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Posts Tagged ‘obama’

…at least he’s waging the war on Christmas as much as you’d expect from any good fundamentalist communist secularist Muslim.

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I often remind myself, these days, of how recently it was that I generally bought into the Democrat/Republican good-guy/bad-guy narrative. Remembering that I meant well, and wasn’t simply being vindictive or a complete dumb-ass, is what stops me getting as cross as perhaps I should at a lot of people in my Facebook and Twitter feeds, and others with whom I’m of a like mind on many things.

But look, people, progressives, sensible liberal types who want to help everyone and think that government is an important tool for doing that: you really need to look at the tribalism on your side of the aisle, as well as just denouncing it when you correctly spot it on the other.

Sometime in November, I tweeted something to the effect of:

“The wrong person won the election and now THE WORLD IS DOOMED!!1!” – crazy Republicans. Also most of you if the numbers had been a little different.

It’s not that the people who saw Obama’s re-election as the moment their country was lost to an Islamic socialist conspiracy aren’t comical. But the number of people with whom I share almost all my values, and yet who cheered Obama on and would have declared the US a complete lost cause if Romney had won, gave me an irony headache.

The idea that, because of the obvious stupidity and meanness of the American right, supporting the left means joining forces with progressive freedom fighters of tolerance and equality, is entirely misguided. You really need to realise that Obama is not your friend.

Before the recent US election, there was a lot of speculation on the left that the President would really start getting things done in his second term. Things he wanted to do, but which wouldn’t have been politically viable for him while he was still trying to get re-elected. This is troublesome for a number of reasons.

It surely indicates a catastrophically broken system, if you’re saying we can’t trust anything a President says or does in his first four years in office. That’s a long time for them to hold the most powerful political position in the world’s primary superpower, while having to prioritise their own popularity above the things they were elected to do.

Lawrence O’Donnell, a man who had hundreds of reasons to vote for Obama in November, made it clear that the President had “absolutely no intention of having that discussion” (about the war on drugs he totally plans to end) until he was re-elected. So if Obama thinks it’ll hurt his political career to talk honestly about his feelings on the important political issues facing the country, he’s just going to keep quiet until he’s in the clear.

That’s coming from someone firmly on Obama’s side. In the face of his failure to do what they want him to do, and act according to his own alleged conscience, their defence is to say “It’s okay, he’s just lying so people will vote for him”.

When it comes to that, you really need to ask why he’s worth defending at all.

Especially when it becomes apparent that he has no goddamn intention whatever of suddenly becoming the liberal Messiah everyone seemed to think he was four years ago. He’s not leading the way in some gloriously progressive, tolerant, loosening of insane drug laws and ushering in a new world of relaxed attitudes to personal use of enjoyable substances. He’s entirely failing to keep up with the pace of public opinion, and in fact is actively struggling against it.

Colorado and Washington both recently voted in favour of legalising recreational marijuana use. In Colorado, legal pot got more votes than Obama did. But the only news about his administration’s changing attitudes to the drug war implies that he’s considering efforts to step it up, and will be going out of his way to enforce federal laws to overrule these few democratic victories.

For some time now, Obama’s been stepping up harassment of even medical marijuana dispensaries, let alone people who just want to get high and have some fun and do things with their own bodies which they should be entitled to.

People such as himself. Obama’s own history of drug use is well recorded. He’s never been cagey about the fact that he smoked marijuana in his younger days, and stronger substances too. But, of course, he stopped, because he wanted to make something of himself someday, and he was concerned about the negative effects. He’d seen what regular use can do to people, how it can damage the intellect and blunt the senses. Drugs are bad, mm’kay.

What we’re supposed to take from that story is that drugs are a scourge which destroy people’s lives, and it’s just as well Obama overcame that temptation, so that now he can fight to stop others indulging in something so potentially damaging. What I actually take from it is that Obama used drugs when he was young, never got thrown in jail for it, made his own grown-up fucking decision to stop, and now he’s the goddamn President.

And now he doesn’t want other people to have the chance to make the same decision and take the same life path that he did. If he’d been subjected to the law which he’s now forcibly and expansively trying to implement, he’d have been a black kid with a criminal record for drug offences and a history of jail-time. Legally interfering with his life would have ruined it. Leaving him the hell alone let him become the most powerful man in the country.

Obama is not your friend, progressive liberal sensible nice people. He’s not the good guy. He’s not on your side. I’m not saying you should forget that Mitt Romney is appalling or that Republicans seem to say something new and moronic about rape or abortion on any given day that ends in a ‘Y’. But that doesn’t mean the other guy is the one you want. Don’t let the inane, two-team, pick-a-side mentality of US politics blind you to the fact that, if you’re in favour of cannabis decriminalisation, this President might be the worst in history on that metric. Stop fixating on the inanity of the Republicans who oppose him; look at the shit he’s actually pulling.

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You’ll have already seen this picture. Wil Wheaton tweeted a link to it the other day, which I think officially makes it mandatory viewing for anyone on the internet.

It’s a handy, pithy, lightly humourous, serious-point-making chart of some of the differences between the two upcoming Presidential candidates in the US, comparing Obama’s generally progressive stance with Romney’s own comically backward positions.

Four years ago I would’ve been all over this shit. And I’m still not completely out of that mindset. Significant parts of me will be profoundly depressed if Romney wins the election. It’s just an instinctively, viscerally appalling thought, in a way that Obama’s continued presidency just isn’t quite yet.

But the seemingly high probability of Obama’s second term is scant comfort. And the graphic above is a fine example of what I refuse to find comforting, this time around, about the idea of a Democrat (phew!) who isn’t George Bush (mercy of mercies!) in the White House.

“Not hard enough on Wall Street” is a nice downplaying of the fact that Obama’s been about as good a friend as the super-rich could have hoped for. The mostly empty rhetoric about having billionaires “pay their fair share” was enough to get him branded as a despised socialist, by people who have no idea what actual socialism looks like, but he’s done very little to stop corporate power and wealth creeping every further toward the top.

“Took a while to warm up to gay marriage” means the government he’s in charge of still routinely discriminates against same-sex couples. Look, it’s nice that Obama doesn’t seem to actually have much of a problem with gay people, the way Romney pretty clearly does. But public opinion has been massively shifting in tolerance’s favour, and Obama’s views are a symptom of that, not a cause. Gay rights are obviously winning, and their victory is about people getting it right, not governments passing laws. It’s nice when they do pass the right laws, obviously, but given what Obama claims to believe about equality, he gets way too much credit for not being quite as oppressive and discriminatory in his policies as he could be.

“Continuing the drone strikes”? Well, that’s a lot of dead children you’re euphemising away there.

A lot of the statist left arguments focus on how much worse things would surely be under a Republican than a Democrat, which encourages this kind of brushing away of minor niggling points like the mass murder of foreigners. They’ll admit that Obama has some flaws, hasn’t achieved as much as they’d hoped, does some things they wish he wouldn’t. But look at the alternative.

I was convinced, in 2008. I stayed up on election night watching the news until fairly late here, when the first results were starting to trickle in. Then I spontaneously woke myself up at around 5.30am, turned the radio on just in time to hear a news update with the announcement of the winner, and went back to sleep with an immense sigh of relief. Finally, the nightmare was over. Bush was out, and the sensible, progressive, nice one was in instead. Everyone knows Democrats are at least better than Republicans. They might not be great, but at least they’re not awful.

And during Obama’s first term, he signed the National Defense Authorization Act, giving the government unprecedented authority to detain basically anyone they like without trial or legal recourse, and he deported more immigrants than Bush did in the same time-span, and he stepped up raids on legal marijuana dispensaries, and he granted fewer pardons than any other president, and he just kept on droning the fuck out of brown people, and it’s getting really hard to even see him as the lesser of two evils.

(By the way, if you acknowledge that Obama is the lesser of two evils, and think this is a reason we should vote for him anyway, but you still do so with enthusiasm – or really anything other than weary, disgusted resignation – than you need to look up “evil” in the dictionary and give yourself a reminder.)

The assumption, which still pervades a lot of my own thinking, that things will necessarily be massively worse under a Republican President because the Republicans are obviously terrible, really doesn’t seem to stand up as well as it used to. And I’m finding it harder to see Obama’s continued supporters as being as well-meaning as I thought I was, four long years ago.

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Wow. Cracking down on medical marijuana, protecting torturers, casually murdering foreign civilians… One of the candidates in the upcoming US Presidential election sounds like a pretty terrible choice.

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And the libertarian right exploded.

So this is about a speech Barack Obama gave recently, in which he pointed out that people who succeed in life do so, in part, thanks to the benefits resulting from the hard work of other people.

Some people believe this is an unacceptable slur against America’s great businessmen. Businessmen like the late, great Steve Jobs, who made a fortune personally designing every aspect of Apple’s iPhone, smelting and forging every ounce of necessary material, wearing his fingers to the bone delicately hand-crafting millions of individual units, and personally delivering them to every customer around the world.

Other people may have noticed a thing called “reality” and decided it might be worth paying attention to.

Look, I’m entirely willing to stipulate that Steve Jobs was a genius who worked his ass off. But of the millions of man-hours that went towards Apple’s net income of $25billion last year, very little of that labour was performed by him. If the people running Apple now didn’t have thousands of people working full-time doing what they’re told, there would be no business.

The President dared to observe the necessity of cooperation, collaboration, and making use of the work done by others, in all significant endeavours. He observed that nobody exists in a vacuum and is personally responsible for every aspect of everything they use, make, or consume throughout their entire life. From the apoplectic response from much of the free market capitalism crowd, you’d have thought he’d said something actually socialist for a change.

Of course, they sort of know that they’re not arguing against the whole idea of humans cooperating with each other, and they’re not simply attacking a straw-man, either. Obama mentioned “government research” as an example of the help that anyone who owns a business relies on, as did Elizabeth Warren in a similar speech, and I can see why this might be an upsetting precedent for some people.

But the inability of some folks to conceive that anybody might ever do anything worthwhile, sensible, useful, constructive, or efficient, while being part of some dreaded thing called a “government”, is blinding them to every other aspect of the discussion. That last link raises important concerns about the wastefulness of a lot of government expenditure, but it doesn’t attempt to deny that roads and a national power grid are good things. There have been worthwhile achievements in which people banded together to work on something important and fruitful, even when there was no immediate financial reward available to the people who made the investment.

And neither of these crazed socialist villains is even necessarily talking about government. Obama’s emphasis is on the contributions of “somebody else”; Warren points out that “the rest of us helped”. Now, if you wanted to argue that what they’re really getting at when they say such things is about rich people paying more taxes… Well, it’s not like the Democratic Party has a strongly anti-statist history to throw that argument into doubt.

But even if that’s the case, taking their cunningly encrypted code-words literally tells a story that’s obviously true. The personal fortune of Bill Gates, founder and chairman of Microsoft, would not have been amassed without the use of many buildings constructed by other people, factories and equipment manufactured by specialists, and the corporation’s ninety thousand employees.

It seems like, in the context of business, if you mention luck or making use of help from others at all, someone will screech at you that you’re claiming hard work has no value. If you mention that working together for mutual benefit regardless of any immediate profit motive is sometimes a good way of getting things done, they’ll interrupt you to let you know how outrageous it is that you want to raise taxes on job-creators.

Is everyone’s imagination really so dull that working together for common goals with a spirit of communality can have no further meaning?

It’d be nice to see some genuine acknowledgment of the social value of labour once in a while, without the conversation being dominated by over-sensitive capitalists complaining about the indignities that the incredibly rich continue to suffer at the hands of those accursed “other people”. I live in hope.

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If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent a fair bit of time feeling disillusioned about politics.

It’s fairly standard, really, for people to despair of the system as a whole if they pay attention for long enough to see what happens when someone they voted for actually gets into power. Politicians are easy to despise, particularly when they do publicly stupid things, which they commonly take advantage of their numerous opportunities to do. They might even be worse than estate agents.

A recent Gallup poll in America put Congress’s job approval rating among the public at 10%. That means that one person in ten thinks their body of elected rulers are doing well at what they’ve been put in that position of authority for. This was the least optimistic of various polls, and it has crawled pitifully upwards a little since then, but either way, it’s not hard to draw a few reasonable conclusions about the esteem in which politicians across the pond are generally held.

People are more likely to feel positively about the guy they voted for, or any individual who represents their team – Democrats, Republicans, whatever – but it makes little difference whether they’re closing the tribal ranks and blaming “the other side” for everything that’s going wrong. It’s a fantastically low score.

The political landscape often seems like a dismal place, and it’s easy to get discouraged about the whole thing.

Except, you can’t just not take an interest in politics. It’s not like it’s got any less important because the people who are supposed to be doing it seem to be really bad at it. It’s not like people’s disillusionment necessarily means they stop caring about taxes, or foreign policy, or military intervention overseas, or global economics, or the criminal justice system, or same-sex marriage rights, or how often the council come and collect the bins. These things still matter, and I still feel quite strongly about some of them.

And, on reflecting further on exactly what I strongly felt about all these things, I decided I wasn’t actually disillusioned with politics at all.

What I’m disillusioned with is authoritarianism and capitalism.

The reason this wasn’t obvious in the first place is that those two things basically are politics in much of the modern world. President Obama is from the purportedly left-wing party of his country’s political system; I’ve touched before on the ways in which his administration continues to resemble a right-wing dictatorship, despite the fevered, hallucinatory accusations of socialism from the even-further-right. And don’t even get me started on David Cameron.

Genuine socialism barely gets a look-in in the current discourse. The closest we usually get is reminders of how bad Stalin was, by people who – assuming they think what they’re saying makes any sense – have apparently never wondered whether the whole notion of government and capitalism shouldn’t similarly be debunked by Hitler. Libertarianism has a more noticeable and waxing presence, but also seems to be dominated by the right-wing.

The point is, there are alternative ways of thinking and acting available. You’re allowed to have such different politics from all the major political parties that you don’t want to join any of them. It doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to play politics, any more than not being a hipster means you’re banned from Tumblr. You might feel a little isolated and out of place, but it’s your internet – and, indeed, your world – too.

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I think same sex couples should be able to get married.

Thus spake President Obama yesterday, and yea, there was much rejoicing.

And maybe there should be. It’s a positive development, after all, to have such an unequivocal statement of support from the leader of the free world. People in same-sex relationships are still having to struggle hard for equality all over the world, whether that struggle is just a matter of being taken seriously, or the right not to be executed as an abomination in the eyes of God.

But a lot of the public reaction has been over the top. I don’t want to take anything away from gay people for whom this is a significant victory. But too much import is being ascribed to too insipid a gesture.

Society is changing, and Obama’s announcement reflects just how far we’ve come in a relatively short time. How long ago would it have been impossible to imagine the President of the United States saying something like this? Twenty years? Less? But compare that to Obama’s own “evolving” view on the issue of same-sex relationships. See how far he’s come in, say, the past sixteen years, back when the then State Senate hopeful’s stated position was:

I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.

Huh. So, long before he was running the show, he felt at least as strongly about this as he does now. In fact, if he was prepared to actually fight for it back then, he’s arguably back-pedalled since. Nearly four years into his presidency, he now supports individual states’ rights to decide on what side to let the law come down. (Not, as Radley Balko points out, a stand he seems to take on many other matters.)

In fact, there were a lot of provisos accompanying his statement of support yesterday. I’ve quoted the main highlight above, but he took a lengthy run-up to get there:

…at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that…

…I think same sex couples should be able to get married.

You’re welcome, gay people.

I think it’s fair to say that after much careful deliberation and contemplation I’ve decided provisionally but with conviction that it’s become a moral necessity for me as an individual in my own way to just go right ahead and stick my neck out there and lay my cards on the table and say that at the end of the day I happen to think in my own head personally all things considered that Barack Obama ought to stop being such a fucking politician about this.

I don’t question the sincerity of his feelings at all. I’m sure he’s perfectly fair-minded and decent and progressive about same-sex relationships. I doubt there’s a homophobic (or hetero-supremacist, or whatever) bone in his body. But he has to constantly worry about whether expressing an honest opinion is going to cost him 10,000 votes in a swing state, which would of course result in TOTAL CATASTROPHE. And so his honest opinion is often a long time coming. Because politics is insane.

I share many queer folk’s joy that we continue to see signs of an approaching time when this whole discussion is irrelevant, and true equality is really possible. But some people’s gratitude at having their humanity acknowledged is spilling over into a kind of demeaning, fawning obsequiousness.

He’s not your saviour, and he’s not some hero deserving of your worship. At best, he’s someone who means well and is finally making some sort of effort to do the right thing. But you’re a human being deserving of dignity and respect entirely on your own merits, without having to wait on anybody else’s say-so.

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