The president last week signed a nearly trillion-dollar Farm Bill that, besides rewarding the ultra-rich, immediately cuts an average $100 a month from the food stamp stipends of nearly a million more people. Yet there he goes, traveling the country, claiming to be a champion of the oppressed. Look at the graphic put out by the White House. The most cherished aspect of the Farm Bill is that it "strengthens the economy" by reducing the deficit in the usual way: enriching the rich while immiserating the poor. So much for Income Inequality being the "challenging issue" of Obama's time. I think he meant that it's a challenge for him to hide the wealth gap by constructing a flimsy neoliberal "Opportunity Bridge" over it.
And the media, bless their cold, cold hearts, are giving Obama the usual free pass for his marathon cruise down the Hypocrisy Highway.
Paul Krugman is a case in point. Although he has previously railed against cuts to food assistance at a time when more people than ever are in need of it, he is now choosing to ignore the ignominious signing ceremony. He used his latest column space to once again elide the connivance of Obama and his Democratic toadies, and blast Republicans for "writing off" the unemployed.
My published response:
While the GOP is sadistically open in their disdain for struggling people, "centrist" Democrats try to keep their own complicity hidden behind their increasingly feeble "I feel your pain" platitudes.
For example, when the president signed the corporation-friendly Farm Bill last week, he effectively condemned almost a million more people -- the young, the disabled, the working poor, and the elderly -- to hunger. He put his imprimatur on an additional $8 billion in SNAP cuts. Yet, he had the chutzpah to call it a bipartisan victory! He suggested, with a straight face and with all apparent sincerity, that people can now use less money to buy more farm-fresh food! He even blustered on about deficit reduction, celebrating "common sense" reforms. (When politicians yack about common sense, you can rest assured that the commons will not benefit.)
He's euphemized income inequality into "the opportunity gap." Austerity is alive and well in both branches of the Money Party. Republicans hate you with a passion, Democrats love you to death. Corporate con artists get tax breaks and deferred prosecution agreements. And you get bupkis.
And so, when they flood my inbox with appeals for campaign donations in order to "make my voice heard" on the social ill du jour, I inform them that all my spare change is going to help my food bank. My long-term unemployed, retired, low-wage and disabled neighbors shouldn't have to choose between heating and eating in this long, hard, cold, cruel winter.There is a woman in my town who, even though she herself is on disability and her 13-year-old car is falling apart, has made it her mission to drive around to the homes of needy neighbors to distribute the day-old bread that the local bakery is giving away for free. This past weekend, a bunch of high school kids held a food drive outside the Stop N Shop, asking emerging customers to donate just one item from their shopping carts for the rapidly depleting local food pantry. That's how bad it's getting in New York and many other areas of the country.
But Marie Antoinette's disembodied head must have been beaming and cackling from the grave last week at the spectacle of Obama signing the Farm Bill in Michigan. I'm including some highlights (or should I say storm-clouds) of his speech. Gratuitous overused neoliberal buzzwords, a/k/a soothing dog-whistles to Wall Street, are in bold:
And today, thanks to your grit and your ingenuity and dogged determination, the American auto industry’s engines are roaring again and we are building the best cars in the world again. And some plants are running three shifts around the clock -- something that nobody would have imagined just a few years ago. (Applause.)(And the auto union has been decimated and the wages have sunk, but the new CEO of GM is now getting paid the insane salary of $14 million a year. Using the tried and true flattery method, Obama goes on the immediate offensive. Cajole the regular workers into feeling good by praising their grit. Make them believe that their toiling in sleep-deprived swing shifts for the benefit of the uber-rich is the patriotic thing to do. The workers of America, though not well-paid, are akin to noble heroic sled dogs, determined to carry the load over the frozen wastes of the corporate globe with nary a pause for food or rest. So stop your barking and forge ahead!)
I just had lunch with Detroit’s new Mayor, Mike Duggan. (Applause.) He told me if there’s one thing that he wants everybody to know, it’s that Detroit is open for business. And I have great confidence that he’s going to provide the leadership that we need. (Applause.) Really proud of him. The point is we’ve all had to buckle down. We’ve all had to work hard. We’ve had to fight our way back these past five years. And in a lot of ways, we are now better positioned for the 21st century than any other country on Earth.(He gets applause for announcing that he ate lunch? So much neoliberal bunk in just one tiny paragraph. The new mayor replacing the jailed mayor has gotten the message and hastens to reassure Wall Street that his tragic city is wide open for capitalistic plunder. Obama's repetitive use of We manipulates the audience into believing that the rentiers extracting the resources and the victims being extracted are members of the same team. He tries to fool you into thinking the rich are "sacrificing" as much as you are. Thanks to the financial meltdown orchestrated by unprosecuted financiers, we are now better positioned to screw you over, because it's always easier for financial bullies to kick the little guy, the pensioner, the retired teacher, when they're already down.)
This morning, we learned that our businesses in the private sector created more than 140,000 jobs last month, adding up to about 8.5 million new jobs over the past four years. (Applause.) Our unemployment rate is now the lowest it’s been since before I was first elected. Companies across the country are saying they intend to hire even more folks in the months ahead. And that’s why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America.(Nice try, Mr. Plutocratic Front Man. Officially, there are 10 million unemployed people in America, up from 6.8 million in 2007. One out of every six men of working age is jobless. There are three times as many long-term unemployed today than there were in 2006. As the World Socialist Website explains it, "these figures tell just part of the story, since they track only those who are actively looking for work. According to a survey by the Economic Policy Institute, a further 5.73 million 'missing workers' have dropped out of the labor force over the past five years for non-demographic reasons. If these missing workers were counted as unemployed, the unemployment rate would be 9.9 percent.
"The true scale of the jobs deficit is indicated by the fact that the US economy had 866,000 fewer jobs last month than it had in January 2008, while the working-age population had increased by ten million people.")
Sounds more like a Breaking Bad year for America, if you ask me.
And I’ve come here today to sign a bill that hopefully means folks in Washington feel the same way -- that instead of wasting time creating crises that impede the economy, we’re going to have a Congress that’s ready to spend some time creating new jobs and new opportunities, and positioning us for the future and making sure our young people can take advantage of that future.
And that’s important, because even though our economy has been growing for four years now, even though we’ve been adding jobs for four years now, what’s still true -- something that was true before the financial crisis, it’s still true today -- is that those at the very top of the economic pyramid are doing better than ever, but the average American’s wages, salaries, incomes haven’t risen in a very long time. A lot of Americans are working harder and harder just to get by -- much less get ahead -- and that’s been true since long before the financial crisis and the Great Recession.(I've said it before, and I'll say it again: heed Noam Chomsky, and run for the hills whenever you hear a politician utter the word folks. Obama uses the word in two different contexts. First, as a term to subtly denigrate you. You're just plain folks, instead of astute human beings. Second, he uses the term to soften up and humanize plunderers and miscreants -- such as, "the folks on Wall Street," and "the folks in Washington." George W. Bush, though, really took it too far that time he talked about "the terrorist folks."
But back to the above paragraph. This is the standard part of every Obama speech where the left side of his mouth seems to take over, and he pivots and appears to be talking to or debating with himself. We're booming back, but wait... we're not really booming back. He feels your pain, folks! He gets that you're suffering succotash, and that the One Percent is sucking it all up. Of course, even though he is overseeing the worst wealth disparity in American history, the trend started long, long, long before he himself became a Washington Folk.)
And so we’ve got to reverse those trends. We’ve got to build an economy that works for everybody, not just a few. We’ve got to restore the idea of opportunity for all people -- the idea that no matter who you are, what you look like, where you came from, how you started out, what your last name is, you can make it if you’re willing to work hard and take responsibility. That’s the idea at the heart of this country. That’s what’s at stake right now. That’s what we’ve got to work on. (Applause.)(We, we, we, all the way to the ideational, nonexistent Land of Opportunity where taxing the rich and redistributing the wealth are never mentioned. Again, with the free market gospel of "if you work hard and play by the rules, you too can dream of riches beyond your wildest imagination". He stresses the Randian power of the individual will, rather than the need for community and solidarity with your fellow human beings. Soothe the plutocrats, nip the idea of a resurgence of the Occupy movement right in the bud.)
And that is why I could not be prouder of our leaders who are here today. Debbie in particular, I could not be prouder of your own Debbie Stabenow, who has done just extraordinary work. (Applause.) We all love Debbie for a lot of reasons. She’s been a huge champion of American manufacturing but really shepherded through this farm bill, which was a very challenging piece of business. She worked with Republican Senator Thad Cochran, who I think was very constructive in this process. We had Representatives Frank Lucas, a Republican, working with Collin Peterson, a Democrat. We had a terrific contribution from our own Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, who deserves a big round of applause. (Applause.)(Challenging and Constructive are Austerian code words for cuts, cuts, and more cuts. Debbie Stabenow, the Democrat who came up with the bright idea of cutting food stamps for people who also get extra heating assistance during the coldest winter in living memory, also receives more financial aid from Big Ag than any other senator. But here, she is hilariously cast by her Party Leader as the Tender Shepherd....omitting the X-rated part where the flock gets turned into lamb chops... or maybe even the dreaded giraffe meat.
Now here comes the comic relief part, where in inappropriately jocular fashion, Obama pivots to the real Nitty Gritty:
Now, despite its name, the farm bill is not just about helping farmers. Secretary Vilsack calls it a jobs bill, an innovation bill, an infrastructure bill, a research bill, a conservation bill. It’s like a Swiss Army knife. (Laughter.) It’s like Mike Trout -- for those of you who know baseball. (Laughter.) It’s somebody who’s got a lot of tools. It multitasks. It’s creating more good jobs, gives more Americans a shot at opportunity. And there are two big ways in which it does so.(At least he's being unintentionally honest about the cuts and the pain. Swiss army knives, baseball bats, sharp tools, and shots never fail to get a big guffaw from the ovine audience being lead to the slaughter!)
This bill supports businesses working to develop cutting-edge biofuels -- like some of the work that's being done here at Michigan State. That has the potential to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. It boosts conservation efforts so that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy places like the Mississippi River Valley and Chesapeake Bay.(Reaganomics won't just trickle down,it'll gush forth in a veritable flood of liquid manure. And why not, since Obama got his political start with the help of such Big Ag megaliths as Archer Daniels Midland. Corn, baby, corn! For our children, of course.)
(Whenever Obama is trying to pull a fast one, he references Michelle as both his inspiration and the object of his fear. You might even call the word Michelle a neoliberal catch-phrase as used in the context of an Obama speech. He is telling us that he is just like all the henpecked husbands of America, tryin' to avoid the wrath of Wifey. Of course, he fails to mention that it was Michelle's Let's Move healthy school lunch program that "borrowed" the first round of cuts from the SNAP funding last year.)It supports local food by investing in things like farmers markets and organic agriculture -- which is making my wife very happy. And when Michelle is happy, I don't know about everybody being happy, but I know I'm happy. (Laughter and applause.) And so it's giving smaller producers, local producers, folks like Ben, the opportunity to sell more of their products directly, without a bunch of processing and distributors and middlemen that make it harder for them to achieve. And it means that people are going to have healthier diets, which is, in turn, going to reduce incidents of childhood obesity and keep us healthier, which saves us all money.
The second thing this farm bill does -- that is huge -- is help make sure America’s children don’t go hungry. (Applause.) And this is where Debbie’s work was really important. One study shows that more than half of all Americans will experience poverty at some point during their adult lives. Now, for most folks that's when you're young and you're eating ramen all the time. But for a lot of families, a crisis hits, you lose your job, somebody gets sick, strains on your budget -- you have a strong work ethic, but it might take you six months, nine months, a year to find a job. And in the meantime, you’ve got families to feed.(I really don't know what to make of this paragraph. I suppose he means that by cutting only $8 billion from food stamps in this go-round, only a million more households will have to go hungry... as opposed to all 47 million currently receiving meager SNAP benefits. But still, it took a lot of chutzpah for him to utter those words. And he's not done yet. Totally ignoring, a la Paul Krugman, those one million unlucky "undeserving poor" duckies getting cut with his folksy Swiss Army Knife, he continues the charade:)
That’s why my position has always been that any farm bill I sign must include protections for vulnerable Americans, and thanks to the good work of Debbie and others, this bill does that. (Applause.) And by giving Americans more bang for their buck at places like farmers markets, we’re making it easier for working families to eat healthy foods and we're supporting farmers like Ben who make their living growing it. So it’s creating new markets for produce farmers, and it means that people have a chance to directly buy from their farmers the kind of food that’s going to keep them healthy.(Again, the Good Shepherdess and her Mother Teresa-like Good Works persona serves to mask the bipartisan condemnation to hunger of nearly one million additional people. This is the part of the speech I referenced in my Krugman comment, where Obama insinuates that you can now buy more farm-fresh food with less food stamp money. So gas up the car, folks, and have a folksy visit with Old MacDonald. Ee-i-ee-i-oh....bama.)
And the truth is a lot of folks go through tough times at some points in their lives. That doesn’t mean they should go hungry. Not in a country like America. So investing in the communities that grow our food, helping hardworking Americans put that food on the table -- that’s what this farm bill does, all while reducing our deficits through smart reforms.
It doesn’t include everything that I’d like to see. And I know leaders on both sides of the aisle feel the same way. But it’s a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come through with this bill, break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven partisan decision-making, and actually get this stuff done. (Applause.) That's a good sign.(They shouldn't go hungry, but because Obama just signed this abomination of a Farm Bill, they will be going hungry. Instead of mewling he'd prefer not to see kids going to bed hungry, he could have vetoed the bill and sent it back to Congress, demanding that SNAP be expanded and kids get fed three times a day. But that wouldn't have been Bipartisan. It wouldn't have been a good sign. Millionaires agreeing trumps vulnerable people eating.
And despite claims from Krugman and others that Austerity Is Dead and the deficit hawks have all flown home with their tail-feathers between their legs, Obama is still harping on Deficit Reduction. This is the biggest dog-whistle of all to Pete Peterson and the cabal of Wall Street billionaires who feel personally affronted every time a regular person gets an "entitlement." Smart reforms, as you all know, is another neoliberal buzzword for continued pain for the masses, and boundless pleasure for the insatiable greedheads of the plutocracy. People who, despite giving nothing back to society, are never held accountable for the ten-course luxury meals they enjoy on the public dime. Meals they enjoy thanks in large part to the latest gift of corporate welfare bestowed upon them in the latest Farm Bill.)
(The bill is signed.) (Applause.)