Friday, February 27, 2009
NEW HAVEN, Conn., Feb. 26 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Most Americans give corporate America poor or failing grades for honesty and ethics and rate the country's business leadership as poor during this time of economic crisis, according to a Marist Poll commissioned by the Knights of Columbus.
Among the American public, 76% believe that corporate America's moral compass is pointed in the wrong direction, 58% of corporate executives agree; and a majority of Americans, and two-thirds of executives, gave a grade of D or F in ethical matters to the financial and investment industry.
The poll of 2071 adults and 110 high-level business leaders also showed that Americans believe personal financial gain and career advancement drive the business decisions of executives while concern for employees and public good seldom factors into corporate decisions.
"Today, America faces a serious problem with a financial crisis caused in no small part by greed -- the public lacks confidence in our financial system, and in much of 'corporate America,'" said Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus. "This confidence cannot and will not be restored until American executives and companies choose to be guided by a moral compass in their business decisions. Only a strong commitment to ethical business practices on the part of executives and the companies they lead can restore America's confidence in its financial system."
Along with Wall Street and financial industry executives, politicians received "poor" marks in ethics from a majority of Americans, and a majority of executives. Doctors and accountants received the best marks for ethics among both Americans and executives.
More than 90% of Americans and 90% of executives see career advancement, personal financial gain, increasing profits, or gaining competitive advantage as the primary factors that corporate executives take into account when making business decisions. Only 31% of Americans, and 32% of executives believe the "public good" is a strong motivating factor.
Interestingly, three-quarters of Americans, and more than nine in ten executives think that a business can be both successful and ethical. However, while 74% of Americans and 86% of executives believe people should have the same ethical standards in business as in their personal lives, more than half of executives, and nearly three quarters of Americans, think that most people miss that mark.
The survey indicated that the public and executives believe that religion provides a good ethical standard for doing business. Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that religious beliefs should significantly influence executives' business decisions. More than two-thirds of executives agree.
The study was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus and conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion; 2,071 adults nationwide were interviewed from January 25 through February 3, 2009. The data from corporate executives was collected between January 26 and February 5, 2009. The results for Americans are statistically significant at ±2.5%.
Hats off to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the following Democratic Senators for supporting the right to keep and bear arms: Max Bacus of Montana, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Michael Bennett of Colorado, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Udall of Colorado, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Mark Warner of Virginia and Jim Webb of Virginia.
From CQ Politics www.cqpolitics.com
Feb. 26, 2009
Democrats Divided Over Gun Amendment in D.C. House Voting Rights Bill
By Kathleen Hunter, CQ Staff
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ’s decision to join nearly two dozen Democrats in supporting a Republican gun amendment could foretell difficulties for the Obama administration if the White House pushes for stricter firearms limits.
Twenty-two Democrats — most of them from Western or conservative-leaning states — voted Thursday in favor of an amendment by Nevada Republican John Ensign that would codify a 2008 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a District of Columbia gun ownership ban and declared for the first time that the Second Amendment includes an individual right to bear arms. The amendment, which Ensign offered to legislation (S 160) that would grant D.C. residents full voting rights in the House, was adopted 62-36.
“People are afraid,” Ensign said after the vote, when asked to explain Democratic support for his amendment. “From a purist standpoint, I hope that they now just see more of the importance of the Constitution. But from a cynical standpoint I guess you could say that they’re just making sure that they’re not voting against what they think voters in their states would respond to.”
Ensign’s amendment would repeal the District’s ban on semiautomatic weapons, bar the city’s registration requirements for most guns and drop criminal penalties for possessing an unregistered firearm.
The first gun-related Senate vote of the 111th Congress underscores a schism within the Democratic Party. While senators from more densely populated, urban states in the Northeast and the West Coast are committed to tightening gun restrictions now that Democrats control Congress and the White House, senators from more rural and conservative states in the Midwest and West are prepared to block such efforts.
“Any gun vote is difficult for Westerners — Democrat Westerners,” said Sen. John Thune , R-S.D.
Thursday’s vote came one day after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the Obama administration would work to reinstate the nationwide assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.
Reid, who is facing a potentially tough re-election bid in 2010, was endorsed in 2004 by the National Rifle Association and has opposed a ban on assault weapons.
“The Second Amendment’s pretty important,” said Montana Democrat Jon Tester , who voted for Ensign’s proposal.
Tester, who added that he would oppose any attempt to reinstitute an assault weapons ban, said Democratic leaders did not pressure him to vote one way or another on the amendment. “Not a word,” he said. “I think everybody in Congress knows where I am on this issue. It’s not a secret. So there was no pressure. No pressure either way.”
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Some very good news for supporters of American energy independence from the Wisconsin State Journal:
February 24, 2009
Encouraging words on nuclear power from top Wisconsin regulator
Wisconsin State Journal editorial
Let's hope the head of the state Public Service Commission is right about the future of nuclear power in Wisconsin.
Eric Callisto, chairman of the regulatory agency that oversees utilities across the state, predicted Monday that the Democratic-controlled Legislature will soon relax a moratorium on construction of nuclear power plants in Wisconsin.
Callisto said more nuclear plants, under certain conditions, could be part of the state's larger effort to address global warming and boost energy independence, according to WisBusiness.com.
"It will be part of the package to reduce our carbon emissions," Callisto said at an energy conference in Madison on Monday organized by WisBusiness.com.
"Nuclear needs to be part of the solution," Callisto added.
Conservation, energy efficiency and greater reliance on wind, solar and other alternative sources of energy must be pursued.
But Wisconsin also needs a reliable base line of power generation from cleaner coal and nuclear power.
Democratic President Barack Obama supports nuclear power as part of the nation's energy mix. Obama's home state of Illinois gets almost half of its electricity from nuclear power.
"It is unlikely that we can meet our aggressive climate goals if we eliminate nuclear power from the table," Obama correctly noted during his campaign.
Wisconsin now gets about 20 percent of its electricity from three nuclear reactors.
But after those reactors were built, lawmakers barred approval of any more such plants until there is a facility with capacity to store spent nuclear fuel from all nuclear plants in the state. The law, in effect, is a moratorium.
Although spent fuel is a concern, the moratorium was an overreaction. Spent fuel is being stored safely. And France and Japan are recycling spent fuel.
Moreover, a new generation of nuclear power plants in Europe and Asia are being constructed with much-improved safety standards, including greater resistance to terrorist attack.
Wisconsin needs to address climate change and reduce its reliance on foreign oil with a diverse strategy that includes nuclear power.
Callisto's encouraging comments should help guide the Legislature as it pursues a new era in energy.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
I often disagree with the conservative Heriage Foundation but this video defending a school choice program in the District of Columbia is right on target. Supporting vouchers is a progressive stance backed by many rank-and-file Democratic voters.
Last month, the Washington Post explained why the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program should continue:
EARLY SURVEYS of D.C. parents of children receiving federal school vouchers showed many of them liked the program because they believed their children were in safe schools. Over time, a new study shows, their satisfaction has deepened to include an appreciation for small class sizes, rich curricula and positive change in their sons and daughters. Above all, what parents most value is the freedom to choose where their children go to school.
Here, for example, is what one parent told University of Arkansas researchers studying the District's Opportunity Scholarship Program: "I know for a fact they would never have received this kind of education at a public school. . . . I listen to them when they talk, and what they are saying, and they articulate better than I do, and I know it's because of the school, and I like that about them, and I'm proud of them." Overall, researchers found that choice boosts parents' involvement in their children's education.
Whether they continue to have such a choice could be determined soon. The program that provides scholarships of up to $7,500 per year for low-income students to attend private schools is funded only through the 2009-10 school year. Unusually restrictive language being drafted for the omnibus budget bill would forbid any new funding unless Congress reauthorizes the program and the District passes legislation in agreement. Yet results of the Education Department's scientific study of the program are not expected until June.
We hope that, despite his stated reservations about vouchers, President Obama includes money in his upcoming budget to safeguard the interests of children in this important local program and to preserve an unusually rigorous research study. Mr. Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, say they eschew ideology in favor of what serves the interests of children. Here's a chance to help 1,716 of them.
OAKLAND, Calif., Feb. 24 /PRNewswire/ With President Obama preparing to present his budget proposal, which is expected to include both an update on his economic stimulus initiatives and a renewed call for healthcare reform, the nation's largest organization of registered nurses today released new data on how the most comprehensive healthcare fix would create new jobs in nearly all areas of the national economy.
Overall, expanding and upgrading Medicare to cover all Americans (single-payer) would create 2.6 million new jobs, infuse $317 billion in new business and public revenues, and inject another $100 billion in wages into the U.S. economy, according to the study by the Institute for Health and Socio-Economic Policy (IHSP), research arm of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee. The study may be viewed at www.CalNurses.org.
While 30 percent of the new jobs would be in health and social services, the ripple effect of job creation goes throughout the economy, according to updated data released today. Biggest additional gains would be in retail trade, accommodation and food services, manufacturing, and administrative services.
All these benefits could be achieved at less cost than the federal bailouts for Wall Street giants such as, AIG, CitiGroup, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and other banks.
"The new data reminds us that the most effective solution to our healthcare crisis would also provide a dramatic, immediate help towards economic recovery," said CNA/NNOC Co-President Geri Jenkins, RN. "The jobs creation that would come from a single-payer system is just one reason RNs know that single-payer is the right thing to do for our patients, for ourselves, and for our country."
HR 676, a bill recently reintroduced in Congress, would implement a single-payer system.
First of its kind study
The IHSP projections build from an econometric model of the current face of healthcare – applying economic analysis to a wide array of publicly available data from Medicare, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and other sources.
It is the first known study to provide an econometric analysis of the economic benefits of healthcare to the overall economy, showing how changes in direct healthcare delivery affect all other significant sectors touched by healthcare, and how sweeping healthcare reform can help drive the nation's economic recovery.
Healthcare presently accounts for $2.105 trillion in direct expenditures. But healthcare ripples far beyond doctors’ offices and hospitals. Adding in healthcare business purchases of services or supplies and spending by workers, the total impact of healthcare in the economy mushrooms to nearly $6 trillion.
A single-payer system would produce the biggest increase in jobs and wages. The reason, says IHSP director and lead study author Don DeMoro said, is that "the broadest economic benefits directly accrue from the actual delivery and provision of healthcare, not the purchase of insurance."
A Medicare-for-all system has numerous healthcare benefits as well, said CNA/NNOC, including:
A streamlined system that ends the irrational structure of our current system by replacing the chaos of different plans that have different rules for coverage, eligibility, exclusions, and charges.
Slashing unproductive waste in the private insurance sector by $56 billion.
Guaranteeing that everyone is covered, even if you lose or want to change your job; guaranteed choice of doctor and hospital; a standard set of benefits and care for everyone (no multi-tiered care system); no insurance denials based on pre-existing conditions or denials of treatment recommended by doctors because the insurer doesn't want to pay for it.
Guaranteed health security for all Americans. No more rapidly rising premiums, co-pays, deductibles rising three or four times faster than wages, pushing more families into bankruptcy from medical bills, or self-rationing care because you can't pay for it.
Economic protection for employers who see ever-rising costs, or who can't compete with employers based in countries with national healthcare systems.
The IHSP has conducted research for members of Congress and state legislatures as well as NNOC/CNA, and received international renown for research studies on cost and charges in the hospital industry, the pharmaceutical industry, hospital staffing, and other healthcare policy.
Robert Fountain, a frequent economics consultant for the California Public Employees Retirement System (Cal-PERS), served as a consultant on the study.
CNA/NNOC represents 85,000 RNs in all 50 states, and is a founding member of the newly formed United American Nurses-NNOC.
Read the full study here.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Eileen Applebaum takes a closer look at President Obama's plan to combat housing foreclosures in a column at The American Prospect.Com.
Rescuing America's Homeowners
It's a mixed bag, but Obama's plan to help homeowners is still a move in the right direction.
February 20, 2009
The American Prospect www.prospect.org
Of the 52 million U.S. homeowners with a mortgage, more than a quarter -- nearly 14 million -- are underwater. They owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth. The Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan, announced by President Barack Obama on Feb. 18, is intended to help some of these families stay in their home.
The first group to get help is homeowners whose mortgage is higher than the value of their home and who have been keeping up with their monthly payment. They would like to refinance to today's lower interest rates but can't do this because banks won't let homeowners refinance if they have little or no equity in their home.
The president's plan will benefit homeowners still barely above water or only slightly underwater -- those whose home price is no more than 5 percent below what they owe on their mortgage. The catch is that they can only refinance if Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac owns or guarantees their mortgage. Fannie and Freddie will get an additional $200 billion from funds already allocated by Congress for this and other mortgage lending. So a homeowner's ability to refinance depends on who holds the mortgage and not on whether a person has kept up with payments.
But the president's plan won't do anything for homeowners in California, Florida, or Arizona or in cities like Las Vegas, Cleveland, and Detroit whose homes are much further underwater. Moody's Economy.com estimates that fewer than 1 million of the nearly 14 million underwater homeowners will be helped by this part of the plan.
Most homeowners who are helped by the president's plan will see their monthly mortgage payment go down. But this is because their interest payments are lower -- not because of any adjustment to the amount they owe on their mortgage. For many, a monthly mortgage payment will still be higher than the cost of renting a similar home. And because these homeowners are still underwater or close to it, they won't be able to build up the equity in their home.
Unless housing prices inflate again, most of these homeowners are "owners" in name only. Essentially, they are renters. And, like renters, when they get ready to sell their home and move, they will have little or no equity in their home to help them make a new start. The median period of homeownership is seven years, and many of the homeowners who are underwater today purchased their home two or three years ago at the height of the housing bubble. In just a few years, when they go to sell their home, they will confront this problem directly.
For the banks and other lenders who hold these mortgages, the day of reckoning has merely been postponed. When the homeowner gets ready to sell the house, the lender will either have to accept a short sale and get less than the amount still owed on the mortgage or will simply foreclose on the homeowner at that point.
The second group to be helped is homeowners who can no longer afford the monthly payment on their home, either because their income has fallen or because they have an adjustable-rate mortgage and their monthly payment has ballooned. The president's plan will take $75 billion from the taxpayer bailout funds for financial institutions to help some homeowners in this situation stay in their home.
If your monthly mortgage payment is now more than 38 percent but below 43 percent of your income, you may be able to get help to reduce your monthly payment. Here's how:
First, the bank or lender that holds the mortgage would have to voluntarily agree to temporarily reduce the interest rate on your mortgage, usually below market rates, to bring your monthly payment down to 38 percent of your income. The government will then subsidize the lender to bring the mortgage payment down to 31 percent of the homeowner's income. If it's necessary to reduce principal payments as well as interest payments in order to get the homeowner's monthly payment down to this level, the Treasury will subsidize the lenders for this as well, matching half their losses.
After five years, lenders will be able to raise the interest rates on these mortgages back to the market rate. It's like having an adjustable-rate mortgage -- homeowners' monthly payments will suddenly begin to rise again.
There are sweeteners in the plan to encourage mortgage holders and mortgage servicers to do this, but it is still up to them -- and the homeowner -- whether they want to go along with the president's plan. There are rewards for the homeowners as well for making their new mortgage payments on time.
JP Morgan Chase has already said it welcomes this plan. It's easy to see why. Lenders can take their worst non-performing loans, arrange a reduction in scheduled payments to 38 percent of the borrower's income and then have the government kick in another 7 percent of the borrower's income. For a family with an income of $60,000, the bank will receive a subsidy of $4,200 from taxpayers -- plus an additional $1,000 from taxpayers as a sweetener for restructuring the mortgage.
If a lender takes a seriously non-performing loan on which it has little hope of collecting anything at all and writes down the mortgage principal, it will also receive a subsidy from taxpayers. Suppose a bank holds a $300,000 mortgage on a home worth $200,000. It can write down the principal by, say, $80,000 and reduce what the homeowner owes on the mortgage to $220,000. In this case, it will collect $40,000 from taxpayers. The homeowner will still be underwater -- owing $220,000 on a home that is only worth $200,000 and may still be falling in price. But the bank will come out ahead.
While this plan is much better than earlier proposals by the Bush administration, it is still largely tilted toward bailing out banks rather than homeowners. Most homeowners will remain seriously underwater under the president's plan and will build up little or no equity in their home. In this respect, they are essentially just renting their home.
With homeowners still underwater even after restructuring their mortgages, this will again just postpone the day of reckoning for lenders -- this time at great cost to taxpayers and with little benefit to homeowners. When the homeowner gets ready to move, the bank or mortgage holder will either have to accept a short sale or foreclose on the homeowner.
The best part of the president's plan is that it calls on Congress to amend the bankruptcy laws to allow judges to modify mortgages in cases where homeowners declare bankruptcy. This measure, if passed, will provide real relief for financially strapped homeowners. Amending the bankruptcy laws in this way will help homeowners -- especially those who have lost their job in this long and steep recession or whose income has been decimated by illness or divorce. Homeowners who are not able to come to terms with their lender to modify their mortgage would be able to turn to a court for this protection. The threat of court action provides a huge incentive to lenders to reduce the amount owed on the mortgage. The result is that homeowners who can afford the new mortgage payments will get a fresh start at building up the equity in their home.
The bottom line: President Obama's plan is a mixed bag. It is a serious effort to help homeowners and not just banks, as was the case under President Bush, but it is still heavily tilted toward lenders. It will make mortgage payments more affordable for some homeowners, at least temporarily, and should slow the current rate of foreclosure. It may also slow the fall in house prices due to a glut of vacant homes in some of the worst-hit neighborhoods. But it will not stop the decline in home prices in many housing markets where homes are still overvalued and will continue to fall. The president's plan is not big enough to really prop up home prices -- and that's a good thing. It would not be desirable to artificially maintain high prices for homes for years to come and put homeownership out of reach of young people or other first-time home buyers. It's definitely a good thing that Fannie and Freddie will have the resources to be able to continue making mortgage loans, but there is no sign that private-sector lenders will get back into the mortgage market in any appreciable numbers.
What should be done? If the outcome of the president's plan is to turn many of the homeowners whose mortgage is restructured essentially into renters, there is a cheaper and fairer way to do this. Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research has proposed changing the rules on foreclosure to allow homeowners facing foreclosure to remain in their home as tenants for a substantial period of time, say 10 years, paying the fair market rent to the lenders. For most homeowners, these rents will be far lower than their monthly mortgage payments even after these payments are restructured. Under the Baker plan, the judge handling the foreclosure would arrange an appraisal to determine the market rent for the house. The tenant would then have the option to remain in the house as a renter. This would stabilize neighborhoods and stop the blight of vacant homes that is reducing property values for other homeowners. The merit of this proposal is that it requires no taxpayer dollars and would go into effect the moment Congress passed it. It does not bail out the lenders who made predatory mortgages or made risky gambles on mortgage-backed securities. And there are no windfalls for homeowners facing foreclosure -- they will have the right to stay in their home and will have lower monthly payments, but they will no longer own the home. Taxpayers who were more prudent will not be on the hook to bailout either lenders or homeowners facing foreclosure.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Franklin D. Roosevelt (with Governor Alfred) shakes hands with a young Lyndon Johnson
Despite a growing unemployment rate, Texas Governor Rick Perry considered rejecting billions of dollars in federal stimulus funds for his state. The political posturing by Perry shows how strong partisanship and perceived anti-government sentiment is in the State of Texas. The Lone Star state which once produced great leaders like Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn now sends mostly right-wing idealogues to Washington. Texas Senator John Cornyn has often repeated the party line that the New Deal didn't work.
Bud Kennedy, a columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, gives numerous examples of how the New Deal continues to benefit Texans even today.
Before you bash the idea of New Deal-style government spending, take a look around.
Some Texans have been "agin" federal projects since 1933 and the beginning of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s original New Deal.
Nothing wrong with watching pennies.
But if you want to see the New Deal in action, you don’t have to go very far.
Start at Dealey Plaza.
Those oak trees were planted with Washington money. The columns were sculpted with New Deal dollars.
Back before freeways were built, and before President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade made its fateful turn onto Elm Street, Dealey Plaza was known as the "Gateway to Dallas."
In today’s dollars, that project cost $1.5 million.
The Children’s Aquarium in Fair Park and the Museum of Nature & Science were New Deal projects. So was the lagoon — and the drainage system, built quickly before Dallas hosted 6 million visitors for the 1936 Texas Centennial state celebration and fair.
In Fort Worth, our parrots and Komodo dragons in the Fort Worth Zoo live in shelters built for monkeys and alligators during the New Deal. (The zoo didn’t make the cut for projects this go-round.)
Federal money helped build the Will Rogers Memorial Center and plant roses in the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. Same for its counterpart in East Texas, the Tyler Municipal Rose Garden.
The New Deal also built not one but two roads between Dallas and Fort Worth.
Texas 183 from Love Field to Fort Worth eventually became Airport Freeway, paving the way for our cities’ single greatest success, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
Spur 303 — Pioneer Parkway — still connects Oak Cliff with Grand Prairie, Arlington and Fort Worth.
Government money built Fort Worth’s art-deco high school football stadium, Farrington Field. The New Deal built the county hospital, the downtown municipal courts building, a now-gone library and college classrooms in Arlington.
College history professor J. Todd Moye mentioned a few of the projects Monday on the opinion page. He wrote: "Imagine for a moment what Fort Worth would look like had the government not made those investments." Yes. http://www.star-telegram.com/245/story/1205814.html
Not only that, but imagine San Antonio without the River Walk.
Imagine Texas without the $350 million in federal projects — $5 billion in today’s dollars — delivered by the New Deal through the Works Progress Administration and the park-building Civilian Conservation Corps.
Imagine North Texas going through the 1930s without 250,000 working-class jobs.
Maybe those weren’t "real jobs." But they paid real money that Texans spent on real rent, real groceries and real clothes. And saved real jobs.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Writing in The Guardian, economist Dean Baker suggests that President Obama can help to restore public confidence in the American economy by reaffirming support for Social Security:
Stimulus II: Reaffirm Support for Social Security
By Dean Baker
February 16, 2009, The Guardian Unlimited
The stimulus bill approved by Congress last week was a very good
first step toward slowing the economy's decline, but it clearly is
not large enough to accomplish the job. The economy will be seeing a
loss of close to $2.6 trillion in demand over this year and next due
to the collapse of housing and commercial real estate bubbles.
To counteract this collapse, Congress gave President Obama just over
$700 billion in real stimulus. President Obama will have to make
further requests from Congress to close the gap between what the
economy needs and the stimulus package approved last week.
However, there is one step that President Obama can take to boost the
economy without going through Congress: he can reaffirm his support
for Social Security and assure the baby boomers nearing retirement
that he will not allow their benefits to be cut. If this huge cohort
in their late 40s, 50s, and early 60s knows that they can count on
getting their promised benefits, they will feel more comfortable
spending and supporting the economy at a time when it badly needs a
The impact of Social Security on boosting consumption has long been
touted by economists, most importantly Harvard Professor Martin
Feldstein, who had been Ronald Reagan's chief economist and is now an
advisor to President Obama. (We will ignore the fact that his early
results on this topic were driven by a programming error and that his
later results disappeared with government data revisions.)
Feldstein claimed that workers spent more money during their working
years than they would have otherwise because they expected to receive
Social Security benefits when they retired. Therefore they had less
need to save for retirement.
However, many workers may not be expecting to receive their Social
Security benefits because there has been a concerted effort over the
last quarter century to undermine confidence in the program and to
cut the level of benefits. If workers question whether they will get
the Social Security benefits they have paid for, they will feel more
need to save rather than spend.
Workers are likely to be especially fearful about the prospects of
getting their Social Security benefits now due to an all out assault
on the program financed by billionaire banker Peter Peterson.
Peterson has spent much of the last two decades trying to cut Social
Security, Medicare, and other benefits for the elderly. He recently
contributed a billion dollars to a foundation bearing his name that
is primarily committed to this goal.
Peterson's investment has paid off both in exposure from the media
and more importantly attention from many members of Congress and
their staffers. There are now dozens of senators, congress people,
and staffers running around Capitol Hill crafting creative new ways
to cut Social Security. Baby boomers are right to fear that Peterson
and his crew will take away their benefits.
While the idea of taking away benefits for which workers had already
paid was always outrageous, it is especially outrageous at a time
when these workers have just seen much of the wealth in their homes
and their retirement savings disappear in the housing crash and the
collapse of the stock market. Making matters even worse is that fact
that Peterson's friends in the financial industry, along with many of
the economists who would like to cut Social Security, were the
primary culprits in this disaster story.
But President Obama can quickly get us beyond this attempted heist to
the benefit of both older workers and the economy. He can simply
assure the baby boomers that he will not allow the Peter Petersons of
the world to attack their benefits.
In fact, he should assure the baby boom cohorts that their Social
Security benefits are safer than having money in the banks (even the
government insured ones) and that they can plan accordingly. This may
not lead to a huge burst of new spending, but baby boomers will spend
more confidently through time knowing that they can count on getting
the Social Security benefits they earned.
President Obama will clearly have to take other steps to get the
economy fully back on its feet, but a simple speech assuring baby
boomers that Social Security is safe will be an important step in the
right direction. This speech also has the additional advantage that,
unlike other forms of stimulus, it doesn't cost anything. As we all
know, talk is cheap.
Washington, DC - 23 Democratic members of Congress have joined together to form the Populist Caucus, the only caucus in Congress devoted solely to addressing middle class economic issues.
"The middle class is the economic engine of America, but too often in Washington, the needs of the middle class are ignored." Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), Chair of the Populist Caucus, said. "During these tough times, we need a renewed focus on strengthening the middle class and improving the lives of working families. The Populist Caucus will work together to find common ground on policies that create good-paying jobs, make healthcare more affordable for all, and put middle class families first again."
The Populist Caucus is made up of members from a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences. The caucus aims to bring members of Congress together by rallying around six key middle class economic issues:
Creating Good Jobs and a Secure Retirement: Creating and retaining good-paying jobs in America, providing fair wages, proper benefits, a level playing field at the negotiating table, and ensuring American workers have secure, solvent retirement plans;
Cutting Taxes for the Middle Class: Cutting taxes for the middle class and establishing an equitable tax structure;
Affordable Healthcare: Providing affordable, accessible, quality health care for all Americans;
Quality, Affordable Education: Ensuring quality primary education for all American children, and affordable college education for all who want it;
Fair Trade: Defending American competitiveness by fighting for fair trade principles;
Protecting Consumers: Protecting consumers, so that Americans can have faith in the safety and effectiveness of the products they purchase.
Founding members include: Reps. Bruce Braley (D-IA), Chair; Michael Arcuri (D-NY), Vice-Chair; Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Vice-Chair; Betty Sutton (D-OH), Vice-Chair; Leonard Boswell (D-IA); Steve Cohen (D-TN); Joe Courtney (D-CT); Keith Ellison (D-MN); Bob Filner (D-CA); Phil Hare (D-IL); Mazie Hirono (D-HI); Hank Johnson (D-GA); Steve Kagen (D-WI); David Loebsack (D-IA); Eric Massa (D-NY); Tom Perriello (D-VA); Linda Sanchez (D-CA); Jan Schakowsky (D-IL); Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH); Louise Slaughter (D-NY); Peter Welch (D-VT); and John Yarmuth (D-KY).
Sunday, February 15, 2009
WASHINGTON,DC – The 1,850-member U.S. Business and Industry Council has called Senator Judd Gregg’s withdrawal as President Obama’s Commerce Secretary pick an exciting chance for the administration to add a domestic manufacturer to the outsourcer-dominated inner circle of economic advisors he has assembled.
Said Council President Kevin L. Kearns, “Despite his campaign opposition to trade policies that send U.S. jobs and production overseas rather than goods – and his promises to seek diverse opinions, President Obama’s economic advisors generally add up to a “Team of Outsourcers.” Senator Gregg’s withdrawal gives the President a terrific new opportunity to keep his promises and to break his discouraging pattern of Washington insider/orthodox economic thinker appointments.”
Kearns continued, “Rather than being embarrassed by the Gregg departure, the president should welcome a great and final opportunity to add to his senior economic staff a genuinely domestic manufacturer – that is a leader who can foster U.S. economic growth by creating new factories and good-paying jobs here at home – not another orthodox free-trade outsourcer.”
Added Kearns, “The American people and the companies that work so hard to strengthen the domestic economy and create middle-class jobs for American workers deserve no less. And a president who claims to recognize the virtue of diverse sources of advice urgently needs a Commerce Secretary who’s a true economic patriot and can think outside the box of the prevailing economic ‘wisdom’ in Washington.”
According to Kearns, the Gregg withdrawal also enables the president to add a representative of the economy’s productive sector to his cabinet, someone sorely now missing.
“Wall Street has plenty of representatives on the Obama team,” Kearns observed. “But the entrepreneurs that actually create the wealth American finance depends on are absent. For an economy and president that need to overcome today’s crisis by encouraging more production at home, that’s a major oversight, which should be rectified by the new Commerce Secretary appointment.”
The Council also applauded Congress for keeping in its final stimulus bill a Buy-American provision that can aid the nation’s economic recovery by boosting domestic manufacturing output and employment. The Council noted that the stimulus provision creates a critical precedent for other federal support programs for private industry, notably the automotive assistance packages and proposals to promote so-called green manufacturing.
But the Council noted that Buy American’s effectiveness for the stimulus and other programs will depend largely on greatly improved presidential enforcement.
Said Council President Kevin L. Kearns, “The decision to expand Buy-American treatment to all manufactured goods can significantly increase the bill’s stimulative effects. Despite the hysterical and false claims of opponents, substantial Buy-American authority has existed for decades. It is up to President Obama to see that this and other Buy-American laws are used effectively, fully, and consistently to boost domestic production – the only way out of the current economic crisis.”
Continued Kearns, “If President Obama wants the biggest growth bang per stimulus buck, he’ll work much harder than his predecessors to ensure that federal agencies Buy American at every opportunity, and to keep any presidential waivers to a bare minimum.”
Kearns also praised Congress for passing this precedent-setting Buy-American provision, which he said must be applied to Washington’s other current and potential future efforts to support private industry during the economic crisis. “As long as the U.S. economy is in critical condition, Washington must help various sectors of the private economy increase production and jobs. The strongest possible Buy-American and U.S.-content measures should be applied to these programs as well.”
Kearns called on Congress and the president to tighten the inadequate Buy-American and U.S. content provisions in the retooling loans extended to the automotive sector, and to add similar measures to the bridge loans Detroit has gotten under the Troubled Assets Relief Program. In addition, Kearns noted that Buy-American and U.S.-content provisions are urgently needed in green manufacturing proposals currently circulating in Washington.
“Both Democrats and Republicans have blithely and incorrectly assumed that green manufacturing jobs will be red, white, and blue jobs,” said Kearns. “Yet without high mandatory U.S.-content standards, most green manufacturing is as susceptible to offshoring as the rest of manufacturing. Vastly increased domestic production – not printing dollars or continued borrowing from foreigners to consume foreign-made goods – is our only way out of the current crisis. Hopefully, President Obama understands this basic fact at a gut level, even if his circle of orthodox economic advisors does not.”
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
WASHINGTON,DC - As the House and Senate worked to reconcile their differences on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Representative Dan Lipinski (D-IL) was joined by Rep. Don Manzullo (R-IL) and 34 other members of Congress in a letter urging the President to support "Buy American" provisions and to better enforce existing Buy American laws.
"Congress is considering a bill that would spend almost 1 trillion American taxpayer dollars to get the economy moving again and put people back to work," said Lipinski, "Every one should agree that whenever possible, federal, state, and local government contractors should spend the stimulus grants to help American industries and American workers."
"Whether you support the final stimulus bill or not," added Manzullo, "we should all agree that its main focus should be on creating American jobs, not more jobs overseas. A Buy American provision will help ensure that any ‘stimulus' spending supports American jobs."
The Buy American Act of 1933 requires the federal government to support domestic manufacturers and workers by purchasing American-made goods, but it is riddled with loopholes and is frequently waived, often for the vague reason that it is in the "public interest" to do so. Lipinski has called on President Obama to recognize that it is in the public interest to Buy American and to crack down on illegitimate waivers by exposing them to public scrutiny. Lipinski has also fought to add a strong, transparent "Buy American" provisions in the Recovery Act.
"We may have only one chance to get this right," stated Lipinski, "and it would be devastating to borrow and spend this much money only to watch it go abroad while more American factories close and more Americans lose their livelihoods."
Dear President Obama:
As you know all too well, America faces a recession that could linger for years and an unemployment rate nearing double digits. In response, Congress is considering the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, an immediate and dramatic measure designed to jumpstart our economy. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has indicated that your administration is reviewing "Buy American" provisions in the bill, and we write today to urge you to support such provisions.
Despite our differences on the merits of some items in the Recovery Act, we can all agree that any money spent under the banner of "stimulus" should directly create or retain American jobs to the greatest degree possible. The stimulus package contains investments in our transportation, education, and energy infrastructures. While this kind of spending is guaranteed to support good-paying construction jobs for American workers, the purchase of American-made materials and equipment will underscore and multiply those benefits.
In addition to the steel needed to rebuild our bridges, American companies are ready to produce the insulation, windows, solar panels, smart meters, fiber optics, advanced batteries, and other goods called for in this package. Strong "Buy American" provisions will help ensure that this happens wherever practicable.
Although the Buy American Act of 1933 ostensibly requires the federal government to buy from domestic suppliers, its provisions are frequently waived, often for the vague reason that it is in "the public interest" to do so. You have rightly emphasized that transparency is an essential component of good government. This is true nowhere more so than in a spending bill of this magnitude. We hope that you will seize this opportunity to make the application of any "Buy American" laws more transparent by requiring that applications for waivers be publicly posted on the website Recovery.gov along with a detailed justification for any waivers granted.
We recognize that there are legitimate justifications for granting waivers. We also believe that it is in the public interest to "Buy American." Homegrown manufacturing capabilities are not only vital to the American economy but also a national security imperative. We cannot afford to lose our nation's competitive edge or the productive foundation of our economy.
We are not looking to erect trade barriers, only to help assure American taxpayers that their money is being directly spent to create or retain American jobs to the greatest degree possible. Spending the nearly $1 trillion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act here at home is prudent policy and will help America get back to work.
Thank you for your time and attention regarding this critical issue.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Florida Governor Charlie Crist looks beyond narrow partisanship and endorses the President's economic stimulus plan. We need more elected officials like Crist who are willing to put country first.
Governor Crist's Special Video Message regarding Federal Stimulus
February 11, 2009
Florida has taken prudent steps to cut taxes for our people and balance our budget in these increasingly difficult times.
I believe strongly that any federal stimulus money must prioritize job creation and targeted a tax relief for small business owners, and Florida must get her fair share.
Tuesday I joined President Barack Obama for a town hall meeting in Fort Myers to discuss with Floridians the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
During the town hall, I reiterated my support for the federal stimulus package, and pledged to the people of Florida that here in Florida we stand ready to use our share of the money quickly and responsibly to create new jobs and serve our most vulnerable citizens.
There is no doubt that these are historic, challenging times for this nation and our state.
We are balancing our budget here, even when it calls for difficult decisions. We cut spending by $2.5 billion dollars during the recent special Legislative session.
But even as we tighten our belts, we need a stimulus to help the people of Florida, and to help every state that is hurting. This federal stimulus package is a bridge of help for Florida.
As the U.S. Congress finalizes this stimulus package before sending it to the President, I continue to work with my colleagues and members of our Congressional delegation to improve the bill while ensuring Florida receives her fair share.
Our Economic Stimulus Working Group met for the second time today. This group, which I lead, will spend the coming weeks making sure we quickly and responsibly implement these federal dollars to meet the Sunshine State's education needs, transportation and health care funding needs.
Thank you very much, and God bless you.
Monday, February 09, 2009
Writing in the Colorado Daily, Mike Krause makes the case for President Obama to end U.S. policies that have unfairly isolated the sovereign and democratic nation of Taiwan.
Independent Ideas: U.S. should support Taiwan's democracy
Obama must stop appeasement of China
By Mike Krause
For the Colorado Daily www.coloradodaily.com
February 8, 2009
For 30 years, the U.S. has maintained an "unofficial" relationship with Taiwan.
And while this outdated policy acquiesces nicely to communist China's absurd (and equally outdated) claim of sovereignty over democratic Taiwan, it also badly undermines the American tradition of supporting democracy around the globe.
President Barack Obama could begin undoing this backward policy and send a significant foreign policy message by simply instructing his State Department to issue new guidelines lifting travel restrictions on Taiwanese officials to the U.S. and allowing direct contact between Washington and Taipei.
In fact, Mr. Obama suggested this during the campaign.
In March 2008, Taiwan held a presidential election. Ma Ying-Jeou of the Nationalist Party defeated the Democratic Progressive Party candidate. It was Taiwan's second peaceful transfer of party power through democratic elections.
Commenting on the election, then-candidate Obama stated that the U.S. should respond by "rebuilding a relationship of trust and support" with democratic Taiwan. "The U.S. should reopen blocked channels of communication with Taiwan officials," Obama said.
What is President Obama waiting for?
The State Department issued its first backwards set of Taiwan guidelines in 1979, when the U.S. ended diplomatic relations with Taipei in order to recognize the communist dictatorship in Beijing.
Since then, Taiwan has transformed itself from an authoritarian regime (much like China remains today) and into a vibrant representative democracy with a market economy -- precisely the kind of country whose representatives should be able to not only communicate directly with their counterparts in Washington, D.C., but who also should be welcomed into the United States for official visits.
The Bush administration continued undermining American support for democracy abroad by expanding and re-issuing the backward guidelines in 2008.
For instance, high-level Taiwanese officials, including the democratically elected president of Taiwan, are barred from visiting Washington. On the other hand, the unelected leader of China's thuggish communist party has been welcomed into the White House.
Another rule precludes U.S. embassy personnel from accepting invitations to "official" Taiwan-hosted functions, or functions held at "Taiwan's official premises" and vice versa.
In a particularly bizarre ban on communication, U.S. officials are not allowed to communicate directly with their counterparts in Taiwan, but rather must send letters to each other through a third party.
As the Taipei Times newspaper describes, "Even personal thank you notes must be written on plain paper and put in a plain envelope to disguise the sender's official identity."
All of this, and more, just to appease the Chinese communists in Beijing.
President Obama could change this -- without having to commit thousands of American troops, or billions of U.S. tax dollars, to either regime change or nation building.
In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Obama noted that "we cannot meet 21st century challenges with a 20th century bureaucracy."
If this is so, how can we meet 21st century foreign policy challenges while tied to a 20th century Taiwan policy that contradicts everything the U.S. is supposed to stand for?
As I pointed out in a post last year, America could learn a thing or two from Taiwan about how to run a national health care system. Check out this article link from Dissent Magazine. http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=985
Sunday, February 08, 2009
President Obama has taken a positive step in continuing support for faith-based social service initiatives. This position has drawn criticism from secular fundamentalists on the left but earned praise from the center and right. While Obama may continue to differ with evangelical Christians on some social issues, he clearly appreciates the positive role that faith communities can play in creating a more compassionate and decent society.
Jury still out on Obama, evangelicals
By Rick Cousins
Galveston Daily News
Published February 7, 2009
Texas is almost always red on color-coded political maps.
Red, that is, in the sense of conservative, Republican-by-plurality, and a part of the remaining Bible Belt. A whole different country. An exotic place, politically separate from both liberal coasts.
As ReligionLink.org notes, evangelicals in general and in Texas in particular are largely not favored territory for liberal leanings. Regarding the new president, it noted that “Pew exit polls show that Obama’s gains among white Protestants amounted to a mere 2 percentage points over John Kerry in 2004.”
Does Obama’s election then leave evangelicals, those Protestant Christians who are generally characterized by conservative, “born-again theology” and a zeal to evangelize, abandoned on the Capitol steps with little hope of influence for the foreseeable future?
To find out, Our Faith consulted with Rice University professor D. Michael Lindsay. The sociologist and author spent the last three years researching and interviewing exactly 360 informed evangelicals, plus other movers, shakers and pundits across the nation.
In pursuit of the foundations of the religious right, he cornered and polled a wide spectrum of observers such as James A. Baker III, George H.W. Bush, Charles Colson, Os Guinness, Ted Haggard, Cal Thomas, Kathie Lee Gifford and Art Linkletter, with a sprinkling of sports stars including NFL coaches and players and corporate CEOs for good measure.
“Evangelical public leaders have brought their faith convictions to bear in their respective spheres of influences,” Lindsay writes in his resulting new book, “Faith in the Halls of Power.”
“History will be the judge of whether this contributes to a more enlightened democracy, where engaged citizens use their faith to serve the common good or whether we have merely witnessed the triumph of another interest group with a distinctive vision for society.”
The work traces the sometime deliberate, sometime haphazard and occasionally serendipitous construction of the modern religious right.
If the incoming president is being received tentatively in conservative religious quarters, the outgoing one had his own problems with them.
As far back as 2005, an Associated Press story noted, “Evangelicals, Republican women, Southerners and other critical groups in President Bush’s political coalition are worried about the direction the nation is headed and disappointed with his performance.”
Surprisingly, sociologist Lindsay credits Clinton, not Bush, with the most important advances evangelicals have had in the political arena.
“Evangelicals actually have seen their greatest policy advantages when ‘their man’ was not in the White House,” Lindsay told Our Faith. He credited Clinton with implementing the most sweeping changes in church-state relations in 40 years.
“Clinton signed the executive order that allowed broad freedom to talk about your faith or post a Bible verse in the (federal) work place,” he said.
Will Obama match Clinton in implementing faith-friendly policies or is he more likely to scrap the accomplishments of the evangelical cause that Lindsay documents? While the jury is still out, Lindsay suggests the new president may seek a peace of sorts with those who are less liberal, in all areas, than he is.
“Evangelicals may not feel like they are in political power these days,” Lindsay said. “Barack Obama is in many ways a different kind of Democrat. I do not remember a Democrat since Carter who was so willing to talk publicly about his faith and for his faith to affect his policy issues.”
Although Lindsay suggests that evangelicals may initially find little in common with Obama, he also asserts that Obama’s openness may at least grant them a hearing when relevant policy discussions arise.
Megachurch pastor Rick Warren, who led the prayer at the Inauguration, may be the evangelicals’ successor to Billy Graham — practicing a more “elastic orthodoxy,” as Lindsay characterizes him.
“Warren is the face of the next generation of American evangelicalism,” he said.
Congressman Gene Taylor, a leading Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, has a plan for strengthening our Navy and controlling costs:
Taylor Statement on Future of U.S. Naval Shipbuilding
WASHINGTON, DC – Today Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS), Chairman of the Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee released the following statement on the future of Navy shipbuilding.
“For far too many years I have watched as the size of the Navy fleet has decreased. Each year the Navy changes its plan on how many ships will be built and delays the procurement of ships to future years. The Bush administration’s failed strategy of trying to build ‘transformational’ ships, such as the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and the DDG 1000 destroyer, has crippled the Navy shipbuilding budget and forced years of delays in providing needed capability to the Fleet.
“In particular, the failure of the LCS program to deliver on the promise of an affordable, capable, and reconfigurable warship only puts the exclamation point on a Bush administration’s strategy that was neither well envisioned nor properly executed. As for the DDG 1000, we will not know the true cost of that program for a number of years but significant cost growth on that vessel will require diverting funding from other new construction projects to pay the over-run.
“Lacking the expectation of increased funding available for ship procurement, it is more important than ever to set the Navy on an affordable strategy for ship procurement. Continuing resistance from outgoing Bush administration officials to the common sense strategy of restarting the DDG 51 destroyer class is not helpful to the Navy and the nation. The shipbuilding plan needs less meddling, not more. In my opinion there is absolutely no value in spending even more precious shipbuilding funds to re-design the DDG 1000 as a ballistic missile capable platform when the affordable vessel already exists in the DDG 51 destroyer.
“I hope that the new officials within the Obama administration will reach out to the Congress for ideas and suggestions on shipbuilding programs before creating even more imbalance and uncertainty in the shipbuilding master plan. To achieve an affordable, stable shipbuilding plan I recommend the following to the new administration:
• Restructure the LCS program with common combat and propulsion systems between the two variants of ships. Divorce from the use of the defense firms as Lead Systems Integrators and bid a fixed price contract directly on a “build to print” basis with any shipyard that possesses the industrial capability to build the vessels.
• Truncate the DDG 1000 program. The ship is unaffordable.
• Restart the DDG 51 program. Not only is it the finest destroyer in the world but it possesses the capability for strategic missile defense, area air defense, and highly capable anti-submarine defense. Build these ships in quantity. If it improves efficiency to computerize the ship’s design into a 3-D modern ship design tool, then Navy should request that non-recurring engineering funding.
• Build combatant amphibious assault vessels, vice the non-combatant versions of the proposed Maritime Pre-Positioning Force (Future) or MPF(F). Use the basic LPD or LHD hull form for any other future large ship, including the next generation cruiser, instead of designing a new hull.
• Build a frigate on the common hull of the Coast Guard National Security Cutter. This is an affordable ship (without Navy making wholesale changes in the design) which is exactly the type of vessel necessary for 80% of the Navy’s core missions, including anti-piracy and homeland defense.
“I look forward to working with the administration and the Department of the Navy in discussing these issues and implementing the ones that provide the best capability for the Navy. In my opinion, the worst thing that the Department can do is continue the policy of the previous administration and not seek any guidance from the Congress prior to submitting shipbuilding plans that were unacceptable in cost and quantity.”
Saturday, February 07, 2009
Congressman Artur Davis has declared his candidacy for Governor of Alabama. During his service in the U.S. House of Representatives, Davis has established a solid reputation as an advocate for working families and traditional values.
A profile in CQ Politics describes the challenges facing Davis and his mainstream approach to issues:
Artur Davis is a politically savvy, middle-of-the-road Democrat who advocates both an activist federal government and culturally conservative policies. He says his views and voting record represent the mainstream in his district and in the country, and he is eager to test his appeal statewide.
Davis has turned his eye to the governor’s seat in 2010; Republican Gov. Bob Riley is term-limited. Even in Alabama, a state with a troubled history of race relations, Davis sees fresh opportunity for black politicians. “Race tells us less than it ever has in American political life,” he said. “Those hurdles are coming down and the change that is producing in American society is as profound as the collapse of the Berlin Wall was in Europe.” If elected, Davis would be the first black governor of a state in the Deep South.
Davis said the elimination of term limits for committee chairs and the challenge of winning re-election every two years has led him and other younger House members to look at greener pastures. “In this environment, retention is going to become harder,” he said in January 2009. “It can take 30 years or longer to chair a major committee.”
He insists he could win over voters based on shared views and values. “When I drive down I-95 to visit my mother in Montgomery, I see a giant Confederate flag. That’s part of our history that we live with every day. We were simultaneously the first Confederate capital and the first capital of the civil rights movement,” he says. “It’s not my task to repudiate history; it’s my task to find common ground based on our shared history.”
But he also thinks his party undercuts its potential popularity by supporting positions “out of touch” with the mainstream. While Davis thinks the government should help lift people out of poverty –– his district is the fifth-poorest in the nation –– he also supports a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. In 2007, he voted against a bill that would prohibit workplace discrimination against gays.
He was one of 63 Democrats in 2003 to vote for a conservative-backed ban on what opponents call “partial birth” abortion, a controversial procedure for ending pregnancies. In 2005, he was one of 44 Democrats supporting a renewal of the 2001 anti-terrorism law known as the Patriot Act; he also supported an overhaul of the law allowing the government to eavesdrop on foreign terrorists in 2008. He was among 27 House Democrats voting in 2006 to allow oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
WASHINGTON — Nurses, doctors, students, large community-based membership groups, labor unions, religious organizations and activists have launched a new health care alliance called The Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care/The National Single Payer Alliance (www.guaranteedhealthcare4all.org). The combined organizations have a membership base of more than 20 million people.
“National Nurses Organizing Committee’s 85,000 members lend their continued commitment to our fellow member groups fighting to reform the health care system through a Medicare-for-All system that would be publicly funded and privately provided,” said Geri Jenkins, registered nurse and co-president of NNOC/California Nurses Association. “Our nation’s nurses know that real patient advocacy is only possible in a health care system in which patient care is more critical than insurance company profits.”
Spokespersons for the new coalition said they believe high-quality health care is a right of all people and should be provided equitably as a public service. A single-payer national health program would eliminate the wasteful role played by private health insurance companies and, as a result, is the most cost-effective and efficient way to achieve health care for all in the United States, they said.
“It has become clear, especially now that we are in a recession, that single payer is not merely the best solution, but the only solution,” said Dr. Walter Tsou, Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) board adviser and former health commissioner of Philadelphia.
Dr. Robert Zarr, a pediatrician who co-chairs PNHP’s Washington chapter, elaborated on this theme, saying, “The economy is in shambles, and more and more Americans have lost their jobs and their health insurance. One in three Americans does not have timely access to health care. We cannot rely on private health insurance any longer because of its waste and greed.
“This is not a time for small incremental change,” Zarr continued. “This is a time for bold change. With a clear majority of Americans and American physicians demanding national health insurance, now is the time to expand and improve Medicare for all.”
Progressive Democrats of America Executive Director Tim Carpenter added, “The most important step the new administration and Congress can take to provide a stimulus to employers and financial relief to families across all income levels would be to incorporate single-payer health care reform within an economic recovery package.”
The coalition supports H.R. 676, a bill that calls for an expanded and improved Medicare system that would cover all U.S. residents. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) has reintroduced the legislation in the 111th Congress.
Free market fanatics continue to challenge the effectiveness of FDR's New Deal in lifting America out of the Great Depression, however, Charles McMillion refutes their arguments in a post from the Campaign for America's Future blog. Statistics from 1929 to 1941 show the growth of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product and U.S. industrial production in response to New Deal policies. The New Deal was a tremendous success and led to many years of broad-based prosperity for our nation.
The "FDR Failed" Myth
By Charles McMillion
February 3rd, 2009
The current recession will soon become the longest since the Great Depression. The U.S. is losing over 500,000 jobs each month, and a new president, elected overwhelmingly, is pleading for unity and urgent action on a scale not seen since the New Deal.
At such a moment, it is imperative to expose a dangerous popular myth regarding the efficacy of President Roosevelt’s actions: that it was not the programs of the New Deal, but only the placing of the nation on a wartime footing years later, that restored the health of the nation’s economy.
This belief, though widely held, cannot stand up to even the most basic economic analysis. Yet the mainstream corporate media, which abound with anti-government ideology, seek to reinforce this myth. Just this past Sunday, The Washington Post featured on Page One of its Outlook section an article by Amity Shlaes headlined “FDR Was a Great Leader, But His Economic Plan Isn’t One to Follow.” Underscoring Shlaes’s made-up claims, the Post ran the continuation of her piece under the title: “FDR’s Plan Failed to Spark Real Growth.”
In it, Shlaes, having passed over the anything-goes policies that led to the financial crash in 1929—and, to a great extent, the devastating economic losses that occurred between 1929 and Roosevelt’s 1933 inauguration—also completely leaves out any specific data on gross domestic product, incomes, consumer spending, production, investment or jobs even for the New Deal period she presumes to explain. Indeed, her pitch is based entirely on emotional misrepresentation.
The basic economic facts from the 1930s—according to the Department of Commerce, the Federal Reserve, and other official sources—are fundamentally different from the unsupported claims put forward by Shlaes and prominent in popular myth. The monthly data for industrial production show a near three-year collapse under President Hoover, ending when FDR came to office in March 1933. Production rocketed by 44 percent in the first three months of the New Deal and, by December 1936, had completely recovered to surpass its 1929 peak.
GDP, only available as annual averages, plunged 25.6 percent from 1929-1932, including by 13.0 percent in 1932. It stabilized in 1933, and then soared by 10.8 percent, 8.9 percent and 12.0 percent, respectively, in 1934, 1935 and 1936. Real GDP surpassed its 1929 peak in 1936 and never again fell below it. After-tax personal income, consumer spending, real private investment and jobs all reached or surpassed their 1929 peaks by late 1936.
In fact, like every decade between 1850 and 1990, the 1930s suffered two distinct downturns. The official U.S. Business Cycle Dating Committee established that the downturn that began in August 1929 ended in March 1933 with the remarkable economic expansion that started within days of FDR’s bold—if trial and error—New Deal programs. By any normal definition, the Great Depression had ended by late 1936, with all major indicators surpassing their previous peaks.
A second cyclical downturn officially began in May 1937 when FDR, always a fiscal conservative, mistakenly thought the economy had become self-sustaining and slashed public spending programs to balance the budget. These harsh and premature spending cuts caused another severe recession that ended after 13 months in June 1938.
Even in this severe downturn, annual GDP did not fall back below its 1929 peak. And although many suffered and most economic measures did fall back below their 1929 levels, not one fell anywhere close to its March 1933 low. For example, although industrial production fell sharply in the 1937-38 recession, at its low point, in April 1938, it remained 49 percent above its level of March 1933.
When the economy again contracted sharply in late 1937 and early 1938, FDR quickly reversed course and rapid growth immediately began again. GDP soared by 10.9 percent in 1939 and industrial production soared by 23 percent.
Shlaes’s Post article begins with a misleading, emotional story of a young, desperate boy’s tragic suicide in 1937. She does not inform readers that FDR had reversed course and was sharply cutting—not adding to—New Deal spending at the time this suicide likely occurred. Rather, she uses this emotional tale to turn facts on their head, asserting—with no actual evidence—that public spending was ineffective and New Deal programs failed.
Like other ideological critics of government, Shlaes sites only two economic indicators of the 1930s: the falling but persistently high unemployment rate and the length of time required for the stock market to recover after its bubble burst. Neither of these is used in any serious economic or policy analysis.
Media emphasize the unemployment rate but, because it is known to be lagging and misleading, it is not considered at all by economists in determining the start or end of a recession or depression. This is because people stop looking for jobs when there are none to be found and begin looking again when conditions improve. Serious analysis, including recession and depression dating, use the separate business reporting of actual jobs added or lost.
Despite the new record peak in the number of jobs by late 1936, because of population growth and because more people were encouraged to seek jobs, the unemployment rate did remain very high until public spending programs truly exploded with the start of World War II. But even here, it was again vastly expanded government spending, this time to fight the war, that ended high unemployment.
Finally, Shlaes points to the long time before the Dow Jones industrial average regained—in 1954—its 1929 bubble levels as a key factor “that made the Depression Great.” This is, again, Shlaes’s own unique perspective, absent from serious assessments by economists but used by her as a basis for advocating further income and capital gains tax cuts for upper-income Americans. Unmentioned is that these policies were implemented by President Bush and yet, over the eight years of his presidency, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 25 percent and the NASDAQ plummeted 48 percent.
Myth and ideology aside, the data show that from 1933 through 1936 the New Deal produced double-digit annual growth in GDP, production, after-tax income and private investment, with strong consumer spending and job growth exceeding their peaks in the 1929 bubble. The Great Depression ended by late 1936.
While a new, severe recession began in May 1937 because FDR prematurely slashed public spending on New Deal programs, rapid growth quickly resumed in late 1938 when funding was restored.
Today, the U.S. and the world again face extreme crises similar to those in the early days of the 1930s. The largely unregulated private financial and commercial sector has utterly bankrupted itself. I personally believe the recent and current bailout and stimulus packages are grossly misdirected and inadequate when compared with the remarkable trade and industrial policy strategies being implemented elsewhere, particularly in China.
But history has shown that crisis can bring people together in common, public purpose or it can set them against one another. Our circumstances are far too dangerous to leave uncorrected the antigovernment disinformation and myths from the 1930s, and in our own generation.
Charles W. McMillion, president and chief economist of MBG Information Services, is the former associate director of the Johns Hopkins University Policy Institute and a former contributing editor of the Harvard Business Review.
See link to post with charts showing the growth in U.S. Gross Domestic Product from 1929 to 1941 and U.S. Industrial production from 1928 to 1941.
Country music legend Merle Haggard expressed his concern about America's future in a early 1980's hit. The song sums up the social and economic decline of our nation but also offers hope that the best is to still yet to come if Americans can once again dedicate themselves to a common purpose.
Friday, February 06, 2009
Hoyt Hilsman at the Huffington Post has an excellent idea for helping to finance the economic stimulus plan. Buy bonds ! We don't hear much about U.S. Savings Bond these days and I have not seen or heard a broadcast or print public service ad promoting bonds in many years. It would make perfect sense for President Obama make a public appeal for our citizens to purchase U.S. Savings Bonds and invest in America.
Is it Time for "Job Bonds?"
by Hoyt Hilsman
Huffington Post www.huffingtonpost.com
February 2, 2009
During World War II, Americans were encouraged to buy "war bonds" to support the war effort. From Hollywood to Madison Avenue to Main Street there were bond drives that stressed our patriotic duty to invest in victory by buying US Savings Bonds. By the end of the war, nearly half of all Americans had bought war bonds, raising nearly $185 billion -- a staggering sum at the time -- to support the troops.
As we face another global crisis, maybe it's time to invest in victory over the financial crisis with bonds to create jobs -- call them "job bonds." The idea would be a pretty simple corollary to President Obama's economic stimulus plan, which would dedicate over $800 billion to infrastructure spending and other projects that would create jobs right away.
The "job bonds" would have a similar purpose , but would be funded by the investment of all Americans in our future, and wouldn't cost taxpayers a penny. These bonds could also be targeted toward specific spending areas. For example, you could buy a bond that would pay for green technology projects, or for improving our bridges and highways. And the bonds would be just like the old war bonds, paying a decent interest rate and backed by the government.
For the ninety percent of Americans who still have jobs, and for those who have a little extra to invest in our country, wouldn't it make sense to buy a few "job bonds" rather than let the money sit in a savings account or CD at some bank holding company with overpaid executives living on government bailouts? A number of states and several foreign countries have already either proposed or offered "economic stimulus bonds," which would be sold to investors and dedicated to providing local economies with a much-needed jumpstart.
I'm not an economist, and there are probably a hundred technical reasons why "job bonds" are a lousy idea. For one thing, they don't get consumers spending again on big-screen TV's or flashy cars. But I don't see that many people out on spending sprees lately. So why not put our money to work creating jobs with long-overdue infrastructure improvements rather than give it to the banks to invest in securities derivatives that don't create anything of value?
The idea of "job bonds" wouldn't be to replace the economic stimulus package. We need government intervention immediately to stop a global economic freefall. But why not give individual Americans a chance to make a meaningful investment in our country's recovery? If nothing else, buying a "job bond" would be a lot more satisfying than going shopping for something we may not even need.
After 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, George Bush suggested that Americans could support the country by "going shopping," which struck a lot of the public as a strange way to show our wartime patriotism. In the face of global financial meltdown, when many workers are facing the loss of jobs and when most Americans are reluctant to do a lot of shopping, "job bonds" might be a more creative and constructive way to help our country in this time of crisis.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
WASHINGTON, DC- Following President Barack Obama signing into law the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) bill, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) issued the following statement:
"After two years and two Bush vetoes, we will finally provide health care coverage to more than 10.5 million American children.
"Thankfully, for the more than four million children and their families who will join the more than six million children currently covered, we have a new president and another example of change that has come to Washington.
"When we speak of families and children's health insurance we speak and we think mostly about parents and the relationship they have to their children and what they want for their children. They, of course, want their children to succeed in life. They have hopes and dreams for their children. But, of course, for a parent, and especially for a mother, who is often providing most of the care for a child, her initial hopes, her initial fears, her concerns at the beginning of that child's life are very basic: Will that child be born healthy? Will that child grow and develop as he or she should?
“This legislation will help ensure that the parents of ten million children have one less thing to keep them up at night.
"After this victory, we have much more work to do to improve the quality and affordability of health care for all Americans. As a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee I look forward to being at the center of that debate and to represent the interests of my constituents.
From The National Post www.nationalpost.com
In defence of 'Buy America'
by Eric Weir
February 05, 2009,
The National Post, most other media, the Canadian government and its
Official Opposition all appear to agree that the "Buy America"
provisions contained in the proposed U.S. stimulus package comprise
unfair protectionism. They should think again: In fact, the Buy
America provisions are economically justified, and could even be
beneficial for Canada.
For Canada, the best-case scenario is not a removal of Buy America
provisions from the stimulus legislation, but a specific Canadian
exemption from them. When the United States applied tariffs to steel
imports in 2002, it exempted Canada and Mexico. Such arrangements
allow Canada to continue selling into the U.S. market with less
competition from other countries.
In a world where all labour and capital is fully employed, free trade
is arguably beneficial because it encourages countries to specialize
based on comparative advantage. But in a world of unemployed workers
and excess capacity, countries have an undeniable interest in keeping
production at home, rather than importing products from abroad. The
orthodox argument for free trade, which assumes full employment, is
unconvincing amid rising job losses.
Opponents of Buy America rules characterize them as a revival of the
infamous Smoot-Hawley Act, which allegedly worsened unemployment in
the 1930s. But the act's gravest shortcoming was that it did not
provide, or accompany, a significant fiscal stimulus. In effect, the
United States tried to use tariffs alone to grab a larger slice of a
shrinking global economic pie.
Today's Buy America requirements, on the other hand, are part of the
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a large stimulus plan.
It is important to note that the Buy America requirements apply only
to public investment and would not affect private ventures or
personal consumption. And given the goal of this public investment,
they are justified: If a major purpose of increased spending on
public infrastructure is to stimulate a country's economy, it surely
makes sense to ensure that a large portion of such spending remains
within the country.
One might even ask why there wasn't a "Buy Canadian" policy in last
week's federal budget. On the contrary, the budget eliminated
Canada's few remaining tariffs on imported machinery and equipment,
and offered a 100% accelerated capital cost allowance for computers.
Both measures seemed designed to encourage businesses in Canada to
buy more inputs from abroad.
The world economy needs as much stimulus as it can get. If other
countries can catch a free ride on Canadian and American stimulus by
selling more goods to North America, they have little incentive to
incur public debt to finance their own stimulus packages. By limiting
foreign access to U.S. stimulus, Buy America policies encourage all
countries to contribute the deficit spending needed to propel a
global economic recovery.
This approach is particularly important for steel. With the recent
collapse of shipping costs, more infrastructure projects could easily
prompt increased steel imports rather than increased steel
production. In recent years, Canada has imported anywhere from three
to nine dollars of steel from overseas for every dollar of steel
exported overseas. Much of the stimulus supposedly provided by
additional infrastructure spending could leak out of the Canadian
economy through this glaring trade deficit.
By contrast, the larger volume of steel trade between Canada and the
United States is balanced. Which means that Americans cannot improve
their balance of international payments by trading less steel with
Canadians. If Buy Canadian policies were adopted, we could offer the
United States an exemption from them in return for an exemption from
Buy America policies.
The balanced, integrated nature of the Canada-U.S. steel trade
provides a compelling rationale for exempting Canada from Buy America
rules. Canadian politicians and editorialists should start making
this case, rather than lecturing Americans about the theoretical
virtues of global free trade and the evils of Smoot-Hawley.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
From Economy In Crisis
Amid intense criticism from trade partners, interest groups, multinational corporations and congressional Republicans, President Obama used two separate television interviews on Tuesday to signal his disapproval of language of the “buy American” clause in the nearly $900 billion stimulus package.
The house version of the bill would require public works projects associated with the bill to purchase domestically manufactured iron and steel. The senate is considering an even more stringent version of the bill, requiring that all manufactured goods used be made in America.
Those proposals have come under intense criticism from foreign governments, leaders of trade organizations, American businesses and congressional Republicans. The common refrain is that the clause could possibly be a violation of international trade agreements of which the U.S. is a party to as well as having the potential to spark a trade war in which America’s trade partners would respond with retaliatory protectionist measures.
Based on the president’s remarks on Tuesday it appears that he has sided with the fear-mongers.
"I think that would be a mistake right now," he told ABC News. "That is a potential source of trade wars that we can't afford at a time when trade is sinking all across the globe."
President Obama fails to realize that the U.S. is already engaged in a trade war, that it is losing at an alarming rate. Many of America’s trade partners that are currently crying foul over the “buy American” clause have long histories of violating international trade rules to protect their own industries at the expense of American businesses. For instance, China is well-known for undervaluing its currency, making its products cheaper than they should be, and making it difficult for American companies to compete. In addition, China along with Russia, is frequently accused of “dumping” steel products into foreign markets and illegally driving the price down. India has passed tariffs protecting its own steel industry. France has subsidized its fruit and car industry and is in the process of propping up domestic media outlets by offering free newspaper subscriptions to citizens turning 18. Britain has recently nationalized its banks and forced them to lend to British citizens and businesses before considering foreign entities for loans. The Asian economic powerhouses of Japan and Korea are notorious for their trade barriers that keep American automobiles out of their markets.
Those are just a few examples of the protectionist measures utilized by America’s trade partners that turn the idea of “free trade” completely on its head. A “buy American” clause would simply begin to level a completely uneven playing field in international trade.
Any attempt by President Obama to strip the stimulus package of the “buy American” clause could result in a prolonged battle with congressional Democrats who heavily favor including the provision in the bill, including prominent party leaders like Senate Majority leader Harry Reid. The comments by Obama have the potential to alienate congressional allies just at the time when he is trying to court republicans to vote for the bill in order to give it a more bipartisan feel.
Congressional Democrats need to remain steadfast in their support of the provision that would create an estimated 77,000 jobs across America. Please contact your congressional representatives and the White House and demand that they not only include the “buy American” provision in the stimulus package, but that they strengthen it to more closely resemble the senate version that requires all procurements to be domestically manufactured products. As Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) says, we must ensure that this astronomical amount of taxpayer money is being spent in America to the benefit of Americans.
"We're going to spend this money in Youngstown, Warren, Akron" he says. "Not Beijing, Mumbai or Dubai."
Source Wall Street Journal:
President Barack Obama risked a backlash within his own party by criticizing "Buy American" provisions in the huge stimulus bill that would ensure that most of the big infrastructure money goes to U.S. suppliers.
The measures, highly popular among congressional Democrats and trade unions, have come under heavy criticism from U.S. trade partners, some of whom threatened this week to file legal actions against the U.S. if the measures become law.
Asked his views on the furor, Mr. Obama said in separate television interviews Tuesday that he wanted to avoid any steps would "signal protectionism" or risk fueling trade tensions.