Sunday, August 23, 2009

Can We?

I'm beginning to doubt that either President Barack Obama or Alaska's junior U.S. Senator, Mark Begich, have a true liberal bone in their bodies.

It sort of came to me in waves this past week. One wave involves the so-called "health care reform" battle. The other regards the seriousness of the climate crisis and how that is playing out in Alaska in the context of the deepening racist treatment of Native Alaskans under the Obama and Begich administrations.

I. As most liberals and progressives who can read know, Obama's popularity is plummeting nationwide because he has abandoned principle in a cynical bid to steal the K Street lobbyists from the GOP. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman detailed why this may be:

[I]t’s possible to have universal coverage without a public option — several European nations do it — and some who want a public option might be willing to forgo it if they had confidence in the overall health care strategy. Unfortunately, the president’s behavior in office has undermined that confidence.

On the issue of health care itself, the inspiring figure progressives thought they had elected comes across, far too often, as a dry technocrat who talks of “bending the curve” but has only recently begun to make the moral case for reform. Mr. Obama’s explanations of his plan have gotten clearer, but he still seems unable to settle on a simple, pithy formula; his speeches and op-eds still read as if they were written by a committee.

Krugman goes on to attack Obama's financial policy decisions:

I don’t know if administration officials realize just how much damage they’ve done themselves with their kid-gloves treatment of the financial industry, just how badly the spectacle of government supported institutions paying giant bonuses is playing. But I’ve had many conversations with people who voted for Mr. Obama, yet dismiss the stimulus as a total waste of money. When I press them, it turns out that they’re really angry about the bailouts rather than the stimulus — but that’s a distinction lost on most voters.

Krugman also notes that progressives and liberals are beginning to distrust Obama's approach to foreign policy. The Israelis are treating him as even more of a doormat than his predecessor. He's continuing to employ Xe Services, the successor to Blackwater as his own mercenary army, even expanding their role by having them arm pilotless aircraft to bomb Pakistani and Afghan civilians. And he's continuing to employ Bush's policy of extraordinary rendition:

In court papers, Azar said he was denied his eyeglasses, not given food for 30 hours and put in a freezing room after his arrest by "more than 10 men wearing flak jackets and carrying military style assault rifles."

Azar also said he was shackled and forced to wear a blindfold, dark hood and earphones for up to 18 hours on a Gulfstream V jet that flew him from Bagram air base, outside Kabul, to Virginia.

Before the hood was put on, he said, one of his captors waved a photo of Azar's wife and four children and warned Azar that he would "never see them again" unless he confessed.

"Frightened for his immediate safety . . . and under the belief he would end up in the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib to be tortured," Azar signed a paper he did not understand, his lawyers told the court.

Longtime PA readers may remember how I created a scroll out of Hugh's List of Bush Crimes and Scandals.

Hugh has now started a similar list for Barack Obama:

After 8 years of the incompetence, cronyism, and criminality of the Bush Administration, Barack Obama was elected President on the slogan of “Change we can believe in”. But it quickly became apparent that what he meant by this and what the country thought he meant were vastly different. His selections to fill the posts in his Administration were almost entirely Clinton era retreads and Republicans. Liberals and progressives who had actually been right, and reflected where most of the country was at, on issues such as the wars, domestic spying, torture, healthcare, the economy, Israel, and investigation of Bush Administration illegalities were frozen out.

Far from believing in change, Obama believed in the traditional Washington Establishment, both Democratic and Republican. This Establishment had largely been pushed aside during the Bush Administration. Those in it did not disagree that much with Bush’s policies, even the failed and extreme ones. They just thought they could have done a better job, even though they and their policies had not been that successful the last time they were in power. Obama’s election announced their triumphant return. His principal economic advisers were two neoliberal Clinton Treasury Secretaries. Obama kept on Bush’s Republican Defense Secretary and his favorite generals. His Chief of Staff, the gatekeeper to the President, was the very unliberal attack dog Rahm Emanuel. He picked a Washington insider, rather than a reformer, to put back together the devastated Justice Department. His choice for Secretary of State fell not on a Clintonista but an actual Clinton.

Here's Hugh's Obama Scandal List (as of eight weeks ago - it has gotten longer):

1. Reneged on pledge to filibuster FISA Amendments act (July 2008)
2. Lobbied for $700 billion Paulson TARP
3. Pushed for no sanctions against Lieberman who supported John McCain
4. Nominated healthcare company lobbyist Tom Daschle as Secretary of HHS
5. Had neoliberal Robert Rubin as his chief economics adviser
6. Then had the equally neoliberal Larry Summers assume this role
7. Chose the failing upwards Timothy Geithner to head Treasury
8. AIG bonuses and money to Goldman under Obama
9. Doubling down in Afghanistan
10. Delay and reduction of withdrawal from Iraq
11. Moving Guantanamo activities to Bagram
12. Military commissions for some detainees
13. Support for indefinite detention
14. Refusal to release torture photos under FOIA
15. Refusal to investigate and prosecute Bush era criminality
16. Geithner’s joke then DOA economic rescue programs: the PPIP and TALF
17. Joke help for homeowners (program and legislation) without cramdowns
18. Handling of the Chrysler, GM bankruptcies compared to bank “stress tests” (twofer)
19. TARP repayment kabuki by banks still dependent on government credit lines
20. Extra-Constitutional use of the Fed by the Executive for fiscal policy
21. Credit Card bill without usury caps and with 9 month delay for other reforms
22. Business friendly Mary Schapiro named to head SEC
23. Gary Gensler who helped deregulate derivatives to head CFTC
24. $787 billion stimulus: too little, too late, poorly structured
25. Use of financial crisis to attack Social Security and Medicare
26. Refusal to include single payer universal healthcare in healthcare “reform”
27. Continued use of state secrets argument in ongoing Bush era cases
28. Use of signing statements, one to punish whistleblowers (twofer)
29. Vetting process of nominees, especially their taxes
30. Not pushing nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head OLC
31. Eric Holder, failure to reform DOJ, not removing worst of Bush USAs (twofer)
32. Failure to move against new oil bubble
33. Retention of Bush Defense team: Gates, Patraeus, and Odierno (threefer)
34. Continued missile attacks inside Pakistan
35. Keeping Bush’s domestic spying programs and adding a new one, cybersecurity
36. Choice of Elena Kagan (favors expansive Presidential powers) as Solicitor General
37. Leaving EFCA (to help counter anti-union companies) to wither in Congress
38. Welcoming Arlen Specter who brings nothing to the Democrats into the party
39. Flaccid proposals for financial reform
40. Obama wanted John Brennan at CIA but settled for making him his counter-terrorism adviser
41. Chas Freeman with broader Mideast perspective done in by AIPAC
42. Dennis Blair made DNI; failed to act to stop atrocities in East Timor
43. Choice of torture general Stanley McChrystal to head Afghanistan effort
44. Obama threat to suspend intelligence cooperation with UK over Binyam Mohamed case
45. Efforts to keep Bush and Obama White House logs secret
46. Playing games with “Don’t ask, don’t tell”
47. Filing a brief to overturn Jackson (access to lawyer) in the Montejo case
48. Not withdrawing Bush brief in Osborne DNA case
49. Filing really nasty brief in challenge to Defense of Marriage Act
50. The Supplemental or making Iraq and Afghanistan Democratic wars
51. Choice of Rahm Emanuel as the President’s Chief of Staff
52. Choice of Dennis Ross as Iran envoy and then his move to the White House
53. Joke processes to fill Obama and Hillary Clinton’s Senate seats
54. Choice of Bill Richardson, then Judd Gregg to head Commerce
55. Reneging on pledge to re-negotiate NAFTA
56. Throwing his pastor Jeremiah Wright to the curb, then making up to Rick Warren
57. Fighting even the most well founded habeas corpus petitions to preserve indefinite detention, the Janko case

II. U.S. Senator Mark Begich has yet to unveil anything remotely resembling a position on the health care policy battle. He claims he will be looking more carefully at the issue in September. We will see.

His willingness to go along with a tragically flawed design for the Kensington Mine waste products disgusted me. Speaking with a former Begich mayoral staff member about this last week, I sensed other Begich stalwarts are also deeply disappointed. Another former Begich supporter noted to me that forcing Coeur Alaska to adopt to the alternative preferred by most environmentalists would have actually hired more Alaskans than will be needed to construct the containment system now being built.

Begich's long-touted trip to rural Alaska with cabinet members from the Obama administration bordered on farce, as they spent about five times as long traveling as they did on the ground. When the ceremonial aspects of their on-the-ground appearances are subtracted from what was left, their appearances weren't merely poorly planned, they were appallingly disrespectful of rural Alaskans, in an institutionalized racist sort of way.

A junction of Obama's and Begich's shortcomings in Alaska affairs came home to roost in Friday's aggravating Oceans Task Force hearing in Anchorage. Begich sits on the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce and Transportation, and - more importantly for Friday's event - the Subcommittee on Oceans, Fisheries, and The Coast Guard. Both the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration chair and the Commandant of the Coast Guard were at the hearing. Sen. Begich had no events scheduled for last Friday, but didn't attend this important event.

The event itself was another example of poor planning. The establishment guardian speakers, and corrupt apparatchiks such as Bill Sheffield, Fran Ulmer and John Binkley rudely spoke way over their allotted time, so that common citizens, mostly Native Alaskans, had their time to speak truncated. Some of the latter group had spent hundreds of dollars to travel to Anchorage to speak, at a time when they need to be preparing for what promises to be the harshest year for them in memory.

After I gave my testimony and was walking back through the meeting room, UAA Chancellor Fran Ulmer, one of my bosses, pointedly turned away from me. She has done that before.

III. The lack of appearance among the president's or the Alaska Senator's higher staff members of any critical awareness of how serious the ramifications of climate change and unsustainable growth paradigms are beginning to be, bothers me even more than the "politics-as-usual" aspects of typical cynical actions by these figures.

Can we, as progressives who helped get Obama and Begich elected, find any satisfaction in the self-serving turns to the right both these politicians have so visibly and consciously made?

Right now, if I were asked, I'd have to say, "No, we can't!"


Sun. Anon Person said...

This is why progressive never can get things done. We are too busy making our 7-month grievance lists of shortcomings against the world's first African-American president.

Pres. Obama took over after 8 years of the worst American presidency in history--a fascist regime which unleashed vast devastation worldwide. It will take years and years to fix the Bush-Cheney regime's damage, by anyone's calculus.

But why should we be patient with Pres. Obama? He didn't run as a magician. He has rolled up his sleeves. We should all do the same.

Anonymous said...

Phil, in the end they're all politicians. Unfortunately.

Bones AK said...

It is hard to disagree with what you have written, some I just don not know enough about. Others I feel very strongly in favor of your take on it.
Iraq get out now!

Afghanistan get out now! it broke Britain and the USSR, why does he feel that he can and why should he?

Xe pull all govt.. funding.

Stop rendition.

Peruse War Crimes, for this we have a moral and legal imperative to do so.

At the same time I also agree with Sun. Anon Person, but I too am getting feelings of unease.

Anonymous said...

Obama and Begich are both LOSERs.
We are stuck with them until we can replace them with Republican LOSERs.

At least we get to do that. If the real progressives/liberals were in power they would count our votes like they do in Iran.

Philip Munger said...

anon @ 9:13 - progressives and liberals would, if given the reins of government, manipulate the American system far less than do the corporate monsters that now dominate our political landscape.

jim said...

California is a relatively liberal state (although they've given us GOP presidents like Nixon and Reagan), while Alaska is a very conservative state. I'd speculate Begich would never have made it through a democratic primary in California-- I think he'd be too conservative. He can get away with running as a democrat in Alaska, but he'd probably have to switch parties if he wanted a career in politics in many other states. If republicans gained seats in the senate, I wouldn't be surprised to see him switch parties so he could caucus with Murkowski.

Philip Munger said...


I've been thinking along the same lines re a potential party switch by Begich, depending upon which way the wind blows.

sandra said...

Not sure I agree with you yet, but I am reminded of how in 1965 we were saying, "We voted for Johnson and got Goldwater." Looking back, it wasn't as simple as that. Thank you for making us think.

Anonymous said...

The time has come: to rattle the cages of the mice, get off the wheel and join us in the American Revolution. Maybe you will read the links below or not. But the truth is calling for you, to research beyond your cage.

Americans are serfs ruled by Oligarchs

Anonymous said...

I don't believe that Obama or Begich are "switching" -- There is so much corruption, that, we don't know what they are contending with behind the scenes. Please read President Carter's book after his term. It is horrendous what they are up against. Why do they go gray? There is a reason. And Obama has 400% more assassination threats than Bush. Everyone, we can't have everything at once. We need to work alongside this President, not against him. The next decades, the more that the silent majority make strides, and special interest lose their hold, we may get somewhere. We are battling a corporate regime. Remember, Obama didn't like the fact that he would have to give up his Blackberry communications? He is in a position where he can't talk freely, so we have to trust him. There are valid reasons... We need to watch his back. Thank you for reading my rant.

Anonymous said...

President Obama is in the position to make some dents in the corruption. If we don't support him, then the Republicans are going to take over for decades again. Do you want that? We were lucky to have him. Can you imagine if it were McCain/Palin running against Hillary?? Palin would have smeared Hillary really bad. We would have had Palin in the White House. Obama had a smooth organization that won the election for the Dems. Nothing is going to happen overnight. And he may have to compromise a lot to get one little thing done. The point is, Murdoch and slimebags rule. It will be really bad if Limbaugh and Palin's prediction come true, and if it does, its our fault, not the Obama Admnistration. Try living with that.

Casey said...

Phil...I understand most Americans desire to end the wars, both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As a Canadian however, I am feeling something regarding Afghanistan, that I am not sure I know how to put into words.

Canada is in Afghanistan...why? We went I believe at the behest of the US. Many of us were against this move, but it felt like the right thing to do at the time.

So Americans want out..we should pack up our boys and girls and come home too? We have lost many of our heroes there...our first female casualty in fact. I am not so sure we can bring ourselves to just walk away.

I am no expert in military things...war...nothing. I do though, know that most of our service people over there, want to ensure they leave things better than they found them.

Do americans forget that there are other nations fighting and working with them over there?

Like I said....I am feeling something....not sure what it is...and not sure how to explain it. All I know is when I read that Americans want out...I get kind of a knot in my stomach. I feel kind of slapped.

Do you understand what I am saying? Cause I am not sure I do.


Anonymous said...

Obama reminds me of Charles Durning

Fellow Texans, I am proudly standing here to humbly see.
I assure you, and I mean it- Now, who says I don't speak out as plain as day?
And, fellow Texans, I'm for progress and the flag- long may it fly.
I'm a poor boy, come to greatness. So, it follows that I cannot tell a lie.

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don't-
I've come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,
cut a little swathe and lead the people on.

Now my good friends, it behooves me to be solemn and declare,
I'm for goodness and for profit and for living clean and saying daily prayer.
And now, my good friends, you can sleep nights, I'll continue to stand tall.
You can trust me, for I promise, I shall keep a watchful eye upon ya'll...

Ooh I love to dance a little sidestep, now they see me now they don't-
I've come and gone and, ooh I love to sweep around the wide step,
cut a little swathe and lead the people on.

From "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" of course.

HarpboyAK said...

What Obama lacks is a wife that will push him to do what he knows is right, like Eleanor Roosevelt did with Franklin D. That means that we need to collectively push him into doing the right thing, along with pushing Congress to do the same.

That means letting Mark know that if he wants the support of Real Democrats at the next election, he's going to have to start dancing with those that brung him, not the Repukes that will campaign against him no matter his stands on any issues.

When we write to him, we should be very blunt about how we feel about his turnarounds and waffling, and how displeased we and other members of our community are.

We also need to encourage the Progressive Caucus and their health care bill stand (no public option, no bill) and help Act Blue raise funds for Congresscritters that support public option and other issues, and support primary challengers to the Blue Dogs that are voting with the Repukes and not supporting progressive causes.

We need to let them know that we are sick of their cowtowing to corporate America, and that we will fight against anyone who continues to vote for corporations and against constituent interests.

It's not enough to elect them, we need to keep the pressure on, because corporate pressure is very high.

Anonymous said...

The dude bought a house from Tony Rezko, what more do you need to know about the guy's sleazy factor ?

Of course you're too busy spreading lies about law enforcement agencies investigating Sarah Palin to notice crap like this.

I couldn't help but laugh when the Alaska D's were still organizing up here, Begich middle school and the chaos, B.O. and his message of "hope".

I really thought y'all were smarter than that.

baja said...

The list against Obama is pretty discouraging Phil. I feel Obama is so intent on being bi-partisan that he has lost a lot of ground in making the changes we hoped he would make. Numerous appointments he has made have been totally disappointing. I am still going to reservedly support his better efforts though. The battle he has with the corporate masters that run and finance Washington cannot be easy.

Begich is another story. I never liked him. I only voted for him to see Stevens out of office. To me he seems a lot like early Palin and most other politicians who take the political temperature to see where and how they place their support in order to get elected or re-elected. They have no real political stance, they simply like the power and notoriety of political office. I always thought Begich was too calculating and positionally all over the map to be a person of a truly progressive character. I will vote for and take a chance with any other progressive candidate that runs against him.
How about you, Phil?

Philip Munger said...


I was in the Green Party from 1990 through 2006. I got tired of beating my head against the wall. I joined the Democrats to help put together the web site, and decided to stay, because I accept most of the elements of the party's platform.

Begich will not be able to be reelected without the support of both progressives and moderates. That being said, honesty goes a long way.

GScott said...

Sun. Anon Person is exactly right. Expecting the president, or a senator, to accomplish change for us is the wrong approach. OF COURSE they're disappointing... because POLITICS is disappointing. The way forward however is to roll up our sleeves and keep working, working, working. The left has a propensity to quickly fall into infighting and fail to accomplish anything. Life is heartbreakingly disappointing and it's hard for us bleeding hearts to keep perspective & discipline. But either we focus and work together, or we lose. It's that simple.
I'd like to see more emphasis on what the bad guys are doing, and to expose them, rather than what the good guys are doing not as well as we'd like them to.
I personally still trust that Obama and Begich will get accomplished as much as they're allowed to, given their political power. If they fail, it's as much our fault as theirs. So, it's up to us Progressives to keep up the good fight and give them that power. Or more precisely, exercise our own power to enact the changes we'd like to see.
"We are the Change we've been waiting for!"

Anonymous said...

"I'm beginning to doubt that either President Barack Obama or Alaska's junior U.S. Senator, Mark Begich, have a true liberal bone in their bodies."
Progressive Alaska 2009

Not even "one liberal" bone? Phil what are you smoking? Obama must be one of, if not the most Liberal President in History.

You are correct that the Military-Industrial Complex is a tough nut to crack - President's of both parties have run into that rock.


Philip Munger said...


That was sort of a wake-up WTF line. Of course both have liberal bones, but they aren't showing much spine when it comes to cracking down on rampant abuses left over from the Bush era in the first case, the Stevens era in the second.

clark said...

i voted begich mostly on the strength of his attention to mt view, even while not agreeing with everything he did and tried to do there. but it was a lot better than all of his predecessors combined, overall.
but i am starting to think of him as the lesser of evils, for certain.
that list really got me down when i read it last night. i hung my head in shame.
what does obama think is going to be the logical outcome? more disenfranchisement, more feeling the whole system is rigged and nothing can ever be done about it. everything he said he was against.

Anonymous said...

The first poster is RIGHT on. We are all too critical and we are hurting the president. We should all be ot there like we were during the election. Instead of organizing and coming up with positive proactive steps , liberals and liberal bloggers sit back and whine about every little thing! Where are all the outspoken congress people from the left? They should be out in full force.
You will never find leaders that you line 100%. Never.
Stop making lists of things done wrong and instead come up with real things that all of us can do to help him. He cannot do it on his own. Bloggers are in a great position to be proactive bloggers bit most would rather critique and analyze the negatives. This helps people emotionally sort of but does nothing to bring real change.

Philip Munger said...

Anon @ 3:29,

I AM doing positive things for the positive ideas the president stands for. Read back through the essays at PA.

What are YOU doing, besides hiding behind anonymity and ranting at people who have a fucking conscience?

Anonymous said...

"What are YOU doing, besides hiding behind anonymity and ranting at people who have a fucking conscience?"

Self-righteous, moi ??!! Wow, I guess someone touched a nerve ! Hope and change !!!