What WikiLeaks Reveals
David Michael Green
GAY & LESBIAN COMMUNITY NOTES
Bang You're Dead
"Cat's Paw" Liability
One Year After
Exploiting U.S. Coal
Angola 3 News
The Real Cost of Prisons
Angola 3 News
Savage Imperialism 2
U.S. Threat to China
Nicolas J.S. Davies
Zaps - 01/11
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
The Life and Rise of Barack Obama
Book by David Remnick; Alfred A. Knopf, 2010, 586 pp.
Shortly after the 2008 election, New Yorker editor David Remnick wrote a long piece on the meaning of Barak Obama's victory. It was primarily about why Obama had become the first African American to win the presidency. The central element was a speech Obama gave in 2007 at the Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopalian Church, in Selma, Alabama.
In that speech, Obama thanked the great Civil Rights leaders of the 1950s and 1960s—the "Moses generation," he called them—and then tried to define a role for black leaders of roughly his age, "the Joshua generation." "He described the work that lay ahead for the Joshua generation," Remnick wrote, "and implicitly positioned himself at its head, as its standard-bearer." But Remnick never described that work. He seemed less interested in explaining the Joshua generation of black leaders than in describing its uneasy relationship with the older generation of black politicians.
Remnick has now expanded his New Yorker feature into a full-length biography. The focal point is still the Moses/Joshua metaphor and how Obama, a mixed-race lawyer and legislator born and raised in Hawaii, came to be the first black president. He still hasn't got around to explaining what the "work"of the Joshua generation is or the "new kind of politics" Obama seemed to promise. Writing a biography of a president so soon after entering office is admittedly tricky. What seemed important shortly after the inauguration can recede months later. But Remnick's book glides past much of what's crucial to know about Obama as his administration attempts to start over following the Democratic electoral defeat last November. It doesn't tell us, for instance, anything about the roots of Obama's economic policies, even though he entered office in the midst of the worst economic downturn in more than 70 years. It's a strange book: the biography of a politician that largely avoids nitty-gritty political issues, a study of black politics that ignores almost everything that's happened to the black community since the Civil Rights movement.
Unsatisfying as it is, the nearly 600 pages of The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama tell us a lot about what mainstream white observers think about African Americans. The book also stands as a fine specimen of the hollowness of much mainstream American political journalism. Reluctant to alienate what's thought to be an essentially center-right public by taking an overt stand on any controversial topic, reporters instead tend to focus on the career rather than the person and the process of politics at the highest level rather than its effect on people.
In The Bridge, with its Moses and Joshua theme, the metaphors are overwhelmingly biblical. That's not surprising since Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders famously used stories and imagery from the Bible to convey the drama of the struggle. Historians of that era—Taylor Branch (Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire, At Canaan's Edge), David J. Garrow (Bearing the Cross)—have leaned heavily on the biblical to frame their accounts as well. But this approach stops working when the time period extends to today. The issues facing African Americans and their political leaders are different and in some ways more complex than they were 40 years ago. The "promised land" metaphor, with King as Moses and Obama as a Joshua figure, offers a false closure to a struggle for equality and self-determination that's still being fought. Worse, it allows white Americans to participate vicariously in an inspirational story that ends with America redeemed of its sins through the election of a black president.
What The Bridge most glaringly leaves out is the terrible toll that the economic dislocations beginning in the 1970s have taken on blacks, more so than any other population group. This despite the fact that African Americans at the time Remnick was writing were once again suffering disproportionately from the effects of yet another recession. The cutting away of the social safety net for low-income households and its consequences hardly figure. Hip-hop never happened, apparently, unless a single, unrelated quote from Spike Lee suffices.
And speaking of culture, what about the effects of living in a society that pathologizes the social issues the African American community faces, while opening it up as a laboratory for every white would-be reformer with a bright new idea for managing the poor? This, too, Remnick never mentions. How someone of Obama's relatively sheltered upbringing responds to these upheavals is one of the things we most need to know about him. Perhaps hip-hop passed him by. His own writings reveal Malcolm X to have been a cultural influence, but with the more controversial views airbrushed out. Obama has eagerly reached back to the Civil Rights legacy as his inheritance. His speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, which made him a national figure overnight, was introduced by "Keep on Pushing," an anthem from that era. But what does he think about the period that followed, beyond generalities that the dream was unfulfilled?
Remnick does acknowledge the deep suspicion some have for figures like Obama—with professional credentials all in order, but shallow roots in the black community itself. He references a 1996 quote from journalist and academic Adolph Reed, Jr. that stands out for its sharp analysis and understanding of the political pecking order: "[Obama's] fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over problems.... I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics here, as in Haiti and wherever the International Monetary Fund has sway."
But that's the only place in this long book where the possible shortcomings of the "Joshua generation" are referred to and Remnick moves on without exploring the point. Which is too bad, since the Obama administration's economic policies haven't deviated much from the orthodox IMF approach: a limited, and temporary, stimulus package; a focus on rescuing the financial sector while reforming it as little as possible; and an outsized concern to shrink the government's economic footprint by reducing deficits and retiring government debt.
Remnick does turn up some interesting new information. Obama's parents come through as individuals more strongly than in his memoir, Dreams from My Father. The effect on Obama of an upbringing and education in Hawaii, the nation's most mixed-race state, is clearer. We learn in more detail how Obama launched his political career in Chicago, for example the significance of his—and his wife Michelle's—joining the elite East Bank Club, a gathering place for the city's rich and powerful. But Remnick always seems to stop inquiring just when things start to get really interesting. Did the Obamas just join the East Bank Club or did they have to be invited and, if so, who proposed them? The Pritzkers, one of America's richest families and a major power center in Chicago, were key supporters from early in Obama's political career. But Remnick doesn't ask whether the favors might flow both ways. Has Obama provided support for the Pritzkers at crucial times? Has he ever acted against their interests? Nowhere does The Bridge address these questions.
Remnick's focus on the process rather than the substance of politics serves him best in his chapters on the presidential campaign, especially the intense dogfight between Obama and Clinton. Curiously, though, Obama himself tends to fade away in these parts of the book, as operatives like David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel take center stage. Hillary Clinton actually emerges as the more dramatic figure, her longtime, carefully nurtured ambitions unexpectedly thwarted by a younger upstart.
The upshot is that The Bridge, while promising to give us the first well-rounded portrait of Obama—"his life before his Presidency and some of the currents that helped to form him"—fails to tell us much about why he's an important political phenomenon.
The Obama presidential campaign transformed Democratic politics by developing a large grassroots organization, independent of the party, with branches in virtually every district, including many that were previously deemed unwinnable. Even though Obama attracted backing from many well-heeled sources, his campaign extended Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean's controversial strategy of using the Internet to solicit millions of small contributions and use them to campaign in every state. The Democratic Party has since done its best to domesticate this resource, robbing it of its enthusiasm and effectiveness. But many observers believe that the Obama organization, or something like it, represents the future of progressive Democratic politics—if it has a future.
The Bridge could have been essential reading if it told us more than we knew about how the ground-level Obama organization developed, what role the candidate played in constructing it, and how it reflects his philosophy of politics and government. Remnick reports matter-of-factly that the campaign "drew young volunteers who were willing to uproot and devote themselves to a long-shot candidacy" and that it drew on "the techniques of community organizing." But nothing more. This aspect of "Obamaism"—probably, in the long run, the most important part—seems to hold little interest for Remnick. What we get instead is the clash of personalities with Obama against Clinton, Obama against McCain, Sarah Palin against herself.
Remnick can't be blamed for not anticipating every element of Obama's career that would be vital to understanding his presidency. But the need to devote some attention to his economic thinking and track record should have been obvious. Race was clearly Remnick's focus in writing his book. But to fully understand Obama's impact on racial politics stretches the traditional framework for how Americans—especially white Americans—look at black politicians past the point of usefulness.
The Bridge has a good deal to say, unwittingly, about how whites have assimilated the Civil Rights story and tamed it to make themselves feel better about this country's racist past. What remains to be seen is how they will even start to process the more complex, less insistently dramatic story of racism in the succeeding era—and what kinds of compromises black politicians are making in the face of it. African Americans at least have the advantage of knowing it exists.
Eric Laursen is an independent journalist, activist, and organizer living in western Massachusetts. He is co-author of Understanding the Crash (Soft Skull Press, 2010) and author of the forthcoming The People's Pension: The War Against Social Security Since 1980 (AK Press, Spring 2012).
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.