The Tragedy of Defensive Politics

Apr 8, 2011Jeff Madrick

The challenges the Obama presidency has faced are an opportunity to get mad, not to compromise.

The challenges the Obama presidency has faced are an opportunity to get mad, not to compromise.

A New York Times story today is titled, "On Budget Dispute, Obama Casts Himself as Mediator in Chief." To me this is chilling, if obvious. He has long been the mediator, as if he were a Sunday morning talk show host. The attitude that he must always appear calm, always work toward compromise and avoid at all costs appearing to be a rabble-rouser, is now taking an enormous toll.

Like today's media, he gives equal time to the opposition. Now we have someone representing the anti-gravity point of view, says the allegedly objective talk show host. Tell us, why do you believe gravity is a myth? Obama wants to compromise with the anti-gravity extremists rather than calling them out in a loud and angry voice, calling them what they really are.

Many of his supporters lament that Obama took the presidency in the face of a daunting agenda, from wars to a credit crisis. The truth is something of the opposite. All these were extraordinary opportunities. He could have come down hard on the banks, but he didn't. He could have wound down the war in Afghanistan, but he didn't. He could have closed Guantanamo, as he said he would, but he didn't. And on. He could have won the people's backing for real reform, a new day in America. He didn't even fully stick up for his original Obamacare program.

Has it been all bad? No. He did get the stimulus passed in early 2009. We do have something of a universal health care system, if one full of potential potholes. He has at least avoided a gung-ho American chauvinism about Egypt and Iraq.

But the so-called unprecedented number of hurdles were, as I say, the perfect opportunities to get angry, to tell Americans who was really undermining their dreams and security -- the perfect opportunity to get Americans angry at those who harm them.

Why didn't he get angry over the lightweight and damaging Paul Ryan proposals, which so many in the media called courageous? Why isn't he attacking Republicans hard for even the threat of closing the government?

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He has chosen the mediator path. This has always been his way. But the new element is the election campaign. He is playing defensive politics, and America is suffering badly as a result. Better I compromise than chance alienating some of those in the middle. At least if I lose some major battles I will keep a Republican from winning office.

Years ago, there was a good book published on how to manage investments. It took its lessons from tennis. If you are a club player, you will win if you play defensively. Don't go for winners, just avoid mistakes. That was also the best way, the author insisted, to manage a mutual fund, for example. Slow and steady, defensive, no big ambitions, don't try to beat the market badly. That's now the Obama game plan.

The budget confrontation is not about economics, of course. Budget cuts in the midst of a weak economy are dangerous and potentially tragic. The long-term budget deficit should be addressed when the economy is running strongly. And it should be addressed honestly -- rapidly rising health care costs are the issue.

The confrontation is simply the same old Republican game. Starve the beast. It is all about reducing government, nothing about economic health. It is about ideology, not prosperity. It is bad economics, in fact.

Will lower taxes produce economic growth sufficient to reduce the unemployment rate rapidly? No. It seems people can't get this simple fact in their head. After the Bush tax cuts at the start of the last decade, the U.S. economy grew more slowly than in any other expansion since World War II. If we had better data, it would be probably show that it was slower than any other expansion since the 1870s. This is between the end of the last recession and the beginning of the new one in 2007, when the economy was growing. It does not include the credit crisis debacle and Great Recession, for which Bush deserves plenty of blame.

The creation of jobs was unprecedentedly weak as well. Employment grew far more slowly than in any other expansion, as did industrial production. Even capital investment, despite rising profits, grew more slowly than in all but one previous expansion.

So this budget exercise, and a Paul Ryan budget plan of big tax cuts, is likely a disaster. And whatever you do, don't think this confrontation is purely about economics. It is entirely about cutting the size of government and those awful social programs. Down to the wire, we now know the Republicans' real strategy is to attack abortion and the anti-pollution regulation. It is not even about budget balancing.

Obama is again being outmaneuvered. As a close friend says, Obama is playing checkers, the other guys are playing chess. But the root causes are the insupportable strategy of being calm 24/7, avoiding angry attacks, and ultimately accepting compromise with those who don't believe in gravity. This is not leadership. I yearn for FDR more every day.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick is the author of The Case for Big Government.

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Will the Florida GOP Dishonor the Greatest Generation?

Apr 4, 2011Harvey J. Kaye

harveys-fatherTo truly honor our World War II heroes, we also have to honor their progressivism that made this a freer and more equal country. **Photo is Harvey's father, Murray N. Kaye (1923-1990), from his days in the US Army during WWII.

harveys-fatherTo truly honor our World War II heroes, we also have to honor their progressivism that made this a freer and more equal country. **Photo is Harvey's father, Murray N. Kaye (1923-1990), from his days in the US Army during WWII. He was drafted out of college, trained as an engineer with the ASTP at Washington State, and then served with the 11th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge where he was wounded, for which he was awarded a Purple Heart.

This past Saturday, April 2, Florida Republicans launched a six-months-long, seven-city "Greatest Generation Tour" in Pensacola's Veterans Memorial Park. Declaring their intention to recognize and honor the patriotic sacrifices and achievements of those who served the country in World War II -- and noting that more than 1,000 of those veterans are passing away each day -- state GOP spokesperson Don Salter stated that "we need to show our appreciation before it's too late."

Nice words -- spoken, I am sure, with the utmost sincerity. And yet I seriously doubt that the Sunshine State Republicans will -- or even can -- properly recognize and honor the achievements of those whom we have come to call the "Greatest Generation." It's not simply that previous celebrations and commemorations have repeatedly failed to fully appreciate what those then-young Americans actually accomplished. It's also that Republican conservatives -- no, let's face it, reactionaries -- essentially have placed the memory and legacy of those who confronted the horrors of the Great Depression and the Second World War under siege.

Over and over again, Americans, both right and left, have failed to properly acknowledge how much the men and women of the 1930s and 1940s actually accomplished. Against historical expectations, in the face of powerful opposition, and despite their own terrible faults and failings, those Americans not only rescued the nation from economic destruction, defended it against political tyranny, and turned it into the strongest and most prosperous country on earth, but at the very same time made it freer, more equal, and more democratic than ever before. Arguably the most progressive generation in U.S. history, they not only rejected the easy temptations of authoritarianism and isolationism and responded with courage and determination to Franklin Roosevelt's democratic New Deal and vision of the Four Freedoms. They also subjected big business to public account and regulation, empowered the federal government to address the needs of working people, organized labor unions, fought for their rights, reconstituted the "We" in "We the People," established a social security system, expanded the nation's public infrastructure, improved the environment, and -- having imbued themselves with fresh democratic convictions, hopes, and aspirations -- went on to fight and defeat Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan.

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I feel confident that the Florida GOP's Greatest Generation Tour will both warmly register our shared admiration and affection for our parents', grandparents', and great-grandparents' wartime labors and sacrifices and clearly highlight their faith, courage, and determination. However, if past events of this sort are anything to go by, I do not imagine it will recount our elders' achievements in regulating capital, creating Social Security, securing the right to bargain collectively, and pursuing the vast array of New Deal public works projects that transformed the American landscape and public good for the better. I doubt that it will recount the energies, efforts, and enactments of relief, recovery, reconstruction, and reform that not only rebuilt America and enabled the country to turn itself into the "Arsenal of Democracy" and then destroy its enemies on two fronts, but also enabled millions of veterans, boosted by the grand public initiative known as the G.I. Bill, to get educated, housed, and ready to work and thereby turn themselves into the great American middle class.

Of course, it must be granted that the majority of 1930s Republicans despised both the New Deal and working people's struggles to extend and deepen American freedom, equality, and democracy. Indeed, all but writing the script for today's political and economic right, they charged that FDR's New Deal was leading the country to either fascism or communism and that President Roosevelt himself was intent upon establishing a dictatorship. So, having opposed the Greatest Generation's Depression-era labors back then, why should we expect them to make much of those things now?

But in that case, why do today's conservative Republicans feel empowered to make so much of the Greatest Generation's wartime struggles when their political ancestors opposed not only the initiatives of the New Deal but also, right up until we were attacked at Pearl Harbor, the prospect of the United States standing forcefully against Hitler, Mussolini, and Japan's ruling military clique? Committed to isolationism and eager not to antagonize the Axis powers, most GOP congressmen voted against FDR's defense requests to revise America's neutrality laws, expand the American military, institute a military draft, and create a "Lend-Lease" program for Britain and its allies to sustain their resistance to fascism. They voted against it even as Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were overrunning Europe and East Asia, respectively, and showing every likelihood of coming after us next.

Lest I be misread, let me make myself absolutely clear. I heartily endorse the Florida GOP's efforts to honor the Greatest Generation. However, I urge them not to slight those same men and women by failing to appreciate all that they actually achieved for this country, for themselves, and for us. And having said that, I urge Republicans from Florida to Alaska to stop dishonoring the memory and legacy of the Greatest Generation with their assaults on Social Security, the rights of working people, and the public good.

Harvey J. Kaye is the Rosenberg Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the author of Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. He is currently writing The Four Freedoms and the Promise of America. Follow him on Twitter:

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Time for a New Manhattan Project?

Apr 1, 2011David B. Woolner

To solve our energy problem, President Obama must bring together the country's best and brightest and devote significant government resources.

To solve our energy problem, President Obama must bring together the country's best and brightest and devote significant government resources.

In a speech before students at George Washington University this week, President Obama insisted that it was time for the United States to develop a new national energy policy that would reduce our nation's dependence on oil. "We've known about the dangers of our oil dependence for decades," he said, with presidents and politicians having promised time and time again to secure America's "energy dependence." But so far, "that promise has gone unmet."

He then went on to say that we "cannot keep going from shock to trance on the issue of energy security, rushing to propose action when gas prices rise, then hitting the snooze button when they fall again." To solve our energy challenge, the president then announced that his administration was releasing a "Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future," which provides the framework for a comprehensive national energy policy. The new framework includes a number of ideas and programs, from setting a goal to cut our dependence on foreign oil by one third over the next decade, to ensuring America's homes and offices are more energy efficient. The plan also calls for an enhanced effort to secure domestic supplies of energy -- including oil, natural gas, clean coal and nuclear power -- as well as the development of alternative sources of energy, such as wind, solar power and biofuels. In the long run, however, the president insisted that the best way for the United States to secure its energy future would be for the country to tap into its most valuable commodity: American ingenuity.

The notion that the United States can use its scientific, intellectual and entrepreneurial power to solve its most complex and pressing problems is not a new one. But to a large extent, President Obama's call for the research and development of new sources of energy relies on the encouragement of the private sector to do so through the establishment of a Clean Energy Standard. He does observe that government funding in R&D will be critical to this effort and notes with pride the investments his administration has already made in renewable energy research under funds provided by the 2009 stimulus act. But his calls for additional federal support of this effort -- characterized as one of his "budget priorities" in an age of fiscal austerity -- may lack the dynamism and inspiration needed to get the American people behind it.

It is true that the Americans are remarkably ingenious. But it is also true that some of our most important technical and scientific advancements have come about not through the profit-seeking initiative of the private sector, but rather through the marshaling of intellectual, scientific and financial resources under the direction of the federal government. One example is the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), established by Congress in 1958 under the leadership of President Dwight David Eisenhower. A second, and far more significant example, can be found in the launch of FDR's Manhattan Project -- the wartime effort to develop the atomic bomb.

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The Manhattan Project was inspired to a large extent by a letter that President Roosevelt received in the fall of 1939 from Albert Einstein and a small group of international scientists. The letter took note of the recent discovery of nuclear fission and warned the president of the possibility that this discovery might lead to the creation of extremely powerful weapons. It also alluded to the fact that German scientists were working in this area.

In response to this news, FDR immediately established an Advisory Committee on Uranium, while a similar effort was launched in Great Britain. By 1942, the two efforts had merged into what was called the Manhattan Project. Centered in the United States, it involved scientists working at labs in a number of leading universities in the U.S., Britain and Canada. It also led to the creation of a number of significant federal facilities, such as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Oak Ridge City, which grew from empty Tennessee farmland to a city and scientific facility of over 75,000 people between 1943 and 1945; the Hanford Engineering Works, located in south-central Washington, which employed over 50,000 workers in the construction of the world's first full-scale nuclear reactor; and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which employed over 5,000 scientists and engineers.

Employing more than 130,000 people at a cost of roughly $2 billion in 1940s dollars, the Manhattan Project was one of the largest scientific endeavors ever undertaken. Its successful development of atomic weapons and the US decision to use them will forever remain controversial, but the project also ushered in the nuclear age, which brought us a host of scientific advances above and beyond the development of nuclear energy. These include significant developments in medicine, electronics and nanotechnology, all of which have had an enormous impact on our quality of life and our understandings of the workings of the universe.

Establishing a Clean Energy Standard that will require the private sector to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on foreign oil is an important first step in our effort to secure what the president calls our "energy independence." But if we wish to use our innate ingenuity to truly wean ourselves off our dependence on fossil fuels and the internal combustion engine, then something more than marginal support for basic scientific and technical research will be required. President Obama alluded to this when he said we need "to dream big;" to summon the same spirit of unbridled optimism and bold willingness that allowed "previous generations to rise to greatness -- to save democracy, to touch the moon, to connect the world with our own science and imagination."

As we look to the past for inspiration, it is important to remember that many of the accomplishments the president refers to would not have been achieved without the strong financial support of the federal government. To "dream big" means trying to achieve not the greatest profit, but the greatest good for all Americans. This requires much more than faith in science; it also requires faith in our collective wisdom and the benefits that can accrue from a government that is truly dedicated to the common good of all.

David Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian for the Roosevelt Institute.

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The Unfinished Business of Making the World's Women Citizens

Mar 29, 2011Allida Black

world-hand-200Recognizing Women’s History Month, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens -- and how their economic lives have evolved along with their rights. Allida Black urges action on UN Resolution 1325, which ensures equal citi

world-hand-200Recognizing Women’s History Month, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens -- and how their economic lives have evolved along with their rights. Allida Black urges action on UN Resolution 1325, which ensures equal citizenship for women across the globe.

The monumental elections of Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia), Roza Otunbayeva (Krygyzstan), Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), and Prime Minister Julia Gillard (Australia) and the game-changing appointments of Dr. Michelle Bachelet as Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UNWomen and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State proved that women can govern, run preeminent human rights organizations, set international policy, and place women at the center of diplomacy, development, and peace.

But the question remains -- if women can be president, why can't they be citizens? Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights." Yet it took another twenty years after its signing to get the international conventions on political and civil rights and on economic, social and cultural rights -- and, in the United States, another twenty plus years for Congress to adopt legislation ensuring women's political and economic rights. It took another thirteen years for the United Nations to ratify (without the support of the United States) the Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination against Women. And in 2011, the US House of Representatives and other foreign governing bodies still toy with legislation essential to women's identities, ranging from limiting access to reproductive health services and marriage to crafting sentencing guidelines that treat girls and women as felons and charges those that have abducted and abused them with misdemeanors.

In a 1946 column, written before she joined the UN Commission on Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt urged women to "call on the Governments of the world to encourage women everywhere to take a more conscious part in national and international affairs, and on women to come forward and share in the work of peace and reconstruction as they did in the war and resistance." More than fifty years later, at the dawn of a new century, the UN Security Council -- pressured by a well-organized international women's lobby, Hillary Clinton, and other stateswomen and embarrassed by the rampant use of rape and genital dismemberment as tools of war -- adopted Resolution 1325. It urged "Member States to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict."

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Now ten years later, the campaign -- indeed the struggle -- to enforce this resolution rages across the United States as much as it does across Egypt or the Congo or Afghanistan.

It is tempting to construct this resolution narrowly -- to see it as a tool of armistice rather than reconstruction, as a vehicle to protect women rather than empower them. To do so, to paraphrase Albus Dumbledore, would be to do what is easy rather than what is right.

UN1325 is on the front line in the campaign for women's citizenship. It is a battle to ensure that economic, social and cultural rights cannot be divorced from, or considered separately from, political and civil rights. It is the struggle to reclaim democracy promotion away from post-Cold War politics, self-interested development and the campaign against terror and place it at the heart of citizen participation.

Just as important, it is a campaign to ensure women's rights as citizens as much as it is a campaign to force governments to act responsibly to all its citizens. While equality and human dignity have no sex, policy designed without taking stock of gender differences often perpetuates discrimination.

As Eleanor Roosevelt would say, both citizens and governments must "recognize that the goal of full participation in the life and responsibilities of their countries and of the world community is a common objective" and one "which the women of the world should assist one another" in achieving.

Allida Black is a director of the Roosevelt Institute and founded the Eleanor Roosevelt Project.

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Obama's Stance on Libya: Channelling Reagan and Clinton

Mar 28, 2011Chuck Spinney

military-tank-150Without informing Congress, Obama has given the defense sector a huge win.

military-tank-150Without informing Congress, Obama has given the defense sector a huge win.

Any discussion about Libya is incomplete without mentioning Congress or the Constitution, as the Constitution specifically assigns Congress the war making decision. The President, as Commander in Chief, can only commit forces to "repel sudden attacks," to use James Madison's term. There was considerable debate at the Constitutional Convention and in the Federalist Papers on this question. The original intent is clear, and 'repelling sudden attacks' on our forces was certainly not the case in Libya.

Given the clear requirement, it's my view that David Woolner should have mentioned the Constitution in his discussion of how Obama's stance on Libya is taking a page from Roosevelt's book. Invoking FDR's memory without explaining these omissions may add weight to the charge made by conservatives that Roosevelt held the Constitution in contempt (a charge that I do not believe to be true).

Roosevelt went to Congress before he went to war. On December 8, 1941, the Congress of the United States declared war with Japan, on December 11 with Germany and Italy, and on June 5, 1942, with Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. It declared war against Japan after the surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor and against Germany and Italy after those nations, under the dictators Hitler and Mussolini, declared war against the United States. It declared war against Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania in response to the declarations of war by those nations against the United States. It was all quite formal and in accordance with the Constitution.

To be sure, FDR involved the US Navy in convoy escort duty and attacked German U boats before we declared war and many, including myself, believe this to be an unauthorized act of war. FDR was criticized, quite rightly, over this point. But Pearl Harbor and WWII silenced these criticisms and rendered any follow-on action mute. American ships like the Robin Moor, Sessa, Steel Seafarer, Greer, Montana, Pink Star, I. C. White, W. C. Teagle, Bold Venture, Kearny, Lehigh, Salinas, and Reuben James (a warship) were all bombed or torpedoed -- and, in most cases, sunk by Germany from May 21 to October 31, 1941. Does Woolner think FDR's slipperiness in this convoy escort mission should take precedence over Roosevelt's association with Congress's formal declarations when invoking his memory?

As far as Obama is taking pages out of a predecessor's book, Truman went to war in Korea without Congressional authorization, but at least there was a clear case of aggression by North Korea and the UN/US had previously assumed responsibility for South Korea (which is very different from Obama in Libya -- Gaddafi is putting down an internal revolt, and we don't like it, but it is not aggression; he is reacting). Johnson lobbied Congress for passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. (To be sure, he lied to Congress about the attacks on the Turner Joy and the Maddox, and a friend of mine was a radar operator in the combat info center on the Turner Joy and they knew at the time there was no attack! In fairness, it is not clear what Johnson knew, but MacNamara knew.) Reagan got Congress's permission to send troops into Lebanon, but only informed Congress after the fact when he bombed Libya, and he invaded Granada at the invitation of the OAS (but not the UN). Bush I consulted Congress before the First Iraq War. Clinton, using NATO as an umbrella, went to war in Kosovo without Congressional or UN approval (and basically cooked the rationale for the war by inserting a last minute poison pill that killed Serbia's pending agreement to Ramboullet negotiations -- more on this below). Bush II went to Congress for the invasion of both Afghanistan and Iraq (although he lied like Johnson in the case of Iraq, and completely ignored the possibility of a negotiation with the Taliban for turning over Osama bin Laden to an international court).

Given these precedents, I would argue that rather than taking a page out of FDR's book, Obama took a modified page out of Reagan's book on Grenada. Like Reagan, Obama had the approval of a local national organization; unlike Reagan, Obama also had UN approval, but neither consulted Congress. And Obama took a modified page out of Clinton's book on Kosovo by using the NATO umbrella, but Obama had UN and Arab League approval. It must be underscored that Kosovo, in particular, is a terrible precedent. But it's not surprising that Obama would resort to it, given that he has also borrowed a lot of Clinton's terrible neoliberal policies.

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Now a lot of liberals think Kosovo was a good precedent and a justification for 'humanitarian intervention' -- particularly the likes of Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, who were part of the group that convinced Obama to go into Libya. But the reality is that Kosovo was a bloody disaster based on contrived circumstances and distortions. (Note that Dennis Kucinich, interestingly, also objected vehemently to Kosovo -- in fact, I first met him in 1999 when I was a speaker at a congressional symposium he held lambasting this issue). Indeed, Kosovo is a case study in the failure of high complexity weapons and organizational arrangements (NATO C3 in Libya is unbelievably complex) to deliver their promised performance. U.S. military planners predicted a "precision" bombing campaign would force the Serbians to capitulate in only two to three days, but the air campaign grinded on for 79 days. When the Serbians did not collapse as predicted, the target list grew exponentially (as it did in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, and WWII). The conduct of the bombing campaign was shaped more by the speed with which targets got through the approval cycle than any strategy linking a particular target's destruction to a desired tactical or strategic effect. As a result, NATO bombers effectively destroyed the economic infrastructure of a tiny nation with an economy smaller than that of Fairfax County, Virginia. Anyone who has spent any time studying air power knows that its promises of quick easy victories are illusory -- but they are great for the weapons contractors.

When Kosovo ended, NATO intelligence determined only tiny quantities of Serbian tanks, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery, and trucks -- all high priority targets -- were destroyed, in part because the Serbs spoofed our complex surveillance and precision guidance technologies with simple decoys.

There are even reports that they used cheap microwave ovens as decoys to attract our enormously expensive radar homing missiles. Serbian troops marched out of Kosovo in good order, their fighting spirit intact, displaying clean equipment, crisp uniforms, and in larger numbers than planners said were in Kosovo to begin with. Moreover, the terms of the Serbian "surrender," which the undefeated Serbian military regarded as a sell-out by President Milosevic, were the same as those the Serbians agreed to at the Rambouillet Conference, before U.S. negotiators led by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright inserted a poison pill (in the form of an intrusive military annex that would allow NATO troops unfettered access to Serbia proper) to queer the deal, so we could have what the politically troubled Clinton administration thought would be a neat, short war. The result is a narco-mafia state in the heart of the Balkans, whose leader has been accused of trafficking in human organs (taken from Serbians held captive).

This is the war that the "humanitarian interventionists" think is the model for meddling in countries like Libya.

So it should be no surprise that Obama's attack on Libya is not delivering its promise of an easy victory and that the target list is now expanding beyond the suppression of air defense systems (justified technically by the establishment of a no fly zone) to attacks on supply dumps, tanks, artillery pieces, navy yards, command posts, and the national command authority (Qadafi's compound -- a euphemism for targeted assassination), etc. These latter targets have nothing to do with establishing a no fly zone. Anyone who seriously studied Kosovo or the history of air power would not be surprised by this evolution. Predictably, some at the White House are now saying this is not war.

To be sure, the Libyans are not as skilled at fighting as the Serbs, and Obama may well pull this off, but that only makes the emerging debacle even more disgraceful. FDR's memory ought not be linked to this one.

One final point: FDR was a successful war president, but the spirit of New Deal 2.0 is more in line with his domestic policies and progressive spirit of experimentation of the original New Deal. President Obama has inherited the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, a crisis that has been building up for at least 30 years. Readers of this site understand the systemic pattern of deregulation, privatization, deindustrialization, union busting, stagnant wages, skyrocketing income inequality, etc. are undoing the achievements of New Deal and the Great Society. The huge increases in the defense budgets since 1980 are part and parcel of this evolution. Today the US is spending almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. The military-industrial-congression complex is seamlessly woven into our political economy, yet defense manufacturing distorts our economy. As I explained in the "Domestic Roots of Perpetual War", defense manufacturing firms cannot convert to commercial production and their survival depends on ever-increasing defense budgets. The deficit hawks are lining up to cut social programs, including our safety nets, but pressure was building to include the defense budget. Readers can rest assured that the Libyan war will take the defense budget off the table. The battle between Social Security and Medicare on the one side and the Defense budget and the special interests of the MICC on the other is gearing up -- and President Obama has just taken defense off the table. Score MICC one and Social Security/Medicare zero.

Chuck Spinney is an American former military analyst for the Pentagon and has been a fierce critic of wasteful defense spending.

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What a Woman! Farewell to Geraldine Ferraro

Mar 28, 2011Lynn Parramore

ferraro1-sizedGeraldine Ferraro altered America for the better.

ferraro1-sizedGeraldine Ferraro altered America for the better.

Long before there was Sarah Palin, there was Geraldine Ferraro, a woman who changed electoral politics forever and inspired a generation to believe that America could finally achieve democracy's most elusive goal: the full participation of female leaders.

I was just fourteen when Walter Mondale chose her as his running mate, and I recall thinking: 'Wow! Who is this feisty woman on TV talking about the White House?!?' A woman running for vice president was something new and exciting. Everybody knew she had to be tough as nails and whip smart to navigate the minefields of such an unprecedented candidacy. What was more amazing than her poise was her plausibility. To hear her speak was to take her seriously. In fact, there were times when she seemed more plausible as a leader than the other candidate on her ticket. This was a woman who had been a mother, a lawyer, a successful Congresswoman. She was a tough-talking New Yorker, but the fact that she had stayed home until her kids were school age made it harder for conservatives to paint her as something unnatural and unwomanly -- though many tried anyway, like Barbara Bush, who famously declared that Ferraro made her think of a word that 'rhymed with rich'.

Toughness and smarts she had in spades. And a deep sense of fairness, too. As a congresswoman representing New York's 9th district, she spent six years pushing for causes that Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt would have applauded: fair pay for women, dignified retirement, and decent health care. It was a feeling of connection to the Roosevelt legacy that prompted her to join the board of the Roosevelt Institute, where she did her part to make sure that the New Deal would live on and benefit future generations.

Women like Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Sarah Palin, have stood on the shoulders of this path-breaking figure. Her zest for life, her tireless activism, and her unyielding belief in a better future will be deeply missed. "America is the land where dreams can come true for all of us," she told the crowd at the Democratic Convention in 1984. We honor her life and work today by holding these words close to our hearts.

Lynn Parramore is the editor of New Deal 2.0, Media Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute fellow, co-Founder of Recessionwire, and the author of Reading the Sphinx.

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The Results Are In: FDR's Inner Thoughts

Mar 25, 2011

Thank you to all who partook in our meme! From welcoming bankers' hatred to reflecting on saving the world to deporting the Koch brothers, here are some of our favorites...and stay tuned for more.


Thank you to all who partook in our meme! From welcoming bankers' hatred to reflecting on saving the world to deporting the Koch brothers, here are some of our favorites...and stay tuned for more.









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Maine Governor Paul LePage Reveals the Fears of the Right

Mar 25, 2011Harvey J. Kaye

frances-perkins-150By trying to erase progressive history, he not only shows how it threatens conservatives but urges us to keep the fight going.

frances-perkins-150By trying to erase progressive history, he not only shows how it threatens conservatives but urges us to keep the fight going.

One thing you have to say for Governor Paul LePage of Maine is that he's an honest guy. Right-wing Republicans incessantly proclaim their reverence for the American past. But the Governor has made it quite clear that, contrary to their repeated claims, conservatives do not revere the nation's history but actually fear it and believe they must act to control what people remember and know of it.

Determined to make Maine ever more inviting to business executives and their investments, LePage not only has set out -- like many another Republican governors, such as Scott Walker of Wisconsin -- to weaken, if not destroy, public employee unions and workers' rights. LePage also has taken steps to "neutral[ize]" American history. He has ordered both the removal of a labor history mural from the walls of the state's Department of Labor Building and the renaming of its conference rooms so that they no longer bear those of 1960s farm-worker leader César Chavez, 1920s labor activist Rose Schneiderman, and President Franklin Roosevelt's Labor Secretary Frances Perkins (the first woman ever to hold a Cabinet-level appointment).

Three cheers for Governor LePage! Instead of denying what he's up to, he reveals all. He wants to wipe the walls of government clean of the progressive story of what has made America prosperous and ever more free, equal, and democratic. He wants a history that makes the rich and the right comfortable, happy, and ready to roll.

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Forget the blissful ignorance of Minnesota congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. History, historical memory, and imagination matter and the folks on the right know it. Pursuing class war from above for more than thirty years now, conservative and corporate leaders have persistently sought to harness the past -- or their strange renditions of it -- to bolster their own pro-corporate and reactionary ambitions and schemes. Following the lead of their champion, actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan, the unrivaled master of using and abusing history, Republicans and their ilk continue to conjure up their marble images of the Founders, wrap themselves in the American flag (if not the Stars & Bars on occasion), and talk of bygone eras and their desire to restore "the America we have lost." You can find them doing so from the halls of Congress and many a statehouse, from the studios of FOX News and many an AM radio station, and from the pages of innumerable books and periodicals.

But they really do not seek to redeem the past. Rather, they want to hijack it by variously and variably fabricating it, obscuring it, and burying it in favor of a tale that denies the power of "We the people" past and present and enhances their own power and wealth forever after.

We progressives have so much to do today. But in doing it we must not fail to challenge the right regarding American experience and greatness. We must do a better job of cultivating and speaking to American historical memory and imagination. We must re-engage America's past -- to defend it, to redeem it, to make it our own.

In 1939, when the Great Depression still stalked the United States and fascism and imperialism were threatening to rule the world, Max Lerner wrote in "It Is Later Than You Think: The Need for a Militant Democracy", "The basic story in the American past, the only story ultimately worth the telling, is the story of the struggle between the creative and the frustrating elements in the American democratic adventure."

In that spirit, we must never forget the exploitation and oppression, the tragedies and injustices, and the struggles and defeats that have marked our history. But we must also remember the victories of 1776, 1865, 1920, 1935, 1945, 1965. We must hear the encouraging words and inspiring ideals: All men are created equal... Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness... We the People... A new birth of freedom... Government of the people, by the people, for the people... Freedom of speech, Freedom of worship, Freedom from want, Freedom from fear... We shall overcome. And we must honor those men and women -- in all their American diversity -- who fought those battles, spoke those words, and progressively advanced America's historic purpose and promise.

Three cheers for Governor LePage -- not just for revealing all, but also for reminding us of what we need to do, especially now with the resurgence of America's democratic impulse emanating from Wisconsin!

Propelled by the memory and legacy of those who came before us, the yearnings and aspirations we ourselves feel, and the responsibility we have to those yet to come, we can pursue not only the imperatives of recovery and reconstruction, but also that of making a freer, more equal, and more democratic America. We too can both secure the past and make history. And perhaps one day our children will recall 2011, recite the words "This is what democracy looks like," and not only return the labor mural to the walls of the state office building in Maine, but also add their own historical panels to that work.

Harvey J. Kaye is the Rosenberg Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the author of Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. He is currently writing The Four Freedoms and the Promise of America. Follow him on Twitter:

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What You And I Owe the 146 Victims of the Triangle Fire

Mar 25, 2011Frank L. Cocozzelli

triangle-fireTheir sacrifice can live on if we fight for the reforms sparked by their deaths.

triangle-fireTheir sacrifice can live on if we fight for the reforms sparked by their deaths.

The names of the of the victims of the Triangle fire mean more to me than most Americans. Having lived most of my life in Italian and Jewish neighborhoods in and around New York City, I feel as though I know these people. Their faces were faces I grew up with. Their names -- Caputo, Colletti, Levine, Kaplan, Maltese, Schneider and Uzzo -- are names I've known all my life; names that echo with the same Southeastern European cadences and rhythm as mine.

What do we owe the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire? It is something I've thought long and hard about, especially on the one-hundredth anniversary of this great tragedy.

I remember once traveling by train through Southern Italy at night. I gazed out of the compartment window seeing mountain villages in the dark distance. Even then in the late twentieth century they appeared so isolated from the modern world. As I stared I thought about those who almost a century earlier had the courage and audacity to leave this then-still medieval world behind and risk the future in what was a totally alien culture of the industrial United States. I equally wondered in amazement at those who left behind their shtetls in Poland and Russia. They also took the same incredible gamble.

My great-grandmother, who came from Italy in the late nineteenth century, was a garment worker during the same period of the Triangle fire. My grandmother, Josephine, and her sisters Mary, Tessie and Rosie were also garment workers. And my mother-in-law, who came here from Italy in 1970, was also a garment worker. Like those who came before her, she spoke no English when she arrived. Yet just three days after coming to America she courageously got on a subway train, road from Brooklyn to Manhattan, and began work at a sewing machine.

As a boy, I vividly remember going to visit my grandmother in her work places, and in later years I remember going with my wife to pick her mother up at the end of her workday. All these shops were very much the same. Even with union representation they were dimly lit and cramped. Foremen still pressed for greater productivity. In the winter they would be chilly and in the summer, stifling hot. And yet they worked with the understanding that honest labor is a form of high honor.

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But what binds the victims of the Triangle fire to the garment workers I knew, and by extension, all of us? Any link I have to the 146 victims goes beyond ethnicity and neighborhoods. While many of the victims were Italian or Jewish New Yorkers, it is a greater link; indeed, it is a quality that goes to the heart of the American experience. What binds all of us is a concept of liberty that is almost too oblique to those who are now attempting to take away collective bargaining rights or gut job safety regulations. It is how many of these garment workers themselves could have defined liberty, not just as a means to accumulate massive wealth but "as a beacon of hope, shining out to oppressed peoples; it was the future teaching out to the present, to unchain humanity from the shackles of the past."

Part of that "beacon of hope" was the ability to earn their way into a better life. In exchange for giving their honest effort every work day, all they wanted was a fair wage and a safe place to toil. Those essential attributes of liberty were denied to the victims of the fire. And because they were so denied, they became reluctant martyrs for reform. Unwittingly, their burning bodies, tumbling through space, energized a movement that would lead to the creation of the modern American middle class. Their death and suffering earned a better life for you and me. And yet question still remains: What do we owe the 146 who perished that early spring day one century ago?

Frances Perkins, FDR's future Secretary of Labor, witnessed the fire. She was instrumental in the effort of progressive reform and was quoted as saying that March 25, 1911 was "the day the New Deal began." What she meant was that the tragedy of that horrible fire made Americans begin to truly realize that working people were not merely a means to wealth, but ends in and of themselves, worthy of being treated with dignity. It was the singular event that transformed Al Smith and Robert Wagner, Sr., from Tammany Hall hacks into champions of reform. It caused the Democratic Party to better live up to it moniker, "the party of the people."

Grover Norquist echoes the sentiments of many movement conservatives by saying that he wants to take the country back to the time before the Progressive Era, which began with the Triangle fire. At the very least, we owe the Triangle victims the task of reminding everyone what that world looks like. It bares the face of child labor and unsafe working conditions. And sadly we need not look to the past to be reminded; it now exists in third-world countries where far too many of our clothes are  being made. Beyond that, as advocates of FDR's legacy we owe the victims a promise that we will fight to keep the Democratic party from slipping back to its pre-fire days, when they catered to wealthy factions, by supporting those who still carry the mantle of reform.

We owe them that much. To fail to do so would dishonor their terrible sacrifice.

Frank L. Cocozzelli writes a weekly column on Roman Catholic neoconservatism at and is contributor to Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America. A director of the Institute for Progressive Christianity, he is working on a book on American liberalism.

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From the Triangle Fire to Wisconsin, Rights for Women Workers

Mar 22, 2011Brigid OFarrell

raised-fist-150Remembering Women’s History Month and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic

raised-fist-150Remembering Women’s History Month and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New Deal 2.0 tells the surprising story of how women became citizens — and how their economic lives have evolved along with their rights. Brigid O'Farrell urges Republicans like Scott Walker to listen to the women following in the footsteps of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory strikers and Eleanor Roosevelt.

For Women's History Month this year, thousands of people around the country are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Fire. On Saturday, March 25, 1911, flames engulfed a sweatshop just off of Washington Square, in New York City, where women's shirtwaist blouses were made. One hundred and forty-six workers, mostly young Jewish and Italian girls, were burned to death by the fire or jumped to their deaths to escape. Doors were locked and the fire ladders couldn't reach the top floors of the burning building. Women died at their sewing machines, but they didn't have the right to vote in elections. The fire was an historic turning point for the country. The movement for social justice took on new urgency. Workplace safety legislation became a reality, the union movement gained momentum, and eventually women won the right to vote.

March is a time to celebrate the progress that women have made since the Triangle Fire, but there is also reason to pause and consider the fight that continues. We need only turn to Wisconsin. Governor Walker's outright attack on unions is, indeed, a fundamental attack on working women. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over half of state workers and 61% of city workers are women. Thirty-one percent of state workers and 42% of local government workers belong to unions. They earn better wages than those who are not union members and the pay gap between women and men is smaller among union members.

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These employees are our elementary school teachers, university professors, nurses, social workers, secretaries, and administrative assistants. They are women who are critical to making our cities work and who help turn our towns into livable communities for our families. Through their unions they have secured decent wages, reasonable benefits, ways to resolve grievances, and some security for their retirement. Yet they are being criticized and their rights taken away for economic problems they didn't create.

We can learn from Eleanor Roosevelt. She believed that all workers had a right to a voice at work. Legislation and unionization were the only two ways to protect workers, and she thought joining a union was the best way for women to improve their working lives. For her, workers' rights were human rights, and it is this basic right to have a voice at work that is being lost in Wisconsin.

Eleanor Roosevelt gave careful consideration to her positions. President Roosevelt was skeptical of public-sector unions, though definitely not anti-union as some conservatives have suggested, and his wife struggled with the issue in her newspaper column "My Day" after his death. In the 1950s, as public employee unions began to organize and grow more rapidly, however, she was shocked when a city police commissioner refused to meet with a workers' grievance committee. She acknowledged budget problems, but asked if "any workers should be kept at starvation wages?"

By the late 1950s, she concluded that unionization in the public sector was necessary because employers in the public sector were little different from those in the private sector, refusing to listen to workers and treat them fairly. "Employees who are quite evidently not receiving a living wage and are dissatisfied with their conditions of work," she wrote, "would simply be slaves if they were obliged to work on without being able to reach their employers with their complaints and demand negotiation."

When teachers went on strike in New York City in 1962, shortly before her death, she wrote that there was no "method of complaint and adjustment that could take the place of collective bargaining with the ultimate possibility of a strike." She concluded that "Under the present set-up teachers have no other recourse but to strike to draw attention to their legitimate complaints." Female public employees in Wisconsin followed Roosevelt's advise and joined unions.

Governor Walker should listen to Eleanor Roosevelt. He would learn that his time might be more productively spent cooperating with the women who teach our children and care for the sick and meet the needs of the public everyday. He could learn to solicit their ideas on how to improve services and reduce costs, then negotiate solutions. Wisconsin government could be a model of a democratic workplace, rather than a leader in an effort to dismantle workers' rights. The women of Wisconsin are joining the spirit of their sisters in the Triangle Fire and they are fighting back. They need our support. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "We can't just talk, we have got to act."

Brigid O’Farrell is an independent scholar whose new book is She Was One of Us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker, Cornell University Press.

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