Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama Slama Inaugurama!

"Photo" by Juan Rafael Santos
Really, sorry if this photo conveys some cynicism.. it's not exactly that I am feeling about the inaugural extravaganza. I'll get to the picture caption and source shortly, but first I want to say my sentiments on the new pres are much in agreement with Savoj Zizek's comments in the article Why Cynics Are Wrong:

"The true battle begins now, after the victory: The battle for what this victory will effectively mean, especially within the context of two other much more ominous signs of history: 9/11 and the financial meltdown. Nothing was decided by Obama’s victory, but his victory widens our freedom and thereby the scope of our decisions. But regardless of whether we succeed or fail, Obama’s victory will remain a sign of hope in our otherwise dark times"

Dark times indeed. In particular the recent long nights in Gaza. The caption for the picture is "Obama Inauguration Thru Gazan Eyes". It was sent by a reader of Paul Street's (an article from whom will be cited below), who in turn posted it in a comment Street made on Noam Chomsky's submission "Exterminate all the Brutes": Gaza 2009 Chomsky produces again a very well documented expose of the criminal terrorism of the U.S.-Israel axis of evil. Some overview of that will follow, but sticking with the Obama Slama theme I cite this - Chomsky refers to a point a few days before the inauguration (to many days left for the attack on Gaza to actually be stopped given the opportunity prior to the new presidency):

At the United Nations, the United States prevented the Security Council from issuing a formal statement on Saturday night calling for an immediate ceasefire,' the New York Times mentioned in passing. The official reason was that 'there was no indication Hamas would abide by any agreement.' In the annals of justifications for delighting in slaughter, this must rank among the most cynical. That of course was Bush and Rice, soon to be displaced by Obama who compassionately repeats that 'if missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that.' He is referring to Israeli children, not the many hundreds being torn to shreds in Gaza by US arms. Beyond that Obama maintained his silence."

And so we see the Star of David on the ties in the picture, the pin in the lapel (where he forgot to put the American flag). But the striking feature is the bipartisan crowd. WTF are they laughing about? Well. I'm sure the photoshop genius had in mind the span of pres that has consistently vetoed world consensus on UN resolutions that would have ended the mutual slaughter years ago. Chomsky goes into that ruthlessly. The author of the picture shows more than he knows perhaps (I allude to Zizek's "unknown knowns" in his gloss on the amateur philosophy of Donald Rumsfeld - "there are the known knowns," etc.). The complicity of the Democratic and Republican parties in the ideological apparatus they have maintained with regard to the Palestinian issue is merely symptomatic of the situational fact that the U.S.electoral system effectively excludes dissent:

"An initial factor was the way in which the outcome affirmed the manifest powerlessness of any genuinely emancipatory programme within the electoral system: preferences are duly recorded, in the passive manner of a seismograph, but the process is one that by its nature excludes any embodiments of dissenting political will." from Alain Badiou - The Communist Hypothesis

OK, I confess, the quote is Badiou on the Sarkozy election in France, but as I have argued in an earlier entry, McBama? No, the Communist Hypothesis, the same applies to the U.S. and many other places that are part and parcel to what Badiou calls "capitalo-parliamentarianism

So there are two thematic elements in the set of my topic: first, the fact of our choices regarding the persons and their actions composing our governmental situation being merely a formal freedom of choice within the coordinates of established elitist power; then the particular manifestation of this ideological state apparatus (Althusser) in the political management of our choices involving the mutual slaughter continuing between Israel and the Palestinians. On the latter we return to commentary and excerpts on Chomsky from "Exterminate all the Brutes": Gaza 2009 beginning with his general thesis:

"Hamas is regularly described as 'Iranian-backed Hamas, which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel.' One will be hard put to find something like 'democratically elected Hamas, which has long been calling for a two-state settlement in accord with the international consensus' -- blocked for over 30 years by the US and Israel, which flatly and explicitly reject the right of Palestinians to self-determination.

As Chomsky painfully details, this policy will no doubt continue into the Obama regime. The dark nature of this rejection of self-determination, in the proclaimed defense against terrorism, is revealed as essentially a rejection of Palestinian society - the truth Chomsky quotes early in the article:

"Like others familiar with the region, Middle East specialist Fawwaz Gerges observes that 'What Israeli officials and their American allies do not appreciate is that Hamas is not merely an armed militia but a social movement with a large popular base that is deeply entrenched in society.' Hence when they carry out their plans to destroy Hamas's 'social wing,' they are aiming to destroy Palestinian society."

The invasion of Gaza just witnessed,a mass slaughter of defenseless civilians, a large percentage of them children, trapped with nowhere to flee, thus makes some kind of perverse sense to the U.S.-Israel elite. In fact, the invasion of Gaza, that may at first seem a radical new element of policy, is actually an extension of a long standing practice:

"In the West Bank, Israel can pursue its criminal programs with US support and no disturbance, thanks to its effective military control and by now the cooperation of the collaborationist Palestinian security forces armed and trained by the US and allied dictatorships. It can also carry out regular assassinations and other crimes, while settlers rampage under IDF protection. But while the West Bank has been effectively subdued by terror, there is still resistance in the other half of Palestine, the Gaza Strip. That too must be quelled for the US-Israeli programs of annexation and destruction of Palestine to proceed undisturbed...Hence the invasion of Gaza."

Chomsky goes deeply into a long history of explicit examples - the core of the issue is that the violence perpetrated by the U.S. and Israel is simply a matter of choice:

The reactions to crimes of an occupying power can be condemned as criminal and politically foolish, but those who offer no alternative have no moral grounds to issue such judgments. The conclusion holds with particular force for those in the US who choose to be directly implicated in Israel's ongoing crimes -- by their words, their actions, or their silence. All the more so because there are very clear non-violent alternatives - which, however, have the disadvantage that they bar the programs of illegal expansion... Israel has a straightforward means to defend itself: put an end to its criminal actions in occupied territories, and accept the long-standing international consensus on a two-state settlement that has been blocked by the US and Israel for over 30 years, since the US first vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for a political settlement in these terms in 1976. I will not once again run through the inglorious record, but it is important to be aware that US-Israeli rejectionism today is even more blatant than in the past. The Arab League has gone even beyond the consensus, calling for full normalization of relations with Israel. Hamas has repeatedly called for a two-state settlement in terms of the international consensus. Iran and Hezbollah have made it clear that they will abide by any agreement that Palestinians accept. That leaves the US-Israel in splendid isolation, not only in words.

So it can be seen clearly from Chomsky's entire detailed account that there has been an on-going historical suppression, denial and brutal disregard of the political will of the vast majority of people in the world by the capitalo-parliamentarian elite of the isolated U.S.-Israel block. Can we really expect Obama to change this if he is a member of this elite and has been ensconced as pres by this very power structure? There is a hope, but there is reason to believe change will not come from the man himself; yet perhaps from the gaps in the more open situation of his regime. The real Obama, not the dream Obama many voted for, is something we might appreciate to some extent nonetheless; but a sober analysis should guide our vigilance. Such an analysis is provided by Paul Street (who posted the photo to Chomsky) in his article How Obama Happened: The Real Story - some excerpts and observations beginning with his general thesis:

"..the real story is also and equally about advantages of birth and socialization, remarkable ambition, astonishing good luck, and --- last but not all least --- the pursuit and landing of sponsorship from rich and powerful elites who rain down good fortune on their carefully Chosen Ones."

That Obama was less than truly disadvantaged as his propaganda suggests:

".. family used its more-than-negligible financial resources (his maternal grandmother was a banking executive) and family connections to given young "Barry" an elite private prep-school education at Honolulu's posh Punahou Academy. They paid for his undergraduate education at Occidental College in Los Angeles and Columbia University in New York City.. Young Obama matured amidst considerable cultural capital at home and school.. "

That Obama from early on demonstrated caution and calculation as a political player primarily following his self-interest:

"..Numerous accounts of Obama's Springfield tenure (1996-2004)indicate a calculating conservative and accommodating side that was more than consistent with the centrism that has concerned some of his current day liberal-left supporters..

..sponsored.. campaign finance "reform" bill..set no limits on contributions from corporations or the exaggerated campaign spending..

..joined Republicans and conservative Democrats and opposed much of the black Illinois legislative delegation by supporting the imposition of "work [punitive low-income wage-labor] requirements" on single mothers receiving family cash assistance..

..helping the insurance industry kill legislative efforts towards universal health coverage in Illinois.. worked to water down the state's "Health Care Justice Act".. the state's progressive health-care advocates had high hopes.. for passing a bill that would have made it official state policy to ensure that all Illinois residents could access 'quality healthcare at costs that are reasonable.' Insurers expressed their fear that such language would lead to a 'government takeover of healthcare.' By the time the bill became law, containing three amendments written by Obama, the legislation merely established universal healthcare as a policy goal.

Obama claimed to be a staunch champion of abortion rights. He strongly criticized a U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a controversial ban on a late-term abortion procedure..In the Illinois legislature, however, Obama voted "present" instead of "no" on seven bills restricting abortion.

In description of Obama's calculations in being a low-risk progressive:

"..There is little risk involved in.. seeming to take.. progressive positions in predominantly black voting districts. Running and legislating to some extent as a nominal progressive in such a district would be entirely consistent with higher political ambitions hitched to a more conservative, "vacuous to repressive neoliberal" (left black political scientist Adolph Reed Jr.'s description of Obama in 1996) world view. After all, one has to show their capacity to win elections in order to be taken seriously by the power brokers who control access to more elevated elected positions.."

"And that's why Obama was nowhere to be seen around the great Chicago marches held against the actual (no longer just planned) beginning of the U.S. assault on Iraq on the evenings of March 19 and March 20, 2003. It's also why his subsequently famous October 2002 speech (an oration that tellingly called Bush's planned war "dumb" but NOT criminal or immoral)..

On Obama at Harvard Law School:

..where he utilized his willingness to give editorial power to arch-conservative members of the Republican Federalist Society to win election to the highly prestigious position of president of that school's law review..that came between his community organizing and legal careers.. consistent with the goal of making the elite connections required to make a serious run for the upper reaches of U.S elective office. It would prove very useful in the fall of 2003 and early 2004, when Obama received an early "audition" with the national money and politics class.. "

Street quotes extensively from John Judis'essay titled "Creation Myth: What Barack Obama Won't Tell You About His Community Organizing Past" - excerpts below:

"In truth, however, if you examine carefully how Obama conducted himself as an organizer and how he has conducted himself as a politician, if you consider what he said about organizing to his fellow organizers, and if you look at the reasons he gave friends and colleagues for abandoning organizing, then a very different picture emerges: that of a disillusioned activist who fashioned his political identity not as an extension of community organizing but as a wholesale rejection of it. Indeed, the most important thing to know about Barack Obama's time as a community organizer in Chicago may not be what he gained from the experience - but rather why, in late 1987, he decided to quit."

Then Street goes on to add to Judis' comments:

"..Also deleted by Obama's marketers was the fact that he practiced little if any actual "civil rights law" after graduating from Harvard. It appears likely that he spent more time dealing with mundane aspects of real estate litigation (including work on behalf of his early sponsor and "slumlord" Tony Rezko) than with anything related to civil rights.."

The next part of Paul Street's piece covers the creation of the Obama "brand" once he reached Washington as a Senator. He quotes extensively from, Tribune Washington Bureau reporters Mike Dorning and Christi Parsons in an article entitled "Carefully Crafting the Obama Brand." which details a history of Obama's marketing by and with his closest advisors - from this article:

"The way to get there, they decided, was by carefully building a record that matched the brand identity: Obama as a unifier and consensus-builder, and almost postpolitical leader.."


"It was an important and revealing report on numerous levels. The term "brand Obama" is of course deeply suggestive of the commodified nature of a U.S. political culture that tends to reduce elections to "carefully [corporate-] craft[ed" marketing contests revolving less around significant policy and ideological differences than competing candidate images packaged and sold by corporate consultants and public relations experts like Obama's well-known media manager and former Tribune reporter David Axlerod.. The image of Obama as a humble and hardworking rookie who got along with his colleagues across partisan lines was a crucial part of their marketing strategy.. They were naturally unconcerned about the authoritarian implications of the concept of a 'postpolitical leader' --- a commercialized trademark who would rise above democratic and ideological contestation on the path to ultimate authority atop 'the most powerful nation in history.'"

Street then provides a devastating enumeration of team Obama's deceit in the marketing of the pres:

* His false claim (in a speech to black civil rights veterans in Selma, Alabama in March 2007) to owe his biracial conception to Deep South Civil Rights struggles in Birmingham (1963) and Selma (1965). (Obama was conceived in relatively racially tolerant and multi-cultural Hawaii in 1960).

* Obama's false claim to reporters that that he asked Jeremiah Wright not to give a prayer before Obama announced his presidential candidacy (in December of 2006) out of a desire to "protect" Wright (Obama was obviously trying to protect his presidential viability).

* Obama's false promise to abide by the spending limits imposed by the public presidential election financing system if he ran against a Republic opponent who pledged to do the same thing (John McCain tried sincerely but unsuccessfully to take Obama up on his public financing pledge)

* Obama's false claim that his private fundraising system amounted to "a system of parallel public financing." (He actually set new records for corporate sponsorship).

* Obama's related and repeated reference to the fact that 91 percent of his contributions came from small donors - a technically accurate detail that deleted the more significant fact that Obama received only a quarter of his total money take from small donors, just like George W. Bush in 2004.

* Obama's repeated false claim in the Iowa campaign to have passed a bill tightening federal regulation of nuclear plant leaks after an emission incident took place at a Braidwood, Illinois nuclear plant in 2005.

* His recurrent efforts in the presidential campaign (especially in the primaries) to sell himself to progressive voters as a peace candidate, something that was flatly contradicted by his many brazenly imperial and militarist statements to elite foreign policy bodies (and by his political and policy behavior in regard to Iraq and Afghanistan).

Such an ambitious and calculated approach, highlighted in the end by a campaign of deception is still not enough to secure a run for the presidency. We come at last to what Street has to say that converges with the theses of this post:

".. how his remarkable personal ambition and skills brought him into the chance-narrowing realm of power elite politics. In the actuality of American 'democracy' , officially 'electable' candidates for top offices (like U.S. Senator and President) are vetted in advance by what the left author and activist Laurence Shoup calls 'the hidden primary of the ruling class'. By prior Establishment selection, most if not all 'viable' contenders are closely tied to corporate and military-imperial power in numerous and interrelated ways. There's little if any room for mere luck to propel a risky --- an excessively 'populist' or even left --- presidential candidate past the nation's corporate-imperial gatekeepers of power."

What ensues is actually an expose of the completion of the creation of a president by elite coordinates of power.. beginning with his selection for the seminal keynote address (when most of us dummies first heard his funny name) onwards:

"As Ken Silverstein noted in an important Harper's article in the fall of 2006, 'If the speech was his debut to the wider American public, he had already undergone an equally successful but much quieter audition with Democratic Party leaders and fund-raisers, without whose support he would surely never have been chosen for such a prominent role at the convention [emphasis added].'"

"A national corporate, financial, and legal vetting of Obama, with an emphasis on the critical money-politics nexus of Washington DC, began in October of 2003. That's when Vernon Jordan, the well-known power broker and corporate board-member who chaired Bill Clinton's presidential transition team after the 1992 election, placed calls to roughly twenty of his friends and invited them to a fund-raiser at his home. That event," Silverstein noted, 'marked his entry into a well-established Washington ritual—the gauntlet of fund-raising parties and meet-and-greets through which potential stars are vetted by fixers, donors, and lobbyists.'"

"'On condition of anonymity,' Silverstein reported, 'one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn't see him as a ‘player.' The lobbyist added: ‘What's the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?'"

Obama would demonstrate his "reasonable" nature over the next few years, helping himself become the most prolific corporate fundraiser in American political history. He received more than $33 million from "FIRE" --- the finance, real estate, and insurance industries ---- and got nearly $900,000 just from the super-powerful Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs... This was part of the deeper plutocratic reality beneath his deeply misleading claim to have developed 'a parallel system of public financing' during the presidential campaign.

So much for Obama the man, better though he may be now we are out of the Bushes. But really it is from within the new situation that something novel can arise - as Zizek said above, from the new scope of our personal decisions. This is a much more profound and performative requirement for us once we are awake to the tragedy of our mere formal freedom. The spectacular advent of Barak Hussein Obama in the existing coordinates of power may evoke at least a paucity of hope to be found not in the person, but in the gaps of the new situation he rules - openings for our greater scope of action; a critical analysis of the suppressed reality of the Palestinian situation may enable us to see beyond the illusions we are fed under the ideological signifiers such as "democracy"; but these are but examples within a greater systemic problem. A truly eloquent expression of the idea of world emancipation from the confines of the current "global" situation may be described in continuing to quote from Badiou:

"Contemporary capitalism boasts, of course, that it has created a global order;.. The ‘one world’ of globalization is solely one of things—objects for sale—and monetary signs: the world market as foreseen by Marx. The overwhelming majority of the population have at best restricted access to this world. They are locked out, often literally so... The price of the supposedly unified world of capital is the brutal division of human existence into regions separated by police dogs, bureaucratic controls, naval patrols, barbed wire and expulsions. The ‘problem of immigration’ is, in reality, the fact that the conditions faced by workers from other countries provide living proof that—in human terms—the ‘unified world’ of globalization is a sham... The simple phrase, ‘there is only one world’, is not an objective conclusion. It is performative: we are deciding that this is how it is for us.."

What we will do is indeterminate in Badiou's analysis. A repetition of the communist phases of the past is certainly undesirable, yet the hypothesis remains as Badiou defines it:

"..the logic of class—the fundamental subordination of labour to a dominant class, the arrangement that has persisted since Antiquity—is not inevitable; it can be overcome.. a different collective organization is practicable, one that will eliminate the inequality of wealth and even the division of labour. The private appropriation of massive fortunes and their transmission by inheritance will disappear. The existence of a coercive state, separate from civil society, will no longer appear a necessity: a long process of reorganization based on a free association of producers will see it withering away."

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