Political Activism & Social Change

Ya can’t have one without the other:

FDR became a great president because the mass protests among the unemployed, the aged, farmers and workers forced him to make choices he would otherwise have avoided. He did not set out to initiate big new policies. The Democratic platform of 1932 was not much different from that of 1924 or 1928. But the rise of protest movements forced the new president and the Democratic Congress to become bold reformers.


Obama’s campaign speeches emphasized the theme of a unified America where divisions bred by race or party are no longer important. But America is, in fact, divided: by race, by party, by class. And these divisions will matter greatly as we grapple with the whirlwind of financial and economic crises, of prospective ecological calamity, of generational and political change, of widening fissures in the American empire. I, for one, do not have a blueprint for the future. Maybe we are truly on the cusp of a new world order, and maybe it will be a better, more humane order. In the meantime, however, our government will move on particular policies to confront the immediate crisis. Whether most Americans will have an effective voice in these policies will depend on whether we tap our usually hidden source of power, our ability to refuse to cooperate on the terms imposed from above.

From an article at The Nation by Frances Fox Piven here

Forced Birth Control

ZOMG, an article supporting the notion that “unfit mothers” should be forced to take birth control until they magically get fit – from The Sunday Times:

 Dutch socialist politician, Marjo Van Dijken of the PvDA party (the social democratic Labour party), is putting a draft bill before the Dutch parliament recommending that unfit mothers should be forced by law into two years of contraception. Any babies wilfully conceived in that period should be confiscated at birth. Unfit mothers would mean those who have already been in serious trouble because of their bad parenting.


Dijken’s idea is to try to prevent a new pregnancy in a family whose existing children are already in care until the situation has improved enough for them to be able to come back home. Two years might be a suitable period. If, after the suggested two years of compulsory contraception, the family is still not safe for children, the contraception order could be extended by a judge’s review. “If there’s a better way, a less invasive way, I will never mention my proposals again,” she says.

If hers is not the answer to the problem, the question remains: what should be done about unfit parents? Children are increasingly being damaged by them. At the extremes, chaotic mothers who are prostitutes or addicts or mentally ill or just what my own mother called inadequate are condemning their children to the same miserable and disordered lives. Man hands on misery to man, as Philip Larkin wrote, and so does woman.

Less extremely, many children are also being damaged by parents who are not so obviously unfit, but still bad enough to do serious harm. On Friday questions by Michael Gove, the shadow education secretary, revealed that more than 4,000 children aged five or under were suspended from school in Britain because of their troubled and violent behaviour. Of the 400 suspensions of children aged just two and three, 310 involved physical assault and threatening behaviour. Numbers of exclusion in all groups under 11 are increasing, mostly because of uncontrolled or violent behaviour.


It seems to me unfair to deny people any children at all. But it might be right to reduce the number to two. That would be fairer to taxpayers than expecting them to support families larger than their own and it might persuade genuinely unfit mothers that it is not in their interests to keep producing babies; they will be better off without.

It is time that, like Van Dijken, we started asking these extreme questions.

Hey cool.  Start with forced birth control and work your way up to forced sterilization of the poor and racialized.  Maybe we can eliminate those poor black people altogether.  It’s also convenient to blame the women (mothers) for parental “unfitness”.  Fathers are so terrific, after all.  Hells bells!

To be absolutely fair, the Dutch measure is directed toward families where there are children already in the care of the state and the birth restriction would be lifted when the “family” – mother? – was allowed to have already living children back hom.  I still can’t think that the state should be allowed to force a citizen to take health measures against their will.  But Minette Marrin takes the idea even farther – two children per family?  And which families would that be, pray tell?

Obama & The “American Dream”

From Aziz Rana at n + 1:

Throughout our history there have always been multiple versions of the American dream. These accounts held in common the hope that hard work, discipline, and self-reliance would allow those recognized as citizens not only to improve their economic lot and achieve personal happiness, but to participate fully in political life. Today, however, only one version of the dream continues to make sense as a sustainable personal project. This is the dream exemplified by Barack and Michelle Obama—as well as by their former rivals Hillary and Bill Clinton—a dream of success through higher education and a life in professional work. It is a vision of social advancement that leaves little room for historically important narratives of blue-collar respectability.

This now dominant version of the American dream first emerged around the turn of the twentieth century in the wake of massive structural transformations. Industrialization, heightened bureaucracy, and corporate consolidation helped generate an economic and social need for professional groups such as business managers, lawyers, doctors, social workers, and teachers. Louis Brandeis, in his 1905 Harvard lecture “The Opportunity in the Law,” crystallized the account of freedom and independence that motivated these groups. Brandeis argued that lawyers and other professionals were specially situated to think in terms of right policy rather than divisive politics.

The essence of legal training was “the development of judgment,” in which lawyers learned the value of “patient research and develop[ed] both the memory and the reasoning faculties.” Moreover, legal practice, like all professional work, was marked by a high degree of autonomy and creativity. The lawyer defined his own tasks, ideally served a diverse and broad community, and became skilled at testing moral and political logic against empirical reality. Given these attributes, Brandeis hoped that the professional stratum would struggle to reconcile competing interests in defense of a nonpartisan public good. The professional class would protect the weak against the powerful, but only in ways that reduced conflict and allowed for the smooth functioning of collective institutions.

At the time when Brandeis was describing the promise of professionalism, three earlier accounts of the American dream not only survived but were real competitors for social preeminence. In Thomas Jefferson’s founding republican vision, yeoman farmers were “the most valuable citizens . . .   the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, . . . tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interest by the most lasting bonds.” To this Jeffersonian vision of “the cultivators of the earth,” a rapidly urbanizing nineteenth century added the small-business owner and the unionized industrial worker. The former aspired to the same freedom as the farmer by cultivating a shop instead of acreage; the latter strove (with mixed results) to achieve economic independence through collective political activity. In Brandeis’s time, these three versions of the American dream each still constituted a viable route to meaningful political and social life.

Today, by contrast, all such dreams are essentially foreclosed. The independent farmer lives on in the national imagination, but industrial farming has rendered him marginal both politically and socially. The quantity of small businesses begun each year suggests that the aspiration of having one’s own shop persists. Yet for the past half-century bankruptcy has been more likely than success. Statistics cited by Bush’s own Small Business Administration (SBA) show that more than half of small businesses close within four years and more than 60 percent within six. The title of the SBA article, “Redefining Business Success: Distinguishing Between Failure and Closure,” perfectly captures the difficulty of sustaining optimism, even for propaganda purposes, about the vitality of small-scale entrepreneurship. As for blue-collar workers, deindustrialization and the weakening of the labor movement have made the wage earner’s dream of middle-class respectability less and less tenable. Real incomes for working-class families have been declining for three decades, and highly skilled jobs once available to high school graduates are now memories from a previous era.

Abraham Lincoln, in his 1859 speech at the Wisconsin State Fair, concluded that the ideal of the small businessman or farmer was meant to be accessible to everyone:

The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land, for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This, says its advocates, is free labor—the just and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all—gives hope to all, and energy, and progress, and improvement of condition to all.

This classless universality—the hope that every American citizen, through free labor, could enjoy middle-class respectability, economic freedom, and the intellectual benefits of education—lay at the core of the dreams championed by farmers, small-business owners, and factory workers. In the nineteenth century, such universal rhetoric coexisted with the practical exclusion of blacks and women, who were considered to be beneath citizenship. Crucially, however, there was nothing intrinsic to farming, wage earning, or entrepreneurship that required the permanent separation of these groups from the promise of social respectability. Today, one can and should hope for an American dream that truly includes all Americans, and which recognizes and respects all the different types of labor the country needs. This would fulfill the promise of nineteenth-century aspirations.

Instead we have been left with the professional ideal, which values only certain types of work and thus implicitly disdains the rest. It is an inherently exclusive ideal, structured around a divide between those engaged in high-status work and those confined to task execution. The political theorist Iris Marion Young writes, “Today equal opportunity has come to mean only that no one is barred from entering competition for a relatively few privileged positions.” The idea of exclusivity is a necessary structural feature of professionalization. As a model for society, however, it validates an economic and cultural divide between those with meaningful access to social respectability and the vast majority of Americans, who remain consigned to low status and low-income employment.

This divide is antithetical to democracy. The professional and educational meritocracy justifies a basic hierarchy in which only those with professional status wield political and economic power. The democratic ideal of ordinary citizens collectively deciding the fate of key institutions has little in common with this logic—a logic that is aristocracy by another name. Precisely because all three alternative versions of the American dream were universal, all imagined work—whether industrial, agricultural, or entrepreneurial—as a training ground for democratic citizenship. Farmers and entrepreneurs developed the personal virtues necessary for political decision making. As for the industrial worker, the union was considered a continuous education in democratic control, and one’s role in its management and success were a miniature form of collective self-rule.

Barack Obama’s political ascent reiterates the current dominance of the professional ethic and one side of the civil rights movement. But there was always another side, which presented the movement as our most recent attempt to create a political community in which all citizens, including those truly marginalized, could assert power and achieve social respectability. Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.  argued that our social problems were structural, the result of fundamental disagreements between the haves and the have-nots. These disagreements could not be papered over by talk of consensus, because the interests of the culturally privileged rested on continuing a politics of exclusion. As King often maintained, freedom requires making democracy a general way of life. This means more than integrating liberal society; it entails eliminating the basic economic and political hierarchies on which postwar liberalism rests. Today’s professional creed—while undoubtedly better than the Bush administration’s culture of cronyism, corporate profiteering, and rejection of expertise—remains a long way from these aspirations.

To the extent that Obama (and the Democratic Party leadership) refuse to offer more than the professional ideal, any reform agenda will fail to address the basic situation of most Americans. His comments about small-town voters at a fund-raising event in San Francisco were indicative: “You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and . . . the jobs have been gone now for twenty-five years and nothing’s replaced them. . . . So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or antitrade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Obama’s tone-deafness, as well as Clinton’s opportunistic denunciations—her aides quickly began handing out “I’m not bitter” stickers—spoke to a larger failing in the party as a whole. Political pundits like Tom Frank and Paul Krugman commonly ask why low-income constituents seem to vote less and less with their pocketbooks. This question suggests that the New Deal coalition was built primarily on a social welfare agenda. While such programs have been essential to providing millions of American with economic security, the heart of the New Deal lay elsewhere.

From 1932 until 1968, the Democratic Party rested on two descriptions of American life—the American dream as embodied by the rural farmer and the industrial worker. It gained sustenance from a respect for these accounts of middle-class achievement, economic independence, and democratic inclusion. Today’s party, however, has given up on establishing new forms of solidarity for nonprofessional citizens. All it has to offer is a lose-lose proposition: join the competition for professional status and cultural privilege at a severe disadvantage, or don’t join it at all. The party holds on to the social programs of the past, but in ever more truncated form. It presents a politics of consensus while ignoring the fact of basic division. If Obama hopes to save his party and to address the interests and experiences of working-class citizens, he will have to challenge the hegemony of the professional and with it the closing of the American dream. The question is whether he and those around him are interested in this task, or whether they are determined to recycle the failed homilies of postwar liberalism and meritocratic success.

Go on, read the whole thing, here


Blue Collars, Pink Collars, Red Necks – Class & Race

ZOMG but I think this article is great:

Long before the end of the Democratic National Convention, commentators and African-American civil rights activists were situating Obama’s nomination in the long trajectory of Black political struggles. Surely Obama’s addresss would address claim this history–after all, he was to give his speech on the very anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Obama had barely spoken when some commentators like Cornel West on Tavist Smiley’s talk show expressed astonishment at the veiling of blackness. Indeed, the convention was virtually shorn of any possible contamination by blackness.

Watching the official video about Obama, one might think black was simply a variety of white, an odd variant, perhaps, resulting from the mixing of Hawaiians and Kansans. No doubt deadbeat dads don’t deserve accolades or prominence, but the sheer absence of any reference to Kenya, the land of his father’s birth or even a photograph of his father was strategic. And every fleeting scene showed the Illinois Senator shaking hands with white constituencies that, according to conventional wisdom, might not be trusted to vote for a black man: the blue-collar workers, old white men, old white women, white farmers. Were it not for the occasional black person, one would think Obama was running for President of Idaho.

Obama’s book about his father, as many have noted, sets out to discover a father only to arrive at a mother. Put another way, go searching for blackness, and what you actually find is whiteness.

After all, the absurd question of a year ago “is he black enough” has proven the wrong question. Obama made this point himself when he noted that the election was ” not about me, it’s about you.”

That’s right. Obama’s race is not about Obama. In his video, he was either putting white people at ease, or alone, gazing pensively, sitting studiously, almost unable or unwilling to look at the political world around him. The real focus, instead, was on you, the non-black viewers and voters, who were granted the freedom to revel in their own transcendence of race without painful and annoying reminders of unresolved racial problems. MLK became “the preacher” of long ago, his color and cause unmentioned. Obama”s race became an “unlikely characteristic,” a statistical improbability. Chicago’s South Side became a marker of public service, not a disastrous failure of US racism.

It’s not surprising then that the cameras repeatedly gave us earnest white faces gazing at Obama. ” This isn’t about me, it’s about you” It’s not about where Obama came from, but about the satisfaction that whites might take in voting for a black man. If the final speech, a tour de force of rhetorical blending, to be sure, has been praised to the rafters, it is because it was liberal race-porn. It was the spectacle of tens of thousands watching themselves overcome their own discomforts about race. White voters’ love for Obama is really a love for themselves. A love for their own liberalism which has transcended race and evident in their voting for an African-American. A reassurance to them that America isn’t racist any more, while voting for Obama means that they don’t have to think about racial injustice. They don’t have to think abou the one million African-Americans incarcerated because of laws that favor the privileged or the crime of driving while black. To a generation of young white voters who can rebel against their overtly racist parents, it is an embodiment of living in a post-racist society.

Geraldine Ferraro and others tried to make this argument, but the resentment with which they fumbled toward this insight left them rightly condemned as creepy speakers of America’s racial code.

The McCain campaign understands this dynamic, too, and has been struggling for a way to answer. The day after Obama’s speech, they rolled out their own strategy in the form of Sarah Palin’s elevation.

Liberal commentators have been quick to condemn McCain’s pick as a cynical ploy to draw disaffected Clinton supporters to the Republican camp. Such criticism naively misunderstands the new racial code of this election. McCain is not assuming, in devious Rovian fashion, that he can trick unthinking voters into voting for a woman. Rather, he is offering an escape for cynical non-blacks resentful of their historical situation. They were about to face an election in which they had to finally admit they would not vote for a black man. But now McCain has offered them a palatable way out: now voters do not have to say they prefer McCain to Obama, they can say that they are actively supporting a woman.

Read the rest here

I’ve been perplexed by the notion that many white, blue collar Americans, including “older” white women, won’t vote for Barack Obama because of his race.  Since these voters were supporters of both Bill and Hillary Clinton, and President Clinton’s “base” included very loyal Democratic African Americans who moved to become supporter of Obama quite slowly, it makes little sense that working class white America would be unable to overcome racism to vote for him.  It takes a more nuanced understanding of “redneck” America to understand what might be happening and, perhaps, terribly belatedly, for the Democrats to respond in time to win the election.

See this post at Anglachel and the post at Once Upon a Time … for more analysis and comment on this issue

Joe Bageant has good analysis on the “redneck” issue as well, as I’ve said before

UPDATE:  Also, have a look at this article, recommended by Anglachel

Blogging Progs

Rock on Anglachel:

There is an aspect to the misogyny that is mentioned here and there, but doesn’t get the full attention it deserves, and that is the class bias thoroughly interwoven with the gender hatred. Gov. Palin (yes, kids, she *is* a governor and I’m damnwell giving her the title she has earned.) and even more her daughter are being typified not just as female or sexually promiscuous females, but specifically as white trash females. Class, race and gender are all mixed into a seething stew served up by the privileged white males (and far too many females) of the MSM and the political establishment (Both parties – contemptuous stereotyping is not just for Republicans anymore!). In a class by itself, we get the raving Boyz of Left Blogistan, revving up the Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby known as Daily Kos and going for a gang-banging joy ride through the Palin family’s reproductive organs.

Oh do read the whole thing here

We Are In Our Hands

We are in a state of global emergency that not enough people recognize:

Few would doubt that we are living at a time of emergency. The world’s population presently stands at 6.7 billion, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. That figure is projected to rise to 8.5 billion by 2030. It is understood now just how quickly the earth is warming, because of the increase in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases arising from human activity. If the earth continues to warm at its present rate, we know what our fate will be, and yet we seem set on destroying ourselves. Meanwhile, we are experiencing a fundamental shift in power away from the West; the emergence of China, India and Brazil, with their new wealth and aspirational middle classes, is putting an intolerable strain on the world’s finite resources. As I write the price of oil has reached $128 a barrel. It has never been higher. One need not be a pessimist to predict some kind of Malthusian denouement to the human story if we are unable or unwilling to alter our ways of being: scarcity wars, famine, large-scale environmental degradation.

Likely not a day goes by that I don’t ask myself why there does not yet exist a critical mass of people who are demanding that our governments, local, national and international respond to our state of global emergency.  I believe the answer is complex and thus multi-faceted as well as perhaps still partly hidden.  Perhaps some of us are too comfortable, yet that explains neither the inability of the comfortable to perceive adequately the threat to their comfort and the comfort of their children and grandchildren; nor what is sometimes understood to be the quiescence of those who are far from comfortable yet not powerless.

Just to get started on an answer to that question, for myself, I think that the interests of the very comfortable are fatally aligned with the source of that comfort: global capitalism.  Joel Bakan has written convincingly about the psychopathy of the large scale, usually multi-national and interrelated corporations that advance mercilessly toward the goal of maximum profit with little to no ability to respond to long-term degradation of both the labour force and the environment.  [See The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power and The Corporation Film]

Those who are identified with global capitalism by virtue of their own ability to maximize personal profits may well be engaged in folly or their own psychopathy, having convinced themselves that unregulated capitalism will inevitably prove capable of handling any difficulty thrown in its path, despite the facts; or simply because they’ve lost their ability to care about anything but enriching themselves.

What of those who are merely comfortable and increasingly  less so?  And those who are assumed, by many, to be simply too ignorant to know better, or powerless to do anything about it, though their “comfort” has been seriously compromised?

 From that psychological viewpoint used by Bakaan, I wonder if we aren’t all either suffering from some horrible combination of mass post and ongoing trauma, accompanied by combinations of dissociation, numbness, and learned helplessness; if many of us aren’t simply overwhelmed by the fuel crisis, food crisis, global warming crisis and other forms of environmental threat, unwinnable wars all over the world, various forms of oppression caused by totalitarianism or legitimated coercion and resulting inroads into the power of democracy and the rule of law as well as failing economies in the West and just general malaise.  To what should we pay attention?  Whom should we believe about both the proper identification of the sources of our problems and adequate resolutions?  What avenues of power can we access to force our leaders into addressing our problems?  What forms of organization will draw us into effective alliances across lines of gender, race, “class”, ability, ethnicity and nationality?  Can we address all of the emergencies at once or do we need to prioritize them?  If the latter, how do we prioritize such an impressive and pressing batch of emerging issues?

Just asking the questions can be overwhelming and depressing in itself.  It can lead to outright despair when we realize that our means of collective thinking, decision making and action have been seriously eroded by the advances of “post modern” capitalism.  We are more and more forced back upon ourselves.  We no longer live or meet together as communities of people living or working together in the same numbers that we did when we actually had cohesive neighbourhoods and communities; fewer and fewer of us are organized into unions of working people who can identify interests and act together to force the changes we need.  The complexity and amount of information  we need to gather and synthesize in order to craft realistic solutions is unheard of in history.  Post modern life keeps us busier and more distracted than we’ve ever been.

At the same time, we are discovering new ways of organizing and connecting with each other through advancing technologies.  I do believe that we will, inevitably, act on behalf of humanity and the planet and all it holds.  My question is, will we do it in time?  And when I ask that question, yet another question surfaces:  in time for what?  At this point in the questioning, I come to rest on hope and the small contributions each of us makes to the greater good.  And at this point, I wish I believed in a beneficent creator who has the best in mind for each of us and for all.  But I believe that “we” are in our own hands.  And I believe that is the most difficult thing to accept of all the things we face.

On the Blogs

From Rustbelt Intellectual:

The grim consequences of racial and economic inequality in the United States are especially visible in our health care system. By every measure, the health gaps between blacks and whites are stark. And to a great extent in the United States, where you live determines your access to goods and resources, the quality of social services, and the accessibility of affordable and decent health care. That America is still balkanized by race, despite the gains of the long struggle for civil rights, plays an important role in the maldistribution of resources by place. But just as important are wide disparaties in health, social services, and education by state and, within states, by locality, the long term consequence of America’s distinctive form of governance that relies on the states to bear much of the cost of social provision.

Continued   here


Let’s Get Racism Right

I find this article by Thomas J. Sugrue in The Nation mag to be a wonderful and refreshing relief after the race and gender wars of the last few months of Obama/Clinton bashing.  I’ve spent some time wondering how all the emotional and intellectual energy used to name and confront the meaning of slips of the tongue and a man’s pastor could conceivably change anything, since no social action occurred that could conceivably lead to structural change, assuming as I do that structural or systemic change is required.  Imagine if all that passion and intelligence were used to organize and build coalitions between men, women, and racialized people of both sexes?  Are we spinning in circles in the blogosphere and in alternative and mainsream media?  More often than not, I think we are.

Sugrue explains why that is so, with respect to race and racism.  Vast numbers of young African American men are not in prison because Don Imus is a racist prick.  I think many of Sugrue’s arguments can be applied to the issue of gender oppression, though it obviously requires a close and careful analysis in its own right. 

Here’s a bit of Sugue’s excellent article:

Ford’s critique of the race card is rooted in a larger, institutional understanding of racial discrimination. “Our tools for describing, analyzing, and righting racial injustice assume that racial injustices are the work of racists,” he writes. Such tools create confusion when applied to what Ford provocatively calls “racism without racists,” which is what occurs when people get trapped in the legacies of discriminatory policies. The result is disabling. The scandal-hungry media feast on ridiculous or exaggerated charges of racism while ignoring the real problems of racial inequality in their midst. Whenever the race card gets played, by either a multiculturalist or an opponent of affirmative action, it trivializes racial inequality and oppression and harms the cause of civil rights: “Practices that create a permanent underclass,” he writes, “are unjust in a different and more profound way” than isolated, arbitrary acts of prejudice. Fingering a few bigots–rightly or wrongly–does nothing to challenge pervasive educational and housing segregation, the black-white wealth and health gaps, or the disproportionate impact of the prison-industrial complex on young black men.

If there is one lesson to be learned from the past half-century of struggle for racial equality, it is that accusing elite blacks of selling out, calling on poor blacks to shape up or ship out and making a high-minded effort to change the hearts and minds of white Americans have not fundamentally reshuffled the deck of racial inequality in America, especially when black interests threaten white power and privilege. Change did not come only because of high-minded rhetoric or hope. It took the coercive power of the federal government and courts to desegregate schools. The opening of the American workplace did not happen because the shingles fell from the eyes of racist employers. It took grassroots activism and the threat of disruption, along with litigation and the power of regulation, to break down Jim Crow on the factory floor and in the corporate office.

The struggle for racial equality and its partial and incomplete victories are forgotten in our confused time. The politics of race in 2008 is, more than ever, a politics of national redemption through personal transformation. It is all strangely removed from the experience of most black and white Americans. Despite more than a half-century of progress on racial matters, rates of black-white segregation remain incredibly high; neighborhoods and public schools in the North and South remain separate and unequal (and, despite our myths of progress, they are resegregating); and blacks fare worse than whites on nearly every measure of health, well-being and success. Nearly half of African-American children live in poverty, and there are more black men in prison than in college. Black households have on average only 10 percent of the wealth of white households. The current housing crisis affects all Americans, but blacks are disproportionately represented in the ranks of those with subprime loans and foreclosed properties. All of these amount to a crisis–but one that is almost wholly absent from the political agenda. So long as the battle for racial justice continues to be fought on the battleground of hearts and minds, so long as it misinterprets the gauzy politics of symbolism and rhetoric as victory, and so long as it holds out the misguided hope that ferreting out the last hard-core racists or sellouts will transform American life, then the day when “we shall overcome” will remain a distant dream.

If Barack Obama should become President of the United States, does anyone think that he would be able to substantially reduce the number of young African Americans in US prisons, up against the prison industrial complex?  If so, just how would he do it?  And if he somehow managed to start down that road, does anyone seriously think he would get re-elected?  And if not, does anyone seriously think that anything he’d managed to change for the good couldn’t easily be undone?  That it wouldn’t be undone?  Ronald Reagan set the US back about a century.  Bush has probably set the US, and the world, back another hundred.  One man, no matter how audaciously hopeful, cannot change this using the tools at hand.  No one could.  Many people want to believe he can.  At best, Obama is naive.  At worst, he lies.  Likely, somewhere in between.

The “Race Chasm” in America

David Sirota on the crucial racial divide in American politics:

When it comes to race, American politics is as polarized as a red and blue election map. On one side are those who try to distract from the issue; on the other side are those who work to sensationalize it. As this campaign season shows, what unifies both is bigotry. 

Take the reaction to my recent In These Times magazine article about Barack Obama winning states with either very small or very large black populations, but losing most states in the middle. 

Those results, while troubling, aren’t surprising. In very white states, racial themes are simply not part of the political dialogue, and a black candidate therefore faces fewer inherent disadvantages. In states with large black populations, race is a major political force, but the African-American vote is big enough to offset a racially motivated white vote. It is in the Race Chasm-the states whose populations are more than 6 percent and less than 17 percent black-where race is a political issue but the black vote is too small to counter a racially motivated white vote.

The trend continued in the last few weeks, with Obama losing two states in the Race Chasm (Pennsylvania and Indiana) and winning one outside the Chasm (North Carolina). Nonetheless, the response to this phenomenon by some in the intelligentsia has been willful ignorance.

more here