Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bush Regime Declares Itself Above the Law

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By Paul Craig Roberts

The US government does not have a monopoly on hypocrisy, but no other government can match the hypocrisy of the US government.

It is now well documented and known all over the world that the US government tortured detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and that the US government has had people kidnaped and “rendentioned,” that is, transported to third world countries, such as Egypt, to be tortured.

Also documented and well known is the fact that the US Department of Justice provided written memos justifying the torture of detainees. One torture advocate who wrote the DOJ memos that gave the green light to the Bush regime’s use of torture is John Yoo, a Vietnamese immigrant who somehow secured a US Justice Department appointment and a tenured professorship at the University of California, Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law. John Yoo is the best case against immigration that I know.

Members of Berkeley’s city council believe that Yoo should be charged with war crimes. The US government has charged lesser offenders than Yoo with war crimes. Yoo helped the DOJ achieve the Bush regime’s goal of finding a way around the torture prohibitions of both US statutory law and the Geneva Conventions.

The way around the law that Yoo provided for the sadistic Bush regime was closed down by the US Supreme Court, which voided Yoo’s arguments, and Yoo’s torture memo was rescinded by the Department of Justice. Nevertheless, Yoo’s obvious constitutional incompetence, which in Yoo’s case is total, has not affected his position as professor of constitutional law at Berkeley. Can you imagine the harm Yoo is doing by teaching future cadres of lawyers and government officials that torture is consistent with the Constitution and the law of the land? How many of us will suffer from this ignorant man’s teachings?

But I digress. Even as the US government was torturing people, the US government was prosecuting the son of Charles Taylor, the former ruler of Liberia, for torturing political opponents of his father’s government. The US government did not employ the Yoo torture memo to justify Liberia’s use of torture against those who wished to overthrow the Liberian government or commit terror against it. The US government’s position is that Liberia’s government had no right to use torture to defend itself. Only an “indispensable nation” such as the US has the right to torture people who are imagined to threaten it.

I use the word “imagined” because approximately 99 percent of the detainees tortured by America were totally innocent people picked up at random or sold to the stupid Americans by warlords as “terrorists.” (The US government offered rewards for terrorists, like the bounty offered for outlaws in the “wild west.” The result was that warlords in Afghanistan and Pakistan grabbed whoever was not one of them and sold their captives to Americans as “terrorists.”)

According to Carrie Johnson, a Washington Post staff writer, on October 30, 2008, a federal jury in Miami convicted Charles Taylor’s son, Chuckie, of torture. Chuckie will be sentenced by the indispensable Americans in January for torture, conspiracy and firearms violations. He may spend the rest of his life in an American prison.

While Chuckie’s trial was underway, the Bush regime was torturing people.

The Washington Post writes that Chuckie’s conviction is “the first test of an American law that gives prosecutors the power to bring charges for acts of torture committed in foreign lands.” In other words, US law against torture applies to the entire world, to every other country except the United States. The hubris is unimaginable--no country can torture except the US.

Anyone else who tortures gets life, or in the case of Saddam Hussein gets hung by the neck until dead.

Isn’t it great to be an American. Our laws don’t apply to us, only to every other nation. This is what it means to be the moral light of the world, the unipower, the salt of the earth.

Neither poor Carrie Johnson nor her editors at the Washington post see the irony or the paradox. Johnson writes in the Washington Post that the US prosecutors “accused Taylor of taking part in atrocities and directing subordinates to torture victims using . . . electrical devices from 1999 to 2002.” That charge practically overlaps in time with Bush’s, or Cheney’s, or Yoo’s, or the DOJ’s, or Rumfeld’s, or whoever’s direction to subordinates to torture people detained by Americans at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and in various CIA rendition sites. By now everyone in the world has seen the photograph of the hooded Iraqi with electrical wires attached standing on that box in Abu Ghraib.

If only American laws applied to the American government. Then the criminals who have been in charge for 8 years could be prosecuted for their extreme violation of United States laws. But, of course, the great moral American government is far above the law. American law only applies to dispensable nations. America is not answerable to law, not to its own law and not to international law. US attorney general Michael Mukasey affirmed that the US government is above all law when he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that there would be no investigation or prosecution of those Bush regime officials who authorized torture and those who carried out the sadistic acts.

The American government, the government of the great indispensable nation, has a free pass. The strong do what they will. The weak suffer what they must.

How Gaza Offends Us All

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By Huda Jawad

Faria al-Bobali's 10-month-old daughter is suffering from malnutrition due to an Israeli blockade on Gaza. Her mother depends on UNRWA, the United Nations relief agency that distributes food to at least half of Gaza's 1.5 million residents. But UNRWA says it will soon run out of supplies. The impending closure of the UN Center only adds to the seemingly endless misery of the Palestinian people. Nine out of ten Gazans are living below the poverty line and fail to feed their families, and many children were already going hungry.

The United Nations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have all condemned Israel's blockade as "cruel". Former US president Jimmy Carter has made no apology for vividly describing the situation in Gaza as "a heinous atrocity" amounting to nothing short of a war crime. The question that must be asked is: what government in the 21st century can deny another group of people their basic human rights, that is, the right to security, food, water, shelter and dignity? Additionally, how does this government commit such a grave crime against humanity and somehow manage to remain complete unscathed?

The agonizing slow death order placed on the Palestinian people is finding its first victims in more than 400 seriously ill patients being prevented from leaving Gaza to receive urgent medical attention in Israeli or Arab hospitals. We are witnessing the type of ghetto the world thought we would never see again. The comparison was presented earlier this year by none other than Israel's deputy defense minister Matan Vilnai, when he threatened "a bigger holocaust (shoah)" against the Palestinians in Gaza. He would later "explain" his usage of the word as meaning "disaster". In any case, the threat was ominous enough.

For all its complexities and horrifying results, the purpose of Israel's blockade is to push the entire Palestinian population into survival mode. Individuals are preoccupied with the daily detail of survival and its exhaustions. The most recent Red Cross report on the situation called the repercussions of the siege "devastating". Hospitals in Gaza are barely functioning, and the fuel being shipped in is barely enough to operate the Gaza power plant for one day. The notion to "drip-feed" aid to the Palestinians was first conjured up in 2006 by an advisor to the Israeli Prime Minister. Dov Weisglas said in February 2006, "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not make them die of hunger."

The Israelis have refused to heed the international call to stop their defiance of human rights. Then again, why should they? The same world superpowers who have issued flaky statements asking Israel to lift its siege continue to provide the financial and military backing for the war on the Palestinian children. What so-called "international investigation" will we see this time for the murder of civilians via starvation? Same as the one after Dan Halutz dropped his 2,000-pound bomb on an apartment building in Gaza, killing 15 people, nine of them women and children? Or similar to that after the siege of Jabalya in the fall of 2004? Maybe like the half-baked inquiry after Huda Ghalia's family was blasted into nothingness during an outing on a Gaza beach? This time it doesn't look like if there will even be an investigation, not that any of the previous investigations helped. They merely gave Israel a pat on the shoulder for committing genocide.

As recently as last week, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund warned that Gaza's severe cash shortage may cause local banks to collapse. Israel has said cash money does not fall into the category of "urgent aid", and as such it is not necessarily. Expect the already weakened Palestinian economy to completely disintegrate, with little outcry from the world.

Audaciously enough, the international community appears to be rewarding the Israeli genocide. In November 2008, Shimon Peres was honored with a knighthood from the Queen of England. He is also likely to be "honored" with a lecture series named after him at Oxford University. These "honors" are slightly outrageous for a man who helped to forcibly expel 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland in 1948.

Gaza is a modern-day attack on human rights, and some would go as far as labeling it as ethnic cleanings. However, it's clear that the suffering of Faria al-Bobali and her infant daughter is an ode to the cowardly passiveness of the world towards Gaza.

Debt-Saddled Tribune Co. Files for Bankruptcy Protection

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By Frank Ahrens

Media giant Tribune Co. yesterday became the first major newspaper or chain in several decades to enter Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, as the debt-saddled company fights sharply dropping advertising revenue and an ongoing recession.

The move will allow Tribune to stay in business while it seeks better terms from its creditors. The company stressed that all of its businesses, which include eight major daily newspapers and 23 television stations, will continue their day-to-day operations while Tribune restructures its debt.

According to Tribune's bankruptcy filing in a Delaware court yesterday, the company has $12.9 billion in debt and $7.6 billion in assets.

Tribune's largest creditor is J.P. Morgan Chase, which is owed $8.6 billion. Merrill Lynch is second, at $1.6 billion, and Deutsche Bank is third, at $900 million.

Chicago-based Tribune owns properties in most of the nation's largest cities. Its holdings include the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times; cable television superstation WGN in Chicago; the Baltimore Sun; and WDCW-50 in Washington, a CW affiliate. The company also owns Major League Baseball's Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field, which are for sale and outside of bankruptcy protection.

Real estate mogul Sam Zell engineered an employee-owned transition of Tribune to private status in December 2007 with $8.2 billion in new loans, layering on top of the $5 billion in debt already being carried by the company. Even then, Tribune was reporting declining ad revenue and newspaper circulation.

This placed the company in a perilous position when the economic crisis and credit crunch exploded in late summer. Plummeting Tribune profits put the company in danger of being unable to meet its debt covenants, according to a source close to the company who spoke on condition of anonymity because Tribune is privately held.

"Their newspapers are profitable," newspaper analyst John Morton said. "But their profits have dropped so much and they're so heavily leveraged that they've been put in a hole."

Or, as Tribune said in a release yesterday: "We simply have too much debt."

In November, Tribune reported a $124 million third-quarter loss, compared with an $84 million profit in the same period of last year.

To cut costs, Tribune has mandated hundreds of layoffs across the company. Those who did not take their severance in a lump sum could be hurt by the bankruptcy. "All ongoing severance payments, deferred compensation and other payments to former employees have been discontinued and will be the subject of later proceedings before the [bankruptcy] court," stated an internal Tribune document sent to employees yesterday.

The future of the employee stock-ownership plan is unclear, the company said.

The "vast majority" of retirement and pension plans are safe under the restructuring, the company said yesterday, but some may not be, given the number and complexity of the various plans offered during Tribune's 161-year history.

"Over the last year, we have made significant progress internally on transitioning Tribune into an entrepreneurial company that pursues innovation and stronger ways of serving our customers," chief executive Zell said in a statement yesterday.

"Unfortunately, at the same time, factors beyond our control have created a perfect storm -- a precipitous decline in revenue and a tough economy coupled with a credit crisis that makes it extremely difficult to support our debt."

Newspapers have been losing average daily circulation since 1987, though advertising revenue remained high. But the rise of the Internet and other options for news, information and reader time have sent readers and advertisers away from newspapers in the past half-decade, crippling them.

Despite the hard times, the most recent newspaper bankruptcy of note may have been that of The Washington Post -- in 1933.

Morton said Tribune is only the most prominent and first of several other newspaper companies to face potentially severe debt problems.

Morton noted that the Pennsylvania-based Journal Register chain of smaller papers recently borrowed about $500 million to buy newspapers "in, of all places, Michigan." The Journal Register is putting properties up for sale and its stock is trading for pennies per share.

Morton also pointed to McClatchy Co., the nation's second-largest newspaper chain, which took on $3.5 billion in new debt and assumed $2 billion in existing debt when it bought the Knight Ridder chain in 2006. Since that purchase, shares of McClatchy have plummeted from $48 per share to close yesterday at $2.46.

And yesterday, the New York Times reported that its parent company will put its new Manhattan skyscraper up as collateral as it seeks $225 million in loans to offset a "cash-flow squeeze."

Deal seems near, but talks on auto bailout drag on

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Weary Democratic congressional leaders pushed to clear the final obstacles to a $15 billion bailout of U.S. automakers Tuesday night, but the rescue plan faced new snags as Republicans raised deep concerns.

Top Democrats said they were still hopeful of a deal by the end of the night - with a vote to follow by the end of the week - though significant sticking points remained. Still unresolved were the precise requirements to be placed on carmakers by a new "car czar" who would be named by President George W. Bush and could ultimately force the carmakers to reinvent themselves.

Republicans also were demanding - so far unsuccessfully - that Democrats scrap language that would force the carmakers to drop lawsuits challenging tough emissions limits in California and other states.

Still, leading Democrats voiced optimism that a deal would emerge.

"There do not appear to me to be differences in principle of a sufficient nature to blow this thing up," Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the Financial Services Committee chairman, told reporters. Earlier, he privately briefed House Democrats on the emerging deal and expected agreement by day's end.

Democrats and White House officials hammered out legislative language behind the scenes.

Even if they strike a deal, though, conservative Republicans who want to force one or more of the Big Three into bankruptcy warned they might try to block the measure, virtually guaranteeing that it will need a 60-vote majority to pass and possibly delaying approval for days.

"I think that not only myself, but several of us will be looking at possibly blocking this package," Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., told CNBC.

The core of the bill - and its aim - was not in dispute among the White House and Democratic leaders. It would provide emergency loans to two of Detroit's Big Three - Ford Motor Co. has said it doesn't need an immediate cash transfusion - and create the presidentially named "car czar." The federal overseer would supervise a broad industry restructuring and would be empowered to pull the money back if the carmakers weren't doing enough to ensure their own survival.

All the while, the nation has fallen into recession, Congress and the presidency are both in transition, Wall Street is ricocheting daily and the Federal Reserve and Bush Treasury Department are fighting to steady the reeling financial industry.

A final deal hinged on only a couple of outstanding issues, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

"We would hope that we could complete work on this Detroit situation tonight or tomorrow," he said on the Senate floor.

The last issues were significant. The White House and congressional Republicans were demanding tougher consequences for carmakers that couldn't prove to the government they were viable, including a requirement - rather than an option - for them to be cut off from federal aid.

Democrats have already given in to the White House on a key element of the measure - drawing the money from an existing loan program meant to help carmakers finance the production of greener cars. With environmentalists livid at that move, Democrats were digging in over the bar against carmakers' participation in state emissions rules lawsuits.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he was concerned that Democrats were proposing a package that "fails to require the kind of serious reform that will ensure long-term viability for struggling automobile companies."

With their approach, "we open the door to unlimited federal subsidies in the future," McConnell said.

The White House has said it shares those concerns.

"There will not be long-term financing if they can't prove long-term viability," White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said.

However, she also said, "I think overall we're headed in the right direction."

Getting 60 votes for an agreement, with many senators expected to be absent for the emergency, post-election debate, could be tricky.

Said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., an ally of the auto industry: "This is a real hill to climb even if we can get agreement between the White House and congressional leaders."

The current Congress is ready to depart for the year after this week.

Cash from the Big Three bailout would immediately be plowed into General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC. Ford has said it does not have an emergency cash-flow problem and that it would not ask for short-term assistance. The overseer would come up with terms for restructuring the beleaguered firms by Jan. 1.

The proposal would attach an array of conditions to the bailout money, including some of the same restrictions imposed on banks as part of the Wall Street rescue. Among them are limits on executive compensation, a prohibition on paying dividends, and requirements that the government share in future profits and taxpayers be repaid before any other shareholders.

The proposal gives the car czar say-so over any major business decisions by the automakers while they're taking advantage of federal aid. The companies would have to open their books to the government, including informing the overseer of any transaction of $25 million or more.

Also included in the plan is a requirement that the carmakers taking federal aid get rid of their corporate jets - which became a potent symbol when the Big Three CEOs used them for their initial trips to Washington to plead before Congress for government assistance.

Under the Democrats' proposal, if the Big Three didn't come up with suitable restructuring plans by the end of March, the czar would have to submit his own blueprint to Congress for a government-mandated overhaul.

Democrats also inserted a provision in the bill to bail out some of the nation's largest transit systems. The bus and rail systems could be on the hook for billions of dollars in payments because exotic deals they entered into with investors - which have since been declared unlawful - have gone sour with the collapse of American International Group Inc. and other financial institutions.

The First Hundred Days or the Last Hundred Days?

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By Ira Chernus

Obama's Rendezvous with Destiny -- and Ours

Looking back on Barack Obama's first post-election interview with "60 Minutes," no one should be surprised that he admitted he's reading about Franklin D. Roosevelt's first hundred days in office. In fact, the president-elect -- evidently taking no chances -- is reportedly reading two books: Jonathan Alter's The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope and Jean Edward Smith's FDR. As he told "Sixty Minutes," his administration will emulate FDR's "willingness to try things and experiment… If something doesn't work, [we're] gonna try something else until [we] find something that does." That's one reason Obama, like FDR, has claimed that he wants advisors who will offer him a wide variety of viewpoints.

Not too wide, however. In his first hundred days, Roosevelt made it clear that he -- like Obama -- considered himself a reformer, but distinctly not a radical. He certainly didn't intend to use the economic crisis of 1932 to create a society of full economic equality and social justice. He just wanted to make sure that every American had at least a bare minimum of economic security.

FDR's overriding goal was, in reality, to head off movements for fundamental change. As he wrote privately before he became president, it was "time for the country to become fairly radical," but only "for a generation" -- because "history shows that where this occurs occasionally, nations are saved from revolution."

"There will be a gain throughout our country of communistic thought," Roosevelt also warned, "unless we can keep democracy up to its old ideals and its original purposes." Years later, he would boast that his greatest achievement was saving the capitalist system.

Obama ended his "Sixty Minutes" interview on a similar note: "Our basic principle that this is a free market system and that that has worked for us, that it creates innovation and risk taking, I think that's a principle that we've gotta hold to." Though he talks about the benefits of "spreading the wealth around," like his famous predecessor, he most certainly doesn't want to spread it too fast or too far, nor does his team of economic advisers.

But the president-elect may be reading the wrong history. Perhaps, instead of reading about Roosevelt's first hundred days, he should read Chapter 16 of Smith's FDR, which describes how growing political pressure kept Roosevelt looking over his left shoulder. By 1934, new labor organizations like the Congress of Industrial Organizations, charismatic leaders like Louisiana's Governor Huey Long, and social innovators like California physician Francis Townsend were offering concrete plans to spread the wealth far faster and wider than Roosevelt's New Deal ever would. Continuing economic catastrophe, fused with the mood of hope and change that he himself had stirred up, gave rise to the threat that the president might be unseated if he did not move leftwards.

Consummate politician that he was, Roosevelt did move -- just far enough to ensure his reelection. In the 1936 campaign, he ratcheted up the rhetoric, fiercely attacking the "economic royalists" who controlled the "corporations, banks, and securities." It was the kind of language that would please any 2008 progressive. He decried the injustice of a country where more than half the wealth was controlled by less than 200 big corporations, all tied together by interlocking directorates and banks. This small group, he insisted, had established "a new industrial dictatorship" -- far stronger words than we're used to today -- with "an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor -- other people's lives." To Americans, FDR pledged to master these "economic royalists" who held the public in "economic slavery."

In the most important speech of the campaign, he promised to "increase wages that spell starvation… wipe out sweatshops… provide useful work for the needy unemployed… end monopoly in business… protect the consumer against unnecessary price spreads, against the costs that are added by monopoly and speculation… support collective bargaining… work for the regulation of security issues… for the wiping out of slums." For all these things, FDR exclaimed, "and for a multitude of things like them we have only just begun to fight."

That 1936 campaign is the history both a politically canny president-elect and progressives should be reading right now. It would remind him, and teach us, that a centrist president can be pushed, under the pressure of tough times and rising public hopes, in our direction -- if, that is, we are dedicated, well-organized, and persistent enough. Under pressure, Roosevelt moved an agenda that, in 1932, sounded radical indeed into the respectable center of American politics only four years later.

It was the kind of agenda that many liberal or even centrist Americans came to support by 1936. Today, polling data show that a majority of Americans who call themselves liberal or centrist agree with many of the most prominent progressive stances of this moment, including

* paying higher taxes to receive more government services;

* substantial increases in taxes on corporations and the rich;

* strict controls on the financial investment market;

* significant public expenditures to guarantee universal health care, provide higher education for all who want it, and promote renewable energy technologies;

* dramatic steps to preserve and improve the environment;

* the replacing of free trade policies with fair trade policies;

* vigorously protecting reproductive rights.

The overriding problem for progressives is that so many voters will reject a candidate or a movement promoting this kind of progressive platform, even though they agree individually with most of that candidate's or that movement's policy positions. If that is to change in a way Americans can believe in, and so push President Barack Obama in new directions, we have to be politically smarter.

The Hopes and Fears of Voters

So here's a lesson we can learn from Roosevelt's 1936 campaign. To gain his landslide victory, he certainly won over millions of voters already to his left. But he also kept the votes of many more millions not prepared to imagine that they were moving leftwards. Obama, too, won crucial votes from people significantly more conservative than he is -- not just because the economy collapsed, but because he had a canny sense of how to take advantage of that "opportunity."

The challenge for progressives is to do the same: to use the sense of open-ended possibility sparked by Obama's victory to push the electorate -- and thus the Obama administration -- further than it now is willing to go. But here's the most important thing: all our facts and logical arguments alone won't be enough to do the job.

We have to understand as well what top-notch politicians like Roosevelt and Obama grasp intuitively: When people lose their economic hope, they feel insecure not only about their jobs and their bank accounts, but about everything in their lives. The same uncertainty that may make them suddenly welcome a spirit of political change also can lead to an unbearable sense of being unsettled. In that situation, many people long for "a sense of continuity and stability that is unavailable in economic life," as Obama recently put it.

The president-elect knows, as FDR knew, that a successful politician must respond to voters' fears as well as hopes. Both in the early 1930s and today, the winning presidential candidates sensed that any politician or movement that seemed to symbolize not just change, but overly rapid and unsettling change, would have a tough time getting public approval, no matter what policies were being promoted.

Obama has been nothing short of brilliant at communicating a message of continuity and a promise of stability, even as he was leading chants of "Yes, we can!" He did so more by his style than by substance. He created an image of a dynamic leader who could "change the world" while remaining safe and solid, poised and unflappable, a man never likely to do anything rash or impulsive. That's a rare gift which few of us can hope to emulate.

We can, however, learn from him and from Roosevelt, who used words even more skillfully than Obama to offer a reassuring sense of stability. Roosevelt was successful in shifting the center further left, in part by embedding his innovations in an old narrative, effectively couching every new policy in a blanket of traditional values and reassuring cultural images. In the process, he managed to make his leftward shift sound like a huge step into the past, not into a dark and unknowable future.

Consider just a few examples from his 1936 campaign speeches:

* "This concentration of economic power in all-embracing corporations does not represent private enterprise as we Americans cherish it."

* "Now, as always, for over a century and a half, the Flag, the Constitution, stand against… the over-privileged."

* "[The] war against want and destitution [is] a war for the survival of democracy… to preserve the American ideal of economic as well as political democracy."

Typically quoting Thomas Jefferson, FDR insisted that "widespread poverty and concentrated wealth cannot long endure side by side in a democracy," and that "freedom is no half-and-half affair… The average citizen… must have equal opportunity in the marketplace." He evoked the tradition of Americans as God's chosen people, as the pivot of history itself, to legitimate his economic program when he famously proclaimed, "This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny."

Having won reelection with a deft combination of progressive economics and patriotic pieties, Roosevelt embellished both in his second inaugural address with the moralizing language that came so naturally to him. Pointing to "one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished," he called for "the establishment of a morally better world… a nation uncorrupted by cancers of injustice… We reconsecrate our country to long-cherished ideals in a suddenly changed civilization… We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics… We all go up, or else we all go down, as one people."

Claiming a Heritage

The point of all this history is not simply to praise Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although his domestic policies did a lot of lasting good, he was a centrist and a pragmatist, always ready to sacrifice an ideal to win a political victory. And he would sacrifice plenty, delivering far less than he promised after his stunning victory in 1936, when he swept Republican candidate Alf Landon in 46 of the 48 states. It's certainly possible that Barack Obama will do much the same.

The point, however, is to learn from these shrewd politicians that, in a time of uncertainty when no one knows for sure what political path the nation will follow, every policy option actually lies open, from the far right to the far left. Those of us who tend to take the left fork could bring surprisingly large numbers of people with us -- many of them new to our road -- if we were willing to use a language that offered a genuine promise of cultural continuity and stability underneath the economic and political change we promote.

It's not just socially conservative working-class whites that need to be appealed to, but voters who already see themselves as center-left or even liberal, but not that liberal, not yet ready to opt for a truly progressive candidate.

There are endless ways to do this, but FDR's speeches of 1936 offer especially fruitful examples. Of course, as Obama said, "For us to simply recreate what existed back in the Thirties in the twenty-first century would be missing the boat. We've gotta come up with solutions that are true to our times and true to this moment. And that's gonna be our job."

As progressives, our job is to learn from Obama and FDR the political and rhetorical skills to push back against whatever array of centrist (or right-centrist) compromises the new administration is bound to make. If we do that effectively, we can capitalize on the new mood of possibility amid a landscape of increasing desolation and so push the nation toward lasting structures of economic justice.

It's also our job to move the administration and the public toward peace, demilitarization, and an end to the foreign policy of empire -- which, of course, began with FDR. In the latter years of his presidency, he used the language of patriotism, cultural tradition, and moral values to get a vast majority of Americans to embrace a foreign policy they had never dreamed they would support: entangling alliances to promote an American-led system of global corporate capitalism and the beginnings of a huge permanent national (in)security state to defend that system.

For years now, polls have shown that most Americans are willing to roll back the most harmful of the policies that FDR initiated in the midst of a global war. They would support major reductions in the military budget and in the U.S. military presence abroad. They would favor a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations. And yet they might well not favor a candidate who took just those stands. Again, it all depends on how those policy changes are presented.

We proponents of peace and economic justice should not use words we don't believe in. But we are in fact moved by deeply moral commitments, though we don't claim to possess the absolute moral truth (and recognize, in fact, that those who make such claims pose a threat to democracy). Why not say all of that loud and clear, over and over again? It's a language Americans of every stripe tend to respond to.

Since we'll be reiterating what some Americans of stature in every generation have said, why not proudly claim their words as our national heritage?

As for patriotism: A fundamental mistake that radicals and antiwar protesters made in the 1960s was to sew the flag to the seat of their pants rather than carrying it high and proud at the front of every protest march. Radicals then should have presented themselves as the truest patriots (which indeed they were). Instead, they helped get their political views firmly entrenched in the mainstream media -- and the public mind -- as symbols of anti-Americanism and a threat to every kind of cultural stability.

Now the gathering economic storm and a linked mood of open-ended possibility give us a chance to correct that mistake. That's why we should study the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt even more closely than the president-elect does. If Obama prefers to read about the first hundred days in 1933, we should leap ahead of him and begin studying the last days of that first Roosevelt term -- a page out of the past that points to a possible future, where Obama must give progressives the change we hope for. Let FDR's rhetorical style be one guide to our future, as well as the new president's.