Cornel West & Obama

I was a supporter of Bill Bradley in the 2000 Democratic primary, largely because of a speech I saw him give in the spring of 1999 on race relations and the broken criminal justice system. Bradley was moralistic, clear-minded, and willing to talk about racism in a way that I’d never seen a white politician talk about it before. I saw Bradley again the night before the New Hampshire presidential primary. Bradley didn’t have the same fire and energy he had almost a year before and looked thoroughly worn-out by the campaign process. But introducing Bradley that night were the two most passionate and effective progressive speakers I’ve ever seen: Paul Wellstone and Cornel West. Wellstone gave a full-throated, fist-pumping speech to rally the crowd and West eloquently talked about the reasons he saw Brother Bradley as the best choice for President. I honestly don’t remember the details of either of their speeches well, but what was clear was that both Wellstone and West held exactly the same sort of view that I held about what a person’s political views should be, what the role of government should be, and how we can work together to make America a better place for all of its citizens.

Truthdig has a long article about Cornel West and his disappointment with President Obama. West was a strong and early support of Obama’s campaign. Yet Chris Hedges reports a massive rift that between himself and Obama, driven by Obama’s choices as President. West describes his disappointment at the opportunity Obama missed by not forcefully trying to stop the transfer of wealth from working Americans to wealthy elites and educate the public on the tragic path we were on by catering to Wall Street before Main Street:

“This was maybe America’s last chance to fight back against the greed of the Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats, to generate some serious discussion about public interest and common good that sustains any democratic experiment,” West laments. “We are squeezing out all of the democratic juices we have. The escalation of the class war against the poor and the working class is intense. More and more working people are beaten down. They are world-weary. They are into self-medication. They are turning on each other. They are scapegoating the most vulnerable rather than confronting the most powerful. It is a profoundly human response to panic and catastrophe. I thought Barack Obama could have provided some way out. But he lacks backbone.

“Can you imagine if Barack Obama had taken office and deliberately educated and taught the American people about the nature of the financial catastrophe and what greed was really taking place?” West asks. “If he had told us what kind of mechanisms of accountability needed to be in place, if he had focused on homeowners rather than investment banks for bailouts and engaged in massive job creation he could have nipped in the bud the right-wing populism of the tea party folk. The tea party folk are right when they say the government is corrupt. It is corrupt. Big business and banks have taken over government and corrupted it in deep ways.

“We have got to attempt to tell the truth, and that truth is painful,” he says. “It is a truth that is against the thick lies of the mainstream. In telling that truth we become so maladjusted to the prevailing injustice that the Democratic Party, more and more, is not just milquetoast and spineless, as it was before, but thoroughly complicitous with some of the worst things in the American empire.

Obviously this is an analysis of economic forces and the disenfranchising of working Americans to further the benefits of the Top 2% that I agree with. West goes further, in terms of his electoral prescription for a solution and identifying what needs to happen in America:

I don’t think in good conscience I could tell anybody to vote for Obama. If it turns out in the end that we have a crypto-fascist movement and the only thing standing between us and fascism is Barack Obama, then we have to put our foot on the brake. But we’ve got to think seriously of third-party candidates, third formations, third parties.

“Our last hope is to generate a democratic awakening among our fellow citizens. This means raising our voices, very loud and strong, bearing witness, individually and collectively. Tavis [Smiley] and I have talked about ways of civil disobedience, beginning with ways for both of us to get arrested, to galvanize attention to the plight of those in prisons, in the hoods, in poor white communities. We must never give up. We must never allow hope to be eliminated or suffocated.”

West is being very deliberate with his thoughts. He’s confronting himself for failing to recognize what was happening sooner and relying on the hope of Barack Obama’s potential over what he was seeing when Obama tapped Summers, Geithner, and Gates to help him run the country. This is an undoubtedly hard thing to come to terms with. I don’t doubt that civil disobedience by leading figures like West and Smiley is a necessary condition towards an awakening to the economic dangers our country face. As I wrote yesterday, I don’t know what it takes to pull together the disparate anger manifesting itself in pro-worker, pro-economic justice, pro-immigrant and racial justice movements. But these are all different symptoms of the same disease that ails America. I would love to hear more from Professor West about how he thinks these different threads can be tied together into an effective force for change.

The Cost of Our Choices

I read Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia last year and one comparison stood out about the scale of the bailout money given to Wall Street banks vis a vis the US housing market. It turns out this comes from Nomi Prin’s, It Takes a Pillage. Taibbi gives the full quote in his latest mailbag post at Rolling Stone:

Here are some numbers for you. There were approximately $1.4 trillion worth of subprime loans outstanding in the United States by the end of 2007. By the first quarter of 2009, there were foreclosure filings against approximately 4.4 million properties. If it was only the subprime market’s fault, $1.4 trillion would have covered the entire problem, right?

Yet the Federal Reserve, the treasury, and the FDIC forked out $13 trillion to fix the housing “correction”… With all that money, the government could have bought up every residential mortgage in the country – there were about $11.9 trillion worth at the end of December 2008 – and still have had about a trillion left over to buy homes for every American who couldn’t afford them.

What a simply stunning display of mistaken priorities.

Polarization

Matt Yglesias seems a bit surprised to find that polarization doesn’t always break on partisan lines but on ideological ones, looking at the example of Martin Luther King Jr. and George Wallace, who were both Democrats. But polarization isn’t limited to Red Team/Blue Team parameters, as set out by the DC press corps. King was a liberal, Wallace was a conservative. Moreover, on the issues of segregation and civil rights, King was the leading advocate for change and Wallace a leading obstacle for the change King sought. Wallace and his supporters – all conservatives, but of both parties – used violence, intimidation, and assassination as tools to fight civil rights. King preach non-violence and civil disobedience as a means to challenging segregation in America.

I do think Yglesias gets that ideology is a larger driver of polarization than partisan identification. But it cuts the other way as well. Just because Loughner may not have been citing his desire to vote for Sarah Palin for President doesn’t mean he wasn’t a conservative. And at heart, the GOP has played the Tea Party as a conservative movement, not a Republican one. If you doubt that, just ask the Tea Party, which goes to great lengths to say they aren’t a Republican front. The driving factor in the Republican base, the thing that their leaders speak to, is conservativism, not Republicanism. And so when events like this weekend’s assassinations happen, it is not relevant whether the shooter espouses Team R for Republican leaders to be culpable, only conservative ideas. While details are still emerging, it does seem like Loughner comes from the fringe areas of the conservative movement. The rhetoric on trial should rightly be viewed as conservative, not Republican.

Finally, Google.cn Is Shut Down

This should have been done four years ago, but it’s still great to see Google finally get to the right place and shut down Google.cn. The search engine was built to spec for the Chinese government, enabling their to be both censorship of search results and rigged returns for results that favored the Chinese government party line.

So earlier today we stopped censoring our search services—Google Search, Google News, and Google Images—on Google.cn. Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong. Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored, traditional Chinese service, also from Google.com.hk. Due to the increased load on our Hong Kong servers and the complicated nature of these changes, users may see some slowdown in service or find some products temporarily inaccessible as we switch everything over.

Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard. We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement.

Schrei vs Grunfeld

Josh Schrei takes on comments of China apologist Tom Grunfeld and really lays the smackdown. Schrei’s writing is a phenomenally clear rebuttal to the pro-colonialist arguments that because Tibet wasn’t, in fact, a Shangri La prior to China’s invasion in 1950, that Tibetans shouldn’t be able to ask for freedom and self-determination. Here’s an excerpt:

Tibet is a key issue for citizens of the world not, as Grunfeld would have us imagine, because of how it has been publicized. Its a key issue because it is an egregious example of colonialism and oppression which is still continuing unchecked today. Grunfeld and his cohorts can resort to any argument they can dig up or fabricate about ‘old Tibet.’ The current reality is that people in Tibet disappear for speaking their mind, monasteries are constantly under surveillance, prisoners are tortured, filmmakers are thrown in jail, protests are crushed, and an enduring colonial and racist mentality permeates all aspects of Sino-Tibetan relations.

Within this context, Grunfeld, like all good apologist/colonialist scholars, puts the blame and the burden on the oppressed people themselves. In this interview, Grunfeld seems to be saying to Tibetans and to the Dalai Lama:“If only you would acquiesce more, if only you wouldn’t publicize your issue so much, if only you would be more reasonable… then the hardliners wouldn’t have an excuse to be so nasty to you.”

The Imperative for Health Insurance Reform

I rarely do this on Hold Fast, but this is too incredible not to promote some work from my professional life at SEIU. The videos above is from a woman named Peggy Robertson. In the first she describes her experience of being told by her health insurance company that she was only eligible for coverage, because she had a c-section in the past, if she was sterilized. She was perfectly healthy, but her health insurance company would only cover her if she followed their requirement to be sterilized. The second video is of Peggy describing the trouble she had getting coverage for her healthy two year old son because he was “too small.”

Yesterday Peggy testified on the Hill at a hearing held by Senator Barbara Mikulski. Her story outraged Mikulski, who called it “bone-chiling” and the insurance policy “morally repugnant.” If there is any clearer imperative for massive insurance reform than Peggy’s story, I shudder to imagine what it might be.

Write your member of Congress and tell them that we need health insurance reform now to ensure that no company is ever again allowed to try to force a woman to be sterilized or deny coverage to healthy children.

NYT on Tibetan Monks’ Protests Stories

Ed Wong of the New York Times has a simply brilliant article documenting stories from Tibetan monks who have recently escaped into exile following participating in protests in the spring of 2008 in support of Tibetan independence.

“If we monks hadn’t seized the opportunity to express our feelings, which are feelings in all Tibetan monks, then we would have missed a chance to tell the world,” said Lobsang, 24, a squat man with a thin goatee who now lives in India. Following Tibetan custom, he goes by his given name.

The journalists left later that afternoon without knowing the names or the fates of the protesters. Some would be arrested and beaten, Lobsang said. For him and two other monks, it was the start of a harrowing year of flight from the Chinese authorities that ended only last month, when they arrived in this Himalayan hill town where the Dalai Lama lives in exile.

Over that year, the monks slipped out of their monastery, trekked into the mountains, slept in nomads’ tents, sneaked into Lhasa aboard a high-altitude train and crossed a raging river to Nepal. It was only here in a refugee center that they could tell their tale to a reporter, opening a rare window into the deep-rooted resentment that bloomed last year into the largest Tibetan uprising in decades.

Chinese officials insist that the protests were orchestrated by the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans. The monks from Labrang say harsh Chinese policies sparked the tinder, especially limitations on Buddhist practice.

“I and my friends decided on our own to protest,” Lobsang said. “The protests were caused by human rights issues and Chinese policies toward Tibet. We couldn’t tolerate it anymore.”

He added, “I joined the protests with the idea of saving Buddhism, which is endangered by Chinese policy. I want His Holiness the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet, but the Chinese don’t even allow us to display his picture.”

Wong goes on to relay the incredible details of Lobsang’s protest and subsequent escape from authorities, as well as those of other monks involved in protests. It’s a must read.