A Teach-able Moment for The Left

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The Dawning Age of Obama as a Potentially Teach-able Moment for The Left

by Paul Street, May 30, 2009

Five Key Lessons Beyond the Gnashing of Radical Teeth


There has been a lot of left-wing teeth-gnashing over the policies of the United States’ fake-progressive president Barack Obama. Left-progressives’ anger with the Obama administration is understandable given the new White House’s actions to (for example):

* Significantly expand the reach and intensity of imperial violence (replete with the mass slaughter of civilians and the related escalation of targeted assassinations) in South Asia.

* Promote a notorious assassin and death-squad leader (Lt. General Stanley A McChrystal – former chief of the military’s special Joint Special Operations Command) to the position of Commander of U.S. Forces in the newly merged “Af-Pak” war theater. [1]

* Sustain the criminal occupation of Iraq beneath rhetoric of withdrawal. [2]

* Increase “defense” (empire) spending, consistent with the following statement in a report issued by the leading Wall Street investment firm Morgan Stanley one day after Obama’s presidential election victory: “As we understand it, Obama has been advised and agrees that there is no peace dividend.”[3]

* Revive military commissions.

* Continue the practice of renditions.

* Maintain secret prisons for persons “held on a short-term, transitory basis.”

* Continue the unspeakable torture of prisoners by an “extrajudicial terror squad” (Jeremy Scahill’s description of the Pentagon’s sadistic “Immediate Reaction Force” in Cuba) at Guantanamo Bay. [4]

* Advance the policy of “indefinite detention” (potentially permanent incarceration) for Guantanamo prisoners for whom no legally compelling evidence can be marshaled.

* Intimidate England (with a threat to withhold intelligence data on potential terrorist attacks!) into preventing a Guantanamo victim from having his day in court on the Bush administration’s torture practices. [5]

* Sustain the Bush administration’s abrogation of habeas corpus rights in regard to the roughly 600 “enemy combatants” kept at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan (where people rendered out of other countries like Yemen and England can be considered “war [-zone]” prisoners!. [6]

* Advance nauseatingly specious legal and moral arguments (“better to look forward than backward”) to prevent serious federal investigation of the Bush administration’s human rights crimes.

* Sustain George W. Bush’s domestic wiretapping program.

* Invoke the “state secrets” (akin to the divine right of kings) doctrine to prevent disclosure of evidence in response to lawsuits emerging from Bush era rendition and surveillance policies.

* Suppress photographic evidence of U.S. torture practices.

* Justify all this and more in the name of the supposed “global war on terror” that was supposedly launched in legitimate defense against the supposedly unprovoked jetliner attacks of September 11, 2001.

* Disregard qualified progressive defenders of civil liberties and human rights from consideration for appointment to succeed Supreme Justice David H. Souter and to thereby counter the hard right leanings of the court’s conservative majority. [7]

* Send clear signals of intent to roll back and partially privatize Social Security and Medicare benefits.

* Betray campaign pledges to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to insert stronger labor and environmental protections. [7A]

* Betray campaign pledges of serious intent to advance an elementary and overdue labor law reform (the Employee Free Choice Act).

* Force and approve an automobile industry re-structuring that drastically cuts domestic autoworkers’ jobs, wages and benefits while subsidizing General Motors’ further shifting of jobs abroad. [8]

* Advance a tepid, business-friendly health care “reform” that leaves the leading parasitic insurance corporations (major campaign sponsors of his) in power.

* “Methodically erase single-payer advocates from the picture” (Glen Ford) of health care reform despite the fact that a majority of Americans have long favored a single-payer (“Medicare for all”) health insurance system. [9]

* Spend trillions of federal dollars on taxpayer handouts to giant Wall Street firms who spent millions on his campaign and who drove the economy over the cliff. Obama’s Wall Street bailout rejects the elementary bank nationalizations and public financial restructuring that are required to put the nation’s credit system on a sound and socially responsible basis, choosing instead to guarantee the financial, insurance, and real estate industries’ toxic, hyper-inflated assets while keeping existing Wall Street management in place. It amounts to a giant effort to “keep perpetrators afloat” (liberal economist James Gailbraith) through a scheme in which the government takes more than 90 percent of the risk but private investors reap at least half the reward.

I could go on. It’s not a pretty story. And it’s only going to get worse.

It’s not for nothing that Goldman Sachs gave Obama more than $900,000 – a small part of the astonishing $38 million Obama got from the finance, insurance and real estate industries (“FIRE”) during the last election cycle. It’s not for nothing that Obama got three-fourths of his campaign cash from people giving more than $200 (the same big donor percentage as George W. Bush in 2004), set new records in corporate election funding and achieved a level of corporate media love that remains almost beyond belief.

Beyond Surprise and Disappointment: Previous Warnings and a Teachable Moment

Infuriating as these policy actions (and inactions) and this corporate sponsorship may be to people of the actual Left (a different category than the broad-brush “Left” used in “mainstream” U.S. media), however, serious progressives have no business being surprised or disappointed by Obama’s presidential trajectory. Candidate Obama made his “deeply conservative” [10] corporate-imperial centrism clear to those willing to undertake elementary investigations of his political and ideological record. As Scott Horton noted last March on Antiwar.com, “those who bought into the slogans ‘Hope’ and ‘Change’ last fall should have read the fine print. We were warned.”


So whipped-dog “progressives can only hope that the great, wise, and wonderful Wizard of Ozbama and our other corporate-sponsored “leaders” can have the boldness to save the day? Hello? Krugman and Kuttner might want to take a look at Howard Zinn’s bestselling volume A People’s History of the United States or at Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward’s classic study Poor Peoples’ Movement: How They Succeed and Why They Fail (New York: Vintage, 1977, to review some elementary lessons on how big progressive change occurs. These studies demonstrate in rich historical detail how direct action, social disruption, and the threat of radical change from the bottom up forced social and political reforms that benefited working- and lower-class and black people during the 1930s and the 1960s. They show the critical role played by grassroots social movements and popular resistance in educating presidents and the broader power elite on the need for change.

As Obama himself (along with John Edwards) repeatedly noted during the presidential campaign, in a comment that has not fallen from Obama’s lips since he reached the White House, “change doesn’t happen from the top down. Change happens from the bottom up.”

Be sure to go read the whole thing…



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    • Edger on June 17, 2009 at 03:41

    One more warning on Obama and the Dems. Don’t say we didn’t tell you.

    by John Pilger, May 31, 2008

      Should Obama beat John McCain to the White House in November, it will be liberalism’s last fling. In the United States and Britain, liberalism as a war-making, divisive ideology is once again being used to destroy liberalism as a reality.


      On the war in Iraq, Obama the dove and McCain the hawk are almost united. McCain now says he wants US troops to leave in five years (instead of “100 years”, his earlier option). Obama has now “reserved the right” to change his pledge to get troops out next year. “I will listen to our commanders on the ground,” he now says, echoing Bush. His adviser on Iraq, Colin Kahl, says the US should maintain up to 80,000 troops in Iraq until 2010. Like McCain, Obama has voted repeatedly in the Senate to support Bush’s demands for funding of the occupation of Iraq; and he has called for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan. His senior advisers embrace McCain’s proposal for an aggressive “league of democracies”, led by the United States, to circumvent the United Nations.


      The objects of these uncontrollable passions are as one in their support for America’s true deity, its corporate oligarchs. Despite claiming that his campaign wealth comes from small individual donors, Obama is backed by the biggest Wall Street firms: Goldman Sachs, UBS AG, Lehman Brothers, J P Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse, as well as the huge hedge fund Citadel Investment Group. “Seven of the Obama campaign’s top 14 donors,” wrote the investigator Pam Martens, “consisted of officers and employees of the same Wall Street firms charged time and again with looting the public and newly implicated in originating and/or bundling fraudulently made mortgages.” A report by United for a Fair Economy, a non-profit group, estimates the total loss to poor Americans of colour who took out sub-prime loans as being between $164bn and $213bn: the greatest loss of wealth ever recorded for people of colour in the United States. “Washington lobbyists haven’t funded my campaign,” said Obama in January, “they won’t run my White House and they will not drown out the voices of working Americans when I am president.” According to files held by the Centre for Responsive Politics, the top five contributors to the Obama campaign are registered corporate lobbyists.

    As of March 31, according to Bloomberg:

    The U.S. government and the Federal Reserve have spent, lent or committed $12.8 trillion, an amount that approaches the value of everything produced in the country last year, to stem the longest recession since the 1930s.

    President Barack Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner met with the chief executives of the nation’s 12 biggest banks on March 27 at the White House to enlist their support to thaw a 20-month freeze in bank lending to take their marching orders.

    “The president and Treasury Secretary Geithner have said they will do what it takes,” Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein said after the meeting. “If it is enough, that will be great. If it is not enough, they will have to do more.

    Now the wintertime is coming,

    The windows are filled with frost

    I went to tell everybody,

    But I could not get across

    Don’t say I never warned you

    When your train gets lost

  1. harrumph.

  2. What the fuck do we do at this point? Seriously..What do we do?  I have no idea.

  3. Obama is going to have to learn to strong arm.

    I disagree with Bill Maher’s solution of Pres. O taking a W approach.

    He should be more like LBJ.

    Someone should send him those tapes.

    • Edger on June 17, 2009 at 17:14
  4. srtating with how to find a tune that’s not on the youtube!

    And I admit that I ain’t no angel

    I admit that I ain’t no saint

    I’m selfish and I’m cruel but you’re blind

    If I exorcise my devils

    Well my angels may leave too

    When they leave they’re so hard to find


    And we’re always at each other’s throats

    You know it drives me up the wall

    But most of the time I’m just blowing off steam

    And I wish to God you’d leave me

    Baby I wish to God you’d stay

    Life’s so different than it is in your dreams


    So please call me, baby

    Wherever you are

    It’s too cold to be out walking in the streets

    We do crazy things when we’re wounded

    Everyone’s a bit insane

    I don’t want you catching your death of cold

    Out walking in the rain

    ~Tom Waits

    I bolded one of my all time fave lines…

    • Joy B. on June 17, 2009 at 17:48

    …why progressives are surprised or ‘liberals’ defensive. I was quite disappointed by Obama’s nomination. Better than Hillary (THAT would have been less-than disgusting!), but there were actual progressive/liberal choices. Our field was the strongest, most impressive bunch of candidates I’ve ever seen in all my years.

    Kucinich would have been a dream come true, but had no real chance because he’s not a Player. Edwards would have been good, but he’s always had a Clintonesque penchant for self-destruction that couldn’t be trusted. Richardson would have been unacceptable enough to all sides to be a lot of fun, but he’s been a Player so long the skeletons were bound to get out.

    So we got Obama, known all along to be at least three clicks to the right of me (but then, most every Dem is). I worked hard and got out some votes, I’m glad he won. That said, I knew from the git-go that we’d have to hold his feet to the fire on a constant basis to get anything at all. So screw the whiners on the defense. We’re the offense. We’ll have to drag them kicking and screaming across the goal line. But surely we all knew that..

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