State of the Union

As i have said, i dislike Obama, but i recognize that he is very clever.  His State of the Union speech supports this thesis in my mind.  I did not listen to the entire thing and several sections were worrisomely short of specifics (like his call to “get immigration reform done” or “reform the tax code”) .  But he cleverly played a recurring them.  He will use executive power to make the first steps and if congress is willing they will go further.

The most important concrete thing i heard in the 30 minutes it took to crawl from Twin Oaks to Acorn is the gentle snow, was that Obama was increasing the federal minimum wage for $7.25 to $10.10.  He challenged both Congress and business leaders to adopt this floor, even if no legislation is passed.  Claiming that Americans are in agreement that people should not live in poverty.  This will have an especially pronounced effect on those hired to do service jobs for the military.  Obama specifically mentioned janitors and cooks.

minimum wage as fraction of average wage

He advanced some of his progressive agenda: Family friendly policies that advance the administration’s goals on flexibility, paid leave and reducing discrimination.  He highlighted that women still make $0.77 for every dollar men make in the same jobs and said “In 2014, this is frankly an embarrassment.”  It ought to be a crime, but at least he gets it.  He is pushing populist notions of job training and re-instating unemployment benefits that congress just cut.  And is now following the new NYC mayor Bill de Blasio campaign promise for universal per-kindergarten educational opportunities for kids.

And as the corporate tool he is, he continued to advance his more problematic agenda.  He wants Trade Promotion Authority, which will allow him to push highly problematic deals like the TPP (which like most “free trade” agreements disadvantages workers, public health and the environment).  In classic double speak, the President spoke of withdrawing from Afghanistan, by which he means leaving 10K troops there indefinitely.   This is euphemistically called the “zero option”.  Rather than end the NSA “metadata” domestic spying program, he simply wants to reform it, virtually insuring the problems will persist.  Turns out spies can’t be trusted, who knew?

metadata prism

And he missed the boat by pushing natural gas instead of renewables for his energy policy push.  Nothing was said about Keystone,  which is a bad sign.

Obama did say he wanted to place “prudent limits” on drone attacks.  What this means is that he recognizes that this is a political problem domestically, it turns out people are not excited about flying robots killing people, including often civilians.  Sadly, what “prudent limits” means is probably nothing at all.