Regarding most issues, I get suspicious when I hear people say that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. This adage doesn’t apply where the proposed solution doesn’t really address the alleged problem. In the case of the Occupy Wall Street Occupations, though, I believe that this adage does apply.
The main focus of the protests is that large amounts of money have corrupted our political process. Consider whether there anything of value to democratic government where the deliberative process excludes citizen input and, instead, is driven by the highest bidder. As long as private money flows freely in our political system, there can’t be meaningful discussion and decision-making. Where money drives the process of making political decisions–where the real decision-making occurs outside of public view along with promises of money–the citizens are left with only the cheap baubles of democracy: flag waving, saying pledges and lighting fireworks. It is for these reasons that those who fail to support this main concern of the Occupy protests are not for government for and by the People. If one is not for meaningful citizen input regarding the political process, one is against meaningful democracy. I haven’t yet heard even the most right wing right winger assert that he/she is against democracy.
The problem with money in politics is mentioned so often that it sounds like a cliche, but money destroys government’s ability to respond to the needs of its non-monied constituents. They are excluded from political deliberations.
But you keep hearing from politicians that money won’t corrupt them. It’s time for all of us to join with the Occupy protesters and respond to that claim by collectively shouting “Bullshit!” If I’m hungry and I’m considering eating either vegetables or a double cheeseburger and fries, the decision is hard enough without any money entering the process. I know, however, that if someone offered me $100 every time I ate the burger/fries, I’d start eating more burgers and fries. It would warp my judgment such that my decision would not be in tune with what I know to be the best decision. And when accused of letting money sway me, I would claim that the $100 had nothing to do with my decision-making.
That’s what’s going on in our Congress: money is driving decision-making and we are seeing our politicians making extraordinary numbers of terrible decisions, the crowning jewels of which are two extraordinarily unnecessary wars. Or is it the bailout of banks with no reform of the banking system? There are actually many other candidates. The power of money is so destructive to the deliberative process that even a highly idealistic candidate like Barack Obama has betrayed numerous promises he made during the campaign for no good reason. The list of Obama’s failures is staggering: Ramping up Afghanistan, abandoning net neutrality, Wall Street non-reform, a health care plan that amounted to a bailout for the private insurers, continuation of the domestic spying programs of the Bush Administration, ramping up the “War on Drugs,” and reckless compromise with Republicans regarding the Bush era tax cuts, domestic spending cuts. Thoughtful people don’t simply give up well-considered positions on such important issues; rather, they sell out. That is how I interpret Obama’s failures; he has become intoxicated by money.
It is my hope that the Occupy Protests keep their focus on getting money out of the political process. This should be a bi-partisan issue, as indicated by Dylan Ratigan:
The Occupy Wall Street movement as well as the Tea Party Movement should agree: our Federal government is bought and sold and rarely represents the people. In our quest to get money out of politics, we are not beginning at square one. There has been an anti-corruption movement against the modern financing system since the 1970s, and we have many allies in this struggle. It is Citizens United and the bailouts, twin representatives that make corruption so explicit, that have shown us we must act. And it is the foreclosure crisis that suggests that if we do not act, we will be acted upon. Such is how Constitutional moments happen. Now it is up to us, the people, to make this our moment, as our forebears have in their moments of crisis.
But, again, we need to keep the focus on the free flow of money in the political process. It is the reason that honest deliberation of major issues are now impossible in Congress. John Nichols of The Nation explains in an article titled “The 99 Percent Rise Up“:
The target is right. This has been a year of agitation, from Wisconsin to Ohio to Washington. It has seen some of the largest demonstrations in recent American history in defense of labor rights, public education, public services. But all those uprisings attacked symptoms of the disease. Occupy Wall Street named it. By aiming activism not at the government but at the warren of bankers, CEOs and hedge-fund managers to whom the government is beholden, Occupy Wall Street went to the heart of the matter. And that captured the imagination of Americans who knew Michael Moore was right when he finished his 2009 documentary Capitalism: A Love Story with an attempted citizen’s arrest of the bankers who not only avoided accountability after crashing the economy but profited from a taxpayer-funded bailout. Like the populists, the socialists and the best of the progressive reformers of a century ago, Occupy Wall Street has not gotten distracted by electoral politics; it has gone after the manipulator of both major parties—what the radicals of old referred to as “the money power.”
Paul Krugman, writing for the NYT:
I realize that with hostile Republicans controlling the House, there’s not much Mr. Obama can get done in the way of concrete policy. Arguably, all he has left is the bully pulpit. But he isn’t even using that — or, rather, he’s using it to reinforce his enemies’ narrative.
Krugman was commenting on Obama’s lack of fight during the recent budget deal. That bad deal comes on the heels of Obama’s recent lack of fight on net neutrality, where Obama and his hand-picked commissioner Julius Genachowski purposely steered clear of the promising solution of declaring the Internet to be a mode of “telecommunications” pursuant to the Communications Act of 1996. That wasn’t doable with AT&T looking on, spending more on lobbyists than all members of the military-industrial complex combined. Obama’s recent collapse occurred after he declared that he would “Take a back seat to no one” regarding net neutrality.
Well, it’s clear that Obama didn’t have the guts to fight for what he apparently once believed regarding net neutrality. That’s the awful trend. Consider his inept Wall Street finance alleged reform (“banks” are now bigger than they were prior to the collapse) and consider his convoluted health care reform, which dumped us into the waiting arms of virtually monopolistic private health insurers (mine raised my premium 10% last week–so much for “cost control,” Obama’s original justification for health care reform).
And then there is Guantanamo–yes, it’s still open for business, and consider that the “Peace President” ramped up our military presence in Afghanistan, where we still waste $2B/week, killing and maiming numerous civilians in America’s longest war. And consider that Obama has become quite the “Secrecy President.” And consider his unwillingness to speak up to protest the torture of Bradley Manning. And why is he taking the side of tens of thousands of tax cheats while ignoring the massive injustice done to a man for whom we should be holding parades, Bradley Birkenfeld?
Barack Obama is a President who doesn’t have the guts to fight for the promises he made during his campaign. It’s apparently not in his bones to do so. He’s the Political-Free-Market President: He apparently believes that good things will happen in Washington if only he charms everyone and stays out of the way. Because of this deep character flaw, his window of opportunity to implement the program he campaigned slammed shut. At best, he’ll be playing defense, though the recent budget deal suggests that he doesn’t have the grit to play tough defense. If I were a Republican, I’d probably be wondering whether I’d actually want to replace Obama with a Republican.
This is all so incredibly surreal. My thoughts are similar to those expressed by Lawrence Lessig at the 2011 National Conference for Media Reform. He boiled the problem down to this: “Private funds drive elections.” He noted that members of Congress spend 30-70% of their time raising money to get re-elected. This has got to change, because “every issue we care about is blocked by this rot.” The Citizens know about this problem quite well; Lessig cited a poll showing that 70% of voters “believe that money corrupts Congress.” He has declared that it’s often not worth our time to fight issues of the day, because good ideas don’t have a chance of winning. Instead, we all need to become “rootstrikers.” Here’s the idea in a nutshell:
“”There’s no progress so long as private funds drive public elections.”
And see the Rootstriker video here.
Two nights ago, in the midst of all of this frustration, I had dinner with an African American man who looked at me with shock and disbelief as I expressed my frustrations regarding Barack Obama. The man warned me that we can’t “afford” to criticize Obama, or else Obama’s opponents will use that against him. “We worked so hard to get him elected.”
Yes, it seems unsavory to criticize the bad judgment of those who we generally respect, but it is often one’s moral duty. For many months I’ve been losing hope for Obama, evidenced by many articles I’ve written at this website, but now I’m losing respect for him. I’ll admit that my frustration occurs in the following context: We’ve been moving toward the political right for at least 10 years now (longer if you include Bill Clinton’s disastrous de-regulation of Wall Street). Based on this long sad slide, it would be immoral for me to not criticize the current president, for whom I voted. There was so much hope in the air a mere two years ago. Is there still hope? The current situation brings to mind a quote regarding FDR:
FDR once met with a group of activists who sought his support for bold legislation. He listened to their arguments for some time and then said, “You’ve convinced me. Now go out and make me do it.”
I will do everything in my meager power to try to make Obama do what he promised, even when that seems hopeless. I will not hold back criticism. Obama has been making a ghastly string of mistakes ever since elected, even though he ran one of the most brilliant campaigns I’ve ever seen. But now he appears to almost fully settled as a comfy resident of Washington, D.C., which is now more visibly than ever a highly big seductive coin-operated town.
Guantanamo has become a recruiting tool for our enemies. The legal framework behind Guantanamo has failed completely, resulting in only one conviction. President Bush’s own Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, wants to close it. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, wants to close it. The first step to reclaiming America’s standing in the world has to be closing this facility. As president, Barack Obama will close the detention facility at Guantanamo. He will reject the Military Commissions Act, which allowed the U.S. to circumvent Geneva Conventions in the handling of detainees. He will develop a fair and thorough process based on the Uniform Code of Military Justice to distinguish between those prisoners who should be prosecuted for their crimes, those who can’t be prosecuted but who can be held in a manner consistent with the laws of war, and those who should be released or transferred to their home countries. (source- PDF)
That’s the campaign trail rhetoric from Candidate Obama. I liked the stance of Candidate Obama on this issue, it’s a shame that President Obama sees things so differently.
Comedian Bill Maher puts the turning point exactly where I do: Barack Obama would rather have had some plan he could call a “health care plan” than to actually fight for the public option. Why? Beats me. But that sent a strong signal that this president wasn’t going to fight for something on which he ran his campaign. Since then, he’s wilted on Wall Street and net neutrality.
In the face of Republican obstructionism, you won’t win by compromising, yet that is the strategy Obama has repeatedly chosen:
My neighbor, B, is a progressive republican and a tax partner in a large CPA firm. We had a conversation…
“Obama needs to go”, said B.
Why? He’s doing pretty well considering the mess he inherited!
“Because all he wants to do is raise taxes! If we don’t get control [of congress and senate] my taxes will go up by almost 20%. I already pay almost half my income in taxes: income, property, FICA and the rest”
What? How do you get a 20% increase?
“FICA – is capped at about 100k. As a partner, I pay FICA at 15%. Lose that cap and my taxes go up immediately by 15%. The top rate of income tax is set to climb to 39%, which is an extra 3%. And there are a bunch of others, too”
No — that’s just wrong. Even assuming that happens… an example, if you earned $200k your effective FICA rate would be 7.5% on that $200k, right? So even without a cap, your effective FICA rate will never be greater than 15%. If you earn $200k, that means an increase of 7.5%, not 15%!
“OK! But that wouldn’t be a 7.5% increase if I earned 300k or 400k or 500k. It would be much greater than 7.5%”
B, Sure it would, but if you earn $500k and can’t absorb that kind of increase I’d advise you to start looking for a new tax accountant! LOL
“Well ok! But do you think it’s fair that 60% of the people in this country don’t pay any taxes?”
Where did you get that number? Do you think it’s right that the US has such a large population of poor people they fall under the threshold for federal taxes?
“Most of those people aren’t poor!”
But all of them pay taxes. You included property taxes in your 50%. I assume you included sales taxes, 7% for most everything here in GA? Then those people who pay nothing are paying way more in effective taxes than you – for food and energy and shelter
[More . . . ]
Do you remember the way candidate Obama spoke out fervently in favor of net neutrality throughout his campaign? Check out this video compilation of some of his many pre-election pro-net-neutrality pronouncements.
Guess what? Now that Google and Verizon have decided that a multi-tier non-neutral arrangement will help their profits statements, Obama is unwilling to fight back. Just as he failed to do regarding single payer health care. Just like he failed to do when Wall Street “reform” failed to address too-big-to-fail and failed to reinstate Glass-Steagall (and see here). Just like he did when the military-industrial complex insisted on ramping up U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. Just like he fail to do as he continues to drag his feet on Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell. Now Obama is unwilling to fight back in support of net neutrality: “President Obama campaigned on net neutrality, and yet the White House has been surprisingly quiet on the issue since the breakdown of FCC negotiations and in the wake of Google and Verizon’s joint policy proposal.”
President Obama has lost his voice regarding net neutrality even though
Joel Kelsey, political advisor with nonprofit media-reform group Free Press, “said the proposal would create “tollbooths on the information superhighway.”
“It’s a signed, sealed and delivered policy framework with giant loopholes that blesses the carving up of the Internet for a few deep-pocketed Internet companies and carriers,” he said in a statement.
In the midst of all of this hypocrisy, Obama’s Press Secretary Robert Gibbs unloaded on the “professional left,” insisting that ” “They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”
How about this, Mr. Gibbs? Barack Obama has repeatedly proven that he would rather have any sort of deal than a deal that achieves the principles Mr. Obama announced in his campaign speeches.
Obama achieved some good things too, but how is anything mentioned at the top of this post differ from anything john McCain would have done? Except, perhaps, when he called the health care bill “reform” instead of calling it the “send gushers of tax money and forced clientele to the health insurance industry.”
The above-described failures didn’t occur in a vacuum. We also seen his refusal to bring American torturers to justice. We’ve seen expansion of off-shore oil drilling. He’s authorized remote-controlled drone attacks on Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen, where these are conducted by the CIA, and in which numerous civilians have been killed, and we have good reason to believe that many other deaths of innocent people have been covered up.
I voted for Barack Obama, but I’m sorely disappointed. Not that there was any other reasonable place to put my vote. From now one, though, I am going to judge Barack Obama solely by what he does, not by his elegant campaign speeches.
For additional trustworthy information on the Google-Verizon deal, see this list of articles at Free Press.
Noam Chomsky doesn’t put any value in polished oratory skills, a point he made clear in an interview he gave Nigel Farndale at Telegraph.co.uk:
I am no Barack Obama,’ he says to me now. ‘I don’t have any oratory skills. But I would not use them if I had. I don’t like to listen to it. Even people I admire, like Martin Luther King, just turn me off. I don’t think it is the way to reach people. If you are giving a graduate course you don’t try to impress the students with oratory, you try to challenge them, get them to question you.’
What does Chomsky think of Obama?
I take it he didn’t buy into Obama’s message of hope and change. ‘Elections in the United States are expensive extravaganzas run by the public relations industry. The PR people looked at the polls and picked slogans accordingly. ‘Did you know Obama won the best campaign of the advertising industry in 2008? It was politicians being marketed as a product, like toothpaste. What does that have to do with democracy? If you read his statement you find yourself asking what was the hope? What was the change? These were empty words.’
Regarding the recently announced “financial reform,” Dylan Ratigan asks us to consider what has not been fixed.
- The Cops (regulators and ratings agencies) working for the crooks.
- Banks still Too Big To Fail.
- Banks gambling with your deposits.
- Banks allowed to “mark to myth” and use off-balance sheet accounting to bonus themselves into the atmosphere, with the taxpayer taking the fall.
- Banks getting trillions from the Fed, Fannie and Freddie — AKA you, the future and present taxpayer.
What does it mean for us?
It means that the same people who brought you these horrible changes — rising wealth discrepancy, massive unemployment and a crumbling infrastructure — have now further institutionalized the policies that will keep the causes of these problems firmly in place.
This is Orwellian, indeed, yet the Democrats are celebrating. What’s going on? Kevin Baker takes a crack at it in a Harper‘s article titled “The Vanishing Liberal: How the Left Learned to be Helpless.”
Coming to power when he did, with the political skills and the majorities he possesses, Barack Obama squandered an almost unprecedented opportunity But it is increasingly clear that he never intended to challenge the power structure he had so skillfully penetrated. With the recent Supreme Court ruling that corporations are, once more, people, American democracy has snapped shut again–the great, forced opening of the past 130 years has ended. There is no longer any meaningful reformist impulse left in or politics. The idea of modern American liberalism has vanished among our elite, and simply voting for one man or supporting one of the two major parties will not restore it. The work will have to be done from the ground up, and it will have to be done by us.
At Democracy Now, Amy Goodman converses with Daniel Elsberg about the Obama Administration’s crackdown on those who seek to distribute information (accurately) putting the military action in Afghanistan in a bad light.
Pentagon investigators are reportedly still searching for Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, who helped release a classified US military video showing a US helicopter gunship indiscriminately firing on Iraqi civilians. The US military recently arrested Army Specialist Bradley Manning, who may have passed on the video to Wikileaks. Manning’s arrest and the hunt for Assange have put the spotlight on the Obama administration’s campaign against whistleblowers and leakers of classified information.
Manning has made his motives clear. Sunshine is the best disinfectant:
Manning has claimed he sent Wikileaks the video along with 260,000 classified US government records. Manning, who was based in Iraq, reportedly had special access to cables prepared by diplomats and State Department officials throughout the Middle East. During an internet conversation prior to his arrest, Manning explained his actions by writing, quote, “I want people to see the truth, regardless of who they are. Because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”
It’s too bad that Barack Obama, Oslo’s “Peace President” doesn’t listen to his own campaign speeches and act on them. In this same Democracy Now video, Daniel Elsberg calls the leakers “patriots,” and I concur. Someone needs to stand up and stop the indiscriminate series of Afghanistan murders that officially go by the name of “war.” By the way, if the U.S. military is doing so damned much good over in Afghanistan at a cost of several billion U.S. dollars per week, where are the photos of all of those good things?
It is more clear than ever that the U.S. is knowingly doing despicable acts in our names in Afghanistan and working feverishly to keep them secret.
What kind of danger are the leakers facing? Daniel Elsberg comments:
[Bradley Manning is] in danger of more than arrest. Arrest is probably the major thing, even though it’s not clear what he would be arrested on. But he—I have to say that as of now, under this president, he’s under danger of kidnapping, rendition, enhanced interrogation, even death. The fact is that this president is the first in our history, in any Western country that I know of, who has claimed the right to send military forces not just to apprehend, but to kill suspected, even American citizens. Bradley Manning is probably more safe now being in custody than he would have been if he himself were eluding arrest. Assange, I would say, is in some danger. And even if it’s very small, it should be zero. It’s outrageous and humiliating to me as an American citizen to have to acknowledge that someone like that is in danger from our own government right now . . .