PDHblog This is a place for members of Progressive Democrats of Hawai‘i to express their thoughts, hopes and exasperations about political happenings.

September 7, 2009

Obama Caves to Corporate Pressure, Dumps “Green Jobs” Advocate, Van Jones: UPDATED!

Filed under: 6Sustainable Environment,Barack Obama,SHAPES platform — Bart @ 12:50 pm

Last week, Barack Obama caved in to pressure from corporate interests and an ongoing campaign by rightwing commentators, and fired Van Jones, the appointee in charge of overseeing the administration’s efforts to create “Green Jobs.”

From press accounts, we hear Jones had committed such unforgivable sins as signing a petition demanding answers to the US government’s response to the attacks on 9-11, and for saying Republicans are assholes at a public meeting at Berkeley several months ago.

I think the reasons Van Jones was dumped, rather than defended, by Obama are evident in this video of Van Jones’ speech at a mass environmental summit held in Washington D.C.. In the speech, he encourages the youthful delegates to rise to the historic challenge and build a just, sustainable society, weaving together the need for a healthy environment, with the struggle against racism, sexism, militarism and corporate domination.

It is a clear vision. And it must have been scary not just to the corporate energy companies, but to those within the Obama administration who serve as handmaids to those interests.

BTW- PDH has a platform we call “S.H.A.P.E.S.,” with the final “S” standing for sustainable policies. We have had difficulties in articulating our own “Sustainability” vision. We could do well to review Van Jones’ speech and borrow language from him. He tells the truth. And he says it so well.

Which is why he had to go.

To hear him call the Republicans “assholes” in context, watch this excerpt from the Young Turks Show:


To judge for yourself if the petition he signed regarding 9-11 was “flakey” or “crazy conspiracy theory” stuff, go here and read the petition yourself:


UPDATE: Here is Van Jones talking at the Netroots Nation gathering in August 2008. He lays out his vision for Green Jobs, but also talks about the need to “keep Obama accountable.” Good stuff!:



  1. i was a reluctant supporter of obama (because my first and second choices fell by the wayside) and never fully bought into the ‘change we can believe in’ line. i was, however, hoping to be proven wrong. i never had any illusions about a single-payer solution to our health care crisis from the white house, but i was more hopeful obama would step it up on sustainability, renewable energy, and green jobs. i was mostly hopeful because of the appointment of van jones as the ‘green-jobs czar.’

    and i’m shocked to learn of jones’ resignation. to be honest, i’m still poking around to try and gather the full story.

    bart, your post says the administration ‘dumped’ jones, though everything i’ve found so far says he resigned. now, i understand that its perfectly reasonable for the administration to ask for jones’ resignation, thus saving face during a time when the president’s numbers are slipping and support from youth and progressives is moving from disappointment, to anger, to opposition, but i’m curious about the details surrounding his resignation.

    an article from cnn.com states that jones left voluntarily and that the president didn’t ask him to leave.

    also, the huffingtonpost.com has an article putting a positive spin on jones’ resignation and while i never knew that much about him, i like their ‘upside.’

    add this to his apparent willingness to sell the store on health care without a fight and i’m inclined to take his progressive credentials (if he ever actually had any) away from him once and for all. i personally consciously choose not to focus too much on nation events, out of both disillusionment and a belief that i can be far more effective working locally, but there’s no doubt in my mind we need to do something to hold this president accountable to the people on whose backs he was elected.

    i’m just not sure how to do that. suggestions?

    Comment by frosty — September 7, 2009 @ 9:24 pm

  2. Josh, I checked your CNN story, and it didn’t say anything that causes me to change my view Jones was “dumped.” They have Axelrod on there making sure the official spin is delivered according to script. Was Jones “fired”? I expect not. I expect he was rather forcefully convinced to resign “voluntarily. The spiel about not wanting to be a distraction is boilerplate nonsense that is used all the time. I am surprised he wasn’t told to say he “wanted to spend more time with his family,” as was predicted in the Young Turks video clip I linked to above.

    Obama has to learn–you don’t feed the mob! Look at the people he has stood by when they had problems: Tim Geithner hadn’t paid his taxes, but was online to become Treasury Secretary. Obama didn’t dump him.

    The right wing, even the official GOP, is frothing at the mouth with oddball conspiracy theories about Obama’s birth certificate, but Jones gets dumped because he signed a petition asking how the hell those hijacked planes were allowed to fly around for so long without fighter jets being scrambled or missiles knocking the one out of the sky before it plowed into the Pentagon?

    Obama has got to grow some backbone. He is so eager to appease the right, forever seeking some hypothetical “center” midpoint between sensible policies and their reactionary rejectionism.

    The loss of Jones will not get rid of any “distraction.” It will only encourage them to move onto the next in a long string of insane, unprincipled attacks. He’s got to draw a line or this will continue for his entire administration.

    Comment by Bart — September 7, 2009 @ 11:29 pm

  3. Bart, I’m not entirely sure why I am writing this (though it is Sept 9th, an hour after the president’s “cave” speech), because I know I have warned you about the deadly nature of getting involved politically with right-win liberals like Barack Obama. Perhaps it is just an interest in knowing how long progressives and democratic populists can continue to run up on that football, only to have Lucy Obama pull it out from under us. Well, in this case, I too had ‘faith” in this liberal establishmentarian. To the Nader campaign (though I did vote for Ralph out of principal), let me express my deepest apology. I will never again be suckered by the Democratic eatablishment. How ’bout Bart?

    Comment by Ritxard — September 9, 2009 @ 3:45 pm

  4. Ritxard,

    Your comment is at such a level of generality that I am not sure it is very helpful. You think progressives are suckers for “getting involved politically” with “right-wing liberals like Barack Obama.”

    I voted for Nader in 2000 because I thought it would have no spoiler effect in Hawaii, a “safe” state and wanted to encourage the growth of the Green Party as a means to pressure the Democrats from the left. But Nader exposed himself as a nutcase when he said there was no difference between Gore and Bush and denied his campaign contributed to the Bush victory. (I KNOW the election was stolen by the Rightwing of the Supreme Court–but if Nader had not been on the ballot, the Gore victory would have been secured.)

    Apparently, the large majority of the 2000 Nader voters came to the same conclusion I did and Nader’s vote totals collapsed. And, unfortunately, the Green Party in Hawaii has also shrunken away.

    I don’t know if I’d call Obama a rightwing liberal, but that may be just semantics. I think he’s much less liberal than many, including progressives, including myself, had thought. I disagree progressives shouldn’t be “involved” with him “politically.” First, I’m not sure what the hell that means. Is it an accident you used such imprecise language or is that an accurate expression of your thinking?

    Suppose I substitute the word “engaged,” does that help clarify things? Should progressives avoid being politically engaged with Obama?

    Clearly progressives should not “rely upon” Obama, or uncritically “trust Obama.” The point is to figure how to productively engage with Obama (and other Democrats) to win policies more supportive of human needs, for social justice, for transforming our economy to one sustainable for the planet and other species, etc. The “real answer” is to build a social movement based upon large numbers of mobilized people making their own demands. Progressive Democrats have to make sure we do not make excuses for the complicity of the Democratic establishment in maintaining corporate domination, militarism, etc. But to “disengage” from the Party in order to retreat into the comfort of a “third party” grouplet is no formula for affecting policy.

    I think the trick for the prog dems is to pay attention on “re-engaging” with the community movements, strengthening those ties, but working to ensure the primary goal is to help bring the concerns of those groups into the Party and to Democratic elected officials, not to provide cover for elected Democrats.

    Comment by Bart — September 10, 2009 @ 8:33 am

  5. President Barack Obama’s Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Van Jones, resigned amid what the Washington Post calls another “lapse in the administration’s vetting procedures.” That’s putting it mildly. Jones is an admitted former communist and black nationalist. His Ella Baker Center for Human Rights produced a rap record in 2005 “hosted by” cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal, in which Jones links the Palestinian fight against Israel as part of the “global struggle against the U.S. led security apparatus” that “we need to see linked” to “our problems here.”

    His more recent advocacy for green jobs fits perfectly into Jones’ racial/Marxist worldview. In a 2008 interview Jones said: “The white polluters and the white environmentalists are essentially steering poison into the people of color’s communities because they don’t have a racial justice frame.”

    Comment by Olokele — September 10, 2009 @ 9:13 am

  6. I generally don’t allow trollish comments in response to my posts. I see the PDH blog as a space for progressives, and those interested in engaging in civil debate with progressives, to develop an understanding of, and a strategy for dealing with, the problems facing Hawaii, the country and the world.

    Despite this, I think Olokele’s comment is useful, because it provides an opportunity to deal with some of the nasty talking points from the hard right in discussing Van Jones. Let me deal with most of his points.

    “Jones slipped through a sloppy vetting process.” I agree with Olokele that this is a lame explanation. Someone close to the administration is using this as an excuse for Van Jones’ participation in the administration. It implies Jones SHOULD have been rejected had a proper vetting occurred.

    I think Jones is eminently qualified to be part of the debate in the White House over how to deal with the problems facing the country. In fact, I think he got the job BECAUSE some people in the White WANTED his view to be represented as well as respected him for his ability to inspire people, particularly in communities of color, but also, more broadly, among environmentalists, community organizers, young people, etc. The guy is both an “inspirer” and a unifier. And he has written a best-selling book on the challenges of rebuilding the economy by developing Green Collar jobs in a manner which helps heal social divisions in the country rather than continuing the divisions which might remain unhealed following a traditional, narrow “environmental” perspective.

    I STRONGLY recommend everyone watch the video clip I provided above. It provides a good introduction to Jone’s skills and views.

    The ejection of Van Jones will undoubtedly impoverish debate within the White House over environmental policy. Obama came into office promising he would follow Lincoln’s policy of filling his Cabinet with a “Team of Rivals,” advocates for divergent, competing visions so he (and the country as a whole) would benefit from a productive debate. I, like many other progressives, was EXTREMELY disappointed when he appointed so many luminaries from the conservative, Clintonoid, DLC wing of the Party establishment. His economic team was almost entirely composed of neo-liberal Wall Street types, mostly protoges of Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, tied to Goldman Sachs and partly responsible for creating the policies which got us into the economic crisis we are still in. Despite our hopes, there was not anyone from the liberal Keynesian wing of Democratic economic thinking, like a Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, or Joseph Stiglitz.

    Perhaps no Obama appointment broke with this pattern more than that of Van Jones. (I guess this is what is meant by “sloppy vetting.” An actual progressive somehow got into a position of influence in the White House. What kind of Democrat would allow such a thing to happen! My goodness!)

    Someone being accused of being “an admitted former communist and black nationalist” doesn’t send me into a panic. I don’t know what either Jones or Olokele means by either term. I have known “black nationalists” who have been effective leaders in their communities and sometimes beyond, so I do not see someones status as a “former black nationalist” as a disqualifier. Heck, even a current black nationalist, even if I would find myself in disagreement with them on some matters, might very well be qualified to hold an important position in the White House.

    As for Jones being “an admitted former communist,” I have no problem with that either. Redbaiting has generally been less effective in Hawaii than in many places on the mainland, because of our history. Just a few months ago many of us came together to honor the life of Ah Quon McElrath, a woman I am honored to have learned a great deal from and considered a friend. (How she considered me, I will leave to others.) AQ is well-known to have been a key member of the Communist Party in Hawaii during the thirties, forties and fifties. Heck, I might offend some Neo-Birchers, but I say God Bless the Communist Party of Hawaii for helping build and direct the ILWU in the struggle for economic, social and political justice for many years.

    I think they may have followed the twists and turns of Stalin’s policies a bit too close for my tastes and I probably would have been much too individualistic to have been a member myself, but that doesn’t cause me to disparage the important work they accomplished in helping overturn the haole oligarchy/Big Five domination of Hawaii’s economy, but also government and society.

    I believe AQ retained a Marxist-influenced outlook for her entire life. People CAN be Marxists and incredibly nuanced in their opinions and analyses. “Marxism” needn’t render someone’s thinking rigid and dogmatic. (Just as I am hoping to someday encounter an intelligent “conservative” instead of the dogmatic “Freeper” reactionaries which today seem to populate the so-called “conservative movement.”)

    I read where Jones said he became a “communist” in the aftermath of the acquittal of the LA cops for beating Rodney King. I don’t consider that to be an outlandish response. The communists offer a systematic analysis of capitalism and racism which is probably a better alternative than the spontaneous angry reaction of many African-Americans which resulted in rioting as a means to vent their anger and sense of betrayal by the American “justice” system. That was 14 or 15 years ago. I see no one (credible) asserting Van Jones remained stuck in the communist perspective to this day. I suspect his passage through communist thinking may have deepened his understanding of the difficulties in engaging in social change. Adopting new paradigms often has this effect. First, the paradigm offers new insights to the problems, as time goes on and the new paradigm is tested, its limitations become evident and the now-old paradigm is abandoned or transcended. Not to get all “dialectical” with you, but this is how human beings evolve better understandings of the world, including not just the physical sciences, but of society’s workings as well.

    Mumia Abu Jamal remains a controversial figure. I don’t feel a need to come to a definitive opinion on whether he is innocent or not. I know a lot of black activists have been targeted, framed, and even murdered by local, even federal police agencies. No honest appraisal of the COINTELPRO campaign against he Black Panthers can deny that. There are enough problems with the prosecution’s case, as well as the record of the Philadelphia police department that I am willing to entertain the prospect that he may have been framed.

    And, yep, the Palestinian struggle IS a “part of a global struggle against against the U.S. led security apparatus” that “we need to see linked” to “our problems here.” What part of that formulation causes you the most difficulty? The idea anyone can be sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle? The claim that the US heads up a “global security apparatus”? Surely not that part! Most rightwingers are happy the US is the “hegemonic” superpower.

    Or do you think the struggle of Palestinians is somehow unrelated to problems in the US? You write this in Hawaii, a place where the US Security Apparatus is based for “full-spectrum dominance” of some 60% of the world’s surface and where the indigenous Hawaiians have been shoved aside by a colonial settler state not so dissimilar to the Israeli displacement of the Palestinian people.

    I understand you don’t encounter many people who hold these views. but that doesn’t render them invalid. It just means you have to get outside your talk-radio, WorldNetDaily info-bubble. Well, I guess that’s why you have come here?

    And your final point. Really? You think there is something inaccurate about Jones’ observation that many white Americans (I would add “wealthy”) are content with solutions which divert environmental problems into communities of color? Heck, it can be documented. Rich white folks, including some “environmentalists,” are willing to externalize pollution to third world countries outside the US or into poor, and often minority, communities within the US. Even on Oahu, we can see how the Waianae Coast gets the dump for the entire island placed there, as well as H-Power, the HECO power plant, the oil refinery and, to top it off, the US military dumping toxic and hazardous old weapons offshore, while maintaining live fire training in Makua Valley! Heck, appear to have used depleted uranium there as well.

    How is it evidence of a “racial/Marxist worldview” to point out this obvious pattern. Or, let me turn it around, what ideological blinders are you wearing that prevent you from seeing the obvious?

    As more evidence of what we have lost with Van Jone’s departure from the Obama White House, one of Obama’s key economic advisers remains Larry Summers. Summers has achieved notoriety for a number of reasons. One of the worst was when a memo he wrote as chief economist for the World Bank, when he was arguing it made rational economic sense to export polluting industries to third world countries because the lives of people in those countries were not worth as much as lives of Americans.

    What a shame Obama values the “wisdom” of a Larry Summers over the vision of a Van Jones. I’m afraid it speaks volumes about the values of the new president.

    For more on Larry Summers, go here:

    Olokele, I’m not sure a continued debate along these lines is very useful for the purpose of this space. If you reply with something which merits a response, I will approve it and respond in turn. But please keep in mind the purpose of this blog as I stated it above.

    Comment by Bart — September 10, 2009 @ 1:14 pm

  7. Aloha Bart. I’m impressed with your response to the right-wing conservative above. I just wish you could be as honest in dealing with (should I say “engaging”, or “getting involved with”??) the liberal Democratic establishment of Hawai’i or the USA. What I meant last September when I last wrote was to say that the difference between liberal and conservative ideologies in the US political maelstron is less significant than the difference between liberal and post-liberal (post-capitalist) progressivism/populism. Yet, you continue to use the word “liberal” as if it were a good thing. I always say, if I were king of the world, my first act would be to make use of that word as a synonym for “left” a crime. Anyone found guilty would be sentenced to read the Economist Magazine for a year. If that doesn’t cure the criminal of the belief that liberals are somehow on the left of the spectrum, then no doubt nothing will.

    As far as the vagueness of my first post, you will have to “pardon” my emotional state at the time. You see, Bart, I too had bought into the belief that Obama had the capacity to effect some sort of “transformation” of his nation. The president’s health care speech of (I think) the day before, when he assured the extremist opponents of reform that there would be no true public option in the legislation raised my ire to a point it had perhaps never been before politically. Yeah, it was I who had the political football pulled out from under by Lucy Obama. I won’t make that mistake again. I just hope you share my feelings.

    I happened across your blog (I guess that’s what this is termed?)from a Google search, but I’ll try and look more often. It’s unfortunate you are among the 99.9% who aren’t familiar with the internal dimensions of the implosion of the Hawai’i Green Party, which exists today in name only — and then due to the actions of those who argued to the legislature to change the rules for ballot access to make them so simple that virtually any collection of one or more activists can get their “party” on the ballot. Witness the Free Energy Party.

    Comment by Ritxard el Vasco — April 7, 2010 @ 9:26 am

  8. Ritxard,

    The word “liberal” can be troublesome. I recognize its origins arising out of the struggle with feudalism and mercantilism in Europe. In Europe, it retains its original meaning. In the US, its meaning is more fuzzy.

    I don’t want to create an existential crisis within PDH, but the word “progressive” is also problematic. The economist Juliet Schor, whose work I respect a great deal, once wrote an essay in Z Magazine entitled, “Why I am No Longer a Progressive.” (I just googled for it and cannot find it online).

    The term implies that history has a direction, which one can resist or advance. There is a danger this perpetuates, if only unconsciously, the “Western” view that technology, science and rationality will make the world a better place eventually.

    Since I was born in the early fifties, it was easy to absorb such an optimistic view, with fascism defeated, the perception democracy was expanding, the emphasis on science in education, the steady expansion of the economy, the decline of religious superstition, the movements for economic, racial and gender equality making great gains, the rejection by many Americans of the brutal imperialism most evident in our war against Indo-China, but also barely hidden, against the people of Latin America, the disgrace of Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover, etc.

    Certainly all this was “progress”? Certainly, History was moving towards Justice? It was probably in the late seventies that I started calling myself a “progressive,” depending upon who I was talking with. In using the term, I was very consciously identifying with politics of the Progressive Party of the Henry Wallace campaign in 1948, as well as the politics expressed in the Progressive Magazine.

    The Right was temporarily stalled out in the seventies. Ford and Kissinger were hobbled. Carter was elected. A centrist Democrat, not eager to push things forward on most issues, reinforcing conservative points on social spending. The election of Reagan appeared at first, to be a temporary setback. Clearly, the people were confused. They didn’t understand what an asshole he was, how reactionary his policies would be. But then he was re-elected. Followed by Bush I. Clinton’s election failed to provide much of a correction to the Bush policies. In fact, as a “Democrat,” he was able to co-opt much of the congressional opposition and push through policies, such as NAFTA and de-regulation of the financial markets, that a Republican president would probably be unable to accomplish. (There are obvious similarities with Obama here).

    The rise of the Christian fundamentalist Right was akin to the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” for me. People who once were my normal neighbors and co-workers became possessed by a unthinking, cult-like conformity to absurd, semi-fascist understandings of the world. The rise of Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, etc, make it harder and harder to believe their is a new, rational, more humanistic order destined to arise if we just keep marching towards the horizon. “Progress” is no longer inevitable. And why do we call “Justice” “progress” rather than just, well, “justice”?

    In addition, the word “progressive,” like all words, does not belong to those of us who were early adopters. Nowadays, there are a lot of non-rational, semi-New Age, semi-dingbat people who have decided to adopt the word for their political view. Some of these resemble the “utopian socialists” or anarchists of the earlier European history, or the “Radicals” or bohemians of 19th C France.

    On the other side, the hard right, as exemplified by Jonah Glenn Beck, have developed an elaborate pseudo-history, trying to identify “progressivism” with “fascism.” Even in today’s Advertiser, the rightwing mouthpiece, Victor Davis Hanson, refers to Obama as a “progressive” in reference to this RW meme.

    I won’t allow the Right to take the word away from me. But I am increasingly embarrassed by the semi-lunacy, “infantile disorder” political “analysis” which is being expressed by some of those who have newly discovered the word and are trying to claim ownership of it.

    I guess I just have to “stay and fight.”

    Comment by Bart — April 9, 2010 @ 12:43 pm

  9. As for the particular circumstances surrounding the implosion of the Hawaii Green Party, I know SOME, but not all. I was present in the early days at many of the meetings of what was to become the Green Party. But I was already committed to the Rainbow Coalition approach of forming a network of “progressives” within the Democratic Party and we were having some successes.

    Nonetheless, I worked closely with and befriended folks like Linda Martin, Toni Worst, Ira Rohter and to a lesser degree, Keiko Bonk.

    Whatever the surface phenomena might suggest, I think the GP effort was fatally weakened by more structural forces. I think the two party system in the United States is (almost) inevitable. The exceptions “prove the rule.” The 2000 Nader campaign was (in SOME ways) a NOBLE experiment. I was taught long ago, an experiment is not a failure if you learn from it. As I wrote above, most people learned firsthand the disastrous “spoiler” effect of third party politics in a tight election. Fantasies about “forcing the Democrats to the left” by competing for “their base” proved to be illusory.

    Again, I do not think that was based upon “personalities” or “mistakes,” but is deeply rooted in the structure of American politics.

    Whatever accomplishments we can accomplish through working at creating a viable “third party,” can be MORE EFFECTIVE by putting that energy into electing “good Democrats.” If you are worried about co-optation, you are not looking at the situation objectively. Any politician, regardless of party label, and ANY political organization, if it acquires enough support and enough victories to be a players, MUST enter into negotiations with other power centers. Third party advocates think they can DELAY the moment when Satan takes them to the mountaintop. And, if they remain tiny and ineffective, they can probably avoid Satan’s attention for their entire lives. But once a political actor develops a constituency, an agenda, some credibility, even if it is through militant action confronting power, you will be asked to, you will be FORCED by circumstance to, enter into negotiations with Satan, with Capital, with other actors who themselves are bound, through various pacts and compromises, to support the social peace, the existing order.

    The best you can do, and the most principled thing you can do, is to renegotiate the social contract to win as many concessions for adjust agenda as you can. But good luck with that.

    Gandhi and Martin Luther King stand as examples of highly principled people able to wring major concessions from those in power without becoming paralyzed into co-optation in the process. Not incidently, they were both murdered.

    Comment by Bart — April 9, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

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