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Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Revenge of the nerds

SCIENCE!

“President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who heads the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to be the next Energy Secretary, Democratic sources said today. He also has picked veteran regulators to fill out his environmental and climate team…

…The son of highly educated Chinese immigrants, Chu won the Nobel Prize in 1997 for his work in the “development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.”

But, in an interview last year with The Post, Chu said that he began to get more interested in energy and climate change several years ago. “I was following it just as a citizen and getting increasingly alarmed,” he said. “Many of our best basic scientists realize that this is getting down to a crisis situation.”

He sought and won the top job at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in order to focus on energy issues. Chu is in London and was unavailable for comment, but the physicist has been, in the words on his Web site, on a “mission” to make the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory “the world leader in alternative and renewable energy research, particularly the development of carbon-neutral sources of energy.”

Damn, it’s nice to have people in charge of agencies where they actually understand the material.

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Two quick takes off the New York Times this morning:

“Barack Obama plans to use his full name, Barack Hussein Obama, at his inauguration.”

And…

“For the first time, a gay and lesbian band will be marching in a presidential inauguration.

Barack Obama’s Presidential Inaugural Committee has chosen the Lesbian and Gay Band Association, with members from across the country, to march in the inaugural parade in Washington on Jan. 20.”

After 8 years in the desert, even the progressive little details are refreshing.

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Obama and the workers

Since 1965, the Republic Windows and Doors Company has been manufacturing vinyl windows and sliding doors in Chicago.  Last week, Bank of America informed the company that its line of credit had been canceled due to declining sales, probably related to the housing market collapse.  Republic’s management subsequently informed its 250 employees that they were being laid off with literally three days notice, and, according to the bank’s terms, would not receive any severance or back vacation pay.

Normally, this is where it ends.  The long-term decline of labor, which isn’t an accident, has left workers with little bargaining power vis-a-vis management.  So it came as a surprise when Republic’s employees stood up and fought back:

“Workers laid off Friday from Republic Windows and Doors, who for years assembled vinyl windows and sliding doors here, said they would not leave, even after company officials announced that the factory was closing.

Some of the plant’s 250 workers stayed all night, all weekend, in what they were calling an occupation of the factory.”

Most of the staff are members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers.  Approximately 80% are Hispanic, making an average salary of $14 an hour.  They’ve dug up an old-time tactic, currently more common in Argentina than America.  They are demanding their severance and vacation pay, as well as criticizing the company for failing to give them the 60 days notice required under federal law for mass layoffs.  Workers claim that the management knew about the situation in advance, removing heavy equipment in the middle of the night before Thanksgiving while informing staff that all was well.  Subsequent revelations don’t make the company look any better.  Workers are also blaming Bank of America, who recently received $25 billion in government bailout funds and refused to comment on the situation other than passing the blame back to Republic:

“Neither Bank of America nor any other third party lender to the company has the right to control whether the company complies with applicable laws or honors its commitments to its employees.”

Normally, Democrats rely on labor support while quietly whacking it with a stick.  So it was surprising and encouraging to see President-elect Obama come out in support of the Republic workers:

“When it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right,” Obama said Sunday…What’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.

When you have a financial system that is shaky, credit contracts. Businesses large and small start cutting back on their plants and equipment and their workforces. That’s why it’s so important for us to maintain a strong financial system. But it’s also important for us to make sure that the plans and programs that we design aren’t just targeted at maintaining the solvency of banks, but they are designed to get money out the doors and to help people on Main Street. So, number one, I think that these workers, if they have earned their benefits and their pay, then these companies need to follow through on those commitments.”

Labor, management, and bank representatives remain in negotiations with 60 workers at a time occupying the plant according to planned 8-hour shifts.  The workers have been visited by U.S. Representatives Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky, as well as random people stopping by with food, water, and other supplies.

David Corn, writing in The Nation, puts this developing story in important context:

“Much has been made about the prospect that Barack Obama’s presidency might, due to economic necessity and the president-elect’s interventionist inclinations, be a reprise of the New Deal era.

But there will be no “new New Deal” if Americans simply look to Obama to lead them out of the domestic quagmire into which Bill Clinton and George Bush led the country with a toxic blend of free-trade absolutism, banking deregulation and disdain for industrial policy. Just as Roosevelt needed mass movements and militancy as an excuse to talk Washington stalwarts into accepting radical shifts in the economic order, so Obama will need to be able to point to some turbulence at the grassroots.”

President Obama may be progressive, not progressive, or just right.  (And yes, the debate continues on OpenLeft.)  The point is, he’s subject to pressure.  There’s a famous (if possibly apocryphal) story about a group of party activists who approached Roosevelt with policy suggestions shortly after his election.  FDR replied to their demands saying “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.”  Roosevelt didn’t save capitalism in a vacuum.  He faced pressure from local government, the labor movement, and yes Virginia, the Communist Party.  What Time called “thunder on the left” helped drag Roosevelt towards the progressive positions we credit him with today.

President-elect Obama’s positive response to the Republic sit-down is an encouraging sign.  Government can be as progressive as the public demands it be.  Chicago city officials are already discussing canceling all business deals with Bank of America due to these developments.  If you’re in the area, you can stop by 1333 North Hickory with contributions of food or messages of support.  If not, please at least sign the UE’s petition or donate to their solidarity fund via Paypal.

You voted for change – Now make them do it.

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Johnson, Buchanan, Ford.  These are Presidential names.  Not so much “Obama.”  Database searches suggest there are less than 20 Obama families in the United States, compared to more than 10,000 Clintons and 60,000 Bushes.  The election has granted this handful of mini-celebrities a new set of privileges:

Nicanor Obama began to realize he might be on to a good thing when he didn’t get a speeding ticket not long ago. After stopping the 28-year-old for a little lead-footing near the Verizon Center, a District police officer looked at his driver’s license and put the citation book away.

“He said, ‘Well, I’m going to let you go because you have the Obama name’ ” is how the Arlington County resident recalled the encounter.

The rarity of the name means that people are asking non-Presidential Obamas for inauguration tickets.  No, they aren’t all related.  The name is actually more common in west Africa, Equatorial Guinea in particular, than in Barack’s father’s native Kenya.  The country’s recent Prime Minister shares his name with the President-elect, as does this random Equatoguinean The Guardian dug up.

There’s also Obama, Japan, a lucky little town of 30,000 with a song and everything.  Susie Obama, a Florida real estate investor, gets emails from confused Japanese greeting the new first lady.  It’s about time Susie got some love, as she explains:

“I’m so glad Obama is finally a good guy. I really had a hard time for a while there with Osama.”

You’re not alone, Susie.  You’re not alone.

*We’re going to be a little slow for the holiday.  Bear with us and we’ll pick the content up again soon.  Thanks, loyal reader (s?)

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The Obama effect

For months we heard rumours that Obama was some kind of closet Panther, hiding his afro pick while plotting revolution.  Starting around 11 PM on November 4, the same people who made these claims suddenly decided he was actually a center-rightist, that his victory reflected America’s inherant conservatism.

Obviously, this put actual black nationalists in a weird spot. Today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution featured a piece by Muhammad Yungai, a Decatur, Georgia artist and self-identified member of this group:

“As a black nationalist I have considered myself an American only as a technicality or an accident of birth. I’ve never hoisted the red, white and blue, only the red, black and green. I gave up on the American dream a longtime ago. I have worked and looked forward to autonomy and self-determination in our communities. I never imagined that I would live long enough to see an African-American president. I never even believed that I would live to see a black Miss America. But America fooled me! Even as I predicted an Obama nomination and then a presidential win, the reality of what happened on Nov. 4 still has me totally stunned.”

Yungai, whose excellant website is as aesthetically threatening as a puppy wrapped in a blanket, goes on to express his optimism at this development:

“And now we have a President Obama! The mold has been irrevocably broken! The possibilities of opportunity in American life have been exponentially expanded.”

The ongoing structural inequalities in American socioecomics keep Yungai appropriately skeptical.  However, he describes the election as “psyche-shattering” and, as per the title, is “revisiting [his] stance.”

The article is here.  The cynic notes of course that the Journal-Constitution would never have run this piece of Yungai had attacked Obama as a race-traitor; it’s much more palatable as an inspiring conversion to Americanism.  That said, it’s a notably unique perspective.  I will paypal $2 to any commenter who can find another mainstream editorial featuring the phrase: “As a black nationalist…”  So good on Yungai and the Journal-Constitution for expanding the discourse on the op-ed page beyond the usual suspects.

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The zeitgeist

If McCain had won, would be see anything like this?  And they sell t-shirts too!

Awesome!

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Election Day comedown has led to a series of flippant victory / schadenfreude / “woo, us!” posts in a row. But I know you rely on (us / other blog) for substantial, in-depth analysis of actual issues, so I figured it’s time for some of that.

MEMO

To: Howard Dean

From: James Carville, Terry McAuliffe, Harold Ford, the Clinton family, the national media

In re: DNC chair

“Dear Dr. Dean: We’re sorry.”

Lost in the Obamania was the utter vindication of Dr. Dean’s view of the Democratic Party. In four years, Governor Dean went from a universal punch line to the party chairman presiding over the recapture of the House, Senate, and White House. He did this despite dismissal by the national media, an internal coup attempt by party leadership, and various threats from the corporate donors who comprised the party’s fundraising base under prior Chairman Terry McAuliffe. Dean’s approach included the much-derided “50 state strategy;” major spending on party infrastructure instead of simply targeting candidates around elections; a focus on small donors; and a general shift to a decentralized party model.

It wasn’t easy. From before he took office, Dr. Dean was under fire. Folks at the Democratic Leadership Committee (DLC), the centrist (read: corporatist) wing of the party, saw Dean as a populist rabble-rouser. The line of attack was that Dean was too radical, couldn’t relate to big donors, and would drive the party into a McGovernite ditch. A number of consultants, including Dean’s former campaign manger Joe Trippi and the very conservative Democrat Mike McCurry, supported Simon Rosenberg of the centrist New Democrat Network over Dean for the chairmanship. Harry Reid, and more surprisingly Nancy Pelosi, backed anti-choice social security privitizer Tim Roemer, while uber-insider Donnie Fowler (the 37-year old son of a former DNC chair) also criticized Dean as too far left. Perhaps because of the split among the three little moderates, Dean eventually won out. Reid and Pelosi came around as the perceived centrists dropped out, leaving the party to its new Vermont Commissar.

Dean hadn’t seen anything yet. The Democrats rolled up big wins in the 2006 midterms, but this only intensified the attacks. Top consultants argued that the chairman had wasted party money on infrastructure that could have been spent to try and steal a handful more marginal seats. Rumours floated of a DNC “putsch” as James Carville, the oddly-shaped, long-time Clinton surrogate, namedropped the milquetoast Blue Dog millionaire Harold Ford:

“Suppose Harold Ford became chairman of the DNC. How much more money do you think we could raise? Just think of the difference it could make in one day. Now probably Harold Ford wants to stay in Tennessee. I just appointed myself his campaign manager.”

(Ford, failed Congressional candidate and scion of a Memphis political dynasty, hands out business cards with the 10 commandments on them.) Carville, at the center of much of this, called Dean “Rumsfeldian,” while prime-time consultant Paul Begala derided the 50 state strategy as “hiring a bunch of staff people to wander around Utah and Mississippi and pick their noses.” Even before the 2006 midterms, The New Republic reported that supporters of then-presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton were “laying the groundwork to circumvent the DNC in the event that [she] wins the nomination.” Rahm Emannual, traditionally a DLC-centrist, beefed with Dean from his post at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC.) (The DCCC thought Dean’s infrastructure spending rate was too high, and still preferred Terry McAuliffe’s previous approach of simply tossing money at Congressional races every cycle.)

The chairman was also uncomfortable glad-handing billionaires, and many of the big donors who had formed the base of the McAuliffe operation were reluctant to work with him. Although the fundraising eventually picked up, Dean remained estranged from the Wall Street wing of the party — people who felt no compulsion about threatening his position on behalf of Hillary Clinton as the 2008 nomination fight dragged on.

Eventually, Obama wins out and Hillary lines up behind him. (She’s always at her best for valedictories.) The epic success of the Obama campaign owes a massive debt to Howard Dean in his roles as both a presidential candidate and the DNC chair. Here’s a list:

  • Using the web: Working from Dean and Trippi’s 2004 internet insurgent model, the campaign used mybarackobama.com as the one-stop shop for campaign work and information. When the GOP went negative, the team unleashed fightthesmears.com, dedicated solely to debunking the kind of slanders that sank John Kerry’s swiftboat in 2004. The Obama team also hired the co-founder of Facebook and introduced text messaging as the 21st century direct mail.
  • Small donors: Obama’s wave of small donors rewrote campaign fundraising norms. Thanks to Obama’s use of the internet to solicit funds and organize meetups, Phil Nash of Campaign Advantage described the Illinois Senator as “Howard Dean 2.0.”
  • Playing offense…: The 50 state strategy was an investment plan. Rather than picking competative states every election cycle, aiming to win the Presidency with 270 electoral votes, the idea was to remake the Democrats from a regional party to something bigger. This meant throwing money at party offices in Bumblefuck, Nowhere, even if it’s only a matter of cutting an election loss from 25% to 15% in the short-term. Instead of fetishizing Ohio and Florida as “swing states,”, the Obama campaign utilized its army of volunteers to compete in Tom Schaller’s “new West” (New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada,) as well as the outer south (Virginia and North Carolina, which Schaller was wrong about.) We lost Montana by three points. MONTANA! (And, won a House seat in Idaho)
  • …and localizing campaigns: Begala’s nose-picking staffers were the ones reshaping the Democrats as a national majority, forcing the GOP (which has now been officially wiped out in the northeast) to blow resources defending their own turf. Rather than shipping in a handful of consultants, the party relied on historically massive local staff operations.

This is the way to build a national party, and Democrats are well-positioned going into 2010. The excellent Chuck Todd, in his Clinton campaign obituary, notes the overall changing of the guard in the last two election cycles:

“The midterm elections taught many Democratic activists (including those superdelegates) that they didn’t need the Clintons to win elections anymore.

The Democrats won Congress and a majority of governorships without substantial help from the Clintons. Sure the two raised money for the party and for candidates whenever asked, but it wasn’t Clintonistas or Clinton’s Democratic philosophy or ideology that was helping these candidates win.”

The leadership of the Democratic Party right now is Obama, Dean, and Pelosi; none of whom owe a plugged nickel to the Clinton machine. This represents a massive, massive step forward for a party who spent the last decade in the wilderness trying to be GOP-lite around consultant-tested messages while the House and Senate majorities atrophied to nothing.

Dr. Dean’s people-power approach was the perfect fit for such an inspirational candidate. Obama was uniquely capable of connecting Dean’s middle-class, white, college-liberal audience with the traditional Democratic base in the African-American community. This strategic combination forged a landslide, while laying the ground-level infrastructure for future campaigns. From the beginning, Dean and Obama worked well together to shape a unified approach; and Obama’s retention of Dean at the DNC symbolized his agreement with the party’s strategic direction.

Here’s a Republican who gets it. So celebrate the victory, pass the chairman some walking-around money, and get local; because, thanks to Dr. Dean, the Democratic Party is back in your hands.

*UPDATE:  Donnie Fowler (or at least some intern at his consulting firm), took the time to respond in the comments thread.  Check it out, since he clarifies his position, and you can get his organization here:  http://www.fowlercrumley.com/

To be fair, Rosenberg has also come around:  http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2007/11/the-50-year-strategy.html/

I was criticizing their runs against Dean for DNC chair, not their subsequent, more supportive statements.  So credit where it’s due, and thanks for checking in, Donnie!

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This is how National Review describes a completely voluntary call to national service:

Friday, November 07, 2008

Arbeit Macht Frei [John Derbyshire]

Corvée labor, a/k/a “community service.”

Those of us over 55 are not excluded, I see. Shall we have to build our own camps, I wonder, like zeks?

For those of you who don’t get the reference, “arbeit macht frei” translates roughly to “work makes you free;” and was written on the gates at Dachau, Theresienstadt, and numerous other Nazi concentration camps.
To paraphrase Charles Pierce:  “If Derbyshire thinks Obama is a fascist, he couldn’t have found a fascist at Mussolini’s bachelor party.”
This isn’t some Idaho militiaman either; National Review is the leading conservative magazine in America.  But then, what should we expect from the home of fatty fascist-finder Jonah Goldberg?

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The Sofia News Agency reports:

“In a rare move, the majority and the opposition in the Bulgarian Parliament united Wednesday around the opinion that the election of the first US African-American President, Democrat Barack Obama is a symbol of change and proof that America remains a truly democratic country.”

The Chairman of the leading opposition party said:  “Barack Obama is the epitome of the American dream. It is wonderful when dreams come true.”  This is the Sofia News Agency’s lead story as of Thursday night.

It’s nice to see Obama bringing people together.  The opposition has raised five no-confidence motions in the last two years, so this is no small gesture.  Change we can believe in.

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“Somewhere in the universe, a gear in the machinery shifted.”

-Eldridge Cleaver on Rosa Parks

I haven’t Cleaver’s way with words, so I hope you’ll forgive my reducing history to one man’s personal narrative of 12 hours of chaos.  At best, this will fade into the millions of personal sketches that comprise the people’s history hiding behind any newspaper headline.

Two fucking years of this stuff boiled down to one day worth of drinking, voting, waiting, waiting, drinking, waiting, and drinking again.  We kicked off at Busboys and Poets, Andy Shallal’s Washington leftist landmark.  (I met Shallal when he guest-lectured on business and peacebuilding; he’s fantastic.)  Busboys is a good place to spot Dennis Kucinich and his amazon wife.  Unfortunately, the place was packed like sardines in a Chongqing bus, (line around the block,) and eventually we left for more breathable climes.

Second option was a dead little Ethiopian restaurant. There must’ve been four people in the place when our group showed up and promptly piled bottle after bottle of honey wine on top of the prior stuff.  By the time they called Ohio for Hopey, everyone was shitfaced.  At this point I started texting WIN! to 18 people at a time, even while it was still technically too early to call the election.

Once Virginia came around, the entirety of DC hit the street.  Here’s photographic evidence, and the videotape.  (Sadly, we lack footage of Mireille shrieking “I LIVE IN BLUE VIRGINIA!” for the next four hours.)  Open bottle laws went the way of the permenant Republican majority, and people were passing champagne bottles (and what I believe was heroin) along the street.  I don’t think I’ve ever hugged so many strangers.

A few thousand people marched in the rain to the White House, a sort of traveling Woodstock complete with SDS signs.  Chants of “Yes we can!” and “U-S-A!” rang out in Lafayette Park as a revelers welcomed their new patriotic hero with the funny name.  Amidst the crowd I see a familiar-looking woman, and amidst the vodka I approach her.  “Excuse me, but you look exactly like Joan Baez.”  The woman puts her hands on her face, smiles, and replies: “I wonder why?”  And then, piss-drunk at 3 AM on election night at the White House, Joan Baez hugs me.

Last night was spectacular. This morning, Washington ran out of newspapers.  DCist reports that the Washington Post printed special editions to distribute Wednesday evening.  I got home to Eastern Market around 6:30, and there was a line around the block outside the CVS.  I was carrying a paper I had bought on the way to work this morning, and three people asked me where I got it — two yelled out of car windows, one offering to buy it.  (If anyone has a copy of the New York Times, name your price.)

Undoubtedly, you all have your own stories.  It’s a rare day when an editorial cartoonist brings tears to your eyes:

Having just hugged Joan Baez, I called my mother.  It was 3 AM and I’d spoken to her earlier, but I figured it was worth waking her up again.  My mother is the most patriotic person I know.  Working for Gene McCarthy at 14, she organized a walkout of her Rockaway middle school to protest the Vietnam War.  A few years later she considered joining the Weathermen.

My mother is the most patriotic person I know.  Her parents had campaigned for communist New York City councilman Ben Davis up in Harlem, and her aunt (who used to feed me Ricola cough drops as a kid) is the subject of a 91-page, largely-redacted FBI file. My mother was raised by people who inhabited a unique social and political culture, one which simply ceased to exist with the decline of the old left and the dissipation of working-class Jewish neighborhoods in New York.  My grandparents, raised in this Yiddish socialism, still see America more as the place they are than as the place they are of.

Stuck between this passing world epitomized by my great-uncle’s charcoal drawings of Paul Robeson, and the often flaky, psychoanalytic approach of the early 70s left, my mother developed a strongly class-based political consciousness devoid of both the Yiddishkeit of her parents and the hippie ethos of her generation.  Without either, she clung to a certain cultural Americanism, maybe best described as either Woody Guthrie’s red-dirt radicalism or the likely politics of the love-child of Mark Twain and Emma Goldman.

My mother is the most patriotic person I know.  She told me that she’s tried her whole life to ensure that my sister and I grow up feeling like America is our country, rather than just our home, because it took her so long to come to that conclusion.  She doesn’t fly a flag on her house, and I’m not sure she could sing you the national anthem, but that was me leading the drum line cadences in the Veterans’ Day parade and that was my sister camped out at the revolutionary war reenactment at Ticonderoga.

My mother is not a central-casting patriot.  She disdains the accoutrements of country, is uncomfortable praising a government simply because she lives under it, and tends to exist in a perpetual state of dissent.  Sadly, these traits are often mistaken for (when not deliberately spun as) indicators of ambivalence towards the fundamental promise and potential that this country has offered four generations of my family.  My mother has simply been waiting:  Waiting for a politician to talk straight with her; waiting for a politician to inspire people rather than just scaring them; waiting for a politician to reach out to people who are used to being ignored; waiting for a politician to, as John Edwards once said so well, “be patriotic about something other than war.”

So I called my mother at 3 in the morning last night to tell her that I just hugged Joan Baez in front of the White House a few hours after 64 million Americans handed a landslide victory to a half-Kenyan man, middle-named “Hussein,” raised by a single mother.  And to this my mother said the thing I’ll leave you with:

“I am amazed by your generation.”

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