A year is a very long time in politics. The election of Barack Obama, the first black president of the US, symbolised hope and the possibility of change for millions of Americans. US writer and author of Deer Hunting with Jesus, Joe Bageant, thinks that things are changing - but not for the better.
Barack Obama's public approval ratings are taking a beating. Millions of his former supporters have awoken with a splitting hangover to find their pockets turned inside out and eviction notices on the doors of their 4,000 square foot subprime-mortgaged cardboard houses.
Many who voted for Obama out of disgust at the Bush regime are now listening to the Republicans on their car radios as they drive around looking for a suitable place to hide their vehicles from the repo man. Don't construe this as support for the Grand Old Party. It's just the standard ping-ponging of disappointment and disgust that comes after the honeymoon with any administration.
Right now Obama's approval ratings are in the 40th percentile and would be headed for the basement of the league were it not for the residual effect of his election. However, millions of US liberals remain faithful, and believe he will rise from the dead in the third year and ascend to glory.
This frustrating ping-pong game in which first-time, disenchanted and undecided voters are batted back and forth has become the whole of American elections. That makes both parties very happy, since it keeps the game down to fighting the enemy they know - each other - as opposed to being forced to deal with the real issues or, worse yet, an independent or third party candidate who might have a solution or two. It's always about who gets to deliver the money to the Wall Street hyena pack.
Much of the world seems plagued with cataracts that keep it from noticing the chasm between what Obama says and what he actually does. The Nobel Committee awarded the 2009 Peace Prize to the very person who dropped the most bombs on the poorest people on the planet during that year. The same guy who started a new war in Pakistan, beefed up the ongoing war in Afghanistan, and continues to threaten Iran with attack unless it cops to phoney US-Israeli charges of secret nuclear weapons facilities. It's weapons of mass destruction all over again.
So far two million Pakistanis have been "displaced". A significant portion of them are "living with host families". Translation: packed into crowded houses ten to a room, wiping out food and water supplies, crashing already fragile sanitation infrastructure and serving as a giant human Petri dish for intestinal and respiratory diseases.
Many more are still living in the "conflict area". God only knows how many more innocent people will yet be killed in the conflict area of Obama's "war of necessity". You know, the "good war" - the war that is supposed to offset the interminable bad one in Iraq, where we continue to occupy and build more bases.
Then there are Obama's noble efforts to fight terrorism by beefing up troop "deployment" in Afghanistan. Now if you look at the deployment of US forces in Afghanistan, compared to Nato-country forces there, you'll find them in a nice even line along what could easily be mistaken for an oil pipeline route - one that taps into the natural gas deposits in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and, by the purest coincidence, just happens to bypass nearby Russia and Iran.
Grab the opium and run
The out of pocket cost of the US's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is $900 billion. Interest payments, plus the waste of productive resources, push the cost to $3,000 billion. By comparison, the entire 2009 government budget for elementary and secondaryeducation is slightly above $800 billion.
As Harvard monetary expert Linda Bilmes points out, there is "no benefit whatsoever for any American whose income does not derive from the military/security complex". I sent an email to Obama pointing this out, and suggesting that we pull out of Afghanistan, grab the opium and run. I got a nice reply saying that my president is grateful for the input. So there ya go.
Lately there has been a ruckus about our little "slap shop" in Guantanamo Bay. Word has it that it may be moved to an "underused" maximum security prison in the desperately broke community of Thompson, Illinois. It's the kind of job creation Stalin would have understood.
But at least the recession is over, according to Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank. "The Fed" is an offshore private banking cartel that decides just how much bogus currency can be printed and circulated profitably for bankers without wrecking their Ponzi schemes. And the chair of that august body has announced that the recession is over. Well, hallelujah! We can quit rolling our own cigs and buy ready-mades, and run recklessly through the dollar store scooping up dented canned goods and cheap Chinese tube socks.
However, 3.5 million Americans, most of whom led normal lives a few years ago, are now homeless. That includes 1 million school children sleeping in tents, shelters and other makeshift arrangements, and trying to look presentable each morning at schools that have not even the mercy to let them use the showers.
By the administration's own calculation, the number of homeless and people out of work will continue to escalate at least into the next year. Foreclosure on homes, and therefore homelessness, "has not topped out yet", says Obama.
The US Ministry of Truth has announced that our unemployment rate is at 10 percent. I've yet to meet an American who does not know the official unemployment rate is a complete fiction. One half of the unemployed - the half that has been unemployed for more than one year - is simply erased from the official count. Poof! The real rate is somewhere around 20 percent.
The bad news, which the Obama administration openly acknowledges, is this: unemployment will in all likelihood go higher. What US factories remain are laying workers off due to high interest rates, and waiting for a lower interest rate policy before deciding if it is feasible to call any workers back into production.
During their wait they can watch hell freeze over. Banks know a fatter hog when they see one. And that hog is the consumer credit business (nobody has figured out yet that consumers need pay cheques before they can consume anything, on credit or otherwise). To that end the Federal Reserve has logically set a low interest rate policy.
And in true accordance with banking logic, the banks took the Fed's money, and then raised the annual percentage rate on credit card purchases and cash advances and on balances that have a penalty rate because of late payment. Next they raised the late fee. If Americans are on the ropes then the logical thing to do is to stick it to them. It's an American free market tradition.
A Deutsche Bank analyst tells me the worst is yet to come. Bank failures and home foreclosures have not peaked. A commercial real estate bust is coming down the pike. He says that, while there will be some minor periodic upswings, the fraudulent value of the dollar is now evident as it falls against every other currency, except those unlucky enough to be pegged to the US dollar.
As former assistant secretary of the treasury Paul Craig Roberts says, "What sort of recovery is it when the safest investment an American can make is to bet against the US dollar?"
The saddest thing is that Americans are cultivated like mushrooms - kept in the dark and fed horseshit. Consequently, they haven't the slightest idea that there is an alternative to the system in which they labour: democratic socialism - self-governance for the broadest common good, which the Ministry of Truth has defined for them as fascism.
I would guess that you have heard about the "debate" over "healthcare reform". There really wasn't much debate, just a lot of thuggish behaviour and wild tales of geriatric death panels from the right and grovelling capitulation on the left.
The "reform" turned out to be a $70 billion a year giveaway to the insurance companies, by forcing those 45 million folks who cannot afford insurance to buy it anyway. Taxpayer dollars will make up the difference between what can be wrung out of the working poor and what insurance corporations can demand.
The best Obama and the Democratic Party's corporate lapdogs could come up with was total handover to the insurance industry. The insurance companies have always made it clear they have billions to spend defeating and destroying any elected official not on their side.
Meanwhile, environmental legislation is pretty much reduced to "cap and trade". In the truest spirit of capitalism, corporations will be able to sell their pollution for a profit instead of ending it.
Even this legislation barely made it through the House of Representatives.
Then, just when you think your country has reached the limits of raw shame it surprises you with some new and worse outrage - putting the kibosh on the UN's Goldstone report. The report documents Israeli war crimes in the Gaza ghetto, where 1.5 million Palestinians have been held miserable hostages by Israel. The Israeli attack on civilians and civilian infrastructure such as hospitals and schools, using illegal munitions such as skin-melting white phosphorus, was a war crime by every definition.
The UN and the world agree that it meets and exceeds the Nuremberg standard. But the US has never considered itself part of the rest of the world. So the rest of the world was not surprised when the US House of Representatives voted 344 to 36 to condemn the Goldstone report. The Obama administration has promised Zionist groups that it will never let the report get to the criminal court. The perps are safe. Zionists everywhere threw their hats in the air and cheered.
The first rule of capitalist math
The same day the assault on Gaza began, 4 January 2009, president-elect Obama announced he would create or save 3 to 4 million jobs during his first two years in office. Ninety percent of them were to be in the private sector, of which about 400,000 would be in building roads, bridges, schools and broadband lines. Another 400,000 were predicted in solar panels, wind turbines and fuel-efficient cars, and 1 million in healthcare and education.
The key term here was "jobs saved". Any job not lost apparently goes in the jobs created column. I'm rather math-impaired, but it's hard to see how the claim can be made. Political math is done in some fourth-dimension anti-space where terrestrial rules do not apply.
One thing I do know is that for every dollar a worker would earn under Obama's plan, a capitalist corporation employing the worker would earn almost two dollars. That Mexican guy balling sod along the new highway's median strip for the contractor may be making eight bucks an hour, but he is making his employer about $15.50 in the same hour. As a younger man in Colorado I balled sod, hired the Mexican workers and passed out the pay cheques, so I know. The first rule of capitalist math is that the capitalist gets to do the math.
So Obama's plan lines more corporate pockets than those of the working man. Yet Obama was charged by conservatives with having an anti-capitalist, socialist agenda. These businessmen are more than happy to take the money, but their rule of thumb is "Show no gratitude! Bite the living hell out of any hand that feeds you on the chance that it may give up more, or maybe even drop everything it is holding so you can grab it up and run while a crowd gathers to stone the alleged socialist."
In the end the campaign rattle and prattle about Obama's recovery plan turned out to be moot anyway. Wall Street moved in and heavied up on the whole damned country in one of the ballsiest heists in US history. It was a stroke of pure genius as theft goes.
Following a meeting of the Five Families - Citicorp, BOA, Morgan Chase, Wachovia and Taunus Corp - the financial cartels said, "The rip-off is in. We got it all. Now if you don't hand over all the people's savings and assets so we can loan it back to them the whole flaming ball of shit you call the ‘services and information economy' is gonna come down on everybody's asses like a giant meteor. So load 3 trillion bucks into the armoured cars and nobody will get hurt - or watch the economy shrivel until the schmucks out there in the cul-de-sacs and cardboard condos can't even put together cab fare for their ride to the poorhouse. It's your call, Barack."
Last I heard, the banks never circulated the dough through people's hands or even business loans. Instead they declared a profit, divvied it up in bonuses and congratulated themselves. Getting rich by going broke, then getting even richer by sticking up the government, the entire US public and eventually the entire world, leaving a $1.5 quadrillion cloud of toxic derivatives to hoover up more money before imploding like a dark star. And indeed, the derivatives are even astronomical in nature. They represent $180,000 in debt load for every man, woman and child on earth (although I cannot understand, if the money isn't real, why we should consider the debt real).
The mobsters have retired to Tuscan villas to savour their haul. The poor schmucks in the US heartland are left to devise new ways of hiding the family ride from the repo man.
Say what you want about my country, but pillage and looting have never been so elegantly ritualised, institutionalised and executed.
Revenge of smirking George
We haven't heard much from George W Bush since he packed up his comics and moved to Dallas. But his policies remain like dog piss stains to stink up the Obama White House. Rendition and assassinations continue, as does warrantless spying on the citizenry, along with other civil liberties violations in the name of the "war on terror".
But Obama and the Democrats refused to prosecute Bush and Cheney. This ensures that no quail hunter in Georgia will ever be safe as long as Cheney's pacemaker still functions and that the precedents set by the most criminal administration in US history remain.
George Bush left office wearing the same smirk he came in with. He must now be convulsed in crazed hysterical laughter. His gang not only got clean away, but Obama carries on the Bush-Cheney legacy.
And, almost as if to top the whole escapade with a cherry of irony, the most inarticulate president in US history is now on the motivational speaking circuit at $200,000 a pop.
Realistic people on the left have long known that the last act of American strong-arm capitalism would be a massive gunpoint redistribution of wealth from the public to the owning class through the private financial sector. But few would have expected it to be executed under a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate under the Democratic first black president.
One liberal blogger wondered aloud, "Imagine what the Republicans would have done had John McCain been elected."
The same thing, brother. The same thing. Only with a different cover story. Both parties exist at the pleasure of the same crime syndicates.
Joe Bageant is the author of Deer Hunting with Jesus: Guns, Votes, Debt and Delusion in Redneck America