US President Barack Obama’s State of the Union (SOTU) address was a somewhat surrealist spectacle. Way beyond avalanches of PR spin, the US government for a long time has not exactly done wonders for the public good. So as it advertises itself in front of a dysfunctional US Congress dismissed as repellent by an overwhelming majority of Americans – including, and expanding, on those 76% who are living paycheck to paycheck – what’s left is a grand, old Hollywood production.
And Obama, of course, is a decent actor who can deliver a decent speech – certainly better than Ronnie Reagan, whom Gore Vidal used to describe as “the acting president”.
The key theme of SOTU 2014 was the appalling income inequality in the US. Call it an appendix of this past week at the World Economic Forum in Davos – that snowy Vegas for the 0.00001% – in which the Masters of the Universe finally “discovered” inequality. So much inequality, in fact, that 2014 was instantly tagged by the Masters – and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – as the new 1914, all that furiously tweeted to all corporate boardrooms of the liquid modernity elite.
As Obama got into his groove, he proclaimed that Obamacare had won; that he would resort to ruling by executive order to get things done; and that a mixed salad of platitudes and vague proposals/generalities attested to the imminent success of his agenda of improving “opportunity” as the only answer to fighting inequality. Oh yes; and that the American Dream was not in a coma.
No word, of course, about the “gentle”, progressive dismantling of what’s left of US democracy, via the Orwellian/Panopticon complex, through which 0.00001% elite rule is painfully achieved in a sanitized Total Information Awareness (TIA) environment. With the US government in total control of the Internet, that once-upon-a-time dream – the revolution will be televised – won’t happen even on the web.
Neoliberalism or death
In the absence of the late, great Howard Zinn, Americans now have to put up with historic Clintonista Robert Reich. Reich may be correct on two of his reasons for the American malaise.
With the US working class paralyzed and fearful of losing their jobs (labor unions have been virtually destroyed), and with students mired in horrendous debt (even as the average starting salary for graduates has been dropping steadily), two key vectors of protest are neutralized.
But Reich is wrong on his third reason – that over 80% of US public opinion distrusts government so much that they have given up on any possibility of reform.
The key point would be to examine how American turbo-financial capitalism has been drifting since the mid-1970s. The point is not that a cabal of medievalist Republicans, evil corporate CEOs (and their handpicked pols), plus Wall Street is in charge. The point is to examine how demented financial asset speculation plus a demented inflation of dodgy financial securities have been the defining features of the US and global system.
This would imply a hardcore critique of advanced capitalism – which in fact is neither “advanced” nor really capitalism – that is absolute taboo in US corporate media. And the whole thing started even before the prophet Ronnie Reagan, then through Bubba Clinton and all the way to the Dubya/Obama continuum.
The latest graphic illustration is a system in which 85 people – packable in a London double-decker – own as much wealth as the bottom 50% of humanity. How’s that possible? A cursory examination of David Harvey’s groundbreaking A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford University Press, 2005) would answer most questions – all related to such tricks as trickle-down economics, slashing taxes for the wealthy and corporations, the destruction of labor unions, lower real wages, job outsourcing, the disenfranchising of just about anyone who’s not part of the 0.00001%, and a free for all in the 0.00001% banking and finance casino. End result; a vortex of wealth concentration – which has absolutely nothing to do with democracy in a republic.
Good ol’ Uncle Marx would tell it for what it is: a class war. And the 0.00001% has won, hands down, fast and loose.
It’s easy to forget that Dubya inherited a sizable budget surplus. He then slashed taxes for the wealthy; presided over two horrendously expensive wars, one because he “had to bomb somebody” and the other a war of choice; and then he was the MC of the biggest Wall Street crash since the Great Depression.
And yes, it’s all about the Bush-Obama continuum. In Obama’s “recovery” era, asset values for the wealthiest 7% of Americans has shot up 28% while declining 4% for the rest.
At least 80% of US voters don’t want social programs to be cut so the budget can be balanced; they want more taxes on the wealthy and corporations. Obama instead cut from social security.
Then there’s the destruction of American cities; this study details how Detroit was screwed while the state of Michigan was spending a fortune on “business incentives”.
And to top it off, there’s the Jamie Dimon syndrome, as in the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, aka Obama’s “one of the smartest bankers we’ve got”. Even if the US’s number one bank has lost billions in dodgy toxic mortgage-backed securities, manipulated energy prices and even defrauded credit card customers, your CEO still gets a hefty bonus as the bank’s stock were up 21% in 2013.
Whether Obama played ball – small or otherwise – at the SOTU is irrelevant. Apart from flagrant absurdities on Iran, Syria and Israel-Palestine, and not a word on Russia and China, no wonder the climatic Hollywood tear-jerker sequence involved an Army Ranger almost killed by an improvized explosive device in Afghanistan. He was Obama’s living metaphor of “Yes We Can”, the 2014 remix.
Curiously, just before SOTU, the US government and the Pentagon leaked to the New York Times that if “a small number” (Obama) of US troops actually remain in Afghanistan, the CIA will continue to drone the tribal areas of Pakistan to oblivion, and will continue to use Afghan bases to spy on Pakistan.
So it’s all about the CIA’s dirty wars. Obviously none of the AfPak components want this state of affairs – so it looks like Obama’s heroes will have to beat the hell out of Dodge for good. Good for them, as they will be exchanging lethal IEDs for a new shot at the ultimate land of “opportunity.” Is that a fact? Yes, because POTUS said so.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column originally appeared on Asia Times.