28/12/2016

Exit, Hope and Change - James Howard Kunstler

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Yes, that was a gag.

By now, anyone in this country still of sound mind knows that Barack Obama presided through eight years of remarkable continuity — of changeless conditions that left a great many hopeless. As the days of his tenure dwindle, what do we make of the departing 44th president?

He played the role with cool-headed decorum, but that raises the question: was he just playing a role? From the get-go, he made himself hostage to some of the most sinister puppeteers of the Deep State: Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, and Tim Geithner on the money side, and the Beltway Neocon war party infestation on the foreign affairs side. I’m convinced that the top dogs of both these gangs worked Obama over woodshed-style sometime after the 2008 election and told him to stick with the program, or else.

What was the program? On the money side, it was to float the banks and the whole groaning daisy chain of their dependents in shadow finance, real estate, and insurance, at all costs. Hence, the extension of Bush Two’s bailout policy with the trillion-dollar “shovel-ready” stimulus, the rescue of the car-makers, and a much greater and surreptitious multi-trillion dollar hand-off from the Federal Reserve to backstop the European banks with counter-party obligations to US banks.

In April of 2009, Obama’s new SEC appointees, strong-armed by bank lobbyists, pushed the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) into suspending their crucial Rule 157, which had required publically-held companies to report their asset holdings based on standard market-based valuation procedures — called “mark-to-market.” After that, companies like Too-Big-Too-Fail banks could just make shit up. This opened the door to the pervasive accounting fraud that allowed the financial sector to pretend it was healthy for the eight years that followed. The net effect of their criminal fakery was to only make the financial sector artificially larger, more dangerously fragile, and more prone to cataclysmic collapse.

Another feature of life on the money-side of the Obama presidency was that nobody paid a personal price for financial misconduct. This established the basic ethos of Obama-era finance: anything goes, and nothing matters. All the regulators looked the other way most of the time. And when forced to act by egregious behavior, they made deals that let banking executives off-the-hook while their companies shelled out fines that amounted to the mere cost of doing business. It happened again and again. The poster boy for this kind of “policy” — or just plain racketeering — was Jon Corzine, the head of the commodities brokerage MF Global, whose company looted “segregated” customer accounts to the tune of nearly a billion dollars in the fall of 2011. Corzine was never prosecuted and remains at large to this day.

Another signal failure in the money realm was Obama’s response to the 2010 Citizen United Supreme Court decision, which declared that the alleged legal “personhood” of corporations entitled them to exercise “free speech” by giving as much money as they wanted to political candidates for election. Big business no longer had to just rent congressmen and senators, they could buy them outright with cash.

A conservative Supreme Court made the call, but Obama could have acted forcefully in the face of it. The former constitutional law professor-turned-politician could have marshaled a response in his Democratic Party-controlled congress to draft legislation, or a constitutional amendment, that would properly redefine the personhood of corporations. It should be obvious, for instance, that corporations, unlike human citizens, do not have duties, obligations, and responsibilities to the public interest; by legal charter they have only to answer to their shareholders and boards of directors. How does this confer the kind of political free speech “rights” that the court allowed them to claim? And how did the Obama and his allies in the legislative branch roll over to allow this disgraceful affront to the constitution to stand? And how is that almost nobody in the mainstream press or academic law even pressed these issues? Thanks to all of them, we’ve set up the primary means for establishing a fascist Deep State: the official marriage of corporate money and politics. Anything goes and nothing matters.

Finally, in foreign affairs, there is Obama’s mystifying campaign against the Russian Federation. The US had an agreement with Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union that we would not expand NATO if they gave us a quantity of nuclear material that was in danger of falling into questionable hands in the disorder that followed the collapse. Russia complied. What did we do? We expanded NATO to include most of the former eastern European countries (except the remnants of Yugoslavia), and then under Obama, NATO began holding war games on Russia’s border. For what reason? The fictitious notion that Russia wanted to “take back” these nations — as if they needed to adopt a host of dependents that had only recently bankrupted the Soviet state. Any reasonable analysis would call these war games naked aggression by the West.

Then there was the 2014 US State Department-sponsored coup against Ukraine’s elected government and the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych. Why? Because his government wanted to join the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union instead of an association with European Union. We didn’t like that and we decided to oppose it by subverting the Ukrainian government. In the violence and disorder that ensued, Russia took back the Crimea — which had been gifted to the former Ukraine Soviet Socialist Republic (a province of Soviet Russia) one drunken night by the Ukraine-born Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. What did we expect after turning Ukraine into another failed state? The Crimean peninsula had been part of Russia for longer than the US had been a country. Its only warm water naval ports were located there. They held a referendum and the Crimean people voted overwhelmingly to return to Russia. So, President Obama decided to punish Russia with economic sanctions.

Then there was Syria, a battleground between the different branches of Islam, their sponsors (Iran and Saudi Arabia), and their proxies, (Hezbollah and the various Salafist jihad armies). The US “solution” was to sponsor the downfall of the legitimate Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad. We apparently still favored foreign relations based on creating failed states — after our experience in Iraq, Somalia, Libya, and Ukraine. President Obama completely muffed his initial attempt at intervention — the “line-in-the-sand” moment — and then decided to send arms and money to the various Salafist jihadi groups fighting Assad, claiming that our bad guys were “moderates.” Meanwhile, Russia stepped in to prop up Assad’s government, apparently based on the idea that the Middle East didn’t need yet another failed state. We castigated Russia for that.

The idiotic behavior of the US toward Russia in these matters led to the most dangerous state of relations between the two since the heart of the Cold War. It culminated in the ridiculous campaign this fall to blame Russia for the defeat of Hillary Clinton. And here we are.

I didn’t vote for Hillary or Donald Trump (I wrote-in David Stockman). I’m not happy to see Donald Trump become president. But I’ve had enough of Mr. Obama. He put up a good front. He seemed congenial and intelligent. But in the end, he appears to be a kind of stooge for the darker forces in America’s overgrown bureaucratic Deep State racketeering operation. Washington truly is a swamp that needs to be drained. Barack Obama was not one of the alligators in it, but he was some kind of bird with elegant plumage that sang a song of greeting at every sunrise to the reptiles who stirred in the mud. And now he is flying away.

Next week, I’ll post the 2017 forecast..

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