An Open Letter to President Obama: Against the Rhetoric of Hope

Originally written for publication in Radical Notes

Dear President Obama,

I hope you truly emerge as the hope you have claimed yourself to be.

A hope for the ordinary people, who have believed in your promises of change and cried tears of joy upon your election.

A hope that will let the likes of Bernard Madoffs to face trial and be sent to jail, not left to enjoy house arrest at his comfortable multi-million-dollar penthouse, while, need I mention, thousands of young people of color languish as under-trial prisoners of the industrial complex you are going to chair, a couple of days from now.

A hope that will finally help you decide whether or not you will cancel the series of billion-dollar extravaganzas that have been planned to herald your taking up a position of responsibility to serve, not rule. At a time when the world is reeling under economic depression a hope that you shall declare these scums of earth – those that are spending $50,000 a ticket to get a favoured seat at the ceremony to crown you – as your enemies, not friends.

A hope that you will finally advise your celebrity fans – the multimillionaire friends – that an election to a post is merely incidental, not phenomenal enough, to demand rhetoric like “Anything is possible in America – the greatest country on earth”. And that bunch of Hollywood celebrities may also be advised to root out the trees that hide their mansions from public purview so that people can get a view of how stinking, parasitical, gluttons the so-called commercial artists really are, living in the richest boulevards and inspiring the rest of the nation to become like them – almost in a pattern of dark humor.

A hope that you will rid yourself of the comparisons with Dr Martin Luther King, because unlike you he never would claim today that your election proves in any form, kind or shape that America has suddenly become intelligent or free, or both, in selecting its leader. He would never have accepted funds from Wall Street and Zionist lobbyists. He would never have accepted corporate media favors. He would never have remained silent at Israeli atrocities on Palestine. Unlike you, Dr King would not have claimed America has no colour lines just because two clowns in form of McCain and Palin could not inspire White America enough. Did I mention Dr King would not have voted unconditionally for the $700-billion corporate bailouts as you did – thus ensuring their media throw around bullets at a desperately sinking people’s hopeful minds?

A hope that you will be a world leader, rendering thoughtful humanitarian progressive opinions, not promising reactionary interventionist military tactics. Your urge to pursue military wars against tethering economies of Pakistan and Afghanistan is far from the hope the world looks forward to from the leader of a country that has, in the first place, created the mess those regions are.

A hope that you will truly stop addressing the AIPAC Zionist causes and rather side with the progressive Israeli and Palestinians in order to end the war on peoples in the Middle East – a war directly funded by American taxpayers money. So much so that the working class Americans are forced to pay 47% of their tax money towards fighting wars against Arab peoples. And now they hope, President Obama, that you will conduct direct negotiations with the Hamas- legitimately elected to government in Gaza – instead of funding hate against the Middle East by furthering flow of tax money to the Israeli militarist state. Certainly not to depend on the Republican Party adviser, Pentagon chief Robert Gates, to decide on your behalf – a process you have already formalized.

A hope that you will “fully withdraw” from Iraq and not “reduce” the presence of American troops there- your claim throughout that American troops are “part of the solution in Iraq” is a wisdom that is contrary to laws of international human rights as applied to sovereign nations, not to mention one that has resulted in slaughter of well over a million innocent people. Despite Abu Ghraib and despite well-documented deaths of civilians at the hands of the American military your view is abjectly hopeless: “The fact is that our US military is probably the most capable institution on the planet in terms of carrying out extraordinarily difficult assignments. And I continue to be concerned that we have set out for ourselves just an enormous task of rebuilding an extremely volatile and large country, and the military is not going to be able to do it alone so we’re going to have to have some good policies from Washington to move it forward.” Dear President Obama, the ordinary voters, deeply anguished at Republican measures and deeply brainwashed by Democratic media, have pledged their hopes on you. This is time, they hope you can move the military backward and “bring the boys back” home, not to move them forward into any more tortures in the Middle East that bring us shame as human beings, not just as divinely blessed Americans.

A hope that you do in fact refrain from the last lines in your speech in quoting the tradition: “Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.” As it turns out, there are so many of us atheists and so many of us followers of non-Christian God that it pains to notice the lack of a break in the tradition when it comes to religious diplomacy. In fact, Christian fundamentalism runs so high in the land that you had to invite the most infamous reactionary pastor to herald you as the leader – a man who most despicably declares homosexuality as a disease and opposes same-sex marriages. And oh, even while you used the media to woo the sizable section of LGBT constituency, your own opposition to gay marriage is also well pronounced. And yet, our depressed, repressed and suppressed sexual minority still hopes you will make true of your promises and get rid of seeds of intolerance such as the Godmen who preach against “God’s own”.

A hope that you will sincerely withdraw your inaugural speech in favour of a more pragmatic, critically progressive one. Your opening lines that “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer” just does not sound convincing enough. Are we not the same people who voted year after year based on what the media had to convince us on foreign, domestic and economic policies? A country having the largest record of anti-democratic measures, of having committed vote scams and frauds at presidential level, of having maintained an elitist tradition of two richest parties ignoring everyone else, an electoral process that decides on candidates based on how much funds they generate thereby eliminating anti-corporate candidates effectively – how could this country suddenly become the land of the dreams of its founding fathers (not to mention, that you keep forgetting some of those were slave-owning fathers) and torchbearers of democracy (or demon-cracy, dear President considering even on the day of your speech all the anti-democratic policies were still in place- from Guantanamo Bay to Iraqi oilfields? From military bases in Kuwait to assertions in NATO, from supremacism in the UN Security Council to maintenance of Cold War ties with dictatorial regimes of Saudi Arabia or installed state armies in much of Africa to slaughter people’s outfits?)

A hope that you will carefully snap your ties with the likes of Warren Buffett. Is it merely incidental that the very year you got elected was the year when Buffett was declared as the richest man in the world – the man who you claimed time and again was most qualified to be your economic adviser. The capitalist accumulator of ill-gotten wealth, the man who has become the charity celebrity – such a charitable man he is that he has promised to donate his billions to another charitable (sic!) buddy of his, Bill Gates for the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation! As though the activities of Gates Foundation in perpetuating life-threatening diseases in Africa by funding illegal factories were not enough, now your adviser and angel investor in your “middle-class” campaign, Mr Buffett, has to make the corporate houses stronger while rendering the government weaker – steps such as this which have caused the recent havoc at the first place to begin with.

A hope that you will sincerely abuse your own illusions about this country that you might have missed opportunities to critically reflect upon. Just because you were born in the land with a certificate that enabled you to contest as a Presidential candidate does not mean that you will continue the tradition of shoving to silence millions of hard-working taxpayers of the land who do not have the “legality” – a privilege that is bestowed not by some unseen supreme force, but by political leaders of the respective times. The “illegal workers” who clean the tables and the dishes before feeding millions of Americans every passing day of today are the black suffrage of yesteryear. The minority Hispanic, Asian and Black women workers – who earn way less than the minimum wage reserved for the male workers every hour, as housekeepers and nannies and bargirls in sectors that do not allow for unions and demands – are the Rosa Parks of today, whose voices have been silenced amidst glories of your victory. And you have led the rhetoric, Mr President, when you declare, “We are America. We are the nation that liberated a continent from a madman, that lifted ourselves from the depths of Depression, that won Civil Rights, and Women’s Rights, and Voting Rights for all our people.” In your elite school education they obviously rendered a myopic study of what America in the 21st Century was like. Perhaps you need to only go through your own EEOC reports to witness racial harassments, gender disparities in pay and discrimination based on sexual orientation before making sweeping statements on the nature of liberation embedded in the idea of Americanism.

A hope that you sincerely and finally acknowledge that the same Washington DC political lobby and the same Wall Street economic lobby are the ones that have lifted you to power. By default, your struggle will be against the working class people who on a daily basis wage wars against the aforesaid corridors of powers. And the poor working class whose money will continue to be spent on your imperialistic fanciful wars against Iraq, Gaza, Pakistan and other threats, as and when conveniently produced by the White House, with more than a little help from your so-called liberal press – the CNN and the New York Times that work overtime to turn the country into a land of hero-worshippers.

A hope that you, indeed, emerge as a hero worthy of the worshipping. This is no reality TV show and as brother Gil Scott Heron (hope they taught him in the Ivy Leagues) says the people’s revolution will not be televised. The streets of Gainesville, Harlem, Huntington and New Orleans will not have makeup artists and publicists to let people show their best faces forward. The masses do not possess the charm and power that the televised news anchors possess. They even do not have a right to define what constitutes poverty line in the country. They, however, will hope that you increase the official poverty line to demonstrate the reality of debt-ridden society of America. $21,000 annual income for a four-person family is worse than just poverty, Mr President, while calculating the millions of invisible in the land of billboards by Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, General Electric, Proctor & Gamble, American Express, Johnson & Johnson, Bank of America, Nike, KraftFood, Comcast, Costco, Burlington, UnitedHealth Group – all of these corporations and more whose shares are owned by your buddy Warren Buffet and your friends on the Wall Street. After having hoodwinked the poor of the country with corporate media propaganda that you stand up for their causes, while in fact you get funded by their class enemies, the people hope your friendly media conglomerate stops celebrating your words of free American joy immediately!

A hope that you will also remember what Dr King had said in the context of televised glorification of racial harmony as “cruel manipulation of the poor” and American War Presidents’ presence in foreign land as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today”. Neither media propaganda about social normalcy in blatant disregard of the poor class, nor White House prerogatives to perpetuate wars in foreign lands have lessened, let alone, ceased. How can you continue to parrot that that no one should “question the power of our democracy”, and herald the biggest destructive force in recent world history – the US military – as the “most capable institution on the planet”?

Perhaps so, you have a need to showcase hope. But you know, acute realities continue to bite.



Satyam Scandal :: Ramalinga Raju is not the Problem

By Saswat Pattanayak

When Enron conveniently declared its bankruptcy in 2001, it not only resulted in rendering more than 5000 employees jobless, and relegating more than $1billion in employee retirement funds to vacuum, but the corporation also succeeded in eventually evading recovery of more than $40 billion of its assets. Enron’s corruption was neither pathbreaking nor unique. Financial bunglings are necessary features of market capitalism resulting in widespread unemployment, continuation of class society and dependence of world majority on the corporate minority.

All criticisms being hurled at Ramalinga Raju – the disgraced former boss of India’s leading software giant Satyam – is pure travesty. The fact is Raju is merely unlucky, and in this present instance, a victim of his beleaguered conscience that arose too late. For, his scandal is neither as consequential as Enron’s, nor as dangerously implicit as PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Any focus on eliminating Raju and his business from the world capitalistic map only shall help strengthen the businesses of his former rivals. Reducing India’s largest financial scam to the alter of accusations against one man merely shall undermine the necessity to examine the canons of capitalism.

Raju’s attempts at salvaging his son’s companies have nothing to do with personal corruption scandals. It has to do with the very nature of how “free market” capitalism works. The same investors who objected to the $1.6 billion scam orchestrated by Raju were the ones who have been supporting him throughout the series of deception, fraud and financial misappropriations committed by Satyam over the years. The same auditors – PricewaterhouseCoopers – who have suddenly hogged the headline for the wrongdoings have been heralded by Market Capitalism as one of its most informed wings. The corporate media conglomerates that are now singling out Raju as the fraud that deserves jail term are the gatekeepers of news and opinion that had been awarding Raju variously, including as “Corporate Citizen of the Year” (by CNBC in 2002). Not just the endorsement of PricewaterhouseCoopers, even its rival – the other big financial auditor – Ernst & Young has only recently bestowed upon Raju the award of “Young Entrepreneur of the Year (in 2007).

If the world has been forced to embrace market capitalism as the dominant economic base, the superstructure for such foundation has comprised investors, auditors, deregulators, and the corporate bosses. In case of Satyam Computers Services, all these elements have been exposed threadbare. And this is hardly the first instance of corruption in capitalism. Quite the contrary, corruption is inherent in capitalism, in its essence of profit drives at the cost of ethical responsibilities, in its essence of satisfying investors at the cost of customers, in its essence of exploiting workforce at the cost of amassing disproportionate wealth.

The market economy approach which India has embraced necessarily must produce Harshad Mehtas and Ramalinga Rajus. Any elements of surprise speaks to the lack of confidence in understanding of capitalism’s contradictions. A free-for-all umbrella must cloud the levels of competition and turn them instead into monopolistic collaborations among giants. Giants who must exhibit their capability to stay in top (or, perish) must necessarily employ unlawful, illicit and unethical means to hoodwink the consumers, clients and society at large.

What Raju has resorted to is not a sign of failure in his conscience. Rather, what most of the media are perceiving in his character of late is a failure on their part to understand how capitalism functions. This is what Fidel Castro calls “Economic Illiteracy” prevailing in the present age.

Workers’ Rhapsody

By Saswat Pattanayak

All the while, all the while
Freedom mile, all the while
Been oppressed, all the while
Exploited, all the while

Set me free, set me free
Incarcerate me, set me free
Always in debt, set me free
Bank dues late, set me free

Never before, never before
Mayhem forever, never before
Darkness ahead, never before
Hopeless dejected, never before

Cannot rest, cannot rest
Hallucinate, cannot rest
Abused drugs, cannot rest
Competitions, cannot rest

How many years, how many years
Greedy corporates, how many years
Conservative cronies, how many years
Liberal phonies, how many years

Who bail ’em out, who bail ’em out
Protest ask shout, who bail ’em out
Profiteer crooks, who bail ’em out
Funding Obama/Bush, who bail ’em out

Power to peoples, power to peoples
Redistribute lands, power to peoples
Regulate wealth, power to peoples
Nationalize health, power to peoples

Crisis not ours, crisis not ours
Sold-out lenders, crisis not ours
Collapsing capital, crisis not ours
Proving them lethal, crisis not ours

Capitalism dead, capitalism dead
For once pay heed, capitalism dead
Their media lying, capitalism dead
Rich legacies dying, capitalism dead

We shall not tolerate, we shall not tolerate
If owners are ingrate, we shall not tolerate
No more minimum wage, we shall not tolerate
No stopping our rage, we shall not tolerate

Ignorance no bliss, ignorance no bliss
Palestinian deaths a miss, ignorance no bliss
Go tell truth to the power, ignorance no bliss
Imperialist war funds terror, ignorance no bliss

Fighting war, fighting war
Homeless once more, fighting war
Shelters full, fighting war
Tanks so cool, fighting war

Smoke us out, smoke us out
Funders of hate, smoke us out
Evil is the bomb, smoke us out
Bring war home, smoke us out

Bring war home, bring war home
Unemployment zone, bring war home
Poverty in Bronx, bring war home
Capitalism sucks, bring war home

Saswat Pattanayak
Peoples’ Poet, 2009