Tomgram: Ira Chernus, What the President-Elect Should Be Reading

December 11, 2008


On Sunday, I went to a memorial for Studs Terkel, that human dynamo, our nation’s greatest listener and talker, the one person I just couldn’t imagine dying. After all, the man wrote his classic oral history of death, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? at 90, and only then did he do his oral history of hope, Hope Dies Last. The celebration of his life went on for almost two and a half hours. Everyone on stage had a classic story about the guy, one better than the next, and Studs would have been thrilled that so many people talked at such length about him. But he wouldn’t have stayed. Half an hour into the event, he would have been out the door, across the street, and into the nearest bar, asking people about their lives. And the amazing thing is this: they would have been spilling their guts. He could make a stone talk — and not only that, but tell a story of stone-ness that no one had ever heard before or even imagined a stone might tell. His death is like an archive of what was best in America closing; his legacy lies in oral histories that will inform the generations.

Unfortunately, his remarkable oral history of the Great Depression, Hard Times, may prove all too hauntingly relevant to our moment. In fact, in the midst of the ceremonies, the radio host Laura Flanders pointed out that, in Studs’s beloved Chicago, a group of more than 200 workers from United Electrical union local 1110 were sitting in at their factory. After the Bank of America had cut the company off from operating credit, the execs of Republic Windows and Doors shut the plant for good on just three days notice without offering severance pay. The workers responded by demanding some justice and “blocking the removal of any assets from the plant” until they got their “rightful benefits.” Shades of the 1930s! As John Nichols of the Nation writes, “[They] are conducting the contemporary equivalent of the 1930s sit-down strikes that led to the rapid expansion of union recognition nationwide and empowered the Roosevelt administration to enact more equitable labor laws. And, just as in the thirties, they are objecting to policies that put banks ahead of workers; stickers worn by the UE sit-down strikers read: You got bailed out, we got sold out.'”

If this isn’t a message from and about a changing nation, I don’t know what is. And, by the way, the fact that the President-elect supported their demands at a news conference on Sunday indicates not just that change has indeed occurred, but that messages sent from the bottom en masse don’t go unnoticed by canny politicians at the top.

Until this second, who would have predicted such a thing? And who can imagine what version of hard times we will face? All I know is that, if Studs, who made it to 96, to the verge of the historic election of Barack Obama, were alive today, he would have recognized a moment of hope when he saw it and made a beeline for Republic Windows and Doors, tape recorder in hand. He was, after all, a man who knew that anyone can hope in good times, but that, in bad times, to feel hopeful you have to act, you have to take a step, even on an unknown path. And he was a man who also would have taken it for granted that the lives of the workers in that Chicago factory were at least as complex, deep, dark, surprising, fascinating, confusing, and remarkable as any among Washington’s elite or the movers and shakers (down) of Wall Street.

In one of Studs’s interviews, the chief of the trauma unit at a Chicago hospital, talking about how a doctor should deal with the family of a young person who has just died traumatically, says that, when he introduces himself, “they won’t even remember my name. Sit them down. Sit down with them. Look into their eyes. If you can, hold on to them and say, ‘it’s bad news.’ And they’ll say, ‘Is he dead?’ Or they just look at you. You have to use the word, you have to say it: ‘He’s dead.’ If you say he’s ‘expired,’ he’s ‘passed away,’ they don’t hear that It’s very important to put yourself into their shoes, but you’ve got to say the word ‘dead.’ You’ve got to give them the finality of it.”

Well, Studs is dead. And it’s hard times without him.

Ira Chernus, TomDispatch regular, who is now, appropriately enough, writing a book on Franklin Delano Roosevelt, gives some thought below to what those who want to act, to make change, in this hard-times moment can learn from the canniest of politicians — FDR and Barack Obama. Tom

The First Hundred Days or the Last Hundred Days?
Obama’s Rendezvous with Destiny — and Ours
By Ira Chernus

Looking back on Barack Obama’s first post-election interview with “60 Minutes,” no one should be surprised that he admitted he’s reading about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first hundred days in office. In fact, the president-elect — evidently taking no chances — is reportedly reading two books: Jonathan Alter’s The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope and Jean Edward Smith’s FDR. As he told “Sixty Minutes,” his administration will emulate FDR’s “willingness to try things and experiment If something doesn’t work, [we’re] gonna try something else until [we] find something that does.” That’s one reason Obama, like FDR, has claimed that he wants advisors who will offer him a wide variety of viewpoints.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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Tomgram: Transition Mania

December 11, 2008

December 7, 2008
Tomgram: Transition Mania

[Note to TomDispatch readers: Here we are nearing the end of the year. Just a reminder: If you’re getting ready for a little pre-2009 giving in tough times, why not hit the “Resist Empire. Support TomDispatch” button to the right of the site’s main screen and consider bulking up TD a little. Every dollar is appreciated.

And while you’re at it, if you’re in the mood for holiday book gifts, another way to support the site and its authors is to check out the list of TomDispatch-inspired books to the left of the main screen (scroll down). They range from this year’s The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire, a best-of collection that will help make sense of this moment, to Michael Schwartz’s superb just-published War Without End, which capatures the hell Bush & Co. drove Iraq (and the U.S.) into, Nick Turse’s The Complex, a groundbreaking book on how our daily lives have been militarized, and — for a dash of pure hope — Rebecca Solnit’s classic volume, Hope in the Dark. Or if you want to know a little more about American triumphalism and how it crashed and burned twice in a matter of decades, check out my own recently updated The End of Victory Culture. Tom]

The Imperial Transition
44, The Prequel
By Tom Engelhardt

Did you know that the IBM Center for the Business of Government hosts a “Presidential Transition” blog; that the Council on Foreign Relations has its own “Transition Blog: The New Administration”; and that the American University School of Communication has a “Transition Tracker” website? The National Journal offers its online readers a comprehensive “Lost in Transition” site to help them “navigate the presidential handover,” including a “short list,” offering not only the president-elect’s key recent appointments, but also a series of not-so-short lists of those still believed to be in contention for as-yet-unfilled jobs. Think of all this as Entertainment Weekly married to People Magazine for post-election political junkies.

Newsweek features “powering up” (“blogging the transition”); the policy-wonk website Politico.com offers Politico 44 (“a living diary of the Obama presidency”); and Public Citizen has “Becoming 44,” with the usual lists of appointees, possible appointees, but — for the junkie who wants everything — “bundler transition team members” and “lobbyist and bundler appointees” as well. (For those who want to know, for instance, White House Social Secretary-designate Desiree Roberts bundled at least $200,000 for the Obama campaign.)

The New York Times has gone whole hog at “The New Team” section of its website, where there are scads of little bios of appointees, as well as prospective appointees — including what each individual will “bring to the job,” how each is “linked to Mr. Obama,” and what negatives each carries as “baggage.” Think of it as a scorecard for transition junkies. The Washington Post, whose official beat is, of course, Washington D.C. über alles, has its “44: The Obama Presidency, A Transition to Power,” where, in case you’re planning to make a night of it on January 20th, you can keep up to date on that seasonal must-subject, the upcoming inaugural balls. And not to be outdone, the transitioning Obama transition crew has its own mega-transition site, Change.gov.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


ICH: Ron Paul: The Creation of the Second Great Depression

September 26, 2008
The Creation of the Second Great Depression
By Ron Paul
Whenever a Great Bipartisan Consensus is announced, and a compliant media assures everyone that the wondrous actions of our wise leaders are being taken for our own good, you can know with absolute certainty that disaster is about to strike. The events of the past week are no exception.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20862.htm
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Show Us the Money
By William Greider
Taxpayers should wake up the politicians and ask them to tell Wall Street: “We want the same deal Warren Buffett got.”
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20867.htm
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Richest Americans See Their Income Share Grow
By Jesse Drucker
In a new sign of increasing inequality in the U.S., the richest 1% of Americans in 2006 garnered the highest share of the nation’s adjusted gross income for two decades, and possibly the highest since 1929, according to Internal Revenue Service data.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20863.htm
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America’s Elephant In The Room
By David Michael Green
The scope of the destruction is breathtaking to gaze upon. The rapidity with which American affluence and power and respect and responsibility were converted into their opposite numbers is mind-boggling.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20868.htm
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McCain’s Debate Ploy
By Michael Tomasky
A move so unserious, contemptible and cynical that it’s hard to imagine how they even thought of it.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20866.htm
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The New World War
The Silence Is A Lie
By John Pilger
It is a war of the world. In Latin America, the Bush administration is fomenting incipient military coups in Venezuela, Bolivia, and possibly Paraguay, democracies whose governments have opposed Washington’s historic rapacious intervention in its “backyard”. Washington’s “Plan Colombia” is the model for a mostly unreported assault on Mexico.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20864.htm
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Morales Cites “Evidence” of U.S. Meddling
By Haider Rizvi
Bolivian President Evo Morales reiterated the charge Tuesday that the U.S. government was plotting to overthrow his government and that Washington had a hand in the recent episodes of violence in which a number of his supporters were killed and wounded by opposition gangs.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20860.htm
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The Destabilization of Bolivia and the “Kosovo Option”
By Michel Chossudovsky
The death squads armed with automatic weapons responsible for killing supporters of Evo Morales in El Porvenir are supported covertly by the US. According to one report, “USAID has an “Office of Transition Initiatives” operating in Bolivia, funneling millions of dollars of training and support to right-wing opposition regional governments and movements.”
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20861.htm
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The Future Is One Nation
The two-state approach in the Middle East has failed. There is a fairer, more durable solution
By Ghada Karmi
Imagine the scene: the United Nations general assembly meets to discuss a resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Unlike previous resolutions, which have been based on a Jewish state in most of historic Palestine with Palestinians relegated to the remnants, this one calls for a new state, covering what is now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, whose present and former inhabitants are equal under the law. Such a resolution has, in fact, already been drafted and discussions have begun to place it on the agenda at the UN.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20865.htm
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Horrors of War Our Leaders Never Have to Confront
By Robert Fisk
Private James Owen was to describe how an enraged friend was trying to bayonet another German. “He lunged at the German again and again, who each time lowered his arms and stopped the point of the bayonet with his bare hands. He was screaming for mercy. Oh God it was brutal!”
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20856.htm
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The Blood of Dresden
By Kurt Vonnegut
The author Kurt Vonnegut was a prisoner of war in Dresden during the allied bombing raids and was later forced to dig out bodies from the ruined city. In papers discovered by his son after his death last year, he provides a searing eyewitness account of the ‘obscene brutality’ that inspired his novel Slaughterhouse-Five.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20857.htm
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Heather Wokusch: Bush Exits with a Bang: Toxic Bailout and Two More Wars?

September 26, 2008

It’s good to hear back from my American friend, progressive writer, author, political commentator and blogger, Heather Wokusch.  Check out her two short videos and following links:

I’ve been on a short break from blogging, but recent events have gotten me riled up! If you have strong opinions about the Bush administration’s ‘toxic debt’ bailout and/or destabilization of Pakistan and Iran, then check out the ten-minute video I made called ‘Bush Exits with a Bang: Toxic Bailout and Two More Wars?’ here:

Bush Exits with a Bang: Toxic Bailout and Two More Wars?

The video provides background and context into these dangerous developments, as well as ideas for taking action.

I hope to be back to blogging on a regular basis soon, but for now, check out:
Bush Exits with a Bang: Toxic Bailout and Two More Wars?

Links for sources cited in the video:

Bailout:
Crisis talks over $700B ‘toxic debt’ rescue plan
Bush: “The American people have got to know that I made this decision along with a lot of experts because it was necessary to protect them.”

Pakistan:
Washington is Risking War with Pakistan

The American War Moves to Pakistan

Iran:
Preparing The Battlefield July 07, 2008

Dutch intel: US to strike Iran in coming weeks September 1, 08

Israel asks U.S. for arms, air corridor to attack Iran September 11, 08

U.S. to sell IAF smart bombs for heavily fortified targets September 14, 08

Bush could still attack Iran September 17 08


Arianna Huffington: The Bailout Plan: Welcome to Economic Shock and Awe

September 23, 2008

In the preface to her post, Arianna Huffington has this to say about the Paulson bailout package:

“Over the past 30 years, Americans have been bombarded with sermons evangelizing for the free market religion of the Right. In the course of selling us on buying, the market-worshippers tried to convince us that all concerns about the most vulnerable members of society could be left up to the soulless, self-correcting calculus of supply and demand. Government involvement was an anachronism, regulatory oversight an impediment. The last few weeks have demolished that notion. In the battle over the proper role of government, the high priests of the church of the Free Market — including Bush, Paulson, and the Masters of Wall Street — have suffered a monumental defeat. So why are we allowing them to dictate the terms of their surrender?

Arianna begins her corresponding article The Bailout Plan: Welcome to Economic Shock and Awe with this:

See if this sounds familiar:

There is a gathering threat to the safety of the United States. We must take immediate action. Congress must quickly grant the President and the Secretary what they want and also give them full and unfettered authority to execute the plan.

Welcome to Economic Shock and Awe (or as some have dubbed it, according to Paul Krugman, “the Authorization for Use of Financial Force”).

Even the amount of taxpayer money being bandied about — $1 trillion — is similar. Think you got your money’s worth for the Iraq war? Congratulations — you’re about to buy another pricey debacle.

[…]

Read the rest of this article here.


Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, Worshiping the Indispensable Nation

September 11, 2008

Can anyone be surprised that, once again, the attacks of 9/11/01 were reflexively ground zero for embattled Republicans? George W. Bush led the way at the Republican National Convention, saying of John McCain, “We need a president who understands the lessons of September 11, 2001.” In his convention keynote address, Rudy Giuliani followed suit, zapping Obama and his supporters this way: “The Democrats rarely mentioned the attacks of September 11. They are in a state of denial about the threat that faces us now and in the future.” Post-convention, it’s evidently time to assure the nation that Sarah Palin is just the pit bull to handle the next 9/11. Now comes the news that this Thursday, the endless presidential election campaign will finally make it — quite literally — to Ground Zero. Barack Obama and John McCain will “put aside politics” and appear together for the yearly ceremonies. By now, however, it’s far too late to “put aside” 9/11, no less remove it from American politics. Our world has been profoundly reshaped, after all, by the decisions Bush and his top officials made in the wake of those attacks.

Still, taking up the President’s implied question, what “lessons” exactly should be drawn, seven years later, other than that you stand a reasonable chance of winning elections by invoking 9/11 ad nauseum? As Andrew Bacevich, author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, indicates below, there are indeed lessons to be drawn. They are, in fact, devastating to the Bush administration, and unless they are grasped, further disaster is undoubtedly in the offing. (To watch a video of Bacevich discussing those post-9/11 lessons, click here.) Tom

9/11 Plus Seven

By Andrew J. Bacevich

The events of the past seven years have yielded a definitive judgment on the strategy that the Bush administration conceived in the wake of 9/11 to wage its so-called Global War on Terror. That strategy has failed, massively and irrevocably. To acknowledge that failure is to confront an urgent national priority: to scrap the Bush approach in favor of a new national security strategy that is realistic and sustainable — a task that, alas, neither of the presidential candidates seems able to recognize or willing to take up.

On September 30, 2001, President Bush received from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld a memorandum outlining U.S. objectives in the War on Terror. Drafted by Rumsfeld’s chief strategist Douglas Feith, the memo declared expansively: “If the war does not significantly change the world’s political map, the U.S. will not achieve its aim.” That aim, as Feith explained in a subsequent missive to his boss, was to “transform the Middle East and the broader world of Islam generally.”

Rumsfeld and Feith were co-religionists: Along with other senior Bush administration officials, they worshipped in the Church of the Indispensable Nation, a small but intensely devout Washington-based sect formed in the immediate wake of the Cold War. Members of this church shared an exalted appreciation for the efficacy of American power, especially hard power. The strategy of transformation emerged as a direct expression of their faith.

The members of this church were also united by an equally exalted estimation of their own abilities. Lucky the nation to be blessed with such savvy and sophisticated public servants in its hour of need!

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


DN!: “The Olympics the West Wanted”//Thomas Frank on How Conservatives Rule

August 8, 2008

* “This is the Olympics the West Wanted” – Dave Zirin on US Corporations Entering China, Athletes Speaking Out and the Games from ’68 to Today *
As the 2008 Summer Olympic Games open in Beijing, we speak with sportswriter Dave Zirin. “This is the Olympics the West wanted: games where the grandest prize is not a gold medal but a glittering entree to China’s seemingly endless army of potential consumers,” writes Zirin. “This is the reason that George W. Bush will attend the opening ceremonies, the first U.S. President to do so on foreign soil.”

Listen/Watch/Read
http://www.democracynow.org/2008/8/8/this_is_the_olympics_the_west

* The Wrecking Crew: Thomas Frank on How Conservatives Rule *
Columnist and author Thomas Frank joins us to talk about his latest book, The Wrecking Crew. Frank writes, “Fantastic misgovernment of the kind we have seen is not an accident, nor is it the work of a few bad individuals. It is the consequence of triumph by a particular philosophy of government, by a movement that understands the liberal state as a perversion and considers the market the ideal nexus of human society. This movement is friendly to industry not just by force of campaign contributions but by conviction.”

Listen/Watch/Read
http://www.democracynow.org/2008/8/8/the_wrecking_crew_thomas_frank_on