then, on top of that, a number of the wealthiest individuals in this country also received a major bailout from the Fed. The ``emergency response,'' which is what the Fed described their action as during the Wall Street collapse, appears to any objective observer to have been the clearest case that I can imagine of socialism for the very rich and rugged free market capitalism for everybody else.

Furthermore, what we now know is the extent of the bailout for the large financial corporations. Goldman Sachs received nearly $600 billion. Morgan Stanley received nearly $2 trillion. Citigroup received $1.8 trillion. Bear Stearns received nearly $1 trillion. And Merrill Lynch received some $1.5 trillion in short-term loans from the Fed.

Furthermore, I think the American people are interested to know that the Fed bailed out the Korea Development Bank, the wholly owned, state-owned Bank of South Korea, by purchasing over $2 billion of its commercial paper. The sole purpose of the Korea Development Bank is to finance and manage major industrial projects to enhance the national economy not of the United States of America but of South Korea. I am not against South Korea. I wish the South Koreans all the luck in the world. But it should not be the taxpayers of the United States lending their banks' money to create jobs in South Korea. I would suggest maybe we want to create jobs in the United States of America. At the same time, the Fed also extended over $40 billion for the Central Bank of South Korea so that it had enough money to bail out its own banks.

After the cloture vote, Mr. Sanders released a statement explaining why he voted "No":

It makes no sense to me to provide huge tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires while we drive up the national debt that our children and grandchildren will have to pay. I further object strenuously to the lowering of rates on the estate tax, which only benefits the top 0.3 percent, the very, very wealthiest people in this country. I also am concerned about a significant precedent which diverts $112 billion in payroll taxes away from the Social Security trust fund. Our goal now must be to strengthen Social Security, not weaken it. Of course we must extend unemployment benefits and the tax breaks that the middle class desperately needs, but in my view we could have and should have negotiated a much stronger agreement.

As previously stated, the entire transcript from Friday is well worth a long, close read, for Mr. Sanders went into much greater detail and at greater length than has been provided above. This is just a taste, but what a taste. The sad realities and hard truths provided by Mr. Sanders must be spread far and wide, passed from hand to hand, repeated ad nauseam until everyone within reach of your arm is aware of what is really going on today. He had the courage to tell it straight. We must not let his words fade away.

Part II will be coming later this week.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Blatant Theft and Corruption in American Law and Politics: The 10th Anniversary of the Notorious Bush v. Gore Decision by the Supreme Court


This is the 10th anniversary of the most heinous, corrupt, and morally contemptible decision by the Supreme Court since the equally infamous and repugnant Dred Scott decision handed down by the Court in 1857 (the viciously racist one in which the Chief Justice Roger Taney actually wrote in his leading ruling opinion that "the black man has no rights that the white man need respect" among other criminal declarations). In deciding by a 5-4 vote the outcome of the 2000 presidential election in favor of George W. Bush over the Democratic Party candidate Al Gore-- a man with a half million
MORE popular votes than the Bushwhacker-- the openly reactionary rightwing court (with the major Uncle Tom scumbag of our time Justice Clarence Thomas voting right along with the four other notoriously pro-Republican Supremes on the court led then as now by the legal authoritarian Justice Antonin Scalia), changed the very course of American politics and culture at the very beginning of the new millenium, and through their venal THEFT ushered in what nearly all major historians--and most sane individuals generally-- regard as the WORST PRESIDENT AND ADMINISTRATION IN THE HISTORY OF THE REPUBLIC. Clearly we haven't recovered yet and with the very latest political sellout in a very long series of such capitulations over the past decade President Obama and the present Democratic Party have also caved in to the Republican right and criminally extended the already 10 year old Bush tax cuts for the rich. THE HORROR NEVER ENDS...



December 13, 2010

Ten years since Bush v. Gore: The stolen election of 2000
By Patrick Martin

Sunday, December 12 marked ten years since the US Supreme Court effectively decided the outcome of the 2000 presidential election, halting the counting of votes in Florida and awarding the White House to George W. Bush. The 5-4 ruling in Bush v. Gore, together with the contemptible capitulation of the Democratic Party, constituted a milestone in the decay of American democracy.

In a social and political context in which the debacles produced by the Bush administration loom so large in everyday life, it might be thought that the American media and political opinion makers would devote considerable attention to the tenth anniversary of the event that placed Bush in the White House.

In fact, however, the silence is deafening. Neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post, the two leading national newspapers, published retrospectives to mark the occasion. Their example was emulated in the regional and local press and on the television networks. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the four dissenters in Bush v. Gore, gave a rare live interview to Fox News Sunday, but the subject never came up.

Only one bourgeois pundit, right-wing columnist George Will, took up the issue, and he dismissed the Supreme Court action as one of little or no lasting significance, asserting that the passions over the decision "dissipated quickly" and that "remarkably little damage was done" by the post-election crisis.

Significantly, however, Will's cursory rehash of the dispute included flatly antidemocratic assertions--that the votes of those who "cast ballots incompetently" should simply have been discarded and that the fundamental right at stake in the court fight was the "rights of state legislatures" (in Florida's case, Republican-controlled), which have "plenary power" to determine voting procedures.

Will, of course, agrees with the five-member majority in Bush v. Gore that the central issue was not to determine, in as objective a fashion as possible, how the people of Florida actually voted--in other words, to count every vote--but to bring the controversy to a speedy end with the result favored by the political right. This entailed ignoring the result of the popular vote, won by Democrat Al Gore.

The silence of the nominally "liberal" press is a guilty one. They do not wish to revisit the history, not so long ago, in which the Democratic Party and the liberal media surrendered to a right-wing judicial coup d'état, whose effect was to install the most right-wing government in American history.

The election of November 7, 2000

The events of Election Day 2000, encompassing the night of Tuesday, November 7 and the early morning hours of Wednesday, November 8, are among the most extraordinary in American political history. Yet they came after a presidential campaign of the most humdrum character, in which no political issues were seriously discussed. The consensus among political pundits and pollsters was that Bush, then governor of Texas, held a narrow but significant lead over his Democratic opponent, Vice President Al Gore.

As in 1998, however, when predictions of major Republican gains in the midst of the impeachment crisis failed to materialize, it appeared as the votes began to be counted that the political establishment had underestimated the popular hostility towards the right-wing program of the Republican Party, founded on tax cuts for the wealthy and the slashing of domestic social spending.

Gore won many of the big industrial states with relative ease, including Michigan and Pennsylvania. The Democrats were sweeping the northeastern states and were expected to win the Pacific Coast, while Bush carried the south and southwest, the Rocky Mountain states and Ohio. It appeared that the election would be decided by Florida's 25 votes in the Electoral College.

Just before 8 p.m., several US television networks called the outcome in Florida for Gore, based on their exit polls of voters compiled throughout the day. The Bush campaign reacted immediately, breaking with precedent and putting the candidate before television cameras to denounce the network projections and declare his certainty that Florida--where his brother Jeb was governor and the Republicans controlled the machinery of state government--would end up in his column.

The networks backed down, rescinding their call for Gore and declaring the outcome in Florida still undecided. Then, in the early hours of Wednesday, Fox News became the first network to call Florida for Bush, thereby declaring him the victor in the election.

Heading the decision desk, where the network reviewed vote totals and polls to arrive at projections, was John W. Ellis, a first cousin of George W. Bush. Ellis unilaterally called the election for Bush before any determination by the Voter News Service, the consortium of leading newspapers and television networks, after a 2 a.m. telephone discussion with Bush and his brother Jeb.

When the other networks followed suit, pronouncing Bush the winner, Democrat Al Gore telephoned his concession to Bush. But on the way to make his televised concession speech before an audience of supporters in Nashville, Gore received a phone call from campaign aides who advised him that the numbers in Florida showed the race too close to call. Gore telephoned Bush again and retracted his concession.

These events had critical importance for what was to follow. The media coverage, as well as Gore's premature concession, gave the impression to the public that Bush had "won" Florida--and the national election--by a narrow margin. Throughout the ensuing crisis, the corporate-controlled media largely parroted the official Republican posture that Bush was the presumptive winner. The fact that Gore had won by a sizeable margin in the national popular vote, as much as a half million votes, was dismissed as of no significance.

The struggle in Florida

Gore retracted his concession phone call to Bush because of reports flowing in to his campaign about numerous and widespread irregularities in the Florida voting, including measures to suppress the Democratic vote by arbitrarily barring black voters. It emerged that in a single county, Palm Beach, some 19,000 votes cast for president were invalidated because the voters, confused by the layout of the ballot paper, had chosen more than one candidate. Thousands more in Palm Beach, in heavily Jewish precincts, had inadvertently cast ballots for the ultra-right independent candidate Patrick Buchanan.

In Miami-Dade, there were numerous reports of ballots being distributed in Haitian immigrant precincts that were pre-punched for Bush. In Duval County, which includes the city of Jacksonville, nearly half the "spoiled" ballots came in four of the county's 14 districts--those which were largely black and had gone heavily for Gore. In some black precincts the rate of supposed spoilage rose to 31 percent.

The first recount of voting machines, required by Florida law, cut Bush's supposed margin from 1,725 to 327 votes, but there were tens of thousands of ballots still uncounted, concentrated in four major metropolitan counties--Miami-Dade, Broward, Volusia and Palm Beach--where there was a substantial Democratic majority. Local officials began hand recounts in each of these areas.

The Republican-controlled state government stepped in to block this vote counting. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, co-chairman of the Bush campaign in Florida and a Bush elector, first ordered the counting stopped. When reversed in court, she said she would not extend the November 14 deadline for reporting final totals, even though her own actions, in initially halting the count, made it impossible for three of the four counties to finish their recounts in time.

This arrogant opposition to demands that all votes be counted typified the stand of the Bush camp from the beginning. It was combined with misinformation and lies. The chief of the Bush recount team, former secretary of state James Baker, declared that machine counts were more reliable than hand counts, although hand counts are accepted as the highest standard in most states, and Bush had signed a Texas state law to that effect.

Bush spokesmen continually declared that the votes in Florida had been counted multiple times, each time showing the Republican the winner, although there were tens of thousands of ballots that were never counted at any time. The purpose of such lies was to cover up the basic fact that a Bush election victory required the suppression of votes cast in Florida.

The response of the Democratic Party and the Gore campaign to this procedural coup d'état was belated and halfhearted. The Gore campaign went to court against Harris's decision, but sought a recount only in the four large metropolitan counties rather than statewide. In contrast to the ferocious partisanship and aggressiveness of the Bush campaign, Gore put his Florida recount effort under the direction of former secretary of state Warren Christopher, a corporate lawyer who was hostile to a court fight and rejected making any appeal to the democratic sentiments of the American population.

The issue of the right to vote

On Friday, November 17 the issue came to a head when a local judge in Tallahassee, Florida ordered a halt to all vote recounts, only to be overturned hours later by the Florida state Supreme Court, which barred Harris from declaring Bush the winner of the state's electoral votes and reinstated the vote counting in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, although for a limited period.

Four days later, the court issued a decision compelling state officials to accept and certify the hand recounts, based on the right of Florida citizens to vote and to have their votes counted. Citing the Florida state constitution, the seven justices wrote, "The right of suffrage is the preeminent right contained in the Declaration of Rights, for without this basic freedom all others would be diminished."

The purpose of election laws was not to arbitrarily exclude voters who failed some technical requirement, but to "facilitate and safeguard the right of each voter to express his or her will in the context of our representative democracy."

The Bush campaign responded with a vitriolic denunciation of the court, a legal appeal to the US Supreme Court, and frenzied efforts to counter the state court's decision by any means necessary, including violence.

There were calls for the Republican-controlled state legislature to intervene with legislation that would award Florida's 25 electoral votes to Bush, regardless of the will of the voters. Florida state legislators began preparations for such action, using as a pretext the December 12 deadline for states to submit the list of electors to Washington. In the US capital, leaders of the Republican-controlled Congress suggested they would refuse to accept Democratic electors from Florida when the electoral votes were officially tabulated in January.

The Bush campaign also made an open appeal to the military to intervene. They claimed that the Gore campaign and the Florida Democratic Party were seeking to exclude absentee ballots cast by military personnel overseas. Bush spokesman Marc Racicot declared, "I am very sorry to say but the vice president's lawyers have gone to war, in my judgment, against the men and women who serve in our armed forces."

The day after the court ruling, a mob of Bush supporters besieged the Miami-Dade County board of canvassers, grabbing a Democratic lawyer and threatening to assault those involved in manually recounting the ballots. A few hours later the Democratic-controlled board announced it was abandoning its recount, effectively disenfranchising hundreds of Gore supporters whose votes were not registered in the original machine tally.

The result of the recounts in Palm Beach and Broward cut Bush's statewide lead to only 537 votes. It was more than likely that if Miami-Dade, the state's largest county, and heavily Democratic, had conducted a similar recount, the tiny Bush lead would have been erased. As it was, the capitulation of the Democrats in Miami-Dade enabled Katherine Harris to certify Bush as the winner of the state's electoral votes on November 26.

The Supreme Court steps in

A federal appeals court, with a top-heavy majority of Republican appointees, refused to take jurisdiction over the Florida recount, as demanded by the Bush campaign, citing the right of the Florida state Supreme Court to interpret and make final rulings on state law. The Bush campaign appealed to the US Supreme Court, which scheduled a hearing on Friday, December 1.

The three most right-wing justices, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas, took the lead in the hearing, suggesting that the Florida state Supreme Court, by elevating the right to vote as the highest principle, was violating Article II of the US Constitution, which delegates to state legislatures the decision on how to choose electors. There was no constitutional right to vote for president, Scalia said.

Neither the four members of the moderate-to-liberal faction, nor Gore's lawyer Laurence Tribe made any direct attack on this authoritarian argument. The best Tribe could manage was to sputter, "The disenfranchising of the people, which is what this is all about--disenfranchising people isn't very nice."

On Monday, December 4 the US Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling remanding the case back to the Florida Supreme Court, with instructions that the Florida justices clarify the grounds on which they had overruled the Republican state authorities. The opinion of the unanimous ruling included the Article II argument made by Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas.

The Florida Supreme Court revisited the arguments made by the Bush and Gore campaigns, as well as lower court rulings against the recounts in various counties. On Friday, December 8 it ordered a recount of all "undervotes" (ballots where punch card readers failed to detect the vote) in all Florida counties, so that in all cases where the voter's intention could be determined by evidence, the vote would be counted.

The majority affirmed basic principles of popular sovereignty: "This essential principle, that the outcome of elections be determined by the will of the voters, forms the foundation of the election code enacted by the Florida Legislature and has been consistently applied by this Court in solving election disputes," the majority wrote. "We are dealing with the essence of the structure of our democratic society."

The Bush campaign immediately appealed this decision to the US Supreme Court, and a day later, as election officials throughout Florida were beginning the recount, the Supreme Court issued an emergency order to stop. The 5-4 ruling found that "irreparable harm" would be done to the petitioner, George W. Bush--i.e., he would be deprived of the presidency by a valid count of the votes.

While the four-member liberal minority argued that the federal courts had traditionally deferred to state courts in the interpretation of state constitutions and state election laws, the five-member majority discarded their usual posture of support for "states' rights" when it came into conflict with the interests of the Republican Party and its ultra-right backers.

Three days later, the same 5-4 majority handed down its final ruling, declaring, in a perfect Catch-22, that the delay in the recount--caused by its own order--had made it impossible to complete a recount in time to meet the December 12 deadline for certifying electors. Accordingly, the decision of the Republican-controlled state government, awarding the electors to Bush, was upheld.

Because the three ultra-right members could not obtain agreement from two other conservatives, Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy, to base the decision on Scalia's Article II claim that the American people have no constitutional right to vote for president, the court majority found an entirely new legal argument to support its predetermined outcome: putting Bush in the White House.

They ruled that the Florida Supreme Court's decision that election officials in the 64 counties should set the standards for determining voter intent was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's requirement of "equal protection of the law." With unparalleled cynicism, Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas, invariably hostile to "equal protection" arguments when made by plaintiffs who were black, Hispanic, female, poor or otherwise politically disadvantaged, embraced the argument on behalf of the millionaire son of a former president.

Justice John Paul Stevens, in his dissent for the minority, wrote: "Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."

The capitulation of the Democrats

The submission of the Gore campaign to the transparently biased and antidemocratic Supreme Court majority was evident at the hearing held on December 11, the day before the final ruling was issued. Gore's lead attorney, David Boies, made no mention of the frontal assault on democratic rights embodied in the position of Scalia and sought to appeal to the two "swing" justices, O'Connor and Kennedy, with legalistic quibbling.

Public spokesmen for the Gore campaign and the Democratic Party repeatedly declared their full confidence in the impartiality and fairness of the high court and their determination to abide by whatever result was handed down. When the ruling was issued, Gore went on national television to publicly declare his capitulation and embrace the presidency of George W. Bush as legitimate.

This capitulation was foreshadowed by the entire conduct of the Gore campaign, even before the Florida crisis. Gore selected as his running mate Senator Joseph Lieberman, perhaps the most right-wing Senate Democrat, largely because of his early public denunciation of President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal.

Throughout the Florida crisis, Lieberman acted as a virtual Republican asset, opposing any serious campaign against the efforts to suppress vote counting and hijack the election, and making public statements that frequently echoed the arguments from the Bush camp.

Gore himself, however, set the tone, initially restricting the recount to four counties, opposing efforts to mount a public political campaign that would mobilize working-class supporters in favor of an exclusive focus on the courts. At one point, when the question arose of absentee ballots cast improperly by overseas military personnel, Gore insisted on dropping the issue, declaring that he could not become president over the opposition of the military.

The record of the WSWS

The World Socialist Web Site recognized immediately the fundamental issues of democratic rights at stake in the 2000 election crisis. As socialists, opposed on principle to both big business parties, we did not give political support to Gore or the Democratic Party. But we intransigently opposed the effort of the Bush campaign and the ultra-right to steal the election, and we warned that the success of this effort would have devastating implications for the American people.

In the very first statement published by the WSWS after Election Day 2000, we wrote: "The crisis of the 2000 elections reflects the growth of social contradictions to such a point of intensity that they can no longer be adjudicated within the existing political and constitutional framework" Most fundamental is the enormous growth of social inequality, which has reached proportions not seen in the US since the 1920s. The division of America between a fabulously rich upper crust and the vast majority of the population is, in the end, incompatible with democratic forms of rule."

Only a few days before the Supreme Court ruling, in an address to a public meeting in Sydney, Australia, WSWS International Editorial Board Chairman David North said: "What the decision of this court will reveal is how far the American ruling class is prepared to go in breaking with traditional bourgeois-democratic and constitutional norms. Is it prepared to sanction ballot fraud and the suppression of votes? Is it prepared to install in the White House a candidate who has attained that office through blatantly illegal and antidemocratic methods?"

North said that unlike the unserious middle-class "left" organizations, which declared the Florida crisis a tempest in a teapot and dismissed its significance, the Marxist movement based its analysis on an understanding of how the political crisis arose from and gave expression to the intensifying class conflicts in America.
He explained that the United States was now the most unequal of the advanced capitalist countries, and that social tensions had reached an extreme pitch, notwithstanding the lack of open class conflict on the surface of society: "Indeed, within the context of the extremes of social inequality, the absence of a politically conscious class struggle testifies, above all, to the intensity of the social oppression of the American working class."

North concluded that the crisis over the 2000 election was not merely an American crisis, but a world crisis, because it represented the political destabilization of American imperialism, the bulwark of world capitalism throughout the 20th century.

"The basic article of faith, for all those who have doubted or denied the viability of Marxism, is that, ultimately, no matter what problem capitalism faces in any part of the world, Uncle Sam will always bail it out," North said. "The events now taking place in America signify the end of that long period where the affairs of world capitalism could rest securely under the leadership of US imperialism. The United States will no longer be able to play that role. However protracted it proves to be, the 2000 presidential election marks a new stage in the crisis of American and, therefore, world capitalism."

Throughout this crisis, the WSWS warned that a government installed by methods of lying and provocation, against the will of the people, would necessarily conduct itself in the same way in both foreign and domestic policy. These warnings have been vindicated again and again in the decade that has ensued: two illegal wars of aggression, in Afghanistan and Iraq; the buildup of the police powers of the federal government, on the pretext of the struggle against terrorism but in actuality directed against the democratic rights of the American people; and in the ever-widening social gulf in America between the financial elite and the working people, culminating in the Wall Street crash of 2008 and the ongoing slide into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.


For the address given by David North, editorial chairman of the WSWS, at a meeting in Sydney, Australia on the eve of the Supreme Court decision, see:

Lessons from history: the 2000 elections and the new "irrepressible conflict"

To review the day-by-day analysis of the 2000 election crisis on the World Socialist Web Site, the author recommends the following articles and editorial board statements:

The 2000 US election results: the constitutional crisis deepens

From impeachment to a tainted election: The conspiracy against democratic rights continues

The Bush campaign and the rise of the political underworld

Court slows Bush grab for power: America at the knife-edge

The Republican right prepares for violence

Court rulings in US election crisis attack democratic rights

Florida Supreme Court ruling: right to vote at center of US election crisis

Supreme Court halts Florida vote count: A black day for American democracy

Supreme Court overrides US voters: a ruling that will live in infamy

Gore concession speech: Democrats capitulate to right-wing attack on voting rights

For an overview of the historical decay of American democracy and the meaning of the US election crisis for world politics, see this report to a meeting of the WSWS International Editorial Board by Barry Grey:

The world historical implications of the political crisis in the United States

Author's Bio: Patrick Martin writes for the World Socialist Website (, a forum for socialist ideas & analysis & published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI).

DECEMBER 13, 2010

10th Anniversary of Bush v. Gore
Posted By: John Fox

Yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision that stopped the presidential election recount in Florida and handed the 2000 election to George W. Bush.

It's difficult to believe that was already 10 years ago. And it's amazing still that A) the Supreme Court acted in such a blatantly political manner to step in and resolve a state election issue, halting a legal recount, and B) that Americans didn't take to the streets to revolt against the power grab by Bush and his Republican cronies.

Of course, the fact that Bush turned out to be one of the worst presidents in U.S. history makes the whole post-election fiasco even worse. But even if he'd been a halfway decent president, a bad taste lingers in the nation's mouth over the affair.

The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin makes the case that, besides the elevation of Bush to the presidency, the Supreme Court's decision has had a lasting effect on the court's political maneuverings.

"The echoes of Bush v. Gore are clearest when it comes to judicial activism," Toobin writes. "Judicial conservatism was once principally defined as a philosophy of deference to the democratically elected branches of government. But the signature of the Roberts Court has been its willingness, even its eagerness, to overturn the work of legislatures."

Bush appointed John Roberts Chief Justice in 2005. Like most conservative Republicans, Roberts dislikes "activist judges" ... except when he is one.

If you're interested in exploring the topic further, there are several interesting (and wonky) essays about the significance of Bush v. Gore on the Election Law Blog.

Ten years ago yesterday, Bush was elected president by one vote on the Supreme Court. It was far from democracy's finest hour.



The fact that Gore-Lieberman won won't stop Democrats from repeating the lie that Nader spoiled the election and gave us Bush. The Democrats pretended this didn't happen then they allowed Republicans to steal the election in 2004. They have failed to deal with our broken electoral system. The corporate media was complicit in both stolen elections. John Fox is correct about the Supreme Court decision, but it is also important to know that tens of thousands of blacks were disenfranchised and this is a tactic that Republicans still use.

Communications Theorist George Lakoff On the Importance of Language in Politics


A brilliant, highly practical and extremely informative analysis of the actual relationship between language, communication, and power in this society and culture. Knowledge trumps idle speculation, ill-informed "opinion", and braindead ignorance every time--even in politics...


P.S. The American left desperately needs to study, learn, and creatively apply the profound lessons being taught in this essay by Mr. Lakoff. Without this kind of truly critical and dialectical perspective it will be impossible to properly educate, organize, and mobilize the MASSES (yes folks--MASSES) toward the social realization of either progressive or revolutionary political ideas and values. Without an intelligible, useful, and HONEST critique of both the national Right (including the Republican and Tea parties) AND the President, his administration, and the Democratic Party generally we cannot possibly ACT in any intelligent and effective way to really CHANGE the country in real terms--and not merely TALK about it. Until such time as we openly acknowledge and work to correct our own flaws, inadequacies, and weaknesses we too will continue to flounder as ineptly and nearly as dishonestly and disingenuously as Obama, Congress, the corporate state, and the media have...

Untellable Truths
Monday 13 December 2010
by: George Lakoff, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Democrats of all stripes have been so focused on details of policy that they have surrendered public political discourse to conservatives, and with it the key to the nation's future.

Materialist Perspectives

The differences between Democratic progressives and the president over the tax deal the president has made with Republicans is being argued from a materialist perspective. That perspective is real. It matters who gets how much money and how our money is spent.

But what is being ignored is that the answer to material policy questions depends on how Americans understand the issues, that is, on how the issues are realized in the brains of our citizens. Such understanding is what determines political support or lack of it in all its forms, from voting to donations to political pressure to what is said in the media.

What policies are proposed and adopted depend on how Americans understand policy and politics. That understanding depends on communication. And it is in that the Democrats - both the president and his progressive critics - have surrendered. The Democrats have left effective communication to the conservatives, who have taken advantage of their superior communications all too well.

From the progressive viewpoint, the president keeps surrendering in advance - giving in to conservatives before he has to and, hence, betraying Democratic principles. From the president's perspective, he is not surrendering at all; instead, he is a pragmatic incrementalist - getting the best deal he can for the poor and middle class one step at a time.

Progressives differ on the reasons for the president's behavior. Either he has no backbone to stand up for what he believes in, or his actions define his beliefs and he is more conservative than those who voted for him thought.

The progressives' economic policy arguments are sound: continuing reduced tax payments for the wealthy will not work as a serious economic stimulus and will greatly increase the deficit and make the economic picture worse. From a progressive moral perspective, it isn't fair; it increases an economic disparity that is already much too large.

The president's pragmatic incrementalist arguments seem reasonable from his perspective: He got more immediate money for the poor and middle class than he gave to the rich, and the poor and middle class need as much as possible now (pragmatism), and further incremental steps can be taken later (incrementalism).

Those are the materialist arguments among Democrats. I want to shift the frame to the major causal factor that is being ignored on both sides: the role of communication in shaping what Americans understand.

Helping the Other Side

As someone who studies how brains work and how language affects politics, I see things somewhat differently. From my perspective, there is a form of surrender in advance on both sides - a major communications surrender.

Let's start with an example, the slogan, "No tax cuts for millionaires." First, "no." As I have repeatedly pointed out, negating a frame activates the frame in the brains of listeners, as when Christine O'Donnell said, "I am not a witch," or Nixon said, "I am not a crook." Putting "no" first activates the idea "Tax cuts for millionaires."

Next, "millionaires." Think of the TV show "So You Want to Be a Millionaire" or the movies "Slumdog Millionaire" and "How to Marry a Millionaire." To most Americans, being a millionaire is a good thing to aspire to.

Then, there is "tax." To progressives, taxes are forms of revenue allowing the government to do what is necessary for Americans as a whole - unemployment insurance, Social Security, health care, education, food safety, environmental improvements, infrastructure building and maintenance, and so on.

But the conservative message machine, over the past 30 years, has come to own the word "tax." They have changed its meaning to most Americans. They have been able to make "tax" mean "money the government takes out of the pockets of people who have earned it in order to give it to people who haven't earned it and don't deserve it." Thus, "tax relief" assumes that taxation is an affliction to be cured and a "tax cut" is a good thing in general. Hence, conservatives make the argument, "No one should have their taxes raised."

The conservative slogan activates the conservative view of taxes. But the progressive slogan, "No tax cuts for millionaires," also activates the conservative view of taxes! The progressives are helping the conservatives.

The conservatives have a superior message machine: Dozens of think tanks with communications facilities, framing experts, training institutes, a national roster of speakers, booking agents to books their speakers in the media and civic groups and owned medias like Fox News and a great deal of talk radio. Their audience will hear, over and over, "No one should have their taxes raised."

There is no comparable progressive message machine. But even if one were to be built, the Democrats might still be using messages that are either ineffective or that help the conservatives. Why?

Language, The Brain and Politics

When democratic political leaders go to college, they tend to study things like political science, economics, law and public policy. These fields tend to use a scientifically false theory of human reason - enlightenment reason. It posits that reason is conscious, that it can fit the world directly, that it is logical (in the sense of mathematical logic), that emotion gets in the way of reason, that reason is there to serve self-interest and that language is neutral and applies directly to the world.

The brain and cognitive sciences have shown that every part of this is false. Reason is physical; it does not fit the world directly, but only through the brain and body; it uses frames and conceptual metaphors (which are neural circuits grounded in the body); it requires emotion; it serves empathic connections and moral values as well as self-interest, and language fits frames in the brain, not the external world in any direct way.

Conservatives who are savvy about marketing their ideas are closer to the way people really think than Democrats are, because people who teach marketing tend to be up on how the brain and language work. And over the past three decades, they have not just built an effective message machine, but they repeated messages that have changed the brains of a great many Americans.

Democrats can do effective messaging while being sincere and factual. But this takes insight into the nature of unconscious reason and the role of language.

It's Complicated

I am often asked, "Is there a slogan I can use tomorrow that will turn things around?" Certainly there are better things that can be said tomorrow. But things don't turn around so quickly. There is a lot do and to bear in mind over the long haul. Here is a brief list:

Communication is a long-term effort. Political leaders rarely say anything that isn't already in public discourse. That means that people who are not in office have to start effective communication efforts, including new ways of thinking and talking.

All politics is moral. Policies are proposed because they are assumed to be right, not wrong. The moral values behind a policy always should be made clear.

Conservatives and progressives have two different conceptions of morality.

Democrats need to unite behind a simple set of moral principles and to create an effective language to express them. President Obama in his campaign expressed those principles simply, as the basis of American democracy. (1) Empathy - Americans care about each other. (2) Responsibility, both personal and social. We have to act on that care. (3) The ethic of excellence. We have to make ourselves better, so we can make our families, our communities, our country and the world better. Government has special missions: to protect and empower our citizens to have at least the necessities. I don't know any Democrats who don't believe in these principles. They need to be said out loud and repeated over and over.

Leaders need a movement to get out in front of. Not a coalition, a movement. We have the simple principles. Those of us outside of government have to organize that unified movement and not be limited by specific issue areas. The movement is about progressivism, not just about environmentalism, or social justice, or labor, or education, or health, or peace. The general principles govern them all.

Many people are "biconceptual," this is, they have both conservative and progressive moral systems and apply them in different issue areas. These are sometimes called "independents," "swing voters," moderates," "the center" etc. They are the crucial segment of the electorate to address. Each moral system is represented by a circuit in their brains. The more one circuit is activated and strengthened, the more the other is weakened. Conservatives have moved them to the right by repeating conservative moral messages 24/7. The Democrats need to activate and strengthen the progressive moral circuitry in their brains. That means using only progressive language and progressive arguments and not moving to the right or using the right's language. This is the opposite of "moving to the center." There is no ideology of the center, just combinations of progressive and conservative views.

Don't use conservative language, since it will activate their moral system in the brains of listeners. Don't try to negate their arguments. That will only make their arguments more prominent. Use your own language and your own arguments. Truth squads and wonk rooms are insufficient.

Remember that, in the conservative moral system, the highest moral principle is to preserve, defend and extend the conservative moral system itself. For example, from their perspective, individual responsibility is moral; social responsibility is not.

Learn the difference between framing and spin/propaganda. Framing is normal; we think in frames. If you want to formulate a policy that is understandable, the policy must be framed so it came be readily communicated. Framing precedes effective policy. When you use framing to express what you really believe and what the truth is, you are just being an effective communicator. Framing can also be misused for the sake of propaganda. I strongly recommend against it.

Educate the press and the pollsters to all of these matters.
Find a part to play in getting an effective communications system going!
For a detailed background, take a look at my book, "The Political Mind."

Untellable Truths

The conservative message machine has so dominated political discourse that they have changed the meaning of words and made some truths untellable by political leaders in present discourse. It takes a major communication effort to change that.

Here are just a few examples of presently untellable truths:

There is a principle of conservation of government: If conservatives succeed in cutting government by the people for the public good, our lives will still be governed, but now by corporations. We will have government by corporations for corporate profit. It will not be a kind government. It will be a cruel government, a government of foreclosures, outsourcing, union busting, outrageous payments for every little thing and pension eliminations.

The moral missions of government include the protection and empowerment of citizens. Protection includes health care, Social Security, safe food, consumer protection, environmental protection, job protection etc. Empowerment is what makes a decent life possible - roads and infrastructure, communication and energy systems, education etc. No business can function without them. This has not been discussed adequately. Government serving those moral missions is what makes freedom, fairness and prosperity possible. Conservatives do not believe in those moral missions of government and when in power, they subvert the ability of government to carry out those moral missions.

The moral missions of government impose a distinction between necessities and services. Government has a moral mission to provide necessities: Adequate food, water, housing, transportation, education, infrastructure (roads and bridges, sewers, public buildings), medical care, care for elders, the disabled, environmental protection, food safety, clean air and so on. Necessities should never be subordinated to private profit. The public should never be put at the mercy of private profit. Public funds for necessities should never be diverted to private profit.

Services are very different; they start where necessities end. Private service industries exist to provide services - car rentals, parking lots, hair salons, gardening, painting, plumbing, fast food, auto repair, clothes cleaning, and so on. It is time to stop speaking of government "services" and speak instead of government providing necessities. Similarly, "spending" does not suggest providing necessities. "Spending" suggests services that could just as well be eliminated or provided by private industry. Economists should drop the term "spending" when discussing necessities.

The market is supposed to be "efficient" at distributing goods and services and, sometimes, with appropriate competition, it is. But the market is most often inefficient at proving necessities, because every dollar that goes to profit is a dollar that does not go to necessities. Health care is a perfect example.

Public servant pensions have been earned. Public servants have taken lower salaries in return for better benefits later in life. They have earned those pensions through years of hard work at low salaries. Pensions were ways for both corporations and governments to pay lower salaries. Responsible institutions, public and private, took the money saved by committing to pensions and invested it so that the money would be there later. Those corporation and governments that took the money and ran are now going broke. Those institutions (both companies and governments) are now blaming the unions, which negotiated deferred earnings in the form of pensions or benefits for the lack of money to pay pensions. But the institutions themselves (e.g., General Motors) are to blame for not putting those deferred salary payments aside and investing them safely.

Education is a public good, not a private good. It benefits all of us to live in a country with educated people. It benefits corporations to have educated employees. It benefits democracy to have educated citizens. But conservatives are only considering education as a means to make money and, hence, as a private good. This leads them to eliminate the public funding of education, which is a major disaster for all of us, not just those who will either be denied an education or who will be forced into unconscionable debt.

Huge discrepancies in wealth are a danger to democracy and a cause for major public alarm. The enormous accumulation of wealth at the top of American society means unfair access to scarce resources, a restriction on access to necessities for many and a grossly unfair distribution of power - power over the media and political power.

Tax "cuts," "breaks" and "loopholes" sound good (wouldn't you like one?) even for super-wealthy individuals and corporations. What they really mean is that money is being transferred from poorer people to richer people: The poor and middle class are giving money to the rich! Why? Money that would otherwise go to their necessities: food, education, health, housing, safety, and so on is instead going into the pockets of super-wealthy people who don't need it.

Markets in a democracy have a fundamentally moral as well as economic function. Working people who produce goods and services are necessary for businesses, and should be paid in line with profits and productivity. Salary scales in private industry are a matter of public, not just private, concern. Middle-class salaries have not gone up in 30 years, while the income of the top 1 percent has zoomed upward astronomically. This is a moral issue.

Carbon-based fuels - oil, coal, natural gas - are deadly. They bring death to people and animals and destruction to nature. We are not paying for their true cost because they are being subsidized: tens of billions of dollars for naval protection of tankers; hundreds of billions for oil leases; hundreds of billions in destruction of nature, as in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska coast. Death comes from the poisoning of air and water through pollution and natural gas fracking. And global warming pollution destroys nature itself - the ice cap, the creation of violent storms, floods, deserts, the blowing up of hilltops. The salesmen of death - the oil and coal companies - are profiting hugely from our payouts to them via subsidies and high prices. And with the money, ordinary citizens are giving to them in subsidies; they are corrupting the political process, influencing political leaders not to deal with global warming - our greatest threat. We are dependent on them for energy, to a large extent because they have politically blocked the development of alternatives for decades.

What is called "school failure" is actually a failure of citizens to pay for and do what is needed for excellent schools: early childhood education, better training and pay for teachers, a culture of learning in place of a culture of entertainment, a poverty-free economy.

Taxpayers pay for business perks. Because business can deduct the costs of doing business, taxpayers wind up paying a significant percentage of business write-offs - extravagant offices, business cars and jets, first-class and business-class flights, meetings at expensive lodges and spas, and so on. Businesses regularly rip off taxpayers through tax deductions.

The economic crisis and the ecological crisis are the same crisis. It has been caused by short-term greed. Thomas Friedman has described it well. The causes of both are the same: Underestimation of risk, privatization of profit, socialization of loss. But those truths lie outside of public discourse.

Low-paid immigrant workers make the lifestyles of the middle and upper classes possible. Those workers deserve gratitude - as well as health care, education for their kids and decent housing.

Notice that it takes a paragraph to tell each of these truths. Each paragraph creates a frame required for the truth to be told. Words are defined in terms of such conceptual frames. Without the frames in common understanding, there are presently no simple commonplace words to express the frames. Such words have to be invented, and will only come into common use when these presently untellable truths become commonplace truths. Try to imagine how public understanding would have to be enhanced for expressions like the following to come into normal public discourse:

greed crisis in place of economic crisis
blessed immigrants in place of illegal immigrants
government for profit in place of privatization
public theft in place of tax breaks
failing citizens in place of failing schools
corporate cruelty in place of profit maximization
deadly coal in place of clean coal
Presidents can have a discourse-changing power if they know how to use it and care to use it. But they cannot do it alone.

If there is a teachable communication moment for President Obama, this is it. Bring back "empathy" - "the most important thing my mother taught me." Speak of "empathy" for "people who are hurting." Say again how empathy is basis of democracy ("caring for your fellow citizens"), how we have a responsibility to act on that empathy: social as well as personal responsibility. Bring the central role of empathy in democracy to the media. And make it clear that personal responsibility alone is anti-patriotic, the opposite of what America is fundamentally about. That is the first step in telling our most important untellable truths. And it is a necessary step in loosening the conservative grip on public discourse.

For videos of the president speaking about empathy, Google: Obama Empathy YouTube and Obama Empathy Speeches.