Obama’s “Bad Blood” with Business (August 5, 2010)

Much has been made recently of the strained rapport between the Obama administration and corporate interests. Various talking heads and opportunistic Republicans have seized upon the trumped up “war” between the President and Big Business as the cause of everything from the consistently high unemployment rate (“corporations are afraid to hire in this era of policy uncertainty”), to hard times for small business (“Obama’s desire to let tax cuts for the wealthy expire harms entrepreneurship”), and even, to my incredulity, the fallout from the BP oil spill. For example, the UK’s new Business Secretary, Vince Cable has been quoted as saying of Obama’s rampant criticism of BP’s actions before, during, and after the deep well explosion, “the president talks in a cheap way about ‘kicking ass’. Whether or not the American president can kick our asses, he can certainly hurt our wallets and purses.”

Thank you Mr. Cable for your ever so enlightened inclusion of ladies’ “purses” in your corporate lament. We now see you for the truly forward thinking, fair-minded guy you are (cue laugh track).

Even the “liberal media” has enjoyed taking the issue apart. Sunday morning talk show Meet the Press featured a panel discussion this past weekend including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. Greenspan, while rightly declaring the state of the economy to be “touch and go,” also added “The financial system is broke and I see we just stay where we are. There’s nothing out there that I can see which will alter the level of unemployment.”

As soon as the former Chairman uttered these words, I gleefully clapped my hands together and waited for host David Gregory to give him the what for. After all, that is what the incomparable and disinterested Tim Russert would have done. But the moment never arrived. How can Greenspan credulously state that he “sees nothing out there” to act as a positive force on current unemployment rates, at a time when Big Business is posting record profits, and holding onto wads of cash?

Companies like Adobe, AirTran, Honda – even the once shaky banks and mortgage lenders who needed a taxpayer bailout are suddenly right as rain. With all this good news, why isn’t a stronger bottom line leading to improvements for long struggling job seekers? As I perused The New York Times last week, suddenly the answer became clear:

Industries Find Surging Profits in Deeper Cuts
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/26/business/economy/26earnings.html

Writer Nelson D. Schwartz declares, “Many companies are focusing on cost-cutting to keep profits growing, but the benefits are mostly going to shareholders instead of the broader economy, as management conserves cash rather than bolstering hiring and production.” On so very many levels, this makes me ill. Seems to me that instead of focusing on the trumped up antagonism between Obama and corporations, we should be talking about how Fortune 500 establishments have become the tormenter of American families.

So to return to my earlier question, how did the rumor that the Obama administration is the enemy of business get started, and more importantly, why is it being perpetuated? From where I’m sitting, it seems that it’s never been a better time to be a CEO, if not a regular working stiff. In addition to the record profiteering, I don’t recall Obama slamming the door in the faces of banks, automakers and other industries that showed up on Capitol Hill with a tin cup begging for change.

Probing a little further, it seems that the convoluted health care and financial reform bills could be the tacit excuse. Big Business would have you believe that the runaway regulations being passed by the “socialist” President are the root cause of its persecution complex (see first paragraph – “corporations are afraid to hire in this era of policy uncertainty”).

Pardon my French, but what a bunch of horse shit. If anything, President Obama hasn’t done nearly enough to roll back the heady days of Clinton/Bush deregulation. I believe I am not alone in my frustration – having to listen to the tiny violin playing martyrdom of corporations, even as they pop champagne over record profits, commending themselves for delighting shareholders on the backs of the jobless masses.

If the Obama administration has been the arch nemesis of business, how much worse off would the nation be if he acted as a friend?

South Side! (October 13, 2009)

As a near lifelong resident of the City of Chicago, I have an embarassing confession to make. Though I have driven around over the years, the only neighborhood on the South Side that I could ever lay any real claim to knowing was Hyde Park. This is due to my involvement with the Chicago Children’s Choir in the mid-90s, when home base was still at a progressive Jewish synagogue in that neighborhood (so progressive in fact that the Temple held its worship services on Sundays). Some may be tempted to level accusations at me of not caring much what goes on outside the upper middle class North Side lakefront that I have called home for quite some time. I will not try to defend the indefensible because my lack of South Side awareness is just pathetic. However, rather than a lack of interest or concern, I have been guilty of laziness.

However, I am pleased to report that my ignorance has been somewhat reduced in the course of the last week, through my work with the Chicago Office of Tourism. I have fully explored no fewer than four neighborhoods in the last five working days, and three of them were almost entirely new to me: Chinatown, South Chicago and Pullman – all to the South.

I had eaten dim sum with my family in Chinatown a time or two as a youth, but I hardly think this qualifies as real experience in the neighborhood. Let me tell you, I used to think I knew a good deal about this City, but a wonderful new world has opened up to me. How could I never have been to Pullman? Such a rich history as the first planned industrial town. A place of gorgeous architecture and culture. Did I mention you can actually call yourself the owner of a gut rehabbed Pullman row house, a national historical landmark, for the price of about $150,000? You can’t buy a rundown shack on the North Side for anything close to that. Talk of a possible Red Line extension out to 135th street only sweetens the eventual return on your investment.

In South Chicago, and I can hardly believe I never knew this, there are 576 acres of lakefront shoreline, sitting, undeveloped, since 1992. The former site of the massive (and now defunct) U.S. Steel plant, the empty space is enough to fit the whole of Chicago’s downtown inside with a little room to spare. Can you imagine!? And it’s just been sitting there for the last 17 years. When I think of how vital the lakefront is downtown, on the North Side and in the parts of the South where beaches are prevalent, this is literally mind boggling. Certainly efforts to do something with the space would trickle out and benefit the economically depressed South Chicago neighborhood.

But not content to wait for the City or Big Business to make something happen, South Chicago is perfecting its own cottage industry. I was surprised to learn that the area is one of the “greenest” neighborhoods to be found in our town. Low income, modern, ecologically sound housing sprouts left and right, community gardens pepper the area – I know my good friend Kevin is laughing right about now, marveling at my naivete.

If you read Kevin’s blog, he just finished waxing poetic on his own love for the South and consequent ignorance of the North. We are like the geographic gift of the magi, me making him come to Lincoln Park for hot dogs, him whetting my whistle for the South Side with promises of a Indian fried chicken place. No, that is not an oxymoron. Such a magical place apparently exists and Kev says it does booming business.

It’s 2009. Why is there still such a divisive imaginary line between the North and South Sides?

Tomorrow, I make my way to South Deering. I love my job, in no small part because it is turning me into a more whole Windy City citizen, as I always should have been.