Judging from how the mainstream media has characterized the legacy of Barack Obama so far, the outgoing president will be most remembered for his many rousing aspirational speeches and well-timed shows of emotion.
His talent as a persuasive public communicator and the strength of his personal brand, bolstered by years of apple-shining from liberal magazines and newspapers, has been Obama’s most valuable asset.
This perception of Obama that has been propagated from the top, the view that he is essentially a benevolent figure with deep integrity or the personification of a modern liberal-statesmen, is a stunning smokescreen.
The contradiction between the high-minded rhetoric of the president in contrast to the actual policies pursued by his administration has been stark and utterly scandalous.
To hear Obama wax poetic about ‘the politics of hope’ and ‘how ordinary Americans can steer change’ feels deeply perverse coming from a figure that has institutionalized a vast, unaccountable permanent warfare state.
In the face of Obama’s global covert assassination program, his numerous secret wars without congressional approval, a mass electronic surveillance capability unprecedented in history, the speeches reveal themselves as little more than banal platitudes and vapid sloganeering.
As the sun sets on Obama’s presidency, to say the press has given him a pass is a grand understatement.
Some outlets have occasionally run criticism of Obama’s drone policies or inconvenient relationship with Saudi Arabia.
Other voices invert reality altogether, chastising Obama for his reluctance to militarily engage Syria, despite the US dropping over 12,000 bombs on the country in 2016 alone.
Contrary to his predecessor, Obama had a firmer grasp on the political risks inherent in the large-scale deployment of US troops in sustained military campaigns, but his strategic objectives differed little, and his belief in American exceptionalism was total.
Rather than ‘shock and awe,’ Obama proffered ‘leading from behind,’ culminating in NATO support and air power for insurgents that toppled the Libyan government on the pretext of defending human rights, turning the country into a cauldron of rival fiefdoms and lawlessness.
The Obama administration and the CIA fueled a proxy war in Syria with arms and training for insurgents, many of whom took up arms with ISIS or Al-Qaeda affiliated groups. The US military’s presence in Syria and support for non-state actors abjectly violates international law, and John Kerry’s leaked comments make clear how the administration cynically leveraged the threat of ISIS against the Syrian government.
Not only did Obama fail in his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay torture facility, he effectively replaced enhanced interrogation with an unaccountable covert assassination complex, endowing himself with the roles of judge, jury, and executioner.
By virtue of his suave and benevolent public persona, top-tier entertainers and figures of the liberal intelligentsia were largely willing to acquiesce to the precedent set by Obama’s unrestrained executive powers, exercised in near-complete secrecy.
They believed Obama would use the entrenched military and surveillance capacities of the US government judiciously. They swallowed the Democrats’ rhetoric of social inclusion and focused their political energies largely on identity issues.
Liberal figures didn’t protest against the president’s ability to spy on countless Americans suspected of no crime, nor did they organize against the president’s extrajudicial assassinations of American citizens and non-Americans without trial or due process.
Liberals hardly spoke out against the thousands of civilians killed by Obama’s drone bombings. Oddly enough, many seemed more outraged at Trump’s campaign rhetoric against Muslims and Mexicans than the reality of President Obama engaging in military hostilities against seven Muslim countries and deporting more people than any president in history.
Frankly, far too many Americans have been utter cowards in the face of the outgoing Democratic presidency. Obama will soon leave office as the only president in American history to serve two complete terms at war.
Despite his tense relationship with the Israeli prime minister and token opposition to the expansion of settlements, Obama signed the single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance to Israel in history, enabling the cancerous Israeli occupation and further brutalization of Palestinians.
As the Saudi military ceaselessly bombarded towns and cities across impoverished Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, in a botched attempt to reinstall an ousted proxy government, the Obama administration offered muted criticism and a $115 billion arms deal.
Obama’s administration has in fact brokered more arms sales than other since the second world war. Despite campaigning on the building of ‘the most transparent administration in history,’ he has waged war against whistleblowers and official leakers, invoking the 1917 Espionage Act more than all previous presidents combined.
Obama spoke of his dramatic commitment to building a nuclear weapons-free world on the campaign trail. Once in office, he committed the country to a trillion-dollar modernization of US nuclear production facilities and weapons, including warheads with adjustable yields that, according to the New York Times, make the weapons “more tempting to use.”
One of the most consequential international developments to occur under Obama’s watch was the deterioration of US-Russia relations and the revival of Cold War antagonisms, marked by the covert American role in the 2014 coup in Ukraine that brought to power a crude, corrupt and pervasively anti-Russian regime.
The largest military build-up on Russia’s borders since the second world war has unfolded under Obama’s watch, and the White House has moved in lock-step with the US intelligence community to propagate the anti-Russian line that has now captured American politics.
His administration’s pivot to Asia policy aimed to transfer 60 percent of the US naval presence to the Asia Pacific region by 2020, while the now-botched Trans-Pacific Partnership sought to – in the words of Senator Charles E. Schumer – “lure” other countries “away from China.”
On the domestic front, there have hardly been any clear-cut achievements for President Obama. He has overseen an obscene transfer of wealth from the middle class to the billionaire class, becoming the first two-term presidency that has failed to post a three percent GDP growth on an annualized basis over two terms.
The much-touted streak of job recovery rests on the proliferation of insecure part-time and temporary jobs with the low protection characteristic of the gig economy, while the share of workers in temporary jobs has risen from 10.7 percent to 15.8 percent under his watch.
Wall Street banks hoarded funds fueled by the quantitative easing policies of the Federal Reserve to triple the size of stock values. Corporate profits reached an 85-year peak under Obama while the total compensation of employees’ wages and salaries slipped to levels last recorded in 1929.
The wealth of the richest 400 Americans increased from $1.57 trillion in 2008 to $2.4 trillion in 2016.
The market-driven Affordable Care Act, Obama’s primary domestic initiative, did extend medical coverage to segments of American society, while millions of others were forced to pay higher premiums for substandard care. This shifted health care costs from employers and the state to working individuals in a move that effectively amounts to a bailout for private insurers.
And finally, there is the obscene proliferation of police brutality that has unfolded under Obama’s watch, with offending officers rarely held to account for their actions. African-American males were found to be nine times more likely to be killed by police officers in 2015 than white men of the same age.
But despite Obama’s troubled and deeply hypocritical track record, he remains a figure that many Americans continue to admire and respect, especially as the country moves rapidly toward a new and highly divisive political era.
A great many Americans, especially those in African-American communities, desperately and sincerely want to believe in the hope that Obama inspired in them. Unfortunately, Obama’s key achievement has proven to be his skillful usurpation of progressive rhetoric in the interest of an extremely militaristic and pro-corporate political agenda.
While many fear the specter of Donald Trump’s incoming presidency and the new forms of authoritarianism and state violence that will inevitably accompany it, none should forget that it was President Obama who set a precedent for the extreme executive authority that President Trump will soon enjoy.
Nile Bowie is an independent writer and current affairs commentator based in Singapore. Originally from New York City, he has lived in the Asia-Pacific region for nearly a decade and was previously a columnist with the Malaysian Reserve newspaper, in addition to working actively in non-governmental organisations and creative industries. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The wealth of the 8 richest people on earth equals that of the poorest 3.6 billion, according to a report by Oxfam presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos. This vast wealth gap is a threat which may “pull our societies apart,” the report warned.
The list of the eight wealthiest individuals in the world, all men, comes from Forbes magazine’s billionaires list, and includes Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Others include Inditex clothing company founder, Amancio Ortega, investor Warren Buffett, Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Oxfam emphasized the potential connection between the growing gap between the richest and the poorest, and the increasing anger at establishment politicians.
“It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than $2 a day,” said Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima, who will be attending the Davos Forum, according to The Chicago Tribune.
“From Brexit to the success of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, a worrying rise in racism and the widespread disillusionment with mainstream politics, there are increasing signs that more and more people in rich countries are no longer willing to tolerate the status quo,” Oxfam said in its new report – “An economy for the 99 percent.”
According to the report, if things continue on their current course, the world will see its first trillionaire in the next 25 years.
Inequality exists not only between the rich and the poor, but is gender-based as well. “On current trends, it will take 170 years to see women paid the same as men,” the report says.
Oxfam urged an increase in tax rates for “rich individuals and corporations,” adding that tax evasion is a critical issue. The UN Conference on Trade and Development estimated that developing countries lose around $100 billion yearly due to tax evasion, the report said, adding that it would be enough money to ensure that 124 million children who currently have no access to education can go to school.
The report also slams corporate lobbying and the close relationship between business and politics.
“Crony capitalism benefits the rich, the people who own and run these corporations, at the expense of the common good and of poverty reduction. It means that smaller businesses struggle to compete and ordinary people end up paying more for goods and services,” it stated.
The revised figures come after last year’s report that 62 people owned the same wealth as 50 percent of the world’s population. The new report takes into account data from India and China.
The reign of Germany’s Angela Merkel can only be stopped if leftists and social democrats unite behind a candidate like Sahra Wagenknecht, says renowned German journalist and politician Ralph Niemeyer.
The following is an exclusive interview with Ralph Niemeyer for The Duran. Questions are italicized in bold.
Mr. Niemeyer, the US will soon be governed by Donald Trump. There are those who say that with Trump, the world will be turned upside down. Will the people of Europe and the so called “free world” miss President Obama?
Let’s face it: it’s not the people of the “free world” who will miss Mr. Obama, but the mainstream media and the elites who fear that the new US president can’t be controlled. Mr. Trump obviously doesn’t fear the “deep state”, the Secret Service, the CIA, and for this reason says what he thinks and probably will do what he wants. It is refreshingly democratic to see a president who is not full of fear and speaks unscripted. I don’t think that the world will go under because of him.
Would it then be fair to say that you like Mr. Trump?
No, because I don’t like his arrogance, his xenophobia, his racism, his attitude towards women, muslims, LGBT and minorities, but I see him from a pragmatic, not a philosophical point of view. His industrial policy might turn out to be good for American workers, while his affiliation with big money will also tie him to Wall Street.
I, personally, am not too worried about US domestic policy because I don’t live in the US, but I still wouldn’t have voted for Mrs. Clinton. She didn’t offer any real alternatives. For us, Europeans, the election of Trump can bear fruit as we work to emancipate ourselves from US dominance.
US dominance? Can you elaborate?
Obama used US air bases in Germany to conduct his wars in Libya, Iraq and Syria, as well as his drone war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now, Mr. Trump is showing less eagerness in policing the world, and this will give us room to maneuver a bit more independently.
For the past 100 years whenever Germany tried to cooperate with Russia, the US put their foot in the door. Now, a new chance arises if Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin talk with each other and find solutions to Ukraine and Syria. Germany can also establish better relations with Russia again.
You think Mrs. Merkel will realign with Mr. Putin?
No, I think her time is over.
Are you saying she will loose the election in September?
She would, if my party, the Social Democrats, were brave enough to unite with the Greens and Die Linke (The Left) to unanimously nominate Sahra Wagenknecht as our candidate for chancellor.
What is keeping your party from doing this?
Vice Chancellor and SPD-chairman Sigmar Gabriel can’t jump over his own shadow. He knows that if he becomes the candidate we will get maybe 20%, not 40% like SPD used to have with chancellors Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schröder. Unfortunately, there are no charismatic candidates in our party, so one should form a platform with Die Linke and the Greens.
The right wing party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) will probably steal 10% of the votes from Mrs. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) so it would open a chance for a center-leftist majority, but only if SPD wins at least 35%. I think we will end up with a first ever coalition between CDU and the Greens, which would result in four more years of Mrs. Merkel.
Sahra Wagenknecht seems to be under attack not only from mainstream media but also from inside her party as she takes a tougher stance on refugees and holds the government accountable for the Berlin terrorist attack, blaming it on downsized police forces. Is that a leftist point of view?
Indeed, one should discuss these statements very carefully. It is not a leftist position to demand more police in response to terror attacks, but she did point out that the reasons behind the terror attacks in Europe are linked to the policies of Germany, the EU and also the US towards countries in the MENA region.
She did not link the refugees to the terrorist attack, but she was right to point out that uncontrolled migration is creating problems to which the state has not adequately responded. To let people into your country is one thing, to treat them as equal citizens and to provide equal opportunities for them is another.
Integration of refugees and migrants is most effective when they learn our language and find adequate work. However, the same rules and conditions should apply to them as apply to all other Germans. When the minimum wage rule is not applied to refugees, German workers are placed under serious pressure.
This issue has been totally neglected by the German government, which is why the people fear that too many foreigners are coming into Germany. The leftists and social democrats should stand in solidarity with refugees and workers fighting for equality.
But why is she under fire from her own party?
Because the ultra leftists in her party are dreaming of open borders and fail to see that the refugee crisis is a conspiracy, instigated by the US in order to destabilize the EU and weaken Germany.
By having millions of people flee to Europe, ISIS and Al-Qaida, both of which are products of US military invasion and intelligence support, challenged our humanitarian values and managed to shift Europe to the right after the centrist and leftist politicians mishandled the crisis.
Her party hasn’t woken up yet. They could win protest votes from AfD and become even stronger because AfD is a right wing party that lacks a social agenda. Ultimately, it’s another neo-liberal party, and the workers would favor Die Linke and Social Democrats if we demonstrated our understanding of their worries.
Ralph T. Niemeyer was born on October 9, 1969, in West-Berlin. He was the youngest-ever German journalist to interview chancellors Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl as well as other leaders, including Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Nelson Mandela.
After publishing secret arms deals of West-German politicians he fled to East-Germany in spring of 1989 just before the Berlin Wall came down. In the early 1990s he married today’s German oppositional leader Sahra Wagenknecht. They divorced in 2013.
Today Niemeyer is involved in politics, he is an ultra-leftist member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD).
US President-elect Donald Trump has hinted that the US could lift its sanctions against Russia, called Merkel’s migrant policy “a catastrophic mistake” and branded NATO “obsolete” in a new interview for The Times and Bild.
The interview was given in the President-elect’s office in Trump Tower, just days before his inauguration.
Trump was quite straightforward in speaking out in favor of some common ground with Moscow.
“They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia. For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially,” Trump said to the two media outlets.
At the same time, sanctions aren’t affecting Russia well, [and] “something can happen that a lot of people are going to benefit,” he added.
Moving on to other topical issues, Trump slammed Angela Merkel’s migrant policy as “a catastrophic mistake,” saying that Germany shouldn’t have taken “all these illegals.”
“Nobody even knows where they come from,” Trump added.
Trump wasn’t optimistic about the fate of the EU, either, saying that there is basically one country that benefits from staying in the bloc.
“You look at the European Union and it’s Germany. Basically a vehicle for Germany. That’s why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out.”
Trump thinks it was the refugee influx that was “the final straw that broke the camel’s back” for the EU.
“I believe others will leave. I do think keeping it together is not going to be as easy as a lot of people think. And I think that if refugees keep pouring into different parts of Europe, it’s going to be very hard to keep it together because people are angry about it,” he said.
Another block that, according to Trump, has long outlived its usefulness, is NATO, as it is “obsolete,”“was designed many years ago” and some of its members aren’t paying in enough.
“The countries aren’t paying their fair share so we’re supposed to protect countries. There’s five countries that are paying what they’re supposed to. Five. It’s not much,” Trump said.
US policies came under fire afterward, with Trump branding the US-Iran nuclear agreement “one of the dumbest deals” he’s ever seen, and then calling the invasion of Iraq “possibly the worst decision, ever made in the history of our country. It’s like throwing rocks into a beehive.”
However, there was at least one thing Trump was very enthusiastic about – and that’s Brexit.
Citing the fall in the British pound, Trump said “business is unbelievable in a lot of parts of the UK, as you know. I think Brexit is going to end up being a great thing.”
Also, the president-elect said he was planning to make a trade deal with the UK “very quickly.”
“I’m a big fan of the UK, we’re going to work very hard to get it done properly.”
Last but not least, Trump was asked about his social media presence and whether he would tune it down after the inauguration. In short, the answer is no.
“@realDonaldTrump I think, I’ll keep it. I’ve got 46 million people right now — [on] including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, so I’d rather just let that build up.”
And the tweeting is here to stay, the president-elect said.
“I thought I’d do less of it, but I’m covered so dishonestly by the press that I can put out Twitter – and it’s not 140, it’s now 280 – and as soon as I tweet it out — this morning on television, Fox — ‘Donald Trump, we have breaking news.’”
Once an assumption of benevolent leadership is made the tendency has been to interpret subsequent acts in benevolent terms. When George W. Bush was president this took the form of his supporters believing that Saddam Hussein brought down the Twin Towers, that Iraq had an ongoing WMD program and that the role of America was to ‘free’ the world of tyrants. All evidence to the contrary was taken as either fraudulent or partisan bickering.
The theory amongst bourgeois liberals in the early-mid 2000s was that this trait was peculiar to the more evangelically inclined supporters of national Republicans who had been swayed by the culture wars. The arrogance of the conceit is likely due in part to class difference, in part to conflation of education with intelligence (class difference) and in part to identitarian politics that well serve the powers that be. A question to ask then is: who benefits from political divisions?
The assumption precludes legitimate critique. Those doing the criticizing have to be in some sense enemies of benevolence (goes the logic). But what if the critiques derive from differences in circumstances and lived experience? This is most certainly the case when national policies like trade agreements benefit one group to the detriment of another. Who, besides economists, would give credence to an abstract benefit when their own life is being destroyed?
Whether Democrats like the idea or not, Donald Trump’s election is a result of Barack Obama’s eight years in office. Mr. Obama’s policies benefited the rich a lot, the liberal class a bit and the other 90% of the population not that much. His benevolence was not very evenly distributed. In fact, his neoliberal tendencies hurt a lot of people. And all it takes is one visit to the doctor to learn the difference between health insurance and health care.
History Shits the Bed
By the fall of 2011 the streets of Manhattan were filled once again with twenty-somethings carrying shopping bags holding as much bounty as they could carry. The cranes used to build luxury condos that had been stopped in mid-motion in 2009 were back to work. Stock and house prices were rebounding and conspicuous consumption amongst the newly revived banker and executive classes was back in the news. Pockets of economic recovery could be found around the country.
Barack Obama had saved the economy from a second Great Depression went the story-line. Obama Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was featured as a savior in glowing posters on the New York subway. The economic statistics were of economic recovery at rates of change not seen in recent history, if from levels of economic catastrophe. There was some ‘clean-up’ to be done around the edges, but America had been pulled back from the abyss.
The liberal class gave wide berth to the newly homeless who were beginning to fill certain blocks and streets. The poverty rate kept rising, even in New York, but that was because people didn’t have the skills employers were demanding assured the economists. Foreclosures continued to drive millions of families from their homes, but the Obama administration was doing what it could with ‘foreclosure relief’ programs that ‘foamed the runway’ with the lives of ordinary citizens for the benefit of Wall Street.
By 2012 bourgeois chatter had it that anyone who wanted a job could find one. Amongst the liberal elite in New York, this was largely true. But in the suburbs the distance between those hanging on and those who weren’t was growing. Foreclosure maps told a story of ongoing crisis. The clean and safe mini-estates that had been the call of the suburbs turned into prisons for the newly unemployed whose houses were worth so little that they could no longer sell them to search for employment.
But the suburbs were still relatively wealthy, if on a case-by-case basis, compared to the urban and rural neighborhoods targeted by the banks with predatory loans. Large and demographically concentrated neighborhoods, mostly poor neighborhoods of color, were partially or wholly abandoned by people who couldn’t pay their mortgages. And the banks were fine with ‘zombie’ foreclosures because they were off the hook for maintaining them and paying taxes.
If you’re poor in America you are on your own when the shit hits the fan. Kids, children, who were eight years old in 2008 are sixteen or seventeen years old now. Some I know have been able to pull their lives together after being homeless for a few years. Lots more are still sleeping in cars and trying to piece together enough work to eat. In 2017. Necessity has made them resourceful. Otherwise, they’re a lot like the rest of us.
With only superficial irony, many of the really poor kids have cell phones— a luxury, right? Did you ever try to find a job without an address or a phone number? How about apply for SNAP (food stamps)? Many of the vagrancy laws that supported Jim Crow are still on the books. If the cops want to put you in jail, they can. In America most of the ways of contending outside of corporate life are illegal. To end the suspense, this isn’t an accident.
Liberals, Meet the Deplorables
I’ve had long conversations with people who voted for Donald Trump— displaced manufacturing workers mostly who are in various stages of rebuilding their lives or watching them fall apart. Unlike the ‘deplorables’ of liberal infamy, they are basically decent people who want their lives back. For those displaced before the onset of the Great Recession, the stories have been of slow decline from well-paying jobs to hourly work or quasi-professional jobs that are still, in 2017, being diminished.
Those cut loose after 2008 saw rapid spirals down. One career mechanical engineer saw the company he had worked for for fifteen years bought out by a private equity firm in 2009. He was fired along with everyone he worked with when production was moved overseas. The workers filed a class action lawsuit to recover their pensions taken in the buyout. His wife left him the same week his house was foreclosed on. Right now he’s pumping gas at a highway rest stop to make ends meet.
Democrat ‘trade’ agreements combined with consequence-free bailouts for Wall Street place national Democrats and displaced workers and the poor on opposite sides of a vicious class war. The dominant refrain I’ve heard from the displaced across racial lines is ‘we need a fucking revolution.’ Before the DNC settled the issue in Hillary Clinton’s favor, I made my pitch for Bernie Sanders. The overwhelming pushback was: the Democrats are the Party of Wall Street and free trade agreements. The mechanical engineer knew that Bernie was toast months before I did.
Everyone Has Five Houses, Don’t They?
Democrat support for the rich and connected creates an odd dynamic for the bourgeois liberals pushing the ‘resist Trump’ movement. Whatever Democrats might say about Republican ‘obstruction,’ Barack Obama had eight years in which to enact the national Democrats’ agenda. From the perspective of those left behind— and a lot of people were, do you give four or eight more years to the people who left you behind or do you try something else?
The displaced workers I’ve met tended to know more about the Democrats’ actual policies than Democrats do, possibly because they’ve lived them. Even after Hillary Clinton lost the election Barack Obama was still pushing the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) to ‘secure his legacy.’ And lest you be unaware, the TPP isn’t a trade deal per se— even Democrat loyalist and erstwhile economist Paul Krugman agrees that it isn’t. Its purpose is to give multi-national corporations more control over our lives.
For example, it would give coal extraction companies the right to sue for lost profits from the EPA’s rule that American utilities must switch from burning coal to less polluting fuels— one of Barack Obama’s ‘signature’ environmental achievements. This would require utility customers, taxpayers or both to pay for the coal not burned and the replacement fuel, a state of affairs that would quickly force a reversal of the EPA policy. So, is Mr. Obama an environmentalist or not?
The mechanism for doing this, the ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) provision, is a key part of the TPP. It works by allowing corporations to sue civil governments to recover lost profits when they enact laws to regulate environmental destruction or public health. And a big difference is that Donald Trump’s cabinet can be removed from office whereas the TPP is a civil doomsday device that is nearly impossible to undo once passed. Mr. Obama’s supporters know this, right?
A Bailout by Any Other Name Smells Just as Bad
Economists love the phrase ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ Their neo-Victorian point is that nature chooses the winners and losers in a market economy. As with the premise of benevolent leadership (above), the premise of benevolent system (capitalism) requires a kind of backward induction where all outcomes are interpreted and explained in terms of the benevolence of the system.
By continuing and extending the George W. Bush administration’s bailouts of Wall Street and the auto industry Barack Obama is credited by his supporters with staving-off a ‘second Great Depression.’ Dean Baker has done yeomen’s work debunking this nonsense. On the auto industry front, Mr. Obama maintained the tiered wage structure that left new auto workers earning near-poverty wages while auto executives were back to multi-million dollar bonuses in short order. Thanks Barack.
The bailouts of Wall Street had more moving parts. For those with an interest, Milton Friedman (bear with me) and Charles Kindleberger provide histories of the Great Depression from differing perspectives. Long story short, many of the structural problems that exacerbated the impact of bank failures in the Great Depression were resolved by FDR with bank reforms. Government sponsored deposit insurance alone provided a back-stop in 2008 that didn’t exist when FDR entered office.
Sweden undertook a smaller and less complicated nationalization of its banking system in the rolling Scandinavian banking crises of the late 1980s – early 1990s. It led to full recovery of the Swedish economy in quick order. In 2009 the idea of nationalization was put forward and quickly disposed of on ideological grounds by the Obama administration. FDR had proved that banks do just fine as heavily regulated quasi-utilities. But as Timothy Geithner put it: ‘America doesn’t do nationalization.’
As Matt Taibbi reported at the time, the ‘bailouts’ were a feeding frenzy amongst connected insiders where relatives of bankers (link above); hedge fund and private equity managers were given hundreds of millions of dollars in low interest loans that only had to be repaid if those that received them felt like it (non-recourse). As I explained here and the Bank of England explains here, global central banks acted to revive the prices of assets held by Wall Street and the global rich under the manufactured delusion that ‘we all benefit’ when the rich are made richer.
Had Wall Street been nationalized when Barack Obama had the chance the driving force of global environmental catastrophe, militarism, the concentration of wealth and recurrent economic crises could have been put toward serving the public interest. But Mr. Obama was ideologically opposed to doing so. This is something Mr. Obama’s supporters still don’t get— Mr. Obama is ideologically committed to neoliberalism. By late 2016 he was still pushing the neoliberal program with the TPP.
The argument that the Obama administration saved the U.S. from a second Great Depression is complete and utter bullshit. Moreover, Mr. Obama oversaw the most corrupt redistribution of national wealth in human history with the bailouts. Lest this seem hyperbolic, go back a reread Matt Taibbi’s reporting from 2009 and 2010 (link above). For people who were paying attention in the early years of the Obama administration, the contention that Donald Trump and his incoming administration are corrupt by comparison confuses method with substance.
Try a Little Tenderness
A good way to put the charge of a ‘deplorable’ class to the test would be to resolve the economic issues that are the basis for legitimate criticism and then see where this leaves us. Barack Obama had eight years to do so. He spent the first four arguing for austerity while he gave hundreds of millions of dollars in free money to connected insiders. He spent the second four arguing that the economy was healed and that what we need is more trade agreements.
Anyone with an interest can travel outside of the bourgeois ghettoes of Manhattan, Washington and Silicon Valley to see how the rest of the country is living. Fifty years of neoliberalism have left much of the country an economic wasteland. Across the Northeast banks and private equity firms are selling houses that were emptied eight years ago and have been hidden from sight since then. Their displaced occupants are paying rent they can’t afford and are but one paycheck away from ruin. Don’t take my word for it, see for yourselves.
The U.S. is currently nearing a full-blown political crisis. Liberals are being played by Democrat Party insiders and deep-state operatives. The ignorance of history required to believe that the CIA, FBI and NSA are benevolent entities that speak the truth is breathtaking. Furthermore, if Democrats want to contend that Wall Street’s and Exxon-Mobil’s interests are benign but Russia’s aren’t (where is the evidence?), what possible problem could they have with Donald Trump’s Cabinet?
The half of the electorate that voted for Donald Trump can rightly ask Democrats where they’ve been for the last eight years. (I voted Green but would have preferred a radical Left Party to vote for). Russia didn’t force Barack Obama to be an austerity loving, neoliberal tool. When millions of people are tossed onto an economic garbage heap, it’s politics 101 to expect a response. And before you call the response ugly, take a look at what was done to those who were tossed away. How ugly was that? How ugly would it be if it was done to you?
Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.
US President-Elect Donald Trump has told British officials that he wants to hold a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Reykjavik, Iceland, the Sunday Times reported.
The meeting with Vladimir Putin is set to become Donald Trump’s first foreign trip, and the US leader will start working on an agreement limiting nuclear arms within a “reset” in US-Russian relations, according to the newspaper.
Sources close to the Russian Embassy in London said to The Sunday Times that Moscow would agree to a summit between Putin and Trump.
The meeting would come just over 30 years since the historic summit on October 11-12, 1986, between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the second in a series of meetings that relaunched the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The latest report comes just a day after Trump expressed openness to lifting the sanctions against Russia “under certain conditions.”
In an hour-long interview with the Wall Street Journal on Friday, Trump said he wants to keep the sanctions that the Obama administration recently imposed on Russia “at least for a period of time.”
However, Trump added that he would consider lifting the restrictions, depending on how helpful the Russians are in the fight against terrorism, as well as assisting with other goals that he feels are key to the US.
BEIJING – China and Vietnam on Saturday issued a joint communique, pledging to manage maritime differences and safeguard the peace and stability of the South China Sea.
The communique was issued as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) Central Committee Nguyen Phu Trong paid a four-day official visit to China since Thursday.
China and Vietnam had “a candid exchange of views” on maritime issues, according to the communique.
Both countries pledged to seek basic and long-term solutions that both sides can accept via negotiation, and discuss transitional solutions that will not affect each other’s stance including the research of joint development, it said.
Both sides agreed to fully and effectively implement the Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea and strive for the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct (COC) on the basis of consensus in the framework of the DOC, said the communique.
Both sides agreed to manage maritime differences and avoid any acts that may complicate the situation and escalate tensions so as to safeguard peace and stability of the South China Sea, it said.
During Trong’s four-day visit, he met with five of the seven members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, including talks with General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping, and separate meetings with Premier Li Keqiang, top legislator Zhang Dejiang, top political advisor Yu Zhengsheng and top graft-buster Wang Qishan.
Yu and Trong also attended a grand reception marking the 67th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties as well as the upcoming Lunar New Year.
According to the communique, both sides believed that the visit was a great success that had further enhanced political mutual trust, consolidated traditional friendship, deepened strategic partnership of comprehensive cooperation and contributed to regional peace, stability and development.
The two countries agreed that it was of great importance and strategic guidance to bilateral ties that the high-level officials of both countries and parties, especially the top leaders of the two countries, maintain frequent contact, it said, calling for more exchanges and cooperation via bilateral mutual visits, sending envoys, hotlines, annual meeting and meetings at multilateral occasions.
Both sides also encouraged cooperation on economy and trade, defense, security and law enforcement, cultural, youth and local areas, the communique said.
Vietnam supports and will actively participate in a summit forum on the international cooperation along the Belt and Road to be hosted by China in 2017, said the communique.
Besides Beijing, Trong also paid a visit to east China’s Zhejiang Province, it said.
The American government is ending some economic sanctions against Sudan as a reward for Khartoum’s closer ties with the West and Saudi Arabia, an African American journalist in Detroit says.
“The Sudanese government has shifted its foreign policy more towards Saudi Arabia,” said Abayomi Azikiwe, editor at the Pan-African News Wire.
“This is reflected in their participation in the war against Yemen… also they’ve broken diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Azikiwe said in a phone interview with Press TV on Friday.
“So I think this is a reward for Sudan in regard to moving closer to the West,” he added.
Obama signed an executive order on Friday to ease but not eliminate some trade and investment sanctions against Khartoum, arguing that the East African country has shown “a marked reduction in offensive military activity, culminating in a pledge to maintain a cessation of hostilities in conflict areas.”
The outgoing president expressed determination that the situation which led the US to impose and continue the 20-year-old sanctions had changed in light of Sudan’s “positive actions” over the last six months.
Sudan has been under US sanctions since 1997. Washington accuses Khartoum of supporting terrorist groups, and it has blacklisted the country as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1993.
The US has accused Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir of war crimes related to the conflict-torn Darfur region.
Violence broke out in Darfur in 2003 when ethnic minority rebels rose against the long-time ruler, accusing Bashir’s Arab-dominated government of marginalizing the region.
Despite earlier threats made by US President-elect Donald Trump to dismantle the nuclear agreement with Iran, his pick for US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has called for a “full review” of the accord, but fallen short of seeking an outright rejection. Reacting to the remarks, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Majid Takht-e Ravanchi emphasized that the nuclear deal also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is not negotiable.
Kaveh Afrasiabi, author and political scientist from Boston, believes that Tillerson’s remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee show that the incoming administration will abide by the JCPOA.
“At least in the intermediate term, the Trump administration is going to stick with the nuclear agreement while it is reviewing it,” Afrasiabi told Press TV on Friday night.
There are “some positive signs coming from the cabinet members of the Trump administration” regarding the implementation of the JCPOA, he added.
Tillerson implicitly emphasized on maintaining the nuclear deal by saying that the US should use elements of the nuclear agreement.
Afrasiabi interpreted Tillerson’s statements as positive and a good sign compared to all the negative rhetoric made by Trump himself and some of his associates.
He recalled that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has issued several reports on Iran’s full compliance with its obligations under the nuclear accord.
“Tillerson should not have any problem with the compliance and enforcement” of the deal, because it is a win-win agreement that serves the interests of both sides, he noted.
He mentioned that the new administration’s right to review agreements signed by its predecessor “should not morph into questioning this multi-lateral agreement (JCPOA).”
Iran and the six world powers signed the nuclear accord in July 2015. According to the deal, the Islamic Republic agreed to restrict its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions by the P5+1.
In his farewell address, President Obama bluntly laid down a challenge – “If anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system – that covers as many people at less cost – I will publicly support it.”
There is such a plan. Not only does it cover as many people as Obamacare, it covers everyone. And at less cost than Obamacare.
Everybody in. Nobody out.
And Obama did publicly support it. Before he turned against it.
That plan was put together more than fifty years ago – it’s called single payer.
And we as a country implemented it for people of a certain age – it’s called Medicare.
The single payer Medicare for All bill has been languishing in Congress for decades – it’s called HR 676.
It will again be introduced into the new Congress sometime over the next couple of weeks.
And before Obama was against single payer, Obama was for it.
In 2003, as a state Senator in Illinois, Obama publicly supported single payer.
“I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program,” Obama said at the time. “I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that’s what Jim is talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out. A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that’s what I’d like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.”
Which of course the Democrats did.
And then Obama let the insurance industry write Obamacare and push single payer off the table.
Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter..
A raw and sometimes darkly comic survey of America’s treacherous political terrain
By John Chuckman | Aletho News | January 12, 2017
The books about The Wizard of Oz were written as satire on American politics, but Hollywood, in its inimitable way, turned them into a song-and-dance picture for children. Still, one scene in the film has a sense of the author’s intent. That scene is when Dorothy, in Emerald City, approaches a closet-like structure, which, as it happens, is the Wizard’s control booth for sounds and smoke and lights, his special effects for intimidating visitors and impressing them with non-existent power.
The entrance curtain happens to be open, so Dorothy sees a modest man busily pulling levers and pushing buttons and speaking into a microphone which alters his voice into a great booming one, echoing like a great organ in a cathedral. When the man realizes that he is being watched, he makes a last effort and booms out words along the lines of “Pay no attention to the man in the booth.” Of course, the jig is up, and we all understand there is no wizard.
What better allegory for events in Washington today could there be? We have booming noises and smoke and glaring lights, and it all comes from a rather sad little – little in the sense of failed – man with about two weeks left to sit at his big desk and pretend that he is a great and powerful wizard. Except, when you are President, as this man is, you can never be observed in your control booth and you have your stunts and booming claims seconded by a chorus of flacks, hangers-on, and political appointees, presumably lending a semblance of authenticity and substance.
What the controversy engendered by “the Russians did it” has achieved is almost the opposite to what was intended. Dubious claims and pretend evidence have caused lights to shine brightly over what is a blanketing fabric of dishonesty in America’s establishment. The fabric covers everything from foreign affairs and the military to the details of domestic affairs. It is immense, complex, and carefully constructed covering, and those who created it have very little tolerance for any of it being scrutinized under spotlights. Achieving this scrutiny may be regarded as Obama’s final act of failure.
Whether it is “the Russians hacked the DNC” or “America has been bombing ISIS in Syria” or “the Russians threaten Eastern Europe” or “the Russians committed atrocities in Aleppo” or “Russia shot down Flight MH-17,” the same tiresome actors making the same unsupported claims have for eight years expected that just their inflated job titles should intimidate us into believing them. Proof? Who needs that? Would I lie to you about such matters? Once you start something foolish as Obama has done, and it is widely understood as being foolish, you only weaken your authority over all the other less-obviously dubious claims you have been making. The fabric of lies becomes weakened, and that is one of Obama’s small, but unintended, achievements now.
Even as I write these words, the first big wave of the Obama-Clinton unsupported claims, unsupported, that is, except by hack appointees like James Clapper, is receding. The world quickly reached a verdict of “nonsense.” But a second wave now laps up with an equally unsupported claim that the Russians have a compromising dossier on Donald Trump, an attempt to plant the idea that Russia will have direct influence over Trump’s policies. This malicious effort at “poisoning the well” for a political successor, brings to mind the time, some years back, when the ugliest of clutch of Israeli settlers, those who swaggered around Gaza behind barbed wire enclosed-compounds, full of attitude and always toting light machine guns while under the malevolent guard of Israeli soldiers, decided to leave their hopeless situation. They quite literally poisoned the water wells they had used before strutting away. I cannot imagine a much shabbier act. But here is Obama and his appointees doing much the same thing, effectively hacking away at what little democracy America has left out of sheer maliciousness.
I don’t mean to say that such gross lying began with Obama. The wizard’s control booth for smoke and lights and thundering sounds was not invented by him. There was nothing but eight years of lies from the weird triumvirate presidency of Cheney-Rumsfeld-Bush and from the corrupt and often-inept Clinton government. Lies are what big countries or organizations do when their activities will not stand up to public scrutiny. When countries secretly play dirty tricks, when they kill, and when they apply mafia-like pressure on allies and international organizations to do as they are told, they simply lie about all of it, always. Such activity has characterized America for a very long time. How can it be otherwise when you try to control the planet?
It’s just that eight years ago, we had some reason to believe Obama would be different, at least a little different, but he is not. He is just as shabby, murderous, and deceitful as his immediate predecessors, sometimes even more so. He has been at war somewhere every single day of his eight years. He has bombed seven countries. In his last year alone, he is said to have dropped over 26,000 bombs. Literally hundreds of thousands have died at the hands of the Peace Prize winner with the big boyish smile. I’ve often asked myself what it is that motivates Obama, and I don’t know. Sometimes he seems to fit the well-known pattern of the charming, smiling psychopath who secretly likes to kill.
Sometimes he just seems weak and, yes, cowardly, someone who has allowed the brass and big suits around those conference tables to run roughshod over him, leaving him with nothing but the pretense of authority. This could explain what is a remarkable sense of arrogance observed at times when he is around outsiders as a kind of psychological reflex to his living in his job under constant bullying. After all, Bush’s whole presidency was a pretense: he pretended to be president, and Cheney and Rumsfeld – the precise quality of men who, had they lived in 1930s’ Germany would have been seen happily “working towards the Führer” as they used to say – deferentially allowed him to do so as they ran everything. Bush was the first president to prove America doesn’t even need a president except to sign documents, much like the formal requirement for a witness’s signature on a legal document.
We know, too, that Bush was as close to a moron as ever held the office, because we watched his insipid face and listened to his inability to articulate a clear sentence for eight years. Sometimes, we do see glimmers of something similar from Obama, statements and behaviors that would not be expected from someone of forceful intelligence – the unsupported Russian hacking accusations being one, but also such matters as his foolish public dismissal of Russia, the only country which can literally obliterate the United States, as a great power – only with Obama we don’t see Bush’s Alfred E. Neuman look, we see a serious, stiff mien and a tone and posture of arrogance. A well-practiced cover-up behavior for inadequacies?
I don’t know, and it really does not matter. He has been a terrible president in every important respect, but he maintains a fair number of supporters who I guess are impressed with the big boyish smile, although that is seen far less often now, the baritone voice, and perhaps the sheer, unprecedented fact of a black man standing in his position. There’s no accounting for taste or popularity, as we see in every corner of contemporary celebrity culture, and American politics absolutely has an important element of celebrity culture, just as it loves to use celebrities as endorsements. Think of the last days of Hillary Clinton’s tired campaign when she had, yes, Beyoncé and Jay Z appearing in Ohio. It is hard to imagine what political or economic or social information that pair of pop celebrities had to offer voters, and it was reported by some that they were quietly paid millions for some minutes of effort to help swing the state with razzle-dazzle. After all, this was the Hillary Campaign, a glorious travelling circus that is estimated to have burned through $1.2 billion.
Many do expect something different from Trump, and we can hope their expectations are well-founded. His entire path to the presidency does show some unorthodox attitudes and methods – unorthodox, that is, by the claustrophobic standards and practices of that center of world empire, Washington, not unorthodox in some wider sense – and they show a very tough and driven man. It is simply a fact that anyone missing the last quality cannot function effectively as President in 21st-century America. The general environment in Washington, without the least exaggeration, may be compared to the proverbial snake pit or to scenes from the last days of Roman Empire.
That is why, for example, Bernie Sanders is such a hopeless hope. The man conducted an impressive crusade, displaying considerable skills, yet he just folded in the end, leaving his enthusiastic followers in limbo and giving up to Hillary Clinton who represented almost everything he opposed and who stood before him as someone who had just clearly cheated him out of the nomination through a whole range of cheats, ploys and gimmicks. Yet, he just accepted her and even did some campaigning for her.
Such a personality offers zero promise in face-to-faces with Pentagon generals, CIA Big Suits, mega-corporation presidents, and some foreign leaders who are closer to Mafiosi than politicians. What do you expect out of a little place like Vermont? It’s lovely. I’ve spent time there. But it resembles a great deal something from a backlot set for “Lassie Come Home” or “Anne of Green Gables.” I know, I know, Bernie originally came from hard-bitten New York, but the operative word there is “came.” Whatever his reasons for seeking bucolic, low-stress bliss, they do not make him material for presiding over Washington’s Chamber of Horrors.
Many Americans themselves, including both liberals and conservatives, are well aware of the dishonesty of their government, if only in a vague sense, but they know the task of doing anything about it is just too overwhelming and difficult to consider. After all, peasants on a 17th century estate hardly dared dream of changing the “natural order” in which they lived. And ordinary Americans work extremely hard to raise their families, and a great many of them do not work at all. They do not command great resources for all the costs and activities of a crusade. The general human condition in Western countries has not changed quite so much as some like to imagine over a few centuries of enlightenment and progress. A huge number of Americans count only for brief moments when their ballots are sought with sound-bites and vacuous ads. Afterwards, the establishment goes on just as before, ignoring them and getting back to the business of lying.
The papers people read – and, thanks to the spreading, corrosive effects of American imperialism, I include other Western countries, not just the United States – and the broadcasts to which they listen are uniform in discouraging any truly fresh way of looking at things and in suppressing the hope that arrangements can be much different. They universally avoid telling the truth where government prefers that they don’t. The idea of independent and principled journalism is something you only find in brochures for journalism schools or in Hollywood films.
The two major American political parties – together forming a duopoly of political power little different in overall its effect from the kind of monopoly power American authorities like to disparage in other, “less free” places – certainly do not provide much room for fresh voices or new initiatives. Over long periods, they can actually be quite stifling, much like high officials in a church concerning accepted truth and doctrine. The parties are totally dominated by money – money that can only come in the volumes required for marketing, advertising, polls, make-up artists, wardrobe consultants, facilities of every kind, publicity, and travel expenses from extremely wealthy people and special interests who are not the least interested in any significant change to a very cozy and comfortable situation.
The dominance of the Clintons in the Democratic Party through their money connections has been an arrangement to defend the status quo. It was a clever construction. The Clintons got to be center stage, play-acting as liberals and agents of change, in exchange for the kind of money which absolutely guaranteed that they never for a moment could forgot that they were just playing parts, not really doing anything of consequence. Bill Clinton’s record as President is interchangeable, remarkably so, with what might have been expected from a traditional Republican. Hillary’s record as Secretary of State made her promise for the future, if anything, far more extreme in the same direction, and especially when it came to serving special interests and waging bloody war. The woman wore $11,000 Armani suits regularly and commanded $300,000 a pop plus expenses and comforts (right down to a standard demand for a certain bottled water to be supplied) for a long series of tedious speeches on America’s military given to investment bankers, and she made private jokes about people dying, as we know she said of Julian Assange, “Couldn’t we just drone him or something?” Or there was her appalling joke about the murder of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, a man who had been a good leader to his people, “We came, we saw, he died! Ha, ha, ha!”
The Democratic Party, given its distant past, especially the now all-but-forgotten legacy of Franklin Roosevelt, is the one from which an outsider viewing America, with no close knowledge of it, might reasonably have expected to find some prospect for change. But that seems a naïve hope if you understand who are the interests keeping the wheels of the organization turning.
The Democratic Party has become completely an establishment party, and one that literally morphed into the War Party along the way. Today, it offers a menu of the lightest possible offerings of social interest – the political equivalent of a platter of Ladies’ Tearoom sandwiches and dainties served by waiters in white gloves – just to differentiate itself from the Republicans and to make Americans of any degree of genuine liberal sentiment feel a little more comfortable. Since there aren’t a great number of the latter left in America by all appearances, the offerings can indeed be extremely modest.
Of course, these menu offerings consist of suggestions, attitudes, and slogans, not hard proposals for change, real change, in anything. The Democrats’ recent history of political behavior much resembles what mega-corporations do when they stick an image of a pink bow on their product packaging for a while and run a few, likely tax-deductible, ads promising purchasers that they will be helping in the fight against breast cancer by buying the brand. Imagine a package of Marlboros with a pink bow printed on it, and you get the picture.
Nothing better represents this modern Democratic leitmotif than Hillary Clinton’s long record of sound-bite concerns on many topics accompanied by a record of no actual effort spent on doing anything beyond getting elected. She started her last campaign saying every woman who is a rape victim deserved to be believed – something surely many young women and sympathetic men found re-assuring – yet she herself had dismissed privately, out-of-hand, for years a platoon of women pointing to her own predatory husband with the same charge.
Again, her displeasure with the Electoral College – echoed recently after her defeat – was first declared back in 2000, when George Bush won with a popular minority, but there is no record of her doing any work towards amending that outdated and anti-democratic provision of the Constitution, as during her eight years as a Senator. No, that would be a huge task to undertake, and political rewards are greater for sound-bites than they are for actual slogging hard work on anything most people do not even understand. Captains on the bridge with their gold braid and brass buttons on immaculate uniforms get noticed, not the sweating engineers actually running the ship down in the boiler room.
Make no mistake, the Democrats are bedrock establishment today, a party defending mostly backward views of the world and of American society. They are nothing more than the political Coke to the Republican’s Pepsi, or vice versa. And all the endorsements and advertising in the world do not change the reality of two sugary, dyed, fizzy drinks, indistinguishable in taste to many. Eight years of Obama – a man whose first campaign saw him sometimes wearing sandals and eschewing a totemic, imperialistic American flag pin on his lapel and intoning to cheering crowds, “Yes, we can” – proved that beyond all doubt.
Political figures like Ralph Nader or Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein are pretty close to irrelevant in the steaming boiler room of real American politics. Ideas are virtually never an issue in American elections. Neither is improving government’s service to citizens, from education to healthcare. Neither is the proper financing and budgeting of government. Neither is a reduction to insane military and security spending. How can it be otherwise in this “pounding fist” of an imperial society? All such American politicians tend to remind one of some naïve political science professor lecturing a rapt first-year audience of undergraduates excited about being out of high school and entering “the real world.”
This is the center of a world empire. It maintains a gigantic military which virtually never stops fighting wars, none of them having anything to do with defense. It has created an intelligence monstrosity which makes old outfits like the Stazi seem almost quaint, and it spies on everyone. Indeed, it maintains seventeen national security establishments, as though you can never have too much of a good thing. And some of these guys, too, are engaged full-time in forms of covert war, from fomenting trouble in other lands and interfering in elections to overthrowing governments.
Barack Obama is not one of those marginal American politicians, having gained the leadership of one of the two great parties, and yet in eight years he changed almost nothing worth changing. Whether the plight of whistleblowers in America or the third-world conditions prevailing in American cities where many of his fellow black people survive in squalor. He did nothing to reform a financial system that gave the world a collapse from which it still has not recovered. He did virtually nothing about the nation’s rotting schools or rotting infrastructure. He whined about guns but never acted in a serious way on the huge problem of police who shoot people dead on the nation’s streets, more than 1,100 of them last year alone
Yet he signed, time after time, record legislation for squandering money on the military and Big Intelligence. Under his command, the Pentagon literally burned pallet-load shipments of cash on bad programs such as the failed F-35 fighter, a new super-aircraft carrier that doesn’t work, a new type of littoral combat ship that doesn’t work, and a new Zumwalt-class destroyer that has proven an embarrassment. And there are the hugely expensive and highly intrusive NSA Supercomputer Data Centers. This is not a record of which to be proud, and it is about as far from liberal or progressive as you can go.
And, of course, this “liberal,” as so many insist still on calling him, ended by killing more people than any dictator or demagogue of this generation on earth you care to name, several hundred thousand of them in his eight years. And he found new ways to kill, too, as by creating the world’s first industrial-scale extrajudicial killing operation. Here he signs off on “kill lists,” placed in his Oval Office in-box, to murder people he has never seen, people who enjoy no legal rights or protections. His signed orders are carried out by uniformed thugs working at computer screens in secure basements where they proceed to play computer games with real live humans as their targets, again killing or maiming people they have never seen.
If you ever have wondered where all the enabling workers came from in places like Stalin’s Gulag or Hitler’s concentration camps, well, here is your answer. American itself produces platoons of such people. You could find them working at Guantanamo and in the far-flung string of secret torture facilities the CIA ran for years, and you could find them in places like Fallujah or Samarra or Abu Ghraib, at the CIA’s basement game arcade killing centers, and even all over the streets of America dressed as police who shoot unarmed people every day, sometimes in the back.
Obama has told more lies than anyone could possibly count while conducting so much killing and destruction, and he has done so unblinkingly. If you have ever noticed, government officials doing shameful and illegal things do tend to lie about what it is they are doing. And when Obama wasn’t telling lies, he made secrecy and lack of transparency hallmarks of his administration. He is said to feel very harshly towards whistle-blowers and leakers. He ends his grubby term of office with baseless, self-serving public accusations comparable in every way to those of Senator Joe McCarthy of the early 1950s.
McCarthy, a Republican, was also someone the establishment quietly supported for a time. He served their purposes, until he started weaving dangerously on the road, much like a drunken driver. He departed from the accepted script and began hurling accusations everywhere, and not just accusations about “commies” in the State Department, a place the establishment of the time hated. He came to relish accusing some targets of being sexual perverts, and he attacked new target after new target, threatening the ability of government even to function. For those who don’t know, J. Edgar Hoover, perpetual director of the FBI and an early supporter of McCarthy, was gay and a cross-dresser in private.
Of course, the establishment doesn’t have to worry about the embarrassing excesses of Obama and pompous appointees like James Clapper, as they finally did about those of McCarthy, because this pair of vicious clowns faithfully did just as they were supposed to do, and they are now headed for the exit doors. But they do have to worry about Trump, a man who already has expressed intelligent skepticism over the offerings of Big Intelligence as well as intelligent skepticism about the shameful and immense waste of the Pentagon. Importantly, he has asked why the entire Mideast is on fire and why Russia should be viewed as an enemy. And that is why the likes of Obama and Clapper have taken on a last-minute, rearguard destructive operation on behalf of those fearful of change.
It is certain that Joseph McCarthy’s rise to power could not have happened without important silent support, and his fall, after pretty much disgracing himself, allowed members of the establishment to congratulate themselves in public over protecting America from such demagoguery. All of this, from beginning to end, was complete hypocrisy, the very kind of hypocrisy we have screaming at us today from Washington. A similar claque of powerful people today congratulates themselves on efforts to interfere with the proper and peaceful transition of power to a man they’ve arbitrarily labelled a demagogue.
America’s mainline press has supported the claque by painting Trump as a dangerous demagogue, and I think it is largely over their resentment for his literally hi-jacking a very tired, almost worn-out, Republican Party – which resembled a becalmed antique sailing ship going nowhere – and promising to power it off in new directions. Of course, those loyal to the Clinton-Obama War Party greedily join in the accusations against Trump, seemingly completely innocent or even unaware of behavior ranging from insider plots to steal Hillary’s nomination from a contender to killing a third of a million people in Syria and who knows how many in Libya.
Also, they literally hate the prospect that the War Party, which they have faithfully supported for years, may be crumbling. And, who knows, even the possible further prospect of its demise after recent events revealed it to the public as a mafia-like operation with little respect for democratic process or principles of any kind? Stranger things in politics have happened, and political parties are no more guaranteed eternal life than the crowds at American revival meetings who raise their arms in child-like fantasy towards some huckster-preacher banging the Bible at the podium.
You must always remember, America’s press, which loves to congratulate itself regularly on its journalistic principles, is a mature and in some ways declining industry which is owned, through consolidations, by a very small number of corporate interests who completely support the Neocon Wars and a highly aggressive American foreign policy which puts American corporate interests first, everywhere, and reduces foreign governments, such as those in Europe or Japan, to American satrapies. The dominant views of America’s establishment are not enlightened, not democratic, not open-minded. They are “me-first” and keep competitors abroad under your thumb.
The subject of the Neocon Wars raises the related issue of the Israel Lobby’s influence in American politics. These destructive wars and an associated hyper-aggressive American foreign policy reflect this influence. The term “Neocon” refers to a coterie of influential people in Washington over the last fifteen years or so, people who have openly advocated for a highly aggressive policy of asserting American global dominance, always including a subsidiary aim, expressed with the euphemism, “the birth of a new Middle East.” Eliminating any independent-mindedness in the countries of the Mideast and assuring Israel’s complete imperialistic dominance over the region are the primary goals of the wars and interventions which have cost about two million lives and immense destruction over the Bush-Obama era. The extent of much of this holocaust is allowed to remain hidden from the public by our obliging corporate press, and efforts at explaining the causes has been a great throbbing engine for the production of lies.
But what is the long-term sense of assuring total dominance by eight million people, many of them immigrants, over hundreds of millions of others with centuries of history in the region? Eight million people who have no relationship or common history or culture and views with the great masses over which they are to dominate? An essentially European, urban people who share only a religion – and many of them not even that since Israel has a high proportion of non-believers – with the ancient Hebrews who once lived there? Even that number of eight million is deceptive since it includes over a million Arabs who are accidentally, and not with full equality, technical citizens of Israel.
These terrible Neocon Wars are, in addition, largely responsible for two devastating developments in our time. The first is huge movements of terrified refugees into Europe, millions of them, causing immense difficulties and putting great stress on the very foundations of the EU.
The second is the phenomenon we call international terror, which in fact is a side effect of the Neocon Wars. A huge amount of weaponry has been scattered around in the region by supporters of the American policy. Then, large numbers of mercenaries and rootless, violent people have been deliberately recruited, paid, and supplied to assist in carrying out America’s policy, as in Libya and Syria. Finally, there are large numbers of angry young men now who seek revenge for what has been done to their homes and families. It is a witches’ brew our press deliberately confuses by calling it international terror while constantly promoting the idea of Arabs and Muslims being undependable, unstable, and backward people, a concept welcomed and supported by the residents of the American crusader fortress we call Israel. The entire effort has been a guaranteed formula for instability and human misery.
In reality, what we call international terror is largely the “blowback” of American policies which themselves amount to state terror. Israel, of course, finds comfort in headlines in the West about “international terror” since the fear of that notion helps Americans and Europeans feel a bit more bonded to the fears Israel has always felt in its position as a colony planted by violence in an alien region. Many Israelis undoubtedly feel about their millions of neighbors much the way the Old South’s planters used to feel about the large number of inhabitants in the slave quarters as they went to bed each night with pistols and daggers kept under their pillows. Fear of rebellion was constant and worked like a poisonous substance in the Old South society, even though there was only one rebellion, a small one too, that ever happened. That endless unease explains why Old South society was well known for its inclination to violence, as in the infamous “code of the Old South.” Doesn’t Israel have much the same reputation?
America’s assistance and policies keep a garrison state not only going but growing, growing through the regular seizure of their neighbors’ property, a terrible practice which successive American governments fear addressing. Why? I think the Israel Lobby’s extremely well-organized efforts in American politics explain that. Support Israel, almost unconditionally, and you will receive large campaign donations and positive press coverage (remembering, it is a much-consolidated American press owned by quite a small number of companies). Criticize Israel and your opponents will get the donations and you will get negative press coverage. This has been an on-going pattern since the days when Harry Truman first agreed to recognize Israel, against his private best judgment, at a time when he felt vulnerable because his own re-election was quite uncertain.
While in the short term this massive bloodshed and destruction may be reassuring for Israel, having pretty much everything around it flattened, over the long term I do not see how this can be anything but destabilizing.
Destabilizing just as is the $38 billion, ten-year military-assistance agreement Obama just extended to Israel, a country perfectly able to pay for its own defense. This amount vastly exceeds what the United States gives any other country, even far larger ones in far greater economic need. The amount represents an increase of more than a quarter over the previous decade’s assistance agreement. And Obama gave it without a single condition imposed on Israel at a time when Israel’s government is constantly violating laws, rights, and international norms and agreements. I can’t think of any other place on earth where it is regarded as just fine suddenly to march out and seize someone else’s farms or homes. You cannot build a sound future society for yourself that way, quite apart from the injustice and misery inflicted on others.
Yet, the press often gives the impression that Obama is no friend to Israel. It is well-known that Obama and Netanyahu personally dislike each other intensely, and Netanyahu has gone out of his way to demean or embarrass Obama several times. So, does the immense size of this military-assistance agreement reflect the influence of the Israel Lobby? I think it does, and it all points again to Obama’s total inability in office to fight for anything worth fighting for, such as conditions at least placed on a criminal government being handed a vast fortune, something approaching $500 each year for each citizen of Israel, almost a national basic personal income, if you will, supplied by America.
It is often asserted that the term “Israel Lobby” indicates prejudice, but saying that is just a form of reverse-prejudice, another version of the worn-threadbare accusation that if you criticize Israel, you are, ipso-facto, anti-Semitic. Indeed, this false idea has become as common as rain, and Israel has made considerable diplomatic efforts through the years, with some success, in Europe and in North America to have criticism of Israel criminalized in one fashion or another.
Two distinguished American scholars – John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government – wrote a serious book on the subject of the Israel Lobby, establishing the fact and of its existence beyond question. Others, too, have contributed to understanding the phenomenon.
And we also see, from time to time, events which bring the reality forcefully home. Israeli diplomats in London were just caught on video discussing bringing down British MPs regarded as unfriendly to Israel. Well, talk about direct interference in the internal affairs and elections of others! Newt Gingrich, when last running for his party’s presidential nomination, went around making speeches about how there really was no such thing as a Palestinian after receiving the best part of $20 million dollars in campaign donations from a very wealthy and avid supporter of Israel. Freshmen American Congressmen after an election are routinely “offered” – I put that in quotes because it is not an offer to be declined without political consequences – paid holidays to Israel for indoctrination. Recently, the New York Times confirmed the discovery that all of its stories concerning Israel are routinely passed by the official Israeli Censor before being published. Hillary’s most massive contributors over the years are members in good standing of the Lobby.
One of the most predictable and bordering-on-absurd regular happenings in Washington around this subject is Senator Lindsey Graham suddenly leaping to his feet at any mention of Israel which has even a hint of less-than-fulsome praise or at any proposal to give a less-than-lordly hand-out and going into paroxysms. I’ve asked myself why that would be. Why should Senator Graham, who represents Baptists in South Carolina, choose the role of political pit bull on guard for Israel? Why should he care so intensely and constantly about Israel? Well, I spent a short time reading about him and looking at photos, and I couldn’t help being struck by the distinct possibility of Senator Graham’s being gay.
Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being gay, unless you happen to represent South Carolina, surely one of the more backward and least tolerant states in the Union. My guess, and it is only a guess, is that Senator Graham was caught, years ago, in a “honey trap” by Mossad, and he has been given to understand that compromising photos exist. Today, he is a tireless defender of all things Israeli. It is hard to explain such sustained motivation otherwise. Exactly the same kind of thing happened to the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover early in his career. The Mafia is said to have had compromising photos of him and a male lover, and that old bull dog-faced lawman eventually became notorious for not pursuing the Mafia, allowing it decades of comfortable growth after the repeal of Prohibition.
He always chased instead almost non-existent Communists, keeping the Communist party of America’s ranks packed with undercover FBI Agents and its coffers filled with their expensed donations so that it kept the appearance of something formidable when it wasn’t and served to justify constant FBI budget increases. It might be called the “self-fulfilling prophecy” approach to spying, much like the CIA’s approach to its annual Soviet estimates during the Cold War. The estimates were always wildly inflated, and the CIA always got the budget increases it sought. Security service empires have a way of growing exponentially regardless of the threat level. They share with the military the almost magical ability to be always discovering dire new needs for their services.
The whole set of matters concerning Israel forms a huge indigestible mass at the very center of American politics. Clearly, it is better in every way to halt the Neocon wars. Clearly, also, it is better to force Israel to make peace and define its still undefined borders by accepting the status quo of 1967. Clearly, it is better to have a stable, peaceful region with good long-term relations with the United states. But, these things are easier said than done, and precisely because of the Israel Lobby which always defends Israel, even when it pursues destructive policies and goals, as it so frequently does.
A lot of people hope Trump will halt the stupid wars, and a lot of people, recognizing his political history of being an upstart without a lifetime’s obligations to the usual political crowd, think he may be in a good position to do something important in the Mideast. There is ambiguity here though, owing to some references about moving America’s embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a non-starter for peace, if ever there was one, but the references are also quite possibly a deal-maker lure, for there can be little doubt that Jerusalem will be the capital of both Israel and Palestine in the end.
At least, ending the wars is the sine qua non of anything to be called progress. It is also part of a needed de-escalation in America’s current hyper-aggressive global posture. If you want a better domestic economy, there are few better places to start than paring back the unbelievable waste of great masses of ships and planes and tanks rumbling around everywhere and creating nothing of economic value. Nothing is more wasteful and destructive than maintaining such a military establishment. No one better knows how to waste money than the military with its every movement of a truck or plane costing immensely more than the same act in the civilian economy and none of the movements producing any worthwhile good or service. And the nonsense of keeping Europe and Russia as near-enemies rather than flourishing economic partners only impoverishes everyone.
But it is not sound economic thinking or a sensible approach to world affairs which has governed America’s use of its military for years. It is indulgent, uncaring pride, the arrogance of a wealthy establishment which does what it does simply because it can. It is a formidable barrier against progress which is not going to just fade away. And Trump’s political base, while clearly excluding Neocons, does include the belly-over-the-belt types who, perhaps unthinkingly, like to see Old Glory waving everywhere. So, there is a big set of difficulties for him to work through, and it is not at all clear how he can do so.
The establishment’s waste and arrogance and paying-no-attention to ordinary people really are what motivated a lot of Americans to vote for Trump, especially when the other choice was the very embodiment of those arrogant qualities, annoyingly and patronizingly taking a moment, here and there, to nibble a piece of fried chicken with the folks in some obscure diner. Good photo-op. Americans very much feel they have a national government which behaves more as an occupying power than as a legitimate institution to serve them. And the fact that it spends so much time and money and credibility on trying to control the planet does have a tendency to influence its resources and its very attitudes at home. After all, they are occupied with earth-shattering matters abroad, and you, well, you just don’t count in the scheme of things.
But politics never provides complete change, as some naïve political thinkers like to believe. America remains a huge imperial power essentially run by wealthy people for the interests of wealthy people, and that is not going to change any time soon, but that does not preclude some changes in the way things have been conducted because not all wealthy people see their interests as being identical, and wealthy people making decisions do sometimes make very bad ones. Never mind how the Pentagon and CIA, under Obama and Bush, have stomped their heels into the necks of countless thousands of innocents and wrecked whole societies, just look on the home front at the shabby way corporate giants can behave.
We have Amazon’s Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post and turning it into a more complete propaganda factory than ever, publishing, for example, a scurrilous, libelous list of Internet sites said to be under Russian influence, a list obtained from an “anonymous source” which almost certainly just happen to reside in Langley, Virginia. We have Facebook’s shuffling, t-shirted multi-billionaire appointing himself American Guru of Truth and Fakery in the News. This from the founder of one of the most fake-filled sites on the Internet, notorious previously for fake reader “likes” which affect advertising rates, but, more importantly, an outfit which ceaselessly censors and spies on its users, sucking information from them like a Dyson whirlwind vacuum cleaner to sell to marketers and send along to the security services. Recently, when I use my Google bookmark link for Russia’s Sputnik (formerly, RIA Novosti, The Voice of Russia ), an informative and entertaining site I have checked for years, Google frequently inserts a warning page telling me that it is dangerous to proceed, a page which includes a button marked “Back to Safety,” as though I were approaching a phishing or pornographic site. This from the company that started years ago with a motto, “Do no harm,” but, of course, today Google is a vest-pocket affiliate of CIA, an outfit which does almost nothing but harm. And look at the way Microsoft introduced Windows 10, including violations of fundamental conventions on the Internet such as a pop-up “install” box whose “dismiss command” did precisely the opposite when the “x” was selected, or the way another giant, Apple, has treated some of its customers, including things like “bricking” their costly phones if any effort is made to change or repair anything.
It is simply about the arrogance of power, a phrase the late Senator Fulbright wrote years ago to describe America’s murderous and pointless crusade in Vietnam.
Politics can shake-up a few institutions which need shaking-up, expose a few rotten actors and send them packing, turn around a few dangerous policy paths, and it can grant the people at large a sense of some new possibilities. Sometimes, and this may be one of those times. But the fanatical wing of Trump supporters, especially those on the “alt-right” are almost certain to be disappointed when he does not re-create America the way “accepting Christ” is supposed to re-create a sinner.
Trump seems a man of enough independent-mindedness and independent wealth and seasoned toughness of personality to withstand the assaults he will face from the establishment in Washington. Actually, I shouldn’t say “will” because he is facing waves of them before he even takes the oath, and he is doing admirably well at handling them. There is a claque of very rich and influential people who are not going to disappear into the woodwork despite losing control now. However, he is himself a rich man with a rich man’s interests, and he is not likely to lose his sense of direction in a wave of patriotic fervor which some Americans confuse with religion. He will have done as much as any candidate could if he ends the killing and the mindless interference in the affairs of others and creates some programs which bring jobs to large numbers of now-hopeless Americans. He actually does have a chance at genuine political greatness, but I would not bet the farm on it.
A bipartisan group of US senators has introduced legislation to impose sweeping new sanctions on Russia over its alleged attempts to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election.
Five Democrats and five Republicans unveiled the new punishments on Tuesday after the intelligence community concluded in a report that the Russian government had sought to influence the outcome of the November election through cyberhacking and a smear campaign.
The proposed legislation would solidify many of the sanctions President Barack Obama’s outgoing administration has imposed against Russia and limit President-elect Donald Trump’s ability to improve relations with Moscow.
The new sanctions include visa bans and financial asset freezes against those the US intelligence claimed were behind the cyberattacks against US Democratic organizations and officials.
The hacked emails, which were allegedly provided to WikiLeaks by individuals working for the Russian government, were a regular source of embarrassment to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton during the presidential race and may have contributed to her defeat.
“We should all be alarmed by Russian attacks on our nation,” Sen. John McCain told reporters, as he criticized the Obama administration for a lack of a comprehensive strategy on cyber deterrence.
“This appearance of weakness has been provocative to our adversaries,” the Arizona Republican said.
Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who co-sponsored the bill, said, “We have been attacked by Russia. It cannot be business as usual.”
The measure, called “Countering Russian Hostilities Act of 2017,” would also target Russia’s vast energy sector and companies that invest in or help develop its civil nuclear projects.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said, as a co-sponsor of the bill, he was “not trying to undermine the legitimacy of President-elect Trump’s victory” by highlighting Russia’s intention to meddle in the US election. “My advice to him is that… it is now time to push back.”
Other Republican co-sponsors include Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, Rob Portman of Ohio and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.
The measure would give the White House the ability to waive the sanctions, however it would have to certify that Russia’s behavior has improved.
It was not clear on Tuesday whether the legislation was likely to pass in Congress in time for President Obama to sign it, or wait for Trump to take office on January 20.
Trump has repeatedly called for better relations with Russia, arguing that only “stupid” people or “fools” would think close ties were unwise.
The Republican president-elect has rejected the implications that Russia’s alleged hacking of Democratic offices helped him win the election.