Reverend Jesse Jackson was in New Delhi to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the martyrdom of Mahatma Gandhi but the subprime crisis back home was also on his mind. He phoned and said, "If you look at the analysis on TV, everybody is discussing macroeconomics. CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, none of them go deep in their analysis as to what really happened. The lack of enforcement of civil rights laws, of fair lending laws, drives this economic tsunami. This is not an economic miscalculation – this is the price we pay for not enforcing the law."
Jackson points to the targeting and steering of African-Americans and Latinos who were qualified for prime loans into risky subprime mortgages (defined as 3 percentage points higher than the prevailing rate for long-term Treasury bonds). "Redlining was to not loan to certain areas," he said. "This is what amounts to reverse-redlining – steering black and brown borrowers into subprime who were eligible for prime. That's out and out breaking discrimination laws."
In 2005 and 2006, over 50% of all loans made to African-Americans, and over 40% to Latinos, were subprime – compared to only 19% of white borrowers. Martin Gruenberg, vice chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), said at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition's Wall Street Economic Summit in January, "Only one-sixth of this differential could be accounted for by the ability of the borrower." Analysis of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data shows that African-Americans and Latinos in New York City, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia and other cities were two to three times more likely to have subprime, high-cost loans than white borrowers with similar incomes and loan amounts.
The New York Times has reported on two neighborhoods in the Detroit area – one 97 percent white with a median income of $51,000, another 97 percent African-American with a median income of $49,000. In 2006, 17 percent of the loans made in the white neighborhood were subprime, compared to 70 percent of the loans in the predominately African-American neighborhood. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan recently pointed out on National Public Radio, "…An African-American earning more than $100,000 was more likely than a white person who earned less than $35,000 to be put in a high-cost, [subprime] loan…. Clearly there is discrimination going on." The Times also reported that "… around 90 percent of subprime loans originated between 2004 and 2006 carried exploding adjustable rates. Some 70 percent of subprime loans have prepayment penalties, versus 2 percent of prime loans…. " Those pre-payment penalties made refinancing impossible for hundreds of thousands of people. "Yield-spread premiums" also paid kick-backs to brokers for steering borrowers into high-priced loans.
Officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) point out that there is no uniformity in how loan documents spell out the terms of loans, and some are woefully inadequate. The Times also reported that "many lenders peddled the most abusive and costly loans to unsophisticated, first-time home buyers. Known as ‘affordability products,' the mortgages generated big commissions up front and were designed to require refinancing later on – which included yet another round of luscious fees for lenders. With refinancing no longer an option, it is becoming obvious that these loans were designed to fail." Madigan told NPR, "I have had hundreds of people come to our office once they realized that they were in one of these high-cost subprime loans… telling us that they did, in fact, ask ‘Is this a fixed-rate loan?' They were told yes, only to find out two or three years later it was an adjustable rate loan. I've had people tell us, you know, ‘we told them that our income was only $2,000 a month…' [But] we find when we look at the documents it was written down [by the lender] as $7,000, $9,000 a month. So people were being put into loans in spite of the fact that they were… giving the correct information. And it is all because of the fact that the brokers and the lenders were receiving incentives, in large part because there was just this demand on Wall Street for these mortgage-backed securities."
"Nobody seemed to care because of who was profiting, on the one hand, and who was being exploited on the other," Jackson said. "But now the water is – like the Titanic – the water is up around the deck where the big people hang out. But where did the water come in? The water came in at the bottom of the ship. The poor always pay more for less – for cars, goods and services, insurance, food, banking money. This time, however, it's affecting the whole economy, that's what is different about this. Again, if the government had not allowed the rich to get richer at the expense of the vulnerable you wouldn't have this crisis."
It is now estimated that 2.2 million subprime home loans have already failed or will end in foreclosure – the highest foreclosure rate since the Depression – with a total equity loss of $164 billion. Moreover, neighboring homesto foreclosed properties will see a decline in value of $200 billion. A US Conference of Mayors Report estimates that the foreclosure crisis will reduce home values by an additional $519 billion in 2008, bringing the total forecast of lost equity for the nation's homeowners to $1.2 trillion.
A Democratic Congress hasn't turned a blind eye to these accounts of predatory lending and the lack of regulation that invited it. In the House, both the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Credit and the Domestic Policy Subcommittee (chaired by Congressman Dennis Kucinich) have held hearings on predatory lending in the past year. Both Sandra Braunstein, Director of Consumer and Community Affairs at the Federal Reserve, and Chairman Sheila Bair of the FDIC, said on the record that their institutions have used HMDA data to discover patterns of discrimination and passed it along to the Department of Justice for prosecution.
But when Congressman Al Green of Texas asked how many cases had been prosecuted by the Justice Department in the last five years, no one knew the answer. A call to the Justice Department brought this e-mail response, "The Department has used its authority to enforce the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to bring cases against lenders that targeted certain protected classes of borrowers with predatory or abusive loans: United States v. Delta Funding (2000); United States v. Long Beach Mortgage (1996); Hargraves v. Capital City Mortgage Corp. (2000).
You read that correctly – three cases, the most recent eight years ago. (In contrast, HUD reports that it investigates approximately 480 lending discrimination complaints each year and obtains settlements in nearly 30% of them.) Jackson pointed out, "One of the things that happens when people are against civil rights law, Dr. King would often say, is they either resist it and not pass it… or if they cannot stop it, they pass it but don't enforce it…. When we called Attorney General Mukasey to discuss this matter he said, ‘Well, if you get us some information.' The information is out there! You know, I mean he knows what's happening there."
Mayors, State Attorney Generals, and the US Attorney General should sue lenders for predatory practices and to recover lost revenues stemming from a real estate market undermined by subprime mortgages designed to fail. Baltimore is suing, Cleveland and Illinois – led by Illinois Attorney General Madigan – are all pursuing these kinds of lawsuits. (The FBI has also begun investigating the subprime market – but thus far, no mention of any focus on predatory lending.) Jackson believes it is time for a Marshall-like Plan on Mortgages. He pointed to the need for federal intervention and significant restructuring in the Great Depression with the Reconstruction Finance Corporation; and in the 1990's with the Reconstruction Trust Corporation rescuing failing savings and loans. "This crisis is bigger than those," Jackson said. "It's much bigger." He called the recent stimulus package "almost like medical malpractice. If you go into the doctor's office with your right arm broken and you need it reset, but they do surgery on the left arm– you'd call that malpractice!" he laughed. "You ignore the crisis! This stimulus package does not address the impact of these multibillion dollar losses of tax revenues in American cities and suburbs. It completely ignores the source of the crisis. Because if they focus on that area they've got to deal with what happened."
This metastasizing crisis, Jackson argues, needs to be seen as part of the continuing struggle for racial equality. But both journalists and economists have been slow to admit that lack of civil rights enforcement plays a major role in this financial collapse. "That's the whole problem with the popular idea that we're going to ‘transcend race," he said. "You can't transcend race, you've got to remedy the race…. Transcendentalism does not lend itself to racial remedy. We all want to get beyond a sore, but you must take the glass out and the inflammation out, and let it heal. Then you get beyond it. The Great Society sought not to transcend it, but to address it, through a plan to lift up the bottom. After slavery, it was Reconstruction. We seek to heal this, not to transcend it."
A few times Jackson mentioned the first chapter of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s book published a year before his death: Where Do We Go From Here – Chaos or Community? It addresses the unfinished business of the civil rights movement, closing the gaps created by structural inequalities – leveling the playingfield. "The first phase… had been a struggle to treat the Negro with a degree of decency, not of equality," King writes. "White America was ready to demand that the Negro should be spared the lash of brutality and coarse degradation, but it had never been truly committed to helping him out of poverty, exploitation or all forms of discrimination…. As the nation passes from opposing extremist behavior to the deeper and more pervasive elements of equality, white America reaffirms its bonds to the status quo…. The practical cost of change for the nation up to this point has been cheap…. The real cost lies ahead."
Jackson sees these same dynamics at play in the subprime crisis. "We do not have the dogs – that symbolism as a war state – but we do have what we call structural inequality. We're free but unequal, free and unequally protected by law. If freedom is the absence of barbarianism, and the absence of indecency, then equality is the presence of justice."
As more and more studies, statistics, shattered lives and shuttered communities are visible, an unavoidable question arises: where is justice?
This article was co-authored by Greg Kaufmann, a freelance writer residing in his disenfranchised hometown of Washington, DC.
Thanks to my colleague Scott Klein for telling me that the Peace Sign, one of the most widely known symbols in the world, turns fifty this week. It was first displayed on home-made banners and badges in London on February 21, 1958, to mark the launching of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
The sign was later appropriated by scores of disparate protest movements, the US counter culture (which made it truly famous) and, because the designer has refused to copyright the symbol, by scores of marketers and advertisers. For reasons unknown the peace sign has resonated like no other and it's now, at fifty, one of the most widely recognized symbols in the world.
Ironically the symbol itself is a mix of the military semaphore signals N -- representing nuclear -- and D -- representing disarmament (semaphore alphabet). However, Gerald Holtom, a professional artist and conscientious objector during the Second World War who designed the symbol, subverted this use of semaphores by placing the D over the N, the "upside down logo" signifying his anti-military principles.
Watch the video below to see a dramatic, human-lettered peace symbol spelled out in Prague last year. Then, click here to check out a gallery of contemporary versions of the symbol and here for ways you can help wage peace.
If the 2008 Wisconsin Democratic primary contest is remembered for anything it will be as the place where an unfocused debate on economics began to get serious about the issue of global trade.
In a state where there is a general sense that the North American Free Trade Agreement and the extension of permanent most-favored-nation trading status to China have done severe harm to Wisconsin workers, communities and industries, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton realized quickly that they were not going to get away with vague statements about globalization.
Obama began his Wisconsin campaign a week ago with a speech to almost 20,000 people in Madison that featured several references to the need to change this country's approach to trade deals. And the next morning, at the behest of U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who has not endorsed in the presidential race, Obama went to Feingold's hometown of Janeville to deliver a major address on economic policy at the General Motors plant there.
"(When) I am president, I will not sign another trade agreement unless it has protections for our environment and protections for American workers," he told the United Auto Workers union members. "And I'll pass the Patriot Employer Act that I've been fighting for ever since I ran for the Senate--we will end the tax breaks for companies who ship our jobs overseas, and we will give those breaks to companies who create good jobs with decent wages right here in America."
Not to be outdone, Clinton told workers in DePere -- in the paper mill region of the Fox River Valley -- that she would institute a "time out" on all new trade agreements and institute a review of existing agreements with an eye toward addressing flaws that have saddled the United States with huge trade deficits. She, too, called for ending all tax incentives for companies that shutter U.S. factories and move jobs overseas.
"We have to take back every single tax break that companies get for exporting jobs out of Wisconsin," said Clinton, whose husband Bill led the fight for the NAFTA and China trade deals and bent tax policies to satisfy the demands of business interests.
The tough language on trade represented a rhetorical shift for both Obama and Clinton, who before reaching Wisconsin had been far more cautious about breaking with the "new Democrat" mantra that free-trade benefits U.S. workers and consumers.
Many critics of current trade policies, including key unions such as the United Steelworkers, had backed a third candidate, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, who emerged as a far stronger critic of free-trade deals and corporate excesses than Obama or Clinton during the early stages of the campaign.
After Edwards left the race, both Obama and Clinton sought the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee's support, and that of his supporters. In pursuing this backing, they muscled up some of their rhetoric on trade.
But things really changed when the remaining contenders got to Wisconsin, where factory towns such as Beloit, Janesville, Kenosha, Manitowoc and LaCrosse have all seen the factories of major employers shuttered in recent years.
Both candidates came to understand that, in Wisconsin, feel-good rhetoric about "the new global economy" was not going to sell. And they recognized that after today's Wisconsin primary, they would be headed for Ohio for the March 4 primary in a state where trade issues are, if anything, a bigger deal.
As the Wisconsin campaign wound down, both Clinton and Obama provided the most detailed responses yet to questions about precisely where they stand on the federal government's approach to trade.
The questions came from Wisconsin Fair Trade Coalition, a network of labor, farm and environmental groups that pressured the candidates to get specific about how they would change trade policies that even Republicans who are associated with President Bush -- an ardent backer of free trade -- now criticize as threats to U.S. industries and, ultimately, to national security.
In response to the coalition's inquiries, the candidates have now renewed their opposition to the planned Colombia Free Trade Agreement, and expressed opposition to proposed Panama and South Korea agreements
Both Obama and Clinton also called for changes in how NAFTA has been implemented and indicated support for a review of how trade deals are negotiated and enacted.
"If a campaign is going to run hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads about outsourcing or taxes, they should also indicate support or opposition to the trade agreements currently on the table", said Wisconsin AFL-CIO President David Newby, who chairs the Wisconsin Fair Trade Coalition. "We're glad that both Senators Clinton and Obama have indicated the NAFTA model of trade agreement is dead."
The answers from Obama and Clinton, while groundbreaking in their detail and depth, did not address every concern of the Wisconsin Fair Trade Coalition, which is affiliated with the national Citizen Trade Coalition. For instance, many members of the coalition would like to see candidates specifically commit to abandoning the fast-track model for negotiating trade agreements with other nations and regions -- a model that gives the executive branch the authority to shape deals with little in the way of thoughtful input from Congress.
But the responses of the two Democratic candidates to the coalition's questionnaire distinguished them from the three Republicans running in today's GOP primary. Arizona Senator John McCain, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Texas Congressman Ron Paul all failed to respond to the coalition's inquiries.
"It's disappointing to see candidates spend millions on a campaign, and highlight economic issues, and yet never take a real position," complained Don Collins, a lead organizer with United Steelworkers District 2, and a Wisconsin Fair Trade Coalition board member. "Primary voters in Wisconsin are smart. Photo shoots and sound bites are not going to cut it."
Facebook is still feeling the heat over its Hotel California data policy, which hordes users' private information even after they try to desert the site. The Times' Maria Aspan has been all over this story, and her latest article reports that media and user pressure is forcing Facebook to finally let people completely extract themselves from the site. The company says this is a "technical" challenge, talking up codes and glitches. But the real motivator is money, of course, since social networking sites are in the business of monetizing the social graph. That means people are traffic and personal information is content. As Adam Cohen explains in The Times editorial section, Facebook has not exactly friended "privacy rights":
It's no secret why Web sites like to spread information of this sort: they are looking for more ways to make more money. Users' privacy is giving way to Web sites' desire to market to their friends and family. Technology companies are also stockpiling personal information. Google has fought hard for its right to hold on to users' searches in a personally identifiable way. What Web sites need to do -- and what the government should require them to do -- is give users as much control over their identities online as they have offline. […] Protests forced Facebook to modify Beacon and to ease its policies on deleting information. Push-back of this sort is becoming more common. No one should have personal data stored or shared without their informed, active consent.
Amen. I advocated a similar proposal in my recent feature on Facebook:
A simple way to address one of Facebook's privacy problems is to ensure that users can make informed choices. Taking a page from the consumer protection movement, Congress could simply require social networking sites to display their broadcasting reach prominently when new users post information. Just as the government requires standardized nutrition labels on packaged food, a privacy label would reveal the "ingredients" of social networking. For example, the label might tell users: "The photos you are about to post will become Facebook's property and be visible to 150,000 people--click here to control your privacy settings." This disclosure requirement would push Facebook to catch up with its customers. After all, users disclose tons of information about themselves. Why shouldn't the company open up a bit, too?
Debates over privacy and social networking often slip into variations of "blame the victim," especially when older luddites scorn young users for abdicating privacy and responsibility online. But these ongoing Facebook disputes reveal how companies can use technology to mislead users and preempt people from making responsible choices. And even with good information, it's still complicated. While Facebook is fighting to prevent users from fully removing their information from the site, other digital rights can run in the opposite direction. Web expert Danah Boyd recently stressed how millions of people trust companies like Google to store tons of vital information, but what happens if your digital identity is "disappeared"? She recounts how a friend lost his entire Google account and was told he had no recourse by customer service. After all, there may be no contract or back up files available:
When companies host all of your data and have the ability to delete you and it at-will, all sorts of nightmarish science fiction futures are possible. This is the other side of the "identity theft" nightmare where the companies thieve and destroy individuals' identities. What are these companies' responsibilities? Who is overseeing them? What kind of regulation is necessary?
Photo of campus poster: Inju Flickr
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 federal holiday, and resulting three-day weekend on the third February of each calendar year is officially listed by the Government as Washington's Birthday. In 1971, the holiday was shifted to honor both President Lincoln (born on February 12th) and President Washington (born on February 22nd).
At first, the holiday was treated much like Memorial Day or Christmas; restaurants and retailers tended to close for business and people curtailed their normal activities. But in the late 1980s, a major lobbying campaign by some of Corporate America's largest retail associations pushed for the the establishment of a new name for the holiday and a new rationale for its existence--Presidents' Day and its immediate spawn, the President's Day sale, quickly redefined the holiday from a quiet family time to one of the country's most active shopping days of the year.
In the latest in a series of election-related videos, Why Tuesday's Jacob Soboroff looks at the recent consumer-induced transformation of Presidents' day and rightfully asks why this country takes its shopping so much more seriously than its elections.
Watch the video and ponder the big question: If we can move Presidents' Day for the convenience of shoppers, why can't we make Election Day more convenient for voters? (Making Election Day a federal holiday with mandatory time-off would be a good start.)
John Edwards won almost half a million votes on Super Tuesday, more than enough to have tipped several states in different directions than they went in the close race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
That was a small measure of the lingering influence of a former candidate on a race that now heads toward two more states where the populist appeal of the Edwards campaign resonated.
So Barack Obama jetted out of Wisconsin, where he is battling for a big victory in Tuesday's primary, for a Sunday meeting in Chapel Hill with John and Elizabeth Edwards. The Illinois senator left reporters behind to make what he hoped would be a secret trip, but a North Carolina television station was tipped off and got footage of Obama leaving the home where he met with the Edwardses.
Obama asked for an endorsement. But he also provided the former senator and his wife with detailed arguments about why he would be a stronger Democratic candidate in November, and an outline of how he would seek to implement progressive economic reforms as president.
A key part of the discussion focused on a priority of John Edwards: writing a Democratic platform that outlines a genuine change agenda.
"The meeting with John, we just wanted to talk about how we can move the party in a direction that focuses on middle-class issues, relieving poverty, reducing the influence of special interests in Washington," Obama acknowledged Sunday night.
The trip comes at an essential time for Obama's campaign, and illustrates how very much he wants the Edwards endorsement.
Obama has framed his Wisconsin campaign against Clinton as a fight over trade policy, but Obama's record is not a whole lot better than Clinton's on this issue. Edwards, who ran for the Democratic nomination this year as an ardent advocate for fair trade policies, has earned credibility with key unions -- especially the United Steelworkers and to a lesser extent the United Auto Workers.
If an Edwards endorsement were to help break loose endorsements from those two unions, which remain powerful players in Ohio, it would be a dramatic boost for Obama.
Additionally, Edwards remains a particularly popular figure in rural and southern states. In Oklahoma, for instance, the former senator took more than 10 percent of the vote on February 5, after he had withdrawn from the race.
Parts of Oklahoma are a lot like parts of Texas, and Obama would love to have Edwards take a swing through the Lone Star state before the March 4 primary.
Will it happen?
When he was still in the race, Edwards was clearly more sympathetic toward Obama than Clinton. And the sentiment holds.
But the leap from sympathy to support has proven a long one.
By all accounts, the discussion inside the Edwards home revolves around whether Obama is ready for the presidency. Additionally, both John and Elizabeth Edwards are concerned that Obama's health care plan is weak -- especially in its failure to commit to universality. Clinton has played on those concerns during meetings with the Edwardses and phone conversations with them.
The Wisconsin primary result could be key. Edwards knows the state well; he almost won its 2004 primary and had many backers in the state this year, most of whom are now with Obama.
If Obama wins Wisconsin Tuesday, especially if the win is by a wide margin, that could finally tip Edwards toward the Illinois senator. By the same token, if Clinton were to win -- or at least make it close after being somewhat written off in the state -- watch for a new round of campaigning in the Edwards primary.
New York Congressman Charlie Rangel was an early and essential backer of Hillary Clinton's campaign for president.
The support of the senior House Democrat was required if the senator from New York was to be able to run nationally with the assurance that her home turf was "locked up." And Rangel, as the dean of New York's Democratic House delegation, and a dominant player in the politics of Harlem for four decades, helped to do just that.
Along with the support of Georgia Congressman John Lewis, Rangel's backing also gave Clinton credibility in the African-American community beyond New York. But, now, Lewis is wavering in his support for Clinton -- suggesting to the New York Times that, after his Atlanta-area congressional district voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, he is likely to cast his superdelegate vote at the Democratic National Convention for the surging senator from Illinois.
When word came that Lewis and other African-American House members were starting to talk about "keeping faith" with their constituents and voting for the candidate who could be the first African-American nominee for president, I immediately checked the results from Rangel's congressional district.
According to figures reported after the February 5 New York primary, Rangel's Harlem-based 15th district voted rather comfortably for Clinton. The unofficial count with 100 percent of the votes supposedly tabulated was:
Clinton -- 55,359 votes, 53 percent
Obama -- 47,514 votes, 45 percent
That was close enough to create a 3-3 delegate split. But it was a clear Clinton win, and thus there would be no pressure on Rangel to vote the will of a congressional district that backed Obama.
Or so it seemed.
Now comes Saturday's New York Times Metro Section report headlined: "Unofficial Tallies in City Understated Obama Vote."
According to the paper:
"Black voters are heavily represented in the 94th Election District in Harlem's 70th Assembly District. Yet according to the unofficial results from the New York Democratic primary last week, not a single vote in the district was cast for Senator Barack Obama.
That anomaly was not unique. In fact, a review by The New York Times of the unofficial results reported on primary night found about 80 election districts among the city's 6,106 where Mr. Obama supposedly did not receive even one vote, including cases where he ran a respectable race in a nearby district.
City election officials this week said that their formal review of the results, which will not be completed for weeks, had confirmed some major discrepancies between the vote totals reported publicly -- and unofficially -- on primary night and the actual tally on hundreds of voting machines across the city.:
The Times adds this relevant information: "The 94th Election District in Harlem, for instance, sits within the Congressional district represented by Charles B. Rangel, an original supporter of Mrs. Clinton."
No one is suggesting that Rangel did anything wrong. There are many explanations for why vote counts are off, and there are many players in the process -- and Rangel is one of the more honorable of the lot.
What New Yorkers should be asking for, however, is a complete review of the results in New York City, with a heavy focus not just on the 80 election district where Obama supposedly received no votes but also on those where it appears that his vote was far below the level of support that he received in surrounding districts -- and that might reasonably be expected.
Could there be another 8,000 votes for Obama in the 15th?
That's a lot. But it is not beyond the realm of possibility that they exist.
No one, be they Clinton or Obama supporters, should question that every effort must be made to find every Obama vote in Harlem, along with "missing" Obama votes from other congressional districts in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
At issue may be a few more pledged delegates for Obama -- no small matter in a close race for the nomination -- and the broader question of how superdelegates who want to respect the sentiments of their constituents, a group that could include Rangel and several other House members from New York, cast their votes at this summer's convention.
As Eric Alterman has written, he's the "journalist" of "perpetual wrongness" (as well as an "apparatchik" of the first order and a "right-wing holy warrior"). And for that, he's perpetually hired or published: Fox News, the Washington Post op-ed page, Time Magazine, and most recently, the New York Times where, in his very first column, he made a goof that had to be corrected at the bottom of column two (and where, with his usual perspicacity when it comes to the future, he predicted an Obama victory in the New Hampshire primary). Liberal websites devote time to listing his many mistakes and mis-predictions. In a roiling mass of neocons, right-wingers, and liberal war hawks, he's certainly been in fierce competition for the title of "wrongest" of all when it came to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. ("Iraq's always been very secular…") I hardly have to spell out the name of He Who Strides Amongst Us, the editor of Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard. But, okay, for the one person on the planet who doesn't know -- it's Bill Kristol. The notorious Mr. Kristol, the man whose crystal ball never works.
But isn't it the essence of American punditry that serial mistakes don't matter and no one is ever held to account (as in this primary season) for ridiculous predictions that add up to nothing? As New York Times editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal put it after his paper signed Kristol to a one-year contract, "The idea that The New York Times is giving voice to a guy who is a serious, respected conservative intellectual -- and somehow that's a bad thing… How intolerant is that?"
How intolerant indeed! Since no one in the mainstream is accountable for anything they've written, the management of the Times can exhibit remarkable tolerance for error in its gesture to the neocon right by hiring a man who's essentially never right. His has been a remarkable winning record when it comes to being right(-wing) by doing wrong. Former Saturday Night Live contributor Jonathan Schwarz pays homage to that record in "The Lost Kristol Tapes, What the New York Times Bought." Here's just the beginning of that piece, already a small classic, as a teaser:
"Imagine that there were a Beatles record only a few people knew existed. And imagine you got the chance to listen to it, and as you did, your excitement grew, note by note. You realized it wasn't merely as good as Rubber Soul, or Revolver, or Sgt. Pepper's. It was much, much better. And now, imagine how badly you'd want to tell other Beatles fans all about it.
"That's how I feel for my fellow William Kristol fans. You loved it when Bill said invading Iraq was going to have 'terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East'? You have the original recording of him explaining the war would make us 'respected around the world' and his classic statement that there's 'almost no evidence' of Iraq experiencing Sunni-Shia conflict? Well, I've got something that will blow your mind!
"I'm talking about Kristol's two-hour appearance on C-Span's Washington Journal on March 28, 2003, just nine days after the President launched his invasion of Iraq. No one remembers it today. You can't even fish it out of LexisNexis. It's not there. Yet it's a masterpiece, a double album of smarm, horrifying ignorance, and bald-faced deceit. While you've heard him play those instruments before, he never again reached such heights. It's a performance for the history books -- particularly that chapter about how the American Empire collapsed…"
There have been far too few accountability moments since Democrats retook control of the U.S. House and Senate in January, 2007.
But one came Thursday, when the House voted 223-32 to hold former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas to testify before Congress in relation to the firing of nine United States Attorneys in 2006.
A pair of resolutions -- one that directs the U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C. to bring criminal contempt charges against Bolten and Miers to a grand jury and another that authorizes the House general counsel to bring a civil suit against the White House to settle the question of whether the testimony of Bolten and Miers should be covered by executive privilege -- received the backing of 220 Democrats and three anti-war Republicans (Ron Paul, the renegade presidential candidate from Texas; Wayne Gilchrest, who lost his seat in a Maryland primary Tuesday; and Walter Jones of North Carolina).
The move was opposed by 31 Republicans and one Democrat (Texan Henry Cuellar, who backed Bush for reelection in 2004 and this year backs Hillary Clinton.) At the behest of House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, 163 Republicans were recorded as "not voting." Ten Democrats did the same.
Thursday's House decision was historic, not just for its specific response to the lawlessness of two prominent members of the Bush-Cheney administration but for its broader message. With this action, Congress is beginning to reassert itself as a separate and equal branch of the federal government.
If the imperial presidency is to be ended, however, it will take more than an accountability moment.
The House Judiciary Committee and the House as a whole – which delayed the contempt vote for far too many months because of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's misguided caution about confronting the administration – must now aggressively pursue Miers and Bolten.
As American Freedom Campaign campaigns director Steve Fox correctly notes, "In order for our system of checks and balances to be effective, Congress must have oversight over the executive branch. When Bolten and Miers – with the encouragement of the President – refused to comply with the congressional subpoenas last summer, they were tacitly saying that this oversight power no longer existed. If they are not held in contempt -– and prosecuted in the courts -– our Constitution will have been defiled."
But nothing that is wrong with the Bush-Cheney administration or the federal government began with Miers and Bolten. And no fix will be complete if it stops with them.
The Judiciary Committee must hold to account the president and vice president who encouraged Miers and Bolten to disregard the rule of law.
Miers and Bolten refused to testify not as individuals but as members of an administration that has assaulted the constitutionally-defined system of checks and balances at every turn. They acted always, and in every way, at the behest of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
It is important to hold the former counsel and the current chief of staff to account. Certainly, as People For the American Way Director of Public Policy Tanya Clay House says, "Congress has a responsibility to enforce its congressional powers, and moving forward with contempt citations is the appropriate response to this administration's stonewalling and arrogance."
But this "appropriate response" must not be seen as an end in itself.
For there to be accountability, more than a moment is required. And more than Miers and Bolten must be held to account for the high crimes and misdemeanors of an administration that has treated the Constitution and the Congress as afterthoughts.
"Members of the Bush administration have spent the last seven years pretending that the law doesn't apply to them," says House, who musters proper passion to add, "Congress has a responsibility to enforce its congressional powers, and moving forward with contempt citations is the appropriate response to this administration's stonewalling and arrogance."