Friday, January 18, 2013

The Surveillance State

Oliver Stone tells us that in 2011 the US spent 40 per cent of its national budget on the military, security and surveillance.  That is roughly $1.2 trillion, far exceeding the yearly average during the Bush administration.  He sees Barack Obama not as an agent of change, but rather a more effective "war president," relying on a "7000 drone armada" to police the world's air space.  The network of military bases and offshore naval fleets is now so great that virtually no country escapes US surveillance, and can be subject to US punitive strikes at any time.

It is kind of surprising that Stone would reserve his most bitter scorn not for George W. Bush, but for Barack Obama in the final episode of his Untold History of the United States.  Ollie spends roughly 20 minutes on Bush and over 30 minutes on Obama, often blurring the line between the two.  An example is the $700 billion TARP program, which was initiated under Bush, but oversaw by the Obama administration. Stone makes it sound as if this was Obama's baby from the beginning, chastising Obama for bringing so many "Rubinites" into his cabinet, because of the large Wall Street support he received during the general election.  Obama wasn't exactly repaid kindly for that magnanimous gesture judging by all the backlash from leading CEOs during the 2012 campaign, but that doesn't suit Stone's vision of post-Cold War America.

Instead, we see the same old theme play out, a presumably liberal president-elect falling under the influence of foreign policy hawks within his party and the same old corporate pyramid now "Too Big to Fail."  Stone doesn't point to one particular dark shadowy figure in the Obama administration, like he did Brzezinski during the Carter administration.  Instead, he seems to view it as a character flaw in Obama himself, "a wolf in sheep clothing."

I don't want to sound like an Obama apologist, because I too find a lot to fault in his administration, but the managed withdrawal in Iraq and the "surge" in Afghanistan were both well outlined in his election bid.  He even had a great number of multi-starred generals standing behind him in one photo op supporting his positions.  So, when Stone criticizes Obama for his troop build-up in Afghanistan (to help relieve the long-suffering NATO presence in the country) it seems Stone simply refuses to acknowledge Obama's campaign message.  Like many liberals, Stone appears to have seen Obama as a "Black Kennedy," and became bitterly disillusioned with the policies he set during his administration, notably his foreign policy, even when most of these positions had been enunciated during his campaign.

Stone sees the Obama administration as a thinly disguised version of the Bush administration, with many of the same players including Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense.  He notes that the drone attacks, torture and other forms of subversive tactics are still used, just more effectively and under an even greater shroud of secrecy.  He sees the raid on the bin Laden campaign as "vigilante justice," and the new film, Zero Dark Thirty, as a justification of this action, with the CIA actually providing information to the film's director, Kathryn Bigelow.

In Ollie's mind, Obama squandered another golden opportunity to reach out to former foes, in this case China, repeating the same mistake Truman made back in the late 40s.  This gives Stone an opportunity to present Henry Wallace one last time as someone who could have changed the course of history, if only he had been the Vice-President in 1944 and not Truman.  Instead, we embarked on an enormously costly and counter-productive Cold War, giving rise to a labyrinthine military-industrial complex that has trapped each succeeding President.

These later episodes aren't so much history as they are opinion held together by a loose conglomeration of clips, many of them from movies, with voice-overs in the case of Bush that sound like they came from Josh Brolin in Stone's movie, W, not from Bush himself.  Stone massages the text with his sleep-inducing voice as if he wants us to drift away into a semi-sleep where his message can seep into our subconscious and allow us to "remember the past, and step by step like a baby reach for the stars," with his image fading in at the end of the final segment like the Sandman himself.


  1. I hope I haven't bored too many persons with these lengthy reviews of Stone's ten history lessons. I found myself using the Television Without Pity model. TWP doesn't have anyone covering The Untold History of the United States. In fact, there is surprising little feedback to the series on the Showtime message boards,

    or on their facebook site or anywhere else for that matter. Even Brietbart and other conservative blogs haven't made very much of this series beyond an initial response.

    It seems that for all the advance publicity, few actually watched this series, and very few had the patience for all ten episodes.

  2. I've not been bored at all and appreciate the synops you've provided. These days I have almost no time to watch television except for a playoff football game.

  3. Far right delusionals claim that President Obama is a "socialist" who is out to destroy corporations. But contrary to the lies of the Fox network and their fellow travellers in Breitbart, corporate profits are at an all time high under Obama:

    Corporate Profits Have Grown By 171 Percent Under Obama -- Highest Rate Since 1900
    Twice as high as the Reagan years.
    January 17, 2013 |

    Business executives like to portray the Obama administration as the “ most anti-business” in history, creating an “ increasingly hostile environment for investment and job creation.” However, the data tells a far different story. According to a Bloomberg News analysis, corporate profits have grown by 171 percent under Obama, the most in the post-war era:

    U.S. corporations’ after-tax profits have grown by 171 percent under Obama, more than under any president since World War II, and are now at their highest level relative to the size of the economy since the government began keeping records in 1947, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

    Profits are more than twice as high as their peak during President Ronald Reagan’s administration and more than 50 percent greater than during the late-1990s Internet boom, measured by the size of the economy.

    Average annual corporate profit growth under Obama is the highest since 1900, whereas profit growth declined during both Bush presidencies. As a share of the economy, corporate profits have never been higher.

    Unfortunately, this profit deluge has not been shared by workers, whose wages as a percentage of the economy have fallen to all-time lows. Workers also got dinged by the recent increase in the payroll tax, which was large enough to wipe out a minimum wage increase in some states.

  4. It is amazing that it is the right that bitches far more about the Obama administration than it is the left. If anyone has any room to air gripes it is the left wing of the Democratic Party, which feels it was thrown under the bus after the election. I'm curious to see what role Kucinich plays on Fox News now that he has been signed onto the team of "political analysts."

    1. But what has the left wing of the Democratic Party been up to in recent years. For a "wing" they have been awfully quiet.

  5. Yea, they've been pretty much shut up except in the blogosphere, where a lot of left-wing blogs assail Obama daily. Robert Reich has also been very critical of Obama's administration, despite it pretty much using the Clinton blueprint as far as economic policy is concerned. For all this talk of "Rubinites" in Obama's administration, Rubin, like Reich, was in Clinton's administration, so go figure?

    1. Having spent time reading Robert Reich's blog, I don't find his views all that compelling. Indeed, I really wonder what he would have Obama do differently. Like you say, go figure.