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Disappointing Diatribe From A Disillusioned Dionne

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Poor E.J. Dionne!  He is suffering through the same transition process experienced by many Obama supporters who have been confronted with the demise of the President’s phony “populist” image.  The stages one passes through when coping with such an “image death” are identical to those described in the Model of Coping with Dying, created in 1969 by Psychiatrist, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. For example, a few weeks ago, Bill Maher was passing through the “Bargaining” stage – at which point he suggested that if we elect Obama to a second term in the White House, the President will finally stand up for all of those abandoned principles which candidate Obama advocated during the 2008 campaign.  As we saw during Friday’s episode of Maher’s Real Time program on HBO, the comedian has now progressed to the “Acceptance” stage, as demonstrated by his abandonment of any “hope” that Obama’s pseudo-populist image might still be viable.

Meanwhile E.J. Dionne appears to be transitioning from the “Denial” stage to the “Anger” stage – as exemplified by his dwelling on the issue of who is to blame for this image death.  Dionne’s conclusion is that “Centrists” are to blame.  Dionne’s recent Washington Post column began with the premise that “centrism has become the enemy of moderation”.  While attempting to process his anger, Dionne has expounded some tortured logic, rambling through an elaborate “distinction without a difference” comparison of “Centrists” with “Moderates”, based on the notion that Moderates are good and Centrists are bad.   Dionne’s article was cross-posted at the Truthdig blog, where many commentors criticized his argument.  One reason why so many Truthdig readers had less trouble accepting the demise of Obama’s false “populist” image, could have been their exposure to the frequent criticism of Obama appearing at that website – as exemplified by this cartoon by Mr. Fish, which appeared immediately to the left of Dionne’s article on Saturday.

An easy way to make sense of Dionne’s thought process at this “Anger” stage is to replace any references to “centrists” or “centrism” by inserting Obama’s name at those points.  For example:

Because centrism Obama is reactive, you never really know what a centrist Obama believes.  Centrists are Obama is constantly packing their his bags and chasing off to find a new location as the political conversation veers one way or another.

*   *   *

Yet the center’s devotees, in politics and in the media, Obama fear(s) saying outright that by any past standards—or by the standards of any other democracy—the views of this new right wing are very, very extreme and entirely impractical.  Centrists Obama worr(ies) that saying this might make them him look “leftist” or “partisan.”

Instead, the center Obama bends.  It He concocts deficit plans that include too little new tax revenue.  It He accepts cuts in programs that would have seemed radical and draconian even a couple of years ago.  It He pretends this crisis is caused equally by conservatives and liberals when it is perfectly clear that there would be no crisis at all if the right hadn’t glommed onto the debt ceiling as the (totally inappropriate) vehicle for its anti-government dreams.

It’s time for moderates to abandon centrism Obama and stop shifting with the prevailing winds.  They need to state plainly what they’re for, stand their ground, and pull the argument their way. Yes, they would risk looking to “the left” of where the center Obama is now – but only because conservatives have pulled it him so far their way.

Toward the end of the piece we see how Dionne is getting some glimpses of the fact that Obama is the problem:

But when this ends, it’s Obama who’ll need a reset.  At heart, he’s a moderate who likes balance.  Yet Americans have lost track of what he’s really for. Occasionally you wonder if he’s lost track himself.  He needs to remind us, and perhaps himself, why he wants to be our president.

In reality, Barack Obama was able to deceive Americans by convincing them that he was for populist causes rather than corporatist goals.  The President never “lost track of what he’s really for”.  He has always been Barry O. Tool – a corporatist.

At the conclusion of Dionne’s essay we learn that – contrary to what we were told by Harry Truman – “the buck” stops at the desks of Obama’s “centrist advisers”:

His advisers are said to be obsessed with the political center, but this leads to a reactive politics that won’t motivate the hope crowd that elected Obama in the first place.  Neither will it alter a discourse whose terms were set during most of this debt fight by the right.

We’ve heard the “blame the advisers” rationale from others who passed through the Kübler-Ross phases at earlier points during the Obama Presidency:  There were those who sought to blame Rahm Emanuel when the “public option” was jettisoned from Obama’s healthcare bill.  We then heard from the “Hope fiends” who blamed Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Peter Orszag for Obama’s refusal to seriously consider the “Swedish solution” of putting the zombie megabanks through temporary receivership.  In fact, it was Obama making those decisions all along.

I’m confident that once E.J. Dionne reaches the “Acceptance” stage, we will hear some refreshing, centered criticism of President Obama.


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Tinfoil Hat Session

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I must admit – I often enjoy a good conspiracy theory.  That’s just one of the reasons why I wrote a posting back on January 28, 2010 entitled, “The Conspiracy Against Conspiracy Theories”.  That particular piece concerned President Obama’s appointment of Cass Sunstein to the position of Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).  My beef about Sunstein was a reaction to an article written on January 12, 2010 by Daniel Tencer of The Raw Story website.  Dan Tencer pointed out that Mr. Sunstein co-authored a paper with Adrian Vermule, published in the Journal of Political Philosophy in 2008 entitled, “Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures”.  In the published paper, Sunstein and Vermule advocated for a government program to target “conspiracy groups”.  I concluded my posting with this statement:

A program to conspire against conspiracy groups could serve no other purpose but to validate the claims made by those groups.

(As an aside, for a recent update on the antics of Cass Sunstein, read this essay by Dan Froomkin of the Huffington Post.  It exposes Sunstein’s true function as the Obama administration’s saboteur of financial and environmental regulations, which somehow made it through Congress, despite the boatloads of payoffs “campaign contributions” from lobbyists.  Obama’s use of Sunstein, as well as his appointment of Jacob “Jack” Lew, who replaced his fellow Citigroup tool, Peter Orszag, as Director of the Office of Management and Budget – the subject of this rant – will likely alienate a large number of former Obama supporters.)

The latest event, which has motivated me to don my tinfoil hat, concerned the mainstream news media silence concerning the Level 4 Emergency, which began on June 6, 2011 at the Fort Calhoun nuclear reactor, located 20 miles north of Omaha, Nebraska.  The situation resulted from the Missouri River flood. The event involved an electrical fire, requiring plant evacuation because the fire evaporated some of the cooling water from the reactor’s spent fuel pool.  As a result of the Fukushima disaster, most of us know what happens when the pool containing spent fuel rods loses its water.  On the other hand, most of us don’t know that this event happened at the Fort Calhoun reactor last week.  I found out about it when I read this piece at The Business Insider website.

As of this writing, the only “mainstream news” article I could find from a Google search on the subject was this item from The Washington Post.  The short, “nothing to see here – move along” article began with this statement:

A small fire briefly knocked out the cooling system for used fuel at a nuclear power plant in Nebraska, but temperatures never exceeded safe levels and power was quickly restored, federal officials said Wednesday.

To learn just how dangerous the Fort Calhoun situation really was, listen to this 40-minute, WBAI Radio interview with Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates.  (A review of the Fairewinds Associates website reveals that Mr. Gundersen is a respected authority in the field of nuclear power engineering, who is no stranger to CNN.)  During the WBAI Radio interview, Mr. Gundersen made a number of points, which made me wonder about the caliber of chuckleheads we have working at the NRC, who are supposed to be protecting us from radiation hazards.  Worse yet, I began to wonder what decision the NRC might reach in considering the Tennessee Valley Authority’s request to reactivate “the zombie reactor” – Bellefonte 1 – in Hollywood, Alabama.  Scary stuff!

Pondering the question of why the Fort Calhoun reactor incident was “spiked” by most mainstream news outlets might lead many to suspect that the “big media” are out to protect the nuclear power industry – a big advertiser.  My own theory is focused on the possibility that there is a good deal of “self-censorship” taking place with respect to the subject of nuclear power plant hazards, out of fear that terrorists might somehow attempt to exploit those vulnerabilities.  This would be yet another area where the reaction to the September 11 attacks could end up causing more harm to Americans.  The pretext of “not educating the terrorists” is used to keep the American public in the dark – about how regulatory capture can compromise public safety.  I was reminded of what Dan Rather said about media “self-censorship” in a BBC interview during the early days of the “war on terror”, back in May of 2002:

Rather says:  “It is an obscene comparison – you know I am not sure I like it – but you know there was a time in South Africa that people would put flaming tyres around people’s necks if they dissented.  And in some ways the fear is that you will be necklaced here, you will have a flaming tyre of lack of patriotism put around your neck.  Now it is that fear that keeps journalists from asking the toughest of the tough questions, and to continue to bore in on the tough questions so often.  And again, I am humbled to say, I do not except myself from this criticism.”

Rather admits self-censorship:  “What we are talking about here – whether one wants to recognise it or not, or call it by its proper name or not – is a form of self-censorship.  It starts with a feeling of patriotism within oneself.  It carries through with a certain knowledge that the country as a whole – and for all the right reasons – felt and continues to feel this surge of patriotism within themselves.  And one finds oneself saying:  ‘I know the right question, but you know what?  This is not exactly the right time to ask it’.”

For the mainstream media, it’s never the “right time” to ask the tough questions.  That’s why so many people primarily rely on internet-based sources for the news.

June 18 Update: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published an article on June 16 entitled, “Rising water, falling journalism”, which characterized the news coverage of the Fort Calhoun situation as a “failure of the fourth estate”:

Newspapers and websites all over the country have reported on the flooding and fire at Fort Calhoun, but most articles simply paraphrase and regurgitate information from the NRC and OPPD (Omaha Public Power District) press releases, which aggregators and bloggers then, in turn, simply cut and paste.

*   *   *

Admittedly, it’s not easy finding information about Fort Calhoun, even if you’re a local reporter without a tight deadline.  OPPD press releases and the company’s online newsroom do not provide details about the plant’s layout and components.  Some of that information was available before 9/11 but was removed because of concerns about terrorism.  In protecting ourselves from enemies, we have also hidden vital information from ourselves.

Meanwhile, Arnie Gundersen has disclosed some disturbing information about the ongoing Fukushima crisis.  Did an American news outlet run the story?  Nope.  You can read the bad news at Al Jazeera.  This raises the question of why the American news media might believe that they have the power to determine whether terrorists could gain access to this type of information


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Betting Against Obama

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Most Congressional Democrats and supporters of President Obama are anxious to see an end to the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.  Nevertheless, as of this writing, the President has yet to even vote “present” on this issue.  Obama’s waffling throughout the tax cut debate has once again exposed his weak leadership skills, which are never overlooked by the people at Fox News:

“The players on the field want a game plan,” said one senior Democratic congressional aide who requested anonymity to be candid about caucus sentiment. “There’s an increasing frustration from members that there is not a plan … There is just tremendous frustration.  I mean, where are they?”

The aide noted that Senate Democrats, meeting behind closed doors Wednesday and most likely Thursday, intend to discuss the tax cuts, but there is one notable absence.

“Where is the White House?  There’s no one here talking to us today or tomorrow,” the aide fumed   .   .   .

*   *   *

Democrats are waiting for an express statement from the President, despite the fact that Obama opened the window on a temporary extension just after the midterm elections.

“We should have done this already.  Our bosses go home and are hounded about this.  I don’t get it.  Just extend the cuts for a few years and be done with it.  There are way too many fingers in the wind on this from both sides (of the aisle),” another senior Democratic aide involved in tax policy for years told Fox.

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor for President Clinton, began a recent blog posting with this observation:

The President says a Republican proposal to extend the Bush tax cuts to everyone for two years is a “basis for conversation.”  I hope this doesn’t mean another Obama cave-in.

Unfortunately, in all likelihood it does mean “another Obama cave-in”  — and it probably won’t be the last.  Professor Reich ended that piece with this rhetorical question:

If the President can’t or won’t take a stand now — when he still has a chance to prevail in the upcoming lame-duck Congress — when will he ever?

Answer:  Never (unless it means taking a stand – once again – in support of the Wall Street banks).

In the mean time, while Obama dithers, a group of 40 “Patriotic Millionaires” has stepped forward after writing a letter to the President, in which they urged him not to renew the Bush tax cuts for anyone earning more than $1 million a year.  Joe Conason included the text of that letter in a recent piece for Salon.  The Patriotic Millionaires expressed an opinion, which the President apparently fears might not be shared by his top campaign contributors:

We have done very well over the last several years.  Now, during our nation’s moment of need, we are eager to do our fair share.  We don’t need more tax cuts, and we understand that cutting our taxes will increase the deficit and the debt burden carried by other taxpayers.  The country needs to meet its financial obligations in a just and responsible way.

A similar stance was taken by billionaire financier Warren Buffet, during an interview conducted by Christiane Amanpour on the ABC News program This Week.  When confronted by Amanpour about the claim that those tax cuts for the very wealthy are what energize business and capitalism, Buffet gave this response:

“The rich are always going to say that, you know, just give us more money and we’ll go out and spend more and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you.  But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on,” Buffett explained.

Writing for The Hill, Alexander Bolton discussed the frustrations experienced by Congressional Democrats, who are often left twisting in the wind while the President works out a strategy for traveling up a fork in the road:

Senate Democrats want President Obama to take a more hands-on role in legislative battles next year, when Republicans will have additional clout on Capitol Hill.

Democratic lawmakers say Obama could have done more to connect his legislative agenda to the concerns of voters — a shortcoming the president himself has admitted.

As the moment approaches for 2012 Presidential aspirants to declare their candidacy, Mr. Obama’s shortcomings are widely understood.  If the Democrats want to hold the White House, somebody with some guts should step forward pretty soon.


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2009 Jackass Of The Year Award

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December 31, 2009

Well, it’s that time once again!  The 2008 competition brought us a robust field of candidates, probably because it was an election year.  This year, I’ve decided to ignore the one-event wonders and stick with nominees demonstrating a consistent pattern of jackass behavior.  The isolated exhibitions of foolishness illustrated by Richard Heene’s “balloon boy” hoax and Janet Napolitano’s “the system worked” gaffe, just don’t rise to the level of an award-winning honor.  I’m also avoiding individuals categorized as “the usual suspects” — the media darlings who are already getting beaten-up in the 2009 retrospective shows.  That list includes such notables as Tiger Woods, Carrie Prejean and “The Undiebomber” (Umar Mutallab).

This year I have narrowed the competition down to two people.

In just a few short weeks, our first nominee will be celebrating the anniversary of his inauguration as President of the United States.  During his early days in office, he enjoyed an approval rating as high as 69 percent, according to Gallup.  By early December, Gallup reported that his approval rating had taken a 22-point drop to 47 percent.  At that time, Rasmussen Reports revealed that not only had the President’s approval rating dropped to 48 percent — his disapproval rating actually reached 52 percent! On December 9, Quinnipiac University published the results of a poll conducted during December 1 – 6.  The results gave the President a job approval rating of only 46 percent, and those disapproving Obama’s performance amounted to 44 percent.  The Ipsos/McClatchy Poll taken during that period, disclosed that the President received his highest “unsatisfactory” rating on the issue of “jobs and the economy” with 45 percent giving the President an unsatisfactory grade (D or F) while only 36 percent gave him a satisfactory grade (A or B) and 19 percent gave him a C.

Many commentators have pondered over the reasons for President Obama’s decreasing approval ratings.  I have previously discussed the subject here, here and here.  In doing so, I found the criticism of Obama’s performance as expressed by Edward Harrison of Credit Writedowns, to be particularly insightful.  In his December 27 posting, Mr. Harrison posed a question that has obviously been on the minds of many disappointed Obama supporters:

The question is this:

  • Did President Obama sell out (i.e. he was a good guy but has been corrupted in short order) or;
  • Did Obama find out he couldn’t change the status quo so easily (i.e. he was a good guy who was naive about the President’s real power)or;
  • Did the President simply bamboozle us (i.e. he was a bad guy who tricked the electorate with his silver tongue)?

Mr. Harrison contended that the foregoing inquiry is actually irrelevant because it involves ascribing an intent behind the President’s behavior, when we should be looking at either motive or outcome.  Mr. Harrison eventually focused on a recent op-ed piece by Ross Douthat of The New York Times entitled:  “The Obama Way”.  Obama’s track record of broken campaign promises, including “no more trickle-down economics” and those documented on The Obameter, is something that obviously weighs on the minds of dispirited Obama supporters.  Ross Douthat explained how the President’s leadership style is itself a broken campaign promise:

He’s a doctrinaire liberal who’s always willing to cut a deal and grab for half the loaf.  He has the policy preferences of a progressive blogger, but the governing style of a seasoned Beltway wheeler-dealer.

*   *   *

It’s also puzzling because Obama promised exactly the opposite approach while running for the presidency.  He campaigned as a postpartisan healer who would change the cynical ways of Washington — as a foe of both back-room deals and ideology-as-usual.  But he’s governed as a conventional liberal who believes in the existing system, knows how to work it and accepts the limitations it imposes on him.

*   *   *

The upside of this approach is obvious:  It gets things done.

*   *   *

The downside, though, is that sometimes what gets done isn’t worth doing.  The assumption that a compromised victory is better than no victory at all can produce phony achievements — like last week’s “global agreement” on climate change — and bloated, ugly legislation.  And using cynical means to progressive ends (think of the pork-laden stimulus bill or the frantic vote-buying that preceded this week’s Senate health care votes) tends to confirm independent voters’ worst fears about liberal government:  that it’s a racket rigged to benefit privileged insiders and a corrupt marketplace floated by our tax dollars.

Ross Douthat’s conclusion implied that it’s still too early determine whether Obama’s political approach will ultimately result in success or failure.  By this time next year, the mid-term elections will be over.  If the careers of many Democratic politicians are over at that point, we will then have to assess whether President Obama’s leadership style helped to bring them down.  As a result, we will have to defer to next year’s competition before deciding whether our new President rates the title “Jackass of the Year”.

Our second nominee is the so-called “Supreme Leader” of Iran, Ali Khamenei.  Khamenei decided to rig the June elections to ensure that his tool, the equally crazy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would be re-elected.  The resulting public outrage was escalated by Khamenei into a bloodbath.  Since that time, Khamenei’s ham-handed tactics in attempting to squelch opposition have only made things worse.  A recent New York Times editorial entitled “Iran’s War on Its People” put it this way:

Iran’s leaders are so desperate to repel a rising tide of popular unrest that even Ashura — which marks the death of Shiite Islam’s holiest martyr — is no longer sacred.

The anniversary, which fell on Sunday, is supposed to be a time of peaceful commemoration.  Even during war, Iranian governments have honored the prohibitions against violence during a two-month period surrounding Ashura.  Tehran’s current rulers have proved again that their only belief is in their own survival.

On Sunday, the police opened fire on a crowd of protesters, reportedly killing at least 10 people, and arrested hundreds more.  Government forces are also believed to be behind the assassination of Ali Moussavi, nephew of the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi, the leading candidate in June’s fraudulent presidential election.

*   *   *

The government still appears to have firm control of the main levers of power, including the brutish Revolutionary Guard and the Basij militia.  But Ayatollah Khamenei — who helped lead the 1979 revolution against the shah — should not ignore the echoes of history when protesters defy the death blows of security forces and chant “Death to the dictator” on the streets of Tehran.

Al Jazeera’s Teymoor Nabili reported that Baqer Moin, London-based analyst and Ayatollah Khomeini biographer, explained that Iran’s opposition party, the Greens, would still settle for modest reform, if the regime would compromise.  Nevertheless, Mr. Nabili’s report quoted other sources who expressed concern that the upcoming anniversary of the revolution could be “the next potential spark”.  Will the Supreme Leader negotiate?  Based on his record over the past six months, there is no reason to believe that he will.  His strategy of cracking down on the Greens with more deadly repression is exactly the approach that could lead to the regime’s demise.  Mr. Nabili added this insight to an already gloomy picture:

A contact in Iran tells me that, given the arrests over the past two days, the trend points to the possibility that the regime is slowly tightening the screws, and that before then we might see martial law and the arrest of Mousavi and/or Karroubi/Khatami/Rafsanjani’s daughter (Rafsanjani himself is still beyond the pale, it would seem.)

Brilliant plan, huh?  Another Al Jazeera report revealed that the Iranian government’s desperate actions are a sign of weakness that could ultimately lead to the end of Khamenei’s days as “Supreme Leader”:

Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, a former member of the Iranian parliament, told Al Jazeera that the government faced a fundamental crisis.

“They can’t control the events so they made the Ashoura incidents as a scenario that could give [them] enough confidence to crack down on the [Green] Movement,” she said from Massachusetts in the United States.

“They think that if they could use more violence, they can stop the movement … if this strategy continues I think we could see the collapse of the government.”

After George W. Bush overthrew the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, many commentators expressed concern that this development could bring about an era of Iranian hegemony in the Middle East.  Nevertheless, Iran’s relentless efforts to create a nuclear arsenal and the craziness of its Supreme Leader, who would likely detonate an atomic bomb in Israel if he had such a weapon, have apparently made the Iranian people more than a little uncomfortable with their government.  The events since June could only serve to underscore fears that the Khamenei regime would attempt a nuclear strike on Israel, resulting in a retaliatory move that would wipe Tehran off the map.  The Iranian people are obviously not going to sit on their hands and wait for that to happen.  Al Jazeera’s Teymoor Nabili provided us with some insight on the current mood of the Iranian protesters:

To outside observers, though, the protestors have defied expectations.  Their continued willingness to make themselves targets has been a surprise; now it seems as if they are willing to take it even further, protesting not only against the election result but against the very essence of the regime.

Although it may be too early to celebrate the demise of the Khamenei regime, the time is certainly right to honor Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, with TheCenterLane.com‘s Jackass of the Year Award.   Congratulations, Jackass!



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No Free Pass For The Disappointer-In-Chief

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December 14, 2009

The election of Barack Obama to the Presidency was hailed by many as an event that “transcended race”.  Ever since Obama’s primary election victory in lily-white Iowa, the pundits couldn’t stop talking about the candidate’s unique ability to vault the racial barrier before Hillary Clinton could break through the glass ceiling.  As we approach the conclusion of Obama’s first year in the White House, it has become apparent that the Disappointer-in-Chief has not only alienated the Democratic Party’s liberal base, but he has also let down a demographic he thought he could take for granted:  the African-American voters.  At this point, Obama has “transcended race” with his ability to dishearten loyal black voters just as deftly as he has chagrined loyal supporters from all ethnic groups.

Charles Blow’s recent opinion piece for the December 4 edition of The New York Times, entitled:  “Black in the Age of Obama” shed some light on the racist backlash against the black population as a result of the election of our nation’s first African-American President.  Mr. Blow then focused on Obama’s approach to his sinking poll numbers:

This means that Obama can get away with doing almost nothing to specifically address issues important to African-Americans and instead focus on the white voters he’s losing in droves. This has not gone unnoticed.  In the Nov. 9 Gallup poll, the number of blacks who felt that Obama would not go far enough in promoting efforts to aid the black community jumped 60 percent from last summer to now.

*   *   *

The Age of Obama, so far at least, seems less about Obama as a black community game-changer than as a White House gamesman.  It’s unclear if there will be a positive Obama Effect, but an Obama Backlash is increasingly apparent.  Meanwhile, black people are also living a tale of two actions:  grin and bear it.

As Silla Brush reported for The Hill on December 2, ten members of the Congressional Black Caucus had threatened to withhold their votes on the financial reform bill, because the President had not been “doing enough to help African-Americans through the bleak economy”.

It has been easy to understand the dissatisfaction with Obama expressed by the Democratic Party’s liberal base.  In a piece entitled “The Winter of Liberal Discontent”, Louis Proyect incorporated the umbrage expressed by such notables as Tom Hayden and Michael Moore, while providing a thorough assessment of Obama’s abandonment of the Left.  He concluded the piece with a quoted passage from an essay written for The Huffington Post by Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional TARP Oversight Panel.  Mr. Proyect quoted Ms. Warren’s reference to some brutally unpleasant statistics, raising the question of whether America will continue to have a middle class.  The theme of Mr. Proyect’s discussion was based on this point:

The chorus of disapproval is louder than any I have heard from liberal quarters since 1967 when another very popular Democrat did an about-face once he was in office.  When LBJ ran as a peace candidate, very few people — except unrepentant Marxists — would have anticipated a massive escalation in Vietnam.  It was well understood a year ago that Obama was committed to escalating the war in Afghanistan, but the liberal base of the Democratic Party was too mesmerized by the mantras of “hope” and “change” to believe that their candidate would actually carry out his promise.

There is a tendency to regard right-wing Republican presidents being replaced by idealistic-appearing Democrats who betray their supporters, thus enabling a new Republican candidate to take over the White House, as a kind of Western version of karma.  We are compelled by universal law in some way to undergo an endless cycle of suffering without hope of redemption short of Enlightenment.

The criticism of Obama expressed by African-American commentators underscores the President’s unique ability to alienate those who might support him on the basis of ethnic solidarity, just as thoroughly as he can antagonize the melanin-deficient “limousine liberals” of Park Avenue.  On December 11, Edward Harrison of Credit Writedowns made a point of letting us know that the complete text of Matt Taibbi’s recent Rolling Stone article, “Obama’s Big Sellout” is now available online.  Before quoting some of the discussion in Matt Taibbi’s essay, Mr. Harrison provided some hard-hitting criticism of the Obama administration’s financial and economic policy shortcomings.  You may note that the administration’s abandonment of the African-American base was not discussed.  It wouldn’t do justice to Mr. Harrison’s great work to quote a snippet of this because it’s too good.  I have to give you the whole thing:

As you probably know, I have been quite disappointed with this Administration’s leadership on financial reform.  While I think they ‘get it,’ it is plain they lack either the courage or conviction to put forward a set of ideas that gets at the heart of what caused this crisis.

It was clear to many by this time last year that the President may not have been serious about reform when he picked Tim Geithner and Larry Summers as the leaders of his economic team.  As smart and qualified as these two are, they are rightfully seen as allied with Wall Street and the anti-regulatory movement.

At a minimum, the picks of Geithner and Summers were a signal to Wall Street that the Obama Administration would be friendly to their interests.  It is sort of like Ronald Reagan going to Philadelphia, Mississippi as a first stop in the 1980 election campaign to let southerners know that he was friendly to their interests.

I reserved judgment because one has to judge based on actions.  But last November I did ask Is Obama really “Change we can believe in?” because his Administration was being stacked with Washington insiders and agents of the status quo.

Since that time it is obvious that two things have occurred as a result of this ‘Washington insider’ bias.  First, there has been no real reform.  Insiders are likely to defend the status quo for the simple reason that they and those with whom they associate are the ones who represent the status quo in the first place.  What happens when a company is nationalized or declared bankrupt is instructive; here, new management must be installed to prevent the old management from covering up past mistakes or perpetuating errors that led to the firm’s demise. The same is true in government.

That no ‘real’ reform was coming was obvious, even by June when I wrote a brief note on the fake reform agenda.  It is even more obvious with the passage of time and the lack of any substantive reform in health care.

Second, Obama’s stacking his administration with insiders has been very detrimental to his party.  I imagine he did this as a way to overcome any worries about his own inexperience and to break with what was seen as a major factor in Bill Clinton’s initial failings.  While I am an independent, I still have enough political antennae to know that taking established politicians out of incumbent positions (Joe Biden, Janet Napolitano, Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel, Kathleen Sebelius or Tim Kaine) jeopardizes their seat.  So, the strategy of stacking his administration has not only created a status quo bias, but it has also weakened his party.

The magic of the Obama candidacy has vanished with the disappointments of the Obama Presidency.  His supporters have learned, the hard way, that talk is cheap.  The President’s actions during the next three years will not only impact the viability of his administration — they could undermine the careers of his fellow Democrats.



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The Home Stretch

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October 27, 2008

We are entering the final week of the longest Presidential campaign in our nation’s history.  At the same time, the world economy continues to flirt with chaos and our nation’s equities market indices are diving at a faster pace than Superman’s swooping down from the sky to save Lois Lane from a potential rapist.  Some stockbrokers believe that an abrupt and decisive nosedive in the markets might have a cathartic effect and finally bring us to the long-awaited “bottom”, from which there would be only one place to go:  up.  Rock musician Tom Petty wrote a song about the death of his mother, called: Free Fallin’.  That song has recently become the theme for America’s stock markets.  The situation has become so bad that many fear it may be necessary for the feds to suspend equities trading until all of the nervous investors and frenzied hedge fund managers have a chance to gather their wits.  Would the government really intervene and close the stock markets for a day or more?

There is one authority who earned quite a bit of “street cred” when our current economic crisis hit the fan.  He is Nouriel Roubini, an economist at the Stern School of Business at New York University.  He earned the nickname “Doctor Doom” when he spoke before the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on September 7, 2006 and described, in precise detail, exactly what would bring the financial world to its knees, two years later.  As reported by Ben Sills and Emma Ross-Thomas in the October 24 edition of Bloomberg:

Roubini said yesterday that policy makers may need to shut down financial markets for a week or two as investors dump assets. Trading in futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was limited today after declines of more than 6 percent.

This week brings us more earnings reports and new housing starts that could send already skittish investors (as well as terrified hedge fund managers) on a “panic selling” binge.  Could this trigger a market shutdown by the government as predicted by Dr. Roubini?  If so, we may find the markets closed for the final days before the Presidential election.  The Republicans and their media trumpet, Fox News, would likely seize upon such a development, characterizing it as validation of their claim that the investing public fears a “socialist” Obama Presidency.  In reality, there would be no way to measure the impact of the election results on the equities markets under such circumstances.  If the markets were kept closed until after the election, there would be quite a number of investors, chomping at the bit to dump their portfolios during the hiatus, ready to do so as soon as the markets re-opened.  On the other hand, Stuart Schweitzer, global market strategist at JP Morgan Private Bank appeared on the October 24 broadcast of the PBS program, Nightly Business Report, and explained what to really expect about the impact of the Presidential election on the securities markets.  Schweitzer believes that regardless of who is elected, once we get past Election Day, there will be a sense of certainty established as to who will be making economic policy going forward into the new Presidential term.  This fact in itself, regardless of what that economic policy might become, will eliminate the element of uncertainty that breeds some degree of the fear in the hearts of investors.

If the stock markets really end up being closed during the final days before the election, we would likely see more havoc than calming.  The timing would prove too irresistible for conspiracy theorists to ignore.  Some would see it as a plot by the Republicans to conceal how bad the economy really is.  Others might see it as a ploy by “Washington elites” (a term used by some in reference to Obama supporters) to conceal widespread fear of putting a “communist” in charge of our nation.  The smartest course from here would be for the Federal Reserve Board’s FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) to undertake a responsible, public relations role when it meets on Tuesday.  They should be ready to explain to the public what has really been happening in the markets:  an unregulated species of investments called “hedge funds” has been causing mayhem on the trading floors.  Many (if not most) of these hedge funds are going broke and they are attempting to secure a place in the line for Federal bailout money.  They have caused equities trading to function more like eBay:  the only market movement that matters over the course of any given day is what takes place during the final three minutes before the closing bell, when the hedge fund managers dump stocks.  On eBay, the winning bid for an item is usually made during the minute before an auction ends.  Unlike eBay, the stock market numbers can go up or down.  These days, the index movement prior to the closing bell is usually seismic (in one direction or the other).   It was never like this before.  These trading patterns often trigger pre-established “stop loss orders” to sell stocks, usually established by individual investors upon purchase of those stocks.  The result is an avalanche of “sell” orders at the end of the day.  The FOMC needs to explain this disease to the public and let us know the Fed is working on a cure.  Closing the markets in the final days before a Presidential election will not be a cure.  Such a move will just create a scab that will quickly be picked away by an investing public that needs to ease up on the caffeine and go out for a walk.