Memo to President Obama: Speak Truth to the Powerless

The same dreary political dilemma: Vote for the Feckless Democrats or else the Satanic Republicans will take what’s left of the country. Most of us are damned tired of it. You wanted the job and you seem to want it again. The only way you can hope to rekindle any of the enthusiasm that carried you into office in 2008 is to speak truth to the powerless. That’s what we expected you to do. That’s why we voted for you. Many of us already know the truth anyway; we just don’t know about you. We’re not “independents” whose votes are up for grabs; we’re the people who will never vote for Romney. The issue, as you well know, is whether the tens of millions of us who have always voted will ever vote again.

Despite the good things you’ve done—and there is much to talk about – many who voted for you are through with electoral politics. Sane people can’t stomach the Republican brain poison, but now they can’t listen to you either. We see you making a speech and we switch channels. You’ve lost your authenticity, Mr. President.

When you began appointing people like Larry Summers and Bob Gates and all the other Washington insiders, I argued with my friends, “Well, what’s he going to do, hire Paul Krugman? He’s got to have people who know how the government works. He probably sat down with these guys and said something like, ‘I need you; the country needs you. Here’s my agenda. If you’re not down with it, don’t take the job.’” Anyway, that’s how I imagined it.

I was still with you.

When you fired Howard Dean and we kept getting these lame, internet love letters from the DNC and Obama For America, I argued with my friends, “So, he’s got a new generation of internet-savvy political hacks; maybe this stuff works. Howard Dean? Who knows what really happened?”

I was still with you.

When you upped the troop levels in Afghanistan, I understood the pressure you were under. What did I know about it? We’re caught between the monsters and madmen over there and the monsters and madmen here. You were doing your best.

I was still with you.

But when you failed to speak out against, much less prosecute, the Wall Street gangsters who brought the country down, when you renewed the Bush tax cuts, when you gave torturers a pass and let Bradley Manning rot in an inhuman isolation cell, when you didn’t bother restoring habeas corpus and became a serial civil liberties violator yourself, I ran out of arguments.

You lost me.

Nobody could figure out whether you were in over your head or whether America’s corporate-controlled government is just too sinister a beast for anyone to tame, and the Democratic Party too deep in the tank to climb out.  Some said you were surrounded by incompetent, cynical, or hero-worshiping advisers; some speculated that you’ve always navigated white America by compromising, a strategy doomed to fail in our take no prisoners politics. The armchair strategists said you were playing the long game, positioning yourself to show the country that you tried to compromise but the radical right wouldn’t have it. Many argued that it’s impolitic for a black president to get too angry; white folks don’t like angry black men. There were plenty of theories. None of them really explained why you couldn’t explain to the people why and how you were being held back, and who was doing it. All the hair-splitting about what you had promised-go back and look at what he actually said-We don’t buy it. Presidents aren’t supposed to rely on the fine print.

Still, we don’t want to see blood in the streets, good people jailed, and all the rest of it. Many—nobody knows how many–are clinging to that last shred of hope that elections still mean something. But we –and certainly the politics doesn’t matter crowd—have to hear the truth spoken by a politician willing to take a risk to speak it.  So while there’s still the slightest chance that you are who we thought you were, take the risk that enough of us may listen to something real, maybe even an apology.

Take the risk that you can tell the truth not only about the Koch brothers, but also about the fatuous, “I’m a social liberal, fiscal conservative, life-long Democrat” crowd, the 1% political paymasters who, no matter how much they have, want more, no matter how destructive their gangster capitalism has been, want it all. Among other things, that means you have to stop crawling across broken glass to get Wall Street’s support. Tell the people, you don’t want it, won’t take it if offered, and will do everything in your power to reign them in—and that if you can’t do it, you’ll tell the country why you haven’t done it

Maybe you’re thinking that you’ll squeeze in, and then show us the Obama we thought we had elected. Forget it. You won’t get a second term, and even if you did, without a Democratic sweep as big as the Republicans had in 2010, you won’t be able to do much with it. The Republicans do as they please; they don’t need a mandate. You do. And as far-fetched as it may seem, maybe you can still get it. But you have to explain to the people who voted for you in 2008 just how far the Republican-Democratic Party and its financial backers are willing to go to take our homes, health care, social security — all of it.  You have to tell the people that there are too many in your own party who will go along so long as they can hold onto their own privileges. We know it-We have to hear you say it. And while you’re at it, maybe you ought to tell us why it’s taken you so long.

Your handlers will object. They will show you the demographic break downs, the analyses of the battle ground states, the polling data and focus group results, and all the rest of the marketing apparatus that turns potential political leaders into talking points.

They’ll say you can pick up just enough electoral votes to make it. don’t speak truth to the powerless; it’s too risky. Don’t listen to them.  Please.



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Romney? Who Is He? Obama? What’s He Up To? None of Your Business: Shut Up And Play With Your Crayons-If You Need To Know, You’ll Find Out After The Election

When Mitt Romney emerged from the Republican primary covered with the slime of radical right Republicanism, pundits explained that he was just playing to the base to nail down the nomination; now watch him move to the center. This wasn’t said in criticism but praise and assurance that what we were watching wasn’t the real Romney. For these analysts, telling the truth wasn’t an ethical imperative, just a dumb strategy. My thought then was why not elect Karl Rove and be done with it? Nothing changed until today.

Sadly, some things can’t be put off until after the election.  As painful and off message as it may be, the constitution calls for a vice president. Why not a bland character who won’t raise the hackles of folks who seem to want to hold onto their medicare and social security, some 3/4 of them at last count?

Because this election is about turnout: can either of these characters motivate the true believers to vote? The Republican messaging for so long has been so hard right that the party has painted itself — and much of the country — into an ideological  corner from which there is no escape. Romney’s choice of Ryan makes that clear. The bet is that enough white working and middle class voters will continue to vote against their economic interests, as they have done for decades, so as to slide the leveraged buyout, offshore bank account-holding, political panderer into the White House.

The Republican strategists, however, fearful that Obama may still pull on that last shred of hope and persuade those of us who voted for him to come out again, have organized a state-by-state campaign to purge the voting rolls of all but the most determined true-believers.  Finding that shred is increasingly difficult.  Federal prosecutors are making claims against the Bill of Rights that even Bush didn’t make. Take a look.

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President Obama-An Ingrate?

Maureen Dowd, speculating on the reasons for and the consequences of Obama’s vaunted aloofness, suggests that big donors are walking away because he hasn’t “reached out” with  thank you notes and pictures-with-the-president. The president, she writes, insulted a lot of powerful characters by “never seeking their advice or asking them to come to the White House or ride along in the limo for a schmooze.” It’s pay back time for the ungrateful president.

Maybe so, but the real ingrates are the gangster capitalists who are still sailing their yachts instead of making license plates. Four years after these sociopaths plunged the planet into economic collapse with swindles that should have been prosecuted under securities, bank, wire and mail fraud statutes, and probably a half dozen other laws, there hasn’t been a single indictment of a top Wall Street gangster banker or hedge fund hustler.  In the face of the most massive and consequential, industry-wide fraud we’ve seen in our lifetimes, financial fraud prosecutions are at 20-year lows.  How come?

The best analysis I’ve seen is the piece written by Peter J. Boyer, an award-winning journalist and Peter Schweizer, president of the Government Accountability Institute and a Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. They point to Eric Holder, a top official in the Clinton Justice Department who came into the administration from a partnership position with Covington &Burling, a big Washington law firm whose clients include Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Deutsche Bank.  Holder, also bundled campaign contributions for Obama.  The campaign money poured in from Holder’s Wall Street clients. And Holder brought with him into Justice a crew of lawyers from Covington and other firms with large Wall Street clients.

So while Obama makes tough-sounding speeches, establishes task forces and high-level working groups, and threatens to hold the gangster bankers accountable, there have been no criminal prosecutions. None. 4 years.

Boyer and Schweizer cite William Black, a former regulator during the S&L scam and now an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City:

“There hasn’t been any serious investigation of any of the large financial entities by the Justice Department, which includes the FBI.”  Black notes that under George the Elder “the feds dealt with the S&L crisis with harsh justice, bringing more than a thousand prosecutions, and securing a 90 percent conviction rate. The difference between the government’s response to the two crises, Black says, is a matter of will, and priorities. . “The first President Bush’s orders were to get the most prominent, nastiest frauds, and put their heads on pikes as a demonstration that there’s a new sheriff in town.”

Grow some pot in California and the Obama/Holder team is on it.  Wall Street steals billions ? Too complicated to convict…Or it may not be nice but that doesn’t make it illegal.  Bullshit.

In the notorious Abacus case, Goldman Sachs, together with one of its large hedge fund clients, packaged and sold mortgage-backed securities.  Goldman and the hedge fund client made billions betting  against the securities. The other clients to whom Goldman sold the toxic securities, otherwise known as “muppets,” as in “I jammed that muppet 1 point over the market on a bond that is about to implode,” lost more than $1 billion.  Goldman settled the SEC fraud complaint by paying $550 million without admitting guilt.

The SEC referred the case to Justice for possible prosecution. Nothing. There have been a number of high profile Wall Street swindles that have been referred to the Justice Department for criminal investigation. Nothing.

Some of the prosecutors that Holder brought with him have already returned to Covington. Likely, Holder will be joining them.

Why then are the Wall Street ingrates pouring money into the Romney campaign? The answer is simple. Mitt is one of them. They can trust him to do the right thing. When the Occupy Movement sprung up, Obama seemed to have been moved by it. The rhetoric changed a bit. Why put up with it when you don’t have to?  Unlike the AstroTurf campaigns, faux grassroots political campaigns generally financed by Wall Street and industrial corporations,  real  grassroots movements can take on a life of their own. Who knows? People may get the idea that things can change in a second Obama term. He might even respond to the vast majority of people who don’t buy into the idea of privatizing  social security and getting rid of medicare and other so-called “entitlements.”  Let’s get rid of him while we can. Ingrates.


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“We don’t pay taxes; the little people do.” Leona Helmsley

Shortly after President Obama’s election, I joined a group of Obama supporters in Lower Manhattan, people from New York City who had gone to Pennsylvania to ring doorbells. I hadn’t done that. I respected their commitment. With so many others, I thought his obvious decency and talent, the urgency of the problems, and the grass roots movement that had arisen to help carry him to the presidency–all these elements offered some hope   to turn things around. But of course, as with every politician, his base would have to press him. Only then would he be able and willing to come to the negotiating table and say to the Wall Street/Military/Corporate sociopaths sitting across from him that he could compromise so far and no further—and maybe make it stick.

No storming of the Bastille, no guillotines, just some modest tax reforms. The obscenely rich will be able to hold on to their money, and the abject poor will be a little better off. And maybe over the long term, the country will dig itself out of the hole they’ve dug for us. But the mega rich aren’t having it.

Before I became terminally frustrated with the group’s refusal to press or criticize the president — and finally withdrew –I wrote the script for this short video and accompanying petition.  Rosemarie Reed, a documentary film maker, did the film.  Steve Post did the narration. We called it Tax the Bastards.

The Obama group endorsed it but the head of the group objected to its “rudeness.”  .

I replied in part:

We are dealing with what is essentially a criminal conspiracy in the guise of a political party that has been wholly captured by and put in the service of the radical rich. George Bush called them “my base.” As the late Justice Potter Stewart famously said, I may not be able to define pornography, but I know it when I see it.

“Bastards” too rude? What would you call them?

It was May, 2009. Looking back, it wasn’t rude; if anything, it was naive.

Today, this same Obama group continues to work tirelessly for his reelection and I continue to admire their commitment. It’s too late to press him, let alone criticize him.  I hope he wins. Maybe it will slow the bastards down. I’ll probably vote. Though they matter less and less, elections still matter.  If Obama wins, maybe it will give the Occupy Movement a little political space.

But I hate to see him seeking Michael Bloomberg’s endorsement. If Bloomberg thinks it will enhance his reputation and further whatever ambitions he’s nurturing, he might even give it to him.

Obama should announce right now that he doesn’t want that endorsement and wouldn’t accept it if offered. Conferring legitimacy on Wall Street’s Mayor thinking it will reinforce Obama’s credibility with his lukewarm supporters and with supposedly “on the fence” voters, might seem like a good political bet, but it would be the last straw for me and I suspect for many others. Turnout is the issue in this election. A purposeful looking Bloomberg standing alongside a smiling President Obama would be the ultimate turnoff.

Note: We suspended Hacks&, the website referenced in the last frame of the video, to focus on Bloomberg.



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