Tuesday, December 30, 2008
It provides an analysis of a context for future work.
Part II: Mobilizing from Below to Enact an Economic Justice Agenda
The impressive depth and breadth of Obama’s electoral victory, combined with Democratic gains in both the House and the Senate, provides the possibility of reversing three decades of growing inequality that is the primary cause of an impending global depression. But these electoral gains will prove temporary if the Obama administration does not improve the living standards of middle and working class voters. To do so, the new administration will have to govern “big” and “quick.” While there is short-term consensus in favor of a major stimulus package, some of his centrist Democratic advisers are already warning that long-term spending plans will have to be put on hold, particularly universal health care and the increased taxes on the wealthy originally set to fund the program. And the moderate punditry, led by global-capitalist enthusiast Thomas Friedman, reminds Obama that “excessive regulation” of the financial industry could “strangle” the “entrepreneurial risk-taking spirit of capitalism.” We are in the midst of a global “liquidity crisis” in which banks will not lend capital out of fear that borrowers will not be able to pay them back. The mainstream media – and the Obama campaign and transition team – does not yet comprehend that this crisis has everything to do with the massive growth in inequality of the past three decades. The policies of deregulation, privatization, and de-unionization, supported by both Democratic and Republican administrations, led working and middle class Americans to try to maintain their living standards by taking on massive consumer debt and borrowing against their home equity. Once the housing bubble collapsed, so did their purchasing power.
Only activist pressure from below can force an Obama administration to govern in a manner than could secure a Democratic realignment. With the constitutional system of checks and balances and separation of powers consciously aimed at forestalling rapid change, it is no surprise that almost all the reforms identified with the twentieth century Democratic Party – Social Security, the National Labor Relations Act, the Civil Rights Acts and Medicare – occurred in the period 1935-1938 and 1964-66, the only time when the Democrats controlled the presidency, had strong majorities in both chambers of Congress and insurgent social movements at their heels.
If upon taking office the Obama administration boldly leads, his administration could pass major legislation for universal health care, massive investment in green technology, and labor law reform that would transform United States social relations for generations to come. But already the corporate community is mobilizing heavily against the Employee Free Choice Act. As a former community organizer Obama understands that reforms do not come from the top down; in the past, they arose because moderate elites made concessions to the movements of the unemployed and the CIO in the 1930s and to the civil rights, anti-war, women’s and welfare rights movements of the 1960s. But while the December sit-down at Republic Windows indicates that a new wave of labor militancy could be in the offing, the strength of the labor movement and the Left is even weaker than they were in 1932, when an economic crisis still demobilized workers fearing losing their jobs if they rocked the boat. Nor does there exist the degree of social mobilization within excluded communities of color parallel to the vigor of the civil rights movement of 1960.
]Specifics of a progressive agenda [
Thus, a “realigned” new Democratic majority can only be built if the Obama administration enacts a legislative agenda that reconstructs a new “productive” egalitarian economy. I emphasize “productive” because as this economic crisis should teach us, an economy whose major “wealth” is created by the shuffling of paper assets by ‘mega-banks,’ hedgefunds, and corporate law firms will inevitably be divided between a privileged top 10 or 20 percent of credentialed “symbolic manipulators” and a precarious middle and working class who “serve” them.. Only an economic system that invests in production for human needs – such as renewable energy, mass transit, and urban infrastructure, school and housing construction – can generate a sufficient number of “good jobs at good wages.” The infotainment, finance, and service model of “post-industrial” capitalism is vulnerable to continuous speculative bubbles because it does not produce sufficient real value to sustain mass middle-class living standards.
And if the production of “useful goods” is increasingly off-shored, then United States living standards can only be sustained if the rest of the world will lend it the money to run massive trade deficits. If and when East Asian central banks decide that investment in Euros rather than U.S. Treasury bonds is a more secure way to preserve value, the entire United States model of indebted growth could collapse.. The dirty little secret is that aside from the auto industry, it is mostly military-related aerospace and military hardware production that sustains a high-wage manufacturing base in the United States. That base still produces 25 per cent of our GDP, while only employing 12 per cent of our workforce, whereas the financial industry has those figures reversed.. Such an imbalance between those who produce real value and those who shuffle paper value cannot sustain an egalitarian economic system. Republican intransigence and virulent anti-union sentiment is close to destroying our domestic auto industry.. Our domestic parts manufacturers alone employ 650,000 workers – or nearly triple the 230,000 remaining employees of the (once) Big Three— and sizeably in states outside of the Midwest. Should domestic parts suppliers go under with the Big Three, we could well lose several million industrial jobs forever. Even foreign transplants will switch to importing parts and supplies from foreign suppliers. Add in the Big Three auto dealers, who employ several hundred thousand workers, and the magnitude of the problem is clear.
Our other major remaining industrial centers – aerospace and machine tools -- are heavily tied to military production. While this is a form of high-wage industrial production, it is heavily capital intensive and produces goods that have little “multiplier” effect Tanks and planes are not capital goods – they don’t produce more material goods; rather they either depreciate or are blown up!. Thus, the truth that no “strong on defense” Democrat speaks is that unless we transition our military production to industrial production for civilian use, we cannot create a new “productive” economy that creates a larger number of high-value-added productive jobs. Obviously, not all jobs can be outsourced. There are , and will remain, large numbers of people employed in the “infotainment” industry, health care, retail, construction, and the food and hospitality industry., and further unionization could raise the living standards of those employed in these largerly service sectors. But if the purchasers of care and leisure goods are going to be able to pay human wages to their service providers, then there must be enough industrial high-wage jobs to sustain those not working in the service sector.
Only insurgent social movement activity will push the pragmatic Obama and his centrist, technocratic cabinet to govern “big.” While Obama’s web-based network of predominantly white and youthful middle-strata progressives could be activated in favor of “global warming” policies and major investment in green technology, they are unlikely to agitate for the industrial and social policies outlined above, which only mobilization by organized labor, new immigrant communities and excluded inner-city residents could engender. Obama’s victory raised hopes among these communities; but is there the organizational base within the labor movement, immigrant rights movement and inner city communities to mobilize quickly around an economic justice agenda? A sense of hope may lead the excluded to engage in more spontaneous acts of disruption that can scare elites into offering legislative change. (FDR’s pre-1935 reforms responded more to the homeless and unemployed movements of 1932-33 and the labor unrest in Toledo, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Seattle of 1934 than to the later emergence of the CIO.) Perhaps we will see urban militancy akin to that of the mid-1960s -- though the protests against police brutality that led to mass riots were led by working and middle class community activists who no longer reside in the largely impoverished urban ghettos. And whether mobilization of communities of color would provoke a similar politics of white racial backlash to those of 1966 onwards remains an open question.
]Stimulus plan needed now[
Even before taking office the Obama administraiton confronts the most serious breakdown in the global economy since the Great Depression. Obama’s Treasury department and the Congressional Democratic leadership are likely to agree on a massive two-year stimulus package of at least $850 billion, but Republicans – perhaps joined by fiscally moderate Southern and Western Democrats – are likely to filibuster against such “massive deficit spending,” particularly if major public investment in alternative energy technologies is part of the package.. The Obama administration will have to remind the American public that Ronald Reagan ran deficits equal to 7 per cent of the GDP in each of 1981 and 82 (or the equivalent of $680 billion per year (!) in today’s dollars), in the face of a much less severe recession. In addition, the Obama administration must press Congress to implement a major anti-foreclosure program (similar to FDR’s Home Loan Corporation), as the income stream from homeowner payments on refinanced, affordable mortgages should significantly increase the value of the toxic assets of “securitized mortgages.” The Bush administration’s failure to protect the foreclosed (particularly those who could pay a reasonable renegotiated mortgage rate on a readjusted home value) explains in large measure its utter inability to improve the balance sheets of major financial institutions.
The stimulus package should include major government funding of job-training in the inner cities (in green technologies, for example) and of opportunities for both GIs and displaced workers to return to university as full-time students (and for women on TANF to fulfill their ‘workfare’ requirements through secondary and higher education pursuits). While affluent suburbs provide their residents superb public education and public services, federal cutbacks in aid to states and municipalities has worsened the life opportunities of inner city residents. With all but seven states’ budgets in the red, cuts in social services and public-sector layoffs will devastate already hard-hit communities. .
The inefficient and inequitable United States health care system cries out for replacement by a universal and cost-efficient alternative. If private insurance administrative and advertising costs of 25 per cent on the health care dollar could be reduced to Medicaid and Medicare’s three per cent administrative overhead, both universal and affordable coverage would be achieved.. Even securing “opt-out” provisions from the Obama’s ‘pay or play’ system of private insurance would be an improvement. Such ‘opt-outs’ would allow states to create their own single-payer systems, and enable Medicare or the federal employees health plan to market to employers as a lower-cost alternative to private group plans.
]Looking at the revenue side[
But how to pay for all this? The Obama administration should reverse not only the Bush tax cuts, but also the Reagan cuts in marginal rates on high-income earners, which would each return some $300 billion in revenues to the national treasury. In addition, abolishing the preferential 15 per cent tax rate on hedge fund and private equity managers’ earnings could garner another $100 billion in annual revenues. Truly ending the war in Iraq should save $100 billion per annum; a 1/3 cutback in United States military bases abroad and an end to Cold War era plans to build a next generation of fighters and an anti-ballistic missile defense could save $216 billion in federal revenue per year.
The military budget is hideously oversized for a nation that claims armaments are necessary for defense, and not defense of empire. One fights terrorism by intelligence and espionage cooperation among states and via a multilateral diplomatic strategy that provides hope for the billions who still live under authoritarian governments and in extreme poverty. Obama’s call to send more United States troops to Afghanistan ignores the lessons of the Soviet experience: that foreign military presence only elevates the forces of Islamic fundamentalism into national resistance fighters.
When the ponzi scheme of “securitized mortgages” collapsed with the end of the irrational run-up in housing prices, the federal government had to bail out Bear Stearns, then Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and then AIG. American capitalism has “privatized” gain, but “socialized” risk. Yet if risk is to be “socialized” then so should investments. The Obama administration should not only demand equity shares in the banks and corporations that are bailed out by the public treasury, but should also require that consumer, worker, and government representatives be added to the board of directors of corporations receiving government aid. And the administration must stick to the goal of re-regulating the finance industry so that it serves the interest of the productive economy and not those of run-amok speculators.
A “new New Deal” would have to restructure international economic institutions so that they raise-up international labor, living, human rights, and environmental standards. In large part Obama owes his victory in the key battleground states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania to the efforts of one of the few integrated institutions in the United States – the American labor movement. Restoring the right to organize unions (a right that no longer exists in practice in the United States) is a key policy component in the battle against economic inequality. Given the massive corporate and media offensive already launched against the Employee Free Choice Act, Obama will have to place the entire prestige of his presidency behind the legislation. He must use the bully pulpit to explain to the American public that NLRB elections are not “free” – not when the time lag between petitioning and the election works in managements’ favor, allowing management to intimidate workers, require them to attend anti-union meetings and leaves management free to fire pro-union workers with impunity.
]What’s next for the democratic Left?[
An Obama presidential victory by no means guarantees the bold policy initiatives necessary to restore equity with growth to the United States economy. His campaign did not advocate major defense cuts, progressive tax reform, and significant expansion of public provision. But FDR did not campaign on bold solutions in 1932. It was pressure from below that forced FDR’s hand. Similarly, Obama’s victory may provide space for social movements to agitate in favor of economic justice and a democratic foreign policy. Let us hope that as a president who understands the process of social change, Obama will realize that those demanding the most from his administration are those who can best help him succeed in office.
Obama, a supreme pragmatist , will respond to the balance of social forces that press upon his administration, or ignore them in the absense of pressure. Thus, the work of DSA, YDS and the rest of the democratic Left has just begun. We must join with our allies in the labor movement, communities of color, the feminist, and gay and lesbian and immigrants rights groups to advance the transformative social and economic policies outlined above and in DSA’s Economic Justice Agenda (see www.dsausa.org) . And we should begin to gear up to defend progressive House and Senate gains made in the 2006 and 2008 elections and replace Republicans and conservative Democratic officials at every level of government. To do this, DSA and YDS must not only build more capacity on the ground, but also build working relations with such groups as Progressive Democrats of America as well as trade unions and communityorganizations active in progressive electoral politics.
What will be the unique “value-added” of DSA and YDS in these broad coalition efforts to press the Obama administration from the left? As all crucial economic justice reforms – universal national health care, EFCA,public investment in green technology and inner city infrastructure – involve state action to limit the prerogatives of corporate capital, the right will charge these reforms as being “socialist.” DSA’s role is to educate the American public as to the historic role of socialist-inspired reforms in rendering capitalist societies less capitalist and more democratic. Until more average Americans say “what’s wrong with socialism” even a less exceptional and more humane American mixed economy will remain a utopian dream.
Joseph M. Schwartz , a national vice chair of Democratic Socialists of America, teaches politics at Temple University. His most recent book is The Future of Democratic Equality: Rebuilding Social Solidarity in a Fragmented America (Routledge, 2008). Parts of this article is revised from “Memo to Obama,” which will appear in the January-February issue of Tikkun magazine.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
This totally suprised and somewhat reassured me. BEN
From Huffington Post 12/23/08
This is a message for my brothers and sisters who have fought so long and so hard for gay rights and liberty. We have spent a long time climbing up this mountain, looking at the impossible, changing a thousand year-old paradigm. We have asked for the right to love the human of our choice, and to be protected equally under the laws of this great country. The road at times has been so bloody, and so horrible, and so disheartening. From being blamed for 9/11 and Katrina, to hateful crimes committed against us, we are battle weary. We watched as our nation took a step in the right direction, against all odds and elected Barack Obama as our next leader. Then we were jerked back into the last century as we watched our rights taken away by prop 8 in
I hadn't heard of Pastor Rick Warren before all of this. When I heard the news, in its neat little sound bite form that we are so accustomed to, it painted the picture for me. This Pastor Rick must surely be one hate spouting, money grabbing, bad hair televangelist like all the others. He probably has his own gay little secret bathroom stall somewhere, you know. One more hater working up his congregation to hate the gays, comparing us to pedophiles and those who commit incest, blah blah blah. Same 'ole thing. Would I be boycotting the inauguration? Would we be marching again?
Well, I have to tell you my friends, the universe has a sense of humor and indeed works in mysterious ways. As I was winding down the promotion for my Christmas album I had one more stop last night. I'd agreed to play a song I'd written with my friend Salman Ahmed, a Sufi Muslim from
I told my manager to reach out to Pastor Warren and say "In the spirit of unity I would like to talk to him." They gave him my phone number. On the day of the conference I received a call from Pastor Rick, and before I could say anything, he told me what a fan he was. He had most of my albums from the very first one. What? This didn't sound like a gay hater, much less a preacher. He explained in very thoughtful words that as a Christian he believed in equal rights for everyone. He believed every loving relationship should have equal protection. He struggled with proposition 8 because he didn't want to see marriage redefined as anything other than between a man and a woman. He said he regretted his choice of words in his video message to his congregation about proposition 8 when he mentioned pedophiles and those who commit incest. He said that in no way, is that how he thought about gays. He invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids. He told me of his wife's struggle with breast cancer just a year before mine.
When we met later that night, he entered the room with open arms and an open heart. We agreed to build bridges to the future.
Brothers and sisters the choice is ours now. We have the world's attention. We have the capability to create change, awesome change in this world, but before we change minds we must change hearts. Sure, there are plenty of hateful people who will always hold on to their bigotry like a child to a blanket. But there are also good people out there, Christian and otherwise that are beginning to listen. They don't hate us, they fear change. Maybe in our anger, as we consider marches and boycotts, perhaps we can consider stretching out our hands. Maybe instead of marching on his church, we can show up en mass and volunteer for one of the many organizations affiliated with his church that work for HIV/AIDS causes all around the world.
Maybe if they get to know us, they wont fear us.
I know, call me a dreamer, but I feel a new era is upon us.
I will be attending the inauguration with my family, and with hope in my heart. I know we are headed in the direction of marriage equality and equal protection for all families.
Happy Holidays my friends and a Happy New Year to you.
Peace on earth, goodwill toward all men and women... and everyone in-between.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
HO! HO! HO!
Come join us for some Holiday Cheer,
good friends and great food.
Its the Annual Lake House Christmas Party!
This Friday, December 19th -- 7pm till morning
Bring family, friends, kids, and whatever fun food you want to share. Toss in a sleeping bag, if you want to stay.
Its all about the good spirits and conversation
(and some singing/dancing on the patio too).
Email for details at the following address: Lukeandleisa@hotmail.com
Hope you can make it!
peace and love,
Leisa, Paul & Luke
Address: 3025A Cambridge Road
Cameron Park, CA 95682
Leisa's phone: 916.801.4184, Paul's phone: 916.248.3970, Luke's: 530.748.8927
We live a half hour east of Sac State on Highway 50, take the Cambridge Road Exit north (left) about 2 miles...we're on the right. If you pass the entrance to the lake, you just missed us by three driveways.
It has been interesting to watch and listen to a debate unfold among many progressives regarding how to assess the initial direction of President-elect Obama. I have, however, found a particular tendency a bit unsettling. It is a tendency to make certain assumptions regarding Obama’s actual intent and then to project his decisions, for instance on appointments, as shrewd tactics to mask an otherwise progressive objective. With all due respect, I would offer: not so fast.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
By: Mike Allen and Jonathan Martin
Now, his key initiatives – education, energy, health care – are all being tied back to jobs.
—ROADS AND BRIDGES: “[W]e will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s. We’ll invest your precious tax dollars in new and smarter ways, and we’ll set a simple rule – use it or lose it. If a state doesn’t act quickly to invest in roads and bridges in their communities, they’ll lose the money.”
© 2008 Capitol News Company, LLC
Friday, December 12, 2008
Posted on Dec 11, 2008
By David Sirota
Please, forgive me for saying it. I know it’s a tad annoying, but it has to be said to America’s ruling class in this humble column. Because if it’s not said here you can bet it won’t be said anywhere else in the media, and it needs to be said somewhere on behalf of the millions of citizens who were right.
We told you so.
In the slow-motion train wreck that became the current economic meltdown, our bipartisan political establishment and the sycophantic punditburo have been wrong over and over and over again. They told us that eviscerating consumer protections would unleash the market’s benevolent power and boost the economy. They told us that a trillion-dollar Wall Street bailout would solve a credit crisis. They told us that bailout would be subjected to intense oversight and scrutiny.
Wrong, wrong and wrong—and when critics predicted just that, sneering commentators and congressional leaders berated us as know-nothing Luddites, conspiracy theorists, or both.
But with the release of three new reports, there’s no debate anymore about who was correct and who wasn’t. The studies prove that the critics were right and the ideologues of Washington were wrong.
When in 2005 Congress overwhelmingly passed a credit card industry-written bill gutting bankruptcy laws, progressives were right to try to stop it—and not just because it was an immoral move to legalize usury. We were right because as the New York Federal Reserve Bank reports, the bill played an integral role in the recent foreclosure surge that crushed the economy.
In the past, bankruptcy laws made sure debtors first and foremost continued paying their mortgages so they could stay in their homes. But the 2005 legislation effectively compels debtors to first pay off their credit cards, meaning many then have no money left to pay their mortgage. The Fed’s report estimates that the bankruptcy bill is causing 32,000 more foreclosures per quarter than the economy would have already generated.
We told you so.
When almost every media voice in America was sounding the alarm of financial panic and demanding a Wall Street bailout plan; when bailout opponents were roundly ridiculed as “irresponsible” by politician and pundit alike—those opponents were nonetheless right to say then what a study from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank says now: that the case hadn’t been made.
While reporters and the Bush administration frantically insisted that bank-to-business lending had ceased, inter-bank lending had stopped and short-term “commercial paper” loans had dried up, the Minneapolis researchers tell us that “all three claims were false” and continue to be false; that “nobody has explained how the money system has frozen when the data says it has not”; and that “a trillion dollar intervention warrant(ed) a bit more serious analysis.”
We told you so.
When lawmakers said the bailout included strict oversight measures, skeptics were right to say that claim was patently untrue. According to a new analysis by federal officials at the Government Accountability Office, virtually nonexistent oversight of the bailout means “taxpayers may not be adequately protected” and that the bailout’s stated goal of fixing the economy “may not be achieved in an efficient and effective manner.”
Yes, we told you so.
And so now, even though these damning reports have garnered scant news coverage, perhaps there will be a change. As we, the pragmatic progressive majority, demand tough new financial regulations, job-creating investments in public infrastructure, labor law reforms, universal health care, revised international trade policies, a repeal of the odious bankruptcy bill and an end to Wall Street welfare, maybe, just maybe, our humiliated rulers will start listening.
David Sirota is the best-selling author of the books “Hostile Takeover” (2006) and “The Uprising” (2008). He is a fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network, both nonpartisan organizations. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2008 Creators Syndicate In
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Monday, December 1, 2008
NBER: U.S. In Recession That Began Last December
By Neil Irwin
Washington Post Staff Writer
It's official: The United States is in a recession -- and it started a year ago.
The nation's economy peaked, and the recession began, in December 2007, the National Bureau of Economic Research announced today.
The group's Business Cycle Dating Committee, the semi-official arbiter of these things, defines a recession as "a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in production, employment, real income, and other indicators."
While analysts have been all but certain that a recession has been underway for months, there has been some debate over exactly when it began. Last winter, employers started cutting jobs and growth slowed significantly, but the decline appears to have accelerated over the summer.
How the rich are getting richer during this recession.