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Prior to this, Fair served as a senior political scientist with the RAND Corporation, a political officer with the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and as a senior research associate with the United States Institute of Peace. She specializes in political and military affairs in South Asia.
Fair has published several articles defending the use of drone strikes in Pakistan and has been critical of analyses by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other humanitarian organizations.
Fair’s work and viewpoints have been the subject of prominent criticism.Her pro-drone stance has been denounced and called “surprisingly weak” by Brookings Institution senior fellow Shadi Hamid.JournalistGlenn Greenwalddismissed Fair’s arguments as “rank propaganda”, arguing there is “mountains of evidence” showing drones are counterproductive, pointing to mass civilian casualties and independent studies. In 2010, Fair denied the notion that drones caused any civilian deaths, alleging Pakistani media reports were responsible for creating this perception.Jeremy Scahillwrote that Fair’s statement was “simply false” and contradicted byNew America‘s detailed study on drone casualties.Fair later said that casualties are caused by the UAVs, but maintains they are the most effective tool for fighting terrorism.
Writing for The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorfchallenged Fair’s co-authored narrative that the U.S. could legitimize support in Pakistan for its drone program using ‘education’ and ‘public diplomacy’; he called it an “example of interventionist hubris and naivete” built upon a flawed interpretation of public opinion data.An article in the Middle East Research and Information Project called the work “some of the most propagandistic writing in support of PresidentBarack Obama’s targeted kill lists to date.”It censured the view that Pakistanis needed to be informed by the U.S. what is “good for them” as fraught with imperialist condescension; or the assumption that the Urdu press was less informed than the English press – because the latter was sometimes less critical of the U.S.
Fair’s journalistic sources have been questioned for their credibilityand she has been accused of having aconflict of interestdue to her past work with U.S. government think tanks, as well the CIA. In 2011 and 2012, she received funding from the U.S. embassy in Islamabad to conduct a survey on public opinion concerning militancy. However, Fair states most of the grants went to a survey firm and that it had no influence on her research. Pakistani media analysts have dismissed Fair’s views as hawkish rhetoric, riddled with factual inaccuracies, lack of objectivity, and being selectively biased. She has also been rebuked for comments on social media perceived as provocative, such as suggesting burning down Pakistan’s embassy in Afghanistan or asking India to “squash Pakistan militarily, diplomatically, politically and economically.” She has been accused of double standards, partisanship towards India, and has been criticized for her contacts with dissident leaders from Balochistan, a link which they claim “raises serious questions if her interest in Pakistan is merely academic.“
Fair has been accused of harassment of former colleague Asra Nomani, after Nomani wrote a column inThe Washington Postexplaining why she voted forDonald Trump in the 2016 United States Presidential Election. The harassment came in the form of Tweets taking aim at Nomani with a series of emotionally charged profanity and insults that lasted 31 consecutive days.
The U.S. drone program creates more militants than it kills, according to the head of intelligence for the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the U.S. military unit that oversees that very program.
“When you drop a bomb from a drone… you are going to cause more damage than you are going to cause good,” remarked Michael T. Flynn. The retired Army lieutenant general, who also served as the U.S. Central Command’s director of intelligence, says that “the more bombs we drop, that just… fuels the conflict.”
Not everyone accepts the assessment of the former JSOC intelligence chief, however. Still today, defenders of the U.S. drone program insist it does more good than harm. One scholar, Georgetown University professor Christine Fair, is particularly strident in her support.
In a debate on the Al Jazeera program UpFront in October, Fair butted heads with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, a prominent critic of the U.S. drone program. Fair, notorious for her heated rhetoric, accused Greenwald of being a “liar” and insulted Al Jazeera several times, claiming the network does not appreciate “nuance” in the way she does. Greenwald, in turn, criticized Fair for hardly letting him get a word in; whenever he got a rare chance to speak, she would constantly interrupt him, leading host Mehdi Hasan to ask her to stop.
The lack of etiquette aside, Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Shadi Hamid remarked that Fair’s arguments in the debate were “surprisingly weak.”
After the debate, Fair took to Twitter to mud-sling. She expressed pride at not letting Greenwald speak, boasting she “shut that lying clown down.” “I AM a Rambo b**ch,” she proclaimed.
Fair alsocalledGreenwald a “pathological liar, a narcissist, [and] a fool.” She said she would like to put Greenwald and award-winning British journalist Mehdi Hasan in a Pakistani Taliban stronghold, presumably to be tortured, “then ask ’em about drones.”
Elsewhere on social media, Fair has made similarly provocative comments.In a Facebook post, Fair called Pakistan “an enemy” and said “We invaded the wrong dog-damned country,” implying the U.S. should have invaded Pakistan, not Afghanistan.
In another Facebook post, Fair insisted that “India needs to woman up and SQUASH Pakistan militarily, diplomatically, politically and economically.” Both India and Pakistan are nuclear states.
Fair proudly identifies as a staunch liberal and advocates for a belligerent foreign policy. She rails against neo-conservatives but chastises the Left for criticizing U.S. militarism. In 2012, she told a journalist on Twitter “Dude! I am still very much pro drones. Sorry. They are the least worst option. My bed of coals is set to 11.”
Despite the sporadic jejune Twitter tirade, Fair has established herself as one of the drone program’s most vociferous proponents. Fair is a specialist in South Asian politics, culture, and languages, with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. She has published extensively, in a wide variety of both scholarly and journalistic publications. If you see an article in a large publication defending the U.S. drone program in Pakistan, there is a good chance she wrote or co-authored it.
After her debate with Greenwald, Fair wrote an article for the Brookings Institution’s Lawfare blog. While making jabs at Greenwald, Hasan, and Al Jazeera; characterizing her participation in the debate as an “ignominious distinction”; and implying that The Intercept, the publication co-founded by Greenwald with other award-winning journalists, is a criminal venture, not a whistleblowing news outlet, Fair forcefully defended the drone program.
Secret government documents leaked to The Intercept by a whistleblower show that 90 percent of people killed in U.S. drone strikes in a five-month period in provinces on Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan were not the intended targets. Fair accused The Intercept of “abusing” and selectively interpreting the government’s data. In a followup piece in the Huffington Post, she maintained that the findings of the Drone Papers do not apply to the drone program in Pakistan.
Greenwald pointed out that there are “mountains of evidence” showing that the U.S. drone program is killing large numbers of civilians, not just in Pakistan, but also in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and more. In these articles and the Al Jazeera debate, Fair took issue with the many studies cited by Greenwald, arguing they are flawed.
“Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians from U.S. Drone Practices in Pakistan,” an intensive 2012 study conducted over nine months by the law schools at New York University (NYU) and Stanford University, found that the U.S. drone program had killed hundreds of civilians in Pakistan, and “cause[d] considerable and under-accounted-for harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury.”
The NYU/Stanford report was based on two investigations in Pakistan; hundreds of interviews with victims, witnesses, and experts; and a review of thousands of pages of government and media documents. It concluded that the U.S. drone program had “terrorize[d] men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities.” The study indicated that drones have even returned to target rescuers after drone attacks, making “both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims.”
Fair accused the NYU/Stanford study of being “advocacy work,” arguing its findings were influenced by the human rights organizations Reprieve and the Foundation for Fundamental Rights. Reprieve has itself investigated the casualties of the drone program. It found that, in attempts to kill just 41 militants, the U.S. military killed 1,147 people in Pakistan and Yemen, as of November 2014.
According to Fair, Reprieve’s research is biased advocacy work, not scholarly research. She also accused the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), whose research the NYU/Stanford study cited, of being an advocacy organization.
For years, TBIJ has meticulously documented the casualties of drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan. It estimates between 423 and 965 Pakistani civilians have been killed by the U.S. drone program. TBIJ has also documented how U.S. drones have targeted rescuers, and even attacked funerals of people killed in drone strikes.
I reached out to the Bureau and, although it did not want to comment on the affair, it maintained it is a journalism organization, not an advocacy group. TBIJ pointed out it has done work not just on drones, but also on political corruption in Europe, British political party funding, deaths in police custody in the U.K., and more.
Numerous other studies have found the U.S. drone program in Pakistan to be wildly unpopular and counterproductive. A 2012 poll conducted by leading polling agency Pew found that just 17 percent of Pakistanis supported the U.S. drone program. In an article in The Atlantic, Fair and colleagues argued this Pew report was flawed. The day after the piece was published, The Atlantic’s own Conor Friedersdorf called Fair out on her sloppy methodology, accusing her of making “strained interpretations of public opinion data.” “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a better example of interventionist hubris and naivete,” Friedersdorf observed.
In the time since Fair criticized Pew’s original survey, the polling agency has done more. A 2014 Pew poll found that 66 percent of Pakistanis opposed the U.S. drone program. And another 2014 Pew study found that 67 percent of Pakistanis agreed that U.S. drone strikes “kill too many innocent people.” Only 21% of participants said drone strikes “are necessary to defend.”
In 2010, Fair boldly claimed that U.S. “drones are not killing innocent civilians,” wholly writing off all reports of civilian casualties. Fair rejected the research done by David Kilcullen, a former counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, and Andrew Exum, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, that said otherwise.
At the time Fair insisted that civilians had not been killed, an investigation conducted by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of the New America Foundation had found that the total of civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes from 2006 to mid-2010 was “in the range of 250 to 320, or between 31 and 33 percent.”
Since then, Fair has conceded that civilians have been killed in the U.S. drone program, but she avers that their deaths are, although unfortunate, justified in the fight against extremism in Pakistan. She rebukes any study that suggests the drone program in Pakistan makes things worse or even is unpopular.
In its research, Amnesty International came to the conclusions most scholars and journalists have. Amnesty’s Pakistan researcher Mustafa Qadri explained in 2012 that, because of the drone program, “when we researched these cases, we found people were fearful of the U.S. the way they’re fearful of the Taliban.” Qadri continued, noting Pakistanis “have told us they’re taking sleeping tablets at night. They don’t know when they’re going to be targeted if they’ll be targeted, why they’ll be targeted. That really is a shocking situation.”
Fair herself admitted in her article in Lawfare that, in general, the scholarship around the U.S. drone program in Pakistan “produces mixed results, with some work showing the efficacy of leadership decapitation while other studies find that it is sometimes effective or even counterproductive.”
The U.N., Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have even said the Obama administration may be guilty of war crimes for its drone program. Renowned public intellectual Noam Chomsky, similarly, has characterized the U.S. government’s extrajudicial assassination of militants via drone as a massive and illegal campaign of global terrorism.
Fair’s response to most critics is to accuse them of either not being specialists (e.g., Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Prize-winning Pakistani teenager who has strongly criticized the U.S. drone program and warned President Obama it was fueling terrorism) or to claim they lack adequate data to justify their point.
After hearing Fair’s rejection of the preponderance of studies on the U.S. drone program in Pakistan, Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program at New York University School of Law, asked how Fair can “claim to be the only person who knows what Pakistanis think of drones.”
Fair says few researchers have been to Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in northwestern Pakistan, where most U.S. drone strikes take place. She argues, therefore, that they cannot know what Pakistanis there think.
I reached out to sociologist Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, who is from Pakistan’s northwestern frontier region, near FATA, and has been researching the drone war for the past decade. Ahmad teaches at the University of Stirling and has written for years about the U.S. drone program. He is also the author ofThe Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War.
“Fair claimed that opposition to drones was a luxury indulged in by elites living in Lahore or Islamabad. In FATA, she said, drones were popular. As a matter of fact, it’s only among the elites of Islamabad and Lahore that one usually finds Pakistan’s few drone defenders,” Ahmad said. “In FATA, outside a small Shia enclave, there is little support for drones.”
“This is hardly a revelation, and it is backed up by numerous opinion polls,” Ahmad added. Fair, however, argues that these opinion polls are flawed.
In her various media appearances and articles, Fair constantly points to a single investigation conducted by an Associated Press reporter by the name of Sebastian Abbot. The AP investigation was based on interviews with approximately 80 villagers at the sites of the 10 deadliest drone strikes in North Waziristan from 2011-2012.
Critics of this study point out that the sample sizes of both the strikes and the villagers are rather small. It uses a smaller sample size than that of the NYU/Stanford study, which Fair rejects. Moreover, from 2004 to February 2012, when the results of the AP investigation were released, the U.S. carried out at least 280 attacks in Pakistan’s tribal region.
Ahmad called the AP report “dubious.” It “refers to itself as a ‘study’ when all the reporter did — even according to Fair — is to dispatch a stringer into FATA to interview people,” Ahmad said. “So we have this big chain of credibility to accept before we can credit that report. First, that the reporter has no agendas — unlike the researchers she keeps accusing of — and then that the stringer has no agenda.”
“She assumes that anyone who confirms the official narrative has unimpeachable motives, but those who raise doubts, have axes to grind,” Ahmad argued.
Recalling the people he has interviewed in Pakistan, Ahmad explained that, beyond “the much-reported civilian deaths, the drones also take a heavy psychological toll. They disrupt normal life and, given their penchant for mistakes, hang over every head like a lethal sword of Damocles.”
“It would only take someone insane to suggest that people living under this terror welcome drones — and, as it happens, Fair’s source for her fatuous claims is a zany fabulist,” Ahmad remarked. “For years Fair based her claims about the drones popularity on a mythical survey carried out by Farhat Taj, a graduate student residing in Norway, for something called ‘Aryana Institute.’”
Ahmad accused Taj of making up the fact that there is support for U.S. drone strikes in FATA. He also pointed out that her “institute was a letterhead organization which only maintained a web presence for a year before vanishing. It seemed to have existed only for the purpose of this report (which was duly picked up by international media). Its claims were refuted within months by a poll conducted by the New America Foundation and Terror Free Tomorrow,” Ahmad explained.
Leading publications including Reuters and The New York Times quoted Taj and the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy (AIRRA) in defense of the U.S. drone program in 2009 and 2010. The Times’ link to the alleged organization’s website AIRRA.org, however, is now and has long been dead. Internet web archive the WayBack Machine shows that the website was up in 2009, but, by 2011, it had been taken down.
At the time of the controversy, Ahmad wrote in Al Jazeera about “The magical realism of body counts.” He pointed out that, despite the insistence of Fair to the contrary, it was, in fact, AIRRA’s conclusions that “can fairly be described as deeply unreliable and dubious.” Ahmad also noted that AIRRA’s findings were later even debunked by another pro-drone organization.
“Few wondered why the survey’s claims were so at odds with known public opinion in the wider region where, according to a Gallup/Al Jazeera poll conducted around the same period, only nine per cent of people showed support for the drone attacks,” Ahmad wrote at the time. “Those who did wonder, such as the journalists I spoke to in Peshawar, were universally dismissive. But the Institute had served its purpose and, typical of many NGOs, it vanished after a year.”
Despite this, Fair has quoted and continues to quote Farhat Taj in numerous articles and books. Fair draws on Tajin her 2014 book Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War. Taj is also cited in Pakistan’s Enduring Challenges, a 2015 volume edited by Fair. She again cites Taj in her 2014 Political Science Quarterly article “Pakistani Opposition to American Drone Strikes.”
Squaring the circle, Farhat Taj also quoted Fair in her own book, Taliban, and Anti-Taliban.
After the Al Jazeera debate, Fair continuously shared op-eds that were written by Farhat Taj in 2009 and 2010. Fair used the six-year-old articles expressing the opinion of just one Pakistani from FATA to imply that it is representative of the opinions of Pakistanis living in the overall region.
“With the ‘survey’ rug pulled from under her feet, Fair has moved to anecdote,” Ahmad explained. “She now claims the popularity of drones is proven by the fact that FATA denizens call them ‘ababeel,’ in reference to a Quranic story about a flight of birds that destroyed the invading armies of Abraha, the King of Abyssinia, by dropping stones on them.” Fair mentioned this alleged story in her Al Jazeera interview.
The problem with this anecdote, Ahmad contended, is that there is no documentation of it. “This story also took root only in Farhat Taj’s imagination,” he said.
Critics have pointed that, aside from Fair’s outright rejection of an enormous body of research and double standards vis-à-vis the studies that have results that she likes, Fair also has a history of working with the U.S. government in a way some researchers would consider problematic.
Fair worked for almost 10 years for the RAND Corporation, a U.S.-based global think tank that scholar Chalmers Johnson has described as“a key institutional building block of the Cold War American empire” and “the premier think tank for the U.S.’s role as hegemon of the Western world.” Fair also served for three years at the U.S. government’s Institute of Peace and for several months at the U.N. Assistance Mission to Afghanistan. Since 2009, Fair has taught in Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program.
In the fall of 2011, Fair received a $330,000 grant from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad Office of Public Affairs. A year later, she received another approximately $330,000 grant from the same agency, to do a “survey of Pakistanis to understand the connection between media consumption and views towards Islamist militancy in Pakistan.”
A professor who specializes in Pakistan but who asked to remain off the record expressed surprise in a message to me that these grants were so large, explaining that researchers rarely ever get so much money.
I reached out to Christine Fair, to get her side of the story. We spoke for almost 40 minutes on the phone. Fair strongly denied that U.S. government funding has ever influenced her research, and said that the majority of the grant money went to pay a Pakistani survey firm.
The results of the survey funded by the U.S. Embassy were published in an article titled “Pakistani Political Communication and Public Opinion on U.S. Drone Attacks,” co-written by Fair and two other scholars, in the September 2015 issue of the Journal of Strategic Studies. In the piece, the authors note that “Conventional wisdom holds that Pakistanis are overwhelmingly opposed to American drone strikes in their country’s tribal areas and that this opposition is driven by mass media coverage of the loss of life and property the strikes purportedly cause.” The authors reject this “conventional wisdom” and instead “contend that awareness of drone strikes will be limited because Pakistan is a poor country with low educational attainment, high rates of illiteracy and persistent infrastructure problems that limit access to mass media.”
Despite the pro-drone conclusion of the study, Fair insisted the funding from the U.S. government did not influence it. She noted that the research was further complicated because the State Department officially “can’t acknowledge” the drone program.
I heard from a source who asked to remain anonymous that Fair has done work with the CIA. Fair told me that she did some contractual work with the CIA while she was an employee at the RAND Corporation. She said she worked on two projects with the CIA, although the findings of only one were published, and it did not involve drones. “I’m afraid I can’t say more than that,” she added.
While working at the RAND Corporation, Fair said that most of her work involved Air Force and Office of the Secretary of Defense policy, but not drones.
Fair affirmed that she has nothing to hide and denied any conflicts of interest. “I’m an open book, as my C.V. indicates,” she said. And, in her research, Fair argued she often comes to “conclusions that are very different from the USG line.”
I asked Greenwald what he thought about Fair’s work with the U.S. government. “I think that what destroys her credibility are her arguments and her claims, not her funding sources,” he said. “But it is incredibly ironic that the person who runs around impugning everyone else’s ‘objectivity’ and credibility has her own research funded by the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, something she invariably forgets to mention when she’s maligning everyone else as biased.”
Fair insists that her work with the U.S. government, which she says has granted her some privileges and access to resources that other researchers do not have to their avail, has not influenced her research. She is certainly not a dogmatist, and has publicly criticized some elements of U.S. policy in Pakistan.
Yet Fair continues to steadfastly assert that the drone program in Pakistan is fundamentally different from the drone program in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. And, in order to do so, she has continuously ignored an enormous body of evidence.
Writing in the Middle East Research and Information Project, scholar Sarah Waheed characterized Fair’s work as “some of the most propagandistic writing in support of President Barack Obama’s targeted kill lists to date.”
“What Fair et al. are proposing is to educate Pakistanis about what the U.S. thinks is good for them. For these political scientists, the right kind of Pakistani possesses the right kind of knowledge: Drone strikes are for his or her own good,” Waheed wrote. “It is with U.S. intervention, through drones and propaganda, that Pakistanis can be saved from their backwardness, their tribalism, their Islamism, their nationalism — in short, themselves.”
“If there is any doubt about the morality of drone strikes,”Waheed proposes imagining “a reverse scenario: If Pakistan’s intelligence agencies were launching drone strikes into the rural Midwest with the purpose of targeting extremist militias — and in the process were killing American children with impunity — it is doubtful that most Americans would stand for it.”
Reacting to her work on drones, Ahmad ultimately summarized Fair as a “provocateur.” “It is in the unfortunate nature of our media that a person who can shout the loudest and make the most outrageous claims is seen as necessary for drawing audiences to an otherwise somnolent forum,” he said.
That Christine Fair has “become a go-to person for commentary on a subject as consequential as this,” Ahmad added, “might explain why the policy around drones is so warped.”
BY MATT STOLLER
A few days ago, I participated in a debate with the legendary antiwar dissident Daniel Ellsberg on Huffington Post live on the merits of the Obama administration, and what progressives should do on Election Day. Ellsberg had written a blog post arguing that, though Obama deserves tremendous criticism, voters in swing states ought to vote for him, lest they operate as dupes for a far more malevolent Republican Party. This attitude is relatively pervasive among Democrats, and it deserves a genuine response. As the election is fast approaching, this piece is an attempt at laying out the progressive case for why one should not vote for Barack Obama for reelection, even if you are in a swing state.
There are many good arguments against Obama, even if the Republicans cannot seem to muster any. The civil liberties/antiwar case was made eloquently a few weeks ago by libertarian Conor Friedersdorf, who wrote a well-cited blog post on why he could not, in good conscience, vote for Obama. While his arguments have tremendous merit, there is an equally powerful case against Obama on the grounds of economic and social equity. That case needs to be made. For those who don’t know me, here is a brief, relevant background: I have a long history in Democratic and liberal politics. I have worked for several Democratic candidates and affiliated groups, I have personally raised millions of dollars for Democrats online, I was an early advisor to Actblue (which has processed over $300 million to Democratic candidates). I have worked in Congress (mostly on the Dodd-Frank financial reform package), and I was a producer at MSNBC. Furthermore, I aggressively opposed Nader-style challenges until 2008.
So why oppose Obama? Simply, it is the shape of the society Obama is crafting that I oppose, and I intend to hold him responsible, such as I can, for his actions in creating it. Many Democrats are disappointed in Obama. Some feel he’s a good president with a bad Congress. Some feel he’s a good man, trying to do the right thing, but not bold enough. Others think it’s just the system, that anyone would do what he did. I will get to each of these sentiments, and pragmatic questions around the election, but I think it’s important to be grounded in policy outcomes. Not, what did Obama try to do, in his heart of hearts? But what kind of America has he actually delivered? And the chart below answers the question. This chart reflects the progressive case against Obama.
The above is a chart of corporate profits against the main store of savings for most Americans who have savings — home equity. Notice that after the crisis, after the Obama inflection point, corporate profits recovered dramatically and surpassed previous highs, whereas home equity levels have remained static. That $5-7 trillion of lost savings did not come back, whereas financial assets and corporate profits did. Also notice that this is unprecedented in postwar history. Home equity levels and corporate profits have simply never diverged in this way; what was good for GM had always, until recently, been good, if not for America, for the balance sheet of homeowners. Obama’s policies severed this link, completely.
This split represents more than money. It represents a new kind of politics, one where Obama, and yes, he did this, officially enshrined rights for the elite in our constitutional order and removed rights from everyone else (see “The Housing Crash and the End of American Citizenship” in the Fordham Urban Law Journal for a more complete discussion of the problem). The bailouts and the associated Federal Reserve actions were not primarily shifts of funds to bankers; they were a guarantee that property rights for a certain class of creditors were immune from challenge or market forces. The foreclosure crisis, with its rampant criminality, predatory lending, and document forgeries, represents the flip side. Property rights for debtors simply increasingly exist solely at the pleasure of the powerful. The lack of prosecution of Wall Street executives, the ability of banks to borrow at 0 percent from the Federal Reserve while most of us face credit card rates of 15-30 percent, and the bailouts are all part of the re-creation of the American system of law around Obama’s oligarchy.
The policy continuity with Bush is a stark contrast to what Obama offered as a candidate. Look at the broken promises from the 2008 Democratic platform: a higher minimum wage, a ban on the replacement of striking workers, seven days of paid sick leave, a more diverse media ownership structure, renegotiation of NAFTA, letting bankruptcy judges write down mortgage debt, a ban on illegal wiretaps, an end to national security letters, stopping the war on whistle-blowers, passing the Employee Free Choice Act, restoring habeas corpus, and labor protections in the FAA bill. Each of these pledges would have tilted bargaining leverage to debtors, to labor, or to political dissidents. So Obama promised them to distinguish himself from Bush, and then went back on his word because these promises didn’t fit with the larger policy arc of shifting American society toward his vision. For sure, Obama believes he is doing the right thing, that his policies are what’s best for society. He is a conservative technocrat, running a policy architecture to ensure that conservative technocrats like him run the complex machinery of the state and reap private rewards from doing so. Radical political and economic inequality is the result. None of these policy shifts, with the exception of TARP, is that important in and of themselves, but together they add up to declining living standards.
While life has never been fair, the chart above shows that, since World War II, this level of official legal, political and economic inequity for the broad mass of the public is new (though obviously for subgroups, like African-Americans, it was not new). It is as if America’s traditional racial segregationist tendencies have been reorganized, and the tools and tactics of that system have been repurposed for a multicultural elite colonizing a multicultural population. The data bears this out: Under Bush, economic inequality was bad, as 65 cents of every dollar of income growth went to the top 1 percent. Under Obama, however, that number is 93 cents out of every dollar. That’s right, under Barack Obama there is more economic inequality than under George W. Bush. And if you look at the chart above, most of this shift happened in 2009-2010, when Democrats controlled Congress. This was not, in other words, the doing of the mean Republican Congress. And it’s not strictly a result of the financial crisis; after all, corporate profits did crash, like housing values did, but they also recovered, while housing values have not.
This is the shape of the system Obama has designed. It is intentional, it is the modern American order, and it has a certain equilibrium, the kind we identify in Middle Eastern resource extraction based economies. We are even seeing, as I showed in an earlier post, a transition of the American economic order toward a petro-state. By some accounts, America will be the largest producer of hydrocarbons in the world, bigger than Saudi Arabia. This is just not an America that any of us should want to live in. It is a country whose economic basis is oligarchy, whose political system is authoritarianism, and whose political culture is murderous toward the rest of the world and suicidal in our aggressive lack of attention to climate change.
Many will claim that Obama was stymied by a Republican Congress. But the primary policy framework Obama put in place – the bailouts, took place during the transition and the immediate months after the election, when Obama had enormous leverage over the Bush administration and then a dominant Democratic Party in Congress. In fact, during the transition itself, Bush’s Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson offered a deal to Barney Frank, to force banks to write down mortgages and stem foreclosures if Barney would speed up the release of TARP money. Paulson demanded, as a condition of the deal, that Obama sign off on it. Barney said fine, but to his surprise, the incoming president vetoed the deal. Yup, you heard that right — the Bush administration was willing to write down mortgages in response to Democratic pressure, but it was Obama who said no, we want a foreclosure crisis. And with Neil Barofsky’s book ”Bailout,” we see why. Tim Geithner said, in private meetings, that the foreclosure mitigation programs were not meant to mitigate foreclosures, but to spread out pain for the banks, the famous “foam the runway” comment. This central lie is key to the entire Obama economic strategy. It is not that Obama was stymied by Congress, or was up against a system, or faced a massive crisis, which led to the shape of the economy we see today. Rather, Obama had a handshake deal to help the middle class offered to him by Paulson, and Obama said no. He was not constrained by anything but his own policy instincts. And the reflation of corporate profits and financial assets and death of the middle class were the predictable results.
The rest of Obama’s policy framework looks very different when you wake up from the dream state pushed by cable news. Obama’s history of personal use of illegal narcotics, combined with his escalation of the war on medical marijuana (despite declining support for the drug war in the Democratic caucus), shows both a personal hypocrisy and destructive cynicism that we should decry in anyone, let alone an important policymaker who helps keep a half a million people in jail for participating in a legitimate economy outlawed by the drug warrior industry. But it makes sense once you realize that his policy architecture coheres with a Romney-like philosophy that there is one set of rules for the little people, and another for the important people. It’s why the administration quietly pushed Chinese investment in American infrastructure, seeks to privatize public education, removed labor protections from the FAA authorization bill, and inserted a provision into the stimulus bill ensuring AIG bonuses would be paid, and then lied about it to avoid blame. Wall Street speculator who rigged markets are simply smart and savvy businessmen, as Obama called Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon, whereas the millions who fell prey to their predatory lending schemes are irresponsible borrowers. And it’s why Obama is explicitly targeting entitlements, insurance programs for which Americans paid. Obama wants to preserve these programs for the “most vulnerable,” but that’s still a taking. Did not every American pay into Social Security and Medicare? They did, but as with the foreclosure crisis, property rights (which are essential legal rights) of the rest of us are irrelevant. While Romney is explicit about 47 percent of the country being worthless, Obama just acts as if they are charity cases. In neither case does either candidate treat the mass of the public as fellow citizens.
Now, it would not be fair to address this matter purely on economic grounds, and ignore women’s rights. In that debate with Ellsberg, advocate Emily Hauser insistently made the case that choice will be safe under Obama, and ended under Romney, that this is the only issue that matters to women, and that anyone who doesn’t agree is, as she put it, delusional. Falguni Sheth argued that this is a typical perspective from a privileged white woman, who ignores much of the impact that Barack Obama’s policies have on women, and specifically women of color. And even on the issue of choice, you could make a good case, as she does, that there’s less of a difference between Obama and Romney than meets the eye.
Sheth’s piece is persuasive. Barack Obama is the president who hired as his lead economic advisor Larry Summers, a man famous for arguing that women are genetically predisposed to being bad at math. Unsurprisingly, Anita Dunn, a White House adviser, later called the Obama White House a “hostile work environment” for women, in large part because of the boys club of Rahm Emanuel and Larry Summers. Obama is the president who insisted that women under 17 shouldn’t have access to Plan B birth control, overruling scientists at the FDA, because of his position ”as a father of two daughters.” Girls, he said, shouldn’t be able to buy these drugs next to “bubble gum and batteries.” Aside from the obvious sexism, he left out the possibility that young women who need Plan B had been raped by their fathers, which anyone who works in the field knows happens all too often. In his healthcare bill, Obama made sure that government funds, including tax credits and Medicaid that are the key to expanding healthcare access to the poor, will be subject to the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits their use for abortion. It’s not clear what will happen with healthcare exchanges, or how much coverage there will be for abortion services in the future.
As Sheth also notes, there is a lot more to women’s rights than abortion. Predatory lending and foreclosures disproportionately impact women. The drug war impacts women. Under Obama, 1.6 million more women are now in poverty. 1.2 million migrants have been deported by the Department of Homeland Security. The teacher layoffs from Obama’s stimulus being inadequate to the task disproportionately hit women’s economic opportunity. Oligarchies in general are just not good for women.
In terms of the Supreme Court itself, Obama’s track record is not actually that good. As a senator, Obama publicly chided liberals for demanding that Sen. Patrick Leahy block Sam Alito from the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Obama-appointed Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor has in her career already ruled to limit access to abortion, and Elena Kagan’s stance is not yet clear. Arguing that Romney justices would overturn Roe v. Wade is a concession that Senate Democrats, as they did with Alito and Roberts, would allow an anti-choice justice through the Senate. More likely is that Romney, like Obama, simply does not care about abortion, but does care about the court’s business case rulings (the U.S. Chamber went undefeated last year). Romney has already said he won’t change abortion laws, and that all women should have access to contraception. He may be lying, but more likely is that he does not care and is being subjected to political pressure. But so is Obama, who is openly embracing abortion rights and contraception now that it is a political asset. In other words, what is moving women’s rights is not Obama or Romney, but the fact that a fierce political race has shown that women’s rights are popular. The lesson is not to support Obama, who will shelve women’s rights for another three years, but to continue making a strong case for women’s rights.
The Case for Voting Third Party
So, what is to be done? We have an election, and you probably have a vote. What should you do with it? I think it’s worth voting for a third party candidate, and I’ll explain why below. But first, let’s be honest about what voting for Obama means. This requires diving into something I actually detest, which is electoral analysis and the notion of what would a pragmatist do. I tend to find the slur that one need be pragmatic and not a purist condescending and dishonest; no one ever takes an action without a reason to do so. Life is compromise. Every person gets this from the first time he or she, as a kid, asks his or her dad for something his or her mom won’t give him. If you are taking action in politics, you have to assume that you are doing it because you want some sort of consequence from it. But even within the desiccated and corroded notion of what passes for democracy in 2012, the claims of the partisans to pragmatism are foolish. There are only five or six states that matter in this election; in the other 44 or 45, your vote on the presidential level doesn’t matter. It is as decorative as a vote for an “American Idol contestant.” So, unless you are in one of the few swing states that matters, a vote for Obama is simply an unabashed endorsement of his policies. But if you are in a swing state, then the question is, what should you do?
Now, and this is subtle, I don’t think the case against voting for Obama is airtight. If you are willing to argue that Obama, though he has imposed an authoritarian architecture on the American system, is still a better choice than Romney, fine. I can respect honest disagreement. Here’s why I disagree with that analysis. If the White House were a video game where the player was all that mattered, voting for Obama would probably be the most reasonable thing to do. Romney is more likely to attack Iran, which would be just horrific (though Obama might do so as well, we don’t really know). But video game policymaking is not how politics actually works — the people themselves, what they believe and what they don’t, can constrain political leaders. And under Obama, because there is now no one making the anti-torture argument, Americans have become more tolerant of torture, drones, war and authoritarianism in general. The case against Obama is that the people themselves will be better citizens under a Romney administration, distrusting him and placing constraints on his behavior the way they won’t on Obama. As a candidate, Obama promised a whole slew of civil liberties protections, lying the whole time. Obama has successfully organized the left part of the Democratic Party into a force that had rhetorically opposed war and civil liberties violations, but now cheerleads a weakened America too frightened to put Osama bin Laden on trial. We must fight this thuggish political culture Bush popularized, and Obama solidified in place.
But can a third-party candidate win? No. So what is the point of voting at all, or voting for a third-party candidate? My answer is that this election is, first and foremost, practice for crisis moments. Elections are just one small part of how social justice change can happen. The best moment for change is actually a crisis, where there is actually policy leverage. We should look at 9/11, Katrina and the financial crisis as the flip side of FDR’s 100 days or the days immediately after LBJ took office. We already know that a crisis brings great pressure to conform to what the political establishment wants. So does this election. We all know that elites in a crisis will tell you to hand them enormous amounts of power, lest the world blow up. This is essentially the argument from the political establishment in 2012. Saying no to evil in 2012 will help us understand who is willing to say no to evil when it really matters. And when you have power during a crisis, there’s no end to the amount of good you can do.
How do we drive large-scale change during moments of crisis? How do we use this election to do so? Well, voting third party or even just honestly portraying Obama’s policy architecture is a good way to identify to ourselves and each other who actually has the integrity to not cave to bullying. Then the task starting after the election is to build this network of organized people with intellectual and political integrity into a group who understands how to move the levers of power across industry, government, media and politics. We need to put ourselves into the position to be able to run the government.
After all, if a political revolution came tomorrow, could those who believe in social justice and climate change actually govern? Do we have the people to do it? Do we have the ideas, the legislative proposals, the understanding of how to reorganize our society into a sustainable and socially just one? I suspect, no. When the next crisis comes, and it will come, space will again open up for real policy change. The most important thing we can use this election for is to prepare for that moment. That means finding ways of seeing who is on our side and building a group with the will to power and the expertise to make the right demands. We need to generate the inner confidence to blow up the political consensus, against the railings of the men in suits. If there had been an actual full-scale financial meltdown in 2008 without a bailout, while it would have been bad, it probably would have given us a fighting chance of warding off planetary catastrophe and reorganizing our politics. Instead the oligarchs took control, because we weren’t willing to face them down when we needed to show courage. So now we have the worst of all worlds, an inevitably worse crisis and an even more authoritarian structure of governance.
At some point soon, we will face yet another moment where the elites say, “Do what we want or there will be a meltdown.” Do we have enough people on our side willing to collectively say “do what we want or there will be a global meldown”? This election is a good mechanism to train people in the willingness to say that and mean it. That is, the reason to advocate for a third-party candidate is to build the civic muscles willing to say no to the establishment in a crisis moment we all know is coming. Right now, the liberal establishment is teaching its people that letting malevolent political elites do what they want is not only the right path, it is the only path. Anything other than that is dubbed an affront to common decency. Just telling the truth is considered beyond rude.
We need to build a different model of politics, one in which people who want a different society are willing to actually bargain and back up their threats, rather than just aesthetically argue for shifts around the margin. The good news is that the changes we need to make are entirely doable. It will cost about $100 trillion over 20 years to move our world to an entirely sustainable energy system, and the net worth of the global top 1 percent is $103 trillion. We can do this. And the moments to let us make the changes we need are coming. There is endless good we can do, if enough of us are willing to show the courage that exists within every human being instead of the malevolence and desire for conformity that also exists within every heart.
Systems that can’t go on, don’t. The political elites, as much as they kick the can down the road, know this. The question we need to ask ourselves is, do we?
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
When a Bush, a McCain, or a Romney condones corporate crimes against the rest of us, lies to us, tortures and imprisons at will and murders civilians at a whim, it’s a moral disaster. When a black Democrat does it, it’s nothing personal, just business. And we are soooo proud. What’s wrong with us?
Black America Has Lost Its Moral Compass
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
At our October 12 affair at Harlem’s Riverside Church, Black Agenda Report’s executive editor Glen Ford said that the most damning and lasting result of the Obama presidency might be that black America was losing its moral compass
Those of us, this author included, who reached adulthood in the brief eight or nine year heyday of the modern Freedom Movement got to see our elders shuck the shackles of what was proper and legal and take to the streets in defiance of evil in authority. We learned that going door to door, organizing our friends, our neighbors, our fellow workers on the job, calling meetings and demonstrations, and standing up to unjust authority, at whatever cost was the highest duty of citizenship and the only way things ever changed.
During the eight years Obama will have served in the White House, Ford observed, black youth can expect to see nothing like this. Where we learned to be skeptical of what our government, and often our elders told us, they are learning to believe, or pretend to believe whatever they’re told. Where we learned the highest goal of the struggle was improving the lives of ordinary people, they are learning that the highest goals are the big house, the prestigious career, the large lifestyle of those who serve the power and unlock the mysteries of the Market.
They’ll go through a period as long as the zenith of the Freedom Movement without witnessing one major instance of black defiance of unjust power, of illegitimate authority, or illegal war. And of course it’s not as though injustices of class and race, or illegal and genocidal wars waged with our tax dollars and with our lives have gone away; they have not.
If you reached adulthood around 1970 it was relatively easy to get and keep your moral bearings. In the present era, not so. This, he said, may be the awful legacy of the Obama era —- a generation unmoored from the moral compass that guided their forebears, a generation unaccustomed to organized dissent or defiance or civic action outside the guidelines prescribed by their betters.
We hope Glen is wrong. But the evidence is mounting that he might not be.
The genius of Barack Obama’s career is that it has used modern marketing techniques to package the aroma of an imagined popular grassroots movement in the service of a corporate candidate with a thoroughgoing corporate agenda. Democrats are after all, as Doug Henwood often says, a party of capital that pretends for electoral reasons for a few weeks out of the year to be a party of the people. The Obama campaign fit these pretensions masterfully.
In the last couple weeks before the election, Matt Stoller wrote two excellent articles — The Progressive Case Against Obama and Why Is the Left Defending Obama — which exquisitely detail the many broken promises and deliberately missed opportunities of Obama’s first four years. Stoller points out that many of the awful actions of the Obama regime would be loudly denounced if undertaken by a Bush, a McCain, or a Romney, but are quietly acquiesced to when committed by a black Democrat.
Barack Obama invaded Libya, an African country. His administration orchestrated a massive campaign of disinformation, including lies about Libyan aircraft firing into crowds, Libyan mercenaries primed with viagra and primed for mass rape, and much more. Libya’s leader was one of only two out of 54 African nations NOT taking US military aid, and he had been one of the main funders of South Africa’s ANC and other liberation movements, and a backer and proponent of the African Union as well. He was a target, and with massive US and NATO intervention in the air and on the ground, he was taken out. Afterward, Obama openly sent troops to Congo and several other African nations, all actions which his predecessor or either of his Republican opponents could not have done.
Stoller also explains that President Obama’s protection of the Wall Street criminals who crashed the economy have permanently restructured American property rights in favor of the richest, something else that Republicans could not have brought off without massive upheaval and protest. But being black and proud, our elders in the African American community, if there is such a thing, did not object. They are invested in the president as a success story. They tell us it’s about pride, but really it’s about their own position. He’s a leader because he’s a success and a success because he’s a leader, and so are they. He legitimizes our black political class, and they shield him from critical analysis, along with themselves in the bargain. So just as Barack Obama can implement Republican policies without protest, “progressive” black and Latino mayors like Philly’s Mike Nutter and LA’s Villagrosa can push school privatization down the protesting throats of their constituencies.
Personally I’m an atheist. But the book of Exodus tells the story of the Hebrews who, after throwing off Pharaoh lost what we’ll call their “moral compass.” They were condemned to wander in the desert forty years before they got it back. That’s a bad precedent. Climate change, the economy, the threat of genocides in Congo and elsewhere, the prison state and corporate greed everywhere all indicate that we don’t have forty years to get this together.
Black America has lost its moral compass. We used to know right from wrong, and have the courage to stand. In the era of Obama, we have lost it. We’ll need to fight to get it back.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him via this site’s contact page or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
“Randy Linn’s statements clearly incriminate the media,” Islam said. “We call on print, Internet and broadcast media to educate the public about various cultures and religions and promote the strength of diversity, rather than whipping up hatred that leads to such destruction. Fox News, in particular, needs to reset its course and policies very quickly.”
The fire caused an estimated $1 million worth of damages.
“We are grateful that no one was injured or killed when Randy Linn came to the Islamic Center,” Islam said. That kind of tragedy, she said, “was a major possibility” because Linn entered the mosque carrying a gun in his hand and had three other firearms in his car.
“The prospect of Randy Linn finding anyone in the Islamic Center is spine-chilling, and we appeal for attention and action on the easy availability of these deadly weapons,” Islam said.
Court documents say Linn left his Indiana home on Sept. 30 in a red four-door Chevrolet Sonic, stopping at a gas station near Perrysburg, Ohio, to fill three gas cans he had in the vehicle, before driving on to the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. The mosque in Perrysburg is the third largest in the United States, a 70,000-square-foot landmark, visible for miles, with 3,000 members who celebrated the center’s 32nd anniversary in October.
Linn made numerous efforts to enter the Islamic Center before finally gaining entry, walking through several rooms with a pistol in his left hand before exiting and then returning with a gas can, the court documents disclosed. He entered the mosque’s prayer room on the second floor and poured gasoline on the prayer rug used by worshippers during prayer services. Linn then set fire to the rug and fled. His actions were caught on surveillance cameras, and he was arrested a few days later after the photos received media coverage.
Islam said attending the hearing and seeing Linn left her “numb and overcome.”
“At no point during the hearing did Randy Linn reveal any remorse for what he had done,” she said. “He pled guilty to all three counts but took no responsibility.”
Linn pleaded to intentionally defacing, damaging and destroying religious real property because of the religious character of that property; using fire to commit a felony; and using and carrying a firearm to commit a crime of violence.
“His guilty plea, acceptance of a binding plea agreement with no chance for appeal and a prison sentence of 20 years, sends out a clear message to future criminals that our society will not accept hate and violence,” she said.
Islam’s comments were echoed by U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio, who said, “Religious freedom is at the core of our country, and we will continue to aggressively prosecute such hate crimes whenever and wherever the evidence warrants. This was a true joint effort to seek justice for these victims.”
Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said the freedom to worship in the manner of one’s choosing is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans.
“The Department of Justice and the Civil Rights Division will continue to aggressively prosecute hate-based attacks on houses of worship,” Perez said in a statement. “I commend the cooperative efforts of local and federal law enforcement officials to ensure justice in this case.”