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Obama, Hillary, and Imperialism: Drones, Coups, Arms Deals, and Human Rights

In this post, Part 3 in a series on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Emilio da Costa describes actions taken by President Barack Obama and Clinton (in her roles as Secretary of State and Senator) in the realms of civil liberties and foreign policy. Emilio, who holds a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from Stanford, argues that the two of them embraced many of the very same policies Democrats decried under George W. Bush.  In fact, the State Department under Obama and Clinton has in some cases been more hawkish than its Republican predecessor.

Part 2 of the series, which focused on the likelihood that Clinton would meaningfully regulate Wall Street, can be found here.

Emilio da Costa

Emilio da Costa

Obama, Guantánamo, and Indefinite Preventive Detention

Obama’s most egregious hypocrisy has to be his 2007 campaign promise and subsequent 2009 executive order to close the Guantánamo Bay detention camp within a year. While expecting a politician in our country to deliver on a campaign promise may in some ways be the paragon of naivete, the disconnect between Obama’s statements and his actions relating to Guantánamo and related human rights issues is absurd. Obama and his defenders claim that Congress blocked the portion of Obama’s budget proposal intended to close Guantánamo, and this is accurate. Similarly, it is true that Obama verbally renewed his commitment to closing Guantánamo in both the 2014 and the 2015 State of the Union addresses. Yet, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of allowing these events to absolve him. Obama’s proposal to close Guantánamo that was blocked by Congress was predicated upon his plan not to, for example, finally give the prisoners fair trials, but instead to just transfer them to a different prison in Thomson, Illinois. Essentially, as Conor Friedersdorf wrote for The Atlantic, “Yes, he wants to close Guantánamo Bay, in the sense that he wants to shutter the island facility in Cuba. But he wants to continue indefinitely detaining people without charges or trial.” Writing for Salon, Glenn Greenwald reminded us that it was not the location of Guantánamo that made it controversial:

What made Guantánamo such a travesty — and what still makes it such — is that it is a system of indefinite detention whereby human beings are put in cages for years and years without ever being charged with a crime. President Obama’s so-called “plan to close Guantánamo” — even if it had been approved in full by Congress — did not seek to end that core injustice. It sought to do the opposite: Obama’s plan would have continued the system of indefinite detention, but simply re-located it from Guantánamo Bay onto American soil.

Considering the details of Obama’s proposal along with the 2013 closure of the State Department office tasked with closing Guantánamo, Obama’s vows to close Guantánamo, like most of his populist presidential rhetoric, were empty political gestures.

But, even though Obama has not been able to close Guantánamo, the notoriously obstructionist Congress cannot take credit for blocking all of his venerable policy goals. For example, Obama has successfully managed to codify legislation permitting indefinite detention without trial. Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 directly violates the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, according to the ACLU. It nullifies the right to be informed of criminal charges, the right to a speedy and public trial, and the right to trial by an impartial jury. Obama’s assurances that “[his] administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens” are not particularly comforting.

Whether or not Obama sticks to his word, the provisions remain for future administrations to take full advantage of, and each of the three NDAAs passed since 2012 have continued to authorize indefinite detention. Highlighting the absurdity of the sweeping authority granted by 2014’s NDAA in a piece for Salon, Natasha Lennard wrote: “we can all be concerned when it is Tea Party blowhard Sen. Ted Cruz who best expresses civil liberties concerns on an issue.” As one of fifteen senators who voted against the Fiscal Year 2014 version of the NDAA, Cruz stated:

I am deeply concerned that Congress still has not prohibited President Obama’s ability to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens arrested on American soil without trial or due process… Although this legislation does contain several positive provisions that I support, it does not ensure our most basic rights as American citizens are protected…I hope that next year the Senate and the House can come together in a bipartisan way to recognize the importance of our constitutional rights even in the face of ongoing terrorist threats and national security challenges.

Among his peers in the Senate, presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders also voted against the NDAA in 2014, but Sanders was one of only three members of the Democratic caucus that did so. The other two were Oregon’s Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden whereas, conspicuously, progressives such as Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken voted to pass the legislation.

To fully appreciate just how ludicrous this legislation is, it helps to look at the way preventive detention is applied in other places. In a 2009 article entitled “Facts and Myths about Obama’s Preventive Detention Proposal,” Glenn Greenwald touched on the political climate surrounding prevention detention and the limits that are applied to this authority in some of our peer countries:

In the era of IRA bombings, the British Parliament passed a law allowing the Government to preventively detain terrorist suspects for 14 days — and then either have to charge them or release them.  In 2006, Prime Minister Tony Blair — citing the London subway attacks and the need to “intervene early before a terrorist cell has the opportunity to achieve its goals” — wanted to increase the prevention detention period to 90 days, but MPs from his own party and across the political spectrum overwhelmingly opposed this, and ultimately increased it only to 28 days.

In June of last year, Prime Minister Gordon Brown sought an expansion of this preventive detention authority to 42 days — a mere two weeks more.  Reacting to that extremely modest increase, a major political rebellion erupted, with large numbers of Brown’s own Labour Party joining with Tories to vehemently oppose it as a major threat to liberty.  Ultimately, Brown’s 42-day scheme barely passed the House of Commons. As former Prime Minister John Major put it in opposing the expansion to 42 days:

It is hard to justify: pre-charge detention in Canada is 24 hours; South Africa, Germany, New Zealand and America 48 hours; Russia 5 days; and Turkey 7½ days.

By rather stark and extreme contrast, Obama is seeking preventive detention powers that are indefinite — meaning without any end, potentially permanent.

I won’t delve into a critical history of Tony Blair, but it should come as no surprise that he was a proponent for preventive detention. On the other hand, it should be eye-opening that Russia, a country that the American media is constantly criticizing for its human rights record, limits its preventive detention power to a period of 5 days.

That Obama initiated indefinite preventive detention while acting as though he wanted to close Guantánamo so as to give its detainees fair trials is one of many reasons why Glen Ford, executive editor of the Black Agenda Report, refers to Obama as “not the lesser of evils, but the more effective evil.” In a 2012 interview with Amy Goodman for Democracy Now, Ford said:

He’s, first of all, created a model for austerity, a veritable model, with his deficit reduction commission. He’s introduced preventive detention, a law for preventive detention. He’s expanded the theaters of war in drone wars, and he’s made an unremitting assault on international law. And I think that possibly the biggest impact, his presidency—and I’m not talking about his—all this light and airy stuff from the convention, but actual deeds—I think probably what will go down as his biggest contribution to history is a kind of merging of the banks and the state, with $16 trillion being infused into these banks, into Wall Street, under his watch, and the line between Wall Street and the federal government virtually disappearing.

Clinton and Military Intervention in the Middle East

Having supported military intervention every time she’s had an opportunity, we can only expect Hillary Clinton to continue with increased American aggression and erosion of civil liberties in the name of imperialism under the guise of the bogeyman national security threat posed by “terrorism.” In a piece for TIME, Michael Crowley discussed Clinton’s “unapologetically hawkish record” in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and Iran and includes analysis that brings former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War into the conversation:

In one of the book’s most quoted passages, Gates writes that he witnessed Clinton make a startling confession to Barack Obama: she had opposed George W. Bush‘s last-ditch effort to salvage the Iraq war, the 2007 troop “surge,” because the politics of the 2008 Democratic primaries demanded it…

As Secretary of State, Clinton backed a bold escalation of the Afghanistan war. She pressed Obama to arm the Syrian rebels, and later endorsed air strikes against the Assad regime. She backed intervention in Libya, and her State Department helped enable Obama’s expansion of lethal drone strikes. In fact, Clinton may have been the administration’s most reliable advocate for military action. On at least three crucial issues—Afghanistan, Libya, and the bin Laden raid—Clinton took a more aggressive line than Gates, a Bush-appointed Republican.

Returning to Iraq, nowadays, Clinton is dedicated to clarifying that she considers her vote for the war a mistake. In her 2014 book Hard Choices, she wrote, “As much as I might have wanted to, I could never change my vote on Iraq. But I could try to help us learn the right lessons from that war and apply them to Afghanistan and other challenges where we had fundamental security interests.” However, writing for The Nation, Anatol Lieven argued that Clinton’s ongoing record puts that assertion into question:

Neither in her book nor in her policy is there even the slightest evidence that she has, in fact, tried to learn from Iraq beyond the most obvious lesson—the undesirability of US ground invasions and occupations, which even the Republicans have managed to learn. For Clinton herself helped to launch US airpower to topple another regime, this one in Libya—and, as in Iraq, the results have been anarchy, sectarian conflict and opportunities for Islamist extremists that have destabilized the entire region. She then helped lead the United States quite far down the road of doing the same thing in Syria.

As opposed to just verbally expressing regret or saying that she made a mistake, there was a rare instance regarding the PATRIOT Act in which Clinton actually changed her vote. Whereas in 2001 Clinton voted to pass the legislation, in 2005 she supported a general filibuster against the PATRIOT Act’s renewal. It’s hard to give her credit for this change, however.  Describing her stance on supporting the filibuster, Jeff Bliss and James Rowley wrote for Bloomberg that “Democratic New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton said she opposes the legislation because it doesn’t guarantee her state a large enough share of money for anti-terrorism.” Quelling any uncertainty that her vote may have also had to do with some sort of moral conviction for the protection of civil liberties and privacy rights, Clinton voted to extend the PATRIOT Act in 2006.

Like a true war hawk, there is one issue Clinton has never flip-flopped on; no matter the circumstances, her support for Israel has never wavered. In a 2007 review of Clinton’s record on human rights and international law for Foreign Policy In Focus, Stephen Zunes documented how, as a senator, she went as far as to fly in the face of the UN to fight for special treatment for Israel. When, in 2004, the UN’s judicial body, the International Court of Justice, ruled against the Israeli West Bank Barrier, Clinton responded by, as the Bush administration did with Iraq, seeking to unilaterally oppose the international community:

The ICJ ruled that Israel, like any country, had the right to build the barrier along its internationally recognized border for self-defense, but did not have the right to build it inside another country as a means of effectively annexing Palestinian land. In an unprecedented congressional action, Senator Clinton immediately introduced a resolution to put the U.S. Senate on record “supporting the construction by Israel of a security fence” and “condemning the decision of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the security fence.” In an effort to render the UN impotent in its enforcement of international law, her resolution (which even the then-Republican-controlled Senate failed to pass) attempted to put the Senate on record “urging no further action by the United Nations to delay or prevent the construction of the security fence.”

Eventually, even the Israeli Supreme Court was reasonable enough to admit that, along one route, the wall was disproportionately harmful to the Palestinians relative to its intended purpose, but not Clinton:

The Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the government to re-route a section of the wall bisecting some Palestinian towns, because the “relationship between the injury to the local inhabitants and the security benefit from the contraction of the Separation Fence along the route, as determined by the military officer, is not proportionate.” And yet, Clinton’s resolution also claims that Israel’s barrier is a “proportional response to the campaign of terrorism by Palestinian militants.”

If the Israeli Supreme Court is capable of reconsidering the impact of the wall, and even mandating that a section of it be re-routed, why can’t Clinton begin to temper her ardent support of Israel’s continued subjugation of the Palestinian people? Instead, she takes pride in the wall as a symbol of the unchecked and ever-growing authority of the US and its allies to ignore human rights and international law in the name of terrorism:

A longtime supporter of Israel’s colonization and annexation efforts in the West Bank, Senator Clinton took part in a photo opportunity at the illegal Israeli settlement of Gilo last year, in which she claimed – while gazing over the massive wall bisecting what used to be a Palestinian vineyard – “This is not against the Palestinian people. This is against the terrorists.”

While I drew a similarity earlier between Clinton and Bush’s shared disdain for the deliberations of the UN, it bears mentioning that, regarding Israel, even Bush’s actions were too cooperative for Clinton: “She opposed UN efforts to investigate alleged war crimes by Israeli occupation forces and criticized President Bush for calling on Israel to pull back from its violent re-conquest of Palestinian cities in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.”

More recently, Clinton vehemently defended Israel’s 2014 Operation Protective Edge during which Palestinians suffered the highest number of civilian casualties since the 1967 Six-Day War. Writing for The Huffington Post, Shadee Ashtari offered an insightful comparison of Clinton’s conclusions, made less than three weeks apart, on assigning responsibility for two catastrophic events:

Here’s Hillary Clinton, on the downing of a Malaysia Airlines plane in Ukraine: “I think if there were any doubt it should be gone by now, that Vladimir Putin, certainly indirectly…bears responsibility for what happened.”

And here’s Clinton, on the bombing of a United Nations facility in Gaza: “I’m not sure it’s possible to parcel out blame because it’s impossible to know what happens in the fog of war.”

As Ashtari, rather aptly, puts it in the article’s opening line, “the fog of war may be more of a Rorschach test.” Never mind that Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the UNRWA, the main UN agency in Gaza, stated that UN representatives had informed Israeli forces of the school’s exact location 17 times. To a tirelessly devoted career politician like Hillary Clinton, overwhelming evidence is an afterthought. It is in the interest of the US federal government and corporate oligarchy for Russia to look bad and for Israel to look good, and how Clinton decides what to state publicly is as simple as that.

Unfortunately, though her dedication does go above and beyond the norm, Clinton stands with the majority of American legislators when it comes to backing Israel.  Yet with respect to her history of supporting armed conflict on a broader scale, in the same article referenced earlier by Zunes, he noted that (fortunately?) this is not the case:

Indeed, she has supported unconditional U.S. arms transfers and police training to such repressive and autocratic governments as Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Pakistan, Equatorial Guinea, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Kazakhstan, and Chad, just to name a few. She has also refused to join many of her Democratic colleagues in signing a letter endorsing a treaty that would limit arms transfers to countries that engage in a consistent pattern of gross and systematic human rights violations.

Further emphasizing Clinton’s blatant disregard for human suffering, Zunes wrote:

Not only is she willing to support military assistance to repressive regimes, she has little concern about controlling weapons that primarily target innocent civilians. Senator Clinton has refused to support the international treaty to ban land mines, which are responsible for killing and maiming thousands of civilians worldwide, a disproportionate percentage of whom have been children.

She was also among a minority of Democratic Senators to side with the Republican majority last year in voting down a Democratic-sponsored resolution restricting U.S. exports of cluster bombs to countries that use them against civilian-populated areas. Each of these cluster bomb[s] contains hundreds of bomblets that are scattered over an area the size of up to four football fields and, with a failure rate of up to 30%, become de facto land mines. As many as 98% of the casualties caused by these weapons are civilians.

The Role of the Clinton Foundation in the Global Arms Trade

There is a distinct paper trail connecting donations to the Clinton Foundation to weapons deals from Clinton’s State Department. In the International Business Times, David Sirota and Andrew Perez described how “17 out of 20 countries that have donated to the Clinton Foundation saw increases in arms exports authorized by Hillary Clinton’s State Department” and, on the other side of the deals, “the Clinton Foundation accepted donations from six companies benefiting from U.S. State Department arms export approvals.” Leading the list for defense contractors was Boeing with a donation of $5 million. Perhaps that has something to do with why Boeing was the lead contractor in a deal that resulted in $29 billion worth of advanced fighter jets being delivered to Saudi Arabia, a country that has beheaded 100 people just this year. While it seems obvious that widely publicizing their beheadings gives ISIS more reason to continue carrying them out, the mainstream media of the US is constantly releasing footage of them to help fuel civilian support for the destruction of those brutal savages. So why is there no uproar over the fact that Saudi Arabia beheads its citizens for nonlethal crimes such as adultery, “sorcery,” and “drug receiving?” In a Newsweek article by Janine Di Giovanni, Lina Khatib of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut has an answer that Hillary would never repeat but that is likely in alignment with her values: “Violence by the state is permissible, while violence by non-state actors is not.”

Returning to the numbers, in total, the dollar amount of arms exports to Saudia Arabia authorized grew 97% during Clinton’s tenure at the State Department. Some other countries not known for a sterling human rights record that were part of Clinton’s de facto donations for death machines program included Algeria, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE. Algeria saw its total exports authorized grow 274%, Bahrain 187%, Oman 221%, Qatar 1,482%, and the UAE 1,005%. Not only do Sirota and Perez compile an array of appalling figures, but they also shed light on how fickle the State Department can be with just a little bit of coaxing:

In its 2010 Human Rights Report, Clinton’s State Department inveighed against Algeria’s government for imposing “restrictions on freedom of assembly and association” tolerating “arbitrary killing,” “widespread corruption,” and a “lack of judicial independence.” The report said the Algerian government “used security grounds to constrain freedom of expression and movement.”

That year, the Algerian government donated $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation and its lobbyists met with the State Department officials who oversee enforcement of human rights policies. Clinton’s State Department the next year approved a one-year 70 percent increase in military export authorizations to the country. The increase included authorizations of almost 50,000 items classified as “toxicological agents, including chemical agents, biological agents and associated equipment” after the State Department did not authorize the export of any of such items to Algeria in the prior year.

Obama, Clinton, and the US-Funded 2009 Coup of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya

In the name of the war on drugs, President Obama and Secretary Clinton funded a military coup of the Honduran government. Compared to past US-orchestrated coups in Latin America, we apparently felt no reason to cover this one up: “The US ambassador to Honduras, Lisa Kubiske, said, ‘We have an opportunity now, because the military is no longer at war in Iraq. Using the military funding that won’t be spent, we should be able to have resources to be able to work here.’” While Honduras has had some of the highest murder rates in the world since the 1990s, shortly after the 2009 coup, Honduras surpassed El Salvador to claim the number one spot, which they have held onto since then. 2012 figures from the UN showed that, apart from Venezuela, which had a rate of 53.7 murders per 100,000 people, Honduras’s rate of 90.4 was more than double the rate of any other country for which the UN had data. While the coup itself did not cause the high murder rate, writing for The Nation, Dana Frank explained the accompanying conditions that did:

The coup, in turn, unleashed a wave of violence by state security forces that continues unabated. On October 22, an enormous scandal broke when the Tegucigalpa police killed the son of Julieta Castellanos, rector of the country’s largest university and a member of the government’s Truth Commission, along with a friend of his. Top law enforcement officials admitted that the police were responsible for the killings but allowed the suspects to disappear, precipitating an enormous crisis of legitimacy, as prominent figures such as Alfredo Landaverde, a former congressman and police commissioner in charge of drug investigations, stepped forward throughout the autumn to denounce the massive police corruption. The police department, they charged, is riddled with death squads and drug traffickers up to the very highest levels…

A vicious drug culture already existed before the coup, along with gangs and corrupt officials. But the thoroughgoing criminality of the coup regime opened the door for it to flourish on an unprecedented scale. Drug trafficking is now embedded in the state itself—from the cop in the neighborhood all the way up to the very top of the government, according to high-level sources. Prominent critics and even government officials, including Marlon Pascua, the defense minister, talk of “narco-judges” who block prosecutions and “narco-congressmen” who run cartels. Landaverde declared that one out of every ten members of Congress is a drug trafficker and that he had evidence proving “major national and political figures” were involved in drug trafficking. He was assassinated on December 7.

“It’s scarier to meet up with five police officers on the streets than five gang members,”   former Police Commissioner María Luisa Borjas declared in November. According to the Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (Cofadeh), more than 10,000 official complaints have been filed about abuses by the police and military since the coup, none of which have been addressed…

…Cofadeh and prominent voices in Honduran civil society are calling loudly for a suspension of US and other countries’ aid to the Honduran military and police. “Stop feeding the beast,” as Rector Castellanos famously demanded in November…

As Tirza Flores Lanza—a former appeals court magistrate in San Pedro Sula, who was fired with four other judges and magistrates for opposing the coup—put it: “The coup d’état in Honduras destroyed the incipient democracy that, with great effort, we were constructing, and revived the specter of military dictatorships that are now once again ready to pounce throughout Latin America.”

Despite unprecedented levels of corruption and impunity and heads of state throughout the region having refused to recognize Porfirio Lobo’s presidency, Secretary Clinton and President Obama both turned a blind eye to the nightmarish conditions on the ground and had nothing but praise for the leader of the regime they inserted into power: “The United States hailed him for ‘restoring democracy’ and promoting ‘national reconciliation.’ The State Department and Clinton continue to repeat both fictions, as did President Obama when he welcomed Lobo to the White House in October.” For a more thorough understanding of the events leading up to the coup and the interactions between the Honduran and American government through 2013, Eric Zuesse offers an exhaustive review of coverage on Honduras along with what he considers to be Clinton’s other major foreign policy achievement, her disastrous record in Afghanistan.

Continuing to cover Honduras in 2015, this time for Foreign Policy, Dana Frank argued that, sadly, Lobo’s successor, Juan Orlando Hernández “is a far more brutal and Machiavellian figure than his predecessor” and “is perpetuating an ongoing human rights crisis while countenancing a cesspool of corruption and organized crime in which the topmost levels of government are enmeshed.” Nevertheless:

…despite overwhelming evidence of Hernández’s dangerous record on human rights and security, the Obama administration has decided to lock down support for his regime, and even celebrate him. U.S. development, security, and economic funds are pouring into Honduras, and the White House is going full-court press to push for hundreds of millions more…

Why? Frank offers three reasons: 1) to send a message to the democratically elected center-left and left governments that had come to power in Latin America in the previous 15 years that they could be next, 2) to solidify and expand the U.S. military presence in Central America, and 3) to serve transnational corporate interests in the region. For more detail on the third objective Frank offered, Lauren Carasik wrote a piece for Foreign Affairs describing the details of the “Model Cities” project that would create zones where Honduran law would not apply and, instead, at the expense of workers and the environment, local elites and foreign investors would set conditions to maximize profits. Essentially export processing zones, these sorts of arrangements have been a common facet of international trade since the 1990s, and for good reason, Naomi Klein criticized them extensively in her incredibly informative 1999 book, No Logo. That the project was called “Model Cities” is particularly ironic considering that was also the name of an incredibly ambitious, though widely maligned, federal urban aid program administered as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.

Click here to read Part 4 of the series.

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Candidates Routinely Threaten Wall Street, Follow Through with Little More than a Stern Scolding

In this post, Part 2 in a series on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Emilio da Costa documents some of the actions that President Barack Obama has taken in the interests of the very wealthy. Emilio, who holds a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from Stanford, argues that Clinton is likely to follow suit – she has much deeper ties to Wall Street than to those whose votes she will be seeking on the campaign trail.

 Part 1 of the series, which focused on Obama’s political appointments, can be found here.

Emilio da Costa

Emilio da Costa

As was required at the time, Obama made promises during his campaign to rein in Wall Street and introduce regulatory reforms to the financial industry. All of the grumbling about Obama’s tax policy being socialist makes it hard to believe the extent to which he supported legislation that so disproportionately benefited the very wealthy. Obama not only extended the Bush tax cuts that he said he would repeal, but in the case of the estate tax, supported the even more regressive policy of lowering the rate and raising the exemption limit in 2010’s $858 billion tax-cut legislation. Although Democrats claim they were forced to compromise on a 35% rate with a $5 million per-person exemption to prevent a worse outcome in the future, if no law were to have passed that year, a 55% rate with a $1 million exemption would have taken effect. When introduced, the exemption limit of $5 million meant that only 0.2 percent of all estates would be eligible to owe any tax, the smallest percentage since 1934 – except for 2010, which Bush’s 2001 tax-cut legislation mandated would be totally estate-tax-free. Days after Obama signed the 2010 legislation, while interviewing Chris Hedges for Democracy Now, Amy Goodman summarized the impacts more generally: “At least a quarter of the tax savings under the deal will go to the wealthiest one percent of the population. The only group that will see its taxes increase are the nation’s lowest-paid workers.” During this interview Hedges argues that “one of the most pernicious things that Obama did in this tax bill was reduce contributions to Social Security, because of course that’s next on the target.” With Obama’s 2013 budget plan having cut Social Security and Medicare by much more than the GOP alternative, it appears Hedges’s predictions were well-founded.

Similarly, Clinton has been diligently working to pander to the masses as a candidate with a tough stance on white-collar crime while at the same time assuring her most devoted backers that they have nothing to worry about. In response to this delicate balancing act she has embarked upon, within days of Clinton announcing her entry into the presidential race, Matt Taibbi wrote a piece for Rolling Stone entitled “Campaign 2016: Hillary Clinton’s Fake Populism Is a Hit.” Few journalists are better suited to the task of exposing a fraud than Matt Taibbi. In typically hilarious fashion (the subtitle of the piece reads: “Pundits say her idealist porridge is not too hot, not too cold, but just fake enough”), Taibbi focuses primarily on Clinton’s position on the carried interest tax break to reveal the way that she, like so many high-ranking politicians, twists her words to manipulate the lower-income and middle-class masses while remaining faithful to the wealthy, high-powered constituency that she actually represents:

“There’s something wrong,” she told a crowd of Iowans, “when hedge fund man­agers pay lower taxes than nurses or the truckers I saw on I-80 when I was driving here over the last two days.”

Oh, right, that. The infamous carried interest tax break, the one that allows private equity vampires like Mitt Romney and Stephen Schwartzman to pay a top tax rate of 15 percent while all of the rest of us (including the truckers Hillary “saw” – note she didn’t say “hung out with Bill and me over chilled shrimp at the Water Club”) pay income taxes.

The carried interest loophole is an absurd, completely unjustifiable handout to the not merely well-off but filthy rich, and it’s been law in this country for about three decades.

Raise your hand if you really think that Hillary Clinton is going to repeal the carried interest tax break.

Whether or not the crowd of Iowans was convinced that Clinton legitimately planned to repeal the carried interest tax break, major media outlets published headlines that took the language from her campaign announcement as evidence that Hillary is a concerned populist dedicated to helping out struggling middle-class American families, until, as Taibbi documents, editorials with a conflicting message began popping up:

“Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street Backers: We Get It,” announced Politico, which polled Democrat-leaning Wall Streeters about the anti-wealthy rhetoric and reassured us that none of them took her seriously.

It’s “just politics,” said one major Democratic donor on Wall Street, explaining that some of her Wall Street supporters doubt she would push hard for closing the carried interest loophole as president, a policy she promoted when she last ran in 2008. [emphasis his]

Failing to follow through on campaign promises is no deviation from convention, and considering her convivial relationship with Wall Street, it’s no shocker that no one is worried that she would actually take any actions to her donors’ detriment. In particular, when it comes to the carried interest tax break, Taibbi demonstrates that there has been a distinctly noticeable pattern forming among Democratic candidates:

Yes, back to that, the carried interest issue. Promising, and then failing, to repeal the carried interest tax break is fast becoming a Democratic tradition, so much so that I’m beginning to wonder if not fixing this problem is an intentional move, designed to ensure that Democrats always have something to run on in election seasons.

In both the 2008 and 2012 election cycles, Barack Obama either decried the tax “trick” or overtly promised to close the loophole.

Obama’s remarks about carried interest pretty much always sound exactly like Hillary’s remarks this week. He gave a Rose Garden speech in 2011, in advance of his race against Romney, in which he rejected ‘the notion that asking a hedge fund manager to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or teacher is class warfare.’”

Taibbi then remarks on how, instead of holding politicians to their campaign vows or referring to them flat-out as disingenuous manipulation, media outlets tend to give such promises the designation of idealism. That makes the media complicit in politicians’ immunity from accountability:

Editorialists like to talk about the two things, ideals and reality, as totally separate and distinct. Idealism, the stuff of campaign promises, is usually pooh-poohed as “purity politics,” while the cold transactional politics of Beltway dealmaking and incremental change are usually applauded as “pragmatism.”

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that Hillary’s first official week as a presidential candidate went exactly as her handlers must have hoped.

At launch she talked a streak of anti-elitist rhetoric that was taken seriously for a few days, until the punditry took the temperature of her populism and declared to it be the right kind: the fake kind, the purely strategic kind.

In the same Politico article that Taibbi referenced above, Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, a veteran of Bill Clinton’s White House who now advises billionaire environmentalist hedge-fund manager and donor Tom Steyer, was quoted reiterating the notion that Hillary’s populist claims are totally hollow: “The fact is that any Democrat running for president would talk about this. It’s as surprising as the sun rising in the east.”

Considering Americans’ widespread disdain toward Wall Street banksters, Clinton is keenly aware of the importance of polishing over her strong ties to the financial industry. However, Matt Taibbi isn’t the only journalist that sees through her newfound appreciation for economic populism. Writing for the International Business Times, Andrew Perez and David Sirota looked through the publicly available data to follow the money beyond the baloney. They summarize how Clinton, in a recent speech, “call[ed] for Wall Street executives who engage in financial wrongdoing to be held accountable more than they have been under President Barack Obama.” But a quick look at the financial disclosure data for the Clinton Foundation suggests she would be unlikely to follow through:

Clinton’s outrage, though, did not stop her family’s foundation from raking in donations from many of the same banks that secured government fines rather than face full-scale prosecution. The Clinton Foundation has accepted $5 million worth of donations from at least nine financial institutions that avoided such prosecution — even as they admitted wrongdoing.

In that same speech, Clinton said, “HSBC allowing drug cartels to launder money, five major banks pleading guilty to felony charges for conspiring to manipulate currency exchange and interest rates. There can be no justification or tolerance for this kind of criminal behavior.” If Clinton believes that there can be “no tolerance for this kind of criminal behavior,” then it is a bit strange that, “in 2014, two years after HSBC admitted to major violations of U.S. laws, the firm was the top sponsor at a Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) event, paying at least $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation.” In fact, in addition to the CGI and the Clinton Foundation both having an illustrious record for accepting sponsorships and donations from criminal banks, both Clintons have accepted outrageous speaking fees from them, too.

The HSBC relationship — taking money from a bank after the firm admitted wrongdoing — was not unique. In 2009, UBS avoided prosecution by the Justice Department when it agreed to pay a $780 million fine and admitted to defrauding the United States by allowing American citizens to hide income from the IRS. The Swiss bank has since entered into two more agreements with the Justice Department — one for rigging the municipal bond market and the other for manipulating global interest rates. UBS has paid former President Bill Clinton more than $1.5 million for speeches since 2009, and the firm has given more than $550,000 to the family’s foundation.

In 2010, the British banking firm Barclays entered into a settlement agreement with the Justice Department, and admitted to violating U.S. sanctions by making transactions for customers in countries such as Libya, Sudan and Myanmar. Weeks later, Barclays was  sponsor at the annual CGI event. Barclays has remained a CGI sponsor in the years since, even after the bank paid more fines under a new agreement with the Justice Department for manipulating worldwide interest rates. Barclays has paid the Clinton family $650,000 for speeches since 2009. The firm has given at least $1.5 million to the Clinton Foundation.

Covering a speech Clinton gave on July 13thBen White for Politico reported on, among other things, her continued promise to repeal the carried interest tax break. She also “pledged to both defend existing financial reform and go even further, almost hinting at a need to break up the largest banks, something sure to go down poorly with some of Clinton’s biggest supporters on Wall Street.” However, financial reformers like Dennis Kelleher of Better Markets expect more: “The American people deserve a concrete, specific, comprehensive plan that really protects them from Wall Street recklessness and that she as president can be held accountable for once in office.” Others wonder whether she will “put in place a team of advisers who have a demonstrated history of supporting meaningful reform and tough enforcement, or chooses instead to surround herself with the same crowd of revolving door insiders.” Given the actions of the Clinton Foundation and Hillary’s personal ties to Wall Street, it is no wonder that financial reformers are skeptical she will follow through with policies that are as progressive as her vague pledges.

Click here to read Part 3 of the series.

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Lessons About Gay Rights and Business from Arizona Bill’s Veto

On Wednesday, February 26, Republican Governor Jan Brewer vetoed S.B. 1062, a bill that would have helped Arizona businesses deny service to gay customers on religious grounds.  Brewer’s veto and the political controversy surrounding the bill illustrated several important developments in the gay rights movement.

First, US society is finally beginning to condemn religious opposition to gay rights; most of us now recognize that people who oppose gay equality, for any reason, are bigoted.  Though S.B. 1062 lacked explicit references to sexual orientation, most of the bill’s opponents correctly recognized it as an attempt to sanction discrimination against the LGBT population.  And while proponents of such discrimination continue to lie about their anti-gay animus and S.B. 1062’s impact, their influence on public perception is dwindling.  A recent poll conducted jointly by ABC News and The Washington Post found both that only 28% of Americans support the discrimination allowed by S.B. 1062 and that only 34% of Americans still oppose same-sex marriage.  Gay rights have “transformed from being a fringe, politically toxic position just a few years ago to a virtual piety that must be affirmed in decent company. This demonstrates why [defeatism is misguided]: even the most ossified biases and entrenched institutional injustices can be subverted.”

Second, the Republican Party platform is no longer uniformly anti-gay.  Not only did Brewer veto the bill, but John McCain and Mitt Romney also spoke out against S.B. 1062.  Mainstream Republican politicians at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) “skirted around gay issues during the three-day gathering outside Washington, D.C” and focused on other issues instead.  Republican Party operatives seem to understand that opposition to gay rights is becoming more and more politically disadvantageous.

Third, Brewer’s veto indicates the potential impact of voting with our dollars.  The Hispanic National Bar Association, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association, the NFL, and a plethora of large businesses including Apple, American Airlines, and Intel began to voice opposition to S.B. 1062 as pressure mounted from customers, clients, fans, and nonprofits.  Brewer’s anti-gay history suggests she only vetoed the bill because of the intense economic pressure to do so.

These developments are cause for optimism about the future for LGBT rights.  I bet a friend seven years ago that gay marriage will be legal in all fifty states by the end of 2023, and I am currently feeling pretty good about my chances.  However, proponents of gay rights must avoid calling business interests our “greatest ally in [the] LGBT equality pursuit.”

As Jon Stewart noted recently on The Daily Show, S.B. 1062 was “morally repugnant” and should have been vetoed based on ethical criteria alone.  Yet few opponents of the bill made ethics their central argument against it; critics of S.B. 1062 instead focused more on its economic impact.  That business interest has begun to align with the interests of the LGBT community is positive, but as Jeffrey Toobin mentioned in a recent piece for The New Yorker, that alignment only achieves the desired outcome “[w]hen, as with expressing opposition to S.B. 1062, it costs business nothing.”

In other words, it’s easy for businesses and politicians to support gay equality and non-discrimination because doing so furthers their economic and political self-interest.  Gay rights have become an issue that, like big philanthropy, “allows [politicians and business leaders] to preen as…great liberal champion[s] to…left-leaning voters, all while…simultaneously press[ing] an anti-union, economically conservative agenda that moneyed interests support.”  We should certainly celebrate the success of the gay rights movement, but we must simultaneously be careful not to enable what David Sirota calls “a bait and switch whereby social issues are increasingly used to perpetuate the economic status quo.”

So before we extol the virtues of the NFL for its opposition to S.B. 1062, let’s remember that the league and its owners routinely rob taxpayers.  Let’s remember, before we get too excited about Jan Brewer, that she supports racial profiling.  And let’s remember, before we pat the Arizona Chamber of Commerce on the back for defending the rights of the underprivileged, that the organization frequently lies about the impact of minimum wage laws.  Instead, let’s honor the success of the gay rights movement by calling its support what it is – the only ethical choice a business can make.  Let’s simultaneously demand that politicians and business leaders elevate ethics over greed in every other policy arena.

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Voting with Our Dollars for Chipotle

Vote with your dollars.  That’s the message Mike Levy, my tenth grade history and ethics teacher, delivered to Moorestown Friends School’s graduating class in 2004 (the same year 34justice author Jon Zaid delivered a convincing anti-war speech to that same class).  That idea – that I send a loud message with my decisions as a consumer – has grown more and more compelling to me over the past ten years.  When I boycott companies for their horrible labor practices (like Walmart) or anti-gay attitudes (like Exxondespite their improvement a few days ago), use my Working Assets credit card or CREDO Mobile cell phone plan, or transfer my money out of major banks and into my credit union, I’m exercising some political power.

Advocating that people vote with their dollars supports a consumerism-driven society, which I find somewhat problematic.  And most items I purchase and the services I use, even the ones mentioned above, still have plenty of hidden costs along the production line – it’s virtually impossible to buy ethical gasoline, for example.  I am currently unwilling, however, to forego modern civilization to live an entirely ethical life, and I doubt I’d make much headway suggesting that we all sell our belongings and return to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.  At the same time, the more we consider the social, environmental, economic, and political costs associated with the items we buy, the better off the world will be.

Food has been a primary focus of my monetary votes since I took a nutrition class with Clyde Wilson during my junior year at Stanford, but I was initially more concerned with health than anything else.  Wilson convinced me to drastically increase my consumption of salads before meals, cut out every drink other than water (and the occasional alcoholic beverage) from my diet, and to dramatically reduce my intake of white carbohydrates.  I also began to order a CSA box from Albert & Eve Organics once I graduated.  It was not until reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, though, that I thought deeply about the political significance of our food consumption.  Michael Pollan, the book’s author, completely revolutionized my perception of both health and the social impact of our food choices.

Pollan beautifully summarizes the differences between typical industrial factory farms, industrial organic operations, local farms, truly sustainable farms, and wild foods.  He demonstrates how, when we eat processed packaged goods or most conventionally produced meat, we harm farmworkers, the environment, and our bodies in one fell swoop.  Pollan’s research on and ideas about food deserve considerably more attention than I will give them in this post, but an overview can help explain the impact of the gains he notes for food movements.  The industrial organic movement, for all its flaws, has grown into a multi-billion dollar a year industry largely on the backs of people voting with their dollars.  Consumer purchasing decisions have driven a food culture where many food companies (in the Bay Area, at least) attempt to portray themselves as pioneers at the cutting edge of the “slow food” movement.

The question, of course, is whether these companies truly outrank their competitors on food morality or merely want to hoodwink us into casting our financial votes in their favor.  David Sirota’s article on Chipotle’s new scarecrow ad (see below) caused me to reflect on this question as it pertains to Chipotle.

Sirota, one of my favorite columnists, argues that the ad misleads because it juxtaposes factory farming with vegetarianism instead of contrasting typical industrialized meat with meat from more sustainable sources.  Since most Chipotle eaters consume meat in their burritos, Sirota’s critique has some merit.  He does give Chipotle some credit, writing that he’s “actually psyched that there’s at least one major fast-food company willing to publicly rail against factory farming methods” and noting that Chipotle recently introduced sofritas, a vegan alternative, on their menu (for the record, sofritas are really freaking good).  But despite the ad’s problematic qualities and Sirota’s acknowledgements of some Chipotle positives, I think Chipotle gets an unfair shake in Sirota’s article.  The company is pretty revolutionary in terms of fast food and monetary votes for Chipotle can help support significant social change.

Full disclosure: I love Chipotle burritos.  I started eating them once a week during my sophomore year of college and probably still come close to that frequency of consumption.  Their deliciousness contributed to my New Year’s Resolution this year to only eat meat that meets, at a bare minimum, the sustainability standards Chipotle sets.  After doing some more research, however, I feel justified in having set that bar.

Though Chipotle’s ad is misleading, it does significantly more good than harm.  The difference between the food most people eat every day and Chipotle’s food is many, many times greater on nearly all the metrics Sirota lists – carbon emissions, energy supplies, water resources, and health – than the difference between Chipotle’s meat and vegetarian options.  Yes, Chipotle’s food is closer to the normal fare from the “Big Organic” industry than the food which one could eat at a truly sustainable farm, but I’d argue, based on everything Pollan brilliantly documents in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, that the typical vegetarian’s diet does worse on these metrics than a diet which focuses on sustainability across the board and includes meat.  Two of the articles Sirota cites to claim the virtues of vegetarianism conflate meat eating in general with the majority of meat eating done in the United States, while the two others provide indirect support for my argument above.  Pollan also makes a strong argument that eating animals that live happy, free lives is completely acceptable from a moral perspective.  While I am fairly certain more people would be vegetarians if they followed Pollan’s lead and reflected on meat-eating by participating in the slaughter of animals raised on sustainable farms, I don’t think it’s Chipotle’s job to subject people to that imagery.  What Chipotle should have done in their ad, in my opinion, is shown some Niman Ranch pigs rooting around happily before having the scarecrow serve a carnitas burrito.  That would have been more honest.  But while Sirota deserves props for his commitment to vegetarianism, there isn’t a ton of difference from a social, environmental, or ethical perspective between that decision and the decision to eat sustainable meat.  If Chipotle’s ad drives people towards better meat options, that benefits us far more than the ad’s omission of the pigs hurts society.

I also think it’s important to give Chipotle credit for pursuing profit and ethics simultaneously.  Sirota contends Chipotle’s intentions are about profit alone, but as Elizabeth Weiss’s excellent New Yorker article on Chipotle makes clear, the company’s commitment to continuously improving the ethics of its food sourcing has been around for 12 years, much more time than the “slow food” movement has been a breadwinner for restaurants.  A lot of companies toss around claims about “all-natural” and “grass-fed” food with little indication about what these words actually mean, but Chipotle clearly defines the standards they impose on suppliers for their pork and indicate where they’d like to go for beef, dairy cattle, and chicken.  When a restaurant can’t source enough meat at Chipotle’s standards and must resort to conventional suppliers, the restaurant sticks a large sign explaining this issue at the front of their burrito line.  The sign is impossible to miss.  I know Chipotle has this practice not just because their communications director told the New Yorker about it, but also because I’ve been to a Chipotle displaying one of these signs in the middle of a chicken shortage.  Sirota mentions his belief that Chipotle “is interested in seeming vegetarian without actually being vegetarian,” driven in part by Chipotle’s failure, before 2011, to note on in-store menus that their pinto beans are made with bacon.  While it’s no consolation to Jews who unwittingly ate pig prior to that year, it’s worth noting that Chipotle mentioned the recipe on their website, always informed anyone who ordered a vegetarian burrito that the beans weren’t vegetarian, and issued a “razor quick” response and added a note on their in-store menus immediately after they were made aware of the problem.

Chipotle is far from perfect.  It took the company way too long to sign onto the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program, a program intended to guarantee some basic rights for farmworkers.  There’s not a great excuse for the pinto bean oversight and the scarecrow ad should probably have shown some antibiotic-free animals.  In the context of ethical food production in the United States, however, Chipotle is towards the top.  In terms of widely available fast food, there isn’t a single company with food ethics remotely close to Chipotle’s.  And if the company’s past is any indication, Chipotle’s future will feature continued improvement.  I therefore can confidently cast my monetary votes for Chipotle and I hope you feel comfortable doing so as well.  Eating a Chipotle burrito is an incredibly delicious and easy way to “cultivate a better world.”

Update (7/14/14): For a Chipotle ad that contrasts factory farming with Chipotle-style meat production, see below:

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