Trump’s strategic vision of chaos: Inventing a nonexistent crisis so he can “solve” it

The president depicts a failing America that’s more like 2009 than 2017 — so he can take credit for doing nothing

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Trump's strategic vision of chaos: Inventing a nonexistent crisis so he can "solve" it

(Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Drake)

As you know, our administration inherited many problems across government and across the economy. To be honest, I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess. Jobs are pouring out of the country; you see what’s going on with all of the companies leaving our country, going to Mexico and other places, low pay, low wages, mass instability overseas, no matter where you look. The Middle East is a disaster. North Korea — we’ll take care of it, folks; we’re going to take care of it all. I just want to let you know, I inherited a mess.
Donald Trump, Feb. 17

These words of the president are not quite as evocative as his doomsday inaugural “American carnage” address, but it may be more effective in the long run. Donald Trump is ignorant in most ways a president should be smart, but he does have an unerring instinct for hype.

One of his favorite tall tales is the miraculous “comeback” story. You’ve heard him endlessly recount the tedious details of his Great Campaign in which nobody said he could get the nomination and yet he defied the odds and vanquished 16 men, Carly Fiorina and one crooked Hillary, ultimately winning a historic landslide of epic proportions. No, it wasn’t historic and it wasn’t epic and it wasn’t a landslide, but that’s part of the myth Trump has created for himself: He only wins big.

The point is that he’s making himself out to be a hero who can defy tremendous odds to fight back and win. That’s why he insists that he inherited a terrible mess that will take a heroic effort to turn around, and he’s the only guy who can do it.

The country he describes is very familiar: Its economy is terrible, millions of people are going bankrupt and losing their jobs, their homes and their health care. People who have saved money for decades have seen their retirement funds shrink to nothing in the stock market crash, while Wall Street masters of the universe collect millions and tell everyone financial institutions are simply “too big to fail.” Major industries are on the verge of collapse. Banks are closing all over the country.

Tens of thousands of troops are still stationed overseas in a war that seems to never end. Terrorist bombings are happening all over the world and nobody knows when the next one is going to hit close to home. Even the natural disasters are catastrophic, taking out whole American cities and seeming to portend more of the same as the climate changes and nobody knows what to do about it. The future seems bleak indeed.

We all know that country. It was America in 2009.  It was the mess our last president inherited, not this one. (If you need a little refresher course on how bad the employment situation was during the Great Recession, you can read all about it in a recap from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.) It was the worst economic recession in the lifetime of anyone younger than age 70 and it came on the heels of a period of tremendous fear and anxiety after 9/11 and the debacle of the Iraq war.

Now that was a real mess.

To be sure, the recovery has been a long, uneven slog and many people are still reeling. There are long-term economic trends that have hit some communities very hard for decades and the Great Recession exacerbated their suffering. And much of the gains have gone to the upper 1 percent.

But millions more people have jobs, homes and health care today than they did eight years ago. That is just a fact. The idea that Donald Trump is facing an emergency of that magnitude, even among many of the white working-class folks who remain underemployed and financially insecure is ridiculous. We were on the verge of another global Great Depression. Now we’re not.

As I pointed out before the election in September, whoever won was going to have the economic wind at his or her back, which is a lucky thing for any president. I quoted economist Jared Bernstein who wrote in The Washington Post that “poverty fell sharply, middle-class incomes rose steeply, and more people had health coverage” in 2015, which meant that many of those who had been left behind by the recovery were starting to see the benefits. But there is often an emotional hangover after a deep economic crisis that takes some time to dissipate; even when things have improved,  people still feel anxious for some time afterwards.

One suspects Trump understood from the beginning that the economy was rebounding. But in order to take advantage of his reputation as a wealthy businessman, he needed to pump up those feelings of anxiety so that he could take credit for the upturn once in office. The dystopian hellscape that he describes today will quickly give way to “Morning in America” for his followers. And he doesn’t have to do anything.

This is lucky for him since Trump doesn’t have a clue about what a president has to do in a real crisis and doesn’t have the temperament or skills to do it anyway. As Jonathan Cohn wrote in this piece for The Huffington Post on Tuesday, as much as Trump and his minions insist that his first month in office has been historically successful, it’s been nothing more than endless gaffes, scandals and flashy edicts that are far less substantial than the sweeping and complicated legislation that President Barack Obama ushered through Congress in the corresponding period.

Cohn related Trump’s attitude toward the hard work of creating policy:

During the presidential campaign, Trump mocked Hillary Clinton for her wonkishness: “She’s got people that sit in cubicles writing policy all day,” he said during one interview. “It’s just a waste of paper.” At one point, Trump’s own policy advisers quit because nobody was paying them or taking them seriously.

That’s appalling. But unless Trump’s GOP colleagues in the Congress muck up things badly by repealing the Affordable Care Act or making such drastic cuts that employment falters, he doesn’t really have to do much. He can just tweet about saving some manufacturing jobs that CEOs are happy to pretend he personally negotiated, and his followers will be happy to give him credit for “saving” an economy that was already on the upswing.

There is one problem with his cunning plan, however. If a healthy economic environment requires the confidence of people that their future looks bright, then this growth may just come to a screeching halt. The “carnage” he likes to describe may not exist today. But millions of people are frightened to death that the nightmare of Donald Trump may make it very real in the days to come.

Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers

There’s been a few hot topics this week, from Obama’s final speech as president to the amusing allegations of Donald’s pee fetish.

Let’s start with Obama. The era of hope and change most certainly ended with a whimper. Not much has changed and we don’t have much to hope for either.

Over the last eight years income disparity increased in the US (despite White House claims to the contrary), real wages plunged, and while productivity increased, hourly pay didn’t budge much. America’s obtuse wars in the Middle East rage on, and our country’s drone program is operating at full tilt. Obama also extended many of the nation’s most egregious energy policies.

In fact, Obama celebrated America’s biggest oil boom in decades. How’s that for battling climate change?

This isn’t to say we won’t be missing Obama for the next four years (if Trump’s presidency lasts that long, we’ll get to that in a moment), but that doesn’t negate the fact that Obama was a huge disappointment.

Cornel West put it best this week for The Guardian:

“A few of us begged and pleaded with Obama to break with the Wall Street priorities and bail out Main Street. But he followed the advice of his ‘smart’ neoliberal advisers to bail out Wall Street. In March 2009, Obama met with Wall Street leaders. He proclaimed: I stand between you and the pitchforks. I am on your side and I will protect you, he promised them. And not one Wall Street criminal executive went to jail…

Obama’s lack of courage to confront Wall Street criminals and his lapse of character in ordering drone strikes unintentionally led to rightwing populist revolts at home and ugly Islamic fascist rebellions in the Middle East. And as deporter-in-chief – nearly 2.5 million immigrants were deported under his watch – Obama policies prefigure Trump’s barbaric plans.”

Facts are facts no matter how you want to sugarcoat them. Obama has been pissing in the wind for eight years now and progressives have little to be happy about.

Speaking of piss, how about Trump and those Russian call girls?

Buzzfeed’s release of the now infamous dossier, which was put together by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, an executive at a private intel company called Orbis Business Intelligence, has caused quite an uproar. Steele is respected in the intel community, having played a role in gathering info about corruption within FIFA, the global soccer organization. Much debate has swirled around the journalistic ethics of Buzzfeed’s decision to publish the uncorroborated account of Trump hiring prostitutes to piss on the bed the Obamas slept in at the Ritz-Carlton’s presidential suite in Moscow.

Trump has called the whole thing fake news, but it is news nonetheless. Steele was likely paid a bundle of cash to put together the report, which had more to do with Trump’s alleged ties to Russia than golden showers.

According to the New York Times, the origins of the report date back to September 2015 when a wealthy Republican donor hired Fusion GPS, an opposition research outfit headed by Glenn Simpson, an ex-journalist for the Wall Street Journal, to dig up dirt on The Donald. When Trump won the Republican nomination, this wealthy donor ended his support of Simpson’s work, but it was later picked up by backers of the Hillary Clinton campaign. At this point Steele was hired by Simpson to look into Trump’s Russia connections. According to the New York Times:

“Mr. Simpson hired Mr. Steele, a former British intelligence officer with whom he had worked before. Mr. Steele, in his early 50s, had served undercover in Moscow in the early 1990s and later was the top expert on Russia at the London headquarters of Britain’s spy service, MI6. When he stepped down in 2009, he started his own commercial intelligence firm, Orbis Business Intelligence.

The former journalist and the former spy, according to people who know them, had similarly dark views of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, a former K.G.B. officer, and the varied tactics he and his intelligence operatives used to smear, blackmail or bribe their targets.

As a former spy who had carried out espionage inside Russia, Mr. Steele was in no position to travel to Moscow to study Mr. Trump’s connections there. Instead, he hired native Russian speakers to call informants inside Russia and made surreptitious contact with his own connections in the country as well.”

Steele’s report laid out two different Russian operations, the first was an alleged effort by the Russian government to entangle and influence Trump with compromising information, like a video of The Donald with prostitutes in Moscow. In the second operation, Steele alleged, among other things, that Trump surrogates, including his lawyer Michael Cohen, met with Russian officials in Prague to discuss the hack at the DNC. Cohen strongly denied the meeting ever took place, noting on Twitter that he’d never even been to Prague. Steele’s intel, factual or not, floated around Washington circles for months leading up to the election, with David Corn at Mother Jones being the only reporter to write about the allegations, minus the salacious pee party. The New York Times also reports that the FBI was investigating Trump’s ties to Russia in the early fall. So while Hillary’s email scandal was being investigated so too was Trump, yet only one investigation was making any headlines.

Of course, the pee story and Trump’s alleged ties to Russia are almost too good to be true, which means they probably are not. Nevertheless, truth was never the dossier’s objective. A story, or an intel report for that matter, doesn’t have to be factual to cause damage – just like the Washington Post‘s absurd allegations that publications like CounterPunch are purveyors of Russian propaganda.

If there is one thing to take away from Goldengate it should be that the intelligence community has a myriad of ways to fuck with you. They are masters of the “leak” and we can expect more to come. Steele’s report is likely the tip of the golden iceberg. As Senator Chuck Schumer told Rachel Maddow this week, “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

It’s probably the truest and most obvious statement Chuckie has ever made. Trump, who still has a week before he moves his throne into the White House, is busy sharpening his knives for a battle with the intelligence community. The problem for Trump is the spooks don’t bring knives to a gunfight.

It may well be a depressing four years ahead, but at least nobody said it won’t be entertaining.

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can follow him on Twitter @joshua__frank

COUNTERPUNCH 

Obama’s farewell address: One last round of clichés and lies

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By Niles Niemuth
11 January 2017

President Barack Obama capped his eight years in office with a vacuous and hypocritical farewell address Tuesday night delivered at the McCormick Place convention center in downtown Chicago.

The first-ever presidential farewell address delivered outside of Washington, DC had the atmospherics of an overblown, cheap spectacle. Obama strode onto the stage like a rock star, flanked by oversized American flags, a massive illuminated presidential seal and an introductory soundtrack by the rock band U2.

As with every address Obama has delivered over the last eight years, his speech in Chicago was full of clichés, his rhetoric padded with empty phrases and delivered with a false gravitas, signaled by his trademark pursed lips and affected whisper.

The speech was rife with contradictions, the starkest being the juxtaposition of Obama’s boasting of the great social progress achieved by his administration and his warning of threats to American democracy arising from ever-growing social inequality and economic insecurity.

The president declared: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history… if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11… if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens—you might have said our sights were set a little too high.

“By almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.”

He made no attempt to explain why, given this impressive record of social progress and foreign policy success, his party was routed in the elections and the billionaire demagogue Donald Trump was preparing to succeed him in the White House.

A basic component of the answer, of course, is the grotesquely false rendering of his record and the state of American society as he leaves office. Hardly a week goes by without a new report on signs of extreme social crisis or ever-more obscene levels of wealth among the financial elite. Just in the past month, studies have been published showing the first decline in US life expectancy in 23 years, plunging pay for young adults, a 72 percent surge in deaths from synthetic opioids, and home ownership rates at historic lows for young people.

Other surveys have documented a $237 billion increase in the wealth of the world’s richest 200 billionaires, driven largely by the US stock market boom under Obama, and an acceleration of the transfer of wealth from the bottom half of the US population to the top one percent.

In boasting of presiding over a record number of consecutive monthly job increases, Obama neglected to mention that 94 percent of the new jobs created in the last eight years have been either part-time or temporary.

Noticeably absent from Obama’s remarks was any mention of the social conditions in the city where he was speaking, which is ravaged by high levels of poverty and unemployment, an epidemic of police killings and violence, and a skyrocketing homicide rate.

He lamented in general terms the growth of social inequality and the dangers it poses to American democracy—that is, the threat of a social explosion in the United States.

“While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and rural counties, have been left behind—the laid-off factory worker; the waitress and health care worker who struggle to pay the bills—convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful—a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.”

As always, he spoke as if none of these social ills had anything to do with the policies pursued by his administration, including severe cuts in social spending on the one side and the bailout of the banks and flooding of money into the stock market on the other.

Another piece of monumental hypocrisy was Obama’s pose of fighting to defend democracy when he has done more to destroy it than perhaps any other US president.

“Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear,” he declared. “So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are. That’s why, for the past eight years, I’ve worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firm legal footing. That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, and reform our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties.”

This is from a president who has personally authorized the assassination of American citizens and thousands of others around the world with drones-fired missiles, protected and promoted those in the CIA responsible for torture, kept the prison at Guantanamo Bay open, persecuted journalists and jailed whistleblowers, militarized the police, and expanded the illegal surveillance of electronic communications.

Obama also used his farewell address take parting shots at Russia and China, lumping the war against ISIS with efforts to counter both countries, and arguing that aggressive action against the world’s second- and third-largest nuclear-armed powers was the only way to avoid war.

“[T]he fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression,” he said. “If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.”

Obama spent his eight years in office waging war abroad and war on the working class at home. With Tuesday’s speech, he passed the reins to Trump with a shrug.

WSWS

Obama’s legacy of war, repression and inequality

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10 January 2017

US President Barack Obama’s “farewell address to the nation,” scheduled for tonight, has been preceded by a concentrated media buildup on the theme of Obama’s legacy. This has included fawning tributes portraying the president as a brilliant orator, progressive reformer, visionary and man of the people.

Seeking to mold the narrative of Obama’s presidency, the White House put out a video over the weekend featuring comedians Ellen DeGeneres and Jerry Seinfeld, actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, former basketball star Michael Jordan and other celebrities extolling the “historic moments that prove, yes, we can create progress.” Such absurd and nauseating effusions testify not to the qualities or accomplishments of the 44th president, but to the intellectual, political and moral debasement of the American cultural establishment.

For Obama and the privileged social layers that surround the Democratic Party, a legacy can be crafted with honeyed phrases and clever marketing. Millions of people, however, will judge the administration by its actions.

It would take far more space than is available here to outline in detail the real record of the Obama White House. However, any objective appraisal of the past eight years would have to include the following elements:

1. Unending war

Obama is the first president in American history to serve two full terms in office with the nation at war. This includes the continued bloodletting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the bombing of Libya, the six-year-long war for regime change in Syria, and support for the Saudi-led destruction of Yemen. A recent survey reported that in 2016, US Special Operations forces were deployed in 138 nations, or 70 percent of the countries of the world.

The “wars of the 21st century,” begun under Bush and expanded under Obama, have killed more than a million people and driven millions more from their homes, producing the worst refugee disaster since the Second World War. Obama’s “pivot to Asia” has inflamed tensions from the South China Sea to India and Pakistan. The current president will leave the White House as NATO troops deploy to Eastern Europe in the midst of an anti-Russia war hysteria stoked by the media and the Democratic Party.

Obama is the “drone” president, supervising the killing of some 3,000 people in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya by means of unmanned aerial vehicles, along with several thousand more in Iraq and Afghanistan.

2. Democratic rights

At least three of the individuals killed in drone strikes were US citizens. The declaration of the Obama administration in 2011 that the president has the authority to assassinate anyone, including US citizens, without due process sums up the attitude of the former constitutional law professor to basic democratic precepts.

The US detention and torture center in Guantanamo Bay, which Obama pledged on his inauguration day to close, remains open. Chelsea Manning, who courageously exposed war crimes in Iraq, is serving a 35-year prison sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Obama White House has prosecuted more whistleblowers for espionage than all previous administrations combined. Edward Snowden was forced into exile in Russia under threat of prosecution or worse, while WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange remains trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

The massive spying programs of the National Security Agency exposed by Snowden remain in place, and not a single individual has been prosecuted for clearly illegal and unconstitutional activity. Proclaiming the need to “look forward, not backwards,” Obama gave a free pass to Bush administration officials who institutionalized torture, with some of them, including current CIA Director John Brennan, finding top posts in Obama’s administration.

Obama has expanded the militarization of police departments and intervened in court to uphold police abuses that violate the Constitution.

3. Social inequality

Obama came into office in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, and the focus of his administration has been to restore the wealth of the financial aristocracy. Since their low point in March of 2009 (two months after Inauguration Day), stock values—fueled by the “quantitative easing” policies of the US Federal Reserve—have more than tripled, with the top one percent the overwhelming beneficiary of this new orgy of speculation. Aggregate quarterly corporate profits rose from $671 billion at the end of 2008 to $1.636 trillion in 2016, and the wealth of the richest 400 Americans increased from $1.57 trillion to $2.4 trillion.

At the other pole, eight years of the Obama administration have produced declining wages, rising living costs and growing indebtedness. Nearly 95 percent of all jobs added during the Obama administration’s “recovery” have been temporary or part-time positions, according to a recent study by Harvard and Princeton, with the share of workers in temporary jobs rising from 10.7 percent to 15.8 percent. Obama presided over the bankruptcy of the auto companies early in his administration (imposing an across-the-board 50 percent cut in wages for new-hires). He supported the bankruptcy of Detroit and slashing of city workers’ pensions. In the name of education “reform,” he oversaw a wave of public school closures and attacks on teachers, who were laid off in the hundreds of thousands.

As for Obama’s principal domestic initiative, the Affordable Care Act, its intended and actual outcome has been the shifting of health care costs from corporations and the state to individuals, with corporations slashing coverage and workers forced to pay exorbitant prices for substandard care. One statistic sums up the consequences: For the first time since the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1993, life expectancy fell in the US between 2014 and 2015 due to rising adult mortality from drug overdoses, suicides and other manifestations of social distress.

No account of the legacy of Obama would be complete without noting two additional statistics. Since 2009, approximately 10,000 people have been killed by police in the United States, while the Obama administration has deported about three million immigrants, more than any other US administration in history.

Then there is the man himself. What is most striking is Obama’s emptiness. From his first major speech, at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the media has hailed Obama as a great orator. Yet over the span of 12 years in political office at the federal level, including eight in the White House, Obama leaves behind not a single sentence from a speech or interview that will be remembered.

Everything about Obama, who came into office having been named “Marketer of the Year,” is false and contrived. The only thing he consistently conveys is indifference, a strange remoteness, a man without qualities.

The personality is related to the function. More than anything else, Obama has been the president of the intelligence agencies. His political convictions appear to extend no further than his CIA briefing books. To those who care to look more closely into the background, there always seemed to be hands guiding his way to the White House.

For the ruling class, Obama’s particular function was to fuse in his person and his administration identity politics with the absolute domination of Wall Street and the military-intelligence apparatus. The “change” Obama was to represent was in the color of his skin, not the content of his policies.

The nominally liberal and pseudo-left organizations of the upper-middle class that surround the Democratic Party hailed his election as a “transformative” event, seizing upon the elevation of an African-American as an opportunity to abandon their oppositional pretenses. However, his tenure has merely demonstrated that it is class, not race, that is the decisive social category.

Amidst all the commentary on Obama’s “progressive” legacy, no one seems capable of explaining why it is that eight years of the Obama White House paved the way for the election of Donald Trump. Yet the bitter realities of social life, the widespread anger and disappointment, led to a collapse of the Democratic Party vote amidst a general feeling of disillusionment with the entire political establishment.

Obama now bequeaths to the world a ferocious conflict between two right-wing factions of the ruling class: The Trump administration, which is preparing an authoritarian and militarist government of the oligarchy, and its critics, furious that he is reluctant, for the present, to proceed with their preparations to wage war against Russia.

The record of the Obama administration and the character of the individual himself speak, in the end, to the structure of American politics—an ossified and reactionary political establishment that lacks any broad base of support, standing atop a cauldron of seething social tensions. The true legacy of Obama is the deepening of the crisis of American capitalism and the emergence of a new period of social and revolutionary struggles.

Joseph Kishore

Pity the sad legacy of Barack Obama

Our hope and change candidate fell short time and time again. Obama cheerleaders who refused to make him accountable bear some responsibility

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‘Most well-paid pundits on TV and radio celebrated the Obama brand.’

Eight years ago the world was on the brink of a grand celebration: the inauguration of a brilliant and charismatic black president of the United States of America. Today we are on the edge of an abyss: the installation of a mendacious and cathartic white president who will replace him.

This is a depressing decline in the highest office of the most powerful empire in the history of the world. It could easily produce a pervasive cynicism and poisonous nihilism. Is there really any hope for truth and justice in this decadent time? Does America even have the capacity to be honest about itself and come to terms with its self-destructive addiction to money-worship and cowardly xenophobia?

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Herman Melville – the two great public intellectuals of 19th-century America – wrestled with similar questions and reached the same conclusion as Heraclitus: character is destiny (“sow a character and you reap a destiny”).

The age of Barack Obama may have been our last chance to break from our neoliberal soulcraft. We are rooted in market-driven brands that shun integrity and profit-driven policies that trump public goods. Our “post-integrity” and “post-truth” world is suffocated by entertaining brands and money-making activities that have little or nothing to do with truth, integrity or the long-term survival of the planet. We are witnessing the postmodern version of the full-scale gangsterization of the world.

The reign of Obama did not produce the nightmare of Donald Trump – but it did contribute to it. And those Obama cheerleaders who refused to make him accountable bear some responsibility.

A few of us begged and pleaded with Obama to break with the Wall Street priorities and bail out Main Street. But he followed the advice of his “smart” neoliberal advisers to bail out Wall Street. In March 2009, Obama met with Wall Street leaders. He proclaimed: I stand between you and the pitchforks. I am on your side and I will protect you, he promised them. And not one Wall Street criminal executive went to jail.

We called for the accountability of US torturers of innocent Muslims and the transparency of US drone strikes killing innocent civilians. Obama’s administration told us no civilians had been killed. And then we were told a few had been killed. And then told maybe 65 or so had been killed. Yet when an American civilian, Warren Weinstein, was killed in 2015 there was an immediate press conference with deep apologies and financial compensation. And today we still don’t know how many have had their lives taken away.

We hit the streets again with Black Lives Matter and other groups and went to jailfor protesting against police killing black youth. We protested when the Israeli Defense Forces killed more than 2,000 Palestinians (including 550 children) in 50 days. Yet Obama replied with words about the difficult plight of police officers, department investigations (with no police going to jail) and the additional $225m in financial support of the Israeli army. Obama said not a mumbling word about the dead Palestinian children but he did call Baltimore black youth “criminals and thugs”.

 In addition, Obama’s education policy unleashed more market forces that closed hundreds of public schools for charter ones. The top 1% got nearly two-thirds of the income growth in eight years even as child poverty, especially black child poverty, remained astronomical. Labor insurgencies in Wisconsin, Seattle and Chicago (vigorously opposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a close confidant of Obama) were passed over in silence.

In 2009, Obama called New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg an “outstanding mayor”. Yet he overlooked the fact that more than 4 million people were stopped-and-frisked under Bloomberg’s watch. Along with Carl Dix and others, I sat in a jail two years later for protesting these very same policies that Obama ignored when praising Bloomberg.

Yet the mainstream media and academia failed to highlight these painful truths linked to Obama. Instead, most well-paid pundits on TV and radio celebrated the Obama brand. And most black spokespeople shamelessly defended Obama’s silences and crimes in the name of racial symbolism and their own careerism. How hypocritical to see them now speak truth to white power when most went mute in the face of black power. Their moral authority is weak and their newfound militancy is shallow.

The gross killing of US citizens with no due process after direct orders from Obama was cast aside by neoliberal supporters of all colors. And Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Jeffrey Sterling and other truth-tellers were demonized just as the crimes they exposed were hardly mentioned.

The president’s greatest legislative achievement was to provide healthcare for over 25 million citizens, even as another 20 million are still uncovered. But it remained a market-based policy, created by the conservative Heritage Foundation and first pioneered by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.

Obama’s lack of courage to confront Wall Street criminals and his lapse of character in ordering drone strikes unintentionally led to rightwing populist revolts at home and ugly Islamic fascist rebellions in the Middle East. And as deporter-in-chief – nearly 2.5 million immigrants were deported under his watch – Obama policies prefigure Trump’s barbaric plans.

Bernie Sanders gallantly tried to generate a leftwing populism but he was crushed by Clinton and Obama in the unfair Democratic party primaries. So now we find ourselves entering a neofascist era: a neoliberal economy on steroids, a reactionary repressive attitude toward domestic “aliens”, a militaristic cabinet eager for war and in denial of global warming. All the while, we are seeing a wholesale eclipse of truth and integrity in the name of the Trump brand, facilitated by the profit-hungry corporate media.

What a sad legacy for our hope and change candidate – even as we warriors go down swinging in the fading names of truth and justice.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/09/barack-obama-legacy-presidency?CMP=share_btn_fb

The Obama administration and the legitimization of torture

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By Tom Carter
7 January 2017

On December 28, US District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered a complete copy of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2014 report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s torture program during the Bush administration to be delivered to a federal courthouse, where it is to be preserved in a safe by a judicial security officer. Lawyers for torture victim Abd al-Rahim Al-Nashiri requested this extraordinary measure on the grounds that efforts were underway within the other branches of the US government to destroy and erase every copy of the full report.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report, titled “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” was finalized in December 2014 after protracted efforts by the Obama administration and the CIA to obstruct and delay the investigation. At that time, a heavily redacted 525 page “executive summary” was released to the public. The full report, which apparently numbers some 6,700 pages, has been kept secret.

The redacted copy of the executive summary establishes unequivocally that CIA personnel perpetrated war crimes, including torture and murder. Among the more depraved and sadistic torture methods exposed by the report was the practice of so-called “rectal feeding,” which involved forcibly pumping puréed food into the victim’s rectum “without evidence of medical necessity,” in the dry language of the report. These war crimes were carried out systematically with the knowledge of senior figures in the Bush administration from 2001 to 2006, and were followed by an extensive high-level cover-up. (See What is in the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on CIA torture .)

Republican Senator Richard Burr, a vocal Trump supporter, who replaced Democrat Diane Feinstein as Senate Intelligence Committee chairperson following the 2014 midterm elections, has demanded the return of every copy of the report from the Obama administration. The CIA’s copies of the report were “inadvertently” and “accidentally” destroyed by the CIA inspector general’s office in the summer of 2015.

Virtually no one has been allowed to read the full report, and a concerted effort is underway to make sure that nobody is able to read it in the future. No one has been criminally prosecuted for gross violations of international law, American statutes and the US Constitution, and the moves to make the report disappear are aimed at, in addition to censoring history, making sure that none of the criminals involved in the program are ever brought to justice.

It would be hard to find more damning evidence of the utterly rotten state of American democracy than the fate of this report.

The fact that neither the CIA nor the Bush officials who sanctioned the torture program have suffered any negative consequences, despite the presentation by the United States Senate of detailed evidence of war crimes, points to the degree to which authoritarian tendencies have asserted and entrenched themselves in the American state. The only CIA employee who has suffered negative consequences in connection with torture is analyst John Kiriakou, who was prosecuted by the Obama Justice Department and sentenced to 30 months in prison for the “crime” of revealing to the public the CIA’s use of waterboarding.

In America, certain democratic rituals continue to be observed, but the reality is that the military, the intelligence agencies, and the largest business and financial institutions dictate policy to what would once have been called the “civilian” branches of government, including both official political parties.

In order to shield the CIA from accountability for its crimes, President Obama has refused to declassify the report, which he has the power to order unilaterally. He has also refused to incorporate the report into the records of federal agencies, as requested by several lawmakers, a procedural maneuver that would facilitate its preservation and future declassification. In a token measure, he has ordered a copy retained in his official presidential records. This might save a single copy from destruction for the moment, but it would delay its release to the public until at least 2028.

The case of Al-Nashiri was the subject of particular scrutiny in the Senate investigation. Before being transferred to the Guantanamo Bay torture camp, Al-Nashiri was abducted and “rendered” to a series of secret CIA “black sites” in Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland, Morocco and Romania. He was waterboarded, shackled naked and hooded, and threatened with guns and power drills, among other abuses. To prevent evidence of war crimes from coming to light, the CIA destroyed the tapes of Al-Nashiri’s waterboarding in 2005.

Al-Nashiri, a Saudi citizen and alleged Al Qaeda leader, is the subject of ongoing proceedings before a US military commission, in which the Obama administration is seeking the death penalty. Underscoring the absurd character of these supposedly “legal” proceedings, Al-Nashiri will not be released even if he is found to be not guilty.

In July 2014, the European Court of Human Rights found Poland to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights for its complicity in the detention and torture of Al-Nashiri, ordering Poland to pay him €100,000 in damages.

The story of the CIA “enhanced interrogation” program is one of crimes compounded by crimes, lies told upon lies, implicating higher and higher levels of the state, eventually metastasizing into a full-blown constitutional crisis. A full recitation of the scandal’s long development would require several books.

During the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, CIA Director John Brennan ordered agents to break into Senate staffers’ computers in an effort to delete incriminating information. Then the CIA provocatively demanded that the staffers be prosecuted for stealing confidential information, which prompted reciprocal demands for the CIA burglars themselves to be prosecuted, as well as an extraordinary speech on the Senate floor by Feinstein in March 2014. (See Senate Intelligence head accuses CIA of undermining US “constitutional framework” ) During the Senate investigation, the CIA took the position that it could keep information secret from the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is charged with overseeing the CIA.

The Obama administration purported to resolve the crisis with the announcement that nobody on either side would be prosecuted. At the end of 2014, the administration colluded with congressional Republicans in an effort to block the release of the report until the Republicans could obtain control of both houses. As part of these efforts, Secretary of State John Kerry placed a call to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein to urge her to “consider” further delaying the release of the report.

After the report’s release, the Obama administration continued to do everything it could to block and suppress the report. While Obama made “transparency” a plank of his election platform, his administration vigorously opposed efforts to secure the release of the report under the Freedom of Information Act, as in the case of ACLU v. CIA .

The administration’s efforts to cover up torture and shield torturers from accountability have been a significant factor in the legitimization of torture in the US, paving the way for an escalation of the practice under Trump.

A particularly menacing article appeared in the Wall Street Journal last month titled, “Sorry, Mad Dog, Waterboarding Works.” The author, James E. Mitchell, boasts of having been “authorized” to conduct “enhanced interrogation” by the CIA. He proudly describes having “personally waterboarded” three men while working as a CIA contractor.

The Senate report identifies Mitchell as one of the chief architects of the torture program. In at least one lawsuit, he has been charged with engaging in a “joint criminal enterprise” with the US government that involved “torture; cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; non-consensual human experimentation; and war crimes.”

In the article, Mitchell lashes out at the Senate report, calling it “partisan,” and he denounces retired Marine Corps General James “Mad Dog” Mathis, Trump’s appointee for secretary of defense, for his pragmatic statements that torture does not work. Mitchell argues that “harsh” interrogation methods are justified in a “ticking-time-bomb scenario.” However, underscoring the fraud of that oft-cited argument, Mitchell does not allege that any time bombs were ticking when he tortured his victims.

Mitchell is a war criminal and he should have been arrested and prosecuted a long time ago. The fact that he can openly boast of his conduct in the press is the product of the Obama administration’s dogged efforts to cover up torture and shield perpetrators such as Mitchell from accountability. If all of the Bush-era torturers had been sentenced to lengthy jail terms—together with those who authorized the program, lied about it, and tried to cover it up—it goes without saying that conditions would not be as favorable for such an article to appear in the Wall Street Journal, or for Trump to shout about how he will “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”

The fact that the Senate report on CIA torture is now in danger of being destroyed or locked away for more than a decade is a fitting symbol of the legacy of the Obama administration. Obama was elected based on popular illusions that he would reverse the hated policies of the Bush administration. Instead, by any objective standard, the Obama administration was among the most reactionary in American history. Over a period of eight years, Obama oversaw a broad assault on basic democratic rights, the strengthening of the apparatus of a police state, and a massive transfer of wealth to the super-rich. These policies helped lay the foundations for the rise of an authoritarian populist like Trump.

Without presenting a complete list, the Obama administration’s legacy as it pertains to democratic rights includes carrying out and justifying assassinations of US citizens, codifying military commissions and indefinite detention without judicial due process, persecuting whistleblowers and journalists, further expanding the illegal regime of domestic spying, blocking efforts at transparency, deporting immigrants en masse, cracking down on protests and prosecuting political activists on the basis of anti-terror laws, abetting the epidemic of police brutality, further militarizing local police, and asserting immunity on behalf of killer cops in proceedings before the Supreme Court.

When Obama first took office, he made it a priority to shield Bush-era criminals. Bush administration officials, war criminals who carried out torture, and Wall Street financial criminals who crashed the economy all got a free pass under Obama, who pledged to “look forward, not backward.” While he was elected on promises to close the infamous Guantanamo Bay facility, Obama ends his eight years in office with the torture camp still in operation.

Trump, for his part, has declared that “torture works,” and has promised to keep Guantanamo open. “I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantanamo Bay, which by the way, which by the way, we are keeping open,” Trump declared in November. “Which we are keeping open … and we’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we’re gonna load it up.”

Given the boundless sadism and depravity of the CIA torture that has already been exposed, the mind boggles at Trump’s proposal to implement practices that are “a hell of a lot worse.” Trump has also declared that American citizens who are accused of “terrorism” can be transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

WSWS

The Dark Side of Obama’s Legacy

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There is a dark side to President Barack Obama’s legacy on national and international security matters that will enable President-elect Donald Trump to damage America’s political institutions as well as its standing in the global community.  President Obama, a Harvard-trained lawyer and an expert in constitutional law, was insufficiently scrupulous in protecting our moral obligations, creating an ironic and unfortunate page in U.S. history.  Instead of making the “world safe for democracy,” the clarion call of President Woodrow Wilson one hundred years ago, President Obama contributed to the furtherance of a national security state and a culture of secrecy.

The administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama tilted too far in the direction of the military, which already plays far too large a role in the policy process and the intelligence cycle.  Strategic intelligence has suffered from the Pentagon’s domination of a process that is now geared primarily to support the warfighter in an era of permanent war.  The strategic intelligence failures during the Obama administration include the absence of warning regarding events in Crimea and the Ukraine; the “Arab Spring;” the emergence of the Islamic State; and Russian recklessness in Syria.

The militarization of intelligence presumably will worsen in the Trump administration, which will be dominated by retired general officers and West Point graduates at almost all of the key departments and agencies in the foreign policy community. The CIA has become a para-military organization in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, with too much attention given to covert action.

President Obama campaigned on the basis of transparency and openness, but ignored accountability for the CIA’s transgressions and fundamentally weakened the role of oversight throughout the national security community.  A statutory Inspector General was created at the CIA in 1989 due to the crimes of Iran-Contra, but President Obama made sure there was no IG in place at CIA during most of his eight-year presidency and acquiesced in the destruction of the Office of the Inspector General at CIA.

The Senate intelligence committee’s authoritative report on the CIA’s illegal use of torture and abuse could not have been prepared without the work of the Office of the Inspector General, but President Obama tolerated the CIA director’s interference with the committee’s staff and ignored calls for the release of the full report.  As a result, it will be easier for a Trump administration to reinstate the use of torture that violates constitutional and international law, let alone common sense and decency.  With regard to the now-banned practice of waterboarding, Donald Trump stated that “only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work,”

The Obama administration also conducted a campaign against journalists and whistle-blowers that was unprecedented, using the one-hundred-year-old Espionage Act more often than all of his predecessors combined.  In fact, he misused the act, which was designed to prosecute government officials who talked to journalists and not to intimidate legitimate whistleblowers who report crimes and improprieties.  Leonard Downie, a former executive editor of the Washington Post, called Obama’s control of information “the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration.”

President Obama, in his high-minded rhetoric, denounced torture and abuse that “ran counter to the rule of law;” warned that our use of drones will “define the type of nation that we leave to our children;” and that “leak investigations may chill investigative journalism that holds government accountable.”  Nevertheless, he sought no accountability for those who broke laws in conducting torture and abuse; expanded the use of drone warfare; and, according to the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, “laid all the groundwork Trump needs for an unprecedented crackdown on the press.”

As long as Congress defers to the president on the conduct of national security; the courts intervene to prevent any challenge to the power of the president in national security policy making; and the media defer to official and authorized sources, the nation will have to rely on whistleblowers for essential information on national and international security.  Their role will be particularly essential in a Trump administration in view of the president-elect’s reckless statements on nuclear forces, nuclear proliferation, the use of force, and U.S. relations with key allies.  The fact that Trump remains hostile to intelligence briefings and that his first three appointments to the National Security Council are conspiracy theorists creates a horrifying scenario for furthering the dark side of the Obama legacy.

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of “Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA,” “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism,” and the forthcoming “The Path to Dissent: A Whistleblower at CIA” (City Lights Publishers, 2015).  Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.

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