James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Election 2008: Symbols vs. substance

By Lydia Howell

Issues of race and gender are inevitable -- if largely unmentioned -- elements of the campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, given that they are the first “viable” presidential candidates who aren't white men.

John Edwards rhetorically challenges the big corporations, pointing out that their dominance is detrimental to the lives of ordinary people -- the same message that Ralph Nader carried in the previous three elections, voicing what some regard as a taboo: the issue of class.

Sound-bite television doesn't lend itself to deep, complicated national
conversations such as those we should be having on race, gender and class. Horserace reporting erases the crucial issues, and we never hear the candidates positions nor learn of their voting records on those issues.

I think many white men can't understand the visceral longing that people of color and women of all colors have to see themselves reflected in all aspects of American life -- including respected authority, honored leadership and political power.

It's obvious, but we need to overtly recognize, that the historical reality (and the picture we carry in our minds) of the commander in chief is an at least middle aged white man. After all these years, it's not hard to figure out why the Clinton and Obama candidacies thrill many people.

Both of those candidates face difficulties that their white male counterparts
don't: Obama has body guards because he's had death threats, and those threats are made credible by the miserable history of assassinations of African-American leaders. Clinton isn't just criticized on her political agenda; she's attacked
-- especially on-line -- in ways that are both pornographic and violent.

The “Hillary Nutcracker” (where the caricatured Clinton's legs form the
tool) is for sale at a Minneapolis “progressive” shop. I've heard allegedly “progressive” men make grotesque sexual comments about Clinton, rather than simply arguing against her public record.

Another political ugly game is what some progressive academics call “the oppression Olympics.” That's where one asks, “What's worse? Racism
or sexism?” and presumes to answer the question.

Feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem, in a recent New York Times op-ed essay, suggested that sexism is a greater barrier to political power than racism.

To get to that conclusions, Steinem ignored the fact that Congress is still overwhelmingly white and a criminal justice system so riddled with racial bias that it incarcerates one in eight African-American men and a growing number of women of color. She ignored grotesque gaps in quality of life measures between people of color and whites.

On the other hand, commentators of color often trivialize the insidious results of gender bias that permeate our culture.

That nasty game is just one more example of how the old-line powers divide and conquer. It doesn't get us one inch closer to race and gender equity. It isn't even a starting place for useful discussion.

John Edwards' economic populism gets a different but equally effective treatment from the power elite. His positions have been largely ignored by a media that avoids talking about them by chanting “class warfare.” That's a catch phrase used in the same way that “conpiracy theory” often is used to dismiss a subject without dealing with the facts. (In fact, there is a class war, and the big money guys have all but entirely won; that's why we have the greatest wealth and income gaps between the richest 5 percent of the population and the rest of us since 1929.

As a lifelong feminist who's also been an anti-racism activist, I wish either Obama or Clinton inspired me.

Both of them must feel they have to walk very carefully. Obama apparently thinks he can't talk directly about how racism continues to shape the lives of people of color lest he be accused of “playing the race card.” It's taken very little for Clinton to be slammed with charges that she's “using her gender” to deflect
rough-and-tumble challenges from male rivals. Husband Bill Clinton's comments about male candidates “piling on” against her lend themselves to that charge.

African-Americans have been almost the only voters the Democratic Party could count on year after year, and they routinely have been taken for granted by the party.

Now black voters apparently are split nearly evenly between Clinton and Obama. This week's blowout over racial comments by both Clintons -- comments obviously aimed at Obama's fairly subtle drawing upon Martin Luther King's “dream” -- revealed the couple's willingness to play “take-no prisoners hardball.” It also exposed how shallow the Clinton's stand on civil rights actually is and always was.

Obama acted with grace under the Clintons' fire. But the fact remains that his soaring speeches have the substance of cotton candy. He is heavy on style and light on substance while Clinton pounds away as though volume alone can prove the case for her “thirty-five years of experience”.

One thing Steinem got right was her statement that no woman would be taken seriously as a presidential candidate if she had Obama's thin resume and lack of experience.

In her 2004 run for the Democratic presidential nomination, Carol Moseley Braun -- with a far more substantial portfolio than Obama's – wasn't taken at all seriously. Although Moseley Braun was the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate, she didn't get the kind of acclaim Obama is getting on the campaign trail. In fact, she was trivialized in much the same way Rep. Dennis Kucinich has been belittled by the media. Racial insensitivity is apparent in Steinem's failure to mention Moseley Braun.

Edwards has made much of his working-class roots, and one would think the media would find his Algeresque rise to wealth a good story-line. Instead, they've focused on his hair and sneered that his wealth means he can't talk about poverty.

They seem to have forgotten about Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose wealth didn't in any way impede his creation of the New Deal, a set of programs that (along with unions) built a social safety net and allowed the rise of substantial middle class in this country.

It's no small irony that Bill Clinton, who grew up in poverty, has played a major part in turning the Democratic Party over to the control of the corporate elite, colluding with conservatives who have made great progress toward their goal of dismantling the New Deal and tearing down the middle class.

While raising far less money than Obama and Clinton's $100 million each, Edwards has hedge fund backing, including money from Humana, a health care giant that aims to privatize Medicare for its own profit.
That sounds out of tune with the story he tells about his mother fighting cancer and being overwhelmed by insurance forms.

There appears to be little but cosmetic differences between the three front-runners when it comes to health care reform. All three would continue to shovel 25 percent of the money we spend on health care into the pockets of insurance companies, HMOs and Big Pharma, and leave them in control.

At least, Edwards is honest in admitting that after a bit of “reform”, everyone will be required to buy health insurance in the same way that car owners must be insured. I wonder if any constitutional lawyers have considered the implications of legalizing extortion by private corporations.

The same kind of tinkering for show is suggested when it comes to so-called “free trade” agreements.

Dennis Kucinich is the only candidate who vows to withdraw from NAFTA, the WTP and IMF and to negotiate new agreements that don't destroy the Americans' jobs and exploit foreign workers.

How much substance can Obama's message of “hope” or Edwards' promise to address
“the two Americas” have if they evade that issue?

Clinton simply supports her husband's “free trade” policies while promising more tinkering around the edges.

Then there's the U.S. occupation of Iraq and what, of all the candidates, only Dennis Kucinich talks about: the increased militarization of our society.

Edwards has moved farther in his stated opposition to continuing the occupation and has disavowed his vote for the invasion. Now he states he'd have all troops out by the end of 2009, but in September he echoed Obama and Clinton in saying that no firm date could be set. That makes his current stand suspect.

Although African-Americans' opposition to the invasion of Iraq was higher than among whites from the start, and their opposition to the war has continued to escalate – military recruitment among blacks is down by 50 percent -- Obama's plan is identical to Clinton's. While always saying he opposed the invasion, once he came to the Senate, Obama has voted for shoveling hundreds of more billions into war funding.

Gender is perhaps most evident when it comes to the military. A primary argument against electing a woman as commander in chief has been that women aren't tough enough, that they can't be trusted with the nuclear button and wouldn't be capable of waging war.

So, in spite of the exposure of outright lies, forged documents and faked photos, Hillary Clinton stubbornly refuses to say she was wrong to vote for invading Iraq. She's talked as tough as George Bush about Iran, and she voted for the absurd resolution declaring Iran's Republican Guard a terrorist organization, thus helping Bush get closer to attacking Iran.

Not only has Clinton voted for all the war-funding, she worked hard to shut down
progressive Democrats' demand for a time-line for withdrawal.

You seriously have to wonder what a President Clinton would feel she had to do to
prove herself sufficiently warrior-like as the first female president.

The women's movement began with the idea of social transformation; it meant to question every element of society.

Civil rights activists –- in both Martin Luther King and the Black Power manifestations –- aimed to confront white supremacy in every element of American life.

By the 1980s, both movements had been diminished into “piece of the pie” politics. The rise of the extreme political right needed a few “dark faces in high places” and a few women carrying their backlash agenda. George W. Bush (or whomever runs him) has masterfully manipulated aspirations to equality.

The grassroots movements got undercut. Activists of color were subjected to extreme state-sponsored violence and incarceration. Some people of color were allowed to rise and were pointed to as signs of racial progress while civil rights gains were assaulted in the courts.

The women's movement got bought off with non-profits and an idea I've long thought of as “corporate feminism.” This boils down to “I can rule people for profits as harshly as any man; just give me a chance!”

Instead of challenging and changing the corporate takeover of everything of value, too many women went along with it in the name of equality. Hillary Clinton exemplifies the corporate co-option of feminism. It's ridiculous that her feminist defenders, such as Steinem, fail to see that.

Listening to one of his crowd-stirring but ambiguous speeches, it's difficult, if not impossible, to know what Barack Obama actually is proposing to do.

John Edwards is better at appearing to be in touch with the economic crisis devastating more and more working people while rapidly adding to the profits and power of wealthy elites.

Hillary Clinton promises to go back to the future of her husband's presidency, which should require that the Clinton years finally be assessed with no illusions. When it comes to the candidates we're told we should consider “viable,” the corporate news media prefers shallow symbols of race, class and gender to real substance.

The 2008 campaign so far indicates provides a discouraging outlook for the future of our democracy: weakening and on media-saturated life-support.

Lydia Howell is an independent Minneapolis journalist, winner of the 2007 Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism. She's also producer/host of “CATALYST: Politics & Culture” on KFAI Radio in the Twin Cities, available at http://www.kfai.org

Symbols vs. Substance, Part 2

By Lydia Howell

After seven years with George W. Bush in the Oval Office, it's easy to see why people like the idea of the next President having political and governing experience.

Of course, you're more likely to lean that way if you think the biggest problem with the Bush administration has been incompetence.

Personally, I think it's all gone pretty much according to plan -- except for those
pesky Iraqis who refuse to accept having their country occupied and their oil stolen by American corporations. With no Congressional restraint, Bush has hugely increased the power of the presidency, appointed right-wing reactionaries to executive branch agencies and named to the Supreme Court ideologues who seem committed to hurling us backwards to Gilded Age and the semi-feudalism of that era.

But I digress.

Hillary Clinton touts her experience, saying Barack Obama isn't seasoned enough for the Top Job.

I like the fact that Obama has grassroots experience as a community organizer. It would be nice to see fewer lawyers and representatives of big business and a lot more people with more typical life experiences and outlooks on city councils, in state legislatures and Congress --people whose political viewpoints have been shaped on the ground in their communities. There should be more teachers, nurses, union organizers, local activists and small business owners representing We the People.

Most elected of today's officials, who get their offices with the help of huge sums of campaign cash unavailable to the 75 percent of Americans who make $50,000 a year or less, don't seem at all in touch with the everyday reality of their constituents.

Maybe, just maybe, Obama has more of that real-life perspective. While his speeches are short on details, his Web site appears to offer some solid ideas. From
bolstering safety nets and retraining for displaced workers and investing in green energy jobs, Obama has some good ideas. The question is this: Will he go to the root of the corporate dominance that created our economic car-wreck or will he offer bandaids to the working people who are bleeding heavily while CEOs cash in? He sticks with “free trade” agreements that really ought to be renegotiated -- as only Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucnich, among Democratic candidates, demands.

It's understandable that people are uplifted by Obama's slogan “Change
We Can believe In,” but, to quote an old ad and political campaign slogan, “Where's the beef?”

If corporations are allowed to consolidating in endless mergers and corporate lobbyists go on writing legislation that's passed by corporate-sponsored members of Congress, how much of a “change” is that?

And what is Hillary Clinton's much-touted “experience”?

She puts forth her long association with the Children's Defense Fund, founded by civil rights luminary Marion White Edleman. However, Clinton never mentions being a director of Wal-Mart -— a company leading the corporate assault on the American economy, an aggressive enemy of labor organizations and the subject of the biggest
sex-discrimination lawsuit in U.S. history.

Clinton insists she should get credit as a “co-equal” in governing during her husband's presidency. But if the Clinton presidency is the New York senator's main
claim on the Democratic nomination, then policies instigated during the Clinton years should be fair game for debate.

The North American Free Trade Agreement that Bill Clinton pushed -- and
Sen. Clinton still supports --escalated the export of American manufacturing jobs and continues to gut the economic lives of whole communities and families.

Republicans have sought to end New Deal social safety nets but Bill
Clinton pushed through “welfare reform” -- dumping the nation's poorest
mothers and children off welfare, leaving most of them in poverty. The Children's Defense Fund has raised deep concerns about the actual results of that policy.

Hillary Clinton wrote a book, “It Takes a Village,” but seems oblivious to the damage to families that the so-called welfare reform is causing. She wants to be seen as a lifelong feminist but doesn't propose concrete solutions for the problems of single mothers raising children in poverty: She makes no proposals to improve access to education, decent housing and quality childcare.

Clinton refers frequently to her attempts at health care reform during her husband's presidency. But her bulky plan was incomprehensible, created in secrecy
and kept insurance companies in charge.

Her newest plan may be simpler but she keeps things as they are with insurance companies, HMOs and Big Pharmas, with profits trumping public interest.

To be fair, both Obama's and Edwards' health care plans are similar to Clinton's. The best that can be said is that Edwards admits that after some piddling “reforms” and public subsidies for the poorest citizens, everyone will be required to buy health insurance, as they're required now to have liability coverage on their cars.

Obama and Clinton also apparnetly plan to deliver tens of millions of captive
customers to insurance companies, which continue to raise the prices of their insurance, co-pays and prescription drugs.

Hillary Clinton seems to be courting the right-wing as she downplays women's reproductive rights --even as 87 percent of counties in the United States have
no abortion provider and even as insurance companies still refuse to pay for
women's contraceptives while covering the cost of Viagra.

On issues tearing apart communities of color -- the failed and phony “war on drugs,” high incarceration rates and a grossly inequitable death penalty,
Clinton is silent -— duplicating her husband's failure to take stands on those issues. But Obama and Edwards are about equally as silent on those issues in their stump speeches, although on his Web site Obama has suggested drug courts, more drug treatment and addressing the big sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine users.

I guess even most Democratic candidates feel there's still plenty of money to be made on corporate-constructed and run prisons, that the “war on drugs” has been an
invaluable model for expanding police powers and social control. In fact, it's so successful a model that the domestic front of Bush's “war on terror” was based on its design.

With his “Two Americas” talk, work on poverty since 2004 and fiery vows to fight corporate dominance, John Edwards comes closest of the three Democratic front-runners to (at least rhetorically) campaigning on the real interest of most Americans. Obama and Clinton look like symbolic “ground-breakers” who, on the issues, actually represent the entrenched leadership of the Democratic Party and their corporate sponsors. And the money people have hedged their bets, giving each of the symbol candidates $100 million.

None of the three media-picked “front-runners” is willing to take on the truly major, and ignored, issues that should be the heart of the 2008 debate:

They ignore, for example, a $500 billion Pentagon budget (not counting “supplemental” appropriations averaging $100 billion), although that's half the national budget and sucks resources from a crumbling infrastructure, desperately needed human services, not to mention a deteriorating educational system, health care and other citizen needs.

Why isn't the Incredible Enlarging Military Budget, along with it's younger sibling
the Department of Homeland Security, worthy of debate? What about the
billions “disappeared,” unaccounted for, by private contractors in Iraq?

Will Clinton, Obama or Edwards, upon moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, issue executive orders to close Guantanamo and end water-boarding? Will he or she restore the core civil liberties that Bush-Cheney have been busy burying under their relentless exploitation of the September 11 attacks?

None of them is putting those issues at the heart of their campaign speeches. In fact, those issues don't get a whisper of attention.

What do the top picks offer on global warming, peak oil and their impact on every aspect of our lives? Fahhgeddaboutit.

Serious citizenship demands going beyond images of race, gender and class symbols -—much as many of us ache to see leadership that looks like us-- to look at candidates' actual policies and voting records -— all available on the Internet.

In past years Americans had an experienced candidate with a long and impeccable record of service in the public interest, someone who could take credit for wide-ranging legislation that went from air quality protection to government transparency. That was Ralph Nader.

He ran for president three times, yet was refused a fair hearing by being banned from all debates. When the Supreme Court and the Republican dirty tricks in
Florida stole Al Gore's victory in 2000, the Democratic Party stood by and did nothing to stop that travesty in the ”greatest democracy on Earth.” Instead, the party leaders and their loyal followers blamed Nader, calling him an egotistical “spoiler” who “cost Gore the election.”

The fact is, most Nader voters said they'd have stayed home if he hadn't been on the ballot; they would not have voted for Gore.

Reality-check: there are indicators of more voting machine meddling in 2004, 2006—and perhaps in the New Hampshire 2008 primary that Clinton won against the predicted big margin victory for Obama.

Hmmm. Maybe policies aren't the only things the corporate-sponsored, war-supporting Democrats have in common with Republicans.

For more of “What You Won't Hear From the Front-runners”, see

Lydia Howell is an independent Minneapolis journalist, winner of the
Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism. She's also host/producer
for "Catalyst:politics & culture" on KFAI Radio, available at:

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Internet and the grabbing of writers' work

Thanks to the strike of television and film writers, the public has learned that most of the late-night television hosts are very dull indeed without the people who usually put words in their mouths.

It is good that the strike has generated some discussion among the public on the role of writers.

There's plenty of discussion, too, among the great army of writers who aren't paid enough to buy $3 million Manhattan condos or to ease their stressful lives with three months in rented Tuscany villas.

Generally speaking, although we sympathize greatly with the striking writers – including those who draw extremely high bucks for their work – the talk among writers in my neck of the woods shifts fairly quickly from the strike to the much more pervasive effects of the Internet.

For reasons we do not understand, users of the Net – especially those younger than 40 – generally believe that they have an absolute right to download anything they want and to use it any way they choose, without any recompense whatever for the creators of the material.

As many a news story has shown, the grabbers become screamingly irate when asked to pay for anything, or even to recognize a creator's right to control in any way the material he or she has created.

The origins of such narcissistic behavior is of particular interest to me, but I'll stayed focused for now on the behavior itself.

That mode of behavior now is common among people who unquestionably should know better, and/or who should have more integrity.

You know all those articles you see on line on arts, politics, government, any subject in which you have an interest? Most of them have been cribbed from their original sources, and almost all of the writers have been stiffed; they haven't been paid a nickel for the use of their work on the Internet.

That miserable fact is compounded by the further fact that in most cases – the vast majority of cases – no one even asked permission to use the writer's, musician's, composer's or artist's work.

Many of the articles and essays I have written for and posted on this blog have been picked up by other Web sites. Some of those sites have readerships in the hundreds of thousands, even in the millions; some of them have well-paid staffs, and some sell substantial amounts of advertising.

Only one of the dozen or more outfits that have used my work asked for permission to use it; often, I only know about someone grabbing my work when a reader tells me about it.

Only one other site, a local daily on-line newpaper, tcdailyplanet.net, notifies me when it picks up one of my pieces. I gave the Planet a blanket OK to use my stuff, after it already had published a couple pieces, because it is pretty much a shoestring operation, struggling to fill some of the gaping holes in the coverage of Twin Cities newspapers, television and radio.

(The one site that asked for permission each time it used one of my analysis essays is a Canadian news and commentary site with a very broad readership within that country. I have added that to the long list of reasons I love and respect Canada.)

I know a number of other writers who have had similar experiences, and I've read many articles about how the work of musicians and composers is stolen by Net rats.

The assumption seems to be that we should be grateful for the exposure. Worse, many of the users are hostile to the idea that we might have an interest in the uses to which our work is put. They assume that whatever we do is theirs if they want it.

No thought is given to the fact that composers, musicians, writers and artists make their often meager livings with their work. A computer-addicted banker, say, or retail sales clerk expects to be paid for his or her work (or time, anyway), yet many such people are outraged by the suggestion that they should pay for the work of others.

It's astonishing, really, and at the same time hard to know what can or should be done.

Like most regulations and laws protecting average citizens from economic exploitation, the enforcement of copyright laws for small time producers of original material has all but disappeared since the Corporate Party gained power with the election of Ronald Reagan. The deterioration of regulatory enforcement has greatly accelerated with the growth of the Internet and still more under George W. and his neocons. It's cowboy and rustler time, folks.

When I began producing this blog four years ago, I discovered that a very sick individual had laid claim to the byline I used through the first 44 years of my career as a professional reporter, writer and editor.

The same sicko had grabbed the names of hundreds of other individuals who had built public reputations. Some of those people fought to take back their names; they won, but the effort cost each of them upward of $5,000 – substantially upward in some cases. I couldn't afford that and still can't.

Obviously there's something very wrong with a system that allows some creep to take over another person's name for use on the Internet. There's also something wrong with people grabbing the work of others and using it when and how they choose without compensation and often without crediting the author.

But I don't see anyone fighting to correct either wrong, and with the big money lined up on the side of the grabbers, I'm not holding my breath.

Like most people in my line of work and in more artistic fields, I'll keep doing what I do. If I were still interested in commercial freelance work, my fee now would be somewhere in the range of $75 to $100 an hour, but I quit doing that work a few years ago, and I don't expect to make up the income loss here.

Of course I want my work read, and I'm pleased that my audience has grown steadily, particularly over the past year. I'm happy when people tell me they've emailed some commentary of mine to their friends and other frequent contacts, or to politicians. Thanks, folks; you are most welcome to it.

But if you're going to publish my work on some sort of widely-distributed Web site – especially if you make money from it – ask my permission first. Extend the same courtesy to others who do the real work from which you draw your income. You might even consider paying the writers on whose backs you ride.

The universal magic potion and fix-all spell

Genius often is manifested in deceptively simple ideas.

Take the genius of the neocons.


Oops. Sorry. Society will forever keep the memory of Henny Youngman.

But seriously, folks. The neocon princes who shaped the unformed (not to say mushy) brain of George W. Bush came up with two simple ideas that, to their admirers and followers, offer the solution to all of the world's problems.

1. Bomb 'em.

2 Cut taxes.

Even those who regard Dick Cheney as a great man, even those believe George completed his Air National Guard time honorably, that Tom DeLay is a man of great integrity and that James Dobson is a true Christian can grasp and hold those two ideas.

Think about it:

Iran opposes us in the Middle East. What should we do?

Bomb 'em.

Cesar Chavez is spreading his populist, nationalist credo throughout Latin America. How to deal with Venezuela?

Bomb 'em.

Because of Israel's stupidity and our absurdities, Hezbollah has gained considerable ground in Lebanon. What to do?

Bomb 'em, of course.

The refusal of the Republican administration and right-wing controlled Congress to enforce even the mildest regulations restraining corporate activity has led to economic disaster. What will save us?

Cut taxes.

Even middle class boobs who continued to vote for Bush and his Congressional tail waggers while being stripped bare have begun to realize they've been had. What to do?

Cut taxes.

We're losing Afghanistan because of George's focus on Iraq. How to recover?

Bomb 'em. And cut taxes.

Despite putting up a miserable set of presidential candidates, the Democrats are almost certain to win the presidential vote this year (though there's no guarantee the winner actually will get into the White House). How can the Republicans beat the odds?

Cut taxes. (Would like to bomb 'em, but we probably would wipe out a bunch of Republican voters, too.)

What can be done to stem the collapse of the stock market?

Cut taxes, of course. And maybe bomb somebody.

What to do about the resurgence of HIV, the disappearance of edible fish from the world's seas, the gigantic federal deficit and tooth decay?

Cut taxes.

See. It's so simple. There are only two, teeny little extra things to remember: Ninety percent of all tax cuts must go to the wealthiest one percent of the country's residents; generally speaking, it is preferable that the people you bomb have dark skin.

Now, if you're willing to tell outrageous lies about anyone who opposes you on any issue, you are qualified for a job at the Bush/Cheney White House or the Heritage Foundation.