Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Many Betrayals of Barack Obama: Part 1

What happened to change we could believe in?

With mid-term elections looming this fall, there are a flurry of articles assessing the results and prospects of Barack Obama’s first term as president. Not surprisingly, given how high were the expectations of an Obama presidency. Who can forget those massive election rallies? “Yes, we can”, he boomed and hundreds of thousands repeated the words. These were words that came from the Spanish “Si, se puede” of the immigrants’ rights movement that mobilized millions the year before the election. And as a black man running for and winning the presidency in a land built by African slaves, he seemed to represent America turning a corner.
Obama said that he was against the torture and imprisonment without end that was most starkly represented by Guantanamo Bay’s Camp X-ray. He would shut it down within a year, he said. He opposed the “Defense of Marriages Act” that was signed into law by his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton in 1996, enshrining discrimination against gays and lesbians into law. He would end the war in Iraq (ahem, to divert resources to Afghanistan). He would finally bring public healthcare to the American people, 50 million of whom were without any insurance whatsoever, in an “industry” whose costs were ballooning every year because of the “market.” And, of course, he would turn around America’s economy, which was on the fast track to disasterville with the worst recession in the post-war era destroying jobs faster than a fire in a field of autumn corn.
At least that’s what he told us.

The First Betrayal
On election night, November 2008, not only did voters elect America’s first black president on a platform of change. California voters also voted on Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage, which had previously been permitted and had led to a flurry of marriages, particularly in San Franciso. This immediately provoked a sense of outrage. And a sense of betrayal as it became clear that Obama would spare no effort to spare no effort to demonstrate his support for equality. In the lead-up to the vote in Maine, that was lost, Obama said not a single word in support of equal rights for gays and lesbians. And the Democrats didn’t use any of their electoral networks – there was a state election, along with the ballot on gay marriage – to promote equality. When Equality Across America was mobilizing a march of a quarter of a million people in Washington in support of gay rights, Obama advisors and Democrats not only did nothing to support the march, many of them derided it.
And now, the Obama Justice Department continues to aggressively defend the very Defense of Marriages Act about which Obama once stated: “Federal law should not discriminate in any way against gay and lesbian couples, which is precisely what DOMA does.” Even after a US District Court Judge ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional, it is expected that the Justice Department will appeal the ruling.

The Second Betrayal – Guantanamo
“As President, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists.”
So said Obama during the presidential election campaign. Yet, the prison at Gitmo is still up and running. And, as an article in the New York Times argued:
Stymied by political opposition and focused on competing priorities, the Obama administration has sidelined efforts to close the Guantanamo prison, making it unlikely that President Obama will fulfill his promise to close it before his term ends in 2013...
"...the administration is not putting a lot of energy behind their position that I can see,” said Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat....
[According to one senior official] “Guantánamo is a negative symbol, but it is much diminished because we are seen as trying to close it,” the official said. “Closing Guantánamo is good, but fighting to close Guantánamo is O.K. Admitting you failed would be the worst.”
The priorities of the Obama White House on this issue, in other words, are governed by cynicism and spin.

The Third Betrayal – Healthcare
Obama’s betrayal on winning a public healthcare system is really several betrayals rolled into one. For certain women’s right to have unhindered access to abortion has fared no better under Obama and he has, if anything given encouragement to the anti-choice by implementing an executive order excluding abortion services from the health reform. He did rescind Bush’s global gag order denying funding to international aid organizations that supported abortion services but he has done nothing to rescind Bush’s provider-conscience law in the US, which permits medical providers to discourage and deny women from access.
And the “reforms” as a whole are an unmitigated disaster for most Americans and a giant cash prize to the health insurance industry that has helped to make America’s healthcare system simultaneously the world’s most expensive and the world’s worst. This excellent article by Chris Hedges on details some of the betrayals of Obama’s “reform” package:
The 2,000-page piece of legislation, according to figures compiled by Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP), will leave at least 23 million people without insurance, a figure that translates into an estimated 23,000 unnecessary deaths a year among people who cannot afford care. It will permit prices to climb so that many of us will soon be paying close to 10 percent of our annual income to buy commercial health insurance, although this coverage will only pay for about 70 percent of our medical expenses. Those who become seriously ill, lose their incomes and cannot pay skyrocketing premiums will be denied coverage. And at least $447 billion in taxpayer subsidies will now be handed to insurance firms. We will be forced by law to buy their defective products. There is no check in the new legislation to halt rising health care costs. The elderly can be charged three times the rates provided to the young. Companies with predominantly female work forces can be charged higher gender-based rates. The dizzying array of technical loopholes in the bill-written in by armies of insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists-means that these companies, which profit off human sickness, suffering and death, can continue their grim game of trading away human life for money.
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