Thursday, September 1, 2011

Never Settle for Less In the Struggle For Democracy, Freedom, and Justice--No Matter What the Odds Are Or Who the President Is!

(White House/Pete Souza)


One of the fundamental truths of ANY relationship--be it personal, social, political, philosophical, or moral--is that if you are foolish enough to "settle for less" you will most definitely get/receive less and you will most certainly NOT get what you deserve and most importantly NEED. May that basic and crucial fact serve as a somber cautionary warning to the national black community in the 'Age of Obama...'


Race Talk in the Obama Era

The paradoxical reticence of America’s first black president and how progressives must fill the vacuum

March 21, 2011

American Prospect

“Race talk” has occupied a contradictory place in Barack Obama’s political strategy. On the one hand, Obama has made it newly salient. The speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 that elevated him to political stardom focused on his vision of reconciliation, racial and otherwise: “There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America,” Obama declared, “there’s the United States of America.” The single speech for which he has been most lauded was his “A More Perfect Union” March 2008 address in Philadelphia, delivered to quell the uproar over his relationship with the incendiary Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In that speech, Obama declared that his life story as the child of a black father and white mother “has seared into [his] genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts — that out of many, we are truly one.”

He went on to say that “race is an issue that … this nation cannot afford to ignore.” Yet as president, Obama has largely avoided discussing race. He was compelled to give his celebrated speech on Wright during the campaign only because the controversy threatened to destroy his candidacy. Otherwise, except on ceremonial occasions before predominantly black audiences, he has rarely initiated discussion of racial matters. Since his Inauguration, Obama has evaded the very issue he said the nation cannot afford to ignore. Should we sympathize with his ironic plight — the first black president ducking racial controversy? Or press him to do more?

Some activists, politicians, intellectuals, and pundits (for example, Cornel West, Paul Street, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Black Agenda Report) fault Obama for laying low on the racial front. Disappointed by Obama’s reticence, Georgetown University sociologist Michael Eric Dyson charges derisively that “this president runs from race like a black man runs from a cop.” Dyson wants Obama to use his presidential bully pulpit to educate the country about America’s ongoing but neglected struggles over racial justice.

If Dyson’s sentiment became influential in black America, it might prompt Obama to reconsider his reluctance to discuss race. After all, black voters are the anchor of the pro-Obama coalition. But the Dyson view is marginal within black America and likely to stay that way. The vast majority of black Americans are not sympathetic to the demand that Obama engage in more race talk. They are willing to defer to Obama almost unconditionally, so deep is their appreciation for his presence in the White House. From their own experience, most blacks are well aware of the tightrope that Obama necessarily walks on race.

Critics object with exasperation, contending that blacks are too easily satisfied by the vicarious pleasure of merely witnessing the triumph of one of their own — even if he takes them for granted and relegates race-specific issues to the lower rungs of the national agenda. That complaint is weighty. Socialized to expect hostility or indifference, many blacks are unduly impressed when politicians show them even minimal respect, much less affection. For merely treating blacks as peers, Bill Clinton was fondly adopted by many African Americans as an honorary Brother. A still more powerful dynamic is at hand with Obama, whom blacks will continue to support enthusiastically — almost regardless of the extent to which he discusses race and almost regardless of the substance of his policies in general.

Reinforcing this solidarity is a widespread recognition of Obama’s ironic plight: Powerful though he is, the president is subject to a predominantly white electorate, many of whose members are ignorant about the history and current state of white-privileging pigmentocracy and are quick to denounce any complaints about it as unjustified whining or opportunistic playing of the race card. Hence, most blacks agree with the president that (regardless of what he suggested previously) it would be foolhardy for him now to offer the country instruction in an ongoing and contentious seminar on race.

Candid race talk in front of a national audience could easily backfire on Obama. Unless carefully scripted, such talk coming from the president is more likely to exacerbate anxiety than to nourish understanding. That is why some of Obama’s most vocal right-wing enemies — Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck — delight in associating Obama with any sort of racial controversy and seek to draw him into racial disputes. It is their most effective way of blackening him.

Recall the ruckus that erupted in the summer of 2009 when a white police officer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, arrested the black celebrity-academic Henry Louis (“Skip”) Gates in his own home after the professor had produced the identification the officer demanded. Asked about this highly publicized incident, Obama, speaking off the cuff, suggested that the officer had acted “stupidly” and that “separate and apart from this incident … there is a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.”

This should not have been seen as a bold statement. Obama did not charge the officer with racial bias; he simply stated that the officer acted wrongly. Moreover, the comment about disproportion is, as Obama stated, simply a fact. To Glenn Beck, however, Obama’s remarks revealed something sinister. They showed, Beck said on Fox and Friends, that the president is “a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”

Readers of these pages will scoff at such a ridiculous claim, and with good reason: It is ludicrous. Obama has gone out of his way to avoid making charges of racial discrimination. When a Republican representative from South Carolina, Joe Wilson, screamed “You lie” during Obama’s address on health-care reform to a joint session of Congress, many observers, including former President Jimmy Carter, posited that racism had played a role in his brazen rudeness. Obama, by contrast, notably refused to interpret Wilson’s egregious misconduct as racial effrontery. The right, however, gave him no credit for that. Its propagandists much prefer to portray the president as a racial opportunist intent on exacting reverse discrimination, racial revenge, and reparations.

It is a mistake, though, to dismiss as insignificant these rantings. The right has turned the trope of “reverse discrimination” into a powerful rhetorical tool that has prompted liberals to inhibit themselves unduly, even to the point of taking self-destructive steps. Recall the dismal episode in which right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart accused Shirley Sherrod, a black official in the Department of Agriculture, of having withheld assistance from white farmers because of racial bias. Officials in the Obama administration were so keen to deprive Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and the rest of the Fox News apparatus of a potentially hurtful talking point that they pressured Sherrod into resigning without even hearing her account of the situation. It turns out, as we now know, that contrary to Breitbart’s portrayal, Sherrod did all that she could to assist the farmers — aid for which they publicly thanked her even as she was being vilified as a “reverse racist.”

Some liberals long for President Obama to address race in a major speech or even to restart the national conversation on race that President Clinton initiated (and then aborted) in 1997. They believe that Obama is uniquely capable of raising the level of discussion. They point with admiration to his “A More Perfect Union” address and note that it received plaudits even from many conservatives. But perhaps they give Obama too much credit.

That rare address on race was not nearly as candid or visionary as Obama’s admirers wishfully imagine. It did accomplish its primary aim — to quell the uproar over Obama’s relationship with the Rev. Wright. Otherwise, though, it was wanting. Striving for a rhetoric of mutual empathy, it sought to equate white racial resentment and black racial resentment as if white and black America had played equal roles in the racial division of the society. Such a portrayal, is, of course, a gross distortion; white America enslaved and segregated black America, not the other way around. In Obama’s famous speech, there is talk of slavery and segregation but no reference to masters or segregationists. In his narrative, bad things just tragically happened to African Americans. Obama’s studious use of the passive voice was by no means inadvertent; he meant to avoid pointing an accusatory finger at white folks. His speech, moreover, was devoid of any specific prescriptions regarding such matters as affirmative action or reform of mass incarceration. Giving a speech on race now as president would require that he confront such divisive topics.

Obama will avoid such a risky undertaking. This is in part due to his own temperament. Audacious in terms of personal ambition — it took real boldness for a black man to capture the White House — Obama is deeply, perhaps excessively, cautious when it comes to propounding public policy. His avoidance of race is also due in part to the constraints that would impinge upon any person serving as the nation’s first black chief executive. Any black president speaking with informed candor about the continued subordination of black America would widely be seen as a whiner perpetrating racial favoritism and thus would invite electoral retribution. In other words, it is, I think, virtually impossible for a black president today to lead a productive conversation on race without committing himself to political martyrdom.

Since Obama prides himself on being a survivor and clearly relishes the prospect of a second presidential term, he will decline to enter into a conversation on race before the 2012 campaign. I suspect that he will avoid initiating such a conversation even if he wins.

Evaluating his decisions will be difficult. Presidential race talk should be assessed not in the abstract but according to whether its presence or absence is likely to advance progressive thinking and policy. Under the circumstances, Obama is probably ill-positioned to lead a probing and useful exploration of the race question in 21st-century America. That doesn’t mean abandoning discussion, which is much needed. It simply means recognizing that in racial matters, as in other areas, progressives should move ahead on their own, with or without presidential sponsorship.

Randall Kennedy has been a contributing editor of the Prospect since 1995. He is the Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard University and is completing a book on race relations and the Obama presidency.

The Vicious Cruelty of the Republican and Tea Party Right and Their Lethal War On The Poor and Working Class


Like I've said many times before: The Republicans and the Tea Party are truly EVIL...and I don't mean that "metaphorically"...


August 30, 2011
The New Resentment of the Poor
New York Times

In a decade of frenzied tax-cutting for the rich, the Republican Party just happened to lower tax rates for the poor, as well. Now several of the party’s most prominent presidential candidates and lawmakers want to correct that oversight and raise taxes on the poor and the working class, while protecting the rich, of course.

These Republican leaders, who think nothing of widening tax loopholes for corporations and multimillion-dollar estates, are offended by the idea that people making less than $40,000 might benefit from the progressive tax code. They are infuriated by the earned income tax credit (the pride of Ronald Reagan), which has become the biggest and most effective antipoverty program by giving working families thousands of dollars a year in tax refunds. They scoff at continuing President Obama’s payroll tax cut, which is tilted toward low- and middle-income workers and expires in December.

Until fairly recently, Republicans, at least, have been fairly consistent in their position that tax cuts should benefit everyone. Though the Bush tax cuts were primarily for the rich, they did lower rates for almost all taxpayers, providing a veneer of egalitarianism. Then the recession pushed down incomes severely, many below the minimum income tax level, and the stimulus act lowered that level further with new tax cuts. The number of families not paying income tax has risen from about 30 percent before the recession to about half, and, suddenly, Republicans have a new tool to stoke class resentment.

Representative Michele Bachmann noted recently that 47 percent of Americans do not pay federal income tax; all of them, she said, should pay something because they benefit from parks, roads and national security. (Interesting that she acknowledged government has a purpose.) Gov. Rick Perry, in the announcement of his candidacy, said he was dismayed at the “injustice” that nearly half of Americans do not pay income tax. Jon Huntsman Jr., up to now the most reasonable in the Republican presidential field, said not enough Americans pay tax.

Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and several senators have made similar arguments, variations of the idea expressed earlier by Senator Dan Coats of Indiana that “everyone needs to have some skin in the game.”

This is factually wrong, economically wrong and morally wrong. First, the facts: a vast majority of Americans have skin in the tax game. Even if they earn too little to qualify for the income tax, they pay payroll taxes (which Republicans want to raise), gasoline excise taxes and state and local taxes. Only 14 percent of households pay neither income nor payroll taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center at the Brookings Institution. The poorest fifth paid an average of 16.3 percent of income in taxes in 2010.

Economically, reducing the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit — which would be required if everyone paid income taxes — makes no sense at a time of high unemployment. The credits, which only go to working people, have always been a strong incentive to work, as even some conservative economists say, and have increased the labor force while reducing the welfare rolls.

The moral argument would have been obvious before this polarized year. Nearly 90 percent of the families that paid no income tax make less than $40,000, most much less. The real problem is that so many Americans are struggling on such a small income, not whether they pay taxes. The two tax credits lifted 7.2 million people out of poverty in 2009, including four million children. At a time when high-income households are paying their lowest share of federal taxes in decades, when corporations frequently avoid paying any tax, it is clear who should bear a larger burden and who should not.

The Ominous Reality of Global Capitalism in the 21st Century

(Photo: Kaba [3]; Edited: JR / t r u t h o u t [4])


Too often lost in the dizzying and deeply disturbing global maelstrom of events of this explosive political era is a broader understanding of exactly how and why the dominant economic and ideological philosophy of capitalism is greatly responsible for the depth and severity of our current crisis. In Cooke's detailed and very informative analysis below there is an important critique of the insidious austerity policies currently being imposed throughout the world by the criminally wealthy ruling class elites who brutally insist on the rank social and economic subordination and exploitation of Labor-- and the general citizenry of various nations-- to the ravenous demands of Capital (and capitalists) run amok...And the worse is yet to come...


Capitalism's New Era
28 August 2011

by Shamus Cooke
Truthout | News Analysis

"Karl Marx got it right, at some point capitalism can destroy itself," said Mr. Roubini, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. "We thought markets worked. They're not working."

[Editor's Note: Mr. Roubini is an American economist and Professor of economics at New York University who became internationally famous--or infamous depending on one's particular political point of view--for successfully predicting in 2005 the imminent collapse of the U.S. housing market and the subsequent Great Recession that began in 2008 and is currently ravaging the United States economy. As a result Dr. Roubini's consistently critical and highly accurate views of the consequences of politically undisciplined economic markets in the U.S. and the Western European nations led to him being nicknamed "Dr. Doom" by the media]

The world economy is in shambles and about to get worse, according to even mainstream economists. How bad is anybody's guess. Some things, however, are certain: the recovery that politicians have been promising for years existed only in their heads. The reality of the situation is now apparent to millions of people across the globe, who, before, clung to the empty promises of economic recovery. This newfound consciousness will inevitably find expression in the political realm and, more importantly, the streets.

A key aspect of this sudden mass awareness is in response to high unemployment and the deeply unpopular measures that politicians are forcing upon working people, both byproducts of the Great Recession. Politicians are blaming "the markets" for demanding austerity measures, but "markets" are simply places where wealthy people invest their money. To guarantee a profitable return on their money these investors demand that labor laws be squashed and social programs be eliminated, all over the world.

Spain, for example, is one of many countries having austerity measures forced down their throats. Reuters reports:

"Analysts see the shaking up of the country's inflexible labor laws [laws that protect workers] and the easing of hiring and firing [so older, activist, or slower workers can be fired] as vital to restoring the country's competitiveness. The labor reforms are crucial. They will help to restore growth [profits] in the long term. Growth is the only way out of these adverse fiscal trends,' said Luigi Speranza, analyst at BNP Paribas." [May 27, 2010]

To summarize, creating new laws that enable Spanish corporations to work their workers harder will be better for profits.

Greece faces a similar austerity plan, according to The Guardian UK:

"Tax increases, spending cuts and wage reductions and a sweeping privatisation programme have led to violent protests in Greece, with many arguing that the International Monetary Fund and European Union have demanded too high a price for their financial support." [August 2, 2011]

In the United States, these policies find expression in the attack against public-sector unions and the targeting of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for cuts, while mass unemployment is allowed to act as a very efficient way to lower wages for all workers.

Politicians have made it clear that economic growth, especially corporate profits, will increase in response to these anti-worker policies. They are only partially right. Corporate profits in fact have been on the rise, but the austerity measures have been responsible for the depressed economies throughout Europe and the US. When workers' wages are lowered and social programs are decimated, working people and the poor are left with little money for any purchases other than the bare necessities. Without consumer demand for their products, corporations curtail operations even more. This global dynamic has been decades in the making, with the recession having finally forced the issue into the forefront.

The Reagan and Thatcher administrations were the first Western representatives during the post-World War II era of this now dominant trend, which aimed at pushing back the social programs and wages won by the labor movements. Their policies were in response to the lower corporate growth rates that began in the 1970s and continue to this day. Now, all of Europe is suffering because banks and corporations demand a more profit-friendly business environment: universal health care and education programs are in jeopardy, plus wages and other benefits are under attack.

For the wealthy and corporations this is a life-and-death struggle. The Great Recession has already bankrupted the banks and corporations who were not fit enough to survive under a crumbling market economy. The existing companies are thus forced to squeeze more work for less pay out of their workers, since labor is the most flexible cost of any business. Pushing labor costs down - and by extension cutting social programs - is thus the priority of the corporations and their paid-for politicians across the globe, since the global economy is tightly connected and they all play by the vicious rules of the market. In fact, the intensity with which the corporate elite is pursuing these policies is a reflection of their negative outlook for the global economy.

This constitutes a new era in global capitalism, one that mimics the market economy of past generations. The 2008 recession was not a temporary phenomenon, but the ushering in of a new period in which the corporate elite attempt to restructure social relations, meaning that past assumptions regarding wages and social programs must be destroyed, as a new, more profitable equilibrium is sought between the corporate elite and working people.

Implied in this nation-by-nation restructuring is a restriction of democracy, since these anti-worker policies negatively affect the vast majority of the population. The riots in London are an expression of this, as are the mass demonstrations throughout Europe as well as the Middle East. In the United States, democracy is circumvented via the so-called Super Congress, whose duty it is to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Austerity programs throughout Europe are being implemented against the wishes of the general working populations.

Also included in this attack on working people is the corporate elite's doubled efforts to divert the working-class anger toward fake populist movements - like the Tea Party in the US - or against minorities, such as Muslims and immigrants in the US.

This will require that working people stay focused on who exactly is attacking them, while focusing on measures that can serve as alternatives to what the corporate elite are forcefully implementing.

The most immediate and important demand of working people must be taxing the rich and corporations, since social programs need to be funded and expanded and a massive jobs program with a strong green component is desperately overdue. It's not by coincidence that taxing the rich is rarely used in austerity plans; and when, on rare occasions, the rich are taxed, it's at low levels with high publicity, so the angry public will think the illusion of "shared sacrifice" is a reality.

For example, in the US, President Obama is again calling to end the Bush tax cuts for the rich (after allowing them to continue less than a year ago). It is doubtful that the Bush tax cuts will be ended, but if they were, it would be insufficient. Working people must demand that taxes on the rich be raised to at least pre-Reagan levels (70 percent), while President Eisenhower levels would be best (90 percent). Over the decades, the tax burden has shifted dramatically, causing wealth to accumulate into the bank accounts of the top 1 percent of the population, the same people who are now demanding that social programs be destroyed so that their investments are secured and their corporate profits remain high.

Since illusions of an economic recovery have now been shattered, it's up to working people to demand that their labor unions and community groups unite to tax the rich and corporations in order to finance a massive jobs program. Fortunately, the AFL-CIO is organizing actions for the first week of October to demand jobs and oppose cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Many within the labor movement are calling for massive demonstrations across the country for October 1. It will take these types of actions to unite working people to fight for a positive solution to the economic crisis.


This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License [5].



Representative John Lewis On the Dr. King Memorial in the Nation's Capitol, Voting Rights, and the Rancid Legacy of White Supremacy

Georgia Congressman John Lewis


An eloquent and ominous statement by former SNCC chairman (1964-1966) and Georgia Congressman John Lewis of what we're really up against in the insidiously racist carnival of the so-called 21st century "postracial" era in these United Hates (same as it ever was indeed!)...The day before Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis on April 3, 1968 he said during his final speech that "we have some difficult days ahead." As usual Dr. King was as prescient and prophetic as always...


August 26, 2011

A Poll Tax by Another Name
New York Times


AS we celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, we reflect on the life and legacy of this great man. But recent legislation on voting reminds us that there is still work to do. Since January, a majority of state legislatures have passed or considered election-law changes that, taken together, constitute the most concerted effort to restrict the right to vote since before the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Growing up as the son of an Alabama sharecropper, I experienced Jim Crow firsthand. It was enforced by the slander of “separate but equal,” willful blindness to acts of racially motivated violence and the threat of economic retaliation. The pernicious effect of those strategies was to institutionalize second-class citizenship and restrict political participation to the majority alone.

We have come a long way since the 1960s. When the Voting Rights Act was passed, there were only 300 elected African-American officials in the United States; today there are more than 9,000, including 43 members of Congress. The 1993 National Voter Registration Act — also known as the Motor Voter Act — made it easier to register to vote, while the 2002 Help America Vote Act responded to the irregularities of the 2000 presidential race with improved election standards.

Despite decades of progress, this year’s Republican-backed wave of voting restrictions has demonstrated that the fundamental right to vote is still subject to partisan manipulation. The most common new requirement, that citizens obtain and display unexpired government-issued photo identification before entering the voting booth, was advanced in 35 states and passed by Republican legislatures in Alabama, Minnesota, Missouri and nine other states — despite the fact that as many as 25 percent of African-Americans lack acceptable identification.

Having fought for voting rights as a student, I am especially troubled that these laws disproportionately affect young voters. Students at state universities in Wisconsin cannot vote using their current IDs (because the new law requires the cards to have signatures, which those do not). South Carolina prohibits the use of student IDs altogether. Texas also rejects student IDs, but allows voting by those who have a license to carry a concealed handgun. These schemes are clearly crafted to affect not just how we vote, but who votes.

Conservative proponents have argued for photo ID mandates by claiming that widespread voter impersonation exists in America, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. While defending its photo ID law before the Supreme Court, Indiana was unable to cite a single instance of actual voter impersonation at any point in its history. Likewise, in Kansas, there were far more reports of U.F.O. sightings than allegations of voter fraud in the past decade. These theories of systematic fraud are really unfounded fears being exploited to threaten the franchise.

In Georgia, Florida, Ohio and other states, legislatures have significantly reduced opportunities to cast ballots before Election Day — an option that was disproportionately used by African-American voters in 2008. In this case the justification is often fiscal: Republicans in North Carolina attempted to eliminate early voting, claiming it would save money. Fortunately, the effort failed after the State Election Board demonstrated that cuts to early voting would actually be more expensive because new election precincts and additional voting machines would be required to handle the surge of voters on Election Day.

Voters in other states weren’t so lucky. Florida has cut its early voting period by half, from 96 mandated hours over 14 days to a minimum of 48 hours over just eight days, and has severely restricted voter registration drives, prompting the venerable League of Women Voters to cease registering voters in the state altogether. Again, this affects very specific types of voters: according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, African-Americans and Latinos were more than twice as likely as white voters to register through a voter registration drive.

These restrictions purportedly apply to all citizens equally. In reality, we know that they will disproportionately burden African Americans and other racial minorities, yet again. They are poll taxes by another name.

The King Memorial reminds us that out of a mountain of despair we may hew a stone of hope. Forty-eight years after the March on Washington, we must continue our work with hope that all citizens will have an unfettered right to vote. Second-class citizenship is not citizenship at all.

We’ve come some distance and have made great progress, but Dr. King’s dream has not been realized in full. New restraints on the right to vote do not merely slow us down. They turn us backward, setting us in the wrong direction on a course where we have already traveled too far and sacrificed too much.

John Lewis, a Democrat, is a congressman from Georgia.

Once Again Cornel West Takes the President To Task--This Time in the Name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Cornel West really goes after President Obama in a stinging Op-Ed piece in the New York Times today. OUCH!! This reminds me of 2002 when Cornel threw a rhetorical thunderbolt at Lawrence Summers (former Clinton Treasury Secretary, current Harvard economics professor, former Harvard President and former chief economic advisor to President Obama--as well as longtime groveling political stooge for Wall Street). West called Summers the "Ariel Sharon of American higher education" (great line!) when Summers was Harvard's president and Cornel was still a professor there and Summers tried to publicly embarrass Cornel among his colleagues and students. The result: Cornel left Harvard enraged and insulted and returned to Princeton even after Summers verbally relented and begged and pleaded for West to stay...But ultimately that little contretemps was a mere academic skirmish of no truly significant or lasting consequence. And admittedly a mere editorial by itself like this one is hardly the revolution. However for real political drama and public intellectual chatter/gossip you gotta admit this is MUCH better...LOL...


August 25, 2011

Dr. King Weeps From His Grave
Princeton, N.J.

THE Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was to be dedicated on the National Mall on Sunday — exactly 56 years after the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi and 48 years after the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. (Because of Hurricane Irene, the ceremony has been postponed.)

These events constitute major milestones in the turbulent history of race and democracy in America, and the undeniable success of the civil rights movement — culminating in the election of Barack Obama in 2008 — warrants our attention and elation. Yet the prophetic words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel still haunt us: “The whole future of America depends on the impact and influence of Dr. King.”

Rabbi Heschel spoke those words during the last years of King’s life, when 72 percent of whites and 55 percent of blacks disapproved of King’s opposition to the Vietnam War and his efforts to eradicate poverty in America. King’s dream of a more democratic America had become, in his words, “a nightmare,” owing to the persistence of “racism, poverty, militarism and materialism.” He called America a “sick society.” On the Sunday after his assassination, in 1968, he was to have preached a sermon titled “Why America May Go to Hell.”

King did not think that America ought to go to hell, but rather that it might go to hell owing to its economic injustice, cultural decay and political paralysis. He was not an American Gibbon, chronicling the decline and fall of the American empire, but a courageous and visionary Christian blues man, fighting with style and love in the face of the four catastrophes he identified.

Militarism is an imperial catastrophe that has produced a military-industrial complex and national security state and warped the country’s priorities and stature (as with the immoral drones, dropping bombs on innocent civilians). Materialism is a spiritual catastrophe, promoted by a corporate media multiplex and a culture industry that have hardened the hearts of hard-core consumers and coarsened the consciences of would-be citizens. Clever gimmicks of mass distraction yield a cheap soulcraft of addicted and self-medicated narcissists.

Racism is a moral catastrophe, most graphically seen in the prison industrial complex and targeted police surveillance in black and brown ghettos rendered invisible in public discourse. Arbitrary uses of the law — in the name of the “war” on drugs — have produced, in the legal scholar Michelle Alexander’s apt phrase, a new Jim Crow of mass incarceration. And poverty is an economic catastrophe, inseparable from the power of greedy oligarchs and avaricious plutocrats indifferent to the misery of poor children, elderly citizens and working people.

The age of Obama has fallen tragically short of fulfilling King’s prophetic legacy. Instead of articulating a radical democratic vision and fighting for homeowners, workers and poor people in the form of mortgage relief, jobs and investment in education, infrastructure and housing, the administration gave us bailouts for banks, record profits for Wall Street and giant budget cuts on the backs of the vulnerable.

As the talk show host Tavis Smiley and I have said in our national tour against poverty, the recent budget deal is only the latest phase of a 30-year, top-down, one-sided war against the poor and working people in the name of a morally bankrupt policy of deregulating markets, lowering taxes and cutting spending for those already socially neglected and economically abandoned. Our two main political parties, each beholden to big money, offer merely alternative versions of oligarchic rule.

The absence of a King-worthy narrative to reinvigorate poor and working people has enabled right-wing populists to seize the moment with credible claims about government corruption and ridiculous claims about tax cuts’ stimulating growth. This right-wing threat is a catastrophic response to King’s four catastrophes; its agenda would lead to hellish conditions for most Americans.

King weeps from his grave. He never confused substance with symbolism. He never conflated a flesh and blood sacrifice with a stone and mortar edifice. We rightly celebrate his substance and sacrifice because he loved us all so deeply. Let us not remain satisfied with symbolism because we too often fear the challenge he embraced. Our greatest writer, Herman Melville, who spent his life in love with America even as he was our most fierce critic of the myth of American exceptionalism, noted, “Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges; hence the conclusion of such a narration is apt to be less finished than an architectural finial.”

King’s response to our crisis can be put in one word: revolution. A revolution in our priorities, a re-evaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens.

In concrete terms, this means support for progressive politicians like Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Los Angeles County supervisor; extensive community and media organizing; civil disobedience; and life and death confrontations with the powers that be. Like King, we need to put on our cemetery clothes and be coffin-ready for the next great democratic battle.

Cornel West, a philosopher, is a professor at Princeton.

Alexander Cockburn On The Disturbing Dynamics of the National Presidential Race in 2012

President Obama,news-comment,news-politics,making-a-case-for-barack-obama-just-gets-harder?print=print

"If the truth hurts/then you'll be in pain. And if the truth drives you crazy/then you'll just be insane..."
--Sister Souljah, 1992


Another typically excellent and brutally honest article by the legendary investigative and political journalist Alexander Cockburn. Though the words are stinging and painful--even seemingly harsh at times--no one who is HONEST about what the President has and has not done while in office since 2008 could possibly disagree or find flaws with the fundamental TRUTH of what Cockburn says here. I've been personally saying it--and thinking it--for nearly two years now and nearly everyone I know who believed in and vigorously campaigned and voted for Obama--as I also did!--now feel the exact same way as Cockburn does in this article. Like I said before I and most of my deeply disillusioned friends will still vote for him again in 2012 only because we have NO OTHER CHOICE since clearly voting for ANY Republican--or simply sitting out the election-- would be an insane act of national political suicide. Needless to say this is an utterly pathetic position for us to be left in and it's more than understandable at this point why so many people who thought and expected Obama to have some real principles and actually stand for something (and to fight for it while in office) are enraged and bitter about the colossal MESS that we are presently in because this man has FAILED to be a leader for the desperately needed national progressive reform that he "promised" he would be during his campaign in 2008...Thus the paramount question remains: When will the masses of the American people, and most especially the Left as an effective mass organizing force, rise to fill this yawning national political and ideological vacuum?


Making a case for Barack Obama just gets harder
by Alexander Cockburn:
AUGUST 25, 2011
The First Post

Loyalists will vote for Obama again – but only to stop some insane Republican from getting in

The White House that shook in Tuesday's earthquake has been home to its present incumbent for 32 months. Obama wasn't around to watch the furniture shake. He's up on Martha's Vineyard for the third year in a row with Michelle and their two daughters, bunkered in a $25,000-a-week holiday rental on a lush 28-acre estate in the little town of Chilmark.

He's keeping a low profile. Words like "stand-offish" roll petulantly off the tongues of the island's liberal elites. They were spoiled by Bill Clinton who spent six presidential vacations on the Vineyard. No renter he. Bill free-loaded on rich pals and party donors, mostly synonymous.

No one could ever accuse Bill of being stand-offish, though he once confided to Vernon Jordan that he preferred Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to Martha's Vineyard as a vacation spot since it was impossible to get "pussy" in the stuffy Massachusetts resort.

Obama's stand-offishness includes, I am informed by one knowledgeable Martha's Vineyard local, failure to show at an exclusive fundraiser, also at a party of his friend Henry Louis Gates, the Harvard prof whose July 2009 spat with the Cambridge police once prompted the normally hyper-prudent Obama to say the cops had acted "stupidly" – probably the most vivid off-the-cuff judgment of his entire presidency.

The presidential excuse for the Gates no-show was apparently that he and Michelle didn't "want to leave the kids alone." Alone? One of the houses on the Chilmark estate is occupied by the Secret Service; another by close aides. You'd think at least two could have been press-ganged into child-minding duties.

Like many presidents trying to have a holiday, Obama has drawn fire for lounging about on the Vineyard for 10 days while ordinary Americans battle hard times, and Hurricane Irene threatens the Atlantic seaboard.

So, as with other presidents, his press man claims 50 per cent of Obama's time is spent doing the nation's business, much of it hunkered down with his counter-terrorism advisor, John Brennan. Presumably they are reviewing intelligence reports that al-Qaeda is planning something really big to mark the tenth anniversary of the destruction of the Trade Towers on 9/11/2011.

As president, Obama is not doing well. It's not just a matter of the 53 per cent disapproval rating reported yesterday by Gallup. After two-and-a-half years, people are beginning to come to settled opinions about their president and many of these aren't flattering.

In 2008 liberals and most leftists were deeply in love with Obama and genuinely believed the promissory notes about a better America he strewed along the campaign trail and has since welshed on at a rate of well over 90 per cent.

The face-off over the debt ceiling at the start of this month was the final straw. Take a man I have known for many decades, William Broyles, former Marine, lifelong Texan Democrat, speech writer in the Carter White House, former Newsweek editor, co-creator of China Beach, Apollo 13 and Cast Away.

Ten days ago, Bill wrote a furious Newsweek column headlined 'The Oval Office Appeaser'. Bill is normally a courteous man, not one who likes to hurl mouldy cabbages from the balcony. I've never known him write more angrily.

"After each betrayal, after each terribly bad bargain, Obama comes out waving a piece of paper, a one-sided agreement to appease the Republicans—peace in our time…

"A despair grips America today, a cold fear that our best days are behind us, that we are adrift and powerless. Yes, the Republicans are to blame. But so is a president who treats core American values as bargaining chips, who won't fight for anything, who refuses to lead. It turns out hope does matter… Americans aren't inspired by well-meaning weakness. We like strong leaders, particularly in desperate times."

Obama is a very curious fellow. I don't think any writer thus far has got the measure of the man. Take the Obama White House. From the news-leak point of view he presides over the tightest ship in living memory. Leaks, corridor gossip, my-side-of-the-story confidences of policy-makers battling for the president's ear, depth charges planted by such powerful cabinet members as Hillary Clinton? None of the above. This is the White House of a man in total control, contrasting markedly with Clinton's fitful supervision of the shambolic White House of his two terms.

But Obama, where it counts, is not in control. Republicans, regarded as certifiably insane by a lot more Americans than disapprove of Barack Obama, face him down and he leaps to do their bidding, even as they kick him in the teeth for not doing more. He tugs his forelock to Wall Street, the defence industry, the oil companies, Monsanto, the agriculture industry, Israel. An appeaser, as Broyles charged. And when the dust of battle rises, he cuts and runs.

Last week the Democrats got a nasty shock when the New York Times ran a story reporting on the battle for Anthony Weiner's Brooklyn district. Weiner resigned from Congress on June 16, done in by Twittering photos of his penis to women, none of them his wife or even a constituent. The Republican challenger is apparently making a strong showing in this traditionally Democratic district. The Times quoted life-long Democrats expressing their discontent in virulent terms.

There are plenty of Obama loyalists out there. I know leftists who still forlornly try to make a case for the man and will stay true to the end. But if they vote for him next year it won't be for any positive reason, such as sent them delightedly to the polls in 2008 in search of hope. They'll gesture to Rick Perry or some other Republican challenger and fall back on the "lesser of two evils" argument.

But will this work with the sort of blue-collar union people and independents who voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 because they thought Carter was a wimp who couldn't handle the economy?

Bill Clinton survived incompetence and scandal because enough Americans felt like somewhat disillusioned brides after two or three years of facing the Real Thing across the breakfast table. "Dump him? For who? Anyway, he's promised me he'll try to do better." He's a flake and a liar, but he's our flake and our liar.

No one feels like that about Obama. He's not a man who elicits mass affection. People whose vote he courts are genuinely confused. Does he believe in anything beyond raising a billion dollars for the 2012 campaign? Now he's on the trail again, assuring people without jobs that he'll put them back to work. It's a very tough sell.

Meanwhile Texas Governor Rick Perry, who entered the Republican race only a week ago, is surging against his opponents. Yesterday's Gallup poll has him in a commanding lead over the 'moderate' Republican Mitt Romney, with 29 per cent saying they are most likely to support Perry. Former front-runner Mitt Romney (17 per cent), Ron Paul (13 per cent), and Michele Bachmann (10 per cent) are next, with four other candidates at four per cent or less.

The conservative Perry's done this by staking out fierce positions, just as Reagan did against Carter. It doesn't matter that the opinions grate on the sensibilities of the liberal commentariat. He's not after their approval. Perry's a tough campaigner, not like Bob Dole, whom Clinton had the luck to face in 1996.

These days, apropos Obama, some lines from a Hollywood classic, Touch of Evil, float into my mind:

Welles: Come on, read my future for me.

Dietrich: You haven't got any.

Welles: Hmm? What do you mean?

Dietrich: Your future's all used up.

An Open Letter To My Sister

President Barack Obama with Ruby Bridges. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


Yeah, yeah, yeah I saw this article yesterday on my own and thought about sending it out but then I thought "What's the point? Obama's only really interested in the abstract SYMBOLISM of this painting, not effectively dealing with the concrete REALITY behind it!" I'm very familiar with the famous Rockwell painting (I first saw it in LIFE magazine in the mid 1960s!). Anyway while this is a very nice and kind gesture by Ruby Bridges I really don't think Obama has any intention of acting POLITICALLY on the important issues that the painting raises in real life--otherwise Obama wouldn't be so afraid of publicly appearing with and advocating on behalf of our people generally--who I hasten to remind everyone are American citizens. I say this because of the endless bullshit and thoroughly idiotic line pushed by so many stupid and dishonest people--and the President himself--that he's "not just the President of black America but of the entire country." Of course that's obviously true--DUH!-- but when the President goes around the country to meet with various people anyone with an ounce of sense can see that he must at all times deal not only with the general reality of all Americans but also with SPECIFIC GROUPS. For example Latinos have specific particular interests in immigration reform that directly affect them and their communities as well as employment, education, healthcare, housing etc. Gays and Lesbian citizens have specific, particular interests and concerns having to do with sexual discrimination against them in the workplace and in the military and in dealing with the institution of marriage which the government is obligated to address. Various 'white' American constituencies from Jews to Irish and Italian American Catholics have specific concerns and interests as well. And what about the specific interests of Labor Unions, professionals, children, military personnel, women and issues of gender discrimination and equality, etc. etc.? In other words: As an equally discrete, individual, and specific group of citizens in the United States African Americans also have issues, concerns, and demands that MUST BE SERIOUSLY ADDRESSED AND RESOLVED. And the moronic, false, insulting NONSENSE that the President doesn't have the exact same obligation to us as a people AND as general American citizens as he does EVERY OTHER GROUP IN THE COUNTRY is just another way of this President and his administration AVOIDING the responsibility of addressing these very real, very important issues in public. Because when the government deals with racial issues in this country it is also simultaneously dealing with general issues of employment, education, healthcare, housing, consumer protection, the environment, etc. etc. because obviously issues of discrimination and structural/systemic disparities (be they rooted in racial, class, or gender bias) are integral and crucial to the welfare and development of the ENTIRE NATION.

Until such time as this President and even more importantly WE AS BLACK PEOPLE stop acting as though our needs and interests can't or shouldn't be adequately addressed in public JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE'S NEEDS, DESIRES, AND INTERESTS ARE BEING DEALT WITH then the emotionally powerful but still largely abstract symbolism of the art now hanging outside the Oval Office at the White House will remain ONLY SYMBOLIC and fail to properly inspire this President to deal with us OPENLY AND HONESTLY AT ALL TIMES and stop HIDING whenever we come around. After all, in the real world SYMBOLISM BY ITSELF IS NOT ENOUGH. Someone needs to ACT on the messages being conveyed by the artist in this painting and I mean NOW. Otherwise it just represents another way for the White House to avoid dealing with what the painting is actually talking about in terms of TODAY'S REALITIES...You dig?...


Art sends rare W.H. message on race
By Josh Gerstein

August 23, 2011


President Barack Obama has taken a decidedly low-key approach to racial issues since he became America’s first black president two years ago. But in a hallway outside the Oval Office, he has placed a head-turning painting depicting one of the ugliest racial episodes in U.S. history.

Norman Rockwell’s “The Problem We All Live With,” installed in the White House last month, shows U.S. marshals escorting Ruby Bridges, a 6-year-old African-American girl, into a New Orleans elementary school in 1960 as court-ordered integration met with an angry and defiant response from the white community.

The thrust of the painting is not subtle. America’s vilest racial epithet appears in letters several inches high at the top of the canvas. To the left side, the letters “KKK” are plainly visible. The crowds, mostly women who gathered daily to taunt Bridges as she went to a largely empty school, are not shown in the picture. But the racist graffiti and a splattered tomato convey the hostile atmosphere.

Despite the historic nature of his election, Obama has rarely dwelt on racial issues. His speech Sunday dedicating a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. near the National Mall will be an exception to the pattern, a rare public embrace of the civil rights movement.

His choice of the Rockwell painting was a more private statement. Obama has never mentioned it in a speech or public event. And while White House aides confirmed that Obama approved bringing it to the West Wing, they declined to discuss how the decision was made or why.

But in an interview with POLITICO, Bridges, now 56 and still living in New Orleans, said she began reaching out to the president last year — through Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick — to move the painting to the White House because she believed the image would resonate with Obama.

“It did have a lot to do with this particular president,” Bridges said. “He is a president of mixed race. So I believe he is about the same things that I am. You cannot look at a person and judge him or her by the color of their skin. … I did feel if anyone would hang the painting, it would be him.”
Last month, Bridges stopped by the White House to see the painting in its new — though temporary — home.

“I think it’s fair to say that if it hadn’t been for you guys, I might not be here, and we might not be looking at this together,” Obama told her, according to a videotape on the White House website.

Bridges says the work conveys a message of integration and “bringing people together,” but on its surface, Rockwell’s painting depicts jarring cruelty, hatred and fear.

“The N-word there — it sure stops you,” said William Kloss, an art historian and expert on the White House collections. “There’s a realistic reason for having the graffiti as a slur, [but] it’s also right in the middle of the painting. … It’s a painting that could not be hung even for a brief time in the public spaces [of the White House], I’m pretty sure of that.”

Urban League President Marc Morial, who viewed the painting during a recent visit to see the president, said Rockwell’s use of the racial slur conveys the hostility Bridges faced.

“It gives people an opportunity to see that she wasn’t walking to Sunday school and, in fact, she faced the jeers, she faced the hate,” Morial said.
“It is jarring to see it in this piece of art, but … it provides the context of the time,” said Roland Martin, an African-American radio and TV host and political commentator for CNN. “When you see that word, you see her, you see the soldiers, you realize, ‘I really get this.’”

Despite, or perhaps because of the groundbreaking nature of his presidency, Obama’s handling of issues of race has been subdued. He has hosted Black History Month events, but the civil rights page on the White House website makes little mention of racial discrimination. When eight surviving members of the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike came to Washington in April, Obama received them privately in the Map Room. A still photo of the meeting with Obama was posted on the White House blog.

“I don’t believe Obama’s uncomfortable talking about race. I do know it’s a politically charged issue with hypersensitivity on all sides of the equation,” said April Ryan, who is African-American and a longtime White House reporter for American Urban Radio Network. “I’ve been told by people here they don’t want to deal with a lot of ‘race’ because it overamplifies. … One thing that will always follow this president is race, so they have to, in my estimation, downplay it.”

Despite signs that at least some tea party events last fall were racially tinged, Obama has repeatedly told interviewers that he doubts race plays any significant role in the angry reactions of some Americans to his policies or in the long-festering claims that he was born outside the U.S.

Ryan said Obama and his aides also have brushed aside calls for programs targeting sharply higher unemployment rates in the African-American community.

“I can’t pass laws that say I’m just helping black folks. I’m the president of the United States,” Obama told Ryan in a December 2009 interview. “What I can do is make sure that I am passing laws that help all people, particularly those who are most vulnerable and most in need. That, in turn, is going to help lift up the African-American community.”

Ryan also noted that while Obama has never displayed any race-related artwork as provocative as the Rockwell painting, he does keep emblems of the civil rights movement near him. A small bust of King is in the Oval Office, and a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation hangs on the wall. Obama also has a pamphlet from the 1963 March on Washington sitting nearby, said Laurie Norton Moffatt, director and CEO of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., where “The Problem We All Live With” is displayed when it’s not on tour.

Still, at 3 feet high and nearly 5 feet wide, the painting is by far the most striking civil rights-related art in the White House. Rockwell painted the image in 1963, and it appeared on the cover of Look magazine in January 1964. It will remain about 20 feet from the Oval Office, in a well-trafficked hallway just outside the Cabinet Room, until it goes back on tour in October.

“It’s large and wide and calls a lot of attention to itself. … He pulled no punches with it, and it’s a terrific composition,” Kloss said. “I don’t think there is anything [in the White House] comparable to this.”

“If you’re a young staffer, who wasn’t alive at that time, you’re going to stop in your tracks and say: ‘Was it really like that?’” Martin said.

Some other artwork in the White House could be considered controversial but in a more subtle way, Kloss said. “There are works that would be edgy if people knew what they were about,” such as a Frederic Remington sculpture of drunk cowboys and a melancholy 1917 Childe Hassam painting of flags on Fifth Avenue in New York as America prepared to enter World War I.

In 2009, the Obamas also borrowed for the White House’s private spaces a couple of works with racial themes. One was Glenn Ligon’s “Black Like Me No. 2” — which features a repeating line from John Howard Griffin’s 1961 book on the experience of a white man who turned his skin black to study racism in the South: “All traces of the Griffin I had been were wiped from existence.”

Another Obama-era installation was William H. Johnson’s “Booker T. Washington,” which depicts the civil rights leader teaching black students.

“The president and the first lady have made an effort to tell our nation’s whole history and focus on inclusion,” Moffatt said. “They’ve not focused exclusively on the African-American heritage, but they’ve also not shied away from it,” she said, adding that there are few “narrative” works of art about the civil rights era.

Still, some civil rights leaders see his decision to put up the Rockwell painting as an empty gesture in light of his general reticence on race.

“Obama’s in campaign mode,” said Michael Meyers of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. “The Norman Rockwell painting is so historic and so old that [Obama’s] statement is safe. … Obama makes no statements about integration today, and the schools are more segregated than they’ve ever been. Where is his Education Department on that?”

Bridges said she had little time to talk with Obama during their meeting but believes he understands and to some degree personifies the message of racial tolerance that she delivers.

“Even though there were mobs outside that school every day for a whole year, the person that greeted me every morning was [my teacher], a white woman, who actually risked her life as well,” Bridges said. “This [painting] will be a great way for Obama to say to anyone who comes to his office: ‘This is what I’m about.’”

Abby Phillip contributed to this report.