October 27, 2009


Sam Smith

After nine months of political extremism - bankrolling huge banks, escalating the Afghan war, treating local public schools like they were just another federal agency and finding new ways to subsidize the health insurance industry - it may finally be time for a little moderation. There's an awful lot of talk about moderation and bipartisanship in Washington, but not much evidence of it. So here is a political program that would be both more moderate and more popular than that of our bipartited president and Congress:


Just stop them. They're not doing us any good. We don't win them, they cost a lot of money, make a lot of people mad at us, and kill people who in no way deserve it. And if you can't stop them, at least stop escalating them. Remember: every new soldier sent to Afghanistan is one more problem you'll have to add to your exit strategy.

A major reason we have so many wars is because of pressure from former schoolyard bullies now at the Pentagon and from presidential advisers and journalists feeling insecure about their testosterone level. Stop pandering to these types and you not only save a lot of lives, but hundreds of billions of dollars as well.


The Democrats have blown it. So why not drop the whole thing and come up with a moderate health reform bill. One that would do some of the things that everyone would like - like barring denial of insurance for preexisting conditions. Then expand Medicare to those 55 and older and to children 5 and under. Expand Medicaid. You can get your money from TARP and from the Pentagon. There's lots of it floating around these days for bankers and Afghanis. Why not use it for a good purpose instead? Sure the insurance companies will be furious, but who cares? Mike Huckabee has already come within spitting distance of Obama in two polls and sucking up to Blue Cross won't help Obama a bit.


One difference between Washington politicians and real people is that the latter like to see public works; the former settle for infrastructure. Further, the stimulus bill was so full of verbal infrastructure that people didn't notice how little public works there was in it. We don't need a second stimulus package; we need a real first one. For a model, look at Roosevelt's administration, whose Works Progress Administration employed 8.5 million people in its seven-year history, working on 1.4 million projects, including the building or repair of 103 golf courses, 1,000 airports, 2,500 hospitals, 2,500 sports stadiums, 3,900 schools, 8,100 parks, 12,800 playgrounds, 124,000 bridges, and 125,100 public buildings. Harry Hopkins got the same number of people working in four weeks as Obama promised he would in two years. In fact, Hopkins got about the same number of people working in four weeks as Obama has lost so far this year.


The Democrats have done hardly anything to put a dent in the foreclosure crisis. One reason is because they like banks too much. The other is that they're afraid that helping those in foreclosure or in danger of it will annoy others who say, "I've paid my mortgage; why haven't they?" Two ways to deal with this: decentralize foreclosure adjustment decisions to local courts and start a shared equity program in which financial aid would be paid for by a percentage of government ownership. Get this going now, and by the time most of these homes are sold, the government will have actually made money.

Some other things that would help:

Reduce credit card interest rates. End rampant usury.

Expand unemployment benefits

Limit rate increases on adjustable rate mortgages

Create state owned banks like the one that has worked well in North Dakota.

Support the creation of more credit unions and co-ops.

Expand our rail system and rail service - with the emphasis not on business class high speed rail but on everyday service for real people. The expansion of transportation has historically been one of America's great economic spurs.


The war on drugs has been the most deadly conflict for Americans since Vietnam. It has greatly increased criminal drug activity and sends people to prison for using something milder than vodka and less dangerous than cigarettes. If we were to decriminalize the possession of marijuana and cancel all existing marijuana possession charges, we would be starting on the path towards sanity.


There are at least five amendments that are in deep trouble.

The First Amendment: This is in trouble because it has fewer and fewer powerful advocates. Police intimidate demonstrators, principals harass student newspapers, and liberals pass hate crime bills. Ordinary folks still like the idea, however, and it's a wonderfully moderate concept.

The Second Amendment: Contrary to liberal mythology, gun laws are pretty ineffective. When DC passed the toughest gun law in the country, its murderers failed to notice and the death rate soared. This is partly because if you're about to kill someone, the threat of ancillary gun charges are of minimal significance. There are, on the other hand, places like Alaska and Maine that have high gun ownership and low crime rates. Further, there are Americans who like to hunt, like to feel safe in their house, and believe in their constitutional right to bear arms. Even if you don't agree with them, you're not doing anyone (including yourself) a favor by hassling them. Support their rights and you've may find yourself with allies on actual important issues.

The Fourth Amendment: There is a varied and broad constituency that has been subjected to illegal searches by the government, from wiretaps to warrantless raids.

The Tenth Amendment: This amendment, which leaves to the states and the people those powers not specified in the Constitution, is routinely abused by the feds. Arne Duncan's unconstitutional interference with local public education is but one example. Washington officials of both parties have increasingly sought to secure more power for themselves at the expense of state and local government. Liberals are repeat offenders, some even giving the impression that they hold lower branches of government with contempt. This doesn't win votes. It annoys people, makes their lives more difficult, and leads them to think of you as arrogant.

The Fourteenth Amendment: This amendment, designed after the Civil War to give personhood to former slaves and their descendants, was kidnapped by business interests to include corporations as persons. This is why corporations can get away with buying elections. As Al Gore explained, after an 1886 decision by the Supreme Court, "the 'monopolies in commerce' that Jefferson had wanted to prohibit in the Bill of Rights were full-blown monsters, crushing competition from smaller businesses, bleeding farmers with extortionate shipping costs, and buying politicians at every level of government." Corporations need to lose their personhood.

Five ways to preserve and restore the Constitution. There's nothing more moderate than that.

In fact, all the aforementioned are much closer to the American consensus than much of what is being proposed in Washington, or has been for the past few decades. And there isn't a obfuscating trigger, mandate, option or TARP in the lot.

October 26, 2009


Sam Smith

Most Washington journalists graduated with degrees in the humanities or social sciences. As a result they are easily conned by the numbers that buzz like mosquitoes around the capital or just don't bother to question them.

For example, some time ago, Washington pols discovered the decade. You take whatever figure you like or don't like and multiply by ten. If you're lucky you can turn tens of millions into hundreds of millions or hundreds of millions into trillions. The decade figure is misleading in a number of regards including the fact that the people using it aren't likely to be around to answer for any error in their calculations and, further, the accuracy of predicting something ten years from now is inevitably far less precise than estimating next year's budget.

Another major scam might be called the public-private option. Both parties use it. Take healthcare for example. The GOP gives frightening estimates of what public healthcare expenditures will be without ever subtracting the parallel reduction in private healthcare costs. The Democrats, pushing for a mandatory purchase of health insurance for many, simultaneously claim not to be raising taxes. Of course, to the individual involved, whether you write the check to Aetna or the Treasury doesn't make all that much difference.

October 21, 2009



Sam Smith

As I tried, for about the seventeenth time, to make sense of the healthcare negotiations, I suddenly realized that I wasn't watching a political debate at all; rather it was one of those conflicts you read about in other countries that are so hard to understand from afar - the sort in which militant and/or religious sects with hard to remember names and unpronounceable leaders engage in struggles usually reduced by the press to simple goals such as "power" or "strengthening their position."

But instead of Shiek Wahoodie Marzapan or the Terratus Mozaki faction, we have Max Baucus, Olympia Snow and the Blue Dogs. And it all makes about as much sense.

That is, until you stop framing it as a political division and recognize that we are really dealing with quasi-religious fundamentalists engaged in a simple turf battle in which the goal is not healthcare or the lack thereof, but relative standing at the end of the conflict. In domestic terms, it is much more like a mob dispute than a traditional political debate. To be sure, some of the language seems political - talk of a public option, mandates and so forth - but this is mostly just part of the Muzak accompanying the mayhem - symbols that help make the whole thing appear rational.

In fact, politics is pretty much dead in America and has been for some time.

Of course, politics has never been just about such high minded things as goals, ideas and reforms. Such causes have always had to struggle for air against the forces described by Walt Whitman as including "the meanest kind of bawling and blowing office-holders, office-seekers, pimps, malignants, conspirators, murderers, fancy-men, custom-house clerks, contractors, kept-editors, spaniels well-train'd to carry and fetch, jobbers, infidels, disunionists, terrorists, mail-riflers, slave-catchers, pushers of slavery, creatures of the President, creatures of would-be Presidents, spies, bribers, compromisers, lobbyers, sponges, ruin'd sports, expell'd gamblers, policy-backers, monte-dealers, duellists, carriers of conceal'd weapons, deaf men, pimpled men, scarr'd inside with vile disease, gaudy outside with gold chains made from the people's money and harlots' money twisted together; crawling, serpentine men, the lousy combings and born freedom-sellers of the earth."

But - whether promoted out convenience or noble purpose - such causes did at least exist and everyone argued about them - albeit often futilely.

For example, here is one such statement of goals:
"This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights -- among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
"We have come to a clear realization of the fact, however, that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. . . People who are hungry, people who are (and) out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
"In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all -- regardless of station, or race or creed.
"Among these are: The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries, or shops or farms or mines of the nation; The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation; . . . The right of every business man, large and small , to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad; The right of every family to a decent home; The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health; The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, and sickness, and accident and unemployment; And finally, the right to a good education.
"America's own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens."
Now, if you were to clip the foregoing and wander around the White House and Capitol Hill looking for someone to advocate such a program, you would be lucky if you came up with anyone other than, say, Russ Feingold, Bernie Sanders and perhaps a bare majority of the Black Caucus. . . .

The others - from the president on down - would regard such a program as naive claptrap not even worthy of discussion. And not a single mainstream reporter or TV show would give it the slightest attention.

Which will give you some sense of what has happened in the 65 years since these words were broadcast nationally during a fireside chat by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

We like to think of ourselves as so much more sophisticated than those crazy Muslims with their innumerable and indecipherable sects, yet that is precisely what our politics has become as well.

It is not about great issues but about minor factions. It is not about causes to be advocated but subcultures to be preserved. It is not about mass politics but about atomized preferences. And, of course, it is no longer about votes because they have become almost superfluous - symbolic reflections of the dollars that really matter.

If we toss out our traditional political paradigm and start to look at America as if it were one of those countries we like to occupy, destabilize or develop an exit strategy for, it all begins to make more sense.

We find ourselves in a country in which at least three major fundamentalist mujahideens are struggling for power: the conservative, liberal and establishment. Each share such characteristics as absolute confidence in their righteousness, absolute certainty in their beliefs, absolute contempt for doubt, reduction of their opponents to the status of devils, and the acceptance of warfare as a noble exercise as long as they get to pick the target.

In a healthy democracy, two or more parties propose specific programs to better, in their view, the state of the nation. But not one of the contemporary American mujahideens has shown any serious interest in such matters for the past several decades. It has been left to minor sects like the Greens and Libertarians to still worry about issues.

Conservatives, for example, have seemingly forgotten their erstwhile concern for small government and lower spending and have chosen to define themselves instead by what they oppose: primarily abortion and gay marriage. There are about 1.2 million abortions a year and about 150,000 gay marriages or similar unions. In other words, conservatives have established as a primary goal changing the annual behavior of less than one half of one percent of the American public.

About the only major policies that establishment fundamentalists have pursued during this same period has been to find new ways to transfer wealth from the many to the few and to periodically change the identity of their major enemy - i.e. the devil incarnate - and thus periodically redefine themselves. Over these three decades the devil has been serially located in El Salvador, Libya, Lebanon, Grenada, Honduras, Iraq, Panama, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. And the most deadly horned beast of all has been the one selling drugs, the war on which having cost more American lives than any conflict since Vietnam.

But the only clear victory in all of this was in Grenada and, as Ted Turner recently noted, the last country to actually surrender to us was Japan. Yet not one significant member of the establishment mujahideen has apologized for the futility and cost of their warrior fantasies and, as of this morning, not one leader of the establishment has apologized for their near disastrous financial policies and misdeeds from which we are now desperately attempting to recover.

But then, the enemy was never there to be defeated but as a constant threat enforcing the loyalty of one's constituency. As Ernest Becker put it, "war is a sociological safety valve that cleverly diverts popular hatred for the ruling classes into a happy occasion to mutilate or kill foreign enemies." With it you need no progress, no policies, and no change in the system at all.

All you need is an enemy, with the greatest threat not being the enemy itself but that it might disappear. Constatine Cavafy put it well a century ago:

Night is here but the barbarians have not come.
And some people arrived from the borders,
And said that there are no longer any barbarians.
And now what shall become of us without any barbarians?
Those people were some kind of solution.

Few in public office have said it so bluntly, a remarkable exception being the State Department's director of policy planning in 1948, George Kennan, who argued, "We should cease to talk about vague and. . . unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. . . We are going to have to deal in straight power concepts."

While an establishment or conservative movement obsessed with power certainly has plenty of precedents in history, this tendency was mitigated in the United States during its first two centuries because, for better or worse, Americans of all stripes believed in things and their politics reflected this.

But what is rare enough to be deeply disturbing has been the transformation of the American liberal constituency into a similar sect - one searching for power without the necessity of purpose. Certainly since its cynical acceptance of Bill Clinton, mainstream liberal Democratic politics has not displayed more than a passing interest in any major policy - sharing with the right a reliance on things like gay marriage and abortion while ignoring massive economic, environmental and civil liberties issues. To be sure, there are progressives and groups that have tried to take up the slack, but they have been uniformly ignored, or even dissed, such as the refusal to invite single payer advocates to White House discussions on health care, which mainstream liberals barely noticed.

Further, liberals have increasingly taken to acting like conservatives. They are defining themselves by their enemies rather than by their own beliefs and programs. For example, their obsession with the faults of Fox News argues that true virtue lies in not being Sean Hannity. There was a time when liberals had higher standards than that.

Worse, the liberal paradigm has assigned to much of America the sins of Rush Limbaugh, condemning the very people who should be converted, disparaging much of our land as mere "fly over country," and showing no respect for the problems of those who live in such places. These are the characteristics of a snotty private club, not a political movement.

There are a couple of reasons why all this is deeply disturbing. The first is that almost without exception, the best political ideas - from democracy itself to a minimum wage or ecological preservation - have come from the left. For liberalism to go into sleep mode or retreat into a cocoon of smug self identity endangers the whole nation.

The second is that one of the hidden dangers of politics without purpose is that it becomes increasingly corrupt and supportive of aggressively narcissistic and anti-democratic abuse. This is what happened in Nazi Germany as the disintegration of liberalism became an important part of the cultural rubble upon which Hitler climbed.

There is nothing, however, that prevents the rediscovery of real politics in America. Admittedly, it would be difficult given the almost total bias of the media towards the personality rather than the substance of power. But there could still be a progressive populist movement that would promote a real economic reform movement, defend the weak against the powerful, the local against the centralized and rediscover the sort of rights of which Roosevelt spoke 65 years ago.

Since the media is a key part of the establishment mujahideen, it will not voluntarily admit this to its viewers and readers, but we are living in a nation of increasingly angry, restless, confused folk and if they are not offered decent and realistic answers they will become increasingly susceptible to the worst kind of lies.

Yet for it to happen, we must first accept the degree to which the system we were taught we lived under simply no longer exists. That our politics have lost honor and soul, with conscious programs and polices replaced by the transactions of mobs, exemplified by healthcare negotiations in which the major winners will inevitably be the healthcare industry and the biggest losers those in whose name a final measure will be passed.

And we must also view that part of unempowered America with which we find disagreement not as irreparable rightwing junkies but as fellow citizens who have been deceived, misled and screwed. And then, issue by issue, turn them into allies as together we rediscover what politics was meant to be - and still can be - about.

October 20, 2009


Sam Smith: Ruth Abbott, who passed recently, was half of one of America's most remarkable couples. For starters, she met her future husband in 1937 while he was in jail. She told the Montgomery County Gazette, "He and my father were arrested for picketing in New York. They were both sentenced to 30 days in the Erie County Jail." Added the paper: "Ruth said she went to the jail to visit her father and would also visit Abbott because her father told her that he didn't have many visitors."

I met and worked with the couple when Sammie was running the remarkably successful battle against freeways in the nation's capital - a fight that kept DC from becoming another Los Angeles. The experience would help form my view of politics, permanently alienating me, for example, from the liberal bias that you could only work with those who shared most of your values. After all, the anti-freeway movement thrived on its variety, symbolized by the day that there were two speakers at a rally: Grosvenor Chapman, president of the All white Georgetown Citizens Association, and Reginald Booker, the black activist head of Niggers Inc. I remember looking up on the stage at the remarkable pair and thinking, "We've won." And we had.

Sammie Abbott & Reginald Booker
Evening Star photo

Meredith Hooker, Montgomery County Gazette, 2002 - Interstate 95 could have split the City of Takoma Park when the road was proposed during the 1960s. But Sammie Abbott wouldn't let it happen.

The late Takoma Park mayor led the fight against the proposed freeway that would have destroyed homes in both Takoma Park and Washington, D.C., including his own. During the battle, Abbott created the slogan "No White Men's Roads Through Black Men's Homes.". . .

Abbott became mayor at age 72 in 1980 and served until 1986. When he first ran for mayor, he lost by eight votes in 1978. He lost by seven votes during his final mayoral race in 1986.

During Abbott's six-year tenure, speed humps and four-way stops were put in the city to slow traffic. Abbott created the city newsletter. Takoma Park became "Tree City, USA" and a nuclear-free zone. The city also became a sanctuary for refugees escaping the brutality of right-wing regimes in Central America. "He was very, very busy," Ruth Abbott said. . .

Aldrighetti said in the days Abbott served on the council, "democracy reigned" and caused council meetings to go until 3 a.m. Often, he said, the meetings began in the council chambers and ended at the Tastee Diner in Silver Spring when people became tired and hungry. . .

Ruth Abbott said Sam was arrested almost 50 times for protesting various things over the course of his life. "He went from one big issue to the next," she said.

Abbott, a graphic artist and union organizer, would tell you he printed more anti-war flyers than any other artist in America did, Aldrighetti said. Although Abbott was a fighter pilot in World War II, Abbott opposed the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Aldrighetti said.. . .

Leventhal said Abbott was an advocate for affordable housing and tenants' rights and helped the city to implement rent control, which is still in place today. He said one of Abbott's biggest goals was to create affordable housing for everyone.

When Montgomery College was planning to expand and take down homes on Takoma Avenue, Abbott sat in front of a bulldozer to stop the construction, Aldrighetti said. . .

Sam Smith, 1990 - By the middle of the sixties I was fast approaching the age of thirty which -- according to contemporary mythology -- was about to render me totally untrustworthy. Having only recently signed up for social change, I found the prospect of such early forced retirement from righteousness rather annoying and depressing.

Then I noticed a curious thing. In the peace, civil rights and anti-freeway movements some of the people who were making the most sense -- and the most difference -- were far older than I. People like David and Selma Rein, Julius Hobson and Sammie Abbott.

As a product of the fifties in which cynicism and disengagement were the highest forms of political activity, I found myself often unable to identify with the Aquarian optimism of those just a few years younger than myself. Aquarius was not an age, I thought, but only brief happy fireworks in the long night before human understanding. I came to believe that Bobby Seale's appeal to "seize the time" best summarized the transitory nature of the success that social and political change were then enjoying. In a literal sense, narrow in focus, I was not off the mark. But because I came to know a few people like Sammie Abbott -- it came not to matter.

Sammie had, I found out, been a union organizer before I had even been born. He had been protesting against the bomb while I was still in elementary school. He had been black-listed while I was in high school. That he had remained so committed, creative and indefatigable for so long was a truly remarkable discovery. That he had done so during times not only without the support of mass demonstrations, mass media and the cheers of a whole generation, but in times when such activities were considered akin to treason was inspiring. Above all, the constancy of it, the steadfastness made me comprehend for the first time the existential concept of personal witness to the truth that had eluded me during my years of Quaker education.

Of course I could not have described Sammie's effect on me so succinctly back then. Nor, I regret, did I ever mention it to him. There was about Sammie the compelling aura of a job to be done as soon as possible and the day to sit back and reflect on it all never came. In fact, I wonder what Sammie would have said about his memorial service, at which hundreds of activists gathered for two and a half hours of eulogy, music and anecdotes. Looking at the energy, talent and faith in the room, I suspect he might have been annoyed that at a time so hostage to a president's puerile apocalyptic vision we were wasting the afternoon mere memories with so much to be done.

I would not have been surprised if he had arisen in mist from the middle of the room and in that voice and with that pointing finger so reminiscent of an old testament prophet interrupted our proceedings and demanded that we get back to business.

I remember that voice and that finger pointing at Thomas Airis, director of highways, or Gilbert Hahn, chair of the city council. Through that voice flowed the aggregated anger of a city abused, of justice ignored, of dreams deferred.

But I also remember that the anger was only the beginning. Always there was a plan, an idea, a way of doing it. Drive down U Street, through Brookland or up the Potomac River by the islands of the Three Sisters and you will find no freeway there, in part because Sammie knew how to move from anger to productive action.

Like the time someone discovered an internal DC government map showing a proposed freeway right through the heart of Shaw. Sammie immediately sat down and created a 3 by 4 foot poster with a blow-up of the section in question, the freeway overlaid in red identifying exactly which buildings -- such as Pride Headquarters and the Howard Theatre -- would be torn down. The headline: White Men's Roads Through Black Men's Homes. The posters were tacked up all over Shaw and within a few days the DC government was disingenuously denying it had even thought of a freeway there. It may have been the first and only freeway stopped after less than a month of protest.

Sammie built his entire life around truth and justice. A cause was not a career move, not on option purchased on a political future, nor a flirtation of conscience. It was simply the just life's work of a just human. Long after others his age were enjoying retirement, he served as mayor of what became known the People's Republic of Takoma Park because of the progressive policies pressed by Sammie and his supporters. . . .

I think what Sammie Abbot was all about was attending to what Jefferson called the revival and expansion of our rights before they expire in a convulsion. There is no more noble activity in which he could have spent his life and few who have done it with more consistency, imagination, courage and love of justice.

October 16, 2009


One of the reasons I couldn't get all that excited about Barack Obama was because of something that happened in the Washington neighborhood of Trinidad two days after Hillary Clinton conceded defeat in the primary campaign.

DC police established a South African style neighborhood blockade, requiring anyone entering Trindad to provide not only ID but a reason for being there. It was an astoundingly unconstitutional move - allegedly justified by a spike in violence. Or maybe it wasn't that astounding, given that DC chief Kathy Lanier had been trained by the Israeli police who treat Palestinians like that.

I was on the the NAACP task force on police and justice - which included such usual suspects as the ACLU, the National Black Police Association, and the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance - and we became a lonely voice opposing the blockade, along with the Partnership for Civil Justice, which filed suit. I remember standing on a corner in Trinidad during a news conference and thinking: where are all those white liberal Obama supporters when we need them?

The good news is that the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. has just denied the District's petition to re-hear its case challenging the constitutionality of the police checkpoint program. The bad news is that you probably won't read about this anywhere else because the fact that urban police were planning to put a whole black neighborhood under apartheid style control just isn't news in America. Even the attorney general for the city's black mayor says he will still "look at our options including a Supreme Court request."


Sam Smith - If you see and hear a lot in the media about volunteerism and community service in the coming days, it's no accident. Major media - ranging from Time magazine to a whole string of TV shows - are secretly serving as propaganda pimps for the Obama White House which has chosen community service as its cause of the week.

Time has already run 21 ways you can volunteer; USA Today had a long article and the list of TV program pimps is so lengthy, we've left it until later and below.

None of this has been admitted by the conventional media, but its cover was blown by a working document of the Entertainment Industry Foundation discovered by Big Hollywood webster Jim Nolte.

According to the document, there will be an "unprecedented week-long of television programming on all four leading broadcast networks - ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and all affiliated broadcast and cable properties . . . beginning October 19" with "organically" created storylines pushing community service.

Of course, this is not the first time the media has surrendered its independence to the White House. The whole notion of the an "embedded media" in Iraq and Afghanistan involves capitulation of journalistic principles for better views of the action.

This now includes, for example, no photos of dead bodies. Grossly underplayed was a story of the military changing its position last month on the issue from discouraging such photos to a rule from Regional Command East at Bagram Air Field stating that "media will not be allowed to photograph or record video of U.S. personnel killed in action." Before the media was not prohibited from covering casualties subject to a bunch of conditions. Clearly the press seemed wimpish enough for the Pentagon to up the ante.

Then you have the Washington Post's pay to play salons at which lobbyists and others could spend an evening with Obama officials for a significant fee. And it wasn't alone, as Politico reported. The Wall Street Journal "is charging a $7,500 for its two-day CEO Council in November, an elite gathering that will include the paper's top editors and high-profile speakers like Tony Blair, Rupert Murdoch, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. And for a few thousand dollars, The Economist can open the door to intimate off-the-record meet-and-greets with world leaders."

From a journalistic point of view, all the above is cowardly, corrupt and creepy. But the idea of a whole week dedicated to spinning things on TV the way Obama wants them deserves a special honor in the gallery of pimpdom.

Between Oct. 19-25 there will be "more than 60 network TV shows spotlighting "the power and personal benefits of service."

So what's the problem with that?

First, if you do it for volunteerism you do it for other things - like expanding the war in Afghanistan.

Second, Obama may have more on his plate than volunteerism. On July 2, 2008, speaking in Colorado Springs, he stated, "We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded."

In 2006, Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, wrote a book called "The Plan: Big Ideas for America" that called for three months of compulsory civil service for all young Americans. In it he said:

"It's time for a real Patriot Act that brings out the patriot in all of us. We propose universal civilian service for every young American. Under this plan, All Americans between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five will be asked to serve their country by going through three months of basic training, civil defense preparation and community service. . .

"Here's how it would work. Young people will know that between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, the nation will enlist them for three months of civilian service. They'll be asked to report for three months of basic civil defense training in their state or community, where they will learn what to do in the event of biochemical, nuclear or conventional attack; how to assist others in an evacuation; how to respond when a levee breaks or we're hit by a natural disaster. These young people will be available to address their communities' most pressing needs."

During the last campaign we noted that Obama favors a national service plan that appears to be in sync with one being promoted by a new coalition that would make national service mandatory by 2020, and with a bill for such mandatory national service introduced by Rep. Charles Rangel.

At one point the Obama/Biden campaign website announced that Obama and Biden would expand Americorps and the Peace Corps with "a goal that all middle and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year. . . " When questions began to be raised, the words disappeared from the site.

Up to the last minute, the national service bill in Congress contained a provision for a commission that would consider "a workable, fair, and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people" and a possible requirement for "all individuals in the United States" to perform such service.

As the DC Examiner noted of the draft legislation, "Lurking behind the feel-good rhetoric spouted by the measure's advocates is a bill that on closer inspection reveals multiple provisions that together create a strong odor of creepy authoritarianism. . .

"The bill . . . summons up unsettling memories of World War II-era paramilitary groups by saying the new program should "combine the best practices of civilian service with the best aspects of military service," while establishing 'campuses' that serve as 'operational headquarters,' complete with 'superintendents and 'uniforms' for all participants. It allows for the elimination of all age restrictions in order to involve Americans at all stages of life. And it calls for creation of 'a permanent cadre' in a 'National Community Civilian Corps.'"

"But that's not all. The bill also calls for 'youth engagement zones' in which 'service learning' is 'a mandatory part of the curriculum in all of the secondary schools served by the local educational agency.' This updated form of voluntary community service is also to be 'integrated into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics curricula' at all levels of schooling. Sounds like a government curriculum for government approved 'service learning,' which is nothing less than indoctrination."

Add to this the fact that Obama's education secretary helped to militarize a number of Chicago public schools and there clearly is something worth worrying about here.

Further, one of the ways bad ideas get momentum is when world leaders share them. Thus this report from the Guardian last April is worth noting:

[] Every young person will have to do 50 hours' voluntary work by the age of 19 if Labor wins the next election. Gordon Brown said a plan for compulsory community service would be included in Labor's manifesto. Under the scheme, the work - which could include helping charities in the UK and abroad - is likely to become part of the national curriculum. It would be integrated into moves to make everyone stay in education or training until 18 by 2011. Writing in the News of the World, the prime minister said he wanted community service to be 'a normal part of growing up in Britain.'"

Mr Brown proposed the idea of a National Youth Service to channel teenagers into voluntary work last year. It is due to be formally launched in September, and would become compulsory if Labor was re-elected. []

Obama may be on the same path: first boost volunteerism, then make it mandatory. But if it's true, don't count on the American media to tell you; it will be too busy pimping for the White House.

TV programs that have signed on to the Obama propaganda effort

Home Videos
Brothers and Sisters
Dancing With the Stars
Desperate Housewives
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
Grey's Anatomy
Modern Family
Private Practice
The Forgotten
Ugly Betty
All My Children
General Hospital
One Life to Live
The View
Jimmy Kimmel Live!
30 Rock
Access Hollywood
The Jay Leno Show
The Office
Accidentally on Purpose
Cold Case
Criminal Minds
Gary Unmarried
Ghost Whisperer
The New Adventures of Old Christine
Rules of Engagement
Two and a Half Men
Late Show With David Letterman
America's Most Wanted
Lie to Me
Major League Baseball
So You Think You Can Dance?
TeenNick HALO Awards
Army Wives
Wizards of Waverly Place
Hannah Montana
The Suite Life on Deck
Jerry Springer

October 08, 2009


Sam Smith

One of the most common - and costly - myths is that urban economies are improved by things like stadiums - especially for the Olympics. For example, I watched my own home town,. Washington, spend several billions for stadiums, convention centers, faux urban renewal and a a new subway system, and still end up with fewer jobs for local residents.

Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist estimated the benefits of a new sports franchise to be roughly the same as opening a branch of Macy's. Potential benefits are often dissipated by wrong location, excessive city subsidy, cost overruns, faulty projections and just plain corruption.

Sadly, iconic liberals - those who think a tall building or a black president is the answer to all our problems - are among the biggest boosters of edifice economics, so it was not surprising to find Rachel Maddow joining the Olympic funeral choir. Cartoonist Mike Flugennock reacted this way in a note he sent me:

[] It wasn't just the bare-assed naked sense of entitlement on display on Maddow's program this evening that burnt my toast, it was the thinly-veiled suggestion that not only rooting against Chicago in the Olympic voting was somehow unpatriotic, but that somehow only the Teabaggers and other right wingnuts were glad to see Chicago lose out.

Her seeming willful ignorance of the fact that there were substantial numbers of people on the left -- workers' rights advocates, anti-gentrification activists and others -- who, for the right reasons, were also cheering Chicago's losing out on the chance to host the gentrifiers' land grab, the corporatization of public space and the financial debacle known as the Olympic Games.

I can still remember that day here in DC, back in '02, when I was in the meeting room at the District Building, covering the Olympic host-city voting announcement for the DC Indymedia Center, photographing with barely concealed glee the cheers and applause erupting from a contingent of housing activists in the room when it was announced that Washington, DC's bid to host the 2012 Games had gone down in flames.

Thinking back on that day here in DC reminds me what really made me feel slapped in the face tonight -- that Rachel Maddow would play that shopworn old vast right-wing conspiracy card, and totally ignore the widespread anti-Olympic-hosting sentiment on the left in Chicago. []

But that's where we are and it’s not a new phenomenon. As Tom Frank wrote in the Chicago Reader more than a decade ago: "The time is not far distant when indoor stadiums will be filled entirely with millionaires not watching as other millionaires cavort on the artificial turf below." In fact by the beginning of this decade over 300 cities had built convention centers to compete with other cities that had built convention centers. And every one of them world class.

The idea, Richard Sennett has written, goes back to the 1860s design for Paris by Baron Haussmann. Haussmann, Sennett suggests, bequeathed us the notion that we could alter social patterns by changing the physical landscape. This notion was not about urban amenities such as park benches and gas lighting or technological improvements such as indoor plumbing but about what G. K. Chesterton called the huge modern heresy of "altering the human soul to fit its conditions, instead of altering human conditions to fit the human soul."

Eventually this idea would produce waves of urban renewal, freeways, convention centers, stadiums, subways, pedestrian malls, aquariums, waterfront developments, casinos and riverboat gambling -- all in the name of urban progress and a happier tax base. But as one city's weekly paper asked of a planned aquarium, "How many big fish can the American public be expected to look at?" Few of these schemes would ever come close to realizing the claims made on their behalf. Few were little more than a false front on a city's declining core and fraying soul.

So don't shed any tears for Chicago. It came out ahead as a city and, if it has the soul, it can use some of the money it saved for all those of its citizens who can't afford buy a ticket to a baseball game, let alone the Olympics.