The inauguration and the economic divide


Second inaugration speeches are hard; you have to be political without sounding partisan, inspiring without being divisive -- and promise change and progress even if you haven't accomplished what you wanted in the first term. The Obama address surprised me: He went left, making clear that he wants economic and social equality to be his final legacy. It's getting rave reviews in the lib-blogosphere, where it's been described as the speech liberals have been begging him to give for years. You can't argue with the content -- he mentions gay rights, global climate change, equal pay, protecting social security, economic inequality, the need for collective effort ... he even talks about reforming the tax code.

So now comes the hard part: The struggle for economic justice has to go beyond a compromise plan that limits higher tax rates to people earning more than $400,000 a year.

In fact, the best thing I read this weekend was a NY Times piece by Nobel-Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, who argues forcefully that continued economic inequality is prolonging the recession. It's also destroying the nation's future:

Our skyrocketing inequality — so contrary to our meritocratic ideal of America as a place where anyone with hard work and talent can “make it” — means that those who are born to parents of limited means are likely never to live up to their potential. Children in other rich countries like Canada, France, Germany and Sweden have a better chance of doing better than their parents did than American kids have. More than a fifth of our children live in poverty — the second worst of all the advanced economies, putting us behind countries like Bulgaria, Latvia and Greece. Our society is squandering its most valuable resource: our young.

Stiglitz says what few in Washington want to admit: We can't get the economy going again without rebuilding the middle class, and we can't do that without higher taxes on the rich and a lot more public investment in education. Oh, and all this talk of how it's out of our control is bullshit:

There are all kinds of excuses for inequality. Some say it’s beyond our control, pointing to market forces like globalization, trade liberalization, the technological revolution, the “rise of the rest.” Others assert that doing anything about it would make us all worse off, by stifling our already sputtering economic engine. These are self-serving, ignorant falsehoods. Market forces don’t exist in a vacuum — we shape them. Other countries, like fast-growing Brazil, have shaped them in ways that have lowered inequality while creating more opportunity and higher growth. Countries far poorer than ours have decided that all young people should have access to food, education and health care so they can fulfill their aspirations.

Makes me think about some of what I hear out of San Francisco City Hall. Oh, we can't do anything about economic inequality; that's a national issue. Or maybe it's a state issue. I bet there's not an elected official in town today who woudn't proclaim complete agreement with everything Obama just said -- and there are very few of them who are trying to bring that message back home.

In San Francisco, we give tax breaks for businesses that create high-end jobs that drive poor people out of town. We happily seek development without considering the impact it will have on existing vulnerable populations. We even struggle over free Muni for low-income youth. We do nothing -- nothing -- to reclaim wealth from the 1 percent and put it into local housing, public education, and job-training that could make a dent in our local economic inequality.

Mr. Mayor: Are you even paying attention?








own very personal view of the world.

But the worth society places on your labor is very much beyond your control. Your employer does define and decide the value of your contribution.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 3:18 pm

Mammon worshipping troll.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

your income would be set on a meritocratic basis?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 7:00 am

Republican policies don't create a bigger pie - they create a smaller pie because more of the wealth goes to a smaller % of the ppl (a very small %). To create a bigger pie, tax rates must rise the more one makes (much more than currently, in the prosperous 1950s, the upper rate was 91% and the system worked beautifully) so that $ is available to the lower income folks so they can go to college and improve the economy of the area they are located.

Republican policies shrink the pie - that's the essense of Stiglitz argument which he supports well.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 9:05 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 6:58 am

If you really believe that Obama intends to do anything about income inequality in this country, I have two words for you: Jack Lew

Posted by Ana on Jan. 21, 2013 @ 4:06 pm

Being that he is, you know - the mayor and not the President. More gang-ridden low income housing or beefing up SEIU salaries is not going to address income inequality Tim.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 21, 2013 @ 4:45 pm

Actually, there are a lot of things the mayor can do -- if he made equality as high as priority as "jobs" (read: tech jobs) ... but at the very least, he can stop making things worse.

Posted by tim on Jan. 21, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

Beyond divvying up the already tiny piece of the pie for which he's responsible and of which his union allies lay claim. The building trades council loves these tax breaks because they encourage development - the new Warriors stadium is a HUGE priority for them - and that's something you're vociferously opposing (as the Guardian opposed BART, the Transamerica Pyramid, Moscone Center etc...)

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 21, 2013 @ 5:41 pm

can raise the sales tax by, and cannot raise property assessments or tax rates by Prop 13.

So SF can fiddle around with some fees and marginal taxes but cannot materically change the tax load. Most voters are very happy about that, and it makes for prudent budgetting.

If tim wants more revenues, he should support the building of more luxury apartment buildings to broaden and deepen the tax base.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 7:26 am

And even if he could, he had no voter mandate to do so, since he handsomely beat Avalos who stood much more on that platform.

Lee's mandate is for growth, development and jobs, and those are the best ways to help the poorer people of SF.

Punishing the rich doesn't help the poor; in fact it makes their plight that much worse.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 7:24 am

Ron Conway taking back the city.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 21, 2013 @ 5:36 pm

Pretty speech, let's just hope he practices what he preaches this time around.

Posted by Patrick Monk.RN. on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 9:49 am

No one cobbles together an ideology out of non-sequiturs with the quite the panache Tim does. Of Bay Area journalists, truly the region's foremost collagist.

Posted by Chromefields on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

Why not focus on Obama's actual deeds for a change, instead of some nice little speech? Journalist and filmmaker Jeremy Scahill and Richard Rowley have just come out with a new documentary on Obama's covert wars. It's called "Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield" and exposes the hidden truths behind America’s expanding covert wars. Here's Amy Goodman interviewing Scahill at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah~

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, talk about President Obama’s first four years and where we’re going now. You got a chance to hear his inaugural address; what you thought of it?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, you know, I think if we look back at the—at the first term of the Obama administration, what we saw was you had this very popular Democratic president that had—who had campaigned, in terms of his broader rhetoric during the presidential campaign against John McCain, on the notion that he was going to transform the way that the U.S. conducted its foreign policy around the world. And, you know, he then proceeded to double down on some of the greatest excesses of the Bush administration. If you look at the use of the state secrets privilege; if you look at the way the Obama administration has expanded the drone wars; has empowered special operations forces, including from JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, to operate in countries where the United States is not at war; if you look at the way in which the Obama administration has essentially boxed Congress out of any effective oversight role of the covert aspects of U.S. foreign policy, what we really have is a president who has normalized, for many, many liberals in the United States, the policies that they once opposed under the Bush administration. And, you know, this really has been a war presidency.

And, you know, yesterday, as the—as President Obama’s talking about how we don’t need a state of perpetual war, multiple U.S. drone strikes in Yemen, a country that we’re not at war with, where the U.S. has killed a tremendous number of civilians.

Posted by Ana on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

policies of George Bush and align his policies with those of the moderate majority of this nation.

You didn't really buy into that hopey changey thing, did you? Obama would never have been elected if the centrist majority hadn't known in their heart that Obama would be no revolutionary.

America doesn't do socialism.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

before the voters had their say.

Sarah Palin troll.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

I would not have supported Obama if I had thought for a moment that he would introduce a form of socialism into the US.

Obama needs people like me more than he needs people like you, because you have nowhere else to go, but I do.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 6:57 am

Presidents always move to the center
Progressive ideas are not popular
All politicians lie
"Purity progressives" can't compromise
Nader lost the election for Gore
Progressives have situational ethics
Progressives ignore pressing problems to promote pet projects.
Progressives want to tell everyone else how to run their lives
Progressives call anybody a troll who doesnt' agree with them

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 7:12 pm

Why is it OK for corporations to practice "socialism" by raiding the peoples treasury?
We have nothing like a free market economy in this country. Half the banks, agribusiness, and the auto and arms industries depend on public money to stay in business; is that not "socialism?"
I think there is a worm in the Guardians server that reacts with predictable contrarian nonsense whenever certain words are used in a post. Words like equality, social justice, economic inequality, poverty, hunger, war, greed, subsidies, "pay fair share," "do unto others...."

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 8:47 am

hardly complain when others here do the same thing.

Most debates here are not debates at all, but rather consist of people throwing lebals, insults and cliches at each other. Trying to elevate one side of that debate rather than the other seems futile.

The distinction between the private sector and the public sector is fairly well defined. I'd agree with you that it might have been better if a corporation like GM were not helped with tax money, but rather allowed to fail. But the national interest was presumed to trump that ideal.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 9:19 am

You are correct, most social networking is non-factual, which is why I am waiting for "the various "Guests," Anon's," and "Matlock's" to offer some facts to back up their arguments, instead of the same old tired "malware."
"The distinction between the private sector and the public sector is fairly well defined?" Apparently not to people who keep on about some illusionary meritocracy. The "national interest?" How can propping up a failing industry possibly be in the national interest? The national interest would be a fair and free economy, which is impossible as long as "big government" appropriates tax dollars for foreign wars, inept corporations, and corrupt foreign regimes.

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 2:28 pm

With the big banks, it is less clear because the nation clearly needs some form of banking system, in a way that it doesn't need to make cars.

Of course private and public sectors have some inter-dependence. But most people can answer a question like "do you work in the private or public sector?".

Do decisions get made in your place of work by shareholders or bureaucrats? That defines the difference.

The other difference is of course that the private sector creates wealth and the public sector consumes it.

Posted by anon on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

There are private corporations, mostly NGO's, that allegedly exist to serve the public good, and there are public agencies like the FDA and FTC and FCC that give the publics money to private corporations, so the "line" is not as distinct as you seem to believe.

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

What many have observed over the past 10 years is well-described in an article today from AP: technology is rapidly destroying middle income jobs that will never return.

Mayor Lee and his tech supporters are at the forefront of waging this war against middle income people, while tens of thousands of Bay Area tech workers provide a nice assist by using their state-of-the art programming and technical engineering jobs to facilitate the economic destruction. The more tech jobs drawn to the Bay Area, the quicker the demise of dozens of occupations that once employed large segments of the worldwide population.

The massive middle-income job losses are not just happening in the US, but across Europe and even Asia, including China, as the article references. The current Chinese "robot wars" will ensure that companies like Foxcomm can avoid bad labor PR in the near future as many of their current employees are eventually replaced by machines.

Note that the linked article is not the latest salvo from Krugman or Reich, but was authored by the fairly conservative AP.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 12:45 pm

What you're really complaining about is the fact that SF has been very siuccessful in attracting and retaining knowledge workers and 21st century business, which has led to prosperity.

This in turn has pushed up costs. But the average working couple can still afford SF or, if not, the east bay.

Those who really can't afford SF any more are the losers, wastrels and homeless who have been sucking on the public teat for decades now.

SF is running out of luck for spotty kids who want to practice bad art and shoot up. For those who are ambitious and want to work hard, it has gotten way better.

Posted by anon on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

When I was a wee tad, I was told by Adults that by the year 2000 there would be no more war, hunger, or disease, and machines would do most of the work, leaving human beings free to explore their full creative potentials. Well, the only thing that has come true is that machines do all the real work today. "Knowledge workers? "Creatives?" Most will be replaced in due time by an algorithm, and be competing with their cohorts from the last dot-com bust for a job at Starbucks. There is no "new" middle class, only a temporary flurry of activity that transfers even more wealth to the real estate/banking/insurance cabal. Under the present regime, San Francisco will continue to stratify into the wealthy and the poor. Economic equality and stability can only come by diversifying the economy. Relying on the tech and bio-tech sectors for continued prosperity is a major error.

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 3:06 pm

Rather than face reality, you cling to some hopelessly outdated notion of how the world should be.

I feel sorry for you.

Posted by anon on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 3:48 pm

See what I mean? Instead of providing an intelligent rebuttal,
all this program can do is to attempt weak insults.

I feel sorry for it.

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 6:09 pm

You presented only a cheap, lame emotional plea, which can only be refuted by that being pointed out.

Posted by anon on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 6:19 pm

"I got springs,
You got glue,
Bounces off me,
And sticks on you!"

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 8:01 am
Posted by Guest on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 8:16 am

"I got springs,
You got glue,
Bounces off me,
And sticks on you!"

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 8:23 am

chant. Is there something about being a liberal that emans that you have to use one-word categorizations to try and diminish an argument that you cannot refute?

Do they teach that technique in progressive college?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 6:27 pm

Guests regular transposition of letters. Synapses misfiring? System for identifying posts for the purpose of remuneration? Just a really sloppy typist?

It's a bit too regular for #3, so I suspect #2.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 7:04 pm

Why are you still here?

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 8:46 pm

Since every modern word-processing program has spell-check, I can only believe the misspellings and non-sequitors are the result of a faulty trojan-horse or worm that is programmed to respond to posts. You will notice that while it insults and accuses others, it has NOTHING original to say.

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 7:15 am

cloud and confuse the "message" here.

You are Lilli are like two peas in a pod.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 8:15 am

Like I said.....

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 10:49 am

"Progressive college?"
As opposed to "Regressive college?"

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 8:06 am

Find me a politician who describes himself as "regressive".

Posted by Guest on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 8:14 am


Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 9:19 am

too dumb to see that?

Posted by anon on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 9:37 am

It's easy to confuse all the "guests" and "anons.

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 11:03 am

be overlooked by so many putatively intelligent people: our economic security and well-being *must* be based on local production for local consumption to the greatest degree practically possible.

And relying on the tech sector is foolish in view of past collapses.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 7:28 pm

Of course it is possible these are real people who simply have no actual knowledge of history, science, economics, sociology, or morality. There are a couple of generations of people that get all their information from television and "social networking." So it is possible they actually believe what they are saying is "true." So sad.....

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 7:20 am

see things that are beyond your grasp.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 8:12 am

Yeah, right....

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 9:17 am

I'd have to agree with the other guy.

Posted by anon on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 9:37 am

Keep up the good work, Joseph. At least, you identify yourself while writing constructive comments.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 9:44 am