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Americans Elect and the Emerging Oligarchy: Update

letsgetitdone's picture

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement has made many more Americans aware of the issue of an emerging oligarchy based on wealth inequality taking control of American Democracy. There are a number of ways to look at this:

-- the growing economic inequality in the United States and around the world,
-- the increasing control of politics both in the United States and most industrial nations by the wealthy and the giant multinational financial, energy, pharmaceutical, and other corporations which are viewed as having either the same, or in certain respects more rights than human citizens,
-- the fact that neither of the two major political parties is preparing to run someone who is likely to represent the interests of the 99% (the President's recent noises notwithstanding),
-- the control of all the major media outlets by corporate interests promoting public debt hysteria,
-- the persistence and growth of different standards of law enforcement for the 99% compared to the wealthy and well-situated (the 1%), and
-- the increasingly powerful legal/quasi-military apparatus suppressing the constitutionally guaranteed rights of free speech and assembly in the name of order and defense against terrorism.

All of these perspectives come together to support a narrative and an image of the increasingly rapid takeover of democracies, including the United States, by a small global elite composed of the very rich and very powerful corporate executives. Most Americans and many more people around the world are recognizing this reality of an emerging oligarchy and are looking for ways to get out from under its domination and to re-affirm democracy and open society. But to do that they somehow have to counter the influence of wealth in manipulating the perception and construction of social, economic, cultural, and political reality by the 99% and in dominating electoral processes even though they are vastly outnumbered.

To accomplish that, people are increasingly looking to the Internet as a democratizing force that could provide the ability for people among the 99% to self-organize and create their own reality and political movements without recourse to massive financial resources. Web-based organizations are now creating web sites/platforms that claim to offer people the possibility of having a greater voice in politics and in determining its impact on their lives. But do these new efforts offer a way out of oligarchy and back to democracy or do they just reinforce the emerging oligarchy?

This is the second in a series of posts on some of these new web-based platforms and how they relate to this central question of oligarchy vs. democracy. The first, “A System-Changing Solution for the OWS Movement?”, which I co-authored with Nancy Bordier, compared and contrasted two alternatives available to OWS, the Interactive Voter Choice System and Americans Elect (AE). This one will offer a more detailed analysis of AE.

Description

AE is organizing people to participate in a national on-line convention that will nominate Presidential and Vice presidential candidates and place them on ballot lines in all 50 States. People who sign up as delegates will decide the issues, select the candidates, and nominate the President through participating in the on-line convention. According to its web site, any constitutionally eligible citizen can be a candidate, provided they meet AE's eligibility and qualification criteria. They have ballot lines in 11 States at this writing, and are currently working on 16 more.

AE states that it is “non-partisan” in its approach, and also claims that it is not a political party. However, to get a ballot line in some States you have to identify as a political party. Also, their draft by-laws contain this section:

“Section 7.2. Transition to National Organization. Pending the formation of state committees, the Board of Americans Elect shall be deemed to be acting in each state as an authorized state committee and to perform and exercise all duties, powers and responsibilities of a state committee as may be required by state law. In states where Americans Elect has met all statutory requirements to form a minor political party, such organizations shall be considered separate legal entities from Americans Elect, and shall be governed by the Board pending qualification as a national political party in accordance with law in the 2012 election. Nothing in this section shall prevent the Board from appointing persons to act as local governing bodies or agents consistent with these Bylaws in any state where Americans Elect has met such statutory requirements.”

So, there is some gray in the position AE is staking out. Are they aiming to become a national political party? If not, then what does this section of their by-laws envision?

AE claims that it doesn't represent any special interests, and it also welcomes any registered voter, whether party-affiliated or not, who wants to become a member and participate in their on-line national nominating convention coming up in the Spring of 2012. In addition, AE says that it is not committed to any ideology, and that it will not promote any candidate or platform before its on-line nominating convention. Nor will it promote the nominee selected by its convention delegates to run on the ballot lines it secures in the 50 States.

AE is run by a closed corporation whose funding sources haven't been made public in the main. The corporation sets all the rules for its national convention, determines who can and cannot participate, which candidates can and cannot run, and then it registers and tallies all votes in secret and without any monitoring to prevent tampering with the vote for candidates.

Evaluation

As I pointed out earlier, AE says that it is non-partisan, and is not committed to any ideology or political party, and that it is not a political party itself. Well, it certainly isn't a branch of either the Democratic or Republican Party. However, we've already seen that in getting on the ballot in many States AE declares that it is a political party. So is it or isn't it? It seems that when it wants to get a ballot line in some State it says that it is a political party; but when it wants to raise funds it relies on its status as a 501 c(4) organization to secure contributions as needed with no specified limits and also to refuse to disclose its contributors as political parties must legally do.

Is AE really non-partisan? Well, it is in the sense that it doesn't subscribe to the platform of the two major existing political parties, but that doesn't mean that its Managers, Leaders and Boards of Directors haven't agreed on definite positions that they are partisan about, and that are definitely ideological.

Their ideological bias is reflected in the framing and structure of the hundreds of multiple choice questions that it asks registrants to answer to define their “true colors” from a political perspective. I won't review those here and suggest that you go to their site, take their “true colors” survey and see for yourself whether you think there is a clear framing bias in their survey instrument. I think there is, and that this ideological bias is illustrated very well by the “core questions” that every prospective delegate to their national convention must answer.

“To date, Americans Elect delegates from the across the political spectrum answered 5 million questions on AmericansElect.org. The 9 core questions that every DELEGATE has already answered include:

ECONOMY: What is your stance on the US budget deficit? Are in you in favor of more spending cuts, more tax increases or some combination of both?

ENERGY: What is your stance on America’s energy needs? Do you favor investment in renewables or more drilling or some combination of both?

HEALTHCARE: What do you think the government’s role in health should be?

IMMIGRATION: What is your stance on illegal immigration? Do you think that all or most illegal immigrants should stay in the country or all or most illegal immigrants be deported?

FOREIGN POLICY: When you think about the US pursuing its interests abroad, to what extent should the US listen to other countries?

EDUCATION: What is your stance on educational curriculae? Should it be set by the local school boards, by national standards, or some combination of both?

SOCIAL ISSUES: When you think about the rights of same-sex couples, do you believe they should be allowed to marry or only allowed to form a civil union?

ENVIRONMENT: What is your stance on our use of Natural Resources? Do you think it exists for the benefit of humanity or should it be completely protected or a combination of both?

REFORM: Should we make this country great by returning to the values of our forefathers or keep building and adapting for the future?”

Every one of these core questions has an obvious framing bias leading the registrants in a particular direction. The question on the economy assumes the deficit hawk framing of fiscal irresponsibility. It assumes that one should have “a stance” on the budget deficit, that one should want to cut it, and that the only alternatives are cutting Government spending, raising revenue through taxation, or a combination of both. This is not true, of course.

The question on energy issues is framed in terms of the present partisan split, implying that the center is a position following both approaches the question frames. The framing of the health care question doesn't provide a preamble explaining the difference between the options provided to respondents. It assumes that people know the differences between Medicare for All, and and other types of Government intervention in health care, when there is plenty of survey evidence that there is no clear understanding of these differences.

The framing of the immigration question in terms of “illegal immigrants” isn't even centrist, but biases replies toward a rightist view. The foreign policy question assumes that listening to other nations and pursuing the national interest of the US are in conflict. This is a nationalistic “framing” of the issue. The education core question frames the issue in terms of local vs. national control; but not in terms of the issue of excellence in education.

Social Issues are cast in terms of same sex marriage vs. civil unions. But there are many other social issues of importance such as those affecting Federal rules about a woman's right to choose, continuing racial discrimination various areas, the role of religion in American politics, etc. Why select same sex marriage vs. civil unions as a “non-partisan” non-ideological social issue?

The environmental issue frame is very abstract in philosophy. There are a dozen other ways and more to frame this issue. Why is this framing the “non-ideological one” that all must respond to in order to elicit a “centrist position”?

Finally, the question on political “reform” is highly abstract, and it's very hard to tell what responses might mean to the members. Why is this not framed in terms of issues like Congressional paralysis in the context of the filibuster, or reform of the electoral college, or the highly unrepresentative nature of the US Senate; or the gerrymandering of Congressional Districts; or whether greater regulation of Supreme Court Justices is needed to ensure that they disqualify themselves from hearing cases where they have an obvious conflict of interest; or the role of money in politics?

AE has many other questions people can answer that go beyond the core questions in dealing with some of the above issues. But 1) they are not the core questions that all must answer, and 2) even when many other questions exploring these issues are posed, they are posed with a definite ideological “centrist” bias. Whether or not, or by how much, it differs from major party formulations, these questions aren't either non-partisan or non-ideological unless you mean, by those terms, formulations different from major party formulations.

One of the most important issues arising in evaluating AE is the discrepancy between the claims it makes about its purposes and processes, the scope it is trying to provide for people to influence the political process, on the one hand, and the reality of its structure and operation, on the other. AE says that people who choose to participate in its process will decide the issues, select the candidates, and nominate the President; but its actual functioning, both current and projected, as described on its web site and in its bylaws, belies these claims.

-- So far, the issues embodied in AE's questions are framed by its staff and leadership, not by the people who sign up as members. We've already written about the ideological biases present in the AE core questions, and also indicated that if one takes the trouble to answer the remaining hundreds of questions they ask of willing registrants, there are biases present in the comprehensive set of questions amounting to the staff and leadership framing “a centrist agenda” of issues to regulate the priority choices of members. The whole process of agenda selection occurs in the context of a “top-down” framing of the issues. There is no 'bottom-up” influence on the framing of the agenda, even though the members/delegates can respond in ways favorable or unfavorable to the specifics of the centrist framing.

-- When it comes to selecting the candidates, AE says that delegates will be able to nominate American citizens they favor. However, the AE leadership will review all candidates to see if they're “qualified' to run for the presidency. AE leadership may or may not specify explicit criteria, but whether they do or not, and whether a candidate meets them or not, AE reserves the right to eliminate candidates they judge as “unqualified.”

In other words, the leadership of AE is able to make sure that all candidates nominated by the delegates are acceptable to the leadership, and that the delegates won't have an opportunity to vote on candidates that the leadership thinks is “unqualified.” the leadership can ensure that all candidates remain within a particular of range of opinion that the leadership finds acceptable. This seems like a selection of candidates by the leadership of AE rather than by the delegates.

-- Going further to the on-line nomination contest itself, the AE leadership guarantees a completely secure and honest process. However, the delegates have no way of verifying that the process is secure and honest. AE mentions an independent evaluation mechanism to ensure the honesty and integrity of the nominating process. But it is the AE Board and leadership who will select the “independent evaluators,” not the delegates to their national convention.

So, the bottom line is that the delegates will have no control over the process, and no way of monitoring its honesty and integrity. The only thing delegates will have is the word of AE, an organization that has been very reluctant to implement transparency at this writing, that it will accept the actual nomination of the delegates rather than manipulating the results of the selection process in secret. Is AE's word enough? None of us know. But we do know that deception in politics, in marketing, and in the financial sector is the order of the day.

The President promised change when he ran in 2008, but the change most of us see is certainly not the kind of change we think we voted for. The Republicans ran on creating jobs in 2010. But, no jobs have been created through programs passed by House Republicans. Corporations routinely offer ads about all they are doing for the environment; but the reality of their practices is very different. Local governments say they are trying to keep order; but then they engage in what appear to be little more than police riots violating the first amendment rights of Freedom of Speech, Assembly, and the Press. Systematic dishonesty and fraudulent behavior seems to pervade our culture in every aspect of it, and it is no big deal for our leading politicians and business leaders to look directly into the camera and lie to the public.

So, why would anyone take what a new organization intending to intervene in and change the electoral process says at face value? Why shouldn't warning bells go off whenever an organization has a discrepancy between what it says are its goals, and its actual structure and practices? Why shouldn't people question discrepancies between an organization's claim of non-partisanship, and its clearly partisan and biased framing of issues?

Why shouldn't people be skeptical when an organization says that it is subject to no special interests, but is funded by $22 Million in contributions from a very small number of people, and then doesn't disclose the contributors? Why shouldn't people demand demonstrations of transparency and proof of sincerity and absence of elite control, before they commit any support to an organization that purports to give the public a greater voice in decision making?

-- In addition, AE’s goal of holding an online presidential nominating convention that automatically puts the same ticket on the ballots of all 50 states simultaneously appears to be headed in a dangerous direction because it is seeking to eliminate the face-to-face primaries and caucuses at the state level that are one of the cornerstones of the U.S. electoral process, hard-won by progressives over many years in their efforts to create open and honest elections that escape for the old 'smoke-filled' rooms.

Again, AE is run by a closed corporation that is secretly funded and sets all the rules for the convention, determines who can and cannot participate in the convention, which candidates can and cannot run, and registers and tallies all the votes. Whether the substitution of a closed corporation run in this way as the source of electoral nominations is a democratic improvement over the U.S. political party system is, to say the least, an arguable proposition, whether or not its delegates can select a presidential candidate within the constrained parameters AE's leadership chooses to impose.

Conclusion

So, if the problem the United States is facing is to provide a way of changing the political process to counter the emergence of oligarchy and to restore a Government that is “. . . of the people, by the people, and for the people . . .” then it's pretty clear that AE won't help us do that. Given its rules, governance, the lack of transparency in its funding, and the “guided democracy” style of its functioning organization, it won't help us to repeal Michels' “Iron Law of Oligarchy” and give the 99% a continuing influence in creating policies that serve them rather than enriching the 1%. Instead, it will simply provide a way for the discontented to vent their feelings through another political organization that is guided and managed from the top-down by people representing the oligarchy.

Now, to be entirely fair about this, it's pretty clear from AE's web site and interviews with some of their principals that Its purpose was never specifically to save the US from an emerging oligarchy. AE's view of the US's political problem is that it is legislative paralysis, caused by the two-party system and its excessive partisanship, in passing legislation aimed at our real problems. So, AE proposes a non-partisan President nominated through the AE online process and then elected, as a way of breaking partisan immobilism through a unity Administration that can broker consensus solutions among centrists in both parties. Its view of the world is through the right-center-left prism and so its solution is to strengthen the center giving it the balance of power, and allowing it to broker bi- or non-partisan solutions on which centrists of both parties can agree.

AE may succeed at developing a “centrist” balance wheel for the political system. But if this leads to legislative solutions that support or enhance the interests of the 1%, then how does that help the 99% and its problem of breaking the power of the emerging oligarchy?

For example, these days there is a Washington beltway consensus, and to a great extent a global consensus on the notion that the cure for our economic problems is austerity in public expenditures and restoring private solvency through savings. But how does that “old-time fiscal religion” help the 99%, especially since its short-term effects are likely to be a second and probably much deeper downturn than we have now?

If AE's centrist balance wheel had been in place this past fall it would have imposed a “centrist solution” to our economic problems in the form of a long-term deficit reduction plan such as the Bowles-Simpson proposal, which would have raised more tax revenue from the wealthy, but also cut entitlement and other Government programs for the middle class and the poor. But, this is a 1% solution, not a 99% solution. It doesn't represent what the 99% want. It is what the well-off people who run Americans Elect and many of the 1% seem to want.

So, the “non-partisan” solution to two-party polarization that AE is trying to mid-wife won't fix the political system by restoring popular control, but instead will place that system even more firmly in control of the oligarchy by imposing austerity economics and impoverishing the 99% even further, while providing the balance of power in national politics to a third political force that is dominated by centrist establishment figures. In short, AE isn't offering a way out for people, it's offering them a way to dig a deeper hole than they find themselves in now.

A 99% solution is one that, according to the polls, would re-create full employment, punish the banksters, stabilize the financial system, bring order to the housing sector while keeping people in their homes, provide consumer protection against the financial sector's predatory practices, provide Medicare for All, repair the nation's infrastructure, create a first class educational system open to all, and strengthen the social safety net, while taxing the rich, if necessary, to allow those things to happen. This 99% solutions could possibly be facilitated by AE, if it were set up to allow people to self-organize in whatever ways they choose. But its guided democracy structure won't let that happen. But the main point is that this 99% can only be brought forth by a change that undermines the emerging oligarchy and creates bottom-up accountability to the 99%.

You can also safely bet that whatever AE's delegates want, there will be no AE platform coming from its nominee that doesn't reflect the fact-free Hooverian perspective of fiscal responsibility = Government austerity, the current Washington consensus about what Government should do about the economy. And you can also safely bet that Bernie Sanders, Bill Black, Jamie Galbraith, Matt Taibbi, Dennis Kucinich, or Warren Mosler, provided it looks like they will be nominated by AE convention delegates, will then be disqualified by AE's governing committees before the convention is convened. This will happen because it is the job of AE committees to keep the world safe for the emerging “centrist” oligarchy, and out of the hands of people who might bring about the renewal of bottom-up democracy.

Update: Day in and day out, the best coverage of Americans Elect is provided by Jim Cook at his Irregular Times site. Here are three recent entrees that collectively drive home the point that Americans Elect's claims of being non-partisan and non-ideological have little, if any credibility, and that AE is primarily a marketing effort claiming these qualities, but belying these claims with almost every action it takes.

"Christine Todd Whitman Goes on TV and Promotes Jon Huntsman a Sixth Time, Violating Americans Elect Bylaws"

"Having Obtained Predictable Result, Americans Elect Erases Most of its Rating System"

and:

"Americans Elect introduces new “Priorities” Ranking System… Contradicting its Old System"

These three posts fit into the pattern of manipulation, systematic dishonesty, and the huge gap between AE's stated policies and actual behavior that I point to in my post above. In addition, there is a strong suggestion in the ratings system errors and sudden changes in the system and resulting ratings, reported by Jim Cook, that there is more than a bit of political bias, confusion and perhaps even incompetence, either on the part of AE's contractor "On the Issues" who handled the processing of data to obtain the ratings "matching" the candidates positions to the quiz choices given to Americans Elect "delegates," or on the part of AE employees who used their results.

AE is an organization that has raised $22 million for its project. If it is true, as its apparent rating system problem suggests, that it hasn't been able to get organized well enough to ensure that its process is unimpeachable, then that provides very little confidence that its online nomination process will be a reliable one that won't be subject to manipulation by its contractors and/or staff.

If it has its way, then hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions of people would be participating in that process. Shouldn't those people have a nominating process whose integrity, reliability, and accuracy is beyond either reproach or the possibility of fraud by its administrators? How will AE ever be able to guarantee that? And how, given what they've done thus far, and appear to do on an everyday basis, in bringing centrist ideological bias to their web site and opinion instruments, can they guarantee to their delegates a non-partisan and non-ideological nominating process?

Perhaps AE needs to come clean and admit that it is not non-partisan, but actually a nascent political party with a definite centrist, austerity agenda, which it thinks is in opposition to the agendas of the two major parties. Then it won't have to claim that it has no framing biases, or that, incredibly, it is nonpartisan and non-ideological, or that it is anything other than another political party representing the 1% and its full-on austerity, globalist agenda for the US. That might not be unpopular, or get many people involved in its activities. But, at least, it would be refreshing.

Think of it, a political organization that is honest about its intentions! That should be worth at least a few points for its nominee at the polls on election day!

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Jeff W's picture
Submitted by Jeff W on

Interesting, Justin Elliott reaches a similar conclusion right now over at Salon and is a bit more forthcoming in saying the group is financed by “a handful of super-rich Americans who made fortunes in the finance industry.” And he says:

And the list of political operatives who have signed on to the effort – including former McCain aide Mark McKinnon, Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute, former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, and Bloomberg pollster Douglas Schoen – suggest the group will promote a kind of pro-establishment, “why can’t we just all get along by agreeing to dismantle Social Security”-style centrism.

Just the type of thing that, as Elliott points out, “tends to be irresistible to newspaper editorial boards.”

Elliott, to his credit, also mentions the sleuthing that Irregular Times has done to uncover exactly who is behind Americans Elect.

I have a feeling that OWS, with its vigilance against co-optation, will have no problem calling out and exposing Americans Elect. Let’s hope, at least.

Myself, I couldn’t get over the creepy Biblical resonance in the choice of the word elect—that alone set off alarm bells.

(And I’m not so sure what’s “emerging” about the oligarchy—I feel like it's already here.)

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

to Elliot's piece, Jeff.

I've linked to one of Jim Cook's posts above, but, in addition, there are more references here. I agree that Jim's work on AE is great. Makes one wonder why places like the Christian Science Monitor and The Economist have just ignored it.

Please note also that this isn't a one-off piece, but part of a series that will discuss other new web efforts "designed to solve" our political problems.

jest's picture
Submitted by jest on

If somehow "we", the 99%, get our candidate in White House, then what? This isn't a monarchy or dictatorship. One man (or woman) can't change everything. The Obamabots do have a point that the 60-vote threshold will constrain anything this candidate would try to do.

Another even bigger point that most people don't seem to recognize and deal with is that the people who actually run the gov't are not elected.

The people did not elect Ben Bernanke.
The people did not elect Tim Geithner or Larry Summers.
The people did not elect Leon Panetta.
The people did not elect Clarence Thomas.

Who runs the CIA? The various intelligence agencies? DHS? How did they get there? Did we elect these guys? No, but they are the ones running the joint. Ron Suskind's book exemplifies this to a tee.

We've reached the point where the presidency is more or less a figurehead of a perpetual motion machine of war, economic terrorism and exploitation, and illusory freedom.

I want Obama to lose as much as anyone else, but I don't know if his losing is the equivalent to us winning. I don't think that's enough; I'm not sure if that is even sufficient to be a good start....

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

It's about us. Also, I'm not suggesting that AE will work. In fact, if you read the post carefully you'll see that I don't think it will work for the 99%. Taking your other points one-by-one.

"This isn't a monarchy or dictatorship. One man (or woman) can't change everything. The Obamabots do have a point that the 60-vote threshold will constrain anything this candidate would try to do."

No, they don't! In December of 2008 Obama could have gotten anything he wanted from Harry Reid including getting rid of the filibuster by using the constitutional option. His approval rating was at 80%, everyone believed in him, and had he threatened read with a revolt against his leadership in the Senate, Reid would have gotten rid of the filibuster for good. Had Obama then followed up by stopping Congress from pressuring FASB to change the mark-to-market rule every one of big banks would then be insolvent and could have been taken into resolution, in February of 2009.

Obama then sends in Holder to investigate, prosecute, and imprison the fraudsters. At the same time since the banks are in resolution, the Government can make sure that loan funds flow to small business, the CC rates stay low, and most importantly that the big banks can't spend any money propagandizing for the Republicans.

He's then free to pass a stimulus that's twice as large, and if he includes a Federal Job Guarantee in with it, he ends the economic crisis in this country within 6 months. He then immediately adds to his success by getting HR 676 Medicate for All passed in June of 2009. He can do that because there's no filibuster to stop him, and Wall Street is greatly weakened by his takeover of the banks. He can also do it because he can even use reconciliation to pass it requiring only 50 + 1 votes. He sets the program to begin enrolling people by the Fall of 2009 and sets it to begin operation in January of 2010. By June of 2010 he and the Ds are heros. There's no tea party movement to worry about, because everybody loves Medicare, and during the summer of 2009 he has a clear field to pass a real Finreg bill that could remove the possibility of any more international gambling casions for financial instruments.

Moving on, as for Bernanke, Geithner, Summers, Panetta, and Thomas, all of them were appointed or re-appointed by Obama except Thomas. If they've performed badly you can lay the blame at his door because he was channeling Clinton and Greenspan. Obama's a failure and a disgrace, and if we make enough noise about that now, instead of resigning ourselves to tolerate him for the next 4 years we might just be able to get him to resign.

jest's picture
Submitted by jest on

I just don't think the president has that much power. Obama is an asshole, but even if we did have an FDR, it's still wishful thinking to think the US gov't of today is comparable to the gov't we had 80 years ago.

Regarding ending the filibuster, you said it yourself Harry Reid had to get that done, not the President. The President has nothing to do with the constitutional option.

Regarding FASB, that's part of my point. Do you know who runs FASB? Neither do I. It doesn't even seem to be part of the government (their website is .org, not .gov), let alone elected officials. And congressional pressure is what got them to change the rules. I do think accounting reform is a huge, huge, huge issue that needs to be dealt with, but there is no elected official I can vote for to directly change FASB. Even the president; if anything congress has more control over them. That's my point.

Further, did you see the Ron Suskind video I linked to? Obama did want to take Citi into receivership. The unelected slimeball Geithner refused to do it; Obama doesn't run Treasury, someone else does. Ditto the Fed, FASB, the SEC, FDIC, OCC, DOJ, BIS, etc. Granted, Obama should have taken Geithner's head off for that, but the meme that Obama chose not to nationalize banks isn't true.

Holder should have been fired long ago, but what about all his deputies that are doing an equally lousy job? The whole department is screwed up; again, changing the figurehead won't necessarily change the institution. For example, a lot of young lawyers at the SEC are just there learning the system so they can work for Wall Street.

The stimulus was too small because Rahm and Summers overruled Romer; this was a choice made by Obama's subordinates, not Obama himself. That's part of the reason she quit. Obama signed off on it because he doesn't know what he is doing, and he follows his unelected "experts." And those "experts" weren't chosen by Obama, they were chosen by Obama's transition team, who were largely Clintonites from the Center for American Progress.

I could go on.

I'm not trying to give Zero excuses, but the presidency is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There are so many complicated, clandestine, moving parts below the surface with all their inherent baggage, institutional legacies, political nepotism, etc. that the presidency is nowhere as powerful as it used to be. The only exception is in making war, as commander-in-chief. And even then, it seems like Panetta, Petraeus, and the rest are probably pushing Zero around too. That's how McChrystal got kicked out.

I hate Obamabots as much as the next person, probably more, but just because they are always stupid does not mean they are always wrong about everything. If we had a liberal champion in the WH, we'd still be frustrated & disappointed (e.g. Franken), although it wouldn't be a total disaster like what Zero has been.

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

I just don't think the president has that much power. Obama is an asshole, but even if we did have an FDR, it's still wishful thinking to think the US gov't of today is comparable to the gov't we had 80 years ago.

How much have you read about FDR? Not much I think, But apart form that to label what I said "wishful thinking" isn't an argument, it's just labeling.

Regarding ending the filibuster, you said it yourself Harry Reid had to get that done, not the President. The President has nothing to do with the constitutional option.

What I said was that in January of 2009, Reid could be controlled by Obama, because Obama could have seen to it that Reid would have faced a revolt from D Senators if O wanted that to happen. There were 58 D Senators then; Obama needed onlt 30 to get him out of their and give the job to someone who would do what he wanted like Dick Durbin. It would have taken O two days in January to get that done. Reid is smart enough to do this; so he would have done what he had to do. If O had an ounce of sense he would have gotten that done so that he had the freedom to get done what was needed. And if you don't think FDR wouldn't have done that in O's place then you just haven't been studying up on a what a real President can do.

Regarding FASB, that's part of my point. Do you know who runs FASB? Neither do I. It doesn't even seem to be part of the government (their website is .org, not .gov), let alone elected officials. And congressional pressure is what got them to change the rules. I do think accounting reform is a huge, huge, huge issue that needs to be dealt with, but there is no elected official I can vote for to directly change FASB. Even the president; if anything congress has more control over them. That's my point.

FSAB is a private non-profit standards board that is always quite subject to Government pressure. There was need for new accounting rules to show that the banks were insolvent in early 2009. They were. Everyone knew it. Congress, with the collusion of Geithner, pressured FASB to change a key accounting rule, the mark-to-market so that the big banks could state the value of their toxic real estate assets at what the banks paid for them, rather than at their current market value as required by the mark-to-market rule. This allowed the banks to look solvent on paper, and the government to avoid taking them into resolution. If Congress hadn't pressured FASB, and they hadn't changed the rule, O could have taken them into resolution in February of 2009.

Surely O could have prevented Congressional pressure on FASB in February. All he had to do was say the word, especially assuming that he had gotten rid of the filibuster first and was holding the whip hand in DC.

Once the banks were in resolution they wouldn't have been a political factor anymore, and the Government, running the banks, could have ensured liquidity and the flow of loan funds to small business and to the mortgagees. In addition, the banks would no longer have been reporting giant profits and their trading businesses would have been closed. Guess what? No bonuses for traders would have been paid in 2009, and the Government would not have looked like it was on the side of Wall Street and tose who crashed the system.

Further, did you see the Ron Suskind video I linked to? Obama did want to take Citi into receivership. The unelected slimeball Geithner refused to do it; Obama doesn't run Treasury, someone else does. Ditto the Fed, FASB, the SEC, FDIC, OCC, DOJ, BIS, etc. Granted, Obama should have taken Geithner's head off for that, but the meme that Obama chose not to nationalize banks isn't true.

Surely you jest! You said it yourself. Obama, tells Geithner: "Do it or hand in your resignation. This bank is insolvent, and I am going to fulfill my oath of office and take them into resolution." That's all she wrote. If he resigns, his subordinate does it, and if he/she resigns, then next one down does it, until you get to a civil servant. Appoint the civil servant as acting Sec'y, and believe me that civil servant will do it. Btw, I'm not even sure that Geithner had to do it. O could have turned it over to Sheila Bair; she would have done it happily, and put Rubin and his minions in jail too.

Holder should have been fired long ago, but what about all his deputies that are doing an equally lousy job? The whole department is screwed up; again, changing the figurehead won't necessarily change the institution. For example, a lot of young lawyers at the SEC are just there learning the system so they can work for Wall Street.

O never had to appoint Holder in the first place. And as far as the others are concerned, O decided to keep aboard many of the holdovers from Bush and did not accept their resignations, as it is customary to do. So, if the department is screwed up, he had no one to blame but himself. As far as Congress standing in his way by not confirming his new appointments is concerned, please try to remember that the first step in the scenario I'm sketching out is elimination of the filibuster. That means that most appointments also get confirmed by a majority vote. So, there would have been no possibility of holding these up, if he had made the first essential move of using the Constitutional Option.

The stimulus was too small because Rahm and Summers overruled Romer; this was a choice made by Obama's subordinates, not Obama himself. That's part of the reason she quit. Obama signed off on it because he doesn't know what he is doing, and he follows his unelected "experts." And those "experts" weren't chosen by Obama, they were chosen by Obama's transition team, who were largely Clintonites from the Center for American Progress.

C'mon, give us a break! Who appointed Rahm? Obama! Who appointed Summers, rather than Jamie Galbraith? Obama! Where does the buck stop? With Obama! He bears the responsibility! He made the errors whether of commission or omission. I don't care whether Obama was stupid or evil. Either way he is one big FAIL. Why are you excusing him?

I could go on.

Yes you could. But why bother. Your point is that the President doesn't bear the responsibility for his appointments and the actions of his appointees, or for his own actions, or inaction, where he should have acted. But that's simply not true.

These people work for the President, and he works for us. That's the chain of command. When you break it, as your argument assumes is excusable, you are breaking democracy itself.

The President is the only official elected in a national election. We must hold him responsible for what his/her Administration does or fails to do. If he/she is to stupid, or too ignorant, or too timid, or too evil to do what must be done to solve problems; if she/he cannot bring subordinates to do what he/she wants them to do, then that is FAILING in the presidency. And nothing one says can rationalize it or excuse it.

The bottom line is that by and large FDR was a successful president, as was Harry Truman. But by and large Obama is a failure, and we should find a way to make him acknowledge his failure and go away before the election campaign, so someone else who claims to represent the 99% can have a chance to succeed.

I'm not trying to give Zero excuses, but the presidency is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. There are so many complicated, clandestine, moving parts below the surface with all their inherent baggage, institutional legacies, political nepotism, etc. that the presidency is nowhere as powerful as it used to be. The only exception is in making war, as commander-in-chief. And even then, it seems like Panetta, Petraeus, and the rest are probably pushing Zero around too. That's how McChrystal got kicked out.

I don't know what you're talking about here. Either Obama is responsible for what the Executive Branch is doing or he is not. If you argue that he is not, because he can do nothing, then why elect him again. Why claim that we are a democracy? Elect someone else who can bring the damned place under control, and let's get on with it!

I hate Obamabots as much as the next person, probably more, but just because they are always stupid does not mean they are always wrong about everything. If we had a liberal champion in the WH, we'd still be frustrated & disappointed (e.g. Franken), although it wouldn't be a total disaster like what Zero has been.

I think you're using many of the arguments the Obamabots use. I really don't see any difference between yourself and the Obamabots from a functional standpoint. You may criticize him and call him names, but you still say that we have no choice but to support him. Functionally, then, you are an Obamabot. There's no difference that matters.

Also, you can't know whether we'd be disappointed with a liberal champion in the White House, because all "liberal" champions aren't the same. Some are made of iron and steel and some are made of mush. Put a person like Jamie Galbraith, or Bill Black, or Elizabeth Warren in the White House, and I think you'll see a big difference compared to O. Someone can do something about this system. The right person can staff the Government with determined representatives of the 99% from the top levels on down. The right person can see to it that the strongest justices in the areas of voting rights, civil liberties, and removing corporate personhood are appointed to the bench at every level of the Federal Government. Change can happen!

In spite of Obama we have to believe in that again. And the first change that has to happen is that a FAILED President needs to resign.

Submitted by Hugh on

My brother-in-law asked me some time ago about Americans Elect. I hadn't heard of it at the time, and I thought if it was progressive at all in its orientation I probably would have. Anyway as he was telling me about its approach, it came out that it had been inspired by a Thom Friedman op-ed. This put up all kinds of red flags for me because about the only people I know who get inspired by Friedman are neoliberals.

As far as I can tell, it is an astroturfed attempt by more Establishment, less Tea Party types to co-opt the populist discontent in the country.

You can see their leadership here: http://www.americanselect.org/who-we-are...

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

AE is another way for the oligrachy to co-opt discontent and even strengthen its control by imposing austerity on an unwilling population. It 's about all these "fiscally responsible" people bleeding the rest of us dry.

cripes's picture
Submitted by cripes on

...and didn't, by letsgetitdone.

Just to remind us, Obama did keep all the trojan holdovers from the Repug administration in the DOJ, against all precedent and common sense unless, that is, that's exactly what he wanted.

It's just incredible that the dunces who worshiped obama as a transformational president are now reduced to defending him on the basis of...incompetence! And we're supposed to believe this is sufficient to support this failure for another term? Instead of transformation, we got Casper Milquetoast and his Wall Street retinue. And a list of excuses that never seems to end.

Face it, obamabots have been had, like a con-man scams the mark, but are just toooo embarrassed to admit it, and spend all their energy making excuses for the crook who played them.

They're not drinking kool-aid, they're drinking LSD. They're utterly delusional.

Turlock