Obama Is a Republican

He’s the heir to Richard Nixon, not Saul Alinsky.

illustration by Michael Hogue

illustration by Michael Hogue

Back in 2008, Boston University professor Andrew Bacevich wrote an article for this magazine making a conservative case for Barack Obama. While much of it was based on disgust with the warmongering and budgetary profligacy of the Republican Party under George W. Bush, which he expected to continue under 2008 Republican nominee Sen. John McCain, Bacevich thought Obama at least represented hope for ending the Iraq War and shrinking the national-security state.

I wrote a piece for the New Republic soon afterward about the Obamacon phenomenon—prominent conservatives and Republicans who were openly supporting Obama. Many saw in him a classic conservative temperament: someone who avoided lofty rhetoric, an ambitious agenda, and a Utopian vision that would conflict with human nature, real-world barriers to radical reform, and the American system of government.

Among the Obamacons were Ken Duberstein, Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff; Charles Fried, Reagan’s solicitor general; Ken Adelman, director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency for Reagan; Jeffrey Hart, longtime senior editor of National Review; Colin Powell, Reagan’s national security adviser and secretary of state for George W. Bush; and Scott McClellan, Bush’s press secretary. There were many others as well.

According to exit polls in 2008, Obama ended up with 20 percent of the conservative vote. Even in 2012, after four years of relentless conservative attacks, he still got 17 percent of the conservative vote, with 11 percent of Tea Party supporters saying they cast their ballots for Obama.

They were not wrong. In my opinion, Obama has governed as a moderate conservative—essentially as what used to be called a liberal Republican before all such people disappeared from the GOP. He has been conservative to exactly the same degree that Richard Nixon basically governed as a moderate liberal, something no conservative would deny today. (Ultra-leftist Noam Chomsky recently called Nixon “the last liberal president.”)

Here’s the proof:

Iraq/Afghanistan/ISIS

One of Obama’s first decisions after the election was to keep national-security policy essentially on automatic pilot from the Bush administration. He signaled this by announcing on November 25, 2008, that he planned to keep Robert M. Gates on as secretary of defense. Arguably, Gates had more to do with determining Republican policy on foreign and defense policy between the two Bush presidents than any other individual, serving successively as deputy national security adviser in the White House, director of Central Intelligence, and secretary of defense.

Another early indication of Obama’s hawkishness was naming his rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state. During the campaign, Clinton ran well to his right on foreign policy, so much so that she earned the grudging endorsement of prominent neoconservatives such as Bill Kristol and David Brooks.

Obama, Kristol told the Washington Post in August 2007, “is becoming the antiwar candidate, and Hillary Clinton is becoming the responsible Democrat who could become commander in chief in a post-9/11 world.” Writing in the New York Times on February 5, 2008, Brooks praised Clinton for hanging tough on Iraq “through the dark days of 2005.”

Right-wing columnist Ann Coulter found Clinton more acceptable on national-security policy than even the eventual Republican nominee, Senator McCain. Clinton, Coulter told Fox’s Sean Hannity on January 31, 2008, was “more conservative than he [McCain] is. I think she would be stronger in the war on terrorism.” Coulter even said she would campaign for Clinton over McCain in a general election match up.

After Obama named Clinton secretary of state, there was “a deep sigh” of relief among Republicans throughout Washington, according to reporting by The Daily Beast’s John Batchelor. He noted that not a single Republican voiced any public criticism of her appointment.

By 2011, Republicans were so enamored with Clinton’s support for their policies that Dick Cheney even suggested publicly that she run against Obama in 2012. The irony is that as secretary of state, Clinton was generally well to Obama’s left, according to Vali Nasr’s book The Dispensable Nation. This may simply reflect her assumption of state’s historical role as the dovish voice in every administration. Or it could mean that Obama is far more hawkish than conservatives have given him credit for.

Although Obama followed through on George W. Bush’s commitment to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq in 2011, in 2014 he announced a new campaign against ISIS, an Islamic militant group based in Syria and Iraq.

Stimulus/Deficit

With the economy collapsing, the first major issue confronting Obama in 2009 was some sort of economic stimulus. Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, whose academic work at the University of California, Berkeley, frequently focused on the Great Depression, estimated that the stimulus needed to be in the range of $1.8 trillion, according to Noam Scheiber’s book The Escape Artists.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was enacted in February 2009 with a gross cost of $816 billion. Although this legislation was passed without a single Republican vote, it is foolish to assume that the election of McCain would have resulted in savings of $816 billion. There is no doubt that he would have put forward a stimulus plan of roughly the same order of magnitude, but tilted more toward Republican priorities.

A Republican stimulus would undoubtedly have had more tax cuts and less spending, even though every serious study has shown that tax cuts are the least effective method of economic stimulus in a recession. Even so, tax cuts made up 35 percent of the budgetary cost of the stimulus bill—$291 billion—despite an estimate from Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers that tax cuts barely raised the gross domestic product $1 for every $1 of tax cut. By contrast, $1 of government purchases raised GDP $1.55 for every $1 spent. Obama also extended the Bush tax cuts for two years in 2010.

It’s worth remembering as well that Bush did not exactly bequeath Obama a good fiscal hand. Fiscal year 2009 began on October 1, 2008, and one third of it was baked in the cake the day Obama took the oath of office. On January 7, 2009, the Congressional Budget Office projected significant deficits without considering any Obama initiatives. It estimated a deficit of $1.186 trillion for 2009 with no change in policy. The Office of Management and Budget estimated in November of that year that Bush-era policies, such as Medicare Part D, were responsible for more than half of projected deficits over the next decade.

Republicans give no credit to Obama for the significant deficit reduction that has occurred on his watch—just as they ignore the fact that Bush inherited an projected budget surplus of $5.6 trillion over the following decade, which he turned into an actual deficit of $6.1 trillion, according to a CBO study—but the improvement is real.

Screenshot 2014-10-20 12.59.16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Republicans would have us believe that their tight-fisted approach to spending is what brought down the deficit. But in fact, Obama has been very conservative, fiscally, since day one, to the consternation of his own party. According to reporting by the Washington Post and New York Times, Obama actually endorsed much deeper cuts in spending and the deficit than did the Republicans during the 2011 budget negotiations, but Republicans walked away.

Obama’s economic conservatism extends to monetary policy as well. His Federal Reserve appointments have all been moderate to conservative, well within the economic mainstream. He even reappointed Republican Ben Bernanke as chairman in 2009. Many liberals have faulted Obama for not appointing board members willing to be more aggressive in using monetary policy to stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment.

Obama’s other economic appointments, such as Larry Summers at the National Economic Council and Tim Geithner at Treasury, were also moderate to conservative. Summers served on the Council of Economic Advisers staff in Reagan’s White House. Geithner joined the Treasury during the Reagan administration and served throughout the George H.W. Bush administration.

Health Reform

Contrary to rants that Obama’s 2010 health reform, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), is the most socialistic legislation in American history, the reality is that it is virtually textbook Republican health policy, with a pedigree from the Heritage Foundation and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, among others.

It’s important to remember that historically the left-Democratic approach to healthcare reform was always based on a fully government-run system such as Medicare or Medicaid. During debate on health reform in 2009, this approach was called “single payer,” with the government being the single payer. One benefit of this approach is cost control: the government could use its monopsony buying power to force down prices just as Walmart does with its suppliers.

Conservatives wanted to avoid too much government control and were adamantly opposed to single-payer. But they recognized that certain problems required more than a pure free-market solution. One problem in particular is covering people with pre-existing conditions, one of the most popular provisions in ACA. The difficulty is that people may wait until they get sick before buying insurance and then expect full coverage for their conditions. Obviously, this free-rider problem would bankrupt the health-insurance system unless there was a fix.

The conservative solution was the individual mandate—forcing people to buy private health insurance, with subsidies for the poor. This approach was first put forward by Heritage Foundation economist Stuart Butler in a 1989 paper, “A Framework for Reform,” published in a Heritage Foundation book, A National Health System for America. In it, Butler said the number one element of a conservative health system was this: “Every resident of the U.S. must, by law, be enrolled in an adequate health care plan to cover major health costs.” He went on to say:

Under this arrangement, all households would be required to protect themselves from major medical costs by purchasing health insurance or enrolling in a prepaid health plan. The degree of financial protection can be debated, but the principle of mandatory family protection is central to a universal health care system in America.

In 1991, prominent conservative health economist Mark V. Pauley also endorsed the individual mandate as central to healthcare reform. In an article in the journal Health Affairs, Pauley said:

All citizens should be required to obtain a basic level of health insurance. Not having health insurance imposes a risk of delaying medical care; it also may impose costs on others, because we as a society provide care to the uninsured. … Permitting individuals to remain uninsured results in inefficient use of medical care, inequity in the incidence of costs of uncompensated care, and tax-related distortions.

In 2004, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) endorsed an individual mandate in a speech to the National Press Club. “I believe higher-income Americans today do have a societal and personal responsibility to cover in some way themselves and their children,” he said. Even libertarian Ron Bailey, writing in Reason, conceded the necessity of a mandate in a November 2004 article titled, “Mandatory Health Insurance Now!” Said Bailey: “Why shouldn’t we require people who now get health care at the expense of the rest of us pay for their coverage themselves? … Mandatory health insurance would not be unlike the laws that require drivers to purchase auto insurance or pay into state-run risk pools.”

Among those enamored with the emerging conservative health reform based on an individual mandate was Mitt Romney, who was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2002. In 2004, he put forward a state health reform plan to which he later added an individual mandate. As Romney explained in June 2005, “No more ‘free riding,’ if you will, where an individual says: ‘I’m not going to pay, even though I can afford it. I’m not going to get insurance, even though I can afford it. I’m instead going to just show up and make the taxpayers pay for me’.”

The following month, Romney emphasized his point: “We can’t have as a nation 40 million people—or, in my state, half a million—saying, ‘I don’t have insurance, and if I get sick, I want someone else to pay’.”

In 2006, Governor Romney signed the Massachusetts health reform into law, including the individual mandate. Defending his legislation in a Wall Street Journal article, he said:

I proposed that everyone must either purchase a product of their choice or demonstrate that they can pay for their own health care. It’s a personal responsibility principle.

Some of my libertarian friends balk at what looks like an individual mandate. But remember, someone has to pay for the health care that must, by law, be provided: Either the individual pays or the taxpayers pay. A free ride on government is not libertarian.

As late as 2008, Robert Moffitt of the Heritage Foundation was still defending the individual mandate as reasonable, non-ideological and nonpartisan in an article for the Harvard Health Policy Reviewthisarticleappeared-novdec14

So what changed just a year later, when Obama put forward a health-reform plan that was almost a carbon copy of those previously endorsed by the Heritage Foundation, Mitt Romney, and other Republicans? The only thing is that it was now supported by a Democratic president that Republicans vowed to fight on every single issue, according to Robert Draper’s book Do Not Ask What Good We Do.

Senior Obama adviser David Axelrod later admitted that Romney’s Massachusetts plan was the “template” for Obama’s plan. “That work inspired our own health plan,” he said in 2011. But no one in the White House said so back in 2009. I once asked a senior Obama aide why. His answer was that once Republicans refused to negotiate on health reform and Obama had to win only with Democratic votes, it would have been counterproductive, politically, to point out the Obama plan’s Republican roots.

The left wing of the House Democratic caucus was dubious enough about Obama’s plan as it was, preferring a single-payer plan. Thus it was necessary for Obama to portray his plan as more liberal than it really was to get the Democratic votes needed for passage, which of course played right into the Republicans’ hands. But the reality is that ACA remains a very modest reform based on Republican and conservative ideas.

Other Rightward Policies 

Below are a few other issues on which Obama has consistently tilted rightward:

Drugs: Although it has become blindingly obvious that throwing people in jail for marijuana use is insane policy and a number of states have moved to decriminalize its use, Obama continued the harsh anti-drug policy of previous administrations, and his Department of Justice continues to treat marijuana as a dangerous drug. As Time put it in 2012: “The Obama Administration is cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries and growers just as harshly as the Administration of George W. Bush did.”

National-security leaks: At least since Nixon, a hallmark of Republican administrations has been an obsession with leaks of unauthorized information, and pushing the envelope on government snooping. By all accounts, Obama’s penchant for secrecy and withholding information from the press is on a par with the worst Republican offenders. Journalist Dan Froomkin charges that Obama has essentially institutionalized George W. Bush’s policies. Nixon operative Roger Stone thinks Obama has actually gone beyond what his old boss tried to do.

Race: I think almost everyone, including me, thought the election of our first black president would lead to new efforts to improve the dismal economic condition of African-Americans. In fact, Obama has seldom touched on the issue of race, and when he has he has emphasized the conservative themes of responsibility and self-help. Even when Republicans have suppressed minority voting, in a grotesque campaign to fight nonexistent voter fraud, Obama has said and done nothing.

Gay marriage: Simply stating public support for gay marriage would seem to have been a no-brainer for Obama, but it took him two long years to speak out on the subject and only after being pressured to do so.

Corporate profits: Despite Republican harping about Obama being anti-business, corporate profits and the stock market have risen to record levels during his administration. Even those progressives who defend Obama against critics on the left concede that he has bent over backward to protect corporate profits. As Theda Skocpol and Lawrence Jacobs put it: “In practice, [Obama] helped Wall Street avert financial catastrophe and furthered measures to support businesses and cater to mainstream public opinion. …  He has always done so through specific policies that protect and further opportunities for businesses to make profits.”

I think Cornell West nailed it when he recently charged that Obama has never been a real progressive in the first place. “He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit,” West said. “We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency.”

I don’t expect any conservatives to recognize the truth of Obama’s fundamental conservatism for at least a couple of decades—perhaps only after a real progressive presidency. In any case, today they are too invested in painting him as the devil incarnate in order to frighten grassroots Republicans into voting to keep Obama from confiscating all their guns, throwing them into FEMA re-education camps, and other nonsense that is believed by many Republicans. But just as they eventually came to appreciate Bill Clinton’s core conservatism, Republicans will someday see that Obama was no less conservative.

Bruce Bartlett is the author of The Benefit and the Burden: Tax Reform—Why We Need It and What It Will Take.

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/obama-is-a-republican/

Trans-Pacific Partnership May Endanger World Health, Newly Leaked Chapter Shows

WikiLeaks has released an updated version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) chapter on intellectual property. The new version of the texts, dated May 2014, show that little improvement has been made to sections critics say would hurt free speech online. Further, some of the TPP’s stipulations could have dire consequences for healthcare in developing nations. The Daily Dot reports: “Nearly all of the changes proposed by the U.S. advantage corporate entities by expanding monopolies on knowledge goods, such as drug patents, and impose restrictive copyright policies worldwide. If it came into force, TPP would even allow pharmaceutical companies to sue the U.S. whenever changes to regulatory standards or judicial decisions affected their profits. Professor Brook K. Baker of Northeastern U. School of Law [said] that the latest version of the TPP will do nothing less than lengthen, broaden, and strengthen patent monopolies on vital medications.”

 

~Slashdot~

Ebola in America

http://a.abcnews.com/images/US/AP_Ebola_America_mar_140805_4x3t_384.jpg

16 October 2014

Every new development in the Ebola outbreak in the United States further exposes the incompetent, indifferent and irresponsible character of the official US response to what the World Health Organization has called “unquestionably the most severe acute public health emergency in modern times.”

On Wednesday, US officials announced that a second nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital involved in treating deceased Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan had tested positive for the disease. She had been allowed to fly on a commercial aircraft twice, from Dallas to Cleveland and back, after having been exposed to the disease. She subsequently reported having a fever during her return flight.

On Tuesday, National Nurses United, the largest nurses’ union in the US, revealed that nurses at the hospital had been instructed by administrators to provide care for Duncan, a native of Liberia, with part of their faces and necks exposed. They were told to compensate for their inadequate protective equipment by wrapping medical tape around their exposed skin.

Despite nurses’ protests, Duncan was left for hours in a common waiting area with other patients, potentially infecting them. His lab specimens traveled unprotected throughout the hospital’s tube system, potentially contaminating the entire system. Nurses forced to treat Duncan with inadequate protective garments were then told to carry out their normal hospital duties, visiting and potentially infecting other patients.

These outrageous violations of basic Ebola contamination protocols took place after Duncan had been taken to the hospital a second time in an ambulance because family members suspected that he had contracted the disease.

On Wednesday, President Obama responded to mounting public concern and criticism by staging a photo-op with cabinet officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and National Security Adviser Susan Rice. He issued a brief and perfunctory statement and took no questions from the press in what was clearly an exercise in damage control.

Nothing said by Obama or any other government official can be believed. Their overriding concern is to cover up their responsibility for the disaster, not to level with the people and do what is necessary to protect them.

The first known victims of the negligence of hospital and government officials are medical workers, whose lives have been recklessly endangered. The indifference to the safety and health of these workers sums up the attitude of the ruling class to the well-being of the population as a whole.

This is not the first time that an emergency has exposed the fact that matters relating to the health and social conditions of the general public are of absolutely no concern to those who wield economic and political power in America.

Nine years ago, the virtual destruction of a major American city by Hurricane Katrina exposed the lack of any preventive measures to combat the impact of a major flood in a region repeatedly inundated in the past, or protect the lives of New Orleans’ working class residents. The disaster itself starkly revealed shocking conditions of poverty, and the belated, desultory and hopelessly inadequate government response led to nearly 2,000 deaths.

Just five years later, the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico resulting from the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig once again exposed the criminal negligence of the corporations and the complicity of the government. This was an entirely man-made disaster, the result of cost-cutting and unsafe methods on the part of BP that was facilitated by the government regulatory agencies. The cleanup effort was handed over to the company that was responsible for the disaster in first place.

In between and since there have been countless plant explosions, fires, coal mine disasters and industrial accidents in cities throughout the United States.

The American ruling class and its political frontmen such as Obama view issues affecting the safety and well-being of the American people as annoyances. They detract from the business of generating ever greater profits for the corporations and ever greater fortunes for the rich and the super-rich.

Like every other aspect of the social infrastructure of America, the health care system has been degraded as a result of decades of budget cuts and profit-gouging by pharmaceutical and insurance companies and hospital chains.

While it had been known for decades that an Ebola outbreak could happen in the United States, no effort was made to adequately prepare for one. No vaccine has been brought into production. Instead, the resources needed to address pressing health issues have been diverted to pay for war and conquest abroad and the ever-greater enrichment of the American financial aristocracy.

Earlier this week, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan explained the failure to develop an Ebola vaccine, saying, “a profit-driven industry does not invest in products for markets that cannot pay.”

Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the US National Institutes of Health, told the Huffington Post that a vaccine for Ebola would likely already exist if not for multi-billion dollar cutbacks in health care research.

These disasters expose the bankruptcy and failure not just of one administration, but of the capitalist profit system itself. The subordination of all social concerns, including health care, to the corporate drive for profit and the money-mad greed of the ruling elite, together with the irrational division of the world into rival nation states, makes the rational and socially beneficial development and utilization of the productive forces impossible. Instead, obscene levels of wealth in the hands of a few are accompanied by the decay of basic social services and mounting poverty for the masses.

A serious campaign to halt the widening Ebola epidemic in Africa and its spread to the US and other countries requires:

* The establishment of an international team of doctors, scientists and health care professionals to take the response to the crisis out of the hands of corporate-dominated governments. This team, developing a global plan of action, must be provided with whatever resources are needed—however many billions of dollars—to treat all those already infected and prevent the spread of the disease.

* A state-funded research program completely independent of the profit interests of the health care industry, the drug companies and the insurance giants must be established to rapidly develop and make available to all an anti-Ebola vaccine as the first step in conquering this and other infectious diseases that are linked to poverty.

This is not merely a scientific task. It is a political question.

It is necessary to draw the appropriate conclusions from the Ebola outbreak and the string of catastrophes that preceded it. The implementation of a rational and humane response to the Ebola crisis, along with all the other social evils that are intrinsic to a society based on exploitation, requires a struggle by the working class to reorganize society on socialist foundations to meet social needs, not private profit. This includes taking the profit out of medicine and providing high-quality health care to all as a social right.

Andre Damon

The invisible election

https://hrexach.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/v4.jpg?w=433&h=339

15 October 2014

In less than three weeks, the United States will hold national elections to choose a third of US senators, all 435 members of the US House of Representatives, the governors of 36 out of 50 states, and thousands of state legislators.

The elections come at a time of immense crisis, nationally and internationally. The American people are being dragged into yet another war in the Middle East, as Washington pursues a global militarist policy that leads inexorably toward World War III.

At home, chronically high unemployment is fueling a growth of poverty, while basic social services—education, health care, housing—are being slashed, along with wages and pensions.

Democratic rights are being shredded, with police-state mobilizations in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri against social protest and the government sweeping up the communications of every American.

Social inequality has reached levels not seen since before the Great Depression of the 1930s. And now an Ebola epidemic in Africa is exposing the criminal neglect of healthcare infrastructure in the US and threatening to spiral into an international catastrophe.

All of these issues are being ignored in the election campaigns of the two big business parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. Instead, what predominate are banal and right-wing platitudes combined with mutual mudslinging. The entire process is dominated by corporate money, with all of the rival candidates on the take.

The Democratic Party is seeking to hold onto its majority in the upper house of Congress, the Senate. This is presented by the media as a momentous issue. In reality, which party ends up in control of Congress makes no difference for working people. The outcome of every election, regardless of which party wins, is a shift of the political system further to the right.

The Democrats secured comfortable majorities in both the House and the Senate in 2008. They proceeded to continue the war in Iraq, escalate the war in Afghanistan, expand the taxpayer bailout of Wall Street, implement a health care “reform” that slashes workers’ benefits and increases their costs, impose a 50 percent cut in the pay of newly hired auto workers, and oversee a vast expansion of government spying on the population.

Neither party offers any policies to address the raging social crisis. The Obama administration touts a “recovery” that has brought the share of total household wealth held by the richest 0.5 percent to just under 35 percent and that of the top 0.1 percent to 20 percent. The Republicans, who work hand-in-glove with the Democrats to slash working class living standards, demand even bigger tax cuts for the rich and deeper cuts in social programs.

The basic bipartisan unity extends to a foreign policy of endless war and militarism. The Democrats who postured as opponents of the Iraq war under Bush—and insured that war funds were continued when they gained control of Congress—are avidly backing Obama’s new war in Iraq and Syria.

On the domestic front, there is no mention of the bankruptcy of Detroit, imposed by a Republican governor working with a Democratic mayor and backed by the Obama White House. The gutting of Detroit city workers’ pensions and health benefits, in violation of the state constitution and under the dictates of an unelected “emergency manager,” is being used as a precedent for cities across the US. In a debate Sunday night, Mark Schauer, the Democratic challenger to Republican Governor Rick Snyder, made clear that he supported the Detroit bankruptcy as well as the wage-cutting bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler.

War, austerity and the attack on democratic rights are all massively unpopular, but the views and interests of working people, the vast majority of the population, find no expression in the election campaigns of the two parties. The experience of the Obama administration, which came to power by exploiting popular disgust with Bush and his policies of war and social reaction, only to continue and deepen the same policies, has further alienated the masses of Americans from the political system.

They no longer believe that their votes will have any impact on the policies pursued by the government. They try to block out the meaningless debates between the candidates and the mind-numbing attack ads financed by the corporate donors who control both parties and the system as a whole.

The crisis of the American capitalist political system results in an election that is barely being followed by the electorate, the majority of whom feel little commitment but a great deal of anger toward both parties. One would hardly know, from the level of interest shown by the population, that an election is taking place.

None of the traditional outward signs of an election—license plate stickers, lawn signs promoting candidates, campaign buttons—are to be seen.

All signs point to a record low turnout on November 4, even lower than the dismal 37 percent of eligible voters who cast ballots in the last nonpresidential election, in 2010. Voter turnout in the primary elections earlier this year, in which the Democrats and Republicans chose their candidates, hit new lows, with, in many cases, fewer than 5 percent of eligible voters going to the polls.

The likely participation of younger voters, who turned out in relatively large numbers to elect Obama in 2008, is particularly revealing. In recent polls, only 23 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 said they were definitely going to cast a ballot this year.

The contrast could hardly be starker between the acuteness of the issues the American people confront—war, poverty, dictatorship—and the empty and right-wing character of the campaign and general popular disinterest in the election. This contradiction bespeaks a system that is coming to the end of its rope. The immense growth of social inequality has turned American democratic institutions into hollow shells behind which the corporations, the military brass and the intelligence agencies conspire against the people of the US and the world.

The political system is incapable of responding to the crisis facing the working class because it is an instrument of a plutocracy.

The 2014 election is an expression of the crisis of American capitalism, which is at the center of the breakdown of world capitalism. The abstention is not an expression of either acceptance of the status quo or popular complacency. Social opposition is mounting, but the working masses as of yet see no alternative.

As they enter into struggle, they will inevitably seek alternatives outside the two official parties. The burning question is the building of the Socialist Equality Party to prepare the coming mass movement, ensure that it breaks all ties with the Democratic Party, and imbue it with socialist consciousness and an independent revolutionary program.

Barry Grey

The U.S. Is Number One — But in What?

http://competeusa.com/layouts/ck_bin/img_lib/number-one.jpeg


The country is tops when it comes to violence and weapons exports but ranks low in healthcare and education.
 

American politicians are fond of telling their audiences that the United States is the greatest country in the world. Is there any evidence for this claim?

Well, yes. When it comes to violence and preparations for violence, the United States is, indeed, No. 1. In 2013, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the U.S. government accounted for 37 percent of world military expenditures, putting it far ahead of all other nations. (The two closest competitors, China and Russia, accounted for 11 percent and 5 percent respectively.) From 2004 to 2013, the United States was also the No. 1 weapons exporter in the world. Moreover, given the U.S. government’s almost continuous series of wars and acts of military intervention since 1941, it seems likely that it surpasses all rivals when it comes to international violence.

This record is paralleled on the domestic front, where the United States has more guns and gun-related deaths than any other country. A study released in late 2013 reported that the United States had 88 guns for every 100 people, and 40 gun-related deaths for every 400,000 people―the most of any of the 27 economically developed countries surveyed. By contrast, in Britain there were 6 guns per 100 people and 1 gun-related death per 400,000 people.

Yet, in a great many other areas, the United States is not No. 1 at all.

Take education. In late 2013, the Program for International Student Assessment released a report on how 15-year old students from 65 nations performed on its tests. The report showed that U.S. students ranked 17th in reading and 21st in math. An international surveya bit earlier that year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that the ranking was slightly worse for American adults. In 2014, Pearson, a multinational educational services company, placed the United States 20th in the world in “educational attainment”―well behind Poland and the Slovak Republic.

American healthcare and health fare even worse. In a 2014 study of healthcare (including infant mortality, healthy life expectancy, and mortality from preventable conditions) in 11 advanced industrial countries, the Commonwealth Fund concluded that the United States ranked last among them. According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. healthcare system ranks 30th in the world. Other studies reach somewhat different conclusions, but all are very unflattering to the United States, as are studies of American health. The United States, for example, has one of the world’s worst cancer rates (the seventh highest), and life expectancy is declining compared to other nations. An article in the Washington Post in late 2013 reported that the United States ranked 26th among nations in life expectancy, and that the average American lifespan had fallen a year behind the international average.

What about the environment? Specialists at Yale University have developed a highly sophisticated Environmental Performance Index to examine the behavior of nations. In the area of protection of human health from environmental harm, their 2014 index placed the United States 35th in health impacts, 36th in water and sanitation, and 38th in air quality. In the other area studied―protection of ecosystems―the United States ranked 32nd in water resources, 49th in climate and energy, 86th in biodiversity and habitat, 96th in fisheries, 107th in forests, and 109th in agriculture.

These and other areas of interest are dealt with by the Social Progress Index, which was developed by Michael Porter, an eminent professor of business (and a Republican) at Harvard. According to Porter and his team, in 2014 the United States ranked 23rd in access to information and communications, 24th in nutrition and basic medical care, 31st in personal safety, 34th in water and sanitation, 39th in access to basic knowledge, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, and 70th in health and wellness.

The widespread extent of poverty, especially among children, remains a disgrace in one of the world’s wealthiest nations. A 2013 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund noted that, of the 35 economically advanced countries that had been studied, only Romania had a higher percentage of children living in poverty than did the United States.

Of course, the United States is not locked into these dismal rankings and the sad situation they reveal about the health, education, and welfare of its citizens. It could do much better if its vast wealth, resources, and technology were employed differently than they are at present.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of priorities. When most U.S. government discretionary spendinggoes for war and preparations for war, it should come as no surprise that the United States emerges No. 1 among nations in its capacity for violence and falls far behind other nations in providing for the well-being of its people.

Americans might want to keep this in mind as their nation embarks upon yet another costly military crusade.

 

http://www.alternet.org/us-number-one-what?akid=12354.265072.7cry8K&rd=1&src=newsletter1023009&t=9&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Politics and the Ebola crisis

http://wa3.www.skynews.com.au/content/dam/skynews/news/top-stories/2014/07/31/skynews_1099199860.jpg/_jcr_content/renditions/skynews.img.600.372.jpeg

13 October 2014

The report that a healthcare worker in Dallas, Texas, one of those who treated Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan before his death, has herself contracted the disease, is a significant and troubling event. Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, admitted in a television interview Sunday, “It’s deeply concerning that this infection occurred.”

While Frieden claimed that current protocols for treating Ebola patients were effective in preventing the spread of the disease, arguing that there must have been “a breach of protocol,” no actual explanation has been given for how the healthcare worker became infected. She was not one of the 48 primary contacts with Duncan who were being monitored for possible exposure, but worked in a more peripheral role. Her infection was only detected when she contracted a fever and reported it herself.

There are a growing number of such cases, including doctors and nurses in the affected regions of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, who were well aware of the procedures, and an NBC News photographer, whose infection has caused the quarantining of the entire reporting team, led by Dr. Nancy Snyderman, the network’s chief medical correspondent. These cases suggest that despite the repeated assurances from health officials, there is much that is not known about how the disease is transmitted.

What is certain is that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a catastrophe for the people of that region. More than 8,000 people have been infected and more than 4,000 have died, with no signs that the epidemic has been curtailed. The heroic efforts of doctors, nurses and aid workers have been sabotaged by the collapse of the healthcare systems of these countries, among the poorest in the world. Only 20 percent of the affected population in West Africa has access to a treatment center.

It is almost impossible to overstate the dimensions of the disaster. Until this year, Ebola was a disease of remote rural areas that had killed only 1,500 people in 20 previous outbreaks over 40 years. Now the disease has reached urban centers like Monrovia, capital of Liberia, a city of one million, and individuals infected with the virus have travelled from the region only to fall ill in the United States, Spain and Brazil. There are well-founded fears that Ebola could become a global plague, particularly if it reaches more densely populated countries like Nigeria, or the impoverished billions of South and East Asia.

The impotent global response to the immense tragedy in West Africa is a serious warning. The Ebola crisis has proven to be a test of the ability of capitalism, as a world system, to deal with an acute and deadly threat. The profit system has failed. A society organized on the basis of production for private gain and divided into antagonistic nation-states, with a handful of imperialist powers dominating the rest, is incapable of the systematic, energetic and humane response that this crisis requires. It is no accident that the Ebola outbreak takes place in countries that are former colonies of imperialist powers. Guinea was a French colony, Sierra Leone a British colony, and Liberia a de facto US colony since its founding by freed American slaves. Despite their nominal independence, each country remains dominated by giant corporations and banks based in the imperialist countries, which extract vast profits from the mineral wealth and other natural resources. Guinea is the world’s largest bauxite exporter, Sierra Leone depends on diamond exports, Liberia has long been the fiefdom of Firestone Rubber (now Bridgestone).

These countries are unable to provide even rudimentary healthcare services to their populations, not because they lack resources, but because they are exploited and oppressed by a global economic system controlled by Wall Street and other financial and commodity markets. This economic system is so unequal that the 85 richest individuals on the planet control more wealth than the poorest three billion people, nearly half of humanity.

Economic development, particularly over the past 40 years, has created an interconnected and globalized world. Thousands of people travel every day between West Africa and other parts of the world. The revolution in transportation and communications means that what happens in West Africa today can affect Dallas, Boston, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro tomorrow. This makes the Ebola epidemic not a regional event, but a world event.

But the response to the Ebola crisis is carried out by national governments driven by competing national interests, and concerned, not with the danger of the virus to the world’s people, but with how it affects the interests of the ruling class in each nation. Thus there are calls in the United States and Europe for imposing an embargo on travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, although health experts warn that such an action would cause the economic collapse of these countries, vastly worsening the epidemic and making its global spread more rather than less likely.

Equally reactionary is the Obama administration’s decision to send 4,000 US troops to Liberia, ostensibly to build health treatment facilities. Why are heavily armed soldiers chosen for such a mission? They are not construction workers or healthcare providers. If healthcare workers and journalists have become infected, despite taking every precaution, then certainly soldiers could themselves fall victim to the disease, and bring the virus home with them. The real agenda of Washington is to secure a basis for its Africa Command (AFRICOM), up to now excluded from the continent by local opposition, thus advancing the interests of American imperialism against its rivals, particularly China.

The potential dangers of a disease like Ebola spreading from rural Africa to the world have long been understood by epidemiologists and other scientists. It has been the subject of specialized studies and best-selling books. The issue has even penetrated into popular culture through films from The Andromeda Strain to Outbreak and 28 Days. But the profit system has been incapable of generating a serious effort to forestall an entirely predictable crisis.

The detection of Ebola in the mid-1970s should have been the occasion for the launching of an intensive effort to study the virus, analyze how it is transmitted and develop antidotes and a vaccine. This did not take place, in large measure, as a report last month suggested, because the giant pharmaceutical companies that control medical research saw little profit in saving the lives of impoverished villagers in rural Africa (see “Profit motive big hurdle for Ebola drugs”).

What little research has been conducted on possible cures and vaccines was funded by the US Pentagon, for dubious reasons: at best, to protect US soldiers who might be deployed to the jungles of central Africa as an imperialist invasion force; at worst, to determine whether the virus could be weaponized for use against potential enemies.

What would a serious response to the Ebola crisis look like? It would entail a massive, internationally coordinated response which calls on vast resources on the scale necessary both to save as many as possible of those under immediate threat and to prevent the development of an outbreak on a global scale.

It would mean the mobilization of doctors, nurses, public health workers and scientists from America, Europe, Russia, China and the rest of the world to fight back against a deadly threat to the entire human race. And it would mean taking control of this response out of the hands of the national military establishments, particularly the Pentagon, and the giant pharmaceutical firms, one of the most corrupt and rapacious detachments of big business.

Patrick Martin

Why Not Eat Octopus?

Ben Lerner’s new novel, “10:04,” opens with a meditation on a decadent and expensive lunch in Chelsea, prominently featuring baby octopus. The narrator is supposed to be celebrating the six-figure sale of his book, but instead he focusses on the absurdity of the meal: “the impossibly tender things” had been “literally massaged to death.” He wonders about eating “an animal that decorates its lair, has been observed at complicated play.” Afterward, he and his agent walk out onto the High Line to watch the traffic on Tenth Avenue, and he experiences an empathic response to the once sentient octopuses now curdling within him:

I intuited an alien intelligence, felt subject to a succession of images, sensations, memories, and affects that did not, properly speaking, belong to me: the ability to perceive polarized light; a conflation of taste and touch as salt was rubbed into the suction cups; a terror localized in my extremities, bypassing the brain completely.

Octopus intelligence is well documented: they have been known to open jars, guard their unhatched eggs for months or even years, and demonstrate personalities. Most famously, they can blast a cloud of ink to throw off predators, but even more impressive is the masterfully complex camouflage employed by several members of Cephalopoda (a class that also includes squid and cuttlefish). Their curious behaviors are also culturally familiar. Ringo Starr traces the origins of his song “Octopus’s Garden” to an anecdote that a sea captain once told him in Sardinia, about the habit octopuses have of adorning their homes with rocks and detritus. During the 2010 FIFA World Cup, soccer fans across the world became enamored of Paul the Octopus (also known as Pulpo Paul), who correctly “predicted” the outcomes of all seven of Germany’s matches by choosing a box that, in addition to containing food, had the flag of the winning country on it. The chef José Andrés pledged to take octopus off his menus if Paul’s prediction about the semifinal between Spain and Germany came true. It did, and some Germans responded by calling for his arms. (Paul died that October, of apparently natural causes.)

Are Paul’s kind too smart to be eaten? The cephalopod—a spelling-bee favorite, from the Greek kephalē, for “head,” and pous or pod, for “foot,” by way of modern Latin—has been around for hundreds of millions of years. Evolutionarily speaking, it is far more distant from humans than the animals we tend to have moral quandaries about consuming. In characterizing the octopus, the CUNY biology professor Peter Godfrey-Smith has used language very similar to that of Lerner’s narrator: “It’s probably the closest we’ll get to meeting an intelligent alien.” With their ovoid, head-like mantles, octopuses even look the part. They have relatively large brains, three hearts, and a decentralized nervous system that confers incredible motor dexterity—and they can squeeze through any opening larger than their beaks. They’ve been observed to “walk” on the ocean floor and even dry land. They have remained inscrutable in part by being notoriously difficult lab animals. There are stories of them unplugging drains, disconnecting wires, and resisting the maze challenge. They are known to possess around five hundred million neurons—which is not such an impressive number when compared with the eighty-six billion in the human brain, but is notable for the fact that more than half of them are located in the animal’s arms. I like to think of an octopus as a blobby, eight-fingered hand, but with a mind of its own and the uncanny ability to change color, size, shape, and texture. And then I’m suddenly not so keen on the idea of eating it.

Jaron Lanier, the computer scientist and early pioneer of virtual reality, long ago stopped eating cephalopods. In 2006, he wrote an impassioned tribute to the octopus’s morphing abilities for Discover, which later showed up in his 2010 manifesto, “You Are Not a Gadget.” After seeing video footage that his friend Roger Hanlon shot of an Octopus vulgaris practically disappearing into some algae, Lanier professed jealousy. He began to wonder what humans might be capable of if we were more like octopuses, and vice versa. “They can just at will project images on their bodies, and change their shape and turn into different things,” he fawns, calling this morphing “postsymbolic communication.” Cephalopods are on their own from the moment they’re born, he points out: with no concept of parenting, they pass on nothing to future generations. “If cephalopods had childhood,” he goes so far as to suggest, “surely they would be running the Earth.” (One of my colleagues points out that this seems an excellent reason to eat them.)

It takes a whole lot of work to make an octopus palatable, but humans around the globe, particularly in the Mediterranean and in East Asia, have been doing it for centuries. Most preparations involve tenderizing the meat—which is quite lean—through some combination of massage, blanching, braising, and blunt force. According to Harold McGee, salting is essential. The French chef Éric Ripert tenderized an octopus on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” by giving it a few good whacks on a cutting board, echoing the stereotypical Greek fisherman bashing it to death on the rocky shores of the Aegean. The perfectionistic sushi chef Jiro Ono requires that his octopus be massaged for forty to fifty minutes. These days, however, most octopus bought wholesale and served in restaurants comes frozen, and already tenderized, after being “tumbled” with sea salt and ice, its eight legs neatly tucked under it like the petals of a flower.

One way of bypassing the prep work, of course, is to eat the thing while it’s still alive. This is a practice with its own morally dubious thrill. (I have eaten live shrimp and ants, and I wonder if the frisson I felt wasn’t some kind of dormant predator instinct.) Mostly, though, it feels like a stunt. In Korea, the dish has a name—san nak ji—and in Flushing, Queens, there is a Korean restaurant that serves it, along with a potful of other live sea creatures, which are quickly simmered to their demise. Traditional san nak ji has the octopus cut into wriggling pieces. In a terrifying scene from the South Korean cult film “Old Boy,” however, it is served and eaten whole. Multiple live specimens were used in the filming of the scene, and the actor, Choi Min-sik, a Buddhist, said a prayer for each one. (The YouTube user who posted the clip writes, “I think I would try it but I dont think its kosher.” He’s right—lacking both fins and scales, it is not.)

After all this research, I find myself suffering from what Michael Pollan, in his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” calls “ethical heartburn.” Is an animal’s marked intelligence really reason enough not to eat it? Many arguments have been made against eating pigs on the same grounds. But, unlike domesticated animals, octopuses don’t have what Pollan calls a “bargain with humanity,” wherein they are dependent on us rearing them as either food or pets. (Though I do wonder what’s become of Tracy Morgan’s pet octopus.) Candace Croney, an associate professor of animal sciences at Purdue University, told Modern Farmer earlier this year, “If we’ve decided to eat pigs despite the fact that they are smart, should we not at least use the information that we have to make their lives as positive as possible up until the point when we decide, ‘Well now they’ve become food?’ ” Pollan similarly values a captive animal’s “opportunity to express its creaturely character.” An oft-cited aim of ethical consumption is to avoid interference with an animal’s habitat and its ability to reproduce. The more popular octopus becomes as an ingredient, the more likely it is to go the way of the European sea bass (on menus as branzino or loup de mer) and be commercially farmed.

According to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, catches of O. vulgaris, the common octopus, are down about sixty per cent from their record high in the mid nineteen-seventies. But octopus, squid, and cuttlefish remain a delicacy of modern cuisine—think grilled-octopus salads and squid-ink pastas. I wondered whether word of cephalopod intelligence had reached the food world, so I asked a few chefs if they had any misgivings about serving the animals at their restaurants. For Ashleigh Parsons and Ari Taymor, of Alma, in Los Angeles, the question is not what we eat but where the food is coming from and how it is treated. “The only octopus Ari can get is frozen and shipped from Japan,” Parsons told me in an e-mail. For them, sustainability is paramount, and can trump the cachet of an ingredient.

Ignacio Mattos, the chef at Estela (and formerly at Isa, where he served a whole squid), said that he recently put cuttlefish on the menu, and recalled telling his staff about how smart the creatures are. “I remember seeing this Discovery Channel documentary about them and it really blew my mind,” he wrote to me. Mattos confessed that he loved their elegant texture and taste, but added, “I might in a way have started consciously avoiding using them somehow.” Dave Pasternack, chef and co-founder of the upscale midtown seafood restaurant Esca, spoke with me last week during dinner service from a wall-mounted phone right behind his station in the kitchen. As he called out orders for sole and scampi, he assured me that he had never heard tales of octopus intelligence. “The smarter they are, the more you’d want to eat them, right?” he suggested. (I’ve always been suspicious of people who eat brains.) He insisted that there was an art to cooking octopus correctly. His includes a Neapolitan trick: a wine cork in the cooking liquid. Éric Ripert and Harold McGee dismiss this step as mere legend—to which Pasternack gleefully responds, “Éric Ripert is full of shit!”

Michael Psilakis, a successful Greek-American chef and restaurateur in New York (Kefi, Fishtag, MP Taverna), said that he’s been serving octopus for about twenty-five years but only noticed its increase in popularity over the past ten. “I remember first cooking octopus as a special, only on the weekends, and we’d do twenty orders the whole weekend. Now we do two hundred for a single shift,” he told me. He had heard about octopus intelligence many years before from a customer and Googled it. One of the first results he got was a list of the twenty-five smartest animals. “Pig was, like, number two, and sheep was on that list, too. That’s three animals specific to my cultural identity.… I sort of wondered, does that mean anything?” Psilakis said.

Like many animals, the octopus is occasionally cannibalistic—does that make it any more or less O.K. to eat? And if we could grow octopus meat in a lab, would it still be palatable? Last year, the Times Magazine ran a story about Dylan Mayer, a teen-ager who legally wrestled, caught, and ate a giant Pacific octopus off the coast of Seattle, causing an uproar. “Mayer’s real offense,” the piece concludes, “may have been forcing a community to realize that just because they’ve embraced local fare doesn’t mean they’re necessarily ready to see, in gory detail, it slaughtered or hunted or punched out and dragged from the bay.” In my opinion, Mayer is on solid footing—he swam for his dinner. It’s the rest of us, outsourcing death to the supply chain, who have something to think about. It is impossible for us to fully know the inner lives of octopuses, but the more we continue to study them and other forms of life, the closer we can come to a working definition of “intelligence.” The real quandary here is, when we find them, what if aliens turn out to be delicious?

http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/eating-octopus

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,593 other followers