Barry’s Blog # 205: Funny Guys, Fake News and Gatekeepers

I’m just a comedian. – Jon Stewart

This is a revised and updated version of a blog I posted in early 2013. I enjoyed watching Jon Stewart preaching to the choir as much as anyone. However, I never expected any authentic, radical commentary from him, for three reasons. First, the fact that he never mentioned the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats were in office) indicated the limits of his criticism of American policies that have been remarkably consistent, if hypocritical, since the end of World War Two.

Second, and perhaps more fundamental, was his policy of regularly inviting creeps like Bill O’Reilly as well as government spokespersons and other representatives of the corporate media onto his show for debate. Stewart was first and foremost an entertainer, and no one should have expected him to jeopardize his own status.

Now I have nothing against “reasoned debate.” Indeed, we could use much more of it. But by doing this, he gave them and their positions legitimacy before the camera and the millions who watched him, a legitimacy that they neither needed (they certainly got plenty of exposure on their own) nor deserved. This expresses what I call “liberal innocence” – the insistence, despite all evidence, that conservatives (I prefer the term “reactionaries”) and liberals will sort out “the facts” in a disengaged, orderly process on a “level playing field,” in which all participants share a common desire for enhancing the public welfare.

Bullshit. The unedited history of the last sixty years should show anyone who is willing to actually look that the Right and its flunkies have never played by the “rules” and never will. Naively hoping that they might do so only solidifies our sense of innocence and leads ultimately to disillusionment with the political process itself.

Stewart had a clear function within the corporate media: to constantly remind his viewers of the limits of acceptable discourse: meaning, from far-right to moderately liberal. Every time he playfully bantered with O’Reilly and his ilk, those scumbags moved a bit closer to the middle in the public, liberal eye. And, given that many young people admit that they got all their news colbert-700x525-1from Stewart and, perhaps, Stephen Colbert, his role becomes even more important.


For a while I also enjoyed watching Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow trash right-wingers with their devastating wit. However, the fact that they rarely criticized the Obama administration (whose fundamental policies and financial supporters were not significantly different from its predecessors) indicates a similar kind of innocent refusal, even denial, to rock the boat. By skewering right-wingers without acknowledging either collusion by Democrats or authentic left-wing alternatives, they served the function of all the media: to constrict the terms of debate to a fraction of that spectrum and give the impression that we have real freedom of expression in this country.

Eventually, it became clear that Maddow and all her MSNBC crowd had become nothing more than spokespersons for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, as Fox is for the Republicans. The jokes became stale, safe, snarky and predictable.

Ultimately, his corporate bosses deemed Olberman unacceptably liberal and they fired him in 2012. And who received the task of letting the public know just why it was good riddance? Why, John Stewart,  who slammed Olberman for his “bombast” and “rage,” thereby solidifying his own position as the arbiter of reasoned discourse.

Here is the third reason why he never offered any real criticism of corporate power in America. Many parents and older people told their activist children in the 1960s, “We approve of your goals but not of your methods.” In attacking Olberman’s style, Stewart was deliberately instructing his audience that, as bad as things may be, one would be wrong to even feel rage, or by extension, to feel anything at all, other than mild (if short-lived) euphoria after having had a good laugh, let alone to act upon it. He rarely spoke truth to power, and when he did, it was from the stance of wounded innocence.

Eventually, with the dominance of Fox News, the Koch-funded Tea Party and the grand con-man Trump, the issue of “fake news” arose to muddy the boundaries between truth and fiction on several levels. But as Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky had been arguing for decades, the established, corporate, “liberal” media had always purveyed news and opinion through subtle but highly slanted narratives quite deliberately intended to reinforce the myth of American innocence and the good intentions of the American Empire.

Stewart and Colbert revived an old entertainment form: comedians pretending to be newscasters, as in Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update.” Perhaps they were simply taking note of how American culture had been changing since the Ronald Reagan years. As (despite the media’s determined efforts) our grand narrative was breaking down, so were all of our institutions. Especially in the realms of politics, education and entertainment, many people were realizing that there was hardly any difference anymore. Who coined the term “edutainment?” Walt Disney, in 1954.

But Stewart the fake newsman never pretended to have values other those of Stewart the wealthy, Jewish (that is, unquestioningly pro-Israel) liberal, or “PEP” (progressive except for Palestine). And for the reasons I’ve mentioned, he could never break out of that bubble, with its gatekeeping function.

Stewart alumnae Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore have carried on the tradition without playing the fake newscaster role, but as straight-up, progressive, comedy. I would argue that Bee and Oliver, angry, persuasive and hilarious as they are (and thankfully not hosting conservatives for “reasoned” debate), have still, on occasion, revealed that they can function as gatekeepers as well. Bee regularly reinforces the anti-Russia narrative that denies the real reasons why Trump won, and Oliver has demonized those who question Big Pharma’s pro-vaccination narrative.

I could be wrong on these issues myself, but we are still talking about gatekeeping, and ultimately gatekeeping always serves the interests of the wealthy. Noah, of course, in keeping with Stewart’s old format, has also proven to be an effective gatekeeper.

The African-American Wilmore committed a more serious sin: he hosted a show with an angry, progressive, mostly person-of-color cast and was openly critical of Barack Obama. He retained the interview format, but his guests were often political activists, and the interviews themselves included members of the cast. There were always at least two Black persons in front of the camera. It’s really surprising that his corporate chieftains kept him around as long as they did. Eventually, they claimed, his ratings were insufficient.

And of course this thought reminds us of a question I regularly pose in these essays: Cui bono? Who profits? Follow the money. Do you remember what CBS Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves said of Donald Trump’s presidential run? “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

By this logic, even O’Reilly would turn liberal if the sponsorship or the ratings justified such a change. Up to a point, this seems to be one of the fundamental values of media in late capitalism: if it sells – if there is an identifiable market – keep selling it. Beyond that point, criticism of the system itself, aside from some of the clowns who embody it, becomes intolerable. This, combined with low ratings, spelled Wilmore’s demise.

Colbert the fake newsman actually slipped real criticism into his schtick by creating a raging blowhard persona inspired by characters like O’Reilly. Emily Nussbaum, in the New Yorker writes:

By wearing a mask made of his own face, he (Colbert) inflected every interaction with multiple ironies, keeping his guests—including politicians and authors—off balance, and forcing them to be spontaneous.

I’d take that statement further. By pretending to be a conservative chatting with other conservatives, he was able to reveal them as the thugs they really were, without giving them legitimacy. It was a subtle difference between him and Stewart, and a very important one: parody vs. satire. Colbert was a subversive: he undermined the dominant discourse and got away with it, because he had great ratings. By the way, those ratings provided the answer to the common question: “Why would those people allow themselves to look so foolish?’ The answer: Cui bono. Any publicity is good publicity.

I use the past tense here, because Colbert’s shift from Comedy Central to CBS sucked him straight into the gatekeeper vortex.

One of his very first guests in September 2015 was Trump himself. Perhaps Colbert assumed that a Trump nomination, not to mention presidency, was so unlikely that the comic potential and legitimization would be worth it. Fans who expected him to skewer Trump were certainly disappointed, however, as Trump refused to take his mild baiting and Colbert actually apologized for having criticized him in the past. lead_960

Indeed, like every interview he would do on the new show, it was a typical network-style discussion: long on safe, predictable jokes, short on the old irony and de-legitimizing. The effect was what we would later describe as “normalization.” Nussbaum describes these interviews:

With the irony drained away, Colbert was less vivid. He had a try-hard earnestness, a damp corporate pall; he was courtly with guests, as if modeling bipartisan behavior. Taking off the mask had made him less visible, not more.

Eventually, as Trump ascended, so did Colbert’s anger, but the late-night format continues to dictate the content – and the normalization. Attacking Trump is necessary and provides needed relief. colbertcartoontrump But it isn’t in itself subversive when everyone is doing it, and when much of the criticism is calculated to support the liberal narrative of Hillary Clinton, the DNC and Russian hacking: If only they hadn’t done that, we’d have a real president.

Under an absurdist regime, intensified by the digital landscape…all jokes become “takes,” their punch lines interchangeable with CNN headlines, Breitbart clickbait, Facebook memes, and Trump’s own drive-by tweets, which themselves crib gags from “Saturday Night Live.” (“Not!”) Under these conditions, a late-night monologue begins to feel cognitively draining, not unlike political punditry.

Nussbaum prefers John Oliver, Samantha Bee and Seth Myers. But it always comes back to gatekeeping, one of the primary functions, incidentally, of The New Yorker. These three are all excellent and progressive comics. Unlike Wilmore and his cast, however, they’re all white.

In 2017, when haters have free rein, from the Attorney General down to violent cops and loonies in bleacher seats, when humor is nearly indistinguishable from government proclamations, angry (even if funny) Black men are still beyond the pale. Keeping them – and their implied assault on American innocence – out there is one reason why gatekeepers do what they do, and why they are paid so well.






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Barry’s Blog # 204: Stories We Tell Ourselves About Barack Obama, Part Fifteen

Myth # 7: The Unwitting Savior

I have to ask: when did calm, rational discussion ever do us any good? I agree with Michael Meade, who says that anything worth saying is worth exaggerating. I agree with David Whyte, who says “This is not the age of information. This is the age of loaves and fishes.” May it be the age when the gatekeepers can no longer pull the wool over our eyes, when they can no longer serve up “leaders” charged with the assignment to repair the cracks in the myth of American innocence. May it be the age when the predatory and paranoid imaginations that have ruled our consciousness – and our unconsciousness – for centuries fall away to make room for the creative imagination that still resides in our indigenous minds.

I began this long essay by talking about the mythology of the King. As we search for some kind of positive conclusion, bear with me while I stretch out and play with two themes. The first is annunciation, the universal, cross-cultural story of how divine messengers appear to predict the arrival on Earth of a great being, such as the Buddha, or Maitreya, the future Buddha.

In discussing our idealizations and projections onto figures like Obama – and why we’re still so reluctant to see him as he really was, and why our disillusionment may be so overwhelming when we do – I’ve made reference to another related archetype, the longing for the return of the king, such as Odysseus in Greek myth or the Messiah in Hebrew myth. In Christian myth, the birth of John the Baptist (necessary for the later birth of Jesus) is foretold in Luke 1:5-25. And in Luke 1:26, the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will become his mother. In Mark 1:3, John preaches, Prepare ye the way of the Lord.

A second theme is the holy fool, another universal figure who is innocent, unsophisticated, inexperienced and useless. Yet he appears, as Parsifal  or as the third, youngest brother in so many fairy tales to complete the task of saving the Kingdom or capturing the Firebird when his two older, heroic brothers fail. He accepts guidance from animal helpers. His intelligence is of the body, and utterly unconscious. But, unlike his brothers, he is “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3).

Bear with me. When we combine these two universal themes – the one who arrives to announce the impending arrival of another (who is still only in potential), yet who is himself utterly unconscious of his actual and necessary role in the drama, who may actually be quite a wounded soul, maybe even embodying the worst in all of us – we find a mythological reframe of Barack Obama. The one in potential, by the way, will be the one who will lift the veils, who will be the enlightened, or self-aware, or no-longer-innocent one within all of us.

Perhaps we need a third mythic theme to put it all together. Again, we find it as a universal archetype: the divine being, or witch, seemingly evil, who demands that the hero perform a series of impossible (almost always three) tasks to save his life, or that of the realm. Often that hero (or heroine, such as Psyche, who must obey Aphrodite’s commands) is that same third sibling who gets help from those same animal spirits. The deity or witch who seems to want nothing but to destroy the hero is, at a deeper level, his initiator, who actually wants him to succeed.

For an excellent example, consider the Grimms Brothers tale called “The Drummer,”  in which a truly hideous hag requires a quite incompetent hero to drain a lake, cut down a forest and stack a massive pile of lumber. But at the end of the story, she is indistinguishable from the princess he marries.

In another incarnation, she is the even more hideous hag, Dame Ragnelle, who forces the Arthurian knight Gawain to answer, at the peril of his life, the question “What is it that women most desire?”  Later, after they have married, she gives him the choice to have her beautiful at night, when they are together, or during the day, when they are with others. Instead, he allows her to make the choice herself. This answer lifts the curse for good, and Ragnelle’s beauty returns permanently.

Still with me? We’ve arrived at the seventh and final myth, or way to grade Obama – and, for that matter, all the bankers, industrialists, militarists, fear-mongers, idle rich and all of their politician stooges, media lackeys, gatekeepers and mendacious academics who have contributed to so much human suffering in their pursuit of power and influence.

Caroline Casey says, “The situation is so dire we can’t afford the luxury of realism.” Indeed. In Chapter Twelve of my book I suggest:

We need to use sacred language, in the subjunctive mode: let’s pretend, perhaps, suppose, maybe, make believe, may it be so, what if – and play. This “willing suspension of disbelief” is what Coleridge called “poetic faith.” Then, says Lorca, the artist stops dreaming and begins to desire.

If we combine these archetypal themes – annunciation; the longing for the return of the King; the holy fool; and he/she who poses the impossible tasks – we have something I’ll call the Unwitting Savior.

Here I’m reminded of a critical point in the Bacchae, as I write in Chapter Four of my book:

…Jung said that the soul is teleological, always moving toward integration. We carelessly leave the gates unlocked for the Mystery to enter and do its destructive – and perhaps reconstructive – work. Grandiosity and innocence evoke betrayal and alienation. Usually we respond with “inauthentic suffering” – bitterness, depression or addiction. Sometimes, however, we fall into humility and grief. This may lead to repentance, compassion and wisdom, which the Greeks personified as the goddess Sophia. She could only be approached through authentic suffering. Aeschylus wrote: Sing sorrow, sorrow, but good win out in the end. We see this deeper motivation when Pentheus orders his henchmen to find Dionysus:

Go, someone, this instant, to the place where this prophet prophesies.

Pry it up with crowbars, heave it over, upside down; demolish everything you see…

That will provoke him more than anything.

“Provoke” (from vocare, to call) is marvelously appropriate. At some level Pentheus can choose. He can invoke or evoke his own Dionysian nature, or he can innocently project it outwards, provoking its expression somewhere else.

As I have written several times in the course of this essay, myth is not interested in motivation (or in psychological terms, conscious motivation). Myth is concerned with action, with the mythological facts, with what needs to happen in order to bring the story forward, or with what action that will provoke what must follow.

What if Obama, Trump and the rest of them, completely unaware of their deeper intentions, have really been asking questions such as these, and American culture has been (so far) unable to hear them:

– How can we provoke millions of Americans to wake up from their dream of good intentions and exceptionalism?

– What can we do to provoke new gaps in the veneer of the myth of innocence so broad that they can never be shored up and re-sealed? How can we make the dam burst?

– What can we do to provoke a situation in which conditions become so difficult, so irreparable that the system will respond by producing a fascist strongman – or in mythic terms a Dionysian figure – who will tear the entire system down permanently so that something much better may arise?

– How can we best provoke enough people to so completely suspend their belief in conventional political and religious thinking that they begin to remember the old ways of mythological thinking and learn to reframe their sense of who they are and what they are truly capable of accomplishing?

– What is needed to prepare the way for the return of the Goddess?

Wouldn’t such questions bring us back to where the myth of America itself wants us to go? And who would be speaking now? The hag? The billions of repressed, humiliated and tortured common people who long for peace? Or perhaps the ultimate “grader” herself – the Earth?

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Barry’s Blog # 203: Stories We Tell Ourselves About Barack Obama, Part Fourteen

Obama’s Legacy:

Obama arrived in the White House promising a new era of democracy and positive change for the common man. In 2008, the Republicans were deeply unpopular, and Sarah Freaking Palin could have been a heartbeat away from the Presidency (that doesn’t seem so bizarre anymore).

In 2012, all the GOP could muster was the grinning idiot Romney. Still, Obama won with a smaller margin than four years before. From a 2016 perspective, it was Black Tweedledee vs White bread Tweedledumb. He left Washington that year with the Democratic Party on the verge of irrelevancy and the common man supporting a fascist.

Certainly, the Republican-caused log jamb of the federal government led many to blame both parties and lose interest in politics, and (well-financed) others to organize on the right. But the major factors were the Democrats’ own failure of imagination, their indebtedness to their corporate sponsors and their blatant ignoring of both a failed economy and widespread discontent. Micah Sifry writes:

As we now know, that grand vision for a post-campaign movement never came to fruition. Instead of mobilizing his unprecedented grassroots machine to pressure obstructionist lawmakers, support state and local candidates who shared his vision, and counter the Tea Party, Obama mothballed his campaign operation, bottling it up inside the Democratic National Committee. It was the seminal mistake of his presidency—one that set the tone for the next eight years of dashed hopes, and helped pave the way for Donald Trump to harness the pent-up demand for change Obama had unleashed…“We lost this election eight years ago,” concludes Michael Slaby, the campaign’s chief technology officer. “Our party became a national movement focused on general elections, and we lost touch with nonurban, noncoastal communities. There is a straight line between our failure to address the culture and systemic failures of Washington and this election result.”…a sin of imagination, one that helped decimate the Democratic Party at the state and local level and turn over every branch of the federal government to the far right.

These political decisions – along with, of course, Obama’s actual policies – had much to do with the massive disillusionment that set in among young idealists, few of whom transferred their Bernie Sanders loyalties to Hillary Clinton, supporting her only because they feared Trump. But the damage, as Sifry says, happened much earlier. By 2016 the Democrats had lost over a thousand spots in state legislatures, governor’s mansions and Congress.

“What’s happened on the ground is that voters have been punishing Democrats for eight solid years — it’s been exhausting,” said South Carolina State Senator Vincent Sheheen, who lost two gubernatorial campaigns…“If I was talking about a local or state issue, voters would always lapse back into a national topic: Barack Obama.” After this year’s elections, Democrats hold the governor’s office and both legislative chambers in just five coastal states: Oregon, California, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware. Republicans have the trifecta in 25, giving them control of a broad swath of the middle of the country.

I have argued that despite all this incompetence, it still took massive voter suppression and outright computer fraud to win the 2016 election.

But consider if Clinton had actually won: another 4-8 years of obstruction on domestic policies and empirical wars abroad, balanced at best by a moderate on the Supreme Court, and another generation of disillusioned young people. And amid the faux-feminist self-congratulation among liberals, no need for hagiography about Obama.  At worst, if Clinton actually fulfilled her campaign rhetoric and established a no-fly zone over Syria and ordered “military responses” to the alleged Russian cyber attacks, we’d be at war with Russia.

In December the White House worked to recruit the centrist Tom Perez to run against and ultimately defeat the more liberal Keith Ellison as DNC chairman. Had they learned nothing from Clinton’s defeat? Or, as Greenwald writes,

…it seems Democratic leaders prioritize ensuring that the left has no influence in their party over strengthening itself to beat the Trump-led Republicans…

We can only understand this mess by reverting to our mythological view: Obama played the inspirational role of the King in order to get elected. But it was only a role; and it was played by a trickster. The King imagines for us all; the Trickster (a poor version of the Trickster – the Con Man) is out for himself.

As Gary Younge writes, this latest transition is not simply a matter of sequence – one bad president following a good one – but consequence: one horrendous agenda made possible by the failure of its predecessor.

I’m sure you could offer all kinds of counter-arguments to what I’ve been saying from your own grading perspective. And you should; we all need to step back occasionally and consider what motivates our strong opinions. And I’m suggesting that our position within the myth of American innocence is a strong motivator. From outside the myth, others see us more objectively.

Perhaps Obama really has tried but been unable to reform a dreadfully wasteful and brutal militarism that has remained remarkably consistent, regardless of who has occupied the White House, for seventy years. We’d still like to believe that notion, because to think otherwise would be to call into question our most fundamental assumptions about who we are as Americans. To ask about our own collusion in perpetuating the story of American goodness and exceptionalism – despite all the evidence – would be to ask how we cannot see that the President has perfected the art of appearing to embody the Archetypal King – while actually enacting its, and our, shadow.

I certainly can entertain this possibility: perhaps Obama’s con-act was not a conscious process. His tears for American victims of gun violence were real – and so were his war crimes.

In this sense, from the empire’s grading point of view, he was a complete success. To bring this discussion back to mythological thinking, we remember that we all inhabit a story. In this story Obama was a hired gun, brought in to shore up the cracks in the myth of innocence that had appeared during the Bush years, and he succeeded for a while. In this grading perspective, even the Republicans (speaking honestly for once, off the record) would give him a straight-A.

Once again we need to address the fundamental question that progressives constantly dance around without really examining: good-intentioned mistakes rising from incompetence vs. deliberate, cynical policy. How many times have you heard this assessment (shared by almost all politicians, pundits and historians) that the Viet Nam war (please feel free to substitute Iraq, Afghanistan, etc) was a “mistake”? High school students all across the country learn the story, how our leaders had the best of intentions – defending freedom and stopping the spread of communism (feel free to substitute “Islamic terrorism”) – and it was only their own incompetence and changes in American popular opinion that defeated them.

Noam Chomsky, however, reminds us that America invaded Viet Nam, to prevent it “…from becoming a successful model of economic and social development…” It was the Vietnamese people who won the war, not the Americans who lost it. This is one reason why Chomsky’s name almost never appears in the New York Times. And the only level on which this and all the other horrors I’ve been detailing were mistakes was the moral level.

They were crimes. They were intended as crimes, planned, prosecuted and perpetuated by Harvard-educated criminals. These were and are the crimes of imperialism, not innocent blunders, and Obama is as complicit as any of his predecessors.

What if we were to drop our assumptions of American innocence and ask our grading questions but from a different perspective, that of the Deep State and the actual managers of policy and public opinion? Questions such as:

1 – How can we direct public opinion and policy so that the military – and its ever-increasing budget – remains permanently in a certain part of the world?

2 – How can we direct increasingly greater shares of the nation’s resources towards the military-industrial complex, the education-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, Big Pharma and the financial and insurance industries?

3 – How can we best manipulate the levels of irrational fear and anxiety so as to distract common people from such policies – and eventually choose a more blatant demagogue?

4 – How can we vet prospective political candidates and journalists to make sure that none of them ever question these policies?

5 – How can we serve up pliant legislators for lobbyists to shape?

6 – How can we make most Americans so utterly insecure about jobs, housing, education, health and the future in general that they will acquiesce to any of our demands?

7 – How can we make the rest of the population so tired, depressed and disillusioned that they simply stop bothering to vote?

Now from that point of view, let’s ask another basic question. After eight years, have the one percent come to accumulate as much wealth as the bottom fifty percent despite Obama’s policies or because of them? In mythology, we recall, motivation doesn’t matter, only actions. Mythology looks at what happened and asks what needed to occur in order for the story to move on.

Our one consolation is that if we pay attention, it also asks how we might reframe the story.

Once again, what about those signs of mild, incremental progress? Consider that for those who actually control the American Empire, policy decisions have only two potential consequences. The first as always – Cui bono? – is financial: who pays and who profits? The second is political: how much political capital is gained or lost?

Saving the auto industry? Why not ask: what is the price of keeping these inefficient and failing corporations alive even though they’ve outsourced most of their jobs to the Third World, when the obviously better solution is to buy them out at bottom-dollar prices and create worker-owned collectives? Answer: keep a few of those jobs in this country.

Health care? Why not ask: What is the price of delivering vastly more wealth and influence to the insurance industry? Answer: mandate expensive health coverage for some of the people.

Cuba? Iran? Why not ask: What is the price of opening up new consumer markets totaling nearly 90 million people in countries that were never any threat to our safety? Answer: Take actions that conservatives would never (claim to) support anyway. Nothing risked, nothing lost.

Supporting gay rights? Why not ask: What is the price of securing some nine million potential voters for the Democratic Party, especially when we’ve done nothing to repair the fact that several million African-Americans remain disenfranchised? Answer: Nothing at all. Again, nothing risked.

I take no pride in this. It isn’t about venting my frustration or expressing gratuitous cynicism. It is about waking up from the dream of innocence, exceptionalism and good intentions. Before we can begin to reframe our stories, we have to realize that we have inhabited a very toxic one for our entire existence as a nation, and it still holds us by the short hairs.

Ultimately I don’t care if you come to agree with my assessment of Obama. I do hope that you come to realize how much of your thoughts are determined by the mythology of innocence that we all subscribe to, how much your longing for the return of the King in your own heart determines the idealizations that you project onto politicians and entertainers.

Is there any difference any more between them? Trump knows the answer. And here’s something that everyone in Washington (including its 50,000 lobbyists) knows about con-men: while you fretted as his right hand (Trump) promised to move the cups on the table, his left hand (Obama/Clinton) had already been in your pocket.  Perhaps you deplore my hyperbole. Yes, I’m a curmudgeon, and yes, as George Carlin said about the American Dream: “You have to be asleep to believe it.” My next post will conclude this essay.


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Barry’s Blog # 202: Stories We Tell Ourselves About Barack Obama, Part Thirteen

“Missile Defense”

Do you remember Reagan’s spaced-based “Strategic Defense Initiative”, known derisively as “Star Wars”? It was never built because it was costly, provocative and consistently unreliable. Since then, however, each successive administration has continued to lavish vast resources on it, with the total costs over $180 billion so far.  Any normal person could ask why, and the truth comes down to this: the defense industry, knowing a cash cow, has never relinquished its hold on elected politicians.

And this: despite the fact that even the newest version of the program has less than a 50% success rate under even the simplest of scenarios, the generals have always coveted a workable missile defense system that could be an indispensible part of a first-strike threat against either Russia or China. They have always known that, rather than protecting America from some mythical, unprovoked attack, the system would actually be insurance against retaliation by anyone the U.S. might choose to attack first. For this reason, the Obama administration expanded the program.

Presidential Powers

Even Time Magazine wonders:

Future historians will ask why George W. Bush sought and received express congressional authorization for his wars…and his successor did not. They will puzzle over how Barack Obama the prudent war-powers constitutionalist transformed into a matchless war-powers unilateralist…Although he backed down from his threat to invade Syria last summer, President Obama proclaimed then the power to use unilateral force for purely humanitarian ends without congressional or United Nations or NATO support.

Should the government be able to kill its own citizens without explaining to a court why and what it’s doing? This awesome power is no longer subject to any judicial oversight. Now, with Trump in office after a campaign in which he promised to revive the torture program and carry out war crimes such as killing the families of suspected terrorists (and at the date of this posting he already has), we have to wonder what box of horrors Obama – the assassin-in-chief – opened up. If he could order the murder of radical preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, what limits will Trump recognize? John Knefel writes:

For the past eight years, critics of Obama’s secret assassination programs and mass surveillance operations have made two critical points. The first is that…these kinds of broad authorities invite abuse, mistakes and errors, even if those calling the shots are operating in good faith. But the second point, now made painfully relevant, is that someday you might not trust the people calling the shots. You might realize, instead, that they are terrifying. That day has come.

Trump has inherited not only the drone assassination program but the Special Forces units that Obama expanded so greatly, essentially the President’s private army – 70,000 men, many of them Christian extremists and blatant racists – operating in secrecy, seldom discussed in the media except in action movies. Tomdispatch reports:

Now, in these last weeks of (Obama’s) presidency, his administration has given JSOC new powers to “track, plan, and potentially launch attacks on terrorist cells around the globe” and to do so “outside conventional conflict zones” and via “a new multiagency intelligence and action force.”  As a result, whatever this new task force may do, it won’t, as in the past, have to deal with regional military commands and their commanders at all. Its only responsibility will be to the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and assumedly the White House.

 Arms Dealer in Chief:

Obama stood on the high ground of moral righteousness, publicly weeping as he decried gun violence in America. But behind the sanctimonious finger-pointing, he discreetly brokered and authorized the sale of more arms to foreign governments than any president since World War II. Arms exports totaled over $200 billion, exceeding the amount Bush had approved by $60 billion. Over half of that amount went to the Saudis. Cui bono?

The U.S. did temporarily ban some of the worst human rights offenders from these weapon deals. However, when Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Kuwait, the United Arab Republics and Qatar “donated” to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s foundation, she waived those restrictions.

Nuclear Proliferation:

In April 2009 Obama pledged himself to make “the world free from nuclear weapons.” Six months later, despite having escalated the war in Afghanistan, he received the Nobel Peace Prize. In a bizarre twist on the “Watch what we do, not what we say” theme, the Nobel Committee cheapened itself by rewarding someone for things he said he might do, rather than for actually doing any of them.  But even in his acceptance speech, Obama could not resist defending American militarism.

The truth became clear soon enough, as he announced plans to build redesigned nuclear warheads (smaller and thus much more likely to be used), new bombers, submarines, land-based missiles, weapons labs and production plants. Under Obama nuke spending rose higher than under any other president. The cost over thirty years would exceed $1 trillion and violate the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Indeed, he reduced the nuclear arsenal far less – about 5 % – than any of his three immediate predecessors had.

In 2015 his belligerent and costly policies led a member of the Nobel Committee to openly regret awarding him the Peace Prize. Two weeks before leaving office, and with the obviously unstable Trump arriving, Obama still ignored requests to take the nuclear attack program off its provocative and dangerous “hair-trigger alert” status.

Waste and Corruption:

Obama’s final year was a festival of self-congratulation for the waste and corruption that took place on his watch. In May he presented the Distinguished Public Service Award to the war criminal Henry Kissinger.

In June the Defense Department’s Inspector General admitted that the Army – the Army alone, not including the Navy and Air Force  – made $2.8 trillion in wrongful adjustments to accounting entries in one quarter alone in 2015, and $6.5 trillion for the year, and that it lacked receipts and invoices to support those numbers or simply made them up. Dave Lindorff writes:

…the Pentagon has been at this dodgy game for decades. In 1996, Congress passed a law requiring all federal agencies to comply with federal accounting standards, to produce budgets that are auditable and to submit an audit each year…two decades later, the Pentagon has yet to comply…the only federal agency that is not complying or, the IG’s report suggests, even trying to comply.

And in December, he very publicly added fuel to the “blame the Russians for hacking the election” fires with feeble and purely symbolic sanctions, including deporting the chef of San Francisco’s Russian consulate. These actions, of course, were merely the beginning of what would be daily media attacks on Trump, and this story is certainly not over. I’ve already dealt in great detail with the real reasons why the Democrats lost the election here. Juan Cole offers a few fundamental questions about this charade:

…if the charge is that the Russians influenced the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, then either they did or they didn’t. If they didn’t, they aren’t very good hackers and might have been safely ignored. If they did, then why no demand that the results of the election be set aside and new elections held? Why are no specific effects of the Russian hacking demonstrated?

Meanwhile, as I mentioned above, Obama signed into law the Defense Authorization Act that further strengthened the repressive capacities of the state. He could have closed the Guantanamo prison by executive order but didn’t. And he quietly ensured that the Senate’s investigation into the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11 would remain classified for at least another 12 years. No one would be prosecuted for torture (or for causing the financial collapse), and none of Trump’s thugs need worry about future war crimes.

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Barry’s Blog # 201: Stories We Tell Ourselves About Barack Obama, Part Twelve

Sub-Saharan Africa:

American troops swarmed over the continent during the Obama years, allegedly to fight terrorism. They were also there to prop up friendly regimes with horrific human rights records, such as Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda. And they were driven by a new scramble for resources – such as the rare-earth minerals so crucial to producing cell phones – and by intensified competition with China, now Africa’s, as well as Asia’s, largest trading partner. But it was mostly about oil.

Africa has about 10% of global oil reserves, and imports from Africa to the U.S. equal those from the Mid-East. Huge reserves have been discovered in Uganda. South Sudan now controls about three-quarters of the formerly united country’s oil production. The Guardian claims that in Somalia the “potential is comparable to that of Kuwait, which has more than 100 billion barrels of proven oil reserves,” and that “if true, the deposits would eclipse Nigeria’s reserves and make Somalia the seventh largest oil-rich nation.”

As always, securing access to oil underpinned Obama’s security concerns. Bush had created the AFRICOM military command in 2007. Yet under Obama, AFRICOM’s budget rose to $302 million, almost tripling since its launch. And these funds don’t include vast sums spent on training, arming and financing African militaries, which climbed to about $1 billion, plus another $1 billion for private military contractors.

Lee Wengraf writes:  “It is no exaggeration to say that the U.S. is at war in Africa. The continent is awash with American military bases, covert operations and thousands of Western-funded troops.” U.S. troops are now in Uganda, Mali, Chad, Burundi, Niger, Ethiopia, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Congo, the Central African Republic, the Seychelles, South Sudan, Nigeria and several other African nations.

There is a secret network of drone bases in East Africa, especially Somalia, which has suffered over two decades of civil war. One Somali told David Axe, “You Americans, you’ll destroy an entire city to get three people.” Both Kenya (which receives a billion dollars in U.S. aid) and Ethiopia have launched invasions into Somalia. The U.S. now has its largest military presence there since it left the country in 1993. The conflict has generated hundreds of civilian deaths and thousands of refugees.

But the death toll was far higher in South Sudan, where tens of thousands died and three million people joined the refugee flow toward the Mediterranean. The U.S., predictably, was the source of this misery. According to Thomas C. Mountain, the CIA was funding a dirty war “little different than the wars the CIA funded in Angola and Mozambique” to overthrow the government. As it had done in those countries, it used a “rebel leader” with arms funneled from U.S.-friendly Ethiopia to wage an ethnic-based war, pushing for regime in the name of a doctrine called “Responsibility to Protect” (much the same rationale as in their war against Libya).

Why? Because South Sudan was doing business with China. The oil fields there are the only Chinese owned and operated in Africa. Despite horrifying tales of black on black tribal violence, the U.S. was the only beneficiary, having been able to repeatedly damage or shut down the Chinese oil fields as a result of the rebellion. As Obama left office, South Sudan, despite its oil riches, was on the brink of an all-out ethnic civil war and famine. “It’s that simple,” writes Mountain, “…the war in South Sudan is about denying China access to Africa’s oil.” Cui bono?

Latin America:

The region has been under Washington’s thumb for nearly 200 years, and again Obama’s policies were completely consistent with those of the past: protecting Wall Street’s investments, training and supporting thugs who promised to return their countries to the old authoritarian rule, and destabilizing democratically-elected leaders who opposed it. Bush’s attempts to overthrow Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, with its own vast oil reserves, are well known. Less known perhaps is the fact that both before Chavez’ death in 2013 and since then, against Chavez’s elected successor, Nicolas Maduro, Obama pursued the same actions.

Tactics included speculation that led to collapse in the price of crude oil and subsidization of protestors and anti-government media. Once again, the mainstream media functioned as cheerleaders for this effort, as the Washington Post trumpeted, “How to derail Venezuela’s new dictatorship.”

During the Obama years the U.S. meddled repeatedly in Haiti, Guatemala, Suriname, Guyana, Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Ecuador (fomenting a failed coup),


Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, claiming that the CIA was trying to overthrow his government

Bolivia, Colombia (where $450 million per year was widely seen as merely a cover for U.S. military power projection in South America) and Brazil, where the new President Michel Temer openly boasted that he’d led the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff not for any crime but for her refusal to implement a right wing economic plan.  Paraguay experienced a similar parliamentary coup in 2012, and the U.S. tellingly refused to join the rest of the hemisphere in condemning it.

But Obama’s worst Western Hemisphere crime – and this was not a continuation of something Bush had begun – was crushing democracy in Honduras and turning it into a narco-state that now serves as a primary transit point for drugs into the U.S. In June 2009, the Honduran army seized President Manuel Zelaya and whisked him away in a plane that refueled at a U.S. military base. The OAS, the U.N. and others refused to recognize the subsequent sham election, but the U.S., predictably, did. The coup leaders, like so many others, had trained in the U.S. at the notorious Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, which had formerly changed its name from School of the Americas because of its long-term association with torture.

The tiny country, formerly used by Reagan in the 1980s as a base for the Contra war, now has the highest murder rate on Earth. The Obama administration cynically provided the military with plenty of aid for fighting the drug trade ($18 million in 2016 alone), knowing full well that it is used to repress indigenous activists such as Berta Caceres,


Berta Caceres, winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize

who, shortly before being murdered in March 2016, quite specifically blamed Hillary Clinton for the coup. Indeed, Clinton openly boasted of her role.

The causes were America’s insatiable demand for resources – in this case, cocaine – and its stubborn refusal to let nations determine their own destiny. Once again we see a tragic pattern. The U.S. destabilizes an independent country, causing violent coups, civil wars, repression or large-scale, drug-related violence, even famine. Thousands leave, unable to find work or basic safety, and add themselves to the vast flow of refugees attempting to enter Western Europe or the U.S., where right-wing groups demonize them and blame them for our internal problems.

Was this some kind of cruel joke? Did he do this just because he could do it? As one of his very last acts, a week before Trump’s inauguration, with no evidence of any threat and months after the opening to Cuba, Obama signed an executive order renewing the status of both Venezuela and Cuba as “national security threats.”

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Barry’s Blog # 200: Stories We Tell Ourselves About Barack Obama, Part Eleven

“Others”: Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Cuba, Korea and China:

It’s instructive to see how consistent Obama’s “regime change” strategies were with those of his predecessors, and how culpable he was in the destruction of nations. Evidently, the threat of Muslim terrorism was not enough on its own to justify the ongoing state of fear in America. The Deep State needed another external Other and it found it by rekindling the old enmity that had seemingly disappeared when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Now, Russia is as fully capitalist as the U.S., but it represents an economic competitor as well as an opportunity for more military engagement. I do not use the word “opportunity” lightly. As the old Irish joke goes: Is this a private fight or can anyone join in?

Washington planned and funded the classic destabilization and regime change in Ukraine as part of a larger strategy to surround Russia with NATO-allied and nuclear-armed states. Once again, Ukraine is a pawn in big-power games.

Ukraine illegally annexed Crimea in 1991, and repeated attempts by the Crimean people to redress this injustice met with opposition from Kiev. Crimea voted to rejoin Russia in 2008. When the Ukraine government refused to sever ti

Ukrainian Neo-Nazis

es with Russia in 2014, the U.S. fomented a violent coup, led by Neo-Nazis and anti-Semites.  As with Syria and Libya, the covert money expended by U.S. intelligence is staggering, allegedly some $5 billion.

That year, the Crimeans (84% of whom speak Russian as their native language) again overwhelmingly voted to rejoin Russia, which already had military bases there and offered them help. The U.S. denounced these actions as Russian intervention and, as it always does in these situations, quickly recognized and funded the new government.

Clearly, the Russians were neither innocent nor pacifistic, but this U.S.-sponsored coup happened on their doorstep, in a region that had been part of Russia for centuries. Russia was lured into involvement, just as it had been in Afghanistan in 1979. The U.S. generously supplied Ukraine with military aid, and the madness of civil war was on. Over 8,000 have died. In addition, Ukraine’s decision to sever all economic and political ties with Russia caused living standards to fall by more than 50%, and inflation to rise to 43%. The mainstream media, of course, simply blamed the Ukraine crisis on the new bad guy du jour, Vladimir Putin.

The U.S. and the E.U. placed costly sanctions on Russia, and the Cold War rose again from its grave. Soon the media and liberal politicians were commonly referring to Russia as an “adversary” once again and to Putin as a dictator and master manipulator, with reverberations that continued into the 2016 election and beyond. Again, as with Assad and Gaddafi, Putin’s character and motives are utterly irrelevant to this inquiry, unless you still believe that Obama’s intervention was for innocent and humanitarian reasons.

In the spring of 2016, NATO troops began  military exercises in Estonia, right on the Russian border, timed to start immediately after the Russian Victory Day commemoration of their victory and massive losses in World War Two. “If this doesn’t qualify as a provocation,” asks John Wight, “what does?”

Why is the West…intent on pursuing a cold war strategy when it comes to Russia? How can it possibly profit Western countries and their citizens to experience a return to the decades of enmity previous generations endured, with all the dangers that such a state of mutual antagonism brings?…Are these people actually mad?

In the fall, Obama announced that 6,000 more U.S. troops would deploy, initially in Germany and Poland, and eventually to Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania and Slovakia, as well as to naval units in the Black Sea. All this, he said, was “to reassure Eastern Europe.” The U.S. planned to deploy its dubious “missile defense” system (actually part of a first-strike strategy) throughout these countries, offering the comic justification that their missiles were intended to defend against attacks from “rogue states like Iran.”

Again the Russians took the bait – who wouldn’t? – and responded by deploying their own missiles around Moscow. All this was happening just before the U.S. election. Was this costly and frightening theater of the absurd more about Russia or more about Trump? In either case, it was cynical in the extreme. Obama, accusing Trump’s candidacy of being a Russian plot, demanded that Russia “act responsibly.”

Of course, we mythic commentators cannot be privy to the complex machinations of great powers. But sometimes things are simpler than they seem. Everything we know about Obama’s attitude towards Russia and much of what we know about the election seem to point towards a major conflict between two forces within the Deep State: those who want to dominate or even make war on Russia, and those who want to attack China. But Obama’s fear-mongering backfired; the second group would win the election.

Iran and Cuba:

Ever since the Russians removed their missiles after the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, no honest, intelligent person has ever suggested that either Cuba or Iran was an actual threat to America. Of course the Iran deal was a good thing, but as I wrote earlier, it was “characterized by the stench of mendacious bloviating, grandstanding, preaching to the choir and absurd political theater…”

This included continual statements that the deal would rein in the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions, despite the fact that all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies – as well as the Israeli Mossad – agreed that Iran had given up any intention of building a bomb many years before. Obama had continued Bush’s painful sanctions on Iran in full knowledge of this information. And his rhetoric was horrifying: “Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation or it’s resolved through force, through war.”

Eventually, the temptation of investing in these two new markets, before other countries could monopolize trade with them, exceeded the value of fear-mongering. Obama mollified conservatives by claiming that long-term Cuba strategy remained regime change. But these were business decisions, dictated by Wall Street, which had grown immeasurably richer during the Obama years, and so was his support of the Trans Pacific Partnership. Similarly, in the 1970s, Nixon’s opening to China had been dictated by Wall Street’s desire for new markets. Fifty years before that, Calvin Coolidge had preached: The business of America is business.

North Korea:

From this perspective, America will never stop provoking North Korea until Wall Street desires new consumer markets and the Deep State identifies a different “other”. For some background, consider that In the Korean War the U.S. destroyed all of North Korea’s 78 cities, and thousands of villages, killing three million people, nearly a third of the population. Over sixty years later it still keeps 29,000 troops in the south, along with nuclear weapons, in its bogus campaign to restrain this “rogue state” and charter member of the “Axis of Evil.”

Once again, the character of its “erratic” and “irresponsible” (Obama’s words) leadership is irrelevant. Indeed, they make warlike statements so often and so inappropriately that it almost seems that they’re working for us. But seriously: who could blame them for maintaining a state of militarized readiness and even suppression of civil liberties in the face of what they have long perceived as threats from the American empire?

It’s very complicated. But if you’ve stayed with me this far, please understand that over these years the two Koreas initiated many attempts at peace and reunification, and that every time they did, the U.S. sabotaged their efforts. For his part, Obama did nothing to reduce either the tension or the money drain, but, like his successors, kept the Korean threat alive in the public consciousness. In April 2016, he chastised Kim Jong-un for testing a missile, warning that America’s nuclear arsenal could “destroy” his country.


Russia was not the only power that the Pentagon was encircling. Global competition drove Obama’s battle with China for worldwide economic preeminence. The aim was to contain China’s growing reach. The Economist reported a Department of Defense announcement that by 2020, 60 percent of American warships would be stationed in Asia, along with “a range of other ‘investments’ to ensure that despite China’s fast-growing military might, America would still be able to ‘rapidly project military power if needed to meet our security commitments.'”

More background: the U.S. has over a thousand overseas bases. China has only one, but it does have over a trillion dollars in U.S. treasury bonds, and it has replaced the U.S. as the biggest trading partner of all Asian nations. The Deep State remains conflicted over whom to demonize, Russia or China, and whether pushing either too far risks the two of them becoming allies again. But the short-term interests of the arms merchants, the energy corporations, the generals, the opportunistic politicians and the need to maintain fear of the Others prevailed under Obama and set the stage for Trump.

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Barry’s Blog # 199: Stories We Tell Ourselves About Barack Obama, Part Ten

Further American Complicity in the Mid-East

After the Israelis, the Egyptian military have been the greatest recipients of American military generosity. In 2012 they responded to the Arab Spring uprisings with another brutal coup. Regardless, the Pentagon continued the aid.

Two years later, despite warnings from some officials that the U.S. could be implicated in war crimes, Obama sent massive weapon sales, intelligence and troops to the Saudi thugs for their war in Yemen. The campaign has killed over ten thousand people, wounded 40,000, made two million children malnourished and created yet another massive refugee flow. Ninety percent of Yemen’s ten million people now require humanitarian aid. In terms of American consciousness, this tragedy is a textbook example of mainstream media neglect and obfuscation. And the Saudis, writes Vijay Prashad, 

…have begun to rely upon al-Qaeda to conduct the ground war…So the West has tacitly allied with al-Qaeda in this conflict.

The Kill List:

Prior to the 2012 election, Obama told the media about “Terror Tuesday.” Each week on that day his advisors submitted a list of foreign terror suspects. Many of the entries had no names, but were based solely on metadata (such as which SIM card was calling whom, when, and for how long).

Each Tuesday he signed the list, condemning people halfway across the world, some of them American citizens, to extrajudicial execution by drone attack. The CIA made it clear in late 2014 that this murder-by-drone program was counterproductive, but Obama continued it. Jakob Reimann summarizes the implications of a policy that has killed over 5,000 people:

The bitter irony herein is self-evident: the studied constitutionalist Obama is acting as prosecutor, judge and executioner at the same time, thus abandoning the separation of powers — the cornerstone of a constitutional democracy…authorized the execution of people who often happened to be in their family circle or in public places when the drones struck. Time and again, the U.S. has bombed wedding parties, as well as, most cynically, a funeral ceremony of drone victims. As an act of retaliation, the children of alleged terrorists are also killed by drones…(to which) former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs once so despicably declared, “…you should have a far more responsible father.”…The proportion of civilians killed in drone strikes is inevitably extremely high. In Pakistan, for example, only 4 percent of casualties were confirmed al-Qaeda members. Because of this blatant injustice, drone killings are widely regarded to be the main recruiting tool for new terrorists. This is Obama’s legacy: he has made the illegal drone war the norm…

The obvious metaphor here is trying to douse a fire with gasoline, and it leads once again to the basic question: naïve, ignorant and colossally stupid policies – or cynical, deliberate and colossally stupid policies? Either way, says Noam Chomsky, the drone program is “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times.”


In 2011 the African Union offered a plan to avoid further violence in the internal struggles of oil-rich Libya. As with Syria and Ukraine, the U.S. ignored it, opting instead to escalate hostilities. It sent 26,000 air sorties costing over $1 billion, allegedly to intervene for humanitarian reasons. Obama dismissed criticism from Congressional liberals, saying that his unilateral actions didn’t amount to a “war.”

But it was yet another case of regime change, and it was easily sold to the American public because even though Muammar Gaddafi (whom Obama had met with only two years before) had become an ally in the war on terror, the media had cultivated his Arab bad guy image for decades.

As I wrote in Chapter Eight of my book, “It is as if the U.S. keeps them on ice, allowing them to quietly do their work until it needs to reveal them as the Devil’s latest incarnation.  Then they become expendable…” Hillary Clinton crowed, “We came, we saw, he died.” Her emails, later released, revealed that her concern was less about human rights and more about oil and about blocking Gaddafi’s plan to harness Libya’s funds to establish independent financial organizations located within the African Union and an African currency that could serve as an alternative to the dollar.

Predictably, as with Saddam Hussein, the strongman’s death led to chaos. Libya, which formerly had the highest standard of living in all of Africa, is a failed, impoverished state. Hundreds of thousands of migrants have fled hoping to reach Europe. Of the 2,500 refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean in 2016 alone, most had taken this route. And the power vacuum has allowed ISIS to expand into the country.

Obama eventually admitted that Libya was his “biggest regret” – but not because he had destroyed a nation and killed thousands of civilians but because he hadn’t planned for “the day after.” Again we have to ask: good-intentioned mistake or deliberate policy?

The Libya intervention marked the third time in a decade that Washington embraced regime change and then bungled the consequences. Are our leaders really that stupid? Or – again we ask, cui bono? Who profited from yet another ratcheting-up of instability in the Mideast? Certainly ISIS did. And if they did, then media coverage and American public opinion grew more fearful and more willing to support the continuation of the same stunningly ignorant policies. In this perfect, impenetrable, vicious circle of cause-and-effect, the ultimate winner was Obama’s primary sponsor, the Deep State. And Trump.

It is important to acknowledge that any presidential servant of these corporate powers would have pursued the same policies across the globe – Romney, McCain, John Kerry, Al Gore and especially Hillary Clinton. It’s a very old story, as old as the American empire. General Smedley D. Butler wrote:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business…I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

But this truth does not absolve Obama, and I continue the criticism because of the lingering, naïve, liberal idealism that still insists: At least he wasn’t as bad as ______. Remember please: when we speak of the mythic image of the King (or at least the man upon whom we have projected that image), we are speaking about ourselves and our own desperate quest to make sense of our complicity in violence, to convince ourselves of our own innocence. The King embodies us. What we’re really saying is: At least we weren’t as bad as ______.

Israel / Palestine:

For eight years Obama perpetuated the obscene lies of his predecessors – that Israel is a democracy; that his government sought a peaceful solution to the conflict; that the Palestinians deserved human rights and their own political autonomy; that the illegal expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank was inappropriate; and that its apartheid policies, its ongoing siege and its ethnic cleansings in Gaza were regrettable, yet always justified by Palestinian provocations.

For most of those years he was part of the chorus warning about Iranian nuclear goals, while ignoring the open secret that Israel possesses 200 nukes. And for eight years, just like his predecessors, he gave the Israelis – even as they became increasingly belligerent and mendacious, insulted him personally and intervened in the Iran negotiations – all the money and arms they requested.

His celebrated feud with Netanyahu may have been based in personal animosity, but it meant nothing in practical terms. Watch what we do, not what we say. After each of the Gaza invasions – including the 2014 atrocity that killed 550 children – Obama quickly resupplied the depleted Israeli arms.



Behind this charade are three simple facts. The first is that Israel has served for decades as the American empire’s primary surrogate in the Mideast, and successive U.S. governments of both parties have fallen over themselves to richly reward it for its services. The second is that Israel’s genocidal policies – indeed, its entire economy – are greatly dependent on American aid. The third fact is that the U.S. – at any single moment in the last forty years – could have immediately brought peace to Israel/Palestine by simply threatening to plug this financial pipeline.

The U.S. had already been giving $3.1 billion every year to Israel — more than any other country by far — more indeed than all other countries combined.

And, as a 2012 Congressional Resources Service report documented, “Almost all U.S. aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance.” But in September of 2016, with no need to appease the domestic Israel lobby because he wasn’t running for re-election, he raised that amount to $3.8 billion/year and guaranteed it for ten years, even though Israeli citizens enjoy state benefits such as universal heath care that U.S. citizens would literally die for.

The White House bragged that it was the largest military aid deal in history. Immediately afterwards, Israel announced news, “deeply troubling” to the State Department, of increased settlement construction. “So,” writes Greenwald,

…Israel — in the words of its most loyal benefactor — is moving inexorably towards cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation…And the leading protector and enabler of this apartheid regime is the U.S. — just as was true of the apartheid regime of the 1980s in South Africa…(and it) has attempted to render illegitimate all forms of resistance to it. Just as it did with the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela

That same month, Obama told the U.N., “Surely, Israelis and Palestinians will be better off if Palestinians reject incitement and recognize the legitimacy of Israel, but Israel recognizes that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.” Ali Abunimah, however, pointed out that “It was classic Obama: tricky and deceptive language that seeks balance where there is none – equating alleged Palestinian ‘incitement’ with real Israeli colonialism and occupation – and floating lofty goals belied by his actions.”

This is false equivalency, a topic I’ll return to in a future blog. The aid deal sent seven messages to the world, writes Zeina Azzam:

  1. Might makes right.
  2. A shot in the arm for the Middle East arms race.
  3. Israel = Impunity.
  4. Palestinian lives don’t matter.
  5. Funding Israel’s military is more important than funding American social programs.
  6. Destruction trumps construction.
  7. US citizens’ public opinion doesn’t count.

In December 2016 the illegal demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied territories for Israeli settlements reached a 10-year high. Obama’s decision to abstain on the U.N. vote demanding a halt to settlement construction angered Israel and the war hawks, but it had absolutely no practical import. John Kerry’s final speech as Secretary of State bewailed the problem – which had been removed from the Democratic Party platform five months before at Clinton’s insistence.

I cite these events and quotes partially because we could easily insert them into the narrative of any administration going back to Jimmy Carter, but also because Obama was simply the most hypocritical – and, given the two slaughters that occurred in Gaza under his watch, the most deadly – of them all.

But sometimes things are simpler than we think: any child could look at what radical Muslims, religious or secular, have been saying, quite publicly, for decades about why they fight – Stop raiding our homes. Stop funding autocrats who steal everything. Stop bombing us – and ask, why don’t we just get the hell out of there and let them make their own destinies?

But the Mideast was by no means the only area where the American empire was working overtime under the cover of a benign, rational and caring president.


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