Archive for the ‘Barack Obama’ Category

Cartoon for April 16, 2009

April 16, 2009

The quote comes from the Washington Post. While this war criminal cozies up with the neighbors, Obama gets kudos for ordering the shootings of three Somali pirates. Charming.

Cartoon for April 6, 2009

April 6, 2009

With Obama’s various plans, the devil isn’t in the details.
There are no details.

THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: What Obama and Hitler Have in Common

March 31, 2009

Broke and on a Losing Streak, Obama Doubles Down

Contrary to myth, the Nazis weren’t crazy. But during the winter of 1944-45, with the Allied and Soviet armies closing in on Berlin, German leaders made an insane decision. Instead of doing whatever they could to hold out as long as possible, they sped up the Holocaust.

The Nazis’ policy of accelerated genocide deprived the war effort of increasingly precious resources. Soldiers and paramilitaries were pulled back from the battlefront in order to arrest and guard ever-increasing numbers of Jews and other “enemies of the state.” As battle after battle was lost, trains assigned to transport reinforcement troops were reassigned to ship the regime’s victims to the death camps.

Killing Jews was the Nazis’ top priority. It came ahead of everything else–even their own lives. Total madness.

But who are we to judge? Here we are 64 years later, doing the same thing. The U.S. is locked in a last-ditch struggle for survival, and the U.S. government is diverting vital resources to its own top priority: killing Muslims.

President Obama and the Democrats always asserted that Afghanistan was the “good war”–the one thing George W. Bush did right before he “took his eye off the ball” by invading Iraq. Not me. I realized that the invasion and subsequent occupation were doomed from the start. My Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus moment came while watching Afghan villagers sobbing outside a house being searched by U.S. troops. “The Russians never violated our homes,” an old man told me. As in many societies descended from nomads, Afghan culture dictates that a man’s home is truly his castle. “Even when they came to kill you, the Taliban knocked on the door and waited for you come out. They didn’t touch your wife or daughter. They never came inside. Never.”

I stared at the house’s front door, smashed and splintered after having been kicked in, and thought: They’ll never forgive us. Women were shrieking inside the house. The soldiers yelled at them: “Shut the f— up!” At least they did it in English, so they couldn’t understand. Hearts and minds.

I went to my rented room and filed a story with the headline: “How We Lost Afghanistan.” It was December 11, 2001.

Bush spent the following seven years sending more and more troops to Afghanistan: 8,000 at first, then 18,000, then 30,000. Afghan resistance fighters killed more and more of them. It became more dangerous to serve a tour of duty in America’s “forgotten war” than in Iraq. The more the size of the U.S. occupation force increased, street-level violence, warlordism and opium poppy cultivation spiraled out of control.

Chaos doesn’t come cheap. It costs $390,000 to sustain one American soldier overseas for one year.

Now Obama is “doubling down” on a “new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy,” reported The Washington Post. “Along with the 17,000 additional combat troops authorized last month, Obama said he will send at least 4,000 more this fall…” There were 38,000 when Obama took office. Soon there will be 55,000. By early next year, at least 70,000. Thousands of more will be moved from Iraq to Afghanistan. There have been few protests. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, we must be out of our collective minds.

I stand nearly alone in my long-running criticism of the Afghan war. But even if you disagree with my pessimistic assessment of the foreign policy repercussions of the “good war,” surely we can find common ground on the economic front.

The U.S. is broke. One cause is the $3 trillion we’ve already wasted on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. (With compound interest, that debt comes to over $10 trillion–or a dozen $700 billion Wall Street bailouts.) In a move that echoes Hitler’s misdirected obsessiveness, Obama is about to waste even more money we don’t have. According to the Pentagon’s notoriously rosy projections, Obama’s “Afghan surge” will increase the cost of that misbegotten quagmire (remember when right-wing pundits ridiculed those of us who used the Q-word to describe Afghanistan?) by 60 percent, up from the current $2 billion a month.

Millions are losing their jobs and their homes. Is this best the possible use of our federal taxdollars?

Obama says his war aims in Afghanistan are to fight insurgents, “train Afghan Security Forces,” improve the Afghan economy and reduce opium production. Of course, some of these goals are self-actualizing. If the U.S. withdrew, there wouldn’t be any insurgents. And Afghanistan wouldn’t need so many more security forces to keep order.

As for the Afghan economy and narcotics, Obama doesn’t stand a chance. “We’re pretty good about getting rid of old governments, but not really good at building new ones. I don’t think any other country has that skill, either,” said Gordon Adams, professor of foreign policy at American University and former Clintonista. “We can burn millions of dollars and lose thousands of American lives pretending we know how–but we don’t know how.”

And anyway: so what? As the real unemployment rate in the U.S. surpasses 20 percent and we sail off the cliff of fiscal oblivion, how can Obama justify spending hundreds of billions dollars more? To reduce unemployment in Afghan cities (while increasing it in the countryside, which depends on opium farming)? Even if Obama meets his metrics in Afghanistan, what’s in it for us?

In this Depression there’s still one gig with high job security: write a column for The New York Times that repeatedly gets everything wrong. Columnist David Brooks, one of the Dying Grey Lady’s resident neocons, agrees with Obama that seven years of bombing wedding parties isn’t enough. “This energetic and ambitious [Afghan troop surge] amid economic crisis and war weariness–says something profound about America’s DNA,” says he.

Maybe it does. Seventeen percent of Americans have German roots, more than any other ancestry group.

COPYRIGHT 2009 TED RALL

THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Change You Can Parse

March 17, 2009

Obama Abandons Bush’s Talk, Keeps His Walk

You can’t blame Dick Cheney for being annoyed at Barack Obama. Obama is closing Guantánamo. He’s ordering the CIA to interrogate prisoners according to the rules written in the Army Field Manual, which doesn’t allow torture. He’s even phasing out such classic Bushian phrases as “enemy combatant” and “war on terror.”

But the dark prince of neoconservatism should relax. Obama’s inaugural address may have promised to “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,” but—in all the ways that matter—he’s keeping all of Bush’s outrageous policies in place. Sure, he talks a good game about “moving forward.” But nothing has really changed. From reading your e-mails to asserting the right to assassinate American citizens to bailing out companies whose executives pay themselves big bonuses, Obama’s changes are nothing but toothless rhetoric.

Closing Gitmo, reported The New York Times, was merely “a move that seemed intended to symbolically separate the new administration from Bush detention policies. But in a much anticipated court filing, the Justice Department argued that the president has the authority to detain terrorism suspects there without criminal charges, much as the Bush administration had asserted. It provided a broad definition of those who can be held, which was not significantly different from the one used by the Bush administration.”

What will happen to the 241 POWs still at Gitmo? They won’t be called “enemy combatants” anymore but most won’t be going home. “The filing signaled that, as long as Guantánamo remains open, the new Administration will aggressively defend its ability to hold some detainees there,” wrote the Times. Where will they go after that?

Welcome to Gitmo II—courtesy of Barack Obama.

Countless victims have been tortured by U.S. military personnel at Bagram, the U.S. airbase in Afghanistan where Bush imprisoned 600 people without charges. Some were murdered in the camp’s notorious “salt pit.” “Even children have not been spared,” says Amnesty International.

Now Bagram is being expanded—nearly doubled in size—in order to accommodate 200-plus detainees from Gitmo, as well as future POWs from Obama’s expanded war against Afghanistan. As bad as Guantánamo was, conditions at Bagram are worse.

Unless you believe indefinite detention without due process to be torture, Obama says his detainees won’t be tortured. Mostly. Probably. Maybe. The Washington Post quotes an Administration insider as saying that the CIA will enjoy “more leeway” than the Army Field Manual allows, in order to “take into account the differences between battlefield interrogations and those aimed at eliciting intelligence about terrorist groups and their plans.”

Extraordinary renditions, the Times reports in a different article, will continue under Obama. “In little-noticed confirmation testimony recently,” says the paper, “Obama nominees endorsed continuing the CIA’s program of transferring prisoners to other countries without legal rights, and indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects without trials even if they were arrested far from a war zone.”

During the 2008 campaign Obama’s critics accused him of saying nothing, albeit beautifully. Now that we’ve gotten to know him a bit, it’s time to refine that assessment: He’s just a weasel. An eloquent weasel. But a weasel who says the right things while doing the opposite.

On March 9th Obama ordered federal agencies to suspend Bush’s infamous “signing statements,” sneaky documents issued after the signing of a bill that ordered government agencies not to enforce the very same bill he’d just approved in front of the cameras. Signing statements, says the American Bar Association, use one-man dictatorial rule to negate the people’s will as expressed by Congress and are thus “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional separation of powers.”

“Yet two days later—literally—Obama signed a $410 billion spending bill and appended to it a signing statement claiming that he had the Constitutional authority to ignore several of its oversight provisions,” writes Glenn Greenwald of Slate.

Greenwald regrets having to quote the vile Rich Lowry of the right-wing National Review magazine. So do I. But even the right is right sometimes:

“Barack Obama has perfected a three-step maneuver that could never even be attempted by a politician lacking his rhetorical skill or cool cynicism. First: Denounce your presidential predecessor for a given policy, energizing your party’s base and capitalizing on his abiding unpopularity. Second: Pretend to have reversed that policy upon taking office with a symbolic act or high-profile statement. Third: Adopt a version of that same policy, knowing that it’s the only way to govern responsibly or believing that doing otherwise is too difficult.”

This week’s example is Obama’s grandstanding over $165 million in bonuses paid to executives of American International Group (AIG), which received billions in federal bailout money. He feigned outrage: “How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?” But his Treasury Department knew about the bonuses—which amount to roughly 55 cents per American—ages ago. He also knows there isn’t much the government can do legally to claw the money back.

Unlike the word count limit of this column, Obama’s perfidy knows no limits. He’s already become more dangerous to democracy and basic human rights than George W. Bush. Unlike Bush, he has no political opposition. Cheney may nitpick, but most Republicans are happy to see Bush’s policies remain in place. Meanwhile, liberals remain loyal, silent, and tacitly pro-torture.

COPYRIGHT 2009 TED RALL

Cartoon for March 2, 2009

March 2, 2009

This came out of a conversation with fellow editorial cartoonist Matt Bors. What if Obama were succeeding Hitler? Would he let him off the hook for his crimes too? The parallels are eerie.

THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: CEO-Bashing for Fun and Profit

February 26, 2009

Obama, Media Grandstand on Executive Pay

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS–On July 14, 1789 an angry mob invaded Paris’ Bastille prison, igniting a chain of events that became the French Revolution. The insurgents may have been provoked by a prisoner, the notorious Marquis de Sade. “They are killing the prisoners here!” he shouted to the crowd two weeks earlier, on July 2nd. The authorities moved him to another prison before the 14th.

The storming of the Bastille was pretty much a BS event. There were only seven prisoners for the revolutionaries to liberate, several of whom were living lives of considerable ease in fully furnished cells with servants. Yet the Bastille remains a symbol of monarchist oppression smashed by righteous people seeking freedom and equality. Sometimes empty symbolism means a lot.

Not so much here or now. Revolution doesn’t seem imminent in Obamaland, where polls show people pro-Bama despite losing their jobs, and a government bailout for everyone and everything except the people and institutions who actually need help. But revolution’s second cousin–symbolic scapegoating–is all around, like love in the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song minus the beret toss.

“In 1980, according to a Forbes magazine study, executive compensation was 40 times the average worker’s pay; by 2007, that had soared to more than 400 times,” CBS News reported on February 25th. Now that the companies those ridiculously compensated executives were charged with running are tanking, CEO pay is coming under attack by pundits and politicians.

President Obama won headlines and plaudits for a $500,000 income cap on top corporate executives–an idea that I and other progressives have been promoting for ages (and that was derisively dismissed as socialism before the U.S. began sliding into oblivion in September). As with the Bastille, however, there’s a lot more symbolism than substance here.

First, the $500,000 cap doesn’t cover 99 percent of Fortune 500 companies–only those receiving federal bailout cash. Firms like Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and AIG, which got the first round of TARP moolah, won’t be affected. Only a handful of companies would be covered, and even they’ll escape the restriction. First, most CEOs receive relatively low salaries anyway. Most CEO compensation comes in the form of bonuses and stock options, which aren’t subject to Obama’s cap. And even the income cap cab can easily be evaded; CEOs simply have to notify company shareholders.
That’s not all. “[Obama’s income cap] excludes the midlevel execs who also received some of those Wall Street bonuses and who in many cases made the risky bets that sparked the crisis,” reports The Politico.com. There are more loopholes, so many you could drive a gold-plated Hummer through it if you could afford the gas, but you get the idea.

“America needs to understand that this is cosmetic, that this is to appease taxpayer ire,” says “Naked Capitalism” blogger Yves Smith, who has worked on Wall Street for 25 years. But that would be true even if Obama’s cap were real and applied to every CEO in America.

Universally blamed for the fiscal meltdown, Wall Street investment bankers are under fire for taking in billions in bonuses in 2008, a.k.a. The Year America Died. Chris Dodd, chairman of the Senate banking committee, grandstanded thusly, vowing to use “every possible legal means to recoup the $18.4 billion in Wall Street bonuses.” Vice President Joe Biden said: “I’d like to throw these guys in the brig.”

Of course, nothing of the sort will happen. The bankers will keep their bonuses; they won’t be checking into the Greybar Hotel any time soon.

What’s gotten lost in the populist uprising is why seven-digit CEO salaries were worth talking about in the first place. They’re a symbol and litmus test of a bigger problem, skyrocketing income inequality, that has gotten worse and worse since the late 1960s. As the rich have grown richer–not just rich CEOs, but everyone in the top one to five percent of income earners–the poor, and especially the middle class, have become poorer and poorer.

The overall social problem of rising income inequality is at the root of our current economic ills. If corporations had paid the vast majority of workers the raises they deserved over the past 40 years, raises commensurate with increases in efficiency and productivity, people would have saved more and borrowed less. The real estate and credit bubbles wouldn’t have grown as big. When they burst, people would have had resources to fall back upon. We are broke, unemployed, and maxed out–not because we bought too much stuff, but because our bosses paid themselves instead of us.

CEO and executive compensation in general aren’t the problem, or even the cause of the problem. They are symptoms of a malady inherent in the capitalist system: the tendency of those who gain an early advantage to monopolize assets and aggregate wealth and influence at the expense of everyone else. You can see it when you play the board game “Monopoly.” More times than not, whoever gets an early lead wins.

It isn’t just CEOs. It’s millions of Americans at the top of the income scale, many of whom consider themselves middle class. Because they earned too much, others earned too little.

Insulting CEOs (while letting them keep their perquisites) may be fun. But it doesn’t begin to address what’s killing the U.S. economy: the rancid notion that one person’s hard day’s work deserves more pay than another’s.

COPYRIGHT 2009 TED RALL

Cartoon for February 21, 2009

February 21, 2009

Liberal bloggers and pundits say they’re taking a breather after eight years of Bush. After all, everything’s perfect now!

Cartoon for February 14, 2009

February 14, 2009

Obama’s bailout plan helps the corporations who caused the economic mess, and not one of their victims.

Cartoon for February 2, 2009

February 2, 2009

Incredibly, mass murderer and mass torturer George W. Bush remains at large. Justice, apparently, is not something Obama cares about.

Cartoon for January 31, 2009

January 31, 2009

Radical problems call for radical solutions. Sadly, Obama is obsessed with the centrists who’ve gotten everything wrong every single time.