Obama to bankers: “Just say thank you, please,”
Hosted in Houston, Texas, the recent gala featured over 1,000 guests of the Baker Institute’s 25th Anniversary Gala. The gala raised $5.4 million from a crowd of banking- and oil-industry-affiliates as well as former high-ranking government officials.
The gala was not particularly surprising except for a tidbit, or rather a few tidbits in which Obama seems to follow the trend of not pretending so much anymore whom he peddles to: “Sometimes you go to Wall Street, and folks will be grumbling about anti-business…” the former President said at the panel, “And I say, ‘Have you checked where your stocks were when I came in office, and where they are now?’ What are you talking, what are you complaining about?”
“Just say thank you, please. Because I want to raise your taxes a couple percent to make sure kids have a chance to go to school?” Obama told the bankers.
Barack Obama then turned his attention to his supposed doubters among the oil-magnates: “I know we’re in oil country, and we need American energy,” he said, “and by the way, American energy production — you wouldn’t always know it — but it went up every year I was president. And that whole, ‘Suddenly America is the biggest oil producer’ — that was me, people.”
The Baker Institute
The Baker Institute, named after James A. Baker, III, a former Secretary of State under George H. W. Bush’s presidency and former Treasury Secretary under Ronald Reagan. A glance at the institute’s publications and programmes reveals several common threads to US foreign policy: energy and the Middle East. Although, to be fair, public finance, health and biosciences, Mexico and space are also represented, though seemingly to a lesser degree.
When further looking at the Baker Institute’s board of advisors, though, oil, banking and construction are the most prolifically represented, for example: Clarence P. Cazalot Jr., former CEO, Marathon Oil Corporation; Stephen I. Chazen, Ph.D., former CEO, Occidental Petroleum Corporation; Charles W. Duncan Jr., former U.S. Secretary of Energy; Lynn Laverty Elsenhans, former CEO, Sunoco Inc.; Jeffery D. Hildebrand, executive Chairman and Founder, Hilcorp Energy Company; A.R. “Tony” Sanchez Jr., CEO, Sanchez Oil & Gas Corporation. Other members of the advisory board include Colin Powell, former chairmen of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase as well as a former US Ambassador to Syria and Israel, amongst others.
The Instute’s Center for Energy Studies, which fosters research and commingling of fellow plutocrats, boasts an energy forum advisory board filled to the brim with big oil: BP, Chevron, Exxon, Saudi Aramco, Marathon oil, Total, ConocoPhillips and Shell.
So when Obama said „Just say thank you, please,” he is speaking to a crowd he enriched directly.
Obama, as a Democratic President, has sought advice from Republican James Baker, III. There is no issue with opposing parties having issues they agree on. There is, however, a common thread of similar mindsets among the US leadership in the 1990s as in the 2000s. Afterall, as the New York Times has pointed out, prior to re-invading Iraq George W. Bush’s administration threatened Iraq in a way that “bears considerable resemblance to a private warning that Secretary of State James A. Baker III sent to Saddam Hussein.”
In 2006, James Baker and a former congressman from Indiana, Lee H. Hamilton formed the Baker-Hamilton Commission, later renamed The Iraq Study Group. The ISG’s mandate was to conduct a forward-looking, independent assessment of the current and prospective situation on the ground in Iraq, its impact on the surrounding region, and consequences for U.S. interests - in other words, how to wage war more effectively, as Ben Norton succinctly puts it.
Baker is also tightly linked to the Saudi ruling family. During his tenure in office, Baker collaborated closely with Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi intelligence chief who not so long ago pressed the „US to drop its objections to supplying anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles to the JAI”.
JAI being the Jaysh al Islam, a terrorist faction, that is reported to have fired missiles on more than 10,000 civilians in Damascus, with deadly effect.
This Baker-Bandar tango is one that goes back a long way; these two power-brokers have been working on negotiations between Syria and Israel since the early 1990s: „Bandar spends much of his time as an informal member of Baker's circle of advisers on Middle East peace. One afternoon this January, while lunching in the greenhouse room of his residence perched above the Potomac River, he explained to Dennis B. Ross, a Baker aide, how hard Saudi Arabia was working to keep Syria at the negotiating table with Israel.”
We are getting into shaky territory here, but curiously enough on September 11, 2001 James Baker, III was an attendee of a conference at the New York Ritz Carlton with a member of the bin Laden family (which, admittedly is very large). In fact, as Naomi Klein points out, The New York Times determined that the potential conflicts of interest were so great that on December 12 it published an editorial calling on Baker to resign his posts at the Carlyle Group and Baker Botts (Baker’s law firm) to preserve the integrity of his envoy position.
Barack Obama and James Baker spoke for nearly an hour, and I cannot ascertain if these men are conscious of the weight of their actions. Obama talked about how in the past 60-70 years the US has done admittedly much to earn the criticisms of being "hypocritical" and "not practising what it preaches" by „supporting folks who are not Democrats” (it seems he meant democratic, as opposed to despots). However, he claims, that despite this hypocrisy, the world is better off: it is „wealthier, less violent, healthier, more tolerant, more democratic”, Obama’s words. Wouldn’t the people of Cambodia, Laos, the Congo, Somalia, Nicaragua, Honduras and any Middle Eastern nation beg to differ? It just seems to me that, at this point, Obama has as much of a problem with reality as Trump does. Although, he is more eloquent about it.