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Entries tagged "President Barack Obama"Page Previous 1 • 2 • 3 Next
While we’re still waiting for actions to match his rhetoric, President Barack Obama made three critical points in his big speech about the problem of inequality—a problem that the Occupy movement has pushed into the public consciousness.
1. The Rules are Rigged in Favor of the Rich
Early in his address, the president said that “We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”
Despite the popular myth that the rich are rich solely because of their hard work and talent, in reality, much of the explosion of wealth at the top is a result of the rich rigging the rules.
Case in point: rich people, who make most of their income on the stock market, pay a far lower tax rate than ordinary Americans. Warren Buffett pointed this out several years ago when he offered a million dollars to any CEO who could prove he paid a higher tax rate than his secretary. Not one came forward.
In a brilliant stroke of political theater, Obama invited Buffett’s secretary to sit with the First Lady during the speech. This came just hours after Mitt Romney revealed he had paid only a 13.9 percent rate on his 2011 income taxes—thanks to the deep discount rate of 15 percent for financial earnings, compared to the top rate of 35 percent for income from actual work. Obama proposed a minimum tax rate of 30 percent for people who make more than one million dollars a year.
2. We Have Tackled Extreme Inequality Before
A century ago, the rich were enjoying the so-called “Gilded Age” with extreme levels of inequality. Starting in the mid-1930s, in the depths of the Great Depression, our government, pressed hard by a militant labor movement, raised taxes on the rich, protected worker rights, and began a four decade march toward much greater equality. By speaking of “restoring an economy where everyone gets a fair shot,” Obama reminded Americans that our current levels of inequality, which rival those of the Gilded Age, are hurting tens of millions and degrading our democracy, and that we know how to reduce extreme inequality in this country.
3. The Occupy Movement is Not About Envy
The president also effectively rebutted the common conservative argument that all this Occupy ruckus is about nothing more than petty jealousies. “When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it’s not because they envy the rich. It’s because they understand that when I get tax breaks I don’t need and the country can’t afford, it either adds to the deficit, or somebody else has to make up the difference – like a senior on a fixed income; or a student trying to get through school; or a family trying to make ends meet.”
Obama’s sharp rhetoric is an important contribution to the public discourse about inequality. Yet deeds are stronger than words. And right now, Obama is not expected to include the millionaires tax increase in the budget he delivers to Congress next month. For the millions of young people who joined the Occupy sites last fall because they can’t find jobs nor pay off their student loans, Obama weakly admonished colleges not to raise tuitions. No word of what many of those students demand, namely that they not be required to repay those loans until they have incomes.
No real relief from Obama for the millions of Americans who can’t pay their mortgages. He said he was proposing a small fee on the big banks to help pay for a program to allow homeowners to save on their mortgages by refinancing. This is small compared to what is needed: a reduction in the principle on those mortgages down to what the market says they are worth.
So, the challenge to the American people remains huge. Yes, we now have a President who is talking about the obscene inequality that is ripping this country apart. Yet, it will only be through massive pressure from below that bold measures to tax Wall Street, tax corporations, tax the wealthy, and tax pollution get enacted.
And, while Obama talks of wind farms and other green jobs, he still is not articulating a bold vision to transform this nation’s economy from a war economy still addicted to fossil fuels to a green Main Street economy that creates jobs while advancing ecological balance. The Congressional Progressive Caucus has released an Act for the 99% that included some of this vision, particularly for millions of new jobs paid by a fairer tax system.
We all know that thirty years of deregulating Wall Street and lowering tax rates on the rich won’t be undone quickly. For years, Wall Street has crashed the economy and corrupted our politics. Only bold, transformative vision and action can restore our democracy and improve the lives of our people.
Sarah Anderson and John Cavanagh wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions.
October 21, 2011 · By Joy Zarembka
At the end of August, I headed over to the opening of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial right before the hurricane. I returned this past weekend for the official dedication, which brought more than 10,000 people to what now is sacred ground.
During the ceremony, President Obama drew several parallels between the obstacles that King and the nation faced 50 years ago and our current economic challenges. Sounding again like a proponent of real change, Obama said, "If he were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there; that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company's union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain."
But while Obama was quick to pay lip service to King's work for civil rights and economic justice and play to the popular sentiments of those "Occupying Everywhere," Obama didn't mention King's equally important efforts to stop the Vietnam War and end U.S. militarism.
This omission probably wasn't a mistake. Obama sent 100 U.S. troops to Uganda on Friday and over the weekend he encouraged the incursion of Kenyan military troops into Somalia, a continuing target for U.S. aerial drone strikes.
Noting the U.S. interest in securing oil in Uganda, and viewing Somalia as part of the "global war on terrorism," IPS Africa expert Emira Woods says that Obama, dubbed the "Son of Africa" by many in the region, is betraying many of the core values his fellow Nobel Peace Laureate Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for.
Also, as the weekend set upon us, two women who are longtime peace advocates on the African content joined King and Obama as Nobel Peace Prize winners: Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, along with Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman.
Appearing on PBS News Hour, Democracy Now and other outlets, Woods was quick to acknowledge the similarities between these awardees and Obama. Gbowee was a tireless community organizer. Johnson-Sirleaf was the first woman in Africa to serve as a democratically elected president. Unfortunately, Johnson-Sirleaf also shares Obama's agenda of establishing a permanent U.S. military command, AFRICOM, showing that the Peace Prize isn't always about peace.
It was wonderful to see so many of you at our Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards reception and ceremony last week. That night, the Wisconsin Progressive Movement and Bethlehem, The Migrant's Shelter (Mexico) showed what can be possible with faith, love, and determination.
September 7, 2011 · By Phyllis Bennis
It might seem like there's a cause for celebration after reading the New York Times headline, "Iraq War Marks First Month with No U.S. Military Deaths." But the smaller print on the page reminds us why celebrating is not really in order: "Many Iraqis are killed..." The cost of this war is still way too high — in Iraqi lives and in our money.
With so much attention and so many billions of our tax dollars shifting from Iraq to the devastating and ever more costly war in Afghanistan, it is too easy to forget that there are still almost 50,000 U.S. troops occupying Iraq. We are still paying almost $50 billion just this year for the war in Iraq. And while we don't hear about it very often, many Iraqis are still being killed.
There's an awful lot of discussion underway about the massive cuts in the Pentagon's budget that may be looming as part of the deficit deal. But somehow few are mentioning that those potential cuts from the defense department's main budget don't even touch the actual war funding — this year alone it's $48 billion for Iraq and $122 billion for the war in Afghanistan.
Just imagine what we could do with those funds — we could provide health care for 43 million children for two years, or hire 2.4 million police officers to help keep our communities safe for a year. Or we could create and fund new green middle-class jobs for 3.4 million workers — maybe including those thousands of soldiers we could bring home from those useless wars.
Barack Obama, back when he was a presidential candidate, promised he would end the war in Iraq. In 2002, he called it a "dumb" war. The U.S. role in the war has gotten smaller but it sure isn't over. And it hasn't gotten any smarter. A year ago Obama told us that all combat operations in Iraq were about to end, that "our commitment in Iraq is changing from a military effort" to — what exactly? The 50,000 or so troops still in Iraq are there, we are told, to train Iraqi security forces, provide security for civilians, and, oh yes, to conduct counterterrorism operations. Apparently "counterterrorism operations" don't count as part of a military effort?
Even worse, the Obama administration, following its predecessor's footsteps, is clearly committed to keeping U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the December 31, 2011 deadline agreed to by the Bush administration and Iraq back in 2008. That agreement was supposed to be absolute — it called for all U.S. troops to be pulled out by the end of this year. (There were loopholes, of course — the agreement said all Pentagon-paid military contractors had to leave too, but didn't mention those paid by the State Department, so guess which agency is taking over the check-writing to pay the thousands of mercenaries preparing to stay in Iraq for the long haul?)
But now the Obama administration is ratcheting up the pressure on Iraq's weak and corrupt government, pushing Baghdad's U.S.-dependent leadership to "invite" U.S. troops to stay just a little bit longer. Iraq's elected parliament, like the vast majority of the population, wants all the troops out. But democratic accountability to the people doesn't operate any better in Iraq than it does here in the U.S. So the Iraqi cabinet made its own decision, without any messy consultations with their parliament, to "open negotiations" with Washington over how many and how long U.S. troops would continue occupying their country.
Of course it's good news that no U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq in August. The bad news is that scores of Iraqi civilians were killed. We don't know exactly how many — the Pentagon says it doesn't do body counts. But we know some of them. According to IraqBodyCount.org, 36 Iraqi civilians were killed in the first five days of the month. Just on one day, August 15, the New York Times reported 89 Iraqis killed, another 315 injured in apparently coordinated attacks. And on the last day of the month, August 31st, at least seven Iraqis were killed, another 25 wounded. And those are just the ones we know about.
The Iraq War isn't over. It still costs too much in the lives of Iraqi civilians and in U.S. taxpayer dollars. We still can't afford dumb wars. We need to bring those 50,000 troops and those fifty billion dollars home. And the way to do that is to follow the money: keep the pressure up on the links between our economic crisis and the costs of these illegal, useless wars. It's really dumb if we don't.
May 19, 2011 · By Phyllis Bennis
The Obama administration faces a huge contradiction in trying to craft a new policy for the Middle East in the midst of the Arab Spring.
|Obama faces his own contractions with today's speech (Photo by Matt Ortega)|
They are trying to position the U.S. as a friend of the newly democratizing forces, while at the same time refusing to give up the policy of support for those on top, who imposed dictatorships and occupations across the Middle East, to protect U.S. interests in oil, Israel, and strategic stability. Now it is the people of the region who are creating new democracies from below – and it is long past time to change how the U.S. relates to them.
A transformed U.S. role in the region will have to go beyond soaring words and even additional economic assistance. It will require an entirely different policy based on support for popular bottom-up democracy, acceptance of new indigenous definitions of social and economic justice, and respect for local decision-making – even when reality doesn’t match Washington’s illusion of what the “new Middle East” should look like.
What would that policy look like?
- An end to the U.S. military aid and diplomatic protection that enable Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies, and supporting regional and globally-led diplomacy rather than imposing its own failed “peace process.”
- An end to all U.S. military ties to any regime suppressing the Arab Spring protests in its own or other countries (that means Saudi Arabia as well as Bahrain, for example, as well as pulling all troops and mercenaries out of Iraq).
- An end to all economic aid until it can be redirected away from militaries (even in democratizing countries) and into the hands of accountable governments. Supporting creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone throughout the Middle East.
- An end to the double-standard of harsh sanctions and massive military force (such as in Syria and Libya) imposed against some dictators’ attacks on protestors, while continuing to arm and finance dictatorships strategically allied with the U.S. (such as Bahrain and Yemen) with hardly a word of protest against their lethal assaults on unarmed demonstrators.
May 10, 2011 · By Matias Ramos
President Barack Obama will debut his 2012 stump speech on immigration in El Paso, Texas today. I expect he'll say the usual about how the current system hurts all U.S. workers and threatens national security. He'll urge Congress to work on a bipartisan manner.
His lackluster message is doomed to fall on deaf ears in Congress. As for voters concerned about immigrant rights, they're going to pay more attention to his actions. Obama has overseen a record-breaking rise in the number of deportations, and pushed the controversial immigration enforcement program Secure Communities, which is phasing in forced local police participation in a national fingerprinting database.
Facing pressure from state legislatures, constituency groups and Spanish-language media outlets, Obama wants to stay ahead of the debate. He's making the speech at a key moment when the military operation that killed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and the release of positive job numbers are bolstering his popularity. Like national security and the economy, immigration is a very complex issue that could affect his re-election chances.
"I strongly believe we have to fix this broken system so it meets the 21st century needs for the American economy and security, he told a group of supporters gathered at the White House's Cinco de Mayo reception last week. "This is not going to be easy, and it will require bipartisan support."
Bipartisan cooperation will prove difficult, though. Across the nation, highly partisan state legislation is attacking the Obama administration's immigration policies from both sides of the political spectrum. Last year, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer pointed to federal inaction on immigration enforcement as a pretext for the "Papers Please" SB1070 law. Now, democratic-controlled state legislatures in Illinois and California seek to challenge Obama over the Secure Communities program.
One by one, states are taking sides on immigration. Indiana, Alabama, and Louisiana are moving closer to adopting tough rules that will, in practice, deny undocumented youth access to higher education. On the other hand, Maryland, Oregon, and Connecticut are close to giving undocumented youth access to in-state tuition fees at state colleges and universities.
As state legislatures take immigration policy in their own hands, Congress seems determined to avoid the subject at all costs. Obama will be judged by his actions on immigration policy, not his stump speeches.