June 22, 2009 (the date of publication in Russian)
A PHONY F.D.R.
In three years, Obama may be kicked out of the White House
YOUTH OR INFANTILISM?
Professed spin doctors who sorted out Barack Obama as a promising candidate for the US Presidency, created an image of a sorcerer capable of healing a cripple or striking water out of dry stone. If political technologists were able to assess the scale and geopolitical implications of the crisis, they would be more cautious in their designing technology. But the job seemed easy: the Republican predecessor was so notoriously unpopular that on his background, a preacher of hope and change really seemed a magician.
In practice, correction of the Republican mistakes appeared a far harder task than launching ten dozens of election rallies. Today, Obama's team uses every opportunity to point at his political predecessor in every difficulty he is dealing with.
Authorizing bankruptcy of General Motors, Obama reminded that he had "inherited a financial crisis unlike any that we've seen in our time". Proposing spending limits, he repeated that "the financial crisis this administration inherited is still creating painful challenges for businesses and families alike".
The same rhetoric is used by his subordinates. Gen. James Jones, National Security Advisor, reminds that "the Obama administration inherited a situation at Guantanamo that was intolerable", while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking of the Arab-Israeli conflict, laments that she has "inherited a lot of problems".
Obama's opponents indicate that "blaming Bush just is not going to resonate" any longer. Ed Gillespie, ex-aide to President George W.Bush, correctly reminds that responsibility for the latest disastrous dynamic of economic decline cannot be laid by the Democratic White House on its predecessor. Approving the fiscal stimulus plan, Obama assured Americans that unemployment is not going to exceed 8% of the working population. Today's figure is 9.4%.
Obama also claimed that the February anti-crisis package will save 150,000 and create 600,000 new jobs. However, dozens of thousand jobs are closed weekly, reminds Republican strategist David Winston.
"Mr. Obama is hardly the first president to point to his predecessor. But at a certain point, a new president assumes ownership of the problems and finds himself answering for his own actions", concludes Peter Baker. "Mr. Obama obviously did not create the recession passed to him, but it was his administration that set the expectation that his policy would keep it from deepening as far as it has".
The argument of Obama's senior advisor David Axelrod that the financial crisis appeared to be more severe than it was expected does not convince Americans. This argument only raises questions of the inability of the Democratic team to foresee crucial developments at global, as well as domestic markets. A recent Gallup's poll revealed that the bankruptcy of General Motors is criticized by 55% of Americans. According to observer Ben Pershing, a comparable share of voters is dissatisfied with high gasoline prices. American authors wonder why oil prices are growing on the background of decline of consumption and devaluation of currency.
The weakness of White House's arguments is perfectly visible for outside observers. "Barack Obama is not the builder of a new world", indicates Russian analyst Modest Kolerov in an interview to Regnum agency. "We should not treat him as a global leader. He is another side of the chessboard, and nothing more. And there are many such chessboards around us. The only difference for the United States is that this country may cause massive damage for the humanity".
In the decisive competition with John McCain, Obama was described as a more capable President due to younger age, and the voters believed in the significance of this contrast. Today's behavior of Obama and his team reflects not youth but worse – typical infantilism inherent in an immature personality. The permanent excuse of "inheriting problems" reveals the childish manner of choosing the easiest option from an array of possible strategies. This manner is going to bring troubles not only to the rest of the world but primarily for the compatriots.
DETAINEES FOR SALE
During his election campaign, Obama's major arguments against Bush's policy were addressed to disastrous campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the disaster is going on. Since Mr. Obama has deployed an additional 21,000 contingent to Afghanistan and replaced the commander of the Afghan mission, this war is views by analysts as his own, not Bush's. "At that point, I really think Afghanistan became Obama's war. When you choose your commander, you are accepting full responsibility", says John A. Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security.
In his ironical column on Nashuatelegraph blog, TV host Tony Paradiso ridicules "a lucrative exchange program" invented by Obama's administration. He refers to the agreement with Palau, a Pacific archipelago, to which the White House "exports" 17 Chinese Moslem Guantanamo detainees in exchange for a $200 million package of economic assistance. "If the current cost per detainee holds, taxpayers will shell out about $2.9 billion", calculates the observer. "Refer to last week's discussion about fiscal responsibility".
The generous observer proposes an alternative, mentioning he has got an extra bedroom for a detainee. Though not all his compatriots will share this option, the audience of American blogs frequently proposes that abandoned homes that are plenty in today's United States be offered to the homeless. However, the incumbent administration has got different ideas of dealing with the unused property.
HOMES TO BE DEMOLISHED
My generation of Soviet schoolchildren was told at history lessons not only about injustice of the capitalist world but of its irrationality as well. The classical example was elimination of unsold fruits during crises of overproduction that could be instead donated to impoverished African children. In my school library, I could read about an American kid who tried to adjust his home gas heater in order to reduce speed of his gas meter, lost his eye in the explosion.
In their turn, American schoolchildren were told about brutality of Brezhnev's Soviet Union. One of the examples was demolition of historical quarters it cities. The bulldozing of Zaryadie, a historical district close to the Kremlin, really shocked the intelligentsia.
By today, we've corrected our mistakes: the ugly building of the "Russia" Hotel, erected in the place of Zaryadie, is now pulled down. Meanwhile, utility meters have become common for a Muscovite. Still, not every example taken from the civilization, since 1990 viewed as more advanced, should be Ц and could be Ц implemented in Russia.
For instance, I cannot imagine a Russian surgeon who would refuse emergency aid to a kid in trouble on the grounds of not having an insurance list: first, the kid will be saved, and then the doctor will discuss this problem with his parents. It is even more impossible to believe that in a most depressive Russian region, local authorities would decide to demolish a whole city for the reason of its being unprofitable. But that is exactly what the Obama administration is now proposing: firstly, reduction of welfare budget for expense of uninsured patients, and secondly, massive wrecking of uninhabited homes (not only slums but perfectly good living quarters) in towns partly abandoned by seekers of new jobs in other areas.
The justification of what is advertised under the "shrink to survive" slogan is attributed by the US media audience to the trade union lobby, traditionally allied with the Democratic Party. For a Russian, this sounds unbelievable: housing infrastructure is going to be treated exactly like unsold bananas and oranges, for the only purpose of rising prices at the real estate market!
The idea of moving people to "more affluent" areas is interpreted by many ordinary Americans as something borrowed from Soviet experience. In fact, when new cities were built in Siberia, the homes of the new settlers were never demolished: a house was regarded as a result of human labor which had to be respected by definition.
Discussing the bulldozer reform, many visitors of Daily Telegraph's website characterize it as insanity. "You cannot move people who do not have a financial stake in their property, to a neighborhood, and expect the home values to rise. Property values ALWAYS decline when people who cannot afford to live in affluent neighborhoods move in. They simply cannot afford the upkeep, nor do they have the family values needed in many cases (teen unwed mothers = generational poverty) to sustain a lifestyle anywhere above the poverty level. The result being the homeowners who do have a financial stake, sell their property (usually a taxpayer's biggest investment) as they see their property value quickly drop. Who is teaching this infantile economic crap in our universities? And the feminists get angry over fairy tales where the women are always rescued? This Robin Hoodesque fairy tale is just as bad", writes Rebecca Covington from Britain. A US author, signing Feral Capitalist, indicates that the idea is instance also from the viewpoint of market economy: "This is insane. The asset that is the other side of the loan is GONE! This is worse than a foreclosure; this is complete destruction of the underlying asset of the loan the bank issued".
One more Telegraph's reader wonders why the great United States that once implemented the Marshall Plan for the war-ridden Germany, is unable to provide the same service for the crisis-ridden state of Michigan. More radical readers propose to start the bulldozing initiative from Washington, or Chicago, where Obama started his political career Ц by the way, he first became famous by protecting poor Afro-Americans from municipal authorities who were going to pull down a quarter of slums.
"IT'S TIME TO START AN UPRISING"
It is not necessary to be a Marxist to realize that Obama is trying to deal with the housing crisis with simplistic linear approach of re-establishing balance at the market. When Obama positioned himself as a spiritual heir of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he was expected at least to re-introduce the method FDR applied for creating new jobs, hiring millions of unemployed Americans for public work in construction of railroads and power stations.
However, Obama's team does not include anybody like the passionate socialist David E.Liliental, the mastermind of Tennessee Valley and the first director of TVA, or the passionate liberal Howard Hughes, the inventor and pilot of new aircrafts that made a revolution in aerospace engineering. The incumbent President's team is mostly picked from demagogues inherited from the administration of Bill Clinton Ц exactly those who are directly responsible for creating the mortgage bubble, and types like Peter Orszag, who was once famous for his propaganda of euthanasia, and presently coordinates the health reform.
Linear thinking, transferred from market to polity, is able to view finances, industries, and urban development exceptionally from the viewpoint of balance of demand and supply, and to create privileges for one class of society for expense of another. Meanwhile, the recovery from the crisis essentially suggests a breakthrough that disturbs the balance to introduce a new order. The balance will be undoubtedly disturbed Ц though maybe opposite to the intentions of the ruling administration. "We are drawing closer and closer to violent revolution in this country... The ignorance from the liberals is appalling. The people voting for this clown are not those "carrying" this country. In just 6 months, we have lost more freedoms than in the previous 233 years combined. It is time to start an uprising", writes a certain J. Wanderson on Telegraph's website.
The only person in Russia whom I heard applauding to Obama's bulldozer initiative is Vladimir Lopatin, chair of the National League of Certified Brokers. The experienced trader, once employed with the Federal Financial Markets Service that summoned conferences on IPO, greeting access of Russian companies to the global and supposedly promising exchange market, does not advocate the same method in Russia: he only introduces a non-judicial mechanism of selling mortgaged property to assist domestic banks. But the example of Obama definitely inspires the ex-official, sharing direct responsibility for the financial bubble in Russia: look what Obama is doing, why don't we at least deprive debtors from homes in a not quite legal but workable fashion?
CZARS AND BUBBLES
Obama's manner of seeking for an easiest option to solve troublesome problems is reflected in an initiative advertised by Gil Kerlikowske, the newly-appointed director of the Drug Enforcement Administration. He claimed in public that the huge expenses of his office have not been efficient, and "therefore", the government should give up the campaign against light narcotics. Instead, DEA will now focus on the legal narcotics used for medical purposes. It is well known that the most efficient method of economizing on medical narcotics is euthanasia.
The head of DEA, since the times of the famous Barry McCaffrey, is traditionally named "the drug czar". This high title is now devaluated by Barack Obama: appointing new officials for special tasks, he names all of them "czars". "We have a border czar, energy czar, urban czar, infotech czar, faith-based czar, health reform czar, stimulus accountability czar, non-proliferation czar, terrorism czar, regulatory czar, Guantanamo closure czar, TARP czar, and of course a drug czar", calculates Tony Paradiso. Senator John McCain has already joked that Obama has got already more czars that the Romanov family.
The appointment of "czars" usually avoids confirmation of the Senate, which makes MPs furious. Still, the ostensible "dictatorial" style of appointment in fact reveals weakness of the leadership that is unable to manage the political system, reminding of weird cadre decisions of Ukraine's President Victor Yushchenko. One of the recently appointed "czars", Kennet Feinberg, supervises only 175 persons Ц namely, top managers of government-assisted corporations whose salaries should be kept under control. "This is hardly the kind of power that would impress Ivan the Terrible or Peter the Great", concludes Chicago Tribune.
Multiplication of "czars" in fact emphasizes the diminished role of the DEA. This is obvious also from the choice of the nominee; Mr. Kerlikowske is the former police boss of Seattle, the city that has given birth to the tradition of pro-marihuana Hempfest Protestivals. This tradition is now doomed to die out, as marihuana is going to triumphantly enter free market.
Legalization of light narcotics is obviously chosen as the lightest way to solve some of the nastiest foreign and home policy problems: on the one hand, it may facilitate diplomacy with the Talibs in Afghanistan, and on the other hand, it would immobilize the rising ferment of protest of poorer Americans.
Thus, the search for the easiest way of dealing with most crucial problems of the United States is fraught with implications of a global scale Ц exactly what Russian analyst Modest Kolerov has warned about, urging Kremlin not to be too excited with the proposal of "reloading relations". But the current policy of Obama's administration is viewed by another brand of the Russian establishment as a factor of convenience.
For instance, Igor Yurgens, chair of the board of the Institute of Contemporary Development, is still excited that Russia has opened doors for US deliveries to Afghanistsn. He also claims that the relations with the United States "are essential for Russia's modernization on the base of technologies" Ц though the technologies chosen by Mr. Obama are more instrumental for destruction than for modernization.
Obama's policy can be certainly viewed from various standpoints. We could only hope that those (including some Russian) politicians for whom any US initiative is ttruth in the last instance, will not copy his behavior like provincial Germans in Wilhelm Hauff's ironical fairy tale "Der Affe als Mensch".
We could only hope that the US example of utmost irresponsibility will result not in careless relaxation of Russian officials, happy to deal with a weak American leader, but in a concentration of mind before new challenges of globalization, corresponding with what Lenin once identified as "the highest and last stage of capitalism". We could only hope that the responsible faction of the Russian establishment is sober enough to realize that even without any violent revolution, Obama is going to be kicked out of the White House not later than in 2012, and his successor will try to pick a better team that may include a new Lilienthal and a new Hughes. If the present US administration prefers to adjust itself to market (including black market) trends instead of developing his nation, that does not mean that the rest of the humanity could afford the same luxury of idleness in the age of crisis.
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