Obama was always in Wall Street’s pocket – Democrats must stop taking its money

Obama was always in Wall Street’s pocket – Democrats must stop taking its money
by Ian Sinclair
International Business Times
2 May 2017

The news that Barack Obama is to be paid $400,000 to speak at a conference organised by the Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald has generated headlines across the globe.

In an editorial titled ‘Don’t go chasing Wall Street cash’ the Guardian newspaper argued Obama was making “a mistake”. Taking the ginormous fee would “allow populist critics to paint him as a pawn of moneyed interests”, the liberal newspaper noted, before concluding that it would “tarnish” his presidential record.

Missing from the Guardian’s mild criticism is the inconvenient fact Obama’s national political career has always relied on Wall Street cash. Paul Street, author of two books about the first black president, notes that from his time as a US Senator Obama has been “intimately tied in with the United States’ corporate and financial ruling class.” Street continues: “Obama was rising to power with remarkable backing from Wall Street… who were not in the business of promoting politicians who sought to challenge the nation’s dominant domestic and imperial hierarchies and doctrines.” The New York Daily News reported during the 2008 presidential campaign “Wall Street is investing heavily in Barack Obama” – a reality confirmed by Politifact website last year: “When it comes to Wall Street contributions, Obama broke the record in 2008”.

The 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton agreed that Obama took record amounts of money from Wall Street in 2008, though she maintained this did not stop Obama standing up to big finance and passing tough regulation.

As with many things, Clinton is very obviously wrong on this.

In the real world, against a background of popular rage directed at Wall Street following the 2008 financial crash President Obama chose to stuff his incoming administration with Wall Street insiders. Larry Summers, who as Deputy Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton played a key role in the deregulation of the finance sector that led to the 2008 financial crisis, was appointed Chief Economic Advisor. Heading the Treasury was Timothy Geithner, a protégé of Bill Clinton’s deregulation-happy Treasury Secretary and former Citigroup chairman Robert Rubin. Geithner’s Chief of Staff was Mark Patterson, a former lobbyist for Goldman Sachs, while his deputy Neal Wolin was a former chief executive for a large investment and insurance company. Unsurprisingly, Geithner and his team worked to water down the regulation of Wall Street being demanded by the American public, fighting successfully “against more severe limits on executive pay” and “tougher conditions on financial institutions”, according to the New York Times.

Meeting the US’s top thirteen financial executives in March 2009, incredibly Obama reportedly told them “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks. You guys have an acute public relations problem that’s turning into a political problem. And I want to help… I’m not here to go after you. I’m protecting you… I’m going to shield you from congressional and public anger.”

Two months later Simon Johnson, former Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund, explained “The finance industry has effectively captured our government”, with the “financial oligarchy… blocking essential reform.”

Thus, though there were reports of Wall Street executives very unhappy with the regulatory reforms contained in the 2010 Dodd Frank Act (which was strangled by lobbyists assisted by the White House, according to the muckraking Matt Taibbi), a 2011 Washington Post headline noted Obama was “still flush with cash [from] the financial sector”.

Why am I writing about the close relationship between a former American president and big finance when we have an unstable, racist, misogynistic ignoramus in the White House?

First, this story highlights the willful amnesia of much of the media, including supposedly more critical publications such as the Guardian. It is clear those trying to gain an accurate understanding of how the world works will struggle to do so by consuming mainstream media.

Second, the close relationship between Obama and Wall Street points to the key issue for progressives in the United States moving forward. As Adolph Reed, Jr, Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, argued in 2007, “Elected officials are only as good or as bad as the forces they feel they must respond to.” The financial sector will always use its extraordinary financial resources to influence politics in its favour. Therefore, the central task of those interested in a more humane world is to build a more formidable counterpower – which will be powerful enough to make sure a credible, socialist-minded candidate gets the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. Given that Obama’s siding with the finance sector and Clinton’s enthusiastic backing for the multinational-benefiting North American Free Trade Agreement likely boosted support for Trump among the American public, a neoliberal, ‘pragmatic’ candidate who is unable or unwilling to confront Wall Street is simply no longer an option.

Working to stop the war in Yemen: Interview with peace activist Sam Walton

Working to stop the war in Yemen: Interview with peace activist Sam Walton
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
11 April 2017

On 3 April 2017 Sam Walton made headlines when he attempted to carry out a citizen’s arrest of Saudi Arabian Major General Ahmed al-Asiri in London.

Walton, a British Quaker activist, explained the reasoning behind his actions to Ian Sinclair.

Ian Sinclair: Why did you attempt a citizen’s arrest of Major General Ahmed al-Asiri?

Sam Walton: Al-Asiri is a senior adviser and spokesperson for a regime that routinely carries out executions, locks up journalists and tortures dissenters. It’s a regime that would never allow the kind of protest I took part in, let alone allow the publication of an article like this.

Al-Asiri is the frontman for the Saudi military and a spokesperson for the terrible bombardment of Yemen. The bombing has lasted for over two years now, destroying vital infrastructure and killing thousands of civilians. In that time, Saudi forces have flouted international humanitarian law and shown a total contempt for human rights.

Last year, a leaked UN expert panel report into the war reported widespread and systematic attacks on civilian targets, as well as starvation being used as a weapon of war. The punishment has been indiscriminate. One month after the UN report, al-Asiri told Reuters, “Now our rules of engagement are: you are close to the border, you are killed.”

Saudi forces haven’t just shown a total disregard for international law and human rights, but also for the truth. In November 2016 al-Asiri told ITV that Saudi forces had not been using cluster bombs in Yemen, only for the UK parliament to later admit that they had.

It’s a sign of how warped Whitehall’s priorities are when a man like al-Asiri, a senior adviser to one of the most brutal and oppressive regimes in the world, can be welcomed and invited to meet with MPs and whitewash his crimes to prestigious think-tanks. If real justice is to be done, then governments like the UK’s need to stop putting arms sales ahead of human rights and call for people like al-Asiri to be arrested and investigated for war crimes.

IS: Al-Asiri was in London when you tried to arrest him. Does the UK bear some responsibility for Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen?

SW: The UK’s complicity in the destruction has been so absolute that it only made me more determined to stop the General. How could I ignore him when the government of the country I live in has offered political and military support for the appalling war that he and his colleagues have waged?

In fact, it’s not just been supportive – it’s played an utterly central role. Data compiled by Campaign Against Arms Trade shows that the UK has licensed over £3bn worth of arms to the Saudi regime since the bombing began. These include many of the fighter jets flying over Yemen and the bombs falling from the sky.

The impact of the bombing has been devastating. There are already 17 million people in Yemen that are food insecure and need humanitarian intervention – how much worse does it have to get before the UK finally does the right thing and stops fuelling their suffering?

I’ve been frustrated for a long time about this, and have tried pretty much everything to stop my country arming Saudi Arabia. That’s why a couple of months ago I broke into BAE’s Warton base to try and physically disarm the Saudi warplanes we are making and servicing that are being used in crimes against humanity in Yemen.

IS: Can you talk a little about the planning and preparation that went into the action?

SW: There was barely any planning at all – we had very little notice of where al-Asiri was going to be or when. It was simply a group of people with a high level of trust using our different expertise and skills to make this happen.

IS: Some people dismiss activism as something that doesn’t make a difference, arguing that “nothing ever changes”. However, your action seems to have made a big impact already?

SW: As I’m sure you’ve seen on the internet, some people are wrong.

The Saudis have a contempt for democracy and get very upset by any form of protest against them. It’s frankly pathetic that the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to grovel an apology for the incident. He should have defended our democratic protest and demanded an apology for al-Asiri’s guards interrupting the citizen’s arrest. His behaviour does show our government’s dedication to pursuing arms sales at the expense of the rule of law, human rights and ultimately the humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding in Yemen right now – driven primarily by a Saudi bombardment using British weapons. What is amusing is that we wouldn’t have known about Boris’ apology if the Saudi’s weren’t so thin skinned and press released it in a desperate attempt to save face.

We’ve helped to trigger a very serious legal process – the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit looking into the allegations of war crimes. Something that could lead to al-Asiri being questioned or even arrested if he sets foot in the UK again. Of course political interference from upon high will mean ultimately that goes nowhere. But that too has a cost for the government and arms trade when it comes to the legitimacy and the social license it needs to operate.

Not only that but it’s put a dampener on Theresa May’s trip to Saudi Arabia – a trip with a primary purpose of securing more arms sales. Royals and ministers have been visiting Saudi Arabia for decades to flog arms, but I can’t remember a visit where they have had anything like this level of opposition to it. It was not public that the Prime Minister was off to Saudi when the action happened – it turns out al-Asiri’s presence in the UK was designed to whitewash Saudi’s crimes in Yemen. Our action meant al-Asiri’s trip to the UK had the opposite effect – it framed the media agenda into one about Saudi war crimes and British complicity in them.

All in all we’ve caused a diplomatic incident, made the British Foreign Secretary apologise, disrupted the core purpose of a Prime Ministerial visit, and made news headlines across the world criticising the Saudi bombardment of Yemen and British arms sales to them. Not bad work for a couple of hours work from less than a dozen people.

IS: Beyond attempting a citizen arrest of Saudi Arabian government officials visiting the UK, what other action do you suggest people concerned about the continuing war in Yemen could take?

SW: It’s important that we protest any official Saudi government presence in the UK at the moment since 2.2 million children are in danger of starvation because of their actions in the Yemen. If you see them coming, get some people together and make a scene. This is particularly effective because they hate hate hate protest and, because they can’t lock you up and torture you as they would do in Saudi, just don’t know how to deal with it.

In the absence of a Saudi presence in your vicinity, Campaign Against Arms Trade have a wonderful set of ideas of what you can do about Britain’s out of control arms sales. They are currently organising opposition to DSEI – one if not the biggest arms fairs in the world which is coming to London in September. Get involved!

More broadly I think one of the secrets to a happy life is asking yourself how can your gifts be used to make a better world. The answers can be pretty broad! But acting on them always brings joy in my experience.

Follow Sam Walton on Twitter @samwalton.

Book review. ‘Trump Unveiled: Exposing The Bigoted Billionaire’ by John K. Wilson

Book review. Trump Unveiled: Exposing the Bigoted Billionaire by John K. Wilson
by Ian Sinclair
Red Pepper
April-May 2017

“A narcissistic, bigoted, even idiotic fool”, Donald Trump “is just a petty, vicious, angry man”, argues John K. Wilson in this short primer, published just before the US presidential vote.

Written in a no-nonsense, straightforward style, Trump Unveiled shows just how frightening Trump’s election to the highest office of the most powerful country in the world really is. The chapters on Trump’s racism, misogyny and his belief in wild conspiracy theories are often both hilarious (Trump reportedly told one woman “Once you made love to me, you’ll never to able to make love to anybody else”) and horrifying (he is a climate change denier). The American president is a “sociopath”, Tony Schwartz, the co-author of Trump’s 1987 book The Art of the Deal, said last year. “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

However, though it is important to highlight Trump’s unsavoury business dealings, ignorant arrogance and often contradictory political positions, arguably progressives need to jettison this often highly personal criticism and start to think systematically, radically and self-reflectively. Why did huge numbers of Americans vote for The Donald? Like many liberals, Wilson focusses on Trump’s outrageous public statements and behaviour while failing to seriously engage with the fact his campaign was likely successful because he repeatedly talked to working people about trade, jobs and declining industry.

The key task for the left now is to work out how Trump can be defeated – something Wilson’s book offers few insights on. In the short-term there are hopeful signs: his poll ratings are disastrously low, his administration is looking relatively weak and, as the growing scandal over the resignation of his National Security Advisor shows, wholly incompetent. In the long-term the left needs to be organised and powerful enough to make sure a credible, socialist-minded candidate gets the Democratic nomination for president. Given that Hillary Clinton’s enthusiastic backing for Wall Street deregulation and the North American Free Trade Agreement ultimately boosted support for Trump, a neoliberal, ‘pragmatic’ candidate is simply no longer an option.

Trump Unveiled is published by OR Books, priced £13.

 

Book review: ‘The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men’ by Robert Jensen

Book review: ‘The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men’ by Robert Jensen by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
April-May 2017

A Professor of Journalism at the University of Texas, Robert Jensen has a long history of activism focussing on US foreign policy, progressive journalism, climate change and pornography.

With The End of Patriarchy he makes a strong, often deeply personal case for radical feminism, which he believes has lost significant ground to individualistic liberal feminism and postmodern feminism in the broader culture and academia, respectively. For Jensen, the central tenant of radical feminism is the “understanding that men’s subordination of women is a product of patriarchy”, a hierarchical system of domination/subordination based on “power-over”, rather than “power-with”.

Jensen argues that although “each individual man in patriarchy is not at every moment actively engaged in the oppression of women… men routinely act in ways that perpetuate patriarchy and harm women.” Moreover, patriarchy’s harsh system of hierarchy and domination harms many men too – something Jensen highlights by writing about how Western society’s dominant, toxic masculinity has had a detrimental effect on much of his own life. Today, having spent decades engaging with radical feminism Jensen explains feminism should be seen as “not a threat to men, but a gift to us.” More broadly, he believes radical feminism’s critique of patriarchy is central to challenging larger systems of domination/subordination such as white supremacy, imperialism and capitalism.

The majority of the book comprises discussions of some thorny topics for feminists and activists alike, such as prostitution and pornography (“sexual-exploitation industries”), rape culture in the United States and, most controversially, transgenderism. On the latter Jensen is at pains to highlight that he, of course, condemns discrimination and violence directed at trans people, though arguably his radical feminist position on the subject isn’t helpful to the wellbeing of the trans community.

Written in an accessible and self-reflective style with male readers in mind, the book includes an afterword written by Professor Rebecca Whisnant, along with good references and a useful ‘further reading’ section for those who wish to delve deeper.

Like UK activist Finn Mackay’s 2015 own book on the same topic, The End of Patriarchy is an important and challenging introduction to this influential strand of feminism – and would make a great discussion tool for both men and women activists.

The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men is published by Spinifex Press.

 

The BBC’s John Humphrys on Russian peacekeepers and the democracy-creating British army

Compare and contrast comments made by the BBC’s John Humphrys on Russian forces in Europe with his 2012 comments on British forces in Iraq:

“I think it might just be worth making the point though that some people will raise their eyebrows at the idea Russian armies are peacekeeping armies. The people of Romania might take a slightly different view of that… just a very quick thought about Ukraine. The idea that what Russia has been doing in Ukraine is peacekeeping is a slightly bizarre notion, isn’t it?” (Interview with Vitaly Milonov, a Russian politician and member of the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia, BBC Today Programme, 10 April 2017)

Vs.

“…a lot of British lives, 179 British lives, were lost for Basra in effect… If a country [the UK] has sent its young men to another country to die, to restore – create democracy, you’d expect, well you’d expect a bit of gratitude, wouldn’t you?” (Interview with Baroness Nicholson, chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Economic Development in Iraq and the Region, BBC Today Programme, October 2012)

“Politically dubious” and in “poor taste”?: Salvage magazine responds to my challenge about Jamie Allison’s ‘Disaster Islamism’ article

Politically dubious” and in “poor taste”?: Salvage magazine responds to my challenge about Jamie Allison’s ‘Disaster Islamism’ article
by Ian Sinclair
7 April 2017

Below is a recent email exchange I had with the editor of Salvage magazine, starting with an email I wrote to them highlighting two factual errors in Jamie Allinson’s ‘Disaster Islamism’ article, and asking for a correction to be posted.

I don’t normally post email correspondence on a public platform. However, as the Editor was emailing in a professional capacity and as I have been accused of being “politically dubious” and acting in “poor taste”, I thought it is important people understand the kind of arguments the Editor of Salvage magazine makes.

5 April 2017 email received from the Editor of Salvage magazine:

“Dear Ian,

You have contested claims that Jamie makes in his piece. Such is the nature of disagreement. We do not accept your assertion that these constitute factual errors. You disagree with Jamie’s analysis of the available data, and you have responded in your own post, as is your right. We have no intention of ‘correcting’ Jamie’s piece, nor of posting a link to your piece.

Moreover, given yesterday’s chemical attack on Syrian civilians, we consider your anxiety about Jamie’s piece to be not merely politically dubious, but in rather poor taste. Please don’t contact us about this matter again.

Best

Rosie Warren
Editor-in-chief
Salvage”

5 April 2017 email I sent to Salvage magazine:

“Dear Salvage

I emailed you on 19 March pointing out a couple of key factual errors in a recent piece you published – see below. Would you be able to reply to my concerns, please?

Many thanks

Ian Sinclair”

19 March 2017 email I sent to Salvage magazine:

“Subject: Correct to Jamie Allinson’s ‘Disaster Islamism’

Dear Salvage

I read Jamie Allinson’s recent piece ‘Disaster Islamism’ and have written a responsehttps://medium.com/@ian_js/getting-us-intervention-in-syria-wrong-a-response-to-jamie-allinsons-disaster-islamism-9ba20a5738fa#.j0ykn2a0b, pointing out at least two factual errors in Allinson’s piece: that the US only armed Syrian rebels with the precondition the arms would only be used against ISIS and also Allinson’s claim “the aim of the [US’s covert operations] was not to increase the supply of weapons”.

Would you consider adding a correction at the bottom of Allison’s piece highlighting these mistakes?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Ian Sinclair”

Don’t mention Western intervention! Yemen, Somalia and the Guardian

Don’t mention Western intervention! Yemen, Somalia and the Guardian
by Ian Sinclair

Morning Star
29 March 2017

Earlier this month Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, warned the world was facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. Speaking to the UN Security Council, O’Brien said more than 20 million people in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria were facing starvation and famine.

Following up on this, on 17 March 2017 the Guardian published a report on Yemen, noting that aid agencies have warned the country is “at the point of no return”. UN figures show 17 million people facing severe food insecurity, the Guardian noted, including nearly seven million people deemed to be in a state of emergency. With the article relegated to page 29 of the newspaper, there was just one oblique mention of the US and UK, which the report explained “have influence over the Saudi-led coalition” currently attacking Yemen and blocking aid entering the country.

Here are the basic facts the Guardian chose not to highlight. Since March 2015 Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of countries in a bombing campaign to overthrow the Houthi government in Yemen (which itself overthrew the previous government). According to the United Nations there have been over 10,000 civilian casualties, with the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes responsible for the majority of casualties. In 2016 the Yemen Data Project – a group of academics, human rights organisers and activists – reported that one third of Saudi-led air raids have hit civilian sites such as school buildings, hospitals, markets and mosques. Martha Mundy, emeritus professor at the London School of Economics, believes “that in some regions, the Saudis are deliberately striking at agricultural infrastructure in order to destroy the civil society.”

The US and UK have been closely collaborating with Saudi Arabia in Yemen. “We’ll support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat… political support, of course, logistical and technical support”, the then UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond announced a month into the bombardment. Speaking to me last year, activist Medea Benjamin, author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection, explained Saudi Arabia is “getting munitions from the West… The US is even refuelling their planes in the air”. President Obama – described as “the reluctant interventionist” by senior Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland – sold $115bn worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia during his eight years in office. This makes the 44th president of the United States “the most enthusiastic arms salesman to Saudi Arabia in American history”, according to Senior Brookings Institution Fellow Bruce Riedel.

Speaking in January 2017, O’Brien was crystal clear about the main cause of the ongoing humanitarian crisis: “The conflict in Yemen is now the primary driver of the largest food security emergency in the world.”

The Guardian has form when it comes to (not) reporting the causes of the deepening humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Surveying the newspaper’s coverage of Yemen between June 2016 and mid-January 2017, Peace News Editor Milan Rai concluded “The critical role of the Saudi blockade in creating these conditions in Yemen has been effectively suppressed by the British media, including Britain’s most liberal mainstream newspaper, the Guardian.” According to Rai there were 70 stories or editorials about Yemen on the Guardian website during this period: “Most of those 70 items (42 stories, 60 per cent of the total) do not mention the humanitarian crisis – or the role of the Saudi blockade – in any way at all.” And though the other 28 articles did refer to the humanitarian crisis “most did so only in a way that effectively suppressed the information”, Rai notes.

Unsurprisingly a recent YouGov/Independent poll found more than half of British people were unaware of the war in Yemen, with just 37 percent of 18-24 year olds aware of the conflict.

Turning to Somalia, on 13 March 2017 the Guardian published a full page article on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in east Africa. “As many as 6.2 million Somalis – more than half the population – need urgent food assistance”, noted the Guardian, including “some districts… under the control of Islamist rebels al-Shahaab, making [aid] access complicated.” There is one mention of the US – “The US government says it has spent more than $110m on humanitarian assistance in Somalia in 2017.”

In reality, the US has been heavily involved in Somali affairs since the 1990s. These interventions, noted BBC journalist Mary Harper in her 2012 book Getting Somalia Wrong?, are viewed by “a growing number of experts” as having “contributed towards [Somalia’s] destruction as a viable nation-state.”

Speaking to Democracy Now! in 2013, journalist Jeremy Scahill explained that in the early years of the ‘war on terror’ the Bush Administration “made a disastrous decision to put [Somali] warlords on the CIA payroll” and “basically had them acting as an assassination squad.” A relative stability was created for a brief period when the Islamic Courts Union took control in 2006 – quickly shattered by the December 2006 US-supported Ethiopian invasion and occupation. The occupation, as occupations often tend to do, energised extremists, with Somali journalist Jamal Osman explaining “al-Shabaab was born when Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006 and some still see the group as a resistance movement.”

Since then the US has been trying to destroy the group its actions helped create. In 2012 the Los Angeles Times reported “The US has been quietly equipping and training thousands of African soldiers to wage a widening proxy war against the Shabaab”.

“Officially, the troops are under the auspices of the African Union”, the report explained. “But in truth, according to interviews by US and African officials and senior military officers and budget documents, the 15,000-strong force pulled from five African countries is largely a creation of the State Department and Pentagon”. The US government “is trying to achieve US military goals with minimal risk of American deaths and scant public debate”, the Los Angeles Times noted. Since then the US has intensified its clandestine war in Somalia “using Special Operations troops, airstrikes, private contractors and African allies in an escalating campaign against Islamist militants”, according to the New York Times last year.

Like Yemen, the US military involvement in Somalia has negatively affected the country’s ability to deal with humanitarian crises. For example, though the Financial Times explains the looming famine in Somalia is primarily the result of regional drought, it goes on to note “The lack of effective government and an insurgency by al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda linked jihadi group, have not helped.”

This quick survey of the Guardian’s recent coverage of Yemen and Somalia puts the lie to Guardian regular Polly Toynbee’s claim the newspaper is “always free to hold power to account: to take on politicians, global corporations, the secret security state or great vested interests.” The Guardian may well be free to hold power to account but it’s currently missing some huge open goals when it comes to Western foreign policy.

To be clear, I’m not saying the Guardian never mentions Western interference in Yemen and Somalia or links this to the growing humanitarian crises – I’m arguing the newspaper’s coverage does not match the importance of the issue. As Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky argue in their 1988 book Manufacturing Consent “That the media provide some information about an issue… proves absolutely nothing about the adequacy or accuracy of media coverage… More important is the way they present a particular fact – its placement, tone, and frequency of repetition – and the framework of analysis in which it is placed.”

Indeed, by downplaying of US intervention in Yemen and Somalia the Guardian have helped to keep the large swatches of the general public ignorant of Western foreign policy (see the YouGov/Independent poll) – a state of affairs that suits the US government’s interests, as the Los Angeles Times report above makes clear.