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John Ashcroft Was Right

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Many commentators have expressed surprise about the extensive criticism directed against President Obama by liberals.  During the new President’s third month in office, I pointed out how he had become the “Disappointer-In-Chief” – when he began to elicit groans from the likes of Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow.  President Obama has continued on that trajectory ever since.  More recently, Obama’s mishandling of the economic crisis resulted in a great cover story for New York Magazine by Frank Rich, entitled, “Obama’s Original Sin”.  Although Frank Rich may have been a bit restrained in his criticism of Obama, Marshall Auerback didn’t pull any punches in an essay he wrote for the New Economic Perspectives website entitled, “Barack Obama:  America’s First Tea Party President”:

Cutting public spending at this juncture is the last thing the US government should be doing.  Yet this President is pushing for the largest possible cuts that he can on the Federal government debt.  He is out-Hoovering the GOP on this issue.  He is providing “leadership” of the sort which is infuriating his base, but should endear him to the Tea Party.  This is “the big thing” for Barack Obama, as opposed to maximizing the potential of his fellow Americans by seeking to eliminate the scourge of unemployment.  Instead, his big idea is to become the president who did what George Bush could not, or did not, dare to do:  cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.  What more could the Tea Party possibly want?

Glenn Greenwald of Salon has been a persistent critic of President Obama for quite a while.  Back in September of 2010, I referenced one of Glenn Greenwald’s exceptive essays about Obama with this thought:

Glenn Greenwald devoted some space from his Salon piece to illustrate how President Obama seems to be continuing the agenda of President Bush.  I was reminded of the quote from former Attorney General John Ashcroft in an article written by Jane Mayer for The New Yorker.  When discussing how he expected the Obama Presidency would differ from the Presidency of his former boss, George W. Bush, Ashcroft said:

“How will he be different?  The main difference is going to be that he spells his name ‘O-b-a-m-a,’ not ‘B-u-s-h.’ ”

John Ashcroft’s prescient remark could not have been more accurate.  Who else could have foreseen that the Obama Presidency would eventually be correlated with that of President George W. Bush?  Although it may have seemed like a preposterous notion at the time, it’s now beginning to make more sense, thanks to a very interesting piece I read at the Truthdig website entitled, “If McCain Had Won” by Fred Branfman.  Branfman began with a list of “catastrophes” we would have seen from a McCain administration, followed by this comment:

Nothing reveals the true state of American politics today more, however, than the fact that Democratic President Barack Obama has undertaken all of these actions and, even more significantly, left the Democratic Party far weaker than it would have been had McCain been elected.

More important, the sentence immediately following that remark deserves special attention because it forms the crux of Branfman’s analysis:

Few issues are more important than seeing behind the screen of a myth-making mass media, and understanding what this demonstrates about how power in America really works – and what needs to be done to change it.

From there, Branfman went on to explain how and why McCain would have made the same decisions and enacted the same policies as Obama.  Beyond that, Branfman explained why Obama ended up doing things exactly as McCain would have:

Furious debate rages among Obama’s Democratic critics today on why he has largely governed on the big issues as John McCain would have done. Some believe he retains his principles but has been forced to compromise by political realities. Others are convinced he was a manipulative politico who lacked any real convictions in the first place.

But there is a far more likely – and disturbing – possibility.  Based on those who knew him and his books, there is little reason to doubt that the pre-presidential Obama was a college professor-type who shared the belief system of his liberalish set …

*   *   *

Upon taking office, however, Obama – whatever his belief system at that point – found that he was unable to accomplish these goals for one basic reason:  The president of the United States is far less powerful than media myth portrays.  Domestic power really is in the hands of economic elites and their lobbyists, and foreign policy really is controlled by U.S. executive branch national security managers and a “military-industrial complex.”

The ugly truth strikes again!  The seemingly “all-powerful” President of the United States is nothing more than a tool of the plutocracy.  It doesn’t matter whether the White House is occupied by a Democrat or a Republican – the policies (domestic, foreign, economic, etc.) will always be the same – because the people calling the shots are always the same plutocrats who control those “too big to fail” banks, the military industry and big pharma.  As Branfman put it:

.   .   .   anyone who becomes president has little choice but to serve the institutional interests of a profoundly amoral and violent executive branch and the corporations behind them.

Perhaps in response to the oft-cited criticism that “if you’re not part of the solution – you’re part of the problem”, Fred Branfman has offered us a proposal that could send us on the way to changing this intolerable status quo:

But however important the 2012 election, far more energy needs to be devoted to building mass organizations that challenge elite power and develop the kinds of policies – including massive investment in a “clean energy economic revolution,” a carbon tax and other tough measures to stave off climate change, regulating and breaking up the financial sector, cost-effective entitlements like single-payer health insurance, and public financing of primary and general elections – which alone can save America and its democracy in the painful decade to come.

Wait a minute!  Didn’t Obama already promise us all of that stuff?

Perhaps the only way to achieve those goals is by voting for Independent political candidates, who are not beholden to the Republi-cratic Corporatist Party or its financiers.  When the mainstream media go out of their way to pretend as though a particular candidate does not exist – you might want to give serious consideration to voting for that person.  When the media try to “disappear” a candidate by “hiding” that person “in plain sight”, they could be inadvertently providing the best type of endorsement imaginable.

The same level of energy that brought Obama to the White House could be used to bring us our first Independent President.  All we need is a candidate.


 

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GPCs And GMCs

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May 18, 2009

The latest disappointment from the Obama – Goldman Sachs administration concerns the case of Daniel Choi.  Here was a West Point graduate, serving in the Army as an Arabic translator, who appeared on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show.  With Barack Obama in the White House, Choi must have felt that the time was right to take a stand against the “don’t ask – don’t tell” policy concerning gays in the military by announcing to the world that he is gay.  Wrong!  Within a few weeks, Choi received a letter informing him that he had earned a dishonorable discharge for publicly disclosing his homosexuality, in violation of the “don’t ask – don’t tell” policy.  Not long afterward, the Obama administration announced that it would not intervene in such cases.

On Friday evening, this subject became a topic for discussion on the HBO program, Real Time with Bill Maher.  Maher reminded us of Obama’s campaign promise to do away with the “don’t ask – don’t tell” policy — particularly since so many of its targets happened to have served as Arabic translators.  We just don’t have enough personnel with that skill.  I agree with Maher’s belief that the rationale for adhering to the “don’t ask – don’t tell” policy arises from the fact that sexual harassment is a huge problem in the military.  Things haven’t changed all that much since the days of the “Tailhook” scandal.  In fact, they may now be much worse.  The military brass probably fears that if the “don’t ask – don’t tell” policy were rescinded, they could find themselves with an enormous increase in sexual harassment claims.  For example, an “out” Sgt. Butch Topington might feel emboldened about harassing the new recruits.

This subject was fresh in my mind as I watched Sean Penn’s fantastic, Oscar-winning performance in the film, Milk.  I was particularly impressed by Penn’s delivery of those important comments, spoken by gay activist Harvey Milk, into his tape recorder, after realizing that his eventual assassination would be more than likely:

I ask for the movement to continue because it’s not about personal gain.  It’s not about ego and it’s not about power.  It’s about the “Us”es out there — Not just the gays, but the blacks and the Asians and the seniors and the disabled — the “Us”es.

Without hope, the “Us”es give up.  And I know you can’t live on hope alone, but without hope life is not worth living.  So you … and you … and you — You gotta’ give ’em hope!  You gotta’ give ’em hope!

Candidate Obama spoke eloquently about “the audacity of hope”.  Nevertheless, President Obama seems to increasingly demonstrate “the audacity of nope”.

I believe there is still hope for those individuals in the same situation as Daniel Choi.  Now that they are out of the service, they should start working for “the big bucks” as contractors.  They could call themselves Gay Private Contractors (GPCs) or Gay Military Contractors (GMCs).  They should start their own business to compete with Blackwater (now known as Xe).  They might want to call it:  Gaywater.  Gaywater could promote its translation and interrogation service with a slogan such as:  “When we ask — they tell.”  Although the President has stated that he wants to “reconsider” the role of military contractors, where else is he going to find Arabic translators?  These individuals had security clearances up to the point of their discharge, so it should be a relatively quick, easy process to obtain civilian security clearances for them.  (However, the GMCs should be advised not to take personally, the fact that a civilian security clearance is called a “Q” clearance.)  Although there would likely be some sort of hurdle involved in getting such security clearances for “dishonorably discharged” personnel, the simple fact is that the only “dishonorable” acts committed by these individuals were instances of telling the truth about themselves.

Disappointer-In-Chief

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April 9, 2009

President Obama must feel relieved by the cartoonish attacks against him by the likes of Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Fox News character, Sean Hannity.  Bachmann’s accusations that Obama is planning “re-education camps” for young people surely brought some comic relief to the new President.  Hannity must have caused some thunderous laughter in the White House with his claim that during a speech the President gave in Strasbourg, France, we saw examples of how “Obama attacks America”.  These denigration attempts were likely received as a welcome break from criticism being voiced by commentators who are usually supportive of the Obama administration.  Take Keith Olbermann for example.  He has not been holding back on expressing outrage over the Obama administration’s claim that the Patriot Act provides sovereign immunity to the federal government in civil lawsuits brought by victims of illegal wiretapping conducted by the Bush administration.  Another example of a disillusioned Obama supporter is MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who has been fretting over the President’s plan to up the stakes for success in Afghanistan by increasing our troop commitment there and settling in to fight the good fight for as long as it takes.

Nothing has broken the spirits of Obama supporters more than his administration’s latest bank bailout scheme —  a/k/a  the Public-Private Investment Program (PPIP or “pee-pip”).  Although Treasury Secretary “Turbo” Tim Geithner has been the guy selling this plan to Congress and the public, the “man behind the curtain” who likely hatched this scam is Larry Summers.  Summers is the economist whom Obama named director of the National Economic Council.  At the time of that appointment, many commentators expressed dismay, since Summers, as Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, supported repeal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act.  It is widely accepted that the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act helped bring about the subprime mortgage crisis and our current economic meltdown.  On the November 25, 2008 broadcast of the program, Democracy Now, author Naomi Klein made the following remark about Obama’s appointment of Summers:  “I think this is really troubling.”  She was right.  It was recently reported by Jeff Zeleny of The New York Times that Summers earned more than $5 million last year from the hedge fund, D. E. Shaw and collected $2.7 million in speaking fees from Wall Street companies that received government bailout money.  Many economists are now voicing opinions that the Geithner-Summers Public-Private Investment Program (PPIP) is “really troubling”, as well.  Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz have been vocal critics of this plan.  As James Quinn reported for London’s Telegraph:  Professor Stiglitz said that the plan is “very flawed” and “amounts to robbery of the American people.”

Obama supporter George Soros, the billionaire financier and hedge fund manager, had this to say to Saijel Kishan and Kathleen Hays of Bloomberg News about Obama’s performance so far:

“He’s done very well in every area, except in dealing with the recapitalization of the banks and the restructuring of the mortgage market,” said Soros, who has published an updated paperback version of his book “The New Paradigm for Financial Markets:  The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means” (Scribe Publications, 2009).  “Unfortunately, there’s just a little bit too much continuity with the previous administration.”

The usually Obama-friendly Huffington Post has run a number of critical pieces addressing the Geithner – Summers plan.  Sam Stein pointed out how the plan is “facing a new round of withering criticism from economists”:

These critiques have produced a Washington rarity:  the re-sparking of a debate that, in the wake of positive reviews from Wall Street, had largely subsided.  Just as Geithner seemed to be finding his political footing, the spotlight has been placed right back on his cornerstone proposal, with critics calling into question both his projections and past testimony on the matter.

Jeffrey Sachs, an Economics professor at Columbia University, wrote a follow-up article for The Huffington Post on April 8, affirming earlier criticisms leveled against the bailout proposal with the added realization that “the situation is even potentially more disastrous” than previously described:

Insiders can easily game the system created by Geithner and Summers to cost up to a trillion dollars or more to the taxpayers.

Zachary Goldfarb of The Washington Post took a closer look at Treasury Secretary Geithner’s testimony before Congress last month, to ascertain the viability of some of the proposals Geithner mentioned at that hearing:

The Obama administration’s plan for a sweeping expansion of financial regulations could have unintended consequences that increase the very hazards that these changes are meant to prevent.

Financial experts say the perception that the government will backstop certain losses will actually encourage some firms to take on even greater risks and grow perilously large.  While some financial instruments will come under tighter control, others will remain only loosely regulated, creating what some experts say are new loopholes.  Still others say the regulation could drive money into questionable investments, shadowy new markets and lightly regulated corners of the globe.

If President Obama does not change course and deviate from the Geithner-Summers plan before it’s too late, his legacy will be a ten-year recession rather than a two year recession without the PPIP.  Worse yet, the toughest criticism and the most pressure against his administration are coming from people he has considered his supporters.  At least he has the people at Fox News to provide some laughable “decoy” reports to keep his hard-core adversaries otherwise occupied.

The Betrayal

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March 23, 2009

We the people, who voted for Barack Obama, are about to get ripped off by our favorite Hope dealer.  Throughout the recent controversy arising from the huge bonuses paid to AIG executives, President Obama has done quite a bit of hand wringing over the fact that the government is rewarding “the very same people who got us into this mess”.  Treasury Secretary, “Turbo” Tim Geithner is now rolling out the administration’s so-called Financial Stability Plan, wherein once again, “the very same people who got us into this mess” will be rewarded with our tax dollars.  Over a trillion dollars of taxpayer money will be used to either buy back or insure an arbitrarily-assigned value for the infamous mortgage-backed securities.  The purpose of this exercise will be to prevent the bankers themselves from losing money.  The country’s top economists, including two Nobel Prize winners (Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz) have advocated a different solution:  placing those banks that are about to fail into “temporary receivership”.  However, this process would result in a significant reduction of the stock prices for those banks, in addition to replacement of the management of those institutions.  The big-shot bankers won’t put up with this.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Rich referenced a reader’s observation that this is President Obama’s “Katrina Moment”.  How the new President responds to this crisis will likely shape “the trajectory of his term”.  I prefer to call it Obama’s “Yellow Cake Moment”, since he and his administration are bent on selling a lie (the likelihood that the Financial Stability Plan can succeed) to the public in order to further assist the bad bankers.  It is similar to when George W. Bush convinced many in Congress and the public, that Saddam Hussein was attempting to purchase yellow cake uranium to make atomic bombs (with Bush’s ultimate goal being widespread support for the invasion of Iraq).

It should be no coincidence that the Financial Stability Plan is rewarding the bad bankers, since it was prepared by some of “the very same people who got us into this mess”.  I am specifically referring to Larry Summers and Turbo Tim himself.  Frank Rich covered this point quite well in Sunday’s article.  As a result, Obama’s attempt to chastise “the very same people who got us into this mess” is quite specious, in light of the fact that some of those people have shaped his latest bank bailout.

Back during the campaign, Candidate Obama caught quite a bit of flack for talking about “putting lipstick on a pig”.  Nevertheless, his continued promotion of the various incarnations of what is essentially the same ill-conceived plan floated by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, demonstrates that Obama himself is now putting lipstick on a pig.  As Paul Krugman pointed out:

Why was I so quick to condemn the Geithner plan?  Because it’s not new; it’s just another version of an idea that keeps coming up and keeps being refuted.  It’s basically a thinly disguised version of the same plan Henry Paulson announced way back in September.

*    *    *

But Treasury is still clinging to the idea that this is just a panic attack, and that all it needs to do is calm the markets by buying up a bunch of troubled assets.  Actually, that’s not quite it:  the Obama administration has apparently made the judgment that there would be a public outcry if it announced a straightforward plan along these lines, so it has produced what Yves Smith calls “a lot of bells and whistles to finesse the fact that the government will wind up paying well above market for [I don’t think I can finish this on a Times blog]”

Nevertheless, “public outcry” is exactly what is warranted in response to this soon-to-be fiasco.  Most economists favor the “temporary receivership” approach, rather than the continued bailouts of insolvent banks.  The Administration’s Financial Stability Plan is just another way to reward “the very same people who got us into this mess”.  This plan is expected to cost at least one trillion dollars.  As a result, the government is about to bilk the taxpayers out of an amount in excess of 20 Bernie Madoff Ponzi schemes.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has recently vilified Senator Evan Bayh’s caucus of moderate Democrats, whom she calls “Conservadems” because they have been offering some resistance to a few of Obama’s proposals.   These Senators are actually smart people who can detect the distinctive odor of snake oil.  They know better than to tie their political futures to a bank bailout plan that can destroy their own credibility with the voting public.  They know that public support of Obama’s broader agenda is hinged on how he deals with the banking problem.  As Ben Smith and Manu Raju reported for Politico:

But many lawmakers made clear Tuesday their view that voters’ willingness to trust Obama on some subjects will be determined by their view of how well he handles the economic crisis.

*    *    *

“Unless we can instill some trust back with the American people that these people who brought on this problem, who risked our 401K funds and hard-working people’s money, aren’t going to be able to profit from their folly, I think we are at risk of losing their trust,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

Meanwhile, there’s an ill wind a-blowin’ and it’s coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  The efforts by many pundits to blame the flawed financial policy on Geithner are misplaced.  If President Obama weren’t on board with this plan, it would have never made it outside of the Oval Office.  The problem is with Obama himself, rather than Geithner.  Unfortunately, the decision our President has made will likely turn a two-year recession into a ten-year recession.  To him, the corresponding benefit of helping out the bankers must apparently be worth it.

Because He Is A Tool

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November 13, 2008

The “Tool Watch” continues.  In the days after the historic 2008 Presidential election, intrigue abounds as to the future political career of Joe “The Tool” Lieberman.  Lieberman was re-elected to the Senate in 2006 as an Independent candidate (after having lost the Democratic primary to Ned Lamot).  The Tool realized that his betrayal of the Democrats could result in the loss of his many important appointments, should Obama get elected.  Joe had already “sold his soul” to Bush, Cheney and Rove in his quest for re-election.  At that point, he had no choice but to “go for broke” by endorsing John McCain.  However, The Tool went beyond that.  He spoke ill of Obama at the Republican Convention.  He followed McCain around throughout the Presidential campaign, giving rally speeches himself, in addition to serving as McCain’s “nodder” when McCain would question Obama’s patriotism.  The Tool questioned Obama’s patriotism with his own allegations that Obama placed allegiance to the Democratic Party ahead of his allegiance to the country.  The Tool evoked further outrage from Democrats by campaigning for “down ticket” Republicans, while stumping around the country for McCain and Palin.  Now that Obama has been elected President, many Democrats are hungry to avenge The Tool’s malicious acts by stripping him of the appointments earned while in good standing as a member of the Democratic Party.  The most notable of these is his chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.  President-elect Obama has expressed his desire to see Lieberman remain in the Senate Democratic Caucus.  Obama has said nothing about The Tool’s numerous committee and subcommittee memberships or chairmanships.  In keeping with his “No Drama Obama” image, the President-elect appears to have distanced himself from any “blood feuds” involving Lieberman.

My animosity toward The Tool is based on the fact that he is a pathetic ass-kisser.  He knew that his committee appointments would be in jeopardy in the event of an Obama victory.  Accordingly, he didn’t simply endorse John McCain.  He followed McCain around as a stray dog, looking for a new home.  Those of us with the experience of having worked with such people, know that these individuals don’t deserve much in the way of respect.  One of the reasons we enjoy watching “action movies” is because the “ass-kisser” is usually the first person to get killed (by either the hero or the villain).  It seems as though justice and karma are well-served in these movies, when such cretins get their due.

Many people who consider themselves “liberal Democrats” seem anxious to make The Tool an example for future, would-be defectors.  On November 12, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow expressed her concern that the Lieberman case could set a precedent, regardless of what action the Senate Democrats might take in light of The Tool’s transgressions.  Her November 10 program included an interview with Steve Clemons of The Washington Note website.  Mr. Clemons suggested removing Lieberman from his chairmanship of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs because of the The Tool’s fear mongering on the subject of homeland security throughout the 2008 campaign.  Clemons emphasized the proposition that Lieberman should not be able to use homeland security or national security as a foundation to batter Democrats who want a smarter national security policy.

Rachel Maddow discussed this subject again on November 12, with Indiana Senator Evan Bayh.  Senator Bayh discussed the possibility that Lieberman might be unwilling to suffer the indignity of being stripped of his appointments and thus relegated to the status of backbencher.  Bayh worried that under such circumstances, The Tool  might self-destruct:  resign from the Senate and allow Connecticut’s Republican Governor (Jodi Rell) to appoint a “pure Republican” to replace Lieberman.  To Bayh, this would be a more undesirable alternative than putting up with a traitor.  His logic seems based on the rationale that because Lieberman is such a tool, the Democrats could make him their tool once again.  Bayh suggested a two-part compromise.  First, Lieberman should be allowed to retain his chairmanship of the Committee on Homeland Security with “oversight”.  Bayh pointed out that a committee chairman could be replaced at any time.  If those overseeing The Tool reached the conclusion that he should be ousted, it would only then become appropriate for such action.  The second part of Bayh’s proposed compromise would involve an apology from Lieberman for his antics during the 2008 campaign.  I would like to suggest another alternative.  In the event Lieberman might be unwilling to make such an apology, the Senate Democrats should demand that The Tool have the word “Craftsman” tattooed on his forehead.