Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Goodbye Mom

My mother died today after a long struggle with Alzheimer's, the disease they refer to as the "long goodbye" because the person leaves this world mentally long before their body passes on.

“Sisu” is the perfect word to describe my mom. Roughly translated from Finnish, sisu means perseverance and determination. That was my mom. She taught me to keep going even when I felt like giving up. She also taught me that it was more important to love than to be loved. All of my best qualities are because of her. She was a wonderful mother, role model, and best friend.

I'm confident that heaven welcomed her with open arms.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Creating jobs in America is the whole point

Following up on my earlier post about the "Buy American" provisions in the stimulus package - provisions designed to stop the bleeding of jobs and to create new jobs here in America - is a post from Robert Reich that admonishes us not to "confuse American companies with American jobs."
The new stimulus bill, for example, requires that the money be used for production in the United States. Foreign governments, along with large U.S. multinationals concerned about possible foreign retaliation, charge this favors American-based companies. That's not quite true. Foreign companies are eligible to receive stimulus money for things they make here (as long as the nations where they're headquartered have signed the WTO procurement agreement). [...]

I'm not defending the "buy American" provisions of the stimulus bill. I'm just saying they're not the same as "buy from American companies." And although these provisions skate close to protectionism and risk foreign retaliation, at least a case can be made that if American taxpayers are footing the bill in order to create American jobs, the jobs should be created, well, here in America.
I added that emphasis because it's an important distinction. If we buy steel slabs produced in Canada or China, jobs will be created or maintained over there and fewer jobs will be created here, which defeats the whole purpose of the stimulus plan.

Reich also applied this line of reasoning to the auto bailout:
I’m not arguing against an auto bailout. But it ought to be focused on helping American auto workers rather than helping global auto companies headquartered in America. [And he points out that the Big Three themselves are global.] Why pay the Big Three billions of taxpayer dollars to stay afloat when, even after being bailed out, they cut tens of thousands of American jobs, slash wages, and shrink their American operations into small fractions of what they used to be?

That’s backwards. The auto bailout should help American autoworkers keep their jobs or get new ones that pay almost as well.
We're between a rock and a hard place place in this country. I agree with E.J. Dionne's opinion that "there are no good solutions for fixing the auto industry," but I also agree with USW President Leo Gerard who said...
Saving the domestic auto industry is crucial to the economic renewal of the U.S. The steel, glass, auto parts, tires, and paper industries produce products for this industry and employ a quarter million of our members alone.
Our livelihoods are all interconnected, and as Reich concluded, "Whether it’s stimulus or bailout, policy makers must remember that American companies aren’t the same as American workers – and our first responsibility is to the latter."

Absolutely. That's why spending money from the stimulus bill on products created here is so important. It keeps Americans working, helps restore our economy and may save our domestic auto industry. Isn't that the whole point?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Republicans Say No to Largest Tax Cut in History

Republicans not only voted against creating jobs when they voted no on the stimulus plan, they also voted against one of the biggest tax cuts in history. Robert Schlesinger at US News gives us the lowdown.
Steven Waldman, a former U.S. News editor (well before I wandered these halls), makes an interesting case that the coming tax cut will indeed be the biggest ever.
The compromise stimulus plan includes $282 billion in tax cuts over two years.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Bush's first two years of tax cuts amounted to $174 billion. A second batch in 2004 and 2005 cost $231. And those were thought to be bigger than the tax cuts offered by Reagan, Kennedy, or others.

But wait, you say, wasn't Bush's 2001 tax cut, at $1.35 trillion (funny how the GOP didn't mind draining one trillion dollars from the government coffers then), the largest in history?
Yes, over the full 10 years of its existence. But over the first two years, as Waldman points out above, the price tag was much smaller. So the Obama stimulus tax cut would be the biggest ever for the first two years.
It's common knowledge that Republicans love tax cuts, so what motivated them to vote against these? I think Steve Benen nails it with this remark:
George W. Bush's tax cuts were long-term income-tax rate cuts, which amounted to a generous break for those at the top, since the wealthy pay most income taxes. Obama's tax cuts, meanwhile, are short-term refunds paid directly to working and middle class families (some of which Republicans have denounced as "welfare").
We can't have money trickling down to the masses. That would ruin their plans to redistribute even more money up to the already wealthy.

By the way, with this stimulus bill, Obama kept his campaign promise to deliver tax cuts, and he's only been in office one month. Meanwhile, we're still waiting for Republicans to deliver on some of that compassionate conservatism they said we'd be seeing.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Buy American, Buy Local

In spite of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's opposition to the "Buy American" provisions in the stimulus bill, the progressive movement (i.e. unions, consumer groups, the blogosphere) won according to David Sirota.
First, the Buy America provisions survived the conference committee and remain in the stimulus package. These provisions, which were vehemently opposed by multinational corporate lobbyists, encourage government agencies to purchase American-made goods in spending the stimulus money, so as to make sure the money creates as big an economic multiplier effect for our economy as possible.

Second, I'm told by Capitol Hill sources that the Sanders-Grassley amendment prohibiting bailed-out banks from using taxpayer money to outsource jobs remains in the final bill. The amendment followed the Associated Press's report that many banks were using the cash in conjunction with their ongoing efforts to abuse the H-1B program and outsource information sector jobs.
Of course, you won't hear the Mackinac Center, Republicans, or conservative mouthpieces like Lesley Stahl singing the praises of Buy American. They argue we're being protectionists and other countries will look upon these provisions as hostile. That's garbage according to this CEO who told 60 Minutes...
"The whole purpose of your stimulus package, and it's the right purpose, is to stop the bleeding of jobs and to create new jobs here in America, not overseas, not in China, not in Europe," Dan DiMicco, the CEO of Nucor ...

DiMicco said that the counter argument - trade retaliation by other countries - is not true. "It's all garbage," he told Stahl. "People can say what they want. What we have around the world, all right, is a trade war against the United States that we have not showed up for."

DiMicco denied he is a protectionist. "I am a person who says there's no such thing as free trade. Free trade is an academic luxury the real world doesn't enjoy. If you want to study it at Harvard, study it at Harvard. It doesn't work in the real world. It has no application."
The EPI agrees: "These companies are self-interested, simply wanting unlimited access to imports, many of which are illegally subsidized and unfairly traded."

Our economy is badly crippled and people are hurting. Taxpayer money should be used to help Americans and put our own house in order first, and that means the government has to make sure the money isn't used to widen the trade deficit, not if it wants to create and preserve jobs.
Suppose the government spends, say, $100 billion on bridges and buildings, and that $500 million of that is used to buy steel. If it is used to buy imported steel, and if that $500 million doesn't come back to the United States in the form of demand for its exports, then you can subtract $500 million from the stimulus. And you can be pretty sure--given our current trade deficit--that something like that would happen. So, without a requirement that these government projects use domestic steel (with mills currently running at 43 percent capacity!), there is a very great possibility that the government would be throwing away money rather than doing anything about the problem. [emphasis added]
Republicans are hoping Obama fails. What better way to make sure that happens than to push to use the stimulus money to buy materials from foreign countries?

How do most Americans feel about the "Buy American" provisions? A national poll found that 84 percent favor the requirements and only 4 percent strongly oppose them. The overwhelming support was consistent regardless of gender, age, income level, education, or region, proving once again that Republicans are out of touch with mainstream America.

Republicans are out of touch with local Michigan communities too. A group in Genesee County says it's important to think about the American economy, and they're going even further with a campaign to buy local. A series of business leaders in Grand Blanc, Swartz Creek, Flint and other communities recorded a series of messages that play regularly on four radio stations that are part of the local Cumulus Radio Group.

Jet Kilmer, President of the Grand Blanc Chamber of Commerce, recorded one message that explains how 83% of money spent with a local merchant stays in the community vs. 43% spent outside. The message urges people to consider buying local, or to hire local contractors to do needed work.

And according to Crain's Detroit, "the state Agriculture Department projected that if Michigan households earmarked $10 a week in their grocery purchases to made-in-Michigan food products, it would generate $30 million a week in economic impact."

What's good for big business isn't always good for Americans. If we don't have jobs and decent wages, we won't be able to buy what they're selling no matter how much they mark it down. That's why we need to keep the stimulus money in this country. Americans should come first. Period.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Americans want inquiry into "war on terror" tactics

Our attention may be focused on the economic meltdown swirling around us, but we aren't suffering from amnesia and we're not ready to let the Bush administration off the hook. A new USA TODAY - Gallup Poll finds most of us favor investigating whether the Bush administration broke the law in its tactics in the "war on terror."
Close to two-thirds of those surveyed said there should be investigations into allegations that the Bush team used torture to interrogate terrorism suspects and its program of wiretapping U.S. citizens without getting warrants. Almost four in 10 favor criminal investigations and about a quarter want investigations without criminal charges. One-third said they want nothing to be done.

Even more people want action on alleged attempts by the Bush team to use the Justice Department for political purposes. Four in 10 favored a criminal probe, three in 10 an independent panel, and 25% neither.
Groups like the ACLU are pressing for inquires into whether the Bush administration violated U.S. and international bans on torture and the constitutional rights to privacy, and House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers has called for a panel to gather facts and make recommendations, which could possibly lead to prosecutions.

Senator Patrick Leahy has also proposed a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate abuses, including the use of torture, warrantless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, and executive overrides. According to Leahy...
Rather than vengeance, we need a fair-minded pursuit of what actually happened. The best way to move forward is getting to the truth, finding out what happened, so we can make sure it does not happen again.
Thousands of Americans lives were lost in Iraq, along with billions of dollars and our country's moral authority. We can't turn our back on that page in history as though it never happened. We deserve answers.

Click here to sign Leahy's online petition urging Congress to consider establishing a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the Bush-Cheney Administration's abuses.

Gallup says, "At this point, it is unclear whether investigations into possible Bush-era wrongdoing will in fact take place," but when asked about Leahy's plan, President Obama said he would look at it.

Sign the petition and send the message that letting the Bush administration off the hook is wrong.

(Cross posted at Blogging for MI.)

Monday, February 09, 2009

Americans approve of Obama's handling of the stimulus bill

Republicans are feeling pretty smug about their Taliban-like disruptive tactics in opposing the president's stimulus package, but it turns out a majority of Americans see things differently. h/t Gallup
The American public gives President Barack Obama a strong 67% approval rating for the way in which he is handling the government's efforts to pass an economic stimulus bill, while the Democrats and, in particular, the Republicans in Congress receive much lower approval ratings of 48% and 31%, respectively.

gallup poll

Americans understand the seriousness of this situation because they're living with the results of eight years of Republican trickle down economics. The bottom line:
President Obama would appear to have the upper hand in the current focus on Congress' efforts to pass a major economic stimulus bill. Not only does Obama get much higher approval ratings for the way in which he is handling the stimulus issue than do either the Democrats or, in particular, the Republicans in Congress, but a majority of Americans agree with him that passing such a bill is critically important for improving the nation's economy.
Critical is the key word. Americans want action, Republicans want to play games with our lives.

(Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

Friday, February 06, 2009

Wanna scare a Republican?

Show him/her this op-ed - Please Raise My Taxes - written by Reed Hastings, CEO and founder of the highly successful Netflix:
This week, President Obama proposed imposing a $500,000 compensation cap on companies seeking a bailout. It’s a terrible idea. We all want the taxpayers’ money returned, and capping compensation at bailout recipients will just make it that much harder for those boards to hire and hold on to the executives who can lead their companies to compete and thrive.

Perhaps a starting place for “tax, not shame” would be creating a top federal marginal tax rate of 50 percent on all income above $1 million per year. Some will tell you that would reduce the incentive to earn but I don’t see that as likely. Besides, half of a giant compensation package is still pretty huge, and most of our motivation is the sheer challenge of the job anyway.

Instead of trying to shame companies and executives, the president should take advantage of our success by using our outsized earnings to pay for the needs of our nation.
Not only will higher taxes on the rich pay for the needs of our nation according to Hastings, but they'll also "finance opportunity for the next generation of Americans."

Makes sense to me, but somehow I don't see Republicans lining up to vote "yea" on that proposal.

(Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

We have inherited a deep and dire economic crisis

The bad news just keeps on coming. The Labor Department reported today that the number of laid-off workers seeking jobless benefits rose to 626,000, from last week's figure of 591,000.

As President Obama put it in an editorial in today's WaPo:
By now, it's clear to everyone that we have inherited an economic crisis as deep and dire as any since the days of the Great Depression.

Because each day we wait to begin the work of turning our economy around, more people lose their jobs, their savings and their homes. And if nothing is done, this recession might linger for years. Our economy will lose 5 million more jobs. Unemployment will approach double digits. Our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.
At some point we may not be able to reverse the crisis. Do the Republicans bent on obstructing the stimulus package understand the seriousness of our situation? It doesn't appear they do, or why else would they keep pushing tax cuts that major economists have already discredited? They're playing Russian roulette with our country and hoping Obama fails so they can score political points. Are the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans that inconsequential to them?

And it's not just Republicans putting our country in danger. The media shares a lot of the blame too. They promote Republican talking points as the truth and focus on stories that seem rather inconsequential compared to what's going on around us.

As John Cole put it:
Our media is simply failing us. Why have they not asked the Republicans how tax cuts are going to provide jobs? Why are they not laughing openly when the Republicans bring up capital gains tax cuts as part of a stimulus package. Why are they not asking the Republicans to explain how infrastructure spending is not stimulus? Why are they pretending this woman’s minor tax oversight is on par with outing a CIA agent or letting tens of thousands of people soak for a week in New Orleans. Why are they gleefully reporting about Joe the Plumber giving economic advice to the House republicans while their colleagues are writing about the Republicans being unified in opposition to the stimulus and putting two and two together and realizing that the opposition to the stimulus from Republicans is based on the deep thoughts of a drug addled radio host and a guy who installs toilets?
And why is the media not reminding people that President Obama voted against the war in Iraq, a war that likely will cost us $3 trillion dollars? He had the intelligence to look at the facts and do the right thing then, so we should be trusting him to do the right thing now.

Time is of the essence. Asking the right questions and doing the right thing might not be popular or sell many television ads, but it just might save our country from a crisis we may not be able to reverse. Is that a chance the media and Republicans are willing to take?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

We supported their war, tell them to support us

Conservatives are busy calling Congress trying to block Obama's stimulus plan. The word on the street is that calls are running 100 to 1 against the plan. We know Michigan Senators Levin and Stabenow support creating jobs for Americans and setting our country on the road to economic recovery, but they still need to hear from you. As someone commented on another blog yesterday, "Repubs are calling into our "safe" states also, we need to make our voices heard."

Please call 1-866-544-7573 (toll-free) and ask as many senators as you can reach to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Be prepared to try several times. The lines are busy.

If you don't have to worry about using a toll-free number, you might have better success getting through with these:

Sen. Carl Levin at (202) 224-6221
Sen. Debbie Stabenow at (202) 224-4822
Via the Senate Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 (for people in other states)

What's at stake? Under the Senate version of the stimulus plan, this is what Michigan stands to gain:
Total - $19,975,801,863
School Modernization - $642,876,538
Higher Educ. Repair and Modernization - $125,670,301
Home Investments Partnership Program - $64,794,416
Highway Infrastructure Investment - $790,185,174
Mass Transit - $170,947,191
Public Housing Capital Funds - $53,135,372
Neighborhood Stabilization Program - $151,279,933
Homeless Prevention Fund - $55,062,292
Clean Water State Revolving Fund - $171,560,760
Drinking Water Revolving Fund - $69,200,000
State Fiscal Stabilization - $2,145,703,599
Title I Grants - $522,337,187
IDEA, Part B State Grants - $461,265,518
Pell Grants - $472,621,650
Training and Employment Services - $200,786,089
Weatherization Assistance Program - $148,292,700
State Energy Program - $13,775,009
And don't forget the thousands of jobs this spending will create in Michigan (and across the country).

We supported Republican's spending on their unnecessary and ill-begotten war in Iraq. Tell them to support economic recovery and jobs for Americans.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Denying the New Deal contributions

Andrew Leonard at Salon has an interesting article criticizing the WSJ for their "increasingly shrill declarations that the New Deal absolutely, positively did not work," and he took particular exception with economists, Harold L. Cole and Lee. E. Ohanian, who made the following claim.
The goal of the New Deal was to get Americans back to work. But the New Deal didn't restore employment. In fact, there was even less work on average during the New Deal than before FDR took office.
Leonard questioned how they could make this claim since unemployment, which reached 25 percent in the Great Depression, fell steadily until World War II. The answer: They didn't count as employed those people in temporary jobs in emergency programs via the Works Progress Administration (WPA) or Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), or any other of Roosevelt's popular New Deal workfare programs.

Three and a half million people were employed through these programs, which helped them buy food, pay for shelter and maintain some self-respect. My grandfather was one of those people, as I commented here earlier, and a stretch of pine trees he helped plant along US-41 between Houghton and Calumet (in Michigan) still stands today.

These workers made phenomenal contributions to our country. (h/t economist Marshall Auerback via James Galbraith)
The government hired about 60 per cent of the unemployed in public works and conservation projects that planted a billion trees, saved the whooping crane, modernized rural America, and built such diverse projects as the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh, the Montana state capitol, much of the Chicago lakefront, New York's Lincoln Tunnel and Triborough Bridge complex, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the aircraft carriers Enterprise and Yorktown.

It also built or renovated 2,500 hospitals, 45,000 schools, 13,000 parks and playgrounds, 7,800 bridges, 700,000 miles of roads, and a thousand airfields. And it employed 50,000 teachers, rebuilt the country's entire rural school system, and hired 3,000 writers, musicians, sculptors and painters, including Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.
Not too shabby for a bunch of unemployed people who didn't count, eh?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Republicans turn their backs on the middle class

Joe Biden is right. It's time to put the middle class front and center. That's the goal of the Obama administration which seeks to put people back to work immediately and create economic growth, and long-term make sure the benefits of that growth reach the people responsible for it - the lower and middle class workers.

I have a question for Republicans. Why are you treating us like the enemy? Some of you are threatening to filibuster the recovery bill and others are complaining the plan is too expensive and could be done cheaper (ergo, the middle class is only worthy of crumbs). Meanwhile, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) offers an alternative plan that would actually cost 3.5 times as much as Obama's. I guess it's okay to spend trillions more if corporations and the rich are the main beneficiaries, eh?
The only comprehensive alternative being offered by Senate conservatives is DeMint’s “American Option: A Jobs Plan That Works,” a series of permanent tax breaks for corporations and wealthy Americans. A new analysis from the Center for American Progress Action Fund finds that the DeMint plan would cost over $3.1 trillion over ten years — more than three times the amount of President Barack Obama’s plan — and be largely ineffective at creating jobs.

The DeMint plan includes permanently cutting the corporate tax rate, totally eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax, lowering income tax rates for the wealthiest Americans, and eliminating scores of tax deductions that help students pay for college, sick families pay medical bills, and teachers purchase supplies for their classrooms.
How many times does this need to be repeated?
Permanent tax cuts are one of the least effective ways of stimulating the economy according to both Moody’s Economy.com and the Congressional Budget Office. Furthermore, slashing government revenues this permanently would leave deep structural deficits for generations to come.
The whole purpose of DeMint's plan is to make the tax policy changes of 2001 and 2003 permanent. Let's revisit that era, shall we?
"The economy has slowed down, in which case we need to accelerate tax cuts," Bush said in a March 2001 radio address. "You see, tax relief will put money in people's pockets, which will help give the economy a second wind." "By ensuring that Americans have more to spend, to save and to invest, this legislation is adding fuel to an economic recovery," announced Bush in 2003, as he signed his tax cut legislation.
That's not how ten Nobel Laureates saw it. They signed a letter saying the Bush tax cuts were wrong, and 450 economists across the nation agreed.

They were right and Bush and the Republicans were wrong. Bush's tax cuts didn't work.
As Center for American Progress Senior Fellows Christian Weller and John Halpin noted in 2006, the outcome of the 2001 tax cuts was "the weakest employment growth in decades." The 2003 tax cuts didn't fare much better, resulting in job creation that was "well below historical averages." When Bush's White House proposed the 2003 cuts, they promised that it would add 5.5 million new jobs between June 2003 and the end of 2004. But "by the end of 2004, there were only 2.6 million more jobs than in June 2003." As Paul Krugman has pointed out, the belief that Bush's tax cuts successfully stimulated the economy is a form of mythology. CAP's Michael Ettlinger and John Irons wrote in September, "Economic growth as measured by real U.S. gross domestic product was stronger following the tax increases of 1993 than in the two supply-side eras" that followed Reagan's 1981 tax cuts and Bush's 2001 tax cuts. Indeed, employment growth was much stronger post-1993 than post-2001. The average annual employment growth was 2.5 percent after 1993 and just 0.6 percent after 2001. Unfortunately, the supply-side myth that tax cuts cure all still lives on today, as conservatives complain about progressive approaches to fixing the mess left by Bush.
Middle class misery is real. We need real solutions, not mythological ones of the sort being pushed by Republicans. If they really cared about the pain being felt by families across America, they'd stop the games, grow up and get serious about helping us. That hasn't happened and leads me to believe they don't give a damn.