Tough Talk from President Obama is Too Little Too Late

By Becky O'Malley
Wednesday September 14, 2011 - 08:50:00 AM

The headline on The Economist’s story a couple of weeks ago said it all:
The administration hands a victory to America’s polluters.” 

For those of us who are only too painfully aware that we’ll have absolutely no choice in the next election, only 14 months away now, the Obama administration’s decision to axe the Environmental Protection Agency’s new regulations which would have saved many lives by limiting ozone emissions was the last straw. 

The world is going to hell in a handcart, to coin a phrase, and the president seems only too willing to be the driver. The excuse for this latest move is that his minions claim to believe that regulations make it hard for businesses to create jobs, or something like that, some pat phrase from the playbook of the New Republicans. (For an unsparing look at who these people are and what they’re up to, be sure to read Old Republican Michael Lofgren’s remarkable recent piece on the Truthout website.) 

Meanwhile, as the environment continues to be destroyed for profit, and climate change proceeds apace, the economy is also collapsing. The administration continues to ignore the advice of the clear-eyed economists who know better, notably Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz.  

But wait, you say. Didn’t Obama just deliver a landmark address about what he called the “American Jobs Act”? Well, yes, he did. 

Not only that, his speech gets an A for Attitude. “Pass…This…Bill” he intoned again and again, in case anyone doubts what he wants.  

The TV newsies applauded. MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, he of the appalling facial hair and intriguing comb-over, seemed thrilled that long Latinate words were avoided, those big words the ordinary voter might not understand, e.g. “stimulus” and “infrastructure”.  

“Money” and “bridges” are much easier to understand, aren’t they?  

Yes, that Obama’s really ready to get tough now, isn’t he? Talks like a Real Tough Guy. 

But unfortunately we’d have to award a C for our lack of Confidence that what he’s asking for will actually happen, given the intransigent opposition he faces from the other party, which seems to be going quietly (or not so quietly) barking mad, as our British friends would say.  

And even if the president got all of what he says he wants, how would that affect the big picture? 

Everyone, sensible economists included, endorses the “Jobs” mantra, though the word is just a palatable euphemism for what’s really needed to get the economy going: putting some spending power in the hands of the majority of citizens by whatever means necessary. What seems to be considered emphatically un-American is just handing out cash to the unemployed and other needy citizens, however. 

But what Jobs could be more American than the big construction projects touted again and again in last week’s speech? Those are Real Jobs, Guy Jobs. When I said as much, cynically, while watching the speech, the Guy in the room pointed out, correctly, that unemployment is currently higher among men, so perhaps it’s an unfair criticism.  

And to be scrupulously fair, the promises Obama made weren’t all for Bob the Builder. Some of them were aimed at Teresa the Teacher too, and not only that, she might get a nice new school building into the bargain. Unfortunately, all too often, government spending lubricated by bond issues and special allocations pays for buildings but not for staffing, as several recent stories about new schools which lack teachers in Contra Costa County show. 

There’s no question that lots of things already in existence, including schools, need fixing. But unnecessary construction projects like the 4th Bore of the Caldecott tunnel make a long-term negative contribution to the really serious problem of global warming (or climate change, if you prefer). The President’s passing allusion in his big speech to China’s building projects, in a “we’ve got to compete” vein, was particularly unfortunate, given recent disasters in that country’s coal mines, its high-speed train crashes and other environmental catastrophes there.  

Even supposedly “green” building projects are often problematic. I’ve been watching the construction of a big plug-ugly building visible from Highway 880 south of here for a few months, thinking no good could come of it, and sure enough, it’s the Solyndra boondoggle, billed as a very special way of producing solar panels, which has now collapsed. 

An academic environmentalist of my acquaintance has been predicting this all along.  

It was pretty clear to both of us that the big bucks in the Solyndra venture were going into the pockets of capitalists who were only too happy to funnel the money into pointless construction. And the architecture wasn’t even “green” by the usual standards. Now the FBI seems to have locked down the building site in order to look for evidence of shady financial stuff: another instance of locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen. 

We’ve seen the same thing in Berkeley, as salvageable branch libraries which could have been restored in an environmentally sustainable way, employing more people along the way, are now slated for destruction and reconstruction instead. This paradigm produces bigger profits for the building industry and for bond salesmen, but fewer jobs. 

And we have many traditionally Gal Jobs that still need to be funded. Not, of course, that “soft” jobs are only Gal Jobs these days, since plenty of men do them too. New construction, however, has a well-funded lobbying apparatus supported by both Big Capital and Big Labor, so a lot of the American Jobs Obama’s Act would fund if it passed would be in that industry. 

First and foremost need is better health care, and that’s not just paying high-profile docs at big research institutions with spiffy new digs in Mission Bay. Money to pay home health care aides for disabled people, for example, is being slashed, when it should be increased to provide jobs for currently unemployed workers as well as care for those who need it.  

This topic is currently high on my list of concerns, since I’ve just spent the better part of a week working on family health care needs. I’ve discovered that there’s a whole lot of craziness in what Medicare does and doesn’t pay for, just for starters. The needs are out there, all right, it’s just the will and the funding that are lacking. 

It will get worse. Even though the American Jobs Act is inadequate in a bunch of ways, it would be better than nothing, but nothing is what we’ll get, regardless. And people like us, people like the majority of our readers, at least the practically minded ones, will vote again for Obama, because there’s no real alternative.  

One final postscript: many of the people I’ve been talking to about the current situation agree that a major component of the mess we’re in is common and garden racism among white southern Republicans. The flap over the timing of Obama’s speech was inexcusable and unnecessary, and had nothing more underlying it than disrespect for both the man and the office. The Mitch McConnells of this world want to sink President Obama, and they don’t seem to care if the country goes down with him.