Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The State of the Union - a review

My wife and I watched the State of the Union address last night. In the center, there was Obama, flanked by Joe Biden and John Boehner. I don't think I've ever seen anyone so unhappy as Boehner. He has perfected the scowl in a way that would frighten most children if he were their parent. At least he smiled at Obama's crack about the son of a barkeep who rose to become speaker of the house.

Biden, on the other hand, had a big, broad smile with perfect teeth. He stood up when Boehner sat down. Sometimes they stood together, but mostly, Boehner sat it out, and hardly ever applauded, while Biden stood, applauded and smiled.

The lights were bright, everyone was very well dressed. I can imagine the sensation of being out in the evening, aware that at the end of the evening, many will join together for a late dinner at a posh restaurant or maybe at a coffee shop for a cup of joe. There was camaraderie and a sense of fellowship, even if it didn't always reach across the aisle.

I was surprised to see even a shot of Elizabeth Warren, without even a caption. Warren is a leading populist and liberal senator from Massachusetts, but her appearance was just a blip. If there is anyone I want to vote for president, it is her, by a mile. She clearly knows the pain and suffering of the middle class and is willing to fight the good fight for all of us.

For me, the highlight of Obama's speech was a quick discussion of patents. Most people don't really understand patents, since they don't own them, nor do they see the effect of rent-seeking on their lives. Obama was right to say that we need to bring patent trolls down and make them pay the costs of their litigation up front. Most patent trolls are hawking software patents, or what I like to call "idea patents". These patents are not for inventions, they are for ideas, but the problem is, patent law provides protection for inventions, not ideas. Hopefully, Obama can make some real progress on this issue before he leaves office.

But considering the administrations hawking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a so-called "free trade agreement", I'm not so sure about Obama's enthusiasm for intellectual property reform, even with patents. The TPP is a major consolidation of power into the hands of the few, as if they needed more power. The deliberations on this treaty have been shrouded in secrecy so that the true objectives are not easily exposed. Then it will be subject to an up or down vote in the senate for ratification.

These free trade agreements have more to do with protecting obsolete business models and professionals from international competition than they do with free trade. Doctors, lawyers and other professionals have no concerns about throwing the middle class under the bus known as globalization. But they get pretty upset when they are subjects of scrutiny, as if they didn't play a part in the problems we are trying to solve.

Oh yes, there was the Republican response from Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Flat. Vacuous. Patronizing. Sure, we can have equality of opportunity as soon as we are willing to admit that the wealthiest among us will be happy to tilt the table their way, until they are caught. Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges and Gore Vidal are well acquainted with the social class essentialism exhibited by the elite. A sort of dementia that says no matter what, by virtue of their status, they're better than all of us and that all inferior beings will never change, and can never be rehabilitated.

A great example of social class essentialism can be found in Rep. Trey Radel, a Republican from Florida. Here is a wealthy white man, in Congress no less, busted for buying cocaine from federal agents. The punishment for his crime? $250 and supervised probation. Someone thinks he can be rehabilitated. Replace him with a young, poor and black man, and the sentence will be more like a few years in the pen. Radel will get many opportunities to fail, others, not so much.

We need to pull a hard left and we need to do it soon. The Reagan Revolution gave us an economy that can only be propped up by bubbles. Bubbles are great if you have lots of money you can use to buy low and sell high without creating any lasting jobs. But if you're middle class, your retirement fund will be slowly depleted by trading fees and lost equity. Who will defend the middle class?

The short answer is Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders? I think so.
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