Politics: September 2009 Archives


spotted as I left MoMA yesterday afternoon: the Presidential truck speeding east on 53rd Street with the Obama party securely ensconced, heading back to the Waldorf from the David Letterman taping

At the UN climate summit today, Obama told the General Assembly that the U.S. is "determined to act" on climate change. Last night at home, in an unplanned salute to the summit, Barry and I watched "Save the Green Planet".

Right now I'm thinking that while we were enjoying that film we probably contributed as much toward toward averting the worst fate of the earth as anything promised by our President.

That just doesn't make me feel so good, so I hope I'm wrong.

We've been on a Korean film binge lately, all knockouts, and most by the director Bong Joon-ho. Although we were unprepared for the violence in Joon-Hwan Jang's hybrid comedy/drama/horror/sci-fi/thriller, we ended up watching most of the DVD's long list of extra features and I still have "Jigureul jikyeora!" rolling around inside my head.

Leonid Osipovic Pasternak The Night before the Exam 1935

let them finally offer care to everyone

I'm old enough to remember a little bit about the fuss over Harry Truman's National Health Insurance initiative in the early post-war years, a part of what he called his "Fair Deal". What would eventually become known as the Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill (say it out loud, fast, but with respect) was first introduced in May, 1945. It was a proposal to expand the Social Security System into a full federal pension system and would have ultimately introduced single-payer health care. Universal health care had been a dream of progressives ever since the beginning of the century and more recently outlined in 1938 by an interdepartmental presidential committee formed in 1935 by FDR. While each of the exhausted European nations succeeded in enacting such programs shortly after 1945, it never went anywhere in the U.S., the only warring nation which had come out of the conflict stronger and wealthier than it had entered it.

All of which brings me to say that Obama did lie in his speech* last night, although not when he denied his plan would include health care for illegal immigrants [but what a crazy idea that would be, huh?].

Rather, he lied (okay he said something false) when he spoke about the public option, the last scrap remaining from a great and venerable reform movement, warning progressives not to insist on it:

It is only one part of my plan, and should not be used as a handy excuse for the usual Washington ideological battles. To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it [my emphasis]. The public option is only a means to that end - and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.

in fact, the "driving idea" was never about ending "insurance company abuses and making coverage affordable". It was always about a single payer system providing health care for all. For the reality-based people it's still about single payer, whether our President or our two corporationist parties like it or not.

I cannot lie: I actually never intended to watch Obama's speech and in fact I did not; instead, while looking on line this morning, trying to find anyone who was not dazzled by its supposed brilliance and its putative success (what does "success" mean in this context?), I came upon this post by Cenk Uygur, where I found the segment from Obama's delivery which I excerpted above.

[image from Bridgeman]


Roy Lichtenstein Hopeless 1963

Obama is a disaster, and I say that because his failure may mean that the kind of reform which could have saved America may never be possible again.

His time appears to have run out (I'm not sure he would be interested in doing anything with it even if he were given an extension). He has utterly failed to do what he said he would do, what his supporters voted for him to do. His election, following the disastrous failure of his predecessor, and coinciding with that of a Democratic House and Senate, created an extraordinary momentum and an extremely rare political opportunity for advancing a progressive agenda. It was an environment, a moment, which we're unlikely ever to see again. In the six months since we've witnessed the shocking success of the scurvy machinations devised by a radical Right which had been reported displaced and in serious disarray. They've given us an indication of what to expect going forward.

Our politics are a complete fraud: Any principled engagement in politics has become an absolutely futile exercise and this will remain the case unless we are able to take the system out of the hands of the plutocrats and the corporations that own it. I see no possibility of that happening.

If such a possibility were moral, or even real, I would be tempted to adopt a status of "inner emigration"*. I can say at least that I no longer argue with any American who says they don't vote; a decision not to go through the motions which might help legitimize a fake democracy appears to be pretty reasonable in the circumstances of the present.

Although I had started to worry about the future of Obama's "change" myth as early as late last November (see this entry), I held off publishing a more definitive list of complaints until now, finally deciding to pull it out of the "drawer" where I keep my drafts, because I just couldn't stand looking at the subject line any longer.

In a post written only days after the election I expressed my reservations about whether Obama would be able to pull off the revolution that it would take to undue the damage which Bush administration had done, but I concluded that I believed he really would pull it off.

I was wrong. While I could turn out to be wrong again and would welcome it, today I feel certain that he won't be able to pull off any reform and, looking at what David Sirota has called his Team of Corporate Zombies and checking off the list of the things he has done and the things he has not done, I have some real doubts about whether he ever intended to.**

For months I've been talking to friends about my despair over Obama's administration, challenging anyone to point to anything which it has actually accomplished. At first most people seemed shocked by my criticism, but if they gave me any argument it would usually only be a comment about something Obama has said he would do. I've not been registering any shocked responses in recent weeks, and I'm hearing no arguments, so while this post's downbeat argument might have really stood out earlier, maybe its novelty has been overtaken by events.

But I still think it's worth taking stock of what we have lost, so here's a partial list:

1. The Patriot Act remains almost intact
2. "State secrets" remain state secrets, and the administration argues that the privilege is rooted in the Constitution
3. The prisoners in Guantanamo, even if it the concentration camp is decommissioned, will remain prisoners; they and anyone our government rounds up in the future can be "detained" indefinitely, without charge or trial
3. The administration refuses to release prisoner abuse photos from years ago
4. The policy of rendition will continue
5. We now have an accelerated war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and our troops remain in Iraq
6. The administration shows no interest in addressing ENDA
7. Obama's Justice Department has argued that the state has an interest in defending marriage as meaning a contract between a man and a woman
8. The administration shows no interest in addressing "don't-ask-don't-tell" (service people are still being discharged for being gay)
9. Addressing climate change appears to be a low priority (and coal is still being extracted through mountain-top removal)
10. Universal health care is off the table, opening the way for even more complicated for-profit systems which won't even address rising costs
11. Recognition of needle exchange programs is going nowhere
12. Financial regulatory reform, where it is alive, has been put in the hands of Wall Street insiders
13. The measures used to address the economic meltdown and bank failures, the stimulus and the bailout, were designed by and for the individuals and banks who were responsible for the Great Recession in the first place, and have neglected foreclosures, loss of home equity value, and unemployment (and underemployment)
14. No back-to-work program which might be aimed at greening American technology
15. Continued neglect of the infrastructure
16. Continued neglect of meaningful public transit programs
17. The ill-conceived and obscenely wasteful "Clunkers" program and the distraction from real, constructive change which it presented
18. Failure to reinstate the ban on assault weapons
19. "Flexibility" on the call for a halt to the illegal Israeli settlements on the Left Bank
20. Maintaining Bush-era procedures allowing the government to search (without suspicion of wrongdoing) traveler's laptops, cellphones, or other electronic devices
21. Obama's vaunted "Transparency" has become a joke
22. Maintaining the FISA spying-on-citizens protocols
23. Extending a free pass to Bush, Cheney and Rice for their clear violations of the Geneva Conventions
24. Expanding both the scope and power of the "faith-based" initiatives introduced by the Bush White House [added to the list Sept. 8]

ADDENDA (post-publication):

25 And now (revealed September 15) asking Congress to in fact extend three key provisions of the Patriot Act, which would otherwise expire at the end of the year
26. Unlike the last four presidents, Obama has not replaced the prior administration's district attorneys wholesale, but has instead left in place "the majority of the Bush administration DA's who had survived Rove's purges intended to make sure they were loyal Republican apparatchiks" [quoted from Ian Welsh], an alarming realization for anyone whose politics are to the Left of Attila the Hun
27. [the words of Ian Welsh once again:] "Obama has not cleaned out the administration in general of Bush-era appointees and plants; indeed he has filled less spots than either Clinton or Bush II had by this point in their terms--and no, it's not because the Senate won't confirm them."
28. The despicable private army formerly known as Blackwater remains in Iraq today, and the Obama administration recently extended the company's contract there indefinitely; the firm, whose owner has styled himself a Christian crusader, also has contracts in Aghanistan
29. Once again employing the argument of "National security", the administration is trying to weaken the "media shield" bill, designed to protect reporters against being forced to testify, which is currently working its way through Congress

One wonders just what have they been doing since moving into the White House, besides worrying about how not to offend their political enemies. Did everyone else notice that Van Jones, the man Obama threw to the dogs late Saturday night (an interesting news-hour calculation for the announcement), was one of the only genuine progressives in the White House, a real community organizer (like POTUS, before he got religion) and not a political hack like everyone else, including, I now believe, the boss?

Innere Emigration describes the the choice of some intellectuals, certain artists and writers, to remain in Germany (and, after the 1938 Anschluss, in Austria) during the era of National Socialism, although they were in opposition to the Nazi regime. It assumed a complete withdrawal from public life.

I notice that last November I included a footnote saying that in the end his race had proved to be no barrier to Obama's achievement of the White House; today, if I weren't in despair of Obama's competence or even his commitment, I could easily add a footnote about the fact that from the beginning race has however proven to be behind his opponents' mindless campaigns against every policy he has proposed: It's almost all about that uppity negro.

[image of Lichtenstein's "Hopelesss" from theheretik]

Dennis Klingensmith of Prospect Hill Cemetery in York, Pa., prepares to haul away a beam that will become part of a memorial. Recipients of the wreckage pay for transporting it. - NYTimes caption

Ludicrous or baleful? The Port Authority is giving away WTC junk (in both senses) more or less in our name.

As the anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, approaches on Friday, pieces of the World Trade Center rubble from that day have never been more accessible. A new campaign is under way to speed up the process and increase the volume of giving away pieces of steel big and small from the debris.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the steel, will invite police and fire departments and mayors and other leaders of cities and towns throughout the country to ask for pieces for memorials.

When I looked at the article on the front page of the NYTimes this morning my first response was, "this is still going on? I'd thought we were over that, especially considering how well our response to 9/11 had gone." I turned to Barry and said, "we're going to have jingoistic shrines made of crushed ambulances and twisted steel columns in every town in the country - in perpetuity", and he added, "to remind us that Saddam Hussein will not get away with it, and that the fight for cheap oil will never end".

[image by Michael Nagle from The New York Times]

This page is an archive of entries in the Politics category from September 2009.

previous archive: Politics: August 2009

next archivePolitics: October 2009