Thursday, November 8, 2012

Some thoughts on Obama: A stunning defeat for racists, patriarchs, exploiters, homophobes and blowhards



I am – and most people I know are – enormously relieved and thrilled at Obama’s victory. These are some thoughts about it.

***

Bill O’Reilly spoke of the defeat of “traditional America" a "white America." He spoke of the latinos as well as blacks who voted for Obama as just wanting “stuff.”

This is a standard pseudo-tea-party line (the Boston Tea party was an integrated revolutionary crowd…). It is wrong in three ways. First, no "tea party" advocate refuses social security, medicare or veterans benefits. “Keep the government’s hands off my social security” was an early tea-party sign which captures the racist ninnie-dom of its aging, not to say doddering “white” advocates.

That slogan is, of course, against the interests of people who believe it. Fortunately, in Ohio, many working class white people didn’t (even in the South, I suspect, a lot of poorer white people didn’t). And fortunately, fewer unmarried white women – a growing per cent of voters - and married white women didn't.

Second, nobody gets bigger breaks or more “welfare” from the government than billionaires. They get special deals so they can hide their profits overseas from taxation. They get special tax incentives so the Romneys pay a lower tax rate, if any, on their multimillions than any of the people who clean up their many mansions…

Third, the executives at Goldman Sachs, AIG and Bain, for example, make money largely through speculation and gutting other people’s jobs. They are literally parasites or speculators – the creatures of “derivatives” and “credit default swaps” - who produce nothing and wrecked the world economy to boot.

There is another category of capitalists who produce something (Apple being a leading example). At their plant in China (Foxconn), however, 14 workers threw themselves off the roof this summer...

There is thus exploitation of people who actually work, physically, hard, at little pay, under coercion, often in despair, in the production of bright i-phones and computers. Many ordinary Americans are among their number.

Bill O’Reilly is a blowhard who speaks of others who want "stuff" and gets paid a lot of money for doing very little. His claims are projection, psychologically speaking. For the takers and I mean particularly categories two and three above, rich people, capitalists, bankers (some of whom have some self-possession and decency, but unfortunately not many), what they say of others is who they are.

It was their defeat. It was earned.

***

John Nichols emphasized this morning on Democracy Now that Obama’s victory, likely to be over 3 million votes, was decisive. It was a bigger victory than that of JFK, Nixon, Carter or W in either term. Remember W’s preening agenda – made possible only by the corporate media - to spend his “political capital” by stealing social security.

Obama needs to push decent immigration reform. Legalizing the immigrants who are exploited here, some 11 or more million people, will further shift the electorate over time – move further toward decency - and force the “Republican” party or some successor to stop being the party of bigotry and pseudo-Israeli, pseudo-Berlin “walls” against the world.

As Hurricane Sandy and the Colorado fires this spring underline, the oceans are warming. There is structural causality of climate change, the rising sea levels or increasing droughts – as well as particular causes - to the increasing dangers of nature. Obama needs to act on this.

But Obama will not act on anything without pressure from below. So we need to push hard on these things.

***

Presidential campaigns are always a spectacle. The attention and energy of millions of people is absorbed in them. Doing something about politics from below – as in the social movements like Occupy which made Obama a decent candidate – are temporarily weakened, go by the board. Yet see the bracing efforts of people on Occupy in flooded New York below.

***

After the election, even in victory, people are tired or need to have a life, get back to work.

So fighting for what needs to be done becomes, in this way, more difficult,

***

In his victory speech, Obama spoke of what is supposedly exceptional in America. This is partly true and partly just a de rigeuer politician’s slogan.

***

America has supported and is the biggest arms seller to oppressors abroad. We need a campaign to awaken Americans to the plight of the Palestinians – inside and outside the Occupied territories – by the state of Israel. We need a decent two state solution or a one state solution with human rights for all.

But Israel plays a destructive flaunter of international law role in the world as well as in American politics, as the Netanyahu-Romney couple showed. This needs to be stopped. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

The settlements need to be challenged and reversed (or integrated - might be nice to trade some of the $3 billion military aid, not just to move settlers back to Israel, but to move Palestinians in...).

As the civil rights delegation of which I was a part saw, it will take a determined anti-aparteid movement from below to change this.

***

Unlike other Presidents running for reelection, Obama did not bomb Iran or support Israeli aggression during the campaign (see my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch. 1). But the dangers of American/Israeli aggression, too, will take a movement from below to head off.

***

That Obama, as an able African-American and mixed race candidate, weathered this storm – won despite 8% unemployment (15% in real terms, counting those who have given up looking for work or have part-time and would jump at full time jobs) and racism – the heart of the Romney campaign – is startling. The so-called Republican party (the imperial authoritarian party) has been the party of sabotage, of voting no to defeat Obama regardless of a common good.

That was what made Chris Christie's behavior in the storm, along with Obama's, exemplary. The Republicans, as Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, has rightly argued recently, are the zealous party of "no" at the expense of a common good, buoyed only by money, lies, the bought press, and of course, the fantasies and fears of many ordinary people.

It comes from what Obama said – standing for opportunity and decency for all Americans, inviting all into the community and from, for the most part, extremely able campaigning. The campaigning is, as the Presidency, during Hurricane Sandy, mainly efficient, doing competently what one might expect someone to do though candidates/politicians often don't, and also inventive.

Most Americans want decency and opportunity for themselves and their familieis, and see that this is something that needs extension to others. And Americans are tired of imperial aggressions.

***

The Obama campaigns have been memorable for finding many new to politics, lost or forgotten or overlooked, reaching out to them, enabling them to mobilize. Their method reveals a new model of skill in figuring out how to mobilize the vote. Here Obama says some interesting things about himself and to his campaign workers about what they mean to him and about their future. It is pretty good.

The Republicans might catch up technically. But they don’t have the politics to reach voters – “white” land is not a place so many of us want to be. And of course, the spirit that mark the Obama campaigns is absent. Nonetheless, it is only if they and the whole spectrum shifts now to the center (or “left” in American terms) that they will be likely to win national elections.

***

Was Obama a favorite against Hilary Clinton? Against McCain (it took two losing wars and a financial collapse)? Against Romney?

Not a chance.

In terms of ability, this is a once in a lifetime candidate (team) and President.

***

The economy seems to be picking up. Bill Clinton worried that Romney might - if austerity and cutting the throats of poor people who actually spend the money they earn in America and thus exert a multiplier impact on growth (their buying leads to the employment of others who provide them goods) - reap the benefits. He won't.

But the depression may continue. Obama needs to fight for genuine programs for jobs and using federal moneys to prevent state layoffs of teachers and other public workers.
Whether American capitalism can provide full employment at decent wages - even with a new burst for the green economy - remains to be fought for and, less likely, seen.

***

The movement that brought Obama back to power is not the reality of power in Imperial Washington. The rich, as Barack says, always have a place at the table, the militarists (a trillion dollar war complex) much more.

***

Obama’s speech in Iowa was a bit wistful, looking back on campaigning. His victory speech was generous and large, looking to, once again, lift everyone up.

It was what he had been cautioned against – given the depression – in campaigning. But it is much more who Barack Obama is.

One could hear the relief in his voice as well. It was no certain victory, particularly after the stylistic debacle in Denver. He could have been the one-term African-American president, the results largely erased.

The forces of racism were mobilized against him, baying behind Romney. Listen again to O’Reilly…

He mobilized the people to overcome them.

We overcame them. I join with everyone else in the feeling of relief and being thrilled by his reemergence as someone with a broader and decent vision for America.

***

But Obama is, again, the leader of the empire. If one expects too much from him or the Democrats, one is likely to be disappointed.

Obama is still the man of drones, every one he fires a war crime. As Democratic neo-neo cons blither, he kills less civilians than in neocon-Bush-Cheney-would-be Romney aggressions. He kills many.

He is making new enemies in Pakistan daily – those who hate us because the American President murders children and other innocents – for the United States.

***

Obama is still the man of state secrets. The Canadian government can pay damages to Maher Arar, the Syrian-Canadian engineer kidnapped by Bush from Laguardia and sent to be tortured in a coffin like cell in Syria, released when the Syrian authorities told the US monsters that he knew nothing). But Obama’s government will not allow him to sue for damages in the United States. The “Courts,” too, squeak “state secrets.”

***

There will be no hearings about torture. American war criminals like Richard Cheney and Condoleeza Rice strut around – inside the United States. But they and Bush can not go abroad (except for Bush’s recent visit, carefully planned, well guarded, to the Cayman islands to speak to the rich on how exploiters can shift their gains to avoid taxation…)

***

The victories of Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin and the “amazons,” as Rachel Maddow put it, in New Hampshire are a heartening rejection of the disgusting patriarchy of the “Republican” party.

Warren stood up to Wall Street. The bankers wanted her, above others, gone.

For all our problems (I lived for many years in Massachusetts and much of my family does still), the people of Massachusetts are not fools. Elizabeth Warren is the successor of Ted Kennedy.

Warren (though not on foregin policy yet) is a voice for the future.

***

Gay marriage was, for the first time, upheld in two elections. There isn’t a single person in my class at Metro who has the slightest sympathy for bigotry. Obama is the first President to stand against homophobia and to include gay people in his victory speech.

America is changing before our eyes.

(Karl Rove’s explosion on Fox News was a wonderful revelation of this – the moneyman of evil and epistemogical closure was unable to deal with the shattering of his demented universe, telling the peons who was boss…)

***

Marijuana legalization won in Colorado. Three notes on this. First, tobacco, still pushed by the US government in Spain and China, inter alia, is lethal to people’s lives in a way that grass is not.

Alcoholism in America is also a far more startling danger than weed. We once had real prohibition – an abomination – for a reason. Drunkenness has always been a favorite drug for many people against a feeling of misery and oppression, generated by capitalism and by the amazing difficulties of family life.

Second, Tom Tancredo, a leading racist and an odious human being, is completely right about this. It is a matter of individual liberty whether one smokes marijuana. The prohibition against it has resulted in a pseudo- and failed “war” on drugs (i.e. a lot of violence comes into our lives from this attempted prohibition).

More importantly, as Michalle Alexander underlines in The New Jim Crow, America had 300,000 in jail in the 1970s. With the segregationists moving to the Republican party, the Congress passed mandatory sentencing. An 8 fold increase in prisoners to 2.3 million, 25% of the world’s prisoners, occurred.

Many people, particularly teenagers are in jail for possession of marijuana (80% of the increase is for victimless drug “crimes”).

The police permitted by the Supreme “Court” routinely violate the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures by stopping cars in largely black or chicano neighborhoods, searching them, and doing drug busts on the 5% with some marijuana. If they did it in Boulder or Cherry Creek or Scarsdale, they would be halted by middle class outrage.

It is despicable that Democrats like Michael Hancock blither about “gateway” drugs. It is now the time to push against the Obama administration’s crackdown on marijuana, to cut down the jails, and to restore hope i.e. chances for education and jobs for people to whom what is basically an American police state (the prison-industrial complex, nurtured in racism and affecting many whites as well) has denied it.

***

The choice in this election was between decency – this kind of democratic evolution, marked by protest movements from below – and an increasing police state of the .0001% (clinging to the older presudo-America by aggression, racism and repression). There is not much future, not just for the United States but for the existence of humans on this planet, in the second course.

That was what was in the balance. It will be still for many years.

Nonetheless, our reelection of Obama was a blow for decency.


***

Peter Rugh, Nation of Change
Published: Thursday 8 November 2012
“As this storm has shown, those who will bear the brunt of extreme weather in the future will be those who are already struggling to survive. ”

Climate Change Lifts the Lid Off Inequality in New York City

On Tuesday morning, as New Yorkers were beginning to vote, 60 polling stations had been either destroyed or turned into emergency shelters. Above the same waters that had flooded many of the city’s coastal neighborhoods a week before, I and other Occupy movement activists hung a banner at the midpoint of the Manhattan Bridge. With the intention of drawing a line between the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy and fossil fuels, it said, “Got climate change blues? Fuhgeddabout fossil fuels!”

Six days earlier, on Halloween night, I pedaled past that same spot. Everything below 39th Street, with the exception of the Empire State Building, was dark. Locals took to referring to Lower Manhattan as the “dead zone.” Areas of the city like Red Hook, Rockaway and Staten Island had been inundated with floodwaters and scarred by electrical fires. Public transit was completely shut down, and fuel scarce. People had taken to riding bicycles, for more reasons than one. In Brooklyn, for instance, the direct action bike troop Times Up! set up a bicycle generator — the same one used to power Zuccotti Park last fall — to help Manhattan refugees streaming over the Williamsburg Bridge power their cellphones and call their loved ones.

This was just one tiny facet of a massive do-it-yourself relief effort that New Yorkers have mounted after the storm. It’s also one of many attempts to show that this storm and the suffering it has caused are intimately related to the business that the dark towers of Lower Manhattan symbolize.

The silence

It wasn’t until November 1 that the full scale of the disaster began to register. Mayor Michael Bloomberg told New Yorkers that the city was doing everything in its power to get back to business as usual again, but for people in areas most ravaged by Sandy, normalcy was a long way off. Power remained out for days, and across the city police guarded gas stations where long lines of parked cars sat idle waiting to creep up to barren tanks.

In an unexpected turn, Bloomberg announced his endorsement for President Obama’s reelection, citing the president’s concern for climate change. Bloomberg thus recognized the connection between Sandy and global warming that even the president was unwilling to make. That same day, in fact, the Guardianreported that Obama and company had made a conscious decision in 2009 not to talk about climate change directly. In a private meeting, administration officials told environmental activists that it was a losing talking point; instead, the administration said that it was going to be discussing “green jobs” and that environmental organizations should do the same.

Accordingly, talk of climate change has been noticeably absent from Obama’s 2012 campaign, in sharp contrast to the soaring rhetoric of four years ago. When accepting his party’s nomination for president in 2008, Obama promised that he would usher in the moment when the oceans would cease to rise. This time around he has been bragging that his administration has “built enough pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.”

The lights

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The suction pumps dredging out water from homes in Red Hook were evidence that the oceans hadn’t ceased to rise. Nikki Brierre was at home when Sandy came and she saw 10-foot waves from the Upper New York Bay crashing into her neighborhood. Brierre later evacuated to a friend’s house but then went back to assess the damage. Her third-story apartment was untouched, but a greasy residue five feet tall clung to her neighbor’s walls on the ground floor.

Across the Gowanus Expressway and on higher ground, Carroll Gardens was virtually unaffected by the storm. Brierre went door to door there on Thursday, collecting blankets and nonperishable foods for those stranded on the other side of the highway, where volunteers with the non-profit Red Hook Initiative and Occupy Sandy Relief, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, were working to deliver basic supplies to the many in need.

Brierre said the response to Sandy in Red Hook “makes me proud of where I live. It’s a really strong community.” She added though, that leaders needed to take climate change more seriously. “A hurricane at the end of October? It’s pretty clear that our weather is not what it used to be.”

On Manhattan’s Lower East Side on Friday, Shahana “Butterfly” Bryant and her friend Lourdes “Lou-Lou” Davila said they didn’t know anything about climate change. I found them having a barbeque with some friends in front of the Barrier Free Living shelter on Avenue C and Houston, where they’ve been staying. Hot dogs sizzled on a grill while soul music pumped through an old boombox. Butterfly was grateful for all the help she’d received during the storm and in its aftermath, praising the dry packaged food that the National Guard had distributed as “delicious.”


After visiting Red Hook the day before and delivering food to apartments in Chinatown all day, this was the first I’d heard mention of the National Guard. As we spoke, though, several camouflaged Humvees coasted by.

Lou-Lou, who uses a wheel chair, wasn’t as content with the way things had been handled. She told me that before, during and after Sandy the Department of Homeless Services was nowhere to be found. There were no flashlights, so people were showering in the dark, which is especially difficult if you can’t stand up. Barrier Free couldn’t cook, so they’d been serving nothing but sandwiches and dry food since Monday night. These hot dogs were the first warm meal they’d had since the Lower East Side went dark. But the worst part for Lou-Lou was the cold. Hurricane Sandy, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, coasted over waters that were nine degrees warmer than average on its way to New York, but on land the thermometer had been steadily dropping each night since the storm. There was a shortage of blankets, leaving those at the refuge to supply their own.

People Lou-Lou knows were less fortunate than her. “I have friends that had to go out and panhandle,” she said, “because their food went rotten and they had to feed their kids and families. They’re still with no water at all. It’s been horrible, really horrible.”

It was then that the lights above Barrier Free began to twinkle. The whole neighborhood began to shine as dusk set in. Lou-Lou and Butterfly’s faces brightened. As I biked on through the Lower East Side, everyone I saw was wearing a big grin on their face. People lugging carts loaded with water were hooting and hollering. Though it was 5 o’clock in November it felt like New Year’s. The return of power indicated to the neighborhood that, for them at least, the worst was over.

The revolutionaries

Elsewhere the disaster continued unabated. On Saturday in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, three National Guardsmen in camouflage fatigues sat through an orientation led by Occupy Wall Street activists from the altar of St. Jacobi Lutheran Church. Since Sandy, OWS has turned the expertise acquired in managing occupied Zuccotti Park last fall to hurricane relief. Occupy activists also teamed up with the environmental organization 350.org to help coordinate relief efforts online. In many cases, such as at St. Jacobi, government response teams are following the lead of the Occupiers.

What started as a dozen Occupy Sandy volunteers collecting donations earlier in the week bloomed into a large and complex network of operations. Vans were being dispatched to more than a dozen stricken neighborhoods across the city, delivering food and supplies. Ten thousand meals had been prepared in the church’s basement the night before. Orientations were being held around the clock as volunteers streamed in by the dozens.

This orientation started like a typical Occupy meeting. Occupy is a leaderless, horizontal movement, volunteers were informed, so everyone has the opportunity to become a leader. What followed was a run-down of the basics of canvassing, of keeping safe, of the proper gear to bring and of ascertaining peoples’ needs. At the end, volunteers were asked to sign up for shifts. The guardsmen got in line like everyone else to add their names to the list.

In Red Hook on Sunday, a barker preaching revolution stood in front of a buffet, while those in line received spoonfuls of warm soul-food in styrofoam containers. Children and their parents positioned themselves on nearby corners distributing literature on the “People’s Survival Program,” explaining that their relief efforts were only a temporary fix and that the real solution to the suffering of those in the housing projects is people power.

That day, Occupy Sandy point-people in Red Hook sent the group I was with to an understaffed FEMA station in Coffey Park. I and 10 other volunteers wheeled a dolly through the projects making deliveries to elderly people cloistered inside.

There was still no power in most of the buildings, and a thick stench of mold and garbage wafted up from the bottom floors. As each apartment door opened, a musty smell of hot, trapped humanity greeted us, accompanied by mole-eyed men and women patiently surviving on bottles of water and dry packaged food. They couldn’t shower since they had no water, and they were keeping their windows shut to conserve heat. We noted what medication they needed and inquired about whether they had medical conditions that needed treatment. One woman in a wheelchair said she was developing bedsores and had an infection in her leg that needed draining. We jotted that down. On the way back to refill supplies, a woman stuck her head out her window and yelled, “I need money.” We dutifully jotted that down too, along with her address, though probably the same could be said for everyone else in the neighborhood too.

The marathon

Politicians have seemed especially clumsy in the days since Sandy, as if to reveal the awkwardness of their role in both the causes of the hurricane and the inadequate response. Only after widespread pressure did Mayor Bloomberg finally cancel Sunday’s New York City Marathon, which would have drawn city resources away from relief. Obama returned to the campaign trail last week, but there was still no mention of global warming from his lips. While giving a speech in Virginia, Mitt Romney was interrupted by a longtime environmental activist, Ted Glick, holding a sign that read “End Climate Silence” and demanding, during one of Romney’s dramatic pauses, “What about climate change?” Cringing, Romney looked off into the distance while the crowd shouted the heckler down with chants of “U! S! A!”

It was in this same spirit of denial that North Carolina’s lawmakers decided over the summer to pass a bill mandating that scientists limit themselves to historical data when making sea-level projections; two weeks later a study revealed that the tides of North Carolina are encroaching on the shore faster than anywhere on earth. Overall, climate scientists who deny that global warming is real and human-induced are few and far between, totaling about 2 to 3 percent of their profession. In September, the Spanish non-profit DARA published a report that estimates 100 million people could perish as a result of climate change by 2030.

As this storm has shown, those who will bear the brunt of extreme weather in the future will be those who are already struggling to survive. Those without power in society — the poor and working-class people of color inhabiting New York’s outlying areas — have been stranded without electrical power. Sandy has lifted the lid off the inequality that already existed in New York City. What quiet failures of justice in our society will be revealed next by the effects of climate change remain to be seen.

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