Below are three strong critiques of President Obama’s State of the Union from three of the editors of Black Agenda Report.
By BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“Believe it,” said the current Prevaricator-in-Chief, in the conclusion to his annual litany lies. President Obama’s specialty, honed to theatrical near-perfection over five disastrous years, is in crafting the sympathetic lie, designed to suspend disbelief among those targeted for oblivion, through displays of empathy for the victims. In contrast to the aggressive insults and bluster employed by Republican political actors, whose goal is to incite racist passions against the Other, the sympathetic Democratic liar disarms those who are about to be sacrificed by pretending to feel their pain.
Barack Obama, who has presided over the sharpest increases in economic inequality in U.S. history, adopts the persona of public advocate, reciting wrongs inflicted by unseen and unknown forces that have “deepened” the gap between the rich and the rest of us and “stalled” upward mobility. Having spent half a decade stuffing tens of trillions of dollars into the accounts of an ever shrinking gaggle of financial capitalists, Obama declares this to be “a year of action” in the opposite direction. “Believe it.” And if you do believe it, then crown him the Most Effective Liar of the young century.
Lies of omission are even more despicable than the overt variety, because they hide. The potentially most devastating Obama contribution to economic inequality is being crafted in secret by hundreds of corporate lobbyists and lawyers and their revolving-door counterparts in government. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, described as “NAFTA on steroids,” would accelerate the global Race to the Bottom that has made a wasteland of American manufacturing, plunging the working class into levels of poverty and insecurity without parallel in most people’s lifetimes, and totally eviscerating the meager gains of three generations of African Americans. Yet, the closest Obama came to even an oblique allusion to his great crime-in-the-making, was to announce that “new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help [small businesses] create even more jobs. We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment and open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in the USA.’” Like NAFTA twenty years ago – only far bigger and more diabolically destructive – TPP will have the opposite effect, destroying millions more jobs and further deepening worker insecurity. The Trans Pacific Partnership expands the legal basis for global economic inequalities – which is why the negotiations are secret, and why the treaty’s name could not be spoken in the State of the Union address. It is a lie of omission of global proportions. Give Obama his crown.
“The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, described as ‘NAFTA on steroids,’ would accelerate the global Race to the Bottom.”
The president who promised in his 2008 campaign to support a hike in the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011, and then did nothing at all to make it happen, says this is the “year of action” when he’ll move heaven and earth to get a $10.10 minimum. He will start, Obama told the Congress and the nation, by issuing “an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you should not have to live in poverty.” Obama neglected to mention that only new hires – a small fraction, beginning with zero, of the two million federal contract workers – will get the wage boost; a huge and conscious lie of omission. The fact that the president does not even propose a gradual, mandated increase for the rest of the two million shows he has no intention of using his full powers to ameliorate taxpayer-financed poverty. We can also expect Obama to issue waivers to every firm that claims a hardship, as is always his practice.
What is Obama’s jobs program? It is the same as laid out at last year’s State of the Union, and elaborated on last summer: lower business taxes and higher business subsidies. When you say “jobs,” he says tax cuts – just like the Republicans, only Obama first cites the pain of the unemployed, so that you know he cares. “Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that our tax code is riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here, and reward companies that keep profits abroad. Let’s flip that equation. Let’s work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs right here at home.” Actually, Obama wants to lower tax rates for all corporations to 28 percent, from 35 percent, as part of his ongoing quest for a Grand Bargain with Republicans. For Obama, the way to bring jobs back to the U.S. is to make American taxes and wages more “competitive” in the “global marketplace” – the Race to the Bottom.
In the final analysis, the sympathetic corporate Democrat and the arrogant corporate Republican offer only small variations on the same menu: ever increasing austerity. Obama bragged about reducing the deficit, never acknowledging that this has been accomplished on the backs of the poor, contributing mightily to economic inequality and social insecurity.
Obama offers nothing of substance, because he is not authorized by his corporate masters to do so. He takes his general orders from the same people as do the Republicans. That’s why Obama only speaks of minimum wage hikes while Republicans are in power, rather than when his own party controlled both houses of Congress. Grand Bargains are preferred, because they are the result of consensus between the two corporate parties. In effect, the Grand Bargain is the distilled political will of Wall Street, which feeds the donkey and the elephant. Wall Street – the 1 percent – believes the world is theirs for the taking, and they want all of it. Given this overarching truth, Obama has no choice but to stage a festival of lies.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected]
By BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
The Constitution requires the president to “…from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union….” Regardless of what the framers of the constitution intended, this event has devolved into empty theatrics, worthless punditry and outright lies.
If American politics had any integrity the State of the Union address would give an honest accounting of what life is like in this county and present the means for making it truly just and equitable. Instead it is used to masquerade drivel as accomplishment and reinforce the notion that a collapsing society is a thriving democracy.
The propaganda that we live in the greatest country on earth can easily be proven untrue with a little bit of easily accessible research. The state of the union is not very good for anyone except the ruling 1%and the most basic measures prove it.
The United States ranks 34th among the 35 richest nations in child well being, which is measured in health outcomes and percentages of children living in poverty. Most Americans would be shocked to learn that Ireland, Slovakia, Latvia, Poland and even crisis ridden Greece and Portugal take better care of their children.
Overall health care outcomes are no better, with the United States ranking at only 37 out of 191countries. Cuba, which few Americans regard in any positive way, ranks just two steps behind at 39. Costa Ricans, Moroccans, Colombians, and Saudis all have access to better medical care. Most of the members of Congress sitting through the State of the Union address often brag that their constituents have the best health care in the world when those words are obvious lies.
“Most Americans would be shocked to learn that Ireland, Slovakia, Latvia, Poland and even crisis ridden Greece and Portugal take better care of their children.”
If America doesn’t take care of its children and can’t provide the best health care for anyone, does it lead in anything? It does in fact but none of these benchmarks are good for human beings. The United States still has the shameful distinction of incarcerating both a greater percentage of its population and the largest number of people than any other country on earth. The dictators we are taught to disdain and the leaders who are seen as enemies all keep fewer people in jail.
Consider that the Obama administration boasted when the president commuted the sentences of eight people who languished in prison under the old draconian crack cocaine laws. That is good news for those eight persons, but the Obama Justice Department also went to court to oppose efforts to remedy the sentences of 5,000 other people, formally making the case against giving them the chance to be re-sentenced.
The only other trend by which the United States bests every other nation is the amount spent on the military. The combined defense expenditures of the rest of the world total less than our military budget. Violence is the only arena in which America leads the way.
In 2014, a smaller percentage of working age people is now employed than at any time in the last three decades. Two-thirds of those who do have jobs exist without savings, living “from paycheck to paycheck.” The president makes a big show of raising the minimum wage for federal contractors when he and Democrats controlled Congress for two years but didn’t lift a finger to raise the minimum wage for everyone.
“The United States still has the shameful distinction of incarcerating both a greater percentage of its population and the largest number of people than any other country on earth.”
While economic security is a thing of the past for millions of people, the corporations that rule in this country act with complete impunity. The ironically named Freedom Industries poisoned the drinking water supply of more than 300,000 people in West Virginia. Freedom Industries immediately responded by filing for bankruptcy protection in order to escape the inevitable lawsuits. Then again, they need not have worried. Many West Virginians feared not for their health but for the health of the coal and chemical companies which control their state, in effect putting their very lives last on the agenda.
West Virginians may be a microcosm of all Americans who live in a constant state of delusion about themselves individually and about the crumbling “American way of life” many of them will still defend. That ignorance makes it easy for Barack Obama or any other president to make the case for killing people somewhere in the world, bailing out banks or cutting the already frayed safety net.
Presidents will come and go but the system persists. It makes a mockery of any effort to claim that the state of the union is good in any way, shape or form. The state of the union is rotten to the core.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com.Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.
By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
In the days before this year’s State of the Union address, we heard a lot about how Barack Obama was finally about to unleash the mighty executive powers of his office to accomplish some of the many great things he’s always wanted to accomplish, those mostly unspecified things which evil and immoral Republicans have prevented him from doing. From long experience dating back at least to the Clinton era, the White House and Democratic party know this is an attractive picture to many, one that conveniently excuses Democrats in office from even trying to accomplish the real demands of the millions who vote them into office.
Barack Obama campaigned in 2007 and 2008 saying he would pass legislation raising the minimum wage and making it easier to organize unions so people could stand up for their own rights in the workplace. The president apparently lied. Once in office with a thumping majority in both houses of Congress the president promptly froze the wages of federal workers, and made no move to protect union organizing or to raise the minimum wage. Four and five years later, with the House of Representatives safely under Republican control, the president has begun to make noises about how “America deserves a raise” and has finally declared that federal contract workers will soon have to be paid a minimum of $10.10 per hour.
Although Barack Obama’s career, and those of the entire black political class are founded on the notion that they and the Democratic party somehow “represent” the aspirations and political power of African Americans, the policy concerns of black America were nowhere to be found in last night’s state of the union. The speech contained no mention of the persistent gap between black and white unemployment, or the widening gaps between black and white wealth, and reaffirmed his commitment to “Race To The Top” an initiative to privatize public education in poorer communities across the country.
” Obama could halt the construction and opening of the new federal supermax prison…”
And of course, no cluster of issues impact black America more savagely and disproportionately than police practices, the drug war and the prison state. African Americans are one eighth the US population, but more than 40% of its prisons and jails. Together with Latinos, who are another eighth and make up nearly 30% of US prisoners, people of color are a quarter of the US population and more than 70% of the locked down. No cluster of issues would benefit more from a few presidential initiatives and well placed strokes of the pen than police practices, the drug war and the prison state.
Here are just a handful of things President Obama and his party could and would do, things that Republicans are powerless to prevent, which would make a large and lasting impact upon the communities they purportedly represent.
With the stroke of a presidential pen, Barack Obama could halt the construction and opening of the new federal supermax prison at ADX Thomson in Illinois, also called “Gitmo North.” Citizen activists in the president’s home state last year managed to close down the state’s brutal supermax prison at Tamms because they know that supermax prisons do not rehabilitate, they are instruments of torture pure and simple. Ordinary citizens know that torture should not be a career, or a business governments engage in. Even Obama’s own Bureau of Prisons is on record as wanting to examine whether the regimes in supermax prisons across the country constitute torture. It’s time to look for that presidential pen.
The president could take public notice of the alarming militarization of police forces across the country and the wave of police shootings of civilians. Far more persons die in the US of police gunfire than of terrorist incidents and school shootings. The feds play an enormous role in the funding, training and arming of thousands of local police departments across the country, through its grants to the state-level training and certification agencies, and its authorization of the sale of military equipment to police departments. The result is that every county and town in the US now has a SWAT team, employing shoot-first-question-later tactics, and although African Americans are far from the only victims of unchecked police violence, a black person is killed by police, security officers or vigilantes once every 28 hours. Again, this is a case for a presidential statement, a few orders to underlings and that mighty executive pen.
The president could order his Justice Department to reconsider its objections to the retroactive reduction of unfair and disproportionate sentences to crack cocaine defendants.When the president signed the so-called Fair Sentencing Act reducing the crack to powder cocaine penalty ratio from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1 thousands of defendants should have been eligible for immediate release. But Obama’s and Eric Holder’s Justice Departments have gone to court repeatedly to keep them behind bars. Our civil rights establishment from the Mark Morials and Al Sharptons down, seem more invested in the prestige of the president than doing justice to prisoners, and so have politely refused to call Obama and Holder on this glaring disconnect between their public pronouncements and their actual policies. The mighty presidential pen in the hands of Barack Obama could have made a big difference here any time in the last several years, and still can, if only he will.
The president could use his mighty executive powers to release some long-time political prisoners. There’s Iman Jamil Al-Amin, the former H. Rap Brown who distinguished himself laying the foundations for what passes for black political empowerment, risking his life registering voters and conducting Freedom Schools in rural Alabama with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the mid and early 1960s. After repeated attempts by Georgia officials in the 1990s to frame Al-Amin for shootings, one of these stuck long enough to get a shaky conviction in 1999. As pressure for a retrial from local community activists built up and even in the face of protests from establishment figures like former Atlanta mayor, congressman and ambassador Andy Young, Georgia officials transferred Al-Amin into federal custody in the dead of night, and the feds spirited him away to the hellhole at ADX Florence in Colorado where he has been for more than a decade. With a stroke of that might executive pen, President Obama could send Al-Amin back to Georgia where his family and attorneys could visit him, and pressure would mount on Georgia authorities to give him a new trial, in which he might well prove his innocence.
The president could pardon or grant clemency to Leonard Peltier, a Native American leader who has served a decade longer in prison than Nelson Mandela did for an offense that nobody at his trial even alleged he actually committed. Peltier is recognized around the world as a political prisoner. His continued imprisonment shows that many wounds from the 60s and 70s were never healed, and his release would demonstrate that this president acknowledges the need for this healing. After almost 40 years, Leonard Peltier surely deserves to come home.
President Obama could acknowledge the wave of hunger strikes and protests in prisons across the country, and name a commission to investigate how we can reverse the expansion of prisons, guarantee the re-absorption of former prisoners into society, and reverse the culture and law which discriminate against and punish former prisoners and their families for the rest of their lives. Right now a number of prisoners at Menard Penitentiary in the president’s home state of Illinois are waging a hunger strike, with demands that differ little from those raised by prisoners in California’s Pelican Bay last year, and those in Virginia, Georgia, Ohio and elsewhere.
We must not imagine that rolling back the carceral state is something no government on earth has ever done. Right now in Venezuela, that nation is confronting a crisis of crime, the practical limits of prison expansion, and of what kind of society they want to build. They’re taking a different path than so-called “progressives” here, who seem upset only about prisoners who are factually “innocent” and only about prisons if they’re privatized. Venezuela is frankly committed to shrinking its prison population and exploring models of restorative rather than punitive justice. There really are other ways to go, if we have the will and the vision our Democrats and Republicans lack.
Obama’s Attorney General has learned how to let the words “mass incarceration” roll off his lipsfluently, after his recent discovery that such a thing actually exists. The president opined that Trayvon Martin could have been his own son, minus the status, the privilege, the neighborhood and a few other things. But that mighty presidential pen that can call commissions, impose directives, re-set priorities and make all manner of changes by executive order, changes that no evil and immoral Republicans can block or reverse, at least until they re-take the oval office, is still in that desk drawer, or wherever Barack Obama keeps it. He hasn’t found it the last five years in office. Maybe he will discover it in these last three.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and serves on the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works in Marietta GA and can be contacted via this site’s contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.e pointed out repeatedly the last five years, there are boatloads of things a president anxious to serve the will of the people could do with the stroke of a pen