At just the end of January, 150 workers at the Cintas uniform plant, formerly known as Bath Manufacturing, were laid off. Many of these people had been at BM since its opening around 20 years ago. Some of them had come from Carhartt's plant which was also closed a few years ago, due to outsourcing and automation. A good number of these people had only worked this job, and didn't have training in any other field. These people all have families to care for, children to feed and clothe, and bills to pay. Luckily, Cintas gave its employees a great severance package; this included an unemployment check for the next two years and free tuition toward vocational training at the Rowan MCTC campus for an associate's degree in a number of fields.
I'm currently working on an in-depth report for radio on these displaced workers, and have spoken with Sen. RJ Palmer and Bath County's Judge-Executive along with some of the workers at a recent MCTC open house. I plan to speak with Rep. Sannie Overly and Governor Beshear in the early part of the week and get their take on these workers and the state of Kentucky's economy as a whole. When I asked a woman who had been laid off what her question to her elected officials would be, this is what she said-
"I don't blame Cintas. They did right with me. They took care of us. I blame the government for letting the economy get this bad. I blame them for not doing enough."
We all know by now, if any of you watch the mainstream media, that jobs are on the decline to say the least, and that this recession is getting worse. And if you've been paying attention to the news in Kentucky(or to my feed in the left column), you'd know we're in the midst of a $450+ million dollar deficit and our government has cut programs across the board. Our president has the difficult task of finding a way to create around 3 million more jobs in one of the worst economic spells in our nation's history. After being president for about two weeks and change, he's brought forth an extensive bill that aims to put money into infrastructure, education, renewable American energy, and new ways of taxation. The full text of the bill can be found here. Or, if you don't want to slog through 300 pages, you can find summaries here, here, and here.
This bill also proposes detailed solutions for fixing healthcare, adapting our economy to the needs of the 21st century, helping displaced workers like those I spoke with last week, and saving jobs and services in the public sector. More crucially, this stimulus plan has allotted money to potentially help states in severe economic trouble, like Kentucky, create jobs of their own and help save vital programs like affordable public education. If you'll read the criticisms of this bill, they harangue Obama for sneaking in unnecessary earmarks for things like National Mall lawn restoration and new cars for federal government use. Social conservatives have a problem with the allocation of funds to give sex education that isn't focused on abstinence. Fiscal conservatives are at loggerheads with the president on the proposed funding of arts education in schools and with money set to go toward anti-smoking efforts. Big Oil and its political minions are against the potential $1 billion toward Amtrak and more funding toward renewable energy. While a few of these criticisms hold water, and while I by no means readily agree with every provision of this proposal, this stimulus is needed far too much to stall progress based simply on disagreements with minor, inconsequential components of the package.
Outrageously, House Republicans all voted a unanimous "NO" to the stimulus recently, and now the bill is being hashed out in the senate. Republican leaders have been mouthing off to the press about their drooling over a juicy opportunity to block the stimulus package's progress, ending it before it reaches Pres. Obama's desk.
After being trounced in November, the GOP has been gaining momentum after selecting a black RNC chairman, and now they have an opportunity for more political gain should they block the stimulus bill. Should this happen, Republican legislative leaders and potential challengers for the 2010 midterm elections will capitalize doubly from stopping progress and the potential creation of jobs and economic and environmental reform. Not only will they have struck a blow against the president, the liberals and the democrats, but they will energize their ideological base, and future efforts to stall the democrat's endeavors will gradually gain more grassroots support.
Essentially, House and Senate Republicans are presently more interested in political gain than they are in creating new jobs.
I've read plenty of conservative criticism to the president's plan, especially on the funding of contraception and safe sex education, but I have yet to hear any leaders from the GOP and conservative base propose innovative solutions of their own on how to fix the credit situation, the housing crisis, the job market, climate change, efficient use of energy, or education. In this post, I'll be defending some of the most important parts of the stimulus bill that don't see as much of the press coverage.
Energy Independence and Sustainability
The president has allotted a total of $54 billion to reduce our dependence on foreign oil sources and to develop ways to use energy wisely and sustainably; $32 billion for an energy grid that supplies power from green sources (wind, solar, biofuel, hydro, geothermal), $16 billion to retrofit homes to the new energy grid, and another $6 billion to help mid to low-income families weatherize their homes.
We cannot afford to invest in radical, oppressive Sunni regimes like Saudi Arabia and the UAE for oil- moreover, we cannot afford to ceaselessly burn fossil fuels and needlessly harm the environment with our methods of extraction and use. This money would be used to make sure we have steady footing in the green energy market, meaning we could potentially be in the vanguard of the green movement; a world leader in green technology and a shining example to rapidly industrializing countries like China and India. This could provide some obvious economic advantage over those countries as well, as we would start to produce our own clean energy sustainably and renewably for relatively little cost in the long-term.
Reforming our Economy for the 21st Century
In an earlier blog entry, I announced and explained my support of The Venus Project, a rough outline for a resource-based economy, rather than a money-based system. While Obama's plan differs a bit from Fresco's, they both agree we have the science and technology available to make significant economic progress. Obama has proposed $16 billion be used for nationwide wireless broadband internet access ($6 billion) and for more scientific research grants, facilities, and equipment ($10 billion). Should this plan go through, not only will we potentially unearth efficient new ways to do business, but American businesses will have unprecedented new advances in communication; this new system would better orchestrate delivery, inventory, manufacturing, and consumer demand. The possibilities would be veritably limitless.
Transforming Public Education to Meet Tomorrow's Needs
One of the more popular talking points for Reagan-ites and proponents of small government is that public education is a state responsibility, rather than a federal one. However, this is a dead idea- in today's global economy and fast-paced online society, our government can no longer ignore states that languish in key areas. Take Kentucky and education, for instance.
Obama has allotted a whopping $141.6 billion for public school reform- this includes $41 billion for school modernization and repair initiatives, the Education Technology program, Title I, and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Proposals also include $79 billion for state relief so programs like KEES and others don't get cut. That money would also fund an incentive program aimed at rewarding states that bolster education, along with various other public services. Finally, this provision allots $15.6 billion for pell grants, helping college students like me and you get job training without sending us into tens of thousands of dollars into debt; another $6 billion would go toward modernizing public universities.
This is maybe the most important provision for states like Kentucky- we're damned if we do and damned if we don't when it comes to education. The more debt we run into, the more we cut education and other key programs. And the more we cut these programs, the less opportunity we have to get the education needed for quality jobs, leading to more people leaving the state for education and careers. On this path we're in now, Kentucky has virtually nothing to offer to potential employers looking to relocate; without an educated workforce or places to educate a potential workforce, we're in progressively worse shape each year. In the long term, this stimulus plan could potentially mean lots of help for Kentucky. Kentuckians, of all people, should be behind this endeavor.
A Computerized Healthcare System
In my most recent entry, two primary healthcare measures were observed- one was a government-offered plan to the uninsured, and one was a modernization of current healthcare records. The infrastructure has been proposed to cost $24.1 billion; $20 billion would be used to help prevent casual mistakes in the recording of information, organize records efficiently, and overall provide more effecive healthcare without all the bureaucratic mess we have now. $4.1 billion would be allotted for preventative healthcare measures (wouldn't anti-smoking programs sort of fall under this category, too?) and research for more effective methods of healthcare.
While I'd like to see an overhaul of publicly-owned pharmaceutical companies and the healthcare market be consolidated into a solely government-owned operation, this is a step in the right direction. Ideally, this would mean that walking into a doctor's office would only require you to give your name and an ID, and your plan, claim, and payment could be processed almost instantly. This means doctors can actually spend their time being doctors instead of insurance couriers.
More Help for Displaced Workers
Like the folks at Cintas, a high cost of living and the outsourcing of jobs has led to displacement for millions. $102 billion has been included in the stimulus package to increase unemployment benefits and provide more training for those needing 21st century job skills ($43 billion). This $102 billion includes $39 billion for the keeping of employer-provided health insurance, and more short-term medicaid options. Also included is $20 billion for food stamp benefits. Conservatives like to call that "pork barrel spending," and equate food stamp recipients with the cultural stereotype of the wifebeater-clad lottery ticket/big screen TV purchaser. In reality, food costs have risen while wages have remained stagnant. This is aimed at simply easing the burden for those who struggle with buying enough groceries to feed their families.
Much-Needed Relief for States
Presently, taxes would need to be raised even more on the middle class for states to continue hiring necessary public sector jobs like firefighters, police officers, teachers, garbage collectors, and the like. With a proposed $91 billion, $87 billion would fund a temporary increase in the matching rate for state medicaid programs, and $4 billion more would fund state and local law enforcement.
So, there you have it. I was, too, at first assaulted by right-wing commentators' protests on the cable news networks, complaining about the stimulus using misleading facts and associations of dectuple-figure (12-digit) numbers with controversial legislation regarding abortion, contraception, and things of that nature. Indeed, the more controversial parts of the stimulus package are inconsequential in comparison to the funds being spent on the programs that matter- the programs that would create jobs and reform our economy and energy system for the better.
I admire Barack Obama for sticking to his guns and being the agent of change that he built himself up to be in his campaign. And God willing, this necessary change we need won't be stopped by petty partisan politicking from the right. There's simply no place for it in such dire times.
Friday Thoughts and Links
8 years ago