(optional soundtrack, but you probably should skip it: it's fingernails across blackboard annoying)
And they wonder why millions of desperate people are flocking to the neo-fascism of Donald Trump?
Here was Barack Obama doing his best Mama Rose impression last week in Elkhart, Indiana:
By almost every economic measure, America is better off than when I came here at the beginning of my presidency. That’s the truth. That’s true. (Applause.) It’s true. (Applause.) Over the past six years, our businesses have created more than 14 million new jobs -- that’s the longest stretch of consecutive private sector job growth in our history. We’ve seen the first sustained manufacturing growth since the 1990s. We cut unemployment in half, years before a lot of economists thought we would. We’ve cut the oil that we buy from foreign countries by more than half, doubled the clean energy that we produce. For the first time ever, more than 90 percent of the country has health insurance. (Applause.)Obama can plead truth-telling three times in one stinking paragraph, but it doesn't change the facts.
The day after his legacy-burnishing speech, an Elkhart electronic components factory announced it will cease production, laying off more than 200 workers. Then came the worst jobs report in five years. For every new job created last month, 12 more people simply gave up looking for work. People who give up are not counted among the unemployed. Thus, a jobless rate of four percent is worse than meaningless. It's misleading.
But Obama thinks it's all swell, it's all great, that you'll have the whole world on your plate:
Now, here’s the truth -- you can look it up. These journalists here, they can do some fact-checking. As a share of the economy, we spend less on domestic priorities outside of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid -- we spend less than we did when Ronald Reagan was President. (Applause.) When President Reagan or George W. Bush held this job, our deficits got bigger. When Bill Clinton and I have held this job, deficits have gotten smaller. (Applause.) Our deficits have not grown these past seven and a half years; we’ve actually cut the deficit by almost 75 percent. (Applause.)Even though it has been thoroughly debunked as a growth booster, austerity absolutely kicks ass. (Yours.) The president bragging about how New Democrats have colluded to cut social programs like food stamps and long-term unemployment insurance is a real winner in an election year. Obama spent less on people than Ronald Reagan did, and those silly Republicans still complain that he's not mean enough? Come on.
But Obama's spinning is only just beginning. Hillary and Bill cutting millions of people off welfare 20 years ago and doubling the extreme poverty rate in the process was just so totally awesome:
Moreover, there are fewer families on welfare than in the 1990s. Funding has been frozen for two decades. There's not a whole bunch of giveaways going on right now. Aside from our obligation to care for the elderly and Americans with disabilities, the vast majority of people who get help from the federal government are families of all backgrounds who are working, striving to get back on their feet, striving to get back into the middle class. And sometimes, yes, their kids need temporary help from food stamps when mom and dad are between jobs. But look, these kids didn’t cause the financial crisis. These kids aren’t spending us into bankruptcy. They're not what's holding back the middle class. And, by the way, neither is Obamacare. (Applause.)
Making mothers with very small children leave their children to go to work at minimum wage jobs was just what the oligarchy doctor ordered. The Clintonoid welfare reform succeeded in suppressing wages and weakening labor unions. It made desperation the new normal. And if you can't be a desperate striver, struggling to get into the nonexistent middle class, they'll cut you off at the knees. Oh, and Obama even falsely equates hungry innocent children with market-based junk insurance while he's at it. (And they say that Donald Trump is a sociopath.)
Still, if you insist on feeling miserable and hungry, rest assured that Obama wants to make Third World workers even more miserable than you are. Thanks to Chinese slave labor, for example, even poor Americans can numb their sorrows by staring at a cheap imported flat screen TV.
Now, it is true that a lot of supporters of trade deals in the past sometimes oversold all the good that it was going to do for the economy. The truth is, the benefits of trade are usually widely spread -- it’s one of the reasons why you can buy that big, flat-screen TV for a couple hundred bucks, and why the cost of a lot of basic necessities have gone down. Some parts of the economy, like the agricultural sector or the tech sector have really done well with trade. Some sectors and communities have been hurt by foreign competition.So pay no attention to Donald Trump's claim that China is killing us and immigrants are taking all our jobs. Even as we speak, Homeland Security is rounding up and deporting thousands of innocent refugees fleeing the violence and strife in Central America.
But since it's an election year, and Hillary Clinton is winning only by virtue of an orchestrated party machine funded by millionaires and billionaires, and she still needs those Sanders voters, Barack Obama will nobly co-opt Bernie Sanders. Belatedly admitting that most people are just too flat broke to save, he is pivoting from cutting Social Security to strengthening Social Security. Curtain up, light the lights, you've got nothing to hit but the heights!
But look, let’s face it -- a lot of Americans don’t have retirement savings. Even if they’ve got an account set up, they just don’t have enough money at the end of the month to save as much as they’d like because they’re just barely paying the bills. Fewer and fewer people have pensions they can really count on, which is why Social Security is more important than ever. (Applause.) We can’t afford to weaken Social Security. We should be strengthening Social Security. And not only do we need to strengthen its long-term health, it’s time we finally made Social Security more generous, and increased its benefits so that today’s retirees and future generations get the dignified retirement that they’ve earned. (Applause.) And we could start paying for it by asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute a little bit more. They can afford it. I can afford it. (Applause.)As ever, Obama will not demand that the wealthy pay even a paltry 50 percent tax rate or that the cap on Social Security contributions be entirely scrapped. He is merely asking them to contribute "a little more" out of the goodness of their hearts. As ever, Obama reminds us that he, too, is a very rich, beneficent guy. He is not one of you.
And as ever, don't actually count on eating and making a living or keeping your house or retiring right this very minute. You see, existential purists are not allowed in the Glass Half Full Club. When politicians like Obama and Hillary talk about reaching the heights of defeating the Trump monster, they are by no means talking about an alternative of roses and daffodils, sunshine and Santa Claus:
So that’s the choice you face, Elkhart. The ideas I’ve laid out today, I want to be clear: They’re not going to solve every problem. They’re not going to make everybody financially secure overnight. We’re still going to be facing global competition. Trying to make sure that all our kids are prepared for the 21st century workforce, that’s a 20-year project, that’s not a two-year project. We’re still going to have to make sure that we’re paying for Social Security and Medicaid and Medicare as our populations get older. There are still going to be a bunch of issues out there.By the time your kids are prepared for Brave New World, they'll be 50 years old if they should live so long. Serious issues will remain, down there in the Bottom 90 Percent basement apartments. But the Neoliberal Thought Collective will leave a rickety invisible ladder of hope propped up for you anyway. You can do it, all you need is a hand. Mister Market gonna see right to it.
We’ve got to come together around our common values -- our faith in hard work. Our faith in responsibility. Our belief in opportunity for everybody. We’ve got to assume the best in each other, not the worst. We’ve got to remember that sometimes, we all fall on hard times, and it’s part of our jobs as a community of Americans to help folks up when they fall. (Applause.) Because whatever our differences, we all love this country. We all care about our children’s futures. That’s what makes us great. That’s what makes us progress and become better versions of ourselves -- because we believe in each other. (Applause.)There are the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. We must act out of nationalistic impulses. Patriotism is the religious glue that binds and gags us. The truth is out there. You gotta believe. And starting here, starting now, nothing's gonna stop us till we're through (with you.)
What would a platitudinous presidential speech be without a Paul Krugman column to reanimate it, giving it a tepid jolt of Frankensteinish electricity?
Krugman actually does give a feeble swipe to Obama's Mama Rose-colored glasses by deigning to mention last week's terrible jobs report. It doesn't quite spell a recession, but it is still a disappointing "pause in the economy's progress," with the pundit's main concern being how the nasty Republicans will use it to blame the Democrats. Not once does Krugman even pay even lip service to the millions of out-of-work or underpaid Americans stuck in temporary and dead-end jobs. Things are still better under Obama than they were under Bush!
Even with a Clinton restoration, nothing can be done anyway, because of Republicans. Krugman always avoids mentioning the political donor class of plutocrats which actually sets bipartisan policy. Ever the reliable Democratic factotum, he echoes the Beltway group-think: failure to act for the public good is caused by "Washington gridlock." It's funny how this gridlock always magically melts away whenever the war and surveillance industries need trillions of dollars to upgrade their weapons and spy systems or otherwise democratically intervene in other people's backyards!
But given that any sudden economic crisis during election season might hurt Hillary Clinton's chances, Krugman is feeling a bit nervous: "So the evidence of a U.S. slowdown should worry you," he ponderously intones. "I don’t see anything like the 2008 crisis on the horizon (he says with fingers crossed behind his back), but even a smaller negative shock could turn into very bad news, given our political gridlock."
It must be so nice living in an elite bubble, where your only worry is a slowdown in the effervescence.
My published response (actually a synopsis of and prelude to today's blog-post):
If Democrats have any hope of winning across the board in November, they'd better move beyond their defensive "be afraid of Trump" posture and admit that life sucks big-time for the vast majority of Americans. It's time to stop painting a rosy picture about the make-believe economic recovery for mere crass political purposes. It's time to start campaigning for a new New Deal.
To his credit, President Obama has finally come on board with Bernie Sanders's proposal for an expansion of Social Security: increase the monthly benefits and raise the FICA cap.
Yet only a day before the dismal jobs report came out, he speechified that "by almost every economic measure, America is better off" and that Trump's constant claim that the economy is doing poorly is a "myth."
It's happy talk like this that sends disgusted voters right into the arms of the Trumpmonster. It's a jingoistic Hillary speech that saved all its scathing rhetoric for Trump's personality disorder and all its rousing rhetoric for American exceptionalism and military might. Enough already.
Now's the time to take advantage of the GOP's disarray and come out swinging like the late, great -- and left -- Muhammad Ali. Now's the time to move beyond what's "possible" and fight for what is right.
Twelve times more people gave up looking for work than got a job last month. And our death rate is increasing.
We're not merely worried, Mr. Krugman. We're running the gamut from despair, to disgust, to outrage.
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