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Borde-nough: Creating jobs in all the wrong places

Published: February 26, 2010
Section: Opinions


If the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index has as much to say about a president’s political health as it has in the past, President Barack Obama needs emergency care. The Index stands at 46, a drop of more than ten points since last month, and more than 40 points less than what is typically regarded as a good reading.

But while the president’s condition should worry his supporters, they can at least take comfort in knowing that he suffers from no dislocation of priorities. One month ago in his State of the Union address, when the president declared that “jobs must be our number-one focus in 2010,” he was even more serious than his words made him sound.

He was so serious that he set an example for bosses everywhere by hiring a new employee. According to Congressman Joe Sestak, who is challenging party-switching incumbent Senator Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary election this May, the president sought to appoint former rear admiral Joe Sestak to Secretary of the Navy.

One doubts that the job offer, which Sestak revealed in a Feb. 18 interview, would have been forthcoming had Sestak not been campaigning against Obama’s favored candidate, the ex-Republican Specter. The White House denies that an offer was made. Still, one could hardly blame the unemployed if they suddenly began mounting Democratic primary challenges en masse against the bland conservatives whom Obama apparently prefers.

The president’s focus on jobs means more than just hiring more help, it means ensuring available jobs are good ones, and that people get the pay they deserve and the benefits that basic human dignity requires. That must be why the Treasury Department decided to sign off on a compensation package for General Motors Chief Executive Officer Edward Whitacre consisting of $1.7 million in salary and $7.3 million in GM stock shares.

The administration might have reasoned that Whitacre was barely getting by, given that his job at GM paid only $950,000 in salary and $4.4 million in shares last year. Or maybe it believed that he was doing a better job this year-– a several-millions-of-dollars-better job. In any case, the US government owns more than 3/5 of GM, and Obama’s Treasury Department had to agree to the pay package. Alas, for other GM (and government) employees, it seems doubtful that Whitacre’s big money hints at things to come for those further down the employment food chain.

Obama’s health care plans have been a godsend for recession-hit Madison Avenue, as health care lobbyists vie to mislead the public with competing advertisements. Some ad agencies, however – especially politically well-placed ones – apparently still had had a hard row to hoe. The compassionate president must have felt their pain. He and his rich friends in the pharmaceutical industry put together a stimulus package of up to $150 million for advertisers in a deal, the results of which were discussed on Feb. 22 on the National Public Radio show Fresh Air.

The industry’s trade lobby, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (headed by another party-switching ex-congressman, Billy Tauzin), agreed with the administration to fund an ad campaign promoting Obama’s version of health care reform by funneling money through benignly named nonprofit groups. The administration, for its part, intervened in Congress to keep off the table provisions that would have threatened drug companies’ profits by allowing Medicare more flexibility in buying drugs and more leverage in negotiating drug prices. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, doubtless saw great wisdom in the deal, which would pay the advertising firm he founded, AKP & D Message and Media, to produce the ads. That’s nice work, if you can get it.

If the jobs that Obama has focused on seem strange, it helps to remember that the job he really cares most about won’t be at risk for more than two-and-a-half years.

Still, in a country where public spending does not come close to being paid for by tax dollars, somebody must be found to pay for the noble deeds of leaders like Obama. Unfortunately, China’s dictators, who until recently had been willing to buy all the bonds that the US Treasury saw fit to print, have in the last few months become net sellers of US bonds.

One hopes that other countries will buy more to keep America’s borrowing costs low, notwithstanding how laughable the prospect of repayment of a growing debt of more than $12 trillion has become. If not, maybe the US Mint will start contracting out its production work, so that printing tradesmen can take advantage when the government is forced to adopt the ultimate stimulus package, printing money to pay our creditors.