Apr 11

Obama Hits a High Note

Every once in while President Obama reminds us all why we were so hopeful in late 2008. While regularly according lip service to the middle class and castigating bankers immediately prior to retreating into conference rooms to cut deals that aggrieve the middle class and reward bankers, he occasionally makes a point so eloquently that it is worth publishing. In a recent speech in support of the Buffet Rule–a change in the tax code requiring the wealthy to pay a minimum income tax rate of 30%–he succinctly made the case for investments in the middle class.

If we’re going to keep giving somebody like me, or some of the people in this room, tax breaks that we don’t need and can’t afford, then one of two things happens. Either you’ve got to borrow more money to pay down a deeper deficit, or you’ve got to demand deeper sacrifices from the middle class, and you’ve got to cut investments that help us grow as an economy.

You’ve got to tell seniors to pay a little more for their Medicare. You’ve got to tell the college student, `We’re gonna have to charge higher interest rates on your student loan, or you’re going to get smaller student loans.’ You’re going to have to tell that working family that’s scraping by that they’re going to have to do more because the wealthiest of Americans are doing less. And that’s not right. The middle class has seen enough of its security erode over the last few decades. And we shouldn’t let that happen.

We’re not going to stop investing in the things that create real and lasting growth in this country, just so folks like me can get an additional tax cut. We’re not going to stop building first class schools and making sure that they’ve got science labs in them. We’re not going to fail to make investments in basic science and research that could cure diseases that harm people or create the new technology that ends up creating entire industries that we haven’t seen before.

With each passing day the argument that tax inequality and wage unfairness moves closer and closer to playing a substantive and important role in the November election and beyond. It is quite possible that the occupy movement, the 99% Spring movement, and other collateral progressive grassroots movements across the country will  make it untenable for even the most duplicitous of politician to ignore the importance of economic fairness. I certainly hope so. It would certainly be refreshing to live in a time in  American politics when the middle class conclusively annihilates the practice of voting against its own interest.

Ironically, if the Republican Party somehow manages to retake the United States Senate and maintains a controlling position in the House of Representatives, they could find themselves governing during a period of extreme unrest concerning the economic path of the country. Economic injustice generally, real wage stagnation, retirement insecurity, tax inequality, Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, health benefits, increased demands on worker productivity could each become primary issues in 2013  and beyond. Republicans would be forced to either repudiate their ever shrinking ultra-conservative base or face the prospect of defeat. Democrats would be forced to return to the progressive policies they have so long ignored.

The Buffet rule is polling well, but it will not alone carry Obama to reelection. The true test is whether or not the American people will ultimately abandon the failed economic policies of both parties and fight back, sending each politician packing who fails to understand that we will not be bullied by corporations, Wall Street and special interests any longer.

Apr 06

No More Time

With unemployment benefits being curtained as the economy “improves,” many people are being left to live within their means without any means to speak of. While congress and the president did step in and extend unemployment insurance during the worst of the recent recession, no widespread worker retraining , vocational, or higher education programs have been offered up by either side. What is particularly sad in this whole mess is that we know which professions, trades, and jobs are in demand. The United States has worker shortages in manufacturing for example, along with truck drivers, plumbers, and tradesmen and women of all sorts. We also have a shortage of physicians and nurses, as well as other medical support staff. We also know that several career areas are in fact well short of filling all of the available positions. It wouldn’t put each and every American back to work who desires a job, but a concrete effort to match the unemployed with training and jobs is desperately needed. Moreover, this effort is in the public interest. Greater numbers of employed people means greater tax revenues, fewer cuts in public services, and smaller budget deficits over the long term. That should make Republicans and Democrats both happy.

If the two major political parties are looking for a blueprint, look no further than Germany and its dual-system.