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Aug 10, 2011           

Crisis: "What happened to Obama?"

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Three days ago I wrote about the crisis that goes on and on and deepens and deepens, now also accompanied by riots in England, in which I considered US president Obama's role:

Well... it turns out that I am not the only psychologist traversing a similar line of thought. Here is a link to a New York Times piece by a professor of psychology Drew Westen, published on August 6:

And here is The Young Turk's Cenk Uygur's comment on it

There are some quotes in the video from TYT, while it should be added that the NYT piece carries a correction that wasn't made in the TYT video, but that's a side issue I only mention in passing.

Here is professor Westen, with my link

(..) our problem is not due to spending on things like the pensions of firefighters, but to the fact that those who can afford to buy influence are rewriting the rules so they can cut themselves progressively larger slices of the American pie while paying less of their fair share for it.

Quite so - though I'd like to point out, in line with my " Crisis: "Yes, we can!" " that one major problem here is that the population can be deceived and can taken by the nose, in "democratic majority", by lying politicians or by corrupt or incompetent journalists.

Here is another quotation from professor Westen, closely following on the last, contrasting president F.D. Roosevelt and president Obama:

In similar circumstances, Franklin D. Roosevelt offered Americans a promise to use the power of his office to make their lives better and to keep trying until he got it right. Beginning in his first inaugural address, and in the fireside chats that followed, he explained how the crash had happened, and he minced no words about those who had caused it. He promised to do something no president had done before: to use the resources of the United States to put Americans directly to work, building the infrastructure we still rely on today. He swore to keep the people who had caused the crisis out of the halls of power, and he made good on that promise. In a 1936 speech at Madison Square Garden, he thundered, “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”

And here is part of professor Westen's explanation:

The president is fond of referring to “the arc of history,” paraphrasing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But with his deep-seated aversion to conflict and his profound failure to understand bully dynamics — in which conciliation is always the wrong course of action, because bullies perceive it as weakness and just punch harder the next time — he has broken that arc and has likely bent it backward for at least a generation.

Much as I admire Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I lack his faith in any God and in any "arc of the moral universe", outside the individual consciences, efforts and brains of individual men and women: There are very bad persons as well as very good; very intelligent and many more not so intelligent; and if one lets the bad have their way, the bad will be rich and in power, and the majority deceived or repressed, and abused.

Here is professor Westen again:

Instead of indicting the people whose recklessness wrecked the economy, he put them in charge of it.

Indeed: The appointments of Summers, Geithner and Bernanke were major mistakes.

And here is more that seems to me to be correct:

The public was desperate for a leader who would speak with confidence, and they were ready to follow wherever the president led. Yet instead of indicting the economic policies and principles that had just eliminated eight million jobs, in the most damaging of the tic-like gestures of compromise that have become the hallmark of his presidency — and against the advice of multiple Nobel-Prize-winning economists — he backed away from his advisers who proposed a big stimulus, and then diluted it with tax cuts that had already been shown to be inert. The result, as predicted in advance, was a half-stimulus that half-stimulated the economy.

Indeed - and professor Westen, who is a Democrat much concerned with "what the people think", as he himself assures his readers, says what I had guessed without his research:

The average voter is far more worried about jobs than about the deficit, which few were talking about while Bush and the Republican Congress were running it up. The conventional wisdom is that Americans hate government, and if you ask the question in the abstract, people will certainly give you an earful about what government does wrong. But if you give them the choice between cutting the deficit and putting Americans back to work, it isn’t even close. But it’s not just jobs. Americans don’t share the priorities of either party on taxes, budgets or any of the things Congress and the president have just agreed to slash — or failed to slash, like subsidies to oil companies. When it comes to tax cuts for the wealthy, Americans are united across the political spectrum, supporting a message that says, “In times like these, millionaires ought to be giving to charity, not getting it.”

Of course! They want jobs, they want houses, they want security and medicare if they get ill and are, like most, too poor to pay what the richest 1 % could afford - perhaps - from their own pockets, if they were to fall ill with a serious or dangerous disease that needs medical expertise and prolonged health care.

All of this is human, and human societies, if fair, serve to help most to achieve these, for that's what people socialize for: To help themselves by cooperating with others.

What does Obama really think and want? Professor Westen doesn't know:  

Like most Americans, at this point, I have no idea what Barack Obama — and by extension the party he leads — believes on virtually any issue.

(...)

THE real conundrum is why the president seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue, encouraging voters to project whatever they want on him, and hoping they won’t realize which hand is holding the rabbit.

Quite so - and my own guess, since I gave up on Obama because he is not the speaker, writer or debater he seems to think he is, and that others made him out to be, is that he is quite simply a middle-of-the-road political type: Good for mediation, a decent but far from brilliant speech maker, personally sympathetic, no doubt, well-educated and intelligent, a pleasantly mediating sort of person, but not presidential material, indeed like his predecessor in the job and like many others (there surely have been more not so good US presidents than excellent ones!) - which indeed also may work, if such a one at least has the wisdom or knack of selecting good advisors, especially when also there is no serious crisis, but not what is needed when it comes to make hard choices and defend these aggressively, and not in a time of deep crisis.

Anyway... there is considerably more in the links I supplied, and some of it, especially at the end of professor Westen's piece, more damning than I quoted.

I didn't quote it because it is, for me, too much "arc of history" metaphor I don't care for, but the facts professor Westen cites are facts:

  • a few hundreds or thousands of the rich control and have far more than 300 million of their fellow Americans
  • middle class incomes stagnate or fall since decades in which the rich few only have gotten much richer
  • social benefits are cut or slashed to pay off the damages bank manager wrought without cutting or slashing bank managers
  • trade unions are being forbidden in some US states
  • almost 10% of the adult Americans is without a job and without any decent income
  • very many have lost their houses

What's the way out?

I don't know, and maybe it's too late, but a good start would be: Other economical advisors; other political advisors; other leaders of the economy than Geithner and Bernanke; and better social services, and no tax cuts nor subsidies for the rich.(*)

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(*) The last may not help to save a sinking economy, but it certainly helps not offend or demoralize the middle and lower classes, which makes political sense. (And see the present riots in England: If people get the feeling they get abused and defrauded to help the rich, they will revolt, and probably destroy much, and achieve little, except more repression, and more misery.)


P.S. Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.




As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):


1.  Anthony Komaroff Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)
2.  Malcolm Hooper THE MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT: 
PERSECUTION OF PATIENTS?
3.  Hillary Johnson The Why
4.  Consensus of M.D.s Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5.   Eleanor Stein Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)
6.  William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7.  Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8.  Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
9.
 Maarten Maartensz
ME in Amsterdam - surviving in Amsterdam with ME (Dutch)
10.
 Maarten Maartensz Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

Short descriptions of the above:                

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:

7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.
9. I tell my story of surviving (so far) in Amsterdam with ME.
10. The directory on my site about ME.



See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources
The last has many files, all on my site to keep them accessible.
 


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