“More of the Same” at the New York Times

The New York Times should take a look in the national and institutional mirror before it charges foreign governments or anyone else with confusing "change" with "more of the same."



"Change Means More of the Same, With Control at the Top"


Last Monday’s Times contains an article with an ironic title: "In Cuba, Change Means More of the Same, With Control at the Top."  This "news" item reports that "rather than dismantling Cuba’s socialist framework," Cuba’s President Raul Castro "seems to be trying to make it work more efficiently." Castro, the Times reports, seeks to keep power concentrated "at the top." [1]


Well, okay, but what is U.S. President Barack Obama – Mr. "Change" himself and heralded as such by the Times’ editorial board and many of its top columnists [2]- trying to accomplish other than to make the American corporate profits system "work more efficiently" without "dismantling the [capitalist] framework" and with power (and wealth) still concentrated "at the top"? 


As the Times acknowledged two Sundays ago in an article titled "English-Speaking Capitalism on Trial," Obama and his neoliberal partner Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, have "focused on ways of revitalizing the [existing] system, often to the exasperation of those among their supporters who would favor more radical measures.  Even as both men have embarked on enormous increases in public-sector spending," Times correspondents John Burns and Landon Thomas noted, "they have maintained that the solutions to the crisis lie in reawakening the markets and recapitalizing the banks rather than tearing at the system’s foundations.  And both, when they respond to private anger at the private sector, have seemed more geared to managing anger than stoking it." [3]


Behind the slogan of "change we can believe in," it’s all about "more of the same." Obama’s neoliberal economic "solutions" seek to prop up the existing rotten U.S. financial hierarchy by granting yet massive taxpayer giveaways to the Wall Street perpetrators who started the mess in the first place.  As the prolific Marxist geographer David Harvey recently noted on "Democracy Now," "what [the Obama team is] trying to do is to reinvent the same system" – to "reconstitute the same sort of capitalism we have had over and over again over the last thirty years in a slightly more regulated, benevolent form" that doesn’t "challenge the fundamentals" [4].


With some dazzling additions meant to create the illusion of private sector sacrifice and contribution, "Wall Street Barry" Obama’s bailout scheme is largely inherited from George W. Bush. It advances a false belief deeply entrenched in dominant elitist U.S. economic doctrine: that an economic order "run by private shareholders and managed by private institutions" (Obama Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s statement on his concept of the best possible financial system) can and will return "to normal" ("three percent growth") in a modest period of time [5].


Along the way, it works to reinforce the same old skewed U.S. capital "compensation" system that allows mansion-dwelling Wall Street executive to "earn" more than a thousand times the income of the nation’s supposedly "grossly overpaid" union autoworkers. By subsidizing the purchase of Wall Street’s toxic assets, it allows the "too-big [and powerful]-to-fail" banks to massively cut the losses they incurred through their own greed and foolishness.  The plan amounts to having government (the same as the people "in a functioning democracy," as Noam Chomsky says) "directly pick up their bad bets. In addition," liberal economist Dean Baker notes, "some investors will be able to take advantage of the taxpayers’ generosity to make large sums on assets that they might have purchased even without the subsidy. We may see some of the hedge and equity fund folks clear hundreds of millions or even billions at the taxpayers’ expense." [6] 


It’s not for nothing that Obama received a record-setting $38 million from "FIRE" (the financial, real estate, and insurance industries) sector in the last election cycle, including close to $1 million from Goldman Sachs alone [7]. "It’s not always clear what Obama’s financial backers want," Ken Silverstein noted in the fall of 2006, "but it seems safe to conclude that his campaign contributors are not interested merely in clean government and political reform [8] – a reasonable judgment given well-known facts on the purposes behind election finance at the upper levels [9].


"On condition of anonymity," Silverstein reported, "one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn’t see him as a ‘player.’ The lobbyist added: ‘What’s the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?’" [10]


Maybe the John Burns and Landon Thomas article mentioned above should have been titled, "In the United States and England, Change Means More of the Same, With Control at the Top."



"Time is Running Short"


Then there’s the New York ("All the News That’s Fit to Print") Times itself, quite a top-down organization it in its own right. Two "news" items the Times saw "fit to print" last Monday suggest its continuing determination to play the role of apologist and propagandist for the White House’s efforts to undermine international law and to engage in aggressive warfare (the "supreme international crime" under international law) – the same basic role it played in the lead up to illegal U.S. actions against (for just a small number of examples) Vietnam (1964), Chile (1970-73), Nicaragua (1980s), Serbia (1999), Venezuela (2002), Afghanistan (2001), and  Iraq (1990-91 and 2002-2003) [11].


The same Times issue with the aforementioned Cuba article contained a report from Pakistan calling three recent suicide attacks in that country "a sign that the Pakistani Taliban are overwhelming the nation’s security forces." [12] A separate front-page Times "new analysis" in the same issue argued ominously that "Time is Running Short as U.S. Pressures a Reluctant Pakistan" to undertake a serious effort to counter "the threat from Al Qaeda and the Taliban." [13] With these two "news" items, the Times enlisted in the classic propagandistic work of imperial "threat inflation," helping advance the new president’s dangerous and crackpot determination to expand the level and scope of imperial violence in Southwest Asia.



Dominos Redux


As the Times has failed to report, Obama has also bought into a recycled version of  Cold War "domino theory."  The Cold War edition of the theory was advanced by U.S. foreign policy elites to claim that their criminal assaults on small peasant nations like Vietnam and Laos were required to stop an alleged (actually quite mythical) "international communist conspiracy." In Obama’s "updated, al Qaida version" of the domino thesis, leading Middle Eastern historian Juan Cole notes, "the Taliban might take Kuna Province, and then all of Afghanistan, and might again host al-Qaida, and might then threaten the shores of the United States." [14]


Pakistan is added on to Afghanistan for Obama like Cambodia was added on to its neighbor Vietnam by President Richard Nixon. Obama ominously proclaims that "The future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbor, Pakistan. Make no mistake: Al Qaida and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within" [15]. But, as Cole rightly observes, Obama’s call to arms is nor more credible than Dick Cheney and John McCain’s raving about the danger of an "al-Qaida victory in Iraq": 


"This latter-day domino theory of al-Qaida takeover in South Asia is just as implausible as its earlier iteration in Southeast Asia (ask Thailand or the Philippines)…There are very few al-Qaida fighters based in Afghanistan proper.  What is being called the ‘Taliban’ is mostly not Taliban at all…The groups being branded ‘Taliban’ only have substantial influence in 8 to 10 percent of Afghanistan, and only 4 percent of Afghans say they support them…Moreover, with regard to Pakistan, there is no danger of militants based in the remote Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) taking over that country or ‘killing’ it…The Kabul government is not on the verge of falling to the Taliban…And there is no prospect of ‘al Quaida’ reestablishing bases in Afghanistan from which it could attack the United States…As for a threat to Pakistan, the FATA areas are smaller than Connecticut, with a total population of a little over three million, while Pakistan itself is bigger than Texas, with a population more than half that of the entire United States.  A few thousand Pashtun tribesmen cannot take over Pakistan, not can they ‘kill’ it.  The Pakistani public just forced a military dictator out of office and forced the reinstatement of the Supreme Court, which oversees secular law.  Over three quarters of Pakistanis said in a poll last summer that they had an unfavorable view of the Taliban, and a recent poll found that 90 percent of them worried about terrorism." [16]


If anything, Cole notes, the greatest thing working on the weak Pakistani Taliban’s behalf is the occurrence of U.S. Predator drone strikes on Pakistani territory. "The danger is that that the U.S. strikes may make the radicals seem victims of Western imperialism and so sympathetic to the Pakistani public." Even the imperialist New York Times Magazine writer James Traub noted last Sunday that "American policy has arguably made the situation worse, for [Obama's] Predator-drone attacks along the border, though effective, drive the Taliban eastward, deeper into Pakistan.  And the strategy has been only reinforcing hostility to the United States among ordinary Pakistanis" [17].


Consistent with the longstanding record of the Times [18], Traub’s misgivings have nothing to with international law and the little problem of civilian casualties (Obama’s drone attacks have shed the blood of innocents).  They are only about the problem of increased hostility to the supposedly noble and benevolent U.S. empire, whose colonial presence in the region Traub reflexively accepts (in accord with the standard U.S. media posture) as naturally legitimate since, after all, We Rightly Own the World. 


It’s Time for Iraqis "To Take Responsibility for Their Country and Sovereignty"


Speaking of illegal wars for which the Times did critical advance public relations work, a Times article in today’s edition (I am writing on Wednesday, April 8, 2009) reports that "Obama, in a Visit to Iraq, Pledges to End the War." According to Times correspondents Steven Lee Meyers and Helene Cooper, reporting from wonderfully named "Camp Victory, Iraq," Obama "told a cheering crowd of American troops that it was time for Iraqis ‘to take responsibility for their country and sovereignty.’" Further: "Obama praised the troops for their accomplishments in a war he did not, as a candidate, support.  ‘You have given Iraqis the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country,’ Obama said." [19]


Perpetuating the "fairly tale" (Bill Clinton got this right) notion of Obama as anti-war candidate and senator, Meyers and Cooper deleted the interesting facts that Obama funded the criminal invasion of Iraq without conditions during his first two years in the U.S. Senate. They omitted Obama’s intervention for pro- and against anti-war Democrats during the 2006 Democratic congressional primaries and his recurrent statements on behalf of responsibly sustaining the occupation of Iraq before such elite bodies as the Council and Foreign Relations and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. [20] 


They also failed to note that Obama’s Iraq "withdrawal" plan is a deeply deceptive exercise in imperial doublespeak.  As the Times itself reported last February: "The plan would maintain relatively high troop levels through Iraq’s parliamentary election, to be held in December, before beginning in earnest to meet the August 2010 for removing combat troops [Obama's campaign pledge date,  P.S.]. Even after August 2010, as many as 50,000 of the 142,000 troops how in Iraq would remain, including some combat units reassigned as ‘Advisory Training Brigades’ or ‘Advisory Assistance Brigade,’ the administration and Pentagon officials said." [21]


As the antiwar author and activist Anthony Arnove recently noted, moreover, Obama’s "withdrawal" plan "says nothing about the private contractors and mercenaries that are an essential part of the occupation of Iraq and whose numbers may even be increased to cover functions previously provided by active-duty troops.  And it will leave in place the world’s largest foreign embassy, as well as the largest CIA foreign station, in Baghdad." [22] We could also add that the U.S will continue to maintain critical control over Iraqi skies and a significant naval and air presence "over the ["sovereign" nation of Iraq's near] horizon"[s].


Meyers and Cooper had nothing to say about these pronounced limits to Obama’s "pledge to end the war" (even as the president jacks up the war on Afghanistan-Pakistan). Naturally enough, they also had nothing to say about the profoundly offensive and provocative nature of Obama’s statement about Iraqis needing to step up the plate and "take responsibility" for the "democracy" and "sovereignty" the noble United States has so benevolently granted them. The president’s "Camp Victory" comment was truly disgusting more than six years into a blatantly illegal, mass-murderous ("Operation Iraqi Freedom" has killed more than 1 million Iraqi civilians) and petro-colonial invasion that Obama is finding ways to continue [23] and which has always been and remains very much about the traditional U.S. goal of controlling the Middle East’s vast and hyper-strategic energy resources. The doctrinal myth of benevolent U.S. purpose (the export of "democracy" and "freedom") in Iraq – consistent with how Obama explained the U.S. occupation before and throughout the presidential campaign [24] – is nauseating in light of the proto-genocidal nature of the latest U.S. invasion of Mesopotamia, which follows an earlier devastating U.S. attack ("Operation Desert Storm") and more than a decade of U.S.-led "economic sanctions" that killed more than a million Iraqis.


According to the respected journalist Nir Rosen in the December 2007 edition of the mainstream journal Current History, "Iraq has been killed, never to rise again.  The American occupation has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols who sacked Baghdad in the thirteenth century.  Only fools talk of solutions now.  There is no solution.  The only hope is that perhaps the damage can be contained." [25]


One wonders what Rosen would have had to say about the following comment offered by candidate Obama to autoworkers assembled at the General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin on February 13, 2008, just before that state’s Democratic primary: "It’s time to stop spending billions of dollars a week trying to put Iraq back together and start spending the money putting America back together." [26]


If the Times wants to see "more of the same" in a time of "change," it need look no further than its own power-serving pages and to the White House it purports to check and balance with "objective journalism." Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose: the more things change the more they stay the same.



Paul Street ([email protected]) is a veteran radical historian, political commentator, and author in Iowa City, IA.  He is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Paradigm, 2004); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (Routledge, 2005); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (Rowman & Littlefied, 2007), and Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Paradigm, 2008). Street will speak on urban and institutional racism at North Central College‘s Koten Chapel in Naperville, IL on Thursday, April 23, 2009, 7:30-9:00 pm.  He will speak on President Obama’s First Hundred Days at the Urbana Civic Center on the evening of Thursday, April 30 (exact time pending) in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. He will speak on the Obama adminsitration’s record to date on "Focus580" (AM 580 in Urbana-ChampaignIllinois) on May 1, 2009 at 10 AM and (tentatively) on "The People’s Economic Stimulus" on May Day in Iowa City (downtown Ped Mall some time after 5PM).





1.  Ian Urbana, "In Cuba, Change Means More of the Same, With Control at the Top" New York Times, April 6, 2009.


2. Beyond the paper itself in late 2008 and January of 2009, see its new coffee-table book:  The New York Times, Obama: The Historic Journey (New York: Callaway Adult, February 16, 2009), containing a vast number of photographs and essays by leading Times columnists Thomas Friedman, Frank Rich, David Brooks, Maureen Dowd, and Paul Krugman.


3. New York Times, March 29, 2009, section 4, p.4. 


4. David Harvey, "The G20, the Financial Crisis, and Neoliberalism," ZNet (April 3, 2009).


5. For interesting reflections on the administration’s false hopes for a "return to normal," see James K. Gailbraith, "No Return to Normal: Why the Economic Crisis and its Solution, are Bigger Than You Think," Washington Monthly (March/April 2009), read at http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2009/0903.galbraith.html


6. Dean Baker, "Counterpoint: Bankers Wrecked the Auto Industry," Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2009, read at http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/opinionla/la-oew-baker-welch2-2009apr02,0,3164309.story


7. Center for Responsive Politics, Barack Obama’s Campaign Finance Profile for the 2008 Presidential Election Cycle: go to http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/indus.php?cycle=2008&cid=N00009638 and click on "Industries" and on "Contributors"


8. Ken Silverstein, "Barack Obama, Inc.: The Birth of a Washington Machine," Harper’s (November 2006


9. Thomas Ferguson, Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995;


10. Silverstein, "Barack Obama, Inc."


11. For a useful historical account of the New York Times’ astonishing indifference to international law and its repeated sacrifice of journalistic accuracy and integrity to the goal of serving criminal White House foreign policy aims, see Howard Friel and Richard Falk, The Record of the Paper: How the New York Times Misreports US Foreign Policy (New York: Verso, 2004/2007). Friel and Falk examine Times editorial policy and coverage in regard to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, U.S. torture practices in occupied Iraq, U.S. involvement in the short-lived overthrow of Venezuela’s president in 2002, U.S. interventions against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, and the U.S escalation in Vietnam (1964-65).


12. Jane Perlez and Pir Zubair Shah, "Day of Suicide Attacks Displays Strength of Pakistani Taliban," New York Times, April 6, 2009.


13. Jane Perlez, Time is Running Short as U.S. Pressures a Reluctant Pakistan," New York Times, April 6, 2009.


14. Juan Cole, "Obama’s Domino Theory," Salon (March 30, 2009), read at http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2009/03/30/afghanistan


15. Agence France Press, "Obama Makes Pakistan Center of Al-Qaeda War," March 28, 2009, read at http://au.news.yahoo.com/a/-/world/5460242/obama-makes-pakistan-center-alqaeda-war/


16. Cole, "Obama’s Domino Theory."


17. Cole, "Obama’s Domino Theory;" James Traub, "Can Pakistan Be Governed?" New York Times Magazine, April 5, 2009, p. 28.


18. See Friel and Frank, The Record of the Paper.


19. Steven Lee Meyers and Helene Cooper, "Obama, in a Visit to Iraq, Pledges to End the War," New York Times, April 8, 2009.


20. For an unsentimental and factually supported account of U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Obama’s real and not-so "anti-war" Iraq record, see Paul Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008), pp. 134-146.


21. Peter Baker and Thom Shanker, "Obama’s Iraq Plan Has December Elections as Turning Point for Pullout," New York Times, February 26, 2008.


22. Anthony Arnove, "Moved on From the Struggle," Socialist Worker (March 13, 2009, read at http://socialistworker.org/2009/03/13/moved-on-from-the-struggle


23. Scott Horton, "Finding Ways to Stay in Iraq," Antiwar.com (March 4, 2009), read at http://antiwar.com/horton/. 


24. See Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics, pp. 146-155, under a section titled "Obama, Iraq, and the Doctrine of Good Intentions."


25. Nir Rosen, "The Death of Iraq," Current History (December 2007), p. 31




WIFR Television, CBS 23, Rockford, Illinois,   "Obama Speaks at General Motors in Janesville," February 13, 2008, read at http://www.wifr.com/morningshow/headlines/15618592.html



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