Week one of the Trump administration: A government of war and social reaction

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28 January 2017

It is one week since the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States, and the actions and orders of the new government make clear what the working class can expect from the next four years.

At the center of Trump’s “America First” agenda is a massive escalation of military violence. At a swearing-in ceremony at the Pentagon Friday for the new secretary of defense, retired general James Mattis, Trump signed an executive order to begin a major “rebuilding” of the military. The order directs Mattis to prepare a policy to upgrade the US nuclear arsenal and prepare for conflict with “near-peer competitors,” a term that traditionally refers to China and Russia.

The action follows Trump press secretary Sean Spicer’s reaffirmation of a statement by incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, that the US would seek to bar Chinese access to islets in the South China Sea, implying military actions that would amount to a declaration of war.

Trump has also pledged to establish “safe zones” in Syria, which will be coupled with a temporary ban on all immigration from a number of majority Muslim countries. While Democrats have denounced Trump for being “too soft” on Russia, during the elections the Clinton campaign called for the setting up of “safe” no-fly zones, policed by US military aircraft, as part of an effort to counter Russian backing of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. In a speech at CIA headquarters, Trump also said that the US should have “taken the oil” in Iraq, and pledged that the CIA would have another chance to do so.

On domestic policy, Trump signed a series of executive orders that freeze hiring on all federal workers, freeze all pending government regulations and remove all obstacles to the completion of the Keystone and Dakota Access oil pipelines. Early in the week, he held meetings with the CEOs of the largest US manufacturing companies and with US auto companies, promising to “cut regulations 75 percent” and shift the business climate from “truly inhospitable to extremely hospitable.”

On Wednesday, Trump announced that his administration would proceed with the construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border, while launching a crack-down targeting millions of immigrant workers for detention and deportation. The same day, he said that the White House would seek a “major investigation” into completely unfounded allegations that “voter fraud” by millions of people cost him the popular vote in November—a claim aimed at creating the conditions for a further assault on the right to vote.

As part of a policy of extreme economic nationalism, early in the week Trump signed an executive order blocking US entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership and pledged to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Many of the policies of the incoming administration were outlined in Trump’s interview Wednesday night with ABC News anchor David Muir, during which Trump interspersed lying claims about his own popularity and the size of his inauguration with casual threats of war, torture and repression. The overall impression of Trump during the interview was that of a gangster in the Oval Office, the assumption of power by an underworld reflecting all that is corrupt and filthy in American capitalist society.

On torture, Trump proclaimed that if Mattis and incoming CIA Director Mike Pompeo “want to do [waterboarding], that’s fine. If they do wanna do, then I will work toward that end.” A draft memorandum is circulating in the White House that would reopen secret CIA prisons and torture centers overseas.

And this is only the first week. With the support of Democrats, Congress is moving rapidly to approve Trump’s cabinet of billionaires, former generals and corporate CEOs, and it has already approved Mattis, Pompeo and the head of the Department of Homeland Security, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly. Trump’s other cabinet picks are committed to a policy of destroying public education, eliminating basic social services and slashing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

There is no doubt that the election of Trump marks a watershed in American politics. However, when future historians examine this period, they will inevitably direct attention to what preceded it, to the conditions and climate out of which the Trump presidency arose. Many factors could be pointed to—the extraordinary decay in the political culture of the United States, the domestic consequences of unending war and violence abroad, the extreme growth of social inequality and the rise of a parasitic financial oligarchy.

Rather than a complete break, the Trump presidency represents a transformation of quantity into quality. He is, in the final analysis, the product of the desperate crisis that afflicts American and world capitalism.

For four decades, the ruling class in the United States has been engaged in a campaign of social counter-revolution, systematically eliminating all the gains won by workers through bitter struggles in previous decades. The Obama administration accelerated these processes. Obama’s White House continued and expanded the bank bailouts initiated under the Bush administration and helped funnel trillions of dollars to Wall Street through the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing” programs, while working, as in the 2009 auto restructuring, to slash wages for the working class.

The results are expressed in the extraordinary growth of social inequality. According to a recent report by University of California Berkeley economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, between 1980 and 2014, the share of pre-tax national income going to the bottom 50 percent of the population fell from 20 percent to 12 percent, while the share going to the top 1 percent increased from 12 percent to 20 percent. The gains for the top .1 and .01 percent of the population are even more extreme.

The foreign policy of the Trump administration likewise does not arise out of nowhere. For a quarter century, the American ruling class has been engaged in a desperate project to reverse its economic decline through military force—in the Balkans, North Africa, the Middle East and central Asia. Fifteen years of the “war on terror” have metastasized into an ever more direct conflict with larger competitors. Trump’s focus on China is in fact in continuity with the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia,” which has seen the deployment of US military resources throughout the South Pacific and East Asia.

What Trump adds to these processes is the distinct odor of fascism, of extreme nationalism and the threat of violent repression of opposition. His declaration in his inaugural address that the “bedrock of our politics will be total allegiance to the United States of America” is a threat to criminalize dissent, which will be associated with treason.

However, here too Trump is giving naked expression to the long-term decay of democratic forms of rule. It was, after all, Obama who will go down in history as the president who proclaimed the power to assassinate US citizens without due process. Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, drone assassination, NSA spying—this is the toxic mix out of which Trump’s particular contempt for constitutional norms emerges.

In July, as Trump was formally nominated as the candidate of the Republican Party at the Republican National Convention, the WSWS noted that “Trump’s particular fascistic personality was forged not in the beer halls of Munich and the trenches of World War I, but in the real estate market of New York City. With his casinos, his fictional universities and his endless stream of failed businesses, this personification of corporate fraud could hardly be a more fitting symbol for the state of American capitalism.”

There are sharp and bitter divisions within the American ruling class, but these divisions are over tactics, not basic class policy. It will not take much for Trump to bring on board many of his present critics within the political establishment and media, or, for that matter, more privileged sections of the upper middle class.

It is not from such forces that enduring opposition to the new administration will develop, but from the working class, in the United States and internationally. Trump’s absurd posturing as a defender of the “forgotten man” will, sooner rather than later, give rise to bitter class conflict as the impact of the new administration’s policy are felt. It is to the broad mass of the working class that socialists must now turn, and, through systematic organization and education, forge a political leadership to prepare for the struggles on the horizon.

Joseph Kishore

WSWS 

Eight billionaires control as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population

Oxfam issues report on eve of Davos conference

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17 January 2016

Eight billionaires, six of them from the United States, own as much combined wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population, some 3.6 billion people, according to the latest report on global inequality from the British-based advocacy group Oxfam.

The report was released Monday, on the eve of the annual World Economic Forum in the mountain resort of Davos, Switzerland, at which many of the ultra-rich will converge this week. The Oxfam document contains a range of figures that highlight the staggering growth of social inequality, showing that the income and wealth gap between a tiny financial elite and the rest of the world’s people is widening at an accelerating rate.

New data made available to Oxfam reveals that wealth is even more concentrated than the organization had previously believed. Last year, Oxfam reported that 62 people controlled as much wealth as the bottom half of humanity. In its latest report, the charity notes that “had this new data been available last year, it would have shown that nine billionaires owned the same wealth as the poorest half of the planet.”

Oxfam writes that since 2015, the richest 1 percent of the world’s population has owned more than the rest of the world put together, and that over the past quarter century, the top 1 percent has gained more income than the bottom 50 percent combined.

“Far from trickling down, income and wealth are being sucked upwards at an alarming rate,” the report states. It notes that the 1,810 dollar billionaires on the Forbes 2016 rich list own $6.5 trillion, “as much wealth as the bottom 70 percent of humanity.”

Over the next 20 years, some 500 people will hand over to their heirs more than $2.1 trillion, an amount larger than the gross domestic product of India, a country of 1.3 billion people.

Oxfam cites recent research by the economist Thomas Piketty and others showing that in the United States, over the past 30 years the growth in incomes of the bottom 50 percent has been zero, while the incomes of the top 1 percent have risen by 300 percent.

The same process is taking place in the world’s poorest countries. Oxfam notes that Vietnam’s richest man earns more in a day than the country’s poorest person earns in 10 years.

The report points to the systematic character of the siphoning of global wealth to the heights of society. The business sector is focused on delivering “ever higher returns to wealthy owners and top executives,” with companies “structured to dodge taxes, drive down workers’ wages and squeeze producers.”

This involves the most barbaric and criminal practices. Oxfam cites a report by the International Labour Organisation estimating that 21 million people are forced labourers, generating $150 billion in profits every year. The world’s largest garment companies all have links to cotton-spinning mills in India that routinely use the forced labour of girls.

Small farmers are also being driven into poverty: in the 1980s, cocoa farmers received 18 percent of the value of a chocolate bar, compared to just 6 percent today.

The extent of corporate power is highlighted in a number of telling statistics. In terms of revenue, 69 of the world’s largest economic entities are now corporations, not countries. The world’s 10 largest companies, including firms such as Wal-Mart, Shell and Apple, have combined revenue greater than the total government revenue of 180 countries.

Although the authors avoid any condemnation of the profit system per se, the information provided in their report amounts to a stunning verdict on the capitalist system. It highlights in facts and figures two central processes delineated by Karl Marx, the founder of modern socialism.

In Capital, Marx explains that the objective logic of the capitalist system, based on the drive for profit, is to produce ever greater wealth at one pole and poverty, misery and degradation at the other. In the Communist Manifesto, he explains that all governments are but the executive committee for managing the affairs of the capitalist class.

This is exemplified in the tax policies and other “business-friendly” measures undertaken by governments around the world. The Oxfam report notes that technology giant Apple is alleged to have paid a tax of just 0.005 percent on its European profits.

Developing countries lose around $100 billion a year as a result of outright tax dodging and the exemptions granted to companies. In Kenya, $1.1 billion is lost to government revenue every year because of exemptions, an amount nearly twice the country’s annual health budget.

Government tax policies work hand in hand with tax dodging and criminality. The report cites economist Gabriel Zucman’s estimate that $7.6 trillion of global wealth is hidden in offshore tax havens. Africa alone loses $14 billion in annual revenues because of the use of tax havens: enough to pay for health care that would save the lives of four million children and employ enough teachers to ensure that every African child went to school.

There is one significant omission from Oxfam’s discussion of accelerating inequality. It makes no mention of the critical role of the policies of the world’s major governments and central banks in handing over trillions of dollars to the banks, major corporations and financial elites through bank bailouts and the policies of “quantitative easing” since the eruption of the global financial crisis in 2008.

A discussion of these facts would raise uncomfortable political issues. The report opens by favourably citing remarks by US President Barack Obama to the UN General Assembly in 2016 that a world in which 1 percent of the population owns as much as the other 99 percent can never be stable.

But the very policies of the Obama administration have played a key role in creating this world. After rescuing the financial oligarchs from the results of their own criminal actions with massive bank bailouts, the Obama administration and the US central bank ensured their further enrichment by providing a supply of ultra-cheap money that boosted the value of their assets.

Under Obama, the decades-long growth of inequality accelerated, along with the descent of the ruling class into parasitism and criminality. He paved the way for the financial oligarchy to directly seize the reins of power, embodied in the imminent presidency of casino and real estate billionaire Donald Trump, to whom Obama will hand over the keys to the White House on Friday.

The overriding motivation behind the Oxfam report is fear of the political consequences of ever-rising inequality and a desire to deflect mounting anger over its consequences into harmless channels. It advances the perspective of a “human economy,” but maintains that this can be achieved on the basis of the capitalist market, provided corporations and governments change their mindsets.

The absurdity of this perspective, based on the long-discredited outlook of British Fabianism, which has dominated the thinking of the English middle classes for well over a century, can be seen from the fact that the report is directed to the global financial elites gathered at the Davos summit this week, with a call for them to change their ways.

The bankruptcy of this outlook is demonstrated not only by present-day facts and figures, but by historical experience. A quarter century ago, following the liquidation of the Soviet Union, the air was filled with capitalist triumphalism. Freed from the encumbrance of the USSR, and able to dominate the globe, liberal capitalist democracy was going to show humanity what it could do.

And it certainly has, creating a world marked by ever-rising inequality, the accumulation of wealth to truly obscene levels, oppression and anti-democratic forms of rule, criminality at the very heights of society, and the increasingly ominous prospect of a third world war.

This history brings into focus another anniversary: the centenary of the Russian Revolution. Despite its subsequent betrayal at the hands of the Stalinist bureaucracy, the Russian Revolution demonstrated imperishably, and for all time, that a world beyond capitalism and all its social ills and malignancies is both possible and necessary. Its lessons must inform the guiding perspective for the immense social struggles that are going to erupt out of the social conditions detailed in the Oxfam report.

Nick Beams

WSWS 

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 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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