Here’s Sean Wilentz, in Monday’s New York Times:
The Republicans in the House of Representatives who declare that they may refuse to raise the debt limit threaten to do more than plunge the government into default. They are proposing a blatant violation of the 14th Amendment, which states that “the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law” is sacrosanct and “shall not be questioned.”And here’s a comment from Marsha in Arizona:
Yet the Obama administration has repeatedly suppressed any talk of invoking the Constitution in this emergency. Last Thursday Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said, “We do not believe that the 14th Amendment provides that authority to the president” to end the crisis. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew reiterated the point on Sunday and added that the president would have “no option” to prevent a default on his own.
Obama won’t uphold his Constitutional responsibilities BECAUSE he wants the same things as the Republicans...cuts to “entitlements”...and this way, he can blame the other “guys”.
House Republicans threatening to refuse to raise the debt ceiling — that is, force a repudiation of debts already accrued — would violate that ‘fundamental principle’ of the Constitution.
Surely the lawyers advising and defending the White House, let alone the president, know as much. Refraining from stating this loudly and clearly, and allowing Congress to slip off the hook, has been a puzzling and self-defeating strategy, leading to the crippling sequester and the politics of chronic debt-ceiling crisis. More important, by failing to clarify the constitutional principles involved, the administration has neglected to do its utmost to defend the Constitution.
I hope Marsha is wrong. I hope, I hope. But why, then, did President Obama publicly throw away one of his aces before the betting began?
The Democrats have been so deeply penetrated by the neoliberal/Robert Rubin/Hamilton Project types that they aren’t that different from the right on economic issues. Both want little regulation of banking and open trade and international capital flows. Both want to “reform” Medicare and Social Security. Both are leery of a welfare state, the Republicans openly so, the Rubinite Dems with all sorts of hand wringing and clever schemes to incentivize private companies that generally subsidize what they would have done regardless (note that Americans have had a mixed record in providing good social safety nets, but a big reason is our American exceptionalism means we refuse to copy successful models from abroad).
The powerful influence of moneyed interests on the Democratic party has achieved the fondest aims of the right wing extremists of the 1970s: the party of FDR is now lukewarm at best in its support of the New Deal. Most Democrats are embarrassed to be in the same room with union types. They are often afraid to say that government can play a positive role. They were loath to discuss the costs of income inequality until it became so far advanced that it is now well nigh impossible to reverse it. After all, that sort of discussion might sound like class warfare, and God forbid anyone on the mainstream left risk sound like Marx…
So the Democratic party (and remember, our two party system makes the Democrats the home by default for the left) pretends to be a safe haven for all sorts of out groups: women, gays, Hispanics (on their way to being the dominant group but not there yet), blacks, the poor. But this is stands in stark contradiction to its policies of selling out the middle class to banks and big corporate interests, just on a slower and stealthier basis than the right. So its desperate need to maintain its increasingly phony “be nice to the rainbow coalition” branding places a huge premium on appearances. It thus uses identity politics as a cover for policy betrayals. It can motivate various groups on narrow, specific issues, opening the way for the moneyed faction to get what it wants.
Is this what it seems to be? Is the Senate really more responsive to the will of the people (read “more afraid”) than President Obama is? Or is it just that the president doesn’t have to run for office anymore? Here’s Dean Baker, on AlterNet:
Both the New York Times and Washington Post decided to ignore the Senate's passage by voice vote of the Sanders Amendment. This was an amendment to the budget put forward by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders that puts the Senate on record as opposing the switch to the chained CPI as the basis for the annual Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA)…
With all the Republicans who pronounce endlessly on the need to cut entitlement spending, there was not a single Republican senator who was prepared to say that switching the Social Security COLA to a chained CPI was a good idea. And even though President Obama has repeatedly stated as clearly as he could that he supported the switch to a chained CPI, there was not one Democratic senator who was prepared to stand up and speak in solidarity with the president.
Gary Younge has another fine article up at the Guardian site. A black Briton whose parents immigrated there from Barbados, he spends a lot of time trying to explain us Americans to his British readers. It’s often in such outside appraisals that we first realize something interesting about ourselves.
In this one he’s talking about the situation faced by black people in the US today. As he points out, African-Americans are the most optimistic demographic group over the past few years. They’re more likely to feel that the economy is improving, that the country’s best days are yet to come, and that they themselves are better off than they were four years ago. They’re more likely to believe that the gap between blacks and whites in terms of income is decreasing. The problem is, most of this is not true.
In fact, blacks are worse off than they were four years ago. The wealth gap between blacks and whites has doubled, with whites now having 22 times the average wealth of blacks. The education gap has increased. While the national unemployment rate has remained fairly steady under the Obama administration, black unemployment has gone up 11%.
One can argue about the cause of those changes and the degree to which Obama bears any responsibility for either creating them or fixing them. But one cannot argue about the fact of them: the ascent of America’s first black president has coincided with the one of the steepest descents of the economic fortunes of black Americans since the second world war both in real terms and relative to whites.
This situation stands in stark contrast to the devotion of black voters to the president’s election. Both four years ago and now Obama can count on 90% of the vote from the African-American community, though as one community leader told Younge, that’s 90% of those motivated enough to go vote. Yet the fact remains that the group most loyal to Obama has benefited least from his tenure. Still, very few members of that group have questioned the president's approach or policies, at least publicly.
In part this is understandable. If a black leader publicly criticized Obama the comment would be replayed endlessly on Fox and all the right-wing radio stations and websites. Still, Younge reports that even among themselves black American intellectuals can be thought disloyal for critiquing the president, though the critic be known as a solid Obama supporter. This helps neither the country in its quest for the right path nor the black community in its search for a fair and equal place in American life. I hasten to add that this is not meant to blame the disadvantaged but to point out that all sectors of society must be willing to view others as they view themselves, and vice versa. Any group is proud to have one of its members in the White House for the first time, and no group has been more exploited and poorly treated than African-Americans except perhaps the Native Americans. Thank heaven we can finally get past the theory that a black person cannot be president. Now the question is whether this one is doing well or poorly.
Rather than bringing a post-racial era, Obama’s election has led to the most polarized electorate on racial issues in a generation. A recent AP poll found that just over half of all Americans now harbor racist attitudes against African-Americans and about the same for Hispanics. We have by no means cast aside our racist past and grown up. Considerations such as these recall
an era of black political leadership, where black politicians emerged from the church or historically black colleges, and fought not to win office outside the black community (white people wouldn’t vote for them) but to put the needs of that community on the agenda. There was, in a previous generation, a sense of ownership that black communities had over their politicians that no longer exists. This is partly progress. Ivy League universities will admit them, corporations will hire them, funds will come to them, white people will now vote for them. A whole range of opportunities are open to politicians of Obama’s generation that were created by Cornel West’s generation.
But that, in turn, has changed what it means to be a black politician and what, if anything, we mean when we talk about black politics. Unlike, say, Jesse Jackson or Martin Luther King, Obama was not politically produced by the black community, but presented to it after he had made his way through the mostly white elites. His political ties to the black community are not organic but symbolic. His arrival in the political class is hailed as the progress of a community when in fact it is the advancement of an individual.
“[Obama] is being consumed as the embodiment of color blindness,” Angela Davis, professor of history of consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told me in late 2007. “It’s the notion that we have moved beyond racism by not taking race into account. That’s what makes him conceivable as a presidential candidate. He’s become the model of diversity in this period … a model of diversity as the difference that makes no difference. The change that brings no change.”
There’s lots more in this meaty article. Did you know that Obama’s most recent State of the Union speech was the first one since 1948 not to mention poverty or the poor? And as Younge says, when he does talk about it, it’s to recommend better parenting, healthy meals, and greater discipline. How, one might ask, are parents to provide healthy meals and greater discipline when they’re struggling or unable to pay the bills in a depressed economy in a failing empire where for generations their exploited families have not had a fair shake?
At a Congressional Black Caucus meeting in September [Obama] told his former colleagues: “Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying.” Compare that to the meeting he had with bankers not long after he was elected when they thought he was going to impose serious regulation. “I’m the only thing standing between you and the pitchforks. I’m not out there to go after you,” he told them. “I’m protecting you.”
All our public resources go to maintaining the ability of our corporations and financial institutions to exploit the world, and of course the ability of our military machine to take and hold whatever territory or resource those corporations deem necessary for their health and well-being, in other words their profit margins. Our economy has tanked because certain elements of society whose wealth gives them inordinate influence have discovered how easily they, through the media outlets they collectively monopolize, can gin up enthusiasm for war, tax cuts for the rich, reduced access to health care and education for the rest of us, and other such programs that would be impossible to impose on an informed citizenry. One cannot count on informed citizens in a democracy judging correctly at every single election; but an uninformed citizenry is hardly ever right and then only by chance, when it has failed to grab the bait dangled by the professional misleaders.
Unfortunately it is often those at the bottom of the economic ladder who are most familiar with the facts. They may or may not be exposed to the same amount of propaganda as those above them, but they are most certainly exposed to the harsh facts on the ground, to use the phrase government planners, especially military ones, have made us all familiar with in recent years. For African-Americans in particular this is not new knowledge; they’ve been exposed to the harsh facts for almost four hundred years, and it has shaped their political views, leaders, and movements. It has shaped their expectations. This, Younge suggests, might help us understand their optimism for the future despite difficult current circumstances and poor prospects.
That black Americans are doing worse than everyone else, and that the man they elected to turn that around has not done so, does not fundamentally change their view of how American politics works; almost every other Democratic president has failed in a similar way while Republicans have not even tried to succeed.
Conversely the fact that a black man might be elected president, that enough white people might vote for him and that nobody has shot him, really has changed their assumptions about what is possible.
This is why I cast my ballot for Obama last time, voting for a Democrat for the first time since 1988. William Greider argued that Obama’s election would end white supremacy in America; and I came to see that as a step that would be difficult to reverse, thus justifying my vote for someone I expected to be a poor president. (Little did I know.) To my mind the re-emergence of relatively open racism on the public stage seems entirely predictable: white supremacy will not concede its unearned privilege and power as long as any recourse remains. Nor is that subset of society among the more enlightened or introspective, rather the opposite; thus rationality and argument are of little use.
In the end, though, white supremacy cannot be allowed to direct the course of society, and the lowered expectations of African-Americans and other mistreated groups must not be continually confirmed, if the United States is regain the path toward the ideals stated in the country’s founding documents. We must practice looking at policies and effects, judging for ourselves what might help modify our current hell-bound trajectory. Critiques are not treason.
The day Obama took office, the world may have looked at black America differently, but black America has yet to look at Obama differently. When he went from being an aspiration to a fact of political life, the posters that bore his likeness in socialist realist style over single-word commands like Hope, Believe and Change should have been replaced with posters bearing the single-word statement: power. As Frederick Douglass said: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Having cast my vote for Barack Obama four years ago hoping for, and getting, nothing more than an African-American president, I feel liberated now to return to my beliefs and vote for Jill Stein. If Romney wins California you can blame me; but it would be more sensible to blame Obama’s alliance with, even sellout to, power.
…from We Are Respectable Negroes:
For all of the talk in 2008 about post racial America, and the promise of a President who happened to be black, many in the public forgot that whoever is elected to the country’s highest office is a cog in a bigger machine. To believe that you could have radical transformational change through institutional politics was a chimera and a joke. The system is designed to be sedentary, slow, and constrained by inertia.
As such, the Age of Obama vs. the Age of Malcolm is a false comparison. The latter was a figure who worked outside of the system (and in fact created little actionable political change); the former is a product of a multicultural, elite class which is deeply invested in maintaining the status quo of the American as a passive consumer-citizen in a market democracy, and of protecting America as an empire.
Many first time, as well as young voters, did not understand this basic fact of American political life. Now, they are disenchanted and less likely to support Obama in the 2012 election. He is not a radical. He is not a “black” president. Obama is quite simply the President of the United States, and a figure who is part of a system which is beholden to certain interests above and beyond all others.
It could just turn out that events force Obama to do what we’ve needed him to do all along. Personally, though, I doubt it.
More likely, in my opinion, is that he’ll continue to try splitting the difference and having it both ways. That seems to me a pretty risky approach to re-election because it basically depends on events to carry him through rather than asserting a reason for continuing in office. But at this point it’s hard to imagine anything but an equivocal response from Barack Obama. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.
Consider the Obama campaign’s approach to what seems intended as a touchstone for the election strategy, the attack on Romney’s time at Bain Capital. Certainly there is much to despise in the Bain record, including exhibitions of capitalism at its worst. And it’s hard to make the case for the capitalist’s favorite meme, creative destruction, at a time when so many mortgages are underwater, so many people are out of work, and so many corporations and their executives are rolling in cash. They get the creation, we get the destruction.
This strategy, though, doesn’t have everyone on board.
Some Democrats in Virginia expressed concern that voters in the business-oriented suburbs around Washington would not coalesce around attacks on Bain. Sen. Mark R. Warner, a former cellphone entrepreneur, said in an interview that Bain is “a valid issue and debate” but also a company that “did a good job for their investors.” One prominent Virginia Democrat who requested anonymity to speak candidly said the Bain strategy is “risky” because it feeds an existing narrative among business leaders that the Obama administration is not friendly to their interests.
The problem is that it’s so hard to criticize Bain without critiquing capitalism itself. That, of course, is what the country desperately needs right now, and the Occupy movement has brought the issue to our collective consciousness. Now would be a perfect time to bring the discussion to basic questions of fairness and sustainability. But the Democrats are just as owned by Wall Street as the Republicans. Can you guess which business sector’s contributions to the two campaigns dwarf all others?
So it may come to the point that all Obama’s efforts to cozy up to Wall Street will come to naught and the Street will pick the Mitt, who after all is much more like them. Will Obama then choose to swing for the fences and try to recruit the non-voters with a full-throated denunciation of the destructive side of capitalism, or will he try to split the difference between reality and Wall Street? If he picks the latter he stands a good chance of losing in November.
Why should I sound off on President Obama’s talk yesterday, when the Rude Pundit has done it better? And in language suitable, at least in this carefully chosen excerpt, for reprint in a family-values blog:
Yesterday, the Rude Pundit wrote that President Barack Obama was suffering from delusional thinking when it came to dealing with the GOP. Then, as if to prove the him correct, Obama spoke shortly after the Rude Pundit scribbled his bloggy meanderings, and the President doubled down on the delusional as a way of supposedly calming the panicky markets and populace. At some point, one must wonder who the hell Obama is talking to. Because the “most - reasonable - guy - in - the - room - c’mon - independents - love - me” train was blown off the tracks by the depraved mad bombers in the GOP.
Seriously, check this out. Obama said, “Making these reforms doesn’t require any radical steps. What it does require is common sense and compromise. There are plenty of good ideas about how to achieve long-term deficit reduction that doesn’t hamper economic growth right now. Republicans and Democrats on the bipartisan fiscal commission that I set up put forth good proposals. Republicans and Democrats in the Senate’s Gang of Six came up with some good proposals. John Boehner and I came up with some good proposals when we came close to agreeing on a grand bargain.”
It’s as if Obama has created this imaginary friend called “Mr. Nice the Elephant,” and he’s so happy to have Mr. Nice the Elephant around to play with that he just wants everyone to know about Mr. Nice the Elephant. He may as well have said, “Mr. Nice the Elephant and I come up with great ideas all the time. We should all have a pal as terrific as Mr. Nice the Elephant. Isn’t that true, Mr. Nice? He says it’s true. You just can’t hear him, but I can.”
But by this month, in ultimately unsuccessful talks with Speaker John A. Boehner, Mr. Obama tentatively agreed to a plan that was farther to the right than that of the majority of the fiscal commission and a bipartisan group of senators, the so-called Gang of Six. It also included a slow rise in the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from 65, and, after 2015, a change in the formula for Social Security cost-of-living adjustments long sought by economists.…
“Democrats created Social Security and Medicare, and we have fought for decades against Republican attempts to end these programs,” said Dan Pfeiffer, Mr. Obama’s communications director. “And President Obama believes that now is the time for Democrats to be the ones to step up and save Social Security and Medicare.”
One of the most famous quotes of the Vietnam War was a statement attributed to an unnamed U.S. officer by AP correspondent Peter Arnett. Writing about the provincial capital, Ben Tre, on February 7, 1968, Arnett said: “‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,’ a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong.” The quote was distorted in subsequent publications, eventually becoming the more familiar, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”
Every political system involving some sort of centralized power has so far led to attempts by the central power to gain control. Since the cannon set kings and princes above mere lords, centralization has been the trend.
That trend continues in our increasingly centralized power structure.
A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that former prisoners of the C.I.A. could not sue over their alleged torture in overseas prisons because such a lawsuit might expose secret government information.
The sharply divided ruling was a major victory for the Obama administration’s efforts to advance a sweeping view of executive secrecy powers. It strengthens the White House’s hand as it has pushed an array of assertive counterterrorism policies, while raising an opportunity for the Supreme Court to rule for the first time in decades on the scope of the president’s power to restrict litigation that could reveal state secrets.
The case reveals — or reiterates — the continuing stance of the executive branch of the current form of government. Regardless of party or ideology, every President has tried to accumulate power. As our economic system concentrates wealth, the political system designed by the founders tends to concentrate power.
On the plus side, our system concentrates power more slowly than, say, a monarchy or a dictatorship, whether of the elite or the proletariat. But late-stage empires, regardless of ideology, have already concentrated wealth so heavily that politics cannot fail to be deflected by the private interests of a very few. Suppose we in the US decided to free ourselves of the oil industry, or hedge funds; how would we accomplish that?
One thing we’ve hopefully learned is that electing a chief executive on the promise of change isn’t guaranteed to produce any.
While the alleged abuses occurred during the Bush administration, the ruling added a chapter to the Obama administration’s aggressive national security policies.
Its counterterrorism programs have in some ways departed from the expectations of change fostered by President Obama’s campaign rhetoric, which was often sharply critical of former President George W. Bush’s approach.
The crowning touch on the 6-5 ruling that state secrets trump human rights, that the state can decide which legal cases are allowed to proceed, is the court’s admission that the plaintiffs had a legitimate case.
There were signs in the court’s ruling that the majority felt conflicted. In a highly unusual move, the court ordered the government to pay the plaintiffs’ legal costs, even though they lost the case and had not requested such payment.
More good stuff with which I agree, this time from Professor Wolff at The Philosopher’s Stone, who is almost as old as I am and even wiser:
I never imagined Obama was a left liberal, and I didn’t campaign for him under that illusion. I thought he was a centrist, a left-centrist, in the framework of American politics, with the ability to mobilize the center and the left to defend against the horrors promised by the right. I was right about that. Had the depression not hit, he would in fact be doing quite well now, by his own lights, but quite well means successfully pursuing centrist-left policies. In point of fact, he has been astonishingly successful in that regard. The health reform bill … is the best that we could get, given the realities of American politics, and he is the first president in ninety years to get it.
You are mad at the wrong person. The real villain in this piece is the enormous number of Americans — not, I think and hope a majority, but enormous none the less — who are either conservative or hysterically insane with religious fantasies and political paranoia.
Do you want a genuinely leftist president? Fine, so do I. How do we get one? Answer, we change eighty or a hundred million Americans. Let me remind you — and I was there, so I know — that Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter were all Left Centrists at best. My grandfather gave his life to the Socialist Party, and its high point was electing him and six others to the NYC Board of Aldermen. This has NEVER been a country that was hospitable to genuinely leftist politics.
What we are now facing is a threat from the right unlike any I have seen in forty years. We are in danger of losing such tattered remains as we still have of a social safety net, and of seeing maniacal religious fanatics running our country. I am hoping that Obama will tap into his considerable political skills to stop that from happening, but even if he does, we will nonetheless be stuck with a politics that is markedly to the right of where it is now. These are godawful times, made all the more perilous by the fact that the very large number of genuine progressives in this country are dispirited.
From Paul Krugman’s blog:
Really bad news on the health care front. After making the case for a public option, and doing it very well, Obama said this:
“We have not drawn lines in the sand other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don’t have health insurance or are underinsured,” Mr. Obama said. “Those are the broad parameters that we’ve discussed.”
There he goes again, gratuitously making a big gift to the other side.
My big fear about Obama has always been not that he doesn’t understand the issues, but that his urge to compromise — his vision of himself as a politician who transcends the old partisan divisions — will lead him to negotiate with himself, and give away far too much. He did that on the stimulus bill, where he offered an inadequate plan in order to win bipartisan support, then got nothing in return — and was forced to reduce the plan further so that Susan Collins could claim her pound of flesh.
I am currently reading Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, detailing the way America has “converted” other countries to “freedom and democracy” using the often deadly ideology of Milton Friedman and how it uses the same doctrine when natural catastrophes occur to “remake a devastated or destroyed village to save it.”
This is one of the policies of Milton Friedman’s economic theories as put into practice and I had not realized until now that the term coined during the Vietnam War, “We destroyed the village to save it” was actually a literal interpretation of what Friedman proposed as a method to change a country’s economic system. New Orleans is a domestic example of the policy, which is losing a whole class of people who have lived there for many generations who will be replaced by wealthier and more Republican sorts.
Klein also traces the original CIA experiments in the late 1940s on torture and makes a very valuable and original argument that the same basic doctrinal belief system is used by those who justify electric shock therapy as torture, waterboarding and other forms of torture we have witnessed at Guantanamo Bay and other dark prison sites, to justify the policies of dramatically shocking (i.e. Shock and Awe) a nation into submission to institute economic policy changes urged by Milton Friedman. Murder, bloodshed and violence are the inevitable results of these policies.
However, until I finish the book, I will refrain from commenting any further thoughts on it, but this one book has created so far, a mental catharsis as dramatic as that engendered when I first read Eric Hoffer’s True Believer.
So to get some background on Naomi Klein, I went back and searched the archives of The Real News Network for anything that Naomi Klein had commented on and found the following video, which is part of a series of videos by Naomi Klein on the Real News Network. I urge you to listen to her comments about Obama and listen to the rest of the series of Naomi Klein videos if you find this one interesting. Please donate to The Real News Network either by direct donation, or by buying some of your books there, as the preceding link allows you to do.
I believe that I was wrong in my comments on Obama’s selection of Rick Warren to deliver his invocation at his inauguration, despite the black community’s church going members who don’t approve of gay marriage, who are an important constituency for Obama. But I do believe we on the left have been too complacent about Obama’s cabinet selections and we must turn on the heat by calling, writing, petitioning and eventually, perhaps later this year when Obama’s stance on Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan become clearer, by street marching to make Obama aware that the left will not sit idly by while he becomes another traitor to his class, as Bill Clinton did (unlike Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was a traitor to the rich class he belonged to, which was a positive for the poor and middle class). Obama and Clinton came from humble backgrounds and if they cater to their rich constituency, they are indeed traitors to their former class, who are most Americans who make modest or insufficient incomes.
Without further ado, here is Naomi Klein from August of this year. I wish I had taken this video seriously when it appeared, but I either missed it or was not paying attention. It’s past the time for us liberals giving a free ride to Obama. We must turn on the heat. I’m sorry I didn’t recognize this early on. The only thing I would suggest that we do is not to play into the hands of the right wingers, who will going after Obama for nefarious reasons, which is not what I am recommending.