Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Eathquake, Hurricane: Natural Disasters a Sign from Heaven? Maybe Not the Message the Right Wing Wants to Hear.

There is now a debate as to whether the media overplayed Hurricane Irene. It can be argued as we watched a 24/7 cable news media ignore the Libyan Revolution story once the Hurricane story began, that todays news media seems not to want to cover multiple stories but rather is intent on focusing extensively and exclusively on one major subject. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that with the advance warnings and the coverage there has been less misery caused by failure to respond to this storm than say with Hurricane Katrina where decisions were made often too late and assistance came often too little.

Some Republican candidates are calling the recent east coast earthquake and hurricane “God’s judgement” on liberal America. They say that Divine Providence is sending us a message.  Well, as I see it if there is a providential message here it is that the recent east coast earthquake and the subsequent storm are a clear example for why we need to maintain a national government that can help its citizens when conditions occur wherein they cannot help themselves.

The right wing radical tea party Republicans want to dismantle FEMA because it failed to work in New Orleans under their Republican administration.  But no one is complaining about FEMA’s presence now on the east coast.  These yahoo Republicans have cut the funding for the NOAA weather satellites and tracking program so that in a few years the degree of detailed and extensive tracking that allowed state and local government officials to plan their response to the coming storm will not be available.

I don’t understand conservatives who want to dismantle all government at the national level, I can understand reforming and improving and making more efficient those aspects of government that serve a clear and accepted purpose, e.g. weather forecasting, national defense, aid to residents and businesses when they are victims of a natural catastrophe.  As a Liberal I go further and want a national government that protects the civil liberties of all our people, guarantees a good paying job for all and access to quality education, and of course access to quality health care, and guaranteed old age assistance (both medical and social insurances).

This idea that the radical tea party right wing Republicans are pushing that we don’t need government; that any agency you mention: FEMA, EPA, NOAA should be abolished or curtailed; and that social security, Medicare and education should be privatized, so that the privileged few will have access while others are outside looking in,  is alien to the precepts that have motivated the majority of the people of our nation for 235 years and been the basis of the social compact that underlies our nations laws and constitutions since the Mayflower Compact (1621).

It’s time for people to take a look at this tea party movement and see it for what it is.  The same activists who ten years ago were in the radical religious right movement seeking to take over the Republican party following Pat Robertson, and a decade before that supported the culture war rallying cry of Pat Buchanan are today the Tea Partiers.  Extensive studies have been done to document this. Some sharp right wing consultants have done a masterful job of making people think this is all a new group of disaffected middle class people, sort of a rebirth of Reagan Democrats.  The data shows that those most active in the Tea Party movement were active in right wing Republican efforts in the past - that they are uncomfortable with the direction of this nation -- by that I mean they dislike the concept of diversity and equality (whether racial or gender), they are unfriendly toward the idea that we should continue to welcome immigrants and they oppose big government unless that government is willing to impose their moral values on everyone else.

We’ve built a great nation in America.  Our United States is the most successful (economically and militarily) democracy in the world today and in modern history.  We built a middle class America  - in fact in the 1950's some would have said we were building a classless America.

Our nation’s story is a great one.  From the Puritan dream of “a shining city on a hill” we became a shining nation between two oceans.  We can continue to be in Lincoln’s words “the best hope for mankind” if we reject these radicals who appeal to fear and to bigotry and to selfishness. As a people we can continue to support the concept of a society where all treat their neighbor as themself; and, where a government always based on the consent of the governed strives to make that concept a reality. 

30 August 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Economy: ‘Fix It or Do Nothing’ The Age Old Question

The world economy is poised on the edge of an abyss.  The US economy is mired in a Great Recession, the most negative and dangerous economic downturn in our nation’s history second only to the Great Depression of the 1930's.

What do we do about it?  How do we get out of this Great Recession?  How do we get back on a course of upward growth and prosperity for all? It seems to me there are common sense options.  We can as a nation, and a government, do things that have worked in the past (or possibly worked but at the least done no harm) or we can do things that have not worked in the past.  As a student of history I find no value in our repeating things that haven’t worked in the past.  So I dismiss the most conservative approach which is that the government do nothing and allow market forces to determine the future.   That was Cleveland’s approach in the 1890's and ultimately with the Spanish American War the country came out of the 1890's depression. Waiting for the cycle to turn was Hoover’s approach; but even with all the programs of the New Deal it took the massive government spending during WWII to get us out of that Great Depression.  So I reject the radical right wing Republican Perry/Paul approach of doing nothing.

Now, we can also lower taxes and cut expenses.  When this was tried in 1938, as the country seemed finally to be turning a corner, it plunged us back into the Depression.  When the economy turns down and therefore government revenues decrease it makes no sense to lower taxes and cut spending. Such action merely further slows down the economy by creating unemployment (loss of public sector jobs) and reducing ability of consumers to purchase.

We can also reduce the deficit, stop borrowing and solve the problems that threaten to undermine our country in 2037 (Social Security) and in the mid 2020's (Medicare).  But why are we solving the long term problems of a generation hence and not addressing the immediate problems of today and tomorrow - massive unemployment, lack of investment in education and repair of infrastructure.

We can stop issuing paper money backed by the full faith and credit of the United States and return to the Gold Standard.  I think that means that a dollar would be worth an ounce or some portion of an ounce of Gold - a commodity that currently trades on the open markets and fluctuates. I think governments set the value of the currency to the gold so it won’t fluctuate.  The US was the last major western industrial nation to leave the Gold Standard in the 1930's.  In the years of the Gold Standard there were silver miners who wielded great political power and from post Civil War times lobbied, sometimes successfully, for a bimetallic system where currency would be based on Gold and Silver - it was thought that would increase the amount of currency in circulation. There was much debate over the ratio of Gold to Silver that would be coined and fixed to the value of the currency. This may make sense to some people it doesn’t to me.  We might just as well go back to trading beads and selling Manhattan for items that value $24.

We could try some ideas that worked during the Great Depression - they may not have gotten us out of the Depression but they made it easier for the vast majority of the people to survive and instilled hope in the future.  We could undertake a major public works program to repair and replace all that infrastructure, bridges, buildings etc. that were in most cases first built in the 1930’s; and we can do it by borrowing at a time when American debt is being purchased around the world for the lowest interest rate in history.  When you can sell bonds at a low interest rate you sell them.  If we wait to deal with our infrastructure problems another decade we will find ourselves forced to borrow at high interest rates and simply increase the national debt.

We can create jobs for youth, working in inner cities and rural areas.  We can increase the weeks of unemployment payments and thus put more purchasing power in to the economy which then causes producers to produce more goods and thus causes economic growth. And we can for another year or so have a social security tax holiday to put a few dollars more into the pocket books of the workers of America.  If we won’t pay for this by taxing the millionaires who have reaped the benefits for the past thirty years of economic progress than we can borrow at record low interest rates.

I am not a trained economist.  I am sure that those who understand economic theory whether it be Keynesian or supply-side can argue against my simple historically guided suggestions.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered the thought that when faced with a problem we should do something, if it didn’t’ work we should try something else, and if needed try another idea but most importantly do something.

22 August 2011

Sunday, August 14, 2011

It's Time for Progressives to Mobilize

The radical right wing tea party which has taken over the Republican Party seeks to control the federal and state governments with a philosophy that says bring back laissez-faire and don’t have the government do anything to help those who need help.

Today’s incarnation of the radical religious right, has taken the name of the proud patriots of 1773, who threw the tea into the harbor of Boston because they objected to being taxed without representation, (the Tea Party people now would throw everything overboard except tea) and claimed the mantle of Populism which they apparently think means appealing to the basest, crassest and most selfish impulses of the American people.  Populism began in the late nineteenth century in America supporting political reform like recall, initiative and referendum, direct primaries and direct election of senators and easy access to currency based on two precious metals not one so that farmers could save their farms from corporate inspired bank foreclosures and urban workers get paid sufficient wages to enable them to become consumers.  Boy would Sarah Palin have been uncomfortable as a real Populist.
Beginning at the turn of the 20th century with Theodore Roosevelt and then Woodrow Wilson and Robert Lafollette a Progressive movement grew in America that incorporated the Populists of the 1890’s and merged rural and urban forces – farmers and immigrant workers -- culminating in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Liberal New Deal.   A Liberalism that was overwhelmingly ratified by the American people in the election of 1964 and by the endorsement of most of its tenets by Eisenhower and Nixon.

In 2008 we Progressives thought that America had again ratified the New Deal and Great Society and we saw the election of Obama as the culmination of the cultural revolution of the past few decades.  Well the backlash set in after the election.  The Tea Party fueled with racist and states’ rights energy sources is today threatening to unravel the entire Progressive program of the past century and build an America where everyone is expected to take care of themselves.  Health care – get insurance if you can afford it.  Education-- pay for private schools.  Workers -- talk with your employers and settle for the job and wage they give you. 
Liberals and Progressives  need a to build a movement using all the media available to them to fight back,  to spread the true facts to those who will listen or read,  to protest when and where appropriate,   and support Progressive candidates regardless of party label.

This is what is happening in Wisconsin where Progressives united with organized Labor have recalled two Neanderthal state senators who seemed entrenched in their districts.  This fighting back is what happening in Ohio where over one million voters signed a petition to put the Governors anti- union bill up to a public referendum this fall (they only needed about 325,000 signatures.)  

Across the country liberal Progressive minded people are banding together to fight to maintain the America that was built for all since the time of Theodore Roosevelt.  And here in somnolent Delaware County Pennsylvania just the other day liberal Progressives came together to form a Delaware County Progressive Alliance.

They set forth a platform of some of the progressive positions they advocate:
the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and Iraq;
preserving  Medicare as it is – a public insurance program for seniors;
maintaining Medicaid - providing quality health care to low income Americans
solidifying Social Security as a government run old age insurance program
enhancing the right of all employees, public and private, to organize for collective bargaining
recognizing the right of all persons, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, to marry
assuring the right of women to have free choice to determine their reproductive practices
full funding for public education at all levels
an end to big oil companies and corporations being allowed to hide assets overseas. 
Supporting democratic reforms -- universal ballot access, simplified absentee voting, public funding of election campaigns and opposition to Voter suppression tactics, e.g. Voter ID laws.
Strong environmental protections to ensure clean air and clean water for generations of Americans to come.

Americans who support Progressive positions must mobilize in their communities as the country once again faces a defining moment when it chooses which fork in the road to take.  This country has always moved forward and taken the road to growth and progress for as many as possible.  We mustn’t let a minority of misled citizens take us off the path of forward Progress.

14 August 2011
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Monday, August 8, 2011

The 'Balanced Budget Amendment' - Phony & Unbalanced

Forty-nine of the states in the American union have requirements in their constitutions that their budgets must be balanced (all except Vermont).  Most actually allow an imbalance if revenues exceed expenditures and a surplus is budgeted (some actually limit such a surplus to a set % of the revenue).  The federal constitution does not require that the budget be balanced and leaves to the Congress (majority of both houses) and the President the adoption of appropriations and revenue laws.  This has led through the twentieth century to much borrowing as the Constitution does provide that the bills of the U.S. incurred due to legislation, i.e. the budget and other laws, must be paid.

Now the radical right wing Tea Party Republicans are trying to force through their version of a Balanced Budget Amendment.  It is not the balanced approach of the amendment that passed the House and failed by only one vote in the Senate in March of 1995.  Nor is it the balanced approach of the balanced budget amendment that thirty-two state legislatures have petitioned Congress to adopt (if that number reaches thirty-four Congress could call a convention to consider an amendment)

The radical right wing Tea Party Republicans are now supporting and even used the debt ceiling crisis, which they manufactured, to try to force passage of their unbalanced version of a balanced budget amendment. Rather than simply require the budget to be balanced they would also limit expenditures to 18% of economic output (not being an economist I don’t know if that means the GDP or the GNP). Only by a 2/3 vote of each House could expenditures be increased.  If one wanted to balance the budget by raising revenue under the new radical plan it would take a 2/3 vote of each House and a 3/5 vote to raise the debt ceiling to allow borrowing to meet any imbalance. This would also place the concept of the debt ceiling in the constitution thus negating any value of section 4 of the 14th Amendment.  To show something, I don’t know what, these radical Tea Party Republicans would allow 3/5 (60%) of both Houses to waive the amendment anytime they want.

Of course in case of war or military conflict a majority of the members of both houses can waive the amendment presumably as it applies to expenditures for military purposes.  So a majority can spend anything they want on war and conflict but it could take 2/3 or  3/5 to spend to feed Women and Infant Children or support Pell Grants for students.

This is not a balanced budget amendment.  This version that the radical right wing Tea Party Republicans are spreading is an attempt to place in the constitution an impediment to continue funding the programs of the twentieth century - known as the Square Deal of Theodore Roosevelt, the New Freedom of Woodrow Wilson, the New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Fair Deal of Harry Truman, the New Frontier of John F Kennedy, the Great Society of Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the attempts by Eisenhower, Reagan, Bush and Clinton to maintain a social safety net for all Americans.

Even more dangerous the radical right wing Tea Party Republican so-called balanced budget amendment would prevent Congress and the President from dealing with great recessions or depressions or other massive economic downturns by essentially requiring expenditure cuts whenever the economy tanked and revenue went down. Precisely the time when most economists believe the government should neither cut back services, jobs and outlays nor increase taxes.  Of course as we know radical right wing Tea Party Republicans seem only to care about preventing tax increases on those who can afford to pay them.

Liberal Progressive Democrats should call the right wing radical Tea Party Republican bluff.  Put forth a clean balanced budget amendment that allows a majority of both houses leeway to deal with national crises - as the founders in the original constitution designed.  Dare them to vote for a clean real balanced budget amendment like that almost adopted in 1995 and endorsed by 32 states.  The radical right wing Tea Party Republicans won’t buy it. They’ll say No.  Because what they want is to make it nighttime in America.  And they want to make sure that the constitution prevents it from ever becoming morning again.

8 Aug. 2011

Thursday, August 4, 2011


While the tea party radical Republicans were winning their manufactured debt ceiling crisis they were creating the next one.  After four years of Congress extending the authorizations and the basic rules governing the Federal Aviation Administration (you know the body that regulates our airports, our national security on planes, the safety of our air traffic) the tea party radical republicans are holding an extension of that basic authorization hostage to a pet proposal of theirs to make it more difficult for labor to unionize Delta Airlines (the only non-unionized major airline in America).

Because the Senate won’t go for the anti-union rules change that the House proposed the bill is deadlocked.  No one will believe it but what the radical tea party right wing Republicans are holding out for is the counting of abstentions as no votes in a union recognizing election (a change in forty years of rules and giving Delta a boon that no other airline or major industry ever had in such elections).

As we learned in school the two houses are to have a conference.  Well one hundred days ago the Senate appointed conferees; the House hasn’t done so yet.  And now the House of Representatives has adjourned until after Labor Day.

So 4,000 employees of the FAA are being furloughed (including engineers and safety specialists); and work on new construction and repairs at airports has stalled leaving 70,000 construction jobs are at risk. This is the radical right wing tea party Republican version of a jobs bill (to cut jobs and increase unemployment).  But more dangerous to create an unsafe environment in our air traffic and put America at a disadvantage among world powers when it comes to air transport.

And the taxes that the federal government collected, from ticket buyers, to finance most of the functions of the FAA, are not being collected.   The government will lose almost $23 million a day or $1.3 billion in August.  Are the airlines reducing ticket prices?  No!
So all this money goes into the corporate profits of the big airlines – another radical right wing tea party Republican gift to the super rich.

The House could have passed a simple one month extension and conferenced with the Senate. No the House tells the Senate you take our bill with the anti union provisions or you get no bill.  This is not the way Congress was supposed to work according to the framework designed by the Founding Fathers who the tea party folks are always claiming to defer to.

What is the President of the United States going to do about this.  There is one thing he has the power to do. He can call a special session of Congress - make them come back to DC (they could fly if they risk it) and put one item on the agenda -the FAA. Tell the American people what’s going on and put the responsibility where it lays with the radical right wing tea party Republicans.

The radical right wing tea party Republicans have already announced that they will use the Sept. 30th deadline for a 2011-2012 budget or continuing resolution (a CR) to demand other things from the President and the Senate and they expect to get them.  And unlike the debt ceiling crisis when the President had his 14th amendment option he has no options come Sept 30 except to face these guys down and let the government close down (Clinton had the courage to do that and won).

If he calls a special session and beats these radical right wing tea party Republicans up on the FAA issue they may pull back from a Sept 30th manufactured crisis and cooperate; possibly not use the Nov. 23 deadline for the super committee to come up with phase 2 of the debt reduction plan as another manufactured governmental hostage crisis.

When the Wright brothers took off at Kitty Hawk at the turn of the 20th century there was an immediate consensus in the country that the national government should govern the airways not the fifty states.  So Mr. President, what are you going to do about this?  Will America fly in the 21st century or crash.  The ball is in your court or to put it another way the plane is on your runway!

4 August, 2011