Obama: one year on

FRFI 213 February / March 2010

Barack Obama has been President for a year. One year on, what are the results?

First, the US is still in Iraq, has expanded its war in Afghanistan and now looks set to occupy Haiti. His promise to close the Guantanamo Bay torture camp has been broken and the US intends to continue holding captives without trial and without giving them POW. status. Healthcare ‘reform’ has turned out to be a gift to the insurance industry. Economically, bank profits have soared, the stock market has risen by over 50% since March 2009 – yet for tens of millions of working-class Americans the supposed recovery is proving elusive.

 

An important poll, released on 16 January, showed how Americans continue to suffer: 48% reported that they, or members of their family, had made significant reductions in spending; 32% had to draw on savings to make ends meet; 31% had lost a job or been unemployed for a sustained period.

Billions of dollars have been handed over to the banks, while ordinary Americans have been left to suffer unemployment and homelessness. Latest figures show 15.3 million are unemployed; a further 3.6 million have dropped out of the labour market: the total rate including unemployed and underemployed is now 17.3%. 40% have been unemployed for more than six months.

The consequence of this has been the demoralisation of many of those who enthusiastically supported Obama and the drift of ‘moderates’ to the right. On 19 January a special election for the Massachusetts seat of the late Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy returned a right-wing Republican, Scott Brown. Republicans are ecstatic, even though the majority was slim; the Obama camp was stunned, even though the result had been predicted in opinion polls a week before. Of those who voted for Brown, 29% had voted for Obama for President.

It has now dawned on the Obama camp that they have to make some political gesture toward working-class Americans, even as they work tirelessly to prop up US finance capital. Faced with the prospect of bankers paying themselves huge bonuses, the Obama administration is seeking to impose a Financial Crisis Responsibility fee on the largest banks. It has been estimated that the fees will come to around $2 billion for JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs will have to pay around $1 billion and Wells Fargo about $700 million a year. The banks have been screaming blue murder, but in reality, the fee is little more than a cosmetic slap on the wrist. Behind the scenes the Federal Reserve has been propping the banks up with hundreds of billions of dollars of funds.

Obama made jobs the centrepiece of his State of the Union address on 27 January, announcing several measures supposed to increase jobs by cutting various taxes, promoting exports, expanding infrastructure expenditure, including on nuclear power, biofuels and ‘clean coal’ technology. Yet, at the same time, he promised to cut the budget deficit by halting all spending except on war, security, Medicare and social security. With these restrictions and the tax cuts, it’s unclear how he plans to pay for the rabbit he’s promising to pull out of his hat.

The Obama presidency, for all its talk of change, is doing nothing to change capitalism but only putting superficial measures in place to try to placate an angry electorate, drifting steadily to the right. It is time for the US left to build a serious mass movement which will provide a real alternative to replace Obama’s saccharine measures.

Steve Palmer

US correspondent


US Supreme Court gives elections to corporations

In a breathtakingly reactionary decision, the US Supreme Court has decided (5-4) that corporations have the same free speech rights as individual citizens. The practical effect of this will be to give corporations the right to spend unlimited amounts of money to sway elections. This decision rips the veil off bourgeois democracy. Although elections superficially seem fair, with one-person-one-vote, this fairness is purely formal. In fact elections depend massively on who controls the messages put out by the media, who can afford most campaign workers, who can spend most on advertising for candidates. Whoever can spend most has highest chance of influencing the outcome: the formal equality of one-person-one-vote hides the real votes: dollar bills. Although US corporations have donated money to campaigns in the past, their contribution has been relatively limited. Now the reactionary majority of the US Supreme Court have opened the floodgates for corporate America to buy elections outright.

This blatant change has brought protests, not only from outraged citizens, but also from liberal politicians who want to be able to throw dust in the eyes of voters and conceal what is really going on. Only a massive mobilisation to change the law and pull money completely out of politics can restore a modicum of fairness to bourgeois elections. It remains to be seen whether US activists will be willing and able to do this.

Steve Palmer

Jim Craven

 

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