And it’s one, two, three…what are we fighting for

King Barack the Careful ordered additional troops to Afghanistan, according to the New York Times:

President Obama has issued his order to send more troops to Afghanistan, communicating his decision to military leaders late Sunday afternoon during a meeting in the Oval Office, and will spend Monday speaking with foreign leaders to share with them the broad outlines of his new strategy, the White House said.

"The commander-in-chief has issued the orders," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters at the White House at the outset of what will be a two-day effort to sell the new strategy to the American people, Congress and American allies.

Afghanistan was the "right war," according to candidate Obama. Yet, for whom was it right? Candidate Obama in 2008 and, eventually, in 2009, for he must prove his worth as a president by sending Americans off to die needlessly while also fulfilling one of his campaign promises. For the Pentagon as long as the commander-in-chief adequately funds the effort. For the American empire which needs to play and win the new great game in order to remain an empire long after it lost its modern economic system. For the corrupt president Karzai who needs the United States to remain in power. Or, right for the Americans who will pay for the war with their lives and their futures.

This is another ghastly mistake, although it is consistent with the unreal realism that brought the United States to this point.


Is a populist moment emerging?

The AP discovers an example of America's democratic class struggle:

When it comes to paying for health overhaul, Americans see just one way to go: Tax the rich.

That finding from a new Associated Press poll will be welcome news for House Democrats, who proposed doing just that in their sweeping remake of the U.S. medical system, which passed earlier this month and would extend coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.

The poll found participants sour on other ways of paying for the health overhaul that is being considered in Congress, including taxing insurers on high-value coverage packages derided by President Barack Obama and Democrats as "Cadillac plans."

That approach is being weighed in the Senate. It is one of the few proposals in any congressional legislation that analysts say would help reduce the nation's health expenditures, but it has come under fire from organized labor and has little support in the House.

What makes this case interesting is the "make the rich pay" sentiment present among Americans today. Decades of GOP-led welfare state retrenchment, deindustrialization, anti-labor reaction, race-baiting, etc. have dulled the sense that wealth is a social product, not a consequence of an individual's good work.


Reagan’s true successor emerges

On Palin's charisma

According to Max Blumenthal's latest article, Sarah Palin cannot "…be easily criticized." She sits beyond the reach of rational criticism because she has acquired, it would seem, Ronald Reagan's Teflon mantle. At least her fans have no trouble at all in seeing her aura:

Palin is so well positioned as the darling of the movement that any criticism of her would be experienced by believers as a personal attack on them. In this way, their identification with her through the politics of personal crisis is complete.

For the 2010 mid-term elections, Palin's endorsement is already a coveted commodity.... As she sets out on her book tour, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune only propel her forward. Her influence on a party largely devoid of leadership is expanding. If she doesn't prove to be the Party's future queen, she may have positioned herself to be its future king-maker — and potentially its destroyer.

Sarah — Zion's Prophet in the United States — would merely provide another freak show to a culture that thrives upon them but for the political failures of the Obama administration. What, after all, has Obama delivered to those who voted for him a year ago? Viable health care? A reaffirmation of America's safety net? Structural reform of a corrupt economy? Reindustrialization? A push towards a green economy? A push towards a full employment at a living wage economy? The conclusion of America's occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan? Demilitarization? An affirmation of the rule of law? Good government?

Has he delivered anything of tangible value?

A well-founded "No" only points to an Obama-backlash as it gestates within America's civil society as it decays, a reaction which can only benefit the professional fear-mongers, fundamentalists and opportunists on the right. Thus considered, Obama's failures reflect America's failures. They are the products of a history the enduring problems of which require radical reform if the country would resolve these problems. But Obama is not a radical reformer. He is, rather, a system politician who leads a system that will fail if only reproduces itself.


Politics and markets

Having considered the historical repudiation of state socialism (1989) and market fundamentalism (2008), historian Eric Hobsbawm suggests that mere institutional reform will prove inadequate to the unavoidable task of setting humanity on a better path than the one it has known since the advent of the modern age. The issue no longer conforms to a markets or politics choice, as it had since the mid-19th century. Rather, as Hobsbawm argues:

The crucial difference between economic systems lies…in their social and moral priorities. In this respect I see two crucial problems.

The first is that the end of communism has meant the sudden end of the values, habits and social practices by which generations had lived — not only those of the communist regimes, but also those of the pre-communist past that had been preserved under these regimes. We must recognise the depth of shock and human calamity brought about by this abrupt and unexpected social earthquake.

This sense of social disruption and disorientation remains, at least for all except those born after 1989, even when economic hardship no longer dominates post-communist populations. It must inevitably take several decades before post-communist societies find a stable way of living in the new era and some of the consequences of social disruption, institutionalised corruption and crime may take even longer to eradicate.

The second is that both Western neoliberalism and the post-communist policies it inspired deliberately subordinated welfare and social justice to the tyranny of the GDP: maximum and deliberately inegalitarian economic growth. In doing so they undermined, and in former communist countries destroyed, the systems of social security, welfare, the values and aims of public service.

This is no basis either for the European "capitalism with a human face" of the post-1945 decades or for satisfactory mixed post-communist systems. The purpose of an economy is not profit but the wellbeing of all people, just as the legitimation of the state is its people not its power.

Economic growth is not an end but a means to good, human and just societies. It does not matter what we call regimes that pursue this aim. It does matter how, and with what priorities, we combine the public and private elements in our mixed economies. That is the key political question of the 21st century.


“The recession is over”

It's kinda over, seems to be over, could be over, but...don't hold your breath. As Mike Whitney explains:

Yesterday's report from the Commerce Dept. confirmed that the economy expanded in the third quarter by 3.5 percent, better than most economists estimates. GDP had contracted in the four previous quarters in the longest and deepest recession since the Great Depression. Massive government stimulus, cash for clunkers, and inventory restocking accounted for most of the surge in economic activity. Consumer spending grew at 2.36 percent while consumer credit continued to contract at a near-record pace of 4.5 percent. Unemployment swelled to 9.8 percent, "with nearly nearly [sic] 26 million workers — 17 percent of the workforce — unemployed or underemployed," according to economist Mark Zandi. The economy remains extremely weak and is expected to lapse back into recession if the Obama administration fails to provide a second-round of stimulus.

In other words, the structural problems that produced the crisis remain. That is one reason the economy remains weak and recession-prone. The growth that brought the recession to an end merely expresses the effects produced by the Obama stimulus. This outcome was predicted, as Dean Baker points out. Nevertheless the Obama stimulus failed to implement the kind of structural reforms the economy needs if it is to strengthen as the reforms work their magic. Nor was it meant to effect reform of this kind.

What we are witnessing, then, is a macroeconomic effect produced by Obama's effort to restore to 'health' the system as it existed before the crash.

One benefit of the Obama stimulus: A slight decrease in the rate of unemployment.

Given the political benefits a presidential candidate could expect to gain from an economy that grows during an election season, it is only natural that a sitting president eligible for reelection would want to push hard for another stimulus program in order to dampen the effects of the crisis. Well, not in this case, for "…President Barack Obama hasn't requested more stimulus and recent polls indicate that a majority of people are against more deficit spending." Obama, it seems, faces political constraints:

The administration has done a poor job of explaining the advantages of reducing the output-gap or — for that matter — the overall objectives of Obama's economic recovery plan. Many people heap the bank bailouts (TARP) with the fiscal stimulus. This is a mistake that's easy to make. But the point needs to be clarified so more people don't needlessly suffer. It's up to Obama to articulate the differences in policy so the country can muddle through the tough days ahead. The problem is, Obama is afraid to use his skills as a communicator, because he thinks his message will offend financial industry constituents who wield tremendous power at the White House and on Capital Hill. The bankers and brokerage mandarins are more than happy with the present arrangement, which means that the conveyor-belt connecting the US Treasury to Wall Street will continue to operate at full-throttle diverting ungodly sums of money to broken banks and financial institutions rather than for unemployment benefits, work programs, and state aid.

Placating Wall Street appears to be an Obama priority. Crisis management, not crisis resolution through reform, informs his strategy. The financial elite, not the rabble, make up his constituency. To meet this strategic goal Obama can depend on the fears of the common American who, unsurprisingly, would rather the government put a stop on this deficit spending. Yet their fears and Wall Street's greed should not:

…stop Obama from doing the right thing and making the case for another round of stimulus. His job is to strengthen demand and put the country back to work. The rest is just politics.

Obama, I would add, should also make the case for structural reform. Neither massive unemployment nor widespread poverty are politically acceptable results for an economy as well-placed as the American.


The octopus

GoldmanSachs666 has a useful map which depicts the political entwinement of the federal government and Goldman Sachs. It can be found here.


Mikhail Gorbachev's take on the need for reform in the United States:

Three years ago I was speaking in the Midwest, and an American asked me this question: "The situation in the United States is developing in a way that alarms us greatly. What would you advise us to do?" I said, "Giving advice, especially to Americans, is not for me." But I did say one general thing: that it seems to me that America needs its own American perestroika. Not ours. We needed ours, but you need yours. The entire audience stood and clapped for five minutes.