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The 100 Days: Will Real Change Be On The Back-Burner During The Obama Years?

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After eight years of Bush and Cheney many of us supported and voted for Barack Obama in the hope of taking the country back. We wanted to end the chronic warfare, fully restore the rule of law and insure a more equitable economic and political system.

Obama has been in office for only about three months. And there has indeed been evidence of positive change. Obama's budgetary policies appear to be oriented toward a somewhat more balanced distribution of wealth and his revised TARP plan at least attempts to place regulatory conditions on the banks and corporations receiving funds. Only time will tell whether the "bailouts" served the public interest or just largely recompensed the thieves and speculators who brought about the economic crisis in the first place. Obama's stimulus program appears to be based on valid economic principles and its emphasis on reducing unemployment and increasing the public's spendable wealth seems feasible, as does the program's emphasis on environmental concerns. Again, time will tell. But generally Obama has appeared to be going in a reasonable direction in terms of the economy.

What needs to be addressed, however, is that the economic decline may well be symptomatic of a much deeper societal malaise--a crisis in basic values. The United States has been evolving into a "for-profit-only" society since the mid-nineteenth century. Some would perhaps argue that the trend was set with the arrival of the Mayflower Calvinist- Puritans and their doctrine of profit-equals-"salvation." At any rate, the Reagan era with its "greed-is-good" mentality solidified this tendency toward hyper-capitalism, which reached its culmination with George W. Bush, during whose presidency the interests of the general public--the middle class--were sacrificed almost totally to the profit of a capitalist aristocracy, which comprised a small fraction of the general population. The fact is that the wealthy merchants and moneylenders are the de facto government of this country. Political leaders are either chosen from their ranks or appointed as their delegates and financed by them into office. And they are placed in office to serve the financial interests of the major corporations and their shareholders. That's just the way it is. The country is run like a large corporation--for the financial profit of its elite. And the "public good" is pursued only if it's not too much of an inconvenience.

Formerly there were some counter-forces to the corporate government. A major force was organized labor. Reagan made the virtual destruction of that force his first item of business, implementing the agenda of the major southern-California corporate interests which had provided his political funding. Organized labor has never fully recovered from the concerted assault of the Reagan era. The other major counter-force was public opinion--or perhaps public morality. That force, though at times fickle and malleable, was nevertheless a reality: The government could go just so far along unethical or "un-American" lines before a public protest would be registered--ultimately in the voting booth. The public opinion I speak of was formed largely by two factors--historical-civic education and, even more importantly, organized religion. And there lies the heart of our real underlying crisis: the disappearance of humanistic education and the decline of organized religion. Nothing has replaced them and there is consequently a gaping void in values in this country. Not only in this country but in virtually every industrialized nation as the result of American influence.

Let me say that I am no unqualified fan of the organized religions. They appear to have lost their deeper spiritual content quite early in their history, becoming hyper-dogmatic and legalistic. At their worst they have been intolerant and destructive. But they have served the function of providing a value system and an ethical code for masses of the population. Adherence to the religious value systems has no doubt more often than not been superficial and even hypocritical. But at least there was something to modulate social interaction and to prevent the society from degenerating into an unmitigated competitive jungle. What has replaced organized religion in terms of a popular value system? Nothing, unless we want to posit self-interest and consumerism as "values."

Then we have the educational system. It wasn't all that long ago that history, civics and literature were an integral part of elementary and secondary education. Societal values were transmitted to young Americans via this element of the core curriculum. Granted the education was slanted and only the positive aspects of cultural history were conveyed. History texts narrated at length about the founding values and historical successes of the nation; but hardly a direct word was said about the racial oppression and genocide that have marred our history. Nevertheless the positive values of the country--as documented in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and in literature--were effectively conveyed to the population. That all fell by the wayside in the service of making education more "entertaining" and more oriented toward the profit motive. Fewer and fewer people today would have any clear idea what "humanistic education" signifies. Our colleges have been characterized by early specialization by students, particularly in areas of study oriented toward entry into high-profit occupations. A "well-rounded" education is becoming a thing of the past. This country is all about money. And means and ends are in a state of confusion. The Calvinist ethic has come to its logical conclusion.

What does the general population have to fall back on? Not very much. And it's starting to show. The Obama campaign demonstrated that there are many millions of Americans who are value-oriented and hungry for positive change. But unfortunately there seems to be a new breed who are coming more and more into evidence. They encompass a wide age range and are found throughout the country ( and in other American-influenced nations as well ). I call them the "narcissistic- sociopath element." They may not be sociopaths in the classic sense since they may have a concept of right and wrong. They just don't care. "Right" is what they deem to be to their advantage. Their most notable feature is their lack of human compassion. It's all about them and others. If they have any value at all to them, they are only useful in terms of serving their purpose. Many are masters of the phony smile and the glib word, but they are constitutionally rude, uncivil and hostile. They may or may not be strictly anti-social in the sense of violating the criminal law; but lying, deceit, self-centeredness, active or passive aggression and a host of other negative traits are second-nature to them. If you haven't encountered them with fair regularity in recent years, then you must be reclusive indeed. Their numbers are increasing and they are the essence, the root of this nation's present decline. A society by definition is a cooperative system of interdependency for the common good. If more and more of the population are prone to pursue this perverted form of "individualism" the society falls. The most notable recent example of the consequences of this brand of mind-set were the aberrations of Wall Street and the housing market. The negative results were not only national but global, and we'll be attempting to rectify the consequences for years to come. But similar, smaller-scale essentially sociopathic processes are occurring all through the nation every day. You may be familiar with the recent national poll that was conducted in high-schools: Over 60% of the students polled readily admitted that they lied and cheated on a regular basis. And 90% of the 60% indicated that they were quite content with their modus operandi. This is what the for-profit-only value-free approach leads to. As Benjamin Franklin stated over two-hundred years ago: "This form of government will work only so long as the population has not become corrupt." We have more than just the economic crisis to worry about.

Yes, there's a serious void in our value system. And in view of the emerging sociological nightmare, the last thing we need is the usual kind of leadership. George Bush was the poster-child for that and in fact the embodiment of the "new breed," the self-proclaimed born-again Christian who could send thousands to their deaths for nothing but the aberrational needs of his ego.
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No, we surely don't need that. And we don't need a rhetorician who speaks the language of change and renovation but performs the actions of "business-as-usual." And herein lies the problem with Barack Obama: On vital issues he has shown himself to be prone to take the easy way out; to conform to the express or implied demands of the political-economic establishment; and to compromise basic principles for what appear to be politically-expedient reasons. This is not the kind of uncommon leadership which extraordinary times like these call for. Obama--at least in my opinion--stands in danger of becoming a mediocrity, or worse. To be quite honest, I don't quite know what is going on with him; but ( Pardon the shrink-talk ) my counter-transference is not good. Yes, he is proving himself to be a capable accountant/economist. But where is the serious agent of change-in-depth whom we voted for?

During the campaign he mobilized millions of Americans to support and work for him. They were motivated by the desire to see an end to the plutocratic status quo that was holding the nation in its vise. They wanted to see the restoration of basic American values: respect for constitutional rights; social justice; government serving the public good. They wanted an end to chronic unjustified warfare and the re-establishment of the reputation of the United States in the eyes of the world.

And thus far what has Barack Obama given them in return? --- :

1.) He has delayed American withdrawal from Iraq to the farthest possible point on the time scale and left himself ample leeway for a virtually permanent occupation; i.e. permanent war. This after six years in Iraq; almost 5000 Americans killed; thousands of Americans seriously injured; hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, injured or displaced. All for what? As detestable as Saddam Hussein was, the tally of deaths and injuries was nowhere near what we have caused--or rather what Bush and Cheney caused. And the longer we're there, the more the tally will mount. Why does Obama seem to want to follow in Bush's footsteps? The most feasible reason I have heard is that he doesn't want to be the one to bring about the withdrawal because he doesn't want to be blamed for possible subsequent problems which may arise. There will be problems in Iraq whether we stay or whether we go. There have been for hundreds of years. So what are our troops dying for? And how many will have to die and for how long? Until Mr. Obama feels that his political future is safe and secure? In that case why didn't we just vote for McCain? At least he was honest about his intentions.

2.) He has escalated the war in Afghanistan. This after eight years of futile warfare there, warfare which has virtually destroyed the Afghan nation and killed and maimed thousands of its people. For what? Vietnam should have taught us the futility of fighting guerilla forces on their own turf. No, the generals have apparently convinced Obama that he can win by sending more and more troops. Apparently Mr. Obama doesn't know that generals say things like that. That's what keeps them working as generals. And apparently Mr. Obama has yet to realize that he's the Commander-in-Chief and not the generals. And the Commander-in-Chief is supposed to know when to withdraw asap and change over-all strategy.
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What is the over-all strategy anyway? To defeat terrorism by flattening Afghanistan and killing all the Afghanis? That should make us very popular in the region. The Europeans and other allies are just as threatened by terrorism as we are; but they know that terrorism isn't defeated by massive, destructive military occupations but by effective police action, including limited and selective military actions supported by competent intelligence. That's why Bush--and now Obama--failed to get them to send substantial troops to Afghanistan, or Iraq. That's why there's never been any real "coalition" in either Iraq or Afghanistan. So why is Obama continuing, and expanding, Bush's folly? That's the recurring question. Why?

3.) Mr. Obama has been expressing himself in a curiously ambiguous dialect of "New-Speak"  lately, particularly when it comes to the issue of war criminality. This from the man who assured us that his administration would be open and candid. He apparently believes that "everyone is individually responsible to the law, but we want to move forward." Move forward from what--individual responsibility to the law? Moving forward seems to mean forgetting about the law if that appears to be politically expedient. That was Bush's mode of action. Is Bush Obama's model of the way to govern? Obama's latest move has been to delay release of Pentagon photos showing evidence of prisoner-torture in an effort to calm down the demands for investigation and prosecution. Calm down demands for the rule of law? What will Obama try to "calm down" next? I was watching George Stephanopoulos on ABC news the other night speaking approvingly of Obama's clever moves in burying the torture issue. Well-orchestrated deceit has become a respected virtue in this society--at least to the new breed. His comments reminded me that we need to assess very cautiously the reports of the corporate-media new-breeds when we are attempting to evaluate events. Their primary objective is to make those in power appear feasible. I remember when journalists were actually journalists and not highly paid corporate spokesmen.Those days are gone forever. And we have to work much harder to get to the truth. And the truth we have been seeing thus far is that Obama is refusing to investigate and prosecute American war criminals. Apparently that's one of his changes we can believe in: War crimes are not punishable if they are committed by Americans. Does he feel that his apparent revision of the Geneva Convention will enhance the reputation of our nation in the world community? And does he envision that it will protect our troops should they be captured by enemy forces? What is this man thinking?

The media are currently evaluating Obama's first 100 Days. And it's been pretty much of a testimonial dinner. My preliminary evaluation is that Obama has been more than disappointing. He has raised very serious concerns, especially for those who worked so hard to put him in the White House. His economic-recovery programs appear reasonable and he has made some effort to provide a measure of relief to the middle-class. But even here he has to know that the minimal relief he has extended to the public will not offset the fact that the corporate bailouts, whether "necessary" or not--for which the American people are paying--will lower their standard of living for a long time. So I'm skeptical of getting too excited about the recovery program. Only time will tell. And then the cost of the never-ending warfare. What nation on earth except ours has adopted warfare as a virtually permanent condition? And what of the costs? The cost in death and destruction is self-evident. And as to the cost in treasure, what are we really talking about and who is receiving the payments? The American war industry obviously: weapons manufacturers and related industries; wide varieties of suppliers; mercenary corporations; and so forth--all to the tune of at least $1.6 trillion thus far. And who is paying? The American people naturally. Just what they need as their jobs, homes and life-savings are disappearing into the eternal abyss. The only beneficiaries of these continuing wars are those comprising what used to be called Bush's constituency. Are they Obama's constituency now?

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I am a semi-retired psychotherapist/psychiatric social worker and certified hypnotherapist. Originally a practicing attorney, I changed careers during the 1980's. My interests include history, constitutional law, Indian classical music, yoga, (more...)

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