Gore Vidal's Unfinished American Revolution

Gore Vidal loved America in the way the best of the founders did.

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Should Football Fans Feel Guilty for Enjoying Bone-Crunching Tackles?

With each passing week, I hear from football fans saying that it's getting harder to like the game they love. They've spent years reveling in the intense competition and violent collisions so central to the sport, but this is the first time these NFL diehards feel conscious about what happens to players when they become unconscious.

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How You Can Demand an Afghanistan Exit Strategy

Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern, Republican Congressman Walter Jones, and Democratic Senator Russ Feingold have introduced legislation demanding an exit strategy and timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. The bill reads, "Military operations in Afghanistan have cost American taxpayers more than $200,000,000,000 in deficit spending since 2001." Over 1,000 American soldiers have been killed and more than 5,600 wounded. In 2009 alone, 2,400 Afghan civilians were killed according to the UN, and tens of thousands have lost their lives since the war began.

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Right Wing Red Meat in Cruel April

After lauding CNN for its in-depth Haiti and stimulus coverage in a previous post (CNN Un-Dobbed!), I'm disheartened that the channel that finally found the backbone to dump Lou Dobbs has decided to redobb up on the angry white man punditry, this time with's Erick Erickson. Erickson had barely signed up as a CNN contributor when he let rip some vio-sympatico spoutings about grabbing a shotgun to scare big government off his lawn. It would be unfortunate for CNN to stand by its man, as it so far has, any time of the year, but especially now, during the cruelest, militia-crazed month of April.

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Progressive Leader Donna Edwards Is Out in Front to Stop Corporate Dominance of Elections

Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards turned to Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis for guidance in framing the Constitutional amendment she proposed Tuesday as the right and necessary response to the decision by Chief Justice John Roberts and a high court majority to abandon law and precedent with the purpose of permitting corporations to dominate the political discourse.

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6 Scenarios for the Massachusetts Vote and After

Here are six scenarios for today's special election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the death of Edward Kennedy.

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Why Do Mainstream Media Insist on Belittling Progressives?

It's bound to happen, any time progressives have the audacity to demand brave leadership from a Democratic Party that asks for our money, our votes and our volunteer labor. The cry goes up from the self-proclaimed level heads of corporate media: You impractical, self-defeating lefties! Stop whining and let the adults run things! And so, as the leadership debacle that was health reform reaches its climax, it's little surprise that those of us who won't stop fighting for true reform are once again told to shut up.

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Health Care Reform Is Not Reform If It Denies Women Coverage

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid continued his health-care-by-the-holidays rush Saturday, and he was having some tactical success.

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Hurricane Katrina Even More of a Man-Made Disaster Than We Thought

Hurricane Katrina is often called a natural disaster, as if it was all nature's fault, not man's. The reality, of course, is that federal, state and local governments ignored warnings from scientists for years, both that climate change would lead to increased storm activity, and that destruction of wetlands outside of New Orleans had hurt the city's natural defenses against a storm surge. Calls for fixing levees and infrastructure investments went unheeded while the doctrine of markets and profits held sway.

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Will a Racial Divide Swallow Obama?

On Sunday I went to the Prudential Center in Newark to hear President Obama make the case for Governor Jon Corzine's reelection here in New Jersey. Already a strong supporter of Governor Corzine I wasn't going to be convinced. And I wasn't particularly excited about standing in a long line, on a chilly afternoon to listen to two men I've heard speak dozens of times. But I was determined to go. One year ago I'd been in Newark to hear candidate Obama make his closing arguments, and I wanted to check out what an Obama rally looks like one year later.

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Dept of Justice Eases Off Medical Pot

During the 2008 campaign, one of candidate Barack Obama's best applause lines was a promise to restore respect for science when it came to federal policy making.

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The Public Option Needs Your Help

The healthcare battle is in full swing with the past month's news being dominated by shouting scenes of corporate-sponsored "movements" confronting healthcare reform supporters at town hall meetings coast to coast.

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The White House Needs to Go a Lot Further with the Torture Inquiry

Attorney General Eric Holder chose not to take the counsel of the Republican partisans who have been campaigning in recent weeks to avert an accountability moment with regard to the Bush-Cheney administration's torture regime.

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The Ugly Racism of the Right Will Be Their Undoing

It'd be nice to think that the recent surge in overtly racist rhetoric on the right has been a case of random opportunism, provoked by the coincidence of a wealthy black Harvard professor yelling at a white cop who arrested him in his own home. Like, who could've predicted that the professor would be a friend of the Harvard law school graduate who is president, or that president would then say on camera that the cops acted "stupidly"? Or that the incident would happen just as Congress was going into a clinch over health care reform?

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Solid Reformer Picked to Investigate How We Got into the Financial Mess

Angelides, the former state treasurer of California, is a tough-minded liberal with hands-on knowledge of high finance and the social contradictions in modern capitalism. So it is remarkable that Angelides has been chosen to chair the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission newly created by Congress. The commission has enormous potential to generate deeper reforms than anything President Obama has yet proposed, simply by digging out the hard facts of what caused the financial collapse.

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Obama Loosens Up on Leno

Oh, it's wonderful when conservatives and their media begin to tsk-tsk over what's "appropriate" behavior for President Obama. "He flies off to Los Angeles tonight to appear on the Jay Leno show," Senator John Kyl sniffed, as if Obama were running off to drown his troubles at the local bar. "He even has time to fill out his NCAA basketball bracket," Senator Lamar Alexander complained, making me wonder, Would they disapprove if they found out that on occasion Obama takes a 20-minute bath instead of a five-minute shower?

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Stop the Campaign to Loot Social Security

The resounding defeat of George W. Bush's effort to privatize Social Security in 2005 seemed to be the end of attacks against the program. However, William Greider argues that Wall Street interests are leading a new round of threats to Social Security in a plan to use money from the program to recover the costs of bailing out banks. Although President Obama has indicated support for Social Security in the past, Greider argues in the video below that progressives need to exert pressure and educate the public about its solvency in order to counteract the efforts of private interests pushing for a compromise. 

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Is the Stimulus Package Too Watered Down to Get Us Anywhere?

Skeptical citizens might inquire: How does a Senate stimulus bill that was trimmed to eliminate "waste" (like school construction money that would create jobs in communities across the country) and "pork" (like funding to prepare for a pandemic that would bring a sputtering economy to a complete halt) end up costing almost $20 billion more than a supposedly spendthrift House plan?

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Obama Takes on the Nuclear Neanderthals

With George W. Bush back in Texas and President Barack Obama--an advocate for a nuclear-free world--in the White House, there is reason for hope that the frayed and shredded arms control regime will be rebuilt. But President Obama also faces a looming, high noon showdown over such a move towards real security and peace--in the form of Bush holdover, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

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Why the Corporate Media Ducked the Real Story of Those Flying Shoes

Once there was a time when a viral video hit didn't have to star the president of the United States ducking a shoe, and in those days it went something like this:

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Bush Ditches His Ranch for Ritzier Digs in Dallas

So it's official: George W. Bush is not a cowboy. We pretty much suspected he wasn't when we learned that, for all his bow-legged strutting, the man's afraid of horses. But last week, Bush let the other Lucchese boot drop: He and Laura bought a $2 million, fancy-pants house in Dallas's toniest neighborhood and will soon be high-tailin' it out of that eight-year-old stage set of a "ranch" in Crawford. Any uncleared brush can go clear itself.

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Who Will Go Down with Blagojevich?

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a scandal-plagued Democrat who, among other things, was preparing to appoint a senatorial successor to President-elect Barack Obama, was arrested Tuesday by FBI agents on what can only be described as breathtaking charges of corruption.

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Blackwater Operatives Indicted for Slaughter of Iraqi Civilians

For 1,929 days, the Bush administration's mercenary force of choice, Blackwater Worldwide, has operated on a US government contract in Iraq in a climate that has wed immunity with impunity. Today the Justice Department took the first concrete step to hold accountable the individuals responsible for the single greatest massacre of Iraqi civilians at the hands of an armed private force deployed in Iraq by the US government.

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Make That Former Senator Ted Stevens

Felon Senator Ted Stevens has apparently lost his seat representing Alaska, and Democrats have moved one seat closer to a filibuster-proof majority in the upper chamber of the Congress.

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Blackwater Busted? Six Guards May Be Charged in Iraq Massacre

After more than five years of rampant violence and misconduct carried out by the massive army of private corporate contractors in Iraq -- actions that have gone totally unpunished under any system of law -- the US Justice Department appears to be on the verge of handing down the first indictments against armed private forces for crimes committed in Iraq. The reported targets of the "draft" indictments: six Blackwater operatives involved in the September 16, 2007, killing of seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square.The Associated Press reports, "The draft is being reviewed by senior Justice Department officials but no charging decisions have been made. A decision is not expected until at least later this month." The AP, citing sources close to the case, reports that the department has not determined if the Blackwater operatives would be charged with manslaughter or assault. Simply drafting the indictments does not mean that the Blackwater forces are certain to face charges. The department could indict as few as three of the operatives, who potentially face sentences of five to twenty years, depending on the charges.

If the Justice Department pursues a criminal prosecution, it would be the first time armed private contractors from the United States face justice.

But that is a very big "if."

"The Justice Department has had this matter for fourteen months and has done almost everything imaginable to walk away from it -- including delivering a briefing to Congress in which they suggested that they lacked legal authority to press charges," says Scott Horton, distinguished visiting professor of law at Hofstra University and author of a recent study of legal accountability for private security contractors. "They did this notwithstanding evidence collected by the first teams on the scene that suggested an ample basis to prosecute. The ultimate proof here will be in the details, namely, what charges are brought exactly and what evidence has Justice assembled to make its case. Still, it's hard to miss Justice's lack of enthusiasm about this case, and that's troubling."

Even if some Blackwater operatives face charges, critics allege it is the company that must be held responsible. "I am encouraged that the Justice Department is finally making progress in the investigation, but I am disappointed that it took over a year and a lot of pressure for the department to take any action," says Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who introduced legislation that seeks to ban using Blackwater and other armed security companies in US war zones. (She was also the national campaign co-chair of Barack Obama's presidential campaign and is a top candidate to replace him in the US Senate.)

"While it is important to hold these individual contractors accountable for their actions, we must also hold Blackwater accountable for creating a culture that allows this type of reckless behavior," adds Schakowsky. "The indictments do nothing to solve the underlying problem of private security contractors performing critical government functions. The indictments will likely get rid of a few bad apples, but there will be no real consequences for Blackwater. This company is going to continue to do business as usual -- the solution is to get them out of this business."

News of potential indictments over the Nisour Square shootings comes as the State Department is reportedly preparing to hit Blackwater with a multimillion-dollar fine for allegedly shipping as many as 900 automatic weapons to Iraq without the required permits. Some of the guns may have made their way to the black market.

Blackwater has served as the official bodyguard service for senior US occupation officials since August 2003, when the company was awarded a $27 million no-bid contract to guard L. Paul Bremer, the original head of the Coalition Provisional Authority. To date, the company has raked in more than $1 billion in "security" contracts under its arrangement with the State Department.

Despite widespread accusations of killings of civilians and other crimes, not a single armed contractor from Blackwater -- or from any other armed war corporation -- has faced charges under any legal system. Instead, they have operated in a climate where immunity and impunity have gone hand in hand. At present, private contractors -- most of them unarmed -- outnumber US troops in Iraq by roughly 50,000 personnel.

There is no doubt that the Bush administration will continue enthusiastically to use armed private forces until the second Bush leaves office. This means that the future of Blackwater and the hundreds of for-profit war corporations servicing the Iraq occupation will lay with President-elect Barack Obama. This includes Blackwater and at least 300 other companies, which have been hired by the US government for privatized armed services in Iraq to the tune of about $6 billion in taxpayer money.

"One of the biggest problems that Barack Obama is going to have is turning the government back into a civil service and getting rid of all the private contractors," says Washington Democratic Representative Jim McDermott. "The private contracting thing is the most erosive thing that this administration has done. You look at all the things that are being run by private contractors, you simply cannot be handing money to a private contractor who is not under the law of that country or the law of this country and can do anything they want. They're really -- they're rogue outfits."

Obama has been a passionate critic of the war industry and is the sponsor of the leading Democratic legislation in the Senate to bring more effective regulation and oversight to it. But he has stopped short of supporting Schakowsky and Senator Bernie Sanders's legislation seeking a ban on using Blackwater and other armed contracting companies in Iraq. One of his top foreign policy advisers toldThe Nation earlier this year that Obama "can't rule out [and] won't rule out" using these companies in Iraq.

In a brief interview with Democracy Now! in February, Obama explainedhis position when asked about the report in The Nation.

"Here's the problem: we have 140,000 private contractors right there, so unless we want to replace all of or a big chunk of those with US troops, we can't draw down the contractors faster than we can draw down our troops," Obama said. "So what I want to do is draw -- I want them out in the same way that we make sure that we draw out our own combat troops."

As Obama's inauguration day draws near, he is facing increased calls from Democrats who have spent years investigating Blackwater to ban the company. Most prominent among these is Henry Waxman, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He called on Obama to cancel Blackwater's security contracts. "I don't see any reason to have a contract with Blackwater," says Waxman. "They haven't lived up to their contract, and we shouldn't be having these private military contracts. We should use our own military."

As of now, Blackwater's Iraq contract expires in April (it was extended for a year by the State Department despite numerous investigations). "I think there should be very strong handcuffs put on this whole outsourcing question, but particularly with these private security contractors like DynCorp and Blackwater," says Vermont Democrat Peter Welch, who serves on the Oversight Committee with Waxman and supports the calls for Obama to cancel Blackwater's security contracts. "It's just an incredible waste of taxpayer money. It dishonors the Code of Military Conduct. Our soldiers are over there. They abide by rules. Blackwater doesn't."

But not all Democrats agree. Senator John Kerry, who is reportedly among the people being considered for Secretary of State in the Obama administration, shares the president-elect's view. "I don't think they should be banned," says Kerry. "I think they need to operate under rules that apply to the military and everybody else."

As of January 20, 2009, if Obama decides to keep Blackwater and other armed war corporations on the US payroll, these private forces would go from being Bush's mercenaries in Iraq to Obama's. As commander in chief, he would be responsible for their crimes. As for the accountability issue, many critics allege that the most serious problems in holding contractors responsible for their crimes stem from the Bush administration's covering-up of their misconduct and immunizing them from prosecution, and the total lack of political will to bring them to justice. When Obama appoints a new attorney general, there will be more than five years' worth of crimes to investigate -- and prosecute.

Progressive Media Have Really Helped Stop the Spread of Dirty Political Rumors

Everyone can hear it now. This Internet-driven, hyperactive presidential race is forcing accountability on two of the oldest tricks in politics: dog whistles and secret smears.

With a "dog whistle," politicians use code words to signal unpopular stances to one target audience, while avoiding a backlash because the reference is lost on others. Many people miss President Bush's layered language for evangelicals, from hinting that legal abortion is like slavery to his odd prediction that history will see Iraq as just "a comma." (It only makes sense if you know the proverb, "Never put a period where God has put a comma.") Code words don't fool everyone, but from "states' rights" to "welfare queens," GOP campaigns have tapped racial resentment without facing widespread opprobrium. Secret smears run on a similar axis, enabling politicians to undermine an opponent without taking responsibility for the attack. But the times are changing.

From his race to his name, Barack Obama seemed like the perfect target for such coded attacks. Indeed, some Republicans were eager to run the old playbook on him. "Count me down as somebody who underestimates Barack Hussein Obama, please," said GOP strategist Ed Rogers, speaking on MSNBC's Hardball in the headier days of 2006. Yet Rogers, like the McCain campaign, underestimated not only Obama but a new media model that swiftly blasts would-be Swiftboaters.

Partisan and muckraking bloggers now fight political operatives' efforts to keep unseemly attacks below the radar. Take automated "robo" phone calls, which often deploy the sharp attacks that campaigns don't want exposed in the mass media. Previously, the calls were obscure, rarely drawing major media coverage, let alone sustained criticism. Now they can be recorded, uploaded and dissected in a single news cycle. Sites like TalkingPointsMemo and Daily Kos use crowd-sourcing by readers to track the attacks and pin them squarely on John McCain. Insider political sites, like Ben Smith's Politico blog, also disseminate the audio recordings to media and political elites, converting a "targeted" message into a mass broadcast. And organized campaigns like the National Political Do Not Call Registry use the web, Twitter and e-mail to track and map every call.

As a hub for intelligence, the web can enlist people in "bubbling up reports" of everything from robo-calls to US attorney firings, explains TechPresident co-founder Micah Sifry, a web activism expert who heralds the trend as a new era of "crowd-scouring" the presidency. He argues that information can whip around online with or without a political agenda. "Even without central direction, the crowd is scouring the world for interesting news and sharing tidbits constantly."

Once exposed, McCain's robocalls were unpalatable even to his allies in the party and the media, adding another "Hey, Rube" squabble to his already contentious campaign. Republican senators condemned the calls. Fox News's Chris Wallace pressed McCain on the issue, reminding the senator that he once denounced such tactics. Even Sarah Palin felt compelled to respond to criticism of the campaign's robocalls, telling reporters that while she did not renounce them, she would prefer to do personal and retail campaigning instead.

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has run a sophisticated pushback operation of its own, tapping a large volunteer corps through its "action wire" to expose smears and contact local media about unfair attacks. The campaign launched two portals, FightTheSmears and BelowTheRadar, to fight what it calls a stealth Republican operation "to quietly poison voters' information with lies and fear tactics."

All this online activity has been amplified by the rapidly shifting landscape of political television. The increasingly opinionated cable news programs, always in search of conflict and fresh content, now treat debates over these tactics as a major campaign issue. This emphasis is bleeding into the broader campaign discourse, which includes minute dissection of attacks that were once considered unmentionable. A whole range of smears against Obama, for example, have been exposed under the glare of nationally televised debates. Sometimes that process has angered his supporters--as when the ABC News primary debate focused on smears regarding "patriotism" and Islam. In one of the general election debates, CBS moderator Bob Scheiffer was credited for playing a corrective role when he pressed both candidates to answer for attacks from their supporters. That is a stark contrast to the previous two presidential races, when even the most incendiary attacks drew scant calls for accountability at the candidate level.

The infamous Swiftboat attacks against John Kerry, for example, were barely a blip in the 2004 presidential debates. Sure, everyone knew about them, but no voters ever saw President Bush defend them. Run the tape back to 2000, and Bush was never forced to fully answer for one of his most vile political attacks, the racist smear against John McCain's family in the South Carolina primary. Today, it is hard to imagine a candidate in either party sliding through a presidential primary without a huge backlash for deploying that kind of attack.

This cycle, in fact, even faint dog whistles are called out in real time. When McCain launched a late-October attack on Obama, alleging that he would morph the IRS into a "welfare agency," MSNBC host Rachel Maddow bore down on the line. "Welfare? Where'd that come from?" she asked on her MSNBC show, slamming McCain for invoking a "great racially divisive codeword from the '80s and '90s [with] no bearing whatsoever on Barack Obama's tax policies."

As Election Day approaches, Republicans claim their final flurry of attacks on Obama are simply about his foreign policy and judgment. One controversial new McCain ad shows Obama superimposed on maps of the Middle East, questioning whether he would "accept Iran's demands" to destroy Israel, among other things, as music evoking the Muslim call to prayer plays in the background. Another last-minute GOP mailer grafts Obama's face over a map of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. And Sarah Palin is using her closing arguments to link Obama with Rashid Khalidi, a respected Columbia University professor and Palestinian advocate. (Khalidi has minor links to both presidential nominees, as it happens.)

It is not hard to decipher the strategy. McCain has concluded his only road to Washington runs through Tehran--if he can convince voters that's where Obama belongs.

On Wednesday, The Huffington Post, which now draws more traffic than The Drudge Report, was all over the case. Under the banner "McCain's Last Ditch Effort: Tying Obama to Muslim World," Sam Stein reported, "McCain's campaign is making what appears to be a final, full-throated effort to paint Barack Obama as a sympathizer with the Muslim world." There is no equivocating debate or time-lapse delay. An influential driver of political news is exposing McCain for doing exactly what he pledged to avoid--stoking bigoted, racial and religious division to turn people away from his opponent. With sustained attention on these attacks, it appears that voters are increasingly recoiling from McCain's offensive.

"Thanks to YouTube--and blogging and instant fact-checking and viral emails-- it is getting harder and harder to get away with repeating brazen lies without paying a price, or to run under-the-radar smear campaigns without being exposed," contends Arianna Huffington, whose website pulses with a constant, two-way debate of news and opinion. "The McCain campaign hasn't gotten the message," she added, "hence the blizzard of racist, alarmist, xenophobic, innuendo-laden accusations being splattered at Obama."

Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who endorsed Obama and recently appeared in his prime-time infomercial, told Huffington that we are witnessing the "end of Rovian politics." That is probably one step too far.

This new media environment undermines political attacks that turn on coded meanings and hidden messages, because now anything can be exposed and cheaply disseminated. Observers used to worry that the web would fragment our media consumption into private little silos--that famous "Daily Me." Yet in presidential politics, an inverse dynamic is emerging. Small groups of people are using the web to expose the targeted appeals of the analog world, and then injecting them into the mass media for the whole nation to assess. And many voters do not like what they see.

Like any other transparency measure, however, this process only enhances the potential for accountability. It does not automatically halt any conduct. It does not ensure, as Schmidt may imagine, that "Rovian" attacks are now futile--or that voters will always recoil from them. Instead, it simply means that candidates will increasingly have to answer for their code words and targeted appeals. Operatives will worry more about how a "secret" smear will play when it is exposed, since it probably will be. Attacks that turn off large swaths of the electorate, like smearing a candidate's family, will keep fading. "Rovian" ploys that hammer more vulnerable targets, however, will not be cut down by exposure alone. (Consider how the GOP has excelled by open gay-bashing, including Rove's own gay marriage strategy in 2004, with no code words needed.) So more transparency is a welcome development, but as Obama can tell you, real "change" only comes from the bottom up.

The Financial Crisis Could Shake the Foundations of American Politics

Phil Gramm, the senator-banker who until recently advised John McCain's campaign, did get it right about a "nation of whiners," but he misidentified the faint-hearted. It's not the people or even the politicians. It is Wall Street -- the financial titans and big-money bankers, the most important investors and worldwide creditors who are scared witless by events. These folks are in full-flight panic and screaming for mercy from Washington, Their cries were answered by the massive federal bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, the endangered mortgage companies.

When the monied interests whined, they made themselves heard by dumping the stocks of these two quasi-public private corporations, threatening to collapse the two financial firms like the investor "run" that wiped out Bear Stearns in March. The real distress of the banks and brokerages and major investors is that they cannot unload the rotten mortgage securities packaged by Fannie Mae and banks sold worldwide. Wall Street's preferred solution: dump the bad paper on the rest of us, the unwitting American taxpayers.

The Bush crowd, always so reluctant to support federal aid for mere people, stepped up to the challenge and did as it was told. Treasury Secretary Paulson (ex-Goldman Sachs) and his sidekick, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, announced their bailout plan on Sunday to prevent another disastrous sell-off on Monday when markets opened. Like the first-stage rescue of Wall Street's largest investment firms in March, this bold stroke was said to benefit all of us. The whole kingdom of American high finance would tumble down if government failed to act or made the financial guys pay for their own reckless delusions. Instead, dump the losses on the people.

Democrats who imagine they may find some partisan advantage in these events are deeply mistaken. The Democratic party was co-author of the disaster we are experiencing and its leaders fell in line swiftly. House banking chair, Rep. Barney Frank, announced he could have the bailout bill on President Bush's desk next week. No need to confuse citizens by dwelling on the details. Save Wall Street first. Maybe lowbrow citizens won't notice it's their money.

We are witnessing a momentous event -- the great deflation of Wall Street -- and it is far from over. The crash of IndyMac is just the beginning. More banks will fail, so will many more debtors. The crisis has the potential to transform American politics because, first it destroys a generation of ideological bromides about free markets, and, second, because it makes visible the ugly power realities of our deformed democracy. Democrats and Republicans are bipartisan in this crisis because they have colluded all along over thirty years in creating the unregulated financial system and mammoth mega-banks that produced the phony valuations and deceitful assurances. The federal government protects the most powerful interests from the consequences of their plundering. It prescribes "market justice" for everyone else.

Of course, the federal government has to step up to the crisis, but the crucial question is how government can respond in the broad public interest. Bernanke knows the history of the last great deflation in the 1930s -- better known as the Great Depression -- and so he is determined to intervene swiftly, as the Federal Reserve failed to do in that earlier crisis. By pumping generous loans and liquidity into the system, the Fed chairman hopes to calm the market fears and reverse the panic. So far, he has failed. I think he will continue to fail because he has not gone far enough.

If Washington wants real results, it has to abandon the wishful posture that is simply helping the private firms get over their fright. The government must instead act decisively to take charge in more convincing ways. That means acknowledging to the general public the depth of the national crisis and the need for more dramatic interventions.

Instead of propping up Fannie Mae or others, the threatened firm should be formally nationalized as a nonprofit federal agency performing valuable services for the housing market. That is the real consequence anyway if the taxpayers have to buy up $300 billion in stock.

The private shareholders "are walking dead men, muerto," Institutional Risk Analytics, a private banking monitor, observed. Make them eat their losses, the sooner the better. The real national concern should be focused on the major creditors who lend to Fannie Mae and other US agencies as well as private financial firms. They include China, Japan and other foreign central banks. Foreign investors hold about 21 percent of the long-term debt paper issued by US government agencies -- $376 billion in China, $229 billion in Japan.

It is not in our national interest to burn these nations with heavy losses. On the contrary, we need to sustain their good regard because they can help us recover by bailing out the US economy with more lending. If these foreign creditors turn away and stop their lending now, the US economy is toast and won't soon recover.

Americans should forget about whining; it's too late for that. People need to get angry -- really, really angry -- and take it out on both parties. What the country needs right now is a few more politicians in Washington with the guts to stand up and tell us the hard truth about out situation. It will be painful to hear. They will be denounced as "whiners." But truth might be our only way out.

Online Activists Keep the Pressure on Obama

He responded. While most Americans settled into a relaxed Independence Day weekend, Barack Obama tried to quiet mounting criticism from supporters over his decision to back a new White House spying bill. In an unprecedented letter released on the afternoon of July 3, Obama addressed the thousands of supporters who organized a large protest on his social networking portal.

Noting that he expected to take his "lumps" and "be held accountable," Obama respectfully defended his surveillance reversal. While maintaining that immunizing companies accused of illegal spying undermines deterrence and "accountability for past abuses," Obama said he now backs legislation granting the right to give immunity (and other executive powers) because it provides a "real mechanism for accountability" via future investigations. The explanation ran 852 words--more than double the length of his original statement announcing support for the spying bill on June 20--and then campaign policy aides continued the discussion for over an hour with visitors on Obama's site (pictured at right). The unusual exchange sparked an intense debate over the weekend, as activists and bloggers questioned whether it heralded a more interactive political era, or a reminder that double talk can spread on any medium.

On Sunday night, the protest group released its official reply, collaboratively edited through a wiki and representing some of the 19,000 members. It pressed Obama to take his fight against immunity to the Senate floor this week. Since Obama's letter said he still wanted to "strike" immunity from the bill, the group urged him to take charge:

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Obama Goes Soft on Free Trade

Republican John McCain is a militantly pro-free trade presidential candidate. That fact alone should guarantee his defeat in Ohio and other industrial states where his strategists entertain hopes of surfing a "Reagan Democrat" crossover of working-class Democratic voters to the GOP column this fall.

All that would be required would be for Democrat Barack Obama to campaign as a critic of the North American Free Trade Agreement and other deals that have battered workers, farmers, communities and the environment in the United States and abroad.

Unfortunately, Obama, who sent so many smart signals on trade issues when he was competing with Hillary Clinton for his party's presidential nomination, appears to now be backtracking toward the insider territory occupied by McCain.

Obama's interview with Fortune magazine -- headlined "Obama: NAFTA Not So Bad After All" -- is the best news the McCain camp has received since Mike Huckabee folded his run for the Republican nomination.

If Obama takes the economic issue that white working-class voters best understand off the table, he creates a huge opening for McCain in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

In her interview with the candidate, Fortune's Nina Easton reminded Obama that earlier this year he had called NAFTA "devastating" and "a big mistake" and suggested that he would use an opt-out clause in the trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico to demand changes that would be more favorable to workers and farmers in all three countries.

Obama replied, "Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified" -- which would have been enough of an indication that he was backing off the stance that contributed significantly to his success in the Feb. 19 Wisconsin primary that proved to be a critical turning point for his campaign.

But the presumptive Democratic nominee for president dug the hole deeper.

"Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don't exempt myself," he continued, suggesting that those who doubted his sincerity when he denounced NAFTA in a speech to Janesville, Wis., autoworkers might have been right.

Abandoning the tough talk of the winter and spring, Obama sounded an awfully lot like free-trader McCain when he said he was for "opening up a dialogue" with trading partners Canada and Mexico "and figuring to how we can make this work for all people."

Easton took it that way.

"The general campaign is on, independent voters up for grabs, and Barack Obama is toning down his populist rhetoric -- at least when it comes to free trade," she began. "In an interview with Fortune to be featured in the magazine's upcoming issue, the presumptive Democratic nominee suggests he doesn't want to unilaterally blow up NAFTA after all."

Referring to Obama's soft-pedaling of the fair-trade position he embraced in the primary campaign, Easton writes, "That tone stands in marked contrast to his primary campaign's anti-NAFTA fusillades. The pact creating a North American free-trade zone was President Bill Clinton's signature accomplishment, but NAFTA is also the bugaboo of union leaders, grassroots activists and Midwesterners who blame free trade for the factory closings they see in their hometowns.

"The Democratic candidates fought hard to win over those factions of their party, with Obama generally following Hillary Clinton's lead in setting a protectionist tone. In February, as the campaign moved into the Rust Belt, both candidates vowed to invoke a six-month opt-out clause ('as a hammer,' in Obama's words) to pressure Canada and Mexico to make concessions. ... Now, however, Obama says he doesn't believe in unilaterally reopening NAFTA."

As David Sirota, the author of a terrific new book on populist anger at Washington's trade and economic policies, The Uprising, correctly observes, "Here you have a policy -- NAFTA -- that is among the most unpopular policies of the last generation, according to polls. Here you have a candidate who campaigned against it in the primary. And within weeks of getting the general election, here you have that same candidate running to Corporate America's magazine of record to reassure Wall Street about that same policy. This is precisely what the populist uprising that I describe in my new book is all about -- a backlash to this kind of politics."

The McCain camp is already suggesting his Democratic rival is hypocritical, at best, when it comes to trade policy. The Fortune interview will add fuel to the fire.

If Obama does not change his tune, he's likely to get burned in Ohio, Wisconsin and other states where primary surveys showed that the vast majority of Democratic, Republican and independent voters felt that the radically pro-corporate free trade policies of the Clinton and Bush years had harmed rather than helped America.

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