Wednesday, January 13, 2016

#sotu : Look, I like President Obama but...

Hey, make no mistake, I'm positive the country is in far better shape than it would have been with anyone else in office the past 7 years.

It's an undisputed fact that given a largely hostile congress over 3/4 of his presidency, great things have at least been attempted.

  • I don't deny that getting healthcare for those that didn't even have the option because of a pre-existing condition or lack of an employer sponsored plan is a good thing.
  • I don't deny that throwing a lifeline to the American auto industry saved the last vestige of American manufacturing.
  • I don't deny that because of programs like HARP and mortgage lending reform families are still in their homes.
  • I don't deny that there's been some improvement in how student loan programs are administered.
  • I don't deny that some people that didn't have work after the financial meltdown have managed to find something.

But let's get real here.  

There's a lot of fuzzy math and hollow declarations of victory to consider.  Let's start with the thing that makes everyone's world go round, money...

Banking reform has been largely toothless and your money can be just as much at risk as it was before the crash.  Worse, many of the people who caused the financial crisis are still holding the reigns and are even richer today than they were 8 years ago.

It's no secret that the top 3% hold more than 1/2 the nation's wealth and that's not going to change anytime soon. The tax rate isn't going to move if you're a billionaire and in spite of claims to the contrary there's little desire on either side of the aisle to change that when campaign coffers are frequently filled by that top 3%.

Many of which made their billions on subprime lending, oil futures and predatory credit and collection practices.  The rest made their money on Wall street which favors those businesses that keep their overhead low ( AKA Wages) and profits high.  So what has the Obama presidency done about all this inequity?

The "Consumer Financial Protection Bureau" or CFPB.  Look, the old dogs haven't changed their tricks.  The best that can be said of the CFPB is that your credit card statement is a little easier to read.  Oh yeah, and they win "symbolic" lawsuits against defunct diploma mills.  


It hasn't stopped abusive junk debt buyers from hounding hapless victims over debts long past any statute of limitations.  The only defense, an expensive legal action or bankruptcy..  With millions still in financial distress due to the financial meltdown, look for this to only get worse over the next few decades.

Speaking of money, don't get me started on student loans.  There's been a lot of flowery, happy talk over President Obama's tenure but unless you're a newly minted high school graduate don't expect much relief.

Yes it's true.  Under this President Federally backed student loans are now administered by the Department of Education not greedy "servicers" who made billions by fleecing borrowers.  A practice that was often in collusion with private schools with shady reputations charging more per credit hour than Princeton or Harvard.

But if you're not 20 something, things aren't much different.  Yes, your payments may be tied to your income and not exceed 10% but that's been available  for over a decade.  It was one of the options you had when you consolidated your school loans.  Which many did mostly because their interest rate was higher than they were paying for their mortgage and frequently so was the monthly payment.

Still, nothing's been done or even mentioned about the last remaining loophole that all those "servicers"  milk.  That being the scourge of capitalized interest which over time can swell a $25000 loan to $40000 over a decade.  If your student loan originated sometime around Bush 2's second term or before then you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Of course the reason most people go to college is to get a better job.  Nobody wants to be relying on Walmart or Burger King to support a family.  Yet that's the bulk of all those "new" jobs out there unless you count the dead end $10 per hour jobs that have sprung up in call centers in all of those "right to work" states.  

Every State of the Union address uses fuzzy math.  Speech writers pick and choose the most favorable of statistics to present a glowing picture.  Only once in the past century has a sitting president had to admit that the state of the union wasn't so hot.  Say what you will about Gerald Ford but at least he was honest about it!

So when I keep hearing about that magical 5% unemployment rate it drives me insane.  Much like President Bush 41's clueless V.P, Dan Quayle pointing to a Help Wanted sign at a Burger King as a sign of economic recovery on the 1992 campaign trail I don't see the substance in the numbers.  It's still harder than it should be for talented people to get the kind of work that they not only deserve but in most cases went into substantial debt for.  

What those numbers don't count are the millions who've given up not because of laziness but rather due to a lack of opportunities.  It's a common practice in technical fields, for example, to post positions with no intention of filling them in hopes of importing cheaper talent through work visas.  A practice nobody has addressed in any substantial way.  CEO's decry the lack of skilled labor pools while simultaneously dismissing experienced but "expensive" talent.

Lest we forget those who've long since fallen off the unemployment rolls.  2008 was almost a decade ago and many still haven't recovered.  Nor are they counted.

More fuzzy math.  According to the White House's own website the current rate of Americans without health insurance has dropped to 8.8%.  An attractive number to campaign on but just like the unemployment figures, largely meaningless.

The Affordable Care Act was supposed to get everyone medical insurance at an affordable rate.  Thing is, the only way the government can possibly know how many people are covered with any degree of certainty is through tax filings.  It asks you right on the form and if you answer in the negative then you get to figure out your penalty.

But if you're making less than $11000, chances are you're not filing taxes and considering many people are only finding low wage part time work that number could be huge.  

More fuzzy math.  Worse, many of those who've signed up for the ACA have found that their premiums and co-pays have in some cases doubled. 

Regardless of claims to the contrary, the only thing the Affordable Care act has done is to swell the coffers of insurance companies and punish those who often find the penalty cheaper than the insurance premiums!   It's a plan the Insurance companies love.  And why not?  It was their lobbyists that influenced the legislation and effectively killed any hope of a single payer, nationalized health care system.  Add a profit motive to a government mandated program and a whole lot of nothing happens.  Sure there's a few who benefit, good for them but most of us haven't.

The saddest part of the whole speech came near the end where the President essentially told working age people in their 40's and 50's, tough luck.  Too bad if you found your personal economy destroyed by a few greedy people peddling mortgages to Burger King employees.  If you're over 40 your best bet is to just wait it out till Social Security kicks in.  So much for hope and change.

It's not that I think President Obama is a bad president.  In fact I'm confident that he was the right guy at the right time.  Anyone else would likely have seen the "Great Recession" truly descend into another "Great Depression." 

Still, even the President had to grudgingly admit that all this economic growth has benefited those at the top of the money tree the most.  The rest of us are still fighting over scraps. 

You can thank a congress more concerned with vendettas and cronyism than meaningful legislation for that.  The past 8 years have been more about who gets to marry who and dismantling healthcare reforms than anything else.  Expect more of the same if another Democrat takes over.  It's been an 8 year grudge match that even extended to his own party.  So it's no wonder that much of President Obama's agenda has amounted to less than was hoped for.

While the President's speech was hopeful and steadfast in his determination he knows that with a lame duck presidency and an obstinate congress his words will ultimately  ring hollow.  Look at the speech as nothing more than a platform for his successor,