Category Archives: Obama

The tragic tale of oppressed billionaires

Glenn Greenwald has a must-read piece on Continetti’s apologia thingy to the Koch brothers in the Weekly Standard regarding how influential billionaires are being cruelly victimized by bloggers and the like. It’s a tragic tale. http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/03/27/koch/index.html

And Benen quotes Charles Koch and comments…

“”His father was a hard core economic socialist in Kenya… So he had sort of antibusiness, anti-free enterprise influences affecting him almost all his life. It just shows you what a person with a silver tongue can achieve.” 

Now, Koch’s vast wealth proves that one need not be intelligent to get rich, but remarks like these are still just embarrassing.” http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2011_03/028649.php

Not merely embarrassing in getting details wrong, I’d point out. Consider the stunning lack of self-awareness here. Obama is profoundly influenced by a father who was absent and played almost zero part in Obama’s life. On the other hand, the Koch boys who were raised by and gained their millionaire to billionaire fortunes from a co-founder of the John Birch Society, that’s invisible to the dork.

A year or so on

I cranked up this creature a bit over a year ago.  How’s the year gone?  Not terribly well, I’m afraid.  First up is the overall political situation here in the US.

A reality becoming increasingly obvious to  many is that the political system down here has become profoundly dis-functional.  Obama’s attempt to reform medical insurance and medical delivery has set the problems in high relief.  But we need to immediately stipulate that it isn’t this particular issue which has caused the dis-function but rather that it merely reveals it.  The obstacles to getting this project done either already do or will come into play where any large or significant legislation might be advanced.

An immediate problem is structural – the party out of power, if they demonstrate an unyielding discipline and hold to a policy of obstruction-at-any-cost, can thwart any legislative proposals.  James Fallows at the Atlantic lays out the exact problem here.

One can think of that problem as something like an emerged loophole.  It had not been a problem anywhere near the present magnitude previously but is now because other conditions have arisen which have facilitated or encouraged its use.

The most fundamental condition which has arisen to facilitate this situation is the nature of the modern American conservative movement.  That movement is both much further right than the versions of conservatism we have known previously and it is much more ideologically rigid and self-certain.  This rigidity and (pathological) certainty that it alone represents “real” Americanness has led it to a set of beliefs and strategies which justify, even demand, maximal obstruction of any other set of political ideas and policies.  No other ideology is considered valid.  These are rather sweeping claims, I understand, but they are accurate and reflect the real states of affairs here presently.

Thus it becomes not merely possible (conceptually or “morally”) to invest nearly all of the movement’s energies, activities and money towards bringing down any Democratic government but it also becomes a matter of patriotic duty to do so.

So that is the ideological condition which is now in place.  We can chart out an evolution (growth) of this extremism along with the attendant strategies through the Carter administration and the Clinton administration and up to today.

A second and necessary condition now in place is the propaganda mechanisms and institutions which have been purposefully established beginning in the early 70’s and which are now both broad and very effective encompassing talk radio, FOX, the Wall Street Journal and rightwing papers, internet sites and well-established information-dissemination organizations which have as their primary function the insertion of conservative voices into cable tv shows and major news outlets.  For one example, the regular presence in the Washington Post of  George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol,  Karl Rove, Bush speechwriters Michael Gerson and, as of last week, Marc Theissen.

Another necessary condition in this mix is the enormous amount of monies flooding into this entire arrangement to enhance media control and to affect the outcomes of primary contests and elections.  Lobbyists and front groups are the middlemen here and their numbers and their influence have increased far above what we’ve seen previously.  The source of those monies (and the healthcare issue is a perfect case in point though entirely usual) are either corporate or from a group of rightwing families with corporate ties and extremist ideologies.

The very real question before us now is whether or not the US will be able to pull itself out of this mire.  Unfortunately, the recent Supreme Court decision (5-4 along ideological grounds) might make the damn difficult the damn near impossible.   If we just consider the make-up of the present Supreme Court and it’s consistent drift to an extremist right we get a good picture of how the conservative movement has reset the gears of governance in the US.  For the consequences of this new court and this particular decision, see  here

I am not, I confess, optimistic.  Tendencies towards extremism and towards pervasive propagandist influences on significant sectors of the population down here (take a look at Sarah Palin’s Facebook comments or at the polling on whether torture is just find and dandy) will only be heightened in a period of economic hardship such as people here are now facing.

Income inequality trend – what matches it?

Paul Krugman (and others) have noted recent income inequality figures from  Emmanuel Saez at Berkeley.    Here is the historical perspective graphed…

Two major trends are immediately evident – downwards from the 20s and then upwards from the the mid-70s.  We know what brought the trend down from “the guilded age” but what brought it back up?

I’ve previously noted here Lewis Lapham’s essay “The Tentacles of Rage”. What Lapham describes in this essay matches yjod rise and does so far better than any particular individual or party holding the Presidency or the inititation of any particular policy or the establishment of or dismantling of any particular institution related to governance in the US.

Further, one can see quite clearly how what Lapham describes is presently in full bloom in the broad campaign underway to kill healthcare reform in the US and to bring down a President who likely will, if he is able, move the country back towards the sorts of regulations and perspectives which caused or facilitated the downward trend mentioned above.

I encourage everyone to read the essay with care and with attention to the correspondences between the timeline demonstrated in the graph and the correspondences between the thesis Lapham advances with what we have all experienced since the mid 70s and are still experiencing now.

The principles, the authority and the reality of the Catholic Church

Prior to last week, as part of an organized effort to to derogate the present Obama administration and its policies, the Cardinal Newman Society,  an extremist corner of the American Catholic community with  ties to the Republican party and the conservative movement mounted an aggressive media campaign against Notre Dame’s invitation to Obama to give the commencement speech.

Nearly 65,000 people have signed an online petition protesting President Obama’s scheduled May 17 commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, saying the president’s views on abortion and stem cell research “directly contradict” Roman Catholic teachings.

“It is an outrage and a scandal that ‘Our Lady’s University,’ one of the premier Catholic universities in the United States, would bestow such an honor on President Obama given his clear support for policies and laws that directly contradict fundamental Catholic teachings on life and marriage,” the petition at notredamescandal.com reads.

One might fairly ask, given yesterday’s publication of an investigation of the Catholic Church in Ireland, just how those “fundamental Catholic teachings on life and marriage” are actually instantiated within the Church itself.  One might also fairly ask for comment on this matter from the Cardinal Newman Society and from conservative movement luminary, Brent Bozell III, who sits on the board as director.

Catholic Church shamed by Irish abuse report

By SHAWN POGATCHNIK
The Associated Press
Thursday, May 21, 2009 2:24 AM

DUBLIN — After a nine-year investigation, a commission published a damning report Wednesday on decades of rapes, humiliation and beatings at Catholic Church-run reform schools for Ireland’s castaway children.

The 2,600-page report painted the most detailed and damning portrait yet of church-administered abuse in a country grown weary of revelations about child molestation by priests.

The investigation of the tax-supported schools uncovered previously secret Vatican records that demonstrated church knowledge of pedophiles in their ranks all the way back to the 1930s.

Wednesday’s five-volume report on the probe _ which was resisted by Catholic religious orders _ concluded that church officials shielded their orders’ pedophiles from arrest amid a culture of self-serving secrecy.

“A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys. Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from,” Ireland’s Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse concluded.

Victims of the abuse, who are now in their 50s to 80s, lobbied long and hard for an official investigation. They say that for all its incredible detail, the report doesn’t nail down what really matters _ the names of their abusers.

“I do genuinely believe that it would have been a further step towards our healing if our abusers had been named and shamed,” said Christine Buckley, 62, who spent the first 18 years of her life in a Dublin orphanage where children were forced to manufacture rosaries _ and were humiliated, beaten and raped whether they achieved their quota or not.

The Catholic religious orders that ran more than 50 workhouse-style reform schools from the late 19th century until the mid-1990s offered public words of apology, shame and regret Wednesday. But when questioned, their leaders indicated they would continue to protect the identities of clergy accused of abuse _ men and women who were never reported to police, and were instead permitted to change jobs and keep harming children.

The full ugly story here

Reihan Salam

I’m going to paste in this very bright piece by Salam from a collection of commentaries on Obama’s first 100 days to be found in Daily Beast. I also recommend Matt Yglesias’ contribution and h/t to him for steering me to Salam.

100 Days of Paranoia

It seems that no matter what Obama does  as president, wild-eyed conspiracy theorists will generate their own reality.

Americans love conspiracy theories. One of America’s favorites at the moment maintains that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim. I don’t believe it, of course. But there’s something so forehead-slappingly strange about the notion that you can’t help but wonder how, even after 100 days in office, Obama retains this air of mystery. In October, before the election, the Pew Research Center found that only 51 percent of Americans believed that Obama was a Christian, while 12 percent were convinced that he was a Muslim. The good people at Pew asked the question again in March, and they found that the numbers had barely changed: 48 percent think Obama is a Christian and 11 percent think he’s a Muslim. The rest are unsure.

It gets better. One of my favorite numbers from that Pew poll is that of voters who approve of Obama’s job performance, 7 percent believe that he’s a Muslim. They seem to be saying, “Hey man, as long as I get my stimulus, you can worship Allah all day,” which is pretty admirable. But does the persistence of the Muslim Obama theory have a more dangerous edge to it? It just might.

After 9/11, a small cottage industry sprung up around the celebration of George W. Bush’s greatness, complete with bronze busts and package tours of Crawford, Texas. At the same time, 9/11 Truthers claimed that a secret Zionist cabal was behind the 2001 terror attacks. If anything, Barack Obama has proved an even more electrifying—and even more polarizing—figure than President Bush, despite the fact that he mostly comes across as a sober, professorial executive. We can’t even decide if he’s telling the truth about his religion, let alone the NAFTA superhighway or a secret plan for one world government.

When the Department of Homeland Security issued its clumsy report on right-wing domestic extremists, conservatives were furious. Some even argued that dissent was being criminalized. But the truth is that extremists of the right and left really have gone bananas in our history. I worry that we’ve entered a dark and paranoid moment in our history, and that these first 100 days—for all the craziness and tumult of the economic apocalypse—will be remembered as pleasingly calm.

Reihan Salam is a fellow at the New America Foundation and the co-author of Grand New Party.

And let me take this opportunity to once again point interested readers to the seminal essay on this tendency in American history/culture… Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics

Torture

Anyone following the news last week will be aware that the subject of torture became dominant. This followed the release of further “torture memos” written by Bush legal staff, Cheney’s appearance on Hannity, and the recent Red Cross report leak. Further, individuals such as Army General Anthony Taguba have been raising their voices in support of investigations on the matter.

Something of a storm is brewing.  Few conservatives or Republicans wish to see such an investigation begun because it has become apparent that the near certain revelations will work further serious damage on their electoral chances.

Some, I’m sure, actually believe that public revelation is a bad idea because it will only further anger members of the militant Islamic community.  But it’s a bit of a conundrum as to whether continued suppression of the truth with no legal consequences for perpetrators (and the undeniable hypocrisy that would demonstrate) might be even more angering (justifiable anger in this case) to them.

Some (like Cheney) also clearly believe that it is the proper business of the US government to suppress such information because it would have the probable consequence of leading American citizens to think poorly of this period of American history and behavior.  Citizens, and thus the country, this notion goes, will be better off when happily romanticizing their nation.  Only a select elite (tough of mind) ought to be appraised of the realities.  Citizens and the national psyche couldn’t handle an honest accounting.

Given the statements that have come from Obama earlier and from him and his administration currently, it is unclear as to how they are weighing the complex consequences of a fully transparent investigation/release of this history.  And it’s unclear to me just what sort of pressures are being brought to bear upon the administration (from the intelligence community, the Pentagon and lobbyists for the military-industrial sector) to keeep things in the dark.  But I’ll wager it is substantial and unceasing.

Further, there is the predictable all-out war that Republicans will wage and the damage that might do to civic civility and future policy changes that Obama wishes to implement.  That the prospects here will be dire is precisely the notion the Republicans are trying desparately to forward but it is not clear at all to me that this accurately predicts final consequences even if the moral questions are left out of the equation.

And those moral questions are becoming increasingly pressing.  How can America not procede transparently and honestly now without undercutting the most compelling arguments for its identity – to self and others – as a force for good in the world?

Let’s note as well here while we are at it that the propaganda push mounted last week by the Bush administration members and Republican partisans has four components.  Everything we are hearing and reading from them is contained in the following:

1) it wasn’t torture
2) it wasn’t illegal
3) and even if either of the above are ‘legally’ true, it was actually more morally correct to have acted as was done because it kept America safe through providing information which saved lives
4) it would be unwise and immoral to investigate and reveal facts because of damage that will be done to future intelligence operations and to American self-identity and civic equanimity.

But voices, an increasing number of them from all points of the compass other than those with deep allegiances to Bush or the GOP, are now making the case that each of these arguments is erroneous or less compelling than the arguments to procede with investigation and revelation.

A final factor here, and a critical one, relates to the media.  The recent past (particularly) suggests that the individuals and the corporations who make up the major portion of the media which people attend to have a set of interests which might be put in jeopardy (perceived or actual) by any serious look at the last eight years.  Not only has the news media been complicit in what has gone on, they are likely hesitant to support what they might imagine as too much shaking of the status quo.

There’s perhaps no better example of such institutional complacency than the modern Washington Post and David Broder who famously told Sally Quinn that “He (Bill Clinton) came in here and trashed the place and it wasn’t his place.”  Being not of the Washington circle/elite and guilty of an extra-marital blowjob is to trash the place that isn’t his but beginning an uncessary war and implementing torture policies (aside from all else that the Bush administration has done) ought, in Broder’s sick mental universe, to be now  simply forgotten.

Polling

Reporting from Washington — Approaching his 100th day in the White House at a time of economic turmoil, President Obama holds the approval of nearly two-thirds of Americans surveyed for the job that he is performing – and seven in 10 say they like Obama, the man.

Most say they approve of the president’s overall handling of the economy, while the effects of his policies remain uncertain.

Obama’s job approval as president stands at 63% in a poll released this morning by the Washington-based Pew Research Center – with just 26% saying they disapprove of the way he is handling his job.

The president draws a similar rating, 64%, in a new poll conducted by the Associated Press and GfK Roper Public Affairs and Media. That survey also finds, for the first time in five years, more Americans saying the nation is headed in the right direction than those who say it is not.

The president’s job approval also stands at 64% in the latest Gallup Poll daily tracking survey.

In a reversal of the way that voters traditionally view leaders of the two major political parties, the Democratic president draws better ratings in the Pew survey for his handling of foreign policy and terrorism than for his handling of domestic issues, such as health care, taxes or the budget deficit.

Nevertheless, 60% of those surveyed by Pew say they approve of Obama’s overall handling of the economy.

LA Times story here