Saturday, December 06, 2008

Economic Recovery, Part One

In his Saturday radio/YouTube address, PE Barack Obama outlined the economic recovery program he will propose: "We won’t do it the old Washington way. We won’t just throw money at the problem. We’ll measure progress by the reforms we make and the results we achieve – by the jobs we create, by the energy we save, by whether America is more competitive in the world."

"First, we will launch a massive effort to make public buildings more energy-efficient. Our government now pays the highest energy bill in the world... That won’t just save you, the American taxpayer, billions of dollars each year. It will put people back to work."

"Second, we will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s. We’ll invest your precious tax dollars in new and smarter ways, and we’ll set a simple rule – use it or lose it. If a state doesn’t act quickly to invest in roads and bridges in their communities, they’ll lose the money."

"Third, my economic recovery plan will launch the most sweeping effort to modernize and upgrade school buildings that this country has ever seen...As we renew our schools and highways, we’ll also renew our information superhighway... because that’s how we’ll strengthen America’s competitiveness in the world."

"...we must also ensure that our hospitals are connected to each other through the internet. That is why the economic recovery plan I’m proposing will help modernize our health care system – and that won’t just save jobs, it will save lives. We will make sure that every doctor’s office and hospital in this country is using cutting edge technology and electronic medical records so that we can cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes, and help save billions of dollars each year.

"These are a few parts of the economic recovery plan that I will be rolling out in the coming weeks. When Congress reconvenes in January, I look forward to working with them to pass a plan immediately. We need to act with the urgency this moment demands to save or create at least two and a half million jobs so that the nearly two million Americans who’ve lost them know that they have a future. And that’s exactly what I intend to do as President of the United States."

Full transcript here.

Barack the World

"I will not exaggerate the importance of a single personality, but Obama has become a global symbol like none I can recall in my lifetime... Were his administration to demonstrate in its day-to-day conduct a genuine understanding of other countries' perspectives and an empathy for the aspirations of people around the world, it could change America's reputation in lasting ways.
This is a rare moment in history. A more responsive America, better attuned to the rest of the world, could help create a new set of ideas and institutions—an architecture of peace for the 21st century that would bring stability, prosperity and dignity to the lives of billions of people. Ten years from now, the world will have moved on; the rising powers will have become unwilling to accept an agenda conceived in Washington or London or Brussels. But at this time and for this man, there is a unique opportunity to use American power to reshape the world. This is his moment. He should seize it."

The Great Recession: Two Quotes

"The 533,000 jobs lost last month, the worst job loss in 34 years, is more than a dramatic reflection of the growing economic crisis we face. Each of those lost jobs represents a personal crisis for a family somewhere in America... There are no quick or easy fixes to this crisis, which has been many years in the making, and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. But now is the time to respond with urgent resolve to put people back to work and get our economy moving again.

At the same time, this painful crisis also provides us with an opportunity to transform our economy to improve the lives of ordinary people by rebuilding roads and modernizing schools for our children, investing in clean energy solutions to break our dependence on imported oil, and making an early down payment on the long-term reforms that will grow and strengthen our economy for all Americans for years to come."

--PE Barack Obama

"Policy makers must recognize this deterioration and craft their responses accordingly. Our job market is now shedding jobs at a truly alarming rate, a rate measurably worse than past recessions. We face an emergency that certainly equals those in the financial markets in recent months. The American workforce is too big to fail."

--Jared Bernstein, economic advisor to VPE Joe Biden.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and the crescent moon was visible here now and again, in and out of clouds. I tried a photo at dusk but the moon was a blur. I haven't seen any really good photos on the web yet either, but there's this one from a similar conjunction in 2005.

The Change Starts Here

So where's the change? That's the prattle, some sincere no doubt, some the usual self-serving, time-filling contrived drama the media feels it needs. PE Obama is appointing all these folks who've been around for awhile, doing stuff in the area of what they've been appointed to do. Where's the change in that?

Okay, so this is not a problem for most people who like to see clearly qualified people appointed to important jobs. CNN's poll shows 75% of the public approves of PE Obama's cabinet and other appointments. They're so thrilled with the appointment of Hillary that her approval rating is the highest it's been in ten years.

But for those who are worried, there are a lot of signs and signals about the change to come (beginning when they all take office, which is not until late next month.) The change doesn't have to look big right now to eventually be big.

For instance, in her brief remarks at the announcement of her appointment as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton mentioned several important issues and said: “America cannot solve these crises without the world and the world cannot solve them without America."

After eight years of Bushite unilateralism, of the refusal of the U.S. to take part in global negotiations and treaties on such essential issues as the Climate Crisis and nuclear proliferation, Hillary's statement is positively revolutionary.

She went on to spell out a little of what it means: “By electing Obama our next president, the American people have demanded not just a new direction at home, but a new effort to renew America’s standing in the world as a force for positive change.”

That's change we can believe in, change we need...and change we voted for.

While Robert Gates was a Bush appointee at Defense, he's an advocate for closing Guantanamo, and said he will carry out Obama's intention to end the Iraq war and bring the troops home.

Then there's Susan Rice, appointed as the US Ambassador to the UN (which Obama restored to full Cabinet department rank) who is an advocate for strong responses to genocide, particularly now in Darfur. Darfur has a powerful advocate! Change I can believe in, believe me!

Several articles about the entire national security team make the point that it represents a big change from primary reliance on military force and, to put it more bluntly, bullying, to more balance with diplomacy and aid, so-called "soft power." In the best of these I've seen, Marc Ambinder calls it "smart power."

Smart! Pretty big change there!

Eric Holder, appointed Attorney-General, made a point of talking about restoring Constitutional guarantees and traditional American positions (read: no torture.) More change!

Wednesday, Bill Richardson was named Commerce Secretary, and he talked about how "you open markets and minds with partnerships, innovation and hard work." For those who worry he got short-changed, his vision of the job includes international commerce, and he's on board on the overarching issues of addressing the Climate Crisis and creating the Green Deal economy: he mentioned "innovation" and technology several times, as well as clean energy jobs and--here's a word of change: "manufacturing."

You might say that some of this "change" is changing back, and that's true--but it's no less needed, and it's unfortunately no less change. But it's all change for the future. Manufacturing yes, but as Obama makes clear vis a vis the auto industry, manfacturing new kinds of stuff in new ways--the sustainable, clean energy economy of the future. Infrastructure yes, but not just roads and bridges--weatherizing homes, rebuilding the electrical grid, expanding broadband.

Finally, as Obama himself said, the big change is him. He's already showing that he's bringing intelligence to the presidency that's a huge change. So far nothing has knocked him off stride. The terrorist attack in India? Obama has been saying that a key to problems in that whole part of the world is solving the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. And that turns out to be implicated in that attack.

Joint Chiefs, governors, Republicans-- they're all impressed with what he says, but also with how he listens.

He's already said how important addressing the Climate Crisis will be, that Guantanamo must be closed, the troops brought home from Iraq, etc. He's told the governors that he's going to help the states deal with their crises, with money for infrastructure, but also for the Green Deal. He's indicated that he wants universal health care as part of the economic recovery and rebuilding.

And the American people are behind him. There's another change. He's saying he will do what he always said he would do. Because it's change he believes in.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Tonight's the Night

A conjunction of Venus and Jupiter near the crescent moon (like this one, photographed in 1998) happens tonight in the southwestern sky. Details on this free sky show are here and here.

The Unhealthy Care System

Monday all eyes will be on foreign affairs, as President-Elect Barack Obama introduces members of his National Security team, including several Cabinet secretaries. The New York Times quotes a foreign policy advisor suggesting that Obama will be seeking "a rebalancing" of how the U.S. conducts itself in the world, emphasizing a sustainable policy that returns diplomacy and material assistance to the mix, as well as military power.

But an article in the Washington Post on Sunday about a primary domestic issue shouldn't escape significant notice. It's about the U.S. health care system, and it begins: "Talk to the chief executives of America's preeminent health-care institutions, and you might be surprised by what you hear: When it comes to medical care, the United States isn't getting its money's worth. Not even close."

"Our health-care system is fraught with waste," says Gary Kaplan, chairman of Seattle's cutting-edge Virginia Mason Medical Center. As much as half of the $2.3 trillion spent today does nothing to improve health, he says.

The article goes on to assert: "Yet among physicians, insurers, academics and corporate executives from across the ideological spectrum, there is remarkably broad consensus on what ought to be done."

Those familiar with the issue, especially if they have been listening to what Barack Obama said during the campaign, probably won't be surprised by the prescription for efficiency, preventive care, an emphasis on primary care, etc. But it is significant that (1) health care officials are saying it themselves, and (2) these quotes are appearing in Washington's establishment newspaper.

Health care is very likely to be an important component in the Obama proposals to change the economy. This is only a preview. But a very good indication that something might really get done this time. Because it is change we need.