Bloody hands

To be sure, I have complaints about Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, given Tuesday night. It is obscene to me that he now acknowledges that “Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.”[1]

In February 2014, Obama signed a bill that would cut food stamps by $8.7 billion over the next 10 years. The legislation was estimated to cause 850,000 households to lose an average of $90 per month, while poverty and hunger are on the rise — even though they are already at disproportionately high levels compared to other OECD countries. . . .

Citing its “Too Big to Fail” policy, the Obama administration rewarded Wall Street for crashing the economy, at the sum of a whopping $700 billion tax dollars.

Meanwhile, no one was punished. As of 2013, five years after the crisis, not one top Wall Street executive was convicted of related criminal charges.[2]

As I have repeatedly noted, the Obama administration rushed to the aid of Wall Street banks, while leaving “underwater” homeowners and the unemployed to twist on the vine. Then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner et al. twisted what little aid was ostensibly made available for homeowners into a further rescue package for the banks, mostly just screwing ordinary people even more.[3] And the distance between Obama’s professed concern for the unemployed and his actions would span the Andromeda Galaxy[4] before you even get to the so-called “free trade” agreements that would harm workers even more.[5] The much-vaunted reduction in unemployment since the financial crisis is in significant part the result of workers leaving the work force, and while some economists would have you believe these workers are taking an extended vacation, the hard cold reality is that many have given up looking for work and many want more work than they can find.[6]

I’m also unimpressed by Obama’s claim that “[i]f you doubt America’s commitment — or mine — to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.”[7] Bin Laden was, of course, not brought to justice. He was summarily executed.

Then, however, there is the matter of “[Middle East] conflicts that date back millennia.”[8] Obama’s catching a lot of flak for this with many tracing present conflicts back only a few decades.[9] Max Fisher goes so far as to call the notion of ‘ancient religious hatreds’ a ‘myth.’[10]

In this case, I’m actually going to partially—only partially—defend Obama. Yes, it is true that you can date proximate causes of some present conflicts in some cases to the 1970s.[11] But all of this occurs in a historical context which includes colonization by competing European powers and Zionist settlers[12] prior to the formation of Israel itself. Going back many hundreds of years, one can point to the Crusades. And it would be ridiculous to claim that he depiction of Muslims as “others” to be defeated and subjugated by a Christian Europe (and the Christian United States) ended with the Crusades.

In general, European colonization did not end until after World War II. And some see the United States as having picked up where Europe left off, now possessing the largest empire the world has ever known.

What’s actually going on here is an attempt to portray recent conflicts as being between Muslim sects while obscuring the centuries-long role of Western powers (I include Israel among the latter). I see something like this in my analysis of functionalist conservative views of unauthorized migration in my dissertation, where one author refers to “drug wars”[13] and likely only means the conflicts between various cartels and assorted gangs, while omitting any mention of the (definite article) U.S. War on Drugs (capitalized) that created the conditions for cartels and gangs to flourish, making life extremely dangerous in Mexico and Central America and thus leading to increased migration.[14] On one hand, this is a foolishly myopic view. On the other, it blames the colonized rather than the colonizer. And both hands are bloody.

Of course, it’s entirely possible to attribute “ancient religious hatreds” solely to local people as well, and this was surely what Obama was doing, again ignoring the role of the West. He, too, blames the colonized rather than the colonizer. But that’s really no better or worse than many of his critics.

  1. [1]Barack Obama, “Remarks of President Barack Obama – State of the Union Address As Delivered,” White House, January 12, 2016, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/12/remarks-president-barack-obama-%E2%80%93-prepared-delivery-state-union-address
  2. [2]Ben Norton, “Obama’s hypocrisy: He said blame Wall Street, not food stamps — but he bailed out bankers and cut help for the hungry,” Salon, January 13, 2016, http://www.salon.com/2016/01/13/obamas_hypocrisy_he_said_blame_wall_street_not_food_stamps_but_he_bailed_out_bankers_and_cut_help_for_the_hungry/
  3. [3]Binyamin Appelbaum, “Cautious Moves on Foreclosures Haunting Obama,” New York Times, August 19, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/20/business/economy/slow-response-to-housing-crisis-now-weighs-on-obama.html; Neil Barofsky, Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street (New York: Free Press, 2012); Paul Krugman, “Springtime for Bankers,” New York Times, May 18, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/19/opinion/krugman-springtime-for-bankers.html; Paul Krugman, “Does He Pass the Test?” review of Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises, by Timothy F. Geithner, New York Review of Books, July 10, 2014, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/jul/10/geithner-does-he-pass-test/; Michael Powell and Andrew Martin, “Foreclosure Aid Fell Short, and Is Fading,” New York Times, March 29, 2011, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/30/business/30foreclose.html; Robert Reich, “Tim Geithner and the Wall Street Bailout Redux,” May 13, 2014, http://robertreich.org/post/85654652535; Yves Smith, “The Top Twelve Reasons Why You Should Hate the Mortgage Settlement,” Naked Capitalism, February 9, 2012, http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/02/the-top-twelve-reasons-why-you-should-hate-the-mortgage-settlement.html; David Streitfeld, “Panel Is Critical of Obama Mortgage Modification Plan,” New York Times, December 14, 2010, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/14/business/economy/14hamp.html
  4. [4]David Benfell, “Dickens redux,” Not Housebroken, August 3, 2011, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=4279
  5. [5]Jeronim Capaldo and Alex Izurieta with Jomo Kwame Sundaram, “Unemployment, Inequality and Other Risks of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement,” Global Development and Environment Institute, January, 2016, http://ase.tufts.edu/gdae/policy_research/TPP_simulations.html
  6. [6]Matt O’Brien, “Economists have discovered how bad the economy really is,” Washington Post, April 21, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/04/21/economists-have-discovered-how-bad-the-economy-really-is/
  7. [7]Barack Obama, “Remarks of President Barack Obama – State of the Union Address As Delivered,” White House, January 12, 2016, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/12/remarks-president-barack-obama-%E2%80%93-prepared-delivery-state-union-address
  8. [8]Barack Obama, “Remarks of President Barack Obama – State of the Union Address As Delivered,” White House, January 12, 2016, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/12/remarks-president-barack-obama-%E2%80%93-prepared-delivery-state-union-address
  9. [9]Karla Adam, “Obama ridiculed for saying conflicts in the Middle East ‘date back millennia.’ (Some don’t date back a decade.)” Washington Post, January 13, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/01/13/obama-ridiculed-for-saying-conflicts-in-the-middle-east-date-back-millennia-some-dont-date-back-a-decade/
  10. [10]Max Fisher, “The real roots of Sunni-Shia conflict: beyond the myth of ‘ancient religious hatreds,'” Vox, January 5, 2016, http://www.vox.com/2016/1/5/10718456/sunni-shia
  11. [11]Karla Adam, “Obama ridiculed for saying conflicts in the Middle East ‘date back millennia.’ (Some don’t date back a decade.)” Washington Post, January 13, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/01/13/obama-ridiculed-for-saying-conflicts-in-the-middle-east-date-back-millennia-some-dont-date-back-a-decade/; Max Fisher, “The real roots of Sunni-Shia conflict: beyond the myth of ‘ancient religious hatreds,'” Vox, January 5, 2016, http://www.vox.com/2016/1/5/10718456/sunni-shia
  12. [12]David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace (New York: Henry Holt, 1989).
  13. [13]Julia E. Sweig, “Responsibility for the Tragedy,” Council on Foreign Relations, July 2, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/immigration/responsibility-tragedy/p33198
  14. [14]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2015), doi: 10.13140/RG.2.1.4776.2001

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