White House Pressures Anti-War Democrats to Support War Funding Bill

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Over the past few weeks–and really years–we’ve harped on the Democrats unwillingness to mount a serious challenge to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s critical that someone do that, because for all the talk of them being “Bush’s wars,” the simple fact is that they wouldn’t have been possible without the Democrats’ complicity. Most often, this has meant the Democrats’ willingness to come through with continued funding for the war.

Last week, we reported that the Democrats have drafted a “compromise” on the current war funding bill that they hope will get anti-war Democrats on board. Rather than add measures that would appeal to those anti-war legislators, the leadership has instead added unrelated measures such as cash incentives for consumers that purchase fuel efficient cars.

Over the weekend, it also came out that the White House is using Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to pressure progressive legislators to support the bill. According to media reports, the administration is targeting freshman members of Congress–many who were elected in part on their anti-war platform–to pressure them to change their votes. The White House is allegedly threatening to pull support from those legislators come reelection time. Emanuel has also reportedly offered to cut deals with Republicans who are willing to support the legislation, saying that the Democrats will go easy on them in the 2010 elections. Obama has also reportedly entered the fray and is calling members of the House to secure their vote.

I think it’s pretty telling that the so-called “attack dog” Rahm Emanuel–who many liberals defended as being necessary to push legislation through Congress against obstructionist Republicans–is being used by the Obama administration to target progressive lawmakers. It says a lot about where they are at on foreign policy, although it really isn’t much of a surprise. He has been consistently in support of the wars since 2007, but most of his supporters ignored it and hoped that he would somehow change his mind once in office. Clearly, that didn’t–and obviously wouldn’t–work, but now we’re seeing the results of that mistake with the continued support for the war in Iraq and the escalation of the Afghanistan War.

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Democrats Reach “Compromise” on War Funding Bill

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Democratic negotiators have reached a compromise on a supplemental spending bill that will continue to fund the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill–which had become the source of unexpected controversy after provisions to fund the IMF and to ban the release photos showing abused detainees–is now back on track for passage according to several media sources.

The “compromise” has nothing to do with the funding of the two wars–which the Democratic leadership is more than happy to do–but rather it focuses on President Barack Obama’s commitment to block the release of the detainee photos. Obama personally intervened in the debate over the bill and said that he will do everything he can to make sure the photos are never released.

A further compromise was reached on the question of trying Guantanamo Bay detainees in the U.S., with the bill giving Obama the ability to order detainees back to the U.S. for trial through September 30. It sidesteps the larger question about what to do with the detainees over the long-term.

The bill also includes $7.7 billion for fighting swine flu, $1 billion dollars to be use for an incentive program to get consumers with inefficient cars to turn them in for vouchers towards more efficient cars, and $5 billion to establish a $100 billion line of credit for the IMF.

What’s notably absent from the “compromise” is any discuss of the war funding. There are no measures aimed at curtailing the Obama administration’s capacity to maintain the two occupations.

Two anti-war lawmakers in the House of Representatives–Dennis Kucinich and Lynn Woolsey–are calling on opponents of the war to reject the compromise and maintain their opposition to the bill. In a letter sent to their colleagues they write:

Despite the current focus on disagreements over funding for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, the primary intent of this legislation is to continue funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Members who remain opposed to continued, prolonged or protracted war or occupation on one or more fronts we must make clear our strong opposition and work to defeat this bill. It is notable that attempts to make important changes to the legislation, such as the call for an exit strategy from Afghanistan… have been rebuffed.

Voting down the funds for war honors the mandate to end the war in Iraq that was given to this body by the American people in November of 2006. Furthermore, defeat of the War Supplemental sends a clear message about U.S. priorities at home and abroad.

Sadly, over the past six years Democrats have completely refused to make ending the Iraq War–or even restricting its operation in any substantive manner–a serious issue and instead have repeatedly compromised on funding bills out of fear of appearing as though they don’t “support the troops.” From Obama–who has pursued a policy that will maintain a U.S. presence in Iraq indefinitely–to Michigan Senator Carl Levin, the Democratic Party has been a willing accomplice to the U.S. war, both before the invasion and during the occupation.

Nader Charges Democrats Offered to Pay Him to Stay Off Ballot in 2004

Ralph Nader

Last week, the Washington Post reported that Ralph Nader was offered money by Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair Terry McAuliffe to drop out of the presidential race in 2004. Nader said in an interview that McAuliffe offered him money–which he believes were Democratic Party funds–that he could spend in 31 states if he agreed not to campaign in 19 “battle ground” states. Nader said that he immediately rejected the offer, saying that “It’s completely inappropriate. The inappropriate behavior cannot be rationalized.”

Terry McAuliffe is currently running for governor of Virginia and his campaign has denied the allegations. A McAuliffe advisor said that he “engaged in a conversation with Nader to try to convince him not to run, or at the very least to not compete in the targeted battleground states” but that he did not offer Nader money. According to media reports, McAuliffe did offer to send Nader around the country to talk about issues–on the DNC’s dime–if Nader agreed to limit his campaign. Under federal law, that is legal, although it’s pretty hard to imagine being able to justify such an offer.

While it has largely been forgotten, Democrats engaged in an aggressive campaign to keep Nader off the ballot in 2004. It included lawsuits, public appeals, and other tactics–most of which was justified under the guise that Nader was simply a “spoiler” and that he “cost” Al Gore the presidency in 2000.

How’s that for democracy? It’s the kind of slimy, anti-democratic behavior that makes so many people swear off electoral politics.

Headlines: White House Asks Court to Block Torture Photos’ Release; Nader: Ex-DNC Chair Offered Money to Drop Out of ’04 Race

Democracy Now Headlines: White House Asks Court to Block Torture Photos' Release; Nader: Ex-DNC Chair Offered Money to Drop Out of '04 Race

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

White House Asks Court to Block Torture Photos’ Release

The Obama administration has formally requested the censorship of hundreds of photos of torture committed at U.S. prisons overseas. On Thursday, the administration asked a federal appeals court to block the photos on the grounds they would incite violence against U.S. troops. The administration’s court filing cited two secret statements from top U.S. generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno, who have both lobbied for blocking the photos’ release.

Admin Denies Photos Depict Rape, Sexual Abuse

The move came one day after the head of the Abu Ghraib inquiry, Major General Antonio Taguba, said the photos include images of the rape and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs denied the claim.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: “I think the Pentagon has been very clear in a statement saying that the story is not true. I want to speak generally about some reports I’ve witnessed over the past few years in the British media, and in some ways, I’m surprised it filtered down.”

Anti-Torture Activists Call for Prosecutions, Photos’ Release

Meanwhile here in New York, anti-torture activists with the group World Can’t Wait held a protest at Grand Central Station calling for the photos’ release. Protesters donned orange jumpsuits and black hoods similar to those worn by Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Samantha Goldman of World Can’t Wait rejected the Obama administration’s argument for censoring the photos.

Samantha Goldman: “What enflames anti-American sentiment is U.S. military bases around the world, what enflames anti-U.S. sentiment is torture, is what we’re actually going over there to do. That’s what enflames anti-American sentiment, prosecuting the criminals, which, to do that, you need the photos to be released, to actually prosecute Bush era criminals, you would need to have the photos as evidence.”

Report: Cables Indicate Doctor Role in Zubaydah Torture

The investigative website ProPublica is reporting a team of doctors may have been involved in monitoring the torture of suspected al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in August 2002. Secret CIA cables contain several ‘medical updates’ on Zubaydah’s interrogation, where he was waterboarded at least 83 times. The updates contain detailed information that suggests doctors actively monitored the waterboarding in what would be a violation of medical ethics.

Obama Renews Call for Israeli Settlement Freeze

President Obama hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House Thursday for their first formal talks. Obama criticized the Israeli government for rejecting his call to stop expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank, but also expressed tacit support for the Palestinian Authority’s repression of opposition groups in the West Bank through its U.S.-trained security forces.

President Obama: “On the Israeli side those obligations include stopping settlements. They include making sure that there is a viable potential Palestinian state. On the Palestinian side it’s going to be important and necessary to continue to take the security steps on the West Bank that President Abbas has already begun to take, working with General Dayton. We’ve seen great progress in terms of security in the West Bank.”

The Israeli government has put itself at odds with Obama over its refusal to end settlement growth and accept the principle of Palestinian statehood. Abbas said the key to peace lies in Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab lands.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: “Mr. President, I believe that the entire Arab world and the Islamic world, they are all committed to peace. We’ve seen that through the Arab League Peace Initiative that simply talks about land for peace as a principle. I believe that if the Israelis would withdraw from all occupied Palestinian, Syrian, and Lebanese land, the Arab world will be ready to have normal relationships with the state of Israel.”

Report: 20,000 Civilians Killed in Sri Lanka Conflict’s Final Weeks

The Times of London is reporting more than 20,000 civilians were killed in the final days of Sri Lanka’s attack on Tamil Tiger rebels–three times the official figure. Citing what it says are secret UN documents, the Times says around 1,000 people were killed every day from late April until the conflict ended ten days ago. The Sri Lankan military was accused of indiscriminately shelling no-fire zones, including two attacks on a major hospital. Tamil Tiger rebels were accused of using civilians as human shields. The Times says the evidence strongly supports allegations most of the civilians were killed by Sri Lankan military attacks. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has called for an independent probe of war crimes during the conflict.

13 Killed in Pakistan Attacks

In Pakistan, thirteen people were killed Thursday in militant attacks targeting police officers. It was the second straight day of gun-and-bomb attacks from militant groups. The strikes are believed to be retaliation for the anti-Taliban offensive that has displaced more than two million people in the northwestern Swat valley. On Thursday, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes called Pakistan’s internal refugee crisis “unprecedented” in recent years.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes: “This is a plan for I think for 543 million dollars to deal with the current very severe and dramatic humanitarian situation that has arisen there. The scale and the speed of the displacement that we’ve seen over the last few weeks are really unprecedented, certainly in Pakistan but also in recent memory anywhere.”

Iraq to Arrest 1,000 Officials on Corruption Charges

The Iraqi government says it plans to arrest more than 1,000 officials in a massive corruption scandal that has forced its Trade Minister to resign. Trade Ministry workers are accused of profiting from Iraq’s importing of food supplies for programs that feed 60 percent of Iraqis. Video has also surfaced of trade officials at a party drinking alcohol and insulting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Amnesty: Human Rights Abuses Increasing in Mexico

In Mexico, Amnesty International says Mexican soldiers and police officers were involved in an increasing number of human rights abuses last year. Amnesty International’s Arturo Herrera criticized what he called growing impunity in Mexico.

Arturo Herrera: “Due to impunity, practically generalized also where authorities have not been at the height of circumstances, not only with regards to human rights abuses but also a situation of insecurity which prevails in the country which has not found an accurate response.”

Amnesty days the abuses have grown with the expansion of Mexico’s crackdown on drug cartel violence. Earlier this week, ten mayors of Mexican towns were arrested for allegedly collaborating with the cartels.

Pentagon to Launch Cyberspace Command

Back in the United States, the New York Times is reporting the Pentagon is planning a new military command focusing on cyberspace. The command would direct the military’s computer-based attacks. The news comes as President Obama is expected to announce a civilian office run by a ‘cyber-czar’ tasked with overseeing the protection of the nation’s computer networks later today.

Record 12% in Foreclosure, Behind on Payments

New figures show a record twelve percent of Americans are behind on their mortgage payments or in foreclosure. The Mortgage Banker Association says the first quarter results mark a four percent rise from the same period last year. Subprime loans accounted for more than 43 percent of delinquent mortgages.

Time Warner-AOL to Split

In business news, the media giant Time Warner has announced it will spin off internet stalwart AOL into a separate company. The two corporations merged nine years ago.

Study: Minimum Wage Hike Provides “Stealth Stimulus”

A new study says recent hikes to the U.S. minimum wage are acting as a “stealth stimulus” to the economy. The Economic Policy Institute says increases to the minimum wage will boost consumer spending by $4.9 billion dollars.

Creditors, Workers Approve GM Deal

Creditors of the auto giant General Motors have approved a deal that would see the U.S. government take at least 70 percent control of the company to save it from collapse. The Canadian government and the United Auto Workers union would also take up smaller ownership shares. On Thursday, a majority of UAW members also approved the ownership deal in return for major concessions on wages and benefits.

Study: Insured Families Pay Additional Costs for Uninsured

A new study says the average family with health insurance paid a hidden premium of more than $1,000 dollars to cover the medical costs of the uninsured. The group Families USA says $42 billion dollars, mostly in emergency room fees, was passed on to insurance companies by uninsured patients. The insurers in turn made up for the costs by imposing higher premiums on their customers.

Single-Payer Advocates Hold National Day of Action

A coalition of advocacy groups meanwhile is holding a national day of action Saturday for the establishment of a single-payer health care system. Events in more than 50 cities are set to include town hall meetings, rallies, vigils and protests outside insurance companies that profit from the medical system. The day of action is being organized by the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care.

Nader: Ex-DNC Chair Offered Money to Drop Out of ’04 Race

The consumer advocate Ralph Nader is accusing former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe of trying to bribe him to stay off the presidential ballot in 2004. Nader says McAuliffe offered his campaign an unspecified amount of money if he withdrew in 19 battleground states. McAuliffe is currently running for the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s gubernatorial race.

N.Y. Police Kill Off-Duty Black Officer

And here in New York, an off-duty African-American police officer has been killed by a fellow officer who mistook him for a criminal. The slain officer, 25-year old Omar Edwards, had come across a man breaking into his vehicle. He chased the man with his gun drawn when three police officers came upon him and opened fire. Edwards was recently married and the father of two children.

Headlines: Obama Unveils Vehicle Mileage, Emissions Standards; Senate Democrats Block Funds to Close Guantanamo Bay Prison

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Unveils Vehicle Mileage, Emissions Standards; Senate Democrats Block Funds to Close Guantanamo Bay Prison

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Senate Dems Block Funds for Gitmo Closure

Senate Democrats are refusing to finance the closure of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay until the Obama administration submits a detailed plan. On Tuesday, Democratic leaders said they would reject an $80 million request to relocate Guantanamo’s 240 prisoners and vowed to block the transfer of any prisoners into the United States. The move follows a similar action by House Democrats last week. It could mean delaying President Obama’s promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison by at least several months.

Senate Approves Credit Card Bill

The Senate has voted to impose new regulation on the credit card industry. The measure would give credit card companies a nine-month deadline to comply with new rules including a 45-day notice and an explanation before raising customers’ interest rates. They’d also be forced to post agreements on the internet and allow online bill payments without added fees. The measure is weaker than original versions that included an amendment to cap interest rates at fifteen percent. Other defeated proposals would have protected consumers from spending money they don’t have and limited how companies impose new fees. Meanwhile the New York Times reports banks are now considering a series of measures to recoup their anticipated lost profits from the new rules. The moves include imposing new annual fees and curbing cash-back and rewards programs to sterling borrowers. The House is expected to vote on the credit card bill as early as today. A final version could be held up by an amendment added to the Senate bill that would allow people to carry loaded guns in national parks. House leaders say they might vote separately on that proposal.

Admin Mulls New Regulatory Body for Financial Products

The Obama administration is reportedly mulling proposals for a new regulatory commission overseeing financial products and services including mortgages, credit cards and mutual funds. The proposed commission would be tasked with ensuring loans and other financial products are structured and marketed fairly.

Obama Unveils Vehicle Mileage, Emissions Standards

President Obama has unveiled new national emissions and mileage requirements for cars and light trucks. The rules aim to cut emissions by 30 percent and require passenger cars to average thirty-nine miles per gallon by 2016. On Tuesday, Obama noted the rules are the first to impose federal regulations on car emissions in the United States.

President Obama: “For the first time in history, we have set in motion a national policy aimed at both increasing gas mileage and decreasing greenhouse gas pollution for all new trucks and cars sold in the United States of America.”

The White House estimates the regulations would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 900 million metric tons over the lifetime of more efficient vehicles. Appearing with Obama at the White House, California Governor Arnold Schwarzeneger praised the new rules.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzeneger: “We are very happy this has happened because it means a reduction of one-third of greenhouse gases and one-third of oil consumption. As you have heard the President said–this is reducing oil consumption by 1.8 billion gallons of oil. This is staggering. It’s the equivalent of taking 55 million cars off the road.”

U.S.-Russia Panel Says Missile Shield Wouldn’t Work

A joint American-Russian commission has concluded the proposed U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe would be ineffective against the types of Iranian missiles it would purportedly aim to stop. The Bush administration launched the program under the pretense it would protect Europe against Iran, but it’s widely seen as a far-strike weapon. The commission of U.S.-Russia scientists bolsters that perception. In their report for the EastWest Institute, the scientists say Iran is highly unlikely to produce a nuclear-tipped missile, and the proposed defense shield wouldn’t be able to stop one anyway. The scientists say Iran is years away from producing a nuclear warhead and could only do so with major and highly visible foreign assistance. It also notes Iran would be further unlikely to launch an attack because doing so would assure its own destruction through U.S. retaliation. The Obama administration has so far continued with the missile program but hinted it could be open to its cancellation.

Sri Lanka Blocks Aid Workers from Reaching Displaced

In Sri Lanka, the government continues to prevent aid workers from reaching some 300,000 people displaced in the fight with Tamil Tiger rebels. Earlier this week the Sri Lankan government declared victory after a twenty-six year war. The Times of London reports Sri Lanka is blocking the UN from reaching government run-camps housing refugees. There are fears camp populations will be hit with an outbreak of contagious diseases including hepatitis and dysentery.

Palestinian Authority Installs New Cabinet

In the Occupied Territories, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has sworn in a new cabinet to head the Palestinian Authority. Former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was re-instated to his old post, along with several other members of the Fatah faction. Fayyad denied reports of renewed talks between Palestinian officials and Israeli leaders despite ongoing Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad: “I don’t think it’s really the right time to be talking about negotiation, when in fact there are understandings and agreements that have been reached that require immediate implementation. I don’t think Mr. Netanyahu set the right tone by clearly avoiding any reference to the possibility of a solution concept that has become a matter of the national consensus, namely the two-state solution.”

Meanwhile in Gaza, Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum rejected the cabinet as illegitimate amidst ongoing national unity talks brokered by Egypt.

Fawzi Barhoum: “The formation of the government by Abu Mazen in the West Bank will reinforce the political chaos, judicial and legislative, which he is carrying out over there in the West Bank. This is considered to be a deliberate sabotage of the internal Palestinian dialogue and threatens the negotiations slated to take place in the future in Cairo.”

2 Americans Killed in Afghan Attack

In Afghanistan, two Americans have been killed in a roadside bombing near Kabul. The Pentagon says the victims were a U.S. soldier and a military contractor.

Pentagon: Blackwater Contractors Weren’t Allowed to Carry Weapons

In other news from Afghanistan, the Pentagon says four US contractors with the company formerly known as Blackwater weren’t authorized to carry weapons when they fired on an approaching vehicle in Kabul earlier this month. At least one Afghan civilian was killed and another two wounded in the attack. The contractors were off-duty at the time and had been reportedly drinking. The contractors now say Blackwater officials had supplied them with the guns in violation of their military contract.

Spanish Lawmakers Vote to Restrict Foreign Probes

In Spain, lawmakers are trying to block their judiciary’s war crimes investigations of foreign governments including the United States. On Tuesday, Spain’s Congress voted to limit judges’ jurisdiction to cases with a clear Spanish connection. Spain’s National Court is currently investigating 13 foreign cases under the principle of universal jurisdiction. They include the torture of U.S. prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. The Spanish vote follows weeks of pressure by foreign governments seeking to curb the investigations. It’s unclear whether the vote will apply to the current cases or only to future ones.

Obama Envoys Disclose Speaking, Consulting Fees

Newly-disclosed financial statements show two top Obama administration envoys received hundreds of thousands of in consulting and speaking fees last year. Dennis Ross, who serves as special advisor for Iran, received more than $200,000 in speaking fees from pro-Israeli government groups. Ross refused to disclose how much he earned for appearances on the cable news network Fox News. Meanwhile, Obama’s envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, reported $1.7 million in income last year. Holbrooke’s earnings included more than $300,000 as a consultant for Coca-Cola and $10,000 for serving as a director on the board of the bailed-out insurance giant AIG.

U.S. Priest Slain in Guatemala

A U.S. priest who helped expose abuses by the Brazilian military dictatorship during the 1970s has been killed in Guatemala. The Reverend Lawrence Rosebaugh died Monday in a robbery attack by masked gunmen. He was 74 years old. In 1977, Rosebaugh hand-delivered a letter to First Lady Rosalynn Carter detailing his abuse at the hands of Brazilian forces, helping to bring international attention on the Brazilian dictatorship.

Uruguyan Writer Mario Benedetti Dies at 88

And the Uruguyan writer Mario Benedetti has died at the age of 88. A popular novelist and playwright, Benedetti was also an outspoken political commentator, criticizing U.S. intervention in Latin America and the Cuban embargo.

Headlines: Specter Leaves GOP, Joins Democrats; Obama Calls for Ending Disparity in Crack Sentences

Democracy Now Headlines: Specter Leaves GOP, Joins Democrats; Obama Calls for Ending Disparity in Crack Sentences

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Texas Reports First U.S. Swine Flu Death

The death toll from the global swine flu breakout continues to rise, including the first known fatality in the United States. Earlier today government officials said a twenty-three month old child died in Texas. It was the first swine flu death reported outside Mexico, where seven people have died in confirmed cases and another 159 in suspected cases. On Tuesday, the World Health Organization said a global pandemic is a “very serious possibility” but not inevitable. World Health Organization Assistant Director Keji Fukuda said confirmed infections continue to rise.

Keji Fukuda: “Since yesterday there has continued to be an increase in laboratory confirmed cases of these swine flu influenza infections. So yesterday we reported that there were 73 infections and today we are reporting that there are 79 laboratory confirmed infections as of the information that we had this morning.”

The U.S. has at least 65 confirmed cases, 45 of them in New York. In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state-wide emergency after authorities said they had confirmed thirteen cases.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: “Today I’m issuing an emergency proclamation to strengthen California’s response and what this basically does is it gives us some extra tools for our health authorities in order to respond very quickly and it also cuts through the red tape so that all state agencies will have to go and assist the Department of Public Health in every way possible.”

President Obama has asked Congress for $1.5 billion dollars in supplemental funding to address the swine flu crisis.

Rejecting “State Secrets” Assertion, Appeals Court Reinstates Torture Suit

A federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit accusing a Boeing subsidiary of helping the CIA secretly transport prisoners to torture chambers overseas. On Tuesday, a three- judge panel rejected the Obama administration’s assertion of so-called ‘state secrets’ privilege and said the case can proceed. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed the suit against Jeppesen International Trip Planning on behalf of five former prisoners. Jeppesen is accused of arranging at least seventy flights since 2001 as part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. The Obama administration’s opposition to the case carried over from the Bush administration, which had previously won the case’s dismissal. In its new ruling, the federal appeals court says the government’s assertion of secrecy should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. ACLU attorney Ben Wizner said: “Today’s ruling demolishes once and for all the legal fiction, advanced by the Bush administration and continued by the Obama administration, that facts known throughout the world could be deemed ‘secrets’ in a court of law.”

Specter Leaves GOP, Joins Dems

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has announced he’s leaving the Republican party to join the Democratic caucus on Capital Hill. The move could have a major effect on the balance of power in Washington. If Minnesota Senate winner Al Franken prevails in his legal battle with former Senator Norm Coleman, he and Specter would give the Democrats sixty seats–enough to overcome a Republican filibuster. On Tuesday, Specter said he is making the switch on ideological grounds.

Sen. Arlen Specter: “As the Republican Party moves farther and farther to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more aligned with the philosophy of the Democratic Party. This is a painful decision. I know that I am disappointing many of my friends and colleagues. Frankly I’ve been disappointed by some of the response so the disappointment runs in both directions.”

By joining the Democrats, Specter will avoid a tough challenge in the Republican primary ahead of the 2010 mid-term elections. Despite switching sides, Specter says he’ll maintain his “independence.” On Tuesday, Specter vowed continued opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, which would remove obstacles for workers to join unions. Democratic leaders say they will re-tool the measure to gain Specter’s support.

Lawmakers Call for Special Counsel on Torture

In other news from Washington, Democratic Congressmembers Jerrold Nadler of New York and John Conyers of Michigan are calling for the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate and prosecute Bush administration torture. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the lawmakers write: “Because the United States is bound by its own laws and by international treaty, we are obligated to investigate and prosecute those who have violated the laws against committing torture.”

KBR Sued for Toxic Air Exposure

The military contractor KBR is being accused of endangering U.S. soldiers and contractors at open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a series of lawsuits filed on Tuesday, twenty-one plaintiffs in nine states said KBR failed to properly dispose of toxic waste burned in the open-air pits. The emissions from the burnt waste allegedly caused respiratory illnesses, tumors and cancers.

Student Pleads Not Guilty in Utah Land Case

In Utah, a college student who prevented a mass sell-off of public wilderness has pleaded not guilty to charges of interfering with a public auction. Tim DeChristopher made headlines in December when he disrupted the Bush administration’s last-minute move to auction off oil and gas exploitation rights on vast swaths of federal land in Utah. DeChristopher was arrested after he posed as a bidder and bought 22,000 acres of land in an attempt to save the property from drilling. He faces up to ten years in prison and a $750,000 fine. The trial is set to begin in July. On Tuesday, some 200 supporters rallied for DeChristopher outside his arraignment at the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City.

Obama Calls for Ending Disparity in Crack Sentences

The Obama administration is calling on Congress to eliminate the disparity in drug sentences for dealing crack versus powdered cocaine. Under current law, possession of five grams of crack cocaine triggers the same mandatory minimum sentence as possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine. The law has disproportionately punished African-American drug offenders, who account for more than eighty percent of crack cocaine cases. In prepared testimony for the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer says: “The administration believes Congress’ goal should be to completely eliminate the disparity in prison sentences between crack cocaine and powdered cocaine.” Breuer did not say whether the White House will back reducing or eliminating minimum sentences.

White House Apologizes for Low-Flying Plane

The White House has apologized for a plane flight that scared New York city residents Monday as it flew low over New York harbor along with two F-16 fighter jets. Hundreds of downtown office workers fled their buildings out of fear of an attack similar to 9/11. But the plane turned out to be one used by President Obama that was being photographed in a public relations stunt. On Tuesday, President Obama apologized.

President Obama: “It was a mistake as was stated. It was something we found out about along with all of you. And it will not happen again.”

The plane-ride photo-op cost more than $329,000. Obama says he’s ordered a review to find out how the mission was approved.

Study: 60% of Americans Subjected to Polluted Air

And a new study says sixty percent of Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of pollution. In a report released today, the American Lung Association says air pollution has reached worrying levels in every major city, effecting some 186 million people.

Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be is the latest in a long line of books that make a case that progressive politics–and not conservative politics–have a long history of making positive change in the United States. In it, author Michael Lux–a Democratic strategist and former advisor to Bill Clinton–argues that conservatives have been on the “wrong side” of the issue since the United States’ founding.

In the opening sentence of his introduction, Lux writes that “American history consists of one long battle between the forces of reaction and the defense of wealth and power, on one hand, and the forces of progressivism and community, on the other.” It’s a thesis that makes sense if one looks at the history of the United States and Lux offers a number of examples through which he proves his assertion. He discusses the founding of the country and the discussions over how to organize government, the debate over slavery, the Bill of Rights, the right to vote, and other major debates in the country’s history. In each case, he identifies the “progressives”–for example those wanting to extend the right to vote to women–and the “conservatives”–those who sought to maintain the status quo.

Overall, Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be is a fairly simple book. It offers some basic historical arguments that counter the idea that the United States is and always has been a conservative country. They are the kind of arguments that you might share with your conservative, but somewhat sympathetic relative–nothing too detailed, but just enough to add some weight to what you might argue yourself. Often times, the arguments gloss over complex details and oversimplify, but that’s largely inevitable for any book that aims to cover such a broad period.

Unfortunately, while Lux simplifies history, I’d argue that he also repeatedly emphasizes the actions of politicians and “great thinkers” over those of the folks working on the grassroots to make the changes that he talks about possible. At times he does mention movements–for example the abolitionist movement or the Civil Rights movement–but he tends to over-emphasize the contributions of the leaders. He argues that progressive social change needs both a strong movement and strong progressive political leaders in the final chapter, but the emphasis is clearly on the leaders.

This isn’t too surprising, given that the back of the book contains blurbs by former Democratic Party politicians, strategists, and activists. In the final chapters, Lux makes it clear that he sees the history of progressive politics in the United States to be the history of the Democratic Party. He argues that Democrats have led–or perhaps responded to movements demanding–progressive changes over the years. While this is certainly true to an extent–Democrats are more “progressive” than Republicans–they have hardly been harbingers of radical change. Lux is willing to offer some minor criticisms of Democrats–they are too cautious and they have been unwilling to undertake bold political changes–but he is quite forgiving. He encourages people to support them even after he gives a fairly extensive critique of how they have failed repeatedly in recent years on major issues.

Overall, Lux’s book is pretty basic. Some of the historical arguments are interesting, but I didn’t really get too much out of it. More often than not, I found myself frustrated with the simplicity of the history. Lux’s book–if it was read widely by Democratic politicians and activists–might inspire some to take stronger stands, but I can’t imagine too many outside the party gaining much from his book. Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States makes a more convincing case regarding the power of the left to make social change and does so in a far more inspiring manner.

Michael Lux, The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be, (Wiley, 2009).

Headlines: Ex-Prisoner: Guantanamo Got Worse Under Obama; Judge Rules Franken Winner of Minnesota Senate Race

Democracy Now Headlines: Ex-Prisoner: Guantanamo Got Worse Under Obama; Judge Rules Franken Winner of Minnesota Senate Race

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

North Korea to Quit Six-Party Nuclear Talks

North Korea said today it will boycott six-party nuclear disarmament talks and restore its program to make weapons-grade plutonium. The threat was issued hours after the UN Security Council condemned North Korea’s long-range rocket launch from April 5. A North Korean official said, “We will never again take part in such talks and will not be bound by any agreement reached at the talks.”

Obama Partially Lifts Cuba Travel Restrictions; Embargo Remains

President Barack Obama has directed his administration to allow unlimited travel and money transfers by Cuban Americans to family in Cuba, but Obama has refused to lift the nearly fifty-year-old trade embargo on the island. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced the new Cuban policy.

Robert Gibbs: “Today, President Obama has directed that a series of steps be taken to reach out to the Cuban people to support their desire to enjoy basic human rights and to freely determine their country’s future. The President has directed the Secretaries of State, Treasury and Commerce to carry out the actions necessary to lift all restrictions on the ability of individuals to visit family members in Cuba and to send them remittances.”

The Obama administration has also lifted a ban on US telecommunications companies reaching out to Cuba.

Dan Restrepo, special assistant to the President: “We want to increase flow of information among Cubans and between Cubans and the outside world. And one of the ways we can do that, under US–existing United States law back to the Cuban Democracy Act, is to allow US telecommunications companies to seek to provide services on the island.”

The Obama administration announced the policy change days before Obama heads to Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas.

Report: Spanish Prosecutors to Indict Bush Admin Officials

Spanish prosecutors have reportedly decided to press forward with a criminal investigation targeting former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five top associates over their role in the torture of five Spanish citizens held at Guantanamo. This according to a report by attorney and writer Scott Horton on the website TheDailyBeast.com. An official announcement has not been made yet. The other former Bush administration officials facing indictment are former Justice Department officials John Yoo and Jay Bybee, Pentagon official Douglas Feith, Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff David Addington, and Pentagon lawyer William Haynes. Scott Horton also reports Spanish prosecutors will ask that Judge Baltasar Garzon step aside, because he presided over efforts to bring terrorism charges against the five Spaniards previously held at Guantanamo. Garzon is the Spanish judge who ordered the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998.

Mortars Fired at Plane Carrying US Congressman in Somalia

Somali militants fired mortars Monday at a plane carrying Congressman Donald Payne of New Jersey as he was leaving Mogadishu. No one was injured in the attack. Payne was the first senior US politician to visit the Somali capital in years. The mortars were fired just hours after a pirate leader threatened retaliation against the United States for killing his men during an operation to rescue a kidnapped US captain.

Thai Protesters End Siege of Prime Minister’s Office

In Thailand, anti-government protesters have ended a three-week siege of the prime minister’s office, one day after at least two people were killed in large protests in Bangkok. The protesters decided to leave the government building after Thai troops surrounded them. Earlier, an army spokesman had said troops were ready to move against the protesters, who had been encamped around the prime minister’s office since March 26.

NATO Air Strike Kills Six Civilians in Afghanistan

Afghan officials say six civilians were killed Monday in an overnight NATO air strike in Kunar province near the Pakistan border. The dead reportedly included a three-year-old girl and ten-year-old boy. Officials said sixteen other civilians were injured in the strike. Last week, five people, including a seven-day-old baby, died during a US-led operation in southeastern Khost province. US forces initially said they had killed four insurgents but later acknowledged the dead were civilians defending their home.

Iraqi Government Cracks Down on Media Organizations

In Baghdad, the Iraqi military is attempting to shut down two media organizations for allegedly misquoting officials. A top Iraqi military spokesperson said he was filing a lawsuit seeking to close the Baghdad office of Al-Hayat, one of the most prominent newspapers in the Arab world, as well as the satellite signal of the TV channel Al Sharqiya. The Iraqi military has criticized local, Arab and international news media for recent reports about arrests of members of the Sunni Awakening Councils.

NYT: US May Drop Key Condition for Talks with Iran

The New York Times is reporting the Obama administration and its European allies are preparing proposals that would allow Iran to continue enriching uranium for some period during negotiations to press Iran to open up its nuclear program to wide-ranging inspection. This would be a sharp break from the approach taken by the Bush administration, which had demanded that Iran halt its enrichment activities, at least briefly, to initiate negotiations. Administration officials said the long-term goal remains the suspension of Iran’s enrichment program.

Obama Appears Set to Boycott UN Racism Conference

The Washington Post reports the Obama administration appears to be standing by its decision to boycott the World Conference Against Racism next week in Geneva, despite efforts to focus and tone down language in a draft conference document critical of Israel. Israel and several Jewish advocacy groups have urged the United States and other nations not to take part in the conference. But a number of other groups, including TransAfrica and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, are urging the Obama administration to participate in the conference. Imani Countess of TransAfrica said, “For President Bush not to participate, that would have been expected. For Barack Obama’s administration not to participate sends a disappointing signal. It says these issues are not important.”

Ex-Gitmo Prisoner: Conditions Worsened at Jail Under Obama

A former prisoner at Guantanamo said conditions worsened at the prison after President Obama took office. Binyam Mohamed made the comment in an interview posted on the CagePrisoners.com website.

Binyam Mohamed: “They started implementing rules, degrading rules, where they pushed most of us to actually go on hunger strikes. And if you look at the records, before the new administration took over, there was only about ten to twenty people who were on hunger strike, and right after the new administration took over, it went all the way to forty-something on tube feeding and another hundred just on hunger strike.”

Binyam Mohamed was released from Guantanamo in late February after seven years in US custody. Mohamed says he was repeatedly tortured while being held at a secret CIA prison and at Guantanamo.

100 Ex-Gov’t Staffers Working as Bank Lobbyists on Bailouts

Mother Jones magazine is reporting top bailout recipients have dispatched more than 100 past congressional staffers and ex-government officials to shape the bailouts to their liking. One of Citigroup’s top lobbyists, Jimmy Ryan, is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s former chief counsel. Goldman Sachs has more than thirty ex-government officials registered to lobby on its behalf, including former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt. In addition, ex-staffers for at least ten members of the Senate Finance Committee have lobbied lawmakers on behalf of big financial firms receiving billions of dollars of government assistance.

Goldman Sachs Reports $1.6 Billion 1st Quarter Profit

This comes as Goldman Sachs reports it made over $1.6 billion in the first three months of the year. Last week, Wells Fargo says it expects to report record first-quarter earnings of $3 billion. Both companies have received tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts. Goldman Sachs said it plans to raise $5 billion in stock to help it pay back government bailout funds in part to free itself from government-imposed restrictions on executive compensation.

Exxon Mobil CEO Receives 10% Raise

In other business news, Exxon Mobil announced Monday its CEO Rex Tillerson received a ten percent raise in 2008, even though the company’s stock price dropped 15 percent. Tillerson received a compensation package valued at nearly $24 million.

Minn. Judges Rule Franken Winner of Senate Race

In Minnesota, Al Franken has moved one step closer to becoming a US senator. On Monday, a three-judge panel ruled that Franken had received 312 more votes than incumbent Norm Coleman on Election Day, five months ago. The court rejected Coleman’s central argument that the election and its aftermath were fraught with systemic errors that made the results invalid. But the legal battle in Minnesota is not over. Coleman has vowed to appeal Monday’s ruling.

Time Warner Criticized for Proposed New Internet Fees

Democratic Congressman Eric Massa of New York is drafting legislation to prohibit internet providers from charging subscribers based on the amount of data they download. Massa made the announcement days after Time Warner Cable said it was moving forward with plans to cap broadband speeds and charge $150 a month for unlimited broadband downloads.

VA Official Confiscates Reporter’s Equipment

The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched an investigation into why a government official confiscated a reporter’s recording equipment last week and ordered the reporter to leave a VA hospital in Washington, D.C. David Schultz of public radio station WAMU was at the hospital during a town hall meeting last week. While he was conducting an interview with a veteran, hospital public affairs officer Gloria Hairston stopped the interview and confiscated the sound card from Schultz’s digital recorder. The VA later returned the sound card, and Schultz broadcast part of the interaction on WAMU.

Gloria Hairston: “I can’t allow you to use this.”

David Schultz: “I’m going to use this.”

Hairston: “He can’t talk anymore. That’s it. I can’t do it, sir. You can’t do it.”

Schultz: “You have a right to talk if you want to talk.”

Veteran: “Who are you? I’m just saying–just tell me who you are and why.”

Hairston: “I’m Gloria Hairston, public affairs here at the medical center.”

Veteran: “And why are you telling me that I have to keep my mouth shut? See, that’s the problem.”

Hairston: “No, I didn’t say that you have to keep your mouth shut. You don’t have to keep your mouth shut.”

Veteran: “Well, then why are you telling me I can’t do this interview?”

Pro-Pesticide Group Criticizes First Lady’s Organic Garden

And First Lady Michelle Obama is coming under criticism from a pro-pesticide industry group for deciding to plant an organic garden at the White House. The Mid America CropLife Association recently wrote to the First Lady to urge her to consider using pesticides, or what they call “crop protection products.” One official with the pro-pesticide group said, “While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made [us] shudder.” Mid America CropLife represents agribusinesses like Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and DuPont.

Headlines: Key Democrats Waver on Employee Free Choice Act; Supreme Court Limits Voting Rights Act

Democracy Now Headlines: Key Democrats Waver on Employee Free Choice Act; Supreme Court Limits Voting Rights Act

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Obama Lifts Stem Cell Research Ban

President Barack Obama has overturned a ban on federal funding for stem cell research, reversing the policy of his predecessor George W. Bush.

President Obama: “When it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research, and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly.”

Religious conservatives have generally opposed embryonic stem cell research, because it involves destruction of embryos, which they view as human life. On Monday, President Obama said the research will not be used for cloning humans.

President Obama: “I can also promise that we will never undertake this research lightly. We will support it only when it is both scientifically worthy and responsibly conducted. We will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse. And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society or any society.”

Supreme Court Limits the Reach of Voting Rights Act

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has refused to expand the protections for minorities under the federal voting rights law, a decision that may affect the redrawing of legislative boundaries after the 2010 Census. The court’s conservative majority ruled only electoral districts with majority of blacks or other minorities are to be protected by a provision of the Voting Rights Act. Civil rights groups said the ruling could result in more districts with minorities constituting less than half the population, diluting their voting strength.

35,000 Jobs to Be Lost After Pharmaceutical Mergers

In business news, the pharmaceutical giant Merck has announced plans to buy one of its chief rivals, Schering-Plough Corporation for $41 billion. The move comes just weeks after Pfizer said it would buy Wyeth. The two mergers in the pharmaceutical industry are expected to result in 35,000 job losses. Questions have been raised over the link between the mergers and the taxpayer bailouts of the banking industry. Dr. John Abramson of Harvard Medical School said the mergers are only happening now because the drug companies can get the money from the banks thanks to the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program. Abramson said, “The TARP money is supposed to be loosening up credit and keeping Americans employed. They shouldn’t be using bailout money to get rid of people.”

Obama Administration to Review Bush Signing Statements

In other news from the White House, the Obama administration has called into question the legitimacy of all signing statements issued by President Bush. The New York Times reports Obama has ordered executive officials to consult with Attorney General Eric Holder before relying on any of them to bypass a statute. However, President Obama has refused to rule out using signing statements himself.

At Least 25 Die in Iraq Bombing

In Iraq, at least twenty-five people died today when a suicide bomber attacked a group of tribal leaders as they left the mayor’s office in the town of Abu Ghraib. Police officers, soldiers and journalists were said to among the dead.

Dalai Lama: China Has Turned Tibet into “Hell on Earth”

The Dalai Lama marked his fiftieth year in exile earlier today by demanding “meaningful autonomy” for his Tibetan homeland, where Chinese authorities have tightened security to stifle protests against their rule. The Dalai Lama slammed China for bringing “untold suffering and destruction” to Tibet and turning the region at times into a “hell on earth.” His words came on the fiftieth anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese troops, which led to his exile.

Pro-Tibetan Protesters Rally Outside White House

Protests are being held today around the world to commemorate fifty years of Tibetan resistance to Chinese rule. On Monday, pro-Tibet activists gathered outside the White House.

Tsering Palden, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress in New York and New Jersey: “Today fifty years ago, the Tibetans in Tibet have voluntarily rose up against the Chinese occupation. So that resistance still continues, and we wanted to keep this force of resistance alive and be the voice of those Tibetans inside Tibet, because they don’t have any voice outside, because they closed Tibet from the outside world. No foreigners are allowed. No journalists are allowed. The whole of Tibet has been militarized. It has become virtually–Tibet is under virtually martial law.”

Yangchen Lhamo of Students for a Free Tibet also spoke.

Yangchen Lhamo: “We’re here really with tens of thousands of Tibetans and supporters around the world today to mark this anniversary by taking these fifty years of resistance, the spirit of the fifty years of resistance, to the streets of our cities and our towns and to urge–here in our nation’s capital, to urge the US government to increase the pressure on China to meet with the Dalai Lama and engage in meaningful negotiations and also just to immediately withdraw all of the troops that have been deployed in Tibet.”

China & US Trade Accusations Over US Navy Spy Ship

China and the United States are trading accusations after five Chinese ships approached a US Navy surveillance vessel off the southern Chinese island of Hainan. China accused the US of violating international and Chinese laws by conducting illegal surveying. Pentagon officials said the ship was in international waters. The US accused the Chinese of harassing the spy vessel.

Key Senate Democrats Waver on Employee Free Choice Act

The Wall Street Journal reports key Senate Democrats are wavering in their support of the Employee Free Choice Act, dealing a potential blow to organized labor. The bill would stop employers from demanding secret-ballot elections and require them to recognize unions if a majority of workers consented. The bill has been fiercely opposed by the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups. At least six senators who have previously supported the proposal now say they are opposed or not sure. Senators on the fence include Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and both of the Democratic senators from Arkansas, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln.

Ford and UAW Agree on New Compensation Plan

In other labor news, Ford and the United Auto Workers have reached a deal where the union has agreed to cuts in their compensation package, including a freezing of wages and restructuring retirement benefits. In exchange, Ford made commitments to the UAW to seek sacrifices from its executives, salaried employees and bondholders. The new deal is expected to save Ford millions of dollars.

British Aid Convoy Arrives in Gaza

A British convoy carrying aid for Palestinians arrived in Gaza Monday. The convoy left London last month and traveled through at least seven countries in Europe and North Africa. Members of the “Viva Palestina” convoy included British parliamentarian George Galloway.

George Galloway: “We have brought with us many vehicles, much equipment, much medicine–everything we could carry. And we will hand it to Ismail Haniyeh, the elected prime minister of Palestine.”

Top US Cyber Security Chief Resigns

The top cyber security chief at the Department of Homeland Security has resigned and has accused the National Security Agency and the military of trying to take control of the government’s cyber security efforts. Up until last week, Rod Beckstrom served as head of the National Cyber Security Center. Beckstrom opposed efforts by the NSA to move the National Cyber Security Center to its base at Fort Meade in Maryland.

McClatchy Newspapers to Eliminate 1,600 Jobs

In media news, the McClatchy newspaper chain has announced plans to eliminate 1,600 jobs, or 15 percent of its workforce. Newspapers affected by the layoffs include the Sacramento Bee, the Kansas City Star, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Fresno Bee. Meanwhile, the New York Times has announced it has sold twenty-one floors in its fifty-two-story headquarters in Times Square in an effort to raise $225 million. Under the terms of the deal, the paper will lease back the floors for the next fifteen years.

Bolivia Expels Senior US Diplomat

The Bolivian government has ordered a senior US diplomat to leave the country after President Evo Morales accused him of participating in a “conspiracy” against his government. Morales said Francisco Martinez was in contact with opposition groups involved in anti-government unrest. Martinez was the second secretary of the US embassy in La Paz.

Lawmakers Urge US to Take Neutral Role in El Salvador Election

Thirty members of the US House of Representatives have sent President Obama a letter calling for US neutrality in Saturday’s presidential election in El Salvador. Polls indicate the leftist FMLN party will beat the right-wing ARENA party, which has ruled for the past two decades. Historically, the ARENA party has had close ties to Washington. Five years ago, the Bush administration was accused of threatening to cut off aid to El Salvador if voters supported the FMLN.

Police Officer Shot Dead in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, tension is rising after another member of the security forces has been shot dead. A police officer was killed last night in County Armagh after he responded to a call for help. This marked the first murder of a police officer in Northern Ireland since 1998. The shooting came two days after a pair of British troops were shot dead outside a British military base in Northern Ireland. The dissident republican group, the Real IRA, claimed responsibility. On Monday, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams condemned the killings.

Gerry Adams: “Just make it clear, on the one hand, that the people who carried out this attack don’t have any support within the broad republican family or the broad republican constituency and that Sinn Feinn will go toe-to-toe and ensure that there is no ambiguity around the unworthiness of this action and the fact that this action should not have taken place.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited Northern Ireland on Monday and said the peace process cannot be shaken.

Gordon Brown: “What I’ve seen this morning is the unity of the people of Northern Ireland and the unity of the political parties, that they stand united behind the peace and political process that they’ve been building for many, many years, that they are going to continue to work together, and they want to send out a message to the world, as I do, that the political process will not and never be shaken. In fact, the political process is now unshakable.”

Ward Churchill Trial Opens in Denver

Opening statements begin today in Denver, Colorado in Professor Ward Churchill’s trial against the University of Colorado at Boulder. Churchill sued the school after he was fired in 2007 on charges of research misconduct. But Churchill maintains that the allegations were a pretext to remove him for his unpopular political views. In 2005, he described the September 11 attacks as a response to a long history of US abuses and called those who were killed on 9-11 as “little Eichmanns.”

Mass Transit Use at 50-Year High

And more people rode the nation’s public buses, subways and commuter trains last year than in any year since 1956. This according to a new report by the American Public Transportation Association. The trade group estimates Americans took nearly 10.7 billion rides on public transportation in 2008.

Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

Robert Cuttner’s Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency argues that Obama has the power to be a “transformative president,” who:

“…profoundly alters American politics and the role of the government in American life–one who uses his office to appeal to our best selves to change our economy, society, and democracy for the better.”

For Kuttner, Obama qualifies because of his unique leadership abilities and because of the historical moment–severe economic crisis–that offer him the opportunity to make dramatic changes in the direction of the country.

Obama as a Transformative Leader

Kuttner sees Obama in the vein of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. He argues that those men were progressive presidents who faced great challenges and used those challenges to advance progressive policy positions. The early chapters of the book contain explorations of these presidents and their policies to help Kuttner prove his case.

Kuttner argues all of this with only a limited examination of Obama’s policies, instead focusing on rhetoric and potential rather than Obama’s voting record or his policy statements while on the campaign trail. He praises Obama’s “unusual gifts of character and leadership” and uses examples from Obama’s writings and speeches to highlight Obama’s willingness to move in a progressive direction.

A Step above Obamamania

Unfortunately, the 2008 election was characterized largely by uncritical fawning over Barack Obama by much of the progressive left in the United States. While Obama offered policies that were considerably better than those of the Bush administration, he fell short in several areas–for example offering rather uninspired policies for stimulating the United States economy, for “reforming” the healthcare system, and for making changes to Social Security.

Unlike many, Kuttner is willing to illustrate these failings, which makes for some interesting discussion. Kuttner declares, “Obama will need to be a more radical president than he was a presidential candidate.” When he discusses the economic crisis, Kuttner says that it offers a unique opportunity to address specific policy failings as well as the underlying ideological failings. In this vein, Kuttner calls for radical change on a number of fronts–market regulation, housing, taxes, labor, and healthcare. He argues that Obama should embrace multi-faceted and long-term efforts to not only bring about an economic recovery but also to renew the social compact between government and its citizens.

Kuttner ultimately argues that Obama’s potential exists only if he is willing to challenge the conventional policies of the past. To that end, Kuttner offers an intriguing $600 billion policy proposal that offers a number of ideas–from labor policies to infrastructure development–that would implement a progressive policy shift.

Shifting Frames: Potentials for Obama

To make this progressive shift, Kuttner says that Obama needs to undertake bold efforts aimed at inspiring the country towards improving the common good.

He says that currently, citizens view government through a lens assuming that:

  • The fiscal cupboard is bare
  • Government is generally perverse or incompetent
  • Tax cuts are one of the few benefits that governments can reliably deliver
  • Private markets invariably work better than government

Kuttner outlines the problems with these views and gives examples of their failings, before arguing that Obama can advance an alternative lens that shows:

  • There is in fact a crisis facing both the economic system and working Americans
  • The private sector is a source of great dynamism, but it can sure make a mess if left to its own devices
  • People’s needs and economic recovery are more important right now than penny pinching
  • Tax cuts have gone mostly to the top, and haven’t done a thing for most Americans
  • Government can do great things, and it particularly needs to do great things in an economic crisis.

Kuttner argues–by compiling a speech made up of selective choices of statements by Obama–that Obama has the capacity to convincingly make such a case to the American people. That fictional speech is followed by an extensive exploration of Kuttner’s policy prescriptions.

Conclusions

Overall, the book was better than I would have expected. Kuttner makes nominal–and accurate–criticisms of many of Obama’s economic policies, which is more than many progressives do these days. However, Kuttner ultimately falls into the same trap as most Obama supporters in that he focuses more on Obama himself–how he talks, his flair for rhetoric, the excitement behind him, and his potential–than his actual policies. This results in a book, that while successfully outlining the economic challenges faced by this country, never really makes the case that Obama is the kind of leader that will be able to make a significant change.

Robert Kuttner, Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency, (Chelsea Green, 2008).