This Is Where Obama Choked.

The American people had damn near an absolute right to know this information.

It so happens that Friday is an official Ratfcking Holiday, and a very important one. It’s June 23 or, as we who celebrate it like to call it, Smoking Gun Day. It was 45 years ago to the day that H.R. Haldeman stopped by the Oval Office and, with a tape recorder whirring merrily away in a drawer, he and Richard Nixon discussed how to get the CIA to turn off the FBI’s investigation of Watergate because that investigation was moving into “some productive areas.” They talked about ripping scabs open, and “that whole Bay of Pigs thing,” and having Walters tell Gray not to go into this thing any further, period. “All I can conclude,” Patrick Buchanan reportedly said when this tape finally came to light, “is that the old man has been shitting us.”

So, in honor of the day, The Washington Post comes up with an amazing tale of the way ratfcking is done in the modern era. It begins with a top-secret communique delivered to President Barack Obama last August.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race. But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

The dynamite, she go boom.

At that point, the outlines of the Russian assault on the U.S. election were increasingly apparent. Hackers with ties to Russian intelligence services had been rummaging through Democratic Party computer networks, as well as some Republican systems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an investigation of contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. And on July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks.

I seem to remember this remarkable coincidence.

The piece is too long, too well reported, and too detailed to summarize in block quotes, but what it makes sadly clear is that the culture of secrecy within the intelligence community worked invariably to empower the ratfcking, rather than to hinder it.

Over that five-month interval, the Obama administration secretly debated dozens of options for deterring or punishing Russia, including cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin and sanctions that officials said could “crater” the Russian economy.

All well and good. Go get ’em, tiger.

However, like so many things about the Obama administration, the response to what the Russians did was measured and allegedly proportional. (“I feel like we choked,” one official told the Post.) But, you may ask, what about the election that was going on at the same time the Obama administration was retaliating for Russian interference in its process?

They were concerned that any pre-election response could provoke an escalation from Putin. Moscow’s meddling to that point was seen as deeply concerning but unlikely to materially affect the outcome of the election. Far more worrisome to the Obama team was the prospect of a cyber-assault on voting systems before and on Election Day. They also worried that any action they took would be perceived as political interference in an already volatile campaign. By August, Trump was predicting that the election would be rigged. Obama officials feared providing fuel to such claims, playing into Russia’s efforts to discredit the outcome and potentially contaminating the expected Clinton triumph.

This, right here. This is where they choked. The American people had damned close to an absolute right to the information their government already had. The most fundamental act of citizenship is the right to cast an informed vote. The idea that the Obama administration withheld the fact that the Russians were ratfcking the election in order to help elect a vulgar talking yam is a terrible condemnation of the whole No Drama Obama philosophy. Would Donald Trump have raised hell if the White House released what it knew? Of course, he would have. But, as it was, the American people went to vote with only about half of the information they needed to assess his candidacy. This was a terrible decision.

Before departing for an August vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, Obama instructed aides to pursue ways to deter Moscow and proceed along three main paths: Get a high-confidence assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies on Russia’s role and intent; shore up any vulnerabilities in state-run election systems; and seek bipartisan support from congressional leaders for a statement condemning Moscow and urging states to accept federal help.

Ah, yes. “Bipartisan support.” The brilliant snow-white unicorn pursued by that administration for nearly eight years. How did that work out? How did it ever work out?

On Aug. 15, Johnson arranged a conference call with dozens of state officials, hoping to enlist their support. He ran into a wall of resistance. The reaction “ranged from neutral to negative,” Johnson said in congressional testimony Wednesday. Brian Kemp, the Republican secretary of state of Georgia, used the call to denounce Johnson’s proposal as an assault on state rights. “I think it was a politically calculated move by the previous administration,” Kemp said in a recent interview, adding that he remains unconvinced that Russia waged a campaign to disrupt the 2016 race. “I don’t necessarily believe that,” he said.

Really, now. How did it ever work out?

The meeting devolved into a partisan squabble.

“The Dems were, ‘Hey, we have to tell the public,’ ” recalled one participant. But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia’s aim of sapping confidence in the system. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went further, officials said, voicing skepticism that the underlying intelligence truly supported the White House’s claims. Through a spokeswoman, McConnell declined to comment, citing the secrecy of that meeting. Key Democrats were stunned by the GOP response and exasperated that the White House seemed willing to let Republican opposition block any pre-election move.

So they choked a second time, scared out of what they should have done by Mitch McConnell, ace conniver. (What the hell did they expect? Patriotism?) I repeat: the American people needed to know this before they voted, spin and fauxtrage and punditry be damned. They had a right to factor the question, “Why does Putin want this guy to be president?” into their thinking in the voting booth.

When U.S. spy agencies reached unanimous agreement in late September that the interference was a Russian operation directed by Putin, Obama directed spy chiefs to prepare a public statement summarizing the intelligence in broad strokes. With Obama still determined to avoid any appearance of politics, the statement would not carry his signature.

It’s at moments like this that I wish he’d never given that speech in Boston in 2004. It froze him into a public persona and a political stance that made even justifiable partisan politics look like base hypocrisy. It is entirely possible that, at what we must now believe was a critical moment (if not the critical moment) of his presidency, the better angels of a president’s nature were the voices he should have avoided at all cost.

Anyway, read the whole thing. It’s a fascinating window into presidential decision-making on the fly, as well as a look at how intelligence is gathered and managed. The 2016 presidential election was corrupted at its heart, and we do not know yet how fully it was corrupted, and that’s the most lasting scandal of all.

http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a55836/obama-russian-interference/

Washington’s love affair with tyrants

Besides the appearances, Donald Trump’s open embrace of dictators isn’t a break with U.S. policy, writes Robert Narai, in an article written for Red Flag.

Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet exchanges greetings with then President George H.W. Bush (Library of the National Congress of Chile | Wikimedia Commons)

Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet exchanges greetings with then President George H.W. Bush (Library of the National Congress of Chile | Wikimedia Commons)

THE U.S. liberal media seem to be suffering from amnesia.

In response to Donald Trump’s praise for Vladimir Putin and his crawling visit to Saudi Arabia, numerous establishment doyens have complained that the U.S. tradition of championing democracy and freedom throughout the world is being seriously endangered by Trump’s uncritical embrace of despots and dictators.

An editorial in the New York Times recently claimed: “The United States has long seen itself as a beacon of democracy and a global advocate of human rights and the rule of law…Mr. Trump erodes American’s reputation when he uncritically embraces those who show the least regard for [those traditions].”

This must come as a shock to all those who have lived under U.S.-backed dictatorships past and present. The truth is that U.S. foreign policy has always involved overthrowing democratically elected governments and propping up brutal dictatorships.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IN HER 1979 essay “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” Jeane Kirkpatrick, a future Reagan administration adviser and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, attempted to articulate what had always been dominant ruling class opinion in the U.S.:

[Dictatorships] do not disturb the habitual rhythms of work and leisure, habitual places of residence, habitual patterns of family and personal relations. Because the miseries of traditional life are familiar, they are bearable to ordinary people who, growing up in the society, learn to cope…

[Revolutionary regimes] claim jurisdiction over the whole life of the society and make demands for change that so violate internalized values and habits that inhabitants flee by the tens of thousands.

Kirkpatrick concluded that the U.S. should encourage democracy in dictatorial regimes only if it would not lead to the threat of revolution; where that threat exists, it is necessary to support violence, terror and dictatorship.

This opinion was hardly new–it simply articulated the U.S. foreign policy practice of the 20th century.

In response to the Russian Revolution of October 1917–an event in which the majority of Russian workers and peasants put an end to the mass killing of the First World War–President Woodrow Wilson ordered U.S. troops to join invading forces from Great Britain and France.

Their mission was to kill and maim as many Russian workers and peasants as possible and eventually starve the population to death. At the height of the mass murder in December 1919, Wilson announced: “Let those beware who would take the shorter road of disorder and revolution.”

During the Second World War, Harry Truman, who was then a senator, but would later become president, said: “If we see that Germany is winning, we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany, and that way, let them kill as many as possible.” At home, the war effort was used by President Franklin Roosevelt to ban the right to strike and violently suppress those who did not obey.

After hundreds of thousands of workers overthrew Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime in the north of Italy at the end of the war, the U.S. State Department ensured that the police, courts, military and civil service in the South remained in the control of former Mussolini supporters. They were seen as reliable figures as a workers’ revolution became an imminent threat.

The U.S. would go on to help Greek military generals and conservative politicians, with the support of fascist paramilitary gangs, systematically murder hundreds of thousands of unionists, Communist Party members and anti-fascist sympathizers during the Greek Civil War.

And during the Arab revolutions of 2011, the Obama administration maintained support for pro-U.S. dictators until it seemed no longer possible to do so. Obama called on Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak to step down, only to support Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi’s military coup in 2013. As el-Sisi’s regime became increasingly repressive, the Obama administration increased the supply of money and weapons to him.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE U.S. ruling class frequently expresses admiration for anti-democratic practices and dictators.

For example, the response of every leading newspaper to the Russian Revolution was horror and dismay. In November 1917, the editorial of the Washington Evening Star bemoaned: “It is a new revolution. The most serious aspect of the situation is that the new power in Russia declares for ‘an immediate just peace.'”

Their tune changed, however, at the height of Stalin’s forced industrialization. This resulted in the rollback of material gains achieved by workers during the revolution. The New York Times drew a positive comparison between U.S. business practices and Stalin’s ideas: “Improvement of the organization of labor in industry in order to distribute the proper strength among factories and to end ‘irresponsible’ methods.”

Mussolini’s U.S. admirers ranged from the mainstream media to Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt. After his regime had overturned all democratic institutions, and jailed and murdered hundreds of thousands of trade unionists, socialists and communists, U.S. media tycoon William Randolph Hearst wrote: “Mussolini is a man that I have always greatly admired, not only because of his astonishing ability, but because of his public service.”

When Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet died in 2006, the Washington Post editorial board hailed “the free-market policies that produced the Chilean economic miracle.” Pinochet had seized power in 1973 through a military coup and murdered tens of thousands of trade unionists and political opponents under his rule.

When a right-wing coup momentarily removed Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 2002, the editorial board of the New York Times hailed it as “a victory for democracy.” Chávez had been democratically elected and enjoyed overwhelming support from workers and the poor.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had this to say about murderous Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak not long before he was overthrown: “I really consider president and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family”. After the coup of 2013, Clinton’s successor John Kerry hailed Sisi for “restoring democracy.”

While Obama refused to meet with Sisi, he had no qualms when it came to Saudi King Abdullah. After the latter’s death in 2015, Obama canceled all his appointments to attend the funeral, at which he eulogized the dictator’s achievements: “At home, King Abdullah’s vision was dedicated to the education of his people and to greater engagement with the world.” This was in reference to a despot who routinely beheaded dissidents and denied women basic democratic rights.

Lenin described well the hypocrisy of such politicians and their media shills, who mouth democratic rhetoric while supporting barbarity:

All your talk about freedom and democracy is sheer claptrap, parrot phrases, fashionable twaddle or hypocrisy. It is just a painted signboard. And you yourselves are whited sepulchers. You are mean-spirited boors, and your education, culture and enlightenment are only a species of thoroughgoing prostitution.

For the U.S. ruling class, the lie that they are committed to spreading freedom and democracy throughout the world helps legitimize the barbarity of imperialism. A whole network of institutions exists to reproduce this fiction daily–elected representatives, policy “experts,” administrators, advisers, journalists, etc. From the editorial board of the New York Times to the halls of the State Department, this is a narrative that they tell the world to justify their position as arbiter of the behavior of other populations.

When Trump doesn’t stick to that narrative, the fiction starts to break down. The problem is not that Trump is embracing dictators–Obama did that as well. The problem is that Trump openly embraces despots precisely because of their authoritarianism.

First published at Red Flag.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/06/07/washingtons-love-affair-with-tyrants

Obama: a Hollow Man Filled With Ruling Class Ideas


A “Hollow” Man Who Was “Unwilling to Fight the Good Fight”

What on Earth motivated the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and law professor David J. Garrow to write an incredibly detailed 1078-page (1460 pages with endnotes and index included) biography of Barack Obama from conception through election to the White House? Not any great personal affinity for Obama on Garrow’s part, that’s for sure. Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama is no hagiography. On the last page of this remarkable tome, Garrow describes Obama at the end of his distinctly non-transformative and “failed presidency” as a man who had long ago had become a “vessel [that] was hollow at its core.”

Near the conclusion, Garrow notes how disappointed and betrayed many of Obama’s former friends felt by a president who “doesn’t feel indebted to people” (in the words of a former close assistant) and who spent inordinate time on the golf course and “celebrity hobnobbing” (1067). Garrow quotes one of Obama’s “long-time Hyde Park [Chicago] friend[s],” who offered a stark judgement: “Barack is a tragic figure: so much potential, such critical times, but such a failure to perform…like he is an empty shell…Maybe the flaw is hubris, deep and abiding hubris….” (1065). Garrow quotes the onetime and short-lived Obama backer Dr. Cornel West on how Obama “posed as a progressive and turned out to be a counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a national security presidency…a brown-faced Clinton: another opportunist.”

The subject of Garrow’s meticulous history is a single-minded climber ready to toss others (including family members, lovers, and close friends) aside in service to an all-consuming quest for political power fueled by a belief in his own special “destiny.” (It is clear from Rising Star that Obama was set on a run for the presidency by age twenty-five.) Dozens of former Obama associates interviewed by Garrow report having been impressed, even blown away by the future president as a young man. But many others were put off by Obama’s sense of superiority and arrogance (“full of himself” by the recollection of one Harvard Law classmate [p. 337]) and by his often lecturing, professorial “know it all” presentation – and by his transparent hyper-ambition.

During his time at Harvard Law, fellow students invented “the Obamanometer” – a numerical measure of how long Obama would spend taking up class time with long-winded dialogue with the professor, often while claiming to speak on behalf of his fellow students.

Obama struck many on his way up as far too impressed with his own awesomeness. As one of his fellow black Illinois state senators commented to another veteran legislator as Obama began his eight-year career in the Illinois Senate in 1996, “Can you believe this guy’s some thirty years old [and] he’s already written a book about himself?” (p.600)

Progressives lobbyists found Obama “a disappointing legislator” during his time in the Illinois Senate.  According to Al Sharp, executive director of Protestants for the Common Good, state senator Obama was “so very pragmatic” that “he,” in Garrow’s words, “was unwilling to fight to the good fight.” By Garrow’s account. “Legal aid veteran Linda Mills recalled that [state senator] Barack ‘sponsored a number of bills I wrote,’ but ‘I stopped seeking him out as a chief sponsor early on’ because Barack was ‘disengaged’ rather than actively pushing the bills. ‘He was never involved in the legislation,’ and on many days Barack was simply ‘unavailable. Golfing, playing basketball.  He was just out to lunch so often’” (p.731)

An Ugly Offer: Money for Silence

I find a different story related in Rising Star just as disturbing. It comes from April of 2008, when then presidential candidate Obama was being compelled by the Hillary Clinton campaign to throw his onetime South Side Chicago “spiritual mentor” Reverend Jeremiah Wright under the bus because Obama’s association with the fiery Black and left-leaning pulpit master was costing him too many white votes. On April 12, 2008, Obama visited Wright, asking him not to do “any more public speaking until after the November election.” Wright refused. “Barack left empty-handed but before long Wright received an e-mail from Barack’s close friend Eric Whitaker, also a Trinity [church] member, offering Wright $150,000 ‘not to preach at all’ in the months ahead.” (p.1044). Wright refused.

How was that for progressive hope and change?

“A Work of Historical Fiction”

Young Obama tried to beat historians to the punch by writing a deceptive, self-serving account of his own first three and half decades gracing the planet with his “special qualities.” Garrow, to his credit, doesn’t fall for it. Rising Star takes the future president’s 1995 book Dreams From My FatherDreams and some of Obama’s later autobiographical reflections to task for: inventing a deep racial identity drama that never occurred during Obama’s early years in Hawaii, Indonesia, and Occidental College; incorrectly portraying Obama as a “difference-maker” on his high school basketball team; deceptively claiming that Obama had been an angry “thug” during high school; deleting the Community Party background of the Black “old poet” (“Frank,” as in longtime Communist Party activist Frank Davis) who gave Obama advice as a teenager in Honolulu; inaccurately claiming that Obama have received a “full scholarship” to Occidental; misrepresenting himself as a leader in the movement against South African apartheid at Occidental; exaggerating Obama’s involvement in anti-apartheid activism at Columbia University; covering up  evidence of Obama’s enrollment in a Columbia course taught by a Marxist academic; absurdly mispresenting the nature of Obama’s work for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) at the City University of New York; concocting a mythical and supposedly life-changing dialogue with a  “black security guard” on Obama’s first trip from New York City to begin community organizing work on the far South Side of Chicago;  falsely claiming that Obama  converted to Christianity during his early years in Chicago; largely writing Obama’s white mother out of his autobiography, which spilled far more ink on a father (Barack Obama. Sr.) who played little role in his life; painting a “decidedly uncharitable portrait” of Obama’s loving white maternal grandfather (Stanley Dunham) who did so much to raise him; suggesting that Obama’s maternal white grandmother was a racist; unduly downplaying Obama’s supreme enjoyment of his years at Harvard Law School; and coldly condensing his three top pre-marital girlfriends (more on them below) “into a single woman whose appearance in the book was fleeting indeed.” Garrow judges Dreams “a work of historical fiction,” not a serious autobiography or memoir.

The Revenge of Sheila Jager: “His Deep-Seated Need to be Loved and Admired”

Rising Star might almost deserve the sub-title “The Revenge of Sheila Jager.” Like Garrow’s giant and classic 1986 biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rising Star gets very, very personal. Garrow reports the complaints of Obama’s three former girlfriends – Alex McNair, Genevieve Cook, and Sheila Jager. Each one recalls an Obama that was ultimately inaccessible and hopelessly self-involved.  Ms. Jager, a partly white Asian-American University of Chicago anthropology graduate student when she met Obama, garners singular attention. She fell into a prolonged and ardent affair with then community organizer Obama during the late 1980s. But her long and tumultuous relationship with him was doomed by the color of her skin. Obama shared the passion but decided he could not marry her because his political ambitions in Chicago required a Black spouse.

Garrow recounts an ugly scene in the summer of 1987. A loud and long dispute developed one day at the Wisconsin summer home of a friend. From the morning onwards, a witness recalled, “they were back and forth, having sex, screaming yelling, having sex, screaming yelling.… That whole afternoon, they went back and forth between having sex and fighting,” with Jager yelling: “That’s wrong! That’s wrong! That’s not a reason.”

Near the end of his colossal volume, Garrow says that “no one alive brought deeper insight into the tragedy of Barack Obama than Sheila Jager.” He reproduces numerous quotations from Jager, now an Oberlin College anthropology professor.  As a young woman, she was frustrated by young Obama’s lack of “courage.” Writing to Garrow in August of 2013, Jager saw that cowardice in his excessively “pragmatic,” disengaged, and “compromising” presidency:

“the seeds of his future failings were always present in Chicago.  He made a series of calculated decisions when he began to map out his political life at the time and they involved some deep compromises.  There is a familiar echo in the language he uses now to talk about the compromises he’s always forced to make and the way he explained his future to me back then, saying in effect I ‘wish’ I could do this, but ‘pragmatism and the reality of the world has forced me to do that.’  From the bailout out to NSA to Egypt, it is always the same. The problem is that ‘pragmatism’ can very much look like what works best for the moment.  Hence, the constant criticism that there is no strategic vision behind his decisions. Perhaps this pragmatism and need to just ‘get along in the world’ (by accepting the world as it is instead of trying to change it) stems from his deep-seated need to be loved and admired which has ultimately led him on the path to conformism and not down the path of greatness which I had hoped for him.” (1065)

The italics are Garrow’s.  He added emphasis to the entire passage.

Or Maybe He Really Believed All that “Vacuous to Repressive Neoliberal” and “Pragmatism” Stuff

Garrow’s mammoth biography is a tour de force when it comes to personal critique, professional appraisal, and epic research and documentation. His mastery of the smallest details in Obama’s life and career and his ability to place those facts within a narrative that keeps the reader’s attention (no small feat at 1078 pages!) is remarkable.  Rising Star falls short, however, on ideological appraisal. In early 1996, the brilliant left Black political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr. captured the stark moral and political limits of what would become the state and then national Obama phenomenon and indeed the Obama presidency.  Writing of an unnamed Obama, Reed observed that:

“In Chicago…we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program – the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance.”

Garrow very incompletely quotes Reed’s reflection only to dismiss it as “an academic’s way of calling Barack an Uncle Tom.”  That is an unfortunate judgement. Reed’s assessment was richly born-out by Obama’s subsequent political career.  Like his politcio-ideological soul-brothers Bill Clinton and Tony Blair (and perhaps now Emmanuel Macron), Obama’s public life has been a wretched monument to the dark power of the neoliberal corporate-financial and imperial agendas behind the progressive pretense of façade of telegenic and silver-tongued professional class politicos.

Reed’s prescient verdict more than 12 years before Obama became president brings more insight to the Obama tragedy than Jager’s reflection five years into Obama’s presidency. Obama’s nauseating taste for supposedly (and deceptively) non-ideological “get things done” “pragmatism,” “compromise,” and “playing it safe” – for “accepting the world as it is instead of trying to change it” (Jager) – was not simply or merely a personality quirk or psychological flaw. It was also and far more significantly a longstanding way for “liberal” Democratic presidents and other politicos to appear “tough-minded” and stoutly determined to “getting things done” while they subordinate the fake-populist and progressive-sounding values they mouth to get elected to the harsh “deep state” facts of U.S. ruling class, imperial, and “national security” power. A “pragmatic,” supposedly non-ideological concern for policy effectiveness – “what can be accomplished in the real world” – has long given “liberal” presidents a manly way to justify governing in accord with the wishes of the nation’s ruling class and power elite.

Garrow and Jager might want to look at a forgotten political science classic, Bruce Miroff’s  Pragmatic Illusions: The Presidential Politics of John F. Kennedy [1976].) After detailing the supposedly progressive Kennedy’s cool-headed, Harvard-minted, and “best and brightest” service to the nation’s reigning corporate, imperial, and racial hierarchies, Miroff explained that:

“Most modern presidents have claimed the title of ‘pragmatist’ for themselves.  Richard Nixon was just as concerned as John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to announce that he was not wedded to dogma, and that his administration would follow a realistic and flexible course. It has chiefly been the liberal presidents, however, who have captured the pragmatic label…For liberal presidents – and for those who have advised them – the essential mark of pragmatism is its ‘tough-mindedness.’ Pragmatism is equated with strength and intellectual and moral strength that can accept a world stripped of illusions and can take the facts unadorned.  Committed to liberal objectives, yet free from liberal sentimentality, the pragmatic liberal sees himself as grappling with brute and unpleasant facts of political reality in order to humanize and soften those facts…The great enemy for pragmatic liberals is ideology…An illusory objectivity is one of the pillars of pragmatic ‘tough-mindedness.’ The second pillar is readiness for power.  Pragmatists are interested in what works; their prime criterion of value is success…[and] as a believer in concrete results, the pragmatist is ineluctably drawn to power.  For it is power that gets things done most easily, that makes things work most successfully.” (Pragmatic Illusions, 283-84, emphasis added).

The classic neoliberal Bill Clinton embraced the pragmatic and non-ideological “get things done” façade for state capitalist and imperialist policy. So did the pioneering neoliberal Jimmy Carter and the great corporate liberals Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kenney and Franklin Roosevelt. Was this really or mainly because they were psychologically wounded?  The deeper and more relevant reality is that they functioned atop a Superpower nation-state rule by unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, empire, and white supremacism. They were educated, socialized, seduced and indoctrinated – to understand in their bones that those de facto dictatorships must remain intact (Roosevelt boasted of having saved the profits system) and that liberal “reform” must always bend to the will of reigning institutions and doctrines of concentrated wealth, class, race, and power. Some or all of them may well have to believe and internalize the purportedly non-ideological ideology of wealth- and power-serving pragmatism. And Obama was either a true believer or one who cynically chose to impersonate one as the ticket to power quite early on.

A Fully Minted Neoliberal Early On

The irony here is that one can consult Rising Star to determine the basic underlying accuracy of Reed’s acerbic description. My foremost revelation from Rising Star is that Obama was fully formed as a fake-progressive neoliberal-capitalist actor well before he ever received his first big money campaign contribution.  He’s headed down the same ideological path as the Clintons even before Bill Clinton walks into the Oval Office.  Obama’s years in the corporate-funded foundation world, the great ruling and professional class finishing schools Columbia University Harvard Law, and the great neoliberal University of Chicago’s elite Law School were more than sufficient to mint him as a brilliant if “vacuous to repressive neoliberal.”

During his years at Harvard Law, Garrow notes, Obama took said the following at a Turner Broadcasting African American Summit for the 1990s:

“Whenever we blame society for everything, or blame white racism for everything, then inevitably we’re giving away our own power…if we can get start getting beyond some of these old divisions [of race, place, and class] and look at the possibilities of crafting pragmatic, practical strategies that are going to focus on what’s  going to make it work and less about whether it fits into one ideological mold or another.”

These were classic neoliberal and ruling class themes.

Along with a healthy dose of market economics, this was the heavily ideological if nominally anti-ideological essence of much of Obama’s intellectual work at Harvard Law, where he and his good friend the former economist Rob Fisher were drawn to the courses of a libertarian professor and wrote oxymoronically about the progressive and democratic potential of “market forces.”  Like other ruling class and professional class educational and ideological institutions of “higher education,” Harvard Law was and remains a great schoolhouse of precisely the kind of “pragmatism” which knows that no policies and visions can work that don’t bow to the holy power of the finance-led corporate and imperial state, ruling in the name of the market among other things.

Again, and again across Garrow’s many hundreds of pages on Obama’s community organizing and legislative career one hears about the future president’s classically neoliberal efforts to address poverty and joblessness by increasing the market value of poor and jobless folks’ “human capital” and “skill sets.”  Never does one learn of any serious call on his part for the radical and democratic redistribution of wealth and power and the advance of a people’s political economy based on solidarity and the common good, not the profits of the investor class.

The main things Obama needed to add on to fulfill his “destiny” after Harvard Law were a political career in elected office, a great moment of national celebrity (his spectacular Keynote Address to the Democratic National Convention in August of 2004), elite financial sponsorship (including record-setting Wall Street backing in 2007 and 2008), and proper appreciation and articulation of U.S.-imperial Council on Foreign Relations ideology.  All of this and more, including no small good fortune (including the awfulness of the George W. Bush administration and the 2007-08 Hillary Clinton campaign), followed and brought us to the great neoliberal “disappointment” that was the Obama presidency.

Curious Deletions: MacFaquhar, Marxists, and the Ruling Class Sponsors

There are some interesting deletions in Rising Star. It is odd that the meticulous Garrow never quotes a remarkable essay published by The New Yorker in the spring of 2007. In early May of that year, six months after Obama had declared his candidacy for the White House, the New Yorker’s Larissa MacFarquhar penned a memorable portrait of Obama titled “The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?” “In his view of history, in his respect for tradition, in his skepticism that the world can be changed any way but very, very slowly,” MacFarquhar wrote after extensive interviews with the candidate, “Obama is deeply conservative. There are moments when he sounds almost Burkean…It’s not just that he thinks revolutions are unlikely: he values continuity and stability for their own sake, sometimes even more than he values change for the good” (emphasis added).

MacFarquhar cited as an example of this reactionary sentiment Obama’s reluctance to embrace single-payer health insurance on the Canadian model, which he told her would “so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.” Obama told MacFarquhar that “we’ve got all these legacy systems in place, and managing the transition, as well as adjusting the culture to a different system, would be difficult to pull off. So we may need a system that’s not so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.”

So what if large popular majorities in the U.S. had long favored the single-payer model? So what if single payer would let people keep the doctors of their choice, only throwing away the protection pay off to the private insurance mafia? So what if “the legacy systems” Obama defended included corporate insurance and pharmaceutical oligopolies that regularly threw millions of American lives by the wayside of market calculation, causing enormous disruptive harm and death for the populace?

Was this personal weakness and cowardice? The deeper reality is that Obama’s “deeply conservative” beliefs reflected an either calculated or heartfelt allegiance to neoliberal “free market” ideals and related pragmatic and “realistic” ruling- and elite professional-class values inculcated and absorbed at Harvard Law, in the corporate-captive foundation world, and through his many contacts in the elite business sector and the foreign policy establishment as he rose in the American System. Along with a bottomless commitment to the long American imperial project, those power-serving beliefs were written all over Obama’s conservative late 2006 campaign book The Audacity of Hope (Obama’s second book and his second book mainly about himself – see my critical review of it on Black Agenda Report in early 2007  here), whose right-wing and imperial content Garrow ignores.  They also raised their head in the famous 2004 Democratic Convention Keynote Address (see my critical reflection on that oration at the time here) that did so much to make Obama an overnight national and even global celebrity – another document whose right-leaning ideological nature escapes Garrow’s attention.

Like Obama’s neoliberal and imperial ideology, the many left activists and writers (this reviewer included) who saw through Obama’s progressive pretense and warned others about it early on are basically missing in Rising Star.  The list of Left commentators left out is long.  It includes Bruce Dixon, Glen Ford, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky. Alexander Cockburn, Margaret Kimberly, Jeffrey St. Clair, Roger Hodge, Pam Martens, Ajamu Baraka, Doug Henwood, Juan Santos, Marc Lamont Hill, John R. MacArthur, and a host of others (Please see the sub-section titled “Insistent Left Warnings” on pages 176-177 in the sixth chapter, titled “We Were Warned,” of my 2010 book The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power [Paradigm, 2014], my second carefully researched Obama book not to make it into Garrow’s endnotes or bibliography).

Also largely missing – the other side of the coin of omission, so to speak – in Garrow’s sprawling acount is the elite corporate and financial class that made record-setting contributions to Obama’s rise with an understanding that Obama was very much on their side. How write a 1000-page plus account of Obama’s rise to power without at least once mentioning that august and unparalleled ruling class figure Robert Rubin, whose nod of approval was critical to Obama’s ascendancy? As Greg Palast noted, Rubin “opened the doors to finance industry vaults for Obama. Extraordinarily for a Democrat, Obama in 2008 raised three times as much from bankers as his Republican opponent.”

Rubin would also serve as a top informal Obama adviser and placed a number of his protégés in high-ranking positions in the Obama administration. Rubin’s Obama appointees included Timothy Geithner (Obama’s first treasury secretary), Peter Orszag (Obama’s first Office of Management and Budget director), and Larry Summers (first chief economic adviser).

Just as odd as his ignoring of MacFarquhar’s May 2007 essay is Garrow’s inattention to a remarkable report from Ken Silverstein’s six months before. “It’s not always clear what Obama’s financial backers want,” the progressive journalist Ken Silverstein noted in a Harpers’ Magazine report titled “Obama, Inc.” in November of 2006, “but it seems safe to conclude that his campaign contributors are not interested merely in clean government and political reform…On condition of anonymity,” Silverstein added, “one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn’t see him as a ‘player.’ The lobbyist added: ‘What’s the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?’” Obama’s allegiance to the American business elite was evident from the get go. It was well understood by the K Street insiders that Silverstein interviewed in the fall of 2006.

His “dollar value” to Wall Street would become abundantly clear in early 2009, when he told a frightened group of Wall Street executives that “I’m not here to go after you. I’m protecting you…I’m going to shield you from congressional and public anger.” For the banking elite, who had destroyed untold millions of jobs, there was, as Garrow’s fellow Pulitzer Prize-winner Ron Sukind wrote, “Nothing to worry about. Whereas [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt had [during the Great Depression] pushed for tough, viciously opposed reforms of Wall Street and famously said ‘I welcome their hate,’ Obama was saying ‘How can I help?’” As one leading banker told Suskind, “The sense of everyone after the meeting was relief. The president had us at a moment of real vulnerability. At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t – he mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.”

On Love and Admiration

As noted above, professor Jager told Garrow that the limits of Obama’s presidency stemmed from his longstanding “need to be loved and admired.” But surely that need would have been met to no small degree had Obama (like Roosevelt in 1935 and 1936) governed in at least partial accord with the progressive-sounding rhetoric he campaigned on in 2007 and 2008. Beyond the social, democratic, security and environmental benefits that would have been experienced by millions of Americans and world citizens under an actually progressive Obama presidency, such policy would have been good politics for both Obama and the Democratic Party. It might well have pre-empted the Tea Party rebellion and kept the orange-haired beast Donald Trump – a dodgy neo-fascistic legacy of Obama and the Clintons’ ruling- and professional-class Ivy League elitism – out of the White House.  The bigger problem here was Obama’s love and admiration for the nation’s reigning wealth and power elite – or, perhaps, his reasonable calculation that the powers that be held a monopoly on the means of bestowing public love and admiration. Non-conformism to the ruling class carries no small cost in a media and politics culture owned by that class.

The Biggest Omission: Empire

The most glaring thing missing in Rising Star is any understanding of U.S, Senator and presidential candidate Obama’s imperial world view. His brazenly “American exceptionalist” and imperial mindset, straight out of the Council on Foreign Relations, was written all over Obama’s foreign policy speeches and writings (including large sections of The Audacity of Hope) in 2006, 2007, and 2008. I wrote about this at length in the fourth chapter (titled “How Antiwar? Obama, Iraq, and the Audacity of Empire”) in my 2008 book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics.

This significant omission but it is unsurprising given Garrow’s own apparent enmeshment in the American imperial mindset.  Rising Star’s long epilogue includes John McCain-like criticisms of Obama for failing to launch military strikes on Syria and for being too allergic to “the use, or even the threat of force” in global affairs. Garrow even offers a lengthy critical quote on the need for “the next president” to be more “resolute” from the former leading imperialist defense secretary Robert Gates, who Garrow strangely describes as “the weightiest and most widely respected voice of all.”

“Problems Out There with the Situation of African-Americans in Society”

Obama first became something of a celebrity when he became the first Black editor of the Harvard Law Review in February of 1990.  “I wouldn’t want people to see my election,” Obama told the Associated Press, “as a symbol that there aren’t problems out there with the situation of African-Americans in society” (Garrow, Rising Star, p. 392). Note the carefully calibrated nature of Obama’s public commentary already at the age of 28: “problems out there with the situation of African-Americans in society” could just as easily refer to alleged Black personal and cultural failure (a persistent white-pleasing theme in the rising star’s political rhetoric) as it could to cultural and/or institutional and societal racism.  Note also that while Obama’s election and re-election to the U.S. presidency brought few if any tangible material and policy gains to Black America (whose already terrible economic situation deteriorated significantly during his time in office), it functioned as something like the last nail in the coffin of many whites’ stark reluctance to acknowledge that the nation’s still deeply embedded racism any longer poses real barriers to Black advancement and equality in the U.S. “Are you kidding me?” I’ve heard countless whites say, “we elected a Black president! Stop talking about racism!” Never mind the persistence of deeply embedded racial inequality and oppression at the heart of the nation’s labor and housing markets, credit and investment systems, legal and criminal justice systems, its military and police state, and its educational and media systems – and the dogged tenacity of personal and cultural race prejudice among a considerable part of the white populace.  In that and other ways, the tragedy of the Obama years has been greatest of all for those at the bottom of the nation’s steep social and economic wells.

King v. Obama

If I could ask Garrow one question beyond the personal matter of why my own heavily researched and annotated study of (and Left warning on) “rising star” Obama (Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics [Paradigm-Routledge, 2008]) is so egregiously missing in his bibliography and endnotes, it is this: what does Garrow think his previous epic biography subject Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. (who politely refused progressives’ effort to enlist him as a presidential candidate and whose bust sat behind Obama in the Oval Office), would have thought of the career of Garrow’s new epic biography subject, Barack Obama?

As Garrow knows, King in his final years inveighed eloquently against what he called “the triple evils that are interrelated,” essentially capitalism, racism, and militarism-imperialism. King came to the end of his martyred life with the belief that the real faults in American life lay not so much in “men” as in the oppressive institutions and social structures that reigned over them.  He wrote that “the radical reconstruction of society itself” was “the real issue to be faced” beyond “superficial” matters. He had no interest, of course, in running for the White House of all things.

Obama took a very different path, one that enlisted him in service both to narcissistic self and to each of the very triple evils (and other ones as well) that King dedicated his life to resisting.

The Obama-King contrast continues into Obama’s post-presidential years.  As Garrow showed in Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King. Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (William Morrow, 1986), the great Civil Rights leader and democratic socialist Dr. King sternly refused to cash in on his fame.  Now that he out of the White House, Obama, by contrast, is cashing in. He’s raking in millions from the publishing industry and Wall Street and he’s back to his old “hobnobbing” ways with the rich and famous.

The reverend would be 88 years old if he had been blessed with longevity.  My guess is that he would be less than pleased at the life and career of the nation’s first technically Black president.

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/06/02/obama-a-hollow-man-filled-with-ruling-class-ideas/

The GOP’s biggest budget lies

Debt isn’t a big problem and it’s not caused by social spending — and Republicans aren’t better economic managers

The GOP's biggest budget lies: Take these down, and progressives will start to win

Mitch McConnell; Paul Ryan (Credit: AP/Evan Vucci//Getty/Mark Wilson)

In mid-March, President Donald Trump’s “skinny budget” proposal drew widespread criticism for its short-sightedness,senseless cruelty and betrayal of his base. It was bad for science, education, the environment and public health, and even for Norman Rockwell-style popular programs like Meals on Wheels. Congressional Republicans freely criticized it immediately, despite its red-meat military spending hikes. “These increases in defense come at the expense of national security,” said renowned hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., referring to Trump’s proposed deep cuts to diplomatic and foreign aid programs. But in early May, the budget deal to keep the government open was a clear victory for Democrats, leading Trump to call for a government shutdown in frustration.

That’s hardly the end of the budget fight, though. Both Trump and congressional Republicans are preparing to do it all over again, despite how unpopular the first go-round was, and despite how damaged they are politically by the widening Trump-Russia scandal. Which is why it makes sense to take a step back and look at some of the big-picture lies shared by all Republicans — and far too many Democrats as well.

Three of these in particular completely disorient any attempt at sane, sensible budget discussions: First, the idea that the debt is a huge problem and should form a framework for budgetary decision-making. Second, that the debt is due to social spending, mostly on the welfare state. Third, that Republicans are “more responsible” and “better managers” than Democrats. For Democrats and progressives to win this fight — both short-term and long-term — they will have to take on these big lies. Let’s examine each of them in turn.

The idea of the federal debt as a huge problem has a very long history. Andrew Jackson was the only president to ever get rid of the debt — which he hated especially because of his own personal experience — but that lasted less than two years. The dominant rhetoric — echoed by President Barack Obama in 2011 — is to see national debt as household debt writ large, reflected in the title of his weekly radio address on Feb. 12 of that year, “It’s Time Washington Acted as Responsibly as Our Families Do.”

Obama framed his address in terms of a story told to him in a letter from a woman named Brenda Breece, a special-ed teacher in Missouri whose husband had to take early retirement after nearly four decades working at a local Chrysler plant. They had to scrimp and save, but that’s not all. “Like so many families, they are sacrificing what they don’t need so they can afford what really matters,” putting their daughter through college, Obama said. Then he continued:

Families across this country understand what it takes to manage a budget. They understand what it takes to make ends meet without forgoing important investments like education. Well, it’s time Washington acted as responsibly as our families do. And on Monday, I’m proposing a new budget that will help us live within our means while investing in our future.

My budget freezes annual domestic spending for the next five years — even on programs I care deeply about — which will reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade.

At Washington Monthly’s blog, Steven Benen said it showed “how to use the wrong comparison the right way,” since Republicans were bound to invoke that very same “family budget” metaphor, but without the emphasis on investing in the future. It was a valid point, of course, and surely reflected how Obama himself must have felt. But that’s really only a defensive parry, and fundamentally at odds with the sweeping promise of “hope and change” on which Obama was elected in 2008. Benen passed over that, but he did point out how fundamentally wrong this rhetoric was:

The line has a certain intuitive charm that much of the public likes, which masks how wrong it is — the government needs to step up even more to keep the economy going when families and businesses pull back. It’s how FDR and Democrats ended the Great Depression in the 1930s, and how Obama and Dems prevented a sequel in 2009.

The need for government to spend more when private spending falters is one of the most basic insights of macroeconomics. It goes to heart of why macroeconomics and microeconomics are different fields, each with its own logic. How whole economies work differs from how individual economic entities do, just as team performance differs from individual performance in any team sport.

The insight — long neglected — dates back to Bernard Mandeville’s controversial 1714 book, “The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Public Benefits.” Thrift might be individually virtuous, Mandeville argued, but general prosperity was increased by expenditure rather than by saving. It was actually a difficult struggle for Franklin D. Roosevelt to realize this. A brief summary page from the FDR library tells the tale: “FDR: From Budget Balancer to Keynesian.” Roosevelt started out as a conventional thinker, in basic economics:

Roosevelt believed that a balanced budget was important to instill confidence in consumers, business, and the markets, which would thus encourage investment and economic expansion. As the economy recovered, tax revenues would increase making budget balancing even easier. This traditional view that deficits were bad was also supported by public opinion polls.

But these beliefs simply didn’t match the dire conditions of the times. So for years Roosevelt maintained his fundamental belief, bracketing it with the recognition that he faced an extraordinary situation:

From 1933 to 1937, FDR maintained his belief in a balanced budget, but recognized the need for increased government expenditures to put people back to work. Each year, FDR submitted a budget for general expenditures that anticipated a balanced budget, with the exception of government expenditures for relief and work programs.

All through this time, Roosevelt assumed that once the emergency had passed, things would return to normal, the extraordinary measures would be put away and a balanced budget would return. He argued passionately for the basic human decency of the path he embarked on, in a speech during his 1936 re-election campaign:

To balance our budget in 1933 or 1934 or 1935 would have been a crime against the American people. To do so we should either have had to make a capital levy that would have been confiscatory, or we should have had to set our face against human suffering with callous indifference. When Americans suffered, we refused to pass by on the other side. Humanity came first.

It was only after that, however, that Roosevelt had his own rude awakening. In 1937, he did as he had always promised, based on how much things had improved:

From 1933 to 1937, unemployment had been reduced from 25% to 14% — still a large percentage, but a vast improvement. FDR’s reaction was to turn back to the fiscal orthodoxy of the time, and he began to reduce emergency relief and public works spending in an effort to truly balance the budget.

The result was a renewed economic plunge — the recession of 1937-8. It was only in response to this unexpected turn of events that FDR finally adjusted his fundamental frame of reference. Some of his advisers still pushed for the conventional balanced-budget approach, but others accepted the theories of John Maynard Keynes, who argued that “permanent budget deficits or other measures (such as redistribution of income away from the wealthy)” were necessary “to stimulate consumption of goods and to maintain full employment.” Consequently, it was “the reduction of federal spending that these advisers viewed as the cause of the recession,” and FDR came to agree. In is 1938 annual message to Congress, he defended his decision, noting how self-contradictory his critics were:

We have heard much about a balanced budget, and it is interesting to note that many of those who have pleaded for a balanced budget as the sole need now come to me to plead for additional government expenditures at the expense of unbalancing the budget.

With the onset of World War II, opposition to deficit spending vanished, and full employment ensued. By the end of the war, public views had changed as a result:

The obvious connection between deficit spending and economic expansion was not lost on many Americans, including business leaders who much preferred large deficits to Keynes’s alternative of massive redistribution of wealth through taxation as a way to sustain America’s prosperity in peacetime.

Four decades later, Reaganomics would represent a perverse twist of this realization. Despite lip service to the contrary, Reagan produced record deficits to sustain prosperity while dramatically concentrating wealth. Although Reagan claimed he would magically balance the budget in four years, he actually did quite the opposite. From Harry Truman through Jimmy Carter, every presidential term but one — the Nixon/Ford term from 1973 to 1977 — had seen the debt shrink as a percentage of GDP. It fell from a peak of 117.5 percent during World War II to to 32.5 percent by the time Reagan took office, and has never been anywhere near that low since. It jumped more than 20 percent during Reagan’s two terms, and Bill Clinton has been the only subsequent president to reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio.

But let’s not lose sight of what Roosevelt accomplished, in creating the foundations for America’s broad middle class, which had never existed before on such a scale:

FDR’s support for deficit spending was yet another shift in the relationship between the government and the people that took place during his Administration. President Roosevelt expressed his vision for a country where each citizen was guaranteed a basic level of economic security most eloquently in his Economic Bill of Rights speech on January 11, 1944:

“We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’ People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

These were the hard-won lessons of the Great Depression and World War II, but as so often happens in history, those who did not live through that suffering only learned the lessons second-hand, and never knew them in their bones. So we lost our way again, which is why we got Reagan in the 1980s and now have Donald Trump. We need to remember what made the American middle class great in the first place: a commitment to activist government spending money on public needs when the private sector fell short. Short-term debt-obsession was the enemy of everything Roosevelt accomplished — not a guide to sound economics.

Now for the second big lie, that the debt is primarily due to welfare-state social spending. Here I’d like to quote myself from 2011 (“Enshrining the lies of the US’ 1%“):

Indeed, as Thomas Ferguson and Robert Johnson explained just over a year ago, in their paper “A World Upside Down? Deficit Fantasies in the Great Recession”, all of the US long-term federal debt is due to just three oligopoly sectors: the military-industrial complex (the backbone of empire, with bases all around the world and almost half the world’s military spending), the medical-industrial complex (with twice the per capita costs of other systems), and the financial sector (which has recently cost trillions of dollars in lost wealth and economic activity).

All three of these are enormous cash cows for the one per cent, and equally enormous cost-centres for the 99 per cent. Without the costs imposed by lack of competition, regulation and accountability in these sectors, the US would have no long-term debt problem. We would be paying it down, rather than running it up.

In that paper’s abstract, the authors write:

In an era of unbridled money politics, concentrated interests in the military, financial, and medical industries pose much more significant dangers to U.S. public finances than concerns about overreach from broad based popular programs like Social Security, which is itself in good shape for as many years as one can make credible forecasts.

Concerns about Social Security are vastly overblown, they note, and uncertain worries about two decades from now should not dominate our attention. Medicare is another matter, only because the American health care system as a whole is so expensive. They drew on an analysis by Dean Baker, which compared projected health care costs in the U.S. with projections based on the cost structures of other countries.

The U.S. spends a far higher percentage of its GDP on health care than any other country. It also gets less health for it than any other major country, in the sense other countries do just as well or better on most health indicators, though they spend much less.

Why is no mystery, despite all the sound and fury of the health care “debate.” The U.S. health care system is in no sense a competitive marketplace. Instead, it is a chain of private oligopolies connected to each other by streams of payments administered by a vast, non-competitive private insurance network and the federal government. Producers and insurers together dominate government policymaking, at both federal and most state levels.

The rate of cost increase has been reduced under the ACA since the paper was written, but we’re still far from universal coverage, and the problems of oligopoly remain — most notably in the way insurers have withdrawn from some marketplaces. The failure to even include a public option in the ACA left insurers in positions of tremendous coercive power. And GOP repeal plans could wipe out all the ACA gains and leave us facing a grim future.

The military-industrial complex, the authors note, is commonly taken to make up about 20 percent of the budget, but if we include all related functions — homeland security and intelligence agencies, plus significant parts of other departments, including Energy, Transportation and State — with the military share of the debt, that total nearly doubles: “One careful effort at a more comprehensive reckoning suggests that perhaps 39% of the proposed Fiscal Year 2011 budget goes toward defense.”

Finally, there’s the enormous costs inflicted by the financial meltdown of 2008, triggering the Great Recession, and the high probability of future such disasters. These costs are obviously more difficult to assess than the excessive costs of the U.S. health care system. But they are certainly much greater than the amounts involved in the Social Security system, much less Meals on Wheels.

This sort of realistic appraisal is not a popular perspective among political elites, who are largely funded by the oligopolies involved. But it is popular with the public — see Bernie Sanders’ approval ratings as one indication. Yet, these major sources of long-term debt pressure never seem to enter the deficit-cutting debate.

Now for the third big lie, the claim that Republicans are “more responsible” and “better managers” than Democrats are, an assumption that permeates the air whenever the economy is discussed. I’ve already referred to the fact that Republican presidents since Reagan have been terrible at managing debt reduction, but the point at issue is a broader, more fundamental one: There is no aspect of economic management where Republicans do as well as Democrats. None whatsoever. Here, the best single source is a slim volume, “They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010“ by Eric Zuesse. As explained in the publishers’ synopsis:

The Democratic and Republican Parties are virtual opposites of each other in their economic records, going back to the earliest period for which economic data were available, around 1910. More than a dozen studies have been done comparing economic growth, unemployment, average length of unemployment, stock market performance, inflation, federal debt, and other economic indicators, during Democratic and Republican presidencies and congresses, and they all show stunningly better performance when Democrats are in power, than when Republicans are. These studies are all available online, and they are all summarized and discussed in this path-breaking book, which settles, once and for all, the question of whether there’s any significant economic difference between the two Parties. Not only is there a difference, but — shockingly — it always runs in favor of Democrats in power.

Democrats are superior for the economy as a whole — GDP growth, unemployment rate, inflation — for the stock market, and for controlling government deficits too. One example Zuesse cites is from Kevin Drum, back in September 2002. Responding to a story in Slate reporting that since 1900, Democratic presidents have produced a 12.3 percent annual total return on the S&P 500, but Republicans only an 8 percent return,” Drum wrote:

This is actually an old story, and Slate doesn’t know the half of it: Democratic administrations, it turns out, manage virtually every facet of the economy better than Republicans.

Drum analyzed the three main statistics cited above — GDP growth, unemployment and inflation — from 1948 to 2001, and included a time-lag. “In the same way that a pitcher is responsible for runners left on base even after he’s been replaced,” he wrote, “presidents should be responsible for a few years of economic performance after they leave office.” Choosing a variety of time-lags, the results were all the same:

3 Yrs 4 Yrs 5 Yrs
GDP Growth
Democrats
Republicans
3.56%
3.35%
3.78%
3.16%
3.71%
3.21%
Unemployment
Democrats
Republicans
5.06%
6.16%
5.04%
6.18%
5.01%
6.21%
Inflation
Democrats
Republicans
3.33%
4.36%
3.07%
4.60%
3.20%
4.48%

No matter what time-lag you choose, Democrats post higher GDP growth, lower unemployment, and lower inflation.

This is just one of multiple examples, and the value of Zuesse’s book is that it brings them together. “The myth that conservatives are better for the economy than are progressives, is driven not by the masses but by the elite, the insiders who benefit from this deception,” he writes. But even that’s a dubious proposition sometimes, when — as under George W. Bush — things really go off the rails.

Whatever happens in the months ahead, whatever specific gambits the Republicans trot out, it will always serve us well to keep in mind these three big lies, and remind others why and how they are so wrong: Debt is not a dominant economic problem and should not frame our budgetary decision-making; debt is not primarily due to social spending; and Republicans are not “more responsible” or “better managers” of the economy than Democrats. Take down the big lies, and the little ones will fall apart much more easily.

 

Paul Rosenberg is a California-based writer/activist, senior editor for Random Lengths News, and a columnist for Al Jazeera English. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulHRosenberg.

Chelsea Manning released amid growing attacks on democratic rights in the US

18 May 2017

Chelsea Manning walked out of the US military’s maximum security prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in the early morning hours Wednesday after serving a sentence of more than seven years, marked by brutality and ill-treatment tantamount to torture.

Manning’s supposed “crime” was that of exposing to the people of the United States and the entire planet the criminal atrocities carried out by the US government in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Washington’s conspiracies around the world.

It is ironic that the release of the US Army private imprisoned for leaking classified documents received minimal coverage from the corporate media, even as it churned out endless stories covering President Donald Trump’s alleged exposure to Russian officials of classified secrets.

The political crisis in Washington is the product of a bitter internecine struggle between rival factions within the ruling political establishment and the US state apparatus, which are equally hostile to the democratic principles and antiwar sentiments for which Chelsea Manning sacrificed her freedom and nearly lost her life.

Days after her sentencing in August 2013, Manning came out as a transgender woman, but the military held her in an all-male prison, subjecting her to sexual humiliation and denying her treatment for her well-documented gender dysphoria. Much of her imprisonment was spent in punitively imposed solitary confinement. The predictable result was extreme mental anguish, depression and attempted suicide.

Manning’s seven years of imprisonment and torment at the hands of the US military represented the most draconian punishment ever imposed for leaking classified documents in the United States. She was originally sentenced to 35 years in prison in a drumhead military court martial, in which the prosecution pressed for a “treason” conviction, a charge that carries the death penalty.

Whom did Manning “betray”? Certainly not the American people, to whom she helped expose crimes being carried out behind their backs. Rather, her actions cut across the interests of the American capitalist ruling class, which is waging endless predatory wars and building up a police-state apparatus to suppress social unrest and popular resistance at home.

Working as a 22-year-old military intelligence analyst in Iraq, Manning became increasingly opposed to the US war and occupation in that country. In early 2010, she provided WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of classified documents exposing Washington’s crimes.

Among the first pieces of this classified material to catch the attention of a wide public was the chilling “Collateral Murder” video. Viewed by millions, the video, recorded through the gun sight of a US Apache helicopter, provides a gut-wrenching exposure, not only of a deliberate massacre of over a dozen unarmed civilians, including two Iraqi reporters working for the Reuters news agency, but of the criminal character of the US war as a whole.

Other documents provided by Manning made it clear that the US was vastly underreporting the number of civilians being killed and wounded in Afghanistan. Manning also gave WikiLeaks some 250,000 diplomatic cables from American embassies around the world, which exposed official US lying, efforts to subvert governments, and dossiers on the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, showing most of them had no significant role in terrorist operations.

The exposure of these crimes provoked a vindictive reaction from the Obama White House and the State Department, then headed by Hillary Clinton. The persecution of Manning was part of a broader crackdown on whistleblowers—the Obama administration prosecuted more individuals under the Espionage Act of 1917 than all previous administrations combined. This crackdown went hand-in-hand with the buildup of a state repressive apparatus that extended from the massive spying on the US and world population to the president’s invoking of the power to order the drone missile assassination of anyone, anywhere in the world.

If Obama commuted Manning’s sentence on his final day in office (adding 120 days onto her time served), it was not out of any last-minute sympathy for the imprisoned soldier’s suffering, or any newfound democratic convictions. It was a calculated political act, aimed at sanitizing the filthy record of his administration and currying favor for the Democratic Party. The conviction and the draconian sentence remain on the books, a brutal warning to anyone thinking of following in the persecuted private’s footsteps.

During the seven years that Manning spent enclosed behind cement and iron bars, the government’s witch-hunt and persecution against those daring to expose its crimes has only intensified.

Julian Assange has been trapped in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012, threatened by a US federal grand jury. US Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated last month that Assange’s arrest was a “priority,” adding that the US government was “stepping up our efforts on all leaks … whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.” This was accompanied by an extraordinary speech by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who branded WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” He declared that Assange “has no First Amendment freedoms” and that anyone who reveals the secrets of the US government is an “enemy” guilty of “treason.”

Edward Snowden, who exposed the NSA’s illegal wholesale spying operations, has been turned into a man without a country, living in forced exile in Moscow. Both Trump and Pompeo have publicly called for his execution.

If Manning, Assange and Snowden are compelled to face the threat of imprisonment and even death for lifting the lid on Washington’s dirty secrets, it is in large measure because the corporate media in the United States is fully complicit in these crimes, functioning more and more openly as a propaganda arm of the US government.

In a revealingly hostile response to Manning’s pending release, the New York Times buried an article deep inside its printed addition Wednesday under the headline “Manning Is Set to Be Freed 28 Years Ahead of Schedule.” Presumably the newspaper of record would have preferred she serve her full term.

The Times’s former executive editor, Bill Keller, expressed his attitude toward the WikiLeaks revelations in 2010, while Manning was being brutalized in a Marine Corps lockup in Quantico, Virginia. He described himself as “uncomfortable” with the notion that the Times “can decide to release information that the government wants to keep secret,” a practice that in an earlier period was regarded as the most essential function of the so-called Fourth Estate. He made the Orwellian declaration that “transparency is not an absolute good” and that “Freedom of the press includes freedom not to publish, and that is a freedom we exercise with some regularity.”

Today, the Times’s editorial pages are under the direction of James Bennet, a figure with the closest ties to the state apparatus and the top echelons of the Democratic Party. (His father is a former head of USAID, a front for the CIA, and his brother is the senior senator from Colorado.) The Times churns out war propaganda, while news coverage is, by the paper’s own admission, vetted by the US intelligence agencies. These practices set the tone for the corporate media as a whole.

The suppression of freedom of the press and free speech in the US—epitomized by the relentless persecution of Manning, Assange and Snowden—is driven by the needs of America’s ruling oligarchy, as it seeks to extricate itself from deepening economic and political crises by means of ever more dangerous acts of military aggression abroad, while confronting rising hostility and anger from masses of working people in the US and around the world.

The defense of these rights and the fight against state repression can be waged only as part of the struggle for the independent political mobilization of the working class against the capitalist system.

Bill Van Auken

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/05/18/pers-m18.html

Obama’s $400,000 speeches: Unabashed. Shameless. Provocative.

29 April 2017

Unabashed. Shameless. Provocative.

Such words perhaps begin to do justice to the decision by former president Barack Obama to accept payments of $400,000 for each of two public appearances. Two so far.

A researcher earlier this year suggested that the Obamas “could earn as much as $242.5 million from speeches, book deals and pensions.” But that modest calculation was based on an estimated $40 million in book fees for the couple and a $200,000 fee per appearance. The book deal turned out to be worth far more, $65 million, and now we see what Wall Street firms and large corporations are prepared to pay the ex-president for his dollops of wisdom.

The two speaking fees alone put the former candidate of “change” into the top one percent of income earners in the US—in fact, one of them would almost have done the trick.

It is extraordinary. An array of political elements and media outlets invested large amounts of time, energy and money into selling Obama to the American public in 2007-08 as a progressive figure, a cut well above George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, a man of compassion who would understand the average American’s pain. Of course, eight years of the actual Obama, who ruled exclusively in the interests of the financial oligarchy and the military-intelligence apparatus, disabused and disillusioned millions—thereby opening the door for Donald Trump.

But still one might think, given the appalling and reactionary character of the new administration, that Trump’s predecessor would be held—or would hold himself—in political reserve, that he retained, after all, a certain political use value as a means of confusing or disorienting the mass opposition that must emerge.

But they can’t apparently help themselves, this current crop of American politicians. They don’t merely represent enormous wealth, they are themselves enormously wealthy, they are flesh of the oligarchy’s flesh, blood of its blood. Rubbing their riches and privilege in the public’s face is a mode of existence; it comes nearly as naturally as breathing.

The New York Times, along with various Democrats and others, registered a certain nervousness about Obama’s actions. The Times attempted, impossibly, to balance the “two post-presidential Barack Obamas,” one obviously greedy as sin and the other, “civic-minded”: “Throughout his years in the White House, Mr. Obama championed the problems of the poor even as he showed an affinity for Hollywood superstars, elite artists and technology billionaires.” He never “championed” the problems of the poor; he paid occasional lip service to them, the deceitful stock in trade of the Democratic Party.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts and “influential progressive,” according to CNN, described herself as “troubled” by Obama’s payoff. Warren has recently made the astonishing discovery that “the influence of money” in Washington is a serious issue. She told CNN that money was “a snake that slithers” through the nation’s capital and “shows up in so many different ways.”

Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders, the nominal “independent,” told CNN on Friday that he found Obama’s plan to receive $400,000 for speaking at a Wall Street conference “distasteful.” Tellingly, he added, “At a time when we have so much income and wealth inequality … I think it just does not look good.”

This was also the theme of Jill Abramson’s column in the Guardian: “The optics of some of Obama’s decisions since leaving office have been damaging,” including “the vacations. … [T]he former president did deserve a holiday. But did it have to be with the Billionaires’ Club? There was a widely reported visit to Richard Branson’s place in British Virgin Islands for kitesurfing, photos of which went around the globe. In French Polynesia, this was followed by a jaunt on David Geffen’s 45ft yacht [actually 454 feet!] with celebrities including Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey and Bruce Springsteen.”

After noting that the “habitual kowtowing of senior Democrats to the billionaire class has left their party close to morally bankrupt,” Abramson argued that “Obama needs to be the leader of the Democratic party right now.” The disclosure of his personal corruption, however, runs the risk of leaving the Democrats even more exposed and vulnerable.

Farcically, in the midst of the widespread revulsion with Obama, the Nation too proposed that the former president should be the moral and intellectual leader of opposition to Trump (“Do We Need Obama in the Trump Resistance?”). Educating the public about “reinvesting in health care or climate change,” the column asserted, “would be a significant rebuke to the current administration, but not quite the outright ad hominem attack on a sitting president. Such a campaign could preserve Obama’s legacy while catapulting the liberal agenda forward.”

The International Socialist Organization and its socialistworker.org, which proclaimed Obama’s election a “transformative event” in 2008, eschewed all references to “slithering,” “kowtowing” and “catapulting.” In fact, as per usual when complicated and uncomfortable things occur, the group eschewed saying anything at all, which is the ISO’s own special brand of political complicity.

Obama had open defenders in the liberal media too, as well he should, given its current degenerate moral state. Daniel Gross at Slate had several preposterous arguments. “Speaking for money is a very large industry,” he commented. “Many of us, including me, participate in this economy. The fees range all over the place, but it’s extremely lucrative. It’s harder to make more money legally in an hour than you can giving a speech.” In other words, I’m a swine, Obama’s a swine, we’re all swine together.

Gross too was concerned about “the optics.” But “accepting speaking fees doesn’t inherently compromise your integrity, and there is no baked-in conflict between having or making money and being heavily invested in progressive causes.” Obama, he reasoned, “was the most effective populist—yes, populist—president since Lyndon B. Johnson.” Gross went on to argue, wonderfully, that because Obama will make lots of money and “take all of his earnings as ordinary income,” he will pay lots in taxes!

Michael Harriot at the Root claimed that the criticisms of Obama’s avarice were at least in part racially motivated. “Obama is black, which means his critics are like a P. Diddy remix: They can’t stop, won’t stop.”

Would taking $400,000 from Wall Street undermine “his [Obama’s] attacks on income inequality” or make him “a hypocrite,” would “large speaking fees make him inaccessible to the common American”? Harriot was not concerned. He asked rhetorically, “Should Democrats and progressives cede all influence over Wall Street to Republicans who espouse trickle-down theory and free-market principles? Speaking of the ‘free market’ … shouldn’t Obama be free to command whatever someone is willing to pay?”

Whatever miserable apologetics are thrown up, Obama’s raking in enormous fees from giant firms disgusts large numbers of people and further undermines the American economic and political system, the fenced-off domain of the fabulously wealthy.

Ruling classes condemned by history can never help themselves, that’s the nature of the beast. One rather conventional historian pointed to what was then considered a truism in a work written over a century ago on the coming of the French Revolution of 1789: “It was the luxury and extravagance of the aristocracy of the old regime and the insolent, ostentatious display of their wealth that created envy and hatred in the hearts of the common people; but the lessons of the past were unheeded by the rich and their conduct at this time only increased the general discontent.”

The American aristocracy is every bit as ostentatious and unheedful, and every bit as historically doomed.

David Walsh

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/04/29/pers-a29.html

How Trump and Obama are Exactly Alike

Not until faithfulness turns to betrayal
And betrayal into trust
Can any human being become part of the truth.

— Rumi

Trump won the 2016 nomination and election largely because he was able to pose as a populist and anti-interventionist “America Firster”.

Similarly, Obama won the 2008 election in good part because he promised “hope and change” and because he had given a speech years earlier against the then-impending invasion of Iraq.

Short of disclosure of diaries or other documents from these politicians, we can’t know for certain if they planned on reversing much of what they promised or if the political establishment compelled them to change, but they both eventually perpetrated a massive fraud.

What is perhaps most striking is actually how quickly each of them backtracked on their alleged purpose. Particular since they were both proclaimed as representing “movements”.

Even before he took office, Obama stacked his administration with pro-war people: He incredibly kept Bush’s head of the Pentagon, Robert Gates; nominated Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State, who he beat largely because she voted for giving Bush authorization to invade Iraq. Other prominent Iraq War backers atop the administration included VP Joe Biden, Susan Rice and Richard Holbrooke. Before he was sworn in, Obama backed the 2008 Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. See from 2008: “Anti-War Candidate, Pro-War Cabinet?

Predictably, the Obama years saw a dramatic escalation of the U.S. global assassination program using drones. Obama intentionally bombed more countries than any other president since World War II: Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan. Obama talked about a nuclear weapons free world, but geared up to spent $1 trillion in upgrading the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. At the end of his administration, attempts at the UN to work toward banning nuclear weapons were sabotaged, efforts that the Trump administration continues. At his first news conference as president, Helen Thomas asked Obama if he know of any country in the Mideast that had nuclear weapons. Obama passed on the opportunity to start unraveling the mountain of deceits that constitutes U.S. foreign policy by simply saying “Israel” and instead said that he didn’t want to “speculate” about the matter.

As many have noted recently, Trump seemingly reversed himself on Syria and launched a barrage of cruise missiles targeting the Assad regime. It’s part of a whole host of what’s called “flip-flops” — Ex-Im Bank, NATO, China, Russia, Federal Reserve — but which are in fact the unraveling of campaign deceits.

Fundamentally, Obama and Trump ran against the establishment and then helped rebrand it — further entrenching it.

And of course it’s not just foreign policy. Obama brought in pro-Wall Street apparatchiks Tim Geithner and others around Robert Rubin, like Larry Summers. Some were connected to Goldman Sachs, including Rahm Emanuel, Gary Gensler and Elena Kagan and Obama would back the Wall Street bailout. Trump campaigned as a populist and brought in a litany of Goldman Sachs tools, most prominently Steven Mnuchin at Treasury Secretary and Gary Cohn as chief economic advisor.

The nature of their deception is different. Obama is lawyerly and, like jello, hard to pin to the wall. Many of his broken promises are actually violations of the spirit of what he said, not the letter. He can promise to withdraw “all combat troops” from Iraq — but doesn’t inform voters that “combat troops” in his parlance is not the same as “troops”. And most certainly many of his backers were utterly infatuated with him and seemed incapable of parsing out his deceitful misimpressions. Obama did however outright violate some promises, most obviously to close the the gulag at Guantanamo Bay in his first 100 days.

Trump triangulates by being an electron. He can say X and not-X in the span of a minute. Like an electron, he can be in two places at the same time. Trump is just an extreme example of what should be evident: It’s largely meaningless if a politician declares a position, especially during a campaign. The question is: What have they done? How have they demonstrated their commitment to, say, ending perpetual wars or taking on Wall Street?

These people are largely salesmen.

Nor are these patterns totally new. George W. Bush campaigned against “nation building” (sic: nation destroying); Bill Clinton campaigned as the “man from Hope” for the little guy; George H. W. Bush claimed he was a compassionate conservative. All backed corporate power and finance. All waged aggressive war.

In both the cases of Obama and Trump, the “opposition” party put forward a ridiculous critique that pushed them to be more militaristic. Obama as a “secret Muslim” — which gave him more licence to bomb more Muslim countries while still having a ridiculous image of being some sort of pacifist. Much of the “liberal” and “progressive” critique of Trump has been focusing on Russia, in effect pushing Trump to be more militaristic against the other major nuclear state on the planet.

One thing that’s needed is citizens aided by media that adroitly and accessibly pierce through the substantial deceptions in real time.

Another thing that’s needed is that people from what we call the “left” and “right” need to join together and pursue polices that undermine the grip of Wall Street and the war makers. They should not be draw into loving or hating personalities or take satisfaction from principleless partisan barbs.

Only when there’s adherence to real values and when solidarity is acted upon will the cycles of betrayal be broken.

Sam Husseini is founder of the website VotePact.org

COUNTERPUNCH