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Libby's Political Stew: Behind SOTU Speech's Razzle Dazzle

Here are some “realpolitik” excerpted takes on Obama’s State of the Union Address from Glen Ford, Norman Solomon, Barry Grey, Pepe Escobar, Matthew Rothschild:

Glen Ford of BAR in “Obama’s State of the Corporate Union”:

It was an impassioned performance by a cynical politician who offers little but corporate tax incentives and continued austerity. Barack Obama peppered his State of the Union address with up-tempo buzzwords about illusory “progress,” but the president’s substantive message was that he is determined to complete the austerity bargain he struck with the Republicans in 2011. ...

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Obama’s jobs program is almost entirely a corporate tax incentive scheme, to bribe corporations to send home the jobs they sent offshore, where they have also hidden tens of trillions from taxation – a subject not deemed worthy of mention in a national discussion of shared sacrifice and patriotic obligations.

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Obama will repair America’s infrastructure through a “Fix-It-First” program that nobody has ever heard of before, and has no price tag – which means it doesn’t exist in anything more than rhetorical form. ...

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During his 2008 campaign, Obama vowed to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2011. He must have thought no one was listening, because he didn’t mention the subject for the next four years. Now, in 2013, he promises to fight for a $9.00 minimum – 50 cents an hour less. And he didn’t even apologize to the nation, Tuesday night, for reneging during his first term.

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Norman Solomon in “What Obama Said (and What He Meant) About Climate Change, War and Civil Liberties.”

The words in President Obama’s “State of the Union” speech were often lofty, spinning through the air with the greatest of ease and emitting dog whistles as they flew.

[Solomon translates what Obama said to what he really meant]

“The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that.”

Dual memo. To T. Boone Pickens: “Love ya.” To environmentalists who won’t suck up to me: “Frack you.” (And save your breath about methane.)

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Blow off steam with your demonstrations, you 350.org types. I’ll provide the platitudes. XL Keystone, here we come.

“After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home.”

.... I’m planning to have 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan a year from now, and they won’t get out of there before the end of 2014. And did you notice the phrase “in uniform”? We’ve got plenty of out-of-uniform military contractors in Afghanistan now, and you can expect that to continue for a long time.

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We’re so pleased to help Afghan people kill other Afghan people! Our government’s expertise in such matters includes superb reconnaissance and some thrilling weaponry, which we’ll keep providing to the Kabul regime.

And don’t you love the word “counterterrorism”? It sounds so much better than: “using the latest high-tech weapons to go after people on our ‘kill lists’ and unfortunately take the lives of a lot of other people who happen to be around, including children, thus violating international law, traumatizing large portions of the population and inflicting horrors on people in ways we would never tolerate ourselves.”

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We don’t need flag-draped coffins coming home. We’re so civilized that we’re the planetary leaders at killing people with remote control from halfway around the world.

“We must enlist our values in the fight. That’s why my administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism efforts. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts...”

I’m sick of taking flak just because I pick and choose which civil liberties I want to respect. If I need to give a bit more information to a few other pliant members of Congress, I will. The ones who get huffy about the Bill of Rights aren’t going to get the time of day from this White House. I recognize that some of my base is getting a bit upset about this civil-liberties thing, so I’ll ramp up the soothing words and make use of some prominent Democratic members of Congress who are of course afraid to polarize with me. Don’t underestimate this president; I know how to talk reverentially about our great nation’s “checks and balances” as I undermine them.

“The leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations. And we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.”

Maybe it’s just about time for another encore of “preemptive war.”

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Barry Grey of wsws in “Obama defends drone assassinations in State of the Union address”:

His administration, he said, had worked “tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework” to guide such operations. He went on to indicate he might be open to suggestions for giving the assassination program a fig leaf of “transparency” and legality, pledging to “engage with Congress to ensure… our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances…”

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The US government now claims the type of unchecked powers previously associated with fascist regimes and military juntas. The white paper follows the enactment of military funding bills that sanction indefinite military detention of accused terrorists and their alleged supporters, including US citizens.

Tuesday’s State of the Union address will soon be followed by Congress’ stamp of approval on this sweeping assault on democratic rights, with the Senate’s confirmation of Obama’s pick to head the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, currently the chief White House counterterrorism adviser and overseer of the administration’s drone assassination program.

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The speech itself was an attempt to use left-sounding rhetoric to give a “progressive” gloss to a reactionary, anti-working class program. Obama began with the lying claim that war is a thing of the past and the economic crisis is over. ...

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.... He hailed the return of manufacturing by Caterpillar, Ford, Intel and Apple to American shores, neglecting to mention that US corporate “in-shoring” was based on massive cuts in workers’ wages and benefits.

Obama made much of a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour. This would, in fact, leave a family of three existing on a minimum wage paycheck below the absurdly low official poverty threshold.

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.... Far from the crisis being over, more than four years after the Wall Street crash of 2008, unemployment—which Obama barely mentioned—remains at near-Depression levels. Poverty, hunger and homelessness continue to increase.

Workers’ wages continue to decline, while corporate profits and CEO pay reach record heights. Under Obama, the chasm between rich and poor has grown wider.

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Pepe Escobar in “The illusory state of the Empire”:

... he kept his foreign policy cards very close to his chest.

Few eyebrows were raised on the promise that "by the end of next year our war in Afghanistan will be over"; it won't be, of course, because Washington will fight to the finish to keep sizeable counterinsurgency boots on the ground - ostensibly to fight, in Obama's words, those evil "remnants of al-Qaeda".

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Obama didn't even bother to answer criticism of his shadow wars, the Drone Empire and the legal justification for unleashing target practice on US citizens; he mentioned, in passing, that all these operations would be conducted in a "transparent" way. Is that all there is? Oh no, there's way more.

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Obama's legacy may be in the process of being forged. We might call it Shadow War Forever - coupled with the noxious permanence of Guantanamo. The Pentagon for its part will never abandon its "full spectrum" dream of military hegemony, ideally controlling the future of the world in all those shades of grey zones between Russia and China, the lands of Islam and India, and Africa and Asia.

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Obama can afford to be self-confident because the Drone Empire is safe. Most Americans seem to absent-mindedly endorse it - as long as "the terrorists" are alien, not US citizens. And in the minor netherworlds of the global war on terror (GWOT), myriad profiteers gleefully dwell.

A former Navy SEAL and a former Green Beret have published a book this week, Benghazi: the Definitive Report, where they actually admit Benghazi was blowback for the shadow war conducted by John Brennan, later rewarded by Obama as the new head of the CIA.

The book claims that Petraeus was done in by an internal CIA coup, with senior officers forcing the FBI to launch an investigation of his affair with foxy biographer Paula Broadwell. The motive: these CIA insiders were furious because Petraeus turned the agency into a paramilitary force. Yet that's exactly what Brennan will keep on doing: Drone Empire, shadow wars, kill list, it's all there. Petraeus-Brennan is also classic continuum.

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Matthew Rothschild in "SOTU: Lukewarm Liberalism at Home, Hypocrisy Abroad/Mixed Messages in Obama’s State of the Union":

But for the longest time in the first part of his speech, he focused on deficit reduction, which is an exaggerated problem. He said that “economists” say we need $2 trillion more in deficit reduction “to stabilize our finances.” Which economists was he talking about? Not Nobel Prize-winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, who have urged him not to focus so much on deficit reduction but rather on job creation.

And in his discussion of deficit reduction, Obama hinted that most people are going to suffer. “We can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful,” he said. That doesn’t sound like he’s making a good bargain to me. Instead, it sounds like he’s going to ask “senior citizens and working families” to shoulder a big part of the deficit burden, which they can’t afford to do.

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On the positive side, he did come out for raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour. But why $9 an hour instead of the $10 an hour that Ralph Nader has been calling for?

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And he said he wanted to fix the housing market by allowing “every responsible homeowner in America” to refinance at today’s rates. The problem is, he seems to be calling anyone who ever missed a payment an irresponsible homeowner, when they may have been unable to pay because they got sick or got laid off. Is he not going to help them at all?

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On foreign and military policy, he was the most disappointing. He threatened Iran again, saying, “Now is the time for a diplomatic solution,” and warning: “We will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.”

He was blatantly one-sided on the Israel-Palestinian issue, saying, “We will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace.” He didn’t even bother to mention the Palestinians at all.

And appallingly, he defended his drone warfare and assassination policy. “Where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans,” he said. And in the very next sentence, he had the chutzpah to add: “As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight.”

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He also said, in a bald-faced lie, that “throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts.” Try running that past Sen. Ron Wyden, who for months has been trying to get his questions answered on the Administration’s assassination doctrine.

He also sang from the hymnal of American exceptionalism. “America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change,” he said. “In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights.” Tell that to the people of Bahrain.

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Instead, it was lukewarm liberalism at home coupled with Bush-league justifications for lawlessness and hypocrisy abroad.

[cross-posted on open salon]

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Alexa's picture
Submitted by Alexa on

but, at least on my computer, the link to Glen's name, didn't come up.

Just so you know. Thanks for all your great diaries!

Submitted by lambert on

To be clear, I do go in to fix errors like that, or markup disasters. I don't change content.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

Solomon I'm done with. He rails and rails and then votes for the more effective evil. But thanks for the other links. Nice to know I'm not alone in crying "Foul" when I hear people excuse Obama for all the bad stuff he has done and is about to do. I especially liked the Pepe Escobar piece.

Jeremy Scahill said on "UP" last weekend, "Your principles are defined when someone you like is in power." When that someone does wrong, you must hold to your principles. If you don't, you really don't have any.
My question still remains "Why do these people "like" him?