Saturday, May 31, 2008

Political dithering while Democrats debate

There's one thing I want say about Hillary Clinton's campaign before it fizzles out: it produced this T-shirt design. The notion that a woman pictured as having hips could make a serious run for the Presidency is as amazing and gratifying to me as the inconceivable reality that more and more of country seems on the verge of recognizing gay marriage. We all owe the sister, even if we don't much like her.

That said, I nonetheless have to work to understand what Clinton's dwindling core of supporters are hanging on to. Fortunately I know some, so what follows is not entirely blowing smoke.

As I've blogged before, many good progressive Clinton supporters are just now learning that she has lost. The shock is still real for many.

And though Clinton has lost, and a good number of us political junkies have known this would be the outcome since sometime in March, the loss is very narrow. Clinton's claims that more popular votes were cast for her are based on some phony accounting (she drops some caucus states like Washington from the calculations). And there's no rational argument that she did not lose among voting delegates to the Democratic convention. Obama has won a narrow margin among pledged and superdelegates. But the margin is small and the contest close.

Early on I found Obama's supporters irritating, willing to embrace their guy with what seemed gushing, baseless enthusiasm. I still think folks who believe Obama is promising a real break from the imperial, corporate consensus are being naïve. But I believe the logic of defeating McCain from Obama's political and identity position will tend to move him in directions I like. And the more naïve Obama supporters will learn -- they'll have to. The rest of us will live to fight another day under an Obama administration.

Meanwhile Clinton partisans are getting the news and adjusting to it: the Field poll in California now shows that state's voters reversing the preferences they expressed on Super Tuesday: among Democrats, Obama tops Clinton by a margin of 51-38. Even in New York, half of Democrats now want Clinton to end her campaign.

The holdouts pretty clearly are white women of a certain age. According to a recent Pew poll,

Obama's favorable rating among voters has slipped eight points since late February, from 59% to 51% in the current survey. ...

Obama's slipping image is in some measure a negative reaction from frustrated Clinton supporters. Currently, just 46% of those who support Clinton for the nomination say the party will unite behind Obama if he is the nominee. In March, 58% of Clinton supporters said the party would rally behind Obama if he is the nominee.

Recent declines in Obama's image have been pronounced among whites -- especially white women. Currently, just 43% of white women express a positive opinion of Obama, down from 56% in late February.

This makes me sad. As a woman for whom feminism -- the revolutionary belief that women are human -- is central to my being, I'm sorry that my sisters are unable to recognize that a woman they identify with could lose in a fair fight. Come on folks, the fact that it was a fair fight in which the man and the woman played by the same rules is progress...

Yet I can sympathize with this excellent description of why some women feel so hurt by the outcome of the Democratic primaries:

If they have worked outside the home, they have seen this movie before: the younger, charismatic man gets the job (or the promotion, or the account), while the older, more qualified woman gets passed over.

...They liked Bill, they like Hillary, and they thought she would do a great job. They are frustrated that millions of voters picked the hot shot over the smart, hard-working woman. In their minds, Hillary deserved the nomination, but voters picked someone less prepared for the job.

To add insult to injury, many of them now believe that they will not live to see a woman president.

Of course this is painful. Having just read A Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin's opus about Abraham Lincoln, I imagine the Clinton folks feel about Obama the way that the abolitionist William Seward's supporters must have felt when the unknown from Illinois was nominated. Then the thought was, who's this unsophisticated, inexperienced frontiersman who stands for nothing, but who has defeated such an accomplished, obvious nominee? I'm not predicting that Obama will turn out to be a Lincoln (probably the most important President we ever had), but a nomination this unexpected has occurred before in our history.

One of the signal features of this year's Democratic primaries has been a significant change in the ages of who is voting. I've been working professionally in elections since 1989 and we could always confidently say to our staffs something like: the group most likely to vote are 50 and older. Not anymore. In the Democratic primaries, we've see a dramatically different picture:

  • Weighted by the turnout in each state, voters aged 65+ made up 18.0 percent of the electorate in 2008 as compared with 23.3 percent of the electorate in 2004; a 22 percent decrease.
  • Weighted by the turnout in each state, voters aged 45+ made up 60.9 percent of the electorate in 2008 as compared with 67.9 percent of the electorate in 2004; a 10 percent decrease.
  • Weighted by the turnout in each state, voters aged 18-29 made up 14.5 percent of the electorate in 2008 as compared with 9.4 percent of the electorate in 2004; a 53 percent increase.
Did the number of older voters increase in absolute terms? Of course -- since something like three times as many Democrats cast ballots in the primaries this year. The turnout of midgets of mixed French Creole/Albanian ancestry also increased in absolute terms. But the average age of a Democratic voter decreased from about 52 in 2004 to 49 in 2008.
Big movements in who votes don't happen often. That's a huge movement. We are seeing something new -- perhaps what the country needs to meet the challenges of global warming and declining empire.

Update: while I was dithering, the Democratic rules committee has reached compromises on Florida and Michigan that give Clinton a net additional twenty-four delegates -- not enough to overcome Obama's advantage, possibly enough to stop the food fight. Let's hope this will be over next week ...

Friday, May 30, 2008

View from my window:
New York City

Click on the picture for a larger view. Use your browser's "back" button to return to this page.

The light was extraordinary that evening.

Sunset over the Hudson River.

McCain: is he really that bad?

Yes. Read all about it.

McCain says overturn the law that legalized abortion
He's all for taking the choice whether to have a child away from women.

McCain Defends Bush's Iraq Strategy
He thinks invading Iraq was a great idea.

McCain in NH: Would Be "Fine" To Keep Troops in Iraq for "A Hundred Years"
He thinks occupying Iraq forever would be great too.

Senate passes expanded GI bill despite Bush, McCain opposition
He thinks the only way to keep soldiers in the military (in Iraq?) is to deny them veteran's benefits.

John McCain Votes to Filibuster Minimum Wage Hike
Why should his rich buddies have to pay the help enough to live on? That's theft from the rich!

McCain economic policy shaped by lobbyist
He doesn't know much about economics, so he got a guy who lobbies for a Swiss bank that got over its head in bad mortgages to write an "economic policy" for him.

Bush, McCain plug Social Security
Sure, let's privatize Social Security. Good thing Bush and McCain didn't get away with this one before the economy went sour. A lot of people would be a lot worse off.

McCain blasts Obama’s and Clinton’s attacks on NAFTA
It was such a great idea to send U.S. jobs overseas while putting Mexican farmers out of business so they'd come here and work for less than minimum wage.

McCain: Bush right to veto kids health insurance expansion
After all, we can't afford to send sick kids to doctors -- we need your tax money for our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and anywhere else that pisses McCain off...

This list of articles comes from Chris Bowers of Open Left. He's urging people to set up enduring hyperlinks to them so as to ensure that they turn up when people search the web for information on McCain.

I'm happy to do my bit by posting the list here. The selection of articles is very good. And I'll then go on to my other concerns, in addition to defeating this warmonger in November.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Afghanistan: a multilateral lost war

Afghan soldiers flee during the attack and assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on April 27: The scene had disintegrated into scores of people ducking and waiting, running and cowering. DER SPIEGEL / Tina Hager / Agentur Focus

Ullrich Fichtner wants the readers of the German newspaper Der Spiegel to understand that NATO troops can't deliver peace in Afghanistan. It's just not going to happen. And the various generals, missions, and embassies who are feeding their stories to the Western media are gilding the lily, if they are not outright lying.

According to the speeches and statements Western military officials, diplomats and politicians are constantly churning out, the security situation has improved substantially, the military successes are obvious and the Taliban are as good as defeated. But peace and Afghanistan, say the Afghanis when speaking to a domestic audience, are still two incompatible words.

Last year, 1,469 bombs exploded along Afghan roads, a number almost five times as high as in 2004. There were 8,950 armed attacks on troops and civilian support personnel, 10 times more than only three years earlier. One hundred and thirty suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2007. There were three suicide bombings in 2004. ...

The United States and Europe have stumbled their way into a new type of international war, one in which all of today's global and regional powers are involved. What will happen to NATO if it fails in the first out-of-area mission in its history? And where will the UN be if this ambitious nation-building project is ultimately a disappointment?

Fichtner's story is long, wandering through a opium fields, to a British military outpost, to a talk with an Afghan woman governor of the country's poorest province, a place with 99 percent illiteracy to the glittering cabarets for foreigners in Kabul. And all the stories go toward the same theme -- foreigners put a positive spin on violent conflict while Afghans just try to get by.

Fichtner ends his Afghan travels with an account of the assassination attempt shown above. Determined gunmen not only almost killed President Hamid Karzai, they also broke up the celebration of one of the country's national holidays. The U.S. ambassador tried to spin the reporter.

The next day, US Ambassador Wood will say: "The whole thing was over within 120 seconds." This is the sugarcoated version for the Western public. The people in Afghanistan, however, know that in reality the shooting continued for 25 or 30 minutes, and that the attackers used bazookas, machine guns and grenades. Soon there were helicopters in the air and the assassination attempt turned into a battle, with the presidential guard returning fire, eventually killing the three attackers and chasing three of their accomplices through the city.

These are the images of war in downtown Kabul, in the heart of Afghanistan, where half the world has spent the last seven years trying to bring peace to an oppressed country, and where the fighting continues, in Afghanistan's valleys, mountains, cities and deserts, on many fronts hard and soft, day after day.

Do read the whole thing.

Grandmothers and vets out against the war

They've been there from 4:30-5:30 every Wednesday for 230 weeks now. Since January 14, 2004, members of Grandmothers Against the War, joined by members of Veterans for Peace, have kept up a witness for peace alongside Rockefeller Center in New York City.

Half a block away, Prometheus floats over a bar full of tourists under a sea of flags.

But these folks have a simple message.

"The surge has failed. It's a civil war over there. Bring them home alive!" Seems like a good message.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The making of a mature President

Recently I wrote thousands of words about the history and problems of the U.S. peace movement. (See sidebar) Booman summarized his description how the peace movement stalled in a few sentences.

...we've won the argument over the war. We won the argument but we didn't win enough political power to end the war. And that means we all just have to sit in a holding pattern, waiting for a new president. ...

I can kind of mark the day that the antiwar movement died. It was the day that ran their strategically moronic BetrayUs advertisement in the New York Times. That was the day that the Democratic Party (which is, after all, one of the two Establishment parties in this country) had to divorce itself from the movement to end the war. showed a profound misunderstanding of the power structures that govern Washington. The Democratic Party, as an institution, was never going to countenance the vilification of our most important general in the field. Nor will they ever fully come to grips with the profound moral horrors they have been complicit in allowing. The Democratic Party is merely a vehicle for change. It can only be moved slowly and it will always gravitate back to the center.

He thinks the most important work that people who wanted peace have done in the last eight years has been to begin to take hold of some of the levers of power within the Democratic party, thereby moving part of the establishment a little to the left.

I don't disagree with him. The current political season will test how enduring those accomplishments may be. Will there be a President Obama? Will a President Obama seek to centralize all "progressive" tendencies within the Democratic Party under his leadership? We've seen his campaign discouraging donations to para-campaign organizations around the margins of the party. If he wins, will that mean that he'll try to subsume all the energies of his supporters in what will be his party?

One the hardest truths for people in power to remember is that having a noisy, demanding, outsider grassroots constituency helps them govern. This is so even when they are getting jacked up and called names.. This is something Obama should understand from his days as an organizer. Pushy people give cover to a progressive politician to get things done.

But this is tough to remember when being lionized as a President Obama certainly will be if he ends the long Republican ascendancy. I'll judge his maturity, which his opponent so questions, as much on how he responds his annoying, impolitic base as on any other criteria.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Great slogan

Seen at the FreewayBlogger. I'd put that on the street.

TMI about the bishop

The Bishop's Daughter: A Memoir by Honor Moore

Since I'm currently in New York City, it seemed timely to read this biographical/autobiographical account of relationships between and among a set of very complex individuals whose central figure was Paul Moore, Episcopal Bishop of New York from 1972 through 1989. Moore was extremely influential in both his church and his city during his tenure, working for civil rights, women's ordination, full inclusion of LGBT people, and against poverty and war. He was very much a public figure.

The daughter's book was previewed in the New Yorker in early March. These excerpts teased exposure of Bishop Moore's secret gay liaisons. The book does that, and much more, some of it intriguing, much of it simply "too much information" -- TMI. That is, the book told me more than I ever wanted to know about a complicated group of people.

What stood out in this volume was how differently both Paul Moore and Honor Moore constructed their understanding of homosexual love and life from what we now tend to emphasize when working for full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church and society.

Gay activists today usually insist that we are "born this way." Homosexual orientation is conceptualized as not a choice but innate and unalterable. Hence, we should have civil rights just like anyone else; if we are believers, we assert that God made us this way and that we can practice loving monogamy and fidelity just like the best of the heterosexuals.

Both Moores seem to be on a very different track. Bishop Moore had clandestine affairs, straight and gay -- so did a good many other people in his orbit. Despite his daughter's forgiving picture, these come across as often leading to anguish among those involved. Only a small part of the anguish seems to have derived from their transgressive sexual orientation; there was plenty as well simply from the life of lies unacknowledged loves lead to.

Insofar as one can discern the bishop's attitude toward his gay attachments, he seemed to believe that they were yet another instance of the goodness God had made in God's creatures -- but one he could not afford to acknowledge publicly. Both the bishop and his daughter were bisexual; gay love was simply another good among the possible goods (and trials) that love in the world offered.

Truth be told, I think this attitude is more true to the human condition than the currently more popular alternative view. I can't believe in an exclusive biological determinism about sexual orientation; social circumstances have a huge impact on the direction our ability to love goes in. When gay love is relatively socially acceptable, more of it will happen; where it is penalized, less will happen. Opponents of gay freedom are onto something: a lot of people who are currently "gay" could pass as straight if their survival depended on it. Some gay love undoubtedly goes on in oppressive societies; but also, oppression does work.

On the other hand, we gay people are right and I think very good indeed -- we rightly assert that more human love is possible when gay love is possible. For those of us who believe in a good God, that should be very good news indeed.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day reflection

Arlington National Cemetary photo by Loren Gul. I have two uncles buried in that place.

I was very struck by this from Chuck Blanchard:

Sadly, most Americans have lost touch with the military. Joining the Army, Marines, Navy or Air Force is something that others do.

Blanchard goes on to pay tribute to four fallen friends, honorable soldiers and a civilian.

The military seems very far from me indeed -- and that also seems a little strange. In my parents' generation, three uncles and one aunt served in what I was raised to call "The War." One uncle did not come back, so I never knew him. Last year I searched through family graves and found ancestors who served in US wars all the way back to the Revolution.

But in my generation, only one person in the family served, partly because we ran to girls. But also, this happened because most of us no longer believed in what the country was doing with its military. The only age peers I knew (apart from one cousin) who served in my youth (mid-1960s) were guys who had unlucky draft numbers. Though loyal to their buddies, they did not believe in the war they were required to be part of and were just glad to get out alive.

No wonder so many Americans are out of touch with the military. None of our wars since "The War" appear to have been unequivocally necessary or just, though some of them ended fast enough so the public never formed a strong opinion.

But now the public does have a strong opinion; it is time to get the current war over with! And so we get the spectacle of a President and his preferred successor, a war hero himself, trying to a block a veterans' benefits bill because if soldiers can get government help when they get out, they won't re-enlist.

McCain said he opposed Webb's measure because it would give the same benefit to everyone regardless of how many times he or she has enlisted. He said he feared that would depress reenlistments by those wanting to attend college after only a few years in uniform.

Associated Press,
May 26, 2008

That's pretty clear; they'll only stay around to fight if they have no alternative. Military service has become profoundly uninspiring to most of us.

In the past, people in this country have been willing to die for the country because they believed that wars were essential to our survival. Gar Lipow makes the case in Grist that reducing the influence of the military within our society has become a prerequisite to our survival in the era of excess carbon of the atmosphere and global warming.

The U.S. military push for coal based synthetic fuels reminds us that in the long run, solving climate chaos is incompatible with an aggressive military policy. Solutions will ultimately have to draw on traditional American virtues of thrift and cleverness, not the domination and power expressed in the new U.S. Air Force motto: Air Force Above All ...

Militarization and aggression compete with sustainability, and all progressive causes, for mindshare. They encourage fear of external enemies, a kind of constant terror that can be exploited to fight or distort any progressive gain.

This is a "go read it all" article.

Street fair on Broadway

There wasn't much novel or interesting among the trinkets for sale at yesterday's Upper West Side street fair (72nd to 86th in New York) -- but some of the food and some of the booth performers were diverting. No, I didn't try a deep fried oreo -- the item looked a lot like a fried artichoke from Castroville but even the thought was cloying.

The guy selling some kind of mop was energetic ...

as was the man selling a "salsa maker as seen on TV."

This Obama fan was talkative, while the Hillary folks seemed to be just going through the motions.

This gent looked a little sad and lonely, but he was there.

But the real attraction was the food -- how's that for some turkey legs?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The good news out of Burma

Yes, there is some good news. When government fails to perform the basic responsibility that underlies its legitimacy -- to care for the people in time of extreme need -- other structures try to fill the gap.

Since Cyclone Nargis hit Burma (Myanmar) on May 2nd, according to "Avaaz--the world in action," the same networks of Burmese monks who led protests last fall have been able to bring in aid that the military junta tried to stop or steal. .

Avaaz members in 124 countries stood with the people of Burma, donating almost $2 million (1.3 million Euros) in a matter of days. ...

It's been a challenge to get such a lot of money in. Most Burmese groups can safely move only a limited amount of money each day through informal networks. ...We are currently working with the International Burmese Monk Organization and 7 other Burmese organizations, including monk groups, educational groups, and medical clinics, who have asked not to be named for their own security.

The way the money moves is through informal transfers between bank accounts and by hand. Sometimes it is as simple as a deposit in one country that is then withdrawn inside Burma by the account holder and then carried to a monastery or aid group. Because many merchants do this, the Burmese government cannot tell the difference between commercial funds and aid money.

Once the money arrives and is distributed to aid groups and monasteries, it is used to purchase rice, medicine, fuel and other supplies required to rescue, house and feed the survivors of the cyclone. Even in many of the hardest-hit areas, local markets are still working, with merchants bringing goods from other regions. In other areas the monks and other groups are able to drive supplies in, or move them by foot. ...

This work carries some dangers; Burmese junta has harassed and, in one case, attacked the groups we are working with. But in the vast majority of cases, soldiers simply arrive, warn our partners that their work must be authorized by the government, and leave. Once they are out of sight, the aid work continues.

Obviously there are limitations this sort of extra-governmental activity. If what is needed is supplies or materials that are unavailable in the country, they can't be smuggled in by informal networks. And the infusion of foreign cash undoubtedly will drive up the local prices of what can be bought in-country. Yet local social constraints may keep funds coming through respected monks from having as much of a distorting effect on local markets as would the same aid distributed through some foreign relief outfit. And aid that moves in this way ultimately builds a Burmese economy rather than functioning as a short term external stimulus.

It would be better if government worked for the people rather than ruling over them, but in the absence of a legitimate authority, Avaaz seems to have found a channel for international people-to-people assistance. I'm glad I sent them my small contribution.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Seeing ourselves as others see us...

The Global Peace Index is out for 2007. (More on 2006 here.)

The index applies a statistical model assign a score that seeks to define its "peacefulness." This year the U.S. ranked 97th out of 140 countries in between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

Here are some of the indicators that dragged us down (measures on which the U.S. received a score of 3 or higher where 1 is better):
  • Number of jailed population per 100,000 people [1000 per 100,000 or 2.3 million people in total];
  • Ease of access to weapons of minor destruction [the NRA at work];
  • Respect for human rights [probably Guantanamo and death penalty since this is derived from Amnesty International assessments];
  • Potential for terrorist acts [Oklahoma City; 9/11?];
  • UN Deployments 2006-07 [that would be Iraq];
  • Non-UN Deployments 2006-07 [that would include Somalia and most of those 737 overseas bases];
  • Military capability/sophistication [in this assessment a negative factor];
  • Number of external and internal conflicts fought: 2000-05 [the global war on whoever Dick Cheney doesn't like?];
  • Estimated number of deaths from organized conflict (external).
Result: according to the Global Peace index, the United States is less peaceful than Ghana, Madagascar, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, Gabon, Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea, Senegal, Malawi, Rwanda (!), Namibia, Burkina Faso, and Cameroon, just to take the African rankings.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Politicians quiz generals

Odierno, Petraeus, and the dork who promoted them.

Good news for peaceniks. Sound like some of the Democrats most invested in the Presidential campaign worked to make sure their interest in ending the Iraq war came across at hearings in the Senate today on promotions for Generals Petraeus and Odierno. Spencer Ackerman reported the hearings at the Washington Independent.

Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), who very much wants to be picked as Obama's running mate, pushed Odierno hard on just what conditions in Iraq would justify removing U.S. troops. The general weaseled around a lot, but finally admitted that if Iraq seemed to have a government with some capacity, the U.S. could get out. Of course the Iraqis may throw the U.S. out before we decide they've reached that milestone, but it took a lot of pushing from Webb to get a definition from Odierno that it would ever be time to bring the troops home.

Webb also stood up to Petraeus when the general tried to palm off platitudes about Iran's malign influence in Iraq.

Senator Hillary Clinton showed up at the hearings also. She asked Petraeus something usually unmentionable these days: should all those troops in Afghanistan be trying to capture bin Laden -- was that important? Oh yeah, that guy with the beard...

Clinton also wanted to know from Odierno "how long would it take for a responsible withdrawal from Iraq?" He hemmed and hawed -- but indicated the military would figure this out if ordered.

So none of this sounds very bold or peaceful -- and it isn't. But clearly both Webb and Clinton, who have reason to know, understand that under a Democratic administration the people will be in no mood for continuing these endless wars. They have that message. Let them compete for who can make the best plan for cutting U.S. losses. That's politics working.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Are you so confident we'll elect a Democrat?

Electoral map based on today's polls showing a near Electoral College tie from Fivethirtyeight. Poblano updates these maps daily.

A friend sends a question. She says I write here as if I

take it for granted that McCain will be easy to beat, mostly because the people of the country are so anti-Bush (and therefore should vote Democratic). I just heard a man on the radio saying that, as we have seen in recent Presidential elections, the popular vote doesn't matter and that McCain is ahead in terms of Electoral College votes. ... Also why [do you] feel confident in general that people will not vote for McCain. He's a "hero," after all, as everyone (quoted on the radio) agrees.

Okay, here goes:

I don't think McCain will be easy to beat. For one thing, the press likes him. He pals around with them and they are suckers for that kind of informal access to perceived power.

McCain has something of a reputation as a man of integrity -- currently completely unjustified. Democrats need to get across that this guy was tortured himself, claimed to be carrying legislation to prohibit torture, and then voted against a ban on waterboarding. He has demonstrated that he wants the Presidency more than he wants his honor. Democrats need to communicate that -- and they also need to communicate that their candidate stands for a different sort of United States.

Torture is not the only subject on which McCain has been pandering of late to the extreme rightwingers in the Republican Party. He's back peddled on just about everything that made him different from any other Republican thug. He's even been bending the rules to evade the limits created by one of his big "accomplishments": the McCain-Feingold campaign finance regulations.

Just yesterday, retiring Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, long a McCain friend, allowed as how McCain's shifting positions puzzled him.

"We know from past campaigns that presidential candidates will say many things," Hagel said of some of McCain's recent rhetoric, namely his policy on talking to Iran. "But once they have the responsibility to govern the country and lead the world, that difference between what they said and what responsibilities they have to fulfill are vastly different. I'm very upset with John with some of the things he's been saying.

At this point, McCain comes across as either unconscious or downright sleazy. Having seen the primary, I think that Obama can effectively present himself as at least as attractive a moral figure as McCain, neutralizing the advantage of McCain's past heroism in a war that most citizens don't want to be reminded of.

The real hurdle seems to be what you raised about the Electoral College. To win the Presidency, a candidate needs to win, not the popular vote (as Al Gore did in 2000), but a majority (270 plus) of electors of which each state has as many as it has Representatives and Senators. That's why we get the red and blue state maps like the one above.

For the last several elections, those maps have looked very similar. Democrats win the big coastal, and the northern industrial states. Republicans win the historic South and much of the interior west. They compete over a tiny number of states whose population has characteristics of both blocs, mostly Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. If you didn't live in one of these "battleground" states, you didn't see much of the campaign.

What's interesting about this year's race is that Senator Obama is trying to put together a different Democratic coalition to change the outcome. Part of what that means is that he'll be competing in more states -- but also it means that he thinks he can win the election based on the votes of slightly different people than those who have been the Democratic target voters since 1992. He believes he can expand the electorate, bring in more young people, construct a majority that is more largely made up of people of color and less dependent on older whites. I've been saying for a long time that California's experience points toward such a winning coalition. Professional analysts of the primaries find themselves asking the same question about the Electoral College that my friend has asked me -- and trying to understand new configurations. For example,

Could it be that Obama's coalition (young voters, professionals, crossover men, the educated, the economically stable middle class voters, African American voters) gives him enough of a cushion? Maybe Democrats won't need as many working class whites to win the election; correspondingly, the polarized primary has pushed them away from their nominee in general. What accounts for the disparity between the astonishingly high numbers of Democrats in states like Kentucky and West Virginia who say they'd vote for McCain -- and Obama's national lead in the polls?

What is his coalition? And how does it translate into the 50 constituent parts of what a national lead actually is? Might Obama's strength in the popular vote be a reflection of Democratic energy in large states and Republican sloth in large states -- rather than a reflection of the coalition he needs to win the general election? States are more internally diverse than regions of states are. In other words -- are the demographics of Obama's coalition so skewed (in terms of previous coalitions) that his national lead will greatly overstate his relative strength in the electoral college? Or is Obama's new coalition so robust as to absorb some of the bleeding of white, working class men in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and still end up winning? Tentative points to support the latter theory can be found in Obama's primary victory in Iowa, where turnout far exceeded the expectations of everyone, in Wisconsin and Minnesota and Colorado, where Obama won handily but especially among Obama's core demographic groups, and in the way the campaign has been able to organize 75,000 rallies on a May Sunday in Oregon.

Marc Ambinder,
The Atlantic

This is where the country's profound distress about the endless lost war, the crashing economy, and the clueless George W. Bush comes in. If ever there were a year to try to push into a future in which a new coalition offers the Democrats a majority with different constituent parts, this is it. If Obama can create a winning map in his new way -- and he has shown amazing capacity in the primaries to mobilize unexpected strength -- he'll be advancing a demographic change that might otherwise take another 15 years or so to show its power. We're witnessing a fascinating moment.

Of course, if Obama is elected, he'll still be a politician and a Democrat -- that is, as good
a President, and only as good, as an aroused people make him. Lots of work to do.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Listed while Muslim

Security photo from Fly Away Café.

These days, it is all too easy to think of the U.S. government's airport security and watch lists as a kind of joke. After all, the infamous "selectee list" has ballooned to some 900,000 names, "security" serves as an excuse for TSA inspectors to engage in non-consensual S&M, even federal air marshals find themselves listed and barred from flights, and school authorities use the threat of the list to scare unruly kids. People ask whether my partner and I are still on the list; I think not. If you can manage to cost the government money, you can get removed.

But for some people, getting listed by the U.S. government leads to ongoing harassment, perennial "lost" luggage when they fly, long questioning when they cross borders, and efforts to get them to express "dangerous" opinions.

Mustafa Malik is a Washington-based journalist who was born in India, practiced his trade in Pakistan, and whose opinion articles have appeared in such outlets as the Washington Post and the Austin-American Statesman. Today in Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper, he has catalogued what it is like to live "Under suspicion, American style." The consequences of making "the list" range from inconvenient to very threatening. Here are some instances from Malik's article.
  • "'I got my boarding pass from that machine but couldn't get my husband's!' Pat told a woman behind a Northwest Airlines desk. The clerk checked out my ticket in her computer and said, 'You're on the watch list, sir!' I had suspected that for five years."
  • "...federal agents could have learned about my meetings with some Muslim activists and academics from published articles in which I had quoted them. But they also quizzed me about those whom I had contacted by phone and e-mail but had not mentioned in any writings. I realized that my phone conversations and e-mails could have been intercepted."
  • "Homeland Security appears to have circulated my profile to airlines. This past March 31 I boarded a British Airways flight in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to return to Washington. A flight attendant handed me a lunch packet about 10 minutes before the lunch carts rolled in to serve lunch to everybody else. I asked her why she had served me before other passengers. She said mine was a 'Muslim meal,' meaning the meat was kosher. I said I did not request a kosher meal and asked how she knew that I was a Muslim. 'I also know,' she whispered, 'that you speak four languages!'"
  • "During my international flights, my luggage is held up, apparently for special scrutiny. Since 2003 I have flown out of the US four times. On every occasion my luggage arrived one to five days late."
  • "On my return to New York on June 17 I had to spend 20-25 minutes answering questions about where I went, whom I met, what I did, and more, while my companions breezed through without any hassle. I was the only Muslim among the group."
  • "There have also been discernible attempts to provoke me into criticizing Israel and America. Several suspicious characters have sought me out to discuss Palestine and Israel and Muslim militancy."
I think we can assume that if this list of some 8 million people the U.S. government might round up in a crisis really exists, Mr. Malik is on it.

And why is Mr. Malik the subject of so much government interest? He's pretty sure he knows:

A Homeland Security terrorism investigator visited me again. He asked me about some of my other Muslim contacts, and even though I had been writing about a variety of issues, he asked my views only on terrorism and Palestinian militant groups. I reiterated that the Palestinian guerrillas were doing what Massachusetts Minutemen had done during the American Revolution: fighting for national liberation.

Yes, that will do it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A boulevard of books for sale

Cali left a comment on my previous post, a book meme, that led to this set of photographs from where my travels have taken me today:

Remember to support your local independent book store...if you still have one.

A walk on Broadway in New York City between W. 72nd and the upper 80s blows away any notion that books only come from Amazon.

There's quite a selection.

So many books, so little time. So good to see that someone still recycles books.

Some have more value than others -- at least so the sellers believe.

Of course the retailing monster has moved in on this market.

On this stretch of street, this the honorary street designation seems just right.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A book meme

Some of the books currently on my "to be read" shelf. Some have been there far too long.

LibraryThing is an online service to help people catalog their books easily. Why anyone would want to catalog their books online I'm not sure. But like many voluntarily adopted online social networking sites, LibraryThing comes up with interesting information about our habits. One of its databits has led to a meme that is floating around the net. (My partner who haunts the community of knitting blogs passed it to me from And she knits too.)

What we have below is a list of the top 106 books most often marked as "unread" by LibraryThing users. They took the trouble to catalog them -- but their owners admit to not reading them. They sit on the shelf though, perhaps to make their owner feel smart or well-rounded.

The meme comes with these instructions: Bold the ones you've read, underline the ones you read for school, italicize the ones you started but didn't finish.

So what did I learn about myself when I did this? Once upon a time I was pretty widely read. Nowadays I mostly read blogs, audiobooks (including one of those below), and improving, if sometimes depressing, non-fiction. I almost always finish books I get around to starting.

How about you?

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment

One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote

Moby Dick

Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice

Jane Eyre

The Tale of Two Cities

The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies

War and Peace

Vanity Fair

The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway

Great Expectations

American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West

The Canterbury Tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath

The Poisonwood Bible : a novel


Angels & Demons
The Inferno (and Purgatory and Paradise)
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

To the Lighthouse

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Oliver Twist

Gulliver’s Travels

Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury

Angela’s Ashes : a memoir

The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion

Northanger Abbey

The Catcher in the Rye

On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid

Watership Down

Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences

White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

Friday, May 16, 2008

A stalled U.S. peace movement?
Antiwar activity since 2001


Part Five of a chronological look at the phases the contemporary U.S. peace movement, originally developed for the Historians against the War conference held in Atlanta in April. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four.

Lessons: 2001-2008

So here we are: on the one hand, we, the peace movement, have won. Majorities of us clearly have had it with imperial wars. Young people are especially clear:

Five years into the Iraq war, only 11 percent said terrorism and war would be the biggest problem the younger generation will need to address over the next 20 years, coming in fourth place behind economic problems (34 percent), environmental problems (18 percent) and the education system (13 percent).

MTV polling

And nevertheless, our rulers are determined to go on.

[Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates describes our war-fighting future in this way: "What has been called the 'Long War' [i.e. Bush's War on Terror, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq] is likely to be many years of persistent, engaged combat all around the world in differing degrees of size and intensity. This generational campaign cannot be wished away or put on a timetable. There are no exit strategies."

Tom Englehart

What does looking back over what has happened since 2001 tell us?

Making peace is long, hard work. The attacks of 9/11 gave our rulers an excuse to run with their wildest imperial ambitions. As my WarTimes/Tiempo de Guerras coworker Max Elbaum always reminds groups, stopping a empire in full charge is hard. Lyndon Johnson knew that Vietnam was not a war the U.S. could win before he made a major troop commitment. Yet that war dragged on another eight years. We shouldn't be kicking ourselves that we haven't stopped this one.

We need to build a movement based on what people really care about, not what we think they should care about. Sounds simple, but it isn't. There's a reason corporations and politicians do market research before they launch their campaigns. A peace movement doesn't do that; we seek to inject a value into public discourse, not ride existing values.

But we can look at what has really moved people to action and build from there. To that end, here's a short list of people who I've met in the course of my work and peace activities since 2001 who stand out for me as exemplifying activism that comes from deeply internalized values.
  • A couple of weeks after 9/11, I stopped by a free concert. The culture was hiphop anti-violence activism, a long planned festival turned to a new purpose. In attendance was a Japanese-American for whom the internment of his parents by U.S. authorities during World War II was a burning memory. Though engaged in a tough election campaign for local office, he chose to be there to witness against suspicion and fear that leads to racist stereotyping. (By the way, Jeff Adachi won!)
  • In the same category, I think of a Code Pink activist who just won't stop. Her nephew followed his testosterone into the service and she marches, rallies and gets arrested because she loves him.
  • Just recently, I met a single mother in Kansas City who drives a barely functioning car and struggles to keep body and soul together. But she gave up a full weekend day to attend a workshop on how to stop military recruiting in her daughter's high school. She is determined that neither her daughter nor any of the young woman's friends should serve as cannon fodder for these wars.
  • In 2006, while volunteering for a (more or les) antiwar Democrat trying to win a Republican held Congressional seat, I met a grandmother who found herself running a local campaign center out of her basement, helped by hundreds of volunteers including a local Pakistani-American Muslim who aimed to protect his community by working inside the U.S. process. Both felt they needed to change what the country had become since 9/11.
All these individuals have created the ethos of the antiwar movement -- and been changed themselves by working within it. The peace movement may be stuck -- but these people are not stuck.

Our stumbling peace movement has tried to form itself alongside, but not so much inside, momentous changes in the generational/technological environment. And the peace movement has in some ways been more a spectator to these changes than a catalyst.

The open internet has created a vast arena in which a counterculture, mostly inhabited by people who don't remember 1968, thrive amid oppositional attitudes. And this population is far larger than the peace movement. Here's a description from within:

... I think what's happening is that [cultural norms he has outlined] are using a different narrative about the world than the one coming from elites and the media filter in general. That narrative is one where Bush is hated, people are basically the same in our instincts and desires, and the world is playful, messy, funny, and tragic all at once.

Narratives are incredibly powerful; they dominate our thinking and our culture. For instance, the metaphor of the war on terror is threatening our country's continued existence with its wrong-headed framing of all problems as requiring low trust centrally managed security theater. The production of a strong and consistent counter-narrative is the key to any revolutionary movement. Without a central story, a movement cannot grow and cannot wrap new people into it. ...

It seems like the internet's current form is dominated by liberals because it is liberals who acknowledge the basic messiness of the world around them and the lunacy of the establishment that runs it. The Iraq war didn't go as planned, the Clinton impeachment was crazy, and, oh yeah, peak oil is serious but why not use the phrase 'I drink your milkshake' to describe it.

That story wasn't being told anywhere, but it's the story of our time.

Matt Stoller,
Open Left

This can be read as more than a little fuzzy-wuzzy, and obviously there are millions who have no part of this cultural shift. But there are also millions who do and they are very much influencing adaptations in the Democratic Party and the Obama campaign that may determine who'll occupy the ruling seats next November.

In conclusion, I want to repeat something I brought up in Part One that Bill Quigley wrote in 2001.

"If our only response to the events of September 11 is to do what we did before that, but only harder, I think we will waste a lot of energy. We have to thoughtfully and humbly reconsider our strategies and develop some new ones. Otherwise we will just remain stuck."

Repeating what we have always done has not been ALL the peace movement has done, but it has been a great deal our activity. Meanwhile, mostly outside the peace movement, others have taken a stab at that necessity I quoted Bob Wing naming on Sept. 14.

I believe our main message should be that U.S. life will become increasingly insecure and dangerous unless this country improves its international behavior. In the era of globalization, peace at home is linked to peace abroad.

A more effective peace movement needs to be offering a vision of a plausible, sustainable global community that doesn't hinge on U.S. use of force to maintain empire. Elements of that vision clearly need to include challenges related to technology, climate change, and how to rein in cancerous capitalism. We really haven't known how to put out such a vision yet.

That's not surprising -- it is hard and perhaps, also, the struggle against empire may not have changed us enough so that we could see it. But the group(s) that find elements of that vision will discover that millions are already with them, looking for something similar, ready to elaborate something as yet unknown. They just don't currently identify with the peace movement.

Friday Cat Blogging

Why a cat would respond in this way to a heat wave, I don't know. She's burrowed under the covers and won't come out. Never try to understand a cat... It is over 90 today, almost unheard of for San Francisco.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Marriage available to all in California

Phyllis Lyons and Del Martin in 2004.

Hot damn! The Supreme Court of the State of California says the state must allow us -- queers, lesbians, gay men -- to get married. Separate but equal doesn't work under our state constitution, apparently. They are not about to opine on whether same-sex marriage is a good thing, but it is unequivocally a legal imperative if the state is going to be in the marriage business.

My ex and her partner were among the plantiffs. She writes:

Who would've thought that it would take the Supreme Court to "rule" that we're human beings? Who would've thought that I would be supporting a "patriarchal" institution? But I think Kate Kendall [of the National Center for Lesbian Rights] is right -- "there is no lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender person in this country that is not better off because we won." The Court's language is very strong and the attorneys say that it is groundbreaking. I firmly believe that protecting one group's fundamental human rights protects everyone.

What a day. What a day to remember that we are all connected and all deserving of love and dignity.

I agree heartily. I'm not a big fan of state marriage. In the too recent past marriage was a set of rules to ensure orderly ownership of women and children; in the present it is too often simply an imperative for keeping health insurance.

But I sure do want a society that practices community recognition and affirmation of all people's chosen, responsible relationships. I work for that affirmation within the Episcopal Church -- that is, within a voluntary institution suited to blessing partnerships.

Marriage, the thing the state licenses, still needs some reworking -- let's start with getting national health insurance. But this is a good day and a good decision for the dignity and equality of all people.