Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The "Hope" & the Reality: Obama--talking head pimp (or is that whore?) for corporate America

Been busy with Spring, so not many posts. Lots of birds and garden chores to keep me away from the blog, and besides, things have been going to hell in a hand-basket so quickly that I couldn't possibly keep up! Not that I haven't collected probably hundreds of articles to post and comment on--just no time. Below are a few about our savior Barack Obama, without comment. Will post some info on birds later. In the mean time, see my Flickr Photostream.

In This Issue:

- A Presidency in Peril
- Confirmed: Obama Authorizes Assassination of U.S. Citizen
- The Cowboy President
- Obama the Ping-Pong Populist
- The 'Obama Doctrine': Kill, Don't Detain
- US troops executing prisoners in Afghanistan


Before the 2008 election, I tried to warn my so-called "progressive" and "liberal" acquaintances that Obama's advisor appointments and financial donors spelled doom for the "Hope and Change" rhetoric he espoused. I was roundly criticized for not giving him a chance. Well he's had his chance, and what you see is what you get.

A Presidency in Peril: Warnings from Robert Kuttner

Dean Baker
TPMCafé, May 4, 2010

Like most progressives, Robert Kuttner had great hopes following President Obama's election in 2008. However, Kuttner also has been around long enough to realize the risk that President Obama might not live up to his potential in bringing about progressive change. His new book, A Presidency in Peril, documents how the Obama Administration has been falling short.

The basic story is both straightforward and depressing. President Obama surrounded himself with advisers that were close to Wall Street and business in general. This undoubtedly reflected his disposition; he had always been a political moderate. However, it was also partly determined by his political backers. Wall Street's generosity with campaign contributions was an essential part of his rise to the top of the Democratic field in the presidential primaries. This guaranteed that Obama would pursue a cautious business-friendly path.

Much of the book focuses on the response to the economic crisis, in particular the bank bailouts and the stimulus. In both cases Obama took a centrist path that that largely protected the interests of the wealthy. This is most clear in the case of the bank bailout. In the closing weeks of the presidential campaign Obama took time out to push for the TARP, a huge wad of money for the banks that came largely without strings. After TARP, the bailouts continued, with Citigroup and Bank of America nursed back to life thanks to the generosity of the taxpayers.

By contrast, the government could have taken a hard line, temporarily taking over insolvent banks, including these giants. This would have wiped out shareholders. It also would have meant giving bondholders a haircut, and sending the top executives packing. While this route was derisively termed "nationalization," including by some top Obama officials, the point was not to have the government own the banks. Rather the point was to do a quick clean-up operation that would involve selling the banks, possibly in smaller pieces, back to the private sector as soon as possible.

The Obama Administration has boasted that its path prevented a second Great Depression and has allowed for most of the bailout money to be repaid. Of course, avoiding a second Great Depression is a rather low bar (this spectre was an invention of the Wall Street crew - it was never a serious possibility) and repaying the bailout money is essentially meaningless.

By telling private markets that it would support Citigroup and Bank of America in spite of their insolvent state, the government was giving these corporations a gift of enormous value. (Imagine that the federal government announced that it would guarantee all the debts of a corner lemonade stand. The lemonade stand could make billions from this guarantee.) Their profits are really just a portion of the dividend they received from this fairly explicit government guarantee. In other words, we gave them the money they used to repay us.

Kuttner points out that the stimulus was woefully unambitious and inadequate. The amount that they requested from Congress was only a bit more than half as large as Obama's top economists felt was necessary. Of course, they ended up with even less as Congress pared back the request. The result is that the unemployment rate is still close to 10 percent and is not projected to return to near full employment until 2016.

Kuttner also attacks the administration's strategy on health care. He argues that there were major failings of both timing and approach. On timing he argued that Obama would have been better off waiting until he established a record of accomplishment to give him the standing to press his case. On approach, he criticizes Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel for taking an approach that involved cutting deals with the major business interests at the onset. This limited the opportunity for cost savings and therefore meant that the resulting health care plans would still be expensive for middle-income families.

In the wake of the bill's passage (after the book went into print), a bit more generosity might be appropriate here. The bill will extend coverage to 30 million people who did not have it. And it will give the rest of us real insurance, since we will still be able to get coverage if a serious illness causes us to lose our jobs and our insurance. But, Kuttner is absolutely right that the bill does not come close to fixing the health care system. We will have to go back and discipline the drug industry, the insurance industry, the hospital lobby and the other bad guys in the medical-industrial complex or we will end up with a health care bill that bankrupts the government and the country.

Kuttner's book does not give much cause for optimism. We are sitting in the middle of the worst downturn since the Great Depression listening to Robert Rubin lecture us about the need to cut Medicare and Social Security. Given that Rubin earned more than $100 million from the mortgage games that sank Citigroup, and set the economy on a glide path to disaster as Treasury Secretary, there is something seriously wrong with this picture.

However, we have real populist anger that will not go away as long as the economy is being run for the benefit of Wall Street. We also have the benefit of the Internet, which makes it impossible for the elites to shut out populist arguments in the way they did 20 years ago. This is not much to go up against the near infinite money commanded by the Wall Street crew and their lackeys, but it's a start. It also sometimes helps to be right.

Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of False Profits: Recovering from the Bubble Economy. He also has a blog, "Beat the Press," where he discusses the media's coverage of economic issues.

Confirmed: Obama Authorizes Assassination of U.S. Citizen

By Glenn Greenwald

April 08, 2010

In late January, I wrote about the Obama administration's "presidential assassination program," whereby American
citizens are targeted for killings far away from any battlefield, based exclusively on unchecked accusations by the Executive Branch that they're involved in Terrorism. At the time, The Washington Post's Dana Priest had noted deep in a long article that Obama had continued Bush's policy (which Bush never actually implemented) of having the Joint Chiefs of Staff compile "hit lists" of Americans, and Priest suggested that the American-born Islamic cleric Anwar al- Awlaki was on that list. The following week, Obama's Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, acknowledged in Congressional testimony that the administration reserves the "right" to carry out such assassinations.

Today, both The New York Times and The Washington Post confirm that the Obama White House has now expressly authorized the CIA to kill al-Alwaki no matter where he is found, no matter his distance from a battlefield. I wrote at length about the extreme dangers and lawlessness of allowing the Executive Branch the power to murder U.S. citizens far away from a battlefield (i.e., while they're sleeping, at home, with their children, etc.) and with no due process of any kind. I won't repeat those arguments -- they're here and here -- but I do want to highlight how unbelievably Orwellian and tyrannical this is in light of these new articles today.

Just consider how the NYT reports on Obama's assassination order and how it is justified:

The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them, intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday. . . .

American counterterrorism officials say Mr. Awlaki is an operative of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate of the terror network in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They say they believe that he has become a recruiter for the terrorist network, feeding prospects into plots aimed at the United States and at Americans abroad, the officials said.

It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing
, officials said. A former senior legal official in the administration of George W. Bush said he did not know of any
American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president. . . .

See link above for rest of article.

The Cowboy President

By Yvonne Ridley

April 11, 2010 "Information Clearing House" --

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA has reached a new level in its discredited War on Terror just when we thought it could not sink any lower.

And what makes this even more tragic is that the new depths being plumbed are on the express orders of Barack Obama
… a US President who promised the world so much and has delivered on so little.

That he is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient makes this all the more shocking.

President Obama has authorized the assassination of a Muslim scholar by the name of Anwar al-Awlaki. But what is really breath-taking is that Al-Awlaki is an American citizen, born in Las Cruces in the state of New Mexico of Yemeni parents.

He has now become the first US citizen placed on a targetted killing list. His nationality should not really be an issue because in the eyes of most right minded people extra-judicial killing is wrong, it is an action which puts the killer above he law – and no one, not even the President of the United States should think himself above the law.

Wasn’t Obama supposed to be more principled than his predecessor?

See link above for rest of article.
British journalist and author Yvonne Ridley is also a patron of the London-based human rights NGO Cageprisoners -

Wall Street Reform: Obama the Ping-Pong Populist
David Corn

Call President Obama a ping-pong populist. Throughout the entire tussle over Wall Street reform, he has shifted back and forth between angrily bashing the big banks and presenting himself as a responsible reformer who merely wants to revise the rules of the road for Wall Street's own benefit.

Last month, when he spoke at Cooper Union in New York City and decried the "battalions of financial industry lobbyists descending on Capitol Hill" to weaken or kill the financial reform legislation now being debated in the Senate, Obama named no names and did what politicians often do when they describe how special interests game Washington: He stayed vague. A week later, as Senate Republicans were threatening to block the Wall Street reform measure from reaching a vote, I asked press secretary Robert Gibbs if the White House believed the GOP was in league with Wall Street to thwart the bill. Gibbs wouldn't take the bait. "You know where the president stands on moving forward with this legislation," he said. That is, he passed up the chance to rail against the GOP for being the handmaidens of Big Finance. For weeks, Obama had implied that, but Gibbs wouldn't even go that far. Of course, real populists don't imply.
See link above for rest of article.

The 'Obama Doctrine': Kill, Don't Detain

George Bush left a big problem in the shape of Guantánamo. The solution? Don't capture bad guys, assassinate by drone

By Asim Qureshi

April 12, 2010 "The Guardian" --

In 2001, Charles Krauthammer first coined the phrase "Bush Doctrine", which would later become associated most significantly with the legal anomaly known as pre-emptive strike. Understanding the doctrine with hindsight could lead to a further understanding of the legacy that the former administration left – the choice to place concerns of national security over even the most entrenched norms of due process and the rule of law. It is, indeed, this doctrine that united people across the world in their condemnation of Guantánamo Bay.

The ambitious desire to close Guantánamo hailed the coming of a new era, a feeling implicitly recognised by the Nobel peace prize that President Obama received. Unfortunately, what we witnessed was a false dawn. The lawyers for the Guantánamo detainees with whom I am in touch in the US speak of their dismay as they prepare for Obama to do the one thing they never expected – to send the detainees back to the military commissions – a decision that will lose Obama all support he once had within the human rights community.

Worse still, a completely new trend has emerged that, in many ways, is more dangerous than the trends under Bush. Extrajudicial killings and targeted assassinations will soon become the main point of contention that Obama's administration will need to justify. Although Bush was known for his support for such policies, the extensive use of drones under Obama have taken the death count well beyond anything that has been seen before.

See Link Above for rest of article

US Troops Executing Prisoners in Afghanistan: Seymour Hersh

By David Edwards

May 12, 2010 "Rawstory" -- The journalist who helped break the story that detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were being tortured by their US jailers told an audience at a journalism conference last month that American soldiers are now executing prisoners in Afghanistan.

New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh also revealed that the Bush Administration had developed advanced plans for a military strike on Iran.

At the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Geneva, Hersh criticized President Barack Obama, and alleged that US forces are engaged in "battlefield executions."

"I'll tell you right now, one of the great tragedies of my country is that Mr. Obama is looking the other way, because equally horrible things are happening to prisoners, to those we capture in Afghanistan," Hersh said. "They're being executed on the battlefield. It's unbelievable stuff going on there that doesn't necessarily get reported. Things don't change.:

"What they've done in the field now is, they tell the troops, you have to make a determination within a day or two or so whether or not the prisoners you have, the detainees, are Taliban," Hersh added. "You must extract whatever tactical intelligence you can get, as opposed to strategic, long-range intelligence, immediately. And if you cannot conclude they're Taliban, you must turn them free.

"What it means is, and I've been told this anecdotally by five or six different people, battlefield executions are taking place," he continued. "Well, if they can't prove they're Taliban, bam. If we don't do it ourselves, we turn them over to the nearby Afghan troops and by the time we walk three feet the bullets are flying. And that's going on now."

The video of Hersh was uploaded to Michael Moore's YouTube account Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hersh has a long history as an investigative journalist and worked for many years at The New York Times. In 1969, he broke the story of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

Billy Bragg and Wilco-- "The Unwelcome Guest"
By Woodie Guthrie