Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Union: Sacrifice by the Many to Create Prosperity for the Rich

Clichés and Bogus Budgeting
I Want You to Sacrifice for Capitalism (Image by Beverly & Pack)
“Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means,” said Obama in his state of the union address, tossing out a cliché in lieu of empathy for the millions Americans who are suffering from unemployment, foreclosures, and wage and benefits cuts. “They deserve a government that does the same.” Of course we don’t have a choice. We can only borrow so much before the banks come after us. The opposite is true with the feds. The banks came after them and got everything they wanted.

If Obama truly wanted the government to “live within its means” he’d have to immediately end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and take back the trillions of dollars spent to bail out Wall Street. These are the two biggest causes of the budget deficit. Instead, he offered a domestic spending freeze for the next 5 years which, with inflation and a growing population, will result in a de facto cut in spending.

Sympathy for the Devil
In typical political double speak he said, “let’s make sure that we’re not doing it [cutting spending] on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.” In reality, his spending freeze will fall almost entirely on the most vulnerable citizens. For example, he proposed slashing Medicare and Medicaid, which would impact the poorest Americans more than anyone else, and he suggested that Social Security should be “reformed,” (code for privatized) which could result in millions losing the ability to support themselves in their old age.

“The competition for jobs is real,” he said, in reference to China and India, a statement intended to rally workers into a nationalistic frenzy, uniting them with their bosses (or former bosses) in hatred of Chinese and Indian laborers. Workers who blame each other are less able to fight their really enemy, their bosses and the ruling elite. And why should they if they believe their bosses share their concerns? Shamefully, the AFL-CIO has been complicit in this economic nationalism.

Of course the reason so much U.S. manufacturing has gone to China is precisely their low wages, which are the consequence of government suppression of all independent labor organizing, something that U.S. capitalists and politicians love and have no desire to quell. When they do mention China’s human rights record, it is both hypocritical and cynical, as it is intended only to feed U.S. nationalism and distract U.S. workers from the deplorable state of their own unions. Obama made no mention of the fact that only 11% of the U.S. workers are organized in unions, compared with over 30% in the 1950s, nor did he mention his own role in quashing the Employee Free Choice Act which might have mitigated this.

Obama’s solution was to “make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit, and reform our government. That’s how our people will prosper.” In other words, it’s not about unemployment or “the people” at all; it’s about corporate profits and corporate prosperity. Making America the best place on Earth to do business means lowering corporate taxes, weakening unions and easing safety, health and environmental regulations (see Obama’s Deregulation Orgy). Taking responsibility for the deficit does not mean that corporate bailouts and wars, the real causes of the deficit, will be abandoned. Those are untouchable. Rather, average Americans will have to take responsibility through cuts to social services.

The State of Education
We Need to Respect Our Teachers, Like In Asia (Micah Sittig)
Obama had more of the same when it came to education. He blamed parents saying only they “can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done,” without acknowledging the incredible impact that poverty has on student achievement, something that parents have virtually no control over. Parents who are working two jobs or evening shifts are not in fact able to ensure that the TV is turned off and that homework is completed. Often, the homework is not completed because the kids themselves are working to help keep food on the table.

He also blamed schools, saying that many do not have “high expectations and high performance.” Of course he has no way of knowing how many schools lack high expectations, as this is not currently measured by NCLB or by Race to the Top (RTTT). While NCLB tests do measure student performance in math and English, they tell us very little about the performance of the school. Nevertheless, he had a solution for this problem that may or may not exist: More RTTT which, in a moment of self-aggrandizement (or acknowledgment that there has been no meaningful reform), he called “the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.” He also called for merit pay and an end to tenure: “We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.”

In a truly twisted bit of double speak he suggested that the South Korean education system was superior to ours because of their great respect for teachers. “In South Korea, teachers are known as nation builders. Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.” Aside from the fact that Obama, Duncan and all the other Ed Deformers have had plenty of time to treat us with respect and failed, this quotation is particularly eerie in its candid admission of the true role that teachers play in the capitalist economy: pumping out more workers and consumers who can enrich the bosses. This can hardly be seen as a show of respect.

So important is the role of teachers in keeping the corporate machinery running that he made a special plea to young people to go into the noble profession, appealing to their patriotism. “If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child—become a teacher. Your country needs you.” Uncle Sam says, Your Country Needs You to Make a Sacrifice, a big sacrifice since that degree and teaching credential may result in a debt of $20-30,000, while teaching wages have stagnated or declined in most districts, making it all but impossible to repay that debt. Even if money is no object, there are the increasing demands of RTTT and NCLB, the pressure to make low achieving students suddenly achieve, and the increasingly vitriolic attacks by pundits. It’s hard to see even patriotism being enough to encourage someone to go into teaching under these conditions.

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