Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Obama's State of the Union and FDR's Alphabet Soup

(President Obama, photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Shortly into the 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama lauded "The lowest unemployment rate in over five years." That's when I knew I could turn my television off and find something more productive to do, like fixing a chicken sandwich and watching Tom & Jerry: The Golden Collection. The unemployment rate has dropped, not because the labor market is hunky-dory, but because the jobless are giving up looking for work, and are no longer counted as "unemployed" by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Think of it this way: If every unemployed person gave up looking for work the unemployment rate would be 0%.

This morning, I read the text of the Obama's speech, and I saw contradictory statements about how (a) the state of our union is "strong" and (b) "average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled." That's when I knew I had made the right decision to turn the television off. How can our nation be "strong" when the American Dream is dying? I'm reminded of "doublethink" and "newspeak," from George Orwell's 1984.

(Beginning at 14:20, President Obama is introduced and makes his way to the podium. The only thing missing is "We Will Rock You" by Queen. Notice the happy faces of all those in Congress, as Obama makes his way down the aisle. It is indeed a great time to be rich, as most members of Congress are. Unemployment? Homelessness? Stagnant wages? Debt collectors harassing hard-working Americans? Old age poverty looming on the horizon for millions? Bah! Those are the problems of the little people. Most members of Congress spend their days seeking campaign contributions and planning for their lucrative jobs in Corporate America after their political gigs are over. Maybe that's why only 13% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing which, of course, is a reflection of our own inability to elect people who will truly represent us.)  

I'm not an "Obama hater," as so many millions are, but he doesn't inspire me in any way, shape, or form. He's definitely done some good things, e.g., helping to expand Medicaid and helping to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but he's too accommodating to Corporate America and big financial institutions, especially in light of the fact that these groups have exported good American jobs and engaged in all manner of fraud. President Franklin Roosevelt said he welcomed the hatred of greedy corporate types, but Obama seems to go out of his way to please them (for example, read this article about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade "partnership" that is sure to lower the standard of living, again, for American workers, while the 1% rakes in more cash).

And Obama's proposed solutions are not only too corporate-friendly, they're just plain underwhelming, as Lynn Stuart Parramore pointed out after Obama's speech: "Instead of tapping into the full power of the federal government to tackle our most urgent problems, Obama meekly suggested that government might, in certain cases, be obligated to do something. A little something. At some point."

(President Franklin Roosevelt, photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Unlike the timid, ambiguous, and fraudster-friendly policy "solutions" that we're subjected to today, FDR and his New Deal policy-makers took bold & decisive steps to help Americans. Their alphabet soup of programs--TVA, FDIC, WPA, CCC, and many more--mitigated the misery of the Great Depression, set the stage for America's post-WWII economic prosperity, and created the physical and policy infrastructure needed for middle-class growth in subsequent decades.

In last night's State of the Union speech, President Obama used the two happy words that we've heard for the past 5-6 years: "Innovation" and "Entrepreneur." Heck, he even rhymed with them: "And let’s pass a patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly, needless litigation." The words "innovation" and "entrepreneur" have been used, I think, more often than any other words since the start of the Great Recession. They've been used to mask structural unemployment problems, and to justify the lack of stronger action. Those with good jobs and prestigious positions in government, business, and academia, tell those who can't find good jobs, "Hey, be an entrepreneur! Be innovative!" It's nonsense, of course, uttered by those who are not desperate for work.

Unemployed & underpaid Americans would be better off if the powers-that-be adopted New Deal policies, and stopped droning on about "entrepreneurs" and "innovation." We don't need happy words, we need jobs and raises. We need some alphabet soup.

(Probably the most interesting thing to come out of the State of the Union event was Republican Congressman Michael Grimm's threat to throw reporter Michael Scotto off the "f*&king balcony." Scotto had inquired about an ethics investigation into campaign contributions Grimm has received. Our political "leaders" don't like it when you ask about where they're getting their money from, so Grimm warned Scott that if he ever did that again, "I'll break you in half. Like a boy." Yes folks, this is our Congress. Demonizing the less fortunate, getting campaign cash from questionable sources, and then threatening to throw people off the "f*&king balcony." Is it any wonder that the American Dream has gone the way of the Dodo Bird?)


  1. Nonsense! Besides, what has Grimm got to do with wit anyway.

    Our President will do it by Executive Order if Congress won't budge. That ought to stir up the conservative bees. Do I hear the buzz of "power mad" among the flowers?

    Go, Obama, go!!!

    1. Thanks for your comment Hawkeye. I hope Obama does stir up the conservative bees. But I'm not convinced he has the inclination to make more than some minor incremental changes; and he's also very limited in what he can do via executive order. For example, when Roosevelt created the WPA, he did so with an executive order, but the executive order was only possible because of an earlier-passed appropriations bill from Congress. But hey, if Obama can do something major, and something progressive, I won't mind being proven wrong.