Politics and pop, past and present.
More than 1,000 feminists have signed a statement criticizing Hillary Clinton and supporting Obama for president - evidence that Clinton's support among women activists continues to decline. The group, "Feminists for Peace," started out with 100 signers before the super-Tuesday primaries, and has 1,200 signers two weeks later.
Clinton's support for the war in Iraq was the leading reason she lost the support of the feminists, along with the fact that "until quite recently [she] opposed all legislative efforts to bring the war and occupation to an end." The group added, "We urgently need a presidential candidate whose first priority is to address domestic needs."
Those endorsing Obama include writer Barbara Ehrenreich; longtime peace activist Cora Weiss; Katha Pollitt, columnist for The Nation; Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times writer Margo Jefferson; women's rights historians Alice Kessler Harris and Linda Gordon; political scientist Frances Fox Piven and actor/activist Susan Sarandon.
"Choosing to support Senator Obama was not an easy decision for us," the group stated, "because electing a woman president would be a cause for celebration in itself." They "deplored" the "sexist attacks against Senator Clinton that have circulated in the media." But, they stated, they nevertheless supported Obama because his election "would be another historic achievement" and because "his support for gender equality has been unwavering."
This group joins other prominent feminists who have turned against Hillary and endorsed Obama, including Kate Michelman, president for 20 years of NARAL Pro-Choice America, the country's leading reproductive rights group, and Ellen Bravo, former director of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women.
Meanwhile an opposing group of 250 feminists has responded with a statement supporting Clinton. Led by historians Ellen Carol DuBois from UCLA and Christine Stansell from the University of Chicago, the group includes writers Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan, CUNY Women's Studies professor Michele Wallace, Blanche Wiesen Cook, biographer of Eleanor Roosevelt, and Peg Yorkin of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
Their statement says that, in supporting the war, Clinton "made a major mistake." While acknowledging that Obama opposed the war from the start, the group declared that his opposition "carried no risks and indeed, promised to pay big dividends in his liberal Democratic district."
Obama, they wrote, "has no monopoly on inspiration." They praised Clinton's "brains, grace under pressure, ideas, and the skill to make them real: we call that inspiring," they said.
A third feminist statement blasted the Clinton supporters as "'either/or' feminists determined to see to it that a woman occupies the Oval Office." Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues," and Kimberlé Crenshaw, professor of law at UCLA and Columbia, declared that the pro-Clinton feminists "interrogate, chastise, second-guess and even denounce those who escape their encampment and find themselves on Obama terrain. In their hands feminism, like patriotism, is the all-encompassing prism that eliminates discussion, doubt and difference about whom to vote for and why."
What's so bad about convenience food?, I asked Michael Pollan - his new book, "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto," has been the number one best-seller nationally for the last few weeks.
"I need to eat in a hurry," I told him, "so I can rush back to checking my email. What I really need is food I can eat WHILE I'm checking my email."
"Why don't you just hook yourself up to an IV?" he replied. "You're missing something. Eating should be a source of pleasure." He said the stuff I had for lunch at my computer was not food, but rather something he called "edible food-like substances."
He seemed to be talking about the breakfast bar I had recently consumed.
"It's very hard to make money selling you oatmeal," he said. "Go to the store, you can buy a pound of plain oats for 79 cents. That's a lot of oats. The companies make money by making breakfast cereal out of the oats. Then they can charge you four or five bucks for a few pennies worth of oats."
I realized he was talking about Cheerios. Breakfast cereal is inconvenient, I told him, because you have to sit down at a table, and pour milk into a bowl with the Cheerios, and then eat with a spoon.
"For people like you," he said, "they invented breakfast bars." I realized he was talking about my Honey Nut Cheerios Milk 'n Cereal bars. "They have a layer of artificial milk going through the middle," he explained, "so you can eat your bowl of cereal at the computer, or in the car - no bowl, no pouring milk, no spoon. Then they're making ten or twenty dollars a pound for those oats."
So it's expensive, I said. I can afford a breakfast bar.
"The problem is that every step of additional processing makes the food less nutritious," he replied. "So they add lots of nutrients back in to the processing so they can make health claims. But they only add what they know is missing. There are other things in whole grains that the scientists don't know about. You'll be missing out on that. But you'll be up to date on your email."
Then he said the "edible food-like substances" I ate for lunch at my desk were the products of something he called "the nutritional-industrial complex."
That didn't sound good.
He explained: "That's the cozy relationship between nutritional science as it's practiced in this country, and the processed food industry. The nutritional scientists are telling us every six months what the new good and new evil nutrients are. For the most part, these are well-intentioned efforts to understand the links between food and health. Then you have the food industry, which loves every change in the nutritional weather, because they can then reformulate the food. The net effect is that it makes all the processed foods in the middle of your supermarket look far more healthy and sophisticated than the genuinely healthy food in the produce section, which of course bear no health claims and sit there are silently as a stroke victim."
That remark about stroke victims made me remember I needed to buy some Pom Wonderful Pomegranate Juice so I could "live young."
Pomegranate juice, he said, "is a great example of a food where the growers went out and hired some scientists to do some studies, and they found out, lo and behold, pomegranates have some life-enhancing anti-oxidants. They've even found that it helps with erectile dysfunction. And the pomegranate, which formerly was a food that was much more trouble to eat than it was worth, has suddenly emerged as one of the most popular fruits in the produce section.
"It's true that pomegranates are healthy," he said. "They are full of anti-oxidants - like all fruits and vegetables. There isn't a plant that doesn't have good anti-oxidants. But the pomegranate people had the money to go out and get the science to prove it. The broccoli growers, the carrot growers, they don't have the money for that kind of science."
I asked Pollan what advice he had for eaters like me. "Eat food," he said. "Not too much. Mostly from plants."
Pollan's previous books include "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals," named one of the ten best books of 2006 by the New York Times. He's a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and is a Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley.
The Obama campaign, intent on taking some of the crucial Latino vote in California away from Hillary Clinton, organized a daylong door-to-door canvas on Saturday in the region's most Spanish-speaking city just south of Disneyland.
200 volunteers showed up for a morning rally in Santa Ana before heading out for the final push to canvas their precincts. The tote board in the streetfront Obama office showed 51 precinct captains had already logged almost 8,500 calls.
The LA Times poll last week had Obama getting under 30 per cent of the state's Latinos in the primary, while Hillary was at 60 percent.
Santa Ana is the most Spanish-speaking city in the US. In 2006 it became the largest US city with an all-Latino city council. Santa Ana is also a city where the mayor, Miguel Pulido, has endorsed Hillary; where the representative in congress, Loretta Sanchez, has endorsed Hillary; and where Hillary herself campaigned in December with Latina icon Dolores Huerta.
Nevertheless the Obama effort in Santa Ana is big, well-organized and energetic. At the rally, office staffer Abraham Jenkins asked how many of the 200 volunteers had worked in previous campaigns. A few hands went up. Then he asked, "How many are first timers?" Almost everybody raised their hands.
The headliner at the rally was Congressman Xavier Becerra from L.A., one of Obama's highest profile Latino supporters. He recalled that Bobby Kennedy campaigned as an underdog in the California primary in 1968, and brought a new kind of hope to voters. "Someone stole that from us in 1968," he said; "someone tried to snuff out the light. But 40 years later, we have that spark again."
He told the precinct walkers the key arguments to make when they knocked on Latino doors: At the top of the list: "Obama is the son of an immigrant." Second: "Obama is a Harvard law grad who went to work as a community organizer." Then "tell them to read La Opinion, which today endorsed Obama;" and "tell them why this is your first time working in a campaign - why you are doing this."
The enthusiasm and energy of the first-timers was unmistakable, but it didn't solve the big problem facing the Obama operation in Santa Ana: the precinct walkers were a largely white group in an overwhelmingly Latino city. When staffers asked how many of the 200 volunteers were bilingual, perhaps a dozen raised their hands.
One of those was Elvira Rios, a precinct captain, a retired schoolteacher and a "first timer." Her perspective on Latino voters is radically different from what you get in the media. "The biggest challenge is not getting them to switch from Hillary to Obama," she said. "The biggest challenge is getting them to vote at all."
She said she has been working in Santa Ana for Obama for the last ten days from nine to nine, and only a week ago she had to start with the basics: "voters needed to hear his name - many didn't really know his name."
The biggest Clinton supporters among Latinos, she said, are "the mothers." But "it's amazing how many young Latinos were trying to talk their parents into voting for Barack. I see this all the time."
Were the kids succeeding? She shook her head no: "Older Latinos," she said emphatically, "are so stubborn."
Unlike Elvira Rios, the great majority of Obama volunteers in Santa Ana were young Anglos who didn't speak Spanish. Several were students at nearby UC Irvine. Rebecca Westerman is one - she lives in Santa Ana and is an Obama precinct captain for her Latino precinct. She told me that she has reached one-third of the 800 voters on her list. "I'm focusing on the 18-25 year olds," she said, "because that's where we've gotten a good response."
Mark Hendrickson is a recent grad of UC Irvine and another Santa Ana resident and precinct captain. In his canvassing, he said, "I get mostly Spanish speakers, but I don't speak Spanish." As the two of them were about to head out, the office staff was trying to find bilingual partners for each of them; they found one woman volunteer from the neighborhood - she was wearing a UNITE-HERE T-shirt -- but she had to go to work. So the two went out to canvas by themselves, full of youthful energy and hope.
Five hours later, Westerman reported that "We actually had a really good response from our entirely Latino precinct. Suprisingly, more people were already supporting Obama than Clinton - and our limited Spanish got us a long way."
To be a campaign veteran in this operation is to have worked in Obama's Las Vegas effort a couple of weeks ago, which several people had done. Two staffers had worked for several months in Iowa. As for people with campaign experience before that, the only one was Jocelyn Anderson, a paid regional field director who is African American. She had volunteered for the Clinton campaigns in 1992 and in 1996, the first in Alabama and the second in Michigan.
Asked her how the Obama effort compared to those, she said "This is more than a campaign. It's a movement. The least of it is the policy issues. Obama is moving people to change the world." She added, "Hillary is a great candidate, but Obama is the first time you don't have to vote the lesser of two evils."
Only a few Latinos from the neighborhood showed up for the rally. Afterwards, one young Latino couple with two children introduced themselves to Congressman Becerra, and the man explained why he was supporting Obama: "I have older cousins lost to the war, and I don't want my kids. . . ." his voice trailed off. "I know," Becerra said quietly. "Thank you for coming today."
The energy of the 200 volunteers in Santa Ana on Saturday was real; their passion was palpable. But the election was only three days away. How much success could this effort have in winning Latino votes for Obama? Nobody in the office would hazard a guess; Giovanii Jorquera, community outreach director, said quite honestly, "we'll see on Tuesday." Congressman Becerra summed it up best: "if people only had a little more time to get to know him."
Ted Kennedy's statement Monday that Obama was like JFK set off a storm of historical analogies. Hillary's side fired back that she is like Bobby Kennedy--at least that's what three of Bobby's kids said the next day: "Like our father, Hillary has devoted her life to embracing and including those on the bottom rung of society's ladder," Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Kerry Kennedy declared.
Hillary herself has claimed not so long ago that SHE is our JFK: "A lot of people back then  said, 'America will never elect a Catholic as president,' " she said in New Hampshire last March. "When people tell me 'a woman can never be president,' I say, we'll never know unless we try." And of course she also compared herself to LBJ, whose political skills, she said, made it possible for him to sign into law what she called "Dr. King's dream."
Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times compared Obama to Lincoln (both were undistinguished newcomers when they ran for president). Paul Krugman of the New York Times compared Hillary to Grover Cleveland (both were conservative Democrats in a Republican era). Biographer Joseph Ellis compared Obama to Thomas Jefferson (both spoke in favor of nonpartisan politics).
Sorting out these claims is, of course, a job for professionals--professional historians. They too are partisans. The only organized political group of historians in this campaign in Historians for Obama, which includes Joyce Appleby, former president of the American Historical Association; Robert Dallek, the award-wining presidential biographer; David Thelen, former editor of the Journal of American History; and the Pulitzer-prize winning Civil War historian James McPherson.
Their statement made some sweeping analogies: "Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and kept the nation united; Franklin D. Roosevelt persuaded Americans to embrace Social Security and more democratic workplaces; John F. Kennedy advanced civil rights and an anti-poverty program. Barack Obama has the potential to be that kind of president."
On the other side, there is no historians-for-Hillary organization, but there is Sean Wilentz--the Princeton professor and award-winning author of The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln, who testified for the defense at the Clinton impeachment hearing. He recently took on the key Obama analogies in an Los Angeles Times op-ed. First, he said, Obama is no JFK: "By the time he ran for president, JFK had served three terms in the House and twice won election to the Senate," Wilentz wrote. "Before that, he was, of course, a decorated veteran of World War II, having fought with valor in the South Pacific."
And to compare Obama to Lincoln, Wilentz says, is "absurd": "Yes, Lincoln spent only two years in the House," but in 1858, when he ran unsuccessfully for the Senate, Lincoln "engaged with Stephen A. Douglas in the nation's most important debates over slavery before the Civil War."
On the other hand, Robert Dallek, author of biographies of LBJ and Kennedy, has explained that the appeal of JFK in 1960 has clear parallels to Obama's campaign today: "it's the aura, it's the rhetoric, the youthfulness, the charisma," he told the Chicago Tribune blog "The Swamp."
Then there is the Lincoln analogy. Eric Foner, the former American Historical Association president and author of Reconstruction, points out that, in 1860, the Republicans had to choose between two candidates: one who claimed decades of experience in politics, the other with much less, who won support because his oratory was so inspiring and he was deemed more electable. In 1860, the candidate with experience lost the nomination to Lincoln; he was William H. Seward. That makes it fair to say that Hillary could be our Seward.
A lot of men don't like Hillary. A lot of men say they don't want to vote for Hillary--even Democratic men. The new Los Angeles Times/ Bloomberg poll, released December 28, shows that only 19 per cent of Democratic men favor Clinton in upcoming caucuses and primaries--less than one in five. The implications for Hillary are ominous: since she can't expect Republican men to vote for her, how can she win the election?
That poll focused on likely voters in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries, but other polls asking a national sample about the November election have come up similar results. A Washington Post-ABC poll in November found that, in a Clinton-Giuliani matchup, men preferred Giuliani 51 to 44. In a CNN poll in October, only 41 per cent of men said Clinton is someone they admire (compared to 57 per cent of women).
Why do so many men dislike Clinton? Is it simply because she's a woman? Susan Carroll, Senior Scholar at the Rutgers University Center for the American Woman and Politics, told me that politics provides a more important explanation than sexism: "Men are more likely than women to identify as Republicans," she explained. "Men are more likely than women to prefer Republican candidates and their policy positions. Men's partisan preferences are the main reason why many of them wouldn't vote for Clinton. Many of the men who say they won't vote for Clinton wouldn't vote for any Democratic candidate, man or woman."
But that doesn't explain the Democratic men who won't vote for Clinton. Some of them disagree with her on the issues, especially her vote for the Iraq war--but for others, the explanation may lie in simple hostility to the idea of any woman as president.
Even if some Democratic men won't vote for her in November, Clinton could still get elected if she won enough votes from Republican women. In fact that's what the Clinton campaign is predicting. Mark Penn, a Clinton senior strategist and pollster, told reporters in October that Clinton could win 24 per cent of Republican women.
With that gain, Hillary could win the election even if 20 per cent of Democratic men voted Republican, according to DailyKos. However recent Rasmussen polls show Clinton winning only 18 per cent of Republican women, rather than the required 24, while losing 20 per cent of Democratic men. That's not enough Republican women to get Clinton elected.
Clinton advocates point out that if she got 44 per cent of the male vote in November -- the figure in that Washington Post poll matchup with Giuliani -- she'd end up ahead of Kerry, who got only 41 per cent of men in 2004. She also would end up ahead of Al Gore, who got 42 per cent of men in 2000.
Amazingly, if she got that 44 per cent of men in November, she'd be doing better than Bill Clinton, who got only 43 per cent of the male vote when he won his reelection race in 1996. According to the Center for the American Woman and Politics at Rutgers, Bill Clinton's 43 per cent of men is the best a Democratic candidate has done in the last 25 years.
That suggests Hillary's man problem is not very serious -- but it still might bring her defeat in November. Of course Kerry and Gore would have won if they'd had more votes from men, and Bill Clinton won only because Ross Perot siphoned off conservative (i.e. male) votes from the Republicans. The December polls show Hillary beating Giuliani, but only by one or two points -- too close for comfort -- and losing to McCain by a frightening five points.
During the eight years Hillary was First Lady, she didn't deal with terrorism, Osama bin Laden, or Al Qaeda.
She wasn't a decision-maker on any of the other big foreign policy issues of her husband's presidency: whether to send troops to Bosnia or Kosovo, whether to bomb terrorist bases in Afghanistan or suspected terrorist sites in the Sudan.
She didn't deal with the problems in the CIA and other intelligence agencies. She didn't work on nuclear proliferation. She did not deal with genocide in Rwanda.
When Bill Clinton brought Israelis and Palestinians to negotiations at Camp David in 2000, Hillary wasn't there.
These are the conclusions reached by New York Times reporter Patrik Healy, who reported on Dec. 26 on his conversations with 35 Clinton administration officials and his interview with Hillary herself.
"Mrs. Clinton did not hold a security clearance," Healy wrote. "She did not attend National Security Council meetings. She was not given a copy of the president's daily intelligence briefing. She did not assert herself on the crises in Somalia, Haiti and Rwanda."
Most important: Hillary did not do "the hard part of foreign policy" - "making tough decisions, responding to crises." That's what Susan Rice told the New York Times - she was a National Security Council senior aide and a State Department official during the Clinton administration. She's now supporting Obama.
Readers may recall that Hillary has claimed to be the most experienced Democratic candidate not just on domestic issues, but also on international, because of her eight years in the White House. She often says she visited 79 countries as first lady. She often talks about meeting with the president of Uzbekistan and the prime minister of Czechoslovakia.
But when the New York Times reporter asked her to name three major foreign policy decisions in which she played a decisive role as first lady, she "responded in generalities" rather than specifics.
When the Times asked her to cite a significant foreign policy lesson she learned from the 1990s, she replied "There are a lot of them," and went on to talk about "the whole unfortunate experience we've had with the Bush administration."
What did she do on those trips to 79 countries? These were mostly "good-will endeavors" where she supported nonprofit work. She acted as "a spokeswoman for American interests." She often spoke out for women's rights -- especially at the 1995 UN conference on women in Beijing. She brought Catholic and Protestant women together at a meeting in Northern Ireland. And, Healy reported, she often advocated "the expanded use of microcredits, tiny loans to help individuals in poor countries start small businesses."
A week after US troops were sent to fight in far-away country, the FBI proposed to the president that 12,000 people be rounded up and detained as "potentially dangerous" to national security. Almost all of them were citizens, and the FBI proposed that the president suspend habeas corpus to make the roundup constitutional.
The president, however, was not George W. Bush, and the war in question was not the war on terror – it was the Korean War.
The plan, outlined in a 1950 letter from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to an assistant to President Harry Truman, called for "permanent detention" of the 12,000. That was deemed necessary to "protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage."
Hoover told Truman that the FBI had spent "a long period of time" creating a list of "approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States." The 12,000 names were not included in the proposal that was declassified on Dec. 22.
The equivalent proportion of the population today would be 25,000 people.
What would such a roundup look like? Now we know: Hoover was concerned about making sure it would hold up in court. The way to do that, he wrote, was the president would issue a proclamation that "recites the existence of the emergency situation and that in order to immediately protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage, the Attorney General is instructed to apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous to the internal security." In order for that to be legal, the president's proclamation would suspend habeas corpus.
Then Congress would pass a "joint resolution" supporting the roundup, and the president would issue an executive order to the FBI to go to work.
Hoover's other concern was where to jail 12,000 people. So many of the people on the lists lived in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco that prisons there weren't big enough to hold all of them. So for the targets those cities, Hoover proposed "detention in military facilities."
Although George W. Bush was only four years old at the time, the 1950 plan has some striking parallels to his policies today. After 9-11, as Tim Weiner of the New York Times explained, Bush "issued an order that effectively allowed the United States to hold suspects indefinitely without a hearing, a lawyer, or formal charges." Last year Congress passed a law formally suspending habeas corpus for anyone named by the president as an "unlawful enemy combatant." The Supreme Court is reviewing that law this term.
There are significant differences, however: Hoover's 1950 plan required "a statement of charges to be served on each detainee and a hearing to be afforded the individual within a specified period."
And there's one other difference between the 1950 plan and our present war on terror: President Truman ignored the FBI proposal and never went to the Supreme Court to argue that habeas corpus did not apply to people detained as threats to the country.
Hoover's letter was included in the latest volume in the State Department series "Foreign Relations of the United States" released on Dec. 22 with the modest title "The Intelligence Community, 1950-1955." The volume is 759 pages long and is online; the Hoover letter can be found here on page 18. New York Times reporter Tim Weiner gets credit for discovering the Hoover letter -- he reported the story on Dec. 23.
Yesterday the Supreme Court heard arguments in what may be the most important constitutional case of the decade: whether the men detained at Guantanamo have a right to a fair trial before a real court. I spoke with Erwin Chemerinsky about the case – he's professor of law at Duke, and Dean of the new UC Irvine law school; and he represents one of the Gitmo detainees whose case is before the court, Salem Gherebi.
At issue is the Military Commissions Act, passed by Congress in 2006. Chemerinsky called it "one of the worst laws in all of American history with regard to civil liberties." The provision before the court yesterday says that no non-citizen held as an enemy combatant shall have any access to federal courts, including by writ of habeas corpus. They can go through a military proceeding--if one is convened by the government – and then they can get reviewed by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit.
The key issue, Chemerinsky said, "is there's nothing in the Military Commissions Act that requires that a military proceeding be convened. The government can hold all of these people for the rest of their lives without ever bringing them before a military tribunal. Then the have no ability ever to go before a federal court." And no matter how long they are held, they can't come to federal court with a writ of habeas corpus.
The Constitution says the right of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, "except in cases of rebellion or invasion." "I don't think there's a rebellion or an invasion," Chemerinsky said, "and I don't think it matters whether a person is a citizen or noncitizen. The government can't keep a person locked up forever without due process."
John Yoo, former deputy assistant attorney general for George W. Bush, now professor of law at UC Berkeley, defends the Military Commissions Act. On NPR recently he argued that granting terrorists the right to a regular trial in a regular court would hamper the war on terror and give aid and comfort to the enemy.
"He's assuming they ARE terrorists," Chemerinsky replied. "The whole point is that we don't know. My client has been in Guantanamo for more than five years, and I still have no idea why he's there. Maybe he's a dangerous person, or maybe he's there because the US paid a warlord who picked him out because they wanted to get the bounty. The only way we can know if somebody is a terrorist or a criminal is to have due process of law."
Yoo argues that we should trust the military when they say that only the most important and threatening of our enemies have been detained at Guantanamo.
Chemerinsky replied, "Here I say let's trust the Constitution. The Constitution expresses a great distrust of executive power. The Constitution is clear that nobody should be able to be held just on the say-so of the executive, without due process."
Court-watchers agree that the vote will be 5-4, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy holding the swing vote. If Kennedy votes for the plaintiffs, what happens then? Do they actually get a real trial in a real court with real lawyers?
"Not for years to come," Chemerinsky replied. "Then what will happen is that we'll go back to federal district court, where they can present their habeas petitions. Then the issue is going to be what does due process and international law require for these detainees. And my guess is that's going to be fought over for a long time, then appealed to the DC Circuit, then it will go to the Supreme Court.
"The sad reality is that, even if my client wins today at the Supreme Court, what my client wins is the prospect of going to court for years to come. The problem is that if my client loses today, he loses his lawyer and he can be held forever without ever getting his day in court."
John McCain recently commented, "it's not about who they are, it's about who we are." Chemerinsky agreed: "That about sums it up," he said.
Barack Obama represents "the only hope for the US in the Muslim world," according to Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Because Obama's father was a Muslim, he "could lead a reconciliation between the Muslim countries and the US." With any of the other candidates as president, Hersh said, "we're facing two or three decades of problems in the Mideast, with 1.2 billion Muslims."
Hersh, who writes for The New Yorker about the Bush Administration in Iraq and Iran, spoke to my history class at UC Irvine on Tuesday. In Obama's 2006 book The Audacity of Hope he wrote that his Kenyan father was "raised a Muslim," but says he was a "confirmed atheist" by the time his parents met. His parents separated when he was two years old and later divorced.
Of course if Obama did win the nomination, one can only imagine what the Republicans would do with the fact that his father was a Muslim. We've already had Mitt Romney smiling next to a campaign sign in South Carolina that said "No to Obama Osama."
Hersh did not hold out much hope for improved relations between the US and the Muslim world. "The only good news I can bring you is that tomorrow morning there will be one less day of the Bush presidency," he told an overflow crowd in a public lecture at UC Irvine. Bush "doesn't care about" his low standing in the polls, and as a result "he's going to keep going until 11:59 a.m. on January 20, 2009."
Even after Bush's term ends, "much of the damage is yet to come," Hersh said. "The problems for the next president may be intractable."
"They say the surge has worked," Hersh said. "But do you think someday we will get an oil deal in Iraq? They'll burn the fields first. We're hated in Iraq."
As for Afghanistan, "we became more of a threat to the people than Taliban," Hersh said. We're "losing the war there," he said, and concluded that "Afghanistan is a doomed society."
Hersh said he had just returned from Syria, where he was working on his next New Yorker piece, on the mysterious bombing carried out by the US and the Israelis. "The Syrians have a much longer-term perspective than we do," he said. "They say 'we've been here for 10,000 years; we're not going away.'"
As for the short term, Hersh said, "Cheney thinks war with Islam is inevitable, so we might as well have it now." Administration plans for bombing Iran call for targeting the Revolutionary Guards. Iran's response, Hersh said, is likely to be "asymmetrical" - instead of striking back directly at the US, they will "hit the oil" in the Gulf. The result will be oil prices of "$200 or $300 a barrel," double or triple the current price.
But will Bush bomb Iran? Hersh's answer: "How the hell should I know?"
"We hope we're about to elect FDR," New York Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman told me earlier this week, "but we might be about to elect Grover Cleveland." He said he was referring to the front-runner, Hillary Clinton.
Grover Cleveland, for those who don't know their 19th century presidents, was the only Democrat who made it to the White House between 1860 and 1912, the decades when Republican big money ruled the country. Cleveland, elected in 1885 and again in 1893, mobilized the army to crush the 1894 Pullman strike of railroad workers, and joined Wall Street in supporting the gold standard. "He was what they called a ‘Bourbon Democrat,' as in the French royal family," Krugman explained. "He wasn't that different from the Republicans at the time."
Krugman said it appears that the key issue in the 2008 election will be health care, and that the Democrats have a health care plan that will work. His "biggest concern," he said, was "whether the next occupant of the White House will triangulate it into oblivion." He reiterated that he was talking about Hillary.
Earlier that day, the New York Times had reported on page one that the health care industry has already contributed $2.7 million to Hillary, more than any other candidate in either party. Krugman indicated he was concerned that she might do too much compromising and negotiating with the insurance, pharmaceutical and hospital companies, as she did as First Lady in 1993.
Krugman pointed to one big difference between the Clintons' triangulation over health care in 1993 and the situation today, when "we have a self-conscious, aggressive progressive movement in a way we did not when Bill Clinton came into office. I think that does at least somewhat change the calculus," he said. If Hillary does concede too much to the other side, "there is an organized group that will make it clear that this is not what you're supposed to do."
On health care, Krugman said that, speaking as an economist -- which he is --the best plan would be a single payer system, like the "Medicare for All" bill introduced by John Conyers. That would have the lowest administrative overhead and thus provide the most cost-effective system. In his book, "The Conscience of a Liberal," he writes "America loves Medicare; let's give it to everyone." But politically that would be a struggle, because it would require a substantial tax increase.
Thus "the perfect can be the enemy of the good," Krugman says. The most politically feasible plan is the one proposed first by John Edwards and then by Barak Obama – a universal health care system run though private insurance companies. It mandates coverage for everybody and prohibits insurers from denying coverage to anyone or charging different premiums to different people, and it provides government subsidies for low-income people.
The main advantage is that it could be paid for without a tax increase, simply by reversing the Bush tax cuts for the rich. That's the one the Democrats will be pushing after the 2008 election, Krugman says, and that's the one Hillary must be prevented from triangulating into oblivion.
Krugman spoke with me at a public event, ALOUD at Central Library, a free series at the Los Angeles Public Library presented by the Library Foundation of Los Angeles.