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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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Americas

Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer

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When Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up on the scene as White House Press Secretary, the reaction was that of relief. Finally — someone civil, normal, friendly. Jen Psaki’s entry this year was something similar. People were ready for someone well-spoken, well-mannered, even friendly as a much welcome change from the string of liars, brutes or simply disoriented people that the Trump Administration seemed to be lining up the press and communications team with on a rolling basis. After all, if the face of the White House couldn’t keep it together for at least five minutes in public, what did that say about the overall state of the White House behind the scenes?

But Psaki’s style is not what the American media and public perceive it to be. Her style is almost undetectable to the general American public to the point that it could look friendly and honest to the untrained eye or ear. Diplomatic or international organization circles are perhaps better suited to catch what’s behind the general mannerism. Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer, but a Sean Spicer nevertheless. I actually think she will do much better than him in Dancing With The Stars. No, in fact, she will be fabulous at Dancing With The Stars once she gets replaced as White House Press Secretary.

So let’s take a closer look. I think what remains undetected by the general American media is veiled aggression and can easily pass as friendliness. Psaki recently asked a reporter who was inquiring about the Covid statistics at the White House why the reporter needed that information because Psaki simply didn’t have that. Behind the brisk tone was another undertone: the White House can’t be questioned, we are off limits. But it is not and that’s the point. 

Earlier, right at the beginning in January, Psaki initially gave a pass to a member of her team when the Politico stunner reporter story broke out. The reporter was questioning conflict of interest matters, while the White House “stud” was convinced it was because he just didn’t chose her, cursing her and threatening her. Psaki sent him on holidays. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Psaki has a level of aggression that’s above average, yet she comes across as one of the most measured and reasonable White House Press Secretaries of the decade. And that’s under pressure. But being able to mask that level of deflection is actually not good for the media because the media wants answers. Style shouldn’t (excuse the pun) trump answers. And being able to get away smoothly with it doesn’t actually serve the public well. Like that time she just walked away like it’s not a big deal. It’s the style of “as long as I say thank you or excuse me politely anything goes”. But it doesn’t. And the American public will need answers to some questions very soon. Psaki won’t be able to deliver that and it would be a shame to give her a pass just because of style.

I think it’s time that we start seeing Psaki as a veiled Sean Spicer. And that Dancing with the Stars show — I hope that will still run despite Covid.

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As Refugees Flee Central America, the Mexican Public Sours On Accepting Them

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Authors: Isabel Eliassen, Alianna Casas, Timothy S. Rich*

In recent years, individuals from Central America’s Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) have been forced out of their home countries by extreme poverty and gang violence. While initial expectations were that the Lopez Obrador administration would be more welcoming to migrants, policies have slowly mirrored those of his predecessor, and do not seem to have deterred refugees. COVID-19 led to a decrease in refugees arriving in Mexico, and many shelters in Mexico closed or have limited capacity due to social distancing restrictions. Now that the COVID-19 situation has changed, arrivals could increase again to the levels seen in late 2018 or 2019, with overcrowded refugee centers lacking in medical care as potential grounds for serious COVID-19 outbreaks.

Mexico increasingly shares a similar view as the US on this migration issue, seeking ways to detain or deport migrants rather than supporting or protecting them. For instance, Mexico’s National Immigration Institute has been conducting raids on freight trains to find and detain migrants. Public opinion likely shapes these policies. In the US, support for allowing migrants into the country appeared to increase slightly from 2018 to 2019, but no significant majority emerges. Meanwhile, Mexican public opinion increasingly exhibits anti-immigrant sentiments, declining considerably since 2018, with a 2019 Washington Post poll showing that 55% supported deporting Central Americans rather than providing temporary residence and a 2019 El Financiero poll finding 63% supportive of closing to border to curb migration.

New Data Shows the Mexican Public Unwelcoming

To gauge Mexican public opinion on refugees, we conducted an original web survey June 24-26 via Qualtrics, using quota sampling. We asked 625 respondents to evaluate the statement “Mexico should accept refugees fleeing from Central America” on a five-point Likert scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. For visual clarity, we combined disagree and agree categories in the figure below.

Overall, a plurality (43.84%) opposed accepting refugees, with less than a third (30.08%) supportive. Broken down by party affiliation, we see similar results, with the largest opposition from the main conservative party PAN (52.90%) and lowest in the ruling party MORENA (41.58%). Broken down by gender, we find women slightly more supportive compared to men (32.60% vs. 27.04%), consistent with findings elsewhere and perhaps acknowledgment that women and children historically comprise a disproportionate amount of refugees. Regression analysis again finds PAN supporters to be less supportive than other respondents, although this distinction declines once controlling for gender, age, education and income, of which only age corresponded with a statistically significant decline in support. It is common for older individuals to oppose immigration due to generational changes in attitude, so this finding is not unexpected.

We also asked the question “On a 1-10 scale, with 1 being very negative and 10 very positive, how do you feel about the following countries?” Among countries listed were the sources of the Central American refugees, the three Northern Triangle countries. All three received similar average scores (Guatemala: 4.33, Honduras: 4.05, El Salvador: 4.01), higher than Venezuela (3.25), but lower than the two other countries rated (US: 7.71, China: 7.26) Yet, even after controlling for general views of the Central American countries, we find the public generally unsupportive of accepting refugees.

How Should Mexico Address the Refugee Crisis?

Towards the end of the Obama administration, aid and other efforts directed at resolving the push factors for migration in Central America, including decreasing violence and limiting corruption, appeared to have some success at reducing migration north. President Trump’s policies largely did not improve the situation, and President Biden has begun to reverse those policies and re-implement measures successful under Obama.

As discussed in a meeting between the Lopez Obrador administration and US Vice President Kamala Harris, Mexico could adopt similar aid policies, and decreasing the flow of migrants may make the Mexican public respond more positively to accepting migrants. Lopez Obrador committed to increased economic cooperation with Central America days into his term, with pledges of aid as well, but these efforts remain underdeveloped. Threats to cut aid expedite deportations only risks worsening the refugee crisis, while doing little to improve public opinion.

Increasingly, the number of family units from Guatemala and Honduras seeking asylum in Mexico, or the United States, represents a mass exodus from Central America’s Northern Triangle to flee insecurity. Combating issues such as extreme poverty and violence in Central American countries producing the mass exodus of refugees could alleviate the impact of the refugee crisis on Mexico. By alleviating the impact of the refugee crisis, refugees seeking asylum will be able to navigate immigration processes easier thus decreasing tension surrounding the influx of refugees.

Likewise, identifying the public’s security and economic concerns surrounding refugees and crafting a response should reduce opposition. A spokesperson for Vice President Harris stated that border enforcement was on the agenda during meetings with the Lopez Obrador administration, but the Mexican foreign minister reportedly stated that border security was not to be addressed at the meeting. Other than deporting migrants at a higher rate than the US, Mexico also signed an agreement with the US in June pledging money to improve opportunities for work in the Northern Triangle. Nonetheless, questions about whether this agreement will bring meaningful change remain pertinent in the light of a worsening crisis.

Our survey research shows little public interest in accepting refugees. Public sentiment is unlikely to change unless the Lopez Obrador administration finds ways to both build sympathy for the plights of refugees and address public concerns about a refugee crisis with no perceived end in sight. For example, research in the US finds public support for refugees is often higher when the emphasis is on women and children, and the Lopez Obrador administration could attempt to frame the crisis as helping specifically these groups who historically comprise most refugees. Likewise, coordinating efforts with the US and other countries may help portray to the public that the burden of refugee resettlement is being equitably shared rather than disproportionately placed on Mexico.

Facing a complex situation affecting multiple governments requires coordinated efforts and considerable resources to reach a long-term solution. Until then, the Central American refugee crisis will continue and public backlash in Mexico likely increase.

Isabel Eliassen is a 2021 Honors graduate of Western Kentucky University. She triple majored in International Affairs, Chinese, and Linguistics.

Alianna Casas is an Honors Undergraduate Researcher at Western Kentucky University, majoring in Business Economics, Political Science, and a participant in the Joint Undergraduate/Master’s Program in Applied Economics.

Timothy S. Rich is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Western Kentucky University and Director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL). His research focuses on public opinion and electoral politics.

Funding for this survey was provided by the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University.

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