Thursday, June 17, 2004

O'Reilly Smears Alterman

Richard Lieby reported in the Washington Post

On his show the other day, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly apologized to Texas columnist Molly Ivins for calling her a socialist. Now liberal author Eric Alterman wants a retraction from O'Reilly, who recently labeled him a fellow traveler of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

Alterman's Miami-based attorney, Sarah Clasby Engel, sent a demand letter to O'Reilly last week, saying, "We would like to take this opportunity to identify a lie you recently broadcast." On his show in early May, the conservative yakker called Alterman "another Fidel Castro confidant."

Threatening a defamation suit unless O'Reilly makes a retraction, Engel states: "We are certain that you will be unable to point us to any proof whatever of a personal relationship between Alterman, a proud anti-Communist liberal, and Fidel Castro." The letter notes that in mid-May, Alterman signed a public rebuke of Castro, assailing the "brute repression" of his dictatorship.

The lawyer gave O'Reilly five business days to respond. A Fox News spokesman told us the missive arrived only yesterday and "our legal department is reviewing it."

O'Reilly talked about Alterman's letter on his Tuesday program. By calling Alterman a fellow traveler of Castro, O'Reilly said he was just exercising his right to engage in satire.

The lette, which I also signed, was made public a little earlier that the Post has it. And it is was quite strong. Marc Cooper wrote about in his column on Common Dreams.

By its actions, the Cuban state declares that it is not a government of the left, despite its claims of social progress in education and health care, but just one more dictatorship, concerned with maintaining its monopoly of power above all else.

Boss Nader

Matt Gunn has this intriguing bit on Ralph Nader

Check this out from "Boss Nader," in National Journal's 6/5/04 print edition (sorry, subscription required):

Amid a dispute with the staff of one of his flagship publications in 1984 over its editorial content and a bid by staff members to form a union, Nader responded with the same kind of tactics that he has elsewhere condemned: He fired the staff, changed the locks at the office, unsuccessfully tried to have one employee arrested, and hired permanent replacements. When the fired workers appealed the action to federal authorities, Nader filed a countersuit. Applying a legal tactic that employers commonly use to resist union-organizing efforts, Nader claimed that the fired workers were trying to appropriate his business. Nader spurned efforts by other progressives to mediate the fight, and he refused an offer to settle the litigation by simply signing a declaration that his workers thenceforth would have the right to organize.

"I was shocked by how Ralph acted," said John Cavanagh, director of the Institute for Policy Studies, who tried to mediate the dispute. "He seemed unable to see how this conflicted with his ideals."

Re-enlistment Blues

Via needlenose , the Rocky Mountain News reports on the impact of Iraq on Army re-enlistments. One item was mentioned in radio newscasts on Tuesday evening.

• At Fort Riley, Kan., whose 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division remains deployed in Iraq, re-enlistments are off sharply. Recruiters have signed only 50 percent of its quota for first-term re-enlistees, and 57 percent for mid-career soldiers.

There has always been a question whether a volunteer army can succeeed outside of peacetime.

Reagan the Racist

Roger Wilkins via the Virtual Stoa blog

...Reagan was an incredible combination of a person who was very optimistic, upbeat, but underneath there were some really ugly parts of his politics.

He was, I said once before on this program, he capitalized on anti-black populism by going to Philadelphia, Mississippi, for example, in the beginning of his campaign in 1980. Nobody had ever heard of Philadelphia, Mississippi outside of Mississippi, except as the place where three civil rights workers had been lynched - in 1964 - he said "I believe in states' rights." Everybody knew what that meant.

He went to Stone Mountain , Georgia , where the Ku Klux Klan used to burn its crosses, and he said "Jefferson Davis is a hero of mine." He was rebuked by the Atlanta newspapers - they said we don't need that any more here.

He went to Charlotte, North Carolina one of the most successful busing for integration programs in the country and he said I'm against busing and again the Charlotte papers rebuked him.

And the impact of that plus his attacks on welfare women, welfare queens in Cadillacs, for example. And his call for cutting the government. He didn't cut the government; the military bloomed in his time. But programs for poor people diminished entirely and America became a less civilized and less decent place...

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Thomas Frank in Wichita

Thomas Frank gave a talk and book signing at Watermark Books in Wichita Saturday night promoting his new book What's the Matter with Kansas?. George Scialabbas warm and perceptive review in The Nation predicted that the book "should at last make Frank a national figure." He's certainly become a Kansas figure The independent bookstore, which has survived the onslaught of two Borders and two Barners & Nobles, was packed. I din't make a head count, but there could have been 200.

Frank could be the poster child for the button I once ordered from Northern Lights--"Not as convervative as I appear."

What Frank sets out to analyze is the unlikely alliance of blue-collar populist with what Franklin Roosevelt called the economic royalists. He does a masterful job.

But what is the solution? Frank was asked after his reading. "The only way to stop backlash populism is economic populism. The labor movement," he said, "is the place where the good populism is possible."

For more of Frank's view see his article in Le Monde Diplomatique where he scores not only the right-wing but certain leftists.

Why aren’t these contradictions crippling for the right? Partly because liberals refuse to take backlash populism seriously. They simply don’t bother to answer the stereotype of themselves as a tasteful elite, seeing it as a treacherous and obvious deceit mounted by the puppetmasters of the right. A smaller coterie of liberals don’t bother with it because they believe that conservative populism is merely camouflage for racism, which they believe to be epidemic in the US...

Leftists of these tendencies aren’t really interested in the catastrophic decline of the American left as a social force, in the drying up and blowing away of leftist social movements. If anything, this decline makes sense to them: the left is people in sympathy with the downtrodden, not the downtrodden themselves. It is a charity operation.

For them, having fewer people on the left isn’t a problem that might one day affect their material well-being, cost them their healthcare or their power in the workplace. Those things aren’t on the line for this species of liberal. Quite the contrary: having fewer people on the left makes the left more alluring to them. Superficial nonconformity is what the creative white-collar class values above all else, and the lonelier you are in political righteousness the more nonconformist, the more rebellious you are. Standing up against the flag-waving masses is the goal for this variety of liberal. Being on the left is not about building common cause with others: it’s about correcting others, about pointing out their shortcomings.

Kevin Canfield has a good review in the New York Observer "Cashing In on Culture Wars, The Right Marches On"

Frank is an entertaining and witty writer. Buy his book, subscribe to his magazine The Baffler, check out his website at

Nader Watch

The Wahington Post reports that

Ralph Nader has run his campaign for president out of the same downtown Washington offices that through April housed a public charity he created -- an overlap that campaign finance specialists said could run afoul of federal laws.

Did Republicans Drive Ralph's Arizona Petition Drive?

The Arizona Democratic Party plans to challenge the signatures to place Ralph Nader on the states ballot American Prospect's election blog quotes a state Democratic worker "based on what we believe were Republican contributions to the signature gathering which could amount to an illegal campaign contribution if not reported. We are suspicious of how many of these were gathered by paid signature gatherers."

The majority of the signatures, according to published reports, were stamped "PAID CIRCULATOR," and local Democrats charge that Arizona Republicans are behind Nader's signature effort. State Democratic Chairman Pederson told the Arizona Republic that his party has found "mounting evidence" that Republican consultant and former Arizona Republican Party executive director Nathan Sproul "is the primary source of money" paying for Nader's petition gatherers. "Over the last several days, we have received information that strongly suggests a coordinated, highly funded secret effort by the Bush campaign, Christian right, and others (to put Nader on the ballot)," said a statement released by the Democrats.

Daily Kos reports that of first 2,000 signatures checked by Democratic volunteers in Phoenix 5 percent have been Democrats, 3 percent "other" or independent, and 92 percent Republican.

Nader Effect Now and Then

Swing State Projects reports

When I see a poll that does a version with and without Nader, I often feel that there's something of a Nader effect - ie, that Ralph is distinctly drawing more votes away from John Kerry than from George Bush. Ed, a frequent commenter here and proprietor of his own blog, Unfutz, has actually crunched the numbers and turned a suspicion into cold, hard fact.

Nationally, says Ed, Nader draws 1.53% from Kerry. It doesn't sound like a lot, but in a very close election, such a margin can mean a great deal. At MyDD, Chris calculates the 2000 Nader effect (based on exit polls) at 0.65%. This means that right now, Nader is hurting Kerry almost a full point worse than he hurt Gore four years ago.

As Chris points out, Nader is likely polling far better now than he actually will on election day. Several polls have shown Nader pulling an implausible 8% in various states. What I'd love to see now is what kind of Nader effect polls in June of 2000 were showing.

The answer: Harris' June 2000 poll had Ralph Nader picking up six points and Pat Buchanan four points, while George W. Bush leads Al Gore by seven percentage points (47 to 40%), among all registered voters.

Don't Vote Ralph

The Don't Vote Ralph website created by former Nader backers, features a cool flash video demolishes Nader's pretension that his candidacy will help defeat Bush. They promise to monitor polls throughout the campaign. In 2004, if you want to defeat Bush, send this flash movie url to all your friends you might be tempted to vote for Ralph.

Friday, June 11, 2004

McCormick is Right: Ditch the confederate flag

Wichita Eagle columnist Mark McCormick writes

Citizens will gather at Veterans Memorial Park on Sunday for a pre-Flag Day celebration in honor of the Stars and Stripes.

But another flag -- the Confederate battle flag -- is still there, too, and removing it could prove a perilous fight.

I think that flag represents enemy combatants and is out of place in a plaza honoring soldiers who defended our country. It should at least be removed during this weekend's Flag Day celebration.

The Real Reagan

Tired of the endless adulation of the late President, here are some alternate views:

Nathan Newman, "In Memoriam: Reagan's Victims"

It is indeed a solemn day, when we should reflect on the murder and blood on the hands of Ronald Wilson Reagan.

From those murdered by US-aligned death squads in Central America to the massacres in Lebanon to the funding of Bin Laden and other fundamentalists in Afghanistan to the continued support for war in Angola, Reagan was a busy man fomenting murder and terrorism around the world.

Harold Meyerson, "Class Warrior" Washington Post June 9

however much Reagan helped wind down the Cold War abroad, he absolutely revived class war here at home. Slashing taxes on the rich, refusing to raise the minimum wage and declaring war on unions by firing air traffic controllers during their 1981 strike, Reagan took aim at the New Deal's proudest creation: a secure and decently paid working class. Broadly shared prosperity was out; plutocracy was dug up from the boneyard of bad ideas. The share of the nation's wealth held by the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans rose by 5 percent during Reagan's presidency, while virtually everyone else's declined.

The Nation editorializes:

Reagan once malapropped, "Facts are stupid things." He meant "stubborn," and we hope that they are, and that the facts of Reagan's presidency survive the hagiography now being written. His life, as the cliché-soaked commentators note incessantly, may have been an "American life." But his presidency was no morning in America; it empowered and enabled some of the worst elements of public life in our country: greed, arrogance, neglect and hypocrisy. This Reagan legacy, unfortunately, survives its namesake, and, worse, it has been enhanced by the son of his Vice President.

Marc Cooper in LA Weekly "Reagan Without Tears"

Indeed, none of us know for sure when Reagan came down with Alzheimer’s, but we have certainly experienced the collective amnesia of the American media in these last few days.

Cooper looks at Reagan's criminal policies in Central America and his legacy to the US

What Reagan did accomplish, however, should not be underestimated. While his own actions were not necessarily consistent, he firmly established a new tone and ethos in national politics. The mask of equanimity was ripped off American politics, and the winners in our society were finally given permission to publicly gloat. All of a sudden it was socially acceptable to denounce the poor, to blame the victims, to celebrate and even promote inequality. It was hip to be mean. The golf shirt, martini and cigar replaced the lunch bucket and a cool Bud as the icons of American workaday culture. Reagan’s legacy is best embodied not by the mistaken notion of him as a Strangelovian, bomb-dropping cowboy, but rather as the obedient radio and TV pitchman for General Electric. Fifty years from now, Reagan will be remembered not for lobbing a few missiles at Qaddafi or for funding the contras, but rather for presiding over the most radical transfer of wealth, upward, in the 20th century.

Jonathon Schell says that Reagan should not be credited with ending the cold war. Michael Tomasky in The American Prospect reminds us that Eastern Europeans had something to do with overthrowing Stalinism. He cites historian John Patrick Diggins

"the Eastern European forces of freedom that courageously took to the streets to overthrow communism... represented the three great antagonists of conservatism: the youth culture, the intellectuals of the '60s generation, and the laboring classes that still favored Solidarity over individualism."

Max Sawicky

"Reaganomics" cannot be associated with superior economic performance. The wonders of Reagan's tax cuts are mythic, not real. In no indicator below does the business cycle associated with Reagan and Bush (1980-90) compare favorably to others since 1960....Growth in GDP and productivity were clearly worse in the 80s than before or after. Unemployment was no better than the 70s, worse otherwise

Was Ray Charles white?

Very little of the genius of Ray Charles came through on the radio reports of his death. NPR was only slightly better than CBS. The songs they played were parts of "America" "Georgia on My Mind," and "I Can't Stop Loving You." Now these are all great performances. Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music is one of my personal favorites. But picking these to represent his music misses the mark. These are the Charles' songs most likely to be known to white Americans, but far from being his most important artistic or historical accomplishments. It is the same musical and historical sin as associating Louis Armstrong with "Hello Dolly" or "What a Wonderful World" rather than the epochal cadenza from "West End Blues."

All Music begins its Charles bio with these lines "Ray Charles was the musician most responsible for developing soul music. Singers like Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson also did a great deal to pioneer the form, but Charles did even more to devise a new form of black pop by merging '50s R&B with gospel-powered vocals, adding plenty of flavor from contemporary jazz, blues, and (in the '60s) country."

Surely, "What'd I Say" "Drown in My Own Tears," "Hit the Road Jack" or "Unchain My Heart" would have been better selections.

NPR's All Things Considered did play a snippet of "This Little Girl of Mine," but they didn't mention that it was an adaptation of a gospel standard "This Little Light of Mine."

The booklet for the essential Charles box-set The Birth of Soul notes that in the 1950s Atlantic Records, Ray's label, was beginning to have success in crossing over black performers like LaVern Baker and Big Joe Turner to white teenagers. "At this very crucial juncture in Ray Charles' career, a very surprising thing happened. Charles refused to compromise his music with the simpler beat, more adolescent lyrics, and smoother singing that white rock and roll fans seemed to favor. He continued to write, arrange, play and sing from his soul, and his records continued to sell almost exclusively in the black community."

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

"No Sweat Sneaker"

NPR's All Things Considered on Tuesday June 8 featured a report on the "No Sweat Sneaker" from No Seat Apparel. The shoes are meant to help improve living conditions for factory workers around the globe. What NSA insists on is that workers be represented by an independent union.

If you want to listen to the segment, go to the archives for Tuesday and scroll down and down.

Wichita Peace Center's June 5 march

The Peace and Social Center has been recognized as a positive voice in the Wichita community for many years. Now people of conscience should oppose the demonstration it is cosponsoring on June 5 with Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Pax Christi, the Muslim Political Affairs Council and others. Stay home, go to a movie. You’ll be doing more to promote peace.

Together these groups are hijacking the opposition of Bush’s Iraq war to advance a radical anti-Israel agenda.

At a moment when there is growing disenchantment with the war in Iraq, the antiwar movement needs as broad a platform and as broad an appeal as possible. But a small group has chosen instead to put the interests of sectarianism ahead of the interests of all those who oppose this foolish and unnecessary war.

The flyer for the June 5 demonstration has the slogans "End the Dual Occupations" "Stop the Genocide," "End the occupation of Palestine,’ and "When the occupation ends, peace begins."

The date for the demonstration is it itself inappropriate. It marks the anniversary of the 1967 war. Even such a tough critic of Israel’s foreign policy as Avi Shlaim recognizes that the Six Day War "was launched by Israel to safeguard its security, not to expand its territory." The Arab League at its January 1964 summit had openly declared "The establishment of Israel is the basic threat that the Arab nation in its entirety has agreed to forestall. .. the existence of Israel is a danger that threatens the Arab" and planned "collective Arab military preparation, [which] when they are completed will constitute the ultimate practical means for the final liquidation of Israel."

During the Six Day War there was much talk of destroying Israel from reactionary Arab nationalists. Cuba's Fidel Castro was so shocked by the nature of Egypt's anti-Israel propaganda at the time that he spoke out against it. In an interview that was published in the New Statesman on 22 September 1967, he told the journalist K S Karol that he believed Egyptians showed a lack of revolutionary principles. "True revolutionaries never threaten a whole country with extermination," he said. "We have spoken out clearly against Israel's policy, but we don't deny her right to exist."

Israel ended the war in occupation of the West Bank because Jordan, as part of the Arab alliance, launched military attacks on Israel and refused an offered cease fire.

"End the occupation of Palestine" is a slogan that fails to support peace between Israel and Palestinians. Hamas, Islamic Jahad, and elements of Arafat’s Fatah movement still consider any Jewish state to be "occupation." From its founding in 1964 until 1998 the National Charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization took the same position and called for the expulsion of all Jews who came to Israel after 1917. The original charter is still displayed by the Palestine legation to the UN and other Palestinian bodies. A wing of the American Palestinian solidarity movement calls for Palestine "from the river to the sea," which advocates the destruction of Israel.

Thus, dual occupation cannot be used to equate the American occupation of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

"When the occupation ends, peace begins." For every complex problem, there is a simple solution--that is completely wrong. As Michele Goldberg wrote in Salon "one of the key dynamics shaping both Democratic and leftist demands on Iraq [is] the sense that since progressives have so little power, it doesn't much matter what they call for."

Nir Rosen writes in the June Progressive "The entente between Sunnis and Shiites is likely to be only temporary. Though they are united in their hatred of America, when the common enemy has left they may not celebrate long before turning on the Kurds in the north and then on each other in a bloody civil war over who will define the borders and nature of the new theocracy in Iraq."

Most offensive of all, is the slogan "end the genocide." There is no genocide being perpetrated by Americans in Iraq or Israelis in Palestine. To make this charge is reckless and without foundation, It insults the memories of Jews, Armenians, Cambodians, Rawandans, and Kosavars who have suffered from real, not imagined, genocides. It blocks attention from the real Something more must be said. The Peace and Social Justice Center and the Muslim American Political Action Committee levy this charge against the state which provided refuge for the remnant of European Jews who survived Hitler’s holocaust and the overwhelming majority of Sephardic Jews who fled second-class status, persecution, and pogroms in the Arab world. Today, there is a revival of the crudest and most vile anti-Semitism is the Arab media. Sadly, some in Wichita have joined this campaign to vilify and demonize Israel.

The Peace center website asks members to make puppets with the suggested theme that "Bush as a puppet of Sharon." As Searchlight, the leading anti-fascist and anti-racist magazine in Great Britain puts it, "the idea that a cabal of Jewish people controls the world through political skulduggery has been a staple of antisemites since they propagandized against the French Revolution after 1789."