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The Obama Contradiction

Posted on Apr 30, 2012
Tony Fischer Photography (CC BY 2.0)

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch

(Page 2)

At the same time, they began expanding the realm of presidentially ordered “covert” military operations (most of which were, in the end, well publicized)—from drone wars to the deployment of special operations forces.  These were signposts indicating the power of an unchained president to act without constraint abroad.  Similarly, at home, the Bush administration began expanding what would once have been illegal surveillance of citizens and other forms of presidentially inspired overreach.  They began, in other words, treating the U.S. as if it were part of an alien planet, as if it were, in some sense, a foreign country and they the occupying power.

With a cowed Congress and a fearful, distracted populace, they undoubtedly were free to do far more.  There were few enough checks and balances left to constrain a war president and his top officials.  It turned out, in fact, that the only real checks and balances they felt were internalized ones, or ones that came from within the national security state itself, and yet those evidently did limit what they felt was possible.

The Obama Conundrum

This, then, was what Barack Obama inherited on entering the Oval Office: an expanding, but not yet fully expansive, commander-in-chief presidency, which, in retrospect, seemed to fit him like a… glove.  Of course, he also inherited the Bush administration’s domestic failures and those in the Greater Middle East, and they overshadowed what he’s done with that commander-in-chief presidency.


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It’s true that, with President Truman’s decision to go to war in Korea in 1950, Congress’s constitutional right to declare war (rather than rubberstamp a presidential announcement of the same) went by the boards.  So there’s a distinct backstory to our present imperial presidency.  Still, in our era, presidential war-making has become something like a 24/7 activity.

Once upon a time, American presidents didn’t consider micro-managing a permanent war state as a central part of their job description, nor did they focus so unrelentingly on the U.S. military and the doings of the national security state. Today, the president’s word is death just about anywhere on the planet and he exercises that power with remarkable frequency.  He appears in front of “the troops” increasingly often and his wife has made their wellbeing part of her job description.  He has at his command expanded “covert” powers, including his own private armies: a more militarized CIA and growing hordes of special operations forces, 60,000 of them, who essentially make up a “covert” military inside the U.S. military.

In effect, he also has his own private intelligence outfits, including most recently a newly formed Defense Clandestine Service at the Pentagon focused on non-war zone intelligence operations (especially, so the reports go, against China and Iran).  Finally, he has what is essentially his own expanding private (robotic) air force: drones.

He can send his drone assassins and special ops troops just about anywhere to kill just about anyone he thinks should die, national sovereignty be damned.  He firmly established his “right” to do this by going after the worst of the worst, killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan with special operations forces and an American citizen and jihadi, Anwar al-Awlaki, in Yemen with a drone.

At the moment, the president is in the process of widening his around-the-clock “covert” air campaigns.  Almost unnoted in the U.S., for instance, American drones recently carried out a strike in the Philippines killing 15 and the Air Force has since announced a plan to boost its drones there by 30%.  At the same time, in Yemen, as previously in the Pakistani borderlands, the president has just given the CIA and the U.S. Joint Operations Command the authority to launch drone strikes not just against identified “high-value” al-Qaeda “targets,” but against general “patterns of suspicious behavior.”  So expect an escalating drone war there not against known individuals, but against groups of suspected evildoers (and as in all such cases, innocent civilians as well).

This is another example of something that would be forbidden at home, but is now a tool of unchecked presidential power elsewhere in the world: profiling.

As with Bush junior, the only thing that constrains the president and his team, it seems, is some set of internalized checks and balances.  That’s undoubtedly why, before he ordered the successful drone assassination of Awlaki, lawyers from the Pentagon, State Department, National Security Council, intelligence agencies, and the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel held meetings to produce a 50-page memorandum providing a “legal” basis for the president to order the assassination of a U.S. citizen, a document, mind you, that will never be released to the public.

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By heterochromatic, May 6, 2012 at 12:10 pm Link to this comment

high moonie—- are you having a nice day. what’s for lunch?

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By americanme, May 6, 2012 at 11:42 am Link to this comment

So, you have no evidence.

You want to return to the past, huh—but on strictly white-dominant racist terms and without making reparations and without giving back any of the stolen land.

Piss off, white ankle biter.

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By heterochromatic, May 4, 2012 at 1:16 pm Link to this comment

thanks for stopping by, moonie. have a nice day.

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By americanme, May 4, 2012 at 12:11 pm Link to this comment

Prove it or shove it, troll.

You’ll love that.

Right up your perverse alley.

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By americanme, May 4, 2012 at 12:07 pm Link to this comment

There is no evidence of anything.

Just your hebrew god whispering to you in the toilet one more time, troll.

If you cannot prove it, shove it.

You’ll love it.

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By heterochromatic, May 4, 2012 at 11:45 am Link to this comment

sorry, chica, but the evidence is easily available and I’m not gonna keep posting
information for you when you refuse to open links that I’m citing.

I’ve played that game quite enough.

Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America-Snyder
is available in case you’re willing

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By americanme, May 4, 2012 at 11:18 am Link to this comment

Evidence, psychotic white supremacist troll?

Evidence is what counts.

Blind folks have never been too good at sorting out the wheat from the chaff, lies from the truth….

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By heterochromatic, May 3, 2012 at 6:47 pm Link to this comment

hey, moonie—-you got one right… i am going blind…but that’s hereditary.

and you’re also doing well not to challenge my claim that those folks in the
Americas prior to the arrival of the Europeans were deep into torture, slavery
and human sacrifice

sorry if I keep reminding you of it, although I’m not gonna go on and say that
the destruction of some of those societies was a good thing and that they
deserved to perish because of their hideousness, immorality, and corruption.

not all of them were evil and stupid and a great many of them didn’t deserve
the abuse that was heaped upon them…....

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By americanme, May 3, 2012 at 5:51 pm Link to this comment

Keep chattering and blustering and denying reality.  Maybe you’ll convince soome other racist nitwits that waterboarding is happening on the reservations even as we type.  A whole lot, too.

Maybe it could even be one of the travelling shows for the casinos—right after the nostalgia music of The Temptations, or The Four Tops.

“It’s just the same old song, but with a different meaning….”  (Four Tops—when the lights go out at the end of the Coen’s first film, Blood Simple.)

Stop stroking, you fool:  You are going blind.

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By heterochromatic, May 3, 2012 at 5:40 pm Link to this comment

I didn’t say that they ORIGINATED torture, slavery or human sacrifice….I said that
they practiced those things….....

and they did.  a whole lot.

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By americanme, May 3, 2012 at 5:07 pm Link to this comment

It’s quite obvious who is the liar here.

As for the horrible habits of indigenous folks, next you will tell us that they originated the practice of SCALPING, too.

When in fact, it was a practice begun by the English in one of their campaigns against the Irish.

It was so much fun that they brought it with them to this hemisphere.  Scalping of natives was still being done for bounties in Texas in the first quarter of the 20th century.

You’ve watched too many racist Hollywood movies, no-neck.  Educated yourself by reading Ward Churchill or Sherman Alexie on the white man’s indian—the racist portrayal of Native Americans in Hollywood movies.

And like you racists ALWAYS say, stick to NOW—when no Native Americans are torturing you or anybody else and US whites are STILL torturing non-whites around the planet:  Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and who knows where else you guys still have your black holes for getting your jollies.

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By heterochromatic, May 3, 2012 at 4:36 pm Link to this comment

will you ever stop lying?

is it pathological?

I’ve never said it ok to waterboard anybody…

it’s you who says torture is perfectly fine ..... because Native Americans practiced it
...which is also why you’re in favor of human sacrifice and slavery.

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By americanme, May 3, 2012 at 3:51 pm Link to this comment

Funny that you mention waterboarding, since you have expressed many times that it’s okay because no one has said, with authority, that it isn’t.

I have always been against torture, especially since that kind of violence always has sexual implications (as we saw from the photos of US grunts getting their jollies in the Iraqui prison—the paintings made by Botero in protest against that funhouse of torture are currently on exposition in a mega show for his 80th birthday in the Palacio de Bellas Artes en Mexico City, and when his 80th year festivities are finished the paintings will be on display at UC Berkeley, their owner, thanks to a donation of them by Botero) and I am just not a sadist.

Waterboarding and its cousin , el Tehuacanazo, are part of the bag of horror tricks of Latin American military dictatorships—as well as repressive regimes in other venues.

The fact that you have supported waterboarding and now come to us with the fable that you are innocent of that makes me think you would probably enjoy both ends—victim and victimizer.

YOur behavior is pitiful, but you will receive no pity from me.

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By heterochromatic, May 3, 2012 at 2:02 pm Link to this comment

——-The logic has been expressed various ways at different times:  Nixon said
“It’s not a crime if the president does it”—and that was echoed by George W. Bush.

is of course quite incorrect as the SupremesAND the Congress impressed upon Mr

it’s just not a crime because some geek called hetero insists that waterboarding is
crime ...hetero’s opinion is quite correct but no one employs him to adjudicate.
in a year or two or three SCOTUS will declare that waterboarding is always a
violation of federal law when performed by any agent of the US government, but
till then ...........they did it and got away with it…

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By heterochromatic, May 3, 2012 at 1:55 pm Link to this comment

no Korky, it’s not an error that I’m making…...Congress is authorized to make
the law of the land (in case you hadn’t read that somewhere ) and only the
federal judiciary has the authority to say that the Congress has violated the law
of the land
by making a law inconsistent with the Constitution…....

iiiit’s quite possible that congress may or has transgressed,  IN THEORY, but
ain’t a legal factt that it’s a violation till the competent legal authority sez so.

Attorneys Greenwald or Tribe or hetero or even some person called Korky Day
may express an opinion, but we command no divisions and not even much

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By americanme, May 3, 2012 at 11:30 am Link to this comment

Korky wrote:

“heterochromatic” makes a common error:  thinking that a violation has not occurred until and unless a court says so. “

That error is so common that it has defined the US’s role since the get-go as a rogue state.

The logic has been expressed various ways at different times:  Nixon said “It’s not a crime if the president does it”—and that was echoed by George W. Bush. 

Basically, it is the policy of Might Makes Right.

And it’s WRONG.

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By Korky Day, May 3, 2012 at 9:15 am Link to this comment

“heterochromatic” makes a common error:  thinking that a violation has not occurred until and unless a court says so. 

President Obama became a war criminal the second he committed the first of his many war crimes, even though he is CONSIDERED innocent until proven guilty. 

On the radio right now they’re saying about how Obama rejoiced at Osama bin Laden’s alleged death from Obama’s orders, then allegedly destroying all the alleged evidence.

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By heterochromatic, May 2, 2012 at 10:36 pm Link to this comment

vec—- you’re quite right about Due Process and Rule of Law….don’t worry about
Surfday not getting “it”

I will remind you however that extrajudicial and due process of law are not one
and the same.

Greenwald tried making that argument and got beat down by better attorneys.
when the Congress authorizes the president to use military force against groups
of people, and the president does that, there has been due process of
law…..unless and until the federal judiciary finds fault with the authorization or
the application of authorization.

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By Korky Day, May 2, 2012 at 11:50 am Link to this comment

President Barack Obama would not be failing, or he wouldn’t be in office, if the USA had a democracy.  Vote in this fun poll I wrote at this small, non-profit site:

Democratic reform USA 2012.

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By heterochromatic, May 2, 2012 at 7:29 am Link to this comment

Ana—- It started a long time before Bush.  See Dean Acheson’s Present at the
Creation.  Empire requires an emperor and a Pretorian Guard.—-


excellent citation. the end-game of WWII and the aftermath which left the Old
Guard on its knees, was a major turning point.

had Stalin and his cohort been less aggressive, we might not have been, but the
bulk of our transgressions came afterward when the Dulles brothers ran the

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By Anarcissie, May 2, 2012 at 6:32 am Link to this comment

I don’t think a person who laughs off complaints about a crime against humanity like the Drug War—and continues it—is a ‘nice guy’.  He’s someone who is willing to kill people if it furthers his desires, interests, and ambitions, and can get away with it.  The proper name for such people is ‘sociopath’ and they tend to be found in high governmental and corporate offices.

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By CatDancer, May 1, 2012 at 10:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why single out Obama?  Every president has had the same proclivities, propensities and inclinations to exercise power.  Remember Bush Jr.?

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By vector56, May 1, 2012 at 8:36 pm Link to this comment

“killing of Bin Laden clearly made him uneasy to answer.  You can tell it gave him pause to reflect on that occasion of a deadly decision to kill another person of color via a white constructed expedient. “

Yeah, right! Obama is what we militants call a “White House Negro” who kills for his Corporate Masters with no remorse.

Surboy; you will never understand that it is not about how Obama felt; who gives a shit! It is about the God Dam “Rule of Law” and “Due Process”. Something bigger than Obama or any other individual.

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By balkas, May 1, 2012 at 8:48 am Link to this comment

there were always cheques and balances in u.s.
they seem worse lately or now only because there is less
wealth in the world and u.s; so, s’mbody has to do with less
than s/he did yrs ago.
and things will get worse and worse unless 90% of world pop
get’s involved in managing own business.

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By balkas, May 1, 2012 at 8:35 am Link to this comment

TE is only guessing and so am i about why u.s and/or nato-u.s invaded afgh’ and iraq
and intended to either change regimes in syria and iran, or just bomb them, or
impose sanctions on them.
we do not know. we may know in 50 yrs or longer or may never know what was the
aim for invading iraq, afgh’n, somalia.
however, this does not mean that we cannot illate from known facts what was written
dwn regarding the purpose of invading above 3 and more countries.
i suggest that all u.s ever wanted to achieve is to build permament bases, install
puppets there: and keep the lands dismembered; further divide peoples living there.
and the second aim had been to increase control own people, pass unpopular laws,
protect thiefs, etc.
and the empire has succeeded. and possibly ‘knew’ it wld succeed!

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By jimmmmmy, May 1, 2012 at 8:19 am Link to this comment

Americanme . You have it right Obama /Bush /Clinton all work for the Banks the oil barons and the Pentagon. POTUS is a brand and is mostly used as a wedge to keep the populous at each others throats, while those mentioned above engorge themselves on the carcus of world like the Hyenas they are.

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By balkas, May 1, 2012 at 8:09 am Link to this comment

TE: “nice guy w. charismatic wife…”. how cld that be? asks
very easy, Tom. and not just for him but millions of people:
it’s the THOUGHT, stupid: me more valuable; me guardian of
my people; doing god’s work!!
that’s why obama can be, first of all and foremost, nice to
self and only seemingly to others.
i call such people like obama, clinton, bush as the insanely
sanest people amongst us.

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By Anarcissie, May 1, 2012 at 7:46 am Link to this comment

gerard, April 30 at 7:57 pm:

‘How much blame should rightly go to our loss of “the balance of powers” which has occurred during both Bush and Obama reigns? The “rise of the MIC/Pentagon/Imperial Presidency” which occurred mainly under Bush II.? ...’

It started a long time before Bush.  See Dean Acheson’s Present at the Creation.  Empire requires an emperor and a Pretorian Guard.

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By Korky Day, May 1, 2012 at 6:17 am Link to this comment

One can wallow in despair or take action, however unlikely to defeat the imperial presidency soon.  Join us unreasonable optimists in the Green Party.  For the less-enlightened, the Libertarian Party.  The biggest, liveliest anti-Obama-Romney bandwagon at the moment is Ron Paul’s.

Try to get your party to realize the long-range alternatives to empire, including a change from our pseudo-democracy.  A real democracy doesn’t let any one person accumulate so much power.  Switzerland has a rotating presidency.  Most USA states have separately elected executives who share executive power.  California has 8: governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, controller, treasurer, insurance commissioner, and superintendent of public instruction.  We should be able to separately elect each of our whole federal cabinet.

Sooner or later, the empire will reform or fail.  China seems likely to replace the USA as the dominant alpha-male world-power, unless matriarchy re-rises.

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By vector56, May 1, 2012 at 5:39 am Link to this comment


I totally agree with your analysis; but your commit implies that Obama is not a refection (Representative) of a substantial portion of the population?

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By rtb61, May 1, 2012 at 4:50 am Link to this comment

Is the only reason that Obama is a Democrat because he could not get elected as an African American Republican.
The smarmy charm, Cheshire cat grin all hiding a for profit right wing conservative, that only became a Democrat because he knew racist white Republicans would not vote for him as a Republican and would in preference vote for a white Democrat as President.
A laughing jackass and CIA lapdog, at core nothing more than a professional politician who only chose Democrat as being his best chance of being elected to the highest office. His actions and not his words paint the reality of his character, emphatically opposed to the prosecution of the rich and politically powerful for any crime, torture, fraud, theft of hundreds of millions of treasury dollars, rampant corruption, all of it forgiven and ignored and yet poor people in another country executed without trial based upon nothing more than accusations and many for just being in the wrong place at the time selected for US authorised mass murder.
The majority of Americans are at the poorest in decades and the rich are at the richest and he celebrates victory in the economy.
He publicly declares willingness to discuss issues only on the basis that regardless of outcome of those discussion he will remain opposed to them.
Comparing the two, you know where Romney stands he already has great wealth a victory is about family traditions and making his father proud but, Obama is a betrayer and as such there is no limit too how much worse he could be in his second term, his money making term, his chance to become a multi-millionaire at the public’s expense.
The demand to Obama should be shut up, you have a few months to demonstrate true progressive actions no more empty words.

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By vector56, May 1, 2012 at 3:40 am Link to this comment

“How can anyone expect millions of citizens to know what is going on behind the scenes in Washington and New York without considerable help from conscientious and inquisitive journalists?”

gerard; one would be a half-wit not to agree with what you have uttered so eloquently, your above statement made me think about something Howard Zinn talked about a few years ago. Zinn notice that “Citizens” where being turned into “Consumers”. The rights and responsibilities that come with being citizens are being traded for ipods and flat screen TV’s. Notice that the corporate media and most politicians now use the tern “consumers” in the place of “citizen”.

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By Marc Schlee, April 30, 2012 at 11:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


A vote of confidence amendment will enable voters to fire the president of the United States just like any other employee.





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By Norecovery, April 30, 2012 at 11:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I don’t usually like to correct grammar, particularly when the meaning of something is clear, but for the author’s benefit, I’d like to point out that in the first paragraph “beck and call” should be “beckon call” (a beckoning).

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By ForeignAffairs, April 30, 2012 at 10:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein wants to repeal the PATRIOT Act and those parts of NDAA which violate our civil liberties.

The Green Party platform has many other planks intended to restore and defend the prosperity and liberty of the 99%.

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By gerard, April 30, 2012 at 8:57 pm Link to this comment

How much blame should rightly go to our loss of “the balance of powers” which has occurred during both Bush and Obama reigns? The “rise of the MIC/Pentagon/Imperial Presidency” which occurred mainly under Bush II.? (Supreme’s increasing authoritarian bias plus Bush/Cheney encouragement of secrecy, “surveillance” and resource wars?  And both changes occurring with far less than any real protest, hidden as they were under the filthy skirts of “extraordinary” legal arrangements unresisted by weak Congresses?.
  Media, power-hungry itself, has had little interest in democratic government for decades, so did little to make information available. How can anyone expect millions of citizens to know what is going on behind the scenes in Washington and New York without considerable help from conscientious and inquisitive journalists?
  And just a reminder in that regard:  Free Bradley Manning and Julian Assange and don’t allow the Internet to be confiscated by either government or corporate power, or we’ll have continuing degradation of the Constitution. It’s already been weakened.

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By vector56, April 30, 2012 at 3:50 pm Link to this comment

“America under the bidding of the corporate has become a terrorist
state under his leadership. “

prisnersdilema; Your above statement implies that at some point in America’s history “she” was a lady?

America has always been a Sadistic Puritanical Bitch that devoured the lives of millions both here and abroad!

Tell me of the good old days when America was a “real lady”? Was it when she slaughtered the Natives (smallpox blanked for the children was a nice touch)?

Was it when she went through her 200 years of human slavery period, followed by 100 years of “Jim Crow”?

Was it when she channeled “Billions” in the surplus wealth created by workers to the 1%?

Was it when she dropped two Atomic Bombs on Japan?

I could go on, but I assume you get the point; America, like Rome and the British Empire, like the Third Reich was created to be corrupt! Obama like all the Presidents before him is just a facade that hides the darkness in the very heart of our Empire.

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By prisnersdilema, April 30, 2012 at 2:26 pm Link to this comment

Surrounding yourself with lawyers, can mean only one thing, that there is an awareness
that one is breaking laws. It is an attempt to convince oneself that they are acting in
accordance with the law, so many lawyers represent so many doubts.

That Mr. Obama, has ignored so many international laws, and treaties that we are
signatories to, is without doubt. These laws were put into place, as a protection not only
to non combatants around the world, but for the benefit of our own citizens, and our
military personnel as well.

He,  Mr. Obama, has disregarded them, placing himself about the law, and above the
wisdom,  of our past military leadership that was hard learned in bitter times.

It says to the world, and to our own past, that he knows better, he is smarter , he can
decide without benefit of experience.

He has brought nothing but disgrace to his office, and defamed, this country to the
entire world.  America under the bidding of the corporate Reich has become a terrorist
state under his leadership.

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By Big B, April 30, 2012 at 1:43 pm Link to this comment

americanme hit that nail square on the head.

Barry is just a sorry representative of old school midwestern machine politics, Daley style. Grant you, he is not the first “machine” polititian to reach the white house, just the most recent, and definitely the most brutal. He suffers from the classic democratic party “little dick” syndrome. My opponents see me as “soft” so I must be even more ruthless (think slick willy with a more fragile psyche).

Barry is a classic modern president. He has always been the mouthpiece and plaything of wealthy oligarchs, and he spends most of his days trying to line up the big score on the way out the door, hoping beyond hope that he can, through the false power of his office, that he can someday be one of those oligarchs.

Poor delusional bastard! Just like Clinton, the truely powerful just sit there and make sport of him.

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By El_Pinguino, April 30, 2012 at 1:34 pm Link to this comment

Page 4 should take you here:

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By Cathy, April 30, 2012 at 1:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Exactly, Americanme.  Harvey’s character had a conscience and a heart which eventually tore him apart.  He lost everything he loved. 

Obama is a willing participant, as was Clinton.  I read on my AOL mail page the two of them are now campaigning together for this willing Manchurian Candidate’s re-election.  Cohesion and continuance, and thus it’s been since Reagan.

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By Anarcissie, April 30, 2012 at 11:57 am Link to this comment

Maybe someone can explain what the ‘contradiction’ is.  It looks like a failure of elementary analysis on the part of the author to me.

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By americanme, April 30, 2012 at 11:19 am Link to this comment

There is no contradiction:  Obama is just playing the role of the Manchurian Candidate.

But he is no Lawrence Harvey—he’s just a skinny guy from the Daley machine wearing a 5000 dollar suit and a plastic smile while puling the trigger for the folks who realy run the show.

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By berniem, April 30, 2012 at 10:41 am Link to this comment

All in all the concept of constraint viz-a-viz “the rule of law” is a myth. Laws are human creations(as is “god”)established as a means of control, stability, expedience, and/or convenience and are subject to whim, ideological interpretation, and revision irrespective the popular view. Hey, in Hitler’s Germany it was a capital crime to be jewish and, had they won the war, this would undoubtedly be the case. In today’s version of a fascist paradise the boogeyman is “the terrorist”, roughly defined as any person(s) who is not in ideological harmony with the neo-con and neo-liberal world view. Obama got elected the first time promising a return to sanity and humanity. This time he’ll merely pose as the tried and true lesser of two evils that has been the traditional offering in what passes for an electoral process in our one party duopoly! FREE BRADLEY MANNING!!!!!

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