Saturday, February 14, 2009

Equal to the Task

President Obama's weekly address on the economic recovery plan just passed by Congress, and the next steps to recovery and reinvestment. He also quotes President John F. Kennedy: "Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks."

California Sell-Out

While the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act is good news for the nation, the state of California is about to sell out its own citizens to corporate interests.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "The average Californian's taxes would shoot up five different ways in the state budget blueprint that lawmakers hope to vote on this weekend. But the bipartisan plan for wiping out the state's giant deficit isn't so bad for large corporations, many of which would receive a permanent windfall. About $1 billion in corporate tax breaks -- directed mostly at multi-state and multinational companies -- is tucked into the proposal. Opponents say the breaks will do nothing to create jobs.."

But it's not just opponents who say that: But a study by the Center on Budget Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C., think tank, concluded that the cost of the tax break has far outweighed the job-creation benefits in states where it has been instituted. The center researches how tax policies affect low-income Americans. The study said many companies were using the tax formula to lower their tax bills without doing anything they wouldn't normally do to create new jobs. Other experts have said the change could also mean that companies that put a heavy burden on -- and extract substantial benefit from -- state services won't be paying their full share for them."

After months of unforgiveable recalcitrance, Republicans in the California legislature are forcing this terrible deal, with the connivance of the Governator, and apparently the cooperation of Democrats. After months and months of hot air, they are trying to sneak this despicable "compromise" through during the weekend.

According to a statement by Democratic Lt. Governor John Garamendi: "The proposed budget is not coordinated with the federal stimulus package. In fact the budget is in direct conflict with much of the federal stimulus bill and will dampen and delay its effectiveness. Federal money intended to strengthen schools simply replaces money that this budget cuts from the very same schools. Federal money that is intended to provide health care for low income Californians replaces money that this budget removes. Federal money that will support public transportation replaces money that is cut from the California budget. And so on and so, program after program. Net Zero. The president's effort to restart the California economy is not helped by this budget. "

And what about tomorrow? This budget is the prime example of short term thinking...The state government's job is to strengthen the economy, now and in the future. We have to get it right this time."

Garimendi is proposing five days of hearings on the budget. But legislators are meeting to pass it, literally in the middle of Saturday night. Happy St. Valentine's Day Massacre, California.

Move Over, FDR

The final version of the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act restored some of the programs cut in the Senate version, while compromising on the size of tax cuts. Most of the tax cuts go to lower and middle income Americans, as President Obama promised in his campaign. Tax relief should amount to about $280 billion.

Both houses of Congress passed the bill, and President Obama will sign it on Tuesday in Denver. Said the Washington Post: "Twenty-four days into his presidency, Barack Obama recorded last night a legislative achievement of the sort that few of his predecessors achieved at any point in their tenure."

In size and scope, there is almost nothing in history to rival the economic stimulus legislation that Obama shepherded through Congress in just over three weeks... The feat compares only with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's banking system overhaul in 1933, which cleared Congress within days of his inauguration."

While Republicans continue to lie about what's in the Act, here is Sam Stein's rundown of its most important provisions:

$7.2 billion to "increase broadband access and usage in unserved and underserved areas of the Nation."

• $16.4 for transit projects and high-speed rail: this not as much as mass-transit advocates wanted (and the total includes grants to states). But it's an important step forward on this front.

$6 billion "for local clean and drinking water infrastructure improvements." Not only will this promote better health, it will, House Democrats say, create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

$15.6 billion to "increase the maximum Pell Grant by $500." Education staffers on the Hill insist this will do wonders in getting lower-income children into upper-level schools. Seven million students, they say, will be helped in their pursuit of higher education.

• $3.95 billion for job training. Much of this money will be funneled through the states. The funds will not only get people to work, but create the foundation for emerging industries and companies to blossom.

$4.5 billion to repair federal buildings and increase energy efficiency. Think short-term jobs and long-term energy cost savings.

• $2 billion in "grant funding for the manufacturing of advanced batteries systems and components and vehicle batteries that are produced in the United States." This could help the U.S. regain supremacy in the car wars.

$11 billion for "smart-grid related activities, including work to modernize the electric grid."

$2 billion to provide quality child care services. More parents will be able to go to work as the cost of childcare falls.

$29 billion for highways. The one area of agreement between Republicans and Democrats: infrastructure is the quickest way to get job growth immediately.

Tax credits "for families that purchase plug-in hybrid vehicles." This could grow up to $7,500.

• $20 billion in tax incentives to spur the use of renewable energy over the next 10 years.

• $3 billion for the National Science Foundation. This stems from an Obama campaign promise to not leave science neglected. The money will provide for "basic research in fundamental science and engineering -- which spurs discovery and innovation."

$19 billion to accelerate adoption of Health Information Technology (HIT). Another Obama pet-project, this will modernize health care and help save billions of dollars for hospitals.

• $10 billion to "conduct biomedical research in areas such as cancer, Alzheimer's, heart disease and stem cells, and to improve NIH facilities."

Each of these items spurs job creation, saves money, or both. Taken as a whole, they represent an entirely new socioeconomic ethos among the powers that be in Washington."

A more detailed look by the New York Times indicates the Act also includes more help for the hardest hit: more food stamps, unemployment benefits and Social Security money. There's a "huge infusion" of money for Medicaid, which should also help state budgets. There's money for Head Start and other pre-school programs, as well as aid to education all the way through the Pell Grants for college students.

There is even a pretty tough limit on CEO pay for Wall Street and banks.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lincoln-Darwin Day?

Maybe because it came at the end of the day or maybe other "news" got in the way, but so far I haven't found video or transcript of the speech President Obama made in Illinois on Thursday honoring the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. It was an excellent speech--maybe an immortal one--so this is just a small footnote, but it is worth recording that after noting that Lincoln created the National Academy of Science, President Obama mentioned that this is also the birthday of Charles Darwin (yes, that's Lincoln and Darwin in the photos, both closer to their births than the usual pictures), and that science is going to be key to American progress and even economic recovery. It should not go unnoticed then that Darwin, the celebrated bugaboo of the fundamentalist Rabid Right, got a shout-out from the President on the birthday of his hero, Abraham Lincoln.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


On the road in Indiana and Florida or in his first major news conference, not since FDR have we had a President who combines intelligence and focus on what matters with the ability to communicate thoughts and feelings in common sense terms. And not since FDR have we so needed one. More in the post below.

Common Sense Comes to Washington

Even before his press conference and his speeches in Indiana and Florida, polls showed how much the America people trust President Barack Obama. In the new Gallup Poll, Obama had an approval rating of 67%, with only 25% disapproving. Democrats in Congress got 48/42 and Republicans got only 31% approval, with 58% disapproving--so how that's Party of No thing going?

A CNN poll shows Obama with even higher approval--76%--and Congress with disapproval almost that high, due mainly to Republicans. Three-fourths said Obama was doing enough to cooperate with Republicans, but only 39% thought the Republicans were doing enough to cooperate with him. 64% thought the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act will help the economy.

Then came the two out-of-Washington experiences--speeches in Elkhart, Indiana and Fort Myers, Florida, both hard-hit by the economic freefall, and neither area gave Obama a majority of their votes. Yet people lined up in both places, and the Republican Governor of Florida introduced President Obama and endorsed his economic recovery plan.

At his press conference, President Obama talked about what he learned in Indiana several times in his prepared remarks. He came back to it relentlessly in his answers to questions. For example:

So what I'm trying to underscore is what the people in Elkhart already understand, that this is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill recession. We are going through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We've lost now 3.6 million jobs, but what's perhaps even more disturbing is that almost half of that job loss has taken place over the last three months, which means that the problems are accelerating instead of getting better. Now, what I said in Elkhart today is what I repeat this evening, which is, I'm absolutely confident that we can solve this problem, but it's going to require us to take some significant, important steps.

His aide David Axlerod said in an interview that the President gets thousands of letters by people hurt by this economy and reads some every day; he said the purpose of the trips to Indiana and Florida was partly to get the reporters out of Washington so they can hear what the real problems of real people are.

The prime-time press conference was amazing to watch and listen to. Not since FDR have we had a President who has had to deal with an economy like this, and not since FDR have we had a President who can be this lucid, honest and respectful, and communicate directly to the people whose lives are at stake. In Florida, his one-on-one encounter with a homeless woman showed the compassion that is too often forgotten in Washington. More than anything else, President Obama communicates his focus--and it's on the American people.

In answers to questions in his news conference, the President quickly dispatched the main Republican arguments. "Some of the criticisms really are with the basic idea that government should intervene at all in this moment of crisis. Now, you have some people, very sincere, who philosophically just think the government has no business interfering in the marketplace. And, in fact, there are several who've suggested that FDR was wrong to interfere back in the New Deal. They're fighting battles that I thought were resolved a pretty long time ago."

And I'm happy to get good ideas from across the political spectrum, from Democrats and Republicans. What I won't do is return to the failed theories of the last eight years that got us into this fix in the first place, because those theories have been tested, and they have failed. And that's what part of the election in November was all about."

...what I've been concerned about is some of the language that's been used suggesting that this is full of pork and this is wasteful government spending, so on and so forth... But when they start characterizing this as pork, without acknowledging that there are no earmarks in this package -- something, again, that was pretty rare over the last eight years -- then you get a feeling that maybe we're playing politics instead of actually trying to solve problems for the American people...

But my bottom line is, are we creating 4 million jobs? And are we laying the foundation for long-term economic growth?

This is another concern that I've had in some of the arguments that I'm hearing. When people suggest that, "What a waste of money to make federal buildings more energy-efficient." Why would that be a waste of money? We're creating jobs immediately by retrofitting these buildings or weatherizing 2 million Americans' homes, as was called for in the package, so that right there creates economic stimulus. And we are saving taxpayers when it comes to federal buildings potentially $2 billion. In the case of homeowners, they will see more money in their pockets. And we're reducing our dependence on foreign oil in the Middle East. Why wouldn't we want to make that kind of investment?"

On Tuesday, the Senate passed its version of the recovery bill. The Senate and House versions have to be reconciled by a joint committee, then both houses must vote again. Though economists warn that the Senate bill is too small and too skewed towards tax cuts, they also warn that delay is very likely to be disastrous. Senator Barbara Boxer appeared on Rachel to explain that the Senate is incomprehensible at best, but that getting in the neighborhood of $800 billion into the economy is the priority. Other observers suggest that some elements eliminated from the House bill may get into the final version, while others will likely wind up as separate bills.

Also on Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Geithner outlined what the federal government wants to do to heal the financial sector. The generally favorable reception at first turned sharply down as the stock market did. The Washington Post coverage is highly negative Wednesday, but it was one of their business guys I saw praising the plan on TV, and saying that Wall Street is not going to be pleased with any plan that doesn't involve the federal government dumping truckloads of money on Wall Street. A financial crisis to them, he said, means problems with buying their fourth home.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Dreaming Up Daily Quote

“What every person can and should do is help others. It is therefore not at all important whether we believe in God or the idea of rebirth. We can always do good, even today when we are afraid of the dangers that the future may bring.”

Dalai Lama

Two Photos, One Sunset

Two photos of sunset over Arcata, taken within a few minutes of each other. Click photos to enlarge.

How to Waste Money

Republicans are so sad and disappointed that they're sobbing big wet tears over President Obama and the Recovery and Reinvestment bill, because of all the money it wastes.

These folks are the true experts on that. Want to talk about how to waste money? One word: Iraq. You spend billions on bombs, airplanes, missiles, all the hardware you spend millions shipping over there, then you use them to blow the place up. And then you spend billions supposedly to repair what you just blew up. Perfectly sensible expenditures. Especially since there was no reason to start the war, and no good plan for ending it. Now it's the longest and most expensive in American history. And time and again, these same folks voted to spend billions and billions to do this, and called anybody who asked questions traitors.

Along the way you give no-bid contracts to your favorite crooks, who steal billions, who build stuff that crumbles immediately if they build it at all, whose work is so shoddy that the wiring they install electocutes American troops. The armor doesn't get there for years and doesn't work when it does, so in addition to the billions of federal money, the families of troops have to buy armor for their soldiers. You pay lawless mercenaries several times more than the troops, until there are more expensive contractors than soldiers in Iraq.

Iraq is going to wind up costing about what it will take to turn this economy around, or just about what it will cost to fix the infrastructure here that's been neglected for 25 years. At least some people think it will be about two trillion, in all three cases.

When it comes to an unnecessary war which kills and maims thousands of people and makes millions into refugees, money is no object. But here's what these folks have taken out of the recovery bill so far:

Billion dollar cuts
$40 billion State Fiscal Stabilization
$16 billion School Construction
$7.5 billion of State Incentive Grants
$5.8 billion Health Prevention Activity
$4.5 billion GSA
$3.5 billion Higher Ed Construction (Eliminated)
$3.5 billion Federal Bldgs Greening
$2.25 Neighborhood Stabilization (Eliminate)
$2 billion broadband [for rural areas]
$2 billion HIT Grants
$1.25 billion project based rental
$1 billion Head Start/Early Start
$1.2 billion in Retrofiting Project 8 Housing
$1 billion Energy Loan Guarantees

and a selection from the Million dollar cuts: $300 million for federal hybrid vehicles (from U.S. automakers), $65 million Watershed Rehab,
$98 million School Nutrition, $10 million State and Local Law Enforcement,
$50 million NASA, $100 million Science, $25 million Fish and Wildlife
$55 million Historic Preservation,$20 million working capital fund,
$200 million Superfund,$90 million State & Private Wildlife Fire Management.

So here's the principle: don't pay for building stuff in America, just for blowing stuff up in other countries, and maybe rebuilding that stuff. Don't pay for things that make everybody's life better and invest in a better future for everybody, and certainly don't spend for anything that will help the unemployed, and the fading middle class. Just use that money for tax cuts for the rich. This is Republican and centrist budget management. Didn't we just vote to get rid of these folks?

Here's the deal: a lot of this spending may just be in the nick of time. If the federal government doesn't do it now--for example if it doesn't get that $40 billion to the states right away--we're all going to end up suffering, the economy continues to spiral down, and in the best case scenario, we'll wind up paying more later.

These Republicans and so-called centrists who mangled this bill--they were great entertainment at least some of the time, but we really can't afford them anymore.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

In Case You've Forgotten what this all is about...

In his weekly address, the President sums up the economic stakes, the purposes and parts of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, in about four minutes.

The Con in Congress

The election of Barack Obama hasn't changed the unfortunate fact that we're still at the mercy of idiots, ideologues and did I mention idiots, otherwise known as Congress.

After one phony, disingenuous, lying argument after another, the people who are merely imbecilic have become the power brokers on the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Senate barely has a deal to pass something, which is good, but what they're passing is not good enough. Too much of what President Obama touts in his radio address--and which I'll bet he'll be talking about in Indiana and Florida and on national TV Monday--isn't in the bill anymore.

It cuts aid to education, some green measures, and of all the stupid things, money for state governments. Don't these Congresspeople talk to their Governors? Aren't some of them supposed to be in the same party?

All their dancing around to show that they are cutting spending, which is only going to result in cutting jobs--Paul Krugman figures they've destroyed the job creation prospects by 600,000, almost precisely the number of new unemployment claims in January. "According to the CBO’s estimates, we’re facing an output shortfall of almost 14% of GDP over the next two years, or around $2 trillion. Others, such as Goldman Sachs, are even more pessimistic. So the original $800 billion plan was too small, especially because a substantial share consisted of tax cuts that probably would have added little to demand. The plan should have been at least 50% larger... Now the centrists have shaved off $86 billion in spending — much of it among the most effective and most needed parts of the plan...This is really, really bad."

As an example of the spiteful, chickenshit stuff this Senate is pulling, here's something they passed with wide support, Republican AND Democrat, the Coburn amendment:

None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, art center, and highway beautification project.

This is such a self-defeating, shameful, embarrassing, mean and stupid amendment that I'm almost speechless but not quite. Here's a quick quiz for you--what are the most remembered and most lasting achievements of the New Deal? You know, that economic recovery and reinvestment and stimulus New Deal that got the country started upward out of the Depression? The answer: anything they did in the arts, theatre, public parks and other constructions and repairs for public services. A lot of them are still here, still serving us as individuals, families, communities. Something wrong with that?

Just look at that dishonest, craven amendment. It starts out denying funds to casinos and gambling establishments. Is anyone proposing spending federal money on private for profit businesses like casinos? If it's in the Obama plan I missed it. Maybe if there's a medical clinic in one of those casinos, they might get a new computer?

But right away it goes to very similar institutions: acquarium, zoo--then it sneaks in golf courses--before proceeding to community park, museum, theatre, art center, community park---Huh?

Let's note and then put aside the fact that nothing else on the list is remotely like casinos. There might be a few (absent golf courses) that are for-profit, but very few.

Let's note and put aside for the moment that building or repairing or installing insulation and solar panels for anyplace at all is going to mean jobs and money spent on materials etc. and therefore more jobs. Let's even note and put aside that these places are likely to be nonprofits and adjuncts of educational institutions, and performing a public good. Let's concentrate on the fact that theatres, museums, art institutions etc. all employ people and generate economic activity everywhere around them. They're stimulating, in every sense!

So why did this amendment pass 72-24, with every Republican supporting it, PLUS 32 Democrats including such used-to-seem-like-non-idiots-but I'm way not sure now, as: one of MY Senators Feinstein, plus liberal icon Feingold, Obama boosters Casey of PA, McCaskill, Klobuchar and Stabenow, and supposed liberal stalwart Chuck Schumer of New York. How could any Senator from New York or California vote for an amendment like this? Their economies depend on the arts--what's wrong with these people? Even new Democratic Senators that Obama people worked so hard to elect this year, voted for this. It's a disgrace.

Dr. Strangelove Rolls Over in His Grave

I don't know exactly what this symbolizes--the press of more apparently urgent issues, news glut and overload, the dangerous comfort level we've developed with the prospects of nuclear war, probably all of these--but some quite remarkable news passed pretty much unnoticed last week.

It was reported, in the Times of London and elsewhere, that "President Obama will convene the most ambitious arms reduction talks with Russia for a generation, aiming to slash each country’s stockpile of nuclear weapons by 80 per cent."

Maybe you have to have lived through the sixties and the eighties to know how amazing this is. Or to be amazed that we're talking about only 1,000 nuclear weapons each, still more than enough to destroy the world in an eyeblink. What a species.