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Which U.S. President Was Worse: Obama, Or Trump?

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image source: obamalibrary.gov

On December 17th, Gallup headlined “Biden Inherits a Battered U.S. Image Abroad”.The Pew surveys have found the same thing: In almost all countries surveyed, other than Poland, public approval of America’s leadership plunged when Trump replaced Obama, and that low approval stayed down throughout Trump’s Presidency.

However, also on December 17th, the great investigative journalist David Sirota headlined at his “The Daily Poster” blog, “End The Austerity Loop”, and he documented that President Obama’s response to George W. Bush’s policies that had crashed the U.S. economy (and actually the entire world’s economy) had actually been to institute a bailout of the megabanks (“broker-dealers”), and — as soon as it was passed by Congress — Obama’s Administration refused to help the people who had been evicted from their homes as a result of what Wall Street had done. Obama said instead that all of the federal money had already been spent and he wouldn’t authorize increasing the federal debt even more than he already had authorized in order to bail out Wall Street.

Of course, Congress was also culpable in all of these Robin-Hood-in-reverse policies (protecting Wall Street while abandoning Main Street), but the ultimate leadership was at the top, and it was a policy of sheer hypocrisy. Trump has merely been hypocritical in a different way, and espousing a different set of excuses for his failures. 

On 18 February 2011, National Public Radio headlined “TARP Watchdog Says Foreclosure Plan Is Failing” and reported that

Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the massive federal bank bailout program, or TARP, is stepping down from his post in March. He says the Obama administration’s program to prevent foreclosures is broken, and that many of the people it’s supposed to be helping are now “in a far worse place than they would have been had this program not existed.”

The article in the Spring 2011 Review of Banking & Financial Law, by Tae Yeon Kim, “Pay It Back (TARP Developments)”, described the situation as follows:

The purpose of Title XIII (“Pay it Back Act”) of the DoddFrank Act, according to Senator Michael Bennett, was to “rebuild the credibility of our financial system, save taxpayers billions of dollars, and finally move to end the TARP”12 by “prevent[ing] further government spending, recaptur[ing] taxpayers’ investment in financial institutions, and ensur[ing] that repaid funds are used for deficit reduction.”13 Under Title XIII, TARP funding authorized under the EESA was reduced from $700 billion to $475 billion.14 Also, no additional TARP funds can be spent on any program initiated after June 25, 2010; any money repaid to the TARP fund must be used for deficit reduction only.15 Title XIII amends the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. The Treasury must allocate the sale of obligations and securities, as well as fees paid by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Federal Home Loan Banks to the General Fund of the Treasury (“General Fund”).16 The funds must be “dedicated for the sole purpose of deficit reduction” and “prohibited from use as an offset for other spending increases or revenue reductions.”17 Similarly, TARP funds provided to a state under ARRA and rejected by the Governor or by the State legislature, or funds withdrawn or recaptured by the head of an executive agency not obligated by a State or local government, will be rescinded and deposited in the General Fund.18 Once in the General Fund, the money will be “dedicated for the sole purpose of deficit reduction” and “prohibited from use as an offset for other spending increases or revenue reductions.”19 Section 1306 further provides that discretionary ARRA appropriations that have not been obligated as of December 31, 2010 shall also be rescinded and deposited in the General Fund for the sole purpose of deficit reduction.

The megabanks had gotten their federal help, but foreclosures and boarded-up windows and storefronts were appearing everywhere and were lowering the surrounding property-values, so that both lower and middle-class real estate were getting increasingly worse and more run-down. The TARP Bailout Program saved the megabanks but not their victims; and here is why, as explained even by a conservative, pro-corporate, source:

The Problem With the TARP Program for Homeowners

Why didn’t more people take advantage of the HAMP and HARP programs? This would have pumped billions into the economy and helped millions of homeowners avoid foreclosure.

The problem was the banks. They cherry-picked applicants and refused to consider those with lower equity. Banks were too wary of risk to allow the programs to work.

These were the same banks, who just a few years before, were giving out loans to anyone because they were making money on the investments that were created from the loans.

There was no risk to the banks, as all these loans were guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Banks didn’t want to be bothered with the paperwork involved with homeowners who had mortgage insurance.

On 25 July 2016, a mortgage-industry website headlined “Obama administration presents a look at life after HAMP” and acknowledged “that there’s more work to be done.” (That was putting it mildly.)

The Obama Administration did nothing whatsoever to reduce those foreclosures. In fact, there was even less prosecution of financial and other white-collar crimes than there had been under Bush.

The admirers of President Trump are equally deceived — no less deceived than the admirers of Obama had been. Trump promised to “drain the swamp” and did none of that.

In foreign policies, Trump continued Obama’s wars (including aggressive sanctions), such as against Syria, and against Russia, and against Iraq, and intensified Obama’s war against China and against Iran and against Venezuela — all of these being against countries that had never threatened to invade the U.S., and so all of them were (and are) actually wars of aggression, not of defense.

Americans are profoundly deceived to accept such people as leaders, instead of to reject them as liars and as traitors.

Most Americans — and many people throughout the world — prefer one or the other of those two American Presidents on the basis only of political prejudices, but the actual differences between Obama and Trump were more stylistic than substantive.

President Trump, at the end of his Presidency, is polling, among the American public, both as one of the worst Presidents ever and as one of the best Presidents ever, and this is a reflection of the astoundingly sharp partisan divide now between Democrats and Republicans. Pathetically few Americans recognize that both of the two Parties represent only the billionaires — not the American people. This pervasive miscomprehension, by the public, results because the billionaires control not only the Government, they also control the press — they shape the population’s perceptions, so as to make this aristocracy (America’s billionaires) acceptable to the public, directing the public’s rage to be against the opposite Party, instead of against the billionaires themselves, who actually control the country.

Consequently, Democratic Party voters think that that Party is their  Party, and Republican Party voters think that that Party is their  Party. However, in reality, both Parties are controlled by America’s hundreds of billionaires — not  by the given Party’s approximately hundred million registered voters. Obama represented the Democratic Party’s billionaires, and Trump represented the Republican Party’s billionaires (other than the ones who, in 2020, disliked Trump so much that they donated instead to the Biden campaign or to one of its PACs; and Biden’s biggest donor even turned out to be the Republican Michael Bloomberg, at $56,796,137, who had entered the Democratic Presidential primaries because he had feared that a progressive, Bernie Sanders, might win that Party’s nomination; Bloomberg then quit the contest and endorsed Biden on Super Tuesday, 4 March 2020, and immediately became Biden’s biggest funder). 

This is a Government of the people, by the billionaires, and for the billionaires. It’s no democracy, whatsoever, and the U.S. Constitution has been covered-over, by the U.S. aristocracy’s Supreme Court’s rulings, so that it has become, by now, merely a parchment document, which ‘means’ whatever the (majority of the) U.S. aristocracy’s Supreme Court say  that it means. Although those jurists are paid by the public to represent America’s Founders, they don’t represent America’s Founders, and they don’t represent the American people, either. They represent — and protect the interests of — America’s billionaires. They were chosen because that is what they had been doing before they had been chosen. If they hadn’t been doing this, they wouldn’t have been chosen. That’s the way today’s American Government functions.

Author’s note: first posted at Strategic Culture

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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Early Elections in Canada: Will the Fourth Wave Get in the Way?

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On August 15, Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada and leader of the Liberal Party, announced an early parliamentary election and scheduled it for September 20, 2021. Canadian legislation allows the federal government to be in power up to 5 years, so normally, the elections should have been held in 2023. However, the government has the right to call early elections at any time. This year, there will be 36 days for the pre-election campaigns.

At the centre of the Liberals’ election campaign is the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic in Canada and the economic recovery. The coronavirus has also become a motivator for early elections. In his statement, Justin Trudeau emphasised that “Canadians need to choose how we finish the fight against COVID-19 and build back better. Canadians deserve their say, and that’s exactly what we are going to give them.” Thus, the main declared goal of the Liberals is to get a vote of confidence from the public for the continuation of the measures taken by the government.

The goal, which the prime minister did not voice, is the desire of the Liberal Party to win an absolute majority in the Parliament. In the 2019 elections, the Liberals won 157 seats, which allowed them to form a minority government, which is forced to seek the support of opposition parties when making decisions.

The somewhat risky move of the Liberals can be explained. The Liberals decided to take advantage of the high ratings of the ruling party and the prime minister at the moment, associated with a fairly successful anti-COVID policy, hoping that a high level of vaccination (according to official data, 71% of the Canadian population, who have no contraindications, are fully vaccinated and the emerging post-pandemic economic recovery will help it win a parliamentary majority.

Opinion polls show that the majority of Canadians approve Trudeau’s strategy to overcome the coronavirus pandemic. Between the 2019 elections and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trudeau’s government was unpopular, with ratings below 30%. Unlike Donald Trump, Trudeau’s approval rating soared after the outbreak of the pandemic to 55%. During the election campaign, the rating of the Liberal Party decreased and was 31.6% on September 16, which reduces the chances of a landslide victory.

Trudeau left unanswered the question of whether he’d resign if his party fails to win an absolute majority in the elections.

Leaders of opposition parties—the Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party, Bloc Québécois, and the Green Party—criticised Trudeau’s decision to call early elections, considering the decision inappropriate for the timing and situation with regard to the risk of the fourth wave of the coronavirus epidemic. They stressed that the government’s primary task should be taking measures to combat the pandemic and restore the economy, rather than trying to hold onto power.

The on-going pandemic will change the electoral process. In the event of a fourth wave, priority will be given to postal voting. Liberal analysts are concerned that the registration process to submit ballots by mail could stop their supporters from voting, thereby undermining Trudeau’s drive to reclaim a majority government. However, postal voting is the least popular among voters of the Conservative Party, and slightly more popular among voters of the Liberal and New Democratic parties. The timeframe for vote-counting will be increased. While ballots are usually counted on the morning after election day, it can take up to five days for postal voting.

One of the key and most attractive campaign messages of the Liberal Party is the reduction of the average cost of childcare services. Liberals have promised to resolve this issue for many years, but no active action has been taken. Justin Trudeau noted that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of this issue.

As in the 2019 elections, the Liberal Party’s key rival will be the Conservative Party, led by new leader Erin O’Toole. The Conservative Party’s rating a five days before the election was 31.3%. Conservatives suggest a different approach to childcare—providing a refundable child tax subsidy that covers up to 75% of the cost of kindergarten for low-income families. Trudeau has been harshly criticised by the Conservatives in connection with the scale of spending under his leadership, especially during the pandemic, and because of billion-dollar promises. In general, the race will not be easy for the conservative O’Toole. This is the first time he is running for the post of prime minister, in contrast to Justin Trudeau. Moreover, the Conservative Party of Canada is split from within, and the candidate is faced with the task of consolidating the party. The Conservative will have to argue against the billion-dollar promises which were made by the ruling Liberals before the elections.

The leaders of the other parties have chances to increase their seats in Parliament compared to the results of the 2019 elections, but they can hardly expect to receive the necessary number of votes to form a government. At the same time, the personal popularity of Jagmeet Singh, the candidate from the New Democratic Party, is growing, especially among young people. The level of his popularity at the end of August was 19.8%. Singh intends to do everything possible to steal progressive voters from the Liberal Party and prevent the formation of a Liberal-majority government. Singh will emphasise the significant role of the NDP under the minority government in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and highlight that it was the New Democratic Party that was able to influence government decisions and measures to support the population during the pandemic.

Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet, whose popularity level was 6.6%, intends to increase the Bloc’s presence in Parliament and prevent the loss of votes in the province of Quebec in favour of the Liberal Party. According to him, it is fundamentally important to protect the French language and the ideas of secularism. The Bloc Québécois is also not interested in the formation of a majority government by the Liberals.

Green Party leader Annamie Paul is in a difficult position due to internal party battles. Moreover, her rating is low: 3.5%. Higher party officials have even tried to pass a no-confidence vote against her. Annamie Paul’s goal is, in principle, to get a seat in Parliament in order to be able to take part in voting on important political issues. The Greens are focused on climate change problems, the principles of social justice, assistance to the most needy segments of the population, and the fight against various types of discrimination.

Traditionally, foreign policy remains a peripheral topic of the election campaign in Canada. This year, the focus will be on combating the COVID-19 epidemic, developing the social sphere, and economic recovery, which will push foreign policy issues aside even further.

The outcome of the elections will not have a significant impact on Russian-Canadian relations. An all-party anti-Russian consensus has developed in Canada; none of the parties have expressed any intention of developing a dialogue with Russia.

From our partner RIAC

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Interpreting the Biden Doctrine: The View From Moscow

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Official White House Photo by Carlos Fyfe

It is the success or failure of remaking America, not Afghanistan, that will determine not just the legacy of the Biden administration, but the future of the United States itself.

The newly unveiled Biden doctrine, which renounces the United States’ post-9/11 policies of remaking other societies and building nations abroad, is a foreign policy landmark. Coming on the heels of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, it exudes credibility. Indeed, President Biden’s moves essentially formalize and finalize processes that have been under way for over a decade. It was Barack Obama who first pledged to end America’s twin wars—in Iraq and Afghanistan—started under George W. Bush. It was Donald Trump who reached an agreement with the Taliban on a full U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. Both Obama and Trump also sought, albeit in strikingly different ways, to redirect Washington’s attention to shoring up the home base.

It is important for the rest of the world to treat the change in U.S. foreign policy correctly. Leaving Afghanistan was the correct strategic decision, if grossly overdue and bungled in the final phases of its implementation. Afghanistan certainly does not mean the end of the United States as a global superpower; it simply continues to be in relative and slow decline. Nor does it spell the demise of American alliances and partnerships. Events in Afghanistan are unlikely to produce a political earthquake within the United States that would topple President Biden. No soul searching of the kind that Americans experienced during the Vietnam War is likely to emerge. Rather, Washington is busy recalibrating its global involvement. It is focusing even more on strengthening the home base. Overseas, the United States is moving from a global crusade in the name of democracy to an active defense of liberal values at home and Western positions abroad.

Afghanistan has been the most vivid in a long series of arguments that persuaded Biden’s White House that a global triumph of liberal democracy is not achievable in the foreseeable future. Thus, remaking problematic countries—“draining the swamp” that breeds terrorism, in the language of the Bush administration—is futile. U.S. military force is a potent weapon, but no longer the means of first resort. The war on terror as an effort to keep the United States safe has been won: in the last twenty years, no major terrorist attacks occurred on U.S. soil. Meantime, the geopolitical, geoeconomic, ideological, and strategic focus of U.S. foreign policy has shifted. China is the main—some say, existential—challenger, and Russia the principal disrupter. Iran, North Korea, and an assortment of radical or extremist groups complete the list of adversaries. Climate change and the pandemic have risen to the top of U.S. security concerns. Hence, the most important foreign policy task is to strengthen the collective West under strong U.S. leadership.

The global economic recession that originated in the United States in 2007 dealt a blow to the U.S.-created economic and financial model; the severe domestic political crisis of 2016–2021 undermined confidence in the U.S. political system and its underlying values; and the COVID-19 disaster that hit the United States particularly hard have all exposed serious political, economic, and cultural issues and fissures within American society and polity. Neglecting the home base while engaging in costly nation-building exercises abroad came at a price. Now the Biden administration has set out to correct that with huge infrastructure development projects and support for the American middle class.

America’s domestic crises, some of the similar problems in European countries, and the growing gap between the United States and its allies during the Trump presidency have produced widespread fears that China and Russia could exploit those issues to finally end U.S. dominance and even undermine the United States and other Western societies from within. This perception is behind the strategy reversal from spreading democracy as far and wide as Russia and China to defending the U.S.-led global system and the political regimes around the West, including in the United States, from Beijing and Moscow.

That said, what are the implications of the Biden doctrine? The United States remains a superpower with enormous resources which is now trying to use those resources to make itself stronger. America has reinvented itself before and may well be able to do so again. In foreign policy, Washington has stepped back from styling itself as the world’s benign hegemon to assume the combat posture of the leader of the West under attack.

Within the collective West, U.S. dominance is not in danger. None of the Western countries are capable of going it alone or forming a bloc with others to present an alternative to U.S. leadership. Western and associated elites remain fully beholden to the United States. What they desire is firm U.S. leadership; what they fear is the United States withdrawing into itself. As for Washington’s partners in the regions that are not deemed vital to U.S. interests, they should know that American support is conditional on those interests and various circumstances. Nothing new there, really: just ask some leaders in the Middle East. For now, however, Washington vows to support and assist exposed partners like Ukraine and Taiwan.

Embracing isolationism is not on the cards in the United States. For all the focus on domestic issues, global dominance or at least primacy has firmly become an integral part of U.S. national identity. Nor will liberal and democratic ideology be retired as a major driver of U.S. foreign policy. The United States will not become a “normal” country that only follows the rules of realpolitik. Rather, Washington will use values as a glue to further consolidate its allies and as a weapon to attack its adversaries. It helps the White House that China and Russia are viewed as malign both across the U.S. political spectrum and among U.S. allies and partners, most of whom have fears or grudges against either Moscow or Beijing.

In sum, the Biden doctrine does away with engagements that are no longer considered promising or even sustainable by Washington; funnels more resources to address pressing domestic issues; seeks to consolidate the collective West around the United States; and sharpens the focus on China and Russia as America’s main adversaries. Of all these, the most important element is domestic. It is the success or failure of remaking America, not Afghanistan, that will determine not just the legacy of the Biden administration, but the future of the United States itself.

From our partner RIAC

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AUKUS aims to perpetuate the Anglo-Saxon supremacy

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Image credit: ussc.edu.au

On September 15, U.S. President Joe Biden worked with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison together to unveil a trilateral alliance among Australia-U.K.-U.S. (AUKUS), which are the major three among the Anglo-Saxon nations (also including Canada and New Zealand). Literally, each sovereign state has full right to pursue individual or collective security and common interests. Yet, the deal has prompted intense criticism across the world including the furious words and firm acts from the Atlantic allies in Europe, such as France that is supposed to lose out on an $40-billion submarine deal with Australia to its Anglo-Saxon siblings—the U.K. and the U.S.

               Some observers opine that AUKUS is another clear attempt by the U.S. and its allies aggressively to provoke China in the Asia-Pacific, where Washington had forged an alliance along with Japan, India and Australia in the name of the Quad. AUKUS is the latest showcase that three Anglo-Saxon powers have pretended to perpetuate their supremacy in all the key areas such as geopolitics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. In short, the triple deal is a move designed to discourage or thwart any future Chinese bid for regional hegemony. But diplomatically its impacts go beyond that. As French media argued that the United States, though an ally of France, just backstabs it by negotiating AUKUS in secret without revealing the plan. Given this, the deal among AUKUS actually reflects the mentality of the Anglo-Saxon nations’ superiority over others even if they are not outrageously practicing an imperialist policy in the traditional way.

               Historically, there are only two qualified global powers which the Europeans still sometimes refer to as “Anglo-Saxon” powers: Great Britain and the United States. As Walter Mead once put it that the British Empire was, and the United States is, concerned not just with the balance of power in one particular corner of the world, but with the evolution of what it is today called “world order”. Now with the rise of China which has aimed to become a global power with its different culture and political views from the current ruling powers, the Anglo-Saxon powers have made all efforts to align with the values-shared allies or partners to create the strong bulwarks against any rising power, like China and Russia as well. Physically, either the British Empire or the United States did or does establish a worldwide system of trade and finance which have enabled the two Anglo-Saxon powers to get rich and advanced in high-technologies. As a result, those riches and high-tech means eventually made them execute the power to project their military force that ensure the stability of their-dominated international systems. Indeed the Anglo-Saxon powers have had the legacies to think of their global goals which must be bolstered by money and foreign trade that in turn produces more wealth. Institutionally, the Anglo-Saxon nations in the world—the U.S., the U.K, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—have formed the notorious “Five eyes alliance” to collect all sorts of information and data serving their common core interests and security concerns.

This is not just rhetoric but an objective reflection of the mentality as Australian Foreign Minister Payne candidly revealed at the press conference where she said that the contemporary state of their alliance “is well suited to cooperate on countering economic coercion.” The remarks imply that AUKUS is a military response to the rising economic competition from China because politics and economics are intertwined with each other in power politics, in which military means acts in order to advance self-interested economic ends. In both geopolitical and geoeconomic terms, the rise of China, no matter how peaceful it is, has been perceived as the “systematic” challenges to the West’s domination of international relations and global economy, in which the Anglo-Saxon superiority must remain. Another case is the U.S. efforts to have continuously harassed the Nord Stream 2 project between Russia and Germany.

Yet, in the global community of today, any superpower aspiring for pursuing “inner clique” like AUKUS will be doomed to fail. First, we all are living in the world “where the affairs of each country are decided by its own people, and international affairs are run by all nations through consultation,” as President Xi put it. Due to this, many countries in Asia warn that AUKUS risks provoking a nuclear arms race in the Asian-Pacific region. The nuclear factor means that the U.S. efforts to economically contain China through AUKUS on nationalist pretexts are much more dangerous than the run-up to World War I. Yet, neither the United States nor China likes to be perceived as “disturbing the peace” that Asian countries are eager to preserve. In reality, Asian countries have also made it clear not to take either side between the power politics.

Second, AUKUS’s deal jeopardizes the norms of international trade and treaties. The reactions of third parties is one key issue, such as the French government is furious about the deal since it torpedoes a prior Australian agreement to purchase one dozen of conventional subs from France. Be aware that France is a strong advocate for a more robust European Union in the world politics. Now the EU is rallying behind Paris as in Brussels EU ambassadors agreed to postpone preparations for an inaugural trade and technology council on September 29 with the U.S. in Pittsburgh. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared in a strong manner that “since one of our member states has been treated in a way that is not acceptable, so we need to know what happened and why.” Michael Roth, Germany’s minister for European affairs, went even further as he put it, “It is once again a wake-up call for all of us in the European Union to ask ourselves how we can strengthen our sovereignty, how we can present a united front even on issues relevant to foreign and security policy.” It is the time for the EU to talk with one voice and for the need to work together to rebuild mutual trust among the allies.

Third, the deal by AUKUS involves the nuclear dimension. It is true that the three leaders have reiterated that the deal would be limited to the transfer of nuclear propulsion technology (such as reactors to power the new subs) but not nuclear weapons technology. Accordingly, Australia remains a non-nuclear country not armed with such weapons. But from a proliferation standpoint, that is a step in the direction of more extensive nuclear infrastructure. It indicates the United States and the U.K. are willing to transfer highly sensitive technologies to close allies. But the issue of deterrence in Asia-and especially extended deterrence-is extremely complicated since it will become ore so as China’s nuclear arsenal expands. If the security environment deteriorates in the years ahead, U.S. might consider allowing its core allies to gain nuclear capabilities and Australia is able to gain access to this technology as its fleet expands. Yet, it also means that Australia is not a non-nuclear country any more.

In brief, the deal itself and the triple alliance among AUKUS will take some years to become a real threat to China or the ruling authorities of the country. But the deal announced on Sept. 15 will complicate Chinese efforts to maintain a peaceful rise and act a responsible power. Furthermore, the deal and the rationales behind it is sure to impede China’s good-will to the members of AUKUS and the Quad, not mention of their irresponsible effects on peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

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