As we near the end of Obama’s second term as President before the racist, classist, narcissist, xenophobic, Orwellian human pumpkin, Trump, takes office on January 20, 2017, it’s worth taking a look at Obama’s legacy as President, so that we don’t kid ourselves or harbor some phony nostalgia for the “good old days” as is so often the case when someone new takes office. Despite Obama’s rhetoric during his first campaign in 2008, his current policies couldn’t be more antithetical to his old promises of “hope and change”. Unfortunately, establishment democrats don’t generally look beyond the rhetoric or the symbolism and novelty of having a black or female President, nor do they see the far greater importance of action over rhetoric. Putting a black leader in charge who does little but fulfill the agenda of white supremacists is not advancing civil rights. Predictably, every legitimate criticism of Obama is blamed on the obstructionist Republican Congress and while it is true Congress is responsible for blocking many of his proposals, it is absolutely absurd to blame every one of Obama’s policies on the Republicans as if he has no free will whatsoever as the “commander in chief” of the most powerful nation on Earth.
As for the establishment conservatives, predictably no matter how hawkish, anti-immigrant, pro-war, and pro-Wall street Obama acted they still complained about his supposed “far left” or (even more laughably) his “communist, Muslim” agenda, which is truly just a cover for the black slurs they want to use. And establishment democrats point to the racist and unfounded criticism from the neoconservatives to discredit all legitimate criticism of Obama, lumping it all together as “the same.”
The “team mentality” and obsequious, blind loyalty to leadership infects both parties and makes them incapable of “blaspheming” or even looking at criticism of their own leaders seriously. Instead, one leader is always compared to the opposing politician on the other side of the political spectrum, and support or disapproval of one politician is always misrepresented as support or disapproval for another politician or their party (i.e. if you dislike Clinton then you must support Trump or if you dislike Trump then you must support Clinton). Politicians need to be analyzed individually. We will never have any meaningful change if we are constantly operating within the framework of an authoritarian system and its “politically realistic choices.” The “other candidate is worse” is not a good argument for supporting a politician. When Bush was in office, expanding wars to countries that did nothing to us was criminal according to the democrats, but when Obama did it, it was “courageous” and for “security and democracy” simply because he’s on their team and his rhetoric is less overtly hateful or bigoted. One can claim McCain or Romney would have been worse and that may be true but it’s irrelevant. It is nonsensical and morally bankrupt to support one warmonger because another would-be warmonger vying for his or her position might be worse. This article will take a look at Obama’s legacy without the “right” or “left” sycophantic, boot-licking and cheer-leading for US puppet politicians.
Despite Obama’s promise to end the war in Afghanistan, during his first few years in office Obama escalated the war, more than doubling the number of troops deployed from 30,000 under Bush to over 100,000 by 2011.[i] Obama withdrew combat troops in Iraq in 2011 but then sent them back after the rise of ISIS. Obama also renewed the Patriot Act and signed the “Freedom Act” into law, which restored several provisions of the Patriot Act, including the material support statute when it expired one day prior, despite his promises to reduce the illegal surveillance of innocent Americans. Under the material support statue or 18 USC § 2339B, a person can be imprisoned for 15 years for giving so called “material support” for any organizations deemed to be “terrorist” by the state department.[ii] Material support, as defined by the statute, doesn’t just include weapons or military aid that make obvious sense to prohibit; it also includes humanitarian aid and simply talking with those labeled as terrorists to reduce radicalism and create nonviolent solutions to conflict. This statute tramples on the first amendment of the Constitution and creates far more violence and extremism than it deters. It also has “religious materials” exemptions, so bibles can be sent but food can’t. (Cigarettes and chewing gum are sometimes made exceptions too and they are allowed to continue flowing.) Human rights organizations often have to intervene because the trade embargoes and sanctions on countries that are accused of “harboring terrorists” have enormous deleterious impacts on the poor and working classes of these countries and some of these organizations are prosecuted because of their assistance. Therefore, it is ostensibly acceptable to indoctrinate terrorists with another religion, radicalize them, and keep the struggling communities surrounding them hooked on tobacco, which is exempted, but should you try to discuss peace with them or provide people in the surrounding community with actual humanitarian aid, you are no more than a terrorist. Like many other so-called “anti-terrorism” laws, the intention of this statute is to instigate witch-hunts against political dissidents and peace activists.
The Humanitarian Law Project (HLP) is one of the many humanitarian organizations that has been prosecuted because of the material support law under the Patriot Act and Freedom Act. In the Supreme Court case of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the HLP was charged with “aiding” terrorist organizations because they tried to encourage the Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkey and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam to become peaceful. Noam Chomsky called the material support law that led to the prosecution “the first major attack on freedom of speech in the United States since the notorious Smith Act back around 1940,” although there have been many others.
Much like Bush who allowed members of the Saudi Royal family to flee the US immediately after the attacks on 9/11 during a grounding of all other flights, Obama has chosen to avoid pursuing the Saudis responsible for the attacks and instead bombed innocent people in neighboring countries. Obama even went a step further and vetoed a bill called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) that would allow relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue the Saudi government. The Act allows US nationals to sue countries even if they are not deemed “sponsors of terrorism” by the USG. This is significant because Saudi Arabia would never be given such a label by the USG due to the oil money it provides the US, despite its countless acts of terrorism both within its borders and outside of them, especially in Yemen. In effect the Act reduces the power of sovereign immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, one of the most archaic, nonsensical, and authoritarian laws to ever be written. (Essentially, sovereign immunity prohibits everyone from suing anyone in power.) In Obama’s attempt to justify the veto he mentioned that the US would be the number one target of lawsuits under JASTA as the USG’s military presence in the world is larger than any other country and though he didn’t mention this he was surely worried about being sued for terrorism himself.
Obama has also signed a myriad of repressive, Draconian legislation into law like HR 347 or the “Criminal Trespass Bill,” signed on March 8, 2012, criminalizing protest on “(A) the White House or its grounds, or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds; (B) of a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting; or of a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance.” Protesting in such areas under this law carries a punishment of up to ten years in prison and was likely signed into law so he wouldn’t have to look at the people who object to his policies nor deal with media coverage of such protests that might lead to greater dissent. Obama also signed Section 1021 of the NDAA of 2010 into law on October 28, 2009, which legalizes indefinite detention of Americans without trial under suspicion of “terrorism”. Had McCain or Romney beaten Obama in 2008 and 2012 respectively, the outcry from establishment democrats would have rightly been deafening and yet because Obama did it, there was silence, except for a few outcries from conservatives.
Obama also continues to refuse to close Gitmo, the site of some of the most brutal and despicable human rights violations on the planet, such as sexual abuse, unnecessary rectal feeding, nasogastric intubation, sensory deprivation, shackling of inmates in stress positions inside animal cages, piling of stripped inmates on top of one another, and other forms of emotional and physical torture. Obama has made repeated promises to close the facility and claims Republicans in Congress have prevented him from doing so. However, he has the power to shut it down simply by signing a national security waiver. Obama’s use of drones has also exceeded that of every other president. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported in 2015 that there have been “nine times more strikes under Obama in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia than there were under his predecessor, George W Bush…And the covert Obama strikes, the first of which hit Pakistan just three days after his inauguration, have killed almost six times more people and twice as many civilians than those ordered in the Bush years, the data shows.”[iii] Obama has ordered countless drones strikes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya throughout his administration, which have killed tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, including thousands of children. Obama also approved ‘signature strikes’ or crowd killings, which simply target all men of “military age” for “suspicious activity,” which is vague, undefined, and in violation of the Geneva Convention, the UN Charter, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Drone use is popular because it is said to endanger less American troops but this claim is dubious at best. Murdering innocent people with armed, unmanned, aerial vehicles via remote control from the safety of some bunker thousands of miles away is cowardly, illegal, immoral, and it increases Anti-American sentiment, ultimately endangering the entire populace. Obama has said he believes everyone has a right to due process, which is the right to have a fair, open trial with free, legal defense, regardless of the crimes or person in question. Those murdered via drone strike receive no trial, no jury, no defense, and no verdict, except the death sentence that comes quickly and without most Americans even knowing about it. Obama mentioned due process when he was running for President on September 8th 2008 in Farmington Hills Town Hall in Michigan, saying “When you suspend Habeas corpus – which has been a principle dating before even our country…it’s the foundation of Anglo-American law, which says very simply if the government grabs you, then you the right to at least ask “Why was I grabbed” and say “Hey, maybe you’ve got the wrong person. You know, the reason you have that safeguard is because we don’t always catch the right person.” Those killed by drone strike, of course, get no such opportunity.
As of March 2013, the FAA authorized over 106 governmental departments to fly domestic drones. The US has entered into numerous agreements with other countries in the Middle East and Africa, allowing the state to run drone and snatch and grab assassination programs against targets in exchange for military assistance. Members of US Joint Special Operations Command Task Force 48-4 find targets and create a “baseball card” with information about the target that is supposed to justify their assassination. These cards are then reviewed by the Geographic Combatant Command, the Secretary of Defense, the Principals’ Deputies Committee, and ultimately the president. If all approve within a 60-day window, the target is killed.
According to a report by the Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and Physicians for Global Survival, 80,000 people have been killed by the US government by drone strikes in Pakistan alone.[iv] The government is often not even aware of who they have killed in each strike, civilians included. The government defines an “enemy combatant” or “militant” as anyone male over 18 years of age, so when they tally civilian deaths they don’t include innocent men over 18. They are presumed guilty. The Obama administration continues to defend these drone strikes that literally rip apart civilians.
When former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser to President Obama’s reelection campaign was cornered by reporters with video cameras who asked about the drone strike that killed Anwar Al-awlaki’s American, 16-year-old son and his friends, the senior adviser to the President’s campaign suggested the boy should have “had a more responsible father.” Though many found Trump’s statement that every relative of terrorists should be killed shocking, this is a rather common practice. Obama has also used the Espionage Act of 1917 renamed the Sedition Act of 1918, which essentially criminalizes protests of wars and criticism of the army, to indict more whistle-blowers than any other President in history combined.[v]
Obama, like all US Presidents before him, has also been adamant in his support to the terrorist Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and in 2016 he signed a military aid pact with Israel for $38 billion dollars to be given over 10 years beginning in 2019, the largest pledge of military assistance in US history, which increases current funding to the IDF to $3.8 billion annually from the current $3.1 billion per year. Joe Biden also promised the IDF a gift of a fleet of F-35 fighter jets, the most advanced fighter jet on the planet.[vi]
On October third 2015, when United States Air Force AC-130 destroyed the Kunduz Trauma Center in Afghanistan operated by Doctors without Borders, killing 42 people and injuring 30, the military claimed it was a “mistake”. Although Obama made “condolence payments” to the families killed in the strike, the pilot who committed the murders along with the rest of the 4th Special Operations Squadron responsible was punished.
Earlier this year Obama also made plans to upgrade America’s nuclear arsenal[vii], including a long-range bomber, submarines, a nuclear cruise missile, known as the long-range stand-off missile (or LRSO), America’s B61 nuclear warhead, and other missiles. The upgrade is projected to cost one trillion dollars over three decades.
Domestically, Obama has increased federal funding to police departments, including those guilty of murder, torture, theft, and other crimes and supplied them with military grade equipment, including tanks and rocket launchers. Murders committed by police of unarmed citizens with their hands up, such as Dillon Taylor, Gilbert Flores, Manuel Longoria, Antonio Zambrano Montes, and Eric Gardner has also increased to the highest rate in recent US history under Obama, which he hasn’t helped to stop and which he often deflects due to his skin color as many assume he is more empathetic of people of color, which certainly does not seem to be the case. Rahm Emanuel, former top aide to Obama, who became mayor of Chicago in 2011 has essentially given the Chicago PD the license to kill whoever they want. Emanuel has also refused to shut down Homan Square’s unconstitutional, black site prison in Chicago where citizens are held without trial or access to a lawyer, a telephone, or any other constitutional rights, and where several have been killed by police and guards.[viii] Obama has done nothing to stop this.
Obama has also deported more than two million people, (1.2 million from 2012 to 2014 alone) more than every President deported in the century before him combined. The “Secure Communities” program under Obama has enabled local police to fingerprint detainees and share that information with the FBI, the DHS, and ICE, resulting in deportations of immigrants pulled over for minor traffic violations. It was replaced by the Priority Enforcement Program in 2014, which allowed for the same process. Obama also approved a $1 billion, 4-year, no-bid contract to the largest for-profit prison company in America, CCA, to hold female and young immigrants. The contract promises to pay CCA $20 million a month, no matter how many migrants it detains. According to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the operational costs are $296 per person per day. This contract came with a policy change to hold all undocumented immigrants before trial instead of allowing them to leave freely before their court dates. This was supposedly done to “deter” more immigrants from crossing the border illegally. The one-billion-dollar CCA facility called the South Texas Family “Residential” Center is the largest immigrant detention center in the country and the site of frequent guard-on-inmate physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
Trump has received much deserved criticism for his proposal to create a registry of all Muslims in the US, but a little-known fact is that there already is a government run Muslim registry, called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, (NSEERS) which has received very little press or criticism. NSEERS requires port-of-entry registration for nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria. It also requires non-citizen males over the age of 16 from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, and Kuwait, countries with predominately Muslim populations, to register at the INS in person. As of May 2003, 82,581 individuals had registered in compliance with the program, of whom, at least 13,153 were deported. Parts of NSEERS were suspended in April 27 2011 and replaced by the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program, which collects biometric data like fingerprints from non-U.S. citizens between the ages of 14 and 79 when they apply for visas or arrive at US ports. This data is then checked against a database of undocumented immigrants in the US and everyone in the country charged with terrorism or other crimes. But these programs have not caught any terrorists or thwarted any terrorist plots. They simply infringe on privacy of innocent people and made the lives of immigrants and refugees all the more difficult.
Policies on the Environment and Energy
On environmental issues Obama’s track record is no better. Fortunately, some land has been preserved under Obama. He created 33 national monuments, preserving over 550 million acres under the Antiquities Act. However, it’s important to mention not all of these monuments are areas with wilderness. Some are located in dense cities that were named monuments to preserve historic buildings. And despite these preservation efforts, Obama’s oil policies have mirrored that of the most hardline conservatives.
From 2010 to October 2014, the Obama administration approved more than 1,500 permit applications for offshore drilling, including fracking at hundreds of wells in the Gulf of Mexico. But the full scope of the offshore fracking in the Gulf has not yet been disclosed to the general public. Obama has increased offshore drilling by at least 75%, along with fracking in the US, and he also approved the Keystone XL pipeline, the Trans-Pecos pipeline, the Dakota Pipeline, the Comanche Trail pipeline, and many others. He temporarily halted construction on a section of the Dakota Access Pipeline where protesters are making a stand nearest to the water but construction continued on other parts. The injunction was called so that a cultural resource survey could be completed to assess the damage to ancestral, native, burial grounds, but the injunction was lifted about one week after it was declared and the pipeline is now more than 90% complete.[ix]
On March 22, 2012 at the Cushing Pipe Yard in Cushing Oklahoma Obama boasted “Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s important to know. Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some. So we are drilling all over the place — right now. That’s not the challenge. That’s not the problem. In fact, the problem in a place like Cushing is that we’re actually producing so much oil and gas in places like North Dakota and Colorado that we don’t have enough pipeline capacity to transport all of it to where it needs to go — both to refineries, and then, eventually, all across the country and around the world. There’s a bottleneck right here because we can’t get enough of the oil to our refineries fast enough.” No mention of climate change or transitioning to renewable energy sources was made here because he knows his audience. Addressing an audience of green voters, he would never boast of increasing oil production to record levels. Much like all politicians, Obama simply panders to the set of voters listening, declaring a different set of values when convenient to stay in power.
Under Obama we have seen the same crony capitalism we saw under Bush and every other US President before them. Obama also refuses to indict any of the members of the Bush cabinet responsible for torture for any of their other war crimes. (US torture programs have continued under Obama as well.) Although Obama can’t be blamed for what the Supreme Court does as not all the Supreme Court Justices were selected by him, Citizen’s United won its Supreme Court case against the FEC in 2010, allowing for unlimited corporate donations to political campaigns, which certainly helped his 2012 campaign, heavily funded by enormous transnational corporations.
Obama also signed 82% of the Bush tax cuts for the rich into permanency. The Quantitative Easing program approved by Obama and Bush also gave Wall Street $4.5 trillion in taxpayer money.[x] Obama and Bush also bailed out the failing automotive giants General Motors, Chrysler, Ally Financial, Chrysler Financial and automotive suppliers through the federal Auto Industry Financing Program with $79.68 billion of taxpayer money.[xi]
Like the Clinton and Bush administrations, Obama’s administration is also filled with bankers and former corporate executives. For example, Boeing director, John Bryson, was made secretary of Commerce under Obama, and after serving as Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe made millions as a management consultant for Boeing during Obama’s first term. Obama also loaned more money to Boeing than any President in history. In one year alone through the US-EXIM bank, Obama loaned a staggering $12.2 billion to Boeing, 82.7% of EX-IM’s capital for loans that year.
Obama first nominated Stuart A. Levey and then Tim Geithner to be Treasury Secretary. Geithner was President of the New York Federal Reserve from 2003 to 2009 and in January 2012 Levey was made Chief Legal Officer of HSBC, one of the largest banks in the world. It had $2.556 trillion in assets in 2011. The bank is also neck-deep in drug cartel and terrorist money that it happily launders.[xii] Geithner did not propose any laws that would regulate the banks. In fact, he had authority over $350 billion of the “Troubled Asset Relief Program” (TARP) money and with it he gave billions to failing major corporate executives at companies like the American International Group, (AIG). These corporations were not required to say what they did with this money and executives gave themselves billions in bonuses. Jack Lew, made current Treasury Secretary by Obama on November 18th 2010, was a very well-paid COO at Citigroup from 2006 to 2008. Henry Paulson, former President of the Treasury Department, was also the CEO of Goldman Sachs, one of the largest investment banks in the country. Henry authored TARP under the “Emergency Stabilization Act of 2008” in October of 2008 to give the banks their $700 billion dollar bailout. This proposal waived all laws and said explicitly “it may not be reviewed by any court.” George W. Bush approved TARP as President and Obama supported it. Henry Paulson is not the only former CEO on the treasury board. In fact, the Bush and Clinton treasury departments had 11 former Goldman Sachs executives. Goldman Sachs was also Obama’s biggest campaign contributor when he ran for Senate and the Presidency. These executives made their careers even more lucrative as board members by abolishing financial regulations and increasing subsidies and tax breaks for banks and Wall Street firms.
Former bank executives who were then hired as board members in the Obama administration include Lael Brainard, United States Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs and member of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, Rahm Emanuel, Obama Chief of Staff, under payroll at Goldman Sachs, and Dianna Farrell, Deputy Director of the National Economic Council and former Goldman Sachs financial analyst. More examples include Stephen Friedman, Chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and former Goldman Sachs board member, Michael Froman, US trade representative and former Citigroup executive, Anne Fudge, a member of number of corporate boards, including General Electric, Novartis, Unilever and Infosys and a member of Obama’s “National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform,” Jason Furman, director of economic policy for the Obama Presidential Campaign and the second Director of the Hamilton Project, (all three previous directors of the Hamilton Project work in the Obama administration) Gary Gensler, commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and former Goldman Sachs Partner and Co-head of Finance. Even more examples include Michael Greenstone, the fourth director of the Hamilton Project and Obama economic adviser to one of the Goldman Sachs think tanks of the Brookings Institution funded by Goldman Sachs and Robert Rubin, Robert Hormats, Undersecretary for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs, former Goldman Sachs Vice Chairman of the Goldman Sachs Group, Neel Kashkari, aide to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and former head of information technology security at Goldman Sachs, Karen Kornbluh, Obama Ambassador to the OECD and Deputy Chief of Staff to Robert Rubin, Mark Patterson, Obama’s Chief of Staff to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and former Goldman Sachs lobbyist from 2005-2008, as well as Vice President for Government Relations, and Philip Murphy, Obama’s Ambassador to Germany and former head of Goldman Sachs, Frankfurt.[xiii]
Often hailed as one of Obama’s crowning “achievements,” “Obamacare” (or the Affordable Care Act) which is nothing more than a state requirement to buy health insurance from the crooked, multi-billion-dollar health insurance companies was enacted by Obama in 2010. The ACA doesn’t guarantee healthcare. In fact, some people have lost their coverage due to the Act. The ACA only forces Americans to apply for “Obamacare” to ensure American health insurance monopolies continue making record profits. (Two positive provisions of the act allow individuals to stay on their parents’ health insurance plan until they are 26 and prevent insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing health conditions. But the AHA was never a progressive piece of legislation as a whole.) The ACA only establishes insurance as a ‘right,’ which means we have the right to file claims, wait an unreasonable amount of time, suffer complications from our worsening, untreated conditions and eventually (in most cases) have our claims denied.
This shouldn’t be about partisan politics for anyone. It’s about life and death and the unimaginable struggle of millions of innocent people mercilessly hounded by the government. If you fell for Obama’s campaign promises don’t feel bad. Millions did. The only reason you should feel bad is if you continue to support him and others like him because you don’t want to admit you were wrong. Don’t hope for change. Don’t listen to the rhetoric of professional liars, (politicians). They promise the world and deliver none of it. Politics is a death trap. It is merely the entertainment division of the corporate sector, dancing and shuffling to distract the public from the crimes of the economic tyrants truly in charge. True change will come by discarding this phony system, by not paying taxes, by fighting against the system by any means necessary, caring for the Earth and the disadvantaged, and reorganizing our communities with consent from the bottom up.
[i] Brookings Institution, White House. http://www.npr.org/2016/07/06/484979294/chart-how-the-u-s-troop-levels-in-afghanistan-have-changed-under-obama)