Wednesday, May 6, 2009

g.h.kirsch: Bait and Switch?

While after a hundred days the Obama administration may be spinnin' and grinnin', the rising chorus of criticism on the left evidences the disillusionment and disenchantment growing among those who believed they were voting for a change from Bush.

On issue after issue, the bottom line is no change.

Elliott Cohen, is an ethicist and political analyst. He is the editor in chief of the International Journal of Applied Philosophy. He complains that, having made good press by signing a law closing the prison at Guantanimo Bay, Obama is now considering reinstating the Military Commissions Act contradicting his promise to end military tribunals and close down “Gitmo” and the rest of the CIA's gulag; and retaining the act's notoriously vague, legally flawed and chilling definition of “unlawful enemy combatant.”

Cohen feels, for someone like Obama, running as a constitutional law professor who would restore the rule of law, this, “... reeks of duplicity and is no different than what we've seen the last eight years. The stench of hypocrisy pervades Barack Obama’s administration. This is not only a violation of the rule of law and of due process; it is also a concession to torture, which the president has repeatedly claimed to be off the table.”

William Blum is similarly concerned with the President's retreat from reform of Bush era torture policy and investigation and prosecution of war crimes by members of the previous administration. Blum is the author of several books, including Rogue State: a guide to the World's Only Super Power.

He observes, “[Obama] doesn't really believe strongly in anything, certainly not in controversial areas. He learned a long time ago how to take positions that avoid controversy, how to express opinions without clearly and firmly taking sides, how to talk eloquently without actually saying anything, how to leave his listeners' heads filled with stirring clich├ęs, platitudes, and slogans.

And it worked. Oh how it worked! What could happen now, as President of the United States, to induce him to change his style?”

On the issue of reforming health care for Americans and American business, Obama's one time supporters watch him shrink away from confrontation with the health insurers.

Dr. David Himmelstein is a founder of Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP) and one of its leading thinkers.

On Obama he says, “The President once acknowledged that single payer reform was the best option, but now he’s caving in to corporate healthcare interests and completely shutting out advocates of single payer reform. The majority of Americans favor single payer.”

John Walsh, long time advocate of health care reform and another member of PNHP, recently wrote, “And now at this moment when the health care system is in a very deep crisis with increasing numbers unemployed in need of health insurance, all may be lost – and that due to the very man, Barack Obama, whom so many of these same activists worked so hard to elect. Such a betrayal is breathtaking.”

And no one, save maybe the crew at Goldman Sachs, can begin to believe the new administration's fundamental transfer of wealth from the taxpayer to the oligarchs will benefit the nation.

Paul Krugman, Nobel economist and noted liberal, wrote that the White House's bank rescue plan would fail. He said, “This is more than disappointing. In fact, it fills me with a sense of despair. ... It’s as if the president were determined to confirm the growing perception that he and his economic team are out of touch, that their economic vision is clouded by excessively close ties to Wall Street.”

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist. His last book was The Case for Impeachment. He was not very happy during the Bush years.

He writes, “It may be hard for some to see Obama as the enemy since he is an appealing persona, a physically attractive man in appearance and speech, a politician of color, and one who looks especially good after years of Bush. But the Bush standard is a low bar indeed, and persona is no substitute for policy.”

Lindorff feels Citibank, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and the other financial institutions that made bad bets should be allowed to fail, taking with them the investors and managers who played this dirty game.

“Why isn't the Obama administration doing this? Because Obama has put his trust in the advice of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Chief Economic Advisor Larry Summers, and, informally, former Clinton Treasurer Robert Rubin, all linked to the investment bank Goldman Sachs, which was also the corporate home of Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.”

And on the matter of Obama's oft lauded concern for Main Street and beleaguered homeowners struggling to keep their homes, the editors of the New York Times reported with despair and disappointment:

“The Obama administration sat by last week as 12 Senate Democrats joined 39 Senate Republicans to block a vote on an amendment that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to modify troubled mortgages.

Senator Obama campaigned on the provision. And President Obama made its passage part of his anti-foreclosure plan. It would have been a very useful prod to get lenders to rework bad loans rather than leaving the modification to a judge.

But when the time came to stand up to the banking lobbies and cajole yes votes from reluctant senators — the White House didn’t. When the measure failed, there wasn’t even a statement of regret.”

Michael Hudson is a former Wall Street economist, Distinguished Research Professor at University of Missouri, and author of many books, including Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire.

His words hit hard. “Reality had to raise its ugly head. Obama was elected with overwhelming approval to inaugurate an era of change...he said that his decisive victory gave him a mandate to change the direction in which America is moving.

But his economic and foreign policy appointments made it clear that when he chose “change” as his campaign slogan, he was NOT referring to the financial, insurance and real estate sectors, nor to foreign policy.

These are where the vested interests concentrate their wealth and power. And change already has been accelerating here. Unfortunately, its direction has been for the top 1% of America’s population to raise their share of in the returns to wealth from 37% ten years ago to 57% five years ago and an estimated nearly 70% today.

This is not what most people hoped for. But their hopes were so strong that it was easier to indulge in happy dreams and put one’s faith in a prince than to look at the systemic problems that need to be restructured in order for real change to occur.

The moral is, next time a candidate promises change, ask them to say just what changes they have in mind.”

Again, the words of William Blum.

“I could really feel sorry for Barack Obama — for his administration is plagued and handicapped by a major recession not of his making — if he had a vision that was thus being thwarted. But he has no vision — not any kind of systemic remaking of the economy, producing a more equitable and more honest society; nor a world at peace, beginning with ending America's perennial wars; no vision of the fantastic things that could be done with the trillions of dollars that would be saved by putting an end to war without end; nor a vision of a world totally rid of torture; nor an America with national health insurance; nor an environment free of capitalist subversion.

He just looks for what will offend the fewest people. He's a 'whatever works' kind of guy. But what we need and crave is a leader of vision.”