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Harlem Mystery: Did Rangel's District Go for Barack Obama?

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.

The Kristol Whose Crystal Ball Never Works

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…"

 

An Accountability Moment That Must Not End

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."

Kroger for AG

With the billions of words being devoted to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, there's likely not much I can add to your understanding of the two Democratic presidential contenders. But there are scores of terrific candidates running local races that matter.

The Progressive Democrats of America do a good job highlighting Congressional candidates worthy of progressive support. What this blog will attempt to do over the coming months is to feature worthy candidates you may not have heard about who are animated by a commitment to social and economic justice and who have a real chance to win a state race.

Up first is John Kroger, running hard in the Oregon Democratic primaries, in a contest that will determine the next state Attorney General. I was introduced to Kroger by a friend who knew him in college and law school and after doing some research I'm convinced that he's someone most Nation readers would find well worth supporting.

These are what he cites as his five major priorities:

**Fight meth aggressively, with more effective enforcement and a new plan for drug treatment.

**Hold every polluter responsible for the damage they cause to our health and our environment.

**Ensure that every single parent in the state gets the child support to which they are entitled.

**Protect consumers and retirees from scam-artists and crooked companies.

**Defend civil rights, a woman's right to choose, and the rights of Oregon crime victims.

His environmental agenda is especially strong focusing on targeting chronic corporate polluters and lobbying for stiffer penalties for environmental infractions. He wants to use the state's criminal laws "to put the worst polluters in jail. That's never been done in the state, and we're going to do it." He's even threatened to partner with environmental organizations and take the federal government to court unless it curbs what he says is the Bush Administration's reckless flouting of our nation's environmental protection, endangered species, and forestry laws.

From everything I've read in the local press and blogs, the Oregon AG's office has not been an aggressive or effective force for law enforcement under previous administrations. In fact, the office seems to have functioned as much as the corporate counsel for the State as an independent office that can bring lawsuits on behalf of the state's people to accomplish important social ends. Kroger's opponent, Greg McPherson, is squarely within this business-as-usual tradition. Kroger says he will bring the full weight of the office to bear on real things that matter to real people and will never be the tool of the local business class.

As my friend wrote me, "when I was a lawyer at Earthjustice in Florida, we partnered with the AG's office in some of these cases [in which lawyers make the case that natural resources like rivers are public trusts, not privately commodities] and it made a world of difference to have the resources of a state office on our side. Thus, to the extent I can help support the creation of an AG office with that kind of vision in another state, I want to. John has set out some areas where he thinks the Oregon AG can be an important force for change, and as he's been very successful in the courtroom in his career thus far, I just think he's going to want to get in the courtroom and fight and win good battles."

Click here to find out more about Kroger and here to help support his good battles.

Obama Talks Tough(er) on Trade to Win Wisconsin

JANESVILLE, Wisconsin -- When I talked with Russ Feingold last week about what the Democratic candidates for president should do to win Tuesday's Wisconsin primary, he suggested that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton should go to the senator's hometown of Janesville and talk about trade.

Obama got the hint.

On Wednesday, the first full day of a Wisconsin primary campaign that he hopes will solidify his emerging lead over his once "inevitable" rival, the Illinois senator started in Janesville, where he delivered a rebuke to free-trade policies of the Bill Clinton and George Bush eras that sounded a little like a speech Feingold might have delivered.

"We are not standing on the brink of recession due to forces beyond our control. The fallout from the housing crisis that's cost jobs and wiped out savings was not an inevitable part of the business cycle. It was a failure of leadership and imagination in Washington – the culmination of decades of decisions that were made or put off without regard to the realities of a global economy and the growing inequality it's produced," Obama told workers at the General Motors Assembly Plant in the southern Wisconsin city.

"It's a Washington where decades of trade deals like NAFTA and China have been signed with plenty of protections for corporations and their profits, but none for our environment or our workers who've seen factories shut their doors and millions of jobs disappear; workers whose right to organize and unionize has been under assault for the last eight years," continued the senator, who is suddenly very conscious of the need to appeal to working-class voters in Wisconsin and Ohio who have been battered by trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the decision the Clinton administration to extend permanent most-favored-nation training status to China.

In addition to proposing new infrastructure spending designed to "generate nearly 2 million new jobs –- many of them in the construction industry that's been hard hit by this housing crisis," Obama sought to distinguish himself from Clinton on trade.

"It's also time to look to the future and figure out how to make trade work for American workers. I won't stand here and tell you that we can--or should--stop free trade. We can't stop every job from going overseas. But I also won't stand here and accept an America where we do nothing to help American workers who have lost jobs and opportunities because of these trade agreements. And that's a position of mine that doesn't change based on who I'm talking to or the election I'm running in," Obama said, taking a swipe at Clinton. "You know, in the years after her husband signed NAFTA, Senator Clinton would go around talking about how great it was and how many benefits it would bring. Now that she's running for President, she says we need a time-out on trade. No one knows when this time-out will end. Maybe after the election."

Then Obama declared, "(When) I am president, I will not sign another trade agreement unless it has protections for our environment and protections for American workers. 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."

This speech represents progress for Obama, who has not up to now been a particularly strong advocate for the fair-trade policies favored by labor and environmental groups and senators such as Wisconsin's Feingold and Ohio's Sherrod Brown. The cautious contender is still a long way from embracing the full agenda of the steel and auto workers union leaders and industrial-state senators and congressmen he has been talking with at some length in recent days. And there will be appropriate skepticism about whether Obama will continue to err on the populist side after Wisconsin and Ohio have finished voting – and after key players such as Feingold, Brown and former candidate John Edwards have endorsed.

But Obama's message at the GM plant was a good one--not just for the workers of Janesville and the other factory towns that will be voting in Wisconsin on Tuesday and Ohio two weeks later, but also for Feingold. The Wisconsin senator says he has not made up his mind regarding the Obama-Clinton contest, but he holds open the prospect of a pre-primary nod to one of the contenders.

Obama wants that nod, and the support of Wisconsin workers who have come to see their senator as a champion in the fight for fair trade.

Obama is not where Feingold is on trade and economic issues--the two recently split on the Peru Free Trade Agreement, with Obama favoring it and Feingold opposing. But the presidential candidate is listening to the Wisconsin senator, and responding. Heck, he was even talking Wednesday about how jobs at the GM plant created the prosperity that caused "homes and businesses (to begin) to sprout up along Milwaukee and Main Streets" in Janesville – avenues not far from where Feingold grew up.

And what of Hillary Clinton? She was in McAllen, Texas, Wednesday morning--headed not for Janesville but for San Antonio.

A Global Arms Race Hidden in Plain Sight

Often what is hidden in our world is so simply because no cares or thinks to look. Yes, a fair amount of attention has recently been given to the staggering new Pentagon budget request, the largest since World War II, that the Bush administration has just submitted to Congress for fiscal year 2009. It comes in at $515.4 billion--a 7.5% hike for an already bloated Pentagon--and that doesn't include all sorts of Defense Department funds that will be stowed away elsewhere (even if in plain sight), nor does it include the couple of hundred billion dollars or more in funds to be appropriated largely via "supplemental" requests for the ongoing military disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even the official budget, however, includes staggering sums for procuring major new weapons systems and for R&D leading to ever more such big-ticket items in the future. (Flash from the budget front! Noah Shachtman of Wired magazine's Danger Room blog reports that the U.S. Air Force swears it can't make due with its mere $144 billion slice of the pie. It's demanding $19 billion more than that. Otherwise how will it pay for all those advanced jet fighters? The U.S. Army is far more modest, requesting a mere $3.9 billion above the massive sum allotted to it.) According to Steve Kosiak, vice president of budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, "The fiscal year 2009 budget may be about as good as it gets for defense contractors." When all is said and done, this will probably be a trillion dollar "defense" budget.

As it happens, military budgets like this have a multiplier effect globally. After all, there's no such thing as a one-nation arms race. It's just that no one thinking about what we're about to feed the Pentagon here pays much attention to such things. Fortunately, John Feffer, an expert on military policy in Asia and co-director of the website Foreign Policy In Focus has been doing just that. In a new piece, "Asia's Hidden Arms Race," he points out that in Northeast Asia, where largely sunny headlines are all about the Six Party Talks over the North Korean nuclear program and the Beijing Olympics, five of the six nations in those talks--the U.S., China, Russia, South Korea, and North Korea--have, in this new century, increased their military budgets by 50% or more. (The sixth Japan spends hefty amounts on its military and is intent on keeping pace.)

Yes, Virginia, there is indeed an arms race underway; it's taking off in Northeast Asia; and it's dangerous. It's good news only for the burgeoning global military-industrial complex. Too bad, no one's paying attention. As Feffer concludes:

 

"Given the sums that would be necessary to address the decommissioning of nuclear weapons, the looming crisis of climate change, and the destabilizing gap between rich and poor, such spending priorities are in themselves a threat to humanity. The world put 37% more into military spending in 2006 than in 1997. If the "peace dividend" that was to follow the end of the Cold War never quite appeared, a decade later the world finds itself burdened with quite the opposite: a genuine peace deficit."

 

Progressive Upsets Compromising Congressman

After the years of fighting from the outside to change politics and policy as the co-founder and first executive director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence and then as the executive director for the Center for a New Democracy and a key player in the progressive non-profit community, Donna Edwards is headed for a place on the inside.

Edwards upset Maryland Congressman Al Wynn Tuesday in a primary contest that saw union, environmental and progressive activists challenge a Democratic incumbent who had voted to authorize President Bush to attack Iraq, endorsed Dick Cheney's energy bill, sided with corporate donors to gut environmental programs and backed bankruptcy reforms that favored credit card companies over consumers.

That record earned Edwards the enthusiastic support of the Service Employees International Union -- union president Andy Stern wrote a broadly circulated letter on her behalf -- the Sierra Club, the Friends of the Earth PAC, the League of Conservation Voters, Clean Water Action, Emily's List, the National Organization for Women, the Women's Campaign Fund, Progressive Democrats of America, Democracy for America, Progressive Maryland, ACORN PAC and many local groups.

On Tuesday night, Edwards was beating Wynn 59 to 37 percent as the incumbent conceded.

"Today the voters went to the polls looking for change. They selected a new leadership that will finally put the public's interest first," declared Edwards. "I will wake up every morning and ask, ‘What can I do to make a difference in people's lives?'"

Said Progressive Democrats of America national director Tim Carpenter, "Despite Wynn's huge advantages in terms of special interest contributions and insider connections, Donna Edwards marshaled support from what Wynn's campaign dismissed as 'a vast left-wing conspiracy' to beat the most conservative member of the Congressional Black Caucus."

Edwards emerges from the primary as a favorite to win the seat representing a heavily-Democratic district. She'll keep campaigning but the veteran organizer is already talking about what she plans to do to shake up Congress -- still working with her outsider allies but now from the inside.

Donna Edwards: A New Kind of Democrat

 

In 2006, long-time progressive activist and public interest lawyer, Donna Edwards shocked seven-term Congressman Albert Wynn, losing to him by just three points in the Maryland Democratic primary.  In Tuesday's Potomac primary, a more seasoned and well-financed Edwards didn't sneak up on anyone, and she sent the centrist Wynn packing with an inspiring and much needed victory.  In the closing days, Edwards stood strong against personal attacks levied by a desperate Wynn campaign, and supporters such as the League of Conservation Voters, Emily's List, MoveOn, Progressive Democrats of America, and the SEIU helped her to keep the voters focused on the issues.

 

 

As John Nichols recently noted in his excellent article, the Edwards-Wynn primary this year was "a bellwether contest in the fight for the soul of the Democratic Party."  There's a difference between a Democratic Congress and a progressive Democratic Congress.  As Nichols points out, the "cautious and unfocused" 2007 Democratic Congress has lower approval ratings than George Bush--and that's no easy feat.  The strong anti-war and populist message that led to the Blue Wave of 2006 was quickly watered down as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi struggled to keep the caucus united.  The only solution to that struggle?  Replacing corporate-DLC-Blue Dog-centrist Democrats like Wynn--who voted with Bush on the Iraq war, Cheney's energy bill, and with the pharmaceutical industrry--with a true progressive like Edwards.

 

 

 "Donna Edwards is, for us, the prototype of what a new Democrat in the new Democratic majority in Congress ought to look and sound like," Patrick Gaspard, executive vice president of SEIU 1199, told the Washington Post.

 

Gaspard is absolutely right.  Nichols wrote that Democratic Congresses historically pull Democratic presidents to the left, "but Presidents rarely go willingly."  That's why we need a new kind of New Democrat--who, like Edwards, is fearless and true to their progressive values. 

 

 

Donna Edwards is a single mother who has spoken openly of the financial struggles she endured during years without child support.  She's a former executive director for the National Network to End Domestic Violence and also the progressive nonprofit Arca Foundation. She knows how to build a movement through insider-outsider strategies, rather than adopting poll-driven, consultant-given, Inside-the-Beltway positions.

 

 

Edwards's victory gives the progressive movement another key partner and player inside Congress--and a woman, at that.  She will help drive progressive issues into the national debate and campaigns, and forge a movement to make the changes we so desperately need in our nation.  As Edwards told Nichols, "The work progressives do on the outside is essential, but more of us have to be on the inside if we're going to make the Democratic Party the ally we need to change the Congress and the country." 

 

 

Help Stop US Torture

Michael Mukasey may not be sure if waterboarding is torture but most of the rest of the world has no problem seeing this brutal practice for what it is.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, February 13, the Senate will vote on a proposal by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California to prohibit the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture by the CIA and other US agencies. US military forces are already forbidden to use such tortures, and a century ago, when some US soldiers used then against Filipino rebels, the soldiers were tried and convicted in US courts. But the CIA, supported by the Bush Administration, has claimed it is exempt from the law. Please click here to write your Senators immediately imploring them to support Feinstein's legislation.