Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Is the Obama campaign is something new?

Long time readers of this blog may remember my thesis that

If the campaign is run by labor and the volunteers are working class people, there will be donuts.

If the campaign is run by community advocates and recruits the employees of non-profit organizations, there will be bagels.

So is the Obama campaign more like a non-profit organization or a labor union? Neither it turns out. This campaign is something else again.

On Saturday in Reno, besides the standard coffee and orange juice, we were offered fresh fruit, and, under the aluminum foil, a homemade frittata.

Not that sweets were absent from the spread.

Financial follies and fluctuations

Working on campaigns encourages me to feel as if I were in control of my life. Watching the bailout go down in Congress and the stock market gyrate (Dow up 485 today -- huh?), reminds me that I'm really just flotsam in a storm, a cork bobbing in vast seas, hoping I don't get thrown up on a rocky shore. This is possibly a realistic reminder that I am not in control, that I am dependent on community and chance. But that doesn't mean I like it.

So I've read a lot of articles about the financial system -- and I am not going to pretend I understand all this. If you want a good collection of points of view, this might be a good starting point.

In my opinion, Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, offered one of the clearest explanations and prescriptions:

The main cause of the economy's weakness is not insolvent banks and lack of credit; it's the loss of $4 trillion to $5 trillion in housing equity as a result of the bubble's partial deflation. Families used their equity to support their consumption in the years from 2002 to 2007, as the savings rate fell to almost zero.

With much of this equity now eliminated by the collapse of the bubble, many families can no longer sustain their levels of consumption. The main reason that banks won't lend to these families is that they no longer have home equity to serve as collateral. It wouldn't matter how much money the banks had, they are not going to make mortgage loans to people who have no equity.

And house prices are not going to come back. This is like Pets.com. We are not going to get the price of $200,000 homes in central California back up to $500,000.

The main problem in recovering from the recession will be finding ways to boost demand other than household consumption. In the longer run, this will mean reducing imports and increasing exports. In the short-run, we will have to rely on government stimulus to help spur growth and reduce unemployment. The Democratic demands for stimulus were not extraneous to the legitimate goal of a bank bailout bill. Fiscal stimulus must be central to any serious effort to boost the economy.

He wants the U.S. government to put money directly into banks so they start loaning -- and get what private enterprise would get for its cash: partial ownership of the banks.

Probably too simple for Congress to achieve.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Guess who said it...

"Tradition has brought us this far, but the future is right in front of us."
  • Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulsen on the market tanking after the bailout bill failed in the House today?
  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi on why she must bring the bailout bill back for another vote?
  • Sarah Palin on the desirability of drilling for oil in ANWR?
  • Christian Right preachers on why they should be able to endorse John McCain from the pulpit?
  • Someone else?
Answer in the first comment.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Photos from a field trip

I'm home tonight from a weekend canvassing for Senator Obama in Reno. The candidate himself will be there at the University of Nevada campus quad on Tuesday morning if you happen to be in the neighborhood. It was our pleasure to alert lots of people in Reno to this opportunity to see the guy.

We've been asked not to blog about this work until after the election, so I won't -- except to say that it is a pleasant experience during which I never felt my time and energies were being wasted. Try it out if so inclined. Opportunities can be found through the Obama website.You won't be sorry.

Meanwhile, here are some pictures of what we saw in the town that bills itself as the "Biggest Little City in the World."

We weren't the important event in town this weekend -- that was Street Vibrations, a festival of chrome, music and revving engines. And lots of steeds parked at hotels and downtown.

Quite a beauty, that one, if you like your cycles in baby blue.

Meanwhile, out in the neighborhoods, it would have been possible not to know your town was full of thousand of bikers.

In Reno, this pretty little Buddhist Church might as well be a suburban Methodist edifice.

This community agency is probably needed here...

while this one seems highly desirable in a place that depends on the entertainment industry.

Walking house to house there were oddities. Like this:

I had no idea what was meant by this porch ornament.

Nor was I pleased to encounter this dead pigeon on one doorstep.

On the other hand, the guillotine on a suburban lawn was clearly an early, if macabre, Halloween display.

This gentleman, sadly, wasn't being at all playful. I had to wonder whether he'd ever encountered a live Muslim.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Debate afterthought:
Isn't Georgia peachy?

When John McCain wandered off into a tirade about Georgia last night, I didn't get too worried. It takes the people of U.S. quite a while to get properly ginned up about the woes of people in counties they can't locate, even if those country's names seem "borrowed" from a U.S. state. (I know that last is hogwash, but let's be real about our geographical self-centeredness.)

But the complete folly of the conversation is illustrated by the graphic from the Gallup organization above. By and large, Georgians are MUCH more interested in good relations with their actual neighbor, Russia, than in being a dependent of the United States all the way around the world.

It appears that what has been deemed the "2008 South Ossetian War" has pulled the people of Georgia into a conflict with Russia at a time when many see close relations with the country as important.

Just because they have an impetuous president, Mikheil Saakashvili, who got them into a war, doesn't mean they don't know better than to pull the tail of the bear, if the people at large had their druthers.

Remind anyone of why we don't need another quick-to-the-draw, impetuous president here?

Wish Obama wouldn't take the bait on this one too!

View out my window:
Reno, Nevada

My whole household is spending the weekend in Reno, canvassing for Obama. More pics later, unless I'm too pooped.

Even overdeveloped high desert is lovely at sunrise.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hate group in town

Members of the nativist group the Minutemen brought their anger at San Francisco's "Sanctuary City" policy to the lawn across from City Hall on Thursday. About 75 Minutemen types held their rally while about 125 immigration activists marched around them, chanting vigorously.


The counterprotesters made a good showing...

...while San Francisco's finest watched warily, protecting the anti-immigrant group's free speech.

This guy has a limited notion of rights.

And I didn't mind that this one was penned in.

Meanwhile immigrant advocates tried to explain to the media how the city's "sanctuary" policy benefits all San Franciscans. Put in place in the 1980's the policy tries to assure all people that they can use city health facilities and expect police protection without having their immigration status questioned. It's a profoundly practical matter: the police would get no cooperation in whole swathes of the city, including the Mission 'hood where I live, if people had to be afraid they'd be turned over to the migra (immigration police).

In June three particularly nasty murders, gang related, allegedly committed by an undocumented Salvadoran who had benefited from the sanctuary policy, put the city's use of the policy under a microscope. The San Francisco Chronicle saw a hot story; the city was treated to a week of inflammatory headlines: Political pressure worked and the city officially backed away from its longtime practices, at least verbally. Lots of heat was generated; extremely little light was cast. This newspaper-driven panic about the brown newcomers in our midst set the scene for today's visit from the Minutemen.

As I left the rally, I noticed a line of confident, well-behaved, school children leaving the garden that currently occupies the center of Civic Center plaza. The rally didn't scare them, nor the counterprotesters. They are the San Franciscans of the future. They don't look like the Minutemen.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mr. Irrelevant speaks

Under the headline, George Bush's scary story, Andrew Leonard writes:

I don't think he offered enough assurance to angry Americans or doubting members of Congress that the Paulson plan delivers a fair and equitable resolution to the crisis that faces us.

Perhaps that is because the "bailout" to Wall Street isn't " fair and equitable"?

The Millennium Development Goals

Do you know what the Millennium Development Goals are? In September 2000, the 189 countries of the United Nations agreed to a project to reduce human misery around the world by 2015 by working for the following items:
  • Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
  • Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education ;
  • Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women;
  • Goal 4: Reduce child mortality;
  • Goal 5: Improve maternal health;
  • Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases;
  • Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability;
  • Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development.
And wouldn't this be a better world if we could do it!

So far, progress has been mixed. A U.N. report warns that the world is not getting there on schedule. The leaders of many nations gather at the United Nations today to assess that progress.

There have been critics. The Marxist objection was articulated by Samir Amin: the goals were not the result of an initiative from the economic South, the poor nations, but from the small group of North American, European and Asian nations that benefit from imposing their definition of global development on the peoples of the periphery.

I've heard a more personal version of this critique from an individual U.S.-citizen aid worker recently returned from a stint in a poor African country: nobody asked anyone she worked with whether these formulations were how they thought they could work their way out of poverty.

Even the professional nonprofit aid "industry" sometimes raises questions about the MDG approach:

In his 2006 book "The White Man's Burden," former World Bank economist William Easterly issued a sweeping critique of the whole prevailing approach to aid, detailing how, for decades, aid providers had come up with massive plans to help poor nations and then, Soviet-style, attempted to impose them from outside, to little effect. Lacking local input and insensitive to local needs, these megaproposals often failed to make a real dent in the problems they were spending millions of dollars to address.

Perhaps even worse (same source) the big signatories have mostly reneged on their promises:

Wealthy countries have closed their wallets. In Japan, the government has slashed aid budgets dramatically. In 2006, the United States cut development aid by over 18 percent, and it dropped again the next year. Despite the promises of Gleneagles, net aid handouts from the G-7 group of powerful nations fell by 1 percent in 2007, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a monitoring group. The nongovernmental organization Oxfam projects that by 2010, wealthy nations will fall short of their pledges by some $30 billion - more than the United States' entire annual aid expenditures.

Okay, so the Millennium Development Goals are in trouble. Do they really matter?

I say yes, provisionally. Their pursuit may do something concrete for some people in the world who need a better chance to survive with human dignity. But the MDGs also give those of us in the rich world who are surviving so very well indeed on the backs of the world's poor a place to stand. They ask us to demand of our governments that they reconfigure themselves as members of an interdependent humanity and planet. It's that simple.

Given the wide diversity peoples and traditions around the planet, it's hard to find a shared platform from which to make claims for common humanity. No one religious faith or historic experience can claim to know it all. Somehow, we must learn to live together or die. The MDGs are a flawed but significant attempt to set such a goal across our differences.

Internet activists: if you want to work for the MDGs in the way we so accustomed to, I urge you to take part in the Avaaz.org Poverty Promise Breakers petition campaign. The organization is an effort to build something like MoveOn across national boundaries. The world needs to develop this kind of solidarity.

Something we can do against hate

Maybe you get a daily newspaper. (Fewer and fewer of us do.) Maybe you opened your copy last week and a DVD dropped out ... It was some film called Obsession. Maybe you even looked at it before you tossed it.

Somebody is spending a lot of money to spread hate and fear with this phony pseudo-documentary about Islam. It's bunk all the way, the propaganda in service of scaring people silly. The film's talking heads are wackjobs; it showcases people like

Walid Shoebat, who once told a Missouri newspaper that he sees “many parallels between the Antichrist and Islam" and “Islam is not the religion of God -- Islam is the devil.” (Springfield News-Leader, 9/24/07)

[And] Brigitte Gabriel [who] told the Australian Jewish News: "Every practising Muslim is a radical Muslim." She also claimed that "Islamo-fascism is a politically-correct word... it's the vehicle for Islam... Islam is the problem."

Obviously Islam has its crazy adherents, but so does Christianity and every other religion. This film is defamation, rather like blaming Christianity for Timothy McVeigh and Jim D. Adkisson (that's the guy who shot up the Unitarian Church in Knoxville last summer).

A shady outfit called The Clarion Fund paid to put the DVDs in newspapers, mostly in states where the Presidential election is a hot contest. Because it is a new non-profit which has not yet filed a tax return, no public record exists of its officers or donors.

Some newspapers didn't let themselves be used as a vehicle for hate. Many, however, needed the cash, so they did. They included New York Times editions in the Midwest, the Denver Post, the Des Moines Register, the Miami Herald, the Springfield News-Leader, the Las Vegas Review-Journal/Sun, the Columbus Dispatch, the Charlotte Observer, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Full list here.

I would urge readers to check that list and see whether your paper was among the ones that distributed the hate film. If so, why not contact the paper to ask why they thought it was appropriate to spread hate-filled propaganda. Do they know source of Claron Fund cash that paid them? It could have been the KKK. Would that have been alright? More action suggestions here.

The website I'm relying on for this post is a project of Hate Hurts America, "a nonpartisan interfaith community coalition... formed to address the rising problem of hatred against American minorities." I reported their boycott of hate radio host Michael Savage previously.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

McCain wigging out

Somebody get John McCain back on his meds. All the guy knows how to do is stoke crisis and create drama. Now he's "suspending his campaign" and coming back to the Senate where he's missed 412 votes this year -- hasn't been seen since April.

He's gone just completely wacko -- but that's the pattern. In August he tried to jack up a nice little war with Russia over Georgia; then he named a small time, completely unqualified minor politician as his Veep because her counterintuitive plumbing (for a Republican) made for a nice media splash.

Now he's tanking in the polls and doesn't want play the game anymore.

We need a President who can walk and chew gum, a President who can stop and THINK when confronted with reality. McCain isn't it.

Cynic that I am, even I am surprised by how completely out-of-control this man seems to have become under the pressures of running for President.


The Financial Times (UK) has done the digging -- and points out a reasonable question: where was Secretary Henry Paulsen when the trading of junk mortgages he now condemns as "irresponsible" was going on? What they learned about the former chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs:

Until May 2006, when he was nominated by George W. Bush as the Treasury secretary, he was running an investment bank that was doing quite a bit of this slicing and dicing.

According to page 20 the Goldman Sachs 10-Q regulatory filing for the first quarter of 2006: "During the three months ended February 2006 and February 2005, the firm securitised $19.25bn and $15.24bn, respectively, of financial assets, including $18.15bn and $14.43bn, respectively, of residential mortgage loans and securities." ...

Mr Paulson now declares himself shocked, shocked that structured finance was going on on Wall Street but he was there at the time, and the $18.7m bonus he received for the first half of 2006 presumably reflected it.

And this guy wants Congress to give him unregulated authority to play with $700 billion of our money?

For starters, he could donate that $18.7 million bonus. But really -- why is Congress even listening to this guy?

H/t Just World News. Go over there and scroll down to read about the price China seems to be asking for helping the U.S. economy -- how about Taiwan?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

John McCain lies
Does it matter?

Over the last couple of weeks, many pundits have agreed on one point about John McCain and his campaign. The man lies. And since his basic pitch to voters is that, as a former POW he is a uniquely honorable man, this upsets observers, especially those who have known him.

Ideological differences aside, John McCain's campaign has been more dishonest, more unfair, more -- to use a word that resonates with McCain -- dishonorable than Barack Obama's. ...

McCain's transgressions, though, are of a different magnitude. His whoppers are bigger; there are more of them. He -- the easy out would be to say "his campaign" -- has been misleading, and at times has outright lied, about his opponent. He has misrepresented -- that's the charitable verb -- his vice presidential nominee's record. Called on these fouls, he has denied and repeated them.

Ruth Marcus,
Washington Post,
Sept. 16, 2008

McCain has turned ugly. His dishonesty would be unacceptable in any politician, but McCain has always set his own bar higher than most. He has contempt for most of his colleagues for that very reason: They lie. He tells the truth. He internalizes the code of the McCains -- his grandfather, his father: both admirals of the shining sea. He serves his country differently, that's all -- but just as honorably. No more, though. ...

McCain has soiled all that.

Richard Cohen,
Washington Post,
Sept. 15, 2008

When Bush, issued a “signing statement” in 2006 on McCain’s hard-fought legislation placing prohibitions on torture, saying he would interpret the measure as he chose, McCain barely uttered a peep. And then, in 2006, in one of his most disheartening acts, McCain supported a “compromise” with the administration on trials of Guantanamo detainees, yielding too much of what the administration wanted, and accepted provisions he had originally opposed on principle. Among other things, the bill sharply limited the rights of detainees in military trials, stripped habeas corpus rights from a broad swath of people “suspected” of cooperating with terrorists, and loosened restrictions on the administration’s use of torture. ...

McCain’s caving in to this “compromise” did it for me. This was further evidence that the former free-spirited, supposedly principled, maverick was morphing into just another panderer – to Bush and the Republican Party’s conservative base. ...

McCain’s recent conduct of his campaign – his willingness to lie repeatedly (including in his acceptance speech) and to play Russian roulette with the vice-presidency, in order to fulfill his long-held ambition – has reinforced my earlier, and growing, sense that John McCain is not a principled man.

Elizabeth Drew,
former New Yorker correspondent and McCain biographer

Oddly enough, given the last several months, it's genuinely hard to tell when McCain is being dishonest and when he's being incompetent.

Steve Benen,
Washington Monthly, September 14, 2008

I respected McCain’s willingness to support the troop surge in Iraq, even if it was going to cost him the Republican nomination. Now the same guy, who would not sell his soul to win his party’s nomination, is ready to sell every piece of his soul to win the presidency.

Thomas Friedman,
New York Times, September 14, 2008

This is quite a catalog of judgments against McCain. These people are not the radical left. These are centrist journalists with long experience of watching politicians. And they are appalled by John McCain's current behavior.

Sissela Bok is a Swedish-born philosopher and ethicist who literally wrote the book on deceit, Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life. She defines lying as follows:

A lie is a statement, believed by the liar to be false, made to another person with the intention that the person be deceived by the statement.

The Washington Independent thought to ask Bok about McCain's string of false claims.

"I don’t think people understand how much it damages them," Bok said on the telephone from her home in Cambridge, "maybe not in the short run. In the short run, the cost of integrity, for instance, it might not seem to matter. But they have to understand that when they lie simply to win an election, they must be prepared to sacrifice their self-respect.

"Moreover, they’re doing harm to society," Bok said, "Once people have the notion that people in public service are all dishonest, the whole profession of public service, or journalism, is damaged. Everyone is seen as dishonest -- when we know there are good, honest people who choose to serve in public duty, in public life."

McCain certainly is showing he's no maverick. Like Bush and the rest of the gang we've been stuck with for the last eight years, he is willing to tear up the foundations of public trust for his personal gain.

Maybe he should have worked on Wall Street?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Global warming truth telling

Climate Progress asks:

Is the financial crisis more dire than the climate crisis?

Not even close. "If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment." So warned IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri last fall when the IPCC released its major multi-year report synthesizing our understanding of climate science. And remember Pachauri was handpicked by the Bush administration to replace the “alarmist” Bob Watson. It’s the facts that make scientists alarmists, not their politics...

Go read it all.

H/t Gerry Canavan.

Imperial truth telling

Goodness -- look what the financial meltdown dredged out of Congressman Barney Frank:

But let’s be realistic: we’re no longer the dominant world power.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Canvassing my neighbors for peace

Yesterday I spent a few hours canvassing my neighborhood for the Million Doors for Peace. The project aimed to marry electoral technology and practices with peace activism to keep the issue of the ongoing war in Iraq on our easily distracted officeholders' minds.

One of the novel features of this electoral season is that cheap, easy manipulation of reasonably accurate lists of voters has finally come. For years, those of us who worked on field campaigns struggled with "those damn lists." The materials we got from voter registrars and vendors were inaccurate, expensive and difficult to print in forms that we could use. Volunteers spent endless hours inputting or correcting data that might, or might not, be used to turn out supporters in the election. It was all painfully cumbersome.

Nowadays, campaigns put voter lists online in easy-to-use database software. The Million Voices project aimed to recruit 25,000 volunteers who would each be assigned 40 new or infrequent voters who were their near neighbors to visit on Saturday. We could easily download our individual lists (based on our addresses) and print them. The instructions were online as well. All we had to do was go door and door and ask folks to sign a petition to our Congresspeople urging them to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq within one year. The rationale was simple and sensible:

Most Americans oppose the war in Iraq, but have never been directly invited to participate in an anti-war action. By engaging people where they live, neighbor-on-neighbor, Million Doors for Peace will elevate the debate over the war and its costs.

I can testify that online technology worked perfectly. I got my list with no problem and I uploaded my results with no problem. I don't know yet how many peace activists actually worked on this project, but I am willing to believe the Million Doors organizers that this was "the year's largest anti-war mobilization." I'll post an update when I get a report on how we did.
So what was it like going door to door for peace? I've separated my report from the foregoing as I think my experience was profoundly idiosyncratic, a product of the wonderful but difficult San Francisco Mission neighborhood where I live.

It didn't take me long to hit every address I was assigned. Every one of them was within a long block of my house. You see, I live in a very dense, very transient pocket of the Mission. As many as six of these "new or infrequent" voters were behind the same door. Or rather, as I quickly discovered, may have lived there at some time.

"Daisy? ... oh yes, I think she lived here a couple of years ago.

Maria? Well we get mail in that name sometimes...but we have no idea who she is..

A large chunk of my voters were long gone.

The neighborhood was already well draped with candidate literature. We have a hot contest for who will be the next supervisor for District 9. I assured everyone I talked with that I wasn't representing any candidate.

But mostly, the doors near my house look like this: fenced off by a metal gate with three broken doorbells and no name plates. I was unable to reach 6 theoretical "voters" there.

Though this is described as a Latino neighborhood, and it is, most of the people on my list were probably young whites who had moved on, judging by the people I did meet at those addresses.

So my results were pretty puny. Two folks agreed to sign the petition; I verified that about 10 were no longer here; and the rest were unreachable by me in one days work. That would be terrible results in an electoral canvass. It is a rule of thumb that a canvasser in a suburb can reach about 14 people an hour and it has been true in my experience. But not here, not in the Mission.

My most interesting encounter was probably with the woman who wouldn't sign the petition because she unapologetically approves of the war. We sure don't have a lot of those around here. I guess gentrification is coming ...

S.L.I.M.E. marches on

Goodness -- near honesty coming from the New York Times:

Q. So is it fair to say that Americans who are neither rich nor reckless are being asked to rescue people who are? What is in this package for responsible homeowners of modest means who might be forced out of their homes, perhaps for reasons beyond their control?

A. Yes, you could argue that people who cannot tell soybean futures from puts, calls and options are being asked to clean up the costly mess left by Wall Street.

You'll be glad to know why not only crony capitalist Republicans, but also our supposed defenders of the little guy among the Dems will vote for pillage:

...the parties are likely to reach an accord. Many members of Congress are eager to leave Washington to go home and campaign for the November elections, and no one wants to face the voters without having done something...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Trillion Dollar S.L.I.M.E. Act of 2008

This is a guest post from my partner Rebecca who knows more about matters financial than I do. She's smart.

It seems the Bush administration has suddenly woken up, looked around, and been shocked to discover that its friends and allies in the financial world are losing a lot of money. For months ordinary people have been losing their homes, while Bush & Co. pressed the snooze button. Now that the slime has begun to touch the Big Boys of Wall Street, they're hitting the panic button instead.

The New York Times reports this morning that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and President Bush are asking Congress for "far reaching emergency powers to buy hundreds of billions of dollars in distressed mortgages despite many unknowns about how the plan would work."

If Congress does what Bush & Co. are asking for, the result will be the SLIME Act of 2008. Under Bush's plan, the government would not even administer this cesspool of bad debt. Paulson says that the Treasury Department will hire "professional investment managers" to run the most expensive government program ever undertaken in this country. Professional investment managers? Aren't they the guys who got us into this mess in the first place?

That's why I call the Bush plan the S.L.I.M.E. Act. It's the Successful Looting and Investment Manager Employment Act.

The Times is right about the "unknowns," but I'd like to suggest a few things we do know about the Bush plan:

1) It's not a plan. It's a set of broad new powers for the Treasury department. Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson are asking for a blank check from us to buy up somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion dollars worth of almost worthless securities from Wall Street banks and investment firms. The theory is that the government will be able to turn around and sell these securities (which are basically bundles of sliced-up bad mortgages) to recoup some of that "investment." But if the banks can't sell them, why should we be able to?

2) These new powers would seem to have no limits -- on time or money. There's no ceiling on the amount to be spent or on how long the Treasury department will be permitted to go on buying bad investments from banks that make bad bets.

3) We the taxpayers are not just "taking over" bad assets from the banks that own them. We will be buying them. Nothing in the Bush "plan" says who will set the price, or how high the price can go. The more the banks can get for these securities, the smaller the loss for their investors. They have every incentive to set the price as high as possible. And Bush & Co. have every incentive to scratch the backs of their Wall Street buddies and go along with that high price.

Remember that back in the 1980's the biggest thievery happened after the Reagan administration set up the Resolution Trust Corporation to buy up the failing assets of savings & loans institutions. The government paid top dollar then, and a lot of rich people got richer even as the institutions they had been running went under.

4) There's no rush. Yes, the financial sector of the economy is in real trouble. But this problem didn't appear over night. In fact, it started back in the Clinton administration, when Congress undid bank regulations that had been in place since the Depression. If it took ten years to get us into this mess, Congress can take more than ten days to get us out of it.

Congress should take the time to make sure that any bailout for the banks and investment firms also includes:
  • Mortgage relief and renegotiation for people at risk of losing their homes
  • Clear price limits and negotiation mechanisms for purchasing bad assets
  • Plans for re-regulating the banking and investment industry
  • As little S.L.I.M.E. as possible!

Peace movement keeping on

In San Francisco's Bernal Heights, neighbors vigil for peace on September 19. The fellow in the red on the right is local candidate for city Supervisor in District 9, Eric Quezada.

Yesterday marked the beginning of the second year of the Iraq Moratorium campaign. The project urges activists all over the country to take public antiwar actions on the third Friday of every month until we end that war. And people do. This vigil group stands at Cortland and Andover each month.

Meanwhile, over at U.C. Berkeley, a teach-in was taking place in the student union building, bringing together veterans of the anti-Vietnam movement of 1968 with contemporary antiwar activists.

Current students were pretty interested.

Nobody had all the answers for the contemporary peace movement, but there were some interesting observations. I wrote down some quick bits from the speakers.

The only woman on the panel, Antonia Juhasz, author of the forthcoming book, The Tyranny of Oil: The World's Most Powerful Industry -- and What We Must Do To Stop It, exhorted her listeners:

We shouldn't expect a headline that says "Antiwar activism turned the US people against the war." But something did turn them around. We need to embrace our successes as well as recognize how much we have to do.

The two vets from current wars brought energy and passion.

Cleavon Gilman joined the Army in 1999. It was peacetime and he needed a job. They made him a corpsman. In Iraq, he saw soldiers he knew blown to pieces. He worked for a time at a prisoner processing facility where Iraqis were held on suspicion of being terrorists. The U.S. troops guarding them mostly saw "hajiis" and "niggers." He said "these 'terrorists' looked pretty peaceful to me." Pretty soon he figured out there was a pattern. A U.S. unit would search a town; their base would get attacked. "There was a kind of cause and effect thing happening over there." He left the military and now is student at UCB.

The other vet, Forrest, had served in Afghanistan. A member of Iraq Veterans against the War, he described the changes in himself as his experiences in the war zone pushed him from a gung-ho post-9/11 patriotism to a belief that "we're being like Hitler."

Professor Carlos Munoz of UC Berkeley clings to the convictions that animated so many antiwar activists in 1968, insisting

"movements are hurt by electoral politics"

Sixties activist, later a California legislator and currently a principle founder of Progressives for Obama, Tom Hayden brought messages more in tune with today's campus enthusiasms. Of Senator Obama he maintained

Sometimes there are figures who come along who create the space for a movement to fill. ...If he wins, the struggle will be to hold him accountable.

If McCain wins, there'll be a race between radicalization and depression.

Hayden warns that the wars of the next few years are likely to be "counterinsurgency" operations rather than invasions with large troop commitments.

Counterinsurgency means you try to get non-white people to fight your wars against each other.

[Our rulers don't want us messing with their wars.] We are the target of counterinsurgency. ... We need less 'study war no more' -- it is going to have to be 'study war much more.'

Hayden looks to veterans and a new generation of activists to make the wars of the empire visible to the people our rulers would rather keep in the dark. He sees continued activism as the way to create momentum for peace.

Friday, September 19, 2008

No joking matter ...

Got to be the best line of the day:

One of the nice things about being a Democrat with a stock portfolio is that your risks are fairly well hedged. If the market goes up, then you make money, and if the market goes down, then you're more likely to see a Democrat elected President.

Nate Silver,

When you are screwed, you might as well laugh. Perhaps until you think about this:

That's 3:16 on what the financial meltdown would mean if Republicans had managed to privatize Social Security. With the bailouts, it appears they too have successfully hedged their bets: while the casino spun happily on, they made money. When the crash came, we the people get to save their sorry asses.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Republicans for Obama

San Francisco Chronicle writer Carla Marinucci passes on the news that

California Republican Richard Riordan, the millionaire businessman and former mayor of Los Angeles, has announced he's endorsing Barack Obama for president. ....

''We want the best person to be president of the United States, whether they are Republican or Democrat, and clearly Obama is the best candidate,'' said Riordan, a former state secretary of education, adviser to and long-time supporter of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is backing John McCain.

''Senator Obama is the kind of leader we need to get us through these tough economic times.''

Riordan is a kind of Republican who is almost extinct in California: a plutocratic realist. Around here, Republicans have dwindled to a minority party, a fractious repository for intolerant Christianists, explicitly racist white people terrified of demographic changes, and wacky climate change deniers. The only way they get any political traction is stirring up fear and repugnance for other Californians.

There are a few other prominent Republicans endorsing Obama, among them a retiring Congressman from Maryland, Wayne Gilchrest, and former Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee. These gentlemen also apparently think that being in government is about facilitating and preserving the country's wellbeing, rather than about purging the impure and enabling pillage by the lucky.

I doubt I share hardly any policy prescriptions with these Obama-endorsing dissenters from the GOP, but I can imagine I might share some values. What's frightening is that I don't believe I share any values with the other, much more numerous, kind of Republican. And since I think that in the end it is all about community, that's scary because we are stuck in this together.

How racism works (campaign edition)

Someone I don't know named Kelvin LaFond has written a letter to the editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that describes how racism works in the Presidential election with admirable brevity. I don't know whether that newspaper will/did print it, but I can reproduce it here [minor edits for clarity].

What if John McCain were a former president of the Harvard Law Review?
What if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class?

What if McCain were still married to the first woman he said "I do" to?
What if Obama were the candidate who left his first wife after she no longer measured up to his standards?

What if Michelle Obama were a wife who not only became addicted to pain killers, but acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?
What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard?

What if Obama were a member of the "Keating 5"?
What if McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker?

If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are?

This is what racism does.

It covers up, rationalizes and minimizes positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in another when there is a color difference.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Obama defends Constitution

On Constitution Day (did you know we had such a thing?) this video [5:45] seems on the mark. Last week at a town hall meeting in Michigan, Barack Obama called on an articulate and very distressed citizen who gave a mini-speech as so many questioners will. She wants her country back.

And after some overly bellicose warm-up posturing, Obama explained and defended the principle of habeas corpus and the rule of law. He knows why we need it.

"We might think we've grabbed Barack the terrorist, when in fact we've got Barack who is running for President."

He could say more. He could say a lot more. But unlike the other guy, he demonstrates that he knows what the Constitution is and that we need it to set some limits on the arbitrary power of the state. Electing him would give those of us who care about the rule of law a place to start clawing our country back.

H/t the Washington Independent.

Trapped by no fly list
This story is no joke

Abousfian Abdelrazik is a Sudanese-Canadian. He immigrated in 1990 in search of a better life as a machinist. In 2002 he flew to the country of his birth to visit his sick mother. And, against his will, he has been there ever since.

He was twice imprisoned by the Sudanese, locked up from August 2003 to July 2004 and November 2005 to July 2006, despite no charges against him. He reports he was tortured.

Apparently his name turned up on a United Nations terrorist watch list. He is suspected of ties to Al Qaeda, though no legal process has shown any connection. He may have known with some shady people at a mosque he attended in Montreal. In April 2008, still on an international no fly list, he took refuge in the Canadian embassy in Khartoum where he is still holed up. The Canadian government has been reluctant to help their citizen and no airline has been willing to book a flight for him. Abdelrazik has four Canadian children, one of who he has never seen.

There are reports that Canada's big southern neighbor may be involved in the quasi-imprisonment of this guy.

Canadian intelligence warned against allowing Abdelrazik to return over fears it could upset US officials, who also have him on a no-fly list.

The daily said Washington labeled Abdelrazik a threat on July 20, 2007 -- the same day he was released from Sudanese custody.

At one point the Canadian government said it would issue him a new passport (guess what, his old one expired while he was locked away?) but now they have backed off. Amnesty International has gotten involved.

"If there are valid security concerns in this case, deal with them lawfully and fairly through Canadian law in Canadian courts," said Alex Neve of Amnesty International.

"It is time for the government to take swift action to ensure Abousfian Abdelrazik is able to return to Canada," he said. "It is time for him to face justice, not injustice."

Not surprisingly, Canadian Muslims are very concerned about this case. If Uncle Sam fingers someone, does he drop in a black hole? Perhaps.

As a United States citizen, I find it depressing that my government is apparently pushing Canada to violate its own legal standards -- and depressing that Canada is going along.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

John McCain: imprisoned in wars past;
Too ready for future wars

"He will make Cheney look like Gandhi." So says a guy who is pretty scary himself -- right wing commentator Pat Buchanan. This video is a little slow developing, but stay with it. [5:02]

So much for the implications of McCain's "understanding" of terrorism. He can't or won't take in the reality of the world we all live in.

One of McCain's major foreign policy advisers is Robert Kagan. According to H.D.S. Greenway in the Boston Globe, here's how Kagan thinks the United States should conduct its foreign policy:

Today's so-called realists, Kagan says, are "supposed to be locked into some titanic struggle with neoconservatives . . . but rather than talk about power, they talk about the United Nations, world opinion, and international laws." Sissy stuff.

Greenway points out how backward looking this is:

Clearly China wants to be part of the world economic system and has little interest in threatening neighbors. True, China believes Taiwan should one day return to the fold, but is not bent on invading Taiwan and accepts the status quo as long as Taiwan does.

As for Russia, it cannot be excused for its lunge into Georgia, but it was the US-trained Georgian Army that upset the status quo in South Ossetia. Nations, like human beings, can feel threatened and lash out when attacked, but hostility is not an immutable trait.

It would do no harm to recognize that Russia has an interest in what happens in the countries along its southern flank as does the United States on this continent.

To view Russia and China as nothing more than villains striving to expand their power at the expense of the West is simply to fight the last war, the Cold War, over and over when the geopolitical terrain has changed.

At root, what ails McCain is that the war that screwed up his life and body was lost while he was captive in Vietnam. His suffering (not self-sacrifice, please; the Vietnamese did exactly what he would have done and shot back and he ended up a prisoner) took place in the context of national defeat, not national glory. The guy wants another chance at winning a shooting war. And he blames those pesky civilians who stood up for the Constitution against Richard Nixon for robbing his sacrifice of the kickass triumph he feels entitled to.

McCain went on, "I believe I might take this one step further. We had literally all Americans out by 1973, and we had a Vietnamese army that was pretty capable but they needed our air support … and Richard Nixon could not use air power because of Watergate,...

"I think it was winnable," he said.

The author of this Atlantic Magazine article concluded:

In one area, though, he has been more or less constant: his belief in the power of war to solve otherwise insoluble problems. ...

For McCain, the doctrine of preemption clearly falls outside the realm of mere politics, as does the need to "win," rather than "end," wars; the safety of America demands that they be fought, and honor demands that they be won.

The agony McCain suffered in a losing cause has left him unable to adjust to realities. Apparently he really believes the U.S. can "win" by destroying other countries despite bankrupting itself and without concern for "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind." He is a dangerous man.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Stop it with the emails!

I get lots of email and so do you. Much of it lately has consisted of long lists of shocking or mocking commentary on Sarah Palin. Or Palin joke. Or photoshopped pictures. Some of it has been anguished complaints about the blatant lying from the McCain campaign,

Okay -- but can we stop throwing these bones to each other now? There's a vital Presidential campaign to work through...

John McCain has found no agenda to run on, except continuing in a muddled way with the failed policies of the Bush era. The Palin selection is just a reckless, attention grabbing ploy by a washed up candidate. McCain has nothing to run on. He gives us an attractive, slightly vicious, bauble to distract us.

Then he touts the only asset he's got: his personal history, his past honor. POW, POW, POW. But since he has no real agenda for the country, all he has done is drag his own moments of pain and courage through the campaign season mud. It's kind of sad.

Those of us who want something else need to help voters turn away from McCain, to understand that he has had to trash his own best moments because he has no vision, and to explain that Obama does offer the possibility of hope and change.

I like this from Jeffrey Feldman:

John McCain lies because he does not know how to solve real problems, because he has no faith in the American people, because he wants to force the country backward instead of lead us together into the future.

More and more people are getting hammered by a financial system that treats the work and wealth of our people as a giant casino for the flashy and greedy. Can we afford more of the same? Of course not.

We want better and fortunately someone is offering better. With Barack Obama, we have a chance to hope again in our country. Yes, we can.