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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Why Is Obama Behaving Like Putin?


A front-page story in yesterday’s New York Times demonstrates perfectly why American corporations are loath to take a public stance against the U.S. government, especially when it comes to foreign policy. In fact, although the story focuses on American businesses, it also indirectly and implicitly explains why the U.S. mainstream press faithfully toes the official foreign-policy line of the U.S. government.

The story is entitled “Obama Aides Tell Executives to Skip Forum.” Through top-level aides, President Obama is currently engaged in an active telephone campaign telling American CEO’s of top U.S. corporations that they should not attend an international economic forum hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to the Times, “Few, if any, of them will be there this month. Ryan Lance, chief executive of ConocoPhillips, has decided to skip the event, according to the company. Klaus Kleinfield, chief executive of Alcoa and chairman of the United States-Russia Business Council, canceled plans to attend on Friday, citing “the U.S. government’s requirements.”

Now, you might think that the reason for the cancelations is in order to comply with sanctions that Obama has imposed on Russian officials in retaliation for Russia’s seizure of Crimea.

Not so. The sanctions do not prevent the American businessmen from attending the conference or even continuing to do business with Russia.

The cancelations are also not due to lack of interest in attending. In fact, most of the American CEOs want to attend the conference. They have established business relationships in Russia and wish to fortify them.

In fact, one of the ironies of the situation is that last year, Obama was telling the CEOs of the same companies that he wanted them to attend the same conference last year. According to the Times, “The chief executives of General Electric, Deere & Company, Citigroup, MetLife, Alcoa, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Visa, Chevron, Hill & Knowlton Strategies and Cisco Systems attended last year.”

The American companies know that if they fail to attend the conference, Putin will consider it a personal insult and will use his political power to retaliate against the companies. The Times states: “One U.S. executive at today’s meeting warned that Putin/Kremlin will closely watch which U.S. C.E.O.’s cancel and their Russia business will be impacted.”

So, why are these American CEOs cancelling their plans to attend the conference?

Because the president of the United States is pressuring them into canceling their plans to attend the conference.

And why are they succumbing to Obama’s pressure?

Because they know that if they don’t comply with Obama’s “request,” Obama and his team will do the same sorts of bad things to them that Putin does to Russian businessmen who don’t comply with his “requests.”

Government contracts can be canceled and not awarded in the future. IRS audits could coincidentally occur. Financial transactions could be scrutinized for insider-trade violations. Regulators could suddenly decide to check things more closely. Merger proposals could be examined more carefully. Tax benefits could be repealed or not awarded in the future.

In his most recent volume on President Lyndon Johnson, Robert Caro detailed two instances in which Johnson was able to shut down media investigations into his political corruption, which most likely would have led to his impeachment and criminal indictment. As soon as he became president, Johnson simply got on the phone and telephoned the publishers of the two newspapers that were conducting the investigations and pointed out the possibility of IRS audits and unfavorable treatment on one of the publishers’ pending merger applications. Both newspapers immediately shut down the investigations and gave LBJ a pass on his criminal violations. The mainstream press got the message. No major media outlet dared pursue the investigation into Johnson’s criminal conduct. They all knew what would happen to them if they did.

Recall the case of Joseph Nacchio, the CEO of Qwest Communications. He refused President George W. Bush’s “request” to engage in illegal activity relating to violating the confidentiality of records belonging to Qwest customers. Qwest immediately began losing government contracts and federal officials went after Nacchio on some ridiculous insider-trading violation. The CEOs of the other telecoms went along with Bush’s “request.” They got the contracts, favorable treatment, and immunity from prosecution.

The CEOs who are now receiving those telephone calls from Obama’s aides are not stupid. They know that if they don’t go along with Obama’s “request,” bad things will happen to them and their companies or good things from the government will no longer be doled out to them.

That’s why they’re succumbing to the pressure.

Now, one might say, “Jacob, what Obama is doing isn’t any different from what Putin does.”

That’s true, but doesn’t that say everything about what has happened to our country? Russia has always been an authoritarian country. Isn’t America supposed to be different? Isn’t America supposed to be a country based on the rule of law? If it’s not illegal to go to Russia, why is President Obama making telephone calls to private American citizens and pressuring them to not attend the conference?

How is that sort of thing consistent with the principles of a free society and the rule of law? It’s not. It’s consistent with authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, where the ruler arbitrarily issues his edicts and the citizenry is expected to comply, or else. Such conduct is inherent to regimes like those in Russia, China, Cuba, and elsewhere. It has no place here in the United States.

What Obama is doing is classic dictatorial conduct. His actions exemplify the “rule of men” not the “rule of law.” What he’s doing is no different from what Putin does to Russian businessmen. The difference is that Putin makes no bones about being an autocrat while Obama pretends otherwise.

Meanwhile, the American CEOs are trapped between the two rulers. If they don’t attend the conference, Putin goes after them. If they do attend the conference, Obama goes after them. One industry official put it this way: “Some companies are trying to do their best to avoid getting trapped in the minefield.

The next time you wonder why there are no CEOs of major American corporations ever taking a public stance against U.S. foreign policy or why the mainstream media toes the official federal government line in foreign crises, this is why. They all know that if they go independent, bad things are likely to happen to them at the hands of their own ruler. It’s what U.S. officials would say is the price for living in a “free” society.


This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.