Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Leave It To The Pros

August 15, 2021

            Your Viet Nam, not ours. Ours joined us for dinner every night on the televised evening news. Yours was a story you, or the evening news, could choose to follow (if that was your media of choice), or not. Most of our dead, and those doing our fighting and killing, were conscripted by Uncle Sam. Most of those fighting, killing and dying in Afghanistan contracted with Sam to defend the Second Amendment, the Constitution and all the other Amendments (the how and why of it all was irrelevant). The volunteer Army, formed after our Viet Nam, worked hard to promote itself as a professional military career with attractive pay, sign up bonuses and benefits. Our Viet Nam was actively opposed, pressuring one President to not run for re-election, and another to resign in the disgrace of his lies. Yours was treated as an occasion to promote the economy (“Buy a truck or Hummer!”), just another part of that same economy, an unpleasant chore which 4 presidents had to deal with. Each had more pressing concerns in the service of capitalism. Our Viet Nam gave rise to both side-ism in journalistic reporting, something considered treasonous just 20 years prior in the aftermath of the big one – WWII (the McCarthy era, Joe not Kevin). Jane Fonda was never forgiven. Although the whiff of treason has long since abated, both side-ism got lost somewhere in the workings of a professional military after 9/11 (as has vociferous opposition to “the war”); soon to be the self same loss of interest after the financial meltdown of 2008 (with the self same loss of vociferous opposition). Indeed, both side-ism in news reporting seems to follow a logic all its own, creating pros and cons totally divorced from any grassroots boots on the ground. Political tool anyone? Analysis finds ours was a failed revolution that made your Viet Nam a corporate collapse on a scale even greater than the Bush meltdown of 2008. Leave it to the pros.

We Pretend To Work; They Pretend To Pay Us

December 3, 2020

            Wall Street’s DOW set a record high by going above 30,000 Tuesday (11-24-20). Many alibis were given. None explained how money could be making money when financial and personal misery is the coin of the kingdom. Analysis found a modicum of explanation for the financial sector outperforming amidst the otherwise abysmal condition of what ostensibly supports the market – employment, production and service. The late David Graeber is primarily remembered for his voluminous Debt: The First 5,000 Years. His last book came out in 2018. It is entitled Bullshit Jobs. What is a bullshit job? 

“consider the following quote, from an interview with then US president Barack Obama about some of the reasons why he bucked the preferences of the electorate and insisted on maintaining a private, for-profit health insurance system in America: “I don’t think in ideological terms. I never have,” Obama said, continuing on the health care theme. “Everybody who supports single-payer health care says, ‘Look at all this money we would be saving from insurance and paperwork.’ That represents one million, two million, three million jobs [filled by] people who are working at Blue Cross Blue Shield or Kaiser or other places. What are we doing with them? Where are we employing them?” I would encourage the reader to reflect on this passage because it might be considered a smoking gun. What is the president saying here? He acknowledges that millions of jobs in medical insurance companies like Kaiser or Blue Cross are unnecessary. He even acknowledges that a socialized health system would be more efficient than the current market-based system, since it would reduce unnecessary paperwork and reduplication of effort by dozens of competing private firms. But he’s also saying it would be undesirable for that very reason. One motive, he insists, for maintaining the existing market-based system is precisely its inefficiency, since it is better to maintain those millions of basically useless office jobs than to cast about trying to find something else for the paper pushers to do.” (pg. 157) A more contemporary and local example would be Ohio’s HB6 debacle which props up 2 scheduled-to-be-decommissioned nuclear power plants as well as two completely redundant coal fired power plants while dissing more efficient and sustainable forms of energy production. So much for bullshit jobs though it is important to understand the function they play in the “market” and why their existence is deemed desirable (Hint: they justify the funneling of money from the bottom to the top, as in 1%). Graeber does let drop some insights that contribute to our question regarding the current record DOW in really abysmal  times: “It’s almost impossible to get accurate figures about what proportion of a typical family’s income in, say, America, or Denmark, or Japan, is extracted each month by the FIRE sector [Finance, Insurance, Real Estate], but there is every reason to believe it is not only a very substantial chunk but also is now a distinctly greater chunk of total profits than those the corporate sector derives directly from making or selling goods and services in those same countries. Even those firms we see as the very heart of the old industrial order – General Motors and General Electric in America, for example – now derive all, or almost all, of their profits from their own financial divisions. GM, for example, makes its money not from selling cars but rather from interest collected on auto loans.” (pg. 177) So much for the stock market being about employment, production, and service. But wait, he has more: “It just seemed to make sense that, just as Wall Street profits were derived less and less from firms involved in commerce or manufacturing, and more and more from debt, speculation, and the creation of complex financial instruments, so did an ever-increasing proportion of workers come to make their living from manipulating similar abstractions.” (pg. 150) Almost prescient of what the current pandemic has revealed he writes: “if you complain about getting some bureaucratic run-around from your bank, bank officials are likely to tell you it’s all the fault of government regulations; but if you research where those regulations actually come from, you’ll likely discover that most of them were written by the bank.” (pg. 17) “JPMorgan Chase & Co., for example, the largest bank in America, reported in 2006 that roughly two-thirds of its profits were derived from “fees and penalties,” and “finance” in general really refers to trading in other people’s debts – debts which, of course, are enforceable in courts of law.” (pg. 177) “There’s a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with, What does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: If 1 percent of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call “the market” reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else.)” (pg. xx) For Graeber the contemporary stock market is all about trading in debt. This contributes substantively as to answering why Wall Street’s DOW is continuously in record breaking territory during these abysmal times; abysmal because debt is implicated in everything, even in “gov’t bailouts.”

Reaching For The Impossible

March 17, 2020

The NY Times headlined “Bernie Sanders Wants to Fight On. He Has His Reasons.” (Sydney Ember, 3-16-20). Politico headlined “‘Who is going to advise him to drop out?’: Bernie may not be ready for quick exit” (Holly Otterbein and David Siders, 3-17-20). Both articles investigated and speculated as to what could be the reasoning resisting a quick exit. Through interviews with campaign staffers, political operatives and analysts the articles arrived at the tried and true conclusion that it must have something to do with leverage – the ability to get certain concessions within the Democratic platform and policies based on the strength of committed delegates. It was pointed out that already Joe Biden has made some concessions to Sanders originated proposals (free college education, health care). But the answer to why the man tilts at windmills was left untouched. In an essay entitled “Teaching the History of American Radicalism in the Age of Obama” (1-2-17) Eric Foner offers a studied insight. The writing is from a book entitled “Battles For Freedom: The Use and Abuse of American History” which is composed of his essays spanning 40 years published in The Nation. Mr. Foner is a historian (professor) at Columbia University. The History of Radicalism essay describes the final class of this name which Foner regularly taught at Columbia. First, a contextual review of difference, the Bernie Sanders difference in lived aspirational outlook: “A revealing moment came at a press conference at the end of November 2008, when he [Barack Obama] was asked how he reconciled his campaign slogan, “Change We Can Believe In,” with the appointment of an economic team largely composed of the same neoliberal ideologues who had helped bring about the financial crisis. “The vision for change,” Obama replied, “comes…first and foremost…from me.” As I mentioned to my class, one can compare Obama’s top-down remark to a comment attributed to the early twentieth-century socialist Eugene Debs: “I would not lead you to the promised land if I could, because if I could lead you in, someone else could lead you out.” Debs understood that movements, not just political leaders, make social change possible. Obama has never really learned that lesson. To be sure, he sought to cultivate an identification with history by embracing the civil rights movement, though this is hardly a controversial stance at a time when Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is a national holiday and even Glenn Beck claims his legacy. But even then, Obama embraced a sanitized version in which the movement represents a fulfillment of basic American ideals, not the unfulfilled “revolution of values” that King hoped to see. Obama doesn’t invoke the radical King who spoke of “democratic socialism,” launched the Poor People’s Campaign, and supported the antiwar movement.” It is undeniably clear, from such a context, where Sanders is found. However, it is the last paragraph of Foner’s essay that illuminates as to why a quick exit is incompatible with Bernie Sanders: “On the first page of the course syllabus, I always include the words of Max Weber, a rebuke to those who believe that critics of society should set their sights only on “practical” measures: “What is possible would never have been achieved if, in this world, people had not repeatedly reached for the impossible.””

Counter-Narrative

September 15, 2018

Wealthiest Republican supporter in Ohio quits party headlines Justin Wise for The Hill, 9-15-18. “[L Brands CEO Leslie] Wexner, who said he’s been a Republican since college, added that he is now an independent, before saying that he “won’t support this nonsense in the Republican Party” anymore.” This just after former President Barack Obama spoke at a rally in Cleveland. “”What you’re seeing is Republicans in Congress who are bending over backwards to try to shield and deflect oversight of this behavior and accountability and consequences,” Obama said. “This is serious. You know it is. And frankly even some of the Republicans know it is. They will say it, they just don’t do anything about it. … [They say,] ‘we’ll put up with crazy’ in exchange for tax reform and deregulation.”” This just after the anonymous op ed “news” in the NY Times covered by this blog’s post, A Tradition Of Americans, 9-8-18 (You know, the one about staffers). “”I was struck by the genuineness of the man; his candor, humility and empathy for others,” Wexner said.” Analysis wrote all that in order to write Berkeley police posted activists’ mugshots on Twitter and celebrated retweets, emails reveal headlined the day before (9-14-18) by Sam Levin for The Guardian. “The Berkeley police department (BPD) faced widespread backlash last month after posting the personal information of arrested activists online, leading to Fox News coverage and harassment and abuse against the leftwing demonstrators at a far-right rally. New emails have shown that the city has an explicit policy of targeting protesters with mugshot tweets, with the goal of using “social media to help create a counter-narrative”.” Analysis needn’t remind readers that “staff” isn’t always Republican or Democrat as some administration spokespeople would like us to presume. Their allegiances may lie elsewhere, as Levin’s reporting goes on to show. “Police arrested 20 people on 5 August, and all were counter-protesters and anti-fascists who came to demonstrate against a far-right event, according to the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) of San Francisco, which is representing some of the activists. Many arrested were cited for “possession of a banned weapon”, which police said included “anything” that could be used in a “riot”. Some were arrested for bandanas and scarves that police considered “masks” and sign poles cited as “weapons”, according to the NLG, which is representing activists. It appears that none have faced any charges. The records, obtained by police accountability group Lucy Parsons Labs and reported by the East Bay Express, shed light on how officials internally have defined and justified the social media policy for protests. Officials said the “social media-driven protests” have created the need for a “Twitter protocol for mug shots” and acknowledged that the tweets would get “broad national exposure”. One police email had the subject line, “Info flow from Jail to Twitter.” The policy also made clear that police would post mugshots on Twitter only when the arrests were “protest related”, drawing criticisms that the practice was aimed at discouraging free speech activities.” “One protocol document officials wrote last year said police should post the name, age, city of residence, charges and booking photos on Twitter, noting that they would be “quickly reprinted across television, online and print media platforms”. Police received more than 8,000 retweets, 11,000 “likes” and 1.7m “impressions” (times people saw the tweets) in one case, the document said.” “Matthai Chakko, a city spokesperson who outlined the policy in the internal emails, defended the practice in an interview Friday, saying the strategy was a response to “exceptional circumstances” and “exceptional amounts of violence in Berkeley” at previous rallies. He could not, however, provide specific details about any alleged acts of violence on 5 August when police posted mugshots. One individual was cited for “battery”, but he said he had no further information about the circumstances.” “Asked if police considered possible abuse and doxing risks when creating the mugshot policy, Chakko declined to comment.” “Veena Dubal, a University of California law professor and former Berkeley police review commissioner, said the mugshot policy was “really deviating from the role of the police department, which is public safety”. She said she was also stunned by the “counter narrative” language: “If the prevailing narrative is these rightwing, white supremacist rallies should be stopped, and we don’t want them in the city, then the ‘counter-narrative’ is we do want them in our city, and the counter-protesters are the problem.”” ““They broke the law,” he [Matthai Chakko] said. He also declined to comment on why the cases have repeatedly resulted in no formal charges or convictions, saying: “We are comfortable with our arrests.”” Not so comfortable in all this is what former President Obama had to say in a speech at the University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign just a week prior: “We are Americans. We’re supposed to standup to bullies. Not follow them. We’re supposed to stand up to discrimination. And we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up, clearly and unequivocally, to Nazi sympathizers. How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad.” (from the transcript).  Analysis will let Les Wexner have the last word (through the pen of Justin Wise): “The billionaire CEO reportedly said in a speech last year that he was “ashamed” by Trump’s response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that erupted in violence and led to the death of a 32-year-old woman.” Licking County Prosecutor Russell Hayes has a problem with all the homeless accumulating in downtown Newark, Ohio. Arresting, charging and jailing indigents is so inconvenient, and costly! With no gazebo to claim as “the home of the homeless”, exceptional circumstances have him shamelessly looking for a good counter-narrative, one that would make him comfortable in executing the duties of his office.