Friday, August 28, 2009

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bill Fletcher, Jr.: The Obama Moment and the Implications for the Progressive Movement

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is currently director of field services and education for President of American Federation of Governmental Employees (AFGE), and executive editor of Black Commentator, and was from 2002-2006 president and CEO TransAfrica Forum. In March 2008, he co-authored with Tom Hayden, Daniel Glover, and Barbara Ehrenreich an op-ed published in the Nation called "Progressives for Obama":

All American progressives should unite for Barack Obama. We descend from the proud tradition of independent social movements that have made America a more just and democratic country. We believe that the movement today supporting Barack Obama continues this great tradition of grassroots participation, drawing millions of people out of apathy and into participation in the decisions that affect all our lives. We believe that Barack Obama's very biography reflects the positive potential of the globalization process that also contains such grave threats to our democracy when shaped only by the narrow interests of private corporations in an unregulated global marketplace. We should instead be globalizing the values of equality, a living wage and environmental sustainability in the new world order, not hoping our deepest concerns will be protected by trickle-down economics or charitable billionaires. By its very existence, the Obama campaign will stimulate a vision of globalization from below.
It goes on with similar optimism throughout. Over a year later, on August 8, Fletcher delivered the keynote address at the banquet of the Veterans for Peace national convention about "the Obama moment" and what progressives must do now. "[Obama's] there now," he says, "but he's not necessarily dong what we had hoped that he would do."

As Ed Shultz of MSNBC's "Ed Show" says, "You dance with the one who brung you," and Fletcher says we can't just sit back and hope for the best. We have to compell Obama "be what he's supposed to be." Fletcher issues a warning about the danger of the emerging right-wing populist movement. Watch/listen to the video. It's a good rallying speech for all progressives and especially for veterans, whom he tells must be a the forefront of  future anlayses of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, providing the "summation of those atrocities," as others attempt to write false histories, as they did about the Vietnam War.


Bill Fletcher, Jr.
keynote address, Veterans for Peace National Convention Banquet
August 8, 2009

Governor Jindal's High-Speed Jinx

Louisianians' hopes of a high-speed railway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge are being dashed by their governor's determination to serve the Republican Party rather than his constituents. His high profile in the national political arena since being elected governor of Louisiana in 2007 is hurting Louisiana. The scrapping of the high-speed railway is only the latest instance of how the political ambitions of Jindal are but the latest means of how the Republican Party is injuring Louisiana, as if the prejudicial treatment by the Bush administration weren't enough for a couple of centuries' abuse.

Piyush "Bobby" Jindhal was elected governor of Louisiana following Kathleen Babineaux Blanco's disasterous performance in her preparation for and response to the catastrophic levee breaks in New Orleans related to Hurricane Katrina. Jindhal had lost the runoff to Blanco in 2004, mostly because James Carville traveled to Louisiana at the eleventh hour, and the Blanco campaign launched a series of negative ads, to which Jindhal refused to respond in kind. He was criticized then for being a policy wonk without counterbalancing compassion enough to allow him to see people as more than merely statistical data. That criticism nearly defeated him in his race in 2007.

His Democratic opponant, Walter Boasso, ran a campaign ad in which Slidell resident Lynn McNiece describes how Jindhal, while Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, took draconian measures to slash the budget, which resulted in a nursing home's dumping McNiece's mentally disabled brother on the streets, without notifying his family. A court later ruled against Jindal and the state."Bobby Jindal has no heart," she says. "If I could tell Bobby Jindal anything, I would tell him, 'Shame on you! Shame on you!'"

That ad by itself was probably enough to sink Jindal's campaign had Hurricanes Katrina and Rita not occurred, and had Louisiana not suffered from the mismanagement of the state's Road Home program. It had been all along competence, not compassion, that had been lacking. Jindal responded with a message in which he more or less apologized for his past youthful policy actions. Filmed in the intimate setting of their living room, he and his wife, Supriya, described how the birth of their second child in 2004 had transformed them from uncompassionate Brahmans to people who understood the need for all Louisianians to have access to health care. Their son Shaan had been born with a heart defect and had to have open heart surgery in order to save his life. To see their tiny helpless infant, whose life hinged on his parents' access to medical care changed their lives. No one should be denied health care in this country, they said with great eanestness.

Even though all traces of the ad have mysteriously disappeared from the internet, I remember it well. What I remember most about it is wondering if they would have to face a similar threat in their own lives about everything in order for them to have an understanding of Louisianians, the populace Bobby Jindal and his wife were trying to persuade us to believe he had the compentence and the compassion to represent by holding the state's highest and most powerful office.

In October 2007, Jindal won the gubernatorial race with approximately 54% of the vote in the open primary. Less than a year later, he enraged citizens by refusing to veto a pay raise the House representatives voted for themselves, drawing the ire of Democrats and Republicans alike, and a number of recall petitions against legislators and the governor. Jindal eventually acquiesced, but he has gone on to alienate Democrats, many of whom crossed party lines to vote for him, by interpreting his election victory as a mandate for his far-right ideology rather than for competence in managing the large budget due to the influx of federal funds to rebuild South Louisiana. Despite declining John McCain's offer to be his running mate on the 2008 Republican ticket, which Jindal recently confirmed, the Louisiana governor's high profile on the naitonal stage has done more damage to the state than it has helped it, beginning with his embarrassing Repblican response to President Obama's first State of the Union Address that was harshly criticized by Republicans as well as Democrats as being regretably memorable, mainly for its fatuousness.

"Pre-existing condition" Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal delivers
Republican Party response to President Obama's State of the Union Address
February 24, 2009

But the Republican Party is desperate. Besides, Jindal is a lot smarter than he sounded that night, and Sarah Palin isn't nearly as smart as she sounds, so they're short on options. But, because Jindall is compelled to mouth off about his objections--and an those of the Republican Party, to which he marches in lock-step--to everything the Obama administration does, he's been inevitably called out in charges of hypocricy by none other than Keith Olbermann on his popular MSNBC show "Countdown" and, worse, Jon Stewart on the "Daily Show." That's how South Louisiana has lost its opportunity to finally have that high-speed rail between Baton Rouge and New Orleans we've long wanted and had hopes of finally getting.

As the Republican Party has floundered about in its identity crisis, Governor Jindal continues to be seen as a 2012 hopeful to challenge President Obama. Therefore, he has been a leading voice of the opposition, which in turn makes him a lightening rod for criticism. And now that Mardi Gras Republic Party bedtime story has come back to bite Louisianians. Among Jindal's many criticisms of the Obama administration and congressional Democrats has been the stimulus bill. During his response of February 24 (Mardi Gras) on behalf of the Republican Party, Jindal spoke of  "wasteful spending" in "the largest government spending bill in history," citing, among other projects, the $8 billion for high-speed railways.

After his harsh words on the stimulus bill on behalf of the Republican Party, Jindal was the first governor to reject stimulus money. Then, as Jon Stewart has noted, Jindal awarded a group of businessmen federal stimulus money, represented by a giant novelty check, whose signatory was printed as "Governor Bobby Jindal."

On August 19, Keith Olbermann featured Governor Jindal as the "Worse Person in the World," only marginally better than Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade as runners-up "Worser," and the "Worst," Rush Limbaugh for their anti-Semitism and homophobia.

Jindal's response to accusations of hypocricy was swift. Just two days later, the secretary of the Department of Transportation and Development announced they had killed the idea. A spokesperson for the Department explained to the Times Picayune that the operating costs could not be covered by projected budgets, and a state employee who had contacted the federal transporation office about applying for funds was only "preparing options for the possible use of federal money, but this idea was not even vetted by the department's secretary and the department will not submit an application on it."

So much for a progressive idea whose time might have finally come if not for a cowardly, reactionary governor who would prefer to reverse himself and retreat rather than admit he may have misspoken. After all, it doesn't make Jindal any less of a hypocrite for changing his mind after his administration considered using stimulus money he called "wasteful" than if he had actually applied for it. It only means he's hypocritical and a clumsy politician who reverses himself when he thinks it's in the best interest of his Republican Party rather than the public.

Weekly, Bobby Jindal is proving he's not only a not ready for prime-time, but he's not ready to focus on being the best governor he can be for Louisiana. He is, alas, yet another politician, when what we need is a statesman.