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President Obama’s Appearance on 60 Minutes: The Good And The Bad

by on Monday, September 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm EDT in Economy, Election 2012, Middle East, Politics

President Obama and Governor Romney both appeared on 60 Minutes last night in what is being billed as an indirect debate between the two candidates. They interviewed separately, but both used it as an opportunity to level some attacks at one another and to defend themselves against the other’s talking points.

Here are some of the things that struck me about Obama’s performance:

1. The Good

The President subtly distinguished U.S. interests from Israels’:

The President cleverly addressed Steve Kroft’s question regarding Israel PM Netanyahu’s blatant attempts to force the U.S. into war with Iran. Kroft asked him about the pressure being leveled at him during the U.S. elections (a time when a sitting President is most likely to placate deep-pocketed special interest groups). Obama appropriately recast the issue to the interests of the American people.

Although this tact might seem logical and obvious to most Americans — A U.S. President putting U.S. interests above those of a foreign government’s — anyone who follows the Israel / Palestine issue closely, knows this is practically unheard of in Washington, and actually constitutes bravery:

Kroft: How much pressure have you been getting from Prime Minister Netanyahu to make up your mind to use military force in Iran?

Obama: Well, look, I have conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu all the time. And I understand and share Prime Minister Netanyahu’s insistence that Iran should not obtain a nuclear weapon because it would threaten us, it would threaten Israel and it would threaten the world and kick off a nuclear arms race.

Kroft: You’re saying you don’t feel any pressure from Prime Minister Netanyahu in the middle of a campaign to try and get you to change your policy and draw a line in the sand? You don’t feel any pressure?

Obama:When it comes to our national security decisions, any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out any noise that’s out there. Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we’re in close consultation with the Israelis on these issues because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region. And we’ve got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel’s existence.

Later in the interview, Kroft brought up Romney’s assertion that Obama was weak on national defense and foreign policy, saying that he “needed to be more aggressive on Iran, he hadn’t done enough to support the revolt in Syria, and that our ‘friends’ don’t know where we stand, and our enemies think we’re weak.” To which Obama replied:

Well, let’s see what I’ve done since I came into office. I said I’d end the war in Iraq, I did. I said that we’d go after al-Qaeda. They’ve been decimated… That we’d go after Bin Laden, he’s gone. So, I’ve executed on my foreign policy, and it’s one the American people agree with. So, if Governor Romney is suggesting we should start another war, he should say so.

Essentially, Obama is turning Romney’s pro-Israel hawkishness around on him, by reminding Americans that war is too important an issue to be championing for mere political expediency. That committing the United States to another unnecessary war in the Middle East, once again driven by fear mongering, would hold severe repercussions for U.S. interests.

2. The Bad

The President was unapologetic about his overarching Neoliberal policies. In fact he bragged about them:

Kroft told Obama that Romney has framed him as someone who doesn’t have a clue about the economy. That he doesn’t understand “that private enterprise is the engine of growth in this country, and that’s what creates jobs, not big government.” And that Obama is “crushing economic freedom with taxes, regulations, and high-cost health care.” Instead of taking issue with Romney’s Neoliberal ideology, he rejected Romney’s depiction of him as someone unkind to Neoliberal values. 

Despite all the debt created by George W. Bush’s deep tax cuts, at a time we were engaged in two costly wars, Obama highlighted that he himself has been the true tax-cutter:

Taxes are lower on families than they’ve been probably in the last 50 years. So, I haven’t raised taxes, I have cut taxes for middle class families by an average of $3,600 for a typical family.

And after all the calamity in our economy created by Bush’s deregulatory policies, Obama still touted his own non-regulatory record as more brazen than Bush’s, as if that is something to be proud of:

When it comes to regulations, I issued fewer regulations than my predecessor George W. Bush did during that same period in office. So it’s hard to say I over-regulated.

When Kroft asked him how he will get obstructionist Republicans to agree to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, Obama used it as an opportunity to tout his austerity credentials, and the Grand Bargain he plans once reelected:

Ultimately the American people agree with me. The only way to bring down our deficit is in a balanced way. So, keep in mind, I’ve agreed with the Republicans, and we’ve already cut a trillion dollars of spending. And I’ve told them I’m prepared to do additional spending cuts, and do some entitlement reform. 

But what I’ve said is, you can’t ask me to make student loans higher for kids who need it, or ask seniors to pay more for Medicare, or throw people off of healthcare, and not ask somebody like me or Mr. Romney to do anything. Not ask us to do a single dime’s worth of sacrifice?

Parse that again carefully. He doesn’t promise that young Americans WILL NOT be asked to pay more for student loans, or that seniors WILL NOT be asked to pay more for Medicare. He states you can’t ask these people to suffer even more, unless you also ask the wealthy, like him and Romney, to pay more in taxes.

This is a very significant point. He is willing to cut a Grand Bargain that will further harm those least capable of contributing financially, IF ONLY Republicans will agree that the rich need to toss a bit more tip money into the till. Because to Obama and the rest of the elite establishment this “shared sacrifice” between the “haves” and “have-nothing-to-spares” somehow constitutes a “balanced approach.”

Kroft pointed out that the housing crisis led to Obama bailing the banks out, and yet he decided that very few homeowners should be helped with mortgage-relief. Obama responded by touching on a few things he did do, but mostly distinguished his “modest” approach from Romney’s approach:

[…] We still have a long ways to go, but this is in contrast to Governor Romney’s proposal. When asked about what we should be doing with the housing market, [Romney] said, “Just let it bomb out.” That’s a quote. So, he was opposed to even the modest proposals we put into place.

So, instead of flogging his predecessor and Governor Romney for their irresponsible ideological beliefs, Obama attempted to out-‘W’ them, as if Bush’s Neoliberal economic policies were something to strive for, if not to exceed. In making the points above, Obama gives us a glimpse into his true economic compass, which deeply contradicts the policy platform he ran on in 2008.

Yes, his appointments of Neoliberal Wall Streeters and the policies he championed since he was elected have already confirmed that candidate Obama was a fraud, but it is interesting to see him four years later honestly aligning his rhetoric with his preferred policies.

The long-term damage done in propagating these sorts of pro-Neoliberal messages to the American public — that laissez-faire, non-regulatory, no-tax, pro-austerity policies are credible, responsible and commendable — only works to lend legitimacy to these long-failed policies, which now lie at the heart of our nation’s deep structural economic problems. 

Who knows, before long, in order to prove his pro-business mettle, Obama might even begin to boast about his NAFTA-like trade deals (the kinds he panned as a candidate in 2008), and how they’ll help U.S. corporations be more competitive, by encouraging them to lay off Americans and outsource their operations to low labor-cost countries. 


The Unemployment Rate Drops From 8.2% To 8.1%, Helping To Obscure The Jobless Recovery

by on Friday, May 4, 2012 at 12:18 pm EDT in Economy, Politics

The Labor Department released its employment numbers today, and in keeping with the recent trend, the results appear positive, down slightly from the previous month’s results.

With a net gain of 115,000 jobs, the unemployment rate dropped from 8.2% to 8.1%.

But behind those numbers lurks a far gloomier picture. That 115,000 net gain is due, in part, to the government no longer counting as “unemployed” 103,000 people who became reclassified as “discouraged,” and yet remain unable to find work. Because in America, if there are no employment opportunities, and your plight goes on for too long, the government is permitted to ignore you completely (so that they can clean up their economic numbers for political purposes).

This helps to give Americans the impression that the economy is slowly, but surely, chugging along. 

As reported in the New York Times:

The unemployment rate ticked down to 8.1 percent in April, from 8.2 percent, but that was not because more unemployed workers found jobs; it was because workers dropped out of the labor force.

The share of working-age Americans who are in the labor force, meaning they are either working or actively looking for a job, is now at its lowest level since 1981 — when far fewer women were doing paid work. The share of men taking part in the labor force fell to 70 percent, the lowest number since the Labor Department began collecting these data in 1948.

And yet, despite these five long years of economic misery, austerity measures continue unabated, as 15,000 government employees were laid off in April.

The American Left Awakens: As The Middle Class Goes, So Goes The Political Middle

by on Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 10:56 am EDT in Occupy Wall Street, Politics

It could be said that a democracy’s chosen economic model lives and dies by the prosperity of the majority. A thriving middle class has been the key stabilizing factor in American politics for generations. As such, systematic change in the United States has traditionally come slowly and incrementally. 

But after a decade of zero job growth, while millions more Americans have continued to enter the labor market, they have witnessed unemployment rates rise and become fixed at levels rarely seen before. They have watched their wages drop, their cost of living rise (due in large part to high energy prices, high education costs, and runaway health care costs), and correspondingly, their quality of life erode. 

The middle class is gradually disappearing from the U.S. landscape, and the ‘American dream’ is transforming into a fiction in the minds of millions.

This dream is based on an implicit agreement between the establishment and the masses, and is crucial for America’s brand of hyper-Capitalism to remain a viable economic model. It goes something like this:

If Americans work hard, and invest in a decent education, at worst they should expect a comfortable middle class existence, with prospects for future upward mobility based on merit and perseverance.

As long as this dream is deemed achievable in the minds of the majority, the political status-quo remains all-but a certainty. But the moment people stop believing it, the calls for serious systematic change begin to bubble up to the surface. And this is when the political middle dissipates. 

Many economists hold that the dream actually vanished many years ago, but the establishment extended exorbitant lines of credit to Americans, which allowed them to enjoy a mirage of prosperity. In other words, a once prosperous nation on the decline became transformed into a debtor nation. But in doing so, the ‘American dream’ lived on in the minds of millions.

All it took was the massive financial meltdown of 2008, brought on by years of deregulation in the financial and mortgage industries, to pull the curtain wide open on the American dream. The collapse of the U.S. banking industry — which exposed a band of corrupted, highly-leveraged casinos masquerading as banks — rudely awakened Americans to their true state of affairs.

Twelve trillion dollars in ‘perceived’ wealth, mostly in home values, vanished into thin air. Many of those lucky enough to remain employed, found themselves under water with their mortgages. No longer able to sustain their middle class lifestyles with easy credit, consumer spending continued to dry up, and the economy spiraled even further into the doldrums.

The rationale George W. Bush and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson used to sell the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to the American public was that if taxpayers bailed out these banks, they would in turn ‘loosen’ the credit markets by lending again to businesses and consumers, which would help to stimulate investment and demand.

Instead, the banks did just about everything, BUT resume lending. Having received amazing terms from the government, they invested in no-risk, interest-bearing Treasuries — to profit off the spreads and transaction fees. They paid themselves billions of dollars in the form of bonuses. In addition, these ‘Too Big to Fail’ banks used taxpayer money to buy-out struggling competitor banks, thereby growing even bigger. 

Neither TARP, nor the $16 trillion in secret Fed loans to banks (both here and abroad), loosened the credit markets. Nor did they help millions of struggling Americans to stay in their bank-foreclosed homes. What the bail-outs accomplished was to send a powerful message to Wall Street: as long as these institutions remained ‘Too Big To Fail’ they could continue to take obscene risks, because the government could be counted on to cover their losses.

The effort was branded by most to be a colossal failure — a massive transfer of wealth from the ninety-nine percent to the one percent. 

As the status-quo became untenable, many Americans began to abandon the political middle — once a seemingly ‘mainstream’ place to be — and split towards each end of the political spectrum.

Exiled from government, Republicans recast themselves as Tea Partiers — an ‘AstroTurfed movement’ that blamed ‘government’ for all the country’s woes. In particular, they blamed the new Democratic-controlled government, who’d been elected to clean up their mess. These right-wingers embraced pure unadulterated corporatocracy as the solution to problems created, ironically enough, by deregulated banks and corporations. 

Democratic constituents felt relieved, having ushered Barack Obama into the White House on a populist progressive ‘CHANGE’ platform, along with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. The Left continued to place its faith in democracy — i.e. the ‘ballot box’ — as the appropriate venue for delivering change.

But once sworn in, Obama’s call for ‘Change’ insidiously shifted to a new call for ‘Bipartisanship’. He proceeded to prioritize ‘harmony’ between two diametrically-opposed parties over championing the progressive promises that got him elected.

Of course, this new ‘priority’ was merely a cover for appeasing the entrenched corporate interests. His largely-symbolic legislative victories were so watered down and corporate-friendly that they were routinely castigated by the Left. His advisers would complain bitterly how no one outside the White House would give Obama his due-credit for his ‘achievements’.

He governed like a pre-Tea Party Republican as he broke promise after promise. He proposed cuts to social security, Medicare, and Medicaid. He pushed the Bush-signed, NAFTA-like (job-exporting) trade deals which Congressional Democrats had defeated years before, and he even pressured Congressional Democrats to extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%. In doing so, he grossly underestimated the populist angst that had swept him into office.

Obama’s duplicity led many of his once-energized supporters to conclude that America’s entire political process was something of a sham — that they’d once again been had.

And so they gave up waiting around for the Democratic Party to walk their talk, and took to the streets themselves in masses. On September 17, Occupy Wall Street began peacefully protesting in downtown Manhattan, and it has since spread like a forest fire into a nation-wide movement.

This huge, non-partisan, populist ground-swell blasts the Washington establishment for systematically exploiting and subjugating ninety-nine percent of Americans to appease the wealthy and powerful one-percent. The protesters demand an end to the corrupt and insidious relationship between government and corporations which perverts the very fabric of democracy.

Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, recently reflected on the underlying cause for the Occupy Wall Street protests on DemocracyNow:

“My biggest fear was that the Obama presidency was going to lead this generation of young people into political cynicism and political apathy,” Klein says. “But instead, they are going to where the power is. They are realizing the change is not coming in Washington because politicians are so controlled by corporate interest, and that that is the fundamental crisis in this country.”

It would appear the power-elite’s greed, corruption, and hubris has finally awakened a sleeping populist giant in the American people. And the longer the Democratic Party continues to promote policies right of center, the more those left-of-center will continue to detach from the party and the entire democratic process.

A new Washington Post/Bloomberg News Poll reveals that 44% of Democrats don’t believe the economy would get any worse should President Obama lose in 2012 to a Republican. Blue Texan from Firedoglake sums up this startling revelation:

“Let that sink in for a minute. The economy will be the number one issue in 2012 — and nearly half of the President’s own party doesn’t think it matters if he’s re-elected.”

Clearly, today’s definition of the political middle — which is where Obama loyalists contend he governs — has come to represent the painful and untenable status-quo to traditional Democratic supporters.