Obama Administration

Barack Obama truly is greasier than a buttered herring. Via Tim Cavanagh at Reason, I find this hymn to “marrying principle to [a] political process that means you don’t get 100% of what you want”…

[Lincoln’s] first priority was preserving the Union. I’ve got the Emancipation Proclamation hanging up in my office. And if you read through it, turns out that most of the document is – those states and areas where the emancipation doesn’t apply because those states are allied with the Union, so they can keep their slaves. Think about that. That’s the Emancipation Proclamation. Right?

So here you’ve got a wartime president who’s making a compromise around probably the greatest moral issue that the country ever faced because he understood that right now my job is to win the war and to maintain the union.

Well can you imagine how the Huffington Post would have reported on that? It would have been blistering. Think about it. “Lincoln sells out slaves.” There would be protests. They’d run a third-party guy.

Well, I’ll leave historians to judge the merits of Abraham Lincoln’s strategising. What of Obama’s maneuvers, though? I’ll grant that living in communities – of whatever size – can require us to adjust our own desires to accomodate those of others. So, by this logic, furthering the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terror” is a unavoidable step towards an, er – well – something. Punishing more whistleblowers than any of his forerunners is a necessary tactic to allow for compromise on, er – well, we’ll come back to that. Silencing the people who seek justice from his predecessors is the sad but inexorable result of…

Wait, hold on, none of that was necessary. Reducing the argument to how far a President should be willing to compromise is, well, unnecessary when so many of the Obama administration’s gravest deeds were taken of its own prerogative and to its own agenda. Not the Tea Party’s. Not the Koch Brothers’. Not Michelle Bachmann’s. Their’s.

So, what about these birthers, eh? I’m not going to psychoanalyse the dudes or even talk about their arguments because – well – I know little of them. What’s a tad depressing, though, is just how apolitical they are. Say what you like about the “9/11 Truthers” – and I said some spiteful, mindless rubbish in my duller days – but the fellows, whatever the truth of their foremost claims, dredged up and promoted some intriguing, urgent information, from the deficits of the notorious Commission to the rank disingenuousness of the “War on Terror” to the exploitation of the ravaged New York cleanup workers. Or take researchers into the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. They draw such various conclusions that at least some are wrong but they’ve still revealed the shortcomings of the official case. Some “conspiracy theories”, in other words, reveal interesting things even if their central claims are bogus – like some guy who wanders up K2 and says he’s mounted Everest. That’s rarely the case for theories that focus one’s ire on individuals – figureheads – and don’t take in the broader picture. “Obama’s an African!” “Palin wasn’t Pregnant!” “Who shot Vince?!” In fairness, they would be interesting if they were true.

I don’t disagree with people who see the Koch brothers as a couple of unpleasant people. Not that their donations are more sinister than George Soros’s, but – as far as I’m concerned – their causes are more baneful so I’m all for people exposing the harm that they could do. One thing that’s annoying, though, is people treating them as they pose a sirrious threat to, like, Western civ’lization. As if corporate lobbying is some new, sinister creation…

The sums of money spent in furthering Koch (pronounced like the drink coke, no matter how tempting it is to rhyme it with rock) interests and power are staggering.

Well, yes, when compared to our salaries, but they’re less formidable in the schemes of corporate influence. The defence, oil, insurance and pharma lobbies fork out hundreds of millions of dollars each year. The Kochs aren’t a wolf among the lambs of open government; they’re just hefty swine amongst a drove of pigs.

By exposing the Koch brothers’ agenda and shedding light on how they operate, progressives can force a public debate that will show that the Koch brothers are outside the mainstream of most Americans and that they are putting their self-interest and right wing agenda ahead of middle-class families.

Again, I’m all for shedding light on their operations – if you’re roughed up then it’s scant consolation to be told that it’s a violent area – but why the laserlike attention? Well, if they’d accept the institutional corruption of the U.S. state they’d be forced to grant that its interests are often weighted towards power, not just those of its supposed opponents.

Faced with the Bush-era scandal of wiretapping, President Obama’s young administration acted firmly. They had the whistleblower indicted. When a victim of U.S. torture and rendition brought a lawsuit against his captors the White House behaved forthrightly. They asked the Supreme Court to drop the case. Confronted with the fact that a young man is being mistreated in a U.S. jail they’ve now taken swift, decisive action. They’ve forced the official who’d condemned it to resign. We can only speculate as to what comes next. A girl who pepper sprays a rapist getting banged up on a weapons charge?

Malcolm Rifkind seems to think Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo Bay represents a “change of mind“. As if the man whose state now casually abuses Bradley Manning was ever concerned about indefinite detention. I wonder if Obama simply changed his mind over protecting whistleblowers? Whether he just thought twice about restricting state secrets? And has Clinton had a change of heart over her friends Mubarak and the Gaddafis? I doubt it.

How about our own statesmen? Have the Tories and Lib Dems changed their minds over granting justice to Chagossians? Did Nick Clegg change his mind over tuition fees? No, of course they didn’t: they just never meant it in the first place. One thing you’ll never get from these vacillating varlets is an explanation of what led them to reconsider. That’s because, by and large, it’s not an honest thought process but a balance of interests.

This doesn’t mean that every word they say can be discounted, nor that they’ll never hold a sincere belief, but that it’s foolish to imagine that they ever speak in better faith than yer average businessman, solicitor or financier. Self-interest guides their hands and lips from electoral cradles to political graves: winning votes, corporate sponsorship and diplomatic favour; satiating lobbyists, patrons and the media. We need the realism to dispense with the idea that we’re in a common, open enterprise. To stop fulminating against broken promises and realise their “promises” can be never be reliable. To stop gaping at betrayal and never bless them with the confidence their trickery might shatter.

When promises are made or policies expounded we should weigh up the balance of interests on which their decisions hang. So, to dredge up a noxious example from the ashes of administrations past, Labour’s rather sudden change from arms trading with Sri Lanka to defending the Tamils was motivated by the knowledge that with an election coming and Tamils in marginals their votes were more important than relations with the government. Cynicism is nothing to be ashamed of. After all, it would be hard to be as cynical as that.

A report(pdf) by the watchdog Public Citizen studies the endemic fraud of the pharmaceutical trade. In the last two decades they’ve forked out for nearly twenty billion bucks in penalties with half coming from Pfizer, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline and Schering-Plough alone. Violations have only increased in recent times. The report notes that these fines may not be a worthwhile deterrent – after all, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline have paid out a total of nearly 8 billion and swept up profits of over twice that in a single year – and speculates that executives could be jailed.

Oh, my dears, the best of luck with that. Obama showed us where his administration stood by crafting his healthcare reforms around Big Pharma’s every wont. Harry Reid has been so faithful to it that Pfizer and others have become his gracious patrons. Once upon a time Obama used Wilbert Tauzin, President of PhRMA, the trade group that represents Big Pharma, as a sad example of the “game playing in Washington“. Once he’d been elected, Tauzin soon became his guest and comrade, making sure the healthcare deal would benefit his chums before tossing a few coins the way of the Senate majority leader. I could be wrong but I think they’re as likely to get tough with Pharma as a cop is with the loan shark who backhands him a few hundred.

The report suggests that the drug industry may be even more corrupt than the arms trade. As the past decades have shown us, its members have no more qualms about the pain of foreigners. In this month’s Vanity Fair James Steele and Donald Bartlett write on the alarming rise of globalised clinical research, whereby drugs are tested on confused, indigent volunteers at barely regulated sites. The Food and Drug Administration scarcely monitors these trials and several have marked by “what the U.S. clinical-trials community refers to as “an adverse event”“: the deaths of its subjects. This was true of Pfizer who, if we’re to believe this Wikileaked cable, then hired investigators to smear the man who took them to Court. Anything to smooth the path of – ahem – progress.

Ah, progress. Big Pharma’s swindling is on the rise; its exploitation is growing and, of course, prescription drug use is soaring like ne’er before. With the U.S. state and perhaps our own Tories on its side it’s hard to see who’ll rein in its piratical tendencies. And as we’re dependent on the little pills that it supplies that’s a discomfiting thought.

Digby links to Dave Johnson

Last week, in Tea Party Members VS Tea Party Wall Street Funders, I pointed out that Tea Party supporters expect their politicians to do something about Wall Street bailouts, lawbreaking and “too-big-to-fail” domination of the economy, but Tea Party candidates were receiving a great deal of funding from that very same Wall Street. This set up a potential conflict between Tea Party supporters and Tea Party politicians.

Obama’s supporters also hoped that he’d choke back corporate exploitation. Sadly, though, his government has spent a lot of time favouring its rich benefactors. This isn’t an amusing quirk of the Tea Party movement, it’s a tragedy of the corporatist state.

By the way, here’s a curious nugget from the ailing plutocracy. It’s hardly news that wealth and power can render one immune from justice. White-collared thieves and state officials have long been evading judgement as a matter of course. Even one step down the corporate ladder, it has been reported, you might find all men are equal under the law but – yeah, you guessed it – some are more equal than others…

A financial manager for wealthy clients will not face charges for a hit-and-run because it could jeopardise his job, it has been revealed.

Martin Joel Erzinger, 52, was set to face felony charges for running over a doctor who he hit from behind in his 2010 Mercedes Benz, and then speeding off.

‘Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger’s profession, and that entered into it,’ [the District Attorney] said.

As opposed to all those other jobs that welcome nothing more than felony convictions.


A typical day inside the White House: sun dapples the lawn’s crisp grass; children’s laughter fills the air; smells of fresh-baked bread drift and governmental lawyers try to shoot down(pdf) a case brought against their frankly despotic assassinations program. Marcy Wheeler deals with the substance of their claims so why not head on over, have a read and give your deepest sympathies.

One tactic that Obama’s men resort to is an invocation of state secret privileges. Amusingly, they try to act as if this is unusual…

The government does not invoke the protections of the state secret privileges lightly…

No, it invokes them heavily: shielding Bush’s chums from justice; protecting the NSA; covering the ass of powerful and moneyed businesses. Heck, it seems like they’re rolled out whenever there’s a threat to power. And, indeed, it seems that way because it’s absolutely true. The government, as we have seen, is a miserable little pile of secrets. It tries to seem more cultured, more urbane than its predecessor but the smell that filters from its chichi suits is just as rank.

This will seem familiar to anyone who’s taken note of the ISAF’s cruel deceit inside Afghanistan. It fits the tried-and-tested formula of massacres. Soldiers meet civilians; soldiers kill civilians; army claims civilians were really violent insurgents; people who were at the scene refute them. And nobody cares…

There were stark differences between the American military’s description of the raid and the one supplied by villagers.

The Iraqi police said the raid started about 1 a.m. Wednesday, with at least four American helicopters providing support. Major Phillips said the troops came under fire as they approached the suspect’s house and shot back, killing four suspected insurgents — he said he did not know their ages — and wounding three others. Two residents of the village who came out of their homes with weapons were also fatally shot by the troops, he added.

Local residents described a far different scene, one of chaos and fear as American soldiers and Iraqi security officers moved through the area in the darkness. They accused the Iraqis of firing indiscriminately, often at people who represented no threat.

Iraqi officials state the victims were civilians and sources claim they were as young as 10 and old as 85. They’re unlikely to get justice. Even if they do it’s meager comfort as they’ll never get a chance to live again.

Weeks ago the media were lauding President Obama’s boast that the “[U.S.] combat mission in[side] Iraq ha[d] ended“. The news often seems to be to truth what pro-wrestling is to competitive sports. Oh, yes, it’s all impressive but — it isn’t a sport. As for the armed forces -well – it has shown scant regard for truth. Then again, its missions have been starkly opposed to it. It might be seen as the unspoken foe.

Via Chris Floyd, who you must read on Christine O’Donnell. (Or I’ll hunt you down. Yes, you behind the laptop screen.)

Binyam Mohamed’s trudge throughout the halls of Western justice makes the Himalayas seem like a cinch. U.S courts throw up the latest obstacle

A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that former prisoners of the C.I.A. could not sue over their alleged torture in overseas prisons because such a lawsuit might expose secret government information.

The sharply divided ruling was a major victory for the Obama administration’s efforts to advance a sweeping view of executive secrecy powers. It strengthens the White House’s hand as it has pushed an array of assertive counterterrorism policies, while raising an opportunity for the Supreme Court to rule for the first time in decades on the scope of the president’s power to restrict litigation that could reveal state secrets.

Why, Obama and co. must have been forced to do it by rich evildoers like the Kochs. No? Well then, it must be part of Bush’s legacy. It isn’t? Well, er – do Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin feature anywhere? They don’t? Right. Okay. Well, that just leaves the possibility that Obama’s regime is covering up its state’s abuses with a shameful disregard for liberty or justice. Oh. I see. It is

Among other policies, the Obama national security team has also authorized the C.I.A. to try to kill a United States citizen suspected of terrorism ties, blocked efforts by detainees in Afghanistan to bring habeas corpus lawsuits challenging the basis for their imprisonment without trial, and continued the C.I.A.’s so-called extraordinary rendition program of prisoner transfers…

A miserable little pile of secrets” is how Andre Malraux defined man. It works superbly for this government: its secret wars; its secret prisons and its secrets that we’re told are more urgent than rules of law. It’s a very civilized form of ruthlessness: barbarism strains inside a frame of etiquette rather than ethics. It’s as clear as a rugby team’s sauna and equally fragrant.

See. Also. And.

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