Obama's State of the Union
Our Future Lies in the Fight for the Rights of All
More Executive Power and Public-Private Partnerships Are Not Solutions
In his State of the Union address before Congress January 28, President Obama emphasized that he will increase the use of executive power in the coming year and strengthen and expand public-private partnerships. He called on all to follow him as he acts without Congress, or as he has put it “my administration is going to move forward and we’re going to do it in -partnership with all of you.”
Leading up to the State of the Union, Obama spoke repeatedly about increasing the use of executive power. In giving the address, before Congress, in the Congressional chambers, he again stressed, “America does not stand still and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.” Obama followed his address by immediately going directly to the public to win support for such actions, as well as speaking with monopoly owners and university presidents to advance more partnerships. Obama also spoke about using his powers to “streamline the permitting process for key projects,” something that commonly involves waiving various laws, such as those having to do with the environment. In these ways Obama is essentially demonstrating that current governing arrangements are those of rule by the executive, with Congress having little or no significant role. The role of the public then is to support the executive in usurping this power.
A modern democracy requires the opposite. It requires restricting the role of the executive and expanding the role of the public, of the people themselves in governing and deciding all matters of society. While people are rightly angry at the dysfunction of Congress, the way forward is not increased executive power. It is developing new institutions that enshrine and defend the rights of the people, including their right to govern and decide. It is increasing all forms of public hearings, meetings, activities, and strengthening the fight to be decision makers at all levels.
As another example of increased executive power, Obama specifically spoke of “cutting red tape” when it comes to increasing the use of natural gas, including building factories that use natural gas as their source of energy. He emphasized natural gas, “if extracted safely, it’s a bridge fuel that can power our economy with less carbon pollution.” These are indications that Obama will “streamline” the further development of the dangerous hydrofracking for natural gas and liquid natural gas (LNG) facilities, both of which cause far more carbon pollution and have already shown themselves to be very toxic to both the human and natural environment.
Numerous laws concerning clean air and water have already been waived for the fracking of natural gas to proceed. The poisoning of water, the millions of gallons of toxic waste produced by fracking with no safe means to store or eliminate it, and the many health impacts already seen are all indications that it cannot be done safely and needs to be banned, not expanded. The public, in actions across the country, such as those in New York, Utah and Maryland, have spoken clearly on this matter. But the public, with its role in governance being eliminated, does not decide. Obama, the executive, is promising to further facilitate the rights of the energy monopolies — which are also war monopolies — to do more fracking. This solves no problem while intensifying the drive for world empire. Again, the way forward is the opposite. It is for the people to decide and for the rights of the public to be expanded and those of the monopolies restricted.
Consistent with instead expanding monopoly right, using executive power, Obama also emphasized that public-private partnerships can solve current problems, like unemployment. He gave as an example “two hubs for high-tech manufacturing in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Youngstown, Ohio, where we’ve connected businesses to research universities.” He plans six more in 2014. All of these hubs are funded in large part by public dollars, from the federal government, states, cities and public universities involved. While the monopolies contribute a portion, they in return get free space in the university buildings, get public research directed to “producing products” for them, get students trained for free specifically for their needs, etc. That is, the partnerships are examples of private interests taking over public institutions, in this case universities, for their narrow interests.
These partnerships have shown themselves to increase the role of the private interests in all matters of decision-making, such as curriculum and faculty — what can and cannot be taught and by who — while eliminating the role of the public and public accountability. They are not only mega pay-the-rich schemes, they are also mechanisms to further strengthen rule by a tiny few for a tiny few.
In concluding Obama outlined what citizenship means. Among other things, he said, “Citizenship demands a sense of common purpose; participation in the hard work of self-government; an obligation to serve our communities. He then gave as the example, service in the military and those willing to do multiple deployments in the criminal U.S. wars.
Given Obama’s emphasis on executive powers and his call to “partner” with him, and that citizenship demands “a sense of common purpose” and “obligation to serve our communities,” one can predict that those who do not share the common purpose of the U.S. monopolies, who do not support aggressive U.S. wars —who consider the fight for our rights as the basis for our security and bright future — may face executive actions, such as indefinite detention. And there is the possibility that Obama will use executive action to enforce E-Verify, which will require all workers to have biometric federally issued ID and be required to pass FBI and “national security” background checks to secure it. Given this, the “obligation to serve our communities,” Obama mentions, in addition to military service may also come in the form of slave labor for the monopolies for all those who are not given work ID.
The direction being given by Obama is dangerous and not a way forward. It is one that intensifies problems at a time when there is an alternative — a modern democracy that empowers the people to govern and decide.
Full Funding Now for Unemployed
Unemployment, especially for urban youth and the long-term unemployed, is a growing problem. A recent study, for example, showed that unemployment for all teens (16-19) nationwide increased significantly. The study showed 64% of teens were unemployed in 2006 and this rose to 73% in 2012, and is thought to be worse now. The racism of the U.S. state and monopolies can be seen in the fact that African American teens (16-19) have an unemployment rate of 82% across the country. This means only 18 percent of black teens had jobs, a drop from the already low 25 percent in 2006. In cities it is worse, with Chicago, for example, having a rate of 92 percent unemployment for black teens. Similarly for young workers 20-24, unemployment rates are increasing. In 2006 it was about 32% unemployed and today it is up to 37%. These also are among the highest rates since World War II.
One in six men between the ages of 25 and 54 do not have a job. Overall for the entire labor force, only 62.8 percent of people in the U.S. older than 16 are in the labor force. This is the lowest participation rate since 1978, a time when women were entering the labor force.
Long-term unemployment is also increasing and at its highest levels since the Great Depression. In addition to the huge numbers of teens and young workers who cannot enter the work force and thus are not counted in these rates, thirty-one percent of unemployed workers 20-24 years old in the country have not had a job for more than 27 weeks.
A livelihood is a human right. But far from being accountable to providing the right to a livelihood for all, the government is cutting unemployment benefits. More than 1.7 million people were forced off unemployment compensation with the January budget deal made by Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike. An additional 70,000 workers per week are losing benefits.
The current dysfunction in Congress means that these cuts are likely to become permanent. And it is of significance that a main reason no legislation is going forward in the Senate is that Democrats are trying to make passing of legislation with no amendments, as occurred with the budget, the norm. The House is not likely to bring any legislation forward. This reality is an indication of the collapse of Congress as a public authority — as a public body that takes even minimal responsibility for the rights of the people, such as the grave unemployment problems facing the people.
The government is also doing nothing to change the direction of the economy, which cannot provide enough jobs for all able to work. On the contrary, yet more pay the rich schemes are being considered. One would let monopolies go six months without paying payroll taxes, for each long-term unemployed worker they hired. This means fewer public dollars coming in and more public dollars handed over to the rich. Another would provide loans — meaning the money would have to be paid back — to workers to move to areas with lower unemployment. President Obama is asking monopolies to “pledge” not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed. If similar programs involving promises by monopolies to provide jobs and not discriminate are any indication, it is likely that public funds will be provided to subsidize such pledges, but they will not be kept.
The U.S. is a modern society with a modern socialized economy that produces vast wealth. But its current direction is anti-people and the current government budget reflects this. There are hundreds of billions to fund war and pay debt to the financiers, and no money for the long-term unemployed and to guarantee a livelihood for all. Similarly, there are massive cuts to food stamps at a time when more and more families require them to survive. And poverty-stricken cities like Detroit face conditions where the number one killer of children is infant mortality! Given the wealth produced, all of these are crimes of the government.
A livelihood is a human right that government at all levels has a duty to uphold. Food is a right! Healthcare is a right! To secure these rights, a new direction for the economy and political affairs is needed — a direction that puts the rights of the people at the center. Organizing today to be decision makers and deprive those in power of depriving us of our rights is essential. As the struggle to defend the rights of the unemployed and all workers goes forward, keeping initiative in our own hands and standing firm for our rights is part of the work to be decision makers.
Stop Funding War and Fund Our Rights!
The recent budget passed by Congress saw the Pentagon get well over half of all funds, with previous cuts restored and increases made for war, weapons, spying and repression. The massive farm bill (more than 900 pages), signed into law by Obama February 7, imposes an $8.7 billion cut to food stamps over the next five years. This is in addition to the November 2013 cuts of $5 billion. That means almost $14 billion have been cut from a program that requires increases to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.
The cuts will impact one in seven people that now depend on food stamps for food, about 850,000 families. The majority of these families have working-age adults. Indeed, the fastest growing segment of those needing food stamps are workers with some college education. About 28 percent of families using food stamps are headed by a working person with at least some college training, up from 8 percent in 1980. Overall, in 2006, one year before the recession, the number of people on food stamps was already about 26 million. As of July 2013, that number is 48 million. This broad increase is an indication that wages, including the minimum wage, are far below what is necessary, with more and more working families going into poverty and needing food stamps to survive.
The average monthly food stamp benefit per person is only $133.85, or less than $1.50 per person, per meal. Overall, about 76% of households receiving food stamps include a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive about 83% of all food stamp benefits. Even before the cuts, SNAP benefits did not last the whole month. About 90% of food stamps are used up by the third week of the month, forcing the majority of families to go to food banks for further assistance.
Eligibility for the federal program (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) is limited to households with a gross income of no more than 130% of the federal poverty guideline. But the majority of households receiving benefits are much poorer: 83% of SNAP households have gross income at or below 100% of the poverty guideline ($19,530 for a family of 3 in 2013), and these households receive about 91% of all benefits. In addition, 61% of SNAP households have gross income even lower, at or below 75% of the poverty guideline ($14,648 for a family of 3 in 2013).
The average household has a gross monthly income of only $744 and net monthly income of only $338 after standard tax and other deductions. It is these working, impoverished families who are being targeted by the cuts.
It is reported that eligibility requirements will not force current people off food stamps. But further review of the massive bill is needed to determine what was decided concerning future people in need of benefits. It also includes pilot “work eligibility” programs. These types of programs have generally been used to force more people off the roles, as has occurred with welfare benefits.
The bill also unjustly targets people who have been convicted of crimes but are now out of jail, extending a lifetime ban on receiving benefits from those convicted of drug felonies to include other violent crimes. This will especially impact national minorities who, based on the racist U.S. state, are charged and convicted at far higher rates.
The Department of Agriculture is also prohibited from using federal dollars to provide the public with information concerning eligibility for food stamps and ensuring those who are eligible actually get food stamps.
The current direction of the economy means that a tiny handful, like the Detroit auto monopolies concentrate more and more wealth and power in their hands while the people are increasingly forced into unemployment poverty or as soldiers in unjust and illegal wars. One of the most criminal facts stemming from this reality is that infant mortality is the number 1 killer of children in Detroit.
With the auto monopolies ruthlessly closing plants and imposing concessions, while also getting billions in government bail out funds, the city’s workers face more unemployment and more attacks on their pensions. It is the workers who have produced the wealth, yet they have no control over it.
Detroit is now routinely the poorest city in the country with the highest levels of poverty — the main source for the infant mortality rates. For Detroit the rate is such that 2,300 babies died before their first birthday between 2000-2011.
It is a crime that government does not meet the rights of women so as to ensure infant mortality rates go down. There is a lack of prenatal care, a lack of healthcare and support before and during pregnancy, especially for young mothers, and a lack of the all-round care needed after giving birth, especially in a child’s first year. All of this the government could well provide — especially if instead of continuing to use public dollars to pay the monopolies like GM, the funds needed for social programs were secured right at the point of production, at the GM, Ford and Chrysler factories. The workers should have first claim on the wealth they produce, the government second to provide for society’s needs, and the monopolies third. On this basis the vital rights of women and children could be met.