Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Barack Obama is Using His Presidency to Cash In, But Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter Refused to Do So


Defenders of Barack Obama’s decision to do things like accept a 400,000 USD (22.8 million Roubles. 2.76 million Renminbi. 25.68 million INR. 548,000 CAD. 532,000 AUD. 368,000 Euros. 312,000 UK Pounds) check for a speech to a Wall Street brokerage house argue that the former president might as well cash in… everyone else does. That was Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s defence of Obama:

People are like, “Why doesn’t he not accept the money?” No, fuck that. So the first black president must also be the first one to not take money afterwards? No, no, no, my friend. He can’t be the first of everything! Fuck that, and fuck you. Make that money, Obama!

This argument, while common, comes from historical ignorance. It assumes that presidents have always found a way to leverage their political connections post-presidency to make money from interest groups and wealthy political actors. However, that isn’t the case. It used to be the norm for presidents to retire to ordinary life after their stint in the White House… just ask Harry Truman. When the Democratic president was getting ready to leave the White House in 1953, many employers approached him. The Los Angeles Times noted:

If he’s unemployed after he leaves the White House it won’t be for lack of job offers … but [he’s] accepted none of them.

One of those job offers was from a Florida real estate developer, asking him to become a “chairman, officer, or stockholder, at a figure of not less than 100,000 USD”… the sort of position that’s commonplace today for ex-politicians. Presumably, had Truman taken the position, it would’ve been a good deal for both parties… the president’s prestige and connections would also enrich the company. Truman declined. He wrote of his refusal to influence-peddle:

I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialise on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency.

Although he had a small pension from his military service, Truman had little financial support after leaving office. He moved back into his family home in Independence MO. He insisted on being treated like anyone else. He’d tell people not to call him, “Mr President”, and settled into an ordinary routine once he was back in Independence. He’d take a morning walk through the town square. He kept an office nearby where he would answer mail from Americans. He chose to engage with just about anyone who walked into his office… not only people who wrote him big checks or invited him onto their private yachts and private islands. He once said:

Many people feel that a president or an ex-president is partly theirs… they’re right to some extent… and that they have a right to call upon him.

Indeed, his office number was in a nearby telephone directory. He eventually agreed to write a memoir for Life magazine, but it was a lengthy project, which paid a far-from-luxurious stipend. Truman’s modest life post-presidency moved Congress in 1958 to establish a pension that provides an annual cash payout as well as expenses for an office and staff.

Nevertheless, Gerald Ford shattered precedent when he joined the boards of corporations such as 20th Century Fox, hit the paid speech circuit, and became an honorary director of Citigroup. However, his successor, Jimmy Carter, who grew up in a modest home in Plains GA, didn’t follow Ford’s example. He refused to become a professional paid speaker or join corporate boards. He moved back to Plains and a crowd of neighbours and supporters welcomed him home. He quickly made himself busy as a nonprofit founder and a volunteer diplomat. He did make money post-presidency…but by serving ordinary people, not the élite. He wrote dozens of best-selling books bought by millions of people across the world… the post-presidency equivalent of small donors. Carter explained his thinking to the Guardian in 2011, telling them:

My favourite president and the one I admired most was Harry Truman. When Truman left office, he took the same position. He didn’t serve on corporate boards. He didn’t make speeches around the world for a lot of money.

The presidents who came after did not choose the same path. At a time when Japan was a major trade rival with the United States, Ronald Reagan flew to Japan for a series of paid speeches after he left office. He accepted 2 million USD (114 million Roubles. 13.8 million Renminbi. 128.4 million INR. 2.74 million CAD. 2.66 million AUD. 1.84 million Euros. 1.56 million UK Pounds) for a pair of 20-minute speeches to the Fujisankei Communications Group. An additional 5 million USD (285 million Roubles. 34.5 million Renminbi. 321 million INR. 6.85 million CAD. 6.65 million AUD. 4.6 million Euros. 3.9 million UK Pounds) went for expenses related to the visit. Both Bushes also joined the paid speech circuit, and the Clintons made over 100 million USD (5.7 billion Roubles. 690 million Renminbi. 6.42 billion INR. 137 million CAD. 133 million AUD. 92 million Euros. 78 million UK Pounds) from banks and other corporations, shortly after the Clinton presidency deregulated Wall Street. Bill Clinton lamented to a student group in 2009:

I never made any money until I left the White House. I had the lowest net worth, adjusted for inflation, of any president elected in the last 100 years, including President Obama. I was one poor rascal when I took office; but after I got out, I made a lot of money.

Obama was hardly facing poverty. He already has a 65 million USD book deal (3.705 billion Roubles. 448.5 million Renminbi. 4.173 billion INR. 89.05 million CAD. 86.45 million AUD. 59.8 million Euros. 50.7 million UK Pounds) and that 200,000 USD annual pension (11.4 million Roubles. 1.38 million Renminbi. 12.84 million INR. 274,000 CAD. 266,000 AUD. 184,000 Euros. 156,000 UK Pounds). By joining the paid speech circuit… his spokesman Eric Schultz told the press that paid speechmaking will be a fixture for the former president… Obama was making a conscious choice. Obama could have been like Truman or Carter, but instead chose to be like Bush and Clinton.

1 May 2017

Zaid Jilani

The Intercept



Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Do Drones Know Miranda Rights?


During a short press conference before meeting UN envoy Kofi Annan today, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made some emotional remarks about the “moral” accusations levelled at Russia and China by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Whilst he didn’t mention the madam secretary’s name, Lavrov said it is “incorrect” to put all the blame for the situation in Syria on Russia and China, not to speak about “threats that they [Russia and China] will pay for it”. Lavrov was obviously referring to Mrs Clinton’s recent statement at the so called “Friends of Syria” conference in France. Mrs Clinton said there that Russia and China would “pay a price” for allegedly supporting Assad’s régime.

One shouldn’t shy away from moral dilemmas, but a question immediately confronts one… WHO are the judges? What makes President Obama and Secretary Clinton qualified to pass moral judgements on the, indeed, intricate problem of the moral responsibility of the Russian, or, for that matter, the Syrian government? What enables the Western press take such a high moral ground on “Russia’s responsibility” for the developments in Syria (with the questions on the moral responsibility of the Syrian opposition and its foreign sponsors wisely avoided). The question is made ever more timely by the fact that, in recent months, Mrs Clinton returned to some of the “tough” policies of former-President George W Bush, who based his approach to the Middle East on an unlimited use of warfare (something Mr Obama now euphemistically calls “leaving all options on the table”).

Yelena Suponina, the head of department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the Russian Institute for Strategic Research, noted, “It’s interesting to note that Hillary Clinton, who started her career as Secretary of State emphasising a certain contrast between herself and former-President George W Bush, at the end of her tenure, returned to some of Bush’s approaches. Obviously, there are some patterns in American Middle East policies that can’t be changed for long”. Were they ever changed? If we believe recently-published stories in American media, in fact, some of the morally-questionable qualities of this policy never changed. A series of articles published in the New York Times revealed even a certain hardening of the White House’s approach. For example, in reality, Obama adopted a “take no prisoners policy” towards terrorist suspects in the Middle East. Under Obama, American drones reportedly killed hundreds of suspects, destroying in the process thousands of civilians, with only ONE MORE PERSON being put in the infamous Guantánamo camp, which the “humane” candidate Obama had promised to close during his electoral campaign.

The NYT’s Jo Becker and Scott Shane wrote in their review of Obama’s drone strategy, “Whilst scores of suspects were killed under Mr Obama, only one has been taken into American custody, and the president balked at adding new prisoners to Guantánamo”. Both authors point up that Obama’s “killing lists” got longer and longer despite the fact that Obama’s America did not suffer from large-scale terrorist acts, unlike George W Bush’s America which went through the 9/11 disaster in 2001. The New York Times kindly noted, “What remains unanswered is how much killing will be enough”, adding that Mr Obama’s own system of evaluating civilian casualties “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants” Obviously, the USA is still at war with terrorism, despite having had no hostile action on its territory for the last 10 years.

Now, how would THIS President Obama react to some unknown “militants” (let’s use the Western media’s preferred term) setting off bombs near US government buildings in DC every day, killing children on their way to school in the process? This is what happens in Damascus. How would Obama treat “combatants” who make “targeted liquidations” of US Army officers (“targeted liquidations” is the term used by the French newspaper Le Figaro to describe the drive-by shootings of Syrian General Mohammed Omar al-Derbas and Colonels Abdel Karim al-Raei and Fouad Shaaban, assassinated before the bombardments of Homs and Houla)? How would he react to someone’s taking a whole detachment of American servicemen as hostages (such was the Free Syrian Army’s action that unleashed the battle for Homs)? So, how would Obama react to such actions? The answer would be… drones, at least; nuclear bombs, at most. Somehow, Obama and Clinton deny the same luxury of self-defence to Assad. Is it just because his bombs aren’t as smart as American ones? Yes, American bombs are smarter, but smart weapons put their owners before ever-more terrible moral choices. The New York Times reports that Obama, when deciding to “liquidate” Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, knew that Mehsud’s wife and in-laws were in the same home. However, the American president still preferred “the killing option”. In a way, his moral position in this situation is even more compromised than that of Assad’s artillerists, who at least don’t know for sure which family their shells are going to kill…

Amnesty International looks somewhat less smart than American bombs when it requires Assad, in the current situation, to hold “fair trials” for terrorists. As if the USA, with its death squads of drones and “signature strikes” against “suspicious compounds”, bothers to have such trials. Gone are the days when former-Vice President Richard Cheney suspected Obama of “giving the terrorists the rights of Americans, letting them lawyer up and reading them their Miranda rights”. Drones know no lawyers, and “smart missiles” don’t recognise Miranda rights.

17 July 2012

Dmitri Babich

Voice of Russia World Service


Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Chávez Slams Clinton for “Threatening Russia”


On Tuesday, Univisión reported that Venezuelan President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías criticised US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who, he claimed, “uttered threats’ to Russia and China while speaking at a Friends of Syria conference. On Monday, at a press conference, Chávez said, “We saw [that the state secretary uttered] overt threats to Russia and China. [She said that] they will have to pay a high price if they do not do what other countries demand. Do you understand? Obviously, this is the downright madness of those who consider themselves the rulers of the world”. He urged Clinton to look to the problems of the American people. “There are enough problems in the United States, but they [the U.S. authorities] want to do [in Syria] what they did in Libya”. Foreign military action killed thousands in Libya to kill Gaddafi, Chávez continued, saying, “Now, they want to do the same in Syria and threaten Iran”, adding that Cuban Leader Fidel Castro already warned him, “There’s a serious threat of nuclear war”.

On Friday, Clinton lambasted Russia and China for blocking efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has lost a key general to defection. She said that Russia and China need to understand that there’s a price to be paid for “blockading” the Syrian peace process, saying, “I ask you to reach out to Russia and China and not only ask but demand that they get off the sidelines. I don’t think Russia and China believe they are paying any price at all, nothing at all, for standing with (the) Assad regime”.

10 July 2012



Tuesday, 3 April 2012

3 April 2012. Rush Opened His Mouth… And All the Women Voters Moved to Obama… The Democratic Party Should Subsidise Him, He Pisses Off Three For Every One He Convinces


Read this. It’s the best sense on the topic that I’ve read so far. Note this:

The partisan gender gap has been evident in every national election since 1980, when Ronald Reagan essentially settled for a tie with Jimmy Carter among women, while crushing him among men by nearly 20 points. …

A new USA Today/Gallup poll of 12 battleground states shows that Barack Obama actually trails Mitt Romney by 1 point among men. However, among women, the president is ahead by 18… giving him an overall lead of 9 points, 51 to 42 percent, in the battleground venues. …

This is very likely a result of the prominence that contraception and women’s health issues have assumed in the public debate since February, when Republicans revolted against the Obama administration’s efforts to make birth control a mandatory component of health insurance coverage. The way Republicans conducted themselves during that fight… Foster Friess’ aspirin comment, a GOP-convened House committee hearing made up entirely of male witnesses, Rush Limbaugh’s “slut” attack on Sandra Fluke, and the reluctance of top Republicans to loudly condemn him for it… has made it easy for Democrats to claim that they are engaged in a “war on women”. Romney’s own statement last month that “we’re going to get rid of” Planned Parenthood if he’s president and the mandatory ultrasound bill that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell recently signed after a high-profile battle have had the same effect.

This may be a case of history repeating itself. The last Democratic president to stand for re-election, Bill Clinton in 1996, owed his re-election to a massive and decisive gender gap. His campaign against Bob Dole is generally remembered as a sleepy, suspense-less affair, one that Clinton led wire-to-wire and ended up winning by a healthy 8-point margin. And yet, among men, Clinton actually lost to Dole by a point, 44 to 43 percent. It was women, who sided with Clinton by 16 points, who accounted for his lopsided victory. Without the 19th Amendment, Dole would have become the 43rd President of the United States. …

Meanwhile, though, Clinton increased his share of the women’s vote by 10 points. There was no obviously gender-based issue like contraception to account for this, but it seemed that women reacted with particular hostility to the GOP Congress that was elected in ’94 and to the face of that “Republican revolution”, House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In 1995 and ’96, Clinton portrayed himself as the chief defender of the social safety net, attacking Republican efforts to cut Medicare spending and shift federal programmes back to the states. The lopsided gender gap that Clinton opened up in ’96 has persisted by varying degrees in the three elections since… a 22-point difference between the parties in 2000, 14 in 2004, and 12 in 2008. We’ve always known that it would play a role again this year, and it may turn out to be a decisive one.


That’s interesting… all of the GOP’s bellicose rhetoric is meant to appeal to “angry white men”. Does this mean that besides becoming a regional and confessional oddity, the Republicans are going to be a party of “sore white men” outside of its redoubt in the Sectarian South? If so… the 2012 election may prove to be realigning. As for me, I hope that Rush Limbaugh continues his ignorant anti-woman rants and raves. Let him increase them! They’ve woken up a lot of people, and they’re going to wake up more before the election occurs. He’s the best weapon that the Democrats have in their arsenal.

Interesting, ain’t it? One of the loudest and most dirt-dumb misogynists out there has done more than anything else has to awaken women to the dangers inherent in the Republican courtship with the Radical Christian Right. Crazy world, ain’t it… “For a want of a nail, the kingdom was lost”. The Republicans themselves crafted the coming Obama Landslide by not shutting up Rush and the loud “Christian” element. This has scared most women and most honest decent people… we’re going to mark our ballots for the President to avoid a Neo-Fascist theocratic dictatorship all-too-reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale. Oh, one last point before I go… the majority of voices in the blogosphere and in the commboxes are masculine, giving the impression that the Republicans are stronger than they actually are. Why? I don’t know… but the gender imbalance does mean that a skewed and inaccurate picture’s out there. I think that the GOP’s falling for its own propaganda, always a dangerous thing.

When reasoned argument fails, elemental fear does turn the trick. Keep spouting your rubbish, Rush… you’re the ace in the hole of President Obama. Delicious irony, isn’t it?

Barbara-Marie Drezhlo

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Albany NY

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