When Barack Obama’s marketing team came up with Hope as its mission statement, its tagline, its campaign slogan, I was hoping and voting for just that.
In fact, what little Honeymoon Obama had has all been squandered and once again, an electorate that was for a moment on the same page is now divided into different pages in different books. The one thing Bush did for Obama that actually was needed was approving a treasure chest of public funds to prop up our financial institutions and make real changes in how financial institutions operate; and perhaps give people a way to dig their way out of a hole that for the most part they did not dig in the first place. Even though a huge portions of those funds are still there, the vast majority that were awarded to insurance agencies and banks to keep them afloat, and to mortgage companies to keep them lending have done little to help the people who actually put Obama in power, and everything to reward those that ran the country into a ditch.
When the Japanese attacked the Pacific fleet on December 7th 1941, we attacked the Japanese, not the Chinese. After 9/11 Bush 43 convinced America that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to his neighbors and to western civilization because of his close ties to terrorist groups. Bush and his hawks and analysts and paid opinionators deployed to their fake news programs, hid their connections to lobbying firms and think tanks and convinced the public that somehow Saddam had something to do with 9/11. Frankly a poorly informed, intentionally misled and curiously incurious American public couldn’t really parse out the difference between the Iraqis and those that came after us. As if all Arabs were just slightly different versions of the same people. The smoking gun was supposed to be a stockpile and development program for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Yet after three handpicked weapons teams inspected one site after the next, they found nothing. They simply did not prove the case. But by then, the train had left the station and the US went in and won the war and lost the peace. Undermanned we inadvertently set off a small scale civil war that in some ways is still being waged in car bombs and raids – that has killed at least as many people as Saddam did by his own hand. Bush 43 officially sanctioned torture with the help of four lawyers who simply changed the name from torture to enhanced interrogation and forever smeared the reputation of this country. The war itself accomplished little except to overthrow a tin plated dictator who could no more threaten his neighbors than he could put a man on the moon. Adding insult to injury, Bush hamstrung our own efforts to destroy a safe haven for international terrorist groups by diverting resources (men, material, reconnaissance assets and analysts) from the real theatre in Afghanistan to Iraq. The fact is he was going by a script authored by hard right wing ideologues that called themselves neoconservatives (an oxymoron). In the first act of this play we are called upon occupy the sources of extractable oil in the Mideast, and then have a robust military presence that can only be likened to Emperor Hadrian’s occupation of the British Isles after the first Millennium. The rest of us outside of the so called “think tanks” were not really privy to this script and could only guess that when he said we were freeing people what he really meant was that we were freeing up their resources so western companies could bid on them unfettered by those nasty laws preventing this sort of theft. There’s a reason why a country so “moral” as the US would invade Iraq and ignore Darfur. If only the Darfurians lived on oil.
After a bitter and ideological campaign, the Republicans lost the election in a landslide bigger than anything we had ever seen since Reagan. We were waiting to see if a country that had gone off the rails could in some sense be put back on it.
The results have been mixed and I’m sorry to say for the most part, extremely disappointing. Yes, there is a document floating around the internets that list ninety policy changes that Obama has enacted that ultimately may make a big difference. Watching how he and his staff are slapped around by lobbyists, faux journalists, think tanks, and congressmen on the dole for their actual constituencies (banks, insurance companies, lobbying forms and anti-union corporatists), you have to wonder whether these ninety policy changes will make any difference. For example, yes, Obama has told federal agencies that they have to respect the Freedom of Information Act that they so openly dismissed under Bush. And if they don’t? You bet. Nothing will happen. No amount of malfeasance will make any difference to a man who plays to a middle that hardly even exists anymore, not to mention the political left that can barely distinguish him from the guy who preceded him. It’s been a year since he was elected and eleven months since he occupied the White House and Guantanamo is still there looming large over us like Tiger Woods’ texting trollops. We still haven’t seen a group of pictures and films from Abu Gharaib so horrific that they would crush what little pride and patriotism many have left after this crappy decade – but at least we would see the truth, and hopefully that would as they say, set us free, or reassert our devotion to humane treatment. Say what you will about Bush, if he were in office and wanted to close Gitmo, it would be closed. Period. If Bush wanted to show the photos they would be shown. Obama can’t seem to move off the mark for anything that really counts in the streets. A sort of tyranny of even-handedness rules him. They kick sand in his face and smear him and challenge his birthrights and his legislative efforts, when they throw the most blatantly racist epithets his way, he just stands there and takes it on the chin thinking this high minded methodology will help in the long run. What it actually does is erode his credibility and authority and makes him look like a woosie. And the people who braved the rednecks and put up HOPE signs and saw their cars get keyed for having Obama/Biden08 on their bumper sticker stand back watch him take this beating. It’s like Black Americans who couldn’t vote or sit on the front of the bus watched Max Schmelling drop a dozen hard right hands on Joe Louis in the 1940s, their champion was getting his ass handed to him, just like I am watching my champion get bested. Granted in a rematch Joe Louis shellacked Schmelling, but one only gets a rematch in the ring. Once you promise a banana split of Hope and only deliver an Italian ice, no one is going to ever order from you again.
Another example of too little too late is the F-22. Yes, he was able to cancel further copies of F-22, a fighter aircraft that is supposed to be the very best in the world, except that the maintenance on it required upwards of 10 hours in the hangar flight-line for every hour in the air; and the fact that the plane is so expensive we can barely afford more than six squadrons of them. This only enraged the military industrial complex, and gave his Faux News critics more “those Democrats always cut defense spending” memes, even though the Peace Dividend and the first Base Realignment And Closing came from Bush 41. While President Obama should be patted on the back for doing this, the pats aren’t coming. It’s sort of like a guy who puts out the fire that burned your house, and then walks off before seeing that you have a way to rebuild your house or even find a place to stay. The F-22 should have been cancelled. It was a good idea transformed into a boondoggle built of lobbyists who spread the manufacturing around to 41 different states, which put the pressure of legislators from 41 different states and their national representatives on Congress to build the plane before we even knew that the plane could perform the mission. But what does that sort of victory mean to a man who has lost his job?…or worse…watched as his associates are laid off and wonders when the ax is coming for his own head. The people who are facing utter failure are asking why is it that we could build a plane that’s roughly $100,000,000 each but not have enough money to lend people to refinance their homes to better terms? Sure every American wants America to have a better answer in a dogfight than our enemies. It’s hard to imagine that a man who cannot get medicine for a disease that is eating away at him would ever care about a highly unlikely air-to-air encounter across the world.
Sure, we’re drawing down in Iraq. But there is little to celebrate when simultaneously we are “surging” in Afghanistan, the so-called “Graveyard of Empires”. Despite his oratory and a well delivered speech, most of the critics of the Afghan escalation over 50 remember a similarly well spoken decision by Lyndon B. Johnson to send hundreds of thousands of Americans into a country that they would never have known existed were it not for a deep seated ideological hatred and fear of Communism. Those who have visited and explored the matter, (not the least of which is the former Marine Sergeant Matt Hoe who quit the Foreign Service), realize that few Afghanis even have a sense of nationhood at all. Frankly the Pashtun people see the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan as a line on a map drawn by the same invaders they threw out over a century ago. They go back and forth with impunity and neither the Pakistan government nor the US government can stop them. They don’t recognize our leadership, they don’t recognize our borders and they don’t want us to supplant their ideas of governance with ours. All the while, casualties from Afghanistan pile up and we are out here scratching our heads to comprehend it. Like John Prine sings “…we lost Davey in the Korean War…I still don’t know what for…don’t matter anymore….”
You can declare war on an idea all you want, but wars only kill people. If you want to supplant an idea you have to give the people a better idea to hang onto. Yesterday’s hard line Communism in Vietnam wasn’t defeated, but the old anti-capitalism portion of Mao’s Little Red Book fell by the wayside to profits. Vietnam looks like a free market if there ever was one, and vendors and bankers and builders like us, trust in their deities, but insist all others pay cash. That said American history over the past century is rife with examples of wars we have declared on ideas that have failed to secure anything. The war on drugs? Any 16 year old can walk into almost any high school in America and in 20 minutes find out who will have a four fingered bag of pot by the end of the day. The war on poverty? Look around you. Now we are engaged in another war on a category: Terrorism. Not just that, but we are declaring war on a stateless nameless decentralized group that can go anywhere, even in our own backyard, and strike with impunity, no matter how many of us take off our shoes and dispose of liquids at the airport. Meanwhile the Taliban use asymmetric warfare on us, firing at us from population centers, and every errant precision bomb that lands on a wedding party or kills an innocent child only creates more Taliban, more terrorists, and fuels future conflicts.
The aforementioned Matt Hoe says the motivating political principle in Afghanistan is what he terms “Valleyism”. That is to say, the local Pashtun tribesmen simply want purview over the area they were born in and will defeat anyone, American, Russian, British or for that matter Afghani, who enter their territory.
Then there’s the painfully obvious paper tiger government of the gangster Hamid Karzai, or as my friend in the Air Force calls, “the Mayor of Kabul”, a guy so disliked in his own country that he needs to be surrounded with about 20 Blackwater Guards (ooops…I meant Xe Corporation) to go pee. Haven’t we learned anything about puppet regimes?
Judah Maccabee and his minions rebelled against the Romans because they propped up Seleucids, (formerly Greeks after the fall of Alexander who occupied Central Asia). The Seleucids over taxed the Judeans, stole from them, violated their traditions and lined their own pockets. The Judeans rebelled and the rest is history, more specifically we have Hanukkah. The French set up a puppet government in Algeria as corrupt as Hamid Karzai will ever be. The Algerians revolted and threw the French out in a paroxysm of violence. The French tortured their prisoners too and still got thrown out. You see the Spanish poet George Santayana reminds us that those who do not remember their past are doomed to repeat it. So here again, the US is propping up a corrupt leader in a country with little or no national unity expecting to set up a functioning central government in a remote and arcane land where little has changed since the 15th century, except for the weaponry. It can be argued that the Mujahadeen that Charlie Wilson befriended and armed became the Taliban. At least we used the opportunity to develop man-portable anti aircraft weaponry.
When a discussion of Afghanistan comes up with a Republican, I get canned John Wayne talking points and a vigorous accusation that I am not patriotic. So there is little to discuss. Health care also becomes a diatribe about Socialism and Communism, despite the fact that Medicare, Medicaid, the FAA, the DOT, the FCC, the EPA, and the US military itself are all Socialist concepts. All we can agree on is that we are not getting the governance we want. The left is unsettled, the right is rattled, and so what is the point of ruling from the center?
I was naïve to think that if Valerie Plame really was a secret agent working for the CIA (she was) and she really had developed a network of informants into nuclear proliferation in Iran (she did) and a Bush administration official outed her (they did), then it wouldn’t be long before a new president would have that traitor’s ass hanging from a lamp post. Once again, I hoped. I campaigned. I wrote letters and gave money and stood in line to vote, only to find out that no crime goes punished in the US government unless it’s embarrassing a President. You can lie, cheat, steal and have secret homosexual affairs in airport bathrooms and still keep your special Senate parking space, free top shelf healthcare and voluminous perks.
The only thing harder to face than failure is facing the fact that the entire system you are in is a failure. During this Depression we expected to be saved and while the stock market has stabilized it still looks like a Russian matryoshka doll Ponzi scheme. There is one inside the other inside the other. When people tell me Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme was a tiny fraction of the housing bubble my head explodes. The recent downturn, the revelation that Obama hired the very people who turned a blind eye to the worthless bundled securities and asset to lending ratios that created the “bubble”, all mixed to create a Wizard of Oz moment. The curtain was swept aside and we realized that it is the powerful people in the halls of power call the shots and even Barack Obama is in thrall to them. As Frank Rich said today in the New York Times: “Here is an America whose battered inhabitants realize that the economic deck is stacked against them, gamed by distant, powerful figures they can’t see or know.”
After all this battle about healthcare reform, little was reformed. Medicine will be as expensive, and as inaccessible to average American as it was before. The insurance company middlemen who could give a damn that 45,000 Americans die every year from treatable illnesses will still get our money, burden us with debt for the next generation, and still get to keep their filthy bonuses. The financial reform bill already has loopholes bigger than those old hippie ear rings. Like our so called health care reform, it is just another massive gravy train for the shysters who are responsible for this mess only it has a stamp on the package that says Hope. Obama wants people to remember him for what he did to fix things. What he doesn’t realize is that you can drive the ball down to the one-yard line in the most flashy fashion. But unless you score, you lose. (See: Atlanta Falcons).
In an astonishing and disheartening accusation from Antonio Maria Costa, the UN organized crime Czar, the only liquid assets available during the worst time of the credit crunch was money essentially laundered from crime and illicit drug trade:
“The Observer reports that an estimated $352bn of drug and mafia money was laundered by the major banks at the peak of the credit crunch, while regulators turned a blind eye, since the highly liquid criminal underworld was the only source of the cash necessary to keep the banks’ doors open. As Charlie Stross notes, “A third of a trillion dollars is a lot of money; it’s enough to fund the US military invading another country halfway around the world, or a manned Mars exploration program.” Charlie goes on to mention that now that these narcobucks “aren’t neatly bundled up inside the mattress any more; they’re in the system,” that there’s $0.3 trillion sitting there, nice and legal, entering the investment world.”
Today we hear from Larry Summers, one of the originators of hedge fund derivatives, and a man who resigned from Harvard because he postulated that women were unequal to men in the sciences, a man who this year received millions from sources that he is supposed to be policing, offers some calming news. He says that the banks will start lending us our money because “we were there for them” when they needed us. Gee. I feel better already.
Our mortgage lenders got our money. And when Caroline and I asked for better terms, they said no. Is that the President’s fault? Yes it is. And even you argue that it isn’t the President’s fault, that’s what it feels like. What I wanted was a President who would be more than eloquent and handsome and charming. Granted, I had about had it with Bush’s embarrassing inarticulate gaffes. But gaffes aren’t a sin. Not moving your agenda along is a sin.
I think Obama has about eight more months to make a real change in this country. If he goes on the way he is now, we will see what kind of a bubble he actually is in. The Democrats will lose the Senate and enough seats in the House to make him another lame duck. Then it will be another torturous two years of Hope.
I’ve had enough Hope. I want some action.