This week the divergence between government and reality was thrust in our faces.
The entire government came together to hear the State of the Union. The choreographed self-praise of people who will spend $5 billion this year of mostly big business money to get re-elected was evident from the moment the door was opened. Hugs and kisses, backslapping all around, required applause as the President approached the podium, more after he was introduced and more staged applause, dozens of standing ovations – 89 times in a 58-minute speech the President was applauded on cue.
The reality is known by all: deep corruption throughout that chamber and a dysfunctional government unable to confront the multiple crises the nation and globe face. From what the President said and the applause he received, it seemed one reason they can’t confront the problems is because they do not see them. We saw a broken system.
Ten percent of the US population watched the President speak poetically with sweet saccharin coming from his lips. On his eighth and final speech, President Obama was still selling hope and change. He closed with “The state of the union is strong!” which received a final standing ovation.
The President said “The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world. . . Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.” Each line receiving applause.
These lines will come back to haunt the President as he uttered them at a time when the United States seems to be entering its third economic collapse in 15 years. The very next morning, numerous sources reported that any way you measure it the markets were having the worst ever start to a year.
More important than stocks is the real economy. How can the economy be strong and durable when the 20 wealthiest people have wealth equal to half of the population? Or when, as #FightFor15 reports forty-six percent of workers are paid less than $15, including 48% of women, 54% of African Americans, and 60% of Latinos? And when 51% of workers earn under $30,000 annually? Or when poverty has been at record high levels throughout the Obama presidency?
These facts show an economy in decline. The political and media elites prefer not to discuss poverty. There has yet to be a question asked about the poor or poverty in any of the presidential debates. Yet, according to the 2014 census, 14.5% of Americans, over 45 million people, live in poverty, up from 11.3% in 2000; a rate not seen since the early ’90s. The response: Congress passed and the president signed laws that cut food stamps and unemployment benefits – making poverty worse.
The struggles people face in the economy are so bad that they are causing shorter lives from alcohol, drug abuse and suicide. And research shows that shorter lives are not only of those who struggle at the bottom but shortening lives for those with wealth at the top. Last April when a 22-year old Illinois man, Leo P. Thorton, shot himself with a note that said “Tax the 1%” attached to him, no mass media outlet asked: Why? People in the United States are literally dying from the unfair economy and screaming to be heard but Obama says we peddle fiction.
This is resulting in growing protests. The #FightFor15 campaign announced this week that there will be an unprecedented wave of strikes and actions calling for $15 an hour and union rights this primary season to ensure candidates know that the nearly 64 million Americans paid less than $15 an hour are a voting bloc that cannot be ignored.
Reality Check: The Climate Crisis
While President Obama isolated and embarrassed the climate deniers in the State of the Union, he sugar-coated the COP21 agreement as “the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change.” He took credit for the US leading the effort against climate, when in fact the US is a leading offender.
As Jill Stein, MD who is seeking the Green Party nomination for President, told Dennis Trainor, Jr. “it was really sad to hear the president proclaim this was a success. We need to declare a climate emergency.” Environmental and climate experts have described COP21 as too little too late and an inadequate response on a planetary scale. While Stein gives us reality and puts forward the solutions of the Climate Mobilization, the President gives us falsehood that highlights the failure of corporate duopoly politics and a democracy that prevents third parties, who tell us the truth, from fully participating.
The self-congratulating government is unable to put in place what is urgently needed to confront the climate crisis. It continues its massive subsides to polluting industries and recently approved the export of oil. The climate crime actions are occurring even though we know what is needed. We know a World War II level mobilization and economic and energy transformation must occur.
This week we saw the climate movement put the facts about climate change in front of a jury in Washington State. They were seeking to put forward a necessity defense that would result in a jury finding not guilty because their crime was insignificant compared to the crisis they were seeking to avert. In the end the judge refused to allow the jury to consider necessity but the jury only convicted on the minor charge of trespass. The jury thanked the blockaders for educating them on the issue. The judge described the protesters as “tireless advocates of the kind that we need more of in this society.”
The same day as this verdict we heard from Crystal Zevon in Vermont who, with other anti-fracking activists, was on trial for a resistance protest. The judge thanked them for the work they were doing to challenge fracking. These are two of many stories along these lines. What is going on here? This is actually part of the process of movement development, when people in the power structure begin to support the views of protesters.
Another sign of an increasingly effective movement is when people can see through the false rhetoric of the government and even of established non-profits who work with the government. On January 19, the Climate Justice Alliance will protest the Obama “Clean Power Plan” which has been revealed as pushing fracked gas, incinerators and nuclear energy. They will put forward their solutions, “Our Power Plan,” which push a true clean energy economy.
The growing power of the movement is also seen in the 2,000 people and 165 organizations coming together to demand an investigation into an agency that has operated in the shadows, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The reality is we must stop building carbon infrastructure as we are reaching the limit of out carbon budget.
Of course, the old industry hangs on and corrupts government. In Nevada, they announced increased fees for solar energy significant enough that it would force solar providers to leave the “sunshine state.” This obvious corruption of policy resulted in immediate protests against the new rules. When industry corrupts and the movement responds, it puts a spotlight on corruption and builds the movement.
Reality Check: The False Advertising of the TPP
In the build-up to the State of the Union the media reported that Obama would only focus on a few issues and that one would be the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), his top legislative priority. But, when it came to the speech, the TPP was not one of his top priorities, instead it received 28 seconds and 80 words, 40 minutes into a 58-minute speech. What happened? Was this an attempt to fly the unpopular TPP, which all presidential candidates with over 10% in the polls oppose, under the radar? There are indications on Capitol Hill that the TPP is on life support and may not even be considered this year, but we can’t take that for granted.
In that 28 seconds, the President made 7 false or misleading statements about jobs, the environment, wealth divide, China, tax cuts, new markets and climate. This is not the first time we have gotten misleading information from the administration, we showed Reality vs. Obama in a dozen cases. If the President has to mislead people about what the TPP will actually do and has to fly under the radar to avoid controversy, he should not be trying to ratify the TPP.
There is very little economic reason to pass the TPP. Even the pro-corporate trade World Bank concluded it would only increase the US GDP by 0.4% by 2030. And, a report by Tufts actually found a negative impact: a 0.54 decrease in GDP in ten years, 448,000 lost jobs, greater inequality and lost wages.
The reality that trade agreements like the TPP undermine US democracy has also been shown in recent months. Last week the United States was sued by TranCanada for $15 billion dollars for deciding in the public interest to not build the northern portion of the KXL pipeline. Whatever decision is made by this corporate trade tribunal cannot be reviewed by US federal courts. Two previous trade tribunal decisions have led to the repeal of the Country of Origin Labeling Act, requiring labeling of meat; and the dolphin safe tuna labeling. Under the TPP US courts and Congress are less powerful than corporations.
Protests are building against the TPP. Last week, 1,500 organizations signed a letter urging that the TPP not be ratified and people protested during the State of the Union. Nearly 20 cities have so far signed up to protest on February 4, the day the President is scheduled to sign the TPP, and in Mid-February when Members are home for the Presidential Birthday week there will be more protests. The movement is already planning an escalation of protests in April.
Perhaps the lowest point of the President’s speech was his discussion of US militarism and empire. Of course, he did not use the word “empire,” no elected official in the largest empire in world history ever does – that is a secret to be kept from the people.
But it was not what he did not say, it was what the President said. As David Swanson notes, he openly bragged about military spending when he said “We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.” Is this a good thing in a nation with trillions of dollars needed for infrastructure, transition to clean energy, record poverty and record college debt?
He bragged about how well the US is playing the empire chess by trapping Russia into “pouring resources to prop up Ukraine and Syria.”
He claimed the standing of the US around the world is higher, but he did not mention a Gallup poll that found the United States widely viewed around the world as the greatest threat to peace.
Obama claimed the Middle Eastern conflicts dated back millennia. In reality the illegal US war and occupation of Iraq, resulting in its destruction and then turning Libya, an economically successful country, into a failed state has exacerbated conflicts. These foreign policy fiascoes created ISIS who the US is fighting today.
The President seemed to take pride in ignoring the Constitution, which gives Congress the power to declare war, when he promised war on ISIL whether Congress authorized war or not. Indeed, he has already dropped 23,144 bombs on six Muslim countries in the last year without a congressional resolution authorizing it.
There were protests during the speech. Fifteen people were arrested at the Real State of the Union held at the Capitol before the speech. The National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance was urging the President to end income inequality and militarism and to take action to mitigate the effects of climate chaos.
As MintPress Editor-in-Chief Mnar Muhawesh and Abby Martin, host of “The Empire Files” point out in an interview, there is no question the US is the largest empire in world history but like other empires it is fragile and in the end empires always fall. They point out that a movement against the corporate-US empire is buikding power to be a key factor in bringing this empire down.
In his speech the President positively acknowledged past movements, noting the historic struggles for worker rights, but he did not mention today’s struggles to end poverty wages and restore union rights.
While the President mentioned in passing that he wants criminal justice reform, he only alluded to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and he weirdly coupled that with a positive vision of police as ‘Officer Friendly,’ when there is a rash of police killings, saying: “The protester determined to prove that justice matters — and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.” The first black President in his last State of the Union failed to put forward the Black agenda that is needed.
Ignoring movements and their demands will not make them go away. Instead, describing a fantasy vision of the United States to people who see reality will make movements grow. Proscribing failed non-solutions to critical issues facing the country will mobilize people. Obama accomplished all of that in his State of the Union.
And, this comes at a time when movements are gaining strength and having significant victories. There is now objective evidence that protest and dissent are growing. The US protest movement is not only growing, but it is part of a growing global era of dissent and rebellion. Why are protests growing? Rajesh Makwana explains:
“the evidence suggests that most protests take place in response to pressing socio-economic concerns, the violation of basic human rights or a lack of democratic governance. Put simply, the majority of protests constitute a demand for wealth and political power to be shared more equitably among citizens.”
The upcoming year will spur more protest because governments are unable to respond to the people’s demands. We are likely to see a faltering economy or even economic collapse in multiple countries. The impacts of climate change will increase again, causing devastation that incompetent governments failed to prevent and will not be able to deal with. Wars in the Middle East see no end in sight and the seeds of wars with Russia or China or with countries who serve as proxies have been planted by the United States. Who knows what horrors they will produce?
And, in the United States in particular, the 2016 elections will further lift the veil on the mirage democracy that hides oligarchy and rigged elections that result in a fraud of a government that does not represent the people and continues to lose its legitimacy.
Global and US activists know what we want: corporate power and the corruption of money curtailed; governments serving the people and planet before the wealthy elite. The inability of the US government to provide these basic foundations on which to build a just society will ensure a growing resistance and rebellion seeking economic, racial and environmental justice.