Tag Archives: Great Recession

The Obama Phone and Other Nonsense

The “Obama Phone” lady is the latest viral video on the net. Here it is for those who have not seen it:

Not surprisingly, the likes of Rush Limbaugh have already jumped all over it as proof of Mitt Romney’s “47%” comment. One of my favorite comedic radio shows had one of the hosts ranting for 30 minutes about how the woman in the video represents the “entitlement” mindset common to most Obama voters. It is tough to see the planet on which these people are living.

The equation for Rush Limbaugh, the aforementioned comedy show host and the rest of their ilk seem to be the following. Obama is black. Therefore, most black people support him. In return, they believe they will get increased entitlements like welfare, food stamps, public housing and now, cell phones. The fact that black people have been slipping ever deeper into poverty since Obama’s election seems to be lost on them. In reality, Limbaugh and company are thinking in caricatures left over from the days of Reagan’s war on mythical “welfare queens”. It bears little resemblance to actual black people, whether they support Obama or not.

Obama will win this 2012 election. This is something I have said since he won in 2008 and I was not exactly going out on a limb then. This is not because Obama has done such a bang-up job, although there are plenty who seem to think so. Rather, it is because the other viable alternative, which includes not just Romney but the entire apparatus supporting him, has proven too odious and out-of-touch to be relevant to anyone but a small delusional percentage of the population. To be sure, this small delusional percentage comprises an active voting bloc. Yet, I think 2012 will prove that this bloc will no longer be able to swing elections like they did during the Bush Era. It seems the Tea Party was the last dying gasp of their influence, a swan song made possible by the infusion of money and organization from the corporate class.

It has been pointed out elsewhere that the “Obama Phone” is nothing of the sort. What the woman in the video is describing is the federal program designed to provide cell phones to low income, elderly and disabled people started in 2008 while George W. Bush was president. My mother had one of these phones. It was a no-frills, antiquated cell phone with 250 minutes a month. My uncle, who is a Vietnam veteran, also has one. Although it was a help when my mother needed to communicate with me, I bought her a Blackberry with an unlimited plan because those 250 minutes never seemed to last her more than 20 days.

Are these the “entitlements” that Rush speaks of? Is this the free ride that 47% of us expect according to Romney? If it is, the ride certainly does not go very far.

One of the other tropes trotted out to buttress the idea that Americans in the Obama Era feel more “entitled” is the fact that the food stamp rolls have increased over the past four years. Is this due to some sort of mass laziness brought about by Obama’s presence in the White House?

When people get hired at Walmart, they are also given an application for food stamps. This is because Walmart welcomes their new employees to the world of the working poor. The food stamp program is available to anyone making enough money under a very strict definition of poverty. This includes people on welfare (whose rolls have been declining in many states, thanks to Bill Clinton’s reforms) and the ever-growing number of Americans who are joining the ranks of the working poor. The new jobs that have supposedly ended the Great Recession are the types that qualify people for food stamps.

Listening to that small delusional part of the population, one would think that this country is saddled with legions of unproductive people sucking at the government’s teat. Our ingenuity and creative energy as a nation are being sapped, the thinking goes. Those who style themselves “education reformers” add the coda that “failing” public schools are graduating incompetent and uncreative workers.

And yet, the Gross Domestic Product of this nation has been increasing over the past 30 years. Even throughout the Great Recession, our GDP has been rising other than the years of the toxic assets brought about by billionaire banks. This means that the American workforce has been more productive. There is something wrong with this picture. If the workers of this country are more productive, why are people poorer? (and how are schools “failing”?)

This is the million-dollar question. The answer seems to lie somewhere within the growth experienced by the wealthiest Americans during this Great Recession. Americans are producing more wealth for the wealthy.

Occupy Wall Street was born of this state of affairs. Now that the occupations have been swept away, the small delusional sect of the population is back to pointing to the “Obama Phone” lady and the mythical caricature she represents as the crowd on the prowl for handouts. Sadly, many in that small delusional sect of the population qualify as poor as well. It is the poor blaming the poor for why they are so poor.

The crooked railroad magnate Jay Gould famously said that he could always get one half of the poor to kill off the other half. It explains why the myth of the lazy, entitled (and black) Obama supporter still has traction. It explains why the corporatists behind the Tea Party were able to find so much support. It explains why Libertarianism has been considered some sort of independent “middle way” between Democrat and Republican, rather than the deformed Neoliberal ideology it is. It explains why the Republican Party still has any support at all, and why the Democrats of today are somewhere to the political right of Richard Nixon in the 1970s.

Entitlements in this country are going to predominately one place: up. Steven Perlstein’s Washington Post article over the weekend captured it perfectly:

I am a corporate chief executive.

I am a business owner.

I am a private-equity fund manager.

I am the misunderstood superhero of American capitalism, single-handedly creating wealth and prosperity despite all the obstacles put in my way by employees, government and the media.

I am a job creator and I am entitled.

I am entitled to complain about the economy even when my stock price, my portfolio and my profits are at record levels.

I am entitled to a healthy and well-educated workforce, a modern and efficient transportation system and protection for my person and property, just as I am entitled to demonize the government workers who provide them.

This is where we stand as a nation. If you believe these criticisms are the result of “class warfare” or “envy” of “successful” people, then you also believe that we live in a “democracy” with “free enterprise” and “equal opportunity”. You probably also wanted to end the “death tax”.

What is more likely: that a woman at a political protest talking about an “Obama Phone” is holding us back as a nation, or that our nation is really an oligarchy with corporate socialism that reinforces economic castes?



A Teacher Speaks Out

Hello, I am a teacher. I would like to take a minute to indulge myself in the fantasy that I can bend the ear of the nation. You think our public schools are in a crisis. The media runs story upon story about low test scores, school violence and general apathy. How could you not feel that there is a crisis? It is just logical to assume that teachers are to blame for all of this. If kids are failing tests it must be because their teachers are not teaching them properly. If violence is up, it must be because teachers are not providing proper supervision. If there is apathy, it must mean teachers are not motivating the kids or trying to make learning exciting. Many of us have had bad teachers who seemed lazy, mean or uncaring. Maybe holding them accountable by paying them according to their students’ test scores or taking away their tenure would make them shape up. As a society you say the crisis is really with me and the rest of the people who teach children.

I am here today not so much to refute as I am to educate. A large part of educating has to do with empathy. So let me say that I empathize with your view of our school crisis. There was a time not too long ago when heroes were easier to come by. The guy that was elected president may not have gotten your vote but he was still your president and you trusted him as leader of the free world. Now we just assume that our presidents are lying to us and the person you really want will never be elected. The place where you started your career would pay you a fair wage and provide opportunities for you to advance if you worked hard. Now fair wages are harder to come by and chances are that you will change employers dozens of time before you retire. If you retire. When we watched sports we could count on our star quarterback or shortstop representing our city for their entire careers. Now we assume that our stars will go to the city that offers the most money, so we learn not to get too attached to them. The world seems more cruel and fleeting than ever before. We have known this on some level for a very long time. But the decay has worsened to such an extent recently that we can no longer put it out of our minds. Within all of this loss and disappointment we want something stable. We want an island of tranquility in this sea of molten chaos. Schools were supposed to be that island. Teachers were supposed to be agents of that stability. We cannot stand it when we see teachers step out of that role and act, well, human. They are supposed to be better than us. They are supposed to be the last vestige of heroism in an age of selling out.

So I guess this is part of the reason why we want to fire teachers who say things we do not like, whether in the classroom, in “real life” or on facebook. I mean, teachers have to understand their roles and hold themselves to higher standards than the rest of us. In an age where our elected officials can lie with impunity and bankers can get bailed out for ruining the economy, someone has to be held accountable for something. We may have to accept the villainy of people in power but we do not have to take anything from teachers. So when we read a story about low test scores or a facebook incident, our knee-jerk reaction is to fire the bums. At least we know that is one demand for accountability that might be gratified.

As a teacher I say I empathize with the place from whence these feelings derive. I look around and see the same things you see: a dying economy, corrupt leadership and widespread misery. I am disenchanted by the same lack of stability and heroism you are. That is because you and I, teachers and schools and citizens, all exist in the same world. We are all parts of that same decaying society. There is no difference between schools and the real world, nor is there a difference between teachers and everyone else. The same dying economy that underemploys or unemploys you also exacerbates the poverty of my students and the schools they attend. The biggest determinant of student test scores is their socioeconomic status. In the words of the Ed Buzz, “high test scores get  dropped off in SUV’s each day.” So when exam scores are low while the economy is dying, should we be blaming teachers?

Yet for the past decade it has been us teachers who have taken the fall. Teachers and you live in the same decaying world. Many of us have been fired and the vast majority of us have been stripped of our rights in the mad quest to make teachers accountable. All of this while working longer hours, taking on more responsibility and dealing with an ever-increasing epidemic of child poverty. A quick survey of the situation should tell you that teachers have been fellow sufferers in the deterioration of society, not its cause. Your calls for teacher accountability are reactions against something much bigger than teachers. So, you see, us teachers are not only up against the same things you are, you have made us have to struggle against you as well. Instead of looking at exam scores and asking what it tells you about gross economic inequality, you use them as an axe with which to bludgeon us.

So you must forgive us if a teacher says something off-putting or off-color in real life or on facebook, we are usually just venting. Unfortunately, we teachers are losing even this basic freedom. We are not in different worlds at all. Look at the very idea of exam scores: numeric, unforgiving and cold. It exactly represents why our society is in decay. We have been beholden to some corporate ideal of productivity and profitability, some inexorable free market where winners win and losers lose. It is the same free market that has foreclosed on many of your homes and refuses to hire you. Yet, there you are, worshipping at its altar once again. This is why teachers need rights. We need to have the ability to stand up and say to you, our principals, our elected leaders and our corporate titans that what you want for our school system is wrong. Your obsession with exam scores is just the latest wave of decay. It is already destroying art and music programs since those subjects do not get tested. It is threatening to destroy history as well. This is the result of the policies you have supported.

Imagine we had the type of teachers you wanted. Imagine your teacher filled with nothing but sunshine and kindness who will do nothing but smile, tell your kids how great they are and care about nothing except getting them through exams. You would have a teaching force of myopic but amiable dunces. It is the worst type of person to have educating your children. They would not only acquiesce but participate in the decay that has already affected most of your lives. They will teach your children to do the same.

In the end, I am doing what you want. I am holding myself to a higher standard than you set for yourselves. What I mean by that is if you will not fight against injustice and decay, then I will.