Tuesday, November 25, 2008

No Honeymoon

I've been reviewing some of the reasons Obama will need to be pushed if he is going to be a progressive President, and some of the major areas in which we need to push him. The key thing is, we can't wait.

Already, Obama is selecting Cabinet members and advisors who put the counsels of caution and the interests of corporations over the needs of the poor, the unemployed and under-employed, immigrants, people of color, youth, women, gays, and even the middle class--in short, ahead of everybody who helped Obama get elected.

Already, Obama is signaling that left to himself, he will use the economic crisis as an excuse not to do some of the things that would solve the economic crisis more speedily--let alone create more economic justice in the future.

It's traditional to give new Presidents a grace period, a time to wait and see what they will do. We can't afford that now. We just threw big business, the war hawks, and the religious right an eight-year wedding party. We can't afford to give Obama a honeymoon.

We need to follow the advice of another Democratic President during times of economic crisis, Franklin Roosevelt. "FDR was, of course, a consummate political leader. In one situation, a group came to him urging specific actions in support of a cause in which they deeply believed. He replied: I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it."

We can make the administration do what we deeply belive it must do. It's not too late, but it's not a moment too soon. As Dennis Kucinich said, "Wake up, America!"

What if Moveon were on the air today with videos calling the new administration to keep its campaign promises? What if all the $1o contributors to the campaign were now sending $10 a month to advocates and community organizers? What if people who went door-to-door for Obama and for a Democratic majority in Congress were out there today, signing people up for massive demonstrations one month after Election Day?

What would the next four years look like then? Let's find out, shall we?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Where We Need to Change Obama

I don't agree with his accusatory tone--I think most people voted for Obama with their eyes open--but Sam Smith has "listed nearly three dozen things that Obama supports or
opposes with which no good liberal or progressive would agree." Most prominent among them to my perspective:

  • Ending the occupation of Iraq only to send more troops into Afghanistan.
  • Trying to provide health insurance to people by mandating they buy it, instead of providing health care to people and cutting out the insurance industry completely.
  • Recognizing loving relationships between men and men or women and women through civil unions, and denying them the equal rights that the word marriage confers.
  • Double the funding for charter schools instead of working to make public schools into places of education for all.
On each of these points, we will have to use the movement tactics that Obama has mastered to bring pressure against him.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Did Somebody Mention Corporate Power?

How do we know that the Obama administration will be under pressure to cave to corporations? I couldn't say it any better than Derrick Jackson did the Globe:

For the first time since 1994, the defense and healthcare industries gave a majority of campaign contributions to the Democrats - albeit bare majorities. They will expect to be first in line for loopholes from Obama. Resistance to modernization is likely from energy companies and the transportation industry, which gave about two-thirds of their funds to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

For all the chaos this nation was thrown into by the $700 billion bank bailout, the Washington Post reported this week that $290 billion of it has been committed without anyone yet being hired to oversee it. It also happens that the banking industry was another sector that gave Democrats a bare majority of campaign contributions for the first time since the early 1990s. How much oversight will Obama truly insist upon?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Obama Silent on Corporate Power

Progressives in Somerville, as elsewhere, have invested a lot of hope in an Obama presidency. After the Bush administration's systematic attack on rights, liberties, and the common good, Obama can hardly help doing better! Yet on some of the most basic issues, Obama has been silent.

Issue #1: Corporate power. It's refreshing that the Obama-Biden campaign pledged to protect consumers. On issues like mortgage fraud, predatory credit card lending, and bankruptcy laws, the new administration has taken positions we should support, and there are plenty of other examples. We have to ask, though: why have Democrats not addressed these issues already? It's not because they just discovered the issues. It's because any attempt to help the majority of us runs into the buzzsaw of corporate power.
  • Corporate leaders directly intervene in elections by supporting some candidates over others. Obama may be less indebted to corporate funds than most candidates because of his ability to collect small donations in large numbers--but he has to work with Congress, most of which is already bought and paid for.
  • Corporate lobbyists have tight relationships of long standing with the Congressional committees that write laws and the bureaucracies that create and enforce policies in that corporation's line of work. These "iron triangles" are part of the reason the country is in the mortgage/foreclosure/banking crisis we are in right now. Out of sight, they worked in corporate interests and against the public interest.
  • Corporate capital often gets what it wants without bribes or explicit threats. They just say that a given policy would not be good for "the economy." (When I hear "the economy" these days, I think of men in $2,000 suits getting $2,000,000 bonuses for crashing their companies.) Or they say that if a certain policy were passed, it would "cost jobs." This is a threat in disguise. Jobs don't just disappear. Corporate leaders slash positions when they are not making the profits they want--which are much higher now than corporate profits have ever been!
The whole liberal idea is to use government power to rein in corporate power. Unfortunately, and especially in the era of globalization, corporate power has been stronger. Barack Obama shows no signs of recognizing this problem, let alone using people power as the solution. So, it's up to us.

If The People Lead The Leaders Will Follow

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Not Far Enough on the Rule of Law

Last week, I started to make the case: even if you have been the most fervent supporter of Obama all year, it's time to start pushing and prodding him to do better. I listed areas in which Obama promised changes we should support and explained why he'll be forced to abandon those promises unless we keep after him. I pointed out some areas where Obama's campaign promises move in the right direction, but not far enough, and we're going to have to hold his feet to the fire to get the change we need.

Another one of those "not far enough" positions is where Obama stands on constitutional civil liberties. In the Obama-Biden campaign platform, they pledge to work for the civil rights of women,people of color, and gay and lesbian people as well as people with disabilities. This is important, although transgendered people are not mentioned at all. But the Constitution is more than just a pact against discrimination. What about the right not to be thrown into prison at whim and kept there at the pleasure of the president? What about the right to a fair trial?

There are reports that Obama is considering closing Guantanamo, letting some people who were arrested for the wrong reasons (or no reasons) free, and bringing the rest back to the U.S. to stand trial. This is a move in the right direction. It is encouraging. But when a friend wrote, "Wow. I am so happy I want to cry, now. The restoration of rule of law is imminent," I thought, "Don't get fooled again!" If you read the article carefully, you see they are not going to the normal courts, but some kind of hybrid civilian/military court that would try them but not reveal state secrets in the process.

Says the article,
"I think that creating a new alternative court system in response to the abject failure of Guantanamo would be a profound mistake," Jonathan Hafetz, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represents detainees, said Monday. "We do not need a new court system. The last eight years are a testament to the problems of trying to create new systems."
The system created at Guantanamo and through the secret prisons and military commissions is so flawed, it may not be possible ever to give these people a fair trial! Obama should try people in the regular criminal courts or let them go. Then, he should address the serious task: ending warrantless wiretaps and other crimes against the American people while ensuring real security--something the bellicose Bush Administration has failed to do for going on eight years.

Monday, November 10, 2008

All Over this Land

When I said I was content with the results of the presidential election, I was not thinking about--had not even heard about--the passage of Proposition 8 in California. The voters narrowly voted to repeal marriage equality in California. It's the first time since slavery days that a state has taken rights away from a whole class of people. It is a tragedy, and living in Massachusetts (where I can look my gay and lesbian friends in the eye, since they have the same rights and privileges I have) doesn't take anything away from that tragedy. However...

I remember when a liberal Democratic governor of Massachusetts made a new rule that kept same-sex couples from being foster parents. I remember when it changed. I remember when two lesbian friends announced at shul that one of them had legally adopted the biological child of the other, and we all cheered. I remember when the marriage equality decision was the ONLY cheerful political news in the state of Massachusetts that year. I am going to live long enough to remember when marriage equality is the law of the land.

Obama's Promises Fall Short

On key issues, Obama either doesn't go far enough, or he hasn't said anything at all.

Not far enough:

  • Jobs. "Obama and Biden will invest $1 billion over five years in transitional jobs and career pathway programs." So what? That's about $100 per person for the 10.1 million people who are out of work now--and with a recession upon us, there are going to be a lot more unemployed soon! What's really needed is a massive employment program. Repair roads and bridges, redo government computer systems so they are as good as corporate systems, provide childcare and after-school tutoring to everyone who needs it...there are jobs needing to be done everywhere.
  • Making Work Pay. "Raise the Minimum Wage to $9.50 an Hour by 2011," says the Obama platform. This is pitiful. For a full-time worker, $9.50/hour comes to not quite $20,000/year. This is enough for a single person in Alabama, where the cost of living is low. It is not enough for a parent in any of the 50 states. In Massachusetts, a two-parent, two-children family would need to work three full-time jobs at $9.50/hour to make ends meet. And that's right now, not in 2011! Raise the minimum wage to $12/hour immediately, and push high-cost states to set their standards higher.
  • Saving the Environment. "Ensure 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025." Way too slow! By comparison, the European Union is aiming at a 20% cut by 2020. With recent evidence of how fast the climate is changing, even that is too modest.
I could go on and on, but you probably have an example of your own. What issues are most important to you, and how does Obama address them but fall short?

Along with pressing the new administration to keep its promises, we have to make them exceed them. WE have to. They won't do it on their own.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Get Up, Stand Up After the Election

To keep the promises made by the Obama campaign, the Obama Administration will need all the help it can get.

Here is a very partial and incomplete list of campaign promises that I think Obama should keep:

Economy: Create a new "Making Work Pay" tax credit of up to $500 per person, or $1,000 per working family. Eliminate all capital gains taxes on start-ups and small businesses. Use trade agreements to spread good labor and environmental standards around the world. Ensure the freedom to unionize. Raise the minimum wage, index it to inflation and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit. Expand the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover businesses with 25 or more employees (instead of the 50+ employee businesses it currently covers).

Health Care: Require insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions. Require coverage of preventive services, including cancer screenings, and increase state and local preparedness for terrorist attacks and natural disasters. Lower drug costs by allowing the importation of safe medicines from other developed countries, increasing the use of generic drugs in public programs and taking on drug companies that block cheaper generic medicines from the market.

Foreign Policy: Secure all loose nuclear materials in the world within four years. End the war in Iraq and remove U.S. troops through a phased withdrawal. Emphasize diplomacy over military intervention. Focus America's attention on the challenges facing Africa. Cut extreme poverty in half by 2015.

Immigration: Increase the number of legal immigrants. Promote economic development in Mexico to decrease illegal immigration.

Poverty: Invest $1 billion over five years in transitional jobs and career pathway programs. Increase benefits for working parents, raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2011, and provide tax relief to low- and middle-income workers. Create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Fully fund the Community Development Block Grant to aid cities, and invest in rural jobs, schools, and green industries.

Civil rights: Pass the Fair Pay Act to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Pass the Matthew Shepard Act and strengthen federal hate crimes legislation. Enforce the laws we have.

Other women's issues (besides poverty, civil rights, etc.): Support research into women's health, help prevent unintended pregnancy (surely a men's issue too!), reduce domestic violence, preserve women's right to reproductive choice under Roe v. Wade.

Give Real Authority to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board: Created by Congress and recommended by the 9/11 Commission, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board needs to be substantially reformed and empowered to safeguard against an erosion in American civil liberties.

Reading this list after eight years of the Bush Administration is like taking a deep breath after eight years of chronic pneumonia! Still, just seeing the words is not enough. We must see action--and the President cannot do it by himself.

  • Lots of these initiatives cost money. Obama will have Robert Rubin and other voices of Clintonomics whispering into his ear that we can't afford these big plans, that we should settle for small victories. It would be easy for him to listen, to cop out, saying he didn't realize how bad the economy would be. We need to stand instead with Representative Rangel. When they ask him where he'll get the money for social programs, he says, "The same place Paulson gets it for the bailout." The more people tell Obama that, the more room he'll have to carry out his plans.

  • Some of Obama's promises will face corporate opposition. Raising the minimum wage and regulating the insurance industry are two proposals that every Chamber of Commerce across the country will scream about. We need to scream louder.

  • Some of them will be derided as "favoring special interests." But the groups being advanced--women, people of color, gays, immigrants--are the majority in America! What's more, they are being advanced by measures that promote justice. We need to make it clear that there is a large, vocal, and persistent body of people who will hold the Administration's feet to the fire on this, to protect them from knee-jerk reactions by people who feel their own privileges are being taken away.
I hope it is clear that we cannot sit back and let Barack do it. Just to make his own promises into policy, he will need us to stand up.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Time for a Change--but We Must Make It Happen

The results of last night's election are about as good as I could have wished. Obama-Biden won by a large enough margin that no amount of cheating could affect the outcome. Democrats widened their lead in Congress, and progressives held onto their seats. There's still a chance that Al Franken could become the next Senator from Minnesota. Most important to me personally, Massachusetts voted 2-1 against eliminating the state income tax.

It' s still important that every vote be counted--and that attempts to suppress the vote be identified and punished. Whoever tried to use text messages and Facebook to convince college students the election date had been moved should go to jail!

So, I hope everyone enjoyed last night. It's time to get back to work. The campaign isn't over. If we really want change, we're going to have to make it happen.

What? Am I really saying we can't leave everything in Obama's hands? Yes, I am. For one thing, that's not democracy: that's electing a king. For another, Obama has never called for the changes I believe in. He's a 21st-century liberal who wants to tinker around the edges of government, not revolutionize it. Even to get done what he says he wants to do, however, he will need us to give him visible, vocal support, to overwhelm the opposition he will face and to stiffen his own political backbone.

So, over the next few days, I'm going to be exploring these kinds of change:

  • the ones Obama has pledged to make
  • the ones he hasn't addressed which we vitally need
  • the wrongheaded policies Obama has proposed, where we will need to change him--or defeat him.
What would you put on the list? Write me and let me know.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Our Work Begins on Wednesday

In the progressive circles in which I travel, it's almost a cliche already: "The election is Tuesday, but our work really begins on Wednesday." What does this mean?

With any luck, all this week, I'll be exploring what people who care about justice and peace should be doing to push their agenda during an Obama administration. First, though, what if the election is stolen?

This is not a paranoid question. There is some reason to believe that both the 2000 and 2004 elections would have ended differently if many voters hadn't been removed from the rolls before the balloting began (let alone if all the votes had been counted or if the Supreme Court hadn't pulled a coup). Investigative reporter Greg Palast and voting rights attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. have found that the laws passed to make voting cleaner since then have actually made things worse.

How do we steal the election back? According to Palast and Kennedy:

  • Today, DO NOT ACCEPT A "PROVISIONAL" BALLOT. Chances are good it will never be counted. If someone tells you you're not entitled to vote, call a voter's rights hotline like 1-866-OUR-VOTE. Insist that your claim be adjudicated on the spot. Don't worry about slowing down the voting process: it's your right!

  • Tomorrow, if you have been prevented from voting, pursue legal action. If it's good enough for the Obama campaign, it's good enough for you!

- Go to the No More Stolen Elections website and look for a Voter Assembly in or near your community. If you don't see one, organize one. Go to: http://www.NoMoreStolenElections.org/va.