Monday, May 04, 2009

President Obama: Reflections Upon the First 100 Days

The victory of Obama’s campaign over the hysterical, reactionary, rabid and racist elements of the McCain-Palin campaign came with an indescribable sense of joy, relief and validation to innumerable people (myself included) and celebration was justifiable. However, with the election also came a sort of intoxication and as with any intoxicant there were blinding effects (such as that Obama represented real, substantive change rather than mere cosmetic alterations and improvements). I along with everyone on the left worthy of mention knew and predicted ahead of time that real substantive change was not going to be freely offered by Obama over and above the will and power of the corporate business world (with the backing of the federal state system) without serious, organized and sustained grass-roots mobilization.

Any self-delusion that Obama was going to introduce sweeping and substantive change immediately dissipated when he began to assemble his administration. His economic team almost down the line are all former Clinton personnel, the very same people who helped to orchestrate the gross deregulation of the financial system that sunk the world economy. “Summers, Bernanke, Geithner, Furman, Rattner…what are they, if not the long-caricatured ‘executive committee of the bourgeoisie’?” Mike Davis rhetorically asks. Obama has pledged billions and trillions of dollars to help bailout and rescue the private banking system, continuing a central policy of Washington: socialism for the rich and free-market discipline for the poor.

In a society that values social justice a failed banking system run by corruption, well connected insiders, avarice and deceit wouldn’t be rewarded by their gross failure – which has resulted in millions of people being thrown out of their homes and into the streets by the very same hucksters who fished them into shyster deals, while those hucksters are now being rescued and even given bonuses by the very public they swindled – with public subsidy (the public paying trillions of dollars in order to save the shadowy banking system and those who helped to destroy it).
Instead, everyone who was in a position of private and managerial power within the banking industry, within the failed banks, would be rightfully fired, replaced by those whose capital was rescuing the system (the public). The public has paid, they should now own. The banking industry in any sane and fair society would be fully nationalized (rather than forcing the public to pay for the banks losses while keeping those who were responsible for the losses in their positions of management and power, those responsible for the losses should be either fired or indicted or both and managerial power should be in the hands of those who came to the rescue). However, Obama and his team of free-market fundamentalist Clinton carry-overs are doing nothing of the like, quite the opposite. They are doing precisely what you would expect those who are part of the failed system and responsible for its failure to do: saving their own interests and the interests of their connections and associates (simply review Paulson’s Goldman Sachs connections and the way in which he decided who was to be bailed out and rescued: read, who were his friends and accomplices? The same holds for Geithner as well as the rest of the usual suspects).

While Obama’s horrific position within the economic realm may be the most blatant, it certainly isn’t unique among his positions. Militarily Obama has committed the country to possibly even more war than McCain. Obama has certainly crossed over, very quickly and without hesitation, to the imperial ambitions of state: in Afghanistan and Pakistan, most conspicuously, as elsewhere. With his decision to keep at the helm Robert Gates, Obama has signaled that he doesn’t intend to substantively alter Washington’s imperial and hegemonic foreign policy; it may now have a more diplomatic and gentler quality about it – changes may be made, progress may occur – but it remains militant and ruthless nonetheless and holds onto the general ideology that begins from the absurd and violent premise that the United States owns the world. Obama represents and has assumed the “realist” tradition within the government, the very same tradition that is responsible for an almost infinite index of invasions, occupations and international terrorist actions. No one should be surprised when Afghanistan and Pakistan turn into an even worse nightmare of atrocities. Obama has adopted the Bush Doctrine that the United States can and should wantonly bomb Pakistan (there have been a slew of such bombings). As Noam Chomsky observed on Democracy Now!: “There has been for example a great deal of chaos and fighting in Bajaur province, which is adjacent to Afghanistan and tribal leaders – others there – have traced it to the bombing of a madrassa school which killed 80 to 95 people, which I don’t think was even reported in the United States, it was reported in the Pakistani press of course.”

Obama’s silence on Israel’s terrorism in Gaza – as well as his appointing for Chief of staff, Rham Emmanuel (who, among many other horrors, helped set a record for supporting Tel Aviv’s political assassinations of Palestinians) – outside of being a moral disgrace also serves as yet more evidence of heinous continuity. His treatment of the Middle East generally is yet to prove much different from any of his predecessors as well as his treatment of Latin America. While the left in the South remain open to normalizing relations with the United States – Chavez, Morales, etcetera – Morales points out that “[i]n Bolivia… one doesn’t feel any change. The policy of conspiracy continues,” and he says this within the context of a brutal opposition in Bolivia (an opposition of corrupt, dangerous, ultra-right, protofascist party leaders and wealthy corporate CEOs and so on over and against the populace, many supported by the CIA) that has recently even plotted to assassinate Morales and secede from the state.

While thankfully repudiating the criminal and internationally illegal use of torture methods used in the Inquisitions and as prosecuted by the United States when used by the Khmer Rouge and others, Obama has left open whether or not any Bush administration officials (such as the moral slug of a former attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, who referred to the content of the Geneva Conventions in relation to torture as “quaint,” as I pointed out in my post about humanism and the occupation of Iraq) will even ever be prosecuted; once again proving that the “rule of law” is in reality the rule of concentrated capital and power and it is a real shame (although it was predicted by everyone on the left worthy of mention) that Obama has assumed the leading role in such rule.
While repudiating the use of torture, Obama plans to continue the system of military commission trials for some Guantanamo prisoners. As Tom Eley reports: “The articles, which are based on anonymous White House sources, and statements by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Attorney General Eric Holder appear designed to prepare public opinion for a revival of the trials, which were temporarily suspended in an order issued by Obama on the day of his inauguration. The suspension is due to end May 20.
In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday, Gates was asked whether the Guantánamo military commission system would be shut down, to which he responded, ‘not at all,’ and added that ‘the commissions are very much still on the table.’
At a news conference last week, Holder said that ‘it may be difficult for some of those high-value detainees to be tried in a normal federal court.’”
As for the big ado about Obama’s war budget and the significant cuts called for, there is little substance behind the smoke screen. As Jeff Leys writes: “At first glance, it is easy to conclude that the proposed 22 percent reduction in war spending from 2008 to 2009 represents a significant shift in war strategy and is indicative of a drawing down of the twin wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sadly, such a conclusion would be wrong…In October 2006, England [Deputy Secretary of Defense] directed the military to submit spending requests to not only cover the incremental costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also to include any new costs attributed to the so-called “long war on terror”.
Procurement appropriations exploded, jumping from $22.9 billion in 2006 (the fiscal year immediately prior to England’s directive) to $45.4 billion in 2007 (the first fiscal year under the new directive), and then to $64.9 billion in 2008.
Thus, it is likely that the reduction in Procurement monies to be appropriated in 2009 simply reflects a reversal of England’s directive, with a shift back to a more normative budgetary process which seeks to limit new “emergency” procurement requests to those incremental costs directly related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than being reflective of significant shifts in the direction of the overall war strategy.”

There are also the myriad of issues upon which Obama has staked out a triangulatory opportunist, compromised and intolerable position: gay marriage rights, single-payer nationalized healthcare, possibly even EFCA and so on. As Patrick Martin writes: "The wage cuts imposed on auto workers at Chrysler and General Motors at the insistence of the Obama administration demonstrate the class strategy that American big business as a whole is carrying out: to impose a reduction in the living standards of American workers on a scale unprecedented since the Great Depression."

It is now the task of everyone concerned for social justice, freedom and equality to oppose such unjust policy, to offer, demand and work towards more just alternatives where people are not lorded over and huckstered by elite, well connected insiders and highly concentrated capital, where promises of change do not amount to mere cosmetic redecorating and general continuity and where the interests that dominate are not those of the rich and well connected few (corporations, conglomerates, corporate paid and supported political lackeys and corrupt and failed banks and all those subservient to said power), but rather by the many through direct forms of democracy creating in embryo what is to be the future just society while at the same time putting pressure on President Obama, the Congress, the Courts and so on to support real, effective, substantive change.