Nudging Obama

Formerly "Obama Watch" Keeping the promise of change

Barack Obama Reverses Campaign Promise and Approves Offshore Drilling

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Published on Wednesday, March 31, 2010 by the Guardian/UK

Barack Obama Reverses Campaign Promise and Approves Offshore Drilling

President allows oil and gas exploration off several coastal areas to horsetrade with Republicans over climate change bills

by Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington

Barack Obama took the Republican slogan “drill, baby, drill” as his own today, opening up over 500,000 square miles of US coastal waters to oil and gas exploitation for the first time in over 20 years.

[Barack Obama announces offshore drilling plans at a naval base in,  Maryland. (Alex Wong/Getty Images) ]
Barack Obama announces offshore drilling plans at a naval base in, Maryland. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The move, a reversal of Obama’s early campaign promise to retain a ban on offshore exploration, appeared aimed at winning support from Republicans in Congress for new laws to tackle global warming. Sarah Palin’s “Drill, baby, drill” slogan was a prominent battle cry in the 2008 elections.The areas opened up are off the Atlantic coast, the northern coast of Alaska and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. However, in a concession to his environmentalist base, Obama did retain protection for Alaska’s Bristol Bay, the single largest source of seafood in America and home to endangered species of whale. The Pacific Coast from Mexico to Canada is also off-limits.

Obama said the decision to allow oil rigs off the Atlantic coast was a painful one, but that it would help reduce US dependence on imported oil.

“This is not a decision that I’ve made lightly,” the president said. “But the bottom line is this: given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth, produce jobs, and keep our businesses competitive, we’re going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy.”

He said the administration would take steps to protect the environment and areas important to tourism off the Atlantic, as well as sensitive areas in the Arctic, and added: “Drilling alone cannot come close to meeting our long-term energy needs, and for the sake of the planet and our energy independence, we need to begin the transition to cleaner fuels now.”

Interior department officials said the areas opened up today are thought to contain the equivalent of three years’ annual US useage of recoverable oil and two years’ worth of natural gas.

Under the proposals, a vast swath of Atlantic coast from northern Delaware to central Florida, including about 167m acres of ocean, would be open to drilling. An additional 130m acres of ocean in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas north of Alaska could also open up for drilling following environmental assessment studies. About two-thirds of the eastern Gulf of Mexico would be open for exploration though the plan would bar rigs within 125 miles of the Florida coast.

The state of Virginia could see drilling within 50 miles of the coast, and could issue its first licences as early as next year. However, actual drilling would probably not get underway for years. Drilling would be off-limits throughout the US Pacific coast. Bristol Bay in south-western Alaska would also be off the table until 2017.

Today’s speech was widely seen as an attempt by Obama to use last week’s epic victory on health reform as a springboard for other items on his agenda. He combined the announcement with a renewed appeal to Democrats and Republicans in Congress to pass climate change legislation. The laws would be a huge step forward towards a global deal but has encountered fierce domestic opposition.

A small group of Democrats and Republicans are expected to produce proposals to cut the US’s mammoth greenhouse gas emissions, in the coming weeks. But the proposals are unlikely to go as far as environmentalists would like.

The interior secretary, Ken Salazar, made a significant declaration today, saying the administration had renounced the concept of carbon cap and trade. This system, seen by many as efficient and effective, sets a gradually reducing limit to emissions and then allows polluters to buy and sell permits to emit greenhouse gases, but opponents argue it would damage the economy. “The term cap and trade is not in the lexicon anymore,” Salazar told CNBC television.

The go-ahead for drilling is also a bitter disappointment for environmentalists and Democrats. That could make it even more difficult to stitch together a compromise proposal on climate change in the Senate. Last week, 10 Senators from coastal states, including those now opened up for drilling, issued a letter expressing concern that offshore exploration would hurt fishing and tourism industries.

Maryland’s Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, a supporter of Obama’s climate agenda, said: “We know spills happen with offshore drilling. It happens even with the most responsible drilling.” Greenpeace saw the announcement as a betrayal of Obama’s campaign promise, with director Phil Radford saying: “This act furthers America’s addiction to oil.” Oceana called it a “wholesale assault” on the seas.

Brendan Cummings, senior counsel at the Centre for Biological Diversity, said: “Today’s announcement is unfortunately all too typical of what we have seen so far from President Obama – promises of change, a year of ‘deliberation,’ and ultimately, adoption of flawed and outdated Bush policies as his own.”

The disappointment could lift on Thursday, as Obama said his administration would then finalise more rigorous fuel economy standards for cars and trucks. The White House will also buy 5,000 new hybrid vehicles for the federal fleet.

Today’s drilling decision further consolidates Obama’s position in the middle ground between industry and environmentalists. Environmentalists have been disappointed with the president’s decisions to restrict – but not ban outright – the highly destructive practice of blowing up mountaintops to mine thin seams of coal.

Obama indicated in his state of the union address that he was ready to offer two key concessions to Republicans – lifting the ban on offshore drilling and supporting new nuclear power plants – to try to gain support for climate change and energy legislation in Congress.

He took the first step last month, spurring the first construction of new nuclear plants since the Three Mile Island leak 30 years ago, by announcing $18bn in loan guarantees for two new nuclear reactors.

As a presidential candidate, Obama had repeatedly attacked his opponent, John McCain, for suggesting drilling would lower gas prices, arguing that it would take several years and billions in investment before those areas became productive. But as the summer of 2008 wore on with prices spiking at the pump, Obama along with other Democrats began moderating their opposition to offshore drilling.

Democrats in Congress did not renew an annual ban on offshore drilling, and Obama began reversing his opposition.

© 2010 Guardian/UK

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March 31, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Obama Declares Afghan War ‘Absolutely Essential’

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Obama Declares Afghan War ‘Absolutely Essential’

Insists America Will Never Abandon Conflict

by Jason Ditz, March 28, 2010

Underscoring his administration’s commitment to continue the already eight and a half year long occupation of Afghanistan, President Barack Obama made a surprise visit today and delivered a speech declaring the war ‘absolutely essential.’

Citing 9/11, President Obama insisted that continuing the conflict makes all Americans safer, and assured the troops that “everyone” knows the importance of the continued occupation of the landlocked nation.

He also threw water on the notion that the war might come to an end any time soon, saying “the United States of America does not quit once we start on something.” He reiterated his confidence that the US would ultimately prevail.

But despite pledging to give the troops a clear mission and a clear goal, and insisting that they would “get the job done,” he didn’t make it at all clear what exactly this job was. His only hint at any mission beyond endless conflict was a reference to al-Qaeda in the region, though administration officials have repeatedly conceded that there are virtually no al-Qaeda members left in Afghanistan, and have not been in some time. Yet momentum and a sufficiently hawkish administration suggests the conflict will continue to find enemies wherever it can and continue indefinitely.

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March 29, 2010 at 11:51 am

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If McCain now gets it, why doesn’t Obama?

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U.S. Economy

McCain Gets It, Obama Doesn’t

By Robert Scheer

Robert Scheer is the editor of Truthdig, where this article originally appeared. His latest book is The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America (Twelve).

Maybe I got it wrong. During the presidential campaign I wrote columns blasting Sen. John McCain for siding with the big bankers on deregulation, citing his choosing ex-Senator Phil Gramm, currently a vice chairman of the Swiss-owned banking giant UBS, as his presidential campaign chair. Barack Obama, on the other hand, repeatedly blasted Gramm and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which the Texas Republican had pushed through Congress, with President Bill Clinton’s support–legislation that repealed the Glass-Steagall Act and radically deregulated the financial industry.

But now the roles are reversed, and it is McCain who, along with Senator Maria Cantwell, D-WA, has sponsored a bill to repeal Gramm’s legislation, while Obama seeks to preserve it.The Gramm legislation, which permitted the merger of investment and commercial banks into too-big-to-fail corporations (including Citigroup and AIG, two financial giants that had to be bailed out by taxpayers), was thought by Obama the candidate to be a key cause of the meltdown. But as president he reappointed the Clinton-era officials who had sided with Gramm in ending sensible banking regulations that had protected the public for seventy years and made the US banking system the envy of the world.

Rather than restore Glass-Steagall, the Obama-backed banking regulation bill passed last month by the Democratic majority in the House went along with the desire of Wall Street lobbyists to prevent the breakup of the big conglomerates and to block control of their massive trading in the derivatives that proved to be so toxic.

The result, with some deceptive reformist window dressing, is a pro-Wall Street business-as-usual cop-out, and the Senate version is likely to be more of the same. Fortunately, there is a better way, and thanks to the McCain-Cantwell bill and a companion one authored by Representative Maurice Hinchey, D-NY, in the House, there is still a chance at serious financial regulation through the restoration of the key provisions of Glass-Steagall.

How odd that it now remains for McCain to stand up to the oversize banks.

“… I want to ensure that we never stick the American taxpayer with another $700 billion–or even larger–tab to bail out the financial industry,” McCain proclaimed in introducing his legislation. “…This country would be better served if we limit the activities of these financial institutions.”

But just the opposite happened under the great bailout. The big investment houses of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were allowed to suddenly attain the status of commercial banks in order to qualify for federal bailouts, and the once-staid commercial Bank of America was encouraged by the Fed to buy out the investment house Merrill Lynch. As a result, banking has never before been concentrated in so few hands. As Representative Hinchey put it:

“Today, just four huge financial institutions hold half the mortgages in America, issue nearly two-thirds of credit cards, and control about 40 percent of all bank deposits in the U.S. In addition, the face value of over-the-counter derivatives at commercial banks has grown to $290 trillion, 95 percent of which are held at just five financial institutions. We cannot allow the security of the American economy to rest in the hands of so few institutions.”

Those derivatives, that hodgepodge collection of securitized debt–including mortgages of most American homes–are at the heart of the problem, and they are not regulated in any significant way by the legislation supported by the administration. It’s no wonder, since Lawrence Summers, the president’s top economic adviser, was not only a key proponent of reversing Glass-Steagall in the Clinton White House but also supported the Financial Services Modernization Act, passed a year later, that summarily exempted those suspect derivatives from any regulation.

Although Obama has blasted “fat cat bankers on Wall Street,” it is time for those who elected him to ask for more than rhetoric. And to ask that of the Democratic leaders of the House, who refused to allow a vote on Hinchey’s amendment to include the restoration of Glass-Steagall in their so-called Wall Street Reform Act. Introducing it as a separate bill, Hinchey stated:

“The repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act was done to help large banks become enormous and to line the pockets of banking executives with more money than most Americans could ever dream of earning in their lifetime…. This bill would help right the ship and return our country to the days when banks either participated in commercial lending activities or investment activities, but not both.”

There is much logic in preventing commercial banks, which carry the hard-earned savings of depositors and a federal guarantee of their worth, from engaging in the high-roller risk-taking of investment banks.

If McCain now gets it, why doesn’t Obama?

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March 29, 2010 at 11:43 am

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Obama Puts Pesticide Pusher in Charge of Agricultural Trade Relations

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WASHINGTON- Sidestepping a stalled Senate confirmation vote, yesterday President Obama recess-appointed Islam Siddiqui to be chief agricultural negotiator in the office of the U.S. trade representative. Dr. Siddiqui’s nomination was held up in the Senate and was opposed by the Center for Biological Diversity and more than 80 other environmental, small-farm, and consumer groups. More than 90,000 concerned citizens contacted the White House and Senate to oppose the nomination. Siddiqui is a former pesticide lobbyist and is currently vice president of science and regulatory affairs at CropLife America, a biotech and pesticide trade group that lobbies to weaken environmental laws.”Dr. Siddiqui’s confirmation is a step backward,” said Tierra Curry, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “His appointment ensures the perpetuation of pesticide- and fossil-fuel-intensive policies, which undermine global food security and imperil public health and wildlife.”

["Dr. Siddiqui's confirmation is a  step backward," said Tierra Curry, a scientist at the Center for  Biological Diversity. "His appointment ensures the perpetuation of  pesticide- and fossil-fuel-intensive policies, which undermine global  food security and imperil public health and wildlife." (photo by  flickr user benketaro)]“Dr. Siddiqui’s confirmation is a step backward,” said Tierra Curry, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “His appointment ensures the perpetuation of pesticide- and fossil-fuel-intensive policies, which undermine global food security and imperil public health and wildlife.” (photo by flickr user benketaro)

As undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Siddiqui oversaw the development of the first national organic labeling standards, which allowed sewage sludge-fertilized, genetically modified, and irradiated food to be labeled as organic before public outcry forced more stringent standards. Siddiqui has derided the European Union’s ban on hormone-treated beef and has vowed to pressure the European Union to accept more genetically modified crops.CropLife America, formerly known as the National Agricultural Chemicals Association, lobbies to weaken the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, claiming that pesticides are not pollutants because of their intended beneficial effect and that pesticides positively impact endangered species. The group has lobbied to allow pesticides to be tested on children and to allow the continued use of persistent organic pollutants and ozone-depleting chemicals. It also launched a petition asking Michelle Obama to use pesticides in the organic White House garden and fought county initiatives in California banning genetically modified foods.

© 2010 Center for Biological Diversity

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March 29, 2010 at 10:14 am

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Obamacare’s Passage: A Full-Scale Retreat

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Dissident Voice: a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice

Obamacare’s Passage: A Full-Scale Retreat

by Stephen Lendman / March 26th, 2010

After eight years under George Bush, people demanded change. Obama and congressional Democrats promised it, then disappointed by accomplishing the impossible — governing worse than skeptics feared, worse than Republicans across the board on both domestic and foreign policies.

They looted the nation’s wealth, wrecked the economy, consigned millions to impoverishment without jobs, homes, savings, social services, or futures while expanding global militarism through imperial wars, occupations, and stepped up aggression on new fronts with the largest ever “war” budget in history — way over $1 trillion dollars annually plus supplementals and secret add-ons, greater than the rest of the world combined when America has no enemies.

Now the latest. March 21 will be remembered as a day of infamy, the day House Democrat leaders bullied, bribed, cajoled, muscled, and jerry-rigged Obamacare to pass, despite most Americans opposing it with good reason.

HR 4872: Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010 passed on March 21: 219-212. Along with the October 8, 2009-passed HR 3590: Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the Senate-passed bill, December 24, 2009), Obama’s signature made “health reform” law. House-Senate HR 4872 reconciliation follows that may or may not resolve all fixes. No matter. Legislation, signed March 23, is the law of the land unless the Supreme Court declares it unconstitutional – a process called “judicial review.”

Briefly, it works like this. The High Court doesn’t review federal legislation unless challenged in district court and reaches the appellate level. However, if a clear constitutional violation exists, it may bypass the appellate process and accept a case directly. If it rules the law unconstitutional, it’s nullified, and all actions under it may be reversed, but it doesn’t happen often, easily, or quickly, especially against federal laws.

Also, the High Court may defer a challenge hearing until major provisions take effect — in this case 2014 under a new Congress, and perhaps new president, Court, and political climate.

In the end, it could come down to federal power v. states rights or corporate v. peoples’ rights under the Constitution’s “general welfare” clause – Article I, Section 8 stating:

“The Congress shall have power to… provide for (the) general welfare of the United States” that arguably should mean (but never did) “We the People,” the Preamble’s opening words.

Reality, however, reveals an unfair match-up. Money nearly always trumps people, so why should this time be different, especially given the hundreds of billions of future profits at stake. Little wonder Indian author Arundhati Roy (and others) call democracy “the biggest scam in the world” — for sure the way her country and America practice it.

Also remember — the Supreme Court’s (“headnotes” included) Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad decision granted corporations personhood, giving them the same rights as people but not the obligations. Those unrestricted powers let them subvert the “general welfare” to where one day its last vestige will be gone.

Former high-level Washington/Wall Street insider Catherine Austin Fitts calls the process “Slow Burn,” like boiling a frog that doesn’t know it’s dinner until done. We’re dinner.

Pro and Con Media Responses

Since its 19th century inception, the Nation magazine turned reality on its head. It was once unapologetic about slavery, then later didn’t support minority, labor, or women’s rights. It championed 19th century laissez fare, attacked the Grangers, Populists, trade unions and socialists. In 1999, it called the US/NATO Serbia-Kosovo aggression “humanitarian intervention.”

After 9/11, it backed the official explanation despite convincing evidence debunking it. Initially, it supported the Afghan and Iraq wars, claimed “no evidence” America’s 2004 presidential election was stolen, and in January 2006, ran an offensive full-page anti-Muslim ad titled “Arabian Fables,” claiming Palestinians are prone to violence and deceptions. Two months later, it said Haiti’s Jean-Bertrand Aristide was “feared and despised,” then blamed Haitians for their own misery.

Its biased editorials and articles support Democrats, suppress disturbing truths about them, and call business as usual “progressive.” Unsurprisingly, they backed Obamacare from inception, editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel now calling America “a stronger nation for it.”

The Nation’s John Nichols hailed “A Historic Vote for Health-Care Reform,” said Speaker Pelosi “earned a place among the chamber’s greatest leaders,” quoted Majority Whip James Clyburn claiming “the Civil Rights (triumph) of the 21st century,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer saying the new law “will stand the test of time,” and compared Obama’s struggle to Franklin Roosevelt’s for Social Security — an offensive rationalization comparing genuine universal reform to colossal fraud care rationing for the vast majority of Americans losing out under a hugely destructive measure.

In contrast, Wall Street Journal writer Kimberly Strassel’s “Inside the Pelosi Sausage Factory” article was accurate, showing the Journal at times is right.

“You could see it coming a week ago,” she said. Then it happened on live TV when:

“Never before has the average American been treated to such a live-action view of the sordid politics necessary to push a deeply flawed bill to completion. It was dirty deals, open threats, broken promises and disregard for democracy that pulled ObamaCare to this point, and (Sunday) the same machinations pushed it across the finish line….The final days (to passage) were a simple death watch, to see how the votes would be bought, bribed or bullied, and how many congressional rules gamed, to get the win.”

A handout here, a threat there, a warning that voting no means “unions and other Democrats would run them out of Congress…. By the weekend, all the pressure and threats and bribes had left the speaker three to five votes short…. The solution?” A “meaningless” presidential Executive Order affirming no federal funding for abortion, though signing it doesn’t change Senate language allowing it through a separate premium besides Medicaid already covering it.

No matter, it got the House bill passed the old-fashioned way — by forcing a majority to ram it through, or as Strassel said: making the “process of passing as politically toxic as the bill itself.”

A March 21 New York Times editorial titled, “Health Care Reform, at Last” called the process:

wrenching, and tainted to the 11th hour by narrow political obstructionism, but the year-long struggle over health care reform (finally ended) with a triumph for countless Americans who have been victimized or neglected by their dysfunctional health care system.

From inception, the Times backed the bill, calling it needed progressive reform — no matter its full-scale retreat to ration care, enrich corporate providers, and deliver what Ralph Nader calls a “pay-or-die system that is the disgrace of the Western world.”

At a spring 2009 fundraiser, Obama quoted entertainer Al Jolson’s famous line: “You ain’t seen nothing yet,” and he was right, but who, among his faithful, could have imagined that promise’s destructiveness or fully comprehend it now.

Cynically, however, the Times argued that:

Over time (health care) reforms could bring about sweeping changes the way medical care is delivered and paid for. They could ultimately rival Social Security and Medicare in historic importance.

In a March 20 article titled, “The Death of American Populism,” this writer argued otherwise, saying what the 1913 Federal Reserve Act did for bankers, Obamacare may do for insurance and drug cartel predators controlling one-sixth of the economy. They’ll more than ever game by system by:

  • making it more dysfunctional;
  • selling “junk insurance policies” leaving millions underinsured;
  • keeping premiums unaffordable for full coverage;
  • adding high deductibles and co-pays for less coverage;
  • denying care by delaying, contesting, or preventing people from accessing it;
  • letting pharmaceutical companies provide toxic drugs at unaffordable prices, and avoid generic competition on new products by lengthy patent protection periods;
  • assuring providers more customers and higher profits by requiring individuals and families buy insurance or be penalized; and
  • by 2018, imposing an excise tax on so-called “Cadillac” plans to cut corporate costs, make workers pay more, and force many to settle for less and be underinsured.

The Times endorsed Obamacare as a triumph for “hard-working Americans,” never mind the popping champagne corks in corporate board rooms celebrating their gain at the expense of most people losing out to an extent they’ll only discover in the fullness of time when it’s too late to matter.

The Times has a long, sordid record of supporting the powerful, backing corporate interests, endorsing imperial wars, ignoring criminal fraud, championing sham election results, and being comfortable with unmet human needs, increasing poverty, hunger, homelessness, and deep despair for growing millions in a country run by corrupt politicians who don’t give a damn as long as they’re reelected, and corporate fraudsters who prey on the most vulnerable, and profit most by charging more, delivering less, and producing shoddy products.

Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP): Advocates for Universal Coverage

With 17,000 members nationwide, PNHP is an independent, non-partisan, voluntary “physician organization in the United States dedicated exclusively to implementing a single-payer national health program.”

Its March 22 press release expressed dismay with the new law saying it “take(s) no comfort in seeing aspirin dispensed for the treatment of cancer.”

Instead of fixing the “the profit-driven, private health insurance industry… this costly new legislation will enrich and further entrench (it by forcing) millions of Americans to buy” defective coverage leaving them worse off than before at a cost of hundreds of billions of tax dollars given predators to game the system for even more.

PNHP’s listed problems include:

– besides millions underinsured, nine years out, 23 million Americans will be uninsured, “translate(d) into an estimated 23,000 unnecessary deaths annually and an incalculable toll of suffering;”

– millions will be forced to buy insurance “costing up to 9.5 percent of their income but covering” only 70% of their expenses, leaving them one serious health emergency away from bankruptcy and loss of their homes;

– for most, good policies will be unaffordable or “too expensive to use because of the high co-pays and deductibles;”

– Insurers will get around $450 billion in public money “to subsidize (buying) their shoddy products,” and be more than ever emboldened to block future reform;

– safety-net hospitals will lose billions in Medicare and Medicaid payments, threatening tens of millions of under and uninsured;

– workers with employer-based coverage will face higher costs, fewer benefits, and restrictions on selecting providers; most will be hamstrung with future stiff costs because of unrestricted premium hikes, higher deductibles and co-pays;

– costs will keep rising exponentially because Obamacare doesn’t contain them;

– so-called new regulations (like ending pre-existing condition denials) are riddled with loopholes, ambiguities, and legal interpretations to let insurers manipulate them advantageously; and

– “women’s reproductive rights will be further eroded, thanks to the burdensome segregation of insurance funds for abortion and all other medical services.”

As a result, the Obama administration and congressional Democrats scammed the public with a package of expensive mandates, new taxes, sweetheart deals, and “a perpetuation of the fragmented, dysfunctional, and unsustainable system that is taking such a heavy toll on our health and economy today.”

Obamacare may or may not be good politics, but for most Americans it’s disastrous health policy in lieu of simple, effective, affordable solutions — universal single-payer coverage. Everyone in. Nobody out except predatory insurers gaming the system for big profits, declining benefits, and unaffordability for growing millions.

Major bill components won’t kick in until 2014, meaning 180,000 Americans will die in the next four years and hundreds of thousands more won’t have expensive injuries and illnesses treated. PNHP calls these stakes unacceptable in “pledg(ing) to continue (their) work for the only equitable, financially responsible and humane remedy for our health care mess:” universal coverage, “an expanded and improved Medicare for All.” What members of Congress get, you get. Nothing less provided we fight for it until it’s gotten. It’ll come no other way.

It’s Over but not Entirely: State Government Challenges Over Mandated Coverage

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 or more states may pass anti-mandate laws, 33 have introduced bills, and Idaho’s CL “Butch” Otter became the first Governor to sign one into law. The Virginia House and Senate passed its own, expected to become law shortly. In Arizona, a proposed constitutional amendment will seek voter approval in November.

In addition, on March 23, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s press release said Idaho “has joined a multi-state lawsuit” against the Department of Health and Human Services, Treasury Department, and Department of Labor, “challenging the constitutionality of” new health care legislation, stating:

Our complaint alleges the new law infringes upon the constitutional rights of Idahoans and residents of the other states by mandating all citizens and legal residents have qualifying health care coverage or pay a tax penalty. The law exceeds the powers of the United States under Article I of the Constitution and violates the Tenth Amendment … Additionally, the tax penalty required under the law constitutes an unlawful direct tax in violation of Article 1, sections 2 and 9 of the Constitution.

The press release also says Obamacare infringes on state sovereignty by imposing onerous unfunded mandates at a time most states face severe budget shortfalls, can’t handle their current obligations, so they’re cutting them.

Joining the lawsuits are the Attorney Generals of South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington, Florida, and South Dakota. Virginia Attorney General, Kenneth Cuccinelli, plans a separate suit in Richmond federal court, stating:

The Constitution’s Commerce Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3) doesn’t apply because:

If a person decides not to buy health insurance, that person by definition is not engaging in commerce. If you are not engaging in commerce, how can the federal government regulate you?

Indiana’s Senator Richard Lugar asked his Attorney General to file suit, and other states have pledged to do so. Opponents raise serious concerns over the fundamental “do no harm” patient safety rule. For American Health Care

Single-payer national health insurance will save our economy, prevent medical bankruptcy and above all, save lives. Medicare for All is the Right Prescription for America. We need National Health Insurance. Anything else is just voodoo.

Anything less dumps millions of Americans in the trash heap of unaffordable care, poor care, or no care, one serious health emergency away from bankruptcy, home loss, or life threatening catastrophe. That’s the reality Obamacare delivered.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. Contact him at: Also visit his blog site and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM-1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening. Read other articles by Stephen.

This article was posted on Friday, March 26th, 2010 at 9:00am and is filed under Corruption, Democracy, Democrats, Disinformation, General, Health/Medical, Media, Obama

Written by bearmarketnews

March 26, 2010 at 9:39 pm

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Supporting Obama to BE the Obama You Voted For — Not the Inside-the-Beltway Pragmatist and Political Realist

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Has President Obama Abandoned You and His Own Vision of the Caring Society? Email  Article To a Friend View  Printable Version

On June 22, President Obama announced to senators the  pharmaceutical industry's promise to cut $80 billion in drug costs to  Medicare over a ten-year period. On August 7, it was revealed that in  exchange Obama had agreed to oppose congressional plans to seek  reductions in other drug costs, ensuring that the massive profits to  pharmaceutical companies and rising costs to Americans needing  prescription drugs would not be restrained by the health care plan he  would sign. Pragmatic manipulations have disempowered his supporters and  decreased Obama's popularity.

On June 22, President Obama announced to senators the pharmaceutical industry’s promise to cut $80 billion in drug costs to Medicare over a ten-year period. On August 7, it was revealed that in exchange Obama had agreed to oppose congressional plans to seek reductions in other drug costs, ensuring that the massive profits to pharmaceutical companies and rising costs to Americans needing prescription drugs would not be restrained by the health care plan he would sign. Pragmatic manipulations have disempowered his supporters and decreased Obama’s popularity.

Supporting Obama to BE the Obama You Voted For — Not the Inside-the-Beltway Pragmatist and Political Realist Whose Popularity is Steadily Declining

// Editorial by Rabbi Michael Lerner

My response to the question “Has Obama abandoned us?” is really “NO, the problem is that we have abandoned him by being too passive and expecting him to be who we want him to be without having created an ongoing movement that can push and support him in that direction.”

Implicit in most of Obama’s campaign talks about “change,” “sweeping out the power of the lobbyists and special interests from Washington, D.C.,” and “YES, WE CAN” (and a major factor in most people’s support for him) was his vision of a new way of being together: an alternative to the selfishness, materialism, and militarism that had led to a disastrous war in Iraq and the meltdown of the global economy. It was a vision of what we at Tikkun will label “the Caring Society.” Americans truly hunger for a world in which their lives have a higher meaning and purpose than accumulating money or power. If they thought it possible, they would gladly embrace a world based on love, generosity, peace, and social justice — a world in which people feel a strong responsibility to take care of each other. It is our task now to give President Obama the push he needs to feel that he can carry through and make the Caring Society vision that won him the presidency into a reality that guides his administration at every level. This editorial is in part our contribution to helping generate the kind of movement that could really support him.

I cannot remember a president who has inspired us spiritual progressives more than Barack Obama. (Check out our Core Vision at or our Spiritual Covenant with America at to see what we mean when we say we are spiritual progressives. Hint: you can be an atheist and still be a spiritual progressive.) We want to do everything we can to support Obama to have a successful presidency. Sure, we would be cautious anyway to critique the first elected African American president, because we are well aware of the racism that he continues to have to fight. And we’re doubly cautious because we see the absolute intransigence of the Republicans in Congress who seem oblivious to any form of rational discourse apart from a determination to make sure that Obama’s programs fail. And America’s elites are using their control of the media, the “influence” they’ve gathered through donations to candidates (in other countries they call these bribes), and their powerful array of lobbyists and think tanks to do all they can to stop any progressive aspect of legislation on health care, the environment, or economic recovery. Given all this, the last thing we wish to do is help sabotage the president.

And yet, we’ve seen President Obama take steps that we believe are sabotaging himself and undermining the huge public enthusiasm with which he started his presidency. We’ve seen him support policies that are likely to fail or that go against the spirit and sometimes even the substance of what he promised to stand for when elected.

He failed to embrace a single-payer health plan or to fight effectively for the ideas behind a public option for health care reform (see my editorial from the July/August 2009 issue, which you can read at, and as a result we are likely to see enacted a very watered-down health care plan that will not provide health care for everyone and that will protect insurance companies’ profits and hence require additional financial burdens on the rest of us. He embraced a deal with the pharmaceutical companies to not use health care reform to push for dramatically lower prices for drugs beyond those agreed to by the drug companies. He supported a cap-and-trade bill even after it had become so laden with giveaways to polluters that environmental groups such as Greenpeace concluded that our planet would be better off were it totally defeated. In these critical bills, he has embraced an approach articulated by his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel that in effect says, “get something passed through Congress, even if the substance of what is passed is arguably a step in the wrong direction.”

Obama was most popular when people thought he stood for a whole new kind of politics and would fight for that in Washington, D.C. He has lost popularity by following the advice of the Rahm Emanuel types and the inside-the-Beltway pundits and power brokers, who have convinced him that it is smart to be seen as a non-ideological pragmatist and centrist. Nobody seems to have warned him that he would face just as much opposition to severely compromised and intellectually incoherent health care bills like the ones that have emerged from the House and Senate as he would to a bill backing a single-payer plan, or that his plans would be labeled “socialized medicine” even when they are not as coherent or likely to be effective as the real versions of socialized medicine that work well in France, Israel, and many other countries.

He has faced just as fierce opposition from the banks for watered-down regulations as he would have faced had he done the more sensible thing: create and fund a national bank (to give interest-free loans for mortgages to expand home-ownership, to support small businesses, to finance college educations, and to promote other socially useful and/or community-enhancing projects). He should have allowed the “free market” to determine the fate of the banks. Instead he used our tax monies to provide them with interest-free trillions. These are the very banks that now oppose “government interference” — except when it’s interference to help them make huge multibillion-dollar profits such as those announced by Goldman Sachs investment brokers for the second quarter of 2009.

The sad truth is that he has left the little guys — the unemployed, the people whose mortgage loan rates increased to the point where they couldn’t afford them anymore, the people who listened to Bush’s calls for consumer spending and hence ran up credit card debt, and the homeless or the soon to be homeless — to fend for themselves in the capitalist marketplace. But the big guys were deemed “too big to fail,” so our tax monies got used to support them!

How did this happen? Was he lying to us in the way he presented himself in the 2008 elections? I don’t think so. Rather, we need to understand the conflict that rages inside him, because it is so completely understandable and completely like the conflicts that rage inside most of us. Barack Obama, like everyone else (including every one of us) has always had two contending voices inside himself: the one that truly wants a world of love, generosity, nonviolence, environmental sanity, and kindness, and the voice that tells him that this is impossible to achieve right now, so he must be “realistic.” This second voice warns him merely to fight for a kinder and gentler version of the current organization of our society, with its slavish subordination to the interests of the elites of wealth and power.

Obama won the Democratic nomination because he became one of the best articulators of the notion of a caring community, or what we have sometimes called a politics of meaning or a spiritual politics. But in the general election he resorted more to the voice of fear that told him he couldn’t win unless he reassured the elites of power that he wasn’t really going to change things that much and that he’d be loyal to the major assumptions that have dominated American politics in both parties, namely that the interests of the powerful are really in the best interests of everyone else. It was to that voice that Goldman Sachs and other investment firms’ and large banking interests’ executives resonated and donated.

The problem, of course, is that the old assumptions had brought America to the brink of self-destruction — and it was precisely for that reason that people were ready to have a Black man who talked about “change” and said “yes, we can” as president. But these same people, the American majority, have both voices in our heads, so it has not been hard for the American elites to win people back to the “no, you can’t” perspective that says, “forget about any major change, because everyone just cares about themselves, and so you really can’t expect any major changes now.” It would only be possible to stay attuned to our most hopeful part, the part that showed up in polls that indicated that 70 percent of Americans would be willing to pay higher taxes to ensure that all Americans are ensured adequate health care coverage, if the president were using his position to unequivocally rally our most hopeful selves.

Unfortunately, Obama is not giving out that message. Surrounded by inside-the-Beltway pragmatists and political realists, Obama has not been the champion of a new way of thinking since he took office, but instead has supported a “gentler” version of the old reality, hoping that he might be able to accomplish some real change if he “works within the system” the way it is.

People who momentarily thought something fundamentally different was possible — and in that context were willing to pay higher taxes — become increasingly disillusioned each time Obama takes that stance. The more pragmatic he becomes, the more his supporters begin to think that we are right back in the world in which self-interest rather than idealism is dominating our leaders’ logic, and therefore conclude that they themselves had better attend to their self-interests, lest they humiliate themselves by appearing to be “idealistic” and “utopian” at a time when the very person who inspired them to hope is doing his best to show how very interested he is in being perceived as pragmatic and “realistic.” And when that happens, then people ask themselves not “would we as a society be better off with a health care system that cares for everyone?” but rather “how will this new plan affect me personally, will it increase my costs or my taxes?”

The media make it seem that self-interest is all that anybody ever cares about, leading those who responded to the Obama vision of the Caring Society to feel foolish and even humiliated that they ever “fell for” the notion that things could be radically different. And then, as Obama’s popularity slips, the media rushes in to interpret that not as a sign that his pragmatism is not working, and that he should return to what made him so popular in 2008, but rather as proof that the American people are far more conservative than he thought so he needs to adjust his policies accordingly.

So it’s time for friends of Obama to tell him and his Democratic Party collaborators in the Congress that their strategy is like the emperor with no clothes. The pragmatic-realist strategy has been failing. It will continue to fail for two major reasons:

1. The global system of capitalism is in meltdown, and minor reforms cannot solve the problem. We can’t go back to the old assumptions that if people just have enough money to consume and consume and consume, everything will work fine — because that approach has led to a destruction of the environment that is bordering on catastrophic. And we can’t simply revive the capitalist marketplace, because that system is based on an ideology of selfishness and me-first-ism that at its worst erupts in the greedy deregulation that caused the 2008-2009 financial meltdown, but at its most efficient destroys our ecosystem even faster; undermines solidarity among workers (and hence makes it easier for the wealthy to increase their wealth at the expense of everyone else); and weakens our ability to achieve rational reform of our economy, our educational system, our health care system, and our legal system. Moreover, that same ethos of selfishness and materialism is at the root of the breakdown of human solidarity and caring in personal life — a breakdown which then produces a crisis in family life and an epidemic of loneliness and sense of alienation. This isolation makes people so desperate that they will grab onto anything that seems to offer stability and connection — even if it comes in the form of ultra-nationalistic militarism or right-wing religious fundamentalism.

2. Without the inspiration of believing that something really new can happen, many Obama supporters begin to doubt their own idealism and withdraw their energies from politics, saying to themselves, “OK, maybe I was too idealistic, so I’ll let Obama try it his way, and good luck to him.” And with that withdrawal, Obama lacks the only weapon he could possibly have to counter the power of the corporations, the insurance companies, the coal and energy companies, the big agro-business interests, the pharmaceuticals, the banks, and the investment firms: namely, a mobilized electorate committed to fighting for a different kind of reality. Without that, he has no way to resist the forces that push even his Democratic Congress to whittle away at the kinder and gentler reforms he wants to get through the Congress, until those reforms are barely worth fighting for. With his own base thus disempowered through his abandonment of the visionary aspects of his 2008 campaign, Congress gets to hear the voices mobilized by the Right even more than the voices of the majority that was originally inspired by Obama’s hopeful message.

There’s only one way to change this: to build a powerful movement that can give strength to the other voice that remains in Obama as it remains in most Americans — the voice that truly wants the Caring Society. It’s clear Obama is not going to go there without such a movement. Obama needs your support, and that’s what we at Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives are trying to offer. It’s not the support of saying, “Right on, Obama, what you are doing is just what you should be doing.” No. Obama needs a different kind of support from us: support to articulate a coherent worldview and then to fight for it.

But please note that we at Tikkun don’t advocate making the worldview challenge in terms of rich vs. poor, a language that feels tired and boring to many, but instead in terms of love, responsibility to each other, caring for others, generosity, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation. We set these ideals against the dominant ethos of me-first-ism, individualism, selfishness, and materialism. These are terms that speak across traditional Left-Right divides and potentially offer the most effective challenge to the dominant ideology.

Obama needs to go back to those who support him, visiting 100 major cities in the next hundred days of his presidency, to deliver the following message:


1. This is a moment in history when we must make the United States into what the American people have always fought to create here — the Caring Society.

When Americans spread out across the frontier and built their homes and barns, they didn’t do it as “rugged individualists” — they rightly valued their individual liberty, as do we today, but they also knew that they couldn’t do it alone. They knew they could count on people stopping their own work and coming from far and near to help them build a home, barn, or fence. America was possible because its people shared a real sense of caring for each other, even caring for strangers.

It’s only in the last thirty years that this kind of caring, which led Americans to sacrifice their lives to free Europe from the grip of Nazism in the 1940s, has been so thoroughly replaced by selfishness, a self-indulgent materialism, and the ethos of me-first-ism that is at the root of the global economic meltdown. As a result family ties have weakened, and the values so clearly articulated in the Bible — which calls upon us to not only “love our neighbor as ourselves” but also to “love the stranger, the Other” — have been undermined.

We need to get back to this fundamental value of caring for each other. America needs a New Bottom Line so that corporations, government policies, social institutions, and even personal behavior are judged rational, productive, or efficient not only to the extent that they maximize money and power (the Old Bottom Line), but also to the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, and ethical and ecological sensitivity, as well as enhance our capacity to go beyond a utilitarian approach to nature so that we can respond with awe, wonder, and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of the universe.

In the twenty-first century, the goal of American policy must be to foster a new sense of responsibility for each other, an ethos of caring, and a commitment to building community to replace the materialism and selfishness that brought on the “Republican Depression,” from which we will struggle to recover for many years. But economic recovery cannot be achieved if we do not fundamentally change our bottom line in America and reject the values that have become so pervasive that they have corrupted our economic system, our corporations, our educational institutions, our media, and almost every other aspect of our society.

Our present-day materialism and selfishness stand in stark contrast to the sense of community that our country was built upon. Our sense of community was what enabled us to recover from the Great Depression; to claim victory in World War II; and to engender the cooperation among scientists that has led to important advances in technology, allowed for our exploration of space, and helped make us a center of creativity in the digital age. That sense of community and responsibility for each other has deep roots in our religious traditions, in the wisdom of humanists and ethicists, and in our sense of awe and wonder at the mystery and grandeur of the universe. It is to these traditional American and universal values that we must now return, and it is in their name that we must rebuild our society and our economy.

The time for the extremes of individualism and materialism is long past — it is only through this New Bottom Line and this responsibility for each other that America can flourish in the twenty-first century. The responsibility to care for each other is the core value that I, President Obama, will help bring back into the center of American life — but I need your help to do that, and I need you to make clear to your elected representatives that you expect them to stop listening to corporate lobbyists and start listening to the Americans on all sides of the political spectrum who actually want the Caring Society that we can build together.

2. The United States and other G-8 countries need a new approach to foreign policy based on the recognition that in the twenty-first century, our well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet, and hence that a strategy of generosity should replace the strategy of domination (such as by launching a domestic and global Marshall Plan to dedicate between 1 percent and 2 percent of our Gross Domestic Product each year for the next twenty years to once and for all eliminate domestic and global poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, and inadequate health care, as well as repair the global environment).

3. We need a national bank that can provide interest-free loans to help individuals and small businesses, in accordance with the biblical mandate. Just as a powerful public option in our health care system would have the effect of driving down the cost of health care (because more and more Americans would choose that option since it would provide care without handing huge profits to the insurance companies and health care profiteers), so too a national bank would provide competition for the bankers and force them to reduce their demand for obscene levels of profit. Bankers would soon have to lower the amount they charge us in interest rates for borrowing each other’s money.

4. We need to take immediate steps to put complete global nuclear disarmament on a fast track as a down payment on building global interdependence and demonstrating our seriousness about caring for others and the planet.

5. We need a complete change in global trade arrangements so that they no longer disadvantage poorer countries.

6. And we need to understand that our homeland security can only be achieved when we can isolate terrorists by showing how much the people of poorer countries are benefiting from our generosity (something that cannot be shown while we are occupying or bombing them). For that reason, we must shift our focus to rebuilding what we helped destroy in the economy of Iraq, and our strategy in Afghanistan must shift from its military focus to economic development in the course of the next three years, by which time we will have removed our forces from those countries completely, recognizing that we do not intend to be the policeman of the world but rather the source of generosity for the world. We will extend this generosity to socially responsible parties who serve the needs of the poor, not to authoritarian regimes, rich money-grabbers, or money-wasters.

7. Underlying all this is a worldview that gives priority to love, generosity, and caring as the central values that must shape domestic and foreign policy. This is what the American people elected me to do, and from now on these will be the criteria I will use in the legislation I support, the appointments I make to positions in the administration, and the budgets I propose. And I will use whatever influence I have with the American people to elect representatives in both parties who share these values. And I do mean both parties — because I intend to support primary challenges not just to Republicans, but also to seated elected Democratic representatives who are unwilling to support budgets and legislation that advance these ideas. I will be calling on ordinary Americans to run for public office whenever their elected representatives (whether city council members or representatives in Congress) do not share and support the programs that can make America the Caring Society that we all need it to be.

I know from my personal encounters with Obama that he actually shares those values, but until he consistently articulates them as the basis for a new politics and uses them as the criteria by which he encourages others to judge his and all other social policies, he will increasingly find himself falling back on the dominant paradigms of the past.

I don’t pretend it’ll be easy for Obama to re-energize people and reconnect them to the most hopeful parts of themselves. He has already made so many disheartening compromises that it will take a very large commitment on his part to rekindle people’s most hopeful yearnings. Yet the part of us that really wants a world of kindness, generosity, caring, love, nonviolence, social justice, environmental sanity, joy, creativity, increasing consciousness and awareness, and celebration of the universe can never be fully extinguished — it is an essential part of what human beings are. It is always reachable, though sometimes it takes a great deal of effort to overcome the other voice in all of us: the voice of fear, the voice that believes that we are the only ones who want something as idealistic and utopian as the Caring Society.

I know that you can immediately access a whole bunch of reasons why this can’t or should not happen; why we should just hope that Obama knows more than we; or why we should just cheer Obama on because he will save us in the end. In the interests of space, I’ve decided to answer all those objections on our website rather than here — so please go to to read that discussion. There I’ll explain how to deal with the Blue Dog Democrats and the spinelessness of many of Obama’s congressional liberals, how to understand why the Republicans who lost the 2008 election act like they won it and have a mandate while the Democrats who won it act as though they lost it and have to compromise on their own values, and why it’s not utopian or unrealistic to push Obama to engage in a full-scale campaign for a new way of thinking in American politics.

What Can YOU Do?

  • Go to and become a dues-paying member of the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP). The NSP will lead the forces supporting Obama to move in this direction. To do that, we need your financial support.
  • Set up a meeting with your elected representatives to present this perspective. If you become a member of the NSP, we’ll help you make contact with other members of the NSP in your geographical vicinity and congressional district so that you can go to congressional meetings with others who share your views.
  • Register and come to our Washington, D.C., conference to “Support Obama to BE the Obama We Voted For” June 11-14, 2010, at the Church of the Reformation and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, both on Capitol Hill. Details will appear at and in future issues of this magazine.
  • Create a monthly discussion group around the ideas in this editorial on “How Best to Support Obama” — on your campus, in your church or synagogue or mosque, with your civic organization, or in your neighborhood. Use articles in this and future issues of Tikkun to help stimulate the discussion.

Volunteer or become an intern (unfortunately unpaid) at Tikkun‘s office in beautiful Berkeley, California, here in the culturally rich, politically alive San Francisco Bay Area! We welcome not only students and recent grads, but also people who are mid-career and want to take a break from their normal routine, as well as retirees of any age. If you are open to being an intern or volunteer in our Berkeley office, go to to learn more about the opportunities.

Written by bearmarketnews

March 26, 2010 at 9:08 pm

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Obama’s First Year: Who is Obama?

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Dissent UpFront

Obama’s First Year: Who is Obama?

Lillian Rubin

GRANTED WE projected our fantasies onto him. But it wasn’t just that we deluded ourselves; it was more like a tango, a seductive dance in which we both played a part. We needed to believe, he needed believers. We were a perfect match: our hunger and his promise. After eight years of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Yoo, and the rest, he was like the coming of spring after a treacherous winter—the embodiment of a new era, a new politics, a sense of redemption and renewal. His name was Barack Hussein Obama, and he was the perfect vessel into which to deposit our progressive hopes: a slim, graceful, fiercely intelligent, handsome black man with an easy manner, funny ears, and a gorgeous smile. We fell in love.

That I can even talk about falling in love with a politician sounds ridiculous coming from an old political hand like me—a woman who decades ago (another life, it seems) managed congressional campaigns and saw firsthand how easily politics corrupts. But that was Barack Obama’s genius; he made us forget what we knew. I’m reminded of a book by Julian Barnes, a meditation on life and death, whose opening line is, “I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.” Barack Obama filled the void; he gave us something to believe in. So my heart ruled, even when my brain stirred uncomfortably.

My brain poked me from time to time as we moved through the long campaign and the first months of his presidency. Didn’t he say unequivocally, “Let there be no doubt, I will end this war…and get all of our combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months?” How did that certainty get transformed into the hazy, “In 16 months, we should be able to reduce our combat troops?” He told us he was open to all ideas, yet the advocates for single-payer universal health care were excluded from the table. Timothy Geithner, the Goldman Sachs alumnus, as Secretary of the Treasury! That’s quite a reward for sitting at the head of the New York Fed for five years while the excesses of Wall Street devastated the economy.

Then there’s same-sex marriage. I get it; Obama won’t spend political capital on a fight with Congress to legalize same-sex marriage. But the pen he promised to use to end “Don’t ask, don’t tell” remains capped on his desk. And how do you explain his failure to stand by the assault weapon ban? Does he really believe the Second Amendment gives us the right to carry weapons that can murder dozens of people with a single pull of the trigger? What will he give away next in his quest for a consensus the Republicans are determined not to give him? Okay, okay, I hear you, and I even agree, said my heart. But enough! This is what it means to govern; you have to pick your fights, find the compromise without giving away the principle. Be patient, give him a chance; you’ll see.

SEE WHAT? I never really had an answer. Was I naïve enough to believe that it was only a matter of finding the right time before he’d step up to the change he promised? Perhaps not naïve but hungry enough to believe a full table awaited me. Now, one year into the Obama presidency, I’ve run out of excuses, speculations, and pseudo-explanations. Sure, I can still be moved momentarily by his soaring rhetoric and the subtlety of his mind, but the balance between heart and brain has shifted. I want deeds, not words; I want to hear the whole symphony, not just the melody.

Don’t get me wrong: I know that Barack Obama’s worst is a lot better than George Bush’s best. But I’m like the woman who, when the flames of passion no longer glow so brightly, suddenly notices that the guy she thought was perfect leaves his dirty underwear on the floor and that his most often-used words are I and me. And like her, I find myself asking: What was I thinking? What happened since those days of transformative dreams and inspirational words that spoke of remaking the nation?

It’s easy to say that “the hope and hubris have given way to the daily grind of governance,” as an article in the New York Times put it recently. Or as Anna Quindlen wrote in Newsweek, “This president promised to tackle the big stuff, swiftly, decisively, and in a fashion about which he was unequivocal…For those who yearned for a progressive agenda that would change the playing field for the disenfranchised, he promised to do good. So far he has mainly done government, which overlaps with good too little in the Venn diagram of American public policy.” But talking about the difficulty and complexity of governing in our fractious democracy without attention to the governor misses a vital piece of the story.

Or does it? My divided self surfaces again, this time between the two disciplines to which I owe allegiance: sociology and psychology. My sociological self argues that you can’t leave the social system out of the man. But the psychologist in me, ever wary of a sociology that doesn’t allow for human agency, insists that you can’t leave the man out of the social system. Which leads me to the conviction that if we’re going to talk about the way Obama governs, we have to look back at the social and personal history that formed him: a history that’s unique among American presidents.

TRUE, THE sociologist in me argues, but this also is a unique historical moment. The social, economic and political forces arrayed against Obama are formidable: there is the worst economic debacle since the Great Depression; a Republican opposition that’s little more than a collection of naysayers who live in fear of their right flank and have made the words “moderate Republican” into an oxymoron; a real unemployment rate—not just what the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports—that’s over 17 percent; a left that’s fractious and conflicted while the right is organized, noisy, and determined; a voracious media whose ever-shorter news cycles need constant feeding so that by now there’s virtually no distinction between the trivial and the momentous, between reality and fantasy, between news and entertainment.

Yes, the psychologist replies, that’s all true. But you forgot to mention that Obama is black. I know we’re not supposed to talk about race; Obama himself would prefer to leave it out of the conversation. But how can we when, whether in support or opposition, so much of the attention to his candidacy rose from that fact? Yes, he’s smart; yes, he can give a great speech; yes, he’s a refreshing change from the past. But he also represents a historic—and for many a frightening—shift in the nation we knew.

How can we leave race out when, early in his run for the presidency, he was too black for whites and too white for blacks; when the threats against his life spiraled upward as it became evident that he was a serious candidate (and continue into his presidency); and when significant numbers of Americans believe Obama is an illegal alien who has no right to be president? “They have taken over the nation,” they cry repeatedly at the anti-Obama rallies that swept the country last summer. “We’re here to take our country back.” Extreme views to be sure, but does anyone really believe that the women and men we saw on our television screens then are alone among Americans who take note of the color of his skin and who respond, for good or ill, to all the social, personal, and historical meanings attached to that single fact?

In Families on the Fault Line, published in 1994, I wrote a chapter titled “Is This a White Country—or What?”—a direct quote from several of the white people I spoke with when I was doing the research for the book. Now the fear that haunted them has come true: California, Texas, and New Mexico are no longer white country, others are not far behind, and Barack Hussein Obama is President of the United States.

Yes, I know that their anger is born out of the social, cultural, and class realities of their lives, and I’ve written about this repeatedly over the last four decades. But I know also that this is a place where sociology and psychology come together: the nexus where race plays itself out in the American culture and consciousness; where we internalize the socially defined status hierarchy that comes with racial definition; where those definitions—and the rules, norms, beliefs, and attitudes that flow from them—come to be embedded in each of us. For Barack Obama, whose life experience has been so profoundly influenced by the conflicts of race, it has been a central organizing feature of his consciousness.

By now everyone knows his story. It’s interesting, heartwarming, even exotic, but we don’t talk much about its deeper meanings—about how it marked him and how it influences the way he governs. Born to a white American mother and a black Kenyan father (who left the family when Obama was two years old), he was raised white but looked black—a child of two worlds who belonged to neither, an adolescent who, he writes in his memoir Dreams from My Father, “was engaged in a fitful interior struggle. I was trying to raise myself to be a black man in America, and beyond the given of my appearance, no one around me seemed to know exactly what that meant.”

Except for a few early years in Jakarta, Indonesia, where he wasn’t likely to encounter a black face, Obama was raised largely by his white grandparents in Honolulu, Hawaii, where the black population in 1960 was a scant 0.8 percent. By the time he was nine years old, his racial consciousness—his otherness—exploded in his face when he came across a photograph in Life magazine of a black man who tried to peel off his skin: an image that, he writes, “permanently altered” his vision of himself and the world. “That one photograph told me that there was a hidden enemy out there, one that could reach me without anyone’s knowledge, not even my own.” Suddenly he noticed what he hadn’t seen before: “Cosby never got the girl in I Spy, the black man on Mission Impossible spent all his time underground, there was nobody like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas Catalog.”

Nor was anyone like him at his school in Honolulu. He was a sophomore in high school before another black boy, Ray—the son of a military family transferred from Los Angeles to a base nearby—entered the school. Although Ray was two years older and a senior, Obama recalls, “We fell into an easy friendship due in no small part to the fact that together we made up almost half the black high-school population.” Ray, a savvy urban kid, introduced Obama to elements of black culture about which he knew little, telling him tall tales and true stories about what it was to grow up black in a big city on the mainland, talking about the racial slights and slurs of his experience—all with anger, a shrug, and an explanation: “That’s just how white folks will do you.”

For Obama it was a revelation but not one he could embrace comfortably. “White folks,” he writes, “itself was uncomfortable in my mouth; I felt like a non-native speaker tripping over a difficult phrase.” Not that he didn’t have his own experience with being called “a coon” by a classmate, with a woman in his apartment building who was so frightened by his presence in the elevator she called the janitor to report a stalker, and with a tennis coach who told him not to touch the printed match schedule because his “color might rub off.” But how could he generalize about the cruelty of white folks when the blood of his white kin coursed through his veins and when the closest and most loved people in his life were white?

But somewhere inside he knew what he didn’t really want to know. For by then he understood that his grandparents, transplants from Wichita, Kansas, lived with typical white American stereotypes about black men as the alien, frightening other. Reflecting on this painful knowledge, he writes, “They sacrificed again and again for me. They had poured all their lingering hopes into my success. Never had they given me reason to doubt their love…And yet I knew that men who might easily have been my brothers could still in-spire their rawest fears.”

Whether in the family or outside it, Obama’s difference created a space that lay unoccupied between them. Outwardly he learned how to get along, to behave in ways that brought him recognition and acceptance; inside he lived on the margins of both the black world and the white one. His strange-sounding name morphed from Barack to Barry as he sought to find common ground with those around him. But a name is more than just a name; it identifies us, tells us who we are, where we belong. It’s not easy for anyone to own a new name. But for Obama, embracing the Barry who replaced Barack was made more difficult by his emerging identity struggles and the reality that nothing could replace the color of skin.

VERY INTERESTING, the sociologist says, but what does all that have to do with the mess he inherited and the politics of the world in which he has to govern? You know as well as I do that it’s the context that counts.

Yes, that’s true, the psychologist replies, and that’s what I’m trying to do—to put his life experience into context. Can you at least grant that the external social world Obama now has to manage is as divided as his internal psychological world has always been—and that this has made a difference in how he navigates the tumultuous waters that surround his presidency? Take a look at Robert Kuttner’s excellent Huffington Post article, “A Tale of Two Obamas.” After attending the president’s jobs summit, he limns the political man: his “pitch perfect” responses to difficult questions versus his actual behavior. “I was reminded, first hand,” Kuttner writes, “what drew so many of us to the promise of this remarkable outsider…[and] I came away even more bewildered and dismayed at the reality.”

This is the puzzle Obama presents: the duality between what seems to be sincere belief and the behavior that doesn’t follow. Sure, he’s responding to the difficult and tendentious politics of our time. Yes, the music slowed at least partly because he started his reelection campaign the day after his inauguration. And maybe, as some argue, he has always been a centrist, and we just didn’t want to believe it.

But, however true all this may be, it doesn’t preclude another truth: that Obama is a charming presence with an easy smile who keeps his own counsel, who stands apart, always aloof, cool, reasonable. The same man who was a community organizer—a job that requires the ability to walk across several worlds, to hold out a conciliatory hand, to seek ways to help people cross the chasms that separate them. A perfect fit with the man who, as president, repeatedly extends his hand to an intransigent opposition, not just because he seeks bi-partisanship for political gain but because he’s compelled to try to bridge the divide now as he did then.

These are the tools and skills Obama developed early on—tools that brought him so successfully from boyhood to manhood, from community organizer to Harvard Law School and editor of the Harvard Law Review, and from there to the Senate and the presidency. And as he looks out from his internal world, it surely seems that he still needs them. For even as the President of the United States, he remains a stranger.

Okay, I get it, grumbles the sociologist, but I don’t wholly buy it. And while I think about it, tell me how you explain his decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan if not as a response to unwavering opposition and pressure from the generals. I have no answer that will satisfy either of us, only that it’s what he does—offering something for everybody, not fully satisfying anybody, probably not even himself. Did I once believe in this man, love him? Is it all gone? No. But my heart weeps for what seems like a vanishing dream. And I live with the fear that it may be Barack Obama’s tragedy—and ours—that the very qualities that helped him rise so high will ultimately bring him down.

“You can’t leave it there,” a reader of an earlier version of this article insisted passionately. “We can’t just ask Obama to have a different personality. Where are the picket lines outside the White House calling for a pullout from Afghanistan? Where are the picket lines in front of Wall Street banks and investment houses?”

She’s right, of course. With the election of Barack Obama, liberals and progressives have become the new silent majority. Or perhaps I should say the silenced majority—a silence we’ve imposed on ourselves out of fear of damaging this presidency. It’s time to face it: this is the president we elected, and until we make our voices heard—this is the president we’ll get. As FDR said to John L. Lewis when he reminded the new president that it was his promise to labor that energized a nascent union movement to help ensure his victory, Roosevelt replied, “That’s right; now go out and make me do it.”

Lillian B. Rubin is with the Institute for the Study of Social Change, University of California, Berkeley. She is a sociologist, psychologist, and author of numerous books, the latest of which is 60 on Up: The Truth about Aging in America (Beacon Press, 2007).

Written by bearmarketnews

February 28, 2010 at 5:42 pm

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