February 25, 2010


Sam Smith

One of the scariest things about living in America these days is how few - especially in government and the media - seem to care about the things that used to define the place.

Thus there is hardly a murmur as the Senate approves by a voice vote the extension of the despicable Patriot Act or when Bush and Obama abolish the Fourth Amendment or as the latter increasingly treats the U.S. like a corporation he has taken over in a merger deal - with those who used to be considered citizens now just employees wondering how much longer they'll have a job.

What we have now is a silent surrender. No terrorists, no war, no revolution, just incremental capitulation led by those supposed to guard our rights and our freedoms.

A case in point is the mandatory mandate in the Democrat's health plan. The idea that the government can order how you spend your money in the private sector is unprecedented. No, auto insurance is not a parallel, since you don't have to drive a car on a public road. You do, - if you want to be human, that is - have to live.

There is one reason for this extraordinary plan: to avoid having to admit that the government would be raising taxes. In fact, the mandate is a tax on some of those least able to pay it and it would be one of the greatest tax increases in American history.

To understand the madness, consider that if the government can order you to pay a badly administered, fiscally irresponsible, avaricious corporation for some health insurance, that same government could order you to buy a computer for each of your children so they will be properly educated or purchase a condo for your aged parents. It could even close all public schools and fire stations and require you to pay tuition to corporate beneficiaries of its plan .

But the greatest madness is that no one is talking about this. Once again, as we have done so often in recent years, we are simply giving up our rights because there is no one in power to tell us what is really going on.

February 23, 2010


Sam Smith

Last Saturday I spent eight hours with three dozen other people in a basement conference room of a Washington hotel engaged in an extraordinary exercise of mind and hope.

The topic was, by itself, depressingly familiar: building an anti-war coalition. What made it so strikingly different was the nature of those at the table. They included progressives, conservatives, traditional liberals and libertarians. Some reached back to the Reagan years or to 1960s activism, some - including an SDS leader from the University of Maryland and several Young Americans for Liberty - were still in college.

In a time when politics is supposed to be hopelessly polarized along the lines proposed by Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann, the most heated debate occurred not between left and right but over tactics between Ralph Nader and Bill Greider.

There was an economics professor from a naval war college and the executive director of Veterans for Peace; there was Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation, me from the Progressive Review, and editors from the American Conservative and Reason Magazine.

The session had been conceived by long time activist and current head of Voters for Peace, Kevin Zeese, along with artist George D. O'Neill, Jr. who had been chair of the Rockford Institute, a leading traditional conservative intellectual think tank in the 1980s, and who had worked on Pat Buchanan's 1992 presidential campaign.

What we shared was an antipathy towards war. It was not so much that we were anti-war as we were seeking a post-war world. Our approaches might differ but our goals were, at worst, next door.

As Zeese put it in an introduction the session, it was about "views from the right, left and radical center, views that reflect those of many Americans which are not represented in the political dialogue in Congress or the White House, or the mainstream media. Throughout American history there have been times when movements developed that were outside the limited political dialogue of the two major parties. . .

"Polling actually shows majorities often oppose war and escalation of war. But these views are not represented in government or the media. In addition, opposition to war is not limited to people on the left; it covers the American political spectrum and it always has. There is a long history of opposition to war among traditional conservatives. Their philosophy goes back to President Washington's Farewell Address where he urged America to avoid 'foreign entanglements.' It has showed itself throughout American history. The Anti-Imperialist League opposed the colonialism of the Philippines in the 1890s. The largest anti-war movement in history, the America First Committee, opposed World War II and had a strong middle America conservative foundation in its make-up. The strongest speech of an American president against militarism was President Eisenhower's 1961 final speech from the White House warning America against the growing military-industrial complex. In recent years the militarist neo-conservative movement has become dominate of conservatism in the United States. Perhaps none decry this more than traditional conservatives who oppose massive military budgets, militarism and the American empire.

"Of course, the left also has a long history of opposition to war from the Civil War to early imperialism in the Philippines, World Wars I and II through Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. It includes socialists, Quakers, social justice Catholics and progressives. Indeed, the opposition to entry into World War I was led by the left including socialists, trade unionists, pacifists including people like union leader and presidential candidate Eugene Debs, Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams and author and political activist Helen Keller. . .

"Opposition to Vietnam brought together peace advocates with the civil rights movement, highlighted by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s outspoken opposition to the war. . . .

"What are the ingredients for a successful anti-war, pro-peace movement?

- The anti-war movement needs to be a reflection of not just the left but of Middle America and traditional conservatives who oppose war.

- A successful anti-war peace movement cannot give up the flag of patriotism. It needs to grab hold of America's patriotic impulses and show the United States can be the nation many imagine us to be-leading by positive example, helping in crisis, being a force for good, rather than propagating military dominance and hegemony.

- A successful anti-war movement needs to be a place where veterans, from grunts to generals, can openly participate, share their stories and explain the lessons they learned from American militarism.

- A well organized anti-war movement will have committees not only reaching out to military and business, but to academics, students, clergy, labor, nurses, doctors, teachers and a host of others.

- The 1960s tactics of big marches and congressional demonstrations have their role but they are not sufficient. The media and government have adjusted to them. We need to use tools like voter initiatives and referenda to break through and put our issues before the voters. And, we need to learn from around the world what has worked; for example, general strikes, whether of a few hours or few days, have shown unified opposition to government policy

- Make war relevant to Americans' day-to-day lives by constantly linking the cost of war to their communities, incomes, and bank accounts. People need to learn that Empire is not good for the U.S. economy.

- Both parties are dominated by pro-militarist elected officials. The anti-war movement needs to be strong in criticizing candidates who call for a larger military, escalation of war, or other militarist policies."

Clips from the bios of those at the session suggest the unusual cross-ideological and cross-cultural presence:

- A Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. He also is the Robert A. Taft Fellow at the American Conservative Defense Alliance and served as a Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan.

- His leading work includes a biography of historian William A. Williams, the Encyclopedia of the American Left, five volumes on the lives and work of the Hollywood Blacklistees, . . . and eight volumes of nonfiction comic art (adaptations of Howard Zinn and Studs Terkel, graphic biographies of Isadora Duncan and Emma Goldman, The Beats, The Art of Harvey Kurtzman, etc).

- He has been a regular contributor to Rolling Stone, and currently covers national security for its National Affairs section. He is a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, and a senior correspondent for The American Prospect.

- An associate professor of economics at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California and a Research Fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. From 1982 to 1984, he was the senior economist for health policy, and from 1983 to 1984 he was the senior economist for energy policy, with President Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers.

- Founding member of the Washington chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists; executive board member of the National Alliance of Third World Journalists. . .

- Founding Managing Editor and current Executive Editor of The American Conservative. Research director of Pat Buchanan's 2000 campaign.

- Executive Director of Veterans For Peace. His volunteer social and economic justice activist work include membership in Military Families Speak Out, coordinating committee member for the Bring Them Home Now campaign against the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Co-Chair of United For Peace and Justice.

- Legislative aide for the armed services for Senator Robert Taft, Jr., of Ohio from 1973 through 1976 and held a similar position with Senator Gary Hart of Colorado from 1977 through 1986. An opponent of the Iraq War, has written for the Marine Corps Gazette, and Defense and the National Interest. . .

- For over four decades has exposed problems and organized millions of citizens into more than 100 public interest groups to advocate for solutions. . .

- Active within the Democratic, Republican, and Green parties at various times. As a boy, he supported George McGovern for president in 1972 partly because of the Democrat's anti-war stance. In the mid 1970s, he became a conservative who backed Ronald . . .

- Managing editor of Reason magazine, is the author of Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America.

Notably absent from the session were members of the extremist center, liberal professors seeking to prove their manhood by backing yet another war, legislators afraid to challenge the Pentagon, belligerent bullies and the cowardly complacent. And everyone in the room was trying something different.

Which, when you come to think of it, is just what happens when you make peace. People who have been shooting at each other sit down and find a way to share some space. One might expect that anti-war activists would understand this, but too often we all regard our political beliefs not as the product of imperfect and struggling minds but as our sacred identity, our justification and our privileged demographic. We reduce politics to the theology of the self-righteous rather than as an imperfect search for better times.

As I sat around that table, I tried to recall those few occasions when I had experienced something close to this - few, that is, since the days when I sat around the family table as the third child of six and learned about living with those different from oneself and more than willing to say so.

Some of the later times worked; some didn’t. One that worked was the anti-freeway coalition of the 1960s and 70s that kept Washington from becoming another Los Angeles. It was started by among the least likely activists - black and white middle class homeowners whose neighborhood was about to be ruined. It expanded to include those of us in the civil rights group SNCC as well as the all white Georgetown Citizens Association. I once wrote of the leader, "By all rights, Sammie Abbott should have been disqualified as a DC leader on at least three grounds: he was too white, he was too old, and he lived in the suburbs. Instead, this short man with a nail-file voice became the nemesis of public officials for years. Abbott, the grandson of Arab Christians who fled Turkish persecution in Syria, had been a labor organizer, a bricklayer and a World War II veteran with a Bronze Star."

There was only one qualification to join the anti-freeway movement: opposition to freeways. And the success of our effort - rare among such highway protests - left a mark on a city colony devoid of rights and helps to explain how - just two years after the riots - we were able to form a biracial third party that would hold seats on the city council and/or school board for 25 years.

I would come to think of it as existential politics - in which one defined one's existence by one's actions rather than by one's ethnicity, class, party registration or magazine subscriptions. And it was a sort of politics that would become increasingly rare.

But it didn't always work. In the mid sixties, I was editing a neighborhood newspaper in Washington's biracial Capitol East. Things were already well beyond the capacity of any one community to solve. America's cities were starting to burn and you could feel the heat even in Capitol East. In September 1967, anti-poverty activist Lola Singletary convinced the white businessmen of H Street to form a organization dedicated to involvement in community problems.

In late 1967 I came up with the idea of pulling together the various leaders of Capitol East into an informal leadership council with the possibility of forming a major neighborhood coalition. Fourteen people attended a meeting on January 31: 7 white and 7 black. Among our purposes:

- To share our group differences so we can increase our knowledge of one another's group positions, plans and needs.

- To increase opportunities to share our group concerns so that we can better support one another's group efforts.

- To unite in common action where we have agreement.

It was too late. A little more than two months later, the riots broke out and Capitol East had two of the four major riot strips, including H Street. Hope had burned up as well.

then in 1995, as part of the Green Politics Network, I joined a number of other Greens in hosting a conference of third party activists. Over a hundred showed up, ranging from one of the founders of the American Labor Party to Greens, Libertarians, Perot backers, Democratic Socialists of America, and followers of Lenora Fulani. It was a recklessly dangerous idea for a Washington weekend, but John Rensenbrink, Linda Martin, and Tony Affigne seemed to know what they were doing and I was happy to go along. We established two basic rules:

- We would only discuss issues on which we might find some agreement.

- We would reach that agreement by consensus.

I was one of the kickoff speakers and said:

"As a simple empirical matter you can say that one of the great characteristics of Americans is not merely opposition to a system of the moment but antipathy towards unnatural systems in general -- opposition to all systems that revoke, replace or restrain the natural rights of humans and the natural blessings of their habitats.

"This, I think, is why we are here today. If nothing else binds us it is an understanding of the damage that heartless, leaderless, mindless systems have done to the specifics of our existence. . .

"Further, in our distaste with the systems suffocating our lives, we are very much in the mainstream. These systems have done half our work for us, they have lost the people's faith. . .

"We must stake out a position with real programs for real people, with our enthusiasm on our sleeve and our ideology in our pocket, with small words and big hearts, and -- most of all -- with a clear vision of what a better future might look like. We must tackle what 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.". . .

"This then is our task. Let's embrace it not as sectarians or as prigs but as a happy fellow members of a new mainstream. Not as radicals permanently in exile but as moderates of an age that has not quite arrived. Let's laugh and make new friends and be gentle with one another. Let's remember Camus' dictum that the only sin we are not permitted is despair. . ."

Despite the wide range of views present, despite the near total absence of Robert's Rules of Order, the final document, with full consensus, called for nothing less than a major transformation. The group unanimously agreed to support proportional representation, campaign finance reform "to provide a level playing field in elections;" initiative, referendum and recall; better ballot access; the end of corporate welfare; strong environmental policies; sexual and reproductive freedom; an end to the war on drugs and treatment of addiction as a health matter rather than as a crime; a dramatic cut in military expenditures; workplace democracy and the maximum empowerment of people in their communities "consistent with fairness, social responsibilities and human rights."

Not bad for a meeting at which nobody yelled at anyone.

Interesting stories but how rare.

Now Kevin Zeese and George O'Neill have to try to build on the spirit in that basement last Saturday and turn it into something that all can see. Perhaps it will be a catalyst as was, say, the Seneca Falls conference was for women's rights. Perhaps it will be nothing but another nice try that didn't work out.

We may never know. After all, only two women who attended Seneca Falls conference lived long enough to vote.

We do know, however, that good futures are built on the efforts of those unafraid of failure. At a time when a majority of Americans consider their system broken, we can either consign ourselves to being victims or we can, as we did last Saturday, come together in new ways, with new ideas and new allies and start replacing a failed system with communities that work.

Kevin Zeese
George D. O'Neill Jr

February 18, 2010


February 17, 2010


Rasmussen Reports has come out with a fascinating poll that goes a long way towards explaining why not only liberals are doing so badly, but the left in general, the Democratic Party and Barack Obama. Here’s what the poll found:

Liberals are afraid to criticize big government because they think it makes them sound like Republicans. In fact, the idea of devolution -- having government carried out at the lowest practical level -- dates back at least to that good Democrat, Thomas Jefferson. Even FDR managed to fight the depression with a staff smaller than Hillary Clinton's and World War II with one smaller than Al Gore's. Conservative columnist William Safire admitted that "in a general sense, devolution is a synonym for 'power sharing,' a movement that grew popular in the sixties and seventies as charges of 'bureaucracy' were often leveled at centralized authority." In other words, devolution used to be in the left's bag.


The modern liberals' embrace of centralized authority makes them vulnerable to the charge that their politics is one of intentions rather than results -- symbolized by huge agencies like the Department of Housing & Urban Development that fail miserably to produce policies worthy of their name.


Still stuck back in the states' rights controversy over integration, liberals fail to see how often states and localities move ahead of the federal government. Think, for example, of where gays would be if there were no local laws to help them.


As late as 1992, the one hundred largest localities in America pursued an estimated 1,700 environmental crime prosecutions, more than twice the number of such cases brought by the federal government in the previous decade. As Washington was vainly struggling to get a handle on the tobacco industry, 750 communities passed indoor no-smoking laws. And, more recently, we have had the local drive towards relaxing anti-marijuana laws and the major local and state outcry against the Real ID act.

Conservatives, on the other hand, often confuse the devolution of government with its destruction. Thus while the liberals are underachieving, the conservatives are undermining.


The question must be repeatedly asked of new and present policies: how can these programs be brought close to the supposed beneficiaries, the citizens?  And how can government money go where it's supposed to go?


Because such questions are not asked often enough, we find huge disparities in the effectiveness of federal programs. For example, both Social Security and Medicare work well with little overhead. In such programs, the government serves primarily as a redistribution center for tax revenues.


On the other hand, an environmentalist who ran a weatherization program once told me that she figured it cost $30,000 in federal and local overhead for each $1600 in weather-proofing provided a low income home.


A study of Milwaukee County in 1988 found government agencies spending more than $1 billion annually on fighting poverty. If this money had been given in cash to the poor, it would have meant more than $33,000 for each low income family -- well above the poverty level.

WIKI ON: SUBSIDIARITY - Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. . .  Subsidiarity is, ideally or in principle, one of the features of federalism, where it asserts the rights of the parts over the whole.

February 09, 2010


There are peace experts as well as military experts; they just aren't allowed to be quoted or to appear on national TV.

Legislation, such as healthcare, is the constitutional responsibility of the Congress and not the President.

The three most mentioned political figures of the day - Barack Obama, Sarah Palin and Scott Brown - had no significant political achievements before they became the most mentioned political figures of the day.

Social Security has enough money to last another 30 years or so.

Both Sarah Palin and Barack Obama have trouble speaking without prompters. Obama uses a teleprompter; Palin uses a palm prompter.

Neither Obama nor Congress are doing much right now. Scott Brown seems to have scared them into catatonia.

The Afghan, Pakistan and Iraq wars were never declared by Congress, as required by the Constitution.

Barack Obama's key economic advisors include former executives of Goldman Sachs which played a huge role in creating the financial crisis. This is just a few steps away from naming Bernie Madoff as Treasury Secretary.

The Senate could end the use of the filibuster or alter its nature simply by changing its rules. Both Republicans and Democrats (including Harry Reid) have supported the existing rules.

February 08, 2010


Progressive Review -  Fresh from raising serious questions about the human role in climate change, a conservative group - People for Driving - has challenged the widely-held belief that people cause traffic jams. They argue that tie-ups are the result of the natural and random ebb and flow of cars.

The argument has already raised serious problems on Capitol Hill for those pushing for more mass transit or the repair of existing roads and bridges.

PFD points out that even though approximately the same number of people live in a city during a 24 hour period, traffic congestion changes considerably. Further, traffic tie-ups greatly diminish on weekends, again with no significant change in population.

"This is a classic case of correlation being mistaken for causation," says Florie M. Megafone, director the group.

The group claims liberals are blaming humans for what is a natural and unpredictable event and, as a result, are damaging the economy and individual freedom.

Charles Olglebot of the American Automobile Association said that nothing in their research indicates that cars are present on the highway without their drivers wishing them to be there, but he admitted not to have done a study specifically aimed at this question.

Conservative critics point out a number of instances where local TV news programs grossly overestimated the seriousness of a traffic jam in order to build their audience. William Appledirth of Fox Channel 13, for example, has admitted using adjectives like "terrible," "tremendous" and "blocks-long" to describe traffic congestion even though Channel 13 lacked any scientific proof of these claims.

"We can't let this major traffic jam scandal continue," says Megafone.

Another conservative group is also looking into reports that sex isn't always necessary to have a baby. Said a spokesperson, "Liberals want to blame people for everything."- Josiah Swampoodle

February 07, 2010


Sam Smith

In part because the media has misleadingly written endlessly about global warming rather than climate change, there are going to more than a few people in mid-Atlantic cities who think the recent snows prove it's all not a problem.

In fact, as a reader recently pointed out, change is just that. It is hard to predict. We know past data definitely indicates a shift but we can't define the precise nature of that shift because we haven't experienced it yet.

Just before the current blizzard, the National Wildlife Federation issued a report that suggested that we shouldn't be surprised by such things:

"Global warming is having a seemingly peculiar effect on winter weather in the northern United States. Winter is becoming milder and shorter on average; spring arrives 10 to 14 days earlier than it did just 20 years ago. But most snow belt areas are still experiencing extremely heavy snowstorms. . . Even as global warming slowly changes the character of winter, we will still experience significant year-to-year variability in snowfall and temperature because many different factors are at play."

Washington, DC, well illustrates the uncertain quality of change. The storm last weekend dropped the fourth largest amount of snow on the city in recorded history. But you need only to go back two years to February 6, 2008, and you'll find the city setting a warmth record for that date of 74 degrees. The coldest February 6 was back in 1895, when the thermometer fell to one degree.

It may help to keep in mind two principles:

- Change is change and doesn't fully define itself until it's happened.

- An average is only an average.

Having recently moved from DC to Maine, I gaze out my window at the remains of 22 inches of snow that hardly slowed things down at all in these parts and recall the number of my friends who said something like, "How are you going to survive those Maine winters?" and I think how grateful I am I wasn't back in DC this weekend.

In fact, Maine has two mre typical advantages over the capital in winter. We have a lot of sun and the cold is dry. Twenty-five degrees on a sunny Down East day is infinitely preferable to a 35 degree cloudy day in DC with the humid cold cutting through any protection you might be wearing.

Here's how I described it back the 1970s:

"The city lived for spring and fall, periods separated by muggy summer and by an unpredictable yet dull winter. In the fall, the gauze of noxious gas that stretched over DC all summer was peeled away, permitting the sun a rare chance to lounge unimpeded against the sides of buildings or ricochet off spires. The air conditioner's monotone was finally silenced and the hint of chill repulsed by a friendly jacket. But the spring was even better; you quickly forgot the snow that didn't come, or that did come but all in one blizzard, and you luxuriated in a few months of unadulterated color and life. Summer was awful and in winter it was best to heed the words of Mark Twain:

"'When you arrived it was snowing. When you reached the hotel it was sleeting. When you went to bed it was raining. During the night it froze hard, and the wind blew some chimneys down. When you got up in the morning it was foggy. When you finished your breakfast at ten o'clock and went out, the sunshine was brilliant, the weather balmy and delicious, and the mud and slush deep and all pervading. You will like the climate-when you get used to it. . . . Take an umbrella, an overcoat, and a fan, and so forth.'"

As for Maine, I don't have to check any data to confirm that the climate has changed. All I have to do is remember the Farm Bureau supper I attended as a kid where I overheard the straw hatted Harold Mann telling a companion, "Ayah. I remembah that wintah of ought eight. We had our first snow the middle of Octobah and come May 1st we were still on runnahs."

Sam Smith, Washington Post, 1987 - Al Thompson is superintendent of roads in Freeport, Maine, with a population about one percent of that of the District. But what Maine lacks in people, it makes up in roads, so Al Thompson has about 12 percent of Washington's asphalt mileage to look after.

Now Al doesn't have anything like the equivalent of Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues in his charge, and the local politicians tend to realize that nature often is impervious to memos, directives and policy guidelines. On the other hand, he works without the benefit of Snow Command Centers, Computerized Cancellation Centers and Codes Yellow. What he does have is five trucks with 12-foot dustpans and 11-foot wings.

How long does it take his trucks to cover 130 miles? Says Al: "An hour and a half, an hour and three-quarters." Then it takes another three hours for a second "cleanup" trip.

To put it in D.C. terms, that would mean, with the number of vehicles we've got (if properly equipped), you theoretically could sweep through the city in a couple of hours. Since it is clear our trucks are outmoded and not properly equipped, let's look at it another way: 25 good snow plows could, using the Maine standard, run through every street in the city in nine hours. . .

Now, before someone at the District Building picks up the phone to tell The Post about "complex urban problems," let me tell you about George Flaherty. He's director of parks and public works for Portland, Maine. Portland is about one-tenth the size of D.C. but has nearly 30 percent of its street mileage. He uses about a quarter of D.C.'s equipment and expects to have the job done in 8 to 10 hours.

I asked if he could explain the logic of a not-uncommon Washington scene: two snow plows working directly behind each other, sometimes with a Department of Public Works pickup truck in the lead. He just laughed and said, "No." Al Thompson agrees: "Doesn't do any good to plow over ice. Got to use salt."

And you don't wait until four inches have piled up before you start plowing. You start when you've got an inch and a half, and you stay ahead of the storm. And you don't leave it to the Almighty once ice-covered streets become mushy. You run the plows through and get the stuff off. Here, even downtown, we let the streets freeze again so the morning traffic reporters will have something to talk about.

"As soon as the storm starts, we salt all our major arterials," Flaherty says. In cases of major storms, "we will salt our critical areas just before it begins to snow.". . .

It will be argued that northern cities are willing to pay a high premium for clearing their streets because they get so much snow. But this year Portland budgeted, like most cities, for the best of all possible worlds: 25 inches, a winter roughly comparable to ours so far. With one-third the street mileage of D.C., Portland still planned to spend one-third more.

Why? Maybe because they know what bringing a city to a halt really costs. Here are some figures that will give you a rough idea of the costs of closing down D.C. for a day: the D.C. government spends $3 million a day on its payroll; the federal government spends close to $20 million a day for its D.C. payroll; private businesses spend another $30 million. What did D.C. budget for snow removal? Just under $1 million. Calculate the odds yourself.