Recovery Act is the Number One Reason to Re-elect President Obama

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 rejuvenated plans for the Fulton Street Transit Center in lower Manhattan. The project is set for completion in June 2014. Photo credit: Josh Marks

 

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

Republicans keep falsely claiming President Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus, officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), was a massively wasteful failure. Right now the GOP is using all the money from their right-wing billionaire donors to inundate swing state voters with their anti-stimulus, pro-austerity message.

But in reality the stimulus is a smashing success. It is more than 50 percent bigger than Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and has begun to profoundly change the United States of America in ways many of us are just beginning to realize. The economic stimulus has kickstarted our transition to a 21st Century economy built to last. For example, $90 billion was pumped into the clean energy sector. To put that in perspective, a decade earlier President Clinton proposed a modest $6.3 billion clean energy initiative that was shot down. The Recovery Act is also one of the most transparent pieces of legislation in history. Contrary to the Republican lies, there is very little fraud or abuse associated with ARRA thanks to unprecedented levels of oversight. Click here to go to Recovery.gov and track how Recovery funds are being spent and report fraud, waste or abuse.

Time Magazine senior correspondent and award-winning environmental journalist Michael Grunwald’s new book “The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era” investigates the story behind The Recovery Act. The author argues that the economic stimulus represents everything Obama meant when he was talking about hope and change, but also exposed the ugly political reality of Washington partisanship fueled by Republican rage at anything associated with Obama.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment of 2009 helped start construction of the Second Avenue Subway on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, once dubbed “The Line That Time Forgot” for its many false starts over the decades. Photo credit: Josh Marks

 

Perhaps more than any other legislative achievement, The Recovery Act alone is reason enough to reelect President Obama. We should all celebrate the passage of historic health care and financial reforms, but the economic stimulus is doing more to move America forward than any other victory during Obama’s first term. Oh, and it also saved us from another Great Depression.

So why is this change so hidden? Why do so many Americans ask where this change is actually taking place? Grunwald argues that partly the Administration could do a better job selling the stimulus, but also there aren’t any Hoover Dam or Golden Gate Bridge-type public works projects that capture the public’s imagination. But that doesn’t mean nothing is going on. In fact, there are significant infrastructure, energy and other important projects taking place right now that are making a difference and improving our lives in ways we might not have paid attention to.

Here are just some of the over 100,000 projects, both large and small, being financed by The Recovery Act. Read “The New New Deal” for a fuller picture of the change taking place, but hopefully this list will give you an idea of some of the amazing progress being made in the United States of America thanks to The Recovery Act. For decades we neglected our infrastructure, transportation system, renewable energy, power grid, education and medical systems. The stimulus is finally starting to rebuild this great country.

Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E)

This new agency housed within the Department of Energy brings the best and brightest scientists, engineers, researchers and entrepreneurs to think outside of the box to solve some of our biggest energy challenges. They have already created a new scientific discipline by taking Biofuels to the next level. The program is called Electrofuels.

Brooklyn Bridge Restoration

During the month of July I lived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and many times took the East River Ferry to lower Manhattan. As we would pass underneath the Brooklyn Bridge I would wonder what all that tarp, scaffolding and construction was all about. It turns out The Recovery Act is partially funding a badly needed upgrade to the iconic but deteriorating span linking New York’s two famous boroughs. The rehabilitation will be finished in 2014. Click here from more info from the NYC Department of Transportation on rebuilding the Brooklyn Bridge.

Photo credit: Josh Marks

 

California High-Speed Rail Project

The Recovery Act is investing $8 billion in a new high-speed rail (HSR) network as well as upgrading and improving existing passenger train service across the country. The most high-profile project is in California where the nation’s first bullet train is being built that will eventually connect Anaheim and Los Angeles to San Francisco via the Central Valley. The 520-mile rail line will be finished in 2020 and reach speeds of 220 mph, zipping passengers from L.A. to S.F. in under 2 hours and 40 minutes. Phase II will extend HSR service south to San Diego and north to Sacramento by 2026. The Recovery Act is also funding upgrades to existing Amtrak passenger rail corridors such as the Pacific Surfliner Corridor to improve on-time performance, reduce pollution and create a more comfortable experience for passengers.

But California isn’t the only state making passenger rail progress thanks to The Recovery Act. Last Friday in Illinois a Chicago-St. Louis Amtrak train reached 111 mph in a test run — a 30 mph increase over its previous speed. And the money right-wing governors in Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio foolishly rejected for rail improvements is being redirected to 15 other states that are happily taking the money to provide their citizens with world-class passenger rail service.

Shepherds Flat Wind Farm

U.S. renewable power from solar and wind has doubled since The Recovery Act passed. The stimulus financed the world’s largest wind farm in Oregon. The 845 megawatt Shepherds Flat Wind Farm opened for business in September and features an array of 338 American-made General Electric turbines. The wind farm is generating enough green energy to replace two coal plants and is estimated to have an economic impact of $16 million annually for Oregon.

The Recovery Act is investing in many more renewable power and energy efficiency projects across the country — from biofuels to geothermal to advanced batteries to LED lighting and more.

Moynihan Station

The Recovery Act is helping transform New York City’s main post office into Moynihan Station — a 21st Century replacement for aging Penn Station. If you have ever had to take an Amtrak train into or out of Penn Station, then you know the cramped, rundown corridors and waiting area that is not befitting of the greatest city in the world. Visitors coming from places in Europe and Asia with world-class train stations must be surprised to see the confusing layout and decrepit conditions of the busiest train station in America. Before catching a train to Washington, D.C., Boston, Albany or other destinations, hundreds of passengers stand in front of the big board announcing what gate to go to when the train arrives. When the gate number shows up on the board, usually about five to ten minutes before departure, everyone rushes towards a tiny escalator on either side and aggressively crams onto the escalator. The insane process repeats itself hundreds of times every day and is comical in its inefficiency. So converting the James Farley Post Office Building across Eighth Avenue from Penn Station into Daniel Patrick Moynihan station, what will be a world-class high-speed rail hub, could not come soon enough for weary New York train travelers.

Photo credit: Josh Marks

 

Second Avenue Subway

This past summer I lived in Brooklyn and worked on Manhattan’s Upper East Side so I would take the F or 6 train up Lexington Avenue and then walk east across Second Avenue. Thanks to The Recovery Act, the Second Avenue Subway is finally under construction. This is a project that has been on the drawing board since 1929 but has never been able to get going. That is until Obama’s stimulus jumpstarted the project that used to be known as “The Line that Time Forgot.” The Second Avenue Subway will relieve crowding along the Lexington Avenue lines by offering straphangers another option on the Upper East Side.

Here is a list of more projects moving forward with stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

 

And nationwide The Recovery Act is funding the transition to electronic health records by providing incentives and penalties to push physicians to move from paper charts to digital medical records. Race to the Top is reforming the education system to close the achievement gap by boosting the lowest-performing schools. Lastly, The Recovery Act is bringing high-speed satellite broadband service to rural, unserved and underserved areas across the country. For the first time, residents and businesses in these rural areas will be able to access low-cost, high-speed Internet service.

Out of the many reasons to re-elect President Barack Obama, strong consideration should be given to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as the number one reason.

 

President Obama’s Impressive List of Accomplishments

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

 

Over the past three-and-a-half years, President Obama and Democrats have successfully enacted significant progressive legislation and executive policies that have, among other things, created 5.2 million private sector jobs over the past 31 months, kept our nation safe and taken out Bin Laden, made a fairer and more just society, advanced gender equality, and rescued the American auto industry.  At stake in November 2012 is whether these accomplishments will be repealed by the GOP, or whether we will be able to continue to focus on moving our country forward in 2013 and beyond.

Unfortunately, the message of the significant progress that has been achieved so far during the Obama Administration won’t get out unless we progressives talk to our neighbors and friends, write letters to our local newspapers, and use social media to help keep other voters well informed.  In order to help our readers do so, below are links to Winning Progressive’s coverage of just some of the Obama Administration’s progressive accomplishments.  Please share widely.

List of 2009-2010 Democratic Accomplishments

Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Rescuing the American Auto Industry

Closing the Medicare Doughnut Hole

The Successful 2009 Stimulus

Credit Card Industry Reform

Fighting For Small Businesses

Ending Combat Operations in Iraq

Ending Abusive Health Insurance Industry Practices

Expanding Health Insurance Coverage to 32 Million More Americans

Making College More Affordable

Reforming Wall Street

2011 Health Care Reform Benefits

Eliminating Co-Pays on Contraceptive Services as Preventive Care

Challenging the Defense of Marriage Act in Federal Court

Rejecting the Keystone XL Pipeline

Finalizing Air Pollution Rules That Will Save 13,000 Lives Per Year

Increasing Vehicle Fuel Efficiency to 35.5mpg By 2016 and 54.5 by 2025

Implementing a Sensible New Immigration Policy for “DREAMers”

Obama DOJ Wins Significant, Though Not Complete, Victory Over Arizona’s Anti-Immigrant Law

American High-Speed Rail Moving Forward

A Good Friend of Labor

Obama’s Record of Support for Israel

 

American High-Speed Rail Moving Forward

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

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

Despite shortsighted right-wing Republican opposition, high-speed rail (HSR) is moving forward in the United States of America. Soon we won’t have to fly across the Atlantic or Pacific to experience world-class passenger train service. President Obama and Vice President Biden get much of the credit for revitalizing passenger rail travel by demanding a federal allocation of $8 billion for high-speed projects as part of the 2009 economic stimulus package.

While conservative Republican governors like Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rick Scott of Florida have denied their residents high-speed rail by rejecting federal funding, and right-wing House Republicans like Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) passes a meaningless anti-California HSR amendment to the Fiscal Year 2013 Transportation, Housing & Urban Development (THUD) bill, progressive states like California are pushing ahead into the 21st Century with ambitious HSR projects. The latest good news for HSR advocates comes from The Golden State where last Friday in Sacramento, lawmakers in the Senate approved SB 1029 — $4.5 billion in construction financing through the sale of bonds, including $2.6 billion for the initial segment in the Central Valley for the bullet train line between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The legislative victory means that California will now qualify for another $3.2 billion in federal funding.

Friday’s decision marks a huge victory for California Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, President Obama, moderate Republican Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and the American people. It marks an enormous defeat for anti-HSR conservative Republicans in California and across the country.

And high-speed rail will create thousands of desperately needed jobs, not just in California but around the country. With California moving full speed ahead as the first state to build a bullet train network, the next logical place after California for bullet trains is the most heavily-traveled rail line on the Amtrak network — the Northeast Corridor (NEC) from Washington, D.C. to Boston, Massachusetts. Amtrak’s vision for next generation high-speed rail is for 220 mph bullet trains, reducing travel time between D.C. and NYC to one hour and 36 minutes and NYC to Boston in one hour and 23 minutes. Again, as in California, NEC HSR would create thousands of badly needed jobs.

With America moving ahead on HSR, it helps to put bullet trains in perspective in terms of what other countries are doing. Where does the United States rank in miles built and miles planned? The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom recently put together a chart comparing HSR on their Data Blog. Here are the facts:

HSR miles in operation: U.S. is at 226. That ranks ninth, just behind Turkey and South Korea.
HSR miles under construction: U.S. is at zero. China is #1 with 2,712 HSR miles under construction.
HSR miles planned: U.S. is sixth with 562 miles planned, just behind Portugal and Turkey.

Leading the HSR pack by miles of course are China, Japan, Germany, Spain and France. So obviously the United States has a lot of work to do in building more HSR to keep up with other countries.

High-speed rail is a winner. It creates jobs, improves the environment and relieves congestion on the nation’s highways and airways. If you have ever traveled to Europe or Asia and taken a bullet train then you know the many benefits of building HSR.

The best way to continue America’s progress on building high-speed rail networks is to elect pro-HSR political leaders on the local, state and federal level. That begins at the top this November by reelecting President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, who are committed to building American high-speed rail.

Honoring Gabrielle Giffords by Embracing the Green Economy

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

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

When it comes to the green economy, sometimes it seems like the United States of America is stuck in neutral while the rest of the world is fully charged up and racing ahead at warp speed.

Take electric vehicles as an example pulled from recent headlines. The Chevy Volt, General Motors’ new plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, recently became a political punching bag on Capitol Hill by a Republican-led Oversight Committee on a witch hunt against any project related to the Obama administration. Before it was Solyndra and solar energy, now it is the Volt and electric vehicles.

Lack of political will from Republican lawmakers in Congress is really the only thing that is holding back the United States of America from leading the “next industrial revolution”—the clean energy economy that is already rapidly transforming countries like Germany, China, Brazil, Canada and other governments that get it when it comes to giving the market signals with cap and trade programs and taxes on carbon. The fossil fuel industry seems to have the Republicans on too tight a leash for them to make decisions on behalf of the American people and the future of this great country.

Perhaps Gabrielle Giffords can provide some inspiration and convince at least some of the Republican lawmakers in Congress (the Obama administration and most Democrats are already onboard the high-speed clean energy train) that they must break the shackles of the oil, gas and coal industries and begin to embrace renewable power sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, biomass, biofuel, tidal and wave.

Giffords is a big advocate for solar energy because her home state of Arizona is blessed by the sun. She has supported clean energy legislation as well as ending oil industry subsidies and redirecting that money into clean energy research.

When Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) read Giffords’ letter of resignation on the House floor on January 25, she said the following:

“In public service, I found a venue for the pursuit of a stronger America by ensuring the safety and security of all Americans by producing clean energy here at home instead of importing oil from abroad.”

Here is video of the entire speech.

WP Comments on Judicial Nominations, High Speed Rail, and Choice

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Here are our latest comments on the slow pace of nominations for the federal judiciary, cuts to high speed rail funding, and anti-choice activists in Texas.  Help spread these progressive ideas by using the links at our Letters to the Editor Campaign center to write a letter to your local newspaper.

My comment on Linda Greenhouse’s NYT Opinionator column Missing in Action, about the dearth of judicial nominations from the Obama Administration:

I share your desire to see more judicial nominations quickly, as there are significant vacancies in the federal courts that is hindering the effective administration of justice.  And, yes, President Obama could be doing more to nominate judicial candidates and move them forward. But the blame does not lie entirely with the Democrats.  It also lies with the Republicans’ obstructionism for at least two reasons.

First, this obstructionism reduces the pool of people who would want to be nominated.  A federal judgeship certainly has its perks, such as lifetime tenure, paid staff, a position of authority, etc.   But for folks who are likely to become judges (law firm partners, academics, etc.) it can also mean a significant pay cut and a loss of privacy.  And now Republicans basically promise that every single part of the nominee’s personal life and past is going to be fair game and that the nominee will need to put their life on hold for months or even years on end while Republicans obstruct the process.  I would not be surprised if it is much harder for Democrats to find people to nominate now than it was for either party in the past.

Second, Republican obstructionism takes up massive amounts of Senate time, as the arcane Senate rules that Republicans are exploiting require all kinds of delays whenever a filibuster or hold is at issue.  Yes, Democrats should have changed these rules, but so long as they exist and Republicans abuse them, the nomination of judges is going to move at a slow pace.


My comment on the NYT editorial How Not To Plan For the Future, which laments the agreement between President Obama and Congressional Republicans to cut funding for high speed rail:

The Roman Empire fell in part because it failed to maintain its infrastructure.  Similarly, our country will not remain great if we continue to fail to allow our infrastructure system to crumble even while giving more tax breaks to the wealthy and spending more on wars overseas.

Our nation’s failed rail infrastructure is a perfect example of this trend.  While other countries have trains that reach up to 300km per hour, our passenger system for the most part does not even have dedicated tracks, and can rarely even reach 100mph.  The technology needed for high speed rail has been around for years now and has been actively pursued by Japan, Europe, China, and others, but a combination of misguided budget cutting and conservative ideological zealotry has stymied it here in the US.

The impacts of our failure to adopt high speed rail are numerous.  Our highways and airports are overcrowded, which wastes large amounts of money and resource.  Economic development in downtown areas and small towns that could be served by rail is missed.  Travel is less safe, as trains are the safest form of travel and cars are the most dangerous.   And the environment is more polluted, as trains create far less pollution than cars, trucks, or airplanes.

In short, high speed rail is the right thing to do for transportation, economic development, safety, and the environment.  But instead of pursuing this, we are following the path of Rome before the fall.  Let’s hope we turn back before it is too late.

My comment on Gail Collin’s NYT column The New Anti-Abortion Math, about how Texas’ tea party legislature is using the state’s budget shortfall to justify cuts to family planning programs:

Thanks for this disturbing overview of the penny-wise and pound-foolish approach to governance that the tea party infested legislature in Texas is taking.   I would make one correction, however.  The folks running Texas are not anti-abortion – they are anti-choice.

If these folks were anti-abortion, they would not be trying to restrict family planning and sex education.  Instead, they would be working to improve those services, along with increasing educational and employment opportunities, especially for poorer women.  Such steps help reduce abortions, which is why abortion numbers typically go down during progressive governments and increase during conservative ones.

Instead, the conservatives are anti-choice – their motivation is to increase their control over women’s bodies and lives by preventing them from making their own decisions about when to give birth.  Such an approach is certainly not consistent with the small government and individual liberty agenda that conservatives pretend to believe in.

“Free Trade” Leads to Fewer Middle Class Jobs For Americans

Friday, February 11th, 2011

(By Mark McCutchan)

 With January’s backdrop of 9.0% unemployment (U6 of 16.1%), President Obama gave another  speech to an unsympathetic U.S. Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, encouraging company heads to hire and invest more in America.

American corporations, however, have discovered the secret to increased profits.  As The American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner states in an excellent post Sunday, America’s corporations no longer need America’s workers.  The only quibble I have with his assertion is the phrase “America’s corporations” – it implies they have some allegiance to America, and they don’t.  Many of today’s biggest companies continue to stay in the U.S. solely because of government support (through low effective corporate tax rates), the proximity of comparatively well-off customers, and the sunk cost of existing factories.

“American” companies have learned that the most important part of their business plan is to outsource every possible part of their operations to wherever labor is cheapest.  Over half of GE’s employees are overseas, and the trend is increasingly common in high-technology companies.

The hike in resulting corporate profits has encouraged management to outsource other “non-core” functions like IT, customer service, and now product design.  Increased worker productivity due to technology, normally considered a benefit to the economy, has also slashed the number of workers needed to get the job done.  Soon the only part of “American” companies that will be left in the U.S may be the company headquarters, staffed with well-paid executives and a few remaining personal assistants.

The hollowing-out of American manufacturing (and decline of workforce size and unionization) worsened about the time that “most favored nation” status was reinstated to China in 1980, subject to annual extensions.  Congress’ agreement to make China’s status permanent in 2000 lead the way to China’s entry into the WTO.  Member countries  are required to have low (or no) tariffs and high quotas on imports to other members. Other free trade agreements followed, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994.

During the the 1992 presidential debate, Ross Perot stated that passage of NAFTA would create a “giant sucking sound” from the economy, pulling jobs over the border and overseas – it turns out he was right.  Between 1994 and 2010:

  • 5.3 million U.S. manufacturing employees lost their jobs.
  • Manufacturing GDP rose from $1.1 trillion to $1.58 trillion.
  • The U.S. trade deficit with China exploded from $29.5 billion to $252 billion, reflecting the magnitude of the loss of our manufacturing base.

Meanwhile, recent financial headlines shout that American companies are making record profits.

Free trade is a good concept that can make markets more efficient and provide lower prices for consumers.  It has been used, however, to fatten the corporate bottom line, undermine the financial security of the American middle class and provide little help to the rest of the world.  The key to making free trade work for everyone is using America’s market power in the international economy to improve everyone’s living standards, environmental standards, and workers’ rights, not to lower ours.

Here are some way we could improve job growth:

* Rebuild and expand America’s infrastructure, including the high-speed rail system promoted by President Obama’s $53 billion pledge Wednesday.

* Promote real “homeland security” by creating a national industrial policy.  Picking winners is not necessary, but we need the industries that are vital to our U.S. interests to thrive.

* Repeal NAFTA and similar free trade agreements, or renegotiate them to make them work for all Americans’ financial benefit.

* Impose a tariff on imported goods, to level the playing field for U.S. workers vs. the poverty wages, poor working conditions and hazardous environmental conditions experienced by foreign workers

* Encourage job-sharing (with full health insurance coverage) through corporate tax incentives.

Such a program of economic nationalism would be difficult to pass, as it steps on plenty of corporate toes, and would require President Obama to walk the talk of post-partisanship.  However, it could also help restore the economic security of our nation’s middle class, which has taken an economic beating over the past three decades.

Please contact President Obama and your representatives, and call on them to support revitalization of our manufacturing base (with the above ideas) to put Americans back to work.