Saturday Reads

Good Morning!!

President Obama has left the country again. He was in Lisbon today for a NATO meeting, at which the organization agreed to build a missile shield, and they hope that Russia will go along with it too.

In general, senior NATO officials note a welcoming Russian tone under President Dmitri A. Medvedev to the idea of cooperation with NATO on missile defense and European security, and they also note the general silence of Mr. Putin, now prime minister.

On Saturday, Russia will be formally invited to take part in the missile defense system, especially with intelligence and radar sharing. Moscow has indicated that it is interested but has questions, and wants to ensure that the system is not aimed at countering Russian missiles.

The missile defense system approved Friday is different from the fixed-missile defense that President George W. Bush initiated and that proved controversial. The idea is to have a phased system of radars and antimissile missiles that would be less expensive than the Bush system. The NATO spokesman, James Appathurai, said the nearly $1.5 billion cost could be managed over 10 years.

Plenty of money for missile defense that probably won’t work, but nothing for the desperate long-term unemployed.

In one of his many bad decisions, President Obama invited Skeltor Alan Simpson back out of obscurity, and we may never get rid of him. With his latest pronouncement, he has moved way beyond inappropriate to sociopathic.

He predicted a government that approaches shutdown in April of next year.

“This is going to be beautiful politics – The brutal kind,” he told reporters in Washington at a forum put on by the Christian Science Monitor. “I love those,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye and a jokester tinge to his voice.

“The debt limit, when it comes in April or May, will prove who’s a hero and who’s a jerk and who’s a charlatan and who’s a faqir,” said Simpson. “And there it will be right there. Because they’re going to say, these new guys, some of them, and I’ve met a good deal of them and boy they’re sharp cookies,” he said, adding a message to new Congressmen.

“Compromise is not a filthy word,” said Simpson. “It doesn’t mean you’re a wimp when you learn to compromise. You either learn to compromise and legislate or go home – my personal view – anyway there they are and they’re going to say I will not vote for the debt limit extension until you cut this. Say, you can’t do that. you can’t possibly do that. well, then I’m not voting for it. and they’ll say well the government will close. Which they’ll say that’s what I came here for. Oh, I can’t wait. It’ll be something and I’ll be watching.”

You can watch it at the Christian Science Monitor site.

If only there really were a hell so Alan Simpson could spend eternity there.

Ezra Klein is thinking along the same lines as Simpson, but makes more of an effort to sound reasonable. He says Democrats should trade an extension of the Bush tax cuts to the rich for Republican votes to extend unemployment benefits and increase the debt ceiling when the time comes.

Ezra must have learned bargaining strategy from that great bipartisan choker compromiser Barack Obama.

Elsewhere in The Washington Post is the story of “one family’s plunge from the middle class into poverty.”

Walker used to make $100,000 a year as a nursing home executive until she lost her job a year and a half ago. Unable to find a new one, she shed her business suits and high heels and put on an apron and soft-soled shoes. This year, she and her daughter are living on $11,000: her unemployment benefits plus whatever she can earn selling home-cooked dinners for $10 apiece….

The Census Bureau recently reported that the poverty rate in the United States rose to 14.3 percent last year, the highest level in more than 50 years.

Texas and Florida saw the most people fall below the line. In Florida alone, 323,000 people became newly poor last year, bringing the state’s poverty total to 2.7 million.

The numbers tell another tale as well: Nationwide, in black households such as Walker’s, income plunged an average of 4.4 percent in 2009, almost three times the drop among whites. The number of blacks living below the official poverty line – $21,756 for a family of four – increased by 7 percent in just one year.

Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of the Catfood Commission, should be forced to read this article, memorize it, and then write on a blackboard 1,000 times, “I am a damn fool who knows nothing about economics.”

At Counterpunch, Alexander Cockburn thinks “it’s time for a real mutiny.”

So much for 2010 as the year of mutiny, when the American people rose up and said, “Enough! Throw the bums out!” As the dust finally clears after the midterm elections, and the bodies are hauled from the field of battle, guess what? It was all so predictable. The safest thing to be in 2010 was an incumbent.

Out of 435 seats, 351 incumbents will be returning to the House in January. In the Senate, out of 100 seats, 77 incumbents will return in January. As the libertarian Joel Hirschorn puts it, “Welcome back to the reality of America’s delusional democracy where career politicians will continue to foster a corrupt, inefficient and dysfunctional government because that is what the two-party plutocracy and its supporters want for their own selfish reasons.”

What will Dear Leader do next?

Already there are the omens of a steady stream of concessions by Obama to the right.

There’s hardly any countervailing pressure for him to do otherwise. The president has no fixed principles of political economy, and who is at his elbow in the White House? Not the Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis. Not that splendid radical Elizabeth Warren, whose Consumer Financial Protection Bureau the Republicans are already scheduling for destruction. Next to Obama is Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the bankers’ lapdog, whom the president holds in high esteem….

Two more years, of the same downward slide, courtesy of bipartisanship and “working together”? No way. Enough of dreary predictability. Let’s have a real mutiny against Obamian rightward drift. The time is not six months or a year down the road. The time is now.

But who will lead the charge?

Dakinikat turned me on to this article about Obama’s Asian trip: Asia After Obama, by Brahma Chellaney

Significantly, Obama restricted his tour to Asia’s leading democracies – India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea – which surround China and are central to managing its rise. Yet he spent all of last year assiduously courting the government in Beijing in the hope that he could make China a global partner on issues ranging from climate change to trade and financial regulation. The catchphrase coined by US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg in relation to China, “strategic reassurance,” actually signaled America’s intent to be more accommodating toward China’s ambitions.

Now, with his China strategy falling apart, Obama is seeking to do exactly what his predecessor attempted – to line up partners as an insurance policy in case China’s rising power slides into arrogance. Other players on the grand chessboard of Asian geopolitics also are seeking to formulate new equations, as they concurrently pursue strategies of hedging, balancing, and bandwagoning.

Once again, Obama plays the role of Bush III.

At Truthdig, I learned that David Sirota has found a new hero to replace his now tarnished idol Barack Obama. These days Sirota is bragging about hanging with cut rate Rolling Stone gonzo writer Matt Taibbi.

Sirota reminds me of that little dog Chester in the Looney Tunes cartoons–the one that idolizes the big bulldog Spike. Chester jumps around Butch, trying to get his attention, praising him, agreeing with him; and when Spike brushes him aside, he just keeps coming back for more. Sirota:

Over drinks in my living room, Taibbi and I pondered the financial Masters of the Universe and their maddening infallibility. I asked him why they never fear facing legal consequences. Do they believe they’re untouchable? Or do they know law enforcement won’t pursue them?

“They’re not afraid because other than Bernie Madoff, when was the last time someone on Wall Street faced any real punishment?” he responded. “Sure, a few go to jail once in a while, but they’re usually out in a few months and then on the speaking circuit. That’s not exactly a deterrent against bad behavior that’s making you millions.”

Deterrence—it’s the vaunted idea behind “tough on crime” sentences for violent offenses. Lock the door, throw away the key, and the theory says that heinous acts will be prevented.

Duh! I think Sirota wrote this piece just so everyone would know he’s pals with Taibbi.

Since it’s Saturday Morning….

What’s on your reading menu this morning?


Alexander Cockburn: Obama, the first-rate Republican

Is there anything the front-runner will not say to become President? No progressive cause would have a chance with him in charge

Sunday, 26 October 2008

As a left-winger I might be expected to be supporting Barack Obama. And indeed, in these last days I’ve been scraping around, trying to muster a single positive reason to encourage a vote for Obama. Please note my accent on the positive, since the candidate himself has couched his appeal in this idiom. Why vote for Obama-Biden, as opposed to against the McCain-Palin ticket?

 

Obama invokes change. Yet never has the dead hand of the past had a “reform” candidate so firmly by the windpipe. Is it possible to confront America’s problems without talking about the arms budget? The Pentagon is spending more than at any point since the end of the Second World War. In “real dollars” – an optimistic concept these days – the $635bn (£400bn) appropriated in fiscal 2007 is 5 per cent above the previous all-time high, reached in 1952. Obama wants to enlarge the armed services by 90,000. He pledges to escalate the US war in Afghanistan; to attack Pakistan’s territory if it obstructs any unilateral US mission to kill Osama bin Laden; and to wage a war against terror in a hundred countries, creating a new international intelligence and law enforcement “infrastructure” to take down terrorist networks. A fresh start? Where does this differ from Bush’s commitment on 20 September 2001, to an ongoing “war on terror” against “every terrorist group of global reach” and “any nation that continues to harbour or support terrorism”?

Obama’s liberal defenders comfort themselves with the thought that “he had to say that to get elected”. He didn’t. After eight years of Bush, Americans are receptive to reassessing America’s imperial role. Obama has shunned this opportunity. If elected, he will be a prisoner of his promise that on his watch Afghanistan will not be lost, nor the white man’s burden shirked.

Whatever drawdown of troops in Iraq that does take place in the event of Obama’s victory will be a brief hiccup amid the blare and thunder of fresh “resolve”. In the event of Obama’s victory, the most immediate consequence overseas will most likely be brusque imperial reassertion. Already, Joe Biden, the shopworn poster boy for Israeli intransigence and Cold War hysteria, is yelping stridently about the new administration’s “mettle” being tested in the first six months by the Russians and their surrogates. Obama is far more hawkish than McCain on Iran.

After eight years of unrelenting assault on constitutional liberties by Bush and Cheney, public and judicial enthusiasm for tyranny has waned. Obama has preferred to stand with Bush and Cheney. In February, seeking a liberal profile in the primaries, Obama stood against warrantless wiretapping. His support for liberty did not survive for long. Five months later, he voted in favour and declared that “the ability to monitor and track individuals who want to attack the United States is a vital counter-terrorism tool”.

Every politician, good or bad, is an ambitious opportunist. But beneath this topsoil, the ones who make a constructive dent on history have some bedrock of fidelity to some central idea. In Obama’s case, this “idea” is the ultimate distillation of identity politics: the idea of his blackness. Those who claim that if he were white he would be cantering effortlessly into the White House do not understand that without his most salient physical characteristic Obama would be seen as a second-tier senator with unimpressive credentials.

As a political organiser of his own advancement, Obama is a wonder. But I have yet to identify a single uplifting intention to which he has remained constant if it has presented any risk to his progress. We could say that he has not yet had occasion to adjust his relatively decent stances on immigration and labour-law reform. And what of public funding of his campaign? Another commitment made becomes a commitment betrayed. His campaign treasury is a vast hogswallow that, if it had been amassed by a Republican, would be the topic of thunderous liberal complaint.

Obama’s run has been the negation of almost every decent progressive principle, with scarcely a bleat of protest from the progressives seeking to hold him to account. The Michael Moores stay silent. Obama has crooked the knee to bankers and Wall Street, to the oil companies, the coal companies, the nuclear lobby, the big agricultural combines. He is more popular with Pentagon contractors than McCain, and has been the most popular of the candidates with Washington lobbyists. He has been fearless in offending progressives, constant in appeasing the powerful.

So no, this is not an exciting or liberating moment in America’s politics. If you want a memento of what could be exciting, go to the website of the Nader-Gonzalez campaign and read its platform on popular participation and initiative. Or read the portions of Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr’s platform on foreign policy and constitutional rights. The standard these days for what the left finds tolerable is awfully low. The more the left holds its tongue, the lower the standard will go.

Alexander Cockburn co-edits counterpunch.org, the US left-wing website, and is a columnist for ‘The Nation’ and ‘The First Post’ (alexandercockburn@asis.com)