Saturday, August 11, 2012

False Savior: Barack Obama (Part 2)

"My heart is filled with love for this country."

------- Barack Obama

Ever eager to help swindling financiers, he interrupted his 2008 presidential campaign to rush back to Washington and help rescue Bush's bailout, salvaging some of the most venal and corrupt enterprises on Wall Street while shielding their executives from prosecution, only to be later held in contempt by those he had rescued. Then after winning the election, he remained silent about Israel's latest mass murder campaign in the Gaza Strip (Operation Cast Lead), because "there is only one president." In other words, one moral coward at a time in the Oval Office, and no kibitzing, please.

For those still struggling with the "puzzle" of the president's descent from "King of Hope" to "Obummer," it might be worth recalling that Obama never was the great shining liberal so many mistook him for. Early in his career, Obama worked with Chicago slumlords on public housing initiatives that evicted the black poor in order to garner profits via gentrification. The eternally inconvenient poor were consigned to rat-infested apartments without heat. Today, after a full term of "hope you can believe in," forty-six million Americans live below the federal poverty line, an all-time record. Take that, gullible idealists.

No one should have been surprised. In The Audacity of Hope, Obama praises Ronald Reagan as a "transformative figure," which he certainly was, though not in the sense meant by Obama, whose account fails to mention that Reagan's policies demolished Central America, Southern Africa, and much of the Middle East, while attacking labor, the middle class, and the poor at home, all part of an immensely successful effort to enrich the already obscenely wealthy at the expense of everyone else. He has also long praised Clinton's "welfare reform" as a bipartisan policy triumph, though it plunged a million more American children into poverty (the U.S. already had the highest child poverty rate in the industrial world) and deprived the poor of $28 billion in food assistance. Obama admires both of these men.

His lone legislative achievement is a health care "reform" bill designed to expand the profits of the Health Mafia Organizations, while cutting hundreds of billions of dollars out of already underfunded Medicare, and leaving some twenty million plus Americans without any medical insurance at all. The fact that the administrative costs of Medicare are only four percent, whereas private insurers have administrative costs over 20%, didn't induce Obama to propose extending Medicare for all. [And Medicare doesn't make money by denying people care like the HMOs do.] In fact, in public discussions of health care Obama deliberately excluded advocates of Medicare For All.

Since Obamacare is his proudest achievement, can we really be surprised that he put Medicare and Social Security on the table to be cut, and extended the Bush tax cuts for the rich?

Perhaps his inner progressive is being unfairly held in check by the new Tea Party Congress? Well, that would mean that we could find evidence of progressive achievement when Obama had a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in both houses. Except we can't. Only a tiny fraction of his stimulus bill was directed at job creation, and though badly needed, no broad stimulus is planned or contemplated. Instead, in a time of deep recession, Obama has pushed deficit-reduction, cutting government services rather than repealing Bush's tax cuts for the rich. [Although erroneously described in the business press as massive public investment, Obama's spending plan was in fact tepid and miniscule, loaded with business-friendly tax cuts and short on immediate public works jobs.] At the same time, he expanded the bailout of the Wall Street swindlers, implemented an auto bailout that raided union pension funds and rewarded capital flight, undermined carbon emission reduction efforts at the climate talks in Copenhagen, declined to advance public works programs to check soaring unemployment, escalated strip-mining and deep water oil drilling, ignored his promises to help labor, and appointed a Deficit Reduction Commission headed by sworn enemies of Social Security. On the foreign policy front, he escalated war in South Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan), continued the Iraq war long past the date he promised to end it, demolished Libya with the help of Al Qaeda, attacked Yemen and Somalia, passed a record Pentagon budget, used "humanitarian relief" as a pretext to expand the U.S. occupation of Haiti, aided and abetted coup governments in Honduras and Paraguay, and expanded U.S. imperial domination in death-squad ridden Colombia. His attitude towards those who dared oppose such policies was succinctly expressed by his then Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emmanuel, who referred to progressive critics of Obama policies as "fucking retards." Keep this in mind the next time an Obama apologist tries to pin exclusive blame for the coarsening of American political discourse on the Republicans.

After stating in his Nobel acceptance speech that he wanted to make nuclear disarmament the centerpiece of his foreign policy, Obama completely betrayed his promises. He refused to adopt a policy of nuclear deterrence, and increased U.S. spending on nuclear weapons to record highs, calling for hundreds of billions of dollars of new investments in nuclear bombs - over $7 billion in 2011 alone. He proposed some $36 billion in new nuclear loan guarantees, this added to $18.5 billion set aside by the Bush administration, and oversaw an expansion of nuclear weapons facilities. Worse, his administration's continual use of the obnoxious phrase "all options are on the table" in matters dealing with Iran, made it clear he is willing to nuke the country in order to appease the Israel fanatics.

He proved equally enthusiastic about promoting nuclear power, the establishment's "green" answer to reliance on dirty coal. Under Obama's rule there has been an increase in permit and license requests for new uranium mines and nuclear power plants. And while Japan's Dai-Ichi nuclear complex was in triple-meltdown in Fukushima Obama went to Chile and called for expanded construction of Chilean nuclear power plants in the wake of a gargantuan earthquake there.

Again, this should not come as a surprise, as Obama has a history of weakening nuclear regulatory legislation dating back to his time as senator of Illinois. In 2006, then Senator Obama introduced the Nuclear Release Notice Act of 2006, which initially mandated that state and local officials be notified of unplanned radioactive discharge from a nuclear facility within 24 hours. This legislation came about because of an Exelon power plant in Braidwood Illinois (a town in Obama's district), which was leaking tritium into the groundwater. Public outcry forced Obama to get the bill moving, but he made significant changes (largely brought about by Exelron and the nuclear industry's strong opposition) that took much of the regulatory force out of the bill. Obama ultimately removed the language requiring the disclosure of radiation leaks by the nuclear industry, and the bill never got out of Congress. Exelron subsequently contributed $150,000 to Obama's 2008 campaign.

On labor issues, Obama has consistently sided with capital against working people. On the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made joining a union as easy as putting a check mark in a box, Obama handed the ball off to his Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, who offered concessions to business, and the bill was stillborn. More seriously, after promising to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, he reneged, leaving the poor to their own devices amidst the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. He chose Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, to be his jobs czar, (though GE has been offshoring jobs for decades), and anti-union Arne Duncan to be his Education Secretary, promoting charter over public schools while vilifying teachers and their unions. Meanwhile, Obama's Race to the Top initiative is a continuation of Bush's No Child Left Behind, which offers boot-camp style obedience schools for the poor, one in a long line of attempts to make them submit to animal training instead of education. [Obama is on record deploring the tendency of poor black men to "sire" children out of wedlock.] This treatment makes a military draft superfluous, since a continual supply of war recruits can be "drafted" informally from the bottom tier of the dismal public school system.

Candidate Obama said that he opposed cuts to Social Security, as well as privatization, and favored raising the cap on income subject to FICA taxation, which allows the rich to pay social security tax on only a tiny portion of their incomes. He also said he was opposed to appointing a social security commission. However, once in office he reversed course and said he was open to benefit cuts, and announced that he would appoint a deficit reduction social security commission.

On the economy, Obama has engineered a "recovery" with more economic misery in it than the initial stages of the Great Recession. In 2009 Obama proposed a $787 billion "stimulus package" to counteract recession - supposedly. But it was packed with tax cuts for business and short on labor-intensive projects that would have put the unemployed to work right away. And it went unmentioned that corporate America has been living off stimulus packages since WWII, without being condemned for sucking at the tit of the "nanny state." Is there any wonder why? These packages are laughably called "defense expenditures," always the largest item in the discretionary federal budget, and the national security state of which they are a part is now far and away the largest planned economy in the world, though none dare call it communism. These contracts come with guaranteed cost overruns and generate huge profits.

Is he the worst president in U.S. history? Very likely, but only until the next one arrives.

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