Weekend Reading List

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

For this weekend’s reading list we have articles on Romney’s right-wing reactionary agenda, a comparison of Obama and Romney on energy policy, how Paul Ryan is similar to and even more extreme than Barry Goldwater, the benefits of ending the lower tax rates for capital gains, the GOPs’ anti-urban agenda, and the moral and factual arguments supporting the death with dignity movement.

 

Mitt Romney’s Real Agenda – after Romney at the first Presidential debate pretended to forget every reactionary policy he’s campaigned on for the past 18 months, this article is a helpful reminder that Romney’s real agenda closely mirrors that of the conservative Republicans in Congress.

Everything You Need to Know About Where Obama and Romney Stand on Energy Policy – a thorough side-by-side comparison of the fundamental differences between the policies and proposals of President Obama and Mitt Romney on energy issues.

Paul Ryan’s Debt to Barry Goldwater, Who’d Be Mortified By Paul Ryan – How Paul Ryan is the spawn of the right-wing infrastructure that Barry Goldwater conservatives created, with one big exception; Paul Ryan has happily gotten in bed with the religious fundamentalists who Goldwater detested.

Ending the Capital Gains Tax Preference - a report on the how ending the preferential status of capital gains income in the US tax code (under which capital gains are taxed at only 15% while income earned through work is taxed at a higher percent) would be fairer, raise more revenue, and simplify the tax code.

Republicans to Cities: Drop Dead - how the GOP has gone from a party that had a strong urban base in the early 20th century to one today that promotes an agenda with a significantly anti-urban focus.

May Doctors Help You to Die? – The moral and factual arguments supporting the death-with-dignity movement, which seeks to allow terminally ill individuals to get medical assistance in hastening their death, but only through a highly regulated system that includes multiple doctor sign offs, waiting periods, and other precautions to ensure that sick people are not being pressured into assisted suicide.  Our previous coverage of this issue can be found here, and to support a Massachusetts ballot initiative to allow for death with dignity in that state, click here.

The New New Deal, Part II: Making It Work

Friday, September 7th, 2012

(By NCrissie B)

This week I’ve been discussing Michael Grunwald’s The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era. First, we saw the challenges of drafting and passing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Today we look at the challenges of making the stimulus bill work. Next, I’ll interview Michael Grunwald and see how the ARRA’s successes became ‘The Greatest Story Never Told’ … until now.

Michael Grunwald is a senior national correspondent for Time magazine. Before joining Time, Grunwald was a congressional correspondent, New York bureau chief, and investigative reporter for the Washington Post, and a local and national reporter at the Boston Globe. He has received the George Polk Award for national reporting, the Worth Bingham Prize for investigative reporting, the Society of Environmental Journalists award for in-depth reporting, and numerous other journalism awards.

A $10,000 shopping list and a 10-cent stick of gum

Imagine sending someone to out prepare your home or business for an approaching Category 5 hurricane. You give them a shopping list and $10,000, with instructions to buy only necessities. At the end of the day, they return with $9,999.90 in hurricane supplies – enough to minimize the storm’s damage – and one 10-cent stick of gum.

In economic terms, the 2008 meltdown was a Category 5 hurricane. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the economy was collapsing at an annual rate of 6.3%. The downturn was already underway in January of 2008, and between September 2008 and August 2009 over 5,131,000 Americans lost their jobs. But this was no act of nature. As we discussed earlier this month the collapse was a man-made disaster caused by blind faith in an economic myth, and outright financial looting.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a $770 billion shopping list to minimize the damage from that disaster. Grunwald reports that economists, using data from other large government and corporate projects, expected about 5% to be lost in fraud. Instead auditors found only $7.2 million in fraudulent claims. That’s 0.001% … one 10-cent stick of gum from a $10,000 shopping list.

Transparency at work

That astonishingly tiny level of fraud was due, in part, to President Obama’s commitment to transparency. The Recovery Act website, online immediately after the landmark bill was enacted, details every project funded by the ARRA, and every grant and contract awarded. President Obama assigned Vice President Joe Biden monitor the ARRA, and Grunwald reports that the Recovery Oversight Board used state-of-the-art software to not only detect fraud but to identify and preempt likely offenders before they got their hands in the till.

The transparency came with a price, Grunwald reports. With so much data being made public, media watchdogs made hay with “Gotcha!” stories like contracts and grants going to non-existent congressional districts. Those were, of course, typos made by clerks hurrying to post data in almost real-time as reports arrived at the oversight offices. Grunwald cites stories grousing that too many weatherproofing grants were going to hot-weather climates and – weeks later, by the same reporters – that too many weatherproofing grants were going to cold-weather climates.

Prompted by the lure of being the next Woodward or Bernstein, in a media culture focused on government failure, fed by often outlandish Republican claims, Grunwald writes that thousands of reporters began acting as special prosecutors. Fraud that didn’t happen, and grants and contracts for projects that made sense and were done on time and within budget, were as interesting to report and as likely to make headlines as stories about planes that land safely and pets that don’t get lost.

Yet even the incessant, exaggerated, and often false stories about fraud had a silver lining. With so much data so so public, being picked over by so many, fraudsters may have stayed away. As an Oversight Board member told Grunwald, “It would be stupid to try to scam here.”

Change You Can Believe In

The “Recovery” part of the ARRA could not stop the economic hurricane, and Republicans have made hay on President Obama’s over-optimistic prediction that the bill would hold unemployment under 8%. In fact, unemployment was passing that mark when he made that prediction, although the horrific January-March data wouldn’t reveal that for several weeks. Still, the Congressional Budget Office and other independent analysts estimate that Recovery Act projects created or saved at least 2,300,000 jobs. Despite the unemployment and increase in poverty, homelessness actually declined during the Great Recession, due to Recovery Act projects like the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program Recovery Plan. A 2010 First Focus report found that the Recovery Act provided “a lifeline for low-income families” whose children might otherwise have gone hungry.

Beyond simply easing the pain, the “Reinvestment” part of the ARRA laid the groundwork for a sustainable, 21st Century economy. Grunwald reports countless examples of “Change You Can Believe In,” including:

  • The world’s largest wind farm is now being built in Oregon, primarily with American-made components.
  • Total U.S. wind power generation went from 25 gigawatts in 2008 to 50 gigawatts in 2012, a level forecasters said we would not reach for decades.
  • Weatherproofing programs have saved the equivalent of 21 coal-fired power plants in energy.
  • The U.S. solar energy industry went from “death’s door” in 2008 to a net exporter in 2012.
  • Advanced biofuel companies can now create jet fuel from algae, with minimal CO2 emissions.
  • Programs underway to reach zero-net energy consumption within 20 years in office complexes, malls, government buildings, and military bases.
  • Total U.S. CO2 emissions are now 20% lower than in 1994.
  • Many parts of the U.S. now have a long-needed “smart grid” that provides real-time monitoring of electricity production, transmission, and usage, to reduce our energy needs and prevent and minimize blackouts.

And that’s just in energy. The Reinvestment Act has also destroyed hundreds of obsolete dams, renovated thousands of roads, bridges, tunnels, and utility lines, helped to modernize schools, brought broadband internet access to millions of businesses and families, computerized millions of health records, and funded research comparing the effectiveness of prescription drugs, surgeries, and other treatment options.

That “Change We Can Believe In” is already happening, improving our lives and our grandchildren’s futures, even as we struggle with the lingering damage caused by the Great Recession. And, contrary to Republican claims, President Obama has limited federal spending better than any president since Dwight D. Eisenhower.

That’s a very big, very effective shopping list … and next we’ll discuss with Michael Grunwald why the media narrative has been all about that one piece of gum.

(Crossposted from Blogistan Polytechnic Institute (BPICampus.com))

 

President Obama’s Energy Speech

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

(By Josh Marks, cross-posted at Green Forward)

Last Thursday President Obama gave a great speech touching upon issues relating to American energy. He called for a comprehensive energy policy that would end oil subsidies and boost biofuels and other renewables to reduce our reliance on the volatile world oil market that is subject to so much turmoil in the Middle East.  Obama told the students gathered at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida that, while his administration is doing everything in their power to tap domestic oil and gas resources, it is politically dishonest to tell the American people that “drill, baby, drill” will realistically solve all our energy problems. The president said that public investments in energy efficiency and clean energy technologies will spur entire new industries and create millions of new jobs. As an example, he cited homegrown algae-based biofuel as having the potential to eventually replace imported petroleum entirely as a transportation fuel for airplanes and automobiles.

President Obama said the following about algae:

“We’re making new investments in the development of gasoline and diesel and jet fuel that’s actually made from a plant-like substance — algae.  You’ve got a bunch of algae out here, right? (Laughter.)  If we can figure out how to make energy out of that, we’ll be doing all right. Believe it or not, we could replace up to 17 percent of the oil we import for transportation with this fuel that we can grow right here in the United States.  And that means greater energy security.  That means lower costs.  It means more jobs.  It means a stronger economy.”

The president also recently gave an energetic speech at the United Auto Workers annual conference reminding the American people that over one million jobs were saved by rescuing the auto industry and that the retooling, with more fuel efficient vehicles on the assembly line, has made the United States automobile sector the envy of the world once again. Click here for a recap of Obama’s auto industry speech on Winning Progressive.

Obama’s optimism in regards to the American energy and auto industries, plus positive economic news and a declining unemployment rate, have boosted the president’s poll numbers. Obama’s Voter Confidence Index is the highest in nearly a year, continuing a five-month upward trend.  Given all the pessimism and vitriol coming out of the Republican primary race, it is not surprising the American people are getting behind an optimistic president who is explaining to voters that his administration’s bold actions not only prevented another Great Depression, but are contributing to a slow and steady economic recovery.

Here is video of President Obama’s speech at the University of Miami.

Weekend Reading List

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

For this weekend’s reading list we have articles on retiring progressive Democratic Congressman Barney Frank, a venture capitalist calling for higher taxes on the wealthy, how Attorney General Holder needs to take action to stop sexual abuse of immigrant detainees, the failure to journalism on energy issues, and the role of for-profit corporations in the education “reform” movement.

If you have any feedback on these articles, or would like to recommend an article for next weekend’s reading list, please let us know at Winning Progressive’s Facebook page.

Barney Frank Leaves His Mark on Economic Policy, Gay Rights Movement - an overview of the impact of retiring Democratic Congressman Barney Frank who, while far from perfect, did much to advance the progressive cause.  See also Thank You, Barney Frank, for a description of Congressman Frank’s role in getting transgendered rights included in legislation promoting LGBT equality.

Raise Taxes on the Rich to Reward True Job Creators - a venture capitalist explains how middle class consumers, not the wealthy elite, are the real job creators, and why increasing taxes on the rich to help the economic position of the middle class would be good for the economy.

Immigrant Detainees: The New Sex Abuse Crisis - a report on rampant levels of sexual abuse of immigrant detainees by detention guards, and why Attorney General Eric Holder needs to ensure that regulations implementing the Prison Rape Elimination Act are applied to immigrant detention centers.  

Why Energy Journalism is So Bad - an article on how and why the media does such a poor job reporting on energy issues, and some tips about to read such reporting.

How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools - an investigative report about how numerous for-profit corporate interests have hijacked the education “reform” movement.

President Obama’s Energy Speech, and the Elephant in the Room

Friday, April 1st, 2011

(By Mark McCutchan)

President Obama gave a speech Wednesday at Georgetown University, describing his administration’s “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future”.  In the speech, he hit a number of strong notes in favor of reducing our dependence on foreign oil, recognizing that we cannot drill our way out of the problem, and calling for efficiency in addition to development of cleaner energy resources.  Unfortunately, the President left out the real key to reducing our foreign oil addition – a cap-and-trade program that would reduce our nation’s emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

Our President’s speech started with a summary of the world’s recent stories of Japan’s tragedy, and our decision to join our allies in enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya.  President Obama then quickly got to the point of our recent run-up in energy prices:

So here’s the bottom line – there are no quick fixes. And we will keep on being a victim to shifts in the oil market until we get serious about a long-term policy for secure, affordable energy.

He gets kudos for not sloganeering or waffling on the need to fix the problem.  President Obama continued:

I’m setting a new goal: one that is reasonable, achievable, and necessary. When I was elected to this office, America imported 11million barrels of oil a day. By a little more than a decade from now, we will have cut that by one-third.

I set this goal knowing that imported oil will remain an important part of our energy portfolio for quite some time. And when it comes to the oil we import from other nations, we can partner with neighbors like Canada, Mexico, and Brazil, which recently discovered significant new oil reserves, and with whom we can share American technology and know-how.

That’s a great (if modest) goal – reducing imported oil usage by 1/3 from 2009 to around 2022 breaks down to a reduction of 3% per year.

America uses 20.7 million barrels of oil every day.  We produce only 8.5 million barrels of oil per day, and must import about 10.4 million barrels per day.  This foreign oil creates a trade deficit of about $380 billion per year (at $100/barrel), equal to 76% of our 2010 trade deficit of $498 billion.  Clearly, imported oil has a huge effect on our trade balance, and needs to be reduced for America to become economically healthy.

Why did President Obama mention Canada, Mexico, and Brazil as sources of imported oil?  He is implying that the U.S. should reduce its dependence on oil from the Arab states, and prefer sources closer to home.  This would be good for the U.S. for two reasons: the Middle East is currently in political turmoil, where control and maintenance of the flow of oil is uncertain, and secondly, some foreign oil profits end up in the hands of groups that would do us harm.  For example, Saudi Arabia pays for schools internally and in other Arab countries that use the radical Wahhabi curriculum, which teaches hatred of non-Muslims, and that democracy “is responsible for all the horrible wars of the 20th century”.

President Obama says cutting our dependence on imported oil depends on two goals: finding and producing more oil at home, and reducing our dependence on oil with cleaner alternative fuels and greater efficiency.  But after disproving the GOP’s attempt to blame his administration for higher gas pump prices, he then correctly discounts the value of the first stated goal:

But let’s be honest – it’s not the long-term solution to our energy challenge. America holds only about two percent of the world’s proven oil reserves. And even if we drilled every drop of oil out of every one of those reserves, it still wouldn’t be enough to meet our long-term needs.

As stated here in a previous Winning Progressive column, oil produced on U.S. soil does not go solely to the U.S. needs. Like all oil produced, it goes to the highest bidder on the world market, and if China outbids American customers, China gets it.  The “Drill here, drill now” mantra is purely political fodder, and no solution to our energy needs.

The president next makes the case for two alternative fuels, natural gas and ethanol.  He emphasizes that the safety of natural gas needs to be improved before its use is pursued whole-heartedly, to which we agree – hydrofracturing, or “fracking” usually employs chemical solvents to loosen the gas from the shale in which it is held.  As documentaries such as “Gasland” have shown, fracking releases these solvents and natural gas into the water table, endangering the safety of the drinking water and the citizens who depend on it.

Ethanol is no godsend either; when corn is used as the fuel source, food prices inevitably increase.  While cellulosic sources like wood chips or switchgrass holds significant promise, the cost doubles to about $2.20 per gallon.  Valuable cropland is used for a non-food source, with the potential to drive up food prices.

As we replace oil with fuels like natural gas and biofuels, we can also reduce our dependence by making cars and trucks that use less oil in the first place.

And the president is off and running about fuel standards.  He also promotes mass transit, electric cars, energy efficiency, and more public funding for advanced energy research – all laudable and progressive programs.

There is still an “elephant” in the room that President Obama did not address, nor is it mentioned in the 44-page Blueprint even once – addressing greenhouse gas emissions through a carbon tax or cap-and-trade.  Requiring fossil fuels to reflect their full cost to society is a powerful tool for weaning America off fossil fuel, but the President seems to have taken it off the table for discussion.  Such action is a bit baffling, as it would be a good idea from a policy stand point to play up the fact that the power of America’s free market system can be harnessed for the good of all Americans (and not just the wealthy and powerful) if we were to phase in a simple carbon tax, or allow a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions in the most cost-effective way possible.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) put out a publication in 2007 entitled “Progressive Growth – Transforming America’s Economy through Clean Energy, Innovation, and Opportunity”.  The report was written by John Podesta (among others), current CAP President and former White House Chief of Staff under Bill Clinton, and in it he describes how a sustainable economy and job growth would be helped, not hurt, by a low-carbon policy such as cap-and-trade.

President Obama needs to find the courage to face down the GOP naysayers, Big Oil and Big Coal, revive either of the carbon tax or cap-and-trade “elephants”, dress them in the patriotic clothing of American energy independence, and explain to the American people that this is how we will win the future.

Please contact the President and your Senators and Congressperson, and write a letter to your local newspaper editor and explain how putting a price on carbon emissions, in the form of a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system, will help America achieve energy independence

Here are links for submitting letters to the editor for national papers, and to newspapers in Colorado, Connecticut, DelawareIllinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

As always, if you have any comments or feedback on this post, let us know at the Winning Progressive Facebook page.

WP Comments on NYT Columns – Economy, Libya, and Energy Policy

Friday, April 1st, 2011

As long time readers likely know, Winning Progressive frequently comments on op-ed columns and editorials in the New York Times.  Now that the Times has put up a pay wall, we have decided to start cross-posting those comments here at the Winning Progressive blog.

If you have any feedback on these comments, please let us know at the Winning Progressive Facebook page.

My comment on Paul Krugman’s column The Mellon Doctrine, which focuses on the Republicans’ discredited assertion that cuts in government spending will somehow increase employment by leading to a lowering of wages that will, in turn, lead private companies to hire more people.

This column is very timely, especially given the latest unemployment and underemployment numbers from Gallup.   According to the Gallup analysis, the unemployment rate as of mid-March was 10.2%, which is up from 8.8% in November 2010, and essentially the same as it was in mid-March of 2010.  The underemployment rate (which includes part time workers who would like to be working full time) was 19.9% as of mid-March, which is up from 17.2% in November 2010, and virtually the same as it was in mid-March 2010.  In essence, while the stock market has recovered and the Wall Street bankers are raking in the money again, average Americans are continuing to struggle.

Continued struggle by American workers is, of course, part of the Republican plan, as they decided the minute President Obama was elected President that keeping unemployment high and economic growth low is the key to winning elections.  That is why they filibustered and obstructed every effort the President and Congressional Democrats proposed in 2009-2010 to create jobs, and why Republicans are continuing to peddle discounted theories that lower wages and fewer teachers will somehow increase employment.  The strategy worked in 2010, as Republicans took over the House because many Democrats sat at home due to the continued poor economy.  And Republicans are hoping that the strategy will work in 2012.  Who the strategy is not working for is the middle and working class Americans who are continuing to see jobs disappearing, wages shrinking, and benefits ending.

For progressives and Democrats, there is a moral duty to fight back against this perverse Republican strategy.  This moral duty is also aligned with the Democrats’ electoral interests, as they best way for the Democrats to regain their House majority and keep the Presidency is to build on the working class movement that started in Madison last month and has shown that the real majority is on the side of progressive economic policy.  Some Democrats, such as Nancy Pelosi, clearly get this.  Others appear not to, but let’s hope they figure it out quickly, as the future of our nation’s economic vitality hangs in the balance.

My comment on Roger Cohen’s column Obama’s Exceptionalism, which asserts that our military action in Libya is appropriate because it recognizes the U.S.’s moral imperative in preventing the slaughter of innocent people in Libya.

Mr. Cohen, I share your interest in preventing massacres and in America being a moral force for good in the world.  But those basic points do not, by themselves, support the U.S. taking military action in Libya.  Instead, there are at least three other questions that supporters of the military action, including President Obama in his speech to the nation the other night, have not answered.

* First, what is the exit strategy? While the rebels have advanced quickly in Libya under the cover of coalition air strikes, as soon as those air strikes let up, Gaddafi’s forces gain the upper hand.  So, what do we do if Gaddaffi is not toppled quickly?  Do we arm the rebels?  That is a dangerous prospect that has not turned out well in previous situations (such as arming the people fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan).  Do we send in our own troops?  The President says no, and I agree with him on that.  So, what do we do?

* Second, who are we fighting for?  Obviously, Gaddafi is a horrible dictator who would, ideally, no longer rule Libya. But would the rebellion lead to democracy, or even something significantly better than under Gaddafi? If not, why are we there, and are we responsible for whatever problematic government would replace Gaddafi?  While President Obama has rightly cast our role as simply allowing the will of the Libyan people to be recognized, the reality is that our military intervention will be seen as putting us on the side of the rebels.  If they end up creating a government that is brutal or oppressive many will, fairly or not, blame the U.S.

* Third, how do we afford this?  We are living through a time when state and local governments are laying off workers and ending services because they are lacking funds, when Republicans are pushing for a wholesale demolition of social programs at the federal level, and when President Obama and some Democrats are conceding the purported “need” for some cuts.  Yet for military action, the budget deficit does not appear to be a hurdle. Why?

President Obama has made a compelling case in favor of the multi-lateral approach that we are taking in Libya, and in support of the strategy of backing the will of the people in other countries rather than in attempting to dictate specific outcomes in those countries.  For those and other reasons, the military action in Libya is nothing like the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan that President Bush and the neoconservatives brought us.  There are, however, critical questions that were not answered before we went in, and still have yet to be satisfactorily answered.  For those reasons, I cannot support what the President has done on this one.

My comment on the NYT’s editorial Mr. Obama’s Energy Vision, which focuses on the speech that President Obama gave earlier this week about energy policy and reducing our reliance on foreign oil:

I agree that President Obama’s energy speech was good overall.  It hit a number of high points, including a focus on more efficient vehicles and mass transit, development of cellulosic biofuels, rather than just the boondoggle that is ethanol, and an acknowledgment that we cannot drill our way out of this addiction.

The one major down side of the speech, however, was a failure to mention climate change or greenhouse gas emissions.  On this issue, President Obama repeated his inexplicable silence that he also had in his post-Katrina speech on energy issues.  This silence is inexplicable because internalizing the costs of CO2 emissions through a cap-and-trade type system would end the unfair economic advantage enjoyed by fossil fuels and jump start the development of cleaner and often cheaper alternative energy sources.

I understand, of course, that the politics are not in favor of cap-and-trade right now.  The House would never pass a cap-and-trade bill, and our fossil-fuel dealers have incorrectly convinced too many that the solution to our oil addiction is somehow worse than the problem.  The way to overcome those hurdles is for progressives to fight back and loudly express our support for legislation that would address greenhouse gas emissions and prevent catastrophic climate change.  Perhaps if we all start doing that, our President will follow suit.