Adolph Reed Junior On The Surrender Of America’s Liberals

Adolph Reed Junior on the surrender of America’s liberals

If we understand the left to be anchored to our convictions that society can be made better than it actually is, and a commitment to combating economic inequality as a primary one, the left is just gone. – Adolph Reed

 

The western front of the United States Capitol. The Neoclassical style building is located in Washington, D.C., on top of Capitol Hill at the east end of the National Mall. The Capitol was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. By United_States_Capitol_-_west_front.jpg: Architect of the Capitol derivative work: O.J. (United_States_Capitol_-_west_front.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AUnited_States_Capitol_west_front_edit2.jpg
The western front of the United States Capitol. The Neoclassical style building is located in Washington, D.C., on top of Capitol Hill at the east end of the National Mall. The Capitol was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. By United_States_Capitol_-_west_front.jpg: Architect of the Capitol derivative work: O.J. (United_States_Capitol_-_west_front.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AUnited_States_Capitol_west_front_edit2.jpg
There is an interesting recent article (paid subscription at Harper’s magazine) by political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. about the decline of the American Left and the Democratic Party’s embrace of neoliberalism.

Bill Moyers interviewed him on his show and has a video on his website. In the interview, Moyers points out as an example of this trend the Obama administration’s fast-tracking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.

Reed argues that the Democratic Party is too fixated on winning elections and appeasing Wall Street and the Right—the Clinton campaign’s triangulation comes to mind.

Reed sees in American politics today a “bipartisan neoliberalism [. . .] at the center of gravity of the American government.” And as its two core components, he identifies two things: a “free market, utopian ideology [a]nd [. . .] a concrete program for intensified upward redistribution.”

The interview is well worth watching, I think.

 

DOJ Spied On Associated Press’s Telephone Records To Track Down Whistleblowers

DOJ Spied On Associated Press’s Telephone Records To Track Down Whistleblowers

Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department secretly obtained two months worth of telephone records of the Associated Press, reports the Associated Press.

The AP calls the DOJ’s action an “unprecedented intrusion.”

Here is what news agency Reuters reported.

According to the Guardian, the Obama administration wanted to find out the source of an “alleged Yemen terrorist plot story.”

Here is a report by Think Progress on the background of the DOJ’s action. According to them, the AP’s reporting on a foiled terrorist plot in Yemen “put AQAP [Al-Quida in the Arabic Peninsula] on notice that the CIA had a window into their activities.”

Here is the ACLU’s statement on the matter.

Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project said the following:

Obtaining a broad range of telephone records in order to ferret out a government leaker is an unacceptable abuse of power. Freedom of the press is a pillar of our democracy, and that freedom often depends on confidential communications between reporters and their sources.

Read more:

The Law Behind the A.P. Phone-Record Scandal.” (Lynn Oberlander, New Yorker, 2013/05/14)

Outrage Grows Over Justice Department Seizure of Associated Press Phone Records.” (Greg Mitchell, The Nation via Alternet, 2013/05/14)

 

 

The Obama Inauguration 2013 And My Mixed Feelings About It

The Obama Inauguration 2013: Round Two For The 44th POTUS

On January 20, 2013, Barack Obama was sworn in for the second time as President of the United States. Will he change course towards a more progressive political agenda this time, as opposed to the past four years? Naturally, it remains to be seen, but from observing his first term in office, I got the impression that there were many continuities from the previous administration.

[Please note: I will add some sources for various claims that I make in this article later, when I have more time. In the meantime, please confirm any information by doing a news search with your favorite search engine. I will also continuously add more links to news coverage of the inauguration and background information.]

Looking back at Obama’s first election

Like many Europeans—and of course many Americans, for that matter—I was very excited about the first black (biracial, mixed, pick your favorite term) American president four years ago. Any student of American history should be. True, the campaign buzzwords ‘hope’ and ‘change’ were by themselves meaningless appeals to emotion, crafted by brilliant campaign strategists, but candidate Barack Obama also filled them with concrete policy proposals in his campaign speeches.

Obama positioned himself as a unifier, but it is clear that a key selling point was “I am not Bush.” Indeed, Obama was many things that Bush was not: a black man, an intellectual, not a son of privilege, urban, sophisticated, a Christian but not a religious fundamentalist with an eschatological interest in the Middle East. There were high hopes that Obama would act differently and that his administration would repair some of the damage caused by his predecessor.

Obama’s first term and continuities from Bush/Cheney

While Obama is certainly more socially liberal than any of the top Republicans, a substantial departure from neoliberal economic policies and a neoconservative security architecture is barely noticeable, despite any claims of America having fallen to communism on January 20, 2009, available on the usual propaganda channels. Of course an American president is not a dictator and legislation is supposed to go through Congress.

However, from the outside it looked like this: From day one, a Republican front aggressively attacked Obama at every turn while the POTUS offered concession after concession, ultimately in vain. The only times that the soft-spoken Obama did not find it difficult to metaphorically wack political opposition with the big stick that Theodore Roosevelt suggested to carry around at all times (referring to foreign policy) was when his own progressive political base reminded Obama of his campaign promises. So here we are, four years later:

The “War on Terrorism”

The paradigm shift caused by 9/11 still remains, and the behavior of the Obama administration is perhaps a good reminder to take seriously the phrase ‘paradigm shift.’ Osama Bin Laden is dead, even though his death was but a symbol, needed for closure, a counter to the terrorists’ symbol of attacking the World Trade Center. But the confrontation is not over.

The central question for democracies is how to act while engaging in that battle. In retrospect, unfortunately, the Obama administration’s answers sound very similar to those of the Bush administration in many cases. Guantánamo Bay is still open, the practice of kidnapping terrorism suspects, euphemistically called  ‘rendition,’ has been increased, the drone killing program has been expanded and raises all kinds of ethical and legal questions, and the National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAA) now allow for worldwide secret arrests and killings on the President’s orders, outside of judicial oversight.

The most severe damage to American democracy, however, has been done by the Obama-Holder Justice Department, shielding the architects and perpetrators of the Bush administration’s torture regime from legal consequences. Here was the opportunity to signal to the world that American exceptionalism also means that the US government is above using the methods of despotic regimes elsewhere. But the message sent was a very different one. As the Obama administration put it, the aim is to look forward, not backwards.

But if these practices are not being punished, the official position that “the US does not torture” is meaningless. If any future administration decides to go down that route again, it can and will point to the precedent set by Bush and Obama. And it is exactly this lending legitimacy to authoritarian tendencies of a transgressive national security state that will tarnish Obama’s place in history. It is particularly bitter that these policies are advanced by a former constitutional law professor.

Regulation of the financial sector:

The Obama administration did not push for legislation ‘with teeth’ for stricter regulations of investment banks after the financial crisis. The Justice Department has not prosecuted top banking executives who have clearly engaged in serious criminal activity. Apparently, the Obama administration believed that this class of people needed to be shielded from legal repercussions in order for the  economic recovery to succeed. In addition, many of Obama’s economic advisors are neoliberals with a background in big Wall Street firms. It is difficult to ignore the conflict of interest set up by this dynamic.

The positive changes during Obama’s first term

Healthcare Reform:

Admittedly, Obama’s key domestic policy project was a big step within in the American context, and extremely controversial, to be clear. However, a European-model public option, not to speak of a single-payer system, was wiped off the negotiating table very quickly, and from the reports I have read, Obama did not really mind. Insurance companies did not mind, either. That is because they get millions of new customers who are obliged to buy their insurance packages.

The repeal of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’

The Obama administration repealed the Clinton-era policy that allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military while keeping in the closet. The policy, apart from being discriminatory, established a power dynamic that made LGBT military members vulnerable to blackmail for fear of being outed by colleagues. Contrary to rumors, the American military did not collapse once LGBT soldiers were allowed to express their identity. Interestingly, the military has become a venue of social progress for a second time after the desegregation during World War Two.

Few drastic changes in crucial areas

In sum, the notion of a president who would radically depart from the paths taken since 2001 has evaporated regarding most foreign policy and economic issues. While some symbolic changes were enacted, the big issues seem ‘path dependent,’ to borrow a sociological term. On civil liberties, Obama’s record is rather dim, except for the DADT repeal. Regarding economic policy, the financial sector—investment firms in particular—is back to business as usual, which is great if you happen to be an investment banker. The question remains whether Obama, now that he does not have to worry about reelection, will be a different politician. I am skeptical about that, even though I still have a tiny bit of hope.

What do you think?

[I will update the article from time to time and add more information.]

News coverage of Obama’s second inauguration

[Video] The New York Times has the full inauguration speech:

[Video] Politico’s live video coverage of the 2013 inauguration can be found here.

[Video] The New York Times reports from Washington prior to the presidential inauguration (2013/01/18):

Obama’s Rorschach.” (John T. Woolley, Professor of political science, UCSB; Co-director, American Presidency Project, Huffington Post, 2013/01/23) – A political scientist explains how people interpret Obama’s inaugural speech according to their own political leanings.

Barack Obama accused of giving partisan inauguration speech.” (Ewen McaAskill, Guardian, 2013/01/22)

Fox News Flips Out On Obama Inauguration Day.” (Brett LoGiurato, Business Insider, 2013/01/22)

[Cartoon] “Obama’s inaugural speech provokes rattled Republicans.” (David Horsey, Los Angeles Times, 2013/01/22)

12 Ways Obama Smacked Down the Tea Party and the Right in Inauguration Speech.” (Adele M. Stan, Alternet, 2013/01/21) – The left-leaning online magazine on how Obama symbolically pushed back against the American Far-Right’s rhetoric.

For 1st time, gay rights get shoutout in inaugural speech.” (Miranda Leitsinger, NBC News, 2013/01/21)

Inaugural Corporate Donors Include Bank Of America, Coca-Cola, Microsoft.” (Jillian Berman, Huffington Post, 2013/01/20) – Obama now accepts official corporate sponsorship.

Inauguration 2013: Obama’s King moment.” (Jonathan Allen and Emily Schultheis, Politico, 2013/01/20)

The Third Inaugural: Obama’s Quiet Ceremony.” (Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, 2013/01/20)

The Presidential Oath: Not Always Perfect, But It Gets The Job Done.” (Nina Totenberg, NPR, 2013/01/20)

Change Comes: After 4 Years, Friends See Shifts in the Obamas.” (Jodi Kantor, New York Times, 2013/01/19)

Washington Prepares for Festive but Scaled-Down Version of 2009 Events.” (Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, 2013/01/19)

Deutschsprachige Berichterstattung:

Obamas Vereidigung: Das verflixte zweite Mal.” (Gregor Peter Schmitz, Spiegel Online, 21.01.2013)

Background coverage

[Pictures] “President Obama’s First 4 Years.” (The Atlantic, 2013/01/18) – Great pictures of Obama’s first term in office.

fACT-CHECKING Obama’s Political Record

First-Term Promises Made, Kept and Broken.” (New York Times, 2013/01/19)

On Campaign Promises Report Card, Obama Did ‘Pretty Well’.” (NPR Staff, NPR, 2013/01/19)

Presidency

[Statistics] “For Second-Term Presidents, a Shorter Honeymoon.” (Nate Silver, New York Times, 2013/01/19) – “Support for Compromise Rises, Except Among Republicans.”

Civil liberties

10 Goals for President Obama & The White House.” (American Civil Liberties Union) – The largest civil rights organization in the US has a list with things they want Obama to do after his inauguration.

Has America Become an Authoritarian State?” (Henry A. Giroux, Alternet, 2013/01/25) – On the authoritarian tendencies of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party in the current neoliberal state, including Guantánamo Bay and warrantless wiretapping.

UPDATED: NDAA Prevents Closing Guantanamo, Could Lead to Claims of a Right to Discriminate.” (American Civil Liberties Union, 2013/01/03) – The ACLU on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

Financial industry regulation

The Untouchables: How the Obama administration protected Wall Street from prosecutions.” (Glenn Greenwald, Guardian, 2013/01/23)

Healthcare reform

Obamacare 2.0: Judgment awaits.” (David Nather, Politico, 2013/01/19)

2012 Presidential Campaign

How President Obama Won a Second Term.” (Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone, 2013/01/23) – Democratic political strategist James Carville breaks down the second Obama presidential campaign.

Obama campaign final fundraising total: $1.1 billion.” (Byron Tau, Politico, 2013/01/19)

Please note: You can find many more resources on the 2012 presidential campaign in my earlier blog post here.

Supreme Court Upholds Health Care Reform

On June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court upheld President Obama’s health care reform, stating that the individual health care mandate was a legal form of taxation. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. enabled the 5 to 4 vote by joining the liberal side of the court.

Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.
– Chief Justice John Roberts

This article from Politico has a handy chart that shows how the health care law looks like after the ruling.

The cause of repealing ‘Obamacare’ had been a key mobilizing issue for the GOP and the Tea Party Movement since the law was enacted in 2010.

Here is an incomplete collection of news articles on the Supreme Court’s ruling:

NY Times here, Washington Post here, Huffington Post here, Wall St. Journal here, Politico here and here (key quotes from the ruling), SCOTUSblog here, Think Progress here, USA Today here, Daily Beast here.

Politico’s analysis of Justive Roberts’ motivations can be read here. In brief, some professional observers think that the conservative-leaning Roberts’ surprising decision has to do with creating his own legacy, a “Roberts Court,” and deflecting critics’ arguments about a Supreme Court characterized by conservative judicial activism.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who had introduced an almost identical individual health care mandate in Massachusetts as Governor, continues to campaign on repealing ‘Obamacare’ despite the fact that he had earlier advocated for the Massachusetts health care reform to become a model for national health care reform.

The Obama administration highlights this inconvenient fact in their campaign ads against Romney.

One of Romney’s arguments is that “Obamacare adds trillions to our deficits and to our national debt.” The fact-checking website PolitiFact rates Romney’s statement as ‘false.’

At Politiwhoops, a website of the Sunlight Foundation, you can read all the tweets deleted by politicians who were against the health care reform. Some of them falsely tweeted that the Supreme Court had repealed the individual mandate.