Friday, November 19, 2010

Our Economic Salvation vs. Mindless GOP Posturing

Driving in Ohio

With all due respect to my friends in Ohio, your drivers are terrifying. If there's someone on the interstate leapfrogging from lane to line, nearly sidswiping sedans full of passengers as they fly by at 90 mph, chances are they usually have Ohio plates.

City traffic is just as terrifying; I remember both times I was in Columbus driving two different cars, I was scared of erring at least a little bit, lest the driver behind me, who was literally an inch away from my back bumper, run right into the back of my parent's or friend's car. Driving in Ohio isn't for the faint-hearted, and I'm sure my Northern Kentucky and Ohio facebook friends can probably back me up on that.

Now, my parents are both from Northern Kentucky and Ohio; my mom is from Erlanger, and my dad is from Cleveland. My brother graduated from Oberlin. I remember many hours spent in the backseat of a car as a kid, riding from Kentucky across the singing bridge to Cincinnati, and sometimes all the way into Cleveland. Or we'd go Northward, almost to Michigan, and drive through Columbus on the way to Oberlin. Sometimes me and my best friend from college would go visit her mom in Portsmouth, just across the river from Ashland. Drivers in Southeastern Ohio are just as erratic as in the other parts.

One trip I always enjoyed making was the trip to see my aunt and uncle in Alexandria, VA, just outside of DC. I didn't like the 12-hour drive so much, but I always loved riding the Metro trains around DC. They're so damn convenient. A little $10 card will get you all over the city with ease, back home again, and you'll still have a few bucks left on it at the end of the day.

As much as I loved humming along to the sound of the rubber tires on the blue singing bridge like Dustin Hoffman did in Rain Man, and as pretty and charming as Amish country may be, I always thought Ohio was far too small of a state to spend so long in a car going from place to place. As I grew older, I thought surely, there must be cheaper ways to travel other than filling up every few hundred miles, driving on taxpayer-funded interstates always cracked and in need of repair, always depending on petroleum, which isn't gonna be here forever.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a high-speed light rail system connecting Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus? No more 6-hour car trips and frequent fill-ups from city to city. No more needless fretting in city traffic. No more unnecessary wear and tear on public roads and needless cost to Ohio taxpayers. No more harmful emissions from thousands of cars on the highway. And thousands of jobs to boot, certainly. Ohio could use it, as could lots of other states. It'd be like riding the Metro, except it would be all across the state of Ohio, and a hell of a lot faster.

I'm sure the trucking and big oil lobbies wouldn't like it, but hey.

Land of Prosperity

Sadly, the emboldened words above titling this segment are not in reference to the United States of America this time. Well, unless you're one of the richest 10% that owns 70% of the nation's wealth. Or one of the richest 1% that owns 34% of the country's private net worth. Their prosperity is just fine, and most likely will be for a very long time. I was actually talking about our top creditor: China.

China is in pretty good shape right now. Partly because we owe them $2 trillion for the ten years of tax cuts we gave to Paris Hilton, and other members of that elite club comprising the top 2% of the USA's wealthiest. But China is moving on up, and fast. Literally and figuratively. From the article:

Many of the trains plying the new railway between Shanghai's western suburb of Hongqiao and Hangzhou will travel the 126 miles in 45 minutes - about half the time trains usually take to make the trip at their fastest speeds.

The China-made CRH380 train has been clocked at almost 262 mph - a world speed record - though it will usually operate at a maximum speed of 220 mph.

The line was opened as China prepares to have 10,000 miles of high-speed rail in operation by 2012.

Instead of spending billions every year to just maintain asphalt roads that suffer from the regular wear and tear, China decided to get smart and move forward with their high speed rail system. And in two years, they'll have 10,000 miles of track used for both freight and passenger trains. The Swiss government's investment in rail systems for freight is also about to hit pay dirt in the next few years. From the article:

Completion of the Gotthard Base Tunnel will cut the travel time between Zurich and Milan in Italy by 60 minutes to two-and-a-half hours and provide an easier and more economic route for heavy freight trains.

The tunnel -- which is in fact composed of two single-track tunnels -- cost $10.6 billion (£6.6 billion).

Since the first preparations for the tunnel were laid in 1996, over 2,500 workers have taken part in its building according to AlpTransit Gotthard, the company constructing the tunnel. It is due to be operational by the end of 2017.

Freight traffic in the entire Alpine region will grow by as much as 75 percent by 2010, according to a study by the EU Commission.

The Swiss have already created jobs for 2,500 people through tunnel construction, and will likely keep a fair portion of them on staff for maintenance and repair of the track and Gotthard tunnel itself. It's assumed that the rail system currently being built by China will create thousands of jobs for Chinese workers in the manufacturing, transportation, installation and maintenance of the HST cars, tracks and tunnels.

High-speed rail is clearly the future of transportation, and is already showing dividends for the nations that chose to make the initial investment. Rail systems are revolutionizing transportation of people and goods and creating thousands of jobs in the process. It's clear that China and the EU are already leaving us behind economically. Surely the Republicans that recently got elected to state and national leadership positions are taking notice of this growing global trend and acting accordingly, yes?

Republicans- Champions of the Outdated and Irrelevant

GOPosaurs wasted no time in killing jobs as soon as they took power. Remember that awesome light rail idea in Ohio I mentioned in the first part of this piece? I sadly can't take credit for that- I give props to the Obama administration for allocating funds specifically for a light rail system that connected Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland. However, Ohio Governor-elect John Kasich decided that making a political point was more important than jobs for Ohioans, just 12 hours after winning office.

"Passenger rail is not in Ohio's future,'' the Republican said at his first news conference after Tuesday's win over Gov. Ted Strickland. "That train is dead."

He was referring to the $400 million federally subsidized project to restore passenger rail between Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, along the so-called 3-C corridor.

Not to be outdone, Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker has been eager to kill the $810 million-dollar rail connecting Madison and Milwaukee. Just days after being elected, Wisconsin's transportation chief announced that construction of the railway would be put on hold. This means 300 workers are being let go so a teapublican can make whatever oil company-funded, right-wing political point he was trying to make.

A good number of the teabagging Republicans who won office on November 2nd made sure to mention the "Obama/Pelosi job-killing liberal agenda" they were fighting. Yet, the first thing these Republicans did was kill jobs that President Obama and Speaker Pelosi brought to their states.

How to Beat Them

Isn't it frustrating? The solution to our myriad economic problems is staring us in the face, and our friends overseas in Switzerland, China and elsewhere are putting that solution to good use and already seeing incredible results. Yet, the only method our Republican elected officials will accept as a true "solution" is extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% at a cost of $700 billion. Can you hear them?

"Seriously, those other 8 times we cut taxes for the rich were just primer- this next tax cut for the rich means that Paris Hilton is finally going to finish the blueprints for that national light rail system! And think about all the new chauffeurs, landscapers and maids rich folks will hire with another tax cut!"

Think about the mind-numbing logic needed to be an elected Republican in 2010; keep things EXACTLY THE SAME as they have been for the last ten years, and our economy will bounce right back! Makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

My message to Republicans: You want to create jobs? How about letting us be the job creators and using that $700 billion to...directly create jobs! What a novel concept! We could invest that $700 billion in a national light rail system that would connect every major city. And even if it was only a railway for freight, imagine all the free road space drivers would have without tens of thousands of trucks on the interstate. Or how much cleaner the air would be, or how much less we would spend on road repair and maintenance. It would be $700 billion well-spent, and the lower and middle class would benefit the most. Combine that with the wealthiest 2% paying the same tax rates they paid under Clinton (when the economy was booming) and it would paint a better picture for America as a whole.

We have until January until the teapublicans take over the House and obstruct any hope of actual progress. That's why I'm urging you to call your Congressmen- especially your outgoing Congressmen- to extend middle-class tax cuts ONLY, let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire, and instead use that $700 billion for actual job creation.

Got a few minutes to spare? Call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121, ask for your congressmen and senators, and tell them what we need- jobs, not tax cuts for the rich. Save that number in your phone, call it every day; in the line for lunch, in traffic jams, whenever you can.

A good way to get the word into the public discourse is simply by writing a letter to the editor- keep your letter under 200 words, be clear and concise, and write from the heart. When your community gets the message in their local paper again and again from fellow community members, eventually the message will stick. Change happens from the ground up.

The problems are vast. The solutions are simple and within grasp. Let's get the word out and make sure everyone hears us.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Sheriff of Nottingham Strikes Back


"We are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. We are going to bring those who have known long years of hurt and neglect.... We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago."
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

We all know what Robin Hood was about; stealing from the rich, and giving to the poor. FOX News would call that socialist wealth redistribution. Martin Luther King would call it the Poor People's Campaign. Five years after his "I Have a Dream" speech, MLK called for poor America to build a tent city on the national mall and participate in a massive civil disobedience campaign to ask for economic justice.

At a total of $240 billion to the benefit of the poor and middle class since 2009, the Obama Tax Cuts are well-deserved. However, poor people are still very much present today as they were in 1968. I and many others are members of that club. I've felt the unemployment blues, and still find myself counting down the days until my food stamp benefits renew. However, unlike 2,000,000 of the 14.8 million of us without jobs, I can still count on $240 a week in the state of Mississippi until I get hired again. Those 2 million other folks are about to lose that last line of help and hope in the midst of the most crippling recession since the Great Depression eight decades ago unless Congress extends their benefits. The price tag for extending benefits through 2011 is $65 billion dollars, which Republican lawmakers unanimously oppose on grounds that it would increase the federal deficit. We've heard this before. But now they're taking it a step further.

Compassionate Conservatism

"Jesus looked at the man, and his heart went out to him, and he said, 'There is still one thing wanting in you; go and sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall heave wealth in heaven; then come and follow me.' But the man’s face clouded at these words, and he went away distressed, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus looked round, and said to his disciples: 'How hard it will be for men of wealth to enter the kingdom of God!'

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again: 'My children, how hard a thing it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to get through a eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'"

-Gospel of Mark, Ch. 10, v. 21-25

It's safe to say Jesus wasn't a capitalist. If we were truly a Christian nation like the social conservatives always say, then we'd be a Social Democracy. And if this nation were truly founded on Christian principles (it wasn't) then the far right would have no problem paying progressively more based on how much you earn., and they would jump for joy at social spending for the lower and middle classes.

Of course, that isn't the American way. Not according to U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, anyway. The Sheriff of Nottingham's concern over the deficit is so great that he's willing to cut off the last string holding up 2,000,000 of his countrymen (255,000 in his own district) if Democrats don't agree to another $700 billion tax bailout for millionaires. And he's putting the deficit gun to the head of the jobless just in time for the season of joy and giving, no less. Happy holidays to you too, Pete.

Now, I know $700 billion is a much bigger deficit buster than $65 billion, but Republican governance doesn't require logic or reason. Nor apparently does it require proficiency at math. All it really requires is the hatred of wealth redistribution, unless wealth is being redistributed from the poor to the rich. In 2005, the average CEO earned more in one day than the average worker earned in 52 weeks. Today, that income disparity has only worsened, thanks to the class warfare being waged by Wall Street and Congressional Republicans against the rest of us. Today, there is more income inequality in the United States than in traditional banana republics like Venezuela, Guyana and Nicaragua.

I know "class warfare" is a strong term, but strong terms need to be used when Republican Congressmen would rather have 2,000,000 poor people get kicked out into the streets instead of the wealthiest 2% of the population paying modest Clinton-era taxes. Taxes, which, by the way, are still 10% lower than what they paid under their hero, Ronald Reagan, during the majority of his administration.

My point: Republicans are holding a gun to the head of 2,000,000 poor Americans over $65 billion. They won't let them go until we sacrifice another $700 billion to millionaires, who have already fattened their pockets at our expense over the last decade.

I'm not saying we need to grab our pitchforks and torches. But we need to be loud and be heard, especially before January.

A Final Call to Action

"We don't want people lingering at home. In fact, we don’t even want people to use unemployment, if they don’t have to. If you lose a job, just go out and find another job. There’s jobs out there, you’ve just got to be willing to work.”
-Congressman-elect Steve Palazzo (R-MS)

Republicans say they're putting an ear to working America's voice, yet they champion policies that put a boot on working America's neck. They say they're the party of Christian values, yet their policies are the exact opposite of what Christ calls us to do. They say tax cuts for the wealthy are necessary, yet the last ten years of tax cuts for the wealthy have been the worst on record for job creation. Republicans have no problem playing the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham; they'll fight to for the riches of themselves and their campaign contributions even as the rest of us suffer.

Such blatant hypocrisy is not unusual for Republicans- we should expect it by now, and not just about the deficit. For example, take Maryland's Andy Harris, a physician and newly-elected Republican who campaigned on repealing "Obamacare." He had a hissy fit when he found out he wouldn't be getting his government health care until a month after being sworn in. He'll fight like hell to take your health care reform away, but he'll fight like hell to get his own government health care.

The mantra of the teapublicans? Please, don't redistribute any wealth, unless it's from the poor to the rich! Please, no government health care for the uninsured, just for me!

Are you mad yet? Good. use it. The Democrats have control of both chambers until January. Only a majority vote is needed to extend unemployment benefits, to extend middle class tax cuts, and to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. The final session of the 111th Congress started this week.

Call the White House and tell your president that he must fight for the other 98% us. Call your congressmen and senators and tell them to listen to the other 98% of us.

White House- 202-456-1111
Capitol Switchboard- 202-224-3121

Call now. Call tomorrow. Call often. Be heard. Make them hate their jobs. That's what we pay them for.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Letter to President Obama: Where's Our Commission?

Dear President Obama and Democratic Leadership,

Have you ever looked in your empty fridge, the needle on your gas tank meter getting dangerously close to the E, the two digits in your checking account and then at the calendar, counting down the days until your food stamp benefits renew?

Have you ever gone a whole day without food, and then made a stop behind your neighborhood grocery store that night after a fruitless day of jobhunting to see if there was anything good in the dumpster to eat?

Have you gotten the letter from your energy company telling you that they're going to have to resort to a collection agency if you can't pay your $65 light bill within two weeks?

Have you ever brushed the dust off of your bachelor's degree and looked at it proudly before putting it back in one of several cardboard boxes that you have lying around because you've been changing addresses like you've been changing socks?

Now, I know it's been a rough few years for you guys. Every time you break your backs to achieve another groundbreaking progressive accomplishment, you have to battle the right-scream media while they call you Socialists, Marxists, Kenyans, Muslims, Nazis, Fascists, Communists, and every other name under the sun. And I know that accomplishing great change in times like these where the American people have a shorter attention span than ever, and a 24-hour mindless news cycle that leaves valid stories in the dust while over-hyping nonissues is probably frustrating.

You created and saved millions of public sector jobs with the stimulus program, and now that the Small Business Act has been passed, the SBA is giving out loans to help small businesses grow more private sector jobs. PPACA, while it leaves more to be desired, is certainly a step in the right direction toward getting more Americans' health insured. You guys are actually getting a whole lot done in a very short amount of time against tremendous odds and infinite money being spent to go against your agenda. And you are still succeeding. And yet, nobody gives you any credit. I can't imagine it, but I'm sure that's rough.

But all that being said, it's time for you all to throw us a bone. Something. Anything.

Remember us? The people who went door to door in our neighborhoods with armloads of your literature, telling people they should believe in you in November? That they should support you and your message of helping the lower and middle class? That if elected, you would put an ear to neighborhoods, working families and small businesses instead of Wall Street and K Street? That you would fight for us if given the chance to govern?

We're still here. And we're hurting. And while there's anywhere between 12 to 20 percent of the population on the record as not working, there are 40 percent of us who are literally one pink slip away from tumbling into poverty. And of those not working, there's folks who have been out of a job for so long that they've stopped looking all together. We're working hard at our job and possibly a second one just to feed ourselves and keep the lights and the heat on.

In the land of prosperity, most are fighting just to hold on to their property. Many of us are looking at poverty directly in the eye. And believe it or not, we're also the folks who went through four to six years of debt for a degree that we were told would make us employable in a globally competitive 21st century economy. We worked hard and sacrificed our whole lives to try and win in the system you provided for us. We stayed in school. We ate our vegetables. We listened to our parents. We went to our Friday morning classes at 8 AM despite partying the night before so we wouldn't miss our exams.

And then we entered a world where playing by the rules didn't get you anything except an inbox full of rejection emails from employers we're more than qualified to work for. We entered a world where employers, thanks to a lack of regulation and a generous helping of greed, shipped all the jobs that used to be for folks like us to China and India and told us, "tough luck."

We entered a world where people who took home more than a million dollars a year gripe about four extra percentage points on their tax form and get coddled. It's the same world where a clean-cut, college-educated, rule-abiding citizen has to dig through garbage cans for food because there's no jobs for him. We want YOU, our leaders, the people we broke our backs to support time and again, to fight for us. And what did we get?

We got a commission of panelists telling us that the deficit is more important than jobs. These panelists that you appointed tell us to tighten our belts, that they're going to start chipping away at the future we've been saving for with each paycheck earned. The same rightful future of ours that requires a lawyer and hefty legal expenses just to access. These panelists all say they've harpooned every fish, and a few minnows, yet somehow missed Wall Street, the hulking whale devouring all of the sea's resources. These are the same people who literally have their salaries paid by groups that lobby for lower taxes for the rich and less social spending for the other 98 percent of us.

Forgive me if I'm a little upset that you listened to the bloviating radical right instead of us, who said fiscal austerity was more important of an issue than the citizens' prosperity. I'm a little upset that you put together a deficit commission instead of a jobs commission. Or an environment commission. Or a commission to save the middle class. Forgive me for the cliche, but where's our bailout?

Mr. President, we're hurting. We're on our last breath. We're tough, and we're fighters, but we're getting beat up hard and fast. We urge you to listen to us, and fight our fight. It may seem daunting to take on big money and the established status quo, but if you do, we will fight for you and with you by your side, as we always have.

I'm not asking you for a fat government check or an eternity of food stamp benefits. I'm not asking you to pay my rent or my light bill or for a tank of gas. I'm not even asking you for single-payer health care, a new WPA program to build light rail infrastructure or throwing BP and Goldman-Sachs executives behind bars, although those would all be nice.

I just want you to fight for the American way. To fight for more jobs and less greed. To fight for the idea that living a virtuous life and trusting in an education will pay off in the end.

Please think of me and the millions of others like me, Mr. President. Fight for us, and we'll fight for you. We don't have much time left.

Respectfully Yours,