The Real State of the Union

By Hugh, who is a long-time commenter at Naked Capitalism. Originally posted at Corrente.

The state of the Union is crap. 20% of the country is doing OK. 1% is doing fantastically. 0.001% is doing so well it’s criminal, literally. They don’t own everything yet but they do own the politicians, judges, regulators, academics, and reporters. So they’re getting there. The other 80%, the rubes, the muppets, the serfs, are mired in an undeclared, ongoing depression.

50 years on I can safely state that the War on Poverty has been won. The poor have been defeated, the middle class conquered. They just don’t know it. Many sense that something is wrong, even drastically wrong, but few realize they have been totally and thoroughly betrayed by those they trusted with the governance of the country and themselves. They cannot admit –they have been admirably taught not to admit — even the possibility of the class war waged against them and which they have definitely and definitively lost. They continue to look to those who did this to them to fix things and make them better. They may grumble but there is no hint of real opposition or organized rebellion. Theirs is a Union of misery, lost hopes, lesser lives. The Union of the rich and elites is triumphant.

So we have two states of the Union because we have two Unions, one of the many and one of the few, the haves and have-nots, the winners and the losers. We have one Union based on reality and hard work and another which feeds off it.

For most Americans, their wages minus inflation have stayed flat every day of their working lives, that is for the last 35 years. College is no longer a passport to a better life but a trap of lifelong debt. Hard work avails nothing as millions of American jobs have been sent abroad in “free” trade agreements. These agreements are not free for those who lost their jobs. And they make all of us among the many poorer because it has all become not about how hard you work but how cheaply. The meltdown of 5 years ago destroyed much of the wealth of the middle class and virtually all the wealth of the lower classes. But those who drove the economy over the cliff in 2008, the rich, have come roaring back. They have made back the money they lost and more as the government and Fed have thrown trillions at them and encouraged them to blow new and bigger speculative bubbles. Stock markets are at or near historic highs. Statistics have been bent and twisted until they scream. As a consequence, GDP is up. Unemployment is down. Life is good. The numbers prove it. So suck it up, ignore reality, and stop complaining.

After 3 years in preparation, Obamacare entered with a pratfall launch which embodied everything about what the program was, corporatism, and what it wasn’t, healthcare.

Class war demands distraction and nothing focuses the mind in the wrong place than war. It has become the central metaphor of our lives. Some of these wars are shams. Some are real. All are terribly destructive.

There is the War on Drugs which has put millions of Americans behind bars and turned Mexico into a narco-state, even as the banks which knowingly laundered hundreds of billions in drug cartel profits escape with no one doing jail time and nothing more than some “cost of doing business” fines. Meanwhile the federal government fights a rearguard action as states move to legalize marijuana because, despite its best efforts, no one really cares.

There is the War on Terror with its endless, pointless mini-wars and drone strikes. It is the epitome of self-licking ice cream cones, producing more terrorists and anti-Americanism than it eradicates. On top of this, it has garnered some of the most dubious, “with friends like these who needs enemies” allies imaginable in the form of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.

There are the traditional wars. After nearly 8 years in Iraq and every effort made to stay longer, that country remains on the same verge of civil war as when we left.

The war in Afghanistan is lost but, unfortunately, not over. Afghanistan is one of those places where an imperial war, part of the War on Terror, effectively trumped the War on Drugs and snuffed out any mention, or action to change, the fact that Afghanistan has been throughout the American occupation the largest producer of opium and heroin in the world.

There is, again, the class war and the war against the middle class. An important theatre in this war is the war against the rule of law and the Constitution. In our two Unions, the two Americas, there are two rules of law. The rule of law for the rich is that the rule of law does not apply to them. Barack Obama and Eric Holder have investigated no one, prosecuted no one, and sent to prison no one for nearly destroying the economy 6 years ago or for any of their economic crimes since. Jamie Dimon not only isn’t in prison, he’s still head of JPMorgan, and just got a multi-million dollar raise. Financial terrorism is infinitely more destructive than al Qaeda, infinitely better paying, and can be practiced with impunity. As for ordinary Americans, they face a militarized police and a Dickensian legal system.

At the same time, we are seeing our Constitutional rights bulldozed in the construction of a surveillance state, a euphemism for a police state. This is a state, totalitarian in its nature and ambitions, which, on the one hand, operates in the greatest secrecy with zero public accountability and makes war on anyone who seeks to expose its workings and, on the other, tells us we have nothing to worry about if we have nothing to hide. It targets us yet tells us we are not its targets. This state, or rather those who control it, can know everything about us, but we can know nothing about it or them. Its justification is that it is only after the bad guys, but this state with all its vast spying programs and resources has never actually caught any “bad guys”, certainly none to justify its enormous budgets and unchecked powers.

The wealth and the health of this country is based on the people. The value of the dollar is not based on gold or the ability to tax but on us. Yet we have been looted for decades by predatory elites and the rich. Our lives are made poorer, shorter, more pain- and anxiety-filled by them. And our country is made weaker. Education through debt and lack of opportunity is discouraged. Skills are thrown away as jobs are shipped abroad. On-the-job training has become a dirty word. We are being hollowed out both as a country and a people. Our state is this: We have a cancer. It is feeding on us. It is killing us. Our cancer tells us that without it, we cannot survive. The truth is we have no hope of survival, indeed no hope of anything, unless we cut it out. Liberal, conservative, or indifferent, Tea Party, progressive, or independent, this is the choice we are all faced with, not just for ourselves but each other. If we are to act and if we are to be successful, then we must act together. That is where we are. The choice is yours.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. madrona

    Not so sure. The 20% “doing OK” is not doing okay long-term, though few know it as yet. The 1% doing “fantastically” may be doing well now, but most of that group are well-informed enough to know deep-down that longer term, they too are hosed. The 0.001% doing well criminally? They aren’t worried; their escape pods are fueled up and they plan to leave the ruins to the 1%, who will take the heat for the former group’s ill-gotten gains. And the other 80%? They’ve been roadkill for so long the buzzards are already back home for a nightcap.

    1. jrs

      Doing ok (the 20%). But I think I know what can go wrong. Our jobs are under our nose being outsourced or taken by skilled immigrants (the immigration bill Obama keeps pushing). Catfood appears around every corner, and as for our 401ks and IRAs, the whole system seems on the shakiest ground (of course if it actually brought down the system – well I think THAT DOES need to happen – but it may well just bring down the 20%). And meanwhile approaching complete ecological collapse.

    1. Klassy

      Thanks. A real response– not one that pretends that there are real (as in consequential) differences between the two parties.

    2. Doug Terpstra

      Sawant’s rebuttal should go viral. She exposes Obamas duplicity with a clear, gentle voice.

  2. ChrisCairns

    Well, well said, Hugh. Sadly it will only get worse and we are hoping and hoping that the contagion doesn’t spread.

    I watched a bit of the SOTU address today, but switched off as he chose to deflect via the brave soldier, a Ranger I believe, who was injured badly by a road side bomb in Afghanistan. And for what? Sure, things weren’t pretty with the Taliban in rule, but that was a matter for the Afghanis themselves. What a mess we have made of the place and Australia was a willing accomplice, to our collective shame.

    I look forward to an analysis of all the bullshit that came out his mouth today.

  3. Avg John

    We’ll said. The plain unadulterated truth. And it looks like Washington will ignore the truth and continue to play games. What is it they say, Rome burned while Nero continued to play his fiddle?

  4. Middle Seaman

    Over all, well written and generally correct. Yet, there are some simplifications and wrong assumptions. Obamacare isn’t a complete failure although it has major flows. Several European countries rely on health insurance companies for their universal care.(I do think that the health insurance industry in the US is a travesty, but not the concept necessarily.) A lot of the problems of Obamacare, (e.g.huge deductibles, miserable coverage) stem from the ineptitude of the administration rather than the health insurance companies.

    What did Saudi do to you? You may not like their politics, most Saudis don’t either, but they have been, by and large, a very useful partner to the US. Similar things can be said about Israel, which happens to be even more Democratic than the US. I don’t like their government now, but they call it democracy. Forcing your morality, even if you hardly practice it, is very colonial. Collapsing Europe is very good at it lately.

    You cannot have it both ways. If the rich rule this country now (I agree), you aren’t much of a democracy anymore. How come you want the Saudis to be democratic and have decent human rights?

    1. jrs

      I believe the European countries that use insurance companies have truly non-profit insurance companies and regulate costs heavily (they also of course have universal coverage). We have oligopolistic for-profit rentiers of insurance companies and the other costs mostly also oligopolistic and left near completely unregulated. If one is attached to insurance companies ideologically there are ways it could in theory work, but it can’t work if your entire system is bought and sold by rentiers.

      As for Israel, I think many would be happy if U.S. tax dollars just stopped going to them, that is all, democracy or not (as if being a democracy excuses their crimes). Not wanting one’s tax dollars spent on these questionable governments is actually pretty much the opposite of colonial.

    2. Leviathan

      Why fixate on insurance companies alone? They are just the intermediate rentier class, and not the most profitable part at that. No, the gougers are the hospitals and specialists who have only to think of a number, then add zeroes to it, hand it after the fact to the customer, then use all the powers of the courts and states to extract payment. Forever. The other vultures feeding on the carcass of the American “consumer” are big pharma and med-tech, working closely with said specialists and hospital chains to extract the last ounce of blood.

    3. Banger

      Saudi Arabia has been a “partner” if you agree with the basic foreign policy objectives in the region, i.e., encourage internal ethnic and religious conflicts within states like Iraq, Syria and Libya in order to fracture societies in the region as per the neo-conservative agenda. It is Saudi intel that was and is involved with Al-qaida in all its forms–that should be pretty obvious by now.

      As for Israel they have meddled in U.S. politics through AIPAC which is, essentially, a part of the Israeli state. Israel has also used its agents to hound anyone who criticizes the Israeli state both from without and within the media. And, of course, has been able to have a permanent economic and security guarantee from the U.S. taxpayers.

    4. diptherio

      “Obamacare isn’t a complete failure although it has major flows.” [sic]

      And my stopped clock is right twice a day, so it’s not completely broken (although it has major flaws).

      “What did Saudi do to you? You may not like their politics, most Saudis don’t either, but they have been, by and large, a very useful partner to the US. Similar things can be said about Israel, which happens to be even more Democratic than the US. I don’t like their government now, but they call it democracy.”

      Wow. How did your head not explode while you were writing that paragraph? Astounding display of cognitive dissonance and self-delusory rhetoric. Kudos.

      So our support for Saudi Arabia, an authoritarian monarchy where women enjoy all the same rights as children, is off-limits for criticism, since the Saudis have been a useful partner to the US (oil companies). And our support for Israel is equally irreproachable, since Israel is a nominal democracy, just like us. You’ve just got a defense lined up for everything, don’t you? Just have to prove to yourself that our government really isn’t that bad…just needs a little tweaking around the edges. I imagine in the eighties you were defending our support for the South African gov’t: “They’re a democracy, and it’s not like we don’t have racism in this country. etc, etc”

      “Forcing your morality, even if you hardly practice it, is very colonial.”

      So maybe we should stop supporting countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel which are continually forcing their morality on people? Just sayin’…

      1. ran

        MS always leaps to the defense of that shitty little apartheid state Israel. First time I’ve seen him defend SA, but it hardly surprises.

    5. Ken Hoop

      Israel is indeed a useful partner to the US….it makes us so many enemies, war profiteers galore can cash in on the blowback. Not to mention “empire for empire’s sake” players.
      And it is more democratic–if you believe rabbinical law which justifies theft and expulsion is more democratic than, at least theoretically secular law.

  5. Clive

    Thanks Hugh, was hoping you’d shred Obama’s State of the Union, while watching it this morning (lucky old us in England, we are speared the full horror of it and only have to put up with edited highlights and a bit of punditry) it was only the thought that someone on NC was going to counterpoint the odiousness of it that allowed me to continue to drink my tea without barfing.

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        Likewise, minus the DC part: I can’t bear to listen to the man’s test-marketed faux oratory, ever.

        1. Clive

          Yes, the fault is with me, I’m sure — perhaps a genetic defect which renders me unable to resist what amounts to political rubbernecking.

            1. Clive

              [to Glinda] Very well – I’ll bide my time. [to Dorothy] And as for you, my fine lady, it’s true I can’t attend to you here and now as I’d like; but just try to stay out of my way – just try! I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too! [With a burst of laughter, she whirls around and vanishes in a burst of smoke and fire and a clap of thunder.]

            2. Clive

              (to Glinda) Very well – I’ll bide my time. (to Dorothy) And as for you, my fine lady, it’s true I can’t attend to you here and now as I’d like; but just try to stay out of my way – just try! I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too! (With a burst of laughter, she whirls around and vanishes in a burst of smoke and fire and a clap of thunder.)

        2. Bronwyn

          I’m with you, I can’t stand it. I think the last thing I listened to was the debate btw him and Romney, and that was only b/c Amy Goodman was supplementing it with the other candidates who had been shut out of the debate by our crap media.

  6. PaulArt

    I recently talked to a young engineer in our group and asked him to write to his congressperson and Senator and ask them to stop handing out H1-B visas and to stop shipping engineering and software jobs to India and China. I gave him a copy of ‘Age of Greed’ to read.

    By the way, I am originally from India and after my M.S I was on a H1-B. One could argue that I am working hard to chop up the ladder after me and one would be partially right but having worked in Silicon valley and in hi-tech for almost 20 years I can vouch for the canard that the ‘we are unable to find engineers’ is. I recently made a trip to our HQ and in the two years I have been there I now see tons of Indian engineers working there. It did not take me long to figure out what was going on. Companies in the heartland and elsewhere are repeating the modus operandi that was followed in Silicon valley starting in the 90s. Whine about not being able to find engineers, get Congress and Senate to increase the H1-B quota, hire an Indian or Chinese or foreign MS graduate at rock bottom prices and walk away happy. In Silicon Valley my entry level pay was a clear $10,000 below prevailing wage for an entry level B.S (and I had an MS at the time I was hired). One good thing Obama has done since he came aboard is to hike up the H1-B visa fees massively. This has reduced the ‘outsourced-insourcing’ quite a bit. If you are wondering what the ‘outsourced-insourcing’ is, it is bringing in an engineer from India on a H1-B through a company like Wipro or TCS(Tata Consulting Service). These are massive ‘body shopping’ firms that employ VAST numbers of engineers who they send out to places all over the USA to be stationed in companies like GE, Honeywell etc occupying temporary positions writing software. So as PG Wodehouse would have said, the poor Americans have it coming and going. They lose the software job first to India when it is outsourced and then they lose it again when someone from India is brought in here to work in that same position. It is a neat bait and switch trick that middle management plays to keep overheads down. Do not create more headcount here in the USA. First send it abroad to India and then you can bring the chappie who writes the software back to the Atlanta, Louisville or Santclara, CA HQ. That is how it has been working for the last 20 years at least but these days the high H1-B visa fees has cooled the ardor for H1-Bs quite a bit but there is nothing to prevent these cretins from hiring the same Indian and Chinese graduates here in the USA and then putting the H1-B visa fees on their tab. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against foreigners but should we be importing all this ‘talent’ when we should be growing our own? Are we planning to become a ‘wholly owned subsidiary’ of China and India? Recently at a quarterly meeting one of the jackass suits talked about creating ‘STEM’ programs in India and I wanted to get up to the stage and bloody neck. STEM programs in India? I mean, the last time I checked they teach computer programming to kids in 3rd grade in India and this idiot is going to invest money in India creating STEM programs? This is where the caucasian White American male is taking the country and I say that with full intent and purpose because they are the majority who are selling this country out for money.

    1. Banger

      And why not? If the purpose of a corporation is to maximize profits without concern for anything else then these corporations are acting sensibly. The law allows it because the prevailing ethic is there is no morality but wealth, money power. While we are exposed to mountains of BS from “leaders” whether pols or pundits when you parse it all–the bottom line is the bottom line. Until we in the population at large start finding some kind of morality beyond radical materialism and narcissism the corporate sector will continue to thrive at our expense.

      Nice post, btw–with great insights.

      1. Patricia

        Just to keep it straight, Banger, it is not that “we in the population at large” have lost “morality beyond”, but that those at the top have lost theirs (transnats and complicit gov’t). We, the population at large (that is to say, ~80% of us), have to gather ourselves to get rid of them and re-establish the morality we already have.

        That is a huge and daunting task. It takes time to build common understanding in enough individuals. Systems thought is not easy for most, and they are already overworked or dealing with a sense of personal failure. Plus, it is not a fantasy that action is threatened with violence. And we are additionally handicapped by the endless lies told us in our media.

        It is draining to continue with patience and persistence, but there is no other way. Certainly, wacking the heads of those who are already struggling is going to be counter-productive.

        Thanks, Paul. Appreciate the peek.

        1. Banger

          Patricia, while the rich certainly have lost even the rudimentary sense of responsibility and morality they once had it has been aided by the culture of narcissism that is our culture. Public morality is very low by historical standards and yes, the media encourages and even programs that in us but we are still responsible for our decisions. We live in too-large houses when we have the chance, we drive uselessly expensive vehicles to indicate status as well as $500 and up handbags, shoes, jewelry and so on. I know people who have ruined their lives in pursuing these luxury goods as if they were possessed by demons and will do what they have to do to get the next big fix of money and these are people who are just middle-class. This is not because we are “bad” but because we lack a sense of cohesion and community. Morality is based either in that sense of connection to others or some larger frame of reference.

          1. James Levy

            Banger, the place where we all tend trip up here is that most people’s behavior is not overtly “immoral”. We have been sold on a vision of immorality as universal and obvious. “Bad guys” on TV, in popular novels, and in the movies are usually universally bad and are easy to spot as such. What you and I mean by morality is a sense of values that cannot be transgressed ever, or at least only in the most extreme of circumstances, what the Brits used to say was “not done.” What most people mean by moral is generally nice public behavior.

            My ideal of morality (or ethics, as I am not a theist) is negative–what you will not do. You will not kill. You will not deceive. You will not profit at another man’s expense. It has nothing to do with acting “nice” or charity (they are good things, but anyone can do them within their own in-group especially). And that’s a hard thing to sell in this or any culture. Because this kind of morality is all about self-denial: denying yourself opportunities to get what you want, to get ahead, to take advantage. We have been programmed to believe that self-abnegation is flat-out stupid. But it is our only hope going forward.

            1. jrs

              I’d settle for a morality of what one will not do. It would be such a step up at this point!

              As for what one will do: I was reading a survey of Lenski yesterday, think he gets it right on human nature. People are not naturally altruistic, they are naturally in-group altruistic, or what could be called enlightened self-interest, and they are in group altruistic because they ARE social animals so have to be that altruistic. This need not be as brainlessly tribal as all that, one’s in group need not be only one’s race, family or political party. Mine would be people working locally toward a different world and who share my sense of what that would be. But altruism that extends far beyond one’s in group (to the other side of the world even) is not necessarily natural or a large part of human behavior. I’d settle at this point for what people absolutely will not do to those outside one’s in group. I’d settle for instance for the U.S. not bombing the rest of the world! For corporations not polluting the rest of the world etc.. Acting “nice” is definitely in-group morality, it maintains society and one is a social animal. Of course it shades into authoritarianism and excessive conformity. In group morality is not absolute morality.

            2. Banger

              I see the basis of morality to be rather simple. That which connects us is good that which separates us is bad. Of course it isn’t quite that simple but I start from there. Alas, I am a theist which is not popular around here, I would imagine.

              1. EmilianoZ

                Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present.

                The weak are meat, and the strong do eat.
                Dr. Henry Goose

                What is an ocean but a multitude of drops?
                Adam Ewing

                1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

                  There is no getting away from the past – no doubt about it – and we are gratefully for that, in at least one instance: our ancestors ‘tamed’ the cat.

        2. mansoor h. khan

          Patricia said:
          “It is draining to continue with patience and persistence, but there is no other way. ‘

          That is exactly what my religion (Islam) and other major world religions teach. That righting wrongs requires patience, persistence and a contstant struggle. Also, we (in our life times) may NOT see the unjust elites dethroned but (inshallah) it will eventually happen. Even if you don’t believe in being rewarded in afterlife you are helping to make a better world for your children and grandchildren.

          Mansoor H. Khan

  7. jrs

    Yea Afghanistan is apparently disintegrating into complete chaos. Iraq as well I guess with what we hear from Fallujah.

    Dikensenian is too kind to describe the legal system when it actually goes after dissidents.

    We have nothing to worry about from the NSA but it wants to kill Snowden. Really these people have a murder fetish I swear. They wanted to assassinate OWS leaders, they want to kill Snowden. Obama’s kill list has really gone to their heads.

    The wealth and health of this country is based on the people and the land (ok lets poison some of the little water supplied that isn’t dried out by droughts via fracking says Zero).

    “The truth is we have no hope of survival, indeed no hope of anything, unless we cut it out.”

    Yes, I suspect so.

    “The choice is yours”

    I’m not sure what choice I have about anything much anymore. 3rd party for Prez? Ok, but mostly, whatever choices I have are mostly far outside of voting at this point. But maybe that’s what was meant anyway.

    1. Banger

      Conventional politics is closed to us at the moment. What could change that is a movement towards social morality rather than the culture of narcissism. The leadership of this society reflects the consciousness and attitudes of the general public. When push comes to shove most people will make the selfish choice.

      Political power comes from tight communities, btw, and the general movement in our society is still towards fragmentation.

      1. Patricia

        Yes. And we USians do not yet know how exhausting it is to be fragmented, and how much better we will feel when we are gathered. We need to be constantly inviting the rest of us towards community. We are herd animals, by nature, so the invitation is to again become ourselves.

        1. Banger

          Yes, absolutely. I don’t think we are quite herd animals–but we are hard-wired for sociability which is why I think that one of the most revolutionary things we can do is to hold frequent parties or gatherings.

          1. Pete

            I’d go with pack animals. Has everyone here looked into the ‘relocalization’ movement? More and more people are walking away from the king’s game.

          2. jrs

            See what I wrote above on in group morality :). The thing is it’s one thing to gather a group of well meaning middle class mostly well educated people. It’s even one thing to try (and this is difficult) to expand this to working class and then to poor people. But when you consider the true down and out, and the fact that we have thousands of homeless people in any big city, millions of homeless people in this country, you just collapse under the weight. That’s why government solutions in the meantime, a new economic and social system in the long run? At this point I think it’s ok for the middle class to just mutual aid themselves, they desperately need it and could be an example, only being as isolated as that class it (most isolated class of them all) few grok it.

  8. Vicky Else

    I agree with all of this, and would add the degradation of food and water to the list of our humiliations. I wonder, though, if the America I miss ever really existed. Seriously, was it just a phantom of our militarist ambitions, which sprang from the growth if the MIC after WWII? Yes, there was a temporary burst of middle class prosperity (a car! a TV! a little house!) and that made the lie seem real–that America was an endless fountain of prosperity. What we did not see is that this prosperity was built on the suffering of millions around the world, whose resources we stole, usually through bribes, but often at the point of a gun.

    So, no, I don’t think any of it was ever real. I have learned to stop missing that deception, and to stop expecting any possible remedy for its decline. What will come of all of this, I don’t know. A nation of tight-lipped preppers who trust only their closest neighbors, probably, at least for a while. Eventually, maybe we could become a more civil country, with a self-image based not on dreams of grandeur but rather an appreciation of the basic dignities of the modest life.

    1. McMike

      Food isn’t just being degraded, it is being turned into a parasitic toxic neutron bomb – it destroys the host from the inside – it has become the simulacra of food; you put it in your mouth and chew, but the resemblance ends there.

      Water, meanwhile, while America was snoozing through everything else, it also snoozed through trillions of gallons of water permanently rendered toxic and injected into the ground to contaminate all the water deep down there too.

    2. Banger

      I don’t quite agree–American prosperity after WWII was based on being, in a sense, the last industrial power standing but the U.S. made attempts to build up war-torn Europe and Japan and create an international set of arrangements that made the world a safer and better place, on balance. I believe we were headed, somewhat reluctantly in the right direction. Several things happened to move the balance of power away from a dynamic balance between oligarchs and other segments of the population that ended up after the dust settled with the corporate elite in the drivers seat alone, essentially, at the pinnacle of power by 1980.

      1. McMike

        Yes, we built up markets for our products.

        Every time I want to say that we were headed in the right direction, I realize that by 1952 we had run a coup in Iran (merely one in a long line of death and destruction we waged).

        I realize that the civil rights changes had to be torn from the hands of the south.

        I realize that the revolution of youth and its challenging authority was met with a reactionary tantrum of state violence and oppression, an official rage, that while temporarily set back by the public, in the long run led to a state more committed than ever to never let itself be in that position again.

        I realize that the temporary gains in worker and consumer power were already under systematic attack, a temporary setback that put the elite on their heals for a generation is all, who came back stronger than ever.

        I realize that the temporary gains in widespread wealth really just ended up becoming an unintentionally fattened plum to be plucked.

      2. Vicky Else

        I certainly remember believing that “we” were a force for good, helping other nations and the poor within our own share the benefits of our prosperity. And surely some of that was true. But over my lifetime (half a century and counting) the trajectory has shown (I think) that despite the good intentions of many, perhaps even most, what was built was a machine for consumerist exploitation among wealthier nations, and for despotic suppression of human rights and well being everywhere else. I suppose it’s possible that this was not the intention, but knowing what kinds of people have been running our capitalist class all along, I have to believe that it was.

      3. psychohistorian

        Your “in a sense” and ”on balance” characterizations of America’s actions after WWII are a poor fig leaf over the empire that the US was building in South America and other areas around the globe before, during and after the war.

        Your continued attribution of some morality to the plutocrats that rule our world at some point in the past conflicts with my read of history. I believe those folks have always acted in their best interests and consciously built and maintain the illusion of superiority over the rest of us while making us think we are “advancing” as a species…..I agree with Vicky Else.

        1. Banger

          I see the basis of morality to be rather simple. That which connects us is good that which separates us is bad. Of course it isn’t quite that simple but I start from there. Alas, I am a theist which is not popular around here, I would imagine.

        2. Banger

          I speak of my experiences. While the Mr. Potters of the world have always been the George Baileys of the world as well or we would live in a far more miserable situation than we know face. I don’t like classifying humans–yes, it can be useful but I still don’t like it–face to face with real people when you can get beyond stereotypes changes everything at least for a few moments.

      4. Pete

        The primary reason for the ahistorical blip on the radar of human history called the ‘middle class’ was the age of cheap fossil fuels… bubye. Time for “Capital”ism to revert to its original form, Feudalism (if the Plutocracy has its way).

        1. jrs

          Maybe it was necessary, I disagree that it was sufficient. I think what made it happen was fear of the red menance. They no longer have to appease us, so they won’t.

    3. TimR

      “a nation of tight-lipped preppers”

      Good line ! sort of phrase I’d think of from James Howard Kunstler.
      I’m not sure, but I lean towards Banger’s take on this. After all, if you believe the historians, civilizations have periods of flowering, renaissance, decadence, decline, etc. So it follows that elites *could* be qualitatively different from generation to generation, given their different life experiences.

    1. Minor Heretic

      I once interviewed a former Afghan Mujihadeen who told me about the CIA flying in portable heroin factories into the tribal areas on C-130 aircraft. The CIA was trying to help finance the Afghans during the Soviet war and decided that they would make more money exporting a value added product.

      The Taliban actually put a fatwa on opium production in 2000 in an attempt to gain international recognition. You can see that on the chart in 2001.

  9. rob

    That is the real state of the union.
    What I wouldn’t give to hear and read that address on every venue in the country. To have 100 million people see/hear that at the same time. That would give them something to wonder about…..(meaning as transfixed as they are on the mirage of their echo-chambers, they would only hear truth and wonder)

  10. MikeNY

    Very well said, Hugh.

    Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good, as MLK said. We each must figure out how to make our resistance concrete. There are many ways: speaking your mind, and calling wrong by its name; protesting; organizing; boycotting; joining local organizations; meeting and encouraging others who also want to resist. I am (belatedly) seeking to get actively involved myself.

    I can’t help thinking that this struggle must be framed in moral terms: plutocracy is immoral. Endless war is immoral. Mass incarceration is immoral. Economic oppression is immoral. Not to pay workers a living wage is immoral. Dogmatic, monistic pursuit of self-interest is immoral. To have a billion dollars while millions languish in poverty is immoral, and no amount of ink spilled in economic rationalization can discredit this conclusion. If we can’t confront these injustices as a society, we shall have, and we will deserve, no peace.

    Power and privilege will not be relinquished willingly, so we must resist. But evolution is better than revolution. We all must get involved.

  11. Banger

    I don’t think, Hugh, things are as bad as you make out. Most people are doing ok but increasing numbers are not–until we get to the point where most people are not doing ok we will see a continuation of the current situation. It will have to get much worse before people will take an interest in the sorts of things we discuss here. We see the trends and are alarmed–these trends have been here for decades and they are moving in a predictable direction which makes our sense of anxiety even greater.

    However, if the ruling elites can make a sh$t sandwich taste like peanut butter and honey and the common folks accept it, as they appear to be doing, then what? Hope, for me, lies in the fact the oligarchs have been unsuccessful in getting us into new wars despite pressure from the national security state and their agents in the mainstream media particularly in senior positions. Perhaps people will snap out of the strange spell they elites have been weaving for decades hiring wizards that are beyond anything Voldemort could have imagined.

    1. Jill

      Banger, I think it is that bad. I live in toledo. We have mass starvation, homelessness, poor schools and deteriorating infrastructure as in our water plant is w/in 45 mins of a serious break leading to the need to boil water for 6 months. While all of this is going on, it is invisible. We are a very spread out city. We don’t have very good news coverage here. The people who know about this are of course, those living it and the churches, shelters and food banks.

      My neighborhood has many small business people. They have lost or had to sell their businesses. People here are terrified but it is so isolated that everyone thinks they are alone or to blame for what is happening to them. They are ashamed. Due to propaganda, you will also see plenty of people who hate themselves and other poor people who have come on hard times.

      Values seem to come from the top in our society. Things such as hatred of the poor, the desire for gobs of material goods as a measure of one’s worth–these are ideas shared by all classes in our society. I do agree that we need to talk about spirituality or ethics to get through the propaganda.

      Hugh, nice job but where are the flags behind your post?

      1. Banger

        Good points—I believe we are like the blind men and the elephant–we need to blend our experiences to get a good picture of what is going on.

    2. psychohistorian

      I would encourage yo to read Monsters of the Market: Zombies, Vampires and Global Capitalism by David McNally.

  12. Doug Terpstra

    Well done, Hugh. This is a searing indictment of the Great Deceiver and the criminal kleptocracy he slavishly serves. Thank you.

    1. Susan the other

      I know. That’s Hugh. After he gets through there’s nothing else to add. Thanks Hugh for a long overdue State of the Union message.

  13. Minor Heretic

    I watched part of it, mostly with the sound off. Much more interesting that way.

    Seeing Obama framed by the faces of Biden and Boehner, I thought, “The man on the left was selected by millionaires. The man in the middle was selected by millionaires. The man on the right was selected by millionaires. And yet we are supposed to regard the two on the left as different from the one on the right.”

  14. rats burger

    Good article, but it fails to mention another sad state of our union: The cancer of selfishness, self-pity, and fear exemplified by the ever-expanding welfare and surveillance state, which overplays the race card and class warfare eating away at our country. Look at the “knockout game,” Detroit, Indian Reservations, and pretty much any large inner city to see the problem. Not only have large numbers of people given up on working, those numbers have given up on the system and on the American way of life generally. And the American Dream is crumbling with it, being replaced by a culture of fear. Americans are encouraged to be fearful of each other, fearful of expressing or acting upon their thoughts, watched ever-so-closely by corporate America and by their government.

    1. Hugh

      We all need to ask ourselves what kind of a society we want to live in. The society we live in now has everything turned upside down. What is work? Jamie Dimon makes millions, but does he work? A person takes care of a sick or elder parent, for no pay. Do they have a job? Beyond that, young people can’t work if there are no jobs. They can’t have a life if what jobs there are don’t pay a living wage.

      For me, it comes down to us taking care of each other. Respecting each other’s privacy but making sure everyone has the basics for a decent and meaningful life. If that’s welfare or socialism, I can live with that. I just don’t want the thieves in charge and people living in the streets. We can do so much better than that, and we should.

      1. Banger

        I agree but people do not know how to get there and some don’t want to get there. How do we spread the idea that we are connected? The sort of social democracy you speak of cannot be instituted even if we all agree because it requires action by the state and I can assure that the state is hopelessly corrupt. We would have to burn down half of Washington, outlaw consultants and re-configure the civil service, and, above all eliminate money from political campaigns.

  15. nycTerrierist

    Thanks, Hugh. A well-stated tonic to zero’s orgy of mendacity.
    I would have loved to see this broadcast.
    Maybe next year, someone like Bill Moyers would have you on the airwaves?
    that would be fantastic.

  16. Goyo Marquez

    Pretty much!
    Tiny suggested edit. The following needs a couple commas.
    Education through debt and lack of opportunity is discouraged.
    Education, through debt and lack of opportunity, is discouraged.

  17. Kokuanani

    With Pete Seeger’s death coming just before the SOTU [guess he couldn’t stand to listen to it either; I always wondered how he could be convinced to be a part of the celebration of Obama’s re-election], I had a fantasy that Obama would crumble up his prepared remarks and just talk off the cuff about Pete and his values, recalling the struggles he endured, his relentless optimism, and his unceasing efforts to bring people together for good.

    Listening to Seeger’s words is heart-breaking, when you reflect on what this country has become in the last 50 years, and that there’s no one — other than, perhaps, Bill Moyers, to deliver such a message any more.

    While such a speech would not reflect the current “state of the union,” it could be an inspiration for what we could strive to be.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      People don’t like to be conned and like to recognize their own ability to be conned even less. Assuming Seeger is still on the ball, does he want to acknowledge the crowd at Hyde Park as a crowd which was conned or more accurately projected various emotions on a cookie cutter pro corporate Democrat because he was black but not too black?

      The answer is no. Democrats who love Bill are will rant and rave about their policies, but they will shout down suggestions that Bill are supported those policies they hate because the con was so obvious. A lot of these Dem supporters remind me of my first year roommates relationship with his off and on girlfriend through college. It was such an obviously bad situation that his fraternity held a real intervention when he went back one time.

    2. Waking Up

      “With Pete Seeger’s death coming just before the SOTU [guess he couldn’t stand to listen to it either; I always wondered how he could be convinced to be a part of the celebration of Obama’s re-election.” Did he attend the 2013 inauguration?

      Pete Seeger, along with millions of other people, most likely wanted to believe that Obama would back his words with action back in 2008/2009. Therefore, he performed at Obama’s 2009 inauguration. The fact that he performed at Occupy Wall Street protests suggests that he later realized what Obama had become (or was all along).

  18. Jeff W

    Thanks, as always, for your post, Hugh! Your writing always nails it for me. I hope we can see (even) more of it.

  19. redleg

    I think you missed a piece, one that is overlooked by nearly everyone as far as I can tell: Fundamentalist Religion.
    I would love to see how income inequality correlates with affiliation with fundamentalist religions – I’ll bet the r^2 = 0.9 or more.

  20. dbak

    I largely agree with most of the comments here. But one of the problems are that everyone is all over the map when it comes to solutions. Perhaps it is time to focus on a single objective and take advantage of the power that exists with the internet, the sheer numbers. All would agree that the vast amount of money which is available to buy politicians is the main cause of the problems which confront the country. Why not organize the many blogs and other groups to concentrate their efforts to push for public financing for candidates for at least national offices? An organized effort may not work but does anyone have a better idea?

    1. psychohistorian

      I think a better idea is to end the ongoing accumulation of capital by the global plutocrats and return it to the global commons.

      I would encourage yo to read Monsters of the Market: Zombies, Vampires and Global Capitalism by David McNally.

  21. Podargus

    I agree with the main thrust of this article but when you equated Israel with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan you lost me. Just which planet of what solar system in which galaxy are you currently living on?

  22. Jim

    Hugh said:

    “It we are to act and if we are to be successful then we must act together.”

    Hugh I agree with much of the sentiment you expressed in your analysis but there are some extremely important issues which must be looked at closely if we are eventually to act together.

    There is a portion of the libertarian right which has an almost religious faith in the contemporary free market and there is a portion of the progressive left which has an almost religious faith in the contemporary structure of the State. The followers of both of these religious faiths automatically dismiss all other modes of political/economic organization.

    Part of the reason for this type of paralysis/dogmatism on the progressive left side(Marxism in particular and the left in general) is the historical absence of any political framework or political theory (the state was simply to mysteriously whither away)—instead of becoming the neo-totalitarian institution it is today.

    Another possible reason for the dogmatism(concerning the State) on the progressive/left side of the spectrum is its uncritical acceptance of the assumption that the US is simply another European style nation-state (like France). Such an assumption makes it extremely difficult for progressives to even consider the possibility that the US, in its formative period, was a federation founded on deep-rooted Protestant values of decentralized government and local self-determination. It is only beginning in the early 20th century that the American State really became comparable to some European states. This historical development helps to explain why today all political conflicts tend to be reduced to administrative squabbles over the extent and scope of redistribution policies(by the left and right) and why the future political vision of many of the commentators at NC centers around simply trying to fine-tune administratively the old New Deal.

    In my opinion such a vapid managerial message will only guarantee continued political irrelevance.

  23. jfleni

    RE: Real State of the Union: “Barack Obama and Eric Holder have investigated no one, prosecuted no one, and sent to prison no one for nearly destroying the economy 6 years ago or for any of their economic crimes since”.

    Barry is just a bi-racial ventriloquist’s butt-kissing dummy, mouthing the nonsense he has been programmed and paid to say. The programming started with very generous “emoluments” to write books, then more to save the banks (remember he told the bankers just after the crash “I’m the only thing between you and the pitchforks”). He may have only postponed the pitchforks.

  24. jfleni

    RE: “Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant”. (Video)

    Unfortunately, this really well-spoken lady has just won her first (minor) election; she could otherwise be a shoo-in for Congress or even the Senate. Of course the shills and butt-kissers will sneer at her socialism, but it’s much better than being grovelling butt-kissers!

  25. allcoppedout

    I couldn’t but agree Hugh I doubt we’d change many words to make the story into that of Britain, though we hardly strut the world’s stage these days, other than holding US coat-tails.

    I’ve been re-reading some old books on politics and the mass media of late An old colleague sent them when he retired. The research is 40 years’ old, but that’s the point. We were teaching to no effect at all. We still get the same chronic coverage as back then, perhaps in spades. Our own state of the nation address doesn’t even come from Cameron and his toad-twin Osbourne. The BBC does it for them.

    My home town is like a bomb-site, the only concessions to renewal a new bus station and a Council asking us what we love about the town centre through a PR agency. Prices of stuff I buy have doubled since 2007 and most people I know have seen no wage rises and many now do part-time work with no decent conditions of employment or pensions. Crime is going down as cops are busier than ever and prisons overflowing despite various community sentences and re-education schemes so full those sentenced rarely do half of them.

  26. wesmouch

    If you are a politician that wins votes by handing out goodies to the underclass you
    have an incentive to expand the underclass. Its all about the votes. In actuality you are controlled by the 0.01% that use the govt to steer money into their pockets: think the financial industry as the main beneficiary. The press serves as a propaganda arm to bamboozle the hoi polloi. This ends badly after most people lose their shirts, lose faith in the govt and start to revolt. It may be a good time to take an extended vacation out of the country.

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