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Barack Obama and Langston Hughes on “Grumblers” and “Merry Christmas” December 27, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Asia, Barack Obama, Cuba, Economic Crisis, Haiti, History, Iraq and Afghanistan, Race, War.
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Posted Wed, 12/23/2009 – 17:24 by Bruce A. Dixon

When US presidents offer us their holiday greeting messages, do we know what are they really saying?  How hard can it be to figure that out?  Langston Hughes died in 1967, but he knew what every US president, including Barack Obama is really saying, underneath and behind the mask.  

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

In a recent interview with one of the few black reporters privileged to be part of the White House press corps, President Obama wasasked

April D. Ryan: Speaking of the African American community, this seems to be a shift in black leadership, as it relates to supporting you. You have the CBC that’s upset with you about targeting on the jobs front — African Americans, 15.6 percent unemployment rate, expected to go to 20 percent; mainstream America 10 percent. Then you have black actors who supported you — Danny Glover, who’s saying that you’ve not changed, your administration is the same as George W. Bush. What are your thoughts about the fact that black leadership is grumbling, and the fact that people are concerned with you being the first African American President, and they thought that there would be a little bit more compassion for black issues?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, April, I think you just engaged in a big generalization in terms of how you asked that question. If you want me to line up all the black actors, for example, who support me, and put them on one side of the room, and a couple who are grumbling on the other, I’m happy to have that.

I think if you look at the polling, in terms of the attitudes of the African American community, there’s overwhelming support for what we’ve tried to do. And, so, is there grumbling? Of course there’s grumbling,

Obama was referring to the relatively mild and tentative criticisms of the Congressional Black Caucus, along with other expressions of disappointment on the part of such activists as actor Danny Glover. The president can ignore, dismiss or disparage the divide between his policies and the opinions of the African American community which supported him. But it’s deep, it’s real, and it’s growing. It’s even historic.

Presidents have been issuing holiday greeting messages from their homes or cozy offices for a long time now, and Obama’s will be on line any minute now. Those interested can probably find it at JackandJillPolitics.com, at whitehouse.gov, and any number of other places. But the ironic 1930 Christmas message of Langston Hughes, the poet laureate of Black America sounds, with the most minor edits, like it could have come from the lips any US president of the past hundred years, including Barack Obama.

Sixty-nine years ago Langston Hughes began his holiday poem Merry Christmas with these lines

Merry Christmas China

From the gun-boats in the river

Ten inch shells for Christmas gifts

And peace on earth forever

At the moment, the U.S. was hip-deep in the Chinese civil war, bankrolling and advising a string of opium-soaked warlord armies against communists and agitators, and conducting naval operations in Chinese rivers and off its coasts. Today our first black president’s Pentagon, headed by the same team that ran George Bush’s Pentagon, sits atop some 800 overseas military bases in a hundred countries with more than 2 million uniformed personnel. Our president will spend more on this military machine than the all the rest of the planet combined, fighting and preparing to fight what the National Security Doctrine calls “multiple overlapping wars” to control resources in distant lands in the interest “free trade and free markets.”

Langston’s Christmas poem draws our attention to a part of the world much in today’s headlines.

Merry Christmas, India

To Gandhi in his cell

From righteous Christian England

Ring out bright Christmas bell

Under our first black president, Afghanistan and Pakistan are part of a vast law-free zone in which daily shellings and air raids go unreported and unremarked except by the families of victims. Assassinations and kidnappings to fill America’s world-wide network of secret prisons have replaced the open incarceration of real and suspected political foes. At least we knew Gandhi’s name, what he was charged with, where he was locked up, what his sentence was, whether he got a day in court and whether his keepers mistreated him. We can’t say that about hundreds or thousands of Obama’s prisoners.

Merry Christmas Africa

From Cairo to he Cape

Sing hallelujah, praise the Lord

For murder and for rape

Some things have changed very little indeed. The four part series “The Ravaging of Africa” to which a link appears in our left column, is a comprehensive indictment of US policy in Africa, which has caused the death of some 26 million Africans since the 1960s, including nearly ten million in Congo alone. America’s role as conscienceless predator was reaffirmed last week in Copenhagen, when the US categorically rejected the notion that it owed the rest of the world a debt for being the single major contributor to climate change over the last century and a half. Africans can drown or starve due to US -initiated climate change, but there will be no technology sharing, no reparations, nothing in the way of human solidarity between Africa and the West if the son of Africa in the White House has anything to say about it.

Langston Hughes draws our attention to the Caribbean, where the US has enforced its will at gunpoint for much of two centuries.

Ring Merry Christmas Haiti

And drown the voodoo drums

We’ll rob you to the Christmas hymns

Until the next Christ comes

Ring Merry Christmas Cuba

(Where Yankee domination

Keeps a nice fat president’s

in a little half-starved nation.)

In Cuba at least, Yankee domination is over. President Obama seems to resent this fact just as much as the last nine presidents, and continues to enforce a warlike economic blockade on Cuba.

And in Haiti, after more than a dozen US invasions and occupations, the US engineered the kidnapping of that country’s elected president, whom Obama will not even allow back in the Western hemisphere. In the name of international cooperation, the US pays for a multinational occupation force from Brazil and other countries to hunt down and kill members of Haiti’s Lavalas party, freeing US Marines for duty elsewhere.

Under the rules, Haiti is to be kept starving and terrorized, prevented by law from feeding or funding itself, owning its own infrastructure or employing its own people. Some things don’t change much.

The Christmas message of Langston Hughes doesn’t forget about domestic affairs either.

And to you down and outers

(“Due to economic laws”)

Oh, eat, drink, be merry

With a breadline Santa Claus–

Jobless levels are the highest they’ve been anywhere since the Great Depression, when Hughes penned his Christmas greeting. But now, just as in 1930, we have a president with an unshakable belief that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” a saying popularized by John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. In this time of economic crisis, President Obama has transferred more wealth to Wall Street from the real economy than all his predecessors combined.

But hard-pressed homeowners and those with heavy debts due to unpayable medical bills remain underwater. Their bailout isn’t coming. The only ones, apart from Wall Street who’ll get anything under an Obama administration will be the military.

President Obama began this December with a belligerent address that used the cadets at West Point as human stage props. At mid-month he went to Copenhagen to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and offer another bald-faced set of excuses for wars, kidnappings, secret prisons and the whole panoply of empire. He or his vice president may end it treating us to a Christmas or New Year’s message posing with the troops in occupied Iraq or Afghanistan. The more some things change, the more they stay the same.

We don’t know exactly what Obama will say in his holiday message. But Langston Hughes knew seventy years ago what he will mean.

While all the world hails Christmas

While all the church bells sway

While better still the Christian guns

Proclaim this joyous day

While holy steel that makes us strong

Spits forth a mighty yuletide song

SHOOT Merry Christmas everywhere

Let Merry Christmas GAS the air.

Presidents can always find sycophants, yes-men or yes-women eager to agree to whatever they say, often before they can even say it. All that comes with the job, along with Air Force One and that song they play every time he enters a crowded room. But the the truth is always true, no matter how hotly or how many the deniers, and most of Black America is not in denial on war, peace, mass incarceration or poverty.  The heroes, and the just plain honest will always be those who speak the truth to power.

Langston has been gone from us a long time now. We’ll never know what he might say to a son of Africa in the White House, married to a girl from the south side of Chicago. But nobody on either side of the grave speaks more directly to what our first black president has become than Langston Hughes did seven decades ago. Barack Obama is in power. He can ignore, disparage or dismiss the truth. But it’s still true.  And most of us know it.

We wish the president and first family, along with all our readers and friends around the world a joyous and fulfilling holiday.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and based in Atlanta. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport. Langston Hughes is the poet laureate of Black America and can be reached at public libraries, and at independent and other bookstores everywhere.

The Day They Arrested President Roosevelt July 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, History, Honduras.
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FDR
US PRESIDENT FRANKLIN DELANA ROOSEVELT
 
 
zelaya
HONDURAN PRESIDENT MANUEL ZELAYA
 
Published on Saturday, July 18, 2009 by CommonDreams.org by Robert Naiman

What a dark day for American democracy it was – February 5, 1937, the day they arrested President Roosevelt.

The pretext for this assault on democracy was President Roosevelt’s proposal of the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937, which would have allowed President Roosevelt to appoint more members to the Supreme Court, which had blocked New Deal measures President Roosevelt had introduced to try to bring America out of the Great Depression. Supporters of the New Deal were particularly galled by the Supreme Court’s decision the previous year throwing out New York’s minimum wage law.

But some of President Roosevelt’s opponents in Congress (including many conservative Democrats), the Supreme Court, and the military claimed the proposed bill was an assault on the Constitution – even though the Constitution doesn’t say how many Supreme Court justices there should be, and Congress had changed the number of Supreme Court Justices many times in the past – and that Roosevelt’s move was a dangerous power grab. So dangerous, in fact, that Roosevelt’s proposal could not even be considered in Congress. Roosevelt’s opponents claimed that he had violated the Constitution by even suggesting the idea, and had to be removed from office immediately; that Roosevelt and his supporters were such a threat to the established order that due process had to be dispensed with — if Roosevelt were put in prison, maybe there would be riots.

Therefore, on the morning of February 5, soldiers under the command of General Smedley Butler arrested President Roosevelt and deported him to Canada, still in his pajamas.

With President Roosevelt out of the way, the Supreme Court overturned Washington State’s minimum wage law on March 9. On April 12, the Supreme Court threw out the National Labor Relations Act — which sought to guarantee the rights of workers to organize into “unions” so they could bargain collectively for higher wages and better working conditions. Finally, on May 24, the Supreme Court overturned the law establishing Roosevelt’s proposed “Social Security” system – a public pension scheme to guarantee some income to less privileged workers and their dependents in retirement and to the disabled. The New Deal was crushed.

Imagine how different America might be today, if President Roosevelt had been allowed to continue his term and the New Deal had been allowed to proceed. Maybe sixty per cent of our fellow Americans wouldn’t live in poverty, as they do today.

Some of the foregoing things didn’t happen in the United States, but some of them did. The Supreme Court really did overturn New York’s minimum wage law, and many feared that it would overturn Washington’s minimum wage law, the National Labor Relations Act, and Social Security. The Court narrowly upheld them — 5 to 4 — after Roosevelt introduced his proposed judicial reform, when one of the anti-New Deal justices switched sides. Roosevelt’s proposed judicial reform itself was decisively defeated in Congress, with strong Democratic opposition – many did say, including many Democrats, that it was an attack on the Constitution.

U.S. soldiers never arrested President Roosevelt and deported him to Canada, although General Smedley Butler did testify to Congress that he had been recruited by people claiming to represent corporate interests to lead a coup against President Roosevelt.

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was deported by Honduran soldiers to Costa Rica on June 28 for the “crime” of proposing that Hondurans be allowed to consider a non-binding, advisory referendum on reforming their constitution.

US corporate interests — including textile and clothing importers that pay their Honduran workers poverty wages — recently sent a letter to President Obama asking for “business as usual” with the coup regime in Honduras, a letter the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation denounced as ‘disgusting.’

Today sixty per cent of Hondurans live in poverty. They deserve a better future — a future they may never see if this coup is allowed to stand.

Democrats in the U.S. Congress are starting to stand up against the coup. Rep. Bill Delahunt and Rep. Jim McGovern have introduced a resolution calling for President Zelaya to be returned to office. Ask your Representative to support this resolution. The Capitol switchboard is 202.224.3121; or you can send an email here.

The Obama Administration has many levers it can use to pressure the coup regime. The Los Angeles Times has called for the Administration to consider “imposing sanctions on individuals involved with the coup, such as canceling visas and freezing bank accounts.“. The Obama Administration is much more likely to exert more pressure on the coup regime if Members of Congress speak out against the coup – so call or write your Representative now.

Robert Naiman is Senior Policy Analyst at Just Foreign Policy.

Looking Forward to What, Mr. President? April 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About Justice, About War, Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Pakistan, Torture, War.
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Roger Hollander, www.rogerhollander.com, April 24, 2009

 

O.K.  Let’s for a moment entertain the president’s thesis.  The problems facing the country are enormous.  No one can deny that.  Are they that critical, however, so as to justify ignoring the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes and violations of the United States Constitution of the gravest nature?

 

Since this is hypothetical I am willing for the moment to grant the president his argument: to wit, the need for the government to attend to critical matters is so vital that at the very least investigations and prosecutions of the Bush era crimes have to be put off.  In other words, as the president has put it, we need to look forward not backwards.

 

(There are those supporters of the president’s position who allege that those who are screaming for investigation and prosecutions are extreme leftists, partisan, out for revenge, etc.  There arguments are too facile and prima facie ridiculous to merit a response.  All I am granting here for the sake of argument is the hypothesis that it is in the country’s interest to attend to matters other than the Bush era crimes.)

 

What then, are we “looking forward” to?

 

In foreign policy the president has made a promise about withdrawal from Iraq that is so full of loopholes and caveats that any serious analysis cannot but conclude that the generals will have there way and the U.S. military presence, supported by an army of mercenaries, dozens of military bases, combat troops operating under a different name, and the largest embassy in the history of the world, will be extended indefinitely.  The president has gone ahead with a major escalation of the futile aggression in Afghanistan along with an escalation of the bombarding border areas of Pakistan with unmanned drone missiles.  His generals have assured him that the value of the “military gains” will outweigh the recruiting boon to al qaeda and the Taliban (who as we speak are marching towards Kabul) that results from the massive killing of civilians (the ghost of light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel-troops-home-for-Christmas General Westmoreland lives on)  .  With respect to the Middle East, so far President Obama has followed the Bush agenda to a tee, with uncritical support of Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip.  Whether he has the guts to stare down Netanyahu with respect to the latter’s threats to attack Iran remains to be seen.

 

On the home front looms the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the catalyst of which was the sub-prime mortgage scandal and the massive Ponzi schemes that the banks (banksters) and finance industry have run with toxic illegal loans and the unregulated derivatives market.  The president has put in charge of dealing with the crisis the very team (Geithner, Summers, Rubin) that created it and is throwing taxpayers monies down the same Black Hole created by George Bush, known as the Toxic Assets Relief Program (TARP), the premise of which is that bad debts equal money.  The “relief” goes to the Wall Street mafia while the nations’ mortgage defaults and employment goes through the ceiling.

 

In one of the country’s other most critical issues, that of health care reform, a major plank in the president’s campaign platform, the president apparently has reneged on his previous support for a single-payer national program (similar in theory and practice to Medicare), which he now tells us is “off the table.”  This can be considered as nothing less than sacrificing the national interest by caving in to the bloated blood-sucking private health care industry.

 

Well, Mr. President, I have gone along with you in agreeing on the seriousness of the problems facing our nation; but if what you have shown us about how you intend to deal with them is your justification for putting aside taking steps to achieve JUSTICE (and restore a semblance of respect for the rule of law) for the most heinous of war crimes and constitutional violations, then you have failed miserably to make your case.

 

You can count me out, and despite the psychotic-like ranting and ravings of the radical right (to which you have not stood up) and a mainstream media that has its collective head in the sand, I believe that I am part of a rapidly growing soon to be majority.

 

Someone, Mr. President, perhaps it was you, once quoted FDR telling those who were crying for radical reform to “make me do it.”  Well, Mr. President, do it.

‘1934’: Reflecting On America’s First Big Art Buy March 5, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Economic Crisis, Labor.
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by Elizabeth Blair

NPR, March 5, 2009

 

Ray Strong's 'Golden Gate Bridge'

Public Works: Ray Strong’s 1934 painting Golden Gate Bridge, a study of the landmark span under construction, is part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s “1934: A New Deal for Artists” exhibition. Smithsonian American Art Museum

 

 

 

 

 

“Looking back on the legacy of the 1930s program … what we see is [that] they gave us back to ourselves.”

Betsy Broun, Smithsonian American Art Museum

 

 

 

Who Was Eligible?

 

 

Painting From Life

Earle Richardson, 'Employment of Negroes in Agriculture'

Earle Richardson, Employment of Negroes in Agriculture Smithsonian American Art Museum

 

 

 

Dorothea Lange's 'Migrant Mother'

Photographer Dorothea Lange was one of those who benefited from later, expanded government arts-funding programs. She traveled the country, photographing the experience of the Great Depression; her photograph Migrant Mother, taken in 1936, is perhaps her most famous. Library of Congress

 

 

Listen: Lange On Getting Her Subjects To Open Up

Morning Edition, March 5, 2009 · The economic stimulus package Congress passed last month includes $50 million in emergency funding for the National Endowment for the Arts — money some legislators didn’t think belonged in the bill.

Doubters and supporters both, though, should find food for thought in a timely new show at the Smithsonian American Art Museum called “1934: A New Deal For Artists.” The show looks at the first time American artists — thousands of them — got direct government support.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, like today’s lawmakers, caught some flak for wanting to include artists in his relief program. He justified his decision, as American Art Museum director Betsy Broun explains, by saying, “They’re workers, and they need to eat, too.”

Broun says you can almost tell the artists were thankful, based on the vivid studies of the American experience they produced: a vibrant painting of a nighttime baseball game in West Nyack, N.Y., by Morris Kantor; an almost regal portrait of African-American cotton pickers by Earle Richardson; a wide view of the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge by Ray Strong.

“There was a lot of despair … and shame at being on government relief,” says Ann Wagner, one of the curators of the “New Deal” show. For both artists and Americans at large, “these works showed there was plenty to be proud of in their home areas.”

Wagner says the program ultimately produced more than 15,000 works, all of them intended for public spaces such as post offices, libraries and hospitals.

The success of the program led to more government investment in art and artists, with various programs throughout the Depression.

Accomplished photographers, for instance, were sent out specifically to document the effects of the Depression on rural America.

One result was Dorothea Lange’s iconic Migrant Mother photograph. In a 1964 interview with the Smithsonian, Lange said the people she photographed were often grateful she was there to help record their stories.

“It meant a lot that the government in Washington was aware enough even to send you out,” said Lange.

Broun points out that Roosevelt once said, “A hundred years from now, my administration will be known for its art, not for its relief.” Looking back on the legacy of the ’30s program, Broun says, “what we see is [that] they gave us back to ourselves.”

Today, when it comes to arts money in the economic stimulus, expectations are different. Artists and arts organizations need to prove their work will pump money into the local economy.

But the New Deal did validate the role of artists in American society. Then, as now, the government did give money to artists — just so long as the artists give the country something practical in return.

Tsunami Of Populist Rage Coursing Through America February 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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foreclosures

Slumdogs Unite!

Frank Rich

Published: February 7, 2009, New York Times 
SOMEDAY historians may look back at Tom Daschle’s flameout as a minor one-car (and chauffeur) accident. But that will depend on whether or not it’s followed by a multi-vehicle pileup that still could come. Even as President Obama refreshingly took responsibility for having “screwed up,” it’s not clear that he fully understands the huge forces that hit his young administration last week.

Barry Blitt

 

The tsunami of populist rage coursing through America is bigger than Daschle’s overdue tax bill, bigger than John Thain’s trash can, bigger than any bailed-out C.E.O.’s bonus. It’s even bigger than the Obama phenomenon itself. It could maim the president’s best-laid plans and what remains of our economy if he doesn’t get in front of the mounting public anger.

Like nearly everyone else in Washington, Obama was blindsided by the savagery and speed of Daschle’s demise. Conventional wisdom had him surviving the storm. Such is the city’s culture that not a single Republican or Democratic senator called for his withdrawal until the morning of his exit. Membership in the exclusive Senate club, after all, has its privileges. Among Daschle’s more vocal defenders was Bob Dole, who had recruited him to Alston & Bird, the law and lobbying firm where Dole has served as “special counsel” when not otherwise cashing in on his own Senate years by serving as a pitchman for Pepsi and Viagra.

In New York, editorial pages on both ends of the political spectrum, The Wall Street Journal and The Times, called for Daschle to step down. But not The Washington Post. In a frank expression of the capital’s isolation from the country, it thought Daschle could still soldier on even though “ordinary Americans who pay their taxes may well wonder why Mr. Obama can’t find cabinet secretaries who do the same.”

As Jon Stewart might say, oh those pesky ordinary Americans!

In reality, Daschle’s tax shortfall, an apparently honest mistake, was only a red flag for the larger syndrome that much of Washington still doesn’t get. It was the source, not the amount, of his unreported income that did him in. The car and driver advertised his post-Senate immersion in the greedy bipartisan culture of entitlement and crony capitalism that both helped create our economic meltdown (on Wall Street) and failed to police it (in Washington). Daschle might well have been the best choice to lead health-care reform. But his honorable public record was instantly vaporized by tales of his cozy, lucrative relationships with the very companies he’d have to adjudicate as health czar.

Few articulate this ethical morass better than Obama, who has repeatedly vowed to “close the revolving door” between business and government and end our “two sets of standards, one for powerful people and one for ordinary folks.” But his tough new restrictions on lobbyists (already compromised by inexplicable exceptions) and porous plan for salary caps on bailed-out bankers are only a down payment on this promise, even if they are strictly enforced.

The new president who vowed to change Washington’s culture will have to fight much harder to keep from being co-opted by it instead. There are simply too many major players in the Obama team who are either alumni of the financial bubble’s insiders’ club or of the somnambulant governmental establishment that presided over the catastrophe.

This includes Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary. Washington hands repeatedly observe how “lucky” Geithner was to be the first cabinet nominee with an I.R.S. problem, not the second, and therefore get confirmed by Congress while the getting was good. Whether or not this is “lucky” for him, it is hardly lucky for Obama. Geithner should have left ahead of Daschle.

Now more than ever, the president must inspire confidence and stave off panic. As Friday’s new unemployment figures showed, the economy kept plummeting while Congress postured. Though Obama is a genius at building public support, he is not Jesus and he can’t do it all alone. On Monday, it’s Geithner who will unveil the thorniest piece of the economic recovery plan to date — phase two of a bank rescue. The public face of this inevitably controversial package is now best known as the guy who escaped the tax reckoning that brought Daschle down.

Even before the revelation of his tax delinquency, the new Treasury secretary was a dubious choice to make this pitch. Geithner was present at the creation of the first, ineffectual and opaque bank bailout — TARP, today the most radioactive acronym in American politics. Now the double standard that allowed him to wriggle out of his tax mess is a metaphor for the double standard of the policy he must sell: Most “ordinary Americans” still don’t understand why banks got billions while nothing was done (and still isn’t being done) to bail out those who lost their homes, jobs and retirement savings.

As with Daschle, the political problems caused by Geithner’s tax infraction are secondary to the larger questions raised by his past interaction with the corporations now under his purview. To his credit, Geithner, like Obama, has devoted his career to public service, not buckraking. But he still has not satisfactorily explained why, as president of the New York Fed, he failed in his oversight of the teetering Wall Street institutions. Nor has he told us why, in his first major move in his new job, he secured a waiver from Obama to hire a Goldman Sachs lobbyist as his chief of staff. Nor, in his confirmation hearings, did he prove any more credible than the Bush Treasury secretary, the Goldman Sachs alumnus Hank Paulson, in explaining why Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail while A.I.G. and Citigroup were spared.

Citigroup had one highly visible asset that Lehman did not: Robert Rubin, the former Clinton Treasury secretary who sat passively (though lucratively) in its executive suite as Citi gorged on reckless risk. Geithner, as a Rubin protégé from the Clinton years, might have recused himself from rescuing Citi, which so far has devoured $45 billion in bailout money.

Key players in the Obama economic team beyond Geithner are also tied to Rubin or Citigroup or both, from Larry Summers, the administration’s top economic adviser, to Gary Gensler, the newly named nominee to run the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and a Treasury undersecretary in the Clinton administration. Back then, Summers and Gensler joined hands with Phil Gramm to ward off regulation of the derivative markets that have since brought the banking system to ruin. We must take it on faith that they have subsequently had judgment transplants.

Obama’s brilliant appointees, we keep being told, are irreplaceable. But as de Gaulle said, “The cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.” You have to wonder if this team is really a meritocracy or merely a stacked deck. Not only did Rubin himself serve on the Obama economic transition team, but two of the transition’s headhunters were Michael Froman, Rubin’s chief of staff at Treasury and later a Citigroup executive, and James S. Rubin, an investor who is Robert Rubin’s son.

A welcome outlier to this club is Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman chosen to direct Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. But Bloomberg reported last week that Summers is already freezing Volcker out of many of his deliberations on economic policy. This sounds like the arrogant Summers who was fired as president of Harvard, not the chastened new Summers advertised at the time of his appointment. A team of rivals is not his thing.

Americans have had enough of such arrogance, whether in the public or private sectors, whether Democrat or Republican. Voters turned on Sarah Palin not just because of her manifest unfitness for office but because her claims of being a regular hockey mom were contradicted by her Evita shopping sprees. John McCain’s sanctification of Joe the Plumber (himself a tax delinquent) never could be squared with his inability to remember how many houses he owned. A graphic act of entitlement also stripped naked that faux populist John Edwards.

The public’s revulsion isn’t mindless class hatred. As Obama said on Wednesday of his fellow citizens: “We don’t disparage wealth. We don’t begrudge anybody for achieving success.” But we do know that the system has been fixed for too long. The gaping income inequality of the past decade — the top 1 percent of America’s earners received more than 20 percent of the total national income — has not been seen since the run-up to the Great Depression.

This is why “Slumdog Millionaire,” which pits a hard-working young man in Mumbai against a corrupt nexus of money and privilege, has become America’s movie of the year. As Robert Reich, the former Clinton labor secretary, wrote after Daschle’s fall, Americans “resent people who appear to be living high off a system dominated by insiders with the right connections.”

The neo-Hoover Republicans in Congress, who think government can put Americans back to work with corporate tax cuts but without any “spending,” are tone deaf to this rage. Obama is not. It’s a good thing he’s getting out of Washington this week to barnstorm the country about the crisis at hand. Once back home, he’s got to make certain that the insiders in his own White House know who’s the boss.

Outpouring for Obama points beyond election to quest for full freedom January 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis.
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by Olga Domanski and Franklin Dmitryev
National Co-Organizers, News and Letters Committees

NEWS & LETTERS, December 2008 – January 2009

www.newsandletters.org

 

The shocking news released Dec. 5 of half a million more workers being thrown into unemployment nearly eclipsed the importance of the election, just one month earlier, of the first African American president.

No one, however, can dismiss the historic importance of a Black man winning the presidency of so racist a land as the U.S. has proved to be since its very birth. None could fail to be moved by the fully interracial and multiethnic millions rejoicing in Grant Park in Chicago, and dancing in the streets of both Harlem and Times Square in New York on election night. Far from simple euphoria, it seemed to manifest a totally new kind of experience. Throughout the whole campaign, the hundreds of thousands who had poured out to Obama’s rallies had been seen by some pundits as portending nothing less than a “revolutionary political shift.” What made it “revolutionary” was that the aspirations of those thousands who poured out to the rallies and stood in long lines on Nov. 4 were casting their ballots for a “change” that went deeper into freedom than just political freedom, to self-determination in everyday life. What distinguished the election of Obama was that it went beyond race as the determinant to the question of freedom.

Getting beyond race as the determinant does not mean forgetting that we are a brutally racially divided land, as any sober look at the conditions of Black America verifies. It is to say that Obama spoke in a language that resonated with the desire for a fuller freedom than the U.S. has up to now been willing to set loose–the freedom for Gays to marry, for women to control their reproductive lives, for immigrants to move freely across borders, for an end to discrimination against all the minorities of this country; and the freedom to live in peace with international neighbors.

WHAT FREEDOM MEANS

Although the theme of Obama’s inauguration is said to be “A New Birth of Freedom,” neither candidate spoke of “freedom” during the election campaign. President Bush has so corrupted the word in the militaristic way he used it as meaning invading another country and forcing his perversion of “freedom” on them, that it requires spelling it out in your actions.

When California’s Proposition 8 took away same-sex marriage, the breadth and depth of the immediate protests, by Gay and straight alike, revealed how serious the masses are about “change” being not just political, but a change in human relations. (See ‘The movement is ours!': Lesbian activist critique)

What is important now is “what happens after.” Since winning the election, Barack Obama set two more records. One was the amazing speed with which he set up his cabinet and chose his “teams”–immediately after having asserted that there is only “one president at a time.” It emphatically conveyed the need to act quickly because the crisis kept deepening. The other was the strong move to the center very nearly every one of his choices represented. Nothing better demonstrated that deliberate direction than the selection of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, given the fact that Obama’s victory stemmed in large part from his vigorous opposition to the war on Iraq and his condemnation of her vote to approve the invasion. To the same “national security team” he also named Robert Gates as the first Secretary of Defense ever held over from a different party, who for two years had been in charge of the war Obama opposed. Only the relentlessly increasing severity of the economic crisis briefly delayed the announcement of the “defense team” until after the selection of Timothy Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury and the rest of his “economic team,” all of them also “experienced” players not dedicated to “change.”

While a pull to the center is to be expected once the winner claims a mandate, so quickly did it raise new questions about the direction Obama was taking, that what that extraordinary election meant is in danger of being completely disregarded. Let us not miss the historic importance of Obama’s win, or dismiss him as just another politician whose victory makes no difference. It is impossible to discount the percentages of youth, women, immigrants, and Black voters who participated in the election, some for the first time in their lives. But the dimension most crucial was the number of white workers who cast their vote for a Black candidate.

It is a moment that reaches back to one of the most significant chapters of American history, when the Abolitionist movement represented nothing less than a “new dimension of American character.”[1] It was the first integrated movement in American history, and it is no small matter that in his speeches Obama cited such a movement that was not “racial”–which is to say that the Abolitionist movement made itself the expression of the Black masses’ struggle for freedom and in that way spoke in a language that was demanding action on a question of human freedom for all. It encompassed not only anti-slavery and interracial equality, but internationalism and women’s struggles for freedom–150 years ago.

Obama roots himself not in that radical movement, but in the compromiser Lincoln who was attacked by them for putting off the Emancipation Proclamation until he was forced into it. Nevertheless, his nod toward that glorious page of U.S. history reflects the revolutionary forces simmering beneath the surface of our society.

Are we seeing the beginnings of Black and labor coalescing, as is needed to make a decisive turning point–and will it encompass all the forces from Latino labor to women to Queer? What gave the Abolitionists the extra dimension as intellectuals and as human beings was their alignment with these kinds of struggles from below. Most crucial for our day is the unifying philosophy needed to avoid one more unfinished revolution.

GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISIS DECISIVE

What proved to be the real determinant in the 2008 election was the devastating global economic crisis. The opposition to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, which had been the number one reason for supporting the Democratic ticket, was pushed to a secondary position. It is why the first posts decided were the “economic recovery program” team.

So many people have been losing jobs, losing homes, going without doctor visits, putting off purchases from clothing to cars, that it was hardly a surprise when the U.S. economy was declared to be in a recession that began in December 2007. Economists and politicians are starting to acknowledge that conditions will continue to worsen well into 2009 at least–with others forecasting “several years of high unemployment…and widespread income losses.”[2]

By November the unemployment rate was reported at 6.7%, with 11.2% for African Americans and one in three for Black teenagers. These official figures do not count the millions who have stopped looking for work or who have had to settle for part-time jobs, who would bring the overall figure up to 12.5%. In the year since November 2007, 3.2 million more people are unemployed, 2.8 million more are involuntarily working part-time, and 1.3 million more are not counted as part of the labor force. Many have lost health insurance. Dreams of retirement shattered, millions dread an old age of poverty.

HUMAN COST OF CAPITALISM’S FAILURE

After a decade of working people’s incomes stagnating and temporary jobs proliferating, these new blows have meant a million bankruptcies this year alone and three million families losing their houses, with Moody’s forecasting five million more foreclosures by 2010. Such anger has built up that some governors and sheriffs have had to declare moratoriums on foreclosures or evictions. The homeless have been building tent cities or, with the help of groups like Miami’s Take Back the Land, taking over homes left vacant by foreclosures. From Republic Windows workers to Prop. 8 protesters (see Republic Windows and Doors sit-in stops bosses’ wage theft), “Yes, we can” has been given deeper content linking back to the slogan’s origin in farmworker struggles.

republic-windowsRepublic Windows and Doors workers who occupied their factory demanding justice.

With recession spreading to Europe and Japan, the International Monetary Fund has declared a “major downturn” for the world economy. Globally, the International Labor Organization projects that unemployment will rise by 20 million. Though food prices have retreated, the world food crisis has worsened, with the economic crisis pushing over 100 million people worldwide into poverty and farmers reducing production in the face of lower crop prices. Already children are starving from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Two years of widespread strikes and revolts over high food prices and other economic troubles give a hint of how the global nature of the crisis also affects the international character of revolutionary impulses that are stirring.

What is most significant about Obama’s quickly gathered economic team is that, like Bush’s Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, all these economists have had to throw out their faith in the “free market.”[3] Instead they are tossing around proposals for massive state intervention in the economy through deficit-swelling public works programs to provide jobs, in addition to stepping up the ongoing program of corporate bailouts and nationalization.

Ideologues from the Left and center, clamoring for a “new New Deal,” too often forget how the history of the New Deal has been rewritten. First, it did not materialize out of the benevolence of Pres. Roosevelt. The context was strikes, organizing, revolt–the threat of revolution was in the air. That is exactly what the New Deal was supposed to save capitalism from. Today, millions want to change this society top to bottom–and that means a much deeper change than what Obama has in mind.

Second, the New Deal did not halt the Great Depression. It took World War II to cover over capitalism’s decade-long crisis. Civilization can hardly survive a World War III, yet capitalism has no other solution to offer. At $685 billion, the Pentagon’s budget is 85% higher (after inflation) than in 2000–the highest since World War II. Even that is not all the military spending, yet it nearly equals the sum of all other countries’ defense budgets combined.

STATE-CAPITALISM NO SOLUTION

No matter how “green” the new version of the New Deal is painted, it cannot save capitalism from the deep structural crisis into which it has been plunged by the development of the contradictions inherent in capital’s very being. No matter who is appointed to the various posts, or how much cooperation Obama forges with Republicans, all their efforts are about searching for ways to keep capitalism alive. None of the answers proposed by the politicians, advisers or pundits even recognizes what the crisis stems from–capitalism’s law of motion.

As the October-November 2008 Lead in News & Letters (Bailout can’t save capitalism from its own gravediggers) put it:

“Trying to steer opposition in their own direction, nearly all politicians expressed their ‘outrage’ while claiming there is no alternative to saving capitalism and showing ‘bipartisan’ solidarity with capitalists when the whole economy is at risk. This crisis revealed how rapidly objective events can call the whole capitalist system into question and generate a lot of action and new thinking about what is possible. Past failures surely show that the opposite of alienated labor is not to be found in statist intervention, political parties or trade unions, all of which broker on capitalist ground. At this crucial moment of capital’s reorganization, it is important to engage that rethinking with Marx’s concept of what it would take for humanity to break with being organized under the rule of capitalist production’s alienated labor.”

Capitalist rule can only be broken when the masses of working people take control of production and make decisions themselves, not letting anyone else do the thinking for them–whether that be managers, the labor bureaucracy, or planners touting a new New Deal. While that takes a revolution that can only be made by the masses, the history of the 20th century shows the urgency of the question of what happens after the revolution. Revolt and even revolution can be dragged back to the various forms of state-capitalism: the welfare state, fascism, or totalitarian “Communism.” What is needed is unity not only of white labor with Black masses and undocumented immigrants, anti-war youth with Gay and women’s liberationists, and unity across borders, but of theory and practice, rooted in a philosophy of revolution, in so new a relationship as to lay the foundations for a truly human society.

THEORY/PRACTICE

It is that concept of the unity of theory and practice on which News and Letters Committees was organized. News & Letters was created as its concretization in the only Marxist-Humanist journal in the U.S. That is why News and Letters Committees is starting the New Year with a series of classes in all the locals on “Confronting Today’s Crises: The Marxist-Humanist return to Marx and the revolutionary abolition of capitalism.” (See An invitation and an appeal for announcement of classes.) Their aim is theoretic preparation for revolution, part of which is working out a new book of Marxist-Humanism on Marx. The classes cannot be a “how to” manual on breaking with capitalism and achieving a new society, but a methodology.

While no one can overlook the historic significance of this election, the deep crisis the world is in cannot be solved by Obama or any administration. What is needed is a totally new relationship of the movements from theory and from practice on the basis of a unifying philosophy of revolution. It is no easy task. We invite your participation in the classes and contributions to the discussion in the paper, and appeal for your help to keep News & Letters going.

NOTES:

1. This new dimension’s historic meaning is spelled out in American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard: “These New England Abolitionists added a new dimension to the word intellectual, for these were intellectuals whose intellectual, social and political creativity was the expression of precise social forces. They gloried in being ‘the means’ by which a direct social movement expressed itself, the movement of slaves and free Negroes for total freedom…” (p. 34).

 

2. “New Day for U.S. Economic Policy,” by Larry Mishel, http://www.epi.org/content.cfm/newsflash_081105_obama. Others simply called the latest figures “dismal” and “frightening”; see “Jobs Vanish–Quickly,” 12/6/08 Chicago Tribune.

3. “Rubinomics Recalculated,” by Jackie Calmes, 11/24/08 New York Times, points out the links between Obama’s top economic advisers and Robert Rubin, and “the economic formula that came to be called Rubinomics: balanced budgets, free trade, and financial deregulation.” Named to head the new “Economic Recovery Advisory Board” is Paul Volcker, whose “solution” to the 1970s crisis was to drive up interest rates, helping to push the U.S. into deep recession in the early 1980s and to precipitate the debt crisis in Africa, Latin America and Asia. See “Can Africa Survive Obama’s Advisers?” by Patrick Bond in Links, Nov. 12, 2008 (http://links.org.au/node/738).

 

Question for Economic Experts: Can You Say “Housing Bubble”? December 8, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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housing-bubble

(Photo: The Financial Help Center)

by: Dean Baker, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

  The answer for many economists is apparently “no.” Many of the most important figures in economic policy over the last decade, including luminaries like Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, Robert Rubin and Henry Paulson, could not see the $8 trillion housing bubble growing right in front of their eyes. As the bubble grew larger, and the financial system became ever more highly leveraged, these folks saw nothing but blue skies ahead.

    Not only did these folks miss the bubble, even now, they still can’t seem to understand the housing bubble as its collapse throws the economy into the worst downturn since the Great Depression. That is the only possible explanation for Henry Paulson’s 4.5 percent mortgage rate policy.

    The bubble has largely deflated in many parts of the country, however, prices in many of the former bubble markets still must decline another 20 percent to 30 percent to return to trend levels. It does not make sense to apply the same policy to both bubble and non-bubble markets.

    In non-bubble markets, it might be appropriate to use aggressive measures, like extraordinarily low mortgage rates, as a tool to stabilize house prices. We want to avoid the scenario in which falling house prices create an expectation of further declines in house prices. This expectation can become self-fulfilling, as potential buyers defer purchases, causing house prices to fall further.

    By contrast, in the bubble markets, supply hugely exceeds demand at current prices. The only way to restore stability to these markets is to have prices return to levels that are consistent with the underlying supply and demand conditions. The effort to sustain prices at their current bubble-inflated level will be no more successful than an effort in 2000 to keep the NASDAQ at its 5,000 peak.

    Even worse, to the extent that we can artificially prop up house prices in these bubble markets, we would just be passing along the pain to a new contingent of homebuyers. We are not going to have 4.5 percent mortgage interest rates forever. Suppose the economy recovers in a few years and mortgage rates rise back to a more normal 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent level.

    Whatever effect low mortgage rates had in sustaining house prices will be reversed. House prices will complete their correction and today’s homebuyers may well be seeing losses of 15 percent to 20 percent when they sell their homes in five years. For a house selling at $250,000, this price decline translates into a loss of $38,000 to $50,000.

    Losing $38,000 to $50,000 would destroy the bulk of most homeowners’ wealth. That does not seem like very good policy.

    Unfortunately, most of the promoters of the housing bubble still have not owned up to the harm caused by their policy. Millions of people are facing the prospect of losing their home, and tens of millions of people are losing their life’s savings, because the people who are supposed to know better didn’t. They encouraged people to buy homes and/or borrow against them in what was quite obviously a bubble-inflated market.

    Before Paulson is allowed to carry through with his scheme to use public money in an attempt to reinflate the housing bubble, he should be forced to publicly explain how he thinks this policy will work. There are clearly people who will be badly harmed by temporarily reinflating the bubble. Unless Paulson can explain how the benefits will outweigh this harm, he should not be allowed to pursue his blanket policy of providing 4.5 percent mortgages everywhere.

    As it is, Paulson and other people in policy positions have not even acknowledged that we have a housing bubble that is in the process of deflating. Paulson could not possibly be so incompetent that he still doesn’t see the housing bubble, but for some reason he can’t bring himself to talk about it.

    If Paulson cannot bring himself to talk about the housing bubble in a serious way, then he does not deserve to be taken seriously in discussions of economic policy. The same is true of any other person in either the Bush or Obama administration. In this period of crisis, we can’t afford to waste any more time with policymakers so clueless that they can’t see an $8 trillion housing bubble.

The Crisis: A Canadian’s Perspective October 29, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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The scariest precedent of them all
Toronto Star, Oct 29, 2008 04:30 AM


Nineteen twenty-nine is the year no one wants to mention. We compare what is going on now in world stock markets to 1987’s so-called “Black Monday,” or perhaps to the Asian crisis of the late ’90s.

We desperately don’t want to draw comparisons to the granddaddy of them all, the stock market collapse that occurred 79 years ago this month. The implications are too grave.

The crash of ’29 wasn’t just a stock market bust. It was the trigger for 16 years of misery. In North America, it led to mass unemployment. In Europe and Asia, the depression it sparked laid the foundation for world war.

The lives of an entire generation were scarred.

Yet there are real points of comparison between the events of 1929 and those roiling world markets today. The two are not identical. Indeed, optimists can take heart at the fact that stock declines to date have not yet matched those of the 1930s depression.

Still, there are eerie and unsettling similarities.

Then, as now, the world economy was beset by fundamental imbalances. In the ’20s, the world’s premier imperial power, Britain, was politically strong but economically hobbled. Today, the U.S. plays the role of the weakened imperial lion.

Militarily, America remains ferocious. But in economic terms, it suffers from a multiplicity of weaknesses – a trade deficit that has sent middle-class jobs abroad; a fiscal deficit that relies for financing on the good will and confidence of foreigners; a savings deficit that has encouraged ordinary citizens to borrow beyond their means.

In 1929, like today, the self-regulating markets that were supposed to keep the economy in equilibrium only accentuated the crisis. Then too credit markets froze and commodity prices tanked. In 1929, prices of commodities such as wheat and minerals were already low (a singular difference from today). But as Charles Kindleberger writes in his masterful history of the period, The World in Depression: 1929-1939, the crash of ’29 accentuated this trend, driving down, among other things, the value of the Canadian dollar.

Then, as now, attention focused on the markets. Politicians railed against the greed of speculators and vowed tough new regulations.

But then too, there was too little heed paid to the real economy of wages and work. Political leaders, while acknowledging that the crisis was forcing government finances into deficit, kept trying to balance the fiscal books, thereby making matters worse.

No leader, including then U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt, was immune. Indeed, most historians reckon that it was not Roosevelt’s flawed New Deal recipe of public works that pulled America from depression but World War II.

“Often, no one in authority had any positive idea of what to do and responded to the disaster in … policy clichés,” writes Kindleberger.

And so it seems today. In the U.S., both presidential candidates propose populist non-solutions: Barack Obama wants to save the middle class in some unspecified way; John McCain promises to get tough with greed.

In Canada, the federal government focuses on the country’s financial sector rather than the economy at large, arguing on the one hand that the banks are strong and on the other that they need massive government aid.

Internationally, there are meetings. The great economic powers – Europe, Japan, China and the U.S. – are not yet at odds with one another. Yet neither are they pulling together to mitigate the recessionary forces now careering around the globe.

That too is eerily familiar.

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