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Obama's State of the Union Address

I'm going to comment on just a few things about Obama's SOTU speech last night. So many lies, so little time!

First, obviously absent the Occupy Movement, there would have been no talk in his speech about making the rich pay their fair share. This indicates the significance of social movements' impact, even if what Obama proposes to actually do about his fine sentiments is virtually nothing. It's important, nonetheless, to note this in more than passing that had people not risen up in the Occupy Movement and changed the discourse from "I've got mine, aren't you jealous?" to "1% v. 99%" and instead said to themselves and others: "Well, I can't stand the GOP so I guess I have to support Obama, even if he has broken every promise he's made," this reframing even though only rhetorical in Obama's hands would never have occurred. It's interesting to see how this is playing out in the GOP race too as Gingrich is going after Romney for his plutocratic ways and Gingrich is taking heat for his rich consulting fees for Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac of $1.6 million.

Now we have to not only change the discourse, we have to change this system that is producing these awful outcomes.

Second, this speech exemplifies the "middle ground" that Obama is so marked by: an attempt to have it both ways while really siding with the wrong side.

Third, as the NY Times reported recently, when Obama asked Steve Jobs (note the irony of his last name!) if the jobs that Jobs has exported abroad for Apple could come back to the U.S., Jobs' response was: "Those jobs aren't coming back." This is the true nature of globalization. Obama's role is to make it appear to the people that this isn't what's necessarily going to happen and to make people believe that he's going to do something about it. Exactly what he's been doing since taking office in 2009, yes?

As I point out in Globalization and the Demolition of Society:

"The socialist camp’s collapse by the late 1980s opened up the formerly socialist and quasi-socialist world of more than a billion and a half people to capitalist exploitation. In one fell swoop, whole sectors of the US population were thereby rendered disposable from the perspective of capital, especially transnational capital. For blue-collar workers and those in the broken sections of the proletariat for whom steady work is nearly impossible and who must survive at the margins in the gray and underground economies and through hustling, compliance with the status quo becomes increasingly problematic. What is to be done with these people?

"For those most oppressed within the US, jail and prison are the short answer. Prisons and jails have, since at least the early 1990s, been the biggest supplier of public housing and public services to US youth.[i] The US leads the world in imprisoning its own people: every fourth prisoner in the world is behind bars in the US even though the US accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s population. In 2006, two million people were behind bars and another four and one-half million were under some form of custody—probation or parole. By 2010 those numbers reached 2.4 million behind bars with a total of more 7.5 million under some form of correctional supervision. Even when South Africa was under apartheid, the US imprisoned more blacks both in absolute numbers and per capita.[ii] Criminal justice expenditures have been rising since the mid-1970s, rising an additional 95 percent by states in the 1980s, compared to a decline in state spending on education of six percent.[iii] In California, spending on criminal justice now exceeds its spending on higher education, with ten percent of its general fund going to prisons versus seven percent going to higher education. This has happened even while index crime rates have been falling in California and nationally since the early 1990s.

"For the middle class, the answer to keeping them in line in this game of ever-ruthless musical chairs has been deception and fearmongering, about which I have more to say in Chapters Two and Six. This explains what some have observed as otherwise ironic about the GOP’s rhetorical stance with regard to government: while they rail against the alleged waste of “big government” and seek to slash government programs, they have constantly bolstered state expenditures for coercion and security and moved to bail out and protect the behemoth corporations, throwing hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ dollars at them when they are/were in danger of bankruptcy. Moreover, by continually outsourcing formerly governmental activities to private companies, the two major parties can continue to claim that they are reducing government while actually expanding governmental spending, except now under the auspices of private, for-profit companies." (Pp. 54-56)

Fourth, Obama has the nerve to say: "Over the last three years, we've opened up millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I'm directing my Administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources." If you haven't seen the excellent new documentary Gasland, then go see it, quickly. It shows how this so-called "clean" fuel of natural gas exploration has been a disaster for those who live in proximity to the drilling and that it has produced horrid leakages of toxic chemicals into the water table, including causing some homeowners' water faucets' water to catch fire when a flame is put to their water. Obama says he's going to require the companies to list all of the chemicals that they are using in the exploration. As if that would change the situation! Note from the documentary Gasland where the existing sites for this natural gas exploration is and where they are planning to put more, including in some of the most populous areas in the country such as the NY/NJ metro area.

Fifth, Obama ratcheted up and won't remove from the table any options to use against Iran in the name of stopping them from producing a nuclear weapon. And this is after Leon Panetta recently admitted that Iran isn't producing a nuclear weapon. Past is prologue. See next item #6 below:

Sixth, and relatedly, Obama starts his speech by lauding the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, wars which are war crimes in and of themselves since they were pre-emptive invasions of these countries upon nations that had not threatened and had not attacked the US first.

The state of the union is as fragmented and fractured as before while our lead speechifer papers over the deep divisions and tries to conceal a fundamental fact:

“To grasp what is going on we have to probe beneath the surface to the underlying forces at play. The problems of capitalism that are now being expressed are not simply the product of a few (or even a lot of) greedy, corrupt, and shortsighted business figures. They are not primarily the result of poor monitoring by the Federal Reserve and the federal government. They did not arise principally because of an inattentive media. They are not fixable through a set of adjustments or through electing one party over the other, or installing into power one individual or another. They are not mainly the fault of a mall-obsessed, savings-allergic public. These are systemic problems. Life will never again be the same as the life Americans have known for the last few generations. The limits of consumption are upon us if we will only recognize them. But recognizing what is up is not so easy. Systems do not change just because you put a new face in the White House and new faces in Congress.” (p. 74)

 

[i] As Currie put it in Elliott Currie, Reckoning: Drugs, the Cities and the American Future (New York: Hill and Wang, 1994), 19:

Under the impact of the drug war, indeed, the correctional system has become our principal public agency for disadvantaged young men – their chief source of publicly supported housing and one of their most important sources of employment, nutrition, and medical care. We now spend considerably more on institutional housing for the poor via the jail and prison systems than we do on ordinary public housing for low-income people: eight times as much is spent on corrections as on low-rent public housing, for example, and nearly twice as much as on public housing and rent subsidies for the poor combined.

[ii] Becky Pettit and Bruce Western, “Mass Imprisonment and the Life Course: Race and Class Inequality in US Incarceration,” American Sociological Review, April 2004, 151:

Combining administrative, survey, and census data, we estimate that among men born between 1965 and 1969, 3 percent of whites and 20 percent of blacks had served time in prison by their early thirties. The risks of incarceration are highly stratified by education. Among black men born during this period, 30 percent of those without college education and nearly 60 percent of high school dropouts went to prison by 1999. The novel pervasiveness of imprisonment indicates the emergence of incarceration as a new stage in the life course of young low-skill black men. 

[iii] Tara-Jen Ambrosio and Vincent Schiraldi, “From Classrooms to Cell Blocks: A National Perspective,” Justice Policy Institute, 1998, abstract cited at the National Criminal Justice Reference Service online, http://www.ncjrs.gov/App/publications/Abstract.aspx?id=189746, accessed February 6, 2011.