“Don’t shit on me” February 19, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Humor, Political Commentary.
Tags: cartoon, Humor, humour, Media, political cartoon, political reporting, politics, roger hollander, television
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I COULD GIVE YOU MY IDEA OF WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT; BUT, IN HONOR OF THE NOTION THAT A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS; I WILL LEAVE IT TO YOU TO ENJOY THINKING ABOUT HOW RELEVANT A MESSAGE THIS CARTOON HOLDS.
Would We Be Better Off If John McCain Were President? August 1, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, John McCain.
Tags: 2008 election, democratic party, domestic policy, Economic Crisis, economy, foreign policy, John McCain, obama administration, obama's wars, politics, presidency, Republican Party, roger hollander, war
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corporations behind them. A President McCain may have at least triggered a true
Democrats were united on one issue in the 2008 presidential election: the
absolute disaster that a John McCain victory would have produced.
And they were right. McCain as president would clearly have produced a long
string of catastrophes: He would probably have approved a failed troop surge in
Afghanistan, engaged in worldwide extrajudicial assassination, destabilized nuclear-armed
Pakistan, failed to bring Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to the negotiating table, expanded prosecution of whistle-blowers, sought to
expand executive branch power, failed to close Guantanamo, failed to act on climate change, pushed both nuclear energy and opened new
areas to domestic oil drilling, failed to reform the financial sector enough to prevent another financial catastrophe, supported an extension of the
Bush tax cuts for the rich, presided over a growing divide between rich and poor, and failed to lower the jobless rate.
Nothing reveals the true state of American politics today more than the fact
that Democratic President Barack Obama has undertaken all of these actions, and
even more significantly, left the Democratic Party far weaker than it would have
been had McCain been elected. Few issues are more important than seeing behind
the screen of a myth-making mass media, and understanding what this demonstrates
about how power in America really works—and what needs to be done to change
First and foremost, McCain would have undoubtedly selected as treasury
secretary an individual nominated by Wall Street—which has a stranglehold on the
economy due to its enjoying 30 to 40 percent of all corporate profits. If he
didn’t select Tim Geithner, a reliable servant of financial interests whose
nomination might have allowed McCain to trumpet his “maverick” credentials,
whoever he did select would clearly have also moved to bail out the financial
institutions and allow them to water down needed financial reforms.
Ditto for the head of his National Economic Council. Although appointing
Larry Summers might have been a bit of a stretch, despite his yeoman work in destroying financial regulation—thus enriching
his old boss Robert Rubin and helping cause the Crash of 2008—McCain could
easily have found a Jack Kemp-like Republican “supply-sider” who would have
duplicated Summers’ signal achievement of expanding the deficit to the highest
levels since 1950 (though perhaps with a slightly higher percentage of tax cuts
than the Obama stimulus). The economy would have continued to sputter along,
with growth rates and joblessness levels little different from today’s, and
possibly even worse.
But McCain’s election would have produced a major political difference: It
would have increased Democratic clout in the House and Senate. First off, there
would have been no Tea Party, no “don’t raise the debt limit unless we gut the
poor,” no “death panel” myth, no “Obama Youth” nonsense. Although there would
have been plenty of criticism from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, the fact remains
that McCain, a Republican war hero, would never have excited the Tea Party
animus as did the “Secret-Muslim Kenyan-Born Big-Government Fascist White-Hating
Antichrist” Obama. Glenn Beck would have remained a crazed nonentity and been
dropped far sooner by Fox News than he was. And Vice President Sarah Palin,
despised by both McCain and his tough White House staff, would have been
deprived of any real power and likely tightly muzzled against criticizing
McCain’s relatively centrist (compared to her positions) policies.
Voters would almost certainly have increased Democratic control of the House
and Senate in 2010, since the Republicans would have been seen as responsible
for the weak U.S. economy. Democrats might even have achieved the long-desired
60 percent majority needed to kill the filibuster in one or both houses.
Democratic control of the House and Senate fostered by disastrous Republican
policies would have severely limited McCain’s ability (as occurred with George
W. Bush) to weaken Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance
and other programs that aid those most in need. (Yes, domestic spending might
have been cut less if McCain had won.)
Had McCain proposed “health insurance reform,” because health insurers saw a
golden opportunity to increase their customer base and profits while retaining
their control, the Democrats would at least have passed a “public option” as
their price for support. And possible Health and Human Services Secretary Newt
Gingrich—placed in that position in a clever move to keep him away from economic
or foreign policy—might have even accelerated needed improvements in
computerizing patient records and other high-tech measures needed to cut health
care costs, actions that he touted in his book on the subject.
In foreign and military policy, McCain would surely have approved Gen. David
Petraeus’ “Afghanistan surge,” possibly increasing the number of U.S. troops
there by 40,000 instead of 33,500. But Gen. Stanley McChrystal would probably
have remained at the helm in Afghanistan, since he and his aides would never
have disparaged McCain to Rolling Stone. McChrystal
might have continued a “counterinsurgency” strategy, observing relatively strict
rules of engagement, unlike his successor, Petraeus, who tore up those rules and
has instead unleashed a brutal cycle of “counterterror” violence in southern
Afghanistan. (Yes, far fewer Afghan civilians might have died had McCain
McCain, like Obama, would probably have destabilized nuclear-armed Pakistan
and strengthened militant forces there by expanding drone strikes and pushing
the Pakistani military to launch disastrous offensives into tribal areas. And he
would have given as much support as has Obama to Israeli Prime Minister
Netanyahu’s opposition to a peace deal because he believes that present policies
of strangling Gaza, annexing East Jerusalem, expanding West Bank settlements and
walling off Palestinians are succeeding. (It is possible that a McCain secretary
of state might not have incited violence against unarmed American citizens—as
did Hillary Clinton when she stated that Israelis, who
killed nine unarmed members of the 2010 Gaza flotilla, “have the right to defend
themselves” against letter-carrying 2011 Gaza flotilla members.)
While McCain would have wanted to keep 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan
until 2014, he might have been forced to reduce their numbers, as has Obama. For
McCain would have faced a strengthened and emboldened Democratic Congress, which
might have seen electoral gold in responding to polls indicating the public had
turned against the Afghanistan War—as well as a far stronger peace movement
united against Republicans instead of divided as it now is between the desires
for peace and seeing an Obama win in 2012.
Most significantly, if McCain had won, not only would Democrats be looking at
a Democratic landslide in the 2012 presidential race, but the newly elected
Democratic president in 2013 might enjoy both a 60 percent or higher majority in
both houses and a clear public understanding that it was Republican policies
that had sunk the economy. He or she might thus be far better positioned to
enact substantive reforms than was Obama in 2008, or will Obama even if he is
re-elected in 2012.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in March 1933 after a 42-month
Depression blamed entirely on the Republicans. Although he had campaigned as a
moderate, objective conditions both convinced him of the need for fundamental
change—creating a safety net including Social Security, strict financial
regulation, programs to create jobs, etc.—and gave him the congressional
pluralities he needed to achieve them. A Democratic president taking office in
2013 after 12 years of disastrous Republican economic misrule might well have
been likewise pushed and enabled by objective events to create substantive
Furious debate rages among Obama’s Democratic critics today on why he has
largely governed on the big issues as John McCain would have done. Some believe
he retains his principles but has been forced to compromise by political
realities. Others are convinced he was a manipulative politico who lacked any
real convictions in the first place.
But there is a far more likely—and disturbing—possibility. Based on those who
knew him and his books, there is little reason to doubt that the
pre-presidential Obama was a college professor-type who shared the belief system
of his liberalish set: that ending climate change and reducing nuclear weapons
were worthy goals, that it was important to “reset” U.S. policy toward the
Muslim world, that torture and assassination were bad things, that
Canadian-style single-payer health insurance made sense, that whistle-blowing
and freedom of the press should be protected, Congress should have a say in
whether the executive puts the nation into war, and that government should
support community development and empowering poor communities.
Upon taking office, however, Obama—whatever his belief system at that
point—found that he was unable to accomplish these goals for one basic reason:
The president of the United States is far less powerful than media myth
portrays. Domestic power really is in the hands of economic elites and their
lobbyists, and foreign policy really is controlled by U.S. executive branch
national security managers and a “military-industrial complex.” If a president
supports their interests, as did Bush in invading Iraq, he or she can do a lot
of damage. But, absent a crisis, a president who opposes these elites—as Obama
discovered when he tried in the fall of 2009 to get the military to offer him an
alternative to an Afghanistan troop surge—is relatively powerless.
Whether a Ronald Reagan expanding government and running large deficits in
the 1980s despite his stated belief that government was the problem, or a Bill
Clinton imposing a neoliberal regime impoverishing hundreds of millions in the
Third World in the 1990s despite his rhetorical support for helping the poor,
anyone who becomes president has little choice but to serve the institutional
interests of a profoundly amoral and violent executive branch and the
corporations behind them.
The U.S. executive branch functions to promote its version of U.S. economic
and geopolitical interests abroad—including engaging in massive violence which
has killed, wounded or made homeless more than 21 million people in Indochina
and Iraq combined. And it functions at home to maximize the interests of the
corporations and individuals who fund political campaigns—today supported by a
U.S. Supreme Court whose politicized decision to expand corporations’ control
over elections has made a mockery of the very notion of “checks and balances.”
The executive branch’s power extends to the mass media, most of whose
journalists are dependent on executive information leaks and paychecks from
increasingly concentrated media corporations. They thus serve executive power
far more than they challenge it.
No one more demonstrates what happens to a human being who joins the
executive branch than Hillary Clinton, a former peace movement supporter whose
1969 Wellesley commencement address stated that “our prevailing, acquisitive, and
competitive corporate life is not the way of life for us. We’re searching for
more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating modes of living”; praised “a lot of the
New Left [that] harkens back to a lot of the old virtues”; and decried “the
hollow men of anger and bitterness, the bountiful ladies of righteous
degradation, all must be left to a bygone age.” Clinton the individual served on
the board of the Children’s Defense Fund, promoted helping the poor at home and
Third World women abroad and at one point was even often compared to Eleanor
Although her transformation began once she decided to try to become
president, it became most visible after she joined the executive branch as
secretary of state. The former peace advocate has now become a major advocate
for war-making, a scourge of whistle-blowers and a facilitator of Israeli
But while rich and powerful elites have always ruled in America, their power
has periodically been successfully challenged at times of national crisis: the
Civil War, the Progressive era, the Depression. America is clearly headed for
such a moment in the coming decade, as its economy continues to decline due to a
parasitic Wall Street, mounting debt, strong economic competitors, overspending
on the military, waste in the private health care sector and elites declaring
class war against a majority of Americans.
Naomi Klein has written penetratingly of Disaster Capitalism, which
occurs when financial and corporate elites benefit from the economic crises they
cause. But the reverse has also often proved true: a kind of “Disaster
Progressivism” often occurs when self-interested elites cause so much suffering
that policies favoring democracy and the majority become possible.
The United States will clearly face such a crisis in the coming decade. It is
understandable that many Americans will want to focus on re-electing Obama in
2012. Although Democrats and the country would have been better off if McCain
had won in 2008, this is not necessarily true if a Republican wins in
2012—especially if the GOP nominates Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann.
But however important the 2012 election, far more energy needs to be devoted
to building mass organizations that challenge elite power and develop the kinds
of policies—including massive investment in a “clean energy economic
revolution,” a carbon tax and other tough measures to stave off climate change,
regulating and breaking up the financial sector, cost-effective entitlements
like single-payer health insurance, and public financing of primary and general
elections—which alone can save America and its democracy in the painful decade
the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Republic, and other
publications. He is the author of several books on the Indochina War.
Omar Khadr’s Torture by Canadians at Guantanamo October 31, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
Tags: Canada, documentary, Guantanamo, human rights, Omar Khadr, political documentary, politics, torture
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“You don’t like the truth: 4 days inside Guantanamo.” The most powerful and disturbing documentary I have ever seen over my 50 some odd years of political involvement.
I cannot tell you how painful it was to watch for over an hour as a Canadian CSIS officer systematically applied psychological torture to this 16 year old child.
If you are a Canadian, you will feel a profound shame (the Canadian Supreme Court found that the interrogation was a violation of the child’s rights, but didn’t order the government to do anything about it). If you are a human being with an ounce of humanity …
The documentary, using the video of the four days of interrogation, shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the child was innocent of the charge against him. It shows him (who already had been brutally tortured by the Americans) virtually destroyed emotionally over the persistent hectoring of his interrogator and yet, in the end, having more courage and decency than his monster of an adversary (a veritable wolf in sheep’s clothing).
There is much more I could say, and maybe I will add another post once I calm down. If you want to know the truth about this disgusting travesty of justice, try to find a way to see this documentary, or at least view the trailer whose link is at the top of this post. The documentary’s home page is http://www.youdontlikethetruth.com/?lang=En&page=Home
Roger Hollander, October 31, 2010
Democrats mimic GOP sleight-of-hand March 20, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Health.
Tags: big pharma, congress, david sirota, democracy, democrats, drug industry, health, health insurance, health reform, healthcare, insurance industry, Lobbyists, pelosi, politics, public option, republicans, roger hollander
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Friday, Mar 19, 2010 17:20 EDT
They’re selling huge giveaways to insurance companies and Big Pharm as reform that helps the middle class
Ever since Thomas Frank published his book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Democrats have sought a political strategy to match the GOP’s. The healthcare bill proves they’ve found one.
Whereas Frank highlighted Republicans’ sleight-of-hand success portraying millionaire tax cuts as gifts to the working class, Democrats are now preposterously selling giveaways to insurance and pharmaceutical executives as a middle-class agenda. Same formula, same fat-cat beneficiaries, same bleating sheeple herded to the slaughterhouse. The only difference is the Rube Goldberg contraption that Democrats are using to tend the flock.
First, their leaders campaign on pledges to create a government insurer (a “public option”) that will compete with private health corporations. Once elected, though, Democrats propose simply subsidizing those corporations, which are (not coincidentally) filling Democratic coffers. Justifying the reversal, Democrats claim the subsidies will at least help some citizens try to afford the private insurance they’ll be forced to buy — all while insisting Congress suddenly lacks the votes for a public option.
Despite lawmakers’ refusal to hold votes verifying that assertion, liberal groups obediently follow orders to back the bill, their obsequious leaders fearing scorn from Democratic insiders and moneymen. Specifically, MoveOn, unions and “progressive” nonprofits threaten retribution against lawmakers who consider voting against the bill because it doesn’t include a public option. The threats fly even though these congresspeople would be respecting their previous public-option ultimatums — ultimatums originally supported by many of the same groups now demanding retreat.
Soon it’s on to false choices. Democrats tell their base that any bill is better than no bill, even one making things worse, and that if this particular legislation doesn’t pass, Republicans will win the upcoming election — as if signing a blank check to insurance and drug companies couldn’t seal that fate. They tell everyone else that “realistically” this is the “last chance” for reform, expecting We the Sheeple to forget that those spewing the do-or-die warnings control the legislative calendar and could immediately try again.
Predictably, the fear-mongering prompts left-leaning establishment pundits to bless the bill, giving Democratic activists concise-yet-mindless conversation-enders for why everyone should shut up and fall in line (“Krugman supports it!”). Such bumper-sticker mottos are then demagogued by Democratic media bobbleheads and their sycophants, who dishonestly imply that the bill’s progressive opponents 1) secretly aim to aid the far right and/or 2) actually hope more Americans die for lack of healthcare. In the process, the legislation’s sellouts are lambasted as the exclusive fault of Republicans, not Democrats and their congressional majorities.
Earth sufficiently scorched, President Obama then barnstorms the country, calling the bill a victory for “ordinary working folks” over the same corporations he is privately promising to enrich. The insurance industry, of course, airs token ads to buttress Obama’s “victory” charade — at the same time its lobbyists are, according to Politico, celebrating with chants of “We win!”
By design, pro-public-option outfits like Firedoglake and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee end up depicted as voices of the minority, even as they champion an initiative that polls show the majority of voters support. Meanwhile, telling questions hang: If this represents victory over special interests, why is Politico reporting that “drug industry lobbyists have huddled with Democratic staffers” to help pass the bill? How is the legislation a first step to reform, as proponents argue, if it financially and politically strengthens insurance and drug companies opposing true change? And what prevents those companies from continuing to increase prices?
These queries go unaddressed — and often unasked. Why? Because their answers threaten to expose the robbery in progress, circumvent the “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” contemplation and raise the most uncomfortable question of all:
What’s the matter with Democrats?
© 2010 Creators.com
Nuremberg Revisited: Obama Administration Files To Dismiss Case Against John YooPublished December 11, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, bagram, Bizarre, bush administration, cia, congress, constitutional law, Courts, Criminal law, eric holder, geneva conventions, Guantanamo, hitler, holocuast, International, International law, john yoo, jose padilla, justice, justice department, Lawyering, nazi germany, nuremberg, obama administration, politics, roger hollander, Society, torture, War Crimes
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(Roger’s Note: a couple of points to mention: that the Bush Administration torture policy and the Obama Administration complicity do not begin to match the scope of the Nazi holocaust does not make them any less guilty of serious crimes against human nature. And of course, it was not Nazi German justice that brought war criminals to account at Nuremberg but rather that of the victorious Allies. For the government of the very same nation that committed war crimes to bring its own officials to justice for such crimes would set a new precedent. In the world of realpolitik we don’t really expect that to happen. Why then, do we press for justice? I leave it to the reader to answer that important question for her or himself.)
1, December 9, 2009
John Yoo is being defended in court this month by the Administration. Not the Bush Administration. The Obama Administration. As with the lawsuits over electronic surveillance and torture, the Obama administration wants the lawsuit against Yoo dismissed and is defending the right of Justice Department officials to help establish a torture program — an established war crime. I will be discussing the issue on this segment of MSNBC Countdown.
The Obama Administration has filed a brief that brushes over the war crimes aspects of Yoo’s work at the Justice Department. Instead, it insists that attorneys must be free to give advice — even if it is to establish a torture program.
In its filing before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Justice Department insists that there is “the risk of deterring full and frank advice regarding the military’s detention and treatment of those determined to be enemies during an armed conflict.” Instead it argues that the Justice Department has other means to punish lawyers like the Office of Professional Responsibility. Of course, the Bush Administration effectively blocked such investigations and Yoo is no longer with the Justice Department. The OPR has been dismissed as ineffectual, including in an ABA Journal, as the Justice Department’s “roach motel”—“the cases go in, but nothing ever comes out.”
The Justice Department first defended Yoo as counsel and then paid for private counsel to represent him (here). His public-funded private counsel is Miguel Estrada, who was forced to withdraw his nomination by George Bush for the Court of Appeals after strong opposition from the Democrats.
Yoo is being sued by Jose Padilla, who was effectively blocked in contesting his abusive confinement and mistreatment as part of this criminal case and in a habeas action. The Bush Administration brought new charges to moot a case before the Supreme Court could rule. The Court previously sent his case back on a technicality.
It is important to note that the Administration did not have to file this brief since it had withdrawn as counsel and paid for Yoo’s private counsel. It has decided that it wants to establish the law claimed by the Bush Administration protecting Justice officials who support alleged war crimes. They are effectively doubling down by withdrawing as counsel and then reappearing as a non-party amicus.
The Obama Administration has gutted the hard-fought victories in Nuremberg where lawyers and judges were often guilty of war crimes in their legal advice and opinions. The third of the twelve trials for war crimes involved 16 German jurists and lawyers. Nine had been officials of the Reich Ministry of Justice, the others were prosecutors and judges of the Special Courts and People’s Courts of Nazi Germany. It would have been a larger group but two lawyers committed suicide before trial: Adolf Georg Thierack, former minister of justice, and Carl Westphal, a ministerial counsellor.
They included Herbert Klemm, who was sentenced to life imprisonment and served as minister of justice, director of the Ministry’s Legal Education and Training Division, and deputy director of the National Socialist Lawyer’s League.
Oswald Rothaug received life imprisonment for his role as a prosecutor and later a judge.
Wilhelm von Ammon received ten years for his work as a justice official in occupied areas.
Guenther Joel received ten years for being an adviser (like Yoo) to the Ministry of Justice and later a judge.
Curt Rothenberger was also a legal adviser and was given seven years for his writings at the Ministry of Justice and as the deputy president of the Academy of German Law
Wolfgang Mettgenberg received ten years as representative of the Criminal Legislation Administration Division of the Ministry of Justice,
Ernst Lautz (10 years) had been chief public prosecutor of the People’s Court.
Franz Schlegelberger, a former Ministry of Justice official, was convicted and sentenced to life for conspiracy and other war crimes. The court found:
‘…that Schlegelberger supported the pretension of Hitler in his assumption of power to deal with life and death in disregard of even the pretense of judicial process. By his exhortations and directives, Schlegelberger contributed to the destruction of judicial independence. It was his signature on the decree of 7 February 1942 which imposed upon the Ministry of Justice and the courts the burden of the prosecution, trial, and disposal of the victims of Hitler’s Night and Fog. For this he must be charged with primary responsibility.
‘He was guilty of instituting and supporting procedures for the wholesale persecution of Jews and Poles. Concerning Jews, his ideas were less brutal than those of his associates, but they can scarcely be called humane. When the “final solution of the Jewish question” was under discussion, the question arose as to the disposition of half-Jews. The deportation of full Jews to the East was then in full swing throughout Germany. Schlegelberger was unwilling to extend the system to half-Jews.’
It was the “ideas” that these lawyers advanced that made the war crimes possible. Other officials were tried but acquitted. All of these officials used arguments similar to those in the Obama Administration’s brief of why lawyers are not responsible for war crimes that they defend and justify. Bush selected people like Yoo to justify the war crime of torture. If they had written against it, the Administration might have abandoned the effort. The CIA director and others were already concerned about the prospect of prosecution. The Obama Administration’s brief revisits Nuremberg and sweeps away such quaint notions. Indeed, the brief for Yoo could have been used directly to support legal advisers Wolfgang Mettgenberg, Guenther Joel, and Wilhelm von Ammon.
If successful in this case, the Obama Administration will succeed in returning the world to the rules leading to the war crimes at Nuremberg. Quite a legacy for the world’s newest Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Defenders of the Administration insist that the brief does not expressly gut Nuremberg or reference war crimes. Of course, that is the point. The brief does not make any exception for liability for legal advice when it is part of a torture program or war crime. When combined with the Administration’s refusal to appoint a special prosecutor for the torture program (and the President’s promise that no CIA employees would be prosecuted), the brief closes the circle: there will be no criminal or civil liability for the war crimes committed by the Bush Administration.
The only reference to substantive criminal prosecution is in the following abstract statement:
That is not to say that the actions of a Department of Justice attorney providing advice should go unchecked. Department of Justice attorneys, if they abuse their authority, are subject to possible state and federal bar sanctions, see 28 U.S.C. § 530B, investigation by both the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Office of the Inspector General, as well as criminal investigation and prosecution, where appropriate. If Congress believes that additional avenues of recourse are necessary in cases where Department of Justice attorneys provide legal advice regarding matters relating to war powers and national security, it could enact appropriate legislation. Given the sensitivities of such claims, and the risk of deterring full and frank advice regarding matters of national security, however, this is a clear case where “special factors” strongly counsel against the recognition of a Bivens action.
“[W]here appropriate” are the key words. The Administration has already blocked criminal prosecution for torture. More importantly, this case is about Yoo’s involvement in creating that program. However, even in assisting in the establishment of a torture program, the Administration insists that there can not be civil liability (let alone criminal liability). If the Administration wanted to maintain the rule created at Nuremberg, it would have stated clearly that no privilege or law protects a lawyer who is assisting in the establishment of a war crime or torture program. Of course, the Administration has already said the opposite. Obama and Holder have stated that “just following orders” is a complete defense for CIA employees (here).
The effort to ignore the clear position of this Administration shows the dangers of a cult of personality. Just as conservatives ignored Bush’s violation of core conservative values on the budget and big government, some liberals are ignoring Obama’s violation of core liberal values on civil liberties and privacy.
For the DOJ brief, click here.
Obama’s Failure as a Leader July 22, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, War.
Tags: Barack Obama, candidate obama, health, health care, health care reform, health insurance industry, healthcare, healthcare reform, leadership, politics, power, presidency, president obama, roger hollander, single payer
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www.rogerhollander.com, July 22, 2009
To quote John Lennon, “Imagine!” Imagine Barack Obama giving a nationally televised speech on health care reform. In it he outlines the advantages of a single-payer plan. He gives the statistical evidence to demonstrate the enormous savings by eliminating private health insurance. He discusses the German, French, British and Canadian systems. He acknowledges some drawbacks, but shows clearly how they achieve the fundamental objectives of universal accessibility, choice, and cost savings. He directly challenges the medical, health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and exposes their high priced media propaganda for what it is: distortion and lies. With most American already having a predisposition towards universal coverage, and with the myths dispelled and replaced with hard undeniable facts, the pressure from the public on Congress to achieve a single-payer option would be irresistible.
Barack Obama wouldn’t be President of the United States today if he hadn’t been the pragmatic, hard-ball, Chicago-bred politician that he is. His failure, or his inability, or his lack of will – call it what you like – to withdraw from the country’s imperialist (criminal and destructive) war adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan or to hold the Bush administration accountable for its high crimes and misdemeanors is eminently predictable and in entirely in character. That many expected more, a hell of a lot more, is due entirely to his campaign rhetoric, which was calculated and for the most part fraudulent.
But this is no reason to not render critical judgments about the Obama presidency despite the fact that we are still quite early into his tenure. There is no doubt that we can expect more of the same. There is a principle to the effect that the practical should be judged by the ideal, and not vice versa. Following this principle is the keystone of leadership. President Obama violates this principle on a daily basis.
Obama knows what leadership is. Candidate Obama demonstrated the epitome of leadership as he led the nation to an electoral victory over a McCain/Palin ticket that had the potential to give the country a government even more disastrous than that of Bush/Cheney – virtually inconceivable but true.
He gave the country its first Afro-American president. However, once elected, he cast off the leadership role as a snake sheds its skin.
President Obama is fond of saying something to the effect of not letting the perfect get in the way of achieving the possible. Politics is the art of the possible, as common wisdom has it. In other words, judge the ideal by the practical, which is to my mind a cynical and nihilistic form of non-leadership.
In a sense, a leader’s role is to remain to a large degree above the fray. A leader reflects the needs, hopes and aspirations of the people. A genuine leader is not a power broker.
In the U.S. system of government, the Congress makes laws which, once agreed upon by both houses, are presented to the President to sign into law or veto. Apart from skewing factors such as massive corporate lobbying and the infamous Bush “signing statements” that allowed the President to ignore laws passed by Congress, the system as it has evolved does generate legislation, for better or worse.
A president’s role can vary between staying out of the process until a piece of legislation reaches his or her desk, and active participation in creating legislation and stick-handling it through Congress. In modern times presidents have leaned more towards the latter role, thereby sacrificing their capacity to lead rather than to broker.
I would suggest that the proper role for Obama or any other president is to communicate to the general public and to the members of Congress his vision on any given issue that is in the best interests of the nation. In the case of health care reform, for example, that would be for a single-payer option, which is what Canada and European industrial democracies have had in place for decades or longer (and which, despite being virtually ignored by the mainstream media and subjected to massive campaigns based upon outright falsehoods, most Americans believe in). But since that is the “perfect” solution in Obama’s frame of thinking, it is “off the table” presumably so as not to hinder a less than perfect but “realizable” option. This is the way of the defeatism, it is not leadership.
In other words, if Obama were a leader rather than a manipulator, he would go over the heads of Congress and speak directly to the people, and let Congress take the consequences for its action or failure to act. This might entail short term risk (that a flawed reform or no reform at all would result), but surely is the only road to genuine reform in the long term. Leadership is about taking risks; but what is ironic, not to mention tragic, is that by taking the path of power brokering a deal, the only possible results are either a much less than adequate reform or total failure. It is also ironic that the entirely self-interested neo-con (Republican) opposition will go for the jugular on the compromised, brokered solution as if it were the ideal solution (so, why not go for broke if you are going to be viciously attacked in any case?). The pragmatist will argue that the less than adequate reform is an incremental step to genuine reform. This indeed might be the case were it not for the fact that bastardized reforms are the result of catering to special interests (in the case of health care reform the AMA, the insurance and pharmaceutical industries), who having been victorious in fending off genuine reform will only remain further entrenched and less likely to be defeated in the future.
In feudal times there was in some senses a positive relationship between kings and subjects vis-à-vis confrontation with the ruling nobility. At times a serf could go over the head of his Lord and appeal to the king for justice. I am no lover of monarchy and only offer this as an analogy. A president who was a genuine friend of the masses and an ally in their struggles with enormous economic interests and compromised legislatures would be a sight to behold.
The problem, of course, is that the President is just as compromised as the legislatures with respect to the funding required to gain a nomination and to launch a successful presidential campaign. What I find so insidious about the Obama (full disclosure: I voted for him, the alternative was too scary, but I can understand those who bit the bullet and voted for Nader) is that he promoted himself and catapulted himself to the presidency by pretending to be a leader. I have to confess that in spite of my better judgment, there was a part of me that wanted to believe him. This may have been naïve on my part, but at least I kept it to myself.
‘The Responsible Left’: Funding Obama’s Expanding Wars June 18, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan War, anthony weiner, anti-war democrats, barney frank, democrats, Doris Matsui, Edolphus Towns, Edward Markey, george miller, Grace Napolitano, hypocrisy, Iraq war, James Oberstar, jan schakowsky, Jay Inslee, jeremy scahill, Jerry Costello, Jim Cooper, jim mcdermott, Luis Gutierrez, Mike Thompson, Nydia Velázquez, pakistan war, politics, pro-war democrats, Richard Neal (MA), roger hollander, Steve Cohen, Steve Kagen, war, war funding, Yvette Clarke
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The cowardly Democrats who checked their spines at the door to Congress when they voted Tuesday try to defend their flip-flop on war funding. Frankly, it is embarrassing.
by Jeremy Scahill
New York Democrat Anthony Weiner, who voted against the war funding in May—when it didn’t matter—only to vote Tuesday with the pro-war Dems, sounded like an imbecile when he made this statement after the vote: “We are in the process of wrapping up the wars. The president needed our support.” What planet is Weiner living on? “Wrapping up the wars?” Last time I checked, there are 21,000 more US troops heading to Afghanistan alongside a surge in contractors there, including a 29% increase in armed contractors. Does Weiner think the $106 billion in war funding he voted for is going to pay for one way tickets home for the troops? What he voted for was certainly not the “Demolition of the 80 Football-field-size US Embassy in Baghdad Act of 2009.” To cap off this idiocy, Weiner basically admitted he is a fraud when he said the bill he voted in favor of “still sucks.”
Jan Schakowsky, who has done some incredibly important work on Blackwater and the privatized war machine, also voted against the supplemental in May, but switched her vote on Tuesday. “I do believe my president is a peacemaker,” Schakowsky said. “I’m going to give him what he wants.” A peacemaker who is expanding war? Moreover, what happened to the system of “checks and balances?” If Congressmembers, especially anti-war ones like Schakowsky, start just giving the president “what he wants,” then where is the peoples’ voice?
How are these people sleeping at night?Obviously these folks are partisans or else they wouldn’t be Democrats, but this “Dear Leader knows best” mentality is cultish. Republican Rep. Ron Paul, who, whatever one thinks of him, has been consistently opposed to these wars, put it best when he rose on the floor Tuesday to speak against the war funding: “I wonder what happened to all of my colleagues who said they were opposed to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wonder what happened to my colleagues who voted with me as I opposed every war supplemental request under the previous administration. It seems, with very few exceptions, they have changed their position on the war now that the White House has changed hands.”
One “anonymous” Massachusetts lawmaker told Politico that those Democrats who voted for the war funding and IMF credits are “what we call the responsible left.” Barney Frank, another flip-flopper on war funding, compared the anti-war left to the Rush Limbaugh right-wing, saying, “They have no sense of reality.” Perhaps Rep. Frank should ask the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who lobbied intensely against the war funding he supported if they have “no sense of reality.”
As previously discussed, this vote was a crucial test—because the White House and pro-war Democrats actually needed to get some ‘anti-war’ legislators to vote with them or the bill would have failed—in determining which Democrats have a spine when it comes to standing up to the war and which are just party operatives with their principles and votes up for political bidding.
While the White House reportedly told some Democrats who voted against the war, “you’ll never hear from us again,” Obama has made it a point this week to intervene to defend those hypocritical “anti-war” legislators who voted with him. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn was one of the 51 Democrats who voted against the funding in May and then consciously misplaced his principles Tuesday. Cohen was targeted for his hypocrisy by activists, spurring President Obama to issue a statement to local media in his district praising Cohen:
The White House Press Office called the Washington bureau of The Commercial Appeal late Wednesday afternoon offering the statement after anti-war liberals across the country derided Cohen as a “fraud” and one who deserved a place in the “Hall of Shame.”
“Congressman Cohen is a leader in the United States Congress and a strong voice for the people of Tennessee,” Obama’s statement declared, adding that Cohen’s vote will “ensure our men and women in uniform have the resources they need to protect our country.”
What is particularly telling is how Cohen doesn’t even pretend his vote had anything to do with principle or representing his constituents. It was simple partisanship. “Maybe [Obama] just wanted to respond to people who helped him,” Cohen said. “Yes, I was surprised but I’ve been in the president’s corner on several occasions and it’s good to have him in my corner.”
All of this sounds, frankly, corrupt. Instead of using cold hard cash, the White House threatens to pull the rug from under dissenting legislators and offers its support to those who cede their conscience to the president’s agenda. So much for change.
This spending bill is likely to sail through the Senate where there is no group even vaguely resembling the ever-shrinking anti-war crowd in the House. Once again, here are the Democrats who turned their backs on their pledges to vote against this war funding:
Yvette Clarke, Steve Cohen, Jim Cooper, Jerry Costello, Barney Frank, Luis Gutierrez, Jay Inslee, Steve Kagen, Edward Markey, Doris Matsui, Jim McDermott, George Miller, Grace Napolitano, Richard Neal (MA), James Oberstar, Jan Schakowsky, Mike Thompson, Edolphus Towns, Nydia Velázquez, and Anthony Weiner.
© 2009 Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.
Buying Brand Obama May 4, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Foreign Policy, Health, Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Pakistan, Torture, War.
Tags: afghanistan occupation, Afghanistan War, banking industry, Barack Obama, benetton, brand obama, bush criminals, calvin klein, chris hedges, corporate advertising, death penalty, defense budget, Economic Crisis, finance industry, gaza, governing, health reform, healthcare reform, Iraq occupation, Iraq war, israel arms, israeli aggression, israeli occupation, junk politics, military industrial complex, military spending, nuclear energy, obama branding, obama campaign, obama marketing, pakistan drones, patriot act, politics, progressive politics, public opinion, roger hollander, single payer, states secrecy, wall stret, walter lippman, War Crimes
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Published on Monday, May 4, 2009 by TruthDig.com
Barack Obama is a brand. And the Obama brand is designed to make us feel good about our government while corporate overlords loot the Treasury, our elected officials continue to have their palms greased by armies of corporate lobbyists, our corporate media diverts us with gossip and trivia and our imperial wars expand in the Middle East. Brand Obama is about being happy consumers. We are entertained. We feel hopeful. We like our president. We believe he is like us. But like all branded products spun out from the manipulative world of corporate advertising, we are being duped into doing and supporting a lot of things that are not in our interest.
What, for all our faith and hope, has the Obama brand given us? His administration has spent, lent or guaranteed $12.8 trillion in taxpayer dollars to Wall Street and insolvent banks in a doomed effort to reinflate the bubble economy, a tactic that at best forestalls catastrophe and will leave us broke in a time of profound crisis. Brand Obama has allocated nearly $1 trillion in defense-related spending and the continuation of our doomed imperial projects in Iraq, where military planners now estimate that 70,000 troops will remain for the next 15 to 20 years. Brand Obama has expanded the war in Afghanistan, including the use of drones sent on cross-border bombing runs into Pakistan that have doubled the number of civilians killed over the past three months. Brand Obama has refused to ease restrictions so workers can organize and will not consider single-payer, not-for-profit health care for all Americans. And Brand Obama will not prosecute the Bush administration for war crimes, including the use of torture, and has refused to dismantle Bush’s secrecy laws or restore habeas corpus.
Brand Obama offers us an image that appears radically individualistic and new. It inoculates us from seeing that the old engines of corporate power and the vast military-industrial complex continue to plunder the country. Corporations, which control our politics, no longer produce products that are essentially different, but brands that are different. Brand Obama does not threaten the core of the corporate state any more than did Brand George W. Bush. The Bush brand collapsed. We became immune to its studied folksiness. We saw through its artifice. This is a common deflation in the world of advertising. So we have been given a new Obama brand with an exciting and faintly erotic appeal. Benetton and Calvin Klein were the precursors to the Obama brand, using ads to associate themselves with risqué art and progressive politics. It gave their products an edge. But the goal, as with all brands, was to make passive consumers mistake a brand with an experience.
“The abandonment of the radical economic foundations of the women’s and civil-rights movements by the conflation of causes that came to be called political correctness successfully trained a generation of activists in the politics of image, not action,” Naomi Klein wrote in “No Logo.”
Obama, who has become a global celebrity, was molded easily into a brand. He had almost no experience, other than two years in the Senate, lacked any moral core and could be painted as all things to all people. His brief Senate voting record was a miserable surrender to corporate interests. He was happy to promote nuclear power as “green” energy. He voted to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He reauthorized the Patriot Act. He would not back a bill designed to cap predatory credit card interest rates. He opposed a bill that would have reformed the notorious Mining Law of 1872. He refused to support the single-payer health care bill HR676, sponsored by Reps. Dennis Kucinich and John Conyers. He supported the death penalty. And he backed a class-action “reform” bill that was part of a large lobbying effort by financial firms. The law, known as the Class Action Fairness Act, would effectively shut down state courts as a venue to hear most class-action lawsuits and deny redress in many of the courts where these cases have a chance of defying powerful corporate challenges.
While Gaza was being bombarded and hit with airstrikes in the weeks before Obama took office, “the Obama team let it be known that it would not object to the planned resupply of ‘smart bombs’ and other hi-tech ordnance that was already flowing to Israel,” according to Seymour Hersh. Even his one vaunted anti-war speech as a state senator, perhaps his single real act of defiance, was swiftly reversed. He told the Chicago Tribune on July 27, 2004, that “there’s not that much difference between my position and George Bush’s position at this stage. The difference, in my mind, is who’s in a position to execute.” And unlike anti-war stalwarts like Kucinich, who gave hundreds of speeches against the war, Obama then dutifully stood silent until the Iraq war became unpopular.
Obama’s campaign won the vote of hundreds of marketers, agency heads and marketing-services vendors gathered at the Association of National Advertisers’ annual conference in October. The Obama campaign was named Advertising Age’s marketer of the year for 2008 and edged out runners-up Apple and Zappos.com. Take it from the professionals. Brand Obama is a marketer’s dream. President Obama does one thing and Brand Obama gets you to believe another. This is the essence of successful advertising. You buy or do what the advertiser wants because of how they can make you feel.
Celebrity culture has leeched into every aspect of our culture, including politics, to bequeath to us what Benjamin DeMott called “junk politics.” Junk politics does not demand justice or the reparation of rights. Junk politics personalizes and moralizes issues rather than clarifying them. “It’s impatient with articulated conflict, enthusiastic about America’s optimism and moral character, and heavily dependent on feel-your-pain language and gesture,” DeMott noted. The result of junk politics is that nothing changes – “meaning zero interruption in the processes and practices that strengthen existing, interlocking systems of socioeconomic advantage.” It redefines traditional values, tilting “courage toward braggadocio, sympathy toward mawkishness, humility toward self-disrespect, identification with ordinary citizens toward distrust of brains.” Junk politics “miniaturizes large, complex problems at home while maximizing threats from abroad. It’s also given to abrupt unexplained reversals of its own public stances, often spectacularly bloating problems previously miniaturized.” And finally, it “seeks at every turn to obliterate voters’ consciousness of socioeconomic and other differences in their midst.”
An image-based culture, one dominated by junk politics, communicates through narratives, pictures and carefully orchestrated spectacle and manufactured pseudo-drama. Scandalous affairs, hurricanes, earthquakes, untimely deaths, lethal new viruses, train wrecks-these events play well on computer screens and television. International diplomacy, labor union negotiations and convoluted bailout packages do not yield exciting personal narratives or stimulating images. A governor who patronizes call girls becomes a huge news story. A politician who proposes serious regulatory reform, universal health care or advocates curbing wasteful spending is boring. Kings, queens and emperors once used their court conspiracies to divert their subjects. Today cinematic, political and journalistic celebrities distract us with their personal foibles and scandals. They create our public mythology. Acting, politics and sports have become, as they were during the reign of Nero, interchangeable.
In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we do not seek reality. Reality is complicated. Reality is boring. We are incapable or unwilling to handle its confusion. We ask to be indulged and comforted by clichés, stereotypes and inspirational messages that tell us we can be whoever we seek to be, that we live in the greatest country on Earth, that we are endowed with superior moral and physical qualities, and that our future will always be glorious and prosperous, either because of our own attributes, or our national character, or because we are blessed by God. Reality is not accepted as an impediment to our desires. Reality does not make us feel good.
In his book “Public Opinion,” Walter Lippmann distinguished between “the world outside and the pictures in our heads.” He defined a “stereotype” as an oversimplified pattern that helps us find meaning in the world. Lippmann cited examples of the crude “stereotypes we carry about in our heads” of whole groups of people such as “Germans,” “South Europeans,” “Negroes,” “Harvard men,” “agitators” and others. These stereotypes, Lippmann noted, give a reassuring and false consistency to the chaos of existence. They offer easily grasped explanations of reality and are closer to propaganda because they simplify rather than complicate.
Pseudo-events-dramatic productions orchestrated by publicists, political machines, television, Hollywood or advertisers-however, are very different. They have, as Daniel Boorstin wrote in “The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America,” the capacity to appear real even though we know they are staged. They are capable, because they can evoke a powerful emotional response, of overwhelming reality and replacing reality with a fictional narrative that often becomes accepted truth. The unmasking of a stereotype damages and often destroys its credibility. But pseudo-events, whether they show the president in an auto plant or a soup kitchen or addressing troops in Iraq, are immune to this deflation. The exposure of the elaborate mechanisms behind the pseudo-event only adds to its fascination and its power. This is the basis of the convoluted television reporting on how effectively political campaigns and politicians have been stage-managed. Reporters, especially those on television, no longer ask if the message is true but if the pseudo-event worked or did not work as political theater. Pseudo-events are judged on how effectively we have been manipulated by illusion. Those events that appear real are relished and lauded. Those that fail to create a believable illusion are deemed failures. Truth is irrelevant. Those who succeed in politics, as in most of the culture, are those who create the brands and pseudo-events that offer the most convincing fantasies. And this is the art Obama has mastered.
A public that can no longer distinguish between truth and fiction is left to interpret reality through illusion. Random facts or obscure bits of data and trivia are used to bolster illusion and give it credibility or are discarded if they interfere with the message. The worse reality becomes-the more, for example, foreclosures and unemployment skyrocket-the more people seek refuge and comfort in illusions. When opinions cannot be distinguished from facts, when there is no universal standard to determine truth in law, in science, in scholarship, or in reporting the events of the day, when the most valued skill is the ability to entertain, the world becomes a place where lies become true, where people can believe what they want to believe. This is the real danger of pseudo-events and why pseudo-events are far more pernicious than stereotypes. They do not explain reality, as stereotypes attempt to, but replace reality. Pseudo-events redefine reality by the parameters set by their creators. These creators, who make massive profits peddling these illusions, have a vested interest in maintaining the power structures they control.
The old production-oriented culture demanded what the historian Warren Susman termed character. The new consumption-oriented culture demands what he called personality. The shift in values is a shift from a fixed morality to the artifice of presentation. The old cultural values of thrift and moderation honored hard work, integrity and courage. The consumption-oriented culture honors charm, fascination and likability. “The social role demanded of all in the new culture of personality was that of a performer,” Susman wrote. “Every American was to become a performing self.”
The junk politics practiced by Obama is a consumer fraud. It is about performance. It is about lies. It is about keeping us in a perpetual state of childishness. But the longer we live in illusion, the worse reality will be when it finally shatters our fantasies. Those who do not understand what is happening around them and who are overwhelmed by a brutal reality they did not expect or foresee search desperately for saviors. They beg demagogues to come to their rescue. This is the ultimate danger of the Obama Brand. It effectively masks the wanton internal destruction and theft being carried out by our corporate state. These corporations, once they have stolen trillions in taxpayer wealth, will leave tens of millions of Americans bereft, bewildered and yearning for even more potent and deadly illusions, ones that could swiftly snuff out what is left of our diminished open society.