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The Audacity of NOPE! (By Elizabeth Burke) February 27, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in politics.
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Did I just watch what I thought I watched? Did Governor Bobby (Bobby! Really? Not Bob or Robert?) Jindal just agree with everything Obama said, yet still cry because there weren’t enough TAX CUTS?????

But let’s start in the beginning while I parse out the entire whine, err …speech.
First, there was a debate about who muttered the words “Oh God” just as Gov Jindal was walking to the podium. Was it Keith Olbermann? Chris Matthews, that God-loving South Philly guy?

I posit that it was Jindal himself, begging for help in responding to what has to have been one of the most commanding and positive Home Run speeches given by a President. I mean, wouldn’t you have tried to get in a quick prayer if you had to rebut that particular speech?

After that utterance, when he first addressed the audience, I thought he had confused things and shown up for story time – his voice, tone, cadence and weird little smile all had me waiting to hear “Once Upon a Time…”

It was in that odd, smiley, Barney Fife chatty tone that played nice guy with this: “Regardless of party, all Americans are moved by the president’s personal story — the son of an American mother and a Kenyan father, who grew up to become leader of the free world.”

Nice touch, creating this commonality between Obama’s upbringing and Jindal’s own immigrant background. Republicans, they’re just like us! He then attempted a joke, telling a story about how, when Jindal’s Indian parents immigrated to the U.S. his mother was four-and-a-half months pregnant with him, “I was what folks in the insurance industry now call a ‘pre-existing condition”

The joke worked. Preexisting condition. Ha. Kinda funny. It fell flat, though, once you realized it was stand-alone – once Jindal declined to take up the somewhat obvious segue into serious discussion of a plan to stop insurance carriers from denying care to those with actual pre-existing conditions. Like cancer, asthma, or, yes, pregnancy.
After a few more awkward jokes and strange “when I was a kid” stories, we started to hear the meat of this speech.

“… Many of you listening tonight have lost jobs. Others have seen your college and retirement savings dwindle. Many of you are worried about losing your health care and your homes…Republicans are ready to work with the new president to provide those solutions.”

So, apparently, Gov Jindal was totally unaware that not ONE Congressional Republican voted for the bill. In fact, before they had a chance to vote yes, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) made the claim that the Republican gang would vote NOPE. All of them! Bobby! Where were you when this happened? Crafting Health Care policy?

How could it be that the team Bobby claims is “ready to work with the new president” essentially just told said president to take his bill and shove it? How could it be that Bobby didn’t know this?

The Audacity of NOPE!!! Great start, guys! Well played.

Bobby then went on to list all the plans in the bill that will help individual states weather this crisis: tax relief for 95% of Americans, money for unemployment benefits, food stamps, medical care, job retraining, billions so states don’t have to cut aid to schools and local programs.

Oh and the worst, offering more than $48 billion for transportation projects such as road and bridge construction, mass transit and high-speed rail. I mean this is clearly pork barrel spending at it’s worst! Infrastructure? We don’t need no stinking infrastructure! NOPE NOPE NOPE!

I’m watching this, not sure where it’s going. I mean, Jindal just super- convinced me that Obama’s administration gets it and has a plan in place to fix the mess of the last 8 years of misdeeds, lies and corruption. Yea! Jindal is about to turn around and give his cardboard cut out of Obama a great big kiss! I love this guy! Gimme More!!
“…expansion of computerized information technology in the health care industry and billions to create so-called green jobs the administration says will begin reducing the country’s dependence on foreign oil…”

Oh stop! I’m giggling like a girl waiting for her first date, I’m atwitter with glee! A Republican who is ON OUR SIDE! Wheee! This surely means great days ahead. Working together, making this country shine, overcoming our differences to create real change and become the bright beacon of light and bi-partisanship the world will look at with envy and love!

I am snuggled up and basking in this warm dream when POW!

“Today in Washington, some are promising that government will rescue us from the economic storms raging all around us. Those of us who lived through Hurricane Katrina — we have our doubts.”

Whaaaaaa??? Did Jindal just evoke the government’s slow, lazy, nightmarish response to Hurricane Katrina? This was supposed to show us how inefficient big Government is? Then came the story of a big gruff Sherriff-with-a-heart-of-gold yelling into a phone “I don’t care who you are, arrest me, grrr…I’m the big cheese around here!” Something like that. All because he didn’t want to take orders from some idiot bureaucrats who didn’t want him using boats to save lives. Tough talk from a Tough Guy!

Except… the bureaucrats were put there by a Republican Government! Bushies, if you will. Jindal’s own party! Who, by the way, was only to take $130 BILLION in that hateful, dirty government money to rebuild New Orleans. I’m not sure how this translates to Democratic Stimulus Bill=Bad Government, but hey, I’m just a blogger, what do I know.
Moving on I will pick out a few treasured moments that simply defy logic. Jindal says “Instead of trusting us to make wise decisions with our own money, they passed the largest government spending bill in history, with a price tag of more than $1 trillion with interest. While some of the projects in the bill make sense, their legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes $300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a “magnetic levitation” line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called “volcano monitoring.”
First off, explain to me why purchasing fuel efficient/hybrid/electric cars that will save billions in fuel costs, is a bad idea. That’s OK, I’ll wait.

Oh and high speed rail in highly trafficked areas is a TERRIBLE idea, what with getting more cars off the road, creating jobs to build the tracks, trains and stations, reducing the carbon footprint of planes. Ridiculous! A resounding NOPE! Oh and the magnetic levitation spooky bit is actually becoming a popular transportation topic all around the globe. Mocking it? Nice touch. And clearly we have nothing to learn from Volcanic Monitoring cause science won’t create jobs or save lives! Can I get a Double NOPE?
Next up, he cries about saddling future generations with debt. Because the more than $1.5 Trillion in debt Bush laid on us is actually 1.5 Trillion in HUGS! Oh and let’s not forget the invisible costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan War that were NEVER included in any Bush Administration budgets, thus, creating false budget numbers and therefore lying to the public about what our grandkids will actually owe. But I digress…
Now, Jindal is a Republican, so he is contractually obligated to scream not only about tax cuts but also about drilling for oil. Which if started, say tomorrow, we would have oil pumping by the millions of gallons by, oh let’s say next Tuesday. That’s the fantasy these Nope Monsters want the US population to believe.

Never mind the reality that it would take 7-10 years to get to the oil deposits – deposits that would provide only about 5-7 years of oil anyway. Jindal, this is not the desert of the Middle East where oil flows like the beer at a frat party! So I say NOPE this time!
Then to Healthcare, which coming from a Republican is a kind of an oxymoron. He said “…What we oppose is universal government-run health care. Health care decisions should be made by doctors and patients, not by government bureaucrats. I’m sorry, was I pouring another glass of liberal Merlot when Obama said government will run healthcare and doctors were being replaced by DC bureaucrats? Haven’t we put this old stale McCain inspired rumor to rest? *sigh* I guess not. Seriously, is Jindal just making stuff up now?

“…with the proper education, the children of America can do anything. And it shouldn’t take a devastating storm to bring this kind of innovation to education in our country.” Again with Katrina! Jindal, STOP! I can’t even imagine how a ‘proper education’ will be given with the crumbling schools, outdated books and technological deficiencies that make up too much of our outgrown public school system. And remember? You’re against spending money to build new schools, or outfit them with science labs or computers. So, Bobbie, how will these kids learn and compete in the new global economy? Sheer hope? Sheer NOPE!

“We need to bring transparency to Washington, D.C., so we can rid our Capitol of corruption and ensure we never see the passage of another trillion dollar spending bill that Congress has not even read and the American people haven’t even seen.” Jindal, do you have a computer and a printer? I do and I can download every page and read it…on my couch! Did you imagine Congress cannot read? Or print? Or bother to try???
It is outrageous, disingenuous and truly shameful to imagine that this bill was pushed through without any time for the Republicans to at least begin to study it. But then, why would they when Boehner said NOPE before he bothered to read line one?
After that, it was all b.s. about how the Republicans want transparency (really, now? Not 8 years ago??) and how much they are willing to work with the Dems (as long as they get to call the shots). Then a half hearted apology for losing our trust was followed by the most insane part of it all when he said “But don’t let anyone tell you that we cannot recover. Don’t let anyone tell you that America’s best days are behind her.“
WTF? Was he listening during this part of President Obama’s speech:”

We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before. The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach.”

Or this part?:

“Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here. Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity.”

Or this little gem:

“For history tells a different story. History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.”

That, Governor Jindal, is the message of the Party of HOPE, not the party of NOPE.

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Our First Lady Is Cool. Among other things. February 27, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in First Lady, politics.
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First Lady Michelle Obama is cool – her coolness, of course, includes her remarkable intelligence, her elegance, her kindness and caring, her spiritedness AND her calmness and her wonderful energy. Being the First Lady is an awesome responsibility, and being the first African American First Lady must bring even more awareness to your place as a role model – and in this, we are blessed to have Michelle Obama. If you watched her on the campaign trail and you’re watching her now, you see that she is bringing touches of refinement to some of her ways of being, but her way of being is already beautiful. I love the way she, as she would say, keeps it real – she reminds us often that she’s just like us, with a husband and family and good friends whom she loves and supports and in whom she takes great joy. She and her girls have spent their Saturdays hanging out with the same small group of her women friends and their children for a decade. Her relationships are solid and very important to her. And she wants to keep them close while she is in Washington. That’s cool.

She also lets us know that she shares many of the same day-to-day happenings with women across the country. I love her telling of her and her husband’s interactions about how long it takes each of them to get ready to attend a public event. They’re just like the conversations that take place at my house and at yours. He’s ready to go, and she’s still working on it. She tells us that ‘Barack,’ after throwing on a suit and tie, will say something like, how’s it going in there? She gives a bit of an eye roll, shakes her head, laughs and says, he just throws on a suit and tie and he’s ready to go, me, I’ve got the make up, I’ve got the hair, then trails off with laughter. We love that we can identify with her. In fact, some of us are just in love with her- I think her approval rating among progressive women must be something like 148%!. So many women love the First Lady, that Vogue Magazine featured her on its cover before she’d even moved into the White House. 

Polling on her popularity among Americans offers no terribly surprising results. In a NYT/CBS poll conducted this week, The First Lady’s approval ratings sit at 49%, which is higher than any First Lady in the past 28 years. And, only five percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of her, with 44% having not yet formed an opinion.

Mrs. Obama, of course, finds her strongest support among Democrats, liberals and women, with an approval rating of 70% among Democrats, 66% among liberals, and 56% among women. Then there are the men, Republicans and conservatives… Forty-one percent of men report a favorable opinion while Republicans and conservatives are largely ‘withholding judgment.’

But, if we can leave partisanship aside, we should all recognize that she is a talented, interested and interesting woman who has the capacity and desire to bring important ideas to the country, and to advocate for change. While she has made clear that being a mother is her first priority, she is accustomed, already, to being a working mother, and she is keeping a busy schedule working on issues that are important to her. She works from the residence some days, and her hours aren’t rigid, reports LLynn Sweet, Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun Times, who is keeping an eye on her state’s favorite daughter.

With her staff of several veteran political operatives who will deal with policy, planning, the media, and social events and 20 staffers, she spent her first weeks developing her portfolio of interests, according to her Chief of Staff, Jackie Norris, who calls the First Lady an ‘active presence.’ As she begins move toward implementing her agenda, she will focus on:

Assisting Military Families;
Promoting National Service;
Addressing ‘Women’s concerns’;
Promoting Healthy Living;
Advocating for Work-Family balance; and
Opening the White House to the community

And she has begun. The First Lady hosted a group of mostly 6th and 7th grade Washington D.C. students to the White House this week for a Celebration of Black History Month. As you can see in the YouTube video below, her remarks to the students were kind and beautiful, and they give us a real sense of who she is. She asks every single one of us to give of ourselves, and she graciously recognizes our efforts as we try. Praising Admiral Rochon, Chief Usher of the White House, and his staff abundantly while telling her young visitors that they can achieve whatever they dare dream and work hard for, she said:

“Like Barack and I, the Admiral didn’t rise to his position because of wealth or because he had a lot of material resources. See, we were all very much kids like you guys. We just figured out that one day that our fate was in our own hands. We made decisions to listen to our parents and to our teachers, and to work very, very hard for everything in life. And then we worked even harder any time anybody doubted us.”

She went on to add, “Each and every day the Admiral and his staff, who run this beautiful house, demonstrate the highest level of professionalism. It’s amazing to watch them. They do their jobs with pride and grace. And that’s one thing I hope that you all pick up, is the level of pride and grace that you put into anything you do. They work very hard to make the White House a warm family home and a great presidential residence commanding pride and respect throughout this country and around the world.”

She then turned to the students, ‘As President and First Lady, Barack and I are just the caretakers of this house. We’re just borrowing it for a little bit. But while we live here, we’re your neighbors, okay? And we want you to feel welcome here… it’s the people’s house that belongs to all of us. So just remember that, okay?’ The kids responded with okays.

“And as the people’s house, we believe the White House should be a place for learning and for sharing new and different ideas, sharing new forms of art and culture, and history and different perspectives. We want you to visit and we want you to take advantage of these opportunities and maybe see something for yourselves that maybe you never thought you could do or be….”

She closed her official remarks with a simple, I’m glad you guys are here.” See the full video here.

Michelle Obama Invited 180 D.C. Students to the White House in Her Effort to Open the White House to the Community

Michelle Obama Invited 180 D.C. Students to the White House in Her Effort to Open the White House to the Community.

In her role as First Lady, Michelle Obama will bring more light into the lives of all, particularly to those whose lives hold the least hope. Her strength comes through in her every move. And her caring. We can see glimpses of how she will assume the role of First Lady in her dealings with her family and her community. She’s always believed in the imperative of giving back to one’s community, and I think we are and will continue to see her reaching out to those who have only ever dreamed of meeting the First Lady, of being invited to visit her at the White House. Well, she says the ‘people’s house’ will be receiving a lot of visitors, not just dignitaries and legislators and lobbyists, but real people. Real children whose lives she can touch in a way that’s almost magical.

Besides hosting events at the White House, including the recent State Dinner, several parties for legislators, and the reception for the President’s signing of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, among others, the First Lady has begun a round of visits to the agencies that keep the administration moving – she is listening to those who carry out the hard work behind her husband’s agenda and talking over with them the goals about which she feels the most urgency. Perhaps a reflection of her priorities, her first was to the Department of Education.

In addressing the staff, the First Lady praised Arne Duncan’s hard work and leadership, thanked the staff for the work they do, and talked of its importance, in keeping with her message of inclusiveness, hard work, responsibility and reward. “I think the most important thing to tell you or to remind you is that I am a product of your work. I’m a product of people who were investing every day in the education of regular kids who’d grown up on the south side of Chicago… — young people who oftentimes comes into these systems not knowing their own power and their own potential, believing that there’s some magic out there, to great things. But because of the work that you’ve put in, you’ve taught us and helped many of us understand that it is our own hard work and our own belief in self, our commitment to pushing ourselves along… 

I am a product of your work. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the public schools that nurtured me and helped me along. And I am committed, as well as my husband, to ensuring that more kids like us and kids around this country, regardless of their race, their income, their status, their — the property values in their neighborhoods, get access to an outstanding education.”

She then spoke of the improvements to education that will be made possible by President Obama’s stimulus plan to much applause and closed with a call for them to work hard and be proud of the work they do, saying last, “We need you and children count on you.”

And, she’s visited some D.C. folks, like when she stopped by Mary’s Center, a community health center in D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood. At the end of her visit, she spoke with and took questions from a group of 9 teenagers, ranging in age from 16 to 18, who attend after school programs at the center, according to the Chicago Sun Times

One of the students asked “Why did you want to come out and meet us?” Her response, again, spoke to the same inclusive, hopeful call for responsibility and its rewards that is her message. She answered, “I was somewhat where you are. I didn’t come to this position with a lot of wealth and a lot of resources. I think it’s real important for young kids, particularly kids who come form communities without resources to see me. Not the First Lady but to see that there is no magic to me sitting here. There are no miracles that happen. There is no magic dust that was sprinkled on my head or Barack’s head. We were kids much like you who figured out one day that our fate was in our own hands. We made decisions to listen to our parents and work hard, and work even harder when somebody doubted us. When somebody told me I couldn’t do something, that gave me a greater challenge to prove them wrong. …Every little challenge like that and every little success I gained more confidence and life just sort of opened up. So I feel like it’s an obligation for me to share that with you.”

About her husband, Michelle Obama is honest in her assessments of his strengths and weaknesses and in her comments about his career and its impact on their family. In David Mendell’s Obama: From Promise to Power, she told of her frustration with the demands of his campaigning and its affect on their relationship and their family. Her biggest concerns were financial, so when he came seeking her approval for his 2004 Senate run, she asked him, “How are we going to afford this wonderful next step in your life?” He responded that he was going to write a book, ‘a good book,’ and she thought, “Snake eyes there buddy. Just write a book, yeah, that’s right. Yep, yep, yep. And you’ll climb up the beanstalk and come back down with the golden egg, Jack.” She eventually gave in, of course, telling him, ‘We’ll figure it out. We’re not hurting. Go ahead.” Then, laughing, she added hopefully, “And maybe you’ll lose.” But he didn’t lose, and so he was inaugurated and danced with his wife. So I’ll leave you with a final video, the President and First Lady dancing to Beyonce’s rendition of the Etta James great, “At Last.” Because they’re both cool.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, attending the Neighborhood Ball dance on Inauguration Day to Beyonce's rendition of the Etta James great, "At Last."

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, attending the Neighborhood Ball dance on Inauguration Day to Beyonce

Where Will President Obama lead American Capitalism? February 23, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in politics.
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A good review in The Nation of Paul Krugman’s book, The Return, which he recently updated and republished, tells us that he argues now, as he did before the crisis we find ourselves in befell us, that “any financial institution we dare not let fail we also dare not leave unregulated.” And, too, he argues, that the federal government has an obligation to use its powers – to spend and invest – particularly when doing so would promote growth after the free markets of American capitalism have failed us. I wholeheartedly agree.

In reinventing our economic system now that it has fallen apart, it is essential that we infuse American Capitalism with some new values, new priorities. Besides earning a profit and providing us goods and services, our businesses serve us by creating jobs, but they don’t serve us well when they fail to provide jobs that allow us all to sustain ourselves, jobs that build a strong and vibrant working and middle class. Now is the time to lessen the gap between those who are paid very poorly and those who are compensated beyond belief. Ours is not a divine system handed down from above. It was conceived of by man, it is imperfect, and it can be improved on in ways that make our country a more just, more secure, happier and healthier place. Democracy flourishes with a large, stable middle class, our government has an obligation to govern in the interests of all its people, and justice demands we refuse to ask people to work for poverty wages.

We can bring a new balance without asking any with riches to live without all the wealth they require to do as they please while on this earth – and to leave their children multi-millionaires when they depart. Beyond a certain amount, money provides us just power and prestige. But adjusting the wage scale toward fairness doesn’t diminish the power of the very wealthy. They will remain very wealth. And they gain something. By accepting a substantial cut in labor income in the service of others, they gain a proud place in history, with its telling of how they helped bring profound change to an America that had lost its way. How they collectively, while being proud of much they had accomplished in their careers, took responsibility for errors of the past and brought a new day. They could know that their sacrifice — and we would ask them to sacrifice — furthered the cause of equality in a deeply meaningful way. They could help revitalize the economy and the American dream.

I’m not naive. I think the vast majority of the very wealthy will voice strong concern at the idea of losing millions of dollars each year in salaries and bonuses. But, as Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt believed and practiced, part of a democratic leader’s responsibility is to educate. A leader must tell and remind the people what they need hear, even when doing so is uncomfortable. And what must now be said is that this system has long failed to meet the needs of many and has now come close to failing all together. The time is right to make some changes. And we have a leader who says that’s what he’s here to do. So, I suggest four measures to redistribute the fruits of our labor and bring more Americans into the fold.

Raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation. As we work to restore our economy, we should revise our economic system to significantly reduce the current astronomical gap between the very rich and the very poor, and bring a new balance to the pay scale of all of us who work between the two extremes. As part of FDR’s New Deal, he imposed a minimum wage intended to prevent poverty among the gainfully employed and to put enough money in worker’s pockets to make them better consumers. But, because he didn’t link it to inflation or any other economic measure, it has remained a political issue and, as a result, has at times paid less and less, for example sitting at $5.15 for a decade until Congress raised it in 2007.

The official poverty line in the United States is $10,400 for a single person, $14,000 for a family of two, and$17,600 for a family of three. And, sadly, according to facts gathered at Wikipedia , the US has a disturbing record on addressing income inequality relative to other developed nations. Here, President Obama promises change. Since the late 1980s the poverty rate has hovered around or around 12.6% – leaving roughly 37 million Americans in poverty. In 2007, when Congress voted to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over two years, John McCain voted to limit the increase to $6.25 and to do away with overtime pay. President Obama has promised to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour by 2011, index it to inflation, and, of course, to continue to make employers pay hourly employees overtime wages. What a difference an election makes.

Let’s look at a single working mother of two working for minimum wage. Assuming she’s able to work 40 hours every week (many service employees are scheduled to work several hours fewer than the point at which overtime kicks in), she earns $15,080. Tax adjustments, including an Earned Income Tax Credit of $4820, leaves her with $15,760, quite a bit more than she had two years ago. The government approximates that a family of three spends 1/3 of their after tax income on food. So, she will spend $4,525 on food this year. If she pays 1/3 of her take home pay on shelter (1/3 is the average), she spends $5,020. If she pays 40% for shelter, she’ll pay $6,300 (the poor pay a higher percent of their income on shelter). She now has approximately $425 per month to pay for electricity, heating costs, water, childcare, healthcare, gas to get to work, car insurance, maintenance and repairs, sundry items, clothing for their growing kids — and so on. Even now, she struggles and worries every month about how she’s going to juggle. It’s a heavy burden.

If, on top of this, she qualifies for any government assistance, she must go to the welfare office, the food stamp office, the medicaid office and be made to wait, to come back, often to be condescended to, and in the end, maybe to be turned down. What’s infuriating about this is that we aren’t really subsidizing her. The government uses our tax dollars to subsidize companies that make profits by paying poverty wages through the circuitous route of giving ‘entitlements’ to their employees. The burden shouldn’t be on the working mother to jump through demeaning hoops, rather the government might temporarily subsidize small businesses that would be forced to shut their doors if they were held to a duty to pay their employees the increased wage, giving them time to adjust. (Paul Krugman and others have conducted studies indicating that increasing the minimum wage creates, rather than destroys jobs, but my post is already too long, so I will summarize and post it separately. A fee of $5 is required to download the study.)

The increase to $9.25 an hour will lift the working mother of three out of poverty, giving her $19,750 per year. She still has to be careful, and if something goes wrong, she’ll still be in trouble, but she can pay her bills and there’s a lot less stress in her and her children’s lives.

Place wage caps on all employees receiving over $2 million a year. According to information gathered in 2007 Trends in Executive Pay on the AFL/CIO’s website, we have a lot of top executives making a lot of money. In 2006, the CEOs of large businesses, in general, averaged total compensation packages of $10.8 million. This is more than 364 times the average American employee. In 2007, CEOs at Standard & Poor’s 500 companies received total compensation packages averaging $14.2 million. And in 2008, according to a study conducted by the Economic Research Institute and the Wall Street Journal, while corporate earnings increased by just 2.8%, executive compensation grew by 20%.

PBS, on its First Measured Century Project, offers us a look at income trends in two different historical periods, examining six income groups independently. At the Economist’s View, Paul Krugman offers an overview of how these trends connect with different political eras.

1947 — 1978 (Lifting All Boats) 1978 — 2005 (Trickle-Down Economics)

The Bottom 20% +116% The Bottom 20% -1%

The Second 20% +100% The Second 20% -9%

The Middle 20% +111% The Middle 20% +15%

The Forth 20% +114% The Forth 20% +25%

The Top 20% +99% The Top 20% +53%

[7% spread] [54% spread]

The top 5% +86% The top 5% +135%

In the ‘lifting all boats’ period, with a spread of 30%, for 31 years every group made huge gains. But, in the ‘trickle-down economics era, the very wealthy raked in larger gains than the previous period and opened the spread to 136%. While the bottom 40% lost major ground and the next 40% saw some modest to gains over those 27 years, the top 5% cleaned up.

And, as we’re now witnessing, poorly designed executive compensation packages often reward decisions that are “not in the long-term interests of the company, its shareholders and employees.” Recent decisions have not been in the interest, either, of the economic system or of the country. Rather, they have left us devastated. As a result, President Obama is implementing wage caps as part of the bailout. And from these numbers it’s clear that the time to push further to reverse an unjust and unsustainable trend is now. The president should impose wage caps on all employees receiving more than $2 million a year in total annual compensation.

There are indications that President Obama will act. Barney Frank, Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told Financial Week earlier this month that Congress will consider legislation to extend curbs on executive pay, which now apply only to executives at those banks receiving ‘extraordinary’ federal assistance, to all financial institutions and, maybe, to all US companies. The current caps apply to a company’s CEO, CFO, and the next three top paid executives. Congressman Frank did not elaborate on the parameters of any newly imposed wage caps, but he did say that they will likely also address golden parachutes in the legislation. He added that the Committee is working on the bill “in consultation with the Obama Administration,” and that he hopes to have a general outline by early April.

Not surprisingly, Timothy Geithner doesn’t want to go so far. He prefers only lowering the tax deduction a company can take for executive pay to $500,000 per executive. The President needs to come out strong here. Limiting tax breaks is insufficient to address the severity of our economic problems. We need responsible regulation, not just adjustments in the tax code.

Wage caps are nothing new. The idea has been applied in corporate settings, it’s just always been applied to low level employees who already earn the least. Among Walmart’s bad practices was their move in 2006 to impose wage caps on all 1.39 million hourly employees, most of whom start at minimum wage, so that even those with seniority could never anticipate a decent paycheck. This while their CEO brought in $17.5 million a year. The government uses pay ranges, that cap the salaries of those in a given classification, leaving promotion being the only means for a raise once you’ve been around a while. Colleges and universities, both public and private, do the same. And sometimes, even some folks with talents that give them a lot of leverage and who make fine money accept wage caps as a means to improve competition. In some sports leagues, here and around the world, wage caps are placed on players so that the richest teams are prevented from signing all the top talent. This makes games more competitive, thus far more interesting, which leads to more fans and thus more revenues across the board. Wage caps may stimulate competition in other fields as well.

Place a targeted tax on all businesses with earnings over X to use to make the schools that teach skills to their employees. The tax rate should be low, we don’t want to punish the companies for making such great profits while being fair to the workforce, maybe 2% or 3%. The film industry, the music industry and others could help finance art programs, while NFL, NBAA, and other athletic associations could help fund sports programs. Both of these are losing funding at awful rates and, this economy, which looks may be with us for a time, will cause more and more children to lose the opportunity to develop their skills. Technology companies, on the other hand could boost learning in math and science. Big lobbying firms, who reportedly are still making huge profits, can support history and civics. You get the picture. Bring the corporate world into funding education as a matter of law. The companies and their executives have benefited from these institutions, and will those who work for them in the future. And tomorrow´s staff will know more and work smarter the better they’ve been taught and the more their learning has been nurtured.

This suggestion, as far as I’m aware, isn’t a part of our national conversation, and it requires more thought, some crunching of numbers. But President Obama is an intelligent man with an intelligent team. That change is complicated doesn’t make it unattainable.

Require long term able non-workers who depend on government assistance to work for it. There are many tasks government needs to have done, especially those states who are being forced to lay off workers due to budget shortfalls. And those receiving our tax dollars and who are able but not participating in the economy should be required to give something back. And what they have is their labor. We should raise the level of general assistance and require able recipients to work 20 hours a week. We can conceive new public works projects – some could provide data entry to help to digitize healthcare data, a measure that the president says will save millions of dollars and save lives. Moreover, the long-term unemployed out of their isolation, helping them build self-confidence through accomplishment, and teaching them on the job skills are great ways to bring them into the labor market, especially if work pays a living wage.

Update: Pfizer makes effort at good corporate citizenship and the wealthy can’t pay their taxes. February 21, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in Uncategorized.
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The NYT noted  yesterday that Pfizer, the world’s largest drug maker, is cutting severance packages for it’s top managers.  

And, in a separate article, For High Earners, a New Day of Reckoning, the

Where will President Obama Lead American Capitalism? February 20, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in Uncategorized.
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A good review in The Nation of Paul Krugman’s book, The Return, which he recently updated and republished, tells us that he argues now, as he did before the crisis we find ourselves in befell us, that “any financial institution we dare not let fail we also dare not leave unregulated.” And, too, he argues, that the federal government has an obligation to use its powers – to spend and invest – particularly when doing so would promote growth after the free markets of American capitalism have failed us. I wholeheartedly agree.

In reinventing our economic system now that it has fallen apart, it is essential that we infuse American Capitalism with some new values, new priorities. Besides earning a profit and providing us goods and services, our businesses serve us by creating jobs, but they don’t serve us well when they fail to provide jobs that allow us all to sustain ourselves, jobs that build a strong and vibrant working and middle class. Now is the time to lessen the gap between those who are paid very poorly and those who are compensated beyond belief. Ours is not a divine system handed down from above. It was conceived of by man, it is imperfect, and it can be improved on in ways that make our country a more just, more secure, happier and healthier place. Democracy flourishes with a large, stable middle class, our government has an obligation to govern in the interests of all its people, and justice demands we refuse to ask people to work for poverty wages.

We can bring a new balance without asking any with riches to live without all the wealth they require to do as they please while on this earth – and to leave their children multi-millionaires when they depart. Beyond a certain amount, money provides us just power and prestige. But adjusting the wage scale toward fairness doesn’t diminish the power of the very wealthy. They will remain very wealth. And they gain something. By accepting a substantial cut in labor income in the service of others, they gain a proud place in history, with its telling of how they helped bring profound change to an America that had lost its way. How they collectively, while being proud of much they had accomplished in their careers, took responsibility for errors of the past and brought a new day. They could know that their sacrifice — and we would ask them to sacrifice — furthered the cause of equality in a deeply meaningful way. They could help revitalize the economy and the American dream.

I’m not naive. I think the vast majority of the very wealthy will voice strong concern at the idea of losing millions of dollars each year in salaries and bonuses. But, as Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt believed and practiced, part of a democratic leader’s responsibility is to educate. A leader must tell and remind the people what they need hear, even when doing so is uncomfortable. And what must now be said is that this system has long failed to meet the needs of many and has now come close to failing all together. The time is right to make some changes. And we have a leader who says that’s what he’s here to do. So, I suggest four measures to redistribute the fruits of our labor and bring more Americans into the fold.

Raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation. As we work to restore our economy, we should revise our economic system to significantly reduce the current astronomical gap between the very rich and the very poor, and bring a new balance to the pay scale of all of us who work between the two extremes. As part of FDR’s New Deal, he imposed a minimum wage intended to prevent poverty among the gainfully employed and to put enough money in worker’s pockets to make them better consumers. But, because he didn’t link it to inflation or any other economic measure, it has remained a political issue and, as a result, has at times paid less and less, for example sitting at $5.15 for a decade until Congress raised it in 2007.

The official poverty line in the United States is $10,400 for a single person, $14,000 for a family of two, and$17,600 for a family of three. And, sadly, according to facts gathered at Wikipedia , the US has a disturbing record on addressing income inequality relative to other developed nations. Here, President Obama promises change. Since the late 1980s the poverty rate has hovered around or around 12.6% – leaving roughly 37 million Americans in poverty. In 2007, when Congress voted to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over two years, John McCain voted to limit the increase to $6.25 and to do away with overtime pay. President Obama has promised to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour by 2011, index it to inflation, and, of course, to continue to make employers pay hourly employees overtime wages. What a difference an election makes.

Let’s look at a single working mother of two working for minimum wage. Assuming she’s able to work 40 hours every week (many service employees are scheduled to work several hours fewer than the point at which overtime kicks in), she earns $15,080. Tax adjustments, including an Earned Income Tax Credit of $4820, leaves her with $15,760, quite a bit more than she had two years ago. The government approximates that a family of three spends 1/3 of their after tax income on food. So, she will spend $4,525 on food this year. If she pays 1/3 of her take home pay on shelter (1/3 is the average), she spends $5,020. If she pays 40% for shelter, she’ll pay $6,300 (the poor pay a higher percent of their income on shelter). She now has approximately $425 per month to pay for electricity, heating costs, water, childcare, healthcare, gas to get to work, car insurance, maintenance and repairs, sundry items, clothing for their growing kids — and so on. Even now, she struggles and worries every month about how she’s going to juggle. It’s a heavy burden.

If, on top of this, she qualifies for any government assistance, she must go to the welfare office, the food stamp office, the medicaid office and be made to wait, to come back, often to be condescended to, and in the end, maybe to be turned down. What’s infuriating about this is that we aren’t really subsidizing her. The government uses our tax dollars to subsidize companies that make profits by paying poverty wages through the circuitous route of giving ‘entitlements’ to their employees. The burden shouldn’t be on the working mother to jump through demeaning hoops, rather the government might temporarily subsidize small businesses that would be forced to shut their doors if they were held to a duty to pay their employees the increased wage, giving them time to adjust. (Paul Krugman and others have conducted studies indicating that increasing the minimum wage creates, rather than destroys jobs, but my post is already too long, so I will summarize and post it separately. A fee of $5 is required to download the study.)

The increase to $9.25 an hour will lift the working mother of three out of poverty, giving her $19,750 per year. She still has to be careful, and if something goes wrong, she’ll still be in trouble, but she can pay her bills and there’s a lot less stress in her and her children’s lives.

Place wage caps on all employees receiving over $2 million a year. According to information gathered in 2007 Trends in Executive Pay on the AFL/CIO’s website, we have a lot of top executives making a lot of money. In 2006, the CEOs of large businesses, in general, averaged total compensation packages of $10.8 million. This is more than 364 times the average American employee. In 2007, CEOs at Standard & Poor’s 500 companies received total compensation packages averaging $14.2 million. And in 2008, according to a study conducted by the Economic Research Institute and the Wall Street Journal, while corporate earnings increased by just 2.8%, executive compensation grew by 20%.

PBS, on its First Measured Century Project, offers us a look at income trends in two different historical periods, examining six income groups independently. At the Economist’s View, Paul Krugman offers an overview of how these trends connect with different political eras.

1947 — 1978 (Lifting All Boats) 1978 — 2005 (Trickle-Down Economics)

The Bottom 20% +116% The Bottom 20% -1%

The Second 20% +100% The Second 20% -9%

The Middle 20% +111% The Middle 20% +15%

The Forth 20% +114% The Forth 20% +25%

The Top 20% +99% The Top 20% +53%

[7% spread] [54% spread]

The top 5% +86% The top 5% +135%

In the ‘lifting all boats’ period, with a spread of 30%, for 31 years every group made huge gains. But, in the ‘trickle-down economics era, the very wealthy raked in larger gains than the previous period and opened the spread to 136%. While the bottom 40% lost major ground and the next 40% saw some modest to gains over those 27 years, the top 5% cleaned up.

And, as we’re now witnessing, poorly designed executive compensation packages often reward decisions that are “not in the long-term interests of the company, its shareholders and employees.” Recent decisions have not been in the interest, either, of the economic system or of the country. Rather, they have left us devastated. As a result, President Obama is implementing wage caps as part of the bailout. And from these numbers it’s clear that the time to push further to reverse an unjust and unsustainable trend is now. The president should impose wage caps on all employees receiving more than $2 million a year in total annual compensation.

There are indications that President Obama will act. Barney Frank Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told Financial Week earlier this month that Congress will consider legislation to extend curbs on executive pay, which now apply only to executives at those banks receiving ‘extraordinary’ federal assistance, to all financial institutions and, maybe, to all US companies. The current caps apply to a company’s CEO, CFO, and the next three top paid executives. Congressman Frank did not elaborate on the parameters of any newly imposed wage caps, but he did say that they will likely also address golden parachutes in the legislation. He added that the Committee is working on the bill “in consultation with the Obama Administration,” and that he hopes to have a general outline by early April.

Not surprisingly, Timothy Geithner doesn’t want to go so far. He prefers only lowering the tax deduction a company can take for executive pay to $500,000 per executive. The President needs to come out strong here. Limiting tax breaks is insufficient to address the severity of our economic problems. We need responsible regulation, not just adjustments in the tax code.

Wage caps are nothing new. The idea has been applied in corporate settings, it’s just always been applied to low level employees who already earn the least. Among Walmart’s bad practices was their move in 2006 to impose wage caps on all 1.39 million hourly employees, most of whom start at minimum wage, so that even those with seniority could never anticipate a decent paycheck. This while their CEO brought in $17.5 million a year. The government uses pay ranges, that cap the salaries of those in a given classification, leaving promotion being the only means for a raise once you’ve been around a while. Colleges and universities, both public and private, do the same. And sometimes, even some folks with talents that give them a lot of leverage and who make fine money accept wage caps as a means to improve competition. In some sports leagues, here and around the world, wage caps are placed on players so that the richest teams are prevented from signing all the top talent. This makes games more competitive, thus far more interesting, which leads to more fans and thus more revenues across the board. Wage caps may stimulate competition in other fields as well.

Place a targeted tax on all businesses with earnings over X to use to make the schools that teach skills to their employees. The tax rate should be low, we don’t want to punish the companies for making such great profits while being fair to the workforce, maybe 2% or 3%. The film industry, the music industry and others could help finance art programs, while NFL, NBAA, and other athletic associations could help fund sports programs. Both of these are losing funding at awful rates and, this economy, which looks may be with us for a time, will cause more and more children to lose the opportunity to develop their skills. Technology companies, on the other hand could boost learning in math and science. Big lobbying firms, who reportedly are still making huge profits, can support history and civics. You get the picture. Bring the corporate world into funding education as a matter of law. The companies and their executives have benefited from these institutions, and will those who work for them in the future. And tomorrow´s staff will know more and work smarter the better they’ve been taught and the more their learning has been nurtured.

This suggestion, as far as I’m aware, isn’t a part of our national conversation, and it requires more thought, some crunching of numbers. But President Obama is an intelligent man with an intelligent team. That change is complicated doesn’t make it unattainable.

Require long term able non-workers who depend on government assistance to work for it. There are many tasks government needs to have done, especially those states who are being forced to lay off workers due to budget shortfalls. And those receiving our tax dollars and who are able but not participating in the economy should be required to give something back. And what they have is their labor. We should raise the level of general assistance and require able recipients to work 20 hours a week. We can conceive new public works projects – some could provide data entry to help to digitize healthcare data, a measure that the president says will save millions of dollars and save lives. Moreover, the long-term unemployed out of their isolation, helping them build self-confidence through accomplishment, and teaching them on the job skills are great ways to bring them into the labor market, especially if work pays a living wage.

Despite Republican Obstinance, The Stimulus Plan Will Soon Reach the President. Will it help alleviate the worst effects of our economic crisis? February 13, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in Stimulus.
Tags: , , , ,
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The Politics.  Well, after much ado, a sufficient number of Legislators have agreed to the compromise stimulus plan.  For such a major piece of legislation, it was passed with remarkable speed but without bipartisan support.  In fact, though Democratic leaders offered to work with any Republicans willing to sit down and hammer out a compromise after the House and Senate each failed to pass their version of the legislation, only three Republican Senators, Arlen Specter (PA), Susan Collins (ME), and Olympia Snowe (ME), accepted the offer and helped reach a compromise that all involved in the negotiations could support.  And, even after Democratic leaders increased tax breaks and cut spending at their behest, not a single House Republican or any Senate Republican, save these three, offered their support.  The president didn’t need House Republican support for passage, but it would have been nice to see some work with him in his attempt to stimulate the economy and get Americans back to work.  But it was not to be. 

Everyone, including Congressional Republicans, agree that our economy is in dire straits.  The IMF said this week that leading economies are already in a depression, and the President of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank said she saw “the same type of dynamics taking place that do happen in a depression, according to Dana Millbank of the Washington Post.  Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) acknowledged Monday, “the economy is in serious trouble.”

Still, Congressional Republicans said they could not support the plan because it is too big, it will not adequately stimulate the economy, and it will permanently expand government spending programs.  Even with 36% of the resources allocated for tax breaks, Republicans weren’t taking the bait.  Rather, Congressional Republicans joined ranks and refused to budge, all while pressuring the three Republican Senators who did participate to stand down.  Despite their actions, though, Congressional Quarterly (CQ) Politics, reported that Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) said Wednesday, “I know of no Republican in the Congress of the United States that wants to do nothing.”  Not all Republican leaders agree.  Michael Steele, the new Republican Party chairman who has disgraced himself repeatedly in his short tenure, boastfully told House Republicans, “The goose egg that you laid on the president’s desk was just beautiful.”  President Obama has his work cut out for him in bringing a new, civil and dignified tone to Washington in the face of this Republican leadership. 

President Obama, after reaching out to Republicans to join in crafting the stimulus package to no avail, realized he would not garner the 80 Senate votes he had hoped the bill would attract and went to the public to promote the stimulus.  While the nearly total lack of support from Congressional Republicans may have made a less devoted man decide it was impossible in today’s climate to persuade our leaders to work together for the people they represent, President Obama has not wavered.  In an article that appeared in the New York Times and at MSNBC.com, Peter Baker reported, that President Obama has not given up on fostering a spirit of cooperation in Washington.  Rather, he noted that while the time for garnering bipartisan support of this legislation had passed, he made clear that he will continue his efforts.  “As I continue to make these overtures, over time, hopefully they will be reciprocated.”  And the people are watching.

The New York Times reported that we lost 598,000 jobs in January, leaving 3.6 million officially unemployed Americans.  With Republican posturing in the face of these dismal numbers, the public is not happy.  According to a Feb. 6-7 Gallup Poll, 67% of Americans are pleased with the way President Obama is handling the economic crisis, while only 31% approve of the way Republicans in Congress have conducted themselves.  This poll was conducted before President Obama’s Monday press conference, where he undoubtedly won over more Americans with his explanation of why the stimulus is needed and what benefits it will provide.  Even so, the poll revealed that the American people have more confidence in President Obama now than they did when he was inaugurated.  Fifty-five percent say their confidence in his ability to improve the economy has increased.  And 51% say the same about his ability to manage the federal government. 

Three Republicans Found a Compromise They Could Support. Lacking any Republican support, the stimulus plan could not pass.  Fortunately, the president picked up the support of three Senate Republicans, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both from Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.  Senator Specter particularly deserves the appreciation of the President and the American people.  He is the only one of the three facing reelection in 2010, and his support at home is waning.  Acknowledging this situation, he said, “I have no doubts about the political disadvantage.  [I’m] losing a lot of political skin about this… It means I’ll have to raise a lot more money.”  This is particularly true since, according to CNN, Scott Wheeler, the executive director of The National Republican Trust PAC announced Wednesday that, “Republican senators are on notice… If they support the stimulus package, we will make sure every voter in their state knows how they tried to further bankrupt voters in an already bad economy.”  He threatened to provide financial support to any primary challenger to the Senators who supported the plan, and vowed to actively campaign against any Republican who agreed to spend more than $800 billion (probably contributing to the $787 ceiling).  He specifically targeted Specter, saying, “[H]e has “crossed the line too many times.  We’re now going to get involved in finding a conservative alternative.”  President Obama and Congressional Democrats should recognize his courageous support, and voters should note that he voted for what he thought best for the country rather than what he thought best for his career. 

The Plan: Breakdown and Highlights. The stimulus plan, now totaling $787 billion, with $505 billion (approximately 64%) in spending and $282 billion (approximately 36%) in tax cuts is a close approximation of President Obama’s initial plan.  He wanted a 60 – 40 split.  It allocates resources among four categories:

  • Tax breaks;
  •  Infrastructure projects, (e.g. transportation, broadband expansion, etc.);
  • Aid to state and local governments; and
  • Investments in healthcare and alternative energy initiatives.

 The Associated Press has provided highlights of the compromise stimulus bill – its spending, tax cuts and incentives.  A summary of the spending provisions is below.  Note that a fuller picture is provided on their site, which is helpful, as certain spending provisions could be placed under two or more categories:

  • Health Care                                                           $137 billion
  • Energy                                                                     $ 97 billion
  • Education                                                               $ 91 billion (includes school repairs)
  • Infrastructure                                                        $ 86 billion  (transportation, internet, etc.)
  • Aid to Poor and Unemployed                            $ 67 billion 
  • Direct Cash Payments                                        $ 14 billion
  • State Block Grants                                               $   8 billion
  • Scientific Research                                              $   6 billion
  • Law Enforcement                                                 $   4 billion
  • Homeland Security                                              $   3 billion

The Battle Over Education Spending. Working with Harry Reid (D-NV) and other top Democrats, including Ben Nelson (IN), the three Republican Senators put together a compromise bill that cut $110 billion of spending that Collins and Nelson said “didn’t belong in the bill.”  Matt Yglesias of Think Progress reported that they cut $20 billion for targeted school repairs and modernization, $7.5 billion to help states progress in meeting No Child Left Behind goals, $1 billion for Head Start, and $25 billion in flexible funding for states that could be used for education projects.  Yet after they cut education spending significantly, Nelson publicly patted himself and Collins on the back, saying that after cutting wasteful spending, “what remains will fund education.” 

Many Congressional Republicans, it seems, believe it is an improper use of the stimulus money to bring schools up to compliance with fire, health, and safety codes, better insulate them to save energy and governmental energy costs.  They (erroneously) argue that it is not an investment to modernize, renovate or repair science and engineering labs or libraries or career and technical school facilities.  It is likely that they fear that spending money now would open a flood gate, that the administration would continue to raise education funding, thus expanding government in a way that they oppose.  But that argument can’t stand when it comes to school repair any more than it can when talking of road repair. School construction creates jobs and puts money into the economy, and weather proofing schools will save on energy costs in the future.  Given that it meets the goals of the stimulus package, and given the low construction costs resulting from this economy, providing much needed repairs at below market value seems to me a solid plan.

House Democrats were understandably distressed over the cuts to school construction and to education spending overall. It is clear to them that we need our students to improve their science skills and master new technologies to be competitive in tomorrow’s economy. This spending is an investment in our people that will help boost our economy now, as the spending occurs, and down the road, when students enter the work force.  Some House Democrats were so distraught over these cuts that they even considered withholding their support for the president’s bill.  But Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who also vocally opposed the education cuts, called a meeting with concerned Democrats, which the Washington Post reports opened with chants of, “We want more.”  During the meeting, however, cooler heads prevailed, all involved relented and threw their support behind the compromise bill.

Infrastructure Spending.  Rachel Maddow noted that spending increases economic activity more heavily than do tax cuts, and that some types of spending provide more bang for the buck than do other forms.  She provided a few examples of the ‘multiplier effect,” where government investment provides more economic activity than the amount spent.

  • Tax cuts                                           $1 = $1.09 in economic activity
  • Infrastructure Spending              $1 = $1.59 in economic activity
  • Foodstamps                                    $1 = $1.73 in economic activity

 Despite this, the Senate agreement not only cut nearly $20 billion for school construction, but also cut $8 billion to refurbish federal buildings to make them more energy efficient, and cut $2 billion to expand broadband networks in rural and underserved areas.

 As it turns out, some infrastructure projects are more of a stimulus than others.  According to The Economist:

  • Every $1 billion investment in infrastructure creates 35,000 jobs. 
  • Repairing roads and bridges creates 9% more jobs than building new ones. 
  • Spending on public transit creates 19% more jobs than building new roads.  And, not only does spending on public transit translate into the highest multiplier effect, it also serves other policy goals such as lowering dependence on foreign oil, saving energy and reducing pollution and congestion.  Moreover, convenient and efficient public transit saves Americans money by reducing the costs of fuel, car maintenance and repairs and insurance. 

 But the stimulus plan does not allocate enough to public transit to make a marked improvement.  The Associated Press provided highlights of the plan, reporting that of the $46 billion being spent on infrastructure, $27 billion goes toward building and repairing roads and bridges, while only $8.4 billion is being spent on mass transit. Even with an additional $8 billion for building high-speed railways, our government has not shown that it is serious about cutting emissions by taking this opportunity to build a twenty-first century transit system.

 And, of the $27 billion for roads and bridges, indications are that many states are choosing to build new ones rather than repair old ones.  Nineteen states have made public their transport requests and more than half requested that 80% of the funding be spent on roads, mostly on building new ones.  While some new roads and bridges may be badly needed, there is a risk that too many states will make poor decisions.  Moreover, where practicable, money should be put into alternatives that create the most jobs, save energy, help protect the environment, and save consumers their hard earned money.

 Transparency.  President Obama promised that his administration would operate in the open, and he is delivering on that promise here.  His administration will set up a website, resources.gov, which will track projects receiving funding and their progress.  It will allow us to see how the money is being used, providing accountability for poor decisions, excessive spending and other important matters.  It will allow us to see whether the stimulus plan creates the promised 3.5 million jobs.  And it will allow state and federal leaders to see what work remains to be done.  Mostly, it will provide a welcome departure from the secrecy of George W. Bush’s administration.

Conclusion. Partisan railing aside, I’m not against removing items from the stimulus bill that don’t aid our goals of providing sustenance to those worst hit by the abysmal economy, maintaining and building the middle class by increasing employment, building and improving our infrastructure, increasing energy efficiency, or building a sustainable economy.   I do, however, favor redirecting those resources to projects that meet these goals well rather than cutting the size of the bill. The bill already provides for spending a vast amount of money, and nearly all economists agree that it will take a bold initiative, likely more bold even than this, to alleviate the economic crisis we’re experiencing.  Minor cutting isn’t going to substantially affect our debt – at least not so much as to do too little when doing too little may make things much worse.  Accordingly, I would like to have seen less allocated for tax cuts and more marked for education and for infrastructure, particularly for public transit.  That said, I believe most of the measures will help improve our current situation, and that this is only the first step President Obama will take in his efforts to guide us back to economic health. 

 

Update: Is Senator Gregg a Good Pick for Commerce? February 12, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in Uncategorized.
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As I wrote last week, I thought Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) was a bad choice for Commerce Secretary.  He refused to vote on the stimulus plan while saying he supported it, though his voting record indicated that his support would have required a miraculous change of heart.  My main concern, though, was that, having forcefully opposed additional spending by President Clinton to conduct an accurate census, I doubted that he would work hard to ensure that all the people would be counted in 2010.

Well, it turns out that he agrees.  Senator Gregg withdrew from the nomination today.  He sat for an interview with Politico and released a written statement in which he explained that, …”[I]t has become apparent during this process that this will not work for me as I have found that on issues such as the stimulus package and the Census there are irresolvable conflicts for me…. We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy.”  

Is Senator Gregg a Good Pick for Commerce? February 6, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in politics, President Obama, Secretary of Commerce.
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 President Obama this week nominated Senator Judd A. Gregg for the Secretary of Commerce post. Senator Gregg has a long history of public service.  He served eight years in the House, two terms as Governor of New Hampshire, and has served in the Senate since 1993.  His credentials are impressive.  He has been on numerous Subcommittees, is the ranking member of the Budget Committee, and chaired the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in the last session.  He has a long history in Washington and many friends, particularly in the Republican Party.  According to the Washington Post, he has a reputation as “a tough negotiator, a deficit hawk and an independent-minded conservative.” 

President Obama adds that he is an “able and persuasive voice for industry who makes it known that America is open for business.”  And this may be true.  But this is not his only charge.

 According to the Commerce Department’s website, the mission Senator Gregg will take on is to:

  1. Participate with other Government agencies to create national policy.
  2. Promote & assist international trade.
  3. Strengthen the international economic position of the US
  4. Promote progressive domestic business policies & growth.
  5. Improve comprehension & uses of the environment & its oceanic life.
  6. Ensure effective use & growth of the Nation’s scientific & technical resources.
  7. Assist states, communities & individuals with economic progress.
  8. Acquire, analyze & disseminate information regarding the Nation & economy to help achieve increased social & economic benefit.

In considering his nomination I was struck by the maneuvering around his nomination and some of positions on the issues.  How well does he fit with President Obama’s claimed new way of doing politics?  And how well will he pursue his mission?  Even the parts of it that he doesn’t support? (more…)

President Obama Brings Hope to the Nation and the World February 1, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in Uncategorized.
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Throngs of people descended on Washington D.C. and well-wishers the world over gathered together last Tuesday to watch as Barack Obama took the oath of office and before our eyes became our president.  Most people, here and abroad, were filled with a new hope and a nearly unbridled optimism.  President Obama has inspired us with his own hopefulness and his courageous belief that good people, working together, can change our world.   He has reached us with his mantra, which, as he wanted, we’ve adopted as our own.  “Yes we can.”  Times are tough here, everybody knows that, but we feel stronger because President Obama is moving his family into the White House.

 In 1861, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the first Republican President of the United States in dark days. The question that demanded an answer was what would become of slavery.  Slaveholders in the south argued angrily that they should be able to take their ‘property’ with them west.  But resistance was strong.  Former Whigs and Democrats, in 1856, left their old political homes to form the Republican Party in opposition to slavery’s expansion into the western territories.  Activists in the new party went further and called for an immediate end to slavery, and many southerners feared an end to their way of life.

 And 1861 found Frederick Douglas, a charismatic black abolitionist, courageously leading those who called out for an end to slavery and for equal rights for African Americans.  Douglas, while he maintained that Lincoln was the white man’s president who also helped blacks, said too that Lincoln was the only white leader with whom he had spoken who showed not one bit of prejudice toward black Americans.  And, as the nation fought and Lincoln began to work toward the emancipation of slaves, he and President Lincoln developed a warm relationship.

 It was a frighteningly dark time in our history.  In the four short months between the day President Lincoln was elected and the day he took office, seven southern states withdrew from the Union, formed the Confederate States of America, and inaugurated Jefferson Davis President.  Causing further alarm were the stirrings of secessionist sentiments in the five border states.  Though Lincoln remained hopeful to the end that war could be prevented, within weeks of his taking office, the country was fighting a long, brutal war with itself that would cost the lives of more than 600,000 Americans.  

 Lincoln did not live to see the people, in December 1865, ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery across the nation.   This was a tremendous step forward in the battle for equality, still the struggle necessarily continued after America freed African Americans from the bondage of slavery – for there were fundamental and urgent questions to answer about what that liberty would mean in their day, and in our day.

 In 1961, one hundred years later, John F. Kennedy became our first Catholic President on a platform of civil rights, promising laws prohibiting employment discrimination, the right to an adequate education, the right of labor to organize, and, among other things, an increase in the minimum wage to meet the right to earn enough to provide adequately for oneself and one’s family. 

 And in 1961, Martin Luther King, Jr., that generation’s great dissenting leader, led the march for equality under the law for those African Americans who still did not possess the right to sit next to a white person and mind their own business.  Their struggle would continue after Kennedy’s assassination, after King’s assassination, after Robert Kennedy was taken.  (By 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson had passed more civil rights legislation than any other President in our history, most notably President Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act (1964), which banned discrimination in public accommodations, and Johnson’s Voting Rights Act (1965), which prohibited states from denying citizens the vote on the basis of their race.)  But, even after these struggles the work wasn’t over, as, by way of but one example of too many to list, states refused and resisted the right of black children to attend the schools of white children. 

 And too that year, in the heat of the summer, the man who became our president last Tuesday was born in Kansas, in the very heart of America, to an intellectual African father and a bright, idealistic white American mother.  In his books, he tells us that he grew up with love, guidance and nurturance, with the childhood privilege of attending an elite school, and with the knowledge that life is complicated.  He earned coveted slots at Columbia University and Harvard Law through hard work and natural intelligence.  By the accounts of many who’ve watched him over the years, though, the Barack Obama we see today has grown into the man he is through deep reflection and disciplined commitment.  

 President Obama, like many of us, sees in Abraham Lincoln an inspirational leader.  And the two men share common characteristics and ideals.  Lincoln, too, was an eloquent speaker, a man of supreme confidence and ambition.   Lincoln, too, was a man who grew into his own intentionally and thoughtfully.  Obama, like Lincoln, believes in the power of reason and of passion.  And Lincoln said, too, while finding it difficult to wait his turn in hard times, “There is one president at a time.”  Importantly, they share a deep reverence for the ideal of equality expressed in the Declaration of Independence.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  President Obama calls these words, “our starting point as Americans… our common creed.”  President Lincoln said that equality is government’s “leading object.” 

 Through our struggles, America has been blessed with its share of great leaders.  We have long had great African American leaders, dissenting leaders who’ve carried a heavy weight and won hard battles – many through sheer determination.  But President Obama is the first African American President of the United States of America.  And whether fair or not, the mantle he carries brings with it an additional responsibility to the ideal of equality.  From the beginning our country has struggled in answering this call.  We’ve fought bitterly.  At times we have covered our ears and our eyes.  But in times of bold leadership and engaged citizenship we have expanded liberty’s reach and deepened its impact.   We have put a lot of bad ways behind us, and under President Obama’s leadership we hope to see the march for equality gain some good ground.  We hope to see the guiding light of equality take root in his policies, and foremost in his approach to rebuilding our economy. 

 President Obama ran a long, hopeful campaign that, too, was important because it showed us how elections can be won with dignity – and it modeled well, though not perfectly, the values it espoused.  Now he takes office and his agenda is filled to overflowing.  Americans are focused on our economy because is in tatters at a time when our country is deeply in debt, and because what everyone agrees on is that it will get worse.  We’re worried about our jobs, and with them our insurance, our house payments.  We’re worried because our kids aren’t learning well enough and we fear they will struggle to find security in tomorrow’s world.   But despite our fear, we are truly hopeful.  We don’t know how the world will look in two, four, or eight years…  But today we celebrate and feel like things are better. 

Hello world! February 1, 2009

Posted by Suzanne Robinson in Uncategorized.
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Welcome to my blog.  I will be posting every Friday about issues facing the Obama Administration.  

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