Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Huge Gain in Democratic Self-Identification in Kansas

The Gallup folks are out with a new poll on partisan identification. They asked voters which party they identified and then asked the self-identified "independents" which party they leaned towards.

There's been a significant gain in Democratic identification nationally and in many states. Nowhere is this gain more dramatic than in Kansas.

It may be time to through out the old conventional wisdom based on voter registration. That's usually broken down along the line of, something like, 47% Republican, 29% Democratic, and 27% Independent.

Here's how the Gallup poll break down for Kansas.

Democrats and Lean-Democratic 48%
Independent Independents 8%
Republicans and Lean Republican 44%

Combine this with GOP infighting and the low approval rates shown for Senators Pat Roberts and there is reason for Kansas Democrats to set their sights high in 2008. Even though Robert s will be 72 in 2008, he's apparently running for re-election. He already has a campaign website up and running.

Not only should the Democrats mount a serious challenge for the Senate seat, they ought not to restrict themselves to defending Dennis Moore (KC and suburban Johnson County) and freshman Nancy Boyda. They should also go after Wichita's ultra-conservative Todd Tiahrt.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Extreme Todd Tiahrt

Sedgwick County Democratic Chair Kelly Johnston slams Congressman Todd Tiahrt's extreme voting record in the Congress in a Wichita Eagle op-ed.

During the past six years, Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, has managed to escape a lot of negative press attention for his neoconservative voting record. Though he voted with indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, 93 percent of the time, Tiahrt has largely been treated with kid gloves by the news media.

But the beginning of the new congressional session has shown how extremist Tiahrt's voting record is, and proved that he is out of touch with the majority of the voters.
In critical votes in the early days of the new Congress, fellow Republican Congressman Jerry Moran has often joined with Democrats Dennis Moore and Nancy Boyda, while Tiahrt has remained a reliable vote for the extreme right.

One quibble with Johnston's op-ed is worth noting. Why describe Tiahrt's voting record as "neo-conservative"? Apparently, this has become a term of general political abuse by which liberals and moderates can abuse the right wing. (In this regard, "neo-conservative" is the new "fascist.") Todd Tiahrt is a "conservative" not a "neo-conservative." I doubt Tiahrt has more than a nodding acquaintance with the neo-conservatism. He's had far more contact with and shown more affinity for the traditional far right. In fact, after the Waco bombing, Tiahrt rather infamously said that the militia movement shouldn't be condemned wholesale.

Neo-conservatism is primarily about foreign policy. The first generation of neo-cons were generally supportive of the welfare state. Most likely they would have voted for at least some of the measures passed in the Democrat's 100 hour agenda. On domestic policy, Tiahrt is far to the right of the neo-cons. Wikipedia has a pretty good round-up of neo-conservatism.

For several decades the right-wing has had a deliberate strategy to make "liberal" a term of abuse and contempt. The center and the left ought to do the same thing with "conservative."

Anti-war rally in Washington

I didn't watch CSPAN coverage of Saturday's anti-war rally in Washington, but here's an interesting comment by someone who attended.

"Joe and I are heading down to the peace rally in an hour, to take photos, etc. And I'm watching it on C-Span right now, and I'm asking myself - though I'm not surprised - why is some woman from the "US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation" speaking? And why is she speaking, ad naseum, about the "Israeli occupation of Palestine" rather than speaking aboutthe war in Iraq? She gave 10% of her speech to Iraq and spent the rest of the time railing against Israel?

First off, wrong topic.

Second off, way to alienate most Jews in America, a rather influential group of people we could use as allies.

Third off, way to alienate the rest of us who don't hate Israel, don't hate the Palestinians, and don't feel that the problem over there will be solved by simply blaming everyting on Israel - there's more than enough blame to go around. And in any case, this rally has nothing to do with Israel leaving Palestine, so STFU and stay on topic.

I'm sorry, but as many of you know, I tend to have issues with "peace rallies," not because I have issues with peace or rallies, but because I find myself cringing when I see the substance of them, who's attending, the issues they feel compelled to bring up (Mumia, Israel, trans fats, the suffering of amoeba, whatever). Would it kill someone organizing these events to tell the speakers to speak about Iraq or don't speak at all? Would it kill people to try to present their message in a way that appeals to themajority of Americans?..."

A later post from the same blogger was more positive.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Boyda on the State of the Union Speech

The National Journal interviewed a bunch of the freshmen Dems on their reaction to Bush's state of the union speech. They gave lots of attention to Nancy Boyda.

But perhaps no freshman Democrat has as much at stake in her criticism of Bush as Rep. Nancy Boyda, whose sprawling Kansas district went for Bush in '04 by a whopping 20 points. Republicans are already gearing up to challenge Boyda, widely considered the most vulnerable Democratic freshman.

In an interview Wednesday, however, Boyda was undaunted. She said she was "dismayed" and "bewildered" by Bush's health care plan. And while she "appreciated" his efforts to strike a "bipartisan" and "personal tone," she added, "I think it would have been nice if he had actually complimented Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi on getting so much done in the first 100 hours. But hey, maybe that's too much to expect."

A freshman House Democrat from a Republican stronghold is demanding that a Republican president heap public praise on a liberal Democratic Speaker? We're not in Kansas anymore.

Way to go, Nancy!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Music now..politics later

I've been busy doing politics elsewhere and normal work and need to take a little respite. In the meantime, a couple of musical comments.

My CD player and amp/receiver both gave out recently and I found the time to replace them with new old (used) systems--including a five CD player. I'm not quite ready to fully enter the digital era of MP3 players,but maybe I'll more there soon.

I bought Vince Gill's new 4-cd set These Days about a week ago. It's outstanding. has a very laudatory review which seems on target

this is Gill's masterwork. It's an exhaustive, profound, fun and fulfilling set that not only gives fans something to delight in, but goes wide and if given half a chance could and would attract many new ones. It is one of the major recordings not only of 2006, but of the decade so far -- in any genre. This is the treatment a seasoned artist like Gill deserves, and along with the benefit and support of being able to indulge in such a project, it lives up to the responsibility of delivering the goods in abundance. This is yet another example that the new media-savvy form of country music introduced by Brooks in the '90s has yielded something far more interesting and exciting than some folks are willing to accept, and yet still others are able to believe.

I've also been listening to Prime Prine a compilation of John Prine's first four albums. I've never really listened to Prine, but he has some fanatical fans and he's coming to Wichita on February 2 so I figured it was about time to give him a hearing. I transferred a vinyl that I had rescued from a flea market to CD. It's fine stuff, but not sure I'll want to spend $39-$49. To complicate matters David Allan Coe is playing the same night at a Wichita club for $20.00. (Prine was a buddy of folk singer-songwritter Steve Goodman and Coe recorded Goodman's "You Never Even Called Me Darling"--the perfect country and western song.)

Also playing is Stompin' at the Savoy classic jump blues, R&B, and proto-rock. Really good and joyous stuff.

Monday, January 22, 2007

State of the Union

This year, both Groundhog Day and the State of the Union address occur on the same day.

One involves a meaningless ritual in which we look to a creature of little
intelligence for prognostication.

The other involves a groundhog.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Where Kansas Reps Stand on Bush's Escalation

Think Progress has compiled where almost all of the House and Senate stand on Bush's escalation.


(Last update: 11 AM, 1/19/07)

Dems Reps Ind Total
Lenn Oppoose
Lean Support


Refuse to Answer



Here's the Kansas delegation. Who'd have thunk that Sam Brownback has the most forthright position against the escalation. Will he follow it up by opposing attempts to filibuster an anti-escalation resolution? Will he join Chuck Hagel in supporting the anti-escalation resolution?

Rep. Jerry Moran (R, Ks-1) Lean Oppose

Moran says it doesn't make sense to send more troops if the Iraqi people aren't willing to set aside sectarian differences and commit to rebuilding their country.

Rep. Nancy Boyda (D, KS-2) Declined to answer

Democrat Nancy Boyda also declines to take a definitive position; she says she has –quote — “deep concerns'’ about the plan.

Rep. Dennis Moore (D, KS-3)Declined to answer

Democrat Dennis Moore isn’t taking a formal position on the plan, but he says any decision will be carefully scrutinized by the Democratic-controlled Congress.

Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R, KS-4)Support

“President Bush outlined a way forward in Iraq with Iraqi troops meeting the challenges and taking the lead. American forces will assist Iraqi troops as they stand up and take responsibility.”

Sen. Sam Brownback (R, KS) Oppose

“‘I do not believe that sending more troops to Iraq is the answer,’ Brownback said while traveling in Iraq. ‘Iraq requires a political rather than a military solution.’”

Sen. Pat Roberts (R, KS) Support

Roberts said his support for Bush’s plan is conditioned upon Iraqi forces stepping up efforts to end the sectarian violence and achieve stability. “At this point, I believe it is the only realistic choice given the regional instability and danger we face,” Roberts said. “But this support is not without limits if, as this mobilization takes effect, we do not see measurable progress.”

You can reach the Capitol switchboard toll-free at 800-614-2803. Just provide your zip code or ask for your members of Congress by name. It looks like Boyda and Moore need to hear from their constituents.

Brain Drain

According to a report on one of Thursday's NPR programs:

There are more Ethiopian doctors in Washington, D.C. than in the entire country of Ethiopia,a country of 70 million.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Kudos to Boyda and House Freshmen on Trade

I criticized newly elected Kansas Congresswoman Nancy Boyda for her poorly stated and, in my opinion, wrong position saying she would vote to fund Bush's escalation in Iraq, even though she apparently does not agree with it. Today, I want to applaud Boyda for joining with 38 other House freshmen in sending a letter to Ways and Mean chair Charles Rangel demanding an end to sell-out free-trade policies.

David Sirota has more

The letter restates what Public Citizen already has reported: that Democrats achieved their majority specifically because candidates ran against our current “free” trade policies, backed by both Republicans and the Wall Street/Rubin wing of the Democratic Party. There have been furious efforts by some Democrats to try to pretend that’s not the case, but this letter makes pretty clear what the reality is. Here’s a key excerpt:

“As you may know, in each of our campaigns the issue of trade and the impact of the Administration’s trade policy on working families, the environment, independent farmers and businesses in our districts were critically important. Vital to our electoral successes was our ability to take a vocal stand against the Administration’s misguided trade agenda, and offer our voters real, meaningful alternatives to the job-killing agreements, such as CAFTA, that the majority of our opponents supported.”

As you can see, this letter was signed by even the freshman that the media has tried to tout as “conservative” faux “centrists” - but what we see is that this new class of lawmakers is really a group of economic populists. See the full letter here - and get ready for the upcoming fights as the White House presses for more “free” trade pacts and ultimately reauthorization of “fast track” authority which guarantees a continuation of a trade policy that includes no labor/wage/environmental/human rights standards.

Guatemala: Brutal Murder of Docker's Union Leader

Brussels, 17 January 2007 (ITUC OnLine): The ITUC has condemned the brutal killing on 15 January of Dockworkers' Union leader Pedro Zamora in an attack by a number of armed assassins. Zamora, General Secretary of the STPEQ Union, had been leading efforts to stop the privatization of the country's major port of Quetzal and he and fellow unionists had been subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation. The union is proposing a programme of upgrading and modernisation as an alternative to placing the port facilities in private hands.

After picking up his children from a hospital appointment, Zamora's car was followed and then rammed by a white pick-up truck, and then sprayed by gunfire from both sides of the vehicle. Of the more than 100 bullets which hit the car, around 20 hit Zamora. One of the killers then walked up to his vehicle and shot him in the face, a method reminiscent of that used by paramilitary forces during the country's civil war. Despite Zamora's efforts to protect his children during the attack, his 3-year-old son was injured but his condition is believed to be stable.

The ITUC and the International Transport Workers Federation are taking this latest case of anti-union repression in Guatemala to the International Labour Organisation, and calling on the Guatemalan government to ensure that a full investigation take place, to identify the culprits and bring them to justice. Suspicions that the management of the Port was involved should constitute one focus of the investigation.

"This gruesome killing recalls the darkest days of Guatemala's decades of civil conflict, and the country's reputation will continue to suffer unless action is taken to root out and punish those who commission and perpetrate intimidation and murder", said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder, adding "this murder was planned and premeditated, and appears designed to send a message to those who dare to stand up for fundamental rights".

The ITUC and ITF will be coordinating worldwide action to put pressure on the Guatemalan authorities to guarantee full respect for the rule of law and fundamental workers' rights, to ensure that all those involved in the killing are punished and that the continuing culture of impunity is brought to an end.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Marc Cooper : the unholy trinity

It would be hard to say it better than Marc Cooper

reading today's news reports of the menage-a-trois taking place among Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad....

I would think that any liberal, any progressive, and certainly any radical would have to be sickened to watch Hugo Chavez embrace and celebrate a right-wing fundamentalist, a holocaust-denying obscurantist like Ahmadinejad. Does Venezuela have the right to build an economic alliance with Iran? Certainly. But Chavez calling the President of Iran a "brother" and a "revolutionary" ought to turn one's stomach.

There are, indeed, few regimes on earth more hostile to leftists, socialists, gays, atheists, liberals, and, um, women and, let's say, Jews, than that of Iran. We rightfully worry over violation of civil liberties by what goes on Guanatanamo. But that prison camp looks like Club Med compared to the Iranian judicial system that hangs gays and imprisons young people for holding hands in public.

Ahmadinejad was also friskly patted on the tummy by the rather pathetic Daniel Ortega, who just re-assumed the presidency of Nicaragua (after being voted out in 1990). Is calling Ortega "pathetic" a smear? That's a thought-crime I have been accused of at times from out in the left-field bleachers. Hardly. in Ortega's case, it's going light on him. He will be remembered, eventually, as the grave-digger of the Sandinista movement which he helped lead to power in 1979. Every single Nicaraguan intellectual who joined up with the Sandis back then has since quit. They have been appalled by Ortega's steam-rolling of all internal debate, by the Sandinistas' rampant corruption and grotesque self-enrichment. And by Ortega's, well, pathetic political opportunism which has given him a reptation roughly equivalent to a local boss of the Mexican PRI.

I read that Ortega took the Iranian president on a tour yesterday of the slums and shantytowns around Managua. Perhaps they had time during that ride to explore just how much they might, in fact, have in common in spite of apparent and rather superficial ideological disagreements. Reaching a new cyncial depth, Ortega and his wife (both long-time Marxists) campaigned this time around as no less than Bible-thumping Christians defending family values (this in spite of Ortega hiding behind parliamentary immunity to avoid prosecution on charges of incest from his step-daughter). On the eve of the recent presidential election, Ortega led his parliamentary delegation to vote for a seal-proof ban on abortion -- with no exception for rape, here we go again, incest. That's certainly a measure that Brother Ahmadinejad greets with approval. Some might say that chiding Ortega plays into the hands of the "enemy." But it was Ortega, not me, who ran with a vice-presidential candidate who was a former, and unrepentant, leader of the CIA-backed contras.

In today's news accounts, I see that the miserable folks who live in the Managua slums (among the worst in the hemisphere -- I also toured them with Ortega) were given (by Ortega's ruling party) thousands of portraits of Ahmadinejad to be waved as he rolled through with Ortega. Can you imagine that inidgnity?

I won't go on. I only wonder how hard it must be today to be an 18 or 19 year old college kid who, jolted into consciousness by the war in Iraq, or by the images from Abu Ghraib, to find those sort of psychic links that my generation did. Can you be inspired by the anti-semetic front man for the Mullahs? By the blustering Venezuelan demagogue who now seeks to rule by decree? By the aged Nicaraguan comandante running on the backs of unwed Managua teenagers?

Sometimes, like these times, it's really good to be old.

[For the younger readers, the title of Cooper's blog post "Sunday Morning Sidewalk" is a reference to the Kris Kristofferson song "Sunday Morning Coming Down." which was a big hit for Johnny Cash.]

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Top Ten Under-reported Humanitarian Stories

The staggering human toll taken by tuberculosis and malnutrition as well as the devastation caused by wars in Somalia, Central African Republic (CAR), Sri Lanka, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are among the Top Ten Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2006, according to the year-end list released by the international humanitarian medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Analyzing the Bush speech

Several valuable analysis I've seen:

  • Anthony Cordesman senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington in the New York Times. This is an interactive analysis. Scroll through Bush's speech, click on the highlighted sections, and read Cordesman's comments.
  • Martin Thomas of the UK's left-wing Alliance for Worker's Liberty "Bush Blunders Towards More Bloodshed in Iraq"

George W Bush's "new policy" in Iraq is a recipe for more bloodshed on the lines of the assault on Fallujah in November 2004 - but also, so it seems more and more, a botched compromise which makes no sense from any angle at all.

Bush's basic line - a "surge" of 20,000 more US troops into Iraq, raising the numbers there to the highest level since 2003 - comes from right-wing wonks Jack Keane and Fred Kagan, the sort of people who believe that the USA could have won the Vietnam war with "one more push".

But Keane and Kagan have written: "Bringing security to Baghdad - the essential precondition for political compromise, national reconciliation and economic development - is possible only with a surge of at least 30,000 combat troops lasting 18 months or so. Any other option is likely to fail..." - in fact, in their view, to make things worse. (Washington Post, 27 December 2006).

What Keane and Kagan see as needing at least 30,000 more combat troops - a nearly 50% increase on the 70,000 combat troops (140,000 total) currently in Iraq - is much more limited than Bush's stated objectives with his smaller "surge".

...using US withdrawal as a threat to make Maliki shape up is stupid, and not only because Bush obviously has no intention of carrying out the threat. The collapse of the Maliki government would trouble the government ministers much less than it would trouble the USA. The government ministers would mostly flee back to London, or some other city of exile, or retreat to an area of Iraq securely under their (Shia or Kurdish) control. The USA would be left with one of the world's most pivotal regions, the oil-rich Gulf, convulsed in all-out war and chaos.

And the workers and the peoples of Iraq? They lose out either way. Their only hope is the emergence of a secular and democratic pole within Iraqi politics, led by the labour movement, which can fight both the US/UK and the sectarian militias. Our duty is solidarity with the much-harassed Iraqi labour movement trying to do that.

Far from making the United States stronger, Bush’s policies have dissipated American power. In his speech, the president suggested that if the United States failed in Iraq, Iran would be emboldened. But Iran has obviously already been emboldened because its leaders believe that an America mired in Iraq can make only empty threats.
To use power ineffectually is to destroy it.
  • Paul Rogers (Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University and is openDemocracy’s International Security Editor)

the continuing presence of 140,000 US troops (and now, after Bush's speech of 10 January, quite probably 20,000-30,000 more) for years to come is an unbelievable "gift" to the al-Qaida movement, presenting the far enemy to them on what is, to a large extent, home territory (see Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, "The dividends of asymmetry: al-Qaida's evolving strategy", 18 December 2006).

Iraq is already providing a first-rate jihadi combat training-zone and, from an al-Qaida perspective, this is without any risk of changing. They (and many western analysts) simply do not believe that the United States can win in Iraq. Therefore, the longer it loses the better. In light of the fact that al-Qaida deals in decades, it has the prospect of decades of training for jihadi cohorts.

The latest US "strategy" for Iraq, a small increase in manpower focused on controlling sections of Baghdad, has generated substantial debate/commentary in the US. The reason for this has vastly more to do with domestic political issues than anything substantive in the military sphere. To wit, almost nothing in the current plan -- from troops to tactics -- has changed in any meaningful way. Further, the general situation of country-wide chaos will not change due to any efforts to pacify select Baghdad neighborhoods ...

Of course, the failure of these periodic efforts may be due to an inability to revisit a key assumption upon which the present US effort is based: that strong states tend to form naturally if provided the right minimalist conditions. I believe the opposite is true: that states, once broken, tend to remain hollow and in perpetual failure. The reason is that in the current environment minimalist conditions yield social disintegration.
The Power and Interest News Report

With U.S. President George W. Bush's new Iraq strategy unveiled, it is clear that the administration is running out of options. The "surge" policy that will now be implemented is an attempt to somewhat stabilize the situation in Baghdad. This is the most that the new policy can hope for -- temporary stabilization -- because a surge in troops does little to address the issues that are fomenting the insurgency. Once the surplus soldiers are called back, or once the insurgents adapt to the increased numbers, attacks will escalate again and Washington will be in the same position that it is in now.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Neat labor history site

Here's a really attractive site on labor history in Chicago: The Labor Trail which flash and one of the new web mapping services.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Edwards Courts Unions Heading into ‘08

By Marie Horrigan New York Times Published: January 4, 2007

Coming out of a 2004 campaign year in which he staged an upstart bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and ended up on the ticket as the party’s vice presidential running mate, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards could have bided his time before committing to another White House try in 2008.

But Edwards, who is independently wealthy from his past career as a successful trial lawyer, hardly left the national campaign trail. In the interim — and leading up to his official candidacy announcement in New Orleans Dec. 28 — Edwards has continued to tour the nation honing his message on a theme he calls the great issue of our time: combating poverty.

Edwards’ official occupation as he entered the presidential derby was head of a recently established center on poverty issues at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, where he attended law school. He hopes that the issue will earn him significant support within the party’s traditional base of liberal activists, and more general support among voters in a nation where, statistics show, the gap between the wealthiest and least affluent Americans is growing.

His efforts may be bearing fruit, as his anti-poverty theme is drawing attention from segments of an important Democratic political constituency: organized labor.

Edwards threw his weight behind efforts to increase minimum wage levels in Ohio, Arizona and Michigan. In April, he marched a picket line with Teamsters Union President James Hoffa and service workers at the University of Miami.

Last year, Edwards spoke at the national conventions for three major unions: the AFL-CIO, the Change to Win Coalition and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. It was at the latter that Edwards proclaimed the labor movement “the greatest anti-poverty program in the United States.”

“I believe in a Democratic Party of big ideas . . . a Democratic Party that’s not afraid of saying the word ‘union,’” he told more than 7,000 attendees at the Teamsters’ June convention in Las Vegas, according to release from the union.

The UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity “helped spark a nationwide renewal of interest” in poverty and class issues, Edwards said in his resignation letter dated Dec. 28, the same day he announced his candidacy. A book co-written by Edwards, titled “Ending Poverty in America,” is scheduled to come out in April, about the time that the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination will be picking up steam.

His singular approach to the issue appears to be giving Edwards entree to possible union endorsements, from which he was excluded in 2004. Although Edwards also emphasizing the need to reduce poverty that year, he was viewed by many labor leaders as too inexperienced after just a single term in the Senate; some also looked askance at his profile as the “Southern alternative” to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry — who won the nomination and picked Edwards as his running mate — and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, now chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Edwards’ blue-collar roots are well established. His background as the son of a millworker and first member of his family to go to college won him credentials among rank-and-file union members, his campaign argued.

While most candidates courting unions focus on specific sectoral concerns, Edwards has taken a new approach, making economic populism and the value of unions part of his general message to all audiences, Kusnet said.

And another difference, Kusnet said, was Edwards’ experience on the picket line. “Other than Jesse Jackson [the longtime African-American activist], I don’t think there anybody who’s run for president who’s made themselves that visible in day-to-day union work,” he said.

But one change is likely to help Edwards, according to Kusnet — the insertion of Nevada into the early round of Democratic presidential nominating events. Edwards has made his strongest ties among SEIU and UNITE HERE, two unions with strong organizations in Nevada, a state where the hospitality and service industries are driving economic forces.

“They’re not just strong in the sense of being long-established, stable institutions, they’re dynamic organizing unions there. And that tends to be the kind of situation where people are more likely to vote as union members,” Kusnet said.

Official sanction from union leaders, however, will not be the most important issue to the campaign, Palmieri said. “Whether we get endorsements or not, we think that union household voters will be a big part of Edwards’ supporters,” she said.

11 Rules for Radicals

After mentioning Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals recently , I came across a short summary on the internet . While the whole book is worth reading here's the essence.

In 1971, Saul Alinsky wrote an entertaining classic on grassroots organizing titled Rules for Radicals. Those who prefer cooperative tactics describe the book as out-of-date. Nevertheless, it provides some of the best advice on confrontational tactics. Alinsky begins this way:
What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.

His “rules” derive from many successful campaigns where he helped poor people fighting power and privilege

For Alinsky, organizing is the process of highlighting what is wrong and convincing people they can actually do something about it. The two are linked. If people feel they don’t have the power to change a bad situation, they stop thinking about it.

According to Alinsky, the organizer — especially a paid organizer from outside — must first overcome suspicion and establish credibility. Next the organizer must begin the task of agitating: rubbing resentments, fanning hostilities, and searching out controversy. This is necessary to get people to participate. An organizer has to attack apathy and disturb the prevailing patterns of complacent community life where people have simply come to accept a bad situation. Alinsky would say, “The first step in community organization is community disorganization.”

Through a process combining hope and resentment, the organizer tries to create a “mass army” that brings in as many recruits as possible from local organizations, churches, services groups, labor unions, corner gangs, and individuals.

Alinsky provides a collection of rules to guide the process. But he emphasizes these rules must be translated into real-life tactics that are fluid and responsive to the situation at hand.

Rule 1: Power is not only what you have, but what an opponent thinks you have. If your organization is small, hide your numbers in the dark and raise a din that will make everyone think you have many more people than you do.

Rule 2: Never go outside the experience of your people.
The result is confusion, fear, and retreat.

Rule 3: Whenever possible, go outside the experience of an opponent. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat.

Rule 4: Make opponents live up to their own book of rules. “You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”

Rule 5: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.

Rule 6: A good tactic is one your people enjoy. “If your people aren’t having a ball doing it, there is something very wrong with the tactic.”

Rule 7: A tactic that drags on for too long becomes a drag. Commitment may become ritualistic as people turn to other issues.

Rule 8: Keep the pressure on. Use different tactics and actions and use all events of the period for your purpose. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this that will cause the opposition to react to your advantage.”

Rule 9: The threat is more terrifying than the thing itself. When Alinsky leaked word that large numbers of poor people were going to tie up the washrooms of O’Hare Airport, Chicago city authorities quickly agreed to act on a longstanding commitment to a ghetto organization. They imagined the mayhem as thousands of passengers poured off airplanes to discover every washroom occupied. Then they imagined the international embarrassment and the damage to the city’s reputation.

Rule 10: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. Avoid being trapped by an opponent or an interviewer who says, “Okay, what would you do?”

Rule 11: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. Don’t try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.

According to Alinsky, the main job of the organizer is to bait an opponent into reacting. “The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength.”

Boyda dissapointing stand on escalation

Last Friday, The Think Progress blog took a look at some disappointing comments by newly-elected Kansas Rep Nancy Boyda.

FACT CHECK: Congress Does Not Have To Fund Escalation In Iraq

Last night on ABC News, newly elected Rep. Nancy Boyda (D-KS) said she would support funding for 20,000-40,000 more troops in Iraq because President Bush “is the commander in chief. …We don’t get that choice. Congress doesn’t make that decision.” Watch it: [on the Think Progress site by clicking here.]

Boyda is wrong on the facts. A recent Center for American Progress memo explains how Congress could — and should — prevent Bush from sending more troops into a civil war in Iraq without a clear mission. An excerpt:

Although the new Congress should not refuse to provide the funds that the troops already in Iraq and Afghanistan need, it can place an amendment on the supplemental funding bill that states that if the administration wants to increase the number of troops in Iraq above 150,000, it must provide a plan for their purpose and require an up or down vote on exceeding that number.

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), an Iraq war veteran, came out strongly in opposition to escalation, saying, “We need to listen to the military experts, people like Gen. Colin Powell, Gen. Abizaid, that say, ‘Listen, the surge isn’t going to work.’” Another newly elected member, Rep. Health Shuler (D-NC) was more circumspect. Shuler said he didn’t think escalation was “the solution” but would consider it if “that’s what our military leaders said.”

Here are the phone and fax numbers for Rep. Boyda

Congressperson Boyda's telephone numbers:

Washington, DC office: Phone:(202) 225-6601 Fax:(202) 225-7986

Topeka office Phone:(785) 234-8111 Fax:(785) 234-9111

Hopefully, she'll get an earful on February 3 at the Second Congressional District Democratic Party convention in Topeka where she'll be the special guest.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

James Brown

Uncle Dave Lewis has a very informative analysis of James Brown on the website which includes some sound clips of those who influenced Brown and those who influenced him.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Sunflower, agitation, radicals, and Saul Alinsky

Randy Schofield of the Wichita Eagle's editorial board wrote an column in Friday's paper praising and criticizing Sunflower Community Action.

It took 15 years, but the city of Wichita finally emptied the trash at 10th and Volutsia. About time. It was beginning to smell all across the city.

The home had become an outrageous monument to neighborhood blight, with piles of junk in the yard and an owner unwilling to clean it up.

Neighbors complained for years, to no avail.

This week, city workers finally hauled off the trash.

The neighbors are thrilled.

And a large share of the credit goes to Sunflower Community Action, a nonprofit group that is everywhere these days, agitating on issues such as racial profiling, blight and payday loans.

The group is getting attention and getting things done. But not everyone is thrilled with its tactics.

And I wonder myself: Does it go too far?

Schofield agonizes over whether Sunflower's sometimes confrontational tactics might turn people off. He writes
I still think such in-your-face protests are ill-advised, because they turn off many citizens inclined to support the group's efforts. They could also make decision makers less willing to talk and partner in a constructive way.
But in the end, he concludes

I'm certain of one thing: The piles of trash would still be festering in the yard at 10th and Volutsia without the months of aggressive activism by the Sunflower group. It's helping low-income neighborhoods that lack political clout find their voice.

Whatever you think about its tactics, give this to Sunflower: It's committed to getting things done.

The same thing can't always be said of our public officials.

I'm glad Sunflower is here, making some noise and shaking things up.
There was one curious moment in Schofield's column. He cites Sunflower organizer J.J. Selmon as saying that the group are not "dangerous radicals." Unfortunately, the term radical has been degraded in American parlance to mean simply extremist of the right or left. Historically, the term has a far wider meaning laid out in a wikipedia article
The term Radical (latin radix meaning root) was used from the late 18th century for proponents of the Radical Movement and has since been used as a label in political science for those favouring or trying to produce thoroughgoing political reforms which can include changes to the social order to a greater or lesser extent.

Selmon's main point was that Sunflower tactics are carefully chosen and implemented with discipline and care and tactical.

That's an approach very similar to Saul Alinsky, one of America's great community organizers whose most famous books are Rules for Radicals (1971) and Reveille for Radicals.(1946). in RfR Alinsky described radicals in this manner

America's radicals are to be found wherever and whenever America moves close to the fulfillment of its democratic dream. Whenever America's hearts are breaking, there American radicals were and are. America was begun by its radicals. America was built by its radicals. The hope and future of America lies with its radicals.

What is the American radical? The radical is that unique person to whom the common good is the greatest personal value. He is that person who genuinely and completely believes in mankind. The radical is so completely identified with mankind that he personally shares the pain, the injustices, and the sufferings of all his fellow men.

David Sirotta argues for the contemporary relevance of Alinksy in a recent book review.

Books on Iraq

EPIC, the Education for Peace in Iraq Center, which I have found to be one of the most reliable sources of information on Iraq has come out with a list of the ten best books on Iraq in 2006, honorable mentions, classics, and a longer list of recommended books. It's a very well done page. For each of the recommended books there is a separate more information page which has excerpts from reviews, links to articles by the authors, and so forth.

Take a look, and consider a New Year's Resolution to read at least one book on Iraq in 2007. And consider ordering it through the EPIC site as a portion of your order will benefit their work.

Top 10 Books of 2006
(1) Iraq Study Group Report: The Way Forward -- A New Approach by The Iraq Study Group, James A. Baker III, and Lee H. Hamilton
(2) The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq by Rory Stewart
(3) Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin Group, 2006, 482 pgs, ISBN: 159420103X).
(4) Baghdad Burning II: More Girl Blog from Iraq by Riverbend (The Feminist Press, 2006, 190 pgs, ISBN: 1558615296) and Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq (The Feminist Press, 2005, 304 pgs, ISBN: 1558614893).
(5) Reaching for Power: The Shi'a in the Modern Arab World by Yitzhak Nakash
(6) The Kurds: Nationalism and Politics edited by Faleh A. Jabar and Hosham Dawod
(7) The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq by Patrick Cockburn
(8) No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah by Bing West
(9) Ahmad's War, Ahmad's Peace: Surviving Under Saddam, Dying in the New Iraq by Michael Goldfarb
(10) Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green

Christian Caryl discusses four recent books about Iraq in a an article ("What About the Iraqis?") in the latest New York Review of Books. It's well worth reading, sort of a Cliff Notes if you don't have the time to read the 3,988 pages in EPIC's list. Here are two crucial paragraphs.
It is an aspect of the problem often overlooked in reporting of the war, but Iraq today is a country in the grip of revolutionary change. The American occupation swept away the institutions of Saddam's regime without providing for new ones to replace them. It encouraged a remarkable flowering of pluralism in expression (including satellite television, avidly competing newspapers, and cell phones), allowing Iraqis to discuss the problems of their own society with a freedom that is still rare in the Arab world, while failing to provide many basic services or respond to widespread unemployment. It organized democratic elections and stimulated the growth of local self-government without ever dealing with the conditions that prevented these new participatory institutions from effectively exercising power—and watched helplessly as they were bypassed by other forms of community self-assertion... [e.g., activist clerics] Most catastrophically of all, the occupation government never managed to offer Iraqis a basic level of security —a situation that led to the expansion of already existing militias and encouraged the growth of new ones.

Many American commentators mistakenly assume that the democratic freedoms brought by the Americans have simply allowed the inherent weaknesses of Iraqi society to come out into the open. Certainly Iraqi society has always been deeply divided against itself; but under the occupation it has been turned upside down. The middle class, under attack from criminals and murderous ideologues, is abandoning the country. According to the Iraq Index of the Brookings Institution, the authorities have issued two million passports since August 2005. An estimated 40 percent of Iraq's professional classes have left the country. New elites are rising in their place, sometimes through the use of violence; needless to say, this is not the sort of civil society that the Americans were hoping to promote. There is evidence, for example, that some of the Shiite parties have embarked on systematic assassination campaigns against leading Baathist officials, including secret policemen and air force officers who flew missions against Iran during the Iran–Iraq war in the 1980s.

Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence

Monday, January 8 at 9 p.m. on KPTS Channel 8 and overnight repeat at 4 a.m. (That's for Wichita, check your local listing elsewhere).

Sixty years after the Holocaust, many parts of the world are experiencing a
dramatic surge of anti-Semitism from hate propaganda to vandalism to attacks
on Jews themselves. In Europe, violent acts against Jews and Jewish
institutions have more than doubled since the 1990s. Hosted and narrated by
Judy Woodruff, this documentary explores the roots of anti-Semitism and
examines how and why it continues to flourish today.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ten Step Program for Democrats

Some good ideas from Jonathon Tasini. Here's the intro which contains the critical idea.

The lesson from the 2006 election is that people want dramatic change, not poll-tested, cautious half-measures. So, be bold.

The threat to a progressive agenda is not the lack of hugs and soaring rhetoric. Rather, the challenge is pretty clear: Will Democrats be willing to break from the false worship of the twins gods of the so-called “free market” and so-called “free trade”? This worship has made Democrats quiver, tremble and crumble in the face of policies that have been devastating to our country and the world for the past several decades, and made them incapable of advancing ideas and proposals that people so desperately

"Free market” and “free trade” are both marketing phrases. There is no such thing as a “free market” because every corporation in America profits thanks to subsidized public goods like education, roads, the electric power grid, and (albeit, too permissive) regulatory management of the stock market, which imposes stability and deters dishonest behavior. So-called “free trade” is a mirage—nothing is free about a global trading regime that has iron-clad protection for capital investment and corporate intellectual property, and thrives on controlling and suppressing wages of workers, particularly in China.

Will Democrats stand up and clearly say that the real choice is not over politically empty slogans or accusations of ‘protectionism’ but over what rules we want to govern how the economy operates for the benefit of our families and communities? Do we want rules that support people and their communities or rules that help powerful, global corporations? Once Democrats do so, the political road is easy because such a plea has broad support across the country, no matter how people define themselves ideologically. It comes down to this: Are you for everyone having health care, a fair wage, solid retirement, and being able to live in a democratic system that allows the people to decide how corporations behave?

How Free Trade Hurts

Senators Bryan Dorgan and Sherrod Brown in the Washington Post

Over the past 100 years, Americans have built a thriving middle class. It's the envy of the world, and it didn't come easily. At the turn of the 20th century, America was split dramatically between the haves and have-nots. It was a harsh work world for many: nasty, brutish and, too often, short. Worker activism, new laws and court decisions changed all that during the past century. The American Dream seemed within reach of everyone who worked hard and played by the rules. That is what's at stake when we talk about trade policy: America's middle class and the American Dream. Fair trade is not the enemy of more trade. It's how we expand international trade without reversin
g U.S. economic progress.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Opinion Round-up

A few of the more interesting opinion pieces, I've seen recently.

A few of the more interesting opinion pieces I've seen recently

Barbara Eihrenriech on "Wretched and Excess"

Santa Claus is coming . . . to Wall Street. Goldman Sachs’ employees are getting bonuses that average over $600,000 a head and run up to $100 million for some of the top guys, though it’s a safe bet the cleaning crew won’t be seeing any of this largesse. Holiday parties are another measure of the frenzy in the financial and tech industries, reaching levels of excess not seen since the dot-com era: Hand-rolled cigars, $500 a shot champagne and caviar servings, “signature cocktails” like pomegranate martinis, custom disco lighting, and bevies of near-naked elves.

Robert Reich. "An Introduction to Populist Economics"

The incomes of the bottom 90 percent of Americans have increased about 2 percent in real terms since then, while that of the top 1 percent has increased over fifty percent.

Yet the philosophical debate is coming up all the time these days, and it helps explain the new economic populism. Consider, for example, the Bush cuts. They’ve mainly benefitted the top fifth of taxpayers. Supply-siders argue the cuts have generated enough extra revenues to pay for themselves so they haven’t enlarged the budget deficit. That’s debatable but let’s make the heroic assumption the supply-siders are correct and no one has been made worse off. Yet even so, most Americans have not benefitted – nothing has trickled down. Real median wages have barely budged since they were enacted. So the underlying question is whether they’re justified by the fact that rich Americans have gained from them while no one has lost ground. The answer is no. They’ve widened inequality.

Thomas Palley, "The Economics and Politics of Trade Deficits"

The real contribution of the U.S. to the trade deficit, which is international economic policy. Over the last twenty-five years successive Republican and Democratic administrations have assiduously created a global economy in which goods, capital, finance, and corporations are free to move. This new system has boosted profits by allowing companies to establish export-production platforms in low wage countries and batter America’s unions into submission. Big box retailers, such as Wal-Mart, have also supported the new arrangements since they benefit from global sourcing. The purpose of the new system has always been access to cheap low wage production. It has never been expanded balanced trade.

Harold Meyerson "The Populist Persuasion"

The new-model Democrats who emerged from the 2006 elections may differ on cultural questions, how to get out of Iraq, and hiking taxes on the rich. Some of their differences -- such as those over warrantless wiretapping -- may lead to real internal conflict. Most won't -- either because the differences aren't that great, or the issues are ones that the party leadership needn't bring to a vote. What unites the party is a populist perspective that follows as the night the day the current era of Republican-sponsored plutocracy.

Can the Democrats suppress their cultural differences and stress their economic commonalities, as they did in the days of their New Deal majorities? Can they win back the working-class whites who've been lost to them since the days of Robert Kennedy? Those are long-term challenges, but this year's elections certainly put the Democrats on that road.