Monday, January 28, 2008

Live-blogging the State of the Union (because, apparently, I have nothing better to do)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Update -- 1:42 am: The transcript of the SOTU is here.

I want to stress two points, upon reflection:

1) The speech was incredibly lame and uninspiring, very much a reflection of the Bush presidency.

2) A key theme that connected many of the seemingly disconnected items is, as I call it below, plutocracy. Bush may reach out and appeal to the theocratic right, but he is no theocrat. Or, rather, he is less a theocrat than a business-friendly conservative.

Hence: permanent tax cuts for the wealthy; free trade; an HMO- and Big Pharma-friendly health care scheme; a foreign-worker program to supply cheap labour; immunity for the telcoms on FISA; a nuclear- and coal-oriented energy plan; and an aggressive defence of American interests in the Persian Gulf, that is, of the oil industry and of the relentless pursuit of oil.

Bush talked over and over again about empowerment, playing the populist card for his party heading into this year's election season (the Dems will be portrayed as pro-government, of course), but that was all a facade. What matters to him most is the empowerment of business and of the wealthy, and especially of his wealthy friends in business, many of them in the energy sector.

Bush is a theocrat to some degree just as he is a neocon to some degree (as with his delusional defence of the Iraq War), but what he is most of all is a plutocrat. His vision of America is one in which corporations control Washington and are otherwise left alone to pursue their greedy ambitions unfettered by government interference or regulation. He is not a man of the people but the Big Business president, very much the antithesis of a man of the people. He has been able to secure the support of all three major planks of the Republican coalition during his presidency -- the theocrats on social policy, the neocons on foreign policy, and the free-marketeers on economic policy -- but his core is a plutocratic one.

If it means anything, the candidate most like him is Mitt Romney (although Romney seems to be more fiscally responsible).


8:54 pm: How silly is CNN's countdown to the SOTU? Obviously, the much bigger story is Ted Kennedy's endorsement of Obama -- a not insignificant development in what is looking like a much tighter race after the South Carolina vote.

Seriously, though, what the hell am I doing? Why bother with this. I have many, many, many better things to do.

Besides, it's not like we don't already know, for the most part, what Bush is going to say. There are previews of the SOTU, as well as of the Democratic response from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, at every major news site -- previews that quote liberally from the prepared texts of those addresses, texts that have been given to the media well in advance of the addresses themselves. If you care, see, inter alia, CNN, MSNBC, and CBS.

And CBS, at least, gets the main point across in its headline: "Bush: 'No Doubt' The Surge Is Working."

Yes, whatever else Bush has to say over the course of his 45-minute speech (yes, we already know how long it will be, more or less) -- and it is being reported that he will announce a $300-million boost to his Every Child Left Behind program -- we are sure to get more of his delusional happy-talk on pretty much everything, and especially Iraq. The economy's fine, he'll say, damn to hell what's really going on, and he'll pump up Iraq as a rousing success. You know: the surge is working, al Qaeda is on the run, yadda-freakin'-yadda.

I remember blogging about this last year. This will be more of the same.

Check back for updates. I'll add more during the speech -- if he says anything particularly interesting.

And he's still the president, after all. Which is why we pay attention even with many, many, many better things to do. And who knows? -- maybe he'll declare war on something.

Good times ahead.


9:04 pm: Cheney and Pelosi, side-by-side. It's like an awkward family reunion.

CNN just reported on the supposed awkwardness between Clinton and Obama. Kennedy reached out to shake Clinton's hand, but Obama turned away.

Yet more nonsense. All the media want is drama, and they'll make it up if they have to.

And here he comes... George W. Bush.


9:14 pm: Taxes, fucking, taxes. It's always the same from Bush and the GOP. The only way to end the economic "uncertainty" -- and what an appalling euphemism that is! -- is to make the tax cuts permanent. In other words: plutocracy. Screw the masses. He talks up "empowerment," but what he really wants is tax "relief" for the rich.

Wait, did Bush just talk about balancing the budget? Now that's funny.


9:18 pm: Make health care more affordable for all Americans? How can people be empowered to make decisions about their health care if they don't have health care in the first place?

Obama looks thoroughly unamused.


9:20 pm: Ooh, higher math scores. Is that a significant accomplishment given how low the bar has been set? Although, when you test as poorly as Americans so, across the board, I suppose any improvement is an accomplishment. But how exactly was this measured? By making the tests easier?

Is empowerment the White House word of the day?

I wish I were empowered enough to turn the TV off.

I need a beer. Hold on.


9:24 pm: Mmmm. Abbot Ale from England. A fine, fine beer.

Wait... "false purveyors of populism?" Is he describing himself? He's talking about empowerment, about the collective wisdom of the common people, about helping out the common people, but his agenda is all about benefitting friendly corporations and the wealthy.


9:26 pm: Coal and nuclear, eh? There goes the environment. Global warming, here we come! Thanks, Mr. President, for taking the lead in fucking our planet.

Oh! Global climate change!

Well, at least he mentioned it. Whatever.


9:29 pm: And he's not a complete retrograde on stem-cell research. Okay.


9:31 pm: I think I need something stronger. Whiskey? Maybe later. Vodka? I think I ran out. I'm sure this would be a lot funnier if I were smoking a joint -- not that I admit to ever having done anything of the sort.


9:34 pm: A foreign-worker program. That should make the business community happy. But at least he understand that illegal immigration is "complicated" -- in his defence, he's not a xenophobic nativist like so many in his party.


9:36 pm: 9/11 and bloodshed. Evil men. "We will deliver justice to our enemies." If he shows nuance on immigration, he shows nothing but frontier manichaeanism in this area. It's us and them, good and evil, black and white. He doesn't have a clue.

"We are spreading the hope of freedom." How? By waging a disastrous war in Iraq? By propping up tyrants in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and wherever else such tyranny is convenient?

More troops to Afghanistan? There should have been more troops there a long time ago. Instead, there was...


9:39 pm: Iraq!

And the surge.

Yes, yes, the troops have our gratitude. Obviously. Who is against the troops? This is how he and the warmongers and so many on the right try to corner us, by equating opposition to the war with opposition to the troops. But they are not one and the same.

Yes, as expected -- the surge has worked. (No, it hasn't.) It's the sort of delusional happy-talk we've come to expect from him.

"Al Qaeda is on the run, and this enemy will be defeated." This is al Qaeda in Iraq, though, not al Qaeda generally. And they won't be defeated in Iraq. If anything, they'll just melt away. And what about the Shiite militias and Sunni insurgent groups (some the latter armed and funded by the U.S.)? Al Qaeda isn't a threat to Iraq the way the deep-rooted sectarianism is. And that sectarianism isn't going away anytime soon. It is lying low, riding out the surge... and it will explode soon enough, sinking Iraq ever deeper into chaos and anarchy... and genocide.

But we can't talk about that, right? Let's just talk about how much we respect and admire the troops. Hoo-wah!


9:47 pm: Some troops will be coming home, but further drawdowns will be up to Petraeus and the military. Which means... what? Endless war? Do America's civilian leaders have no say in the matter?

There's nothing funny about any of this.


9:49 pm: "The mission in Iraq has been difficult and trying for our nation." You think?

"We will not rest until this enemy has been defeated."

Yup: endless war.

What a simple, simple world Bush and his simple, simple mind inhabit.


9:52 pm: It's a bit late in your presidency to start caring about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Do you really think your lame-duck trip to the Middle East was a success, or in some way meaningful?


9:53 pm: Our vital interests in the Persian Gulf.

OIL. Which is what so much of this is about, right? The failed Texas oilman bailed out by Poppy and the Saudis, an oilman as Veep, promoting oil interests and waging war to secure access to oil. It's an oil-based plutocracy, this Bush-based dystopia.


9:56 pm: "America is opposed genocide in Sudan."

Then do something about it! It's not enough just to talk about it. So you're opposed to what happened in Burma. And?


Seriously, why am I doing this? I feel nauseous.


9:59 pm: Support for the vets. Yet another courageous position. Who is against vets? Oh, right, there was that whole Walter Reed thing. Remember that, Mr. President? That wasn't so good.


10:01 pm: A history lesson. "The miracle of America," or something like that. I can't take much more of this.

You want a beacon of hope? Come to Canada. Seriously.


10: 02 pm: And it's over.

Shots of Bush and Cheney, Obama and Kennedy. And the voice of Wolf Blitzer. Which is my cue to turn the channel. I'm sure there's a Seinfeld rerun I can find. Or a basketball game. Or something. Anything.


Oh, in case you were wondering, the state of the union is fine -- "strong," actually.

Sure it is.

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