by Njabulo Majola
Pop psychologists are modern peddlers of hope. In the cold light of day, what they sell is no different to religion, which likewise sells false hope that individuals have the means and ability to effect meaningful change in their life circumstances (especially economically). This is despite the fact that their world is under the complete dominion of an omnipotent GOD. Prosperity gospel is a good example of this phenomenon.
Of religion, Karl Marx famously wrote, “it is the opium for the people”, whose “abolition, as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness.” It is a useful tool for those who want a distracted society in order to pursue their own interest.
Politicians, the perennial makers and breakers of promises (being members a group of society’s most untrustworthy profession), have long discerned that a distracted electorate is more malleable. And to achieve this, they use a toolkit that includes among others things: flowery rhetoric (Obama), obfuscation (Theresa Maybe), machismo and aggression (Vladimir Putin) and outright lying (as we have learnt with the rise of Donald J. Trump).
Needless to say, this political animal is not your local representative, with greasy palms, who occasionally gets caught red handed dipping into the public purse (even though he or she may have a desire for world control). This space instead, is the preserve of highly educated, elitist neo-liberals types and their globalization, growth and trickle down, economics. President Obama is the doyenne of this group.
Obama was once hailed by the Main Stream Media as a candidate for change with universal support. To some, he had the wherewithal to significantly impact what Martin Luther King called the “great arc of the moral universe” to bend towards social justice.
Obama, like all con men talks a good game. His rhetorical flourish has seduced many, won him adulation and many accolades including a premature and undeserved Nobel Peace Prize.
It was all a con.
Chris Hedges writes that, “there would be no Trump if the Clinton's and the Democratic Party, including Barack Obama, had not decided to prostitute themselves for corporate pimps.”
Hedges accuses liberals of being “tolerated by the capitalist elites because they do not question the virtues of corporate capitalism, only its excesses, and call for tepid and ineffectual reforms.”
He berates the educated elites, such as Obama, for being no more than “capitalism’s useful idiots” who are “tolerated because they contribute, by discrediting the left, to the maintenance of corporate power. They do not think or function independently.”
Eight long years later, it’s clear for all to see that Obama failed to effect many of the changes he spoke about. The actions of the former leader of the free world had no impact on world-wide economic inequality, which neo-liberals themselves have identified as one of the most pressing issues of our time.
Obama now faces a bleak legacy: the Trump presidency.
The one thing Obama did well was to ensure the growth of the Military Industrial Complex which meant that his tenure was not a threat to the deep state. The real power behind Washington politicians, also known as the deep state, is dominated by the military industrial complex, multi-national corporations (often with turnovers many times larger than the GDP’s of the majority of the world’s nations), an army of lobbyists, think tanks, hangers-on, and some politicians. It has thrived under Obama’s presidency.
Instead of change, below are four areas which are a more accurate reflection of Obama’s legacy.
The Military Industrial Complex had a prosperous time during Obama’s presidency. US arms shipments reached record levels, up to USD 70 Billion per annum. It is estimated that Pentagon facilitated deals reached a whopping USD 40 Billion in 2016. Drone attacks, which were directly ordered by Obama, surpassed even those by George W. Bush. Under Obama the “War on Terror” is well entrenched as a perpetual money maker for the entire Military Industrial Complex.
Take the case of one John Podesta, who was Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager and erstwhile victim of a phishing attack, which led to a flood of his personal emails being leaked by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange during the later stages of last year’s presidential campaign. This attack, as well the hack of the Democratic National Congress (DNC) is at the centre of Russian hacking claims posited by the intelligence community to have influenced the election of Trump. Podesta’s brother Tony is an official agent of the Saudi Arabian government and is also a Democratic Party lobbyist. He represents their interests in the U.S. The Saudis are one of the biggest donors to the Clinton Foundation. Clinton, during her stint as Secretary of State, engineered one of the largest arms deals in the world with the Saudi government. Clinton was Obama’s anointed successor, and the establishment’s choice. The insidiousness of it all is sickening.
Undoubtedly, some of those armaments, especially the F-35 jets, are being used by the Saudis in their ongoing obliteration of Yemen. Their wide scale bombing campaign has created one of the greatest humanitarian crises in the world. But you wouldn't know this if the only source of news you consumed was from Main Stream Media houses such as CNN, Sky News, BBC and MSNBC to name just a few.
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division confirms that civilians have been killed in the bloody conflict and most of them by American weaponry in the hands of the Saudis.
War is big business and president-elect Trump would do well to heed former president Eisenhower’s warning from his farewell speech in 1961 that the Military Industrial Complex had influence that is “economic, political, even spiritual” and “is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government.” And that Americans “must not fail to comprehend its grave implications.” He urged the people to guard against the Military Industrial Complex’s “acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought,” and warned that “the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
It is indisputable that Trump will soon face the full might of the Military Industrial Complex if he persists with efforts to normalize relations with Russia. Already neo conservatives such as Senator McCain have been explicit in their warnings to Trump. It’s no surprise that these are the same people (McCain and the Intelligence Community) that are responsible for a dossier that allegedly ties Trump to Russian intelligence efforts to affect the US presidential election. It also claims that the Kremlin supposedly holds salacious intelligence on Trump which could potentially be used to blackmail him. Trump is brave to take them on, but the deep state is ruthless and will fight back. Do not be surprised if Russia is provoked into a military response. Trump may not even finish his term of office if he proves himself to be an obstruction. Whoever wins this battle will largely shape US foreign policy under Trump.
Obama (we know this thanks to whistle-blower, Edward Snowden) ran, and probably still runs the biggest surveillance program on the public in history. This snooping included clandestinely and illegally eavesdropping on other leaders. A massive industry with 12 intelligence agencies and thousands of employees now exists to prop up his program. Obama has proven himself to be a military man through and through. His government contributed massively to the business of war and left the deep state largely untroubled. That is his legacy.
2.Inequality and the Top 1%
Wall Street’s wild appetite for risk, addiction to debt, short-termism and rampant profiteering (sanitized to be named the extraction of maximum value for shareholders), are just some of the well documented factors that preceded the 2008 financial markets crash. Obama led a world-wide political leadership effort to save the banks. The recovery that has followed has grossly benefited the Top 1% of society, even though their fund managers in Wall Street were the cause of the crash.
Meanwhile Wall Street cynically took the opportunity, during the public funded recovery from the 2008 crash, to systematically remove the common man’s access to the stock market. The numbers confirm this. A whopping 80% of the New York Stock Exchange is in the hands of the top 10% of the US population. The financialization of the world economy has moved the markets even further from the real economy. No surprise then that they are outperforming the real economy, throughout the world.
How does one explain the fact that the Venezuelan stock exchange is hitting record highs, and was the best performer for 2016, while the country festers in a hyper-inflation environment, which has plunged the country into social and political unrest.
South Africa is another great example. Its government has doggedly pursued fiscal conservatism and growth economics (and its trickle down cousin). This has resulted in a strong banking sector and has created the perfect conditions for market financialization. It’s no surprise therefore that that JSE (South Africa’s stock market) also reached record levels in 2016. Yet the economy grew at less than 1% in the same period.
Wall Street even makes money from fake news. And this how they do it:
Our story begins with a set of computer traders…. Why? Because even Wall Street will not escape the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which after the successful removal from the markets of the 99% percent through financialization is the next logical step for the elites: remove the man, (whom they argue is far less efficient and accurate, and must be paid wages) from the workplace, and replace him robots.
So, at a random trading firm the computer traders routinely scan the net for news articles that affect a particular industry, for example, coal. Based on the articles the bots find, they make a purchase decision. Now, a clever industry insider writes a fake news report, stating that one of president-elect Trump’s aides has stated that all regulations that have choked off the coal industry in the rust belt will be lifted, mines will reopen and jobs will be created. The article is picked up and amplified through easily manipulated echo chambers that populate the net. The bots also pick it up because their algorithms scan for keywords such as deregulation and favourable conditions, and they of course cannot distinguish between a credible and fake news article. Based on this fake news report, the bots purchase millions of stocks in the coal industry. This sparks a buy-off and drives up the stock. A fund manager in South Africa, under pressure to deliver quick results also hedges his bets and buys into the coal stocks because of the hype. Suddenly coal stocks are flying world-wide, all from a fake news article. This scenario is not only plausible but more than likely has occurred. This is Obama’s financial legacy: an even more financialized world economy that only benefits the top 1% at the expense of the rest of humanity.
It’s no surprise that the elite and their bankers in Wall Street funded Hillary Clinton’s campaign, because to them she represented a continuation of market friendly and neo-liberal policies that Obama stood for.
3. Black Life under Obama
Prisons are part of the military industrial complex and under Obama it’s been a profitable time, and at the expense of people of colour. More than 2 million Americans are imprisoned, by far the highest number in the world. Additionally, more black males were imprisoned under Obama than at any other point in time in history. About 40% of those in prison are black, which is an abnormally high number if you consider that African Americans are only 6% of the total population. Under Obama more illegal immigrants have been imprisoned and deported than at any other point in time in the US.
Racial inequality in the US has gotten worse under Obama. White household incomes are 13 times higher than for black families. Since 1972, joblessness has been two times higher than that for African Americans. And on measures such as the pay gap and workplace diversity blacks are consistently doing worse than before Obama’s presidency.
The past few years have been dominated by police shootings of black men, which were exposed due to the prevalence of camera phones and social media. The response to these attacks was the rise of black rights organizations such as Black Lives Matter. Obama’s response to police killings of black men was characterized by extraordinary tepidness, and often fell afoul of black activists. Such as the instance when he was called out by Cornel West, who accused him of “running from the issue (racism)”, and of “saying something eloquent and articulate” instead of “being able to hit it on the head.”
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes that on race, Obama spoke, “quite eloquently about the nation’s ‘original sin’ and ‘dark history’ but has repeatedly failed to connect the sins of the past to the crimes of the present, when racism thrives, when police stop-and-frisk, when subprime loans are reserved for black buyers, when public schools are denied resources, and when double-digit unemployment has become so normal that it barely registers a ripple of recognition.”
In the words of Iyanla Vanzant, Obama couldn’t even “call a thing a thing”. Try finding a speech where Obama is forth-right about racism and the suffering of black people in the US, without any whitesplaining or victim blaming.
This is what Obama leaves behind. Into this cauldron steps in one Donald J. Trump with his army of white neo conservatives. The Trump White House, built by slaves, is now back under the total control of white supremacists. This was something that was once too ghastly to contemplate, but it has come to being. Thanks Barack.
4.GITMO, Snowden, Assange, Chelsea Manning and other imprisoned whistle-blowers
One of Obama’s most noticeable failures was the inability to close the Guantanamo Bay prison facility (GITMO) in Cuba. This was one of his most important promises.
Take the story of Obaidullah, who was arrested in 2002. He was only charged with terrorism in 2008, six years later (coincidentally, the year of Obama’s inauguration). The charges against him were dropped soon after, because his lawyers found the evidence to clear him. The US responded by dropping the charges and then holding him indefinitely. He was released in August 2016.
Obaidullah is just one of more than 750 men who have been imprisoned at GITMO since 2002. Fifty men remain imprisoned, twenty two have been cleared for release but are still being held by unlawfully by Obama’s government.
Furthermore, Obama should release Chelsea Manning (who is serving 35 years in prison for leaking state secrets), and ensure that both Snowden and Assange are not prosecuted for their truth telling. That also goes for all the other whistle-blowers held in American prisons. Their incarceration lays bare the hypocrisy of liberalism. Liberals are usually the first to champion free speech, but in all these instances, Obama and his administration are guilty of implementing authoritarian tactics in their quest to defend the indefensible.
If Obama fails to do right by the whistle-blowers, GITMO and the millions of immigrants that have been persecuted under his time, then he must return the Nobel Peace Prize.
Trump is determined, with his cheering Republican mob in Congress and Senate, to erase all the vestiges of Obama’s legacy. All that will remain is just the simple fact: Obama and his partners in the deep state and the conglomeration of Western interest groups that govern the world’s economy gave rise to the conditions that created the Trump phenomenon, and doomed us all. Unfortunately for Obama history cannot be conned.