Promising change after eight George Bush and Republican dominated years, Barack Obama won the most sweeping non-incumbent victory in over 50 years along with congressional Democrats gaining large House and Senate majorities. In addition, at 56.8%, voter turnout was the highest since Richard Nixon's "secret plan" to end the Vietnam war and his "Southern" and "law and order" strategies beat Hubert Humphrey and independent George Wallace in 1968.
On election night, the mood celebrated hope for progressive change, an end to imperial wars, and a new day for America. When word came around 10PM, expectant thousands in Chicago's Grant Park erupted with chants of "yes we can," hoping Obama would make a difference at a time of deepening economic duress.
In its November 4, 2008 editorial titled, "The Next President," The New York Times called it "one of those moments in history when it is worth pausing to reflect on the basic facts," then listed some:
-- for the first time, Americans elected a black president;
-- his triumph was "decisive and sweeping, because he saw what is wrong with this country, (and will change direction) to regulate the economy fairly, keep the air clean and the food safe, ensure that the sick have access to health care, and educate children to compete in a globalized world;"
-- he "committed to ending a bloody and pointless (Afghan) war (and) restore Americans' civil liberties and (the nation's) reputation around the world;"
-- he must now "prevent an economic collapse fed by greed and an orgy of speculation (by) impos(ing) control, coherence, transparency and fairness," in contrast to George Bush; and
-- he "now needs the support of all Americans (to help him deal with the) many other urgent problems that must be addressed."
Endorsing his candidacy early on for a socially liberal new beginning, Nation magazine editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, looked for a "transformational presidency, (a) new era of possibility, a historic opportunity for a progressive governing agenda and a mandate for bold action....Tonight we celebrate," she said.
Campaigning, he offered change, a new course, sweeping government reforms, addressing people needs, and "ensur(ing) that the hopes and concerns of average Americans speak louder in Washington than the hallway whispers of high-priced lobbyists," the same ones he said wouldn't run his administration, but would "have a seat at the table," and why not given their large contributions to him and other Democrats.
Little wonder that a year later hope is now disillusion, frustration, and anger over promises made, then broken with an awakening knowledge that change won't come unless growing millions demand it.
A Man of the People or Machine Politics
Obama rose through the system, a man James Petras calls "the greatest con man in recent history" in comparing him to Melville's Confidence Man: "He catches your eye while he picks your pocket." He talks change but delivers continuity.
He's a highly skilled demagogue doing Lincoln one better through his campaign and early months in office by fooling enough of the people to matter.
Connected to the fringes of Chicago politics, he served three terms in the Illinois Senate from 1997 - 2004. After a failed 2000 congressional race, he became a US senator in 2004, then used his position for a successful presidential bid. While "cordial, (but) not close" to Richard Daley, he endorsed his reelection, and called his connection to former fundraiser, Antoin "Tony" Rezko, "a bone-headed mistake," after he was indicted and convicted on federal corruption charges. Also troubling was his "political godfather," Emil Jones, Jr., former Illinois Senate president, who was tainted by an "ethical cloud."
His chief fundraiser is Penny Pritzker, some describe as America's most powerful woman and one of the richest as heiress to part of the Pritzker fortune. Believed over $40 billion, most of it is grandfathered in tax-free offshore trusts. Only the little people pay taxes as a prominent scafflaw once said.
An October 2008 Bloomberg "Power of Penny Pritzker" article stressed the enormous influence she wields in Democrat party circles as a fundraiser extraordinaire, and, according to Warren Buffet, she's the person to call when you want to "get the job done."
Bloomberg largely credited her with getting Obama elected and mentioned her connection to the subprime meltdown. Called by some the "subprime queen," she was one of its originators when she ran the failed suburban Chicago Hinsdale-based Superior Bank. With $2.3 billion in assets, it was from predatory lending, sloppy bookkeeping, overstating securitized assets, and suspected fraud kept hidden until regulators closed it in July 2001. Behind the scenes, Pritzker has clout in the administration without headlines because of her connection to Wall Street and other powerful interests.
The Illusion of "Yes We Can"
As a senator, Obama's voting record told all, that he supports power, not progressive change, but few took the trouble to check it:
-- he backed Homeland Security funding that, like the Patriot Act, violates constitutional rights by centralizing militarized law enforcement under the executive;
-- he voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act in July 2005 and did again recently as president; more on that below;
In her book "The Twilight of Democracy," Jennifer Van Bergen said the 2001 act (still the law) gives:
"tremendous powers to central authorities, undermine(s) civil liberties, and enable(s) suppression of opposition. (It's the) mainstay of government oppressive power (as it) authorizes and codifies a near-absolute and permanent invasion of (our) private lives, sets vast precedents in immigration law....dissolves....human rights (civil liberties, and erects) a massive law enforcement apparatus (targeting) immigrant(s) and citizen(s worldwide)." This act alone gives the executive unchecked power, erodes due process, free association, and the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
It eviscerates fundamental Bill of Rights freedoms, ones Obama voted to sacrifice and does as president by agreeing with Congress to extend three Patriot Act provisions set to expire at year end - to let government operate roving wire taps, search any person's business, personal, and library records by authorization of a national security letter, and spy on foreign nationals with no known links to terrorist designated groups.
-- in 2006, he campaigned for extremist Joe Lieberman over anti-war candidate Ned Lamont;
-- despite earlier and current rhetoric, he supports permanent wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan with no withdrawal timetables;
-- he advocated adding 100,000 combat troops to the military at a time America has no enemies;
-- he's unreservedly pro-Israel (a leader James Petras calls "America's first Jewish president"), including continuing the annually supplied billions and latest weapons and technology for its imperial agenda and occupation of Palestine;
-- he stayed silent during Operation Cast Lead; pays disingenuous lip service to the peace process he renounces; and favors destabilizing Iran, perhaps attacking its nuclear sites, and deposing its leadership in support of the Israeli Lobby and imperial American interests;
-- he opposed an amendment capping credit card interest rates at 30% and still does; and
-- he backed George Bush's "No Child Left Behind" scheme to destroy public education and now has his own.
-- medical providers in wrongful injury cases;
-- the right of mining companies to strip mine everywhere, including on government lands;
-- the Bush administration's 2005 Energy Policy Act in spite of critical campaign rhetoric; it was secretly drafted and provides billions in industry subsidies;
-- vastly expanded nuclear power; lax industry regulation; billions in subsidies, and numerous other benefits to promote a dangerous technology;
-- harmful biofuels production and other agribusiness interests, including global GMO food proliferation, known to harm human health and should be banned;
-- privatized healthcare despite the benefits of universal single-payer he rejects as well as real reform;
-- free, not fair, trade deals like NAFTA and the WTO;
-- the death penalty and America's prison-industrial complex; and
-- repressive immigration legislation targeting Latinos, including militarized borders, police state raids, roundups, imprisonments, and deportations.
He opposed the 2006 Military Commissions Act but supports military tribunals and preventive detentions for torture prison detainees.
He waffled on CIA interrogation practices and won't prosecute offenders.
He voted to expand NSA eavesdropping powers while rhetorically opposing "excessive secrecy, indefinite detention, warrantless wiretapping, and enhanced interrogation techniques like simulated drowning that qualify as torture through any careful measure of the law or appeal to human decency." More below that as president he authorized these and other abhorrent practices he disingenuously condemned as a candidate.
He voted to approve rogue Bush administration appointments, including Robert Gates as Defense Secretary, John Negroponte as Director of National Intelligence, and Michael Chertoff as Secretary of Homeland Security.
He backed the 2007 Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act (S. 1959), called the "thought crimes" act. It passed the House but not the Senate.
He opposes impeaching Bush and Cheney or prosecuting all high-level torturers, and overall had a more Republican than Democrat voting record. It's unsurprising as on war and peace, Israel/Palestine, Wall Street, and most things business, it's hard telling the difference.
In the Senate, he earned his bona fides, showed he was "safe," and once elected hasn't disappointed - the powerful, that is, not the people growing increasingly discontented for being betrayed by a leader no different from the rest.
Pre and Post-Inaugural Appointees
From transition to his economic, national security, and other high-level team, most are former administration officials - from Wall Street, the military, and other key power centers for continuity, not progressive change he disdains. The result has been the worst of all possible worlds, including permanent wars, eroded civil liberties and social services, and plundering the nation's Treasury for Wall Street while ignoring the public interest.
Wall Street's Financial Coup d'Etat
Like his predecessor and previous ones since Ronald Reagan, Obama put a criminal cabal in charge of furthering the greatest wealth transfer in history - from the public to the top 1%, unfettered by rules, regulations, the law, or onerous taxes. It's designed to keep offshoring high-paying jobs, wipe out the middle class, hollow out America, turn it into Guatemala, centralize power, end social services, destroy communities and local infrastructure, and leave poverty, unemployment, homelessness, hunger, a permanent underclass, and despair in its wake under militarized tyranny for enforcement.
From her experience as a high-level Washington/Wall Street insider, Catherine Austin Fitts describes the process that:
-- "Engineered a (1990s) fraudulent housing and debt bubble," continued under Obama with a planned larger than ever one planned; more on that below;
-- "Illegally shifted vast amounts of capital out of the US," a process still ongoing; and
-- "Used 'privatization' as a form of piracy - a pretext to move government assets to private investors at below-market prices and then shift private liabilities back to government at no cost to the private liability holder."
Engineered globally, it's a government-business cabal to create housing, debt, and other bubbles, substitute new ones for old, and manipulate markets up or down for enormous profits. It involves pump and dump schemes, naked short selling, and various other ways to suck wealth from the many to the few so cleverly that few know what's happening, or when they do it's too late.
From the wreckage comes proposed financial reform, but watch out. It's for a new global monetary control scheme under a Financial Stability Board (FSB), working cooperatively with the secretive Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the Basel, Switzerland-based central bank for central bankers run by the monetary authorities of six dominant nations - America, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Japan, and Britain. If established, it's the next, perhaps final, step toward ruling elite control of the world's money - their long sought holy grail to complete their coup d'etat triumph over all humanity, with Obama facilitating the process in defiance of the public interest he abandoned on day one as president.
Democracy for the Few, not the Many
More than ever, American democracy is bogus under a police state apparatus sacrificing civil liberties in the name of national security. Included are:
-- an array of pre and post-9/11 anti-terrorist measures;
-- decades of illegal surveillance of individuals and activist groups, more virulent and sophisticated than ever under Obama;
-- a war on free expression, dissent, and constitutional freedoms, using the courts to enforce repression, especially since the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Penalty Act with its eased surveillance restrictions and draconian death penalty and habeas-stripping provisions; it smoothed passage of the 2001 Patriot Act and other repressive measures that followed;
-- alone, the Patriot Act erodes Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments due process rights by permitting indefinite detentions; the First Amendment's freedom of association, Fourth Amendment's right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and more.
Secret Surveillance and Threatened Cybersecurity Tyranny
Obama usurped unchecked surveillance powers, including warrantless wiretapping, accessing personal records, monitoring financial transactions, and tracking emails, Internet and cell phone use to gather secret evidence for prosecutions. In addition, his Justice Department claims the federal government can't be sued for illegal spying, an interpretation no member of Congress or administration ever made, not even George Bush or his Republican allies.
In March, Obama's DHS cybersecurity head, Rod Beckstrom, resigned over NSA's greater role in guarding government computer systems, its concentrated power with no checks or balances, and the continuation of Bush's illegal warrantless wiretapping called secret and not reviewable by courts for reasons of national security.
Under Obama, NSA partnered with the Justice Department, DHS, FBI, CIA, and the nation's other spy agencies as a collective big brother targeting political dissidents using police state authority against anti-war protestors, environmental and other activists, Muslims, Latino immigrants, and lawyers who defend them.
Privacy is no longer possible as potentially everyone and everything is surveilled, including:
-- all financial transactions and records;
-- every check written;
-- every credit card or other electronic purchase;
-- all publications subscribed to;
-- our complete medical history;
-- every plane, train, bus or ship itinerary, especially in or out of the country;
-- our phone records and conversations; and
-- every computer key stroke.
Our entire private space is now public if spy snoops decide to invade it.
Cybersecurity Legislation that Threatens a Free and Open Internet
In April, the 2009 Cybersecutity Act (S 773) and companion legislation (S 778) to establish a cybersecurity czar were introduced in the Senate, purportedly to protect against cyber espionage or attacks that might cripple critical infrastructure and comprise national security. Don't believe it.
If enacted in original or redrafted form, they'll give Washington unprecedented power over the Internet by:
-- federalizing critical infrastructure security, including banks, telecommunications and energy, then shifting power from providers to Washington;
-- giving the president carte blanche authority to shut down Internet traffic in an emergency for reasons of national security; and
-- potentially crippling privacy as well as security by order of the executive alone, regardless of constitutional protections.
Political Persecution Under Obama
He declared war on Islam, Latino immigrations, animal and environmental rights activists, anyone challenging state power, and civil rights lawyers who defend them too vigorously.
Using familiar police state tactics, Muslims especially have been persecuted for their faith, ethnicity, prominence, activism, and charity. They've been singled out, rounded up, held in detention, kept in isolation, denied bail, restricted in their right to counsel, entrapped by paid informants, tried on secret evidence, convicted on bogus changes, given long sentences, then incarcerated for extra harsh treatment as political prisoners in segregated Communication Management Units (CMUs). They violate US Prison Bureau regulations stating:
-- "staff shall not discriminate against inmates on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or political belief (including) administrative decisions (involving) access to work, housing and program."
Also, the Supreme Court's February 2005 Johnson v. California decision, ruling that segregating prisoners by race, ethnicity or language is illegal. The practice began under George Bush and continues unchanged under Obama.
So does the war on Latino immigrants, undocumented ones here because NAFTA and WTO rules destroyed their livelihoods at home, forcing them North for jobs to support their families.
As a sweeping anti-terrorism bill, the November 2002 Homeland Security Act (HSA) created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), giving Washington repressive police state powers used vigorously thereafter. In March 2003, its largest investigative and enforcement arm was established - the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Along with Muslims, Latinos are its prime targets, using militarized unconstitutional tactics against vulnerable, defenseless people who've been persecuted ever since.
Like his predecessor, Obama's shock troops target them at the border, at work sites, and in their homes. Using goon-squad tactics, they're illegally confronted with shotguns, automatic weapons, and seized without warrants or explanation, then held for prosecution, imprisonment or deportation with no acknowledgement of their rights. Innocent as well as undocumented Latinos are arrested, including their families, often by pre-dawn swat-like private home intrusions.
In August, Obama announced stepped up immigration enforcement through more centralized control for better ways to track, process, incarcerate, and/or deport growing numbers of undocumented immigrants - not treat them humanely as international law and DHS/ICE regulations stipulate.
In this and numerous other ways, Obama is doing Bush one better by exceeding his harshness, lawlessness, and betrayal of the public trust. Against Latinos, it's through aggressive immigration enforcement with planned legislation coming to include a temporary guest worker program so employers can exploit them as serfs, much like the 1942 - 1964 Bracero Program under which millions of Mexican migrant farm workers had no rights, were harassed and oppressed, then deported when no longer needed.
In Obama's America, only the privileged have rights, not people of color, the poor, and growing numbers going hungry, without jobs, and other life's essentials his budget allocations won't fund.
Part II will conclude Obama Year One: Betrayal and Failure.
Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to the Lendman News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Monday - Friday at 10AM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national issues. All programs are archived for easy listening.