Obama Run Amok

Comparative structural-political typologies are interesting to study, for in that way one learns modesty when the temptation arises to assert patriotic nobility and superiority over all others. Is drone murder more righteous than Gulag imprisonment? Is the CIA morally preferable to the KGB (or for that matter, is Mossad)? Are Russian oligarchs necessarily worse than American oligarchs, say, Khodorkovsky and the Koch brothers, both having worked the system in their acquisition of wealth? Is the Russian nuclear arsenal more menacing then the American, particularly, with Obama, the greater allocation of funds, under the cover of START II, to modernize the weaponry ensuring greater lethality? Is Chechnya more of an abomination than Iraq, Afghanistan, JSOC-CIA paramilitary operations for regime change on a global basis, and the Cuban embargo? Throwing stones at glass houses, or glass at stone houses, actively court blowback because of the human wreckage they have created.

Emerson said, an ocean is a large drop, a drop is a small ocean, this, I believe, as showing the unified texture of reality and the consistency of behavior it engenders. A drone assassination is a small holocaust, an holocaust is assassination on a massive scale, whether that act is integral to intervention abroad or the diminution of life opportunities and living conditions at home. In both cases, we see the assault on human dignity driven forward by the impulse to degrade, punish, vilify, all as necessary to manifesting superiority. Evil is not a metaphysical but an existential concept, indeed not a concept at all but concrete practice in the service of repression.

Repression may take the form of the state-security police, or, under current liberal auspices in America, the self-imposed internalization, ideological in character, of a capitalist mental paradigm urging on the drive for imperialism, market (if not also military, for the time being) conquest, status-seeking as a sign of moral-social arrival, and not least, consumerism—for working people, the aspirational treadmill, for the upper strata, utter abandon in the commodification of consciousness. Neither form of repression is preferable to the other from the standpoint of the authentic experiencing of human dignity—and the latter, seemingly “cool,” here waving banners which read “humanitarian interventionism,” “safety under the National Security State,” and yes, “Obamacare,” reaching the depths of privatization through the use of opposite-sounding rhetoric, is actually already a half-way step to the former, only our state-security police presently rest content with the stage of massive surveillance (and keep incarceration to the side, for reinforcing a racial design, and home away from home for whistleblowers—their cots waiting).

Do I paint a too-grim picture? Liberals, progressives too, focus on Bush 2 as the cause of social misery, from financial crises to militarism and an aggressive foreign policy. True, to some extent (as would be Obama’s culpability in suppressing that truth, closing the door on the investigation, revelation, and prosecution of war crimes committed by his predecessors. This is plural, because of the bipartisan commission of crimes going back, for sake of convenience, from Reagan onward).

At this time of writing, we can today begin looking ahead (thank you, Shakespeare) to the Winter of Our Discontents, except that now, there is no Richard III to bring the beauties of Spring, only the unrelieved march of Obama & Company toward the further militarization of market strategy, geopolitical thinking, planning, and execution, and, through cutting-edge surveillance, the inculcation of subtle fears intended to penetrate the psyche, inducing conformity to hegemonic goals, monopolization, and an habituation to social discipline through a political culture suffused by counterterrorism. Jump through hoops, as you exchange your identity for promises of safety, coming down finally to protection from the Unknown—a permanent condition of anxiety justifying an equally permanent societal groundwork of militarism.

I began by implying the revelatory nature of an emphasis on the small, because the small possesses the connective tissue with the large, in this case, a microcosm of the whole. Thus, just yesterday and today (Dec. 20-21) I noted five developments, in themselves not the complete picture, but each indicative of, as well as forming interrelated phenomena describing, the aforementioned stage of incipient fascism. Designedly in no particular order, the topics include austerity, torture, Putin and Khodorkovsky, the SEC, and drones, each, I believe, furnishing an occasion for casting light on current US practice. Here then, my five New York Times Comments, as follows:

Paul Krugman, “Osborne and the 3 Stooges,” 12-20:

Why not be clearer about austerity, rather than x in some macroeconomic equation? We are speaking of underconsumption, which, focused on, reveals social-economic policies weighing, consciously, deliberately, on working people. “Austerians” are no more, no less, than cruel advocates for a class state. Wealth, esp. in concentrated form, trumps democratic governance, in which living standards bespeak a healthy polity of debate and general well-being.

Krugman, on the right side for the wrong or inadequate reasons–the trained incapacity which is the lot of the economist, who cannot see human suffering, only GDP stats. Economic is politics in its most comprehensive sense: what kind of society its economy allows for or encourages. Massive defense spending is an economic stimulus. Contrariwise, so would be New Deal-style public works. Which does America prefer? Regrettably, the former.

Let Krugman identify and speak about the real drags on economic performance, pulling the mask off of the austerians and defense machos alike. Unemployment affects real people, exempts however the very groups we as a nation look to for salvation: bankers, hedge fund operators, venture capitalists. The latter define Obama’s economic-political landscape. I prefer that of FDR.

Editorial, “Release the Torture Reports,” 12-20:

“It, too, remains under wraps.” The epitaph for democratic government. NYT exonerates Obama on insufficient grounds. How do we know rendition, detention, torture have ended? Because he says so. Pshaw. Obama personally selects targets for assassination (is drone warfare any better than torture?), conducts JSOC-CIA paramilitary operations, maneuvered gigantic military “assets” into confrontation with China, enforces the embargo on life-giving medicines to children dying of cancer in Cuba–and much much more, and yet NYT takes his word that, as CIA’s new Patron Saint, and the appointment of John Brennan, advocate for waterboarding as its new director, the post-9/11 nefarious practices have ceased!

Sen. Feinstein has carried water for CIA through near-eternity. WHY a bargaining session over the release of documents? WHY negotiations in the first place–except of course that CIA, by agreement at the highest levels, is allowed to run free, the loose cannon (in more ways than one) par excellence. NYT, don’t hold your breath, for beyond delays and redactions lies WHITEWASH. CIA is central to American institutions. Between it and the massive surveillance of NSA, we see the Twin Agents of Death, the death of the American republic–with Obama a skilled rider, straddled over both. reins tight. Yippee.

Steven Meyers and David Herszenberg, “Freed Abruptly by Putin, Tycoon Arrives in Germany,” 12-20:

Excellent article. This is not about Khodorkovsky nor about the Sochi Olympics, but about the world power configuration and whether the US and Russia (and we must include China) can live together in peace.

As an American, I side here with Putin, strange–and unpatriotic–as that may sound, as a way of seeking greater American democracy. Obama preaches freedom and presides via drone warfare over targeted assassination, in fact and inevitably the murder of little children. He uses gay rights as a cover in geopolitics to pursue global hegemony. He waves a liberal banner at the same time that America now has the widest differences in the distribution of income, wealth, and power in its history.

Yet Obama has the gall to personally boycott the Winter Olympics, and cast Russia as the repressive monster. On foreign policy today–the decisive world issue because of the dangers involved–Russia has not been aggressive. The US constantly fishes in troubled waters, Obama’s pivot, his Pacific-first strategy, his nuclear modernization and arms build-up, his phony humanitarian interventionism, all represent threats to world peace.

Russia, repressive? Obama’s National Security State, with NSA, the New Gestapo, makes Putin look tepid in comparison. Currently the US is conducting the largest surveillance/eavesdropping program in human history. Yet we wave the fig leaf of gay rights to show how humane we are. I’m glad for Khodorkovsky’s release. How about Snowden, here?

Peter Eavis and Ben Protess, “S.E.C. Tensions as it Examined Mortgage Cases,” 12-20:

The very term “settlement” sticks in my craw, as it should in that of others. Not settlement, PROSECUTION. The record confirms what should be obvious: the interpenetration of business and government, their co-partnership, or as Masao Maryuma put it, the “close-embrace” system. SEC is a solemn farce, whether or not the revolving-door principle operates. Obviously, major firms can absorb fines, however heavy, as simply wrist-slaps. Business as usual is conducted under the aegis of a regulatory regime intended from its inception (TR’s Bureau of Corporations) NOT TO REGULATE, but rather protect, cushion, stabilize, better yet, sanitize operations.

Mark Mazzetti and Robert Worth, “Yemen Deaths Test Claims of New Drone Policy,” 12-21 [My reference to the Ishaq Principle—Saleh Yaslim Saeed bin Ishaq, 28, was “waiting by a gas station late at night” for a ride and was picked up by three men, all four killed in a drone strike Aug. 1]:

The Ishaq Principle has the weight of mathematical law: Kill, kill, kill, profess no knowledge of the killing, throw a curtain of extreme secrecy around the event, and make special provision for wedding parties, more especially traversing remote areas. Drone murder is a WAR CRIME. Its personal authorization by POTUS makes him a war criminal. Period. We may pretend, as is now happening, that Putin is evil incarnate, but if so, I contend that Obama is keeping up with him, atrocity for atrocity.

Have a nice vacation in Hawaii, Mr. President, as your war machine grinds on. Perhaps while there, you can review your battle fleets commensurate with your pivot, or Pacific-first, strategy to isolate, contain, and encircle (through joint maneuvers and military alliances with “friends and allies”) China. And maybe like Palin standing on tippy-toe in Alaska studying and confronting Russia, you can do the same: stand on tippy-toe in Hawaii (with more high-powered binoculars) and dream vicariously of liberating your naval power and long-range bombers for an all-out assault.

Instead of killing Ishaq, why not bigger game?

Norman Pollack is the author of The Populist Response to Industrial America (Harvard) and The Just Polity (Illinois), The Humane EconomyThe Just Polity, ed. The Populist Mind, and co-ed. with Frank Freidel, Builders of American Institutions. Guggenheim Fellow. Prof. Emeritus, History, Michigan State.  He is currently writing The Fascistization of America: Liberalism, Militarism, Capitalism.  E-mail: pollackn@msu.edu.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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