Hey Obama, stop lying. Please?

President Obama told Robert Kuttner, “We’re spending about 23 percent of GDP and we take in 18 percent of GDP and that gap is growing because health care costs, Medicare and Medicaid in particular, are growing.” Parse this statement carefully and you realize that the health care reform only takes care of the growth in the structural deficit, not the structural deficit itself. Later on, however, Obama claims that the “long-term structural deficit that is primarily being driven by health care costs, and our long-term entitlement programs.” So apparently the “long-term structural deficit” is caused by “long-term entitlement programs.” Obama doesn’t mention military spending, which would make sense if the budget shortfall was indeed a “9-point-something trillion-dollar deficit” that Obama claimed it was in this interview. But it isn’t.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, as of August 2009, “the federal budget deficit for 2009 will total [an estimated] $1.6 trillion, which, at 11.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), will be the highest since World War II.” Military spending, at close to $700 billion dollars, is a significant chunk of that deficit and nearly matches the military spending of the entire rest of the world.

Dana Milbank writes that “Obama supporters [are] get[ting] a dose of reality.” But Milbank acknowledges that Obama has broken important promises. And while one might treat an appeal “to stop settling for what the cynics say we have to accept” as rhetorical rather than substantial, it’s hard to reconcile balancing the budget on the backs of the poor who are suffering from the worst recession since the Great Depression with Obama’s call “for what we know is possible: A nation healed. A world repaired. An America that believes again.”

Patriotism, war, and rape

On the way to my mailbox today, I drove through the Friday vigils in Sebastopol. For some time now, there has been one group in support of war on one corner, their opponents on the other. It was hard to tell the difference between them today as both were waving large numbers of United States flags.

While a few progressives argue that we should reclaim the U.S. flag–it is “our” flag too, they say. Similar sentiments can be seen in bumper stickers that connect dissent with patriotism. But for me, the U.S. flag was a pin on Richard Nixon’s lapel while he prolonged and intensified the war in Southeast Asia.

U.S. history is far more about war than it is about peace. I have previously calculated that of all the calendar years in that history, a mere sixteen did not see U.S. military forces engaged somewhere, somehow. In 2008, the U.S. accounted for 48 percent of the entire world’s military spending. All of the stars on the U.S. flag represent territories seized from subjugated peoples.

Noam Chomsky sees all this killing as an exercise in self interest. It is certainly possible to view Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan as related to the proposed Trans-Afghanistan oil pipeline. Slate attempts to refute this, but in pointing to a contradiction (which may not actually be a contradiction) between pre-9/11 and post-9/11 evidence, conflates al Qaeda with the Taliban and assembles a mass of evidence supporting a sustained U.S. interest in the region. To dismiss this as a factor is to ignore relationships between corporate, military, and political elites that C. Wright Mills described in 1958.

But high unemployment also drives recruiting; Army promises to put recruits through college appeal to a specific demographic that sees no other opportunity in an economy that treats unskilled workers like dirt. To me, this obsession with killing brown-skinned people (and supplying them as cannon fodder) feels like an addiction.

The U.S. flag is a patriotic–and hence patriarchal–symbol. Feminists, and while there are others, I’m thinking specifically of Riane Eisler and of Lorraine Code, have connected the social definition of masculinity with making war and with the subjugation of women. A history in which, in an example documented by Antonia Castañeda, Spanish conquistadors raped Indian women in what eventually became the southwest United States, stigmatizing the women and introducing hierarchy into hitherto egalitarian societies reinforces this impression. Rape is a too terribly well-documented weapon of war; it remains a concern on Okinawa, where residents are adamant that the U.S. military bases should be removed following a series of well-publicized rapes. Indeed, when Japan surrendered to the U.S. at the end of World War II, the country hastened to make “comfort women” available to U.S. soldiers as they recognized and the U.S. military hierarchy has also recognized that prostitution is a necessary service on military bases.

This connection between patriotism, war, and the repression of women is too compelling and too revolting. So I would prefer not to reclaim the U.S. flag. It is not my flag and I reject it.

A slight bump up?

We haven’t seen anything like this since April 2008, early in the recession. The part of the population that the Bureau of Labor Statistics counts as employed actually increased by 0.164 percent. They are saying that for November 2009, 227,000 more people have jobs than in October. The comparable numbers in April 2008 were 0.160 percent and 234,000. The BLS manipulates even these numbers; Shadow Government Statistics dismisses “distortions from seasonal factors and revisions” and continues to show a steep rise in unemployment, to 21.8 percent.

A mere 65.00 percent of the noninstitutionalized population 16 years or older is counted in the labor force, lower than it has been in the annual data since 1985 (64.79 percent). The portion of the population employed, 58.50 percent is slightly up from 58.45 percent last month, which was the lowest since 1983 (57.88 percent).

Falling down on the job, but at least Obama has one

Even if President Obama’s jobs forum wasn’t either a complete waste of time or a public relations gimmick, there is apparently little near-term relief on tap for the unemployed. I haven’t found a lot of coverage, suggesting the mainstream media wasn’t much impressed either. And another dismal jobs report should be out in a few hours.

In the meantime, Goldman Sachs is apparently forecasting that unemployment will peak at 10.75 percent in 2011. The National Federation of Independent Business, which apparently was not invited to the forum, claims that “a plurality of small business owners today considers the lack of demand (poor sales) as their single most important problem. Over eight times as many cite poor sales as finance and interest rates. While loans to small business are down, it is not clear what portion of the decline is a supply issue and what portion is a demand issue.” But the New York Times‘ Robb Mandelbaum emphasizes credit availability for small business. The credit issue is not new; administration officials were complaining about it back in October. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner ruled out direct loans; he wants to tweak Small Business Administration programs, perhaps with leftover bailout money. An economist suggested requiring banks “to make a certain percentage of small-business loans or otherwise show how they’re creating jobs with the loans they make.” Then there was talk about taxes to encourage hiring.

“Called ‘cash for caulkers,’ [another idea] would enlist contractors and home-improvement companies like Home Depot — whose chief executive was on the panel — to advertise the benefits, much as car dealers did for the clunkers trade-ins this year.” Still other ideas involve infrastructure, emphasizing “clean transportation,” and “clean energy.”

None of this coverage conveys a sense that any of these ideas are well-developed, that any of them are anywhere near to implementation. So all this really amounts to is Obama expecting business to pick up the slack on hiring when it clearly cannot. I see no mention of bailing out state and local governments which have been forced by declining revenues to reduce workforces and cut spending.

Obama does a good job of sounding sympathetic:

“Given the magnitude of the economic turmoil that we’ve experienced, employers are reluctant to hire,” Obama said. “Meanwhile, millions of Americans — our friends, our neighbors, our family members — are desperately searching for jobs. This is one of the great challenges that remains in our economy, a challenge that my administration is absolutely determined to meet.”

But when it comes to actually doing something, the president is falling far short.

Revolution from Afghanistan to the United States: which will it be?

As my disgust with Barack Obama’s speech Tuesday night settles in, I am remembering back to 2001. Obama sought to recall this, to remember, he claims, “when this war began, we were united – bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear.”

I have a different memory. I was driving across the Pacific Heights neighborhood in San Francisco, towards the Arguello gate of the Presidio. I heard George W. Bush’s voice on the radio, saying something that I took as code suggesting the missiles had already been launched. I was wrong about that; the U.S. move into Afghanistan would come later. But I was screaming at the top of my lungs inside my car (with the windows rolled up), NO!

I didn’t know anybody in New York City. I didn’t know anyone in Afghanistan. But my reaction to this was much more vehement than to the 9/11 attacks that had occurred so recently. I screamed it again and again, NO!

You see, even then, and I had not yet returned to school, had not gotten my Bachelor’s degree or my Master’s degree, had not yet become nearly as radical as I am now, I was thinking what a war would do to the people of Afghanistan. When we speak so easily of “a battle for hearts and minds,” we forget that this battle cannot be pursued by military means, that we would just anger more people, that we would just increase the danger to our own country. And of course, this is just what happened. al Qaeda was a neoconservative-invented name for an organization that barely existed. So Bush would say something and al Qaeda would recruit some people. Osama bin Laden would release a video and people in the U.S. would get fired up. In a vicious cycle that both enhanced presidential power and lent credibility to Osama bin Laden, each side got what it wanted: more followers.

And civilians in the United States, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq were the losers. We killed over a million people in Iraq; millions more live in exile. In Afghanistan, we kill far more civilians than we do Taliban fighters; there are fewer than 100 al Qaeda fighters there, so we conflate al Qaeda with the Taliban and carry on killing. And in the United States, we have reduced our civil liberties and incurred a vast debt fighting two ill-conceived wars that now appears to preclude any real relief for the unemployed.

Bob Herbert opened his column this week with this:

“I hate war,” said Dwight Eisenhower, “as only a soldier who has lived it can, as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

He also said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

I would add something from Eisenhower’s Farewell Address:

Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

At this particular moment, I’m thinking these may nearly have been the last intelligent words of a U.S. president. Even when we get intelligent people into office, such as Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, they behave like idiots, on the level of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

The Federalist Papers, especially no. 10, make clear that the game of U.S. governance was always a game stacked against ordinary people. Howard Zinn, in A People’s History of the United States, tells of recurrent uprisings and of an ongoing battle by the wealthy to protect their privileges. And Adam Curtis, in a series shown on the BBC, and available on DVD, “The Century of the Self” (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4), shows how the wealthy now appear to have won that battle.

But just as victory in Afghanistan is an impossible illusion, so this victory of the wealthy cannot be sustained. In 1962, John F. Kennedy warned wealthy Latin Americans, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” It was Martin Luther King, Jr., five years later, who applied those words to a “world revolution.” The question now is which will it be–peaceful or violent?

War is the first resort of a war criminal

Bruce Arnold posted this on the Anarchy Think Tank listserv:


Yo, wake up texters, listen in,
Uncle Sam's after more boogeymen;
Dubya left Barack in a terrible jam
Way over in Afghanistan.
So put down your iPhone and pick up a gun,
We're gonna have a whole lotta fun.

And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Not freedom or our fellow man,
Next stop's Afghanistan;
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no need to wonder why,
For peak oil, we're all gonna die.

Well come on, McChrystal, let's move fast;
Your big chance has come at last.
Gotta kill all those towel heads;
Though Muslims ain't who we should dread.
Our robber barons, they're the ones
Who blew the Towers to kingdom come.

And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Not freedom or our fellow man,
Next stop's Afghanistan;
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no need to wonder why,
For peak oil, we're all gonna die.


Well, come on Wall Street, don't move slow,
Since 9-1-1, it's go-go-go.
There's plenty good money to be made
Supplying both sides with the tools of the trade.
Just hope if they grab a Pakistani bomb,
They drop it on Dick Cheney's lawn.

And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Not freedom or our fellow man,
Next stop's Afghanistan.
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no need to wonder why,
For peak oil, we're all gonna die.

Well, come on mothers throughout the land,
Send your child to Afghanistan.
Come on fathers, don't hesitate,
Send 'em off before it's too late.
Be the first one on your block
To have your kid come home in a box.

And it's one, two, three
What are we fighting for?
Not freedom or our fellow man,
Next stop's Afghanistan.
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no need to wonder why,
For peak oil, we're all gonna die.

--with apologies to Country Joe MacDonald

As widely forecast, Barack Obama has indeed committed the United States to an escalation of forces in Afghanistan. His speech has been republished in a number of outlets; I found it first here.

This speech reveals unclear thinking: Obama conflates the Taliban with al Qaeda, even though many suspect that the Taliban would not again host al Qaeda, and even though al Qaeda can operate from anywhere. He blatantly lies when he states, “It is from [Afghanistan and Pakistan] that we were attacked on 9/11;” the plotters worked from Germany, and face charges which rely upon German evidence. He claims that the Taliban insurgency is not a broad-based popular insurgency, yet he also claims that al Qaeda is the target. But a war–and modern war can only target civilians, and is thus inherently criminal–bolsters the insurgency.

Further, he claims a victory in Iraq which is illusory–the relative calm there is the result of ethnic cleansing, as evidenced by the millions of mostly Sunni Iraqis who now live abroad.

Obama resorts to a myth of the U.S. as a do-gooder in the world, reminding me of the saying that patriotism is the final (or first) resort of scoundrels. And that is what this speech reveals him to be: a scoundrel.

A goosestep in our future

The list of broken promises seems endless: “fflambeau” at FireDogLake cites transparency; health care; bringing new faces to Washington; opposing telecom immunity; renegotiating NAFTA; repealing the Defense of Marriage Act; abandoning the always ridiculous Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy; lobbying; taxes on earnings over $250,000 per year; closing Guantanamo; ending the practice of extraordinary rendition; state secrets; allowing five days to pass before signing legislation; and as s/he puts it, “a host of other issues.” I would add that Barack Obama has replaced soldiers with contractors in Iraq, belying his promise to withdraw from the country; supported renewal of Patriot Act provisions; sought to replace Guanatanamo with Bagram; clung to the powers amassed by his predecessor; and in general replaced “change” with more of the same.

Indeed, as Glenn Greenwald wrote,

It’s hardly unreasonable to object when someone runs for high political office based on clear and repeated promises that they have squarely violated. Whatever else is true, watching Obama embrace extremist policies can still be “disappointing” even if one isn’t surprised that he’s doing it. I could understand and accept a lot more easily [progressives’ and Democrats’] blithe acquiescence to Obama’s record if it weren’t for the fact that progressives and Democrats spent so many years screaming bloody murder over Bush’s use of indefinite detention, military commissions, state secrets, renditions, and extreme secrecy — policies Obama has largely and/or completely adopted as his own.

It was a mistake to see Obama as a progressive. To me, this became apparent about the time it became clear he had defeated Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic party nomination. Not that Clinton would have been a better candidate, as she demonstrated on her recent trip to the Middle East and South Asia. But as time has gone by, the picture has only grown worse, replacing hope with hopelessness.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Obama’s handling of the economy has been abysmal. Millions have lost their jobs, but after rushing to bail out the banks, as Paul Krugman writes, “Later this week, President Obama will hold a ‘jobs summit.’ Most of the people I talk to are cynical about the event, and expect the administration to offer no more than symbolic gestures.” That summit will precede by one day the release of what will surely be yet worse employment statistics. A desperately needed investment in infrastructure and in state and local government that would put people to work in real jobs is simply not on tap from an administration more worried about budget deficits.

Not only do 2010 election results look likely to be ugly, but I am now finding it hard to believe that Obama can be elected to a second term. The way he’s going, it doesn’t even seem like he wants a second term. And yet it is also apparent that the Republican strategy is not an electoral strategy.

With both major parties not only discredited, but seemingly doing everything possible to discredit themselves further, we are no longer in a situation where the paradigm of two major parties makes any sense. And widespread desperation in the country means that people cannot be apathetic.

I have used this forum repeatedly to question how this can come out, suggesting that the Republican strategy may be a coup strategy. There is a frightening segment of the U.S. population which believes only Republican lies. Their racism evokes a rationale that actually makes the Ku Klux Klan comprehendible. And when they carry weapons outside the venues of Obama’s speeches, I think of lynchings.

That’s why I’m so scared about where this country is headed. Republicans might not literally be goosestepping down a main street near me any time soon. But I’m not seeing leftists rising to the challenge. And that means that our system of government and our society have nowhere left to go.