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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.

The Ideology of No Ideology (“don’t pee on me and tell me it’s raining.” Judge Judy) November 26, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Political Commentary.
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by: Norman Solomon, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

photo
President-elect Barack Obama. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand / AFP / Getty Images)

    

 

On Friday, columnist David Brooks informed readers that Barack Obama’s picks “are not ideological.” The incoming president’s key economic advisers “are moderate and thoughtful Democrats,” while Hillary Clinton’s foreign-policy views “are hardheaded and pragmatic.”

    On Saturday, The New York Times’ front page reported that the president-elect’s choices for secretaries of State and Treasury “suggest that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues.”

    On Monday, hours before Obama’s formal announcement of his economic team, USA Today explained that he is forming a Cabinet with “records that display more pragmatism than ideology.”

    The ideology of no ideology is nifty. No matter how tilted in favor of powerful interests, it can be a deft way to keep touting policy agendas as common-sense pragmatism – virtuous enough to draw opposition only from ideologues.

    Meanwhile, the end of ideology among policymakers is about as imminent as the end of history.

    But – in sync with the ideology of no ideology – deference to corporate power isn’t ideological. And belief in the US government’s prerogative to use military force anywhere in the world is a matter of credibility, not ideology.

    Ideological assumptions gain power as they seem to disappear into the prevailing political scenery. So, for instance, reliably non-ideological ideological journalists sit at the studio table every Friday night on the PBS “Washington Week” program, which is currently funded by similarly non-ideological outfits including Boeing, the National Mining Association and Constellation Energy (“the nation’s largest supplier of competitive electricity to large commercial and industrial customers,” with revenues of $21 billion last year).

    Along the way, the ideology of no ideology can corral even normally incisive commentators. So, over the weekend, as news broke about the nominations of Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers to top economic posts, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote an article praising “the members of Obama’s new economic team.” Reich declared: “All are pragmatists. Some media have dubbed them ‘centrists’ or ‘center-right,’ but in truth they’re remarkably free of ideological preconception…. They are not visionaries but we don’t need visionaries when the economic perils are clear and immediate. We need competence. Obama could not appoint a more competent group.”

    Competence can be very good. But “free of ideological preconception”? I want to meet these guys. If they really don’t have any ideological preconceptions, they belong in the book of Guinness World Records.

    As for competence, it seems that claims of non-ideology often go hand-in-hand with overblown claims of economic mastery. “Geithner and Summers are credited with expertise in crisis management,” economist Mark Weisbrot pointed out on Monday, “but we better hope they don’t manage the current crisis like they did in East Asia, Russia, Argentina or any of the other countries that Treasury was involved in during the 1990s with their help. They helped bring on the East Asian crisis in 1997 by pressuring the governments in the region to deregulate international financial flows, which was the main cause of the crisis. Then they insisted that all bailout money go through the IMF, and delayed aid until most of the damage was done. Then they attached damaging conditions” to the aid.

    After all is said and done, the ideology of no ideology is just like any other ideology that’s apt to be much better at promoting itself than living up to its pretenses. No amount of flowery rhetoric or claims of transcendent non-ideology should deter tough scrutiny. And Judge Judy’s injunction should apply to the ideology of no ideology as much as to any ideology that owns up to being one: “Don’t pee on me and tell me it’s raining.”

    ——–

    Norman Solomon is the author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” The book has been adapted into a documentary film of the same name. For information, go to: www.normansolomon.com.

Starving for a change November 25, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis.
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Posted on Nov 24, 2008

www.truthdig.com

AP photo / Kiichiro Sato, file

Leah Poare visits a food pantry in Columbus, Ohio. Even with the help of free groceries, Poare and her husband limit themselves to one full meal a day, usually in the evening, so that their three children, ages 6, 7 and 17, can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.

By Chris Hedges

Elba Figueroa worked as a nurse’s aide until she got Parkinson’s disease. She lost her job. She lost her health care. She receives $703 a month in government assistance. Her rent alone costs $750. And so she borrows money from friends and neighbors every month to stay in her apartment. She laboriously negotiates her wheelchair up and down steps and along the frigid sidewalks of Trenton, N.J., to get to soup kitchens and food pantries to eat.

“Food prices have gone up,” the 47-year-old Figueroa said, waiting to get inside the food pantry run by the Crisis Ministry of Princeton and Trenton. “I don’t have any money. I run out of things to eat. I worked until I physically could not work anymore. Now I live like this.”

The pantry, which occupies a dilapidated three-story art deco building in Old Trenton, one of the poorest sections of the city, is one of about two dozen charities that struggle to provide shelter and food to the poor. Those who quality for assistance are permitted to come once a month and push a shopping cart in a U shape around the first floor where, clutching a piece of paper with allotted points, they can stock up on items using the pantry’s point system according to the number of people in a household. The shelves of the pantry hold bags of rice, jars of peanut butter, macaroni and cheese and cans of beets, corn and peas. Two refrigerated cases hold eggs, chickens, fresh carrots and beef hot dogs. “All Fresh Produce 2 pounds = 1 point,” a sign on the glass door of the refrigerated unit reads. Another reads: “1 Dozen EGGS equal 3 protein points. Limit of 1 dozen per household.”

The swelling numbers waiting outside homeless shelters and food pantries around the country, many of them elderly or single women with children, have grown by at least 30 percent since the summer. General welfare recipients receive $140 a month in cash and another $140 in food stamps. This is all many in Trenton and other impoverished areas have to live on.

Trenton, a former manufacturing center that has a 20 percent unemployment rate and a median income of $33,000, is a window into our current unraveling. The financial meltdown is plunging the working class and the poor into levels of destitution unseen since the Depression. And as the government squanders taxpayer money in fruitless schemes to prop up insolvent banks and investment houses, citizens are callously thrown onto the street without work, a place to live or enough food. 

The statistics are already grim. Our banking and investment system, holding perhaps $2 trillion in worthless assets, cannot be saved, even with the $700 billion of taxpayer money recklessly thrown into its financial black hole. Our decline is irrevocable.  The number of private sector jobs has dropped for the past 10 months and at least a quarter of all businesses say they plan to cut more jobs over the next year. The nation’s largest banks, including Citigroup, face collapse. Retail sales fell in October by the largest monthly drop on record. Auto companies are on the edge of bankruptcy. The official unemployment figures, which duplicitously mask real unemployment that is probably now at least 10 percent nationwide, are up to 6.1 percent and headed higher. We have lost 1.2 million jobs since January. Young men of color have 50 percent unemployment rates in cities such as Trenton. Twelve million houses are worth less than their mortgages and a million people will lose their homes this year in foreclosures. The current trends, if not swiftly reversed, mean that one in 33 home owners will face foreclosure.

There are now 36.2 million Americans who cope daily with hunger, up by more than 3 million since 2000, according to the Food Research and Action Center in Washington, D.C.  The number of people in the worst-off category—the hungriest—rose by 40 percent since 2000, to nearly 12 million people.

“We are seeing people we have not seen for a long time,” said the Rev. Jarret Kerbel, director of the Crisis Ministry’s food pantry, which supplies food to 1,400 households in Trenton each month. “We are seeing people who haven’t crossed that threshold for five, six or seven years coming back. We are seeing people whose unemployment has run out and they are struggling in that gap while they reapply and, of course, we are seeing the usual unemployed. This will be the first real test of [Bill] Clinton’s so-called welfare reform.”

The Crisis Ministry, like many hard-pressed charities, is over budget and food stocks are precariously low. Donations are on the decline. There are days when soup kitchens in Trenton are shut down because they have no food.

“We collected 170 bags of groceries from a church in Princeton and it was gone in two days,” Kerbel said. “We collected 288 bags from a Jewish center in Princeton and it was gone in three days. What you see on the shelves is pretty much what we have.”

The largess of Congress to Wall Street bankers and investors does not extend to the growing ranks of the poor. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Food Assistance Program donated $240 million in surplus food in 2003 to food banks and other programs. Those donations fell last year to $59 million.

States, facing dramatic budget shortfalls, are slashing social assistance programs, including Medicaid, social services and education. New Jersey’s shortfall has tripled to $1.2 billion and could soar to $5 billion for the next fiscal year. Tax revenue has fallen to $211 million less than projected. States are imposing hiring freezes, canceling raises and cutting back on services big and small, from salting and plowing streets in winter to heating assistance programs. Unemployment insurance funds, especially with the proposed extension of benefits, are running out of money. Governors such as Arnold Schwarzenegger in California and David A. Paterson in New York have called special legislative sessions to deal with the crisis.

If Barack Obama continues to turn to the elites who created the mess, if he does not radically redirect the nation’s resources to assist the working class and the poor, we will become a third-world country. We will waste gargantuan amounts of money we cannot afford on our military, our national security state and bloated corporations while we damn the middle and working class to the whims, idiocy and greed of an entrenched, corporate oligarchy. Obama’s appointments of Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary and Lawrence Summers as director of the National Economic Council are ominous signals that these elites remain entrenched.

Dolores Williams, 57, sat in the cramped waiting room at the Crisis Ministry clutching a numbered card, waiting for it to be called. She has lived in a low-income apartment block known as The Kingsbury for a year. Two residents, she said, recently jumped to their deaths from the 19th floor. She had a job at Sam’s Club but lost it. No one, she says, is hiring. She is desperate.

She handed me a copy of The Trentonian, a local paper. The headline on the front page read: “Gangster Slammed for Bicycle Drive-By.” It was the story of the conviction of a man for a fatal drive-by shooting from a bicycle. The paper, as I flipped through it, was filled with stories like these, the result of social, economic and moral collapse. Poverty breeds more than hunger. It destroys communities. There was a report about a 56-year-old woman who was robbed and pistol-whipped in the middle of the afternoon. There was an article about the plight of four children whose two parents had been shot and seriously wounded. “Libraries OK Now, but Future Is Murky” a headline read. Another announced: “Still No Arrests in Hooker Slayings.”

“It is like this every day,” Williams said. 

So while our nation crumbles, physically and morally, while our empire implodes, while our economy tanks, the bankrupt elites who got us here play the merry-go-round game of power in Washington. They will continue to oversee our demise, including the obscene drain of our military and security budget, which now accounts for half of all discretionary spending. Pentagon officials have reportedly asked the Obama transition team for $581 billion, an increase of $67 billion. This increase does not, of course, include the $3 trillion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We will pay these loans later.

Banks, automotive companies and investment firms, all sinking under the weight of their own incompetence and greed, head to Washington, usually in private jets, to engage in the largest looting of the treasury in American history. And Congress doles out our money without oversight in the greatest transference of wealth upwards in modern times.

As this pitiful march of folly rolls forward, children in Trenton and across America go to bed hungry. 

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