Saturday, January 31, 2009
From the University of Wisconsin's Daily Cardinal:
Nuclear worthy addition to renewable energies
by Lavilla Capener
The Daily Cardinal
January 30, 2009
Renewable fuels may be the future, but nuclear energy may help bridge the gap until new energy technologies become a reality
Lavilla Capener for College Democrats
We are in the midst of an energy crisis, and though the urgency has lessened for an energy solution since last summer because of lower gas prices and an economic recession, the problem is no less real. Although the economy will be President Obama’s chief concern in the coming months, our energy policy affects the economy and foreign policy decisions as much as the environment and our pocketbooks. We in Wisconsin can take steps to improve our energy policy, and, working with national leadership on the issue, we can change the way America evaluates and uses energy.
A fossil fuel-orientated energy policy is fading much like our reliance on an industrial economy. As service sector and information technology jobs take over for the classic factory jobs, our energy policy needs to utilize smarter, cutting-edge technologies to compete in a world market. Gas-guzzling SUVs will not cut it environmentally, and as the struggling “big three” automakers continue to beg Congress for money while Japanese automakers rake in the dough, the economics of traditional energy are not going to work anymore either.
We must realize, however not any single fuel source will pull us out of this mess—not wind, not solar, not hydropower—as useful as they may be. We need a comprehensive policy that incorporates several different sources of energy, including nuclear power.
Whoa, what? The College Democrats are endorsing nuclear power? Not necessarily. Although I think it is an option we need to explore, and many fellow Democrats (including several Wisconsin state lawmakers) agree, there are many people, including Democrats, Republicans and Independents, who have deep reservations about nuclear power—and with good reason. The nuclear power industry still has several kinks to work out, especially with the issues of a high start-up cost and permanent storage for nuclear waste. However, roadblocks are not a good enough reason to give up trying to make nuclear energy work, especially when nuclear electricity generation emits practically zero carbon emissions, a huge upside.
Nuclear power has been successful in Europe, and we have working nuclear reactors in the United States, though new plants have not been built in decades. Wind, solar, hydropower, hydrogen and ethanol all show promise for solving the energy crisis. Alternative energies cannot generate electricity on a constant basis, though they can supplement a main energy source.
We need something to provide a base load of energy that can take over when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining. If scientists can develop a method to harness and store solar or wind energy, we could implement it. In the meantime, we need to work with the reality of our situation. We can either accept the effect fossil fuel has on our environment and foreign policy decisions, or we can develop a dynamic energy policy with the goal of becoming energy independent.
The United States has produced great inventions and technologies when the government and the people invested time, money and energy into solving a pressing problem. If we can use several fuel sources effectively—including nuclear power—we can stimulate the economy, help the environment and create “green” jobs, all while becoming more energy independent.
Lavilla Capener is the communications director of the College Democrats of Madison.
For additional background on nuclear power, check out this article link from Scientific American.
Management consultant Peter Cohan has a keen insight on the present economic crisis in a column at BloggingStocks. Cohan says "finance has become the tail that wags the economic dog" and now is the time to "cut that tail down to size."
Is there a new reality on Wall Street pay?
January 31, 2009 by Peter Cohan
One of the questions that I spent this week discussing is this: What was Wall Street thinking? Whether it's using taxpayer money to pay itself $18.4 billion in bonuses or to buy a $50 million corporate jet after posting $35 billion in losses, people are wondering whether Wall Street gets it. The answer is yes. Wall Street gets that nobody stopped it from paying bonuses when it took our money, so it took what it could. Unless we limit how Wall Street spends taxpayer money, it will keep paying itself big bonuses.
Wall Street is a place where the people at the top are trained to grab as much as they can out of the hands of the other graspers. At least $200 billion worth of TARP money went to Wall Street with no strings attached. If you put that much money into the hands of a culture that believes firmly in taking what it can get -- it usually pays half of its revenues to employees -- you end up with Wall Street taking as much as it can from the taxpayers.
As long as the highest pay goes to Wall Streeters, our society is going to send its best and brightest into finance. Complaining about high Wall Street pay will not change the outcome. But Wall Street is going to need some of the next $350 billion in TARP money, so we face a choice. We can give it to them with no strings attached -- in which case they will pay themselves big bonuses again. Or we can give it to them with a requirement that they lend it out and pay bonuses only in bank common stock that can be sold after we taxpayers take our profits from selling our preferred shares.
If we don't change the conditions under which Wall Street gets taxpayer money, then we are going to get the same outrageous behavior we've seen in the last week.
Meanwhile, I hope that we can change our economy's incentives so that we send the best and brightest people to more useful industries. Personally, I'd like to see more talent going into high tech, teaching, and government. But one thing seems clear to me. Since the early 1980s, finance has become the tail that wags the economic dog. And that tail has brought the global financial system to its knees.
It's time to cut that tail down to size. That's because finance should be a force that supports the investment decisions of business executives who build the products that fuel the economy, rather than its economic engine. And changing Wall Street's culture and pay practices would help restore finance to that rightful place.
Peter Cohan is president of Peter S. Cohan & Associates. He also teaches management at Babson College and is the author of You Can't Order Change: Lessons from Jim McNerney's Turnaround at Boeing.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Civil Engineers' New Report Card Assesses Condition of Nation's Infrastructure
WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Decades of underfunding and inattention have jeopardized the ability of our nation's infrastructure to support our economy and facilitate our way of life. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) today released its 2009 Report Card for America's Infrastructure - assigning a cumulative grade of D to the nation's infrastructure and noting a five-year investment need of $2.2 trillion from all levels of government and the private sector. Since ASCE's last assessment in 2005 there has been little change in the condition of the nation's roads, bridges, drinking water systems and other public works, and the cost of improvement has increased by more than half a trillion dollars.
"Crumbling infrastructure has a direct impact on our personal and economic health, and the nation's infrastructure crisis is endangering our future prosperity," said ASCE president D. Wayne Klotz, P.E., F.ASCE. "Our leaders are looking for solutions to the nation's current economic crisis. Not only could investment in these critical foundations have a positive impact, but if done responsibly, it would also provide tangible benefits to the American people, such as reduced traffic congestion, improved air quality, clean and abundant water supplies and protection against natural hazards."
As the nation's infrastructure receives focused attention from the White House, Congress and the public, ASCE's 2009 Report Card for America's Infrastructure provides an assessment of the condition and need for investment of 15 infrastructure categories, including, for the first time, levees. While there has been some improvement since 2005, overall conditions in most categories have remained the same, or slipped even lower. Security, a category that was added to the Report Card in 2005, and which received an incomplete grade, has been removed from the list of assessed categories and added into the methodology used to assess each individual category. Grades included:
Aviation = D (down from a D+)
Bridges = C (no change)
Dams = D (no change)
Drinking Water = D- (no change)
Energy = D+ (up from a D)
Hazardous Waste = D (no change)
Inland Waterways = D (no change, previous listed a Navigable Waterways)
Levees = D- (new category)
Public Parks and Recreation = C- (no change)
Rail = C- (no change)
Roads = D- (down from D)
Schools = D (no change)
Solid Waste = C+ (no change)
Transit = D (down from D+)
Wastewater = D- (no change)
The Report Card also offers five key solutions for raising the nation's infrastructure GPA. These include:
Increasing federal leadership in infrastructure,
Promoting sustainability and resilience,
Developing federal, state and regional infrastructure plans,
Addressing life-cycle costs and ongoing maintenance and
Increasing and improving infrastructure investment from all stakeholders.
Each category was evaluated on the basis of capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety and resilience. A detailed report, which accompanies the grades released today, will be released on March 25, 2009. For more information, including solutions for solving America's infrastructure problems and ASCE's Principles for Economic Stimulus Investment, visit www.asce.org/reportcard.
Founded in 1852, ASCE represented more than 146,000 civil engineers worldwide, and is America's oldest national engineering society. For more information, visit www.asce.org.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
by Craig Harrington
This country has been in a recession for over a year and even the most optimistic outlook puts recovery at least another year away. We have watched as our largest and most profitable companies have been reduced to ruins or brought to the brink of annihilation. We saw our commuter economy bludgeoned by the rising tide of oil costs. We saw the biggest government bailout in world history enacted against our will and with our tax dollars, and have yet to see any return for the investment. This country is certainly in a difficult spot, but the question remains.
How did we get here?
I. Free Trade
The United States’ position in the international economic community has changed dramatically in the 60 years since “free trade” replaced “economic nationalism” as the standard operating procedure of most governments. The United States has descended from the alpha and omega of the world economy.
Unfortunately, our policy approach to “free trade” hasn’t shifted at all to realign with our current situation. If anything, our policies are now even more geared toward a 1950s era America than they are for today's climate. International “free trade” is a one-way street in which all factors of production are shifted to the cheapest available market. That market used to be in the United States, but now it is located in Mexico, Southeast Asia, Europe or elsewhere. Labor in the U.S. is simply too expensive for most producers, so they take their businesses elsewhere and avoid the health, safety, wage and environmental standards already in place in the U.S.
This system has turned our economy - once based on exports and creating wealth - into a pauper surviving on imports while incurring more and more debt.
II. Foreign Takeovers
Our unbalanced trade system has a net result of importing goods and exporting dollars. From 2001-2008 the United States economy lost approximately $4.8 trillion via its import deficit. Much of this money simply leaves the economy never to return, but a sizable portion returns to the United States in the form of foreign direct investment (FDI). Businesses like FDI because it brings capital into their coffers, and the government likes it because they see all FDI as wealth producing “investment” – our government is obsessed with promoting “investing,” which is little more than gambling.
However, when a company receives FDI it must, in return, give over some controlling interest of the company. For example, a Japanese firm will come to the United States and use the money it acquired by selling goods to our consumers for the purpose of buying one of our companies. Thousands of U.S. companies have either been purchased outright or taken under control by foreign investors, essentially making them foreign companies. This speeds up our trade deficit, deflates our economy, and puts any future advancement from research and development in the hands of foreign interests.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States is supposed to safeguard against unfair mergers and acquisitions, yet it takes little or no action in almost 99 percent of the case submissions it receives.
Several key factors have been instrumental in our fall from grace. Our “free trade” policies have allowed other countries to use unfair tactics to put our industries out of business. As disastrous policies allowed our companies and corporations to be taken over, we took no action to block the hostility or protect our sources of wealth. Our “free trade” ideology and our complete lack of protection from foreign takeovers are just a few of the many reasons that the economic situation in the United States is in such dire straights. We need to put people into elected office who are willing to right the ship and correct this imbalance. We cannot survive on more of the same. We must contact our elected officials, and implore them to either change the error of their ways or face defeat in re-election.
Syndicated columnist Froma Harrop is optimistic about the prospects of national health care finally becoming a reality in the United States. Our nation's health system is broken. Tens of millions of working Americans are going without health insurance. Fixing our health care system must be a top priority in Washington.
Froma Harrop: Beyond rhetoric on health care
The Providence Journal www.projo.com
01:00 AM EST on Thursday, January 22, 2009
LET THE NAME-CALLING begin. A national health plan is again proposed, and its foes are trying to deal it death by unflattering labels. The old favorites include “socialized medicine” and “government takeover of health care.”
Some 61 percent of Americans think it’s more important than ever to fix the health-care system — an encouraging number for Tom Daschle, who was put in charge of making universal coverage happen. But the former South Dakota senator knows full well how organized attacks can puncture big majorities.
Harry Truman proposed national health insurance in 1945 and 75 percent of Americans applauded. Then the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a pamphlet, entitled “You and Socialized Medicine.” Doctors joined the assault, and by 1949, support for the plan had cratered to 21 percent.
Richard Nixon tried to launch national health insurance. Bill and Hillary Clinton famously tried. Daschle relates this sad history and shares his own proposal in a book, Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care crisis.
This is not 1993, when Clinton’s vision crashed. There were 38 million uninsured then. Today there are 47 million, and that doesn’t count another 25 million with crummy coverage. Many millions more fear layoffs that could cost them their coverage.
However, it is still remarkably simple to frame health-care reform in a way that turns people off.
For example: Some 71 percent of Americans want to require employers to either offer health insurance or pay money into a government pool, according to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. But when asked whether they’d still support that mandate if they heard that some companies might lay off people as a result, the number sinks to 29 percent.
Another question in the survey: “Would you be willing to pay more — either in higher health-insurance premiums or higher taxes — in order to increase the number of Americans who have health insurance?” Respondents were about evenly split, with 49 percent saying “no” and 47 percent saying “yes.”
Enemies of national health insurance will no doubt exploit the weak spots in support. And the group most open to their claims is those who have coverage at work and like their deal.
Backers of a national plan will argue that broad reform would include containing costs while preserving quality. Americans spend $8,000 a year on health care for each man, woman and child — even counting the 47 million who have no insurance at all. Other rich countries spend half as much and they cover everyone.
The happily insured must understand that the premiums employers pay ultimately come out of their paychecks. While a national health plan would cost more money in the beginning, it is expected to start saving money in later years.
To win over the happily insured, Daschle would simply build on the current system. The uninsured would pick from a buffet of health plans. The choices would include several private options and one public plan. Expect demagoguery over the latter. The insurance companies don’t want that competition.
It was a matter of time before would-be wreckers of a national health plan resume dark talk about a plot to install “top-down command and control of American medicine” and “HillaryCare.” But a lot of things have changed in the 15 years since Clinton failed to make universal coverage an American reality.
Insecurity over health coverage is surging. Spiraling medical costs have made American companies less competitive. And Americans are feeling beaten up by the crashing economy.
This time, a national health plan may survive the derogatory labels.
Froma Harrop is a member of The Journal’s editorial board and a syndicated columnist.
Iowa Public Television's Market to Market reports on President Obama's agenda for Rural America:
Listening to the inaugural address of America’s 44th President this week, it seemed likely Obama’s presidency is destined to be compared to that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Not since FDR’s 1933 inaugural address in the midst the Great Depression has a president used the occasion to advocate a legislative agenda the way Obama did on Tuesday.
Roosevelt realized that the largest task at hand in 1933 was to put people to work. And Obama renewed his call for congressional action creating new jobs building and repairing public infrastructure.
Both FDR and Obama were faced with a skeptical electorate that had grown increasingly disillusioned amidst troubling economic times. While Obama has repeatedly stated that the economy is his top priority, it is less clear what that means to America’s farmers and ranchers.
Andrew Batt examined Obama’s rural agenda over the past two years and filed this report.
As the nation watched Barack Obama assume the Presidency this week, the weight of two wars and an economic recession hung heavily on America’s 44th Commander-in-Chief.
President Barack Obama: “America. For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.”
“We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.”
President Obama’s nod towards alternative energy is nothing new. A grueling two-year campaign for the Presidency highlighted numerous issues including the future of wind power and biofuels.
From the cold caucuses in Iowa…
Obama: “We need to foster the development of the next generation of biofuels.”
To the daily grind of the general election…
Obama: “Wind, tide, solar, we can do it all and we must do it all…”
Obama has promised to double alternative energy production in his first term – a lofty goal buoyed by massive federal spending. The $825 billion stimulus bill proposed by Obama and modified by House Democrats includes a litany of investments. Under the new plan, some federal tax credits, for sectors like wind energy, would become Energy Department grants paid in advance to spur faster alternative energy investment.
The omnibus bill also includes $6 billion designated for rural broadband infrastructure. But it’s still unclear whether or not the bill’s larger sums, aimed at state and local infrastructure, will be used for Rural projects like bridges and country highways.
Outside of the stimulus proposal, the Obama Administration’s views on agriculture include a variety of initiatives and some in agreement with Republicans.
Tom Buis, President National Farmers Union: “Let’s give Senator Barack Obama a warm Iowa Farmers Union welcome.”
Speaking to members of the Iowa Farmers Union in November 2007, then-Senator Obama agreed with a bipartisan proposal from Iowa Republican Charles Grassley to cap farm subsidy payments at $250,000. Despite a bipartisan coalition, the subsidy cap did not make it in the 2008 farm bill.
President Barack Obama: "Here's what I'll do as president. I'll immediately implement Country of Origin Labeling because Americans should know where their food comes from."
Federal officials were set to enforce Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL in the coming months but an Obama executive order this week froze all pending regulations until further review from the new Administration.
Current COOL policy would allow a meat processor using product from foreign and domestic sources to simply place “multiple countries” labels on the packaging. Some cattle groups hope Obama and new Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack will “tighten” rules concerning a “multiple countries” label and enforce more descriptive labeling.
Obama: "I have always stood for tougher environmental regulations and local control over whether CAFOs can be built in your neighborhood. That's why we need to limit EQUIP funding to giant CAFOs so they pay for their own pollution and that's what I will do as President of the United States."
Obama’s stance on controlled animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, has endeared the new President in many environmental circles but those same stances have created an uneasy reception from livestock producers.
Barack Obama: "Tell ConAgra it's not the Department of Agribusiness. It's the Department of Agriculture."
Despite Obama’s public condemnation of agribusinesses, critics have blasted new Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack as “too close” to large agriculture companies. The former Iowa Governor has a history of supporting biotechnology and ethanol production during his tenure in the Hawkeye State. In his conformation hearing last week, Vilsack said he would be a Secretary for all American farmers.
Sec. Tom Vilsack, USDA: "I do appreciate the diversity of agriculture and that it's the job of the USDA to be responsive and representative of all of that diversity and to be supportive of that diversity...These are hard working people, these are folks that have a value system that is not just important to them I would argue that it's important to us, to this country.”
While Obama will likely confront multiple domestic and international challenges in his first 100 days, the 44th U.S. President made a 2007 promise to quickly tackle rural policy.
Obama: "After I'm elected I will ask Democrats and Republicans to come together for a summit on Rural America and it won't be held in Washington it will be right here in Iowa. And we will take action on a Rural Agenda in my first hundred days in office."
For Market to Market, I’m Andrew Batt.
Terry Mattingly points out in the column below that the abortion question isn't as simple as just being pro-life or pro-choice. Most Americans fall somewhere in the middle in the clash of absolutes.
Americans want shades of gray in abortion debate
By Terry Mattingly
Contra Costa Times www.contracostatimes.com
January 21, 2009
When it comes to abortion, most Americans know what they want — and what they want will not please either Planned Parenthood or the Vatican.
What they want is compromise. What they want are shades of gray.
In a Harris Interactive survey, 9 percent of participants agreed that abortion should be legal for any reason at any point during a pregnancy. On the other side, 11 percent wanted a total ban.
In between were plenty of Americans who back legalized abortion but, to one degree or another, want to see restrictions. The sponsors of the national survey were amazed.
"We remain opposed to abortion, which means we oppose any procedure that seeks to destroy the life of an unborn child. That isn't going to change," said Deidre McQuade, speaking for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "But what we are seeing is growing evidence that most Americans do want to see abortion restricted and limited."
That's why the bishops are hailing these results, even though most of the numbers point toward compromises that fall short of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
Looking at the extremes, the survey asked whether abortion should be "illegal in all circumstances" or "legal for any reason at any time during pregnancy." But in between, participants could say that abortion should remain legal to "save the life of the mother" or legal in cases involving rape or incest. They could also say that abortion should be legal "for any reason" during the first three months or the first six months of pregnancy.
In addition to the 11 percent who wanted a total ban, 38 percent backed restricting abortion to cases of rape, incest or a threat to the mother's life. Another 33 percent endorsed limiting abortion to the first three or six months of pregnancy.
Asked if they opposed or supported specific policies restricting abortion, 88 percent of those who stated opinions backed informed consent laws requiring abortion providers to tell women of the risks to their physical and psychological health and about alternatives to abortion.
Also, 76 percent of those expressing opinions favored laws that "protect doctors and nurses from being forced to perform or refer for abortions against their will" and 73 percent supported laws that "require giving parents the chance to be involved in their minor daughter's abortion decision."
These numbers resemble those in a 2006 survey on politics, faith and social issues produced by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. It found that majorities of Republicans (62 percent), Democrats (70 percent) and political independents (66 percent) favored some form of compromise on abortion, as did more than 60 percent of both white evangelicals and white, non-Hispanic Catholics.
Digging deeper, that Pew survey even found that 37 percent of liberal Democrats and 71 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats supported some compromise, backing abortion restrictions that would not be allowed under current interpretations of Roe v. Wade and other U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Terry Mattingly is director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the GetReligion.org project to study religion and the news.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
The China Currency Coalition ("CCC") has commended the Obama Administration and Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner for recognizing that China is manipulating its currency.
"This is a battle we have been fighting for over four years," said CCC Co-Chairman Richard L. Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO. "China's manipulation of its currency since 1994 continues to take an enormous toll on working families and manufacturing in the United States. It has contributed to our severe economic problems. We are pleased and appreciative that the Obama Administration intends to act aggressively on this important issue."
"This is a very important step toward resolution of this problem," said Doug Bartlett, Co-Chair of the Coalition, owner of Bartlett Manufacturing Company, Inc. in Cary, Illinois, and a Board member of the U.S. Business and Industry Council. "By the same token, it is important to note that under existing law, recognition that a country manipulates its currency only requires that the U.S. Administration engage in talks with China about the matter. Such talks have been going on between the Treasury Department and Chinese officials for years, with virtually no effect," he said.
"The view of the China Currency Coalition is that Congressional legislation allowing U.S. companies and workers to petition for trade remedies remains urgently needed. The CCC is working with Members of Congress to make this happen," Bartlett said.
In the CCC's view, the mercantilist currency practices of a number of countries, not China alone, are the antithesis of free and fair trade. For that reason, it welcomes the strong language used by Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner that "countries like China cannot continue to get a free pass for undermining fair trade principles."
The CCC also welcomes Mr. Geithner's statement that "the new economic team will forge an integrated strategy on how best to achieve currency realignment in the current economic environment," Mr. Trumka added. "The members of our Coalition stand ready to work closely with the Obama Administration to achieve that goal. It is long overdue and badly needed, especially at a time of global economic crises. We cannot imagine how global economic growth can resume on a sound and stable footing without addressing the source of fundamental imbalance."
About the China Currency Coalition
The China Currency Coalition is an alliance of industry, agriculture, services, and worker organizations whose mission is to support U.S. manufacturing and production by seeking an end to Chinese currency undervaluation. Additional information on the Coalition can be found on its website: www.chinacurrencycoalition.org.
Friday, January 23, 2009
New York Governor David Paterson has named U.S. Representative Kirsten Gillibrand to the United States Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. Gillibrand isn't viewed as your typical New York Democratic politician according to a recent Newsday profile:
When Kirsten Gillibrand ran against GOP Rep. John Sweeney in 2006, he tried to paint her as an urban liberal, a potentially lethal label in their rural upstate district.
But during her victorious House campaign and two years in office, Gillibrand (D-Hudson) has positioned herself as a centrist, with an "A" grade from the National Rifle Association as evidence of her willingness to break from Democratic orthodoxy. She also voted against the Wall Street bailout and was the only New York Democrat to vote to extend funding for the Iraq war in 2007.
"She had to shake the perception that she was a city liberal," said David Wasserman, of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "Her voting record has indicated that she is different from a Charlie Rangel or a Carolyn Maloney or even a Nita Lowey."
In Congress, Gillibrand has been a proponent of immigration control co-sponsoring the SAVE Act introduced by Congressman Heath Shuler D-NC. The SAVE Act would create eight thousand additional Customs and Border Patrol positions and require all employers to verify legal status through the Social Security Administration.
Gillibrand is a strong supporter of labor and advocate for worker's rights. Stuart Applebaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union noted that Representative Gillibrand has a near perfect voting record on pro-worker legislation and is a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act. Applebaum stated: "As Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand will be a strong and vocal advocate for issues that are important to working families and the RWDSU looks forward to continuing our work with her."
Monday, January 19, 2009
Jim Holbert has announced his candidacy for Congress in Kentucky's District 5. Holbert is an economic populist-social conservative Democrat who will emphasize issues such as expanding access to health care, ending unfair trade policies, improving education, controlling illegal immigration and defending the right to keep and bear arms.
"The people of southeast Kentucky know we need better ideas in Congress if we expect to have a better future. After 28 years of Hal Rogers in Congress, the 5th District is still confronted by a failing education system and a lack of job opportunities, and many of our people don't have adequate access to health care. In Congress I will support ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to free up funds for the things we need to do here at home. I will work for an energy plan for the future of our region and our Country, one that benefits America instead of OPEC. And I will work to end the disastrous free trade, immigration, and economic policies that have caused our economic crisis and the loss of millions of American jobs. Hal Rogers voted for the Bailout and he was a rubber stamp for the Bush administration's policies. Hal Rogers represents the ideas that have failed. I stand for common sense solutions for our Country, our people, and our future, and that's why I'm seeking the 2010 Democratic nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives to represent the people of Kentucky's 5th District in Congress."
A resident of Laurel County, Holbert is a former U.S. Army and U.S. Coast Guard pilot who works as an Emergency Medical Service helicopter pilot throughout southeast Kentucky and currently serves as a member of the Kentucky Airport Zoning Commission.
Holbert encouraged everyone to visit his campaign website, www.holbertforcongress.com, to see where he stands on issues and to let him know their concerns about the region's future.
From BBC News:
All politicians are prone to make slips of the tongue in the heat of the moment - and President George W Bush has made more than most.
The word "Bushism" has been coined to label his occasional verbal lapses during eight years in office, which come to an end on 20 January.
Here are some of his most memorable pronouncements.
"They misunderestimated me."
Bentonville, Arkansas, 6 November, 2000
''I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe - I believe what I believe is right." Rome, 22 July, 2001
"There's an old saying in Tennessee - I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee - that says, fool me once, shame on... shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again."
Nashville, Tennessee, 17 September, 2002
"There's no question that the minute I got elected, the storm clouds on the horizon were getting nearly directly overhead."
Washington DC, 11 May, 2001
"I want to thank my friend, Senator Bill Frist, for joining us today. He married a Texas girl, I want you to know. Karyn is with us. A West Texas girl, just like me."
Nashville, Tennessee, 27 May, 2004
"For a century and a half now, America and Japan have formed one of the great and enduring alliances of modern times."
Tokyo, 18 February, 2002
"The war on terror involves Saddam Hussein because of the nature of Saddam Hussein, the history of Saddam Hussein, and his willingness to terrorise himself."
Grand Rapids, Michigan, 29 January, 2003
"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." Washington DC, 5 August, 2004
"I think war is a dangerous place." Washington DC, 7 May, 2003
"The ambassador and the general were briefing me on the - the vast majority of Iraqis want to live in a peaceful, free world. And we will find these people and we will bring them to justice."
Washington DC, 27 October, 2003
"Free societies are hopeful societies. And free societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat."
Washington DC, 17 September, 2004
"You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror."
CBS News, Washington DC, 6 September, 2006
"Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?"
Florence, South Carolina, 11 January, 2000
"Reading is the basics for all learning."
Reston, Virginia, 28 March, 2000
"As governor of Texas, I have set high standards for our public schools, and I have met those standards."
CNN, 30 August, 2000
"You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.''
Townsend, Tennessee, 21 February, 2001
"I understand small business growth. I was one."
New York Daily News, 19 February, 2000
"It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it."
Reuters, 5 May, 2000
"I do remain confident in Linda. She'll make a fine Labour Secretary. From what I've read in the press accounts, she's perfectly qualified."
Austin, Texas, 8 January, 2001
"First, let me make it very clear, poor people aren't necessarily killers. Just because you happen to be not rich doesn't mean you're willing to kill."
Washington DC, 19 May, 2003
"I don't think we need to be subliminable about the differences between our views on prescription drugs."
Orlando, Florida, 12 September, 2000
"Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB/GYN's aren't able to practice their love with women all across the country."
Poplar Bluff, Missouri, 6 September, 2004
"Will the highways on the internet become more few?"
Concord, New Hampshire, 29 January, 2000
"It would be a mistake for the United States Senate to allow any kind of human cloning to come out of that chamber."
Washington DC, 10 April, 2002
"Information is moving. You know, nightly news is one way, of course, but it's also moving through the blogosphere and through the Internets."
Washington DC, 2 May, 2007
OUT OF LEFT FIELD
"I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully."
Saginaw, Michigan, 29 September, 2000
"Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream."
LaCrosse, Wisconsin, 18 October, 2000
"Those who enter the country illegally violate the law."
Tucson, Arizona, 28 November, 2005
"That's George Washington, the first president, of course. The interesting thing about him is that I read three - three or four books about him last year. Isn't that interesting?"
Speaking to reporter Kai Diekmann, Washington DC, 5 May, 2006
"I have a different vision of leadership. A leadership is someone who brings people together."
Bartlett, Tennessee, 18 August, 2000
"I'm the decider, and I decide what is best."
Washington DC, 18 April, 2006
"And truth of the matter is, a lot of reports in Washington are never read by anybody. To show you how important this one is, I read it, and [Tony Blair] read it."
On the publication of the Baker-Hamilton Report, Washington DC, 7 December, 2006
"All I can tell you is when the governor calls, I answer his phone."
San Diego, California, 25 October, 2007
"I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office."
Washington DC, 12 May, 2008
Washington Post reporter Anne Hull recently visited with residents of Brinkley,Arkansas to discuss their attitudes about the incoming Obama Presidency. Like ten other counties in Arkansas, Marion County voted for John Kerry in 2004 but favored John McCain in 2008. Arkansas has remained one of the more Democratic states in the South but for how long ? The January 16 Washington Post article is a reminder is the disconnect in America between rural communities and more urbanized areas. Democrats still have trouble relating to rural voters and not just in Arkansas where the problem is more obvious as rural voters still dominate the state's electoral politics. Check out this map to see the red vs. blue split in the 2008 election which is largely rural vs. urban. http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mejn/election/2008/countymapredbluer1024.png
The Obama Administration must have a strong outreach to rural America, programs to help small towns become more economically viable and to stay away from the gun control issue. Divisive matters like gay marriage and abortion have not helped Democrats in rural America but perceptions of being hostile to gun ownership have done as much or more political damage.
Wayne Loewer’s truck reveals a lot about his life. A 12-gauge shotgun for duck hunting rests on the floorboard. A blue thermal lunch bag containing elk meat is shoved under the seat, left in haste that morning by his teenage son rushing to catch the school bus.
Binoculars in the console help Loewer scan his 2,900 acres of rice, soybeans and corn.
The dashboard radio is set to classic rock, playing the same Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes from Loewer’s high school days, when Brinkley was a thriving small town with stores and a movie theater.
His muddy truck is 900 miles from the kiosks crowding Pennsylvania Avenue selling “Hope Won” T-shirts. But more than miles separate Loewer from the coming celebration in Washington over Barack Obama’s inauguration as president.
The 52-year-old farmer is a conservative Democrat who bet on Republican John McCain and lost, a description that would apply to many in the white South. Now Loewer wonders about his place in Obama’s America.
“I’m worried that he’s not gonna understand the rural way of life,” he says.
On this cold January morning, Loewer makes his morning rounds — the irrigation company, the seed distributor, a well supplier — and everywhere he goes, the same anxieties are expressed.
“That comment he made about guns and religion, it’s frightening, you have to admit,” says the secretary at his accountant’s office.
Loewer agrees. “I don’t believe in going around with a gun strapped to your hip, Wild West-style,” he says. “But you ought to be able to protect yourself.”
He understands the cultural chasm between him and Obama’s Ivy League, biracial, global polish. He realizes he is set apart from the 53 percent majority that put Obama in the White House.
Loewer is not bitter. He is eager to see how Obama will govern.
Still, on the eve of the inauguration, a sense of apprehension prevails in a place that rejected the new president and now warily awaits his version of America.
Brinkley is halfway between Little Rock and Memphis, Tenn. Few things break the quiet — the sound of geese, the 18-wheelers winding by on Interstate 40 or a train whistle blowing from the tracks that run through downtown.
These Delta lowlands are perfect for duck and deer hunting and for growing rice, which Loewer farms just as his father did.
The rural way of life that Loewer describes has its problems. In Brinkley, they include closed-up storefronts, a population that has shrunk to 3,300, a poor education system and meager income levels. Locals say the recession hitting the nation is felt less here because there was no housing or job boom to begin with.
In a presidential election in which the country went solidly Democratic, Arkansas turned a deeper shade of red. Obama didn’t campaign in the state, which may partially explain his loss here to McCain by 20 points, but the defeat also reveals the complexities of the country he inherits, particularly in Appalachia and the upland South.
Eleven counties in Arkansas switched their allegiance from the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004 to the Republican in 2008. This includes Monroe County, where, even with an black population of 40 percent, McCain beat Obama by three points.
Robert Serio, chairman of the local Democratic Party for 30 years, says Obama was viewed as too liberal in Monroe County.
“We don’t look at national Democrats as being family-oriented,” says Serio, a lawyer. “The multicultural thing would be something we are opposed to. The homosexual question would have an impact.”
Serio declined to say whom he voted for.
Wayne Loewer defies rigid categorization. A Blue Dog Democrat like many in Arkansas, he voted for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Church plays no role in his life. He supports a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion.
He thought a McCain administration would be just a continuation of Bush’s, and he was tired of Bush and what he saw as a failed war in Iraq. He thought Obama’s farm policies were stronger than McCain’s.
But he says Obama lost his support when he made his infamous remarks at a private fundraiser in San Francisco about small-town Americans who feel marginalized and “cling to guns or religion.”
Guns define Loewer’s life. He grew up walking the woods with a rifle. He worked as a guide during duck season for extra income. His deep freezer is full of game that he grills with Cajun seasoning or portobello mushrooms for family dinners. There are few better feelings than the one he gets taking his 14-year-old son hunting and teaching him about white-tailed deer.
“We depend on our guns in the South,” he says. One of his favorite bumper stickers reads, “If you want more gun control, use two hands.”
Not long after Obama’s comments, Loewer received mailers from the National Rifle Association saying that Obama planned to ban hunting, restrict gun laws and close 90 percent of gun shops. Several nonpartisan fact-checking groups discredited the claims, but the gun dealers Loewer talked to said the NRA had it right.
“When Obama got elected, I went out and bought a rifle and pistol shells for every weapon I own,” he says. “I bought $400 worth of ammo.”
Not that Loewer feared Armageddon or a race war; he was stocking up in case the warnings from the NRA and the gun dealers came true.
Some of his alarm has subsided. Obama seems focused on the economy. His appointments so far have been centrist and solid, though it is widely noted in Brinkley that no Southerner has been nominated to any top post.
“Payback time,” Loewer says, for the South’s rejection of Obama.
He has noticed that blacks around Brinkley — many whose families originally came to this region to pick cotton — have a newly emboldened attitude. He’s heard about people cutting in line at the grocery store or “doing a little victory dance at the Kwik Shop.”
“If he brings us out of this mess we’re in right now, I’ll get out in the street and fist bump with them,” he says.
With planting season two months away, Loewer is monitoring fertilizer and fuel prices so he can lock in a good rate. The volatility of the market makes everything harder. The cost of gasoline has risen 30 cents in the past four days.
Obama never campaigned in Arkansas, but if he had come to the Delta region he would have seen a primeval beauty with a summer heat so punishing that farm hands walk the rice fields with jugs of water strapped to their sides.
He would have also faced men in feed caps who mistrusted his message of optimism.
“Obama has almost no history with the South,” Loewer says, sitting across the desk from Jordan Rudick, a manager at Ritter Crop Service.
“I figure his concern ain’t for the South,” says Rudick, 26. “He cares more about the urban areas.”
Back in his truck, his wife calls from the Kroger store in Brinkley where she’s worked for 35 years. Loewer says he’ll swing by, and in five minutes he’s standing at a register in front.
Near the refrigerated cases, a petite woman holding an inventory scanner greets him. She’s wearing a name tag that says “Audrey Loewer, general manager, serving you since 1972.”
Obama did not get her vote, either. “I don’t know what will happen to people around here if he puts restrictions on guns,” Audrey says. “Me and Wayne, we’re lucky, we have jobs. With the tight economy, there’s gonna be more thefts.
“You see people come in here, you can watch how they buy. They fill up two or three baskets when the check comes in at the first of the month. Then they’ll come in at the end of the month and you see Vienna sausages and Spam in their cart. They’ll load up on bread.”
The Loewers go into the back stockroom, where a woman in her early 40s is lifting 50-pound bags of dog food. A radio plays Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life.”
Audrey Loewer started her shift at 5 a.m. But a job like hers in a place like Brinkley is worth its weight in gold: Her family has full health insurance through Kroger.
Loewer rides across the railroad tracks downtown, past the empty red-brick buildings and the rice-drying operations. He pulls into the parking lot of the Tri County Farmers Association, joining the other trucks lined up out front.
He walks back toward a spacious executive office occupied by Jim Batchelor, the general manager of the agricultural co-op, which serves 1,500 members.
Batchelor offers his philosophy on why Obama lost Monroe County. He says people feared that he would expand social welfare programs.
“You earn your wealth,” Batchelor says. “We’ve had enough handouts from the government. We have second- and third-generation blacks who are living in the projects; they’ll never get out of it. They are taught to live in it.”
Batchelor says one has to understand the local mindset. “How can we expect somebody like Obama to do a good job when they can’t even handle things around here?” he asks.
Back in the truck, Loewer says he disagrees with some of the comments. “I’ve had white guys work for me who couldn’t read or write,” he says.
He mentions this as he drives out to see Phil Hicks, his top farmhand, who lives in the rural crossroads of Goodwin in a mobile home.
When Loewer arrives, Hicks emerges from a shed where he has been doing some carpentry work. He stands in a ghostyard of old refrigerators tilting in the dirt. Hicks, who is black, has been working for the Loewer family since he was 20. He is now 47 and a father of three. He earns $30,000 a year and gets a winter furlough. He has no benefits.
Hicks loves hunting and the rural life just as much as Loewer, but he voted for Obama.
“He’s talking about getting us some health care,” Hicks says. “I bet you out of 10 people, nine of them don’t have health care around here.”
Hicks says the part of the country a president is from doesn’t matter when it comes to representing the interests of rural Southerners. “A lot of people from the South just got that mentality,” he says.
Loewer grins. “You can’t say all Southerners.”
“That why I said, ‘most,’ boss man,” Hicks says, grinning back. “I know you ain’t nothing like that.”
A brief silence before Hicks speaks again. “When my daddy was growing up, all they wanted to do was to use you up and then they were through with you,” he says.
He says he knows exactly where he’ll be on the day Obama is sworn in: inside his mobile home at the edge of the vast lowlands, glued to CNN.
Loewer says he doesn’t know where he’ll be on Tuesday but he probably won’t watch the inauguration. He will be in the fields, gearing up for planting and wondering about the distance between him and his new president.
“I still have a sneaking suspicion that the price of guns and shells are gonna skyrocket,” he says. “But we’ll see.”
Read the full article at:
Sunday, January 18, 2009
For Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. -
A Tribute And A Prayer
by Rev. Bill McGinnis
January 15th is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. And April 4th is the anniversary of his death, by assassination. These two dates are worthy of remembrance by all people who love freedom and justice. And now we have the Martin Luther King Day holiday -- the third Monday in January -- in honor of his life.
One of my co-workers (from another country) asked me this question: "What did Martin Luther King actually do to deserve a holiday in his name?"
My reply was this:
"Martin Luther King was the unquestioned leader of the American Civil Rights movement during our period of transition from racial segregation to integration. As a Christian minister, he taught non-violence, and his leadership steered us safely through the changes without the kind of catastrophic violence we might have had otherwise. He was willing to risk his life for this cause, and his life was taken because of it. He is a true hero to everyone who loves justice."
I didn't appreciate him at the time, during his ministry. I was a know-it-all young white man from a segregated high school in Florida, and I thought he was a dangerous trouble-maker and probably a Communist. Only later did I realize how very important he had been, and how much we all owed to him for leading us safely through those perilous times, which could have turned into a disaster, but did not. And only recently have I come to discern the Holy Spirit shining within him, leading him every step of his way, even unto death.
So now I offer this prayer for him:
A Prayer For Martin Luther King
Dear Lord, I pray for Martin Luther King,
That You will bless his soul forevermore,
And keep him always close unto Yourself.
As You did put Your Spirit into Him,
I pray You put Your Spirit into us,
That we, like Martin, might be filled with love,
And we, like Martin, might have strength to act.
In Jesus' holy name I pray, Amen.
by Rev. Bill McGinnis - Public Domain
One Of His Favorite Songs: "Deep River"
With MIDI music, words, a and MP3 of the music - all
in the Public Domain. http://www.internetchurchofchrist.org/deepriver.html
Please see our page containing MLK's => "Letter From The Birmingham City Jail" at http://www.loveallpeople.org/letterfromthebirminghamcityjail.html - the original Public domain text, with an MP3 reading of it, also in the Public Domain.
Please also see our page about his "Mountaintop Speech," delivered the night before his assassination - with links to the text and actual recording, at => http://www.loveallpeople.org/mlkmountaintopspeech.html
Writing in Education Week, Doug Tuthill makes a strong argument for a public-private school partnership. Providing a quality education to all students, regardless of background, is the civil rights issue of our time. Many rank and file Democrats support school choice. Tuthill points out that the original supporters of vouchers were Democrats like Hubert Humphrey and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Our party leaders need to take a second look at vouchers.
Rethinking the Notion of Public vs. Private
By Doug Tuthill
January 21, 2009
If red and blue are to carry little political salience in the Obama White House, then public and private should prove similarly uninteresting in the new president’s Department of Education. These two adjectives, long used as hand grenades in the national education debate, are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Instead, school systems across America are forming joint ventures with private providers to give their students more options. The result is an emerging public education system that embraces customization and social entrepreneurship while defying traditional labels.
President Barack Obama already has signaled his intent to double federal funding for charter schools nationally. Charter schools come in all flavors, run by retired educators or community activists or city governments or corporate chains, and they now reach 1.2 million students in 4,300 schools in 40 states. In Arizona, one in every 11 students attends a charter school. In New Orleans, the ratio is one in two. Last year, one in every 33 public school students in America was served by a form of schooling that didn’t exist less than a generation ago.
By most standards, charter schools would be considered private. They are privately owned, run by private boards, staffed by private employees, and typically housed in private buildings. But they are tuition-free, and their money comes from taxpayers through a contract with a state government or school district. So are they public or private? As Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, N.J., likes to say, as long as they can succeed in getting students to read and write and think, it doesn’t really matter.
Today’s school systems have exploded the historical definition of public education. Public high school students might enroll in the privately owned International Baccalaureate curriculum, dual-enroll in a local community college, or take a publicly funded online course from a teacher who lives in another country. Elementary and middle school students are enticed by magnet and fundamental programs and arts academies. Private companies run alternative public schools, and private schools receive public funds to teach students with learning disabilities. The federal government pays for private tutors for many struggling low-income students. And the best public high school aeronautics program in my state, Florida, is run by Embry-Riddle University, a private institution.
Within this expanding definition of public education, scholarships such as those in the District of Columbia and Florida that enable low-income students to attend private schools are unremarkable.
But that hasn’t stopped some education groups, most notably the National School Boards Association and the American Federation of Teachers, from asserting that voucher and tax-credit programs undermine public education. When AFT president and charter school operator Randi Weingarten recently spoke of the need to “put aside our differences and assume a shared responsibility,” and pledged that “no issue should be off the table,” she specifically exempted vouchers. They “siphon scarce resources from public schools,” she said, ignoring that charter schools are voucher programs, and that public funding of private providers is now commonplace throughout public education.
As a president who is committed to helping every child live the American dream, Mr. Obama can help bridge this unnecessary divide. Private is not always the enemy of public, and Florida’s Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Program is a case in point. This program serves more than 23,000 low-income students and is intended only to offer a different type of learning environment for students who often have the fewest options.
The program has managed to build bipartisan support over its first seven years, and in May of last year, the Florida legislature approved an expansion, with the support of a third of the Democrats and half the Black Caucus. Al Lawson, an African-American senator who is the Democratic leader in that chamber, said: “When you have a lot of poor kids in your area that need help, and you have people saying, ‘We’re willing to work with these kids,’ it’s hard to say no. … I am the strongest possible supporter of public education. But I know that not every school works for every child.”
Those who claim that public funding of private schools is a Republican attack on public education have short memories. Both Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and George McGovern in 1972 included a tuition tax credit for elementary and secondary school students in their Democratic presidential platforms, and the late liberal icon Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York was among the idea’s biggest advocates. In the 1960s, “freedom schools” served as an alternative to racially hostile school bureaucracies, a point not lost on the Rev. H.K. Matthews, a Florida civil rights legend.
“This is a flashback of the old movement,” Matthews told thousands of tax-credit-scholarship supporters in 2007 on the steps of the old Florida Capitol. “It’s a continuation of the dream.”
In his epic campaign for president, Mr. Obama promised to bridge the political divides in America. He can begin by assuring public school educators that private options are not an attack on the institution of public education. On the contrary, when done well, they expand and strengthen it.
“For decades, [we’ve] been stuck in the same tired debates over education that have crippled our progress and left schools and parents to fend for themselves,” Mr. Obama said on the campaign trail in September. “It’s been Democrat versus Republican, vouchers versus the status quo, more money versus more reform. … If we’re going to make a real and lasting difference for our future, we have to be willing to move beyond the old arguments of left and right and take meaningful, practical steps to build an education system worthy of our children and our future.”
In this rapidly evolving world of customized public education, that means moving beyond the pointless rancor over what constitutes public and private.
Doug Tuthill is the president of the Florida School Choice Fund, in Tampa, Fla., which oversees tax-credit-financed scholarship organizations in that state. He is also a former public educator who has served as president of two local teachers' unions.
Economist Dean Baker exposes efforts to "reform" Social Security in a column from The Guardian:
Redefining Chutzpah: Wall Street Goes After Social Security, Again
By Dean Baker
January 12, 2009, The Guardian Unlimited
The classic definition of “chutzpah” is the kid who kills both of his parents and then begs for mercy because he is an orphan. The Wall Street crew are out to top this. After wrecking the economy with their convoluted finances, and tapping the Treasury for trillions in bailout bucks, they now want to cut Social Security and Medicare because we don’t have the money.
If there is any effort in Congress to follow-up on this talk about taking away people’s Social Security and Medicare, then there will have to be some very serious pain inflicted on the politicians in Washington. Let’s start with some facts.
Unlike Robert Rubin’s Citigroup, Social Security is solidly funded long into the future. According to the latest report from the Congressional Budget Office, it can pay all promised benefits through the year 2049, with no changes whatsoever. Even after that date it will always be able to pay benefits that are far higher than what current retirees receive.
So, the claim that Social Security is going broke is inaccurate, or in less polite circles, a lie. Workers in their 40s, 50s, and 60s have already paid for their Social Security benefits.
Many people, most notably investment banker and Concord Coalition founder Peter Peterson, have questioned the solvency of Social Security based on the fact that its trust fund is held in U.S. government bonds. Peterson and others derisively refer to these bonds as “IOUs.”
Of course all bonds can be called IOUs, but U.S. government bonds are considered the safest asset in the world. Mr. Peterson and his followers apparently want the government to default on the bonds held by the Social Security trust fund.
There is no reason that these bonds cannot be paid back, but if there is a serious push to default on the bonds held by the trust fund, then we should insist that Peter Peterson and other wealthy people who hold government bonds also share in the pain from default. Instead of having a full default on the trust fund bonds and full payment on the bonds held by Mr. Peterson, maybe we should make everyone take a 15 percent haircut, getting back 85 percent of the value of their bonds.
There would be substantial consequences in financial markets from such a default on U.S. government debt. But the tens of millions of retirees who lose benefits from a default on the bonds held by Social Security can act to ensure that the financial markets feel consequences as well.
Although Social Security is paid for long into the future, Medicare does face problems due to the explosion of private sector health care costs. The way to address Medicare’s shortfall is to fix the private health care system, as President Obama has pledged to do. If health care costs are contained, so that they only grow due to the aging of the population, and otherwise move in line with per capita income, then Medicare will be an affordable program. The problem is not the aging of the population, the problem is a broken health care system.
Every other wealthy country in the world has managed to contain its health care costs and provide care to its population that is as good or better than what people in the United States receive. If it were not for the political power of the pharmaceutical, insurance, and doctors’ lobbies, we would have fixed health care long ago. If Congress cannot stand up to these special interest groups, then why not just let retirees take advantage of the health care systems in countries with less corrupt political systems?
The latest round of attacks on Social Security and Medicare are especially pernicious because they come at a time when the baby boom cohorts have just seen much of their wealth disappear due to the collapse of the housing bubble and the stock market plunge. Tens of millions of baby boomers who thought they were well-prepared for retirement two years ago now find themselves with little or no home equity and very little left in their retirement funds. As a result, they will be almost totally dependent on Social Security and Medicare.
The attacks are made even worse by the fact that the attackers, people like Robert Rubin and Peter Peterson, promoted policies that led to this collapse, and personally profited to the tune of tens, or even hundreds, of millions of dollars. In other words, after pushing the economy into a severe recession and destroying the life’s savings of tens of millions of working families, the Wall Street crew now wants to take away their Social Security and Medicare. This can almost make killing your parents look like a petty offense.
Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer. He also has a blog on the American Prospect, "Beat the Press," where he discusses the media's coverage of economic issues.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
FDR’s Response to Great Depression Offers Lessons for Today
Washington, DC — The American Federation of State, County and Muncipal Employees has released a new video highlighting the lessons to be learned from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to the Great Depression. The video, entitled “Make America Happen,” links FDR’s New Deal with President-elect Barack Obama’s calls for bold action and civic engagement in response to our present crisis.
The video is part of AFSCME’s “Make America Happen” campaign to support President-elect Obama’s efforts to revitalize our economy, provide health care for all and strengthen the middle class.
The “Make America Happen” campaign will build the grassroots support needed to enact the bold programs that will be necessary to address the national crisis we face today. With Barack Obama in the White House and a new Congress in place, working families have an historic chance to affect a major shift in American politics.
AFSCME President Gerald McEntee said, “FDR’s leadership inspired a generation and helped us get America’s economy back on track. Barack Obama offers our generation of Americans bold leadership and new solutions to address the crisis we currently face.”
McEntee added, “It’s up to each of us right now to make the most of this critical time.”
America is in our worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We have overcome great challenges before, and we can do so again. Join the campaign!
Sign the Make America Happen petition to:
Jumpstart the Economy: A bold economic recovery plan that creates jobs and protects vital services such as health care, education and law enforcement.
Make Health Care Affordable: Guaranteed quality, affordable health care everyone can count on is key to economic recovery.
Rebuild the Middle Class: Workers should be free to join unions and bargain for better wages and benefits. Unions are a ticket to the middle class and raise the standard of living for all. Pass the Employee Free Choice Act.
Jeff Madrick argues for an activist role by government in a new book. Here's a description of The Case for Big Government from the publisher's website:
Political conservatives have long believed that the best government is a small government. But if this were true, noted economist Jeff Madrick argues, the nation would not be experiencing stagnant wages, rising health care costs, increasing unemployment, and concentrations of wealth for a narrow elite. In this perceptive and eye-opening book, Madrick proves that an engaged government--a big government of high taxes and wise regulations--is necessary for the social and economic answers that Americans desperately need in changing times. He shows that the big governments of past eras fostered greatness and prosperity, while weak, laissez-faire governments marked periods of corruption and exploitation. The Case for Big Government considers whether the government can adjust its current policies and set the country right.
Madrick explains why politics and economics should go hand in hand; why America benefits when the government actively nourishes economic growth; and why America must reject free market orthodoxy and adopt ambitious government-centered programs. He looks critically at today's politicians--at Republicans seeking to revive nineteenth-century principles, and at Democrats who are abandoning the pioneering efforts of the Great Society. Madrick paints a devastating portrait of the nation's declining social opportunities and how the economy has failed its workers. He demonstrates that the government must correct itself to address these serious issues.
A practical call to arms, The Case for Big Government asks for innovation, experimentation, and a willingness to fail. The book sets aside ideology and proposes bold steps to ensure the nation's vitality.
Jeff Madrick's most recent book is Why Economies Grow. He is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books and a former economics columnist for the New York Times. He is editor of Challenge magazine and senior fellow at the New School's Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis.
Read the first chapter of the Case for Big Government at:
Thursday, January 15, 2009
From the Progressive Policy Policy Insitute:
President-elect Barack Obama takes office next week with an economic
crisis, record unemployment, and an unstable Middle East looming -- and
Americans are clamoring for quick, effective action in every area. The
president-elect needs more than political will to make effective
change -- he needs ideas.
Last September, the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) began releasing
policy prescriptions written with an eye toward enabling the next
president to hit the ground running. Today, PPI is releasing the
collection of those 15 memos, along with 10 entirely new essays on
topics ranging from financial regulation to national security, in a
book called Memos to the New President. In keeping with PPI's mission
of modernizing progressive politics, these essays offer ideas that
challenge ideological orthodoxy on both sides and propose bold new
solutions for the coming administration.
-- Download the Book (PDF)
HEATH SHULER FOR SENATE ?
Carolina Politics Online reports that Heath Shuler is looking like a serious contender for the U.S. Senate in 2010:
Congressman Heath Shuler (D-NC-11) is holding a fund raiser in Raleigh
on January 26th with former President Bill Clinton. Sounds like
someone may be gearing up for a Senate run….
DEMOCRATS FOR LIFE PRAISE DNC'S KAINE
Democrats for Life of America is excited about President-Elect Obama's choice for Democratic National Committee Chair. Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is one of DFLA's closest allies in the fight to reduce the abortion rate in America. In addition to being a pro-life Democrat himself, he helped pass and signed into law America's first abortion reduction bill modeled after DFLA's 95-10 Initiative. Democrats for Life of America looks forward to continuing working with Governor Kaine and continuing a campaign to pass the Pregnant Woman Support Act in Congress. To help this effort contact Democrats for Life at: www.democratsforlife.org
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Politico reports some great news for those of us who favor expansion of nuclear power to help attain energy independence and reduce carbon emissions:
Steven Chu said on Tuesday that he would push as the new energy secretary to help the nuclear energy and clean coal industries jump-start their contributions to battle the nation’s energy crisis.
The Nobel Prize-winning physicist told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during his confirmation hearing that he’d help streamline nuclear loan guarantees that would help the industry construct several new plants to produce low-emission energy and would push the Energy Department to examine options for recycling nuclear waste.
“I’m supportive of the fact that the nuclear industry should have to be part of energy mix in this century,” Chu said. “And recycling [nuclear waste] in the long term can be part of the solution.”
If confirmed by the Senate, the 60-year-old director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory would face the daunting task of moving the country forward on renewable energy, tackling global warming and overseeing the nation’s nuclear arsenal, senators cautioned.
From Washington State's Mid-Columbia Tri-City Herald:
More nukes look likely
By E. Kirsten Peters, Special to the Herald
Wednesday, January 14
PULLMAN -- President-elect Obama's pick for Secretary of Energy is a
physicist with a Nobel Prize.
Dr. Steven Chu also has a long record of advocating more nuclear
power, as well as increasing our use of renewable energy such as next-
In short, Chu looks likely to move our nation a step away from heavy
reliance on fossil fuels and toward a more high-tech energy future.
Chu's nuclear commitment will likely be fodder for glow-in-the-dark
jokes from Leno and Letterman. But his ideas challenge all of us to
seriously look again at our energy priorities.
Today, we get about 20 percent of our electricity from nuclear
reactors, making them a significant slice of the national energy pie.
But some citizens strongly fear high-tech nuclear plants. Others
worry about nuclear waste and note that our government has not yet
provided a full disposal path for spent nuclear fuel.
On the other hand, some citizens see nukes as an energy source that's
based on American resources. And nuclear plants don't contribute to
carbon dioxide levels, a clear positive for climate concerns.
Many scientists see great potential for reducing the hazardous waste
from nuclear power plants by recycling the fuel rods that lie at the
heart of reactors. The stumbling block for such recycling in this
country has not been a technical one, but a political issue -- which
brings us back to the new administration.
Obama's pick for Energy Secretary is the director of the prestigious
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Dr. Chu has long spoken in favor of
increasing the number of nuclear power plants and improving what we
do within those plants to radically decrease nuclear waste.
Just for the record, I'm a geologist who wears a Stetson and drives
an aging pickup truck. Because I'm such a red-blooded American, I
feel free to say we might possibly learn something from the example
of the French, at least when it comes to energy.
France gets a whopping 88 percent of its electrical power from nukes.
With limited fossil fuels given to them by Mother Nature, the French
long ago made the decision to embrace nuclear power. And embrace it
they have: many French citizens line up to tour nuclear plants on
their summer vacations!
With 59 nuclear plants in operation, France chose not to store
immense volumes of waste deep underground, as the American government
proposes to do at Yucca Mountain. Instead, the French recycle old
fuel rods to generate still more power and reduce their waste pile.
The residual amount of radioactive material is vastly reduced, and is
much easier to store.
Recycling was an approach the Carter administration nixed for America
in the 1970s, citing security concerns. But the French have had no
security issues with their recycling program. That's why I expect Dr.
Chu will advocate both recycling and new nuclear power plants after
he's confirmed as Energy Secretary.
Congress no doubt will consider energy from several vantage points,
weighing our national needs and the diverse opinions of so many
One thing is sure -- part of any broad American effort to build
recycling facilities and construct next-generation nukes would depend
on recreating the human infrastructure we've lost since the 1970s. In
other words, if we choose to keep our cowboy hats firmly on our heads
(as I'm surely going to do), but also make use of more nuclear power,
we've got to support education in nuclear science and engineering.
A friend, Dr. Donald Wall of Washington State University, works each
day in exactly that field, educating the next generation in
everything from running the nuclear reactor we have on campus for
research purposes to investigating new methods of using radioactive
materials to benefit humanity.
"Americans are very creative and industrious people, and I know we
have the talent to safely expand the nuclear energy industry," Wall
said to me this week. "I'm dedicated to this field because it holds
incredible promise. We're excited to start working with the new
Secretary of Energy."
Leno and Letterman will write more jokes about glowing in the dark
with Homer Simpson. But scientists such as Chu and Wall are in
earnest about expanding the nuclear power industry in the U.S.
* E. Kirsten Peters is a native of the rural Northwest, but was
trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Tim Ryan, a leading advocate in the U.S. House for America's working families, is considering entering the race for Ohio's Senate seat in 2010.
The Youngstown Vindicator reported today about the possible run for U.S. Senate by Ryan.
David Skolnick writes:
With U.S. Sen. George V. Voinovich’s decision to not seek re-election next year, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan is looking at the seat.
“As a member of the House Appropriations Committee I am in a very good position to help create and expand important economic development in the state of Ohio,” said Ryan, of Niles, D-17th. “That said, if I can have a greater impact by being in the Senate, I will certainly consider it.”
Ryan, whose district includes portions of Mahoning and Trumbull counties, said he is “singularly focused on what’s best for my constituents in Northeast Ohio.”
Even when Voinovich was adamant that he was seeking re-election, Ryan was mulling a Senate run.
“I’m open to listening,” he said two months ago about running for the Senate. “I’ve followed my heart, and that’s gotten me to here.”
He acknowledged at the time that leaving the House to run for the Senate was a “big risk.”
Political experts contacted Monday after Voinovich announced his decision to not run in the 2010 election said a Ryan Senate candidacy would still be a risk.
“If you’re in the minority in the House and lose [a Senate bid] you go back home and do something else,” said Steven Brooks, associate director of the University of Akron’s Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. “But if you’re on the fast track [like Ryan], it’s tough to give that up. There are many who consider him a rising star.”
Though Democrats have gained control of Congress during the past two elections and Barack Obama will be the first Democrat in the White House in eight years, a lot can change between now and the 2010 election, Brooks said.
“This is one of the most volatile political climates I’ve seen in a long time,” he said.
In 2006, top Senate Democrats lobbied Ryan to run for the Senate against incumbent Mike DeWine, a Republican. He declined, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, defeated DeWine.
Ryan’s best hope to win a Senate seat, presuming he decides to run, is to get the public support of Gov. Ted Strickland, a fellow Democrat, said Bill Binning, the former chairman of the Youngstown State University political science department.
During a presidential campaign stop in the Valley a few months ago, Strickland publicly touted Ryan as a future U.S. senator.
If Strickland pushed for Ryan to run for the Senate, the congressman would be the leading Democrat for the seat, Binning said.
Ryan would run for the Senate in 2010, the same year Strickland would seek re-election as governor.
But Binning said he doesn’t know if Ryan would run for the seat.
In his fourth two-year term in the House, Ryan has served on the powerful appropriations committee since 2007 and is “in good with Democratic leadership,” Binning said.
“It would be very dangerous for [Ryan] to give up that safe seat,” said Paul Sracic, YSU’s political science department chairman.
“He’s never been in a race like this, a statewide race,” Sracic said of Ryan. “He’s untested in a statewide race and he doesn’t have the name recognition of” Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner or Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, two potential Democratic Senate candidates.
Brooks, Binning and Sracic agreed that although names are being considered for Senate candidates, it’s too early to determine a front-runner.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Writing in the New Republic, John Judis argues that the "fiscal equivalent of war" is necessary to prevent another Great Depression. In this excellent article, Judis makes some great points about the need for revitalize American manufacturing and to undertake large scale projects such as building high-speed rail systems. Judis presents a strong case for radical action by the incoming Obama Administration to avoid the coming economic disaster.
by John B. Judis
Why I worry that Obama doesn't realize just how bad things are.
The New Republic www.tnr.com
Friday, January 09, 2009
Does Barack Obama understand the seriousness of the economic crisis?
Yesterday, he laid out his economic agenda, and it was filled with
all sorts of important exhortations and proscriptions. He
appropriately condemned the "anything goes" policies of the last
administration. He declared that government is now the solution to
our woes, not the problem. Still, I worry that the president elect is
underestimating the problem he and the country faces.
We may not simply be facing a steep recession like that of the early
1980s, from which we can extricate ourselves in a year or two, but
something resembling the Great Depression of the 1930s. For starters,
the current crisis is global, which means that one part of the world
can't lift the other out of its misery; everyone will go down
together, which is what happened in the 1930s. Secondly, the downturn
has combined an unusual decline in the real economy--employment in
durable-goods manufacturing fell by 21.9 percent from 2000 to 2008--
with a financial crash precipitated by the bursting of the housing
bubble. The bubble resulted from an attempt to sustain growth and
employment in the face of an underlying decline, which, too, is what
happened in the late 1920s.
Over the past six decades, policymakers have used some tactics from
the Great Depression to quell recessions--such as spending on roads
and bridges to create jobs, transferring payments to raise consumer
demand, and infusing money into the credit system. But these stopgap
measures, which are at the heart of Obama's recovery program, may
There's much to like in Obama's plan. But there are two important
ways he may have to go further. Most economists agree that what
finally pulled the U.S. out of the Great Depression was military
spending for World War II. Some liberals argue that if the Roosevelt
administration had not abandoned a Keynesian stimulus strategy in
1937-38, the U.S. might have gotten out of the depression without a
war. But in 1936, unemployment was still at 16.9 percent; by 1942,
after two years of war spending, it was 4.7 percent, strongly
indicating that it was war spending that did it. I am not suggesting
that the United States start a world war in order to solve the
world's economic problem. But I am suggesting a strategy that could
be called the fiscal equivalent of war.
It would consist not merely of updating or repairing the nation's
infrastructure, but in undertaking massive new investments that would
expand the scope of American industry, and address other urgent
problems in the process: global warming, over-reliance on petroleum,
and the need to revive America's domestic manufacturing capabilities--
not just to provide jobs, but also to provide tradeable goods that
can reduce the country's current account deficit.
One area that is ripe for such investment--and that is not, from what
I have seen, a declared priority of the Obama administration--is high-
speed rail. Amtrak's Acela trains--the closest thing we have to one--
average less than 100 mph between Washington D.C. and Boston, whereas
trains in Western Europe and Japan go more than twice as fast. Many
of them also run on electricity. They would be the most energy-
efficient and quickest means of getting between places like Boston
and New York, or Los Angeles and San Francisco. But they would
require a massive investment. For instance, installing high-speed
rail in the Northeast corridor could cost about $32 billion, while
California's high-speed rail system would require up to $40 billion.
A system that would address the other areas of the country could
easily raise the cost to the hundreds of billions. The House
transportation and infrastructure committee has currently proposed $5
billion in stimulus funds for intercity rail--not even a down payment
on what it would cost to convert the U.S. to high-speed rail.
Investing in high-speed rails would be very expensive, but unlike tax
cuts--the benefits of which can be siphoned off in the purchase of
imported goods--the money spent would go directly to reviving
American industry and improving the country's trade balance. That
doesn't just mean jobs creating dedicated tracks or new rail
stations: Though the U.S. abandoned train manufacturing decades ago
to the French, Germans, Canadians, and Japanese, this kind of
production could be undertaken by our ailing auto companies or
aircraft companies--if the federal and state governments were to
place orders. And building trains that would run on electricity would
be a paradigmatic example of the "green jobs" that Obama often touts.
Though a massive investment in high-speed rail brings its own set of
complications, it's worth keeping these kind of examples in mind when
one hears from the Obama people that they can't find sufficient
infrastructure projects to fund. The question I would pose is this:
Are we not at some point going to have to go beyond repairing roads
and bridges in our conception of public spending and public works,
and contemplate the kind of ambitious industrial expenditures that
the country made on war production in 1941?
The second arena that needs radical action from Obama is
international. One reason that the depression of the 1930s endured
and deepened was because the international monetary system, which had
been based on gold, broke down; and one reason that the world economy
enjoyed reasonable prosperity between 1945 and 1971 was because the
International Monetary Fund--created as part of the Bretton Woods
system in 1944--ensured a measure of international monetary
stability. Countries controlled their capital inflow and outflow, and
the IMF oversaw--if imperfectly--surpluses and deficits, and
devaluations and revaluations. Currency exchange was regulated by
nations, not by private companies or speculators. And the only
country that ran a large surplus after World War II--the United
States--took it upon itself to spend much of it helping the other
countries to revive their industries.
Since 1971, the breakdown of Bretton Woods has given way to a
perverse anti-system that combines floating rates, fuelled by
speculation, and behind-the-scenes currency manipulation by counties
like China and Japan that don't want their exports priced out of
foreign markets. The result, as Martin Wolf and others have argued,
has been decades of financial crises, which began on the fringes of
the system but have now engulfed the center. This system, which
features huge surpluses in China and Japan, and huge deficits in the
United States, has not proven viable, and is breaking down right now.
If China is "losing [its] taste for debt from the U.S.," as a recent
New York Times story reported, the U.S. will have trouble financing
its deficit expenditures. Interest rates will go up, investment will
go down, income will sink, and more Americans will be out of jobs; on
the other side of the Pacific, China will be able to sell less goods
to the U.S., its investment will fall, its workers will be jobless,
and so on. It's not a pretty picture.
What's needed, it appears, is a new international system that will
prevent the kind of global imbalances that are plaguing the current
system. Like Bretton Woods worked initially in practice, it will
place the onus of regulating these imbalances on countries running
surpluses, not deficits. It would also permit countries to develop
economic strategies without fearing that speculators would create a
run on their currency. Larry Summers and Tim Geithner are well-suited
to work out the details of such broad reform, but Obama has yet to
make this a priority within his economic policy. The U.S. also needs
to begin working on its own strategy to reduce its current account
deficits. That may require not only very large government subsidies
to manufacturing industries, but also some currency manipulation of
our own to get the price of our goods competitive with those produced
Obama is certainly right to abandon the "anything goes" mentality of
the Bush administration and to promote an $800 billion stimulus
program. But to reverse to current economic collapse, the new
administration may have to go even farther than this in the direction
of a fiscal equivalent of war and a new Bretton Woods.
John B. Judis is a senior editor of The New Republic and a visiting
scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.