Dear Pres. Obama: Dissent isn’t Possible in a Surveillance State

By Juan Cole

In his stirring eulogy of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first president to be legitimately elected, by the entire South Africa people, President Barack Obama said,

“There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality.

There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.

I am not an armchair politician who holds the real ones in contempt. Politics is hard. Most of us don’t have the patience or the stamina for it. Hammering out a compromise among persons with strong egos and entrenched ideologies is a talent and a skill that I admire. Those puritans who demand consistency and decry hypocrisy, who scoff at bargaining, may admire their own unsullied characters alone in their rooms, but they will never actually accomplish anything good for people. Barack Obama has the patience of a Job, in the face of an opposition party that has declared itself not a loyal opposition but a deadly enemy.

So it is not lightly or glibly that I use the occasion of Obama’s heartfelt speech to upbraid him. But the contradictions in his sentiments and his actions here are too extreme, too glaring to pass without rebuke.

Obama praised dissent in the service of human rights, but has done everything in his power to suppress dissent. Dissent can come from within the ranks of government employees (indeed, since 3% of the work force in the US is employed by the Federal government if you count the military, it would have to). If Mr. Obama truly valued dissent in the service of human rights, he would persuade his Attorney General to drop charges against Edward Snowden and he would use his presidential pardon to release Chelsea Manning from penitentiary. These two are dissenters, the one in prison and the other facing prosecution if the US could get its hands on him. They saw their government do things that they found ethically repugnant and blatantly unconstitutional, which the government had hidden from the citizens whom it was supposed to be serving. Their revelations of what they knew was the highest form of morality.

Mr. Snowden in particular has revealed a Federal government completely out of control, engaged in warrantless surveillance of millions of American citizens on US soil, in ways that contravene the letter, spirit and intent of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution and which courts have found illegal when these practices have been allowed to come before them. The ACLU has shown how dangerous this unfettered surveillance could be to our individual liberties and personal autonomy.

One can only be disappointed at Mr. Obama’s complaisant reaction to these revelations, many of which may well have come as a surprise to him, since apparently the octopus-like secret government that has substituted itself for the elected one doesn’t tell the front men very much about what it is really doing. Obama seems convinced that the records being assiduously compiled on Americans (not to mention millions of innocent French, Brazilians, Germans, Indians and others) will not be misused by government. This conviction is either self-serving or strangely naive, and in any case goes against the entire tradition of American governance. The US government was erected by people who had suffered forms of tyranny pursued by a much less powerful government than we now have, and who were convinced that state officials will often get away with as much as they can get away with.

We already know that warrantless surveillance of individuals has started law enforcement investigating them for, e.g., drug buying. When the investigation threw up actionable evidence, law enforcement prosecuted on the basis of it. The police then lied to the judges and defense attorneys, making up some reason for which they began looking at the alleged perpetrator in the first place, and obscuring that it was unwarranted electronic surveillance that put them on to him or her. Perhaps thousands of such unconstitutional prosecutions have been brought, dishonestly and illegally. If police will lie to the judge’s face to get their conviction, what else will they do? And getting up a political protest involving civil disobedience is as easily monitored as are drug buys.

The kind of information being gathered without a warrant not only by the National Security Administration but by a wide range of law enforcement and intelligence agencies has the potential for making dissent impossible. Most effective protest of the sort Mr. Obama praised in his speech is illegal. Often, the laws themselves are wrong, as with the latticework of Jim Crow legislation that subjected African-Americans or the enactments of the South African parliament in the Apartheid era. Breaking wrong laws is key to much of the social progress the world has made in the past century. Gandhi, whom Obama cited, formulated a policy of nonviolent noncooperation, which involves law-breaking. The government’s aspiration to total information awareness about all human beings will be deadly to conspiring to break the law or carrying it out.

Some may think I am exaggerating the case, but we only have 1% of the Snowden leaks and what we already have makes Orwell’s 1984 look like a lackadaisical libertarian paradise.

A man driven by a desire for social justice, on discovering what the NSA and other agencies have been up to, would have formed an urgent commission to investigate abuses and curb them. Obama instead kidnapped the president of Bolivia looking for Snowden and stiff-armed any talk from people like Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) about maybe reforming the practices.

Greatness has escaped Mr. Obama. He seems content to be the community organizer of the Federal government, asking Congress and Federal officials what they think they need and offering to try to get it for them. That isn’t leadership. His response to the NSA leaks was to announce that the country could now have a discussion of the practices, as though the citizenry could discuss matters being actively hidden from them, on which a sitting senator like Wyden is muzzled. Mr. Obama’s chance at greatness is before him. Most of the abuses are in the executive, over which he largely has control. He could initiate major reforms restoring constitutional liberties. If he does not, he is very unfortunately choosing to play P.W. Botha, not Nelson Mandela.

Reuters reports

64 Responses

  1. vruz

    His “conviction is either self-serving or strangely naive”, or -the easiest explanation you refuse to consider- just hypocritical.

  2. Where Obama has displayed perfect consistency for over five years on the national stage is in giving us marvelous-sounding talk while doing exactly the opposite all the time. It’s not failure to get things done in the face of opposition; as you document here, when he is easily able to roll back the growing police state, he nevertheless systematically extends it and single-mindedly acts to make dissent impossible.

    That’s not yielding to the pressure of opposition. It’s doing exactly what he wants to do, and his consistent method is to put people to sleep by talking in the exactly the opposite way to which he acts.

    I remember a football coach in 5th grade solemnly telling us that to know what a player is going to do you don’t listen to his mouth or pay attention to his gestures. You watch his legs.

    Only thing I remember. This advice holds good everywhere, and especially in understanding Barack Obama and what to expect him to do.

    • According to his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic Party Convention this is what Obama liked about John Kerry and presumably what he wanted people to believe he believed in: “John Kerry believes in the Constitutional freedoms that have made our country the envy of the world, and he will never sacrifice our basic liberties, …”

      The problem with so many people is they still believe in that 2004 version of Barack Obama and have failed to “watch his legs.” “Constitutional freedoms”? Check with General Keith Alexander, James Clapper and John Brennan and the rest of the NSA on one hand and Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and other whistleblowers on the other..

    • Hear-hear, for all those alone in their rooms, bearing the viral hypocrisy&sociopathy that surrounds!

  3. He seems to have been seduced by the immense powers he has as chief of the executive branch and become just another in a long line of imperial presidents since 1947 when President Harry Truman signed The National Security Act.

  4. Dissent in a surveillence state is possible. The more dissenters there are the more people that will be hired to watch these dissedents. That creates more opportunities for the dissenters to get decent paying jobs in a society in wich there are enough decent paying jobs to cover about 25% of families.
    But I digress.
    If the state moves beyond watching and actually using violence to oppress dissent then human history has shown that support for the dissenters actually grows when the dissenters are supporting a just cause. Of course this growth will not be due to the fact that the dissenters are getting good jobs and living well in an unjust society. It will be because they refuse to recant when they are feed to hungary lions. It will be becasue they refuse to recant when they are being tied to a stake and a bonfire is being prepared underneath them. It will be because they refuse to turn back when they reach a bridge with armed men standing on the other side who are itching to bust the heads of the marchers. the point might be reached in which the dissenters will be able to mount counter violence if such means are neccessary. But there are no guarantees. An insurgency against injustice could die in its crib as the founding members are rounded up before the group can take root. Even if it grows to the point that it can mount an armed insurgency all those that take part and could suffer in vain. Even if the insurgency is successful to the point of taking power things might not go well after that. All of the sacrifices might have been for nothing.
    But here is a warning for those who are slow to become a dissenter. Your silence could also land you in a pile of trouble. Your attempts to live well might all be in vain.

  5. Oh, ffs, prosecuting people who leak classified information is not “doing everything he can to crush dissent.”

    You don’t do your cause any favors by indulging in hysterical language. It may make your partisans cheer louder, but it makes everyone who isn’t already on the bus dismiss you.

    • But the phrase “people who leak classified information” would falsely represent the problem in WWII or Cold War terms with the presumption of virtue in making it classified. It is not so, and that is the whole issue here.

      Dissent from the trashing of fundamental freedoms upon which democracy depends is not hysteria. The article is well reasoned, moderate, and to the point.

      Truly “Greatness has escaped Mr. Obama” when he failed to take any action in the national emergency of his first term, when he might have broken the death grip of economic concentrations upon elections and mass media. He was immature, unaware of the real problems of the nation, poorly advised on the economy, and unable to resist the militarists in foreign policy, He could have taken such action at any time by declaring a state of emergency, investigating Congressional campaign contributions, calling new elections with registered individual contributions only, and placing the mass media in the hands of universities until properly constituted publicly controlled mass media corporations can be required by Constitutional amendment, funded as with elections. That would have been the change needed to restore democracy, only possible by an activist president.

      Truly “Obama’s chance at greatness is before him” not only on surveillance issues, which would require a far stronger hand and more courage than he has shown. But he and his advisors lack the knowledge and abilities, so the chance is illusory. The crime is that his party nominated such a babe in the woods just for the momentary triumph over racism, and failed to produce better advisors.

      But of course they and both parties are in the pockets of economic concentrations and will do nothing about the real problems.

      • John, I share the frustrations, but you slip past fundamental questions of the Constitutional breadth of Presidential authority and leap immediately to the ends we both desire.

        Was not the justification of means by ends the very tendency which turned the 20th Century into the unprecedented slaughterhouse of nations it had become by the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union? It’s true that Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus and FDR took over the manufacturing economy in wartime. But those existential crises were not precedents for what you propose. As a people we need the political institutions we have created gradually since the 18th Century. When they work poorly we need to reform them with deliberation; we can’t permit ourselves the thrill of throwing them out with the bath water by executive fiat. We Americans are not immune to what JF Revel called the totalitarian temptation.

        • I wholeheartedly agree in principle, Hunter, and would be very alarmed by the sweeping use of emergency executive powers. I am not tempted to totalitarian means at all where there is any other option, however lengthy and difficult.. But with much consideration I do not believe that there is a another way here: our democratic institutions are simply not functioning sufficiently for the major reform required. The means which established them cannot re-establish or reform them. Democracy in the US is gone; we have oligarchy in fact, however loose, and it is here to stay.

          Already we have seen the failure of demonstrations, the rapid ascendency of police repression and surveillance in the service of economic concentrations. If we do not use whatever means are available (and executive emergency powers are the least damaging) democracy will not be restored. One cannot remove economic power from elections and the free press without already having free elections and a free press. And no future president is likely to have such a mandate for “change” as Obama had. He was the only chance in our lifetimes, and he did not see it.

          Yes, reliance upon executive emergency powers sets a terrible precedent for factions. It is an act dangerous in history. But it is also the only way to restore democratic elections and a free press in the genuine state of emergency we face, and their loss is far for damaging. If we simply voice the desirability of gradualism and consensus we do not comprehend the permanence of the loss of democracy.

          I wish that I could maintain with you the view that present institutions can be made to reform, but I know that it will not happen.

    • It is not that he is prosecuting people who leak classified informataton. The White House leaks classified info that suits their needs. It is going after any and all leaks that shed a bad light on the government to deter any future whistle blowers.

      Snowden and Manning, independent of what you think of them as people and of the fact that they both did clearly break the law, deserve the Nobel Peace price much more than President Obama ever did.

      • Andrew Levine has a long article on presidential elections and the prospects for 2016, “Do elections make any difference?: Plus ça Change, Plus C’est la Même Chose” by Andrew Levine – link to – in which he finishes with a great point: Write in Edward Snowden’s name for president. Unless the lesser-evil argument has some validity in 2016 this appears to be an excellent choice.

  6. I voted for him twice but now realize the speeches are deliberate con jobs, starting with Springfield. By virtue of drone terrorism and the NEA abuses, he should be answering questions from democrats about high crimes.

  7. Having only escaped the century of the NKVD and the Gestapo by the skin of our teeth, all of us ought all to be able to know it when we see it as does Professor Cole with such clarity.

    As to our President , there is a heavy sense of tragedy. An admirable man as potentially ‘great’ as any American leader during that awful time, he appears to be trapped in this giant system which he struggles to master on a daily basis in the most poisonous atmosphere we have experienced since, perhaps, the Civil War.

    Are the United States governable today in a fashion consistent with our liberties?

    • “An admirable man as potentially ‘great’ as any American leader during that awful time, he appears to be trapped in this giant system which he struggles to master on a daily basis in the most poisonous atmosphere we have experienced since, perhaps, the Civil War.”

      I’m not so sure about the “admirable” part, but I will agree he appeared to have had a lot of potential. However, the System is stacked against anyone with thoughts of changing it. Not that Obama had any such thoughts. He was clearly a willing participant in this game. Carter managed to get in the White House with good intentions, but the oligarchs of both parties ganged up on him when he tried to go his own way. Anyone else, Bernie Sanders?, having similar thoughts would have similar prospects.

      • All professional politicians are willing participants in the game despite the fact that it is indeed very difficult to effect systemic change. But ‘very difficult’ is not impossible.

        The passage of the Affordable Care Act was was hard indeed, having been pending since the time of Harry Truman. It was driven home over fanatical opposition and the struggle is not yet resolved. The outcome is not fully certain but there will be no fundamental retreat by Obama. He will make the system work as if life itself depended upon it.

        No President since Jack Kennedy (with his equally courageous brother Robert) has been willing to exert so much pressure on the Israeli Zionists as Barack Obama. The Palestinian issue is not resolved, but there is no sign that he is going to cut and run here either. I believe that’s shown by what follows here.

        If one thinks of the context the sense of crisis must be intense for Netanyahu and his men, perhaps the most incompetent big stakes gamblers since the autumn of 1939. Time is no longer on their side. An example is the rush to implement the apparently criminal Prawer Plan before it is too late.

        Then there is the fundamental change in our military orientation reflected by the pivot of our deployments in the direction of East and Southeast Asia. This is certainly not without political significance, especially in regard to the Middle East with which we have had a fatal and self-defeating fascination for decades.

        And then in the same time frame comes the so far successful multilateral negotiations with the new Iranian regime on containment of their nuclear weapons program, if any.

        These things happened without effective input by the Israel Lobby or our supine Congress. I don’t think it is over and believe that the pressure on the Israelis is going to mount inexorably. They were simply presented with accomplished facts well within executive powers.

        • “No President since Jack Kennedy (with his equally courageous brother Robert) has been willing to exert so much pressure on the Israeli Zionists as Barack Obama.”

          The presidency of George H. W. Bush exerted pressure on the Israelis far greater than that of Obama. President Bush’s Secretary of State James Baker, in his book “The Politics of Diplomacy,” recounts how then Deputy Foreign Minister Netanyahu (under Shamir) was quoted as saying, “It is astonishing that a country like the United States, which was supposed to be the symbol of political fairness and international honesty, is building its policy on a foundation of distortion and lies.”

          Baker writes: “His {Netanyahu’s] language was unacceptable for a senior diplomat from a friendly country. I promptly banned him from the State Department.”

          When Obama’s State Department bans Israelis who make equally egregious statements, they might reach the level of President Bush’s State Department under Baker.

  8. The MSM tries to keep everyone focused on the circus and especially the bread, thanks for your efforts to counteract this plague. O is a total tool of the Elites, whom he aspires to join in the near future. He really can’t get out of his own way, but certainly is better than John McSame or the other guy. cdk

  9. Obama after Snowden is a story still unfolding. I hope the President reads Juan Cole. He may yet rise to the occasion. I hope he will.

    • “Obama after Snowden is a story still unfolding. I hope the President reads Juan Cole. He may yet rise to the occasion. I hope he will.”

      As the old saw would have it, hope springs eternal.

    • You may be sure that ‘all the President’s men’ read Juan Cole and the other fine realists such as Stephen Walt.

  10. Very good article as always, Juan Cole.

    “Breaking wrong laws is key to much of the social progress the world has made in the past century.”

    Particularly impressive! One succinct sentence, summing up the most important tenet of civil disobedience. I’d always thought along far more convoluted lines… organise, petition, boycott, protest, sit in, disrupt et cetera, but that’s the coal face right there: Break bad laws.


  11. I listened to excerpts from the speech and thought, yet again, Obama is a fine talker, it’s a pity his actions don’t match his inspiring words. And the hypocristy in this case – here he was speaking at the service for a man who, because of his commitment and integrity, spent 27 years in Robben Island prison. Back home, Obama presides over Guantanamo Bay prison.

      • Sarcastic, surely? If not we agree to disagree. And I agree to contribute (again) to your travel expenses. I’m alone and dirt-poor but with a conscience ablaze. Thank you for stirring my embers with equanimity.

      • Prez Obama could empty out the Gitmo prison in a matter weeks,
        if he wanted it emptied out.

        For the 82 or so who have been cleared for release,
        it is simply a matter of signing a letter in which he takes personal responsibility,
        if any of them “return” to the fight.

        I’ve read the applicable sections of the 2013 NDAA several times. Obama could even legally bring KSM to US soil, if he was willing to spend the political capital and take the consequences. He’s not.

        He is running the Rahm Emmanuel play on Gitmo. He will keep running that play until the clock expires. It’s smart politics. It’s an abrogation of leadership, and a rejection of constitutional law.

        • “For the 82 or so who have been cleared for release, it is simply a matter of signing a letter in which he takes personal responsibility, if any of them “return” to the fight.”

          Why on earth would a US President take “personal responsibility if any of them return to the fight”? Approximately 20 percent of those released to Yemen have returned to the fight. The President certainly should not be expected to vouch for those released.

          “Obama could even legally bring KSM to US soil, if he was willing to spend the political capital and take the consequences.”

          Under the NDAA Obama cannot bring KSM to the United States, political capital or no political capital. The House inserted a provision that explicitly forbids bringing any of the Guantanamo detainees to the United States for any reason, including to stand trial or for medical reasons.

    • “And the hypocristy (sic) in this case ”

      Obama not the only person guilty of hypocrisy during the recent commentaries on Mandela. The others are countless.

  12. When the Constitution was written a firearm could fire about 6 shots a minute. When people wanted to communicate they had to go down to the local tavern. If they wanted to communicate over long distances they had to send a letter through intermediaries. My understanding is that in the period of 1776-1789 people knew where there neighbor stood on the important issues of the day.
    Today America has more prisoners per capita than any other country in the world. I would suggest that two of the factors that contribute to this toll of slavery are privacy and guns.
    As a piece of evidence for my assertion I would point out that most people how have an affair met the other person at work.
    Why is this the case? Because when people are at work they are on their best behavior. They are on their best behavior at work because that is a place that privacy is in short supply.
    Liberals have often said that secrecy is a poison to democracy. Although i do not have any love for democracy I do agree with that assessment. So it is clear what a civilized society should do. It should make it very clear that you yes you are being watched. It is no secret. It does not matter if you are the CEO of Boeing or a Senator or truck driver IT IS NO SECRET you are being watched not only by numerous government agencies but by non governmental institutions, by your subordinates, by your children, and if you think that you have found a quite place out in the forest and that you are finally alone stop and kick yourself in the groin, because you are still not alone.
    WE are not alone. Which I think is quite helpful to know because WE humans are awfully damned stupid.

  13. “Breaking wrong laws,” is the best phrase I’ve read in years. Right on! Need to be careful which laws we define as wrong, lest we become like Eric Rudolph.

  14. Point of Clarification
    The Directors of any Agency with the letters ADINS will not have any privacy either if that is something that they currently have.

  15. “When Obama’s State Department bans Israelis who make equally egregious statements, they might reach the level of President Bush’s State Department under Baker.”

    What you describe is an interpersonal spat over a display of bad manners by a man infamous for them. It had nothing to do with matters of strategic policy in today’s version of the great game.

    What our President has done is to stop Netanyahu’s drive for an American attack on Iran in its tracks and put in its place a diplomatic alternative which is consistent with American and other great power interests. It shows signs of initial success. He has also vetoed an American military intervention in Syria and has fundamentally deemphasized the importance of the entire region to American global concerns through the pivot toward Asia.

    These are matters of great significance to our responsibilities as the greatest of great powers, not mere trifles of personality such as the event you describe. I sense that there are more in the pipeline. Do you despite your distaste for President Obama?

    Do you remember the days when we were forbidden by Israel and her Lobby to have direct contact with groups like Hamas and Hezbollah on the theory that they were terrorists? Now we *negotiate* a multilateral agreement on nuclear arms with Iran, the supposed arch-terrorist state and bitter enemy of Israel, without even keeping Netanyahu in the loop. We ignore his daily saber rattling and go about the pursuit of *our * national interests with the views of this tiny regional power put in their correct context.

    There are other indicators too. AIPAC seems to have gone silent on its support of Israel’s demand that we attack Iran. What after all can they do about it through the further oppression of our Congress? Not much it appears. Obama is using the power of the Executive Branch to accomplish these things. Earlier Presidents could have done it too. By and large they did not for reasons that interested laymen can now understand quite clearly with the help of scholars who have much broader audiences than in the past.

    • I’ve been wondering about just this. Your exposition is clear, articulate, brilliant, really. Could you find a way to post it elsewhere, e.g. Eschaton or Americablog? I’m not 100% convinced, but your perspective is crucial to any conscientious assessment. Thank you.

      • I’m not familiar with those blogs but will certainly look when I can. Feel free to re-post anything I write here wherever you think it might do some good. I appreciate the compliment.

  16. Netanyahu stated that the US ” is building its policy on a foundation of distortion and lies” in response to President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State Baker withholding aid to Israel because of Israel’s intransigence on West Bank settlements. Baker’s banning of Netanyahu from the State Department was not an interpersonal spat; It was all part of a US strategy to put pressure on Israel.

    Obama did not veto an American military intervention in Syria, unless you call first his threat to lob cruise missiles into Syria and then his abrupt about face to take the issue to Congress a “veto.” To everyone else, it appeared to be vacillation and indecision. The Russians, of course, saved the day by pulling his irons out of the fire.

    Regarding a “nuclear agreement” with Iran, it remains to be seen how far that will go. One hopes a satisfactory agreement will be reached, but it is far too early to get excited just because initial talks have occurred.

  17. You framed the issue yourself in this fashion: “When Obama’s State Department bans Israelis who make equally egregious statements, they might reach the level of President Bush’s State Department under Baker.” We have to live with what we write.

    • I simply pointed out that when Netanyahu egregiously criticized the US, Baker banned him from the State Department. You are the one who framed it in the context of an “interpersonal spat,” something I did not suggest at all. Indeed, we have to live with what we write.

  18. The rise of the surveillance state and the stratification of society into a minute elite and vast underclass are the two biggest, and most depressing, developments in modern US civil life.

    • Wouldn’t getting all private money out of the electoral process by penalty of law set us on the right track? Or did the infamous Supreme Court decision base itself on the the personhood of corporations? The news reports made me so depressed that I could never bring myself to read it.

  19. in all fairness, gandhi took his nonviolent noncooperation model directly and completely unchanged from leo tolstoy.

    • Indeed he did! And Gandhi was the nonviolent man of action who made it work in practice. Equal laurels to these two great men.

  20. If I may recommend the following synopsis of a colloquy between legal scholars that occurred in the pages of Harvard Law Review.

    Surveillance crushes the dynamism and creativity of a society. It destroys not just dissent and general well-being, but the engine of prosperity itself.

    Surveillance is national suicide.

  21. Sometimes it seems as if this President has no sense whatsoever of the cognitive dissonance that arises between his public speeches and his actionss. For example, am I the only one who found it passing strange that he gave a soaring speech on income inequality last week, even as he is-pushing hard behind the scenes to ‘fast-track’ the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement?

    • This explains Obama’s assignment and modus operandum. His backers in Chicago (the Daley machine?) got him an audition at the 2004 Democratic Convention to be their carnival barker, and it was a resounding success. The party loyalists were mesmerized by Obama’s rhetoric and, if they weren’t pro-Hillary, they were hooked on Obama without ever noticing the conflicts between his actions and his rhetoric. Some of those early loyalists have caught on to the act, but many still cling to the mantra of hope and change. Lotsa luck. He may be doing something worthwhile for his legacy in Iran, but that remains to be seen. First priority. Post-presidential career.

      • Mr. Bodden:
        Your treatment of our President is remarkably ugly, and incoherent too. You have no basis for asserting that Mr. Obama has been given some sort of illicit ‘assignment’ by any interests. You have no basis for speaking of him as if he were a criminal with a “modus operandum”. Many young and coming politicians are given chances to speak at both Democratic and Republican Conventions. It’s ridiculous for you to whine about his having been a success there. Were you offended by that success at the time? The Daley “machine” no longer exists and irrespective of that, of course he had many friends in his hometown, Chicago, who supported his rise. What’s wrong with that? Is that sort of thing unknown to Republicans? And just what, pray tell, are you talking about regarding alleged conflicts between his actions and his rhetoric back in 2008? How can you deny that hope has been rewarded by change? The Affordable Care Act alone is a nearly unprecedented accomplishment. And then there is that final slander that he is motivated in decision-making while in office by considerations of a post-presidential career. You’ve got a lot of chutzpah when you treat this forum as if it were a usenet snake pit.

        • Mr. Watson:

          It does appear that I have pressed some button on you. It’s late where I am so I won’t take time for a long response. I had a question mark after the “Daley machine” because I didn’t know who was supporting him, but it was obvious some group was. Apparently Penny Pritzker was involved. If I recall correctly her bank was in some legal problem. Then there was the support from energy corporations that will probably translate to Obama approving Keystone XL and fracking. Affordable Care Act an accomplishment? Some people may be getting improved health care, but when it was written by industry insiders and insurance stocks took a jump when it was approved, obviously it was not only written by the insurance industry but it was also for the insurance industry. Now the insiders are back on the insurance company payrolls as “consultants”. The only way to create a health plan for all the people is single-payer. That’s what the Europeans have at $5K to $7K per year with no deductibles and no risk of medically-caused bankruptcies, but it wasn’t even considered for discussion in Washington until it was too late to stand a chance. Here people are facing $6,000-a-year deductibles after $200-plus monthly premiums and still having the possibility of a medical bankruptcy. For the record, I did enjoy Obama’s speech at the 2004 convention, but by that time I had learned to look behind the curtain to see who was pulling the levers. Try it some time. You might find it interesting. Maybe while you’re at it you can find who’s pulling the triggers on all those drones killing innocent people at wedding parties.

        • “The Affordable Care Act alone is a nearly unprecedented accomplishment. ”

          According to critics of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) some 20 to 30 million people will be ineligible for coverage. Supporters of Obamacare have apparently conceded this deficiency with the claim that the people who came up short this time will be taken care of in the next phase. When national health plans were developed in western Europe, not only were all citizens provided free medical care but also tourists afflicted with medical emergencies.

          The debacle that goes by the name of Healthcare dot gov suggests there is a shortage of competence and, perhaps, integrity in the upper ranks of management.

  22. Perfect. The truth of it is displayed by the memory of the Soviet Union wherein fear at the individual level was the central principle of governance. We recall that she limped along, blustering, grossly distorted and militarized for decades and then abruptly collapsed, leaving the worn-out Russian people a terrible legacy which is nowhere near overcome thirty-two years later.

    • We’ve been in our own Brezhnev era for some time now. Crony capitalism, insiders exempt from rule of law, no premium placed on competence, all ideological posturings are just that – posturing. The Establishment does not give a fig for “free” markets, competition, or informed choice. Power is what matters. Power for the predators and the corps that serve them.

      • And now comes fear at the individual level. Constant monitoring by Big Brother is corrosive. The next step is a doctrine defining enemies of the people.

  23. “Obama did not veto an American military intervention in Syria, unless you call first his threat to lob cruise missiles into Syria and then his abrupt about face to take the issue to Congress a “veto.””

    “To everyone else, it appeared to be vacillation and indecision. The Russians, of course, saved the day by pulling his irons out of the fire.”

    I acknowledge having used the word loosely. And he did vacillate. I’ll settle for his simply not having invaded or bombed Syria as of yet coupled with the belief that he won’t do so. But what’s the difference what word is used as Congress wasn’t going to go to war in Syria in any event. By referring it to Congress he killed it as if it had been vetoed. And he had political cover for it.

    The Russians helped by suggesting a solution to the Syrian chemical weapons problem which defused Israeli pressure for another war. In any event we have not chosen to impose a military solution on Syria. And Putin’s intervention was very smart and timely. Our interests happen to have overlapped on that one. What a pleasure given our history with them!

    “Regarding a “nuclear agreement” with Iran, it remains to be seen how far that will go. One hopes a satisfactory agreement will be reached, but it is far too early to get excited just because initial talks have occurred.”

    I’m not inclined to believe that because things may go wrong they will. And I’m not searching for our President’s faults. Both are counter-productive. And though I’ve been disappointed at times, I still feel that President Obama is by far our best bet for getting a settlement in Palestine. He’s a lame duck and the Israelis have given him a very hard time. He’s looking at his historical record. The American people will love it. He has all the motivation necessary.

    • This is how Patrick Cockburn, one of the more knowledgeable and honest reporters on the Middle East, began his latest article on Syria: “The final bankruptcy of American and British policy in Syria came 10 days ago as Islamic Front, a Saudi-backed Sunni jihadi group, overran the headquarters of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army (FSA)…” link to

      • So, Mr. Bodden, you do want the United States to intervene in the Syrian civil war. And you argue it based on a fondness for the history of American and British interventions in the region. Please explain to us how such a thing is in the American national interest as opposed to that of the Israelis. We really have to distinguish the two if we’re to think clearly about this endless regional crisis.

        • Mr. Watson:

          How do you manage to come to your preposterous conclusions? I highlighted Patrick Cockburn’s opening statement about the bankruptcy of American and British policy in Syria and you accuse me of wanting the US to intervene in Syria – A thought I never once entertained.

          To go back to another of your rants, you accused me of whining about Obama’s speech at the 2004 convention after I said it was a resounding success. How or why do you manage to come up with such nonsense?

          Whether you choose to pardon me or not, I’ll just ignore any comments you address to me in the future.

        • “All politics is personal.”

          And this is why the truly organized people, shameless in pursuit of their own idiot “interests,” own the rest of us. And why people of good will can so easily be diverted by fortuitous or intentional injections of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) into the discourse that might otherwise lead to any kind of decent, sensible, sustainable action.

  24. All politics is highly intuitive in addition to being truly organized.

    Will the Boddingtons ever simply tell us where they are coming from and what their political allegiances are regarding the great issues in the Middle East? Of course not, so we summon up our intuitive powers, connect the dots and draw our own conclusions. They don’t like it.

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