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Obama, Year One

The Lesser Evil

by NICK EGNATZ

As the New Year approaches and with it the one year anniversary of Obama’s administration I have a request for my friends on the left.  Name one good thing that Obama has done.  I see our corporate Democratic Senators and Representatives on TV explaining that the healthcare bill is bad and the escalation in Afghanistan isn’t to their liking, but on a whole they stand with the President.  I understand why they do.  They want to stay in office and continue to represent the elite transnational capital interests that dictate U.S. policy and pay for their reelection campaigns.  But why would American citizens, who understand at least a little more than the corporate media is willing to report, continue to support this latest iteration of U.S. Empire?

Many of my dear friends who campaigned for Obama would focus on the green jobs he was going to create and how he would transform our economy with this total immersion in sound environmental policy.  We have no green jobs, but will get creation of a carbon trading exchange which will allow polluters to continue to pollute, only the cost to consumers will be greater.  Then he went to Copenhagen for the International Climate Change Summit and championed an agreement that mandated acceptance by third world countries of the right of the developed world to continue to pollute with the vague promise of a future $100 billion in unspecified funds to be given to them to alleviate their discomfort if they would only promise to shut up for now.  Of course this is not the change that environmentalists across the globe were looking for. 

During the campaign it was heartening to see young people become involved.  I talked with many of them.  They were all under the delusion that Obama was a peace candidate. 

Of course Obama was not a peace candidate.  His sole claim to that mantle was a single speech he gave at an anti war rally before we invaded Iraq.  He said he wasn’t against war, only against dumb wars.  Granted that we in the peace community were glad to have support of any kind, but his was pretty weak.  He’s a constitutional law professor but he couldn’t see the illegality of refusing to negotiate and invading without the Constitutionally-required U.N. Security Council authorization?    After this one speech he never marched or took part in citizens’ actions against the wars.  After elected to the U.S. Senate he voted for every war funding bill.  Not much of a peace candidate.

He escalated the Afghanistan war twice and attempted to justify his actions with an explanation of the “just war” theory in the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.  He certainly did not do justice to the theory, whether or not one agrees with it.  Any reasonable high school debate student would tear his arguments to shreds.  Combined with his Afghan Escalation Speech he laid out a policy in complete agreement with that of George Bush. 

He is an unabashed champion of U.S. neo-liberal capitalism and globalization (free markets, free trade, no regulations and tax cuts for the wealthy).  He has surrounded himself exclusively with Wall Street economic advisors. 

Michael Froman, former Harvard Law School classmate,top fundraiser and an executive with Citigroup which was saved from collapse by the government bailout.

Robert Rubin, former Secretary of Treasury under Clinton and former head of Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street investment bank and securities firm that benefited most from the financial collapse and the subsequent government bailout.

Timothy Geithner, head of the New York Federal Reserve who should have been doing something to regulate Wall Street while they were raping the American people

Chief Economic Advisor Larry Summers, former Rubin protégé in the Clinton White House who became Secretary of the Treasury and President of Harvard.   In 1991 while Chief Economist for the World Bank he wrote or signed a memo that someone else wrote for him which said in part "the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that . . . I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly underpolluted."  Is this Obama’s green jobs program, ship our toxic waste to Africa? 

Obama said he would close the Guantanamo prison and the left rejoiced.  To the left Guantanamo was a symbol of many wrongs: torture, illegal rendition, suspension of habeas corpus and military tribunals that would allow testimony obtained using torture and secret testimony that the defense could not see or rebut.  The left was looking for a comprehensive repudiation of all these crimes.  But in addition to not reforming the entirety of the crimes or even closing Guantanamo, he has refused to hold Bush and Cheney legally accountable for torture. 

It is his sworn duty to execute the law and the law is certainly clear that sufficient evidence of torture demands an investigation and prosecution if then warranted.  Bush and Cheney have both made statements implicating themselves in addition to the mountain of other evidence including “an estimated 100 detainees have died during interrogations, some who were clearly tortured to death,”  according to John Sifton, researcher for Human Rights Watch and reporter who has spent 5 years investigating the Bush Administration’s torture policy. 
  
“Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.” U.N. Convention against Torture, Chapter 12  

Obama made the statement “We don’t torture” but failed to discuss the torture which had taken place until he was sworn in.  Then he issued Executive Orders outlawing torture, but with loopholes large enough to drive a tank through.  Torture is prohibited only of persons detained in an armed conflict.  So if you are peacefully standing on a corner objecting to torture and wars of aggression and the President deems you a security threat and decides to detain you without habeas corpus rights, as has been done for the last eight years, he reserves the right to torture you. 

International law considers torture along with wars of aggression, genocide, slavery and crimes against humanity “jus cogens”, Latin for compelling law.  The illegality of these actions derives not from statute but from custom.  Also called peremptory norm, “jus cogens” cannot be legalized by statute.  They are always illegal and neither Bush Administration legal findings to the contrary nor Obama Administration Executive Orders with loopholes can change that fact. 

He continues Bush’s policy of indefinite detention and suspension of habeas corpus rights that would require the government to present some sort of evidence and case against those being held.  Bush’s policies took us back to the dungeons of the middle ages and Obama is claiming the right to continue them.  He has just made it some sort of jobs program by advocating moving the detainees to Illinois from Guantanamo. 

Obama, just two weeks before trotting off to Norway to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize, refused to join 150 other civilized countries by signing the International Committee to Ban Landmines Treaty.  Landmines are the military’s gift that keeps on giving years after conflicts have stopped. In 2006, UNICEF estimated that 20 percent of the 15,000-20,000 killed or disabled each year are children and that 80 countries have residual land mines.

Gaza:  This week is the one year anniversary of the Israeli bombardment and invasion of Gaza, Operation Cast Lead.  It resulted in the deaths of a 1,400 Palestinians including 320+ children.  Matched against this carnage was a total of 13 Israelis killed, 4 of them by their own friendly fire.  Israel has stated the reason for the offensive was to stop rocket attacks from Gaza, although only one Israeli was killed by rocket fire the entire year 2008 up until Israel attacked in late December. 

In 2007 Hamas won the democratic Palestinian elections.  Immediately the U.S. and Israel refused to accept their victory because they were deemed a terrorist organization.  After winning the election, Hamas was forced to take power in Gaza by force of arms over their rival Fatah.  When they defeated Fatah, Israel and Egypt put in place a military blockade.  Gaza has been called the largest open air prison in the world with 1.5 million people.  Their sole source of supplies comes from Israel allowing in a certain number of trucks per day and other items smuggled past Egyptian authorities in tunnels.  65 per cent of Gazans are unemployed and 80% live below the poverty level. 

The UN Human Rights Commission Report chaired by respected international jurist Richard Goldstone  cited both Israel and Hamas for war crimes in this conflict.  When assessing the respective blame, one must consider the relative damage done.  Any rocket fired into civilian areas is considered a war crime for the simple fact that civilian fatalities are possible.  The rockets Hamas used are wildly erratic and aiming is at best a guess.  This is evidenced by the fact that only one Israeli died all year in 2008 from these occasional rockets that Israel says prompted their invasion.  Hamas says they fire the rockets to break the blockade which has been called “collective punishment” and illegal under international law by human rights groups. 

Israel’s initial response to the one rocket fatality for the entire year was to unleash a military operation six months in the making.  The initial surprise attack at 11:30AM on Dec 27 was done by 88 Israeli fighters hitting 100 targets in a self described record 220 seconds.  Thirty minutes later a second wave of 60 fighter and helicopters hit an additional 60 targets.  No mention is made if any more records were broken.  Airstrikes continued, Israel invaded, Hamas kept shooting their primitive rockets and finally on January 17 Israel declared a unilateral cease fire. 

During this time President Elect Obama refused to call for an unconditional cease fire to end the bloodshed of the Palestinian people and the destruction of their homes.  I quote a letter “Breathlessly Awaiting Obama” that I wrote for our local newspaper at the time. 

“As we all breathlessly await the new administration, let us not forget that 600 Palestinians (and counting) in Gaza are literally, breathlessly awaiting our new administration.  Of course there is no need for panic as Israel continues to bomb and invade, with an estimated 1.5 million inhabitants there are sure to be some left by the time Bush’s term expires and ‘one president at a time’ Obama takes the reins. 

“Is Obama the real deal though?  He has said that he in not against war, only dumb wars.  Well then he must consider Israel’s attack on Gaza a smart war.  If he did not, he would surely condemn it.  Does Obama, as arguably the most prominent member of the human race, not have a duty to humanity to speak out and at the very least and call for an immediate unconditional cease fire?” 

There was no call for a cease fire from Obama and another 800 Palestinians died before Israel’s bloodlust was sated. 

On the one year anniversary of the slaughter 1,360 peace activists from 42 countries are in Egypt trying to get into Gaza to march in solidarity with the war torn inhabitants in the Gaza Freedom March.  The Egyptian government is refusing to grant them permission to enter and provide a small degree of humanitarian aid and a large degree of moral assistance.  Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.  A phone call from our President and they would surely roll out the red carpet escorting the activists into Gaza.  But from this man we can expect no phone call.  The people of Gaza will have to tough it out without being given the human comfort of the international peace community that so desperately seeks to alleviate their suffering.

You will get no argument from this corner that the Bush Administration left a mess for Obama.  The Wall Street Bank bailout was endorsed by candidate Obama before the election and his own financial policies have concentrated on healing and saving the Wall Street banks and investment houses, while giving nothing but rhetoric to his actual countrymen and women who have been thrown out of both home and job.  Obama’s advice to them is to hang in there until the banks can get credit flowing so that they can borrow more money that they cannot afford to pay back. 

Sure he saved a few jobs with his stimulus bill and that is good.  They were mostly government jobs at the state and local level.  Now with funds drying up, the states and municipalities are laying off big time.  But most of the construction jobs have not materialized yet.  If someone could just get a memo to this guy: THE PEOPLE ARE SUFFERING! 

Scarcely a day goes by without some member of his team telling us that the Great Recession is over and the jobs will come back some day.  Treasury Secretary Geithner just issued a statement last week that job growth should resume in the springtime.   Meanwhile the Empire’s subjects continue to lose jobs and homes.  Balanced against the optimism of the Obama Team is the Association of Financial Professionals.  These are the individuals who plan corporate America’s future budgets.  One third of them don’t expect the lost jobs of the Great Recession to come back, one third think they will start to come back in 2011 and only one fourth expect some of the jobs to come back in 2010. 
      
We have already given Wall Street in the neighborhood of $10 trillion, the equivalent of $33,000 for each man, woman and child in the country.  And while it saved a lot of rich behinds, it hasn’t done much for the average citizen except to raise the value of his retirement and savings if it was kept in the stock market after the crash in 2008. 

There has been a lot of shouting from the right about budget deficits.  Obama and his party have been quick to address this and promise that all new programs will not contribute to the deficit.  This rhetoric means nothing to those out of work and with no jobs to apply for.  How are we to live within our means if we don’t have a job? 

What’s needed is a massive federal jobs program, guaranteeing every American a job at a livable wage.  Small businesses unable to afford to pay a livable wage would be given government subsidies to make up the difference until they reach a level of profitability to afford to pay the whole wage.  This would provide the stimulus that the stimulus bill failed to.  Raise taxes on the surplus income (more than $1 million) of the wealthy to the 1960 level of 90 per cent to pay for the jobs program and a free government single-payer all inclusive healthcare plan for all. 

Obama’s lame answer to his subjects’ lack of employment is to get the banks loaning to small businesses so that that they can then start hiring.  While it is agreed here that small businesses need access to credit, that is certainly secondary to having customers with money to purchase their goods and services.  For this they need jobs.

From my perspective Obama’s performance in pushing for healthcare reform has been abysmal.  We will soon find out exactly how crappy a bill we will get.  What we know for sure is that health insurers will get new customers who will be forced to buy insurance from them.  There will be little if any control of cost.  Those at the bottom who will get government assistance in paying for a portion of their policies will end up with huge deductibles of up to 40 per cent, pretty much negating any benefit that the policy was meant to give.  Twenty million will still be left without coverage and for many of those who will be covered by the plan, the coverage won’t start until 2014. 

But that’s my perspective.  Obama would want us to believe that this is the best he could get, yet Senator Russ Feingold thinks Obama got exactly the healthcare bill he wanted rewarding the insurance and pharmaceutical industries and using his ‘high falooten’ rhetoric to con the American people.

I voted for him with my eyes wide open.  I also encouraged others to do the same after Dennis Kucinich dropped out.  I did so buying into the thinking that he was the lesser of two evils.  I no longer feel that way.  The greatest evil is consenting to the rule of two corporate political parties who answer to elite transnational capital and don’t give a damn about the suffering of their own people any more than they care for the suffering of those across the globe that they exploit and attack with equal aplomb.    

NICK EGNATZ is a Vietnam veteran and member of Veterans For Peace.  HE was named “Citizen of the Year” for Northwest Indiana in 2006 for his peace activism by the National Association of Social Workers. He can be reached at nickatlakehills@sbcglobal.net