Obama and socio-economic crimes against humanity

By Ameen Izzadeen
Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday appeared to be an attempt by a second-term president playing for history books to give a boost to his plunging popularity. Couched in carefully chosen words, the address was an attempt to bury his failures by showcasing a few successes. But the truth was exposed between the lines. To the politically literate, the chaff is clear from the grain.
Dabbling largely on the state of the economy, he called on the Americans to make 2014 “a year of action”. His call for action came in the context of the economic recovery that the country is making after years of recession.
He started his speech with the story of a teacher who spent extra time with a student who needed it and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades. Then he related the stories of an entrepreneur, an autoworker, a farmer and a war hero to underline that the state of the union under the Obama Presidency has become stronger. He picked and chose these examples to drive home the point that the country had made progress under his presidency while he glossed over vital issues such as gun control, the right to privacy and even the key point of his speech — inequality. Yes, to some extent, he dealt with the question of inequality, and that, too, in the American context, prompting a section of the media to describe the speech as a major address on inequality. But, deliberately or otherwise, he did not show the real picture of inequality with all its statistics. Neither did he address the root cause of inequality.
Obama said in his speech: “Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.”
But Obama would not say what economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, have said about American inequality. According to them, the total US income grew by 6 per cent during the Obama years, but 95 per cent of this growth went to the top 1 per cent. They say the share of total pre-tax income accruing to the top 1% in the US has more than doubled, from less than 10% in the 1970s to more than 20% today.
In September last year, a New York Times survey claimed that the US income inequality grew four times faster in the first three years of the Obama administration than under George Bush.
In the global context, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening at an alarming rate, with capitalist states led by the United States committing what could be described as a socio-economic version of the crimes against humanity.
Way back in the 1950s, George Kennan, a US State Department expert on diplomacy and foreign policy, would advise new diplomats before they took up their postings: “…we have about 50 per cent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 per cent of its population… Our real task is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity… To do so, we will have to dispense with sentimentality… We should cease to talk about vague and … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization.”
Although, by the turn of this century the US share of the global wealth has declined to 26 per cent and its population accounted for 4.6 per cent of the global population, there is hardly any indication that the US has given up Kennan’s advice. Iraq was invaded to maintain this inequality. The US feared for the future of the dollar as Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein was undermining it by transacting in currencies other than the US dollar. Also, the war on terror, the wars or the warlike situations in the Middle East — with Iran being shown as an enemy of oil-rich Arab countries — have helped to maintain this inequality, apart from the US arms industry and oil and construction companies benefiting from billion dollar deals. Should one say again and again that the war on Iraq was fought for oil?
The British charity Oxfam released a bombshell report ahead of last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos. The report said the wealth of the richest 85 super billionaires in the world amounted to the combined wealth of the poorest half of the global population. Statistically, the richest 85 people’s total wealth of one trillion dollars is equal to the total wealth of the poorest 3.5 billion of the world’s population.
The wealth of the richest 1% of the people in the world amounts to $110tn, or 65 times as much as the poorest half of the world, said Oxfam, which fears this concentration of economic resources is threatening political stability and driving up social tensions.
Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima said: “It is staggering that in the 21st Century, half of the world’s population – that’s three and a half billion people – own no more than a tiny elite whose numbers could all fit comfortably on a double-decker bus.”
She also said the income disparity was no accident. Rather it had been driven by a “power grab” by wealthy elites, who manipulated the political process to rig the rules of the economic system in their favour.
The report titled ‘Working for the Few’ warned that the fight against poverty could not be won until wealth inequality had been tackled.
Byanyima said: “Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table.”
In the 1960s, this was exactly what Marxist economists such as Hans Singer, Raúl Prebisch and Gunder Frank said in their ‘dependency theory’. They argued that increases in the wealth of the richer nations occurred at the expense of the poorer nations.
The dominant view of dependency theorists is that there is a dominant world capitalist system that relies on a division of labour between the rich ‘core’ countries and poor ‘peripheral’ countries. Over time, the core countries will exploit their dominance over an increasingly marginalised periphery. (http://www.economicsonline.co.uk/Global_economics/Dependency_theory.html).
The theory also suggests that wealthy nations actively perpetuate a state of dependence by various means such as economic measures, media control, politics, banking and finance, education, culture, sport, and all aspects of human resource development. If the dependent nations are seen to be taking measures to assert their economic independence, the wealthy nations actively counter these attempts by means of economic sanctions or the use of military force.
Although the dependency theory lost its shine with the triumph of capitalism over communism in the 1990s, it has not lost its validity. It’s high time a revised version of the theory was developed, taking into consideration today’s economic realities.
Besides the domestic issues, the State of the Union address also, though briefly, touched on foreign policy. Again, Obama largely talked about matters that would help boost his image as a strong, smart and selfless leader. He gloated over the troop withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, the nuclear deal with Iran, the US policy that forced Syria to handover its chemical weapons, steps being taken to close the Guantanamo Bay ‘gulag’ prison, a reduction in drone attacks and the victory over al-Qaeda.
But he did not say much about how his administration has turned the country into a police state with not only every US citizen but also every friend and foe of the United States being watched under a top-secret National Security Agency programme which whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed. During the Obama years, the people’s right to privacy eroded more rapidly than it did under Bush who introduced the draconian and anti-democratic Patriot Acts.
Although he sounded like a leader who upholds justice, Obama was silent on the injustice caused to Cuba. The United States virtually stands alone, as year after year the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly passes a resolution calling on the US to lift the sanctions on Cuba. Obama, however, indicated reciprocity in the case of Iran if the Islamic republic cooperates with the verifying mechanism of the International Atomic Energy Agency with regard to its nuclear programme.
On the Palestinian issue, too, Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, was inadequate in explaining the progress or the lack of it or exposing Israel’s skullduggery in dragging the peace process, as the April deadline set by the US for a peace accord nears. By failing to achieve any breakthrough and by sucking up to Israel, the Obama administration will go down in history as just another US administration that capitulated to the Israeli lobby; failed to uphold global justice; promoted Israel’s colonisation of Palestinian territory and condoned Israel’s horrendous war crimes.
Boasts and brazen cover-ups apart, Obama has two more State of the Union addresses before he steps down. How history will judge Obama will depend on what he does in his “Year of Action”.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
This entry was posted in Political analysis and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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