Obama’s policy team loaded with all-stars

Barack Obama’s presidential bid may have a well-cultivated insurgent feel, as the candidate both benefits and suffers politically from a relatively thin record of experience in Washington.

But the swelling team of policy advisers who have joined his campaign shows a politician grounded in his party’s intellectual mainstream and well-connected within the capital’s Democratic establishment.

As Obama rapidly transitioned from a senator with less than three years in office to a presidential candidate who has delivered detailed policy speeches, he has assembled a personal think tank that easily outsizes any of the established Washington policy institutes that provide intellectual fodder for the political war of ideas.

On foreign policy alone, some 200 experts are providing the Obama campaign with assistance of some sort, arranged into 20 subgroups. On the domestic front, more than 500 policy experts are contributing ideas, campaign aides said. Veterans of previous election campaigns say the scale of the policy operation resembles the full-blown effort candidates typically undertake for a general election campaign rather than the more stripped-down versions common for the primary season.

Senior advisers include heavy hitters from the administration of President Bill Clinton, husband of Obama’s primary rival.

Anthony Lake, Clinton’s original national security adviser, is helping coordinate foreign policy. So is Susan Rice, a Clinton assistant secretary of state and protege of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Eric Holder, a former deputy attorney general, is among those providing expertise on legal policy.

“These are not outsiders trying to tear down the temple,” said Philip Zelikow, a former senior Bush administration foreign policy official and executive director of the Sept. 11 commission.

“If you guess that he’s surrounded himself with people who are highly ideological, left-wing or dovish, you would guess wrong,” added Zelikow, now a history professor at the University of Virginia. “These folks cannot easily be typecast by ideology.”

Free-market economic team

Key economic advisers include a few Washington veterans such as Michael Froman, a Citigroup executive and former chief of staff to then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, the Cabinet member most closely identified with the Clinton administration’s pro-free trade, business-friendly policies.

There are also several scholars from prestigious universities whose approaches are anchored in dominant market-oriented economic thought. One is Austan Goolsbee, a 38-year-old star University of Chicago Business School professor and New York Times columnist with centrist Democratic views who has argued for eliminating tax returns for many Americans with simple finances.

Alan Blinder, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, described Obama’s top economic advisers as “mainstream with a dash of creativity.”

“These are people who think new thoughts — within the mainstream, new without a capital N,” said Blinder, now a professor at Princeton University.

The campaign policy team gathered around Obama is hardly a shadow Cabinet. If he wins the nomination, other Democratic policy experts who now are neutral or allied with a different candidate will gravitate toward him. If he’s elected, still more will join his circle.

But the makeup of the group, and the way in which Obama deliberates with its members, offers a window onto how he might operate as president. Many of them surely would graduate to influential roles in an Obama administration. Their discussions of the broad range of issues a presidential candidate must address provide an early if imperfect drill for decision-making in the Oval Office.

The worldviews of the advisers candidate George W. Bush gathered around him turned out to predict his foreign policies better than his campaign rhetoric that America should be “humble” in the world and avoid commitments to nation-building.

Such architects of the Iraq war as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice and Richard Perle all were influential policy advisers to Bush’s presidential campaign. Colin Powell made important public appearances on behalf of candidate Bush but remained distant from the campaign’s foreign policy deliberations, foreshadowing the role he would play in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Obama built relationships with high-powered policy experts even before he was elected to the Senate.

Goolsbee first met Obama, then a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, in the faculty social world. University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein and Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, two of the nation’s leading liberal legal scholars, have relationships with Obama respectively dating back to the University of Chicago faculty lounges and Obama’s days at Harvard Law School. Lake began giving Obama informal foreign policy advice even before Obama won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.

Once elected to the U.S. Senate, Obama set up an ambitious policy operation for a newcomer. Froman, a former fellow editor of the Harvard Law Review, helped make connections in Washington’s policy establishment. So did Cassandra Butts, another law school classmate and former senior policy adviser to then-House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt. She continues to assist with Obama’s policy operation.

Unusual for freshman senators, who typically concentrate on the daily demands of legislative activity, Obama created a small operation devoted to broad themes under policy director Karen Kornbluh, another former Rubin aide. Kornbluh has written of the need to update government benefits such as Social Security and private employee benefits to take account of the country’s shift toward two-income families. It is a theme Obama included in his book “The Audacity of Hope” and frequently sounds on the campaign trail.

His staff quickly began bringing in outside experts for wide-ranging discussions on policy: trade over Thai takeout in his Senate office, energy over dinner at a trendy Capitol Hill restaurant. Obama brings the Socratic style of a law professor to policy discussions and enjoys the give-and-take of opposing views, advisers said.

It’s very spirited,” said one longtime aide. “He tests out ideas and challenges people. Nobody is allowed to be quiet.”

Among the early additions to his circle was Samantha Power, a Harvard professor who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book criticizing U.S. historical failures to act against genocides. She took a leave from her faculty position to help the new senator with foreign policy and remains an influential adviser.

Other top campaign advisers on national security include Gregory Craig, a Clinton impeachment defense attorney and former director of policy planning in the Clinton State Department, and Clinton Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, who has written on the potential dangers of terrorist strikes using biological weapons.

Sarah Sewall, a Harvard Kennedy School professor and former Clinton Defense Department official who wrote the introduction to the University of Chicago edition of the new counterinsurgency manual Gen. David Petraeus revised for the military, is advising on counterinsurgency strategy.

Since Obama announced his presidential campaign, he has been deluged with offers from experts to assist with policy advice, said campaign aides and outside advisers. Though they attribute that to enthusiasm for Obama’s candidacy, his campaign also provides greater opportunity for the ambitious, because front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) relies on an established circle of advisers.

The senior members of the national security team resemble their Clinton administration colleagues now gathered around the former first lady in favoring an active U.S. engagement in the world.

But they tend to be people who, like Obama, were early critics of the Iraq invasion. Many also share a conviction that the foreign policy mistakes of the Bush administration are so serious that the next president must give a clear signal of a new direction.

They are not necessarily foes of military action. Lake was an advocate within the Clinton administration of military intervention in Haiti and Bosnia.

Several advisers said they saw the tough-mindedness and freshness that attracted them to Obama during two incidents that the Clinton campaign tried to portray as gaffes showing foreign policy naivete.

Obama said during a candidate debate that he would be willing to meet with international pariahs such as North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Shortly afterward, he declared he would be willing to order a military strike if he had “actionable intelligence” on the location of top Al Qaeda leaders in northwestern Pakistan and authorities there refused to act.

Rather than back away, Obama embraced the conflict with Clinton.

“Some voters on the Democratic side have complained they don’t know where the real differences are,” Power said. “It added clarity to what his campaign is about, and it gave a coherence to a number of policies he is pursuing.”

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Obama’s policy team

RACISM RAISES IT’S UGLY HEAD IN JENA, LOUISIANA

The trouble in Jena started with the nooses. Then it rumbled along the town’s jagged racial fault lines. Finally, it exploded into months of violence between blacks and whites.

Now the 3,000 residents of this small lumber and oil town deep in the heart of central Louisiana are confronting Old South racial demons many thought had long ago been put to rest.

One morning last September, students arrived at the local high school to find three hangman’s nooses dangling from a tree in the courtyard.

The tree was on the side of the campus that, by long-standing tradition, had always been claimed by white students, who make up more than 80 percent of the 460 students. But a few of the school’s 85 black students had decided to challenge the accepted state of things and asked school administrators if they, too, could sit beneath the tree’s cooling shade.

“Sit wherever you want,” school officials told them. The next day, the nooses were hanging from the branches.

African-American students and their parents were outraged and intimidated by the display, which instantly summoned memories of the mob lynchings that once terrorized blacks across the American South. Three white students were quickly identified as being responsible, and the high school principal recommended that they be expelled.

“Hanging those nooses was a hate crime, plain and simple,” said Tracy Bowens, a black mother of two students at the high school who protested the incident at a school board meeting.

But Jena’s white school superintendent, Roy Breithaupt, ruled that the nooses were just a youthful stunt and suspended the students for three days, angering blacks who felt harsher punishments were justified.

“Adolescents play pranks,” said Breithaupt, the superintendent of the LaSalle Parish school system. “I don’t think it was a threat against anybody.”

Yet it was after the noose incident that the violent, racially charged events that are still convulsing Jena began.

First, a series of fights between black and white students erupted at the high school over the nooses. Then, in late November, unknown arsonists set fire to the central wing of the school, which still sits in ruins. Off campus, a white youth beat up a black student who showed up at an all-white party. A few days later, another young white man pulled a shotgun on three black students at a convenience store.

Finally, on Dec. 4, a group of black students at the high school allegedly jumped a white student on his way out of the gym, knocked him unconscious and kicked him after he hit the floor. The victim — allegedly targeted because he was a friend of the students who hung the nooses and had been taunting blacks — was not seriously injured and spent only a few hours in the hospital. He was released in time to attend an event the same day.

But the LaSalle Parish district attorney, Reed Walters, opted to charge six black students with attempted second-degree murder and other offenses, for which they could face a maximum of 100 years in prison if convicted. All six were expelled from school.

To the defendants, their families and civil rights groups that have examined the events, the attempted murder charges brought by a white prosecutor are excessive and part of a pattern of uneven justice in the town.

The critics note, for example, that the white youth who beat the black student at the party was charged only with simple battery, while the white man who pulled the shotgun at the convenience store wasn’t charged with any crime at all. But the three black youths in that incident were arrested and accused of aggravated battery and theft after they wrestled the weapon from the man — in self-defense, they said.

“There’s been obvious racial discrimination in this case,” said Joe Cook, executive director of the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, who described Jena as a “racial powder keg” primed to ignite. “It appears the black students were singled out and targeted in this case for some unusually harsh treatment.”

That’s how the mother of one of the defendants sees things as well.

“They are sending a message to the white kids, ‘You have committed this hate crime, you were taunting these black children, and we are going to allow you to continue doing what you are doing,'” said Caseptla Bailey, mother of Robert Bailey Jr.

Bailey, 17, is caught up in several of the Jena incidents, as both a victim and alleged perpetrator. He was the black student who was beaten at the party, and he was among the students arrested for allegedly grabbing the shotgun from the man at the convenience store. And he’s one of the six students charged with attempted murder for the Dec. 4 attack.

The district attorney declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this story. But other white leaders insist there are no racial tensions in the community, which is 85 percent white and 12 percent black.

“Jena is a place that’s moving in the right direction,” said Mayor Murphy McMillan. “Race is not a major local issue. It’s not a factor in the local people’s lives.”

Still others, however, acknowledge troubling racial undercurrents in a town where only 16 years ago white voters cast most of their ballots for David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who ran unsuccessfully for Louisiana governor.

“I’ve lived here most of my life, and the one thing I can state with absolutely no fear of contradiction is that LaSalle Parish is awash in racism — true racism,” a white Pentecostal preacher, Eddie Thompson, wrote in an essay he posted on the Internet. “Here in the piney woods of central Louisiana … racism and bigotry are such a part of life that most of the citizens do not even recognize it.”

The lone black member of the school board agrees.

“There’s no doubt about it — whites and blacks are treated differently here,” said Melvin Worthington, who was the only school board member to vote against expelling the six black students charged in the beating case. “The white kids should have gotten more punishment for hanging those nooses. If they had, all the stuff that followed could have been avoided.”

And the troubles at the high school are not over yet.

On May 10, police arrested Justin Barker, 17, the white victim of the Dec. 4 beating. He was alleged to have a rifle loaded with 13 bullets stashed behind the seat of his pickup truck parked in the school lot. Barker told police he had forgotten it was there and had no intention of using it.

MORE INFO ON THE ‘JENA 6′

Jena is a small town nestled deep in the heart of Central Louisiana. Until recently, you may well have never heard of it. But this rural town of less than 4,000 people has become a focal point in the debate around issues of race and justice in this country.

Last December, six black students at Jena High School were arrested after a school fight in which a white student was beaten and suffered a concussion and multiple bruises. The six black students were charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy. They face up to 100 years in prison without parole. The Jena Six, as they have come to be known, range in age from 15 to 17 years old.

Just over a week ago, an all-white jury took less than two days to convict 17 year-old Mychal Bell, the first of the Jena Six to go on trial. He was convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy charges and now faces up to 22 years in prison.

Black residents say that race has always been an issue in Jena, which is 85 percent white, and that the charges against the Jena Six are no exception.

The origins of the story can be traced back to early September when a black high school student requested permission to sit under a tree in the schoolyard where usually only white students sat. The next day three nooses were found hanging from the tree.

Democracy Now! correspondent Jacquie Soohen has more on the story from Jena.

JESSE BEARD: Black girls over there, black boys right here. Some black people standing right — a couple. All the band geeks right there. White folks under the tree. And then you might — it’s like…

JACQUIE SOOHEN: Jesse Beard, a freshman in high school and one of Jena 6, took us to where the nooses were hung.

JESSE BEARD: One day, I just wanted to — maybe the first, second day, we started riding the bus, me and Robert. And we came through, and I seen something hanging there. I told Robert. He looked at it. He’s like, “Them nooses right there.” He was getting mad. Everybody was getting — I started getting mad. By the time everybody came, they was trying to cut them down.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: Robert Bailey, seventeen years old and a safety receiver for the school football team, is another of the Jena 6 facing life behind bars. He described his reaction to the nooses.

ROBERT BAILEY: It was in the early morning. I seen them hanging. I’m thinking the KKK, you know, were hanging nooses. They want to hang somebody. Real nooses, the ones you see on TV are the kind of nooses they were, the ones they play in the movies and they were hanging all the people, you know, and the thing dropped, those were the kind of nooses they were. I know it was somebody white that hung the nooses in the tree. You know, I don’t know another way to put it, but, you know, I was disappointed, because, you know, we do little pranks — you know, toilet paper, that’s a prank, you know what I’m saying? Paper all over the square, all the pranks they used to do, that’s pranks. Nooses hanging there — nooses ain’t no prank.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: The school’s superintendent dismissed the nooses as a prank, and after three days’ suspension, the three white students who hung the nooses were allowed back to school. Caseptla Bailey, Robert’s mother, said the school did not inform the parents of the incident.

CASEPTLA BAILEY: The school didn’t tell me. I didn’t know that it happened, so therefore I didn’t call to find out what happened on that particular day.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: To Caseptla Bailey, the meaning of the nooses was clear.

CASEPTLA BAILEY: It meant hatred, to the other race. It meant that “We’re going to kill you, you’re going to die.” You know, it sent a message: “This is not the place for you to sit. This is not your damn tree. Do not sit here. You know, you ought to remain in your place, know your place and stay in your place. You’re out of your boundaries.” And the first thing now that the sheriff department or that the chief of police want to say that — as well as the superintendent — one had nothing to do with the other. Now, come on now!

JACQUIE SOOHEN: Most people we spoke to in Jena’s white community, however, see no connection between the students’ charges and race. Barbara Murphy, the town librarian, claims there isn’t a race problem in Jena.

BARBARA MURPHY: We don’t have a race problem. It’s not black against white. It’s crime. The nooses? I don’t even know why they were there, what they were supposed to mean. There’s pranks all the time, of one type or another, going on. And it just didn’t seem to be racist to me.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: A few days after the nooses were hung, the entire black student body staged an impromptu demonstration, crowding underneath the tree during lunch hour. Justin Purvis, the student who first asked to sit underneath the tree, described how the protest came about.

JUSTIN PURVIS: It was like, the first beginning, in the courtyard, they said, “Y’all want to go stand under the tree?” We said, “Yeah.” They said, “If you go, I’ll go. If you go, I’ll go.” One person went, the next person went, everybody else just went.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: The school responded to the protest by calling police and the district attorney. At an assembly the same day, the District Attorney Reed Walters, accompanied by armed policeman, addressed the students. Substitute teacher Michelle Rogers, one of the few black teachers at the school, was there. She recalls the DA’s words to the assembled high schoolers.

MICHELLE ROGERS: The kids didn’t say anything. They were listening. The kids were quiet. And so, District Attorney Reed Walters, you know, proceeded to tell those kids that “I could end your lives with the stroke of a pen.” And the kids were just — it was like in awe that the district — you know, Reed Walters would tell these kids that. He held a pen in his hand and told those kids that, “See this pen in my hand? I can end your lives with the stroke of a pen.”

JACQUIE SOOHEN: A series of incidents followed throughout the fall. In October, a black student was beaten for entering a private all-white party. Later that month, a white student pulled a gun on a group of black students at a gas station, claiming self-defense. The black students wrestled the gun away and reported the incident to police. They were charged with assault and robbery of the gun. No charges were ever filed against the white students in either incident. Then, in late November, someone tried to burn down the high school, creating even more tension.

Four days later, a white student was allegedly attacked in a school fight. The victim was taken to hospital and released shortly with a concussion. He attended a school function that evening. Six black students were charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, on charges that leave them facing between twenty and one hundred years in jail. The defendants, ranging in age from fifteen to seventeen, had their bonds set at between $70,000 and $138,000. The attack was written up in the local paper as fact, and DA Reed Walters published a statement in which he said, “When you are convicted, I will seek the maximum penalty allowed by law.”

MINISTER: We have come today to stand against what we consider to be a great evil.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: Since their arrest, the defendants’ families have been speaking out and fighting for the release of their sons. Two of the six, including Mychal Bell, who was recently convicted, were unable to make bond and have spent close to seven months in jail to date.

CASEPTLA BAILEY: No justice!

PROTESTERS: No peace!

CASEPTLA BAILEY: No justice!

PROTESTERS: No peace!

CASEPTLA BAILEY: No justice!

PROTESTERS: No peace!

JACQUIE SOOHEN: Caseptla Bailey began writing letters to state and national agencies, including the Department of Justice, immediately after the charges were filed.

CASEPTLA BAILEY: The first thing was devastation. You know, I was down when it first happened. You know, I was very devastated. I was hurt, upset, angry, mad, frustrated. You know, I had so many emotions, crying a lot of nights, you know, trying to figure out where can I go from here. You know, a lot of times when you’re backed into a corner or you’re backed into a wall, naturally you’re going to come out fighting. You know, you’re not going to — you’re either going to fall and die, or you’re going to come out fighting.

You know, I’m just sending out these letters to anyone that would have a listening ear and to anyone that, you know, I thought that might help the situation. That’s how I fight back, you know, by putting the pen to the paper.

They want to take these kids — my son, as well as all these other children — lock them up, throw away the key. You know, that’s a tradition for black males. So they want to keep that tradition going, because they want to keep institutionalized slavery alive and well.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: At a friendly pickup game of football, Caseptla’s son Robert shows off the skills that made him a star player of the high school football team. Robert was in jail for over two months before his mother was able to raise the money for her son’s bond using three pieces of property from different family members. Seventeen-year-old Robert Bailey has no criminal record.

ROBERT BAILEY: I ain’t got no criminal record, nothing. I ain’t got no probation, community service or nothing, nothing like that. The DA, he ain’t after finding the truth. That’s what a DA’s for, to after find the truth, you know, of the case. He’s just, you know, trying to put me up in a jail cell, for life. Fifty years, twenty-five to a hundred years, you can just say “forever.” Twenty years is forever, to me.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: Robert wasn’t the only one with a promising future. All of the Jena 6 were athletes, and five of the six were on the high school football team. Marcus Jones, the father of seventeen-year-old Mychal Bell, has a stack of scholarship offers for his son.

MARCUS JONES: LSU, Southern Miss, Ol’ Miss, University of New York…

JACQUIE SOOHEN: Mychal is a star running back and a strong student who is being actively scouted by a number of colleges.

MARCUS JONES: We’re not blaming the victim for the charges or none of that. The DA is a racist DA. You know, I’m not calling him out for being a racist. I’m calling him out as being a racist due to his track record. The reason we is taking a stand for our kids for what he’s not doing is right, ’cause, you know, we’re tired of it, you know, ’cause if we, you know, we sat down and lay back and let him railroad our kids, too, he’s going to continue to do that to black people in this town. You know, so we have to take a stand now. Somebody has to take a stand now. If not, he’s going to continue to fill the prisons up with black people more and more.

JACQUIE SOOHEN: Mr. Bell believes that his son is learning a valuable lesson from this experience.

MARCUS JONES: One of the best lessons that my son could learn that’s one of the best lessons: to know what it is to be black now. You know, if this don’t teach him what it is to be black now, I don’t know what will. But he’s seventeen now. You know, he’s got a lot of life left ahead of him. And the day he set foot out of jail, I’m going to tell him, I’m going to tell him again, “You know what it is to be black now. Here it is.”

JACQUIE SOOHEN: For Democracy Now!, this is Jacquie Soohen, reporting from Jena, Louisiana.

AMY GOODMAN: That piece is from an upcoming feature documentary by Big Noise Films. Mychal Bell faces up to twenty-two years in prison when he’s sentenced July 31st. The five other students await trial on charges of attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy. They face up to 100 years in jail. When we come back from break, we’ll be joined by parents of three of the Jena 6, as well as the journalist who broke the story nationally.

(I have reprinted the transcript of interviews done in preparation for a documentary on the Jena 6.)

MY COMMENTARY: I choose to feature this issue on this blog for many reasons but most specifically to focus attention on the plight of 6 gifted athletes who have never been in trouble ever, who had the opportunity to go to college on football scholarships and better their lives, to now face attempted murder charges stemming from a racial incident that the school principal considered a “prank”.  NO, it was a racist slap in the face of all black residents, not only in Jena, Louisana, but across this country.

I post my personal plea to Senator Obama to take this issue up in Congress and put a stop to the actions of a racist District Attorney who chooses to slap the wrist of white students who perpetuated a “hate crime” and then charges 6 black males with attempted murder stemming from an altercation where the “supposed victim” who had been in on the “noose hanging incident” in which he went to the hospital for a couple bruises and then was released and attended an event the same day.  Is this attempted murder I ask?  At the MOST, it could be considered simple assault, but must also be equally stated that the actions of the white students were a “hate crime” and should have prosecuted as a Federal Crime against fellow students.  Who will stand up and be counted to help these Jena 6 students who face a lifetime in prison for a simple altercation with a white student, a student who had perpetuated a hate crime against them?

OBAMA – PRO UNION ‘I WILL WALK THE PICKET LINE’

Barack Obama told union activists Saturday night that he would walk a picket line as president if organized labor helps elect him in 2008 and criticizing President Bush’s policies toward working people.

“We are facing a Washington that has thrown open its doors to the most anti-union, anti-worker forces we’ve seen in generations,” Obama told a convention of Iowa’s largest union of state workers. “What we need to make real today is the idea that in this country we value the labor of every American.”

“I stood on the picket line and marched with workers at the Congress Hotel in Chicago last week,” Obama said. “I had marched with them four years earlier and I told them when I left that if they were still fighting four years from now, I’d be back on that picket line as president of the United States and we’ll get the Congress Hotel organized.”

“I won’t just vote the right way with you, I will stand with you,” he said.

Obama cited his years as a community organizer in Chicago and said the experience brought him closer to people who are struggling.

He asked union activists to keep that in mind in deciding which candidate to support in January’s Iowa caucuses, which open the presidential nominating process.

“When I talk about hope, when I talk about change, when I talk about holding America up to its ideals of opportunity and equality, this isn’t just the rhetoric of a campaign for me, it’s been the cause of a life — a cause I will work for and fight for every day as your president,” Obama said.

He also portrayed himself as a political outsider, and said a new figure is needed to break the gridlock in Washington.

“We’ve heard promises and slogans about change before,” Obama said. “The road to Washington is often paved with good intentions, but it always ends in the same divisive, polarizing politics that’s blocked real progress for so many years.”

What Obama ’08 Will Tell Us About America

Last week, Senator Barack Obama visited Alabama where, according to The Birmingham News, his $25-per-head speech at the Sheraton in Birmingham was attended by a “large, diverse and enthusiastic crowd.” The candidate is reported to have left the state with an additional $100,000 for his campaign.

Perhaps news of a black candidate’s successful foray into the diverse heart of Dixie comes as no surprise to champions of the New South. A recent book by a pair of political scientists asserted that the “southern strategy,” which for decades exploited and exacerbated racial division to advance the Republican Party’s electoral prospects, is a remnant of the past.

And plenty of people contend that race relations are better in the south than up north. Long before Mr. Obama emerged as a viable national candidate, Alabama Speaker of the House Seth Hammett told me he believed “race relations are better in Alabama than in most states.”

Even the criminal justice system seems to have come around. Since 1989, authorities in seven states have re-opened investigations into more than two dozen killings from the civil rights era. This time, the investigations have yielded results, including the 2005 conviction of Edgar Ray Killen for his role in the notorious 1964 murders in Mississippi of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman.

But the New South is not the whole South. It is a mindscape contained within a larger, and in many ways still conflicted, region. And across that larger, culturally denser region, the ancient appetite for racial fear and contempt has not been sated.

In Alabama in 2000, roughly half of white voters declined to overturn the state’s anti-miscegenation statute. Two years later, a majority in Alabama voted to keep the state constitution’s antique (and illegal) guarantee of separate schools for separate races.

Alabama’s “Black Belt” is a rural swath of counties with high proportions of black residents, high rates of illiteracy and life expectancies equivalent to those in rural villages of Central America. In rural Bullock County, the number of white children enrolled in the county’s public schools has been known to hover in single digits. Most of the county’s white students avoid black-majority public classrooms –and ostracism by fellow whites — by attending the all-white or nearly-all-white “seg academies.”

Across South Georgia, the rebel battle flag is still plastered to pick-up trucks and hung defiantly over porches. Like elsewhere in the South, the flag reigns over Georgia not in spite of the pain it causes blacks but because of it. That’s the whole point, as former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes learned after he retired the flag from atop Georgia’s capitol and was himself retired by resentful white voters in his next election.

In Mississippi, the land where Martin Luther King found a “strange affinity for the bottom,” many whites still wade into the deep end of racial antagonism. After Mississippi Senator Trent Lott gave, in 2002, a warm endorsement of Strom Thurmond’s 1948 Dixiecrat campaign for president, he was stripped of his post as Senate Republican leader. (His penance was short; he was returned to the party’s Senate leadership, as whip, last fall.) Back in Mississippi, however, the question was whether Mr. Lott’s subsequent apology for his embrace of Thurmond’s racist campaign would undermine his standing among whites.

Three years later, after ample time for reflection, Mr. Lott showed his colors again by joining his Mississippi colleague Thad Cochran in declining to support a symbolic Senate resolution condemning the nation’s history of lynching. Think for a moment about the statement  the Senators made with their vote and it’s hard to conclude that at least some element of contemporary racial politics in Mississippi is anything but toxic.

Of course, a Democrat, regardless of race, wouldn’t be expected to win the South in any event. (If the Republicans’ southern strategy is truly dead — and I don’t believe for a second it is — it could only have died of engorgement.)

But the strong pulse of racism in the South does raise questions that apply exclusively to Mr. Obama. Chief among them is whether the

South’s racism is unique to Dixie, or whether the South simply boasts a more virulent strain of American, as opposed to Southern, racism that can be found in tens of millions of white voters throughout the country. Of all the questions about Barack Obama’s candidacy, this is most critical.

Mr. Obama’s mixed race is deemed an asset by millions of Americans eager to move beyond four centuries of bigotry and strife. What’s more, President Bush’s administration has probably done as much to advance Mr. Obama’s candidacy as even Jesse Jackson’s earlier, groundbreaking run. The United States has had a black Secretary of State for more than seven consecutive years. The effect of that politically, symbolically and psychically ­ has been to dull the nation’s racial funny bone.

The benefit to Mr. Obama is incalculable.

But the rarely uttered threat to Mr. Obama, and to ourselves, is that we are not as supple up north, and out west, as we hope. According to census data, the five most segregated cities in America are all above the Mason-Dixon line. One of the many anxious aspects of Mr. Obama’s historic moment is that we may soon have to discover why.

Discussion on Louisiana after the jump………. Racism not dead here

Obama names liaison to Jewish Community

Sen. Barack Obama  named a top adviser to a retired Jewish congressman as his campaign’s liaison to the Jewish community.

Eric Lynn, who was a senior legislative assistant to Rep. Peter Deutsch (D-Fla.) will also serve as Obama’s adviser on Middle East policy. Like Obama, Lynn has been a community activist in Chicago. He has also been involved in a number of pro-Israel groups.

About

Eric Lynn advises governmental entities, non-profit organizations, and corporations on domestic and international public policy.

Mr. Lynn counsels clients on public policy initiatives and legislative and regulatory changes in the areas of homeland security, transportation, energy, federal funding, and international development.  His practice ranges from homeland security and disaster preparedness to renewable energy policy initiatives on both the federal and local government level.   A St. Petersburg, Florida native, Mr. Lynn also works on behalf of Pinellas County to help ensure federal support for county priorities.

Before joining Patton Boggs, Mr. Lynn served as Senior Legislative Assistant to Congressman Peter Deutsch of Florida.  In this position, he advised the Congressman on a range of legislative issues within the jurisdiction of the Energy and Commerce Committee, such as homeland security, energy, trade, and oversight and investigations.  He also served as the top policy advisor on foreign policy, defense, immigration, taxation, and the federal budget.  During his tenure as staff in the House of Representatives, Mr. Lynn led international Congressional Delegations and participated in a number of Congressional investigations, including Enron, Qwest, ImClone and domestic port security.

Mr. Lynn has represented indigent juvenile defendants before the DC Superior Court.  Previously, he served as Executive Director of City Political Action Committee in Chicago, Illinois and as director of marketing research for an Israeli corporation.  Mr. Lynn has also held staff positions on political campaigns and for the Florida Democratic Party.

WHAT I SEE IN OBAMA’S EYES

I once read an article Barack Obama wrote called “What I see in Lincoln’s eyes”. This article stayed in my thoughts and I began to think about what I saw in Barack Obama’s eyes. When Obama wrote this article 3 years ago, I would guess he would never have thought that he would be facing some of the same serious issues as Lincoln did. I decided to take a look at the many pictures I have of Senator Obama, and although I am by far not a professional writer or reporter by trade, I felt a need to put into words what I see in Senator Obama’s eyes and face.

His face when serious has a thoughtful look in his eyes. One of my favorite photos of Senator Obama is not one he would probably choose as it shows him in deep thought, standing against a wall in the halls of the Capital. It is not the most flattering photo, yet it draws my attention as it shows a man in deep thought seemingly with a heavy weight on his shoulders. At times, hours of work show the tiredness etched in the lines of his face. It is an entirely different look then when he smiles. The serious Barack has a faraway look in his eyes, showing him deep in thought as he thinks about the serious issues facing us. He, as Lincoln, faces a country in turmoil, one in which the citizens are caught up in, not of their own will, but due to the political issues of the time. While Lincoln faced a country divided, one could say Obama faces the very same issue in a different form so many years later, yet still a country in trouble. Both faced a war, and you can see the thought of it in their eyes, and the lines that show when they are deep in thought.

Senator Obama is not a perfect man, as he freely admits, but he has this special quality that I doubt even he realizes the full affect of it, that draws people to him as they see the true hope in his eyes for something better for the people of this country. Does he see it? We do. We examine within ourselves what it is that we see in this man. Yes, man can come up with interesting policy and proposals, but it is the instinctive feeling one gets when you listen and watch as this man speaks, that here is a man who truly can make a difference. His eyes engage you and within yourself you feel a sense of trust.

When he smiles, the twinkle springs up into his eyes, showing joy and happiness in his work. The smile is broad, crinkling up his face into a look of happiness and may I say it, fun? Is there such a thing as a serious minded man, in a position of political power who can be fun? Barack Obama can. I am beginning to think he can be anything he wants to be. The complete joy you see when he looks at his wife and children shows the soft side of Obama, his eyes and face lighting up, the smile broad and joyful.

The serious side of Obama, with the eyes deep and introspective, is one who looks to understand all sides of an argument, deeply exploring all aspects before speaking. You see it in his serious face, the one with the thoughtful eyes.

The comparisons between the look in Lincoln’s eyes and that of Barack Obama can be seen and felt. Both faced a country in turmoil. Both realized that to enter the arena of national political debate would forever change their lives and engage them in issues of gravity to their country. Yet they both heeded the call to service and you see it in their eyes.

You see no fakeness in Obama’s eyes; instead you see compassion, concern, joy, and worry. But in both Lincoln and Obama, you see a deep intelligence and honesty that can’t be faked, it just is.

When I look at this serious minded man, I gain a sense of trust for this is not a man to act hastily or without deep thought. It reassures and at the same time instills hope. When he speaks it is as if he is speaking directly to you and not to the multitude giving you a sense of what ever walk in life you belong, he would sit down with you and answer your questions in a direct truthful way.

I see honesty and integrity in the eyes of this man, yet in his smile I see the joy in his work and family and his life.

There is a sense about this man of future greatness. An instinct one feels when you look in those eyes that here is a man for the time.

What I see in Obama’s eyes? I see hope, hope for all of us in the future of our country. This brings excitement to my soul and a sense we are witnessing another chapter in our glorious history in this country.

The comparison between Lincoln and Obama is profound. Though Obama is a highly educated man, they both had that ability to instill in others a feeling of trust and integrity. Both were lawyers who tended to the poorest in need. They both faced a country in turmoil, yet thoughtfully examined each issue, hearing from all before making a decision. This is democracy in action. As I compare the two pictures of Lincoln and Obama, you can see the same lines in the face, and the same serious eyes. I witnessed the same look in the eyes of three other great men. In the eyes of of John, Bobby, and Martin. The common thread between all of them, is this special something you see in their eyes.

I look to the future of our country and feel the promise on the horizon that awaits us with Obama as our President leading us to work together to solve our country’s problems and restoring the reputation of our country in the world community. This is the promise I see in Obama’s eyes. The promise of our future.

VILSACK ENDS HIS RUN

Democrat says the expense forced him out

While I am dedicated supporter for Senator Barack Obama, and knowing little about Vilsack, it is discouraging to know that legitimate candidates have to withdraw from a campaign so early in the game due to the fact massive amounts of money are needed to finance even the beginnings of a campaign.  Providing the voters with a wide range of choices SHOULD be what a Presidential campaign is all about.  I was not a supporter of Vilsack, yet it saddened me to think that any man or woman with qualifications can’t throw their hat in the ring due to only the issue of financing.

Call me naive, but I have always believed that anyone could campaign for a political office, even though they may not win, but they most certainly should have their chance to make their case to the voters.  This shows me, a newcomer to how politics work, that even running for the lowly office of dogcatcher needs financial backing.  Is this what our country has come to?  That you need millions and millions of dollars to even begin to compete?

It reminds me of when you ask a child, what do you want to be when you grow up and they respond, “I Want to be President of the United States”.  The parent who asks the question should be prepared to tell that child, if you want to achieve that dream, you need to start saving now and get donations as you grow up because you can never be President unless you have at the very least 20 million dollars to even begin hoping you can achieve your dream.  There is a wealth of talented, trustworthy politicians in all kinds of offices who will never be able to run for President unless they can gain the backing of people who can help them fill their war chest with millions of dollars.  This leaves out of the mix for the voters’ consideration, truly promising candidates.  And even if able to gain the finances, they are then subject to vilification by “supposed responsible reporters”, the slash and burn techniques of the likes of Bush and Clinton so we as  citizens lose in the long run, for we are not given the opportunity to explore the capability of promising young politicians.

I believe Senator Obama recognized this when he established his program HopeFund America, raising money to help promising young politicians to run for office.  This shows me Senator Obama is a visionary, recognizing the need to help foster the ambitions of truly qualified young candidates.

Here is a reality check for the “would be” power brokers in the smoke filled back rooms of Washington.  The citizens of the United States are fed up with your determining who has the right to run for Presient.  We are taking back our country, and you power will then be gone.  We are taking it back by supporting Senator Barack Obama who best represents the needs and desires of the citizens who actually vote and who expect those they vote for to do the job for which they were elected (hired) for.  Gone are the days when the few determine who we the citizens have the opportunity to vote for, and gone are the days of “dirty politics” and the “old boy” system.  Your time is over and a new generation is now in charge.  And we say with a collective voice, you do not choose for us, we are now doing the choosing.