James Houle: Obama Runs for Cover

Redwood Valley

Obama Calls for Consensus in Post-Election Concession Speech: >(Reuters 11/03/10). President Barack Obama, chastened by the loss of at least one House of Congress, gave a sadly pathetic concession speech (11/03/10). “There are going to be areas of policy where we’re going to have to do a better job,” he conceded while asking for a consensus, one that has actually been missing now for two years. “No one party will be able to dictate where we go from here,” and called for both parties to work together. “No person, no party, has a monopoly on wisdom,” he added, ignoring the fact that a perpetual Republican filibuster in the Senate and their unwillingness even to suggest areas of compromise had all but closed down progress on the administration’s programs. Obama rejected the notion that the election results are a rejection of his policies, but of their results (is there some difference here?). “Voters are not satisfied with the outcomes,” he said. People “want jobs to come back faster, they want paychecks to go further”. When asked about how the government will create jobs, with at least the GOP making it clear they would support no more stimulus spending, he said there were areas to cut but not education, research and development, and investments in infrastructure. Then like what, Mr. President? This was no repeat of the “Give-em-hell Harry” who blamed the “Do-Nothing 80th Congress” in 1948 while campaigning for a full term as President. The 80th Congress had blocked his entire program after a Republican sweep in the 1946 mid-term elections and Harry made them pay for it when he upset the odds-on winner Thomas Dewey for the White House.

Blue Dogs Lose, Tea Party Makes Gains: An interview with L’Humanitite, Prof. Stanley Aronowitz (CCNY-10/30/10) explained Obama’s loss as follows: “The public believed the Democrats and Obama were going to solve problems of unemployment and health care. Now they find unemployment increasing and no relief on health care costs or coverage for another 4 years. People traditionally turn to the opposition party when the party in power disappoints.” Although people are being dispossessed of their homes and swindled by Wall Street, “They cannot express clearly their malaise, yet they know they do not have the democratic system they need and both parties seem in on the swindle”. Republicans throw them red meat excuses like “too much government”, “the Washington establishment”, “too many immigrants” and other classic scapegoats to distract them while 8 million families are threatened with foreclosure, when one out of 6 of the active population have no work, and the Congress shows no inclination to confront critical issues like stopping useless wars, cutting say 500 of the 800 overseas bases from our bloated defense budget, and make work projects repairing infrastructure. Only 40% of eligible citizens even bothered to vote this time and people question the viability of our government to solve anything. In response, the Tea Party and the Libertarians happily propose cutting back on government all together. Voters seemed truly tired of middle-of-the-road politicians like the Blue Dog Democrats: 14 out of 28 Blue Dogs lost their seats despite their corporate financing. While none of the 4 most vocal Tea Party candidates won, the Rasmussen poll estimated that half of the ‘mainstream Americans’ view the Tea Party favorably. (Op-Ed 11/17/10). Aronowitz feels that “we lack a charismatic figure who could drag along a more significant far-right movement”. “People rightly want answers and they are not getting them except from Tea Party and Libertarians voices that have coherence only if you are willing to enter into their world of irrationality and simplicity”. (Truthout- Noam Chomsky, 11/17/10). Chomsky quotes German historian Fritz Stern who warns of: “the repeat of a historic process in which resentment against a disenchanted secular world finds deliverance in the ecstatic escape of unreason”. (SoundS like Hitler’s 1933 Nuremberg rallies).

Guns to India: If your world is crashing down upon you, as Obama’s was last week, it sounded like a great time for a market tour of Asia, selling weapons, meeting other big world figures, and making grand speeches in front of a myriad of cameras. Thus, accompanied by some 250 business executives, the President flew to New Delhi and on to Jakarta, Indonesia as part of a twelve-day tour of Asia to boost U.S. exports. President Obama sealed some $15 billion in defense and trade deals with India that he said would create an additional 50,000 jobs in the United States: less than one third of one percent of our total out of work, and imagine if he could do this every single day, we would have the problem licked! Yes. India is now the world’s largest importer of weaponry, and the United States has been very keen to replace Russia in this market. You might think that selling $750 million of General Electric jet engines and a Harley Davidson motorcycle plant to a country where 40% live in extreme poverty on less than $1.00 per day sounds like a cruel joke. No projects were advanced for the destitute cotton farmers driven out of business by subsidized US cotton imports, for the still struggling survivors of the Bhopal cyanide asphyxiation engineered by Union Carbide/Dow Chemical, nor for small farmers being crowded out by the Monsanto and Cargil plans for expensive fertilized and irrigated agriculture they cannot afford. The US administration has seemingly put little pressure upon India to try and settle the Kashmir question and allow free elections after 60 years in this area that India rules but which is predominantly moslem in population. Rather than address some of these other issues, the United States has sponsored a massive trade mission to arm India to the teeth in competition with Pakistan, whom we also arm. Does this sound confusing? Just wait, Hillary will explain it all to us in due course.

More Shock-Troops To Indonesia: During a nostalgic visit in Indonesia, where he had lived 4 years as a boy, it was revealed that the Obama administration had already lifted a 12-year funding ban for the training of the notorious Indonesian military unit known as Kopassus. These Special Forces Units have been involved in scores of human rights abuses in East Timor, in Aceh, in Papua and Java since its formation in the 1950s. In 1991 in East Timor, Kopassus shock troops led the attack at the local cemetery called the Santa Cruz massacre, in which Indonesian forces killed more than 270 Timorese. While both Clinton and Bush had tried at least to get Indonesia’s military to restrain these notorious special forces, Obama seems either ignorant or totally unconcerned about their activities.

G-20 Shoots Him Down in Seoul:
The G20 summit of leading economies held in Seoul, South Korea concluded Friday without any agreement on policies to bridge differences over global currency and trade issues that have grown increasingly bitter in recent weeks. President Barack Obama failed to obtain a ‘consensus’ (that Obama word again) to demand that China allow its currency, the renminbi (yuan), to appreciate more rapidly (WSWS 11/13/10) But the US continued to defend its policy of creating 600 billion fiat dollars, dismissing complaints from countries ranging from Germany, Japan and China to Brazil, Thailand and South Africa that Washington is deliberately devaluing the dollar in order to obtain a trade advantage over its competitors. The US cheap-dollar policy that the Federal Reserve calls “quantitative easing” in effect prints electronic dollars to purchase US Treasury and various bundled securities. The flood of US dollars is driving up the exchange rates of major exporters as well as of more rapidly growing emerging economies in Latin America, Asia and Africa. The Fed’s policy is generating waves of speculative money that are destabilizing the emerging economies, creating asset bubbles and the danger of rapid inflation.

In response to China’s accusation that the US had engaged in currency manipulation, Mr. Obama accused Beijing of intervening aggressively to keep its currency below market value to promote exports. He said it was a mistake for nations to think that “their path to prosperity is paved simply with exports to the United States.” “Precisely because of China’s success, it’s very important that it act in a responsible fashion internationally”. While our own Treasury Department has certified that China is not a “currency manipulator,” a designation that can prompt Congressional trade action, Mr. Obama declared: “The yuan is undervalued and China spends enormous amounts of money intervening in the market to keep it undervalued.” In response, President Hu Jintao of China chastised Obama:(11/11/10 Beijing Dow Jones) “Nations that issue the world’s key reserve currencies should adopt responsible policies and keep exchange rates relatively stable.” Score two points for China!

Confers With the Great Buddha of Kamakura: After his Korean setbacks, the President conferred with the 44 ft high Buddha he had last visited when 6 years old. He was making his final stop at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Yokohama. The results of the forum were inconclusive. The transcript of his conversation with the Buddha was not released.

Afghan War Gets Four More Years:
When President Obama jumped into the Afghan War with both feet in 2009, it was sold to the American public as a massive escalation with the promise that we would start withdrawal in July 2011. (Jason Ditz, Antiwar 11/11/10). Only President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and a few minions have kept up the pretense of a 2011 withdrawal these past 10 months while Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton and Mike Mullin and some NATO allies have all cited 2014 as the key date for handing over defense of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves (NYTimes 11/10/2010). In fact, a number of officials actually expect the war to last well into the next decade – like 2021? All of this notwithstanding, Obama still insisted, just prior to his Asian fly-away, that July 2011 will be the start of withdrawal and Biden said “we could count on it – Harrumph”. An anonymous senior administration official barefacedly insisted that “There’s not really any change, but what we’re trying to do is get past that July 2011 obsession so that people can see what the president’s strategy really entails”. We are all mystified by the feeling that no one is at the helm and anyone can come up with a date and run it around the White House parking lot for a day or two and see who salutes it. As an example, US Special Ambassador Richard Holbrooke raised a few eyebrows when he announced on Nov. 14th that the withdrawal from Afghanistan would begin -in July 2011 and that the war would be over by 2014. The next day Holbrooke seems to have changed his mind insisting that there is absolutely no “exit strategy” for the nearly decade long Afghan War and assuring us that 2014 would not be the end of the international occupation of Afghanistan either.

Conclusion: This is an administration in disarray, and it didn’t take the President flying of to Asia for 12 days to prove it. The Pentagon wants nothing to do with a reduction of force in the Middle East and South East Asia. This military presence is their ‘raison d’etre’ and fuels a continuing need for weapons, plans, drones and war materiel from their buddies, the armaments industry. ‘Hey -if we ain’t got a war, who needs us?’ Further, the stationing of 100,000 US and 40 to 50,000 NATO forces in Afghanistan certainly makes it easy to invade Pakistan when that failed state dissolves in chaos.

Not Returning in Triumph: Flying back to the “homeland”, as we now call our 50 states in a chilling steal from Nazi terminology, President Obama is confronted by: (1) the Pentagon and his own White House openly espousing at least a three or more year extension to the Afghan War, (2) a strong Republican effort to extend Bush 2001-2003 tax cuts for the rich indefinitely, (3) his Deficit Commission now moving towards making people work another two years before getting the Social Security benefits they have already paid for out of their salary checks, (4) the Justice Department announcement that no one, repeat no one, in the CIA would be prosecuted for having destroyed torture tapes, although destroying evidence is a felony under US law; and (5) George W. Bush grabbing the spotlight to admit, with a smirk and a wink, not only his approval of water-boarding but his pleasure at the results. (We executed Japanese after WWII for water-boarding US soldiers but now both Bush and Cheney escape similar accountability for the same action). Obama shows distaste at prosecuting anyone involved in such acts. Balls! Obama is moving inexorably towards a one-term presidency while we are shocked by the incoherence of those who would now deign to represent the unemployed and the disenchanted.


Houle concludes, “This is an administration in disarray,” yet the article clearly enumerates the stops on a shopping trip, so to speak, carried out by the chief operative of the ruling powers, with every item on his list successfully checked off. Does anyone cognizant of political reality think that Obama’s agenda is anything other than serving the will of his supra-national masters?

Todd, you are correct – Obama is indeed doing his best to serve the interests of his masters in the corporate and financial spheres Yet, they are already indicating uneasiness with his shakey hand on the tiller. As the corporate money moved from McCann to the Dems in 2008 and from Hillary to Obama, so we may be seeing the first movement of corporate support for 2012 again shifting to the sure thing, the reliable winner, and it may not be Obama this time. Could it be Michael Bloomberg? Is there anyone representing the Tea Baggers that the big power brokers could control and contain? How about a General Petraeus type? Fun to watch, if it doesn’t make you sick. Jim Houle

jonathan middlebrook November 23, 2010 at 9:16 am

Can’t miss a chance to ask my favorite rhetorical and political question, “Is American-style voting democratic?”–It’s a self-evident truth that it’s not. The radical Roberts court’s decision in Citizens United is only the most recent insult to representative democracy.

Since we now have a globalized free market competition for the purchase of congresspeople, treasonously abetted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, what’s We the People to do?

Second of all (first o.a. in a moment), abandon voting as our selection system. The grifters have figured it out–as in the course of human events they figure out every system. Hence, Jefferson’s sanguine formula for fertilizing the tree of liberty.

First of all, decide that we really want a truly representative democracy. That desire is not at all self evident. It clearly wasn’t self-evident to our founding youngsters in 1787–they designed the U.S. Senate to throttle representative democracy (or the Passions of the People, as they would have soft-cored and capitalized their scare tactic).

–But representative democracy is by no means a self-evident goal at some of the most delightful dinner tables in Mendocino County–“Sounds like Jury Duty” “There’s the problem of lack of education” “You’d get potheads””Who has the time?” . . . I sometimes add, “Yes, and there’d be the problem of women, 52% give or take a few percentage points.”

But can representative democracy be worse than a system in which Sarah Palin’s vote for senator is 430 times more potent (manned up, made-up, Alaska-averse Mama Grizzly that she is) than each Californian’s vote for senator?

–Possibly it’s now time to revolutionize a bit. (This is 3rd of all.) If we want to try out representative democracy, how do we get it? I suggest we try the Athenian approach–a lottery among all registered voters. (Athenians lotterized all citizens, but I suggest no slavish imitation of a democracy whose slave population outnumbered its citizen population 10 to 1. I respect anyone’s right not to register, for anything.)

–In Mendocino County, whose voting population is about the same size as the Athenian citizenry, we could make a demonstration project in representative democracy. Replace the Board of Supes, and their interesting billing habits, with a lottery-drawn legislature (50-100 people, one term/decade) to make our laws, hire-review-rehire-or-fire senior county administrators, who would work under 5-year contracts, retirement benefits to accrue after several renewals.

–A few glitches to work out, but if not the last best hope for representative democracy, at least an interesting one.

“All voting is a form of gaming” (Thoreau)

“(3) his Deficit Commission now moving towards making people work another two years before getting the Social Security benefits they have already paid for out of their salary checks,”

I don’t meant to be an argumentative hair-splitter, because I do support the idea of Social Security, Medicare-for-all, and most social safety nets, but the above quote reflects a common misperception about the nature of the Social Security program, which is actually a Ponzi-style construction. Eventual failure is built into the scheme. Like the County retirement system.

The money we pay into Social Security is not earmarked and set aside for our own personal use later on. It goes into a general fund to pay the current recipients (or is “borrowed” for other government expenses). For instance, the very first beneficiary of Social Security was Ida May Fuller, who paid a total of $24.75 in contributions, and collected $22,888.92 in benefits over 35 years. A 1000x multiplier – not bad! How long can that go on? The plan will work for a while in an ever-growing economy with a fortuitous demographic, but those days are fast fading. The eventual problem is obvious. The solution, especially in the current environment, not so much.

    It’s certainly *not* a Ponzi scheme. “A Ponzi scheme is a *fraudulent* investment operation that pays returns to separate investors from their own money or money paid by subsequent investors, rather than from any actual profit earned. The Ponzi scheme usually entices new investors by offering returns other investments cannot guarantee, in the form of short-term returns that are either abnormally high or unusually consistent. The perpetuation of the returns that a Ponzi scheme advertises and pays requires an ever-increasing flow of money from investors to keep the scheme going. The system is destined to collapse because the earnings, if any, are less than the payments to investors.” That, in no way, describes Social Security!

I don’t think the oligarchy would be comfortable with a military man as president, not yet anyway, perhaps because the military experience demands a certain authenticity in its practitioners that civilian charlatans need not concern themselves with, which is why we haven’t had a general become president since Eisenhower. Colin Powell, for example, was a bad liar, though he tried his best to lie convincingly. At this moment, I have the feeling the overlords would like Obama to remain our figurehead until 2016 because he does their bidding extremely well while protesting otherwise, continues the useful illusion of there being two parties, and sets up easy Republican wins every two years. But things may get so bad economically that they have to replace him with a man of few words, a white man with perhaps a trace of latino in his bloodline, though not a complete imbecile as W was. In any case, the continuing collapse is horribly fascinating and sad.

jonathan middlebrook November 23, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Izzy, Social Security is not a ponzi scheme. It’s a societal insurance plan. That is, we all pay, but not into individual savings or investment accounts. Rather, we individually make a bet, a bet that we’ll get more money out of the plan than we put in.

Some of us, like your Ida May Fuller, win big. Others, who die before they receive any payout, lose big. Most of us receive more money than we actually pay in, and also get some very modest protection against the economic and financial shenanigans of globalized high rollers.

Social Security, like any other insurance plan–though with more transparency than say, freely enterprising AIG–has to change its premiums, based on actuarial projections. (It does NOT, like AIG & the other Wall Street hoodlums, have to pay CEOs and sell stock.)

The last time Social Security did change its premiums based on actuarial projections was in Jimmy Carter’s presidency. At that time, Word was that the change would last about 40 years. Word was accurate. Current Word is that removing the cap on income subject to Social Security tax from its current level (I think about $100 k.–more than I ever earned)and increasing premiums by about 3% will put Social Security on sound footing for another 40 years or so. Glad I have it.

–Todd, Do you think that one reason we do not have a military junta (yet) is that the military does not need one, since We the Peeps give the military all it asks for, including ‘socialized’ medicine?

–Both of you write interesting comments!



Eisenhower suggested we were on our way to having a military junta in 1959, otherwise known as the military industrial complex, and to beware. And when one looks at those pie charts showing where most of our tax dollars go, the folks making and deploying weaponry seem to always get the lion’s share.