Forget the corrupt politicians, protest in the streets, Keith says:
1 comment August 2nd, 2011
Forget the corrupt politicians, protest in the streets, Keith says:
1 comment August 2nd, 2011
Glenn Greenwald remind us of the great victory won by President Obama in securing massive cuts to our social safety net:
The myth of Obama’s “blunders” and “weakness”
By Glenn Greenwald
With the details of the pending debt deal now emerging (and for a very good explanation of the key terms, see this post by former Biden economic adviser Jared Bernstein), a consensus is solidifying that (1) this is a virtually full-scale victory for the GOP and defeat for the President (who all along insisted on a “balanced” approach that included tax increases), but (2) the President, as usual, was too weak in standing up to right-wing intransigence — or simply had no options given their willingness to allow default — and was thus forced into this deal against his will. This depiction of Obama as occupying a largely powerless, toothless office incapable of standing up to Congress — or, at best, that the bad outcome happened because he’s just a weak negotiator who “blundered” — is the one that isinvariably trotted out to explain away most of the bad things he does.
It appears to be true that the President wanted tax revenues to be part of this deal. But it is absolutely false that he did not want these brutal budget cuts and was simply forced — either by his own strategic “blunders” or the “weakness” of his office — into accepting them. The evidence is overwhelming that Obama has long wanted exactly what he got: these severe domestic budget cuts and even ones well beyond these, including Social Security and Medicare, which he is likely to get with the Super-Committee created by this bill (as Robert Reich described the bill: ”No tax increases on rich yet almost certain cuts in Med[icare] and Social Security . . . . Ds can no longer campaign on R’s desire to Medicare and Soc Security, now that O has agreed it”).
Last night, John Cole — along with several others — promoted this weak-helpless-President narrative by asking what Obama could possibly have done to secure a better outcome. Early this morning, I answered him by email, but as I see that this is the claim being pervasively used to explain Obama’s acceptance of this deal – he was forced into it by the Tea Party hostage-takers — I’m reprinting that email I wrote here. For those who believe this narrative, please confront the evidence there; how anyone can claim in the face of all that evidence that the President was “forced” into making these cuts — as opposed to having eagerly sought them — is mystifying indeed. And, as I set forth there, there were ample steps he could have taken had he actually wanted leverage against the GOP; the very idea that negotiating steps so obvious to every progressive pundit somehow eluded the President and his vast army of advisers is absurd on its face.
Here’s The New Republic‘s Jonathan Cohn — who, as he says, with some understatement, is usually “among [Obama's] staunchest defenders in situations like these” — on what these guaranteed cuts mean (never mind the future cuts likely to come from the Super Committee):
As Robert Greenstein, of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, pointed out in a recent statement about a different proposal, there’s just no way to enact spending reductions of this magnitude without imposing a lot of pain. And contrary to the common understanding in the Washington cocktail party circuit, “pain” does not simply mean offending certain political sensibilities. Pain means more people eating tainted food, more people breathing polluted air, more people pulling their kids out of college, and more people losing their homes — in other words, the hardships people suffer when government can’t do an adequate job of looking out for their interests.
As I wrote back in April when progressive pundits in D.C. were so deeply baffled by Obama’s supposed “tactical mistake” in not insisting on a clean debt ceiling increase, Obama’s so-called “bad negotiating” or “weakness” is actually “shrewd negotiation” because he’s getting what he actually wants (which, shockingly, is not always the same as what he publicly says he wants). In this case, what he wants — and has long wanted, as he’s said repeatedly in public — are drastic spending cuts. In other words, he’s willing — eager — to impose the “pain” Cohn describes on those who can least afford to bear it so that he can run for re-election as a compromise-brokering, trans-partisan deficit cutter willing to “take considerable heat from his own party.”
UPDATE: Scott Lemieux writes to partially disagree with my argument here, but — except for his description of Obama as a “moderate Democrat” (I think Krugman’s “moderate Conservative”) is more accurate – I don’t really disagree with anything Lemieux write. Of course the fact that Obama wanted spending cuts does not preclude his having also made negotiation mistakes along the way. But my point is a more general one: for a long time, the standard progressive narrative was that Obama wanted a clean debt-ceiling hike but was being forced (by the Tea Party and bad negotiating) into unwanted budget cuts. The evidence — beginning with Obama’s own repeated statements — is that that’s just not true: he affirmatively wanted these cuts and more as part of the debt ceiling hike.
August 1st, 2011
From Crew 42:
“We’ve got to educate the American people at the same time we educate the President of the United States. The Republicans, Speaker Boehner or Majority Leader Cantor did not call for Social Security cuts in the budget deal. The President of the United States called for that,” Conyers, who has served in the House since 1965, said. “My response to him is to mass thousands of people in front of the White House to protest this,” Conyers said strongly.
Focusing on Obama, Conyers continued. “We want him to know from this day forward that we’ve had it. We want him to come out on our side not to watch and wait… We’re suffering,” Conyers said.
July 31st, 2011
Americablog summarizes the argument that it is Obama’s desperate attempt to gut the social safety net and reduce taxes on the wealthy that is spiraling out of control: That is, the post claims Obama wasn’t forced into draconian cuts to programs that serve the majority, but wanted those cuts. In the process he unleashed forced he now can’t control. The result will be further suffering for the majority.
More about Obama (my thoughts, as usual, after that).
Now we are in the midst of a debt crisis that stems largely from Obama’s inability to accept the intransigence of his political opponents. Last December, he caved in to Republicans by supporting extension of the Bush tax cuts even though there is no evidence that they have done anything other than increase the deficit. There were those who told Obama that he ought to include an increase in the debt limit, but he rejected that idea[.] …
Obama has continued to reject any proposal that might give him leverage in the negotiations even as House Republicans appear unwilling or incapable of raising the debt limit before a default occurs.
And this, by Yves Smith:
Some historical accounts of the Great Fire of Rome, which destroyed three of the city’s fourteen districts and damaged seven others, depict it as an urban redevelopment project gone bad. Emperor Nero allegedly torched the district where he wanted to build his Domus Aurea. Hence any lyre-playing was not a sign of imperial madness, but a badly-informed leader not knowing his plans had spun badly out of control.
President Obama’s plan at social and economic engineering, of rolling back core elements of the Great Deal out of a misguided effort to cut spending in a weak economy, is similarly blazing out of control. The debt ceiling crisis was meant to be a scare to provide an excuse for measures that are opposed by broad swathes of the public. …
[W]hat an appalling display of misguided ego, inept negotiating postures, bad policy thinking, and utter disregard for the public interest are on display in this fiasco.
Obama’s continuing insistence on compromising, his continuing faith in bipartisanship despite two and a half years of evidence that these people don’t do compromise and will never make a deal, is looking obsessive and compulsive. It’s deeply frustrating.
And that’s Krugman trying not to psychoanalyze.
Me, I prefer to give Obama credit for knowing what he wants and trying to get it. I disagree with Bartlett: the Bush Tax Cuts Cave was part of the plan, the setup that makes the current dramatics possible. Yves Smith is right-on with the Nero comparison: the best-laid plans of emperors oft burn down the town.
If you really want to see Obama’s goals laid out (like a patient etherized upon a table), just look at the Simpson-Bowles report. Hand-picked chairs for a hand-crafted 14-guaranteed-vote commission — Obama’s fingerprints all over it. So here’s what the Deficit Commission co-chairs recommended, per the NY Times:
Under the plan, individual income tax rates would decline to … 23 percent on the highest bracket (now 35 percent). The corporate tax rate, now 35 percent, would also be reduced, to as low as 26 percent.
That’s in addition to this…
benefit cuts and an increased retirement age for Social Security
… as well as cuts to Medicare and a cap to federal spending at 21%, a move that Dave Dayen said would “stop progressive governance permanently.”
Krugman’s summary of this plan: “A major transfer of income to a small minority of wealthy Americans.”
You don’t need psychology to know what Obama wants. You just need a willingness to take him at his word.
July 29th, 2011
Economist Jeffrey Sachs aptly sums up the budget debate gripping Washington. He describes the difference between the Democrats and republicans thus:
It’s more accurate to say that the Republicans are for Big Oil while the Democrats are for Big Banks. That has been the case since the modern Democratic Party was re-created by Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin.
Budgetary Deceit and America’s Decline
By Jeffrey Sachs
As I shuttle between East Africa, where a severe drought threatens the lives of more than 10 million people, and Athens, where a financial crisis threatens Greece and all of Europe, I am shocked by the U.S. budget negotiations between Congress and President Obama.
Every part of the budget debate in the U.S. is built on a tissue of willful deceit. Consider the Republican Party’s double-mantra that the deficit results from “runaway spending” and that more tax cuts are the key to economic growth. Republicans claim that the budget deficit, around 10 percent of GDP, has been caused only by a rise in outlays. This is blatantly untrue. The deficit results roughly equally from a fall of tax revenues as a share of GDP and a rise of spending as a share of GDP.
On both sides of the ledger — spending and taxes — part of the shift results from the weak economy (“cyclical factors”) and part from long-term trends. Spending, for example, is higher in part because of unemployment compensation, food stamps, and other federal spending to help the downtrodden in a weak economy. That’s the “cyclical” component. Part of the higher spending reflects long-term patterns, such as rising health care costs and an aging population, as well as America’s chronic addiction to wrongheaded wars and military occupations in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
Taxation is lower also because of short-term factors and long-term factors. The short-term factors involve reduced federal revenues in an economy with high unemployment. The long-term factors involve repeated tax cuts for companies and high-income individuals that have systematically eroded the tax base, giving unjust and unaffordable benefits for America’s millionaires, billionaires, and multinational corporations.
The Republicans also misrepresent the costs and benefits of closing the deficit through higher taxes on the rich. Americans wants the rich to pay more, and for good reason. Super-rich Americans have walked away with the prize in America. Our country is run by millionaires and billionaires, and for millionaires and billionaires, the rest of the country be damned. Yet the Republicans and their propaganda mouthpieces like Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, claim with sheer audacity that taxing the rich would kill economic growth. This trickle-down, voodoo, supply-side economics is the fig leaf of uncontrolled greed among the right-wing rich.
The truth is that we need more federal spending to create good jobs and remain globally competitive, not as some kind of short-term “stimulus” but as a long-term investment in education, job skills, science, technology, energy security, and modern infrastructure. I travel around the world as part of my job, and I can say without doubt that America has failed to modernize the economy and is steadily losing its international competitiveness. No wonder the good jobs are disappearing and the pay is stagnant, unless of course you are a CEO who can keep grabbing stock options and profits from the shareholders (who are anyway enjoying record incomes because of stagnant wages and high profits earned overseas).
The Democrats of the White House and much of Congress have been less crude, but no less insidious, in their duplicity. Obama’s campaign promise to “change Washington” looks like pure bait and switch. There has been no change, but rather more of the same: the Wall-Street-owned Democratic Party as we have come to know it. The idea that the Republicans are for the billionaires and the Democrats are for the common man is quaint but outdated. It’s more accurate to say that the Republicans are for Big Oil while the Democrats are for Big Banks. That has been the case since the modern Democratic Party was re-created by Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin.
Thus, at every crucial opportunity, Obama has failed to stand up for the poor and middle class. He refused to tax the banks and hedge funds properly on their outlandish profits; he refused to limit in a serious way the bankers’ mega-bonuses even when the bonuses were financed by taxpayer bailouts; and he even refused to stand up against extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich last December, though 60 percent of the electorate repeatedly and consistently demanded that the Bush tax cuts at the top should be ended. It’s not hard to understand why. Obama and Democratic Party politicians rely on Wall Street and the super-rich for campaign contributions the same way that the Republicans rely on oil and coal. In America today, only the rich have political power.
Obama could have cut hundreds of billions of dollars in spending that has been wasted on America’s disastrous wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, but here too it’s been all bait and switch. Obama is either afraid to stand up to the Pentagon or is part of the same neoconservative outlook as his predecessor. The real cause hardly matters since the outcome is the same: America is more militarily engaged under Obama than even under Bush. Amazing but true.
The stimulus legislation, pushed by Obama at the start of his term on the basis of antiquated economic theories, wasted the public’s money and also did something much worse. It discredited the vital role of public spending in solving real and long-term problems. Rather than thinking ahead and planning for long-term solutions, he simply spent money on short-term schemes.
Obama’s embrace of “shovel-ready” infrastructure, for example, left America with an economy based on shovels while China’s long-term strategy has given that country an economy based on 21st-century Maglev trains. Now that the resort to mega-deficits has run its course, Obama is on the verge of abandoning the poor and middle class, by agreeing with the plutocrats in Congress to cut spending on Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and discretionary civilian spending, while protecting the military and the low tax rates on the rich (if not lowering those top tax rates further according to the secret machinations of the Gang of Six, now endorsed by the president!)
Who runs America today? The rich and the multinational corporations. Who runs the White House? David Plouffe, whose job it is to make sure that ever word, every action of the president is calculated for electoral gain rather than the country’s needs. Who runs the Congress, on both sides of the aisle? The lobbyists, who win in every negotiation. And who loses? The American people, who have said repeatedly that they want a budget that sharply cuts the military, ends the wars, raises taxes on the rich, protects the poor and the middle class, and invests in America’s future not just in Obama’s speeches but in fact.
America needs a third-party movement to break the hammerlock of the financial elites. Until that happens, the political class and the media conglomerates will continue to spew lies, American militarism will continue to destabilize a growing swath of the world, and the country will continue its economic decline.
July 23rd, 2011
In typical Obama fashion,after pressing for a nearly toothless bank “reform” bill, he keeps on board a bank “regulator” whose only apparent concern is protecting the large banks from the weak regulations in the bill:
John Walsh voiced the frustrations of many bankers when he warned in a speech last month that federal regulators were not paying attention to the cumulative impact of new rules and restrictions, jeopardizing the ability of banks to support economic growth.
“I might have titled these remarks, ‘Beware of the Pendulum,’ ” he said. “To put it plainly, my view is that we are in danger of trying to squeeze too much risk and complexity out of banking.”
What made the speech unusual was that Mr. Walsh is a federal regulator. In fact, he is responsible for overseeing most of the nation’s large banks. And as the text of his remarks ricocheted across the electronic landscape of official Washington, it drew a furious reaction from advocates of increased regulation, who called on the White House to replace him….
Democrats and consumer advocates are particularly infuriated because Mr. Walsh, who stepped in as acting director in August, could be replaced by the White House at any time.
Walsh is seriously concerned about the anti-bank sentiment he (and the bankers) sees permeates a Wall Street funded Washington:
“I think we’re in a moment in time where if you say anything that suggests you see merit in an argument that is supported by bankers, that you’re somehow selling out your public office or something,” Mr. Walsh said. “And I just don’t agree with that.”
July 23rd, 2011
The Real News has a series of interviews, War is Not About Truth, Justice and the American Way with Col. Larry Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell at the State Department.
Here is the most recent interview in which Col. Wilkerson explains how torture was the final straw that drove him from military officer to critic:
June 14th, 2011
Those of us who opposed the Bush administration torture program have been demoralized by the lack of accountability for the numerous abuses committed as part of that program. President Obama decried torture, and said he would end it, but he also said he wanted to “look forward, not back,” apparently precluding investigations of the abuses committed by the previous administration.
The Obama administration has not merely refused to initiate criminal investigations of those who approved and ordered the Bush-Cheney torture program. They have declined even to support a Commission of Inquiry to explore what happened in a non-judicial forum. Further, the administration used every legal tool available – including spurious arguments about national security in US courts and diplomatic pressure on foreign governments – to stymie efforts at accountability through ethics complaints, domestic civil trials, and foreign criminal cases for the crimes committed by predecessors.
Over the last few years, as one avenue of accountability after another was closed, it looked as if the torture program would be protected as carefully by the Obama administration as it was by the Bush administration. The result, many feared, was that torture would remain an available tool of the state, to be dragged out by future administrations who could cite the lack of accountability for Bush torture by a Democratic administration as evidence of a bipartisan consensus that torture really isn’t that bad. Many human rights experts have argued that future courts, too, could view the current lack of accountability as a legal precedent, potentially further shielding future torturers.
The one avenue for accountability that wasn’t closed by the Obama administration was the investigation by Department of Justice prosecutor John Durham. Durham, readers may recall, was the Federal prosecutor originally tasked to investigate the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes in apparent violation of a court order. In 2009 Attorney General Eric Holder expanded Durham’s mandate to include investigating incidents of detainee treatment that went beyond even those actions approved under the so-called “torture memos” of the Bush Justice Department.
Durham’s expanded investigation has dragged on for two years with little visibility, except for his declaration in January that he would not indict anyone for the destruction of the interrogation videotapes. Many in the human rights community took the lack of indictments in the tapes case as an indication that Durham would ultimately decline to prosecute anyone, thus closing yet another avenue for possible accountability.
The pro-torture party of former Bush officials and right-wing pundits who defended the “enhanced interrogation” torture program at every opportunity did not appear as convinced as human rights advocates that Durham’s investigation would ultimately turn into a paper tiger. In the aftermath of the Bin Laden raid, they repeatedly harped on two issues. First, they vociferously claimed, using patently absurd arguments, that Bin Laden’s death showed that torture “worked.” Second, they frantically demanded that Durham’s investigation be called off.
It now appears that the pro-torture party may have recognized the implications of Durham’s investigation better than did most human rights advocates. On Monday, Adam Zagorin reported in TIME that Durham was in the process of actively investigating the murder of Manadel al-Jamadi, the Iraqi general whose frozen, brutally abused body appeared in the Abu Ghraib photographs. While al-Jamadi’s death had earlier been ruled a homicide, the Justice Department had taken no action. But Zagorin reports that Durham is now presenting evidence to a grand jury on the Jamadi case. And he apparently has his eyes on a possible perpetrator:
Perhaps most important, according to someone familiar with the investigation, Durham and FBI agents have said the probe’s focus involves “a specific civilian person.” Durham didn’t name names, but those close to the case believe that person is Mark Swanner, a non-covert CIA interrogator and polygraph expert who questioned al-Jamadi immediately before his death.
Also important is that Zagorin has a copy of a subpoena from the investigation that suggests that Durham may be looking beyond al-Jamadi:
TIME has obtained a copy of a subpoena signed by Durham that points to his grand jury’s broader mandate, which could involve charging additional CIA officers and contract employees in other cases. The subpoena says “the grand jury is conducting an investigation of possible violations of federal criminal laws involving War Crimes (18 USC/2441), Torture (18 USC 243OA) and related federal offenses.”
Thus, this investigation may be the beginning of a broader investigation of “CIA officers and contract employees.” One wonders if the CIA’s torture psychologist contractors James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen may be among Durham’s targets. This seems plausible since — based on later torture memos — their waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” tactics went, well beyond those authorized at the time in their intensity and longevity, providing potential liability under Durham’s mandate.
If Mitchell and Jessen are indeed targets, that could well explain the near panic of the torture defenders when they refer to the Durham investigation. These former officials and their apologists may be worried that an investigation into the actions of Mitchell and Jessen will go higher up the chain of command. Reportedly, everything done in the secret CIA prisons was approved in Washington, sometimes even in the White House. And, as Watergate demonstrated, investigations, once started, can sometimes climb the command chain to the very top.
There are no certainties in human rights work. But this latest news about Durham’s investigation is a rare bright spot in an otherwise bleak picture of continued abuses and absent accountability. It now appears possible that we might have some torture accountability after all.
June 13th, 2011
Courage to Resist reports that the international campaign against the abusive treatment of Bradley Manning has scored a major victory inn improving his conditions. Psychologists for Social Responsibility played a small role in this campaign through our two letters to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Here is the Courage to Resist statement:
Campaign Ends Torturous Treatment of Bradley Manning!
Supporters of accused WikiLeaks source vow to fight on for open trial and freedom
By the Bradley Manning Support Network. May 5, 2011
Hundreds of thousands of individuals globally celebrate today the confirmation that their efforts to end the torturous pre-trial confinement conditions inflicted upon US Army PFC Bradley Manning have been successful. Manning’s lead defense attorney, David E. Coombs of Rhode Island, has personally verified that Manning is indeed being held in Medium Custody confinement at the Joint Regional Corrections Facility (JRCF) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, as claimed by the Army last week.
“We won this battle because 600,000 individuals took the time to write letters and sign petitions, because thousands called the White House switchboard, because 300 of America’s top legal scholars decried Bradley’s pre-trial conditions as a clear violation of our Constitution’s 5th and 8th Amendments,” declared Jeff Paterson of Courage to Resist and the Bradley Manning Support Network. “We won this battle because over a hundred concerned citizens engaged in civil disobedience at the White House and at Quantico, and because our grassroots campaign shows no sign of slowing.”
These new conditions reflect a dramatic improvement for Manning following his transfer to Fort Leavenworth on April 20, 2011, after having suffered extreme solitary-like confinement at US Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. During the nine months at Quantico, Manning was denied meaningful exercise, social interaction, sunlight, and was at times kept completely naked. These conditions were unique to Manning and were illegal under US military law as they clearly amounted to pre-trial punishment.
“I was able to tour the [Fort Leavenworth] facility and meet with PFC Manning last week. PFC Manning is now being held in Medium Custody. He is no longer under…harsh pretrial confinement conditions. Unlike at Quantico, PFC Manning’s cell has a large window that provides adequate natural light….PFC Manning is able to have all of his personal items in his cell, which include his clothing, his legal materials, books and letters from family and friends….Each pre-trial area (including PFC Manning’s) has four cells, and each pre-trial detainee is assigned to his own cell. The cells are connected to a shared common area, with a table, a treadmill, a television and a shower area….PFC Manning and his group are taken to the outdoor recreation area [for approximately two hours daily],” explained Coombs on his blog at www.armycourtmartialdefense.info hours ago.
“President Obama’s recent pronouncement that Bradley Manning ‘broke the law’ amounts to Unlawful Command Influence, something clearly prohibited because it’s devastating to the military justice system. Manning will eventually be judged by a jury of career military officers and noncommissioned officers. Will they be able to set aside the declaration of their commander in chief?” explains attorney Kevin Zeese, a member of the Bradley Manning Support Network. “Along with the illegal pre-trial punishment already inflicted upon Bradley, the government has more than enough legal basis to drop the prosecution. Instead, the death penalty or life in prison hangs over Manning’s head.”
After nearly a year in confinement, the Army is expected to soon announce Manning’s first public hearing, an Article 32 pre-trial proceeding, which will be held in the Washington DC area. Scores of international solidarity events are already being planned.
US Army intelligence analyst Private First Class Bradley E. Manning, 23-years-old, was arrested in Iraq on May 26, 2010. He still awaits his first public court hearing, now expected to begin in June 2011. Over 4,300 individuals have contributed over $333,000 towards PFC Manning’s legal fees and related public education efforts. The Bradley Manning Support Network is dedicated to thwarting the military’s attempts to hold a secret court martial, and to eventually winning the freedom of PFC Manning.
May 5th, 2011