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Archive for January, 2010

Tickets to Ride: Obama, Biden on Track with High-Speed Rail Projects

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

As train-lovin’ infrastructure freaks, we applaud Friday’s announcement by President Obama and Vice President “Amtrak Joe” Biden that the administration will dedicate $8 billion of stimulus funding for high-speed rail projects in 13 major rail corridors in 31 states around the U.S. The president calls this investment a down payment on the most significant step forward in the nation’s transportation system since the interstate highway system was launched in the 1950s. The OneRail coalition cheers the news: “Investment in rail will create jobs not only in those corridors, but  around the nation as American companies develop, build, and operate systems that will reduce energy consumption, mitigate air pollution, enhance the reliability of passenger and freight rail, and create more livable communities.”

We see the investment as a most welcome advance that will help reduce the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels (a point repeated by Transportation secretary Ray LaHood) and on automobiles. The train projects are energy-efficient and reinforce U.S. national security. (The less foreign oil we use, the fewer soldiers we have to send overseas to oil-rich zones.) As we’ve noted before, “the U.S. must reduce its dependence on automobiles and on importing foreign oil (and extracting it from off the Gulf Coast). Carbon emissions aggravate global warming, which intensifies hurricanes and raises sea levels.”


“We don’t quit. I don’t quit.”

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills.” —President Obama, Jan. 27, 2010

That was our favorite line of the State of the Union address. Now, the president and the general public should keep reminding the congressional Democrats of this fact every day, for how easily they forget. In a speech that did not shrink at all from his ambitious agenda—but that wisely set the necessity of reforms in the context of economic necessity—the president challenged everyone in the room to keep working, and work harder, to deliver the change that the American people voted for in 2008.

Probably our second most appreciated challenge was the one that followed, directed at the cool-handed Republicans:

And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town—a supermajority—then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. [Applause] Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions.


In Defense of Liberalism and Good Government

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

“Work as if you are in the early days of a better nation.”Alasdair Gray

We were delighted to see President Obama’s fiery, fightin’ spirit Friday as he swung into Elyria, Ohio, in full campaign mode with his “never stop fighting” speech. You go, O.

But, listen, populist rhetoric alone won’t do it. Democrats—and the White House in particular—must take strong actions (take stands, build support, gather coalitions, and cast votes). Be specific and firm about health care and banking reforms. Don’t be so vague, aloof, and passive. Stop letting opponents frame the debate. Take strong action. Grab them bankers by the throat. Make ’em gasp. (See the example of JFK vs. U.S. Steel in 1962 in Frank Rich’s column “After the Massachusetts Massacre.”)

In our last post we urged Democrats to be boldly populist and fight for the ordinary voters. We called on Democrats—and independents and any elected officials who want to make this a better, internally stronger nation—to speak up for the positive role of government. It is imperative to counter the conservative/Republican con job about government’s being “the problem” (as Reagan famously accused, though Jimmy Carter had done the same before him—thanks a lot) and give definite examples of how the public benefits from good government.

To start with some good talking points, the message is well summarized in the following passages from our friend Joe Conason in his bestselling book Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (hailed by Paul Krugman as “must reading for anyone who wants to understand America today”):

“. . . remember that America in the twentieth century was built on liberal policy, from the Progressive Era through the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the GI Bill, and the Great Society. The modern economy—a private enterprise system that relies on government safeguards against depression and extreme poverty—is the legacy of liberal leadership, from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson. . . . Conservatism in power always threatens to undo that national progress . . .


Democrats, Be Bold. Do Not Freak Out.

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Stand up straight. No cringing, no cowering.

The loss of the Massachusetts senate seat is dismaying but unfortunately not surprising. What worries us is that Democrats will learn the wrong lessons from the loss—they have a way of doing that. Some have said “we should slow down, ease off.” But to all the members of Congress who have phoned in to ask our advice, we have one clear, concise bit of counsel: Be boldly populist and fight for the ordinary voters. To hell with what pleases Wall Street, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup. Wake up from the sweet dream of “bipartisanship.” If they’re going to call you a “socialist,” then by all means earn the title. Press harder on the progressive issues of health care reform, oversight of the financial industry, and aggressive jobs programs (WPA, CCC style), and for God’s sake speak up for the positive role of government (or call it the public sector). Focus the message. (See Jeffrey Feldman’s HuffPo column “The Lesson of the Lunch-Bucket Democrats.”)

Don’t douse the base with cold water. Remember how poorly Democrat Creigh Deeds fared in his bid for governorship of Virginia last November? Perhaps not. Few remember his name at all. He lost by 18 points. As Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos observed:

1. If you abandon Democratic principles in a bid for unnecessary “bipartisanship,” you will lose votes.

2. If you water down reform in favor of Blue Dogs and their corporate benefactors, you will lose votes.

3. If you forget why you were elected—health care, financial services, energy policy and immigration reform—you will lose votes.


OMG! Wake-Up Calls and Queasy Stomachs

Monday, January 18th, 2010

Two posts that should be read in full—“A Wake-Up Call” by Robert Kuttner on what the Massachusetts special election for senator tells us about the Rahm Emanuel White House’s wrong priorities—and another by a reader at Talking Points Memo who was calling voters in Massachusetts to vote for Martha Coakley and found too many presumed Democrats who are planning to vote for the Republican—to fill the seat once occupied by the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

From “A Wake-Up Call” by Robert Kuttner:

How could the health care issue have turned from a reform that was going to make Barack Obama ten feet tall into a poison pill for Democratic senators? Whether or not Martha Coakley squeaks through in Massachusetts on Tuesday, the health bill has already done incalculable political damage and will likely do more. . . . The measure is so unpopular that Republican State Senator Scott Brown has built his entire surge against Coakley around his promise to be the 41st senator to block the bill—this in Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts. He must be pretty confident that the bill has become politically radioactive, and he’s right. . . .


“Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam”

Monday, January 18th, 2010

In the first two years after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. maintained a skeptical but moderate and relatively quiet position on the war in Vietnam. He spoke out forcefully and at length against the war on April 4, 1967, in an address at Manhattan’s Riverside Church to an audience of some three thousand. His “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam” was cheered by many in the antiwar movement, though his stand was denounced by the New York Times and by many leaders in the black establishment, among others. The excerpts below are taken from the full address that was printed in the May 1967 issue of Ramparts magazine.

“There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor—both black and white—through the Poverty Program. Then came the build-up in Vietnam, and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.


America’s—and New Orleans’s—Debt to Haiti

Friday, January 15th, 2010

In reply to Pat Robertson’s comments about Haiti’s alleged “pact to the devil” (aptly described by Gawker as “galactically vile”), Mr. Raymond Joseph, the Haitian ambassador to the U.S., says:

“I would like the whole world to know—America especially—that the independence of Haiti, when the slaves rose up against the French, and defeated the French army, powerful army, the U.S. was able to gain the Louisiana Territory for $15 million. That’s three cents an acre. That’s thirteen states west of the Mississippi that the Haitian slaves revolt in Haiti provided America. Also, the revolt of the rebels in Haiti allowed Latin America to be free. It is from Haiti that Simon Bolivar left with men, boats, to go deliver grand Colombia and the rest of South America. So, What pact the Haitians ‘made with the devil’ has helped the U.S. become what it is.”

In an update to come soon we will outline the great human and cultural debt that the city of New Orleans in particular owes to emigrés from Haiti in the early 1800s following the Haitian Revolution.

Help for Haiti

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Montreal La Presse, Ivanoh Demers

A 7.0 magnitude earthquake has rocked and toppled much of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the most powerful quake to strike there in 200 years. The quake lasted a full minute; the Loma Prieta earthquake that shook the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989, also 7.0 on the Richter scale, lasted only 15 seconds. (We were there, and believe us, a full minute would feel like days of terror.) Haitian president René Préval says likely thousands are dead. Click here for a video report. (Meanwhile, the very Christian Rev. Pat Robertson helpfully explains that Haiti is “cursed” because “a long time ago . . . they got together and swore a pact to the devil” for help in gaining freedom from the French. “True story.”) • Relief agencies are listed below.

President Obama’s Remarks

“. . . for a country and a people who are no strangers to hardship and suffering, this tragedy seems especially cruel and incomprehensible. . . . this is a time when we are reminded of the common humanity that we all share. With just a few hundred miles of ocean between us and a long history that binds us together, Haitians are neighbors of the Americas and here at home. So we have to be there for them in their hour of need.” [click here for transcript]

Ricardo Arduengo.AP


New York Times list of relief agencies

American Red Cross

Doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières has been in Haiti since 1991; has 3 hospitals; perhaps the most established humanitarian presence there: an excellent organization to contribute to.

UNICEF (for children)

Text “HAITI” to “90999” to donate $10 to be charged to your cell phone bill.

Family members concerned about the status of loved ones in Haiti can call the U.S. State Department at 888-407-4747.

Despite the fact that we are experiencing tough times here at home, I would encourage those Americans who want to support the urgent humanitarian efforts to go to whitehouse.gov where you can learn how to contribute. We must be prepared for difficult hours and days ahead as we learn about the scope of the tragedy. We will keep the victims and their families in our prayers. We will be resolute in our response, and I pledge to the people of Haiti that you will have a friend and partner in the United States of America today and going forward.” —President Obama