Levellers

Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Infrastructure: Change We Need

Those whose mantra is “no government, the market takes care of everything,” always neglect infrastructure.  Let’s face it, folks: Private industry doesn’t build or maintain or repair public roads, bridges, railroad lines, or retro-fit old public buildings (schools, libraries, government buildings, etc) to be energy efficient and eco-friendly, or update an aging electric grid.  All of that takes government spending with tax dollars–but it creates jobs and it creates the conditions for better private sector jobs.  So, along with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, I have long awaited the time when improved infrastructure would be a “sexy” political priority again. (Although, unlike the redoubtable Ms. Maddow, I can’t quite say that I hear “bowchickabowbow” music when infrastructure plans are touted. That’s a little kinky, Rachel.  Does your partner, Mikula know about this?)  While some of Pres.-Elect Obama’s cabinet choices and announced beginning priorities have been too centrist and “Clintonesque” for this lefty, I am ecstatic that his plans to reinvigorate the economy will not only make green energy a keystone, but include a jobs package that makes deficit investment in infrastructure a major priority.

And it seems that, for now, at least, there is some real bi-partisan effort going into this, including a major infrastructure investment that has long been dear to my heart: high-speed rail.  Yes, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Arlen Spector (R-PA) have introduced The High-Speed Rail for America Act of 2008. The U.S. remains one of the few industrial nations without high-speed rail.  We basically abandoned railroads when autos and planes took over.  High speed rail creates numerous jobs and would make commuting to other job opportunities affordable.  It will be a major factor in energy independence and in fighting global warming by reducing the number of vehicles on highways and over-reliance on “commuter flights” by air.

Oil and gas prices are temporarily down, but will rise again.  This makes shipping by truck expensive unless we switch to a “hub and spoke” system whereby goods are transported by rail to major hubs before being trucked shorter distances (with cleaner fuels and more fuel-efficient trucks).  And whereas high-speed internet connections allow video-conferencing to reduce travel expenses for many companies, high-speed rail would provide alternatives to commuter flights, corporate jets, or company cars for those business trips that remain necessary–alternatives that are cheaper and greener.

I have long wanted light-rail connecting Louisville and Lexington in KY, for instance.  Several years ago, I had some part-time teaching opportunities in Lexington that could have evolved into my dream of full-time academic work (allowing me to quit my blue-collar “insurance and other benefits” second job at UPS).  But I couldn’t afford to move to Lexington while the opportunities were only part-time. And I couldn’t afford commuting by car for part-time work, either. So, I had to let these opportunities pass.  High speed light rail would have allowed me to take those opportunities while keeping my Louisville residence (and other employment–and my wife’s employment, our daughters’ schools, etc.).

Likewise, a Lexington friend wanted to re-tool for advancement by taking another degree. This degree wasn’t offered at the University of Kentucky (in Lexington), but was offered at the University of Louisville. And it involved courses that aren’t easily taken in “online” format.  The commute between Lexington and Louisville by car, however, was too time consuming (just over 1 hr each way) and expensive.  High speed rail would have allowed her to take this added degree and advance in her field.

These 2 tiny examples show that investment in infrastructure doesn’t just create jobs in the short run, but continues to create longterm economic benefits.

As Gov Ed Rendell (D-PA) of Pennsylvania likes to explain, conservatives are often advocating that government be run more like private business. Well, although businesses must watch expenses, every successful business has periods when it runs a deficit in order to invest for expansion.  Government spending on infrastructure (your taxpayer dollars at work) is investment in the whole society for the health of the economy, the environment, and for the common good.  During the great Depression, the New Deal invested in infrastructure:  The Rural Electric Act (conservatives said that farmers and small towns didn’t need electricity or phones), major hydroelectric dams (like the Tennessee Valley Authority), the Civilian Conservation Corps (which created many a rural road while also fighting erosion and bad farming and logging practices), the Works Project Administration, etc.  Now, while we try to prevent another Great Depression, we can have a 21st C. New Deal:  Repairing levees and bridges and roads; retro-fitting public buildings (or building new ones) to be more energy efficient, safer, and greener; upgrading the electric grid (key to adaptation for wind, solar, geothermal, and other green energy projects); putting in fibre-optic web connections in every community in the nation; high-speed rail, and much more.  This is long overdue.

Infrastructure investment: It may not be sexy, but it is certainly part of “the change we need.” I hope it receives broad public and bi-partisan political support and gets passed quickly. Let’s not let this opportunity pass us by.

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November 25, 2008 Posted by | U.S. politics | 1 Comment

Healthcare: A Right or a Privilege?

The basic debate in the U.S. over healthcare is not really about costs or “freedom to choose one’s own doctor.” The facts are clear: The World Health Organization rates the U.S. 37th(!) in healthcare while we spend a much higher percentage of our Gross Domestic Product on healthcare than Canada, Europe, New Zealand, Australia or other industrial democracies for this lower quality coverage. Further, people without health insurance cannot “choose their own doctor,” and most health plans limit the choice of doctors to those within their insurance networks. A universal, single-payer, health insurance program would both increase the choices of physicians available to most Americans and would, after initial start-up costs, lower healthcare costs overall. These facts have been known for decades. These are fake issues to distract voters.

The real issue is whether healthcare is a right (as most progressives believe) or a privilege for those who can afford it (as most conservatives believe). If healthcare is a right (arguably a “prolife” position), then universal healthcare is mandatory. But if healthcare is simply another consumer commodity to be sold to the highest bidder, then conservatives are right to simply “leave things to the market.” I don’t know that there is a logical or “value-free” way to choose between these alternatives. These alternatives come down to basic convictions–basic ways of looking at the world. The “privilege” position sees human life as competition between autonomous, individuals–each looking out for her or his self interest only. But the “healthcare as a right” position, which I hold, sees us all as interconnected and the flourishing of all of us, and the common good, as necessary to the flourishing of individuals as well.

I don’t mind that conservatives disagree with my views on healthcare as a human right. That’s a healthy debate. What I mind is that many Republicans are cynically opposing universal healthcare NOT out of genuine conviction that their view is actually better public policy, but because they are afraid that if Democrats actually manage to deliver universal healthcare that they will become so popular with Americans that Republicans will continue to lose into the foreseeable future! In other words, these Republicans are opposing universal healthcare NOT because they think it will be harmful, but because they are afraid it will be successful and popular! This is outrageous. For shame!

Of course, these Republicans have reasons to be worried. After all, even though most Democrats (including Pres.-Elect Obama) have been too timid to propose a truly universal, single-payer, healthcare system (although, see this plan), polls have constantly shown that most Americans support it. This has been true for a very long time, so the GOP has used a variety of fear tactics to derail the struggle for universal healthcare. Often these tactics were racist: When Pres. Harry S. Truman tried to enact universal healthcare in 1945, opponents got Southern Senators to vote against it by claiming that if it passed the South would have to integrate its segregated hospitals. (They were probably right. When Pres. Lyndon Baines Johnson managed to pass Medicare and Medicaid legislation in the 1960s–short of the universal healthcare he wanted–it did lead to the desegration of the South’s horrible segregated medical facilities.) Other times, the fear tactic was of “socialism,” or, in the ’90s, the fear of losing the ability to choose one’s own doctor.

It’s time to set fears aside. Quality healthcare for everyone is morally mandated as part of the right to human life and flourishing and demanded as necessary for the common good. We should enact it into our nation’s social contract–and “unelect” any politician or party which attempts to obstruct progress toward this common good.

To join the struggle for guaranteed, quality, universal healthcare, sign up at Healthcare-NOW! This has to be done during the “honeymoon period” of the Obama presidency (even though it goes beyond his plan, there’s no way he’d veto it), the 1st 100 days.  The current financial crisis actually helps with the opportunity:  Ask the Big 3 Auto makers how much labor costs they’d save if there were a single-payer national health insurance plan.  That savings would be passed on to the consumer in the form of less expensive cars.  Unions could stop having to choose between working for higher wages and working to keep shrinking healthcare benefits.  Small business owners, farmers, and others who cannot afford group health plans would be better able to weather the current financial storm.  This would also encourage entrepeneurs to risk start up businesses without endangering their families by leaving jobs with health benefits.  The drain on our emergency rooms would go down.  And we would reap a healthier and more prosperous nation.

November 22, 2008 Posted by | human rights. | 2 Comments

Democrats Win Big Across U.S. in ’08 Elections

This is not gloating, honest.  But in the wake of Pres.-Elect Obama’s victory, there is a debate among pundits as to whether or not we “are still a center-right” country (we are compared to parts of Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada, but not in a global sense–and Canada just reelected the Conservative Party with a bigger majority and the National Party just won in New Zealand, while conservative parties won recent elections in Germany and France, too and the Tories seem poised to make a comeback in the U.K.). Conservatives and Republicans seem to be claiming that Obama needs to govern just like a Republican or face a “Gingrich Revolution” in ’10.  Well, it’s true that Obama has to be successful or be rejected. And it’s true that he has to move to the left in a smarter fashion than Clinton did in ’93-’94.  But the quickest way for him to lose the support of those who elected him would be for him to weasel on his campaign promises.

No mandate for change? Really, GOP pundits?  George W. Bush claimed to have “political capital” that he was going to spend when he won re-election by less than 1% of the popular vote in ’04–about a million votes. Obama won 52.3% of the popular vote to McCain’s 46.2%–with the rest taken up by 3 party candidates and write-ins.  He appears to have won by over 7 million votes (and counting since not all absentee ballots and overseas ballots have been counted).  He has won 365 electoral votes (including NE-02), short of a technical landslide (375 and above), but the largest presidential victory since Ronald Reagan.  That’s a convincing mandate.  He won states long considered Republican strongholds including: Virginia (last voted Dem. in a presidential race in ’64), North Carolina (’76), Indiana (’64), Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, and the swing states of Ohio, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.  In many states that Obama didn’t carry, he came closer than anyone could have expected, including Missouri, Georgia, North Dakota, & Montana.  That looks like a mandate to me.

Further, this is the second election cycle in a row (first in ’06) that voters decisively rejected Republicans from coast to coast–even in states McCain carried at the presidential level:  In ’06, Dems picked up a total of 20 seats in the House of Representatives.  In ’08, Dems picked up an additional 24 seats. In the Senate, Dems took control in ’06 by 1 vote.  In ’08 they added at least another 5 seats (with 2 races yet to be called–Alaska and Minnesota, the latter so close it needs an automatic recount to begin in mid-November–and one race, Georgia, requiring run-off election in December). When the voters hit your party that hard 2 cycles running, you are not connecting with them. They have moved considerably from where you are.

Here is the map of Obama’s electoral win:

map_final2

 

And here is a chart that shows which states went more Democratic and by how much.  It is determined by how much of the vote that Obama received in that state (whether or not it was called for him or McCain) and seeing how much more or less that was than the amount that Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) received in his ’04 run for the presidency.  Note that only Five States shifted to the right: Arkansas (R+5), Louisiana (R+5), Oklahoma (R+4), Tennesee (R+4), and West Virginia (R +4).  The other 46 states moved left in varying degrees. (This chart shows that only 22 counties in the U.S. moved in a more Republican direction this year.)

The argument that “America is a center-right country” is based on the fact that voters tell exit-pollsters that they like the terms “conservative,” or “moderate,” better than “liberal.” But this only means that the Right has succeeded since 1980 in demonizing the WORD “liberal” (and, to a lesser extent, “progressive”).  But if you ask about their values and the role they see government playing, you get a very different story.  In both ’06 and ’08, voters told exit pollsters that they wanted the war in Iraq to end quickly, that they believed in progressive taxation, that they favored universal healthcare and were willing to pay somewhat more in taxes to get it, that they wanted strong action to protect the environment, etc.  Only on gay rights (sadly), do conservatives win on the issues. We clearly have work to do there.

But, as this link shows, the majority of Obama voters (and he won, remember?) said that government needed to do more to help people while the majority of McCain voters (the losing side) said that government was doing too much to help.  That’s a “liberal” view.  America is a moderate nation moving from a long captivity by Movement Conservatism leftward.  I expect us to be further center-left by the end of Obama’s first term–and the center itself to have moved in 8 years.

Republicans are in trouble:  Their latest (failing) campaign pitted rural areas against cities when 80% of Americans live in cities or their surrounding suburbs.  So, Palin-style appeals to “real America” lose elections.  Republicans are now a minority party dominant only in the South and parts of the West (and Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida show that the South is no longer “solid).  Republicans are 93% white in a country where whites are only 66% of the population–and by 2050 (at the outside) there will be no racial/ethnic majority in this country. Whites will only be the largest minority–a plurality. So, if Republicans keep losing African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians (and Obama won all these groups), they will stay in the wilderness. If they have no message for cities, they stay in the wilderness.  If they keep losing women (51% of the country), they stay in the wilderness.  The sooner the GOP figures this out, the better for them. But if they want to stay in denial, this Democrat has no problem seeing them using the same tired old slogans and losing.  The Republicans began to win after WWII by making peace with the New Deal. But since 1980, the GOP has been trying to destroy the New Deal–and this finally became apparent in complete starkness to Americans in ’05 when the GOP tried to privatize Social Security and then when it sat by and watched New Orleans drown and did nothing. 

Reaganism and Reaganomics are dead.

UPDATE:  The Hoover Institution, one of the oldest conservative think tanks in the U.S., now admits that the “center-right” conservative talking point is false.  The Hoover Institution admits that the U.S. is now a “center-left” society.

November 9, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Political Victories and Losses

Winners on the 4th:

  • Pres.-elect Barack Obama & VP-elect Joe Biden
  • DNC Chair Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy which was much opposed by the Clintonistas but embraced by team Obama and the Netroots–and led to increased Democratic Party victories in ’06 and ’08, though falling short of the goal of 60 Senate seats (unless a miracle happens in the all 3 elections still out–Alaska, Minnesota, & the run-off in Georgia).
  • Democracy–a higher U.S. turnout than any presidential election since 1920, the year women’s suffrage became enshrined in our national Constitution.
  • A somewhat better context for those of us who work for peace and justice–though how much so is yet to be seen
  • Immigrants
  • Equal Opportunity
  • Latinos-Black relations (one of the underreported stories behind the Obama success is that all those pundits who said that Obama could not win Latinos were wrong–He got 67% of the Latino vote and that made the difference in AT LEAST the following states: New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Florida, New Jersey, and even Virginia).
  • Women–The McCain people expected women to vote for them because of Sarah Palin. Instead, they voted for the team that put women’s rights and concerns as a major priority.
  • Grassroot empowerment and community organizing.
  • A chance for progressive moves in healthcare, the environment, labor, education, employment, sensible economic regulation and competence in government.

Losers:

  • Sadly, one of the big losers on Tuesday were Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered persons and those of us who are their friends, family and allies.  The silver lining in this cloud is that anti-gay ballot measures and rhetoric WAS NOT able (unlike in ’04) to be used as a successful “wedge issue” to ensure progressive defeats. Nevertheless, Arizona and Florida amended their state constitutions to ban same sex marriages and California actually voted to do the same–tacking AWAY the right to marry that the CA Supreme Court had just granted only several months earlier. And another state banned adoptions by gay couples.  Truly sad and it shows how far we have to go for justice on these matters.
  • The “Southern Strategy” of Nixon & Reagan to use racist whites to win presidential elections. 
  • Tom Delay’s dream of a “permanent Republican majority” (although Dems would be foolish to believe in the same type of fantasy.  There are no permanent majorities in democratic politics–thank God).
  • The Religious Right.  It is far from dead, but it’s influence took a major beating.  Progressive faith groups and defenders of religious liberty for all and church-state separation made progress, though this struggle is far from over.
  • The politics of fearmongering and smears.
  • Rightwing radio and TV demagogues–as their every prediction proved false.
  • The divisions that began in the late ’60s (as opposed to the promise of the early ’60s). McCain was the 3rd Vietnam Veteran in a row to lose the presidency (VP and Nobel Peace Laureate Al Gore and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) were the other two–both opposed the war but, coming from families of privilege, decided to serve rather than let others be drafted in their place).  The two Baby Boomers who dodged the Vietnam War (Bill Clinton and George W. Bush), one who opposed it and the other who supported it as long he didn’t have to fight it, won the presidency but had difficulty governing and increased national polarization.  The chance to heal comes with the first post-Boomer presidency, the first 21st C. presidency.
  • Voter apathy.
  • Apathy and cynicism among the young.
  • Free market fundamentalism.

Anything else?

November 6, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Obama Wins! U.S. Moves from Right to Center-Left

Sorry to have been out of touch, Gentle Readers.  Between working to elect Barack Obama (and re-elect my Congressman, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY), working on my book and trying to buy a house, I haven’t had time to blog or even answer email.  After getting some sleep, I will start working on email and moderating comments to this blog that have backlogged.  I’ll start regular blogging again by the weekend.

November 5, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments