Posts tagged ‘Obama’


Presidential Politics
In 2008 I worked hard to elect him.
In 2009 I was heartbroken,
in 2010 — numb.
In 2012 I “threw my vote away”.
On inauguration night, 2013, I dreamed of Barack Obama.
It was anxious, conflicted, and short.
Second chances? Maybe.
But I am again heartbroken,
that even now  my dreams
are strangers to audacity.

A Dream Deferred?

Maybe an official of some Asian consulate has read Harold Meyerson’s column on the President’ s untapped army. “A paper tiger,” the bored functionary sighs.

What is... and what should be

What is... and what should be

That reader might be more perceptive than anyone at present realizes.  An e-mail  list is not an army. A year ago millions of people like myself were indeed “fired up and ready to go” knocking on doors,  and telephones,  and credit cards. Electronic networking was a terrific tool for turning ferment  into  political mobilization.  But I believe that Obama’s first six months in office has demobilized —  or at least immobilized — a significant part of his army:

Health care — If a “government option” is the extreme left of the debate (possibly even to be sacrificed through negotiation, and subject to mixed messages from the administration) the battle is already largely lost. Sure I favor single payer, but if it’s not even in the discussion, then the “progressive” side is at the mercy of insurance companies and related forces.

The Economy — The effort and money devoted to saving capitalism from itself dwarfs everything done for everyone else.  ’nuff said on the subject, except that…

War and Peace issues are  proceeding as promised, with a shrinking mess in Iraq and a growing one in Afghanistan/Pakistan. The economics of this “smarter”  superpower warfighting will cripple  progressive domestic initiatives, i.e.,  those that get past the snarls of Republicans, blue dogs, and the lobbyists they pay attention to.

Hope, by its nature, never entirely dies. Obama tapped into and became the symbol of a pwerful impulse. In office, he has blunted it.  Meanwhile the raving Right has increasing become the respectable opposition. This foretells failure at the top and dangerous mass polarization below. I do not want this to happen. But it seems that at this point Obama’s vaunted confidence  has led him into dangerous waters, and perhaps blinded him to necessary corrections of course. Read more…

The Washington Post and Israel

Today’s lead Washington Post editorial rejoices over the withdrawl of the putatively pro-Arab Charles Freeman as appointed head of Obama’s National Intelligence council. As the post now has online “debates” with the editorial board, I jumped in to say “shame on you” to the Post:

First read Post editorials every day, noticing the even tone and careful writing, even on positions you oppose. Then notice the patronizing slop that begins with “latest failed nominee peddles a conspiracy theory” in this editorial

Why? Because all debates start with assumptions of what is reasonable and respectable. And the best “spin” is that which reinforces a desired environment of assumptions.

It is only in the past few years that challenging what the Israeli Government and AIPAC et al. say is good for Israel has become even half-respectable. That is why the editorial can smugly equate the Israel Lobby (supporting muscular democracy — for Israeli Jews) and “Americans who support Israel” (I am one), going on to call Freeman’s statement “grotesque libel”.

And so the usually impeccably dressed editorial board drops its pants on this issue. It’s a good sign that consummate professionals and old-timers like Pincus and Broder can keep their heads — and belts — when the topic is Israel/Palestine.

The real story is a vicious tragedy in which the leaders on both sides embrace arrogance, hatred, and violence. American cheerleading for “Israel” a la the Post editorial makes things worse — but American political support and money have almost always sustained the catastrophe.

Perhaps Freeman meant “change” on this fundamental level. Then perhaps he was unseated by the combination of fear, influence and self-righteousness that can reasonably be called “the Israel Lobby.”

CABERNET OBAMA and the Grapes of Education

Vintage Clinton. Chateau Gates. Estate-bottled Geithner. Finding Obama’s appointments hard to swallow?  Well, take a deep breath and try these for the scoop on Arne Duncan, our Secretary-of-Ed to be:

and follow that by looking on Truthout for  Marc Ash’s “Be the Change,” which is probably the last word on where “progressives” now stand ( as I stand inside the rain…), and certainly better than what I could write. But exactly what I’m trying to say.

Letter to Bill Ayers

[For a more personal take, start with “Bienvenidos,” using the link at the right. Use the Truthout link to see what Bill Ayers had to say after months of being used as a Hillary-McPalin whipping boy against Obama. Looking forward: What, I ask Ayers, is his organizing perspective for these hopeful but perilous times?

no shame

no shame


1. Educators and parents know that you are a dedicated teacher.
2. Progressives of all kinds, including the commentators here [the responses to Ayers’ Truthout essay] AND the Obamas (I trust) know that you are and have been a smart and hardworking progressive for many, many years.
3. Sarah Palin and her audience “know” that you are an unrepentant badguy and enemy. In addition, the McPailin campaign believed (foolishly, in the event) that you would make a terrific bogeyman. As did Hillary.

So now, my brother, my question/opinion for the “movement that is always busy being born when its not busy dying.”: Our traditional role has been to speak truth to power and anyone else who will listen. And to try to “make” truth- based realities (good schools, mobilized voters, collectives, etc, etc,). When that is compared to the pain and misery especially our country has created or helped along, many crazy and stupid things seem called for. You did some of those, and in a different mode so did I and many other folks.

Some of us were able to recover from our fanaticism (as you know, others died or were destroyed — perhaps with their own cooperation). So now — among “us” — you are a source of strength and encouragement — and ideas.

But what are your ideas for reaching Barack and the rest of those who elected him? I.e. those who either believe the myths of American exceptionalism or believe that “realism” means not challenging it. The economy and the ecology are in crisis. They will form a conjuncture with our military, quasi-imperial investments, probably headlined by Afghanistan/Pakistan.

The times, I expect, will be a’changin’ even more in the next decade than they were in the Sixties. The election campaign could have — but did not — help prepare Americans for that. We need “change” that affects and includes many folks who believe that their own hard work and American superpower benevolence are all that we need.

As you know,

it ain’t so.

Where to go?

Peace When?

Hope springs...

Hope springs...

Well, here we are, soon to elect a new President. Among folks I know there are about as many supporting Cynthia McKinney as supporting John McCain. For the vast majority, the question has become How much — or how little — can we expect from an Obama presidency?

That begs the question, How much courage will Barack have to lead? We already have a crisis nearly everyone failed to even imagine — the economy — plus the ones many remain in denial about  — the planet, and war/peace. During the campaign, Obama has not shown that much courage;  many explain this as the compromises necessary for him to get elected.

I reject that reasoning,  even though  my expectations are not too different from those Obama-supporters who use it.  And with apologies to the ghost of Nadezha Mandelshtam, I have to say that the prospects for great things AFTER an Obama victory are a case of “hope against hope”.

But it’s not over until the fat lady sings — and the skinny lady concedes. So I am actively campaigning for my very intelligent and cautious candidate.


[Note:   If you want family, poetry, and medieval personal history first,
head to “Bienvenidos” from link at right.]

Imagine a world in which a baby born in Ecuador or Bangladesh has possibilities similar to one born in Potomac, Maryland or, say, various golden precincts of California. Impossible, many would say, or reserved for a distant galaxy in a different millenium.

Here’s what I say: This  vision — this utopia or New Jerusalem lacking all details except possibility — is the only worthwhile metric for thinking about current policy.  Our work, then, is learning and building in that direction. Crises, even existential crises, are not in this view pretexts for “realistic” solutions that increase inequality, deception and oppression.

In that light the 2008 presidential campaign is a failure .  An Obama administration — inshallah —  will not be.

Dead Afghan Kids (Collateral Damage)


The Washington Post, Oct. 9, 2008: Military Justifies Raid That Killed  Afghan Civilians.

Yes, I know it’s a cruel world. I also know that the “warrior ethic” lets you think and even weep, as long as that does not distract you from the Mission. The mission of the USA since 9-11 has been wrong, wrong, wrong. In the name of anti-terrorism we have conducted an orgy of military revenge and armored geopolitics. Bush was wrong, Cheney/Rumsfeld worse than wrong. McCain was and is wrong.

They are OUR children

They are OUR children

And Obama is wrong on this. He is campaigning for a bigger and more effective fighting force in Afghanistan, so we can do more than just kill civilians in air raids. He talks about killing Osama Bin Laden as if that  were one of the worst failures of the Bush administration. Yes, we must protect Americans, and help nations rebuild. But through the Defense budget?

The “truth” of this is small, but in appealing to our fear and unreflective, belligerent patriotism, Obama’s words have enormous consequence: How can we “change” the post 9-11 disaster of America’s role in the world when 1) we continue to deny that we do damage and increase emnity and 2) we appeal to the emotions that reinforce this denial ?

American imperial swagger (and coups and warfighting) did not of course begin in response to 9-11, or even in the Cold War. But hope lies in acknowledging that and working to establish America as a superpower for good — exactly what both McCain and Obama asserted in their last debate that we already are.

Radicals conclude from this that there’s not enough difference between the parties to make enough difference for the country or the world. I do not. Obama in ’08 — yes, but don’t expect to stop working for “change”.

“But I, being poor, have only my dreams” (click ‘Bienvenidos’ at right for the Yeats poem and more). My “dream” is that Presidents et al. would  know in their hearts FOR ALL CHILDREN the same love and pain that their mothers feel. . Never happen, you say?  Not literally, I say, but in a different sense, one of the few worlds worth working for. If you can take poetry in this context, you will understand why I am publishing here one of the poems I wrote in the months after 9-11:


In the Beauty of the Lilies

. Thou shalt love thy Afghani neighbor’s children as thyself

Already seen it.
From Glory to Hallelujah
from Fier Kashes to Four Agreements,
from ragas and Bach and Bob Dylan
to the coming of the joyous queers,
and their sad going.

My country calla su boca
sweet land of la vida loca,
sing life, sing death, read all
about it: collateral damage.
Deposit it on deep bunkers,
riverbanks and loan banks –
as if old men dreamed in darkness
and their dreams became spectacular cinema
and cinema became the fate of nations.
Now we brave gringos saw it
in the coming of the Boeings.

As when a baby, dreaming of the earthquake she has never known,
wakes to crawl unharmed from thunderous rubble,
so a tiny mercy is scratched with blasted girders
into our sunlight now
. bleached sunlight of common mourning
. plainlight of gathering,
. patchlight of human work.

And this precious child, her mouth filled with dust, has no one to meet her
but the astonished stranger who now must be her mother, father, sister, brother.

. David Almaleck Wolinsky

Democracy: We get what we (sort of) deserve


1. For Marc Ash’s essential “Are we ready for change?” use the  Truthout link or My (edited) response appears below

2.  For someone who is more optimistic about how we and Barack Obama may evolve than I am, Nancy Pace’s  thoughtful “epharmony”  can be reached from my Blogroll on the right.

HOPE? Michelle Obama spoke about this….

what should be, from what is

what should be, from what is


Now… The Bush administration almost self-destructed in 2004

Dear Marc Ash:

Tanks so much…oops, an honest typo is more real than “reality”.

Besides, you hardly need thanks for your 9-15 piece in Truthout. It happens that I read it after seeing Part 2 of the Washington Post’s excerpts from Bart Gelman’s Angler.  Now all of “us” know that we almost got a self-destruction of the Bush administration just before he was elected to another term. Here’s my summary: The Prez was out of the illegal wiretapping loop, as Cheney led the charge  for uncritical “renewal” of the President’s authority. The director of the FBI, along with the entire leadership of the Justice Dept.was about to resign over this. Bush was saved at the last minute when Condoleeza Rice, herself mostly out of the loop, managed to warn him via a top reluctant resigner, aka a high Republican official with principals. Read the original at

You cut to the “real” chase saying we will get from Obama only what we demand. Shakespeare, as usual, got there first, when Hamlet tells a scheming courtier “use every man after his desert, and who should ‘ scape whipping?”

A lot of good it would not do to be “right” about a country that votes against its own democracy and prosperity. I guess I’m just frightened. I’m the guy who thought Obama was good enough to take his cue from people like you, me (included for comic relief) and Cornel West — and the person who thought issues like your “Why 4,153 US Soldiers are dead and tens of thousands maimed for life? Why hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead?” could reasonably be an important part of this election campaign.

But I’m also one of the folks you had in mind when you wrote “Washington is Washington so don’t expect miracles.” Problem is, I’m not sure much less than miracles can prevent a version of what 1911 -1945 represented for so-called Western Civilization. The shadow of nuclear weapons, America as the new bully on the international block, and Dick Cheney have been nightmare enough.

I’m posting this — and inviting the advice of anyone who reads it. How can we help get a President Obama who does not represent the pragmatism and truth-avoidance of the campaign as it now stands. If issues like the basics of the economy or war goals are not seriously debated during the campaign, how will Barack be much more than a useful update on Bill? Granted that is “devoutly to be wished” (Hamlet again) but perhaps far less than an environment-economy-multipolar-world conjucture requires.

Do Prophets Run for President?

All my love/ none of my blood

All my love/ none of my blood

My grandson’s 5th birthday this week was a gathering of the tribe. Except there is no tribe; rather there’s a partially blended family. Lucas’s mom (and her mom, later to marry yours truly) came to the U.S. from Ecuador when she was four. Her husband was born in Baltimore, with Caribbean, and also older African roots. When they were married, I had been Jasmine’s stepdad for almost 20 years. You could say (if you have that sense of humor) that I am the token whiteboy in the family.

You could also say, truly, that Lucas has all of my love, much of my hope, and none of my blood.

How did this lead me to prophets and presidents? O course I would like Lucas to grow up in a happier and safer world than our present one. And sometimes I try to tell his mom that his future could reasonably play out in an America so ugly and damaged that it would make this one look like paradise. Or not play out at all. But that was not the discussion Saturday night.

I was planning to leave early (I am fighting some flu-like illness), when Jasmine’s brother checked in with me about Shakashvilli’s Georgia. Soon we were in an intense conversation about… Barack Obama. We were joined by my son-in-law’s cousin and his wife. Most of what follows started in the interchange with Khari and Matt. Poetry aside, dialog usually is my best form of thinking.

The bottom line is that I think Barack should replace half of his advisors (HYPERBOLE ALERT) with Cornel West. What I said  was that you can hear “the prophetic voice” in Obama’s earlier writing and speeches, but the “presidential” Obama parses and temporizes like a Clinton.

Now that’s not the worst thing in the world – and infinitely better than the present and would-be next Republican President. That’s why Obama can count on the vote of people like me (‘cept there ain’t none.) But jokes aside, is being better than the muscular Republicans good enough? Will it get us through 2012 – in a direction that also offers hope for Lucas and all of us?

This is not a trivial question, altho many people I know who ask that question are already involved the Green and other efforts. I do not think I can go there. And after listening to a contemporary who spent many years helping to build the Californian Green Party, that alternative is even less attractive. (Adrienne is supporting Barack.)

Look. We (and the Obama campaign, despite its Change mantra) act as if the world we know has existed for a long time, is pretty good, and will continue to get better as long as we are “realistic” as well as well-intentioned and smart about what we do. Not a useful assumption.

For one personal thing, civilization as both my parents’ parents (Central European Jews) knew it came to an end during World War II. The surviving descendants and immigrants are mostly here in the United States – and many of us are foolish enough to think that only Israel (meaning Jews) faces an existential threat.

Here in Frederick, MD (center of U.S. biochemical “defense” research) we were recently visited by to of the Hibakusha (MAKE LINK), survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombs. Ota (FULL NAME) said: We are getting old, we are afraid That the world is forgetting and that it will happen again. Impossible? Just because we squeaked through 60 years of cold war, local war… and local genocide? Think again. And Google “Arkhipov”. (Russian sub nuclear sub commander who would have launched during the Cuban Missile Crisis, if he had followed his protocols.)

For another thing, serious discussion of black/white issues are still mostly taboo (Jeremiah Wright may have gone over the top at the end, but most of what he said what elementary once you take the blinders off.) And the history of us and the folks who lived here before Europeans is not a serious part of our “story” either. Genocide is not a modern invention; we’re just much better at it since it became industrial-strength.

Speaking of industrial strength, we may have to refer to this as the post-Gore era. Whatever else you might say, “An Inconvenient Truth” made “terracide” part of the conversation. Man’s unnatural abuse of nature is just as future-threatening as man’s inhumanity to man.

We have also been self-deluding (partially from leftover racism) about the part of American and corporate power in the continuing misery of poor people both here and abroad. We are quite happy to point to their failures (which are real, as in e.g. internecine murder in the Arab world, Asia, and Africa, or assorted gangsters and rhetoricians at home) but always with a self-exculpating finger.

And for the rest of y’all, who think this is a bunch of “radical exaggeration”: When the economy breaks down enough everyone suddenly realizes that our large “middle class” is hurting too (and becoming smaller). It is alway there, but now it’s easier to see that it is “us” as well as “them” in trouble.

Why must Obama do something about the prevailing self-righteous mythology that allows Americans to abuse less-advantaged Americans, and just about everyone else? I’m not saying he could or should take it all head on (even though he probably knows more about this than many of his supporters and most opponents). It’s just that “progressive” denial has already got a Democratic party that continues to be whipped in Congress by an unpopular lame-duck administration. It’s made the debate over Iraq into a question of efficiency (Petraeus gets better results than his predecessors) rather than the price Iraqis and ourself have already paid, after we went in under false pretense and imperial oil-lust (cf. the first CIA-oil adventure in overthrowing Mossadeh in Iran in 1953).

And isn’t McCain already calling Obama a defeatist?

So Obama is complicit in conducting a conversation whose assumptions diminish the possibility of democratic debate and decision-making. That could help McCain win, or result in an Obama administration represented by 50,000 or more G.I.s (and contractors and oil companies) in Iraq indefinitely, anchored by the most elaborate and expensive fortress-embassy the world has ever seen. Not exactly a beacon of liberty in the struggle for hearts and minds.

Or Obama could listen less to his most “realistic” advisors, and more to the prophetic voice he has already shown exists inside himself. Or if you don’t like religious language, Obama could depend more on his own intelligence, “idealism” and richly differentiated understanding of how good and evil function in the world. He could decide that a formidable candidate can be a formidable LEADER. We could sure use one.

No, prophets do not run for President (nor do they have to spend much of their waking lives raising money). Abraham Lincoln did not right all wrongs and solve most problems, but he clearly saw himself as a leader in a time of crisis. He suffered along with his countrymen. He knew that to lead he needed to listen to the prophetic voice, aka “the better angels of our nature”.

A cynic would say that if he was a candidate today, the Great Railsplitter would be run out of town on a rail.

And I would say tthis: It would be a great and glorious irony if the first President to really tap that vein of Americanism since Lincoln was a black man. Despite some of the evidence, I still believe that is possible. It won’t make everything hunky-dory or Messiah-like, but it will put hope and change back where they belong – in the discourse of practical possibility.

God help us if Obama talks the talk and triangulates the walk. She doesn’t take kindly to strutting, powerful men. Or, in the long run, to Empires.

Fourth Amendment in Trouble

OPEN LETTER: Obama and the Democratic leadership have ‘compromised’ the Fourth Amendment

I submitted the following “comment” to the Obama campaign on July 9, as well as e-mailing it to a few dozen people.

“Obama/Dem capitulation on FISA:

Unconscionable by any reasonable perspective I can imagine.

Far more disturbing than much other “shift to center” stuff I’m also unhappy about.

If someone like myself concludes (certainly possible by now) that despite all his intelligence and moral depth, Barack has chosen to pair the rhetoric of hope with catastrophic “realism” (only way to get accepted, elected blah blah blah)….

…then its likely that many more centrist or even conservative-but-potential-Obama voters will suspect he is a slick faker, or has shaky principles at best.

If that happens, then his most pragmatic and realistic advisors will not only undermine any serious possibility of change, but perhaps even help elect John McCain in this seemingly most anti-Republican of times.

I hope someone out there is still listening, because there is a completely different way to put this: Barack must LEAD. That does not mean saying things I agree with. It does mean taking certain risks in using the campaign to promote serious democratic debate — about nasty realities from Irag/Afghanistan/Iran/Pakistan to hardcore poverty to uncivil liberties to the planetary economy.

These discussions can not be based on just what people already know, or think they know and believe. The worse things become, the more “triangulation” becomes pandering becomes incompetent (at best) leadership. That I should be raising these questions in reflecting upon the Obama campaign is already a deeply disheartening reality.

Please. How bad must things be before you act from an understanding that “transformation” is not some stupid lost-cause idealism, not some equivocal Clinton-like policy, but where the walk will meet the talk?

%d bloggers like this: