A cruel and unusual record

Jimmy Carter:

THE United States is abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights.

Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended. This development began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has been sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions, without dissent from the general public. As a result, our country can no longer speak with moral authority on these critical issues.

While the country has made mistakes in the past, the widespread abuse of human rights over the last decade has been a dramatic change from the past. With leadership from the United States, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” This was a bold and clear commitment that power would no longer serve as a cover to oppress or injure people, and it established equal rights of all people to life, liberty, security of person, equal protection of the law and freedom from torture, arbitrary detention or forced exile.

Didn’t we just see this movie?

Ceny Uygur on the individual mandate:

So, this brings us to the central problem with President Obama’s administration. They were under the unbelievably mistaken impression that if they worked with the Republicans, compromised with them and gave them what they wanted, that the Republicans would react likewise. Progressives (and anyone that was paying attention to politics in the last decade) warned them that would not be the case. We were dismissed. Now look at what’s happened.

Not only did the Republicans not thank the president for including their mandate in the health care law, they have turned around and pretended they are against it. But of course it goes much deeper than that. In fact, they are now using it as the principal argument to take down the whole law.

They have no sense of shame or propriety. They’re not embarrassed at their legendary hypocrisy and mendacity. They will do whatever it takes to win and support the corporate interests they are sworn and paid to defend. They also know that Democrats, generally speaking, are horrible at defending themselves and the media will help them tremendously by calling everything even.

So, we warned the president — don’t ever, ever agree with the Republicans, they will only use it against you. I must have said this on our show a hundred times over the last three years. It’s not because Republicans are always wrong or I am always opposed to compromise. It’s because we’ve seen this movie — it’s a trap. It’s like the feckless, young girl walking outside into the barn at night in a horror movie — bad idea, we know how that ends. She is not going to be able to compromise with Jason. Jason is going to rip her face off. Don’t go into the frickin’ barn!

And now we wait as the Supreme Court is getting ready to rip the face off President Obama’s signature legislation because he thought the Republicans would appreciate it if he switched his position and adopted their mandate. They must have laughed long and hard. Now they ready their steely knives to gut that same law with the same provision they argued in favor of for decades.

President Obama thought compromise, conciliation and agreement with Republicans was the correct path in his first term. He was dead wrong. The correct course is to be as progressive as possible and argue strongly for your own principles (if you have them). The country is on your side. Look at almost any poll on any issue, the country sides with the progressive position — tax the rich, stop the wars, don’t cut Social Security or Medicare, and on and on.

And after all this, I’m not sure President Obama has learned anything at all from this debacle. He now says he’s sure they’ll work with him if he gets a second term. Come on! Didn’t we just see this movie?

Some animals are more equal than others

More of the same, as if you didn’t already know:

In January 2008, President George W. Bush was scrambling to bolster the American economy. The subprime mortgage industry was collapsing, and the Dow Jones industrial average had lost more than 2,000 points in less than three months.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner became the Bush administration’s point person on Capitol Hill to negotiate a $150 billion stimulus package.

In the days that followed, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. made frequent phone calls and visits to Boehner. Neither Paulson nor Boehner would publicly discuss the progress of their negotiations to shore up the nation’s financial portfolio.

On Jan. 23, Boehner (R-Ohio) met Paulson for breakfast. Boehner would later report the rearrangement of a portion of his own financial portfolio made on that same day. He sold between $50,000 and $100,000 from a more aggressive mutual fund and moved money into a safer investment.

The next day, the White House unveiled the stimulus package.

Boehner is one of 34 members of Congress who took steps to recast their financial portfolios during the financial crisis after phone calls or meetings with Paulson; his successor, Timothy F. Geithner; or Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, according to a Washington Post examination of appointment calendars and congressional disclosure forms.

The lawmakers, many of whom held leadership positions and committee chairmanships in the House and Senate, changed portions of their portfolios a total of 166 times within two business days of speaking or meeting with the administration officials. The party affiliation of the lawmakers was about evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, 19 to 15.

The period covered by The Post analysis was a grim one for the U.S. economy, and many people rushed to reconfigure their investment portfolios. The financial moves by the members of Congress are permitted under congressional ethics rules, but some ethics experts said they should refrain from taking actions in their financial portfolios when they might know more than the public.

“They shouldn’t be making these trades when they know what they are going to do,” said Richard W. Painter, who was chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush. “And what they are going to do is then going to influence the market. If this was going on in the private sector or it was going on in the executive branch, I think the SEC would be investigating.”

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 Bankrate.com, 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.

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