Obama, Round Two
I have written comments to the New York Times for several years, prompted to bear down in a sustained way in the lead-up to Obama’s First Term, when it appeared obvious that early that–especially with the announcement of his appointments—he would betray every promise that he made in the ’08 campaign. I will not go into detail here (and rather concentrate on the three weeks before his new term), but his treachery became so apparent, as on health care, that I was alerted to expect the worst. He did not disappoint. Even from the start, Obama was facing upward—the absence of authentic banking and financial regulation—abjectly serving and servicing a political economy of unrestained wealth, and, at the same time, looking downward, looking to tear down the social safety net, turn a blind eye to mortgage foreclosures and, equally, provide nothing in the way of job creation.
Like others, I initially ascribed this to a failure of will, or nerve, not yet realizing that his compromises, and use of Republican obstructions, as a crutch for self-pity and the implied promise of doing better when the spirit of bipartisanship plugs in, were in fact a sign of accommodation to, and soon, wholehearted acceptance of, that which we were led to believe he strongly opposed. So, no, compromise is a fraud; he actually wants the substantive results, from market fundamentalism to intensified wealth inequality, from environmental degradation to the extreme claims of secrecy and abrogation of civil liberties, from the steady infusion of militarism into popular culture to the much-despised armed drones for targeted assassination—and the list goes on, is compounded, becomes uglier by the day.
I am presently writing about drones, but suffice it to say, we have a president who personally authorizes assassination—by all accounts vaporizing human beings from control stations 8,000 miles away, his most trusted adviser, John O. Brennan, at his ear, a new nomination inaugurating the Second Term which elicits the contempt of humankind. Obama, if this can be said (for language is inadequate), has been in the process of pushing for not only the militarization of capitalism but also the militarization of the military, a neat trick that even Bush II has not attempted. First, the huge military budget, with new more sophisticated (i.e., lethal) weaponry in the pipeline, such as—under the rubic from New Start of “modernization”—the next generation of nuclear weapons; second, the Pacific-first strategy, with the rise of naval power, shored-up alliance systems, maneuvers, all to the effect of containing and isolating China (our new nemesis, replacing Russia, in the Cold War); third, the armed drone program, including a global system of airstrips to house them, and, not coincidentally, maintain a global intimidatory presence for purposes of equating counterterrorism with counterrevolution and, not far behind, trying desperately to remain the exclusive superpower guiding and benefiting from globalization, in a world of multipolar centers of power; and fourth (as with everything touching on Obama, there is always more, cloaked in secrecy by the alleged imperatives of national security dusted off and glamorized as The National Security State), the expansion of CIA functions, beyond its charter, now moving from intelligence to paramilitary operations, together with the Joint Special Ops Command, which, with the attention he lavishes on, and/or is dependent on, them, suggests either the excursion on a colossal ego-trip or the creation of a personal army (I say this not as conspiracy theory, but merely the building of mutual trust and mutual loyalties, for increasingly high-risk assignments). This is not a lovely picture. The Inauguration is coming in a matter of hours. I shall not be watching or listening.
The comments presented here to The Times cover a range of policies, which is surprising perhaps in what should be a calm before the festivities; they are addressed to news articles, editorials, and columnists or political analysts (Krugman, Sanger), and though I do not keep track, I’m proud to say that some have not been published—testimony, I believe, to saying things of which the paper does not approve (e.g., calling Brennan a war criminal, or using the phrase “liberal fascism,”), nonpublication constituting not sour grapes (I’ve had, according to those in the Public Editor’s office, when I complain of censorship, that my acceptance rate is over 95%) but eagerness both to keep mentally alert and stake out forward ground, in the hope that I might radicalize someone out there, even if by only a smidgen. Content addresses a wide range of topics—all in the last three weeks: the fiscal cliff, Chicago crime, the firing of a CIA member, rising health-insurance costs, economic recovery, Afghan withdrawal, the nominations of Hagel and Brennan, mortgage regulation, Iranian hacking, armed drones, climate change, and gun control. At all times, Obama is center stage or not far from my mind.
[Obama tax compromise: favoring the wealthy, NYT, Jan. 1, 2013]
The Times has provided a good analytic breakdown of the tax compromise, particularly by bringing out: (a) the $450,000. level for actuation of an increase (the related article gives the exact sum, from 35% to 39.6%, which is hardly a decent increase; and (b) the phony victories–if we can even call them that–concerning the estate and capital gains taxes. (I might add that the phrase “middle class,” with its upper limit of $250,000, is a travesty, not only on defining social class, but an insult to & source of false consciousness for working people earning far less.)
Good show, but what is still needed is a systematic critique (or if that word is too strong when applied to Obama, then report or exposure will do), of how much he and his administration favored the wealthy. It’s our own fault. We are still falling for the liberal gloss Obama applies to, not conservative, but out right reactionary policies, taxation being merely the topic du jour. Even on the “fiscal cliff,” I’m glad you mentioned the phrase “public investment,” but I hope you expand on that in future. Obama has, as far as I can see, two guiding economic principles: deregulation and privatization–both, a direct contribution of the much-vaunted, yet wholly undeserved, Clinton Administration, which gave us not only Robert Rubin, but also the axing of Glass-Steagall.
Obama and fellow Democrats would qualify for FDR’s “economic royalists,” no better–no matter what Obama groupies will say–than the Republicans.
[Fiscal cliff: from New Deal to Raw Deal, uncaring (bipartisan) political swampland, NYT, Jan. 2, 2013]
What a way to start 2013, both major parties can be credited with a dismal performance, the Republicans for cruelly and inhumanely calling for “cuts” as a way of savaging the social safety net, the Democrats for selling out on traditional New-Deal principles, such as genuine progressivenness in the income tax structure. Peter Baker was incorrect yesterday in speaking of the “Left” within the Democratic party. There is no Left there or, with the exception of a few lone voices, anywhere in the major parties. It was nice to see Obama, golf clubs in tow, ready to resume his vacation, as meanwhile the American people have entered a new stage, from the New Deal to the RAW DEAL, where wealth, deregulation, privatization, armed drones for political assassination, all–together, for in reality they are inseparable, or singly–trump social decency, respect for the needs of the less fortunate among us, good old fashion fairness. 2013 will witness, precisely because of an uncaring political swampland inhabited by both parties, the beginning of decline, decline not least in its moral foundations, fast being eroded by the performance we see with respect to the fiscal situation. This mock-battle (neither side cares a penny for the poor, the unemployed, the foreclosed, those without adequate medical care) is just symptomatic on an inner condition of dry rot. More gun massacres, more homeless, welcome to 2013!
[Blowback: moral bankruptcy of national leadership—the killing fields of Chicago, NYT, Jan. 3, 2013]
Blowback. Granted blacks in Chicago are tearing each other apart, a mutual destructiveness that speaks volumes about a nation incapable of or unwilling to provide jobs (the mentality of privatization and market fundamentalism has made impossible and unthinkable the PUBLIC WORKS programs of the New Deal, where the youth and unemployed can develop pride for having made meaningful contributions to society). Blowback, then, on a collapsing of opportunity for the poor and minorities.
But blowback also because of the moral bankruptcy of national leadership. The Times reports shooting at funerals in Chicago. What about Obama’s signature strikes by armed drones for targeted assassination? The Stanford-NYU report “Living Under Drones,” and the work of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, have verifed Obama’s policy of attacking FUNERALS as well as first responders in Pakistan and elsewhere. With examples like that, why be surprised at the killing fields in Chicago? It’s time for political leaders to drop their cowardice about gun control at home and show, abroad, a US presence of genuine peace. Where is Dr. King when we most need him? America is, deservedly, because of its shortsighted greed at home, and agression overseas, falling apart, and the black youngster in your photo is paying the price of fear and being robbed of a decent education and life. America has to straighten out, before violence on the South Side abates.
[Reply to critic of previous comment: barbarous campaign of drone warfare, NYT, Jan. 3, 2013]
Thanks walterrehett, I agree that, at first sight, the analogy or comparison may seem an analytic stretch, but think about it; (a) privatization prevents government programs of social reconstruction which could provide both meaningful work and a sense of group solidarity to troubled and rootless youth; and b) Obama hardly sets a good example for tranquility at home with his barbarous campaign of drone warfare–the first president doing hands-on assassination. His speech at Newtown surely was insincere, given that by his direct order, 162 children have already been killed by his drones. As a nation we are failing on both levels: domestic solutions to critical problems, and foreign violations of law,due process, and much more.
[Obama and abridgement of civil liberties: CIA firing—secrecy, suppression of war crimes (?) NYT, Jan.5, 2013]
Mr. Kiriakou’s case exemplifies the dangers of the National Security State as intensified under the Obama presidency. Only recently have criticisms been acknowledged to be warranted, so completely has Obama been given a free pass–and his suporters still refuse to admit how far civil liberties have been abridged and/or violated during his rule. Example: He has invoked the Espionage Act at least six times against whistleblowers, more than all previous presidents combined. The obsession with secrecy is nearing paranoid proportions, as witness that surrounding the armed drone program for targeted assassination.
Shane Scott’s reporting, always informative, adds a further twist: When he writes, “one of an UNPRECEDENTED (my caps) string of six prosecutions under President Obama for leaking information to the news media,” he is giving the nation a wake-up call to how greatly intent Obama is to maintain an iron curtain around policy making. Why the extreme secrecy? Common sense suggests one wants secrecy because there is something to hide. The Obama people are walking a fine line, knowing that they are on the edge of if not over their heads in war crimes. This present prosecution is ill-advised and gratuitous, indicating that things are spinning out of control.
Even your adjoining piece on former Gen. MacChrystal indicates overreach–Obama goes for the jugular against anyone who crosses him. MacChrystal, like Kiriakou, both, victims of a paranoid president.
[Rise in Insurance Costs: Obama’s record of nonachievement, NYT, Jan. 6, 2013]
Of course, the rise in insurance rates! If “one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration’s health care law was to stem the rapid rise on insurance costs for consumers,” he would have FOUGHT for the single-payer system, even if only as an opening gambit, and then pushed for the PUBLIC OPTION. Instead, he did neither.
I am so sick and tired of hearing about Republican intransigence to explain away the Obama record of nonachievement. His base in its deep denial and in its stonewalling of all criticisms, exhibits classic symptoms of transference–projecting on to him all their fantasies and hopes. It is time to grow up.
I say “of course,” about insurance premiums, because if you go back to the early White House Health Summit, the picture is clear. All dissident voices were kept out; it was a love feast for health insurers (promised exemption from antitrust prosecution) and Big Pharma. Meanwhile, Physicians for Social Responsibility started picketing the White House in scrubs–a major embarrassment to the regime, and so two were admitted, on condition that they remain silent.
Enlarge your gaze. Health insurance? the same for bank regulation. the same for climate change. the same for the entire defense industry. Sorry, I no longer care whether NYT prints criticisms of Obama, but the man is an imposter, one who betrayed every promise from the ’08 campaign and in ’12 had little to offer but unctous platitudes, including on gun control and now signing NDAA.
[Economic recovery: privatization—a closed economy (Krugman), NYT, Jan. 7, 2013]
Prof. Krugman unintentionaly reveals the bankruptcy (of ideas) of modern capitalism, when he writes, “my spending is your income; your spending is my income.” Two things are immediately wrong with the formulation; a) it is too confining, as though an hermetically-sealed economy–a la zero-sum game–in which economic activity must work within those confines, and b) spending per se tells us nothing, for what must be asked is: what kind of spending, and, of course, on what? A society avoiding depression through conspicuous consumption and the production of ersatz goods, is not one I’d choose to live in, nor would it, or perhaps could it, ensure an equitable distribution of wealth and the obviation of social tensions.
I think the cross Prof. Krugman must bear–which he seems gladly to do–is privatization, which itself poisons the atmosphere, as in the US, against government expenditures (the very solution for recovery he, correctly, recommends), but, tying them (“while the private sector regains its balance”) as he does to narrow-guaged solutions will get us nowhere.
America suffers because of its ideological rigidness. Once upon a time, seemingly long ago, there was FDR and the New Deal; there was direct government employment; there was direct government spending on the improvement of infrastructure, reforestation, and not least, the conservation of human skills, through e.g., WPA and CCC. From my vantage point, what he recommends is paltry in comparison.
[Afghan withdrawal: unilateral dominance in shaping global stabilization (ed.), NYT, Jan.7, 2013]
The Times deftly sidesteps the elephant in the room, the big question: Why are we there in the first place? A wholly needless war which leaves its indelible mark: US intervention has no rational basis, except within the framework of geopolitical strategy, itself flawed because predicated–still to this day-on unilateral dominance in shaping global stabilization, for purposes of advantageous trade-and-investment opportunities. A lot of people, on both sides of this tragic, misguided conflict have died–for what?
Militarism has become a US knee-jerk assertion to practically everything, a good in itself, regardless of the havoc wrought, including the distortion of the American economy leading to the savaging of the social safety net. It is time to leave, and to cut our psychological losses. Like Vietnam, the US has lost the Afghan war, however much it is politically and ideologically necessary to disguise and invert that truth.
Instead of playing the numbers game, whether 3,000, or 9,000, or 60,000, hardly matters–the moral flooring here is plain zero.
[Nomination of Hagel and Brennan: American fascism wears a liberal mask, NYT, Jan.7, 2013]
On former-Sen. Hagel, I have no comment, except to say that the opposition against him, on Israel and Iran, is, I think, disgraceful. As a conservative Jew, I deplore the pressure being exerted by the “Jewish lobby,” yes, the “Jewish lobby.” That is what it is, and it has been uniformly on the side of reactionary politics–support of dictators, maneuvering the US into war situations, demanding 1000% commitment to Israel, no matter what egregious things it has done–to the Palestinians, to Lebanon, etc.
As for John O. Brennan, no surprise there. Obama is conducting an illegal, highly immoral drone warfare which kills indiscriminately noncombatants, women, children–with Brennan his closest adviser, the two, in my humble opinion, WAR CRIMINALS. The Times dare not print this, but its national-security reporters, Savage, Shane, Mazzetti, etc., have written enough to warrant that indictment: a vicious war of, pure and simple, ASSASSINATION, Obama running true to form and Brennan, the first time, had to withdraw his name from the CIA directorship because of his support for waterboarding and other forms of TORTURE. The same Brennan who, in his speech to the Woodrow Wilson Center denied there were any civilian casualties–a baldface LIE which should disqualify him from consideration. But not in Obama’s book, who has now enlarged the CIA mission to include paramilitary operations.
American fascism wears a liberal mask. Put your reporters under wraps for telling the truth.
[Nominations, II: Torture, paramilitary operations, armed drones—Guess on whose watch? (ed.), NYT, Jan. 8, 2013]
A puerile editorial, to say the least, esp. the larger picture. NYT continues to whitewash Obama’s foreign and military policies. “Bloated” defense budget–guess on whose watch? Enlargement of CIA functions, from intelligence to paramilitary operations–guess on whose watch? Pacific-first strategy, with accompanying arms build-up (including supercarriers and littoral craft) all to surround, contain, isolate China–guess on whose watch? Most of all, the vicious, illegal, inhuman, Nazi-like (think of UAVs over London in WWII) armed drone program, the president of the US personally authorizing targeted assassination–guess on whose watch?
Yet NYT continues to apologize for Obama, and Brennan whispering in his ear. The Situation Room, Tuesday nights, baseball cards, hit lists–we are speaking here of war crimes, let me reiterate, war crimes, and NYT blithely passes over this. Perhaps muzzle Savage, Shane, Mazzetti, because they as investigative reporters, speak truth to power. NYT is complicit w/ its namypamby editorials. You worry about gay rights, most of the editorial. I worry about torture, waterboarding, rendition, black holes, an out-of-control CIA, above all, a president w/ crocodile tears for Newtown, and his murder of 162 children in Pakistan alone–and this, an authoritative count, now surely outdated by more drone strikes.
Hagel may be better than Panetta, but how about more attention to AIPAC and the neocons, who have embroiled the US in unnecessary wars?
[Mortgage regulation(?): self-regulation = deregulation—Obama opposes effective regulation (ed.), NYT, Jan. 9, 2013]
Excellent description of the problem, yet inadequate in conceptualization and remedial action. Self-regulation has been essentially the American Way since T. Roosevelt’s Bureau of Corporations (1903), a wholly misleading mode of regulation if by that term is meant, a framework of law and constituted authority, as it should, whose purpose is to enforce principles of control in the PUBLIC INTEREST, not that of the industry or other body presumably to be controlled. Self-regulation in fact is a sweetheart arrangement legitimated and winked at (for its abuses), what NYT correctly calls “a wrist slap,” by a compliant government working not for the people but rather for throwing a shield of protection around that which is to be regulated to ensure its continued questionable behavior.
Self-regulation historically represents therefore the interpenetration of government and business (including, of course, the financial sector as well), which is just a scholarly and/or polite way of saying, deregulation per se, so that independent control is neither wanted nor permitted. It is a hoax, and The Times must here put the ball more squarely in the Obama administration’s corner for its generalized lack of regulatory commitment. Even CFPB, which you pin your hopes on, was weakened from Day One when Obama marginalized Elizabeth Warren, its creator, from assuming directorship, just as it marginalized, also early, Paul Volcker from banking reform. Obama does not want effective regulation.
[Cyberwarfare: Retaliation—only psychopaths hit below the belt, NYT, Jan. 9, 2013]
More power to the Iranians. When the US engages in criminal activity, of course there shall be blowback–and deservedly so. The paternity for cyberwarfare against Iran’s nuclear site is John O. Brennan, chief adviser to Pres. Obama, & now nominated to CIA directorship (while probably still having Obama’s ear)–the same Brennan who has consistently lied about civilian casualties as a result of armed drones for targeted assassination. Since drone technology is not rocket-science (pardon the pun), how soon will the US find other nations using armed drones against America when the next intervention rolls around? Only psychopaths hit below the belt when weapons development is already so sophisticated. I hope we are taught a lesson, so that when we finally stop (because the price is too high), then the world can catch its breath, and diplomatic truly trump military solutions. With Brennan in place, Obama reveals the destructiveness at the base of his character and thinking.
[The “light footprint”(?): armed drones, paramilitary operations, hit-list merriment (Sanger), NYT, Jan. 9, 2013]
I beg to disagree with Mr. Sanger about the light footprint, in general–given the huge military budget, the “pivot” from Europe to Asia, and esp. the Pacific-first strategy itself (as in NDAA provisions for supercarriers and littoral craft) with an eye to the containment qua isolation of China. The Obama foreign policy IS aggressive, in regard to great-power geopolitical strategy. But beyond in general, Mr. Sanger truly neglects the in particular: John Brennan. I am not persuaded that armed drones for targeted assassination leaves or creates a light footprint. Brennan, as Obama’s chief adviser (which will not change when he goes to CIA) is, I believe, a war criminal. Period. You may refuse to publish because of that assertion. Fine. But the record is clear: despite Brennan’s consistent denial of civilian casualties, yes, including children, the program is a moral affront to rule of law and democratic governance. The Stanford-NYU report, “Living Under Drones,” is one of several authoritative findings, which include second strikes on funerals and first responders. Brennan’s cyberwarfare, which, as in today’s Times, shows playing with fire–i.e., blowback–, is frosting on the cake of his fascistic tactics. Why Mr. Sanger views the CIA-Spec. Ops PARAMILITARY approach as a light footprint, in view, e.g., of the world system of airstrips for drone launchings, needs explanation. Obama’s team, new or old, will continue Tuesday night hit-list merriment in murderous glee.
[Gun control: Obama devoid of conviction—fascist precipice, NYT, Jan.11, 2013]
Reading between the lines, one finds from the article a paralysis of will, beginning with Obama (who always starts by anticipating defeat, largely, I think, because he is devoid of conviction and prefers conservative stances as the way to court popularity) and transmitted downward through BOTH major parties.
NRA is al Qaeda with an American accent, far more perversive of the nation’s foundations than all the work of terrorists combined. Yet we stand powerless as our children continue to be murdered. And our leadership is complicit because standing by without a clue about how to stop this creeping menace. Instead, Obama sets a bad example by nominating John BRENNAN as CIA director, signaling that from the highest authority in the US it is o.k. to murder children in Pakistan via armed drones for targeted assassination, but please, Congress, do allow us some cosmetics at home (i.e., background checks).
Guns are carcinogenic; they are creating a political culture of force and deceit that is eating away at our vitals. Let this continue, and rather than worry about fiscal cliffs, we can start worrying about the fascist precipice.
[Climate change: Democrats meet Republicans—nothing from either (Krugman), originally published Nov. 23, 2012, NYT, Jan. 13, 2013]
Sorry Prof. Krugman, America may already be on a path of inexorable decline. What you say about Sen. Rubio and creationists and the impact of Republican antiscience attitudes is 100% true. But two points; 1. recent studies of Republican authoritarianism are old hat. T.W. Adorno’s “Authoritarian Personality” (1950) laid out a psychological paradigm of incipient fascism that even then corresponded to the beliefs and attitudes of large numbers of Americans. And 2. as always, you target Republicans and exempt liberals from your analysis (here one sentence) when in fact Obama has done NOTHING about climate change, or with his permissive oil drilling and heavy support of the nuclear power industry may actually have intensified global warming. The reactionary Republicans are met at least 80-90% of the way by the “moderate” Democrats, whether here or banking and financial regulation, environmental policy, gun control, and, most basic, huge defense spending, applause for the armed drone of targeted-assassination fame, and the list drags wearily on. The Republicans can’t face reality; neither can those who give Obama a clean bill of health. Perhaps the next stage of US historical development will be the new variant in social formations, liberal fascism.
[Obama, gun control, assassination: contradiction—president’s unclean hands (ed.), NYT, Jan. 17, 2013]
You never ask the question, Why did Obama wait so long? Nor do you address the issue, how can he speak of gun control and the death of children, when his own program of armed drones for targeted assassination has murdered more children than all the gun deaths at home combined during his administration? I say, crocodile tears, unless and until he can express the same regret for the Pakastani and Somali children–also sacred human beings–VAPORIZED by his murderous program. All that was missing from the White House ceremony was John Brennan, presently his closest adviser, and known the world over as a supporter of torture. I’m sorry, but NYT again gives Obama a free pass, and doing so, fails to speak truth to power.
[State laws rejecting gun controls: Obama a sham—armed drones and gun violence (ed.), NYT, Jan. 18, 2013]
That pretty much does it: Turning pre-emption upside down in this mad dash to the bottom confirms my fears that a) a significant portion of America is turning fascist, b) N.R.A. is al Qaeda with an American accent, and c) the Obama administration, despite the public relations, is essentially feckless and doing little for gun control.
a) scratch a guns-rights advocate and you find a frightened nutjob hiding behind and/or openly displaying a massive supply of weapons for reasons he/she does not know, a pervasive fear of the bogeyman psychotic in etiology, based on a rich and confused mixture of racism, anticommunism, self-hatred, you name it.
b) N.R.A. has done more harm to America, including the # of gun deaths its propaganda has enabled, than al Qaeda ever did (or ever will), a cancer in our midst, and really, the institutionalization of (a) the nutjobs.
c) Obama is a sham on this issue. His personal hand in the program of armed drones for targeted assassination has killed more children than all the gun violence has done through his first term–and has now assassinated a total exceeding those killed in 9/11. When a leader has blood on his hands like that, why should anyone listen to his appeals for gun control?
Hypocrisy + incipient fascism = America circa 2013. Have a nice Inaugural!
[Obama’s gun-control announcement: why trust him now?—no action on any reform legislation, NYT, Jan. 19, 2013]
Several points: a) the history of federal incorporation and other laws suggests that on progressive matters, when states act on their own against vested interests or for the public good (i.e., the New York legislation on gun control, which goes further than what Obama announced today), the federal government steps in with legislation which, the courts have held, SUPERSEDES state efforts, therefore weakening the whole thrust of effective regulation.
I’m sorry but I do not trust the Obama White House to do the right thing. Your report indicates little of substantive value beyond mere exhortation, and I’m certain that DOJ will find ways to invalidate the New York law when, by going allegedly too far, it proves an embarrassment to the federal government.
b) We need a full accounting of who supports the federal legislation, because lobbying is so efficient one suspects the NRA by taking an irrational, dangerous position, is creating a smokescreen so that anything however mild and ineffective will look good. Washington is not to be trusted. If there has been so little positive action on a tremendous range of issues, why should this be any different?
c) Obama’s track record does not give grounds for confidence. Why did he wait this long on guns? Why the public relations and cosmetics–surrounded by children at the announcement–like being surrounded by military brass on other photo-op occasions? He hasn’t worked hard on ANY reform legislation, why now, except for popularity?
Norman Pollack is the author of “The Populist Response to Industrial America” (Harvard) and “The Just Polity” (Illinois), Guggenheim Fellow, and professor of history emeritus, Michigan State University.