Revealing Nonsense

President Barack Obama looked upon the nation and found it good.  “The state of our union is strong,” he told Congress on January 27.  When Fidel Castro read the speech, he found the puffery about unique American values enshrined in the official hagiography of exceptionalism, goodness and liberty a pack of lies.  Worse, Obama had spoken as if the rest of the world did not exist.  The speech was even more disturbing, wrote Fidel, because the superpower is one of the major forces upon which “the destiny of human kind depends….No country by itself can solve the problems that the world faces today.”  [1]

Some of the speech was nonsense.  Contrary to the president’s declaration, the stock market has not come roaring back and while corporate profits may be up, the economy is growing only enough to slow the rate of rot.[2]

However, to be fair, state of the union messages are nonsense by nature.  No one expected George W. Bush to say in his final go at it, “Alright, so I lied us into war, wrecked the economy and trashed the Constitution.”  Likewise, Obama would have shocked our sensibilities had he called attention to the accidental destruction of Afghan wedding parties by drone attack.  Nor would he have mentioned his self-proclaimed right to kill any US citizens he thinks are terrorists.  If he had done that, he would have had to leave out the bit about, “We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution.”

Still, the speech may at least be taken as revelatory nonsense embracing two major themes.  One promises heroic efforts to catch up, to correct mistakes of the past, to excel at everything once again, to regain a lost economic utopia of prosperity and harmony and to invite political predators on the right to join with the president on a trip to the moon of deficit-free well-being.  This may be passed over without further comment since the shelf life of such pap is one or two news cycles.

The other theme is more disturbing for its ignorance.  It is directed outward to the world over a wall of bluster and threat.  “We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.  (Applause).”  Obama apparently thinks economic recovery is possible — bullet trains and charter schools notwithstanding — only through heroic struggle against others.

When you hear that Obama is closing military bases around the world to pay for excellence in education perhaps you would be entitled to think real change may be coming.  Until then, Obama wants to “call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC.”

And why does the United States have to shine above all others?  Because it is “the light to the world,” and because “America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom and justice and dignity.  And because we’ve begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.”

Even with all this light, Obama can’t seem to make out Guantanamo in the moral distance or renditions, preventive detention, assassination squads, the misplacing of habeas corpus and other injuries to a tattered constitution.

To take one caveat about the restoration of standing abroad: has that standing been enhanced by the Federal Reserve Bank’s quantitative easing — dumping $600 billion in fiat into circulation through the purchase of Treasury bonds?  Not to G-20 members who were furious last November in Seoul at the inflationary effect QE would have on other currencies as blizzards of cheap dollars relentlessly seek higher returns in Brazil or India.  [3]

Let’s talk about the weather

Obama did not talk about the weather or global warming and their economic impacts, which so far have not been checked by the charm of American exceptionalism.  Nor did he talk about the world food crisis, a topic on the agenda of the January meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos where political and economic leaders fret and plan.  France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and others gathered there were concerned about uncontrolled speculation in commodities that helps drive up food prices worldwide.  They want international controls on speculation and financial misconduct and agreements to head off currency wars.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, World Bank director general, warned at Davos of “social unrest.”  Something had to be done about food prices that she said were among the biggest threats “to global economic recuperation and social stability.”  “The next war or economic conflict could be the race for scarce resources if we do not administer them together,” she said.  [4]

Obama did not include global food and water fights as a matter of US state concern but he did mention beating out all other countries and ramping up military recruitment while heaping enthusiastic praise on US occupation forces around the globe.  They stand against all dangers threatening the United States, though not necessarily those threatening anyone else.

In one of his commentaries (reflexiones) last April, Fidel criticized Obama’s weak performance at the world climate conference in Copenhagen and suggested that two news reports published at the same time might shed light on Obama’s real interests.  [5] One item said the president was considering deployment by 2017 of a powerful non-nuclear Prompt Global Strike (PGS) weapon or super bomb.  Such a bomb could be used with less moral opprobrium than nuclear weapons and therefore more freely dropped on terrorists.  [6] The other item reported on Pentagon interest in launching a top-secret robotic spacecraft called the X-37B.  The two devices together have led to speculation that the X-37B could place the super bomb in orbit and park it there for up to seven months at a time.  US Strategic Command spokesman Navy Lt. Charles Drey has discovered a “prompt global strike capability gap.”  Closing the gap is considered a US Strategic Command priority, he said.  [7] He did not say with whom there was a gap, though heavily armed wedding parties come to mind.

Of the revolutionary turmoil in the Middle East, Obama made no mention, though Vice President Joe Biden thought President Hosni Mubarak’s value as an ally overrode popular discontent in Egypt and besides, Mubarak is not a dictator.  But Mubarak is an ally in what?  Certainly not in the global causes that worry people like Okonjo-Iweala.  Perhaps he is an ally of the United States in the perpetual national quest for control of resources.  Obama later suggested that Mubarak should make reforms.  But in a commentary on Al Jazeera’s news service, Mark LeVine said that reform was a tricky concept because “when Western leaders have urged ‘reform’ it has usually signified the liberalization of economies to allow for greater penetration by Western corporations, control of local resources, and concentration of wealth.”  [8]

“Now is the time to do something”

In a recent reflection titled “Now is the time to do something,” [9] Fidel reviewed the sad history of food imperialism culminating in speculation, engrossing by large corporations, climate change and the zeal for feeding food crops to cars  as fuel.  He cited warnings by the UN and the European Union central bank about rising prices for basic food crops, a panicky Algeria buying up reserves of wheat to avoid scarcity in case of social upheavals and millions of tons of soy and corn destined for conversion to biofuels.

Castro has repeatedly challenged many of the core assumptions of market capitalism (continuously increasing production and consumption, perpetual economic growth, the political role of corporations and rationing of economic rights by price.  Sometimes his voice has been prophetic and apocalyptic.  The transnationals, he said in 2001, “shape people’s thinking and impose totally irrational and unsustainable consumption patterns through commercial advertising.”  The result is the “ruin of natural resources and environmental damage.”  [10]

In a 2003 speech on desertification, Castro predicted that the rich consumer societies would use up the remaining fossil fuels just as the world’s population rises to 10 billion.  “Such an economic order and such models of consumption are incompatible with the planet’s limited and non?renewable essential resources and with the laws that rule nature and life.”  [11]

In 1995, while many Latin American leaders were rushing toward free-trade globalization, and neo-liberalism, Fidel was warning that globalization had only “made insecurity and poverty worse.”

“How long,” he asked, “are we going to silently watch the absurd wastage of resources by the opulent societies and the criminal mortgage of our children’s future in this unbridled race toward a global ecologic disaster that many are beginning to consider hopeless?”  [12]

A reflection in March 2007 on the stampede toward biofuels was inspired by President Bush’s visit to Brazil to get an agreement on joint efforts to produce ethanol from sugar cane and other food crops.  [13] Bush wanted Congress to legislate a massive reduction in the use of fossil fuels by mandating production of 132 billion liters of ethanol and other petroleum alternatives within 10 years.  Cornell University energy analyst David Pimentel estimated that supplying total US needs from corn-based ethanol would mean devoting 97% of the entire surface of the United States to corn production.  [14] That might have left only such strategic areas as the Federal Triangle in Washington, DC and the New York Stock Exchange unplanted in corn.
This obviously would not do, leaving southern nations like Brazil as an alternative plantation for US fuel needs.  This solution would be just another updated version of resource extraction along with such well-known examples as oil and Cuban baseball players.  Castro’s prediction about converting food to fuel would mean “the premature death by hunger and thirst for more than 3 billion people.”  [15]

On the death of species

How much more dismal a future could Castro predict in his state of the world messages?  “The course of events must change or else our species shall not survive.  There is no other planet we can move to.  Either we save what we have, or many millions of years will have to go by before another intelligent species arises that can start all over again the adventure we have gone through.”  [16]
“We are talking about the survival of the species.”  [17]

This concern is not new for Fidel.  He has been reporting on the state of the world for 50 years.  Over the years, Washington and the US media continuously mocked Fidel for his long speeches as if length meant fatuous ramblings.  In fact, they were more like lectures on history, politics and economics, which he must have thought a population facing unending change needed.  Likewise, since his official retirement in 2008, his speeches turned into written commentaries on world events.  Rather than being mocked, his reflections are largely ignored because it is assumed that he never had much to say that did not pertain to personal power and control over Cuba.  Yet many of his speeches while in power and his reflections in retirement broach the themes of transcendent importance such as regional integration, debt relief, unsustainable consumerism, environmental degradation, Third World poverty and the obliviousness of leaders in the northern industrialized countries to what is happening to the world.

Capitalism, in these musing, is not just a system promoting economic inequality and injustice; it is also an engine of unimaginable destruction.  For Castro, its elimination is a biological imperative for survival.  Anyone paying attention to Fidel since 1959 might have understood that he has been talking, not just about a revolution to get rid of capitalism, but the revolution to follow in which the species addresses itself to the state of the planet.

ROBERT SANDELS is an analyst and writer for Cuba-L Direct.  This essay was written for Cuba-L Direct and for CounterPunch.


[1] State of the Union transcript, New York Times, 01/27/11, <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/28/us/politics/28obama.text.htmlCubadebate, 01/28/10>; Fidel Castro, Reflexiones, Cubadebate, 01/28/11, <http://www.cubadebate.cu/reflexiones-fidel/2011/01/28/el-estado-de-la-union>.

[2] See Real Dow, iTulip, < http://www.itulip.com/>.  Bloomberg estimates annual growth for 2010 at 2.6% <http://seekingalpha.com/article/178096-2010-country-gdp-growth-estimates>.

[3] See commentary in <http://www.dailyfinance.com/story/g20-criticize-fed-600-billion-qe2-stimulus/19707099/>.

[4] La Jornada, 01/28/11, http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2011/01/28/index.php?section=politica&article=002n1pol.

[5] CubaDebate, 04/25/10, <http://www.cubadebate.cu/reflexiones-fidel/2010/04/25/las-locuras-de-nuestra-epoca/>; On the bomb, see <http://www.notanotherconspiracy.com/2010/04/x-37b-prompt-global-strike.html>.

[6] New York Times, 04/22/10; Washington Post, 04/23/10.

[7] Global Security Newswire, 07/01/09, <http://www.globalsecuritynewswire.org/>.

[8]Al Jazeera, 01/20/11,

[9]]   Granma, 01/20/11, <<http://www.granma.cu/espanol/reflexiones/20enero-reflexiones.html>.

[10] World Data Service, 06/06/01.

[11] Gobierno de Cuba, http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/2003/esp/f01090e.html

[12] InterPress Service, 10/18/95, <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>

[13] Cuba-L Analyses, 03/19/07, < http://cuba-l.unm.edu/?nid=33705&cat=mo>.

[14] Cornell News, 07/05/05, <http://news.cornell.edu/stories/july05/  ethanol.toocostly.ssl.html>.

[15] Granma, 03/29/07, <http://www.granma.cubaweb.cu/2007/03/29/nacional/artic11.html>

[16] Embajada de Cuba en Libano, <http://www.embacubalebanon.com/discurso03jan2004e.html>.

[17] Ibid.


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ROBERT SANDELS is an analyst and writer for Cuba-L Direct. This article was written for CounterPunch and Cuba-L Direct.

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