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Obama Has Missed His Moment

Posted on Apr 27, 2009
White House / Pete Souza

The president meets with a room full of advisers.

By Chris Hedges

Barack Obama has squandered his presidency. He had a fleeting moment to challenge the casino capitalism and financial recklessness of our economic and political elite. He could have orchestrated a state socialism that would have provided a safety net for tens of millions of Americans faced with dislocation and misery. The sums he has doled out to Wall Street could have been used to force companies to keep workers on the job or create new banks to open up credit. But he lacked the foresight and the courage to challenge entrenched power. And now we are headed down one of two frightening roads—massive deflation or hyperinflation. Neither will be pleasant.

Hyman Minsky—an economist largely ignored during his lifetime and now held up as something of a prophet—argued that speculative bubbles, and the financial collapses that follow them, are an inevitable consequence of unregulated capitalism. Minsky, an economics professor at Washington University in St. Louis who died in 1996, warned: “The normal functioning of our economy leads to financial trauma and crises, inflation, currency depreciations, unemployment and poverty in the middle of what could be virtually universal affluence—in short … financially complex capitalism is inherently flawed.” He called for socialized banking and stimulus packages to protect workers.

Our Minsky moment, however, has passed. Obama did not introduce radical measures to change our financial structures. And the outlook, even from Obama’s chief financial advisers, is very gloomy. The U.S. economy will continue to contract “for some time to come,” said Lawrence Summers, director of the White House National Economic Council. “I expect the economy will continue to decline,” with “sharp declines in employment for quite some time this year,” Summers said Sunday on “Fox News Sunday.”

The International Monetary Fund has forecast that the U.S. economy will shrink 2.8 percent this year and have no growth in 2010, with unemployment rising to 10.1 percent.

Deflation, for the moment, remains our most immediate threat. The Labor Department reported that in March the consumer price index fell 0.4 percent over the last year, the first decline in over 50 years. Home values have fallen in the last year by 18 percent. Our current deflation is not the massive deflation endured during the Great Depression, but if it continues, and it becomes sustained, it will wreck our economy. I suspect that the few trillion dollars thrown at an economy that may have lost as much as $40 trillion in wealth means deflation will win out.


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A sustained deflation, such as the one that has afflicted Japan, would make it much harder for borrowers, who would have less cash, to pay off debt. It would fuel more defaults, see more bankruptcies and dry up credit. It would lead to a fall in wages. Those attempting to sell houses, or any other products, would watch helplessly as the value of what they own evaporated. 

Classical economic theory states that when you pump huge sums of money into the economy you produce inflation. And Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke would like to trigger inflation to relieve the heavy debts weighing on many banks and investment houses. Inflation, because it reduces the value of the dollar, effectively devalues debts and reduces what many owe. This push toward inflation is why we have low interest rates. This is why we are printing and borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars. And this is why projected deficits are almost beyond comprehension.

The Congressional Budget Office recently released its analysis of the Obama administration’s 10-year budget proposal. The projected deficit for fiscal year 2009 is $1.8 trillion. And the CBO projects deficits over the next 10 years that annually are between about $650 billion and $1 trillion. The CBO also projects that the outstanding federal debt held by the public will increase from 40.8 percent of GDP in 2008 to 82.4 percent in 2019. This is a doubling of the national debt over the next 10 years. These deficits are being produced to jump-start the economy, to prevent deflation and to produce inflation.

Inflation, which may look good if you are a Wall Street firm overloaded with bad debt, is as risky as deflation, however. It can easily morph into hyperinflation and bring, like deflation, political and economic instability. It can lead to runs on banks. It can make your currency worthless. It discourages investment and thrift. And when you borrow at the level we are borrowing at you frequently debauch your currency. This could lead to the dollar being abandoned as a global currency. Why would the Chinese, or anyone else, want to keep buying our debt while we work overtime to devalue our currency? It means, in essence, that they can never make a profit and what they own is being reduced daily in value. 

Hyperinflation is never controlled domestically. It is created by outside forces. If China and other buyers of our debt view the endlessly increasing American deficit spending as a threat to the viability of the U.S. dollar they will abandon the dollar and reduce their purchases of treasury bills. Chinese leaders have already questioned the wisdom of keeping foreign reserves predominantly in the form of U.S. dollar-denominated treasury bills and bonds. And if they walk away from the dollar our currency will become junk and hyperinflation will race through the society like a plague.

Deflation or hyperinflation will be our nemesis. These are the only two options left. The speculators on Wall Street and in the White House are again rolling the dice. But be assured that no matter what combination comes up, we are going to be fleeced.

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By Joe Gall, April 27, 2009 at 9:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

They didn’t fall for change and hope crap.

They knew that the alternative to Obama allowed by the US boss class offered even less chance for any change and hope.

And so the US deserves to die.

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By altlic, April 27, 2009 at 8:52 pm Link to this comment

Everybody is jumping on maximus (3.33 p.m.) but I completely agree with him.  That doesn’t mean I don’t sympathize with those who see Obama as a complete sell-out, but come on guys, you have to be a sell-out just to become POTUS.  All the revolutionary types at Truthdig are exceptionally insightful and I respect and value that.  But really, in the end, there’s a lot of pie in the sky. 

Look, who are the ones who are actually marching in the streets already?  The teabaggers for Chrissakes!  Who is leading the revolution?  Glenn Beck!  So, my question to you “purists” on the left is: do you really want to mobilize the populace to overthrow the status quo?  In my opinion, y’all should think long and hard about that one.  No, I think everyone needs to take a deep breath and consider that evolution - not revolution - is our best bet. 

Now, on the other hand, carpe diem, the time is right to stand up and be counted.  Just try not to add your voice to the chorus on the far right.  No good can come of that… in my opinion.

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By RobertinWestbury, April 27, 2009 at 7:23 pm Link to this comment

LOL…  I can’t help myself..

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By herewegoagain, April 27, 2009 at 7:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

DWIGHTBAKER, my suggestion would be that we pay attention to what’s happening in our own towns, cities and communities - mainly by getting involved on the local level to prevent giant corporations from displacing local businesses. Really focus on building local, and locally or regionally sustained economies.

In other words, one community at a time, we can take our country back.

Of course, this is much harder and involves actual work as opposed to being impotently fixated on national politics. Which I confess I’m guilty of myself.

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By ThaddeusStephens, April 27, 2009 at 5:57 pm Link to this comment

What to do about the financial mess?

Return to financial transactions that have deep transparency.
    Look up credit default swaps ( a fancy term used to describe selling and buying or risk) and notice the one overarching feature-even the pros don’t know who’s at the other end of some of these incredibly complicated deals-deals that will suck up $60 trillion dollars before all is done with on this.
Returning to strict business sense of financing our economy would call for the Wall Street Macho Crime family to come off their high sugar diet. I can hear the cries and moaning now. Mr. Obama got into office with Wall Street money and so of course gives into the sugar freaks with truckloads of sweets from the U. S. Treasury. Those ‘sweett’ are realy Money that comes off our backs.
Stop predatory lending.
I’ll place another period at the end of that one.
Make the credit rating firms Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch report the truth on bonds.

Deregulation in the 1990s gave rise to a new generation of what the Federal Reserve has called “large complex financial institutions” (LCFIs). These larger entities need to be watched very closely by a watchdog that would have the power to close down any one of them that plays too much with fire.
Some other ideas can be found here

and here

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By CSH_SanDiego, April 27, 2009 at 5:05 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Doesn’t anyone remember basic civics? Presidents do not make laws. There can be no ushering in of socialism without the support of Congress and the American people.

While I didn’t vote for Obama, we already have an improvement over the previous administration which was happy to torture and erode our civil liberties. Anyone who actually thought Washington could “usher in a new era” or some such drivel is naive at best.

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By Marc Schlee, April 27, 2009 at 4:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Obama didn’t “miss” his opportunity for change, his political team briefly examined it as an option and discarded it.



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By Me, April 27, 2009 at 3:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr. Obama squandered his presidency even before being elected president when he went along with the $700 billion Bush-Wall Street bailout after having happily supported Bush’s borrow-and-splurge economic policies during his brief Senate career.  He has no plan other than extending the Bush policy of borrow-and-splurge-and-bailout as long as Chinese and Japanese chumps keep buying worthless Treasury bonds.  What will Mr. Obama do after he’s bilked the last chump?  Why did Americans think that a man who had consistently supported Bush’s economic policies would do anything differently?

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By Thomas Mc, April 27, 2009 at 3:30 pm Link to this comment

Obama isn’t going to “challenge the casino capitalism and financial recklessness of our economic and political elite,” he’s their frontman! duh! He’s throwing money at them exactly the same way Bush did.

I can’t believe people actually fell for that “change” and “hope” crap.

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By herewegoagain, April 27, 2009 at 2:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If Obama really was “selected” as the new face of corporate globalism, then I have to admit…hats off to the powers-that-be. What a brilliant fraud! There is certainly something about this man that inspires trust and unlimited second chances despite a mounting pile of broken campaign promise.

The sad thing is, I knew as soon as Obama threw Reverend Wright under the bus that he wasn’t the guy we were hoping he was…and I still voted for him.
Damned if I’m not sure I won’t vote for him again in 2012, either…

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By KDelphi, April 27, 2009 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment

maximus—You are being snowed. The Dems have the presidency, the House and the Senate. What in hell would stop them? They can do reconciliation.

They did it with the Bush tax cuts, even though GOP are decrying it now, even for the Baucus feckles health insurance industry gift.

Pres. Obama just doesnt want to do anything for poor and working people. He never even mentioned them—not once. (wait—I think he said “poverty” once, about a week after his coronation—but, still , in the vein of “education and opportunity”...this just isnt viable for many and is becomoing less and less a ticket to a job these days))They are “aspiring middle class”—even the 80 yr olds , I guess.

Do you recall, after Bush was appointed, the gOP, did not give a rat’s ass what Dems thought. When Dems are in the same position, they prove to have no balls.

So, the question is, why continue to support them at all? Lessser of two evilism is the excuse. But, it just isnt valid anymore.

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By truedigger3, April 27, 2009 at 1:34 pm Link to this comment

Re: By maximus, April 27 at 3:33 pm #


Either you are in denial and bullshitting yourself in
a vain attempt to convince yourself, or you know the truth and are trying to bullshit us.

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By jonr, April 27, 2009 at 12:55 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The current national debt, as of today, is a little less than $11.22 trillion.  It passed $10 trillion for the first time in late September of 2008.
Ten years before that, in September 1999, it was $5.66 trillion.  Sept ‘89 was $2.86 trillion, Sept. ‘79 was $827 billion, Sept. ‘69 was $354 billion, Sept. ‘59 was $285 billion and June ‘50, the earliest I can find quickly, was $257 billion.
All bid numbers, but there needs to be a sense of perspective here. 
Can we continue to double the national debt every ten years?  History over the last few decades says that, yes, we pretty much can do that and HAVE done.

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By Jon, April 27, 2009 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Obama has come down on the side of the banks, Wall Street and the ‘elites’ that manipulate the system, and has abandoned those of us on Main Street who work for money each week. Notice Obama has not spent nearly the time and the money on helping Main Street as he has for the banks and Wall Street.

Obama’s failure to roll the hard six will historically contrast with the strong, ethical, FDR who took the decisions necessary which angered the banking community so much that his decisions resulted in a failed coup by business and banking interests:

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By maximus, April 27, 2009 at 12:33 pm Link to this comment

I would only submitt the theory that so many whole sale changes are not achievable in this country. the old order may be keeping its heads down but their power is the same as it ever was. A new president who is young is not going to just order changes. I could be wrong, but i suspect that obama is using the frog and the water technique. If he moves to fast then the republicans, the press, the so called blue dog democrats and everybody else would be on him in a heart beat and absolutely nothing would get done.

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By scrap wood, April 27, 2009 at 11:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

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By KDelphi, April 27, 2009 at 11:18 am Link to this comment

William Wexler—I liked it (Scandanavia)too. One of the problems with moving to a Democratic Socialist country, now, is, who can afford it? I certainly couldnt. When Pres. Obama met with the G-20, the main item on their agenda was more regulation—they didnt get it.

I got along with most people I met in all of W. Europe, once I got to know them.(many Eastern Europeans, as they were called then, also—once I got to know them) But, even years ago, they had a deep distrust of ‘Merkins as greedy, oversimplifying, capitalists.We have done nothing since to prove them wrong.

He may not have been able to do “socialism”,(certainly he didnt say that he would, but, disparaged “socialaim” everytime he got a chance) but, some protections for citizens, the working classes, and some damn regulation on banks,(nationalize them—I’ve heard that there is no model—call Sweden. talk to Chavez, they could give you some tips) was essential! You dont have to save bankers to save banks. Even the credit card reform is extremely modest and not retroactive. It will be the next big “crisis”, as incomes fall, worth of homes continues to fall, and, more and more people put necessities on credit cards. So many acted like he gave the credit card bankers a “big can of whoopass”—what bullshit. If they raised your rates to the 20’s% or so, it will stay there.

NOte to self: Contracts that CANNOT be changed in ‘Merka—-ones with rich, white guys. ONes that CAN: credit cards for citizens, esp. minority and poor, and, Union contracts. (there is an excellent article about the stagnation in wages, the falling union memebership., the level of debt, especially for necessities, like food and rent and heatlh care—a biggie——it is astoundingly frightening! I will try to find it again…my pc logged me off in the middle)

All the talk of “getting back to normal”—it ignores how we got there, and, only adds to bubble economics. If you appoint Wall St, you get help for Wall St.

Here’s the article, with excerpts from Bill Moyers and others:

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By Night-Gaunt, April 27, 2009 at 11:12 am Link to this comment

The first thing you do with a problem is to remove the elements of it causing that problem and build anew on a clean foundation. Obama started down the wrong path and is now working to maintain the corrupt status quo. That is this a major error of the “man of change” when he really isn’t in the first place? When he is the new face of the old regime that is. What he says and what he does don’t mesh you see the problem?

Another time of getting screwed by the corrupt rigged elections where both sides are the same sides! How can you lose when you are in charge of the only two allowed parties?

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By Ruth Rooks, April 27, 2009 at 11:08 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What’s worst? He never even aimed at it.

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By mill, April 27, 2009 at 11:03 am Link to this comment

Mr. Hedges asserts: “He could have orchestrated a state socialism ...”

Nonsense.  Among Obama’s 69 million votes I strongly doubt there were people clamoring for a dramatic shift to socialism.  Among McCain’s 59 million I’m d-mn sure there were no advocates for socialism.

There is no public mandate to go to a Sweden-style set-up,  the dreams of the Mr. Hedges and others aside.  If that’s what Obama went for,  nothing at all would have passed through the Senate.

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By HonestJohn, April 27, 2009 at 10:51 am Link to this comment

@ Stacey

Open you eyes to the reality that the people Obama has chosen to drive our economy into the ground are the same ones responsible for us being here in the first place. I voted for Obama, and this is the change he has given us? Larry Summers, Timmy Geithner, and (not by his doing) Ben Bernanke…all these guys are crooks…if you think we should give him time in this area, you are living in a dream world. I suggest watching Bill Moyers interview with William K.Black, it may open your eyes to the truth.

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By Stacey C. Herbst, April 27, 2009 at 9:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

OK, went back and scanned past columns and have decided Chris Hedges is a good guy…but it still feels a bit premature to throw in the towel on Obama…

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By William W. Wexler, April 27, 2009 at 9:39 am Link to this comment

If we intend to try to fix this then we must drill down to the root cause of the problem.  Once there was a brilliant program on PBS TV called “Connections” which analyzed how seemingly unrelated causes and events are actually connected through a chain of causes events.  I suspect that the failings of our democratic republic these days could all be traced back to the two party system.

If Americans actually got to hear other points of view and were presented with real choices in elections rather than the pre-selected Democrat and Republican (and rare Independent) I believe that some of this nonsense would start to resolve itself.

Currently, the system is rigged against minor party candidates and this is why phony progressives like Obama can get elected.  Most lefties voted for Obama because the prospects of a McCain/Palin administration were too ghastly to consider.  What if there was a viable 3rd party movement as what happened in the Perot campaign, which I predict will be the last time the Dems/GOP will allow a 3rd party that much room?  Nader was polling at between 5 and 6 per cent.  What if he would have been allowed a podium during the presidential “debates”?

Well, he would have made both Obama and McCain look like sad sacks.  But he would never get that podium, because of the Presidential Debates Commission, which is where the GOP and Dems get together every 4 years to tighten their death grip on democracy in this country. 

Perhaps we must drill down one more layer.  Americans aren’t ready to hear the plain truth, which is why we have political parties like the Dems and GOP which lie as easily as most people breathe.  They don’t want to contemplate, they want black/white, good/evil, yes/no, left/right.  They don’t want to think, they can’t handle the truth, and they are event driven rather than process driven so once the election or football game is won, they retire with a smug smile and the feeling of accomplishment.

So today Chris Hedges tells us that Obama passed on his chance to make us socialist.  Well, maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, and maybe that chance never really existed.  At my age, I’ve decided that if I want to live in a socialist country I’m going to have to move.  Americans are a strange lot.  We are so used to being the Good Guys that we refuse to see poverty in our own nation.  We vote against our own interests as laborers, the people who actually get stuff made and tasks done.  We idolize youth, fame, power, glamor, and money, and even though everyone strives for one or more of those only a small fraction ever get more than one at a time.

I spent some time in Norway as a musician.  I kind of liked it there.


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By Stacey C. Herbst, April 27, 2009 at 9:32 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Isn’t a little early to declare the patient dead?  With all the different diseases Obama is dealing with, he’s bound to make mistakes, not to mention he can’t do everything they way everybody thinks is best.

Feels an awful lot like writers such as Chris Hedges can’t wait to deliver bad news…I’m going to go back and read some old columns…would love to read what he had to say during the Bush years.

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By Virginia777, April 27, 2009 at 9:26 am Link to this comment

“Barack Obama has squandered his presidency.”

Chris Hedges, you are the biggest winner, as well as the biggest loser I know. I suppose that is a part of the human enigma, but this time (as always with Obama) you got it WRONG!!

stop squandering your growing reputation with petty Obama-bashing like this!

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By P. T., April 27, 2009 at 9:19 am Link to this comment

The ruling class cannot wrap its collective mind around the idea of admitting that its largest financial institutions are insolvent.

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By lOst_sOuls_rembrd, April 27, 2009 at 8:40 am Link to this comment

The same thoughts are exploding throughout the off mainstream media…....

Damn.  It is all just a filthy mess.  Know the difference between needs and wants.  The cycle of greed is coming to a jolting halt.  There is no more pride in made in USA.

If it wasn’t for my spirituality….........

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By Folktruther, April 27, 2009 at 8:38 am Link to this comment

Hedges is right.  Obama didn’t have to capitulate so entirely to the neoliberal Zionist power structure.

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By truedigger3, April 27, 2009 at 8:24 am Link to this comment

Chris Hedges wrote:
“The president had a fleeting moment to challenge the casino capitalism and financial recklessness of our economic and political elite”

How Obama challenge them if they are the people who
selected him and largely financed and worked for his election?
He is surrounded by them or by their representatives.
All what you will get from Obama is make-belief
measures and a lot of bullshitting but nothing in
He is continuing on the same track of W Bush with
minor cosmotic changes on the fringes.
There will be no REAL change neither in domestic nor
foreign policies and business will be as usual in
Washington DC.

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By HonestJohn, April 27, 2009 at 8:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

@ Bubba…..

There is no good news, unless you count the MSM fabrication of a bottom in the recession/depression. Hedges has been spot on in his assessment of the Obama administration’s attempt to protect the oligarchs running our financial institutions. These people are financial terrorists, and should be prosecuted. We need a modern day Pecora Commission, but this will only happen after we crash and burn.

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By samosamo, April 27, 2009 at 7:53 am Link to this comment

More Monday morning good news about our messiah-in-chief’s unwillingness to roll up his sleeves and start working on this crisis. All his actions up to now have not instilled in me of what his idea of fixing the problem really is other than providing for the well being of those that created this mess. But, as I have said before, this country will have to literally crash before any real action to happen to create a fix which will be a brand new country or an ‘Orwellian’ world that will be worse than anything Orwell dreamed up.

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By G.Anderson, April 27, 2009 at 6:56 am Link to this comment

Let’s see, Robert Reich interviewed in The Economist magazine, the other day, said we are only at the end of the beginnning of the economic downturn.

Fortunately, or unfortunately what ever your point of view, what’s coming will necessitate some of the actions that Mr. Hedges talks about. But since these actions will be forced during the worst parts of the financial crisis, they won’t help that much.

As Marx pointed out, the mode of production produces social consciousness. What will be the social consciousness, when the whole country is out of work?

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By everynobody, April 27, 2009 at 6:52 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Missed his moment? Seriously? I want some of what your smoking!
I’m not happy with O at this time, but, he is walking through a minefield of absolute shit! For me, this whole thing hinges on the torture thingy. Even Roubini thinks he’s got the financial bit mostly right. The accountability regarding our criminal/war crime stuff is requiring a reckoning. Our soul is on the line here; how will he go? The answer will determine the future of us…

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By bachu, April 27, 2009 at 5:44 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Before Hedges some commentators had observed that Obama’s presidency was the beginning of a false dawn.  And it is true as others are now finding out.

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By RobertinWestbury, April 27, 2009 at 5:44 am Link to this comment

“He could have orchestrated a state socialism that would have provided a safety net for tens of millions of Americans faced with dislocation and misery.”

No, he could not have. 

He never would have been able to orchestrate such a move without the support and votes of Congress, and they would never have done it.  The very word ‘socialism’ scares the hell out of too many (a majority) of their constituents. 

It was not politically feasible.  Unfortunately. 

Now, if he sees some successes and that buys him enough political capital, and if things worsen so that people are hurting enough, he may be able to make a move then.  But brand new and with things as they are now, no way.  I don’t agree with the author that he could have done it.

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By Bubba, April 27, 2009 at 5:14 am Link to this comment

And what good news have you heard lately, Chris?

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By Kaelieh, April 27, 2009 at 3:55 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The only economist cited in this article is a Keynesian talk about bias.

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