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SOTU Whoppers


President Obama gives a good speech. He’s smooth, unruffled by audience response, good at a timely ad-lib remark, and knows how to win over a tough crowd–all skills that were in evidence at last night’s State of the Union address. But he’s also good at telling whoppers.

Here are a few.

Talking about health care, and the stalled bills in House and Senate which have become so encrusted with pro-industry amendments that the whole process should be referred to as the Health Industry Enrichment Act, Obama said at one point, addressing the doubts many in Congress and among the broader public have about those bills, “If anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Let me know. Let me know. I’m eager to see it.”

Hm-m-m. Actually, he has not been eager to see other ideas at all. John Conyers has had another idea: extending Medicare to cover everyone. He had it in the form of a bill, HR 676, but at the urging of the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi kept that bill from even getting a hearing. Earlier, almost a year ago, Obama held a conference at the White House to hear ideas about health care reform, but he excluded from that conference any advocates of what is called “single-payer”–shorthand for a Canadian-style health system in which the government insures everyone, and sets the reimbursement amounts for doctors and hospitals, medical services of all kinds, and drugs.

And yet, expanding Medicare to cover everyone, as I’ve written several times on this site, would probably end up costing less than the federal government and state and local governments (and of course ultimately taxpayers) already are spending on Medicaid, Veteran’s health care, hospital charity care, and other public medical programs, and in any event would, even if raising taxes slightly, simultaneously eliminate the health care costs for insurance currently paid by employers, employees and the self-employed, while also giving the government enormous power to negotiate lower costs for drugs, doctors and hospitals. Because the program would be larger and more powerful with respect to the private health care delivery system, it would also be able to reduce the cost of providing health care to the elderly who are already on Medicare.

That is to say, there is, already operating for 45 million elderly citizens, a health care program that, if expanded to all, would, as the president asked, “bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors and stop insurance company abuses.”

But the truth is, he doesn’t want to talk about it and doesn’t want to even hear about it
The second big whopper was Iraq. There the president, to loud applause, said he would have all combat troops out of Iraq by August of this year. At another point, though, he went further, saying that “all our troops” would be “coming home.” The truth, though, is that they won’t be. In fact, though, as many as 50,000 US troops will remain in Iraq after this August. Whether they will be “in combat” or not is really not up to them. If they are attacked, of course they will be in combat. They may well be sent into battle too, though who knows if we’ll hear about it. There are unlikely to be too many members of the press with them, as the focus shifts to Afghanistan. But 50,000 is a lot of troops–much more than the US has in South Korea, for instance. It’s hardly an end to the war in Iraq.

Third, the president slipped by the new big war, Afghanistan, in an astonishingly abrupt single paragraph. Think about it. He has ordered an escalation of that conflict, where the US already has committed 70,000 troops, with another 30,000 on the way, not counting perhaps 50-60,000 more private mercenaries, and has called for a new aggressive strategy of capturing and holding territory–a strategy that is bound to increase both US and innocent Afghani casualties–and he only said a couple of sentences about it.

And those sentences were full of lies. Obama said the US is “training Afghan security forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home,” but he knows his own advisors are telling him that those Afghan military forces are incapable of being expanded to do that job. The whole country is basically illiterate and not capable of being trained to handle much of the equipment, the military and police are hopelessly corrupt, and the tribal system makes a unified national army a pipe-dream. He said the US will “reward good governance,” but in fact has allied itself with a corrupt narco-regime led by Hamid Karzai, whose own brother is a leading drug kingpin.

There were more lies and misleading statements through the speech, for example his lie that his administration has “prohibited torture,” but these three alone make it amply clear that the president was not doing his constitutional duty of giving Congress an accurate report on the “state of the union.”

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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