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CounterPunch Diary

Sic Transit: The Honeymoon is Looking a Bit Wan

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Two years without a single leak and suddenly, last week, Obama’s operation was like a sieve. That’s what happens when you pick up the phone and call one of the Clintons. Or, to put it another way, that’s what happens when someone claims you, the president elect, picked up the phone and called Mrs Clinton to ask whether she’d like to be secretary of state.

Out the window goes the sense of purposeful strides towards a new-look Administration. In comes a dreadful feeling that somehow we’ve slipped a dimension in the space-time continuum and are heading back into the Clinton era. A couple of more weeks and the Republicans will be calling for a special prosecutor.

I’ve had people try to explain to me the political logic of Obama offering his erstwhile Democratic  rival a top position in his cabinet. Better to have her inside the tent. Send her off on bouts of futile shuttle diplomacy, like Condoleezza Rice.

It still doesn’t add up. Why march back briskly into Clintontime?  Besides, she’d make a lousy Secretary of State. Mrs Clinton has never displayed any talent for negotiation, nor even any conspicuous appetite to find out what is going on in the world, let alone come up with a new vision of America’s role in the 21st century. She’s an interventionist by instinct, her finger twitching over the Bomb Release lever. She voted yes on the Iraq war. She was an ardent advocate of NATO’s onslaught on Yugoslavia. If we do get Hillary at State we may get Madeleine Albright as one of her sidekicks – the woman who said in the late 1990s that starving half a million Iraqi children was “worth it”, probably the line that the 9/11 al Qaeda hijackers  were muttering to themselves when they sped on their mission of revenge  towards the Twin Towers.  This is change?

The answer of course is that there has to be a good deal of similarity between the Clinton and Obama administrations, because Obama is a neoliberal interventionist like Bill, and because the 45 and 50-year old veterans of the two Clinton administrations who have been cooling their heels in law firms and think tanks for eight years make up a high percentage of those in the hiring line, particularly those who placed an early bet on Obama. To round off the symmetry the new White House counsel will be Greg Craig, who defended Clinton during his impeachment.

And the cabinet members Obama has announced or who are being bandied about are not inspiring. They’re dull like former Democratic senator Tom Daschle getting Health and Human Services. Howard Dean, who was a doctor and who had hands-on time grappling with health insirance when he was governor of Vermont, would have been a much better choice. Janet Napolitano, the Arizona governor slated to be head of Homeland Security, horrified labor organizers at one meeting earlier this year listening to her boasting about kicking migrant workers back into Mexico.  One nominee headed towards a Republican roasting in his hearings is  Eric Holder, named to be Attorney General. As number 2 in Clinton’s Justice Department, Holder played a grimy role in one of the most scandalous affairs of Clinton-time, the last minute pardon by Clinton of billionaire trader and denizen of the FBI’s most wanted list, Marc Rich. (See Jeffrey St. Clair’s account of the pardons for Holder’s central role in the affair.) Early in 2002 Holder gave CNN his views on the treatment of captured terrorists: “One of the things we clearly want to do with these prisoners is to have an ability to interrogate them and find out what their future plans might be, where other cells are located; under the Geneva Convention . . . you are really limited in the amount of information that you can elicit from people. It seems to me that given the way in which they have conducted themselves, however, that they are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. They are not prisoners of war.”

Other possible appointments are not demonstrative of a resolute change of pace. The talk is of keeping Robert Gates on as Defense Secretary, although Gates has made no significant mark on the vast pork barrel beside the Potomac. The conversion of this mucky schemer of yesteryear into revered emblem of sound governance is one of the many marvels of our age. Somewhere don the road we’ll probably end up with another slimy fellow, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, who counts among his regular roosts CSIS and the Center for A New American Security, also decorated by the odious Robert Kaplan and Dr John Nagl.

The most significant appointment will be Treasury Secretary. On current form Obama will play it safe with the top nominees to run this Department, starting with Geithner of the New York Fed, with Larry Summers somewhere in the mix. The trouble here is that there is no safe option and the usual suspects will have the usual limited perspective.

In sum, this looks like a standard issue, business-as-usual cabinet in the making, about as exciting as looking at one of the regular network panel shows on a Sunday morning. Can’t they find anyone under 40 who looks like  they might want to do things different and shake things up?

The Golden Age of Eating was….

But first a quotation.

“The Korean War ended 55 years ago, and the US still has troops in Korea.  

“Germany was defeated in 1945, and the US still has troops in Germany.

“A country that must go hat in hand to its creditors must first look to where costs can be cut.  Annual military spending of $700 billion is certainly a good place to start.

“But the US government has far more hubris than intelligence and is on its way to being a failed state that has to print money to pay its bills.

“It is not too late for the US to save itself and the dollar standard, but it would require a rapid transition from arrogance to humility.  The rest of the world can bring America down by not lending to us, in which case neither the trade nor budget deficits could be financed.”

That’s Paul Craig Roberts, on this website Thursday. In the latest edition of our subscriber only newsletter Roberts lays out the big economic picture  with bleak and compelling vigor. It’s must reading if you want to know the shape America is really in.   Subscribe to read his powerful essay.

Subscribe too, and read Judy Gumbo Albert’s risposte to Sarah Palin. Judy writes a great memoir of the late Sixties, from the Yipster perspective of one who famously said, when the Weathmen blew up a lavatory in the Capitol, “We didn’t do it, but we dug it.”

You also get co-editor Cockburn writing about food in the modern age, so different from those exalted moments  in the history of balanced diet which I describe in the newsletter, “with Australopithecus healthily subsisting on ‘fruits, leaves, larvae and bugs,’ along with modest gobbets of carrion. ‘His large teeth, powerful jaws and oversize gut were all adapted to coarse, fibrous plant matter … Even his small size – he stood barely four feet tall and weighed forty pounds – was ideal for harvesting fruit among the branches.’ Three million years later, we arrive at the far end of an inexorably descending arc, with 400-pound, low-income specimens of Homo sapiens swollen by excessive intake of calories, their guts compromised by lack of fiber, many of them diabetic, draped over their scooters, harvesting the aisles of Albertsons or Safeway for sugar, salt and fat-saturated snacks that will hike their blood pressure, clog their arteries, and propel them to an early grave.”

Subscribe, and read on.

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ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com