May 122010

It would be easy for Progressives — even with the best of intentions — to fumble the growing debate on the federal deficit.

Robert Creamer, Political organizer, strategist and author

Ida May Fuller, the first recipient
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I wish this article could be mandatory reading for all Americans. It is a lucid narrative describing the current economic situation in the United States and a credible means by which progressives can advance their vision.

Mr. Creamer provides 6 solid rules for how progressives should approach the deficit, starting with the notion that they must acknowledge the inadvisability of protracted long-term deficit spending. In his words, progressives “should make it completely clear that we share the view that long-term deficits must be brought under control — the real question is how.”

On the topic of how, Mr. Creamer suggests that we must select a path based upon how it will affect our success at creating widely shared economic growth. This criterion is not only about how to create the most growth, but also how the growth will be distributed. One of his more salient points is that, “Controlling the long-term budget deficit is not an end in and of itself. It is a means to an end.” Unless you have an aversion to the facts, I think you have to agree with his assertion that the failure of the economic policies of the Bush administration stemmed from a single-minded push to serve only the wealthiest of Americans.

His third rule is to push for more government spending to create jobs. I know that this is difficult for people to swallow, but I agree that it’s exactly what’s needed. Mr. Creamer makes the point that the costs associated with a major portion of our national labor resource sitting idle far outweigh those incurred with running a deficit. I could not agree more. Not only are there the issues of lost goods and services, but also the direct costs of unemployment and welfare, along with other related costs such as crime and lost opportunity.

Rule number 4 speaks to the folly of conservative solutions to bring the deficit back in line. As always, they would have us cut Social Security or education, or anything else that will support further concentration of wealth to the very top. Of course this is exactly the type of wrong-mindedness that got us into our present mess. Cutting Social Security would not only be unethical but would also inhibit senior’s ability to be self-sufficient, which would just shift the costs, not spare them. And cutting education is just plain STUPID. It’s the same sort of myopic insanity that right-wing plutocrats espouse every time they open their mouths. None of the conservative solutions uphold rule #2, which would require that growth be shared.

Mr. Creamer’s rule #5 is so important that I need to quote it straight out: “To assure we meet this test, we must eliminate the confusion between investment and consumption in our federal budget.” The notion that all government spending is equivalent is just plain nonsense. That’s not the way it works in industry, and it shouldn’t be the way it works for government. There is a difference between investment and expenditure. When the federal government invests in things like infrastructure, energy, and research and development, it’s not only providing jobs but also enabling future increases in productivity. This is good medicine for the vast majority of citizens.

The final rule is essentially a call to arms. Progressives must stay on the offensive. Mr. Creamer cites multiple Republican offences of the recent past, including an indictment of the Bush neo-cons who brought us a trillion dollar war and a greed driven bank crash. He also warns that should the Republicans gain full power, they will do everything they can to privatize Social Security, destroy Medicare, and eliminate infrastructure and education spending. His  assessment should scare the conservative right out of you!

These are serious times. We’re bloodied and bruised, but we’ve survived the Bush era. It’s time for all patriotic Americans to unite. We know what the conservative agenda has in store for us. They essentially had carte blanche for the eight years leading up to the Great Recession they caused. Must we learn the lesson yet again? The Republicans want only one thing, and that’s further concentration of wealth amongst the American royalty. Unless you’re already a member, you can either help fight against their unethical advance of plutocracy or you can be their stupefied guppy. The choice is yours.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

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May 102010

Looking towards the new economy that we must build out of the ruins of the old, the president has it right. We can’t go back to the old bubble-bust economy built on debt and speculation. We need to build on a new foundation. That includes public investment in areas vital to our future: education and training, a 21st century infrastructure, research and development, new energy.

Roger Hickey, Co-Director of the Campaign for America’s Future

Composition of American Recovery and Reinvestm...
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First let me say that I completely agree with the major premise of this post. The stimulus plan already put into effect has helped to limit the depth of the current recession. I’m even in whole-hearted support of further government spending in the specific areas mentioned here: education and training, a 21st century infrastructure, research and development, new energy. But spending alone is not a solution.

One problem with the spending component of the first stimulus plan was that rather than being directed where it would do the most good — to the areas mentioned above, it was an open spending spree. Much of the money was largely wasted. Another problem is that just pouring cash into broken systems is foolhardy by anyone’s measure. These are the issues that set moderates against such initiatives.

What America is lacking right now is a cogent plan for how we can make the transition to our new economy. One thing is certain, as stated in the post, tax cuts for the rich have been proven to do nothing but provide more wealth for the wealthy. So, when will we start the conversation about raising taxes to help fund the programs we need? There has to be a plan to balance the books at some point. I believe that there are masses of moderates who would support efforts if shown the path.

The path will include spending on education, but it must also include reform of the public education system. Mr. Hickey mocks moves to limit teacher tenure, because so many teachers are being laid off, but he ignores the fact that many of the best are finding the streets while tenure protects the worst. Tenure needs to go, and meritorious pay needs to start. Our education system was designed over a hundred years ago, when the central demand was for factory workers — it’s in serious need of reform. It doesn’t change because of the entrenched lobby.

Few will argue that our infrastructure has not fallen to shambles, but where is the leadership on how to best restore its utility? Public transportation is one vital area for focus. We are woefully behind Europe and Japan when it comes to rail transit. Such forms of public transportation would help to unclog roadways, reduce pollution, and gain energy independence, but again — there are entrenched lobbies that will resist every step of the way.

Energy is the road forward and America’s best bet to establish new technologies and markets to drive our economic engine into the future. We need to leave fossil fuels behind and develop renewable sources for the demands of our 21st century society. Where is our roadmap? We have none. Instead we have President Obama promoting offshore drilling. We need to take a new look at nuclear, and we need to invest in alternatives. We have to admit that clean coal is too expensive, and that natural gas makes more sense as an interim solution. We need a freaking plan, but again, it’s the entrenched lobbies that hold back progress.

Each of these core areas will benefit from the fourth — R&D. Americans are nothing if not innovative. We are very close to breakthroughs in solar power and medicine that can help springboard our economy forward. Alternative energy, transportation, education, power distribution, communications, nanotech — all will see rapid growth over the near term. We are at the base of an exponential technological curve that is going vertical as I write, and America can either lead or follow — it’s up to us.

We need real reform and a real plan, and we need leaders with the guts to bring the issues to the fore. In every case, there are entrenched groups who will resist change because they stand to be adversely affected. We need to acknowledge their situations, but we can’t allow them to deter progress. We don’t need more gifts to the vested interests — like the recent healthcare bill or the weak form of financial reform now making its way through Congress. We need real plans, real reform, real regulation, and real benefit for the average American.

Of course, this will never happen so long as the lobbies own the Congress. So, as with every issue, we need to start with campaign reform. We need to get Congress back to working for The People.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

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May 062010
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What is President Barrack Obama thinking? He’s spent over a trillion dollars, all in the name of fixing America, and still unemployment is over 9 percent, and the economy is struggling. President Obama says that he wants to help the American people, but the average American continues to feel their standard of living washing away, along with their children’s future. People are hurting. So, why hasn’t the President helped them?

One thing’s certain: it’s sure not from any lack of spending. In fiscal 2009, President Obama eclipsed the first-year spending of any of his predecessors. Racking up a federal government total of $3.52 trillion, President Obama ran a deficit of $1.42 trillion and pumped the federal debt up another notch to nearly $11.9 trillion. And estimates for fiscal 2010, President Obama’s first full fiscal year, are higher still, with total spending of $3.7 trillion and a deficit over $1.5 trillion.

It’s also intuitively obvious that the President’s failure to restore economic prosperity hasn’t been caused by excessive taxation. The facts speak for themselves again on this front. As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, President Obama cut taxes for 95% of working families. At $282 billion over two years, the Obama tax cuts were the largest in history. What’s more, is that he gave the cuts to the middle class, and still managed a small increase in the number of Americans who actually paid taxes (53% compared to 51% for 2008). So, why are things still so bad?

Could it be that Obama is just doing the wrong things? His stimulus plan has followed Keynesian economic theory, which fell from grace amongst many economists during the 1970s.  Possible, I suppose — after all, it is all theory . . . but the global economic crisis of 2007 seems to have forced a major resurgence in Keynesian thought.  The vast majority of economists are actually in support of Presidents Obama’s stimulus plan.  In fact, even noted conservative economist, Martin Feldstein, has concluded that, “While good tax policy can contribute to ending the recession, the heavy lifting will have to be done by increased government spending.”  Now, it seems that only the most devoted fringe libertarian economists believe that the path out of the current recession shouldn’t be paved by government spending.

So, with the economy in the tank, President Obama spends like a fiend, but economists warn that without government spending the recession would be much worse.  We have tax cuts targeting the middle class, where the money will be spent to further stimulate the economy — again precisely what economists say will do the most good.  On the surface, it appears that President Obama is doing the right things, but something must be amiss.  Things just don’t seem to be getting better.  So, what is the problem?

I’ve struggled with this question; I’ve researched the facts; I’ve examined the testimony, even searched my soul. In the end, no matter how I slice it, I keep coming up with only one answer: no matter how hard President Barrack Obama works to restore our economy, no matter how right his actions, he has the grand misfortune of following the most incompetent imbecile to ever lead our nation!

That’s right — I’m talking about the illustrious George W. Bush, mental midget, Decider. Texas George sauntered into DC, like John Wayne (sorry John), with his guns blazing, and he never looked back. Days after the U.S. Supreme Court awarded him the presidency in 2000, the younger Bush shared his perspective on leading the most powerful nation on the planet, “If this were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I’m the dictator.” Of course, King George would never let little things, like separation of powers or democracy get in his way.

Opinion?  I do have mine, but this isn’t about opinion — it’s about the facts: when “W” took the reins of the federal government in 2001, he was handed a $236 billion budget surplus. By the end of his first term in office, he had squandered that surplus and turned it into a deficit of over $400 billion. Oddly enough, he received that surplus from a Democrat president; one who ended nearly 3 decades of deficit spending in 1998. But, following in the Republican “cut AND spend” tradition that started with President Reagan in 1980, “W” wasted no time implementing his “conservative” economic leadership.

The Bush Bust started with tax cutting that was designed before he even took office. His knife was slashing early in his first year as president.  The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 was a $1.6 trillion cut, where half went to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.  Another huge step in the Republican sponsored divide between the richest of the rich and the average American.

“W” was once again supporting “trickle-down” economics and promising 800,000 new jobs.  But the sad fact is that the new jobs never came, at least not to Americans.  His policies instead resulted in the loss of 2.7 million jobs by May of 2003.  The Bush plan was another mirage of supply-side deceit.  There’s really no doubt who President Bush served; we can take it straight from his own words: spoken at the Al Smith dinner in 2000, “This is an impressive crowd — the haves and the have mores. Some people call you the elite — I call you my base.”

Of course, on their own, the 2001 tax cuts weren’t completely without a logical base.  After all, there was a minor recession, though the economy was coming off its largest period of sustained growth in U.S. history.  But the events that follow soon begin to truly defy all logic.

Americans remember all too well the events of September, 2001, and as tragic as they were, for a brief moment, they brought our nation together.  For that period, I give President Bush credit for presiding over one of the most terrible events in our history.  His initial response was to mobilize against the terrorist groups that committed the heinous acts of 9/11.  He would have U.S. forces waste no time.  The invasion of Afghanistan started on October 7; the War on Terror began, and the American people were in full support.

But unwilling to pass on an opportunity to promote his agenda, King George seized the day.  He cut taxes again in March of 2002.  And then, with reckless abandon, our intrepid leader proceeded to do everything he could to instill fear in the American public.  Positioning himself as the great protector, George the Decider utilized whatever specious claims were necessary to lead us into a second war — a much larger and more costly war.

So, following in Ronald Reagan’s footsteps, George W. Bush cut taxes twice and also ramped up spending.  Supply-side economics was again alive and not so well, and fiscal responsibility was once more missing from the conservative scheme.  As his tax cuts took effect, our Commandeerer-in-Chief had us mobilizing for two military campaigns.  The direct cost for the Bush wars is presently pushing $1 trillion, and the long term costs are expected to exceed $3 trillion.  Cut taxes and spend on war — this was the Bush recipe for success, and he was just getting cooking.

In spite of the extreme cost of the two wars, “W” the Wise pushed for still more tax cuts.  Two scant months after the invasion of Iraq, the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act was signed into law.  Estimated by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to increase the deficit by over $60 billion in 2003 alone, the JGTRRA would provide more tax relief for America’s most wealthy.  A sweet mix of another lowering of the top marginal rate, decreasing taxes on capital gains and further elimination of the estate tax — the $350 billion tax reduction would feed two-thirds of its benefit to the top 10 percent of income earners. “W” ignored the advice of 450 economists, including 10 Nobel Laureates who signed a statement concluding that the cuts would deepen the deficit, increase income inequality and still fail to produce economic growth.  George didn’t care — he was just making payments to his “base.”

Three tax cuts and two wars, and George the Great wasn’t even halfway through his third year in office,. Sadly, he was just getting started.  As 2003 came to a close, “W” and the Republicans were looking for some help with the 2004 election.  They found what they needed in the form of the Medicare Prescription Drug Modernization Act.  Never mind that the unfunded extension of the entitlement program would add $8.4 trillion to our unfunded obligations — it would help to buy the senior vote.  “W” was never timid about having things his way: again in HIS OWN WORDS, “I’m the commander — see, I don’t need to explain — I do not need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being president.”  With program costs that would later be estimated at $1.2 trillion between 2006 and 2015, the “Commander” signed the drug benefit into law in December of 2003.

Unfortunately for America, the ploy worked, and George Bush won reelection in 2004.  His second term started rather quietly compared to the first.  He did try unsuccessfully to privatize Social Security in 2005-2006.  Of course, the wars continued, and he did make progress with the deficit, which reached a Bush low water mark in 2007, when it was taken down to $160 billion.  But all of this was merely the calm before the storm.

The economic growth of the Bush years was the result of the housing bubble.  With equity extraction doubling, from $626 billion in 2001 to $1.4 trillion in 2005, totaling nearly $5 trillion for the period, things seemed pretty good.  But the housing boom was a house of cards, and as predicted as early as 2003 — it came tumbling down, and along with it a large part of the banking system and the U.S. economy.

George “I don’t need to explain” Bush was informed by those in the know about the swelling bubble with ample time to react and curb the disaster, but always faithful to his “base,” George pulled no stops in feeding the frenzy.  In fact, President Bush used his power as president to fight against those who were trying to put an end to predatory mortgage lending.  Dean Baker wrote an article for The Nation entitled “Bush’s House of Cards” in 2004.  His piece speaks to the sheer size of the bubble and the political reasons it was being ignored.  What happened was no surprise.  The writing was on the wall, and unfortunately President Bush would make sure it wasn’t erased.

The Bush administration actually did what they could to help inflate the housing bubble by cutting back on Section-8 rental assistance and at the same time subsidizing low-income family down payments on new mortgages — for loans they could not afford to pay.   In spite of numerous calls to alarm, Genius George and his pals continued to deny the signs until it was too late.  It may not have been the actions of the Bush team that caused the bubble or the bank crash that followed, but they certainly did nothing to stop it and instead added to the magnitude of the calamity.

The federal government is supposed to represent The People, but under the leadership of George Bush it really only represented the wealthiest.  With total disregard for the average American, Egregious George and his cronies fueled the housing crisis, ignored the reckless gambling of the shadow banking industry, and then reached into the taxpayer’s pockets to bailout the very people who already benefitted from the dishonesty.  There are few words to describe the contempt that the American people should have for this group of self-serving scoundrels.  But as “W” himself would say, “I’ll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office.”  I guess he was right.

President Bush left our country in total disarray.  His complete devotion to unbridled, crony capitalism fueled an unprecedented transference of wealth right to the very top and helped create a bubble that took down everyone else when it burst. His blind support of deregulation led to an economic crash, the likes of which have not been seen since the Great Depression.  His tax policies have saved billions for America’s richest few, while depleting the government of revenue and nearly doubling the federal debt.  He spit on civil liberties, piled money into defense contractor coffers, ignored our need for energy independence, fed international distaste for American imperialism, and relentlessly poured out fear to fuel the fires that divide our good people.  We’ve been Bush-whacked!

Republican or Democrat, there’s really no way to escape the facts.  President George W. Bush was an incompetent, self-serving cowboy whose reckless form of leadership has taken our nation to the brink of economic destruction.  To blame President Obama for the Bush mess is, at the very least, irresponsible.  To rail against his attempts to rebuild and restore prosperity to 99 percent of Americans is nothing short of criminal.

There’s a battle going on right now in America.  The fight is for the very soul of our nation.  The Founding Fathers formed our government based on the principle that all should prosper.  They understood that such prosperity could only be advanced in a system that promotes the general Welfare.  They also understood the power of money and the corruption of power.  So with wisdom and care, our system was created to balance power and to give The People a voice.  That balance, and that voice, are both threatened today.

The power of The People comes only through unity, and We the People have allowed ourselves to be split by the politics of fear.  Americans need not be afraid of the guy who wants to feed his family.  They need not fear those with different beliefs or those who look different.  No — these are the false fears raised by those who benefit from dividing The People.  For divided, The People have no power, and instead the power of money is allowed to prevail.  The only people who Americans really need to fear are those who promote the continued concentration of wealth, big-money ownership of the Congress, and all the corruption that comes along with it.

The real battle for America is between the wealthiest 1 percent and the rest of us. Whose side are you on?

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