Melville and Obama and American Racism

“Benito Cereno” [by Herman Melville]  is based on a true historical incident, which I [Greg Grandin]  started researching around the time Mr. Obama announced his first bid for the presidency. Since then, I’ve been struck by the persistence of fears, which began even before his election, that Mr. Obama isn’t what he seems: that instead of being a faithful public servant he is carrying out a leftist plot hatched decades ago to destroy America; or if not that, then he is a secret Muslim intent on supplanting the Constitution with Islamic law; or a Kenyan-born anti-colonialist out to avenge his native Africa.

 No other American president has had to face, before even taking office, an opposition convinced of not just his political but his existential illegitimacy.
… Amasa Delano [In Benito Cereno] represents a new kind of racism, based not on theological or philosophical doctrine but rather on the emotional need to measure one’s absolute freedom in inverse relation to another’s absolute slavishness. This was a racism that was born in chattel slavery but didn’t die with chattel slavery, instead evolving into today’s cult of individual supremacy, which, try as it might, can’t seem to shake off its white supremacist roots.

THIS helps explain those Confederate flags that appear at conservative rallies, as well as why Tea Party-backed politicians like Sarah Palin and Rand Paul insist on equating federal policies they don’t like with chattel bondage. Believing in the “right to health care,” Mr. Paul once said, is “basically saying you believe in slavery.”

Read all Melville, Obama and the Tea Party

Torture Continues at Gitmo

In an Op-Ed letter in today’s New York Times, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, held by the United States military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 2001 — uncharged and untried– asked the American people to read about his life:


Last month, on March 15, I was sick in the prison hospital and refused to be fed. A team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary. I was not even permitted to pray.

I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.

… The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen.

…The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply. At least 40 people here are on a hunger strike. People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood.

And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made.

I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.

NY Times/Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel,

And, the prisoners there, are expressing Moqbel’s desperation by long, shared hunger strikes, and apparently, physical resistance to the way they are being treated.

Weeks of mounting tensions between the military and detainees at the wartime prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, escalated into violence on Saturday during a raid in which guards forced prisoners living in communal housing to move to individual cells.

NY Times

Budget Confusion Everywhere

From Dean Baker at Center for Economic and Policy Research

The debate around the budget is getting ever further removed from reality. As every budget expert knows, the reason that we have seen large budget deficits in the last five years is that the economy plunged following the collapse of the housing bubble.

Unfortunately, rather than deal with the reality – that we need deficits to sustain demand in a context where the private sector will not do it – the politicians in Washington have gotten hysterical. This is like complaining about our use of water when the school is on fire with the kids still inside.

… In spite of the hysterics coming out of Washington, the interest burden of the debt is near a post-war low. Even if no further cuts are made, it is not projected to get back to its early 1990s level for more than a decade.

In this context, it is unfortunate that President Obama has proposed a budget that has substantial cuts to Social Security. The vast majority of seniors are already struggling. The proposed cuts would be a reduction in their income of more than 2 percent. By contrast, his tax increase last fall cut the after-tax income of the typical wealthy household by less than 0.6 percent.

The budget should be focused on expanding the economy and creating jobs, ideally through more spending in infrastructure, education and research. It should also include funding for state and local governments to reverse layoffs and cutbacks that have slowed growth and raised unemployment.

Unfortunately, President Obama has accepted the agenda of the Washington elite…

In the Bay Area, new congressman Jared Huffman has signed with 35 others that he will not vote for the so-called chained CPI, a prominent feature of the Obama budget that would cut back on Social Security benefits for those who have already contributed during their life times.  Isn’t there an implied contract here?

Obama’s Nixonian Moves

Killing TreeI’ve just returned from a 5 week trip to Southeast Asia, including a wrenching morning spent in Tuol Sleng, the infamous torture prison in Phnom Phenh, and the nearby killing fields where Pol Pot’s crews saved their own lives by murdering others.  The rise of the Khmer Rouge and its turn from its avowed resistance and revolutionary aims to mass citizen slaughter had many causes, the sequence and force of which are still being debated.  One thing is clear, however.  Massive US bombing in Cambodia’s southeast brought a level of destruction unprecedented until then, and gave Khmer Rouge recruiters convincing arguments among the survivors to join and fight those allied to those who had wiped out their families.

This bombing has recently been in the news as, of  all things, a precedent cited by President Obama for the legality of drone attacks on people living in countries not at war with the United States. As the author points out, not only is the Administration argument wrong on the morality, it is wrong on the facts.


“ON March 17, 1969, President Richard M. Nixon began a secret bombing campaign in Cambodia, sending B-52 bombers over the border from South Vietnam. This episode, largely buried in history, resurfaced recently in an unexpected place: the Obama administration’s “white paper” justifying targeted killings of Americans suspected of involvement in terrorism.

…  On Page 4 of the unclassified 16-page “white paper,” Justice Department lawyers tried to refute the argument that international law does not support extending armed conflict outside a battlefield. They cited as historical authority a speech given May 28, 1970, by John R. Stevenson, then the top lawyer for the State Department, following the United States’ invasion of Cambodia.

Since 1965, “the territory of Cambodia has been used by North Vietnam as a base of military operations,” he told the New York City Bar Association. “It long ago reached a level that would have justified us in taking appropriate measures of self-defense on the territory of Cambodia. However, except for scattered instances of returning fire across the border, we refrained until April from taking such action in Cambodia.”

In fact, Nixon had begun his secret bombing of Cambodia more than a year earlier. (It is not clear whether Mr. Stevenson knew this.) So the Obama administration’s lawyers have cited a statement that was patently false.

A more limited, secret bombing campaign in Cambodia had begun in 1965 during Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, but Nixon escalated it to carpet-bombing. The aim was to disrupt Communist bases and supply routes. The New York Times reported on it two months after it began, but the White House denied it, and the trail went cold. When the bombing began, Nixon even kept it a secret from his secretary of state, William P. Rogers. Worried about leaks, Nixon told Henry A. Kissinger, his national security adviser: “State is to be notified only after the point of no return.”

The bombing campaign, called Operation Breakfast, was carried out through out-and-out deception. Sixty B-52 bombers were prepared for a bombing run over targets in Vietnam. After the usual pre-mission briefing, pilots and navigators of 48 planes were then pulled aside and informed that they would receive new coordinates from a radar installation in Vietnam. Their planes would be diverted to Cambodia. But the destination was kept secret even from some crew members. The historian Marilyn B. Young found an “elaborate system of double reporting,” such that “even the secret records of B-52 bombing targets were falsified so that nowhere was it recorded that the raids had ever taken place.”

So the sort of “scattered instances of returning fire across the border” cited by Mr. Stevenson were actually regular bombing runs by B-52’s. Over 14 months, nearly 4,000 flights dropped 103,921 tons of explosives, followed by more extensive bombing farther into Cambodia.

… Critics have argued that the ultimate result of Nixon’s strategy was to destabilize the government of Prince Norodom Sihanouk and enable the Khmer Rouge’s ascent to power in 1975, and the subsequent genocide.

NY Times: Dudziak

Big Banks Bigger Than Ever and Their Regulators Still Sucking Up to Them

Neil Barofsky, the former Inspector General for TARP has a new ‘page turner’ of a book, Bailout: How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street,  about his efforts to monitor the program, and the shit he caught for doing so, not the least by out-going Secretary of Treasury, Timothy Geithner.

PR Blurb says:

In this bracing, page-turning account of his stranger-than-fiction baptism into the corrupted ways of Washington, Neil Barofsky offers an irrefutable insider indictment of the mishandling of the $700 billion TARP bailout fund. During the height of the financial crisis in 2008, Barofsky gave up his job in the esteemed U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York City to become the special inspector general overseeing the spending of the bailout money. But from day one his efforts to protect against fraud and to hold the big banks accountable were met with outright hostility from Treasury officials. Bailout is a riveting account of Barofsky’s plunge into the political meat grinder of Washington, and a vital revelation of just how captured by Wall Street our political system is and why the banks have only become bigger and more dangerous in the wake of the crisis.

Barofsky was interviewed at length by Mitch Jeserich on  KPFA’s Letters and Politics, here.  He was an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2000 to 2009 before he came to the IG job, and so no slouch when it comes to understanding and going after corporate crime.  It’s a long interview but you’ll learn a lot about Wall Street, Treasury, Geithner, Obama and more.  Worth it. 

Battle on the Cliffs

Krugman called out the GOPsters this morning:

In the ongoing battle of the budget, President Obama has done something very cruel. Declaring that this time he won’t negotiate with himself, he has refused to lay out a proposal reflecting what he thinks Republicans want. Instead, he has demanded that Republicans themselves say, explicitly, what they want. And guess what: They can’t or won’t do it.

Bruce Bartlett reminds that the fiscal cliff is a ‘faux’ problem.  It is the debt ceiling that is being held hostage, and that Obama should ready his biggest weapons to deal with more GOP intransigence.

In short, the debt limit is a hostage that Republicans are willing to kill or maim in pursuit of their agenda. They have made this clear ever since the debt ceiling debate in 2011, in which the Treasury came very close to defaulting on the debt.

…  In a new book, “Is U.S. Government Debt Different?,” Howell Jackson, a law professor at Harvard, walks through options for prioritizing government spending in the event that Republicans insist on committing financial suicide. They are all illegal or unconstitutional to one degree or another. They would require the Treasury to either abrogate Congress’s taxing power, spending power or borrowing power.

In the October issue of the Columbia Law Review, Professors Neil H. Buchanan of the George Washington University Law School and Michael C. Dorf of Cornell Law School examine the question of what a president should do when he must act and all his options are unconstitutional. They cite Abraham Lincoln’s July 4, 1861, message to Congress in support of the idea that some laws are more unconstitutional than others and the president is empowered to violate the one that is least unconstitutional when he has no other option.

Said Lincoln, “To state the question more directly, are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?”

And Krugman reminds that this hostage is going to be recycled again and again by the GOP

Later this afternoon, Boehner, offered an old plan to counter what the they complained was Obama’s old offer:

Republican Congressional leaders countered President Obama’s deficit reduction proposal with a plan to cut the deficit by $2.2 trillion over the next decade by raising $800 billion in revenue and cutting $1.2 trillion in spending.

Another $200 billion in savings would come from changing the way the government calculates inflation, which would slow benefit increases in programs from Medicare to Social Security and raise taxes by slowing the rise in tax brackets.

…  Under the Republican offer, tax revenue would rise by $800 billion (1/2 the President’s effort to drive down the deficit — which the GOP knuckleheads say is their biggest priority) over 10 years, through closing loopholes and ending or curtailing deductions and tax credits. Mr. Boehner did not specify on Monday which tax breaks would be curtailed. (per usual.)

Another $600 billion in deficit reduction would come from changes to federal health care programs like Medicare, Medicaid and the president’s health care law. Cuts to other programs that are not under the purview of annual Congressional spending bills — so-called mandatory programs — would total $300 billion. And discretionary programs, already cut by nearly $1 trillion through last year’s Budget Control Act, would be reduced by another $300 billion.

Those numbers are very different from the president’s plan, which foresees $1.6 trillion in new revenue over the next decade, $960 billion of that from the expiration of Bush-era tax breaks for the affluent beginning next month. The president wants between $400 billion and $600 billion in spending cuts, largely from Medicare. But he also wants upfront spending increases to kick-start the economy through new infrastructure spending, and help to homeowners still struggling with their mortgages.

     And to prove they were serious he referred to Obama’s offer as coming from “La-la-land.”  They guy hasn’t passed mediation 101…

Posted at DailyKos is the White House response to the “offer.”

“The Republican letter released today does not meet the test of balance. In fact, it actually promises to lower rates for the wealthy and sticks the middle class with the bill. Their plan includes nothing new and provides no details on which deductions they would eliminate, which loopholes they will close or which Medicare savings they would achieve.


The Lesson of Ohio: Industrial Strategy

From Marcy Wheeler’s always intelligent, and often sharp-elbowed blog:

The Lesson of Ohio: Industrial Strategy
Posted on September 26, 2012 by emptywheel

The election is not over yet, but today there’s an even worse poll out of Ohio for Mitt than the 8 point Obama lead that WaPo had yesterday: a NYT/CBS/Q poll showing Obama leading by 10, 53-43.

And so beltway pundits are trying to figure out what went wrong for the rich douchebag who said one of America’s key companies should be let go bankrupt.

Alec MacGillis, relying on 3 reporting trips, provides 6 possible reasons at TNR:

  • Misunderstanding on the part of DC pundits that Obama’s problem with working class white is largely limited to Appalachia and the South
  • Obama’s successful attacks on Mitt as a guy who outsourced jobs at Bain
  • Backlash to Governor Kasich’s efforts to roll back public unions
  • OH’s improving job picture
  • Kasich’s greater interest in saving himself than helping Mitt
  • The auto bailout

read all 

Marriage For those Who Wish to Marry

So President Obama has finally done it: “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”

Overdue for some, challenging for some and greater increase of their visceral disgust in others.

What this means in terms of actual legislation, change of laws, acceptance back into families, additions to story-lines in children’s books, teen novels or TV shows is yet to be seen. Though the commentariat is fully at predicting:

Obama Team:

Jonathan Rauch: Brookings

Three Right Wingers

Wall Street Journal Readers

Forbes: 5 Reasons

Generationally, it’s been clear for some time,that couples hanging out together, whatever their looks, or preferences in privacy, are simply part of everyday life.  If they are best friends at 17 and 19 why shouldn’t they be able to cohabitate, marry and divorce, bring up children, go to PTA meetings, care for each other in old age as they get older? To think otherwise can only be explained by the weirdness of being brain dead.

Of course this tolerance didn’t arrive simply because of youth itself.  The young can be notoriously intolerant, as the recent movie Bully shows, or any middle school teacher can tell you from the epithets thrown around the school yard.

It arrived because of decades of insistence by brave souls who were willing to take on abuse by saying publicly that they were gay; decades of public display of togetherness and numbers in parades and demonstrations; decades of people telling their families and co-workers that they were gay, they loved someone with the same equipment as themselves.  Decades to be able to understand that love and heartache were pretty similar, regardless.  Decades to realize how many important, culture shaping people were gay. Decades of individuals and companies instituting their own changes in perception of what is normal.  A management team realizing ‘We need this programer, or that designer, for her skills, his talent, regardless what is done is places we don’t want to know about.’  Soldiers realizing that reliance on one another in danger did not stop because of the precise person another loved.

In this case, as Biden, Duncan and finally Obama have spoken publicly they are following many other political leaders who themselves have come from constituencies that are changing.  Attorneys General in many states are women; it goes without notice now.  CEOs of major companies are women.  CEOs are gay.  Senators and Representatives are gay.  Beloved teachers and mentors are gay.   It’s a good thing more voices are added to the chorus: the times are a changing..the old road is rapidly aging….


Now, for my part, if only some energies that have advanced both racial and sexual rights, the organizing,  the militancy, the  personal testimony, the incremental and major changes, would be released to work on climate change, on the right to live itself — before it is too late.  Civil Rights will mean little in world wide water wars — too much rain, too little rain, cities sunk beneath rising seas, populations pushing up against each other trying to survive.

The GOP Crackup

Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, contributes regular opinion pieces on-line and to various print papers, among them, the San Francisco Chronicle.  Today he has an interesting take:

Two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, the Republican crackup threatens the future of the Grand Old Party more profoundly than at any time since the GOP’s eclipse in 1932. That’s bad for America.

The crackup isn’t just Romney the smooth versus Gingrich the bomb-thrower.

Not just House Republicans who just scotched the deal to continue payroll tax relief and extended unemployment insurance benefits beyond the end of the year, versus Senate Republicans who voted overwhelmingly for it.

Check out the rest

While you’re there read his prediction that there will be a change in the Obama-Who team in 2012.

…the Democratic ticket for 2012 is Obama-Clinton. Why do I say this?

Predictus Reicheus