Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hospital cleaners more valuable than bankers

This article was originally posted on 8/19/12

According to new research by the U.K.-based New Economics Foundation, workers like hospital cleaners and child-care providers are worth far more to society than bankers or advertising executives.

The study examined six different jobs and attempted to determine their overall societal value. Workers who clean hospitals were judged to create roughly 10 pounds for every one pound they are paid, while bankers, due to the immense damage inflicted on the world economy by financial speculation and other practices, end up destroying seven pounds for every one pound they create.

Other productive positions researched included child-care workers—-who create 9.5 pounds for every pound they are paid, by virtue of assisting in the growth of the next generation of workers and freeing up parents to continue working—-and recycling workers, whose work generates 12 pounds for every one pound of wages paid through the reduction of carbon emissions and the reuse of recyclable goods.

Advertising executives, by virtue of their tendency to encourage "high spending and indebtedness" and to "create insatiable aspirations and [fuel] feelings of dissatisfaction, inadequacy and stress" were found to destroy 11 pounds for every one they generate.

Similarly, the money that a tax accountant saves a client is money that will not be used for productive purposes by the state—tax accountants were shown to destroy 47 pounds for every pound generated. As tax accountants are not often retained by the working class, it can be assumed that the money they save their clients is not being used for workers to avoid destitution.

A spokeswoman for the foundation said that the aim of the survey was to make the point that "there should be a relationship between what we are paid and the value our work generates for society. We've found a way to calculate that."

While it stops short of recommending revolutionary change—-instead suggesting various reforms such as including social and environmental value in prices or establishing various commissions and policies to promote income equality or a "green industrial policy"—the New Economics Foundation still provides a valuable lesson, one echoed by revolutionary thinkers past: Capitalism no longer acts as a positive influence on production and well-being, but as a hindrance that must be eliminated in the interest of human development.

Friday, July 27, 2012


Mitt Romney is in Europe this week, attending the opening of the Olympic Games in Britain and visiting Poland and Israel as well.  The trip comes immediately after Romney's first foreign policy speech in months, made to the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention.  The VFW address was a rehash of the usual crypto-racist Republican rhetoric about Obama - he doesn't "want America to be the strongest nation on earth", he apologizes and appeases, he dislikes Israel, etc, etc.  Vice President Biden responded by calling Romney's speech "empty rhetoric and bluster", and criticized it for not "offering any alternatives" to the President's foreign policy.

Of course, given that the differences between the foreign policy ideas of Obama and Romney are virtually nil, Romney might be forgiven for failing to enumerating them.  The whole debate over foreign policy "credentials" is entirely empty and farcical, theater designed to obscure how little choice is actually on offer.  Two men on stage at a debate, each arguing with each other, "No!  I like Israel more!  I will kill more terrorists!  I will save the country from Iran!"  It's pointless except as a demonstration of ideological hegemony, a display of the limited parameters within which politics in the US take place.

Members of both parties have talked about the large differences between the current administration and the last - Democrats as if Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy had just been re-elected, a sentiment actually echoed by Republicans (a fair portion of whom have recycled the views of the John Birch Society for a new century).

But what exactly were the huge changes heralded by the Obama presidency?  Despite the rhetoric of the inauguration, the talk of extended hands and unclenched fists, there hasn't been any great difference between the current and previous administrations.  Afghanistan is still occupied, Iran is still the enemy (and subject to economic attacks, assassinations, and cyberwarfare), special forces soldiers and drones wage undeclared war in dozens of countries, from Somalia to Pakistan to the Philippines, dictators and death squads are still the US ally of choice from Bahrain to Colombia, interventions under the auspices of the never-ending War on Drugs continue to ruin lives, and cruise-missile humanitarianism has destroyed another country in Libya.  

About the only significant difference is that the US soldiers are no longer occupying Iraq - although in the context of the rest of the actions taken by the Obama administration it would take extreme amounts of wishful thinking to portray this as a sea change in US foreign policy (on par with thinking that Nixon beginning the US withdrawal from Vietnam signaled the end of foreign wars waged by the US).  Obama's 2002 declaration that he is not opposed to all wars, just dumb wars, mades his position clear - he's treading the same path as George Bush and the rest of his predecessors, he's just going to do it better.

Defenders of Obama like to talk about how he has improved the American image overseas - meaning Europe, since at this point he's joined his predecessors in being burned in effigy by crowds in the third world - and repaired longstanding alliances with countries like France and Germany, in contrast to the rude brushing-off they received during the Bush years.  But the reality is nothing important came of the tiffs between Bush, Chirac, and Schroder, over the Iraq war (or more likely, over whose companies would receive the first contracts to rebuild post-invasion Iraq).  US troops were not asked to leave Germany, and neither France nor Germany did anything at all challenge US foreign policy, and in fact such things are inconceivable without quite radical changes in the composition of the French or German governments.  The entire episode is a footnote.  

If Europe ever truly grows apart from the US, it will not be because the President is viewed as a boor and a rube.  Individual people may be representative of larger trends in governments or economies, but they are not the cause of those trends, which is why talk of foreign policy "credentials" is pointless - something apparently lost on the liberals who are already gleefully repeating the story of Romney's London Olympics gaffe.  Of course, those same liberals also manage to overlook that the Romney shares his positions on Iran and Afghanistan with their favored candidate.

Rhetoric is about all that distinguishes the two at this point (even more so in foreign affairs than domestic).  In an interview today with the right-wing Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, Romney slammed Obama for failing to support Israel, and claimed that the President would like Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders, which he called "indefensible".  Leave aside for a moment the fact that supporting an Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders was officially the US policy for years, including during the Bush administration.  Regardless of that, the idea that there is any pressure being exerted on Israel by the Obama administration towards that purpose was disproved by leaked information in the Palestine Papers, which in fact indicated that Israel essentially had a free hand in dealing with the Palestinians and Palestinian land under its control.  As if to underline this, Obama today pledged an additional $70 million in military aid to Israel, perhaps preemptively responding to Romney's criticisms by describing the aid as representing the US's "unshakable commitment to Israel".

We can see that the differences are scarce.  Can anyone seriously argue that if Romney were to succeed Obama, US drones would be killing significantly more people than they are today?  Or maybe that he would quietly shelve the "kill list" and cease supporting Bahrain and Saudi Arabia?  

Such things are absurd to imagine.  It's equally absurd to describe Romney and Obama as somehow being polar opposites, and to call the decision between them anything other than a vote on exactly how upfront you want your leader to be with his jingoism and disdain for the poor.  It's absurd to portray such a contest as offering any semblance of the choice supposedly so prized by western capitalist democracies.  

So whoever you vote for, remember that any verbal slip-ups, gaffes, or embarrassments overseas won't affect much of anything.  Nor will your vote itself.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Wealth gap between Black, white has nearly doubled

This article was originally posted on 07/05/12

The wealth gap between white and Black people in the U.S. has nearly doubled over the duration of the current crisis in global capitalism, according to data released by the Census Bureau.
Black households had a median net worth of $4,995—a stark contrast with the $110,729 claimed by white households. The median net worth for Latino and Asian households fell as well—with Black, Latino and Asian households seeing their median net worth fall by 60 percent between 2005 and 2010. By comparison, white households lost 23 percent of their net worth.
In every crisis of capitalism, vast amounts of wealth are shifted between and within classes. When small or middling businesses collapse, more powerful capitalists are able to absorb their holdings and grow larger. Millions of working-class families have lost their homes and life savings in the latest crisis. Under capitalism, an increased concentration of wealth and power over time is the norm. People from oppressed communities are especially vulnerable to expropriation and economic hard times.
Households of color often lack significant safety nets to see them through tough times due to their status as super-exploited workers. Blacks and Latinos have historically suffered because of the racist nature of American society, having lower incomes, rates of literacy and life expectancy and inferior education, and higher rates of unemployment, imprisonment and health problems.
Racism is advantageous to the capitalist system. In addition to dividing the working class, super-exploitation—exploitation of labor over and above the “normal” exploitation that is the basis of capitalist profits—of oppressed nationalities produces astronomical profits for capitalists.
Historically, this has been been the experience of people of color in the U.S., from enslavement, as visited upon African and Indigenous peoples, or other forms of coerced labor as experienced by the Mexican and Chinese workers who built much of the American West, the myth of the hardy white frontiersman notwithstanding. Without revolutionary changes, any reform efforts are only band-aids on a larger wound, short-term gains always in danger of being rolled back when they become inconvenient for the ruling class.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Racism in Israel

Critics of Israel have long argued that the methods and policies used in its occupation of Palestinian land constitute a racist system of apartheid, as in South Africa or the American South.  Defenders of Israel of course deny this, usually responding that Arabs in Israel can vote and are members of the Israeli government, (of course, there were many nonwhites within the apartheid South African government as well, but never mind) among other things.  More fundamental criticisms of Israel's nature as a settler state invite accusations of anti-semitism.

Recently, however, members of the Israeli government have been much more open and forthright in their racism - this time against the Sudanese and Eritrean refugees and migrant workers.  Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu has described African migrants in Israel as "illegal infiltrators" that threaten "our existence as a Jewish and democratic state."  Knesset member Miri Regev, a member of Netanyahu's Likud party, described refugees as "a cancer in our body" while addressing a mass rally that would shortly devolve into a riot targeting an African neighborhood in Tel Aviv.

Interior minister Eli Yishai was even more open during an interview with the Israeli daily Maariv.  Speaking about the African migrants, Yishai said "Muslims that arrive here do not even believe that this country belongs to us, to the white man."  Most of the African migrants in Israel originate from Sudan and Eritrea.

Following this interview, some right-wing media organizations in Israel frantically attempted to spin Yishai's words, claiming that they had been mistranslated by Haaretz, one of Israel's leading newspapers.  They claimed that the full context of the quote had not been given.  

However, Yishai's other comments on African migrants are telling.  He has referred to South Tel Aviv, an area with a considerable African population, as "the garbage can of the country", and has repeatedly claimed that refugees and migrants are behind a massive crime wave, including rapes of Israeli women.  This is not borne out by data from the Association of Rape Crisis Center in Israel or the Israeli police.  Perhaps to explain this discrepancy, Yishai said that Israeli women who have been raped by migrant workers choose not to report the crimes "our of fear of being stigmatized as having contracted AIDS."  In response, William Tall, the representative in Israel of the UN High Commission for Refugees reminded Yishai that there was no AIDS epidemic in the African migrant population of Israel.

In the past, Yishai has lambasted the UN for failing to solve Africa's problems, and forcing Israel to shoulder the burden instead.  In making such a claim, Yishai either ignores or has forgotten Israel's long-running involvement in Africa, involvement that includes interests in African "blood diamonds" to interventions in Somalia.  

Most relevant to a discussion of racism in Israel are the many years of Israeli-South African cooperation during the apartheid period.  The two nations were so close that Israel offered to sell nuclear weaponry to South Africa - while many Israeli weapons were produced with uranium from South Africa.  The Israeli government has tried to obscure and deny these connections in recent years, but the documentary evidence remains.

Looking at Israel today, what can we see?  We see a state with a segregated system of roads.  We see a state whose Ministry of Education creates civics lessons discouraging any relations between Jewish girls and Arab boys.  We see a state where public remembrance of past crimes is criminalized.  We see a state engaging in globally-condemned de facto annexation of territory acquired by conquest.  We see a state where dissenters are threatened with death and told they deserve to be raped.  We see a racist society that is growing less doubtful about its defects by the year.

Of course, some people see the only democracy in the Middle East.
Free Cece McDonald!

This article was originally posted on 07/04/12

On June 5, 2011, Chrishaun “Cece” McDonald and several friends were walking past the Schooner Tavern in Minneapolis, heading to a grocery store, when a group of strangers standing outside the bar began insulting and threatening them. When McDonald asked the group to stop, one of the strangers smashed a glass into her face, injuring her severely. As McDonald tried to escape, her attackers pursued her. In the fight that followed, one of the attackers—an older man bearing a swastika tattoo—was fatally stabbed with a pair of scissors belonging to McDonald.
The facts of the case are not in question. McDonald and her friends were attacked, and they defended themselves. At least one of the attackers was a neo-Nazi. The only person to be arrested that night, however, was McDonald, who was charged with second-degree murder. (Her first attacker, Molly Flaherty, was not arrested until May 11 of the following year.) One year later, McDonald was sentenced to 41 months in prison and ordered to pay $6,410. How is it that such a clear case of self-defense could result in murder charges against McDonald, much less end with a sentence like that?
The unspoken answer is that McDonald and the friends she was with when she was attacked are Black. Their attackers were white. McDonald and her friends were all either gay, transgender or LGBT-friendly, and McDonald herself is a transgender woman. The insults that her attackers were shouting were racist, homophobic and trans-phobic slurs.
In a capitalist state, self-defense on the part of oppressed people and the poor is criminalized. The police, courts and penal system are part of this systematic terrorism, aimed at preserving the racist, sexist, capitalist status quo.
McDonald's treatment by police after her arrest is another example of this terrorism. She was denied medical treatment for the injuries sustained when she was attacked—a punctured cheek and lacerated salivary gland—and placed in solitary confinement after being interrogated for hours.
In the weeks and months following the initial charges, thousands of people signed a petition to the Democratic district attorney of Hennepin County, Michael Freeman, urging him to drop the charges against McDonald as he has done in three other cases involving accidental deaths during self-defense. He refused to drop the charges. That Freeman was operating under a double standard of justice is obvious when one considers that those who had their charges dropped were white and not transgendered.
The double standard was also evident during McDonald's trial, as the criminal past of her attacker and witnesses testifying against her were deemed inadmissible by the court, but a bad check written by McDonald was allowed as evidence of her dishonesty.
Throughout the entire process, the court and media has mis-gendered McDonald, repeatedly referring to her as male and holding her in a men's jail for much of the past year. Since her sentencing, McDonald has been held in a men's prison, mostly in solitary confinement. According to the Trans Youth Support Network, of trans women in prison, "statistics say that 38% are harassed, 15% are physically assaulted, and 7% are sexually assaulted while incarcerated—and these numbers are likely actually much higher, because collecting statistics on trans people in prisons and jails is extremely difficult."
Even though Cece McDonald has been sentenced, organization and struggle against the racist judicial system is still necessary to help McDonald and others who have been and will be its victims. More information on the case can be found at All progressive and revolutionary people should join in saying, "Free Cece!"
A renewable energy policy is possible - but not under capitalism

This article was originally posted on 05/14/12 with the title Study: Conversion to renewable energy possible soon

A world powered entirely by clean, renewable energy is often dismissed by the mainstream bourgeois media as a utopian vision. Even those who voice support for the use of renewable energy over polluting and limited fossil fuels are timid in their suggestions, calling for slightly better gas mileage here or a new wind or solar farm there.
But Mark Z. Jacobsen and Mark A. Zeluchi, researchers from Stanford and UC Davis, recently released a study showing that such a world is not only possible, but could be realized within our lifetimes.
Their study, published in the journal Energy Policy, shows that 100 percent of the world's energy supply could be provided using renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, tidal, geothermal and hydroelectric. No great advances in efficiency or energy science were included in the study's assumptions—all the results could be accomplished using existing technology, refuting charges that clean energy is a utopian fantasy. The time needed to transition totally from the existing energy infrastructure is estimated at 20-40 years.
In this system, wind and solar energy would provide 90 percent of the world's energy needs, while other sources would provide the rest. Vehicles, including cars, ships and airplanes, would no longer be powered by fossil fuels, instead using either hydrogen fuel cells or electricity.
According to Jacobsen and Zeluchi, there are obstacles to the implementation of an infrastructure relying only on renewable energy. These include the supply of materials needed to create such an infrastructure, including substances like platinum and other rare earth metals, and the variability of energy sources like wind and solar, both of which can fluctuate greatly. However, Jacobson and Zeluchi have found that the obvious bottlenecks could be avoided. Materials necessary for constructing solar cells, for example, are present in sufficient quantities, even without recycling needed materials. Other power sources, like wind energy, require mainly steel and concrete, both abundantly available.
Not only would such a plan eliminate many global tensions over the control of limited supplies of fossil fuels, but the reduction in fossil fuel use and pollution would save millions of lives currently ended by problems directly related to airborne contaminants, from asthma to lung cancer to heart failure. In addition to the medical benefits, the plan would also create a reduction in total energy demand of 30 percent as it shifts many processes currently relying on combustion to electrical sources of energy
Unfortunately, the fact is that a plan like the one that Jacobson and Zeluchi propose is absolutely possible—yet it will not be implemented by a capitalist state. Powerful interests like the petroleum and automobile industries will fiercely oppose any move towards different energy sources. Even mild proposals like "cap and trade," itself a capitalist solution to the problem of global warming that relies on commodifying pollution and creating a market for it to be traded in, are unacceptable to those interests.
As long as such a change is harmful to the profit margins of the most powerful corporations, they will oppose it, no matter how feasible it is. The experience of socialist Cuba shows that it is eminently possible, even for poor countries, to provide health care for all their citizens—yet the U.S. continues to resist any moves towards universal medical care for its citizens because of the influence of insurance and pharmaceutical companies fearful of their profit margins.
It is impossible to vote these companies out of power—and any attempt to change their practices through legislative means will result in no action at all, or, as in the case of President Obama's health care law, result in fanfare and celebration by reformist politicians, but little real change for the people most in need.
Only a revolutionary, militant and democratic struggle, from the streets to the workplaces to the universities, can result in real change!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Now that I've posted the Policymic backlog, expect new content soon.  
Jimmy Carter and the Limits of Liberalism

This article was originally posted on Policymic 06/26/12

Earlier this week, the New York Times published an op-ed by Jimmy Carter, in which the former president bemoans the fact that "the United States is abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights." 
Carter is disturbed by the recent exposure of a Presidential "Kill List," viewing it as the latest evidence of the USA's mounting disdain for human rights, a process that, according to our friend from Georgia, began on September 12, 2001.   
Now, before we start to list the centuries-long litany of American crimes – slavery and genocide being most prominent  – let us first point out that Carter, in his time as an ex-president, has been very active in all sorts of good causes, at home and abroad. He's even managed to summon up the courage to call Israel's occupation of Palestinian land what it is – a system of apartheid (although one wishes that Carter had taken a similar stand against South African apartheid during his presidency, instead of aiding the South Africans as they fomented civil war in newly-independent Angola). Carter is a liberal's liberal.
And that's the problem. Carter's op-ed is a perfect example of the limitations and blindspots of American liberalism. Chief among these deficiencies is a lack of pattern recognition. When Carter writes, "while the country has made mistakes in the past, the widespread abuse of human rights over the last decade has been a dramatic change from the past," we have to ask exactly what past he's referring to here.   
It couldn't be the Clinton years. The hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died needlessly because American-backed sanctions against their country left them unable to get proper healthcare, sanitation, or nutrition (when asked about those deaths, liberal interventionist Madeleine Albright would declare "we think the price is worth it") would weigh heavily against that being the demarcation between "widespread human rights abuse" and "global champion of human rights."  So would the ruinous bombings of Yugoslavia, or the multitude of Russians and other residents of the former eastern bloc states who were killed by free-market shock therapy (a therapy that led to one of the largest and fastest shortening of life expectancy in recorded history), or any of a multitude of other crimes. 
Rewinding through the rest of the 20th century is no good either, as Vietnam, Grenada, the Dominican Republic, and a host of other unprovoked invasions would seem to mar the record, as would the non-stop support of various tyrants and torturers that fill the interstices between American wars. Even the American contribution to the destruction of fascism in WWII sits uncomfortably next to the fact that many of the defeated fascists and collaborators were restored to power by the Allies immediately following the war, as in Greece, Italy, and South Korea.
It would be tiresome to backtrack through American history all the way to 1776. Two paragraphs of more recent crimes is grim enough. Hopefully, the reader can forgive the absence of a complete history of atrocities and a dearth of attention to domestic oppression of the non-white population.
The problem is that somehow liberals are able to overlook all of these crimes, and when confronted with one that is absolutely inescapable – such as American involvement in Vietnam – they only shake their heads and say "we had good intentions, but somehow mistakes were made and we lost our way."  Today, you can substitute Afghanistan for Vietnam, as many liberals still seem to regard that invasion as "the right war." 
It's this attitude, that the USA is some kind of clumsy but well-intentioned giant, stumbling around trying to right wrongs but inadvertently causing more trouble, that allows liberals like Carter to be shocked and indignant about torture, assassinations, indefinite detention, and other unpleasant practices of the national security state. It is this worldview that prevents liberals from truly challenging the root of the problems they decry. Carter, in his op-ed, seems to believe that if the United States just stops drone assassinations then Washington will suddenly "regain moral leadership" and all will be right with the world.
Combating the sort of historical blindness and aversion to pattern-recognitions inherent in liberalism is a necessary first step toward creating a more realistic view of the world and an analysis of how to solve the problems it faces. Liberalism is as good as a band-aid on a sucking chest wound when it comes to solving the very real problems of global war, poverty, and illness, and until it is no longer the dominant position from which criticisms are made, any progress made will be fitful, stumbling, and constantly vulnerable to being rolled back.
Harold Koh: President Obama's Drones Defender-In-Chief

This article was originally posted on Policymic 04/13/12

The Daily Beast recently published Tara McKelvey's interview with Harold Koh, the human rights lawyer and former dean of Yale Law School who has since become a legal advisor for the Obama administration, specializing in justifying the exercise of unrestrained executive authority.  
While the interview portion of the article is negligible – out of three pages, Koh's remarks consist of just seven short sentences – the portrait McKelvey paints of Koh is of a rather unpersonable, prickly man. According to retired General James Cartwright, Koh was "hated" in the opening months of the Obama administration. Cartwright also claims that Koh described drone strikes as "extrajudicial killings" in some of these early meetings, something that Koh denies ever saying.
Of course, Koh's personality, unpleasant or not, is less important than his significant changes of heart (although the interview quotes Koh himself saying "I have never changed my mind") on national security issues. In 2002, Koh referred to George Bush as the "torturer in chief" andexpressed concerns over the targeted killings carried out under the Bush administration. By contrast, in 2012, Koh answered the question: "How do we deliver justice to the enemy?" with the flippant: "I think there are different ways. It can be delivered through trials. Drones also deliver." 
Providing legal justification for drone executions seem to be one of Koh's recurring duties. In 2010, he defended them, saying, "Our procedures and practices for identifying lawful targets are extremely robust, and advanced technologies have helped to make our targeting even more precise." The death and disfigurement of civilians that seem to accompany every drone strikedon't seem to figure into Koh's precise targeting technologies, much to the anguish of the drone policy's victims.
In the context of the Obama presidency, Koh's sudden conversion to assassination advocacy is somewhat less surprising, however. Despite the rhetoric of the campaign trail (and the oft-repeated assurances of Obama's remaining fans), the Obama administration's record on human rights has more often than not been a continuation of the policies favored by its predecessor (not exactly surprising, given how many members of the Obama national security team are Bush-era appointees). Despite promises to close Guantanamo, America's most famous prison camp remains open. Despite grandiose claims of ending torture, loopholes in Obama's orders kept torture a viable policy, and with the signing of the 2012 NDAA, it was reauthorized under the auspices of "enhanced interrogation."
The Obama administration has refused to investigate the war crimes of Bush, saying "it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice, that they will not be subject to prosecution." In other words, if you were just following orders, don't worry, you won't be prosecuted for torturing.
Obama has also declined to release further photo documentation of torture by American forces, interceding to reverse a Pentagon decision to make public hundreds of images of detainee abuse.  Obama described the Abu Ghraib abuse photos as "painful,"a curiously elastic use of the word in the context of a discussion on torture.
In some areas, such as the prosecution of whistleblowers, the current administration is exceeding its predecessor in the zeal with which it defends the excesses of the national security state. From the attempted prosecution of an NSA agent leaking information on unauthorized government surveillance techniques to the recent prosecution of former CIA agent John Kiriakou for revealing information related to the abuse of prisoners, the Obama administration has made it very clear it has little tolerance for anyone taking campaign promises of transparency seriously. The Espionage Act has been used as the principle tool for silencing whistleblowers - six times so far this administration. Prior to Obama's administration, the act had only been used three times in the nation's history.
So what are we to conclude from all this? Certainly, not that the Obama administration is uniquely awful in its policies. Even disregarding the perverse willingness of the previous administration to make its crimes publicly known, torture is nothing new for America; the "water cure" was practiced in the Philippines long before it was applied to captured Afghans. Nor is the trite phrase "power corrupts" useful as an analysis, especially if we hope to even begin to affect change.  
What we must recognize is that on a structural level, our government and its obsession with secrecy engenders these abuses. No matter who sits in the Oval Office, without massive outcry and organized resistance to the status quo, nothing will change, no matter who is voted in or out.
Obama's State of the Union: A "Stump Speech" Grandiose in Scope, Short on Specifics

This article was originally posted on Policymic 01/25/12

The 2012 State of the Union (SOTU) was nothing but election-year posturing of the sort practiced by the Democratic Party for several decades, designed to assure the working class that, in spite of the last four years, they really do have its best interests in mind. From jobs to foreign policy, President Obama was very clearly speaking as Candidate Obama, full of promises to make education affordable, keeping bankers and profiteers in their place, and trumpeting his triumphs over America’s multifarious enemies. As other PolicyMic contributors have noted however, Obama’s speech was rather short on specifics
The full text of the speech is readily available, but let’s focus on the highlights for the moment. Obama begins with a throwaway mention to a troop draw-down in Afghanistan, which neglects the fact that tens of thousands of troops have been deployed to Afghanistan during Obama’s term and the current troop reduction falls far short of that – but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps those troops were necessary to impose order on Afghanistan and are being withdrawn because everything is so, well, orderly there now.
Obama goes on to praise the “greatest generation” who returned home after WWII and produced the longest continual boom in the history of American capitalism, saying “they were contributing to a story of success that every American had a chance to share — the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.”
Leaving aside how perverse it is for America’s first non-white president to fail to mention how many groups were excluded from this “American promise,” Obama also neglects the fact that the relatively good conditions of American workers in the post-war era were also accompanied by an outstandingly high rate of strikes and other labor struggles to force American employers to accept their demands. 
And that golden age of near-full employment — how did it slip away? Listening to Obama’s SOTU you might believe that the jobs had simply got up and strolled away on their own. Not once is NAFTA mentioned, not once is GATT mentioned, nor is any context at all provided. The jobs just “began leaving our shores.” 
Of course, to his credit, Obama wasn’t entirely without ideas for creating jobs. He mentioned how recent trends have led to labor being more expensive in China, following that up with the idea that America can undercut them, or, I’m sorry, the phrase he used was “America is more productive,” which is true in some ways; American productivity having been on the rise for decades, although pointedly it has not kept pace with wages.  The Swedish owners of IKEA certainly think American workers are “productive.”
Speaking of China, Obama also invoked the name of Steve Jobs in this SOTU, saying “every risk-taker and entrepreneur” should aspire to be like the recently deceased Apple founder. Perhaps he was thinking of all the jobs Jobs has created in China, utilizing its “competitive” conditions — if only America could be so willing to sacrifice! Of course, given that Obama has so far in 2012 introduced a jobs program made up nearly two-thirds by unpaid jobs, no one can doubt his commitment to sacrificing for job creation, whatever the cost.
The SOTU also saw Obama mention the 2008 financial crisis, saying “in 2008, the house of cards collapsed. We learned that mortgages had been sold to people who couldn't afford or understand them” and pledging that “I will not go back to the days when Wall Street was allowed to play by its own set of rules” — a nice sentiment, restraining the injustices of banks and finance, although somewhat undercut by a number of things —  including the recent plan emanating from the Obama administration to subsidize a mortgage settlement with the very groups who constructed that “house of cards” using the pension funds of American citizens.
Of course, besides that, talk of getting tough on Wall Street falls rather flat coming from the president who has appointed former Goldman Sachs employees Rahm Emanuel, Robert Hormats, Stephen Friedman, Diana Forrell, Philip Murphy, Mark Patterson, Adam Storch, Alexander Lasry, Sonal Shah, Gregory Craig, and Gary Gensler to his administration. Or the same president who has appointed a former banker for his Chief of Staff three times in a row now. Or the same president who is considering Larry “Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the Less Developed Countries?” Summers to head the World Bank.
These are just a few highlights. Length precludes me from mentioning Obama’s jingoism or his subtle encouragement of fracking or any number of other lovely inclusions in the SOTU. I can say confidently that if Obama wins another turn (something that seems likelier every day) he will not turn into the second coming of FDR, as some liberals are desperately hoping. But odds are they’ll vote for him anyway.