The con artist

I saw Obama as a certain type of cynical politician from the very beginning, and was always puzzled that no one else seemed to agree. (Particularly other bloggers, mostly male.) My years as a journalist, covering a corrupt political machine, gave me too keen a nose for that sort of thing. There were always idealistic Democrats, sure, but they weren’t cynical, only naive. I never thought Obama was naive. There were too many classic clues leading me to think otherwise. The well-placed political job for his wife, the magical acquisition of part of a historic property while Michelle Obama sat on the board in charge of their zoning subdivision – little things like that. His relationship with Tony Rezko. The complaints from fellow state senators that he was the protege of the majority leader, who handed over the legislation they’d worked on as the minority and once they were in charge, he gave it to the young, unseasoned Obama to carry across the finish line and get the glory.

He was clearly being groomed for larger things. (This is Chicago we’re talking about, after all.) But why? Because an inspirational black Democrat (however nominal a Democrat) is a useful tool for all kinds of people. Well, there you have it.

Those speeches: Well, I’m a writer. I pay attention to that sort of thing. I always thought his speeches were more about him than anything outside himself. You can trust me, they always seemed to say. I didn’t. They didn’t reach me. It wasn’t as if I’m not susceptible to inspiring oratory – the first time I heard Howard Dean give his “I want my country back!” speech on C-SPAN, I called my best friend and held up the phone to the teevee so she could listen, because I was so excited. But with Obama, it was like hearing a bell ring as a “clunk” instead of a clang. I dunno, that’s just what it felt like. “Maybe I’m just wrong,” I thought to myself. I hoped so. But I wasn’t.

But I don’t blame Obama for the whole mess. Our system is so obviously corrupted from top to bottom, he’s nothing more than a figurehead used to keep the masses calm as we are herded into our new Third World economy.

Anyway, similar thoughts from Matt Stoller:

This alternative narrative is a hard truth to hear, because it carries with it an implicit rejection of American exceptionalism. Yes, American institutions are no better, and in many ways are more malignant, than those of many other countries. Yes, our political leaders, our press, our military leadership, operate in service to sociopathic aims. Yes, our freedoms are often an illusion, unless you fit a very narrow criteria. Yes, our banks are run to rob us, yes, our CIA spies on us, and yes, our government is fundamentally anti-democratic. Yes, our President is a con artist, and yes, nearly every reporter who writes about him participates in this set of lies, because of careerism, social financial reasons, or a simple lack of competence or imagination.

But, the idea that the king is always good, which is where the hope and change narrative draws its deep strength, is something we do not have to accept. We as people can break this spell, and speak to our own dignity, as citizens. We can learn our own power, if in no other manner than in saying at the voting booth and in public, “I do not accept your lies, and though you might take it by force, I will not grant you my consent willingly.” We can choose not to address our political officials by their titles. We can work to organize ourselves, and our lives, with those of us who understand that power is something that must be taken, with money, organization, but most of all, with moral courage. It is not something that politicians have except through our consent, consent we have been giving for decades, to a rotten political class. This is what they truly fear. This is why they spend tens of billions on propaganda, on advertising, on symbols and personalities and celebrity. This is why they hide the workings of our government and banks and institutions of power in the language of boring bureaucrat-ese. This is ultimately why they are weak. Because in order for them to do their work quietly, we must go about our day, and believe either the hope and change narrative, or the Kenyan socialist narrative, scoffing at the opposing “team” who thinks what we do not. Instead, we can choose an alternative narrative, that power and consent come from us, come from the choices that we make, as people, and as citizens. And we will no longer believe that Barack Obama, that cool, brilliant, self-aware con artist is anything but what he has revealed himself to be.

I do believe in symbolic gestures, and stopped addressing most people by titles back in high school. (It drove my principal nuts that my friends and I addressed him as “Arthur,” and not Father Nugent.) The one time I had to give testimony, I refused to swear on the Bible and instead affirmed that I was telling the truth. This was actually started by the Quakers, and it was one of the reasons they were seen as so subversive, they eventually fled England. They addressed everyone as “Friend”, and it infuriated the powers that be.

I’m not suggesting that everyone become Quakers. (I couldn’t; I couldn’t sit still long enough through their meetings.) I’m suggesting that we look carefully at the symbolism, the language of power, and deconstruct it. Use your language thoughtfully so your words count.

No savings

No cushion, no nothing. Welcome to our world:

 According to research released Monday by, 28 percent of Americans have no emergency savings whatsoever, up from 24 percent last year. About half don’t have enough money saved to cover expenses for three months. “Incomes are largely stagnant, so it’s difficult for people to make significant headway on savings when household expenses are creeping higher but incomes are not,” said Bankrate senior financial analyst Greg McBride.

Heartening news

I’d like to see more stories like these. After all, we have no trouble stealing pension funds to pay for tax cuts for millionaires, so why does everyone have a problem with this? Assuming they actually use the money for schools, that is:

Out of nowhere, Santa Clara County officials have yanked $30 million in tax funds promised for the San Francisco 49ers’ new Santa Clara stadium, saying they would rather spend the money on teachers than install “little televisions in the back of stadium seats.”

The 49ers and Santa Clara city leaders strongly and passionately object to the move, saying voters had specifically earmarked redevelopment funds to the stadium and that the county has no right to keep it. Lengthy court battles are likely, launching a rare soap opera in a stadium debate that has been mostly peaceful — and supposedly long over.

[…] The 49ers and Santa Clara officials will be busy this week reviewing how to respond.

The funding grab came Friday by a new board that oversees property tax from redevelopment zones. It was so unexpected that Santa Clara leaders argued it was done in violation of public notice laws.

We are so very shocked

Aren’t you? To think that our Congress members would personally benefit from their positions is just unthinkable — if you’re a moron. No, the real shocker is that it’s perfectly permissible under Congressional “ethics” rules:

One-hundred-thirty members of Congress or their families have traded stocks collectively worth hundreds of millions of dollars in companies lobbying on bills that came before their committees, a practice that is permitted under current ethics rules, a Washington Post analysis has found.

The lawmakers bought and sold a total of between $85 million and $218 million in 323 companies registered to lobby on legislation that appeared before them, according to an examination of all 45,000 individual congressional stock transactions contained in computerized financial disclosure data from 2007 to 2010.

Almost one in every eight trades — 5,531 — intersected with legislation. The 130 lawmakers traded stocks or bonds in companies as bills passed through their committees or while Congress was still considering the legislation. The party affiliation of the lawmakers was almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, 68 to 62.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) reported buying $25,000 in bonds in a genetic-technology company around the time that he released a hold on legislation the firm supported. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) sold between $50,000 and $100,000 in General Electric stock shortly before a Republican filibuster killed legislation sought by the company. The family of Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) bought between $286,000 and $690,000 in a high-tech company interested in a bill under his committee’s jurisdiction.

The trades were uncovered as part of an ongoing examination by The Post of the intersection between the personal finances of lawmakers and their professional duties. Earlier this year, Congress responded to criticism of potential conflicts of interest by passing the Stock Act, which bars lawmakers, their staffs and top executive branch officials from trading on inside information acquired on Capitol Hill.

Site Meter