Sunday, June 27, 2010

Palin’s Play of the Obama as Hitler Card Was Inevitable

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The only surprise when Sarah Palin tweeted out her message to followers likening President Obama to Hitler was that it took so long for her to make the comparison. Her tea party pals, and a rogues list of GOP and rightwing hacks, bigots, loudmouths, and spin artists took giddy delight in making the Obama to Hitler comparison even before he put a foot in the Oval Office. Fox News’s Tom Sullivan was the first in the door with the Obama as Hitler lunacy in February 2008 when he played a side by side recording of Hitler and Obama’s speeches.

Clear Channel’s Bill Cunningham, foul mouth gab queen Ann Coulter, her male counterpart, Mike Savage, Limbaugh, Cal Thomas, and, of course, Glenn Beck quickly took up the Obama as Hitler chant. With that, the Obama as Hitler line was firmly set. The only thing missing was a mob setting to do an imitation torch light parade complete with banner, signs and posters with Obama depicted as Hitler. The mob parades were tea party rallies where Obama as Hitler agitprop paraphernalia was on full display.

Now there’s Palin. In a bit of crude craft, she slyly compared Obama to Hitler by exhorting her twitter followers to read a recent column by right wing pseudo egg head writer Thomas Sowell. He pilloried Obama for arm twisting BP to set up the $20 billion escrow fund. The fund is to help repair and compensate the victims of its Gulf ruin. To Sowell Obama took another giant step toward seizing dictatorial power. There’s absolutely nothing new about this crackpot charge. It’s been an absolute smash favorite of fringe GOP congresspersons, tea party acolytes, Fox News and the menagerie of rightside talk show gabbers for two years. The Obama as Hitler idiocy is more than just the ancient and stock GOP tactic of smearing, slandering, name calling, character assassinating, and baiting liberal, and moderate Democrats. The tactic is used to prick primitive passions, and it allows the GOP to duck and dodge making a coherent case for its untenable and more often than not foolish positions on issues. No, the Hitler smear is coldly calculated, and strategically trotted out when Obama introduces a major piece of legislation, new policy initiative, or in his pre White House days, when his groundbreaking autobiography rocket launched him as a serious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Hitler card is played even more furiously when it appears that Obama is near victory on legislation or an initiative.

The health care, and financial reform bills, and the BP escrow fund are textbook examples of that. Each of these initiatives had wide popular support, and GOP opposition to them appeared even more shrill, isolated, and vapid.
The Obama to Hitler card is also played opposite the Obama as Bolshevik analogy. This imprints the image of a power mad Obama out to turn government into an instrument of state control of industry and by extension to squash personal freedoms and liberties. The Hitler comparison imprints the image of a diabolical Obama out to snatch full dictatorial control of government.

Palin grabbed at Sowell’s hit piece to jump on the Hitler bandwagon. She didn’t have to explain how or why Obama’s urge of BP to set up the Gulf damage fund was Hitler like. But she didn’t have to explain the absurd. She knows that legions already have mindlessly swallowed the Hitler image of Obama. Expect more Obama as Hitler digs the next time the White House stands poised to score another victory.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).
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Thursday, June 24, 2010

One Year Later Michael Jackson Still Provokes Controversy

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Pop king Michael Jackson has been dead exactly one year. But the controversy that surrounded his life didn’t end with his death. On the eve of the first anniversary of his death June 25, Latoya Jackson loudly declared that her brother was murdered. Why, because he had grown to rich, powerful, and posed a threat. Sister Latoya didn’t say who or whom the unknown he posed the threat too. But then she didn’t have to. The charge that Jackson was the victim of foul play has been bandied about by Jackson family members, legions of fans, and hotly discussed and debated on blogs and websites since that fateful day a year ago.

The murder conspiracy theories are just the tip of the iceberg of the Jackson controversy. On the eve of the first anniversary of his death, news reports were filled with rampant speculation and guesswork about Jackson’s financial woes, squabbles between his attorneys and former attorneys over who represents who and what in divvying up Jackson’s estate, and reports of more finger-pointing by Joe Jackson about Jackson’s death. This is no surprise. Jackson made news even when he didn’t do anything to make news during his life.

Jackson's infamous child molestation trial in 2005 for a time was the centerpiece of much of the chatter back and forth about Jackson’s actions. The acquittal didn’t end that. Debate still rages over whether Jackson was an innocent victim of greedy, media hungry parents, or of his own actions. Then there was Jackson's on again, off again, quirky, ambivalent relationship with African-Americans and his seemingly confused racial identity. For many blacks, Jackson was little more than a Casper-the-ghost-looking bleached skin, nose job, eye shade, straight hair and gyrating hips ambiguous black man who had made a ton of money and had been lauded, fawned over, and adored by whites. This was more than reason for some blacks to view him with a jaundiced eye.

Jackson for the most part stayed about the controversy. He always seemed to want much more, and that was to be thought of as much more than an entertainer, a musician, and certainly not a polarizing figure. Jackson was much more. A year later it’s worth remembering what exactly that was. The first inkling that Jackson was more than just a pampered, oddball recluse came after the burn accident he suffered while filming a Pepsi commercial in 1984. Jackson quietly forked over the $1.5 million the Burn Center at Brothman Hospital in Southern California that he got in the accident settlement. He drew accolades in 1985 when he and Lionel Ritchie wrote "We Are the World" and performed the music as part of an all-star cast of singers and celebrities to raise money for African charities. But that was pretty much what was known about the other Jackson.

Few knew then, and many still don’t, about Jackson's charitable giving and the list of the peace and social justice related activities he was involved with. The list numbered more than fifty known charities and organizations that he gave to during the 1990s, both individually and through his expansively named Heal the World Foundation. The foundation was mired in a messy organizational and tax wrangle that briefly made headlines in 2002. Yet, there was virtually no press mention when Jackson jumpstarted the Foundation again in 2008 with a fresh wad of cash.
In the months and years after his 2005 child molestation trial acquittal debate raged over whether he was a washed up, health challenged, damaged goods, and financially strapped one time pop star who desperately wanted to snatch back a glimmer of his past glory. Or, whether he still had some of the trademark Jackson flare and talent left. Even that debate, though, seemed to pass Jackson by since he knew that his every word and act was still instant news, and that there were still hordes of fans who would heap dreamy eyed adulation on him.

The quest to seal a legacy as more than just the Pop King told much about Jackson's desire that the small but unseen and much neglected part of his life, that is his charitable work be known and remembered. That he be remembered as more than just a black man who made his living grabbing his crotch before millions. Or a man who's other claim to notoriety was that he delighted in surrounding himself with packs of children.
A year later Jackson’s reported financial troubles, the murder-conspiracy allegations, the looming manslaughter trail of Dr. Conrad Murray, and the occasional faint whispers about his alleged questionable child relations, still badly cloud the Jackson legacy. There’s still the other Jackson, though. ; The Jackson who unselfishly gave his money, time and name for humanitarian causes. A year after his death this is undoubtedly the Jackson that he wanted the world to know and remember. It’s the Jackson that we should remember too.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).
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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Can President Obama Really Break Our Oil Addiction?

Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Two surreal things happened within the span of two days. In his televised address, President Obama again sternly warned that the nation must break its dependency on oil. He again called on Congress to pass an energy bill that would vastly expand our hunt for and use of alternative and renewable energy sources. The next day he sternly tongue lashed BP executives about the monumental damage of their spill, and demanded they cough up billions to pay the damage costs. They agreed. The tough talk generally about breaking America’s oil addiction publicly played well, and BP paying the damage freight played even better. But while the president made his umpteenth pitch to break the oil addiction, a slew of Gulf Coast congresspersons and senators loudly called for Obama to lift the moratorium on off shore drilling. There’s some evidence that the president may listen to their plea.
Before the BP spill Obama had approved an expansion in off shore drilling. After the BP spill, he quickly reversed gears. However, he also left the door for a resumption of drilling when he indicated that he would wait and see what his oil spill commission came up with about the spill.
The love-public loathe relation that politicians have with big oil has been the all too familiar pattern. The very moment that House committee leaders very publicly saber rattled BP’s hapless CEO Tony Hayward, GOP Senate leaders very quietly moved to kill off any effort to dump the farcically low $75 million liability cap on damages big oil would have to shell out, for well, a Gulf spill. The Orwellian reason for not tampering with the cap is that it would push all but the biggest oil giants out of the business of oil exploration and drilling since smaller companies would be too scared to drill if they knew they would have to pony up tens of millions for a mishap. Big or little, the drill, baby drill crowd had to be protected at all cost.
The operative word is always cost. The much touted alternative energy sources, wind, solar, hydrogen and ethanol are too expensive, too time consuming, and often not cost effective. Even if congress was willing to do what it publicly claims it wants to do and push hard to develop these alternative sources, it won’t pay what it will cost. The climate and energy legislation pushed by Obama as it now stands increases funding for R&D and demonstration of alternative sources by a paltry $2 to $4 billion. That’s a fraction of the $25 to $30 billion per year experts agree it takes to achieve the technological breakthroughs needed to make clean energy cheap and scalable. Congress has further tilted the playing field against all out production and use of all alternative energy sources by taxing it. There is no tax on foreign oil imports.

It still comes back to supply and demand. In 2008 the United States consumed 23 percent of the world’s petroleum nearly 60 percent of this was imported. But the country holds less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. About 40 percent of the imports came from Canada, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia, and that figure continues to climb. The naked fact is that the US is running out of oil. The amount of oil in proven U.S. reserves, reserves that the United States is fairly certain it can extract oil from in the future, plunged nearly 20 billion barrels the last thirty years. This means even if the country drilled and produced all the oil reserves it had they’d be depleted in four years.
Oil is still by any standard relatively cheap. As painful as it is to swallow, for the forseeable future, anyway, sustainable. The country consumes over 7 billion barrels of oil per year. Federal estimates are that the nation's outer continental shelf could hold more than 80 billion barrels of crude. That includes more than 10 billion barrels off California alone. If the US did not get another drop of oil from the world’s land suppliers, and relied solely on the supply it got from California off shore drilling it would fill the country’s energy need for twelve years. The near 100 billion of oil deposits is just in or near US coastal waters. A 2008 International Energy Agency report estimates that reachable conventional oil located in water more than a quarter-mile deep world-wide is between 160 and 300 billion barrels, with more than two-thirds of that in Brazil, Angola, Nigeria and, of course, the United States.

The BP spill ratcheted up the much needed war of words from President Obama and congress about the peril of America’s incessant oil addiction, and the urgency of breaking it. Words are one thing, but the terrifying reality is that to break the oil addiction, as with any other addiction, it takes a strong will and the means to do it. So far neither one is there.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).
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Sunday, June 13, 2010

South Carolina Democratic US Senate Candidate Alvin Greene’s Interview on the Hutchinson Report

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

South Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Alvin Greene discusses his shocking win in the South Carolina Democratic primary. Greene discusses the impact of his win on state and national politics, his campaign plans, his relations with the Democratic Party, charges that he’s a GOP plant, and calls for him to drop out of the race because of felony obscenity charges. Greene discussed these issues in an exclusive interview with Earl Ofari Hutchinson Host of The Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles on Saturday, June 12.

“Greene’s controversial campaign and primary win has stirred national attention and sent shock waves through the Democratic Party,” says Hutchinson Report Host Earl Ofari Hutchinson, “The interview was the first full length interview Greene has conducted since his shocking win in South Carolina.”

Interview with South Carolina Democratic US Senatorial Candidate Alvin Greene
THR: A number of critics are convinced that you are a GOP plant, a put up job.
AG: I’m a Democrat, and I always have been a Democrat.
THR: South Carolina Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn has called for a federal investigation.
AG: I have no comment on that. My campaign is about jobs, better education for children and justice.
THR: Tell us, who is Alvin Greene? What should people know about you?
AG: I’m 32. I was born in Florence, South Carolina, and grew up in Manning, South Carolina. I graduated from the University of South Carolina. I’m an Air Force and an army veteran. I did a year tour of duty in Korea. I have been out of the service nine months.
THR: Why did you decide to run?
AG: To make a difference. I saw the US declining and I decided to save my money to run.
THR: Let’s discuss your campaign platform. You emphasize reforming the criminal justice system.
AG: The punishment must fit the crime. We spend much more of our taxpayer dollars on inmates than students. We must get our priorities together in South Carolina and across the country.
THR: You also emphasize lower gas prices.
AG: We need an energy bill that emphasizes alternative forms of energy such as solar. We must explore all our resources.
THR: South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Carol Fowler has cited the obscenity charges pending against you and called for you to withdraw.
AG: The election was certified on Friday, June 11, so that’s old business. I’m in the race all the way.
THR: Have you reached out to the state Democrats for support?
AG: I’m seeking state and national support that I need and am entitled to. I’m the party’s nominee.
THR: Has there been any word from president Obama about your victory?
AG: None that I know of.
THR: Your GOP rival Senator Jim DeMint is a strong, vigorous critic of the president. How are you going to battle him?
AG: I’m working on getting a September date for a 1 hour live, national network debate. But my focus is on the issues.
THR: Do you now have a campaign committee, and solicited endorsements from the media and elected officials?
AG: I’m organizing my campaign for the general election and trying to find support.
THR: Have the state’s Democratic African-American elected officials offered support?
AG: I’ve had some offers from small organizations, but no official endorsements yet.
THR: Have you gotten support from younger voters and college students?
AG; Yes, I get a lot of calls from across the country, and the world. They me how much they are inspired by my campaign. And they want to do anything they can to help.
THR: Do you feel that you made a statement to the political establishment this election with your victory?
AG: Yes. All I heard was how are you going to do it? You don’t have $100 million. I’m hearing that now about the general election. In the end, it’s not about the money in the bank. It’s the votes that count and the issues. My goal is getting South Carolina and the nation moving forward.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Alvin Greene Is America’s Much Needed Political Rocky, Tainted Though he May Be

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Alvin Greene is America’s much needed political Rocky, tainted though he may be. The line American school kids hear the moment they set foot in a classroom is that one day you can be president. Most school kids long before they stop becoming school kids know it’s just that a line, they can’t and won’t be president. Now enter Alvin Greene. Here’s a guy with no job, no degree, no name recognition, no campaign organization, no website, and for all practical purposes no party (he never attended a Democratic Party function). And to top it off he’s facing felony obscenity charges. Yet Greene gets 100,000 South Carolina voters to punch his name on the Democratic senatorial ballot.

The deep suspicion is that Greene is a GOP cropper; that is that he’s a bought and paid for plant by the party to make fools of the Democrats and insure a cakewalk victory for GOP Senate incumbent Jim DeMint. Possible, it’s happened before, the GOP has been accused of secretly bankrolling plants, shills, and croppers, and given the notorious cartoon antics of South Carolina politics, this can’t be totally discounted. Greene had to plop down $10, 400 to get his name on the ballot. That’s a lot for a working stiff to pay out of pocket, let alone for someone unemployed.
But while it’s plausible to be suspicious, for a GOP dirty trickster to prop up Greene as a strawman would be too blatant. They’d be more likely to put money behind someone with some political involvement and name recognition. Money inevitably leaves a paper trail, and if the trail led back to a GOP clandestine operative, the scandal could blow the party out the water. If Democratic voters suspected hanky panky with Greene they could have easily ignored him and voted for his chief rival, Vic Rawl, a judge, who served on several state commissions, and was a four term state legislator. He was the Democratic Party favorite. But voters didn’t. They overwhelmingly picked Greene.

Republicans outnumber Democrats three to one in the state, and no Democratic presidential candidate has won South Carolina since Jimmy Carter in 1976. The chance of DeMint being toppled by a Democratic, especially a Democrat such as Rawl who’s just as much a party fixture, even with the fierce anti-incumbent mood was unlikely.
Greene makes even more sense with even a cursory look at the Gallup poll released a week before the June 8 primaries. It found that sixty percent of voters, and nearly 70 percent of self-described independents, said they would rather vote for a candidate who has never before served in Congress. Greene then is the perfect field of dreams for countless numbers of voters. He’s the anti-candidate candidate who got on the ballot with nothing more than moxey, conviction and a vague desire to make change. Then without spending a king’s ransom on the race, without the backing of an armada of telecoms companies, banks, lawyers, unions, tobacco companies and other special interests greasing their campaign wheels, and without cutting endless back room deals can actually win. The first and often the only question anyone who wants to run for office is asked is not what are your ideas and program but how much money can and did you raise? Greene is the candidate who can honestly answer not a penny. The money first and last question drives the polluted stream of American politics.

The Centre of Responsive Politics, a Washington think tank which tracks election spending, estimates that spending in the 2010 Congressional elections will total almost 4 billion. The five highest-spending Senate races were: Connecticut, $21 million. California $18 million; Nevada, where the Democratic Majority leader Harry Reid spent $17 million, and Arizona, where Republican John McCain spent $17 million. Senatorial candidates in Arkansas spent $12 million. California GOP senatorial nominee Carly Fiorina spent nearly $6 million out of her own pocket to bag the party nomination. That’s just for this election. The Centre for Public Integrity found that the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, has spent nearly $50 million over the past quarter century on campaigning. One political financial watchdog group flatly branded this obscene spending legalized corruption.

The mind boggling runaway cost of elections has turned American politics into a rich person’s sport, demolished any semblance of a political level playing field, and mocks the notion that voters have a Democratic choice. The Supreme Court’s decision to rip away virtually all checks on corporate and labor union spending and its fresh assault on public financing (Arizona decision) will make political campaigning even more the playground of the super-rich.

Greene didn’t simply beat these odds. He rewrote them. He is one antidote for those fed up with the stench of money and deal making in politics. Voters should take careful note of what Greene did in South Caroline with a felony rap hanging over him, with no name, no money, and seemingly not a prayer of a chance to win, and then does. That’s what a Rocky can do, tainted though he may be.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).
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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Shout at Obama to Muscle BP aside is Futile and Wrongheaded

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell minced no words in a talk with ABC News. Powell said President Obama should muscle BP aside and move in with “decisive force.” The general had one thing in mind, and that’s a military type response to and seizure of the operation. Powell thinks and talks like a hard-nosed military man. So his demand for a military solution to the BP spill is understandable. Powell didn’t say how the government, let alone the military, could cap the runaway well and insure that it stayed capped. But Powell and the wave of media pundits, politicians, and much of the public still shout at Obama to impose a total government takeover of the operation. The shout is futile and wrongheaded. The Obama BP critics shout it at him in part out of ignorance at what the government can do, and in part to beat up on him.

When a hazardous substance poses a major threat to the health and well-being of US citizens, the president can invoke provisions of the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act to take full charge. But the BP spill is in international waters and technically federal law doesn’t apply to that. Even if the government makes the compelling legal case that the BP spill poses a grave enough threat for government agencies, the military, or both to step in then what? Every credible military expert that’s weighed in on what the military can do if it were called on to take over the cap and control of an errant off shore drill operation has said that it would be totally lost. Its deep sea technical capability and undersea imager technology is too limited, and untested in this kind of complex, intricate, and uncharted operation. The bitter pill every scientist, engineer, and technician that’s weighed in on the spill said the public must swallow is that BP created the problem, and despite its flop so far in fixing it, it has the technology and expertise to do the job. The military and government agencies can take over containment, cleanup and construction. But the government has dispatched more than 20,000 responders, dozens of ships, and floating operation stations that are doing those functions.
Government agencies can bar any company that engages in fraudulent, reckless or criminal conduct from doing any business in the form of contracts, land leases, drilling rights, or loans with the government. Given BP’s well documented nose thumb at safety rules that have cost dozens of lives and maimed and injured many others, the pile of lawsuits, settlements and massive civil fines against it, and the red faced lies and half truths its officials have told regulators and investigators about its operations, a solid case could be made that the government can and should bar BP from government business.

But there are problems with this. BP is the largest oil and gas producer in the Gulf of Mexico and operates some 22,000 oil and gas wells across the country, it is a top supplier of fuel to the military, and employs thousands in its operations, and subsidiaries. The disbarment process would take at least a year, and either BP, the military, or incredible as it sounds, another government agency can claim in court that disbarment would pose a monumental national security risk to the country. This is not academic speculation. In times past when BP came under fire for legal and environmental malfeasance, these were the concerns raised, and the talk of disbarment quickly fizzled. Then there’s the clamor for indictments and jail. Attorney General Eric Holder says he’ll look seriously at criminal charges against BP. But it would take months, even years, to build a case that BP executives willfully intended to commit the violations. That’s a near insurmountable high legal bar. The best that can he hoped for are hefty civil penalties, fines and settlements. That’s been the case in the past with Exxon and BP and the oil giants didn’t miss a beat. They were back to business as usual.

The BP spill is not solely about what Obama can or should do. The catastrophe is a political grenade Palin, the GOP, tea party activists, and the pack of rightside talk jocks have eagerly tossed at Obama to tar him as a weak, ineffectual leader, and grab more seats from the Democrats in the November elections. When the first drop oozed out of the well, if Obama had declared a national security emergency, sent in the troops, and clamped the cuffs on BP CEOs, the Obama bashers would have screamed dictator, heavy handed government interference, and socialist takeover. When that didn’t happen, they dredged up the phony Katrina-Bush bungle comparison and reamed him for being cautious, vacillating, and sending out mixed signals.
The BP spill is the perfect storm of political one-upmanship and environmental catastrophe. This insures that the shout for Obama to do what he can’t do with BP will get even louder, and that’s muscle BP aside.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).
Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: