Sunday, January 06, 2008

Snake Oil: The State Of The Union

[Originally posted at on January 31, 2006]

As the nation prepares to hear the President's rendition of the State of the Union address, the Republican-dominated Congress is besieged by financing and ethics scandals, Exxon-Mobil just posted the largest earnings in U.S. corporate history and the Enron trial is about to begin, the last couple elections have been run like a third-world election (in fact, worse than many third-world election, according to former President Carter), the so-called moral debate centers around Brokeback Mountain instead of around the immorality of the 2006 budget, the war in Iraq still continues 32 months after the President declared "mission accomplished" from the deck of an air carrier hi-jacked for a photo-op. The list goes on. Yet, I’ll wager you that all of that combined won't keep the President from declaring that "The state of the Union is confident and strong."

Of course, one must take such probable declaration of confidence with a grain of salt, since the man making it is the same who, in last year's State of the Union address, vowed to solve Social Security’s impending crisis. Remember what he said? People expect the President to lead and to come up with solutions to problems, instead of dodging the issues and passing them on to the next President. Have you heard anything on Social Security lately? Didn’t think so. Now that the President has all but given up on his attempts to privatize Social Security (because, absent a real crisis, his purported solution would have just served as a push for privatization to appease some of his most generous donors), he will try again tonight to convince us of yet another impending crisis. Over forty million people, many of whom are children, go without healthcare insurance. Sixty million more have lapses in coverage each year. There's a real crisis.

Unfortunately, the President's solution for the healthcare crisis does not contemplate the government stepping into the picture to force HMOs and Big Pharma to cut the administrative and other arbitrary costs that make the U.S. healthcare system one of the most expensive, ill-managed, and piratical in the world. No sir. His solution is not to create a national healthcare system, fashioned after Canada’s or Sweden’s for example, that would help the neediest citizens take care of their health and that would help struggling companies cope with the rising costs of private insurance that have been blamed for the loss of competitiveness sustained by U.S. companies against their foreign counterparts. Nope. After all, U.S. healthcare is the best in the world, for those who are lucky enough to have coverage. The President could mandate that companies like Wal-Mart provide affordable healthcare to their employees, instead of teaching them how to collect Medicare from the government. Instead, he will propose larger tax credits for those who choose to invest a part of their pre-tax income into health spending accounts (HSAs). Ask a Wal-Mart worker how much of the average $14,000 income or so he or she intends to save into HSAs. The answer: zip-zilch-nada. Sorry, can't afford it. See you in the ER, America.

Wanna know about another crisis? In Oct 2001 the national average for a gallon of gas was $1.235 ( Four years later, the price of a gallon of gasoline averages $2.19 nationally ( So what are the President's ideas for solving the energy crisis: Alternative fuels? Bio-diesel? Hybrid cars? Government-funded research to extend the availability of hydrogen-powered vehicles? Real incentives for solar and wind power? No sir. The President's solution is to secure more oil by planting our National Guard divisions in the Middle East, instead of keeping them home to deal with the aftermath of the most devastating hurricane season in history. Or opening ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), in Alaska, up for drilling. So much for environmental stewardship which is a responsibility of each good Christian. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, to help the "ailing" oil industry.

What about the devastating effects of lobbying and ethics violations in Washington? President Bush will likely propose or rubberstamp some empty initiative, like asking Congress to outlaw gifts from lobbyists to congressmen. There is something the President will probably find rare bipartisan support for. Never mind the fact that there is already a cap on gifts of $50 per year that no one abides by. Don't bite the hand that feeds.

And what will the President say about the war in Iraq, for which he declared victory in May 2003? Will he announce that the troops will start returning, after being exposed to urban warfare, which they were never equipped to deal with in the first place, for almost three years after the victory speech? Will he vow to support veterans after they come back, spent and maimed, after their tour of duty has been extended to over twice the original length? Will he support them in deeds, as well as in words, or will he say one thing and underfund the VA administration budget again?

So there, that's the State of the Union in 2006.

By a strange and fortunate set of circumstances, for him, the President will get to deliver his message to the nation on the very day that the Senate confirms his controversial Supreme Court nominee, judge Sam Alito. The confirmation comes at the end of an extended hearing process which has been threatened by the possibility of a filibuster by Senate Democrats, many of whom have instead decided to lay down their arms at the last minute, fearing the possible reprisal of their states' electors in the 2006 midterm elections. You see, in many states the choice for progressive voters now comes down to right-wing Republicans and Republicans-lite, formerly known as Democrats.

So don't be fooled tonight, when the President says that the state of our union is confident and strong. For it is not. Just count the number of references to 9/11 and to the war on terror, the only two things that the President can continue to use to rally the nation around him. Then you will see through his words, and you will realize how flimsy the President’s representation of the State of the Union really is. In five years, the uniter has done little but divide, and the Union, the union we live in--not the one in the President's script, is worse for it, and it is on a steady and unstoppable fall. And if you think that things are about to get better with the upcoming Congressional elections, that the tide is about to turn, that the common man has just about had enough of the scandals, the lies, the manipulation, and the cronyism of this administration and this Congress, think again. Read Mark Crispin Miller's foreboding "Fooled Again" instead. As Miller so eloquently and dishearteningly shows in his book, it's not who think you voted for. It's who Diebold, ESS, and Sequoia say you voted for. The state of this union is not about to get any better, unless you stand up to your representatives and say, loud and clear, peacefully but unwaveringly: enough is enough. But don't you wait for Nov 7 to send your message, at the polls. Go to, or, and look for something to do. Now. If you don't, your vote on the State of the Union might have already been cast.

May 2006 be the year you and I, all of us, rise up and fight, peacefully but resolutely, for what we stand for.

P.S. For those who are not as stubborn as I am in trying to fix the electoral affairs of the union, there is still plenty to do. Media reform, energy reform, and healthcare reform are just some of the things you can get involved in. For more info, see the links in the Activism section of the Links page.

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