Entries in "End of Politics"

January 29, 2010

The end of politics-7: Obama the faux liberal and his apologists

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

For the previous posts in this series, see here.

John R. MacArthur says that it is becoming increasingly obvious that Obama is a faux liberal. But his deluded fans still seem to think that he has some deep progressive plan that is hidden from the rest of us, and twist themselves into logical pretzels to make the case. MacArthur says that Obama's speeches at West Point and at Oslo (the latter accepting the Nobel Peace Prize while making the case for war) reveal "two breathtaking exercises in political cynicism that killed any hope of authentic liberal reform." Glenn Greenwald describes the 'classic Obama strategy': "pretty words, rhetorical appeals to lofty ideals, self-congratulatory preening, accompanied by many of the same policies that were long and vehemently condemned by him and most of his supporters."

It always surprises me that otherwise perceptive progressive commentators repeatedly express amazement at how (as they see it) the Democrats get repeatedly outmaneuvered by the Republicans. They keep saying things like "Why don't the Democrats say X?" or "Why don't the Democrats do Y?" if they want to win political and legislative battles, and ascribe their not doing so to them being "inept, cowardly and bungling." These commentators are often right in their prescriptions of what Democrats should say and do but wrong in assuming that the Democrats are somehow dense in not seeing the obvious. The Democrats do not say X and do Y because they do not want to 'win' anything that goes against the interests of the oligarchy, however much their public utterances say otherwise.

These observers who express frustration at the seeming political ineptness of Obama and his team do not seem to realize how unlikely it is that a candidate and his advisors who had a finely tuned political ear and ran a truly brilliant election campaign, both tactically and strategically, that resulted in an improbable but resounding victory, could transform themselves overnight into a bungling and politically tone-deaf crew once they got into office.

The only way to understand what happened is to view Obama and the Democrats as hack politicians whose prime impulse is to follow the one-party agenda and who will respond only to pressure and/or money. We see the result of such pressure in some small ways. There was considerable outrage when the sleazy and dishonest anti-gay pastor Rick Warren was chosen by Obama to give the invocation at the inauguration. (Let us leave aside for the moment the fact that there should be no prayer or swearing on the Bible at government functions.) Perhaps as a result of the fuss over Warren, Obama did his usual backtracking pandering, choosing the gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson to give the prayer at the opening event of the inaugural week festivities, at the Lincoln Memorial. Although a relatively small example, it shows that what is necessary is to ramp up the pressure on Obama and the Democratic leadership and not believe them when they say that they have our best interests at heart.

So what should we do? Definitely not be deluded into thinking that Obama is on the side of ordinary people and has some cunning plan to restore the rule of law and cease inflicting war on the rest of the world. We should not have any illusions about any politician and not be beguiled by smooth words dripping with high principle. I'd like to end this series of posts with the words of Roger D. Hodge who wrote in The Mendacity of Hope (Harper's Magazine, February 2010, p. 7):

Admirers of the president now embrace actions they once denounced as criminal, or rationalize and evade such questions, or attempt to explain away what cannot be excused. That Obama is in most respects better than George W. Bush, John McCain, Sarah Palin, or Joseph Stalin is beyond dispute and completely beside the point.

Let us grant that Barack Obama is as intelligent as his admirers insist. What evidence do we possess that he is also a moral virtuoso? What evidence do we possess that he is a good, wise, or even a decent man? Yes, he can be eloquent, yet eloquence is no guarantee of wisdom or of virtue. Yes, he has a nice family, but that evinces a private morality. Public morality requires public action, and all available public evidence points to a man with the character of a common politician, whose singular ambition in life was to attain power; nothing in Barack Obama's political career suggests that he would ever willingly commit to a course of action that would cost him an election. His preposterously two-faced approach to Afghanistan, wherein he simultaneously escalates the war while promising to begin "the transition to Afghan responsibility" just a year later, is a perfect illustration of his compulsion to split the difference on any given political question. (One could also point to the health-care boondoggle, or to his utter capitulation to Wall Street in economic matters.) He dilly-dallies, draws out both friends and opponents, dangles promises in front of everyone, gives a dramatic speech, and then pulls back to gauge the reaction. Since the policy itself is incoherent—and, as usual with Obama, salted with stipulations and provisos—he can always trim and readjust as necessary. Deadlines and definitions of "combat forces" are infinitely malleable. Since Obama is an intelligent man, surely he understands the meaning of the word mendacity.

Having embraced and professionalized the powers of force and fraud previously associated with the likes of John Yoo and Dick Cheney, Obama has embarked on a course of war that will certainly invite further abuses of power. His political survival now depends on martial success in a land that has defeated some of history's most brutal strategies of conquest. Obama has set a trap for himself, but because he is such a clever politician, the spring is just as likely to fall on us instead. Such insidious governance demands serious, sustained opposition, not respectful disagreement or fanciful historical apologies or mournful lamentations about the tragedy of his presidency. Principles can be sacrificed to hopes as well as to fears. (My emphasis)


POST SCRIPT: And now, the Ben Bernanke Show!

The media were breathless speculating this week that the confirmation of Ben Bernanke for a new term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve was in doubt because of anger at the way public funds were liberally doled out by him to the Wall Street banks, especially to Goldman Sachs, which we know really runs the government.

Anyone who thought that his job was in doubt still does not understand the way the game is played. What happens is that policies that favor the big banks and the rich are rammed through with little or no debate. Then, as popular anger slowly rises as awareness of the swindle sinks in, our elected representatives start grandstanding, as if they too were suckered like the rest of us and not aware of the giveaway. So we see the ritual scolding of the bank CEOs, Bernanke, and current and former Treasury secretaries Timothy Geithner and Henry Paulson. All these words are cheap, of course. The public treasury has already been looted.

These ineffectual congressional scoldings are part of the show that is put on to try and appease us while the looting goes on.

January 28, 2010

The end of politics-6: Obama on social issues

For the previous posts in this series, see here.

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

The stylized and ritualized politics of the one party state that I have been describing has gone on for a long time but the façade is once again slipping, as it does periodically in times of real hardship. The rank and file of both parties is becoming more restive as they realize that elections come and go but their interests keep getting ignored.

On the Republican side, the rise of 'tea-bagger' activism as symbolized by Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh is one symptom. This is a truly crazy, religious, nativist, and paranoid movement that is obsessed that Obama represents some dangerous socialist/fascist/Muslim threat. Apart from the lack of any semblance of reason, the fact that they cannot see that Obama is firmly wedded to the capitalist framework and is a faithful servant of Wall Street shows how ignorant these people are of the realities of politics. But their rise is a symbol of popular frustration with the current state of politics.

The problem the Republican party leaders face is how to keep these crazies within the party fold while not letting them take over the actual leadership because that would be a disaster for the party. What the business and financial oligarchy that actually runs this country want are dependable, steady, reasonable-sounding, puppet leaders who can mask pro-war/pro-business/anti-people polices with silken words. Someone just like Obama, in fact. The oligarchy does not like populist bomb-throwers of any kind, right or left, because such people are unreliable and unpredictable and cannot be depended upon to faithfully follow Wall Street's agenda down the line.

Of course, this collusion by the two parties' leaderships to favor the war and business interests of the country can only succeed if this reality is hidden and for that they need an important ally. The mainstream media has to perpetuate the myth that we have two ideological parties that fiercely oppose each other and the rise of the tea-baggers gives them an excuse to perpetuate that myth even though the things that the tea-baggers care about do not even come close to addressing the pro-war/pro-business consensus on which the two parties operate. But their vocal presence perpetuates the illusion that we have two parties that are diametrically opposed on policies, when in reality the policies on which they differ are almost entirely social ones.

This is not to say that the social issues are not important. They can affect individuals and selected groups significantly. Obama has done some positive things, such as reversing the restrictions on overseas aid that allows for family planning and abortion. His Justice Department has stopped prosecuting those who use marijuana for medical purposes as long as they conform to state laws, thus reversing a harshly punitive Bush policy. And he has lifted the restrictions on federal funding on embryonic stem cell research. While these are not trivial steps, and have significant impact on some groups, it should be obvious that these are things that do not touch the privileges of the oligarchy.

One can also expect Obama to take a more positive attitude towards gays, though even here he seems to be moving much more cautiously there than the situation warrants. His decision to reverse the Bush policy of not backing a United Nations declaration to decriminalize homosexuality is to be welcomed, but he seems to be hesitant to repeal either the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy in the military or the infamous Defense of Marriage Act (signed into law by Bill Clinton), and he also has not come out in support the rights of gays to marry.

Obama's caution on the gay issue is a bit strange because I really think that the gay community has won its battle to achieve justice. Not that they have actually achieved equality (far from it) but we are now on an irreversible course in which it is only a matter of time (I give it ten years) until gays have the same rights as heterosexuals. Gays have become mainstreamed into our popular culture and civilization as we know it has not collapsed. The recent decision by the Iowa Supreme Court that overruled that state's ban on same-sex marriages is just the latest sign of this progress. So you would think that even the ultra-cautious Obama might want to get a little ahead of the obvious curve at least on this issue and gain some points, but yet he is hesitant.

As I have said repeatedly, Democrats and Republicans differ mainly on a few social policies, and it is the strong emotional reactions that those policies generate that hides the fact that on the core issues of war and business, the Democrats and Obama walk pretty much in lockstep with the Republicans in serving the pro-war, pro-business interests.

The reason I titled this series as 'the end of politics' is that public politics has come down to merely wanting to tick the other side off on some hot button issues. Right-wingers want to stop whatever the left wants and progressives support a lousy health care bill because they want to tick the Republican base off. Meanwhile, the real business of siphoning off the country's wealth to private interests goes on smoothly in the back rooms, adversely affecting all of us who are not part of the oligarchy, wherever we might lie on the left-right political spectrum.

This is no way for a mature country to be governed.

POST SCRIPT: Elizabeth Warren for President

The chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to investigate the U.S. banking bailout is one of the few high level government figures who tells it like it is.

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In April of 2009, I posted clips of a two-part interview with Elizabeth Warren that is worth viewing again.

Part 1:

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Part 2:

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January 27, 2010

The end of politics-5: How Obama sold out on health care reform

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

For the previous posts in this series, see here.

Senator Joe Lieberman became the public face of implacable opposition to any meaningful reform and has been the target of much venom. All of it is deserved, because nobody epitomizes sanctimonious, publicity-seeking, self-serving greed like Lieberman, though Obama is coming dangerously close to reaching even the high bar of unctuous hypocrisy that Lieberman has set. But I have strong suspicions that Lieberman was actually advancing Obama's interests and had Obama's support. Obama actually told his negotiators to comply with Lieberman's demands and not threaten him with removing his coveted committee chairmanships. We should not forget that Obama sought out Lieberman as a mentor when he entered the Senate and supported his re-election bid for the senate against the more progressive Connecticut Democratic Party candidate Ned Lamont.

Glenn Greenwald shares my view on how Obama sold out his supporters on health care reform.

[C]ontrary to Obama's occasional public statements in support of a public option, the White House clearly intended from the start that the final health care reform bill would contain no such provision and was actively and privately participating in efforts to shape a final bill without it. From the start, assuaging the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries was a central preoccupation of the White House -- hence the deal negotiated in strict secrecy with Pharma to ban bulk price negotiations and drug reimportation, a blatant violation of both Obama's campaign positions on those issues and his promise to conduct all negotiations out in the open (on C-SPAN). Indeed, Democrats led the way yesterday in killing drug re-importation, which they endlessly claimed to support back when they couldn't pass it. The administration wants not only to prevent industry money from funding an anti-health-care-reform campaign, but also wants to ensure that the Democratic Party -- rather than the GOP -- will continue to be the prime recipient of industry largesse.

The evidence was overwhelming from the start that the White House was not only indifferent, but opposed, to the provisions most important to progressives. The administration is getting the bill which they, more or less, wanted from the start -- the one that is a huge boon to the health insurance and pharmaceutical industry.

Paul Craig Roberts highlights one key feature of the health care "reform" package that is part of the 'huge boon' that Greenwald speaks about:

The fate of the health care bill demonstrates the power of private lobbies. What was to be health care for Americans was instantly transformed into 30 million new patients for the private health insurance industry. The “solution” to tens of millions of Americans being unable to afford health care is a law that requires them to purchase a private health care policy or be annually fined. As most of these uninsured Americans cannot afford to purchase a private policy, the plan is for the federal government to use taxpayers’ money to subsidize their purchase of a policy from private companies.

In other words, tax money is being diverted to the pockets of private businesses. This is par for the course in “capitalist” America.

As Digby says about this:

[M]andating that all people pay money to a private interest isn't even conservative, free market or otherwise. It's some kind of weird corporatism that's very hard to square with the common good philosophy that Democrats supposedly espouse.

Nobody's "getting covered" here. After all, people are already "free" to buy private insurance and one must assume they have reasons for not doing it already. Whether those reasons are good or bad won't make a difference when they are suddenly forced to write big checks to Aetna or Blue Cross that they previously had decided they couldn't or didn't want to write. Indeed, it actually looks like the worst caricature of liberals: taking people's money against their will, saying it's for their own good.

Meanwhile, Obama and the Democratic party leadership launch full-scale attacks on their progressive supporters for asking for more while saying nothing against those who purportedly oppose their reform plans, like Joe Lieberman.

So as a result of all these shenanigans, we finally have the policy that the health industry should really like: a mandate for people to have insurance with no public option to compete with. Thus they get more captive customers subsidized by the government. This does not mean that there is nothing worthwhile in the health reform bill. It does offer some marginal improvements. It is just that it could have been so much better if Obama and the Democrats were not such obvious hypocrites.

So why is the health insurance industry now trying to kill even this highly watered-down reform that gives them so much? Matt Yglesias and Kevin Drum argue that it is because they see some problems for them down the road even with highly limited reforms of the current bill and have started to feel confident that they can completely kill the reform effort altogether and return to the comfortable status quo. This may be a mistake on their part, a case of hubris. Even though the Democrats desperately want to please the health industry, not passing any health reform at all, their signature issue, would be too much for their supporters to take. So they will pass something, however bad it is, and call it a success.

People who think that Democrats are being thwarted by the filibuster threats of the Republicans are missing the point. The Democrats actually welcome the filibuster to cover their duplicity. I believe that in the mid-term elections to be held this year, the Democrats would like nothing better than to lose some Senate and House seats. The ideal situation for the Democratic Party leadership is not to win big but to win slim majorities in both houses so that they can gain the real prize sought after by both parties, the coveted committee chairmanships. This is where the real power lies, where the legislative agenda is set and where they can control the language of legislation and write the implementation rules. The committee chairs are in the best position to do the bidding of business interests and thus gain campaign contributions and other favors.

Having slim majorities has the benefit of allowing the Democrats to constantly whine that the mean Republicans are preventing them from carrying out policies that favor ordinary people. If they win big majorities they have no excuse for not carrying out the policies they promised. As exemplified in the case of the drug reimportation issue. Democrats love to be in the position of saying they are 'fighting' for the issues dear to their supporters as long as there is no danger of winning the fight, if such a win would threaten the interests of their real paymasters.

Matt Taibbi is one of the few journalists who sees the charade for what it is. As he said on Bill Moyers's show:

And I think, you know, a lot of what the Democrats are doing, they don't make sense if you look at it from an objective point of view, but if you look at it as a business strategy- if you look at the Democratic Party as a business, and their job is basically to raise campaign funds and to stay in power, what they do makes a lot of sense. They have a consistent strategy which involves negotiating a fine line between sentiment on the left and the interests of the industries that they're out there to protect. And they've always, kind of, taken that fork in the road and gone right down the middle of the line. And they're doing that with this health care bill and that's- it's consistent.

That's about right.

POST SCRIPT: Book signing and talk

I will be giving a talk and having a book signing on God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom at the Joseph-Beth book store in Legacy Village in Beachwood, Ohio at 7:00 pm today (Wednesday, January 27, 2010).

I would enjoy meeting any readers of this blog who can make it.

January 25, 2010

The end of politics-4: Obama and health care reform

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

For the previous posts in this series, see here.

Many of Obama's liberal supporters are deeply disappointed. After one year in office, they have almost nothing to show for all their efforts to give their party big majorities in both houses of congress. What they have instead received is a non-stop nauseating spectacle of whining and handwringing by the Democrats about how hard it is to overcome the filibuster threats of the Republican senators and how they must compromise away everything as a result, even though they have a huge 256-178 majority in the House (with one vacancy) and a 59-41 majority in the Senate.

It is interesting that George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan had nowhere near the majorities that the Democrats and Obama have and yet they managed to get almost everything they wanted on both domestic and foreign policies. That alone should expose the one party nature of politics. Bush and Reagan were open about the fact that they wanted wars of aggression and policies that favored the rich, and they easily got them with Democratic support.

While Obama supporters may feel let down, they should have seen this coming. The political strategy of Democrats is designed around how to carry out the same pro-war/pro-business/pro-rich policies of the Republicans while acting like they have the interests of ordinary people in mind. The Democrats say they want different policies but always find reasons to not be able to carry out their promises. They always need an excuse as to why they cannot deliver on their campaign promises and the filibuster has merely been the latest one. The Democrats actually hate having large majorities because then their excuses become seen as increasingly threadbare.

The one signature effort, health care reform, is a textbook example of how the Democrats operate. The party, even more so than the Republicans, is completely beholden to the health insurance and the medical industry lobbies and so was never interested in any meaningful reform that would threaten those interests that give them so much money. So while single payer and other forms of universal public health care (such as Medicare for all) or a public option were very popular ideas in getting votes during the election season, once they were elected they had to find ways to make sure that those were never legislated into law, all the while seeming to be thwarted in their efforts to achieve them. And Obama was a ringleader in that effort to gut any meaningful efforts at reform.

If the Democrats were serious about health care reform, they would have done what one does in any negotiation, which is start out with your maximum demands and then negotiate down. This is what one does when purchasing a car or house or anything else, if you are serious about getting a good deal. But from the beginning, the Democrats negotiated as if they were the weaker party, the losers in the election, trying to salvage what they could.

It was clear from the beginning that the Democratic strategy to make sure no meaningful reform was achieved was planned around the Senate. First Obama declared that the single-payer option was not even to be discussed. Then he said that what he wanted most of all was a 'bipartisan' bill. That gave him the excuse to jettison any attempts at a true reform since that would lose potential Republican support. This call for bipartisanship for its own sake was what convinced me that the fix was in and that Obama had completely sold out. After all, surely the goal should be a good bill that can gain the popular support of the people because then the elected representatives feel pressure to support it. When you say that bipartisanship is your main goal, you are signaling to the other party in the Kabuki play (the Republicans) that you want them to be as oppositional as possible so that you can be seen as reluctantly caving in. And both sides dutifully played their roles. It was truly sickening to see the way that any meaningful reform was compromised away in order to supposedly get even one Republican vote.

Obama then essentially gave the final say on health reform to the Senate Finance Committee to come up with the draft Senate version of the bill. Why, of all the committees that have jurisdiction on this issue, did he choose this one? Shouldn't the Health and Human Services Committee be the natural body that leads on this issue? Yes, if one was thinking logically or wanted meaningful reform. But that was never the goal.

The Finance committee has certain advantages if your plan is to sell out your supporters and satisfy your real constituents, the health industry. For starters, its Democratic chairman Max Baucus is completely in the pockets of the health industry. So he could be depended upon to not even allow the single-payer option to be discussed in the public hearings and to oppose any attempt to introduce any form of public option. To stack the deck against the public interest even more, Baucus bypassed the entire committee (which had a Democratic majority and some members who had more progressive outlooks) and instead created a six-member group of three members of each party, knowing that the Republicans would veto any reasonable plan that harmed the health industry in any way. Thus the fix was in from the very beginning.

Of course, there had to be more Kabuki theater in order to fool the Democratic base that the party really was interested in meaningful reform. So along the way a public option was proposed and then withdrawn because it could not get any Republican support. Then the option to buy into Medicare for those between the ages of 55 to 64 was proposed and then withdrawn for the same reason. The reason for these maneuvers was to give the public some hope that some true reform was on the horizon so as to keep them involved and supportive, while all the while intending to take these prizes away at the end. It was Lucy with the football, and the public, like Charlie Brown, kept getting suckered over and over again.

Next in this series: More on the health care sell-out

POST SCRIPT: Jon Stewart on how the media will flip out over the New York terror trials

Are people really this stupidly scared about having trials of alleged terrorists in the US?

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January 22, 2010

The end of politics-3: Obama and civil liberties

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

Obama and his attorney General Anthony Holder are pursuing policies on civil liberties that, if you can imagine it, are even more extreme than those of Bush-Cheney. While stopping the practice of waterboarding, they seem willing, even eager, to continue to torture people psychologically in other ways and to use torture-induced information to keep people detained indefinitely. They are even appealing a Bush-appointed judge's ruling that the US Supreme Court rulings on the rights of prisoners in Guantanamo apply to the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan as well. As Noam Chomsky writes, "Obama's Justice Department maintains that the U. S. government must be authorized to kidnap people anywhere in the world and send them to secret prison systems without charges or rights." (Z Magazine, January 2010, p. 28). For this we voted for him?

Obama's record on civil liberties and torture and due process has been simply appalling. There is no other word for it. He is setting up an elaborate system of show trials for those captured in the so-called 'war on terror', essentially consisting of kangaroo courts guaranteed to produce guilty verdicts using evidence obtained under torture, even if those confessions are false and the people are innocent. If that should fail, he promises to not release even those who are found not guilty if he merely thinks they should continue to be detained. He also asserts his right to detain people indefinitely without trial. This despite the fact that estimates of the number of innocent people being held at Guantanamo run as high as 80%.

Obama has gone to extreme lengths to cover up the acts of torture done by the US, even continuing Bush's threats to the British government with retaliation if they publicly reveal the horrendous things that were done to their citizen Binyam Mohammed, who was tortured by the CIA at various sites before being finally released with no charges.

And now we have ghastly revelations of the deaths of prisoners that were originally publicly reported as 'suicides' but now look increasingly like deaths at the hands of their interrogators. The Obama administration has refused to fully investigate what appears to be an appalling crime. As Andrew Sullivan says, "In Iran, when prisoners are turned into corpses after interrogation, even the Khamenei junta feels it necessary to respond. In America, not so much."

Then there is the case of the Afghan tribal leader Haji Sahib Rohullah Wakil who was picked up on a 'tip' and held for six years in Guantanamo without being given a chance to defend himself before finally being released, again without charges. As Glenn Greenwald says, these people who are now free are among the people we were once told were the 'worst of the worst', alleged monsters whose supposed depravity had been used to justify the suspension of basic civil liberties and freedoms, the ideals on which this country is supposedly built.

Greenwald, after summarizing the abominable practices embraced by Obama-Holder, says: "So, to recap: we have indefinite detention, military commissions, Blackwater assassination squads, escalation in Afghanistan, extreme secrecy to shield executive lawbreaking from judicial review, renditions, and denials of habeas corpus. These are not policies Obama has failed yet to uproot; they are policies he has explicitly advocated and affirmatively embraced as his own."

As can be seen with his policy on closing Guantanamo, Obama has mastered the art of acting like he is acting on the basis of noble principles while pursuing anti-democratic policies that violate the very ideals he claims to uphold. What was deeply wrong about Guantanamo was not its location offshore but the fact that it was holding and torturing people indefinitely without recourse to habeas corpus or any form of due process. Obama seems to think that by transferring the prisoners to a facility on the mainland but still keeping, and even increasing, those inhumane polices, he has fulfilled his campaign promise. As Greenwald says, "In many ways, this move is classic Obama: pretty words, rhetorical appeals to lofty ideals, self-congratulatory preening, accompanied by many of the same policies that were long and vehemently condemned by him and most of his supporters."

Obama, like Bush before him, reveals unplumbed depths of hypocrisy when it comes to pandering to the public the idea that America still lives by its stated ideals. I find it increasingly annoying when Obama and Hillary Clinton sanctimoniously lecture other countries about the need for transparency and to respect human rights and the rule of law, while they themselves blatantly disregard them. As Jonathan Turley writes

President Barack Obama and his Administration set a new level of hypocrisy this weekend with calls on the Chinese government and military to end censorship and be more open with the public while barring disclosure of embarrassing photos of detainee abuse.

Obama appears much more fervent in his commitment to civil liberties and open government when it is someone else’s government. Recently, his Administration took an extraordinary step of demanding an investigation of a visiting defense official on allegations of torture — in Sri Lanka

What we now have in the US are violations of the basic principles of justice and civil liberties and due process that even the most banana of republics would be embarrassed to espouse.

It used to be the case that I would detest hearing or watching George W. Bush speak. The disjunct between his smug and lofty words about democracy and freedom and the reality of his crass polices was simply too much to take. During the campaign I enjoyed hearing Obama's speeches because he seemed to be making thoughtful statements about important issues and appealing to the best in people. But now I cannot bear to listen to him either. I find galling the unctuous hypocrisy of his words. If anything, the gap between his words and his deeds is even greater than that of Bush, because he promises more and delivers less.

Fans of Obama are likely to be angered by my words. But, as the invaluable Glenn Greenwald writes, many of them suffer from the same weakness of blinkered adulation that afflicts those who uncritically supported Bush and Cheney and now support Sarah Palin. They simply cannot bear the thought that their idol has feet of clay and see all criticisms of their hero as giving comfort to perceived enemies.

This is why I write that we seem to have reached the end of politics. Instead of supporting what is good and opposing what is bad whomever and wherever it comes from, what we now seem to have are competing fan clubs, focused on personality and style and labels. Greenwald and Matt Taibbi are two of the few mainstream commentators who unsparingly apply to Obama the same yardstick to measure performance they applied to Bush-Cheney and for that they have received a fair amount of abuse from the left. But the fans of Obama, by trying to shield him from criticisms, are only enabling him to pursue policies that are antithetical to the ones for which they voted him in.

POST SCRIPT: And yet more hypocrisy…

In the video clip below, Hillary Clinton shows that she is no slouch when it comes to hypocrisy when she condemns "certain countries that I think are kind of beyond the pale of the rule of law, hold people and subject them to long prison terms that are absolutely unfair and unwarranted." She is talking about North Korea and the fact that she could make such statement with a straight face is remarkable.

Fareed Zakaria, the interviewer, nods his agreement and dutifully avoids pointing out that she could just as easily be describing the US.

It is significant that the allegedly 'liberal' website Huffington Post from where I got the clip chose it not because it wanted to highlight this hypocrisy (it ignored it) but because Clinton laughed at the mention of John Bolton's name. Ha! Ha! That's funny!

Of course, all this is consistent with the rules of mainstream media discourse that starts from the assumption that human rights violations are what other countries practice. You never, ever, point out that the US might be doing equal or even worse things. They seem to think that hypocrisy is not hypocrisy if no one points it out.

January 21, 2010

The end of politics-2: Obama on Iraq and Afghanistan

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

Obama and the Democrats came to power on a crest of public anger with opposition to the policies of Bush-Cheney, who had initiated two unjustified and expensive wars and had given huge tax breaks to the rich and business interests, thereby threatening to bankrupt the country. And what have Obama and the Democrats done? Continued almost every policy unchanged, and even expanded the war both in Afghanistan into Pakistan. Although Obama did promise to do the latter, the fact that he did so just shows that war is a favored policy of both parties.

In the light of Obama's decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan, it is worthwhile to watch Bill Moyers' gripping show on how President Lyndon Johnson got sucked deeper into Vietnam in 1964 and 1965. Thanks to the secret recordings of the phone calls between Johnson and his advisors and political and military leaders, we have a revealing glimpse at how, even though a weary Johnson realizes the situation on the ground is hopeless, political calculations force him into escalating the war with the disastrous results that ensued. There is always the danger of seeing the ghost of Vietnam in all conflicts, but it is also foolish to not learn from what happened there.

After grandiosely promising to withdraw troops from Iraq, Obama is dragging his feet. I have long felt that there was a bipartisan agreement to keep US troops in Iraq indefinitely and that Obama was part of that deal. The building of permanent massive military bases in that country (whose construction has gone under the media radar) was for me sufficient evidence that there was never any intention of a total withdrawal. What Obama will do is grandstand when a few troops are brought home while keeping quiet about the fact that many will remain and even increasing the number of mercenaries in that country. The long term goal of the US has been to have a strategic military outpost in that oil-rich region in order to ensure that oil supplies to the US are not threatened and for that they needed a subservient client state. Iraq has become that state.

Paul Craig Roberts points out that Obama is also continuing the policy of subservience to the military-industrial behemoth, bellicosity towards Iran, and groveling before the Israel lobby, ignoring or condoning Israel's expansionist settlement policy in the occupied territories and its appalling treatment of Palestinians. That last policy alone is sufficient to guarantee that attacks by Islamic terrorists will continue into the indefinite future.

In an interview on Fresh Air journalist Jeremy Scahill tells host Terry Gross how Obama is continuing the practice of using unaccountable mercenaries like Blackwater in his wars, just the way that Bush-Cheney did.

In Afghanistan, it's more pronounced, though, Terry, because you have about 68,000 U.S. troops operating alongside a whopping 104,000 contractors. And with the recently announced surge in troops, that number's expect to grow at a one-to-one ratio with U.S. troops. So it's quite stunning, the number of contractors that are currently deployed on the U.S. government payroll.

There are about 600 corporations that service the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and these range from KBR, which specializes in logistics, to Blackwater, DynCorp and Triple Canopy, which are essentially paramilitary forces that are working for either the Department of Defense, the Department of State or the CIA.

I mean, this is a stunning rarity in the military history of the United States, where you actually have a theater of war, Afghanistan, where the U.S. military is actually the second-largest force operating in the country.

The disillusionment with Obama is becoming widespread because his abandonment of the goals outlined in his campaign rhetoric and his embrace of Bush-Cheney doctrines has been so blatant. As Roger D. Hodge writes in The Mendacity of Hope (Harper's Magazine, February 2010, p. 7):

Obama promised to end the war in Iraq, end torture, close Guantánamo, restore the constitution, heal our wounds, wash our feet. None of these things has come to pass. As president, with few exceptions, Obama either has embraced the unconstitutional war powers claimed by his predecessor or has left the door open for their quiet adoption at some later date. Leon Panetta, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has declared that the kidnapping and rendition of foreigners will continue, and the Bush Administration's expansive doctrine of state secrets continues to be used in court against those wrongfully detained and tortured by our security forces and allies. Obama has adopted military commissions, once an unpardonable offense against our best traditions, to prosecute terrorism cases in which legitimate convictions cannot be obtained; when even such mock trials provide too much justice, he will make do with indefinite detention. If, by some slim chance, a defendant were to be found not guilty, we have been assured that the president's "post-acquittal" detention powers would then come into play.

The principle of habeas corpus, sacred to candidate Obama as "the essence of who we are," no longer seems so essential, and reports continue to surface of secret prisons hidden from due process and the Red Cross. Waterboarding has been banned, but other "soft" forms of torture, such as sleep deprivation and force-feeding, continue—as do the practices, which once seemed so terribly important to opponents of the Bush regime, of presidential signing statements and warrantless surveillance. In at least one respect, the Obama Justice Department has produced an innovation: a claim of "sovereign immunity" in response to a lawsuit seeking damages for illegal spying. Not even the minions of George W. Bush, with their fanciful notions of the unitary executive, made use of this constitutionally suspect doctrine, derived from the ancient common-law assumption that "the King can do no wrong," to defend their clear violations of the federal surveillance statute.

As the attorney Glenn Greenwald has argued, in his writings for Salon and elsewhere, the rule of law has not been restored but perverted; what had been outlawed but committed, the law now simply permits. Obama's lawyers, benefiting from Bush-era litigation, can claim conformity with law, but the disgraceful policies continue largely unchanged. Better, smarter legal arguments obtain for policies that should give any decent man nightmares. Our torturers and war criminals and illegal spies and usurpers remain at liberty, unpunished.

Obama has done what once seemed impossible, and that is make George W. Bush, easily one of the worst presidents in US history, actually seem moderate.

POST SCRIPT: Larry Wilmore on Obama's first year

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January 20, 2010

The end of politics-1: Obama and the one-party state

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

Is Barack Obama going to be a one-term president?

Given that this is the anniversary of only his first year in office, it might seem premature to pose this question, except as a hook on which to examine the state of politics in the country. That is indeed my intent in this short series of posts leading up to his State of the Union speech next week but before I do so, let me give my answer to the question anyway. At the rate he is going, Obama deserves to be just a one-term president. But what is likely to get him re-elected is that the Republican party seems to be in the process of being taken over by a coalition of wackos (religious nuts, birthers, deathers, conspiracists, tea-baggers, gun nuts, xenophobes, and outright racists) that is likely to repel most mainstream Americans, however much they may dislike Obama's performance in office. The current Republican party, once led by the likes of Abraham Lincoln, is now the party of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh, pandering to the lowest emotions of greed and fear and selfishness of a rabid core of supporters. They are leading the party into a political wilderness from which it will take a long time to return.

But the unlikelihood of this group gaining power is no reason for complacency amongst those of us who seek a more just society because the very lack of a reasonable and credible opposition only enables the Democratic leadership to sell out its supporters even more, the way that Obama and the current leadership are doing, because they know that voters have nowhere else to go. The fact that McCain-Palin in 2008 and a likely similarly bizarre Republican ticket in 2012 are truly ghastly alternatives does not mean that we should give Obama a pass and pretend that he is acting in our best interests. "I'm not as crazy as my opponents" is not an inspiring platform.

Obama rode to victory on the crest of public anger at the rampant crony capitalism that was the hallmark of the Bush-Cheney years and resulted in the looting of the public treasury to facilitate massive giveaways to the wealthy. Instead of channeling this anger to pursue a reform agenda, Obama and the Democratic leadership have instead eagerly served the needs of the same group. These people are not called the ruling class for nothing. Presidents and congresses may come and they may go, but this class rules forever.

Matt Taibbi is one of the few journalists able to see Obama's obvious selling out to Wall Street in the wake of his election:

What's taken place in the year since Obama won the presidency has turned out to be one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history. Elected in the midst of a crushing economic crisis brought on by a decade of orgiastic deregulation and unchecked greed, Obama had a clear mandate to rein in Wall Street and remake the entire structure of the American economy. What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place. This new team of bubble-fattened ex-bankers and laissez-faire intellectuals then proceeded to sell us all out, instituting a massive, trickle-up bailout and systematically gutting regulatory reform from the inside.

People like Pat [a teabagger that Taibbi met at a protest] aren't aware of it, but they're the best friends Obama has. They hate him, sure, but they don't hate him for any reasons that make sense. When it comes down to it, most of them hate the president for all the usual reasons they hate "liberals" — because he uses big words, doesn't believe in hell and doesn't flip out at the sight of gay people holding hands. Additionally, of course, he's black, and wasn't born in America, and is married to a woman who secretly hates our country.

These are the kinds of voters whom Obama's gang of Wall Street advisers is counting on: idiots.

I think Taibbi has nailed it. Why do I think that Obama should be a one-term president? Long time readers of this blog will know that I had few illusions about Obama, either on domestic or foreign policy. I have repeatedly said that the US is a one-party state with two factions that can be labeled Democrats and Republican. This one party is united in its pro-war and pro-business policies, and its two factions differ only on some social issues (abortion, gay rights). And even there the differences are getting less. The Democrats have been giving only lukewarm support to the needs of their pro-choice and gay rights supporters.

The history of the US bears out this fundamental unity of aims of the two parties. Wars have been initiated and supported by both parties. When it comes to doing favors for the financial and business interests that give their parties so much money, the two parties fall over themselves to see who can be more obliging. Obama periodically makes speeches excoriating Wall Street bankers and threatening them with the prospect of even more speeches if they don't behave, while at the same time doing nothing concrete to rein in their recklessness or greed. Of course, the bankers know that this is all a show to placate the masses. So they obligingly act chastened while smirking over the fact that they effectively control the President and the government's economic policies.

If any doubts remained that the US is indeed a one party state, the election in 2008 of Barack Obama as president and of solid Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, and the subsequent policies pursued by them should, as I will argue in subsequent posts, put those doubts to rest.

POST SCRIPT: Jon Stewart nails what's annoying about Palin

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