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Mixed Messages From the White House

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Somewhere on that historic journey to the White House, candidate Obama began to parse his words. He won on the grammatically challenged promise of "Change We Can Believe In," but what we got instead was a master of the art of double-speak, George Orwell's voice living in a politician at the top of his game. As one staff member in Congress told me soon after the election, "The people won't be getting what they think they are getting."

Once Rahm Emanuel was selected by Obama as his Chief of Staff, the writing was on the wall that a return of "business as usual" was in the offing. Emmanuel reinforced Obama's "centrist" credentials and supported a less-than-progressive agenda as a nod to a misplaced vision of bipartisanship and "compromise" with a (dis)loyal right wing opposition whose sole mission was and remains to retake the White House and control of Congress.

One day the President is called a progressive, the next he is a socialist, then a Fascist, then a non-American -- on and on the name-calling goes. Why do these labels even surface, and why do they seem to resonate with so many? One reason may be that while Obama preaches as a populist and even progressive on the stump, he governs as a Clintonian centrist in DC.

Sadly, this president is no bold progressive, even with Dems in the majority in Congress and himself in the White House. Democrats should be controlling the debate and dictating the agenda, instead of trying to appease the raving lunatics in the right wing. Democrats must promote a progressive vision for Congress and purge the deadbeat Republicrats in their midst. Unfortunately, without public funding of campaigns, Democrats will never truly represent our interests, instead offering ineffectual, corporate-friendly legislation that sells us out.

A year-and-a-half into the Obama presidency, the right wing has become more strident and fractured due to the emergence of the nutsy fringe of the Tea Party and the resultant increase in extremism in the Republican party itself, neither offering any sensible solutions to the myriad of crises facing America. On the chopping block, of course, are their old favorites: Social Security and Medicare -- the bedrocks of our society and two of America's crowning achievements, with funding for Social Security in place into 2034. Yet instead of defending these programs, what does President Obama do? He creates the Deficit Commission to "cut the fat" from Medicare and Social Security in a false belief that this will somehow help get our fiscal house in order. How draconian these cuts will be, one can only imagine!

We inherited two wars for which President Obama continues to seek new funding -- now requesting $33 billion more for Afghanistan, the longest war in American history. Iraq and Afghanistan have now cost well over 5,500 lives and $1 trillion. It is time to set a real plan for withdrawal, something that is years overdue and yet another promise made by candidate Obama that is so far unfulfilled. The American people clearly want out of these endless wars, yet President Obama has made it equally clear that a plan for the so-called withdrawal next year is "flexible" and will be based on an assessment of the situation on the ground.

Here's an assessment, Mr. President: we went to the other side of the globe to capture Osama bin Laden and still don't have him -- "Osama who?" Meanwhile, right outside your door, your country is crumbling under an out-of-control national debt, unemployment still off the charts (125,000 more jobs lost in June), homes foreclosures continuing unabated, Wall Street still in panic mode, crime on the rise and the debacle in the Gulf of Mexico running uncontained for the foreseeable future -- Obama's Katrina, indeed.

So who is in charge of the economic response to BP's unmitigated disaster? The key player appears to be Kenneth Feinberg, known as the "settlement guru," brought in by the administration with its $20 billion payoff to shut down future litigations. A vast majority of the people on the Gulf Coast -- who function primarily in a cash-based economy -- will receive nothing, with the burden of proving harm to their lives and livelihoods by the gusher being placed squarely on them. Should they refuse the paltry handout from Feinberg -- who has publicly stated his desire to keep BP's investors happy -- it will be virtually impossible for them to go to court.

Which begs the question -- is that the real reason why Obama set up the fund, to protect BP and its shareholders? $20 billion is really a sham number. It is more likely to cost $100 billion to clean up the Gulf, which would severely impact BP's bottom line and possibly make it a target for a takeover -- even now BP is seeking more funds from its two partners.

Kenneth Feinberg is an interesting fellow who came on the scene in 1984 fighting for Dow Chemical against Vietnam veterans suing over exposure to Agent Orange. His expertise, according to public interest attorney Rob Hager, is collusive class actions, limiting liability and covering up government and corporate wrongdoing. His client list is a who's who of Fortune 500 companies, along with many federal government agencies, including the Justice Department. Other Feinberg "success" stories include his settlements of claims by 9/11 families, asbestos victims and those of DES. His firm's website is worth checking out: www.feinbergrozen.com.

Now he is the overseer of the Gulf Coast's economic recovery, after spending $340 million from oil and gas interests since '08 lobbying on their behalf. Only $21 million in fines paid versus $800 billion in profits, mostly due to a lack of regulation and oversight by The Minerals Management Service. What should we expect, with laws overseeing the oil industry dating back almost 100 years and Big Oil's profits frolicking in offshore tax havens like Panama and the Marshall Islands, stealing tax money from America?

We want accountability in a government that works for the people. Most of the nation also wants national health assurance in the form of a government program like Improved Medicare For All. This should be President Obama's legacy, but he caved to the insurance industry and its lobbyists, who pumped considerable money into his campaign, making deals before he was even elected. He should have taken ownership of the healthcare debate from the beginning. Instead, he turned it over to a feckless and compromised Congress. President Obama should have considered all available proposals and seated those single payer advocates at the table who are now waiting to see the impending failures of the new health "reform" bill when it is finally implemented. An improved Medicare For All is the real solution, delivered by a single payer.

Now, once again, President Obama is traveling the country to sell his pig-in-a-poke healthcare "reform" bill in the face of talk of a 9 percent increase in insurance costs for next year, with some plans rising as much as 20 percent -- a California insurer originally sought a 38 percent increase, but pulled it back after finding they made an "error" in calculating the needed rise. Among the major shortcomings of this bill are that there are no controls on costs or the rates charged by insurers, leaving it up to the cash-strapped states -- just where does the buck stop with you, Mr. President?

How will President Obama's plan deliver high quality health care at acceptable cost? What are the real costs of a plan that will still exclude millions, with millions more left out by the time the plan completely kicks in around 2014? And what ever happened to the Public Option, dangled by Nancy Pelosi but never supported by our President? But remember, "You can always stay with the insurance you have if you like it." Ultimately, just like the conservatives, progressives will be left with little recourse other than hoping the plan fails (candidate Obama did say he wanted to bring people together, didn't he?) and then hoping we will go with what should have been passed in the beginning -- single payer healthcare, which is the only way to get rid of the real fat in the system.

During the recent G20 in Toronto, more mixed messages emerged, with our President encouraging member nations to spend more to prop up their failing economies while his administration seeks to gut Social Security and Medicare at home. Europe is also cutting back on public programs, hitting the most vulnerable. The major world economies, including us, need to pump money into jobs, new technologies, infrastructure and manufacturing to increase revenues, not cut services. Instead, the G20 ended on a down note, with little accomplished and governments throughout the world agreeing to shirk their responsibilities to their citizens all at once by withdrawing stimulus.

Here come the Dark Ages again.

Additional content by Jon Stone